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A Journey toward Purpose and Impact for a Leader, her Team, and a Fortune 500 Company

Story Update 4/3/21:

For the third quarter of 2020, the year the world shut down, Barbie posted a 28% quarterly increase in revenue. The highest increase in 20 years. It was attributed to the diversification and modernization of Barbie — an effort spearheaded by Kim Culmone (SVP, Global Fashion Doll Design, Mattel) and her team, all invigorated by a journey into personal purpose and it’s integration into the broader mission of the brand.

Over a year ago, Kim and I (I work with Kim as her executive/impact coach) published a case study, based on our leadership coaching work together, on how the inner transformation of leaders and teams within companies can amplify innovation, and with that, outer transformation in the form of more creative and engaged staff and culture, and products that drive both positive impact in society and a company’s bottomline.

The case study outlined how Kim’s insights around her true nature and purpose (“Bringing voice and visibility to marginalized and underrepresented people and issues through my work.”), and the letting go of self-limiting beliefs around what was truly possible for her and those around her, was pivotal to a culture and mindset of openness, possibility, and innovation.

At the time we promised a future update to look at what the further outputs of this inner and outer work would be.

The one year mark seems like an appropriate time to do that.

The past year has seen three fronts of innovation emerge from Kim and her team.

  1. Continuing to champion inclusivity on the Barbie brand including dolls representing physical disabilities, vitiligo, and hair loss, making Barbie the most diverse doll line available and demonstrating a commitment to representing a broad range of beauty.

2) Seeing statistics citing increased anxiety in kids and a rising concern about children’s mental health from parents, Kim and her team were inspired to create a Barbie who “meditates” and teaches children to do the same. They partnered with Headspace to raise awareness around children developing well-being through mindfulness.

3) The introduction of the world’s first gender neutral doll line, Creatable World, to enable kids to mix and match and create their own characters not limited to the binary gender paradigm. This became one of TIME’s Top Inventions of 2019.

In service to leadership and teams in other business platforms, as they navigate their own inner and outer transformation toward purpose and positive impact, Kim and I have outlined what the key inner work was that helped facilitate these latest innovations.

  1. Purpose and impact is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Having already innovated a diversified Barbie line with various skin tones, hair textures and new body sizes, Kim and her team actively looked for where the next opportunity to bring positive change through Barbie might be. In Kim’s words “As a design team, how do we keep pushing boundaries in service to children?”
  2. The willingness to first just listen. Kim: “Empathy is essential to purposeful design. We listened to kids and parents regarding what could be of true benefit to them, as opposed to our moving right to what our own projections of what that might be.”
  3. To let go of the polarity of thought that societal benefit and fun can’t fully co-exist in a toy. Ascending that polarity was pivotal to Kim and her team’s success. A toy that has societal benefit but isn’t a joy or of interest to kids will not generate maximum benefit, nor will it create a virtuous cycle of profit and sustainment for the brand.
  4. Courage: Our growth as a team and individuals is a process of moving out of our comfort zone and helping culture move out of its comfort zone as well. As Kim recounts: “Bravery was necessary for our team to deliver a vision that would address the issues we were hearing from parents and kids around gender expression and creative doll play. Creatable World allows kids to create and recreate characters of varying gender expression in one doll kit — we knew there’d be both advocates and againstness out there, yet we boldly moved forward despite that.”
  5. Letting go of preference to serve purpose. Understanding that while the ego/mind may jump right to a certain form/design for comfort, in service to impact we’re capable of holding that with an open hand so that more impactful and powerful ideas can emerge, be seen, and embraced. Kim: ”In our collaboration with parents and kids we had to let go of “wanting them to love it just the way it is” and remember our intention to serve their needs vs holding tightly to our preferred interpretations.”
  6. 360° Receptivity and Co-creation. Kim was intentional in accessing this extra gear of innovation. To move design from a closed mindset of “I alone make this happen” and its inherent finiteness, to the open mindset of unlimited possibility in recognizing a collaborative creative intelligence in everything and everyone around us. To replace “make” with “allow”, and extend the act of listening and receiving fresh ideas and designs to a universe wanting to provide them to us from all directions. a willing universe capable of speaking to us through all its forms.

+ + + + +

What follows is the case study published one year ago and the journey of how we got here. Included in it are descriptions of the inner and outer work done by Kim and her team, both through the process of coaching as well as a purpose and innovation workshop of these principles done with the entire Barbie design group called “Being Limitless”. There are also pre/post studies on innovation drivers: how this impacted the team’s engagement, safety in bringing their whole selves to the process, willingness to be authentic, offer ideas, etc.

