Matt Lindley: Finding your unique creative contribution as an artist and a parent
Matt Lindley was the Director of Innovation for SapientNitro when I first met him. We became friends instantly when he first started working there in 2009. Matt had such a positive impact on my life. If you ask me to list three people who have helped shape me into who I am today, Matt would be one of them.
Matt's list of accomplishments in the advertising and marketing world goes way way back. Today, he works for Google as the Global Creative Lead for Unskippable labs.
He's been a storyteller for over 25 years. He sold OneZero Media, where he created and produced CBS’s first broadcast TV show about the Internet, and personally hosted the show for three seasons. He was an ECD/EVP at Arnold Worldwide leading the team for the Progressive Insurance account. More recently, he co-created a business visioning tool called ThirtySix at SapientNitro.
He's a board member for Friends of the Boston's Homeless, a non-profit organization that helps over 400 homeless individuals move beyond shelter to lead independent lives. He is also a board member for Stop Handgun Violence. Those of you who have driven the Mass Turnpike around 2008-09 probably noticed the 250-foot billboard that says "We Sell Guns! No ID Required. No Background Checks."
In this two-part episode, I interviewed Matt Lindley at his home office.
In Part 1, you will hear about Matt's path from growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania to his appointment as a senior advertising executive. Matt shares his strategy for making sure your creative input is valuable and valued. We also touch on parenthood and what it means to do the best you can as a father and colleague.
In Part 2, we explore "A Day in the Life of Matt Lindley, Director of Innovation". Beyond growing a business, Matt is especially interested in growing and empowering the people around him. We talk about the overlying theme and the collective wisdom that help us move forward. Matt started a Breakfast Club, where he brings likeminded people, friends to sparkle ideas and have a great time. Last but not least, I couldn't possibly leave the question out:"How much of Mad Men (the TV show) is true in advertising agencies TODAY?" :)
A TV show host in a previous life, Matt once again turned the mic around and asked me: 1) Why the feisworld podcast, 2) What triggered me to care about what and how other people think, and 3) How in the world was I obsessed with ice hockey and thought it was my life's calling? I guess you will learn about me in this episode as well (totally unplanned and unscripted).
Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave your comment below and share the podcast with your family and friends. Your support will keep me on track and bring many other unsung heroes to this podcast.
Select Links from the 2-Part Episodes:
Part 1 Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):
The beginning of wanting to make TV. [6:05]
Matt's father's artworks [8:45]
Wednesday night drawing class hosted by Matt's father [9:30]
The notion of having both parents who are artists [11:40]
"There's no more straight lines in my life, just curves"[14:05]
Matt turned into an interviewer for a sec and asked about my mom (Xiang Li's) upbringing and art as a form of meditation [15.40]
What shaped Matt into who he is today, recognized as "one of the greatest minds", who has the "ability to quickly understand a situation and come up with several solves that both tug at the heart as well as move someone to act, is unparalleled" [18:30]
Why be in advertising + A child's mind [20:23]
Why Matt thinks feisworld podcast is a really good idea [21:20]
Why Not You? [24.15]
Put yourself out there! [25:50]
The 3 most memorable moments of Matt (for me, at least) [30:15]
Do not abandon your opinion [33:35]
Why be gentle to yourself? [38:15]
Podcast becomes a journey that lubricates the rest of your life and put things in perspective [41:30]
Part 2 Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):
A Day in the Life of Matt Lindley as a Director of Innovation [3:15]
What's the overlying theme that helps us move forward in every direction? [7:15]
How do you create a group of likeminded individuals? [10:15]
Quickly introducing Peter Borden and his comments about Matt Lindley as a colleague [17:30]
Matt's Breakfast club [19:30]
How much of Madmen (TV show) is true in advertising agencies TODAY? [21:30]
How Matt turned a multi-million dollar business around after the client said no? [22:45]
On a magic moment in advertising: when Don Draper said: "It's not a wheel, it's a carousel" [25:00]
Podcast changes my "being" [28:00]
What's really important to Matt as a parent? [29:15]
The ability to listen + a welcoming nature [29:00]
Why was playing ice hockey a dream for me? Matt asks. [31:00]
Story of the NPR D.C. Artist, now 97 [39:00]
The process of a meaningful life: Matt's influences on me and how he enables me to be myself. (Reference: Bruce Springsteen makes you want to be like him, and Bob Dylan makes you want to be yourself)
Transcript of Interview with Matt Lindley
Welcome to the Feisworld podcast, engaging conversations that cross the boundaries between business art, and the digital world.
