January 18, 2022



Over the years, SmallBox has developed philosophies that guide us in our work. We call them “Boxisms.” They keep us grounded and focused on what’s essential. As we navigate through our changing world together (and apart), we sincerely hope that they can also provide a sense of purpose and inspiration to you.


#1 Do Great Things.

Don’t equate greatness with perfection. Failure is a core ingredient of greatness. To do something great, you must first do it poorly. Then learn humbly from each failure and work up to mastery. Once you have mastery, you’re ready for greatness – but mastery is not enough. 

To do truly great things, you must do them for the right reason – serving others. Don’t rob yourself of the transformative experience of doing good for others. When we do good for others we do great things.


#2 Design What Matters.

The world doesn’t need more stuff. It’s chock-full of it. When you bring something into the world – whether it be a new product, company or design – take a moment to ask, “Why?” 

Does this improve the lives of real people? Is it adding value or just creating noise? Pull back and dig deeper – maybe you haven’t solved an actual problem. Design that doesn’t solve a real problem is only adding clutter to an already cluttered world. Find time every day to step back from your work and ask, “Will this improve the lives of the people we’re designing for?”


#3 Listen to Learn.

You don’t have all the answers. Sure, you might agree in principle, but most days you live life like you know it all. After all, grown-ups are supposed to know what’s going on and asking questions makes it feel like we don’t have it together. 

If you want to know what’s really going on you have to listen deeply. Check your biases and assumptions at the door, and be fully present with another human being. 

Get into their world. Feel what they feel. Be transformed by their perspective. Be moved by their story. Only when we fully give ourselves over to another person’s experiences can we learn what we need to solve their problems.


#4 Set the Table.

Begin with intention. Consider what you want to accomplish before you begin the journey. Whether that journey is a meeting, a project, or something larger – bring intentionality to everything you do. 

Consider what went well, and what didn’t. Use this reflection to inform and design the next experience. Consider the energy you want people to feel in addition to addressing the issues and concerns blocking the way. Make it safe for everyone to speak up or push back in their own way. If you start with intention, you’ll set the table for success. 


#5 Get your Hands Dirty.

Don’t get too comfortable. Don’t get stuck behind your desk – get up and out into the world. Talk to people. Experience what they experience, firsthand. It won’t always be easy, but to empathize, you need to put yourself in another’s shoes. 

Technology and tools are no replacement for experiencing actual people. So don’t phone it in – make yourself available. Be vulnerable and human with everyone you work with. Roll up your sleeves and work side by side. Let them own the solution. 

Be willing to let go of your share of the credit. To do great work, we must be willing to get our hands dirty. 


#6 Embrace Ambiguity.

The world is a fuzzy place. We live in a gray zone most of the time. Accept it. You can never completely know everything about people – from an individual’s behavior, to a community’s challenges, to an organization’s opportunities. 

No matter how much time you spend, you’ll always be left with unanswered questions. It can be incredibly frustrating, but don’t give up. People are worth the trouble – and helping solve real problems is worth wading through seas of ambiguity. Dig in and take the work as far as you can with the time you have. Don’t regret what you didn’t do. Celebrate all that you did.


#7 Build Together.

There is a time for focused work. Headphones-on work. But great things are rarely built in isolation. John needed Yoko, Jobs needed Wozniak, Tina needed Amy. 

Magic happens when people come together to build something new. You begin to work as one unit, one brain – from a great basketball team to an experienced orchestra. 

Moving together effortlessly is beautiful, but it takes practice and vulnerability. And a persistent willingness to put shared vision ahead of one’s own ego.


#8 Stories Matter.

Humans are wired for stories – it’s deep in our DNA. Stories aren’t just our greatest invention – they’re powerful tools. They connect us, reveal meaning, change our minds, and create memories. 

Storytelling is uniquely human – to understand another human being we need to listen to their story. When we listen, we give them an invaluable gift. We make them feel understood, loved, and real. We connect to each other through emotion. Remember that every story has value. 


#9 Keep It Human.

We’re all human. Our daily lives allow us to connect, serve, play, and interact with others. It’s human nature to feel, to find connections through language and shared experiences, no matter our background or culture.

We learn, we seek to understand, we build, and we adapt. Our work should reflect this. It’s not about a bottom-line, it’s about doing right by people. It’s being vulnerable and authentic. It’s finding purpose and standing behind it. It is the best of who we are and who we serve.


#10 Deconstruct it.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by complexity. And the world is a complex place, especially when people are involved. When you feel panic begin to take over, step back and remember that every whole is made up of parts. 

Break it down – see how the parts work, or how they interact with each other, whether they’re individual people, groups, or tools and services. Visualize it – define them, map them, make a list or draw connections. Don’t burden yourself with solving their problems, start by making sense of what’s going on. When we deconstruct complexity, patterns and opportunities for change emerge. 


#11 See the Possibilities.

There are two ways to look at the world – you can see problems or you can see possibilities. And there is a time to see the problems. You can’t ignore them, they’re real and must be acknowledged and addressed. 

But, if we stay in that mindset we risk falling into despair and nothing will be changed. So we must actively protect our ability to see what is possible. To imagine a better way or a different world – no matter the people, systems, or spaces involved. We’re at our best when we help others see possibilities in their lives and work.


#12 Live it Up.

Live life with intention. Embrace the small joys and pursue the big challenges. We aren’t here to merely exist, but to use our lives in ways that make our selves and our communities better. And while we’re at it, why not have a little fun along the way.