If you’re tired of cliché success quotes, do some groundwork, get out there, and meet someone like Chuck Vollman for coffee. Everything about this man makes you want to ask what’s the secret? How do you get to your 80s and still have the swag of a young gun in his 30s?
As soon as he was old enough to work, Chuck got his sign-painter card to work as a journeyman for his father. Yes, sign-painters are exactly what they sounds like. They paint signs. However, sign-painting as a profession had a bit of a negative connotation, one where the general consensus was that you were a drunk and your work was only worth what was needed to get the job done and nothing further. There was no premium service to be offered, no real skill or art perceived by the average business man when hiring a sign-painter, and thus the ceiling for success in such a profession was quite low.
This didn’t sit well with Chuck. He knew the value in his work and wanted to be recognized for it. So he did what all great pirates, dreamers, and innovators do. He changed the game. By rebranding himself as a lettering artist, he was able to enhance the perception of his work in the eyes of prospective clients, adding a more intimate sense of meaning to his work. He didn’t just paint signs or sell billboards, he looked to understand your company, the needs of your audience, and connect the two through design. This outlook on advertising and design was a key element in the foundation that made his company, Vollman Advertising, such a success.
What follow are the answers to that question I asked earlier; how do you get to your 80s and still walk around kicking ass and taking names like a day hasn’t even gone by?
Be the brand, but don’t forget to have fun.
Everything Chuck has done in his career and personal life has been anchored in the philosophy that whatever you do, make sure you’d be willing to sign your name to it. With your reputation on the line, you’ll be pushed to put your best foot forward. So be the brand, and make it a great brand. Hold yourself accountable and push for a better you, but in that pursuit, don’t forget that child-like wonderment and fun of being alive. As Sixto Rodriguez would say, “You’re either alive or you’re not.” Don’t forget that. Find the things that bring the most joy and happiness in your life, and make time for them. It’s not a race, it’s a journey, and there’s no real sense in making money if you can’t enjoy the things that truly make you happy.
Stop asking why me, and start asking Why Not Me?
I asked Chuck where he got it, or where that hunger to always push the boundaries of his own capabilities came from. He didn’t answer right away, as realizing your own origin story isn’t always the easiest thing to nail down. However, after a short reflection, he came to understand it was all about the experience he had growing up. He saw others who had achieved success financially, socially, and in life in general, and started asking how he could achieve the same. He didn’t bother with the thought that it was unattainable or that only select people, families, or professions were meant to make it out on top. He just kept pushing forward till he made it, setting bigger, more hairy and audacious goals time and time again.
Every stranger comes with a new opportunity.
Chuck’s drug of choice is people. This drug isn’t reserved for the extroverts of the world either. Instead, all you need is an ounce of curiosity and the courage to act on it. If you see someone sitting alone at the bar, or the guy playing solitaire at that new board-game café, give them the opportunity to join your group or start up a great conversation. Think about it as leaving each place you walk into better than when you arrived. Even little gestures like getting to know your baristas at your local coffee shop or sharing a smile with your bank’s tellers can make all the difference in your day and theirs.
Do what works, fight for what’s right, and never give up.
It’s scary as all hell, but when you are faced with a problem that has no obvious solution, you have to create one from scratch. For some of you, this will prompt you to retreat back to a more comfortable place where you can lean on the rules and follow an already paved path. However, if you ever expect to be better, you have to trail blaze. The thing that separates the ones who do and the one’s who do not, is an overwhelming will to never give up. You might starve for a few years, but the choice to tough it out, fight, and never give up until you have what you know to be yours, is all on you.
"Make everyday an adventure."
There are two types of innovation. The first is the kind where someone identifies a need that has yet to be fulfilled and develops a product or service to fill that market gap. In this case, you have nothing to base your path forward on because you’re a first mover. The rule book for the new industry you just created doesn’t exist yet, leaving you with very little if anyone to look to reassure you that anything you are doing will actually work.
If you think that’s difficult, try challenging an established industry, one with a stone tablet of a rule book on how to be successful. This brings into light the second brand of innovators, the ones pushing to disrupt the status quo. These movers and shakers face all the same obstacles as first movers, but to go one step further, they now have opposition, armed with results and case studies, to back up their reasoning to keep things the way they’ve always been done.
This brings up my main question, and the conversation I had with TG Livak. How the heck do you break path dependence and push for initiatives that redefine the way you do everything?
Know the Business
When your proposals aim to disrupt the status quo, your dots need to seamlessly connect. For that to happen, you first need to know the territory. Alignment is key to introducing new ideas. If you want to bring change, you need to know your business inside and out. If you can’t articulate what it is you do, why it matters, and a general idea of how to get from point-A to point-B beforehand, your idea will fall flat.
