The 2018 Word of the Year

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Way too much potential gets wasted not because of some huge barrier but because of a thin little screen. And that's a damn shame.

Think about those moments when you yearn to create your best work, whatever that might mean to you -- a new company, a side project, a pitch, a show, whatever. The very idea of what that work means to you can consume you. And when you don't get it out into the world, it can feel like you're suffocating.

So why don't you get that breath of fresh air? Why do you sit with that awful feeling? A mental barrier stands in your way. In your mind, it's this thick, brick wall, made up of all kinds of immovable stuff. Bosses. Politics. Precedents. Resources.

In those moments, we turn externally. We look for best practices, or even cheats or hacks. We read blog posts, listen to podcasts, and hunt for that next inspiring guru. And yes, we ask our smart friend for her opinion over coffee. Again.

But what if we applied a little pressure up against that wall? I think then we'd learn the truth: There's no wall at all. It's just a thin little screen. In reality, all that separates great work from average is that fleeting moment where they make the decision to do something simple yet powerful:

Try.

Trying to Drive the Quad

As a kid, I had two friends down the street who were brothers, and both were more daring than me. Their family owned a few ATVs that we called "the quads," and every so often, I'd get to sit on the back of a quad as we drove into the woods towards a circular dirt track we called The Pits.

This trail was full of sharp turns, surprise branches hanging down or sticking up, and a few boulders covered in dirt and moss -- excellent ramps for use by daring brothers on quads, to the horror of one timid friend who everyone still called Jason.

Each and every time we’d ride the quads, I’d pretend I was super excited to drive one myself, then find a way to “settle” for riding on the back of my friend’s as everyone else took turns driving their own. You see, while I loved playing sports as a kid, my sport of choice was basketball, a game where even the lightest slap on the wrist was forbidden. So hurtling at top speed towards a boulder in between two trees? Hard pass.

Every single time, I refused to drive my own quad.

Except this one time.

This one time, I hemmed and hawed as usual, but for some reason, that internal agony felt too great. So I made up my mind: I would try driving my own quad. Immediately, I felt more confident. More excited. More handsome. No longer would someone else drive me forward. I would be the hero of this story. I was Quadman. I was Harry Quadder, the Boy Who Revved!

I was Jason. And I was ready.

I grabbed a helmet, crammed it tightly onto my head, and marched towards a quad. I mean, sure, the one I chose was the smallest of the three -- the one typically reserved for my friends' younger brother. And sure, he was four or five years our junior, which is a million years in Little Kid Time. But the fact remained: I was gonna drive that thing real good.

I eased onto the cushion. I gripped the handle. I nodded towards my friends. I stared at the track ahead. I hit the gas! And I … drove straight into a tree.

Yep.

However! 

I'd never felt so successful in my life!

I'd maxed out at maybe 3 miles per hour, drove maybe 4 seconds, and immediately needed everyone's help to yank the quad back onto the track. But oh, the glory! VICTORY WAS MINE! A million pounds was suddenly lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe again, after all that suffocating over wanting to do it -- but never actually trying to do it.

I took off my helmet, and I Breakfast Clubbed my way outta there...

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Trying Is the Biggest Barrier, Not Succeeding

One moment less than a second long can change everything. When you finally decide to try, everything seems to get better. Years later, in 2014, I remember feeling the same way I did as a little kid, agonizing over not quads but podcasts. Afters months of sitting with that stifled feeling, wishing I could gulp some air, I finally agreed to create a show for my friend's nonprofit.

In total, I produced just three episodes before he left the organization and I decided to end the program. (Here's the first episode. Here's the third.) And yes, three episodes isn't that many. Neither is three miles per hour. But what I’m trying to say, as loudly and directly as I possibly can, is this: The barrier standing in your way is a flimsy little screen, nothing more. It's that fleeting moment where you decide to try. That's all it is.

The barrier isn't "convincing my boss." It's not "finding the time." It's not "getting promoted" or "finding more resources" or "securing a cofounder" or anything swirling in your mind right now. It's deciding to try. Or better yet, it's deciding to be the kind of person who tries.

