The Future of Content Episode 11

The Bureau of Digital is a peer-based community for people who lead digital shops and digital teams, projects, and products. Led by Carl Smith, the Bureau organizes dozens of events and maintains a lively Slack team for business owners, operators, design leaders, and project managers. It also produces a lot of content.

The Bureau’s content stream begins as a listening exercise. What are people talking about on Slack? What problems are being discussed, and what are the most helpful solutions? Are there any useful anecdotes or resources to be shared?

The result is a community built on trust—there’s an oath!—and relevant, timely advice.

“I think any time we can share something that’s truly around managing and leading— I don’t even think coming out of business school you would learn it. This is on-the-job stuff, but so many of us ended up in a position of leading so fast that we’re so scared of being found out that we avoid a lot of these conversations. So, when we’re able to sneak a peek at how somebody else did it, that content is invaluable.”

Carl Smith, Owner, Bureau of Digital

As for the future of business-focused content, Carl believes the standard business books have lost their context. In their place, content that speaks to flexibility—and that provides a fresh dose of perspective—is needed as businesses pivot toward specialization.

“As we see potential in more people working from home all the time, then I think every book is going to have to let people choose their own adventure a little bit into the context of who they are and who their teams are.”

Carl Smith, owner, Bureau of Digital

Carl Smith

Carl Smith is the owner of the Bureau of Digital.

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Stream Episode 11 now, or subscribe on your favorite podcast platform below.


Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript may contain some minor wording and formatting errors. Apologies in advance!

[Voiceover] Welcome to The Future of Content, a podcast exploring how we create, manage and distribute content. Brought to you by Four Kitchens: We make BIG websites.

[Todd] Welcome to The Future of Content. I’m your host, Todd Nienkerk. Every episode, we invite a guest to explore an aspect of content and to make predictions about the future of that content. If you create, manage, or publish content, welcome. This podcast is for you. Today, we’re talking about creating content for digital business owners. Our guest is Carl Smith of the Bureau of Digital. The Bureau, as it’s known amongst its members, is a peer-based community for people who lead digital shops and digital teams, projects, and products. Welcome to The Future of Content, Carl.

[Carl] You done it now, Nienkerk [laughter]. You done brought Carl onto your podcast.

[Todd] For those who don’t know [laughter] either of us or maybe both of us [laughter], we’ve known each other way too long. So this might be interesting. So, Carl [laughter]—

[Carl] Remember when we went parasailing?

[Todd] We did go parasailing [laughter].

[Carl] That’s how long we’ve known each other.

[Todd] That’s how long—

[Carl] We’ve known each other since the parasailing days.

[Todd] Yeah. When you reach a point at which you parasail with somebody, you really know that that’s peak relationship, and it’s hopefully just— At least you can plateau and not move forward.

[Carl] It’s not moving in together. It’s not getting a dog. It’s not raising a kid.

[Todd] No. Parasailing.

[Carl] It’s above all that—literally above all of that.

[Todd] I have not gone parasailing with my partner. So, here we are, you and me. So—

[Carl] What’s this podcast about again?

[Todd] It’s about parasailing [laughter].

[Carl] That’s what I thought: The Future of Parasailing.

[Todd] Yes.

[Carl] We should go again [laughter].

[Todd] What do you think about— Yeah [laughter]. Bigger parasail? Smaller? Higher? Lower? Faster?

[Carl] Sturdier.

[Todd] Hey, let’s talk— Sturdier. Good. Let’s talk about the Bureau.

[Carl] Let’s do it.

[Todd] So, what is the Bureau of Digital?

[Carl] The Bureau is a community that takes care of itself. So we are—this hurts every time I say it now—over 8,000 people leading teams in digital, and none of us are really equipped for it [laughter]. Emotionally, educationally, any of the -allys. And so basically, the Bureau exists to provide support for people who are leading teams, right. So leaders in digital. And it’s also just an amazing grassroots thing that really changed my life.

[Todd] So, how did you get involved in it, and how did it end up changing your life?

