Do What Makes You Happy!

I’m a big supporter of people who do things that make them happy. Find something you’re good at, and follow it, and don’t stop. Even if you only get a little bit of time a week to do the one thing that you love, don’t second guess yourself, and go do it.

I’m very lucky in that I’ve had a great amount of support from my friends and family who want me to do the things that make me happy. I don’t know where I would be without them, and for one year, they’ve supported me on one of my sillier/exciting/fun projects.

I launched I Got You A Song one year ago. For a period of time, I was starting to get upset that I didn’t have the chance to write music anymore, in particular silly songs for my friends. Writing silly songs was something I had done for years, whether it was bugging my college roommate or having sing-a-longs on high school band trips. I loved making up lyrics and singing them at the top of my lungs. With so much going on in my life, I would go months without picking up my guitar. So, I got an idea, I found a way to put that guitar back in my hand, and I built a website around it (with great help from Nick at CENdigital, if you need a website, get in contact with him now).

Now, one year later, I’ve composed, filmed, edited, and recorded 89 complete songs for not just friends, but people all over the country. It was no small feat, but to say that for one year, along with everything else I do, I was able to find a way to do something that makes me happy, is the best feeling ever.

I sit back and think about how I was able to pull it off, and I truly have no idea. I bought an external microphone and taught myself about compression and techniques for audio editing (which I’ve gotten much better at doing over time). I created dozens of templates and logos (some that have never seen the light of day). I composed 89 songs, from scratch, with just my guitar (sometimes a keyboard), a pen, and some paper.

I didn’t have to do all this. When I got home from work I could have just sat back, watched some TV, and thought about playing my guitar. But that’s not the person that I am, and that’s not the person I want to be. I love writing these songs, whether they’re good or bad (sometimes really bad). It makes me happy, and hopefully the songs make other people happy too. I’ve found something that I love to do, and I hope it continues for a long time.

Am I making huge amounts of money? No.

Am I spending extra time on these songs, away from my normal job and all the other random responsibilities that go on with being an adult? Yes.

Have I found something that was missing from my life? Have I found a way to integrate it back into my life, turn it into a positive, and make myself happy? Yes and yes, I have, and that far outweighs any negatives I can think of.

Find something that makes you happy, and go do it.
Life is too short to spend countless hours each day unhappy.

Here are just a few of my favorite songs over the last year:

What We Can Learn From Captain Netflix

There’s been a customer service exchange that has been making the rounds on the Internet over the last few weeks. It’s a great piece of creativity, and for lack of a better term, the customer service employee had the cajones to go for it.


I can’t put into words how fascinating I find it that we don’t hear more about this type of stuff on daily basis. Captain Netflix (this is what I’m calling him), put himself out there and created a positive experience for the customer. It could just have easily blown up in his face (the customer didn’t like the tone of the conversation, wasn’t willing to have the silly retorts, etc.), but Captain Netflix went for it. He realized he can only do so much within this chat room setting and he expanded on it, got creative, and now his conversation is posted all over the Internet.

Positive customer service experiences are hot topics because all too often the only types of posts about customer service that make the rounds on the Internet focus on the negative. I like to believe there are far more positive customer service experiences that occur on a daily basis, but we rarely hear about them. Here are just a few things that I think we can learn from the exchange of Captain Netflix.

  1. Netflix is a good company that supports its employees. I haven’t seen anything on the Internet that suggests Captain Netflix got in trouble for this conversation, or received some type of reprimand for thinking outside the box. This tells me that Netflix is a company that wants its employees to find new ways to tackle simple problems (like Parks and Rec having a playback error).

  2. Consumers are looking for that next level of service that outdoes previous service experiences they’ve had in the past. If you got on Netflix right now, and had a problem, would you not want, and expect, this same level of service?

  3. In the Internet age, the world of troubleshooting and problem solving is drastically changing. If there’s a problem with a product or service, it’s highly unlikely you will speak with a person face to face or by the phone anymore. Chat rooms and email correspondence are becoming the norm, and it’s nice to see that there can still be a level of personality and individuality that can come in the conversation, even through the computer screen.

