Start With The Obvious

I recently saw Todd Henry speak at an awesome hybrid music/speaking event Kristian Andersen put on at the Speak Easy. Todd said many wise and wonderful things but one statement stood out and has continued to resonate with me:

"Start with the obvious and it will lead you to the obscure."

This really hit home with me, often I discard or discount the obvious, regarding it unworthy of consideration or inclusion. But, as we have all experienced in our own lives, what seems obvious to one person is not to another. Maybe we can blame Robert Frost for this. We are all looking for the "road less traveled." The reality is that those less traveled roads often connect to the highways.

Waiting on the obscure often leads to delays or nothing getting done. We must place a higher value on forward momentum than novelty.

Our desire to elevate our thinking and work is noble but to accomplish this we must shift our thinking and begin to regard that which is obvious as a portal. It is simply the first step that will lead to much deeper, less obvious revelations. It will lead us to the obscure. 

related: I recently worked on a weekend recording project that was influenced by Todd's "begin with obvious" thinking. I did the session with a group of guys I have worked with for years, even going back to high school. Often in the past we have gone out of our way to create music that was as unconventional, or weird, as possible. We didn't want to sound like anyone else, we wanted to be unique and obscure, original to the point of annoyance (according to my wife at least). For this session we framed everything around "commit". We committed ourselves quickly to the most obvious course of action- this song could use a vocal harmony, ok, let's do that! The result was 6 songs finished and mixed in one weekend. We all feel it is some of best music we have ever made (and my wife and kids like it which is nice). You can check it out here: The Pink Eagles on Sound Cloud or Musical Family Tree.

How To Get A Job

I spoke to a group of Purdue students last night. They were taking an entrepreneurship class taught by my friend, and fellow Speak Easy co-founder, Andy Clark. Much of the Q&A focused on how to get a job. More specifically, how to get your foot in the door with a small company. I had some suggestions which I shared with the class as well as some additional thoughts. Here they are:

Build Your Army
Note that I didn't say "build your network". Network feels too passive for me. You need an army to get a job. People that are actively thinking of opportunities to send your way. This means you have to stay top of mind with these people, your army. Engage them on Twitter, check in via email, buy them lunch or drinks, attend events they attend. There is a line to walk between being persistent and being annoying. But most job seekers could error on the side of being annoying. They give up way too fast. 

Ask For Informational Interviews

A job interview is something of a formal thing. Most companies have processes around it- usually starting with an opening being announced. An informational interview is a much more casual but effective way of getting your foot in the door. Lead with your curiosity- why did you start the business? What kind of employees do you look for? What are your plans for the future? I've seen this approach work. Also, you get to build your army as you go. The companies you talk with might not hire you but, assuming you do an effective job, they will become part of your army and send opportunities your way.

Align Your Passions

Everyone has things they are passionate about. Figure out what your taget employer is passionate about- sports, music, hunting? Then align, authentically, with those passions. "Hey, I saw you were really into vinyl records, here's a link to a great vinyl review website I write for..." 

Simplify Your Emails

So many of the emails I receive from prospective hires border on being short novels. I don't have time to read them, no-one in my position does. Quantity does not equal quality when it comes to communication. Make your point and respect my time. That will leave a far greater impression than the well crafted 500-1000 word essay you were taught to write in college. Don't get me started on how colleges foster a quantity over quality mentality. If it takes more than 30 seconds to read then it's too long.

Any other business owners out there have some good tips on how to stand out and get hired?

Employee Graduation

Most organizations bend over backwards to retain key talent. Often this results in an employee staying at a company for the wrong reasons- golden handcuffs, guilt, fear, etc. I believe organizations should focus instead on encouraging employees to "graduate" when the time comes. This seems counter-intuitive. Why invest in an employee that is going to leave?

No doubt, organizations need a return on the investment they make in their employees. But there may be diminishing returns on that investment over time or the employee may not be 100% on board with their role or they may have outgrown their potential in the organization. Whatever the reason, I believe there are few instances of a healthy lifetime employee/employer relationship. People and the organizations they work for rarely evolve synchronously over a long period of time. 

