Laugh, Lead, Learn

All of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with have all had one thing in common. A great sense of humor. Over the years it’s become pretty clear to me that a good sense of humor is a huge part of being a great leader.

I sat down with two friends and former coworkers Jeff Kosloski and Suz Keen to discuss leadership in the digital age — and why funny is so important. Enjoy.

Laughter + Leadership from Wade Campbell on Vimeo.


Barista Leadership

The other day I found myself at one of the 424 Starbucks coffee shops in Seattle. I was reading Charlene Li’s Open Leadership when a young man walked into the store with a back-pack and a skateboard. I like people with skateboards as a general rule—but this one disappointed me.

He ordered a coffee and the Barista, pleasantly filled his order. This is when things got weird. The man complained that his coffee wasn’t hot enough. He was actually disappointed that the coffee ‘didn’t even burn his tongue’ as if that was the measure of appropriately hot coffee.

The Barista explained the pot was recently brewed. She apologized and offered to brew him a fresh pot right then and there. It would take about 5 minutes but she was happy to oblige. He wasn’t having it and suggested she give him an Americano and they could call it even.

“No problem, but you’ll have to pay the difference” she told him. From the measured debate that followed—his motive was clear. He was trying to get a more expensive coffee for the regular price. Overhearing the debate was fascinating. The rational of the customer quickly became ridiculous­—and I found myself in awe of the Barista’s patience and fortitude. After the customer left in a huff—the other Barista reassured her co-worker that she had done the right thing.

So what does this exchange teach us about leadership? A lot. First, that the employee cared enough not to be bullied. It would have been easier for her to just give him what he wanted. Put in her shoes I may have done just that. However, she had too much respect for herself or the company to give in. She stood up for what she believed was right—even if it meant having a customer leave in frustration.

This also got me thinking about social media and the court of public opinion. Like Charlene Li illustrates through her book: Openness to complaints can lead to clarification of what a company stands for. It’s the heat of conflict through which true colors are revealed. As a fly on the wall it was clear to see that the Starbucks employee was operating from sound principles and the customer was not. If this exchange had taken place in the social media sphere—the pushy customer is quickly revealed for what he was: Untruthful and manipulative.

This exchange also provides informative insight into how Sr. Leadership works to empower Starbucks employees. Had this been at McDonalds, it would have gone down much differently. The underpowered employee—afraid for their job would likely have given the customer what they wanted. Who cares anyway?

In conclusion: it’s easy to see the importance that leadership plays every level of every organization. We are a product of the leaders we follow. They empower us to be empowered.



Who’s your sniper?




Have you ever been watching TV when someone else has the remote? Just as soon as you’re getting into something [tschht]. That’s what it was like. Just as I was starting to nod my head – [tschht] – A new voice – [tschht] – A new topic – [tschht] – A new [tschht].

But this wasn’t TV. These were presentations in the AAF’s National Student Advertising Competition. The thinking from the students was better than lots of stuff I’ve seen from ‘real world’ shops—which made me feel pretty good about the future. The presentations on the other hand were eye-opening. Not because they were necessarily terrible. I’d just never sat on the client side of the table in a creative presentation before. The over choreographed and awkward handoffs were very similar to ‘real word’ presentations I’ve seen from big-time agencies.

I don’t understand why, but when it comes to presenting all of the sacred ‘less is more’ rules seem to get thrown out the window—and they shouldn’t. More bells, whistles, visual aids, and presenters—does not make for a better presentation.

It was interesting to note that every single team presenting chose to use the maximum number of presenters. I scrambled to write down names of everyone as they introduced themselves—but no-one can write as fast as 5 nervous, over-caffeinated college student can speak. Don’t even try it.

After the idea packed presentations it was time for a deep breath—(ahh) and a little Q & A. I asked the students the following:

1. “Did you have fun?” — (It was pretty obvious to see that they had).

2. “In your opinion, who is the best presenter on your team?” 

This is where things got interesting. Each team pointed to one or two teammates that they felt was the best. On one team, a guy actually stood up and said: “I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but I’m probably the best presenter.” It was great to see the entire team nod in agreement. So why? Why did every team choose to use 5 people when they all agreed one or two were the best?

This led me to the following: If you only get one shot… do you use a firing squad? or a sniper? My advice. Use a sniper. Kill it.