Fei Wu 0:16
My friends, it's been a month since I released the first episode of my podcast. This is going to be episode number eight. I've hit a 500 download milestone a few days ago, pretty psyched about that. Well, the most exciting part of today is introducing my next guest, Matt Lindley. For those of you who don't know, Matt is the director of Innovation for SapientNitro. We became friends instantly when he first started working there in 2009. Matt had such an impact on my life. If you were to ask me “List three people who helped shape you into who you are today”, Matt would be one of them. Matt’s list of accomplishments in the advertising and marketing world goes way, way back. He's been a storyteller for over 25 years. He sold OneZero Media, where he created and produced CBS’s first broadcast TV-show about the internet and personally hosted that for three seasons. He was an ECD/ EVL (by the way, that means Executive Creative Director, as well as Executive Vice President) at Arnold Worldwide the team for the Progressive Insurance account, and most recently he co-created a business visioning tool called ThirtySix at SapientNitro. He's a board member for Friends of the Boston's Homeless, a non-profit organization that helps over 400 homeless individuals move beyond shelter to live independent lives in our community. He is also a board member for Stop Handgun Violence. Those of you who have driven by Mass Turnpike since 2008, you probably have noticed the 250-foot billboard that says “We sell guns! No ID required, no background checks”. In this two-part episode I recorded with Matt Lindley at his home office, you'll hear about Matt’s path from growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania to his appointment as a Senior Advertising Executive. Matt shares a strategy for making sure that your creative input is valuable. We also touch upon parenthood and what it means to do the best you can do as a father and as a colleague. I hope you all enjoy the show. And remember that you do not have to scribble furiously, show notes, tools and resources can be found on my website at Feisworld.com. You can also listen to my podcast directly on Feisworld.com or subscribe via iTunes and non-iTunes channels. Enjoy!
Fei Wu 3:15
The first movie, what year was that?
It was 1984.
That’s funny that you're in here. All the stuff’s in here.
Fei Wu 3:38
Wow, this is great. Like, if we just go around your office…
Yes, we can.
Fei Wu 4:06
So what about that movie from 1984? What was in it?
The movie was called Soaring. So I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, and right behind the farm was an airport. The airport was a little grass strip, and every day as a kid, I would watch the sailplanes, planes with the motors. So I've watched them and I could hear them come over the house when it was really quiet. When I went to George School, which is where I went to high school, they had a senior project, so you get like three weeks to go do something, and I decided to make a Super 8 movie about flying. We got a tape recorder, put it between my feet, we got a Super 8 camera, Bolex, and we went up to sailplanes for like, you know, two weekends. Then we used the Steve Winwood’s soundtrack, put it all together and showed it. I mean, it was really old school.
Fei Wu 5:06
How long was it?
It was probably three minutes. I showed it to an assembly my senior year, and I went back for a high school reunion for 20 years, 15 years, something like that, and I wanted to had that movie. So my plan was to put it on a DVD, and then the guy I was talking to said “I wouldn't send your old Super 8 movie”, and I was like “Well I don't want to lose it”, so I'm still waiting to transfer it all, make it all digital.
Fei Wu 5:32
Really? When is that going to happen?
I don't know, sometime soon, I hope. But it's great, it was a fun movie and the end of it was two loops, sailplanes, which are really scary because you have no motor so you're going straight down like 90 knots. And then the thing goes inverted, and you can hear my voice on there. I was screaming like I was an 11-year-old, you know. And that was it. I really enjoyed it. But I never want to be a pilot after that flight, that was it.
Fei Wu 6:04
Were you already working in advertising or…?
I wanted to make movies. My dad who was a painter also had a film company called So-so Films, and he had that giant 16-millimeter film thing. I didn't know what it did, but I thought it was cool. So I'd see him in there, looking at films. He got me little Super 8 one, which had a little hand crank, right and left, and when you cut Super 8 film, you actually slice it, and then you glue it, count to 20 and you pop it out. So I learned how to do that, and that's why this movie is probably at 72 old pieces. So yeah, that was the beginning of wanting to make TV. The funny part was, we didn't have TV, there's no TV in the house. My parents were completely opposed to it. And now as an adult, I have a nine-foot screen in the basement, I used to be on TV and I make TV commercials.
