Manifesto: 10 Commandments of Epic Business

Thou shalt do Epic S#@! that actually matters.

Thou shalt have a Strategy but be open to Serendipity.

Thanks to Jonathan Fields for the much-needed reminder as we head into 2014.



The Case for Collisions

I became enamored with this concept of creating collisionable opportunities once I heard Tony Hsieh of Zappos drop the idea.

Through planning and design, it is about creating points of bottleneck, tension and intentional collisions of humanity.

Through those collisions – you are accelerating serendipity in the hopes those unplanned moments will spark creativity and ideas.

Whether inside the office (which you can do by decreasing the amount of physical/individual space employees have) or outside the building (by decreasing the number of entry points, putting a shared distance between where they park and work).

Tony is planning out these opportunities for collisions and serendipity in the development of the Downtown Project in Las Vegas.

We are a group of passionate people committed to helping to transform Downtown Las Vegas into the most community-focused large city in the world. We are doing that by inspiring and empowering people to follow their passions to create a vibrant, connected urban core.

Our primary goal is to help to create an environment that encourages serendipity…the opportunity to unexpectedly collide with people from different backgrounds. Serendipity encourages people to connect with each other, exchange ideas, and accelerates learning

Here’s Tony’s slideshare presentation on the project.

This idea came full circle at the end of the day when I was introduced to the geek-artist Leo Villareal (my moniker for him), who is the visionary behind The Bay Lights So inspiring from both an artistic and public project perspective.

But what resonated the most had to do with the true public component of the piece – and its visibility from San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Leo eloquently shared how part of his desire was to create a conversation piece for the public. So that those watching and enjoying the piece would have a shared experience with the stranger next to them, leading to a conversation and exchange of thoughts and opinions. And perhaps that serendipitous sharing of thoughts could spark something else.

I see it as a focal point, something people can gather around. People who have never talked to each other are suddenly talking and it’s literally creating community. It’s almost become a digital campfire

Synapses are definitely firing now on how to create these collision opportunities in my own world – both within my agency and my community.

(Not quite the same as being there – but here is a live web cam to get your Bay Lights fix, as well as a Vimeo channel)


The Paranoid Pragmatist

I gave myself this moniker several years ago, after I realized that what often drives my actions as a business owner is readying for that worst case scenario.

If I prepare for the worst and hope for the best – I’m ready.

And while I would like to be that carefree visionary, at my heart I think I’m more pragmatic. Not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you surround yourself with optimists and cloud thinkers. Just like you need introverts and extroverts, optimistis and pessimists to make the world go round – you also need both realists and pragmatists.

So, when I wanted to dabble in Tumblr to kick the tires on the platform, I setup the Paranoid Pragmatist blog: Stumbling forward through life as an accidental entrepreneur – learning as I go, aspiring as I am able, being paranoid and pragmatic as a matter of course.

As I consolidate where I post my musings, I’ve abandoned that site (I orphaned my Tumblr :(  But there are a few sentiments, quotes and links on it I’d like to keep with me.

Here they are, in their random glory:

BusinessWeek: Let Reality, Not Fear, Be Your Guide

“Give up trying to be positive and optimistic. Self-help literature often enables wishful thinking and illusions of quick fixes. If your gut feeling is positive and optimistic, that’s enormously beneficial, but trying to be positive can waste a lot of energy that you could put into talking through solutions and taking neglected actions. Being honest with yourself might mean accepting fear, concern, or complaints and sincerely focusing on resolving them.”

Fast Company: How to Appear More Authoritative on the Job

The person with the most authority and credibility is not the one who is most confident or forceful in today’s workplace. We have become immune to force and many find that the more you attempt to convince, the less convincing you become. Work instead to find the ultra solution—the one that moves beyond all those on the table that are usually presented as mutually exclusive options. Gain authority by replacing the “or” that is stamped between different ideas with an “and.” That way you can suggest ideas that take the entire group to a higher level where many things are possible and many things can be true at once. Something such as, “Do we want to cut cost or increase quality?” becomes, “How do we cut costs and increase quality at the same time? Here is an idea.”

