Story Bank

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
—Muriel Rukeyser

I will use this space to blog about work, life, hopes, creativity, and branding.

There is something about feeling like you can do anything. Like the world is open to endless possibility. And you can be a player.

This is how I feel at BIF. It’s magic.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to explain exactly why I go to BIF – or how I fit in. I’m not a hard-core business professional. I don’t have a fancy title. I stopped at a bachelor’s. I’ve never invented anything. I’m not always up on the latest and greatest.

I’m just little me.

What I’ve discovered at BIF is little me is enough. BIF isn’t about who’s who – it’s about breaking down silos, empowering each other, and coming together to learn, share, and uncover TOGETHER how maybe, just maybe, we can make the world better.

When I’m at BIF something happens. I start to think of ways I can complement my writing visually. I decide to buy a sketchbook. I take notes trying to somehow keep the stories alive. I think about my kids. A lot. And how what I’m learning can influence them. I feel a wave of gratitude for BIF, the storytellers, and the amazing people I’m meeting.

I feel ALIVE.

The energy is contagious, the content compelling, the stories life changing, and the people out of this world.

I am humbled.

I am powerful.

Coming together with inspiring people at BIF is a true blessing. I love my work. I love people. And, I love a platform where the two are seamless.

THANK YOU for allowing me the opportunity to attend and cover BIF8.

There are many ways to change the world. BIF does it on a grand scale. They also do it one person – one little me – at a time.

This little me is eternally grateful.



People amaze me. There are moments everyday in my life that I sit in complete awe of the men, women, and children who walk this earth. This happens even more frequently before, during, and after the Business Innovation Factory summit, AKA BIF. So much so that I wrestle with the idea that I often nonchalantly refer to BIF as a “business conference.” It is so much more. It is a PEOPLE MOVEMENT.

Last week, I had the honor of interviewing Steve Cronin, a Rhode Islander who has leveraged BIF as one of the many ways he is helping change the world one student at a time. Steve is the president of TWOBOLT, a longstanding direct marketing company in Pawtucket, RI. But, if you ask me, his greatest influence has nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with his direct impact on kids.

Beyond curriculum: teaching kids life skills

As a way to give back to the community, Steve teaches a weekly class at Hope High School centered on life skills, namely leadership, change, and success. His ultimate goal is to help students achieve the success they aspire. One of his core messages to his students, perhaps even above and beyond teaching leadership concepts and skill development, is: “You don’t know how great you are right now!”

“These kids are so smart, so creative, and have so much potential,” said Steve. “Part of my challenge is to let them know this – and to give them strategies to help exploit their potential.”

Steve believes in his students. And he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if they master fundamental skills such as networking, critical thinking, risk management, interpersonal, creativity, and empathy, they will realize their dreams. They will thrive.

There’s more than one way to learn

Steve gets kids. He understands that students come from diverse backgrounds, face different challenges and opportunities, and learn in a variety of ways. This is why he caters to each student going so far as to create personalized textbooks for his students. He also includes TAGs throughout these books so students who more readily process video information than text can learn that way.

Steve invites the community into his classroom, as well. This allows students to interact with the real world and hear stories that might resonate with their own and give them hope. Local leaders who’ve participated include the likes of U.S. Federal Attorney Richard Rose; double amputee and Providence native featured in Mark Patinkin’s inspirational book Up and Running Andre Bateso; and nationally recognized creativity professor Amy Whitaker.

And, of course, Steve gets his students out of the classroom. They tour colleges, visit local businesses, have an opportunity to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum in Washington, DC, and, yes, participate in BIF!

Students experience the magic of BIF

Ah, BIF magic. Believe it. It’s real. Thanks to people like Steve Cronin more students are experiencing it. For the past several years, Steve attended BIF with his students in tow. This year, he took five of them, dubbing them, “The Fab Five.”

“What an opportunity for these kids,” said Steve. “It’s exhilarating to watch them, to see them take risks, to meet seemingly intimidating people, and to see how they carry themselves.”

Although Steve’s students are quick to share vast feedback, nearly all of their thoughts can be summarized in one word, “Wow!” Like Steve, they were simply in awe of the storytellers and overall BIF experience.

