I Have No Good Ideas

nogoodideas

How do you know an idea is good unless you share it?  Working in digital marketing, advertising and product development you see many an idea floated or sometimes even crammed down someone’s throat. Sometimes the ideas are good, other times they are terrible. Sometimes it is a bad idea that is feasible so you do it anyway and sometimes it is a really great idea but the technology can’t support it, yet you fruitlessly try it make it happen. Sometimes bad ideas succeed and sometimes brilliant ideas fail. There is not a recipe to success other than being flexible and knowing when to substitute ingredients.

I have seen all to often agencies or companies that espouse the notion that a good idea can come from anyone anywhere in an organization only to watch a brilliant idea be stifled or stolen because it didn’t come from deemed “the idea maker” on the payroll. I have also witnessed wonderful “idea makers” welcome in new ideas with open arms from all corners of the braintrust and  prop those people up to discover their potential.  The best idea makers are those confident enough in themselves to recognize other idea makers in unlikely places. Often when jealously, politics and hierarchy is pushed aside and all that is left is collaboration and a great idea, the magic really happens.

I am not known to be a wallflower, not even close. I will fight tooth and nail to protect a budget, my developers, to properly vet technology and for what is right for  employees ethically, but for some reason I rarely fight for my creative ideas in the same way. It is my achilles heal, it is where I sometimes lose faith in myself and shrink away or feel defeated.

Someone asked me the other day why I wasn’t starting my own company. My answer was “Because I don’t have a good idea”.  As soon as the words came out of my mouth I realized how lame and cowardly they were. Why didn’t I think I had the capacity for a good idea? We all do, don’t we? So in an attempt to find confidence in my ability to ideate, I am challenging myself to share a new idea a day for a week on my blog starting next Monday. Some will be horrible and embarrassing.   Hopefully, others will have potential and might even get stolen and made by other people. In fact I’d be happy for the validation, just make sure you give me a cut of the profits. Some might be digital and some might be analog and some may already exist…apologies in advance, a girl can only Google so much. The point is, I have to dream them up myself, from my own mind. I have to expose myself for better or worse, because I do believe a good idea can come from anywhere, even from me, and the only way to get good at idea making is to not be afraid to think  them and share them in the first place.

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Raising a Terminator

Jack's Art Synapse

As I gazed on Jack, my four year old, at our neighborhood park I could see his intense little blue eyes darting back and forth scanning the landscape. He seemed to be in a bit of a trance.  “Jack” I said. “Jack sweety, what are you thinking about?”  “I am not thinking, I am zooming in so I can run faster” and with that he bolted across the green field, and yes he was fast, super fast even, as he dodged other toddlers and weaved around trees and dogs to get to the other side.

I was left thinking about the use of  his term “zooming in”. Obviously this is a term he has picked up on from using our iPad. I have taught him, or should I say he has taught himself, how to pinch, zoom, swipe and multi-touch his way through the levels of his education apps and Disney Games. Ask him to play Pudding Monsters or Where’s My Water and he will put you, the adult, to shame with his ability to solve puzzles before you have even figured out how the game works.  I imagine that while he was in his trance at the park, his mind looked the the inside of the Terminator’s, scanning the landscape, identifying objects, people and animals so he could chart his fastest pathway to the other side of the park.  To him, something simple like getting to the other side of the park involves solving a mathematical and physics problem. He was computing. I see this in his art too. The cover photo for this post is his art, I call it his synapses. I chose it to show a glimpse inside of his mind and how he connects pathways, forms intersections and sees the world.

We all compute to some degree. It happens when we choose a grocery line to or pick which lane we want to drive in on the freeway. Yet, the majority of our choices are often driven by our emotional need to get to destinations in life  faster, most efficiently and without incident.  Look at politicians or business people, they can have tons of irrefutable data in front of them, yet they will still choose the decision that makes them more popular, more rich or more likely to advance in their careers. These are all choices that solve an emotional need.

