Social distancing is really odd. Suddenly we don’t see the people we are used to seeing every day. This includes co-workers, that dude or dudette at the coffee shop with the tattoos and the people at the gym, with the tattoos. (Okay, maybe I just miss tattoos right now, because my kids don’t have any. Yet.)
Right now we don’t see the people we regularly run into at school or practice or the movie theater. And we’re quietly hoping those people haven’t been voted off the island by the coronavirus.
Please enjoy this flashback while you miss the people in your neighborhood
My Lunch Bunch
Yesterday I found a replacement for the people that I regularly see in my neighborhood. In fact, yesterday I had lunch with 16 of my college track teammates from the University of Wisconsin. While it would have been great to gather at Mickies Dairy Bar, The Memorial Union Terrace, or State Street Brats, none of those places would have let us in yesterday because of the corona-cooties
Instead, we gathered over the lunch hour, via Zoom, from our home offices, kitchens and couches. We gathered from a hospital and from an Olympic Training Center.
And it was amazing.
We gathered from Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago, Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Green Bay, Omaha, Denver, San Diego, Houston and Phoenix. Some of these people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in over 20 years.
This group of guys has a very special relationship. We trained, suffered, traveled, competed, studied and partied together throughout our college experience in Madison. We learned how to succeed as a team. We won multiple Big Ten Championships as a team. And our head coach, Ed ‘Nutty’ Nuttycombe won more Big 10 championships than any coach in any sport in Big 10 history. Which makes us feel as if we are part of a legacy. Better yet, we all have funny Nutty stories to share. #tripletnieces
Coach Nutty used to say, ‘It feels good to feel good.’ And yesterday if felt good to tap into the strong bond we still share during this challenging and isolating time. Our hour together reminded us that we are not alone. That we have brothers across the country to lean on, laugh with and learn from as we all go through this strange time together.
Thanks to Matt Downin, Louis Hinshaw, Tom Burger, Tony Simmons, Brian Veit, Jabari Pride, Bryan Jones, Matt Vander Zanden, David Sengstock, Jason Vanderhoof, Jeremy Fischer, Scott Brinen, Kevin Huntley, Scott Sullivan, and John Christensen for making the time to get together. I look forward to more. Because we are better together. Just like Coach Nutty, Coach Napes, and Coach Smith taught us. And we have the rings to prove it.
I encourage you to take advantage of this unique time to find and reconnect with your people. It only takes one person to get a video meetup started. So be that person. Channel your inner James Taylor, and let your people know that even in this time of social distancing and self-isolation, they’ve got a friend.
I was recently invited to speak at a Metro Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce event about storytelling. As the 3rd of 3 speakers on the same topic of storytelling, I knew I better take a unique angle on the topic in order to cover some new ground. I reframed storytelling in a different, perhaps more approachable or understandable context for business owners, small marketing teams and generalists. Here is the story I presented.
The Story on Storytelling
I have spent over 2 decades in marketing and advertising. About 10 years ago people started talking about ‘Storytelling’ like it was the hot new thing in marketing communications. But as the author of 23 years of ad campaigns and marketing programs, I’ll tell you that I don’t think about marketing in terms of storytelling.
The term ‘storytelling’ is weird for adults. If conjures images of fairytales, campfires, ghost stories, and once-upon-a-time-ness. It can be hard to connect the dots back to business and marketing. Unless, of course, you are Mother Goose, work at Disney, or are one of the Brothers Grimm.
If you are struggling with the idea of incorporating storytelling into your work, I want you to think about storytelling another way. I want you to think of business-related storytelling as Recruiting. Because marketing, advertising and sales is really just recruiting:
Recruiting customers to your store, show or restaurant.
Recruiting shoppers to your shelf.
Recruiting clients to your firm or agency.
Recruiting voters to the polls to vote for you or your agenda.
Recruiting attendees to an event.
Recruiting employees to work for you.
