Ordinary Is Extraordinary

By Kristen Heimerl, Founder and CEO of Unmistakable Advantage, Inc.
Join Kristen at The Hill June 7 at 11:30 AM for her seminar Story-Crafting: Harness the Power of Your Story.

What is it with us humans that we feel like we have to do something significant in order to be something significant?

After I led my 90-minute story-crafting workshop on the power of personal and organizational narrative last month, a young professional approached me in frustration. She wondered how she could possibly apply the tools to mine her life for stories when she hadn’t yet accomplished anything “meaningful.” This incredible young woman was incapable of seeing the richness of her life experiences—or how to leverage them—because she did not perceive herself as “accomplished” or “important” by some arbitrary external standard.

Huh? At that point I knew my messaging missed the mark because I, too, was inadvertently perpetuating the myth that our significance as human beings comes from our significance as producers of value.

In truth, the point of mining our life for stories and bringing them forward is not to validate our greatness, but to unleash the greatness in others. It is our ordinary experiences that make each of us extraordinary. Yes, we all have greatness inside. And if we have the courage to share with others that which makes us uniquely us, we achieve the greatest accomplishment of all: an authentic connection with others as leaders, colleagues, coaches, teachers, parents, or friends.

But we don’t usually get great from the easy stuff in our lives. We typically get that way from the challenges—noteworthy and not so—that cause us to see or behave differently, or adjust our course in a new direction.

Some of my most transformational experiences happened in the first two decades of my life and, frankly, were anything other than fairly typical—i.e., when I was assigned to the remedial reading group designated for the “stupid” first graders; when Mrs. Donoho asked me, the awkwardly shy kid, to try out for the lead part in our school musical; or when a powerful boss told me that he could help a colleague in need but wouldn’t because he didn’t particularly want to see this person succeed.

While each of these experiences is seemingly unremarkable, they fundamentally shifted my mindset and drove a course of action in my life that I would not have taken had I not had the experience. From these experiences, I learned important lifelong lessons: define myself or be defined, feel fear and do it anyway, and always help another in need. They shaped my behaviors for decades and defined who I am today.

More important, they are life lessons that I—and only I—can share with others to make an instant, authentic connection. The child who feels shame from being singled out as inferior or different? Yes, I can reach them. The aspiring business leader who doesn’t quite fit the mold? Yes, I can reach them. The budding entrepreneur with great vision but frozen in fear? Yes, I can reach them, too. By sharing our personal stories of challenge and success—however small or big, humiliating or heroic—we give others hope, confidence, and inspiration to push through their challenge to the other side.

Now you tell me. What’s the purpose of mining and sharing our stories? Is it to validate our own greatness or is it to unleash that greatness in others? You decide. And if you decide you want to learn how to unleash the power of your stories, join me at the James J. Hill Center on Tuesday, June 7, from 11:30 to 1:00 pm for my workshop, Story-Crafting: Harness the Power of Your Story.

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Then and Now: Hill Throughout History

By Barry Gisser, Hill Board Vice Chair

“The highest conception of a nation is that of a trustee for posterity. The savage is content with wresting from nature the simple necessities of life. But the modern idea of duty is conservation of the old and modeling of the new to the end that posterity may have a fairer dwelling place and thus transmit the onward impulse.”

While modern sensibilities might make some cringe at a few of his word choices, James J. Hill’s wisdom is not lost in regards to the government’s role in bettering the state (lower case s, not capital S). This time his words are taken from a meeting of the Minnesota Conservation and Agricultural Congress back in 1910.

Today, though, I am going to plead guilty of “savage” behavior and ask for a little more focus on the simple necessities of life. This isn’t about early childhood development, wage gaps, or even Walleye limits or the evils of plastic bags. This is something much closer to home: the $600 invoice I just paid to put a new wheel on my car after I drove through a pothole the size of Mille Lacs (actual pothole photo below).


If we struggle with the basics of public service how can we even begin engaging in the bigger questions of posterity that Hill believes should be our focus? Is it better now than it was in 1910? Your guess is as good as mine, because as usual I don’t have answers. Maybe I’ll figure something out as I shop for groceries using my government-approved shopping bag.

