What I Learned This Year 2011

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 daily during December and into January 2012. Great thinking from Colorado's best thinkers.

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What I Learned This Year #1: Jim Elkin, Owner/Director/Executive Producer, Roshambo Films

My father has Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s not a good disease. Not that any disease is good, but this is one disease that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s that bad. At the end, it doesn’t just strip away your memory and the very core of who you are...it takes away your dignity. I know that nothing is supposed to take away your dignity and every badly designed, overly earnest medical pamphlet tries to explain that...but this disease is just completely soul sucking. I’ve had a lot of people close to me die. Family, friends, an ex-girlfriend...I thought it made me a stronger person...but nothing really prepared me for this. Watching someone you care about slowly slip away...day by day...inch by inch. I always used to think about Woody Allen’s quote about death “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” In some way...that’s what Alzheimer's is about...there is a part of you that is not really there when it happens. Even if you want to be.

Before I wrote this, I reread what I wrote last year. I learned eight things last year. This year is different. I learned one thing. One important thing. This is the year that everything changed for me. I don’t look at the world the same way I used to. I took everything happening to my dad and I just threw myself into my work. I worked my ass off...took on new clients...bought more equipment...hired an amazing employee (who I’m grateful for finding every day) and spent more time with my beautiful wife and insanely attention seeking dogs. But, it was different this year. The time I spend with everyone now is different. I owe a lot of that to my dad. Not my dad now. Not this person who I fly 2,000 miles to see every month or so, hoping he’ll recognize me. That person is not always there...he’s slowly fading away. But, I owe a lot to the dad that I grew up with. The one person in my life who taught me a lesson that I’ll never forget.

My dad was an amazing businessman. He was really successful at a time when some weren’t as lucky. I remember growing up, my dad used to take the train from Philadelphia where we we lived into New York or Washington D.C. Sometimes he left at 4am and didn’t come back till 10 at night. But, wherever his travels took him he always came home. He always made a point of that. I used to always ask him business advice Saturday mornings over cereal. Even as a rebellious teenager (rebellious in this case meant a serious mullet), I still admired him. He used to always impart his wisdom one way or another...and sometimes repeatedly even if I didn’t ask. I remember when I graduated college and I asked him what advice he had for me going into the real world. He told me he learned one thing from all of his years in business. One thing that he lives by every day. He got really quiet and looked at me for a long time. “Be there,” he finally said. I never really knew what he meant...not really...not until this year. I just thought it was one of those things that people say...it seems kind of obvious and not really some ultimate key to the universe. Of course, “I’m there,” I thought to myself...where else would I be...in Cleveland?! But, maybe all it took for me to get it are just a couple decades of living my life in the wrong way. I was sitting in a plane this year flying back from the east coast and staring out the window 30,000 feet up. I watched the clouds go by over the wing. It was kind of nice in a way. Even though I was tired from all the flying back and forth. I thought about what my dad said to me. I thought about all of his advice throughout the years and that’s the one thing I never forgot. It just kept coming back to me, “Be there.” How often are we really paying attention to where we are...who we are with and what we are doing in the present moment? It’s totally fortune cookie zen and I know that it sounds quite glib...but it really does mean something. Something important.

I’ve spent so much time with so many people...clients, friends, family over the years...people who mean a lot to me...who I love deeply...and who I appreciated immensely...but somewhere along the way...I lost track of my dad’s advice. How many times have you had a conversation with someone you cared about and just completely spaced out. I’ve had more than my share. That’s the weird thing about being there...you have to mean it...believe it...live it...and remember that being there for someone isn’t just half way. It’s not just when it’s convenient for you...it’s all the time no matter what. It makes you a better friend, client, worker, confidant, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend...etc. Don’t lose sight of who you are with and why you’re doing it. It’s affected everything I do since I realized it...I’m a better creative thinker because I’m not just thinking about a hundred things I have to do or what cool thing I want to do...I’m thinking about what the client wants, needs and their expectations for success...it becomes my only goal...one at a time. I’m there 100% because of my dad and that has made all the difference.

And as the father passed his story down to his son’s ears
Younger kid, younger every year, yeah
- Jay Z

What I Learned This Year #2: Evan Fry, Chief Creative Officer, Victors & Spoils

What I learned this year, the year of our Lord and Savior known and quantified as Two Thousand and Eleven, can most efficiently be summed up in one word.

Acceptance.

If one desired more contextual verbiage slathered on to this elegant and singular word, well, I could do that. Easily. But it wouldn't be as sweet. Here's proof. In 2011, I would say that everything I learned at least had some semblance of foundation in that word. Acceptance. Sure, I learned a shit-ton about clients, business realities, finance, revenue models, leadership, empowerment, allowing folks to succeed on their own (or fail, and thereby succeed), fearlessness, change, pushing, allowing, etc. But for me, within each of these larger areas was one common or constant. And that really and truly was acceptance. Accepting that folks might be smarter than me. Accepting that clients know what they're doing, or don't, and either way they hold the keys. Accepting that I have to step aside in some areas in order to help others learn. Accepting that I still have to do more than I thought I would. Accepting that things don't look the way I originally envisioned. Accepting that maybe it's better than I originally thought. Accepting fear. Accepting conflict. Accepting that the thermostat is no longer on our side of the wall.

And a lot of other stuff.

That I've also had to accept.

And in so doing, it's been easy to accept the growth that's blossoming in result. Through the toughness. Through the faith that it's for the best and all happening exactly as it should. And that it will continue. As long as I practice more of the same.

Acceptance.

What I Learned This Year #3: Matt Ingwalson, Creative Director, Karsh\Hagan

In January, I learned that energy is 99% of my job.

In February, I learned that if a business wants to be indecisive, it better also be rich.

In March, I learned that scrappy wins. That you can shoot great TV for less than you think. And that you should couple the print and video shoots if you can. Twice this year, I found my way into situations where a film director also happened to be an amazing photographer. Both times, magic occurred.

In April, I learned that 50 people can jump around hugging each other without it ever getting awkward.

In May, I learned how hard it is to add staff. You think it'd be all sunshine and flowers. But there are tons of worthy people out there. And every new employee has the potential to jack up your team's chemistry.

In June, I learned that music may be the most important element in a spot. And that failing to sell a great track can be just as devastating as failing to sell a great script.

In July, I learned to love creative testing.

In August, I learned that energy is 99% of my job. Again.

In September, I learned how to almost die on a Jeep trail. I also learned how it feels to stand at the top of a high mountain pass in the middle a big production crew on a sunrise photoshoot and suddenly be struck by a single thought: "My dad would be so proud of me right now."

In October, I learned that it is vaguely unsettling to achieve your goals. My whole professional life, I wanted to be a creative director at Karsh Hagan. And then I got that job. And I had to look in the mirror and say, "Now what?"

In November, I learned that it is almost impossible to change a preconceived notion.

In December, I learned that advertising is nothing like history. We are judged not on the results of the previous year, but on our potential for the next one. 2011 was good to Karsh Hagan. And to me. But it can and must be fucked off. It's over. What's next?

What I Learned This Year #4: Joe Mease, Flash/AS3 Developer

In 2011, I learned nothing is forever, and nothing is guaranteed... but for now, it's still very much possible to make it as a Flash/AS3 developer.

As someone who has spent the last 6 years building a business model around a focus on high-end Flash design and development, I always just assumed that Flash would continue to evolve, remain cutting edge, and that it would be the go-to solution for building rich and engaging brand experiences for the web. And assuming I continued to work hard, treated my clients well, and delivered a quality product, I would effectively have it made in the shade for years to come.

With the release of the iPad in 2010, that all changed. Just like the iPod and iPhone before it, the iPad was the hottest gadget on the market, and as a legitimate content-consumption device, without the ability to view any Flash content, I started to worry that my niche, and more importantly, my business model/future... was now in jeopardy.

I began to wonder, would my clients continue to embrace a technology that I had built my entire business and reputation upon, even though a growing number of users would not be able to view the content they had paid me to create?

To play it safe, I started researching the craze that was HTML5, the supposed "Flash Killer." Since I had not really worked all that much with HTML, CSS, or Javascript up to this point, much of it was new to me, but I was open-minded, and if HTML5 was a better way to create the types of experiences I had been creating with Flash, then I was more than willing to move in that direction. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with what I found. Browser support was very fragmented, Javascript is completely untyped and barely object-oriented. In the end, it felt like a move towards HTML5 would be like going back in time 8 years, and working with Flash 5.0.

At this point, I started feeling a bit better about the future. There was still a market for Flash content, and while many of the web's marquees, graphs, and other simple widgets could now be handled with HTML5, the highly customized, branded, and fluid experiences I loved building, were still going to require Flash. The only question was, would there be enough demand for a solution that delivered a better, more consistent, and probably more cost effective solution, even if it meant either forgoing the experience for iOS users, or possibly delivering a secondary non-Flash experience, for users on devices where Flash was not supported.

Based on this unknown, I made a deal with myself. If I could stay busy 40+ hours a week, continuing to work on Flash-based projects, that's what I would do, as that was what I loved doing... but if not, I would use my downtime to move toward another area of expertise. I would try to hone my HTML, CSS, and Javascript skills, perhaps try my hand at native iOS app development, via Objective-C, or just take on more user-interface design work. I began by overhauling my own website, completely based on HTML and CSS, rather than the all-Flash website I had been using to market myself previously.

But as time went on, a few interesting things began to happen.

1. While it seemed there was definitely a reduction in overall demand for contract Flash development, it also became evident that the pool of available and competent contract Flash developer resources saw an even greater reduction, as many of my respected colleagues jumped ship to focus on HTML5, native app development, or took full-time jobs in various capacities. Fortunately for me, this meant that while there may have been less Flash work to go around, much more of it was coming my way.

2. I started receiving requests to build Flash components that were to serve as fall-back solutions to HTML5 components, when the HTML5 version was unable to properly display given the user's browser.

3. I began receiving more and more requests for Flash banner development, as this remains an area of great demand, and an area where Flash is still dominant with regard to file size, minimal time of development, and overall cost-effectiveness. While banner development can at times be tedious, and less than glamorous, it still allows for a degree of creative expression, and it's something I can do well, while serving the needs of my clients, so I am happy to tackle these requests whenever they come up. I estimate that I have built and delivered over 300 Flash banners so far this year, and will complete another 30-40 before New Year's.

4. Victoria's Secret, my biggest account for the the past 3 years, decided that if they still wanted to deliver the rich and fluid campaign-driven user-experiences that their users had come to expect, often Flash was still the right tool for the job. As an example, during the development of this year's Fashion Show 360 campaign, we prototyped an HTML5 solution, but in the interest of our restricted development timeline, and what we were trying to accomplish, Flash ended up being the chosen direction, as it offered the least amount of risk.

Based on these factors, as well as maintaining my commitment to quality and customer service, I have been fortunate to remain consistently busy throughout the year, as I continue to do what I love. And while I hope this trend continues, the deal I made with myself still holds true, and in six months or possibly two to three years, I may be forced to adapt, change my business model, and enter a new, less familiar, arena of user-interface development. But it matters not where the industry heads, or what the Flash-hating pundits say, or even if Flash remains relevant, for as long as I focus on customer satisfaction, while delivering a quality product, and ultimately striving to build the best user-experiences I can, the rest is just syntax, and maintaining a successful business model won't be a significant problem.

In closing, I would like to thank all my clients, friends, and colleagues who helped make 2011 a banner year, in more ways than one. Here's to a great 2012 with continued success for all.

What I Learned This Year #5: Gordy Hirsch, Creative Director, Amélie

A reflection of 2011:

People like examples to help understand, and since I'm from Alabama, and talk sort-of funny, and people rarely care what anyone from Alabama has to say, I'll spare you the long copy version.

In 2011:

I learned that Instagram is the best form of social media to date:

I learned that Kegs With Legs should continue:

I learned what a broken bone felt like doing this (in no way as glorious as Joey):

I learned that Jerry Sandusky should have been shown this video:

I learned that a major bike race in the US should definitely happen:

I learned about the Alabama Shakes:

I learned that AMC is my favorite channel, on a tv that I never watch:

I learned that the BCS blows, but hey:

I learned that I'd marry La Niña if I could:

I learned that if you're doing it wrong then refer to: @leeclowsbeard

I learned that Mike Sukle and Norm Shearer are a wealth of information:

I learned that Seth Meyers would make a stellar copywriter:

And I continue to learn that no matter how badass something looks...

...it still needs an idea to be great:

Bring on 2012, son.

What I Learned This Year #6: Anthony Cozzi, Designer/Art Director/Illustrator

What I learned in 2011, is that the best decisions I have made have gone against the best advice of others. I know from personal experience that when I'm true to my inner convictions the result and reward is so much greater. In 2012, give yourself the freedom and confidence to let your dreams come true.

What I Learned This Year #7: Holly Menges, Freelance Creative Director/Copywriter

What I learned this year (as it relates to advertising): in super long paragraph form with run on sentences because nobody likes it when I write that way in real life so I am taking the opportunity to do it here in the hopes that it will deter people from actually reading it because as an advertising writer I am more comfortable not having my name on my work right there for all the world to see.

First, I learned how to express kindness and gratitude. Genuine kindness and gratitude. It has helped me rediscover how much I love and appreciate my work and my life and it has improved my relationships across the board. I now find myself working with and surrounded by other people who also operate with kindness and gratitude. It’s weird how that works. When I do run into the occasional jackhole I just grin and try not to talk. But let’s focus on the nice people. Kindness and gratitude kindness and gratitude keep repeating it, it totally helps.

Second, I learned that I should not post to the Egotist, Twitter, FB or anywhere after two glasses of wine. I need to be cut off at 9:00 pm and have all technology ripped from my grubby fingers. It’s the equivalent of when you’re in college and you drunk dial all the boys who broke up with you. Not that I did that. I’m just saying, you know, other people may have done that.

Third, I learned that you can do great work anywhere. I’m totally serious. You can. I often do it at the mall sitting outside the Mac store where I can steal their wifi. I’ve even done it in my car (parked.)(usually.) Often I do it while I am running. My head is clear and it gives me the time and space to work a problem. And it completely takes my mind off running so I just keep running and thinking and I don’t realize that I’m running or thinking. The downside is, I run into street signs, trees and people with no sense of humor or appreciation for the creative process.

Fourth, I learned that while you can do great work anywhere, you won’t necessarily get the money you deserve for it. But at least I didn’t have to spend the first half of my career in New York sharing a cubicle. Actually I probably didn’t learn this this year. I think I learned this a long time ago. It’s just starting to sink in though.

Fifth, I learned that for me, the trade off is worth it. I will work here for less money in my (usually) (parked) car because this is where I want to be. And lucky for me I found a way to make a living doing something I enjoy that doesn’t involve marrying ketchup in the side station or rolling silverware.

Sixth, I learned that it doesn’t matter how much experience you have if you’ve spent the last decade sitting behind your desk smelling your armpits and wondering if you’re wearing hip enough shoes. The ones who keep some skin in the game know what’s going on, and can manage and mentor accordingly.

Seventh, I learned that our brains reach peak performance at age 26. That’s why all of us (ahem) 26-year-olds think we are so smart and we know everything. Because we do. If I were to ever have my own agency I would hire only 26-year-olds. We can all do great work in my car after you tell me where I parked. Come on, who’s with me?

Eighth, I learned that Mietra Ghaffari has some magic powers. She taught me that account executives can be valuable and insightful. They can negotiate a minefield that I never could. They can champion the work and let the creatives help sell. And then go make sure it’s sold over cocktails. It doesn’t always work, it can be a long process and sometimes you still lose but establishing those relationships where you go snowboarding with the client and her girlfriend and make jokes about “strapping in or strapping-on?” are rare and important. And they never would have happened without Mietra Ghaffari.

Eighth and a half-th, I learned that it’s just as vital for the creatives to have a relationship with the client. Clients want to know how we think. They want to peek behind the curtain. If you can share a little kindness and gratitude (see!?) it builds trust so they listen the next time you start babbling about how you were inspired by Japanese brushstrokes and that’s how you got to this brilliant campaign idea. (Ok that’s not true, don’t talk about artsy fartsy stuff or they’ll say you don’t understand their business. Stick with strap-on jokes, much safer.)

Ninth, I learned that that guy from Maroon 5 who sang his “Moves Like Jagger” song at the AMA awards can’t dance. It’s a tragedy because the video was so good and I wanted to see some serious shirtless Jagger moves. WTF?