Where I learned this
Let’s go back in time to where I learned about marketing as recruiting. It wasn’t at my first advertising job. Or in my college classes. I learned about selling, marketing and advertising from an unexpected teacher: my college track coach.
Mark Napier, my coach at the University of Wisconsin, was a great track coach. But Mark Napier, was a world class recruiter. To be successful in college athletics you need to be able to recruit great athletic talent. And Coach Napes was masterful at it.
I have bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and psychology. But I earned a master’s degree in selling by studying how Professor Napier recruited. (He wasn’t really a professor. He didn’t even own any elbow patches).
The Essential Recruiting Technique
You know how Napes recruited top track and field athletes from across the country, the Caribbean, and Europe to come to Wisconsin? Where it snows from October through May?
He told stories. Stories that sold people. The most important lesson I learned from Napes was, know your audience. What do they want? What do they need? Because if you know what they want and what they need you know what to tell them to sell them.
It’s not you. It’s them.
But remember, don’t tell the story you want to tell. It is all about the story they want to hear. When it came to recruiting high school track and field athletes there were many different wants and needs. You had to do your homework to understand their hot buttons. You have to do your own research. You have to observe the athlete. Ask questions. And listen to what they say.
The Prospective College Athlete Hot Buttons May Include:
Academic quality and reputation
Proximity to home
The athletic program
Proximity to Aunt Deanie (my Aunt Deanie lived in Madison and was a draw for me. But many other kids have their own version of Aunt Deanie).
The town itself
Proximity to stupid high school girlfriends or boyfriends.
A particular major or program
The conference you compete in.
Good looking girls
Spring training trips
The coaches track record of success
Ass-Kicking-Ness (You can tell this by smelling their shoes)
Someone just like them in the program
Pushing The Hot Button
Coach Napes was masterful at discovering the hot buttons of each athlete we were recruiting, and telling them the story they wanted to hear. Or demonstrating it. Or making them experience it.
As a result were able to successfully recruit national champions from Southern California and from Florida to join our track team in Madison, Wisconsin.
In fact, my junior and senior years we were Big 10 Champions in both indoor and outdoor track. My senior year our team was 6th in the nation. I had 6 teammates who were Division 1 National Champs in their events.
Putting Recruiting To Work At Work
You can use the same approach to recruiting in your business. I want you to think of yourself like a Division 1 coach who is trying to attract 5 Star Recruits. For those of you who are sports illiterates, that means you are coaching at the highest level, and recruiting the very best athletes.
Departments or roles that should be recruiting for you:
We All Have Needs
It all starts with understanding your potential customer’s wants and needs. Know this and you will know what story to tell. Because in business the only thing that matters is what your audience wants or needs. And whether they think they can get it from you.
This is where the story starts.
Create a persona of the target audience you want to recruit. Understand them in detail.
Once you know who you are trying to reach, you talk to them about the things they want to hear.
Track record of Success
Ease of Use
Find the most compelling story you can tell to make people buy into you and your offering. That is your strategy. Then tell the stories that make you appear more attractive to those you are trying to recruit.
Storytelling in business is simply recruiting. It is sharing the great things about you, your organization, your products, and your services, with those you want to attract. Know your audience and what they want. And then show and tell them how you can deliver against their wants and needs. The End.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
I grew up in the small town of Norwich, Vermont. There were about 3,500 people in town. I knew many of those 3,500. And many of them knew me. After graduating from high school I left Norwich for the University of Wisconsin. The student population was 43,000. That is nearly 40,000 more people than lived in my hometown. Heck, it was more people than lived in the biggest city in my home state. #BurlingtonIsNotBurly
On my first day of school I moved from class to class within a massive sea of students. Between classes the sidewalks on campus in Madison were as packed as the sidewalks in Manhattan. And as I hustled my bustle through the crowds, I didn’t see a single face I knew. It was really weird.
On the 3rd day of classes, walking across campus from Bascom Hall to the chemistry building I saw someone I knew. One familiar face among the 10s of thousands crisscrossing campus (making you jump, jump). I was so excited that I remember telling people about it that night back at the dorms.