I leave you with this: which do you receive more, good customer service or bad customer service?
The follow up question: which do you talk about more, good service or bad service?

The Business of "Fun"

In my years as Games Manager, I always stressed that we were in the business of selling “fun.” Attitude, enthusiasm, demeanor, and presentation could either make or break a sale. If we weren’t having “fun,” the guest wasn’t having “fun.”

With this in mind, I just got back from Tennessee on a family outing. Like most family outings, we ate, walked the main drag of Gatlinburg, played mini golf, I fawned over an arcade, and the cherry on top was a zip line tour through the Smoky Mountains.

We’ve gone on a zip line tour before (it was in a cave), but this tour stretched the line between the peaks as we flew over the valleys. The air was crisp, the sun was rising, the fog was lifting, and the view was spectacular.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - The view from the zip line tour of the Smoky Mountains.

This post could just end here, but for me, the tour did have one more notable aspect, the tour guides. These two guides are responsible for the overall experience, but it takes extra care to make an attraction like a zip line tour both safe and fun. As a guide, a level of professionalism must be infused with a dose of “fun.” You’re selling an adventure, an experience, but at the same time, there is a level of risk as you are hooking guests to a contraption hooked to a line that spans half a mile through a Smoky Mountain valley.

These guides have had great training. They answered all questions, double and triple checked each lock, strap, and buckle. Most importantly though, on an adventure, thousands of feet in the air, careening down a wire at 40mph, I had “fun,” and felt safe.

There are different types of businesses that sell “fun,” and when they’re done right, it’s not just a zip line tour, it’s an experience.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - Coming in for a landing.

My First Real Job

What you are about to read is 100% true.

Not many people know this, but I had a job before I ever worked in the Worlds of Fun Games Department. I started in games in 2001 at the age of 14. My first job was actually in 1999 at the age of 12. I didn’t mow lawns, or deliver newspapers, or sell lemonade on the street corner. I got up at 3:30 am with my Dad, rode with him to a hangar at Kansas City International Airport, climbed into the belly of airplanes, unloaded bags of freight, used a device to scan the bar code on the packages, and sent them down a conveyor belt where they were re-bagged and loaded onto trucks and vans for delivery. I did this for two summers, and some weekends when school was in session, before ever working at an amusement park. This is 100% true.

I learned a lot of things working at the airport. I got no special treatment. In the winter, I froze to death on the bitter cold mornings out on the runway. My hands turned black from the dust and dirt layered on the packages. I rode the TUG towing vehicle out to just-landed jets, climbed inside the belly of the plane (because I was small), and pushed, heaved, and shoved over-sized trash bags full of packages out the door onto the carts to take back inside. It was exhausting work.

We were scanning what was called “lab packs.” They were referred to as “lab packs” because they contained blood and urine samples being sent out to the various Kansas City based medical labs for testing. If I recall, most packages said the word “hazard” in big red letters, or something to that effect. They were small packages, a little larger than an old VHS tape, with an airtight plastic covering surrounding them. The bar codes were on the plastic covering, and the scanner had to physically glide over the bar code in order for it to be registered into the system. This proved to be difficult if a package was dirty, or the bar code was in a strange spot, or it had been folded over onto the adhesive section of the package. I was told to watch out for leaky packages. The worst only happened once as a small stream of urine flowed out the corner of one of the packages onto my pant leg.

I know that sounds absolutely unreasonable, ridiculous, maybe a little awesome, and in all honestly, it is all those things. It could also be considered “child labor,” but all of that was bypassed in some way (don’t ask me how), because my Dad was the boss of the operation. But the truth of the matter is, from the ages of 12 to 13, I was making an hourly wage, working right around 20 hours a week, getting a paycheck, and I saved all that money and bought my first car when I turned 14 (*).

*When I went in for my first job interview at Worlds of Fun, they were confused as to why I actually had employment history listed on my application. They got scared and told me I was breaking the law, even if I was technically working for my Dad. Also, I made more per hour working at the airport then I did my first four years as a seasonal employee at Worlds of Fun.