Tenth, I learned that Catvertising is going to put us all out of business if we don’t get on the bus.

Eleventh, I learned there are snakes under every rock. So if you don’t like snakes. Don’t. Touch. The rock. Big lesson for me.

Twelfth, I learned I need spell check to spell twelfth.

Thirteenth, I learned that manifestos are in high demand. Thank God I like writing them. They feel like real storytelling and clients go crazy for them. They set the tone for the work and get everybody excited and onboard. I’ve seen tears and goose bumps.

Fourteenth, I learned if you have to cry, do it over lunch at Piatti where your boss can’t see you. Unless he’s also having lunch at Piatti. Dammit! There’s nowhere to hide in Cherry Creek!

Fifteenth, Video killed the radio star. I learned they are more popular than manifestos and I love making them. Everyone should be making them. Let’s make videos together yeeeoww! They’re going to continue to gain momentum for businesses and brands. I also learned not everyone knows how to operate a Phantom camera even if they say they do.

Sixteenth, I learned that I admire Steve Jobs immensely and I am sad that he is gone. I also think Tina Fey is pretty awesome and she’s still with us, so that’s good.

Seventeenth, I learned that to be a big daddy in advertising—and probably catvertising, too—you have to be tough. I learned how not tough I was when I was told the inoperable cavernous malformation at the base of my husband’s brain stem was bleeding again. All my “work problems” went away. I couldn’t even remember what they were. Nothing like a healthy dose of perspective to take you down a few notches on the tough meter and remind you what’s important.

Sheesh, I didn’t realize what a learning year this was for me. Thank you Egotist for giving me the opportunity to impart my self-absorbed self-reflections disguised as “wisdom” to the poor, unsuspecting advertising professionals of Denver. I’m so close to twenty I may have to do a couple more. Nobody’s really reading this, right?

Eighteenth, I learned that if you bully me a lot and send me to my corner I react like a cat in a bathtub. Nobody puts baby in a corner. (Admittedly, not my proudest moment.)

Nineteenth, I learned my favorite kind of advertising is the same as my favorite kind of people. The ones that make me LMFAO.

Twentieth, I’ll end with the cheeseball but true, I learned I have a lot to learn. I have a coffee scheduled with a 26-year-old next week so I am hoping to learn a lot then.

Shazaam!

*Please note this disclaimer: I wrote this at 10:30p, long after I should have been cut off. Why did nobody take away my technology? Can we put someone else’s name on this?

What I Learned This Year #8: Blake Ebel, Chief Creative Officer, Factory Design Labs

1. Skiing in Wisconsin is lame.
2. Denver is loaded with talent.
3. Fly fishing is therapy.
4. Relationships are everything.
5. When you operate like you have all the business, you'll be surprised how often clients give you all the business.
6. My wife is a saint. My boys are resilient.
7. When you invest in your people, they'll invest in you.
8. Two words..."content syndication."
9. Trust is earned.
10. The 2nd floor inspires me daily.

What I Learned This Year #9: Gregg Bergan, Co-Founder/Creative Director, Pure

In 2011, I learned people seem to really like lists. That’s one thing. And infographics. Since I am a copywriter, I guess I’ll go with the former.

The top 25 things I learned this year, in no particular order:

25. It is physically impossible to lick your elbow.
24. A significant portion of you is testing that statement right now.
23. If your employees want to have their holiday party with karaoke at a dive bar, it’s good for company morale — as well as the party budget — to do it.
22. Monday is my least productive day of the workweek. Friday isn’t much better.
21. With every passing year, my Mother loses more ability, or desire, to self-edit. This year, she actually wrote on my card, “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be here. Happy Birthday.”
20. The big difference between pets and other animals is you don’t regularly fix pet-animals for dinner. Fish, being a notable exception.
19. I do my best thinking in the shower or while highway driving. So I drive a lot, since it makes me less pruney.
18. I tend to over-share. (Case in point, see #19 and #21.)
17. The guys who paint road-crossing signs do a pretty realistic job depicting everything but the human head. That one, they just phone in.
16. I, admittedly, over-use commas — and dashes.
15. If it can be solved with money, it’s not a problem.
14. Flipboard is life changing for a reader. Siri does the same for the powerless.
13. Technology has democratized the filmmaking process. But talent still counts. A lot.
12. Old women with long hair are just plain creepy.
11. I likely will never learn when a man-hug replaces a formal handshake.
10. Comedy lightens many a situation, but not generally when someone’s getting fired.
9. Don’t play “Words with Friends” with Steve Miller. He will win almost every time. I think he cheats.
8. My memory ain’t what it used to be.
7. I’m pretty sure my dog is using me for my opposable thumbs.
6. My memory ain’t what it used to be.
5. Shaving cream is useful mostly just to keep from losing your place.
4. Based on all the signs, I’m guessing few of the “Occupy” protesters were against deforestation.
3. Art directors don’t sketch anymore, they search.
2. I can be a real smartass when asked to share my “wisdom.” But I am increasingly comfortable in my curmudgeon skin.
1. I overestimate my abilities. For instance, I wish I’d started with a shorter list.

What I Learned This Year #10: Cameron Day, Executive Creative Director, gyro

1. Never offer to transfer to Siberia if you don’t get into the Denver Fifty.

2. Hire people who are better than you and constantly push them to be so.

3. Bitching is a malignant tumor. Cut it out, or someone else will.

4. Real men don’t wear mittens.

5. Talent is important. But tenacity, even more so.

6. If you constantly burn the candle on both ends, you’ll end up with a short wick.

7. Good people are out there, but they hide like war criminals.

8. If digital “isn’t your department,” change departments.

9. A smaller carbon footprint is a good thing to have.

10. Mike Sukle is a terrific recruiter.

11. You’ll never get to the right stop riding the wrong train.

12. You can only learn so much with your nose buried in The Egotist.

What I Learned This Year #11: Joshua Allen, Freelance Copywriter

This year I got divorced, quit my agency job, and started freelancing. Here's what I learned from working alone in my apartment for nine months.

1. Sometimes it's hard to get motivated when working for yourself, so every morning I say: "How can I make the world a better place today? I know: marketing!" Then I eat some cocaine and steel cut oatmeal.

2. If you don't go outside then you won't get hit by a car and then you won't need health insurance.

3. Turns out I can write about the fusion of buy-side and sell-side commerce enhanced through the integration of community, collaboration, process, and analytics while drunk and crying!

4. Whenever I feel worried or overwhelmed, I just look at the cross-stitch above my computer that says KEEP IT UP, ASSHOLE.

5. I try to stay connected to the world by having daily status meetings with my imaginary secretary, Annabelle, who is "handsy."

6. I find my natural, unshowered scent to be quite intoxicating!

7. At this point the FedEx guy is just flat-out bored of seeing my penis.

8. When did I last leave the apartment? I remember it being pretty hot and everyone was all MySpace this, MySpace that.

9. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person in America who still believes in a thousand-headed cyber-yeti who controls all my thoughts :(

10. oh god please send help or chick-fil-a or something im starving

What I Learned This Year #12: Ed Kleban, President, Juice Communications

In the classic debate between the cause and effect of Great Men (or women) and Great Times, I tend to side with the idea that Great Times create Great Men. Winston Churchill would have just been an acerbic drunk if it weren’t for Providence providing the war. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs would have been nameless college dropouts without the digital revolution.

What I learned this year is that we are ready, today, for a great man or a great woman. This is a time for innovation and new ideas in our business.

I look at great moments of inflection in the media world and see that from them come our great advertisers. Leo Burnett, Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy emerged from the confusion that was dancing cigarette boxes as television started to take hold.

Right now our media landscape is so different—it has become so personalized, reviewed, blogged, tweeted and shared that the old principles developed by cigarette-smoking, ass-pinching, bourbon-drinking Don Drapers stack up like the 1950s wooden console TV they were meant to serve.

This is your chance, you young idea-loving, fence-destroying maverick, to pioneer a new age filled with new ways to solve problems, new ways to organize teams, new ways to speak to a fragmented and knowledgeable audience. The rules continue to be rewritten and someone is going to figure it out. Someone is going to make a fortune for themselves and their clients. Someone is going to get it. Might as well be you.

Almost nothing we do today is what we did five years ago. And five years from now? Who will recognize this business?

This is no time to be bashful. Step up, speak up, and change. The time is right.

Are you willing to be great?

What I Learned This Year #13: Brad Evans, Grand Poobah/Denver Cruiser Ride; Editor and Publisher/Kickstand Magazine

Part of the guiding principle of what I am engaged in today began by adhering to the legendary Goethe quote:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, to which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Coupled with the gigantic turnouts on the Denver Cruiser Ride, I have become the world's most unlikely bicycle "advocate," an advocate for fun none-the-less. There was no expectation that we’d have this kind of riding bicycles for fun, or that it would become first child of the social-bicycling phenomenon it is now considered to be. In all reality, nor was it imagined that it would take nearly every waking moment to accomplish this feat.

By the time we’d embraced the concept in its entirety, it quickly became clear that we were on to something. As an “outsider” in the bicycle industry, how could we have known that the Denver Cruiser Ride would end up at the nexus of the social-ride movement, which has taken root in communities around the globe? With this in mind, in 2008, we launched the first-of-its-kind publication, Kickstand Magazine, known to our subscribers as “The Owner’s Manual For a Freewheeling Life.”

While we only had a basic understanding of the dynamics or demands of what we’d gotten ourselves into – we knew that there was something under the surface that had yet to be uncovered, and as it turns out, we're still at the bottom of that mine, digging for the treasures buried within.

The Denver Cruiser Ride’s maiden voyage was in May of 2005 – it was nothing more than an innocent decision to ride bikes every Wednesday during the summer months in Downtown Denver. This first ride, with a mere 12 friends in tow, it was part bicycle ride, part fun, and part flash mob. Today, folks from all walks of life have a story to tell about it – the good, the bad and the ugly; and the Denver Cruiser Ride has become something of a “live version of Facebook.” What has evolved from a few friends riding bikes together to thousands participating on a weekly basis was something that wasn’t originally imagined or intended. With the evolution of the Denver Cruiser Ride, it has become the "largest organized-weekly ride" of its kind. Right here in Denver, really? I've heard this more than 1,000 times: “Denver is the last place on earth that this should be happening.”

It’s crazy, don’t you think?

What causes me to grin from ear-to-ear is the notion that Denver IS host to this burgeoning social-ride movement. What continues to amaze me is that we have been able to move the CIRCLE OF DEATH's location from one week to the next, using mostly social media and word-of-mouth; and in doing so, moving a mass of thousands (not an exaggeration) from one location to another without a full-scale, well-planned, and thought-out marketing campaign. It is just plain amazing. If you haven’t seen it, one may find it difficult to believe.

Ok, with that being said, this is what I learned in this, the 2011th year of our lord:

1) It is physically impossible to please everyone all the time.

This age-old adage is absolutely true. It goes without question that the bitchers will bitch – no matter how you try to reason with them. This has been the single-most frustrating part of organizing the DCR. It was this year that we took on the ‘Fuck’m, if they don't like it’ mentality. Seriously, if people are gonna bitch about whether or not we are doing this, or that, or in a way that they don't like – our suggestion to those that complain about it: start your own.

2) People that litter, light off fireworks and do other stupid shit are a major buzz kill.

One of the best parts of the Denver Cruiser Ride has always been the aptly named "Circle of Death." My least favorite part of this summer’s antics were the ass nuggets who seemed to think littering and lighting off mortars in the midst of several thousand people at Civic Center park was a good idea. I'm really not sure what to say about this other than that if this happens in the future, we will find you, have you arrested, and press charges against you for endangering life and limb; if we're really lucky, if these idiots attempt it again, our only hope is that they'll end up blowing themselves up instead.

3) Gen Y’ers are fucktards.

Repeatedly hearing "don't tell me what to do," has brought me to this awful conclusion. Coupled with this is their attitude of entitlement – it has me with a bitter taste about the next generation. Of course this is likely a gross over-generalization; that being said, my take has always been that by being part of a group, it also means that by participating, one has to adhere to some basic rules. What I have to say to those who blatantly disregard the rules of the road: if you don't like our code of conduct, then don't ride with us. The Denver Cruiser Ride is NOT Critical Mass; it’s more like a movement of Critical Manners. Dig?

4) Just because you are on a bicycle doesn't mean that one is above the law.

For some reason, when the average person gets on a bike, their ability to determine the difference between good and bad behavior goes out the window. It's baffling to recount the number of jackasses observed this past summer doing mostly stupid shit. If the DCR were not the size that it has become, they’d never consider acting this way amongst their peers. It's as if their brains become mush and they have no sense of what is right and wrong.

5) Several thousand bicyclists out for fun – isn't necessarily a "good" thing.

There is a fine line between fun and chaos, and what we learned this year is that crowd management is akin to rocket science. With the right plan and execution, if it works, it works great. On the other hand, one has to be prepared for the pending disaster that ensues, should something go wrong. What became evident this past summer – was what had worked in the past, wasn’t going work any longer – as this event grew by leaps and bounds.

6) Thousands of people dressed in Bubble Wrap, Duct Tape & Cardboard is much more than a "fad."

Those who have participated in, observed or gotten trapped behind this roving bicycle party, will find it difficult to call this a fad. To prove the point: Every year since its inception, the Denver Cruiser Ride has doubled in size. In many ways, this is a game changer, a) because it gets people on bikes that haven’t ridden in years; b) The City of Denver has embraced this weekly happening in ways we could have never imagined.
The all-time, best-overheard quote while hosting this weekly mayhem (made by someone who wasn't part of the ride) asked inquisitively: "Why are all of these people dressed in trash?”

7) He who makes the rules must also attempt to enforce them.

Our approach to the Denver Cruiser Ride has always been about it being a fun time for all. Thankfully, we haven’t had to take an iron-fisted approach in order to get people to do the right thing. And hats of to the Denver Police who have been amazingly accommodating to our weekly fun. Anyone who has a beef with the Denver cops, I welcome a debate about their willingness to embrace community policing. As for the bad press they have recently gotten for police brutality; my bet is that the bastards who have gotten beaten, deserved every whack of the billy club they got.

8) Impossible people are, yes, impossible to deal with.

Need anything more be said? The primary lesson learned on this subject is to stay away from this type of person – they are soul suckers.

9) Hiding from the media is the best policy.

I have been criticized on both sides of this statement – either for saying too much, or not saying enough. I spent the better part of seven years dodging coverage as best as best as possible. My philosophy with the Denver Cruiser Ride has always been "why spoil a good thing with media coverage?" This wasn't originally launched to make anyone famous, or for that matter, rich. We love to ride bikes, and that's what we’ve done – week in, week out.

10) What happened to the first two rules?

The first two rules of the Denver Cruiser Ride were (yes, stolen from the Fight Club): 1) DON'T TALK ABOUT THE RIDE. 2) DON'T TALK ABOUT THE FUCKING RIDE. Obviously, it's nearly impossible to not talk about the fun we have had over the past seven summers riding bikes with our friends on a beautiful Wednesday night. It became readily apparent that this fun wasn’t going to last if we didn't embrace the change that was handed to us.

Based on the number of folks who turnout on a weekly basis, it became increasingly apparent that these two “rules” were not being adhered to. Not to mention that when someone has white makeup behind their ears at work on Thursday morning, or are so hung-over that they had to take a nap under their desk during the day – it’s nearly impossible to make excuses to the boss and co-workers what happened the night before.

11) Mother Nature is unwilling to be controlled.

The 2011 Denver Cruiser Ride was the RAINIEST ever. There were more rainy nights than the previous six years combined. On the surface, this could have spelled disaster; instead, it minimized the impact of the giant turnouts that we had braced ourselves for last summer. Even with the rain, or the threat of rain, we still had thousands of folks of all stripes riding bikes, in costume, for an evening of fun.

What could be better than that?

12) Marketers think this shit happens for free.

The truth is that I went a little nutso this summer on a few companies (who will remain nameless). They seemed to be under the impression that they could just show up without asking for permission. The DCR was never conceived as a marketing tool for this product or another. What we did in order to offset the enormous costs of hosting this free weekly party was to seek out like-minded companies/brands that understood the value of connecting with our participants; equally important to our mission, they understood that blatant marketing was NOT ACCEPTABLE to this audience. We have a great thing going, and there is/was NO WAY IN HELL that we would ruin it by allowing logos to be plastered all over the event.

