Perceptions Interview with Dave Ranney

1. How does perception play a role in your creations?
By day, I am a graphic designer that uses color, form and typography to influence the way the public perceives a brand. The work I am creating as And Also sprouted from a 100-day project that had the goal of rediscovering my own visual POV outside of clients needs, wants and expectations.

2. How did you begin seeing the world this way?
I grew up going to the National Gallery and Hirschhorn museum in Washington DC where I stared endlessly at the works of Sol Lewitt, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein. That modern minimalism bore its way deep into my psyche.

3. It seems like in every piece of art you create there are multiple ways of seeing reality. What deeper meaning are you communicating through this in life or culture?
I am easily distracted and my brain often feels like a computer with 100 different tabs open simultaneously. My work is a meditative process that follows a strict grid to create abstract forms with both 2D and 3D compartments for my thoughts. Think of it like a graphic version of The Container Store for my busy mind.

4. We noticed you are starting an Atlanta series. What do you hope for these new depictions?
The Atlanta buildings are part of a collaboration with a young, local fashion brand and an homage to the city I love. I get to explore my two new favorite things; generating figurative forms from physical inspiration and repeatable pattern design.

Toyota, Honda and the Perceptions that Drive Us All

by Jeff Shinabarger

I wanted a new car. You may have never thought about this, but as the leader of a nonprofit organization you can’t just drive any car. A used car would probably be the best choice, but my car-fixing abilities are minimal I even struggle to change a tire. So when it came time to choose a car, I started asking other people what kind of car a nonprofit leader should drive.In the end, the poll came down to two brands: a Honda or a Toyota. I will forever drive a Honda or Toyota. There’s a perception about both of these brands of being reliable, inexpensive, and not flashy. This is one of many decisions we make as leaders that create a set of perceptions about us. The perceptions of others impact how we are known.

We often try to navigate or shape these perceptions to work in our favor. We share only the best photos by setting up a shot, followed by editing that image or adding filters. Other times, for a heightened response, we pontificate about how hard life is to provoke empathy from our followers. Much of storytelling in the modern world is the art of crafting our story to shape a perception.

The problem with the information age is that we are given the power to shape what others think our lives look like every minute of every day. Is our artistic depiction of life the real landscape or a photoshopped version of ourselves?

I first realized this while writing a book. I was done with the first few chapters and sent them to my sister, Joanna, to begin the editing process. Being my older sister, Joanna has known me my entire life. She called me. Overall, she thought the chapters were good but wanted to talk to me about a couple of the stories. No matter what you do, you cant get anything past your older sister. She called me out. The stories, how I wrote them, were not completely true. In every story, I somehow became the hero even when I was not the hero. I spun the truth in favor of me.

Why do we think that making ourselves look good is what others want to see? What others actually want is an authentic depiction of a real life, full of hopes, dreams, and failures.

In contrast to the hero-focused chapters that I first sent to my sister, a couple of years ago I sent a transparent letter to our community apologizing for a failure. We had decided to end a project and felt it was important to openly share about what was happening. To this day, that letter led to the greatest response I have ever heard back from our community easily over 100 email responses filled with encouraging notes about how my honesty created relatability and nurtured a deeper belief in me as a leader.

We dont want untouchable heroes; what we want are courageous friends to share life with.

Donald Miller says, Sometimes the story we are telling the world isnt half as endearing as the one that lives inside us. The question becomes how do we come to know our true selves when we have built this habit of constantly working to shape how others perceive us?

If we can come to know ourselves truthfully, we might be able to share ourselves with others in a way that draws people in. We are all attracted to people that humbly share their tension-filled lives, not people that seem to have it altogether.

In the early nineties, Paul Feldwick defined brand in a classic way. He said, “a brand is a collection of perceptions in the consumer’s mind.” So, if a brand is equated to peoples perceptions, and we know this instinctively, then it must shape how we depict what we want others see. At a deeper level, we all want to be known for something, so we try to form that perception in how we present ourselves. If you are like me, you want to understand the perceptions of others, then determine if those perceptions are actually true.

There are three questions you should ask to help you move towards sharing what is true and to gain greater understanding of how you are currently known, personally or for your organization:

How do others perceive my personal life and my business? Ask people. Create a survey. Ask a question on social media. Host a focus group.

What are the differences between others perceptions and my true story? Sometimes it’s hard to hear what others say. It’s easy to defend your positioning. Process this question with a close advisor, friend or mentor. Select a person that won’t just tell you what you want to hear, but a person that speaks what you need to hear.

What needs to change? If the perceptions of others don’t line up with the life you are living, something needs to change. We usually either need to change how we live or change the story we are sharing with others. There is a great process we can all do to read our last 100 posts to see what we say about ourselves. This simple listening exercise will bring an awareness about what we say about ourselves. Now imagine the next 100 posts telling the truer story and start writing that for what may be next. Make a plan to speak what is true and remember that we all want to know your true story.

We can’t always control others perceptions, but let’s try to positions our lives, brands and communities as examples of courageous authenticity. We all want to live a great story and sometimes we forget that our current story is whats greatest in the minds of others.

And yes, I bought a Toyota again.

Success Rises and Falls on Culture by William Warren

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Culture is everything: success rises and falls on culture.

I’d define “culture” as the shared personality, values and beliefs of a team. It’s intangible but absolutely crucial.

If you have a good culture, your team will love working for you, you vendors will love working with you, and your clients will love hiring you. The opposite is true for a bad culture.

To build a culture, it must be defined, modeled, and reinforced.

Culture must first be defined, usually through a written mission statement (what you do), vision statement (where you’re going) and set of core values (how you act). At the Sketch Effect, we go a step further and have outlined “key behaviors” associated with each value. This is our filter for hiring decisions and performance reviews.

Next, culture must be modeled by leadership, which begins with the boss. A team will naturally replicate the behavior of their boss.

Finally, culture must be reinforced through activities and artifacts. Activities are things like scheduled retreats, lunches, celebrations, etc. The key word here is “scheduled” – it must be intentionally calendared and protected. At The Sketch Effect, we have quarterly retreats, semi-monthly team lunches, a weekly “sketch up” (i.e., “catch up”) meeting, and bi-weekly individual hangouts. Artifacts are physical things that populate your workspace. Examples are printed posters of your values, physical manifestations of inside jokes, or objects that hold special meaning to your team. For example, at The Sketch Effect, we have a “Gong of Awesome” in our office that we strike whenever anything awesome happens…whether that’s receiving a positive client survey, landing a big project, a team-member anniversary, etc.

At the Sketch Effect, we want our culture to be fun. I believe that if you hire people who are responsible and remarkable, you don’t need to worry about them having too much fun.

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I believe culture is king! Posted high on a central wall in our Home Office is Peter Drucker’s famous quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

When someone walks into your work environment, culture is the emotional energy they feel—it’s the temperature in the room. It’s the DNA of your organization.

I’m often asked how I have been able to build a strong culture at Boosterthon. I always tell people that culture begins at the top, and you and your leadership team have to be intentional from the very beginning, and at every moment. Culture never sleeps.

At first, the Founder is the culture: Whether you like it or not, culture is born through the personality of the Founder. How the leader interacts with and addresses the organization sets the cultural foundation. If you’re making a cultural promise — “we have a culture of enthusiasm” — it must be fulfilled through hundreds of small interactions between you and your team. You must live it — daily!

Create culture: Throughout the year, make big cultural statements by designing experiences that shout your culture loud and clear to everyone. If someone peered in from the outside during one of these events, how would you want them to describe it? Then create an event that is centered on those words.

Hire with culture in mind: When your culture begins to have an identity, pass it off to your team to multiply. That’s why you should always hire people who will add to and reproduce your culture. Ultimately, your team members will be your thermostats, setting the temperature for their teams. Leaders multiply culture.

Lead by example and pass the torch: As the Founder and CEO, I’m setting the cultural direction, tone and fun, but my leaders often determine the creative ways to get there. And it’s extremely fun to watch them craft and lead in their own unique and personalized ways. This St. Patrick’s Day, I was running around with our Home Office Team popping 1,000 green balloons, trying to find one with a gold coin in it. It was outrageous and fun. And it wasn’t my idea. It was someone else’s. They get our culture of fun.

Not happy with your current culture? Eventually, culture can grow into the size of an ocean liner, and it takes time to turn around if it’s going in the wrong direction, but it’s not impossible. The leader can only change the culture if they change themselves first.

So, how do you want the cultural temperature to feel in your organization?

Go make it happen!

- Chris Carneal, Founder and CEO of Boosterthon

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A Secret from Disney by Rob Lott

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When a family begins the pilgrimage to Walt Disney World, their expectations are exceptionally high.  They can’t help themselves.

They’ve been inundated with marketing from Walt Disney World, the Disney movies they’ve seen, and the stories they’ve heard from the Disney-loving family down the street, and it’s all building toward their own euphoric anticipation of the moment when they finally get their own stroll down Mainstreet U.S.A., toward Cinderella and Prince Charming’s Castle. 
I have the distinct pleasure of getting to call myself a Disney Cast Member. Even better, I belong to the Entertainment Cast of Walt Disney World. For almost twenty years, I have called the stages of Walt Disney World home. 
Okay, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s something we’re not supposed to talk about. It’s definitely something you’re never supposed to see. The thing is, it happens every day, and sometimes right in front of our Guests. Don’t tell anyone, though. Let’s try and keep this between us. Ready? Here it is. Lean in close.
We rehearse. 
We rehearse a lot. When learning a new role or a new show, we break each moment down to its irreducible minimum, and we drill it to perfection. The goal is to become so comfortable and confident with each dance step, each harmony line, and each comedic punchline, so that we know of no other way except to deliver it perfectly. And on the rare occasion that we mess up, we must be so polished that even the mistake should look excellent. That’s the goal, at least. 
The thing is, everything drifts. Not on purpose, but simply due to human nature. The high kicks, over time, begin not to be so high. The original harmonies drift out of tune, and sometimes the notes settle in to a new harmony altogether. These adjustments happen. From the wear and tear of daily use, it just happens. 
What to do? Well, we combat this with a team of experienced and expert artists who not only teach and maintain the shows and parades, they also inspire Cast Members to exceed the expectations of our Guests and Creative Team. 
These expert artists sit quietly in the audience, a secret shopper of sorts, tucked away, although not hiding. They applaud and they laugh when something is funny, but they also take notes on what could be better. They hold the cast accountable to the standard of expected excellence. 
These are teachers dedicated to their Cast. They use every method they can find to help a young performer get it right. They point out what’s working, and then they apply that strategy to the moments that are not. 
That’s the secret. We rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And when rehearsal is finished, we continue to work on it, sharpen it, and make it excellent.
People often ask me, “How does everything at Walt Disney World work so smoothly and come off so perfect?” Well, first I tell them, we don’t always get it right. But when we don’t get it right, we try to make it right. As for all the things we do well, my answer is, we do it every single day, usually multiple times a day. When you do something every day, with the intent to do it better today than you did yesterday, your work should exude excellence rather quickly over time. 
So, I ask you, what does your organization do every day that should be excellent? You have your procedures and routines, and the same things are happening over and over every day. What systems do you have in place that will hold everyone on your team accountable to the excellence you’ve agreed upon?

-Rob Lott

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