A little accountability…

My friend Mindy Haidle and I have become accountability partners. It started when we both left (somewhat) comfortable jobs doing (somewhat) interesting work. But then what was next? For me, it’s Ambeti and figuring out how to be the greatest help to the folks who are *this close* to misdiagnosing a business problem. For her, it’s helping the C-suite fall in love with their customers all over again.

Accountability also carries responsibility. We meet once (or twice) a week. We IM and text interesting and relevant articles. We give honest and unvarnished feedback. We also cheer each other on. We convince each other to write every day for 100 days. We are invested in each others’ successes or failures. We show up for one another. Things that seem simple but are incredibly meaningful. So here’s to showing up today and being there for Mindy and having her be there for me.

Tina Cordes
The Power of Inaction

Humans have an innate tendency toward action over inaction. But when you think about it, moments of clarity usually come during moments of rest. It’s important to do and put effort into things, don’t get me wrong. But that’s our default and what we know best. It’s easy for us. It’s hard to rest. It’s hard to rest and not feel guilty.

We should fight against efforting all the time. To actively choose moments of inactivity and then actually become inactive. To use those moments to see what the universe provides for us. Our brains can do powerful acrobatics on our behalf when we take the time to go for a walk or rest in a hammock or simply let your mind wander.

I took that moment this morning, walked the dogs with an eye on all the flowers in all the yards. I let the dogs sniff them, I sniffed some. No great epiphany, but I feel ready to focus again.

Tina Cordes
Can a business be feminist?

The answer is simply yes. But how we get there is more fun and complicated. I happened upon Jennifer Armbrust’s Feminist Business School nearly two years ago and in the process of taking her classes have had my mind blown several times.

Capitalism is inherently masculine. What would a feminine economy look like? And can a business be feminist? What does it mean to be feminine-ist? Over three months, the students in my class identified ways the feminine could impact how we thought about business and our place in the business world. It was deeply meaningful and incredibly powerful.

Following that first class, I took another class and I’m currently on my third, exploring the Visions & Values of my business. I’m still identifying ways the feminine can impact business and my place in the business world.

Tina Cordes
Be Kind. Nice isn’t enough.

Not being nice is something that I’ve been working on for a few years. It’s not that I want to be a jerk. But nice feels hollow and fake.

On the other hand, kind feels thoughtful and intentional. Kind can be honest, perhaps step on some toes, but in the end feel warm and caring. This is what I strive for.

Darling Magazine digs in more:

Kindness is an action. And it takes courage.
Tina Cordes
Leading With Leadfully

Thanks to SYPartners for their new service Leadfully. It was developed for leaders to experiment with new practices and develop new leadership skills. I’ve signed up for the 28-day program about fostering trust through vulnerability. I often don’t show my vulnerable side and it makes me uncomfortable to do so. Here goes!

Tina Cordes
80+ Coffees, Lunches, and Drinks

I try to say yes when people want to connect. Sometimes we have a friend in common or a colleague introduces us. Sometimes they reach out cold. Unless they’re a weird jerk or horribly awkward, it’s usually an interesting conversation and the opportunity to meet a kindred spirit.

The past three months have shown me the magic of keeping in touch. I’ve had countless (actually, I counted and it’s 80+) meetings to get clarity on my career and future in Portland. There have been people who I’ve helped in the past, who could help me, who just like me and want to do me a favor or I like them and just want to hang out. Most of these meetings didn’t have a planned outcome except a willingness to accept whatever might come out of it.

I’ve left so many of those meetings feeling good about myself, about humanity, about the innate goodness inside each of us and our desire to bring it out in others. Want to have lunch sometime?

Tina Cordes
It’s Better to Ask Forgiveness than Permission

A piece of professional advice that I got early in my career (Thanks Scott!) — make bold moves first, worry about ruffling feathers second. Perhaps I misinterpreted, but man…Scott was really, really good at this.

I try to be delicate when I make bold moves. I worry about stepping on toes, but do so anyways. I loop in those who will support the cause, but temporarily ignore the naysayers. I think through worst case scenarios, but hope for the best. I’d rather offer a half-baked solution than nothing at all.

Tina Cordes
How to Be a Good Strategist

Be curious. There’s so much to learn and so little time.

Be kind. It’s different than being nice, with better results.

Have an opinion. But don’t be precious about it.

Make stuff. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

Fill a hole. Complement what others are doing, rather than doing more of the same.

Be proactive. You’ll figure out what’s helpful over time.

Ask questions. But not all at the same time, that can be annoying.

Start “bad.” And then, edit and refine.

Move it forward. Always leave the project better than when you started.

Tina Cordes
Client services, UFC and me.

When I started as an Account Director at Odopod, my first client was Zuffa, the company behind UFC. I train service dogs, I weave and knit, I cry at Pixar movies, I’m a girl. It didn’t make immediate sense. But my friend Shamus taught me the lingo, pointed me to some good books* and I started learning. If you don’t like the clients you’re working on, you’re not trying hard enough to discover what makes them tick. I grew to love working on UFC.

