What I Learned This Year 2012

We wanted to finish the year on a local high note here on The Egotist. So, we asked some of the most respected creative visionaries in St. Louis to create a piece, entitled "What I Learned This Year." It can take any form they'd like — an illustration, a top-ten list, an article, video, photo or anything else they envision.

This is an archived collection of the pieces we received, posted daily during December 2012. Great thinking from St. Louis's best thinkers.


What I Learned This Year #1: Sang Han, Creative Director

This year, because of a little app on my iPhone, I’ve learned that memories and moments need to be preserved and always remembered. I learned that life goes by so fast that sometimes you forget the little things that make you smile and keep the heart soft. I learned that tomorrow I might wake up to find my kids not wanting to snuggle as much and pass on watching Sesame’s Street. I learned that work comes second because life is just too short to worry about other brands than my own. It’s easy to be cynical towards social media but I very much appreciate Instagram for helping me preserve the little moments in life that I will cherish till the day I die. More than Instagram my post is about preserving memories but I found it amazing that a social media outlet has given me the tool to capture what I love most about life. So to commemorate the memories of 2012, here are a few things I learned this year with a little help from Instagram. Thanks for reading.

15. Hot air balloons are huge and beautiful.

14. Halloween is so much more than a day full of candy and costumes.

13. Max appreciates art like he appreciates Curious George.

12. St. Louis is a great city full of adventures.

11. Lone Elk Park is a diamond in the rough. And I love Bison.

10. Evelyn and Max will be best pals for the rest of their lives.

09. Memories are best shared with a cup of coffee.

08. The Han team loves canoeing.

07. Father’s Day with the family on a beach is pretty hard to beat.

06. I’m a sucker for VWs.

05. My family has a lot of patience with me.

04. San Francisco looks amazing even without fog; on a Monday morning.

03. Gleaming the Cube is still one of my favorite skate movies.

02. We go to the ZOO about 28 times a year.

01. My wife is my rock. And one hell of an Instagram model.

What I Learned This Year #2: Nathan Sprehe, Principal & Creative Director of Almanac

This has been an interesting year for Almanac.

We began the year working out of different houses, holding conference calls in cars, meeting at dining room tables and coffee shops, and spending a fortune at Kinko's. We'll end the year working out of a suitable office space with our long-time collaborator and friend, photographer Jay Fram, and our first intern / subsequent designer. We'll still spend a fortune on printing but at least not at Kinko's. And things keep going strong. We're busier than we've ever been. We're working closely with our clients to solve deeper, more meaningful problems. And best of all, it's working! I used to wake up every day filled with surprise that we're still doing this. I don't really do that anymore.

Good ideas are everywhere. Ideas are cheap…and easy. Making those ideas come to life however, is hard. After all, the cards are stacked against good work and there are so many variables to navigate that it can be exhausting. The budget can make it seemingly impossible to afford original music for your video; the client's printer is working overtime to talk you into their "house silk" sheet; the IT department can deny the simple access you need to set up a website database; even the client’s boss’ obsession with tradition and formality can keep a great idea from seeing the light of day.

The basic dynamic here often suggests "the work" is like water–it seeks the path of least resistance. And so it takes everything we've got to forge a new path, to stick to what we know is right, to push ourselves and our clients to take risks and consider new, often unexpected solutions to problems.

Over the course of the last year I've learned to have confidence in our ideas and our team's ability to lead our clients every step of the way. And along with each successful collaboration comes a deeper sense of trust between everyone involved. And "the work" gets better. It's been very rewarding.

My take away from 2012: work hard and take more risks. Almost nothing worthwhile is easy.

What I Learned This Year #3: Jen & Mark Halski, Prinicipals of Halski Studio

1. "The Win Without Pitching Manifesto" by Blair Enns has been an exciting revelation for us this year. Want to know why? Read it.
(Thanks for the reco Mike Spakowski)

2. Living above our shop is about a lot more than not having a commute.

3. Clients tell you who they are in the first 10 seconds. Believe them.

4. Don't save a great idea. Do it right away. Whether someone is paying for it or not. Whether there is a client to buy it or not. Put it out into the world where it can live. And then move on to the next one.

5. You've got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…

What I Learned This Year #4: Steve Hunt, Creative Director of Cannonball

The ability to forget things is a real plus in our business. Forget the hours. Forget when you lose a pitch. Just forget. Which means that inevitably we all have to relearn many of the same lessons every year. Man, we’re dumb.
Here are a few of the lessons I hope I don’t forget in 2013.

Ideas are so fragile. Like the old guy with the beard in Gladiator said, “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish.” A lot of times we’re all too quick to dismiss an idea—and to bury it with a cynical, snarky comment. Sometimes, being cynical about a client is good comedy relief. But many times it can poison the ideas, the work and the relationship. In 2012, I learned that “glass half full” is so much more productive.

At least it’s that way at Cannonball. Maybe it’s the cool design aesthetic that comes with cycling. Maybe it’s the clicky shoes and crotch-wielding compression shorts.

Cannonball is starting its 10th year in 2013. This past year we hired 16 new people. In my heart, I believe we know what we are doing. And I know that we have really smart, creative people here. But I also know that like all agencies, we’re one or two phone calls away from a real bad day. So we worry. And we work every day to do better, and more, work.

We’re all jaded. It’s a defense mechanism. And it takes a LOT to truly move and inspire a group of ad people. I saw one of those moments this year. In Game 5 vs. the Washington Nationals, the St. Louis Cardinals went down 7-0. Seven to Zero. I gave up. I think everyone in St. Louis did. Except the team.
Daniel Descalso didn’t give up. Pete Kozma didn’t give up. And the Cardinals came back to win. In our business, sometimes you just want to give up on a project or a client. It’s so much easier to give up than to keep pushing and working in the face of the impossible. Pete Frickin’ Kozma didn’t give up. I’m not either.

