The Time Machine

Numbering notebooks started in 2006 when I started writing in Moleskine’s. Currently working through #71, a Leuchtturm 1917. That’s quite an investment.

Like so many right now, I have spent an unusual amount of time sitting in on webinars covering a broad range of topics. Throw in my steady diet of podcasts and not only do you start to become a fountain of knowledge, but you also begin to spot trends.

One trend I have picked up on lately is the idea of Morning Pages. This daily practice was introduced by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, which I read back in the mid-90s. Although many of the concepts she recommended did not stick, Morning Pages are an integral part to starting my day everyday.

For the uninitiated, in a nutshell, Morning Pages are sitting down with paper and pen at the beginning of every day and writing for 20 minutes straight. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or grokking too hard on anything, you just empty your head of thoughts.

I find that some times I ramble on wondering why I am wasting precious amounts of paper and ink. Other times I merely report on the activities of the previous day, but sometimes I actually stumble into an exploration of a new idea or dig deep into something weighing on my mind.

Lately, the pop-psychologists are all highly recommending this practice. I most certainly agree with them, as I have been dutifully writing my Morning Pages almost every day for the past 25 years. I find the practice to be helpful, getting me ready for a productive day ahead as well as helping me see farther down the road.

I wanted to share one unexpected benefit of this practice. Towards the end of each year, I’ll go back and reread the Morning Pages for that year, starting at January 1 all the way to the current date. Usually takes a few days. Sometimes I just scan through the pages, but every once in a while I will uncover a treasure trove of what I was thinking about. Seeing how thoughts, events and actions played out over the course of a year can be enlightening.

But the real benefit is going further back, rereading the Pages from years ago. What was bothering me back in 1999? Who was pissing me off in March of 2016? What battle had I won in the summer of 2006? How did all this play out over the years?

That’s interesting, but what’s even more more interesting is how rereading the events of the day can instantly transport me back to that time. Thoughts and memories long forgotten come back to life, often vividly. I’ve found that not only writing, but also doodles and sketches in my notebooks, do the same thing. It’s amazing how thoughts come back to life.

These aren’t just notebooks – they’re time machines.

There’s the old adage that if you do not learn from history you are destined to repeat it. Some things in life are worth repeating – how did you manage an seemingly impossible challenge the first time around? Or, are you looking to make a change and you can now trace your life back to a particular moment when you found yourself at a fork in the road that led you to where you are today? There is tremendous value is learning from your own experiences and reflecting on them as continue to move forward with life.

Being able to travel back in time while flexing your creative muscles — needless to say I highly recommend you write your Morning Pages. You never know what you might find, that morning or years from now.


Pick Two

More than a few years back, Lowell Williams became a partner at Pentagram and came back to his old stomping grounds in Houston to give a presentation about his experiences to the local AIGA chapter.

He opened his presentation with an idea that has since stuck in my mind. How do you decide if you should take on a new project? He had a very simple method.

To take on a new project, it must meet at least two of the following criteria:

Outrageous fees.
Compelling work.
Fun people.

That simple. Now let’s look at the logic.

You cannot have just one. No one is going to give you a bucket full of money and not expect something in return, like maybe doing a little work for them. Nor are there projects lying around on the ground just waiting for someone to bring them to life. And “fun people” are, well, generally called “friends”. So, at a minimum you have to have two.

The fees are straight-forward. If you’re not going to get paid, why bother. Wait a second … if the work is really interesting, there’s a chance to learn or grow, or the finished piece will look great in your book, maybe you’ll want to take the project on. And it the client is a fun and lively group that you’ll want to hang out with after the project wraps … alright, let’s do this! See, his method works.

Another angle: The project is super interesting, a real challenge that will stretch you, but the client is going to be equally challenging. Charge them out the wah-zoo. It’s amazing how a hefty check in your bank account can ease the pain of the 75th round of revisions at 3 o’clock in the morning.

On the flip side, the work isn’t all that interesting but you really like the client, use this as an opportunity to make a little money. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Of course, the Holy Grail is a project meeting all three criteria. In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have had a few such projects. They’re golden: the opportunity to do some amazing work that I am especially proud of, while making some new friends and money along the way.

Mr. Williams is right; a project must meet two points, but in my mind, strive for meeting all three.


The Roller Coaster

About a year ago I had a big decision made for me. After a corporate reshuffling, I found I was no longer on the org chart.

