Business as a source of gratitude: what we're owl thankful for - by Marybeth Alexander

Marybeth Alexander | November 26, 2020


We usually publish new blog posts on Thursday. Given that this Thursday is the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, it seems like a good time to share some ideas we've been exploring around gratitude and appreciation.

As a company, we've been reading A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to Building a Great Business*. The theme of appreciation is evident from the start, as the book opens with author Ari Weinzweig exploring the 12 natural laws of business. Rule number 12 is that great organizations are appreciative, and the people in them have more fun.

Natural Law 12: Great organizations are appreciative, and the people in them have more fun

This law resonated with members of our team. Kate Mueller, our Head of Product and Resident Cheesemonger, shared one quote that she loved:

 "Great organizations aren’t having fun just because they’re great (though it’s usually way more fun to work with the problems of success than those of failure); rather, they’re great because the people in them are actively appreciative and have learned to enjoy doing whatever it is they need to do to succeed in ethical and caring ways."

I'd like to note how Ari says "actively appreciative", which I think warrants a special callout. As John F. Kennedy noted, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them". Or if we want to quote the oft quoted writer William Arthur Ward , "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.". Appreciation, to me, feels like the act of expressing gratitude.

I am also struck by the parallels to our company mission, which has "being helpful and kind in all our actions" as part of our North Star. Being actively appreciative is one way we can live the mission and share the KnowledgeOwl experience with our teammates, customers, and communities too.

Another of Ari's thoughts regarding appreciative cultures, which seems especially relevant given the events of 2020, was shared by Jerrard Doran, our Pro Services Druid and Master Coin:

“This is true, by the way, even when—perhaps, especially when—times are tough. No matter what we’re dealing with at Zingerman’s, we work hard to be kind to each other, and to recognize that although we’d rather not be struggling, we’re glad to be doing it with people we really like.”

For many of us, 2020 has been a difficult and unprecedented year. Despite the difficulties, I can say without reservation that I am so grateful to have lived it alongside such caring and helpful teammates, customers, and communities (special shoutout to Write the Docs and ZingTrain for creating such inclusive, positive, and life-affirming community events in the midst of a global pandemic).  

Secret #13: Creating a Culture of Positive Appreciation

Last week we read the chapter Secret #13: Creating a Culture of Positive Appreciation*, where Ari discusses how Zingerman's incorporate appreciation into their organization.

After reading Secret 13, Kate shared her thoughts: 

"I can personally attest to the power of appreciations--though I call them gratitude--on my own life. During really rough periods, including much of 2020, I've tried to either start or end my day by listing off things I'm grateful for. Often this ends up being people or other details, but it really is quite hard to be in a bad mood once you've expressed appreciation or gratitude." 

With that, we were inspired to take some time to reflect on what we were owl grateful for (credit to Kate for the owl pun here). Here's the exercise if you want to try it yourself:

  1. Set a timer for two minutes and, thinking about 2020, list out as many things as you can that you are grateful for, appreciated of, and proud of.
  2. From your list, pick your top 3-5 you would be happy to share with others.
  3. Pick one and write at least 5 sentences about why you are grateful, appreciative, or proud of that.
  4. Share your results of 2 and 3 with your friends and/or colleagues. Gratitude, like attitude, is contagious!

What we're owl grateful for

Here are the results from some of our team members. As Gertrude Stein once said, "Silent gratitude isn't very much to anyone". We hope that by sharing what we are thankful for, we might spread a bit of positivity out into the world. And because at the end of the day, it just feels like the right thing to do.

Catherine Heath, Community Builder and Illustrator
Manchester, UK

  1. My family
  2. My partner
  3. My home
  4. KnowledgeOwl
  5. My health
In a very rough year, everyone in my family has been so supportive. We’ve kept in touch over long distances and my sister has been teaching yoga to our family online. We talk regularly on Whatsapp and share what’s going on in our lives. Same goes for my partner Simon, who is always there for me. He makes me laugh and is always around to help me with any problems.

Deborah Barnard, Documentation Champion
Bradford, UK

Deborah joined our team over the summer to temporarily help us manage our blog and social media while our community builder was away, and we liked each other so much she is saying on to become our new Documentation Champion. Here's her gratitude shortlist:

  1. Companionship: More on this below!
  2. My house: I'm ever more aware how lucky I am to have somewhere safe to live and work.
  3. Green space: I don't live in the prettiest area, but being able to go for a walk past trees and small playparks has been a relief.
  4. The NHS (for our non-UK readers, this is the National Health Service: the UK's publicly-funded healthcare, with doctors and nurses who have been incredible through this pandemic)
A bit more about companionship: from my cat (who is sitting by my keyboard as I write this), to my friends (who are talking nonsense on Discord right now), to my colleagues who I'm writing this for, a year defined by isolation has had remarkably few bouts of serious loneliness. I'm grateful to be able to stay connected (thanks internet!). It's a privilege to keep working with awesome people (and meeting new colleagues!) on fun projects, even in the midst of chaos. Professional connections have grown closer through virtual writing days. There have even been new personal connections: the neighbor I got to know better as we collaborated on rescuing a stray cat, for instance.
Deborah's cat DaxDeborah's cat Dax, sitting by her computer and being generally adorable

Jerrard Doran, Pro Services Druid and Master of Coin
Melbourne, Australia

  1. My partner
  2. My family
  3. My friends
  4. My work Technology
I picked technology to expand on because it really does enable the other four. For example, it allowed me to meet my amazing partner (we met on a dating app). It lets me keep in touch so easily and frequently with my wonderful support network of family and friends back in the UK now that I live here in Australia. It helped me make contact with my fantastic colleagues at KnowledgeOwl and start on a journey with them that continues to enrich and delight me. (Also, a special shout out to video games, for helping me keep my sanity during lockdown!)