I love St. Louis. It’s a cool place. (Although I think almost EVERY city I’ve ever visited is cool.) Neighborhood for neighborhood, St. Louis holds its own against anyone. Except for flying in and out of here. That’s just a 2012 reality. We all talk about staying on the map with national clients. It’s a little bit tougher when it takes two flights to get anywhere. You can do it. It just makes for a long day.

There were a few weeks this year where things were just humming along at a good pace. We were busy, but not too busy. No fire drills. No crash and burns. That really drove me crazy.

I had no idea.

Ira Glass said “Great stories happen to those that can tell them.” That’s so true. And it’s why the best ad people are simply the most interesting people. You just want to hear what they have to say. At our place, Joe Bishop is an awesome art director-- and storyteller. If you get a chance, have him tell you the cat piss story. You think you know where it’s going and then CNN gets involved.

Everything comes up cancer. Jammed finger? Cancer. Sore throat? Cancer.
Just make a doctor’s appointment already.

Ten years ago, a negative review would really bug you and have impact. Thanks to reader comments and “anonymous” feedback on every single story, ad or article out there, we’re all becoming pretty desensitized to commentary. A picture of a puppy sleeping? Anonymous says “Stupid.” An ad targeted to someone clearly not you? “Boring. These guys are hacks.” How callous will all of it make us? I hope not very much more.

What I Learned This Year #5: Jay David Creative Director & Designer at Toky

I had this grandiose plan to do an animated gif of everything I was thinking, but then the reality kicked in that I just could not do it the way I wanted to in time. The baby, yes.. I can blame it on the baby. 2012 is looking like one of the more rewarding and yet the most demanding years of my career, and my life. So here's 10 things that have stuck with me from the past year:

• Being a good designer means never having to say you're sorry (about your rates) — unless it's for you, Mom.

• Turning off twitter notifications has increased my productivity by at least double digits. #makeitcount

• I can usually get to the point a lot quicker if I attach an animated GIF to my email.

• It's a pretty good time to be a skilled — even a mediocre — interactive developer.

• Designing just to "get it done on time" has never produced anything I can ever be proud of.

• Being on a roll is a really good appetite suppressant.

• Wearing purple is the closest thing I've felt to an out of body experience.

• There are amazing things happening in this flyover city of ours, and every month I feel more an more sure this is one of the most underrated cities.

• It's about the execution of the work, and how big the client is means very little, if anything.

• Having a baby daughter in 2012 is the one project that gives me a complete sense of hopeless optimism.

What I Learned This Year #6: Deanna Kuhlmann-Leavitt, Principal at Kulhmann-Leavitt, Inc.

In 2012 I learned that in 2013 I need to say no and mean it.
I need to finish up unfinished projects that have been looming for far too long.
When I actually run into a bit of free-time I need to resist the urge to fill it up.
I need to spend less time writing to people and spend more time with people.
I need to celebrate our successes more and fret about uncertainty less.
While I'll continue to make new connections, I need to spend more time with old ones.
I don't know what they are yet, but I need to continue to learn and do new things.
And most of all I need to spend more time with our kids who are growing up way too fast and find just a little bit of time for myself.

What I Learned This Year #7: Brandon Voges, Photographer, Partner & Horse Whisperer at Bruton Stroube

I wasn't sure how to start this, so I looked back through some images from this past year for ideas. I was going through my Instagram feed and as I was quickly flipping through them, I liked it. So before getting to what I learned in 2012, let's first start off with a recap of my 2012 delivered as 206 images in 28 seconds. Keep an eye out for a goat, a gnome, Muhammad Ali and my beard in a box.


I'm not a writer.
I learned that fun fact within 10 minutes of trying to write this. I'll try to be to the point, and descriptive, but don't expect too much flowery language. Or proper, punctuation.

Don't settle.
Sometimes I'll take a picture, look at the screen, and something justdoesn't feel right. It might be a good photo, clients are happy, schedule says to move on. Mr. Gut says don't do it. Don't settle, and don't be scared to change it, drastically if necessary. It's really paid off a few times this year to constantly listen for, and trust, my gut. Also, I don't get along with green peppers so much (different gut rumblers).

Don't hate, congratulate.
It's not that I learned that this year, but more something I've noticed happening more. Some folks tend to hate on something because they didn't make it, and not because it's not good (sorry about the double negative). I've always tried to be one to give props where they are due, and damn, there are a ton of talented folks out there doing amazing work. Fucking assholes. All of them.

Tattoos hurt.
I didn't learn that this year technically, I just forgot.

Shamelessly plug when given the opportunity.
Hey guys, have you seen the new and not-shitty-flash-based www.brutonstroube.com?

People matter.
Collaboration and team effort makes magic. You can't do it alone.

My son is really not that cool.
Yes he is. But I learned to lie about it.

Getting old is not for pussies.
Someone told me this recently. Put that on a t-shirt and I'll wear it.

There is a real and measurable difference between Jelly, Jam and Preserves.
Google that shit. I'm serious.

Really hard work can be really fun.
I shot the most demanding project I've ever worked on this last year. Loooooong days of mental and physical energy at top level. And it was a flipping blast. If you're surrounded by positive people who also share a passion for doing great work, busting your ass doesn't feel like work at all.

You're not that busy.
This was the most important thing I learned this year. Last week was a busy week. I had planned on Wednesday dinner with my grandma for my birthday (which was in October). I had pushed it off a few times already. Tuesday came around and I was close to postponing it again. I didn't and we had a great evening. We closed down the Macaroni Grill after talking and laughing for almost three and a half hours. It was such a fun night. 3 days later my grandma passed away suddenly. It chokes me up to think that I almost cancelled that dinner because I didn't think I could fit it in. Make time for the important things, you're not that busy.

The ass kissing conclusion.
I feel really lucky to work with such creative, interesting and fun loving folks. I truly enjoy you people out there. Clients, crew, team, mom, all of you (and your moms). Thank you for a fun, rewarding and educational 2012.