[Carl] So, I was running a shop in Jacksonville—I still live in Jax—called nGen Works. And we were loud and proud. We were organized chaos. We were all these horrible things that were actually beautiful, and we were writing about it. And one day, I got an email from “the Gregs,” as they were collectively known—Greg Storey and Greg Hoy—saying that they were getting together in Portland, Oregon, and they were inviting a bunch of shop owners to sit at a table and talk about what they were doing. And I replied back with two words: “Why me?” And they replied back, “We’ve been reading your blog, and you’re either totally full of shit or you’re really smart. And we want to know which one.” To which I replied, “I would like to know as well. So, yeah. I’m in.” And that was the beginning of it, right. It wasn’t called the Bureau. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just 24, I think, owners of companies sitting down trying to help each other.

[Todd] And that’s where also you and I first met, was at that—

[Carl] It is.

[Todd] —very table at that very meeting. Had you interacted with the Gregs and with Happy Cog up to that point? Or was this really out of the blue?

[Carl] They had yelled at me before [laughter]. We were at an event [crosstalk]—

[Todd] Like from across the street, or like—

[Carl] No, no. From a high level, actually. We were in Austin, and we were at South By, and they were doing their Cog’eoke thing. And [laughter] one of the people I worked with, Katie, had lost her badge. And it got taken up to the front and somebody got up on the mic and said, “Katie Garrison from nGen Works. nGen Works. Your badge is up here on stage. Katie from nGen Works.” And Storey yelled at me, “Nice plug, asshole [laughter]!” And I was like, “I have no idea what just happened [laughter].” He was also wearing a panda suit. But other than that, we had never really talked. We knew who they were. I mean, they were fucking Happy Cog, right.

[Todd] Yeah.

[Carl] But, yeah. That they even knew we existed was just a shock to me.

[Todd] My story is very similar, getting to know them and getting involved in the Bureau. We’ll tell that story some other time.

[Carl] Aw.

[Todd] But you mentioned— Aw. I know. This is about you, not me.

[Carl] Okay.

[Todd] So [laughter] you mentioned earlier that none of us are— Those of us who run digital agencies, and by extension operate them or lead teams and lead products within the digital space—that we’re not really prepared for that. We’re not educated to do this. We don’t have a lot of experience. Is that one of the things that you feel makes digital business owners unique?

[Carl] Yeah, for sure. And it’s changed a little bit. I would say, 2012, 2013, people started coming into the space that were business people that saw an opportunity. Before that, I think it was too shaky. We didn’t really have processes. We didn’t know what we were doing. Everything was kind of coming together at once. And then later, I think people saw opportunities and put business models around having a digital agency. Just you saying “digital agency” makes us want to throw up in our mouth a little, right? The idea of the word “agency.” “No. We’re a shop. We’re a consultant.” Yeah.

[Todd] Oh, we deliberately walked the other direction from the word agency for years. We tripped over ourselves saying things like, “Oh, web shop or consultancy or—” We hated the word.

[Carl] And “consultancy” is almost as bad, right? And then “studio,” but that implies that you’re tiny. Although some [crosstalk] studios—

[Todd] Or you only do design. Yeah.

[Carl] Yeah. So, we had some serious [laughter] identity crisis, some identity issues. But, no. That’s it. Either we’re really good at a certain skill, or we managed something at another company and decided we could do it ourselves. I spun off from a full-service advertising agency, and I did it with friends. And I would do it that way again. We actually ended up being really good, against all odds.

[Todd] And the experience we had was fairly similar. And this story [laughter], I will tell. Four college friends, we all wanted to get into publishing. We all met doing a college humor publication at the University of Texas; wanted to do something similar to compete against The Austin Chronicle, who just, by the way, happens to be deeply affiliated and own large portions of South by Southwest [laughter]. So, some deep pockets there, right, even in the early 2000s. And we did this publication called That Other Paper for a few years. It was difficult to turn a profit from that, but what we wound up getting asked to do was build websites because we built that website, and people liked it. And we started getting calls saying, “Hey, did you do that? Can you do that for me?” And that’s how it started. And then a couple months after we got paid to make a website, suddenly there were more websites to be made. And then, “Oh, you gotta hire somebody and that’s a whole thing. And then now you need HR policies and a lawyer and—” You know [laughter]. And suddenly, here we are. I have a film degree and a psychology degree, right. And you have a theater degree if I remember correctly.

[Carl] There you go. Theater major, advertising minor. Yeah.

[Todd] Yeah. What do we know about [laughter] running a business? This is ridiculous.

