Dig One Big Hole

You can dig a bunch of shallow ditches or one big hole. 

That was a sentence told to me by Mark Blanpied, one of the best harmonica players I’ve ever met. 

I started backing up my dad on drums at age 12. By 15, I was playing all over town and pretty damn good for a teenage upstart drummer. 

I picked up guitar at 15 when I realized you can’t sing love songs for your girlfriend with a drum kit. Or at least, it’s really hard to take it camping.

I got pretty good at guitar fairly quickly. Good enough to sing songs I knew and loved. Good enough to write my own. Good enough to get a song on the local Waco radio station at 16 with my first band. 

That’s when I reached out to Mark to see if he would teach me harmonica. I wanted to be like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. But he said no. 

WHAT?!  

When I asked why, he said, “Daniel you are already a great drummer and you’re becoming a great guitar player. You can either spend the time you have perfecting those things and become world class, or you can keep branching out and be mediocre at a bunch of different instruments. You can dig a bunch of shallow holes, or you can dig one big ditch.” 

I took that to heart. 

And it still drives me today. 

I find many things interesting. I dabble in a lot of random pursuits and random facts. On a regular basis, I find myself diving into things I love and following the rabbit down the hole. Sometimes it becomes a part of my life. Sometimes it becomes things stuffed in a closet  discovered years later under boxes of Christmas decorations.

In the moments when I’ve followed the trail so far that I’m arguing with the Queen of Hearts and talking to a disappearing cat that I realize I’ve forgotten that advice. 

It’s when I find myself, like Frodo feeling , “….like  butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” 

I’m reminded to pull back, simplify my life, focus, and do my best at a few things. 

I’m grateful that one of them is Wizard Academy and Whisky Marketing School. It’s an honor to be a part of this journey with so many fascinating humans. 

Daniel Whittington – Chancellor

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Always Replace Yourself

You should always be replacing yourself. 

There will be milestones you achieve in work or in a community. Sometimes it’s a promotion, a new level of prestige, or a new title. It’s a great moment to celebrate and take a beat for a job well done. 

Now what?

I believe your thoughts should immediately be focused on finding the person to replace you. Someone who can do it better or take it further. 

If you are doing something important, then its survival and long term success depend on your ability to get out of the way. If something dies the moment you stop touching it, you don’t have a functioning company. You have a micro-management hell-hole that will burn you down along with all the people around you. 

There’s also the fundamental truth that you learn more by teaching than by just doing. You gain a better understanding of your role the moment you start attempting to teach it to someone else and they ask questions you never have. It makes you take a new look at your own processes and habits. 

So what happens when you work your butt off teaching people, and they leave? 

My rule with staff is, “You won’t be here forever. So what is it you’re trying to accomplish? How do we help you get there?” I’m in charge of job titles. I’m in charge of job roles. We can work you towards the thing that you want while you help build the company we need. 

I always hire with the immediate assumption that this person won’t be here forever. If I’m training them for my job, I need to be ready for the reality that they’re not cut out for it, or that they learn it’s not what they want.

I need to be willing to invest and grow people regardless of what direction that knowledge and growth takes them. 

What you gain in the long run by living life with an open hand is far more powerful than the small micro gains you cling to with grasping fingers. 

Live life with an open hand. Become a launching point for magical human beings. 

Daniel Whittington – Chancellor

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Do You Have a Reason to Exist?

Do you believe businesses need a reason to exist?

I have a friend who is a blender at a world renowned distillery. He believes there needs to be a reason for a new whisky to exist. It’s not enough to just fill a bottle and slap a label on it. There needs to be a “why”. It’s easy to make things because you can, but it’s more powerful when there’s a driving motivation behind bringing something new into existence. 

Thoughtless creation just adds noise to the room. It results in products with no defining purpose and companies with no real vision..

Or in the words of Jeff Goldblum – “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they ‘could’, that they didn’t stop to think if they ‘should’”

Some people start businesses because they know they can, and there is money to be made. They give their work the bare minimum of effort and time. Real Life starts when the workday ends.

Roy Williams often says, “Passion follows commitment. Not the other way around.” 

Sometimes you do something because you’re good at it, and people need it. You may not be in HVAC because you were born to repair AC units. Maybe you have a knack for fixing things and a talent for people skills and they were hiring. It’s an honorable and valuable thing to choose to offer a service to the world. 

