On my break today, I bought the dogs this plastic toy shaped like a strawberry. It has a hole where you can put treats inside. The dogs have to roll it around and squeeze it a bit to make the goodness inside come out. Even once the treats have all fallen out and been snapped up, they keep at it. Just in case. They don’t know for sure if there’s one last treat hidden inside. Watching them go at it, I begin to see that the phrase dogged determination makes a lot of sense. They’re quite lost in the task at hand.

We’ve been talking about how to get lost in our work at SmallBox lately. This has all stemmed from our focus on people-centeredness. We want work to be a very human experience, one that is challenging and rewarding with elements of play. It should be a good outlet for our creativity, diverse skill sets and growing appetites to make the world a better place.

I also recently passed the five-year anniversary mark at SmallBox. To mark the occasion, Jeb has suggested I take a sabbatical in 2016. He took one last summer and has sung the praises of the break and focused thinking and creating time it allowed.

A sabbatical seems the perfect place to explore a blend of work and play, and to understand what getting lost with no constraints can really look like for me. Should I use it to travel? Take a crash course in cello? Should I spend the whole time making art or writing?

Right now, I’ve not made a single plan. Not which month to take it in, or what to focus on. This expansiveness of possibility is equally thrilling and daunting. I only know for sure I want to get lost in something… an art project, a collaboration, a meditation practice… something that grips me.

What would you do with a month sabbatical?

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Thicken the Plot. We’re all writing the story of our lives as we go. How can you make your story interesting in 2016? And if you can’t see around the bend, it’s okay to dream. Let’s make 2016 one of the most riveting parts of our tale, shall we?”

This book is my spirit animal

lunch-at-the-shopI’m the sort who typically eats lunch at my desk while I plow through email or other work. The idea of taking back the lunch hour always sounds so romantic, but in practice, I’ve failed at regularly celebrating lunch. Then I found Lunch at the Shop. I loved the subtitle: The art and practice of the midday meal.

This book, I hoped, might inspire me to have a mindful lunch here or there. As I read, it did far more than that. I wasn’t joking when I said this book is my spirit animal. Beyond lunch, this is a fine example of obsessing over the details to create a great experience, as well as being an in-the-wild example of what SmallBox calls culture-powered marketing.

The foundation of culture-powered marketing is what we call the North Star, or your purpose and your values. An organization must first define, then embrace their own guiding principles. When a whole team is engaged by shared beliefs and behaviors, who you are and what you do suddenly begins to market your organization for you.

Here is a small-ish (from what I can tell) shop in Seattle, Peter Miller Architectural & Design Books and Supplies. They decided the rejuvenation provided by lunch-taking is worth making space for, and that it should be a shared experience for their team. Then they stuck with it. Seven years in, lunch is still a part of their rhythm. All standards and practices of the retail industry are set aside – the shop closes for lunch. In this case, the practice becomes much more than just eating. It’s about togetherness and rest. It’s become culturally relevant to them. Lunch says something about the shop and who they are.

Another piece of culture-powered marketing – it leads to things. Towards cultural institutions, which are celebrated or revered like holidays. Towards great content that shows what an organization believes in. In this case, lunch became a daily holiday, and it resulted in a 160-page book with their principles and habits for making food to share without a proper kitchen, and more than 50 recipes.

This book is for the sort of people who put their potato chips in a bowl rather than eating straight from the bag. For the ones who take extra care when plating up. If you have zero tendency to fuss over food, this will likely sounds pretentious or over the top. It’s a window into the a world of being particular for the sake of making great experiences. If you need motivation to up your game, whether for lunch or something else, this is a wonderful playbook.

My first “lunch at the agency” wasn’t too shabby. I made the recipe Lentils Folded into Yogurt, Spinach and Basil, complete with a sourdough wheat bread made by my co-worker Drew. Here’s to many more lunches at the shop!


Cleaning Digital House

I remember thinking the Mailbox app for iPhone was just genius. Archive an email in one quick swipe? So awesome! Until I realized how often I was archiving useless junk. With each partially absorbed headline, each swipe, a precious piece of head space evaporated. In hindsight, Mailbox might have enabled hoarding a lot of stuff I just don’t need cluttering my head.

Today I turned to Unroll.Me in a moment of exasperation (a.k.a swipe city). I’d heard of this service before, but never made the time to run it. It clued me in to some pretty startling numbers. On my personal account alone I’m subscribed to 227 different email lists. How in the world did I hoard so many email subscriptions? Well, the truth is, I didn’t. My name and email are listed as a contact on a blog I sometimes write for, and unfortunately it gets abused by people who decide to just sign me up for their lists.

Today I’m having frustration of the What took me so long? variety. It’s pretty infuriating to think of all of the stolen moments I could have spared, put towards something more productive. Sometimes when we’re the most buried, it’s hardest to dig out and do the simple things that will set us free. But I am resolved to using this holiday break to get my digital house in order.

It took less than five minutes to scan and sort my account through Unroll.Me. I unsubscribed to 121 emails. 65 subscriptions will be merged into one daily digest or “rollup” I get in the morning. The rest, the stuff I really care about will come as usual.


