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posted by Alexandra Frazier May 13,2015 @ 08:59AM

i carry your heart

"Keep going." A pause. "Keep going."

            My mother, sighing, "Surely this is enough?"

"Don't stop until I say so. Turn it white."

We may be standing in my mother's kitchen, but sauce is Bigi's domain. As he keenly watches over her shoulder, my mama shakes more garlic powder into a Dutch oven gurgling with tomatoes, onions and spice. Good sauce never truly simmers—it galurps and bursts and plops unevenly as sunglow-colored grease bubbles cluster along its edges—and today's pot is no different from the countless others two of my favorite people in the whole wide world have prepared together.

Bigi looks behind her, winks at me, and then nods his satisfaction when the garlic snowcaps are finally to his liking. He hip bumps her to the side of the gas range, gives the sauce a stir, then slurps the slender wooden spoon against his lips. His gnarled hands cupped under the bowl-back so as not to cause a spill, he holds what's left out to my mother. She swallows, smiles, and rolls her eyes.

"Bean, you want a taste?"

He wiggles an eyebrow at me, and I practically skip to the stove. He was right about the garlic powder—he always is.

This was my grandfather. Always right. Stubborn to a fault. Never a minute late. Fiercely independent. And yet, exacting as he may have been, ingredients were never measured nor recipes written down. Food was my grandfather's means of creative expression, and in his world, all spoons were communal. Dinners were leisurely. And love abundant.   

My stubborn, willful, utterly perfect grandfather passed away last year. After a week in the hospital—the result of a bad fall and broken pelvis—his kidneys failed and his too-big heart just plain broke. He died the morning of October 22nd, the day before Riggs Partners' CreateAthon XVII. It was to be my first CreateAthon, an event I'd been looking forward to ever since I joined the agency that January. But, after my world had been tipped on its axis, I wasn't sure I would have the mental capacity to string sentences together, never mind good sentences on behalf of The Arts Empowerment Project, a nonprofit that connects at-risk children with transformative, life-changing arts experiences. I briefly thought about not coming.

But my grandfather, the man who wouldn't miss Christmas with family come hell or double hip replacement, the WWII veteran whose photo must be printed alongside Webster's definition of pluck, would have pushed me forward. He had always taught me to honor my commitments, and he did so until the day he died. Tempted to stay home, I could still hear him:  Keep going. Don't stop until I say so.  

When I arrived to the WECO that cloudy October morning, a few people—those who knew—said kind things I didn't really hear. I stammered a thank you or two, and then I got to work. Selfishly, I craved the distraction of a challenge apart from that inconvenient thing called grieving. 

That said, distractions are temporary by design, and they never completely divert our attention from the tasks we hope to escape. As the hours ticked past and night blanketed the WECO, the memories came unbidden:

My grandfather's slight form hunched over the stove as he taught me to whisk together polenta. The great delight with which he accepted my applesauce Bundt cakes, even when over or under baked. Quote, depending on circumstance, "I like a crispy outside," or "It will stay moist longer this way."
Books, newspapers, and large-print copies of Reader's Digest arranged in neat piles throughout my grandparent's house, all of which I was welcome to read whenever I visited.
His strong voice gliding over the crests and valleys of a hymn (for much of his life, he sang in both a barbershop quartet and the church choir), and a stronger shoulder to lean against when I inevitably got sleepy at midnight mass.
Countless car rides to ballet lessons across town, after which he'd help tame my unruly locks into a sleek bun, twisting and pinning according to my 7-year-old self's most authoritative instructions.

How lucky I was to have shared with him so many of my creative interests. How empty life would have been without hisguidance, encouragement, and example thesepast 23 years. And in that, a kernel of understanding.

Perhaps because my heart was bruised, my grandfather gone and my headspace in vulnerable territory, I finally grasped what the gift of arts exposure could do for a child achingly familiar with life's harsh realities. For a productive spell between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m., I too was just a little girl in need of the therapeutic power of words, art and writing to heal her broken places.

I had been told CreateAthon was an experience like no other. I was prepared for so many things—client tears, impossible deadlines, the sad truth that my hair would look like it had been combed with a porkchop—but I wasn't expecting the bear hug to the soul that came with working for a nonprofit whose very purpose helped put in perspective not what I had lost, but how much I had to be thankful for.