Looking back on that job, I think it prepared me in more ways than I ever realized. I’m not sure I’d ever do it again, but as a kid, making money, working alongside adults, it was an experience I won’t forget. In this day and age it’s not something that I think other individuals will ever get the chance to do at such a young age. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones.

What was your first job?

My Imagineering Folder

When I was a kid my biggest dream was to work for an amusement park (this dream has been accomplished). The second part of that dream was to work for Disney as an Imagineer. As a kid, my definition of an Imagineer was the following: “the awesome people that build the rides.” Obviously, with age, years of amusement park experience, and a much larger vocabulary, that definition doesn’t quite encompass all that Disney Imagineers do.

Disney Imagineers are brilliant storytellers. From conception until grand opening, Imagineers are the driving force that creates an experience for guests that visit a Disney park. Every detail, from the font on the sign, to the shrubs out front, to the actual attraction itself is created by these talented individuals. This isn’t just a short process either; it can take years to design and develop these attractions. Imagineers are given the opportunities to dream, take a blank canvas, and create something that transports park guests to another world.

I could go on for days talking about different Disney parks, Imagineering, hidden Mickey’s, but instead, first check out this trailer for a brand new documentary by Leslie Iwerks which will be released in 2016, all about Disney Imagineers.

I watched this and immediately felt that excitement. I felt my creative juices flowing. I felt like that kid all over again, wondering what new world I would get to visit next time I visited Walt Disney World.

It’s a strange coincidence this trailer just came out, because very recently I came across the following:

CLICK TO ENLARGE - The outside of Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering folder used from 1997/98 to dream up new amusement park rides.

Yes, it may just look like an old dated gray folder (from 1997/98 actually), but open it up, and there is a huge section of my childhood just sitting there.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - The inner contents of Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering folder used from 1997/98 to dream up new amusement park rides.

In the 6th grade, after visiting Disney World just one time, I had begun to collect as much information about roller coasters as possible. I learned their names, designers, and locations. I thought Disney World didn’t have enough roller coasters. So, I spent my 6th grade study hall class designing  roller coasters, creating stories for them, and labeling every picture in the top right corner with the words, “Newest Ride at Walt Disney World”. Don’t believe me, take a look.

The Submarine – A roller coaster built next to a lake which included see through aquarium tunnels, and a shark attack.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - The Submarine – An original design from Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering Folder.

Breakdown – A fully immersive experience which looks to have included both forward and reverse sections, a tunnel, a special effects showroom, an avalanche with styrofoam balls, and a collapsing bridge.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - Breakdown – An original design from Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering Folder.

Thunder Road – A wooden coaster designed to be placed on a hill, complete with two tunnels. (I cannot completely remember the story for this one, but I believe it had to do with motorcycles).

CLICK TO ENLARGE - Thunder Road – An original design from Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering Folder.

I had 14 drawings in all. What can I say? I had a big imagination, and I’m happy to report, that imagination never went away. My 6th Grade Imagineering Folder means a lot to me.

While I never became a true Imagineer, when I was at Worlds of Fun, I had moments in time where I felt like an Imagineer (a much smaller, no budget Imagineer). When I got the opportunity to develop new game ideas with my staff, that was a result of my love for Imagineering. We would sit around, toss up ideas, try to be creative. I even had a Disney Imagineer book sitting on one of my office tables for years. I felt even more like an Imagineer when we actually built the games, like this giant slingshot!

CLICK TO ENLARGE - Slingshot designed and fabricated by the 2011 Worlds of Fun Games Department for a brand new game called Pigs of Fury.

For me, Imagineering is much more than a “job” with Disney. Imagineering is this idea that with a little bit of a spark, one tiny little idea, you can create something extraordinary. You can take that one little idea, and with lots of hard work, a huge amount of patience, and a whole lot of drive, bring that idea into existence. Imagineering is reaching above and beyond to create that moment in time where dreams and reality collide to create something special.