Fei Wu 7:00
I heard you have a movie theater?
Yes. Well, the idea was we're gonna watch movies, it was going to be purely for movies. But now I'm sure they're watching The Kardashians in the basement.
Fei Wu 7:13
Well, thank you so much for having me in your beautiful house. And one of my favorite rooms is on the first floor, overseeing the backyard. I could just imagine it’s a perfect spot for meditation. Do you meditate?
Well, imagine that! Yeah, somewhere between the screaming about last night's homework not being done and the dog peeing on the carpet, I really don't have time to meditate. [laughs]
I tried meditation. I just never really got it’s consistency, cause the thing about meditation is that once or twice is not enough. So the idea of sitting out there and being really quiet… Not really my type. But I will tell you, my father at age 80 got very ill and came to live with us, we built a wall and that was his room, that was where he passed away. Right in there. It's just the way he wanted. And he was there with us for three months. That was his room. So he looked out the window every day until the day he passed away. Really nice. And then that was it.
Fei Wu 8:30
Yeah, that's a beautiful place. When I walked in there, I just sensed something very different. And then you just shared your dad sketches with me and I just felt very different. I grew up in an artistic family, and I cannot see and like print work. I understand, sometimes we have to do that, but when you actually flip through the pages of something someone actually painted and put in so many thoughts… And I saw a lot of life drawings, you know, of people on the couch and dogs running around and all these things, it is kind of his expression towards the life he was living in.
Yeah, he was an extraordinarily passionate human being about art. In some of the sketches you saw, what would happen is that I would come home from school, it would be a random Wednesday, and I would bring my friend, I remember his name is Gary Anderson. And I brought him home from school, we walked home from the bus. Then I got home and on the dining room table was a woman. She's probably about 270 pounds, there was a sheet on the table, she was naked, and she was surrounded by about nine men and women, all with sketch pads. And they were all just drawing her arms or legs, her breasts, whatever, they were just all drawing parts. Gary Anderson walked into the house, went over to use the phone and asked his parents to come, he said “I don’t want to be here! There's a gigantic naked lady on the dining room table” [laughs]. So it was Wednesday sketch class at the house when I was a kid.
Fei Wu 10:17
Wow, I had no idea about all these stories.
It was a very, very different way to grow up. So that was kind of my introduction to all this. That was just sort of normal.
Fei Wu 10:46
It's so fascinating. I remember when I worked at Sapient, I guess I was 25-26 and trying to figure out….
Yeah, and you’re 50 now. [laughs]
Fei Wu 11:00
It's like, I remember there was a comedian saying how people change as they age, like, in your 20s you hate everybody, especially your parents, in your 30s you hate the government and the politics, and in your 40s you're saying “I'm hungry. I can only eat that pig”.
Yeah, I think I'm arriving at “I can eat that pig”. Like, a little bit earlier than at 40, at this point.
So I always realized that your dad had such an impact on you, but just now I realized it is even bigger and more significant than I thought.
I think it was. Both my parents are painters. So the notion that mom had a studio and dad had a studio, they're both home all the time when I was growing up. And then they would take their paintings, put them in a VW bus and drive them to the gallery and sell them. I mean, that's how the whole thing worked for years and years and years. So she would paint and he would paint, then they would come in and smoke cigarettes and smell like serpentine during all lunch on the weekends. And then they go back out and paint again.
Fei Wu 12:10
You had the perfect childhood.
I think I did, but there are people who would argue with that because I have a lot of very strange notions about the way things are supposed to work. And now it’s just a very, very different world for me.
Fei Wu 12:26
I'm very surprised because, perhaps, by talking to you, I will figure out what my parents never understood about my life, my career. As you know, both of them, one was and one still is a very hardcore artist. That's all they've ever known. And for me, trying to explain advertising, what I do, is just...
What is the part where you lose your mom when you're talking to her about something that you're making? What was the part when she looked at you and said “Why would you do that?” or “That's really great for you, sweetie, have a nice day” [laughs] What did she say?
Fei Wu 13:04
It's interesting, as a project manager when I describe to my mom the way I work with designer and user experience designer, she's thinking “Okay, that's like the digital side of things, but as a fine artist, I still get it”. Sounds pretty fun. Anything visual you put in front of her, what she struggles with, for example, in website design, especially the banner type of stuff, she's like “There are so many constraints you have to work within”. Yeah, for one that's a box and she can think along that term. I'm like “Mom, the reality is 300 by 250 pixels”. And my mom loves huge paintings. Yeah, she hated that.
