Finding Purpose in a Cone

There are only three ice cream or sorbet flavors in my world: strawberry honey balsamic vinegar with cracked black pepper, sea salt with caramel ribbons or lemon sorbet if there is no Salt and Straw nearby. What started out as a small-batch artisan ice-cream cart on NE Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon transformed the world of ice-cream (dramatic statement but true). At tonight’s Stumptown Speaker Series Kim Malek, CEO and Co-Founder of Salt and Straw validated that the company is a brand with a purpose to serve and nurture community. She did not have a dream to start an ice-cream brand, she found the purpose first.  Today it is a must-go destination in Portland, Los Angeles (and soon to be in San Francisco and Seattle), a place to indulge in a cacophony of ice-cream flavors that somehow belong together although on the other hand have no business being mixed together AND yet always leave you wondering how on earth Head Chef Tyler Malek cooked up yet another delectable treat. Life lessons: embrace the unexpected and let life surprise you.

Community comes to life in several ways at Salt and Straw:

  • Creating memorable Customer Experiences: The infinity line of customers out the door of the scoop shops – rain or shine – has never made standing in line more worthwhile (although this is not deliberate part of the customer experience). Malek shared that they’ve heard stories about marriage proposals, friendships and job offers while customers have mingled and waited patiently in line.
  • Investing in the Culinary Community: This year Salt and Straw will start an artisan program in Portland. They’ll provide future artisans with a support, a curriculum and share lessons about their own successes and failures to future entrepreneurs. Life is too short to learn everyone’s mistakes.
  • Caring for the Family: The army of dedicated Salt and Straw employees make it a special experience. They’re a key ingredient to the company’s success and well-cared for. Employees receive extensive training on topics such as conflict resolution, diversity and more in the spirit of  creating a respectful community. Philanthropy is small fraction of the equation.
  • Collaborating with Connoisseurs: Then there’s the community partners. They partner closely with local companies such as Olympia Provisions to fine tune their menu offerings.
  • Feeding the Soul: Knowing that food has a knack for bringing people together, forging bonds and creating conversation, there is nothing better than bringing Apple Brandy and Pecan Pie, Stuffing or Eggnog flavors to the Christmas family gathering in Minnesota

Community is a mindset and not a passing thought or aspiration. Building an ethical, resilient and sustainable way of running a business requires a vision, and a commitment to a distinct cultural flavor. They’re always values based companies. I’d fathom a guess that freedom, respect, humor, happiness and connection are at the heartbeat of this cultural gem.

How would you rate your improv performance today?

20150404_130353_resized_4We’re all improvisers. Every day we wake up, we don’t have a script, and we don’t really know what is going to happen. Anything could happen. This was one of Gary Hirsch’s messages at the TEDxMtHood Adventure: Improvising with Strangers held this weekend. Gary is a self-proclaimed improv junkie and co-founder of On Your Feet. During the 2.5 hour workshop, a group of ~30 strangers became friends by playing with improv. Through play, simple instructions, applying the principles of improv showed how it can strengthen collaboration, increase self-awareness and relationships, generate new ideas and approaches to opportunities, problems or products. Here’s what I took away from the session:

Be spontaneous: How often do you attend a meeting with an idea, opinion or a problem to solve but truthfully you’re steadfast committed to one solution? You’re not alone. Agendas have a time and a place. However a lot of people join a brainstorm or meeting with a focus on influencing or convincing vs. looking to solve real problems or find new ideas. Be honest about your intention.

Take the offer. Listen: Improvising is centered on the idea of maintaining the flow of a dialogue and acting on “offers.” We encounter offers throughout conversations and everyday events. They are mistakes, unforeseen circumstances, statements, questions, failures or gestures. Offers help us think differently or generate better ideas. It isn’t necessary to accept every offer but learn to accept the reality of others. Listen for offers to be able to help, learn, contribute, support, create and so forth (especially relevant if you’re in a position of power or authority).

Present: Improv is designed for the present which equips us for the unknown of tomorrow.

I signed up to attend Improvising with Strangers for two reasons. At the 2014 World Domination Summit, Gary handed out bravebots, I carry mine with me most days. It always prompts a smile and reminder to keep trying new things. Second, surprises are more rare these days. In our always-on lives our days are often hyper-scheduled or we’re learning about EVERYTHING new or different via social-media. It was a great experience to participate in a gathering without an agenda and a lot of unknowns. I didn’t really know what I’d signed up for. The tweet I read from @DesignWeekPDX made an offer and I took them up on it.

Check out three improv exercises that will improve your team’s performance on HBR for more ideas. You can hear more from Gary by “meeting his monsters” at TEDxConcordiaUPortland (2013).

Out and About

One of things I’ve enjoyed so far this year has been networking, being out and about with my peers and learning from others. I love it and wonder why I don’t do it more often. I know the answer is simple i.e. that I don’t have enough of it to go and do everything if I want a balance in my life.

Last week, I went to the Corporate Volunteer Council Winter Social, it was great fun. I went bowling for the first time in years. (I still can’t believe I had a strike or two!, the shoes are still pretty gross). While it was less about official business , even in the most informal situations, I find that I learn something. I really enjoyed meeting Claudia Knotek, New Seasons market. The company has a magnificant community and sustainability philosophy, generous program that’s focused on “organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry, educating our youth and improving our environment” . I bet Claudia is full of wisdom, she was a genuine person and wonderful to meet (along with the rest of the crew). Think of New Seasons as a competitor to Whole Foods, but its only in Portland, Oregon. This is one of the things I learned, I was always convinced that it had a network of stores in at least Oregon, Washington and California. This awareness issue is usually the opposite situation that a brand faces. I’m curious to learn more about the company, especially as I’m working to further define our corporate causes and set social impact goals this year.