Entrepreneurs in the Making: Ideation with Canon-McMillan Students

The holidays are over! This is leaving some of us relieved and a few of us a little disappointed that it’s time to get back to the grind. Regardless, this past month has been a busy time for everyone. Before we cocooned ourselves for the remainder of whatever PTO days we had remaining, ABG Capital took some time to do what they do best; invest in the future.


How so? One month ago today, we welcomed the students of the Canon-McMillan School District’s Entrepreneurship Program! Twice a year, as part of our community outreach initiatives, we welcome the class and their teachers to our office for an educational field trip.

ABG Capital finds it important to invest in educating students for “real-world” office life expectations. On this particular visit, the students gathered together to listen to ABG Capital’s CEO Jeff Tapolci, VoIP Innovations’ President Dan Ravenstahl, Director of IT Adam Scott, Director of Human Resources Sharon Kolesar, and Director of Development Jerry Eddy.

After a brief introduction of our company’s history, structure, and people-focused culture, Jeff spoke about some of the useful business tools he uses to ensure the alignment and health of our companies. The students learned about the importance of Strategic Thinking and the 7 Strata, along with Execution Planning and the use of a One Page Plan. The main topic of discussion, however, was the topic of ideation.


What is ideation? The thought process of ideation comes from Stanford University. The goal of performing ideation is to produce “innovation at work” whether it be the overall mindset of your employees or an actual team-building session completed throughout each department. Ideation occurs at every point of the project planning process, but these ideas are often brought together with others generated during specific exercises aimed at uncovering new methods, approaches, practices, and, perhaps most importantly, new ways of improving something such as a new user interface experience. So much information is uncovered over the course of most projects that there must be a point where it is combined, analyzed, and converted into practical solutions and means of making innovation at work more tangible.

After hearing the detailed overview of ideation, students formed small groups to perform their own ideation sessions. Following the layout and steps of this ideation/brainstorming template, the Canon-Mac students chose struggles that involve other people, can be solved with a physical thing or experience, and that could be tackled within a week.

The students dove deep into these brainstorming sessions and came up with some really insightful and thought-provoking ways to develop analogous situations, break through any constraints, and framework for the problems they decided to tackle.

Shortly after their ideation run-through, the students were able to wrap up their day with the chance to meet with members of our staff that work in departments like Development, Marketing, IT, and Accounting. Our team members shared with them how our roles in the company, along with other companies they have worked for, have helped shape their careers and led to new opportunities.

After the meet and greet, the day ended with pizza for lunch and a Q&A session from the students.

The day was busy, fun was had, but most importantly the students were able to take away a better knowledge and understanding of what may lie behind the door of graduation. The students were able to witness first-hand the power of what a small family run business has the potential to turn into with hard work, cultivation of those around you, and respect. Success is the aim of the game. ABG only hopes that we could instill that goal in the minds of these young adults and inspire the next generation.

For more information on ideation and how you can implement this philosophy and strategy into your workplace, click here.

To get a copy of the Innovation at work Ideation worksheet, click here.

Aligning the Herd One Gazelle at a Time

Aligning the Herd One Gazelle at a Time

“Goals without routines are wishes; routines without goals are aimless” is a quote taken from Scaling Up: The Rockefeller Habits 2.0 by Verne Harnish. This book has inspired a business and leadership event that ABG Capital has been fortunate enough to attend; the Gazelles ScaleUp Leadership Summit.

It’s been three months since eight of our leaders attended Gazelles 2016 ScaleUp Leadership Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. Seventeen dynamic speakers and authors captivated our team by sharing their wisdom, experience, and talent for success.  We gathered for discussions throughout the conference spending time reviewing notes, sharing ideas, and reflecting on strategies and initiatives that would best benefit our organization in the short term. Upon returning to the office, our leadership team agreed to meet once a week to hold ourselves accountable, narrow down our top take-ways, and decide on the one big rock or number one priority for the remainder of the year. Together we came to a similar conclusion of what that one big rock is and what we feel is needed to be even more successful, creating alignment through shared consciousness and empowered execution.

The first step in this process is to share the plan with each employee and identify opportunities for all employees at all levels in the organization to make decisions and solve problems by enabling rather than directing. This concept of engagement through empowerment leads to a “team of teams” approach to foster transparency and allow for stronger communication and understanding of the company’s strategic plan. The execution portion of ScalingUP pinpoints three critical components that must happen throughout the organization in every team; priority, data, and rhythm.

Source: gazelles.com

Source: gazelles.com

Promoting trust and purpose with and between teams will contribute to bottom-up results from daily interaction. Our company initiative for quarter three and four is to ensure that each team is meeting regularly to define its big rock for the week, month, and quarter.  We’ve been instrumental at achieving improved communications resulting in better efficiency and enhanced teamwork between departments.

