Fearless - Ep. 36: "The Self Believer " - Geoff Edwards

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"The Self Believer"

Geoff Edwards has been leading on his terms for his entire career. He has been featured on the cover of Creativity Magazine’s inaugural “Creativity 50” and Boards Magazine's “Top 50 Art Directors” In America. Today, he is Head of Creative at CAA Marketing and Co-Founder of SATURDAY MORNING, a coalition for Peace. I talked to Geoff about superheroes and kryptonite, about building a business with Spike Lee, and about the decision he made that he still thinks about.


Three Takeaways

  • Explore new opportunities and possibilities.
  • Learn from others.
  • Chart your own path.

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 36: "The Self Believer" Geoff Edwards

at the end of the day, and like you said that end of the day is going to be sometime from now, it has to be on your terms, it can't be on anyone else's terms. It has to be I lived a life for full, that was full, I traveled in and every by-way, I did it my way. It has to be that”

Leadership is about other people. What do they want? And what do they need? 

It’s about making big decisions, and tough calls. Usually based on a lot of hypothesis and very little knowledge.

It’s about endless politics and agendas. It’s about acting in the interest of the whole even when the loudest individual is standing right in front of you.

And it’s about balancing predictability and uncertainty. Clarity and ambiguity.

In the middle of that vortex. In the face of that storm, there is one person that often gets overlooked. You. The human being behind the title. The person that gets a lot of recognition but little acknowledgement. The person everyone knows but no one knows. The person for whom “it’s lonely at the top”, is not a cliche, it’s a reality.

Which is why, when all is said and done, the only person you can worry about answering to is you.

Geoff Edwards has been leading on his terms for his entire career. He is a story teller, unafraid to open new doors or take a new path, unafraid to try to change the world on his terms. He has been featured on the cover of Creativity Magazine’s inaugural “Creativity 50” and Boards Magazine's “Top 50 Art Directors” In America. 

Today, he is Head of Creative at CAA Marketing and Co-Founder of  SATURDAY MORNING, a coalition for Peace.’

I talked to Geoff about superheroes and kryptonite, about building a business with Spike Lee, and about the decision he made that he still thinks about. 

Charles:                               

Geoff Edwards welcome to Fearless. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Geoff Edwards:                

I'm glad to be involved, thanks for having me.

Charles: 

I'd like to start by going all the way back. What is the first memory you have of something being creative. When did creativity first show up in your life?

Geoff Edwards:                

That's an excellent question Charles. For me creativity first entered my life as a child. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. And the streets of that city at the time when I was growing up in the '70s and '80s were tough. And so frankly, my mom supplied me with lots and lots of art materials. She gave me pads and pencils and crayons and clay and you name it, whatever she could do, to keep me occupied and make sure that my time was spent well and creatively and productively was her church. So I started drawing at a very young age. They say that art is the first language, that the first thing that we do as young people is we put down a line on a piece of paper and after that, that either the crayon is met with other crayons and ends in paint, or it's taken away and we become engineers.

Charles:                               

I have never heard that description but it is absolutely perfect and I think very accurate as well.

We're you drawn to drawing certain kinds of subject matter, with the things that you found you were already more interested than others?

Geoff Edwards:                

I love that, were you drawn to drawing? I was drawn to drawing several things Charles. My subject matter funny enough was fictional. I love comic books and I love alternate worlds. And so I would try and create things that I didn't see myself in. When I say that, as being an African-American young fellow, I would read comic books but I didn't see characters and protagonists that looked like me. And so my chart was to change those worlds. When I wrote or read books rather, same situation, I would read these incredible novels and even comic books and stories and Highlights magazines, but I didn't see characters and protagonists that looked like me. So, I set out to change those worlds. The characters that I drew were comic book characters, and fictional characters. Characters with wings, characters that could fly, characters that had all kinds of superpowers but they looked like me.

Charles:                               

Was that a realization that you had from a very early age?

Geoff Edwards:                

It was. The reason being, at the time growing up in Detroit, if you could imagine the city was about 75% black. So the way the city is constructed is that everybody works in the downtown area or at least they did at the time during the workday, and then everyone would go back home and whether home was urban areas or suburbs, the city ... That's how the city operated. And so Charles, I would see judges and doctors and lawyers and technicians and people in the auto industry all come home from work and they were all African-American in my neighborhood. There were very, very few people that weren't, but then when I looked at media, in terms of television shows and comic books that I loved to read and books that I ... Or see rather and then books that I loved to read, I didn't see people that looked like me, and that was a disconnect. So I attempted to change that through art.

Charles:                               

Did you follow art into your education as well?

Geoff Edwards:                

Absolutely, I did. My mom was teacher and she was 35 years in the Detroit Public Schools system. She was a chemistry teacher and then later reinvented herself as a computer teacher, so I ... All I knew was art, all I knew was drawing, all I knew was painting, all I knew was creating those worlds that I've discussed. So when I got into high school, funny enough I went into a college prep high school. I went to an all boy Catholic school, again, her attempt to create a bubble around me and shelter me at least until I got into college, at least until the age of 18.

I found myself as one of maybe five or six artists in the school. So I delved into it. I loved it, I read everything that you possible could about it. I studied artists like Diego Rivera and Leonardo Da Vinci, I studied artists like Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat and then as well, recording artists like Jimi Hendrix and the list goes on and on. And from there, took that into college where I went to Pratt and continued.

Charles:                               

When you were creating these alternate were you telling stories through those media?

