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Thinkers50 in collaboration with Deloitte presents:

The Provocateurs:

podcast series



Sunny Bonnell: Rare Breeds – Marching To A Different Drum

Leadership and brand expert Sunny Bonnell is the bestselling co-author of Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different (with Ashleigh Hansberger, 2019). Sunny and Ashleigh are also the creators of the Rare Breed Leadership Platform, and the hit YouTube show, Rare Breed TV.

In this Provocateurs podcast with Thinkers50 co-founder, Des Dearlove, and Geoff Tuff of Deloitte, Sunny outlines seven unconventional traits displayed by ‘rare breeds’ – traits that are traditionally seen as vices, such as being rebellious, audacious, emotional, and hot-blooded. However, she explains that if organisations can see these so-called weaknesses as strengths they can create the cultures that allow rare breeds to thrive – and unleash their potential powers for innovation.

Sunny and Ashleigh founded their award-winning branding company Motto in 2005 with just $250, after dropping out of college together. Sunny is now the CEO and Chief Visionary of the company.

This podcast is part of an ongoing series of interviews with executives. The executives’ participation in this podcast are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own. This podcast should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.

Sunny Bonnell

CEO and Chief Visionary, Motto®


Des Dearlove

Co-founder, Thinkers50

Geoff Tuff

Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP


Inspired by the book Provoke: How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human FlawsWiley, 2021.

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Podcast Transcript

Des Dearlove:

Hello, I’m Des Dearlove, the co-founder of Thinkers50. I’d like to welcome you to Provocateurs, the podcast where we explore the experiences, insights, and perspectives of inspiring leaders. Our aim with this series is to provoke you to think and act differently through conversations with insightful leaders who offer new perspectives on traditional business thinking.


This is a collaboration between Thinkers50 and Deloitte. My co-host today is Geoff Tuff. Geoff is a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP where he holds various leadership roles across the firm’s sustainability, innovation and strategy practices. He’s also the co-author along with Steve Goldbach of Provoke: How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human Flaws. Geoff, great to see you as ever.


Geoff Tuff:

Great to see you as well, Des. I’m really excited about our guest today. We’ve spoken with some pretty provocative people on this podcast over time, but our guest today actually sets out to be a provocateur. Her whole career has been about shaking things up and being provocative. Sunny Bonnell is joining us today. She is the founder of the award-winning branding company Motto, which she started in 2005 with her co-founder Ashleigh Hansberger, with just $250 right, Sunny?


Sunny Bonnell:

That’s right.


Geoff Tuff:

After dropping out of college together. Sunny is now the CEO and chief visionary of the company. Sunny and Ashleigh are also the authors of Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different, which is an awesome title that came out in 2019. They’re the creators of the Rare Breed leadership platform and the hit YouTube show Rare Breed TV.


Sunny has built her entire career on believing in the power of going against conventional thinking and is on a mission to take up arms against conformity by pushing the boundaries of business. I cannot think of a better profile of someone to be on our podcast. Sunny, thanks so much for being with us.


Sunny Bonnell:

It’s my pleasure to be here.


Des Dearlove:

Well, you talk about being provocative and as Geoff says, you personify that in some ways. Let’s go back to the beginning or somewhere nearer the beginning and perhaps we can just explore your journey a little bit. Geoff mentioned that you and Ashleigh dropped out of college. How did that come about and what inspired you to embark on this journey?


Sunny Bonnell:

Well, our story I think is one of unconventional success. We met in Chicago as teens. We grew up together. We went to college together and then audaciously decided to drop out of college together to start this little branding studio as Geoff talked about called Motto. This was early 2005 when advertising agencies and mad men were really still very much dominant in the landscape. There were not very many branding agencies per se.


We set out to prove that narrative wrong. I think a lot of people assumed that we wouldn’t be a threat and we had no money, we had no business experience, we’re 20 something. We decided to non-conform and set out to have a vision and try to bring our business forward in a world that traditionally had not seen many women at the helm of those ships. That was 18 years ago and we are now a global company. We work across the world with some of the most innovative brands.


We really specialize in working with executive leaders to help galvanize their vision, champion big ideas, really help them leap to what’s next and help their cultures and the people around that big idea to believe in it, rally around it, support it, believe in it, champion it, and bring it forward through the brand. The majority of our work now is to set the North Star for many companies that we work with.