I believe our kids are going to be different. They are growing up as digital natives, learning to solve problems more analytically than we did at their age. They don’t know another way.  I am pretty sure when I was four all my decisions were based on what felt good not logic but in both of my kids, aged 2 and 4, I already see them more likely lead their decision making process with data not a gut feeling. I saw it at the park yesterday and see it when Jack my four year old finds a penny on the ground and he immediately computes that if he chooses to save it versus spend it on candy, he is one step closer to a new game…one step away from more data and he always chooses the data. Truett is little harder to read because his language skills are still forming, but he loves me take pictures and and video of him and his brother and he will meticulously stare at this digital data and tell me which ones are his favorites by watching those videos or viewing those particular pictures over and over again. He is analyzing the data and making choices.

It has been especially interesting and sometimes heartbreaking to watch those in their teen years that were not born digital natives per se but now have access to the vast digital data on hand. They have grown up in a digital age but weren’t born with iPads in hand like my children, yet now have all this data at their disposal and ways to share their emotions with a click of a button to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. They still predominantly lead their decision making process with feelings and it is why we have seen this trend in over-sharing, cyber bullying and social media depression. The privacy barrier has been broken and emotional outbursts and mistakes are being recording for posterity and more painfully for future character evaluation when say they want to get a job or run for office. Certainly all of us made mistakes when we were younger, but we have the luxury of keeping them to ourselves because Facebook didn’t exist yet. Recently I had an interesting conversation with a friend where we talked about at one point does the recording of a mistake digitally become so prevalent that is the norm for everyone to have these pasts exposed, therefore rendering them irrelevant?

The inherent and reliant need to have computational data on hand to make decisions is what I view as the first evolution towards cyborgs. I am not thinking of the cyborgs found in movies like the Terminator, Robocop, or iRobot which are formed by human, digital and mechanical parts, but the cyborgs-like decisions that are forming  minds of the digital natives we are raising. They are no longer just being raised on the five food groups they are also being served a side of data at the breakfast and dinner table and in the car.  They crave this data like they do food and by giving it to them we are wiring their brains to take in data differently and use it a more efficiently to zoom in and navigate life.

I am a huge proponent of encouraging children to learn and express digitally, but I am equally an advocate for the analog life. I spend hours doing analog art projects with my children, teaching them to cook, dancing to records, showing them the ways of an old typewriter and teaching them how to take pictures with *gasp* a non-digital vintage SLR camera.  Ignore for a second the irony of me proving and documenting my analog life through digital applications, but I believe keeping a balance between analog and digital is what is necessary to preserve the spirit of craftmanship, artistry and emotional humanity.  Sometimes  an emotional decision is the right decision so we need to teach our children to use both data and emotion as they navigate through life’s decisions, lest we live in a the world with a bunch of emotionless terminators. Back to Skynet I go.

Posted in Appsurdity, Big Data, Currently Digging, Desktop Apps, Environmental, Family, Fashion, Featured, Michigan, Mind Body Soul, Mobile Culture, Oregon, Photography, Social Conscience | Comments closed

Hold the Bacon and Add a Side of Pickled Data

Pickles

Image courtesy of MixedGreenBlog.com

This morning I read an interesting article on NPR. The gist of the article explained how a restaurant was catching on to the value of tracking customer complaints globally so that they could start to analyze the data to determine if they are isolated incidents or if these are true trends amongst their patrons requiring adjustments. In this case, The Cheesecake Factory started working with IBM and using tools to analyze this vast amount of customer complaint data to identify these nuances. The example given was regarding complaints about the texture of pickles in two far separated regions of the world. Were they related? Was it coincidence? Did they need to make a supplier change?

This is just one example in which brands and retailers can truly listen to their customers and make decisions to improve the quality of their products or services. It reminded me of a time when I lived in Florida and my best friend/co-worker and I would always go to the same restaurant for lunch.  She was a pseudo-vegetarian and hated bacon. (I know how can someone hate bacon?) She however loved this particular salad at a restaurant and would order it, sans bacon. When it arrived she would inevitably always find pieces of bacon mixed amongst the salad. Not one to be shy, she would call the server over and demand that they give her a discount or free salad because of the bacon. If they resisted, she would tell him she was allergic to bacon. The servers, being college kids not much older than us, would roll their eyes at her, but she would always get that free lunch out of them as I slunk into my chair with embarrassment  She would tell me that I needed to get tougher and not be afraid to demand what I wanted, especially when I was paying for it. She called it my lesson in teaching me to be more frugal.

