MF 062 : Understanding Your Story to Move Forward, with The Business of Story Host, Park Howell
Updated: Jun 16
Park Howell is the founder & CEO of Park & Co., and host of the podcast series, The Business of Story. A business strategist, consultant, speaker and instructor, Park has spent over 30 years teaching the art of brand strategy and story to business leaders and organizations. Park reveals the common thread that you share with the Apostles, Aristotle, Steven Spielberg and Red Bull. Find the pivot point so you can rewrite your story and move forward.
Successes at a glance:
Founder and CEO of Park & Co.
Host of the podcast series, The Business of Story.
Professor at Arizona State University in their Executive Masters for Sustainability and Leadership Program.
Advertising Person of the Year (American Advertising Federation of Metropolitan Phoenix).
Top 10 Impact Company of the Year (Phoenix Chamber of Commerce).
Business Partner of the Year (Goodwill of Central Arizona).
Learn Park’s 10 step story cycle process:
How Park gets inspired to conquer the day:
Park cites his dad as one his inspirations for making the most of the day. Park’s father was a civil engineer, working in construction and growing up, was a “product of the depression” in North Dakota. Park candidly shares what it was like for his father to live through that era; noting that one Christmas, in the middle of 20 below weather, he received a pair of mittens that his aunt had knitted. In a time when making ends meet and putting food on the table was a daily struggle, Park’s father recalled that those gloves were the best gift he had ever received. Living through tough times, Park’s father managed to build a life for himself and provide for his family, never forgetting the value of work. As Park notes, his father had a saying “if you don’t pick up that shovel, someone else will;” a mantra that has stayed with Park to this very day. As such, Park doesn’t find it hard to get motivated to make the most of his day with a simple, straight forward philosophy: show up, work hard and find balance. For Park, the first two come naturally. It’s the third aspect, finding balance, that he admits, can be a struggle: knowing when to “put the shovel down.” To help maintain balance, Park does a lot of meditation and yoga. For Park, these two practices are key to starting off his morning the right way, with balance and a motivation to move forward. Moving Forward listeners, start looking at your day with two guiding principles: 1) there is a “shovel” of opportunity for you to “pick up” and make the most of your day and 2) there is a time when you need to put that shovel down and focus on balance. If you’re new to meditation or unsure where to begin, Park recommends a simple strategy: start with just 10 minutes a day.
Setback or failure that led to pivot and shift:
As someone who has spent his career immersed in understanding story and how it connects to business, Park is no exception to facing conflict and changes. Park has been in the advertising business for over 30 years. When Park started out in the ad game, the staples were radio, TV, print, outdoor and PR events. As Park recalls the “business was really easy” to understand and consult on. However, as digital media came to the forefront and technology “flattened the landscape,” a market shift occurred. Brands no longer owned the influence of mass media but instead the masses became the media. This shift caused major disruptions in the traditional ad business model. Clients were no longer looking for full service media consulting but were now seeking specialization. As a result, Park’s agency was no longer the go to place for media consulting. To pivot, Park’s agency tried to niche down by doing a deep dive in digital but quickly found out that it wasn’t easy to monetize, especially with so many businesses learning and doing it on their own. Park then pivoted to brand strategy but found the dollars for traditional media were dwindling rapidly. As a result, Park and his agency found itself at a “mid-life crisis;” wrestling with the question of how to reinvent itself. Meanwhile, Park had developed a growing passion for consulting, teaching and coaching individuals (leaders and brand consultants) on story and how it can be leveraged. Interestingly, this revelation occurred at a time when every ad agency pivoted to becoming “story telling” experts. It was becoming, as Park colorfully expresses, the “soup du jour” of the ad business. The pivot and niche discovery for Park, was not just telling story but teaching leaders and organizations the art of story telling, using frameworks from creatives like Steven Spielberg and Joseph Campbell. Park was able to teach how to connect their brands to the individual consumer; developing relationships built on story. At this point, and much like the hero’s journey, Park found himself at a crossroads with a difficult decision to face. To move into the next chapter of his business and life, Park had to let go of the traditional ad business that he had built much of his career on. Park retooled his agency from a staff of 18 to just one, himself: converting the employer-employee relationships into freelance and alliance based ones. Park initially felt that he had “failed” at the ad business, but really, this was a pivot into the “last volume” of a wonderful career and a trajectory into a deep burning passion to teach others the gifts that story can unlock. Moving Forward listeners, the big take away here is that all industries change. What is a stable, wonderful and comfortable job or business today will be shaken up at one point or another by technological, market and other shifts. Change is inevitable. While we can’t control these external forces, we can control whether we see these shifts as “failures” or pivot points into our next chapter. As Park sagely puts it: “without conflict and that very change in direction … you have no story. We are all beset with conflict in our lives, but really they’re meant to sharpen us and move us forward.”
