You are complicated. And so am I.

I read the same way a prospector pans for gold. I sift through words looking for gold nuggets. Once I find those nuggets of wisdom, inspiration and insight I lock them into my mental vault. There they begin to appreciate by improving the way I think. Which ultimately makes me a more valuable human.

One of the most valuable nuggets in my collection came from a book I read on Thomas Jefferson. There was an interesting idea that appeared in his writings multiple times. It jumped off the page at me the first time I read it. Ole TJ was a complicated cat. On the one hand, he fancied himself a great champion of human freedom. On the other hand, he was a racist slave owner in love with black woman. Go figure. In an attempt to describe his complex thoughts and feelings he dropped this gold:

Of all machines, ours is the most complicated and inexplicable.  -Thomas Jefferson

This nugget serves as a valuable reminder that your thoughts, feelings and action are complicated. But more importantly, it reminds us that all humans are complicated machines.

The COVID-19 crisis has stressed human machinery in ways we have not been stressed before. Add to that the senseless killing of Geoge Floyd and the complex issues it raises, and it is no wonder that so many are glitching, smoking and crashing. #reboot

As humans, we must recognize that we are complicated. We are not mass-produced. We are individually crafted. Our hardware and software are custom made. We each have a unique collection of inputs that influence our outputs. Our individual experiences, wiring and programming mean that no two of us process life the same way. This is true in the best of times. And it is true in the most challenging of times. Like right now. And during tax season.

Key Takeaway

Humans are inexplicably complicated machines. To get the best from a human, approach them with empathy and compassion. Listen. Aim to understand. Find common ground. Accept that our diversity runs deeper than we could possibly categorize. When all else fails, treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s a little gold we can all profit from.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The touching story of a repurposed billboard.

The week of March 16th was like nothing I had ever experienced. That Monday morning The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, met with the University of Wisconsin Credit Union about updating their outdoor billboards and TV commercials in response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis.

By the end of the day, The Weaponry presented a whole new billboard campaign. The new outdoor boards were up practically overnight in both Madison and Milwaukee. In the process, The Weaponry set new turnaround expectations that are likely to haunt me for the rest of my career.

Standing Together

I was very proud of the new work that we developed in a single day. I especially loved the billboard that said, ‘Even when we’re apart we, stand together.’  It was a great way to express UW Credit Union’s promise to be Here for every you. During that time of growing isolation and uncertainty, as our community faced both a health and financial crisis, the message was spot on. And true.

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Rome was not built in a day. But a new UW Credit Union billboard campaign was.

George Floyd

Two months later, just as our nation was beginning to emerge from the COVID-19-induced isolation, George Floyd was killed by police officers, and our country found itself deep in another crisis.

In the days since George Floyd’s murder, people across the country have searched for ways to express their outrage and create change. Some have found powerful forces for progress. A few have engaged in more divisive actions. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the divisive has far exceeded that of the progressive. Because flames, shattered glass, and unpaid for merchandise with legs make for more interesting video than peaceful demonstrations.

Back To The Billboard

Early Tuesday morning I received an email from Anne Norman, the Chief Marketing Officer at UW Credit Union. She had received an update from Adams Outdoor, the billboard company in Madison, Wisconsin. As the Adams team (no relation) arrived to do a scheduled replacement of the We Stand Together billboard they discovered the billboard has been spray-painted with the words George Floyd. They took a picture of the graffitied billboard and shared it with us so we could see what had happened.

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The George Floyd Board. It features a curious extra E, removed by Yellow-Out.

Wow

Anne and I were both struck by how powerful the graffitied board was. And we thought it would have been better to have simply left the billboard and its modified message in place. I suggested that we share the George Floyd board via our social channels.

Anne suggested an even better idea. She asked what I thought of putting the graffitied board back up. I thought it was an excellent idea.

The Reposting

Yesterday, on June 3rd, UW Credit Union reposted the George Floyd Board. Except this time they had it posted in one of the highest visibility locations in Madison, on the top of the Adams Outdoor building, beside the highly trafficked beltline. Because you know that a good billboard company always saves the best location for itself.

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The new home of the George Floyd Board. (Try saying George Floyd Board 10 times fast.)

Proud Partner

I am extremely proud to partner with UW Credit Union. It’s an organization fully committed to the communities it serves. I am proud of Anne Norman for making a courageous decision to repost this billboard, a billboard that no longer features the UW Credit Union logo, in support of George Floyd, the Black community and the Black Lives Matters movement.

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This is how Anne Norman shared the story in her own words. She uses the word ‘We’ a lot, as does everyone at UW Credit Union. But know that she was instrumental in making this happen. 

Key Takeaway

Do what you can to make a difference. Stand together. Work together. Support each other. Always do what you know is right. Like my friend Anne Norman and millions of others across America who are determined to leave this world better than they found it.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

It’s time to talk less and listen more.

