Welcome to SXSW!

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For the second year in a row, I’m back in Austin attending SXSW. Below are some thoughts. I attended some cool stuff, saw some cool things, met cool people, had a lot of cool encounters and even cooler conversations.

First day in Austin. Landed this morning, straight to the Palmer Center to work on the Mario Kart experience we’ve been putting together since late last year. It’s nice to see all the hard work and big ideas come to life. It’s the most rewarding part of the job, by far. Make sure you check out the accompanying website that my team in Dallas put together. I’m really proud of the work they did.

 

WPP Maestro Executive Leadership Experience

A few weeks ago, I attended WPP’s Executive Leadership course, “Maestro”. I was selected to attend Maestro late last year by the JWT Leadership Committee, made up of our COO, CCO, CFO, and our Head of Talent (that’s a lot of C’s!). I was proud to be selected and looking forward to the opportunity to grow as a leader within both the company, and the network. The experience took place in Norwalk, Connecticut at a retreat nestled back in the woods of Fairfield County in the southern part of the state down by New York City. It’s one of the last stops out of Penn Station and beautiful place. I hadn’t visited the area before so it was a treat.

I don’t wanna bore with all the sordid details of what went on, but I can confirm that there were no secret handshakes or mystic rituals. We spent several days working in small groups on different scenarios, each designed to move us further down the path to becoming a valuable contributor to the process of bringing agency value and trust to the forefront. Here’s a pretty apt description of the experience:

Maestro aims to strengthen the ability of WPP’s best client practitioners to be trusted senior advisors and partners in innovation who are able to build and lead increasingly large, complex relationships. The program enhances problem-solving, fact-based decision making, relationship and people/team leadership skills.

The team they’ve assembled is World Class and the process you go through is transformative. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to identify precisely the moment when you feel as though, “this is it, this is something special” and this was definitely one of those times. I’m certain everyone in the program was of sufficient caliber, but I felt like fate had put me in the presence of some of the nicest, smartest, sharpest people I’ve ever been privileged enough to work with. I met, and partnered with, some truly rock-star network advertising talent.

I’ve participated in leadership training before, most notably the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Leadership Grand Strand” Program. This was similar in content but much more focused and direct in practice. Maestro’s sole focus is on increasing value in the client relationship by demonstrating your ability to build trust and partner. As a person who is increasingly working directly with clients (and accounts!) through more visible efforts on larger projects, I’ve got a responsibility to ensure I’m successfully building that trust and strengthening that relationship and this was the perfect “boot camp” to get it done.

I don’t mean to imply that it was confrontational in its approach, but that it was an honest, professional, at times tough, process. Working through confrontation, managing expectations, establishing rapport, and being empathetic are just facts of life and the sooner you can learn to harness that, the more you’re bringing to the table. I appreciate tremendously the opportunity to get into and explore that headspace.

I could go on and on about how much personal growth you can cram into a week, but suffice to say, I can’t think of a time when I’ve been so personally and professionally challenged to push myself in new (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways. But man, do you come out the other side a better person…

Just like my experience with Leadership Grand Strand, the people I met and became friends with are going to wind up being lifelong friends. We’ve already got a standing Skype meeting every month to catch up and I find myself keenly into what all my fellow Maestros are up to.

Here it is the beginning of February and I’ve already had an experience that I think is going to be difficult to top!

Speaking at Digital Hollywood, Fall 2013, Los Angeles, California

Last week, I participated in my second speaking engagement at Digital Hollywood. I had previously spoken there in May, on a panel there to discuss the USMC Youtube brand page and I suppose I must’ve done okay because they invited me back again. This time, I was on another panel, and once again the topic was Youtube. The topic of my Panel was “The Power of YouTube: Unlocking the Power of Programming, Premium Content and Advertising” and it was part of the “strategic sessions” track. I had a fantastic time and was part of an amazingly talented group of panelists. We discussed YouTube channels, business models for success, curation challenges (which I totally owned… that was my sweet-spot!), and the challenges of creating compelling branded content. I had a blast. As the only “big agency” representative on the panel, I was able to offer some unique insights that I felt were well received. The difficult task at a lot of these panel type affairs is to ensure that you’re offering up a nice balance of compelling insights and participation. You don’t want to dominate the conversation, and you certainly don’t want to be a wallflower. The conversation flowed nicely, the moderator was terrific and kept the talk moving along, and the varied expertise of the participants made for a wonderfully eclectic POV on an issue that, quite frankly, not a lot of people have really successfully wrapped their heads around. I was fortunate that I had a good story to tell and an even better case study in effective use of YouTube, and was able to ultimately tie it all back to the topic. Of course, it’s super easy when you’re repping such great work.

