The Playbook


I was 31 in the summer of 1986  when my brothers and I went to my Dad’s retirement lunch. 

No fancy dinner, no gold watch, no retirement bonus. Just one free lunch for a dozen or so well-wishers.

On that day he parked a large block of acquired knowledge and wisdom that he began collecting in the fall of 1954 when, at the age of 33, he his wife and their five children immigrated to Canada from Germany. Before the war, he had been a Cabinet Maker working in the same workshop that his father and grandfather had honed their talents in. 

Here he had to retool and eventually became a Construction Superintendent: he was the man in charge of building some of Toronto's large office towers on time and budget - and then maintaining them. Shortly after he retired he went back to his first love - cabinet making. He made + rebuilt a variety of pieces for my mother, himself and other family members.

It bothered me then, and when he died twenty-two years later, that all of the personal and professional knowledge would not be passed on. I was too young and busy with my own life and my career to figure out how to tap into all of that knowledge without putting my own life and career on hold. But each time a senior resource retired I saw a lifetime of invaluable brand equity being poured into the gutter without a second thought.    

And now it’s my turn.

It’s October 2020 and I just retired. 

And just in time for my professional departure for the advertising world I've found a very smart + simple solution to my knowledge transfer dilema. It’s called a Playbook. Sports team coaches have been using them for years. On or offline, they're a wonderful way for your company to capture all of the key business lessons that enable you to flatten the learning curve for those who will follow in your footsteps. Playbooks imporve your odds of winning the day, are good for moral, your clients and your business’s long term viability. 


Use a search engine to serve up a wide variety of examples + how-to guides.   


Start writing yours soon - time flies when you’re having fun.





MacLaren All Staff Memo . . . Sept. 8, 1937

all staff memo



Success + Failure


The 1st job that I recall having was delivering the Toronto Telegram with my brother Martin in the brand new apartments that had been built just north of the CNE in the early 60’s. I was seven at the time . . . 58 years ago. 

I’m 65 now and found myself thinking about how success and failure influenced the roads I chose to take in life.

I was one of six kids. My parents came to Canada from Germany after WWII with just enough money for two weeks rent. We lived in a boarding house for the first few years, we all slept in one room, lived in a second room and shared a small bathroom with two other families. My father was always working and my mother was home looking after us when she wasn't working part time. She taught me how to make a bouquet with the flowers within reach. Even if the bouquet was a broken table, chair or lamp that we found in the alley. My parents didn't have the time to teach us to play nice, collaborate, or socialize, we were taught to work hard + stay out of trouble. To be a contributing member of society.

By the time I turned sixteen I had drowned twice and had been hit by cars four times. The fourth (and last) time I was hit I was riding my friend’s brand new bike across an intersection. The drunk driver was charged and his insurance paid my friend $85.00 to have his bike repaired, I got $10.00 for a new pair of shorts, but nothing to compensate me for a lifetime of epilepsy due to the acquired brain injury. 

The three most common triggers for (my) epilepsy were sleep deprivation, stress, alcohol and not taking my medication as prescribed. To keep my driver’s license I had to take really good mental and physical care of myself because my anticonvulsive drug had a lot of side effects that I could reduce but not eliminate. Those years of mental and physical care didn’t start paying dividends until I hit my 60’s. In retrospect being hit by a drunk driver improved the quality of my life.

Epilepsy and the drug’s I took for about 45 years changed how I learned, behaved, thought and how I was perceived by others. I went from an effortless A student to a C student who struggled with most courses after the brain injury. The injury capped my confidence, ambition and diminished my sense of self-worth. 

Because I was one of six kids in a busy household, one of a thousand in school, and still getting passing grades, no one really noticed but me. 

I didn’t know how to ask for help – or what kind of help to ask for.

I studied Business Administration, Management and Marketing at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, now Ryerson University. I chose Ryerson because it had a more practical curriculum than U. of T., offered a three year program, offered more bragging rights than our Colleges could at the time and it was cheap. 

I didn’t connect to many students or professors, but there were a few who inspired me to make the most of my unique combination of skill sets. A game of hearts decided my future. My friends and I were nearing the end of our third semester, and as we played we talked about the courses we’d take in our final three semesters - courses designed to hone us into Canada’s best new business leaders. Most of my friends decided that the chartered accountant path or the all new computer sciences path promised them the most stable, risk-free future. One of them asked: “Why would anyone take the Management Studies option? Make a wrong decision and you’re toast?” Most agreed. Silently I thought “I’ll take that bet because where there's risk, there’s also opportunity”. And if I make smart, educated, well informed decisions I’ll (always) be in demand. Also while I barely passed my accounting exams, my friends were averaging 98%. So I sealed my fate and have never looked back.

