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.  

Jedi Research Tricks

May the Fourth be with You. The first time that I heard these words, now synonymous with “Star Wars Day”, was about 10 years ago.  My brother-in-law posted the phrase on Facebook, and I recall admiring how clever he was for the play on Jedi words.  And as the years went on, the phrase came to my ears more and more often— moving from a shared greeting among fellow Star Wars nerds to a widely recognized world-wide holiday.

Clearly my brother-in-law, while still quite clever, was not the originator of this wordplay turned holiday.  As I have researched the phenomenon more closely, it appears that the first recorded usage of the expression was on May 4, 1979. Margaret Thatcher assumed the office of Prime Minister in the UK on that day, and her political party placed a congratulatory advertisement in The London Evening News, saying “May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

Since that day, several grass roots efforts arose, with Facebook groups appearing in 2008, the first organized celebration of Star Wars Day happening in Toronto in 2011, and Disney (now the owner of Star Wars) ultimately adopting the holiday in 2013.

What started as an ingenious headline, later emerged as a cult following among fans, and ultimately was embraced by the makers of Star Wars themselves.  It is a great example of marketers being in touch with their passionate fan base, becoming part of the conversation, and adopting the holiday as part of their brand experience.

For those of us not working on brands in a galaxy far, far away… 

There is always a tension as to whether the brunt of our new ideas should come from the mouths of our consumers (our “fans”) or rather from the labs of our innovators.  Henry Ford is famously quoted as saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster Horses’.”  Similarly, Steve Jobs more recently was quoted as saying, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  Both philosophies boldly claim that consumers are not capable of and should not be trusted with the responsibility of developing new product ideas.

I couldn’t agree more.

We hire and train brilliant marketers, scientists, and researchers to invent, design, and deliver breakthrough new products.  We can’t and shouldn’t count on our consumers to give us all the answers.

Does that then mean that we should stop doing consumer research?

Absolutely not.

It is imperative that we continue to invest time and effort in research with our consumers.  We just must insure that it is the rightresearch.  We should not look to our “fan base” for the answers, but rather for the right questions.  While we can’t expect consumers to invent the automobile, we need to know that they desperately want faster, safer, and easier long-distance travel.  A focus group will never design a smartphone, but ethnographic research can show the benefits of having the internet, a GPS, and a camera all in the palm of your hands.  

We shouldn’t be asking our consumers what they want us to make.  We should be investing in finding out what they need and what will give them delight.

And these don’t have to be (and often shouldn’t be) focus groups. There are so many conversations happening organically online that often our research can come from digging into these discussions and trends.  When I worked at P&G, I once had a team design a new, better Dry Shampoo from scratch (from starch actually), solely from learning from YouTubers about current delighters, frustrations, and “wish for’s”.  It doesn’t take a Jedi mind trick… but some deliberate investment in understanding consumer trends and becoming part of the conversation.

Disney didn’t ask consumers if they wanted “Star Wars Day”, but they tapped into a trend and helped to establish and fuel it.  Our fans our passionate about our brands and out there talking about what they want and need.  It is our job as marketers and innovators to use the Force of our expertise to delight and deliver.

And all of us at Upstream 360 would like to pass along our condolences to Peter Mayhew, the original Wookie who inspired us all.

Mike Thomas is the Chief Innovation Officer at Upstream 360 and aspiring Emperor.  He has no affiliation with Disney or Lucasfilm, beyond being a lifelong obsessive fan.

DIGITAL’S DARK SIDE & SAFER MEDIA

Most digital venues are walking around with their heads down these days.  And for good reason. Make that plural. Reasons. Offensive videos, inaccurate measures of audience, less-than-transparent standards around the use of influencers, bots, and social-media accounts, to name a few.

P&G’s Chief Brand Officer made headlines recently for urging advertisers to demand better quality of content and audience measurement from media outlets.  Perhaps a specific standard of measurement that would take into account viewing across multiple media platforms, such as a digital “tag” that could be placed on all ads, for all formats, across digital and TV, to control ad frequency.

He’s not the only one asking for the media industry to enforce higher standards.

If it’s true that seven out of 10 consumers are saying ads are annoying, and that ad blocking is accelerating and privacy breaches and consumer data misuse keeps occurring, what can be done to stop it?

Especially when digital platforms were originally built for freedom of expression – not a soap box to run ads on in the first place.

Is there an “authenticity check” of some kind that can be used when dealing with social-media personalities, bloggers, and vloggers?  Big advertisers would like to see one.  Not to mention a way to measure the audience.

But when you look around, it’s quite amazing that there are actually very few universal standards of measurement that exist.

The same is true of content monitoring.  Disney CEO Bob Iger recently called social media “the most powerful marketing tool an extremist could ever hope for, because by design social media reflects a narrow world view filtering out anything that challenges our beliefs while constantly validating our convictions and amplifying our deepest fears.”

Scary stuff from The Happiest Place On Earth.