13) The real "sell outs" are those that sit a cubicle – hating what they do, and waiting for the clock to strike 5pm.

As with the quote noted above, doing something you love, or are passionate about – is the basic recipe for success. It’s not an easy task to pull off a 20-week party without expense. However, the event remains free for participants, and more often than not, for some this isn’t enough. Organizing the Denver Cruiser Ride is a heck of a lot of work. By design, the appearance is that all we do is “ride bikes and drink beer." When it comes down to brass tacks, nothing could be further from the truth.

I'm not sure I could imagine having a better "job" than this (ok, getting paid might not be a bad thing to want either). To those who accuse us of being “corporate sell-outs,” what I recommend instead is to focus their attention on quitting their stupid jobs, and find a way to follow their dreams too. This simple advice, taken seriously, could easily make the world a better place. And it would have the benefit of saving their friends (and me) from having to listen to their griping about how much everything sucks.

14) Growing organically is the best way to grow.

This is not a reference about growing medical marijuana. Instead, it’s about the year-to-year growth of the Denver Cruiser Ride. This has been accomplished without anything that might be considered traditional marketing. We NEVER advertised it, nor was it EVER openly marketed – instead it grew by word of mouth… and it continued to grow, and grow, and grow. To the un-affiliated bystander, the impression is that this is an "overnight success." The reality is that no good idea has ever manifested itself without determination and hard work.

Going from the conceptual, to the real takes commitment, as well as giving everything one has (and then some) to bring that dream to fruition. This overnight success myth has killed a million great ideas. When all is said and done, the fact remains that if you believe in what you are doing, and one can have fun doing it, then success is the happy by-product of the effort applied. One thing to keep in mind: Anything worth pursuing is never as easy as it appears at first glance; if it were, someone else would have already done it.

My closing suggestion to those thinking about doing something extraordinary: Take the leap and dream big!

What I Learned This Year #14: Ef Rodriguez, Associate Director of Social Strategy and Communications, Crispin Porter + Bogusky/Organizer of TEDxBoulder

What the Hypothetical Vandalism of Luxury Cars and the Divine Ascension of the Local NFL Quarterback Teach Us About Advertising & Life; Or, What I Learned This Year #15: Mark St. Amant, Creative Director, Sterling-Rice Group

Over the past 340-odd days, I’ve learned . . .

. . . that when participating in things like this — which I always enjoy, so thanks for asking me, Egotist — it’s always best to establish straight away that the views and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of my employer, Sterling-Rice Group, who will soon be researching remote Front Range locations in which to dispose of my body. Likely a spot with above average mountain lion activity.

. . . that when unloading 2,597 words when most others’ entries are short and sweet, it’s polite to warn readers that they may want to print this out and read it when they have some extra downtime, perhaps during their next status meeting. Or on the bus. Or at the funeral of someone they didn’t particularly care for.

. . . that this business has its headaches, for sure. Frustrations. Complaints. Just like any job. But I’ve learned (to at least try) to step back and appreciate that we don’t have to punch a factory clock (even if we work at Factory). We don’t have a foreman screaming at us to “Think faster or you’re fired!” while we’re concepting. We hardly ever lose fingers to heavy machinery while writing code. We don’t get trapped in deadly storyboard collapses during client presentations. And while we do have to dodge figurative sniper fire in said presentations, it rarely, if ever, escalates into literal. We’re all pretty lucky. I’ve learned to appreciate that a bit more.

. . . that this holiday season, just like during the past few, if you see an $80,000 Lexus in your neighbor’s driveway wrapped with a giant, red bow, it’s perfectly legal to do anything to it, up to and including: keying the entire passenger side; dropping an anvil through its windshield; leaving a dead hooker in its trunk and phoning in an anonymous tip to police; actively wishing that the car’s owners are trapped in a loveless marriage and their children will disappoint and embezzle from them for decades before pawning them off on an abusive nursing home where they’ll die alone and afraid. No offense to the always excellent Team One, but please beg Lexus to stop making you produce those spots every year. Look, we know that even during these broken, twisted economic times some people out there are still dining exclusively on lobster stuffed with hundred dollar bills, Faberge eggs, the crushed dreams of poor children, and slightly smaller lobsters. But we don’t need to keep seeing this proverbial “1%” exchanging gifts costing roughly the GNP of Liberia. Which only makes me like RPA’s Honda commercials with Puddy that much more.

. . . that it’s been a long time since I’ve been as excited for a new client as I am for BikesBelong.org. Always nice when you get a shot at working for super nice, committed people and doing great work that, in its small way, might also actually help society.

. . . that change — whether it’s losing weight or finding your dream job or being a better parent/spouse or doing better work — never happens as quickly as you’d like. So, please, for the love of stomach ulcers, be patient. Affect what you can directly affect and don’t get bent out of shape about what you can’t. I’m trying to learn this every day, regardless of year.

. . . that despite the existence of abominations like Jerry Sandusky — seriously, if there’s a Hell, it’s way too good for him — I still believe that human beings are inherently good.

. . . that, to my shock, I’ve aged a full year since last year. I’m now — gulp — forty-four. Still young by abusive nursing home standards, but not exactly a wee lad by advertising standards. Now, I’m not too worried about being Children of the Corn’ed – back when I started, 1991 (gulp), it seemed that creatives of certain age would, like in the movie, be escorted out into a cornfield where Malachai would slice their throats with a rusty sickle — but this year was the first year I have just felt slightly older than most around me. And it won’t help matters that I just referenced a movie from 1984 that was based on a 1978 Stephen King short story that first ran in a 1977 issue of Penthouse. (Not that I ever read Penthouse. Much.) So I’d better make a hip Katie Perry reference, and fast. I mean Katy. And, um, Fleet Foxes! Hashtag! . . .

. . . that maybe I’m generalizing when I say that the young whippersnappers in this business can’t possibly have or appreciate the same frames of reference that I do. Couple weeks ago, our digital media planner extraordinaire, Liz Moore, made a Laverne & Shirley joke. She’s like 25-years-old. That made me feel a little better about my impending descent into senility & incontinence. Thanks, Liz.

. . . that Fleet Foxes are a band, not a moving company that deals exclusively in transporting woodland creatures more expeditiously than other moving companies.

. . . that this is yet another year in which I’ve been lucky to work for, and learn from, a lot of great people. Some have been in Boston. Some New York. Some right down the street in Gunbarrel. Others right here on Walnut Street. And all kinds of bosses, too. I’ve seen some of the most flawed, conflicted, inflexible, demanding humans be incredible managers/mentors/leaders; and I’ve seen some of the most lovely, truly decent, nurturing, softhearted humans be not-so-great ones. This year, I learned that another year has passed and I still don’t know into which category I fall. And probably never will. But I did learn that . . .

. . . there’s a fine line between Creative Directing and Creative Doing. Trust the people who work for/with you. Give ample leash. But don’t be afraid to step in when something’s not being done as well as you believe it could/should be. Nurturing, encouraging and teaching is essential, as is being as tactful as possible — lest we forget, advertising isn’t crucial enough to the fate of mankind to justify being outright nasty — but you’re not going to help anyone push him/herself or grow professionally by coddling, ego-stroking or handing out flimsy certificates of participation, either. Sometimes, despite what most youth soccer leagues might say, everybody doesn’t get a trophy. Sometimes, it’s a dictatorship, not a committee-riddled democracy. And while maintaining this “encouragement/trust vs. accountability” balance isn’t simple by any stretch, if you can, I believe your department will much be better off. I dunno. I’m far from the perfect manager, that’s for sure. But I’ve learned that I have to keep trying to get better.

. . . that speaking of advertising’s rank in the Great Scheme of Life, once you see your father being prepped for open heart surgery, or watch your partially tongue-tied, five-year-old daughter struggling with her “R’s” in a speech class — and imagine yourself (her dad, her protector) beating the shit out of bullies who might tease her on the playground in a few years because she “talks funny” — you won’t get so bent about your campaign being napalmed by quant testing or a client not agreeing with your font choice. Perspective. I’ve learned a little more perspective this year, rote as that sounds.

. . . that if I see another job title like “Chief Happiness & Positivity Guru,” “Director of Social Storytelling,” “Associate New Media Assassin,” or “Vice President of Dream Realization,” I swear to TEDx that puppies everywhere are going to start disappearing. You’ve been warned.

. . . that I still need to learn self-editing. And I would encourage anyone — writers in particular — to learn this admittedly elusive skill. Elusive because, nowadays, we truly believe that every fleeting, random, trivial notion that wanders through our brains contains some utterly crucial, intrinsic value to others and must be shared IMMMEDIATELY with EVERYONE ON EARTH like RIGHT NOW. (If we didn’t, Twitter wouldn’t exist.) But some things are best kept to ourselves — “Yeah, like your entire piece so far,” you’re probably thinking — and realizing this, I believe, is the first step to being a more self-aware, bearable person, and definitely a better creative. More listening, less talking. And definitely less tweeting.

. . . that the book The Art of Fielding both uplifted me (because I was wondering if a “sports book” in 2011 could ever be considered an instant, throwback, literary classic) and depressed me (because it made me realize that I could probably live a thousand more years and never create anything as compelling as Chad Harbach did). The following work from 2011 also resulted in this conflicted reaction: Burnett’s “Mayhem” work; Skittles Touch: “Cat” (because I want some of the peyote they obviously ingested before creating that); Grey/NY’s DirecTV work (“Opulence – I Has It”); Goodby’s “Museum of Digital Media” for Adobe (because it was brilliant, and my pals Aaron and Mandy Dietz did it); CP+B’s Baby Carrots (counterintuitive goodness) and Microsoft “Dog.ppt” because I know personally how tough Microsoft is); just about anything for NFL or ESPN (because I’m a football dork); Saatchi’s “Keith Stone” videos for Keystone Beer (just plain funny, should have been seen by more people); Mullen’s “Celebrity Baggage” idea for JetBlue (further proof that the media plan itself can be the idea) and Planet Fitness (“I lift things up and put them down”); Brooklyn Brothers New Era spots with Alec Baldwin & John Krasinski (I’m decidedly on Krasinski’s side); Thank you, everyone who created this amazing work. Now kindly burn in hell because it wasn’t me.

. . . that even though I never knew her, and only listened to her music during the occasional Pandora marathon, I weirdly miss Amy Winehouse. Can’t explain why. Sure, she was a junkie and a colossal fuckup. And I’m nothing if not a fan of personal accountability and a hater of wasted promise. But it’s also a travesty that she’s dead while various free range Kardashians roam poolside at the Viceroy, totally unharmed.

. . . that even though I’ve written a couple books and more scripts and headlines than I can remember, there’s still nothing as terrifying — or full of promise — as a blank page and a blinking cursor.

. . . . that although New England will always be “home,” my family and I don’t really miss life on the east coast. No offense to east coasters. (Well, maybe a little offense to Yankees/Jets fans, who, let’s be honest, are mouth-breathing savages who hunt kittens for sport and whose very existence makes the Baby Jesus cry.) But come on. The mountains? The perpetual sun? The innate, honest-to-goodness goodness of the people? The abundant “medicinal herbs” for your “glaucoma” and/or “anxiety”? Please. It’s just plain awesome out here. So to be able to live and work in this amazing part of the country — with nice, smart, funny people, to boot — is a blessing. And, trust me, I hardly ever use the word “blessing” because I am not, as far as I know, the young quarterback of the Denver Broncos. And speaking of Timothy Richard (“Tim”) Tebow, I’ve learned that . . .

. . . people need to cut this guy some slack. Sure, He’s overtly righteous and optimistic, which doesn’t fit into our ubercynical world where everything is “played” or “lame.” His alabaster toothed, aw-shucks, “Up with People” earnestness makes us all a little uncomfortable (because, secretly, we know we’re all far more horribly flawed than He is, so His very existence is a reminder of how shitty we sometimes are to one another, and to ourselves). And the incessant grousing and witch-hunting of the National Football League cognoscenti only adds fuel to the anti-Tebow fires. They outright fear Him because, as with most things that inspire fear, they don’t understand Him. Put it this way: if most NFL writers were marketing agencies, they’d still be recommending that their clients blow their entire budgets on newspaper. Tebow, meanwhile, is digital. He’s social. Hell — uh, I mean, “Heck” . . . sorry, Tim — Tebow is probably some hybrid form of media that hasn’t even been invented yet. Which is exactly why we, as communications professionals, regardless of our NFL team allegiances (I’m still a Patriots fan, geography be damned), should just kick back and enjoy the Tebow ride. After all, in this business, we’re constantly challenged to imagine, sell and execute concepts and ideas that no one has ever imagined, sold or executed before in the History of Everything, Ever. So let the pitchfork-wielding NFL writers and other “experts” stubbornly cling to bygone conventions and hold Tebow to standards set by Unitas, Starr, Staubach, Marino, Montana, Favre, Manning, Brady, and — especially around these parts — the equine-faced demigod known as Elway. Meanwhile, we should applaud and embrace Him as a truly “original idea” rather than vainly searching (or praying, ironically) for the tiniest of flaws that knock Him down and make us feel a little better about our own shortcomings. In other words, the divine gridiron ascension of Tebow has taught me that we’re all just trying our best out here with what we got. We don’t always get it right, by any stretch. I know I don’t. Some of my ideas outright blow. Some of Tebow’s passes flutter wildly into hands of players not wearing orange and blue uniforms with horses on their helmets. Some work from SRG, CP+B, TDA, Cactus, Sukle, Factory, Karsh, whoever else is less-than-stellar. Some of it builds brands and wins awards. But who cares? Tebow’s fun to watch. He’s winning. He seems like a good kid. And he’s just trying to do his job and be a good person, just like we all just want to do good work and be good people and help our clients win. And, really, who of us can claim to possess even a fraction of the athletic talent that Tebow does? What I’m getting at is, if your sole motivation is to tear others down just to alleviate your own fears or justify your own failures and shortcomings, you might want to, you know, reexamine things. All that said, I greatly look forward to Tebow’s inevitable sex scandal.

. . . and, finally, I learned that of all the amazing new local creative talents to emerge this year, there is one whose every syllable mesmerized me, weaving an elaborate tapestry of razor sharp, honest, oftentimes dystopian satire that helped shape the very culture of our industry. An almost otherworldly talent I'd feel perfectly comfortable including in the pantheon of history's greatest social/literary practitioners from Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, to David Foster Wallace, and Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Pryor, to Lenny Bruce, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert, Matt Groening, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. And whether waxing poetic on the sweeping social changes taking place throughout the world, or exposing the hypocrisy and lust for power that rots the minds of "dinosaur, washed-up" Creative Directors, or simply saying a particular ad campaign "sucked big, fat donkey balls" and that its creator is "an arrogant loser hack who's [sic] work hasn't been worth shit since 2002" and "should be fired so I can have there [sic] job," this advertising visionary known only as Anonymous — right here in the Comments section of the Egotist — deserves our special praise and thanks. Holding court from a veritable Algonquin Mom's Basement, most likely pantsless at times, Anonymous selflessly broadened our minds, challenged our most sacred conventions, and never failed to masterfully craft new uses of words like "asshat," “fucktard,” and "douchenozzle" that both surprised and delighted. Kudos, Anonymous — you were the real hero this year.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Sorry for the long read. Here’s to a very successful 2012 for all of us.

What I Learned This Year #16: Scott Hill, Principal/Art Director, Foundry Co

1. THERE AREN'T RULES

I'm not trying to be edgy or fight "The Man." I'm only saying that we aren't as constrained as we think we are. Design school told you there were rules. Design blogs tell you there are rules. Design books and manuals tell you there are rules. Then you accidentally break one of those rules, people gasp, and realize that the train didn't come off the tracks. We only have one rule, and it is really more of a goal: Communicate with people. If you're breaking that one, well, you're really just wasting a lot of people's time. But mostly, your own. I am part of a 3-man company in 3 different states. Clearly, there are no rules anymore.

2. DESIGNING FOR MONEY IS THE LAST REASON YOU SHOULD BE DESIGNING

For a semester in college, I thought I wanted to be a preacher. Like my father and grandfather. While studying as a Bible major, I found myself longing to draw and design, though I no longer had any assignments that required me to. I went to my grandpa for guidance and he told me this: "If there is anything else in the world you can do besides preach, then do it. If there is nothing else, then be a preacher." It was profound and I switched back to a design major immediately. This year, I realized that the same applies for design. If there's anything else you can do, then you should. Don't do this for a paying job. Without the love and passion for this game, you will burn out, you will under-perform, you will quit and then wonder why you paid all that money for a degree. In my opinion, the foremost reason to be a designer is because you can't help but design when you wake up in the morning.

