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Reflections on 2016

By Russ Starke on December 20, 2016

A question that we’ve been asked many times over the years by clients, our own folks, and interested onlookers, has been “how will you maintain the culture as you grow?”

Reflections-on-2016This was on all of our minds when we went from a fully onsite crew at our first client to having some of us break off to work in the fledgling Conshohocken studio. It was a big concern when we opened our second studio in Center City Philadelphia and had Thinkers onsite at multiple clients. This year as we opened our third studio (the second in downtown Philly), there it was again. We’ve got big plans and visions for the future (including our recently announced name change!), and that question will be with us every step of the way, as it should. Of course there are many answers to this question, both tactical and philosophical… but some of our guiding principles include:

  • Don’t try to engineer culture—you can’t create it, you can only foster it.
  • Never forget that culture is made up of people, and as people grow and change, so will that culture. It’s owned by (and bigger than) all of us.
  • Remain open and receptive to feedback, always acknowledging it and actively addressing it whenever possible.
  • Establish and honor traditions.

That last one is the catalyst for this post, our traditional “year in review,” which comes at my favorite time of year in general and at Think Brownstone in particular—a time rich with celebration, story-telling, and tradition. One thing that has really become apparent to me this year is how with now 9+ years of history and such big changes on the way, stories of the early days of the company have taken on more significance and lore.

eoy_2016_collageWe seem to be telling them more often, there seems to be more genuine interest in what things were like “back in the day” and how we got to where we are today… and I’ve realized that this kind of thing only happens in the presence of something truly special. When people are invested in something, care about it, and dare I say are even fascinated by it, they want to know more about how it came to be and what things were like in the formative years. Was all of this deliberate? Did it happen by accident? What worked? What didn’t? What was unexpected? Who were the key players?

After all is said and done, an enduring truth for us is that one thing… maybe the thing… that makes Think Brownstone unique is that even after all of this time, what we do and how we do it (see our Core Values) is still a direct response to what we see broken in the way some others service their clients, treat their employees, and engage in their community and the world. If that sounds audacious, I’m good with that—because we’ve demonstrated through our actions and commitments to our clients, employees, community, and world that we mean what we say.

A new client recently asked us during the vetting process, “What has changed about your approach over your ten years as a company? What has remained constant?” What has changed is all about tactics, skills, offerings, deliverables… but what has remained constant are those actions and commitments, and the reasons we perform and make them.

As this year draws to a close I could recap the achievements and the numerous awards of 2016, but none of them make me prouder than those simple promises, and this amazing group of diverse Thinkers standing shoulder to shoulder making good on them. Think Brownstone, soon to be Think Company, is a little microcosm of how I want the world to be (on so many levels), and just maybe, we can be an example for others. We’re not perfect, but we keep learning, growing, respecting, and loving—and that makes all the difference.

Peace be with you and yours,

Your friends at (the artists formerly known as) Think Brownstone