The End of Skywalker. The Rise of Baby Yoda.

The end of the Skywalker Saga.  A story that has been a massive part of my life since the earliest days of my childhood came to an end last night.  As I sat in a theater packed with three generations of family and friends, we travelled one more time to a galaxy far, far away and immersed ourselves in the action, adventure, and nostalgia of the Star Wars universe.  It is a story that we as a family, as a society, and as a culture have shared over these past 42 years, and it has been a magical ride.

But that ride has not been perfect.  After the success of the original trilogy in the late 70s and early 80s, fans were overwhelmed with excitement when the production of a new prequel trilogy was announced and ultimately launched in 1999.  For me personally, where the original movies hit theaters at the beginning of my life, this new trilogy hit at the beginning of my life after college. George Lucas, the mastermind of this cultural empire, set out to not only delight the current mega-fans of the franchise, but to also introduce Star Wars to a new generation of kids around the world.  And while the movies made a fortune and had a ton of great moments, many of the hardcore fans were not pleased.  Too childish. Too silly.  Too far from the “canon” they expected.  Kids and casual fans generally loved the movies and enjoyed the ride.  These super fans did not.  It did not meet their dreams and expectations, and they very vocally voiced their displeasure. Thus began some toxic fandom in the Star Wars universe.  And this was before social media.

Fast-forward to 2012 when it was announced that Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise and were launching a new sequel trilogy that would start in 2015.  Again… expectations were through the roof.  Now those same hardcore fans from the 70s were looking for movies that would right the wrongs of the prequels.  The kids who grew up with the prequels were excited to revisit their own childhoods, and Disney also hoped to introduce a new group of kids to the wonder (and merchandise) of Star Wars.  And for me… now it was a chance to see the newness of Star Wars through the eyes of my own children.

And again, the result was polarizing.  The first movie, The Force Awakens, was a huge box office success, but criticized for being too predictable and too much of a rehash of the originals.  The second movie, The Last Jedi, saw the rise of toxic fandom rise to a whole new level.  Paralleling the political landscape of these turbulent times, this movie, which set out to “subvert expectation,” divided the fandom and gave rise to a very vocal minority of haters and trolls.  Too much “forced diversity.”  The mishandling of Luke Skywalker’s character arc.  A plot that didn’t follow the first movie.  The destruction of childhoods.  The world of social media, as too often happens, became a darker place for the Star Wars universe. 

So for this final movie, I have been beyond curious for how J.J. Abrams and the good folks at Disney would pull this off.  Would they try to please everyone and, if so, could they do it?  Well they certainly gave it a valiant effort.  Without giving any spoilers, they did successfully bring a definitive conclusion to the stories of each character in all three trilogies.  They packed in a ton of action sequences and brought back nostalgia from each generation. And most importantly, they brought out the feels.  This movie truly does tug on some heartstrings, creates a few tears, and allows you to leave the theater feeling the magic of Star Wars.  Whoever you are. The movie was fun.  It was far from perfect.  It didn’t ruin my childhood.  You should watch it.  And I will see it again.

All of this begs the question… is it possible for something like Star Wars… a powerful story and a brand that spans 40+ years to create a product that delights all of its fans?  2 months ago, when I first thought to write this blog, I was prepared to say that it was next to impossible.  And then everything changed.  

Baby Yoda happened.

In November, Disney launched its streaming service, with its hero offering being “The Mandalorian,” the first live action Star Wars TV show.  This series, positioned as a “western” featuring a badass bounty hunter surprised everyone by introducing the most fascinating and surprising Star Wars character in almost 40 years.  The Child, lovingly known as “Baby Yoda” in countless memes, tweets, and articles, is a new character shrouded in mystery.  He is rich with mythology but has no backstory.  He is pure and innocent but immensely powerful. He is overwhelmingly cute but with a not-so-subtle air of danger.  He is everything Star Wars fans (and non-fans) have needed but didn’t know they wanted.  “Baby Yoda” has united the Star Wars fandom, balancing the rich air of nostalgia, the delight and excitement of the moment, and the anticipation of what is to come. “Baby Yoda,” out of nowhere, has become the future of Star Wars.