I’m thinking a lot about SmallBox’s rally cry to make space, and how I could have personally done a better job with this. I got a new computer earlier this year and I never properly set up my files. My desktop, once a pristine mecca for art or photo backgrounds, now, a wasteland of all kinds of files, downloads and screenshots. I need to set up cloud storage. Just as I slacked on trying Unroll.Me, I’ve had tentative dates with LastPass and If This, Then That all year.

My first response to things like “make space” are pie in the sky, theoretical. I’m a strategist. I can’t help it, it’s the first place I go. But now I’m getting tactical. What are your favorite productivity app and organizing tools?

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Chef’s Choice. Today, we’re keeping it wide open – we want you to write. Write the thought ringing in your head this morning. Write what you can’t forget. Write what you want to remember about _____. Write the everyday and the extraordinary. Let Frank O’Hara be your guide.

Automagic Meeting Manager

Dear inventor-types of the internet,

I have a very special, super important request. You know that whole thing where you ask people how they’re doing and they say Busy!? Well, I’m here to say that it’s true.

A lot of people are really, really busy. Occasionally, some of those busy people need to meet in places to talk about things, and scheduling it can be an absolute nightmare. Am I right?! It’s really the only part of my job that I don’t like, and the one thing I often say is the hardest thing I do.

All I really need is for some magical, all-knowing being to detect the first sign of a meeting suggestion, and immediately swoop into action synching and cross-referencing calendars. Once a time and place is found, this being (a purpose fairy? Siri?) can book the time and place, notifying all participants via their preferred calendaring systems. Automagic meeting manager to the rescue!

While we’re at it, I have a few feature requests. It would not be bad if the automagic scheduling fairy made sure everyone had clarity on the purpose of the meeting. Another cool feature (maybe after the beta version?) would be a BS meeting detector that beeps and flashes and warns you that you might be scheduling an unnecessary meeting. It could even give helpful hints like, Try a quick standing check-in, or This seems like a time for an old-fashioned email thread!

No big deal. Just a simple platform. You guys are already coding this up, right?

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Lifeline prompt: “Make It So. What one technology do you hope becomes a reality in 2015? Is it helpful? Revolutionary? Or just plain cool?”

No. 1 Word

On the way into work this morning, I heard a radio story about Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. That word? Culture.

The word is chosen based on total volume and percentage increase of searches online. They mentioned multiple uses—from the classroom, to pop culture to company culture—all contributing to the uptick in seeking out this word.

Culture is something I think about every day in my job, whether it’s how to foster healthy culture at SmallBox as we grow, or how to consult with our clients as they look to improve their own. From where I sit, I hear questions about culture all of the time. What is culture? What do we really mean? I’ve noticed some companies try to reduce culture to a picnic or other perks, hoping these things alone will create long-term cultural change. It’s so much more than that.

Merriam-Webster defines it this way:


noun \’kəl-chər\

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

This is the meaty part: “thinking, behaving.” Culture for companies is all about how we view the world, and the way our beliefs are brought to life. It’s how a group of people behave when they come together to form a greater sum.

I’ve come to think of core values as one of the best tools a business has for culture building. I don’t mean the kind that an executive went into a black box to write, then post on a fancy plaque. I mean values that were inherent in the business, the kind that people are reviewed on and given praise when they model them. Values can serve as an incredible lens for decision making, becoming a sort of moral compass for the organization. Will this help us be more collaborative? More ______? (Fill in the blank with your own company values).

I love that culture emerged as the word of the year. If it just gets a handful of executives at major companies to think about the work environment they’re creating, then that’s a big win. Year-round I conduct informational interviews with employee prospects, students, recent grads. My own experience is very in line with the increase detected my Merriam-Webster. People are clamoring for workplaces where they can be themselves, find meaning. The chorus has reached a fever pitch: “I just want to be in a place with a good culture.”

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Lucky Numbers. Time to get mathematical – and yes, you may use a calculator. Was there a significant number in your year? A birthday? A first? A personal record? A date now carved in the annals of time? A number that represents a streak, whether winning or losing, good or bad? A bellwether or a lagging indicator or just…three.”

Books, Meet Vinyl (Please)


Fair warning:
I’ve been on my soapbox about the book industry since 2010. A recent shopping trip dredged up all my old rants. I think I’ll keep shouting until I get a call from a publishing giant wanting to hire me as a consultant to help with digital strategy.

Oh! Better make one more disclaimer:
I worked at Barnes & Noble for seven years. I loved working there (or I wouldn’t have stayed so long) and I still adore them. I write this out of love for books in printed form, and from a place of some knowledge about the industry.

Now for a bit of background:
In 2010, I made a conscious choice to rekindle my vinyl-collecting habit, after years of going the download-only route. I am just old enough that I had a tiny vinyl collection in the eighties. Thriller was the first album I recall having, but my sister and I also had gems from Tiffany, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and more. In high school and college, I started collecting again, albeit sporadically, as indie rockers started releasing interesting stuff on vinyl. It wasn’t until 2010 when more and more releases bundled vinyl with a digital download that I amped up my collecting. I love the best of both worlds, what can I say? Having the collector’s item and superior listening experience of vinyl, while still being able to listen on my iPhone? Win-win.