The Power of YouTube: Unlocking the Power of Programming, Premium Content and Advertising
The Strategic Sessions – Let’s Get Started!
Monday, October 21st
10:00 AM – 11:15 AM
Digital Hollywood – October 21 – 24th
Michael Chiang, VP of Platforms, Break Media
Jeff Small, Director of Creative Technology / JWT Atlanta
Michelle Sullivan, VP, Digital, Kids & Family, National Geographic
Evan Bregman, Director of Digital Media, Electus
Alex Jacobs, Vice President of Social, Digitas
Paul Snow, Manager, TV and Film Content Partnerships, YouTube
Sharalyn Hartwell, Executive Director, Magid Generational Strategies™, Moderator

So what is it about Neal Adams, anyway?

I was a Batman fan before I could read. Growing up in the early 70s, my exposure to Batman was courtesy of the famous Batman television show. Sock! Pow! Bam! “Holy Campy TV Show, Batman!” I was under the age of ten, I wasn’t reading yet, and my early experience with comics was learning to read (“so the fluffy clouds mean they’re thinking… and the plain round balloons mean they’re talking!”) via Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes. Pretty harmless stuff.

Then something happened.

It happened around 1977. I was ten years old and I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. It was the oversized collection of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Ra’s Al Ghul stories. Originally published in 1971, the series completely redefined a Batman who was suffering from camp and overexposure, returning him to his “Dark Knight” roots and electrifying the comics industry with a combination of O’Neil’s dark, compelling stories and Adams’ dynamic, almost hyper-realism. All this had occurred about six years earlier, but it was all new to me. I was about six years or so behind that curve, but my childhood love of comics was started by the very same series of events. Up to that point, I thought Batman was funny. He fought silly villains named, “The Mad Hatter”, “Egghead”, “King Tut” and “The Riddler”. He had a hyperactive sidekick who only seemed capable of annoying you to death with his endless stream of “Holy Catchphrases”. He certainly wasn’t someone to take seriously… like Superman… or Flash.

But here he was, on the cover of that book looking like he could easily kick the ass of every character in the DC Universe, and he was suffering… and waitaminute… is that Robin? Dead? And who’s that evil sonofabitch behind him with the claws, looking like he’s actually happy that Robin’s dead? Now, I’m only ten years old, but I couldn’t help but notice there’s a very exotic woman there looking pretty damn sexy off to the side. What’s she got to do with all this? It’s a dollar, it’s a giant comic book. Well, I just HAVE to have this.

So I got my hands on it and sat down and proceeded to learn about Talia, Ra’s, the Lazarus Pit. I was mesmerized. This wasn’t the Batman I knew. This was… I dunno, a real Batman. This wasn’t a guy with impossible powers travelling at Super Speed, or an alien from Krypton. This was the world’s greatest detective, and he was detecting. He knew martial arts and was a master of disguise. He was a scientist and an escape artist, and he was armed with the most awesome set of gadgets money could buy.

Once this switch was turned on, it would never again be turned off, and I would never again look at “comics” or “superheroes” the same way again. This was the bar. Neal and Denny had raised it to precisely this point.

It also exposed me to “creators” for the first time ever. I mean, I had to learn, “who were these guys?” and “Why was this comic so radically different from everything else I had read before?” and the answer of course was storytelling and art. So naturally, I had to find out, “who wrote this?” and “who drew those amazing images of Batman and Robin?” I began looking for more of Neal Adams’ work, and more stories written by Denny O’Neil. The next, most obvious discovery was the work the pair did outside of “The Demon” series of stories involving Ra’s. The work on Batman and Detective with Two-Face, the Joker, and the reinvention of the gothic Dark Knight Detective. That led to his work on Brave and Bold, and eventually I came across the ground-breaking work the two did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Admittedly, those books were a little too advanced for a ten year old, but I still “got it”. These weren’t your typical superhero books. This wasn’t Spider-Man cracking jokes and shooting webs at a Lizard Man, or a guy who could stretch his arms around Dr. Doom. This was… well… “real”.