I get hives. I mean, I get the same thing. This is part of being over 50 - there was a point where I just had to admit I don't know what to do with Excel [laughs]. And I figured that you can get people to help you do all that stuff. It’s like there are no straight lines in my life, my kids are in school and I'm not a big fan of homework.
It's very hard not to, you know, be in the banner box. All the furniture that was downstairs that you saw was initially paid by me not eating and making banners years ago. I was making banners freelance, and back then there were no standard sizes. So at six o'clock at night, you would get your assignment, you get a 90 by 170 and 250 by 450. I mean, there was no standard sizes. And there were these little tiny boxes, you know, it was fun because it was weird.
But then years later, it becomes this sort of like constraint. I totally see your mom. I mean, my father, he was powerless to do anything else, he had to paint. He used to go to the studio, even if he couldn't paint, and sit there with a book and read until noon. He’d go at six o'clock in the morning and read for six hours if he had to, just so he would be there. It took that kind of discipline.
Fei Wu 15:45
I don't know why all the artists are very similar. I feel the same way about my parents, especially my mom. I don't know what your dad's upbringing was, like, possibly very similar for my mom. She came from a very musical family, and the rest of her sisters became musicians, but she knew she wanted to be an artist. And I think also because her parents were very conservative, very strict, she kind of went the other way by expressing herself. One of the example she told me was when my grandma could have bought new sheets - and they were very poor back then -she would try and find a pen to actually trace over all the prints on the sheet. And that's what she did as like 3.5-4-year-old. Yeah, I think art in itself is meditation for her. I think it sounds like very much for your dad and your mom as well.
My mom, the meditation has become where she is. I mean, she lives on the farm in Pennsylvania, and I think the actual environment, the landscape has become what she does, she doesn't actively paint but what she does is manage the farm, at 85 or 84 years old. It's just as a full-time job for her. So she manages this entire place and that's become what she does. Dad painted right up until a week before he died. It was always paper and pencil.
But yes, the same thing. His father was an editor, a translator, but he lived a pretty strict upbringing. He said he didn't eat with his parents at, like, nine years old, and his parents would have dinner.
Fei Wu 17:28
Why was that?
It was sort of a thing, child of the, you know, the 40s - 50s. He went away to boarding school and then was sent to Yale, and then came home. That was it. So it's very much “Send your kids to these different places”. And I think that in the meantime, he wanted to paint, and painting was it. And then he went to the art students, which is where he met my mom. So they were both there at the same time.
Fei Wu 18:01
Wow, this is incredible. I feel so blessed just talking to you. And one of the questions I was always eager to ask is what shaped you into who you are? What is that mix of things? And I think your parents definitely played in how you grew up, where you grew up, played a really interesting part.
It's like the stories you're telling me about the Forbidden City. I mean, that changes someone's life, right? I'm seeing these things that you see, I grew up in Pennsylvania, hundred-acre farm, there was no TV, listened to the radio at night. It really was as low-key as it could possibly be.
Fei Wu 19:03
And then yes, you became a Senior Executive Creative Director at one of the most prestigious multiple advertising agencies in Boston.
Well, I think that's because of that. I think the thing was, I saw the relationship between things that other people didn't see because of the need to simplify things. I'm in a constant state of needing to simplify things because I really can't put them in a perspective that you can see in a spreadsheet, I don't know what's happening. I was in school as a horrible student. And I would look at that stuff and the teachers would look at me go “You're so smart. Why can't you figure this out?” I'm like “I'm really not that smart”. My brain doesn't work that way. But I can connect these two things together. So that's what my job was becoming, and I didn't realize till I was working in Arnold. I think that's what a Creative Director does. It's like “Wait a min, I saw that when I was a kid, or I saw that six months ago?” And then when digital came along, it was like “Wait a minute, if you take that music, and put up together with this…”, suddenly there was this combination of all these elements that made for these experiences for users. You jam all that stuff together, and it's not incredibly smart. It's all there. It's just seeing the connection. And I think in the end it’s just stepping back. And this thing, I call it “child's mind”, which is you just go to this place in your head where you act like you're nine and you look at it and you go “You know what, I don't get that. Like, I honestly don't get that”. And there's no other place to do that except advertising because you're looking at it. It's a paper towel. You know what I mean?