Brandon "Big Brows" Voges

#broweekend #nuffsaid #tgif #soweird #oops #ineedadrink #worstpickuplines #fundad #cooldad #SXSW #hashtag #winning #fail #badidea #justsaying #soapbox #firstworldproblems #notgonnalie #EPIC

What I Learned This Year #8: James Campbell, ACD at Switch

The Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come

Advice, revelations, maximal truths and (cringe) key learnings are almost impossible to communicate without sounding like an asshole. Usually when I read year-end wrap-ups like this I can’t help but imagine a bunch of execs self-flagellating around a swimming pool filled with money and iPads. What’s worse is that most wisdom is trite and obvious until it bites you in the ass like a fucking bear trap.

What follows is the exact script I would recite to myself if I could go back in time to December of last year and wag my finger in my own face.

Illustration by Antonio Orellana

Responsive is over.

So stop saying that word so much. Devices aren’t the determining factor. Content is. Pixel widths are fluid. Think of your design as a series of modules that have a concrete hierarchy. Consider The Infinite Grid, but don’t call it that, because you sound pretentious. First, try it out on a few internal projects. Don’t convince a client to be the guinea pig. That would be unfair. People will resist, because this way is hard. But that should tell you that it’s the right way.

Don’t battle for moral superiority.

No one gives a shit who stands on higher ground. Be culpable. Instead of placing blame, start fixing it. Forgive almost every mistake. If you don’t, then be prepared to live in a climate where you too are expected to be perfect. Always. Allow yourself some room to fuck up. Start by giving the same space to the Producer, Project Manager, Developer, and (especially) the Client. The top of the mountain is empty and cold, and that’s the place where it really hurts to fall from.

Assemble a Personal Board of Directors.

You read an article about this a long time ago. Then your boss hipped you to another one last year. Get over the creeping sensation that you’ve accidentally stumbled into the hokum-glazed world of self-help cults. Somewhere buried in all that syrupy, mindfuck rhetoric is a good idea. Perspective is impossible to simulate. Find people you trust and test everything. Not because you are weak and indecisive, but because you have been known to have brief periods of bravado-fueled delusion that often result in regrettable life-changing decisions. People depend on you. There is no safety net. Don’t fuck this up.

Stop complaining. Go destroy the bad.

Being a pain-in-the-ass perpetual bummer is a great way to make people hate you. Every agency has problems. You are now in a position where commiserating and naysaying is not an option. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be a coward. Do some research, write an argument, and craft a solution that you can act on immediately. Be proactive. Solve the problem. You simply don’t have time to wait for the cracks to fill in by themselves.

You can’t have accountability without responsibility.

Sorry. It is impossible to celebrate the wins without also taking the losses straight to the face. Beware of people who try to circumvent this truth.

Embrace silence.

Shut the fuck up once in a while. Put some whiskey in your mouth if that’s what it takes to stop your gob from flapping. Don’t fill the gaps – especially in presentations. You almost always say something stupid.

Write everything down. Take pictures.

No matter how much you revile Moleskines and people who stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to take Instagram snaps of the bloody sky – they’re still going to remember stuff that you will forget. I’m pretty sure that if you had been scribbling away in a notebook this whole time you could’ve written several feature films or crafted a few tight 10’s to test out on that open mic night. I see that the overwhelming majority of the photos on your phone are archival shots of whiteboards, so you’re on the right path. But get serious about it. Part of your job is to be accurate and creative and it’s almost impossible to be both in the same moment.

Call your parents, you shithead.

This applies to everyone, always. And don’t reject their calls. It’s not like you have to chat it up for hours. You talk to your landlord more than you talk to your own father. Change. Now.

5am is better than 5pm.

There is scientific evidence that supports the long-suspected claim that your brain turns to a mixture of cold oatmeal andspent charcoal at 5pm CST. Don’t try to tackle that script after sundown. Go home. Eat dinner. Go to bed. Go in early, turn on Coder’s computer (because he has speakers and never uses a password), pull up the Mogwai Pandora® station and GO.

Honesty breeds progress.

Did you just tell someone that their Pinterest campaign idea was revolutionary and progressive. You’re an arrogant sycophant. Life is not an elaborate game of social grace. It’s a gray, barren, lonely cavern and you have just wandered away from the campfire. Honesty builds trust. Telling the truth doesn’t make you vulnerable, it makes you reliable. Try to imagine what your life would be like if people invariably agreed with you and consistently cosigned your line of drivel. If your 16-year-old self would hate your 30-year-old self, you’re probably doing something right. Liars don’t change the world; they only bend it for a moment.

What I Learned This Year #9: Tom Townsend, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder at Rodgers Townsend

This fall I was a Professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, GA . One day I was in the drive-thru lane at McDonald's, in a sketchy part of town.

Seeing a SCAD sticker on my window, the woman on the other side of the window said, "So you teach at SCAD? Hmmmm. I really need an idea for my Halloween costume this year. See, I want to be a cat. But I don't want the same old Wal-Mart costume in a bag."

I told her I was sure there are a lot of options out there.

"Can you give me some ideas?" she asked.

SCAD has a school of Fibers, where students learn how to create with fabric, design fabric, do all things fabric. I knew some of those kids.

"Sure. I know some people who could toss out some ideas. Give me your cell number." She wrote it down with her name, Katherine, and handed it to me. I proceeded to the next window to pick up my Diet Coke.

The next day I'm talking to some Fibers students. Just casual conversation. I told them the story, and asked them to just throw out what comes to mind. Any idea.

"This is for the lady at McDonald's?"


"That's so weird." (Laughter)

"Yeah I know... So what do you think?" I said. "Black tights and a black top, and wire whiskers? A sheet, dyed black, worn like a sarong?"

"Was this the McDonald's on Victory Drive?"


"Strange. (Laughter). That's so funny. Like, how did she ask you?"

"She just did. Give me an idea. Just one, top of your head."

"That's crazy, man. (Laughter) Well, I'm outa here. See you guys later," said one or the other as they dispersed in different directions.

I had that same experience with various people, all who see themselves as strong creative thinkers. Not one idea. Finally, about a week later, I just called Katherine's cell and left her those ideas I already mentioned above, plus one that employed a shiny black one-piece bathing suit. (I could have just texted these to her instead of calling, but I didn't want some boyfriend seeing "Hey Katherine, let's talk about that little cat costume of yours," and coming after me.)

