Saturday, August 25, 2018

Done is Dead.

So, for all you ideas that exist in the world, consider this your warning.

Done will not be resurrected here.

Or celebrated.

Or, really even acknowledged.


And we are moving on to whatever is next.

Whatever is better.

Whatever hasn’t been done.


What if we advertised a resort as its own town? Maybe David Hasselhoff is the mayor?

What if we organized a game utilizing Twitch? Maybe people can blow up cars in real life as they play online?

What if we used advertising to change the world? Maybe start with giving a new generation hope?

Okay, so maybe we still need to pay attention to the inspiration of done to push us to the next.


That’s right, not so fast hovering hand yearning for checked task closure.

Don’t mark done’s final crossed off blow just yet.

Because there’s no satisfaction in done.

There’s satisfaction in bettering done by doing.




Connecting with our audiences.

With meaning.

Like we mean it.


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Sunday, February 11, 2018

You are not the you that you were five years ago.

Within five years every hair on your head, every cell in your body and even every atom within every one of your brain neurons has turned over. So, every five years – anatomically – you are a completely different person. And believe it or not, over a lifetime, even your DNA will evolve.

Okay. But what about personality? An individual’s personality is a constant through this crazy physical-anatomy turnover. Right?


Personalities are influenced by situations. And people’s responses will change as situations act upon them over time. Our own beliefs and our own shared situational experience cloud how we judge personalities. But we so desperately want to categorize others that we only pay attention to the consistencies and we ignore the inconsistencies.

Well, this is all fairly terrifying. But what about memories? Memories stay consistent throughout a lifetime. Right?


Emotionally significant or traumatic flashbulb-type memories are essentially inerasable, but even they drift as much as your daily memories do. In fact, every time we think about memories, we corrupt them. It’s like making a copy of a copy. Or, playing the game of telephone. We drop details and fictionalize facts over time.

So, what does this mean for the basic human need to seek stability and consistency?

That likely won’t change, but we can decide to embrace the chaos and use it to our advantage.

Our brains seek patterns and once we’ve learned a connection we tend to overlook things that vary from that. Brains are lazy, and they skip forward to conclusions. The challenge is to teach ourselves to unlearn patterns and accept inconsistent information. In every facet of life, there is an illusion of continuity. We want to think that we, and others, have a consistent identity. But, clearly, we don’t. We’re changing all the time.

Once we accept that our own perception is untrustworthy and that the only real consistency in the world is change, we can use our perception to affect positive change. Here are some ways:

  • Assume positive intent. If someone brings you a problem, assume they mean well and are looking to you for help. But, don’t make it about you. Be cognizant that everyone has their own personal hurdles and did not intend to frustrate you. 
  • Reframe reality. There’s a very famous marshmallow study that pop culture misconstrued as a study in the consistency of delayed gratification leading to a more successful life. Kids that could wait 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow would get another one if they waited. In reality, it was an exercise in reframing reality. The kids that were encouraged to imagine that the marshmallow was a picture (and not a real marshmallow) could wait longer without eating it.
  • Change what you can affect. Reimagine what you can’t. The ability to stay calm through chaos is a leadership trait, but it’s something that needs to be cultivated. Let’s say you get cut off in traffic. Our first response is to make it about us. We think the other driver did it on purpose. Well, how do your emotions change if you reimagine that the driver is a parent with a child that needs to get to the hospital. Is that true? Probably not. But, it allows you to stay calm about something you can’t affect and head into work with a clear mind.
  • Each day is a new day. Literally. You are a new evolution of you every time you wake up. Seriously, the cells in your body are constantly turning over. You do not have to be tied to your biography from last year or even the day before. Take life one second at a time.

Check out the transcript from the NPR segment that inspired this post. I had seen pieces of this information before, but never in one place with so many layers.

This article is crossposted on Thrive Global.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Life Lessons from a Life Well Lived.

Even as walking became difficult, my grandmother was determined to get on this boat with my grandfather.

I’m one of eight grandchildren that was lucky enough to be inspired by my grandmother. 

She was a nurse on the nation's first heart surgery team—chosen to be on standby when important heart-issue-having people like Khrushchev were in the U.S. She happened upon hanging out with strangers like Neil Armstrong's nephew while traveling the world because she struck up conversations with anyone and everyone—often leading to lifelong friendships. She took on crazy projects like painting a grand piano simply because she wanted the color changed—not once, but twice. She was a voracious reader who would pack five large books in her suitcase whenever she was going somewhere, even if it was just for a week. She was a climber of mountains, a connector of cultures and a leader of situations—even through times when ladies often didn't lead.

