What I Learned This Year 2010

We wanted to finish the year on a local high note here on The Egotist. So, we asked the most respected creative visionaries in Colorado to create a piece, entitled "What I Learned This Year." It can take any form they'd like – an illustration, a top-ten list, an article, video, photo or anything else they envision.

This is an archived collection of the pieces we received, posted twice daily during the final two weeks in December and first week in January 2010. Great thinking from Colorado's best thinkers.


What I Learned This Year #1: Adam Espinoza, Denver motion designer/animator

I created a series of posters with 8 thoughts.

1. The voices are real, just don't listen to them.
2. Dogs love rolling in carrion.
3. Say no to drive by tootins.
4. We're all varying degrees of broke.
5. Logic stifles creativity.
6. Never be luke warm.
7. Don't feed me boo shit and call it ice cream.
8. Revolution of free thought.

What I Learned This Year #2: Jim Elkin, Denver director/executive producer at Roshambo Films

The Nine Great Things I Learned This Year or What I Did Last Summer, But I Can’t Really Talk About It Until I Have A Few Drinks First

Sometimes it’s better to fight for the things you want. Creative arguments are healthy and good for the soul. Some of the best Creative Directors I’ve ever met around the world haven’t been insecure bastards who just want you to agree with them. They don’t necessarily want you to say yes...they just want to know why you’ve made certain choices in your work. Stand up for what you believe in and what you’ve created. Do not be afraid to say where you’re coming from and how you got there. Just don’t be a jerk about it and always remember when to back off. Or as the infamous Kenny Rogers once said, “You’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to walk away.” Umm... unless you’re North Korea.

Ok, not literally. Smoking is an awful habit and, no, your medical marijuana card doesn’t help matters. But do take a break. Late nights are the norm in this business, but you always need to recharge your batteries. Don’t lose sight of the small things...puppies, sunshine...double rainbows...warm hugs from TSA agents...I’m not judging.

Get tough. I mean really tough. Thick skin can provide some much needed relief. It’s too easy to fall into the woe is me and feel sorry for yourself. It’s not how hard we fall... it’s how we pick ourselves up that define us. Man up...or woman up for that matter...even cross dress it up...I’m still not judging.

Sometimes at the end of the day when you’re creatively out of juice one of the things I learned this year is that you need to keep working and push yourself even harder. Even if you think all hope is lost, the chances are there is one more good idea left before you head off for your two fingers of Makers Mark or your double whipped Mocha Frapp. Take a few more minutes and push yourself. Ask any Olympic marathon runner and they’ll tell you that it’s not the first 26 miles that are hard...it’s the last 385 yards. Keep going. You’ll know when you’re finished when you hear clapping.

There will always be opinions, critics, naysayers, and God awful Bristol Palin dance moves. But in the end, you’ve got to be the one who calls the shots. Be brave, and even if your work is picked apart, keep believing in yourself. But if for some reason you decided to wear Jeggings...you might want to listen to your own inner critic.

Take responsibility for everything you do and create in your life. Don’t play into the old, “Well if I had a better partner...” or “No one listened to me...” game. If anything has your name on it, then make sure it’s not any less than your very best. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that you spilled coffee on your favorite shirt or your hybrid got booted. Life happens...but if your name is on it, there are absolutely no excuses. This year, I had to create 100 separate videos for American Crew. It was a large project to be sure. It would have been really easy to pass off a lot of them as filler and not put as much effort into each and every one. After all, 100 is an insane amount of videos any way you slice it. But I tried to suck it up and, as hard as it was every day, I asked myself, “Is this the best I got?” It was hard...sometimes it meant going back and reworking things...but I look back at that experience and I’m glad I did. I think I slept for about a month straight afterwards, but I had some nice dreams...although I will never admit that any of them involved Snookie from Jersey Shore and Twinkies. Just remember, you’re responsible for all of your actions...and, of course last but not least, only you can prevent forest fires.

Giving back should not just be an empty promise or because you wanted to place your lips on your boss’s booty. Giving back should come from the heart. It’s important not just to do it in your work, but in everything you do. As a creative person, it’s pretty much your duty to contribute to the community and your neighbor. There should be no ego here...just do good and good will come back to you. Be pleasant to everyone below and on top of you...I know, “That’s what she said.”

Understand your surroundings and the people who inhabit it. That audience you want to reach definitely live life in a a very specific way. More then likely, very different from you. Figure out who they are and everything about where they come from. Put yourself in their shoes...unless they’re wearing some Uggs...in that case feel free to try on their pants when they’re not looking.

No, not that word. I’m talking about collaboration. Collaboration is absolutely key. I know that can be a scary topic. It’s hard to trust people that might not have your exact vision. But personally I’ve tried more then ever this year to surround myself with much smarter people than myself. I know what you’re going to say, “But, Jim...that is pretty much everyone.” (You’re really hilarious...you should think about doing standup.) This is one of the hardest lessons in life and you have to suck up a lot of pride in the process. I guarantee that you will be glad you did. Feel free to also replace “collaboration” with “cookie” if you don’t agree. Either way, C is for cookie and that’s good enough for me.

What We Learned This Year #3: Cultivator, Denver advertising and design agency

Commuting by bike allows you to notice things. Trash, mostly. Disposable lighters that aren't really. Things that you wouldn't want to be hit by. Plenty of nails and screws. And stray things that make you question the events that brought them to this path. This partial collection was gathered over the last year by a couple of us who ride in to work.

What We Learned This Year #3: Cultivator

Call it cultural archeology: Artifacts of a human-made environment busting at the seams.

Or just making sure you don't run over that nail tomorrow.

Photo by John Johnston Photography.

What I Learned This Year #4: Gregg Bergan, Denver co-founder/creative director at Pure

It is physically impossible to lick your own elbow.

An agency is defined by its clients. But clients don't really care about that, so you should only work with ones that will define you well.

Great agencies rarely turn bad clients into good ones. Better clients are attracted to great agencies in the first place. Which makes them better agencies. The converse is also true.

I am too old to pull off the argyle cardigan. Or not old enough.

An entire generation has adopted writing as their primary method of communication, but most of them are not very good writers.

We did a disservice to the aforementioned by handing out participation trophies. Everybody will not grow up to be president.

Knowing no boundaries leads to innovation and a little pain.

In life, politics and advertising, packaging matters. A lot.

There is a Superman somewhere in every episode of Seinfeld.

People should stop talking about social marketing and think about how it propagates anti-social behavior.

The first person to truly capture the power of mobile will change the world.

It is becoming harder and harder to package what we really do.

In the world of PR, sometimes the best thing to do for a client is help them make nothing happen.

The words, "digital marketing" should be considered a redundancy.

You have about 25,000 potential days to work, but less than 1,000 weekends before your children will leave home.

Raiders suck. Josh McDaniels sucks more.

What I Learned This Year #5: Jessyel Ty Gonzalez, Denver photographer

I should preface this by saying I’m no writer. Expect many a grammatical error, little to no humor, and a read so long, dry and all over the place, that you’ll begin to doubt The Egotist hereafter. I also use a lot of parenthesis (incorrectly).

This post could have been titled, ‘The Current State of the Photography Business From A Photographer Who Is Still Learning A Lot About the Photography Business.' Ahem. Most of what I’ll say here will apply to photographers, but perhaps there’s a nugget or two that will be of some use to you good lookin’ ad folk…

Print Isn’t Dead. I Think.
Before this year, editorial work was non-existent for me. Blame it on the economy, micro-stock, magazines not being up-to-date like online publications, etc., but the times – they were a-changin.' This resulted in me getting laid off from my staff shooter position at a local magazine. Long story short, after months of weeping, I caught an incredibly lucky break, and began a journey into commercial work. Although this transitional period was painful for me (it haunts me to this day), what I learned this year is that photography is currently in demand.

The good news: instead of calling it print, I consider it just ‘imagery.' Heading into this all-digital world, we still need it. With the ever-increasing amount of screens in front of people’s eyeballs, purty pictures/illustrations/videos are needed for our monitors, tablets, mobile devices, or whatever.

Advertisers are beginning to realize that generic stock images are of no use to them.

Although producers and art buyers have a plethora of stock options, the need for unique and original imagery is rising. Magazine work – print or digital – is coming up again now that the dust is settling. And with better technology and faster speeds, imagery is proving great for rich content mobile ads.