Total time required on my part: only about 8 minutes while driving somewhere.

So here's what I learned this year, or learned yet again: unfortunately, most "creative people" live with their creative input receptors turned off. They separate their creative time from their daily life. They can't solve the simple costume problem for someone who needs a hand, because they've compartmentalized their world in such a way that creativity and McDonald's employees don't mix. So they can't even begin.

So the important input they need from day-to-day life experience isn't there. Poor input, poor output. At the same time, their pump is never primed and ready to creatively solve a problem, quickly. They have to warm it up first. So, they lose the input necessary to solve problems in unexpected ways, while all the while, allowing that mental muscle they use to create, atrophy.

Those of us who greet unexpected experiences openly always go to bed at night a little more enriched by humanity, and a better understanding of all the ways we tick. And over time, we not only become more efficient communicators and problem solvers, we become more effective ones, too.

Not all aspects of, and secrets to, creativity can be taught. But this one can be: interact with the world you are creating for. And not just when you want to, but when it wants to.

What I Learned This Year #10: Mark Philip, ACD at Momentum

When the Egotist asked me to contribute to the “What I learned this year” caboodle, I said sure. Why not, right?

But wait a second. Hold up. I hate the Egotist. Why on earth would I agree to such a thing?

And then it happened. The clouds parted. Light illuminated my silhouette. A children’s chorus rang out, and I was struck with the answer.

I love this shit.

I learned that I love everything about this shitty, godforsaken world of charlatans, cheats, hustlers, slutsters, misfits, marauders, assholes, asshats, dudes with glasses, dudes with beards, and of course, the dudes with glasses and beards.

I learned that I love the shitty briefs. The shitty no-brief emails that come from shitty account execs shitting themselves because they’ve got even shittier clients. I love the shitty brainstorms. I love the hallway shit-chat where an idea is born in spite of a shitty brainstorm.

I learned that I love the early mornings shit sweats that come from early morning deadlines. The late night shitstorms. The weekend panic before-the-pitch shitshows. The shitty deck copy. The shitty deck design. The shitty ideas posing as transformative creative shit. The shitty presentations. The blank looks from clients during the shitty presentations.

I learned that I love the shitty process. The blank page that’s not filled with shit yet. The first pass where everything is how you want it. See, no shit in that sentence. The shitty back and forth that culminates with a creative compromise that can only be described as god-awful shit.

I even love the shit that makes us the self-aggrandizing sycophants we are. The shitty awards. The shitty award shows. The shitty award shows end-of-the-year-who-won-what-shit website wrap-ups. The shit-disturbing comments of anonymous trolls whose own work is even shittier than mine.

And yes, even shit like this.

But why? Why do I love this shit so?

Because without it, (it, being shit), those fleeting moments of perfect creative bliss—a design element that you thought of at the last minute, THE word that makes the line, a client’s thank you, knowing you’ve finally got something good if not great—these beautiful, sanguine shit-free moments, they could never exist. And holy mother of all things shitastic, we need ‘em.

But above all, it’s because our shit isn’t really shit at all.

We’re not staring at spreadsheets, digging ditches, putting our lives in harm’s way, slinging burgers or sitting on a street corner in a pile of actual, literal shit.

We’re the lucky few who get paid to create. Write. Design. Draw. Ride scooters. Take trips to foreign lands. Eat great meals. Meet celebrities. Celebrate consumers. Sell stuff. Make stuff. Do stuff most people on this planet will never have a chance to do.

And that, my friends, is some seriously good shit.

Who couldn’t learn to love that?

What I Learned This Year #11: Tuan Lee, Photographer

Just this past weekend I was reminded of the impact road trips can have. Road trips are great for so many reasons. They can be spontaneous or planned. They're effective no matter the budget. They always have surprises. And they keep you curious while teaching you at the same time.

But most importantly is the creative inspiration I get each time from the simple act of seeing. It reminds of the basic, simple reason of why I became a photographer; I love to look and I love to record. This sounds simple and obvious, but this gets drowned out during the day to day operation of running a business. So for 2013 and beyond I'm gonna pick more amazing places, make sure the camera batteries are charged and drive.

Here is a brief collection of photos from my last trip to Big Sur, CA where I took photos freely and felt like a kid.

What I Learned This Year #12: Bill Keaggy, Creative Director

I can grow a pretty big, sketchy beard.
An estimated 2.3% of my DNA is Neanderthalian.

I need to use Quora more.
The Random-MST3K-O-Matic!
Who has more than 300 apps on his iPhone? This guy.

If you ever need to perform CPR, the tempo of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” is perfect for doing chest compressions. If you dislike the person, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” also works.
I am really good at procrastinating. I get a lot done then. Sometimes I even procrastinate procrastinating.
Must. Learn. Lucid. Dreaming.

My musical tastes have really, really, really expanded a lot.
I could watch dystopian movies, and only dystopian movies, all the time.
My bowling average will never improve.

Food & drink
The Civil Life makes the best beer in St. Louis.
There is a specific gene that determines if your pee will smell like asparagus after you eat it (asparagus, that is).
Homemade ginger white tea kombucha.

Two new brands I love: Dosh wallets & John Masters Organics shampoo.
I like Converse jeans. That explains why I can’t find them anymore.
You can no longer buy the French version of the best toothpaste ever, Crest Vanilla Mint, from eBay sellers in Canada. All stock is completely gone —but the Dr. Collins version is a pretty good substitute.

The less people think of you as the co-worker with "Designer" or similar on your business card, the better. Give people every reason to think of you as a curious, passionate, intelligent problem solver.
"The work you do procrastinating is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life." — @jessicahische
Ray Bradbury said this: “I have two rules in life — to hell with it, whatever it is, and get your work done.”

Comedian Phil Hartman designed the cover of Steely Dan’s “Aja” album.
Oh for crap’s sake just write down or sketch every idea when you think of it, godammit, or you’ll forget. I’m talking to you, Bill.
What you are designing is not an infographic. Trust me.