This went on for several months, until one day when we went back to that restaurant, the salad had been removed from the menu.  We always joked that they removed the salad because they were sick of her getting a free lunch. At first she was pissed, but then she decided she would  just demand a custom salad, sans bacon, and when the salad arrived guess what? There was NO BACON to be found.  Looking back I am sure the original salad always had bacon in it because it was a menu item that they prepared in bulk. Undoubtedly little bits of bacon found their way into the vat of lettuce contaminating her beloved salad. Had they been tracking these complaints they may have recognized a prep line issues and made an adjustment preventing losses of free salad. Maybe they could have added a new bacon-less salad to the menu for the bacon hater.  Likely data could have helped them make a more informed decision.

Now this an extreme story of a consumer being demanding. (Girl, you know I love you but you know you can be a royal pain to serve), but this story begs a question, Was she wrong? Is it really an extreme thing for a consumer to get what they asked for? After all she was paying for the salad and therefore shouldn’t she get just what she ordered. It also raises a point similar to what the Cheesecake factory is trying to solve. Consumers are demanding, as they should be, and you have to listen to their needs and adjust or risk failure.  I am sure that little restaurant in Florida was not tracking her complaints, but they could have been and now with more big data tracking and analysis tools accessible to all sizes of business, brands can take better control over conversation with their customers.  The smart brands are going to quickly adopt and use communication and data tools that help them find issues and solve them before they become a bigger theme within their brand stories.

I never considered myself a big data junky until recently when I found myself without a reason to look at data each and every day. I realized I missed knowing new things and how valuable this information can be to an individual in how you interpret and interact with the world. Big data is probably one of our greatest opportunities to learn and feel the world around us more deeply and contextually. Some people might feel this type of data is very big brother, but to me I would much rather have had a restaurant tracking the bacon complaints and fixed problem earlier so she didn’t have to suffer through bacon salads.

Fortunately I have had the good fortune lately of working on a great project with a startup in Portland called Little Bird that allows me to spend my time looking at data and to learn new things with each report I run.  The data their reports provide is the exact type of data that will be invaluable to brands and companies as they continue their path to become smarter and more informed when talking to their users and customers. Little Bird allows users to find those in the social media space, currently Twitter, that show expertise of influence over a specific topic. By identifying these people, brands can seek out who to tap and target to find out what consumers crave and begin to educate and lead the conversations with their users. I can’t say much yet about the project I am working on with them, but it will be coming out next week for SXSW and I am excited to watch the data pour in! Stay tuned!

Posted in Big Data, Education, Featured, Software Development, The Cloud | Comments closed

I Have Been Moved

This weekend I decided to try out the Moves App, mainly because I asked for either the Nike Fuel Band or the Jawbone Up for Christmas and I got neither…zilch. I think by now my husband knows my pattern of buying a workout gadget that is going to change my life only to have it sit on a shelf or in the basement garage sale pile. This time he decided not to indulge me so I had to find another option for my New Year’s resolve. Enter the Moves App which for now is free and just like both the Fuel Band and Jawbone it tracks your movement from place to place and gives you a report of your daily steps. Although it does not share all the features as the other two products, it’s core premise it to detect running, walking, and transport which includes anything moving faster than a run an provide you with a daily timeline of where you’ve been and how many steps took you there.

I was able to easily get it to track my walking and transport but struggled to get it to track my run. My husband got it to track running right away which made me realize it wasn’t the app that was bad, it was my run speed. Sadly my top speed barely registers as a brisk walk. How is that for motivation?

My favorite part about the app is that it doesn’t require any extra accessories, something I would just forget to put on anyway. You just need to carry your phone, which is basically like oxygen for me so at least I will never forget it or I will die. You also don’t have to remember to start the app at each activity and can just leave it running in the background. The remembering part was something that killed me with other apps like Nike+ as I would get half way through my run and realize I forgot to start it and then get pissed that it didn’t track my whole distance. Moves can also detect when you stay relatively in one place for a bit and using Foursquare it geo-locates and pinpoints that spot on your timeline. The only annoying thing is that it doesn’t automagically name the places you have been for you. However after the fact you can go through the interface to search through nearby places and select the places you have been. Once you select a place once, it will register that place name for that location from then on. It wasn’t a horrible user interaction, but I just had the expectation that it should do it all for me and maybe even send me a push notification asking me to check-me in while I was there too. I would also like to see a way to enter my weight/age/height/gender and have a calorie burn stat calculated for me alongside my steps. Future features perhaps? Ironically I want to be as lazy as possible with my wellness apps and I find that the more buttons I have to press or settings I have to configure before, during or after a workout, the less likely I am to use the app. Simplicity is key for me.

