Hey Superhero, What’s Your Theme Song?

Hey Superhero, What’s Your Theme Song?

*Free reader tip: Read this article with headphones on, listening to something catchy. That’s how this article was written after all…*

Every decent superhero has a theme song. Some go “NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA BATMAN!” while others are more like “Call me, beep me if you wanna reach me.” To each their own, right?

As you are most certainly a superhero yourself (why else would you be reading this?), you may wonder why said musical melodies don’t sing your name when you face sudden peril, risk ridicule, or tantalize a triumphant victory as you open a kitchen drawer with your left hand while drying a dish with your right and close the dishwasher with your toes (#kitchensuperherostatusunlocked). Well, in this article’s whimsical world, let’s just assume that smooth backup vocals, brassy trumpet sections, and impromptu dance offs are a regular daily occurrence in your life.

Since you’re a superhero, you and your team also have a brand. It may be strong and intentional, or perhaps less strong and less unintentional. Said brand is more than the logo on your business card, or the letter painted on your caped blue and red spandex onesie. It’s at the core of why you your team, project, or service exists in a given context.

What does your brand look like? Are you innovative? Helpful? Dependable? Open-minded? Socially conscious? Are you growth oriented? Perhaps you have a brand you want to change. Doesn’t matter. First and foremost, you need to be aware of what your brand is. How you figure this out is a different topic for a different day. THIS DAY, however, is about that song that plays when you enter a room. It’s the key to your brand!

Let’s take a look at three techniques to establish your brand/theme song: 1) Moving the needle, 2) Rewind, and 3) Anti-Shock. First, we must set the stage.

Setting the stage

You enter the conference room, nervous about your presentation (Yes, in person…if you can remember what that felt like…). Chatting dies down and you’re introduced. Faces stare. You begin your presentation on _________(fill in the blank. “Single track trail vegetation after wildfire and regrowth???”). People seem to disengage. Energy suffers. The camera stops on your face. Your head voice starts to sing softly (like, the voice inside your head, not your head voice when trying to reach a higher pitch). Your eyes narrow into a heroic squint as lyrics fill your head, energy rising. You slam your laptop closed, slide into a stagger stance, point to the audience, and sing a powerful, head bobbing, foot stomping of a question to the first person that catches your gaze.

The room goes silent. The person stares back; timidly looks around the room. As the music begins to swell, with a rush of confidence, the person replies with a soulful wail, words expressing that they were in fact paying attention to your presentation, and only appeared passive, as they had a late-night doing housework.

You nod and tap your foot as the music backs them up. Two more join in, and soon you’re pointing to slides, kick-ball-changing to get your point across, maybe even a little jazz-hands from time to time. Choruses break out, and soon everyone is spinning their chairs in sync.

What comes next? you guessed it: You’re having a tap dance off with Terry (you didn’t know she tap danced…). Dang she’s good. Never before had such a presentation taken place in the history of conference room presentations. You call out a question and the chorus responds. You air guitar a few slide bullets and are greeted with a slew of opinionated dance styles. Suddenly, Barrie walks in the room, late, as is his brand. Everyone stops. The room stands still. A few papers float to the floor. Next thing you know, Barrie is electric sliding his way into the room and yes, a musical life dream is fulfilled. Time to pick your next technique.

1) Moving the Needle

When I was a kid, my dad had a really nice record player that we’d, on rare occasion, pull out (‘twas the era of CDs and Laserdisks. Yes, we had not one, but two Laserdisk players…which was awesome). Record needles were hard to find at that time, so we had to learn to delicately move the needle to select the songs.

I remember us playing the LP version of Kansas, Leftoverture’s “Carry on My Wayward Son” on one input, while playing the CD version on another. We’d switch inputs back and forth, determining which sounded better. May be memory bias, but I seem to remember the vinyl having more presence, warmth, and life. After all, that record had surely been played a lot, and probably had its fair share of scratches from the needle. These imperfections are what made it so special!

Establishing your brand can be a delicate process. It might take time, multiple tries, and perhaps even scratching the record a time or two. This is ok! Your team, company, product, or service likely has a diverse set of experiences, talents, and ambitions. You don’t have to get it right the first time. You may think you’ve landed on what defines your identity, and realize you were not only wrong, but on Side A when you should definitely be on Side B (tracking what I’m saying?? Pun intended. You’re welcome).

Don’t be afraid to change! Experiment! At the personal level, if your brand is based off of a lifetime of habits and behaviors, it’s ok to change! You may find that you’re a lot happier playing the deep track than you are the greatest hit that everyone knows. The deep track might have the best musicianship on the album. Do what resonates with you. At the end of the day, you’ll be happier spending your time on something that excites you. You’ll also likely bring more positive change to others by sharing your passionate energy.


