Born to Be a Unicorn

Unicorns are hard to find, but once hired, have the potential to offer up enormous benefits in the workplace and take your product to the next level. These Unicorns do exist and are worth the time and effort it takes to recruit them and the willingness to open up, make them feel safe, and listen to what they have to say. Because they have gained many talents from across the world, across industries, and across professions. They are true leaders in that they never stop, and never stop wanting to, learn.

”In Scotland during the middle ages, the Unicorn was symbolic of the battle for independence, and today is the official animal of Scotland.
One distinct quality about unicorns we’ve clung to is their rarity. People talk about spotting a Unicorn or finding a Unicorn as something that is extremely rare.”
-Diana Peterfreund, author of two popular books about Unicorns

The Unicorn of Scotland symbolized purity, healing powers, joy and even life itself, and was also seen as a symbol of power and the battle for independence.

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This particular type of an employee, a Unicorn, gets overlooked far too often: those who possess a unique set of qualities that make them extremely rare and valuable.

What it Means to be a Unicorn

They never say it’s not in their job description. Unicorns will come out of nowhere. They will not be hindered by their respective departments, titles, positions, and job descriptions. They will go forth where they feel they will add value, and contribute unabashedly and fully not to impress but because it fulfills them.

Skills can be learned, and leadership can be transferred. A Unicorn will thrive wherever he or she is put. If they’re interested in other areas of expertise, and feel like it can become part of their high value activities, they don’t hesitate to extend assistance.

In the span of five years, HootSuite went from a 100-person tech start-up to a 1,000-person global company. Through this stage of “hyper-growth,” employees who truly flourished were flexible and intellectually curious.

At HootSuite, this meant having the ability to wear many hats and excel at varied tasks. For example, just because somebody’s job title was “office administrator,” didn’t mean she would shy away from helping brainstorm some catchy social media updates for a major marketing campaign.

As the company grew, Unicorns jumped at the chance to dive deeper into specific, growing areas of the business. It wasn’t uncommon for a Financial Assistant to become a Software Engineer, for example.

This is so important to employee growth, that HootSuite recently launched a pilot initiative, called the “Stretch Program,” to help employees expand their expertise across the business.

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They have the grit to get what they want. A Unicorn isn’t a superstar. Whereas a superstar is defined as someone who comes on really strong in the beginning, but whose light fades away once the going gets tough.

A Unicorn, on the other hand, has the intangible “grit” to endure even when the climb is difficult. They don’t give up on the first few hitches that come their way, when the constant praises of their boss have long waned. A unicorn employee will persist amidst failures, and even then, will stubbornly never give up.

To a Unicorn, there is always more to be done. There are more problems to be solved. There are more business records to break. In a way, this rarity thrives on challenges. This is a helpful and healthy perspective.

Angela Duckworth, author of “Grit and Perseverance”, defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” and says it’s a crucial factor to achieving success. Whether it’s rough waves or an unexpected storm, you’re going to be tested, constantly. During turbulent times, grit can help keep you focused on the destination.

Unicorns exemplify this kind of fortitude, and are able stay calm and focused on the task at hand, even on choppy seas.

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They see the big picture and the details. Exceptional employees are able to think strategically. They have the ability to take a step back and see the overall company goals, or the industry as a whole, then apply it to their work. To be effective in business, you must be able to see the big picture.

On the flip-side, the best employees know the devil is in the details. Another uncommon trait that a Unicorn has is the ability to look at the big picture, then zone in to the small details, when necessary. Running a business requires meticulous attention. A minor copyright issue, improperly executed email campaign, or even what seems like a small technical glitch can be catastrophic, affecting a lot of clients in a short time. The best employees are those who take the time to read the fine print.

Some will consider this a skill that can be honed, while others will consider this as a talent. Whichever the case, because of the stellar performance of Unicorns, they are often entrusted with huge responsibilities. Even amidst doing this, one part of him or her still doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture, and understands that while small crucial steps are necessary, it is only a part in a definitive value chain.

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They think of themselves as an internal consultant. They are more than just an employee. Consultants are hired to assess a current situation and create action plans for improvement and to add more value to the business. They are paid for their expertise and their calm, professional demeanor, especially in times of difficulty.

They become an expert in something. People turn to the experts for advice and to solve problems. They look for areas in their organization where they can put their skills to use and become an expert. They look for ways they can go above and beyond the daily requirements.