I am always trying to create a newer, better version of myself. Soon after I began my professional career I realized that there are a lot of smart, talented people on this planet. To catch up to the impressive people I admired most I was going to have to do my homework. So I began studying and learning, again. Not in a structured school program. But in a self-directed, movie montage kind of way.

Communications Skillz.

Like most people who are into self-improvement, I have focused heavily on communication skills: public speaking, presentation skills, selling skills. But the deeper I got into this game Prince called, Life, I realized that most people, including me, spend too much time on the wrong side of the equation.

The most effective and important communication skill is not speaking. It’s listening.

George Floyd

George Floyd told the police officers arresting him that they were killing him. When you saw the video you heard it right? Because you were listening. Now, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we should all be listening more. We are all being called to create a better world. A world where police brutality stops. Where everyone has safety, freedom, and equal access to opportunities. But creating a better world starts with each of us becoming better versions of ourselves.

Listening

Listening is where all improvement starts. It is only through listening that we understand the problems that we need to solved. It is how we hear what isn’t said (don’t think about this too hard or it sounds really stupid).

Through listening, we learn about other people. We learn about their history, their values, their fears, their styles, and their quirks. Which allows for deeper, more meaningful, more valuable relationships.

Yet when was the last time you heard about someone going to a class on listening? So here is a free mini-class on listening that takes 2 minutes to complete. But it is sure to make you a better, bigger-eared version of yourself.

6 Keys To Improving Your Listening Skills.

1. Close your mouth.

We are often so compelled to talk that we stop listening. If you want to be a great listener you have to silence your own impulses. And focus on your role as a listener. This means you are not providing answers, or solutions or opinions. You are harvesting. Not planting. Know what season it is. Bring the right equipment to the field.

2. Listen Competitively.

Try to be really good at listening. You already know the little things you have to do to be a great listener. We learned them by playing Simon Says when we were kids. Look at the person talking. Give the person speaking your full attention. Do this as if your relationships, influence and earning potential depend on it. Because they do.

3. Keep your partner lubricated.

I don’t mean with alcohol or Vaseline. With affirmations. And demonstrated interest. Lean in. Show you care. You will keep others flowing with information. Yet without the backlash that comes with waterboarding.

4. Listen with your Spidey Sense.

Go beyond the words that are said. Note the tone. The emotion. Those things are like limps, signaling that something deeper is wrong. Or they could signal that someone is in a good mood that exceeds the norm for the current situation. Maybe they just got engaged. Or maybe they are on drugs. You should know the difference.

5.  Play back, Jack.

The curtain call of any good listening session is the summary of what you heard. The highlight, simplified conclusion, or takeaway that demonstrates that you really heard what was said.  Show that you know what was implied and what is important. Do this and you will always leave a conversation with more personal equity.

6. Lock up the valuables.

The most important listening skill is keeping the private stuff private. You have to know which things you heard were intended for you alone. And don’t talk about them. When people know that you are trustworthy they tell you more. You become an important confidante. An insider. It’s like being sponge-worthy.

Key Takeaway

Improve your listening and everything else will improve. Better relationships with your friends, family and co-workers. Better networking. And better solutions to problems. The Lord knows we need better solutions to our problems right now.

If you have more tips, tricks and techniques for better listening I would love to hear from you.

The skill the world needs from you now.

2020 has been a challenging year. It has served up more flavors of adversity than Baskin Robbins has ice cream. Like COVID-19 itself, no one is immune to the stress in our system right now.

We need to recognize the pressure the people on our planet are feeling. Because pressure makes humans make poor decisions.

Under stressful conditions, bad choices compound. The result is escalation. A simmer becomes a boil. Smoke becomes fire. Self-control evaporates. I’ve been there. I’ve felt it in myself. I’ve seen it in others. It’s intensely powerful. And destructive.

Escalation brings out the worst in us. Yet it comes naturally. We all have the ability to trump a bad action or a bad comment with an even worse response. It becomes a competition to see who can inflict more pain, create more damage and elicit more anger. But it’s a competition that no one wins.

Yet escalation happens in homes and schools. It happens in the workplace. It happens in hockey games. And in bars where people watch hockey games. Escalation happens when police officers lose touch with their humanity. And when angry protestors don’t feel like their point is being received.

What The World Needs Now

What is less natural, but far more valuable, is de-escalation. Removing the tension from a situation. Recognizing when a poor decision by someone else requires a good decision by you, and me.

Don’t respond to anger with more anger, but with empathy. We need to demonstrate that we are listening. That we understand. And we are willing to make things better. Because there are times when we all need someone else to step in and help us adjust our settings when we can’t self regulate.

Key Takeaway

Calmness and compassion are as contagious as anger and fear.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.