The Thrill Is(n't) Gone

Back in November I had the privilege of shooting a commercial with Russell Wilson (for my client, American Family Insurance). At the time his team was 8-1, and I'm not sure any of us (besides him) were 100% certain he'd make it to the Super Bowl.

As we now know, he did. And won.

Which made our Super Bowl spot even more relevant and powerful.

Here's the team with Russell, and the commercial which aired during the Super Bowl in 66 markets.

It was a great thrill to spend the day with Russell and subsequently watch him achieve his dream.

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It's All Pretty Simple

Isn't it?

You make sure your shoes are shined.

You say 'please' and 'thank you.'

You treat those around you with respect, and when you screw up you say 'I'm sorry.'

You eat your veggies and take your medicine.

You tell your mom you love her as much as possible.

You work hard. And honestly.

You tip generously.  At least fairly.

You keep your fingernails clean.

You hold the door for strangers.

You eat a healthy breakfast.

You find your cocktail, and stick with it.

You try to teach your kids how to be good by acting good.

You choose what issues in life need to be taken seriously; and those that are inconsequential.

It's all pretty simple.  

Training? We Don't Need No Stinking Training!

The two biggest stories of the week are Bubba Watson capturing the green jacket at the US Open, and Facebook buying Instagram for $1 billion.

What do these two seemingly disparate happenings have in common?

Both accomplishments were engineered by guys with no formal training in their respective field.

Watson - as was noted several times during Sunday's telecast - has never had a lesson or analyzed his swing on video.

Instagram's CEO, Kevin Systrom, is apparently an entirely self-taught programmer.

The world (and media) loves stories like this, and I'm guessing the stories are in the neighborhood of truth, but not quite as sexy as they've been made to be. 

Nonetheless, it's an interesting narrative and one I'm sure we'll continue to hear.

By the way, here's Watson's shot from the 2nd hole of the sudden-death playoff.  Maybe the best shot I've ever seen, given the circumstances.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jaq_SAtm3J8]

Behavioral Change Is So Simple

373857_10150454171909885_194238534884_8268146_76990634_nDrinking water and reading books.  Not historical strengths for me.

I know the merits of both. And feel guilty.  But too much of a chore.

I bought two things recently.

A Kindle and a water bottle.

I've read more books in the last five months than I have in years.  And for a couple of weeks I've downed my daily recommended H20 without a second thought.

Remove friction. Change behavior.  Pretty simple.  The Heath brothers would smile.

All That Inspires Me

He put his hand on my head, like one of those TV preachers.  "You're good people, baby."  

And at that moment, I was healed of all that ailed me.

But this was no mega-church.  And he was no preacher, though he shared the same mega-watt smile.

This was P.J. Clarke's - the original on 3rd Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan.

And He is Doug Quinn, bartender and subject of a 2010 New York Times article. 

For serving cheeseburgers on plain white plates, with no frills.
For not offering "Free WiFi!"
For having one tiny TV tucked in the corner of the bar.
For the meatloaf special.
For serving ketchup - Heinz of course - in a bottle and not a silly ramekin.
For attracting suits, punks, grandmas and newborns.
For being the place where I had so many unremarkable, yet special moments during my many years in New York.
For not having a hair out of place every time I return for a visit.
For being true to its roots, 127 years running.

For the healing powers of Doug Quinn.

P.J. Clarke's is what inspires me.

Three Plumbers

This happened to me tonight.  Make of it what you will.

I noticed a damp spot on the ceiling of the downstairs of my house when I got home, directly below a bathroom upstairs.  Clearly a problem.  I called three plumbers.

One went to voice mail.

The second to an answering service, who took my info and said someone would call me right back.  That was three hours ago.

The third ... a guy picked up.  He asked if I could hold on a second while he pulled off the road to talk to me.  He asked me a bunch of questions, took my info and said someone would call first thing in the morning to come out and look at it.

Who do you think is getting my money?

Library Card

Allow me a short rant ...

Relative to the general Chicago population, my children want for nothing. 

The disposable income to provide them with the finest education, access to any cultural or learning experience we deem worthy, and as many books as their little minds can consume.