I’ve been saying since then, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the publishing industry followed suit? If you bought a hardcover or a trade paperback and you got a digital download code as well?

Cut to the winter of 2014, to that recent shopping trip I mentioned. I spied this little sticker on a book at B&N:


Buy this book, get the eBook for $4.99

Okay, that’s a start… bundling the two. It’d be better if it was just bundled into the price, no separate purchase required. But progress is progress.

Then there’s the fine and even finer print. Uh oh. Things start to fall apart…

Limited-Time Offer
Valid in story only.

So, if I buy the book as a gift for someone, they can’t add the download later. I must choose right then and there, or lose the option altogether.

Here’s a chance to think bigger, beyond increasing the average ticket sale. The digital download shouldn’t be some few buck upsell, it should be a key part of the product that keeps people buying print. My fear is that this experiment with the add-on download option will fail, not because it’s a bad idea to bundle them, but because asking for a second purchase won’t jive with a world where free downloads are all around.

In the Neilson SoundScan 2014 Mid-Year Music Industry Report, overall music consumption, both sales and streaming, was down 3.3%, while vinyl sales were up 40.4%. For now, print books are still outselling digital books, but why wait for crisis? Could the book industry see similar hardcover sales percentage gains as vinyl, if the industry plans for the reader of the future? This is no time for heads in sand.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Rants & Raves. Get on your soapbox. What issue, idea, or stance were you vocal about this year? Or did you let it internally build up? Was there an event, person, or time that triggered your strong reaction? Or was it a slow-burn? Why do you feel so strongly – is it personal? Emotional? Strictly reasonable? Show us some passion – make your argument from the mountaintop!”

The Unicorn of Meaning

Once upon a time in a meeting dubbed “concept-y party,” The Unicorn of Meaning descended upon SmallBox. No, really. True story. See what I mean:

A photo posted by Sara McGuyer (@sara_mc) on

This project actually hasn’t wrapped yet so I won’t go into the full details, but these sticky notes are for a video we’re working on. Those stickies shown above represent just a few of the ideas our team (Mayowa, Sarah, Lydia, Elizabeth, Teresa and myself) brainstormed during our session. You may be able to tell from looking at the stickies that this meeting was just plain fun. Here’s why:

  1. We covered our eyes and blindly aimed nerf guns toward posters of different brainstorming techniques. Whichever ones we hit with our nerf bullets would be the methods we used for concepting.
  2. We may have rigged the deal to make sure we ended up using the “Make a jingle about your challenge” technique.
  3. We sang. We danced. Allegedly, there was a twerking incident that nearly resulted in a neck injury.
  4. One by one, our other co-workers were drawn to our boisterous laughter. We told them they could stay if they wanted to see what the fuss was all about, but that they had to sing too.
  5. The Unicorn of Meaning was almighty and magical. Its mere presence made this become a thing:

(This was actually at the Think Kit launch party. The Unicorn approves of Think Kit!)

p.s. If your meetings are boring, feel free to steal some of these ideas.

p.p.s. I NEVER thought I’d write the word twerk in my blog.

p.p.p.s. NEVER say NEVER.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “Deck the LOLs. Let’s loosen up: share a side-splitting story from the last year. What made you laugh out loud until tears formed?”

Work Diet


Much of the past year at SmallBox I took a deep dive into human resources, specifically building out processes and a focus on professional development. (I’ve written some about our focus on cultural ownership, career paths and more, if you’re curious). It was incredibly rewarding work on many levels, something we really needed to focus on, and may possibly be the best value I could have provided to my workplace.

Despite the sense of accomplishment, I struggled with a growing pang. Something was missing. I’d gotten so immersed in this human resources work, and business development too, that meanwhile the slice of time I could spend on the creative side of my job narrowed.

Jeb sometimes talks about the ideal “work diet,” or the things you need to feel satisfied with what you do for a living. Even in the best of work situations, misalignment in your work diet can change your day-to-day dynamic entirely. It took a couple of months of pangs and uncertainty for me to realize what was up.

When it finally hit me that I wasn’t getting the full creative outlet I needed, I knew it was up to me to make changes. I spent a fair amount of my personal time playing around in Illustrator. I asked to take part in projects where I could concept and sketch. Essentially I stopped waiting for exciting challenges and creative projects to fall in my lap. I’m surrounded by some of the most talented and creative people I’ve ever worked with, it was just a matter of setting the intention and making this a priority.

For me, there’s nothing quite like the fire when I get taken by an idea, when I can collaborate with others to bring something into the world. I simply can’t ignore that part of my work diet. Now that I know this, I can shape how I spend my time.

Image from Factory Week

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “Flip the script. What did you change your mind about this year? Was it a big deal – the way you feel about an issue? Or something small – maybe you learned to like Brussels sprouts? What was the moment or series of moments that changed how you felt?”


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.