The Big Idea (a Camp Counselor's Guide to Inspiration at Portent)

I am a camp counselor.  You know the kind: clipboard in hand, singing loud and off-key, with a huge smile plastered on my (no-makeup) face.  I know all of the ways to identify a Cedar tree, how to cook beef stew in aluminum foil on the campfire, and the best bed-time stories for a 12 year-old.  I know the cure for the occasional case of homesickness and often think I am invincible to inclement weather.

Growing up as a camper, then a camp counselor, and now a trainer of counselors has taught me many lessons.  The parallels of working with sixth grade campers to working with marketing professionals are more than I care to admit.

One of the things I loved at Camp was that we started off each morning with a “Big Idea”.  It was a concept that we wanted everyone to consider throughout that day.  It could be a reminder of our broader natural environment, but it most often had to do with the relationships that were quickly forming.

Today, I have not put down the clipboard.  As a member of the Executive Team at Portent, I share in the great responsibility of helping our company move forward and grow. (Frankly, it’s one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had – more on that another time).  Recently, we closed the office to hold an all-company retreat.  I sat in the back of the room and watch my colleagues share their ideas for an “ideal agency”.  The activity sparked for me an idea that pulls Camp right into our working life… the concept of The Big Idea for our agency.

Please let me introduce this concept:

  • The Big Idea is one single thought for our whole organization to consider together.
  • Big Ideas should not be actionable, as in a programmatic “ask” of folks to DO anything other than to discuss and consider implementing.
  • Big Ideas are more about people than about service lines or offerings.  They are meant to drive culture and simpatico for a bigger mission.
  • Big Ideas can evolve into bigger initiatives, a vision, or even full-time roles that support the concept, but that is not the motive.
  • Big Ideas should be iterative and renewed regularly.  (We’ll do it monthly)
  • A Big Idea shouldn’t have any barriers to entry such as budget or authority to implement.
  • Most importantly, Big Ideas are shared to inspire people.


These are truly the Big Ideas we are sparking at Portent.  They will be honest and transparent, which may reveal more than we would normally would about what’s not working behind our doors.  But we believe that by sharing what we are talking about internally, that we will build a community of supporters who will contribute to our agency transformation.

Our Commitment

This will be a series of posts that we will issue as a memo to our teams first, and then here on the Portent blog.  Our Executive Team will all contribute to these Big Ideas – but it won’t stop there.  Anyone at Portent, or any of our clients who wish to contribute, are welcome to offer a Big Idea.  Our aim is clear: to crowd-source inspiration.  With that, join me in this journey of consideration and “the camp spirit”.

The Big Idea #1: “We All Come With Positive Intent”

So often we are quick to blame and judge.  “She did a terrible job on the monthly report, I don’t know if she’s committed.”  “He really bobbled that client call, should he be in this role?”  It’s natural for us to go to that negative place of distrust when we are unsatisfied with our peers’ performance.  We are too often focused on the effect that someone’s action (or inaction) has on us. But consider, rather, a person’s intent.

“Positive Intent” simply means that someone’s innate intentions are to achieve the most positive result.  Applied here at Portent, we know folks are not out to miss deadlines, or let down teammates with less-than-epic performance.  Leaders aren’t trying to cause confusion nor stress.  We know things happen.  There are external distractions to weigh (e.g. life) or our team member may have a skills gap.  There may also be anxieties or emotional cues interrupting success, especially if a relationship is built on distrust. Communication styles and priorities may differ.  But the concept of “prove first, trust second” is what we are challenging this month.

If we believe from the start that our peers will under-achieve or that they have ulterior motives, it’s certain to taint our interaction.  However, if we come into the room with the belief that they have the intention of success, our relationships dramatically change shape.  Bonds are built in the trenches of empathy and a shared goal.  This is where transformation and creativity take place.

Beyond that, we want Portent to foster a culture of belief in possibility. A place where people are admired for what they do bring, not what they lack.  Let’s build these walls with brick and mortar from our own positive intentions. Because, frankly, we will make a get-through-the-trenches-worthy workplace.

This is no easy task.  Let’s be mindful this month to, first, switch our mental default to a positive resting place.  Then, realize that others are all doing the same.  Hopefully our habits (and relationships) will start to change, fortified by trust.


TL;DR Big Idea #1: Participate in relationships believing that others are coming with Positive Intent first, and let us bring Positive Intent to the forefront of our own actions.

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