Geoff Edwards:                

Oh, absolutely. That was the fun part. Is that, when you delve into the imagination, anything can happen. So the characters that I didn't see growing up, I would create them with these mega superpowers, but they were able to do all kinds of things. Seeing through walls was just the rite of passage, I would have them be able to make water. They could fly, leap buildings and they could do all these different types of things, and so I would literary do frame for frame stories, at the time if you think about it, I was creating graphic novels at the age of eight. And I would just do, tablet upon tablet, pad upon pad of these drawings until my parents realized, "Okay, he's not going to be a doctor."

Charles:                               

Or an engineer.

Geoff Edwards:                

I think it's safe to say that I'm not going to follow my mom's path of education. I'm probably not going to follow my dad's path of Medicine.

Charles:                               

Was there anything these characters couldn't do? Did you have any limits you placed on them?

Geoff Edwards:                

Well, for every superpower there's a kryptonite, and so they would have, depending on the character, I had female characters, male characters, young and old. They would have, as they call it a kryptonite. There would be something that they were not able to do but there were far more things they were able to do than not able to do. Because again, this is through the mind of a child, so everything is possible.

Charles:                               

How amazing. I imagine too, that the partners that they would have to forge in order to be able to overcome their Kryptonite must have been powerful as well.

Geoff Edwards:                

Well, it's interesting as I think about this I always feel, "Oh my, there should have been some sort of a neurological study of me when I was a kid because why did I  create these things? And why did I fell compelled to do them?" I really can't answer that question just because I was too excited into the act of actually developing these characters and the stories behind them, but it's an easy line to see how I ended up where I ended up in the entertainment and marketing space, having that be a starting block.

Charles:                               

Do you still have any of that art?

Geoff Edwards:                

I do, I do. Actually I ... Strangely and to my wife's dismay, I have about 80% of it. My mom kept everything. I have Mohamed Ali dolls that are still in the package from 1972, no lie. I have pads upon pads all wrapped, and the paper is yellowing now of drawings and paintings that I've. Some that my mom put in frames, others that I just had rolled up in the garage. And I've kept a lot of it. At some point I was actually thinking about having an exhibit of kids art,  all kind of leveling up to today because I still continue to paint, just for my friends, nothing big. Wine reception, we come out and we look at art and they just realize that I'm truly weird.

Charles:                               

I hope you do, I hope you put that on. And I hope you scan the pieces and put them on up on the web somewhere, I think it will an amazing display to be able to look back at that through the lens that you've described, that you were the world through. Okay, art is your focus for college, as you said you went to Pratt. How did you get into the professional world?

Geoff Edwards:                

Into the professional world through a couple of professors of mine. It's an interesting lineage like Mrs. Mooney, was my art teacher in high school and she's the one who gave me my first like one-man show. I was at UD high school, University of Detroit high school, she gave me a one-man show, my junior year. It was at that time my peers were able to see my skill as a painter and drawer. Robert Berkshire was my freshman year painting instructor and he was an abstract expressionist, and so I learned from him light color design and forming shape. And so I just studied under him, I stayed after class, he saw that I was interested and he took a shine to me.

And then it was in college, there were two professors, Loraine McNeil and Sheryl Schwab that both were professors of mine at Pratt institute. They were actually practicing instructors. It's interesting because a Pratt, the curriculum is not, the teacher are taught to teach rather it's that they find professionals that actually can teach. And that they come into the class after their workday and they instruct the students. So it was those two teachers that taught in the communication design department.

And they saw my level of skill and they suggested to the dean of the class of school of art and design and communication design that I should be considered for a scholarship. And so, it was really great help to my parent that those two really took a liking to the work that I did. I learned a lot underneath them and actually I still keep in touch with them today. And they helped me understand the craft that would ultimately be my career choice, which is art direction and marketing.

Charles:                               

So did you out into the world looking for a job in that sphere?

Geoff Edwards:                

I approached college as a painting major until my dad told me that he wanted me to consider something that wasn't a hobby. It was something that I could actually make a living off of, then that's when I shifted my focus. But no, I was one of the few people that actually studied something and my major became my profession.

Charles:                               

So what was your first job?

Geoff Edwards:                

My first job, this is a great story. My first job was Chiat\Day in New York City and it was at on Fifth Avenue in 17th street if you remember. And I'll never forget, I went to Sheryl Schwab and I was looking for an internship and she said, "So Geoff you know," and she talking to all student, "Where do you think you want an internship?" And this is late 80s, early 90s. Early 90s rather, and I said, "I want to work at the best agency in the world. I want to work at Chiat\Day." And she's like, "Okay, well you know they're the best agency in the world." And I go, "Yeah, yeah. That's why I want to work there." She goes, "Okay, do you have a back-up plan?"

Now Charles you've known me for a long time. There's never a back-up plan. There's a front-up plan but there's never a back-up plan. So my whole thing was, "No, I'm going to work there because that is the best place," and so I sent my work, I waited in the lobby. I spoke to the head of Creative there and I got the job. And there was no prouder moment than going back to class and telling Sheryl that I was able make my way through the creative department and meet everybody from Jamie Barrett who's a writer there, [inaudible], who's an art director there, Butler Shine, and a team named Butler Shine were just a mid level creative team at the time there.  And they were the Yankees of marketing at that time. They were the Yankees of advertising and I was very, very fortunate.

Charles:                               

Quite a legacy, in group, back to your point, the depth of talent at that agency at that point was extraordinary.