“I cannot thank Chris and Saul at BIF enough,” said Steve. “The opportunity they’ve given these kids is unbelievable. BIF is a wonderful chance for students to meet people different than themselves and to see what is possible if they do the right things.”

Never too old to learn

Steve’s students learned a lot at BIF. And, they’ve learned a lot from him. I did, too. Steve’s life lessons aren’t reserved for students. He’s impacting people like me, too.

Here are just a few lessons I took away from my conversation with Steve that all students – all people – can learn from:

  • Talk to strangers! Build networks!
    We tend to hang out with people who are similar to us. Mix it up! Hang around good, honest, intelligent, hardworking people who have different interests, ethnicity, culture, education, and economic status. Build a network of successful people. If you hang with positive, smart people, you will become positive and smart.

    Who’s in your network?

  • Ask! Just Ask!
    How many people, even in business, just never ask? Steve thinks, too many! “We talk a lot about asking in my class,” said Steve. “It’s a big deal – part of life is to ask.” He stresses that asking should always be done in a respectful manner, but that it should be done. Case in point: Four of his five students who participated in BIF went one day. One student went two days simply because she asked! “One girl asked to go a second day, and I found a way to make it happen.”

    Are you asking enough?

  • Show up!
    Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, Steve cannot stress this enough. “You create opportunities in life just by showing up,” he said. And, show up on time. “Showing up late for class is the ultimate expression of disrespect for a teacher, and this translates to work,” he said. “If you work for me and you’re late, you don’t last.”

    Show up any chance you have – class, work, BIF, whatever. You never know what possibilities lay ahead.

    Do you show up?

  • Tell your story!
    Over the years, many students have touched Steve. One in particular is Marta Aparicio, who was born in Guatemala and came to the United States at age 12 with her grandmother. Throughout high school, Marta worked at a nearby hospital 30 hours/week, played soccer, and was ranked among the top five in her class.

    One day, Marta approached Steve and said she wanted to go the National Youth Leadership Forum. No one from his class had ever attended. He simply said, “Tell me your story.” She did. Not only did Marta attend the forum, but today she is also a junior at Georgetown University on full scholarship.

    Your story matters.

  • Don’t quit!

    The first day of the National Youth Leadership Forum, Marta called Steve. She shared that all of the kids at the conference were “white, affluent, and from private schools.” He told her she could do it. By the end of the conference, Marta was sharing her wonderful experience on Facebook.

    During Marta’s first year at Georgetown she once again doubted her ability to continue. She felt surrounded by rich, smart kids whose first language was English. Again, Steve encouraged her to press on. Today, Marta has found her niche, is thriving, and never wants to leave. She’s learned that kids might have different skin color, come from different backgrounds, etc., but they have similar aspirations of becoming successful, of being happy.

    Can you muster the strength to keep trying?

Steve wrapped up our conversation by sharing: “These kids inspire me. My challenges pale in comparison to the ones they face. I get more out of this than they do.”

That’s saying a lot because I suspect these kids get a lot out of Steve’s class. But, I think he’s got it right. Life’s about inspiring each other, learning together, and recognizing we all have challenges. It’s about being there for one another, creating the life we want, and realizing our dreams.

Mostly, it’s about PEOPLE. Just like BIF.


Last week, I was blessed enough to attend the Business Innovation Factory Summit, BIF8, in Providence, Rhode Island. Two days. Thirty storytellers. More than 400 unusual collaborators who believe in the power of story to change the world.