[Carl] Just making stuff up to sell it. Talk confidently.

[Todd] Yeah. And it grew up around us, right. It just sort of— I’m sure that a lot of industries have stories similar to it, but the digital agency world seems to very consistently be somebody spinning off of another agency, just kind of wanting to do their own thing, and then, “Uh-oh.” Now it’s a company where people who just kind of tumble into it, and, “Uh-oh,” it’s a company. And so the Bureau is a place where we can all get together and admit to ourselves, “We don’t know what we’re doing on the business side of things, and everything is terrifying.” And you have to hide that terror.

[Carl] Yeah. And that’s it. And enough of us have figured out enough things that when we put it all together [laughter], we actually have a playbook. And that’s what ends up happening. And it’s funny because even the people who came in later— There’s some great shops run by people who never were in a band and built the band’s website, and that’s how they started, or any of the other legacy histories that you hear about—the legacy origins. But what you find out is they don’t really understand the intricacies of digital like we do because we messed up so many times. We understand the little glitches that are going to happen. You can’t just apply some traditional PM process. You do have to really understand there is a digital before project management when you’re in this space. There are all these little things, so they learn a tremendous amount as well. And it’s crazy because just like something like Net Promoter Score, right? NPS comes in and it is so polarizing. There are people who love it and people who hate it. Or EOS. Or any of the S’s, right [laughter]? Anything that ends in “system,” right, is—

Or score [laughter]— Going to be just one of those things that some people are going to love, some people are going to hate. And, yeah. It’s just crazy to me. But again, it is a group of people who are so open in sharing. And, yeah, occasionally you get a bad actor in there, but I mean, everybody polices it and keeps it clean. But, yeah. It’s just a bunch of people helping each other. It’s honestly— I can’t imagine doing anything else. I just can’t.

[Todd] And this is all essentially community-generated content, right? Like all the things you produce as the owner and operator and chief organizer of Bureau of Digital is really just pulled from the community so that the things that you do are largely interviews or you’re really kind of spurring somebody to say, “Hey, you should write that.” And then otherwise, it all kind of happens through sessions at events; conversations at camps, which are small, intimate retreat-style gatherings; on Slack; on Basecamp; all of these different places. So, it’s primarily all community-generated, right?

[Carl] Yeah. I mean, I think one of the most popular things that we do—and this was kind of the brainchild of Jen Hyde, who creates all the content—was this idea of a monthly roundup of everything that people mention. We call it the Research Roundup. And she just spends time in Slack and in Basecamp, and just goes through. And any resource that somebody mentioned that was positive gets put in this list. And so the most recent one probably had 25, 30 things in it, and categorized, right? “This is about operations. This is about design. This is about collaboration. This is about [crosstalk]—”

[Todd] So, are these like snippets of wisdom and tools and articles and all of the above?

[Carl] Yeah. So it’s mainly links to different resources. It could be a web app, it could be a book, it could be a webinar. But then also, she does in the newsletter, this thing called Bureau Redacted, where somebody says something really brilliant but might not want it attributed to them. So, if there’s a conversation that goes on but we want to protect the innocent, but we still know that that information would be very valuable, that becomes Bureau Redacted [laughter]. And we basically just put that in different versions of the newsletter if it’s for digital PMs, if it’s for owners, or if it’s for design leaders. And then they also get that little nugget of joy without anybody feeling like a private conversation was publicized. Yeah.

[Todd] Right. Right. That’s cool.

[Carl] There’s so much stuff, man. It’s so much content.

[Todd] Oh, yes. There’s so much happening in that Slack team that I can— I mostly just click “Mark all read [laughter].” But it’s very— If I had more time or if I— I don’t know. I have gotten so much value out of that community, and I wish I could put more value back into it. And so along those lines, what kind of content do you find that digital business owners like to consume?