Geoff Edwards:                

Oh, it was amazing. And I was in New York, and then there was ... There was some guy in out in LA with a big beard named Lee Clow who surfed to work every day and he was trying to start something on the West Coast at Chiat\Day office and, "No, it'll never happen." And look at it now.

Charles:                               

Yeah that's extraordinary. What was the experience of working for the first time like? What was that environment like for you?

Geoff Edwards:                

Brutal. It was one the hardest things I have ever experienced and one of the most inspiring things I have ever experienced. I was the youngest one in the office and so my expectation of coming in and doing an award-winning campaign for Name the Brand, was farfetched.  I was carrying boards, I was doing whatever I needed to do, I was helping out with comps, I was delivering the mail, I was making Belgian waffles. I was doing just about everything but what I really, really wanted to do, until Gary McKendry, an art director and Mathew ... God, I'm trying to remember his last name. Took me under their wing, Gary McKendry took me under his wing and just said, "Okay, I'm going to kind of show you the rope." It was from ... Matt Sherring, that's his name.

It was Gary McKendry and Matt Sherring. They basically mentored me and took responsibility for me and then I started to learn. But it was ... Let me tell you something, the environment there couldn't have be more fun, like they worked hard and played hard. Their work was great, it was all over the walls. It was so inspiring and then at the end of the day, there was a pub right around the corner that everyone went to and everyone just spent time together. It was the epitome of an incredible creative culture. But my frustration came from the fact that I just wanted it all. I didn't realize the fact that I was at an incredible company and that my rite of passage would be to listen and learn. Keep my mouth shut, to not be so anxious and to let it all soak in. That came a little bit latter.

Charles:                               

And how diverse an environment was it? What was it like for you walking into that environment from a cultural standpoint? From an ethnic standpoint?

Geoff Edwards:                

Well, let me see. If you had a cookie and it had one chocolate chip, and it called itself a chocolate chip cookie. That would be the equivalent [crosstalk} advertising.

Charles:                               

That was it?

Geoff Edwards:                

Let me put it this way. I was very easy to find in the office. I was one of two African-Americans in the entire office, as far as gender balance it was, there were very, very few women in the office as well. But you know something, that was marketing at the time. Unfortunately that was the make up. It was only now that we've coined phrases like diversity and inclusion, and those have been focuses of modern marketing but that wasn't the case when I got into the industry. And I wanted to change that actually.

Charles:                               

I was going to ask, how did that inform how you showed up at work every day?

Geoff Edwards:                

Well, let's see. You've known me for a while so that's never like my focus, and don't walk in like Malcolm X, and say, "You I can't believe that this happening," or raise a fuss. The great thing about our industry or at least a good part of our industry is that you're judged by your creativity. And so you know, Geoff Edwards resume, portfolio gets hired because there's talented work, it's not because I'm black or I'm white or I'm Hispanic or Asian or whatever. It's just I'm good.

That's always been something that I've leaned in this profession is that, there's an honesty to it when comes to creativity and I've been a beneficiary of that. That said, it still didn't feel good because I didn't have the ability to change it. I just had the ability to just represent myself and my work the best I could, and then hope that I'll pave the way for others. Later in my career, like now, I hold the keys, I'm a decision maker. I'm an executive and it's my responsibility and drive to make sure that the agencies reflect the environment, the culture.

Charles:                               

Yeah, that's really well said. So from Chiat what was your next step?

Geoff Edwards:                

Okay, so I left Chiat/Day and because I did get antsy. And Nancy Temkin called me from J. Walter Thompson and she offered me a job, an opportunity to double my salary. And at the time you're basically doubling zero. Zero double zero. I made just enough for a beer and a cheese sandwich every night.

Charles:                               

It's so funny, that first experience of working in New York. I had the same experience, I worked at Ogilvy’s Media Department. And the statement or the definition of Ogilvy back then, that used to go round the halls was Ogilvy was a good place to work if your parents could afford to send you there.

Geoff Edwards:                

I love it. I love it.

Charles:                               

So yes, I've lived in New York, early days in the industry, reality wakes you up, doesn't it?

Geoff Edwards:                

Oh, it absolutely does Charles. But you it's funny they say you don't know what you don't know. So for me I felt like I was the richest man on earth because I was working in a profession that I coveted. I was surrounded by people who were creative and inspiring. Every day was fun, beer was great at end of the day. It's was a fun time to be in the industry in the 90s. And so, yeah I made piss, I made absolutely nothing but at the same time I didn't know any better. So I was at J. Walter Thompson, and I partnered with a gentleman by the name of Michael Lean.

And Mike is now running I think Comedy Central, the comedy channel or something like that. He's doing something in comedy Down-south and he's killing it. And he and I, we were put on a couple of accounts and we had each other. That was like my bud, like we would just go to lunch together and we would be junior madmen and every once in a while for our presentation we would put on a tie and freak out everybody in the office. But he and I grew up together a little bit there.

And it was from there that things really got interesting. It was leaving there and going to Publicis ... It was leaving Publicis and going to Chicago, where you and I met under the mentorship and stewardship of Scott Pelley and the incredibly talented people that were part of the Budweiser team and the McDonald's team at that time. That kind of spring-boarded my career.

Charles:                               

And you've been unafraid to move throughout your career as you just described. And did so I think, before it was typical, usual for people to do that. What gave you the confidence to make those changes?

