Word Lions Quarterly Report for Q2Y2011

By Joel Barker

Across the river, windmills spun at the tempo of a Hitchcock film. Philip and I were awash in the white noise of the river pushing its way through the turbines of the John Day dam. Above us, the high voltage wires translated that rush into electricity. It was audible. They crackled like overheated oil in a pan.


Philip snapped another picture and turned to me. “We have the coolest company meetings ever,” he said flatly.

Its true. Word Lions know how to party.

This was our second quarterly meeting, a practice that we instituted in January to give the two of us a chance to connect and look at the larger picture. We generally take a great deal of pictures as well. The pretty ones are from Philip’s iPhone. The awkwardly framed ones are from my funky Android device.

The main ingredients to a good Word Lions meeting seems to be coffee (“panther juice” in the Word Lions lexicon) and cameras. Our first meeting took place on the West side of Portland. We were looking back on 18 months of being Word Lions. In that time there had been some victories and some dissappointments. From a delicious espresso at Spella, to the heights of the West Hills and through Forest Park, Philip and I walked through the vaguest agenda we could manage:

  1. Talk about the past
  2. Talk about the present
  3. Talk about the future.

In 8 rambling hours through a gray January day, 2 cups of coffee each, and one delicious Indian lunch, we recalled the original day that we hatched the original idea during an instant message session (Word Lions, brought to you by  Google Chat), through our first design charette which gave birth to wordlions.com. While walking up NW 21st that afternoon we sketched out what kinds of clients we wanted to work with and what we wanted to make.

Three months later, Word Lions are waking each morning with full calendars and crowded to-do lists. The clients we were looking for? I would be happy to introduce you to them because we are now on a first name basis. Word Lions are making training materials, marketing collateral, white papers, and thought leadership content for a variety of great people.

So we called another meeting. Blocked out a Wednesday. We loaded Philip’s deaf but charming dog Malcolm in the back of my recently acquired and not yet named Honda Element, filled up the coffee pot and hit the road to go check out the lower Columbia River hydroelectric projects. We find that meetings where we engage the mind with a simple, repetitive task like driving or walking seem to allow us to think about more creative, novel solutions to challenges.

That would seem like a pretty random goal except for two things:

  • Philip and I are total engineering nerds and can geek out on things like fish ladder design.

  • We are developing training and communication for a software project which interfaces with these dams. It was a chance to see how our simulations work in the real world.

This meeting we had one agenda item: How do we deal with growth?

Our message is taking off with the marketplace and we are taking on a number of exciting projects. Philip and I formed Word Lions because we love making content. And create content we do. However, now we have to wear other hats: We are sales, we are management, we are infrastructure and overhead.

I told Philip that I thought that I would not like these parts of running Word Lions. However, I look at my days and am quite gleeful. I certainly do less writing than I thought I would be doing. Instead I am meeting with clients and planning projects. I find myself using those board-room phrases like “moving the ball forward” with a curious amount of sincerity.

Philip, sitting in the passenger seat, sipping coffee as we tooled down Interstate 84, expressed equal surprise at how much he embraced the idea of running a company..


We took to calling this “Word Lions 3.0.” It is about presenting our expertise not just as content creators but also as consultants and advisors on how to deliver a message. We have become a great resource for what works and what doesn’t in content. We also know the process to efficiently create documents, training, and mulitmedia deliverables

The Word Lions are roaming into new territory, a larger landscape. With enough coffee and conversation, Philip and I are able to continue doing what is important to us: keeping ourselves doing work that we are honestly enthusiastic about, to stay earnestly engaged in our business and our projects.

When we talk about it, I can hear the crackle of electricity about our heads.