Not long ago, I reached out to a freelancer friend to ask for an agency recruiter email address but they refused to share it with me. They apologized politely and told me that I was “the competition,” therefore couldn’t oblige. 

I completely understand this mindset, but I don’t agree with it.

My philosophy is, there’s more to be gained by a collaborative, community-based approach, where freelancers openly share contacts and references. I routinely share my contacts with other freelancers and I benefit when they return the favor. 

Not only that, when I’m contacted by an agency recruiter while I’m already booked on a gig, I always provide them with a list of names of other freelancers. And I know those freelancers will do the same.

Then, recently something happened. Another friend of mine shared a comprehensive Google doc containing dozens of agency recruiter emails, built up by a community of freelancers. It expanded my contact list by 10x and I was pretty stoked.

Now, I’m not a vindictive person, but I must admit I was very tempted to refuse to share this list with the freelancer friend who refused to share that single contact with me. 

I think my natural reaction illustrates a principle… we are hardwired to mirror the actions taken toward us. When someone is nice to us, we tend to be nice back. When we are treated poorly we become vindictive. It may not be right but we can’t help it.

So, in an effort to contradict my own human nature, and show a gesture of goodwill, I shared the list with my freelancer friend. I have not yet heard back.

Generosity can only be a good thing. Closing myself off from others only hurts me. If I make myself an island, I might end up as a castaway.

I’m fascinated by the aging process. As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown wiser. However, I’m discovering that, culturally, my growth is much slower. My tastes seem to remain locked in time, like an ancient mosquito imprisoned in amber. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I suspect it’s affecting my creative judgement.
The other day I found myself recoiling at a popular music track that had a couple hundred million views on YouTube. I shook my head and wondered how young people could listen to such derivative, unimaginative noise. And then it hit me… I sound like an old man. Like the ones I heard railing against my generation when I was younger.
It got me thinking.
Apple’s “1984” TV commercial is considered the best ad of all time. However, it would likely be received with yawns if it ran on TV in 2016 for the first time. That’s because an ad dramatizing a dystopian future in which a specific product is the cure has since been done to death. And yet marketing departments are still studying and imitating old ads and old formulas.
Should senior advertising executives retire earlier in their careers and hand over the reigns to someone younger before they become anchors in their companies? It’s a good question.
Over the years, I’ve had many advertising clients in their 40’s and 50’s who were painfully out of touch. Now I’m realizing that I’m not immune from that disease and it’s given me more perspective.
I’m only in my mid forties, but if I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m more and more out of touch with popular culture. The culture I’m appealing to every day.
So how can we possibly stay current as we age? I don’t know. It’s a vicious treadmill. And the speed setting is currently up around 9.5.
I think the answer is this: as senior advertising executives age they must be more self-aware and question their creative judgement more often. And trust younger execs who are more in tune with the core audience. That kind of approach is a true sign of maturity and humility.
Right now, you have a million dollar idea in your head. You probably have two or three of them. Have you ever stopped to consider that there are thousands of people just like you who will bring their million dollar ideas to life in the next 5 years?

In 5 years, a currently unknown musician will win a Grammy. In 5 years, a currently unknown actor will win an Oscar. In 5 years, a currently unknown chef will get her own TV show. In 5 years, a currently unknown entrepreneur will be offered a billion dollars to sell his company. In 5 years, a currently unknown technology will change our lives. We could go on and on.

Every world changing idea existed in someone’s mind before it ever became a reality. So the big question is: why can’t that idea come from you?

Envision a future when your idea has already become a reality. Tell yourself you’re going to do it, big or small. Fixate on it. Obsess about it. Imagine it happening. Make yourself act upon it.

Never in history has so much possibility been so attainable. Never before have people achieved their wildest dreams so quickly. Ideas can become viral almost overnight. Including yours.

Five years from now, things will exist that are now only thoughts. Will your thought be one of them? It won’t if you keep it shackled inside your head.

In the last 18 months, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reading books and listening to podcasts detailing the backstories of highly successful people. Inventors, tycoons, philanthropists—who’s names you’d recognize. People who relentlessly chased their dreams. People who are highly admired and sometimes worshiped. People considered to be geniuses.

I have come to the firm conclusion that, in most every case, those people didn’t possess any superior abilities or intellect than the rest of us. In fact, there was a time when those same people were completely unknown. They didn’t suddenly become geniuses overnight. They were geniuses the whole time. 

After 20 years as a creative in advertising, I’ve learned that genius ideas are rarely recognized for their genius. The only thing that gives an idea the recognition it deserves is actually selling it. 