Effective Leadership, Managing People – 10 Timeless Principles

2. Follow through. Always do what you say you’re going to do. Otherwise, your credibility is destroyed. As the saying goes, they remember your last act.

Terry Starbucker: 10 Ways to Freshen Up Your Leadership

#7) Ask Your Staff for “5 Things That We Should Stop Doing” – We’re always asking what we SHOULD be doing; when do we ever ask if there are things that we should STOP doing? This is a great time of year to do that, and it will always elicit some excellent and actionable feedback. (We started doing Start. Stop. Continue in our office after reading this)

3 Star Leadership: A Leader’s Oath

“I will remember that I deal with people, with all of their human strengths and failings, and I will treat them with respect and with care.

I will strive always to do what is right, even when it is difficult.

I will not be ashamed or hesitant to say, “I don’t know” and then seek the answer.

I will strive to prevent problems. When problems occur, as they will, I will strive to identify them as early as possible and deal with them then.”NYT Corner Office: The 5 Habits of Highly Effective CEO’s

“Passionate Curiosity:…It’s this relentless questioning that leads entrepreneurs to spot new opportunities and helps managers understand the people who work for them, and how to get them to work together effectively. It is no coincidence that more than one executive uttered the same phrase when describing what, ultimately, is the C.E.O.’s job: “I am a student of human nature.”

The C.E.O.’s are not necessarily the smartest people in the room, but they are the best students — the letters could just as easily stand for “chief education officer…

But “passionate curiosity” — a phrase used by Nell Minow, the co-founder of the Corporate Library — better captures the infectious sense of fascination that some people have with everything around them.

Passionate curiosity, Ms. Minow said, “is indispensable, no matter what the job is. You want somebody who is just alert and very awake and engaged with the world and wanting to know more.”

Though chief executives are paid to have answers, their greatest contributions to their organizations may be asking the right questions. They recognize that they can’t have the answer to everything, but they can push their company in new directions and marshal the collective energy of their employees by asking the right questions.”

A VC: Difficult is Good

“Sometimes we make money with brilliant people who are easy to get along with, most often we make money with brilliant people who are hard to get along with, but we rarely make money with normal people who are easy to get along with.”

3 Star Leadership: You Don’t Build People, Dammit!

People are living things and living things grow and develop. They are not designed and built. We don’t “grow” people, either. What really happens is that we allow them to grow. The best we can do is offer suggestions, resources, and opportunities. The rest is up to the person.

Terry Starbucker: 4 Things Every Leader Should Say to Their Team

“I will always tell the truth”
“I will not make promises I cannot keep”
“If you ask me for something, and I say no, I will always explain why”
“I will explain the context of all important policies that effect you, and why they are important’

Marc And Angel: 10 Simple Truths Smart People Forget

“The truth is nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Because most great opportunities in life force us to grow emotionally and intellectually. They force us to stretch ourselves and our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first. And when we don’t feel comfortable, we don’t feel ready. Just remember that significant moments of opportunity for personal growth and development will come and go throughout your lifetime. If you are looking to make positive changes in your life you will need to embrace these moments of opportunity even though you will never feel 100% ready for them.”

All Hail Teddy (My all-time favorite ‘when the going gets tough’ go-to quotes)

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt


WORKFLEX the Red Sky Way

A year ago my agency was honored with a Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility

As part of that process, they identified certain aspects of what we did at Red Sky that are best practices to be shared nationally and interviewed us on those programs.

The result – inclusion in the nationally distributed book WORKFLEX: The Essential Guide to Effective and Flexible Workplaces that came out this fall.

Here’s the section on Red Sky


Red Sky Public Relations


Founded in 2008, Red Sky is Idaho’s largest public relations agency, dedicated to leveraging strategic communications initiatives for clients and enhancing the reputation of their community and industry. Red Sky’s Facebook page describes the organization as, “A home for creative, quirky souls who are passionate about big ideas and rock star organizations.”


Red Sky Public Relations sets time aside for employees to be creative. Employees have up to two flex location days per month, defined as a full working day in which an employee may choose the location where he or she conducts their usual work. Red Sky leaders encourage employees to take these creative working days at a variety of locations such as coffee shops, public parks, partner office spaces, country club or their home. The days are to be used as creative or quiet writing time, not as additional days off.

