Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Don't worry, Rick Perry. I'm not ashamed to admit I celebrate Christmas. Openly. I depend on it. I don't know if I could get through the winter without it. Merry Christmas!

It can get so dark. One day is shorter than the next. In Portland it gets dark at like, two, two-thirty. It's dark. It's dark and it's cold. Winter is sort of brutal and it's gets brutaller as you get older and your meat thins out. It's easy to lose faith during these dark winters, for me at least. In fact, it gets so dark it can even be despairing.

And then a tiny light appears. Teensy. And hey, look, that tree's still green. Does the day seem like it's getting a little longer? We might be okay. Let's weave a circle out of those green branches to remind ourself that life continues, it goes on. Let's cut down one of those trees and put it in the house and cover it with tiny lights, to remind us that the lights will get brighter and brighter and we might even see the warm sun again. Let's put presents under the tree to remind us that life is endlessly abundant, full of gifts.

Whoa, and then this little beauty arrives, a perfect little baby, born amidst the small and lowly, a new kind of king that ain't like the old kind of king, and this king baby is all about love and gentleness and forgiveness and acceptance, and he is the future, and he is me and he is you and everything's going to be juuuusst fine. Merry Christmas!

Anyway, that's how one group tells it, at least, the reason we should not despair during these dark days, times when it's dark dark dark and we seek reassurance. This Christmas story is a clue, a path, a thread, a reminder.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Anyone know Dick Zanuck?

I'm trying to get him a letter from my eight year old son. It's been sent back twice, unopened. It contains an idea for a movie, and my son is offering it to him for free, he just wants to see it get made.

My son isn't interested in anyone else producing it. He thinks Zanuck would pull it off best.

Friday, November 25, 2011


died 9 april 1553

in bed with the flu and reading Rabelais
as the cat snores
the bathroom toilet
and my eyes burn.

I will put Rabelais down
and blink.
this is what
writers do
to each other.

for him, I
a tab of
vitamin C.

if we could only swallow
like that (I think we
or that death would
swallow us
like that (I think it

life is not what
we think it
is, it's only what we
imagine it to

and for us
what we imagine
mostly so

I imagine myself
rid of this

I see myself parading the
sidewalks again amongst the
of this world . . .

meanwhile, the cat, like most other
things, pushes too
I move him
gently away; thinking, Rabelais
you were a
mighty mighty interesting

then I stretch out as the ceiling
watches me and


Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The studio has a big long working desk that four of us share, all sitting on the same side. In the middle of the room is a tall architect desk that we also share. On the center of that desk is a glass jar of pencils and a stack of note sheets, quartered from recycled paper.

Working on these small sheets is an idea stolen from David Kennedy. As early as 1992, David would go to the printer room at Wieden & Kennedy and dig out used photocopier paper, cut them in quarter stacks with the paper cutter, bind them up with a bulldog clip and use them for notes. It was sort of crazy but cool.

Fifteen years later I noticed John Jay worked on little quarter-sheets of paper too. He'd treat each sheet as a slide as he created his presentations. He'd tape the sheets to the wall and move them around and take pages down and add to them, tearing down and rebuilding his presentation as he went.

It's a great way to work. I like that each sheet is small, so ideas have to be singular. I like that you can get rid of and add pages easily and change the flow. You can work the sheets like a book, like David does, or lay them out like a map, like John Jay.

And pencils I like for all the reasons you can imagine: they erase, they're tactile, they encourage flow, they invite expression, they smell wonderful. The glass of sharp black pencils and white scratch sheets sitting on the table is very seductive.

Today, our pencil sharpening has moved into the 20th Century. The studio has added a brand new Boston schoolroom-style manual wall-mounted pencil sharpener.

Progress and technology are not without their aesthetic trade-offs. As you can see, the cone of the hand-sharpened pencil is shorter, giving it a distinctive, artisanal profile, and the wood reveals the human hand and hand-tool that made it, versus the perfectly smooth and regular wood of the machine-sharpened pencil.