We look forward to bringing you another update in not too long a time.

Original Publication 2/9/19:

RRecently, while enso was building a social impact initiative with Mattel called The Dream Gap Project, Kirk Souder also engaged with their product design leadership in a parallel journey of uniting personal purpose with company mission and positive impact.

We are going to recount that journey here in the hopes of supporting a hypothesis that is currently floating around the halls of businesses, academia, and social innovation circles.

This hypothesis, if proven true, has the capacity to transform the world of business from the inside out, and reinvigorate its creativity, productivity, innovation, and positive impact in the world at large.

  1. Much greater engagement between the leader, her team, and their roles in the company.
  2. Greater innovation and creativity.
  3. The actualization of new products and services that align business growth and positive societal impact.

In a world where only 14% (Gallup) of the world’s workforce feels actually engaged in their jobs, and business is increasingly being asked by both consumers (enso World Value Index) and investors (Larry Fink’s CEO letter) to demonstrate both financial and positive societal returns, the validity of such a hypothesis could prove timely and actionable.

What follows is a living and evolving dispatch of this hypothesis in action between an impact agency and leadership of a Fortune 500 company.

It has been written in partnership by both the leader on the company side, Kim Culmone, VP Global Head of Barbie Design, and her executive coach Kirk Souder. Our vantage point is from the middle of the exciting process we engaged in together, the beginnings of exciting results, and a goal to share it in the hopes of inspiring other companies to ignite their own leadership by uniting them with personal purpose and mission.

It spans an intentional, multi-step process:

1. Soul Purpose 2017 Impact Accelerator (Connection of leader to personal authentic purpose, link to most recent one here.)

2. Impact Coaching (One-on-one impact coaching with Mattel leadership)

3. Mattel “Being Limitless” Impact Accelerator (Supporting leadership and Mattel’s Design Division in acquiring, integrating, and distributing the tools, insights, and growth, to their team at large)

Let’s move now into more depth and what transpired in this process:

1. Soul Purpose 2017 ~ Connection and Alignment with Inner Purpose

In September of 2017, Kim attended a two-day intensive Impact Accelerator called Soul Purpose. Soul Purpose was designed and facilitated by Kirk and Licia Rester-Frazee, to connect high-achieving leaders with their authentic purpose and thereby begin to envision their next act in scaled purposeful impact. Over seventy leaders from around the world attended, including executives from Bank of America, Microsoft, and Mattel.

Kirk Souder and Licia Rester-Frazee working with a technology leader at Soul Purpose 2017

Kim describes her experience:

“I attended because I was seeking wisdom around how to find alignment with my work and my values. I was conflicted around what might be next for me in my life and how to make significant impact with my work. I wanted to make a real difference in the world for people who are marginalized, underserved or invisible — my internal social justice warrior was screaming and I was feeling disconnected from that in my work. While I know the power of toys and Barbie to do good, I was judging the corporate environment as something counter to my values and that was really causing me emotional and mental angst. I was sort of stuck. What lit up for me very early on in the workshop was that it was about ME not ‘ the corporation vs a non-profit’. The shift needed to happen IN me to get past my judgements and limiting beliefs in order to see the true possibilities for making impact. The workshop concept of “Preference vs Purpose” — learning the distinction between what my ego attaches to as ’the right way’ as opposed to remaining open to other but potentially even bigger opportunities to manifest my purpose — really hit home.

“I gained perspective on new versions of what being a brand guardian could mean for me. I really saw the potential of my current role and the power of the platform completely with fresh eyes. Instead of feeling like I needed something new to make a difference and connect with my personal purpose. I didn’t have to work at a non-profit to do good…in fact I may be able to do exponentially more good from right where I was. There was a moment of knowing that was magical…seeing in a new way that what lights me up personally is in alignment with the goals of the company I work for and the work I do changed my life. I literally went to work on Monday morning and everything looked different to me.

Kim was not alone. Many leaders who thought the outcome of their participation was moving into an entirely new scenario, ended up seeing the company they were in with fresh eyes and its platform as one they could use with purpose toward impact. With her own revelation, new and exciting product ideas emerged that will be serving both Kim’s personal mission, the mission of Barbie, and the business of Barbie. As part of the program of Soul Purpose, Kim crafted intentions and a plan of action. She acted on each of them, and now all initiatives are underway. The first was one-on-one coaching to further this work.

