Two by two, door by door, god loves nametags and he wants some more

Mormon missionaries are unique in that they’re the only evangelists required wear nametags at all times in public.

It’s one of the most recognizable visual features they carry. According to the church’s official wardrobe guidelines, they are required to wear their nametag on the outermost layer of clothing so that others may clearly identify them.

What’s fascinating is, the badge not only dons their surname and appropriate title, but also the name of the church itself. Reminding them that they are part of a family, with a reputation to uphold. They are to treat people with politeness, striving to have god’s image in their countenances.

Regardless of your opinions on religion, it’s hard not to admire the beauty of this gesture. Because these people have introduced an apparatus of accountability to both themselves and the world.

By wearing the church nametag at all times, there’s less incentive to get away with bad behavior. It’s a social construct that forces them to sign their work, so to speak, and take a stand for their identity.

Can you imagine how much better off we would be if more people walked through the world like that?

My manifesto, which made a sociological case for why everyone in the world should wear nametags, all day, every day, forever, stresses this very issue. A nametag is a structure that bankrupts bad behavior. It’s social contract. We resign it every day. And we wear it on our chest for all to see, public, so we can’t run away from it.

When you sign your name to it, you own it. It’s accountability through attribution. By directly tying our actions to our real identity, by connecting the individual to what they do, and making that connection explicit to the rest of the community, we make better decisions.

We think before acting. We consider the potential repercussions that arise from direct accountability.

How would your daily engagement with the world transform if you were required to wear a nametag at all times in public? Might you relate to people differently, yourself included?

After all, everyone is an evangelist for something.

It just depends whose image you want in your countenances.

How are you taking a stand for your identity?

No longer in the urgent grip of lust

It takes time to build valuable things.

Fruitful growth is slow. Even if we are driven by the ecstatic urgency to give rise to that which is new, whatever it is we want, it’s guaranteed to take longer than we’d like.

In my twenty years of experience recording albums, publishing books and producing films, there’s no doubt in my mind.:

Having patience is frustrating, depressing and most notably, expensive.

But the paradox is, once we accept that anything worthwhile takes forever, once we realize that we need to be profoundly patient to realize the rewards of almost everything in this life, then we can actually relax and enjoy the scenery.

As opposed to obsessing over our boiling pot thinking, man, it’s been months, this isn’t working, let’s try something else.

Not so fast.

Castaneda, the legendary author and anthropologist, wrote a beautiful mantra about this issue: All paths lead nowhere.

Sounds like nihilism, but it’s actually quite the liberating notion. His words reminds us to delight in the moment, embed as much bliss into the pavement as possible and forget all about where we might end up.

Because this journey is going to take a long ass time. Much longer than we want it to. And how silly would we feel if months or years or decades down the road, we looked back and realized that all we did was piss and moan the whole time about how long everything was taking?

What a colossal waste.

Therefore, joy is the ultimate insurance policy. It’s the only return with no investment. The only bet with zero downside risk. And once are willing to be aware of all the good that already inside and around us, then nobody can spin this into us losing or failing.

Take a good look at the dashboard, friends. Because the meter isn’t running. This trip is a flat rate. And everybody pays the exact same price.

Nothing. All roads lead to nowhere. 

Are you at peace with the time it takes to do something right?

Seeding your idea into society

The simple act of engaging with the world through a nametag has fundamentally changed my life in multiple ways.

From communication to business to relationships to creativity to identity to spirituality, there are very few parts of my daily experience that have not been touched by this simple little experiments.

Nametags really do stick, in every sense of the word.

One subject that’s been deeply compelling to explore is the study of ideas. Not only where they come from and how we create them, but also how they spread and why. And over the past twenty years, several patterns have emerged.

Let’s explore them through the filter of questions.

Are you constantly sharing your idea with more and more people to make it more and more real? Wearing a nametag is a public act. It never comes off. Stays on my shirt all day, every day. Even in situations when it might be socially risky or inappropriate. This apparatus of constant exposure, while sometimes uncomfortable, has become the engine of legitimacy that has enabled my idea to sustain for two decades.

