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.

Be Real…It’s What the World Needs

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-21-2010

Earlier this month, I had the honor of attending a Women’s Leadership Series program sponsored by the Maine Women’s Fund. The focus was authenticity, a topic near and dear to me. It’s something I believe in and strive for always. Be yourself. Sounds simple, eh? For many women in business, it’s not.

When I reflect on my own career, I realize there were times I wasn’t true to myself. I remember working for one marketing communications firm where I was expected to be the expert, to always have the answers. What a sham. It never fit me, and, ultimately, it was one of the reasons I walked away from a good job.

Fortunately, to a great extent, I have come into my own. I am very comfortable being myself, I believe the answers are in the room, and I don’t pretend to be one person at work and another at home. The area where I have the most room to grow now is to show up glitches and all – to be human, to fail publicly, and to embrace the beauty of imperfection.

One of the ideas shared during the leadership program that will continue to inspire me forward: “Authenticity is a lifelong curriculum and a minute by minute choice.” I love this. It’s true. Knowing ourselves and sharing openly with the world is a journey, but we have the opportunity to make choices every day whether to assimilate or to show up as we are.

I encourage women everywhere, and men for that matter, to tap into their authentic selves, to bring forth their natural gifts, and to contribute to the world in a way that’s in alignment with their core identity. Be real…it’s what the world (and business) needs.

“To Tweet or Not to Tweet…”

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-1-2010

I suppose Shakespeare would complete this line with, “…that is the question.” But, in my opinion, there is no question – only an obvious answer. TWEET.

I started tweeting about two years ago, and I’ll admit I was a skeptic. Heck, I didn’t even put any thought into my Twitter handle (@Asmithconsult) because I figured I’d never really use it. Boy, was I wrong. Twitter has become an integral part of my work – and my life. Seriously.

People who use Twitter effectively get this. But, they aren’t the people I need to reach. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.

I’m here to convince people who aren’t using Twitter, or who haven’t found its value, that they are missing out – and it’s time to get in the game. And, it’s okay to take it slow. Actually, I recommend it. When I joined Twitter, I set my account to private for the first nine months because I really wanted to understand how people were using it – and how I wanted to use it.

During this time, I realized I wanted to use it primarily to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. I also wanted to garner and share knowledge. And, heck, have a laugh or two while I’m at it (thanks @ConanO’Brien).

Once I learned the ropes and “practiced” with family and friends, I opened my account to the world and started building a strong and relevant community.

I started to follow and interact with people in my local community, as well as with:

  • Innovative people/companies (@ZapposCEO, @Skap5, @FastCompany)
  • Storytellers/writers (@GetStoried, @BrianAndreas, @EllMcgirt)
  • Branding and public relations professionals (@McGrathComm, @BrandNarrative, @MeChristopher)
  • Social media difference makers (@JeffPulver, @ChrisBrogan, @DigitalRoyalty)
  • Happiness drivers (@Karl_Staib, @GretcenRubin, @HollyMac)
  • Nonprofits (@UlmanCancerFnd, @Livestrong, @TheTellingRoom)

This is, of course, just a short list (I also interact with the health care, organizational design, appreciative inquiry, and leadership arenas). My point is to give thoughtful consideration to the communities in which you want to play. Once you do, connect with them. Study them. Follow them. Learn from them. And, build authentic, meaningful relationships.

Thanks to Twitter, I have built lasting relationships, joined the Reinvention Summit design team, gotten new business, shared in conversation with an artist I’ve admired for 15 years, befriended a reporter and editor from Fast Company, volunteered for big ticket conferences, met Tony Hsieh on the Delivering Happiness bus, and more.

The best part…it’s all unfolded naturally. Twitter is not a “What’s in it for me” kind of platform. People who approach it this way are the ones that never realize its value. My experience is the more I share, the more I engage, and the more I listen… the more I gain.

Most people agree that Twitter is changing my industry (marketing and public relations). I’ll go a step further – a leap further. I believe Twitter is shaping lives and, in ways both big and small, changing the world.