A week later I am still drowning in my stream of consciousness:

Uncover your superpower. Accelerate collisions. Put your arms around people with crazy ideas. Embrace technology. Use it intentionally. Put a face on business. Think visually. Pair words with pictures. Improvise. Bring your best self to work every day. Your thoughts create reality. Neuroscientists are proving this. Paralyzed patients are controlling things through thought. Music is critical in life. Support the school band. Every kid deserves a pair of shoes. The greatest learning platform is play. Appreciate recess. Get outdoors. Find your big idea and act. Time’s a wasting. Go. Do it for tomorrow’s child. Banks can be passion brands. Create a business that’s intensely human. Be kind. Be happy in the moment. Messy is good. There’s a lot right in education. Don’t measure anybody’s worth by a test score. Firefighters run drills for a reason. Run them in business. Fail. Get up again. Ask for help. Violence is solvable. Cells are cool. Science is too. Mental illness is invisible. Spread a message of hope. Lean into fear. Roast a chicken and pour yourself a glass of wine. Change the conversation with customers. People in health care are amazing. Create a new hospital gown. Radiate positive energy. The gold in life is at the intersections. People hear the same story differently. Every one has a story. Let yours unfold.

My head is full. My heart is happy. The possibilities are endless. But, behind each of these seemingly disconnected thoughts is one strong thread:


And, there’s nothing I’d love more than to share some of these people with you. For starters, meet Anita Verna Crofts and Wyatt Hayman – two remarkable innovators who were willing to share their inaugural BIF8 experiences. Click below to read what they had to say pre–, mid–, and post– summit:

Anita Verna Crofts, University of Washington, Master of Communication in Digital Media, Associate Director and Faculty

Wyatt Hayman, Apatapa, Co-Founder & CEO


Meet educator and storyteller Anita Verna Crofts, Associate Director and Faculty, Master of Communication in Digital Media, University of Washington. Share in her inaugural pre– mid– and post– BIF summit:

Pre– summit

How did you first learn about the Business Innovation Factory?
I learned about the Business Innovation Factory from Jessica Esch, who then introduced me to Eli Stefanski, BIF’s Chief Market Maker, in the summer of 2011 when I was based in Maine. Jess, Eli, and I sat out on the Eastern Prom in Portland talking over iced lattes, and I knew I’d met a kindred spirit. I cannot think of two better ambassadors for the BIF magic.

What ultimately drew you to the summit?
I teach in a graduate program at the University of Washington called the Master of Communication in Digital Media, where we emphasize the power of story and strategic engagement in this noisy digital age. As the program continues to grow and mature, I’m always looking for opportunities to expand my “idea vault” and BIF-8 boasted a collection of storytellers – both on the stage and in the audience – who would provide rich material and catalyze my own thinking.

What are your hopes and expectations going into the conference?
I love listening closely to people as they share their stories (I was an anthropology major for a reason)! I look forward to moments in the course of the two days that stop me in my tracks and make me think of something in a completely different way.

What’s one thing you’d like to walk away with from this experience?
I’d like to walk away with two things: first, an encounter that prompts me to change my mind or be open to changing my mind about a preconceived notion. We can get very comfortable in what we think. The flip side of this, is I hope there are moments that gird and send me back to Seattle with renewed commitment and clarity on issues I care deeply about.

What are you most excited about?
To start, I’ve not been to Providence since 1987 and I cannot wait to see the city and sink into its rhythms for a few days. But, I’m most excited about the people who come to BIF and the chance to meet old friends and make new ones.

Mid– summit

In the midst of the conference, what are you feeling?
I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the information! I decided to leave my technology in the bag today, use my pen and notepad, lean in, and really listen to the speakers. It made a big difference.

Is your experience in alignment with your initial expectations?
It’s always good to be reminded that the speakers who inspire me most are the ones who speak from the heart and tell their stories as such. This was in complete alignment with my expectations. My most memorable moments came when people shared personal experiences that had larger lessons that could resonate for us all.

What’s something you’ve experienced that you didn’t anticipate?
I love the intermingling of speakers and audience members – there’s no division.

Saul Kaplan talks a lot of random collisions of unusual suspects. Who’s an unusual suspect you’re grateful you’ve crossed paths with?
I loved a chance encounter with Hillary Salmons in the back room at Aspire yesterday. I thought she was one of the most compelling storytellers of the conference. We shared in conversation for 10 minutes – what a joy!

Post– summit

In a sentence of two, can you summarize your BIF experience?
I’ve come to realize that the BIF-8 experience only begins in Providence at the Trinity Rep, and then it continues as we each return to our orbits and integrate the BIF community. For instance, I’ve added “The Connected Company” and “Practically Radical” to my required reading lists for my fall course entitled, “Leadership in the Digital Age.”