How did they do it? Instead of trying to please everyone in the movie world of “Skywalker,” where fans had so many and such differing expectations of what should change and what should stay the same, they created something new.  That something was still wrapped in the mythology and the spirit of Star Wars, but unburdened with the expectations of the past.  They literally gave a rebirth to the Force of Star Wars and found a way to create a character, a story, and a future that new and old fans could support.

So can a brand like Star Wars, which has been a cultural phenomenon for 40 years, adapt and evolve to tell new stories into the future?  It can.  Not through trying to change what is already powerful and loved, but by creating something new and fresh that evokes those old and new feelings of the magic that originally created the power and love.  While it is time for the Skywalker story that started “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” to finally end, the universe is infinite for new stories that evoke a Force of familiar feelings.

May the Force be with You. 

Designers, I’m calling you out.

As we approach 2020, it’s clear that large creative agencies are struggling to be agile in our rapidly changing consumer markets. Organizational hierarchies are flattening and restructuring in hopes of improving speed of performance.

Upstream’s advantage is that it was created 19 years ago to be nimble and respond quickly to any ask, so we’re already ahead of that curve.

Everybody here works and communicates directly with each other and we all have the opportunity to be leaders. It helps that each of us offers more than a singular skillset.  But the best part is, our ideas are valued more than our titles. 

This is especially true for our creative team members. 

Historically, graphic designers were considered work horses, hired to make things “look pretty” and told to “go do,” but at Upstream, the collaboration between designer and creative director is critical, so both navigate and communicate fluidly together within the creative process. Designers have to consider business objectives, marketing strategy and creative execution, then articulate it all back to the team and/or client.

To survive in this industry, designers need to be creative strategists.

I’m calling you out, if you’re a designer reading this and thinking:

“Sh*t. They didn’t teach me this in design school.”

“Sh*t. I don’t know anything about creative strategy.” 

“Sh*t. I don’t know how to talk about my ideas very well.”

“Sh*t. I lost my confidence and forgot how to push back.”

If you desire to be a better, more respected creative, you can be. Just take the time to learn about the business of design and power of strategy with the same care you took to learn the Adobe Creative Suite. 

And if you continue to improve your knowledge base, your confidence will grow too. 

So, to get you moving in the right direction, I recommend a book that I found invaluable in my efforts to contribute more as a designer; Creative Strategy and the Business of Design by Douglas Davis.

It’s a great book that will have a real impact on how you think about your creative work. Douglas Davis is a designer that also studied business, so he understands our strengths and deficits as creatives and speaks to them. He breaks down complex business concepts into bite-sized pieces. 

If you’re ready to step up your game, this book is the perfect first step on that journey.

The Years Are Short

Over the past six months, my wife and I went through the daunting process of selling our home while raising two young boys. We have a 1-year-old who loves throwing anything he can get his hands on (often at his older brother), and a 6-year-old who plays five minutes with a toy before moving on to the next one. 

Of course, this led to many nights of counting the minutes until bedtime just to get the opportunity to make sure the house was presentable for potential showings the next day.  Enjoying the moment was replaced with an exhausted exhale once the boys were down for the night.  

During that stressful summer stretch, I happened across a saying that described the situation perfectly:

The days are long, but the years are short.

While those long days were seemingly crawling by, my wife and I celebrated our 9thwedding anniversary, our sons’ first and sixth birthdays, and a full ten years of living in our first home together…not to mention my 3rdyear anniversary of working at Upstream 360. 

On each of those occasions, my wife and I would reflect on how far we’ve come – and wefound ourselves saying “there’s no way it’s been that long!” Each of those painstakingly slow days somehow added up to a total whirlwind of a decade. Only the happy endings seemed to matter; we eventually sold the house, and the boys are still alive and well (with only a few minor bumps and bruises to show for their troubles).

I’m doing my best to remind myself of this phrase when we get extremely busy here at Upstream.  For example, a commercial we produced popped up recently on my cell phone as YouTube pre-roll.  It had been well over a year since we shot and edited the spot. I was eager to bring it up to a few fellow Upstreamers who immediately reminded me about the tedious process we went through in order to get final approval.  