Resource or cultural experience that inspired Park to move forward:
The film Amadeus (Blu Ray | Instant Video), directed by Milos Foreman and starring Academy Award™ winner, F. Murray Abraham and Academy Award™ nominee, Tom Hulce. Mozart is often cited as a “pop/rock” artist of his time, bringing classical music to the masses. For Park, this is a hallmark film that captured the brilliance of Mozart and is a prime example of filmmaking and storytelling at its finest.
The Daily Edge (Paperback | Kindle) by David Horsager. For Park, this is the “most efficient book about being efficient.” One of the best practices Park took away from this book was writing daily, “difference making” actions items on post-its to complete before 11 am; enabling you to complete a day’s worth of work before lunch!
Park also cites the collected works of Joseph Campbell as a big influence on understanding and appreciating the importance of story and the hero’s journey.
How Park stays organized and manages his time:
Daily accountability call: 10 – 15 minutes, either at 8:30 or 9:00 am, everyday from Monday thru Friday. Park was introduced to this by Dr. Kevin Gazzara, a fellow professor and leadership guru (formerly with Intel). The accountability call works as follows: the accountability partners get on a daily call and each one takes turns, listing out their “difference making” actions and how they plan to see them thru. Once each individual is finished listing, the accountability kicks in with each partner “calling out” the other and scrutinizing what is on his or her list. Although it’s a “pain in the ass” to do, Park swears by this because it not only improves his efficiency but allows him to assess where his inefficiencies are and focus on the 20% activities that deliver the 80% productivity results.
Favorite app / website / resource or productivity hack:
Park doesn’t have one. He’s tried them all, amassing a “toolopolis” and has found that none of them have given him as much traction and progress as the “difference making” notes and the accountability call. Park’s productivity hack comes in the form of a sharpee pen and post-it notes which create the important “tangibility” of itemizing tasks. As for apps, Park’s favorite one is the podcast app. Park recommends podcasts as a way to consume great productivity content while at the gym or in the car.
Support the Podcast:
The Corporate Cliches Adult Coloring Book: makes the perfect stocking stuffer or white elephant gift.
Try out Audible (affiliate link).
Try out Amazon Prime (affiliate link).
Park’s Advice for you to Move Forward:
“Give yourself permission to do it.” Park notes one of our greatest ironies is that we are at the top of our story telling game in Kindergarten but that superpower is slowly “silenced” as we progress in higher education and by political and corporate culture as well as social constructs. Park again cites Joseph Campbell who advises you to “follow your bliss.” Once you give yourself permission, invest your time and love and grow that bliss into something you are doing everyday. Prioritize it as you would spending time with family and friends. Park advises with conviction that you “don’t find the time,” you “make the time.” Applying one of his knowledge bursts, Park recommends that you make this one of your “difference making” priorities. As you start taking small actions towards your bliss, you will find the universe will start pivoting and “opening those doors, where there were only walls before.” Moving Forward listeners, what have you given yourself permission to do today? Are you pushing papers and unsure this is your hero’s journey? What “difference making” priorities have you set for yourself? Start moving forward: give yourself permission, follow your bliss and make the time to see it through.