What was your high point?
Before I came to BIF, my Chair and I sat down and he gave me the ultimate gift: completely transform and redesign my job. So my high point was an evening spent hunched over pages of grid paper, inspired by BIF-8 speakers, mapping ideas from sessions on to the new position I am building for myself.

Looking forward, how do you plan to put what you learned to work?
I’m fortunate: I get to share what I learned in my upcoming fall classroom. But more than that, I get to transform the very nature of my job, informed and inspired by messages and ideas I gleaned at BIF.


Posted by A. Smith on Sep-26-2012

Meet recent college graduate and Apatapa founder & CEO Wyatt Hayman. Share in his inaugural pre– mid– and post– BIF summit:

Pre– summit

How did you first learn about the Business Innovation Factory?
Saul Kaplan (BIF founder and chief catalyst) talked about BIF during a talk he gave at Oberlin College to a group of students in the Creativity and Leadership Program.

What ultimately drew you to the summit?
Two partners and I started a modern feedback business this summer and are now on a networking trip. Our mentor Deborah Mills-Scofield connected us with the summit as volunteers. Tori Drew was amazing in taking us on; we’re here because she said, “yes!”

What are your hopes and expectations going into the conference?
To learn from the mistakes and successes of innovators who have tried and are still trying to improve the world and solve problems through entrepreneurship.

What’s one thing you’d like to walk away with from this experience?
Something I think about every day.

What are you most excited about?
Seeing adults acting like kids during recess. Hearing the buzz at every break and sampling the different types of excitement inspired by each of the storytellers.

Mid– summit

In the midst of the conference, what are you feeling?
Intense motivation. Respect and gratitude toward Saul, Tori, and the BIF team. A new dream is to spend a month living and working with Saul, Tony Hsieh, Jeff Lieberman, and Hillary Salmons. I’m hoping to internalize their stories, and all the storytellers’ stories, to make that at least partly true.

Is your experience in alignment with your initial expectations?
I didn’t anticipate how exhausting BIF would be! I was so excited I didn’t think much about the difficulties – like overcoming the fear of joining into conversations.

What’s something you’ve experienced that you didn’t anticipate?
A talk about staying connected to one’s present moment and its powerful applications in business and life. I couldn’t agree more with Jeff Lieberman’s message.

Saul Kaplan talks a lot of random collisions of unusual suspects. Who’s an unusual suspect you’re grateful you’ve crossed paths with?
Jenny Mcaab, an Innovation Entrepreneur at General Mills. I want to start my own business but, initially, I wanted to do exactly what Jenny and her partner Lisa Pannell do at General Mills. I don’t trust that existing businesses are going to inspire the social and environmental progress that people in power should be demanding of their institutions. Lisa gave me some faith that while the movement may be young, some large corporations have seeded a powerful shift. Corporations are social capacitors. To me, Jenny represents a seed that might give rise to a new standard where businesses invest power back into communities by empowering progress.

Post– summit

In a sentence of two, can you summarize your BIF experience?
Powerfully motivating, comforting, and humbling. I learned creating great change is a slow and difficult process. I’m reassured people who have experienced these frustrations firsthand are still forging ahead and rallying the troops.

What was your high point?
Experiencing Hillary Salmons. If I don’t get enough traction in my pursuits I’m finding Hillary and joining her cause until I’ve learned what it takes to inspire change.

Looking forward, how do you plan to put what you learned to work?
I’m going to try to build positive habits while BIF is fresh in my mind. Validating like Alex Osterwalder. Staying positive and present like Jeff Lieberman. Saying “yes and!” like Second City. Getting people to switch shoes with each other like Nicholas Lowinger. Creating virtuous cycles like Tony Hsieh. Building culture like Dries Buytaert. Embracing fear like Lara Lee. Getting to the heart of the problem like David Stull. And, of course, amplifying and facilitating change like Saul Kaplan. I’m going to try to make them part of me every day so that I can be an effective catalyst of change.

