Sarah Avenir is a full-hearted leader who models the strength of vulnerability in her experiments with creating sustainable businesses that are good for people and sharing her journey on the way. She is the CEO of Andyet, a people-first growth and creative web consultancy founded in 2008, and is the author of Gather the People, a book I really appreciated in which she introduced the world to a deep-not-wide marketing theory built on genuine vulnerability and authenticity.
I really enjoyed this conversation exploring people-first growth and bridging the gap between authenticity, spirituality, and leadership. I hope it inspires you to step into the next level of your leadership with a full, open heart, as it did for me.
Please enjoy Sarah Avenir.
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Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
[00:01:07] Andrew Skotzko: Sarah, welcome to the show. It’s so great to have you.
Sarah Avenir: Thank you. I’m so excited. I see you have a soccer ball in the background. Is that your soccer ball or is that a child?
Andrew Skotzko: That one’s just been sitting over there for a while. Actually. It’s not, I don’t even know who it is, but the thing that I have been playing with a lot that has been a lot of fun during the, the COVID quarantine and everything is I’ve gotten into playing Frisbee. I don’t know about you, but like, you’re like everybody loves Frisbee.
I just, I got a Frisbee and I’d walk around.
Sarah Avenir: Frisbee, like that kind of Frisbee or Frisbee, like when you’re a kid and you play Frisbee.
Andrew Skotzko: like Frisbee Frisbee, like Frisbee, like the whole thing, people like, it just turns everybody into a little kid again, and it’s super fun.
Sarah Avenir: Oh my gosh. I hadn’t thought
Andrew Skotzko: the ultimate socially distance sport. And you’re like, Hey, go 30 yards away. And I’ll
Sarah Avenir: far away from each other. Oh man. That’s awesome.
Andrew Skotzko: That’s been my, one of my favorite ways to have like socially distant Hangouts with people during the pandemic is like, Hey, uh, you know, I know we’re doing the distance thing, so you go 20 yards away and I’ll be over here and we’ll talk only throw this thing.
[00:02:07] Sarah Avenir: Yell at each other and try to catch this Frisbee. That’s awesome. I’d love it.
Andrew Skotzko: It actually worked pretty well. Yeah. Yeah. Me too. And it’s funny that you, you jumped out of that because the thing I actually wanted to ask you, and I hope I’m getting this right. But I remember from what I was reading gathered the people, your, your first book, uh, you had something in there. There’s something you said in there that really resonated with me and you tied it to, you said your middle name is joy.
And that a lifelong lesson for you has an, is to prioritize joy, to make it non-negotiable to make it a part of your everyday lived reality. And I’m curious, sort of two things. What had you realized that and how was that going for you? Like, how are you, how are you actually embodying that and practicing that in your life?
Sarah Avenir: People perceive me as someone who takes risks and is always reinventing things. Um, but I’ve realized over the years that it’s not because I’m just really excited about risks. It’s because I’m [00:03:07] actually pretty afraid of a lot of things. And, um, and a lot of what motivates me is actually like, Oh, I don’t want this to happen.
I don’t want that to happen. Or even, I don’t want to avoid this thing. That’s hard, so I’m gonna do it. And, um, I, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Enneagram or if you’ve done any of that kind of like personality framework stuff. Um, but I, I’m pretty sure I’m a type six, which is like the worst type.
It’s like the, the terrified one.
Andrew Skotzko: I got the bad one.
Sarah Avenir: I got the bad one. Yeah. I think they’re all bad. It’s just like, this is the ways in which you are terrible. Um, no, I know people who teach Enneagram and they would say that is not true. Um, but there are some aspects of it. That’s like forces you to explore your shadow. And then that is the vice of the six is, is [00:04:07] fear.
And, um, I think I, when I was younger and, you know, excited about making new things and kind of taking my place in the world, um, I. Was always kind of pushed by the thing that I didn’t want anymore. And the thing that was the problems that I was really pressing up against, that’s what moved me forward. And then as I’ve gotten older and I’m not as motivated by, like, you can achieve anything, you know, here’s, here are these goals, you know, you reach certain goals and you’re like, wow, that didn’t feel like I thought it would feel.
And you kind of realized that you have to learn to love your life right now, if you ever have a chance of loving it at any point in the future. And so I’ve been really trying to shift the way that I work from being pushed by things [00:05:07] I don’t want to being pulled toward what I really want, and that’s not ever a goal.
Really. It’s more like a state of. Being in a state of acceptance. And, you know, I think we all kind of get to that point in our lives where we’re just like, yeah, I don’t think this like achievement stuff is working out so well for me. So joy is definitely, um, That centering thing for me of like, Oh yeah.
That, and you know, Sarah means princess and I don’t go too, too far into the Fred says, but if I’m like, I have sovereignty here over by own joy.
Andrew Skotzko: Okay. I have sovereignty of at least this much.
Sarah Avenir: yeah. So, yeah, that’s, that’s the story there, but how about you, if you know your type.
Andrew Skotzko: . I have done all those tests as well on like Enneagram, specifically. I found it to be really useful, but also really frustrating. And the reason I say that is because. [00:06:07] Depending when I’ve taken the test, I have gotten pretty different answers.
Sarah Avenir: Oh yeah.
Andrew Skotzko: it seems to kind of cluster around a few. So like, I don’t know if I’m primarily a type three, which is, uh, in any of your empire lends the achiever or the type seven, which is the, I believe it’s called the enthusiast, but what I, where I sort of, after beating my head against the wall on that a bunch of times I was like, okay, You know, maybe it doesn’t matter.