The Los Angeles Angels baseball team name translates directly to "The The Angels Angels" (pointed out by Neil deGrasse Tyson).
Don't you hate it when a sentence doesn't end the way you think it octopus? — @marcbrandon
If you’re a company that must post a legal terms of use, do it this way: http://500px.com/terms

Liberals’ brains are wired to be curious. Conservatives’ brains are wired for fear.
Almost all the reference photos of vaginas on Wikipedia have no pubic hair (I learned this while working on a project, I swear).
Related: Now I know what the raphe perinealis is.

Most people are better tweeters than I am
“Take me down to the Paradox City where the grass is green and the grass is not green.” — @aaronbelz
“If you stretch an adult sperm whale from end to end on a professional basketball court, the game will be cancelled. #catfishadvice” — @catfishcatfish
“Every Olympic event should include one average person competing, for reference.” — @scottsimpson

In October, “Paul Ryan shirtless” was Googled nine times more often than “Paul Ryan budget.”
“'We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”
“Your party doesn't believe in evolution. RT @McCainBlogette Heartbroken. My party has to evolve or it's going to die.” — @WGladstone

Koalas have human-like fingerprints.
Cows can sleep standing up, but can only dream while lying down.
Chihuahuas are cool. Who knew?

There’s no recipe to mix up when you need it. It’s a recipe for living and looking at things differently.
The internet has made it easy to see extraordinary talent and inspirational creativity everyday, from all over the world. It ends up being extraordinarily uninspiring.
Any decent blog can get turned into a total piece of shit book.

Belief system
The same old thing is usually shittier than the lame new thing, if only because the new thing has so much room to become awesome someday.
My gut is always right, but for some reason I never really believe that.
Ideas are delicious, but execution fills your belly.

Finally, 2013 is going to be Tremendous.

What I Learned This Year #13: David Johnson, President & Partner of Coolfire Media

Face-to-face connections are still more powerful that social media connections. There was a point early on in the year where I passed someone on the street. I knew them because I was connected to them on social media streams, but I didn’t say hello or even catch up with them. So I decided to start meeting with someone once a month that I was connected with on social media and having a face-to-face discussion with them. The results – while not surprising – were amazing.

St. Louis Does Not Suck. Last December, Aaron Perlut wrote an article in Forbes that summed it up perfectly. We have a lot of great things in this city – parks, schools, museums, zoo, and now there is this ground swell of entrepreneurial activity happening. This is key because one of the biggest problems St. Louis has had is attracting and retaining skilled workers. With programs like Arch Grants, Rally STL, and just motivated individuals looking to do something bigger – all have contributed to a greater good that I am proud to say is happening right here in our own city.

When it comes to Politics, it’s imperative that we all do our own research. After watching countless political ads, debates and listening to politically skewed pundits talk about what this or that candidate said, it provided a stark reminder that we as Americans owe it to ourselves and to our country to dig deeper and do your own research on what a candidate is about, what they said or what they did or will do. It’s astonishing to me to see emails from very smart people I know who are taking whatever some chain email says about a candidate as gospel. We have to be smarter. Politicians and their political teams will take facts and skew them in any way they can to win votes. We all need to get involved, dig deeper and get a better grasp on what’s happening.

Ad agencies still make very fast Pinewood Derby cars. Specifically Rodgers Townsend this year. The amount of engineering, design and overall craftsmanship that went into the cars at our annual fundraiser was mind-blowing.

Nelly can still bring it. Yes, we again threw the mother of all parties. Yes, we topped ourselves from last year. And yes, Nelly can still bring it. I thought his performance at our party was fantastic. Hopefully you all did too. Not sure what we will do next year….

Happy Holidays to everyone and Best Wishes in 2013.

What I Learned This Year #14: Brian Cummings, Photographer

This year, I’ve learned the power of saying “Yes.”
Often in my career, I have waited until the timing feels just right or until I feel ready before I tackle a new challenge. It’s always, “When I get free time, I’m going to make that phone call” or play with the newest camera. Well, life doesn’t quite work like that. Life is, “Hey, I got an extra ticket to a show in Cleveland for tonight. We can get there and back by morning. You in?” Rarely does it check with your day planner or ask if you can schedule some time.

I’ve learned that when the phone rings or the someone knocks on the door (except on Saturday mornings), it’s an opportunity to say, “Yes”. What do I mean by saying yes?
I believe in setting goals and having a plan, but I’ve learned that universe takes all those plans, reads them, and sends you the oddest friend requests you’ve ever seen. The packaging doesn’t look like what you ordered, but it’s definitely for you. By saying, “Yes,” I am saying that I am open to the opportunity to learn, the chance to grow, and the chance to fail (failure is one of the greatest things you can experience). I’ve learned that you are never ready until you just do it. I’ve stood on the high dive for years, waiting for the courage to jump in. By saying “Yes,” I let life push me off the board. Sometimes I do a killer jack knife, and sometimes it’s a big ol’ belly flop.
The point is, the doubting and speculating is gone. I’ve done it. I got my feet wet.

… I’ve also learned the power of saying “No.”
While “Yes” can open so many doors, I’ve also learned that saying “No” sometimes can make sure that I am available to say “Yes.” Not to be hypocritical, but by saying “No” from time to time, we can be open for the good things that are about to come. Whether it’s out of fear or desperation, we are all tempted to say “Yes” to opportunities that we know are not what we want. How do we know when to say “No?” I’ve learned that it’s about being honest with myself and trusting my gut. Sometimes, the opportunity is exactly what it sounds like. Nothing more. Therefore, being honest about what I expect to gain or lose helps me with my decision.

I guess what I’ve really learned is that when the timing doesn’t seem right, or the request scares me just a bit, “Yes” may just be the answer. And if my gut says “No”, run like hell.

What I Learned This Year #15: Mike Spakowski, Owner of Atomicdust

“Everything that is good comes from honesty,” is a line from the song “The Last” by rapper Childish Gambino. Admittedly, I’ve been known to listen to the same album for months at a time. And this year, I seem to have his music stuck on repeat. I admit I have issues.