The BIF Kaleidoscope: Third installment

Posted by A. Smith on Sep-25-2012

As I continue to absorb the magic of the Business Innovation Factory Summit (BIF8), I can’t help but share more of what participants had to say. Here’s another glance of what transpired at this year’s summit (more detailed accounts to follow in the next few days):

What’s one takeaway from the stories you heard that you plan to integrate into your work or life right away?

You have to seize the moment with the person you just met. Stay open and pay attention. People here are very willing to engage. BIF sets up this expectation. I’m going to set up this same expectation everywhere I go. I’m going to choose collisions in life.
—Anna Kaziunas France, AS220/Fab Academy, Rhode Island

I’m going to put a visual representation of our business on our website to help explain to customers what we offer.
—Cheryl Golden,, Rhode Island

Platforms and networks beat institutions every time because they unleash the incredible creative potential of individuals. That’s the theme I see stretching across everything.
—Chris Rice, University of Kentucky

Anything can happen. Energize everyone who is as passionate as you are. Put your ideas out there for them to happen. You’re always in the middle, just start.
— Sarah Michaud, Florida

I came for work and have so many ideas for the community it’s kind of shocking.
— Sarah Michaud, Florida

My takeaway is the belief that anything is possible. This has given me the confidence and energy to go do something different.
—Trudy Haemmerli, Novartis, Massachusetts

I’m going to move toward passion…to embrace my passion.
—Sharon Collins, Novartis, Massachusetts


The BIF Kaleidoscope: More rapid reactions

Posted by A. Smith on Sep-24-2012

Last week I had the joy of attending the Business Innovation Factory Summit, AKA BIF8. Throughout my experience, I connected with participants to get their gut reactions. Here’s more of what I heard:

What’s something specific you heard during BIF8 that shifted or broadened your thinking?

My most optimistic takeaway is that we already have what we need. We have amazing innovations everywhere. We don’t have to keep changing things. We just have to set people free to change the world.
—Monika Hardy, TSD Innovation Lab, Colorado

People are taking power in their own hands and mobilizing. This will change the way I interact with colleagues and clients.
—Paul Laroche, Pixel Media, New Hampshire

There’s a common theme along the line of participatory civic engagement, of sharing. People are stepping out of their own optic to see the larger community. The key to change is doing it together – to adopting the mentality that I’m in it for you, not just me.
—Jen Silbert, Innovation Partners International, Rhode Island

The independent diplomat is a fun idea. This concept isn’t something I’ll do between countries but it is something I can do within my organization and community.
—Chris Jackson,, Rhode Island

What resonated with me was the change from the bottom-up approach to inspiring the larger community to achieve the overall outcome. It’s about empowering those around you to action.
—Mickayla Zinsli, DHS Center of Innovation, US Air Force Academy

Andrew Hessel hit me the most. Genetics is brave work. Have to be pretty thick skinned. I was blown away. I came to BIF to see where controversy and connection intersect, and I got it.
—Kelly Milukas, Rhode Island


The BIF Kaleidoscope: Take a peek inside

Posted by A. Smith on Sep-21-2012

I’ve spent the past two days colliding with unusual suspects, engaging in inspiring conversation, and listening to jaw-dropping stories during the Business Innovation Factory Summit, AKA BIF8. Thirty storytellers. More than 400 innovators, troublemakers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and transformation artists. It was magical. And, I want to share a glimpse of it.

Over the next week, I will unveil BIF8 through the eyes of participants. Today, I’ll begin by sharing some Rapid Reactions. Here is the first question I asked people during summit breaks along with their on-the-spot responses:

If you could share one thing you learned/heard today with the world, what would it be?