There are guidelines for use. For example, new hires must be on board for six months before being eligible for flex days. Employees who use flex days are expected to reach their billable goals. Productivity is reviewed in a variety of ways including through performance reviews, client evaluations and ongoing monitor- ing of work. If an employee isn’t being productive while on flex days—whether through targeted business development or existing client work—the privilege is lost.

A wireless router enables outdoor work; and Yammer, a free private social net- work, allows employees to communicate and collaborate remotely without the need for meetings.

Creative day or not, clients are the top priority. Red Sky’s flex location policy stipu- lates that the time away should not interrupt workflow of employees, clients or teams. In the event of a phone call from a client, the client is given the cell phone number of the team member, not referred to another team member in the office.

To further ensure the best use of employee talents, Red Sky uses the StrengthsFinder 2.0 philosophy, developed by Consilio Business Managers based on Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, to help determine team members’ individual strengths to best match employees’ talents with positions that dynamically support their natural abilities and help identify coping mechanisms when faced with challenges. Recognizing that some people are more task-oriented and will zip through a checklist while others are more strategic, but not as detail-oriented, Red Sky assigns people to teams that feed into their strengths as they work with different clients.

For example, if an employee is Strategic, he or she may naturally be inclined to find alternatives to problems. Those with the Strategic strength are cautioned in the strength identification process not to get caught up in endless options. Finally, it is recom- mended that a Strategic employee be paired up with an Activator, someone who has the strength of being driven to finish what he or she starts. The team will then have people who are Strategic as well as people who are Activators, driven to “do something.”

Red Sky’s StrengthsFinder commitment begins during the hiring process and con- tinues throughout an employee’s tenure. Red Sky retains business development firm Consilio to facilitate bi-annual StrengthsFinder sessions with the entire office and pro- vide strategic guidance on running a strengths-based organization. Consilio’s Founder Rochelle DeLong also conducts one-on-one sessions with Red Sky employees to foster strengths-based collaboration and provide a deeper understanding of how to leverage their strengths for professional achievement.

Employees receive $1,500 annually for professional development and/or wellness purposes, but the firm isn’t looking for them to spend it on PR seminars. They hope they will expand their knowledge and interests in other areas and come back and share that knowledge with the group.


Considering that two of its core values are “delivering Wow!” and “embracing fun (as shown in the following tool),” it’s not a far stretch to say that Red Sky leaders take a different approach to corporate culture than more traditional firms. Red Sky CEO and co-founder Jessica Flynn has always believed that culture and atmosphere are key to empowering and inspiring a workforce. For her, that means giving employees a voice in what their work environment looks like and how their work is best accomplished.

With Red Sky being a start-up with limited funds, the organization’s founders, Flynn and Stephanie Worrell, knew that Red Sky couldn’t compete for talent with other firms solely on compensation. What they did have was the desire to create an environment where there is respect for people and their priorities outside of the office.

With so many client deadlines, some weeks there is no chance of having a good fit between home and work, so Red Sky focuses on “work/life integration,” with no solid line separating employees from their personal lives. Red Sky places responsibility in employees’ hands and sets work expectations. Flynn says:

How they meet those [work expectations]—we really want them to tell us how. If employees have buy-in with what the organization is doing, it will be more profitable and successful in the long run.

The firm leaders asked staff how they could all be more productive. One of the things that came up repeatedly was having the opportunity to work outside the confines of the office—even though their brand-new chic offices in an old part of Boise are open and flexible with comfortable couches, bean bag chairs and great views. As much as they enjoy the space, Red Sky leaders agreed with the importance of time away from the office. They felt it would be hard to have a homogenized space and expect creative people to perform in it every day. They also wanted employees to feel the personal responsibility to do their work well and to achieve the expectations without being micromanaged. Team member Anna Gamel gave a great argument for flex location days in a group meet- ing and was asked to craft a draft policy for the initiative to get the program underway.


Not everyone is able to able to work productively from the local coffee house or other offsite locations. Red Sky leaders have found there are a few people who need more structure and help organizing and completing their tasks. Flynn remains flexible but wants to ensure that every flexible arrangement with employees is working well. If not, she and the rest of the agency leaders work with employees to rectify the situation and help them organize their tasks in the best way possible for them.