[Carl] Well, I mean, that’s a great question. It’s kind of multifaceted as well. So, I mean, it really depends on the context of the owner at the time. A lot of times, it is quick answers to puzzling problems. And this is what you’ll find just in the conversations, which I would consider all those conversations content as well. It’s somebody going in and saying, “Hey. I’m struggling with the level of detail to put in an invoice,” and having four or five voices come in and say, “Well, if you do this, then that. If you do this, then that. Well, then somebody might pick it apart if you do it this way. Well, if you do it that way, it may be too big and it may—” So, I think that’s amazing. I think also anything around team dynamics—when we do that on the podcast or if we have something on the blog around team dynamics, soft skills, all of this type of stuff, one of the things I learned at one of the first Design Leadership Camps was a question that Margaret Lee from Google asked a table. She said, “How many of you have fired someone in the last year for a skill issue? Like, they weren’t able to use tools properly. They didn’t understand basic theory. They had issues like that.” Right. And nobody fired anybody because they didn’t have a hard skill issue. She said, “How many people have fired somebody for a soft skill issue?” And every hand went up; 30 hands around the table went up. And so I think any time we can share something that’s truly around managing and leading, these are the places that— And I don’t even think coming out of business school you would learn it. I mean, this is on-the-job stuff, but so many of us ended up in a position of leading so fast that we’re so scared of being found out that we avoid a lot of these conversations. We avoid a lot of these difficult times. So, when we’re able to sneak a peek at how somebody else did it, that content is invaluable.

[Todd] Yeah. Absolutely. So then when you’re producing— When you’re going out to deliberately produce content for digital business owners and creating things like the Roundup and the podcast and blog posts, what’s on your mind? When you decide to pick a topic or you’re searching for topics and you want to structure either a conversation or an answer to an exploration of that topic, how do you go about doing that?

[Carl] Well, I think the first thing is we try to make sure nobody else has addressed it yet. Or if they have, we find out how they addressed it and see if we agree, or if we can add to what they did, or if we can take a different angle. Because ultimately, if people are just thinking about something, they’ll find their solution because nothing that we send them is going to be perfect. I mean, that’s just the nature of creating your own company. But then if nobody has— Well, let me say if somebody has, then we’ll reach out and say, “Hey. Can we use this? Can we repurpose it and point back to it? We’ve got people over here who are really looking for these answers. We think you’ve done a great job. They really trust us. Can we just make this a little more Bureau-like? And then we’ll point over to you so that they can see you.” And it’s so funny because— I’m sure you get these all the time. You get these emails from people who are ready to create content for you, or that they’ve got this network that, “You’re not going to believe all the leads you’re going to get if you just go ahead and blah blah blah.” Well, when we do it, people respond back and they’re grateful [laughter]. It’s like I don’t know what the difference is, because it kind of has that same tone, but it really works for them. And then if nobody’s done it, that’s when we’ll try to find somebody in the community that’s smart and put them on the podcast. Because I am generally inquisitive, and we’ll normally get to a good place. Sometimes, after that, we’ll ask them to do a webinar. I mean, Tom O’Neill is a perfect example. He was CEO at The Nerdery. Had him on the podcast because somebody introduced him to me, wanted to talk about growth. How do you get from 50 to 500 people without killing your culture and losing your mind? And then after that, that podcast was so popular, I was like, “Would you mind doing a webinar?” Right. And so he ended up doing a webinar. Then he was a guest on one of the monthly calls. And now he’s a guest at an event, and now we’ve got Growth Camp, right? So, it’s like sometimes you find the content is so appealing or confusing that [laughter] having a few days to talk about it in person is where it ultimately goes. But that’s kind of the progression. And I’ll even do this with sponsors. I’ll tell them like— First of all, I always vet them with the community and just say, “How do people feel about this company?” And more than you’d believe, they say, “We hate them.” And then I have to go back to them and say, “Sorry. I would love your money, but we can’t do that.” But if they’re good—

[Todd] Oh, wow.

[Carl] —then we’ll actually bring somebody on their team that’s smart on the podcast if they’ve got a content marketing person or a creator who’s writing something great. And that always seems to be really interesting as well because a lot of the providers have the same challenges we have from a completely different angle. So, sometimes you can find out somebody who built an app to take care of projections or take care of the way APIs interact. Sometimes they can tell you something and you never saw it that way because you’re a consumer. You want a creator.

[Todd] Fascinating. Well, let’s take a quick break. And when we return, we will talk with Carl about managing a community and community contributions.

[Voiceover] The Future of Content is brought to you by Four Kitchens. Our team creates digital experiences that delight, scale, and deliver measurable results. Whether you need an accessibility audit, a dedicated support team, or a world-class digital experience platform, the Web Chefs have you covered. Four Kitchens. We make BIG websites.