3. DON'T BE A JERK

I have a bad leftover habit from high school. I think it's funny to be mean sometimes. I hate that about myself, but it is even worse when it sneaks into my business life. I have bad-mouthed clients. I admit it. I have lost my cool, become frustrated, and unfortunately even tweeted about them. It has yet to come back on me that I know of, but I imagine it has and I don't even know it. In a calmer, clearer state of mind, it hit me like a ton of bricks that many of my Twitter followers are non-designers and potential clients. They've now seen what they could face if they ever stepped into the role of being my client. It's hard to admit when you're wrong, and it's even harder to correct those actions, but it's time for designers to stop thinking we're too cool or informed to be nice. Clients aren't idiots. They're uninformed. And helping them out in that respect should be just as important to us as what we're doing in Photoshop and Illustrator. I know I want to be treated as a partner when I'm hired by someone, not a subservient pair of hands they're paying to operate. I should treat them with the same respect that I ask for.

4. BEING A DESIGNER IS LAME

I love what I do. I'd never do anything else. I mean, I kind of want to open a restaurant. But I have a sneaking suspicion I just want to design and brand it, then I'd realize I didn't actually want to run a restaurant at all. Anyway, what I mean is despite what you see on Twitter, Dribbble, blogs, magazines like Print, CA and HOW, this life is not glamorous. There is no such thing as a design rockstar. And shame on the person who coined that phrase anyway. There are however people we mistake for design rockstars. They get a lot of exposure, they get articles written about them, and they get blogged about. Then what happens? They get flooded with new work inquiries. Cool, but then they spend more time sorting through emails than they do designing the things they're passionate about that got them where they are in the first place. They get ripped off. A lot. Then they reply to emails of people telling them how they've been ripped off. And commenting on blogs about being ripped off. And write articles about being ripped off. They get egos, and then the same people who blogged about them, turn on them and say they're not a purist anymore. And the worst part is you never get to turn it off. Designers know no such thing as "5 o'clock" as it is understood in the big-people-job-real-world. Your head will always be spinning at all times and you'll be thinking about your clients and your projects and your friends' projects and whether they're getting better work than you. You have to be very intentional and try your best (sometimes with no success) to shut it all off just to pay attention to things like family, church, and friends — or you'll go crazy. When you learn that balance, then you're doing something right. I'm still working on that one.

5. WE'RE SO LUCKY

Despite anything I've said before #5, I can't deny that we are the luckiest people in the world to have this profession. I got paid a couple months ago to draw a drunk bear. A drunk bear. I got paid. That still bear-ly (see what I did there?) makes sense to me when I think about it. None of us knew when we were little that we were going to be "graphic artists" as our parents call us, but we knew we were going to do something with art. We never had that awful year of college where we had to pick between 45 different majors. Someone said, "You can draw and make money!" And we said "Seriously? Graphic Design it is!" We started playing around with crayons and paint and colored pencils when we were little kids, and here we are 20 years later doing the same thing. Only now we're providing for our families. It's a trip. And I pray I never take it for granted. We are blessed as designers and if we ever stop trying to be design rockstars, we might just realize it.

What We Learned This Year #17: Legwork Studio

What We Learned - 2011 from LEGWORK on Vimeo.

What I Learned This Year #18: Gabe Re, Art Director, Collective Intl

This year I learned:

1. Trust my gut.

2. It’s impossible to look intimidating while wearing a cardigan.

3. The things I pursue in my free time always find their way into my work.

4. Helping build a brand has been more gratifying than any award I’ve ever won.

5. At the top of any competitive industry, hard work always trumps talent.

6. Bulgaria is the cheap, Mexican vacation of Europe.

7. Anything worth doing is hard.

8. Sometimes reading 2Pac lyrics at a funeral is more appropriate than reading from the bible, and if you don’t reveal the source, most people won’t even know the difference.

9. You turn into one of your parents and marry the other.

10. Time spent away from work is equally as important as time spent working.

11. Don't look for excuses, look for opportunities.

12. The best taquerías in Denver have someone selling bootlegged DVDs out front.

13. You can never have too many cameras.

14. And finally, this year I learned I still don’t know shit about shit and every day is an opportunity to learn and get better.

What I Learned This Year #19: George Morris, Founder, Imulus

Thoughts on Leadership

In the past, I tried to lead Imulus via consensus. This year, I realized that approach is mislead. Leading by consensus has wasted my time and, more importantly, the time of others.

Remarkable doesn't come from consensus.

I have been dwelling on this since August when my friend Rick Griffith from MATTER Studio called it out over drinks. His impacting words? "Imulus is a really good company." I paused, and considered his selection of adjectives. Good? Good is average. It is safe. It gets the job done. It pays the bills.

In my gut, I knew he was right.

Admitting this meant things at Imulus needed to change, and this sent me on a quest of reflection and evaluation. We didn't start Imulus to be a "good" company, we started it to be "great." But, over the years, we allowed clients, projects, and staff to divert us from that goal. We lacked the focus and leadership needed to achieve "great."

If you are in a leadership position, be brutally honest with your abilities. If you don't have what it takes to lead, step aside, and figure it out. Going on cruise control is better than accelerating in the wrong direction.

Back to my conversation with Rick. I told him the other Imulus co-founders and I have never had a serious disagreement in 11 years (once again, leading safely by consensus). Rick said, "Then you haven't been challenging each other."

The term challenge doesn't mean to be at odds — it means setting the right expectations. Expect more, push each other. Running a company with three co-founders can be tricky. It's far too easy to assume everyone is on the same page, has equal drive, and the ability to execute. You don't "drop the ball." Instead, the ball just lays on the table waiting to be picked up.

Leadership is not an inborn trait, it's learned and cultivated as with any mindful pursuit.

It's the imperfect synthesis of rich experiences, understanding, vision, and belief in your passion and will. Like love, sometimes you can't explain it. It can't be reasoned or rationalized, and the direction that results from leadership certainly can't be fully justified.

It's fine to seek the advice of other leaders, counsel with co-workers, and read the requisite books. But, the truth is, easy answers are a myth. In the end, all external sources lack the situational context and history that makes up your experience. Answers don't come externally, they come from deep within.

Looking back on 2011 there are many things I learned, but none are as important as the clarity I now have on leadership. Expect "great" from Imulus in the years to come.

What I Learned This Year #20, Steve Babcock, Executive Creative Director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky

Hello Egotist readers. My name is Steve.

In no particular order, some things I learned in 2011:

I learned that watching my youngest son take his first steps via video chat was both parts heartbreaking and encouraging.

I learned that the more I enjoy being met with and solving problems, the more I enjoy what I do for a living.

I learned that I need to keep working on being a better collaborator.

I learned the value and truth in this statement from David O. McKay, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

I learned that I spend a lot of time getting lost in myself and that sitting next to a chatty old lady on an airplane was a great way to get lost in someone else for a change.

I learned that it catches people off guard to ask another question after the rhetorical, “How’s it going?” And that it’s definitely worthwhile.

I learned that all stations on Pandora eventually lead to Coldplay.

I learned that getting work written about as a business success in the Wall Street Journal is considerably more satisfying than it being featured in an award show.

I learned by accident that a mimosa is not just orange juice in a fancy glass.

I learned that Brandt Lewis and Rich Ford are a creative team from another planet. And that planet is called, “Way Better Than I’ll Ever Be.”

I learned that a vasectomy really isn’t as bad as all the horror stories I read online said it would be.

I also learned that it’s a bad idea to research vasectomies online.

I learned that bad client meetings with great work are much more worthwhile than great client meetings with decent work.

I learned just how much a handwritten congratulations card can mean to someone. In this case, that someone being me.

I learned that when I don’t have the solution, trying to make myself feel better by taking it out on someone else rarely helps me find it.

I learned that something as simple as making the bed for my wife every morning has a profound impact on our marriage.

I learned that the Continental/United Airlines merger means I’m never getting a seat upgrade ever again.

I learned that it is absolutely crucial to have other creative outlets that aren’t creative directed by anyone.

I learned that my family really loves Colorado and we hope to never leave.

I learned that I need to be a little less obsessed with trying to be important at work and much more obsessed with trying to be important at home.

What I Learned This Year #21: Tom Van Ness, Senior Copywriter, Integer

In 2011, I learned what the brilliant Ms. Barbara Streisand learned many years, and many tears ago. People who need people are the luckiest people around.

In all seriousness, I really did learn that.

In my recent past, I spent 5 years as a freelancer, whoring myself around to any agency large or small that would have me. Sure it was wonderfully flexible. I could fish. I could ski. I could go see a movie at 2pm on a Wednesday.

But it was almost always by myself.

I'd get into a big agency. But only for a short time. Maybe a bit longer in big cities. But my time there was just long enough to get to know folks – not really fit in.

I then spent two years with an agency project of my own – maxing out at 3 people. Including myself.

When that ended, I started to think about when I had the best times in advertising. Those best times were in bigger agencies, when I had a solid group of people around me.

Well, this year, I went back to the big agency life. Really big. Integer big.

And I couldn't be happier. I realized that I need people.

People to celebrate victories.

People to mitigate defeats.

People to bounce ideas off.

People to give me the energy I need to keep pushing every day. And people I can give energy to.

I was a bit surprised that I ended up at Integer. Everyone always said the people were the reason they were there. I took that with a grain of salt.

But now I'm here, talking to you, about how great those people are.

There are the hardcores. The lifers. The climbers and the 9 to 5ers. And of course, the funny ones.

My mom calls them Silly Boys. It started years ago at a previous agency – "Wow, you sure seem to have some silly boys at your office." Yes, mom. I do. But in the freelance world, there are no silly boys when you're working at a Starbucks that's two-thirds full of Cherry Creek douchebags. There are no silly boys when you're banging out scripts at the kitchen table in your underpants.

Silly boys are important. And of course, some of the best silly boys are girls. And now, I'm in an office that is chock full of the silly persuasion.

So cheers to the people in my professional life. Especially the silly ones. I'm not afraid to say I need you. And I'm so glad you're there.

(FYI Holly, it's 11:09pm and I just finished writing this after a couple of Taiwan Beers in the LAX international business class lounge. A freaky spot, for sure. It's kinda like what Blade Runner would be like if JC Penney had made it.)

What I Learned This Year #22: Josh Holland, Illustrator/Designer

What I Learned This Year #23: Carmel Hagen, CMO, COMMON

Last year, I wrote about fake boobs, and douchebags, and how I thought the internet was alright enough, but mostly just a sewage plant. I was pretty fired up last year.

There were reasons for it, I guess: I was freshly back to Boulder from San Francisco, which left me a little high. I was days from departing a job that I loved with my whole heart but hated with my whole mind. I was aggressively carbonated — or something — speaking and acting off pure adrenaline, and about two strong shakes from spurting brains through my eyeballs.

Which isn’t to imply that I’m sorry I said those things, or even that that side of me is buried under anything more than a thin veil of Vinyasa. It’s just to say that this post isn’t going to be anything like last year’s.

Because I actually feel like l learned some stuff this time.

The truth will set you free.

My mom will be happy I’m quoting Jesus here, but to pretend I didn’t flirt with getting this tattooed on my bod would be bullshit. Even though I didn’t, and I’m happy about that.

A lot of people like to interpret this statement literally, in the context of keeping a clean conscious so you’ll never have to lie in court. For me, it represents something else: a happy remedy for fear that slows us down each day.

It’s hard to trust our own thoughts. It’s hard to go against the grain. It’s hard to make big gambles and make big moves, especially when no one agrees with you (and sometimes even when everyone does). But that in the middle of these changing elements — and despite these changing elements — there’s always something that just absolutely is. That something isn’t necessarily concrete, or constant, or even justifiable — it’s just a gut instinct, an innate sense of “true,” totally removed from the analytical mind, that adapts as the elements bearing weight on it change. Learning to accept its abstractness, acknowledge that instinct as truth, and acting from it, makes the ultimate Truth of knowing you’re just a human a little less paralyzing. It makes things fast. It makes it ok to fail. It’s a fear squasher.

Nothing is actually as hard as it looks. It just takes way more time than you thought it would.

I’m starting to think that the perception of difficulty is one of the biggest lies on the face of the planet. Humans, all humans, are capable of almost anything. (If you doubt that for a second, look at Wikipedia. Or New York City. Or Ace of Cakes.) We really only have two enemies: the clock and ourselves.

And oddly, those are our two best allies as well.

The people in your life who you suspect are changing it really are.

Think of yourself as an algorithm; a combination of additions and subtractions and multiplications that begin the day you’re born and end the day you die. We all like to say that people never change, that things never change, but the truth is we can never remove ourselves from the influences that deliver us to the day following this one. Each day, we wake up with millions of new cells, each bearing a memory but never a wall of impermanence — and at the and of the day, those new memories fold into the old ones and we start again. The same, but changed.

I think we only control our destinies in limited ways, but those few ways, applied gracefully, are all we need to influence the end results — or even daily results — of our personal algorithm. A lot of these have to do with how we handle ourselves, or the things we expose ourselves to — but the most important one could be the people we come in contact with.

This year, I started looking back at the building pile of relationships, personal and professional, that have had an incredible impact on my life. They’re ghosts, a series of small possessions that form the foundations of why I say yes or no, the reasons I listen, the reasons I won’t. To classify them as good or bad is beyond the point, but to think of ourselves as anything less than a sponge is naive.

Be mindful of what you’re soaking up, so when stuff starts to drip out you can thank the person who gave it to you. Or let it go.

Sets of information are best absorbed in threes.

Happy holidays, everybody — now go ef yourselves. Elf yourselves, I mean.

What I Learned This Year #24: Rick Griffith, Principal, MATTER

It goes without saying that 2011 was a series of endurance tests and trials. For me—making this—helps put the challenges in perspective with the joy I have for the work we get to do and who we get to do it with/for.

What I Learned This Year #25: Felix, Ad Curmudgeon

The Denver Egotist didn’t ask me to write this. Sadly, for me anyway, the folks behind the scenes of your beloved ad blog know it’s much more interesting to read the revelations of real people doing real work. And while I may be real (more or less), I love to hide behind the warm blanket of anonymity. That means I am last in line for this kind of stint.

So, why write it? As I sit nursing a fine single malt, puffing on an imaginary cigar, I wonder what I can add that others can’t. Probably not much, actually. However, if what I write brings a smile to just a few people, well, that’s all I need. After all, it’s a free blog, this is written for free, no one’s out of pocket, and all you’ll have wasted is a few minutes of your time. If you’re perusing The Egotist though, I figure you can spare it. Right, then, here we go.

A Good Fuck Doesn’t Hurt Anyone.

I’m speaking here of the word itself, not the carnal act it represents. But hey, it’s just as true. (Well, unless you’re on the receiving end of some nasty wake-up call in a maximum security prison. But that wouldn’t be a good fuck now would it?)

It seems that my liberal use of words like fuck, shit, dick, piss, irks a lot of people. I get comments about it often. “Meh, you’re so ridiculous, why are you swearing like that, it’s not smart or clever, grow up, I’m better than you, whine whine whine.” You know, these are the same people who swear like fucking sailors in their own agencies. But hypocrisy being rife in advertising, I expect it. The fact that every respected comedian, and most musicians, resort to language from the gutter is neither here nor there, right?

Anyway, it’s in my nature to swear, and I won’t apologize for it. I have said, right from the start, that I’ll swear when I want to and sometimes I want to swear a lot. Sometimes, not so fucking much. I don’t think it ever gets in the way of my message, it usually enhances it. I like to hammer my point home, and there’s nothing like a good fuck, shit or, dare I say it, cunt, to really slam that nail in the coffin. In 2012, I will write more, and swear more. Live with it, you lovely fucktards.

Grammar Nazis Can Smoke a Tailpipe.

Seriously, fuck right off. That goes to all the people I work with (you don’t know who you are) who constantly correct my copy because of a misplaced semi-colon or the incorrect use of a dash or ellipsis. I DON’T CARE! And guess what. 99% of the people reading the copy DO NOT GIVE A FLYING FUCK either.

