We've Been Busy! March 2018 Update

Happy late March! We've been busy around here since the launch of our new website, and we wanted to share a few of the highlights in the past month or so. From podcasts (our own and for our clients), to media outreach, and a lot of behind-the-scenes work to help our clients look good, sound great, and read well, we're grateful to be able to serve clients in myriad ways. Thanks for taking a few minutes to learn more. If you're interested in what we do, let us know - we'd love to work with you! 

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On our newest episode of IN THE TANK For Education, I talk with Annika Goodin, the science department chair and an English learner coordinator at El Cajon Valley High School.

We unravel acronyms like NGSS and OER (Next Generation Science Standards and Open Educational Resources, respectively), and look at how these developments open up new possibilities in teaching and learning, and just might turn the textbook industry on its ear. Exciting!

School Safety

School safety has been on all of our minds lately, and in addition to hosting a series of community forums on the topic, our friends and clients at the Vista Unified School District wanted to utilize the podcast format to document what they are doing and are planning as it relates to school safety. The episode has been a tremendous success in terms of reach and interest form the audience. And because of that, and the topic, We'd like to share that with you here
 

CLIENTS IN THE NEWS

While much of the work we do resides behind the scenes, we do get to share some great stories of the work our clients are doing with the public, and lately our clients have had their fair share of media coverage. A few examples:

Cafe Agua Dulce

Sweetwater Union High School District's Nutrition Services Department has seen great success with the roll out of their new grills at schools across the district. Not only do students get to see their meals being prepared right in front of their eyes, but the grills create a more festive atmosphere that is more akin to a picnic in the park than a staid school cafeteria. The unveiling of one grill brought out local news outlets like Univision, KUSI, CBS8, and The San Diego Union-Tribune, as well as garnering national attention from Food Management Magazine.

WaveCrest Cafe

In the northern part of San Diego County, WaveCrest Cafe, the nutrition services department of Vista Unified School District, has also been attracting attention for everything from their celebration of National School Breakfast Week to a recent pair of community members who donated money that helped to pay off negative lunch balances for over 70 students in the district. Media outlets such as Fox 5 San Diego, The Vista Press and Patch all covered the story of inspiring generosity.

La Mesa-Spring Valley Schools

Earlier this year the San Diego Union-Tribune came out to cover a visit to Avondale Elementary School by members of the San Diego State University Women's Basketball Team(Go Aztecs!). Avondale is in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, and we worked with the district's Child Nutrition Department to have the SDSU players share their stories about the importance of wellness and nutrition. Avondale students had a blast talking with the players, sharing stories about favorite foods, shoes, athletes and more.

That's a quick update. Please check back often for more news and information.

In The Tank For Education Episode #1: Librarians, Ninjas and Comic-Con

Welcome to the In The Tank For Education podcast! This is a new series where we'll be talking with some of the most inspiring and insightful people in education. We'll be asking about the ever-changing world of developing people into learners and critical thinkers, as well as asking our guests to help us decode and break down the alphabet farm of acronyms and edu-speak that can come with the territory.

Our first episode features a conversation with Anthony Devine, a teacher-librarian at El Cajon Valley High School in El Cajon, CA. Anthony is also a Google Ninja (a real think), an advocate of digital portfolios (we'll find out what those are), and a good friend.

We hope you'll join us in this venture to dig into some wonderfully smart and passionate people who are engaged in what may be the most important profession we have.

Take a few seconds to subscribe to the podcast, and we'll have regular updates for you.

In The Tank #7: Jeff Brown; Read To Lead Podcast

Jeff Brown’sRead To Lead podcast has become one of the top sources for people interested in leadership, personal and professional development, and a way to get a peek inside the minds of some of today’s top business and innovation thinkers. With guests including Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan and Liz Wiseman, Read To Lead presents world-class guests as they share insight from their work and exploration.

I’ve known Jeff to varying degrees for at least a decade and a half, including his work as a nationally syndicated morning show DJ and music radio programmer. So I was fascinated to learn more about his journey and transition from traditional broadcast media into the brave new world of podcasting. As with so many people who have found success in varying lines of work, there are great lessons to be learned about listening, about taking chances, and of course about the value of consistently executing and staying present.

I hope you’ll enjoy this Q&A, and by all means check out Jeff’s podcast.

Q: You come from a broadcast radio background, where you have to hit posts, watch the clock and generally keep to a tightly run format. Was starting a podcast, with few rules other than what you decide to make them, a difficult transition? What from your broadcast background helped you the most? Were there things you had to forget about or unlearn?

A: I found there were a number of things from my time in radio that were transferable to podcasting. Chief among them was understanding what it means to truly connect with an audience.

You're right in that, technically, there are no "rules" when it comes to podcasting. I liken it though to writing a song. If you desire to make music people actually want to listen to, you'll do well to follow the rules (i.e. key signatures, scales, time signatures, etc.).

Q: You’ve spoken with some amazing leaders, thinkers and influencers. Are there any common themes that you’ve seen come up with the majority? Have you ever had guests whose ideas really conflict with each other’s? Could you share about any of those?

A: One theme I've seen come up multiple times is the idea that most of us believe we're underserving of success or not good enough to expect it in our lives. To that end, writing down goals and then tracking them and measuring your progress is a trait of 85% of wealthy people, according to a recent survey. Virtually every successful person I've interviewed does this.

Regarding the second part of your question: Recently, in back-to-back weeks, I welcomed the author of a book suggesting that traditional jobs are quickly becoming a thing of the past, followed by a guest who has written a book on the importance of hiring the right people.

I'm of the mindset that future generations need to ask "How can I create a job doing that?" instead of "How can I get a job doing that?"

Q: As a relatively new podcast, how were you able to get the guests you did early on? How difficult is it to reach the people you want to have on the show?

A: You'd be surprised what people will say when you give them the chance to talk about themselves.

At the outset, and still today, I leverage relationships built over time. Three of my first four invited guests were individuals I had forged offline & online relationships with. Then, when you come to your interviews well researched and prepared, your guests are much more likely to show a willingness to introduce you to their network.

Q: What lessons have you learned about developing a successful podcast? Are there key things that aspiring podcasters should know as they start? How do those lessons translate to other areas of life or work?

A: One lesson that is often under appreciated or overlooked, is the power of consistency; particularly, excellence with consistency over time. Most podcasts never make it past the first 7 to 10 episodes. Many other podcasts sound as if little if any thought went into them before the decision was made to hit the record button. If you're willing to put a little effort into it, it's probably safe to say you're putting yourself in the top 10%.

I'm also careful to tell people not to let perfection turn them into a procrastinator. Perfection is a moving target you will never hit. However, I believe anything worth doing is worth doing well. And, while excellence won't always guarantee your success, it will always precede it.

Q: How do you put together a show that people care about enough to come back time and again?

A: I believe it's important to articulate why you do what you do at the outset of every show. As Simon Sinek is famous for saying, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

When articulated emphatically and from a place of relevance to your listener, you, in essence, draw a line in the sand daring your listener to cross it and go on this journey with you.

This communicates to your listener, without apology, who you are and what you stand for. This is the best way I know to keep people coming back again and again.

Q: Do you have a favorite episode thus far? Why is it your favorite?

A: This is like asking if I have a favorite child. :-) Seriously, I'd probably have to say episode #066 with Seth Godin. He's one of my absolute favorite authors and getting him on the show was 16 months in the making.

His book Purple Cow had a huge influence on me and was the first of several books that renewed my love of reading at a time in my life when I hated to read.

Having him on a show where I get to practice my love of reading, something he personally impacted, was a real treat.

Read To Lead Podcast - go get it!
Read To Lead Podcast - go get it!

In The Tank #6: Brian Bird, Screenwriter

Brian Bird is a veteran screenwriter and producer for TV and film, having a 30-year career that spans from hit TV shows like Step By Step and Touched by an Angel, to the feature film Captive, a hostage drama, which opens today, September 18th. We've long been interested in the art and craft of story telling, and how story helps to give context to the human experience. So when we had a chance to connect with someone whose entire career has been about crafting and shaping stories, we jumped at the chance. A little bit about Captive:

Captive stars award-winning actor David Oyelowo (Selma; Interstellar) and Kata Mara (House Of Cards; Fantastic Four), and tells the true story of Brian Nichols (Oyelowo), an Atlanta man who, in 2005, escaped from a prison, killing a judge, a guard and two others. He then held Ashley Smith (Mara), a recovering meth addict and widowed single mother, captive for over seven hours as Atlanta police conducted a massive manhunt for Nichols.

