Coaching at TEDx


Earlier this year, I volunteered as a Speaker Coach for TEDxIndianapolis. I’m not sure if this is a TED thing, or if the local organizers at Big Car & co. came up with the concept of pairing speakers with coaches. I really enjoyed the process and saw the value a role like this could bring, especially to reluctant speakers, or those who need a lot of preparation.

(If you’re one of those quick studies who can speak with just a small amount of prep, Kiko Suarez gave an excellent portrait of what it’s like for those of us who have to work at it).

Coaches were asked to be a sounding board, to listen to the speaker practice their talk and provide feedback. We were also expected to be present during the rehearsal the day before the event.

Among the benefits: the speaker gets practice and consistent feedback from someone who has the context of how the topic evolved, there’s accountability in periodic check-ins, and the speaker has built rapport with someone who can help ease pre-talk jitters. Event organizers also get the peace of mind that they don’t have a speaker who is woefully unprepared.

I had the honor to work with Bud Caddell on his talk on complex systems. He is a natural and didn’t need a lot of coaching, so my job was incredibly easy. Watch his talk:

Take a Chance

I like clever name tags, where there’s a little space for something extra. A random fact. Favorite color. Spirit Animal. You get the idea.


I guess I should say I usually like them. The version at the Creative Mornings launch left me feeling a little… sad? stumped? It asked one simple question: What’s the last chance you took?

Ordering a questionable spicy octopus dish at Sushi Bar a couple of months ago didn’t seem chance-y enough. The line stayed blank. Am I more risk-averse than I give myself credit for?

To get to a big chance I took, I kept being drawn far into my past. To launching Think Kit with just two days of planning several years ago. To leaving a great job and moving to Indy during a challenging economy back in 2009. Or even further back, to driving aimlessly across the country with no hotel reservations and no agenda in the summer of 2001.

Maybe I need to reset my thinking on chance. Is ordering something a bit crazy off the menu enough? I’d say no, but I don’t need to sky dive to experience the thrill that can come with chance either. I’d be happy to be able to say I’m taking chances on people, on art, on writing.

What was the last chance you took?

#heartmyhood: a Monon ode

I moved this summer, after a good, long house-hunting. Our exhaustive and detailed list of musts included proximity to the Monon Trail. The Monon is my city artery – it gets me to work, to home. It’s my frequent path for long runs.

The trail connected me to the city in a way I never expected. I remember thinking how Carmel seemed like a distant land, such a far drive away. Things look a little bit different after running the trail across city lines. The Monon made the city smaller, closer – like all of Indy is my neighborhood.

These runs along the trail during autumn are a sight to behold. Some of the trees are all spent, others have just gotten into their fall groove. Seeing these changes unfold never gets old.


#heartmyhood is a collaboration between SmallBox and Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center to spread neighborhood love in Indy

Sketchnotes from MWUX14

About this time of year, I begin to reflect on the goals I started with in January, and what I’ve accomplished so far. My inventory of completed creative projects is coming up short. I’ll need a pretty intense few months of making to create a dent, and so I’ve adopted a new rally cry:

For goodness make

Fun in the Make Space

Given my current thinking and plotting along those lines, Midwest UX 14 came at a good time. Immersing myself in a couple of days worth of tinkering in the Make Space, taking in a screening of the Maker documentary, and all kinds of talks about design and creativity was just what I needed. Here were a few of my favorite takeaways:

Making begins in the real world.

Not in Photoshop. Not in web-based tools. Before even booting up the digital tools, you’ll likely follow the Maker Continuum:

1) Idea in your head
2) A sketch on a page
3) A conversation with others.

As if I needed an excuse to want to step away from the screen! My sketchnotes from Todd Zaki Warfel, Make. Mentor. Learn.



Perspectives are awaiting discovery.

When you’re solving a problem, the blank slate is a little bit scarier if you fool yourself into believing you have to invent something brand new. Steve Smith made a great point about how other perspectives are all around, you just need to look for them.



Image credits: Steve Smith, from Producing Creativity.

More of my sketchnotes from MWUX14.


Outtakes from an Innovation Triad

For the past couple of months, I’ve been learning a new framework for problem solving. Jeremy Houchens, Jenny Banner and I formed an “innovation triad,” or so we’ve been dubbed by Culture Sync, the group that is facilitating our process. Here’s what I knew when we got started: we’d be learning from the minds behind Tribal Leadership, Dierdre from Culture Sync would be showing us the ropes, and we’d be working as a team to solve a problem.

While I’m learning a lot, this post isn’t about the methods (though perhaps once we wrap, I’ll write more about that), but rather some of the fringe lessons I’ve learned while participating in this process.

1) If you haven’t worked with people outside your normal sphere, go forth and do it!

I’ve worked at SmallBox for four years. Until about a month and a half ago, we hadn’t hired anyone for a year and a half. That’s a long time to go without introducing new collaborators into the work world. I’ve been really energized by learning from Jeremy and Jenny, their processes and approach.

2) Your perspective is unique. Guess what? The same is true for everyone else.

Part of our work has been interviewing people in our community. We record the interviews, then listen back to what we heard. One of the methods has us breaking down what we heard and pulling out words and ideas from their responses. It’s been fascinating to see what different things we “hear” from the same recording.