Geoff Edwards:                

Great point. I'll tell you, I've always been relentless when it comes to the creative opportunity. And unfortunately in my younger years in this business there's was nothing that was holding me down other than myself. So moving to Chicago, why not? A great opportunity to work with people like Bob Scarpelli, on a great account like Anheuser-Busch and a great account like McDonald and Gatorade, the list went on. Get a Chuck McBride who noticed something that I did, which was the first ever commercial for Gatorade ever on the Super Bowl featuring Michael Jordan playing a one-on-one game against himself.

And he at the time was charged with launching the Adidas, Impossible is Nothing Campaign. And honestly he barely got through the conversation where I was just like, "San Francisco, working with Chuck McBride on Adidas, yeah let's go." And so, I've always been quick to the opportunity, even today.  So I went [inaudible] spent time in San Francisco.

My wife and I were there for 10 years until I get the call from Jae Goodman at Creative Artists Agency, "Hey, come down, there's a lot of things going on in the group. I noticed your work, loved what you did with the company that you started, DOJO, is always something that you would even have in mind? 'Sure, why not?'" I've never stopped myself from those opportunities and frankly it served my career.

Charles:                               

Do you think that ... I don't want to put words in your mouth obviously. To what extent do you that your childhood gave you that willingness to explore, that confidence? And if it wasn't that, where else do you think it might have come from?

Geoff Edwards:                

No, absolutely. Remember earlier when I talked about the ability to fly?

Charles:                                Yep.

Geoff Edwards:                

Well, I'm not scared, I've never been scared. I've always really, really been excited by new opportunities and trying new things. Frankly, because I have a father who's from South America, who migrated here and I traveled a lot as a child going back see my grand parents in Guyana, South America and then going to places like London when I was a child and going to places like Thailand when I was a child. I've always had a fondness and a passion for seeing new things and trying new things and meeting new people, so I feel like every step of the way, and every place that I've gone to, it's grown me as a creative person, it's grown as a human being and a father and a husband. It's just fun, and I feel like ... and I know and you and I both know many people who have been in their hometowns and have had their entire career be in one place. And that's just fine, but it's not fine for me.

Charles:                               

What were you learning about leadership as you were taking this journey in the relatively early part of your career? As you were moving into different positions and experimenting new environments, new cities as you've said, what were you learning about your own view of leadership?

Geoff Edwards:                

Well, Jeez. So many things. I think, if I don't travel then I don't get to met Bob Scarpelli, if I don't travel I don't get to meet Jeff Goodby, if I don't travel I don't get to meet Dan Weiden, if I don't travel I don't get to met and work with [inaudible]. I've had a pleasure in my career of being able to not just have conversations like the one that you and I are having right now but to literary sit under the wings of eagles and learn from greatness and see it firsthand, because I've gotten on an airplane and done it. And the lessons that I've learnt in terms of ...

Forget lessons of how do you manufacture a great piece of creative work? How do you identify good idea? How do you build an internal culture within an agency organization. All of those things yes, but more importantly how are you a better man? How are you a better social advocate? How do you make your community better? These are the lessons that I learn from people like Dan Weiden. These are the lessons that I learned from people like Bob Scarpelli and [inaudible], are life lessons. And those to me are some of the most valuable things I've taken in my career from then until today.

Charles:                               

So the journey brings you finally to CAA finally I would say, but most recently I should say. We'll assume that this is not the end for you.

Geoff Edwards:                

Never.

Charles:                               

Exactly. When you walked into that position, what did you think that job was going to be like? And how was is ... Better put, how has it turned out so far?

Geoff Edwards:                

It's good. His marks a pivotal shift in my career. I've smashed marketing, I've done it if four cities, I've done it on a multitude of assignments for a multitude of clients, who I've gained their trust and been able to steward their brand. That's been incredible. Now here, I get to learn another class, which is entertainment. I get to work in entertainment marketing., you know what I mean?

Charles:                               

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Geoff Edwards:                

I get to take the skills I've learned up until this point and I get to apply them to something far, far, far more interesting. I mean, people aren't waiting to see the next ad, unless you're watching the Super Bowl or the Emmys or the Oscars or something of that nature, they just aren't. But the idea of developing entertainment platforms that engage people on their own terms is something that I'm really, really excited about. The promise of it is the end of disruptive advertising that we're able create  things that people connect to in a very human way, and do it on behalf of brands.

And so I feel like in my journey, the four cities, starting my own company. The work that I did with Spike Lee, the work that I've done in my career had led up into this point. And so working with, Jae Goodman, working with Conan Wang, working with some of the incredible staff that they have as part of their 60 person unit is really a lot of fun and I'm learning a lot. In this building, let me tell you, is incredible. Is absolutely incredible. People like Michelle Kydd Lee, the types of people that they have in motion picture literature, in theater and comedy and sports.

Like this is a big sandbox and it's filled with the world's best people in entertainment, period. And you have access to them, so what it means is that, the ideas that you come up with. Those big ideas that you come up with get larger exponentially. Exponentially larger because you're able to plug right into people that are a center of culture.

Charles:                               

You've started your own thing, and I know you started your own company once, but the Spike DDB just to pick up on that reference point was in many ways certainly, an independent entity wasn't it? And it had the feeling of being very entrepreneurial, what drew you to starting your own business when you did?

Geoff Edwards:                

Well, Spike DDB we launched that in 1996 with Spike Lee. That was one of the most amazing things hat could happen to a young person, is just being a partner with that genius for two and half years. So I'm very thankful for that, I learned a lot from him.

