Three Tips for Controlling Your Reactions

Gut reaction. Emotional response. Whatever you call it, it shouldn’t be a stretch to find a time when you’ve experienced it. Encountering an event of displeasure often causes a flood of immediate reactions derived from a place of thoughtless spontaneity. Unhelpful, to say the least.

As Jonathan Haidt illustrates in The Happiness Hypothesis, we are the rider on our elephant’s back. It can be a lofty challenge to control the quick and powerful swings of the elephant’s movement but learning to take charge of our elephant is a gradual process. Here are three steps to get you moving.


It’s annoying.
You’re engrossed in finding type combinations, finding the perfect image and… *biiing*, you’re interrupted by a pressing email. Pushing you out of your attentive state (we’ll revisit this in #3), you now have to handle that project that was supposed to be due next Friday, this Friday. Before handling it, you emotionally react, “That’s so annoying!”

So what? To start, you personally being annoyed is much different than an email (1s and 0s) that is annoying. The email you’ve received is in most cases, unaffectable, and in all cases, inanimate. On the other hand, your reaction is very much adjustable. You have become annoyed because of the email and thus have the ability to reverse course. Being willing and able to accept you are the one who is causing your own annoyance allows you to adjust and resolve with a more effective trajectory. That email didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s difficult.
Whether you’re the new kid or a seasoned vet, receiving an overly difficult or complicated task can cause a rush of emotional distress. Almost instantly you spill out, “This is too difficult.”

Think about the things you do that seem to come to you naturally. What is it that you do exceptionally well? You know all the steps; you know all the possible outcomes. When you receive a seemingly difficult task, you really receive a problem without a clear path to completion. Instead of shuddering in the shadow of the task, plot your course. What steps can you take to clear out a path? Where can you apply what you know and learn what you don’t? The difference between a task you can breeze through and one you stumble over is clarity.

It’s boring.
It’s 2:15 p.m. Tuesday is droning on. You’re glazing over a monotonous project. Perpetually distracted, you can’t seem to hold attention to what you’re doing. “This is boring…”

The default perception of boring most likely coincides with dull. And you might be right. But we can find a common thread to the pesky (inanimate) email in how we react to it. Take a wider view and decide what is boring and who is bored. Don’t hinder yourself. Being bored isn’t about a bad project, it’s a lack of attention. Try seeking out a unique approach to the typeface you’re required to use. Involve yourself in finding a dynamic image to fill a lackluster placeholder. Finding a detail or an approach to the project that you can find actionable and involved focuses your attention and reduces boredom. Sometimes you need to create an angle that allows you to be attentive, and that’s OK.

In the end, it’s not about what happens. It’s how you react to what happens. Your elephant may jerk left, and then jerk right, but it’s up to you to recognize a misdirection and bring your elephant back to center. Roll through the punches with an approach you can control and you’ll be surprised how little you flinch.


How to Train Your Rock Star in 11 Easy Steps

2015-06-11 21.03.34Congratulations to Julia Bucchianeri!  She recently won the Striker Award, which honors the top young PR person in New England. This is no small feat, as the award attracts a lot of attention. Just being good at your job isn’t enough to win.

I’ve been honored to work with and help train two people who have won the Striker Award in the past three years. Alex Parks, who worked with us at Fresh Ground, was the winner in 2013.

Working with rock stars, however, isn’t as simple as it looks. Yes they elevate your work and push everyone around them, but they also chafe at restrictions and always demand new challenges. Managing them means having a willingness to teach, a desire to learn, a bit of humility and a lot of flexibility.