3. Impact Coaching ~ Helping the leader transcend barriers between them and their vision of impact

Seeing the impact, engagement, and vision that emerged in Kim through the workshop programming, Mattel agreed to have Kirk do one-on-one impact coaching with Kim and continue the work that had been started. Impact coaching travels along this ladder of impact: 1) connection of leader to their authentic self and personal purpose, 2) alignment discovery between personal and company purpose, 3) unearthing and letting go of self-limiting beliefs, 20th Century conditioning, etc., and then 3) developing an Impact Vision, 5) commitment to its plan of action with milestones and metrics.

With Kim, rungs 1 and 2 had been largely climbed at Soul Purpose, and so Kirk and Kim concentrated the coaching program on 3 through 5.

As we began to envision what Kim’s Impact Vision might be, inevitably by design, limiting beliefs and judgments around self and the structures around her began to emerge — ones that she perceived might stand in her way. Kim began to discover, that by and large, all of these limiting beliefs and judgments were only thoughts and ideas she had chosen to accept as absolutes, and then had projected on herself and the structures around her. Kim describes clearing one area of self-limiting thought this way:

“I learned the shift to “I value myself” and to taking action from that energy, as opposed to from the negative and self-defeating energy of “I am not valued”. I discovered that lots of angst, suffering, and insecurity was due to my own self-limiting beliefs and judgements being projected onto others independent of what their actual opinions were of me.”

Freeing herself in this way created a much bigger field of possibility in terms of what she could imagine and create, and with that, a new gear in terms of creativity, innovation, and collaboration. All of this rose to serve her vision from Soul Purpose of new positive-impact products and a new team culture.

Also an integral part of impact coaching, is the design and fulfillment of a coaching project to serve step 4(Impact Vision). Kim realized that while the transformation that had happened in her would have enormous impact, it could be compounded greatly if her 70+ team in the Barbie design group all had access to the same tools and processes that had been pivotal for her. Kim’s coaching project became the design, actualization, and facilitation of a customized Soul Purpose impact accelerator to be held for the entire design staff of Barbie. It was called “Being Limitless” in alignment with the Barbie mission:

“To inspire the limitless potential in every girl.”

In reflection of this, the intention of the accelerator was to inspire the limitless potential of each member on Kim’s team.

4. Being Limitless ~ The Barbie Design Group Accelerator

As part of her impact coaching project, Kim crafted a proposal for the workshop, and presented it to Lisa McKnight, SVP General Manager of Barbie, and Michael Nehoray Ph.D, Head of Global Talent of Mattel. Based on the results this work was already achieving in the group through Kim, the Being Limitless accelerator was approved and the development phase began. This was a collaboration between Kim, Kirk, and Licia Rester-Frazee, and Michael Nehoray (Mattel’s Head of Learning and Development).

Kirk Souder, Licia Rester-Frazee, and Kim Culmone, facilitating “Being Limitless”

Through that collaboration, the arc of the workshop took this form:

  1. Experiencing the difference between the ego and authentic self
  2. Seeing personal purpose through the eyes of the authentic self
  3. Letting go of the ego’s story of failure for a new story of success
  4. Experiencing and claiming the empowered leader within
  5. Letting go of ego’s preference, for our greater authentic purpose, crafting a personal Impact Vision
  6. Elevating to 360° Receptivity, and Co-creation
  7. Commitment to action.

There were a couple unknowns in this process: Given the depth and inner aspect of the work, would a group whose presence was requested, as opposed to the “opt in” paradigm of previous accelerators, have a different or less powerful experience? And would a group who worked so closely with each other, day-to-day, be able to move into the level of vulnerability and honesty that makes this kind of work successful?

Deep in process at Mattel’s “Being Limitless” Workshop

Without really knowing the answers prior to the accelerator, the architecture of the programming included Kim herself as one of the principle facilitators, and this proved invaluable to both of these unknowns. Kim had the experience of knowing the internal culture of the group and company, and had the experience of the core principles and tools transforming her own work and life. As Kirk and Licia made their way through the principles and exercises, Kim was able to bring forward highly relevant and transparent examples of their application to her personal issues and challenges within the company. This provided real-world validation of how the principles and tools worked to the team, but even more importantly, Kim’s honesty and transparency created a safe space for others in the team to do the same — both in the break-out group work and the large group sharing. These quotes that emerged during the day have been used with permission from the participants:

“A lot of you know me as kind of a control freak [friendly laughter from the group], but what this exercise we just did united me with, is that it is probably safe for me to let go a little — spur more creativity by “allowing” rather than “pushing”. “ — A team leader

“I had never known about the “ego” and the “authentic self”. I had always thought all those negative thoughts and the “I can’t do thats” were actually me — not just my thinking. Seeing that, I can now choose to let those thoughts go, and choose new thoughts that fuel my creativity and productivity.” — Team member from Hong Kong.

