How to make your own treasure map in a notebook.

I am on a treasure hunt. In fact, I am looking for hidden treasure everywhere I go. But I am not expecting to find a chest full of gold. Instead, I am looking for valuable insights, nuggets of wisdom, and how-to’s from rockstars who have already done what I want to do.

To find the treasure I need a map. Something to guide my steps, and direction. But I am not looking for One-Eyed Willy’s tattered, yellow, X-Marks-The-Spot number. Google maps doesn’t know my destination. And Rand McNally doesn’t sell what I need. Although those guys really put maps on the map.

My Treasure Map

My map is a small black, hardcover Moleskin notebook. I bought it myself. And when I bought it all the pages were blank.

I bring that notebook with me to meetings. To networking events. To chocolate milk conversations (because I don’t drink coffee). To meetups and roundtables. When I hear something, see something or think of something that I believe will get me closer to the treasure, I write it in my notebook.

That once-blank book is now full of good advice. It holds inspirational quotes. Rules of thumb. Philosophies of successful people. Resources to consider. Math equations. Events to attend. Books or articles to read. Podcasts, blogs and newsletters to follow. And social media feeds worth checking out.

I always keep my notebook nearby and my ears and eyes open. (Okay, I do blink occasionally, but just for eye maintenance.)  As a result, the treasure map in my notebook gets more detailed and more valuable all the time. In fact, I believe that my notebooks (there are many of them now) are my most valuable possessions.

Where Is Your Notebook?

Given the high value I place on my own notebooks, I am always shocked when someone requests a meeting with me and then show up without a notebook. Or paper. Or a writing utensil. Or a sense that they showed up to the meeting partially naked.

What That Says

Coming to an informational interview, or networking meeting without your notebook says 2 things:

  1. You are not prepared for the journey.
  2. You don’t expect to find any gold in my world.

My Response

Depending on the age, experience and potential of the person I am meeting with I may note the missing notebook, and the value that it would brings. I kindly suggest that in the future, paper and pen or pencil or crayon may be valuable additions to their meeting gear.

Other times I simply write them off without saying anything. Because some people are simply not on treasure hunts. They are not seeking the gold. They are simply going through the motions. And if that is all they are doing, they don’t need my help.

Key Takeaway

If you are seeking treasure, you’re going to need a map. Your treasure map will be individualized. Which means you’ll have to write it yourself. So pick up an empty notebook, and collect the golden advice you get along the way. Write down the directions and the steps as you find them. It works for careers and building businesses. It works for happiness, relationships, parenting and fitness.

You can use a notebook, a smart list of questions and good pair or ears to find anything you seek. And once you begin looking for the treasures, you will find them everywhere. So draw your own map. Let the world know what you are looking for. And the world will show you how to find it.

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

Why you should reject great advice.

When I set out to launch my own business I had no idea what I was doing. So I talked to a lot of successful entrepreneurs. I wanted to learn as much as I could about how to launch and run a company. I was looking for the standard tips and tricks. What I quickly discovered was that there are no standard anythings. Everyone I talked to had their own recipe for success. Or what I call a successipe. Which is a mashup of success and recipe. Admittedly, successipe works better as a spoken word than as a written word. But I have no editor deleting this. So it stays.

Don’t Reinvent The Wheel

When you are learning a new skill or craft, is is a great idea to talk to people who have already done what you are attempting to do. Ask questions. Listen. Observe. Borrow or steal proven plays from someone else’s playbook. It’s how we capitalize on other people’s experiences and mistakes. Which allows you to grow faster than bumbling and fumbling alone. #peeweeherman

A Memorable Encounter

As I prepared to launch my own advertising agency I met with a very successful entrepreneur. I was extremely excited to learn from him, because I greatly admired him as both a friend and a businessman. Over the course of our conversation I remember 3 pieces of good advice he gave me:

  1. Do NOT name your company The Weaponry.
  2. Perfect your elevator pitch.
  3. Focus on your Pro Forma.

This was a trifecta of good advice. All 3 points were grounded in decades of experience. But none of this advice fit with my world view. Or my approach to business. Or my appetite for risk. So I didn’t take any of it.

The Name

I love the name The Weaponry. I love that it sounds strong and provocative. I love that it elicits questions. If you want a great conversation starter tell people you work at The Weaponry. When people ask about our name, and people always ask, I have a great answer that always wins people over. I’ve written about our name in the post: What In The World Does The Weaponry Do?.

I am not trying to play it safe, or avoid a raised eyebrow. In fact, I like a good raised eyebrow. I’ve been getting them my whole life. Today, 3 years into my entrepreneurial journey, I can tell you that The Weaponry’s name has been a powerful weapon for our business.

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Just one of the reasons we love our name.

The Elevator Pitch

I hate the term elevator pitch. I have never once found myself on an elevator with a couple of floors to pitch for my one and only chance to woo a client. It’s a bullshit term that assumes we have one specific offering for our customers. That is not how The Weaponry rolls. And I knew that from the very start.