I used the app all weekend and found that it didn’t seem to be too harsh on my battery. What I did find was that the step counter is addictive and I ended up pacing in my living room just to try to get my step count up from the previous day. I am very self competitive, so this kind of app is right up my alley.

As the app features inevitably grow, I hope the developers maintain the simple user interface because for now I am moved….at least to get me some coney island.

Moves App Timeline

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In Good Company on the Mountainside

Mt. Hood

Yesterday was a reunion tour of sorts for me. I had coffee and lunch with old co-workers from two jobs ago, and then drinks and dinner out with some other friends from that same job.  They were some of the people that I have worked alongside and known the longest in PDX. For the most part, we have all gone our separate ways and some have reconnected on different adventures. But throughout the day as we talked old business and new, toasted a birthday, talked about another’s recent return to PDX, reminisced and gorged ourselves on food and drink it felt like we hadn’t ever gone anywhere and as if at each encounter we were settling into a regular happy hour after work.  It was so refreshing after the drama of the last few weeks.

It got me thinking about why people sometimes have that bond with co-workers and other people don’t.  In our case we were all relatively young and childless when we started working together and so it was easy to bond together at happy hours after work but that wasn’t the reason we were tight then or the reason we are still tight now. It was because we were all working alongside each other for something we believed in which was to do the best possible work we could regardless of internal politics and client idiosyncrasies.

We were dreamers, organizers, artists, craftsman, nerds and number crunchers and we celebrated each other for it because we all knew that we were working damn hard at it each in our own way. It wasn’t just our job or a paycheck, it was our way of life and when it is your way of life you stretch yourselves and each other to make things work. This doesn’t always happen without pissing each other off and not every day was a cake walk or absent of the normal challenges that all agencies face. Sure we had our complaints and fights, sometimes about and with each other, but somehow we always seemed to forgive, because that is what you do when you are family and we were family.

Like a family we eventually all had to grow up and leave home. It wasn’t easy to separate because the togetherness we formed when conquering the mountains at our agency was akin to the kind of bond one forms with another human being when you survive a tragedy together, but somehow  we  have all survived Separation Mountain as well. We all still see each other as regularly as our new lives allow and just like a family we are there to share in  birthdays, new additions, weddings, when someone comes back to town, new jobs, lost jobs, or sometimes we just plain get together for no reason at all.

Sometimes the laws of attraction brings the right group of people together and a great culture at a company is formed without force, but the real magic happens when that “company” lives beyond the disintegration of the mothership and after the lines of new companies, new buildings or new cities are drawn.

What I realized yesterday was that never have I been so fortunate to be in such “good company”.  My old co-workers are the people that know my kids names and ages and visited me after they were born.  They remember that stupid thing I said in a meeting once (or twice), that I eat tons of candy but I always share and they know that I can sometimes talk fast and loud and way too much. They know that I can sometimes be a stress-ball, but only because I care sooo much…I swear. They have all sorts of awkward pictures of me throughout the years that I wish didn’t exist, but should also know that I have some of them too. They know I went to Michigan State, NOT Michigan, that I might instigate a keg stand only under appropriate circumstances of course, that I loathe fist bumps and that rubber bands scare me. They know what I am made of and lucky for me they have been there lately to remind me of what I can and will be.  Just like a family. 

So for my most recent ex-coworkers and wherever you land remember that what truly makes a “good company” is the culture of its people. Stay  in the trenches alongside each other, don’t just yell from the sidelines. Recognize each other for your hard work, don’t steal each others ideas or demand credit where it isn’t due. Speak your mind when you know it is the right thing to do and most importantly always remember if you are in the position to manage someone, don’t be jealous, challenge them and prop them up so they can do better than even you, because if your team is strong and kicking ass you have already proven that you are a good leader. I look forward to seeing you on the other side of Mount Heave-Ho.