Like, but there’s there’s truth for me in both of these things. Cause like where I ended up with it, you know, I read the stuff it’s useful. It’s interesting. It definitely helped me confront and revealed some of the stuff I’ve got to work on. Um, and it was kinda just like, okay, well I have these two lists of things to watch out for.
So great. I’m just going to be aware of both of them and just. Off I go, I really resonate with what you’re saying though, about that, like that shift from being the way I would say it is from being driven and pushed by something to being called and pulled by something.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko: And I remember for when that was for me, but I’m curious [00:07:07] if there’s like a moment there’s often I find there’s often a moment for people where this really clicks.
Sarah Avenir: I don’t know if there was a distinct, you know, I was in my bed crying sort of moment, but there was a time when I had built this, pretty successful little, web, um, development, design shop, and we were. A small team of three people serving like 21 clients at a time. We had a system and it works really well. but it was just so efficiently optimized. That is just like, I actually, I, I can’t do this anymore this way. And so I, totally pivoted our company and thought about, you know, what is it that is, calling me, that’s pulling me forward.
And I created this whole visionary, way of, of working with people [00:08:07] called a small nation. And it was, um, really imaginative and, um, ambitious. We basically would take people from the seed of an idea to building their own. Um, I always think of the internet as like, The fun thing about the internet is you get to create your own universe.
Really. And now I look back on nation and I think, um, you know, I’m not so compelled by the language because of, you know, um, kind of taking over and colonialism and all of that stuff. But at the time, what that meant to me was not a nation that like takes over a territory. It was building something totally new that didn’t exist before.
And so we would kind of build that place with people and we would do that in public. Um, and that was a learning experience for me. Um, but I think it was the, the first time that I had just decided I have to [00:09:07] prioritize this. Um, just as much as I prioritize, what’s going to what feels safe. And I’ve been reading this book called, um, Nature and the human soul, I believe by bill Plotkin and he talks.
Yeah. He talks about how. We have this need for safety. And on the other side of that is a need for, uh, authenticity. So it’s the, it’s the need for like all the things to go smoothly, right? So that we could live and survive and keep doing what we’re doing. And then there’s also though this deep soul level need that all human beings have.
It’s some capacity to be themselves fully in whatever they’re doing. And I think sometimes we compartmentalize those things. Some people say that doesn’t belong in work because there’s all kinds of other problems [00:10:07] with that. You know, the kind of like if you do what you love, you. You’re working every moment of your existence kind of thing.
Um, and I can see that, but for me, everything, the theme of my life has been, um, pursuing both of those things at the same time, bringing alignment into both of those things because, I don’t have. Anybody kind of funding any of the things that I’m doing, I have to make that work. And, um, and you know, nobody ever hands you the life that is just the perfect one for you.
You have to do that work for yourself. So, um, yeah, I think that’s the hard and interesting and exciting thing about our lives and our work is that we get to perpetually. Beyond that path.
Andrew Skotzko: I’m reminded just in the moment of a quote from James clear where he said, something like entrepreneurship is a personal development [00:11:07] journey, disguised as a business venture.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko: this idea that it’s a journey of becoming and no matter where you are on that journey, there’s always some next step, some new thing to evolve into.
Um, and it’s really, you know, you touched on a couple of really interesting points there that I actually want to kind of go in on a little bit more. It might be an interesting pivot point into talking about people first growth, which is, a big focus for you these days
when you say people first growth, I feel like it’s one of those terms that people are going to intuitively get. But just to clarify, what do you mean by that phrase?
Sarah Avenir: well, if you will suffer me using my tagline on you, it’s for people who care about people over profit, but you need profit to care for people. Bottom line. That is the hardest thing in the world to do. And I, I come add it from a place of really caring a lot about how things that we do affect human beings, which [00:12:07] includes ourselves and our teammates and everyone that our work touches, but I’ve also been scrappy and I’ve had to be scrappy.
I’m not someone that, you know, ever belonged in the, um, In the world of like getting funding for a big idea. I, I just, I don’t really know that universe. And so I’ve always just said, well, what can I do with what I have, which is me? Money and the making of money so that I can pay people and, and continue to live with always been a priority.
Andrew Skotzko: . The two things that I specifically wanted to have you unpack a little bit, you mentioned There’s something really powerful about focusing on the small to get to the big, right.
And not just focusing on this big grand vision that we all talk about and are so used to, you know, so conditioned toward, but not focusing just on that, but focusing on the [00:13:07] people that that is for. And then also the idea that you have in the book, the book draft so far, which we’ll link to in the show notes, but this idea of fractal growth, right?
The idea that the things grow by cloning, what already works at a smaller scale and living division now all along the way, not just punting that joy for the future, you know? Oh one day when I get XYZ, I’ll be happy. And I just would love to hear how here you unpack that a little bit more and describe what that looks like in practice, how do you do that?
Sarah Avenir: Yeah. Well, the, the idea of fractals as, um, as a model for growth, I learned from Adrian Marie Brown’s emergent strategy, which is fantastic. Um, I’m always looking for books written by people who are thinking. Uh, differently. And usually those books are not written for business. Um, although my book, I kind of have to, because that’s my context, but [00:14:07] Adrian Marie Brown context has been, um, in social change in movements.
And I, um, I love, and I think it’s just, if you’ve, if you’ve experienced wins for yourself as good as they feel, it’s like, you get there and it doesn’t necessarily feel like, what you thought it would. And it’s because the small part of your world, isn’t actually resembling that big vision, right?