To me, the line is about having the courage to approach things from your own perspective, take chances, and be yourself along the way.

A lot of the projects we worked on this year scared the hell out of me. We decided to take a couple key projects and push them as far as we could, without any regrets of why we couldn’t.

I remember the pressure we put on ourselves when we made the materials for the AIGA St. Louis Design Show. We looked at all the outstanding work that had been done in the previous years, and knew that it really wasn’t our design style. But of course we wanted to make something equally great. At the end, it was just like, “Fuck it, this is how we see it. Let’s just do something we think represents the event and that we can be proud of.”

And it all turned out ok. At least no one bashed us on Twitter.

But I think success is addictive, and we kept trying to do work that made us nervous while trying to hold on to our perspective along the way. We had conversations with new business about the things we wanted to get out of the project. And called out each other’s work if we didn’t think it was where it should be. Never mean, always supportive and honest.

We also tried to talk about the business of design to whomever would listen, because while creative shops love to show their work, hardly anyone ever talks about money or how they get new business. There’s always been a lack of information on the topic, and we always wondered how other companies handle these issues. And while we’ll never have it figured out completely, we tried to share everything we’ve learned so far, so maybe it will help somebody enjoy this profession a little more.

We learned a lot in 2012, and did a lot of things we’re proud of. We had some failures along the way, but we had some pretty great successes, too. And even when we failed, it was usually trying to do something we honestly believed in.

I have the benefit of having amazing support from my family, and I’m privileged to get to work with some really wonderful people. I learned a long time ago how lucky I am.

What I Learned This Year #16: Eric Toky, President/Creative Director at Toky

On big national work: it's not necessarily any more rewarding — financially, emotionally, ego-boostingly — than smaller local projects.

The work we believe in the most almost always turns out the best. Go figure.

Twelfth place globally in the percentage of college graduates means the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world — and we're now competing globally for projects and talent.

Day after day, St. Louis seems to be getting stronger, more energized than it has anytime in my memory (although this may be wishful thinking).

Of all the things we've had to do well over the last four years, doing well financially and creatively at the same time is something the whole team can be proud of.

Christmas on a Monday and Tuesday, followed by New Year's on Monday and Tuesday, blows the whole damn month of December for productivity and profitablity.

My biggest happy surprise: what you can get if you just ask nicely for it.

True creativity is a damn hard way to make a living. If it seems easy, you're probably doing it wrong.

Love your best people — they are essential to your sanity, your health, and your business, so take very good care of them.

Said Thom Sehnert: "Some employees quit. Others quit and don't tell you — they just keep working for you. It's up to the boss to figure out the difference."

To chew with your mouth closed is almost as important as to think with your mouth closed.

Me, I'm thinking the same thing I always think at this time of year: let's make a difference in someone's life next year. If we can't do that, why bother?

What I Learned This Year #18: Ross Toohey, Principal at 2e Creative

Let me first say how honored I am to be asked to participate in this.
And, at the same time, terrified.

“What I learned this year” is a pretty clear-cut question. While one could easily fluff a response to “What inspired me this year” or “What I enjoyed about this year,” there’s virtually no ambiguity to a summary of personal and professional growth over the last 12 months.

I firmly believe that we never stop learning form one another. And I wanted to do this right. I wanted to really look back and share some of the things that expanded my universe this year. As I looked back at previous entries from the Denver Egotist, I saw a pretty wide variety of contributions. A lot of lists of “things that inspire me.” Some chuckles. A few rather heavy personal stories. But the entries to “What I learned this year” that I found most intriguing weren’t the ones designed for entertainment, but the ones where people shared their mistakes, and the invaluable lessons learned from them. They showed me that there are countless other people out there, just like us, building and growing and adapting within this crazy creative business of ours. And they have the same problems, and concerns, and fears we all do.

So my list is short. No, this isn’t everything I learned this year. I’m still relatively young, and that list is too damn long. These are a just few of the key things this year has taught me as a human, a business leader, and as a teammate. Stumbles I’ve made, and revelations I’ve reached – sometimes painfully. Because I also believe good judgment comes from experience, which comes from bad judgment.

1. First find love, then find balance.

This was, by far, the easiest thing to learn once I had the life experiences to appreciate it. Wiser people have told me for years how important it is to find balance between our work, our families, and our personal passions. In my arrogant youth, I wrote much of this off. I mean, some (certainly not all) of the most creative individuals in our history, artists, inventors, teachers, live (or lived) miserable existences. And at one point early in my career, I rationalized being unhappy for the sake of being better. In hindsight, I realize how pathetic that logic was.

This year, my super-amazing wife and I made our second (and theoretically final) installment to our young family. Within a span of 20 months, I went from grew-up-in-a-family-of-boys Ross, to lives-with-three-girls Ross. Now all the things that stressed me out about running a creative business seem trivial in comparison to the open ocean of parenthood.

At first, I tried to fit my family life around my work life. I quickly learned that this wasn’t fair to either my family or my teammates, that it was making me unhappy, and that my work performance was suffering as a result.

So what changed? A couple of things. First, I quickly gained a whole new level of respect for the members of my 2e family that have successfully balanced beautiful families with solid careers for years. Folks like Lynda, John, Matt and Amy. I’ve learned to listen more to those, like Larry, Melanie, and of course, my partner Joe, who are much further along in this journey. These people are amazing, creative folks, and I’m continually inspired by their ability to find harmony.

I’ve also learned to trust others to do their job well. This doesn’t mean I’ve learned to “let go.” I still care about the work we do. It’s my job. But I think I’ve started getting better at setting expectations, then stepping out of the way of my more-than-capable teammates.

And finally, I’ve started putting my family, and the families of those around me, first. It’s okay to step out for my daughter’s preschool sing-along. The company will still be here when I get back.