[Todd] Welcome back to The Future of Content. Our guest today is Carl Smith of the Bureau of Digital, a community of digital business owners, leaders, and managers. So, when we left off, we were talking about the kinds of content that digital business owners are interested in consuming. But the Bureau is also, perhaps, primarily a community. And that community is constantly generating content, whether it’s through content that takes a formal shape: podcast, articles, books, things like that. But it seems like the vast majority of that content happens in Slack, in Basecamp, and in conversations at events like Owner Summit and Owner Camp and things like that. What tools do you use to manage the conversations between members of the Bureau community? We’ve already mentioned Slack and Basecamp. What’s working, and what have you tried that didn’t work?

[Carl] Well, I’ll say all of it works enough. None of it works great. Slack is a challenge because we have, I think, 16, 17 hundred people in there. And first of all, you’ve got your [laughter] people who are just great and are constantly in there and constantly working, then you’ve got a ton of lurkers. And I see the stats, people. I know you’re in there [laughter]. I know you’re reading the stuff, right? But if you were to try to make it paid, it would end up being something like $6,000 a month. And so that’s not going to work, and nobody’s going to sponsor that. And yet, you lose messages every two weeks. So I have to tell people to think of it more like a telephone call or at the very least, somebody left you a note, right [laughter]? And so like, it’s probably— You’re going to lose it. It’s not going to be here.

[Todd] It’s those weird bulletin board carousels on campus.

[Carl] Exactly. That’s exactly what it is. And then Basecamp is great. Hey, Jason, if you’re listening. Basecamp is great, but you can basically get everybody’s email address in one fell swoop. So if you have a bad actor, you have a little bit of a security issue there. Honestly, Mailchimp on the newsletter stuff and traditional— We have this one Google Sheet called “This is the Bureau” that literally takes two-and-a-half, three minutes to load in [laughter]. It has all of this information. But in terms of tools, it’s— You just try to be where people are. I would have left Slack a long time ago, but people are already there. And it’s just, you can’t— If they’ve already logged into something— And I know Claire Lew over at Know Your Team does a great job with her Watercooler, and that is more of a spin-up of her own thing. And people love it. I would be worried to ever get too far away from Slack. Now the challenge is at some point, we do have to have better organization around it because we do have so many different types of people. And it’s all locked down with different channels; everything’s privatized. Privatized. So I see everything. You have no idea how many messages are going on, and thousands of DMs a week. It’s crazy. There’s a lot of people helping each other there that are doing it in private. I hope it’s all very, very nice.

[Todd] Yeah. What’s interesting that— One of the emergent behaviors that I’ve seen that I use the Bureau Slack for is, it’s the one place where I know I can find all of my peers. So, if I need to just get a hold of somebody from one of the many agencies that we’re friendly with, and whether that’s just to check in and say hi or because we have a question about, “Oh, I wonder. Have you heard about this RFP?” or, “We have way too much work. Do you have any availability? Can we subcontract?” All of that happens through the Bureau Slack. Because otherwise, we’d have to do shared channels for every— Then you have that network effect of like, there’s all these nodes in the network, and then it becomes exponentially difficult. But the Bureau is this great consolidation point. And because it is a community that has shared values— Otherwise, this whole thing wouldn’t even appeal to them, right, the idea of sitting down and being vulnerable in front of other business owners. If you don’t like that, you’re not going to participate. So, forget about it. That’s one of the interesting emergent behaviors I’ve seen in that tool, is that it becomes this massive industry-wide gathering point, which is really cool.

[Carl] It’s crazy cool. I mean, we have— I think it’s 3,200 agencies represented total and like 2,800 owners of those agencies. So, sometimes, it’s an operator DPM. But 2,800 owners that are part of the community that interact at some level that know who we are, that are there. If I reach out, they respond. It’s just insane to think about that level of reach, and also how small it is. Because it’s less than 2% of what’s supposed to exist in North America.

[Todd] Well, what have you seen change? The Bureau in one way or another has been around for eight years at this point.

[Carl] Yep. Eight years.

[Todd] And [laughter] I mean, you’ve seen a lot. You’ve been a participant in it in the earlier days, then you became kind of like an organizer. Now you’re the person in charge of the whole thing. What have you seen change in those eight years?