People who try shrug their shoulders when their attempt doesn't work. They'll just keep trying, getting better each time they do.

People who try aren't seeking success so much as the path towards success. They'll keep trying different things until they feel they've found it, then they'll try their way forward.

People who try push past that barrier between average and exceptional work, not because they possess a secret but because they've made a choice. 

Deciding to NOT try can last forever. Deciding to try takes but a moment.

So, in 2018, what will it be? Will you let someone else drive yet again, or will you get in the driver seat? I'm not asking you to reach top speed or do crazy tricks -- just to get in the driver seat this one time.

I'm not asking you to build a huge business or wildly successful project. I'm not asking you to convince everyone around you or become a master craftsman. I'm not asking you to stare down an industry full of commodity work and build something exceptional.

I'm asking you to try.

Posted on January 1, 2018 and filed under IDEAS.

Evernotes of Note: Unthinkable's Podcast Episode Rundown

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ABOUT THIS SERIES: Heading into the New Year, I'm cleaning up my Evernote -- aka my brain, outsourced. It is, um ... chaotic. But every so often, I stumble upon a gem that I either forgot was there or need to use more. I'm sharing those publicly here, because it's my blog and I can if I want to. (Also maybe they're valuable too. Okay, good talk.)

Creating a narrative-style podcast like Unthinkable can be back-breaking. To help ensure story quality stays high but episode production runs smoothly, I created what's called a "rundown." This is a concept stolen from TV writers' rooms -- hat-tip to Andrew Davis for teaching me this approach.

Today (December 21, 2017), I sat in a coffee shop and updated my episode rundown to prepare for Season 4 next year. I used my most popular and, I thought, highest quality story yet: The Man Bun.

Here it is...

COLD OPEN — 2 MINUTES
    •    Vivid description of something happening with hero

    ◦    Within the above action, establish the larger theme of the episode
    ◦    e.g. he knows, it’s all about putting in those reps

    •    Create a few closed loops
    ◦    Use analogies, and offer incomplete details
    ◦    e.g. it’s a rare craft he pursues in our digital world, but he’s a master craftsman 

    •    Example of their great work, playing out
    ◦    e.g. quote from Scott Stratten’s speech // clip from documentary, etc.

    •    List the what and why it’s exceptional
    ◦    e.g. Scott is a keynote speaker, who has done X talks to Y brands and sold Z books…

    •    BUT…
    ◦    Introduce reasons the hero’s work seems unthinkable
    ◦    Use 3 adjectives over the opening sting/music to drive that point home
    ◦    “I’m Jay Acunzo.” 

A BLOCK: How do they run counter the convention? — 5 MINUTES
    •    Conventional wisdom about the industry or task, delivered in a clever way

    ◦    e.g. Public speaking, biggest fears…not so much

    •    Make it clear: There’s a ton of advice, and there are stakes here — doing this thing matters, so people cling to the convention
    ◦    Combo of VO and quotes

    •    BUT…
    ◦    How is the hero an exception to all that? 
    ◦    Use some examples, Q&A, clips, VO…
    ◦    How do they JUSTIFY that exceptional thing? What does it DO for them?

B BLOCK: Aspirational Anchor: Lead story and reflection on the emotional battle within — 5 MINUTES
    •    STORY — Friction of conventional thinking vs. them

    ◦    Have they struggled with that at all? Why don’t others do it that way? 
    ◦    Stories they can share about what others have said? Self-doubt and feelings?

    •    ANAYSIS & REFLECTION — VO + quotes to make sense of this battle within
    ◦    Go deeper here — find the nuance. It’s not about being a rebel. 
    ◦    What happens in reality? 
    ◦    Get messy! Reality is a mess.

    •    VO: Final framework or quote to stick in your brain about this

C BLOCK: First Principle Insight: Why does this happen? Why best practices in general? What’s the human context? — 5 MINUTES
    •    DISCUSSION WITH HERO

    ◦    Why does this happen? Is it BAD? GOOD? How do they think about this? How do they FEEL?
    ◦    Find the fundamental reality of this situation. 
    ◦    Strong opinions from the hero are key here. 