It’s like, maybe you experience a moment of a win, but , you’re not living that when, you know, in all the parts of your life, it’s just. A moment. And so trying to figure out, like, what is actually really important about if there’s something that I want or something that I’m thinking would be amazing.
Like why, why do I want that thing? What, what is that gonna feel like tangibly for me? And once I figure that out, how can I [00:15:07] give that? To myself, to our team now, um, or at least live it in some small way and in that way be moving toward the future, but also not having to save that for later. And I, I just think part of it’s a personality thing too, because like that big vision, I.
I’m not motivated by those things anymore. Like if somebody is like, ah, you you’re going to have a, uh, business, that’s making X amount of profit and you’re going to be able to have profit sharing that you’ve got 10% growth for your business partners and you’re able to do profit sharing for your team and all this.
And I am just like, it just feels so far away. So arbitrary, you know, like I just made those things up. Um, but if I’m thinking, um, about [00:16:07] a small thing, even if it’s something that I don’t have now, or can’t give myself now, if I can focus on that, you know, three months from now, six months from now, it kind of inches me toward that thing.
and it also allows you to be a lot more iterative and all of that stuff.
Andrew Skotzko: So, what does that actually look like for you? You said those big visions, right? Okay. Sarah, you’re going to have, you know, X, X amount of money in profit every year, and you do this sort of employee profit sharing, or, you know, those sorts of things, aren’t doing it for you anymore.
So what are you finding is actually getting you going these days? Like, what is, what is speaking to you now? Where are we meeting you in your journey right now?
Sarah Avenir: Well right now, I mean, on a business level, we’re still kind of low on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs kind of thing. And yet I’m holding us high on the, like, we also need to be true to who we are while we’re getting these basic needs met. Um, I think software design, uh, anybody who runs a digital [00:17:07] agency of any kind is, has probably been trying to figure out, you know, what is the trend and has experienced commoditization of.
A lot of their services in just new ways that that people can get started for, for close to nothing, you know? And so really trying to figure out, where do we fit and not only that, but compared to 12 years ago, when Andy had started, um, People take software, they have software teams, like everybody has their development team.
Right. Um, and
Andrew Skotzko: as interest and said, how far has been needing the world probably will keep doing so.
Sarah Avenir: yeah, exactly. So it’s kind of a requirement and your, the things that you hire for, um, and collaborate with a different team with are different than they used to be 12 years ago. And all of this [00:18:07] stuff is just constantly changing and we’ve experienced that. And it used to be enough for us to just depend on our relationships and word of mouth and all of that.
And we just realized like, and to be completely vague about what we do, we’ve always just been like, we’re where people first we care about each other. We’re good at software. We are good at design. Like what can we do for you? Um, and now we’re realizing like we have to, um, We have to share more about our vision for the world and about our strategic approach.
Um, and, and come at it from the things that only we can do, you know, and the things that make us truly unique and why you can’t hire that anywhere else. And so, in order to do that, it’s kind of those really early, um, it’s like we kind of got to build a brand new. [00:19:07] World to exist in a new set of people.
Right. It’s they don’t, they don’t care about being like a thought leader or, you know,
Andrew Skotzko: Yeah, sure.
Sarah Avenir: great work and they love to do that. Um, And so trying to find that kind of mix of, um, what are the things that only we can do. And so when I took on the CEO role. , last July.
it was really because after years of pushing for it, we’d finally decided we’re going to [00:20:07] focus on a strategic approach to growth, which is what I’ve been working on for the past 15 years in my career. ,
Andrew Skotzko: Yeah, so , there’s kind of is an interesting arc here of your evolution and kind of the things you’re doing. You sort of incubated them in your own life, but now you’re sort of taking those into a larger scale with, with your, with your new role and with the team.
So you’re sort of taking what you were doing individually, and now you’re saying, okay, well, How do we make that a we thing? How do we do this? How do you know, how do we do people first growth?
So I’m curious, have you, by any chance, come across the work of a woman, named Nilofer Merchant.
Sarah Avenir: we have actually been talking about her lately and, um, I really am looking forward to. Reading her book. Um, I know that you have also interviewed her and yeah. Her books. I haven’t, I haven’t read them yet, but I’m excited to
Andrew Skotzko: Yeah. Cause it was like, I’m like, Oh man, Sarah, you [00:21:07] need to read the power of loneliness by Nyla for merchant because she it’s, I think you’re, you were walking, you’re like walking the path. She’s talking about where she talks about centering around that spot. That only we stand. And that’s the place from which we make our contributions.
And so I would love for you to talk to me a little bit about how you’re making this transition and, and because you did this yourself for quite a few years, and then now you’re really doing it in a different way for a, for an organization, for a team.
Sarah Avenir: Hmm, man. Well, so much I think. A big part of it for me, this actually that the Corona virus thing has actually helped me in some ways to get clear. I think for a lot of us, it kind of shook up the snow globe and we’re like, okay, you know, what am I, what am I really here for? And, um, I think at Andy, I’ve always.
You know, in my previous roles, because I’ve served [00:22:07] several mostly on the marketing side, um, I’ve always had this kind of imposter syndrome feeling because of my background. You know, I didn’t finish college. I, um, I. Tried like a million different ways. I think I went to like five different schools, but I was always working full time.
And then I had, um, kids and I, it just wasn’t working out for me to, to do that. And so coming from that background and having like developed all my skills on my own, um, But it has been just hard for me to accept that I know what I’m doing, and I know everybody talks about imposter syndrome and. We all have that in certain degrees, but for me joining the, and yet team it’s like I had met this team of people I had thought before, you know, [00:23:07] I, I’m not a job person.