Hold on, back up, what was that? I remember listening to Blues Traveler’s “Four” album. After enjoying a dose of Runaround, I discovered the 90’s blues rock, adrenaline inducing, Playing 4s example of Crash Burn. Part way through the song, John Popper breaks off in a harmonic (like, with his harmonica..) solo, followed by a competitive riptide guitar riff, followed by bass and then drums (hence, Playing 4s). My mind was blown! Rewind! Listen. Rewind! Listen. You get the picture.

If you find something that works for your brand, study it! Repeat it! Ask yourself why it works, why it energizes you, why it brings your team together, why it makes your customers adore you for your niche offering. Odds are it is a big contributor to your brand.


It might be fair to say that a large part of today’s workforce has no idea what I mean by Anti-Shock. This was a symbol of audial status in days gone by! I’m pretty sure my portable Panasonic CD player had 90 seconds of Anti-Shock. I could mow the lawn, bouncing hip pack and all, and make it through album after album without any skips or screeches emanating from my (corded) headphones. Those without anti-shock weren’t so lucky…

Similarly, your brand will exist in a challenging environment, full of bumps and skips. You may experience a brand identity crisis! A competitor offers similar services. An executive takes the company in a new direction. A key team player leaves for a new opportunity (necessitating a key change? OK OK I’ll stop…).

This or something similar IS going to happen. You may be forced to rethink your mission, vision, purpose. Your strategy might not make sense anymore. This being said, the foundational parts of your brand identity can remain strong and immovable through preparatory “Anti-Shock”. Have you empowered your team with a shared leadership model? Have you learned to celebrate failure? Have you baked in a key ingredient: Fun? These tools will provide “Anti-Shock when your brand is challenged. You may still experience jolts or skips, but your audience, the listener, may not even notice as your theme song continues to play.

Listen, Kronk got it right in The Emperor’s New Groove. He may not have called it his “brand”, but he understood the need for a theme song. Be intentional. Drink your “Gummi Berri Juice”. Write the notes down. Experiment. Scribble out what doesn’t work and write something new. Move the needle. Rewind. Establish foundational, immovable aspects of your brand identity that can withstand the shocks of change.

All the world’s waiting for you, and the power you possess.” When you enter the room, throw your hands in the air and look boldly at those before you, for your theme song begins.

7 tips to practice ‘Yes, And…’ during everyday collaboration

7 tips to practice ‘Yes, And…’ during everyday collaboration

Q: Team Toolkit, I love using ‘Yes, And…’ during your ITK workshops! I want more collaboration like this outside of the workshop. How can I use ‘Yes, And…’ during my regular, everyday interactions with my team?

A: Great question, anonymous audience member! Taking an effective workshop practice into your everyday interactions with your team is a fantastic ambition, and we’d love to help you with this.

In case you need a refresher, last week we covered what ‘Yes, And…’ entails. At its heart – ‘Yes, And…’ is a practice of accepting and building off of each other’s inputs, which requires being present and active listening. These attitudes can most certainly be practiced in everyday interactions.

Since many of us are working virtually, we’ll focus our everyday tips on virtual interactions but know that these 7 tips can be similarly used for in-person interactions.


To demonstrate accepting and building off of each other’s inputs:

Tip #1) Acknowledge ideas and efforts explicitly!

Whether it’s the best idea or the worst, you can always acknowledge that a teammate has put something out there. Start your response with this acknowledgment. You can use phrases such as “Thanks for offering your ideas!” or “Thanks for getting us started!” And if you like the idea, say so!

Tip #2) Show your excitement!

You could probably see this coming based on the examples in Tip #1: When writing, exclamation points are your friend! If that feels like too much, try italicized text. Use lighthearted and playful words that feel like a casual conversation, rather than formal phrases that feel boxy and forced. Conduct a thesaurus search for positive words, such as delight, joy, or wonderful. Get creative!

Tip #3) Invite others into the conversation by name. 

Especially when you’re in a group thread, sometimes it can be unclear when to jump in or not. When you respond positively to a teammate’s input, try offering not only your input but also include an invitation for a specific someone else to add their input.

By adding a specific name, now it’s clear whose input is next. It’s like an improv comedian passing the scene to a fellow performer, through a look, gesture, or question. This also helps ensures that the dialogue will keep going, which helps the initiating teammate feel that their input is valued and being acted upon. We’ve all felt the despair that accompanies sending an email into the internet black hole. Don’t let your teammates feel this way.