“A lot of you don’t know this, but when I design a toy, I am thinking of a young child who may be lonely and may be plagued with self-judgments about who they are, and that perhaps I can give them moments of freedom from that. From this last exercise I see that in a lot of ways I am still that child inside, and in letting go of my own self-judgments and limiting beliefs, I will be able to create even more powerful moments for these children that perhaps can free them as well.” — A senior designer

We discovered that the level of impact and power of the work had not been diminished at all by those unknown variables previously mentioned. In fact, the level of the responses and sharing was just as powerful and intimate as the opt-in workshops.

We did two studies — one a pre and post analysis of various personal and cultural indicators around engagement, alignment, and creativity, and the other on the basic value of the workshop itself to the participant.

We are encouraged by the results:

Study on cultural indicators around engagement, alignment, and creativity.

Participant Value of Accelerator Study

Verbatim quotes from the studies:

  • “Great for re-energizing team and realigning purpose. Also great team-building with different people we don’t usually get to interact with.”
  • “It is very beneficial to know about the inner voice overtaking our thoughts all the time. Now knowing this, I can better manage the voice next time it comes up.”
  • “This workshop was insightful and transformative. I am walking away with tools that I can apply in my daily life that I am certain will allow me to show up as a better, confident version of myself. Thank you!”

One of the exercises of the workshop was each participant developing their own “Impact Vision” for the Barbie business in the intersection of their personal mission and Barbie’s to be implemented in the group. Also, the creation of “accountability teams” so that each team member had a partner and collaborator to see their impact visions through, in conjunction with Kim’s leadership. Now, about two months from the workshop, the projects and accountability groups remained invigorated and going strong.

“How is the team today? Well… I’m listening to uproarious laughter coming from our design area right now in fact if that is an indication. And it isn’t a party — just some of them working! This team was bonded before the workshop but I love seeing them connecting and communicating in new ways. Organically formed groups have started taking on activities like Purpose Journaling, they’ve formed Accountability Partnerships to stay on track with their Impact Visions, peers are teaching design skill development classes…it is rewarding to see the tangible action around maintaining the positive energy and engagement we committed to at the workshop. Plans are in the works for new idea sharing and generation forums and group meditation gatherings as well. They are connecting to and sharing their authentic nature and as a result they are getting to know each other more deeply…that has really dialed up their bond and opened up the creative flow.”

In addition, the third quarter of 2020 saw a 28% quarterly revenue increase for Barbie, their largest in 20 years, traceable and attributable to the innovation and diversification of the Barbie line.

In summary, at this stage of the process, what we are seeing is this:

Connecting the leader and/or team to their own deeper and authentic nature provides the all-important first step in the discovery of personal purpose. When the intersection of that personal purpose and the broader mission of the company is then identified, it enables the individual to bring the creativity, innovation, enthusiasm, and energy of fresh possibilities, uniquely available in their authentic nature, to their role. Those qualities dramatically lift engagement, invigorate team and company culture, and power the creation of new products that benefit both business and societal impact. Today the business of Barbie is doing well, and that is attributed to a powerful ecosystem of purpose-oriented leaders, purpose-oriented marketing, and purpose-oriented innovations brought to the product line:

“Mattel credited the improving trend to stronger demand for Barbie, the iconic brand of dolls that has undergone a revamp in recent years….the toymaker has made several tweaks to Barbie, by adding a variety of skin tones, plus-sized and hijab-wearing models and science kits to make the products more educational.” — Reuters

Companies and leaders can benefit and contribute to both business and positive impact by pursuing this work for themselves.

We look forward to updating this dispatch as the impact of this work continues to unfold.

Thanks for listening. and please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can answer any questions about these initiatives.

Kim Culmone and Kirk Souder /



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Kirk Souder

Kirk Souder

executive + leadership coach. Helping the transformation of leaders that they might transform their worlds.