So that’s really it in a somewhat long-winded nutshell. I love superheroes, I love Batman, and I’ll never forget the first time I realized that Batman was real.

One of my greatest disappointments in life.

I think if I had to look back on my life, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed that I never worked in a, “top-secret nerve center”. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to work every day in some sort of underground (I’m assuming they’re underground, since… you know, I’ve never BEEN inside a “top-secret nerve center”) place, humming with the activity of very, very important work, essential to… something. Right?

The Fourth of July and Douglas Dimberg, Parts one and two.

I originally posted this on my first blog. In fact, it was THE reason I started blogging. I had an experience in my life that I never forgot, and I always thought, “you know, if I die, I’d really like to at least get that thought down on paper… or something”. So I started blog over on blogger and tried to put it into words. I wasn’t very good at it initially, and it sort of psychologically and creatively exhausted me and I wound up splitting it into two posts that were spread out over a couple of weeks.

I just got an email that the domain name for my old blog was expiring, and I finally decided that I was going to go ahead and delete the account and shut it down.

But I really didn’t want to lose this one post (well, two posts actually). So I’m going to just re-publish them here as one long post… for posterity. At least until I delete THIS one…

So without further ado…

The fourth of July and Douglas Dimberg

It’s officially the fourth of July and this is what I remember:

It was November 30th, 1988 (by the way, as a side note, I had to go look that up in my cruise book. Sad isn’t it?). I had worked about eighteen hours that day. I was an Aviation Ordnanceman on the USS Nimitz and was working “CAG Arm-Dearm” and was on Cat 3. This meant I was working the third catapult all day, which meant cats and traps, or as they’re commonly known, takeoffs and landings. Those days are rough because you have to be up well before the first takeoff, and stay until the last trap of the day, which is usually just before midnight. So getting up around six, and working until midnight was pretty much the standard “Cat 3 day”.

So there I was, just getting off work, and looking forward to catching up on a little rest. I was finished, showered, dressed for bed, and ready to call it a night when I heard it,

“GENERAL QUARTERS, GENERAL QUARTERS ALL HANDS MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS. PROCEED UP AND FORWARD ON THE STARBOARD SIDE, DOWN AND AFT ON THE PORT SIDE…GENERAL QUARTERS, GENERAL QUARTERS”

Without missing a beat, off came the sleepwear, on went the greens, redshirt, and boots, and out the hatch I went. My berthing at the time was on the level just beneath the arresting gear aft, pretty much under the 4 wire. I was above the hanger bay and below the flight deck. When I woke up every morning to go to work, I normally would proceed out of my berthing area, thru a hatch leading to the catwalk outside. This would place me along the edge of the flight deck, on the port side, where the landing safety officer would normally stand. I’d hop up the ladder, up on deck, and I could cut straight across the flight deck to work. Honestly, since it was after flight quarters, and there was nothing landing or taking off, it would be fine to head out to my shop in this manner, even at night under general quarters.

So off I go, getting ready to head up the catwalk to the flight deck when “Tucker”, another AO, came down from precisely where I was going. “Can’t go that way,” he said. “Why not?”, I asked. “Because it’s all on fire”.

It took a couple of seconds for that to sink in.

End of Part One.

