A farewell to Brains on Fire

Good times. Good times.

As Robbin alluded to in her post not too long ago, after a full decade at that beloved place called Brains on Fire, I’m moving on and opening the door to new possibilities. And NO, I’m not going to become a consultant, dammit.

My years at the company have been among the best of my life and it’s never easy to leave family. Together we have made Brains on Fire a force to be reckoned with in both the identity development and word of mouth marketing industries. People would often ask us who our competition is, and we really have no response. Because Brains on Fire is unique in and of itself. We are our own competition. And through Robbin’s guidance, it has what made us who we are and what we stand for. Because of that, at the very heart of all of our work is people. Connecting with people. That is our guiding light. That is our mission. And that is our calling.

I will miss Brains on Fire. A place that, when I woke up each and every morning, I couldn’t wait to get to to see what the day had in store and work shoulder-to-shoulder in the trenches with the people I love. Really love. But as I say farewell, I’d like to leave you with some things that I’ve learned in my time here:

1. It takes all kinds.
One of the things I love about Brains on Fire is the eclectic mix of people. Robbin has a knack for finding talent where others would never look. That’s why we’ve had PhDs of neuroscience and professional actors lead our insight. That’s why we’ve tapped into musicians, toy collectors, chefs, carpenters, CPAs and so many others and asked them to be a part of the clan. They are not brainwashed from the marketing speak and brain dead from the typical agency life. They look at things in a completely different way. And it’s always refreshing. 

Within the doors of Brains on Fire we have liberals and conservatives. Christians and atheists. USC fans and Clemson fans (and fans of neither of them). The list goes on and on. Because when you homogenize a company culture, you homogenize a way of thinking. And nothing new ever comes out of that.

2. When you travel, go with the flow.
I know we all complain about airlines and hotels and blah, blah, blah. But you know what? Especially traveling with Geno for so long, I’ve learned to laugh about it and go with the flow. Traveling is a privilege. To be able to see so many different places, visit so many different companies and meet some amazing people who are passionate about their causes – it’s a gift.

3. If you’re not laughing your ass off at work at least once a day, you’re doing something wrong.
Seriously. You’re there 40+ a week, people. As the Tequila Shots book says, “If we’re not having fun, we must be doing it wrong.” Laughing is a daily – if not hourly – occurrence at Brains on Fire. It is woven into the lifeblood of that place.

4. Speak your mind.
Especially on Twitter, I see hoards of sheep. They just blindly agree with the guy or gal who has the most followers no matter what. But you know what? If you’re not challenging the flow and expressing your own opinions, then really what contribution are you making? Don’t be bullied. Don’t get caught up in the political marketing BS in social media. Who do you really respect that ISN’T challenging the way you think?

Brains on Fire is a company of thinkers who DO. But everyone has their own ideas and works in an environment where they can speak their mind. Debate. Disagree. That is rare. So if you find a place like that, cling to it.

5. “Not invented here” is a death march.
It runs rampant in the agency world. And there are some that still hold on to it whether they realize it or not. The sooner that you let go of the concept that your idea will always be the best, the better off you’ll be.

6. Jobs titles are limiting.
I love that we choose our own job titles at Brains on Fire. And because of that, you aren’t confined to a box. Robbin has a created a place that allows every employee an opportunity to evolve and play to their strengths. I started there 10 years ago as a copywriter. Geno started as a graphic designer. Eric Dodds was an intern and now wrangles the Mi11 Community for Best Buy. If I was never allowed out of the copywriter box, I’d have never had the opportunity to play a part in insight and strategy. I’d never had an opportunity to stretch my legs in business development. All because of a job title.

7. Never apologize for who you are.
From heading up biz dev, I quickly learned that Brains on Fire is not for everybody. And that’s a great thing. The person who answers the main line does it unconventionally. And sometimes I’d get calls transferred to me where the caller asks me, “Why would you answer the phone like that?” That’s a pretty good sign that they weren’t going to be a good fit. It’s not that everyone has to answer the phone at their company with, “It’s your nickel, start talking,” or “Rocking your face off since 1998,” they just need to be true to themselves. It helps weed out those NON-kindred spirits along the way.