During the course of the captivity Smith shared parts of her life struggle with Nichols. In a twist that sounds like Hollywood but is true, Nichols asked Smith to read to him from the spiritual best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life. Smith credits passages of the book with providing common ground for the two to discuss their struggles and perhaps their opportunities to find a different path.

Nichols finally allowed Smith to go, and was arrested soon after. He is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. Smith (now Smith-Robinson) has remained clean and sober and works as an imaging technician in a hospital, remarried and is raising her two children.

We're thrilled to be able to share some of Brian Bird's insights into the power of story, collaboration, and just that the title of Producer can mean.

Full disclosure: Dunk Tank Marketing is thrilled to be part of a team that is marketing Captive, and we hope that you'll go see the movie with 10 or 20 of your closest friends.

Captive: In theaters September 18th, 2015
Captive: In theaters September 18th, 2015

Q: In the movie Captive, you’ve adapted the true story of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols for the screen. How do you go about communicating the truth of the story within the context of a structured screenplay? Life generally doesn’t play out with the same arcs of a screenplay, but the format is effective for telling stories. Can you offer some insight into that process?

A: You’re right, life usually does not fall conveniently into a three-act structure necessary for the flow of a movie. And here’s a little secret when you’re making a narrative film: you can’t let the truth get in the way of good story-telling. If you’re making a documentary, it’s different… you just commit to stay with what happened in real life and let the entertainment chips fall where they may. In a narrative film, it’s much trickier because sometimes truth is actually stranger than fiction. The chronology of events and even the actual character quests are sometimes inconvenient to the rhythm and pacing that an audience is accustomed to when they are going to the movies.

In the case of Captive, however, the actual events laid out pretty amazingly in line with a three-act structure. The first act introduced both our protagonist and antagonist, leading up the moment that their lives intersected with Brian Nichols taking Ashley Smith hostage as the first act break. The second act then followed everything that happened to them in that apartment during the next seven hours, along with the escalating manhunt for Nichols, with the second act break coming at the moment Nichols let Ashley go.

The third act was comprised of SWAT teams surrounding the apartment complex when Ashley told them where Nichols was and the big question: will he surrender and do the right thing, or will he come out firing and trying to go out in a blaze of glory. Honestly of all the true stories I have adapted into screenplays, none have laid out as perfectly as Captive did. I did have to do some rearranging of key events, and used a little dramatic license, but I would say the true story accounts for 90 percent of what you see on the screen.

Q: What is a writer’s room like? Can you describe the process of collaboration on something like a screenplay or a TV show, where changes can be made almost in real time? How does that contrast with the image of the solitary genius writer?

A: The only solitude you have as a member of the writing staff of a TV show is when it’s your turn in the batting order to write an episode and you are off putting the first draft together. When you’re finished with that and you deliver it to rest of the staff, the dynamic changes. The best way to describe a staff of writers working on a rewrite together is controlled chaos. You’re always on deadline and the pressure is high to get the work done.

There is such a free flow of ideas and solutions to problems and a spirit of disruption to find the perfect line of dialogue or idea that sometimes it resembles what could be called (and I hope this is not insensitive) an Arab camel market. It’s the nature of the process. When you’re in the middle of it, it can be deeply competitive as individual members of the team are trying to get their ideas, jokes or pitches into the script.

It can be exhilarating when one of your ideas wins, and a big bummer when you pitch something that just dies in the howling wilderness. But iron always sharpens iron, and when you have a good team of people who have chemistry together, you can get to a magical place. That’s why when TV shows are good, they are really good. It’s like professional sports. A bunch of really talented people pulling for the same goal.

Q: What does being a producer mean for TV or film? Are you raising/keeping track of money? Are you wrangling cast and crew? Reviewing scripts? Do you get the 3 AM call when something goes wrong? All of the above? We see that title a lot, and it seems like it can mean any number of things. Can you shed some light on that?

A: Being a writing producer can be many things. On a TV show, the co-producer, producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer and executive producer titles are sort of like ranks in the army. Each year you’re on a show as a writer, you get a promotion to the next rank up the food chain. You are still a writer on the staff of the show, but often times your duties increase. You may involved in casting sessions, approving wardrobe and sets, and helping supervise the post-production process. But primarily you are still just one of the writers who has earned another set of stripes.

In the filmmaking process, producers wear a lot of hats. Sometimes you get a producer or executive producer title because you are responsible for bringing some asset to the project, such as money or a relationship. But true producers are involved in every aspect of production including script development, raising financing or distribution, casting, pre-production, actual production, post-production and even the marketing of a film.

Producers are bosses, counselors, policemen, firemen, travel agents and sometimes ministers on a production. And yes, 3 a.m. calls are the rule rather than the exception. In TV, the writing producers are responsible for everything, and everyone on the set reports to them. In films, producers and directors are the two most important roles on the set, and the creative buck usually stops with the director, but he ultimately reports to the producer. Of course, without the writer first, you don’t have a good set of blueprints for the skyscraper you are building and the whole thing can become a house of cards. That’s why many writers also stick around as producers on films, to guard the integrity of the blueprints.

Q: You teach a lot of writing and story development. What are the most common mistakes or oversight that you see as people are trying to tell stories? Do those things relate to how we communicate in other areas of life or work?

A: One of the biggest challenges I see among young filmmakers today is that the digital revolution and You Tube have created the sense that anybody and everybody is a filmmaker. And that’s just not the case. The same goes for screenwriting. It actually is a rocket science in it’s own way. People may be born with wonderful raw gifts and talents, but until they put in the right amount of training and experience, they will never become experts at what they’re gifted at. A lot of what I see coming from You Tube, however, skews in the direction of delusional amateurism which is missing craft and training.

In the book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell proposed the “10,000-Hour Rule.” You might be born a genius, but until you put in 10,000 hours working your gifts, you cannot call yourself an expert. How does this apply to screenwriting? All I know is it’s taken me 30 years to learn what I know, and I’m still trying to get better at my craft. I’m still striving for excellence. If we understand that we are made in the image of the author of the universe, the “good enough principle” should never be part of our vocabulary. We should strive to be the Michelangelo of our particular craft. I don’t see that very often coming from the digital revolution.

The one big fix I tell young writers is they need to “copy the masters” of their craft. All art is handed down in the same way from generation to generation, from master to student. The master is painting at the front of the classroom and the student is doing what? He is also painting, copying the master, but bringing himself to the canvas in order to eclipse the talent of the master. That’s what Michelangelo did at the Medici School. So in story-telling, we need to mimic the best story-tellers in history and then bring ourselves to the page in order to become a master. I find many young writers completely ignoring this concept.

Q: You mention a place called “Development Hell”, where things you’ve been paid to write have gone to likely never be produced. How do you bounce back from what must be a disappointing process? I ask this because we all face defeats in what we do, and bouncing back can be difficult. I’m curious as to how you do that, and what you think can help.

A: I’ve found over the years that you have to be like one of those punch-drunk fighters from an old boxing movie – too stupid to stay down after you’ve been knocked to the mat. I guess that’s what it means to have a short memory. It’s a very competitive business, and it’s a very subjective business. There is no accounting for taste in any predictive or mathematical way.

Opinions are like hind-ends. Everybody has one. So it can be tricky navigating the taste buds as you go from meeting to meeting or opportunity to opportunity. It can be full of disappointment, and highs and lows. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But if you are called to the work – and it really has to be a calling because it’s too hard to do as a hobbyist or if your goal is fame and money – then you are doing the world and yourself no favors by chickening out.

If you are called to do it, there’s no such thing as playing “small-ball.” You keep showing up, doing your best work, and being committed to making lasting friendships and relationships that are not based on your failure or success. Persistence always beats resistance. You also have to realize they don’t call it “Show Friendship.” It’s called “Show Business” for a reason, and if you can develop a thick skin for criticism you can survive it, and perhaps even thrive in it.

Q: What are 2 of your favorite movies / 2 favorite tv shows - in terms of writing? Why?