And man, our four year old, Henry, consumes a lot.  His thirst for knowledge is never-ending.  It's awesome.

But while Barnes and Noble is a regular stop for us, we've also asked our babysitter to take him to the library to start checking out books rather than spending money on things he'll read once or twice and then shove in a pile somewhere.

Last week she came home with a form for us to fill out so he could get his own library card, rather than checking out books on hers.  We dutifully filled it out, and sent them on their way this morning.

Unfortunately, the Chicago Public Library has some tough standards.  His "application" was denied because he couldn't neatly spell his first and last name on the form. Mind you, he's four.

Not only was I livid, but I felt terrible for Henry.  How humiliating to be told you're essentially unqualified to learn.  It's fortunate I wasn't there - it would have been an ugly scene.  I'm fiercly protective of my boys.

So let's recap ... We activley encourage our children to learn. We thought the library would be a good facilitator of that.  But the library didn't think our child was what, smart enough, to play in their sandbox?  Or what, he'd never return the books?  Chicago should be so lucky that kids are stealing books - it's a good problem to have.

At the end of the day, it means nothing to us.  Again, we are fortunate to have the means to teach him everything.

But imagine this happening to a child with no means.  A child who has the deck stacked against him.  It makes me cringe.

Then Secretary of Education, Bill Bennet, once called Chicago's public school system the worst in the country.  I'm sure it's improved since the 1980s, but certainly not so much that children of any age should be denied access to knowledge.

Shame on you Chicago.  Mayor Rahm - this needs to be fixed, now. 

Victory By Force

Like many four year olds, my son is addicted to Angry Birds.

When we play together I'm very thoughtful in my approach, whereas he's age-appropriately forceful.

I measure.  Consider.  Strategize.  Until I advance.

He tries.  Again.  Again.  Again.  Until he advances.

In our own ways, we both advance.

Two very different approaches towards the same outcome.

I'm inspired by his persistence.  And so much more about how his amazing mind works.

That's all.

That's him, in his Wolverine underware, showing a group of adults how to play.  See, changing into clothes would simply be a distraction from his show of force.

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Someone Sent Me A Photo

Someone sent me a photo the other day.

Not via email.

Not on Facebook.

Not a link to a Flickr page.

Someone mailed me a photo.  With a stamp, envelope and everything.  Oh, and a handwritten card.

My 90 year old great aunt, to be exact. 

It was me, 4, and my cousin.  Taken in California on a visit I made as a child.

Besides my own 4 year old's striking resemblance, something else occurred to me.  I don't hold actual photographs any more.  It was a weird feeling.  It arrived last Thursday, and I can't stop looking at it.

I actually rubbed my thumb over it.  And smelled it.  As if it would somehow transport me back all those years and maybe, just maybe, remind me what it's like to be my son's age.

That's all.

Funny, isn't it, that the only way to share that photo here is by digitizing it.  That's me - the one rocking the Jamaica shirt. 

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Casting

I've been using the word 'casting' a lot lately.  I find that when I use a word over and over in a short period of time, there's a reason behind it.

Unfortunately the reason escapes me here.

But since I'm at it, here's the context in which I've used it lately ...

  • The guy who plays 'Mayhem' in the Allstate commercials. That guy IS mayhem!
  • A new business pitch team I was recently on.  Everyone played a role.
  • The group of parents who were on hand to answer questions about a school we toured for our son.  Diverse enough, but familiar.
  • The pilot on my flight from Philadelphia to Chicago.  I'd hate to meet this guy in a dark alley. 
  • The greeter at the Chicago Adler Planetarium.  A scientist in the making, dressed in a weird jumpsuit no less!

As I look at those examples I suppose I'm struck by the loss of innocence.  I've realized so many things and people I encounter every day are staged.  Not to say it's always a bad thing ... I want the Planetarium woman to be nerdy; and my pilot to look tough.  It makes me feel better, as irrational as it may be. 

Maybe the reason, after all, is that I'm getting old.  And with age comes a degree of skepticism.  Or wisdom. Or both.

