Dan Rockwell


The other day someone asked me what I do for people. I thought about it for a second as my mind fired up the 2 or 3 typical responses to this question and then the magic happened and i blurted out..

“I’m the steward of possible for my clients, my role is to make them possible.”

The person’s eyes widened while my own brain nodded with a strong, “yeah i like that one..”.

Another subthread, those little things that churn in your mind. It’s happening again.  I’ve collected a number of patterns thru recent events, interactions, observations and the ole noggin has whipped up yet another would be view of looking at the world for me.

Steward of Possible

I like it.  Wait… what is that again?

To be possible for someone.  What could that mean?  You help them realize their vision, or perhaps see the vision they’re actually sitting on, or right next to.  You make them possible through ideation, design, development.  You enable them through common human conversational “yeah, i get it, you could do this”, a recognition that we live in a world of possible, they can be possible.

Being possible isn’t about selling people.  It’s about believing in people.  Believing in what they could do next.  At its core it’s about helping people.  Sometimes you just need to listen, other times you need to brainstorm with them, or tell them they’re headed for a car accident- a pattern you see as fail material.  Being around startups, seeing as many pitches as I do and building things, you see the subtle indicators of trouble fairly early on- you can actually grow this as a skill really, that’s another story.

I think it’s important not to save people from a fate they’re headed towards however. Getting the cliff notes on “love” isn’t the same as experiencing it, same with success, you can read about it all ya want, attaining it, that’s an experience- earned gives it far more meaning.

So back to possible- what’s a framework for the would be stewards of the world?

  1. Listen
  2. Enable, Connect or Amplify
  3. Create
  4. Participate in Accountability
  5. Repeat

1, Listen to who you’re helping, get the context of what they’re doing, why they’re doing it.  Hear them.  Huge skill, massive benefit.  Don’t judge, don’t be too quick to edit, just listen.

2, Enable the person, show them what could help them given the story, the context, the problem they have.  Connect them with people who can help them- remember these are people who are an extension of your reputation at times, sometimes not, but connections matter greatly.  Amplify meaning help them realize the noise they need to make, be seen, heard, find resources.

3, Create, make something for them- obviously this can get involved. Many people don’t realize how easy it can be to make.  Show them that magic, your skillset to manifest for them- you can only promise what you can control, making it isn’t the same as it being successful.

4, Participate in the accountability they face- we all need that kick in the ass reminder, often I see the steward of possible as that ass kick.  Some of my best mentors remind me i’m not doing enough to realize my dreams.  A steward doesn’t just nod at everything, real honesty is worth far more than most people realize- or want to hear at times.  Learn to crave it.

5, Repeat. Stewards are busy people- stay busy.  Keep helping.

Bonus activities for all you would be stewards out there- you need to stay up to date on where tech is, where it’s going, what’s possible (imagine that!).  Stewards don’t really qualify engagement- meaning they don’t regulate access to themselves- anyone can talk to them, and anyone can be possible, so play that role.  Not everyone is cut out for this- even I get busy, but some of my favorite client relationships to people i’ve met and helped have occured thru this basic framework of helping people realize how they, and their idea, concept, business, venture- could be possible.

And yeah helping someone see what’s possible where they didn’t realize it could be- that’s a mad rush.  Same with helping someone see that it’s not impossible, and they too can be possible- good times!

We live in this era.  It’s not always easy- but most things, if not everything, is basically possible.

Image Credit: Kieran White from Unsplash

You hear that?

It’s the sound of millions of people sleeping in that food coma left over from the Thanksgiving holiday.  Sure sure you’re acting like you’re fine but really you’re easing into that “hello Christmas”, “bring on another food coma” trajectory.

Over the years I’ve been better at mitigating that food coma effect. Portion control and ice water have been my antidotes.  Of course the wine and beer can counter any control you might muster… but pace yourself and you too can achieve an optimum balance of coma and cognition.

In my family the after dinner talk — the one where the Rockwell brothers gather around the fireplace to ramble — is one of most cherished memories I have in life.  Tonight’s topic: my favorite, the financial market… where it’s headed, stocks to buy, gains achieved, woeful losses, and the bits of wisdom achieved in between.

“Compound interest” one of my brothers says with a smile. And spiked eggnog takes over the conversation and we talk about the varied businesses we’re all building.

Compound interest is one of the cornerstones to a successful investment schema. This makes me think, whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re doing something.  It actually starts a sub thread in my head: Compound attention.

Compound attention… I like the way that sounds.  Attention is everything these days.  Everyone’s concept, business, app, thing, experience, fights for attention.  What’s your overall Compound Attention Score?  Are you meeting your metrics for Compound Attention in your startup?

These sub threads are fun for me.  I think of them as yet another measure of traction.  Course you need to define them, and then measure them, and then relate them to something that matters… but hey this is my post-Thanksgiving coma and cognition ramble, so let’s have some fun.  