It could be the reason to exist comes from the impact of your business instead of the technical aspects of your business. Helping people in need, solving problems, feeding your family, and providing for your employees are all noble acts.

I think it comes down to intention and thoughtfulness. 

Add your voice to the world, and leave a positive mark on people in your path.

I don’t care if it’s an already crowded market. 

There’s still room for you. 

Daniel Whittington – Chancellor

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Joy is Contagious

Whining, criticism, and negative outlooks are contagious. But what’s even more contagious is Joy. 

How do you fix employee morale? How do you get people on board during change? How do you get everyone pushing the same direction with enthusiasm and persistence? 

Step one is fairly simple.  I think it was David McInnis that told me, “Sometimes the key to company morale is to fire all the unhappy people.”

I know that sounds simplistic. Even brutal. What if they’re one of your top performers? What if they’ve been with you forever? What if they know where the bodies are buried?

 Every time I’ve fired someone with a negative attitude, I’ve seen the remaining employees take off like rockets. It’s like slicing through the ropes that are tying them to the earth.

Every single dang time.

Joy and possibilities are fundamental outlooks on life. If you can hire a person that views the world as a place of possibility, it’s not hard to teach them the fundamentals of almost any job.

But an incredibly smart or qualified individual with a bad attitude is still just an employee with a bad attitude. It’s a cancer that will continue to eat you alive until you remove it. 

That’s how you handle one or two negative employees. But what if the overall culture is starting to eat away at your foundations?

Sometimes bad morale happens because you’ve stopped leading, communicating, or taking care of your people. Joy doesn’t need to be focused only on the work and the job to be done. I think there’s Joy to be found in people as well. 

It’s easy to see how people are broken. Certain types of people love to brag about how quick they are to realize other people’s flaws. But when people parade their insight and intelligence in that way, you’ll find they tend to view people as the sum of their flaws.

The real magic in life is seeing past people’s unique brokenness to the hope and possibilities they carry inside. Spot that, nurture it, and wake it up in people. They’ll set fire to the world for you.

It’s hard. Believe me, I know. Sometimes you need to cut ties. Healthy boundaries are very real and very important.  But if you can stop seeing people as just their weaknesses, you have the possibility of seeing people truly. You can find joy in working with them and in what you achieve together.

So here’s to you and your magically broken but beautiful self.
Go find the joy in yourself and in your people. 

Daniel Whittington
Chancellor

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Ideas are Living Things

First is not all it’s cracked up to be. And that’s because ideas are living things. 

Between the 1600’s and 1800’s half a dozen people had a hand in the discovery of electricity and its possibilities. 

When Henry Ford invented the Model T, there were already hundreds of car companies in the world. 

In 1827, Robert Stein patented a continuous operation still (patent still). I had the ability to increase whisky production by astronomical numbers compared to traditional pot stills. And they were first and own the edge that gave them. 

But that lead only existed for 3 years.

Aeneas Coffey improved it with the column still in 1830. This was the beginning of the invention of grain whisky and blends as we know them today. Now it’s industry standard and dominates the volume of whisky produced in the world. 

Youtube started streaming video in 2005, Netflix started streaming in 2007. Amazon in 2006, and so on. 

When an idea pops into your head, if it’s truly valuable and world changing, you can guarantee you aren’t the only one that it appeared to. At that point you have two options. Do it first, or do it better.

There’s an undeniable benefit to being the first into the market. But you can’t rest on that laurel. You have to continue to improve and innovate. 

Because the people who come after you will learn from your mistakes and benefit from the market you create. And they often have more money and more reach.

So what do we do with this as entrepreneurs? 

When you have an idea, move on it. 
Develop it. 
Launch it. 

As we say at Wizard Academy, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly until you can get better.” Keep improving, keep learning, and keep growing. Understand that it will quickly be a crowded market if the idea is valuable. Find your community and spend effort on real connection with your customers and your community. They’ll look to you as a leader and an innovator. 

Don’t be afraid when you find out others are jumping into the same stream. They only have hope and strategies. You have experience, community, and history.

Don’t be afraid to talk with them and build a network to help form the industry you want to work within. 

If you’re not first, it’s not too late. You can be the one who learns from others and launches into the market with a fully developed idea that sweeps the room and becomes the industry leader.

Above all, pay attention. If the idea appears to you and you don’t give it breath and life, it will move on to someone else.