Perhaps the most desirable form of graduation is an employee becoming an entrepreneur. This can also serve the "parent" business by outsourcing work to the former employee's startup. Ricardo Semler's "Maverick" demonstrated the success of this approach. I have seen it here with our former employees that now run Joyful Noise Recordings and Ayokay.  Not everyone is meant to run their own business but I do think organizations should build entrepreneurial employees (also called "intrapreneurs"). In many ways I feel this is the civic duty of business owners. An entrepreneurial minded employee can be a very powerful asset to an organization as well as their community. 

I believe business owners should focus on their employee's overall growth, not just their growth within the organization. If you don't make this investment then your employees will be more likely to leave. Don't underestimate the real value of employee happiness. In my experience, growth equals happiness. But every organization has limitations for employee growth. So when an employee's growth slows it may be time to help them pursue a new opportunity. 

Don't forgot, employees are brand ambassadors. When they leave your organization they will carry your brand with them. What do you want them to say? Don't you want them to tell a positive story about their experience? Don't underestimate the harm your brand can suffer when your employees suffer. I have seen this greatly undermine companies. No-one wants to work for or with them.

Is ROWE A Culture Killer?

First here's a re-post of the definition of ROWE from CultureRx's website (emphasis added):

"Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) is a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence."

Increasingly I've come to take issue with the "presence" aspect of ROWE. I believe it works against a healthy culture. How can you build a great team when that team is rarely together? Imagine a basketball team where everyone practices alone- how do you think they would compete against a team that practices together? 

We are physical creatures and, as it's been proved many times, much of our communication is non-verbal. In my opinion Skype just doesn't make up the distance. Innovation, ideation and collaboration all degrade with distance. Not to say that you can't have a healthy mix of present/remote work. There are times when the best work is done heads down, with intense focus. I see that on my team all the time. 

Truly exceptional companies put organizational health first. I believe this requires presence. ROWE advocates need to consider whether their adopted philosophy is damaging their most important asset- their health. 

(Inspired by Patrick Lencioni's new book "The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business" and a lunch conversation with Don Sedberry)

Personal Assistant: a Job Description

Update: I have hired Kasey Bradley for this role and am excited to be working with him. Thank you to everyone that applied and went through my idiosyncratic process!


I need a personal assistant to help me get stuff done. Not just SmallBox stuff but anything really, within reason. No laundry or yard work. In addition to SmallBox related work, areas of focus will include new business ideas, side projects (Speakeasy, Musical Family Tree, Springboard, etc) and exploration of random rabbit holes. Must live in or near Indianapolis, preferrably near Broad Ripple- I'm not looking for a "virtual" assistant. I will need this person to sit in meetings on my behalf and run errands.
Ideally this person has just graduated from high school or college and wants a “gap” year. Or it could be someone who just wants a change of pace. I don’t expect anyone to last more than 12 months in this position so one of their jobs will be to find their replacement as they approach burn out- or as I clarified below- they out grow the role. Advancement opportunities may be available as well.
This person must be 50% problem solver, 50% workhorse and 25% mind reader. Intelligence and curiosity are givens. Quick learner is a requirement. Computer and communication skills must be solid.

The following will help:

Aligned with my personal purpose statement: to orchestrate creativity
as well as the SmallBox purpose statement: to transform work.

Willingness to tell me no.

Ability to understand the big picture from a quick snapshot.

Write well.

Thrives on erratic hours.

Enjoys running errands and has the transportation to do so. (mileage compensated)

Ability to parse messages that may be lacking context. 

Be a good sounding board for ideas.

A desire to research different subject matters and provide short, scannable briefs.

Recording experience with both digital and analog formats.

Committed to continual growth.

Annoyed by wasting time.

Design and code skills a big plus.

The Other Stuff:

Time: 40 hours a week roughly.

Salary- $25-35k depending on experience.

Benefits- SmallBox pays half of health for employees and dependents. Time off available and encouraged.

Perks- iPhone and bill paid, MacBook Pro.

Start- as soon as possible.

How to apply for this job:

Contact me at

You are welcome to send a resume but I am more interested in you sending links to work you have done. Bonus points for those that can do something creative to demonstrate some of the desired attributes I listed above. I’ll chose the top 3-5 applicants for interviews and respond to everyone that applies.  

Note: I'll update this post when the job has been filled.