Geoff Tuff:

Clearly it works. I think we forgot to mention in the open that you very recently won a Webby Award, so congratulations on that.


Sunny Bonnell:

Yes, thank you.


Geoff Tuff:

 You’ve got attention at this point, certainly the Internet’s attention. Let’s try to break down what is it that is working. You talked about the fact that it’s fear that makes people conform, which I think is a fascinating idea. As I think you probably know, the first book that Steve and I wrote was all about breaking orthodoxies, but we actually never explored what it means as a human being to conform and why we do that. Tell us a little bit about what your research and your experiences with the folks that you work with has taught you about that.


Sunny Bonnell:

Well, I think my roots are deeply embedded historically in self-made entrepreneurship. I’m a third generation in my family to carry that torch of entrepreneurship forward. That chain of ambition and determination for me started very, very young. I think that for a lot of provocateurs and for people who are defiant and dangerous and different, this starts very, very young. What we learned was that this kind of behavior is deeply rooted in our psychology.


We’re taught to conform at a very young age, think about it. We’re taught to keep our head down, stay in line, teachers, friends, mentors, our family even, they are trying to protect us. In doing so, what they do is over time we become conditioned. A lot of the research that we did as we were writing our book was that we not only had lived it for the 18 years that we were women in this industry, but we learned by studying other leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs who had been nonconformist and had shaken the pillars of conformity.


A lot of them had very distinct patterns and those patterns were that they had been silenced and then over time their so-called vices became their virtues. The real difference between those people that have become awakened and those that are not is while everyone else is sort of suppressing their pain in the ass qualities, rare breed as we call them, are really leaning into them. They’re really, they’re letting them off the leash to run through the corridors of entrenched power like hooligans.


They literally throw brass knuckles at the established order. They do that by not suppressing who they are. They do it by leaning into who they are and that was something that not only did we do in our own career and have done in our career, but now we work with other leaders and other teams to say, “Well, what is the root of innovation? More importantly, how do we design and create a culture and a leadership mindset that ultimately lifts that up and celebrates that rather than suppresses it?”


Traditionally, as we know, rare breeds as we call them are people that have been fired for the same reasons that they’ve been hired. In most companies, they’re pushed out and they’re pushed out because they’re different and the way that they think is different and the way that they’re challenging the status quo is different and they just simply make people uncomfortable. What do we do when we are not comfortable? We push the thing out.


That’s what a lot of companies and organizations do. A lot of our work is not only about education around that, but also just helping leaders and teams and organizations understand that there’s probably a lot of rare breeds within your culture right now. The goal is how do I create the conditions to allow those people to thrive?


Des Dearlove:

One immediately thinks of someone like Steve Jobs famously, let’s say difficult to work with at times. Infuriating, obviously brilliant, but not everyone’s going to be Steve Jobs. I think there’s been this script for a while that actually we don’t want Steve Jobs, we’re all innovators, we can all do it. You’re going in the opposite direction to that say actually these people are important. Tell us a little bit more about that and about the seven virtues that you identify with your research.


Sunny Bonnell:

Well, I think it’s first to identify what is a rare breed. The way that we’ve defined a rare breed is if you look back historically through time, most misfits have been labeled with a negative term. There’s been a negative connotation with them. They’re outliers, they’re misfits, they’re the ugly piece of fruit, they don’t belong, we’re on the outside looking in. What rare breed does is by definition, a rare breed is unordinary among the kind.


They don’t just beat a different drum, they make the drum. The fact is that they are in fact rare. I don’t believe that by virtue of your background and everything that you have the capability of becoming that type of person. I think that we are very much, this is born within us, we’re nurtured in nature over time. I think some people come alive and some people stay silenced forever. I think rare breeds just they’ve been awakened and they begin to change the world by very subtle moves and sometimes by very loud moves.


What we have kind of identified is that they have these seven so-called unconventional traits. Those traits are rebellious, audacious, obsessed, weird, hypnotic, and emotional. Now, society teaches us that those seven traits are counterintuitive to our success, that if we have those traits that we’re somehow flawed. What I believe and what Ashleigh believes is that rare breeds have been with us since the beginning of time. Des, you were talking about that Steve Jobs comes to mind. Elon Musk probably comes to mind for many people, but they go back to the very beginning of time. Think about the very first biblical story that we’ve all heard about Eve taking the rebellious bite of the apple. She was the first rebel. We have people like Joan of Arc, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Greta Thunberg.


