Field Reports: Everyday Behaviors that Matter

We are big fans of action and how mindset and behaviors show up in the real world. It is so inspirational and energizing to see people create, collaborate and innovate in everyday situations – there are many lessons and valuable nuggets we can gain by just paying attention to and appreciating human ingenuity, creativity and the power of a mindset. So, we are excited to share with you over the next few months some of our observations and celebrate the successes of people and organizations we see around us who get things done in an interesting way, embrace a mindset of discovery and create solutions and value for those around them. These field reports are dedicated to the human beings who choose to act, move forward, make choices and leave a positive footprint, as opposed to being passive observers or critics. Way to go humans!

CHUTES and LADDERS: Renovation Innovations

This fall the BNW team experienced first-hand that the ability to think creatively and act as an accountable innovator does not have to be in your job description, to create tremendous value for your clients. John Sweeney and Jenni Lilledahl (co-owners of the BNW) purchased a historic building downtown Minneapolis thus expanding the BNW campus to creating inspiring spaces for the Student Union’s improv classes (BNW’s school of improvisation) and Creative Outreach’s corporate training programs. They partnered with Watson Forsberg and Ed Farr Architects to renovate the 1920’s building and highlight its original structure and spirit.

Construction and renovation projects may seem predictable and regulated, but the reality is that unexpected turns of events, last minute considerations and unforeseen challenges require teams to adjust, solve and collaborate on the fly to keep the project on time and on budget. The team on this project did just that with great success, but the hero of this story is an individual whose title did not require him to think outside of the norm, but his mindset drove him to innovate, create and ultimately delight the BNW owners.


Imagine renovating a century-old, 5-story building, removing slabs of cement, asbestos, layers of tile and drywall then finding a method to discard all the refuse from each floor. (Mind you, the century-old building is on a bustling city street in Minneapolis.) Now picture enough rubble that would eventually fill 20 large construction dumpsters. How does one move all that rubble to the ground floor when the only way down is a passenger elevator that hardly fits a single wheelbarrow? One word: Mike.

Mike, the construction superintendent, is a shy, guy’s guy who likes to wear Carhartt. He works in a union environment that typically sticks to 7am-3pm workday with breaks and lunch as scheduled. On the project team Mike is so to speak a middle-manager, responsible for taking direction from the architect, engineers and general contractor and ensuring the workers are executing appropriately. Thankfully for the 727 Hennepin Avenue project, Mike is also a natural innovator who takes things into his own hands, and does not wait for a directive to improve a process. The rubble removal was supposed to take 10-12 days for a crew of 8 laborers, which was a significant portion of the project timeline. Mike knew he needed to drill holes in the existing floor for future renovation purposes and realized that if he punched holes in floors 3 and 4 he could create a chute to move the rubble from the 4th floor down through the 3rd floor, onto the 2nd floor and out the window to the dumpsters in the alley. Moreover, Mike used what we had on hand – old AC ducts and other leftover materials to construct the chute. Not only did Mike solve the challenge of moving all the rubble more efficiently, he also saved time and effort, which resulted in thousands of dollars in savings (Cue the “Hallelujah” choir.)

In short: Mike didn’t focus on what he didn’t have (a larger elevator, a bigger team, a more lax timeline, a crane etc.), but he did focus on on what needed to happen (remove the rubble) and then reverse engineered a brilliant solution using what he had on hand (debris and demo equipment). We refer to this process as reframing. Nowhere in Mike’s job description or task list is there something called “innovate solutions to save time and money,” but Mike did exactly that without asking for permission or waiting for direction from his leaders.


Mike was also in charge of supervising a team of eight demolition workers whose typical roles and responsibilities are even more prescribed and directed than Mike’s. When it came time to get their instructions about what wall covering and plaster needed to be demolished, John and Jenni made a point of instilling their trust in them. This team is often at the bottom of the ‘construction chain of command,’ but John and Jenni shifted their paradigm and put the accountability for the demolition in their hands. John simply requested, “We want the demolition work to appear ‘intentionally unintentional.’ You’ll know what to remove and what to leave as far as plaster. We trust you and we honor what you choose.” Mike had to reinforce John’s words several times before the team believed that they could “discover how the space would be” and trust their instinct as they shaped the walls. And indeed, they listened to their intuition, exercised their creativity and did a fantastic job of leaving just the right pieces and creating a beautiful place. More importantly, the building was infused with energy, smiles and pride as the team felt the trust given to them, and delivered their best.


Mike’s chute success and the demo team’s artistic integrity were just a few examples of the innovative thinking and accountability that was permeating the culture of this project team.  John and Jenni were thrilled to continue encouraging the creative problem solving and were surprised by many more ideas, solutions and personal touches that made the space special, beautiful and functional.

Toward the end of the project John asked Mike if he was planning to pour more cement, so John could create a BNW time capsule. Mike went a step further, printed out the BNW logo and carefully traced it with an X-Acto knife in a cement slab that contained the time capsule. Mike understood the importance of the logo and the importance of a quality product and was personally invested in the project. The next day, the BNW changed the Student Union Facebook photo to a picture of Mike’s cement work- that’s how delighted everyone was with Mike’s initiative.

In the end, it may be more challenging to renovate an old building than to erect a new structure, but it’s more rewarding to invest in an existing structure with a solid foundation. The same holds true for people; don’t assume you know anyone’s true talents until you trust them and give them opportunities to shine. Whether it’s old buildings full of rubble or Mike or an unassuming demolition crew, investing in structures and employees with integrity and promise remains a good investment.

–Nancee Magistad

Nancee is a guest blogger for the Brave New Workshop. She is a native Minnesotan who counts peanut butter and parmesan two of her favorite foods (albeit not together). When Nancee’s not working in corporate America, she enjoys comedy writing and putting her M.S. in Management to use by utilizing the gift of laughter to convey the importance of positive leadership.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]