Recently, I have been asked on quite a frequent basis if I’m “done” with amusement parks. Have I moved on? From now on, I think I might reply the following:
“Not yet. I’ve got big plans. I’m in the Imagineering phase.”

The Long Take

Watch this video, then we discuss…

While in college, I came within inches of pressing the button on becoming a “film” major (I decided against it, changed to an “education” major, left school, became a Games Manager, the rest is history). I almost picked “film” because the production aspect of making movies fascinates me. The clip above is a perfect example of why I’m fascinated. Any time I come across a behind-the-scenes clip, for whatever, I hit play, immediately.

So background, the clip above is taken from a small camera, which is placed on the top of a steadicam, which is being maneuvered in and out of people and objects for the final shot in the 2011 Martin Scorsese film, Hugo. In the film biz (can I say biz?), this is called a “long take,” a sophisticated uninterrupted shot that only crazy directors use (I made that last part up, Scorsese isn’t crazy, he’s brilliant) (*).

*Side note – Is it obvious why I changed my major? I can’t write about movies for even two paragraphs without geeking out over the intricacies of a “long take”, and then I don’t possess the ability to discuss the powerful narrative meanings that these shots convey without calling someone a crazy person.

So why are we discussing this? Watch that clip again, but watch everything but the people. Did you see the wall move? Did you realize there is member of the film crew following behind the camera holding a microphone in the air? Did you see the other crew member in the rafters holding a microphone? Did you see the cabinet move, and then move back again? Did you see the lighting change? There are even more little intricacies that go into this shot, but that’s still not what I’m getting at.

At 1 minute 41 seconds of the video, we learn everything we need to know about this shot. Did you hear it? At 1:41, there is a breath of relief, a breath of great accomplishment. The amount of planning that goes into something like this is extraordinary, the choreography, the lighting, the sound, the wall moving to make room for the steadicam operator to get a sweeping shot around one of our main characters then pan back towards the dancing, walk through the hallway, and focus in on the final frame of the film. That breath is the culmination of hours and hours of hard work. That breath is the feeling you get when you know you have done something great. That breath is what happens when you accomplish something with a team. That breath is what happens when you take a group of individuals that work hard together, strive towards a common goal, and achieve it.

I’ve gotten that breath several times in my life. It’s happened at the end of a long busy Saturday after helping thousands of people win prizes. It’s happened when I’ve watched members of my staff go above and beyond in their work. It’s happened when I was able to brighten up someone’s day by helping them with a problem. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but when it happens, you know it.

So while you ponder about accomplishments, or breaths, or teamwork, or whatever else moves you from this blog post. Let’s watch what the crew on Hugo accomplished with the clip embedded below, a side by side comparison of the behind-the-scenes shot, and the completed/finished shot that appeared in the film. It’s quite the accomplishment, and worth that breath. (**)

**For you film nerds out there, yes, I know ‘Hugo’ is a weird film to mention in this blog post. And yes, I know there are lots of great steadicam shots out there, like this oneand this onedefinitely this oneor my personal favoriteBut this one is still the greatest.

Making Memories

Last week was the 4th of July. It was the first 4th of July that I had off from work in 12 years. That’s not a joke, seriously, 12 years. I didn’t really know exactly how I was going to spend it, but I did sleep in. When I checked my email on the morning of the 4th of July, I had the following message waiting for me:

For Cole:

Last year I was moved to write an email to the staff at ‘This American Life’ after hearing a rerun of their ‘Amusement Park’ episode. In honor of the Fourth of July, I’m forwarding an excerpt of it to you:

“Six years ago, my wife became fed up with all of the things that were wrong with America, and moved us from our California home to the UK. Though politically I have always agreed with her views, I have always felt that there was more to my country than the negative things she saw. But while it has always been very easy for her to point out shootings, urban sprawl and the crassness of pop culture as examples of America gone wrong, I have had a difficult time pinpointing what’s right or great about America, and the reasons I miss my homeland as much as I do. I had always loved This American Life, and listened to it every week while we lived in California, but it was only recently that I discovered I could get the program on a podcast. In the months since I made this discovery, I have been able to hear for myself every week concrete examples of the things I miss.