Tip #4) Literally use the words “Yes, and”

Sometimes the most obvious is the hardest to see. By actually using the words “Yes, and,” it will show your acceptance and how you are building off of your teammate’s input. Bonus points if your teammates are also familiar with this workshop practice because it may remind them to start writing “Yes, and” too.


To demonstrate being present and active listening:

Tip #5) Send a timely response.

This tip can be quite difficult if you’re struggling with staying on top of your inbox (#allofus). However, even if your response is to simply acknowledge that you’ve received the message and will respond more thoughtfully later, sending this type of quick heads up note shows that you are being present. It goes without saying that you should follow through with a more thoughtful response later. 

Tip #6) Be a role model for being present and practice vulnerability.

How many of us have been tackling a problem and gotten stuck? Exactly (#allofus). Now, how many of us have messaged our team when we are stuck to simply state that we’re stuck? Exactly (#fewofus).

By being present with your own situation and vulnerably sharing where you are – whether you are stuck or just had a breakthrough – can be a powerful role modeling of behavior that the rest of your team will imitate. By practicing vulnerability, it achieves two very powerful outcomes:

1) It invites others to also put their guard down and share where they are too, which helps co-create the safe and trusting environment for your team.

2) It creates an opportunity for someone else to say ‘Yes, and’ to you 

Tip #7) Pay close attention to calls for help, which may require reading between the lines.

This tip is a companion to Tip #6, and it requires empathy and grace. While you’re building more camaraderie and trust amongst your team, it may initially be both unfamiliar and uncomfortable for teammates to directly ask for help or share when they feel stuck, overwhelmed, or confused (which further reinforces why being a role model in Tip #6 is so valuable).

When you sense that this type of situation is at play, this is the most critical time to be responsive and actively listen. Through your words, you can acknowledge the situation and also demonstrate that you’ve really heard what your teammate is actually trying to convey.

For example, one teammate may send out a team message reporting on their research for a broad topic. They feel unsure of which sub-topics to continue researching deeper because they found so many. Rather than a specific ask for help, they close their message by asking “Thoughts?” broadly to the team.

In this example, you could respond by saying “Great research! That is an overwhelming set of sub-topics we could dig into, how about starting with sub-topic X? Teammate Jane Doe, what do you think?”

By naming the “overwhelming set,” you acknowledge that there are many choices and it’s not clear which is the best choice. You’ve also offered your input by suggesting an idea. And bonus points – with these two sentences, you’ve also practiced Tip #1, #2 and #3!

– – –

Team Toolkit Example of Everyday ‘Yes, And…’

Now that we’ve gone over the 7 tips for everyday ‘Yes, And…’ collaboration, let’s see a real life example of this! This example shows a message thread amongst Team Toolkit, and you’ll see my narrator commentary in the far right and I’ve highlighted the relevant text in green.

Context: It’s the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend and also the first 3-day weekend since the beginning of full-time working from home due to covid, a.k.a. it’s an especially quiet Friday afternoon. Team Toolkit’s high school intern is graduating and headed to college in the fall. The ITK teammate who works most closely with our high school intern is organizing a collective group card to wish her well in this next chapter.

ITK Teammate 1

12:09 PM

Our ITK High School intern is graduating this year.  We would have done something anyway to celebrate her graduation.  However the city of Lawrence, where she lives in has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic so I definitely want to do something for her now.

I’m happy to send along a card with a gift card, messages, and am happy to sign people’s names.  So let me know if you want me to write a message for you and if you want to make a contribution.  No pressure, of course.  I probably won’t do a video unless someone else wants to work with me on it.  I would need some partnering, just because putting it together and editing it feels overwhelming to do alone. 😝






Tip #6 – ITK Teammate 1 has practiced vulnerability and is asking for help

ITK Teammate 2

1:12 PM

Yes, let’s absolutely do something for our ITK High School Intern to show our appreciation and support.

Thanks ITK Teammate 1 for initiating us! When’s your ideal deadline for this?

I can help create a compilation video if folks are willing to go on camera. The initial thought I had was a round-robin video with each person giving a ~10-20 sec good wish, and a final shot of all us and some group sentiment (happy graduation/ good luck in college/ thank you/ etc).

I have no idea how to actually do this, but I’m willing to try if folks are willing to record! Pretty sure we can leverage zoom to do these recordings.

ITK Teammate 3 and ITK Teammate 4, I know both of you have done video editing – any tips?

Tip #4 – Literally use the words “Yes, and”

Tip #2 – Show your excitement.

Tip #6 – Now ITK Teammate 2 has practiced vulnerability and is asking for help. They also offer an idea.

Tip #6 again

Tip #3 – Invite others into the conversation by name.