A: I’m a big fan of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 films of all time list, but if I have to be narrowed down to two, the first would absolutely be the 1989 Oscar winner for best foreign film, Cinema Paradiso. It’s one of the most moving and cinematically rich films I’ve ever seen, and it’s a beautiful metaphor about the ubiquitous importance of story (and the movies) in our human experience. Story ties us together as family and community and it’s also the touchstone for most of the big events of our lives. The Mission is another of my favorites, and it tells about the horror and beauty of the spread of Christianity in South America during 1700s. It has one of the most moving faith redemption stories I’ve ever seen in a film, and the best ever depiction of the power of the sacrifice of the cross in any movie ever made.

On the TV side, I’m going to have to go with Breaking Bad and the first season of True Detective. Both very gritty and not family friendly at all, but rich in themes of existential angst and the search for redemption in this post-modern age when we’re being told that there is no meaning in the universe other than our own pursuit of pleasure.

In The Tank #5: with Mike Dungan

Mike Dungan; Chairman/CEO Universal Music Group Nashville

Mike Dungan leads the most successful country music record label in the world at Universal Music Group-Nashville. He came there a couple years ago after having led Capitol Records-Nashville to its position as an industry leader. Prior to that, Mike was the head of Sales at Arista-Nashville, which is where I met him when I worked for a label acquired by Artista. At that time, Arista was the leading country label in the world and so success seems to have followed Mike wherever he’s been.

He started his career as a regional radio promoter handling rock radio stations, and eventually moved from his hometown of Cincinnati to Nashville. He’s universally liked and respected as a leader, an insightful businessman, and a champion of a diverse array of artists.

And while it’s no surprise to me that Mike places such an emphasis on the empowerment, happiness and fulfillment of those he leads, his commitment to his team holds great insight for any leader. Whether it’s a member of his staff or an artist he’s working with to build a successful and sustainable career, Mike’s focus on creating environments that inspire people to excel is instructional for anyone working with or leading teams.

Q: You got your start in rock radio promotion and now lead the biggest country music label in the world. How did that experience shape your career and inform what you do now?

A: Radio promotion is just a somewhat less tangible version of sales. In business, and in radio promotion, anyone with a brain realizes quickly that you must practice win-win. I learned to understand radio’s issues, and the issues of the people making music decisions at those radio stations. I was always on the lookout for what each station needed to succeed, and then it’s easier to show them that by programming your records that can fill those needs. Invaluable experience, it has helped me be a better partner with radio, and set a culture and a tone within my team to be on the right side of that relationship.

Q: You’ve moved from Arista-Nashville to take over at Capitol, and then to Universal. What are 1 or 2 of the most important things you’ve learned as a leader in terms of taking over the leadership of a new team of people?

A: Empowerment is everything. In all of my moves, I have made it clear on day one that I respect everyone as a professional, and as such they are in charge of their domain. They understand the mission, and with very little tethering, they are free to go forth and just get the job done. I usually only step up when I see someone off point, or about to step off a cliff. Everyone is free to screw up. Screwing up is part of being aggressive (although if you screw up too much, we have a problem). You are free to do the job your own way… and you are also accountable. But if you are lazy, or if you point fingers, or if you practice “cover your ass”, you will lose your place on this team.

Q: Your label dominates country music. How have you gone about putting together a team that can excel so consistently?

A: My people come first. There is transparency at all levels. Accountability at all levels. I will never ask you to do anything that I would not do myself. I will never give you a project, or an artist, or music that I do not firmly believe is competitive. Together we are unstoppable. Do you want to really accomplish something? This is the place to do it. The personal happiness of my staff is of extreme importance to me. Not only do I love every single one of them, but happy people do great work, and the feeling of accomplishment is the biggest contributor to happiness. We have flamethrowers at every level of this company – people who kill to give these artists careers, and put return on investment to our shareholders.

Q: What are the things you’ve found to be most important in building and getting the most out of your team?

A: See above

Q: You’ve championed some artists that weren’t part of any trends at the time they were signed, like Darius Rucker and Kacey Musgraves. What makes you most confident about the risk involved in someone doing something outside of the prevailing trends?

If you want to move the needle, you’ve got to stand apart. I never give any thought to the “fans” that wants to hear the same old -same old. Complacent, middle of the road music from artists that are simply the 2nd or 3rd copy of someone else goes nowhere, except to clog up the middle. Those artists will never sell enough music, or enough tickets, or enough anything to keep our interest. It’s just strategically dumb. If someone else is happy to have a business that is “just ok”, then by all means, have at it – there is plenty of that shit out there.. We aim at the audience that wants to participate. The audience and the consumer that I am talking about are crying for music that makes them want to lean in. I have a saying inside this building – The Difference Makes the Difference.

Q: Your artists include legends like George Strait and Alan Jackson, and newer, less traditional artists like Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt. How do those legendary artists respond to newer, less traditional artists? I ask this in the context of organizations that we work with who have some long time employees who really built something, and who don’t always see eye to eye with the way younger co-workers work or view the world. It’s never an either-or, but do you ever find yourself bridging a musical or aesthetic gap?

Everyone has their own personal taste, and when that lines up with the music you represent, there’s no question that you get “more”. But everyone here is also a professional. As a collective group, I would say that we are aggressively realistic. Success is at the forefront of everyone’s mind here, and I think we are all smart enough to realize that changing times require changing methods...and changing music. Right now, the newer artists are the ones that we know we can knock out of the park. But we also represent a few incredible legacy artists who continue to make great music. That music may no longer be flavor of the month at radio, but we are dedicated to bringing everything we can to the table to help keep those artists viable and relevant. We are honored to work with every artist on our roster.

In The Tank #4: Mark Montgomery

Mark Montgomery is someone I always pay attention to. Mostly it’s because he’s ridiculously smart, laser-focused in his observations and commentary, and has a track record of doing cool, successful things his own way. It’s also because I’m never sure quite what’s going to come out of his mouth, and I like the feeling of being at the top of a roller coaster that’s about to drop, which is how I often feel when I prep for Marko to answer a question.

Mark is the founder of FLO|CO, a group of companies doing cool, innovative things. After launching, growing, and then selling echomusic, one of the first companies to sell music online, he founded FLO. In the past few years they’ve launched the beverage industry’s fastest-growing new spirit (Blue Chair Bay Rum) as part of their work with country superstar Kenny Chesney. They’ve worked with companies such as Google and Under Armor, and launched the Made In Network, a Multi Channel Network focused solely on music. Mark also works with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, coaching new and aspiring startups, as well as pushing to develop tech talent in one of America’s fastest growing and coolest cities.

You’re as likely to find him at a music club (playing in or watching bands) as in a meeting with the mayor, the governor, or other industry and community leaders. Generous with his time and intellect, we’re thrilled to have him as part of this series of Q&As.

Q: You like to talk about disruption – why is it so exciting to you?

A: Because so much about the status quo is so wrong. As frustrating as it can be to try to change the “standard”, it just seems to me to be the right thing to do.

Q: What things do you look for the make something prime for being disrupted?

A: Inefficiency in a system, chronic crony-ism, and outdated models are the three big things that I look for.

Q: You’ve been an advocate for musicians to take charge of their own brands more aggressively (see Kenny Chesney with his own rum). Is that something that anyone can do in their own world / on their own scale?

A: The issue of creators taking charge is a double-edged sword. Many of the “last wave” of creators are making hay inside the old construct, which perpetuated the idea that all they had to do was create and everything else would be taken care of for them. It was, but how much of that trickled into their pockets is a whole other story. Taking charge requires a commitment to creativity on several levels…

The new creative class coming out of the universities (speaking of a system in need of disruption) understands that there is no such thing as a “free ride” in the creative arts. You have to be able to access both sides of your brain to really make your way in the world today. The great news is that many of the barriers are down, which is also the bad news. Anyone can create and come to market today.

Whether they know it or not, they are entrepreneurs first and foremost. They need to start with a core product (their art) and build around it. The art is the product, and the creativity comes not just in that core creation of the product, but the strategy to bring it to market, price it correctly, find white space and fill it, you get the general idea…

Q: You’re very involved in developing a tech/entrepreneurial culture in Nashville. What sorts of things make Nashville a strong place for that environment? What things may hold it back?