Last week, the news of the cinema killing in Aurora, Colorado, gave my wife just one more perfect example of the horrors we had fled, and I found myself in despair that perhaps I had been deluding myself that there was anything left back home that was worthwhile anymore. After all, how does one counter a negative as big as mass murder?

But then I listened to your recent podcast about amusement parks. I’m sure it sounds crazy, but the story of Cole Lindbergh and his antics at the Worlds of Fun park were like a shining beacon from across the ocean. Britain isn’t all that different from the US, but I have never met anyone here at all like Cole, and hearing his story, I could point to him and say to myself, “THAT’s what the rest of the world is missing!” The concept of a man making his living doing exactly what he wants to do, loving life and finding success while making people happy — there is something profoundly American about that, and I loved hearing about it. In his own small, ridiculously silly way, Cole Lindbergh is helping to keep America great. Please don’t laugh when I tell you that I got the same lump in my throat listening to Ira’s description of him singing and dancing with his teen-aged staff as I do when I watch the end of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. I hope Cole finds a way to keep his dream going, and I thank you for letting me hear his story.”

Again, happy Fourth, Cole. Rock that Uncle Sam hat for me.

Tom M.

I’ve read this message multiple times, and I’m still rather speechless about it. There is one part that sticks out to me though, one thing that I immediately think about, and anyone who truly knows me might be able to pick it out as well. It’s something that I pride myself on; making people happy. To know that this little Games Department in Kansas City could bring joy into someone’s life thousands of miles away is for me both heartwarming and overwhelming.

Each year, I tried to train my staff that we were never really in the business of getting people to play games; we were in the business of creating memories. I pushed my staff to make an impression. Make it so that ten years after that guest wins the prize, when they find it sitting in the bottom of their closet, they can pull that prize out, look at it, smile, and immediately be flooded with the memories of the time they won it at the amusement park.

I’ve been faulted for having such a romantic point of view about winning prizes and making memories. But, when I get messages like the one above, I get that romantic feeling all over again. It’s a great feeling.

Thank you Tom, for not only making my day, but the day of all those games employees who still believe in making memories.

The Obstacles & The Jump

I’m not athletic. I have never been athletic. I do not like to run. I’ve tried the working out thing a few times but I got bored. I like swimming because that doesn’t feel like working out. Wait, does that count?

The reason I bring this up is because two months ago I did run, four miles, in the mud. It was for an obstacle racing event called Hard Charge taking place in Wichita, Kansas. I’d say obstacle racing is comparable to an adult version of a McDonald’s PlayPlace, except replace the ball pit with a mud pit, the tunnels with walls to climb over, and the slide with a fireman’s pole. Also, take those elements that are usually confined within the small Ronald approved emporium, and spread them out over long distances.

Once again, I’m not doing this justice, so here’s a video I did through I Got You A Song showcasing my run.

So how did this come to be? I have one person to thank, Matt B. Davis (*).

(*) Seek out his Twitter & Vine account. I’m going to go out on a limb and state there will be only a small majority of people who read this that know what a Vine is.

Matt and I first spoke years ago after I appeared on This American Life. Matt is a persistent dude, and when he heard my story, he tracked me down, found my email, reached out to me, and called me up. Like I said, persistent, and ballsy. At that time, Matt was running his own company that would provide staff for conventions and promotions. We talked for a bit, a little about his job, a little about amusement parks, a little about This American Life, and that was it.

Fast forward, it’s a little over a year and a half later, and Matt has now entered a new world, the world of obstacle racing. Along with his podcast (*), he now heads up Obstacle Racing Media, the source for all news regarding the world of mud running. By chance, he stumbled across my LinkedIn profile, reached back out to me, invited me to meet him in Wichita, and run the course.

(*) For Matt’s podcast, I did about an hour-long interview which you can listen to here. There’s lot of post Worlds of Fun talk, This American Life talk, and more fun stories. I start at about 9:30 in.

