The universe is always in flux, so waiting endlessly for perfection just means you’ll miss the boat.

Danny Gregory

Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey” hit at just the right moment for me. The combination of a very challenging year at work and a post-marathon movement slump had me feeling drained. I needed a good kick in the pants, or else my holiday break might devolve into a slovenly mess of bon-bons, sweat pants, and movie marathons.

Okay, maybe I can have a little of that, but…

Oh no! That’s me, possibly missing all of the boats. This book invited me to doodle directly in it. Not really, but I don’t think Danny would mind.

This morning as I finished up this book, I’m feeling fired up. I’ve been drawing ever day since his talk, and the book pushed me even further to reflect on my purpose and what drives me. If you need a pep talk, this is a good one.

Gregory invites challenging the “monkey” that holds you back. Those inner voices, the ones who needle with nay-saying and destructive doubts, can be quelled.

In short, the book says:

Don’t let meaningless distractions get in the way. Don’t expect perfection. Don’t over-analyze or critique your process or the creative output.

Just show up.
Just do.
Just be.

Thanks to High Alpha, who hosted Danny Gregory for a talk about creativity. Free registration to the event included a copy of his latest book, Shut Your Monkey.

A Good Shift

The first time I volunteered, I was maybe eight years old. My sister and I “adopted” grandparents at a nursing home. The experience of reading the news, playing games, and providing human connection to someone who was alone planted a lifelong service bug in me.

Throughout my life (minus that really self-absorbed time in my twenties, post grad) I have volunteered somewhere. I hadn’t realized it then, but my idea of how one goes about service was set too. Doing good was a formal arrangement between citizen and nonprofit.

Walking with Louie one day years ago changed that. It had poured rain. We were glad to get out for a walk after being cooped up inside. Everything was still drippy and puddly. At a corner, blocks from our house, a small lake had formed. The sewer drain was gunked up with who knows what.

Without a thought, Louie reached down into the murky water, and pulled out hunks of leaves, debris, and dark matter unknown. He cast it aside, clearing the grate at the curb, then swished his hand in the rapidly draining water to rinse off. It was the work of a moment, then we were on our way.

While I beamed at him, “What a good thing you’ve done!” he seemed surprised. “Oh… not a big deal.”

I get it – this is a small thing. But before then it had not occurred to me that I should be the one to unclog the drain. Realization was one thing, re-wiring to notice those “not my problem” opportunities to serve others has been a bit harder. It’s something I work at still.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Good Deeds. Explore a good deed – yours, or one from someone else. How is the world better for it?”

Uncanny Valley

At a coffee shop the other day, I noticed some paintings of humans that were… just a little off. Not enough to look like an intentional abstract portrait. No–they were trying to be photo realistic, but missing the mark in an eerily, creepy way.

I mentioned this to Lydia and she exclaimed:

They’re in the uncanny valley!

Seriously. How great are these words?! I can’t describe how much I gushed about it, but there may have been a small dance performed in honor of this phrase. Here’s what it really means (according to Google):

un·can·ny val·ley

  1. used in reference to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.

    “anyone attempting to build a believable human facsimile also has to beware of the uncanny valley”


    I know it’s meant to refer to robots and artificial intelligence, but no matter. I love this term so much I will now use it liberally to describe awkward behavior. I’m no stranger to awkward or weird. We all have our moments, right?

    But if we say, “Huzzah! I just went to the uncanny valley!” then that makes our raw, silly, awkward, human moments feel like a fun adventure.

    You in?

    This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

    Prompt: “Get Wordy. What word(s) did you learn OR make-up this year? How did you learn it/make it up? Did you start using it?” from #ThinkKit13

More than Just

“If we left, they wouldn’t have nobody. We were just the cook and the janitor…”Miguel Alvarez

Miguel Alvarez and Maurice Rowland, image from StoryCorps
Miguel Alvarez and Maurice Rowland, image from StoryCorps

No, sir, you are not “just” a job title. You are more than JUST anything. Listen to the story from NPR’s StoryCorps and see if you agree:
Maurice and Miguel’s story

I believe people vastly underestimate their power to be transformative. This story is a perfect (and moving) example of that.

I was co-facilitating a session the other day and one of the participants said “This is above my pay grade.” To which I said, “No. Not here, not today it’s not.” But what I should have said was NOT ever.