A: The secret sauce is the community aspect of Nashville. You cannot replicate a fabric as strong as the one in our market with all the money in the world. People are competitors, but they are also willing to help pretty much anyone, take a meeting, make an intro, you get the idea.

The couple biggest things that hold the market back are:

  • Its generally conservative nature (both from an investor perspective and a political perspective)
  • Sometimes we are too damn nice (it’s perfectly fine to tell someone their idea sucks)
  • The state politicians’ idiocy lands us on the front page of national papers looking like dumb hillbillies far too often (thankfully there is plenty of that going around in a variety of states)

Q: To say that you speak your mind is sort of like saying that Keith Moon was an energetic drummer. Have you ever gotten pressure to tone your personality down? What are/were the upsides/downsides of that?

A: I get a lot of pressure, mostly external…

It’s an interesting debate for me actually. I certainly do elicit a strong reaction when entering a room, which I have learned to be ok with. One night, my bride and I were talking about this after I had challenged a big shot in a meeting that day, and I was suggesting that speaking my mind had a downside. I was feeling pretty bad about it. She asked me how I’d feel if I hadn’t spoken my mind, to which I responded; “worse than I feel now” – so, I continue to push the elephants out into the room.

Recently I had a discussion with a young entrepreneur who I gave a very hard piece of advice to. It involved telling him that he had picked a real douchebag for a partner, and that he should terminate the relationship. I could smell the stink on this guys “partner” and knew it would not end well. I happen to own this particular T-shirt a couple times. It was hard for me to say, and hard for him to hear.  He had a lot invested. About a month after that discussion, he called to thank me for “having the courage to say something to him when no one else would”, he did terminate the partnership, and during that process, got to see the other side of his “partner”.

Life’s too short not to ask the hard questions, challenge the status quo, and suggest that perhaps there is a different or better way to do something, right?

In The Tank #3: Matt D’Arrigo

Matt D’Arrigo is Founder and CEO of ARTS (A Reason To Survive), a nationally recognized organization from San Diego that believes in the power of the arts and creativity to transform lives.

I met Matt several years ago through our mutual friend who was helping to mentor a young person involved in ARTS. I learned about the amazing studio center and programming that ARTS had developed for youth across San Diego County, and specifically for youth in need of a transformative outlet for their creativity. ARTS is a place that helps young people transcend some of the toughest challenges of their lives through artistic and creative expression.

In many ways, ARTS is an outgrowth of Matt’s own life, as the arts helped him shift away from self-destructive behaviors and work through significant life issues. A TEDx speaker, Matt sits on the boards of a variety of community, arts and educational organizations, and was one of two San Diego leaders selected for a fellowship to the prestigious Harvard Business School’s “Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management.” Matt speaks, advocates and advises on the use of the arts as a prevention, intervention, and celebration vehicle for at-risk youth.

As Founder and CEO, Matt is gifted at guiding a growing organization while maintaining focus on the reasons for the organization’s existence. And perhaps playing against type, Matt’s leadership style reflects his own personality: thoughtful, determined, level-headed and, to me, seemingly free of drama and histrionics. I always enjoy talking with Matt and learning from his experience and insight.

Q: What inspired you to start ARTS?

A: From an early age I identified as an artist. Although I really struggled in school and other areas of life growing up, I excelled at art. So I would go to my art whenever I needed a boost in confidence, and escape, or to find hope and joy. That time really came for me when I was 19 and my mother and sister were both diagnosed with cancer within a few months of each other. It was devastating and brought with it a lot of emotions that were hard to process: fear, anger, guilt, sadness. So I turned to my art and love of music. I would go up to my bedroom every day, close the door, put on music, and paint. The world would disappear for hours and my whole outlook would transform from despair to hope and joy. It struck me one day after one of those sessions – if it made me feel this way, it would make other kids feel the same way too. I sat down and created a little plan to start an organization that would provide the same experience for other youth facing pain. Just like I had my bedroom to escape to, I wanted to create an ARTS Center – a safe place where kids could come to express themselves and use the arts to transform their lives.

Q: In what ways do you see art reaching kids in ways that other disciplines don’t?

A: The arts are a natural language for youth (and all of us) to communicate and express themselves. When words are hard to come by, art, music, dance, theatre, etc. are an easy way to find your voice and communicate feelings that otherwise may get suppressed. That’s why we offer all forms of the arts; because you never know where a child might find their “voice”. It’s important to give them opportunities and options in various mediums. Besides the value of expression, the arts build self-confidence and esteem, social/emotional well being, and life skills needed to succeed in life. That’s why we not only provide therapeutic arts programming but also formal arts education and career and life preparation so we can meet youth where they are emotionally, developmentally, and artistically and create a long term engagement with them that follows them over time. The longer the engagement, the deeper the impact.

Q: What’s the most challenging thing about running a growing organization?

A: Managing change. We’re constantly evolving and “becoming”. We’re a very creative and entrepreneurial organization. So we need to be proactive and consistent in communicating to all stakeholders – youth, staff, volunteers, donors, etc. why we are going in certain directions or why we are implementing new systems, policies, or procedure to make our work more efficient and effective to serve the youth. Change is hard, uncomfortable, and scary for people so we try not to leave “why” on the table because human nature is to fill in the “why” in yourself and make assumptions. We also try to hire the right people that thrive in a growing environment and embrace change. The other hard part of running a growing organization is keeping that intimate, family feel and continue to build the deep relationships with each youth as we serve larger numbers.

Q: How do you balance the demands of leading an organization with the need and desire to be directly engaged with the kids you serve?

A: This is a constant challenge for me. I remember in year three of the organization I had to make a conscious choice to step back from the front lines of teaching the kids and focus on the business and fundraising aspect because that’s where I felt I could best serve the organization to grow and reach more youth. That is still true today. But with a growing organization I am even more externally focused and traveling a bit more. When I’m in the office I also need to be there to support our senior leadership team and staff. However, I have built in time to constantly walk around the ARTS Center to talk to the kids, teachers, and volunteers. It helps me get the pulse of the organization and feel connected to the kids. I also don’t have an office anymore; I just have my laptop and set up wherever I want in the ARTS Center to be more approachable and accessible to everyone there – especially kids.

Q: What do you wish people realized about the impact of art?

A: The arts impact all of us everyday but we take them for granted. Think about it: everything created by man was first conceptualized and drawn by an artist, right?

The arts bring all of us so much joy everyday – our favorite music, TV shows, or movies. Try to live a day without the arts…almost impossible.

But the arts go so much deeper than that for hundreds of thousands of youth. For these youth who are intrinsically creative, talented, and passionate about the arts, it’s their identity. Yet they are constantly being told in school and society that it’s not important and to fit into these other “boxes” to be successful. So we’re basically telling these youth that THEY are not important. Cutting the arts out of schools and communities is a true form of identity theft – not allowing youth to be their true creative selves and lead fulfilled lives. The results are devastating. We have had students who have literally stopped suicide attempts because of our program, they finally feel accepted and valued for who they are. What’s more impactful that that?

In The Tank #2: Kenny Greenberg

Kenny Greenberg is one of the most heard, yet possibly unrecognized guitarists working today, unless you’ve seen him play, in which case you’ll never forget him. As one of the top session guitarists in Nashville, Kenny has appeared on hundreds of recording by musicians of all genres, including artists such as Taylor Swift, Indigo Girls, Willie Nelson, Etta James and scores more. He can also be seen on the road on rare occasions playing with global stars like Kenny Chesney and Faith Hill.

If you’re in Nashville you’re more than likely to see Kenny flex his muscles in clubs playing with his Grammy-winning wife, Ashley Cleveland, or his band The Fortunate Sons, featuring a collection of some of Nashville’s other top session and touring musicians.

He is also a Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated record producer and award-winning songwriter. On top of all of that, Kenny is a kind and generous human, seemingly always at the ready with some sort of encouragement and words of goodwill. I’ve been amazed and inspired by his humility, as it seems that every time I speak with him he talks about something new that he’s learned, either as a musician or in life. As someone at the top of his profession, I always have something to learn from talking with Kenny. Here are a few questions that came to mind for me to ask him.

Q: I don’t know that a lot of people have a sense of what playing studio sessions is like – can you walk me though a day doing sessions?

