People First! Sunny Bonnell, "What's Your Rare Breed Virtue?"

Morag and Sunny Bonnell ask the question, "What's Your Rare Breed Virtue?"

Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First! In this series, we explore the people side of successful business and careers. We all have a story to share, a leadership journey that we are experiencing.

We'll be interviewing authors, business leaders, thought leaders, and people like you to uncover the latest ideas, resources, and tools to help you become more effective at work - and in life. As it turns out, the secret is cultivating winning relationships. Business is personal, and relationships matter!

So, sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Sunny Bonnell ask the question, "What's Your Rare Breed Virtue?"

Chapter Layout:
0:00 - Open
1:07 - What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?
4:12 - Sabotaged, Edgy, & Absurd
9:20 - Fan the Flame
12:25 - 7 Traits
15:16 - Nature or Nurture?
19:50 - Audacity Personified
25:20 - Go All In on Who You Are!
29:00 - Final Thoughts & Wrap

LinkedIn Profile:

- [INTRO] Welcome to Skye Team's, People First with Morag Barrett.

- Sunny Bonnell is one half of the dynamic duo of the marketing and advertising firm, Motto, but she is also co-author of a phenomenal book called Rare Breeds. We're not talking cows and animals here. We're talking you and I, we are all rare breeds. We perhaps just don't know it. But the subtitle is what caught my attention. Rare Breeds, It's a Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous and Different. So I'm going to keep the alliteration going, Sunny. I'm looking forward to a delicious conversation with you about how we can all be defiant dangerous and different, and understanding the concept of rare breeds. But welcome to People First.

- Thank you for having me. What a wonderful introduction, thank you.

- I'll tell you. It was fun as I was starting to read the book. Before we dive into there, the inspiration and so on, as with all of my interviews, I want to start with your origin story. Because we're all on a leadership journey and it is rarely a straight path from A to B. So flashback, you're a wee girl. You're sitting in elementary school and the teacher goes, "Sunny, what do you want to be when you grow up?" What was your answer back then? What did you think you would be doing at this stage of your life?

- Veterinarian.

- Oh, correlation to rare breeds. We'll go back to it. So say more. Why did you want to be a vet?

- Well, I had a fondness for animals, all things big and small. And I used to study the encyclopedia and look up all of the animals and the breeds and I was really into it. And I had that answer from the time I was really, really young to the time I enrolled in college and that was the path I was going to be on. As a matter of fact, I dropped out of pre-vet. I was in pre-vet studying to and wanting to be a veterinarian and dropped out of college just about a year and a half in to start Motto with Ashley in my early 20s.

- But going from the science of animals to the art of creating brands and compelling non-vanilla, edgy, marketing collateral. Help me understand that pivot point.

- Well, I think that I, so I was moonlighting as a graphic designer on the side and hence my background here for those that can't see or those that are watching and can't see, I have a wall of guitars. So I was a musician from a very young age started playing guitar around the time I was eight years old, grew up around Bluegrass and gospel, cut my teeth on that, became a performing musician by the time I was 14 and had kind of gone down that trajectory as well. So I was doing music and interested in becoming a veterinarian, I think from a very young age. And then fast forward I'm into college, I'm still in a musicianship, I'm playing out, playing shows end up starting to design band posters and band covers for some of the albums and artwork, excuse me, some of the music we were doing and just fell in love with it and fell into it, really. I stumbled upon it. It was not something that I had a dream of becoming. I just started doing it as a hobby. And about a year after doing that, getting into pre-vet and just realizing that it was not for me and dropping out to start a branding agency. And looked around and said, "Well, maybe I've got a talent for this and I can do this." So, of course, I get Ashley out of college as well, and tell her she's coming with me and we're going to start this thing together. And that's exactly what we did. She was on track to be, I think, an English major into journalism. And I just believed that she could help me and we could do it together. So that's what we did.

- So tell me a little bit more about that 'cause at the beginning of the book you talk about how many times you were sabotaged, how many times you were fired for being edgy, the very reason you were hired in the first place, the number of times you were told that your ideas were absurd, or essentially just written off. So what helped you to stay in the game and continue to be the rebellious you that's upended the market?

