I Freed My Heels, And My Mind (And Work) Followed

My parents started me on skis at age four. Three years later we moved a couple miles down the road from a small family-oriented ski hill in the northern Catskill mountains, and as long as there was snow, I skied every day and pretty much all weekend, every weekend. Raced on the school team, built and got pretty good.

In my twenties and thirties, I spent a fair amount of time skiing in Utah and Colorado. Big stuff – double diamond trails, ungodly huge bumps, straight vertical drops off the tops of sheer rocky cliffs into waist-deep power. I got even better. I’d say it would be fair to say I considered myself to be an expert skier.

Then I got married, had kids, put on 15 pounds and threw out my aging ski gear. I’d go out once or twice on rental boards and found I could always hold an edge. I wasn’t slipping too badly. We got both our kids out on the snow – one boarder and one skier. Some of everything. As they got better, we hit bigger hills in New England, but neither one of them wanted to get off the greens and blues. There was no aspiration for black diamonds in our house, seemingly.

I got bored.

So with very little knowledge to back the decision up, a couple years ago I decided to take up telemark skiing and all of a sudden I had no idea what was doing. I was a beginner all over again – and I didn’t even really remember being a beginner the first time. I was really struggling, so I got some help.

I took a couple lessons from guys half my age. I bought a couple books and CDs. Found a couple free-heeling friends. And I thought I had it figured out, but after the intervening summer I found I had regressed. So I repeated the process.

It struck me the other day that as I, and my agency, embark on our own take on what just what advertising needs to be these days, deep down, I’m not an expert at this stuff anymore, either. Not just because the media and content channels have changed, metrics have gotten more complicated, and so on. That’s like switching from the old skinny skis to shaped skis. It’s pretty much new wine in old bottles for anyone who grew up deeply immersed in digital since the 90’s.

The thing that has me feeling almost like a beginner again is the way buyers have changed. It isn’t just that the stuff is different; the mindset is different as well, and the emergence of the engaged buyer has me approaching a lot more challenges and opportunities with a beginner’s mind. I’m still grabbing the marker and helping facilitate the discussion, but I try and spend more time grabbing younger staff at the agency and saying “Let’s figure this out together.” When I’m coaching teams, it’s with more of a focus on how we can all “fail forward” together in this changing world.

When it comes to marketing, it’s my opinion that expertise is often a thin veneer laid over orthodoxy – or even worse, hubris. Experts with turf to protect will have a hard time learning to understand and respond to a changing world.

Lifelong beginners? If they’re open to getting some help and working things out together, they’ll do just fine. Me, I’m off to a weekend telemark camp to brush up on backcountry skills in a couple of weeks. Think snow, friends.

No, that’s not me – but with some help I hope to be burning it like this soon. (Photo credit: Dirk Groeger under Creative Commons.)

No, that’s not me – but with some help I hope to be burning it like this soon. (Photo credit: Dirk Groeger under Creative Commons.)

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Contact Greg Straface at [email protected]


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