Know Your Audience
Next comes the challenge of identifying those within your organization that can make your idea a reality. Assuming the key decision makers, or the people who have the power to say yes to your ideas, are easy enough to identify, your next objective should be to isolate the social influencers. These individuals are not always management level, but can best be described as the ones that employees turn to for a final opinion to influence their own actions. Once you have these two groups identified, look to understand their motivations to buy in, as well as what might prevent them from investing in your idea.
Know How to Pitch
In today’s digitally connected world, the average person has about an 8-12 second attention span. This means that extra time you put in to thinking about how you will craft your message, where and when you will deliver it, and the tone and voice you will use to resonate with your audience is no longer an option, but rather essential for success.
Still want to challenge the status quo?
It turns out none of that even comes close to phasing TG. You see, TG’s the type of person who’s obsessed with finding better and faster ways of doing just about everything. Whether it’s finding a way to cut the time it takes to get ready in the morning in half, or how to re-engineer internal processes to maximize efficiency and effectiveness for the organizations she works for, she has an intuitive knack for elevating just about anything to its full potential. Add to that her 7+ years of marketing experience, TG understands how to engage and guide audiences to a desired action, thus bringing a unique set of skills to the table that help make ideas happen, inspire change, and drive organizations forward.
If you’d like to connect with TG, you can find her on LinkedIn here (click here) and Twitter here (click here).
To learn more about overcoming path dependence and bringing new and innovative ideas to the table for your organization, I highly recommend the following two books.
- Illuminate, by Nancy Duarte
- A Beautiful Constraint, by Adam Morgan & Mark Barden
Any venue can put on an event, but if you want to create a sense of community and inspire growth in your city, it starts and ends with your organization and the people you employ.
Meet Ballpark Village, a relatively new dining and entertainment district, located right next to Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. With a wide variety of spaces including restaurants, bars, lounges, and entertainment venues, it was created to host everything from game-day parties, to private events ranging between 20-10,000 guests. However, these are just the surface features. Standing as a 50/50 partnership between the St. Louis Cardinals and The Cordish Companies, both organizations bring a unique set of underlying values to the table that demand their leadership invest in the community as much as they invest in their own success.
Having interviewed the Director of Cardinals Care a few years ago, I was aware that the idea of “If you have the ability to give back, you should” is a core value that governs everything from general management, to hospitality training, to hiring new team members. It was no surprise then to see why The Cordish Companies brought Tony Caradonna, aka the Beer Man, on board to help make Ballpark Village an epicenter for the St. Louis community.
Saying Tony has a knack for hospitality is probably an understatement at best. He understands that every impression is an opportunity to create a memorable experience for guests and goes out of his way to make sure they come back wanting more. Take where we had our meeting for example. Instead of sitting in some remote conference room, he walked me out to their main deck overlooking 3rd base, practically with the whole stadium as a backdrop to our conversation, where we talked beer, baseball, and Ballpark Village.
Believing that successful organizations are built on quality experiences, hospitality, integrity, and a constant effort to build and nurture long-term relationships, Tony also brings experience in leadership, business development, and strategic design to the table. His nickname as the “Beer Man” comes from his unofficial title as one of the founding fathers of the Missouri craft beer movement. As a tour guide at Anheuser-Busch back in the 80’s, he recognized a unique opportunity and started the first Missouri craft-beer distributorship in 1990. With a decade of incredible success, he sold the company to Major Brands, and then launched his next venture; the O’Fallon Brewing Company. After another decade of award winning achievement, he sold yet another profitable and successful business.
Having created a name for himself both in the St. Louis area and what is now a booming craft-beer industry, The Cordish Companies made the call and asked him to come on board as a key team member to fulfill Ballpark Village’s vision. He said yes, became the 6th team member to join on with Ballpark Village, and is now a key player in helping make Downtown St. Louis the destination it deserves to be.
Ballpark Village just announced plans for a $220M+ project, made up of a 550,000 square foot build-out of Clark Street, with a 29-story luxury high-res residential tower, additional retail, restaurant and entertainment space, structured parking, and the first new Class-A office building built in downtown St. Louis in nearly thirty years. This phase 2 of Ballpark Village will create 2,500 additional new jobs for the community.
Having achieved so much in the mere two and a half years since they opened their doors, Tony reiterated the importance of their views on social responsibility and that this expansion is only the beginning. There’s no checklist per say to what’s next, just a drive for progress and mindset centered on the idea that when you have the ability to give back, you should.
For more information about upcoming community events, you can click here to learn more.