I don’t, you know, I, I don’t, I don’t want to join a team partially because like, I like the challenge of having my. My income tied to what I can do. You know what I mean? I like being able to say like, Oh, I want to take this trip. Let me like, figure how to fund that. You know what I mean? Rather than just having like, A flat salary, but part of that was just fear too.
Like, Oh my gosh, these people are so smart. They’re so skilled. They’re so validated in all of these different ways of like where they went to school or just things that they’ve been asked to do by bigger companies or whatever that are highly validating. And so I come into this role and I’m just like, Second guessing myself and feeling like I need to learn a lot of new skills about, um, specifically around like business development and how you build relationships with larger companies and [00:24:07] all of this stuff.
Andrew Skotzko: Tell me the story about the epiphany in Nashville.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah. Well, I was, I went to this seminar that was supposed to, um, teach advanced positioning and lead generation, which was, you know, it’s great. Like I was like, yeah, that’s what we need. We need advanced positioning and lead generation. I’m going to learn how big businesses or even just businesses that, you know, 13 people.
Andrew Skotzko: someone’s going to show me the way.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, and I’m, I’m listening. And I just start to get mad, like not mad at the presenter because you know, he’s super great, um, or mad at the, the people there or anything. It was just mad because I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is, I know this stuff, like I’ve taught this stuff, people do this stuff. Why did I not realize that advanced positioning and lead generation just means taglines and getting on podcasts?
Because that’s all they talked about. Right. And, [00:25:07] you know, and I was just really, really frustrated. And in that moment, I just decided like, Okay. No, I I’m going to stop trying to learn how to exist in the corporate world. And I’m just going to accept that I may not have the pedigree, but I know this stuff.
I’ve built this stuff from nothing I’ve helped. Other people build this stuff from nothing. And
do this. Yeah. And we need to settle into the vision that, that I believe that we need to take. And, um, and so that’s really been the journey ever since that that happened.
Andrew Skotzko: That was like a year and a half ago. If I, if I remember correctly and I’m like, wow. Okay, hold on. So that is a huge moment. In your life and your career as a leader, like roughly 18 months ago from the title, you know, we’re recording this in November, 2020.
Walk me through , how things have evolved for you since then, because [00:26:07] if that’s where you were 18 months ago, You’ve come so far in 18 months, which is amazing and good for you and keep up whatever you’re doing. But like, walk me through that. Like that’s where you were, then this is where you are now with this really clear focus on people, first growth, you have this really clear positioning around helping your clients develop relationships through creative technology, you know, you’ve come a long way. So what, how did you walk that path? Because a lot of people listening to this resonate real strongly with that starting point of like, what the hell?
Wait a minute. Yeah, I know this stuff.
Sarah Avenir: know. Yeah, exactly. And, uh, I think there was, there was that, and then there was also the question before I took on this role, um, of like putting on I, it was weird because I actually put the hat on before I was, this role was even a possibility in my head and I.
Andrew Skotzko: doing the job before you had the job.
Sarah Avenir: Well, the reason why was because when I [00:27:07] had this realization that I know this stuff, I was like, well, what would I do if this were my company?
And I think. Like when you’re in a role, working for someone else, no matter what your position is and how much power you have, or how much, how much they want you to own it and give it your all asking yourself the question, what would I do if I owned, this is the only way to actually get to the truth of how you’re going to be most effective in your role.
After I wore that hat, I was just like, Oh my gosh, like, we need to do things so differently. At the time we had several different. Pieces of the company. Um, we had a video chat products called talkie, um, which we’ve since spun off into its own company. And, um, they’re doing really well. We had a security company, which we then sold, um, to NPM [00:28:07] and, um, which they just got acquired by Github.
Um, so that we were actually able to focus on. A thing. The thing about having a bunch of different things in your, that your company is responsible for is like maybe the security team is doing awesome. And then , they’re like carrying along the rest of the team and, um, kind of funding the things like them to continue
Andrew Skotzko: , they’re carrying the rest of the company on their back
that’s hard though, because you have that sort of split focus where you’re like, wow, we have this multiple personality thing going on within the company. Like what do, what are we doing here? What do we stand for? Where are we going?
Sarah Avenir: Right. Like, unless you’re really, really careful. You’re just going to be competing with your own set of resources all the time. And, um, it’s like winning here means you’re kind of losing over here. And it was just really, really hard for any [00:29:07] part of the company to make headway, even when they were doing really well.
Um, and so making that decision to really focus and kind of separate these things out, um, was really important. And of course we still do a lot of things as a digital agency. I mean, we have strategy, we have design, we have code. Um, so it’s not like we’re totally, you know, doing literally one piece of the puzzle, but it is a lot simpler, um, to be able to develop a message around that, that, um, that is true, that we can really develop, um, and that we can talk about and bring people along with us.
Andrew Skotzko: So a lot of people listening to this by now, they’re going okay, Sarah. I’m in like this people first grow thing. It sounds awesome. Let’s do it. So how do I do it? Like if I was, if I was that person and I, you know, want to get started, if the person listening to this wants to get started in this, tomorrow, what do they [00:30:07] do?
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, well, I think it depends, you know, if you are leading a team or if you’re doing this on your own, but either way, you really do have to get clear about what it is that you know, what it is that you want. What are the resources that you have? And, um, and not just like we were talking about not just on a big picture level, but on a very like daily kind of level, like, what do I want my life would look like, what do I want this team to look like?
Andrew Skotzko: What do I want Tuesday to look like in 18 months?