As we begin to shift over to the Boston, I'm sure I'll be nostalgic for our last batch of artisan pencils. I'm glad Betsy, the designer who started with us last week, and who inherited the job of Director of Pencil Operations, got to experience life before and after this 20th-Century marvel.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Potlatch time

Potlatch is the Chinook word for a ceremony of the native tribes of the Pacific Northwest. To celebrate and give thanks, a chief would hold a feast for his tribe and give away his belongings. The bigger the chief, the more he would give away, including his wives.

In the late 19th century, the United States made potlatching illegal. They considered it "a worse than useless custom" that was wasteful, unproductive and contrary to civilized values.

I'm preparing for a potlatch. I will not be giving away my wives but I'm going through my belongings and picking out things that have meaning for me, and giving them away to people in my tribe. I'm excited.

One of the things I'm giving away is a book called DAMN EVERYTHING BUT THE CIRCUS by Sister Corita Kent. She is one of my favorites.

On each page Sister Corita has illustrated a letter of the alphabet using fluorescent colors and vintage wood cuts and handwritten words she's chosen from Camus and Dostoyevsky and Cream and Helen Keller. Forty years later it feels fresh and inspiring. It feels good to share it.

Great ideas, it has been said,
come into the world as gently as doves.
Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear,
amid the uproar of empires and nations,
a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope.
Some will say that this hope lies in a nation;
others in a man.
I believe rather that it is awakened, revived,
nourished by millions of solitary individuals
whose deeds and works every day
negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history.
As a result, there shines forth fleetingly
the ever-threatened truth
that each and every man,
on the foundations of his own sufferings and joys,
builds for all.

Albert Camus

Then an old advertisement:

Beware of Counterfeits!
RELIEF for the DISTRESSED and BALM for the WOUNDED is found in
Manufactured by PERRY DAVIS & SON,
No. 74 High Street, Providence, R.I.

And at the bottom, in Sister Corita's tiny handwriting:

J.C. he pitched his tent here


Update: Here are the rest of the items in the potlatch.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Love-based Economy

There's been a lot of talk about what sort of economy will replace the Consumer Economy as the central engine for creating human well-being and delivering a high standard of life for the most people.

Many people think it's the New Energy Economy - providing clean, cheap, abundant energy to a world that needs it. I've heard people talk about an economy that's less dependent on material goods and places a higher value on human intelligence and innovation - a Services Economy or Intelligence Economy.

It's hard to know or predict. Sometimes it's easier for me to imagine 5000 years in the future than next Thursday.

I would imagine that our economy in five thousand years would be inclusive and beneficial for all human beings, that it would bring out our best on every level, serve everyone on earth as well as the planet.

I've been talking to people about the role of purpose in drawing out our talent and drive and value-creation for the world. "How much more effective are you when you are engaged in meaningful work?" I asked the president of a Portland art school. "Oh, about eight times," she said.

Did I hear that all meaningful activity begins with the love of something small? You love something, so you do something, and that creates wealth and abundance - for the world and then back to yourself. A Love-based Economy.

Examples of the Love-based Economy abound. Howard Schultz loves coffee culture, and Phil Knight loves running and innovation, Steve Jobs loved computers as tools to draw out the human spirit, and look what happens. The love leads to sustained action and you become a nuclear reactor creating abundance and energy for the world. You might be an example of the Love-based Economy yourself.

I've left out an important piece. It isn't enough to love that thing itself, that object of your passion. Coffee, or shoes, or computers, or whatever. You have to love people. You have to do your work in service to humanity. If you want to create profit, you create wealth, and the best door in might be love.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rise and Shine

I received a comment from an anonymous blawg reader who wondered why I didn't write about more serious matters these days. Surprised I didn't have anything to say about the protests happening in Portland, for example.

Anonymous, it's true, I've chosen to spend less time that way on the blawg. I tend to write lighter entries that I can complete in ten minutes or so. I'll occasionally use tweets and FB to share my thoughts, but mostly I've been doing my blawging and thinking and doing off-line in the form of speaking engagements and consulting and conversation and in my work.

But if you're a loyal blawg reader, I bet you can guess how I feel about the protests, and how the Occupy movement fits into my view of what's happening in the world.