The message is simple.  Clean up the platforms for brand safety, or the advertisers will simply create their own, free of fraud, waste or objectionable content.  And when you spend $7 billion a year on ads, you can actually follow through on “charting the course for a different way,” as Marc Pritchard said.

Personally, I’m all for it.  Every creative organization thrives on embracing new systems when it comes to the media supply chain anyway.  And while you’re suiting up, if you can fend off the persistent “dark side” within the current ecosystem at the same time, well, that’s a bonus.  Hard to argue against quality civility, transparency and privacy.  

In other words, walk towards the light!

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. 

The Art of Writing Advertising Claims

Over the years, I’ve learned that I have some unusual pairings of skills.  I am a math nerd and a writer.  An engineer and a marketer.  An ideator and editor.  Beyond enabling me to be a pun guy at parties, these complementary divergent skills have also helped me immensely in the art of writing advertising claims.  Finding ways to sell the story of a product with a pithy, inspiring, and legally-approved turn of phrase has become a favorite past-time over the years.  And with experiences from all sides of the advertising process, in R&D, Marketing, and a Creative Agency, I have developed some personal rules of thumb for writing winning claims.

  1. Stories before Claims– Before rushing to find that perfect comparison, feature, or language, understand the story you want to tell.  Consumers buy stories and not benefits and “Tell your story, don’t sell your story.” 
  2. Be Pithy. The Hemingway Principle– Hemingway inspired the art of the “6 Word Story”, and that art applies aptly to claims.  Be inspiring. Be specific. Be concise.  
  3. Change the name of the game– When looking for ways to show superiority, create new vernacular and set a new standard. Not just a TV with a better picture… a high-definition television.  Not simply a stronger deodorant… a clinical strength antiperspirant.  A phone with new tricks… a smart phone.  Change the name and change the game.
  4. Rhymes and Alliteration– Alliteration always attracts attention.  And a good rhyme works most of the time.  Claims that roll of the tongue and are “sticky” to the brain are more likely to drive recollection and results.
  5. Use the Torture Test– Putting your products to the test in an extreme, yet (somewhat) relevant scenario can emphasize the product’s performance in a unique and memorable way.  Done right, these also can accompany an ownable, iconic visual or demo.  “Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking.“  “Clinically proven to work even in the Sahara Desert.”  Accentuate (not quite exaggerate) your product’s greatness by pushing it to the extremes.
  6. Never Pick on the Little Guy – We often like to compare ourselves to our competitors rather than just enlighten the world on our own inherent awesomeness. Sometimes the comparisons work. Value claims and superiority claims against a market leader can be very effective.  But never, ever, ever compare yourself to a “follower”.  Yes, you get the satisfaction of winning.  However, in the process you are both elevating the status of the competitor (if they are the standard, they must be good) and risking looking like a bully (why is Goliath picking on David?).  Focus on being the best, not beating the rest.
  7. Avoid Numeric Claims– I hate numeric claims. To me, marketers who gratuitouslyuse numbers to make product claims are like comedians who need to use foul language to get a laugh. Usually when we resort to a “2x more” or a “42% better”, it is because we haven’t invested in finding that right, pithy, magical language.  Yes… there are times where the numbers are powerful, particularly on a crowded, commoditized shelf.  But as a general rule, subtract the numbers from your claims.
  8. If You Can’t Fix it, Claim It– That aftershave still burns when you put it on… that burn let’s you know it’s working.  That white residue… it highlights shows how well your product covers the skin.  That menthol smell… wow, that muscle rub is really strong.  Sometimes an unavoidable product featured can be heroed rather than ignored. If you can’t fix it, feature it.

Leo Burnett is quoted as saying, “Make it simple.  Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”  While the list above is not a comprehensive list, I can solidly claim that these pointers can help strengthen how you talk about your products.  92% Guaranteed.

DEFINING INNOVATION

I watched my kids wander through Diagon Alley, and it was clear that they had been transported to another world.  Every ride, every storefront, every detail at Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter had been meticulously crafted to create more than a theme park—the words from J.K. Rowling’s pages had wondrously come to life.  

As my son and daughters donned their wizarding robes, toting butterbeers in hand, there was one moment of awe and wonder greater than all the rest—the wand selection ceremony at Ollivander’s wand shop. As they entered the shop, the magic in the air was palpable. When my oldest daughter was selected to participate in the ceremony, the anticipation was electrifying.  And when the sparks flew, the epiphany happened, and the wand chose my daughter… for an instant she truly was a lucky witch about to embark on a new adventure to Hogwarts.

And the wands themselves are more than props or toys.  They actually work.  Well… at least they are able to cast spells (with the proper training and technique) within the boundaries of this magical world.  For a few days, the world of Harry Potter was no longer a fictional place of books and dreams.  It was real. 

Now from the storied world of vacation to the magical world of the day job

I recently assumed the role of Chief Innovation Officer at Upstream 360.  A fancy title, certainly, and one that frequently incites the question of “What actually do you do?”  Excellent question.  And a question that ultimately leads to a bigger one… “How do I define Innovation?”