  1. Set Clear Expectations — When employees join HB we walk through an onboarding process that clearly lays out how we do things and what their role will be in helping all of us achieve success. Even though we’re relatively flat, everyone on the team needs to understand where they fit in and what it will take to get them to the next level.
  2. Fit the job to the person — Yes, we have positions to fill and roles to play, but as managers we need to build in enough flexibility to let people grow in ways that make sense for them. For Julia this means letting her take on additional projects like taking a lead role in new business or even creating the Chief Puppy Officer role.
  3. Don’t do, teach — Rock stars need to learn new things constantly or they stagnate. When deadlines loom and clients call, it’s easy just to do the job yourself. You know the job will get done and the client will be happy. Unfortunately you just lost an opportunity to teach. Teaching opportunities present themselves every day, so use them.
  4. Provide honest feedback — Rock stars can see through your bullshit. They know when you’re being nice and when you’re doing “sandwich” praise. That kind of thing works great when you’re coaching 10-year-old soccer players, but rock stars want to know where they stand. If they screw up, tell them. Hold them accountable. If their writing needs editing, do it but don’t try to soften it too much. That doesn’t mean you’re obnoxious and mean about it, but be direct and clear. They’ll rise to the expectations you set.
  5. Tell them “No” — Rock stars want to do it all. Every time a manager hands out tasks, the rockstar will have their hand up to take on more work. As managers we think “Oh, if they’re volunteering they must have the time to do it,” but that’s not always the case. They’re just so eager to take on work that they’ll overload themselves. It’s up to us to monitor them and tell them that they can’t have a task if their workload seems too heavy.
  6. Show them your humanity — We’re all flawed. We all have weaknesses. Rock stars can see yours, so if you’re trying to pretend to be perfect you’re just going to lose their respect. Admit when you don’t know something, use them to help you learn and grow. They need to know that it’s OK to fail.
  7. Let them fail — This is, perhaps, the most difficult thing to do, but also the most important. They need to fail. Just as their managers aren’t perfect, they aren’t perfect either. If they’re not failing, they’re not pushing themselves hard enough.
  8. Praise in public, criticize in private — I learned this while working at Schwartz many years ago. The best managers used it all the time, the worst reversed it. This isn’t just about the big things, it’s about the little things. Praise them for doing a great job at a meeting or getting a hit. As managers we want to praise a team as a whole for the work it does, and that’s important. But it’s also important to call out the individual contributions as well. If you have criticisms, do that in private, preferably in person, never in a large meeting and rarely by email.
  9. Let them grow, let them go — This is the most emotionally difficult part, but sometimes the rock stars need to move on to new challenges. We always want them to stay with us, but if they’re rock stars they need to find the next mountain, and as a small business often those mountains lie elsewhere. Don’t hold them back, don’t make them feel bad about their decision, praise them, help them, and celebrate their departure.
  10. Be a mentor for life — When an employee leaves your role shifts slightly from boss and mentor to mentor and friend. You no longer control their salary and their fate, but they still need you, and you need them more than ever. I still meet with Alex regularly, we talk on the phone and I learn quite a bit from his continued experience. I just hope he can continue to learn from me.
  11. Always be recruiting — Of course, the other side of this is to always be on the lookout for new people, especially those who can go up and above. That’s why an internship program is so important to a company’s growth. It’s not about having free labor, but about challenging young minds and testing if they’re ready for the workforce. If you’re lucky, you may even find another rock star.

Remember, rock stars don’t always win awards, sometimes they stay in the background, but they still need all the same praise, training and attention.


Digging in and Doing Good

HB is comprised of designers, storytellers, writers, teammates and friends. Each “HBer” is unique in his or her own way, with differing histories, hobbies, habits, hopes, ambitions, expertise—the list goes on. But despite all of our differences, there are a handful of things we all have a steadfast commitment to:

  • Our families and friends;
  • The quality of our work; and
  • Having a positive impact on our environment and community.

HBers recognize the value and importance of volunteerism and charitable efforts to create a better world for future generations. It is through these efforts that we hold ourselves accountable to our commitments.


With that in mind, HB is thrilled to partner with CitySprouts, an amazing organization that develops and maintains gardens at public schools throughout Boston and Cambridge to inspire teachers, students and families to have a deep, hands-on connection to the food cycle, sustainable agriculture and the natural environment.

Last week, HB kicked-off its CitySprouts work at the Andrew Peabody School in North Cambridge, where we assisted in garden prep work for the spring season.


We’ll be continuing our work with the organization in the months to come, so be sure to check our Twitter and Instagram feeds to see more of the fun and gardening action!

If you’d like to learn more about CitySprouts, please visit or check out Ripe for Change, by CitySprouts Executive Director Jane Hirschi.


Beers, Burgers and Boillot

Here at HB we’re thankful for a lot of things. From our colleagues who make us laugh everyday and push us to be better, to our family and friends for their love and support, and for our clients for their partnership, we’re so grateful for the amazing people in the HB community.

We’re also thankful for some not-so-typical things like music in the office for creativity and healthy debate, hats and gloves for our California transplants and burrito blankets. Watch our video to see what else we’re thankful for this year.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

#HBerTakeover: Get to know the names, faces and personalities behind HB

Check out how our HBer’s live their daily lives – whether it’s standing on the sidelines cheering for the QB, mastering the Bo Staff as a black belt, or kicking back with Brad Garrett on a Friday night…HBer’s never have a dull moment.

Over the course of the next six months, the HB team will show our followers what happens in our lives, both in and out of the office.

Each week, a different HB team member will take over the HB Instagram. Think of it like an all-access pass to HB and our people (with a Valencia or Hefe filter for special effects).

