Trust and Growth

I remember picking the white, puffy dandelion off of its stem as a kid and blowing as hard as I could. I heard that if you could get all the puff off with one breath, your wish would come true.

Little did I know that I was sending seeds off into the wind. Their own wishes were hopefully carrying them to fertile soil. A place to put down roots and start growing on their own.

And really, employment is similar to that seed floating on the breeze. Job seekers are in search of a landing spot. A place where they can build trust and grow professionally and personally.


The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed over 33,000 people and revealed that when an employer met more of an employee’s expectations, the more trust was built… and that trust grew in strength.

But what are those expectations? The top three were:

  • Job Opportunity – Chances for growth, promotion, and learning that is fulfilling.
  • Personal Empowerment – The culture is inclusive and employees have a voice.
  • Shared Action – There is a greater purpose and a societal impact is possible.
In the graph above, the lighter grey pie slice represents the percentage of respondents that saw this topic as a strong expectation. The red represents the “deal-breaker” group.

With Job Opportunity being the highest ranked expectation, what opportunities should be available?


There’s no reason that this cant be a win-win situation for employers. If they need to build trust by creating growth opportunities, they should focus on growth that is mutually beneficial with a high ROI.

PricewaterhouseCoopers released their 22nd annual CEO survey in 2019, in which they spoke with over 1,300 CEO’s. They asked what soft skills are the most critical. They also asked which skills are getting the hardest to find.

In the top right quadrant (the most critical and the hardest to find) are Leadership, Creativity and Innovation, Problem Solving, and Adaptability. All four of those skills speak to the future of work and the need to keep valued employees nimble and agile to the rapidly changing markets.

As the labor market gets more competitive each month, the winner will be the employers that create growth opportunities. But not just any opportunities, the ones with mutual benefits that meet employee expectations. This will ultimately build trust and drive retention… which has its own cascading affect on the bottom line.

So stop wishing for a more engaged workforce and start creating a place for seeds to land and grow.

Looking for a growth opportunity?

Are you looking for a chance to level-up yourself with or without your employer? Want to build those soft skills that 1,300 plus CEO’s say are the most critical and the hardest to find?

Then consider the altMBA.

As an alumni, I can not speak highly enough of the intense and rewarding experience. You’ll get the most out of it if you commit to it and the ruckus it’s going to make in your life for 30 days. It’s not for everyone, but chances are if you are reading my blog, it’s probably for you. People like us do things like the altMBA.

Go forth and be awesome!

– TD


The Climate and The Seeds

I’ve been beating myself up a bit lately over some work.

I had a client that I was doing some significant work for each month, and it was a long-running engagement. However, with the new year came a new direction, and that working relationship was paused.

I know it was not a reflection on my work. I know that businesses change directions. I know an element of it was beyond my control. But still I am struggling with the shift from a well-oiled machine with significant success one minute, and then a shut door the next minute… and to be honest it makes me doubt that what I had accomplished was special.

I keep thinking of what I could’ve done differently to try to save it. Should I have pronounced the progress more publicly? Should I have found more efficiency within the program? Should I have established more communication points… or maybe less? It’s a difficult feeling to rumble with.

All this leads to Seth Godin’s post today about Skill vs Planning.

Basically, if you’re planting orange trees in Ottawa, they aren’t easy to grow and thrive. So when they die (which they most likely will) you can either beat yourself up, burn yourself out and say “I’m a bad gardener” or you can plant a crop that grows well in Ottawa, or move to a place where oranges do well. Seth closes with this:

“But don’t beat yourself up just because the climate doesn’t match your seeds.”

And that helps.

The legend of Johnny Appleseed says that he traversed America, spreading apple seeds everywhere. Now I’m sure some took root and grew and produced fruit for generations. But I have to believe that some did not. Regardless, it didn’t stop Johnny Appleseed from moving forward, walking on, and planting more seeds.

So that’s what’s next for me. Realize that the climate wasn’t right for the seeds that I was planting, and to keep going forth, and planting more awesome.


Igniting Fire

A match is a great tool for starting a fire, and a fire is something we all want burning inside us. So when we find ourselves frozen in place, whether it’s fear, doubting ourselves, or just feeling stuck, the simple solution is to get some matches. But matches alone won’t fix it.

Matches are your knowledge, skills, and beliefs. They can ignite a roaring blaze inside you. But like other tools, they’re really just taking up space in your house if you aren’t using them. Tools need to be used to be effective.