So let it be you.

Daniel Whittington
Chancellor

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Ideas are Living Things

Ideas are living things. And when their time has come, they make themselves available to anyone who is listening. 

Look back to innovations and brilliant moments in history. You won’t find a single unicorn blazing their lone thought into the universe in a language no one understands. What you’ll actually find are dozens of people around the world who stumble into the same version of the idea at the same time. And they’re all speaking a version of the new language.

They may have different approaches and different speeds of implementation. But the ideas will have the same fundamental shape. 

When you have an idea that feels brilliant, shiny, and new, then well done. It means you’re paying attention. But also, get to work. If you’ve thought of it, I guarantee a dozen other people have as well.  

And remember two things. 

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly until you get better at it.”

“Big fish don’t eat small fish. Fast fish eat slow fish.”

Get out there, implement, improve, and blaze your light into the night sky. 

Don’t build your entire brand identity around the new innovation. Feel free to make it a part of your story. But within 1 year (at most) you’ll no longer be the only one doing it. And maybe not even the biggest. So build your brand identity around things that no one can replicate. Tell your own story. 

Remember you are not your innovation or your ideas. There will always be new innovations and new ideas.  Don’t stop looking and learning. Today’s shiny new discovery is next year’s “industry standard”. 

Get moving little fishes. 

Speed is your friend. 

Daniel Whittington
Chancellor

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Don’t Be a Crappy Yellow Page Ad

“If you don’t know the fundamental facts and information of whisky, you’re a useless sommelier. But if you only talk about facts and information about whisky, you’re just a sh!++y wikipedia.”

That’s a quote from my friend, Jason Sowder. 

Jason came into the school years back and is one of our few level four whisky sommeliers. He’s also an instructor with Whisky Marketing School, the Stave and Thief Program, and one of the better presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching teach.

What Jason said about Whisky Sommeliers is also a fundamental truth about marketing. 

I would phrase it as, “If you don’t have an excellent product or provide an excellent service, you’re a useless business. But if all you do is talk about the product and service you provide, you’re a sh!++y yellow pages.”

Too many business owners want to spend all their energy talking about the facts, details, technology, and unique selling propositions. But no one cares like you do about your business and the industry you’re in. If they did, they’d already be a competitor. And trying to educate the customer on the threaded nuance of your approach is like trying to force someone to go to school.

I’m certain there are unique things about your business. But they are rarely about “how” you do what you do. They’re almost always found in “why” you do what you do. Because the “why” of your business is the part that is human. 

Why did you chose this path? Why do you keep getting up and going back to work? Why do you get there early and stay late?Why do you keep wanting to talk to people about what you do and how you do it? 

Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”  

Wizard Academy says, “Win the heart and the mind will follow.”

To do that you have to be vulnerable. You have to tell stories. You have to help people see the human beings behind the logo plastered vans and branded uniforms. 

And it’s not just you. It’s the way YOUR story overlaps with THE story of being human. 

We respect excellence and information. We identify with weaknesses and vulnerability. 

If you want us to fall in love with you, you have to show us why and who you are. When we realize your story is a part of our story, we’ll follow you to the ends of the earth. 

And that’s how brand ambassadors are born. 

Daniel Whittington
Chancellor

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Get in the Room

Just get in the room, do the damn thing, and sometimes luck will find you.

In 2010, my band was trying to build a career. We were aiming for more momentum and larger venues, but all that was available in our local town were small tourist pubs that had iffy attendance.  But given the choice between not playing and playing, a musician always chooses playing. 

So we ended up playing at a mostly empty club in Avila Beach, California. And we played it like it was Madison Square Garden. All the energy, all the rock. One month later, I got a call on my cell phone. The voice on the other end said, “Hi, I’m the owner of Mr Ricks, and I happened to see you guys play a month ago when I was coming through town. I really loved your show and your energy. Are you guys interested in opening up for Aerosmith?”

In 2013, I got a call on my cell phone that asked if I was interested in learning about a place called Wizard Academy. Even thought I wasn’t technically looking for a job, I decided to postpone my recording session and have a cup of coffee. One month later, I was standing in the Wizard’s Tower in the new office of the Vice Chancellor.

In April 2016, I started talking about whisky on our Wizard Academy youtube channel. Primarily it was to show our whisky sommeliers how to talk about whisky without being snobs. I also saw it as potential marketing content for Whisky Marketing School. 