ITK Teammate 1

2:02 PM

Looks like we need to get the videos to the school by June 3.  I’m not sure how long it will take to edit the videos together, but we have 11 days including weekends.


Tip #5 – Send a timely response. Notice the timestamp of the last 3 exchanges: Although it was a Friday afternoon, the elapsed time is ~1 hr between each response.

ITK Teammate 5

2:03 PM

What about a Zoom conf and we all take the time to say something and just screen record that? Tip #5 – Now another teammate has chimed in and notice the timestamp again. They’ve quickly chimed in and are also building off of ITK Teammate 2’s idea

ITK Teammate 4

2:10 PM

That’s a brilliant idea ITK Teammate 5 – yes, let’s record a group Zoom session. We all may want to script up a few words (or at least do a little thinking about what we want to say), but that definitely feels like the easiest / fastest / smoothest way for us all to send our high school intern a message that really reflects the team and how we work. 😊 Now we have another teammate responding, and here we see Tip #1, #2, #4, and #5!

ITK Teammate 2

2:16 pm

< sends a meeting invite to the whole team with a zoom meeting link> Tip #5 – responding quickly to the idea

ITK Teammate 2

2:17 ppm

Sweet! I added a 30-min video recording session after our Team Toolkit meeting next Thurs. We’re having that meeting in MS Teams so we can keep going in there, OR I also set up a Zoom meeting if we want to switch. The (video recording) world shall be our oyster 😊 Tip #1 and #2


Upon returning from the Memorial Day Holiday, the rest of Team Toolkit also begins chiming in….

ITK Teammate 6 I like the zoom recording idea! Tip #1 and #2
ITK Teammate 3 Love the Zoom idea! Tip #1 and #2
ITK Teammate 7

If we were really snazzy… we’d all dust off the crayons and markers and each make an 8-1/2×11” letter spelling  G-O-O D L-U-C-K (if we were on Zoom, where we could brady bunch said message). Not sure if this would work, but ITK Teammate 3 and I could represent two letters

·       ITK Teammate 3: G

·       ITK Teammate 7: O

·       ITK Teammate 4: O

·       ITK Teammate 8: D

·       ITK Teammate 5: L

·       ITK Teammate 9: U

·       ITK Teammate 2: C

·       ITK Teammate 6: K

·       ITK Teammate 1: !

This being said, not sure how this would play out in terms of “order” on the screen. Does anyone know if you can move the order of participants around?

Tip #2 – ITK Teammate 7 has gotten excited and continues building off the idea











Tip # 6 – Practices vulnerability

ITK Teammate 2

Love this idea!

We can do it in “speaker view” and have each person say something so their camera is the focus. Aka the letters will display serially, rather than in brady brunch view.

Tip #1 and #2


Continues building off the idea

ITK Teammate 4


One way we could do this is for someone to assign the letters once we’re all dialed in and can see what order we’re in… we just wouldn’t do the letters in advance.

Tip #2


More building off the idea

ITK Teammate 6

So cute!

Yeah, I think we could do the GOODLUCK in gallery view and agree with ITK Teammate 4 and then speaker view for our messages!

Tip #2


Tip #4

ITK Teammate 1 Yasss! I love this and everyone’s creativity!

Tip #1, #2, and #4

Tip #5 – Notice that it was ITK Teammate 1 that started the thread, and they also closed the loop and acknowledged everyone’s inputs.


Hopefully seeing this real life example sparks new ideas for how you can practice ‘Yes, and…’ in everyday interactions with your team. Let us know how you use these 7 tips in the comments below!

– – –

P.S. Curious how the final recording of our video message went? Check out two snapshots and the video recordings below! After many more ‘Yes, And…’ moments live on the zoom meeting, we successfully recorded our “Good Luck” video message to our ITK High School intern!

Take 1: Team Toolkit spells “OLGODUCK!”

Team Toolkit holds up letters that spell 'OLGODUCK'

Take 2: Team Toolkit wishes “GOOD LUCK!”

Team Toolkit holds up letters that spell






And last but not least: The final video as posted on Notre Dame Criso Rey High School’s YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram!

What is ‘Yes, And…’ ?!

What is ‘Yes, And…’ ?!

Q: Team Toolkit, every workshop you host begins with Collaboration Rules that the whole group agrees to for that workshop. I keep seeing the ‘Yes, And…’ rule. What exactly is it and why is it always included?

A: ‘Yes, And…’ is definitely one of our favorite collaboration rules, and I’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of the Top 3 MUST’s for an effective innovation workshop.

