Complexity is the defining business and leadership challenge of our time. But it has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. For the next few weeks, we’ll be talking to leaders about what it takes to lead through the most complex and confounding problems related to the coronavirus.
Today we talk with Sunny Bonnell, brand consultant, keynote speaker, and co-author of Rare Breed, A Guide To Success For The Defiant, Dangerous, And Different. Alongside her co-conspirator and co-author Ashleigh Hansberger, Bonnell leads the team at Motto, one of the top branding agencies in the country. Beloved brands like Google, Twentieth Century Fox, Hershey’s, The NFL, and more, seek them out for their audacious point of view on how to tap into the “rare breed” within. As a duo, they’ve graced lists such as Inc 30 under 30, DMN Marketer of the Year, GDUSA’s Top 25 People to Watch, and have been featured in hundreds of publications and shows including The Breakfast Club, Yahoo!, Forbes, Inc., and Entrepreneur.
David and David: Your book defines seven virtues of a Rare Breed: rebellious, audacious, obsessed, hot-blooded, weird, hypnotic, and emotional. But, how do you succinctly sum it all up for people?
Sunny: Rare Breeds are, by definition, unordinary among the kind. They are a new kind of leader - they dare to be different and embody seven unconventional personality traits that society deems as “counterintuitive” to success. By owning who they are, Rare Breeds lead the way forward to incredible breakthroughs and triumphs in business and in life.
David and David: During the pandemic, which of the seven virtues have you observed coming to the fore as most advantageous?
Sunny: The rebellious virtue. It’s a time to ‘f*ck norms’ (which is one of the first chapters in our book) and scratch everything that’s been, because the future will never be the same. Business as usual is over. Rebellious Rare Breeds hold nothing sacred, and have little tolerance for systems and ideas that don’t work anymore. Companies and leaders with this trait jumped ahead in adapting to the new world. They figured out the new enemy and cause they had to fight for. They put their best Rare Breed talent forward and asked: “Where can we innovate? How can we change? What do we have to scrap so we can stay in business?”
We’ve seen art museums pivot to virtual tours and retailers use 3D technology to allow shoppers to go into a store virtually to pick out a piece of furniture. These are the kinds of companies that think with the Rare Breed mindset and will survive. Everyone else is looking around, frantic like hot sauce on the brain, and asking what to do. Rare Breeds don’t hesitate, they act. They are willing to throw caution out and radically reshape the future of their brand and business.
That’s been our focus in recent months - we workshop the Rare Breed Framework® with leaders and teams so they can adjust their strategies, adapt their brands, and develop bold innovation that can thrive in the new world.
David and David: Do you believe that being a Rare Breed is in someone’s nature, or is it something that needs to be nurtured?
Sunny: Both nature and nurture are factors. If you believe my family folklore, when they first set me on my mom’s belly, I threw up my head and put my fist in the air. A Rare Breed is born that way, and when a child exhibits Rare Breed traits early on, when that individuality is first emerging, it’s pivotal that parents know how to raise a Rare Breed kid. The child can either develop as someone who believes in themselves and those traits become the selling point, or they can become something they’re ashamed of, and they try to silence who they are forever.
Your identity is shaped by your mentors, teachers, parents - and if you’re a bit of a weirdo, they’re nervous for you. They want to push you back into a lane. For parents in particular, it’s extremely important to recognize and see your kids as individuals, and not suppress the beautiful gifts they will give to the world. Even if they’re not the gifts you understand or want them to have.
David and David: It sounds like a Rare Breed who embraces who they are can be a genuine asset in a business. Do you have any advice for leaders on how to find and nurture them?
Sunny: Rare Breeds are worth their weight in gold - very dangerous to the status quo. Ordinary leaders never know what to do with them. Great leaders empower, seek out, and recognize Rare Breed talent and make it their competitive edge.
There are tells (like in poker) that you can use to spot Rare Breeds:
There are a lot of people in this world who have the seven Rare Breed traits we discovered and it’s just never been unlocked. I can guarantee there are underutilized Rare Breeds in your organization right now. Look for the difficult, restless spirits. Their talents can be a competitive superpower when you encourage them to lean into who they are in full color, and let them off the leash.
David and David: Where were you in life when you started to think of yourself as a Rare Breed? And how did that ultimately lead to the creation of Motto and writing your book?
Sunny: Ashleigh and I met in a Chicago snowball fight in 1997 as young teens. We’ve grown up together. We both had traits of being a Rare Breed early in life. Neither of us felt like we really fit in. We both got fired from every job we’d ever worked at. So, we dropped out of college together in our early 20’s with 250 bucks and an audacious dream to start a branding company. We knew we were different, we just didn't have the words to describe it.
When we started Motto - in a small conservative town - we were about as welcome as a tarantula on a wedding cake. We were two young females and very outspoken, busting into a field where sixtyish admen made the rules. Our first year was difficult - we couldn’t get clients, struggled to make a name, and people tried to bully us out of business. We were about to close up shop when we had a talk with my dad who was also an entrepreneur. He sat us down and said, “You two are a Rare Breed. Not everyone is going to love you, but the ones who do, will never forget you.” That was 2007. It wasn’t until 2019 that we turned that phrase he gave us into a book. It’s also a key part of the work we do for leaders and teams.
David and David: Any other advice you can offer the Rare Breeds?
Sunny: Own who you are in a world that wants to own you.
Original article posted on Forbes on Aug 10, 2020
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