There are a lot of life lessons that we can learn from her.

We Are All Connected.

Three years ago I was having dinner with my grandparents. My grandmother made a statement that really stuck with me. She said, "Everyone is like you, if you just let them in."

I believe this is at the heart of why empathy is so important. If we all took the time to understand what drives each other, the world would be a peaceful place.

Make Travel a Priority.

My grandparents never had a second car. And any money they would have spent on a second car became their travel fund. For fifty years, they never missed a yearly trip.

Sometimes the things that we think are necessities hold us back from the things that could meaningfully shape us.

Choose life experiences over second cars, you’ll have a lot more stories. And less mechanic bills.

Learn to Lead and Be Brave.

My grandmother always had a clear point of view and was confident in who she was. She was a leader who wasn’t afraid to take a stand for something she believed in.

And she was very brave, from caring for patients to taking on the world. In fact, I once witnessed her bravery in full action. When my grandparents took my cousin and I to the rainforest, I woke up from a hammock nap to find a tarantula staring right at me (eye to eye… well actually my two eyes to his too-many eyes). She immediately chased him off with a rolled up magazine. No hesitation.

Not only did she inspire me to take action and be a leader, but I also learned not to nap on rainforest hammocks.

Don’t Spectate, Participate.

My grandmother was never one to stand on the sidelines. If she wanted something done, she did it. When she and my grandfather traveled, they didn’t just observe new cultures, they immersed themselves in them. On their trip to India, my grandfather designed a wing of a hospital and my grandmother jumped in as a nurse while they were there.

Life is meant to be lived, not waited for or watched. She had an amazing life and her spirit lives on in everyone she influenced. So in her spirit, I want you all to realize that you are lucky enough to have right now. And right now is a world full of possibilities. What will you do with them?

We lost my grandmother on Valentine's Day, 2016. She will be greatly missed, but her legend will live on.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

99U: The Power of Empathy Over Ego

My talk from the first-ever 99U Local Worldwide Event event last September.

Jen Hohn, Executive Creative Director at Vladimir Jones, explores the power of empathy — in both creativity and leadership. 
Unless you happen to be a fine artist getting paid to make your latest crazy whim, your creative job is probably not about you. If you’re a creator, you work for your client’s audience. And if you’re a leader, you work for your team (not the other way around). Now, more than ever, creatives must get into the minds of their targets and give them the reigns to interact with brands. And leaders must listen to a new workforce that demands a two-way relationship. It’s no longer about ruling followers; it’s about mentoring more leaders. In her 99U talk, Jen explores the neuroscience of how getting over yourself and into another’s shoes will not only help you climb the creative ranks, but will also bring more meaning to what you create.

Check out the other amazing speakers from that night here » 

Thanks to my new Co-ECD Matt (Vladimir Jones), Jeff (Grenadier) and Max (School) for taking the stage with me. And, thanks to Studio C3 for filming/producing these videos and to Chip Kalback for the head shots. Also, thanks to the amazing Colorado community that came out that night and cheered us on.

I hope all of you are inspired to go forth and make ideas happen.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Chase Your Someday.

Someday is a myth.

Someday hangs out with Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster; carefully staying out of the camera’s reality clutches. Someday prefers the shadowy distance; putting off things like completing that leggy to-do list, achieving work-life balance or even (gasp) reaching an inbox zero. Someday is a hazy time gap somewhere between a wish and a follow-through. Most will tell you to forget someday, because it simply doesn’t exist. They’ll say things like “keep your head down, don’t buck the system and stop dreaming.” Because, let’s be honest—with yesterday already gone—we really only have today. And today is often all too real.

There’s hope in someday.

It’s reassuring when we pause our daily routine, gaze out the window and imagine what our someday could be. Everyone’s is different. However, universally, someday is the satisfaction you’ll have when you feel like you’ve finally made it—whatever your it may be. Achieving a lifelong goal, overcoming adversity, basking in fame, or even simply (exhale and unfurl your brow) finding peace of mind with those you love. There’s something about someday’s promise that’s very motivating—that is, if we take action toward actually achieving it. If we roll up our sleeves and set our sights beyond today’s perceived limitations. Someday gives us a star to reach for. An idea to actualize. A reason to keep going.

My dad believed in my someday.

Growing up, my dad instilled a level of expectation in me that left me constantly grasping for something just out of reach. He showed me that optimism, commitment and hustle can flatten obstacles. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was teaching me to be self-driven—to accept challenges and quietly, yet fearlessly, overcome them. And looking back now, I know that main skill was meant to give me a better chance at my own someday. During my last visit with him, he told me I could accomplish anything as long as someone was telling me I could. And at the core, that someone had to be myself.