There are lots of rare breeds that have moved the world forward. What have they done? Well, what they’ve done is they’ve shifted the conversation and the challenges of conventional wisdom so that they move the world forward. They’re identified by these seven unconventional traits or so-called vices that society deems as unacceptable, which is rebellious, audacious, obsessed, weird, hypnotic and emotional and hot-blooded. These are historically known throughout time, if you embody one of these traits, you are often seen as a troublemaker.


In the book Rare Breed, what we try to do is flip that around and say, but what if those so-called weaknesses are actually your strengths? The real difference, as I said earlier, is that I think people that have leaned into the rare breed virtue that they have, if they look back historically across their life, they will have seen one of these traits at work in everything that they do. For probably a long time they were taught to silence it, push it down, conform it.


What I have seen in my work and in our work at Motto and particularly the work that Ashleigh and I do now, and by writing that book, we learned that there were a whole lot of people out there that had been silenced for a long, long time. This book was an awakening for them. It was sort of like, “You’re not flawed. You can succeed because of who you are, not despite who you are.”


Geoff Tuff:

Sunny, I love a lot of what you’re saying, and I can actually think of, for all seven of those traits, I can think of someone in my life or in my past life who fits that characteristic. Actually because they were allowed to be who they were, that’s one of the roots of their success. I can’t help thinking, and I’m sure some of our other listeners can’t help thinking that not all rebellious, audacious, obsessed, hot-blooded, et cetera, people are awesome. Is there a bad version of a rare breed that you actually don’t want to turn on and let loose? If so, how do you differentiate between the good type and the bad type?


Sunny Bonnell:

This is my favorite question. Rare breeds, the traits are as perilous as they are powerful, that is true. The murky borderland between the light and the dark side, if you will, are as murky and indistinct. What we are finding is that in cultures in particular, you haven’t hired the rare breed, you’ve just hired somebody who’s toxic. Those people will lead to culture carnage. Rare breeds tend not to do that, if they’re self-aware enough and they’ve leaned into it and they’ve begun to understand when that trait is at work, when it’s backfiring.


A lot of times when you’re new to understanding this about yourself, you realize that a lot of doors have been closed because you’ve probably shown up too strong. If you’re hot-blooded, for example, nobody loves somebody just pounding on the table and red in the face and fired up. Some people don’t appreciate that in the C-suite. At the same time that hot-bloodedness can be very, very effective in instituting change.


The goal is not to hire for troublemakers and for so-called toxic traits, which are hired for is a rare breed talent who, let’s face it, most leaders, most organizations, especially in today’s market, would really benefit from someone who’s an infusion of being a little bit smart and nerdy, and who’s able to think around corners and who’s able to challenge the established ways of doing things, and really get people out of the lane of their comfort zones, but they just don’t know how to find those people.


It’s not like they come with a giant visible warning label and they certainly don’t come with an app. Most recruiters don’t actually know that the questions to even ask to know if this person sitting in front of them is somebody who could potentially be the head of innovation or someone who’s really shaping the company in a fantastic direction. In our experience, hiring and attracting rare breed talent is knowing what to hunt for.


It’s also knowing that your job as a leader and as a coach is not to silence and compress those people down, but rather again, create cultures where you create the conditions to allow that person to thrive. You’re able to create values that person aligns with. Many rare breeds are just searching for a home and they’re in cultures that will not and will never accept them. 


That’s a square peg in a round hole. What we tell a lot of rare breeds that we work with or that reach out to us for guidance, we say, “Look, not only do you need to be asking and researching the company that you’re going to try to either get a job at or work for, but you need to pay attention to the questions that they’re asking you. Ask the people that work there, what kind of culture is this? What kind of leadership will I be working with? What are my teammates like? What is the mindset? How do they address innovation? How do they approach problems?


How do they approach the loudest person in the room and the quietest person in the room? Those are really important questions that a lot of people just don’t think to ask. It could save a lot of time if you were just to understand what you were signing up for before you signed up for it.