Thoughts?

Life is Messy, and Other Things I've Learned on Vacation

I'm halfway through my first family vacation as a father of two little boys.  In fact it's the first proper family vacation we've taken in a while.  It's funny how a few days away can put a lot of things in perspective.  A few random things that have dawned on me.

Vacations are messy - just like life

My wife and I both work.  To a large extent, I'm kind of naive to what happens between the hours of 7am and 6pm.  I get home and the kids are fed and ready for bed, house tidied up.  Not so on vacation.  Vacations are a wreck.  Spills.  Scraped knees.  Ripped clothes.  And more.  And the more you obsess about controlling the situation, the more frustrated you get.  It's only when you sit back and accept that vacations - like life - are messy, that you can really let go of all that need for control.  It's a simple yet wonderful realization.

Kids are mini versions of their parents

It's fascinating to sit at the pool and watch families.  The physical resemblance is striking in nearly all cases.  I've spent the last few days wondering if others are looking at us thinking the same thing.  But even more interesting is that behavior is clearly learned, passed from parents to kids.  The parents who seem intent on not smiling, keeping their arms crossed and ignoring the beauty around them have spawned children who - you guessed it- don't smile, keep their arms crossed and ignore the beauty around them.  It's a good lesson for me as a parent.

A little indulgence is good for the soul

Frosted Flakes for breakfast, followed by cookies.  A beer at 10am.  90 minute massage.  A 3 hour nap.  All things that don't make sense in the real world, but are good for the soul in the vacation bubble.  A vacation is one big indulgence - it feels good to go all the way with it.

Nothing replaces family time

I'm reading a horrifically cliched book - or at least I thought it was until I settled into vacation mode - called If I Knew Then What I Know Now.  It's a book of quotes from prominent business people about what they wish someone had told them 25 years ago.  I'd say half the quotes have to do with the importance of prioritizing family over work (or at least striking a balance), and how the memories you make via those small family moments far outweigh any conference call, meeting or memo. 

I know it sounds cheesy, but I can't think of anything in the world that could make me happier or more fulfilled than the joy on my 4 year old's face when we swam in a waterfall in the El Yunque rainforest yesterday.  At that moment it dawned on me that this is what life is all about.  Oh sure, I'll slip back into normal mode after a few days home, but I'll keep this picture handy to remind me of what's truly important.

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Yeah ...

Yeah, I think my kids are super cute and I want to post lots of pictures of them.  Don't you feel the same way about yours?  Why not - that's weird, no?  Oh, you don't have kids?  That's cool - call me back when you do.  Trust me - you'll feel the same way (at least I hope you do, for their sake).

Yeah, I tweeted what I had for dinner last night.  You've never told anyone what you had for dinner?  Doubt it.  Oh, by the way, my mom is on Twitter and she cares.

Yeah, I checked in on Foursquare from the dentist office.  You think your check-in from that killer trade show is any better?  Eh ...they're both pretty lame.

By the way ... here's a pic of my boys.  Love those kids.

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From "We Can't ..." to "What If ..."

Feeling particularly positive today. 

From ...

We can't start a dialogue with our customers because they might say things we don't like.

We can't possibly teach our child to read this early.

We can't expect everyone to be nice to each other.

We can't be first to tell the story if we have to fact check every detail.

We can't pitch that idea because it's beyond what the customer asked for.

We can't wear blue jeans to that meeting.

We can't just decide to run a marathon - it takes years to prepare.

We can't have good experiences with flight attendants.

We can't train our entire organization to look at our business differently.

We can't have waffles for dinner - that's a breakfast food. 

 

To...

What if we started by just letting them know how much we appreciate their business, and value their feedback?

What if we started simple - maybe just three letter words for now?

What if we expected that of ourselves, and trusted that the Golden Rule would prevail?

What if we, as a society, valued truth over speed? 

What if we previewed the idea beforehand, rather than springing it on them all at once?

What if we took a stand - that's just who we are.  And also wore a sport coat?

What if we set our sights on a 10K, and took it from there?

What if we recognized and celebrated the overwhelming majority of nice ones, rather than focusing on the bad ones?