[Carl] Yeah. I think the biggest thing is just the way we connect. So, when we first got together, again, just like 24 of us and we were going to get together in a year and we got together seven months later. We couldn’t wait [laughter]. And it was all those types of things. But as it grew to the point where it is now, not everybody knows everybody. And so that becomes the difference in how we connect. Sometimes, I mean, like, you and I know each other really well. And if I’m having some horrible situation, I will reach out to you and I will tell you, unfiltered, the issue that I am dealing with. But if I am talking with somebody else, right, and maybe I’m sharing something in that channel and I don’t know everybody, I’m not going to be as open. And I’m not going to get the level of return—the value—that I would get. And so I do see one of the things that happens is you start to see, really, subcommunities that start to form. And a lot of those are forming out of events that people are at together. And then borrowed trust, somebody saying, “Hey, this person’s really great. I’m going to bring them in here.” It’s one of the things we’re looking at doing with the idea of Bureau Circles is putting together an online small group that can stay together for a long time and help each other, but it’s curated. We kind of take an OKCupid approach, or whatever your dating app of choice is. And [laughter] we basically— I don’t even know them, so I’m just making one up [laughter]. But so we go through and put people together. And the thing is— And I had mentioned this to you before. It was Lori Gold Patterson at Owner Summit San Diego. She pulled me aside. We were in a room of about 50 people. And she looks around the room and she goes, “Your challenge is going to be scaling intimacy.” She was like, “Because that’s what it is that you sell. You have this level of intimacy that somebody can come in, and they know that everybody had a shared experience. Even if I haven’t met you, I know that you took that oath. I know that you were in a room when somebody said something and you didn’t share it.”

[Todd] And that oath, by the way, it is Bureau tradition at the beginning of these events to share an oath that essentially says, “Don’t say anything outside of this room that anybody would consider private or sensitive information,” right? So, we’re all on the same page about what happens here— The conversations we have here stay in here, and there’s a formal name for that kind of [laughter] rule. I forget what— some British parliamentary thing, right?

[Carl] Right. It is a silly verbal non-disclosure agreement that everybody appreciates. And we actually—

[Todd] But it’s necessary, and it’s part of the value. Yeah.

[Carl] So, design leaders, big product, in-house, this sort of stuff is a fast-growing part of the community. We’re almost to 1,000 people who are Silicon Valley or are leading design at huge corporations with 50 designers under them—all this kind of stuff. And have the exact same problems everybody else has, which is just hilarious to me, that we’re all just humans trying to figure this out. But what’s great is we had Design Leadership Camps where they take the oath, we do all the stuff. And then we had Design Leadership Days, which is very much more like a summit, right? And so a lot of the people at the Days events were ones who just weren’t qualified to go to our camp. They weren’t at a level of management— They wouldn’t have gotten the context; they wouldn’t have gotten the value, right. So, it’s like, they’re not managing 50 people. If they’re just managing two people, they’re not going to understand the difficulty somebody else is having. And it’s not cheap to get there, so the value wouldn’t have gone either way. So, recently, [laughter] when I was in Chicago, one of the people from the camp pulled me aside and he said, “Hey, so, the Design Leadership commons, it’s not just camp people.” And I was like, “No. We decided we’d just go ahead and put everybody in.” And he goes, “Yeah, so, they haven’t taken the oath?” And I was like, “No.” And he goes, “Okay. Because that’s not cool.” And I was like, “All right.” And so we relaunched a Design Leadership Camp commons, and I just told everybody. I said, “Hey. You know what? We took a misstep, wanted to apologize. Now you’re in with people who have all experienced what you experience.” And it’s funny. And who knows? Maybe I’ll hear about it after this podcast, but the Days people, I don’t know that they did or didn’t notice, but man, the camp people noticed. It was like, “I am no longer among my peers. I’m now among my peers and people who may be my peers in three or four years [laughter].”

[Todd] Yeah. Yes. That’s fascinating.

[Carl] “But I don’t want to talk about this here.”

[Todd] Yeah. So this is an example of content having to arise out of trust and intimacy.

[Carl] Oh, absolutely.

[Todd] Hmm. And without that, maybe the gears wouldn’t turn. Right?