“Traditional methods just don’t work anymore. We need people who work outside normal to get things done.”
—Bob Cole, American Student Assistance, Massachusetts

“Building something you care about isn’t as daunting as it seems. It can be fun/play.”
—Christian Petroske, student at Brown, Rhode Island

“The more we zoom out and see our likenesses the better.”
—Monika Hardy, TSD Innovation Lab, Colorado

“I’d share the importance of relationship building in bridging ideas and collaborating. It all comes down to relationships.”
—Caroline Mailloux, Rhode Island

“I loved seeing that collaboration and grassroots are becoming big trends amongst both the storytellers and the people here. It’s an incredible movement and it has to happen for this country to change. We aren’t waiting for corporations. We’re taking care of our own future.”
—Angela Yeh, Yeh IDeology, Design, & Strategy Recruitment, New York

“The most important message is that you can make a difference starting with yourself. And you don’t necessarily have to have great focus. Just start small. Do a pilot. Begin to create change.”
—Gustavo Severo De Borba, Unisinos University, Brazil

“Innovation and new ideas are possible no matter what you’re doing or your income bracket or whether you’re a little kid who wants to change the world.”
—Patrick Cull, 4 a.m. Chef, Rhode Island

“I’d encourage people to have a platform like this for kids. We could really inspire people at an early age to follow their dreams and to have their eyes open to the idea that everything is possible.”
—Mariya Raginsky, Rhode Island

Expressing thanks to businesses that LIVE UNITED!

Posted by A. Smith on May-24-2012

Dear corporate world,

I have never worked for you directly. I have respected you from afar, but I have never really known you – at least not beyond what I have read in the headlines, garnered from ads, or surmised by using your goods or services. Only recently did I get a glimpse of your insides, your heart. I was blown away.

I liked what I saw. As a matter of fact, I loved it.

I will never see you the same.

Last week, I participated in United Way of Greater Portland’s Day of Caring. I teamed up with this powerful nonprofit to mine stories – to uncover nuggets and determine at a later date how we might integrate them into the organization’s larger storytelling movement.

As anticipated, I met with wonderful volunteers, witnessed the magic of teamwork, and discovered nonprofits doing amazing work. What blindsided me, however, was the profound and positive impact YOU had on me.

Yes, I knew over the years your company has done a lot of good. I’ve read about the countless hours and dollars you invest in the community. I’ve seen the press releases and annual reports. But, experiencing the difference you make firsthand was something numbers can’t communicate.

I talked with your workers, watched them toil, and saw the smiles on their faces. I heard how grateful they are to you for not only allowing them but also encouraging them to volunteer. I learned how some of them return to the same place year and year again because they’ve fallen in love with an organization and how others try something new every year because they like giving back in different ways. I realized how much the Day of Caring opens their eyes to the community in which they live and work.

I was overwhelmed by the army of people you empower to make a difference – and by the fact that this was just one day, but that you do this every day in many ways by sharing your people, your services, your dollars…your insides.

You make a MASSIVE difference. You have a great story.

I am grateful for my new perspective. Thank you for all that you do. Thank you for showing up and using your power for good and for setting an example for your employees and the larger world.

With gratitude,

Angela Smith


TEDx Dirigo: Quotes for Thought

Posted by A. Smith on May-21-2012

I had the honor of attending TEDx Engage this past Saturday. Once again, I was awed – just an amazing event with open, innovative, and fun people. It takes time to digest the stories, but here are a few of the quotes that resonated with me and might get you thinking, as well:

  • We are not defined by loss but rather by how we respond to it.
  • Value your ideas and be fearless in your ability to bring them to the world.
  • You have to learn to love the bigot and hate the action.
  • Every thing (good and bad) resides in each of us. It’s what we water.
  • Folks, we are ALL related.
  • What would happen if we did everything we do with energy and enthusiasm…as if it was the most important thing in the world?
  • We cannot correct people into wellness. We have to love them into it.
  • You never know when the next conversation you have is the most important you’re ever going to have.
  • Live a magical life.
  • Write with your heart.
  • Story and writing can change lives.
  • I wrote myself out of cancer and into being a writer.
  • Amazing things happen when we play music.
  • We all have to lift the sky.
  • There will be challenges in life, but you have to step up and do them.
  • Maine eats $3 billion worth of food each year. We only produce about 11 percent of it.
  • I’m African by birth. I’m American by citizenship. I’m global by values and principle.
  • We’re all students. We can learn from each other.
  • Start a conversation.
  • Ignorance is the enemy of love.

Obviously, this is just a glimpse of TED, ideas worth spreading. To watch TED Talks, visit or But, beware, you might just get hooked!