Sarah Avenir: yeah, exactly. And, um, and also get really, really clear on what you need. You know, what do I need to pay the bills? I mean, really, um, when do I need it by what are the actual constraints in which I am designing all of [00:31:07] this, um, and getting clear on those things and making that really clear to all of the people around you that are going to be.
I’m with you in this and, and your teammates, your family, maybe you’ve got some collaborators that you are accountable to. Um, making that really, really clear. And then taking it a little bit at a time. So, um, I, the one thing I have taken from the corporate world is the divisions, the division of quarters as a really useful tool.
And I’m thinking of those as sort of seasons that you, um, are doing a particular thing in. And so what I try to do is each quarter, each season, I have several different things lined up by have. Um, so this is the [00:32:07] story that we’re telling during this quarter. It’s based on who we are, it’s based on what we’re wanting, and it’s also aligned with what we need.
We have some sort of offer some sort of invitation that is going to help to meet our, our financial need, um, or whatever it is that we need in that quarter aligned with this narrative. Um,
Andrew Skotzko: could you give me an example? Like, what is that right now? What’s what is that? As of November 20, 20 what’s what’s Q4 2020s version of that.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah. Um, so we were entering into a season of. Kind of our, everybody was scared. Right. And not quite sure if they were going to invest more in tech or, or less, you know, or kind of just keep everything in house. It’s not less, obviously people are like, Oh, technology, this pandemic is at least one part of the economy is not suffering.
Um, but that’s not really [00:33:07] true because there’s still a lot of uncertainty and, um, With that comes. People just kind of breeze up in their decision-making process or they keep things, in-house keep things safe. Um, that sort of thing. And so we were coming up on a season where we normally would have quite a bit of work, but that was kind of frozen and pulled back.
And so we had, uh, a gap that we needed to meet of $70,000 starting in September. Um, I think it was September. It might’ve been October that that actually full 70 K it was staring at us in the face to some people that might seem like a lot to some people that might seem like nothing to us. It’s it’s significant.
Um, so. Uh, we were asking ourselves in August looking at that going, okay, well, what can we do, um, to meet that need that’s that’s pushing us, [00:34:07] pulling us forward into this vision that we have of being an educational resource for people. First growth of helping, um, companies to actually take this approach, deepening their relationships with their customers and growing in a way that.
It feels true to who they are. Um, and so,
Andrew Skotzko: So that’s what you, so this goes back to that, like that tension you talked about between aligning what you want and what you need. So you want to for, and yet to be this resource, this kind of company in this sort of, uh, you know, to exist this way in the world and what you need is it’s August, you’ve got six weeks until you have a 70 pay revenue gap to meet your,
Sarah Avenir: Yes. Yeah. And those things happen on a personal level. They happen on a business level. It’s the same thing. Yeah.
Andrew Skotzko: It’s a great case study, so let’s get let’s, let’s go into it. So obviously you made it past that. So what
Sarah Avenir: No. Um, so we put our heads together, um, and started thinking [00:35:07] what is a way that we can help people, whether they hire us or not. Um, that also has a component of something that we can offer and invite people into to hire us for. And the idea ended up being That this end of the year is going to be the season of the weirdo.
And so we’ve been talking about weirdos, um, all season long, we built a site called find your weirdo, um, to help people to really grasp some of these concepts, to see some examples of companies who’ve done this really well, like Lego, impossible burger. Um, our own clients, um, Heroku, um, different, different folks, um, and ourselves, and we, um, have been building that resource.
this quarter, we also have. An invitation for people to hire us, to help them to find their widows, which basically includes like the strategizing around, like what actually does [00:36:07] that mean? Because weirdo, you know, you can take that and sort of say, Oh, that’s like another corporate word for like you’re right.
People are or whatever. And it’s
Andrew Skotzko: Your target customer segments or whatever.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, but it’s a lot more specific than that. And so right now we’re working with a client, for example, who is, , selling a product to women who are aging. And so somebody might think like, Oh, well this particular person, maybe we get specific about like their psychographics or whatever.
That’s what you mean. And it’s like, no, that’s not what we mean. It means, it means. People who weird out about something like they’re excited about a particular thing that they spend their time on, even when they’re not working, you know, like people for. Yeah. Like it could be a work thing. Like for me, the idea of people first growth that is true.
Like, I think about it all the time. I’m constantly looking for things, but not every [00:37:07] person that has a marketing role or whatever is like weirding out about that. We’re we’re doing, uh, find your weirdos project for, , one of our clients right now, and we’re developing this, um, this project that appeals to developers who are like, Proud of the web, the way that it used to be and, um, and excited about , the way the web used to be when, you know, like when I was in the eighth grade and I was first discovering it, right. It was ugly, but there were beautiful things about it because it was all about community and what you could build yourself.
And it wasn’t all about image. Right? And it’s really interesting though, thinking about weirdos as like the specific, it’s the specific group of people who care about something so much that they, they think about it when they’re not at work or whatever. , so we designed an offer that was helping people do that, find their [00:38:07] weirdos, create something for them, roll it out, you know, the whole deal.
Um, but we’re also creating a resource for people to really grapple with that question. Um, and, but all of those things have to be aligned, you know, like, um, for, for us, I kind of see them as like, Pieces like, like rails on a train track. It’s like all going the same direction, you know? Um, because like little pieces of this, like maybe you’re sharing on social media all the time, but you don’t have like a really clear narrative or maybe you do have a really clear narrative, but you have no time bound constraint.