Kate Mueller, Head Product Owl, Resident Cheesemonger
Harpswell, Maine, USA

Kate joined our team back in 2018. She was previously a KnowledgeOwl customer and had quit her job to hike the Appalachian Trial. You can read more about her in our interview, but the important thing is that she is an amazing team member and we are so grateful she chose to work with us. Here's her gratitude list:

  1. My rented house with its amazing view
  2. All the local trails in my area
  3. How supportive the entire team at KO has been during the last 8 months battling longhaul COVID. The team has been so understanding in helping me get through the days I had no energy to work, or so much brain fog I couldn't focus, or when conversations exhausted me so much I couldn't keep taking support calls. I've been so blessed to be able to keep working and flex my schedule around my illness's limitations.
  4. Having a kitchen I love to cook in
About my house: At the beginning of March, I moved in with my partner for the first time, into a quirky house on the coast of midcoast Maine. I loved the views and the space when we moved in, but I had no idea how much time I'd spend inside this building, and how very much I would come to appreciate having the scenery I do any time of the day--even when I was sick with COVID-19 and unable to walk upstairs without getting short of breath, the north Atlantic has been there. The kitchen was a huge selling point, and it's become even more beloved as I've ratcheted up my cooking and baking. So many people I know felt trapped in their houses, and my home really is a sanctuary. Don't we all need that in 2020, more than ever?


View of the Atlantic Ocean from Kate's house in Harspwell, MaineView of the Atlantic Ocean from Kate's house in Harspwell, Maine

Marybeth Alexander, Chief Executive Owl
Broomfield, CO, USA

  1. Noom: While it’s touted as a diet app, I’ve found it to be more of an overall wellness and lifestyle app. I started Noom late in 2019, and it helped me become the best version of myself I’ve been so far, even in the midst of a pandemic. 
  2. Brittany: In the midst of a pandemic, my friend Brittany started a virtual book club and organized ongoing trivia nights. I’m so grateful for people like her who can somehow spin a pandemic as a way to connect. I’ve been more social, having more fun, and reading more books than I ever did before.
  3. Pete: I could never fully express how grateful I am for Pete, my cofounder and partner in crime. He supports my crazy ideas like start B Corp certification in the midst of a pandemic and has upped his cooking skills so we are regularly having restaurant quality meals at home.
  4. Wordscapes: Another app that has made my life better in 2020, it’s a word puzzle game with a community aspect I never expected. I joined a team where I’ve made friends from all over the world and we support each other in achieving personal and team goals.  Another way I feel more social and connected in 2020 than ever before.
  5. ZingTrain: Reconnecting with ZingTrain has possibly been the most impactful development of 2020 for me personally and professionally. 
I’m so thankful to have reconnected with Zingerman’s and ZingTrain. As we started our B Corp journey, I was inspired to reread the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Series, which is how I found out that ZingTrain was now doing virtual training. And the reason they were doing virtual training now? The pandemic. Every cloud has a silver lining, and I’m so grateful ZingTrain made lemonade out of the pandemic lemons. Being able to share the Zingerman’s experience with my teammates has been one of my greatest joys of 2020.

ZingTrain sent us Zingerman's treats to snack on during their Women with Vision eventZingerman's treats from the virtual Women with Vision event!

Zach Steveson, Support Developer
North Conway, NH, USA

Zach joined our team this fall. He is thankful for: 

1. My daughter! She twenty months old. She is fun and adventurous and learns new things every day. She recently learned to close my laptop when it is time for me to stop working. 

2. Eukaryota for starting their long and bountiful partnership with mitochondria and being our common ancestor. 

3. Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman for writing The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. I learned how to program from it and it was awfully fun. For the record, learning how to program in LISP is not the most direct path to doing web development. 

4. My family and friends who have been incredibly supportive.

5. Being able to take a lovely road trip across the country with my wife and daughter before we started our new jobs.

Morning Coffee in the Gros Ventre Wilderness

Thank you

In closing, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has been part of the KnowledgeOwl story. To our teammates who have helped us share the KnowledgeOwl experience by being helpful and kind in all your actions. To our customers who have helped us build valuable knowledge base software with your feedback and ideas. To our communities who have inspired and taught us how to be better versions of ourselves and make the world a better place.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

*Hard copies of A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to Building a Great Business and Secret #13: Creating a Culture of Positive Appreciation are available for purchase ZingTrain website. Digital copies are available on the Zingerman's Press website, where each chapter or secret is also available for purchase as an individual PDF.



About the author
Marybeth Alexander
Marybeth Alexander

is the Knowledge Goddess and Chief Executive Owl at KnowledgeOwl. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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