M&Ms and The Power of Positive Thinking

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Early in my career I was fortunate enough to work at Arnold Advertising. It was a large agency but not the behemoth that it is now. The creative director back then was Lenny Karsakov. At that time he was in his late 60s.
Lenny was a fabulous, kind, wonderful person. He loved everyone and everyone adored him. He got the best out of his art directors and writers by showering them with love. He never used the whip or threats to get better work. People wanted to please him.
Most afternoons Lenny would come back from lunch after stopping to buy a giant bag of M&Ms. He’d grab a large, silver Hatch Bowl (A Hatch Bowl is awarded to creative people for excellent creative work. The higher the award, the larger the bowl. Lenny’s office was scattered with bowls of all sizes.)  He’d place the office phone into the bowl, hit “page” so that the whole office could hear and then slowly pour in the M&Ms. The clangs of the M&Ms hitting the silver bowl was a loud calling card to the rest of the agency. People from every corner on the floor would run to Lenny’s office for an afternoon M&M snack.

One day Lenny was diagnosed with cancer. None of us could accept or believe that such a wonderful person could be so stricken, but it was for real and it was serious. After a few months he could no longer come into the office. Then, one day late in the afternoon Arnold called the whole agency together. He said that the prognosis for Lenny had turned dark and that the doctors now estimated that Lenny had days to live. Arnold was preparing us for what would be crushing news, possibly in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Meanwhile, at the hospital Lenny was chatting with his nurse. He asked her where his neighbor in the next room had gone. The nurse explained that he went home. That as sick as he was he refused to acknowledge his illness and instead struck a very optimistic tone, and because of that he got better. Lenny, now aware of his own mortality listened closely and decided that he too had a lot more life to live, regardless of what the doctors said.

Two days later Lenny walked out of the hospital and shared his life with all of us for a number of years more. On the day he left the hospital his equally wonderful wife Eunice had a caricature of Lenny created in chopped liver and sent it to the ad agency to say he was back in business.

I am forever amazed at the strength of positive thinking. In my classes and workshops when people say they fear speaking in front of an audience, my job is to instill in them the confidence that they will be great; and then they are. I’m thinking of giving everyone M&Ms.

Thanks Lenny.

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