Change the World Through Story

Posted by A. Smith on Nov-1-2010


Last week, it’s 6:30ish in the evening. Two of my sons are curled up on my bed watching Scooby Doo. I am in the bathroom with my littlest guy while he swims around in my oversized bathtub pretending he is a fish. I am sitting on a stool scrolling through Twitter trying like mad to catch up on the many hours I am behind. Suddenly, a tweet catches my attention. It’s from @GetStoried reaching out for public relations help for its upcoming Reinvention Summit. I quickly hit the link, something I rarely do on my Blackberry, and like what I see. I like it a lot. The Reinvention Summit is a virtual summit on the future of storytelling. I scan the page and see phrases such as:

  • Narrative is a key to re-story possibilities
  • Gathering a new tribe of storytellers
  • Choose your own adventure
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Reinvent your story
  • See an emergent future

I’m sold. On a whim, I send a direct message to @GetStoried requesting more information. For all I know that’s the end of it. Minutes later my phone rings. Wouldn’t you know, it’s Michael Margolis, the force behind GetStoried. In the midst of chaos, we talk. And, it’s like we’re old friends. Our ideas mesh, there’s good energy, and so it begins…my joining the team for what is going to be an amazing event.

The Reinvention Summit is a totally bold and audacious attempt to break out of old silos, gather a new tribe of storytellers, and change the world through story. Taking place November 11 through November 22, this virtual event features an unusual cast of more than 25 innovative storytellers including:

  • John Gerzema, President BrandAsset Consulting, Young & Rubicam
  • Tiffany Shlain, founder, Webby Awards, and doc/cultural filmmaker
  • John Elkington, pioneer of corporate social responsibility/sustainability
  • Nancy Duarte, auther, Slideology and Resonate: Present Visual Stories
  • Julien Smith, co-author, Trust Agents, pioneering podcaster
  • A full list of speakers is available at

The Reinvention Summit is designed to move participants into the world of possibility. As a huge believer in the power of story, I am grateful to have crossed paths with @GetStoried and to be a part the Reinvention Summit team. I encourage you to visit to to sign up. Reinvent your story and join us as we re-story the future.

Discover the Powerful World of Appreciative Inquiry

Posted by A. Smith on Oct-7-2010

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a methodology I first discovered about seven years ago and one that changed my approach to work and life. While there are certainly formal definitions out there, and at the risk of academics cringing, here is what AI means to me:

Appreciative inquiry is a positive approach to business. It is rooted in storytelling and based on the premise that if we raise exceptionally positive questions and engage in meaningful conversation, change occurs. In essence, we create a new reality, moving in the direction of our hopes and dreams.

AI dismisses business as usual, in which organizations typically focus on what’s wrong and how to fix it. Rather, this strength-based approach asks, “What’s right and how do we build on it?” It is about capturing the best of an organization, the best of people.

To me, this makes perfect sense. It’s simple the way I tick. Moreover, Appreciative Inquiry is proven to:

  • Accelerate sustainable change
  • Drive innovation
  • Generate high performance
  • Cultivate a positive culture
  • Increase loyalty
  • Improve efficiency
  • Enhance communications
  • Lead to greater profitability

These are powerful results. And, the process of achieving them can be life changing. I’ve witnessed it firsthand, and I encourage more people in business to explore this unsung methodology. Start by answering these questions that were at the heart of the conference I participated in:

  1. Do you see the world with an appreciative eye? Do you have the ability to notice and articulate what is good, healthy, constructive, and life giving?
  2. Do you have the ability to seek out and study a new frame or view of the world? Are you open to new concepts, ideas, viewpoints, and possibilities?
  3. Do you see the positive possibilities that reside in yourself, others, a group/team, organization, or community?
  4. Do you live in the present moment? Are you able to improvise and are you open to the emergence of new possibilities?
  5. Do you have the ability to invite, engage, and involve people in a positive way in conversations about important topics? Do you create environments where people are willing to share their thinking, listen to other points of view, and identify collective views?

While these are personal questions, they begin to shed light on the appreciative capacities that open us up to the world of Appreciative Inquiry. It’s a world filled with hope, stories, innovation, leadership, transformation, momentum, and desired outcomes. Join me.

“We find what we seek.” – Jen Silbert, presenter, Innovation Partners
(Follow her on Twitter @JHSilbert)

“AI assumes that every living system has untapped stories of excellence and that these stories release positive energies.” –Bernard Mohr, Innovation Partners
(Follow him on Twitter at @BernardMohr)

Creativity in Water…Who Knew?