The next day I saw 3 people I knew while walking around campus. It was amazing. The day after that I saw 5 people. I was so excited. The day after that I stopped counting.
Within the first month of school I saw people I knew everywhere I went. By my sophomore year I felt like I knew everyone on campus. And by my junior year I felt like 43,000 students were not enough.
I was reminded of this story yesterday morning when I went to the health club that my family belongs to. We joined when we first moved to Milwaukee from Atlanta. The first day I worked out there I didn’t know anyone. In fact, I did’t talk to anyone at the club for the first 2 months. Despite the fact that I wore both normal clothes and deodorant.
But yesterday club-goers stopped to talk to me before I got to the locker room. I saw friends on the way to the weight room. Other people I knew stopped by to say hi when I was on the elliptical trainer. And while I was lifting weights. And on the way back to the locker room. What a difference that was from my first 2 months.
Entrepreneurship works the same way. You have to be willing to start over at zero. With no clients. No employees. And none of the stuff you took for granted before. But when those clients or customers finally show up you value them more than you could ever imagine.
I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry in 2016. Today we have 19 clients. And I couldn’t appreciate them more. Because I remember when I had no clients at all.
Don’t be afraid to start over at zero. Don’t be afraid to move, or join a new club, class, church or volunteer organization where you don’t know anyone. Don’t be afraid of that new town, new job or new career. Knowing no one is not the end of the world. It is the beginning of a new one. Starting at zero is the start of something exciting. And nothing makes you value what you have more than starting again at zero.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
The legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s why it’s so important to spend your time with the best people. This past Friday, during the University of Wisconsin homecoming weekend, I spent 6 hours with an amazing group of former University of Wisconsin varsity athletes. These Badgers are some of the brightest, most driven, most fun, and most successful people I know.
Business Up Front
I kicked off homecoming weekend in Madison with a 2-hour advisory board meeting for the W Letterwinner’s Club. The advisory board is like Noah’s Ark. Because it features two former athletes from every varsity sport.
We meet to discuss how we can help our members develop more meaningful relationships with each other, both personally and professionally. We discuss how we can offer assistance, guidance and mentorship to graduating Badger student athletes. And we explore ways that our network can add value to the mission of the University of Wisconsin and its world class athletic department.
Up In Da Club
The former Badger student athletes on the board are inspiring. They include Big 10 Champions and National Champions. They include All-Americans and professional athletes. They include school record holders and Hall of Famers. They include athletes who made it to the Final 4 and the Frozen 4.
Our youngest members just graduated from Madison. And our most senior members used to get run with Crazy Legs Hirsch, Alan ‘The Horse’ Ameche and Paul Bunyan when he was just a babe himself.
Today these W Letterwinners are crushing it in their post-collegiate careers. They are executives and entrepreneurs. They are administrators, professors and coaches. They are leaders and volunteers. And they are great parents, wives and husbands. Just spending time with these badasses enhances my own false sense of badassery.
Party In The Back
On Friday night, after the work was done, we did what Badgers do. We played. We migrated to the iconic State Street Brats, and joined hundreds of others at the annual Badger Athlete Reunion. We spent the next few hours together, talking, laughing, sharing memories, making new friends, connecting dots, drinking beer and eating brats.
While it certainly looked as if we were having fun, we were doing more than that. We were strengthening our personal bonds. The bonds between former student-athletes who know just how hard it is to live up to the demands of academics and athletics at the Big 10 level. We were strengthening the bonds between Badgers who know that if you can excel in both the classroom and athletic arena at The University of Wisconsin, you have the critical tools and the skills to be successful for the rest of your life.
If you want to be great surround yourself with great people. Find rockstars who inspire you. Spend as much time with those special people as you can. It will make you a better person. I know it will. Because I learned that lesson in Madison as a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin.