The stories we've been depending on for 60 years or so are broken or bent or distorted. We're struggling to find a new narrative, a common purpose, the deep story that informs our culture. To a lot of us, the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers and the Hope'08ers, it's become increasingly obvious that something's not working, and we're struggling to work out what's next.

I did attend a day of the protests. First impression was that the crowd didn't feel very inclusive. Seemed fringe. Impressed by the signs though, and the slogans. Walk like an Egyptian. Great.

Have asked people around me how they felt about the demonstrations. "At first I was cynical - I thought, Oh wow, Generation Y discovers that life isn't fair," the manager of my local coffee shop told me. "Then I realize, I agree with basically everything they're saying."

We're hungry for a new story, one we can all share. 99% is too small, even. If it excludes any of us, it's not big enough.

This morning as I was getting receipts out of my wallet I pulled out a few old-fashioned bills that I've received in change over the months. The designs date back to the thirties. I hold onto them because I like how they feel, the stories they tell about our country and our intended character.

The style evokes strength and equity. Balance. Reason. Points to our political roots in Greece and Rome, in a government for the people.

Lincoln's portrait. So determined. The farmer/lawyer/poet who did what it took to hold the country together. What a bad ass.

In the Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe talk about the collapse stage that Americans regularly confront in our historic cycle. This 'Fourth Turning' happens every 80 years or so, or four generations. First it was the American Revolution, then the Civil War, then it showed up as the Depression/WWII. The authors predict - the book was written 1997 - that our fourth Fourth Turning would begin around 2000, possibly precipitated by a terrorist event, or a global economic failure, and last until 2020-'25.

The book is sobering but hopeful. The authors tell us that it's by discovering our shared purpose and reasserting our common values that we make it through the hard times, and if we commit to coming through it together, we can even emerge strengthened.

Marshall Herskovitz told me the story of the U.S. discovering its purpose during World War II. We were a hurting, poor and struggling country, just out of the Depression. Suddenly the stakes were raised, and if we wanted to save the world, we had to make thousands of tons of high-tech weapons using untrained female workers.

We set an unattainable production goal, simply unattainable, but we tripled the shifts and the workers knuckled down and what do you know, we accomplished that goal, ahead of schedule.

So we doubled the goal, and accomplished it again. Doubled it again, and accomplished it again, doubled it again, and well, you know what happened.

Human beings. Miniature Universes, R. Buckminster Fuller calls us, able to create anything, do anything we decide. Miracle machines. Endlessly regenerative, particularly when we identify our purpose.

So, yes, I agree with the protesters and the pundits and the philosophers and the poets, Strauss & Howe, Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Friedman, Eckhart Tolle, Steve Jobs. Something is unfolding out there, we're all invited to play a part in it, it will demand our best, and the the quickest way in, individually and collectively, is to identify and answer the call to our deep story.

There's been a lot of talk about story these days. Deep story is different. Deep story is the place your story connects back to the timeless story. Deep story means answering your heart's call and seeking a goal bigger than yourself. Deep story is the overlap between what you love and what the world needs. The world is full of people creating abundance for the world by living their deep story. Could we all be invited to live our deep story?

At the end of a couple of recent speaking events, I've handed out this small red journal. There's a sticker sheet tucked in the back pocket with three questions to help you think about your own deep story. The journal also contains a card with my email address so people can write back and report what happened when they filled it up, if anything.

I've been surprised by the response to these little journals. I've made them available on my website. I also include a little letter-pressed card with my deep story model. You can order a journal and fill it out and see what happens.

Story has power. As I heard Van Jones recently say, our greatest power is our imagination. By living our deep story, we imagine possibilities for ourselves and the world.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Halloween night

I'll be portraying Emmor Stephens, b. 1777, d. 1846, first burial in Portland's historic Lone Fir Cemetery, at the Tour of Untimely Departures, held on Halloween night at the cemetery itself.

For $10, you'll take a walking tour of the cemetery, stopping at half a dozen grave sites and hearing the firsthand story of that person's untimely death. It's not really kid-friendly, unless you like your kid hearing story of people being murdered, blown to bits, that sort of thing.