Charles:                               

Such as?

Geoff Edwards:                

Oh, from Spike OG, I learned that a creative idea can be an entertainment idea. I learned that ... It's funny, this program is Fearless and you'd never work with a more fearless person than Spike Lee in terms of how he sees an idea and how he just, man he goes at it. And he expects clients to be able to bend and understand the power of powerful communication. In some cases it scared the hell out of him, honestly. And in other cases we would get a pass because they would see that it's coming from an incredible storyteller.

So I learned the art of storytelling. Like we would go over scripts over and over and over scripts. I went to his office, hands shaking showing him work, because you're not showing work to a creative director, you're showing work to a film maker. One of the greatest film makers of our time. So I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot about the craft and I learned a lot about the craft of film.

And all of these kind of led up to into the point where I felt like it was time for me to have my name on the door. Frankly that was it. I wanted to, based on my experience have the opportunity and experience of opening a shop. So in San Francisco, my partner Mauro Alencar and myself, we partnered with Group ABC, and investor from Brazil and someone that Mauro had a very, very close contact with to start DOJO. And man, when I tell you what a ride, that was so much fun just being able to employ over 100 people over the course of five years.

 Staff of 35 people, [inaudible] win millions of dollars of business, lose millions of dollars of business, have happy hours every Thursday on the rooftop, where we would celebrate with Sangria and beer and shots and dogs in the office and we played music at the beginning and at ending of every day. We had a playlist that everybody was able to opt into or not. So we learned everybody's passion for music and their styles, which they liked. Did we worked hard? Oh my God! Long hours for sure you're building a business. But at same time, boy did we have fun.

Charles:                               

I'm struck by that image of you going to see Spike with hands trembling at the anticipation of what this review session was going to be like or what his response was going to be like, from two different standpoints. One is that, typically we talk about creativity not thriving in an environment that has some degree of fear or apprehension, but by the same token we also talk about creative thriving in environments in which there're standards and expectations and that the tension of, how do we solve this problem has to be present in order for creativity to really come to the fore. As you back to that experience and realizing how much it meant to you, to meet his standards and obviously how much it meant to him to have those kinds of standards, what's your perspective now about that dynamic? That situation and the broader context of bringing creativity to life in a business environment in which there are actual consequences?

Geoff Edwards:                

It's interesting. Well, it funny. I mean, I've got to quote somebody that I love and that's Dan Weiden, there's a board at his company that says, "Fail harder." And he's never ever, ever been afraid of failure. And quite the opposite as a matter of fact. When he talked about it, he talked about the fact that there'd been neuroscientists that had done studies that showed that parents discourage their kids ... Oops, there's a fire engine, can you hear it?

Charles:                               

Yeah, [inaudible].

Geoff Edwards:                

Anyway, they discourage their kids from failure and say, "You won't be valuable if you make a mistake." Are often wrong, it's actually from encouraging experimentation and if a child fails, saying, "That's okay, try again." That we break through. And that we do some of the best work of our careers.

That was Spike. I mean Spike would just encourage us to just do ... go for the haymaker punch in terms of ideas. To shoot for the 400 ramp when we were batting, to come up with ideas that the world had never seen before. I think part of it was that he wanted to make an indelible mark on the marketing industry, which there were a lot of skeptics when he started an agency. This is just for real, like there were a lot of people that didn't understand why he was getting into marketing.

And of course he would tell the story about how he had always been in marketing from the time when he did the Michael Jordan commercial with Mars Blackmon, he was a part of his movie, She's Got a Habit. So he's always had a hand in ... Rather, a foot into the business and a passion for the power of marketing. But man, he would always just encourage us to be fearless, to come up with big ideas and not be afraid to fail. And I'll always remember him for that, and I'll always take that with me.

And then I actually take that into my own philosophy when I work with teams, is I want them to bring everything. I always say that for every great idea, there's probably about twice as many bad ideas that are presented. How many times do you hear during brainstorm session, "Okay, I know this is going to sound awful but ..." And usually it is ... Well, usually it's an awful idea but every once in a while it's a good idea and it's our job as creative leaders to be able to siphon through the bad ideas and find that canal that can be great.

So my charge when I pull my teams together, when we work on things it's just, "I'd love to see a lot of ideas. I don't want you to be afraid. I don't want you to think about what you think I want, I want you to think about what you think is best that needs strategy in the assignment. And then I want you to shoot for the stars. I want you to create something, show me something, read me something that I've never heard before."

Charles:                               

Is that hard to create that environment? Because obviously that's a great sentiment. Do you find it difficult to get people to really lean into that or is that a question of giving them a safe environment and also hiring the right people?

Geoff Edwards:                

That was literary the answer. Not everyone is going to lean into that convention, I think that some people are going to say, "Okay, Okay I hear you." And then they're going to go away, and they're going to bring something very expected. I think that you have to bring people in, that share that philosophy and are gunslingers. Men and women who aren't afraid and who have a little bit of that inch to them. And then you have to provide an environment where you're going to reward that behavior with trust.

And that you're not going to say, "Hey, come in and do something great," and then you're going to shackle them into doing things the way that they've always been done. You have to let them free, you have to let them approach each day like a student. And at the same time, creative leadership needs to approach each day with openness and like a student as well. And I think if both sides do that then usually something pretty good comes out of it.