- Yeah. I think that we, because we had never worked for another agency and we had never had any kind of roadmap prior to that, I believe that it gave us what we didn't realize, at the time but was a competitive edge. And we also did not like what we saw. So we looked around, again, keep in mind, this is 2005, we're in a very small Southern conservative town. There's only a few big players in our market, mostly advertising agencies, ran by the old guard. And here come these two women, these two young women, who audaciously believe that they can change the conversation from what brands sell to what they stand for and believe in. It's why we named our company Motto. And it's what we started out to want to do. We didn't know what that looked like. We just knew that what we saw around just looked a little bit homogenized a little bit vanilla, and we just thought audaciously we could do it ourselves, or maybe do it better. And immediately, we're met with doubt. You're too young. You're too broke. You're too inexperienced. You're too female to succeed in a world where at this point 60-ish admins are making the rules. And who do we think we are? We're outspoken. We have a lot of bravado. We may not know what we're doing but we look like we do or we believe that we do. That self-belief was very strong. But the truth behind it was that we had no money, nobody knew who we were, we were rubbing pennies together, we were in this small 14 by 14 room in a warehouse stowed away where nobody could find us. And the truth was that made the first year or two of running the business extremely difficult. And about, I'd say maybe 2007, we're starting to sort of believe that maybe everyone who is doubting us is right. We're looking at each other and we're going, "Do we really want to do this? "What were we thinking?" We were on track to do this. We had a clear path, being a veterinarian's kind of a sure thing. Why did we think this was a good idea? So we start self-doubting and believing that we're a little too rogue. And no one is taking kindly to that. Because we didn't realize at the time but I think we were seen as a threat. We didn't think of ourselves as that but I think we, in a room full of balloons, we're the sharp knives. And I think we just didn't realize that to them, they were like, "Who are these two young women "who are coming out and being extremely outspoken, "and now people are paying attention. "And even though they might be rubbing pennies together "they can take our business." So we have this pivotal moment where we have this difficult conversation where we're like, "We should just give up. "We're not making any money. "Nobody knows who we are. "Maybe everybody's right. "Maybe this is just, we're not cut out for this. "We're not cut out for entrepreneurship." And we have this pivotal conversation with my dad in 2007. And he says, "Well, of course, you two are kind of a rare breed." He's like, "Not everybody's going to love you. "Some people may even hate you." He's like, "But you have to succeed "because of who you are, not despite of who you are. "Be all of who you are. "That is what is going to drive people to want you "and to hire you." It was so interesting that it took us 10 years or so to write the book. We got that phrase rare breed in 2007 and didn't write and release Rare Breed until 2019. So we spent the next decade trying to prove this theory, were we rare breeds? Could we work with rare breeds? What were rare breeds really made of? Why were some of these people like us, obstinate and hot-tempered and all the things that we write about in the book? And so it's just an interesting trajectory that we finally had something to say about it because we'd lived it.

- It's amazing, isn't it, that pivotal moment where you're dad stepped in and essentially held the mirror up for you and said, "No, stick with it." You are the role models for everything that you now describe and talk about in the book. And as I said, I love the subtitle, the defiant, the dangerous, the different. 'cause I think we all have it inside us. And as a British woman, I can tell you I can be all of those things internally. But the fear of letting that out and breaking the implicit rules or even the explicit rules often mean we tamp it down. And yet it's that spark that makes us unique and special, that needs to be fanned to get it to a flame that can affect change.