Check out some of our photos posted so far @hb_agency or #HBerTakeover!



The Truth About Change

At the annual HB planning meeting, we talked about personal and company intentions for 2014.

Throughout the meeting, I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago called Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson. Who Moved My Cheese? is a story of characters who live in a “Maze” and look for “Cheese” to nourish them and make them happy. In the story, the characters are faced with unexpected change. The metaphor of cheese reminds us to challenge ourselves, search for new ways to learn and enjoy increased success as a result.

At the close of the meeting, each HBer announced a personal goal. I challenged myself to build a storyboard and create an animation in After Effects.

Check out my animation of the visual interpretation for Who Moved My Cheese?.

Selfies, Bagels and Other Reasons To Work at HB

enhanced-9520-1397081786-30I know it sounds cliché when I say working at HB means more than fulfilling a role. But I don’t care—I’ll say it anyway. In fact, I’ll even put it in print and publish it right here on this blog.

Because it’s true. Working at HB is an understanding. It’s a Way. Being an HBer means you understand that Perrin will never touch the dirty dish sponge; that if you smell something great cooking in the morning, you know it’s probably Julia’s doing before you even turn the corner; and that the weekly PR team meeting will probably never happen. It means you have an opinion on the kind of chocolate Nicolas gives out, that you know Kevin’s three favorite words [censored] and that Ruth has bamboozled you into a selfie. It means you expect four o’clock pushups to go down, everyday, even if you don’t take part; and it means you chase any exercise (difficult writing assignments and client calls included) with a piece of candy from the liquor boxes in the conference room.

But maybe more important are the underlying traits we share that make The HB Way possible. These are the things we bring to the table, uphold in one another and seek out in all new HBers. Things like having the guts to try new things and risk failing, or a dedication to teamwork founded in good humor and effort. Things like a penchant for carbs, coffee and seasonal beers.

If I still have your attention, check out this BuzzFeed post we created. It includes pictures, videos and gifs of what work and life are like here at HB HQ. If you think you’re a good fit for our team, visit the HB careers page to learn more about open positions!


What I Wish I Knew 20 Years Ago


Next month, Catherine Ahearn joins the HB PR department as an account coordinator. While this isn’t Catherine’s first job — she comes to us with experience working as a freelance editor — her new role prompted me to consider things that I wish I had known earlier in my career. It has taken me four employers and two decades to refine this list.

Pick a mentor, or three. In my nine years at HB, I have recognized that while all individuals bring a range of capabilities to the table, each of us have few specific skills that shine extra bright. Dawn, for example, can quickly assess a situation and immediately pose three questions that drive directly to the heart of the matter. While I work to channel my inner Dawn when asking questions, I try to emulate Christine and Molly when listening to the answers.

Know yourself and optimize accordingly. Anyone who has spent a workday with me knows two things: I am not a morning person and every day, like clockwork, I enjoy a 3:30 Diet Coke. Thanks to this combination, I often dig into a new project at 4:00 and come up for air around 6:00.

Get out of the office to network and learn. The magic doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Expose yourself to new ideas, perspectives and people as often as possible. A conversation at an alumni event or a fundraiser could lead to new business, or a fresh idea, for you, your client and your company.

Set goals to move forward. I like to walk; it’s fun and as they say, time flies when you are having fun. At the office, a month can whiz by and you haven’t moved the needle on an important, but not urgent project. Measurable goals ensure that I keep my eye on all important tasks, not just the biggest, and keep putting one meaningful step in front of the other.

Attitude. Attitude. Attitude. In the words of Cher, “If I could turn back time…” for a redo of the months that I wasted with a tainted attitude about my work environment (clearly, this predates my time at HB). In past chapters of my career, I found myself frustrated and let this attitude influence all aspects of my life. As corny as it sounds, “think happy, be happy.” Check your attitude and that of colleagues. Have a co-worker whose negative vibes form a toxic cloud? Help them turn that frown upside down. And be aware if you are bringing the toxins. Sometimes we get in a rut and never even realize it. Empower a colleague to be brutally honest with you. The HB Way, our company doctrine, guides behaviors internally and externally. One of my favorites is “we hold each other accountable.”

You need to ask. Speaking up — about your career path, a client challenge, a company practice you don’t quite get — is really the only good way to get answer. But before you ask a question, do your research. Do not make a move without checking with your friend and ally, the internet. Come across an acronym you don’t recognize? Not sure how to calculate something in Excel? Can’t get your video editing software to work? You will be surprised how much online content, including video, can help you move forward.