The best and brightest minds in advertising have known for decades that the message is way more important than correct grammar. Speak like people speak. Write like people write. Consider this headline, inspired by my current position.

Where The Fuck Do Grammar Nazis Come From?

Ooohh, that’s awkward. Ends in a preposition, and that cuss word is just amateur.

How about this instead?

From Where In The World Do Grammar Nazis Come?

To be honest, I’m guessing now. I really don’t know if the second one is actually more grammatically correct than the first, because I stopped obeying the rules of English decades ago. All I know is, it sounds shittier than the first.

If you get your point across, you’ve done your job. If anyone ever pulls you aside for bad grammar, shove a dictionary in their puckered anus.

Same Shit, Different Place.

Every problem you have is going on at other agencies. That old phrase of the grass always being greener is so true. And nothing will change.

If you think life is tough where you are, you’re right. If you think other people in other agencies are having it easier, you’re also right. But remember, you’re also that other person in another agency having it easier. You have problems they don’t have. They have problems you don’t have. You have great perks, and so do they. They’re all different, and yet all the same.

You bitch about not working on great campaigns. But the people working on great campaigns bitch that you earn more money, or leave work earlier than they do. You envy the people winning the awards. They envy the people working on projects that mean more than shiny gongs. It’s all give and take.

Unless your job is to go into the ad agency boardroom every day and suck the sweaty cock of every senior manager, you’re doing ok. And even then, if you’re getting paid for it, you’re better off than 10% of the population. At least you have a shitty job.

People Lie. Right To Your Fucking Face.

I have stopped counting the lies I have been told this year. Shit, I’m even starting to tell them to myself. Advertising is one of those businesses that seems to thrive on lies, gossip and negativity. The very reason I started my rants was to give my brain a release valve from the pressure that was building. And now, years later, I am still being lied to by people who smile and pat my back as they do it.

No doubt you get lied to as well, probably every day. Account managers will lie about deadlines or things the client has said. Creatives will lie about other ideas they’ve had, or the time it will take to do a job. CEOs will tell you the company is doing great when they’re drawing up a list of names to fire. Lies, lies, lies. They’re everywhere. And the only way to stop your brain turning into Jell-O is to put it all in perspective.

Yes, you’ll get lied to. Think carefully, though, before getting pissed off. Is it worth getting so angry because your shitty CD told you he (or she) fought hard for your ideas when they did, in fact, bend over immediately and take the client's dick right in the ass? Has anyone died as a result of this action? Do you still have a job? Are you still working on other things that could be great? Are you just being a whiny bitch? Good, then get over it and concentrate on being the better person. Or lie to yourself that you are.

Men Are Morons Around Pretty Girls. And Women Are Bitches.

Boy oh boy, this one never fails to amuse me. Everywhere I’ve been, in different countries with different cultures, it’s the same story. When a genuinely stunning young woman comes to the agency, men lose 50 IQ points and women sharpen their claws. What the fuck is going on, people?

Married, engaged, single, divorced, separated, it doesn’t matter. Men become complete fucking morons in the presence of a big-titted blonde with a penchant for mini-skirts and perfume. And it happens instantly. I was in a meeting with a bunch of guys who were tripping over each other to make the new girl laugh. They laughed at everything she said. They couldn’t wait to be on a project with her. And all because somewhere in the back of their heads, propagated by decades of shitty porn, they think they’ll have a shot at screwing this girl on the office photocopier. Or at least, she’ll want them to, and that’ll be enough for their egos.

And then, the women who surround this nubile young goddess realize that they’re not quite up to her level, and so they have to do everything to bring her down. I’ve seen more pleasant comments come out of the mouths of drill sergeants.

But what’s more annoying than all of this is that our Victoria’s Secret model hasn’t been given the chance to prove herself yet; at all. She could have the mind of Einstein or Dan Quayle. She could be a natural creative or account manager, or she could suck balls. But people see her body and face first and forget the rest. To be honest, this is all a complete distraction. But big clients, the majority of whom are men, like to see pretty girls. And these clients will buy a risky campaign from a gorgeous woman. What are we to do? Nothing. Unless we castrate all the men and pluck out the eyes of the bitchy women. But that wouldn’t make for a very effective ad agency would it?

Criticism is Fine as Long as it’s Constructive.

Here’s what I’ve been listening to all year…

“Nah, I’m not liking anything. No good. Can’t say why though. Try again.”

“This is a good start but can you give it more personality.”

“Can you take another shot at it? Why? Umm, because this one isn’t working.”

“They want to see more ideas. More. Just more. And not like the ones you’ve been doing, just new ones.”

And so on, and so on, and so on. God almighty it’s infuriating. And it’s really fucking easy to give that kind of critique by the way. It takes skill to dissect a campaign and list, categorically, what is working, what isn’t, and where the campaign needs to go. But most people are lazy. So they drop the ball in the court of the creatives, who have to go back to their desk, slam their nipples in a desk drawer, and try to figure out what’s good and what’s not.

You can tell me all day long that my work is shit. Just tell me WHY! Is that too much to ask? Really?

Finally, Opinions Are Just That.

They’re not facts, and they’re not truths. They are simply a collection of words that spew out of someone’s mouth, and they change constantly. My column gets negative opinions, and positive ones. It gets slated; it gets revered. Do I take any of it to heart? Not really. First, this is a persona. A big fat fuckoff persona. I’m not nearly this brash and abrasive in real life. I’m like that douchebag Christian Slater plays in Pump Up The Volume. So how can I care what people think?

But in my real life, it’s also worth remembering the same thing. Opinions may make your job tougher, or easier, or longer. But they are not outright facts. If you’re an accountant, it is not someone’s opinion that your figures don’t add up. It’s a fact. In our business, a creative campaign may suck to one person and be the child of God to another. And the next day, those opinions can be reversed. What’s more, opinions can be influenced by other opinions. They can be infected, like a virus infects a healthy host. They can spread. And they can also be destructive. Unless, of course, we all remember that they’re just opinions. Just electrical impulses generated in the brain of one man or woman who, at the end of the day, worries about their sexual performance, the money in their bank account, and the color of their shits.

So, that was my 2011. Of course, this is all just my opinion. For what it’s worth.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and here’s to a great 2012 for the Denver advertising industry. Shit, we could really use it.

What I Learned This Year #26: Meredith Vaughan, President, Vladimir Jones

This year was an interesting one for VJ. Sometimes it was absolutely great and sometimes it really, really sucked. We had some high highs, and a few low lows. It was a year that saw more change than we have ever had in our 41-year history. We were finalists in a huge national pitch, and then lost just at the very end. But, on the flip side, we were finalists in a huge national pitch. We made departmental changes, personnel changes, office changes, technology changes, philosophy changes and changes to how we make changes. However, it all turned out to make for a pretty great, and in my eyes, successful year.

Through it all, I took away a few thoughts from 2011—some of which will guide me forever moving forward, some of which I will forget shortly after this is published, some of which are completely worthless but still true, and some of which are total crap but I like the way they sound.

I learned in 2011 that karma is a bitch. And sometimes so am I.

I learned that I have even less patience than I thought—which many people didn’t think was possible.

I learned that trusting the people around me really is the right thing to do. They are amazing.

I learned that it’s critical to respect where you’ve been because it will likely have a big impact on where you are going.

I learned that sometimes it feels really good to really hate someone. A lot.

I learned that it also feels really good to really like someone a lot. And it generally feels better than hating someone.

I learned that I make stupid decisions sometimes.

I learned that the passion that I feel for my team, this business and the industry is critical to our ongoing success.

I learned that I’m more interested in what we are going to do next than what we’ve done so far.

I learned that you have to make time to lead, no matter how natural a leader you are.

I learned that people generally want to do the right thing.

I learned that change really does scare the hell out of people.

I learned that each year is going to look completely different than the prior year, at least for the foreseeable future.

I learned that saying no is sometimes much more effective than saying yes.

What I Learned This Year #27: Mike Sukle, Principal/Creative Director, Sukle Advertising & Design

There’s a philosophy called Appreciative Inquiry. It’s based on the assumption that the questions we ask will tend to focus our attention in a particular direction. It goes something like this. Organizations have been taught to identify problems and then fix them. Makes sense, right? Except, what actually happens is these organization just keep finding more problems, the more problems they look for, the more they find. All they end up doing is fixing problems rather than growing what made them great in the first place. The theory believes that if the time were spent on growing the positive and doing more of it, the results would be incredible.

The same phenomenon occurs when people evaluate ideas. Some people are builders. Others are problem identifiers. I’m convinced this is why some brands and agencies continually pump out great work while others struggle. This is not to say that all ideas are good or viable. Some should be killed in a horrible death, but first grow the ideas that have potential.

Be a builder, not a fixer. See the beauty in things. Find the humor in things. Do something new and make it great. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Oh, the other thing I learned, there’s a better than average chance we’ll all be doing this again next year...

Mayan tablet does not predict end of the world in 2012, says expert

A reference to 2012 on a Mayan tablet denotes a transition to a new era, not the apocalypse, according to Sven Gronemeyer

The end is not quite nigh. At least that is the conclusion of a German expert who says his decoding of a Mayan tablet with a reference to a 2012 date denotes a transition to a new era and not a possible end of the world as others have read it.

Read the whole story at the Guardian.

What We Learned This Year #28: Berger & Föhr, Creative Studio

2011 has been a year of great change for us. We set out to close Cypher13, our small but renown design studio – and did so. The studio had run its course.

We sought to create a new studio. A studio that would uphold heightened levels of accountability, more comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards – a studio that could serve as a model sustainable business, and then to put our names on it.

Berger & Föhr is a Certified B Corporation and a 1% for the Planet Member. The studio provides design and direction for entities and individuals in possession of socially equitable information, ideas and assets.

Enduring these changes has not been easy, but the commitment has been a simple one – simple, because we know it to be just and honest and true.

We have chosen to pursue quality in all things – over quantity. This choice more than any other has come to define our craft and those with whom we wish to partner and to serve. We have chosen objectivity over subjectivity, accountability over bureaucracy, and personal responsibility over ambiguity.

In this year, more than any prior – we have learned to trust our instincts and to do what we believe to be right in order to realize our full potential, to inspire others to do the same, and to be the change we want to see.

What I Learned This Year #29: David Schell, Executive Director of Creative Services, The1stMovement

I’ve learned that we’re more capable than we think we are, but we’ll only be as successful as we believe ourselves to be.

I’ve learned a solid dose of humility can create amazing focus, and that vision is the only hand you need to pull you out of the quicksand.

I’ve learned expanding capabilities is critical to growing a business. Building out our research and strategic offerings has not only solidified the foundation under our feet, it has informed our ideas in more ways than imaginable. Adding to that, expanding our creative offerings has proven broader campaigns, and increased results for our clients.

I’ve learned you can’t have great creative without great insights. Project briefs and creative briefs aren’t good enough. Creativity starts in strategy, and that means providing your creative thinkers with a unique angle that sets their minds on fire.

I’ve learned mobile advertising has proven to be the most effective platform in almost every campaign we’ve run this year. It has consistently shown nearly double the results compared to its traditional and digital counterparts.

I’ve learned a small budget and a small team don’t mean small ideas. Our accomplishments this year have placed us side-by-side campaigns that had ten times the budget.

I’ve learned not all business is good business. And that growth must be accomplished in very measured steps.

I’ve learned change is good. An unexpected challenge is often the most rewarding.

Last but not least, I’ve learned that balance in life and business is critical. We’re going to be doing this for a long time. Let’s enjoy the ride…

Cheers to 2011. Bring on the 2012.

What We Learned This Year #30: Ellen Bruss Design

What I Learned This Year #31: Jessyel Ty Gonzalez, Manager of Photography, CP+B

I’m no writer, friends – my world instead revolves around that of photography. I had visions of grandeur when preparing to write this. It was going to be humorous, with nuggets of wisdom and parcels of prowess that were going to bring a smile to your brain. Instead, you get this unkempt mess:

I learned that...

-Life can provide statistically almost-impossible surprises. Example: I have a kid now!* (She’s pretty awesome.)

-On that note, it’s amazing what you can do on a few hours of sleep.

-You get odd stares when you take your one-month-old to the bar for that evening drink.

-That “Dear Sophie” Google Chrome commercial gets me every time.

-Surrounding yourself with smart, humble, and hard-working people will do wonders to your work and being. Doing the opposite is hazardous.

-You win some. You lose some.

-Seeing your image come to life in a darkroom is a truly magical thing.

-The more time I spend with them, the more I realize photographers are very odd individuals. Every single one of us. The only explanation I can come up with is that (for me, at least) photography provides the brightest of highs and darkest of lows. That emotional roller coaster has to affect you somehow...

-Less can be more.

-Even though I’m 27, I felt old for the first time in my life. How did those young interns not get any of my Fresh Prince and Seinfeld references?!

-Photography is in oversupply. Photographers who are creative problem solvers are going to win.

-72dpi is very forgiving.

-I’m much more inspired by people who make great photographs instead of those who only talk about them.

-Remember those toys hidden inside cereal boxes when you were a kid? I miss that. (Hint, hint, cereal makers.)

-I like to prep myself the night before a big shoot by watching a film with great cinematography. (There Will Be Blood, Drive, and The Assassination of Jesse James... provided me good fortune this year.)

-The Colorado photography scene is starting to get serious.

-I need to find a way to help people through my photography.

-I still have not taken a truly great photograph. This haunts me.

-Photography definitely has a hook on me. There was a stretch when I worked twenty hours a day for over two weeks on a stressful project. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. I love what I do, even when I don’t know why I should.

-Long story short, turns out Hallmark doesn't make a 'Sorry My Zipper Was Accidentally Down During That Entire Photo Shoot' card.

-The key to great photography is not letting anyone see your bad shots.

-I really miss shooting with film (especially Kodachrome).

-All light we see is from the past. Think about that for a second. WE ARE SEEING THE PAST IN THE PRESENT, PEOPLE!

-The equipment does matter.

-Behind every great photographer is a great retoucher.

-A few of my photos were seen by millions of people this year (TV endcards). There’s something humbling and frightening about that.

-If a movie trailer has Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" or Tone Loc's "Wild Thing," STAY AWAY FROM THAT MOVIE.

-When I was first starting out, one of my biggest dreams was to have my photos in TIME Magazine. This year, I accomplished that. Then (spoiler alert) the last scene from Finding Nemo hits my head: Now what? I’m scared that no matter how much I accomplish, it may never be enough.

-There’s only one way to find out, though. This year’s new goals: I want a magazine cover and billboard, dammit.

-A small amount of kindness goes a long way. (Seriously, folks – let’s be nice to one another.)

-I need to get better about shooting personal work.

-I just generally need to step it up.

-I still leave the damn lens cap on sometimes.

-I’m one lucky son of a bitch.

*: I don’t plan on ever telling my child she was an accident, but part of me hopes she finds out by reading this article fifteen years in the future. Also, I hope my wife doesn’t read this. If so... SURPRISE, HONEY! I love you...

What I Learned This Year #32: Evan Nix, Creative Director, Image Brew/Founder, Nix Bros Films

Without a doubt, 2011 was the craziest year of my life. I made a career leap from the big agency life to a boutique creative company. I started performing in a parody band with my brother and best friend, and within 3 months performed at SXSW. I directed a comedy festival with my brother. I got engaged, almost lost a parent in an accident, and nearly got arrested in Texas (a story for another time). Writing this required a lot of reflection over everything that happened in 2011, which really did lead me to a few lessons learned. These types of things can end up sounding self-reverential and condescending. I'll try to avoid that and speak only from experience. At the same time this is The Egotist, and I can't pass up the opportunity to show off some work.

Everyone loves dogs.
A year ago, I started a tumblr blog called Me with Dogs on a whim. The mission was to post a picture every few days of me with a new dog. In the last year, I've posted over 160 pictures, and met dogs and their owners in at least 10 different cities, in 5 different states. Nobody has ever turned me down for a photo, and I've only been met with enthusiasm for the celebration of man's bestie.

Wear a helmet.
In July my dad, a cyclist since before I was born, was hit by a car on his bike. He always wore a helmet, but on this one day for some reason he neglected to put one on. He was flown to the trauma ward in a helicopter where had to be put in a medically induced coma for two days because of the brain injury he suffered. Luckily, the damage wasn't lasting and he'll be fine (some broken bones notwithstanding), but the incident put our family through significant turmoil, and it could have been largely avoided if only he was wearing a goddamned helmet. Of course, I already wore a bike helmet before this incident happened. What I really learned from this was how strong my family is, even though we all live across the country from one another. It was humbling and inspiring how fast we came together.

