Why 2021 might not be all you dreamed of.

As we approach the final two months of the year I have noticed a trend. People are TGIFing 2020. They are thankful that this year is almost over, and can’t wait to move on to the next 365 days.

But be careful. We have no idea what 2021 will hold. Yes, 2020 has been a year for the history books. We have had an assorted collection of challenging issues develop over the past 7 months. You may have noticed.

Covid-19, the economic recession, the renewed spotlight on systemic racism, and our contentious political environment have made for quite a cocktail. It’s hard not to have bitter-beer face just thinking about these issues.

A lot has been broken and burned this year. Cities near me, including Kenosha and Madison, Wisconsin look nothing like they did on February 29th. In fact, so much has happened this year you probably forgot we had a February 29th. Poor, forgotten February 29th…

In 2020 we are also experiencing unprecedented weather issues, including an unprecedented wildfire season, and a double shot of hurricanes and tropical storms. We have also had the earliest heavy snowstorms to ever hit the midwest, and that windy thing that knocked over grain bins in Iowa.

But don’t fast forward to next year just yet. The calendar flip will not solve the issues we are facing.

The Future

I am not a pessimist, but I fully recognize that 2021 could be even more challenging than 2020. The weather is not likely to back off. The pandemic is showing all signs of intensifying before it recedes. And the economic implications are sure to mount as people are out of work, businesses close, and loans are unpaid. Plus, what’s up with coins? (Said in my best Jerry Seinfeld voice.)

Back to Today

Instead, look for the good in this year. And in every day. If you are healthy, and your family is healthy, you have much to appreciate. Be thankful for increased time with those closest to you. We can all be thankful for a renewed awareness of old issues, and the great possibility of us solving them together. Cue We Are The World

2020 has introduced innovation and adaptability that will move our entire planet forward. We are all now more prepared for all manner of challenge to come.

2020 has created an amazing opportunity for businesses and entrepreneurial-minded humans. If you can’t find a problem to solve right you are not thinking outside the box. Speaking of boxes, would someone please launch a business to fix the box problem? I am tired of breaking down and recycling cardboard boxes, only to have new boxes arrive at my doorstep the next day. #ReuseTheBoxes

2020 has redirected travel from crowded cities and manufactured tourist attractions to quieter countrysides. We have spent more time in local, state and national parks. Many of us have reconnected with the wonders of the natural world. We have recognized the value of a walk in the woods, the view of mountains and the magic of sunrise and sunset that we haven’t noticed since Fiddler On The Roof.

2020 has helped us recognize more value in the little things. We have slowed our rushing and hard-charging a notch. We are being more understanding of the challenges of working parents and single moms. We recognize that anyone can suddenly be out of work. Even great pilots, chefs, and professional athletes.

We have become thankful for our schools and all the teachers have done for us. That awareness of the challenges other humans are facing is a gift. And just as the Great Depression impacted the financial decisions of those who lived through it for the rest of their lives, I hope the lessons we have learned in 2020 will last us all a lifetime.

Key Takeaway

There will be more challenges ahead in 2021. So find the good in every day. And do your part to help solve the issues that won’t go away without our help.

Get a little smarter every day.

Since Labor Day my 3 kids have been in school full time. By this I mean they are in a real brick-and-mortar-and-spitball schools, where they see their classmates sitting near-ish them, not in squares on a computer screen.

Every morning as they leave for Homestead High School, Steffen Middle School and Wilson Elementary I send them off with the same instruction: Come Back Smarter.

The very purpose of attending school is to increase your intelligence. (And to get a return on all the tax dollars your parents pay.) Day by day, and week by week, if you take advantage of the opportunity, you get smarter and smarter. The way a snowball becomes larger and larger as you roll it. #WinterIsComing

This means that when you send your child off to school (or into their virtual schooling pod), they come back (or out) as a better, more intelligent, more capable version of themself. How much better, and how much smarter is largely up to them and how much they are willing to soak up. And how much they are willing to reconfigure their thought processes as a result.

But the opportunity for daily self-improvement doesn’t end at graduation. You have abundant opportunities for daily growth your entire life. It should be your daily imperative that you end the day smarter than you began.

You don’t need to be enrolled in school to increase your intelligence daily. Simply do these 7.5 things as a matter of habit:

  • Read
  • Ask
  • Listen
  • Investigate
  • Try
  • Discuss
  • Watch
  • (And maybe Google)

Keep your mind open. You will be amazed by how much enters in. 

Key Takeaway

When you get out of bed each morning commit to hitting the pillow that night with a smarter, not harder head. Keep your mind open and keep improving it. By upgrading your personal operating system daily you will maximize your personal potential, your earning potential, and lifetime impact on the world.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them. And maybe tell them that you didn’t send it to them because you thought they were dumb.