The fourth of July and Douglas Dimberg Part Two

So there it was. The flight deck was on fire.
Later, we’d learn that an A-7 Corsair II had shot its M61 Vulcan rounds into a KA-6D tanker that was full of fuel. The rounds were high explosive rounds that were packed with White Phosphorus that ignites on contact with Oxygen. They were depleted Uranium shells, so you figure out how that was supposed to work. High Explosive round with an armor penetrating casing. It’s created to go INTO something (a tank), and set the INSIDES of it (the tank) on FIRE. Imagine how that works on a tanker aircraft that’s full of fuel. The tanker was parked near the bow, between Catapults 1 and 2 in an area known as “the street” with the A-7 parked directly next to it facing its side, over cat 2.
I know, I know, you’re saying to yourself, “how on earth can guns fire on the ground? Aren’t there steps to ensure that nothing like that happens?”. Oh how right you are. That’s why the people who were responsible for this were made to pay. Leavenworth, from what I understand.
It’s very simple. Weapon systems won’t work on the ground.
It’s easy. There’s an actual switch in the landing gear called “the weight off wheels” switch. When the plane is on the ground, the weight compresses the landing gear and the switch is active. Weight is ON the wheels, and the weapons systems are not “allowed” to arm. Missles can’t fire, Guns can’t shoot. In order to “fool” the airplane, sometimes you have to use a “weight off wheels” actuator. It’s just a wedge that you wedge into the weight on wheels switch to actuate it and make the plane think the landing gear is up. Of course, before you do this, you’re supposed to go thru a lengthy checklist that include disconnecting any plugs or wires that might lead to the accidental firing of a weapon.
Not so in this case. Gun is connected. Weight is OFF the wheels, and some poor sucker in the pilot seat of the A-7 pulls the trigger, thinking nothing is going to happen. The whole team was neglegent and people paid with their lives.
What happens is in the second he pulls the trigger, he blows rounds into a KA-6D tanker not 15 yards away igniting the fuel inside and engulfing the whole immediate area in flames. Several people are killed instantly including Douglas Dimberg, who was on his way to an EA-6B Prowler to work on it. Doug and I had gone to boot camp in Orlando together in May/June of 1985. Upon completion of boot camp, he went off to his “A-School” and I went off to mine. I eventually made my way to the VA-165 Boomers stationed on NAS Whidbey Island where we ran into each other months later. We’d occasionally pass each other on base, or, as we were deployed, we’d see each other in the chow line, on the flight deck, FOD walkdown, etc.
So that’s what I’m faced with as I make my way to the flight deck. It’s probably been on fire now for about four or five minutes as I head up there on the starboard side, forward of the island. I’m an Aviation Ordnanceman, so starboard side of the island is the weapons farm, where literally all of the weapons are staged for loading onto aircraft on the flight deck. There are enough people already worrying about the weapons staged there and that was their job, and I wasn’t about to get in the way. Instead, I’m grabbed and led across the flight deck, behind the fire, to the port side. There I run into my best friend Mike, who’s on a team and slowly advancing toward the fire. My team grabs a hose and maneuvers to the left of Mike, coming at the fire now from almost the top/bow direction. So I’m on a hose advancing, and Mike’s on a hose advancing.
I don’t really remember when the AFFF kicked in, but I do remember fighting the fire, helping move aircraft, and walking around in the early morning hours in several inches of foam, so I know the system kicked on at some point. I remember watching the sun come up and getting the first chance to see the devastation on the forward flight deck. Our KA-6D was a complete loss. Over the side it went, but not before our squadron spent the better part of the day stripping out every useful component in her. I remember the kind of stunned silence of walking around up there. People going about their jobs with a focus and determination that cut thru the tragedy of the day. I don’t really remember a time to reflect on the accident, or think about what had happened until much later. It just seemed like there was so much to do.
I have pretty vivid memories of fighting the fire with Mike. Later, I think Mike and I would acknowledge the moments, and maybe talk about how crazy it was there for a couple of hours, but I don’t think we ever sat down and really talked about it. At one point during the fire, I remember thinking that we were getting cut off from the rest of the ship because the fuel spilling out of the tanker was on fire and it was literally spreading liquid fire across the deck as it spilled, and the combination of the ship turning and the fuel spilling was making it extremely difficult to see how we weren’t going to wind up completely cut off on the bow with no place to go but over the side. I remember thinking, “if I go over, there’s no way they’ll ever find me, what a shitty way to go, I wish I could tell my mom goodbye…” and that was about it. The rest of the time seems like a blur of getting what needed to be done, done.
I can close my eyes sometimes and make myself see Dimberg. I don’t remember exactly what he looked like, and that’s a shame. I wish I could. I can see a sort of rough outline of him, like he’s not exactly in focus, and in that outline, I can see him smiling. I don’t even want to forget that out in the ocean, far away from military bases, and “action”, and “hot zones” a man named Doug Dimberg gave his life for his country. He died doing his job. He had friends and they remember him. The flight deck of an Aircraft Carrier is a dangerous place, and occasionally people die up there. Right now, while you’re reading this, there are young men and women who are working on one of those very same flight decks, doing those very same jobs, and who deserve our respect and admiration.
Here’s hoping every single one of them makes it home in one piece.