Salesmanship might be the most important skill a person can acquire. If Steve Jobs was unable to successfully sell the first computer that he and Steve Wozniak created, we might have never heard of them. If Henry Ford was unable to successfully convince the public to buy his motorized buggy, he would have faded into obscurity. If Thomas Edison was unable to sell his light bulb, we might still be using kerosene lamps. 

Now, I understand these weren’t the only innovators in their categories, so those advancements might have been inevitable. But the point is, without salesmanship, great ideas go nowhere. So why don’t we spend more time training ourselves to be better salespeople? Why isn’t it emphasized more in school?

Everything requires salesmanship. Men and women must sell themselves to each other as suitable partners worthy of marriage. We must sell ourselves to potential employers to get that job we want. An actor must sell himself to a director in order to get the part. The director must sell the premise of his movie to build an audience. A politician must sell his or her ideals to the public in exchange for votes. Nothing can be bought (or endorsed) by anyone unless it is first sold. All negotiation is sales. All diplomacy is sales. All teaching is sales.

Every audience must be convinced and sold. But how we sell is another subject entirely. There are many books written about it, so take your pick.

I’ve never been the greatest salesman. I’ve worked at it, but I’ve naively assumed that idea development deserved the lion’s share of my focus. For the longest time, I just thought great ideas would be automatically recognized. Wrong. It very rarely happened. Maybe one percent of the time, if the stars aligned just right.

The next time that you endeavor to convince someone of something or sell a product or service, you are doing yourself and your idea a massive disservice if you are a weak salesperson. 

Which brings us back to genius. We each have it, locked away somewhere inside us, waiting to be honed and developed. What separates the acknowledged geniuses from the rest of us is that they successfully sold their genius. They promoted themselves and their ideas masterfully and reaped the benefits. Had they failed to do that, their genius inventions would be covered in cobwebs somewhere in the recesses of their minds.

As the late Steve Jobs said, “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it….that’s maybe the most important thing, is to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going to live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it….once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Whatever idea has been nagging you to get out. Let it see the light of day. Nurture it. Learn how to sell it. It might be a genius idea that could change peoples lives.

Leadership can be challenging. Among other things, it takes confidence. Nobody wants to follow a weak, apprehensive leader. Therefore you must project confidence in order to inspire others to follow you. But there isn’t a pill that you can just pop and instantly become confident. So most people fake it. 

You might have ascended the corporate ladder and been placed in charge of other people through your intelligence, charisma, charm, enthusiasm, hard work or some other way. But, no matter what, you must have confidence.

Most leaders, in their effort to show confidence, become very unsavory. If you lead people, take this evaluation to see if you have true confidence or just arrogance masquerading as confidence. 

1. Do you refuse to admit error?
Let’s face it, no human being is immune to this character flaw. We all hate to admit we’re wrong. We erroneously assume that admission of error is a sign of weakness. But it’s not. It shows other people that you can be truthful with yourself, which instills greater trust in your followers. We all know that nobody knows everything, and nobody bats a thousand. Sometimes we strike out. If you refuse to admit error, stop pretending. We’re not buying it. Just say, “I messed up on that one.” Then correct course. That will earn heaps of respect from everyone.

2. Do you refuse to accept criticism?
You can spot an insecure person by how defensive they get when they are critiqued or criticized. Especially if they are immediately defensive. A person who is self-aware will listen to criticism and internalize it before responding. They do so because they seek self-improvement and allow themselves a moment to consider whether or not the criticism is valid. We are not always right. And we don’t always see the flaws others can see. If this is you, start welcoming criticism. True leaders not only welcome it, but they invite it. 

3. Do you ever ask for input? 
A person who never asks for advice is a pathetic soul indeed. We all need input. It’s impossible to have effective output without quality input. Transfer of information must be a two way street. No matter what your level of achievement, there’s always something more to learn. Plus, our subordinates often have genius thoughts and ideas they hesitate to share, perhaps out of their own insecurity. If you simply say, “What do you think?” you can coax those ideas out of them and potentially revel in the genius together. Or even inspire additional ideas.

4. Do you order people or ask them?
Some people love to exercise their authority. They love to command and control. But true leaders prefer to inspire and empower. They request instead of demand. It's been said that Andrew Carnegie, the famous tycoon and philanthropist, always asked people to do this or that task. He’d say, “Do you think you could take this on?” or “How do you feel about performing this task?” The magic in this approach is that people are far more likely to work harder if they feel apart of the decision instead of subjected to it. It’s just simple psychology. 