As the patriarch of both the Stephens family and the Cemetery, I'll tell the story of when the cemetery was a farm, part of the eastern edge of the Stephens property, which ran from Stark to Division Streets, and from Central Catholic High School all the way to the river.

My death was not untimely, but the story of the people who bought that property from my son, with the promise the keep up my grave site, theirs is story full of untimely deaths.

One of the stones nearby, the grave of a central character in the story I will tell, it has this image carved on it.

I asked Frank, the guy who puts together this event each Halloween, if he knew what the symbol meant. "Oh yeah," he said. "The tree that's been topped. A life cut short."

And across from the grave is this fir tree, an Oregon Heritage Tree , the lone fir tree on the Stephens farm that inspired the name of the cemetery. And if you'll notice, the top of the Lone Fir is also topped, the result of a storm a few years back.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where we are

The studio is the first circle on the bottom left. We're located in the next circle, the Earth, which is located in the spot marked in the next circle, the Solar System, which is located in the spot marked in the next circle, the Milky Way, which is located in the next circle, the Virgo Supercluster, which is located somewhere in the next circle (+), the Multiverse.

Replace the first picture with yourself, and this map will be accurate for you as well.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How to have a successful internship.

Strange to come in this morning without Mr. NJ Placentra in the studio. He was quiet, sincere, funny, hard-working and very pleasant to be around. I had to come in very early to beat him in here. More than once I tried to get in an early hour or so before everyone else came in, and he'd be here, working, writing in his journal, reading, making things, sharpening pencils. Never saw him on Facebook.

He produced a lot of work and shared a lot of thinking, dove into everything with equal attention and gusto. He was open to and hungry for feedback. He installed axe walls, helped create events, performed PA duties on set, came up with ideas, designed and did production. He had good ideas and was good at giving feedback himself.

NJ managed to have an internship and attend the Cannes Ad Festival in the same summer, and received 5 well-deserved trophies himself. What a summer.

As a parting gift, NJ made us a deck of cards with what he'd learned this summer, and I am so happy to share it. So nice. I'd recommend viewing it fullscreen.

And here's what I learned from my experience this summer with NJ, on how to have a successful internship.

1. Only take in an intern if you're really excited about it.
2. Ask intern to set out goals.
3. Agree to financial conditions that are fair and agreeable to everyone.
4. Apprenticeship is better than internship.
5. Demanding conditions.
6. Openness.

Thanks, NJ, and best of luck.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We are monsters

The pictures don't do them justice. Stop by sometime and see the portraits of the inhabitants of Jelly Helm Studio as rendered by the talented Mette Hornung Rankin.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Margaret Richardson in the studio

Had a nice visit yesterday from Sr. Mary Fabian a/k/a Margaret Richardson and her Contemporary Design Case Studies class from PSU. Nice group. They began by sharing what they are excited about with their work right now, and it was infectious.

Margaret brought me this photo of herself, the editor of PRINT Magazine is in the center, and Sr. Corita Kent. Margaret knows I have a thing for Sr. Corita.

When this photo was taken, Sr. Corita was in New York and being interviewed about the controversial window displays she had designed in the city. It was the in the midst of the Vietnam War, and Sr. Corita had the audacity of making the windows about Peace. Shocking.

At that moment, Margaret was working as a freelance journalist on this assignment. When Sr. Corita found out Margaret was an ex-nun, she focused her attention on her. She sent her to meet two brothers living in the Village, artists and poets and social activists with reputations as dangerous characters. Turned out Margaret was being sent to meet the Berrigan brothers (!) and she said they were just lovely.

So yesterday, the young designers and Margaret and I, we talked about where to find inspiration in your work, whether balance is possible at the start of your career - maybe not? - and how you sustain good, meaningful work for a lifetime. We talked about story. We talked about noticing.

Thanks Margaret! Hope to see you again next year. Good luck in London.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kickstart this

Because I am a Craphound owner, and Chloe is a friend, and I like the idea of Kickstarter, and this art is so gorgeous, I am sharing this project. Fund it if you like it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Axe wall

NJ installed this. The axes - most of them, anyway - that we used for the Timbers campaign. Nice work!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Old Ben Kenobi

Showed my boys Star Wars for the first time this weekend. We often use this parent's guide to media site as a guide. It recommends Star Wars Episode IV as appropriate for 8-year-olds, my youngest son's age, but we were surprised just how violent it is. Not in terms of blood - though the dismembered arm in the Cantina is pretty gross - but in the astounding amount of human death.