Fei Wu 20:50
Someone said the other day “There are 97 different kinds of toothbrushes. Why should I give a shit about this one? - Well, let's talk about that”. And seeing those connections and making those with all the stuff that we have is what makes it interesting.
Fei Wu 21:07
So as a Director of Innovation - yeah, we'll get into the title because I think it’s maybe the coolest and the sexiest title anywhere in the world. [laughs]
It's also the first person to get fired, but yeah.
I can tell, you know, it's funny watching you doing this. It's like, I think this is what you need to do. You know, everybody on the radio has a voice that has a thing. Yeah, you have a thing.
Fei Wu 21:48
Thank you. Yeah, I'm not sure you knew this, and I shouldn't bring up things from 15 years ago, but I worked as a DJ at China National Radio Station. When I was 15-16. Yeah, I was never trained, and they were open-minded enough to say that it's okay for you to be a complete amateur. Yeah. So what happened prior to that, if I didn't mention, was my mom over the radio signed me up for national English competition. Of course, I grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese, and yes, my parents had a lot of foreign friends. But, you know, in the long run, I was speaking English like two weeks out of a year, broken English. But by the time I showed up on the competition, my mom was like “You are going to win, you would be number one!”, and I was like “Mom, just be realistic here”. And then I walked around, I noticed all them. They're all Asian kids, and they're like “Oh, we go to school in LA, my family's in Brooklyn”. And I'm like “Whoa, what's going on here? This is not fair! Mom, no way I'm going to win”. So she's like “Yes, you will”. And I got up there, so what happened was in the end, I sang a song. Yeah, it's a very touching story. I just picked up the guitar, I felt so awkward, and I looked around like 5000 people watching the competition, just playing and singing. So I did come in first.
Congratulations! That’s awesome.
Fei Wu 23:17
Thank you. And the best part of all that was that a director of China National Radio approached me and said: “Would you like to host the show?” But, you know, clearly, I've never done this before. So I had to co-host the show first before they determine I am good enough. So I did that with some guy, apparently, very famous, some 25-year-old. I remember going to school the next day. People were like “Can we get his autograph? He's so cute!” And then I did the show in live, and that guy, that DJ, made me sing what I sang during the competition. I felt extremely awkward. And I got my show for about a year.
Fei Wu 23:57
Yeah, I had a ton of fun producing in a real professional studio. And that's one of the trigger points. My mom, you know, to my 31-year-old self: “You can do it, get back into radio! And you are going to have your shows!” I was like “I don't know, I'm too old” [laughs]
No, you're not! No, no, no, not at all. This is an expression that both my father and mother used – “Why not you?” It is really true. Why not you?
Fei Wu 24:24
That's gonna be the first quote. You know what, that's gonna be the title of this podcast!
Well, I opened a restaurant in Gloucester with a friend of mine, I’ve done a bunch of startup companies, one of which was a TV show with a website, a company that we sold. A totally absurd idea, but again, why not? Why not you? And I remember calling my parents saying “Listen, I'm going to quit my job. I just got married. So I'm gonna quit my job. We're going to start this thing”. And they were just, you know, “Thumbs up!” And I'm wondering whether or not I'm going to be that guy, whether or not my kids are gonna call and go “Listen, Dad, I'm going to do hydroponic pot”, and I’ll go “That’ awesome, buddy. I'm so excited for you!” I want to be the same guy, I want to be like your mom, looking at you and saying “Listen, you're going to win”. So that goes back to that expression, which is why not you? And then you go “You know what, yeah, I am going to do that” And I have a feeling that's kind of your thing. I think part of that comes from having a mom who's an artist, which is, you have to put yourself out there, you can't be a half an artist. I mean, you can be, advertising it's half art. Like, you can put yourself out there until it offends your client. [laughs] But the notion is that you got to go all the way to the canvas, you got to go all the way to the full expression. Otherwise, you're cheating yourself. So the question is “What do I do to get fully there?”, so for you, you know, NPR, Sunday afternoons, you know, Feisworld.
