Why Ryan Reynolds Says “You Can’t Be Good At Something Unless You’re Willing To Be Bad”

Actor Ryan Reynolds now runs one of the hottest marketing agencies, Maximum Effort. Here’s what he’s learned about trying new things.

Have you ever refused to do something… and then later discovered how much you loved it?

Ryan Reynolds has—and he came away with fantastic lessons about embracing change and limitations.

You know Reynolds: He’s the actor from Deadpool and a bazillion other great roles. But you may not know that, in the advertising world, Ryan is considered the creative genius behind some of the most viral ads of the past few years.

It’s an unexpected turn, considering how much Ryan once disliked marketing. He saw it as an obligation. But then he spent a decade trying to make Deadpool, despite Hollywood studios’ skepticism — and thanks to a ridiculous guerrilla campaign he ran with a marketing exec named George Dewey, it became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. “We started to look at marketing as a completely different tool we had in the shed, and something we could really tell stories with,” Ryan told me. Then he and George created their own agency, Maximum Effort, which has produced many bonkers viral ads, including ones for Match and Reynolds’ company Aviation Gin.

What’d he learn along the way? I spoke with Ryan for the March cover of Entrepreneur. Here are my three favorite lessons from our conversation:

1. “You can’t be good at something unless you’re willing to be bad”

Ryan has gone from actor to full-on entrepreneur—cofounding a marketing company, and becoming an owner of brands including Aviation Gin and Mint Mobile. Does he know what he’s doing? Not really! And he’s not afraid to admit it.

“I always say that you can’t be good at something unless you’re willing to be bad,” he said. “And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten way more comfortable with not having the answers. I think it’s such a great tool of leadership to be able to say, “I don’t know.” The worst leaders I’ve ever worked with or been around are the ones who are steadfast and indignant in their righteousness, and really worried about their image. So I love saying, “I don’t know.'”

2. “Problems are our best friends”

“You’ve got to give yourself some guardrails,” Ryan said. “Problems are our best friends, because they really inspire ideas and ways to create.”

He learned this while making movies: If you give a director an enormous budget, they’ll spend it on enormous-looking things. But that may not improve your project. In fact, when you’re forced to do more with less, you get to focus on the things that really matter.

“This lesson was driven home to me while shooting Deadpool,” he said. “Every time the studio took money away from our budget, we replaced whatever set piece we lost with character. Eventually that became the hallmark and defining characteristic of that property. People don’t remember saving-the-world kind of nonsense. They remember what he said, or how he reacted to a moment. To me, that lesson is worth its weight in gold, because you can penetrate the zeitgeist and make an impression without spending a ton of money, withoutbusting the bank.”

3. “I’m weirdly reachable”

My favorite part of our conversation came at the very end — when we were just wrapping up, in what was an otherwise routine moment. “If you have any follow-up questions,” he told me, “I can hop right on or email some answers back, or whatever works. I’m weirdly reachable.”

I’m weirdly reachable.

The next time you feel too busy to reply to someone, remember that line. Then think to yourself: Ryan Reynolds is reachable, so what’s my excuse?

If you’ve ever emailed or DM’d me, you know: I respond. (Try me! I’m best on Instagram or on LinkedIn.) I do this for many reasons, but chief among them is that I hate when I write people and they don’t respond. I have stopped following people’s work because they didn’t reply to me — not because I’m some fancy guy, but because I think that replying is the decent thing to do, and I know it’s within everyone’s means.

This newsletter is about the opportunities that come with change—and to me, the question of reachability really is a question of how we personally manage that change. As we grow our careers, we become busier. More impressive. But we do ourselves and everyone a disservice by cutting ourselves off from the people invested in our success. You want to keep succeeding? Then keep those ears open.

Ryan Reynolds is weirdly reachable. Let’s all be.

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