Posted by A. Smith on Jun-23-2010

NYC part three

Last week, I was sitting at Comix in New York City surrounded by Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business. People who made the list ran the gamut: a physician from the Cleveland Clinic, the head of Bono’s organization Red, a futurist, Jesse Dylan, early adopters of virtual reality, and a Hollywood studio development director, to name a few.

Today, I am sitting aboard a Jetblue flight leaving Las Vegas so it only seems fitting the creative honoree I would write about is Mark Fuller, CEO of WET and the genius behind the famous Bellagio Fountain. Fuller’s ideas were brilliant and resonated strongly with me. Here is a summary of his 15-minute presentation:

First, creativity requires three things:

1. Cool work

2. Bright minds

3. Terrific environments, where people have the tools they need and are allowed to chase their dreams

Once these fundamentals are fulfilled, leaders must challenge people with great work. And, they must give everyone in the organization the opportunity to exercise creativity and thrive.

“We’re not blue collar or white collar,” said Fuller. “We’re black collar. Everyone does it together.” Further shedding light on his workforce, Fuller shared that he is completely against outsourcing. After all, we hire people for a reason so let’s give them the opportunity and environment to succeed. In Fuller’s case, this takes shape as an “idea playground,” which offers variety, encourages interaction and engagement, and fuels creativity.

At WET this “idea playground” translates to a state-of-the-art facility featuring white walls for brainstorming, a piano, classrooms, art, labs, models, design space, etc. Now this sounds like the kind of place where creativity is valued – the kind of work place in which I would love to play. Anyone want to get WET?

“We make people look at water with the eyes of a child, like the first time you see the ocean.” – Mark Fuller, WET

NYC part two

The big day has arrived. I’m New York City bound. But, before I head out, I have some other important business. It’s my middle son’s last day of school, and it’s my pleasure to escort him to kick off his day. I throw this in because no matter how passionate I am about my career, it doesn’t hold a candle to my family. In many ways, my boys are the inspiration behind my work.

You get the picture.

Okay, Lincoln delivered. Now, it’s time to catch a plane. Little did I know when I boarded my flight how powerfully the next two days would impact me. Namely, I would experience the city through the eyes of locals for the first time, and I would discover a strong sense of community that I had never experienced as a tourist.

Laura and I had a full agenda, which included meeting and sharing in conversation with Fast Company’s Noah Robischon and Ellen McGirt, JetBlue’s Dean Melonas, social media strategist Zeb Dropkin, and freelancer/improv performer Amanda Hirsch. Oh, yes, and attending FC’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.

I don’t think we could have met with a more welcoming, bright, inspiring, and kind group of people. I offer a heartfelt thanks to each of them. I am a better person for knowing them, and I look forward to lasting friendships.

Let me share my Fast Company experience:

The days leading up to our arrival, Ellen and I emailed back and forth. This is when I discovered Ellen’s a beer drinker. Score. I liked this. I have always found women who drink beer tend to be real, fun, and down-to-earth.

We were off to a good start, and it only got better.

Upon meeting Ellen, a person I hold in extremely high regard, she hugs me. In that moment, a friendship is born. All of a sudden, the fact that Ellen writes for Fast Company fades. We are just people being people, enjoying each other’s company. Amidst a television commercial being shot on location, we take a quick, quiet tour of the headquarters.

We are on the 29th floor of 7 World Trade Center, and I see Ground Zero firsthand for the first time. It affects me more than I let on because I want to hold steadfastly to the positive vibes we’ve generated. Moments later, I am grateful to catch a view of the Statue of Liberty and the Hudson River where Captain Sullenberger landed his aircraft safely sparing the lives of every member on board. The good vibes are back, and we head out for drinks.

Ellen, Laura, and I swap stories. We cover topics ranging from Montana and gift chains to Steve Jobs and our own families. Then, Noah joins us, and the dialog grows. I am genuinely happy because, to me, this is what life is all about: people.

We do touch on journalism and all parties seem to truly care about the thoughts and ideas of each other. We discuss how people get their daily news, story development and execution, and opportunities for media collaboration. And, I think to myself, this is why journalism, whatever it might look like, will survive and thrive. It’s because there are people inside news organizations and consumers outside of them that are truly committed to sharing stories.

And, as I state on my website, stories are how we celebrate the past, embrace the present, and create the future.

Moral of the story: Ellen and Noah rock. So do millions of people that walk our beautiful earth. Put yourself out there. Discover new friends. Build community. And, share stories!