2. There is true good in the work we do.

I had a bit of a career crisis over the last couple years, most likely triggered by the birth of my first daughter. I had taken a moment from years of head-down focus on the business to come up for air and ask myself what we were working toward. My business partner, Joe, has occasionally challenged me with that very question over the years, but I hadn’t really paid it the respectful attention it deserved. Probably because I didn’t truly understand the question.

But then my brother and sister-in-law joined the Peace Corps. Right now, they’re in Peru directly impacting the lives and communities of thousands of people. They’re two brilliant, beautiful, kind people who are making a difference, and I’m incredibly proud of them. This caused me to ask, what do I do? As much as I love the creative process, and enjoy working in an environment where I’m surrounded by creative individuals, the fact is in the creative business, we don’t actually make anything. We don’t build bridges, or produce widgets, or give people homes. Our most tangible output is ideas and the tools used to communicate them.

But what we do is so fascinating. We actually create products of the mind –
brands, ideas, strategies – out of nothing. It’s a daily cycle of invention. So how do we find passion in the brands we’re so adept at creating?

We shared that question with the team here at 2e Creative. We took a deep, long look at the clients we were most passionate about. Which ones we most enjoyed working with, and what characteristics they had in common. We quickly realized that our favorite brands were those that sought to make a real difference in the world. Brands that challenged us with their complexities, and that saw true value in our ability to help them tell their story.

At 2e Creative, we help drive change for brands that want to change the world. Coming to that realization has helped our team unite behind a common purpose. It has provided guidance in our pursuit of new business. It’s reignited my passion, not just in what we do, but in who we’re working with.

I look forward to revisiting that question with my teammates every day for years to come.

3. We’re made better by the brilliant people around us.

We should all take our heads out of the dreadful mechanics of business to catch a breath of air and remember that companies are communities, not machines.

There was, not long ago, a period in my career at 2e when I was in problem-solving mode. The creative industry was (and still is) in the midst of great evolution, and I had focused all of my energies on how our little company would survive, thrive and prosper. For whatever reason, I made the mistake of thinking it was my job alone to worry about, and ultimately find solutions to, these challenges.

I’d lost touch with the wealth of intelligent, creative brainpower that surrounds me. It took some subtle (and a few flagrant) nudges from my teammates to realize what was happening, but I was astounded at how quickly and readily this incredible team of ours stepped up to help. Brilliant creatives like Simon and Brandon. Solid strategists like Bridget. And tenured believers like Steve and Teresa.

The last 12 months have represented a gradual – but inspiring – community effort to reimagine our agency’s future. We still have a lot of work ahead, but I know it’s going to be an incredible journey.

The net result? I’ve found peace in loving what I do, and more importantly, the brilliant, passionate people I work with.

What I Learned This Year #19: Dan Zettwoch, Illustrator, Cartoonist, Printmaker, Aspiring Whirligig Builder

Click any of the images to view the large scrollable version.

What I Learned This Year #20: Ann Castellano, CCO at Switch

Observations and unsolicited advice based on what I’ve learned in the last 12-ish months.

Don’t Jump to Proportions!
Inadvertent metaphor-mixing is rampant in the ad business, and I suspect in conference rooms across the nation. This is next-level shit for jargon-spewers everywhere. Following are quotations from meetings I’ve been in personally:

“Let’s put a stake in the sand you guys.”

“We need to move the dime.”

“This is gonna blow their socks out of the water!”

Work out at lunch. Put it in your calendar and do it. Even if it’s just a quick walk. A little treadmill time is better for you, your co-workers and your clients than another hour in that office with Turkey Tom, Thinny Chips and a Diet Coke.

Step away from the Outlook. We all know that emailing is no substitute for face-to-face conversations, yet we continue to sit at our keyboards and email the person two cubes over. It’s absurd and (ironically) it makes us less accountable. Sure, your ass is covered. But did you actually accomplish anything?

The person who talks most in the meeting feels best about how the meeting went. So shut your mouth.

I’ll take an influencer over a leader any day of the week. There’s a difference. And we need to get things done.

Amazon Prime is the best thing to happen to shoppers since self-checkout.

St. Louis is our opportunity and our responsibility. We all need to invest our time, talent and money to make this a place people want to work and live and visit. There’s a lot of good stuff happening. Let’s quit complaining and get involved.

There are few things in life more valuable than perspective. Be disciplined about looking at matters from other peoples’ points of view in addition to your own. There’s a whole lot more to see that way.

Your time is precious, so spend it wisely and don’t be ashamed to outsource things that don’t add to your/your family’s quality of life. And if you need help justifying the expense, give me a shout. I’ve gotten good at rationalizing. Ever heard of Doody Calls? I’d rather spend $60/month on that than on a thrice-weekly Starbucks habit. Am I right or am I right?!

Appreciate. There are a lot of good things happening in your life. Choose to focus on those things, especially when times are tough.

Have the courage to care about something. Apathy is for assholes.

Work hard and be nice to people. It’s not rocket surgery.

What I Learned This Year #21: Ashley Gieseking, Photographer

Sitting here trying to write about what I learned this year, only makes me realize how much it has blown by. I think that's a good thing. I was going to tell a story, but I'm not a great storyteller so I think I'll go with a list- let's face it, people love bullet points.

Considering I don't have any real social media profiles, this will probably be the most I've said on the internet… ever.

Be open.
Keeping the door open has been a staple in my diet for the past 5 years, but it really paid off in 2012. I've learned that some seeds take several years to bloom, but are worth the wait.

There's always a way.
This year I've been surprised by some of the things we've pulled off. Like finding an indy car in town on a shoestring budget and somehow getting it transported to the track for free. I've learned not to rule anything out and that even when something seems impossible to keep trying.

Trust your instincts, they haven't failed you yet.
I've been known to be more than a little indecisive, but I've learned it's just a matter of trusting yourself and your ideas and standing up for them, even when they aren't so popular.

The studio can be peaceful at 3am.
Most people know I'm not a morning person, but this year I've spent quite a few late nights at the studio and found that creativity really starts to flow after midnight.

