Get to know Shanks

January 2, 2017

No Fear

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.

July 2, 2016

Get Uncomfortable

The year, 2003, long before YouTube, Facebook and way before iPhone’s were in everyone’s hands. For me, it was a time to get uncomfortable. I took a risk and strapped a camera to my noggin, walked into Panasonic and made a bold promise to design a new product, and create the branding, packaging and advertising. The kicker, I promised to deliver everything in two weeks.

Watch the video to see how it unfolded. I gotta be honest, it still makes me very self-conscious, although I tend to think that’s a good thing. Most of us could stand to make ourselves more uncomfortable from time to time, myself included.

Enjoy.

June 15, 2016

Idiots

As a member of the creative and marketing industry for the past 20 years, I’ve been exposed to a wide-range of businesses and people. Like many of you, I’ve benefitted from some of the best possible behavior humankind has to offer. However, I’ve also been subjected to some regrettable souls. The people for whom creatives provide services are often referred to as “CEOs,” “CMOs,” “Directors,” “VPs,” “clients,” “customers,” or “business partners.” From my perspective, there are better descriptions available.

In my experience, there are idiots. There are assholes. And there are believers. Nothing else exists.

In a perfect world, I would have some kind of omniscience that would allow me to avoid all of the assholes and idiots, and to only work with the believers. Unfortunately, there is no real test for identifying idiots and assholes BEFORE the engagement agreement is signed. All too often it takes time for idiots and assholes to reveal themselves. However, here are the tell-tale signs….

Idiots

You’ll recognize idiots because they have only a vague idea about what they want or need. Idiots lack vision, and they refuse to trust those who possess it. They hurt projects by delaying or failing to make the necessary decisions to move forward. Idiots also make the mistake of needlessly involving too many other people. Their over-inclusiveness is a mask to cover the fact that they don’t have a plan. Idiots are scared. They settle instead of excelling. They water down greatness.

To be fair, perhaps idiots are only ignorant. They don’t know what they don’t know. But these kinds of people, especially those who fail to recognize their ignorance, create frustration. The result is that people, processes, and projects shut down under such conditions. It is woefully painful to work with an idiot.

The good news is that there is hope in idiocy. Idiots can, and often do, change. They are capable of becoming believers. Keep your head up idiots. But you will need to work with people who are more experienced or smarter than you, and preferably both. If you do that, you’ll be fine.

Assholes

Assholes, on the other hand, are a lost cause. They will never change.

I’ve never met an asshole who later became a non-asshole. They won’t because they already know everything. They don’t work with people; they use people. Assholes are dominators who are only interested in their own power and perspective. Assholes are uber-selfish and arrogant. They often suffocate the human spirit and kill creativity. They irritate, dictate, and foster a culture of fear. They literally ooze assholery. Few things fresh, innovative, or great ever come from an asshole and, when they do, peoples’ self-esteem and careers are crushed in the process.

I’ve also never seen an asshole transform into a believer. Not once, ever. Avoid assholes when you can. And when you cannot, get away as soon as humanly possible.

Believers

Believers. Ahh….Believers. I love them. You love them. We all love them. The best thing about believers? They trust. They trust people. They trust the creative process. Believers trust because they understand that trust is encouraging and inspiring.

Believers also give. They give information. They give constructive feedback. They give freedom. Believers give all of this because they understand the creative process is not perfect but instead involves fluid circumstances.

I also think believers trust and give because they understand that creatives yearn for and feed off of it. Believers understand that it is risky to create, and the creator exposes himself to judgment and criticism, which makes him incredibly vulnerable. Believers know that providing an environment and relationship that is based on freedom and trust is a sure way to reap the full benefits of creative talent.

The next time you engage a creative, for that matter any new service, don’t be an asshole. Instead, be a believer, and watch what happens when you give and trust. My prediction, the results will surpass your expectations, and make you – and your product or service – look great.

June 15, 2016

Shake Shack

Thank you Restaurant News for recognizing our Shake Shack piece as a “Must See” video. We’re honored to be in the mix with firms that produce content for McDonalds, Taco Bell and KFC. We appreciate the love.