Fei Wu 26:15
To be honest, I had no idea how much traction I could get. So this is what happened a week ago: I finally put my foot down and after having a minor emotional breakdown producing this, listening to myself, I thought “That was awful! Nobody wants to listen to those, I could hear my accent, I got nothing good to say, I better quit this now”, and I never thought I would think about myself that way, and I made a decision to basically complete the website, learn a ton more and on Monday decided to post it on Facebook. Immediately got 20-30 comments, more likes, posted to Twitter, shared on LinkedIn and decided “I'm going to just forget about the whole thing”, and people started re-sharing yeah. One guy who was a Senior Vice President, he forwarded it to his pupils and said: “If you want to learn about user experience, listen to this podcast”. I was really touched.
That's until you interviewed me and the whole thing went to hell. [laughs]
Fei Wu 27:45
No, not at all. You are absolutely one of the reasons for me to start the podcast. Truthfully, when I started this, I knew it's a big project and I have a full-time job, but I thought about people kind of echoing my head - and my mom is the one - I remember very clearly how we met and that image, the aura that you had and how it projected onto me. I instantly stopped questioning myself as much, and I must have described this story multiple times, but that song Fireflies…
[laughs] Yeah, yeah, everybody hated that song except for me.
Fei Wu 28:32
You know, in 2009, I was running on the treadmill or walking down the street, and that song totally caught me. The lyrics made no sense whatsoever, it was bubbly. It's, you know…
It was everything a pop song is, it was total sugar. I liked it.
Fei Wu 28:51
And I had my noise cancellation fully on when I was listening to the song, of course, no co-worker near me could even hear it. I was so embarrassed. I was like “Let me turn the volume down”. And then I remember that day, I heard it playing from, like, 30 feet away. So loud. And I walked up to you, and you were like “Fei, isn’t that great?!” There're so many feelings. It’s kind of such a simple event, but somehow it really changed my perspective, working in a consulting and advertising firm. And the fact that, you know, Sapient hired someone like you.
Oh, that's incredibly nice to say. Yeah, little things. Well, I think it takes a lot. I think when you're older, when you're a dad and you're supposed to be wearing dad jeans and doing dad things, you can do almost any embarrassing thing you want. You know, I saw Pacific Rim, the horrible, horrible sci-fi movie. I loved it. I mean, I didn't love it as a movie, it's not high art, but I admitted that they were good couple hours I spent with my son watching an action flick. So I think that there's a certain point where you just got to be honest with yourself and everybody else. So I like this song, but as soon as you played it 500 times you’re like “Okay, I'm done with that”. Yeah, but I'm looking for the next one since that, you know, the next big one.
Fei Wu 30:28
That's funny. I remember what happened immediately after we listened to the song together for 30 seconds. I approached you for good reason: a pretty high-end client executive, at the time, was not good about the collection. He was supposed to collect for a bunch of clients, he ignored me and didn't do it. So I approached you and said “What can I do about this, Matt? Can you help me?
Did I say “Slice his tires” or something? [laughs] What did I say?
Fei Wu 31:01
I said “Matt, could you help me with some Photoshop?”, so we could put, like, the horns or something on his picture, just make fun of this guy, send an email out to everybody. And you said: “You know what, I am five minutes late to an agency meeting, but let's just do that right now”. And we did that! And the best part was, we were able to collect over a million dollars from there. [laughs]
Yeah, I hate to think of what we did. But you know, it's funny as I think I'm losing my mind because I forget all these things. But I do remember the song. Oh, that was awesome. That was fun.
Fei Wu 31:37
I’d love for you to paint what your day is like. I think many people are really curious. But before we get there, there's one moment, a third important moment. So the first being Fireflies, the second was painting a picture of this guy, and the third one, I thought it was so magical: we're in a meeting again, once a week, I think we're there to talk about the collection and the strategy, all client executives were there. I'm not going to name the person but someone's always happy, smiling, like, everything's always under control.
And I remember that day, all of a sudden, he got really angry, probably for good reason. Because that's once a week meeting and someone of the client executives was not able to join. Yeah, I remember there was a really awkward silence, you're sitting next to me, and I had no idea how to continue. I had a stack of papers, of things I needed to go through, and I didn't know what to do. And then all of a sudden, I just saw, you're ready to say something. And I was thinking “Oh my God, what's going to happen?” And then you crack the joke. You actually cracked a joke right then and there, everybody laughed and we just moved on.