I wonder sometimes…

I’m the least “superstitious” person I know. I don’t believe in “fate” really, or “karma” or any of the other constructions we generally make up to help us deal with uncomfortable truths. We live, we die, a bunch of shit happens in between that we rarely have control over. I firmly believe that life is one of those things that just happens. There are people all over the world right now dealing with much worse problems and issues than you and I currently have on our plate, and all things are relative. Oh, there are things that we can exercise our opposable-thumbed-will over. We can control our diet and maintain a reasonable level of fitness, and if we don’t, there are repercussions… etcetera, etcetera… But I don’t really subscribe to a real… I dunno… “deeper meaning” to it all.

But lately, it seems that life is telling me something. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I feel like pieces of  a puzzle are being placed in front of me in a sort of haphazard way. If I could only move them around, rotate them a little bit, perhaps they’ll fit into place and all will be revealed.

I mean I’m not really superstitious… that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in zeitgeist.

You ever get that feeling?

You find your own rewards… sometimes without even looking.

The last week  has been really rewarding. It’s Friday and as I look back on the week, I realize events that were merely “to-do” items on my agenda turned out to be the highlights of my week. Not the place you expected to find yourself on a Friday afternoon, but certainly a place you’ll enjoy.

On Wednesday, I hosted a “lunch and learn” at work. I love my job and one of the best parts about it is all the great technology I’m constantly exposed to. An even better part of it is that I love sharing it within the context of actually showing people how it can make their lives easier, make their work easier, make their jobs easier, and basically help them realize that often lofty goal of technology, “to improve your life”. Too often, and I’m even guilty of it too, you think, “oh, this is just too much. There’s too much out there and I can’t ever keep up” and so I’m always on the lookout for ways that technology and software can facilitate making my day to day life a little easier. Once I find them, and I learn and use them, I become an evangelist of sorts and I’m always eager to share. Wednesday was one of those days. I sent an email out to everyone at work and basically said, “hey, I’ve discovered a bunch of great, useful tools that I’m finding myself using and getting a lot of value from and if you’re interested, I’d love to eat a sandwich in the front meeting room, get on the big screen, and share some of them because I think you’ll dig ‘em too.” I wasn’t sure who would show up (if anyone) but lo, and behold, I had a nice crowd! We spent the hour eating, sharing, talking, and I walked out of the lunch thinking, “wow, that was more awesome than I anticipated, and I think everyone got something great out of it!”

Then, this morning, I had a meeting scheduled to sit down with a room full of Realtors and show them how to use their CRM software to use some email templates we had created for them to more effectively market to their customers and prospects. I wasn’t sure, walking into the room, what to expect, and knowing that my audience wasn’t as “technical” (in other words, they weren’t database nerds who actually got excited about working in a robust CRM) as I was, I have to admit, I was a little nervous about the outcome. I don’t know what it was, either I love to hear myself talk (well, we all know that’s totally the case) or they were really in tune with what I was laying down, but we all really clicked as a room and it quickly turned into a really rewarding, collaborative meeting. Lots of energy, lots of enthusiasm, and again, I walked out of there thinking, “wow, that turned out way better than I had anticipated!”.

So it was, I had two rather non-eventful events planned on my schedule that I wasn’t expecting so much out of, turn out to be some of the best work moments of the week. I wasn’t programming. I wasn’t creating anything, or hitting a deadline, or managing a project. I was just sitting with some people, sharing solutions, engaging in some back and forth, and walking away feeling as if both sides got way more out of it than they thought they’d get going into it.

That’s some pretty rewarding work… cleverly disguised as “to-do” items on a calendar.

You know, the first step is admitting you have a problem…

I just had the oddest experience. I was walking down the hall at work when I caught myself thinking about something.

No, that part’s not the “odd part”. The odd part was what I was thinking about.

I was thinking about peanut butter. Specifically, I was thinking about “Smucker’s All Natural Smooth Peanut Butter with Honey”.

I have an almost uncontrollable addiction to nut butters. I love them. I eat them on Triscuits. I spread them on whole wheat bread. I eat them on bananas. I have absolutely no ability to moderate my intake of any particular nut butter. It gets worse when it’s almond butter. I daresay I could polish off an entire jar of almond butter in one sitting and not blink twice.

So there I was, walking down the hall at work thinking, “boy, I can’t wait to get home tonight and eat some peanut butter on some Triscuits”.

What the hell is wrong with me?

I don’t know, but I guarantee, whatever it is, it can be fixed by spreading a little peanut butter on it.