They share their knowledge with others. They coordinate several lunch hour sessions where they provide training to others in the organization in their area of expertise.

They mentor others. They offer to mentor others within their organization.

They volunteer. They raise their hand and volunteer for cross-functional projects and work assignments where they can use their skills to help other employees, while demonstrating their abilities.

They offer to help coworkers. They don’t wait for someone to approach them; they pitch in when it appears they might be able to extend some help. They don’t expect any return favors – they help others because they want to, not because they expect something in return.

They become a speaker at local association meetings. They look outside the company for opportunities to gain visibility within their industry.

They write about their area of expertise. They contribute to their company’s website or industry association blogs. Doing so can help others, demonstrate your skills and also promote your personal brand to a wider audience.

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They find a way to move the needle. A few years back, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner sent out a short status update on his platform: “In simplest terms possible, the people I most enjoy working with dream big, get sh*t done, and know how to have fun.”

The update struck a chord with tens of thousands of people who commented and liked it. I am also a huge proponent of having fun at work and believe it’s crucial to success. However, I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the job done. No matter how great a co-worker is to be around, if he can’t produce results, his presence isn’t helpful and may even be damaging to others. Great teams can be shattered by a single member who can’t “get sh*t done.”

Studies have shown that top performers contribute to a business 10 times more than their average counterparts. Some firms, including Microsoft, claim that figure to be as high as 100. At the end of the day, you can be respectful, multi-talented, tenacious, detail-oriented and a big thinker. But if you don’t produce real results and move the needle, all those traits are wasted. You must be able to execute. It’s an essential unicorn quality.

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They know their own value. These signs you’re a Unicorn may be misinterpreted as arrogant or condescending. On the contrary, these employees are intrinsically respectful of their fellow workers and their work environment. A Unicorn is not a diva. This is what makes him or her such an anomaly. Because while they know their value in the workforce, they also realize that they cannot achieve greatness alone.

Humility may be an underrated virtue (excuse the irony) but even HootSuite values it so much that it is one of its core values: “Lead with humility.” and “Respect the individual.”

Many people mistakenly focus on being the big personality in the office, the one who’s the most fun at Christmas parties, the one people talk to endlessly by the water cooler But amidst the high fives and bro hugs, the most basic sign you’re a Unicorn is that you produce results.

Many employers, including Microsoft, believe in the unequal distribution of input and output among their employees as stated in the Pareto principle, that only 20% of the employee base produce 80% of the output. If you’re showing signs you’re a Unicorn, you may well be part of the 20% who actually gets something done.

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They are kind. The ability to work well with others is a skill that benefits any workplace. It seems simple enough, but you’d be surprised how often this is lacking. Unicorn employees are respectful by nature, and would not treat anyone — regardless of title — in this way. It sets a stellar employee apart from an average one.

Yes, Unicorns are hard to catch. In the 16th century, it was believed only fair young maidens could gain the trust of these elusive creatures. For companies and business leaders, it’s worth the time and effort to chase Unicorns. Unlike their mythical counterparts, they’re very real and they can help change your company.

Authentically Authentic

Are we really able to be our authentic selves or are we still being “told” how to be authentic?

I’ve been wanting to write an article like this, a series of articles actually, for a long time, but of course, I’ve been too afraid to. Too afraid of what? To say how I really feel, of course. Because being myself, saying what I really think or feel, being authentic, will just get me in trouble with someone, I’m sure.

But, I’m just going to stick my toe in the water here and post something short and see how this goes. :-/


A part of me has gotten to a point where…how does she put it? You country music fans might be familiar with this line from Jo Dee Messina…

”My Give A Damn’s Busted.”

I’ve been interviewing and interviewing for a new job for three and half months now. I don’t do things half-assed. I put my everything into it and I don’t know how much longer I can do this, quite honestly. I have the expertise, I have the passion, I’m a kind, loyal, dedicated, hard-working person (even though I was told I was “mean” for the first time in my life by a senior-level director, someone quite honestly who didn’t even really know me). I’m getting worse and worse at my interviews because I’m so exhausted and depressed.