8. Stick with what you believe.
We could have given up on the whole concept of igniting movements a long time ago. Because honestly, we were the only ones using that term and explaining what it mean when it came to marketing. It was a hard sell 5 years ago. It was hard to get people to wrap their heads around it. But now, everyone is talking about movements, from Strawberry Frog to the guys down the street. We see that language popping up everywhere and references being made to our work. Because we have stuck with what we know is right. And it’s paying off (you’ll see how much coming in August). But we’ve also learned there is a HUGE difference between talking about something and actually knowing how it works because you’ve done it. That’s one of the things I love about Brains on Fire. We don’t spend all day on Twitter talking about what companies should be doing and armchair quaterbacking Fortune 500 marketing. We actually get out there and get our hands dirty. It’s the only way we know how to do it. So sure, take in the blowhards out there telling everybody else what they are doing wrong – but take it with a grain of salt. Because NOTHING will replace experience. No amount of talking in the world.

9. Everybody wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

And when you do find that thing, you will pour your heart and soul into it. You will bleed for it. You will fight for it. You will lay down in front of a bus for it. So when you find that one thing, cling to it and never let it go. Brains on Fire allowed me and others to find that thing. And we are all better off for it.

10. I am not Brains on Fire.
I’ve had such a great opportunity to be one of the main faces and main voices at this place called Brains on Fire. But I am not Brains on Fire. Neither is Geno or Robbin or Dodds or anyone else. Brains on Fire is a collective. It’s all of us who believe. It’s the people who comment on the blog and the clients that we work with. It’s their customers. It’s everyone who sends us a resume or a love note. It’s people who inquire about our services. Brains on Fire is so much bigger than one person.

So as I say farewell, know that Brains on Fire is not only in a great place, but as much as I hate to admit it, it will continue to grow stronger without me. As Robbin mentioned, you will see new faces and hear new voices on their blog and out speaking. Be sure to introduce yourselves, will ya?

Brains on Fire, she’s been a good boat. And I will always value the time I spent under the black flag that flies over her.

Onward.

16 Comments

  • February 22, 2010

    Mack Collier

    Don’t lie, you have sold out to be a ‘social media expert’. I. Knew. It!

    Seriously man, congrats on whatever the future holds, you are truly one of the brightest minds in the WOM/Brand Ambassador/Brand Evangelist space, and I cannot wait to see what your next move is. I know it will be big!

  • February 22, 2010

    Virginia Miracle

    I am excited for you and can’t wait to see what evolves for Spike 2.0.

  • February 22, 2010

    Spike Jones

    Mack, you got me. But not really. And hey, look at that, you left the first comment ever on askspike. Thanks!

    VeeDub, I’m excited as well. Here’s to the road ahead.

  • February 22, 2010

    Carrie

    Bravo! Beautiful post.

  • February 23, 2010

    Justine

    Excited to see where your non-consultant self sails next. And guessing the next job title you create will be at least as interesting as Firestarter or Social Media Curmudgeon!

    Let me know if you’re up my way anytime soon.

  • February 24, 2010

    jWalker

    Street-preaching! You’ve got the volume for it. But you preach marketing. You have to do it!

  • February 24, 2010

    Nicole Johnson

    That was well said, as many words I have read of yours. It was actually inspiring…

  • February 27, 2010

    Leah

    I’m shocked and excited for you. Guess I need to get down to the Goat for a pint and a chat.

    Solo is great, if solo is what you’re doing now.

  • March 1, 2010

    Sonny Gill

    Great first post and though sad to hear of your departure, great things will surely await the #unfollowfriday king.

    Best wishes, bud!

  • March 1, 2010

    Jen

    Umm… what can I say except “wow!” I have been so out of touch! But I am so very excited for you! And don’t worry, I will make sure to say something much less positive the next time I comment, just so you’ll know it’s really me.

  • March 11, 2010

    Ben McConnell

    Godspeed on your next tattoo-laden adventure, young man.

  • March 11, 2010

    Spike Jones

    Did you call me “young man?” And thanks!

  • May 17, 2010

    Big Kahuna

    I remember you telling me you’d never leave Brains on Fire even if it meant more money…Never is a long time.

  • May 17, 2010

    Spike Jones

    Hey Scott. Thanks for keeping up with me after all these years! Did I say that? Oh, the times change, don’t they?

  • May 23, 2010

    Bryan Martin

    Good luck man! Great working with you at Brains.

  • [...] Spike Jones and his work with Brains On Fire. He just gets it.  [...]

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