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April 27, 2016

Sea Change

April 27, 2016

I’m just going to rip the bandage off, and then I’ll unpack why and what’s next. In the course of realizing the next evolution of SmallBox, we decided to let go of three of our most beloved projects – 24 Hour Web Project, Think Kit, and Nice Grants.

It’s somewhat complicated, and while we have one major driving factor behind this move, each has its own reasons as well. At the heart of it all, we are a different company now than when we started these things. When we envisioned 24 Hour Web Project, it felt like a bold and brave way to put our web design and development expertise to good for our community. That was back in 2009 when we focused exclusively on those services.

We are still known by many as a web company, but our current reality looks quite different. The work we do with clients today is more foundational, starting with things like helping an organization choose core values, designing a new process, service or experience, or crafting a five-year strategic plan. We do increasingly more naming and branding work, culture consulting, and facilitating staff retreats. Our toolkit has evolved beyond visual design and development, as we’ve invested heavily in professional development around facilitation, user experience and design thinking.

The limits of time come into play too, of course. It’s been more and more challenging to give these projects their proper due, while maintaining our high standards for client focus and professional development for our team. We tried to stay the course with all of these commitments while pivoting our entire service model.

We simply hit the point where it was time to make very hard decisions. Before saying goodbye, I want to spend a second with these projects, honoring what we learned from each, as well as unpacking why we need to move on.

24 Hour Web Project
The insane challenge of condensing our work to a 24-hour period helped us learn to communicate and collaborate better. With such a constraint, there’s no room for error. You learn what is essential in a process, and how to bring others into your work to move things along faster. It also fed our desire to be present in our community, to serve nonprofits with little resources for telling their worthy story.

For all of its many wonderful elements, we wanted a new challenge that took us beyond just building a website. With its name and a long history of focus on websites, we found it challenging to simply pivot this to be more inclusive of the work we do today. It needed a complete reinvention. We realized we must let go to make space for a new idea to emerge. We don’t know what that is just yet, but our team is highly driven for service, and we fully anticipate doing something along these lines in the future – whether that’s us inventing something new or joining an existing effort.

Think Kit
Think Kit helped us find our voice. The writing prompts helped us see that we don’t have to stick in a neat box on our blog, but rather we could bring our personalities and stories into the mix. Its scope connected us to so many wonderful writers, both here in Indy and beyond. We never anticipated having participants across the globe. Nor did we expect how many people would take the leap to start their first blog through the project. It was so rewarding to hear someone say they had been too intimidated to share their thoughts online until Think Kit gave them the courage.

Despite all of this, the truth with Think Kit is that it had run its course. The last iteration involved a smaller (but certainly mighty and wonderful!) group of writers than in years past. We picked this torch up from a project called Reverb by Gwen Bell. Our greatest hope would be that someone else is inspired to pick up the torch, reinvent the concept, and give it new life. Please email me if you’re interested. I’d happily knowledge share everything we learned along the way.

Nice Grants
This project revolutionized our thoughts on community giving. We’ve never been super jazzed about traditional sponsorships where you buy a table at a big luncheon. We always wanted something more meaningful. GIving no-strings attached micro-grants to people with good ideas – that was more like it. We met so many wonderful people through Nice Grants, Seeing them realize a dream and having a front row seat into their journey is really something quite awe-inspiring.

Last year, we simply lost momentum and ran out of time to support the grantees and tell their stories. We believe this project serves an otherwise unmet community need, so we’re actively having conversations with community players who are interested in adopting and running Nice Grants. We’re dedicated to maintaining our cash commitment of $5,000 to it, should it find a proper home. We have several interested parties already, but no commitments as of this publication date. Again, if you are interested in Nice Grants, let us know.

I can’t overstate the impact on SmallBox of 24 Hour Web Project, Think Kit and Nice Grants. These three shaped us in so many ways. So what’s next?

We’re embracing Field Day – reserving Fridays for play, exploration and work that is energizing. Less sitting, less email, and more creativity and face time with people we care about.

After several years of creating workshop content specifically for our clients, we’ve decided to up the ante and offer public workshops. We can only serve so many clients. But we can share some of the thinking and methods that have been key to our work. We’re pumped about this. The first public workshop is a deep dive on design thinking on June 24, 2016.

We fully expect we’ll get back to some community magic. For now, we’re leaving space to let that newness take shape.

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