I think I could probably write a screen play about my life and all the crazy, unbelievable, rude, outrageous, shitty, self-serving, and yeah, kinda humorous (now that I look back), things I’ve been through. But, hey, I got back up and I’m still kickin’ it! A little pissed off and resentful, but I’m learning to let it go, and I’ve actually learned some pretty valuable lessons about life and people and strength and resiliency through these experiences. And I’ve sought out and received invaluable help from new resources I’ve discovered and support from new friends and connections I’ve been blessed with. Nothing happens without one door closing or by mistake.

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.”                                                             ~  Ralph Nader

~ My new favorite resource and quote is from Brené Brown. I wish I would have heard this one a long time ago! This runs through my head a LOT!!! Very helpful…and SO true. 🙂

“If they’re not also in the arena getting their ass kicked too, then their opinion doesn’t matter.”

~ My new work theme:

“Let It Go”

Back to being authentic, I remember writing an email. Just a short, quick email in which I intended to be authentic and my boss, who shall remain nameless, insisted on “proofing” it and “mentoring me” on how to “proof” my messages. To delete all the “justs” and “maybes” because she thought I was too tentative in my communication style. By the time we were done “proofing” my message it didn’t sound authentically like me at all. A message that is authentically me, from my heart, is one which just pours out, and is natural, in my voice, not something that’s been doctored, and edited by someone who isn’t even inside my head.

This stuff really gets to me and I don’t understand why we can’t just be ourselves. What’s wrong with that??? Are we really so bad just the way we are?

My Rescripting Project

This is “My Rescripting Project” because it is a transformational (or rescripting) process that I am going through in many different areas (ARENAS) of my life.

I am literally re-writing my career, transitioning and rescripting my personal brand, and reinventing my roadmap for my future…my future career, my outlook on life at work, home, as a parent, a co-worker, a leader, and a friend.

As I mentioned above, the word “ARENAS”…I’m rescripting my life based on different ARENAS that I want to SHOW UP in, BE SEEN, and LIVE BRAVE. This is how I want to live my life going forward…the DARING WAY.


I want to strive to do a better job of being more present for my kids, taking better care of myself and my health, doing a better job of staying on top of things around my house, making more of an effort to make personal connections, and developing and evolving my career…all of it is a very personal journey, My Rescripting Project, that I am going to share.

I truly am re-writing or reinventing the way I think, going through some deep, thoughtful personal discovery and self-awareness, gaining insight to clearly identify and analyze potential career options to help get a better feel for what fields or careers I should focus on pursuing.

I am also gaining strength and bravery through my resources and connections as I learn about the teachings of Brené Brown. This is where I’m diving into defining my ARENAS, learning to be vulnerable and to have self-compassion, learning about resilience, which I discovered I already have…I have fallen and gotten back up, put myself together, gone straight back out there and did what I had to do, most of the time better, so many times.

This is going to require a lot of courage, vulnerability, and bravery. I’m carrying with me my shields of resilience, self-compassion, and authenticity. And, I’m going to remember this quote from Brené Brown which resonated with me the second I heard it and it literally made me laugh out loud. I’ve already used it dozens of times and it works because it is SO true:

I don’t give up. If there is one quality about me, one strength that I know I have for sure, it is persistence. And that is how I want to live my life and how I hope my children live theirs.

With intention, purpose, and hope. I love Brené Brown’s definition of hope:

I don’t want to be afraid to be me, my authentic self, and to be appreciated for being me. That is the only way we can make true connections, and I have missed out on too many of those over my lifetime, being too afraid to be me. From now on, I plan to create real connections. After all, it is one of my top 5 themes identified in the Clifton Strengths Finder. And I believe it, if I believe in myself:

Through the Bounce Back Project, I have attended The Daring Way and Rising Strong programs, and through Brené Brown and Courage Works, I have now become Brave Leader Recognized. Being a Brave Leader means I am certified and able to coach in the following areas. with access to the learning materials and resources:

Daring Leadership: The Four Pillars of Courage


    Facing risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure with courage and clarity


    Identifying, operationalizing, and practicing the beliefs that we hold most important


    Creating or deepening connections in relationships and teams based on the seven elements of trust


    Learning and growing from the failures, setbacks, and disappointments that are inevitable when we are brave with our lives