A: Session day. First of all, the producer or the producer’s assistant books you. They may say, “in two weeks, we need you for a 10 and 2” (session blocks are 3 hours, with a one hour break to eat, or haul ass to your next session). Then you call cartage and tell them what gear you need for the session. A lot of the time, the bigger the session, the less notice you have for a session, not sure why that is. Like, I can get a call from Dann Huff’s assistant on a Tuesday, saying they need me on Friday. If it’s a major label or a big artist, you have to rearrange your schedule to be there. Also worth mentioning, in this changing climate, budgets are small, so there might not be money for cartage. In that case, I throw my pedal board, amp, and a couple guitars in the car and I’m ready to go.

So, if I’m the leader, they send me the work tapes to chart. I can chart 4-10s songs in an hour; I might do that the night before. Then I have an idea what the songs are like, and I can think a little bit about what I want to play. But a lot of the time, I show up, have my gear turned on and tuned up, ready to play, then we all go in the control room and listen to the work tape or demo. We usually listen once, maybe twice. Then we talk about direction, style, who’s gonna play what, and the whole time, each musician in the room is thinking about what part he’s gonna play.

So, you have 5 or 10 minutes to come up with a part, a signature lick, or sound. Then if it’s a demo, we’ll be getting 4 to 6 songs in three hours, so you’re prepared to get your part right the first time through. Maybe replay or fix right after we get the track. If it’s a record date, it’s anywhere from 1 to 3 songs per session, then we get to spend more time carving out a part, experimenting, etc.

I use the analogy that we’re like writers for a TV show. You come in to work everyday, and you have to invent music to fit the artist’s song. You get used to using that part of your brain. So it’s like writing a script for a show. You get used to having a limitless supply of ideas to dress up a song. It’s actually exciting and fun.

So, as a guitar player, when the track is done, you will probably add a second part, a solo, some ear candy, etc. If it’s a demo, and you’re doing 6 songs in three hours, that means you have 30 minutes for the band to get the track, and the guitar players just about never get out of their seat, because they spend the remainder of the 30 minutes playing a solo, 2nd part, etc.

Also good to know, very few guys do three sessions a day, 5 or 6 days a week. You burn out if you do that. Occasionally I’ll have weeks where that just happens, and it’s all important record dates I want to be a part of. But most of the time, I do one or two sessions a day, sometimes three. And I try to do that just 4 days a week, because I also write and produce.

I function best when I mix it up between playing writing and producing. It seems to help my creativity, and I get juice from each job that fuels the other jobs.

But there is absolutely an addiction to recording music in a room with great musicians that is very addictive and stimulating. There’s a huge rush to getting a great track done, and I always say the first time I hear the playback, I always think that song will never again sound that good:) It’s like you just participated in giving birth to a living entity.

I also do a lot of overdubs for people at my studio. The send me files, I load them into my computer, and I sit down there by myself and record my guitars, send the files back. I LOVE doing that. I find I can be very creative with no distractions. That can also be considered a typical session day..

Q: What’s it like to come into a session not knowing what you’re going to play that day? How do you prepare for that?

A: It’s exciting going into a session not knowing what you’re going to play. I kind of look forward to that. It’s best when you don’t think about it and just play off the top of your head. That’s when the really good stuff happens…

Q: What’s the best thing about being on the road? The worst?

A: The best thing about being on the road, at least with the gig I’m on, is getting to play for really large crowds. That’s a super big rush. Nothing quite like it. The next best thing is walking around the downtown of whatever city we’re in, checking out the sights and the people. The rest of it is kinda hard, you have to roll with a lot of stuff, work at getting along, etc.

Right now I’m sitting on the bus with the band, huge storm, we’re supposed to play outdoors at a George Jones tribute TV special, but there’s tornadoes and a storm. Yeah, being on the road is great!

Q: How does collaboration with so many different musicians and producers make you better?

A: Collaborating with so many musicians and producers is absolutely one of the best things period. I totally get my juice and creative ideas from the people around me. Here’s what’s really true. I’m not really technically that good as a musician, I just sometimes have good ideas. But I get to work with some of the best musicians and producers, writers, etc in the world. So I get better, because most everybody i work with is better than me!!

Q: Where do you find inspiration to keep you growing as a player, and as a person?

A: I get inspiration from the all the great young musicians I work with. And also occasionally I work with an older musician that still has the spark, and that really inspires me too. As a person, I get inspired by older musicians that aren’t jaded and still have a good attitude. That’s how I want to be…..

In The Tank #1: Jacob Slichter

Jacob Slichter is a musician, author, and teacher. He was a member of the multi-platinum band Semisonic, whose global hit “Closing Time” can still be heard pretty much everywhere, especially at bars or when a baseball team’s closer comes in to wrap up a game (not nearly enough for this Cubs fan).

I first encountered Jacob’s writing in his fantastic book, So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer’s Life. It may be the finest book I’ve read about an artist’s life in the music business, in that it is honest, self-effacing, self-aware, and thoroughly entertaining. I’ve easily purchased at least a dozen copies for others, including friends and family members whose children are pursuing their own rock & roll dreams. Much of the book feels eerily familiar to me, as “Closing Time” was a massive hit almost exactly a year after a band that I worked with, Sixpence None The Richer, had its own worldwide hit with the song “Kiss Me.” The adventures of the band and their struggle to make sense of the massive opportunities and stardom, as well as pressures from a global record label, powerful radio stations, and broadcast groups. Then there was the puzzle of, “how do we follow up?” It’s a realistic look at a career in music that pulls back the curtain from the romantic myths of rock & roll excess and shows a talented, hard-working band trying to navigate a bewildering business. Jacob now teaches non-fiction Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence, and through a series of Kevin Bacon-esque connections to childhood friends of both my wife and I, I was able to connect with him and ask him a few questions about creativity, teaching, community and pulling back more curtains in life and work. Enjoy!

Q: One thing that comes across in your book is the sense that artists are commoditized by the industry – seen as products and not necessarily people. How did you and your band mates in Semisonic navigate the demands (and fear) placed on you by labels, radio stations, etc.? Looking back – do you see that you could push back more than maybe you did?

A: We made pop music and wanted to be pop stars, so in the largest sense, our ambitions were aligned with those of the record label. Certainly they wanted Semisonic to succeed, but they came to have doubts, and it’s hard to push back against doubt. With a couple of important exceptions they were totally surprised by the success of “Closing Time.” That and “Secret Smile” (a big hit overseas) briefly inspired the label’s confidence in us, but the confidence faded quickly. It wasn’t that they wanted us to do things differently. It was more like they stopped believing.

Q: Much of the book, to me, seems to dispel myths about the business of making music and the experience of being in a band. The lack of glamour, the pressures that have nothing to do with making music taking over the creative process, etc. Do you think that there are other ways in life that we can pull back the curtain and perhaps encounter others in a more realistic way?

A: One of the things I tried to do in the book was to reveal how the structure of the music business imposed all kinds of constraints on the people who worked in it—musicians wanting to be famous, and record company employees trying to keep their jobs. If there’s a villain in the book, it’s the business.

I think it’s important to look at the larger world the same way, to learn to see the limits that various systems impose on us. If we do that, we can get on with the work of replacing those systems with more humane alternatives.

Q: What things help you to be a better teacher? Are those things different when you’re teaching creative writing or drumming?

A: Whether teaching writing or drumming, I try to remember what my favorite teachers did for me. They were good listeners, gave honest encouragement, recognized their students’ desire to learn and improve, believed in their students’ intuitions, and left open the possibility that the students might have had insights that had not yet occurred to their teachers.

Q: You’re involved in a group called Music That Makes Community that brings people together to sing (without paper). What does that act of a group gathering to sing do for a person?

A: Singing with others is empowering, especially for people who feel embarrassed about their singing voice. Anyone who has sung along at a rock concert or a protest or a wedding knows this. Singing with others allows you to become part of something larger than yourself.

Q: So often we read, hear or see stories of the lone genius, without realizing that perhaps community has affected that person. What role do you see community playing in the creative process?

A: I totally believe that creativity is much more collaborative than we know. Most performers will tell you that live performance is a something like a dance with the audience. What may be less obvious is the fact that artists hold an imagined audience in their minds as they compose, edit, practice, and otherwise work things out. Creating a work of art invites the creator to imagine what an audience will think, and that audience includes non-artists.