Des Dearlove

You mentioned you’ve got to ask the right questions when you’re trying to hire these people. What are the right questions or what are some of the right questions to ask?


Sunny Bonnell:

I think that many of what I said earlier about asking questions about what kind of process do we go through to unleash innovation? How do we champion an idea and realize an idea? In my opinion, the four most powerful words in the world are, “I have an idea.” How many times are you in companies where you have an idea that never goes anywhere? It’s important for rare breeds and people who are hiring rare breeds to just ask more simple questions.


What is your culture like? What is your organization like? How do you make decisions? Do you put people over profit? What is your innovation? How do you run skunk works? How do you essentially bring bold ideas to market? What does that process look like? How will somebody like me, who is an idea person, thrive within the walls of your organization? Who will I be working with? What teams will I be put on?


How will I know if I’ve overstepped my bounds? How will I know if I’m winning? How will I know if I’m succeeding in this role? Those are important things to ask and again, a lot of people just don’t ask them.


Geoff Tuff:

I have then two follow up questions if I may. One, what does the interviewer look for? How do you actually find the rare breed versus the toxic talent? Let me let you answer that and then I’ve got a separate but related question.


Sunny Bonnell:

Well, one of the things that you could have them do is take the Rare Breed Quiz. The Rare Breed Quiz is something that-


Geoff Tuff:

It feels like I just totally set you up for that, but I’ve never heard of the Rare Breed Quiz just to be clear.


Sunny Bonnell:

Well, when we were writing Rare Breed, we worked with a psychologist and a professor to develop an assessment that is 28 questions. By taking those questions, you are provided a result of what your primary virtue is. We’ve had teams, everyone from Microsoft to Google to Virgin take this quiz and have used it within their inner departments to basically define and understand who on our team has one of these traits, one of these dominant traits.


What it teaches them is how to work better together, how to be more aligned. Also if I know for example, if I know that Des, Des, you should take the quiz. I’m guessing here, let’s say that Des is just obsessed and maybe Geoff, you are emotional. Well, right out of the gate, we know that the way Geoff moves through life is an empath. The way that Des is going to move through life is somebody who just is probably like a dog with a bone who is sketching in the shower, who literally does not stop. Who’s working 24/7 to bring their ideas to life, who literally just cannot quit. 


When you understand the dynamic and you understand not only are there positive attributes to that, but they’re negative attributes. What it helps amongst teams is that we begin to work better together. We begin to understand each other better. Now, you could compare it to a DISC profile or an Enneagram or something like that. It’s very much in that line.


What it does that a lot of those other assessments don’t do is they call out a vice, which is really unique in the business landscape because you’re not normally looking for it. You’re not normally looking for it, but it is very, very much alive within your organization, and then within the people that you hire. How many times as CEOs and leaders have we had somebody in the group where we’re like, they’re the loudest, they’ve been on the payroll two weeks and they’re already questioning everything that we do.


The natural tendency is for people in HR and people in leadership to go, “Hold on, hold on, what do we have here? We got a wild one.” What they end up doing is letting that person go, they end up firing that teammate because they didn’t understand that perhaps this person had a rare breed virtue that was just not understood. When we understand each other better, we work better together.


We’ve seen it penetrate a lot of top level seat executive level leadership teams where they’re pulling up presentations and going, “We got five audacious people on the team. We got three emotional people, we got two hot-blooded and one rebel.” They will literally-


Geoff Tuff:

We need someone that’s weird.


Sunny Bonnell:

We need somebody that’s weird. They’ll look at it in such a way of just not saying, “We need to hire for that trait.” It’s like who do we think of when we think of the King of Weird? We think of Tim Burton. Tim Burton was fired out of Disney for Frankenweenie because he was just too weird and Disney just didn’t like weird. The reality is he went on to make some of the most incredible films of our time, Edward Scissorhands, Wednesday.


These are phenomenal films that will stay in the world’s mind for eternity because they’re so unique and different in such a strange world, you just feel like you’re on this kind of whirlwind of somebody’s magical mind. Had he not been—maybe been pushed out, he may not have been able to realize his full potential and where he ended up belonging. I think he’s a true example of a rare breed on the creative side of a bit of a weird virtue coming out to play and being somebody who’s pretty astonishing with his body of work.


