Getting Through This Together

Getting Through This Together

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 4 Minutes

Getting Through This Together. Our goal when we founded Carbon Design LLC was not to get rich or famous. It was about doing meaningful work for clients who appreciate it. We don’t apply for awards or recognition that others chase, preferring to focus on the work and making clients happy. It’s why I’m excited to share some of the feedback we’ve received recently. 

Before COVID hit we had scoped a follow on project for a Coalfire, a cyber security firm. Unfortunately, our client’s budget was cut before we got started. Knowing the importance of the project, we did the work for what little of the budget that remained.

We delivered the findings in early June and the week later received a package containing a thank you and a Coalfire branded jacket. They were impressed with the insight we delivered but more importantly they thanked us for our flexibility and partnership.

At the end of the month we receive more positive feedback. 

For years, Tony Anticole and I have worked with the team at Challenger to turn the commercial insight they create for clients into marketing campaigns and assets through a 1.5 day workshop.

With the pandemic, the team had to figure out how to turn an in person session into a digital experience that created the same value…not an easy task. We were generally concerned with our ability to read and respond to the attendees remotely. 

On top of this already challenging scenario the lead person from the Challenger team left the organization leaving the remaining member of the team in a difficult position. She had only attended one other session as an observer. 

Two weeks ago, we delivered the last of 5 weekly (2-3 hr) workshops. Last week, we received the feedback below from the client via our Challenger partner Taeya Sharrock, mentioned above. 

I wanted to pass along feedback from Bassel about the CCS workshops: 

“I thought it was brilliant, Tony & Scott were amazing & did a great job over the 5 weeks. The workshops were thought-provoking – this was the best part, changing the mindset completely. Everyone who attended had really good feedback to share.”

Taeya was also kind enough to pass along the comments below about her experience.  

“Will, I wanted to let you know what a great job Tony & Scott did and how incredibly generous they have been with their time. I know they were only able to bill back a limited number of hours for preparation, but they have been keen to have additional calls/debriefs as we prepared for sessions, and have given a lot of additional brainpower to ensuring the insight was strong enough that we would get to a good end-point.” With David having left before we got into the nitty-gritty of figuring out how to run these sessions, and with only ever having seen one Content Strategy workshop, I have really appreciated all of their help!

I wanted to share these comments because we’re all probably being asked to make sacrifices, do things we’ve never done before, and perhaps, may be getting paid less for it. 

Keep your head up and stay focused. We’ll get through this together but we need patience, flexibility and understanding. Onward! 

Getting Through This Together.

Run Your Race

Run Your Race

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 3 Minutes

I was out for a run this weekend and heard the footsteps coming from behind me. Soon, he was on me, and then past me. At that point I increased my pace as the competitive instinct kicked in when the words “run your race” ran through my mind.

It’s a lesson I learned many years ago while training for 10 milers. After many months of training, planning my race strategy, and setting time goals, I’d be thrown off my pace early in a race, as soon as someone in my age group was passing me.

Chasing them, I thought, was pushing me to a better end result. At least, the competitor in me believed. In reality, it only drained my tank causing me to be out of gas later in the race, resulting in a poor time and disappointment. All the months of training wasted because I ran someone else’s race.

Unemployment is now at its highest level since the great depression which has touched all of us in some way. It’s an incredibly difficult time that can easily be made more stressful by how we now measure ourselves, and our success.

It’s easy to become a victim of the trap I fell into running races. Comparing ourselves to others, feeling like you’re falling behind or being passed by your peers. It’s a feeling all too familiar. In the first 2 years of marriage, my wife and I were laid off a combined total of 4 times.

The first, a month after we put a deposit on a house. By the fourth “downsizing,” my parents were helping us pay our mortgage and my wife’s parents were bringing us groceries.

So first know this, this is not your fault, it’s not something you did. You’ve hit a very challenging and unplanned part of the course.

Second, no one remembers where you started or how many people passed you during the race, only the end results will be remembered. And most importantly, the only thing that matters about the results will be how you will feel about them.

By the third or fourth race, I had developed the discipline to stick to my race plan. My performance improved, but more importantly, so did my sense of accomplishment. I also noticed another thing even more satisfying, the guys who passed me earlier were now being passed by me later in the race.

Our lives are made up of a series of marathons. There are still many miles and difficult stretches of road to cover. Keep your head up, eyes focused forward, and run your race.

Making Working from Home, Work…

Making Working from Home, Work…

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 3 Minutes

Making Working from Home, Work

Barking dogs, crying babies, toddlers toddling, welcome to the reality of working from home.

Since our founding 3 years ago, our teams have been living this life. Here are 3 tips to help you make the adjustment.

  • Get used to and learn how to live with working odd hours. If you’re accustomed to a routine of “working hours” in the office, you can kiss that goodbye if your children are at home.

Channel your “inner Gandhi” for patience and flexibility. Work when you can find the calm. Early mornings, evenings, and quiet moments in between.

Managers be flexible on your expectations on deliverables and due dates. You may see your team disappear during a good portion of the day.

  • Count on technical issues, unplanned and spontaneous interruptions, and scheduling issues with conference calls.

