It can all change in the blink of an eye.

October 16, 2009

In the summer of 1987, I was not far out of college. Despite my accomlishement at interviewing at nearly every ad agency in Seattle, nobody would give me a job. So instead I hooked on as a writer on the client side. I knew that working at an agency was my ultimate goal, so I kept tabs on the comings and goings at various shops in town.

My Mom was a great lover of art and architecture. (Forgive the sharp right turn; it’s relevant.) She called me one day to see if I wanted to join her on a tour of downtown Seattle homes and condos. This was back in the day when Belltown was desolate — and actually living in downtown Seattle was still a bit of a novelty. Despite enjoying spending time with my Mom, I wasn’t too inclined. As bait, I’m sure, she told me that Mike Mogelgaard’s condo was on the tour. At that time, Mogelgaard and Associates was one Seattle’s hottest ad agency — and Mike was Seattle’s resident advertising bad boy. So I went on the tour.

I don’t remember much from that day. No idea how many condos we saw. But one memory is pretty clear — and while the detail may have fogged up in the ensuing years (decades!), the impression is crystal clear.

Leonard HaglerI remember walking into Mogelgaard’s bathroom and taped to the mirror was a newspaper picture. It was taken moments after Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler in their highly publicized title bout. I’m no boxing historian but this was a battle of the ages. Sugar Ray Leonard was on the last legs of his career and Hagler was the champion — widely awed and feared. Leonard, like a lot of fighters, wanted one more shot. He wanted to go out on top as the crowning point of his career. Nobody gave him much of a chance. in fact, if I recall correctly, people thought Hagler was going to simply annihilate Sugar Ray. But they would be wrong. Leonard shocked everyone. Most of all, Hagler.

The photo on Mogelgaard’s mirror showed Leonard with the belt around his waist and the crowd hoisting him onto their shoulders. The shot is from behind Hagler, and you can see him watching the crowning moment. This unbelievable glorious celebration that was supposed to be his. Everyone knew it would be Hagler’s moment to shine.

Only it wasn’t.

And as I recall, Mogelgaard had scrawled underneath the picture what I can only assume was a daily reminder to himself. “It can all change in the blink of an eye.”

I’ve never forgotten it. For me, there are many, many ways this has been instructive. Sure, there’s the most obvious interpretation. Don’t get overconfident because there’s always someone gunning for you.

But more and more I think about it in a slightly different context. This is a topsy turvy world we live in. “Expect the unexpected” is a cliche because it’s true. Probably now more true than ever. Think of all the things in life — or business — that you don’t see coming. Should you?

I suppose at that moment, standing in Mike Mogelgaard’s bathroom, I learned something not only about the advertising business, but about life.

Stay a step ahead. Never be surprised. Be ready.