How I Ended Up on the 29th Floor of Fast Company

Posted by A. Smith on Jun-22-2010

NYC part one of three:

I just spent two whirlwind days in New York City with my colleague and friend Laura Desmarais. We flew down for Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business event. But before I get into the details of our trip, let me backup and share how it came to be in the first place.

So, I am flipping through the May issue of Fast Company, and I see an ad for the 100 Most Creative People Within seconds I tell my husband I plan to go. As always, he supports me. A few days later, I go to sign up and to my dismay, registration isn’t open. What’s a girl to do? Jump on Twitter, of course, and email the brilliant brains behind the magazine’s online content, Noah Robischon. He replies immediately that the site will be ready soon, and he’ll “ping” me.

Well, I’m not the most patient person so I keep checking the site, and late one night I discover that registration is open. I also learn that the program is a mere three hours. There’s nothing wrong with this…it’s just a little hard to justify flying from Maine to New York for an afternoon. Deflated, I scratch the conference off my iCal.

Until the next day that is when things take an exciting turn.

Noah tweets me in the morning: site’s up. I politely reply that I don’t think I can pull it off, at least not in good judgment. To my surprise, he doesn’t let me off the hook that easily. Instead he writes, “We’ll make it worth your while. Who do we need to convince? I’ll help.”

Wow. For someone obsessed with Fast Company, I am both flattered and intrigued. Before I even have a chance to respond, I get another tweet from FC senior writer Ellen McGirt: “I’ll help, too.”

Now I’m literally smiling at my computer. I’m feeling giddy. The writer in me is doing cartwheels. And so the banter begins. I toss out the idea of a tour of Fast Company and drinks with them, and they bite! I jest that they are twisting my arm, virtual high fives ensue, and before I know it I am registered for the conference, making flight arrangements, booking a hotel, and calling Laura to let her know we are New York City bound!

Moral of the story: Be open to the unexpected. And, if you want something, ask for it. The world is filled with good people, and more often than not, wonderful journeys unfold.

I met amazing people at SXSW. One of them was Traci Fenton, founder and CEO of WorldBlu, an organization created to unleash human potential and inspire freedom by championing the growth of democratic organizations worldwide. In other words, Traci works with and promotes companies that “get it.”

Talk about refreshing. This is a vision I can get on board with. It’s simple, yet powerful: choose organizational democracy ( and help change the world. But, it was more than Traci’s message that resonated with me; it was also her. This bright, forward-thinking and successful woman was so completely down to earth, so gracious and fun. She brought to life the very characteristics her company stands for – from integrity to dialogue and listening to openness.

I love that Traci and the WorldBlu team are spreading democratic values throughout businesses worldwide. One of their key initiatives is a groundbreaking, global award: The WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces. This year’s list was announced three days ago and is comprised of 44 organizations from an array of industries, ranging from five to 60,000 employees. To learn about the recipients, visit

In reading through this list, I was excited to see an organization from Portland, Maine, made the grade: Innovation Partners International ( I was even more thrilled to learn that Innovation Partners uses Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to help companies achieve excellence. Over the past several years, I have incorporated aspects of this methodology (AI) into my brand consulting services because I am a big believer in asking questions and using a strength-based approach to business.

On this note, and in the spirit of WorldBlu, what is one way your business already promotes democracy in the workplace and how might you build on this strength?

Happiness delivered by @Zappos

Posted by A. Smith on Apr-5-2010

Last summer I started a bucket list. So far, I have 114 items on my list. It’s a random list. No particular order. Simple pleasures. Crazy goals. But, all things that I believe will contribute to my overall hope in life, which is to be happy. Perhaps this hope is what led to number 14 on my list:

Meet Tony Hsieh.

Tony is the CEO of Zappos, the online retailer that Amazon acquired last year for more than $1.2 billion dollars. He’s a lifelong entrepreneur who has worked hard and reaped the benefits. Big time. But, I didn’t want to meet Tony because of his success in business. I wanted to meet him because his core goal in business and in life is to experience and share happiness.

Yes, I had to meet Tony.

Last month was my chance. I was in Austin, Texas, for SXSW. Tony was, too – riding around town on a bus promoting his upcoming book Delivering Happiness. I took my chance and tweeted Tony on a Saturday afternoon:

@Zappos My goal for today: getting on the @DHBook bus. On my bucket list: Meeting you. Any way to kill two birds w/ one stone?