Worry less, enjoy more.
Being in this industry can be both terrifyingly unstable and overwhelmingly exciting. I'm trying to enjoy the latter and worry less about where the next job is coming from. Each week seems to bring a new challenge and new faces. I've had the pleasure of working with some cool people this year that I hope to see much more of, but am also looking forward to who I might meet in 2013.

Sometimes people are just nice.
We live in such a harsh society that sometimes it's shocking when someone offers a little help. It can even seem suspect. This year I've learned there are still a few nice people out there and not to be so skeptical of them.

Censor yourself.
When you say, "lotion up, this one is gonna be tight" during a shoot, someone will definitely put it on Facebook. More thinking before talking next year.

It's just a blog.
Sorry egotist, but life is too short to stress about every move you make. Things that seem monumentally important today, like this blog post, will be a distant memory in a week or two. So… if I embarrass myself here, it'll all be forgotten next month. Yay!

Be grateful.
We live a charmed life compared to most. This fall I had the privilege of meeting some of the bravest little people out there through the World Pediatric Project. The challenges these kids were facing gave me a swift kick and reminded me just how incredibly lucky I am, not just to have such a fun job, but also in the grand scheme of things.

I'll leave you with my favorite token from the year, the cutest handmade card from the WPP kids. Of course I couldn't read it so I had to google the translation.

I still have a lot to learn… like Spanish.

What I Learned This Year #22: Traci Moore, Designer

While reflecting on what I learned in 2012, I realized that the list is LONG! It’s been shaped by lots of life changes, some sad events, and a lot of hope for the future. I think the best way for me to tackle it is to rely on some “Traci-isms”! What’s a “Traci-ism”? Well, of course I made it up, but it’s part cliché, part quotes from profound people, and part experience…all with a hint of humor. I won’t list them all, but let’s hit the Top12 since we are signing off to the year 2012!

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
So, this statement can be attributed to God, parents, teachers and anyone who is older than you and wants you to know things will get better. In my case, this year has been a continuation of trying life experiences, including divorce, parental illness and a few other events of note. I believe this statement more than ever. Significant emotional events teach and strengthen you!

Never burn a bridge.
I got this one from my Dad, and though not original, it’s a rule I live by! People can drive you crazy. They can be mean, nasty and just down-right awful. However, St. Louis, and perhaps, the world, is too small to make unnecessary enemies. Whatever the case, you can always do your best to be cordial, professional and try to keep the “bridge” still crossable. You never know when you might need it!

So, #2 leads me to #3. Always try to be the bigger person.
This one is hard. You will be tested, as I have been this year, and I do believe when you strive to leave a situation in the most adult way possible, it will work out for the better. It’s okay to get angry, mad, pissed off… but, in the end, try to remain graceful!

You are not your age, but you should act it!
Once I turned 40, I thought, “damn I’m old”! But “old” is a state of mind, not a number. I have the responsibilities of a 42-year-old, many that are not fun. And some areas of my body ache unlike ever before. But, I don’t feel 42 and I don’t act it! I do, however, choose not to dress and/or behave like I’m 18, and that’s a good thing for everyone!

Do what you love, and love what you do.
Another quote from my Dad, which I have followed for years. This year marked 15 years of running my own business. I think we should always evaluate if the thing you do to make a living really makes you happy. And, all things ebb and flow, so we won’t always love every minute or aspect of it. However, we spend so much time working, shouldn’t we enjoy it?

Be adventurous!
In September, my friend and I drove to Chicago for 24 hours to see Prince in concert. It was totally worth it!!! Some things are worth the hours of sleep you may miss. Like one of the most powerful brands in the world markets—Just Do It!

Agree to disagree.
This was a very political year, as we all know, and thank goodness it’s over. The election happened, and in four years, we’ll do it again. I’m pretty sure we all have some battle scars, but it’s time to let it go! Changing someone’s mind is not always possible, and it’s okay. Most relationships are worth more than the argument!

Be open to anything and anyone.
I’m a bit of a control freak, but have learned you don’t know what or who is going to happen. So, when something unexpected shows up, keep the door open and “the light on”, as my friend says!

Try new stuff!
As long as you won’t die doing it, try it! This summer I took a few classes: one in quilting, one in letterpress and a mixology class! It was a great experience and I loved learning something new.

Kids are amazing!
I’m the proud aunt of five and Godmother to four. I work with students in my classes at WashU, and through a mentor program at U. City High School. I’m surrounded by young people. Kids constantly amaze me and make me excited for the future!

Cursing is a stress reliever!
The best word ever invented begins with the letter F! Using it regularly is cathartic. Just make sure there are no kids or tightly-wound adults around! Oh, and I don’t curse in front of my parents or members of the clergy!

Always find something to laugh at, even if it’s yourself!
It’s not always easy to do, but it’s very needed. A good cry is helpful, but a good laugh is therapy! If you can’t find something on Facebook, try a movie, or call a friend that always makes you laugh.

In honor of 2013, a baker’s dozen!

Life is short.
This year, after teaching more than 8 years, I experienced for the the first time a passing of one of my students: Emily Benatar, a freshman. She was the kind of girl that made you smile just looking at her, and was a joy to have in class. I didn’t know when I met her that she would die within six months and I wouldn’t get to tell her how much potential I thought she had. This event sent me into a tailspin. If a freshman in college can suddenly die, what does that mean for the rest of us. Since then, we’ve had shootings of small children, Hurricane Sandy, and all kinds of other tragedies that have taken lives of people who were not expected to go.

What I was reminded of by Emily’s passing, and the sadness in the loss of life of so many other people, is that life is short. Tell people you love them now. Treat them well, even when they don’t deserve it. Let them know that they are behaving badly, but tell them you still love them anyway. Don’t get rid of rules and boundaries, but remember that there are so many people in our lives that we affect daily, we may not get that chance again.

In your quest to protect yourself, to be strong and love those immediately around you, remember those people you don’t know very well. The ones whose lives are impacted by you, even if only for that moment. Then, acknowledge it and let them know they matter.

Don’t get me wrong, 2012 wasn’t all bad, or all good, but I’m sure looking forward to 2013 and what happens next!

Rocket Fuel