They weren’t wrong – while in the midst of post-production, this project seemed like an unending string of alts and revisions. Now, over a year later, I had completely forgotten about that repetitive sequence of events. The long days in the edit suite had given way to the short years of having an awesome finished product.

When it comes down to it, the impossibly long rough patches blur into background noise over time. The polished final results are all that remains in focus, whether it’s a fantastic new sizzle reel,or an adorable toddler with a big smile.

HINDSIGHT IS 2023

Well, I managed to survive “Move In Day” at Elon University in North Carolina.  My daughter is a newly-minted member of the Freshman Class.  Her graduation in 2023 seems a long way off.  Until it seems like it’s almost here.  Welcome to the life of a College Dad.

Elon gave every new College Parent an interesting task to do during the move in; write a letter to your daughter that will not be opened until half-way through the First Semester.  By the University’s calculations, this is typically the time when the novelty of College begins to wear off, stress becomes elevated, and bouts of homesickness can occur.

That’s a lot to assuage in a short letter – but hey – we’re storytellers here at Upstream, so bring it on!  I didn’t want to use any of the “talking points” I was saving for the “Big Good-Bye” later that day, though. 

The first sentence was easy: “Remember me?

Okay, I bet that will at least earn a small chuckle.  But if she wants laughs, she has Netflix.

Then I decided to apply a little innovative thinking.  Instead of guessing what content might be relevant to her nine weeks from now, try a different angle.  I thought: “What letter would I write today to my 18-year-old self?”

Had to ask for extra paper.

You don’t know everything.  So show humility when you compete. Win with grace and lose with dignity. When you fall down, get up. When you fall down again, get up again. 

Have you figured out yet that it isn’t those with the most talent who become successful, but those with the most resiliency and the strongest character when faced with disappointment?

Take care of your teeth. They were pricey.

I hope you haven’t missed a class. Be on time. Be reliable. Make your best choices when no one is looking, because that’s when they really count. And by the way, you have to know that someone isprobably looking.  Privacy is an illusion on a college campus.

Be focused, be present, be your best self. Be grateful. Arrogance sucks. Realize how fortunate you are.  Help other people by giving back.

Listen at least as much as you talk.  Respect yourself and dump anyone who doesn’t respect you.  Say no when you don’t want to do something. It’s okay if everyone doesn’t like you.  

Embrace change.  Keep an open mind – your only limitation will be a lack of imagination.

Given her graduation year, I’m hoping hindsight is 2023.

Mark Smith is the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Storyteller for Upstream 360, as well as the father of a teenage daughter.  He stays motivated by the twin powers of doubt and insecurity, while his approach to the work is making it legitimately interesting, shareable, and something people can connect with. 

Mark is also an author of the book Innovation Myths and Mythstakes, available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and coming soon on Audible.  

Our Differences Make Us The Same

Once upon a time…

In a galaxy not so far away, our galaxy, our planet, there are seeds for change.  

This obvious riff on two pop culture tropes leads us into the arena of storytelling – that is the foundation of all that we consume – from film to tv shows, from books to music, and from news to the advertisements that seem to infest most content.   

What I’m not going to do is explain storytelling to you – that would be an entirely different story!

This is a story of how my family and I got to see “A Conversation with SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotomayor” at Walnut Hills High School.  Sonia Sotomayor is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  She is only the third woman and the first Hispanic and Latina Justice out of 114 people who have served during the Supreme Court’s 230-year lifespan.  

Justice Sotomayor is not shy about her life story and has written several books, for both adults and children, that share her history, her influences and her love of Law.  At the age of 7, she was diagnosed with diabetes and because of being in a single-parent household due to the untimely death of her father, she began giving herself life-saving insulin injections at that same age.  This condition created a distance between her and her classmates – bridging this divide became the central theme of Sotomayor’s new book “Just ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You!”