Is your idea not only interesting, but also easy and fun to spread? What’s ideal about nametags is, they’re shareable. Not just the idea, but the actual thing itself. That’s why I never leave the house without ten blank nametags in my wallet. Because people ask for them. And the simple act of somebody using one of them helps spread my idea.

Are you giving your idea enough light and air so it doesn’t starve to death? It just breaks my heart when people have great ideas that stay trapped in idea form. They put their ideas in a box so they never spoil. But the irony is, in their effort to protect themselves, those ideas eventually get forsaken, forgotten or famished. That’s why my mantras is, ideas are free, execution is priceless. We have to share our ideas with the world.

Does it the story of your idea grow in value with every new person that it touches? People who meet me once will probably never think about nametags the same way again. Now, this was not the initial goal of my experiment, but it has become one of the intentional results. Mindshare is a byproduct of passion, consistency and commitment. Those things are the force multipliers of ideas.

Is there something about your idea that makes people choose not to spread it? Imagine how many brilliant concepts you’ve come across in your life, but hesitated to share because of the social cost to doing so. Perhaps you were afraid of how it positioned you, or whom you might offend. Nametags are harmless. They’re easy to wear, and easy to share. There is little friction of introducing that story into a conversation.

Whatever idea you’re hoping to spread, keep these questions in mind.

Keep experimenting. And you find your nametag.

Are you both a creator of and a student of ideas?

This has become way too important to you

If you are working harder on someone’s life than they are, that is not love, that is codependency.

Not a relationship, but an entanglement.

Not benevolence, but people pleasing.

It may feel satisfying to be the helpful hero, cleaning up after your dysfunctional friend or partner, saving them from their problems.

But long term, doing these things for other people will leave you feeling drained, leave the other person feeling resentful, and leave the connection feeling dysfunctional.

Because you’ll be relating to each other not from a place of abundance, but from a place of fear. Like you’re a bad person if you don’t rescue them, and they’re a bad person if they reject your help.

Guillermo’s monster movie comes to mind. Elisa, the mute orphaned child who was found in a river with wounds on her neck, forms a close bond with a humanoid amphibian. But nobody understands their relationship. Until their love is explained as follows:

The way he looks at her. He doesn’t know what she lacks. Or how she is incomplete. He just sees her for what she is. As she is. And he is happy to see her, every time. Every day.

Sounds idyllic.

Imagine being in a relationship with a partner who let you enjoy your life instead of being their little project.

Imagine being friends with people who didn’t work harder on your problems than you did.

Imagine being part of a family that empowered you to independently solve your own problems.

Imagine working with peers whose sense of validation and security came from their own internal fire and not your approval.

It’s not compelling cinema, that’s for sure. Very few films are made about functional relationships. Healthy people just aren’t all that interesting.

But that’s the point. Life isn’t a movie. We don’t have to be afraid of being seen as healthy or boring for fear that the audience will walk out on us.

We can see others as they are, we can let them see us as we are, and we can trust that the story will play out however it’s supposed to. 

What happened to the last person who tried to fix you?

They are blind to the meaning we derive

Being of service is one of our prime opportunities for making meaning, and therefore, experiencing fulfillment.

But what we don’t realize it, service is quite the selfish act. It’s something that we perform for our own benefit.

Like happy hour at my old office. Drinking isn’t my thing, but making guacamole is. And for me, that act of preparing food for my peers is a small expression of service. It’s one of many ways for me to experience a deep feeling of usefulness the people closest to me.

The act of cooking fires joy into my veins, checks the meaning making box and contributes to my overall sense of fulfillment. Doesn’t get more selfish than that.

And so, this is how the economy of generosity works.

Anytime we make an investment of service into something other than our ego, everybody wins.

Anytime we add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, then dividends are paid out.

But there is one part about the service exchange that is quite surprising.

Some people are blind to the meaning we derive from serving them.

Some people might even will grow suspicious of our benevolent behavior as it unfolds.

What’s your angle? Why are you being so nice to me?

Well, because it feels good, that’s why. Serving others is the best natural high in the world. And the only side effect is, we get the desire to do it more.

But some people may never realize that. And that’s okay.

It’s not our job to make people understand us, it’s our job to serve them.

To give love freely and often.

Sweetland famously wrote that we cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.

Sounds like a win win to me.

