Sometimes, I think my business partner is totally crazy.
I met Kyle Shannon in 2006, and we started Storyvine six years later. At the time, I was no stranger to independent ventures: I started my career on Wall Street during the dot-com boom and then moved on to brand strategy and consumer insights. Eventually, after losing my day job because of something I had no control over, I realized that, as an employee, I was getting a lot of the risk — and none of the reward.
I had started other companies before and wanted to do it again, but I knew that I was the person that runs the business and wanted to find a strong creative, innovative mind who came up with a disruptive idea.
And that was Kyle: a business partner who was nothing at all like me.
Here’s why developing a dynamic partnership has been the secret to our success, even when we seem to have nothing in common.
Like Breeds Like — and Mediocrity
We’re all human, and we tend to default to working with people who think like us and see the world from the same place. And that’s great in some ways. You don’t have as much conflict, for example, when you’re all looking at things from a similar perspective; less diversity of thought means less space for disagreements.
Kyle had Nielsen come in to assess one of his previous companies, and they completed an evaluation of the team’s top 167 managers. The researchers found it to be “statistically remarkable” how identical all of these people were to one another. Technically, I suppose you could say that hiring people that are a lot like you creates a very strong culture — where you’re strong. But where you’re weak, you’re really weak.
Celebrate Your Superpowers (and Your Not-so-Super Powers)
Kyle is our visionary at Storyvine: the Wizard in Jung’s classic archetypes, or the “hand-wavy guy,” as he likes to say. He connects the dots and the dreams. He brought the original vision of Storyvine to the table.
On the other hand, I am the Warrior. I’m really good at taking other people’s ideas and turning them into actionable goals and business objectives. I’m the one who builds systems, aligns resources, removes obstacles and keeps the trains running on time. With my sometimes robotic approach, I rely on Kyle for his empathetic sensibilities, comfort in squishy contexts and curiosity.
This way, we both solve problems –– all the problems, as a team.
Just Say No
I’m purpose-driven and priority-focused; Kyle’s more abstract. While he dreams things up, it’s my job to, well, crush the rosy visions with cold facts. There is a reason he’s given me the moniker, “The Crusher of Dreams.” I’m not a sadist, I don’t do this for fun (most of the time, anyway).
Let me be clear: When Kyle comes up with a bazillion ideas, and they’re all fantastic (or not so fantastic), it’s my job to hone our focus. I have to say no — or not yet — so our teams can say yes. Otherwise, we’d always be spinning our wheels and spreading our resources too thin across too many goals, and we’d never accomplish anything.
That’s where the power of twinning comes in. In order to be productive and make our dynamic work, we both need to leverage the heck out of our strengths. We have to flex our empathy and dedication to Storyvine every day. Over time, we’ve created a circle of intention and trust that’s far stronger and more focused than either of us could offer the company as individual leaders.
Speak My Language
Don’t get me wrong, we fought — a lot, in the beginning. It took us a while to get here. But we listened to each other and learned we were often in violent agreement, but we just had definition or process issues. One example is how he presents his ideas.
Before, he would come into my office with hands waving, saying, “I have an idea!” When his idea spilled out, what I heard was not the idea and its possibilities, but rather, “I want to change the strategy for the third time this month.”
Now, instead of bracing for impact, I ask, “Is your idea a fantasy, a consideration or a change?” That way, I understand what he wants my reaction to be. Does he just want to be heard (fantasy)? Is this a possible solution to a problem or a new idea that our clients might want (consideration)? Or do we really need to transform what we’re doing now (change)?
Build R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Everyone
Our company culture starts with balance from the very top: a yin and yang, an oil and vinegar, a sun and moon. By committing to the active engagement it takes to maintain that balance, we’re able to set the tone — and the example — for every single member of our team.
As a result, we have a culture that respects and celebrates disparate dynamics. A space that’s both safe and exciting, driven by instinct and progress and powered by technical data and customer joy. Everyone benefits — especially our people.