In talking to a few photo buddies, 2010 was a good, busy year. That said…

Evolve, I Says!
In the past, there was low production value in digital work; there was this mantra that if it was for a tiny/digital screen, you didn’t need a big production (i.e., a photographer who knew what they were doing). In this digital frontier, you don’t need the resolution that print or OOHs do, so shooting a web banner with a mobile phone and no special lighting was permissible. They weren’t the nicest-looking ads, though.

Good photography wasn’t needed because, “it was just for a web ad.” But as the importance of digital and mobile has risen, great agencies have evolved their productions and realize good photography is needed because, “it’s for a digital ad.” This is great to see.

However, some trends could hurt photographers, too. There’s a growth in video frames replacing the photographic still. I used to double-team with TV productions, shooting the same talent for the photo portion of a campaign. No longer. With video cameras such as the RED, the resolution is so high that two birds go down with one stone. Boom!

Between the RED and lenses that will make photography a keyboard-clicking affair, I’m realizing stills alone may not be able to pay the bills in the near future.

Video seems to be the hot ticket right now. Like Hot-Pockets hot. With DSLRs pumping out gorgeous video at an affordable price (sort of), it’s what’s separating some photographers from the herd. You may not like it, but this is where our world is heading to, handsome readers.

A Short Ditty on Micro-stock
Talk to any pro photographer about micro-stock, and you’ll hear tales of wrath and hatred so vile, you’ll question humanity forever. None of us like it.

Yet, I did it when I was in college, shooting ridiculous amounts of clouds, flowers and textures, and was getting paid around $300 a month for it. As a college kid, that was a fortune. It allowed me to buy some gear and, in some crazy way, it’s what allowed me to get to where I am today.

So I get it. But now that I’m older and make a living from my photography, micro-stock is the Lucy to my Charlie Brown. Even TIME Magazine created a stir earlier this year when it started heavily using micro-stock, even for its covers, paying photographers $30 (!) for them.

So here’s what I learned: I wasn’t going to sweat it. How long can TIME continue before their subscriber count falls due to poor quality, or how long can the photographer afford to spend all this time on shoots and post work for only $30? Doesn’t seem sustainable. Here’s what I say: even if a job is strictly for exposure, I’d rather work for free, but not for cheap. Take from this what you will...

You’re Not Hard to Find, But You’re Still a Risk
In working closely with many art buyers this year, I came to learn that they probably know who you are and have seen your work. After all, it’s their job. Between social media, books, mailers, emails, web portfolios, showings, and more, there’s a chance they’ve spotted you.

Here’s what one art buyer told me, though: ”There has never been as much good photography as there is right now. There has also never been as much bad photography as there is right now.” Whoa.

This can be a tough time for art buyers. Everyone has a digital camera. The law of averages comes into play, and with post-processing and technology allowing you to shoot in near-darkness, people are going to get some amazing photos. What you don’t know is that there might have been thousands of bad shots in-between. In a professional setting, you need to deliver constant results and know what you’re doing. Therein lies the problem – some photographers have no idea what they’re actually doing. (That’s why this commercial gives me the lolz.)

For as simple as photography is – aperture, shutter speed, ISO – it’s also mind-numbingly deep, and most of us don’t realize it until we’re in the trenches. Being up to snuff technically will put you at an advantage, because in the end, a lot is riding on you. That’s probably why most art buyers are going to play it safe and get someone established they can trust – rather than take a chance on someone whose portfolio could be deceiving. Not an absolute, of course, but a harshness that adds to the fact that the commercial world is a tough cookie. Which brings me to…

Getting Paid for Photography Changes Everything
Everyone has a camera. Photography is fun. So when people learn that they can possibly be PAID to do this fun thing, their eyes open up like a fat kid in a cake shop. It looks like such a glamorous job, after all...

So here’s what I learned: it’s only fun and glamorous if you LOVE photography. And yes, we all “love” photography, but this is the kind of love that country singers talk about – the kind that hurts.

Photography as a hobby is much different than photography as a profession. If you don’t have this love or mindset, sulfur will rain from the sky, and you’ll quickly realize it’s not glamorous, doesn’t pay much, is very stressful, difficult, overly competitive, and you’ll hate every second of it.

Here’s a scenario: you’re on the set of a big photo shoot. You have a couple of clients there with you – one over your shoulder, the other looking at the tethered monitor. You have a creative director, an art director, and a lot of other people you don’t recognize – some of which may not like you or your work. It’s a roomful of creative people – all with different ideas, visions and egos, and you swear a few of them are giving you the Kubrick stare. Ultimately, you need to pull off what you say you can pull off – that simple.

The shoot goes on for fourteen hours. You’re constantly being asked to change this, adjust that, and you’re expected to do it on the fly without the slightest hesitation (people feed off that). You need to continue to sell yourself, be fun, joke around, and not show any doubt, as it will be noticed. You’ll be criticized, and must have a thick skin. Some people are only there to look for and call out your errors. You don’t get into this business to get praise – no news is good news. At the end, you’re mentally and physically challenged, and that was just the shoot – the easy part (there’s a lot that happens before and after that adds to the insanity). Then you do it again the next morning after only sleeping for four hours.

Although it always isn’t like this, this is a part of my life. It can be stressful. In fact, based on percentages, CNN Money says it’s the most stressful job in America. And even though that’s a lie (there are no lives in the balance here, people), I have seen four friends and two colleagues quit photography altogether because commercial work was too stressful, not worth the money, or because it’s not what they signed up for. I’m not telling you to not even try, but like everything in life, you have to work hard, know your shit, be aware of pitfalls, and practice, practice, practice before stepping up to the plate. (Baseball metaphor, for the win!)

I’ll leave it at this: Adjusting to the commercial world wasn’t easy, and there were days when I wanted to cry and scream at the frustration of it all. Now, I can’t believe I get paid to do it. I have been to some amazing places, met amazing people, and worked on some great campaigns. Yes, it can be stressful, but it’s also a dream come true if you can work with the pressures involved…

Final, Quick Learned Things
Look, I can go on and on. I’m at 1,500 words on this, so it’s probably best to wrap it up. If you’re miraculously still reading and have any questions or want to talk shop, contact me.

In the meantime, enjoy these last tidbits of knowledge. May they serve you well, young Padawans/Knights:

- Conan was right: “If you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen.”
- Don’t talk shit. It’s a remarkably small world – especially here in Colorado – so don’t let it bite you in the ass.
- Respect your crew and producer. Keep everyone well fed.
- Out of camera does not equal a retouched photo.
- Don’t compare yourself to other photographers – you’ll only go crazy. (AVVEEDDONNNN!)
- Know your limits, and don’t promise something you can’t deliver or don’t know.
- Buy your gear if you can. Renting adds up. Rent it out yourself to make up the costs.
- Not one art buyer I’ve talked to likes HDR. Also, they don’t seem to like iPad’s as your portfolio. Use it as a supplement to your book, instead.
- Keep shooting personal work. It’s probably more important than any other work you’ll do and will develop your style and genres. I started a daily photoblog to keep fresh. (Plug!)
- Photo rental houses and studios are still very difficult to find in Colorado.
- Take risks.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- When writing about what you learned in your profession this year, don’t make it a 2,000-word article that no one will like or read through.
- Enjoy the ride while it lasts…

What I Learned This Year #6: Ed Kleban, President of Juice Communications in Denver

My high school physics teacher, Mr. Bell, was a round, silly man whose love of science never permeated my thick skull. He would stand in front of us, excited about the ideal gas law, and we would giggle because he said “ideal gas.”

I’m sure that he went home every evening and worried about his teaching plan. He probably was concerned the smart ass in the back (me) was detracting from the smart kids’ discussion of “the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection” topic.

Overall, I thought he was a goof. And I’m sure he thought of me as a distraction. But here it is, a good thirty years after I sat in Ding Dong Bell’s class, and when asked what I learned this year I think of him.

One day he bounced into class, very excited. On a clean, black chalkboard he took a piece of yellowish chalk and put a single dot in the middle. I was barely paying attention.

“Let’s pretend this dot represents what we know,” the mostly ignored teacher started. “Then, the outside of the dot is all the things we know we don’t know.”

Then he drew a bigger dot over the little one.

“Now, if this is what we know,” he then traced the circumference of the bigger dot, “then this is what we know we don’t know.”

And over that dot he drew a much bigger circle. “So you can see, the more you know about something, the more you start to realize you don’t know.”

That was a simple illustration of how our awareness and our understanding of a subject can continue to grow, but that with it, grows the cognizance of our ever-increasing lack of knowledge. That’s what came to mind to me when The Egotist asked what I learned this year.

I learned that the more I understand about consumers, about tactics, about branding and products; the more I discover about the internet, SEM, YouTube, and user experience; the more I work on psychographics, demographics, and geographic tendencies; the more I realize I don’t know.