    •    VO Call-Back: Bring back the theme of the episode, armed with new First Principle Insights from the discussion
    ◦    Knowing THIS…and knowing the Best Practice…something doesn’t add up, or something new has come to light.
    ◦    Given that…(D BLOCK)

D BLOCK: Doing the Work: Revisit their great work and backstory, now that we know more — 10 MINUTES
    •    Another story of the hero’s great work, now through our new lens

    ◦    Zoom way into it and talk through something specific
    ◦    Get their DETAILS and FEELINGS in their story

    •    Reconstruct the backstory
    ◦    Where this all began
    ◦    Early influences (in life and work)
    ◦    How it grew
    ◦    Conflicts he encountered
    ◦    Results and status today

    •    The craft — Focusing on the process above all else
    ◦    Geek out about the process, what they love about it
    ◦    Where they draw inspiration, anything outside the echo chamber?
    ◦    Looking ahead
    ◦    Embracing the struggle — what’s still hard? What’s hard about doing it DIFFERENTLY? 

    •    What others get wrong about this
    ◦    What do they think is wrong about the usual process? What are they mad at?
    ◦    Why that hurts results…or careers.

E BLOCK: Emotional final punch — 2 MINUTES
    •    Quotes: What kind of meaning do they get in the work that they do?
    •    VO: Wrap it up, challenge them
    •    Final tweetable moment: quote or VO

 

Posted on December 21, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

Evernotes of Note: My "Saying No" Email

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Heading into the New Year, I'm cleaning up my Evernote -- aka my brain, outsourced. It is, um ... chaotic. But every so often, I stumble upon a gem that I either forgot was there or need to use more. I'm sharing those publicly here, because it's my blog and I can if I want to. (Also maybe they're valuable too. Okay, good talk.)

I suck at saying no.

Except when I use this handy email. The responses are largely positive, which is my goal and, perhaps, my curse: the need to always be liked and always smooth out any potential conflict. I can't ignore people, I can't say no, but I HAVE TO say no if I'm going to get my work done and have time for family, friends, health, and hobbies.

So I send this instead...

My "saying no" email

UPDATE: I got some very helpful feedback from friends. Below is my older version, and below that, the updated version incorporating that feedback, which mainly focused on being less cheerful. (It sounds more contrived to be cheerful, I suppose. Mostly, that comes from my hypersensitivity towards disappointing others. Hopefully the second version feels better though.)

OLDER VERSION:

Hey! I know it can be tricky and even stressful to reach out and request something of others, so I first want to say: totally respect that and thanks!

So…I hate saying no, but this is a moment in time when I have to say no. I’ve made a commitment to myself to build my business with ruthless focus because, well, I suck at that most days 😃  And so part of my own personal policy is to say no to things like this, however awesome they might be. Having tried the opposite approach before, only to derail everything, I’m focusing on only the following priorities right now:

- Making my keynote speeches as good as they can be

- Producing ridiculously entertaining and/or moving podcasts

- Writing my first book

One of the best but hardest lessons I’ve learned is that side commitments, however small or attractive, require not only the time from start to finish, but the ramp-up and ramp-down time for that commitment…plus the same ramps up and down to get back into the rest of my work. To avoid losing that time and to ensure I can build something I feel proud of, I’ve put this personal policy in place.

Wish you a ton of success and hope our paths cross in the future,

Jay

NEWER VERSION:

Hey! I know it can be tricky and even stressful to reach out and request something of others, so I first want to say: totally respect that and thanks.

So…I’m bad at saying no, but this is an instance where I need to decline. I’ve made a commitment to myself to build my business with ruthless focus because I’m usually not overly focused. For now, I’m focusing on only the following priorities:

- Making my keynote speeches as good as they can be

- Producing entertaining and/or moving podcast episodes for my show and client shows

- Writing my first book

One of the best but hardest lessons I’ve learned is that side commitments, however short they are, require both the time from start to finish and the time to ramp down other work, then ramp back up when I get back to it. To avoid losing that time and to ensure I can build something I feel proud of, I’m really putting my head down. Hoping you’ll understand, and wishing you lots of success.