Matches need something to ignite the end before they can light a fire. There has to be action, specifically friction, to cause a spark. It takes movement and grit for your match to light your fire. It takes a bias towards action.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

Walt Disney

I always seem to stumble when I am designing a boardgame. The ideas come fast and furious, and I have at least six different games laid out in my notebook. Rules, pieces, gameplay… everything. But I get stuck and the game only lives in my notebook. Unlit logs begging for a fire.

I need to strike my match with some action. I can make myself accountable by sharing my idea with others, or scheduling a playtest date with some friends before the first prototype is built.

By making my action external, I get out of my own way and I’m more likely to follow through since others are anticipating my progress. This is the kind of friction I set up to light my matches.

How do you move from idea to action? From match to lit fire? How do you create productive friction? Let me know in the comments!

Authenticity, Being Awesome, Motivation

Finding Passion

Why do we feel the need to chase passion?

I see it more and more often with life coaches and consultants telling you if your work doesn’t light a fire under you, then you should jump to somewhere warmer. Sure. You could. But why does it have to exist elsewhere, in some field on the other side where the grass is pretty dang green? (Unless you’re on that side, then it doesn’t look as green as you remember.)

We need to be engaged in our work. And our employers want us to be engaged. Engaged people outperform their peers by 147%. (Gallup, 2018) But why can’t we make our own engagement?

I get the draw of going rogue and starting something that is your own, like a food truck. That siren song has called to me too. (mine would be called Let’s Taco ‘Bout It) And it’s tempting because we hear about people who’ve successfully made the jump. We don’t hear about (or listen to) all the ones who jump and don’t make it.

However, it’s not the food truck that is really calling me… it’s the creative control and ability to own some decisions. There’s a root cause, a core mechanic, that makes it attractive.

As a good, ten-minute thought experiment, sit down with a passion you feel calling you; telling you to jump. Ask yourself the five whys, and answer with candor, to get to the core mechanic of that passion. Then plan small action steps to make that passion where you are. It may have to start tiny with side projects or little bits and pieces here and there, but this is an opportunity to make where you are better. This is where innovation comes from! Plus you get to take control and ownership of your experience instead of relying on other people to engage you.

You love boardgames. You are inspired by writing poetry. Your heart is full when you are baking. Whatever it is, there are elements you can bring to any job. You just have to take ownership of being the one who brings it.

Stop hunting for passion in the green grass on the other side, and start planting it where you are.

Authenticity, Being Awesome, Persona, Understanding the Customer

Marching to the Beat of Your Own Drummers

Knowing your audience has long been touted as a key to success. Yet time after time, we find ourselves trying to speak with too broad of an audience, or making a product that tries to please everyone. In the end, it pleases no one.

There is no better example of knowing your audience than Fred Armisen.

Image result for fred armisen standup for drummers

Fred Armisen created Portlandia with Carrie Brownstein. This is a show rooted in making light of the quirky and free culture in Portland, Oregon.

Fred Armisen created Documentary Now with Bill Hader and Seth Meyers. This is a show that parodies the nuances of various documentary styles and tropes.

Fred Armisen recently released a Netflix comedy special, Standup for Drummers. This is a whole comedy special with inside jokes aimed at, you guessed it… drummers.

It’s not that Armisen finds a narrow audience that is desperate for attention. It’s that he finds HIS audience. The projects Armisen chooses to pursue are things that interest him; places he loves, skills he admires, and experiences he shares. Watching him interact with his narrow audience is the realest kind of real. And you can feel it.

Because his real audience is himself.

“There’s something that I can’t describe about the city [Portland] that I really love – just physically – how it feels to walk around there, and have coffee there. Also, the way that it’s a little overcast sometimes. Something about Portland just really resonated with me.” – Fred Armisen

You don’t have to be part of the inner circle. I encourage you to watch Standup for Drummers. Even though you may not get every joke (I didn’t), you get lured in by Armisen’s passion, his prose, his charisma talking about the funny-to-him aspects of something he appreciates.

But what I really want to challenge you with is this.

Don’t try to make the next extremely profitable thing. Don’t attempt to create the next disruptive to the industry thing. Don’t go make the thing you think everyone will want.

Make something that is important to you, on the deep down soul level. Make something about another thing you love. And then… share it with people just like you.

Your realness. Your soul. Your connection with the topic and the people who share the same connection. It will all shine.






The problem with Innovation isn’t innovation

(takes a sip of water)… Let me explain.

The problem with Innovation is that the people who decide the direction of the company, don’t always get innovation. And you can’t blame them. There are two different versions.

There is “capital I” Innovation. This is the buzzwordy big brother. The one that gets five minutes in stakeholder meetings and thrown around in boardrooms as a checklist item. “Are we Innovating?” “Oh certainly. I put it right here in the vision doc. Be an innovative leader in the market.”