- I think it starts, you talk on something really important which is what we saw is that this conditioning, what you're talking about is conditioning. And we go into deep detail about this within the book, but back to these seven traits. So just to back up and talk about what Rare Breed is. So Rare Breed, a Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous and Different is a book about seven unconventional traits that society has deemed as counterintuitive to your success like you should not be these things in order to succeed. We have reframed these so-called vices as your virtues. And what I think is happening, I think we saw it in our own career, and certainly now, of people that we work with and now having written the book and getting emails every day from people who are like, "Can't believe you've just put into words "what we've been struggling with." But essentially, this conditioning starts at a really young age. You're taught not to be these things. You're taught to silence your voice, to ground down those prickly points. And I think over time, what happens, to your point, is that we become silenced. And we don't realize that we're being in some way erased or silenced in some way or that we can't hear our own voice anymore because we're listening to the voices of everyone else. And we don't let those parts of ourselves really come to the surface because this is conditioned in our society even in our workplaces. I think, there's a statistic that 10% of people can really be their full selves at work. Put us into the context of being a young kid, teenager going through high school, then you're in college. your parents are telling you to be a certain thing or they have dreams for you, of a life you haven't lived yet, all these sorts of things. And over time, you're just chipping away at who you are. And you're not really able to own who you are. Because you can't hear that voice. So I think Rare Breed is the permission slip to not only hear that voice, but to awaken it and unleash it so that you can fully lean into those oddball traits that you might have that you've been looking the other way on.

- I love that. And as you said, showing up as our authentic selves and you describe it in the book that whichever of the trait or traits you recognize in yourself, it's a gift. And it's, how do you bring that play in a way that is disruptive, is defiant, is dangerous, different but doesn't necessarily sabotage the relationships or what you're trying to do in the world. So you mentioned that, I know there's a quiz. So I encourage everybody listening go find the quiz. We'll make sure that the link for that is around the show notes here. So you can go and self identify and find out which of the traits apply to you. Mine was emotional. We'll come back to that. Caught be my surprise when it first came out. But you talk about seven traits. So let's talk briefly about them and why these of all of the traits you could have talked about distilled to the surface. So can you take us though them? Let's start with rebellious.

- I'm audacious actually. Ashley's emotional. But we'll get to that in a minute. So the seven traits are rebellious, audacious obsessed, weird, hot-blooded, hypnotic, and emotional. And we went through hundreds and hundreds of different vices, so to speak. And what they all needed to have in common was they had to have a dark side. In other words, they had to be as powerful as they were perilous. They had to be as uplifting as they were undoing. And that fine line between being a rebel with a cause and one without, we needed to explore that. And not just say, "Well, go be rebellious "and be a positive rebel." We needed to explain what happens when you're not? What happens when rebellious becomes destructive? What happens when audacity becomes hubristic? What happens when obsession turns into parallelization or dooms you to this idea of perfection and inflexibility and you're not able to finish the work? And so what we found by doing this exercise was that all of them seem to ladder up to one of these seven. In other words, if we looked at obsessed, we could look at things like persistent, tenacious mad, ferocious, different words or adjectives that we could describe. But we were like, but what is bigger than that? What does it mean when it ladders up to something bigger? And so we kept just saying, "Well, this ladders up to that." And we just went all the way up and we just kept coming back to the seven. The only thing that, at one point we did, we did explore the idea of hubris because we thought hubris was bigger than audacity. But then we realized that hubris was just the dark side of it. It wasn't actually the positive that you couldn't necessarily be hubristic and also be positive. It's usually, Icarus fall, going too close to the sun. That is how we arrived at the seven and wanting to make sure that when people were reading it that we were able to really explore what each one of those meant, how they needed to be a force for good, and what it meant to actually become a rare breed and use one of these seven traits as an advantage. How could it unlock the door but also, how could it close the door?

- Let's talk about audacious and emotional in a little moment, because obviously, we can bring it alive and personify it. I just want to check there then, are we born with these traits or can we nurture and grow these traits? If I'm somebody who according to the quiz, I'm emotional, can I learn to be audacious? So let's get that one done first.

- I believe, from my experience and the studying that I've done is that we are all born with certain traits, innate traits, if you will, DNA. It's why Carl Jung talks about being a mother and you have, say, three kids. And before those kids can probably even walk or talk, as a mother, you can say, "The middle one's the fiery one." They're not saying anything. They're too young to even tell you that they're going to be fiery, just by their behaviors and mannerisms, you're like, "Well the other one's a little bit quiet. "And this one's a little bit of a firecracker." That was the dynamic in my family. So my mom was like, "When I came out, they were all like, oh, oh." I'm one of three, I'm the youngest. And she was like, "If I would've had you first..."