It’s things like that you’re just looking for people who are not always the loudest in the room, but you’ve also got quiet rebels too. I have a lot of people on my team right now who I believe and know are rebellious, but they’re not banging their fists on the table and demanding that we change. They’re the Rosa Parks, they just don’t move, they didn’t give up their seat. The fact of the matter is that they are in fact quietly rebelling.


It’s important to know, and the better you get at this and the more that you’ve worked with people and you begin to see these patterns, you really start to be able to call them out quite evidently. I can do it even in teams now, when we go into leadership teams in Rare Breed, a portion of our work, it’s not all of our work, the majority of our work is aligning leadership teams, but a lot of our rare breed thinking carries over into that.

We will often have the teams that we work with take the quiz just so we know who’s in the room. It will be funny because I like to guess because I can just by spending a few minutes with each of them, I can often pick out where I think they are.


Geoff Tuff:

Des, I feel guilty now taking another question, but as Sunny has given that answer, I feel it’s an even more important one to ask. I’m interested after the intake, if let’s say the rare breed has been accepted and they find a way to thrive in a company. It sounds like you coach some folks on an ongoing basis. Now, I’m interested in the dynamic over time, how they continue to stay rare because I would imagine that it can be exhausting in most companies to actually not always fit in.


Yes, at the beginning there’s some novelty factor, but sometimes it’s just easier to assimilate, especially if you’re sticking around somewhere for 5, 10, 15 years. How do you get them to remain rare?


Sunny Bonnell:

Well, I think that it’s an education on both sides. I think the rare breeds that I mentor or that I coach, part of what I’m looking for is for them to ensure that their well of potential is continuously sourced and brought forward and that they understand when they’ve hit that capacity or the ceiling within their own career or their own work and when it’s time to do something different.


On the flip side, on the executive side or the leadership side where you have people that are obviously coaching and mentoring and growing people within the organization, it’s also important that you’re constantly checking in and realizing that you’re not trying to keep the rare breed trade in check, but you are trying to help coach and have them lean into it. As Garry Ridge likes to say, and he coached me one time, he said, your job as a leader is to find your balance on the scale of tough and tender.


Rare breeds, oftentimes, if they’re kind of unhinged, will come in a bit raw like clay that you begin to say, “Well, how do I not shape this into my version of who this person is, but how do I allow them to mold their own clay?” All I’m doing is just sort of coaching them on the fact that they have more in them to give. It’s my job as a leader to be transformational in that way that I’m always trying to get them to think audaciously. I’m trying to get them to reach beyond their grasp. I’m encouraging them to fail and to try and to do things within the company and to put their ideas on the table and to speak up and to champion things that they really, really believe in. 


I think that we have a long way to go when it comes to leadership teams and leaders who don’t quite understand that dynamic and we’re all getting better at it. I think both on the employee or and/or contractor side that there’s a lot of education that needs to happen about: Do you know your trait? Do you know when your trait is at work? Do you know when things that you’re doing are backfiring? That is really a big component of self-awareness. 


Then as I said on the executive side where you’re hiring for this person or you’re coaching this person, there’s also a great deal of almost emotional EQ that you’re just paying attention. You’re looking for opportunities to give this person to where you just nudge the door open. I’ve done that for many people on my team where they come in insecure, and what I’m doing is without them realizing it, what I’m doing is I’m constantly just opening a door, opening a door.


I’m trying to give them opportunities where I make them slightly uncomfortable, but give them the opportunity to fail in safety without feeling like they’re going to risk their job. I think that’s a really important place to be. Do I have a lot to learn? Of course, but it’s something I practice at Motto in particular is we’ve got a lot of rare breeds on our team. We have people I wouldn’t consider rare breed per se.


They keep things steady, they keep things moving and they’re very much important just as much as you need rare breed. You need both to actually work within the organization.


Des Dearlove:

You’ve talked a little bit about your leadership style, but how would you characterize it your own? You talked about being self-aware and some of the things you are trying to do. How would you describe, and you talked about that somewhere between tough and tender and where you land, is that a sliding scale that requires a little bit of movement with different people is, I mean, what I’m saying is, I mean, of course as a leader, we all have a repertoire, we’re not simply one thing all the time.