And there is “lowercase i” innovation. This version is mindsets and action. This is prototypes and hypotheses. This is out-on-a-limb gambles based on user empathy that the normal production evolution would never take us to.

Authentic innovation doesn’t fit neatly into scorecards or forecasting metrics. But Innovation does.

I’ve written this blog post a couple times now and it just doesn’t come out right. So we’re going to try something a little different, and I’m just going to open my mind and let it tumble out.

Look, Innovation is crap. It’s a buzzword, it’s a checklist item. “Did we tell them to Innovate?” “Yes, we added it to the vision doc that we want to be an innovative leader in the market.” The problem with that type of Innovation is that it is cheap and hollow, like the giant chocolate bunnies or Santas that look impressive, but when you bite into them you realize it was made of a sixteenth of an inch of chocolate… and filled with stale factory air. “Mmmm… it has a chalky mouthfeel, with a hint of … warehouse?”

What you drool over are the solid chocolate versions. The ones that are pure 100% innovation with every bite. Solid but smooth. Satisfying and makes the pains go away. The real problem with Innovation is that it’s hollow. Whereas the innovation it emulates is rich and every bite has meaning.

So why are there two different versions? Innovation and innovation? Because Innovation is easy, and innovation is hard.


Culture, Lenses, Systems, Uncategorized

Game Design for Culture Design

The average age of a “gamer” is rising. Current research puts it around 34 years old. That means there is an increasing chance that any team you are part of is made up of self-identifying gamers. They’ve trekked across Skyrim. They’ve launched a blue shell in Mario Kart. They’ve flung an Angry Bird or two.

If this engages them, gets them in the flow state, and keeps them coming back… why would we not look towards game design when designing our team culture? Cody Royle, in his book Where Others Won’t, posits that we can borrow talent acquisition strategies from sports.

“A well-designed game is a guided missle to the motivational heart of the human psyche.” – Kevin Werbach

MDA Framework

We’re going to keep this simple for our analogy. For deep details on the MDA Framework, there are loads of articles on it. But here’s the basics:

90823As you can see, the game designer and the game player approach the game differently.

The designer can only control the mechanics so they build their game by creating mechanics, which impacts the dynamics, which influences the aesthetics.

The player comes at the game in the reverse order. The game is chosen because of the aesthetics they want (looking for “fun”), which they get from the dynamics, which is created by the rules. You never pick up a game because of a rule. You buy, play, and keep playing because of the feeling.

“Many of the traits, habits, beliefs and actions that teenagers and young adults pick up playing electronic games and working with handheld gadgets will help them as they enter the ever-changing global workforce.” – Karl Kapp

As a Lens for Culture

Like the game designer, we can really only control the mechanics of our culture. Mechanics are not your mission statement or your vision, but they are part of it. It’s more the rituals and operationalized mission. But instead of establishing rules we like and force the aesthetics we want, why not start with an end in mind?

We can think of culture design as game design, with a design thinking twist. Backwards by design. We’re going to start in the endzone, and figure out how to get there.

Granted, there are organizations that try to establish culture at the aesthetic level first. But they are trying to control the aesthetics as designers, which can’t be done. This will run in opposition with the established mechanics or clash with the personal narratives of the staff.

We can’t control the end, but we need to start there. If we work backwards, we can increase the likelihood of the aesthetic we want in our culture.

  • What feelings do we want our team to have?
    • Not only when they are “playing the game”, but also when they are at home or in their community.
  • What interactions can our team have to promote these feelings?
    • Interactions within the team, with the work, with the clients. All the interactions.
  • What rules of play can we establish to encourage those interactions?
    • These mechanics need to have boundaries that allow a little wiggle room but includes the interactions.





Seeing How the Sausage is Made

They say you should not see how laws or sausages are made. But what if you hope to make your own sausages? What if you’re a butcher’s apprentice and you know how to make sausage is going to be on the local butcher certification exam?

Then you better damn well see how sausages are made. Sorry, Otto von Bismarck.

The point of Go Forth and Be Awesome was to share knowledge. Frameworks, models, and methods I learned through practicing and researching innovation. Assuming that’s why you’re here, then boy do I have a Sausage-Making 101 course for you.

I have some people I am lucky to call friends, and we like to solve problems together. So much so that we thought we should make a regular thing out of it. And so we formed Kawe, our little group dedicated to solving a problem every three months. It’s nighttime hangouts and weekend work sessions. And it’s all going to be shared here, raw and unfiltered. Full transparency. We’ll share what we learn about the problems and process with you, to hopefully inspire your own problem-solving. It will also make us better at what we do. It’s a win-win.