*If you know someone you think would benefit from this message, please share it with them.
When I was a student-athlete at the University of Wisconsin my schedule was booked solid. I was at class every day by 8:55am. Classes lasted until 2pm. At 2:30pm I was at track practice. I left practice at 6pm and went to dinner. I ate at the Sports Buffet until they kicked me out at 7pm. By 7:20pm I was at Helen C. White Library studying in the quiet section (seriously). By 10:30pm I was taking the Drunk Bus home.
During this time I had something magical working for me: large chunks of time with completely focused effort. First I was totally focused on my classes. Then track practice. Then on eating (which felt like a job because I was the smallest discus thrower in the Big Ten Conference). And finally, on studying.
All 4 of these time blocks helped me focus my undivided attention on my largest life goals. Plus, there were no smart phones back then to distract me with an Instagram feed full of hilarious Pro Wrestling fails. (@Wrestlebotch)
Scheduling Focused Time
Today, I am revisiting the focused scheduling I employed as a student-athlete. As as result, I hope to achieve the same level of productivity, growth and progress I enjoyed two decades ago. That’s why I have time-blocked my calendar to help create deep focus on my most important tasks. The tasks that will help me achieve my long-term goals.
The Time Blocks On My Calendar Now Include:
An hour of blocked writing time every morning starting at 6am.
2 hours of totally focused work on my most important tasks from 10am to Noon.
1 hour of total focus on my most important issues in the afternoon from 2pm-3pm.
Dedicated open time for meetings, calls and emails to start and end the day.
A 30-minute planning session every Sunday night when I can plan my most important tasks for the week. Tasks that will help me achieve my long term goals.
I loved how my calendar blocks helped me in college. But a book I am reading has influenced me to reintroduce this useful scheduling technique again. In fact, The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan may be the most powerful book I have read in the past 3 years. It teaches you a system that always leads you to the one, most important thing that you should be doing at any given time, in order to help you achieve your loftiest goals. A critical part of the program is creating calendar blocks that are reserved exclusively for your total focus on your most important activities. Spoiler Alert: The one thing you should be doing at any given time never involves WrestleBotch. #PriortitiesVsDistraction
It is not enough to have goals. You need to put in the work required to achieve them. That’s why it is so important to block large chunks of time on your calendar that allow you to completely focus on your most important tasks, every day. Add a chunk of focused time for planning on Sunday evenings, and it will ensure that you make demonstrable progress each and every week. Remember, scheduling your time costs nothing. But the dividends it pays by helping you achieve your goals could be enjoyed for generations.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
When I was in college I had a great study routine. I went to the Helen C. White Library on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison every Monday through Thursday night. I headed straight to the quiet study section of the ‘brary, found a private study cube, and focused intensely for 45 to 60 minutes at a pop.
15 Minute Breaks
At the end of each period of intense focus I would leave the quiet study space and head to the non-stop party in the Group Study section of the library. There I would talk with friends, or flirt with the ladies for 15 minutes.
Then I would head right back to quiet section for another Total Focus study session. I would repeat this routine for several hours, until it was time to take the Drunk Bus home and get some sleep.
I loved this routine. In the quiet section there were no distractions. No laptop, mobile phone, or smart watch. Just papers, pens, and books. In that environment my brain soaked up knowledge like a sponge. I felt intensely productive. I felt on top of game. And my good grades indicated it was working.
Dealing With Distraction
Fast forward 2 decades, and I don’t feel intensely productive very often any more. Ever since I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, there are distractions everywhere. In fact, even my distractions have distractions. My ever-present iPhone is always trying to feed me news and alert me and ping me and generally mess with me like a digital Larry, Curly or Mo.
My laptop is like a 3-ring circus of emails, Slack notifications and calendar notices. All of them are vying for my attention all the time. Most of us deal with this digital sideshow. But as a business owner it is unrelenting. And it can feel as if staying on top of the pinging and dinging is how you stay on top of the business. But it is actually the death of productivity by a million beeps, blips and bites.