I recently came across a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “One must be an inventor to read well.” I believe that. Among other things, it means that if you’ve been moved by art, you’ve encountered your own creativity, the same creativity that is in the air that all artists breathe. When fans listen to records and start imagining the record they want to hear next, I think those desires make their way into the minds of music makers. I know this sounds mystical, but I actually believe this. The lone genius theory feels deeply wrong to me. We all do this together.

Q: What’s your favorite song to sing a cappella?

A: I am so embarrassed by my singing voice, I never sing on my own. But I enjoy singing with others, especially anything with tasty harmonization, anything from a Palestrina motet to some pop gem.

For more of Jacob’s writing, visit his blog, Portable Philosophy.

Bother Me! Please!

“I don’t want to bother you, but…” This is a phrase that many of us use when we’re in need of help and have exhausted our own means. I’m not talking about “I don’t want to bother you, but I want to sell you something.” I’m talking about when we need real help. We’re stuck. A problem has presented itself that requires more than one person or team. We’re not sure where else to go, and we admit that our own efforts, resources, talents or abilities have reached, if not an end, at least a roadblock, and we need help.

But none of us likes to ask for help. I’m there as well, but I’m learning to change that. To not see asking for help as a weakness or deficiency, but as a way to learn from others, and to offer others a chance to be part of something that utilizes who they are.

BotherMe.png

Be honest: are you a person who would gladly help someone else out, but are nearly paralyzed with the prospect of asking for help yourself? Next to learning how to take a compliment (smile, say thank you, and let someone give you props without you downplaying it), asking for help may be the toughest thing that many people ever do. But the thing is, I think most people are happy to lend their time, expertise, insight, passion and general goodwill when asked. In fact, I think most of us, in some deeper way, want to be asked. We want to be of help, to contribute, to serve, to make use of who we are, what we know and what we can do.

I’ve run across this recently when I felt backed into a corner and started by trusting a few close, long time friends with the problem I was having. I felt like they’d get it, despite my reticence and even embarrassment in asking. And of course, as I should have predicted (and as my wife did – another lesson for another post), not only did I receive help, I received insight, wisdom, encouragement and even thanks from someone who was in a similar position. I’ve seen people line up to help a family affected by medical issues and in need of round-the-clock care. I’m talking about people coming out of the woodwork not just to help and do a good deed, but to be a part of something, to bring their selves into a situation.

I’ve made a conscious effort to watch for times when I say or write the words, “I don’t want to bother you,” and ask if whether I really mean that or not. Would I be bothered by that sort of request? If not, then it’s time to hit delete. If so, why? I’d encourage you to go ahead and take the risk and discover just how much you’re not bothering someone, but inviting them.

Disruption: Tesla, It’s Not A Car, It’s A Computer

disruption1
disruption1

Thanks again Bob Lefsetz for the concise summary of what makes Tesla Motors’ approach to car-making so different from what we’ve seen before. “Elon Musk is selling technology, not an automobile. You know technology, you price it high for the early adopters, and when you’ve got all the kinks worked out, you lower the price and you’ve got a bona fide hit… In other words, Elon Musk is making a car for today. This ain’t the music industry, this ain’t Detroit, there’s no shrugging of shoulders and talk of legacy customers and insurmountable challenges…the Tesla is positively now, as my buddy says, it’s not a car, it’s a computer.”

Likewise, companies like Uber and Lyft are disrupting and smashing the mold of what traditional taxi companies have built, giving people a far better and easier experience, and by all accounts, doing a great job. Testimonials pour in from satisfied customers loving what seems to be uniformly friendly service that’s priced as comparably as most taxis, but with nicer rides and no hassle credit card transactions. I’ve yet to use Uber, but that’s bound to change in the next 30 days. And to not have the frustrating exchange with a driver asking, “you don’t have cash?” while the Visa/MC/Amex sticker lies in their line of vision is alone worth an alternative.

Several friends of mine work with large non-profit organizations, and with few exceptions they all seem to be asking why they can’t gain traction with younger people the way that groups like To Write Love On Her Arms or Invisible Children can. These are groups harnessing technology, media, grass roots outreach and pop culture in ways that most strait-laced orbs never do. They are supported from the ground up and create a wave of action.

And yes, you can focus on the sideshow of IC’s Kony 2012 film, and how one of IC’s leaders seemed to melt down in the attention storm created. But the broader story is that a small charity group captured the world’s imagination by telling a story a different way – using film making and the Internet to bring more attention to a global killer than had been brought in the previous few years.

What’s more – I saw it a few months ago, listed as a benchmark event in the history of YouTube, in a video produced BY YouTube. Kony 2012 was a phenomenon of modern advocacy, and no doubt scores of people have tried to emulate it.

Will the effort to locate and apprehend Kony via Invisible Children last? That’s the challenge of a young organization (and of Tesla, Uber and the like). But the shakeup was a clarion call for what’s possible with someone not beholden to how non-profits or other organizations operate.

Disruption has become a buzzword of sorts, but we all know it when we see it. Healthcare is ripe for this, as my friend Mark Montgomeryhas written about through his own experiences. My guess is that any enterprise that’s become too concerned with its institutional operating is ready to be turned upside down. So too – any place where people generally dread an experience (taxis, car dealerships, DMVs) are places just waiting to be messed up in the best way possible.

Just Tell The Truth!

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keep-calm-and-tell-the-truth-6

Fascinating post from Seth Godin yesterday, with food marketers of all sorts caught in the cross hairs. This is no doubt fueled by the recent classification by the American Medical Association that obesity is now being classified and treated as a disease. I’m not going to tackle any of that debate here, though the AMA obviously feels that the increasing rise in obesity rates is a massive health and economic concern in the US, and there’s no doubt that it’s having massive impact on our health care costs. But what struck me was his call/challenge to marketers to employ ethical boundaries to our work, and to consider the public trust, well-being and effect on culture. Godin argues that marketing is often about efforts to change the cultural impact of products and services, and it’s not merely about marketers and advertisers being able to say what they want as a matter of free speech. Godin says,“If your organization uses terms like share of stomach or hires lobbyists, you’ve already made a decision to market in a way that changes the culture to benefit you and your shareholders.”

Our marketing technology and information has become so sophisticated that we often marvel more at what is possible to achieve rather than how we should employ these tools. And at some point these tactics will implode and create greater harm, as excess seems to do at every turn. Again I’ll turn to Godin: “We ban accounting that misleads, and we don’t let engineers build bridges that endanger travelers. We monitor effluent for chemicals that can kill us as well. There’s no reason in the world that market-share-fueled marketing ought to be celebrated merely because we enjoy the short-term effects it creates in the moment.”

For my own work, this goes back to the importance of a process that rigorously identifies and defines what it is we’re talking about and what we’re delivering. In plainer terms, are we telling our customers the truth? If not, then we are simply lying to them, and if you want to lie, then I’m not your man.

In most cases I’m referring to this as the brand promise, and asking clients what that is, and whether we are truly delivering that. I’d rather deliver more than what we say and delight people with that than promise something that isn’t going to be delivered. Telling the truth and doing even more builds trust, loyalty, and a sense of pride in the work from my clients that pushes us all to aspire to more, design things better and deliver things better.

Going back to the initial quote from his blog that I pulled, “just because marketing works doesn’t mean we have an obligation to do it. And if we’re too greedy to stop on our own, then yes, we should be stopped.”

“Greedy” can also be replaced with “desperate”, as often marketers at a loss for any effective course of action turn to whatever seems to work, even when they know that the tactics aren’t honest. And with the tables of power now turned toward customers and the ability to call companies out in real time (see: my U-Haul experience; Paula Deen; etc…), marketers should have an even keener sense of the importance to tell the truth, and advocate for this with their clients/employers. That’s as much a measure of caring for shareholder value as anything. And if you’re not willing to do so out of a sense of moral/ethical obligation, then here’s some self-interest for you to consider: if you’ve designed a dishonest campaign that gets called out, you’re also likely the first to go under the bus when the outcry begins.

Thanks Seth Godin for a great bit of thought to kick off the week.