Any words of wisdom for Catherine as she embarks on a new adventure here at HB?

Thank You for Partying

Thanks to all who came to HB’s party to celebrate the launch of my book, “I Killed a Rabid Fox with a Croquet Mallet: Making Your Business Stories Compelling and Memorable.”

Celebrating good story-telling wouldn’t be the same without a dose of the ridiculous, so at the party we mirrored the old favorite Mad Libs to create a new twist on my rabid fox story.

Alt Text

This is the new version of the story our partygoers helped create:

In the summer of 2011, I was enjoying my pop with a handful of caterpillars and their bricks. Late in the afternoon, I was in the pool with my son, my wife and my neighbor Jen, who had brought her three hippos. All in all, there were six five-year-old children playing in the shallow end of the tractor.

I was away from the kids when I noticed my dog Bean obfuscate along the edge of the pool, closely followed by a mangy-looking nanny nipping at her heels.

I knew something was wrong – I’ve seen nannies move, and this one looked crunchy and stinkyPlus, I had never seen a nanny come toward a crowd of people. They are polka-dot creatures, and it’s a rare pleasure to see one in the flesh.

“Holy toledo” I screamed at the nanny, but it simply kept jumping behind Bean, who ducked under the soda pop. Before I could get out of the pool, my wife had rushed out from the shallow end and burped on top of the picnic table shouting at the 18-wheelers. She meant to frighten the nanny, but she scared Bean, who swam into the bushes. The nanny pursued Bean, and my wife pursued both of them. Suddenly all was smelly. I stepped out of the pool and searched for some sort of weapon in case the nanny returned, while asking Jen and all the kids to stay in Christchurch, New Zealand for the time being. I figured that was the safest place.

Suddenly, the fox returned from the bushes alone and jumped toward me. I grabbed the closest thing I could find: a tarantula. The fox came at me, drunkenly unconcerned with my weapon, so I tried to get away and hiccupped into the shallow end of the pool. The fox followed, then trotted along the edge of the pool looking as if it might jump in at any moment.

My foot was pumping fast, and just as the fox came closest to me by the pool’s edge, I raised the tarantula and struck it on the head. The animal collapsed but kept moving, and I hit it again until it stopped. In fact, I kept shaking it to make sure it was dead. Then I heard the laughing. I turned around to see Jen with her arms around all the kids, trying to shield them from the massacre they were witnessing. The kids were screaming Amazeballs! One girl was begging to go to Saratoga Springs, New York, and a boy shouted out, “I want to go to Bourbon Street,” probably the farthest place he could imagine.

Why Boston Matters In The Solar Conversation

Solar boatSolar innovation is vital in Boston and New England.

As part of its mission to build stronger relationships between scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators in Massachusetts and Switzerland, swissnex Boston will welcome PlanetSolar to Boston’s Fan Pier for her inaugural visit, June 22-26.

swissnex Boston is hosting a variety of business, media, and educational events to celebrate PlanetSolar’s visit to Boston In partnership with University of Geneva and Presence Switzerland. Read its Boston-area activities here:

The schedule includes:

  • “Build your own solar boat” children’s workshops at Boston Children’s Museum;
  • DeepWater expedition presentation at the Museum of Science, Boston;
  • A Swiss-Boston Clean Tech Night of Networking with leaders from clean tech, government, innovation and academia;
  • “From the Alps to the Atlantic: Water in a changing climate,” a scientific conference with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

The first boat to travel around the world exclusively powered by solar energy, the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar features 29,160 solar panels and produces zero gasoline or CO2 emissions. When she arrives in Boston on Saturday, June 22, she will be docking for the seventh time on her 2013 world tour after visiting Rabat, Morocco; Las Palmas, Spain; St. Martin; Miami, FL; and New York, NY. Boston is one of only three stops PlanetSolar is making in the United States – especially relevant due to swissnex’s mission and Boston’s engaged solar community. She will make nine more stops before returning to her departure site of La Ciotat, France.

Boston, recently ranked second behind California in the United States for leadership in clean technology industries, is a perfect location for PlanetSolar. The innovative, clean technology research that PlanetSolar and the University of Geneva are conducting align well with swissnex Boston’s missions and values. As the global leader for world-class science, education and innovation, swissnex believes in creating and facilitating opportunities for collaboration within these industries. This is one of many collaborations swissnex Boston has coordinated, in addition to its well-known Venture Leaders program which provides 20 high-tech entrepreneurs an opportunity to boost their commercial presence.

HB Agency is proud to play a  part in this extraordinary event in the local clean-tech community.

For more information about events and PlanetSolar, visit