Think Different

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


Twenty lessons I took from “Steve Jobs”

Posted by A. Smith on Feb-17-2012

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” —Apple’s “Think Different” commercial, 1997

I just finished reading “Steve Jobs.” Trying to wrap my head around who Jobs was and what he stood for is tough. Frankly, for as much as he loved, even craved simplicity, he was the epitome of complex.

I know this: I remain in awe of the work Jobs did. While I question some of his tactics, he did, indeed, change the world. In doing so, he built perhaps the most powerful and emotional brand ever created: Apple.


Here are 20 lessons I took away from the Steve Jobs biography:

  1. Never underestimate the power of a name.
    In a place where tech language ruled, Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak broke the mold by naming their company Apple Computer. They considered names such as Matrix and Executek, but instead went with a name far more friendly, simple, and different. Brilliant move.
  2. Simplicity reigns.
    There’s good reason our toddlers have conquered the iPhone, and it’s not because they’re brilliant. Apple designers and engineers take excruciating measures to make things simple. From the beginning, Steve declared, “The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious.”
  3. Blow people away with marketing.
    Wow, did Jobs get marketing. People like me love people like him! Jobs demanded extraordinary creative work and, boy, did he get it. From Apple’s “Here’s to the crazy ones” ad to its unprecedented U2 co-branding to its “Think Different” tagline, Apple evoked creativity and emotion to the core. Jobs actually cried the first time advertising wizard Lee Clow unveiled, “Think Different.”
  4. Design products that have cultural gravity.
    Jobs and Apple’s lead designer Johnny Ives spent days, weeks, and months perfecting every aspect of a product’s design. Ives argued most small consumer products have a “disposable feel” to them when what they need is “cultural gravity.” There is something about the iPod, for example, that makes it feel “significant, not disposable.”
  5. Products have a purpose.
    Jobs, along with Pixar cofounder and creative force John Lasseter, believed products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made. Thus, the concept behind Toy Story: “As for toys, their purpose is to be played with by kids, and thus their existential fear is of being discarded or upstaged by new toys.” I won’t ever look at or market products the same again.
  6. Be a pirate.
    As Jobs put it to one Pepsi executive (who came to work for him), “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Gamble on a vision. Go against the grain. Be a pirate, and prove the naysayers wrong. All along, people told Jobs he couldn’t do what he set out to do. 

    When he announced Apple Stores, for example, one consultant declared, “I give them two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake.” By 2010, the Apple store grossed more per square foot than any store in the world, and grossed more in total than any store in New York, including Saks and Bloomindale’s.

  7. Integrate software and hardware.
    From the beginning, Jobs demanded integrating software and hardware. He was often and openly criticized for this. Refusing to waiver, however, paid off allowing Apple to transform the entire technology industry by turning the personal computer into a “digital hub” that coordinated a variety of devices, from music players to video cameras. 

    “Microsoft wrote software, Dell and Compaq made hardware, Sony produced a lot of digital devices, Adobe developed a lot of applications.” Unlike the other guys, Apple was in a position to do it all. Hello, iTunes, iPhone, iPod, and iPad!

  8. Follow a simple set of marketing principles.
    Apple investor and chairman Mike Markkula developed “The Apple Marketing Philosophy,” which outlined three marketing principles that guide Apple to this day:
    •   Empathy: Connect intimately with the feelings of customers; understand them better than any other company.
    •   Focus: Pour energy into a few core opportunities; eliminate all others.
    •   Impute: Present products in a creative, professional manner; people do judge a book by its cover.
  9. Quality design always matters.
    Jobs learned superior craftsmanship from his dad, who taught him to do things right even when people would never know the difference. Jobs took this to heart making sure even the interior design of Apple’s products was beautiful.

10. Play at the intersection of humanities and science.
Jobs held steadfastly to the belief that the real magic happens when art and science converge. This was a huge competitive advantage over other technology companies such as Microsoft, and Jobs believed this combination is the key to the future.

11. If something isn’t right, fix it.
After months of prototyping the Apple store, Ron Johnson (hired to develop the stores) realized they had something fundamentally wrong. It would mean changing everything. Jobs said, “I’m tired. I don’t know if I can design another store from scratch.” But, he did. The team started over and the results speak for themselves. “If something isn’t right, you can’t just ignore it and say you’ll fix it later,” he said. “That’s what other companies do.”

12. Make decisions quickly when the situation merits it.
When Jobs returned to Apple, he wanted to re-price stock options to stop the hemorrhaging of top employees. The Board proposed a study. Knowing this could take months, Jobs demanded immediate approval or said he would quit. He got his way, and it worked.