And, that, I believe, is the joy of our business. For people who love to learn, who can adjust on the fly, who live for the tickle at the top of your spine when you’ve so totally nailed the perfect phrase, concept, layout; for you creative and clever souls, tomorrow the circle is bigger and you realize there is more to learn.

Finally, in the wonderfully ironic way that the world works, now I’m the round, old guy excited about what he does, and you, you’ll find a fart joke somewhere in here.

May 2011 bring bigger budgets, more employment and, of course, new things to learn.

What We Learned This Year #7: Legwork, creative studio in Denver

What We Learned from LEGWORK on Vimeo.

What I Learned This Year #8: Sean Leman, founder/director at Rehab in Denver

Here's what founder/director at Denver's Rehab Sean Leman learned.

In truth, the last two years have been some of the hardest of my life, both professionally and personally.

As 2010 ends, I am happier than I have been in a very long time, and Rehab is busier than ever. That I am grateful is an understatement. But getting to this point, there were moments that were very dark.

So I’ve spent a long time on this invitation from The Egotist. Longer than I planned to. But I’ve taken it seriously. I hope it’s worth your time.

#1: I am a moron. Not all the time, but more often than I would like to admit.

This year I learned how little I know. It has been humbling to discover my ignorance, my uninformed choices, and the unconscious assumptions that drive much of my thinking.

It’s beyond cliché to say that this industry is changing at a breakneck pace, but there’s a truth buried in that. Change and progress and uncertainty are gifts. They remind us that no matter how fucking smart we think we are, we’re really not.

I’ve learned a lot seeing what happens when I start from that place. When I’m open to the fact that there’s much to be learned. That my first answer is not necessarily the right answer. Let alone the best one.

#2: Of all bad habits, slacking is the most fatal.

Laziness is a pernicious vice. Mental and physical laziness dig more early graves than any other bad habit.

In an industry where you’re judged by your latest gig, it comes down to how hard you’re willing to work. And work begets work. Good work begets more good work, and the opposite is also true.

2010 was a very good year for Rehab, both in the scope and quality of the work we did. The boards we bid on this year were the best we’ve ever seen. Getting those boards and producing those campaigns was incredibly hard work. If I want this level of work to continue and intensify, slacking is a habit I can’t afford.

#3: Dirty hands, clean heart.

Every spot or project presents choices and constraints – logistical, aesthetic, practical and intellectual. My job is chiefly to protect the creatives’ idea through that process and make it better in the execution.

This requires solving problems. Lots of them. Some simple, some complex. It’s intense work and heavy lifting. It requires focus and devotion and investing the time needed to solve the hard problems.

Too often we become more in love with the idea of what we do than the actual doing of it. I’ve certainly been guilty of that more than I care to admit to myself. But that’s a recipe for half-assing things.

This is and should be hard work, and it should get our best effort. Period. I’ve lost patience with the unwillingness to do the hard work, in myself or in others.

#4: Content is anything and everything you ingest.

It’s a simple thesis, really. Content is anything we ingest. Some content makes us smarter or happier. Some content makes us more slack-jawed or narrow-minded or half-asleep. As people who are responsible for creating content, we need to be especially mindful of what we take in and what we put out.

So let’s be careful about what we consume and even more careful about what we produce. If you consume or produce shit, it will come back to haunt you in predictably unpleasant ways. Much like a vindaloo gone bad.

#5: Work is making things.

Once I was at a funeral with my uncle, who’s a dairy farmer. He asked me what I did. I told him I made commercials.

And he said ‘Huh. I guess that’s one way to make a living.’

At the end of every day, I like to look back on it and ask myself what I made that day. Asking that question tends to keep things in perspective and serves as a simple way of measuring how much or how little work I did that day and what it means. On a good day, I’m satisfied with the answer. On most days, I’m not. Which only makes me want to work smarter and harder.

Looking back on this list, I’m embarrassed it’s taken me 43 years to learn these things. But I said it early on. I’m not as smart as I’d like to think.

What I Learned This Year #9: Tom Van Ness, freelance copywriter

An Ode of the End

So it's the end of the year. For me, it's also the end of a venture. I owned a company in 2010. Owned is the key word here, as we've decided to shut it down as of the last day of 2010. My partner and I have decided to go in our own directions. Certainly not what I wanted when I started the process, but the best thing to do now. Yes, we did some cool work, made some money, paid the bills, but the entity didn't become what we wanted it to.

The way I see it, the best strategy is to embrace the fact that it didn't work out, to run at it full speed. As grandpa always said, it's better to have tried and failed than to never have tried. Sure, that sounds great, but failing sucks. Learn the lesson and move on.

Looking back on 2010, and a good chunk of 2009, there are many, many things I learned about advertising, and more importantly, myself during the process of starting and stopping a small ad/design shop. They are, in no particular order:

Enjoy the process. A wise author once said that everyone says they want to write a novel. What those people really mean is that they want to have written a novel. There's a big difference. The process is the key. Those that enjoy the process as well as the goal succeed more often.

Business plan. Create an iron-clad, Superman's hair-type bulletproof business plan that everyone buys into. Have someone who's super-excellent at business plans write it. This is your roadmap, your strategy, your compass, your metaphor of choice goes here. Not that a super-sweet plan would have led to increased success, but it would have been a pre-set way to solve issues along the way, and be a barometer of said success.

Communication. I grew up in a home where if something was wrong, the best way to deal with it was to pretend the problem wasn't there. NOT a great way to run a business. Now that it's the holiday season, let's honor the Festivus tradition of airing our grievances, often and fully. The same goes for kind words. Air them even more often and more fully.

Shared goals. This works the same as the business plan. Discover them. Share them. Follow them. In the long run, this is why the agency didn't work. My partner and I wanted different things from the agency. As the French say c'est la vie – which means something about pork or something.

Investment in people. My partner and I are very good at what we do – creativity. If there are things which you are not great at, find someone who is, and pay them what they're worth. As Sally Hogshead says, "Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room." In a small business, there were lots of things I wasn't great at. Had I found the right people to do those jobs (and started with more capital to pay them), well, you know.

Clients. We started with a handful of excellent clients. People who respected what we did. We also had our share of clients with their heads up their hoo-has. We'll continue to work with those who understand the modern marketplace. As usual, the clients that get it shine.

So when all is said and done, I've learned plenty. Would I try it again? Absolutely. What's next? Freelance, full-time perhaps and a couple of weeks to enjoy Christmas. You know, they say it's been snowing a lot.

What I Learned This Year #10: Andrew Keller, CEO of Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder

I learned that for me, playing music is way more than a hobby, it’s as important to my well being as sleep. I learned that Rush is for sure my favorite band. I learned there isn’t a single Canadian that likes the band Rush. I learned my family is actually from Switzerland not Germany. I learned that when a snowflake falls in London, beer doesn't make it to the pub. I learned the Eiffel Tower is way bigger than it looks in photos. I learned honesty is more than the best policy, it can change a pizza company. I learned that it's always better to talk than email. I learned that when we make it our goal to take care of other people the rest takes care of itself. I learned how to smoke a Boston butt. I learned that all boys are born pre-programmed to laugh at the word butt and poop. I learned I don’t like pinot noir. I learned that the movie "Hot Tub Time Machine" isn’t for everyone, but it’s for me. I learned that we've all been running wrong thanks to the book "Born to Run." And that a chia-rita is delicious and nutritious. I learned there's nothing cooler than the sound of running in the snow. I learned finishing a marathon is simple but it ain't easy. I learned that my wife is far and away the single best thing in my life, for the fourteenth year in a row. I learned wearing the exact same clothes every day makes me more creative and that almost no one notices. I learned you don’t have to draw to be an art director and you don't have to have an MBA to be a CEO. But you need vision for both. I learned winning "advertising agency of the decade" doesn't make me feel confident, it scares the crap out of me. And I learned forty doesn't feel like forty if you never stop wearing spandex.

What I Learned This Year #11: Christophe Eagleton, Denver composer/producer/sound designer

Here are some concepts (in audio) that have inspired me in 2010. They are mainly philosophical in nature, but I feel also speak to creativity, technology, design, spirituality, and life in general.


What You're Hearing:

1. Reality is constantly changing. It’s an ongoing phenomena, rather than a fixed and stable phenomena.

2. We rarely perceive absolute truth. We perceive what we believe, or want to believe.

3. If you can slow down your perception in the moment, the rate, quantity and quality at which you perceive increases. (i.e., you can speed up or slow down time based on your perception of reality).