Some of the historical headlines look different and some may look familiar but even now the James J. Hill Center is here to help business by delivering its non-profit mission of Supporting Business, Entrepreneurs, and Community. Learn more at www.jjhill.org.

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Startup Showcase: OurOldNumber.com

Do you still remember your old home number, the one you had before cellphones became commonplace? Maybe you’re still using it for your landline because you know that number by heart and so do your friends, your family, your doctors, and everyone in your network.

Despite our reliance on cellphones, many people also keep their home numbers because it’s simpler to have that one household numbers for years. Jeff Swenson’s solution to that is called OurOldNumber.com.

OurOldNumber forwards calls to your home number to the cellphones of your household members, allowing the caller to choose which person they’d like to speak to. It even lets multiple conversations occur on that line simultaneously.

  • Name of company: Our Old Group, LLC dba OurOldNumber.com
  • Website: Ouroldnumber.com
  • Business Start Date: Dec. 30, 2014
  • Number of Employees: 1
  • Number of Customers: Dozens

Read the full article!

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Startup Showcase: Sitters on Call

By Krysten Alberg, James J. Hill Center Marketing Coordinator

As many parents know, trying to arrange child care while working can become a full-time job on its own.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the 34.4 million families with children under the age of 18, 88.7 percent had at least one employed parent in 2014.

Employed parents must ensure their children are cared for while they are working (or need a night off), and calling sitter after sitter is time-consuming and frustrating.

Sitters on Call aims to streamline the logistics of accessing child care by coordinating sitters’ availability schedules with parents’ needs. Rather than call their sitters, parents can quickly access a calendar of all their child care providers’ schedules and can arrange for a sitter with just a few clicks. Sitters on Call makes it simple for parents to connect with sitters they already know and trust.

Read the full article here.

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Then and Now: Hill Throughout History

By Barry Gisser, James J. Hill Center board member

Over the weekend I read in one of our excellent local newspapers that legislators and Governor Dayton are planning a big party next year to celebrate the grand re-opening of the renovated State Capitol building. The Capitol was originally designed by architect Cass Gilbert and constructed in 1905 but is now going through a multimillion-dollar reconstruction. I figured my favorite subject would have something to say about any building completed in that period and, as usual, I was not let down.

It was March 31, 1909 and James J. Hill was on hand to give the keynote address at the unveiling of a statue of the late Colonel William Colvill. One quick aside for those of you (like me) who have no idea who Colvill was. He led the First Regiment of Minnesota Volunteers at Gettysburg and then later became Minnesota Attorney General. Seems statue worthy in my book.

Photo courtesy San Diego Union Tribune/Associated Press

“We have met to-day to honor the memory of one of our country’s modest heroes, to commemorate the deeds of his gallant comrades in arms, to recall once more that great occasion which gave to him and those who fought side by side with him, enduring fame. A nation or a state is at its best upon occasions such as this. The strife of party and of persons ceases. Selfish interests stand aside. The patriot whose name this memorial bears was one of those direct and simple men who rise so often to the level of great acts.”

I will not venture a guess as to what Hill would have thought about the $310 million renovation price tag or the $400K set aside to “celebrate and party like it’s 1905” (thanks Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City). Let’s just hope that when the Capitol does re-open next year there is time set aside to remember some of the greats of Minnesota history.

Some of the historical headlines look different and some may look familiar, but the James J. Hill Center is here to help business by delivering its non-profit mission of Supporting Business, Entrepreneurs, and Community. Learn more at www.jjhill.org.

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Sharing My Story Changed My Life, and It Could Change Yours, Too

By Kristen Heimerl, Founder and CEO of Unmistakable Advantage, Inc.
Sign up for Kristen’s upcoming seminar “The Leader is You: Harness the Power of Your Story to Make an Impact on Business and Life” on May 3rd at 11:30 AM.