How to get really smart by playing dumb.

I am no longer a beginner. Far from it. I have now amassed 23 years of experience in advertising and marketing. I have worked for several great agencies. And in 2016 I launched my own agency called The Weaponry and gave myself a title that sounds way more important than I will ever be.

Experience

I have worked with hundreds of different brands, including Nike, Reddi-Wip, UPS, Hertz and Wells Fargo. And I have experience in more industries than I knew existed 20 years ago. Including nacho cheese dispensers and rubber chicken feather plucking fingers. #whattheflock

What I have learned.

But the greatest thing I have learned is that I don’t know nearly as much as I could. In fact, there is a never ending supply of new things to know. Because life is an all-you-can-learn buffet.

To continue to grow, learn and improve think of yourself as a glass-half full. Focus on what you don’t know or don’t understand. Focus on the tools you haven’t learned to use yet. Set your sights on the techniques you don’t know or haven’t mastered.

portrait of a man in corporate attire

The Apprentice Mindset

Rather than build a veteran’s false fortress of credibility and experience adopt the expandable mindset of the apprentice. The apprentice mindset is the secret to growth in  entrepreneurship and business. It is they key to improvement in marriage, parenthood and teaching. The apprentice mindset leads to growth in the kitchen and in other rooms in the home too… #brownchickenbrowncow

I have published 440 blog posts. But I feel as if I know very little about blogging compared to what I don’t know. I marvel at others who create posts faster than me. Who have developed massive audiences. Who blog for a living. That’s crazy to me. I am like a kindergartener among graduate students. But the sky is the limit. As long as I stay open minded.

Key Takeaway

Adopting, maintaining or reverting to an apprentice mindset keeps you seeking and learning. It’s the only way to become outstanding. Don’t place a premium on what you already know. Place a premium on the rate at which you accumulate new techniques, approaches, tricks and perspectives. Because the most valuable way to become a valuable expert at anything is knowing that you’re not there yet.

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

Why requests to pick my brain hurt my head.

When I was a kid I collected baseball and football cards. Today I collect something far more valuable: knowledge. I add to my collection every day by reading, listening to audio books and podcasts, and talking to experts. I tap into my inner Oprah, and ask questions to try to expand my knowledge, my abilities and effectiveness. Which is why every night I go to bed a little wiser than I was when I woke up.

Pass It On

To return the favor to all those who have shared with me, I try to share what I know with others. That’s why I write this blog. It’s why I guest lecture to college students and why I try to make myself available to those who want to meet with me one-on-one, like Hall & Oates.

Johnny Requests

Because I have openly demonstrated a willingness to talk about the things I know, I get a steady stream of requests to discuss a wide variety of topics. I am happy to share what I know. However, there is one question I really dislike being asked when people want me to share my knowledge with them.

‘Can I pick your brain?’

Newsflash

No one wants to have their brain picked. The idea of brain picking conjures a variety of unpleasant images in my head, of my head. I see graphic depictions of ice picks to the cranium. And vultures picking at my lobes of squishy gray matter. I imagine someone picking my nose and really, really getting up there.

Brain picking makes me think of picking at zits and picking scabs. In other words, asking to pick my brain is not an intellectually enticing pick up line.

Reframe In The Membrane

Brain picking is really focused on the person trying to extract value. Not the person offering the value. Which makes it sound like a selfish request. So let’s not use this phrase anymore.

Pick Your Pick-Your-Brain Substitute.

The next time you want to pick up on someone else’s knowledge try one of the following pick up lines:

  • I would love to learn more about __________. And I don’t know anyone who knows more about it than you.
  • I would love to hear your philosophy on _________.
  • You are the smartest person I know when it comes to _______. Can I ask you some questions?
  • You are the Queen/King of ____________ and I would like to be your subject, of this subject.
  • If I bought you a Butterfinger would you drop some of your knowledge on me?
  • I am extremely impressed by how much you know about __________. Would you consider acting like Sonny, and share?
  • I want to learn how you _______________ because no one does it better. (Baby, your the best.)

Note: you are suppose to replace the ________ with the topic you want to discuss. So don’t actually say, ‘I would love to learn about line from you.’ Unless you want to learn about line dancing.

Key Takeaway

Think about what you are saying before you ask someone if you can pick their brain. There are much better ways to ask those you admire to share their knowledge, guidance and perspective. Including asking someone to share their valuable knowledge, guidance and perspective. Be empathetic. Put yourself in their shoes. Flatter, praise and respect those you would like to learn from. You will be sure to create a mutually beneficial exchange that leaves all brains better than ever. And potentially better than Ezra.

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

Why you should always look for one valuable quote.

I have a real thirst for knowledge. If you can picture a guy crawling across the desert, in torn clothing, deliriously muttering ‘Agua’, that’s how thirsty I am for knowledge. But I find that drinking it is a bit like drinking water from the ocean. The more you take in, the more you want. Which means you will never be satisfied. Remember not to drink ocean water for realzies. It will dehydrate and kill you (but at least you get to spend your last days at the ocean).

I’m Learning To Fly

I have always liked learning. But in my adulthood I have realized that the more I know the better I am at my various roles and responsibilities. That’s why I am trying to learn how to be a better husband, parent and friend.

Professional Grade

On my professional journey I have learned how to be a better employee, manager, and leader. But today, as an entrepreneur, there is no end to the knowledge that could benefit me, my business, my team and our clients.

What’s In the Fridge, Perry?

To try to quench my thirst I seek knowledge from many different sources. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Podcast
  • Blogs
  • Speeches
  • Graffiti
  • Sermons (Which are like speeches, but from a person wearing a robe.)
  • Documentaries
  • Chocolate Milk Meetings (because I don’t drink coffee)
  • Informational interviews
  • Meetups
  • Newsletters
  • Webinars
  • Coaches
  • Headstones

Simplify. Simplify Yourself.

I have learned that my little brain can’t absorb everything I read, see or hear. That’s why I have learned to simplify how I digest all that I devour.

As I read books, listen to podcasts or talk to other humans, I am like a prospector panning for gold nuggets. I don’t need all the gravel. I don’t need the flotsam and jetsam. And I don’t need the pyrite (look at me still remembering terms from my 7th Grade Vermont Resources field trip Mrs. Thompson!)

What I want, what I really really want.

I am simply looking for one great quote. That’s it. I want one great, simple summation of a valuable idea to add to my collection. I want one great mantra. One clear rule. One core philosophy. One great lesson. If I find it then the energy and time I invested in the stimuli were valuable.

Ohhh, Then What? Whatcha Gonna Do?

I add that simple quote to the jukebox* in my brain. I listen to it every time I am in a relevant situation. I play it for those around me when they could use a great quote to encourage or guide them. And I share it in my blog to make it even easier for others to find. *A ginormous iPod.

Key Takeaway

When you thirst for knowledge you don’t have to swallow everything you find. The greatest value comes from the small, nutrient-dense sips. Read and listen for the simple quotes that are dense with value. Right them down or record them on your phone. Revisit them often. Share them with others. Because in those simple quotes lie the directions that enable us to profit the most from a life well lived.

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

I have found something I am terrible at. Now what do I do?

I love a good challenge. I like testing myself to see what I am capable of. Never was that more clear than when I decided to launch my own advertising agency in 2016.

Suddenly I wan’t just responsible for my own work, or for the creative department that I oversaw.  I was responsible for absolutely everything that happens at The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency.

Jumping In The Deep End

I quickly had to learn if I was capable of running operations, business development, customer service, human resources, production, accounting and the creative department at the same time. Which is a bit like walking and whistling and juggling gum on spinning plates at the same time.

The Good

I discovered, that like you, I am capable of a lot more than I had been doing. I discovered new strengths. I found that I enjoy addressing late payments, shopping for business insurance, and establishing leases in multiple states. Those broad new tasks have tested me in new and dynamic ways. Better yet, I have passed those test with at least satisfactory grades. And I am proud of that. Because low expectations lead to high satisfaction. 

The Bad And The Ugly

But lately I have discovered something I am terrible at. It’s relatively small. But my challenge with it seems worthy of sharing.

I am terrible at calling people when they say call me anytime!

I have at least 6 people to call who have invited me to call them without stating a specific time slot. And I can’t seem to get traction on these action items.

These are all big dogs. People who I really want to talk to. The list includes 2 company CEOs, 2 company Presidents, and a cheese broker. (I live in Wisconsin, and I have cheese needs).

Here’s what happens:

  1. I put a tentative time for a phone call on my calendar.
  2. My day gets hectic (Every day gets hectic).
  3. I move the call off my calendar to focus on more pressing issues.
  4. I get a lot accomplished by utilizing that free time.
  5. The important but not urgent calls slip into the future with Steve Miller.

Important But Not Urgent

I am a huge proponent of the Important But Not Urgent activities. I was first introduced to these activities through Stephen R Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. (If you haven’t read this it should be your next book. Unless you have to retake your drivers test soon. Then read that little book on driving in your state next.)