Let’s define it first and let’s model it after compound interest:

Compound interest (or compounding interest) is interest calculated on the initial principal and also on the accumulated interest of previous periods of a deposit or loan.

Hmmm let’s modify that…

Compound attention (or compounding attention) is attention calculated on the initial hype and also on the accumulated attraction of previous periods of a start or inception.

Ok, sure, it looks like we’re just having word fun, but fun is important.  I go back to the glee my brother expressed talking about the magic of compound interest.  He put money in, and over time there was more and it was effortless. Whereas everything else in life, especially business, can be a struggle.  Here was this investment mechanism that just worked.  Of course it’s backed by the financial markets.

Is there a “market mechanic” that can work in compound attention’s favor?  Net presence?  Clarity in value prop and communication?  Percentage of time you wake up and keep caring?  Number of dollars you throw on the fire to stay relevant in the eyes of your audience?  

Let’s go back to our definition:

Compound attention (or compounding attention) is attention calculated on the initial hype and also on the accumulated attraction of previous periods of a start or inception.

Every startup or business is based around an initial hype or projection of the value proposition. This is a formula of understanding for the customer on how well you’ve made them aware of the problem you’re solving. They understand the value you’re giving them with the promise of your said solution.  That hype is real.  They feel it.  Emotion, that’s a good thing.  That’s a marketers dream drug.

Searching the internet I see that a few folks do talk about “compound marketing” and it’s essentially the same concept… but less cool. I mean Compound Attention, dude that is hot.

Maybe I need to think of a real world example. When I think about my own business, I feel it’s kind of low in the Compound Attention category. It has been a growth year with heads down doing the work and less talking about the work or marketing it. Maybe not the best example. 2018 will be a better year for that rolling attention theory.  

Spotify comes to mind. This is a product I use daily, if not hourly. Its overall compound attention to me– or the time I give it–  is overwhelmingly obvious.  Come to think of it, Spotify is a natural magnet to Compound Attention, the signal (the music) never stops. And we all love music.

Maybe the takeaway here is to try not to think too much after Thanksgiving dinner and booze. Maybe just give your brain a moment to relax by that fireplace glow.  Or better yet, enjoy that compound attention of family time with friends and loved ones.

Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash

On any given day in Columbus, on the streets of our emerging and ever growing retail community, or in the halls on campus at Ohio State, or in the conference rooms of our co-working spaces, people are telling stories.

They’re telling stories of experience.  How things used to work, how things will work in the future, how their product is better, how they themselves are different.  I’m continuously running into the need to nurture storytelling in nearly every aspect of my line of work, which is building things.  I meet new graduates from the university who are hungry for work and I say “what’s your story?”  I meet a new startup every day that’s looking for a dollar and i say “what’s your story?”  Clients come to me to build their concept and I ask them “what’s the story?”

Narratives define us. They’re the fabric that helps create common ground, a footing for tomorrow, and storytelling is the new super skill we all must pursue: be it through our social media channels, our journaling, marketing initiatives, resumes, and even our awkward “I really don’t know a soul at this bar or conference, but this is my story” moments. 

When designing a new concept, standing at the threshold of iterating on a known or new business and taking it into “next”, I go to the sketch book.  I love the big canvas to dream the many possible permutations of that concept envisioned in a story of next.  What could it be?  Where will traction occur?  What’s the storyline of a possible future that gets me invested, that wins over my customers, clients, and future employees?

Storytelling itself is a skill.  I often think learning to do standup comedy  is a shortcut or living accelerator to successful storytelling. Telling jokes takes us out of the perfectly refined comfort zone of no criticism and exposes us to pacing, content, narrative, tone, reception, cognition, acceptance and return interest by the outside party hearing our story.  For a designer: show your stories by designing things.  For a programmer: show your stories by programming things.  For a business owner: show your stories through your products and services.  What story do you want your product to be in your customer’s life?

I often meet folks looking for money- often really isn’t the word, always the correct word.  To find money you need to first prep your story, then you need to get ready to tell that story and then continually refine that would be investable story.  I think about this through a lens of experience that I have working with startups (and then my own ad hoc notions). I know a winning story when I hear it.  I’m a sucker for the authentic story. I feel the momentum in the pitch and I feel the infectious aspect in the delivery. Best of all, I experience the founder’s story via the product or offering.

There are people who can teach you to tell stories better. If you’re after cash then you better get good at telling your story fast. There’s a lot of other people  way ahead of you with a potentially better story, or better connection to the audience… or they are simply killer story tellers.

Lastly: Your story doesn’t have to be that good. In fact, good or bad is indifferent to me. I might not be your target audience.  What’s crucial is that you have a story and you can tell it.  Your audience’s reception of it is the measure of success.  

Columbus has a story and it gets both more and somehow less authentic as it expands.  When we spin the tale of “the little midwest city that could,” we actually pull back from the more authentic story of Columbus’ progress so far and the interesting challenge of where we should go in the future.

Take a moment.  Refine your story.  Practice it.