I’ve been a business professional for over 25 years. As a business student of the eighties, my business philosophy and leadership approach were shaped by the great thinkers on capitalism of the day: economist Milton Friedman and his belief that businesses should only think about making profit, and GE CEO Jack Welch, who shared a similar concept and became associated with the buzz phrase of the times, “maximizing shareholder value.” I learned that profit ruled and investors were the most important stakeholder among customers, employees, community, and others. Of course, as a manager, I adopted the traditional (expected and highly valued) leadership style of the day: hierarchy, goal focus, command, compete, and direct.

But I was never very effective as this type of leader. Partly because I never truly believed that investors were unequivocally more important than the others. Partly because I wasn’t being authentic; I was hiding my values and what fundamentally motivated me as a leader and a person. But mostly because I stunk at it.

It wasn’t until two-plus decades later when I started my family entertainment and media business, looked hard and deep at my motivations, and shared those motivations with others that my business—and I as a leader—began to resonate with others. Yes, I opened myself up to vulnerability and shared a personal story—the thing that motivates why I do what I do every single day.

Doing so changed my life. And it could change yours, too. Customers try my product because of its quality—a thing developed with obvious care. But they buy into my business and my brand because they believe in the causes I support, the values I live by through my actions, and the vision I see for the future. In short, they buy into the vision and values upon which my business is built.

We’re entering a new era of business. We have high expectations of what our companies should be. It’s not enough to give a small portion of profits to charity. It’s not enough to mitigate the harm their products inflict on our communities or our environment. We want more from them. We want them to solve problems and help causes through their products, their services, and the (good) actions of their employees and leaders. We want them to be held to the same expectation we are: to be good, contributing citizens.

Behind every successful corporate initiative or start-up company of tomorrow is the dreamer of today—the leader or entrepreneur who sees a need for change and is inspired to action by their vision of a better future. But as business leaders or entrepreneurs we have a choice, we can launch our idea, our initiative, our product, or our business, detached from our personal story that fueled it. Or we can make our story part of the very fabric of the value we are trying to create.

Quite simply, storytelling—and especially personal storytelling—helps leaders be more effective and gives meaning to initiatives and organizations that people can relate to. Our story is our power—it’s what connects people to us and to our vision. Our story has the power to spark change, transmit values, enhance our company’s brand perception, create high-performance teams, and more.

To hell with vulnerability. At times we need it—today more than ever. You can be more, do more, connect more, and see more of what you want to see in the world by opening up your trench coat just a little bit. Join me at the James J. Hill Center on May 3rd from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM, and I’ll show you why personal storytelling is effective, how others have used it to great success, and help you uncover your own “Story of Me.” Sign up here.

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Startup Showcase: Instruments in the Cloud

By Krysten Alberg, James J. Hill Center Marketing Coordinator

Quality music education doesn’t come cheap. With even used musical instruments costing anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, cost is a major barrier to students’ access to music education.

Vega Productions believes in musical equality for all, and so it developed Instruments in the Cloud, a site that allows owners of once-loved but no-longer-in-use musical instruments to donate those instruments to music programs in need.

Entrepreneur snapshot:

Caitlin Marlotte heads Vega Productions, which runs Instruments in the Cloud. (Photo courtesy James J. Hill Center)
Caitlin Marlotte heads Vega Productions, which runs Instruments in the Cloud.

Name: Caitlin Marlotte
Age: 38
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: Minneapolis
High school attended: Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities
College attended: Indiana University-Bloomington and University of Wisconsin-Madison

Company snapshot:
Vega Productions, makers of Instruments in the Cloud
Website: http://instrumentsinthecloud.org
Twitter: @vegaproductions
Business Start Date: January 2015
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: 275 music educators and 280 musical instrument donors

Caitlin Marlotte is executive director of Vega Productions and co-founder of Instruments in the Cloud. She joined Vega Productions in 2015, taking over for founder Mark Gehring, who moved on to start GNDWire Records.

Caitlin is a violinist and apprentice violin maker, and has focused her career on development, marketing, and strategy in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Before leading Vega Productions, Caitlin worked at Twin Cities Public Television.

Read the Q&A here.