4. You are not the end result of human evolution. You are currently evolving and contributing to some future form of evolution.

5. We are the universe experiencing itself. We perceive ourselves as separate from one another in order to do so more effectively.

6. The universe is made of frequencies. Humans are receptors of frequencies. They have the ability to choose which frequencies to tune into.

7. You attract frequencies of the same wavelength you transmit.

8. Technology and design are tools that will contribute to a deeper understanding of human the human experience.

9. Humanity can shift from the current technological climate, which is polluted and overpopulated, to one that supports our potential for personal and social advancement.

10. Ultimately, The purpose of humanity is to create, experience and evolve. Thereby evolving the collective energy in the universe.

What I Learned This Year... And Things to Remember for 2011 #12: John Winsor, CEO at Boulder's Victors & Spoils

1. It’s not an evolution it’s a revolution.
2. Find more partners.
3. Less think, more do.
4. Listen more.
5. Move fast, then speed up.
6. Create more tools and utilities.
7. Love the haters.
8. Be scared every day.
9. Explore every dark corner.
10. Be humble.

What We Learned This Year #13: David Slayden + Boulder Digital Works, along with students, faculty, staff, and others who showed up and took part

Since the launch of Boulder Digital Works in October of 2009, I’ve spent much of my time out and about this past year talking about who we are and what we do––in speeches, presentations, interviews and articles. So, what have I learned from all of this? I learned when to send and when to receive. I learned especially the value of being quiet so that I could listen––I mean, really listen.

Deep listening is followed by learning. BDW quickly became a magnetic brand, attracting a wide range of talented, engaged people who were passionate about a collaborative vision for change, wanted to play an active part in our development, and had a lot to say. Below is a compilation of what we learned this year––from students, faculty, staff, and others who showed up and took part.

“More than anything I learned how to ship. I've moved past talking about things to actually doing things. Not to mention, my network of like-minded, talented friends has increased 100 fold.”

“We learned how to collaborate and the everyday value of collaboration and respect.”

“I learned some valuable insights on ideation and follow through. We were given a lot of room to play with ideas and come up with solutions we thought were really interesting and fun to work on. We were encouraged to be innovative, which I really relished and enjoyed.”

“We learned the importance of good communication and the necessity of thoroughness. For every complex and innovative idea, we had to account for all the complexities that went into making that idea into a reality.”

“We learned on a broad level the languages we needed to communicate with technical, creative, and business-minded people. When we didn't know how to do something ourselves, we learned on a basic level how to ask someone else how to do it. I personally learned to cherish collaboration even more than I already had.”

“Coping with failure was one of my best takeaways. Before getting to BDW, I was one of those people petrified by the thought of failure because I thought it was automatically a negative. I believed that you shouldn't have to learn things "the hard way." But being immersed in complex projects with extensive (yet tight!) deadlines made me realize that it's OK if you haven't thought of every problem and solved it from the get go. It doesn't mean you shouldn't try to see those problems, but you really just can't account for everything, and when you fail, you learn and you never make the mistake again. Projects live or die, but the final outcome shouldn't be the only reason to be involved in a project.”

“I've learned to value the act of making. The power of following through with something. 100 great ideas and no executions is far less valuable than 5 ideas and 5 executions. (Thank you, Scott Belsky.)”

“I've learned to share ideas early and often. I really love the philosophy that 80% and now is better than 100% and 3 weeks from now... no idea is ever perfect and the sooner you get it out there, the sooner you can improve upon it. Don't keep ideas to yourself, involving others will multiply the idea.”

“What have I learned? Never to be afraid, to jump right in, to listen and learn from every single interaction. I learned to be agile and adaptive and not too attached to a single idea, process or thought. Things change every single day – whether at BDW or in the digital space – and if you approach each day with an open mind and an eagerness to learn you will grow and be just a little better at what you do (whether that means actually making things, or just talking about something in an educated, albeit bullshit, way). Never stop learning and changing, and always, always be excited and optimistic about the future – because we're in the position to make things better (through interactions and experiences) and every day we're given more ways to actually do so.”

“At BDW I learned just about everything that has brought me to where I am and made me confident that I'm entering the right profession for me at the right time! And I can't thank you all enough for that!!”

So that’s basically it for what we’ve learned this year. The final comment came in just as I was finishing this piece, and it is my favorite because it faithfully captures the spirit of BDW.

“Can we all celebrate later this afternoon/evening??? Happy hour please?”

What I Learned #14: Carmel Hagen, Brand Partnerships Director at Boulder's OneRiot

The internet fucking sucks.
Right-brainers, let me tell you something rather terrifying: This year I learned that the internet is a utility service. In fact, if you work in the internet, you’re practically working for the modern day equivalent of a water purification plant. Let me explain.

In order to create truly memorable experiences, we need to enlist a pretty decent range of senses. Touch, sight, taste, smell, sound – it’s a combination of these things that create lasting impressions on the human brain.

It is almost impossible to create a multi-sensory experience on the internet. At best, you can engage two senses at once. That’s one reason why the impact of digital campaigns, even successful ones, can be fleeting – and why attention is so insanely hard to capture for long periods of time on the web.

Like running water, people turn the internet on, they turn it off, and they rarely note of their experience unless it breaks. The best internet services are the ones that have succeeded at getting out of the way entirely by providing a bare bones product that meticulously meets a need. Search results, for example, are at once the ugliest and most trafficked pages on the internet. They do a job. Coldly so. Like a sewage plant.

Creative people, if the thought of pouring your ideas and energy into a utility service feels like daggers to your sweet, arty soul, don’t fret. You can always take up packaging design, or environmental design, or even sell some handmade furniture on Etsy. But if you’re the type of creative that really seeks emotional, lasting impact in your work, the nets probably aren’t the best medium for you.

Fake boobs are everywhere.
A girl I know got her boobs done this year – an act that I’m neither condoning nor supporting here – and I became pretty well versed in the ups and downs of fake boob management. As a fun side effect of watching this process from close quarters, I developed a new, honed ability to spot Rack 2.0. And let me tell you, implants are everywhere.

I think Coloradans – specifically Boulderites – are more likely to err on the tasteful side of breast augmentation, but for all of our commitment to natural living, we sure do seem to embrace body enhancement. Lift and separate, y’all.

Data is King (but the King’s too fat to trailblaze).
I learned two things about data this year. Firstly, data has never been more available, and never been more heavily leaned upon in the decision making process. Browsing behavior, demographic insights, public opinion, geographic, psychographic, ‘realtime’ analysis – these are the real decision makers, not some seasoned marketing executive. We depend on these numbers because we’re moving too fast to keep up with things in a more instinctual way. But at the end of the day, they’re just safety nets – not necessarily the best answer for your particular problem.

When you’re seeking safety, a safety net is a Godsend – but it does bring me to the second thing I learned about data: If it’s all you trust, there’s a good chance you’ll never churn out anything truly innovative. There aren’t numbers for things that don’t exist yet, so if you’re uncomfortable taking risks – or maybe more realistically, still need to acquire additional knowledge before the gut instinct that drives these innovations develops – don’t expect to do anything that hasn’t already been done.

Douchebags are good at working, too.
Earlier this year, I worked – involuntarily – with a guy who I’d previously worked with, then sworn off as one of the most massive douchebags I’d ever professionally encountered. The second time around, he was still a douchebag, but unlike our first “collabhoration” we had our own shit to execute, and I didn’t have time to dwell on how much he sucked. At the end of it, he’d gotten the job done. Fairly well, in fact.

I’m not totally sure where the point is in all of this, but it might be that sometimes douchebagginess comes with a side of talent. Or maybe it’s that you can’t legally fire people just for being a douche (which was exactly what I recommended, initially). So, I guess I’m saying this lesson saved me some future lawsuits.

Fine. Social media is hard.
A year ago, I would have laughed directly in the face of anyone billing themselves (and billing other people) as a “Social Media Expert.” I couldn’t believe that people were actually bamboozling companies into lessons on how to fucking tweet.

Then I spent a whole year talking to companies about social media marketing – and realized that moving a brand into social channels is actually one of the toughest marketing medium transitions they’re ever encountered.

Without going so far as to say that Social Media Experts have a long and lush career path ahead of them, I will say that they’re providing a valuable and needed service. I will also consolidate their lessons into one brief paragraph:

If you suck as a person, a brand or a company, you’re going to have a hell of a time attempting to not suck on the internet. In fact, if you’re not genuinely willing to put in the groundwork that transparency, accountability and general good character require, you might actually be better off staying away from social media entirely. Conversely, if you’re genuinely cool with people being aware of your suckness, and have no plans to change, you might find some legs there too. Point is, lying should never be part of your marketing strategy – so just remember that when you’re 'developing your social media presence.’ Or paying someone else to do it.

