Plywood Presents is Not for Me

A few years ago, I had just hired a handful of employees at the quirky marketing company I had founded. I was pregnant with my second child, and I was living in a small town a few hours outside of our home in Atlanta thanks to my husband’s military orders.

I didn’t really know another business owner, and I sure didn’t know another young mother who was raising babies along with their business. I had no idea what I was doing.

And I was lonely.

Thanks to encouragement from a friend, I bought myself tickets to Plywood Presents that summer, an event that I most definitely did not feel qualified to attend. I didn’t feel cool enough, connected enough or successful enough to be there, but I was lonely enough, and strangely, that little bit of desperation was all I needed to overcome my insecurities.

I found myself in a room of people who shared exactly what my weary soul needed to hear, from the magazine founder on stage who talked about receiving negative feedback (oh, that’s something other people experience too?!) to the marketing employee at a non-profit school sitting next to me, telling me about her challenges communicating about a school that’s never really been done before (oh, everyone else’s work isn’t just easy?!).

The encouragement seeped in like osmosis, just sitting in that room surrounded by so many people who had ideas and experience and  –what I realized was most valuable of all – a community of people who walked alongside them.

Plywood does an incredible job of curating those who share on stage, but Plywood also draws such a unique crowd of attendees that those who are sitting in the seats around you are likely the most incredible of them all.

So if you are a dreamer, a problem solver, an activist, a leader, a world-changer, an entrepreneur … Plywood Presents is for you. But if you are a scaredy cat, a failure, a self-doubter, a “nobody”, a lonely young mother with no business experience … Plywood Presents is so very for you that I get emotional just writing this out. (Buy your ticket here, and we’ll connect you to someone else so that you’ll know at least one other person there.)

I look forward to the stories of connections and inspiration that will come from this year’s Plywood Presents. My story was one of these a few years ago. Will your story be next?

- Callie Murray, Community Manager for Plywood People

Structure for Creatives by David Choe

Meet our friend David Choe, founder of Cuz.

Rhythms are a paradox. Through the repetition of notes and sounds and beats and their intentional and specific construction, rhythms move people. It’s fascinating to think that something so methodical and structured like a rhythm can cause something so fluid like the tapping of toes and the swaying of bodies.

In my world of strategy and design and creative work, rhythms often look like process. Creative people hate the idea of processes and structure, but without them there’s almost too much to consider.

For example, when someone tasks you with creating a brand, the thought of it is daunting. Where do you even start? This is when rhythms and process often come into play. Instead of putting a bunch of notes on a score hoping it creates something beautiful, it’s painstakingly considering each note and line, and their interactions with one another. It’s forcing yourself to put boundaries on your creativity. Putting your ideas into processes and boxes gives you something to push up against. It creates something for you to break and to change.

When stuff hits the fan and deadlines pile up, revisions seem endless, and people are tired, there’s a temptation to forsake rhythm for completion, and the work suffers.
It takes discipline to dig in and get back into the groove despite the mess that is going on around you. Rhythm and a person’s ability to keep it, is what seems to produce the best kind of work. To create work that means something to someone, maybe even move them.

At Cuz, rhythm is a bigger challenge for us, because we do all of our work on nights and weekends. But that’s also a part of our magic. We have even more limitations than the normal creative agency and in order to produce amazing work, we have to be more disciplined, go deeper faster and hold ourselves to even higher standards. You can be assured that because of our limitations and our convictions about our clients, we will be working harder and smarter than the rest.  For us at Cuz, there is only one option- to move people and we won’t stop until that happens.

On Rhythms by Photographer Rachel Iliadis

Rhythm: a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound.

It is the arrangement of habits and daily decisions that will ultimately determine the direction of your life (no pressure). As we see in the human body and nature, it provides the framework and foundation for life to move peacefully amidst chaos. We all live and breathe in these rhythms for better or worse.

As a 28-year-old INFJ(P) mom of two entrepreneur married to my polar opposite, I’m constantly on the quest for the ever elusive concept of rhythm (read any semblance of balance or sanity). But as it turns out, trying to create a harmonious life out of two unique personalities while parenting and running a small business has proven to be quite the challenge. Surprise!

I am a visionary and idealist. I live wide-eyed and openhearted, oftentimes prioritizing spontaneity over schedules and the future over the present. The big decisions over what culture might classify as mundane (laundry, taxes, bed time routine, etc.) Routines don’t come naturally for me.

For instance, when my oldest daughter Penelope was 2 days old, my mom asked me about our schedule, to which I quickly replied, “We’re not those types of people. We prefer flexibility. The constraints of a schedule have no place here.“

What I didn’t understand at the time is that a lack of an intentional rhythm oftentimes translates to disorder, and if we’re honest, wasted time.