When I graduated from Ryerson I failed miserably on the interview circuit. Every recruiter saw that I had lots of drive and potential, but also a C average. They could tell I was hiding something, but I wasn’t about to tell them about my issues

It took me a year of trial and error before I made another life-changing decision over a game of backgammon.

My friend Jennifer told her friend (and my backgammon opponent) Rick that I was looking for work. After a short chat he gave me his number and asked him to call me at his office. When I did he asked me to call three well known advertising directors.

  • The 1st one didn’t have a job for me but helped script me for my interview with the 2nd Advertising Director. 
  • The 2nd one didn’t have a job for me either but liked me + encouraged me to keep looking. 
  • The 3rd one had five openings and offered me an entry level position a few days later.

That 3rd contact was Peter Logan, a young Media Director at Foster Advertising who exposed me to the wonderful world of applied art in which no two communication projects are ever the same.

My 40 years in advertising have taught me that:  

  • in hindsight my failures have turned out to be some of the most important bridges to my success,
  • to convert failure into success you need time and resilience,
  • if you’ve never failed or have never been fired, you’re no where near your potential boundaries,
  • the best ideas come from jamming with smart people who don’t care about the consequences – just the most interesting mental and physical paths between here and there,
  • wings are nice but you don’t really need them to fly,
  • a great career, like life is a numbers game: you'll meet hundreds of people at work who’ll support you and like you in social media when you’re winning. But very few will be there when you loose. 
  • like many other businesses, ad agencies are full of some wonderful people and brands, as well as sociopaths and vindictive assholes. 
  • The most incredible, insightful and helpful people; the ones who will help you define your life, will cross your path when you least expect them to and in the most unlikely places. Like a pool-side backgammon game, the grocery store, during a quick cigarette break with a stranger or during a late night chat with the person next to you on the red-eye to Boston. 



Durability versus Aesthetics


My wife and I like to travel in our vintage Airstream trailer. We’ve learned through trial and error that a comfortable and competent vehicle is fundamental to a good day on the road. When we decided our old tow vehicle needed to be replaced, I started with what I thought was most important; a strong, reliable transmission. I spent a long time talking to mechanics, doing online research and then test driving the types of vehicles that made the short-list.

At the dealerships we visited the salespeople, all men, were only too happy to show us the top-of-the-line vehicles that they wanted to show us, but refused to show us the advertised vehicles that we actually came to see. This illegal bait + switch tactic really put me off but . . . it got my wife more involved in the vehicle hunt and test process. In no time she found a beautiful vehicle at a great price. We looked at it the next morning and then we bought it.

Why? Because Michelle liked the blue exterior and the bright cream coloured leather interior.

In hindsight, all of the “more capable” vehicles that I had looked at had dark exterior and interior colour schemes. “They’re all very masculine while this one is feminine” is how my wife summed it up. When I suggested that this vehicle’s transmission may not be as durable as some other options that I looked at, she suggested we get an extended warranty to address my concern. 

Notice the difference: 

::  I looked for the best mechanical solution, blind to the vehicle's aesthetics in an effort to reduce the odds of a mechanical breakdown while we’re travelling.

::  She looked at the aesthetics first and then protects herself with road-side assistance insurance as well as an extended warranty.

This is a nice practical lesson about “active listening”, understanding and serving your audience’s needs in a manner that reflects their decision making process and aesthetic preferances – not yours.     





Charlie was an urban hunter who specialized in hunting tennis balls. I'd take him to the old orchards, fields and woodlands that surround our neighbourhood as well as to the community tennis courts.

"Where's the ball" would lock Charlie into hunting mode. He'd blindly follows his sensitive nose which would be about an inch off the ground while. His tail's wagging speed told me how close he was to his little round quarry. I wsa always amazed at where he'd find a ball, how many he found and how fast he found them.

When we worked as a team we find even more balls + faster because I am taller, hunt by sight and can retrieve balls that he finds but can't get at.

Charlie and I employ the same basic complimentary hunting skills that Charlie's and my ancestor's used when they first met at the dawn of time.

Sometimes it's hard to trust someone who is very different from who you are, how you are, or how you think. But . . . the rewards can be incredible!




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