I posted two or three across the span of 6 months. 

But, in December,I decided we needed some sort of momentum and content growth. I decided to do a whisky advent calendar to create consistent content and jumpstart into the new year.

It turns out the first video was of a whisky that had never existed before. On December 1st, thousands of people opened their advent calendars and then went online to google the whisky. My video was one of two links on the entire internet that talked about the whisky. We went from 50ish subscribers to thousands almost overnight. 

Does luck drive things?  No. Do coincidences favor the prepared? Yes.  You can only benefit from amazing coincidences if you’re in the room.  So get in the room. 

If you’re waiting to start something, this is your sign. 

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Step Into the Unknown

The Rowan’s of the world are worth spending any amount of gold to have on your team.

Worth any sacrifice to have as a friend. 

In 1899, Elbert Hubbard wrote a book called “A Message to Garcia”. Really more of a booklet than a book. It mentions a moment during the Spanish American war.

General Garcia is fighting on the side of the US, but is buried deep in the mountains of Cuba with no way to reach him or communicate with him. Someone tells the president “There’s a man named Rowan. If anyone can find him for you, he can.’” So they send for Rowan. They tell him what needs to happen. Rowan takes the message, wraps it in oilskin, straps it to his heart, and leaves. Three weeks later he’s back, having successfully delivered the letter.

And that’s the important part.

The moments of the journey, struggling through mountains and jungle, evading capture and certain death, arriving at Garcia triumphant.

Those details are all left to the imagination. 

Maybe someday a keen and imaginative soul will write that story.

The main point Hubbard wanted to make was this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”

Hubbard said, “It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing – “carry a message to Garcia!”

Here’s the full excerpt:

*****************************************************************************************

You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office—six clerks are within your call. Summon any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Corregio.” 

Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task? On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye, and ask one or more of the following questions: 

Who was he? Which encyclopedia? Where is the encyclopedia? Was I hired for that? Don’t you mean Bismarck? What’s the matter with Charlie doing it? Is he dead? Is there any hurry? Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself? What do you want to know for? 

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the 2 other clerks to help him find Garcia – and then come back and tell you there is no such man. 

Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not. 

Now if you are wise you will not bother to explain to your “assistant” that Corregio is indexed under the C’s, not in the K’s, but you will smile sweetly and say, “Never mind,” and go look it up yourself.

************************************************************************

Every year we teach and equip more small business owners to charge into the jungle and carve a path for others to follow. But doesn’t save you from having to leave this campus and step into the unknown.

Here’s to someone who sees something that needed or worth doing, and simply steps in and gets it done. 

That’s our kind of people. 

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The Enemy of Creativity

The blank page is the enemy of creativity.

Creativity doesn’t thrive in a land of no limitations. Creativity thrives when it’s forced into false constraints. That’s the basis of all great problem solving. And great music as well. 

The cornerstone class we teach at Wizard Academy is Magical Worlds of Communication. It forms the foundation for every other class, including the Whisky Marketing School and the Whiskey Vault Youtube Channel. In that class we talk a lot about Third Gravitating Bodies, and we spend a large portion focused on music. I’ll talk about that in detail later for everyone that hasn’t attended Magical Worlds. Essentially it is the inclusion of something that doesn’t belong, but fits perfectly once it’s added.

Roy Williams applied his analysis of attraction and memorability to hit songs across the decades to show the application of chaos theory in art. It also explains anything with magical attraction including truly great food, businesses, and musical hits. 

One day, we were standing to the side of the room during class, and I asked Roy, “Have you ever tried creating music with this theory instead of analyzing it?”

He turned to me and said, “No. But that’s what you’re going to do. I’ll pick the hit songs, and you make them dark and moody. The only rule is that you keep the original lyrics and melody. Everything else you can change.”

That began a 6 month recording project I called “Bring the Dark”. Roy would send me songs, and I would take them apart at the seams and rebuild them. 

How do you create something magical from scratch with no guidelines or rules? After hours and hours of sitting, staring, and accomplishing nothing, I realized the answer was.. you don’t.

I took the first song which was “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, and decided to just learn the progression as a starting point. As I was playing it on acoustic guitar, I slowed it down and discovered the progression was almost identical to “Heart of  Gold” by Neil Young. 