Like we’re doing this during this part right now. So you can participate now or you don’t like you can’t participate in this right. ,
. right, exactly. Or maybe you’re talking about something, but it’s not actually directly related to what you’re offering. Right. And so there’s not alignment there.
[00:39:07] Or maybe you are, really good at talking to the people who already know you, but you don’t have the outreach piece. You’re not reaching people. Who’ve never heard of you before. Or maybe people who already know you really resonate with what you’re doing, but the people that you are meeting who are brand new are like, I don’t get it because you’ve focused so much on that intimacy that you haven’t taken the approach of.
Like, what if somebody was looking at me from a hundred yards away, what would they see that relevant to them? So it’s like aligning all of these pieces. So they’re going in the same direction.
Andrew Skotzko: , I think what you’re saying is in everything, there’s this underlying tension between what we, what we want and what we need. Right. And it’s, and, and I think they’re really beautiful, kind of like judo mindset hack, move that you’re doing is you’re saying, Hey, that’s not a problem. That’s actually your doorway to a solution. Right? It’s in that tension that you’re going to find the thing that will take you where you want to go, and it’s going to meet your needs along the [00:40:07] way.
So from there you said, okay, what we want is for an, yet to be this amazing educational resource, this beacon of people first growth in the world.
What we need is to close this revenue gap in like six weeks. So, all right, what are we, what are we, what are we going to do about that sort of brainstorming all this and you all got together and what you came out with, this was saying, okay, Like let’s do a seasonal thing. Let’s let’s like go out into the world with the season of the weirdo and let’s create an entire narrative instead of offers around helping people, you know, Accenture overriding mission is to help people develop their relationship with their customers through creative technology.
You’re saying cool. A way, a specific way we can do that is to help companies find their weirdos. And we can build a whole set of offers around that. Am I getting this
Sarah Avenir: Yup. Yup. Exactly.
Andrew Skotzko: Thank you for the example. Cause like I find that when you can ground it in and attach it to something real, suddenly it snaps into focus. See it now.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah. Yeah. It is a very practical approach to [00:41:07] something that can seem really femoral. And that’s the thing that I’m really trying to bring to this conversation. I feel like a lot of people bring. The side of like business and here’s like successful things that you can do. And then there’s people who are like, here’s what the world should be like.
Um, but it’s like, how do we make the world what it should be like, like right now, what can we do to, uh, to have? Yeah. Um, and I think that’s hard to do, you know,
Andrew Skotzko: A previous time. You and I were talking , I asked you if you had read the book, the infinite game by Simon Sinek. And I actually think there’s a really strong link between what you’re describing right now and the work he talks about there, because his whole thing is basically how does one be an idealist in a world that demands pragmatism. Right. And that just wants to beat the idealism out of all of us. That’s a really hard question, but I think you actually have found, I’m not going to say like the only answer, but a good answer to that question is like, that’s what I’m actually [00:42:07] really getting excited about as we’re, as we’re having this conversation about this idea of people first growth and that sort of, , Different way of looking at the tension between needs and wants. , bridging the gap between pragmatism and idealism.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, no, I, I love like, uh, David White, the poet talks about this in the heart aroused, um, on poetry and the preservation of the soul in corporate America, I think is what it’s called. Um, but it it’s so, so good, but he talks about how. Um, the, the corporate world needs poets because they need this. Um, he calls it like the part.
The Dilijan part of us is like wrestling with in the dirt. You know, corporate America is more of the, um, Apollonic I guess, I don’t know. It’s the ideal it’s like everything’s clean. Everything is like, Well formed. Right. But the soul, which is something that the poet is really good at is like, it kind of [00:43:07] loves the MSCI as even as much as it fears it.
Um, it loves like when things get shaken up, it loves to, because that’s where the growth of the soul happens, you
Andrew Skotzko: Yeah. Do you ever read anything by Richard Rohr?
Sarah Avenir: Oh man. Well, my friend Chris, uh, actually loves Richard Rohr and I haven’t, I haven’t gotten into it yet. It’s one of those things that I’m like, okay, I need to find a doorway into that, but
Andrew Skotzko: I think, I think I got a door for you here. I think a doorway you might find into Richard Rohrs work is the book falling upward. And the reason I think specifically where I think you’ll find a doorway, . I think he calls this concept of the stumbling stone. And it’s this idea of what exactly what you just touched on that to develop as a soul, as a person, you know, as all of the things that we are beyond the roles we play in the workplace, uh, it gets messy and that’s okay.
And he talks about this idea of a stumbling stone as the thing that it, in the [00:44:07] moment, it looks like our downfall, it looks like something that’s making things worse. Right. It’s taking us out of this, like lofty ideal, and it’s putting us down in the muck. But he’s saying it’s actually a necessary step.
That’s actually like an aid on , your pathway of spiritual growth as a human. It’s only by going down that in, down into that muck into the darkness or whatever that you make your way back out. And that’s like, that kind of goes back to the Enneagram thing we started the conversation with is like, in all, like, whatever, your framework, your methodology, your path and your whatever.
The thing they’re all saying is , look, you have to be willing to go into the darkness to make it out the other side and you will make it out, but you have to be willing to go or you’ll never get there.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, no, and it’s totally like the youngian thing too. And Joseph Campbell stuff with them, the mythology and like the, the hero’s journey kind of thing is like, you really do get to know your shadow, you know, and that the shadow is just the flip side of your strengths. And until you actually go there, you don’t actually get to use your strengths either.