My sales pitch is not a sales pitch. It is a conversation. It focuses on unmet needs. If you don’t have any unmet needs my elevator pitch is not going to work anyway. And if a potential client ever tells me I have :30 seconds to sell myself or she will bang a gong (#PowerStation), I know we are probably not right for each other. I have written about my disdain for such nonsense in This is where I encourage you to pitch your elevator pitch.

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I have no idea who is pitching and winning business in an elevator, but it’s not me. Maybe it’s Steven Tyler. 

The Pro Forma

Pro forma refers to a method of calculating projected financial results using certain presumptions and projections. It’s a very finance-centric approach that simply isn’t how I process the world. In fact, in these early years of rapid growth creating a pro forma feels like fiction writing.

In our first year, The Weaponry started with no clients. So our projections would have been $0 in revenue. Then, we started acquiring clients, but we had no retainers or contracts guaranteeing how much the clients would ultimately spend. So what could I project? Totally made up numbers? In years 2 and 3 The Weaponry doubled in business. I could neither predict nor plan on that type of growth either. What to do?

The Kite Flying Method

What I use instead of a pro forma is what I call the Kite Flying Method. When you fly a kite, your goal is to get the kite as high in the sky as possible. This is a matter of wind and string. To fly the kite higher and higher you let out string, little by little, based on what your wind will keep aloft. You can’t plan your kite height ahead of time. You have to react to the conditions, in the moment, based on the wind you have to work with.

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Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height.

To do this right I always play it conservatively. I let out less string than the wind would support. This keeps tension on the string and keeps the kite in the air. You also have to know the difference between sustained wind and a short term gust.

All of this is to say that we invest only what our revenue allows. When revenue increases, we can spend more. We have a wish list of positions we would like to hire and resources we would like to have. But we only hire or buy what we can clearly cover today. I have also written about this in a post called If you want to be an entrepreneur start by flying a kite.

Key Takeaway

There are a broad range of ways to be successful. Don’t let anyone make you think there is only one approach. You have to find what works for you, and your unique set of beliefs. It is great to have a Mastermind Group to turn to. It is wonderful to study others who have done or are doing what you aspire to do. But you don’t have to emulate them. In fact, you can do just the opposite if it feels right to you. Study, learn and listen. Incorporate the things you like. Or invent your own approach. There is no right way. Be your own boss. Be true to yourself. And do it your way.

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

Are you really in control of your career?

It was December of 1999. The world was facing a possible Y2K apocalypse, and I was surrounded by cranberries. I had written a national TV commercial for Northland Cranberry Juice and was now preparing to shoot the spot in their hometown, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids (just in case you’ve never been there) is to cranberries what Nashville is to country music.

The premise of the commercial we were shooting was that the honest, hardworking people of Wisconsin Rapids put 100% into everything they do. So they would never consider putting anything less than 100% juice into a bottle of Northland. The same could not be said for those villains at Ocean Spray. Their cranberry cocktails ranged from just 17% to 27% juice. Cut to the close up of the Ocean Spray ingredient label, and cue the horror movie music.

The Director

But this story is not about juice. It is about the director. Ashley Lazarus. While Ashley Lazarus is one of the most beautiful names I have ever heard, it belongs to a bear of a man. A South African man. A man best known in America for launching the Saturn car brand with the iconic Spring in Springhill commercials. In other words, Ashley had mad directing skillz.

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Ashley Lazarus and a camera that won’t fit in your pocket.

Location Scouting

My first two days with Ashley were spent scouting for locations to shoot the commercial.  We were looking for the most interesting locations in and around Wisconsin Rapids to capture on film.

The conversation

While driving between locations in the Wisconsin countryside, Ashley, who was in his 60s, turned to me and slowly asked in his deep, South African accent, ‘Adam, how old are you?’

I replied, ’26’.

Not only will I never forget what he said next, it helped steer the course of my career, and my life.

Ashley continued,

‘Adam, eventually you must open your own advertising agency. You will be promised great positions in your career. You may even be offered them. But eventually all creatives are either passed over or forced out of agencies. The only way for you to remain in control of your career is to own your own agency.’

I had dreamed of owning my own agency since I first started my career three years earlier. But now, at 26 years old, I was told I had no choice. If I wanted to be in control of my career and my life’s path, I would have to start my own advertising agency and create my own opportunities.

That advice stuck in my head like a cocklebur to corduroy. I believed Ashley was right. Over the next 15 years I was promoted from Copywriter, to Senior Writer, to Associate Creative Director, to Creative Director, to Executive Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. But I never forgot what Ashley said. And I wanted the ultimate control over my career path.

The Weaponry

In 2016, when I was 42 years old, I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. I also launched this blog to chronicle the entire journey (if you’d like to follow along at home consider subscribing). Today, I’d like Ashley to know that I listened, appreciated and followed the advice he gave me in the back of that SUV in Wisconsin, Rapids in 1999.

Key Takeaway

What Ashley said about my career holds true for you too. Your career path, and your life path will be determined by someone else if you don’t take control of it. You too should start your own business, or side hustle, or consulting gig. Prepare your own plan B before you need it. It’s the key to writing your own script with your own happy ending.