- Done.

- I don't know. I used to run the neighborhood naked. I was a pretty wild one. I just don't think they knew what to do with me. And I think these inherent traits were in me from a very young age. I also think that looking back, from being a young, there were certain tendencies. I was very entrepreneurial at a young age as opposed to my siblings. So I do believe that a lot of these traits are maybe already in there. And then environmental conditions; parenting, life, all of the things that happen around us, who we are influenced by. We are the result of everyone who's ever touched us, who's ever influenced us, who's ever made us go in one way versus another. My experiences versus your experiences are completely different from one other. But the way I might pursue life or work through my own challenges, whatever those are, and also my own accomplishments, they're all being driven by different things. And I think some of that is our own voice. I think some of it is the voices of others and I also think it's inherently within us. Back to my earlier point, I do believe that the conditioning throughout time often forces a lot of rare breeds that perhaps would have shown themselves or revealed themselves maybe a little bit earlier, often don't reveal themselves because of all those things that I'm referring to. But the difference between someone who's a rare breed and someone who's not, is while everyone else is pushing down those traits and pushing down the true spirit of who they are, rare breeds are like, "This is who I am. "I can't be anybody other than who I am "and I'm going to lean into this fully "and I'm going to let this off the leash. "I'm really going to celebrate this." And that character arc is really important because rare breeds, who we have now known to come and love, who have been iconic that we all can point to, like the lady Gaga's of the world, the Rosa Parks' of the world, like Martin Luther King, all the people that we've come to know and love is these rare breeds throughout time, even Elon Musk, I would absolutely say is a rare breed. The difference between them and everybody else, is now they've keyed into this and they're like, "Aha." This audacity that I have is going to put people on Mars. I have drank my own Kool-Aid to the point that I believe that we will do this. And then everyone else around them is like, "Yes, we can." But the difference is, is, of course, are the dark side of that. Are we advocating for rare breeds that are evil? Absolutely not. But I would argue that some of the most influential people throughout time have also been some of the most destructive. And that's why we wanted to talk a lot about what it means to really embrace that goodness and to use your rare breed traits as a force for good, not the opposite.

- I love that. So it's being intentional. And again, knowing what inspires and engages us what drives us and tapping into that in a way that helps move everybody forward. So you shared that yours is audacious and you described that in the book as the ability to see realities that other people can't see and have the nerve to try to bring them into being even when everyone else says they are impossible. Sounds like the journey you share about Motto. Help us understand how you personify that. So as people listening, maybe they can connect with that. And of course, take the quiz, go find out.