Sotomayor’s storytelling, takes two different approaches: one for children and one as a learning tool for adults.  Both teach us all a better way of interacting with people that appear different from ourselves.  Her analogy of people being like different flowers in a garden helps establish this landscape before delving into the stories of 10 or so children and their unique qualities – which, as we all grow and blossom, know are not that unusual.

The importance of this book (and its thoughtfulness), quickly became very personal, as I reflected upon the challenges my own friends and family face – from Autism to Speech Impediments.

At Upstream, we’ve had the opportunity to help tell the stories of others that if you bumped into them on the street or sat next to them on a park bench – you may have found yourself staring – whether you meant to or not.  From children with Ocular implants to those with nearly full paralysis – each story helps prove the old axiom that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, or as Justice Sonia Sotomayor remarked when, as a teenager, someone saw her injecting herself in a public restroom “Don’t think the worst in people.” 

This is a children’s book that is set out to challenge the misconceptions of adults.  

So everyone, and yes that means all of us– Just ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You!

What Creatively Inspires You?

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams

What creatively inspires you? That’s the question today. Working in media, it’s common to find ourselves constantly creating to a point where we may feel like our creative “tank” is running low.  Have you ever found yourself just staring at a screen, hoping that something miraculous and perfect comes to mind?  

As creatives, we not only have to take the time to invest in the projects we’re working on, but we have to make a conscious effort to invest in ourselves as well. It can be extremely healthy and productive to shut off for a while and experience things that will kick that imaginative side of our brains back into gear.

Fortunately, there are countless places to go to look for creative inspiration. We live in a world where Internet is king and the ability to share content with anyone at any time is instantaneous. Everyone is inspired differently – each of us has a unique blend of preferences and interests. 

With all this in mind, we started to get curious about what inspires our coworkers here at Upstream. To find out, we did what we do best in this industry – we asked our group to brainstorm. What keeps the gears going? How do we pump out content that not only our clients love, but that we ourselves are proud of?  

Our results were incredible – we sifted through all different types of content (videos, music, sports, nature, you name it) that really proved how diverse our group of creatives are at Upstream. Go ahead and scroll through our “melting pot” of inspiration…it just might have an effect on you!

WEBSITES TO VISIT:

THINGS TO WATCH:

TED Talks are great source to hear from professionals across all disciplines!
VISIT HERE

YOUTUBE CHANNELS:

Instagram Accounts to Follow:

Places to Walk Around:

Books To Read:

Music To Listen To:

Video Games To Play:

I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE

How did I end up crammed in the back of a pickup truck with fourteen other people, traversing the mountainous Guatemalan countryside?  Or miles deep in the forest, following locals to a natural spring?  Or how about the market of Momostenango – overwhelmed by vibrant colors, food, and aromas? 

Last February, the team and I found ourselves on a wild adventure with just one goal in mind: to capture a story.  All we had was the gear on our backs and the attitude to “get sh*t done.”  

I have to tell you…it’s a journey I never imagined experiencing.  

So – why exactly did we go to Guatemala?  

Since it was founded, Upstream has thrived on a constant influx of creative projects requested by our clients. Last year, however, Upstream was inspired to do something different – to give back to both to the community at large and to its employees. Each of us was given the opportunity to nominate a non-profit that we believed was deserving of a pro-bono video project. 

This really hit home for me – it’s amazing that we were encouraged to shine a light on our individual passions while coming together to help an organization that would benefit from our work. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Upstream narrowed down the list of prospects to ultimately choose my nominee: First Things Foundation.

FTF is a non-profit organization with a simple mission to support local visionaries in their quest for a better life. Here’s how it works: field workers are sent overseas for a year of “immersionship.” This is a time to learn the language, work in the fields, and get to know this new culture intimately. The following year, the field workers get together with local visionaries, called “Impresarios”, to identify the projects to move forward with. Together, they work to bring the Impresario’s vision to life, without the locals ever once feeling like they have been told what to do by an outsider.

Learn more about FTF here.  

Before we know it, the team and I are on a plane heading to Guatemala.  Our specific assignment is to capture the essence of a “Keipi Journey”- a weeklong excursion funded by donors that takes you to incredible places filled with incredible people.  This shared value donation is a major source of FTF’s funding.