The internet fucking rocks.
It’s cold, it's utilitarian and it's forgettable. But it also allows you to build a product – whether it’s a blog, a website or even an auction page for your suddenly very financially lucrative old Atari equipment – in about ten minutes. On top of that, it allows you to communicate about that ‘thing’ with important people no matter where they live, without ever getting off your ass.

Emotional, no. Creatively fulfilling, mostly just in a cheap sex sort of way. Utilitarian, totally. But utilities are often so important that we call them necessities – so don’t ditch out on the webs entirely.

What We Learned This Year #15: cypher13, Boulder design studio

This past year has provided us a wealth of opportunity and a glimpse into the future. What we once perceived as a unique passion for a specific trade/craft/art/work has become a life practice and discipline; driven predominantly by two things: intent and transformation.

Intent as it relates to our practice is inspired by responsibility and thoughtfulness. For us, thoughtfulness implies a certain intellectual depth characterized by careful consideration. The intent and thoughtfulness we have cultivated over the past year is the basis for deciding with whom and precisely how we will expend our professional creative energies. Our intent as a studio is to practice responsible and thoughtful design.

Through our professional and personal practice we intend to bring about forward-looking transformations for our clients and their endeavors, within our community, and within ourselves. While we remain informed by the past, we have grown to openly embrace and even seek change. We believe that a willingness to adapt in order to improve will best prepare us to challenge the demands of the future.

2010 > The Future.

Photo by Jamie Kripke, personal work from Huangshan, China

What I Learned This Year #16: Jonathan Schoenberg, Creative Director/Co-owner, TDA Advertising & Design in Boulder

Work: Even on bad days we work in a field that is consistently fun. Way more fun than the way most of our friends and family make a living, especially lawyers.

Food: Bacon would taste even better if people did not wear t-shirts praising bacon.

Sports: I wish I committed some time to following the 2010 NFL season. A pronounced lack of knowledge on the topic really limits small talk between now and the Super Bowl.

Weed: If you tip people who deliver appliances to your home with weed, they seem to appreciate it more than money.

What I Learned This Year #17: Shannon Bonatakis, Denver illustrator

"Do the things you want to do and do them now. Your life is so very short. Leap."

What We Learned This Year #18: Norm Shearer, Creative Director of Cactus, along with his agency

Thanks Cacti, Cacti clients, TDE and the creative community for another awesome year. I've learned more from you than the other way around for sure. Happy Holidays everyone.

What I Learned This Year #19: Eric Kiker, Principal/Strategy Director at Denver's LeeReedy

Caveat: I’m a fan of long copy.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced “Mixed Taste” at our Museum of Contemporary Art. But it’s really pretty damned incredible. It happens during the summer, although I’ve heard they’ve instituted a winter edition, just as of this year. The inventors of Mixed Taste—chiefly a Mr. Adam Lerner, who will embarrass me terribly later in this story—summarize the evening as “Tag team lectures on unrelated topics.”

The event is held, after a snack and cocktail hour, in a building known as the Flower Garage, just across Delgany Street from the museum. The building’s name is appropriate, since summer nights create a hothouse of sorts, which is quickly filled to capacity with a couple hundred incredibly fabulous people (so surely you’ve been), fanning themselves in anticipation of an artistic, humorous and, yes, erudite program, within which intellect hangs as thick as the late August heat.

Just this past season, the lectures—remember, they’re on unrelated topics—included: Irrational Engineering & the Birth of the Cocktail; The Alpaca & Nuclear Missiles; Bigfoot & Carl Jung; Bananas & the Tibetan Book of the Dead; Dung Beetles & Leni Riefenstahl and on the evening of July 30, the topic, which formed the eventual point of this essay: Black Holes & T.W. Adorno.

Black Holes, you likely know something about, although I’m betting you may not be aware of the theoretical fact, that were you to successfully pass through one, you’d create a new universe. Believe me, I didn’t know either. And that particular lecture, complete with animated simulations of black holes and their light/mind bending characteristics, got much, much more difficult to contemplate.

In contrast to black holes, I had no knowledge whatsoever of T.W. Adorno, a German-born philosopher, musician, sociologist and all-around geek who argued that “advanced capitalism had managed to contain or liquidate the forces that would bring about its collapse and that the revolutionary moment, when it would have been possible to transform it into socialism, had passed.” T.W. would have totally hated Nike.

As you might imagine, this particular evening’s lectures took an academic toll on the audience, many of whom, yours truly included, could be seen vacillating between staring dumbfounded at the speaker and, giving up all hope of appearing remotely erudite, dropping heads into hands, shaking the former as if to say, “Damn you for dropping astrophysics AND philosophy, damn you.”

Just in case you’re thinking, “Come on you dumbass, how confusing could it have been?” Here’s a quote from Adorno, featured by the speaker, a gentleman of vast intelligence, C.U. professor Henry Pickford:

“The works which are the basis of the fetishization and become cultural goods experience constitutional changes as a result. They become vulgarized. Irrelevant consumption destroys them. Not merely do the few things played again and again wear out, like the Sistine Madonna in the bedroom, but reification affects their internal structure. They are transformed into a conglomeration of irruptions which are impressed on the listeners by climax and repetition, while the organization of the whole makes no impression whatsoever.”


The culmination of Mixed Taste is a question and answer period during which the audience is encouraged to draw parallels between the two unrelated topics. On this particular night, Adam Lerner, as I was told after the humiliation to come, was convinced that, given the atypically challenging subject matter of the talks, no one would be so foolish as to ask the first question. So, being a marketer as well as “Head Curator and Chief Animator,” he offered a free beer, to be collected in the rooftop café after the program, to the first questioner.

I was to be that questioner—and that fool.

Now I have to tell you, that later, I came up with quite a good question for the lecturers, were they there, in my kitchen, three hours after the program had ended:

“Do you think Adorno believed society to be incapable of change, and thus destined to fly headlong into a black hole? Or would he have hoped we could instead come out the other side, creating a new socialist universe?”

But that question, which matched up nicely with one of the unwritten rules of Mixed Taste: Ask really smart-sounding questions, did not come at this moment. Instead, my question, the first question after such an incredibly mind numbing lecture was simply…

“What the hell?”

Adam, perhaps wishing he’d put some stipulation on the offer, such as, a free beer goes to the first person to ask a question at least four words long, encouraged me at first, “Okay, what the hell, what?”

“What the hell?” I said. “What the hell? That’s it. What the hell?”

Then he chided me, asking the audience if I should even get my free beer.

I looked around, wondering if the audience would support me and find the question as surprising, as funny, as universally unifying as I had—right before I asked it. But no, they really didn’t seem to think anything was the slightest bit interesting, amusing or unifying—my son and wife included, glaring up at their father/husband with the same “Did you really just say ‘What the hell?’” look on their faces.

To make things even more sweaty than the ninety-two degree Flower Garage, was the fact that, in their typically creative fashion, the organizers had created a very large, impossible-to-put-in-your-pocket free beer coupon—tonight in the form of a museum intern dressed in a polar bear outfit, whose hand I was instructed to hold all the way to the rooftop bar, amidst the crowd, staring, muttering, “What the hell? What the hell???”

Which brings me, like the last tiny spark of light attempting to futilely resist the pull of the black hole, to what I’ve learned this year, all within the context of: What the hell?

• Technology is evolving at a second-by-second pace—our drive to harness the possibilities will in large part dictate what the hell our salaries will be.

• An ever-larger pool of local agencies are winning national work—our success in sustaining this trend will affect what the hell kind of status Denver/Boulder/Colorado could soon hold in the eyes of the rest of the ad/marketing/digital world.

• Crowdsourcing is blowing up in our own backyard, winning national accounts and causing a certain love it or hate it sentiment—our desire to study and adapt our own models based on the lessons of this new phenomenon may make us better and more competitive while we evolve and strengthen what the hell it means to be in our business.

• One of the world’s best agencies resides at 80301—our willingness to be inspired, and to raise our own games will cause us to continually ask, what the hell can we do better?

2010 was an incredible confluence of creative gravity and capitalism. What the hell will 2011 bring?