Image Brew 2011 from Image Brew on Vimeo.

Stop scoffing at puns.
As Creative Director for a boutique video production company called Image Brew, I wanted to illustrate to our clients and prospects a simple idea: even though we're the kind of company that is often judged on its technical abilities over its creative offerings, we're a creative group who will teach ourselves a new technique or process in service of an idea. So we resorted to what was essentially a clever pun, and started brewing beer as a play on our name. Beer wasn't in the business plan and we had no experience with it, but we taught ourselves the basics, bought books, and started experimenting. Six months later, we had a solid batch of Image Brewskis. The idea connected. The above video was posted on Adweek among several other blogs, and we received an unexpected amount of emails and tweets of support.

Turn off email notifications.
It's an endless challenge to avoid feeling constantly distracted and fragmented anymore. Recently, I turned off email notifications and started checking my email again, like I used to with my old hotmail account. I did the same with Facebook, Twitter and everything else, on all of my devices. I'm not about to prescribe "The 4-hour Work Week," but overall, I feel less cluttered and happier, and I learned that I can be reliably productive (or distracted) without being constantly reminded to be. I trust myself, something none of my devices seem to do by default.

It's easier to dance in a space suit.
It's really easy to not take yourself too seriously when you're in a ridiculous costume, and in general it's healthy to not take yourself too seriously. It can also be very moving to let go of inhibitions and open up to a crowd of people by acting like a fool. If you are moved by it, others will be, no matter how ridiculous it is. A few weeks ago my band Total Ghost(about as ridiculous as it gets) played a live green screen show in the primary studio at Denver Open Media. If you can make it halfway through, you'll see everyone in the audience get up from their seats and start dancing in the middle of the studio. Sure, we kinda asked them to, but from the energy in the room I believe they were just waiting for us to say it was ok.

Don't abuse your muse.
Before getting engaged in July, my fiancé and I dated for a half a decade. She loves to laugh, which keeps me creative and constantly trying to be funny. This year I learned not to let that kind of thing go when you find it. Oh, and I also stopped beating her. Don't abuse your muse.

Working for free can be very valuable.
Don't give yourself away and don't get taken advantage of, but do a project for fun that nobody is making any money on. Most people call these "side projects" but I've found them to be more fulfilling and rewarding than just about anything anyone has paid me to do. Plus, a collaboration can be truer when nobody has anything to gain out of it. This has been the foundation of most of the film and comedy work my brother Adam and I have done. I really believe that if you're passionate about something, find any excuse to do it, whether it's your job or not. If you love it, you'll eventually monetize it, but don't wait for that to get started. Every year continues to reinforce this belief, and 2011 was busier than ever.

What I Learned This Year #33: Josh Emrich, Principal, The Tenfold Collective

I believe in asking curious questions, and great questions can take a lifetime to answer. Instead of what I've learned this year, I'm going to present three questions that were brought to my attention by a tour of the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana.

The Miller House was designed by two icons of architecture and design in their prime: Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard. The client, J. Irwin Miller, was an industrialist and philanthropist known for his civic activism.

Before you take the shuttle to tour the Miller House, they lead you into a media room and play a documentary about this modernist mecca. From the film, I gleaned three quotations, one each by Saarinen, Girard, and their client, J. Irwin Miller. As a designer, these quotations challenged me to ask some tough questions.

--

This statement is full of irony. Not only does this quote come from a designer who is widely emulated by designers today, Girard is providing his personal interpretation of the words of King Solomon who said “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Girard was working when globalization was first taking hold. He was able to discover new inspiration in folk art from all over the world and re-interpret it for a modern western audience. This was a legit way to create something new.

Fifty years later, it seems like we are approaching the point where personal interpretation isn’t enough. Inspiration spreads fast. Chances are good that there's someone out there with the same personal influences solving the same problem.

Maybe King Solomon was right after all.

In this present reality, is it possible to create solutions that make sense, but are also considered original by our peers? If nothing is new, what should drive us as designers?

--

This sounds intimidating coming from a client, but contextually, J. Irwin Miller was talking about the benefits gained by commissioning professional architects and designers who will challenge conventional assumptions.

It’s easy to see how mediocrity can be expensive in terms of resources wasted in ineffectual solutions. When I shared this quote with a colleague, he reminded me that it can also be expensive to your soul.

I feel like we’ve become satisfied with mediocrity in our culture. Just look at the top sellers on iTunes. We don’t have the patience to discover the elegant solutions. We want instant results and then we’re onto the next thing.

As designers, how can we raise the stakes and create solutions that have a lasting effect? How can I seek out my own mediocrity and restore my soul?

--

On the surface, this quote sounds like it’s all about sticking to your guns and not allowing a client to ruin a project. I think it’s more deeply rooted than that.

Being pure takes guts. If you firmly stand for something, you can be assured there are people who firmly stand against you. Nobody likes having people angry at them, but conflict may be a sign that you’ve taken a stand for something you believe in.

If you get too comfortable with compromise, do you really stand for anything? Will anyone take you seriously?

What I Learned This Year #34: John Johnston, Photographer

It's brain surgery, not rocket science.

We had known for awhile that my wife, Lisa, would need surgery. She was diagnosed in 2008 with a condition called Chiari Malformation. Chiari is when your brain is pushing downwards on your spinal cord and restricts the flow of spinal fluid. Her symptoms included loss of feeling throughout her body, chronic neck /shoulder pain, pressure headaches, and head-rushes. We learned that the surgery to try and treat it came with many risks. We did so much research, got second opinions and hoped that maybe the surgery would be less invasive the longer we waited. But, in the fall of 2010 at a routine appointment with the latest MRI in hand, Lisa was told that surgery was no longer just an option. Because the flow of spinal fluid had been restricted, it created a cyst. If left untreated, she could be paralyzed.

We tried to be positive and strong. The most major setback came when just eight days before Lisa's surgery, her neurosurgeon broke his hip while mountain biking. This wasn't just any neurosurgeon, he is a leading specialist in Chiari and people come from all over the world to see him. There was no way to replace him and go with a new neurosurgeon. All of this hurry up and get ready for this major life event and then — waiting. It was six more weeks before he was healed and given the OK to go back to work. Lisa's surgery was November 16th of 2010 and every day since she has gotten stronger. And, so has our family.

I can't really explain all of the emotions I was going through that day. I tried to stay strong for my family. It was harder than I expected. I had a friend tell me that It was going to be OK. It was just brain surgery, not rocket science. It seemed to stick with me. I had to trust that everything was going to be alright. We have an amazing group of friends that helped us through this all. I learned that you have to have a positive outlook. You have to believe that things will be OK. You have to tell your family you love them every day. Lisa surprised us all with her strength and courage. She surprised herself. It has made us all look at things differently now. We are so pleased with the results of the surgery and we stay positive and look ahead to the future. At the same time, taking it day-to-day.

Make time for your family.

I am always working on something. I think for most creatives, especially if you run your own business, you always seem to be working. If it is not a job, you have paperwork to do. If it's not paperwork, you have promos to do. It goes on and on. I learned pretty quickly that it's really hard to keep a consistent schedule. That doesn't always work when you have a family. I had to make something work, otherwise I would never see them. I try really hard to keep my freelance schedule a 9-5 job. I get up in the morning, make breakfast for my ladies, pack lunches, and walk them to school. I look forward to it. I know that the time is coming when they may not want to be around me. I dare to say it, but I know the day will come when they will be embarrassed to be around me.

This last year was hard on all of us. It was hard to keep all of the feelings I had locked up so that my girls wouldn't notice just how frightened I was. I started doing a lot of thinking. What are some of the best times we had as a family? One was sitting down and having dinner together. It sounds easy, but unless you make it a habit you find yourself easily working right through that special time. The other highlights are the times we have traveling together. Now I am not talking about a big, expensive trip somewhere. I am talking about family time. Together. Road trips are the best. My family did a lot of them growing up. As I got into my teens, they didn't seem as fun. Now that I am getting older, I realize just how important that time was. This last November we took a family trip to San Francisco. It was celebration trip. It had been a year since Lisa's surgery. It was a trip where there were no complaints, no worries, and no real plans. Our only plan was to enjoy each other. You need to make time with your family. It's simple to do. Just turn off the phone for a few days and do it.

Trust yourself.

More than any other time in my life, last year I learned to trust myself. I guess I have been doing it for a while, but I really started to understand why that is so important. I have always tried to make work of which I am proud. I value the importance of the integrity of my work and I would never want to compromise it. I see a lot of interns and assistants making work that they think people want to see, rather than the work they want to be doing. They need to trust themselves more. I try and tell myself, and the people I work with, to always do something you are passionate about. If you believe in what you do, others will believe in it as well. This last year I have learned to trust my instincts. You need to listen to yourself and be confident in what you do.

Foolish and wise.

Val was the gardener at my studio for more than two decades. Val is one of those guys you just don't meet everyday. He lived in a small studio apartment off of Larimer for over 30 years. He is a kind, eccentric man who made friends with everyone. Val is no longer able to garden at my studio. I miss seeing him down there. I sometimes took Val for granted. We would spend countless hours sitting outside enjoying a beer together. He would tell me stories or give me a new word from the dictionary to learn. Val was a big part of what made that studio great. He added an energy to it that is no longer there. I learned that I need those friendships in my life. I need to have that wise person in my life to tell me stories and make me forget and remember everything else. Val is genuine. He is just like what I need as part of my work — the honesty, the integrity, the true passion for the art. All of that is embodied in Val. I visit Val in the nursing home now. It's not the same, but it's Val. He doesn't do a lot of the talking anymore. Now he sits and he listens to my stories. He will kindly listen to me hack my way through a song on the guitar for him. It's still Val and I just enjoy being around him.

Time for a change.

So many things have changed this year and it is time to move on. After nine years at the studio, I am saying goodbye to it. I am really sad to leave. It is a very emotional thing to do, but it's time. I have a lot of great memories of the studio. My business started there. My dogs grew up there. My girls grew up there. I grew up there.

Everything is happening at the right time. I have to trust myself and take a leap of faith. I am moving into a new studio this month at the Laundry on Lawrence. It's more than double the space and endless amounts of possibility. John Johnston Creative will soon be ready. I will finally be able to have a place for my art and my photography. Lisa is starting her new art studio. She will be molding young artistic minds with classes intended to inspire kids and create.

So change is good. It is all super frightening, but we are ready for it. We have been through challenging times and we are now ready to start a new chapter in our lives. It's time to trust in bigger things and in new endeavors. We have each other and we have to know that it is all going to be OK. I am embracing the change and even looking forward to it, that's the real trust. It's simple now and I know to trust myself. It's not rocket science.

What I Learned This Year #35: Shannon Bonatakis, Illustrator/Fine Artist

Last year, I made a drawing for this. Meh, it was okay. I didn't love it. This year, I thought I'd make another drawing, a better drawing, but when I sat down to contemplate my year, no images came to me — just words. Weird. I used to write a lot, but it has been years since I've taken it seriously. Forgive me if I'm rusty, this is not what I usually do.

I actually had a really hard time deciding what I learned this year, and I couldn't figure out why. I kept writing and rewriting. I kept putting it down and picking it back up. I had almost no idea how to say what I wanted to say, until I sat down and listed out the major elements of my year. These are what I wrote, and the order in which I wrote them...

1) I got married and now have an amazing husband.
2) I adopted a dog and subsequently fell into ridiculous love.
3) I made it through my first full year of not relying on a day job to make ends meet.
4) I made a bunch of paintings, a couple of which I would probably consider to be my best work so far.

I sat on this very short list for about four days before I realized why I couldn't come up with anything appropriate to say. Half of it has absolutely nothing to do with my professional or creative life, and the other half I placed in the third and fourth spots. I honestly don't have too much to say about 3 & 4 other than I made a lot of work, I didn't sleep all that much while making it, and December came so quickly that I'm finding it hard to believe that this year even happened. The beginning of my list is certainly less interesting to talk about in this kind of a forum. Those two are, however, the moments that I will remember about this year twenty years or so down the road in my life. I know I won't remember the specifics of what projects I worked on or what paintings I made, even if I do feel pretty good about all of it as this year ends. Twenty years into my future I will have completely forgotten these details.

So, it took all of that explanation to get here, but this is what I learned this year — it's okay to care more about your personal life sometimes. I know this sounds like a really simple concept, and honestly, it's probably not a concept that most people struggle to embrace. For me, though, and for a lot of people in creative fields, it's a big lesson to learn. I am a sleep-deprived workaholic, and I seldom know where to draw the line between myself and my work. I'm used to putting work first, staying home every weekend toiling over a painting, and postponing celebrations like birthdays and anniversaries for the sake of a deadline. It took my desire to enjoy something like my wedding day to get me to be okay with stepping away from all of that for a little while. And, while I still had a very busy and productive year, it was the first time since entering the professional creative world that I was willing to admit that maybe there are more important things than just working all the time. So, I end 2011 with this in my mind, and hopefully I will be able to carry it onward with me — it's a good thing to stay busy, to stay motivated and inspired, to work hard and push yourself to get better and better at what you do, but don't forget to leave room for actually living your life along the way. It's these silly "life" things that end up mattering the most when all is said and done, so remember to make the most of them.

Here's to you, 2011, you were one to remember.

What We Learned This Year #36: Design & Image

What I Learned This Year #37: Jonathan Schoenberg, Creative Director, TDA_Boulder

I learned that coffee is the best thing ever. For the last 15 years I have not consumed coffee. Now it is socially awkward because I want to talk about it, but most people are very aware that coffee is wonderful. It would be like asking people if they had ever driven a car and if they thought cars made their lives better? I guess what I learned this year everyone in most of the world is very aware of, but I am grateful because coffee is grand. Have a wonderful 2012 and if you are not able to enjoy coffee, for religious or health reasons, you are in my thoughts.

What I Learned This Year #38: Norm Shearer, Principal/Creative Director, Cactus

What I Learned This Year #39: Shaw Nielsen, Illustrator

In 2011, I learned it's better to have fun than to not, to take nothing for granted, to keep my nose to the grindstone, and to be humble because you never know when it'll all come crashing down.

What I Learned This Year #40: Bryce Boyer, Photographer

God, I love this city.

I've called Denver home for 13 years now, and things just keeps getting better! Here are some of my recent favorite discoveries: Coffee: Crema, watering hole: Williams and Graham, skateboard shop: Board Life, restaurant: Linger. In addition to the culture and energy buzz that is getting cooler, I feel like Ad2, ADCD, AIGA, APA are all bringing people closer together and helping build friendships outside of the bubble of work. If you are not involved, jump in.

Here are some things I can't say I learned... I'm still learning:

I'm learning to expect the unexpected with a good attitude.

Sometimes nothing seems easy. In fact, I try to avoid the "E" word at all cost. But just because life isn't easy doesn't mean it can't be fun. I'm learning to choose to enjoy challenges and unexpected twists of life... It starts with a decision to do my best every day. I'm learning this is a constant process. Sometimes, it seems there is not a job at the studio or at home that is as fast as I think it will be or as easy as I hope for. I'm learning this is normal and ok. I'm learning to identify an unexpected obstacle as a potential to learn something new and grow.

I'm learning my biggest failure is letting fear hold me back from achieving my highest potential.

Man, that sounds like a cheesy poster, but it's true. I'm a producer and a planner... it's in my DNA. I like to dream big and take large leaps of faith. I thrive on the risk and the adventure of taking an idea all the way. I'm learning that there is a potential to fail, but also to thrive. For me, the biggest rewards are believing I'm doing what I was created to do and throwing myself into it with all my heart. My biggest failure is any time I've wasted letting fear keep me from pursuing my dreams.

I'm learning to find the beauty in every step instead of grumbling about the daily grind; I'm learning to appreciate the "now" instead of trying to exist somewhere else.

It's easy for me to want to be somewhere else. I often feel like there are better pictures to be made somewhere else... better ____ somewhere else. Sometimes, I just have to look to see the beauty right in front of me.

I am learning to make a conscious decision to trust that good things are down the road even though I can't see them.