Important But Not Urgent activities include the things you don’t have to do today but really should. These are investments in a better life, and greater success. Things like networking, relationship maintenance, exercise, planning for the future and applying deodorant.

So Now What?

I know having these invited but unscheduled calls are important. But I haven’t developed the proper skill, habit or muscle to get it done. That being said, I am looking forward to figuring this one out. Because it means I will be turning an area of weakness into an area of strength. Which is the kind of growth I was seeking when I decided to try my hand at entrepreneurship.

Key Takeaway

No one is good at everything. We all have areas of weakness, ignorance or immaturity. If you want to accomplish great things you have to be okay with that. Your deficiencies can be improved or avoided through hiring and delegation. Which means that your most valuable skill is problem solving. Because problem solving provides the answers to every test. Just ask Felicity Huffman.

Your mistakes are your most important milestones.

I read as much as I can. I am always searching for knowledge, wisdom, inspiration, perspective and a good laugh. Because I am always searching, I often find what I am looking for.

DaVinci

This morning I was reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Leonardo DaVinci. On page 59, Isaacson describes the flaws in DaVinci’s painting, The Annunciation. The painting depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel breaks the news to the Virgin Mary that she is going to become the mother of Christ. And Mary is all like ‘WTF!?!’

1200px-Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Annunciazione_-_Google_Art_Project
‘Hey Mary! How’s it going? Um, God wanted me to tell you that he wants you to have his son. Oh, and you get to ride a Donkey!’

Flawed Genius

The painting isn’t perfect. Because Leo was trying out some interesting new moves. The magic of this painting is revealed when you look at it from the angle he wanted you to see it from. But I think the real magic comes from Isaacson’s commentary:

‘In the process, he made some mistakes. But even the mistakes, which came from innovating and experimenting, heralded his genius.’ – Walter Isaacson from Leonardo DaVinci

Way To Grow!

I love that. I like to think that my mistakes are evidence that I am trying. That I am pushing beyond what I know how to do well, into areas of growth, improvement and innovation. I am more afraid of not growing that I am of messing things up.

Key Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You, your skills, and your abilities are iterative. Don’t stop at You 1.0. Try more. Learn more. Innovate and experiment more. Push yourself as far as you can. Discover what You 100.0 is capable of. And if you do, someone may write a book about you too.

Why I ask job candidates if they can Double Dutch.

Starting something new is hard. I’m not just talking about things like going to prison. Which I imagine is really hard at first. And in the middle. And towards the end.  It’s hard to be a rookie at anything. Some people enjoy the luxury of not caring whether or not they look dumb doing something new. I don’t have that luxury. I care.

But I also really enjoy taking on new challenges. And I have developed my own technique for starting new activities that you may find usefeul. I refer to it as my Double Dutch technique.  You remember Double Dutch. It’s the playground activity where you try to jump two ropes, swinging simultaneously, in opposite directions. Because jumping one swinging rope just isn’t hard enough.  Double Dutch can be a ridiculously intimidating activity. Those ropes are relentlessly nipping at your heels. And once they bite your foot the game immediately halts to bring everyone’s attention to your failure.

But I like Double Dutch. It’s an activity for people who like to try hard things. It’s much more challengeing than single Dutch, or non-Dutch rope jumping. And it’s infinitely harder than just jumping up and down with no rope (which always earns me funny looks).

I like to try hard things.  It makes me feel stronger, more confident and more capable. It makes me feel like I am growing. And I like to work with others who enjoy pushing themselves.

Today, I utilize my Double Dutch technique all the time as I grow my advertising agency, The Weaponry. Because not only am I taking on new challenges personally, I want our entire team to continuously expand our capabilities and find new and better ways to help our clients.

Here’s how my Double Dutch technique works.

I get close to the activity. To get a feel for Double Dutch you have to step into that space right next to the ropes. And when I start something new I try to first get really close to the action without fully engaging.  There is something about being close to the activity that helps you absorb how it works quicker. If you want to climb Mt. Everest go to basecamp first to get aclimated.

I watch others. Aside from the very first Double Dutchers on Earth, whom I assume were twins from Amsterdam, I bet no one has ever tried jumping the two-ropes-of-doom without first watching someone else do it. That’s why I always watch other people performing the task I want to learn. I study the moves, the attitude and the technique. Much like an actor studies others when preparing to play a role.

I find the rhythm  Double Dutch has a unique rhythm all its own. You have to get in sync with it to succeed. Most human interactions are like this. The interactions at a networking event, a yoga class, and in business meetings follow a certain flow and cadence. Learn them so you can anticipate the order and timing of the activity.