What I Learned This Year #20: Ryan Bramwell, Creative Director at Denver's SPILLT

What I Learned This Year #21: Steve Babcock, VP/Creative Director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder

Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your abilities. Be honest with your intentions and determination. Be honest with where you are and where you want to go. Be honest with what you want to achieve and exactly why you want to achieve it. Be honest with your feelings. Be honest with your motives. Be honest with your ego. Be honest with those who depend on you and especially those who look up to you. Be honest with your time. Be honest with your priorities. Be honest with your peers. Be honest with your accolades and your helping hand. Be honest with your critique as well as your credit. Be honest with your gratitude. Be honest with your boss. Be honest with your clients. Be honest with the brief. Be honest with their brand. Be honest with their product. Be honest with their audience. Be honest with the hype. Be honest with the work.

And in all of this, be honest with the outcome.

What I Learned This Year #22: Joel Pilger, President/Founder at Denver's Impossible

That's Impossible
Unless you've worked in New York or LA within our industry, it may be difficult to appreciate the anomaly that is Impossible. You see, we do design, spots and promos for television. In Denver. Anyone who knows anything about our industry knows that's insane. But I'm a guy from Atlanta who grew up skiing here every spring break and when I decided to start my own company, I said, screw it [the conventional wisdom]. I was determined to live in Colorado and somehow figure it out.

"Figuring it out" is not an entirely unfamiliar story to most of you: it involved tons of hard work, learning, paying your dues, beating the odds, then lots more hard work and still more learning. For 15 years. No magic there, right?

2010 Was Different
But year 16 was different. Very different. We really beat the odds. It felt like for 15 years we've been busting our butts to build all the right pieces, then all of a sudden, this was the year they all started to fall into place.

Here are some specifics so you can see what I mean. For starters, this year Impossible tackled a whopping 201 projects that generated over 1,300 spots. We were honored among The Denver 50 and won several Best In Shows. We rebranded several national networks. We directed and produced national advertising campaigns. Our staff doubled in size to 22. We worked hard as hell. We had a blast.

What I Learned
I could write pages and pages of what I learned this year. Yawn. Let's press the skip ahead button on the remote. After all, what we really want to know is, "What was the one thing that you learned that made the biggest difference?"

Answering that is no small feat. There are so many ingredients that go into any successful business recipe, I can think of many. Like work ethic. Dedication to learning. Talent. Experience. Operations. Marketing and sales. Financial management. IT. Espresso.

After a lot of thought, if I had to boil down the most important thing I learned this year that made the biggest difference, it's something I've believed for a long time. But this year it was more relevant than ever. I'll sum it up this way:

If you're good at something, stop doing it.

What I mean here is that if you're a good designer, a good writer, a good project manager, a good anything, stop doing it. You should put it down. Let it go.

The Concept
Lest you think I'm being dramatic, let me illustrate this concept with a personal story.

Ten years ago I signed up for some high-level entrepreneurial coaching. One exercise had me write down all the activities it took to run my business. My list was comprised of (ugh) 32 different things. Yikes. One of them was literally "Keep the office clean / take out the trash." Sound familiar?

I then divided the list into four categories: those activities at which I was "incompetent," "competent," "excellent," versus those things that tap my "unique abilities." It was pretty easy to move my "take out the trash" activity into the competent box, and things like "bookkeeping" and "HTML" into the incompetent box.

The point of this exercise was for me to get really clear about what I could be great at versus what I needed to set aside. I'll assume we all agree that if you want to be satisfied, fulfilled, and making a difference in the world, you have to focus on your unique abilities.

It's Harder Than It Sounds
So here's the catch: remember that "excellent" category? Those were the things that I was really good at. My highly-paid expert coaches said I had to let go of those things. And as much as I wanted to resist, I knew they were right. So I started discovering my unique abilities and focusing on doing just those things and somehow, some way, delegating everything else. And no, it wasn't easy. Hell no.

What I learned in 2010 was that leading and growing a company through crazy times like these, letting go of what you're good at was more important than ever. What did I let go of this year? Things that I am damn good at but I won't ever be great at: creative directing, IT (don't laugh) and operations. These roles are now owned by Impossible pros that are way beyond my abilities.

And letting go of good is not just for me but applies to our entire team. Everyone in the company is being asked, "What can you be great at?" as together we seek opportunities for each and everyone to step up. And step up they have.

It's Your Turn
The moral of the story: the longer you or your staff go on devoting your energy to things you're just good at, the more you're fooling yourself and driving your clients and teammates crazy. Is your team bumping up against frustration, confusion, and messes? That's a sign that someone isn't operating within their unique ability.

Don't deprive others of doing what they're great at simply because you can't let go of what you're merely good at. What got you here won't get you there.

Perhaps you need to wake up and hire that bookkeeper. Or promote yourself out of the art director role you're good at so you can give your top designer a shot at being great in that position. Or maybe you're way overdue getting real with someone who is struggling and making messes; make them responsible to discover what they can be great at and then expect them to deliver.

But how will you afford all this new help? Hint: people operating in their unique ability are faster, better and command higher prices.

At Impossible, this unique ability concept means we've had to evolve from simply offering jobs to offering serious career paths. Every member of the team is expected to discover what they can be great at and pursue it relentlessly. The company's job is to find a way to exploit it and make money. You're doing what you love, and the company loves what you're doing.

Or at least that's the dream. And from the look in everyone's eyes at the Christmas party last Friday night, I'd say we're getting closer every day.

Thanks for reading.


For further study:
Jim Collins' Hedgehog Concept in Good to Great at www.jimcollins.com
Dan Sullivan's Philosophy of Unique Ability at www.strategiccoach.com

What I Learned This Year #23: Christopher Cox, Founder/Creative Director at Denver's Changethethought

1. Doing is thinking.

When I first entered this business, I would sit around and moan about how when I finally got that great job or worked for such and such client I would finally get to produce that project or thing that would catapult me into stardom.

After being laid off several times and moving around a lot, my views have totally changed. I’ve learned that creating is a practice. You have to keep doing it all of the time. If you wait for a reason, you won’t do it and you’ll get stale. If you are bored with your creative life either at your job or just in general, then you have to just start creating. Make an experimental poster campaign, launch a new website, start making a set of typefaces but don’t wait for a reason. Just do it and during the course of action reasons will start to emerge that will push you and the work in the right direction.

I make ‘stuff’ constantly. If I am sitting on the couch, I am drawing. It’s like playing an instrument, you will never truly master it but the only way to get better and feel inspired is to play.

2. Collaborate.

You have two options on how you can look at his whole ‘internets’ thing. You can shit your pants and worry that you are going to be wiped out or just lay down your arms, throw up the flag and embrace the hell out of it. The old walls really are tumbling down and will keep doing so for several years to come.

Don’t look at your counterparts in the industry as competition anymore. Open up to genuine collaboration. We don’t worry about muddying the waters if someone has an agency that does exactly what our does and wants to partner with us on something. The water is already muddy. We look for opportunity. Every person, agency, studio, CD, AD, client or student we meet is a doorway into something new that could allow us to take part in something we had never considered. 9 times out of 10 the clients won’t know or care who’s involved so long as budget is respected and the work delivers results.

3. Put yourself out there.

If you have something you’ve created that you are excited about, then put it on the internet. Share it with the world. It’s one of the best ways to find out what other people respond to in your work and how you might need to shift or change to get better at what you do. The internet is the world’s largest no-bullshit focus group. Put your work on Flickr, Behance, your blog or wherever but get it out there. It doesn’t have to be client work either. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback or comments. You can respond to them directly and also respond by redesigning or reworking your creative. Look at negative feedback as a positive that you can use to tailor your craft and better yourself.

Half of the projects I’ve gotten in recent years came from just making something for the hell of it and sharing it. Then a potential client saw it somewhere on the net, tracked me down and hired me to do something similar. That is one of my favorite ways to get work because when they do find me, they ask me to continue doing something that I was already enjoying. I liken it to going fishing and using work I’ve made that I like or enjoyed making as bait. It might sound crazy but a lot of people are doing the same thing now and it works surprisingly well.

4. Love more and travel.

Go home and hug your wife or partner. Make time for your family. Find balance. You are in charge of your life. You always have choices to make. This industry needs to change drastically to address the cultural earthquakes that are rumbling through society right now. Choose to be an active part of that change. It sounds altruistic because it is, but who cares. Working like maniacs is killing us. Make time for your family and friends as best you can. Nothing informs the creative process more than life experience and your job is only one part of that life. Take your annual vacation and make it count. Load up the kids or save for a flight and go somewhere you haven’t ever been. Take lots of pictures, eat weird food and when you come home you will find new inspiration in your heart that you never knew was there. Half of the experimental layouts I created below were made from pictures I took last year on a brief trip to Europe.