What is your unique plan of service which yields joy for you and others?

Those who suffer stiffly and those who suffer flexibly

Nobody ages out of suffering. We’re never done dealing with bullshit.

Each of us will always have our own carnival of nonsense to deal with. Regardless of what we feel we deserve, or what we believe we’ve earned the right not to deal with anymore, life will still find some way to hand us a pile of crap.

It’s as sure as the tides.

But there are those who suffer stiffly, and those who suffer flexibly.

Senge put it perfectly in his book about the fifth discipline:

We are neither victims of culprits, but human beings controlled by forces we have not yet learned how to perceive.

Our goal is learning how to get over that adolescent view about why something might be happening to us.

Look, shit happens to everybody. There is rarely a reason why. Dwelling on, running from, or trying to find a solution for the mystery is simply not a prudent use of our time.

We’re at fault if we continue to let ourselves be victimized by such experiences.

A healthier response is to pivot our internal question from a place of contraction and negativity to a place of expansion and abundance.

Why me? becomes, what’s next?

It’s the only path through these knots of suffering.

Instead of shaking our fists at the heavens, assuming we were done with this bullshit, we remind ourselves, oh right, we’ve seen this movie before, and here’s how we’re going to handle it.

Buddha may have been right when he said that life was suffering.

But if we don’t dismantle our sense of victimization around suffering, if we don’t transition from suffering stiffly to flexibly, then all the piles of shit are going to keep stacking up.

How will you transform yourself into a person who responds to the signals and thus is less likely a victim?

Everyone who needs to will be reminded of your infinite value

There was a time when the young, naïve and paranoid version of you wondered to yourself.

How did you get here? What are you even doing here? Can you believe you got away with this? Is this a coup or what?

Resulting in the final pressure cooker thought of, wow, you better be good.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Happened to me well into my thirties. But there will also come a time when the older, more experienced and calmer version of you won’t wonder at all.

Because you will know in your bones exactly how you ended up here, what your true value is, and that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. You will have hit your stride, and nobody will be able to take that away from you.

This ability to trust yourself takes many years to build. There is no proven formula, and it can’t be rushed, taught or bought. Only earned and realized.

Carlin once did a related bit on the problems of bald guys. He joked about how shaving their heads was ugly and repulsive and disgusting. If people really want to have no hair, he said, they could do what we did. Wait a while. In the meantime, there was no excuse for running around looking like a freshly circumcised dick.

Meaning, in time the doubt will fade. The trust will blossom. The imposter will leave the building. And one day, you will realize that life no longer feels like a town where everyone knows you don’t belong. Because you will already belong to yourself.

One day, the urgency to prove your worth and earn approval will fade, because everyone who needs to will already be reminded of your infinite value. Especially yourself.

It’s a glorious feeling, belief in your own efficacy. It will help make you more productive and achieving.

And even though doubt and failure will still creep in like an uninvited guest, your reservoir of resilience will limit the damage and ultimately help you bounce back with speed and grace.

Where are you not able to take action and change situations where you felt powerless before?

With their hands held out like bellboys hoping for a tip.

Watching nametags go viral in real time is a fascinating thing.

It’s happened to me hundreds of times over the years, from everything to weddings, conference, bars, offices, street parties and a number of other public events. It all starts with patient zero, yours truly, who is responsible for the initial transmission of the idea.

One guy who is silly enough to put on the sticker and risk being ridiculed. Now, because a meme is the basic unit of imitation, in other words, a piece of information that copies itself and get created in other people’s minds, here’s what typically happens next in the virality process.

Somebody’s first impression of the nametag meme demands further investigation. And so, they approach me, greet me by first name, ask what the deal is, and if that story resonates with them, they ask if they can have a nametag too.

Of course they can. Here you go. Have fun!

This person is essential. They are my first follower, and they have a critical role. To sell my nametag idea to everyone else. To show others how to follow.

It reminds me of one company holiday party from a few years ago. There were six hundred employees from fifteen countries at my startup, many of whom were meeting for the first time. Myself included.

Matter of fact, it was only my first week on the job. Combine that with the language barrier, and you’ve got one hell of a communication problem.