5. Do you swagger?
Swagger never invokes the awe and respect that swaggerers believe it does. Their refusal to make eye contact, their refusal to acknowledge other people in the halls, their obsession with appearances, and their slow, meandering stride—as if they’re unburdened by responsibility of any kind. Then there’s their condescending remarks and their dismissal of input or ideas. You know what I mean. The only thing missing is the stench. This is a true sign of insecurity. Truly confident people don’t need a facade. They’re comfortable in their own skin.

6. Do you love flattery?
Everyone blushes when they’re complimented, but most people tend to get uncomfortable when it’s excessive. But not arrogant people. They can’t get enough. In fact, they often surround themselves with brown-nosers. Contrarily, leaders with true confidence care little for flattery. It offends their sense of humility. They’d rather shine a light on their mission or their team instead of themselves. 

7. Do you have compassion?
The aforementioned character traits are bad enough, but leaders who project an emotionless, robotic image can invoke the icy chill of post-war Stalinist Russia. That is not an environment that inspires people to do their best work. It’s an environment that inspires people to search for a new job. Next time you have to ask someone to work late or take on an uncomfortable task, show compassion and sensitivity. Feel bad about it. Maybe roll up your sleeves and help. And when your subordinates deliver for you, reward their loyalty and dedication with something special. A bonus, a free lunch, a shoutout, whatever. Compassion and appreciation goes a long way.

I’m sure there are additional signs that you are mistaking your arrogance for confidence. But seven feels like a nice number.

If you lead people, avoid the perils of the above points. To be confident you don’t have to be pompous and prickly. Build true confidence through belief. When your beliefs are founded on truths, you’ll have natural confidence. But have the humility to accept new information and grow. The more you learn—while staying honest, humble and compassionate—the more truly confident you’ll become. And the more people will gladly traverse mountains for you.

What separates you from highly effective, successful people? I’ve asked myself this question many times. In my case, the answer can be summed up in one word: initiative. 

I’m perhaps more successful than 99% of the population, but I haven’t had the impact on the world that I’ve dreamed of having. A lot of people like me dream of having an impact on the world but never do. If all of the ideas that remain trapped in our minds could be realized, we’d all be healthier, happier and richer. By “all” I mean everyone on earth.

I know I have ideas just as good as any successful billionaire entrepreneur. But how do I act on them? That’s the question. That’s the crux of the problem for every one of us. That one word, initiative.

I really hate fear. I’ve been timid my whole life and it sucks. Before I broke into the advertising business, I had to make the first calls to creative directors and ask them to see my portfolio. That was tough for me. It seems pathetic now when I think back on it. But in some ways I’m still struggling with apprehension. I envy those who can just walk up to the high dive and jump off without a second thought. I was one who stood at the edge of the diving board and just looked down fearfully. The longer I stood there, the scarier it became. 

One method that has helped me to get past the apprehension and take initiative is this:
I state my intentions publicly.

I’ve heard arguments against this method, but it’s worked for me. Much like Hernán Cortés, when he scuttled his ships to prevent his men from retreating during their conquest of the Aztecs, declaring my goals publicly makes me feel more accountable. If I back down then I risk humiliation. 

Another method I use is priming my subconscious by constantly repeating my stated goal to myself, by saying, “I can and will do this.” Some call it an affirmation. It has almost magical powers.

Also, for inspiration, I’ve remembered these two statements, made by Napoleon Hill:

"The power of thought is the only thing over which any human being has complete unquestionable means of control."


"Greatness is the ability to recognize the power of your own mind. To embrace it and use it."

The key words above are “use it.” I truly believe anyone can do anything. We may all have different obstacles and handicaps. But so did a lot of successful people. Our own greatest obstacle is procrastination.

Whatever your dream is, you can accomplish it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But you must take action. 

You are not alone in your hesitancy to take this step. Everyone hesitates. Only a tiny fraction of people ever go for it. But there’s never been an easier time in history to start something. Even just a side business or worthy cause. Let’s make a bigger impact on the world. 

(Giant caveat: whatever you pursue, just make sure it’s something you can do well. Don’t expect success if you suck at it.)

It’s very well known that daring to do great things makes us uncomfortable. Which is why the vast majority of people never do anything great in their careers or their personal lives. If we can’t embrace the nausea we feel when taking risks, we shouldn’t expect great things to happen.

One of my techniques for overcoming internal resistance to risk is to imagine myself as an old man on my death bed. In that moment, realizing that I always played it safe would be far more stomach churning than any single risk I could take now. 