Day 2 Recap: Ft. Worth – Lordsburg. Great food, dissing TX and the quest for more Trucker Nods

A rare, stopped moment
A rare, stopped moment

I wrote my day 1 recap cruising on a mixture of adrenaline and guilt, as Adam was staying up to edit video. So I figured I’d stay up as well and see what I could knock out. At 5 AM Saturday I think we both wondered what we were thinking. In fact, I know we were. But we were dedicated to getting another early start and making the most of the daylight. Also, we’d made plans to meet Kevin Libick, a youth worker who lives very close to the hotel we were at in Fort Worth. Adam met Kevin at a conference last year, and while I’d never met him, the temptation of free breakfast was tough to beat. We had a great time that made the minimal amount of sleep and early AM worth it – so thanks Kevin!

From there we began the drive through all that is west of Fort Worth, including actual cities of Abilene, Midland/Odessa and El Paso, as well as places like Pecos and Sierra Blanca, where I had stops or events against my will last year. But more on that later.

One thing we decided to do was to alter the number of stops we made in order to get farther along. So after a lot of stops on Friday, we decided to stop pretty much only for fuel and food, and to try and engage some folks where we could.

Truck driver Kelly teaching a rental driver
Truck driver Kelly teaching a rental driver

One of those happened at a gas station in Abilene, where I ran into Kelly, a big rig driver who delivers fuel to stations. I asked him if he had any advice for people driving big rental trucks like the one we had? I explained that while I consider myself a good and conscientious driver, I don’t drive vehicles that big all that often, and I figured there had to be some trucker wisdom to impart, as I don’t want to be “that guy” out on the roads. Kelly was happy to share some thoughts, and it was mostly the kind of thing you learn in driver’s ed, but it was fun to have someone willing to go on camera for a couple of total strangers.

One good night in Dallas
One good night in Dallas

Adam and I both have a distaste for Texas. Aside from Austin and San Antonio (and the world famous Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels (home to the core of the band Sixpence None The Richer, with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work and be friends), the rest of the state just doesn’t hold up. Too hot. Too humid. Too cocky for a place that hot and humid. I have, if I may say so, a really good sense of direction and navigational skills to match, but I have been lost in Dallas more than any other city in the nation, and I hold that against Dallas. And aside from a night there that spawned this picture of me with 3 of the bands I used to work with, very few fun times.

I can’t speak for Adam’s distaste of the state, but he once mentioned that it started with the JFK assassination and went downhill from there. Also, his percentage of obtaining Trucker Nods (as mentioned in the Day 1 post) went down significantly in Texas, and then rose up again in NM, so I think that’s being weighed into the equation.

But I digress. West Texas is generously populated with massive yards of things that appear to be on sale, and though there was no signage pointing to any branding, it seems that all of these places could unite to form a massive statewide network of stores called, “All Things Rusty”. I can’t even tell you what was for sale except that it was metal and the color of Carrot Top’s steroid-amped hair (I’m guessing that the ‘roids affect his hair as well as the rest of him).

Free range truck stop cows
Free range truck stop cows

We also ran across Truck Stop cows. Three cows just munching on some grass at a truck stop somewhere outside of Odessa, I think. I tried to get their faces but they only showed me the rear view.

Food

Pappy’s plate-o-delicious
Pappy’s plate-o-delicious

On a positive note, we had some great food today, with Pappy’s BBQ in Monahans, TX leading the lunch charge. We each had a mix of brisket and chicken, with jalapeno beans, corn and for bread. I don’t think either of us spoke a discernible word while the food was in front of us – it was mostly groans and quick breaths of air. Yowza! For dinner we checked out El Charro in Lordsburg, NM (Go Mavericks!) It’s a very humble spot right across the railroad tracks and by the only stop light in town. We were famished and El Charro did us right. Beef enchiladas that were tender and perfectly cooked, nice and spicy salsa and fresh chips washed down by a couple Negra Modelos and we were ready to call it a day.

My annual allotment of circus peanuts
My annual allotment of circus peanuts

Penske Cab Confessions for the day: circus peanuts and Moon Pies.

We spent the night in Lordsburg at the Hampton Inn where my dad and I stayed last year. And I had a chance to reconnect with Jim Arnold of Badlands Towing. Jim went a long way out of his way to help us out last year, and it was fantastic to reconnect under far better circumstances. That whole thing is another post that I’m prepping.

That’s a recap of Day 2. As always, please take a minute to like/follow/search 1 or all of these things:

– facebook.com/PenskeTruckRental

– twitter.com/PenskeMoving

– #PenskeRescue – follow it and tag it on everything

Day 1 Recap: Hoo Hoos, Trucker Nods and 700+ Miles of Fun

SunStudio: The birthplace of Rock & Roll
SunStudio: The birthplace of Rock & Roll

Wow. It’s 11:45 PM on Friday the 31st. Adam McLane is editing video from the day and I’m doing this recap before setting up a photo album of the day’s trek. We’re in Ft. Worth, TX. It’s a psychological victory to get past Dallas, though I’d hoped to get to Abilene, pipe dream as that was. We made too many stops to really make that feasible, so we’re changing up the plan for tomorrow; more on that soon. First of all, to everyone that’s “liked” a picture, post, video, etc. thanks! It’s wonderful to see support. And to build momentum through the weekend, please consider a few things:

Share: Yes – please share, re-post, retweet and generally pass along any any all posts that you see. We love sharing the stories and snapshots, not to mention the story of the folks at Penske helping us to make this a great experience.

Like/Follow/Subscribe: While Adam and I are putting together some short videos for our own Facebook and Twitter accounts, Penske’s YouTube channel will have the longer pieces. And following their various channels is one of the ways to thank Penske for supporting this effort.

facebook.com/PenskeTruckRental

twitter.com/PenskeMoving

– #PenskeRescue – follow it and tag it on everything

So today we left Nashville at 6:15 AM. It was early. E.A.R.L.Y. Especially after a long day of packing and prepping. But there was a certain anticipation to the day and we were in good spirits. We encountered a lot of rain between Nashville and Memphis, and it’s a good thing that Adam had the water proof casing for his GoPro camera. Speaking of the GoPro, we’ve been experimenting with various angles for the camera, mounting it on the sides of the truck, the roof and other places. Lots of fun stuff. Here are a few highlights:

In the fetal position I could fit inside these rims
In the fetal position I could fit inside these rims

Memphis: we stopped by Sun Studios (a favorite destination for me – Adam was very polite as I music-geeked out), as well as the Lorraine Hotel / National Civil Rights Museum, as well as passing by Beale Street, the Arcade Restaurant and other spots. I also got flipped off by a driver who I thought could spot the 26′ truck + trailer with turn signal in front of him; Adam got it on tape.

Arkansas: Then it was across the river into Arkansas, a state where we observed the following:

– very active highway patrols – very inactive (i.e. – dead) armadillos – poor highway conditions seemingly unaffected by the stimulus – The Clinton Presidential Library – an inordinately high number of cars with souped up rims, particularly in the small town of Gurdon. We ran into a really nice guy with 28″ rims on his car (see picture of me and how I might be able to fit inside the rims). Adam said, “I saw another car down the street with some too”. The guy replied, “green ones?” Adam: yeah.” “Guy: He’s got 30″ rims. He’s my cousin.”

The #PenskeRescue truck in front of the Hoo Hoo Museum
The #PenskeRescue truck in front of the Hoo Hoo Museum

Gurdon is the home of the museum and headquarters for the International Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoo, a fraternal organization for those in the lumber industry. It’s a mere 5 miles off of the freeway, down a road that we named Deliverance Parkway. Fortunately our truck ran great and we made the 10 mile roundtrip (from the freeway) without a problem, and got to see the Hoo Hoo Museum, as well as a crazy-cool, funky print shop (that was closed for the day) in downtown Gurdon.

A truck divided by 2 states
A truck divided by 2 states

We straddled Arkansas and Texas in Texarkana, AR/TX, where the state line splits the post office / federal building. It’s also where we realized that we had, quite possibly, the longest possible path across Texas to complete. From there it was a haul to get through / around Dallas and on to our hotel in Ft. Worth. Tomorrow (ie – today, as I write), we’ll get another early start, with breakfast coordinated via Facebook and a friend of Adam’s, and then get across the rest of the state. We’ll stop less, in order to make more time, but try to get some more stories from fellow travelers.