- I think audacity is a really interesting one. I think audacious people move the world forward. I think they dream extremely big. They have major egos most of the time. They look around and they're just like, "Why is that impossible?" A great example of this that we talk into the book is when we wrote Rare Breed, the original manuscript for Rare Breed, excuse me the original proposal for Rare Breed was rejected 19 times. It got rejected by every major publisher. And at the time, we didn't really realize that we were writing a book that was bigger than a branding book or a traditional business book. At the time we just kind of figured. "Well, this is what we know. "This is our industry. "So we should write a book that is tailored to that." The first premise of Rare Breed was all wrong. It was just not the right framework. It wasn't really positioned correctly, but anyway, we submitted it. And much to our disappointment, we got I think something like 19 rejection letters. Well, our agent comes back and says, "You've been rejected. "It's kind of done. "You can rewrite it if you want, and we can try again, "but you can't call it Rare Breed." And I'm like, "What the fuck are you talking about?" I'm like, "What do you mean we can't call it Rare Breed?" And she's like, "You can't call it Rare Breed." She's like, "They've already told you no. "This is "pretty common in the industry, in the publishing world. "You cannot go back in with the same name "because you're going to piss them off. "They've already told you no." And I was like, "There is no other name. "There is no other name" I'm like, "Rare Breed is the concept. "Rare Breed is the name. "And it will be the name. And she's like, "Oh gosh." And even Ash is like, "I don't know, Sunny. "Maybe we should just call it something... "I don't know. "Let's take her advice." She's trying to be the voice of reason but I'm unreasonable. You can not tell me no. I'm like, "We're going to rewrite it." In the book, we tell a little bit about the story. It's much deeper than the story I'm about to tell, but it's fascinating because we literally tacked up every rejection letter that we had around us on the wall. And we rewrote Rare Breed to every single one of those nos. And I was like, "I will turn every single one "of those into a yes." "I will find a way to turn every single one of those people that told us no into a yes. And so when we ended up rewriting it, of course, we gave it back to our agent. She's just like, shaking her head. Like, "You're not listening. "I'm telling you right now, "this could ruin my reputation." And I was like, "I don't care." I'm like, "We're going to fight for it." And she goes back out, I think very unwillingly but she did go back. I think I convinced her to just take another shot. And we went back out and it went to a bidding war. And so some of the people that had said no ended up saying yes. And it was a very, very validating moment. because I was like, that is audacity. There's another story we tell a little bit about Ashley going to a competition when she's 22 years old and goes to the practice pitch. A lot's on the line. We're up there to pitch our company and win this women entrepreneurial package where we win money and press and just the dream entrepreneurial package that you can get when you're that age and you're trying to get your business off the ground. And she goes up and she gets booed. They're just like, "You don't know your business. "I don't know why you're here." We're the youngest women in the competition, by the way. And she was like, "I'm going home. "Let's go home." And I'm like, "Why?" I'm like, "Why? "What are you talking about? "We can't go home." I'm like, "If we leave, they won." I was like, "This is your reputation." I'm like, "We have to go back up there. "You can't let them tell you who you are. "Let's show 'em who we are." I was like, "You just got nervous. "Let's just go back up there." Lo and behold, next day, I convinced her to go back up there. And that was her audacity showing up. She goes up there, she pitches the company, we ended up winning it. She gets a standing ovation from the people that had booed her the day before. And that was audacity. And audacity is wrestling your vision forward in a world that's trying to stop you. And that is what we believe in. And I think that's audacity at work. And it's why I think the world moves forward. We need audacious people. We need those outrageous thinkers because otherwise, what are we doing? Why not dream bigger and push for more? That's just the philosophy that we really hold. And we've seen it time and time again work.

- I just love those two stories, real world stories that bring it to life. Because as the title of the book says, we need people who are defiant, dangerous and different. Otherwise, we're just becoming a beige conglomerate of nothingness. And it reminds me of a quote I read in the book that said, "What if you could change your future "not by becoming someone else, but by going all in on who you are?" And that quote alone just caused me to pause because so often, we self-subjugate who we are. And as you've just shared, standing in your truth, having the courage to go back to those publishers, who'd said no and getting them into a bidding war. That's by going all in on who you are and what you believe around rare breeds.

- But not without people telling you that you have gone mad. And not without them telling you that you're about to piss everybody off. You're going to your ruin name. You're going to ruin your reputation. You're going to come off as difficult. You're going to come off as defiant. You're going to come off as dangerous. But that's why we wrote. We wrote the book for those people who literally stop short of the yes. They hear no. And no is forever. I hear no. And I'm like, "I just need one. "I just need one yes." I just don't see it that way. It drives other people crazy. It's the thing that they probably love about me the most, because it's the thing that I think allows me to do some pretty extraordinary things. Once they see it and they're like, "Okay, all right, she's not gone mad." But not without trying to pull you down. They're going to pull your legs down, pull your arms down. They're going to try to wrap their hands around your ankles because they can't see it. So because they can't see it, they don't believe you will be able to see it or realize it or make it into being. But that's why audacity is so important.