Do you have to be a bit more nimble in managing these people? Do you have to be a bit more agile as a leader?


Sunny Bonnell:

It’s true, and that was something that kind of gave me pause when Garry was coaching me on it, because I realized that sometimes, and he agreed with me. He said, “Sometimes I’ve been on the really tough side and sometimes I’ve been on the tender side.” I was like, “I know exactly what you mean.” There’s some people that I coach that I find myself on the tougher side because their discipline is not where it needs to be.


I liken it to an executive chef, you want the title of executive chef, but your entire kitchen is a mess. You can blame that on creativity or you can just blame that on you’re not disciplined enough and you have an organized mise en place. I learned this from Chef Daniel Boulud, French culinary chef. He endorsed Rare Breed. I toured his kitchen at Daniel in New York City… unbelievable. He’s got a little area, like a little rooftop area where he sits, and he watches all of his chefs with a laser pointer. If they do anything out of line or anything where they begin to get sloppy, he points it out. I was like, “That’s intense.”


Geoff Tuff:

I’m going to bring a laser pointer to my next meeting. That’s a great idea.


Sunny Bonnell:

It works, and he’s renowned. I mean, you don’t get to be Daniel Boulud unless you are completely rigorously trained and you are paying attention to every single detail. You’re paying attention to every person underneath your watch, and you are orchestrating them like a ballet, not a rodeo. That’s what I tell my team all the time, “This is a ballet, this is not a rodeo.” What I often will find myself doing, I would call myself a transformational culture first leader who’s still a work in progress and still learning the ropes of how to do this.


I’m completely self-trained, right? I dropped out of college in my early 20s, I started my company with $250. I don’t have a handbook. What I’ve learned is through a lot of black eyes and through hard work and just putting myself out there and pushing myself to the forefront. 


Now, my leadership style I think across the team is one, as I said, is transformational culture first. Really, what that means to me is I continuously encourage my team to navigate them towards their goals in a broad and sort of ambitious manner. All the while coaching them, not critically in a way that I feel you can break somebody’s spirit, but I do believe in being a tough coach. If somebody’s coming to you and asking, “I’m in this department and I want to be over in that department and that this person has a lot to work on when it comes to discipline, I think it’s important to practice that radical candor and say, “Look, I think you have a tremendous amount of potential, but the kitchen’s sloppy. When you can show me that the kitchen is running like a tight ship, then let’s take the next step towards that evolution in your career.”


That’s just what I believe, I’m on a journey of self-discovery myself since my early 20s, and I’ve had to ask myself this many times. What I will say is that I’ve grown from a reactive leader to a more intentional, thoughtful, reserved leader, which is tough for somebody like me who has a lot of energy, a lot of passion, a lot of vision, and can barely contain myself in most meetings. I’ve learned how to just damper it just a little bit so that I can let everyone else in my team shine because that’s what I’m there to do.


I’m there to ensure that they shine and that at the end of the day, if they go onto something different than Motto, the thing that they remember is, “I grew immensely under the stewardship of Ashleigh and Sunny.”


Geoff Tuff:

Sounds like you’ve learned a lot. Tell us, you’ve had some great guests on your YouTube show. We’d love to hear a few other stories like the story about Daniel, anything you’ve learned from some of those guests, and can you tell us any of those stories? It’s like a rapid fire version of Provocateurs.


Sunny Bonnell:

One of the most interesting interviews that we had was Charlamagne the God. Charlamagne, the God is co-host of the Breakfast Club, also has, I think a Comedy Central show, he’s often brought in on CNN. He’s a very provocative voice in the landscape right now. He was the first guest that came on Rare Breed around 2019. At that time, he was under an intense amount of scrutiny for all sorts of things. Our publicist and everybody around us was like, “You should think about who you’re inviting on this show.” Not directed at him, but just directed at something to think about. You’re bringing people on to basically talk about these things that are so-called vices. I said, “That’s precisely why.” We need to understand without judgment, we are the vessel of this conversation because nobody’s talking about it. We’re all talking about how you got to be famous and how you got to be a great leader and all the stuff, the journey that took you there.