Red Sky Operations Manager Tracy Bresina adds:

All employees have a large workload to manage, and since they work very closely with clients and their teammates, it always becomes very apparent when there are 159 issues with time management, stress or performance.

Red Sky has a great team of senior leadership that provides mentoring, coaching and guidance. It’s always important that employees have the tools that they need to succeed, along with the feedback and coaching. Action plans are created to help them overcome obstacles and make improvements.

Red Sky has hired a few people along the way who are accustomed to a more structured environment. They came on board and expected to be told exactly what to do with explicit policies in the employee manual. To be successful, Red Sky has found that employees need a sense of adventure, an ability to embrace risk. Flynn says:

We don’t operate that way. So, when we interview people, I always ask them, “Do you ever want to be an entrepreneur down the road?” And if they say, “Hell, no,” this may not be the right employee for us.


Flynn uses employer of choice awards as one measurement of success, including the Sloan Award, which gives all staff members the opportunity to provide their thoughts and feedback about Red Sky and how the agency brings its values to life. It affirmed that Red Sky’s workflex efforts were well received and that those efforts did, in fact, make a difference to the team, their workplace satisfaction and job satisfaction.

Another indication that time off for creativity is helping boost productivity and cre- ativity at Red Sky is that the agency is being honored within the communications indus- try for the quality of its work. Bulldog Reporter, a leading industry publication, honored Red Sky as a recipient of the 2011 Bulldog Stars of PR Awards Small Agency of the Year. O’Dwyer’s Inside News of Public Relations & Marketing Communications publica- tion has recognized Red Sky as one of the country’s fastest growing independent agen- cies for the past three years. Industry recognition and leading best-practices accolades provide third-party validation that the young agency is on the right growth path both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The firm is “inundated” with resumes and, often times cover letters state, “I have heard so much about Red Sky and seen what you do.” They receive very positive feed- back on their Facebook page and from the firm’s blog, which is created by everybody at the agency.

Being an employer of choice and showcasing the benefits of its corporate culture is a selling point to clients as well. In its client proposals, Red Sky frequently talks about its culture, values and its work environment.

Flynn reports:

The credibility and respect we get from our clients when they understand our work environment has really helped from a business development standpoint. We run at a high pace, and we expect a lot from people. You need to ensure that your environ- ment enables them to work at that high level and be happy about it.


Flynn advises other firms not to dismiss ideas that are not easily quantified. She says,

“With the changes in the workplace and the marketplace, creating a sense of loyalty and buy-in and engagement with your staff is more important than ever.”


Red Sky is looking for ways to measure further the success of its flexibility and cor- porate culture initiatives.

Because Red Sky views the work environment as being dynamic—evolving as a result of employees’ ideas and feedback—the future isn’t crystal clear. With each year’s business planning process, they involve the entire leadership team. The firm’s overall goals are determined by owners Flynn and Worrell and fine-tuned in a facilitated strate- gic planning session with the leadership team. It’s an open discussion to make sure that all opportunities are on the table, vetted and have broad-based and executable support among the team.

As an agency that operates with open book management style, quarterly staff meetings are held that present how the agency is doing financially and where it stands on the path to reaching annual goals. Employees are encouraged to contribute solution-oriented suggestions to agency challenges—from revenue to recruiting—and are also often given the option to vote on such things as how the agency spends charitable giving dollars.

As a team, Red Sky values the individual voice by trying to engage all employees, recognizing that every person—no matter his or her position or experience—has value and a voice in whatever the firm does.



Giving Thanks for the Stress, Dips, Conflict and Nudges

I’ll admit, it’s cliche to pause once a year and reflect on the blessings we have and give thanks. We all know we should do it more often.

But I need a reminder…and the season is fitting.

While I’m eternally grateful for the love and support of my family and friends, this post is written with my small business owner hat on.

Too often business owners and entrepreneurs focus only on the step on the stairs right in front of them, instead of pausing on each landing to reflect on how far they’ve come, to take a breath, to appreciate the pain and the triumph and give thanks for it all.