Oh, that's awesome. Well, that's good. I was waiting for the rest of the story, like “And then you farted”. [laughs]
Fei Wu 33:14
That was amazing. And I was thinking, that's a risk taking. Not to start painting a theme, but you know, I'm taking a risk having a podcast, you're taking a risk of telling a joke. And I thought to myself “Thank God that was a good one”. I mean, that's something that you could be fired for.
But you can't be afraid. You know, the reason you get hired to run a drill press is that you're good at a drill press. And that's a real job. I mean, people do it their whole lives, not to take anything away from it. The reason you get hired in advertising is that you have an opinion. I mean, you can compromise it, but to have an opinion, to have a reason, a point of view is what makes people successful. And I think when people get that they all of a sudden move ahead in their career to a certain point, and you realize, if you put your opinion out there, it doesn't mean the first agency would like it, even the second agency, but the third agency would be like “Oh, my God, this is great. Tell us what you think!” And you're like “You know what, I think this”, and then someone listens. It's like you got 74 shares on your podcast, and you’re like “Wait a minute, there's affirmation right there!”. So in a social world, it works both ways. My daughter had a party here, I told her, she could have 50 friends. So she had 50 friends. And we had a DJ and lights were down, they’re kicking stuff around, people were taking pictures. And halfway through the party, she was in tears. And I asked her what was wrong. And what happened was the people she didn't invite saw pictures on Facebook or someplace because other people were posting them. And they were saying nasty things because they weren't invited. So imagine, the middle of a party, and all of a sudden, she's getting feedback in real time from people who did not get invited because they were angry. And I thought, you know, if you live your life like that, if all this stuff impacts you, that way, you're never going to get out there. All the people we like everybody who gets out there, it’s cool. But I'm telling you, when you're old older, when you’re 15, you don't give a shit anymore. When I was 25 or 35 that was cool, I wanted to be cool, I want to be in. And then, at some point, that fades and you get included because you're kind of out. You kind of just wander out, and you are sort of like “Yeah, I like Fireflies, I like this song”. [laughs]
Fei Wu 36:03
Let's talk about that for a second. What point, what age was that tipping point? Or was it just gradual over time?
It was not an overnight change. I mean, there're so many weights and measures on a career, on being a father, on being a husband, being a human being on the planet, but once you put all of that on your plate, once you spread it all out, you're like “Okay, I can only do so much”. So Warren Buffett had this expression, to take the top 25 things you want to do, write them all down - because if you don't vision it, it can't become real - write those down, circle the top five, then throw away the other 15 because there's no point in trying to do everything. Then what you can do is be the best you can be at all the different things that you do. So I'm never going to be the best employee of the month. I mean, maybe I could peek in December, but I'm not going to be the guy. I'm not there all weekend, I don't do it. And I openly admit I don't do it. I mean, I do when it's necessary, but I'm not going to do it just to do it.
I would consider myself a really good dad, but I'm not one of the dads out there who are building papier mache elephants with their kids all weekend. I'm not that guy, either. So it is moderation in all these things, and also, you know, “Help ever, hurt never” kind of thing, which is like, you know, trying to be helpful.
But, I think, along the way, you discover all these things, and you’re trying to be super cool, you’re trying to be super dad, and it's just exhausting. What can I do?
Fei Wu 37:59
I think that's important. The wheel of life, you know, you slice into different pieces, personal career, all that, and I think it's important to score relatively high or find a balance around all the pieces. I think some people overwork in a certain category, and the rest completely suffer.
I think that's fear.
It's just very hard. A friend of mine is a shrink, and once there was a great moment: I walk past Peet's Coffee, I see him sitting in the window, so I go in and sit next to him. He does not say a word. He looks at me, and he nods, and I nod at him. And I have coffee, and we don't say a word to each other for, like, five minutes. It's just sort of coexistence. Then he looks out the window, and he's looking at these cars going by, and he goes “Do you have any idea how hard it is just to keep a car on the road?” And what he was talking about was the fact that, you know, it's amazing how we handle what we do. And we all take it for granted. I’ve got to pick up the kids at three, do this, get to the hockey, do this and that and it's just normal. It's not normal! It's not okay. You got to have some balance and all that. So I think that as shrink this is what he deals with all days. People just get overloaded.