Charles:                               

Yeah, It's such a great reference point, I know that one of the other great sayings of Weiden is, "You must unlearn what you have learned," which is that notion of walking in fresh every day and being unafraid of ... As you look back at your career so far, are there any decisions that you would like to have back?

Geoff Edwards:                

Oh, my God. Here's one that plagues me. I don't know if I'd want it back but I will tell this short story if you allow me to.

Charles:                               

Yeah, of course.

Geoff Edwards:                

At the time that I was considering starting DOJO, and I was gathering investment funds and we were plotting out our five year plan and searching for office space. Just like imagining what it would be I got a phone call from a good friend of mine named Melanie Meyers and she said, "Geoff, I want to come down, I want to talk to you. There's a position open and I want to see if you're interested in it [inaudible] in Portland." And I said, "Oh, Jeez. Okay, yeah sure." And she goes, "I'm coming down with Dan," and I go, "Really?" I'm like, "Okay, fine let's try and figure out some place where we can meet." San Francisco is seven miles square. It's a tiny, tiny town. It's a tiny village. And someone like Dan and someone like myself cannot hide if we're at a coffee shop talking.

Charles:                               

I would think not, no. There would be high visibility around that, yes.

Geoff Edwards:                

There'll be high visibility around that for all of the obvious reasons. So I suggested and I knew that she wouldn't be open to it but I suggested that they come to my house for coffee and she accepted. So the first thing I did is, I ran back home and I go, "Marie, Marie, we got to clean this place up, come on. Make it look like white people live here. Come on, clean it up." I told her, "The god of all gods is coming to our house and I want to pretend like we're neat."

And so she's scarvaging and I'm scarvaging out. We get the house ready and to make a very long story short, he spent three hours. We sat out on the balcony and we had one of the most memorable conversations that I will ever have in my career surrounding an opportunity to join him in Portland and to run a pretty major piece of the Nike global business. And I'm sitting there. And Charles if you can imagine, you've known me for a long time, this is the job of all jobs. It's got Geoff Edwards name written all over it in hierarchical extra bold, in caps.

And so I go back to my wife, I'm just like, "What do you do when you're offered a job from one of the greatest human beings in the world and someone that I admire a lot?" She goes, "Well, what do you want to do?" And I go, "Jeez, I don't know." I gave it two weeks, I thought about it and long story short I declined the offer and I decided to start my own company. And I tell this story to young creators, I tell this story to people that will listen to it, I tell this story over lots of drinks many nights.

And that's the one point of my career where there was a folk in the road, there was an opportunity to go and work at a place that I feel my career led up to, that I chose the other road. And the other road was for me to start a path myself. And when he and I were on the phone, and he called me and asked me what my decision was, and I told him what it was, he said, "Really?" I mean you're talking about somebody who does not get rejected at all, if ever.

And he said, "Why?" And I said, "Well, Dan this is going to sound strange but just hear me out." And I said, "You know I've admired you my entire career, but how could I be you if I work for you? If I work under you? I will always want to know what it would be like to try and create a culture of my own and to do the type of work that you've done. And to have the types of disciples that you've had. And so I just have to scratch this itch, I just have to scratch it." So he said, "Ah huh, that's why I love you. Well good luck." He promises his partnership, he promised his mentorship.

 And actually I took him up on that shortly after I started. I flew up to Portland, I sat with him and I asked him, "Okay, what's the playbook for success? Like how does this stuff work?" And he was very, very ... We've maintained a great friendship. But that is probably the only thing in my career, and there's not a lot of things that I regret, I actually feel very, very good about the decisions that I've made, that I don't regret but I wonder what if.

Charles:                               

What an extraordinary crossroads for you?

Geoff Edwards:                

Yeah, it's amazing. It's amazing and it's a story that I'll take to my grave. It's a story that if I'm lucky enough and this incredible industry has me in the hall of fame I will tell this story. But it is one of those things, it's the bee that buzzes around my ear, that I go, "God damn it! Did I make the right call? I feel like I made the right call at the time, you know history will tell, we'll see."

Charles:                               

Well, it think that reference point about trying to put yourself on a path to help yourself be the best person, the best leader you can be is such a resonate on for me. It speaks to ... In some respect certainly it speaks to level of ambition and also it speaks to how you look at yourself and how you define success. At least in part. What are the other ways that you define success?

Geoff Edwards:                

The other ways I think I define success is being a soldier of what's right, a social advocate. Obviously you know that I started an organization last year called Saturday Morning.

Charles:                               

Yeah, I wanted to ask about that.

Geoff Edwards:                

That is meant to deal with social causes, so now that I'm at a point of my career of influence and leadership, and there're people that I talk to all the time and I keep up and keep in touch with and follow their careers and help guide their careers in many way. I feel a sense of social responsibility and I don't take it lightly. So I know this sounds idealistic, maybe this is because I'm from the Bay Area, but I want to make the world a better place, it needs it right now.

What's happening now is unacceptable, and I don't take it lightly. So instead of just post things on Facebook and complain about it and bitch and moan, I want to do something about it. And so that's what I've done. I've collected a group of stellar, stellar human beings and creative leaders to try and see if we can help social causes and make the world better.

Charles:                               

And just explain to the listeners who might not be completely familiar with this, what is the intention and what are the consequences of the group that you put together?

Geoff Edwards:                

Absolutely, so Saturday Morning was started last year and it was as a result of-

Charles:                               

Just over a year ago, sort of mid last year?