- Jay

Posted on December 21, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

Twas the Night Before Launching [A Parody Podcast for Creators]

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Here's a final treat and sign-off until next season. Thank you SO. FREAKING. MUCH. for supporting for my work, from speaking to podcasting and beyond! So much in store for 2018, and I'm grateful to you for your time, feedback, and love.

If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe to get my regular Monday emails:

Posted on December 21, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: How Tim Urban of Wait But Why Broke the Wheel

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In the Season 3 finale of Unthinkable, it's time for a story and a battle -- a story about a runaway creative success that flies in the face of conventional thinking and a battle that all of us face whenever we aspire to be better than average in our careers.

Finally, at long last, we blame one dastardly demon for our nasty habit of always taking the easy way out, the accepted route forward. Finally, we enter the battle within, and things get hairy. Luckily, Tim Urban from Wait But Why is here to help. Well. Kinda.

It's Unthinkable.

Subscribe to Unthinkable wherever you get your podcasts: 

Apple | Spotify | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Google Play

Posted on December 17, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: Why Movements Are So Often Started by People Who Never Wanted to Go Big

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How does your intent for your work change your results? If your goal is to build something big, does that increase the odds? Why, then, do so many stories about huge successes start out the same way: with a shrug, and a quick, "I just wanted to brew some beer." ? Today, we explore the story of The Alchemist, makers of the industry sensation, Heady Topper. 

Posted on December 10, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: How One Small Graph Is Helping Steve Invent the Future of an Industry

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Most brand-created podcasts are -- how shall I put this? -- IMPRESSIVELY terrible. So, naturally, Steve Pratt finds total creative fulfillment in that industry. Obviously. See, to invent the future of an entire industry and collaborate with some of the world's top brands, Steve gets to crash through one barrier after another. And as he excitedly does so, his weapon of choice isn't massive budget, a bestselling book, or a big "personal brand." No, instead, Steve calmly walks to the board and draws a simple graph for his clients to see. 

From the outside looking in, his work is just so unlikely that you MIGHT call it ... Unthinkable.

Posted on December 3, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: A $300M Empire Built by Solving a Problem Right Under Everyone's Noses

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Suzy Batiz had sworn off starting companies. NEVER AGAIN, she thought. But one sniff and one conversation later, she was obsessed. Her curiosity took over, and a decade later, she's built a 300-million-dollar empire. And all of it started by trying to solve a problem none of us care to even think about, let alone build a career around.

It's Unthinkable.

LINKS TO KNOW:

Check out the company's first viral video here:

Posted on November 26, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: How One Brand Made a Documentary Film Seem Safer Than Yet Another How-To Post

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Nobody actually takes risks, especially in business, so what if the key to doing better work is making unconventional paths seem SAFER than the best practice? That's exactly what Clair Byrd, Clark Valberg, and the team behind Design Disruptors did. They took a massive project in scope and found a way to make each step seem safer than the last. They built a refreshing, eye-opening project without ever changing their team's goals. They did everything we aspire to do in our work in a way that seems, well, anything BUT Unthinkable. 

LINKS TO KNOW:

Design Disruptors site

Clair Byrd on Twitter

Clark Valberg on Twitter

Watch the original Design Disruptors trailer here:

Posted on November 19, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.

UNTHINKABLE: This Safety Message More Popular Than Rihanna Is Now a Global Phenomenon

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Unsurprisingly, one of the catchiest songs ever created topped the iTunes charts. It beat epic songs by Rihanna and Drake and narrowly missed topping Adele and even Gangnam Style. Away from the charts, this song sparked a global movement -- merchandise and microsites, mobile games and parodies galore. One song and one video, going crazy viral, and snowballing into something much larger than itself. And while none of that seems all that surprising in our digital world today, when you learn about who created this song -- and the insanity that ensued -- it'll seem like pure insanity.

You might even call it ... Unthinkable.

LINKS TO KNOW:

The DWTD website

DWTD on YouTube

Watch the original DWTD video here:

Posted on November 12, 2017 and filed under EPISODES.