  • 10 Courage Deep Dives 

    1. Empathy 1: The Power of Connection in the Workplace
    2. Empathy 2: The Six Most Common Barriers to Empathy and Connection
    3. Overcoming Perfectionism: Putting Down the Armor that Gets in the Way of Good Work
    4. Backed into a Corner: The Power of Leading from Connection and the Dangers of Using Shame as a Management Tool
    5. Never Enough: Confronting Scarcity in Individuals, Teams, and Organizations
    6. Rising Strong Part 1: Resetting After Disappointments, Setbacks, or Failures
    7. Rising Strong Part 2: Braver, Smarter, Stronger
    8. Assuming Positive Intent: The BIG Work of Putting Generosity into Practice
    9. Daring Feedback 1: How to Give Courageous Feedback
    10. Daring Feedback 2: The Courageous Way to Receive Feedback


This is a journey, not a destination, but at this point so far in My Rescripting Project, I feel like I am ready to:



The purpose of my portfolio is to provide insight into my work style and my approach to solving business challenges. As you will see, my main focus is on not leaving the needs of the most important stakeholders, our users, behind.

Please see my resume for more details on my professional background Here you will find more of a narrative summary about me. I have included below the best illustration I have found that describes how all my interests and background and areas of expertise comes together. It is from Earley & Associates, a resource I use frequently.

Me 2

As a consultant for much of my career, I have been successful in many roles. I have been lucky to have been exposed to all of these subject matter areas in the image above and I believe they all overlap each other and intersect and compliment each other and need to work together. It has been so helpful in my career to have knowledge in all three of these phases of a solution: the content itself and the content strategy; the framework and foundation; and the page layouts, navigational flow and the features and functions that will provide the best user experience. Then the developers bring it to life for me and the designers make it beautiful.

I am on the Board of Directors of the MN Chapter of AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management). This is an association that provides the tools, resources, knowledge and subject matter expertise for any and all professionals that deal with information and images in any capacity. Those in UX Design, Information Architecture, Business Intelligence, Digital Asset Management, Content Analytics, Business Process Management, Information Governance, Content Management, Image Processing & Management, Knowledge Management, Web Content Management, etc. I’m helping set the standards and best practices for this association and build a new, more social, interactive and collaborative website and guide the direction we will go as a member-driven umbrella of experts to connect the community of information and image professionals.

My Approach to Accessing Knowledge 

I  use innovative methods to identify my user’s needs in addition to traditional stakeholder interviews. Not only does it make requirements gathering sessions more fun, but it gets users more engaged, more interested, thinking more, participating more and contributing more.

Examples of Elicitation Techniques

I believe gathering requirements is all about asking questions, digging deep, being curious, focusing on the user’s intent, listening, asking why, then asking more questions to make sure you’ve covered things your stakeholders may not have thought of.  Anticipating a ‘need’ that someone has in a way that is planned and deliberate is the key to designing a user interface that is intuitive, a.k.a. a great user experience.

Elicitation Techniques

Card Sorting Examples

Following are photos from several card sort sessions that I held at Stearns County in late 2013 to identify user needs across the organization on the redesign of the county-wide Intranet.

First we brainstormed about what type of content we would need to be able to find on the Intranet, which was also serving as a gateway to our Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system.



Then we did a card sort exercise to group all our content into categories. This information could be gathered and analyzed and could be transformed into a site map.

Then a group of IT professionals got together and did their own card sort to help define the Intranet/ECM taxonomy.

Speedboat Examples

Ground rules of a Speedboat session are:

  • Don’t put your name on your sticky notes.
  • Be honest.
  • Share your thoughts.
  • Hold off on problem solving.

The following examples are from various organizations, left to right: J&B Group, results from a process analysis that was done of their current processes; Travel Leaders, used this form of gathering requirements as another way to get different answers from the same set of stakeholders; Stearns County, focus on providing a high-quality enterprise-wide service.

Sketching Examples

Sketching during whiteboarding and/or brainstorming sessions helps visualize features and functions and other elements. Following are some examples from different requirements gathering sessions. From left to right: Hennepin County LOB Template, Hennepin County Capture and Search, Microsoft OEM Dashboard, Microsoft OEM Page Layout

Following are a few whiteboarding sessions that were captured at TCF Bank in 2015. I facilitated these sessions to define the process and a home page for a site that was requested for managing the process around security certificate renewals in IT.

I Create Precise Documentation

Attractive, accurate and well-written documents can help illustrate user journeys, process flows and research outcomes. They not only provide the narrative user story behind the wireframes but also the framework behind the technical layout and structure, the plans behind the testing and implementation, the supporting documentation behind the training and communication, policies and procedures and the templates behind the initial request forms and requirements documents.