Sorry if we were boring: In the middle of the day my lovely wife Michele texted me to tell us that we were being boring and “too NPR”. I’ll confess that she may have been right – the stress and energy of prepping left me less upbeat, but we tried to remedy this with our immaturity and bad eating habits. To wit, we’ve done a couple of things to lighten ourselves up:

1) Penske Cab Confessions: We’re also filming something that we’re calling Penske Cab Confessions, a rip-off of HBO’s Taxi Cab Confessions in name only. We’ll be sharing some of our favorite road trip snacks – the things we rarely, if ever, eat outside the confines of a road trip. It’s not good food, but it is delicious. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes it’s even frightening, but we’re here to open the doors on the real life of a road trip.

2) Straddling state lines: After 10 hours in the truck, words like “straddle” just made us laugh, so expect more immature humor, which will, at the least, make us laugh.

Thanks again for joining us in this adventure. Hit us up on Twitter & Facebook and maybe we can meetup on the way.

Dave PS – Trucker Nods! Adam has been attempting to get the affirmation of big rig drivers every chance he gets, which entails said drivers reciprocating Adam’s nod of recognition and a quick wave. So far I’d say he’s batting .500, which is pretty good. I got one myself with an index finger wave, which was a great ego boost.

HooHooSignS
HooHooSignS
Eating fresh with Tonto
Eating fresh with Tonto

Where Should #PenskeRescue Stop? Arkansas Edition

A few of the highlights that Arkansas has to offer
A few of the highlights that Arkansas has to offer

I’d like to invite you to take part in this little adventure by voting on some places that we’ll stop and do some video pieces that range from the sublime to the ridiculous in terms of American Obscura. OK, truth be told, most of this is ridiculous. There will be sublime somewhere along the way, but that’s less fun to vote on.

So take 30 seconds (or less) and visit this Facebook Survey page and vote for where you’d like to see Adam McLane and I stop on our 2,000-mile trek from Nashville to San Diego. I’ll continue with some other background. Thanks for playing along!

WHERE SHOULD WE STOP?

When driving across the country there’s always that romantic notion of taking roads less travelled, hitting out of the way places and meeting the folks behind those spots. I am the child of such wanderers, having visited places like the Indiana covered bridge festival, a West Virginia rattlesnake pit, and the now defunct Elvis Is Still Alive Museum. There’s a challenge, however, when you’re in a 26-foot long truck, towing a car, and needing to get yourself to point B in a relatively short amount of time. So while Penske’s deal of unlimited miles for any one-way rental could keep me happily on the road for weeks at a time, visiting American Obscura every day, the fact of the matter is that I’ve got to get myself and my stuff to San Diego. But fear not, fellow road trippers, self-movers and fans of the interesting, unique, strange, or just plain weird. Thanks to resources like the good folks at the Roadside America website (http://bit.ly/115N1tw), there are myriad chances for the motivated traveler to see some great sights while also hauling booty to get to your destination. On this trip, the task was simple: map out the most interesting sounding options of places to visit that are no more than 10 miles off of the interstate.

And I’d like to get your input. So for the next few days I’ll be posting surveys that list various locations that are on the list of possible stops, and asking which ones are of the most interest to you. Take some time to vote, and we’ll see how your picks match up with the things that we’re eyeballing already. Just click here and vote.

Announcing #PenskeRescue. Follow The Trek Starting May 31st

This year the trek will be different!
This year the trek will be different!

My wife, kids and I are preparing to move across the country in just 10 days. This is our 2nd cross-country move in the past year, and a fuller recounting of events is included below for anyone who wants to read more. But the thing that’s particularly special about this is that our move is being supported by some fine folks at Penske Truck Rental. And when I say that Penske is supporting our move, I mean that they are graciously covering the cost of the truck rental, and moving supplies to get us across the country. For someone moving themselves, that’s a significant cost, and I appreciate Penske’s generous gesture and their willingness to do this.

You see, their Director of Communication caught wind of my rental nightmare last summer (and the #freepalmer campaign) and tweeted an offer to help, even though I wasn’t a Penske customer. So when I approached him with this #PenskeRescue idea, he was willing to work with me on something that I hope will be a lot of fun, and encouraging in seeing how a company can respond to make someone’s life better.

So before I get to the longer version, let me ask you to consider doing a few things over the course of the next couple of weeks:

Twitter: Follow @PenskeMoving, @PenskeCares @mclanea and @davepalmerinc and track our progress using the #PenskeRescue hashtag

Facebook:Click here to Like Penske Truck Rental’s Facebook page, and post a kind note of thanks regarding #PenskeRescue

YouTube:Follow the Penske Truck Rental channeland check out the videos we’re posting. We’ll be posting additional clips on my channel: davepalmerinc1

Instagram: follow @davepalmerinc and @mclanea to see shots from the road

Blog: visit www.dunktankmarketing.com/blog for all of the updates of our trip.

My friend and frequent business collaborator Adam McLane will be with me for the drive. We’ll be stopping at places both famous and bizarre, taking pictures, shooting videos, blogging, posting and tweeting the entire trip, including stops in the 4 places that my rental truck from last year (not a Penske) broke down. My hope is that we’ll see as much attention paid to the good news story of #PenskeRescue as we did for the not good news events that prompted last year’s movement. I’m still in awe of the generosity of spirit shown last year as so many people lent their support to force a large, unresponsive company to respond (and to thank the people responsible for solving a problem once it was resolved).

So please stay tuned for some fun stuff with #PenskeRescue, share the story, and send us some notes – we’ve got a long, 3-full days of driving coming up, and we’ll love the communication!

HERE’S THE BACKGROUND OF THE STORY:

Last year, as I was moving my family from San Diego to Nashville, I had what may be one of the worst rental truck experiences ever. I don’t want to belabor it, as you can read about it here. Yet in the midst of a horrible time I was blown away by the responses and willingness of people to step in and help in myriad ways. Phone calls came from people I didn’t know or hadn’t spoken with in years, offering help, rides, and home cooked meals. Many people posted and tweeted and compelled the company to action and a real solution to our problem. Along the way, many of those posts and tweets were directed to the company’s competitors asking them to help us.

And just as we were about to get on the road, a vacationing Penske person tweeted an offer to help. I thanked him for his offer and explained that we believed a solution to be in place. Fast-forward several months, and we made a decision to return to San Diego to be in greater proximity to and help for my wife’s family. As we were in the midst of that, an old friend tweeted to Penske, thanking them for great service, and informing them that they were using Penske because of my experience with the other company.

That prompted me to approach Penske with an idea. You see, I love TV shows like Bar Rescue, Tattoo Nightmare and others that attempt to redeem bad situations and make something good out of them. So I tweeted to Penske, asking if anyone would be up for hearing an idea, and to do a quick search of the #freepalmer hashtag for some idea of what I was thinking. In short order I received a reply asking me to call an 877 customer service number. I did, and as it turned out, the number went directly to the person that tweeted the response. When I asked if I could talk through an idea the person said, “you can, but I’ve been asked to connect you to someone at corporate who followed your story.”

After a short game of phone tag I ended up speaking with Randy Ryerson, the Director of Corporate Communication at Penske. It turns out that Randy was the one who sent an offer of help last year. Apparently he was on vacation and saw the activity on Twitter, called someone on his team and asked who Dave Palmer was, and what was happening. That’s when he discovered that I wasn’t even a Penske customer, but the social noise made it clear that I needed help.

So Randy and I talked, and I outlined the concept for #PenskeRescue. I wanted to do something to redeem the moving experience of last year, and tell a story of a fun, positive trip in a rental truck. I explained that #freepalmer was never about vengeance, but trying to get help, and that my hope was that this #PenskeRescue concept would be a positive and fun way to engage people in a great story of a company helping someone make a situation right.

And so, on Friday, May 31st, my good friend Adam McLane and I will pull out of Nashville, TN with a 26-foot long Penske diesel truck, pulling my beloved ’97 Volvo 850 wagon, and head west back to San Diego. We’ll be traveling the same route that I took last year with my dad and my childhood friend Brad Rukstales, with the goal of redeeming the route, making stops in some fun and bizarro places along the way, and documenting the trek via video, pictures, posts and tweets. Oh, and to have no mechanical issues!

Many of the videos will be posted to Penske’s YouTube Channel, and if you follow their Twitter feed and Facebook page you’ll see things posted there as well. So please consider following our trek, sharing it with others, and sending a note or two of thanks to Penske for their willingness to help us out with this move.