It was a good reminder to me how we all perceive and experience the things before us in our own unique way. And really, how cool is that? No one else sees the world like you do.

3) There’s liberation in silliness. It doesn’t have to be all serious, all the time.


Jeremy had been doing a little extra credit for the group, including trying like hell to find a fitting name for our triad. Early in our sessions, we took an inventory of skills, and one for Jeremy was humor. When it came to the name, he was definitely leaning on that skill.

For his naming process, he went back to some of the shared experiences we had. There was a walking meeting when we discovered a trail overgrown with mushrooms. In another session, we tried to tap into our collective outrage to frame up our problem, and we discovered are three of the least angry people on the planet.

The names he came up with pulled from those stories, things like Angry Mushrooms and later, the name that began to stick, the Mushroom Taco triad. I didn’t necessarily think the rest of the group gave a lot of validation to the name ideas at first. Angry Mushrooms and the like just seemed too silly to be the name for an official thing.

At some point I was won over by Jeremy’s investment in the naming process, and I made the mushroom taco image as a way to provide the validation I don’t think I’d given previously. It’s a good thing to be forced to reckon with my seriousness bias.

If anyone is curious about the triad or our process, I’m happy to talk more. Just drop me a note.


(Sort of) home

Going back to Chicago is like going home. Sort of.

Heading to my old neighborhood, all the store fronts are different. A rotation of businesses, of spaces, lives and details changed. But from a 30,000 foot view, the city looks the same as when I left in 2005. It feels the same. The old fixtures remain.

Snapshots from a weekend (sort of) home:





(1) I managed to get in my miles – not an easy feat when traveling. A five miler on Saturday, ten on Sunday. Running flies by with such a view. I’ve always been captivated by the lake. It’s perhaps the thing I miss most about the city. So expansive. Endless it seems. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking with my eyes fixed on its waves.
(2) To know me is to know that popcorn is my favorite snack. From the Oak Street Beach murals, the scenes of a Lake Shore run.
(3) Cappuccino art from Intelligentsia. Part one of my favorite Intelligentsia/Reckless Records Lakeview combo.
(4) Wrigley, Louie and I.

Not pictured:
Dinner at Senza. Highly recommended if you’re looking to splurge on a 10 course meal. An incredible experience – creative food, cool, yet comfortable environment. It took a fair amount of restraint to not photograph every course, each its own piece of art. I didn’t want to spoil the meal with low grade iPhone pics. Here’s the menu we enjoyed.

Knowing and Not Knowing

Though I’d been searching for a painting for above the fireplace for years, I’d gotten used to that expanse of white. When we finally found the one, it took a while before I got used to its presence. I’d walk through our door and feel a bit startled by its beauty. In it I saw an incredible floating island, a place that, like a vivid dream, skirts the lines of something you know, but can not know.

Contracted by Susan Hodgin

I didn’t know the artist – not really. We exchanged a few words once in her studio on a First Friday. On hearing of her passing, I didn’t know what to do with my grief. I wouldn’t expect to feel this ache for someone I haven’t actually met.

It didn’t occur to me until today, but I suppose there’s a strange intimacy in owning art. The painter, having made this singular creation, chooses to let it go into the world. The collector, in accepting stewardship, builds on the story. Between them, an invisible thread.

Rest in peace, Susan Hodgin.


I’m experimenting with writing on Medium – my first post is live!

Vulnerability + Business

It’s an exploration of vulnerability at work. It’s a post I tried to write for the SmallBox blog back in March, but never published because it didn’t feel finished. For whatever reason, the words came much easier this morning. Maybe it was the months of distance, but perhaps it was that Medium was the right space to publish it.

For more of my writing with a more business slant, you can also check out my SmallBox blogs.


New client kick offs are always exciting. When it includes a spring trip to Phoenix, that’s a pretty major bonus. After the crazy winter and chilly spring in Indy, the break times spent in their sunny courtyard felt like quite the retreat.

We got to do a bit of exploring. Of course Jeb made sure we found a record store, and we ran into a familiar brand at Stinkweeds. Look at all that Indy-based Joyful Noise faced out.


Luckily one of my travel partners is wired for adventure. Lydia and I woke up before the crack of dawn to go walking each morning at Papago Park.


Spotted one of my favorite birds in the dessert. The North Flicker looks entirely different on a cactus than it does on my backyard bird feeders.


I still have red sand in my shoes, and I’m ok with that.


Winter’s Last Hurrah

Louie and I have long held a debate about winter – I’m pro, he’s con. Or maybe I should say was pro-winter. This year has challenged decades of preference. As another snow fell yesterday, I couldn’t help but hope that this might be winter’s last hurrah.

As I cleared my car for another slushy drive home, I was feeling pretty sour. I needed a few reminders on why I love winter to pull me out of that funk.

  • Coffee never tastes as wonderful as it does when it’s twenty degrees outside.
  • Only in winter, can you see something like this:


  • And then there’s the sound of snow underfoot. I like to think of it like an Eskimo might, making up a sound-word for the snow. Each makes its own distinct noise. Sometimes a snowfall goes squench. Sometimes kroosh.

The drip-drop of icicles melting hold the promise of spring. Soon it’ll all be gone. And while it’s hard to imagine it now, I know by mid-summer, I’ll miss it again.