My rough estimate:

Occupants of Death Star: 31,622,963
Inhabitants of the planet Alderaan: 1.97 Billion
Stormtroopers: 50-75
Rebel pilots: 10-12
Imperial pilots: 5-6
Jawas: 12-18
Luke's uncle and aunt: 2
Greedo: 1
Obi-Wan Kenobi: 1

Even a basic awareness of this context makes the celebration at the end feel a little discordant - even inappropriate?

We checked in with the boys mid-way through. You guys okay with this? You know this is just a story, right?

"Yeah - keep playing it!"

I hope my boys absorbed a little of what Ben Kenobi had to say, too.

"The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together."

After the movie, I did what we do these days and read the Wikipedia article about Sir Alec Guinness, who played the Jedi Knight. I was drawn to the heading, Religious Conversion, and read this charming story:

"...In 1954, while he was filming Father Brown in Burgundy, Guinness, who was in costume as a Catholic priest, was mistaken for a real priest by a local child. Guinness did not speak French, and the child apparently did not notice that Guinness did not understand him, but took his hand and chattered while the two strolled then waved and trotted off. The confidence and affection the clerical attire appeared to inspire in the boy left a deep impression on the actor.

For years, the article noted, Guinness recited the 143rd Psalm every day. I am interested in the Psalms. They are a collection of 150 poems written around three thousand years ago, many attributed to King David.

While on the train to work, I looked up Number 143 on my phone, and was touched by it, and what it revealed about Guinness, and how it connected with his role as the courageous knight.

Psalm 143

A psalm of David.

1 LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.[a]

7 Answer me quickly, LORD;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, LORD,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

11 For your name’s sake, LORD, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I stood in line for five hours for this

The Antiques Roadshow filmed the opener of their 2012 season in Eugene, Oregon this weekend, and I was given a ticket to attend the filming, have an item appraised, and possibly even appear on the show.

I have loved the Roadshow ever since Stacy Wall introduced me to the original British version of the show many years ago.

There's a TV ad for the show that shows people guessing the value of the items. Will the painting from the garage be worth $500,000? Apparently that happened in Eugene. I'm not really interested in that part of the show.

I'm interested in the people. I'm interested in what people value. I'm interested in the stories we tell and the stories contained in the objects themselves. I'm interested in watching how people act and react, how the simplest gestures and comments and responses reveal us. I wanted to go the filming of the show to soak all of that humanness up.

I'd heard I would be spending a long time standing in line, so instead of the 1964 Fender Mustang or the framed portrait of Cannonade along with the winning ticket from the 100th Kentucky Derby, I chose to bring something I could carry in my shirt pocket.

We live in a 1910 Portland craftsman house, and a few years ago, we renovated a basement that hadn't changed much in 90 years. The contractor reached into the beams and found an antique condom tin, complete with instructions, clear wrappers, and a small ad for Ramses Vaginal Jelly.

After a few hours in line, meeting other people, hearing their stories, I finally got to the front of the Collectibles line. I was now one of those dorky gawkers that you see standing in the background of the show. I showed the appraiser my item. Expressionless, he told me that the market for tins was down right now, but with contents, it might be worth $40-50.

He couldn't tell me what I was most interested in: who was the person who stashed that tin in the basement rafters, back in the 1930s? What was that story?

In a historic mood, later this weekend I stopped in thrift store around the corner from my house and picked up a few story-rich objects. They weren't expensive, a couple of bucks each, but they grab the imagination.

The first is an amazing photo postcard of Washington DC from the turn of the century. It's taken from NE Washington, possibly from West Virginia Avenue, and the only recognizable buildings are Union Station and the Capitol.