After a 7-hour flight, we finally land in Guatemala City. We’re greeted by my old college roommate, Andrew Schwark, who works for FTF.  We immediately hop on a bus with FTF leader John, two other field workers, and seven high school students embarking on their Keipi Journey.  Our first destination is Lake Atitlán, which, according to the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, is the “most beautiful lake in the world.” 

It better be. We add six hours to our travel time – an unpleasant trip thanks to countless speed bumps, pot holes, wrong turns, and our bus driver’s lead foot. We arrive late at night, exhausted and famished, but the FTF staff doesn’t skip a beat. They spring into action to cook a delicious meal consisting of steak, vegetables and fresh guacamole. They even have to add small amounts of bleach to the water to kill dangerous bacteria. 

The next morning, we wake up to discover that this beautiful lake absolutely does live up to its reputation. We spend the day boating, eating lunch, and boarding the bus once again to travel to our destination for the rest of the week – Momostenango.

The Keipi Journey we’re here to document is centered here, and it’s the village that FTF primarily works in.  Situated in the North-West of Totonicapán, in the Western highlands of Guatemala, Momostenango is extremely impoverished and seems forgotten by the rest of the world.  Before we even hop off the bus, I take note of some striking images: droves of homeless dogs treated like rodents, overrunning the streets; piles of trash in the forests due to lack of waste removal services; hitchhikers jumping into the back of pick-up trucks; women who walk countless miles on mountain roads carrying heavy baskets on their heads.

Our time in Momostenango is educational, exhausting, and eye-opening. Every day, we visit various parts of the village to meet different people. The key individuals we are there to see are a handful of amazing Impresarios that FTF works with closely. Abraham is a teacher who runs a free school for the local kids. Dario is a local baker who has his own storefront after humble beginnings selling bread out of his carIxim is a company run by two men and a woman who provide accountable, fair loans to the surrounding villages. These individuals make an incredibly positive impact on the community, and the stories they share with us illustrate the profound importance of FTF.  

We also meet the folks at Health&Help, a Russian medical clinic that FTF helped build to supply free medical care to the surrounding community. Located thirty minutes outside the city, we bounce around in the back of a pick-up truck to get there. Our tour of the facility gives us first-hand confirmation of its level of care – people often travel up to an hour just to come here because they trust it more than the clinics closer to home. 

There’s a school next door – with only two classrooms – where FTF field workers spend time teaching children English. School is in session, and giggling children swarm around us as we enter the building, goofing around and trying to converse with us “gringos”.  They’re particularly excited to see our drone in action, and are awestruck when I show them aerial shots of their school in real time.

Our last stop is to a village 45 minutes away from Momostenango. Piled in the back of yet another pickup truck, we wind through the mountains and forests to meet with a group of people who have been trying to get the green light for a project for over a decade. Their mission: to pipe running water twelve miles from a natural spring to a village. We hike two miles through dense forest to find the spring, and we watch them perform a ritual over the water. They’re eager to describe the project and ask for FTF’s assistance. I realize that we’re witnessing the potential beginning of a new Impresario project.  Afterwards, we return to the village where they cook a delicious lunch for our group.  It’s mind-blowing to witness the generosity of our new friends that have very little, but still find so much joy in serving a meal to others.  This is the type of humility you don’t get to witness every day.

Above everything, my favorite experience in Guatemala is the traditional “Keipi Dinner” – a tradition from the Georgia Republic centering around a feast that involves toasts and deep conversation. Our crew joins twenty locals, workers from the Russian clinic, and other travelers on top of our hotel. I look around at this melting pot of American, Guatemalan, Russian, Chinese, and Portuguese people coming together. Our language barriers don’t matter; we connect using broken English, Spanish, and even charades. This is truly the essence of a Keipi Dinner – go to a foreign place, share new experiences, and form new relationships despite our cultural differences.