As a freelancer, I usually get purchase orders a day before production starts. I never know where my income is going to come from more than two weeks out. It can be so hard to plan ahead. I often take comfort in the quote: "You can drive all night by the light of your headlights." It's this attitude that has kept me cruising on this crazy road trip for years. It's cliché, but I love it.

I'm learning how to shrug off anxious thoughts.

If you want details, let's rap over coffee or a beer sometime, but let's just say that the past few years have been a roller coaster ride. I've gambled everything to grow my business and my passion for photography. Despite the economy, I keep raising my bar and pushing myself to take bigger and more expensive leaps of faith. My budgets keep growing and so does the pressure. I'm usually very calm and collected, but every now and then I let anxiety creep in.

Anxiety is a strange animal. I don't know about you, but it likes to prey on me at night. All it takes is one small thought and it usually starts with, "What if ______...” The rest of the night can be a fistfight with the creative side of my brain. It's ironic how my imagination can be my best ally and my worst enemy. t's the artist's way. I'm learning to recognize anxious thoughts and meditate on something else instead of marinating in timid cogitation.

I am learning that what goes in comes out.

The music I listen to, the friends I hang out with, the news I choose to ingest... it all affects how I feel. I'll give you another cliché I believe in: "There are two fighting dogs in each of us, the good and the bad. The one that wins is the one we feed the most."

I'm learning that time off is as important as time on.

I have never regretted a vacation. I have never regretted time spent with the family. I am learning that I have to set dates for family time, and vacations... just like any other deadline. This business can be so consuming. Free time isn't something you have, it's something you make. When I come off a vacation, I am so ready to jump back in the game with a renewed spirit.

I'm learning that life is a fragile, miraculous thing.

After a difficult pregnancy, my amazing wife gave birth to a healthy boy in October. There is no production I am more proud of than my family. Thank you to all of you who encouraged us and prayed for us through some uncharted waters.

Finally, I want to say thanks to The Denver Egotist for a great forum. With anonymity there are very few opportunities for people to give you a fist bump and a high five for all the time you invest in making Denver a better ad community. Gracias amigos, whoever you are.

Thanks for listening. Here's to a happy and prosperous 2012!

What We Learned This Year #41: Changethethought

Top 50 things we learned in 2011 at Changethethought:

1. Don't make decisions out of fear.
2. Do what you think is right.
3. Good clients pay on time.
4. Bad clients don't pay on time. And they never apologize for it.
5. You can run from the government but you can't hide.
6. Know when to quit and learn the power of the word 'no.' And stop overanalyzing everything.
7. Speak the truth, both personally and in your work.
8. Manage your image. It has to be constantly maintained.
9. Create opportunities for others and they will seek out opportunities for you in turn.
10. Find a good lawyer.
11. You need an accountant. And it's time to get 'financially educated' even though it's gonna suck.
12. Project managers are nice. (Anyone know any good ones?)
13. Be nice to your clients, even when they aren't nice to you.
14. Know what you're worth and set your prices accordingly. If you aren't sure, figure it out sooner than later.
15. The industry is changing, be prepared to change with it or quit now.
16. Technology inspires free thinking and in turn spurs action. Just look what happened to the world this year.
17. Ask your peers and your competition for advice. Then give it in return when you are asked.
18. Don't wash your dirty laundry in public.
19. You need the support of your family or your success won't be worth it.
20. There is more to life than work. And that life inspires the work.
21. Competition is a good thing so be a good sport. Befriend your competition. You might work for them someday.
22. There is plenty of room in the market for all of us, especially in Denver.
23. This business is about communication, so learn how to talk about what you do.
24. Seek out inspiration and share it when you find it.
25. Trust your business partners.
26. Build a fun environment (you have to work at this every, single day).
27. If it feels like a job, then you are doing it wrong.
28. Wake up early.
29. Go to bed late.
30. Exercise your body and your mind.
31. Creativity is a lifestyle.
32. Don't be a sore loser.
33. Remind your people how much you appreciate them (and mean it when you say it).
34. Be thankful for everything, especially when things seem tough.
35. Treat your employees like your family. You probably spend more time with them anyway.
36. Remember you can lose everything at any moment. So act accordingly.
37. Build bridges. Don't burn them. If you do, work to rebuild them and be prepared to work double time at it.
38. Invest in yourself.
39. Save as much of what you earn as you can.
40. Try not to worry too much.
41. Hire people who are better than you. Then find great projects for them that they enjoy working on. Consider this before accepting a project. Always.
42. Believe in your own success. If you don't, no one else will.
43. Always ask for a deposit, even if they say no. Insist on it.
44. You don't have to be evil to make money. It does grow on trees. It's made out of trees for fuck's sake.
45. Good design is key. So buy some books and study that shit. Pick up one about typography while you're at it.
46. Take advantage of free press.
47. Parenthood is awesome. Yeah it's hard, but anyone who tells you it's awful is an awful person.
48. Owning a business if way harder than working a job. But if you're entrepreneurial, you are wasted at a job.
49. Don't build your own portfolio site. That project will go on for a year, cost you a fortune and demoralize your entire staff.
50. Care about your community. It will care back.

What I Learned This Year #42: Jeff Martin, SVP/Creative Director, GMMB

What I think I learned from Jeff Martin on Vimeo.

What We Learned This Year #43: Super Ordinary

"A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF" from Super Ordinary on Vimeo.

What I Learned This Year #44: Adam Espinoza, Co-founder, Friends of Mine Creative Collective

What I Learned This Year #45: Jennifer Hohn, Art Director, Burns Marketing

What would happen if everything we’ve learned needs to be unlearned? (Within reason, of course. Put down the pitchforks and come out of your bomb shelters. If you want to light something on fire, that’s your call. I’m not condoning it.)

In advertising, this rethinking challenge has been wildly successful. Bernbach went big and thought small for Volkswagen. Then he unthinkably owned second place for Avis. Steve Jobs activated his reality distortion field at will and really got things done.

Suppose the opposed:

1. There are no rules, but there are rules. I don’t know anyone in this business who doesn’t seek parameters when approaching a creative brief. Though awesome, the thought of limitless possibilities induces nausea. We want to know the rules so we can break some of them. For a reason.

2. Common sense isn’t common. (And, it’s kind of boring anyway.) Aside from basic survival and navigation skills, see what happens when you react counter intuitively. Then realize everyone sees things differently. We can’t always make group assumptions.

3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Everyone is uneasy with the ever-changing technological landscape. Get comfortable with that. Stay agile and be creatively agnostic.

4. The future is the past. Albeit a never-ending, future-feeling remix of the past. Acceptance of the new is linked to previous behavior. For instance, the Google Chrome campaign doesn’t tell us about new technology. It shows us, like it has always been there.

5. Useless information can be useful. Or distracting. Or hilarious. Surface fascination is ironically deep among creatives. For us, disenchantment is in the details. (That’s right, constructive shallowness is encouraged.) Creativity is the combination of sometimes-unrelated yet related things. So, the more you know, the more likely you’ll come up with an original combination. (And then, really blow people’s minds by relating that to a cat video.)

6. Contributing is selling. I have to credit this one to our senior writer, Patrick Hunt. He tells me there are babies in Egypt named Facebook. The influence and reach of social media is undeniable. He said, “In 2011 and beyond, hell will have no fury like a citizen scorned. It’s no longer what we sell. It’s what we’re contributing to the global good that really matters.”

7. Affluence has nothing to do with money. “We are all born wealthy. We’re alive. Anything beyond that should be considered wealth enhancement.” I learned that from Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders.

8. Humility is loud. Our work can always be better. Always. Own what you’ve done, but build your potential.

9. Trust enables risk. As Wieden + Kennedy pointed out, "Trust is the secret sauce if you want to do groundbreaking work." If you have a team and clients who truly trust you, consider yourself lucky. Continue to earn that trust.

10. Fate is choice. It isn’t something that just happens. Life depends on decision and thrives on opportunity. We can choose to embrace the things we cannot change, and affect the things we can.

In 2011, I was fortunate enough to learn from and work with unbelievably talented people. Thanks to everyone for the inspiration. Let’s do great things in 2012.

What I Learned This Year #46: Charles Carpenter, Co-Owner/Creative Director, Wigwam Creative Inc.

1. Denver is a supportive town that encourages branching out and trying something new.

2. I don’t work well at home.

3. Time spent with my wife and kids is an amazing gift and something I never want to take for granted, ever.

4. Clients require attention and follow through always, you can never let up underpromising and over delivering.

5. You get better at design by doing more design. I never want to feel like I've arrived.

6. During 2010, my last year at EBD, I worked really hard to up my game and do even better work. That said in 2011 my design work now has my name on it and I perceive it differently. When your own money and reputation is on the line, you think about what you do in a whole new light.

7. Small business owners everywhere have guts, period.

8. Following your dreams keeps you up at night.

9. I've learned to walk on a tightrope.

10. Don't seek awards, just try to do great work. Getting called out for doing things well always feels better when you're not seeking it.

11. January is an anniversary of my departure from EBD. I have no regrets. My timing of starting over was right. I am thankful for my business partner Russ Chilcoat who was willing to take the risk with me. The biggest thing is that a year later, the lights are still on and work continues to come in.

12. Hello 2012. First and foremost, it's time to put up the new site showing all the new work from last year. Once that happens, I'll feel like Wigwam (our shop) will have finally arrived.

What We Learned This Year #47: Cultivator Advertising & Design

Four years goes by really fast.

What We Learned This Year #48: Barnhart

We learned the bigger the innovation, the more it can transcend different peoples, different places, and even different cultures. We lost a man this year whose principles were so big they are true on all levels.

Steve Jobs sent a giant ripple through the universe.

What We Learned This Year #49: Quick Left

1. Communicate Value
People don’t understand how software is built, and we all do a disservice for everyone by not communicating properly the value that we bring to the table. How many times have you stayed up super late to put the extra special touch on something, only to be yelled at by the client because of a small bug discovered the next day? Because of the lack of communication, they’re left thinking we’re not competent and we’re left feeling under-appreciated. We no longer hide our awesome-factor, and we let clients know how all that awesome grows their project by the same degree.

2. Don’t Apologize for Your Rates
If people can get a better deal, they will. In this culture of ‘the customer is always right,’ it’s tough to stick to your guns and be valued for your expertise. People take for granted how much experience it takes to get the job done right the first time because they “see it on the Internet everywhere” so it must be easy, right? Apologizing for being too expensive is one small clue that you may be talking to the wrong customer. We’ve learned that when folks want to undercut us, they tend to also not value the craftsmanship we offer.

3. Process is Your Friend
The Dalai Lama has noted how the routine creates happiness. Think about this in regards to the processes you commit to daily that keep life operating smoothly. When it comes to projects, keep those processes solid. Say Client A has something small they need done. Sneaking that one in toes a very sacred boundary of pre-stated clear agreements. Keep your boundaries intact and keep the integrity of your processes. Those processes are protecting the greater integrity of your work and mission. Even the small things can go horribly wrong without proper process. We learned that lesson again and again, and we come back to and refine our process. It keeps everyone in line, and happy.

4. You're Only as Strong as Your Team
There are 3 partners at Quick Left, and it’s pretty much like a marriage. At different times, we’re going to be in various levels of good/bad moods, different levels of fear and concern about our direction, etc. But, no matter what happens, we’ve learned that we’re best when we’re working together. We have a synergy that stands as a testament to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

5. Nah, We’ll Never Grow Out of This Space...
Oh boy, did we ever. We signed a 3 year lease in an 1800 sf space, and not a year later we were looking elsewhere to ease our growing pains. We had no idea that we’d grow so fast. We learned that with the right culture and cool projects, we could grow an awesome team and we’re thankful to have such a great crew.

6. Headspace is Very Valuable
It’s all too easy to get bogged down by the tactical, day to day efforts. With wearing so many hats and so much to get done, who has the time to be strategic? We’ve learned (and are still learning) to embrace the “lazy” - to make time to relax, make breathing room, get outside and otherwise find ways to create even more uber valuable headspace that is allowing us to push ourselves and our company to grow.

7. Patience, Grasshopper
I’m not gonna lie: we are three overachievers, and we want everything to happen N-O-W. We are constantly renewing our commitment to be patient, both with ourselves and each other, as we learn how to make this place awesome. That practice makes for space between now and the ultimate vision that allows things to happen in ways we may not have imagined. It also gives us the opportunity to appreciate the accomplishments we’ve made together.

8. Surround Yourself with Experts, and Then Let Them Do Their Job
We hear this all the time: “hire the best” and “surround yourself with people smarter than you.” It’s easier said than done. Surrounding yourself with those experts and then trusting them to do their thing, even if they fail or it’s rough to get started, is another remarkable lesson we learned this year. We realize that the only way to scale is to let the rock stars rock!

9. Relationships Come First
This doesn’t mean you keep someone on your staff because you’ve grown to like them as a friend. This means that in order to honor that relationship, you are honest about a situation and willing to have fierce conversations. We’ve learned that we owe people that kind of honesty and respect for the relationship we have with them. And, it’s also true with clients. Some people (and yes, we’ve heard this on many occasions) have said that we are “too nice” but we truly believe that we don’t have to be assholes in order to do well in business and be profitable. So f-- them!

10. Buying A LeBaron Is A Lot More Difficult Than it Should Be
But, we’ll figure it out. Stay tuned next year!

What I Learned This Year #50: Eric Kiker, Principal/Strategy Director, LeeReedy

http://www.thedenveregotist.com/members/eric-kiker

So, what did I learn in 2011?
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…………………………………………………………………………........................patience.
I know, it may seem overly simplistic, but really, for me, that’s what this year, and the last several, have been lacking. To say there’s been a gnawing ache would be inappropriate—gnawing indicates slow, methodical action. No, this has been more like a ravenous man-eating-wolf-on-my-face kind of ache—and it’s been pervasive. Business, home, son, marriage, fitness, diet, retirement fund, skin tautness—you name it—I’ve impatiently tried to get “it” where I want it. Has the end of 2011 made things any better? Maybe. I’ve finally found a workout regimen that makes sense—each one seems like an eternity, so that’s slowing things down a bit. Microdermabrasion has taken off a month or two. After 42 years in business, LeeReedy is settling into a nice rhythm. I’ve been reading up on the slow food movement and walking into the Starbucks instead of taking the drive-through. Most importantly and substantially, I’m looking at the two light-speed-moving people in my world—my son Leo and wife Linda, and trying really hard to slow down enough to enjoy the time we have. I’m easing into this.

What I Learned This Year #51: Joel Pilger, President/Founder, Impossible

WHY I LEARNED THIS YEAR IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT I LEARNED THIS YEAR

A GRIEF OBSERVED
When Steve Jobs died, I wept. Quite unexpectedly, it hit me like a freight train. I talked to my dad about it, he was equally torn up about it.

Why? Why would the death of some corporate CEO far away, whose demanding and often disrespectful style were well known, make such an impact on me and my 77-year old dad, and millions of others, for that matter?

IT WAS (NOT) OUR YEAR
A year ago at Impossible’s Christmas party, I looked ahead to coming year and optimistically proclaimed “This is our year!”

Was I ever wrong. 2011 was the year the recession finally caught up with Impossible. We suffered setbacks. Disappointments. Dangers. Loss. Pain. A string of losses forced us to step back, to reevaluate what we were doing.

Loss makes us appreciate what we have.

Pain makes us appreciate the simple things in life.

(Have you noticed how people who have suffered tragedy in life are much more interesting than those who haven’t been through much?)

The challenges of 2011 were so difficult; they pushed me and my business partner, Steve, to go beyond reevaluating merely what we were doing. We questioned many things. Even some sacred cows. We were challenged to go beyond WHAT and began to question WHY.

WHY
If you remain open, serendipity can work like magic. Later in the year, out of the blue, my iPod played a riveting TEDx session by Simon Sinek that started with WHY:

“People don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it... The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with everybody who believes what you believe.” - Simon Sinek

This rocked my world. I had suddenly stumbled upon the Grand Unifying Theory of Everything. After all I had been through this year, those words so grabbed me that I almost crashed my car. I had to pull off I-25 just to think.

A DANGEROUS LITTLE WORD
Try this: the next time you meet someone new, rather than asking them the usual, “So what do you do?” Try instead asking, "WHY do you do what you do?"

Your new acquaintance will likely be taken aback.

Note how that dangerous little word WHY shifts the question from a polite icebreaker into a provocative, even threatening, inquiry. WHY opens us up. It exposes us.