What if we focused on a small group of influencers who really buy into our vision?

What if we have a side of corn?

Go East Young Man (or Woman)

GoEastAlone
Perusing through my Twitter feed recently I saw a message from Jen Beio that she's moving from Chicago to New York to pursue the next chapter of her career and beyond. 

My 26 year old sister and 23 year old brother both live in New York.

I was born and raised in Chicago, but many years ago (many many) when I was around Jen's age I did the same thing.  11 years later, I found my way back home to Chicago with a wife and child. Moving to New York, then back home were two of the best decisions I've made.

So between my own experience and those of my siblings, I've got a pretty informed POV on the topic.

I love (!!) Chicago, but without a doubt living in New York is an experience unlike any other, and one I would encourage any young person to do.

New York is the gateway to the rest of the world.  Go there, and you've got a chance to go anywhere (physically and spiritually).

New York moves at a pace unlike anywhere else.  It's like swinging with a doughnut.  When you leave you're a little faster, more aware and savvy.  And you certainly learn how to stretch a dollar.

New York is filled with types of people you've never met before, and never will.  Some good, lots bad.  Most interesting.

New York is a beautiful and complicated city - particularly Manhattan.  While tiny, it has enough things to see, do and explore for a lifetime. I covered a lot of that city in 11 years, yet there are still pockets I know I missed.

Another post that has nothing to do with nothing, but was on my mind.  Good luck Jen, you're going to love it!

What I've Been Collecting Lately

I've been woefully bad about posting the last two weeks.  Work, family, travel ... eh, you get it.  But I've always said my blog is nothing more than a place I collect things, so here are a few things I've collected lately. 

  • Jimmy Choo partners with Foursquare on what I think is a simple and effective foray into social media.  "One pair of Jimmy Choo trainers will check in at various locations and those who follow the campaign and are lucky enough to arrive at a venue before the trainers leave will get to pick a pair in the style and size of their choosing."
  • Springwise turned me me on a company called Offer Me a Trip.  Travel agents bid on a dream trip that you design.  Mine:  skiing on every continent within a two week period.
  • John Lewis - a UK retailer that I'm not familiar with - released this superb short film (via @BBHLabs).  Very touching.

Is IRL All It's Cracked Up To Be?

I've been thinking about the richness of real world connections [IRL = In Real Life] vs a purely virtual dynamic.

The stream of Tweets and blog posts from SxSWi are filled with awesome [some even inspiring] stories about relationships transitioned from Tweetdeck to a BBQ joint in Austin. 

And if I'm not mistaken, I saw a message from Scott Monty just a few days ago that the word Tweetup just enjoyed an anniversary.  Who among us hasn't put aside our social anxiety to throw back a few beers with some Twitter friends?  Fun and hilarity [and often times, karaoke] ensues.

So clearly there's a warmth and fuzziness that comes with making connections in IRL.  But is IRL always necessarily the goal?  Of course it is.  Wait, is it?? 

Maybe not. This thought from Jim Mitchem made me reconsider ... 

Smashadv twitter

I respect Jim's candor on the topic especially since, as he states, it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. 

It's particularly appropriate that Jim's Tweet is what made me reconsider.  He and I have never 'met' yet have participated in the BeanCast together and exchange messages often on Twitter. 

And while I think Jim's great - and sure it would be cool to serendipitously meet him some day - our connection doesn't depend on it.  In fact it's probably easier this way.  I think Jim would agree.

And just when I think I have it all figured out, there's a guy like Vinny Warren who I've met twice IRL but communicate very often with on Twitter.  I plan on hanging with Vinny again - not every month but once or twice a year.  Knowing Vinny IRL adds important texture.

Clearly I don't have it sorted out.  Though as I think about it, while my relationships with Jim and Vinny are mostly online, I first met Vinny in IRL, continuing the digital dialogue thereafter.  Maybe that's it.  Maybe the IRL ice was broken before it ever existed.

Or maybe Jim just seems scary hiding behind his orange orb.

What do you think?  Is IRL all it's cracked up to be?