I jump in. At some point if you want to Double Dutch you have to jump in.  Once I have armed myself reasonably well by getting close to an activity, watching it, and finding the rhythm, I channel my inner Davd Lee Roth and I jump (might as well, right DLR?). Sometimes it goes well from the start. Other times I need a mulligan.

I recalibrate  In Double Dutch the rope tells you what you did wrong. And the problem is always that you touched the rope. The question is where. Use that feedback to do better on the next try. If you jumped too soon, wait another beat. If you jumped too late, go a bit sooner.  This is little data at its best. Create a new plan based on the learnings.

I jump in again. And again.  To jump ropes you have to keep trying. This is how life works. Get in and jump, over and over until you get it right. Whether you want to build a great brand, learn how to knit, or run QuickBooks, there is ultimately no substitute for doing. Be a do-er.

As you focus on growth and acquiring new skills consider the Double Dutch approach. Give yourself a chance to get close, observe, absorb, try, learn and try again. Soon you will find yourself in rhythm, jumping, and singing, ‘Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries.’ Let’s talk about how well you’re doing when I see you at recess. Until then, here’s a little inspiration.

How to get smarter every time you get in a car.

If you are like most people, you are on a long intellectual decline. Sure, you absorbed a lot of knowledge in school. But once you left high school or college or became a beauty school dropout, you stopped learning. Ok, ok, so you still ‘learn something new everyday.’ Maybe you pick up a little trivia under a Snapple cap. You learn that the very first touch tone phones didn’t have pound or star symbols. Or you learn that Americans invented Mexican, Italian and Chinese food.  But that’s not exactly growth learning.

True growth learning is extremely important to me. Because I learned at an early age that the stock version of Adam Albrecht was pretty ordinary. I have a vision of myself as a much better, smarter, stronger, funnier, nicer, braver, more capable human than I am today. Therefore I’m always trying to close the gap between the me in my head and the me on my couch.

One of the best habits I have developed to create a better me is listening to audio books while I drive. I stumbled onto my audiobook interest accidentally.  In 2009-ish I attended the Hachette Book Group’s annual book sale, just north of Indianapolis.  For one weekend in June everything is on sale for a dollar. So I bet a dollar on Ted Turner’s ‘Call me Ted’ audiobook. I loved the book. But more importantly, I learned from it.

  1. I learned how a kid who didn’t apply himself well in school could become among the wealthiest people on the planet by applying himself at life.
  2. I learned that to make wild leaps in your accomplishments you sometimes need to take wild risks.
  3. I learned that meeting room antics can make you highly memorable.
  4. I learned that pursuing your passionate interests can change the world.
  5. I learned that through mergers and acquisitions you can get tossed out of your own company.
  6. I learned the immense impact of philanthropy.
  7. I learned the value of keeping your eye on the future.
  8. I learned that the first Ted’s Montana Grill was in my former hometown of Columbus, Ohio. (ok, so this is a little more Snapple cap-esque)
  9. I learned how the right people and processes can turn losers like the Atlanta Braves into World Series Champions.
  10. I learned that Jane Fonda is a pretty great lady to have on your arm when you walk into a party.

So I sought out more audiobooks. I listened to biographies and self-help books. I listened to history books and books about the future. Now I pick up nuggets of knowledge and pearls of wisdom every day when I drive. I will often stop the audiobook and ask Siri to take a note for me, repeating a quote I heard, or paraphrasing a lesson so that I can review later.  It’s my way of highlighting the key passages as I listen. Just as I did in college.

Soon, the audiobooks made me feel like I was winning at life. Because I realized that by listening and learning on my commute I would arrive at work smarter than when I left home. Later that day I would arrive home smarter than I was when I left work.

Since I left the University of Wisconsin, no other activity has so clearly added layers of depth to my thinking, new lenses through which to view the world, or examples of how to choose my own adventures like my audiobook lessons. Today, The Perfect Agency Project owns a library of audiobook titles that our team can checkout anytime they want. Which is the easiest way I know to grow a stronger and smarter team without adding new people.

Many of you will be flying or road tripping over the next few days for the Thanksgiving holiday. I encourage you to stop by your local library to check out the audiobook section before you hit the highways or flyways. I bet you’ll be surprised  by the range of titles and topics. And it’s all free (unless you count the taxes you already paid that bought the books). Of course, there are also plenty of digital resources, like Audible and Amazon. When you find something you like, shoot me a message. I am always looking for great new reads, or listens, or learns, or whatever we should call them. If you’re interested, I’m happy post a list of my recommendations too.

Happy Thanksgiving. Safe travels. And I hope your thinking expands as much as your waistline.