WHY do you do what you do?
WHY should anyone care?
If you stopped getting paid for what you do, would you still do it? WHY not?

What had I learned this year? That WHY transcends WHAT.

IT WAS OUR YEAR AFTER ALL
At Impossible, 2011 did turn out to be “our year,” after all. It just didn't look anything like what we thought it would.

Funny how being focused on WHAT can paint you into a corner. When the economy tanks, customers go elsewhere, staff leave, or whatever... WHAT can be a trap. But almost by definition, WHY adapts.

Our focus on WHAT (an animation / effects / editorial studio? a post house? a live action / motion design company?) had never sat well with us. After many years, we finally began to realize we were asking the wrong question.

This simple (almost simplistic) idea of WHY was so electrifying, it soon worked its way into our Impossible manifesto:

• We believe when your audience notices you, they should be rewarded with something special.
• We believe your consumers don’t buy “what” you do, but “why” you do it.
• We believe great brands offer simplicity in our increasingly complex world.
• We believe decisions are fueled by emotion.

And not only did Impossible realize WHY is the rocket fuel in our jet packs: it’s also the blood coursing through the hearts of our clients’ businesses as well. That simple discovery is propelling our foolish optimism for the future. We believe we can make an impact in the marketplace.

And in the process of discovering our (and our clients’) WHY, Impossible had become a creative agency. Whodathunk.

Whereas WHAT limits, WHY adapts.

BRINGING IT FULL CIRCLE
Amidst all the Steve Jobs hysteria, I came across this rarely quoted gem:

"When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your job is just to live your life inside the world, trying not to bash into the walls too much, trying to have a nice family, having fun, and saving a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is that 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, you can build your own things... Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again."

I cried at the death of Steve Jobs because I realized that deep down, he and I were driven by the same WHY. He believed what I believed. And when you find someone that believes like you do, it's a powerful connection. You will follow them wherever they go, buy whatever they sell, and even evangelize whatever they preach.

WHY is the secret sauce that turns water (or Kool-Aid) into wine.

So what's your WHY? To “live your life... have a nice family, have fun, save a little money?” If so, have you ever wondered, why would anyone – your friends, clients, staff, boss – sacrifice to get behind your personal, seemingly selfish, mission?

But if your WHY – behind your life, career, family, company, brand, mission – is “to change the world, to influence it, to build something...” Well then, that's an altogether different matter.

There will be a line of people waiting outside your door to help you push that boulder up the hill. And along the journey, your WHY will inspire the impossible.

Thanks for listening. Blessings to you in 2012.

What I Learned This Year #52: Sean Leman, Director/Co-Founder, Rehab

I learned exactly 6 or 7 things this year:

1. Unicorns are beautiful, until they pop your dream bubble. Then, not so cute.

2. Being called an 'untethered man-child' isn't necessarily a compliment.

3. The Buddha was right about the middle path and right action. But that shit is a lot harder than he made it sound.

4. On December 12th this year, my very beautiful wife, Taya, gave birth to our son Stokely. His first words out of the womb were 'Fuck Whitey.' I concurred (obviously).

However, I also told him that — while righteous anger can be powerful — it's also not very useful to blame other people for one's own problems. Eventually you have to take a hard look in the mirror and take responsibility for your own shit. And I meant that literally, because his diaper was super-ultra-mega gross.

5. I think Saint Peter (huge fan, personally) said that Man wasn't made for Time, but rather Time was made for Man. By which I think he meant that we should all stop fucking whining about being busy. Busy is an easy excuse. There's enough time to get it all done. And I'm not going to question a guy who was crucified upside down. That shit is hardcore.

6. Finally, too few of us are doing anything to really help the people in the world who need help. It's easy to be too busy, or too wrapped up in our own shit, and ignore the people who are truly fucked, or helpless, or in a kind of pain I hope you and I never know.

The last night Stokes and his Mom were in the hospital I went to Chipotle to get us something to eat that wasn't hospital food (it was close and seemed like a good idea). It was cold and rainy and sitting outside the Chipotle were a boy who looked to be in his late teens and what I assume was his younger brother, probably no older than 13. They were dirty and bedraggled and they huddled against each other for warmth. They asked me for some money for a motel room.

I'm not going to tell you what I did or didn't do, because that's not the point. The point is that more people in this country and across the globe are suffering more than you or I can imagine. These times are fucked, and it's a kind of fucked that I've never experienced before.

I suspect — or rather, deeply believe — that if you and I used our time and talents, or a fraction thereof, to help people who need help, we would see our own lives transformed and at the same time see this fucked, bullshit society transformed as well.

So, really, what I've learned this year kinda distills down to one thing: I need to stop being such a selfish, self-obsessed prick and do something real for someone else. It's time I stopped whining about being so fucking busy, and actually help out.

7. Oh, and also that bears are seriously for reals. Bears don't fuck around.

What I Learned This Year #53: Ryan Bramwell, Creative Director, Spillt

1) Collaborate. In Denver, we say this a lot and do it less. To be blunt, Denver has been a scene where we all “want” to collaborate and in reality there has been some apprehension in actually “doing” so. This year, however, we have seen an immense change in collaboration. Companies are beginning to work together, using their own strengths and creating better work. What I have experienced (apart from the work), is mainly the increase in inspiration which follows with collaboration. When you work with others outside your day-to-day office paradigm, you open doors to those peoples' experiences.

2) Simplify. Be nimble. Ask for help when you need it.

3) Make healthy, creative living a priority: We all live and breath what we do and every once in a while it can become too much. So, take a fucking break, do something different and change something…daily. Make sure the people in your daily lives are healthy and happy and if they are not, change something, communicate and act on your communication.

4) Don’t do spec work (unless it's worth it)…But really try not to do it. The thought behind asking a firm or person to provide style frames for a project without a pitch fee should not be an acceptable practice. This rarely happens in the network industries of which our company runs as “the agency.” The problem with this is that when designing or creating the spot, brand, promo or commercial, the design/concept/idea is 90% of the project. It is your vision, your unique knowledge and your creative solutions within that 90%. Why would you do that for free? No project is worth that. Asking for even a nominal amount for a pitch fee shows the client that you are serious about the work you do and it will show you that the agency is serious about wanting to work with you. If you are an agency, please think about ending this practice in your pitch processes. Trust me, you will see your potential vendor’s work qualities increase dramatically.

5) Diversify, yet continue to build on your strengths.

6) Get away from your computer, pick up a sketchbook and draw something. It will lead you new places.

7) Denver (and Boulder) is one of the best places in the US to work in our industry. We are (as a community) on a steep climb in continually putting Denver on the creative map in terms of clients, production capabilities and overall work quality. Be part of the growth and don’t despise it.

8) Casually network with your creative friends both new and old. Come to the next Sauce Society and do so. (Shameless plug, but a very fun one.)

What I Learned This Year #54: John Gilbert, Creative Director, Xylem Digital

I learned a lot this year. More so about how to do what we do better and to trust the people around me. I feel lucky to be working and living around the people I do. Here are a few of the year's highlights for me.

Pivot or move out of the way
There are times to keep on keeping on and there are times to look at how you do what you do and head the other direction. I did this in a big way with development @LRXD this year and it's turning out great.

Experiment
Experimenting with all elements of your work can be therapeutic and lead to better ideas. Don't let experimentation be limited to what you produce. Experiment with how you do what you do.

Trust your instincts
There were a few times this year when I didn't go with my gut and things were screwed. There were other times when I just went with my gut and things worked out pretty good.

Sleep does have some benefits
I used to go to bed every night around 2 or 3am and get up around 7-ish to start the day. I now get up around 5am and go to bed before midnight. I'm 10x more productive in the mornings.

Be creative in any way possible. Don't forget why you started doing what you do.
I started out in computer science, became bored, switched to graphic design and somehow finished school. I have this weird internal fight to code something or design something. This year, I have felt more at home trying to combine them in different ways. It's me getting back to my roots a bit more.

Learn to code
I did this a long time ago when in school but it never stops. Recently, I've been learning a new language and it's still a blast.

A great team is worth a lot in the long run
You might read this one and think "No shit!" It's important to look for the right people and not just someone who fits the bill. You don't notice you have an amazing team sometimes until it hits you in the face. It hit me in the face this year. I work with great people.

Worry about the important stuff
Don't get caught up in the day-to-day when you need to be looking at what's going to happen in the coming months.

Change can suck
When things don't go how you think they should, it can be a good thing. Sometimes the unexpected is awesome in the end.

I can learn from my family.
My family has a wealth of life to share with me. I have not taken advantage of this in the past. Saying goodnight over FaceTime sucks.

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. JFDI

What I Learned This Year #55: David Slayden, Executive Director, Boulder Digital Works

I am typing this with one hand. My right hand. The fingers of my left hand are peeking out from a navy blue arm sling trimmed with white piping––all of which is supported by a white velcro-covered strap draped over my right shoulder. Sling is an adaptive word. It can be a noun or a verb. In this case, it’s a noun. My damaged left shoulder is unable to support my arm, so the sling is doing the job instead. I am generally displeased, both about the injury and the style choices. I would have preferred an all-black sling but that would have required shopping around and there’s only so much time in a given day, particularly when I already spend more effort than I thought possible on previously simple, unconscious tasks: like putting on socks or threading a belt through the loops on the backside of my jeans.

I cannot open jars, nor can I drink wine if my wife is traveling because, yes, operating a corkscrew is now beyond my current capabilities. Needless to say, I have switched to screw tops.

I was skate skiing––the roller ski version––and a moment’s lapse in attention resulted in a full back flip and a hard landing on concrete at the base of a swift descent. My instinctive response was to brace my fall with my left hand, arm stretched out behind me. At impact, it felt like a long steel rod had been shoved through my palm up the length of my arm and into the back of my head. Fractured shoulder. Severed tendon. A three-centimeter tear in the rotator cuff. The surgery lasted over three hours. The PT will take considerably longer.

At this point, descriptive introductions like this one are invariably the setup for a life lesson learned, an insight gained through searing pain, suffering, and reflection, followed by eventual redemption—especially in a year-end piece that is part of a series titled “”What I Learned This Year.” In short, the standard “moral of the story is....”

I should have had speed reducers installed on the skis.

It needs to be said here that speed reducers are not brakes. Rather, they serve to increase or decrease resistance to the wheels, a function which I now understand can be particularly useful downhill on a hard, unforgiving surface.

I wasn’t exactly disdainful when the salesperson asked me if I wanted the reducers, but the thought bubble floating above my head was: “Why would I want to reduce my speed?” I answered with a simple “No.” I’m now rethinking that response and what engendered it––not because it was necessarily a wrong response but because it was automatic. I didn’t think it through.

I love to go fast. I’ve always loved to go fast. And as soon as I am released by my doctors to be active again, I will go fast. Again. But I am now exceptionally aware of the shortfall of automatic responses. Mindfulness matters, and not just when big moments happen and big decisions need to be made but also in the small, in-between moments of everyday life. Everything matters. Life is actually lived in the particulars, although summarized in generalities. No matter what, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the details. My parents were strong on values and never passed up an opportunity to point out that actions––any actions––are always followed by consequences good or bad. I saw things differently. Everything is an opportunity for learning.

From the beginning, BDW has been on a very fast track. We wanted to make an impact and we wanted to do it quickly. When we opened our doors in 2009, our anthem was ”Start here. Change everything.” In truth, we had enough money to last four months.

We were Boulder Digital Works and deliberately disruptive. Our intent was to create a revolution in learning fueled by digital technologies. Much of what we did was in focus and purpose driven but, looking back, too much of it was automatic. Internally, our mantra was “Speed. Focus. Agility.” but the emphasis was primarily on speed. For the past six months, we’ve been looking back, assessing and also reflecting, gaining focus.

For reference, here’s a short list of what we’ve done since our inception.

• Since October 2009, we have had a total of 46 students enroll in our graduate program. That’s an average of 23 students per year.

• We have created and produced 20 executive workshops in Boulder, New York, Amsterdam, Toronto, Miami and Vancouver for approximately 1,600 people.

• We have also created and developed interactive projects for Microsoft, Toyota, State of Colorado Office of Economic Development, Suuthe, Justin’s Nut Butters, SpyderLynk, Open Road Media, IXDA and Fearless Cottage.

• We’ve been covered by The New York Times two times, along with USA Today, MediaPost, Publishers Weekly, Boards, Advertising Age, AdWeek, Marketing Week, Creativity, and, of course, The Denver Egotist.

We are now two years and two months old, and we celebrated this anniversary quietly by changing our name from Boulder Digital Works to BDW. This decision was less of a change than a simple acceptance that everyone refers to us as BDW anyway. But more significantly the change to BDW is a recognition that we’ve evolved and it’s time to publicly recognize and act on that evolution. Calling yourself digital seemed necessary and appropriate two years ago. Today it feels redundant, a distinction without a difference. Everything’s digital.

We are no longer the brand new edgy kid in the neighborhood. We are maturing and growing and that is a good thing. We do remain experimental. That won’t change. BDW now is best described as a post digital studio in the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder. We are what happens when a university thinks and acts like a startup, using Agile Methodologies and Lean Startup principles to develop creative uses of technology that bridge physical and digital environments. BDW generates people, projects and solutions for the 21st-century creative industries, and we do all of this in what is best described as a new culture of learning. In April of 2012, we will move to a new and raw location in Boulder where we can design and build immersive experiences that connect life on the screen with life off the screen. We will be welding as well as developing. You’re all invited.

This is real stuff. Our work is significant and necessary and we intend to last and grow and always be evolving. We’re grateful to TDE for the attention and support they’ve given us and while the better title for this piece is “What we have learned so far,” we’re more than happy to have it appear under their excellent annual series “What I Learned This Year.” So here that is, along with our best wishes to the creative community for a prosperous and happy 2012.

Musicians play. Everybody else works.

The future of work really is play.

People do not like change but they fear uncertainty. Uncertainty is scary.

The world is in permanent beta.

Thinking and doing is better than thinking versus doing.

We are designer-makers not makers OR designers.

Post-industrial society is becoming increasingly like pre-industrial society.

Dogs in the workplace are better than cats in the workplace.

Everyone should have their own garage band.

What goes around really does come around.

We are happier when we do less, better than when we do more faster.

It is much more rewarding to execute an idea and fail than to continue thinking.

What we do is who we are.

What I Learned This Year #56: Christina Schroeder, Chief Rouser, rabble+rouser

It’s crazy how much the world has changed in the few short years since we opened shop. We launched on July 1, 2005, about 3 1/2 months before Apple released the iPod Video, and 5 months before YouTube went live. Facebook was gaining traction, but it would be another year and a half before it would roll out to everyone and their mother. Twitter was still a twinkle in Jack Dorsey’s eye, and a Nook still was just a cozy space in a room.

On day one, I never could have imagined that alongside traditional advertising we would be building iPhone and Android apps (because they didn’t exist), or creating digital books (because they didn’t exist either), and I could only blah-blah-blah about the “someday” when TV and the ads that go along with it would be in your pocket. Yep. It’s a different world.

And then there’s media. It fractured long ago with the advent of cable networks. Then the Internet took a meat cleaver to it. Today it’s in splinters and shards. Media powerhouses have died and gone (Country Home, Gourmet, and Domino), and new ones have risen in their place (Food Network Magazine, Epicurious, Apartment Therapy). Now If you 1) have an Internet connection; 2) can write your way out of a paper bag; and 3) have a passion for anything, you, too, can be the next big thing. Case in point: Perez Hilton. The rules have totally shifted along with the power. And all of it is creating new complexities and battles for people’s attention.

If I know one thing for sure it’s that when I wake up to tomorrow, the world is going to be different than when I put my head on the pillow. Whether it’s a new platform, a new device, a new medium, a new application, a new tool—something new will be there to greet me. It might be revolutionary or maybe just evolutionary, but in any case, it’s definitely won’t be business as usual. That’s dead and gone. And that’s a great thing if you’re a creative. Everyday there are new challenges to rise to—new factors in the creative equation. Everyday we have to pull off amazing feats that have never been done before and teach ourselves new tricks along the way. It’s both exciting, and yes, sometimes exhausting, but it’s also invigorating. Creative is better shaken not stirred. I like it like that. And while I may not know what’s coming next, but I know it’s never been a more exciting time to be creative than right now.

Illustration by Matt Thomas

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