We’re really great as humans at putting up imaginary barriers built with fear and assumption, or accepting those put up by others. These emotions, the left-unsaids are sand bags stacking up over time, building up those walls. But they can be undone with open communication, persistence and courage.

I see this most often in the informational interviews I conduct – dozens per year – in which I hear people talk about feeling trapped in a bad company culture which they feel they cannot change. But I see it in myself at times, in those that I love. I see it all over. And I just want to shout:

YOU! All of you! You are more than just…


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!



A murmuration is a lovely sight to behold. A whole flock of birds moves as if tied together with strings. Expand, contract. Twist. Turn. As if they’re one organism.

I spotted one this New Year’s day, waiting in traffic on my way home from the movie theater in the mall.


There’s some pretty crazy science behind it all. Something about a system on the verge of change. Seems like a fitting message for the first day of a brand new year.

Oh, the movie I saw? Birdman. The universe has a sense of humor.

If you’ve never seen on of these, watch this:

Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.

Pretty incredible, huh?

Full Heart

I found this heart on a morning walk this fall, carried it back with me. At home, I put it on my bedside table. It stayed with me for a few weeks, a daily reminder of the loveliness in the world.

The leaf lay there, unmoved. I noticed it when I woke up in the morning, and again when I went to bed at night. I kept it there, not knowing why, thinking it might inspire some art. Sometimes we notice things so that we might see something else.

One day, I looked at it and saw the fullness in my own heart. I never made anything else with it, just snapped a photo, then let it go. I am not in the habit of keeping leaves and things at my bedside.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “What’s Your Tradition? Today we’ll keep it short and sweet. Share a photo from your year that highlights giving, thankfulness, traditions or finding peace. What does the photo represent to you?”

More Cowbell

Before seeing their live performance at TedxIndianapolis, I had heard several people rave about Sweet Poison Victim. I listened to a track on Musical Family Tree and liked what I heard, but not to the level of over-the-topness I was getting from others.

And then I saw them on stage—the horns, the drums, the dancing, the energy.

Image credit: TedxIndianapolis

The video hardly does it justice because of the sound, but just watch the female vocalist. Here’s a person doing something she was born to do, bursting with vitality and joy. (The other time I noticed someone doing what they were born to do this year was at the Buckwheat Zydeco concert at the Jazz Kitchen. Maybe it’s a musician thing?) Their performance was absolutely infectious.

I couldn’t help but think I hope I someday bring that kind of energy to something I do. When Jeffrey Cufaude came to give a training at SmallBox, he said something that struck a chord: Be the Presence & the Energy. He was referring to facilitation, but I’d like to apply that much more broadly. I may not be at cowbell level intensity right now, but perhaps I can cultivate that over time.

Sweet Poison Victim EP on MFT:

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Look Outward, Look Inward. By telescope or microscope, or no scope at all – what did you discover? A new aspect of yourself? A favorite artist, musician, or variety of cheese? Did you discover something about a loved one? A familiar or new-to-you place? Be broad, be narrow, or be surprising.”

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.


Enough, Black Hole. Make!


If I got a tattoo in 2013, it might have been of the word “enough.” This word motivated me at a time when I was ready to finally make changes I’d been thinking about for a long time. My major hit list was to not work into the wee hours of the night, skating by on little sleep, and to exercise regularly.

Enough! became an exclamation. This tiny rally cry helped keep me on track when I needed a gentle push back to the light.

Enough began to take on another meaning, as I realized my life had become overfull with goodness, and I struggled to make time for it all. Rather than beat myself up over not getting it all done and being all of the things, I took solace in enough. I do enough. I am enough.

While I found much peace in enough, one thing made itself known, shouted, “You are not done with Enough! yet.” It should have been carved out and set in stone – the space for creating, for making. Instead, a black hole of intention, deep and infinite, trapping my drive to make, unrealized ideas, unmade things.

I hope as 2014 draws to a close, I can look back on a year of drawings and doodles, pages of text, and know I’ve made enough, worked my fingers to the bone. So here goes nothing. Enough, black hole. Make!

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “Repeat After Me. Write a mantra for the year ahead – how you’ll approach it, what you wish it to be.”