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He was my granddaddy, but he was everyone's Bigi, and I'd like to think he watched over all of us intrepid creative spirits that night. As Riggs and co. begin to accept the next batch of CreateAthon applications, I can only hope he'll be there too, helping us push through the night with grace, grit, and a little extra determination.         
         
                                                                                                                                                                       In loving memory of Elio Joseph "Bigi" Bigiarelli                                                                       

Riggs Partners 2015 CreateAthon applications are now available. Apply here.

 

                                                                     

posted by Kevin Smith Apr 22,2015 @ 10:39AM

Trying to Keep Up

Riggs_suitEarlier this month, Media Post published an interesting article about how as we age, the brain moves to the right. Specifically, the brain perceives reality in sensory images and like metaphors. I was excited to be informed that: “Stories generally do a better job of emotionally engaging Baby Boomer minds. In fact, Baby Boomers are more likely than younger consumers to ignore a message that simply describes a product with little or no affect.”

Shortly thereafter, I read in Marketing News: “Digital Disruption and the Death of Storytelling.” Douglas Rushkoff’s views are profound. He reminds us that digital devices leave us living in a reactionary mode, failing to plan for the future or live fully in the present. The multitude of communication channels has rendered even the most centered among us compulsive and compromised.

These two interesting and compelling viewpoints remind me of how confusing the deluge of information we receive can be. In this new age of information, we want absolutes, new rules and decrees we can employ.

It’s simply not that simple. The only thing we can truly be expert at is asking questions of our customers. The modern marketing tumult has made listening the most important art of all. Marketing has no templates because consumers are custom made. Informing an audience to make wise decisions requires an expert tailor with a penchant for hearing others’ truths.

posted by Marcus Williamson Apr 15,2015 @ 01:08PM

Raising the Bar

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Columbia is changing and only for the better.

New buildings are going up at a seemingly rapid pace while old ones that have sat vacant for decades are being repurposed for new and exciting things. Notable examples include the former Bull Street Asylum, the Adluh Flour building, and the Palmetto Compress building.

But what of the creative scene? Well that's booming as well. With Indie Grits, ConvergeSE, and POSSCON (The Palmetto Open Source Software Conference) all happening in the same week, Columbia's future certainly looks bright. These three events, along with many others not mentioned here, are uniquely tied to our city and represent a new community of creatives willing to raise the bar for a better Columbia. If this trend continues to grow, we could be looking at the new SXSW within several years.

We look forward to seeing what new creative possibilities arise in our city as it continues to grow taller and wider every day.

What other exciting things are happening around Columbia that we missed?

-Marcus

posted by Cathy Monetti Apr 02,2015 @ 04:12AM

Five Lessons of Great Leaders

I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about leadership. It's not something that's on my mind, typically; there's entirely too much work to be done to sit around dissecting and diagramming such a thing. But when I was invited to speak to a group of government leaders about how to be an inspired leader in difficult times--I knew I had some soul searching to do.

What on earth do I have to say on this topic? It was a valid question. Not so long ago (ha) I was a young entrepreneur doing the best I could to balance the demands of a growing business with the responsibilities of being a single mother. As a result little Eliza spent many weekends and holidays with me at the office. (It did not bring her joy.) Early one Saturday I parked her at the receptionist's desk where she prayed the phone would ring and she would get to answer it: "C.C.Rigg’s! This is Eliza! How may I help you?"

It never happened. So on this day I loaded her up with paper and pencils and colored markers and tape and gave her all sorts of instructions about things she might do. Then I went to my office and commenced to cleaning out files.

Sensing her dissatisfaction, I picked up the phone, buzzed the reception desk, and in my most professional voice said into the intercom, "Eliza, this is Miss Cathy. Would you please go to the refrigerator and get a Diet Coke, put it in a koozie and bring it to me?" Diet Coke delivered, my tiny receptionist returned to her desk and within 15 seconds my telephone intercom buzzed.

"Cathy," said this little five-year-old voice. "Would you please go to the refrigerator and get a Sprite, put it in a koozie and bring it to me?"

"Honey," I said, now in my Mom voice. "I'm the boss and you're the worker. That means you do things for me."

"Humph," she said, hanging up the receiver.