Though uncomfortable, I’m thankful for the stomach-churning stress, it reminds me I’m still in motion.

Thanks too for the hives and sometimes feelings of panic, they reinforce the passion I feel for what I do and how serious I take it.

Thanks for the conflict and discord, the disagreement and discourse. Through sharing differences of opinion my colleagues make me think broader and deeper and better.

And to that point, I’m thankful that I’m not surrounded by yes-women and yes-men. The no’s and maybe’s and meh’s always nudge an idea in creation into something better.

While I’m in the midst of the ride I don’t really appreciate the dips on the roller coaster. But looking back – those down cycles sure make me realize how high the ups are.

I have gratitude for the hyperspeed nature of my industry, forcing me to be on my toes to keep up and try to stay ahead.

Thanks too for my competitive nature, which keeps me up at night when I feel like I’m falling behind and inspires me to try harder.

I deeply appreciate the close community of friends near and far, online and offline, who are there as sounding boards, focus groups, feedback channels and just plain-friendly-advice-offerers. Thanks for pushing, prodding and encouraging.

And I’m grateful that nearly five years ago I was forced out of my comfort zone. Without that nudge of a job disappearing, I may never have had the nerve or necessity to embark on an entrepreneurial journey.



Biz Plan Crowdsourcing

We’re approaching that time of year when we reassess our business plan and update our goals for 2013.

Seems fairly straightforward… and it can be.

But if you want to step away from drinking your own KoolAid and the academic elements of what business planning should be – I feel strongly the process should include a bit of crowdsourcing in the mix.

Your brand and your business lives and dies not only with the satisfaction and success of your customers, but with those who embody it every day – your employees.

If they are not a regular part of your planning, you are missing a huge opportunity.

We regularly do ‘Start | Stop’ exercises that have now expanded to be ‘Start | Stop | Continue’

At least once a year we ask the whole team to submit answers (anonymously) to the following

What should our company start doing?

What should our company stop doing?

What should our company continue doing?

We then aggregate the answers and share them, then run a dot exercise (having everyone put three dots on the  answers that resonate the most with them in each category.) Based on those that are most supported, we consider making changes to our company policies. It’s resulted in the creation of a Flex Day policy, changes to our business development process and tweaks to our culture.

This time we wanted to take the crowdsourcing a step further by asking our team up front for inspiration and ideas for the biz plan. Several years ago I had proudly shared with one of my mentors our company business plan for the next year. His response? Why are you so focused on your quantitative goals and revenue? Where is the qualitative and aspirational aspects about who you are and what you are hoping to become?

So, I’m constantly tweaking what our business plan includes. Incorporating our company values and client testimonials into the feedback, having qualitative goals about positioning and culture and linking revenue and business development goals back to who we are and who we aspire to be.

In that vein, we stepped further down the crowdsourding path and asked our team the following questions:






Questions that hopefully lead to some realistic input and some aspirational stretches; a balance that every plan needs.


Ruminations, Pontifications & Observations for 2012

It would be wrong to call this ‘Top Predictions for Communications in 2012′ or anything of the sort. One obvious reason being, it is nearly two months into said year.

So, here are a few observations I’ve been ruminating on and pontificating about regarding what awaits in 2012 for communicators.

Content curation will be king (or queen)

It has been hard to avoid the push for companies and agencies to shift to be more adept content creators  - those who develop the information to facilitate conversations, rather than merely trying to influence the flow and consumption of information. With the glut of information out there we saw a rise in content aggregators; collectors of what flowed through the ether who pulled it into RSS feeds or hashtagged twitter streams.

2012 will be the year of content curation, when we don’t settle for mere collection but seek perspective. When we value those who turn a critical and knowledgeable eye towards gathering and grouping content in a way that shows context and deeper insight.

In the words of Rohit BhargavaA Content Curator is someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online.

I believe that this is the natural role for journalists, particularly ‘newspaper’ folks as they evolve into true multimedia journalists. While we have become a society which consumes snippets, clips and posts there is still an appetite for  full and deeper knowledge. Those trusted sources who have established themselves in the ‘speed of thumbs’ news cycle as resources but who can also provide the breadth, depth and true roundness of a story or issue.