Going Back To College
That’s why I am going back to college. I’m not actually enrolling and going to class and keggers and the KK. But I AM going back to Helen C. White Library mode. I am getting back into my periods of Total Focus. Or ToFo as I like refer to it. As in, ‘Yo, Bro, I need some ToFo!’
I recognize that ToFo is my superpower. ToFo, not Budweiser Light, brings out my best.* ToFo helps me get the most accomplished. It helps me do my best thinking and creating. It makes me feel strong and capable. It unleashes the full power of mono-tasking. And I want more of this right now.
Scheduling The ToFo
I have at least an hour of ToFo in the morning when I write my blog. This focused, uninterrupted work helps me publish 3 new blog posts each week. I have also begun adding ToFo time into my work calendar. I am scheduling 60-minute periods of intensely focused work where I block out all interruptions and distractions.
I turn off the ringer on my phone, and the turn the phone over, so that I don’t hear or see any digital noise. I turn off Slack to avoid momentum killing Slack attacks. Then, for one hour, I am in ToFo mode. Just like I was back in the quiet study section at the library in Madison. I can literally feel the productivity and the progress at work as I am cranking through work and crossing things off on my daily to-do list.
ToFo For Everyone
I also want my team to be able to have more ToFo time for deep work. In the same way that we schedule meetings and lunch I want The Weapons to spend more time focused without interruption for longer periods of time. Which means scheduling time when they are not on a digital leash. It is good for my teammates. And it is good for business.
Find more time for ToFo. Silence your digital distractions. Be selfish. And mono-task for 45 to 90 minutes at a time. You can do this by scheduling time when you are totally available, and time when you are totally off limits to coworkers, clients and family. By scheduling this time the rest of your team knows when they can ask question and get feedback, and when the will have to wait. ToFo is your super power. You should use it every day.
*Click on this link to see some memorable beer commercials that treat beer as if it was Gatorade or Red Bull. I was totally inspired by these spots when I was a little kid. Go Beer!
Last week I was riding an escalator at the rental car center at the airport in Atlanta. The man in front of me turned to me and asked, ‘Did you go to the University of Wisconsin?’ I proudly replied, ‘Yes!’, and realized I was wearing a Wisconsin hat that had likely invited the question. Either that or I still smelled like brats, cheese and Mickies Dairy Bar.
The man continued:
My daughter goes to school there right now and absolutely loves it. She looked at Michigan State, which is where I went, and Ohio State, because we live in Canton, Ohio. But when she visited Madison she said, “Dad, I found my people.” -Escalator Dad
I could relate. That is exactly how I felt when I went on my recruiting trip to Wisconsin.
Two days later I was visiting my neighbor Christy Sheahan in Atlanta. She told me she and her son Christopher, who is a high school senior, had just visited Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana (home of my Mom and Dad). Christy and her husband Kevin’s oldest daughter Sydney is currently a freshman at the University of Georgia in Athens. Christy told Christopher, ‘I want you to keep looking at schools until you find a college environment that you love as much as Sydney loves UGA.’ Christopher, listen to your Mom.
The Fit Makes It.
These two comments are great reminders of how important it is to find your people and your places. Whether you are a student looking for the right college, or you are in the workforce, looking for the right job, you should search for that place that fits you just right. That place that is full of your kind of people. Finding the right fit makes all the difference in your happiness, your self-esteem, your memories, your relationships and your probability of success.
If you haven’t found the school that fits you, keep looking. If you haven’t found the workplace that fits you, keep searching. It is out there, and there are people who want to work with you as much as you want to work with them. Life, school and careers are all too short to spend in the wrong place, with the wrong people. There are 5300 colleges and universities in the United States. There is one that is just right for you, Goldilocks. And if you don’t think that the place you want to work exists in the place you really want to live, make it yourself. That’s what I did when I launched The Weaponry. And I couldn’t be happier. Not even if I was a student again back in Madison.