Nobody’s talking about the traits that were the things that not only opened those doors, but closed those doors. Where for you as an individual, as a rare breed, what have you learned along the way about that trait at work in your life and your career? He was a fascinating opening segment because he’s a very dynamic human, he’s very smart, and he’s just brilliant, really. He’s really, really talented and we got to see another side of him. After he left the interview, he stayed for 90 minutes, he was only supposed to be there for 45.


After, we filmed in Manhattan Beach Studios in New York City, and as he was getting up and all the cameras turned off, he said, “No one has asked me those questions.” He said, “I came in, I had all my script. I knew exactly what I was going to say.” He said, “You asked me none of the things I thought you were going to ask me.” And he said, “No one has ever asked me these questions. Thank you for giving me the platform to help people understand me better.”


Then, that just led to a series of additional guests that came on. We had PJ Morton from Maroon 5, Gaby Dunn, who is now Gabe Dunn, just fascinating people that came on the show. We had Tarana Burke from MeToo, and many of their stories were really so unique yet at the same time, so rare breed, without a shadow of a doubt rare breed, just their stories of … Tarana Burke comes to mind. She thought about giving up and MeToo may have never happened.


It was the kids around her that she was mentoring that said, “Tarana, you can’t, like, you can’t give this up. This is important. This is your life’s work.” She came back to the table and that’s how MeToo took off. But MeToo had been in the works for a very long time before it became anything at all, before it became a hashtag, before it became anything that we know today. The reality is that what it takes is that they saw something in her.


Just as we rare breeds have to know ourselves, we also have to be able to see it in others because you never know when that thing that you say, when you tell somebody, keep going, don’t give up. That unlocks something in them. That’s an interesting story about how the name of Rare Breed even came about, which if we have time, I’m happy to share. It was a moment when somebody saw Rare Breed in me and Ashleigh and said, “Don’t quit, keep going.”


Geoff Tuff:

That’s great. Is that the story? How did the name Rare Breed come about?


Sunny Bonnell:

Sorry, I guess it was probably around, we’re like two years into business and we’re struggling. Nobody knows who we are, and we’re barely making any money at all. I think we were selling logos for $250 or something crazy, and we were just going to quit. We didn’t want to do it anymore. We had this very pivotal conversation with my father, who was also a self-made entrepreneur. We said, “We just don’t think we’re cut out for this. We don’t think that we’re cut out for entrepreneurship.”


He said, “I’m going to stop you right there. Not everybody’s going to love you. Not everybody’s going to understand you, but the ones that do are never going to forget you. You have to succeed because of who you are, not despite who you are, you are a rare breed.” That was in 2007 and we kept that little phrase for a decade before we wrote the book. The book was kind of a masterclass and just pushing through and actually wrestling your vision forward in a world trying to stop you, which is what all visionaries experience.


Which is now into the next book that we’re writing and into the next things that we’re doing around, we have a program called Vision Camp that we just recently launched. A lot of this is about the awareness of first understanding that there’s a lot of rare breeds out in the world who need to understand themselves and for teams to understand them better. There’s also cultures that need to be adapted and dialed in so that they can create the conditions for those people to flourish.


Then, you’ve got a lot of people out there trying to wrestle vision forward, and the world is not favorable to visionaries. Most people think that they’ve lost their mind, they’ve gone mad. The question really is, which is the title of the next book, the question isn’t, “Is it crazy?” The question that everyone has to ask is, “Is it crazy enough?”


Geoff Tuff:

The title is what, Crazy Enough?


Sunny Bonnell:

Crazy Enough.


Geoff Tuff:

That’s a great title.


Sunny Bonnell:

How to Build Cultures of Possibility.


Geoff Tuff:



Des Dearlove:

Tell me something, I was fascinated right at the beginning when you were talking about the fact that you are third generation entrepreneurial background, and now you’ve just brought that back to your father and saying something, and that is often what happens I think. Somebody says something and then they may not realize how significant it is, what they’ve said, but rare breed, is it nature? Is it nurture?


Both my parents were entrepreneurs and it would be so unnatural for me to work for another organization rather than try to start my own. I know for a lot of people that’s not the case. Where do you think, what’s the osmosis? What happens in that process when you’re brought up in an entrepreneurial family? Is it what people talk about over the dinner table? What is that?


