5 Things I Learned at My First Think-A-Thon

Whew, with the very first Think-a-Thon officially under my belt, I have to say that it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever been a part of, personally and professionally. I met some amazing people, got to do work I’m incredibly proud of, found out just what this team is capable of when you hold our feet to the flames for a good cause, and even learned a few life lessons in the process. Here they are.

1.You don’t have to be a larger than life personality to have a larger than life impact.

When I heard about Benjamin Watson, the teenage cancer survivor who launched a foundation to help other pediatric cancer patients after he went into remission, I was blown away by his courage and his initiative. What kind of teen, I thought, could pull off such an ambitious  undertaking? I envisioned someone bold, loud, confident, maybe even bordering on cocky. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. The real Ben was gracious, shy and humble. He downplayed his own role in the foundation that bears his name. And he raised his voice only when we asked him to sing a song. For someone like me, who tends to gravitate to things that sparkle and sizzle, it was a nice reminder that the true value of things lies in their substance.

2. Listening to your clients is more important than obeying them.

Ben’s mother, Becky, asked us point-blank not to change the foundation logo. It depicted a little boy singing a bar of music, and for her, it exemplified her son, his fight, and the strength that got him through. She brought the whole table to tears when she recounted how she would hear him singing Frank Sinatra songs in the shower after a particularly rough chemo session. The last thing any of us wanted to do was lose that story and the meaning behind this symbol. But hey, the foundation needed a new logo. And our amazing design team did an incredible job creating one that felt fresh, contemporary and polished, while still doing Ben and his story justice. We’ll unveil it to the world soon! And I’ll tell you this, the new logo brought the table to tears as well.

3. Kids these days are pretty damn amazing.

You hear a lot of talk about how young people these days are lazy, entitled and hard to work with. Well, not the students from the UCF Student Union marketing team. I’ll admit, when they first contacted us to volunteer their services for Think-a-Thon, we were wary of giving them any real work to do. We didn’t know their skill level. And we didn’t have time to hold any hands. Well, they blew past our expectations on both counts. After giving them the nebulous task of creating a campaign to promote the foundation on campus, we turned them loose. They came back with a killer concept, and with little help from our team, put together a promo video, ads, social media graphics, and a solid strategy for rolling the campaign out across campus. If they’re an example of “kids these days,” the future looks bright for all of us.

4. Pressure does not have to create interpersonal conflict.

Developing a brand strategy, logo, website, brochure, radio spot, event promotion, email campaign and social media strategy in 26.2 hours? Yup, that’s pressure. Add to that the lack of sleep, overload of sugar, and general chaos that comes with several people trying to do several things very quickly AND very well, and you have a recipe for interpersonal disaster. Or at the very least, some mild bitching and finger pointing. But even with the pressure mounting and the clock ticking, I heard nary a whine, complaint or unconstructive comment from anyone. Not even when the seventh round of logo revisions was requested. Not even when the fourth puddle of dog pee appeared on the floor. Not even when brochure designs were being edited at sunrise or the Apple TV cord went missing minutes before our final presentation. No one bitched. No one blamed. We simply figured out what needed to be done and focused on doing it. Imagine that.

5. My expectations aren’t high enough. 

So, when faced with a really daunting work challenge, my very first thought is usually, “That’s ridiculous. Can’t be done.” More often than not, that thought goes flying out of my mouth and lands on the conference table with a big thud. At which point, the look on Mark’s face (part blind optimism, part paternal encouragement, part “I sign your paycheck”) sweeps it away, and I have no choice but to hunker down and get to work. I can’t count how many times I’ve thought he was crazy for asking us to attempt so much, and even crazier for promising a client that we could achieve it. Yet every time, he’s been right. So the most important lesson for me in all of this is, maybe it’s time I started asking a little more of myself right from the start. I just might be capable of more than I imagine. I will, however, give myself a little more leeway with the timeframe.

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