At first, I was hesitant, but then I remembered something I had been told years earlier. It was a small piece of advice, and I’m paraphrasing now, but in my mind, it goes like this, “Don’t ever look back, and regret not taking the jump.” (Pun intended if the jump is into a pool of mud.)

The real takeaway is this, Matt is embarking into a new world, he found something he loves, and he’s following it. He’s taking the jump. He’s traveling to these events, interviewing people, taking pictures, writing blogs, live-tweeting the results of races. He’s a one man show. He’s found something that he is passionate about and he is sharing that passion with the world.

To take that jump, and find your passion, is something I pushed for my former employees at the park. “Find something you love, and do it,” I would say. “Take that step, and follow through.”

There’s something both exciting and scary about taking that step. I thought about the ramifications of me not following up on Matt’s offer. What if I wouldn’t have gone to Wichita? What if I hadn’t of strapped on my GoPro and ran that race? Would I regret it?

Taking the jump can be a lot of things, whether it be building a business like Matt, or simply stepping out of your comfort zone and running a race.

Have you looked past the obstacles and taken the jump?

Innovation, Leadership, & TPS

Before you read on, watch the video posted below, only 6 minutes of you time.

There’s obviously a lot to take away from this video, but let’s focus on one thing in particular, the innovation of the Toyota Production System, or TPS. I first heard about TPS years ago from an hour long story on This American Life (listen to the story here). The segment on This American Life tells the tale of an automotive plant in California named NUMMI, where Toyota joined forces with General Motors to help them implement the TPS in their daily production of automobiles (*).

I love innovation. I love when new ideas are brought to the table. I love when someone examines a daily process, and offers helpful suggestions to make it better. The sad truth though, is that there are leaders out there who don’t feel the same way. There is a strange divide between a leader headstrong in their want to do things their way, and a leader who is open to new ideas.

The reason I love this video is that it shows not only the small steps that can be taken to improve a process, but it doesn’t gloss over the “people factor.” George, the warehouse manager, is excited to hear new ideas, and that excitement carries over into the work he does. If a new idea can be introduced to George, even if it’s as simple as changing box size, he is dedicated, willing, and ready to try this new idea.

The plus side of this entire process is that by having a leader who is open to new ideas and innovation, it can create an enthusiasm amongst employees where they can be excited about bringing new ideas to the forefront.

What if one small idea could change one little thing about your job?
What if that one little idea could make your job easier?
What if that one little idea could make you enjoy your job even more?
Are there still bosses out there who love to hear new ideas?

Truth is, it’s a tough job being a boss, but being a boss is just one thing.
It takes a whole lot more to be a great leader.

*I’m honestly not doing the story much justice with that short description. It is a truly fascinating story well worth a listen. Link

Summertime and Change

It’s summertime. The weather is changing (*). School is out. The BBQ’s are firing up. Fourth of July is approaching. It’s the summer, and it feels unlike any summer I’ve ever had before.  There’s something missing, something different, and if you know me, or know a little bit about me, it’s rather obvious to know why it’s different.

(*) When it comes to weather change, here in Missouri may just take the cake. It’s entirely possible/plausible to walk ten feet and feel a temperature change.

This is my first summer without the amusement park in my life. This is the first summer without the games department in my life. It’s the first summer that I’m not working 60+ hour weeks, rain or shine, Monday-Sunday. It’s the first time in 12 years that I’ve had consecutive Saturdays off. I can’t put into words how weird of a feeling it is.

This site would not exist if I was still working at the park, but the crux of saying that is that the site would never exist if it wasn’t for the amusement park in the first place.

When I left the park, I made a farewell video, something close to my heart. It was difficult to do. I still have a hard time watching it without getting emotional.

I got a message today from a friend of mine, an employee still at the park, it read the following, “Just letting you know we still miss you,” and included this photo:

Click to enlarge - Cole’s name written on the back wall of a games section, seen in the video “The End”

I immediately replied, “Miss you guys too.”