Geoff Edwards:                

Exactly, it was July of last year. There were two deaths at the hands of Law enforcement. One was Philando Castile and the other was Alton Sterling and they happened one day of another. And I remember when that happened, I think that it shook the country. Everyone felt like we digressed into the '60s and there was sense of unease and everyone was just wondering, "What's going on? Why is this happening?" And felt badly about it. And it was at that time that Keith Cartwright, a good friend of mine, text myself, Jayanta Jenkins and Jimmy Smith and said, "Are watching what's going on, we should get together. And we should talk about it."

We met at The Rose Café in Venice, spent about three hours there having brunch, grieving for the families and then quickly kind of turning the conversation into something more productive, which is, "What can we do about that? We have children and we're watching this horrible, horrible atrocity happen." And then Keith said, "What if we use the thing that we have, which is our ability to create communication, that's our superpower. What if we developed a coalition for peace?" And I remember all of us were just like, "What are you talking about? Really?"

And then we started like ... We made it little bit more into a brainstorm session. In the short what we decided to do was to create an organization called Saturday Morning based on the Dr. Martin Luther King speech that he did in 1961 on Meet the Press, where he called Sunday the most segregated day of the week. And the reason why is that people go and they study their respective faith but they do it in isolation of one another. So we felt like if Sunday stands for separatism, then potentially we can get a day ahead of it, and Saturday Morning could stand for optimism.

And so it's a peace kick-starter. People submit ideas for peace, we develop a brief, which is a brief that has not been solved ever in marketing, which is peace. And the first brief we put out was, police in the neighborhoods that they watch over, how can we bridge the gap, how can we create more of a connection between the police and the community. And we've gotten thousands of submissions on our site for that.

And then we as creative directors go through and we shortlist, and then we find the idea that is relevant and most powerful. And then we go to some of the biggest brands based on the relationships we have we those brands and we get them to fund those ideas. So how do we mitigate the negative? Well, you cover it with positive. You come up with more positive ideas to put out to the world to somehow eclipse the negative ones. That's the idea.

Charles:                               

Yeah, it's so powerful. And you found a lot of support I understand.

Geoff Edwards:                

Unbelievable. There's universities like Syracuse University, Pratt Institute, there's a handful of college and universities that have made it a part of their curriculum. There are classes taught about the peace brief. It's pretty remarkable. I've worked closely with [inaudible] to initiate this initiative under her as well. There have been companies that have aligned, Twitter has aligned, Procter & Gamble has aligned.

Some of the biggest organizations that we work with every day at our day jobs have expressed interest and have thrown their hat in to help. And then individuals, we've gotten everyone from the bosses that we work with every day and the colleagues that we work with every day to people in philanthropy that have decide to surround this idea. Look, bottom line if there's a positive idea out there that's going to help people and help save lives potentially, and make things better, you're going to find people very, very receptive to that and so we have.

Charles:                               

Have you come across obstacles that have surprised you?

Geoff Edwards:                

Yes. The same way you find people that are very, very positive and into the idea, you get enlightened to some people and some organizations for that matter that pledge help but ... They pledge help publicly, let me put it that way, but they the don't come through privately and that's disappointing. No names mentioned but that is something that has been an eyeopener. In addition to that, I think the most difficult thing is bouncing with our day job.

Like this is something that we do in our off hours. We use our 24 hours very, very well. Like I come into the office and I'm the leader of the Creative team here at Creative Artists Agency, and then I go home. And on Sundays we have this standing call at five o'clock Pacific standard where we have a call number and all of us get on the line and we talk about everything, from the website that we've to the apparel line that we've designed, to our partnerships, to people that we're looking to hire in, to initiatives that we're looking to engage in.

It's another job, but it's a passion play. And so it's not binding, it's not something that is cumbersome at all. It's something that actually is a delight. It's great to get on the phone with Jayanta and Keith, those guys are brilliant and just to have the conversations that we have, I feel blessed.

Charles:                               

Yeah, that an extraordinary initiative. And I wish you nothing but success with it. It's such a necessary and I think positive step to take in a time, which you said earlier desperately needs leadership to be demonstrated and you guys are clearly doing that.

Geoff Edwards:                

I so appreciate that. And honestly ... You Charles there just comes a point in your career where you go, "Okay, how I'm I going to use this talent that I've been given, that God's given me. That I've so hard on and I've crafted since you and I had this conversation, since I was a kid with a crayon looking out of the window of my home in Detroit to help people, to not just sell products, in many case that people don't need but to take that same skillset and that same ... As I call it, superpower and use it for something that the world needs." And so that's going to be a major part of the fourth quarter of my career.

Charles:                               

That's interesting framing as well, that you think you're entering the fourth quarter. I'm not actually convinced you're at halftime yet but we'll see. What do you think that is the one thing that you think people will be surprised to know about you that they don't already know about you?

Geoff Edwards:                

Yeah, actually I think the thing that folks might find a  little unique and maybe they don't know about me is that I'm kind of a 16 year old bottled up in a 40 year old body. I'm inspired by the 80s when I grew up, people Michael Jackson, [inaudible], The Beetles, George Clinton, [inaudible], Neil deGrasse Tyson, people that have stepped outside of their comfort zones and done amazing things, that I'm a frustrated painter.

As we do this interview now, I look at in my office wall and there's two paintings in front of me. One is of Leonardo Da Vinci and the other one is of Jimi Hendrix that I did. And people come in my office, "Oh, my God, those are awesome." They say, "Who did them?" And I'm like, "I did them." And they're like, "They're beautiful." And I go, "Well they're two people that inspire me." Obviously everyone here at the office knows that I love to paint but I just love the fact that ... Like someone like Jimi Hendrix in 1969 made people think differently about the Star-Spangled Banner.