13. Random collisions breed creativity. Design space for them.
Jobs believed “the right kind of building can do great things for a culture.” He designed Pixar’s headquarters to promote spontaneous meetings and collaboration. There was a central atrium for people to mingle. The front doors, main stairs, theater, and screening rooms all led into it. Conference rooms looked out onto it, and it held the café and mailboxes, making it almost impossible not to engage with others.

14. Get out of the boardroom and onto the streets.
Jobs was infamous for walking meetings, thereby, replacing presentations, conference tables, and closed-in energy with meaningful dialogue. Great approach.

15. Control the whole experience.
From designing a closed system so people couldn’t fiddle with products (customers can’t even replace the battery of an iPhone) to opening Apple stores to control the experience of buying an Apple product, Jobs was all about control – some argue to a fault. Regardless, this obsession reinforced the integrity, simplicity, and innovation of Apple products.

16. Intuition matters…sometimes more than market research.
When asked about what market research went into the Macintosh, Jobs responded, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?” Likewise, Jobs didn’t do any market research for the iPad, stating, “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.” While I still believe there’s value in market research, this demonstrates it should complement not drive strategy.

17. Never start a company with the goal of getting rich.
Although Jobs became a billionaire, money was never what drove him. He believed in a) making products you love (thus, the success of the iPOD, which Apple’s music lovers wanted more for themselves than the outside world), and b) creating a sustainable company (pretty sure, he accomplished this).
A + B = success. In Apple’s case, wild success.

18. Be a stickler.
Everything matters. Jobs was obsessed with quality and with getting things just right from stage lighting for launches to the corners of the iPhone to the guts of a Macintosh to the perfect voiceover for a television ad. His level of detail and commitment to excellence should inspire us all to always do our best. Don’t settle for mediocrity. People appreciate the results.

19. Embrace a child’s curiosity.
Jobs was a piece of work as a child. Yes, he was brilliant, but he was also mischievous, always getting into things and pulling pranks. Fortunately, his parents were slow to scold. Instead they gave Jobs the freedom to tinker, explore, and investigate how things and the world worked. This is a good reminder to let our kids build things, take things apart, stir things up, and not always walk a straight line.

20. Think Different!
Enough said.

Obviously, this list only scratches the surface. There are endless lessons packed into the book’s 571 pages. I encourage you to read “Steve Jobs,” join me in sorting the good from the bad (the man could be ruthless), and act on the lessons you draw to achieve greatness in business – and maybe even put a dent in the universe!



I’m a writer who’s fallen for pictures

Posted by A. Smith on Apr-16-2011

Graphic Facilitation

Image by danielroseca via Flickr

I am the kind of person who very quickly gets sucked into things. For example, the first time a friend e-mailed me a TED Talk (John Wooden on Success), I became an instant fan and added “Attend TED” to my bucket list on the spot. I fall fast and I fall hard.

This was the case nearly a decade ago when I attended an International Conference on Appreciative Inquiry in Miami. Granted I was there to learn about this strength-based methodology, but more than anything I walked away captivated by a process called graphic recording – a visual way of mapping information using words and pictures that are both informative and emotionally engaging.

Graphic recorders are scribes who listen, synthesize, and transcribe information generated in different kinds of group settings such as strategic planning, world café, group dialogue, meetings, etc. It is a way to capture the moment, connect people, organize complex ideas, and uncover themes, among other benefits.

My fascination grew when I attended a three-day branding summit at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in 2006 and had the opportunity to watch the masterful Diana Arsenian work her visual magic once again. This time, I also had the pleasure of sharing in conversation with Diana over dinner and learned firsthand the power of graphic recording, which is used all over the world and in major corporations.

I have shared my passion for visual recording with many people over the years. And, I have reaffirmed my belief in it, and in using pictures, many times. For example, last year, at SXSW, I attended two sessions that reinforced for me the importance and value of visual thinking. Both are worth sharing:

The reality is, in work and in life, we underuse pictures. Yes, this from a writer. But, this because I think writing and drawing are actually quite similar: both are about listening, distilling, and communicating stories in meaningful ways.

Visual learning engages people, enhances creativity, stimulates emotion, connects ideas, improves decision making, and so forth – and, it’s fun.

So, if you were to peek at my bucket list today, you’d see that along with “Attend TED,” I’ve also added, “Learn graphic facilitation,” to the mix. Picture that.


Here are a couple of fun websites I discovered in writing this post:


I also have to plug my friend Jessica Esch, a fellow Mainer, who uses sketch notes and who is delving into graphic recording:


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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

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?

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.