Your family and friends are your rock. Stay close to them and hold on to your integrity. A good friend from college once told me that you can sell your integrity for nothing, but after you do, no amount of money you earn for the rest of your life will ever be enough to buy it back. You can’t get back the time you waste putting up with bullshit. Sometimes you have to push away from the table and say you’re full. Choose how you spend your time wisely. It’s your time. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. If you think someone wants to waste it, just say no.

5. Embrace your fear.

If you hate your job, then quit. If you think Denver sucks, then move or make it better. If you think this guy or that guy’s work sucks, then make something better. If you think your CD is full of it, then tell him he is. This is an old piece of advice and the reason it’s old is because it’s fucking true. If you let your fear for stability, acceptance or whatever else drive all of your decisions in life, then you are wasting your life. If your family and friends won’t support you, then maybe it’s time to start a new family and make some new friends. You can’t compromise when it comes to what’s in your heart. You have to move in that direction or you’ll never be worth a shit for any of the people you surround yourself with. Start doing this today. Just beginning to think about it means you are already making a decision that will inspire you to action in the future.

6. Surround yourself with people better than you.

I learned this from someone I worked for in recent years. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people that are way more talented then you are. You will learn more than you ever dreamed. Talented people usually take ownership and responsibility over their decisions because they are passionate and proud of what they produce. If you are going to build a team or start an agency, then fill it with people that are seeking opportunity to experience the fullest expression of their abilities. Then go out there and create that opportunity.

7. Skulls.

They are totally played out and everywhere but damnit people still love them. They are super fun to draw too. I just gave in and decided I would still occasionally make skull art and the most popular thing I made so far this past month was a skull. Everything below actually is stuff I made in the past 30 days or so for shits and giggles, and I had fun doing it too.

Love, hugs and good vibes to all of you and to making wherever you are a better place to be creative.

What We Learned #24: David Schell, Executive Director of Creative Services, along with the rest of the crew at Denver's The1stMovement

Wow. Where do I start? Should I get sappy? When I first heard the topic it reminded me of The Breakfast Club’s assignment – “Who do we think we are?” So with the faint sound of Simple Minds ringing in my ears, I give to you what my coworkers and I have taken away from the great 2010.

Source: Flickr. Via gableknits. Buy it on ETSY.

In 2010 the conversation of traditional vs. digital has finally fizzled and died. While both sides have been focused on the other, new agency models have surfaced, and some considerable wins have occurred on either side of the coin.

Smaller digital agencies are finally tearing off their “production” labels, and winning AOR clients like LucasArts (Big Spaceship) and Sobe (Firstborn), because of their ability to tell complex stories, engage users, and think in systems.

On the flip side, W+K proved this year with their Old Spice campaign that big agencies are far from dead. Through the highly successful work they showed they know a thing or two about how to maneuver the digital landscape.

Either way, one thing we have learned this year is that the AOR model is starting to break apart. Brands like Pepsi and Harley Davidson are opening up their vendor pool and distributing their needs to multiple agency resources, sending all to hunt down the biggest and best ideas.

This year we’ve seen Apple’s hardware drive significant software change. The iPad has singlehandedly brought HTML5 to the forefront of Web technology. Clients who were previously requiring IE6 compatibility are now constantly asking about HTML5, and iPad/mobile compatibility. It’s still a bit of a buzzword, but none-the-less has had a significant effect on Web technology and standards.

Speaking of mobile, this year has truly been a banner year for mobile. We have seen seriously increased demand for mobile work, and we’ve also been pushing harder to include it in all of our campaign thinking and strategy whenever relevant.

Digital tablets have helped to change the term “mobile” to include devices big or small, with users demanding a near desktop experience and consuming content faster than my daughter plows through cookies.

Going into 2010 we were inundated with sexy native iPhone apps and games for every brand. Now were leaving 2010 with brands realizing they get more bang for their buck using more agnostic Web Apps.

Social Media:
In 2010, social media finally seemed to earn its stripes as a mainstream communication channel. Brands have abandoned microsites (for the most part) and decided to build up their homes where the people already are, which is Facebook. In general, brands are still struggling with wrapping their heads around the ROI for social, debating how much a ‘Like’ is really worth, but in the meantime it’s become a very fun time to experiment and play with different formulas.

Time to get sappy. This is more of a personal note, but I've been blessed over the years to work with some great clients and co-workers. I've always believed the best part of my job is building relationships, and I’ve seen this come full circle with the return of amazing clients and colleagues from agencies past.

Happy Holidays, Denver! Here’s to an incredible 2011!

Sincerely yours,
David Schell & The1stMovement

What I Learned #25: Mike Sukle, Owner/Creative Director at Denver's Sukle Advertising & Design

This past year has been an incredible learning experience for me. But for everything I learned, there’s a whole lot more I can’t figure out. Perhaps some of you clever cats have the answers.

For example, how does bacon just keep getting better?

Is ADD contagious? If not, how did I catch it?

Why hasn’t anyone snapped up Ricky Lambert yet? He’s got some serious chops.

How is it that some really talented agencies aren’t around anymore? It terrifies me, and it should make us all work harder.

What happened to the oil spill? Or Haiti? Or Gallagher?

Can a campaign be too effective?

Does self-medicating work, or is it just me?

How does Jeff Graham work at Crispin, teach at CU, have a family and still have time to offer help whenever you need it?

Were there fewer days in this year, or just less hours in each day?

Will someone ever figure out how to crowdsource the marketing director position?

What’s next? Does anyone know? Or are we all just wingin’ it?

Will the Broncos ever recover? Not sure I will.

Anyone up for a monthly roving keg of beer, a happy hour/social/get together type thing, in 2011?

Will sumac be the next craveable flavor to sweep the country?

Can anyone explain why I have a burning desire to text in my car now that there’s a no-texting law in effect?

If the school system is getting worse, how come I can’t answer any of my kid’s homework problems?

Can I put a number 3 into the recycling bin? And why do they make recycling plastic bags so darn difficult?

What if I really did win the United Kingdom lottery?

And finally, who is the Egotist? Whoever you are, the entire creative community owes you a colossal debt of gratitude.

What I Learned This Year #26: John Gilbert, Creative Director at Denver's Xylem Digital

Recently, the good people over at The Egotist asked me to participate in this wild idea centered around "What I've learned in 2010." My initial reaction was, "Ahh snap, I hate writing." But that's not entirely true. I'm just really bad with the words. So bear with me for a little bit as I expound some large words that I recently googled for your pleasure.

I'm not sure what the others are going to write or create, but I have honestly learned a lot in the last year. The last couple of years have not been easy. Probably some of the most difficult times happened in 2009, but they lead to a lot of good things in 2010. I've learned to appreciate the business side of life a lot more. Learned to love technology all over again. And learned what perseverance really means. It's with these things in mind that I throw down the heady thoughts below.

In the past year, I've learned to appreciate this little self concocted theory about the expansion of knowledge in the digital space. I'm not talking about Moore's Law or Singularity but something a little different.

It's pretty simple. As technology has expanded, so has general understanding and use. General use has driven your everyday dude to become a Social Media Expert, Digital Strategist or [Insert Other Buzzword] Expert. For me, it has all lead up to a plateau, not driven by stagnation in technology, but by the increase in technological awareness in the everyday "Super Admin." Crazy, huh? Not so much, but it's had a huge affect on me as a digital whatever-you-want-to-call-me. To me, it means that the separation between client and advertiser is closer than ever before – but that startups have it figured out better than either of us. And we can learn a lot from them.

The little graphic below kinda sums up my general assumption. Here is a quick breakdown. In the early 2000s, there was a ton of innovation and experimentation around technologies like flash, admin systems, and development languages. While this is still the case, but in many different forms, the progress of social media, mobile development and user experience is paving a new direction. The separation of technical understanding was vast and now it's a lot closer.

The big take away from last year is this: Think Like a Startup.

1. Focus: Startups pivot, they're scrappy, they're working to make something of nothing, they prove their ideas and iterate fast.

2. Execution Matters: Again with the startups. The great ones execute an idea flawlessly. They are fast but dedicated to the user and outcome. They have mastered ROI and a strategy for success in their business.

3. Embrace Innovation: Your competition is no longer the agency down the road. It's the student with the balls and naivety (or brilliance) that is making the next search engine in his dorm room. He doesn't have a dream of joining your agency. He has a dream of changing the world with his application and finding a pot of money at the end of the rainbow. Agencies need to get back to embracing innovation like a startup. Invest in something different. Go out on a limb and build something with crazy javascript and HTML 5. Do it different. I feel that we need to take a lesson from Google.