Unless you bring nametags. And so, about twenty minutes after that critical first person came up and asked for a sticker, there was a palpable increase in momentum. Strangers who didn’t speak my language were marching right up to me with smiles on their faces and their hands held out like bellboys hoping for a tip.

Where’s my nametag? Do you have any more nametags? My coworker got a sticker, and I want one too!

The highlight for me was when the drunken Russian goddess in the red dress who looked like a femme fatale from a bond movie, tapped me on the shoulder and simply said.

You have nametag for me?

Yes. Please don’t shoot.

By the time dessert was served, over a hundred people at the party had nametags on. It was awesome. People still talk about that night to this day.

Here’s what’s critical to this story.

Over time, the nametag wasn’t about me, it was about them. My followers, so to speak, weren’t following me as much as they were following each other. And at a certain point, they were missing out on the fun by not joining in.

Who’s following the people who follow you?

80% excitement, 20% percent embarrassment

Ripley’s is known as the sprawling collection of curiosities.

From shrunken to unusual animals to human beings that hammer nails into their noses, they catalog just about everything you have never thought of.

It originally launched as newspaper cartoon in the early nineteen hundreds, but since that time, the franchise has adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums, and a book series.

The most compelling part of their publication is, they deal in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. Hence the moniker, believe it or not.

When my nametag story was featured in their annual book series, my reaction was eighty percent excitement, twenty percent embarrassment. Because on one hand, it further adds to both the hilarity and credibility of my story. On the other hand, the man whose picture appears next to me in the book is a guy known as the human pin cushion, as he’s famous for hammering nails into his own face.

Isn’t that the beauty of life? There’s always someone weirder than you.

There’s a powerful lesson within this story. Ripley’s, this sprawling collection of curiosities, is one of the few places where abnormality is celebrated, not scorned. Each freak in this community, myself included, breathes rarified air because of the very uniqueness for which we have been so ridiculed.

Isn’t that the beauty of life? There’s always someone weirder than you.

And that’s the nature of remarkable ideas. They are often easily dismissed at first, but before you know it, people can’t stop talking about them.

It’s like one of those vintage game shows where panelists were presented with three contestants and must identify which character was not an imposter, despite their most unusual occupation or experience.

Remember, most ideas are ignored. If people pay attention to yours, especially because it’s so strange and unusual that they question its validity, then you’re probably doing something right. It might just take a little longer to catch on.

Hopefully you’ll still be around when the world is finally ready for you.

Will your story survive scrutiny long enough to be told to more people?

It’s almost always lightning in a bottle

Brodie writes in his book about the virus of the mind that a meme can be any idea, behavior, practice, symbol or piece of media that gets imitated. Its existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.

Meaning, memes are small movements. They spread from person to person via social networks, blogs, direct email, news sources, or face to face interaction. Either one to one, or one to many.

Considering that definition, my nametag idea is a meme. Which was certainly not the intention at the outset of my experiment twenty years ago. I was a lonely guy who wanted to make friends, not make history.

But such is the nature of evolution. Ideas evolve, whether we want them to our not.

Sure enough, the nametag meme has grown in ways beyond my wildest dreams. The meme has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world, been the subject of textbooks, case studies, psychology experiments and college courses, secured a sport into the hall of fame of ripley’s believe it not, and most excitingly, is listed on every ugly tattoo list on the internet.

This not a list of humble brags. This is a lesson in how ideas spread.

Godin writes in his groundbreaking book about ideaviruses that things become viral because the audience wants them to be viral, not because of the person who created it. Nothing deserves to be viral. Memes cannot be premeditated or tracked or quantified or profited from. It’s almost always lightning in a bottle. Things only go viral if the selfishly motivated consumer spreads the word, not because some marketer calculated it.

Considering everything that happened over the last two decades, the nametag idea never could never have been fabricated in a boardroom.

My twenty year old brain was far too dumb to have been that strategic. It’s just a sticker.

My twenty year old brain was far too dumb to have been that strategic. It’s just a sticker.

And yet, that’s why it spread. That’s why it continues to spread. The place it came from was pure. It was never forced or faked. It’s personal, human, simple, playful, honest, earnest and transparent.

Which is precisely why it’s so memorable.

What small movement of yours is most often imitated?

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