Posted in Education, Family, Fashion, Featured, Mobile | Comments closed

Tool-tips for Toolmakers

tools

I have spent years talking to and training people about how to use tools, listening to pain points, and working with amazing UX, design and software engineers, to try to fix those tools or build new ones. The biggest thing that I have learned is that no matter how many great features a tool has, how beautifully designed the user interface is, how much complexity is behind its seemingly simple architecture, or how many needs it solves a tool will only work if it’s user is informed.

Take email marketing for instance. There are a ton of  tools out there with poured over UX interfaces and robust feature lists and capabilities that range from simplistic to enterprise level.  Most offer a way to easily send and track email to segmented audiences, easy to follow CanSpam compliancy check boxes and tons of metrics reporting data. So if the interfaces of the tool are pretty and they have lots of good buttons and data, is every email in your inbox good? Of course it is not. Do you still feel spammed?  Of course you do. This is because many of the folks sending to you are not informed on how to message, when to message and where it is appropriate to message in a users journey with a brand or experience. But who is responsible for the output of the tool? The designer? The UX team? The engineer? The company? The end user?  The answer is all of the above.

When a tool is crafted the user experience architect needs to think about pitfalls and pain points of the human interaction and design for them by educating the users with the proper flow, a designer needs to make calls to action obvious, intuitive and relevant so steps are not skipped or glossed over, the engineer needs to make sure that they build in validation and error messaging, speed, and scalable code. So now that all that is done, what does the company do? Sit back and collect the money?  Well they could and many do, but that only does a disservice to the tools and problems it was trying to solve.  Not nurturing your tool by educating its users causes more problems to spring up and sometimes these problems can’t be solved so laws are enacted to contain the miss-use. See CanSpam.

Just as if it was a child, a company has to take responsibiltiy for putting their tool into the world. They have to offer support, strategy, and education for their users. Sure their are savants who will open your brilliantly designed and well thought out tool and just intuitively know how to press all the right buttons and send all the right messages, but geniuses are rare. The average user is going to need training wheels and be taught the rules so they don’t abuse this powerful new tool you have given them.

The smarter companies out there are offering this education through great documentation, SDK’s, consulting services, real life usage examples and just plain explaining their tools well to those selling, re-selling or using their tools.  A good company  remembers that blame always trickles back to the source and if a user is wielding your tool for evil, that tool and the company who made it will get the bad wrap, so will its competitive younger brother, and its peripheral older sister. The next thing you know all  communication becomes spam and no one is reading or absorbing the message, good or bad.

Now don’t forget, the user has some accountability as well. The best users seek training, documentation or just plain ask for help, but if they don’t and they continue to abuse your tools, don’t be greedy, just cut them off. In the end it will only protect the value of the tools you are bringing to market.

Posted in Desktop Apps, Featured, Mobile Apps, Software Development, UX, Web Apps | Tagged , | Comments closed

Withdrawals

Now that I find myself without a permanent home, I have found all kinds of daily work related habits that just won’t quit.  Like my need for my morning scone, there just not as good on the east side or downtown as they are in the Pearl, good coffee…it’s a long drive to Stumptown from my house, but the most depressing habit I just can’t seem to break  is my morning ritual of getting on Yammer, Skype, Basecamp (at least I still get to do that thanks to LittleBird+WagEd+TaterTot Design), smartsheet and email (thanks mom for sending me lots of email). What once was my communication hub for the day is a lonely and desolate place, there are no pitches to prep for, fires to put out, clients to please, strategy to figure out, scopes to write, production to coordinate, launches to launch or sales to close. I am withdrawing, hard core. The kind of withdrawal that usually needs supervision.

I find myself having time to do the things I always complained about not being able to do like work out, shop, clean my house and organize my personal clutter. I am getting those things done, but they just don’t seem all that fulfilling. There is an exception and that is having ample time in the morning and evening to smother my kids in snuggles and love! I can play fort with them without worrying I am missing emails, I can read an extra book to them at bedtime, I can take my time to watch cartoons with them in the morning and those are all amazing things, but when I drop them at school I am lost wandering around in my own brain.