After a long week of documenting, we put our cameras away to simply enjoy our last night with our new friends in Antigua. I reflect on the culture shock I feel from being in Guatemala and the overwhelming sights, sounds, and smells I’ve experienced here. After everything, however, I realize that I wasn’t just learning about the city and its people – I learned how the industry I work in can have a profound effect on the world around me. My team has the ability to produce a pro-bono project that makes a positive impact on a non-profit, a village of incredible people, and ourselves as Upstream employees.  I am grateful to see creative freedom used for this purpose.

Now we’re home, and the hours of interviews and footage await us in the edit suite.  We’re all very excited to finish this project – one that we chose to put our hard work in and that captures the essence of First Things Foundation.  

Be on the lookout for the video soon. Look below to see more pictures!

THAT OTHER SUMMER OF ’69 CELEBRATION

In what sounds like the opening line of a joke, one has to ask: “Which is harder to accomplish – flying to the moon and back, or putting on a Woodstock 50thAnniversary concert?

Incredibly, while The Eaglelanded on the moon, “Woodstock 50” failed to get off the ground.

Plenty of finger-pointing and paperwork filed in court, but no “Peace Love & Music.”

A missed opportunity to “reinforce the values of compassion, human dignity, and the beauty of our differences embraced by Woodstock,” said Michael Lang, a cofounder of the original three-day concert near Bethel, NY.

It’s interesting to reexamine Tranquility Base vs. “An Aquarian Exposition.”

Back in 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were in a 21-day quarantine, in case they brought back a “lunar virus” to earth.

Meanwhile, Woodstock was going viral.

August 15, 1969.  The social platforms and digital spaces that marketers and brands use to connect people didn’t exist.  No Internet. No cellphones.  

Oddly, the primordial soup of a viral campaign managed to emerge from the mud and muck of Woodstock’s rain-soaked grounds without any of the accoutrements of today’s digital world.

So how in the heck did Woodstock go viral? Because the basics of passing along content (or a message) simply boils down to people sharing original content that connects with them on an emotional level.

Sounds like a Creative Brief from 2019, doesn’t it?

All it takes is engaging with that coveted demographic (18-24 year olds).  It helps that they keenly feel passionately about social and political ideals.  

But whether it’s today, or 50-years ago, brilliant plans still soar, and poorly executed plans still crater.

So why did “Woodstock 50” fail to achieve lift-off?  The original was organic, human, genuine, and compelling.  The ersatz re-boot was seen as corporate and manufactured.  Even the original investor said it wouldn’t be “an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand name.”  When trust is in question, the show is over.

Authenticity means honesty, and it’s the key to customer engagement.  Your audience can spot a phony message or a brand attempting to cash in on a trend, from a mile away.  Joe Cocker had the right idea back in 1969.  Gotta stay relevant, and keep it real, if you want to go viral . . . with a little help from my friends.

Mark Smith is the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Storyteller for Upstream 360, as well as the father of a teenage daughter.  He stays motivated by the twin powers of doubt and insecurity, while his approach to the work is making it legitimately interesting, shareable, and something people can connect with. 

Mark is also an author of the book Innovation Myths and Mythstakes, available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and coming soon on Audible.  

Cincinnati Catering MVP’s

As office manager, it’s my job to make sure my people have everything they need to kick ass at Upstream. Almost every day, we play host to groups who come here for brainstorm sessions, production shoots, and everything in between. Our employees, freelancers, and clients are always hustling – and the last thing anyone should have to worry about is what to eat. That’s where I come in.

There are so many incredible restaurants and caterers in Cincinnati that it would be impossible to list (or try) them all, but the ones below are my absolute favorites to work with. I know I can count on them to provide top notch food and service every time, and it always feels good to know I’m supporting local businesses.

The Echo Restaurant | Hyde Park

This unassuming diner has been a neighborhood gem since it first opened its doors in 1945. Believe me, this place has aged WELL – this is the type of comfort food you dream about. Nobody skips breakfast when they walk in the door to the smell of cheddar bacon burritos and potato cakes. They don’t offer delivery, but the food travels well and their catering director makes pick-up a breeze. They’re quick to customize your order however you need it, and the variety of food will please all types of palates (including those of us who love Goetta).