My dad enabled somedays for others.

As a teacher, he took pride in helping those who didn’t have a good chance at their somedays—the kids who were underdogs or troublemakers. He believed these kids could do well if they worked hard, and they sensed he meant it. Starting from a place of expected success rather than anticipated failure was often all it took to change their life paths. And with their first 'A', they’d run down the hall to show my dad this hard-fought evidence of their newly found potential.

Someday never waits.

Opportunities are everywhere, but easy to miss. So ask yourself, what can you be doing now to make your or someone else’s someday happen sooner than later? Because your honest belief in yourself or in someone else can fuel the self-drive necessary for reaching a meaningful goal. That is, if you’re willing to believe in a crazy, imaginary thing like someday. And then, even crazier, bravely chase it.

This piece was written in memory of and with gratitude for my dad. As a coach and teacher, he pushed me and many others to be more than we thought we could be. I hope this way of thinking will inspire many more to think beyond the boundaries of today.

Crossposted on The Huffington Post Blog.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

99U Local: Denver // Speakers Announced

All of the 99U Ambassadors from around the world while we were together at the New York Conference.

Introducing 99U Local:
 A One-Night Event Hosted in 28 Cities Worldwide. 

We’re thrilled to invite you to join us for an intimate, new 99U talk series about how to kill it in your creative career. The program will feature three short talks offering practical, creative career and business advice from exceptional Coloradans who are making ideas happen. Come for the road-tested, no-bullshit advice. Stay for the drinks, food, and networking.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
6:30 PM to 9:30 PM
Denver Post Events Venue Auditorium
101 West Colfax, Denver, CO 80202

This event is free to attend, but there are a limited number of spots available, so we highly recommend you RSVP here:

Speakers and Topics Include:

Max Lenderman
Founder and CEO at School
How To Try and Give a Shit
We are all faced with the prospect of becoming uninterested in our work, and worse still, uninterested in the world around us. But we all know that to truly get to great work — and to dent the world a bit — we need to give a shit. So how can we get there and stay there? In this 99U talk, Max Lenderman explores the ways that we can all get to give a shit. Drawing on his experiences from the Peace Corps, running creative teams at Crispin Porter + Bogusky and founding a “purpose-based” agency in Boulder, Max will try to get us a to give a shit a bit more. 

Jeff Graham
Founder and Partner at Grenadier
Creative Account Leadership
They have terrible design skills, and (God willing) will never write a single line of copy; but creatively-driven account managers are critical to making the work happen – by creating the conditions on their accounts that allow bold, culture-changing ideas to live. To be a successful account person in a creative agency, it requires a different perspective on the advertising industry, and a rare breed of partnership with creative teams. Today's most sought after account talent transcends the table stakes of owning business strategy and the client relationship. They also make it their business to be students of great creative ideas across platforms, and around the globe. They possess a producer/maker mindset. They're relentlessly focused on generating consumer insights & creative briefs that inspire creative teams to do the best work of their careers. They condition their clients to expect it, and give them the courage to make it. Creative account leaders are as responsible for killer campaigns as any writer or art director in the business; and at 99U Jeff Graham will talk about what it means to be one.

Matt Ingwalson
VP and Creative Director at IMM
Don't Let Smart Be Dumb
The Internet gives marketers access to an infinite amount of data. But used incorrectly, all those numbers lead to false conclusions, off-target creative, and the wrong sorts of consumer actions. In this talk, Matt will outline the common mistakes we make when we tap into Big Data. And he'll share a strategic process for getting from an unwieldy set of numbers to a tight brief that will set your creative team - and client - up for success.

Jennifer Hohn
Creative Director at Vladimir Jones and your 99U Ambassador
The Power of Empathy Over Ego
Unless you happen to be a fine artist getting paid to make your latest crazy whim, your creative job is probably not about you. If you’re a creator, you work for your client’s audience. And if you’re a leader, you work for your team (not the other way around). Now, more than ever, creatives must get into the minds of their targets and give them the reigns to interact with brands. And leaders must listen to a new workforce that demands a two-way relationship. It’s no longer about ruling followers; it’s about mentoring more leaders. Let's explore the neuroscience of how getting over yourself and into another’s shoes will not only help you climb the creative ranks, but will also bring more meaning to what you create. In her 99U talk, Jen will explore the undeniable power of empathy—in both creativity and leadership. 

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Your Inner Critic Is A Jerk.

He resides under your skin and over your shoulder. Breathing down your neck. Whispering behind your back. Ceremoniously leading the war within while unapologetically telling you how it is.