Fei Wu 39:24
I had that feeling, exactly as you described, on my way to your house. I punched in your address in the map app and it said that the route will take 25 minutes. So the whole time I was thinking “I don't want to miss any turn. I want to go through the perfect path and gather exactly 25 minutes”, and it was getting to 30 minutes because I made some mistakes. And I was thinking about that, I was like “Wait a minute. Life shouldn't be perfect! Life is never perfect”. I think we are so hard on ourselves. I don't use Twitter very much but one of the things I tweeted was “Be gentle to yourself”. And not to get really deep into it, but I think after my dad passed, my mom… I felt like she's on her own, so I made sure to take her out three days a week, do a grocery shopping, do all this for her, make sure life is as perfect as it can be for her. As a result, there was this period of time when I completely neglected my myself, my feelings, things I do that are important to me to take care of myself. So I think you're right and you provided almost a philosophical approach to understanding why that is, because even if you perfectly plan your day, your week, anyways your day will totally go sideways.
I wonder if that's cultural, though. The stories that you told me about, you know, going from Beijing to arriving in Fryeburg Academy at eight o'clock at night with the snow falling. And then, doing the martial arts as much as you have… You're at my house, doing Feisworld, you know what I mean? Like, you do a lot! And I think that as human beings on the planet, we don't look at each other and recognize the fact that we're doing a ton, I look at my kids and say that. I cancel things all the time for them. But the idea is that if I look at you, I'm like, you do this, and this, and this. You got a lot going on. But people very rarely look at each other, unless they're a parent, and go “Listen, you got to take care of yourself”. But then you realize all these things, and I think like this podcast for you could be like a journey, and that journey helps those other things, puts those in perspective. And in that case, this journey becomes super important. So it may be one extra thing, but it also might be the thing that puts everything else in the perspective that it needs to be. And you're like “I have now found my purpose”, or “I found another purpose of my life”, and then the two roads diverge and off you go.
Fei Wu 42:19
Yeah, thank you for your support, though. I know you are one of the busiest people I know. But I just want to throw it out there: after I emailed you, you replied: “Love it, definitely will get involved”. And that means a lot to me. You know, your name is very known in the agency world, and that was not the only reason, actually, that's the less important of a reason, but the fact that every time I talk to you, you pour your heart out. I remember every conversation as a 25-26-year-old, I thought to myself “Why would he care about my feelings, my questions?”, and you did. I realized we oftentimes live our lives with false assumptions, with misconceptions. And as I was writing some of the questions, - which I didn't have to look at because the conversation kind of just flows right through - while working at a bigger agency, such as Arnold or Sapient, you get to meet so many people, learn from most of them. And you feel like you're in this very exciting city, very “trafficky”, and having people like you, and also Kayla Brown from episode 1, you guys are very different. You make me feel like the little coffee shop, a little tea house that I could go to, and learn things, and feel very comfortable. And it creates a set of opportunities, not just there, sipping tea, but really, to pull myself away from the chaos and to really look into myself. And this is not just about me, because I've heard all these stories about you, they were so touching. When I entered into my second agency, I spoke with someone who said he was also a very junior designer at the time…
Did I fire him or something? [laughs]
Fei Wu 44:15
[laughs] No! He was a junior designer, and he had to leave the country due to visa issues.
And then he said before, you know, things had happened very quickly. And I completely understand that, it’s similar to my background. So you pulled him aside and took care of everything for him without even telling him that you’re going to do so. And you actually set some time aside and made sure his transition was very smooth. And he told me now, probably in his mid to late 30s, that he will always remember that.
I think we got him back. Did we get him back?
Fei Wu 44:48
Yeah, you did!
Fei Wu (Outro) 44:51
So that concluded part one of my conversation with Matt Lindley. In part two, I started with a question about how should digital versus traditional media merge and be built upon one another. What is Matt vision and hope, as he has seen the advertising world for decades? Matt said he likes the expression of “Floating behind yourself”. At that moment, you begin to see the world differently. The collective “we”, as a company, if we could just learn from each other enough to move forward, we can really do extraordinary things. The question is, can you step back far enough to see? Can you be a catalyst for that? We move beyond just company culture, at times, Matt naturally turned himself into an interviewer to ask about my upbringing, and that really connected the dots for me to understand how and why I started this podcast.
To listen to more episodes of the Feisworld podcast, please subscribe on iTunes or visit Feisworld.com where you can find show notes, links, other tools and resources. You can also follow me on twitter @feisworld. Until next time, thanks for listening!