Hug Your Copywriter

As an ACD I spend a lot of time on conference calls, so it wasn’t a big surprise that I found myself on one the other day. What was surprising was the energy on this one. Everyone was leaning in. People seemed more excited then usual. There was an unsaid understanding in the room and on the other end of the phone. It was like everyone suddenly remembered why they got into this business in the first place.

On the monitor was the topic conversation: One word—and a picture that added up to one huge idea. When I realized that the guy responsible for the concept was nowhere to be seen I started tallying up the titles in the room: Creative Director, Account Director, Associate Creative Director, Regional Account Director, Sr. Art Director, Creative Technologist, Planner—not to mention the clients and partner agencies on speaker-phone. Everyone was buzzing to bring an idea to life. I couldn’t help but think to myself: “all these people finally have something worthwhile to do thanks to a imaginative, articulate copywriter.” Thank god.

People don’t work for people as much as they work for ideas. Nothing motivates or inspires us like a well-articulated thought. Technology doesn’t drive business—ideas do, which is something that is easy to forget. As an industry we tend to value the flashy and new—over the tried and true, which is a big mistake. From my experience, no one is a more efficient generator of the ideas that drive our industry than a good-old copywriter. A good writer can articulate a vision for an ad, an agency, or a brand. A good writer shows us what it could be—what it should be, and can even outline a plan to get there.

For me it all boils down to this: If you’re doing boring work it’s probably because you have a boring writer. If you have a good one—love them, nurture them, and please excuse them for being a little weird.

Next time—bring a confetti gun.



I went to the grocery store to pick up a list of things I needed: milk, eggs, bread—the usual. While I was going down the checklist I came across a clip strip in the cereal aisle loaded with 6-shooter confetti guns. It was exactly what I didn’t know I needed. I bought six of them, one for each member of my team. It was the perfect tool to communicate the importance of celebrating small victories. I walked into the store get the usual line up—and walked out something awesome.

When I think about this trip I can’t help but think about the opportunities we have as creatives to sell our clients something awesome. In my experience, clients don’t go shopping for the next big thing. They shop for the essentials. The list of things they’ve been told they need: OOH, print, TV, point-of-sale. Their job is to check these things off the list and move on. The standard line-up has made client agency interaction about as exciting as a trip to Safeway. They make the list. We fill the basket. Everyone is satisfied. Yawn.


The checklist of elements is a dangerous trap that I’ve seen a lot of teams fall into it. The thinking goes like this: “I did what they asked for—so I’m done.” What good creatives realize is that finishing the checklist marks the beginning of the fun part. You’ve been a good boy and done as you were told. The bell just rang—It’s creative recess. You owe it to yourself to enjoy this part.


The completion of the check-list marks the beginning of creative freedom from conventional thinking. This is your opportunity to create the assignment you want to do. Have you been looking for a project to experiment with social media? Make it. Looking for an opportunity to create an app? Design it. Got a cool idea for a mobile video game? Write it. All of these are confetti gun ideas. Things that aren’t on the shopping list simply because your client doesn’t know they exist.


Your next assignment is your next opportunity to create a confetti gun. Then all you have to do is lead them down the cereal isle.


Random Things You Can Learn from Philip Su

I re-tweeted this eariler this week but felt it deserved a permanent home on the Ra-Ra-Rant. Thanks to Philip Su for providing a lot of random/brilliant insight and Seth Weisfeld for helping it find it’s way to me.


12 Years of Randomness, Ended

Philip Su, Sept. 3, 2010
Microsoft has been an awesome place to work over the past twelve years.  Today is my last day.

I’ve always been somewhat random, so I’d like to end this whole adventure true to form: quirky, controversial, optimistic, seat-of-the-pants, with rarely a satisfying explanation.

Don’t look for coherence below – you won’t find it. And if parts of this offend you, it’s probably because you don’t know me well enough – I offend people inadvertently all the time, almost as a rule.

Thanks for everything.

# # #

In college, I never thought I’d work for Microsoft.  Then I interned in 1997 and fell in love:  free sodas, individual offices (with doors!), Pentium 66’s – what more could a coder ask?  Years later, my manager from the internship quit suddenly when his hard drive crashed, erasing weeks of code that hadn’t been checked in.  He said it was a sign from God.  I have no idea what he’s doing these days.

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