- But what I'm hearing is though that you change the how you communicate to influence so others can see your truth and vision versus just going at it in spite of. 'Cause as you said, with all of these traits, there's the positive upside of them. but there's also a dangerous side. If you continually blindly going after something, others maybe it can't work at that time. Then at some point, no, no, no, you have to stop and you either change the game or start a new game at that point.

- But that's for you to decide.

- Yes.

- So that's not for anyone else to make that decision for you. You know where that threshold of pain is for yourself. But what often happens is we start to hear the murmurs of others. And we start to doubt. Maybe we are like this. This is too outlandish. This is too crazy. Of course, are there dangerous sides to this? Look, Adam Neumann from WeWork created a brilliant thing but in the end he became hubristic. He was audacious, but in the end he became hubristic and got sent away. So yes, there's a definite dark side to this. You can absolutely drink your own Kool-Aid and believe your own medicine. And then the next thing you know, you're not in reality at all to where you don't understand that what you're doing is destructive. Rare Breed had to be put out. I would not take no for an answer.

- Wouldn't take no for an answer, I love it. So for those listening, who are now thinking, "Am I a rare breed?" What final thoughts do you have for them? And how and where do they go and learn more?

- Well, I think you have to think about Rare Breed in the context of three things, one, yourself. So how does rare breed show up within you? What are these traits? What is that dominant virtue that's driving a lot of what you do? How do you learn to harness it in positive ways and also be very cognizant of the dark side? Part two is how do you show up as a rare breed leader if you're leading a team, for example? I think it's extremely important to know the provocativeness and the power of that. So in other words, we go into companies now and teach them this rare breed mindset. And leaders are supposed to be conventional, steady, decisive, calculated, diplomatic, logical, all these traits you should be. And those qualities are important, but rare breeds they think very different. They eat the status quo for breakfast. They're going to operate on a very different frequency and that's what's going to make them great. And then if you are a leader of rare breed talent within teams, you also need to be looking at who within your company is a rare breed? Is your tendency to push them out or is your tendency to seek them out and actually bring them into the fold? So there's three layers to this. It's you as the self and your career and where you're going with it. It's you as a leader and how you lead with this mindset. And then also, how do you hire for those individuals in traditional companies where most rare breeds are, in fact, pushed out of companies? Just thinking about why we have a responsibility to first, not only see it in ourselves, but then to recognize it in others. We will only be able to change this conversation when we stop othering the rare breed. And when we stop just treating them as if they're all the dark side which is not always true. Yes, of course, sometimes they do possess those traits but a lot of times, they're just untapped potential. So that's how I'll be thinking about it. And in terms of how to find us, you can go to that's where you can learn about our agency Motto. And then the book is on there, of course, Rare Breed. You can also take the quiz at We have a YouTube show where we sit down with cultural provocateurs and we interview people like Charlamagne Tha God, Jon Batiste, just recently PJ Morton from Maroon 5. And we talk about how they've used one of these seven traits to unlock their careers. So there's a tremendous amount of content to get that. And of course, you can hire us to come and talk about these topics, whether it's speaking or going into teams and helping them align their leaders around some of this interesting thinking because it does change the way they operate in the world and gives them a true competitive edge. It's interesting that it's become more than a book. I always knew it would be, but I didn't realize at the time that it could be, it's almost like the thinking of Rare Breed is actually bigger than the book itself.

- Well, Sunny, thanks for giving us a brief insight today. I encourage everyone, go to the YouTube channel, those interviews will blow your mind. Take the quiz so that you can understand your own rare breed, but step into your truth because the world needs all of us to be defiant, dangerous and different as we can only be. Thank you.

- [Narrator] Thank you so much for joining Morag today. If you enjoyed the show, please like, and subscribe so you don't miss a thing. If you learned something worth sharing, share it. Cultivate your relationships today when you don't need anything before you need something. Be sure to follow Skye Team and Morag on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you have any ideas about topics we should tackle, interviews we should do, or if you, yourself would like to be on the show, drop us a line at, that's S-K-Y-E Thanks again for joining us today and remember business is personal and relationships matter. We are your allies.

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