Requirements Documentation

Following are examples of high-level requirements that I documented in my current position as a SharePoint Business Systems Analyst at Winthrop Resources. The following two projects involved helping Accounts Payable and the Credit department improve their processes to reduce paper and saving content to their shared drives.

[Insert Prospect Management Site Requirements Here]

The following document captures the high-level requirements for an idea/innovation management and collaboration site. This site serves as an area where employees can submit ideas, peers rate one another’s ideas, top ideas rise to the top, management scores top ideas using weighted ratings spread across different criteria and discovers leading ideas to put into action. There is also a Discussion Board where employees can talk to one another, discuss topics, solve problems and discover solutions.

Link to Scanning Solution Requirements
[Insert Idea Management Site Requirements Here]


Following are some examples of user personas I have created to represent intended users of a system or application.

Toad World User Personas

[Insert more User Persona samples here.]

Governance Plans

[Insert samples here.]


[Insert samples here.]

When I talk about documentation, that also includes wireframes. Wireframes help visualize page layouts, navigational flows, interactions, features and functions.


Idea Management Site

Following are wireframes I quickly threw together in Visio in my current role as a SharePoint Business Systems Analyst at Winthrop Resources. These were used as a visual aid in team meetings when discussing the Idea Management site we were building.

< Insert Link to Idea Management Wireframes >

Microsoft Partner Consolidated Experience Prototype

Following are interactive prototypes that I created for Microsoft while working as a User Experience Architect at Gage Marketing in early 2015.

Link to Microsoft OEM Interactive Prototype

Walmart Interactive Statement of Ethics Site

Following are wireframes that I created while working as a User Experience Architect at Gage Marketing in early 2015. These wireframes were for a key content center we were creating for Walmart to design an Interactive Statement of Ethics.

Progression of wireframes from low-fidelity to higher-fidelity:

Link to Walmart Interactive Wireframes (very rough draft version).


The following are wireframes that I created while working as a User Experience Architect at Gage Marketing in early 2015. These wireframes were created for 3M’s Industrial Marketing Campaign for a new product launch.

Zep Craft Brewing Site

The following are wireframes that I created while working as a User Experience Architect at Gage Marketing in early 2015. These wireframes were created for Zep Craft Brewing to launch their line of cleaning products.

Link to Zep Craft Brewing Interactive Prototypes

Stearns County Intranet

Following are the wireframes and a separate document containing the annotations for the Stearns County Intranet Project that I was the Project Lead and Information Architect for from 2013 – 2014.

Link to Stearns County Wireframes
Link to Stearns County Wireframe Annotations

Toad World

Following are wireframes I created while working as a UX Designer at RBA Consulting in early 2013. Using Axure 6.5 RP Pro, I created these wireframes for Dell to create a more socially engaging experience for their users.

This is the Functional Specification document which includes all the wireframes and annotations describing the functionality of the features:

Link to Toad World Functional Specifications (Wireframes with Annotations)

Navistar International Truck Configurator

Following are wireframes I created as an Information Architect at RBA Consulting in late 2012. Using Axure 6.5 RP Pro, I created these wireframes for Navistar International to create a truck configurator so their clients could build a custom truck before stepping foot in the dealer.

< Insert Link to Navistar Functional Specs here. >

 Blue Cross Blue Shield Mobile App

Here I have included some wireframes from a mobile app I worked on while at RBA as an Information Architect. There is a Functional Specifications document with the wireframes and annotations and a Features document which lists each feature and weighs the user priority and technical complexity of each one and assigns its scope within the project.

Practice What You Preach

As Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches and Agile Leaders…we need to MODEL Agile behaviors…


  • Make decisions behind each other’s backs.
  • Tell team members what to do, remember we’re all adults and we are self-managing, we don’t need to tell each other whether or not we’re allowed to check our email, etc.
  • Raise impediments to the group. If you have an issue, RAISE it. Don’t let it fester or go running off talking about it to someone else.
  • Go back on our word, promises, or commitments made.

These kinds of things ruin trust that has been established. Please treat each other as adults, with respect, and as we teach our teams we’re supposed to treat each other. Modeling, and actually “being”, is the best form of teaching. Being the opposite of what you’re teaching is the best form of being a fraud.