Fast forward three long, sleep deprived years and one giant epiphany later, things look much different. Instead of waking up and letting life take me wherever it wants, I set intentions for each day and determine the course (with limitations of course). The result? Peace. Productivity. Health. And, my mind finally has the space it needs to create and process with clarity.

Even though my personality naturally gravitates towards go-with-the-flow spontaneity (the jump in a van and drive wherever the road takes you kind), that lifestyle wasn’t grounding when the storms came. It left me feeling anxious, depressed and unprepared. In our family, we’ve learned that implementing a slower pace of life with more boundaries is necessary for our holistic health.

Turns out my mom was onto something.

It’s important to remind ourselves that the now is all we have.  All we’re given. Live the story that you want to read when you’re older. And in order to achieve this, I believe you must mindfully define your goals and then establish rhythm and routines to slowly achieve them.

These singular, repeated notes of your daily decisions will create the song that is your life: either a harmonious symphonic masterpiece or noise. How do you want it to sound?

To check out Rachel’s lovely work:

Rest and Work by Joshua Becker

Written by Joshua Becker, from his Blog Becoming Minimalist

It is no coincidence that most of the major world religions exhort human beings to set aside time each week for rest. And even those who would not consider themselves religious still speak to the value of rest. As humans, we all have physical limitations.

There is a danger in our world to self-exalt ourselves over our limitations – to claim that we can work without rest. There is great danger in losing the natural rhythm between rest and work. Great danger for our physical bodies, our emotional well-being, our relationships, and our spirituality. Simply put, we must guard the natural rhythms of life.

Minimalism provides more opportunity for valuable rest, refreshment, and enjoyment. Removing the relentless pursuit of physical possessions from our lives frees us from the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Removing unnecessary physical possessions from our lives frees us from the burden of caring for them. Removing clutter from our homes allows energy to flow more freely. And removing the value we place on physical items allows us to redirect our values and priorities.

So take a deep breath or better yet, take a nap. And return to the natural rhythms of work and rest.

RHYTHM: IT’S WHAT GETS PEOPLE OUT ON THE DANCE FLOOR. Rhythm: It's What Gets People Out On the Dance Floor

Today, we have the opportunity to hear from Joy Thigpen, Creative Director, on the idea of the flow cycle. She breaks down her method and challenges us to think creatively about how to recognize this rhythm in our work when creating.

We all know it’s not the lyrics or the melody that matter even a fraction as much as the rhythm.

I did weddings (photographing and designing them) for over a decade and have seen, time after time, an empty dance floor and a shy, scattered crowd transform into a throbbing mass, joyfully flailing in unison as soon as that first compelling beat drops. Some people will know every word, some will only know a few words, and some will even endure lyrics they despise—because they
there for the rhythm. Inevitably, some people will hold out on the edges of the room, committed to conversation and/or unwilling to fully abandon their bodies to the music so publicly, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a single soul that’s not influenced. At minimum, their foot bounces, head bobs, hips sway, or walk falls in step. We just can’t resist a good beat.

But that’s on a literal dance floor. On the dance floor of life I’ve come to observe a pretty different scene—there is an amazing four-count beat going on that most of us try really hard to resist. It’s called the flow cycle.

Flow is the actual scientific term for when you’re in the zone; when you become hyperfocused on doing something and everything else melts away. You lose track of time, forget to eat, hit a new level of creativity, and are killing it at whatever it is you’re doing. Researchers have studied flow states in everyone from rappers and improv jazz musicians to waitresses and snowboarders and found that there are some neurological changes happening in a flow state that are highly addictive and may literally be the best feeling on earth.

This state of peak performance and feeling amazing is a place most of us have at least tasted and crave to be. And we can be frustrated if we’re not there. But what most of us don’t understand is that flow is just one beat of a four count rhythm. We have to go through three other phases before we can hit flow again.

In an attempt to understand and kind of learn to hack the pattern for the rest of us, Steven Kotler has been studying flow states in extreme athletes for years. He’s learned that there’s a cycle. Here’s a summary:

The Flow Cycle

1. Struggle. Struggle is the uncomfortable place where you are learning new information or skills, and/or working through the structure of what you’re going to do. Kotler says, “to get the most out of this stage you want to take this (the struggle/discomfort) almost to the point when you’re about to lose your mind and then pull back.” During this period all your stress hormones, cortisol, norepinephrine, adrenaline are rising and your brain is in high frequency Beta waves.

2. Release. You have to take your mind off the problem. Your brain slows down into Alpha waves and you trade your slower, lower ram, conscious thought processes from the struggle phase in for faster, subconscious thought with endless ram. “During the relaxation response, you’ve got a global release of nitric oxide gas, which is a signaling molecule everywhere in your body. It drops all the stress hormones out of your bloodstream and instead forces the release of dopamine, serotonin, anandamide, norepinephrine, endorphins, all the good chemicals that you want for flow,” Kotler explains.

3. Flow. Now your brain shifts into Theta and sometimes even Gamma waves. You’re in the zone, make fantastic decisions effortlessly, and feel one with the universe. You can enter a flow state (perhaps to varying intensities) while doing anything active but you’re much more likely to when you are acting out of intrinsic motivation. Freedom from distractions and self-judgement are critical. You’re most likely to hit a flow state when your challenge level and skill level is high. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the guy that coined the term flow, also hypothesized that autotelic people—people with a high level of curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reasons only (so…Plywood kind of people) may be able to achieve flow more often than the average person. People in flow can be up to 500% more productive than when they’re not in flow (which would mean you could work one day a week in flow and be as productive as most people working 5 days a week), especially if they allow for the next phase…

4. Recovery. Last but not least. By this point you’re dropping into Delta waves. Your brain is spent and needs a period of recovery to replenish, consolidate memories, and rewire itself, which is where learning sets in. This is a great time to look back more objectively at what you did while in flow and see what’s worth keeping and what was just a crazy idea (so, editing). You can feel pretty horrible in this phase, especially compared to how good you felt previously, so it takes some awareness and grit to let yourself be here. Sunlight, sleep, and good nutrition can help you move through this stage more gracefully. The important thing is to not stress out about being here or you will crank up your cortisol which will prematurely send you back into the struggle phase.

Learning about this cycle has helped tune me into and give myself more permission to move through this rhythm more freely. Hopefully, becoming aware of this natural rhythm will help turn up it’s volume in your own life and invite you to at least fall in step with it if not give yourself over to it with full abandon. It’s a great beat.


When you think about this process, where do you get stuck?

Healthy Not Perfect by Jim Starnes

Today, Jimmy Starnes, Executive Coach, breaks down what Rhythms mean for him and gives us a guide to use for ourselves.

Rhythms to me are regular, recurring, consistent activities. Add the word healthy” to the definition & I would say that they are critical in helping us move forward in the right direction. They equip us to achieve our most essential goals, & even accomplish our life purpose.

The older I get, the more chaotic life gets. The more information & opportunity is thrown my way, the more important healthy rhythms become to my ultimate success & sanity in life.

Rhythms are the foundation of my schedule. Everything else is scheduled around them. My personal rhythms uncover the most important priorities in my life. They reveal what is truly important to me. They point towards an ideal future that I am trying to create for myself & those around me. They create tremendous momentum & results. This is why it is so important for me to make sure that I choose the right ones, the best options. They must align with where I am trying to go & who I want to be in the future.


I make healthy rhythms a priority in my life by planning ahead & putting them on my calendar first.

The idea here is that the healthy rhythms will always be more important and valuable than the other activities that will begin to fill up your days & take over your schedule.

During the Paterson Center LifePlan process, I learned to break my rhythms down into different categories & specifically define them. Each individuals categories & lists will differ as we are all unique in our design. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when planning your rhythms, along with some of my personal examples:

Physical: What rhythms are important for me to take care of my body? How do I keep high energy levels? How do I rest & replenish?Example – Run 1 mile everyday before breakfast.

Intellectual: What stimulates my mind and feeds it? What challenges & inspires me? What helps me grow in the mastery of my profession?Example – Read 1 book per month that challenges & inspires me.

Emotional: What emotions are going on inside of me? Why those? How can I best process & understand them?Example – Journal my emotions every Tuesday afternoon & process with my wife.

Spiritual: What activities feed my soul? What gives me hope for the future? Example – Daily morning prayer/mediation for 15 minutes.

Relational: How can I connect with loved ones on a consistent basis?Example – Take my wife on a date night every other Thursday.


There will be times that you miss a rhythm for one reason or another. Dont get discouraged: Its not about perfection, but developing a healthy consistency over time.

If your rhythms aren’t working, ask yourself these questions to reevaluate the process:

  1. Why are rhythms important to you?
  2. What have you learned about rhythms in the past?
  3. What’s working?
  4. Whats not?
  5. What is best for you? (Not necessarily what is easiest for you).
  6. What must you change in the future to make them successful?

All healthy rhythms start with a simple, new action. An action that can become a huge benefit to you if done on a regular, recurring, & consistent basis!

I believe we all have the opportunity to create a better future for ourselves & our world & I believe “healthy not perfect” rhythms are a critical part of the process.

To quote my friends at Plywood, “Better is possible & the future is good!”

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

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.

A Secret from Disney | By Rob Lott

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