In fact, you may be better off adopting the attitude that something will go wrong as the default.

  • Everyone on camera for video calls…except when someone feels like they don’t want to be.

I’ve seen some posts that organizations mandate it, but the reality of our situation is that you, and/or your home office, may be a complete sh*t show at some point during the day. It happens…and we can deal with you not being seen on a call.

Part II – Now that you’ve been at this for a couple of weeks here are a few other things to consider.

  • Wall clock to body clock work hours – You may be aware that your energy level and passion vary based on the time of day, now that you’re out of the office you can do something about it. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, go for a walk (and take the dog with you) change your work location — it’s spring now and the weather is great for working outside. Working will become more feel driven than time driven.
  • Listen to your body – also by this point you may have noticed that your makeshift office isn’t exactly ergonomically designed. Pay attention to how long you sit and/or have your head in one position. Don’t worry if you forget, your body will remind you the next day.
  • Reboot your modem and wireless router – you may have also noticed that your bandwidth has slowed. Consumer Reports recommends rebooting once a month, especially if you have added devices to the network.
  • Update your work office – now that everyone is out of it, how could you use this time to your advantage. It could be a great time to paint, reorganize the furniture, update the lighting, etc.

Good luck and stay safe!

Making Working from Home, Work…


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Why We’re Bad at Business Decisions…and How to Fix It

Why We’re Bad at Business Decisions…and How to Fix It

by Glen Drummond
Estimated read time: 5 minutes

Can we agree that making good business decisions is getting harder?

For each business, the reasons vary, but we see common themes:

  • Volatility: The pace of change of everything (markets, customers, technologies, products and competitors) is accelerating.
  • Uncertainty: The accelerating pace of change challenges assumptions about what’s invariable.
  • Complexity: The number of stakeholders, variables, and perspectives involved in a decision keeps growing.
  • Ambiguity: We’ve become very clever at accumulating data, but having more data does not solve the problem of knowing what the data means.

School didn’t properly prepare any of us for making decisions in this environment. Deductive problem-solving works best in predictable environments. That’s not the world we live in.

Of course, there is no apparent shortage of external help:

  • Analysts proclaim their best practices.
  • Consultants promote their proprietary models.
  • Technologists offer their SaaS tools that aim to automate some choices.

And in their own particular contexts, all of these are, of course, helpful. But for higher-level decisions, “best-practices,” “models,” and “algorithms” share a common liability: they are, by design, reductive.

And so for those early, fuzzy, high-level and massively consequential choices, the question you need to ask is whether the way to make a good decision is to keep eliminating considerations until the right answer appears.

That happens often enough, but is there a better way?

We think so. It’s called: “Possibility-Oriented Thinking.”

The phrase is most closely associated with innovation, but this capacity is one that marketing people should also hone. Put yourself in the shoes of a classic innovator: you’re not yet sure what the product is exactly, or who the customer is yet, or what they will pay, or what exactly your competitors are working on, or who they even are, and when they will make their next move.

The answers are all emergent properties of a system too complex to fully understand. Doesn’t that sound a little like many marketing challenges today?

So what do you do?

The “Possibility-oriented thinking” approach begins with this perspective.

Rather than:

  • assuming there is a “right” answer, we assume there are a variety of answers, some better than others.
  • assuming that we have the facts required to make the right choice, we assume we don’t, and so adopt an attitude of humility about assumptions and relentless curiosity about new data and possibilities.
  • thinking the answer can be arrived at by way of deduction from existing facts, we assume that something new has to be injected into the system, something we imagine; a possibility we conceive, a relationship we speculate about and then explore.
  • making ballistic decisions with resources, we think about “Safe-fail” experiments, pilots, & prototypes.
  • thinking that the best idea comes from the most expert or highest ranking person, we think the best idea comes from a diversity of perspectives integrated through thoughtfully designed interactions.

What are some of those thoughtfully designed interactions? This comes back to context.

Are you seeking a strategy of differentiation in an established market?

You might consider using the Challenger Marketing framework that has been articulated by Brent Adamson and his former colleagues at CEB, now Gartner, in The Challenger Customer.

Are you seeking a strategy of transformation around the customer experiences you create, or the business model that you create them with?

You might consider using the Basadur Simplexity model for discovering challenges, organizing a map of dependencies around them, and prioritizing the action plans that advance your goals.

Are you creating a new category, or something very close to it, and seeking a framework for decision-making that does not rely on asking an as-yet undefined customer group how they would respond to an as-yet undefined value proposition?

You might consider a program organized around the concept we call “Pathfinding” an iterative process that involves a rotation between stances – strategic sense-making, research, ideation, market ecosystem analysis, and marketing experiments.

Of course, organizations also look to Marketers to solve narrower more routine problems. If that’s all Marketing stands for and contributes, it does run the risk of being seen as the “arts and crafts” department of the business.

It need not be so.

A marketing organization equipped to provide leadership in decision-processes at those moments when the altitude is high, the problems are fuzzy, and the outcomes really matter – is a marketing organization that produces value far exceeding the narrow chores of “filling the funnel” and managing content.

Building your musculature in possibility-oriented thinking improves your chances of doing so.