Despite what you might think, they’re a progressive brand and always explored the latest technology (connected TVs, mobile apps for fans, etc). One of my favorite memories from working with them was flying down to Las Vegas and presenting to the owners, the Fertitta brothers, as they drank their protein smoothies and looked hella tough.

So it’s interesting to learn that after Dana White said “We’re not for sale…but, if somebody shows up with $4 billion, we can talk,” UFC sold itself for $4 billion. I expect some interesting changes soon…

*Highly recommended reading: A Fighter’s Heart and A Fighter’s Mind, both by Sam Sheridan

Tina Cordes
Tips for Project Pitches

I love pitches. I’m always working on my presentation skills, but I know my enthusiasm puts a room at ease. A few tips I’ve picked up over the years:

  • Find out who will be in the room. If there’s a technical part of the presentation, you can check in with the CTO. Or the staffing part…with the operations person.
  • Tell them what you’re presenting. And in what order. And that you can skip around. They may not care about your case studies. Or your office culture. Read the room and be flexible.
  • Take notes. Have one person write down everyone’s name and role (in case there are some surprise arrivals). Keep an eye on people’s reactions. Write down every single question. You will want to follow up on these.
  • One answer will do. Decide ahead of time who will answer what types of questions. They don’t need to hear variations on the same answer from every member of your team. This one is hard to do.
  • Make it fun. Don’t be put off by the difficult person in the corner: “Ohh..that’s a great question. I’d love to hear more from your perspective.” Be silly. Swear (if it makes sense). Let your personality come through.

Good luck!

Tina Cordes
How NOT to Win a New Business Pitch

I recently re-read Mike Monteiro’s post, How to Pitch a Project. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. If you have, hopefully this story brings it to life.

Many years ago, I worked at Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village and we were kicking off a 5-year project to make an exhibit about the golden years of flight. We sent off our RFP with details that the finalists would be brought to the museum for a working session with our team. We narrowed it down to three and invited each team for an in-person presentation (their pitch) and a working session (a fun activity planned by our team). Mind you, we were selecting a group of people that we would work closely with for the next FIVE years.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Two companies got it. One company nailed it (who we ended up hiring). They asked lots of questions, rolled up their sleeves and put our team and their team to work solving the problem — together. Everyone had fun, we laughed a lot and got to know their working styles.

And then there was the sad company that choose a different route. Once we briefed them, they turned their backs to our team and huddled amongst themselves to discuss. They took the next hour to work through the activity without including us at all. Not even to ask us questions. They bickered and did not seem to enjoy the experience at all.

I still can’t imagine what impression they thought they were making. It will stick with me my entire career. The client is on your team. You need to work alongside them. Hopefully, it will be fun for everyone.

Tina Cordes
Outsights vs. Insights

I listened to a Harvard Business Review webinar this morning featuring Herminia Ibarra.

  1. I heart HBR.
  2. Herminia is hella smart.
  3. She introduced me to the concept of “outsight.”
“Outsight is the fresh, external perspective you can get when you do new and different things — new projects and activities, different kinds of people, and new ways of getting things done .”

As opposed to insight: the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. This stuck with me.

"It’s not about faking it until you make it. But about playing around and trying new things — try something different and learn from it."
Tina Cordes
Why is strategy hard to explain? (Part 2)

Working with a strategist can require a leap of faith — from the producer, the creative team and other strategists. Sure, there are the expected deliverables (write a brief! make a persona!). My most helpful strategy work is unpredictable. It’s also the work I’m most proud of (lead a workshop! tell me about storytelling arcs!)

Let’s say a producer is trying to scope a project and she’ll ask how long the strategy will take. Well, that depends…what do you want to know and how much do you have to spend? My smart ass answer is that you’ll get three weeks of “strategy” if you budget three weeks of a strategist’s time.

For example, I’m currently working on a project where they knew they’d need strategy. I set aside twenty hours and off we go. I wrote a brief , two hours. I met with the team and did a ton of research (consumer, brand, competitors, vertical, channel), six hours.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I realized that giving the designers user journeys with real content would be the most helpful. If you would have asked me last week if that’s what was needed for the project, I wouldn’t have been sure. So I whipped those up, six hours.

Was it helpful? I would argue yes — we have a common language to talk about the project and the designers have strategic (not just placeholder) content to work from.

Six hours to go…what else will be helpful?

Tina Cordes
How to work with a new team.

I can’t claim to be shy anymore. I’ve found ways to be outgoing and social when, on the inside, I just want to go hide. So when I walk into a brand new office on a Monday morning and meet up with a brand new team on a brand new project, here’s what I do:

Be positive.

OK, I’m sure this sounds like a no brainer. But I’m amazed that people don’t do it. A “yes, let’s DO this!” attitude goes a long way.