Align Today is a tool we use to keep everyone in the loop by sharing a one page plan available for all to see, update, and work together toward aligning department initiatives with the company’s common goal or BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal). We recently outsourced Centric Performance to conduct employee surveys and management review meetings for selected teams to help identify each employee’s understanding of his or her role and how it contributes to the common goal of the company. Leadership is serving others and bringing out the best in people.  It’s important to rally the emotional connection and understand the importance of what each employee values to truly have an engaged staff who wants to develop individually and succeed as a team. Our plan is to involve the employees in designing a plan for their own critical numbers and KPIs to create buy in, appreciation, accountability, and involvement toward the common goal.

As you can see, the quote we began this with has a lot to do with the processes and tools we have injected into our environment. Routine matters. Let’s face it–if you’re moving without a routine, your priorities are most likely scattered and you have no analytical evidence to uphold any of your efforts. Even more important, your goal, or “big rock” that every employee and department should be focusing on as a priority, should be backed by rhythm. The rhythm within your day-to-day tactical progress is your routine–that “groove” or effortless pattern you get into when you master your priorities and data.

We realize that growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together in synchrony. If there’s one key we continually take away from the Gazelles it’s that our people are our rhythm. They are the force that continually pushes us toward success. If we cease to invest and cultivate in our employees, then there will be no perpetual development. All of our growth depends upon their activity within our organization. Activity that sprouts innovation.

Dealing with a Long Morning Commute

Imagine the worst morning you’ve ever experienced. You wake up late, rush to get dressed, can’t find clean underwear, spill coffee all over your un-ironed shirt, and to top it all off, you hit bumper-to-bumper traffic on your half-hour morning commute.

morning commute

Long commutes and ungodly traffic are enough to test the temper in even Ghandi himself. If you’ve ever had to experience the morning traffic before the Fort Pitt tunnel in Pittsburgh, I’m sure you can agree that it would be no exaggeration that it’s enough for the Muhatma to climb down the back of his elephant and kick in the side door of a texting teenager during a fit of blind rage. Why an elephant? What else would Ghandi be driving to work? Maybe a Prius… You get the point.

Bad commutes are frustrating, fist clenching, vein popping, obscenity shrieking experiences from which we could all use relief. In an attempt to calm ourselves and bring us back to a Nirvanic state, let’s go over some ways to deal with long morning commutes.

Listen to Your Favorite Music

car radio

Music is a way to express your feelings through melodies and lyrics. In halted traffic, those feelings can probably be represented through the most Swedish of heavy metal as you imagine the horrific acts you would do to the mini-van with the marathon and vegan bumper stickers in front of you.

Let’s try to stay away from that type of music and lower those stress levels (unless you’re into that sort of thing) with your favorite songs. Create a playlist that can relax you and keep your mind off of the unbearable traffic.

Crank up that song knob to eleven, sing away, and dance, dance, dance in your seat! You might even come up with a fun dance to do with your steering wheel. Just don’t be too careless or you could be doing the tango with a Toyota in a head-on collision.

Find Time to Pump It Out


Once you finally make it to work, you might still be feeling a bit tense. Make (or sneak if you’re running late) your way to the office kitchen and brew up some of your favorite coffee. When you make it back to your desk, sip and be comfy while continuing to listen to your commute playlist. As time goes on, you’ll find yourself calm and at peace.

But what if the caffeine gets you amped? What if you forgot to remove DMX from the last track of your playlist. Now you’re pumped and feeling as anxious as ever. Release the inner beast that has been fueled by terrible drivers and caffeine with a quick workout during lunch.

Pump iron, run a mile, spin kick a coat rack, and bring those stress levels back down again. Whatever you decide to do for your workout, add in this little exercise known as “car drivers”. To perform this exercise, hold a heavy object (normally a weighted plate) and twist it as you would with a steering wheel. Imagining yourself running the old geezers off the road who refuse to seize the gap can be just what you need to give yourself peace of mind.

Meditate on It


The work day is over, you got a nice workout in at lunch, and now it’s time to get home and relax. The only thing in your way: more traffic.

After inching your way down the interstate, exchanging glares with mutually miserable drivers, and cutting off a school bus in a desperate attempt to make it home before the end of Maury, you’re going to need another stress reliever.

Give yourself the time to unwind through meditation. It’s a well known fact that meditation can reduce anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion. Just take 20 minutes out of your day to meditate and feel your troubles melting away. Be sure to pour yourself a glass of the most premium of boxed wine as well. Now you should be experiencing a feeling of bliss, so get some sleep and get ready for the next day.

These tips might not do the trick right away, but keep at it and you could find yourself a little bit happier. If all else fails, find a closer place to work. We hope this helps your traffic-laden pilgrimage to work! Be safe out there, and we hope you find relief from your long commute struggles.