You know what I mean? Like you’re not [00:45:07] going to fully show up in those, so
Andrew Skotzko: Yeah, cause you will be able to own it. Like you don’t know who you are and where to stand, like going back to only nets and all that. So dear listener, if you tracked with us through all that, we just connected, closing , a short-term revenue gap too young in psychology and the depths of your soul.
You’re welcome. Uh, I hope you’re here for this. If you’re not, you might as well get off the train right now. That’s right. Exactly. Exactly. I, I, that’s one of the really fun things about these conversations is just like the, really the weird, it’s the weird stuff that just kind of all smashes together and you’re like, Oh, look it.
There’s those seven concepts all sitting next to each other, having dinner. That’s fun.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, totally.
Andrew Skotzko: I’m really curious what lessons that the listener who’s interested in pursuing this pathway of people.
First growth can learn from the fact that you’re, At least 18 months ahead of them on that path. Right. So I’m just curious if there’s any sort of lessons learned where you look back over, how you’ve tried to do things or how you’ve tried to pursue this idea or bring it into existence within an yet where you’re like, Oh man, I wish I’d known this.
Or I would have done that [00:46:07] differently. So anything like that, where you can say, Oh, you know, Hey, if you’re interested in this idea, just keep this in mind as you pursue it.
Sarah Avenir: Well, I think that it’s really difficult when. You have been solving these problems for a really long time? Um, I don’t know if this is relevant really, but I write books. Right. And I help, um, clients. I, I work with people individually. I talk about all of these things. And I invent things for myself in my personal life that kind of solve these problems.
And at, and yet for the hardest thing to do is to live it like to live what I know, you know, and even though like when the fear comes, I, I was just, um, I just finished reading dune [00:47:07] for the first time.
Andrew Skotzko: Wow. It’s so good. I’m so happy for you,
Sarah Avenir: I know it’s amazing. But the thing that really, really hit me in that was how, you know, fear, fears the enemy.
And they have this whole process for dealing with that fear. And it’s really embodying like this calm so that you actually have control over your own faculties and knowing that fear actually. Makes you make the worst decisions and fear is the thing that keeps you back pedaling, backtracking, going back to older things that didn’t work because you’re just like, Oh my gosh, like we have to do this.
And, um, in order to get rid of the fear, we kind of revert back to old patterns and old habits and, um, and also to not trusting what we know. So I think that for [00:48:07] me, the thing that I would always want to know is just that awareness of what fear does to not only me and my decision making, but to everybody around me, just so that when it happens, like I have a plan for that so that we’re not backpedaling and saying, Oh, wait, Oh, my gosh.
Fear is so hard, like for me, because yeah. Going back to the Enneagram six it’s like, I always have like this underlying sense of hyper-vigilance, you know, like what are all the things that I need to plan for so that I, and it’s weird too. Cause I’m also like, Very spontaneous. And like, if you’re also familiar with Myers Briggs, the inf NFP is the one that’s like, you know, kind of throwing plans out the window.
I’m like both the planner and the one who [00:49:07] throws the plans out the window. , I am really trying to pay attention to, um, What it feels like in this moment. I mean, they’re all just basic things that you learn about in a meditation practice or in yoga or whatever, but it is really like experiencing what the emotion feels like inside of my body, rather than thinking, you know?
So the first thing is like thinking instead of thinking, Oh my gosh, I’m so scared thinking like, Oh, I’ve got this buzzy feeling right here. And it’s kind of like moving around and paying attention to that. Um, and also really like giving myself the things that my soul actually needs that feed my soul because when my soul feels full, I feel confident.
I feel excited about the future. Um, David White has this beautiful series on the waking up podcast, which is a meditation podcast that I’ve used for nothing else, except for [00:50:07] that a friend recommended this series and it’s not even a meditation. It’s David White speaking poetry to you speaking about what that poem means for your life.
Speaking more poetry to you, you know? And each one is like maybe 10 minutes,
Andrew Skotzko: I love that. Is that on the app or the podcast?
Sarah Avenir: the app in the
Andrew Skotzko: Oh, awesome. We will, I will check that out. Cause I have that app and I have not checked this out yet, so I’m going to fix that.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, well, I haven’t looked at anything else, but this, and I paid the a hundred dollars for the year just to have access to this series. So I think there’s a trial though, or something that you can probably get taken advantage.
Andrew Skotzko: Yeah, there’s there that, that I will say just as a, I will echo that recommendation. The waking up app is I’ve looked, I’ve tried all of them. It’s like my favorite by far of all the meditation apps totally worth the money that said, like, they’re also amazing about if [00:51:07] anybody has some sort of financial need and they know that that pricing doesn’t work for them, email them.
They’ll give it to you. So just it’s, it’s a fantastic resource. I highly recommend checking out.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, finding what feeds you. And, um, for me, I’ve just noticed that poetry is one of those things and David White, it’s sort of like my entry point because he does. Tie poetry into something that I’m already. Thinking about and doing, which is, you know, my work in the world. And I find that so valuable.
He also has a lecture series. Um, right now he’s got one in November called the invitational identity. It just started on Sunday. So I don’t know if you can continue to get access to it, but I I’m pretty sure he’s going to continue doing them. Um, since this whole COVID thing has happened, which I get excited.
Cause I’m like people are having to invent ways to connect with people that they ordinarily, like you would have had to go to Ireland or something on a trip [00:52:07] with David White. And now you can like experience that in your living room. It’s so nice.
Andrew Skotzko: You were talking a minute ago about how to navigate the fear and the growth that you’re this pathway that you’re on, you know, both for yourself, but also for your team and for the environment around you that you’re creating. And it reminded me of something that I think we talked about before, or maybe it was in your book, but this idea of leading like a gardener.