Innovation is a term that is broadly bounded around and used to describe a vast array of activities and objectives.  From my time in the corporate world at Procter & Gamble as well as my time now in the agency adventure with Upstream 360, I’ve learned that it is often easier to first start with what Innovation is NOT.

  •  Not Ideation: Yes, every great innovation stems from a big idea, but not every idea yields an innovation.  Our cubicles are lit by the magic light bulbs of ideas, insights, and inspiration that open our minds.  But until they become real, tangible, and executable, they are merely dreams, and not innovation.
  • Not Invention: The Cambridge Dictionary defines an invention as “something that has never been made before, or the ​process of ​creating something that has never been made before”. Innovation then is finding a way to utilize and commercialize invention(s), and get them out of the lab and into the world.
  • Not Technology: While technology is often the delivery system for Innovation, it is not in itself enough. The Museum of Failure is filled with amazing technologies that failed to drive change in the world because they failed to connect with an unmet need, a job to be done, or a successful commercial proposition.  If a technology launches into a market and there is no one there to use it, does it make a sound?  
  • Not Creativity: Creativity is about unlocking possibilities in our mind, heart, and soul to imagine new ideas.  It is crucial in solving tough problems, cracking clever design challenges, and building in consumer delight.  Creativity is a critical element in the culture and thought process of innovation… while Innovation is about the application and implementation of this creativity in the pursuit of satisfying a consumer, business, or societal need.

So what, then, is Innovation?  For me, it is holistically uniting our ideas, our inventions, our technologies, and our creativity and crafting an actionable commercial proposition—a bold proposition that makes a positive impact on individuals, on our business, and on society. It is taking the ideas and dreams from our minds, our pages, and our labs, and launching tangible products and services.  It is taking the awe of a child’s storybook imagination and putting a real magic wand into their hands.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Good thoughts are no better than good dreams, unless they be executed!”

So what is innovation to me?

It is “Making the Unreal, Real.”

Dog Friendly Offices are Trending

As someone with experience working in the pet care industry, I’ve seen first-hand how difficult it is to own a dog while being a high-functioning member of the workforce. 

We work long hours and are constantly busy, jumping from one project to the next with few breaks in between. 

Dogs are major time commitments, demanding attention, exercise, and bathroom breaks…it’s nearly impossible to provide your best friend with the care they really need when they’re home alone all day.

Dog walking apps like Wag! and Rover have become hugely popular as hard-working pet parents continue to prioritize their dog’s care while they’re away from home – but it can be costly. Doggie daycare is also an option – but comes with its own risks and financial pain points.

No one wants to sacrifice the joy of sharing their lives with a furry sidekick simply because of what they do for a living!

For our CEO, Neal Morris, there was never a doubt that Upstream would be dog-friendly. He built this business with his own loyal companion, Chica, by his side.

Fortunately, more and more workplaces around the country are opening their doors to canine cohorts. It’s becoming a commonplace perk, with major benefits to both employer and employee.

Why It’s Great For Employers

With dogs in approximately 36% of North American homes, it’s easy to see why employers are clamoring to make their offices dog-friendly in today’s competitive job market. 70% of millennials even say they “would be willing to take a pay cut if they could bring their pet to work very day.” Offers that include this benefit have an attractive edge to a sizeable chunk of any talent pool.

As an employer, letting your staff bring their furry sidekicks to work gives them an extremely valuable and convenient way to balance their work and home lives. You are basically telling your current and future employees that you care about what’s important to them, which goes a long way in maintaining strong, positive relationships over time – and that’s great for retention.

Why It’s Great For Employees

As an employee, your mind is free to focus on your work when you can see your happy and healthy pup right in front of you. 

You don’t need to constantly worry about finding a few minutes to run home and let your dog out – or hope that your dog walker remembers to stop by. This peace of mind boosts morale, reduces stress, and overall makes for a better day at the office.

Did you have a rough meeting? Give your best friend a belly rub, take him on a short walk, and get back to the task at hand feeling better than before. The emotional comfort and support eases mental strain on you as an employee while strengthening the relationship between yourself and your dog.

Take Lily, for example. This sweet pudge monster is a brand new addition to the family of our Executive Director of Client Development, Kev Ungi. Because she can come to Upstream, Kev can help her adjust to her new life without skipping a beat at work.


It’s Not Fur Everyone

Of course, you have to know your dog’s own personality and limits before making the decision to bring him with you.

If your dog doesn’t like strangers, noise, or other pups, then it’s not a good idea. If Buddy loves to hear himself bark, or rough-house with others, or isn’t fully potty-trained…then a professional office may not be the place for him. 

It’s also important to be respectful and mindful if some of your coworkers have allergies, or if important clients will be in the building that day.

In my opinion, dog friendly offices are almost too good to be true. Just this morning, I got showered in kisses from a spunky Boston Terrier – tell me that’s not better than coffee!