He offers snarky feedback like, “Wow, did you really just say that? Man, you sounded like an idiot.” Right after he insults your wardrobe choice.

You don't need this lover of bad hair days. This heckler of good intentions. This taker of parking spots that you clearly claimed with your blinker. He'll continue to trade confidence for doubt and minimize success.

Don’t listen to him.

He knows nothing.

He's a jerk.

Your Inner Critic Is A Genius.

He knows good work when he sees it. And, because he’s tasted it, he’ll settle for nothing less. His discerning taste took years to refine—all in the name of protecting you from becoming a hack.

He offers road-tested advice like, “That. That part you’re overlooking. That’s the idea. That’s what matters.” Right after he sends an epiphany rush through your soul.

You need this honest collector of influence. This critical evaluator of performance. This never-satisfied driver of betterment. He'll continue to make you stronger and remind you why you love what you do.

Listen to him.

He knows.

He's a genius.

You Are Responsible For Holding Yourself Back.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Think about obstacles you've encountered. Were they real, or were they in your own mind? Were they built on facts or assumptions? Chances are, you can remove most hurdles.

You Are Responsible For Moving Yourself Forward.

As humans, we possess the blessing and burden of self-awareness. (Well, some more than others.) However, sometimes we just need to get out of our own way. Never let the past dictate the future.

Find your voice.

Follow your passion.

Each and every day, go forth and set your respective worlds on fire.

Show your inner critics who’s boss.

“Be stronger than that which holds you back.” – Shiza Shahid
(Especially if that which holds you back is you.)

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

The power of perspective.

Shantanu Starick, international photographer and founder of The Pixel Trade project, is changing the perspective of commerce by using his trade in exchange for life's basic necessities—bringing the bartering system into day-to-day life. After his talk, he took a reverse-perspective photograph of the audience by asking everyone to turn around except for one gentlemen in the middle.

Early May I ventured to New York for the first time. After years of hearing about the 99u Conference, I was lucky enough to experience it for myself. It’s led by one of my favorite creative entrepreneurs, Scott Belsky—author of  Making Ideas Happen, co-creator of Behance, and now VP of Adobe’s creative community. Much like his book, the goal of the conference is to shift the focus from idea generation to idea execution.

“Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

Two things struck me about all of the speakers and sessions. In each case, there was a high-level realization and a corresponding action. Road-tested insights that made me think… we are often our own roadblocks. And as Mimi brilliantly says, maybe we all need to get out of our own heads. Our minds want to make everything about us and cling to what’s been safely done. Instead, let’s meet people and challenges where they are, in the moments—emotionally, adaptively and intuitively.

This conference hit creative values, how we work, leadership, sustainability, entrepreneurship and innovation. I’ve got a ton of insights, but wanted to touch on what really resonated with where VJ is and where we are going with our new approaches.

What if there’s a group perspective, but it’s collectively adaptive?

My first studio session was at Undercurrent, a strategic powerhouse. They steered us through an exercise showing how responsive organizations can work in this rapid, project-based world beyond agency-of-record relationships. Agencies need to start working like complex adaptive systems. Self-organized empowerment based on the task at hand, like ants or the immune system—all maintaining a simple rule set, processing data and adapting often.

How do we pivot our perspective?

In further support for responsiveness Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote, gave a very grounded perspective on motivation. We have to avoid the over-pursuit of goals that are unattainable, or that need to shift. This leads to inhibited performance, unintended consequences and even cheating. There’s something called summit fever. It’s where a climber will relentlessly keep going to the top of the mountain through bad weather, personal injury or even lack of oxygen. They want to reach that goal more than anything and it consumes them. On a good day, they’ll make it. And on a bad day, they may die. Though our day-to-day is much less dangerous, we always need to reassess why we are doing things as variables and environments inevitably shift.

What if we really listen to other’s perspectives?

Graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton, author of Meanwhile in San Francisco, encouraged us to not just talk to strangers, but to listen to them. She captured strangers in their “meanwhiles” – the times when they are going somewhere and between things. There’s an intrinsic vulnerability during those moments. She illustrated their character, got to know them and captured glimpses of their unique perspectives. The collective result is both beautiful and profound.

Let's embrace and challenge perspective.

We’re working for unique audiences every day through the brands of our clients. With both content and context in mind, how can we make those engagements more meaningful to them? That’s how great work becomes great work—through personally listening, critically processing and responsively adapting. Let’s harness that power of perspective, and make groundbreaking ideas happen.

That same 99u crowd photo taken from another perspective. See if you can spot me.

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