4. Think and Do: Good ideas can come from anywhere. Don't just rely on your dashing good looks or a formula for strategic proposals. Think and Do. Get your hands dirty and get in there. I have had some of the most fun in the last year building and developing out some quick ideas for a pitch or for research. R&D is something to not lose site of when looking at your billable hours. Don't be ruled by the timeclock.

5. Take Risks: When someone has a good idea, don't just shove it off because it's not in the wireframes. Give it a shot. You never know where success can be found. It could be right under your nose but you're too stubborn (like me) to see it because your looking at the job in front of you through the eyes of a manager not an innovator.

Finally. I love this quote from Gareth Kay: “Create ideas that can be advertised as opposed to advertising ideas.”

Here are some resources I've learned to use in the last year to stay up on progressive ideas:

1. I listen to these podcasts:
- www.thisweekin.com/thisweekin-startups/
- www.thisweekin.com/thisweekin-venture-capital/
- www.twit.tv/twit

2. I read these blogs
- www.avc.com/
- www.bothsidesofthetable.com/

3. I follow too many people to mention on twitter. Check out the people I follow @lednine and check out these lists by Robert Scoble:
- www.twitter.com/Scobleizer/tech-startups
- www.twitter.com/Scobleizer/weapons-for-entrepreneurs

What I Learned This Year #27: Paul Sugget, Copy Director at Starz (and former Amélie Creative Director)

I have to admit, I had my doubts about writing this.

The idea of putting myself out there with the likes of Andrew Keller, Mike Sukle, Schoenie, Norm Shearer, Erik Kiker, Chris Cox and a host of other talented bastards left me feeling dwarfed to say the least.

After all, who am I, and what have I done?

Then I thought sod it, I’ll give it a shot anyway. If the worst that happens is you berate me and I turn back to heavy drinking, becoming some drug-addled bum who wears diapers and slippers in the street and rants about the good old days through baked bean teeth, then you’ll just have to live with that.

Speaking of booze…

One drink leads to way too many.
I found out I have no problem not drinking. I just have a problem stopping once I’ve started. So I quit alcohol for good, right in time for Christmas and New Year. I was not the life of the party this year, but at least I remember the party.

I need to read more of the books I own.
I buy advertising books all the time, read the first two or three chapters and then get distracted. I have about 20 books staring at me that I abandoned.

The worst they can say is no.
I’ve parroted that one for years now, but I saw a lot of the results of that thinking in 2010. Give your ideas a chance to get killed. If you believe in them, and have passion for them, you need to trust that the client will see your vision.

Never turn down a chance to see a portfolio.
I saw more in 2010 than I did in the first 10 years of my career. Being a CD comes with many responsibilities, and one of them is to give back to the industry that helped you get where you are. See books. Give advice. Take people’s calls, even if you know they aren’t a rock star. These are really tough times, sometimes people just need a break. They need to get used to being in front of people, they need help getting a better book together. Be the open door that was slammed in your face so many times on the way up the ladder.

Clear the air. Often.
Frustrations at work are just as corrosive as they are in a marriage. If you let them fester, they can destroy everything. If you’re not happy with a relationship at work, talk it out. If you don’t like the way someone does their job, grab a coffee with them and see how it can be fixed. Most of the time, what makes work tough is not so much the job as it is dealing with the people. The work suffers when the focus is on negative emotions rather than clear thinking. Those relationships can be sour, they can be good, or they can at least be tolerable. It’s your choice.

Don’t let people tell you what makes you happy.
If you’re happy doing what you’re doing right now, keep on doing it. It may not seem like the perfect spot to other people, but other people aren’t you. The frontman of Tool, Maynard James Keenan, has a passion for making wine. And he’s damned good at it, too. He’s even been signing bottles at Whole Foods. This may not seem like the lifestyle of a hard-rocking singer, but he doesn’t give a crap. So do what you love, whatever it is. You’ll sleep better.

Family comes first.
As much as I love advertising and creativity, I love my wife and kids more. I may have a hard time showing it, but it’s ever harder when I’m not around. Remember, the day your kid takes his first step, or says the first word, or loses a tooth, those are moments that you can’t get back. And if you don’t have a wife and kids, you still have friends that want to see you. When you’re 89 years old and sat on a leaking colostomy bag, will you look back with fondness on that great vacation you took with your mates, or the pitch you worked on until 3am that ended up being a shadow of its former self anyway?

Don’t treat anyone like crap.
It’s not worth it. Karma is a bitch.

The Denver Egotist is more than a blog.
I’ve been an addicted reader for years. It has had something of a snarky tone at times (which is fine by me). But it’s becoming something greater. With roots in many cities now, and a feeling of real community being built here in Denver, it’s an asset to the city. We should all support it, however we can, because it gives people like me a chance to have a voice.

Don’t ever say “we can’t afford it.” Say “how can we afford it?”
There’s always a way. There really is. If you have an idea that’s way out of budget, don’t let that stop you. People will donate their time for a great idea. Businesses will take a loss if it comes with great exposure that leads to more work. Too often, we think in the wrong currency. Dollars and cents are finite. But conversations, and news stories, and the exchange of ideas, they all have way more potential than a piece of paper or a handful of change.

Everyone deserves a second chance.
Even me.

When you turn your back on good friends, they don’t turn their backs on you.
You guys know who you are. If you’re reading this, thanks for everything.

Happy New Year everyone.
Make it count.

What I Learned This Year #28: Leif Steiner, Owner/Creative Director at Boulder's Moxie Sozo

They found her body hanging by a dog chain from the swing set.

I had a crush on a girl when I was 12. She was dark and alluring and sat across from me in our architecture class. Her name was Kristin. While everyone else designed normal looking buildings, Kristin broke all of the rules. Once, she cut apart an entire textbook for a project. The teacher was angry, the students were shocked and I was in love.

But I was also shy. So I wrote her a letter. It finished with: 'Will you be my friend?'

I neatly folded it in half until it fit perfectly in the back pocket of my jeans. I carried that letter to school every day. Every few days I'd re-write it when the pencil started to smear, or it began to take on the shape of my butt.

During class, I'd cup the letter in my hand under the desk, waiting for the ideal moment. Again and again I had my chance, but I could never gather up the courage to give her the letter.

A month went by, and we left for spring break.

On the last day of spring break, Kristin went to the school and wrote in big letters on the outside of the building, "I am invisible. All I want is a friend."

And then she hung herself.

The newspaper carried a small obituary with a photo. I spent hours wondering how things might have been different. What if I would have had the courage to give her the letter? Never again I thought. Never again would I lack courage; never again would I coast, relax, put off, think about, or delay something that I believed in pursuing. I learned to live passionately and in the moment; I learned that life can change in an instant.

I carefully folded her obituary and kept it in a small wooden box. Over the years, I'd occasionally stumble on that piece of newspaper. It was fragile and yellowed, but it was a tangible reminder of an incident that changed me forever.


In September, my house burned down in the forest fire above Boulder. Once again, I was reminded that life can change in an instant.

Molecules of my collected history, reduced to carbon, rose up into the atmosphere and began to circle the globe. They say that the sunset burned red as far away as New York. I can't help but think that somewhere in the midst of it was a 25-year-old obituary. Every artifact from the first 37 years of my life was lost in a matter of minutes. Afterward, every possession I owned fit into a couple of shoe boxes.

And then my phone rang. Others emailed or wrote letters. Clients dropped off clothes, friends made meals and numerous folks from other agencies asked if they could help out. People offered food, gift cards, services and places to live. Restaurants stopped charging me for food, and random packages arrived in the mail; a camera, a new journal, a box of books. An old neighbor dropped off a bottle of tequila and someone in the fashion industry started a clothing drive. A casual acquaintance sent me the dog-eared copy of his favorite book, and an ex-girlfriend made cookies. The outpouring was extraordinary, overwhelming and completely unexpected.

So as 2010 comes to a close, I'm struck by the generosity of people. When you feel all alone, remember that someone out there wants to be your friend. And in a time of need, I can guarantee you that there will be someone to help you out.

Thank you, Boulder and Denver.


Several of you have asked about Moxie Sozo. We're doing well. We've grown 40% over the past year, and now have around 25 employees. I'm given a lot of credit for the success of Moxie, but the agency owes its success to the herculean efforts of our employees. I'm just the bus driver of the 'gifted' bus.

Here's to a great 2011 – all Colorado agencies, big and small!!

Rocket Fuel