And that’s when I had my epiphany. I could take the song I thought it sounded like, mimic the style, instrumentation and vibe of that song and then overlay the new pop hit melody and lyrics over top. So “Staying Alive” turned into a Bee Gees cover by Neil Young. 

Nights on Broadway, I ripped off Fleetwood Mac. 
Take A Chance On Me, I ripped off Bonnie Raitt
Dancing Queen, I ripped off Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.

Sometimes stealing from your heroes is the best way to jump start something new. 

Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” 

The same idea occurs in business. Are you defining your company culture? Look at a few companies you love, figure out what makes them tick, and combine them in a way that’s unique to you. The same goes for marketing strategies. 

If you have an hour and truly want a deep dive into this idea, go watch the best keynote speech ever delivered in the history of South by Southwest (an Indie Music Festival in  Austin, TX) given by Bruce Springsteen. It will change your view of creative work forever.

Keep your inspiration on your sleeve. 

Don’t be afraid to build on the shoulders of giants. 

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Joy is Contagious

Complaining, criticism, and negative outlooks are contagious. 

But joy is more contagious. 

No matter the size of the company, some questions are the same. 

How do you fix employee morale? 
How do you get people on board during change? 
How do you get everyone pushing the same direction? 

The first answer is fairly simple. David McInnis is famous at Wizard Academy for the phrase,  “Sometimes the cure for company morale is to fire all the unhappy people.” That sounds so simplistic it’s almost a truism. But sometimes the key to improving morale is more complicated.

Joy and possibilities are fundamental outlooks on life. Hire intelligent people who view the world as full of possibility, and it’s not hard to teach them the fundamentals of almost any job.

But an incredibly smart or qualified individual with a bad attitude is still just an employee with a bad attitude. It’s a cancer that will eat you alive until you remove it. 

Find people who do their work with joy, and everything changes. 

But joy doesn’t need to be focused only on the work and the job. There’s joy to be found in the people you labor beside. 

It’s easy to see how people are broken, and certain kinds of insightful people love to brag about how quick they are to realize other people’s flaws. Those pompous pedantics love to parade their insight and intelligence while they caricature people as the sum of their flaws.

The real magic in life is seeing past people’s brokenness to the hope and possibility they carry inside. If you can spot that, wake it up, and nurture it, you can give them hope. People with hope in their hearts will move mountains. 

It can be hard, I know. Brutal even.  And sometimes there’s a point where you need to cut ties, even if it’s just for healthy boundaries. But it’s rewarding to get past people’s flaws so you can truly see them. It makes it easier to find joy and expands the horizons of possibility.

So here’s to you and your magically broken, beautiful self. Pursue hope and joy in yourself and your journey.  

Make it a point to find the same in others.  

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Does Business Need a Reason to Exist?

Does a business need a reason to exist? 

I’ve got a friend in the whisky industry who has a sort of guiding principle that I think is valuable.  He believes that a whisky needs a reason to exist in order to put effort into creating it in the first place. 

I think what he’s talking about is the opposite of the money grab combo. Design a fancy bottle, source something from a bulk supplier, bottle it, and then promote the crap out of it. 

An artist can feel that violation down to the tip of their barefoot toes. Or in the almighty words of Jeff Goldblum, “You are so preoccupied with whether you could, you never stopped to consider whether you should.”

It can be frustrating to put your heart into something and struggle to make it. It can be frustrating to watch people with no soul in their work walk away with armfuls of cash. 

But forget whiskey.  What about plumbing? HVAC? Jewelry?

Is the fact that you’re good at something and can make money reason enough for something to exist?

I think it could be. But only if it doesn’t stop there. 

I’ve heard Roy say a thousand times, “Passion follows commitment”. Which gives us two seemingly conflicting truths. 

On one hand, don’t burn away your days on something without depth and meaning. Life is too short, and our time on this planet is too fragile. 

But, as Niels Bohr said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

Sometimes the importance of a job isn’t just in the technical aspects of execution. Sometimes it’s the deeper meaning behind the service you provide. You change the lives of your employees and the families that you help feed with your payroll. You take care of your customers. You keep houses safe and warm. 

There’s a deeper impact you can have on the world around you by simply doing something well with grace and thoughtfulness. Especially in the service industry. 

Maybe that’s the direction in which passion lies. 

Maybe that’s the reason your business exists.

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