A few hours later Tony sent me a direct message, followed by an email. He graciously invited my husband Shawn and me to meet the bus at 5 p.m. and join the festivities. I was so excited I was shaking. Literally.

We partied on the @DHBook bus Saturday and Monday nights. We swapped stories with amazing people, wore balloon hats, drank too much, and, yes, met Tony. As I’ve always read, he was incredibly shy but also unbelievably generous and thoughtful. And, although I felt a bit awkward, I did drop back in line at one of the bars to personally thank him for what he does. What can I say? I believe in expressing gratitude.

Bottom line, Tony gets it. The world needs more people like him: People who deliver happiness as a path to profits, passion, and purpose – which is what his new book is all about. On the bus, I was fortunate enough to get a signed, advanced copy of Delivering Happiness. I started reading it a few days ago and already love it. The book is broken down into three sections, and I plan to blog about each. But, let me share three things that resonated with me right off the bat:

First, Tony wrote the book himself. I love this. Way to keep it real, Tony.

Second, my favorite quote in the book (so far): “There was something alluring about being involved in something where the sole purpose was to create an experience and emotional journey for people, and then to have nothing but memories left afterward to hold on to.” This sums up my observation of Tony on the bus. He really seems to garner happiness by spreading it. It’s almost as if Tony sits contently in the shadows and soaks up the aura around him.

Finally, I discovered early on in the book that Tony is the first of three boys. I have three sons, and my oldest, Payton (age 6), already shows the characteristics of an entrepreneur. Last summer, he ran “Payton’s Sea Shell Company,” and he’s currently brainstorming his next big venture. But, what makes me smile the most is not that he shares this trait with Tony; it’s that Payton also has a heart of gold.

I wish the world for my children, but more than anything, I wish them happiness. And to think…they might someday find it in a place as random as a bus. I did.

Improv for Freelancers

Posted by A. Smith on Mar-24-2010

Today marks one week since I came home from SXSW with high hopes of spending some time reflecting on my experience. Well, let’s leave it at this…time management is not my strength. My thoughts remain jumbled. So, I am going to improvise, which is fitting because I am going to write about an improv workshop I attended at SXSW that could change the way I work, maybe even the way I live.

I always connected improv with comedy until about a month ago when I was enjoying coffee with @DaveWeinberg, a Maine creative versed in improv. He drew a parallel between improv and life, and I was instantly intrigued by this connection. After all, we never really know what we’re going to say next, do we?

So, when I ran across Improv for Freelancers (by Amanda & Jordan Hirsch) in my SXSW planning, I immediately added it to my agenda. And, boy, am I glad I did. As freelancers, we are always writing our own script. And, as Jordan put it, “This is both exhilarating and terrifying.”

Here are 10 improv lessons I learned that will help ensure freelancing is exhilarating:

  1. Practice being in the moment. Don’t think ahead. Live in the now.
  2. Be an active listener. Listen, listen, listen, and absorb what your client is saying.
  3. Take in more than words. Sometimes what people say and what they mean are different. For example, if a client says, “The graphics on this website need to be bigger, and we need to add red,” chances are what they mean is “Make the site bolder.”
  4. Strip yourself of instinct. Listen and process, then respond.
  5. Come on stage knowing something but not everything. Be open to what your client brings to the table.
  6. Respect people’s ideas. You are not always going to love your client’s ideas, but you should always respect them.
  7. Add value to the conversation. With every line, accept what your client is communicating and build on it.
  8. Stay in the positive. Improv is about learning to respond, “Yes, and…” – even when the answer is really “no.” Here’s a sample scenario:
    Client: “I would like to meet today.”
    You: “Yes, and I would, too. However, I am booked. How about we get    together first thing in the morning?”
  9. Make a commitment – and declare it. You can always change your choice, but be bold and make a choice in the first place. Get in the action.
  10. Be in the scene you want to be in. Invent your career. Live out your passion. And, give it all you’ve got

I love these ideas, and I hope to incorporate them into my own life. After this workshop, I even had someone say to me, “If you want to change your life, study improv. Seriously, it will change the way you think.

Ironically, in the middle of writing this post, I received a message from @DaveWeinstein about an upcoming improv workshop in Portland, Maine. The thought alone takes me way outside my comfort zone, but then again, I just might have to commit.