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Lucky Me – The Upside of Looking Down

Lucky Me – The Upside of Looking Down

by Scott Gillum

The odds of it happening are 1 in 1500 or .0007%, about the same odds of being randomly selected to come onstage at a concert hall. Similar to Courteney Cox being pulled on stage by Bruce Springsteenin his iconic Born in the USA video, of course without the scripting. And now that I’ve dated myself, yes, the odds of this happening increase with age.

Lucky me. I am one of the few to experience a detached retina (and it’s a lot less fun than being at a concert). Making things even more random, I had none of the five leading factors — just cursed, unfortunately, with bad genes. As it became evident, both of my parents are carriers of a recessive gene causing this issue, and my brother (who has also experienced this) and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Not that there is ever a good time for this to happen, but this past week was particularly bad timing. With a huge pitch the day of my surgery and my daughter’s graduation from college the coming weekend, this was not the week. Adding fuel to the fire, up until this point, I had great eyesight (20/16) with no signs of any issue. Now I was facing surgery, along with a recovery period that is, literally, heads down for the next 7 days.

It all began the weekend before with a bike ride. After reaching the top of a decent-sized hill, I experience a particularly large “floater” in my right eye, which I would learn later, took a piece of my retina with it.

The following day, a dark “curtain” appeared in my peripheral vision. Having said brother go through this a year earlier, I knew this was not good and quickly contacted a doctor. Trust me when I tell you this type of phone call gets the attention of a retina specialist. I was in their office within 15 minutes (run, don’t walk, if this happens).

So, after a failed attempt to hold the retina in place with laser surgery, the curtain reappeared three days later. I returned to the specialist to receive the news that I would have to undergo immediate surgery to reattach the retina with sutures, and a gas bubble would be inserted to hold it in place (I have a bright green bracelet on to prove it). All of which are unpleasant on its own, but are “next level” when it involves your eye.  

Facing a doctor-imposed downtime (again, literally), I set out to make the most of it, but not before planning a nice little pity-party for myself and it was going to be a good one. Because of the restriction on my movement, I was convinced I wasn’t going to make it to my daughter’s graduation. I was headed to a darker place than my lost vision.

Thankfully, a random and timely Instagram DM from a friend sent me on a different path. Bill messaged a link to a podcast of an interview with Steve Gleason. Gleason, who played in the NFL for 8 years with the New Orleans Saints, was diagnosed with ALS (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) three years after retiring,

The interview was remarkable. Steve, having lost his ability to speak, used his eyes to put together responses that used a voice bank he created when he was first diagnosed in 2011.  The podcast then led me to the 2016 award-winning documentary about his life. And that’s when my outlook about my own situation changed, dramatically.

Gleason” is one of the rawest, bravest and most brutally honest movies about living with a debilitating (and terminal) disease I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most inspiring. The reaction to his diagnosis and how he chose to live his life afterward is an incredible story.

As a father, it was an emotional roller coaster watching Steve’s relationship with his father, and then his son. His dedication to helping others with the disease as he is losing his battle was, well, saintly — pun intended.

Now, with the pity party effectively cancelled by the inspirational heroics of a man wrestling with an incredibly cruel illness. I was off to conquer my next challenge — stillness. This may in fact have been my biggest concern — resting my eye.

The day before the surgery was my wife’s birthday. I had made plans to take her to a nearby spa. While there, I made my way to the meditation room. Knowing that I may have be immobilized for a period of time after the surgery, I thought I’d work on resting my mind. I lasted 2 minutes, according to my Fitbit.

It was such a concern that I brought it up with the surgeon suggesting that I may need a little help (wink, wink) to take the edge off. He didn’t bite. I was on my own.

Unfortunately, you can’t just hang a “closed” sign when running your own business and I really don’t have an “off” button. Shutting down or slowing an active mind and body isn’t that simple, especially without some help. Alcohol was a no go, walking around with monocular vision was hard enough. I’m tensing up just writing this — and yes, I’m supposed to be “resting.”

Help came in the form of some simple advice from my mom. Recognizing my inability to sit still from an early age, she suggested that I “be easy.” A phase her mother often used with her when she was young.

It’s interesting how often I would hear those two words and remind myself to slow down. Drying my hair with a towel, brushing my teeth, pulling a shirt over my head. All things that I normally would rush through to get to the next task, were now all little threats to the success of my surgery and/or speed of my recovery if I didn’t chill.

The tape covering the patch over my eye made it difficult to open my mouth, so I had to slow down when eating and take smaller bites. All good reminders to “be easy” and enjoy what I was eating. Staring at the floor with my head down for 50 minutes each hour became a natural position to practice humility and give thanks.

God threw me a haymaker (to my right eye), perhaps as a reminder to slow down, give thanks, and “be easy.” I would have been happy to receive the message another way, but it is what it is. What I also learned is that my situation is an opportunity to take stock of how really blessed I am.

My wife is a loving caregiver and we had a home full of supportive family for the graduation. Friends are checking in on me constantly and helping to support the business in my absence. Most importantly, I was able to attend my daughters graduation and my vision is starting to return. Yes, lucky me…a very lucky me.

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