Next Asheville speaker

Cheri Torres

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June 28, 8:30am • Asheville Masonic Temple • part of a series on Wonder

Speaker Spotlight – Cheri Torres

Lead Catalyst, Collaborative by DesignConversations Worth Having  |  LinkedIn  |  Facebook  |  Instagram  |  TwitterMonth: June  |  Theme: Wonder


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice. 
I believe we have the potential to co-create communities and organizations that truly work for everyone, that allow us to even surpass our most positive dreams for the future. As Lead Catalyst at Collaborative by Design, I partner with people to catalyze positive change in their workplaces and communities. The two simple practices I introduce give leaders and teams the power to strengthen relationships, expand possibilities, and increase productivity and engagement through everyday conversation. These practices are grounded in neuroscience, positive psychology, and Appreciative Inquiry, one of the most widely used approaches for systems change.


What did you want to be when you grew up?
A lawyer. Not even close!


Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I have always been both a possibilities person as well as insatiably curious. Sometime in my early career I saw how many people limited themselves and others unnecessarily (including myself!). I could see we could be and do so much more but for limiting beliefs, instilled by the culture and our environment. I had no clue how to turn that into a profession, but I knew I wanted to be in the business of expanding potential and possibility in the world. The world of outdoor experiential education was a perfect profession for doing that. For 15 years, I facilitated teamwork and leadership. Early on I recognized that people were not learning it, they were discovering what was inherent for them. Eventually I made the correlation that it was the structure of the activities that brought out those inherent capacities. What needed to transform was not the people, it was the structures and systems that are reinforcing individualism. People and the planet can flourish if we redesign our systems to bring out the best in human beings and then give people plenty of opportunities to talk and work together. To do that, we need to be changing our conversations. So now, I am all about fostering those kinds of conversations.

What is the best part and hardest part of your job?
The best part of my job is watching people come alive, fully engage, and bring their best and most creative self to complex challenges. I love it when people at all levels of an organization bring their diverse knowledge and perspectives to a problem and together innovate amazing solutions. I enjoy seeing people discover what they are capable of when given the chance to freely contribute. The hardest part of my job is working with organizations to clarify the focus of whole system conversations and then design great questions: questions that disrupt the status quo, surface the positive core, and generate possibilities. 


What on-the-job tools do you use every day?
First and foremost, believing in the inherent brilliance of every human being. Then, listening, empathy, curiosity, positive framing, story, Appreciative Inquiry, and staying present.


What about your community inspires you?
We have all the makings in this community for radical transformation. With the passion, commitment, knowledge, skill level, and resources in the community, we could co-create a model for a community that genuinely works for everyone and then live into it. There are lots of people working on that already. We have the potential to accelerate that.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
Do what makes you come alive!


Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
I had a sales job for a tuition budgeting company that allowed me to travel the southeast. That was fun and it brought in okay pay, but it was not inspiring. During my second year in that job, I began to put together an idea for a non-profit child care resource and referral service, which would support children, parents, and child care providers in our community. That was enlivening! I’d decided to do the sales job for one more year, just to be financially secure through the transition. Before I started the third year, I was fired for not meeting my quota the second year. That stung; I’d never been fired from anything. And, it reinforced the message to do what makes you come alive! I went on to found the organization, ran it for 10 years, and passed it along to someone who tripled its reach over the next 10 years. I have never stopped doing what makes me come alive!


What books/resources would you recommend to someone interested in furthering their creative practice, or starting a creative business of their own?
I Am Her Tribe (Danielle Doby), Outrageous Openness (Tasha Silver), Conversations Worth Having (Stavros and Torres)


If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I would like to think that I would do the things that renew and replenish me: Play, hike, spend time in the forest, sit by water ways and meditate, read, write, and commune with nature. I’m afraid I would probably continue working for whole systems change.


Who are your favorite creators and makers, local and beyond? 
Lissa Friedman, Cheri Bracket, Nan Davis, Kat Williams, Steebo

Join host Tim Scroggs as he sits down with this month’s speaker Rae Geoffrey for a post-talk chat on the theme of Preserve.

Join guest host Rachel Zink as she discusses the theme of Inclusive with this months speaker Marta Alcala-Williams.

Speaker Spotlight – Rae Geoffrey

Managing Director, Diana Wortham TheatreWebsite  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  YouTube

Month: May  |  Theme: Preserve


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice.
As the Managing Director of the nonprofit Diana Wortham Theatre, I curate an annual Mainstage season of internationally touring performing artists for Mainstage performances, a full series of Matinee performances for local school children, and maintain a professional venue and staff for use by our community of local artists and companies. The theatre is currently undergoing an exciting expansion from a single, 500 seat venue into the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts to include a new small theatre and a studio space. This project creates some out of the box learning opportunities regarding construction and planning.


Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
My grandmother loved the arts. I remember her taking me to a performance of “Annie” when I was eight years old. As the curtain went up and the orchestra began, tears started to run down my face. At the time, I had no idea or words to explain why this was happening. However, by the end of the show, I knew what I wanted to do with my life and have never changed course.


What is the best part and hardest part of your job?
The best part of my job is witnessing the transformation an artist can bring to a person or an entire audience. The worst part is having to quantify this experience to those who don’t believe it is vital to our society.

What on-the-job tools do you use every day?
Reflection, Gratitude, Patience, Active listening, Coffee and Lexapro

What about your community inspires you?
I am constantly impressed by our community’s willingness to grow and to change and to proudly wear unicorn costumes when walking downtown.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
Leadership is different from management.


Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?