The dream of striking it out on my own had been lingering in the back of my mind for years, having regretted shutting down my practice in 2010 for the safety and security of full-time employment. Perhaps now was the time to chase that dream once more.

As this life altering event unfolded, all the signs pointed to restarting my practice. Family and friends strongly encouraged me to hang my shingle out, and I did so in early summer 2019. Since then, I have worked hard, and been quite blessed and lucky in that I’ve been able to do some great work for great clients, making a solid go of it.

Being a solopreneur has taught me a lot about survival, which today is more important than ever. One of the most important lessons starting out came from Sara Blakely, in a post on LinkedIn. She posted this doodle showing the life of an entrepreneur:

Everyone who has ever tried to make a dent in the universe understands this. There are always highs and lows, rarely a point where you get to level off. What I have also learned over the past year is that this roller coaster is not bound to the usual rules of time, with ride up and down lasting a few minutes, a few hours or even days. It’s hard to get used to.

What hit me was how appropriate this doodle happens to be when describing (for those of us who are lucky enough to not be suffering with the virus) the emotions we’re going through right now.

There are good times when we can smile, relax and be with people we love, making the best of a terrible situation. What greater joy in life is there. Then other times we can sink to the lowest depths, panic-stricken to the point of paralysis. Are my family and friends going to get sick? Is out economy going to collapse? These emotions run rampant.

Whether you know it or not, or want to or not, accept that everyone is now living the life of an entrepreneur. Uncertainty is our way of life now. There will be good times and bad times. Ups and downs. Cherish the ups when they’re here and be gentle with yourself when you’re low.

Our world has forever changed. But just like we Americans did after 9/11, we learned to adjust to the new world. It’s not easy and the road ahead is full of turns whose corners you cannot see around.

Welcome to the life of an entrepreneur.


Good Advertising and Other Sh*t

So other day I am walking down a bike path that cuts through our neighborhood out here west of Houston. I look down just in time to see a small, cylindrical, earthy colored tube. A little less delicately put, it appeared a doogie had performed its morning constitution on the path. Rather than being grossed out, angry or disturbed, the first thought that came to mind was

The world looks mighty good to me
‘Cause Tootsie Rolls are all I see.

I had to laugh.

I don’t know if this ad is still around or not. I have not seen it in some time. But there it is, permanently tattooed on my brain.

This tiny incident made me think a lot about the proclamation that advertising is dead. Maybe it is. When was the last time you heard a jingle, a catch phrase or a line that resonated with you so immediately that in less than the blink of an eye your first thought was brand’s message from long ago?

This begs the question: 40 years from now, will anyone say “Dilly Dilly”? Or worse, will anyone ever utter “It’s your thing. That’s our thing.” Which I’ve heard ad nauseum lately from AT&T. Unlikely.

Advertising, at least the advertising that brought Tootsie Roll to life, is long dead. Yet that same thinking still permeates the agencies that created the AT&T pablum, as they try to make the next break-through, memorable ads. Unfortunately, the results are nowhere near as impactful. Or memorable for that matter.

I believe that advertising is far from dead. In fact, I could argue it is more alive than ever before. So much so that rather than being a nuance that consumers will actively go out of their way to avoid, it is quickly becoming a necessity for business to survive as we get deeper and deeper into the Information Age. What’s disturbing, though, is that with all the necessity, the creative is not there to meet these needs.

Even Apple, who for years, led the way with not only breath-taking technology, but also with innovative ways of talking about it. Their marketing and branding efforts convinced millions to part with small fortunes for their little electronic do-dads. To their credit, they tried to recapture some of their old advertising mojo recently with the animated ad where the girl writes on her MacBook but is too scarred to share her work with the world. But how successful was that ad? Although a sweet, lovely story excelling produced, it vanished as quickly as it appeared, with another AT&T ad, car lot spot or other form of cultural noise eager to takes its place.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying the Tootsie Roll jingle is the pinnacle of advertising excellence. Or is it? Something so simple yet it still resonates decades later, bringing an old brand to the top of mind. That is powerful.

We’re in a tough spot here, gang. The business world is clamoring to reach new customers. Businesses NEED great advertising. There are so many channels, so many opportunities to do great things that can make a huge difference, but it is high time to take the gee whiz out of the technology used to communicate and put it back into the messaging. Where it belongs.


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