[Carl] No. I mean, it would be vanilla. It wouldn’t get to a point where there was any true—

[Todd] It’d be vague statements and sort of common-sense pronouncements. It wouldn’t be anything personal and real, and people wouldn’t dig deep about what’s going on with them.

[Carl] I’ll tell you, one of the most amazing conversations that I was part of was— We have these monthly calls. We have monthly member calls; we have monthly Design Leadership calls. And on one of the monthly Design Leadership calls, somebody— And this person knew everybody that was on the call. There were about 18 people on the call. And she said, “Hey. Absolutely have to keep this quiet, but I need help preparing my team for my departure, and I’m not sure how to do it. I don’t want to leave them in a lurch, but I don’t want to stay longer than I should.” And you know what? I mean, at least a third of that group had really good information. The rest were very, very empathetic. And some of them had direct experience. They had done it not too long ago—that’s a group that shifts gears. I mean, every two or three years, they’re in a new company. So, it’s just amazing to me. If they had not had that level of trust, there is no way a conversation like that—content like that—could be created.

[Todd] Well, let’s close with this. So, in the world of business, there’s a lot of— There are all these business books that pop up all the time. And you know what? Most of them have good stuff in them. Sometimes it’s just good to read something. And maybe you don’t learn anything, but it reaffirms something. Or maybe it’s like, “I don’t agree with what they’re saying [laughter]. This isn’t for me.” I run into that a lot, too. And then maybe a few years later, you realize they were right. But a big part of what the Bureau does is create content for business owners about business ownership and leadership. Where do you see the future of business ownership content headed?

[Carl] You know what? I think it has to be more flexible. I mean, we’ve been regurgitating— We haven’t, but the world has been regurgitating the same ownership books again and again and again and again. And there are some truly great ones, right? There are some things out there— The Circle of Influence—things that we find that’ll just stick with us forever. Start with Why. These are things that are really, really wonderful, but I think they’re going to have to get more flexible, more nuanced, and more contextual because, especially as businesses become more specialized, and as we see [laughter] potential in more people working from home all the time, Todd, then I think every book is going to have to let people choose their own adventure a little bit into the context of who they are and who their teams are.

[Todd] That makes a lot of sense.

[Carl] You can call BS on that if you want.

[Todd] No, I agree. I mean, when you talk about specialization, that’s way outside of the scope of this podcast. But that is— I just don’t see any other way for agencies that aren’t simply young and hungry to survive, or massive multi-national, you know, Earnst & Young, Deloitte, PWC-style consultancies— I don’t see any other way to make it past five, 10, 15 years. And it’s something that we as an organization have been—I’m having a Bureau moment right now [laughter]—that we as an organization have been moving towards over time, and we find all kinds of things on the edges of the work that’s our core competency that cause issues for us, like whether it be we just don’t understand the business or we wind up siloing people in that space. I fully agree that that same kind of trend needs to happen on the content side of things. I mean, that’s why I go to Bureau events and not Vistage and EO and all of these other executive/owner support group kind of things. And I’ve looked into them, and I’ve been to the meetings, and I’ve seriously thought about it. And I see the value—

[Carl] Trust me, I know. I got eyes everywhere. I’m watching you.

[Todd] Oh, yeah [laughter]. Well, I figured. That’s who that was in the back of the room. Yeah, talking into his collar.

[Carl] Better get away from that EO. [crosstalk].

[Todd] I know, “Get out of EO.” As much as I see the value in learning from different industries, there is something so specialized about what a digital agency does. And knowing things like, “Yep, this kind of thing is becoming commoditized. I’ve been feeling it. You feel it, too? Everybody feels it? Uh-oh.” Okay. Where do we find value? What do we need to shift into and lean into that doesn’t feel like, “Oh. I could just pay anybody to do this for 50 bucks an hour, 20 bucks an hour.” I agree with you. This has been fascinating. And before we go too far down the road of [laughter], “Let’s cry into our glasses about running an agency,” thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. It’s always enjoyable to sit down and talk with you. So, until next time, everybody, enjoy your content.

[Voiceover] You’ve been listening to The Future of Content, a podcast from the Web Chefs at Four Kitchens. Hosted by Todd Nienkerk; produced by PJ Haggerty; theme song is PAFRATY by DJ Listo. Find us on Twitter @focpodcast, and get in touch by email: future@fourkitchens.com.