Sunny Bonnell:

Well, I think that if I look back historically, both my great-grandfathers were entrepreneurs, but had dramatically different backgrounds. One of my grandfathers ran a car dealership and was one of the most famous car dealerships at the time. Then, my other great-grandfather was a coal miner. There’s a lot of story around how he used to leave with a dog and come home with a car and leave home with a car and come home with a shotgun, and he couldn’t read or write.


There was a lot of folklore passed down. There’s actually folklore about me and my family that when I was just born, that when I was laying on my mother’s belly, that I lifted my head up and put my fists in the air. There’s a story that goes around in the family about how they believed that that was the first inclination of me being a bit of a gutsy person. When I look back and realize where I’ve come from, I believe that it absolutely was inherently within me.

My dad started his company very young, with less money than I did, and no education. In some ways, I was more privileged than he or my great-grandfathers. I think the difference is, and Ashleigh’s background is really interesting as well, her grandfather started Ram Golf, which was one of the biggest brands in the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s. We both have these entrepreneurial strings, if you will, in us. I think the difference is that over time, I think dropping out and also being doubted.


I think a lot of people, when you hear that sense of doubt, when somebody labels you the underdog, I think there’s a part of you that just says, “I will show you who I am.” I have this saying sometimes I tell my team, I say, “Look, be thankful for small minds. Be thankful for doubt because that’s how the rose grew from the concrete. Be thankful for small minds.” Sometimes we don’t realize that the very essence of someone suppressing you down is actually the thing that propels you forward, because you need that tension of going back and forth to essentially catapult you forward.


I think that was very much my story of one where there was a lot of doubt. People thought we were not a threat, thought we wouldn’t really amount to much, and we made it work to basically say, no, watch us. I think that’s true that that comes from within. I also think I was surrounded at different points by people who said no and by people who said yes and that to me is what everyone needs, every rare breed. The difference is what you do with a no, which is really interesting.


Really quickly, Rare Breed was told no basically in the publishing world; when you’re denied the first book and they tell you not to go back with the same name, you don’t go back to the same publishers and be like, “I rewrote it.” That’s exactly what we did. Actually, a funny story around Rare Breed was denied 18 times by all major publishers the first iteration. What we did was we got all these rejection letters, and so we actually printed out every rejection letter that we’d ever received.


We pinned it up and we rewrote Rare Breed looking at all those letters. I knew them by name. I could tell you of them all by name exactly who they were, where they were working, not in essence of spite, but just more so that I believe that we had something to say that was provocative, that was important. We rewrote the book, but took it back as the same name. The crazy thing is that it went to a bidding war. I remember our publisher was like, “Can’t do this. You’re going to really make people mad.”


I just said, “No, but there can’t be any other title, that is the title.” There is no other title for Rare Breed. That’s the title. Then the subtitle, Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different just felt like the perfect end note to that story.


Geoff Tuff:

It’s a great title and subtitle. Super quickly because I know we probably are short on time here, but can you pull rare breed out of non-rare breed types? In other words, is it a teachable trait? Is it something that once a rare breed is part of an organization, they can actually emanate some of that capability?


Sunny Bonnell:

I think that through osmosis and through collaboration, that you can pick up traits from other people. I just think some people are really wired for it. I don’t think that Steve Jobs comes around that often. I don’t think people like Greta Thunberg and people like Elon Musk, they’re really generationally astute. I don’t see it very often, but I do see behaviors and traits in a lot of people that you know, and they’re accomplishing incredible things.

They are a rare breed in their own right. I also have a lot of people that I work with that they don’t care about changing the world and that’s okay. You need both.


Des Dearlove:

That’s great. I don’t think many Sunny Bonnells come along very often either. Thank you-


Sunny Bonnell:

My goodness.


Des Dearlove:

… for being our guest.


Sunny Bonnell:

That’s an honor coming from you, I’m not going to lie.


Des Dearlove:

Well, I’m afraid that’s all we have time for though. Thank you, Sunny.


Geoff Tuff:

Thank you, Sunny.


Des Dearlove:

Thank you everybody for listening. We’ve been Des Dearlove and Geoff Tuff. Please do join us again soon for another episode of Provocateurs.



This podcast is part of an ongoing series of interviews with executives. The executives’ participation in this podcast are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own. This podcast should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.


This podcast is part of an ongoing series of interviews with executives. The executives’ participation in this podcast are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own. This podcast should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.

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