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National Library Week

By Leah Kodner, Business Reference Librarian

As you may or may not know, April 10-16 is National Library Week, and the librarians at The Hill are pretty excited. The theme for this year’s National Library Week is “Libraries Transform.” The point of the “Libraries Transform” theme is to encourage librarians and library users to consider the ways in which their libraries transform the community. So how does The Hill transform its community?

national library week

We transform job seekers into employees

Using databases like Gale DemographicsNow, our librarians help you find tailored lists of companies in your chosen industry and in any part of the state or country. Other databases provide in-depth information about those companies, so that if you get an interview, you’re well prepared to talk knowledgeably about the company’s history, strengths, and recent developments. We also have several books available to help you build amazing resumes.

We transform ideas into business plans

When you come to the library to research your business plan, the task can seem overwhelming. Our librarians take the time to show you how to use the databases you’ll need. We show you how to use Gale DemographicsNow to find a list of competitors and demographic information about your target audience. We show you IBISWorld to provide you with the industry trends and statistics you need. We introduce you to IndustriusCFO to help you with financial projections. Finally, we bring you to Bplans, where you can put it all together into a business plan template. With our help, business plans go from insurmountable tasks to finished products.

We transform startup-stage businesses into growth-stage businesses

Our usefulness doesn’t end once your business is off the ground, because even established business owners need information to grow their businesses. You can keep up with industry trends and competitor news using EBSCO. You can build new client lists with Gale DemographicsNow. You can learn about developments in your industry and its expected growth rate in IBISWorld. You can come to our Business @ The Hill Speaker Series to hone your marketing or leadership skills. You can build a targeted list of venture capital firms using PrivCo, if you need funds to expand. Whatever information you need to take your business to the next level, we can help you find it.

We transform individual business owners into an entrepreneurial community

All business owners need a good network. The right network can support you when business is bad and can help you to troubleshoot problems and try out new ideas. And that is exactly what 1 Million Cups does!  It gives entrepreneurs a safe space to practice their pitches and provides them with valuable feedback from the entrepreneurial community. This is a network you can really use to support yourself and your business, and you can find it at The Hill every Wednesday morning from 9:00-10:00.

Clearly, The Hill library is doing its bit to transform the community. Pay us a visit and help us celebrate National Library Week! The James J. Hill Center is open Monday-Thursday from 10-5.

Learn more about National Library Week: http://www.ala.org/conferencesevents/celebrationweeks/natlibraryweek

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Then and Now: Hill Throughout History

By Barry Gisser, James J. Hill Center Board Member

Federal Reserve policy sure has been in the news lately. Doves and Hawks and pundits of all species try to glean the truth from each and every word uttered by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen with regard to what the U.S. central banker might do to set the country’s monetary policy. One of the biggest levers the central bank has is its ability to sell or redeem government securities, like bonds, and that helps set direction for many things down the line in which we use debt to live. . . from a car loan to a leveraged buyout of a company that makes ketchup!  I had an inkling James J. Hill would have some thoughts on how tightly anyone (including our central bank) should manage the purse strings and sure enough, I found a “hint” in Hill’s address to the Investment Bankers Association of America Convention of 1913.

hill april 4

Photo courtesy Oregon History Project

“Always  in any properly financed undertaking, the limit of a bond issue is the total cash value of tangible property in possession; not its value for the uses to which it is being or is to be put, but its value as an asset for immediate conversion by forced sale at any time into cash. Under this rule the investor might rest secure. The worst that could happen to him would be to have to take over this property, in case of receivership, wind up the business and get back his money.”

On one hand, not a surprise from someone who had a lot of cash on hand. But for someone who believed so deeply in the ability of the hard working individual’s ability to make something of himself (sorry it was not also herself) it seems a bit of a surprise that Hill wasn’t more sensitive to the role of debt in building something big. Who knows, maybe he just wanted to send a “special” message to the investment bankers of the day.

Some of the historical headlines look different and some may look familiar, but the James J. Hill Center is here to help business by delivering its non-profit mission of Supporting Business, Entrepreneurs, and Community. Learn more at www.jjhill.org.


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Patrons with accessibility needs please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit.