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North Star Leaders Podcast

Yoko Miyashita

Season 1 Episode 3 24 Oct 2023

Transcript

Yoko Miyashita:

...the crux of the issue, when you've got to deal with the real life challenges, how do you realize this vision, this aspiration, this grand belief of what you believe it can be? And I think where we were starting with was in the moment under those constraints, you feel like those things are intention and if you can take a deep breath and step back long enough. I think the way to think about this is we need to avert that. It actually comes from that purpose. It comes from that aspiration that can actually drive and solve your challenges.

Lindsay Pedersen:

The world needs, what only your business can bring, and as a leader, it's your job to deliver. But where do you focus? Where do you direct your time, your team, your budget, and your emotional energy? We are learning this together on the North Star Leaders podcast. I'll be talking to purpose-driven leaders about the choices they make to create audacious economic value while also realizing their distinctive purpose. I'm Lindsay Peterson, brand strategist, author of Forging an Ironclad Brand and host of the North Star Leaders Podcast. Let's get to it.

Today I am so happy to be joined by my guest, Yoko Miyashita. Yoko is CEO of Leafly, the world's leading cannabis resource and commerce platform. Before serving as CEO, Yoko was Leaflys general counsel.

Yoko Miyashita:

She's also held leadership roles at Getty Images and she was an attorney for Perkins Kui. Yoko, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much, Lindsay. It's so great to see you again and to be spending time with you.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Me too. Yoko, to start us off, what is your favorite thing about what you do?

Yoko Miyashita:

To me, it's motivating a highly committed group of individuals to solve some of the hardest problems in a really complicated industry. That's cannabis. And that's all in service, right? We're all aligning, working so hard in service of our mission, and that's to help everyone everywhere discover the magic of cannabis. And I want to just break that down a bit because you got a lot there. You've got the intellectual challenge of it. You've got the practical everyday realities of an industry that is just coming out of the darkness, right? Coming out of a hundred years of prohibition. But to me, the magic lies in the coordination and commitment of individuals and getting all of us to row in the same direction. And without that, I can't emphasize how hard it is in this space, but when you see so many people committed to that, you can't help but be inspired. And it is what sort of fuels me. It is really why I keep going.

Lindsay Pedersen:

What is it that's hard? What is it that's so hard about this space?

Yoko Miyashita:

So let's talk about the legal status, right? Let me remind everyone about cannabis. For a hundred years it has been illegal. And what's so interesting about this, prior to that, it was actually used, it's been used in cultural medicinal practices for hundreds of years. So we go down this dark path of prohibition and there are lots of really terrible things that have happened. We have a failed war on drugs that has disproportionately impacted communities.

And so you come out of this and say, okay, let's really assess this plan. Let's use some data and science to actually figure out what it can do, and now let's respond to the people's desires and say, okay, can we find out a way to legalize this? And where we are in our state today, and I'm going to speak primarily to North America and the US, is that it's states legal, IE states have legalized cannabis, but the federal government hasn't. And so you end up with a highly fragmented state by state approach to how you treat this plant, which means rules of the road are different from state to state. Some basic things like you don't have interstate commerce, IE product has to stay in one state's boundaries. You don't have access to federally regulated things like banking.

Now imagine if you're a business and you have no access to regular banking services. You can't use Visa or MasterCard because they won't work with a cannabis related company or in the cannabis trade. And so you're constantly having to navigate, okay, the state says I can do this. The federal government says you can't do that. How do I find opportunity? How do I build growth and how do I deliver against my purpose and mission in that space?

Lindsay Pedersen:

Wow, is that all? Yeah, that doesn't sound hard.

Yoko Miyashita:

That's just Thursday, right?

Lindsay Pedersen:

That's just scratching the surface of what's typical. And I know, and it's like I hear on just a sheer commerce level, it's extraordinarily labyrinthine and complex just because of the differences state by state, that alone is wildly difficult,

Yoko Miyashita:

Wildly difficult, wildly difficult in terms of, and think about it from a product perspective. Leafly isn't a technology company. We're here to demystify and aid consumers in their consumer shopping experience through information and data. But even the basic information you need to shop for legal cannabis is complicated. We live in Washington state. You can order cannabis for pickup in the store, but you can't get delivery. You go to California, delivery first. Delivery is available. So even if you're a consumer with the best intentions to shop for legal cannabis, it's really hard because there's so much variation in how states regulate this.