When the day was done we drove straight to her favorite restaurant where we parked catacorner in the Sonic drive-in and she made the big move to sit in the front seat, with me. "Let's play TEENAGERS!" she said. And so I turned to her and asked in my best teenager voice, "So Eliza, what have you been up to?"

"I've just been working at the hospital," she said.

"The hospital!" I said, surprised. "When did you start working at the hospital? The last time we talked you were working at an advertising agency!"

"I was," she said. "But there was this lady there, and all she did was boss me around, so I quit."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thankfully, I spent the next 25 years in the company of some pretty remarkable leaders, many of whom were my clients. I do my best to pay attention, to go beneath the surface of things, and so as I thought through it, I realized they all have some things in common. Following is a greatly abbreviated overview.

believe

GREAT LEADERS KNOW THE "WHY" OF THEIR ORGANIZATION. THEY ALSO KNOW THEIR PERSONAL "WHY."

Have you seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk HOW GREAT LEADERS INSPIRE ACTION? “People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it,” he says of great brands and companies. I believe Sinek is onto something important and revolutionary. I know it’s true in marketing and branding. But I believe it’s also true when it comes to us as individuals, as human beings, as leaders.

Do you know your WHY? Do you know what drives you? Do you know what you value? Do you know what you believe?

GREAT LEADERS LEAD FROM THE SPACE OF THEIR CONVICTIONS.

They inspire rather than command—they tell us what they believe, not what should be done.

GREAT LEADERS CONNECT HUMAN TO HUMAN.

Soul to soul. Heart to heart. THE REAL ME SEES THE REAL YOU. This matters because as human beings, what we want most is to be seen, heard and validated.

GREAT LEADERS PAY ATTENTION TO INTENTION.

They identify the right problems. Then they get to the why.

GREAT LEADERS BUILD TRUST ALL AROUND.

They create and foster an environment in which people feel safe—not only with regard to "management," but also co-workers. They do this by knowing their convictions (see #1 and #2 above) and standing for them, on behalf of the people they lead.

_____________

There is much more to say about each, including wonderful examples from people I greatly respect. I think I'll spend some time in this space doing just that. But for now, I'd love to hear your perspective. Comment or send an email to cathy@riggspartners.com. I'd love to hear from you.

posted by Alexandra Frazier Mar 25,2015 @ 01:09PM

a lesson in simplicity

A few bare-shouldered days, the first dapples of pollen along my windshield's edge, the ammonia-laced scent of Windex… these are spring's true signifiers.

The urge to spring clean is perhaps the most instantaneous, the most bewildering effect of spring's first blush. Through the winter, I make peace with the disorder of my desk and closets. Stray papers and forgotten tchotchkes go unnoticed, or perhaps excused as yet another layer of insulation against the cold. It's only when the season turns and the evening light lingers that the charming disorder is illuminated for what it really is—a mess in dire need of fixing.

In my own march toward madness, clothes are boxed for donation, surfaces scrubbed, shelves dismantled, dusted, rearranged. And so it happened that I found myself deep in the dust of college keepsakes last night.

Between empty folders, old photographs and half-filled composition books, there it was: one thick, two-inch binder containing every upper-level English lit paper I had ever written. Including one particular critical theory essay with the following comment scrawled toward the bottom:

There's a kind of reliance here on your own good writing that both saves your essay and prevents you from examining the question more tellingly.

Put another way, "If your sentences weren't quite so prettily strung together, you'd be in a heap of shit."

I've always been particularly adept at manipulating language. I love the way crepuscular crinkles and ameliorate stretches like taffy. I love the crests and troughs of English, the fussiness of its rules, and the ability of well-placed punctuation to lend starch to a sentence. I know how to use these rhythms to my advantage. What I like to forget is that all those lovely syllables should add to a meaningful thesis.

As we work our way through no small number of annual report assignments, this reminder to examine the challenge at hand couldn't come at a better time. It would be easy enough to write a few "Look at all we accomplished!" pages on behalf of our clients. But to accurately put the year in review, to tell a story unencumbered by needless superlatives and bloated prose, takes a little more effort. It takes an unsentimental eye for what's worth keeping and what doesn't need to be there. And, maybe, just a little seasonal zeal.

As for all those old essays, professors' comments scribbled down margins and in between paragraphs, I think those I may just keep.

 

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