The letter is from Albert Asher, writing back to his wife? mother? Connie, in Portland. It seems Albert has crossed to country to join the Army, in the closing days of World War I? You can see soldiers in the foreground of the photo, working. Albert writes that he has passed the physical exam and is scheduled to leave camp on March 5 or 5, 1919. "You should see me wash dishes," he closes.

This postcard is also intriguing:

"Dear Clara," Lillian writes to her friend in Portland, Oregon from South Bend, Indiana. "If you can't get work out there, you had better come out to the Watch Co. We need a couple of girls in our room." It was the day after Christmas, 1911.

The Watch Company was the South Bend Watch Company, which made more than a million watches and employed 300 people, until it closed after the stock market crash of October 1929.

Lillian filled most of the card, but squeezed on the bottom is a short message, possibly from Lillian's beau? "O.K. Ben." he wrote.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Off to see the Wizard

We've done a little work this year for the Hollywood Theatre, and as a thank you, executive director Doug Whyte loaned us the theatre to do with what we want. "You can have a private party, show any movie you want."

Fun! Hm, what movie?

Fitzcarraldo? Would be great to see it on the big screen. Ikiru? Five Obstructions? What else?

I talked about it with my wife. What are my other favorite movies..? Oh! I know!

I hadn't even spoken the title, and my wife looked at me and shook her head. "No. Not Andrei Rublev."

But why? It's awesome!

"Um, do you want people to enjoy themselves?"

It didn't take too much additional thinking until I settled on the clear choice.

"Will you be playing Pink Floyd with it?" a few people have asked.

No, it's mind-blowing enough as is, I think. But you can bring it on your iPod if you want.

When we choose 10 classic stories to illustrate Joseph Campbell's archetypal hero story a while back, we began and ended with The Wizard of Oz. It's a perfect example, a great story. L. Frank Baum and Victor Fleming knew what they were doing.

Campbell told us that the most powerful stories speak to us on multiple levels. On its most basic level, Oz is a story about a farm girl from Kansas who is carried away by a tornado.

On another level it's a story about the power of wisdom, and heart, and courage.

Campbell was most interested in another aspect of the myth - its power to that illumine the deepest mysteries of the human experience. I think we can find that depth in Oz, too.

It's also just a fun movie, full of great performances, and wit, and darkness, and life, and great songs.

You're welcome to join us in watching it, at the Hollywood Theatre, this Monday, June 6 at 7 o'clock. $5 for adults, $2 for kids, and proceeds go to Youth, Rights & Justice, a non-profit law firm for kids.

Hope to see you there.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deep story

It's 6 a.m., sun at a new angle. I'm here to get a leg up on all the work on the table. What to do first? Write a blawg post! It's not procrastinating, I'm gathering my thoughts. Smiley face icon.

Thinking about the state of things in this little studio. There are four of us in here now, inexplicably, and we're looking for another. It's active.

When Mark joined in November we knew we'd start by focusing on nothing but Timbers. "F*cking killing it on the Timbers," I believe is the term we used. Then we'd think about what was next.

We talked about the future a little, about where we thought we'd create value. We made a letterpress print of a design Aaron and I originally had created for Wikipedia, and sent it to a hundred people whose work we admire, including current clients. That was December. We've been pounding on Timbers ever since.

Now it's deep Spring, the Timbers have been sold out every game since the opener, we're thinking about next season, and talking to four or five groups about beginning a new relationship. We are blessed, and it's sort of overwhelming.

The new relationships feel like they have much potential. One is an old friend, another new friends, one is a 110-year-old Portland family business, one a dream that started as an unknown recipient on the mailing list of our story prints.

Not sure what will happen or how we'll get it all done.

A good time to take a breath. Thinking about where we thrive. Thinking about the studio's purpose. Thinking about how we work with clients best, what sort of relationships work. Thinking about where our heart is. Thinking about story. Always thinking about story.

I got super excited about the tree model from the previous post. Seemed like it had a lot right about it. Love the root system as a brand foundation. It's all about the roots.

Shared an earlier version of the model with three of my mentors, Mark Barden, Brian Lanahan and Thom Walters. Instead of roots, I had history. Brian and Mark both suggested I change it to roots.