To inspire you to take a giant leap, I’ve compiled 15 powerful quotes. Enjoy. And dare to do something great before it’s too late.

“Courage is really about choosing what’s right over what’s easy. Practicing your values, not just professing them. And choosing to be brave over being comfortable.”
-Brené Brown

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
-Nelson Mandela

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
-Muhammad Ali

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
-Winston Churchill

“What is the difference between a hero and a coward? . . . No difference . . . They both feel the same . . . the hero is more disciplined and he fights those feelings off and he does what he has to do.”
-Cus D’Amato

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
-T.S. Eliot

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

“I think any time people behave in a way that's truly them, then they'll never fail. You get in trouble when you try to copy others.”
-Gabrielle Reece

“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying.”
-Michael Jordan

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
-Thomas Edison

“I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
-Rosa Parks

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
-Napoleon Hill

“Success is 99 percent failure.”
-Soichiro Honda

“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
-Mary Pickford


It's bound to happen sooner or later. One day, out of the blue, the ECD at your company will quit or get fired. Suddenly all that time you spent proving yourself and establishing your reputation will be vaporized. All those privileges you enjoyed will disappear overnight.

The new ECD will naturally bring in his own people, as they always do. And those longtime employees (the “legacy” people) will become marginalized, no matter how talented they are. 

It’s interesting how different employees react in different ways. Some begin brown-nosing the new ECD right away. Some just walk around grumbling and complaining. Some get offended and submit complaints to HR. Some hide quietly in their cubes. And a few people simply quit. 

Everyone that stays must sit and watch the new hires come in and get the juicy projects and promotions. It’s an incredibly awkward and frustrating time, to say the least.

I'm pretty sure the same thing happened in Greek and Roman times. I can almost see the new general or senator coming to power, quickly bringing in his cronies while all the legacy people walk around in their togas, pissing and moaning. 

If you’ve been with a company for a long time, soldiering in the trenches and earning your keep, then suddenly this happens to you, what can you do? Well, you only have three options. Accept it, resist it or quit.

If you decide to accept it, you’ll likely be given the least interesting projects and you’ll probably become embittered. If you decide to resist it, you’ll have to work nights and weekends to prove yourself all over again to impress the new ECD. If you quit, you’ll have to search for a new job. So each of these options can be a strain.

Look at it this way: there will be times when you’re on the other side of the equation. You’ll get a call from a former boss who wants to hire you. So you’ll accept the offer and now you’re the crony. Personally, I’ve experienced both sides and it really gives you perspective. I’ve always tried to integrate into a new position as much as possible and make friends with the longtime employees. I hate being despised just because I’m new.

Occasionally, surprisingly, a new ECD will not bring in his own people. He’ll get to know the existing people and discover their individual strengths. Perhaps because he knows the problem is rarely with the employees, it’s with the leadership and vision. So changing the face of the entire creative department isn't always necessary. I'm always impressed by those ECD’s. The ones who make department speeches and learn people’s names.

Then again, sometimes an agency needs to clear some dead wood and bring in fresh blood. I’ve seen it transform the work for the better. 

The point is, it’s not worth crying over. Just deal with it, you’ll survive. Life’s a journey. Just chalk it up to experience.

A final word of caution to those who see themselves become marginalized: if you just take it, you’ll likely lose respect, whereas people who quit in protest (assuming they’re not in agreement with the new leadership) are likely to gain respect. Why? Because they refused to compromise and be relegated to second class citizens.

You’re the boss and you’re there for a reason. You worked your butt off, you won the acclaim and you earned the right be in charge. The only problem is, you’re a micromanager.

You’ll ruin it for yourself unless you learn to let go, because you’ll eventually be hated, no matter how nice you are. You’ll chase talented people away and news of your meddling will spread. In an increasingly connected world, you can’t afford that.

You might consider yourself a perfectionist and maybe that’s true, but great leaders don’t carry tweezers. They don’t hover. They don’t manipulate. They focus more on strategy and less on execution. They hire talented people and give them space to do their work. 

When you give people autonomy and room to grow, they flourish. And you reap the rewards. But when you second guess everything they do, you’re forcing them to spend their time trying to predict what you’ll want instead of using their own best judgment. 

The world is full of diverse points of view—the myriad pigments that make our world so colorful. So why are you trying to color everything with your one color? Do you really want everything to be monochromatic? I’d guess not. 

Perhaps you didn’t hire the right people after all. If you’re constantly overruling, dictating and mandating, perhaps you need different people. People you trust.

