The year – 1995 – OJ was found not guilty, eBay started an online auction, Toy Story became a hit for generations to come, and the brand No Fear was connecting with surfers, skaters, motocross bikers and major league sports players and fans.
There are moments in our lives that go a long way in shaping our future. It is good to revisit these meaningful moments. I had one such experience in 1995. Based on my personality, I’m fairly confident that no one would associate me with the expression “no fear.” I don’t participate in any extreme sports. I’m never going to (willingly) jump out of a plane or bungee jump off a bridge. Candidly, I don’t even enjoy swimming in the ocean.
The challenge I faced in 1995 was kick-starting a rebranding effort for the California-based company No Fear. As you no doubt recall, No Fear was started by and full of cocksure individuals that literally and figuratively were afraid of nothing. In addition, they eschewed convention and had a healthy suspicion of authority. Up to that point, the owners of No Fear had essentially told mainstream marketing “We’re doing fine without you, thank you very much.” And they were correct. So I was stuck with trying to figure out how to reach that audience and gain their trust in an authentic way.
Let me back up and ask you this: Have you ever had the dream where you show up to school or a public place in just your underwear or, perhaps even worse, something less than your skivvies? If so, then keep reading. Here is how the No Fear story played out (fair warning: I’m going “third-person” here)….
Michael Shanks invited 70 No Fear employees to a kick-off meeting.
The meeting was held at a run-of-the-mill, cheap hotel conference room. At the front of the room stood a podium and a slide projector. The room was uncomfortably small, and it seemed a bit warm. There were less chairs than people. An assortment of sodas sat on a side table, but the cans were not chilled, and no ice was provided.
Meeting was scheduled to begin at 3:00 PM. Attendees arrived promptly; however, there was no sign of the presenter, Michael Shanks. At 3:15 PM, the assembled group was restless and visibly irritated. At 3:20 PM, Shanks arrives. He is dressed in a suit, holding a tray of slides and a briefcase, and sweating profusely. He taps the microphone, but does not speak. When attempting to load his slides, he dumps them all over the floor.
He stands up, takes off his coat, slips off his shoes, and begins to unbutton his shirt. Within a moment, and without saying a word, he is standing in a white t-shirt and boxer shorts. The group is startled and becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Shanks then takes his t-shirt off. He writes “Follow Me” on it, puts it back on, and calmly leaves the conference room. Incredibly, the group follows Shanks out, murmuring about the strangeness of it all.
Waiting outside are two large U-Haul trucks. The group is hastily loaded into the back of the trucks. The doors shut, trapping 70 unsuspecting employees of No Fear in the hot darkness, and taking them to an unknown destination. Minutes later, the group is unloaded inside an expansive aircraft hanger. Then the group is blindfolded and handcuffed together. Before walking away, Shanks dumps a bag of keys on the floor. He has yet to say a word. After a few minutes elapse, Shanks returns to chaos. He pulls a key from his pocket and unlocks every handcuff with a single key.
His first words to the group are as follows: “Your personal ideas and opinions are restricting and blinding you. Each one of you is looking for the answer. Yelling, fighting for direction, for leadership, for a solution. The answer is simple. The answer is one. One key, one direction, one message, one unified brand.”
The group was moved. Shanks was accepted. Trust was earned. A brand took shape. And, perhaps not surprisingly, a t-shirt was made to commemorate the experience.
As you can imagine the No Fear experience helped shape my future, in particular how I viewed myself and what limits I was willing to go. I learned to embrace the fact that I’m good at challenging the expected. There is value in putting conventional ways to the test. And there is value in knowing where you’ve been.