Many may not know, but ‘Yes, And…’ is actually a practice borrowed from improv comedy. In an improv sketch, a group of comedians are given an initial scenario with no planned script. One by one, they build off of each other’s inputs to create a dynamic, group comedy sketch. Since it’s live and in real-time, comedians are making things up as they go, and the result is often outrageous or extremely silly, thus adding to the comedic humor of the scenario.

What’s central to this improv practice is that each of the comedians accepts, and then builds off of what the prior person has said. This requires active listening, where each comedian is present in the moment and listening to what others are saying, rather than lost in their own thoughts or preparing a rebuttal.

By continuously agreeing and building off of each other, this creates a key enabler: A safe and trusting environment. Since each comedian knows that their inputs will be built off of, rather than dismissed or ridiculed, they know it’s okay if they don’t say the perfect next statement or even make a mistake. Their fellow teammates may pivot that “mistake” into comedic gold. This helps each performer feel free to experiment, knowing they will be supported rather than undermined or contradicted. 

When we bring this improv practice into the business world, you can imagine how powerful this practice can be!

By creating a cooperative environment where participants feel safe to voice their thoughts, this candidness unlocks openings for key insights which can be critical for innovation. These insights may have otherwise remained hidden, and the team may have continued to be stuck or stagnant.

Not only that, fostering levity and playfulness also encourages silliness and allows creativity to flourish. Oftentimes, the best ideas derive from the silliest inputs, so these are certainly not to be dismissed! Creativity widens the aperture for what’s possible and gives permission to the participants to expand their thinking in new ways which were previously blocked.

There are boundless scenarios and team environments where this improv practice of ‘Yes, And…’ could be of value. I encourage you to try it out with your team, and let us know in the comments below what has worked for you!



Burn Out

Burn Out

It’s day 80 of quarantine and social distancing in COVID-19. Day 80 of wearing a mask at the grocery store and wiping down everything with Clorox wipes. Day 80 of not hugging my closest family and friends. Day 80 of working from home, sitting on back to back virtual meetings. I don’t know about you, but it’s getting old.

Like many, the first few weeks of “stay-at-home” were a refreshing change of pace from the hectic commuter life and travel schedule. Getting to tackle projects in the peace and quiet of your own home away from the office allowed for a mental refresh and more productive schedule. We got creative with moving our in-person meetings to virtual, trying out new tools to replace whiteboard sessions, and uploaded our favorite scenic destinations as our Zoom backgrounds. “Look at me, I’m working from the beach in Hawaii!”

But now that we’ve been in this for close to 100 days, the novelty has worn off and the need for synchronous communication and constant meetings has become grating. Without the short walk between conference rooms, there is no time to switch contexts from meeting to meeting and even less time to get work done, unless you multi-task during another call, thus making that meeting less productive. I’ve found myself overemoting on webcam calls, constantly aware of my facial expressions in the bottom corner of the screen and feeling a pressing need to connect with people through the camera. How long and hard can I stare at the bright green light next to my webcam before going blind?

I am grateful to have a job that allows me to work from home in these unprecedented times, so I do grapple with complaining about a first world problem of privilege. I surface the issue of burn out because if we ignore the burn out, we won’t make it through this period of quarantine and long-term future of quarantine. What can we do about the need for constant virtual meetings, given remote work appears to be our “new normal”? I’ve tried a few strategies to no avail, such as blocking some chunks of time on my calendar for working hours, only to be found out my colleagues asking if I’m “really booked all day.” I’ve also asked if a meeting needed to happen or updates could be given via email, sometimes met with a, “Yes, I do have updates to share.”

Maybe the changes need to come from the top down. Some companies have recognized this burnout and set one day a week to be free from meetings, so people can get some time back on their schedule to crank through work. A cultural shift like this might help an organization focus on working asynchronously for one day a week. That being said, having a holiday Monday off this week led to four days of extra jam-packed schedule due to the lacking calendar space.

I present this problem as a call to action for all of us to do better. I’m not sure how to affect change aside from leading by example. I will continue to question the meetings that I’m invited to and say “no” more often to protect my own sanity. I encourage you to lead the change so we can shift the meeting-heavy culture from the bottom up. Challenge the status quo, ask why we do the things we do, and only attend meetings where your presence will make an impact. That’s what innovation is all about.

What has your team tried? What’s working for you? How can we innovate together to make things better?

Interview with Michelle Histand

We recently sat down for a video chat with Michelle Histand, Director of Innovation at Independence Blue Cross. It was a lively discussion about her work at Blue Shield and the innovation toolkit she uses, enjoy this 11-minute video! Don’t miss the Assumption Busting tool she describes at 6:30, it’s terrific!