Be open.

You may not be doing exactly what you thought you would, you might eat lunch late, you might be thrown into a client meeting. Who knows, just go with it.

Remember names.

Yeah, I’m the worst at this.

Be nice.

Especially to the people at the front desk or whoever did the behind-the-scenes work to set things up.

Get in front of it.

Try to anticipate what the team might need. It’s always easier to work from someone’s draft than start from scratch. Make that draft.

Do something different.

If everyone is doing one thing, do another. Do the thing that no one is thinking of or wants to do.

It’s been fun. I’m looking forward to more tomorrow.

Tina Cordes
How smart do strategists need to be?

I’ve never liked when people say “the strategist needs to be the smartest person in the room.” Really? They know all the answers already? I believe that the strategist needs to ask the smartest question in the room. And it’s not easy to ask smart questions. Sometimes it’s even the question that everyone believes they know the answer to, but simply by asking the question, it brings everyone to the same conclusion together. Quickly.

Always curious, always digging for the right information to inform decisions and influence the work. A strategist who doesn’t ask questions or jumps to conclusions isn’t a strategist that I want to work with. (And I have had so many interviews where the potential strategist has zero questions for me…not good.)

You might be thinking that at some point the strategist needs to stop asking questions. You’re right, there is a time and place for making decisions and being declarative. But even then, the strategist is the helpful guide, steering an entire team in the right direction, not simply heading in the right direction and hoping everyone will follow.

Any questions?

Tina Cordes
Strategy & Design: You’ve got to go through it to get through it.

I recognize a pattern to my strategy work that gets glossed over in the “Design Process” (Capital D, Capital P). Joe Stewart at Work & Company calls it “brute force” in his 99u interview. I agree.

Most of strategy (and design too) is a process of elimination. It’s slogging through all the possible outcomes, all the minute details, all the teeny tiny decisions. That then narrow down to a few small gems. The trick is that you won’t know the gems until you compare them with all the other dull, unshiny rocks.

There’s this myth of a design eureka moment. As if a strategist has a flash of brilliance from seemingly nowhere. The truth is that hours and hours of research, talking to other people, trying things out—doing “bad” strategy—is what allows us to make smart connections with all the data at hand. Good strategy isn’t a momentary insight, it’s the result of a lot of hard work.

Tina Cordes
Millennials are older than you think.

Depending on what year Millennials came into being (let’s just say 1980), the oldest Millennials are 36 years old. They’re old! Ancient! Ok, maybe not ancient, but older than most people are picturing when they’re talking about the latest trends.

Basically, this generation that we thought we knew — the Me Generation —they went and grew up on us. And as they’re growing up, they’re changing their values, behaviors, buying habits, etc.

Click through to any of those links for more stats. But the next time someone says Millennials in a meeting, you probably should be talking about Gen Z.They’re the young ones.

Tina Cordes
People are lovely.

In the past two months, I’ve asked a lot of people for help. I’ve asked for their time, their opinion and sometimes a favor or two. It’s not easy, and sometimes I hate asking.

But, you know what? The people you choose to surround yourself with (even somewhat peripherally) are wonderful. They’re giving, caring, thoughtful, funny and helpful. They continue to do and say amazing things that blow me away. Thank you everyone!

Do you need help and are afraid to ask? Try it, you might be surprised at how people respond. Or ask me, I’m happy to help!

Tina Cordes
Do this. Good things will follow.

My friend Stacy Stevenson had some words of wisdom about a very specific topic we were discussing this past weekend. I took a step back and realized these are good rules to follow in life.

Ask Questions

Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Everyone has an interesting story to tell.

Follow Up

If there are things you’ve promised to do or answers you promised to track down, do them. Or be really honest why you can’t.

Reply Immediately

I’m bad at this one, so this is a good wake-up call for me. Why are you neglecting those emails/texts/voicemails/etc? The person on the other end wants to talk to you. Now.

Be Nice

I’ll give this a slight twist…Be Kind. There’s no reason in life to be a jerk, to treat someone poorly and make them feel bad. It’s not about being a doormat, it’s about common decency and respect for other people.

Go forth and be good humans!

Tina Cordes
Content Behavior > Content Channel

We talk a lot about where people “live” online. We know where to reach them but we know much less about what they consume and why.


Yes, it’s important to know if your audience prefers Instagram to Twitter or Quora to Reddit. We need to know where we can reach a large group of people who might be interested in our brand/product/message.


But more importantly, what do they consume? Or like? Or share? Or comment on? Or return to? Long videos, short how-to videos, relevant links, inspirational photos, time-sensitive news, etc?


And then there’s the biggest question—what do they need/want/expect from our brand/product? It’s probably not the same thing they want from their friends and family. Or the influencers they follow. Or the brands/products that are currently relevant to them.

Determining the balance between content that is entertaining or that is useful is hard. Having the courage to step away when we provide neither is even harder.

Tina Cordes