I will bring you regular updates on our progress as Joe Greaser, Mike Jarrell, and myself tackle a new problem and take it through our process. It may blow up in our face, it may unexpectedly succeed, but we are going to push fast, fearlessly, and forward.

To see more of our progress, click here.

Go forth and solve problems!

– TD

Culture, Going Forth, Uncategorized

Culture Exploration: The Maps

Culture is hard

The culture of a group can be a tricky thing to architect. Behind every dysfunctional company culture lay the shreds of good intentions. Sometimes a good culture comes together with heavy doses of luck and serendipity. That’s when you get too scared to make any changes because you don’t know how it came together. One false move will unravel it all. Think Indiana Jones and the stepping stones in the Temple of Doom. At least there aren’t any snakes.

Maybe there is a way forward

Mental models seem like they can be a good tool for building a company or team culture. They serve as your map for an explored territory. You have some squiggles and loose direction, but you have to constantly make interpretations of what you’re seeing in the real-world, and if it is getting you where you want to go on the map.

“Begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility” -Rolf Potts

But what if we start falling off the path

As with any rough map, the real-world changes. There are just too many factors, too many variables in the real… and a map’s legend is limited. I once learned that your map for life can be misleading. Say for example that you grow up near a river. Your map’s legend indicates that squiggles are river water. But what happens when you encounter the ocean? You interpret those on your map as a river, and you’re wrong. You need a more refined legend. Or what about these slightly different squiggles? Are they a different type of water? Nope, those are trees.

The point is, like a map, a mental model is a great starting point but it’s your leadership, your interpretation of life and interpersonal signals, that evolve it and make successful navigation possible.

Establish guardrails as triggers to re-evaluate

Even if our map, our mental model, has a couple items in the legend, we can set up guardrails to bounce us back on the path. Without any guardrails, we go careening off the side of the path and into danger. So we can set up guardrails on the edges of our mental models by doing a pre-mortem.

A pre-mortem would be evaluating our mental model and looking for what failure will look like. How can it all fall apart? There are some hilarious and extreme answers here, but the closer to likely or probable signs of failure we can stick, the tighter our guardrail sits to the path. And that means we can correct our direction sooner.

Maybe it’s worth a shot

So over the next few posts, I’m going to explore mental models for crafting a company and team culture. I’m going to look for other lenses and frameworks to bring into to some tried and true culture models and see if we can’t reinvent a new map to explore.


Laying Down on the Job – Smallifying to Gain Momentum

Do you ever feel like the harder you push yourself, the less movement you actually create? Or maybe you have an amazing, innovative and creative idea that just never seems to pick up momentum? You may have physics to blame.

Take a minute and 21 seconds to watch this video of Michael Guerra.

It feels counterintuitive that taking his feet off the pedals would allow him to go faster, so how is he able to zoom past the other bikers?

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 10.56.53 PM
Notice that the object doesn’t change its overall size, it just presents itself in a smaller way in the direction of movement to reduce resistance.

It’s the resistance. The resistance fights against all things, but big things make it easier for resistance to put up a good fight. You can pedal harder and make some progress, but resistance will keep you from moving your fastest. Instead of his vertical body size, Michael Guerra challenges resistance to slow him down by presenting the smallest version of himself, the surface area of his face.

What’s this mean for us? We’re pushing ideas, products, ourselves…

We need to smallify. So let’s figure out how to do that together.

Smallify the Next Steps

Sometimes it is the steps ahead that feel big, and we know the resistance pushes back well on big things. If we can take a bunch of tiny steps, we can pick up speed and momentum for later, bigger steps.

Question that I need your answers on:

How do you make your next steps smaller, easier to tackle, easier to accomplish?

Smallify Your Idea

Big ideas let all kinds of resistance push against them. The main ones tend to be the resistance of other people and your own fear that you aren’t worthy of making such a large dent in the universe. You are. We just need to trick resistance until you believe.

Question that I need your answers on:

How do you make your idea smaller to make adoption easier without sacrificing the real bigness of it?

Smallify you

You’re burning the candle at three ends. That’s how hard you’re pedaling… you’ve invented a candle with three ends. But it just doesn’t seem to be getting you where you want to be or producing the kind of impact you want to make. Is there a fourth end to the candle? Or can we smallify?

Question that I need your answers on:

How do you make yourself smaller and more focused into a compact surface area of awesome?

I’m looking for your answers, or even your questions to push this further. Let me know your thoughts.