"Roots includes not just history, but your connections to the earth, to the community, everything you do and are and have been," Mr. Barden said. "All of it. It's the foundation of everything."

Still, Mark Jacobs in studio thought something wasn't quite right about the model. I wanted him to be excited but he wasn't. "Isn't the whole thing the story? Not just that section." Yes. It's the whole trunk, from tip to bottom of tap root.

He added, "It needs a name, or something. What is it?"

And I felt something wasn't exactly right about the model, too. Too linear.

So here's v. 3.0, drawn the other day.

The drawing's a little weird. Masonic alien crop circle. But I like something about it, too. I changed the size of the words for emphasis. Story is now about the whole trunk, and even roots. I changed Actions back to Value, a word I've also used to stand for how you show up in the world, the value you create, how you enrich the world, how the world can see you and touch you.

A branding genius visited the studio the other day, and he saw the drawing on the wall, and it resonated for him. Maybe because he has a tree in his logo. Also because he has a clear vision, and strong roots, and he brings it all, every day. The world might not always see or think about your vision or the roots, but they see the value you create. "It's all about that fat part of that tree," the branding ninja said.

(I'm not saying his/her name. That would be so uncool.)

We named the model, "Deep story." Mark likes it. I do too. The world is hungry for deep stories.

What is your deep story? How is it most powerfully expressed? That's where we're beginning, with all of these new relationships.

Later this morning I'm driving into the country with the CEO and founder of one of these new clients. We're driving to his family farm, to drink wine from his family's vineyard and see and touch his roots.

Hope it helps because at this moment I'm not sure I have a clue on how to express his story.

And with that, back to the table.

Thanks, blawg readers. Have a nice one.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Big strong trees

It starts with a vision. You can see something unfolding out there in the future that for some reason, other people can't.

Steve Jobs saw computers as tools for artists and creative people. Phil Knight saw technology used to unlock our potential as athletes. Howard Schultz saw coffee culture taking root in America. Martin King saw little white boys and girls and black boys and girls playing as sisters and brothers.

From that vision - either your own or someone else's you share and support - purpose flows. Your work, unhesitatingly, is about contributing to the fruition of the vision. Doing what it takes to make it come true.

Does a vision have to serve people? Yes. And the loftier, more expansive and inclusive the vision, the more potential it has to grow into a substantial tree. One that lots of people can fit under.

Vision and purpose are internal affairs, best experienced and understood by the world through your actions, understood as a story, supported and fed by roots - your history and foundation in the world.

What is my vision? What am I doing to accomplish it?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Final results for Timbers billboard

[Note: At the bottom of the page, I've added a couple of photos of the final billboard. It's at 17th and W. Burnside, right around the corner from Jeld-Wen Field.]

The results are in. The votes have been counted. The people have spoken.

No complaints from me, really.

Relatedly, I just finished reading Crucial Conversations upon recommendation of Mark Jacobs. What a great read. Reminds me of a lot of Thom Walters' wisdom around stepping into 'creative tension.'

Anyway, the book ends with four methods of decision making: One person decides, one person decides after consulting with all or key stakeholders, consensus, and voting.

Each method has its advantages/disadvantages. Voting involves everyone and it's efficient, but by its nature there are winners and losers.

In the end, I still would've preferred the second method of decision making - basically what I wrote about in the previous blawg post - one person or a smaller group making a decision based on a deep listening to people's input, rather than just straight numbers.

Still, this was a cool exercise, and a pretty neat and unusual story: A major league sports team creating a billboard featuring fans AND letting the fans decide who was featured - not to mention the unexpected make up of the final group: a grandma, a guy in a wheelchair, a dad with a baby carrier and a ballerina in soccer cleats.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wisdom of the crowd + POV

As part of the Timbers campaign, we photographed a couple of thousand Timbers fans holding axes and chainsaws and striking NO PITY poses. They came out nice. We gave them to people to use as their profile photos online and we also used some in advertising.

Last week we announced that we're creating a billboard with four of the fan photos and letting the fans vote on them. As of today, here are the sixteen finalists.