Tahona Kitchen & Bar | Blue Ash

Our neighbors in Summit Park tick all my boxes – flexible and friendly ordering process, unique and delicious menu offerings, beautiful food presentation…but what sets them apart is their incrediblyfresh ingredients. I could rave for days about the mango pineapple salad, house-made salsas, hot-out-of-the-oven dessert, and Tahona corn. There are a lot of great taco spots in Cincinnati, but we’re lucky to be right around the corner from one of the best. They knock it out of the park every single time.

Revolution Rotisserie | Pleasant Ridge

I do not exaggerate – the second this food walks in the door, people start getting up from their desks to see what smells so good.  Their “chita” (chicken pita) bar is the perfect offering for a large, hungry group. They load you up with tons of fresh toppings so each foodie can create their own pita wrap or arugula bowl that really hits the spot. They bake their cookies fresh every day, the chicken is seasoned flawlessly, and the brussels sprouts are out of this world. They even have a falafel option for the vegetarian folks – talk about a local gem.

La Soupe | Cincinnati

These folks only came out to feed the office once, but it was an unforgettable meal where our team sat down and learned about the La Soupe mission – to rescue food that would normally get thrown away, transform it into something amazing, then share it with those who need it. As someone who constantly struggles to find responsible ways to deal with excess food from our catering orders, I find their work to be extremely important. The one caveat to using La Soupe for your event is that their menu changes every day based on the food they take in, so you just have to trust that it’s going to be great…which it 100% will be. 

Honorable Mentions

Sometimes you just need something simple and straightforward to eat – these tried-and-true places are always reliable and are a breeze to order from. 

  • Panera Bread
  • Potbelly’s
  • McAlister’s Deli
  • Dewey’s Pizza

Cincinnati has a lot to offer to us foodies, and there are more great spots opening up all the time. Support your neighborhood restauranteurs and be sure to try these local spots!

Graduation and Innovation

Last week, my daughter graduated from Cincinnati Country Day High Schooland began a new chapter.  Which means I’m beginning a new chapter as well, becoming the father of a college student.

As the Chief Creative Officer (and Chief Storyteller) at Upstream 360, I feel like I’m prepared, because embracing change and being nimble and agile enough to pivot, is the name of the game, right?

But I was stumbling a bit to the Finish Line on this one, because I was reminded that my daughter was just 2 years old when I first met folks from Upstream in 2003.  

I thought: “Wait a minute.  That can’t be right. Where did those last 16 years go?”

So, time passes faster and faster, but the best part about innovation is with every initiative, we’re always looking to find the next challenge and it always seems to be just as exciting.

In fact, I’m often asked: “What’s your favorite project at Upstream?” and I always answer: “The next one.”

That’s because Looking Forwardis the DNA of Upstream.  And the DNA of college-bound daughters.

This was evident during a late-night conversation in which I was imparting fatherly advice.  It was utterly fascinating – mostly because a teenager was actually interested in what I was saying!  As we say in Innovation: There’s a first time for everything.

She and I both agreed that working really hard is actually easy if your heart is in it.  And besides, the harder you work, the more you get to do what you love – especially when the people you work alongside share your passion for what you do, and for what the late Al Davis called “a commitment to excellence.”

Meeting and working with amazing people isthe ultimate energy drink.  My advice to her was to surround herself with people who are as “invested” as she is.

Naturally, there will be bumps in the road – but just look at them as electives that will teach you what to do better next time.

The final life-lesson I shared was to try and have more fun than more stress . . . and to always use BOTH sides of your brain.  As CEO Multimillionaire Sidney Harman once famously said: “I want poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They contemplate the world, interpret it and give expression to it in a way that makes the reader understand how it runs. Poets are the most unheralded systems thinkers and our true digital thinkers – they will be tomorrow’s new business leaders.”

In other words: You’re a poet, never outgrow it.

Mark Smith is the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Storyteller for Upstream 360, as well as the father of a teenage daughter.  He stays motivated by the twin powers of doubt and insecurity, while his approach to the work is making it legitimately interesting, shareable, and something people can connect with. 

Mark is also an author of the book Innovation Myths and Mythstakes, available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and coming soon on Audible.