He changed it from a song that we hold our hand on our heart and are obliged to sing to number one of the charts and made it into pop culture. Leonardo Da Vinci, renaissance, artist, mathematician, engineer, geologist, astronomist, writer and a painter too. I love that. The reason that said fourth quarter of my career is because I actually see that there's going to be a reinvention that happens  after this, it may not be connected to either entertainment or to marketing. So I think the thing that I would want them to know is that I'm ... I still like video games, still play them at home, I paint. My wife says, "Oh my God, I married the biggest kid in the world."

And people see me, they see me in shirt and ties and they see me dressed up and they see the posts that I make in social media but I don't know if they know that underneath all that is a kid who's seating Indian style on the ground just playing with legos.

Charles:                               

Oh my God, I do the same thing. I love legos. It's funny, isn't it? Yeah, it's very funny.

Geoff Edwards:                

Yep.

Charles:                               

And my last question for you is, what are you afraid of?

Geoff Edwards:                

Wow! That's an excellent question. I'm actually afraid of ... There's a couple of things I'm afraid of. The one thing I will say is, I'm ... the quote, "There's nothing to fear but fear itself," I'm afraid of fear. I'm afraid that at some point I will behave and be forced into decisions based on fear. I'm afraid that I will lose my edge and I will be somehow relegated to make the decisions that will support my family and support my kids and support the quality of my life and everything based on fear. I'm terrified of that,  because up to this point what's gotten me to here has been taking chances. And has been taking, let's just say calculated risks. So the fact that, that could potentially be a part of my decision making process is terrifying to me.

Charles:                               

And how do you fight against that?

Geoff Edwards:                

I just keep going. I can't think of that, it's like being an athlete. You can think of losing and expect to win. You can't run a marathon and check your watch every time. You're just into the motion of step, after step, after step, after step, checking your breathing, checking your pulse and go. For me it's always been about waking up inspired and going to sleep as inspired, by learning something new every day, treating the people around me with the respect that they deserve. I'm a custodian of the idea that is supported with CAA that is, if we treat each other well, good things happen. I believe in that and I truly believe in that. And so that's how I live. It's very, very simple way of living a life but it's ... That's what I've chosen.

Charles:                               

It's very powerful too. I wrap every episode with three takeaways that I've heard that I think make you successful, so I will offer these to you and see what you think. The first thing that strikes me and you talked about at the beginning, towards the opening was your willingness to explore new opportunities, new possibilities, to be cliched about it,  your fearlessness and being willing to go out and say what else might I be capable of? And to step into that.

The second thing that I think goes hand in hand with that is your, not just willingness to learn from others but actually desire to learn from others. Which is not always evident in every leader. I think that so many people are afraid of being found out and imposter syndrome that they get. They get anxious about, if I think that need to get information from someone else that somehow diminishes me when obviously I think you and I both know that it's the opposite. That being open and accessible to other people's ideas and thinking enriches our own thinking.

Geoff Edwards:                

Agreed.

Charles:                               

And I think the third theme that really stands out across this entire conversation and in fact just knowing you as I have for as long as we've known each other is your willingness to chart your own path and to not let other people define success for you, and define your future for you. Those are ... I probably talked about this in a previous podcast, but there was an article I read three of four years ago written by palliative care nurse, who talks about the five regrets of the dying.

And one of the things that she says, dying people realized in the last days and hours before the end of their life is that most of us typically allow other people to do too much defining of our lives for us. And the willingness to set our course and to chart success on our terms is actually at the end of the day the thing that is most satisfying and rewarding about just being alive. Do those three resonate with you?

Geoff Edwards:                

Absolutely. As you were saying that I was thinking about ... It's very, very powerful but I'll share it. It's a little touching, so I don't mean this to end in a sour note and it won't I promise you. But a couple of years back, it was about four years ago that my father passed. And my mother passed a couple of years before that, and I realized for the first time in my life, "Oh, my God. I don't have parents."

And it's a dreadful realization where you're just like, "Man when I have that thing that I need to ask someone about or some advice, that would be my spouse. That would be my friends but it won't be my mother or will not be my father." I remember, although it's sad both of them said that they did not want their funeral to be sad. They said that they wanted it to be a celebration of life not a death. So we played, I Did It My Way, at both of their funerals and I cannot listen to that song or for that matter the [inaudible] without crying. I swear to God. I just can't.

Charles:                               

I totally understand that.

Geoff Edwards:                

But what I love about I Did It My Way is that, if you follow the lyrics and a narrative of that, it's says, everything that I would say to answer this question is that at the end of the day, and like you said that end of the day is going to be sometime from now, it has to be on your terms, it can't be on anyone else's terms. It has to be I lived a life for full, that was full, I traveled in and every by-way, I did it my way. It has to be that and so I feel like To the Letter to the Mantra that, that's my story. That will be my story.

Charles:                               

It clearly is. It absolutely is without question. I think leading creativity is the most important thing we can do with one exception, which is to live the very best life we can. And I want to thank you so much for sharing so openly and so intimately your insights and your experiences by doing that you are clearly doing that and making a difference and I'm sure that your parents are incredibly proud of the difference you're making.

Geoff Edwards:                

I bless you, thank you so much Charles. It's great to be part of this program and I hope that it inspires someone.