I’m happy with the finalists so far, but I think the wisdom of the crowd thing shows its limitations when you simply take the top 4 vote getters and create a composition with them. You end up with this:

Individually four great shots, but combined they make sort of an odd story.

If I had my druthers, I’d create my own composition, taking into consideration the photos that people like the best, but combining them to create a narrative that tells a broader story that lots of people could see themselves in.

Since parent-with-small-kids are over-represented, I’d choose just one to represent that group: the dad and ballerina. It might not be my favorite of the three family shots, but it’s clearly the crowd’s top pick, so I’d go with that.

If you take the other top favorites, they combine nicely to make a good story.

This would be a great billboard. I’m going to post it on the Timbers Facebook page and see what sort of reaction it gets. If it ends up the other way, I can live with it, but it won’t be as good.

That’s my point of view, at least.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Thank you, Matthew Kelty

My brother sent me an email today about the death of someone who meant a lot to both of us.

Matthew Kelty was a priest and monk who lived in the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. This Courier Journal article captures him well, I think, as do his own words on the monastery's website.

Back in the late '90s, I was one of the many retreatants he counseled with comfort and compassion, and a little bit of clever evasiveness.

It was 1996, and I'd just quit an advertising job, and moved from Amsterdam back to America to seek my purpose. I didn't have a job, or a plan of any sort, really. I thought I'd study religion, perhaps teach eventually. I visited a few grad schools. I sought substance, something with deep roots.

I was more than a little afraid that in my seeking I might be called to a something beyond what I could pull off, and entering the monastery represented the most extreme and terrifying commitment I could imagine. So, I thought, I'd better investigate.

I signed up for a week-long silent retreat at Gethsemani, joining the monks for prayers and meals, my time otherwise spent reading, in silent meditation or walking around the woods.

One day I screwed up my courage and went to meet Fr. Kelty. I stuck my head in his office on the first floor of the guest house, and he called me in.

I told him how I sought meaning in my work, that I wanted to fulfill whatever purpose was in store for me, and that I wanted to know how to discern whether the monastic life was right for me. I was sort of a mess, really, full of confusion.

He listened patiently and intensely. He handed me a small pamphlet he had written years earlier for young novitiates, but he refused to engage directly in my inner turmoil. Instead he wanted to talk about high school football.

"Where'd you go to school?" he asked in his thick Boston brogue. Trinity, I told him, in Louisville.

"They got a good football team. You play football?" he asked.

Um, no, I was more into theatre and art.

Small talk? This man was Thomas Merton's spiritual director! Where was the wisdom? I was getting frustrated.

Fr. Kelty looked at me penetrating for another moment, and slowly smiled. Then he stood up and walked around his desk, and gave me an unexpected hug.

"You're okay," he said, softly. "Everything's gonna be alright." Then he gave me a pat on the cheek and sent me back into the world.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Gorgeous clear cold morning in Portland and I am in the studio earlyish to get at it.

Much going on with the studio - much going on with the people we work with - all good - but I am not feeling inclined to shplorp it out there via the blawg.

Also much on my mind about how our work fits with everything churning out there in the world. Alignment. Context. Also difficult to express on the blawg. For a blawger, I have a lot of blawg ambivalence. Maybe over coffee.

Yet, I deeply appreciate you, readers! - and all the encouragement you share. Everybody can use encouragement. So let me share this. It's from Bill Bernbach, someone I've written about before, a guy who still has something to say about the communication business. A visionary. From the dedication of his book.

We in the communications field - in radio, in television, in magazines, in newspapers, in posters - have developed unprecedented skills in mass persuasion. You and I can no longer isolate our lives. It just won't work. What happens to society is going to affect us with ever-increasing rapidity. The world has progressed to the point where its most powerful public force is public opinion. And I believe that in this new, complex, dynamic world it is not the great work or epic play, as once was the case, that will shape that opinion, but those who understand mass media and the tools of public persuasion. The metabolism of the world has changed. New vehicles must carry ideas to it. We must ally ourselves with great ideas and carry them to the public. We must practice our skills on behalf of society. We must not just believe in what we sell. We must sell what we believe in. And we must pour a vast amount of energy into these causes.

Thanks everybody. Talk to you later.