Or maybe now that you’re in charge of strategy, you really miss the execution part of the process. In which case, you’ve got a serious problem.

Here are some suggestions: 

Take a poll. Ask your direct reports if they feel you’re micromanaging. And be big enough to listen to criticism. Then do something about it.

Collaborate early not late. If you really can’t resist meddling, go ahead and involve yourself in the process. But do it in the early stages of idea development instead of changing everything to fit your personal tastes at the end of the process. 

Better yet, don’t meddle at all. If you feel inclined to re-write, re-design or re-think someone else’s work, stop. Stay at your 30,000 foot altitude instead of focusing on the weeds. Don’t suggest replacement language or alternate designs. Instead say, “This needs to be more authentic and colloquial.” Or “This needs to be more simple and iconic.” Then let your people execute from that feedback. Keep it in broad terms, otherwise you’re turning your people into puppets.

If you resist the urge to micromanage, you will effect massive change. You’ll get better work from your team. They’ll spend less time guessing and predicting, and more time using their brain. Plus, you’ll win their favor.

It’s a mindset. Leaders aren’t supposed to do the work, they’re supposed to lead and inspire those who do the work. Sure, it’s not easy to let go, but it’s best for everyone.

If it helps, think of it in these terms: You’re a museum director. Your job is to curate. Your job isn’t to re-paint or re-sculpt every painting or sculpture. Simply choose the work that speaks to you and fits your vision. This way, you’ll keep it diverse and interesting, and you’ll succeed in creating a surprising and amazing experience for your audience.

For years, fictional storytelling reigned supreme in the advertising world. I was always envious of fantastical, big budget TV ads, such as those from Guinness beer and Levi’s jeans in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Tall tales and entertaining absurdity.

But we’ve really seen a significant shift in recent years. A lot of brands are taking a documentary approach to storytelling using real people interacting with their products. Or telling stories about product craftsmanship. All with incredible results.

Storytelling has always been a key to brand building, but more and more companies are discovering that telling true stories is more powerful. Perhaps because consumers have grown tired of fictional depictions. Or perhaps because true stories have always been more effective and we’re all just starting to realize it. Even in the film industry documentaries are surging in popularity.

GoPro has brilliantly exploited the real stories approach. One hundred percent of their marketing efforts are put toward finding authentic, consumer-generated videos shot with their cameras rather than make believe stories using actors and big production dollars.

A few years ago, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn conducted an experiment. They called it, The Significant Objects Project. It’s an amazing testament to the power of product storytelling. They purchased objects for no more than a few dollars from thrift stores and garage sales. They enlisted writers and paired them with the objects. Those writers then wrote backstories inspired by the objects and they listed them on eBay. Incredibly, these unremarkable objects suddenly became “significant” objects with greater value.

They sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51. A “Hawk” ashtray, purchased for $2.99, sold for $101. A Missouri shot glass, purchased for $1, sold for $76. A mallet, purchased for 33 cents, sold for $71. 

Their experiment taught them that, “Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively.”

A lot of advertising creatives turn up their noses when they get a brief to create a “product story.” They’re perceived as boring. Nobody wants to film a factory. But real product stories don’t have to be boring. When they’re done right they can set a brand apart. They can add enormous value and create an emotional connection.

Take Apple for example. They’ve done an amazing job telling stories by demonstrating their products in fun, interesting ways. They’ve even gone to extremes to create videos that romance the raw materials that go into their products. This shows their obsession with quality and makes us feel a stronger connection to them. 

The Man Who Walked Around The World is another example. It’s a long form video created a few years ago for Johnnie Walker. In it, a man describes the entire history of Johnnie Walker whiskey. Despite the fact it was somewhat lengthy and used a spokesperson with a strong accent, it seemed to resonate more than the fantastical TV spots that were previously created for the brand. 

In the car category, Lexus in the US and Honda in the UK are also great examples. Their advertising has been effective for years by talking about their design and engineering in cool, interesting ways. They’ve wanted to be known for their products and thinking, not just for entertaining ads.

If you want to build brand affinity and loyalty, telling interesting true stories about your product or service is essential. It even works for human beings. The more you know about a person, the more you are likely to feel an emotional investment and therefore a stronger connection. Unless they’re a jerk, in which case you might dislike them even more.

I doubt things will go back to the way they were. I think truth will dominate from here on. Sure, fiction can still capture attention, but it can’t keep the attention. That’s because without substance interest is fleeting. To keep attention, people need to know who you are and what you stand for.