And that seemed like a really cool idea that I’d love you to just talk to me a little bit about that. What does that mean and how does that actually influence what you’re doing as you’re navigating this forward? Like why, why, how are you showing up differently as a CEO coming from this place of, you know, quote unquote leading like a gardener than you would be by default, otherwise.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah. Well, I think the metaphors that we use say a lot about what we. Think and the way that we approach things, even if we’re not conscious of them. But so many of the metaphors in business are war metaphors or, um, competition. Like even if it’s just sports or whatever, um, or [00:53:07] labs or, um, if it is nature, it’s based on like, Fungus or viruses.
Um, and, and in thinking about that, I just, um, have been, trying to be more intentional about the metaphors that I use and because it helps you invent a different way to look at something languages, what we live within. And so if we change our language, we can change the possibilities that we see. And so the thing that I realized is that growth is less like a lab and more like a garden.
Um, there are elements that you can control, um, which is really your response to things. What you decide to nurture what you decide to prune. Um, what weeds you pull, where you’re focusing on, but there are also so many things that we can’t control at all, and we can’t control the weather. You know, we can’t control what occurs natural [00:54:07] disasters.
There are a lot of things , that we. Have impact over, but we only have impact over over time. Like we can introduce new things into the environment or notice that something’s like, kind of taking over that we don’t want, but it takes time to like figure that out and work with the environment to create the environment that you want.
When you think about leadership, especially in the United States culture, you think about like, We kind of puff ourselves up and we’re like fake it till you make it kind of thing. Um, definitely we’re taught that the way to succeed is to talk about your success.
Like even, you know, women who are taught how to be more empowered, it’s like, don’t apologize. Like just take, uh, take ownership of your successes and really own those. And I think that that’s great, but a lot of things like the concept of luck. Which is a big concept in both gardening and [00:55:07] in life. It’s just not into the picture that so many of us it’s luck or it’s, um, whatever privileges that we have that we’re.
You know, aware or not aware of play into that. And then at the same time, like we take so much ownership or blame on ourselves. Like we have so much guilt over our failure or the things that we, that happened that were bad that we think, man, if I’d only done this or that or the other thing, but a lot of times, life is a lot less predictable or controllable than we think.
And. It’s great to feel like you can achieve the American dream if you just work hard enough. But also just acknowledging that, like that’s a story, you know, and there really, we have to kind of humble ourselves a little bit and see things as they actually are, which means yeah, a lot less [00:56:07] control than we actually think.
Andrew Skotzko: Yeah. I mean, if 2020 is taught us anything, it’s that control’s an illusion, so,
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, it totally
Andrew Skotzko: Awesome. Well, I want to go ahead and close out here with a couple of rapid fire questions. Um, these short questions, your answers can be as long as you feel. So first one. What would you say is the thing that, you know, best
Sarah Avenir: myself.
Andrew Skotzko: that’s a good answer. I don’t think a lot of people could say
Sarah Avenir: Good or bad. Yeah, I think, uh, I think that’s the one thing talking about a garden that we have more control of than other things that we might not. So
Andrew Skotzko: What is a quote or a saying a phrase that’s important to you, you know, that you returned to you often. And what about it speaks to you?
Sarah Avenir: I’m going to say this wrong, but in the movie, but bets feast, um, at the [00:57:07] end, um, there’s this line there is. Like throughout the world. There’s one long cry from the heart of the artist. Give me leave to do my utmost. And I absolutely love it. I absolutely love that. It gives me chills, especially in the context of that movie, because the art that they’re talking about here is preparing this really special meal for people from a very humble position.
And. The experience of that and, and kind of what’s revealed within that. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a very humble thing to, to do that. , but to do it with such love and such care and such presence, I want to live that way. That’s, that’s what I want for my life. So, yeah.
Andrew Skotzko: That’s beautiful. Thank you. I feel like that’s the perfect place to end this very thoughtful conversation. So, I mean, I would drop the mic for you, but I think you need it. Um, [00:58:07] So, first of all, Sarah, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for, for sharing these ideas and just for hanging out with me today.
So much fun and really my, my privilege. . So just in closing out, what would you like to leave the listener with.
Sarah Avenir: Hmm, I think just that. The struggles that you have, you’re not alone and no matter what position that you’re in, when it feels like everybody around you is like doing so great. It’s all a kind of a story as well. Um, I just want people to be encouraged that you can. Change, what is possible for you? Not just in the longterm, but also in the coming days and weeks ahead.
And, um, yeah, it’s hard though, and you’re not alone in it.
Andrew Skotzko: Thank you. And for anyone who wants to follow up with you or follow your work, where would you have people [00:59:07] follow you online? Or where would you direct them?
Sarah Avenir: Well, um, Andyet.com is, um, you know, the team that I work with and the stuff that we’re doing there is always pretty interesting. Um, and then for me personally, it’s tied to, and yet, but I, I have. Kind of, I do a lot of just creating out loud, um, kind of stuff like my book, I’m writing out loud and, um, I’ve got this public Rome project that I update.
Um, and you can find those at sarahavenir.com. I just kind of keep that updated. Here’s the list of things I’m doing right now.
Andrew Skotzko: Okay, perfect. And there’s a lot of stuff I’ve checked that out. There’s a lot of great places there to engage. So we’ll definitely put all that in the show notes. So anyways, Sarah, thank you so much for being here. It’s been really, really fun hanging out with you and keep up the great work.
Sarah Avenir: Yeah, thank you. This was super fun. I appreciate it.