All of the notable disasters in my career happened when I allowed emotion to overcome logic. The successes also follow the same pattern. The challenge, which is lifelong for most creative people, is learning when to let each take the lead.

If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Create, learn another language, and have deep(er) discussions with friends and family

Speaker Spotlight – Marta Alcala-Williams 

Parent/Family/Community Engagement Leader, Asheville City Schools


Website  |  Facebook

Month: April  |  Theme: Inclusivity


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice.
Making sure I have a racial equity lens in all of my work and the way I show up.


What did you want to be when you grew up?

A dancer and then a labor and delivery nurse. Instead went to school for a BA in psychology


Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
After I had my children I knew that I had to delve deep into race because my children are bi-racial and how would I support in navigating the world as a Latina with kids that experience my roots and also the anglo side.


What is the best part and hardest part of your job?
Best part is having a group of women that meet weekly for years and growing that are speaking truth every week, discussing racial equity and justice.

Hardest part is having to remind some white folks about privilege and fragility.

What on-the-job tools do you use every day?
Language and processes that reflect social justice and equity.


What about your community inspires you?
Having accountability partners that are in positions of power and sharing the power for all of us to thrive and heal.


What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
“Inquire, listen and then share and reflect on what you heard”

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Yes, when I first started working for ACS I went into community suggesting ideas and programs and that did not stick. When I partnered and inquired about “what would be beneficial to move community forward then we developed the relationships that now have in Motheread and at Marvelous Math Club


What books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone interested in furthering their creative practice, or starting a creative business of their own?
My grandmother’s hands, Just Mercy and to go see Brian Stevenson at UNCA on April 25th at 7:00 PM


If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I would partner with more leaders of color to connect with MMC leaders, go on more vacations and get more massages.


Who are your favorite creators and makers, local and beyond?
Nadine Burke Harris 

Anything else you’d like to share?
Feeling grateful for the opportunity to share what inclusivity means to me.

Speaker Spotlight – Jael Rattigan
Co-Founder and CEO, French Broad Chocolate


Website  |  Instagram  |  Facebook

Theme: Water  |  March 2019

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice.

Dan and I founded French Broad Chocolate in 2006. We have experienced so much change, growth and evolution since then!  We, and our talented team of 90 Asheville folks, are now crafting all the chocolate that we use in the pastries and desserts at our retail locations, of which there will be three by the end of April. We have developed strong values for sourcing with integrity and making chocolate with a craftsman’s mentality. As far as my practice, at this point, it’s all about people and relationships. We create relationships to the source of our food, and we share that connection with our guests.


Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I discovered my affinity for working with chocolate in 2003. I was making truffles and confections as a passion, and to share with family and friends. The chocolate maker was called Scharffenberger (which has since been purchased by Hershey’s), and was really the founder of the American “bean-to-bar” chocolate movement. Paired with a chocolate cookbook called Bittersweet by Alice Medrich, I was falling in love with simple recipes that really highlighted the unique flavors of cacao.

On one particular day, I was rolling truffles in dark chocolate in my kitchen in Minneapolis, my hands entirely covered in chocolate. My hands literally began to tingle, and I looked down at my open palms. I said out loud, “Chocolate is the thing that will make me happy.” It was a clarity I had never experienced in my life.  I’ve been on the chocolate path ever since.


What is the best part and hardest part of your job?

Working with people is both the best part and the hardest part of the job! I aspire to be a connected, authentic and inspiring leader. Sometimes I feel successful in this endeavor, and just as often, I am disappointed in myself and know I could do better! Our stated business values are almost all about people - serving one another, operating from a place of trust and honesty, giving the benefit of the doubt, and working cooperatively towards shared goals. Our goals are lofty, but we want to create a company that has a positive impact on people, and uses business as a force for good.


What on-the-job tools do you use every day?

Macbook, iphone and my backpack are the tools I use most, as a mobile CEO moving between three locations and all around Asheville.


What about your community inspires you?

I am constantly awed by the collaboration in our community. Asheville is a place where “collaboration over competition” is real, and we have established deep relationships and friendships with other businesses in town.


What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

To grow with purpose. Early on, when we were faced with the need to scale our business to better serve our customers, we struggled with what that meant. Was growth bad? Were we becoming “corporate”? Were we being greedy, or growing for growth’s sake? What we realized through guidance from a mentor, was that we truly believed in what we were doing as business leaders. We make awesome products and our business decisions are guided by a set of values that we believe are worth sharing with other communities. And by increasing our production, we can buy more ingredients from our awesome farmers and makers, both locally in WNC as well as in the tropics where we source our cacao, which makes us better business partners.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?We experienced failure early on in our business, when we were still operating as a farmers market business. We actually called it quits. The chocolate business was not supporting our family financially, with a toddler and another on the way, and we were scared. But we had a timely visit from a dear friend who emphatically pronounced that “the world needs your chocolate!”. This gave us the grit and fire we needed to persevere in realizing our vision. We enrolled in Mountain Bizworks, writing a business plan for the Chocolate Lounge, as a beautiful space where the community could come together over chocolate. Without the farmers market fail, I don’t know that we would have been able to envision and create the Chocolate Lounge, or achieve all we have at this point.


If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?Write. I have a goal to write a book about chocolate and our experience, and I would devote the time to working more actively on that pursuit.


Who are your favorite creators and makers, local and beyond?

I’m a big fan of East Fork, of course. I love their values-led business model, and their focus on simple and functional beauty. I adore the artwork of Andy Farkas, who does stunning wood engravings and moku hanga printmaking.

Live music makes the morning better! For February, we celebrated with Asheville musicians Brooke + Nick to get the morning started!

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