To get to that point, media will need to embrace the following…

Collaboration among competitors

In the who-has-it-first-who-cares-if-it’s-right world we’ve seen source checking go by the wayside in the need for speed. And beating the other guy – whether that guy is a blogger, tweeter, live cable scroll, news website or livecast – is paramount.

But at the end of the day we consume our information, breaking news or otherwise, from a wide group of sources. When there is a topic at hand we find interesting we aggregate it ourselves through hashtag streams, google alerts and live searches. So it stands to reason that by news sources collaborating on large-scale ongoing coverage with the goal of making it more easily findable and consumable for their audiences – all will benefit.

At a local level this could mean television, radio and print journalists using a consistent and shared hashtag or post tags for events like elections and significant breaking news events. At the national level – cross-linkage with sourcing ala Huffington Post or live web and twitter chats with multiple media source responses.

Upstream and Downstream Social Networks

In the social media sphere I won’t dare to predict what is coming next. Heck, how’d I know a year ago I would be one of many Pinterest addicts or kicking the tires on Path? Networks will emerge, rise, gain relevance and following or die. The cycle is the same as it’s been for genrations as we develop and dismiss technology. It’s just on hyperspeed. But as Tac Anderson (Futurist. Digital anthropologist. Blogger: @newcommbiz Head of Digital Strategies EMEA for @WaggenerEdstrom) notes in a post, these new networks are falling into two distinct categories and will continue to do so.

Something that I haven’t posted about yet but have been working out in my head is the concept of Upstream Social Networks (USN) and Downstream Social Networks (DSN). Social networks like Path are USN where our updates originate from and social networks like Facebook and Twitter are DSN, collecting all those updates. In fact if I look at my Facebook page it’s mostly posts from Posterous, Instagram, Path, GetGlue, Goodreads, SoundTracking, and the occasional Foursquare checkin.

Part of this is workflow and part of this is features and control of content and privacy. Path allows me to choose who I share what with much better than Facebook and their groups setting does. I also see using Path much easier than managing Google+ circles.

Trendspotters over reactionary gatekeepers

For public relations professionals, the gatekeeper role is truly a position of the past. Besides being conversation facilitators between companies, organizations, stakeholders and the public – PR pros must increasingly shed their tactics hat and truly become trendspotters and counselors to provide ongoing value to their clients.

Being ‘the person that knows everything and everyone’ is what PR pros of 2012 and beyond need to embrace. Being social and connected – and not just by having thousands of Twitter followers – will be a key skillset for our craft. Having the breadth of knowledge, good instincts and sharp insights to be a business counselor will be more valuable than how quickly you can write a tweet, pitch a news release or craft a statement. Can you curate content to help guide business decisions and provide insights to the reactions certain actions will cause? Can you predict potential human behavior responses? Can you identify national and global trends as they emerge so your business and clients can be at the cusp instead of in the dust?

Short-Term Memory Trumps Nostalgia

I’m a college football fan, but not a fan of the system. I’ve always been frustrated (especially for my recently woeful Longhorns) when a late season loss creates more havoc than an early season loss. While their overall records will wind up the same, a loss towards the end of the season will have significant repurcussions on a team’s post-season chances.

That had me thinking a lot about our memory, and how the speed and mass of information filtering through our mindset has essentially relegated our long-term memory to the far far reaches of our conscious.

Consider Joe Paterno. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of how responsible he was for the horrific acts that allegedly unfolded at Penn State, no one can deny that the dominant memory of this man is now the incident(s) that sullied an entire university’s reputation. Paterno’s six-plus decades of service and good deeds are severely diminished by the immensity of what came to light in the last year. Our short-term memory, bolstered by how search engines spider through content and present results, is trumping nostalgia and the full breadth of a person’s existence.

What does it mean for communicators? That past acts and reputations can not only be destroyed but essentially eliminated by the latest misdeed. That reliance on a company’s entire history of performance to protect them during tough times is naive. Building, bolstering and protecting reputations is a crucial 24/7 job. And communicators must evolve to ensure their important role as counselors in the atmosphere of 2012 and beyond is recognized.