My fix? Studying up on mobile statistics. Another one of my weekly if not daily habits was checking out the latest mobile statistics.  It sounds crazy to check them that often, but they change that often if not more and I needed to stay on top of those stats to be able to give my clients well informed information and recommendations.  I still find myself wanting and needing to know how many brands are adding mobile to their 2013 strategies, how many global users there are by device and by OS and who is launching what feature when. Although right now I don’t have a pitch deck to share the stats in or a client to convince to go mobile, I still need that fix. Why don’t I give up my fix? Because, I believe in mobile as the best means of personal and brand communication to the world, I love the connectedness and it is my passion, hell I went to school for telecommunications (Who does that?) and I know someday very soon those stats will come in handy and I will have the place to share my love of mobile.

World Map dots pink

Image Courtesy of www.abysse.co.jp

For now, I figured, if I am addicted, I may as well be your pusher too. If you like mobile, here are two of my favorite mobile crack dens to frequent. Enjoy your high!

Global Mobile Statistics – Great roll up of mobile statistics for 2012 from several sources. It is a long read, so settle in with some tea.

Our Mobile Planet – Google tool that allows you to run all kinds of mobile stats based on behavior and demographics. You can even download charts to use in decks!

Posted in Featured, Mobile | Comments closed

My Type

Vintage Typewriter

I picked this little dusty old typewriter at Portland Flea for $40. It is not my only typewriter. When I was a little girl my dad had an old Royal typewriter. The kind where the keys stuck together if you typed too fast and the ribbon was so old and clung so loosely to the spool, it barely made ink impressions on the paper. I remember it lived in the back of our main family closet under our stairway. It might even still be there.

During the summer, I would crawl into that little cubby of a closet and play pretend office. I was the boss of course. I would tap away at the keys and pretend to be communicating to the people in “my company”.  I would try to tighten the ribbon only to end up looking like I had been finger-printed at the police station. I would break only for lunch and I remember that my dad had Friday’s off sometimes and in the summer we would get out our TV trays and eat lunch together while watching the Price is Right…and of couse he’d ask about my day at the office.

I grew up of course and the typewriter was forgotten and my main type of communication became the phone, then email, and back to the phone again. Only this time there are no lengthy phone calls or conversations,  I communicate  in short thought bursts through texts, pictures, updates and like buttons.  I realize that this is the only way my kids will know how to communicate,  so, when I saw that typewriter sitting  there lonely at Portland Flea with noone to press it’s keys, I bought it. I bought it to always remember those days with my dad, I bought it to teach my kids about paper, margins and ribbons, and how sometimes mistakes are permanent.  I bought it to remember my old self while my new self is busy learning new things.

If you haven’t checked out the amazing Portland Flea, please do so, it is a great way to support local vintage vendors and you might just find your own trinket to remind you of your favorite childhood memory.

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Wooden Legos

japanese wooden legos

(Image courtesy of iichi.com)

If someone happens to be going to Japan, can you pick me up a set of these wooden legos? They are awesome. I love all the textures and colors of the wood. Image building something out of them and displaying it on a shelf.

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Half Full of PDX

tenfourboom

In the wake of this week, it is hard not to focus on the negative. The company I worked for went bankrupt suddenly on Monday and laid off everyone, my two year old is sick with Asthma and I woke up this morning with a head so plugged it felt like someone had crawled up inside it and was blowing up a balloon from the inside out.

Am I angry? Yes. Am I uncertain, unsure, worried?  Sure. Could I speculate about how/why/what/when this could have happened?  I guess. It is certainly what happy, paying, profitable clients have bombarded me with all week.   Do I want to dwell on, tear down and hurt those who hurt me? No. I can’t.  I’ve been there before, and carrying the anger torch is simply is not good for me or those around me.  The smoke from the torch clouds my lungs, blocks my vision and results in poor judgment. I want to move on, find the best home and build new and better things.

The first two days were rough. I worried people would blame all of us, think we weren’t talented and turn their backs on us. People told me I was crazy, and they were right. The exact opposite happened. In the same way we have been bombarded with questions from shocked clients we have been bombarded by an amazing groundswell of support throughout the agency and tech community in Portland. People are hosting happy hours in our honor, offering to give people soft landings, paying out of pocket to pick up unfinished work to allow us to see it through, sending condolences and recommendations on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It truly has been overwhelming. It has taken away the sting, somehow made this tough time seem like an opportunity, and made us all realize that when the physical office closed and our clients moved on,  the relationships we formed with each other,  our clients, and our colleagues in the community are what were most valuable. That is our severance and you cannot put a value on that.

Today our glasses are half full of PDX. Thank you Portland!

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