Lindsay Pedersen:

And that's not even starting to talk about the mindset differences around plant medicine, right? Like the cultural, sociocultural differences and different places on the curve of acceptance and embracing and discrimination. So it's like we haven't even started to talk about that.

Yoko Miyashita:

No, no, but talking about purpose here.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah.

Yoko Miyashita:

I rooted in education and information and that's core to who we are at Leafly, education and information. Why? Because we have a hundred years of misinformation around this. We have to help deprogram from all of the tropes and stereotypes and oh, guess what? By the way, we didn't research anything for the last 30 years. It was essentially illegal even for research purposes. We have all of this new science emerging,

So how do we help deprogram you and build you a foundation or an educated foundation to make really smart choices about what cannabis is right for you?

Lindsay Pedersen:

Right, it's not like you're educating in a world where there's a blank slate and you're starting from scratch. You're starting from a place of first deprogram to get to the place where we can have accurate and rich data and information. It's a very difficult behavioral task to execute.

Yoko Miyashita:

Absolutely. Building that safe space and a construct to help people break down original thinking around that and then build a new set like how you have to exercise your brain. Okay, reminder, reminder, reminder. This is an old framework. Let me give you a new framework. And you've really got to exercise that muscle before you ever get them into the store's doors to make a purchase. And so we're so rooted in that, the education and information piece, and it's so core to how do we always express ourselves? How do we manifest this brand? How do we show up for all of the constituencies we serve?

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes. Do you have a stated North star, whether explicit or implicit?

Yoko Miyashita:

Just to give a little context for Leafly, we're a multi-party platform, right? We connect consumers, licensed retailers and licensed brands in the space, but for us, it's rooted in consumers and we believe we can drive the greatest value when we empower consumers with the right information, the right science about cannabis and connect them to the legal ecosystem. It is all about empowering your discovery.

And we use this word discovery because discovery is about, we consider cannabis a journey and everyone is on this journey from different stages. You might be a long-term consumer, but you might have a very different construct around how you engage with the plant. You may be absolutely new to this and absolutely terrified and not know where to start, but can we help you? Can we bring our knowledge? Can we bring our almost 13 years of science and research and information to help you make that decision? Because when we can guide you through that, we can help connect you with the players in this ecosystem and everyone wins as a result. That is incessant.

We know we can do this. We're always challenged in how to get there, but we believe when we deliver against that proposition, everybody wins. Everyone in this ecosystem wins when we can do that.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Enabling discovery and unlocking magic. Is this the North Star in what you've just described?

Is this something that you as a leader are using daily, monthly? How granular and mundane is this? Or is this lofty just for really big marketing decisions?

Yoko Miyashita:

I think this comes from being so ambitious about where I want to get to. And so my response to that question is not enough. And I think enabling magic, and we use this right, it's the idea of everyone everywhere able to discover the magic of cannabis and magic is a word that we really grappled with. Is it too loose? Is it too loosey goosey? Is it to this? Is it to that? Does it not give it the gravitas? But ultimately, where we are rooted in is in the plant and the science of the plant. And when you actually go deep on this, there are so many interesting attributes and the ways that it's been able to impact individuals is so powerful.

And the difficulty when you have something that ambitious in front of you with magic and you look at the day-to-day mundane challenges that you've got to tackle and get through. Sometimes you really feel that gap between what you're doing at end of the day and the bar of magic, but you don't stop trying. And I think it's remembering that we hold ourselves to that ambition of magic that is really important to have, especially in difficult times. And if you're familiar with this industry, it's difficult times for some of the reasons I explained it at the outset.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah. Tell me more about, bring me to a moment when, yeah, it's difficult and you're navigating some challenging conversations, dynamics, decisions, and you're reminded, oh yeah, this is why we're here. This is our purpose. Take me to that.

Yoko Miyashita:

I think I have a couple of examples and one, most recently we're in our regular start planning cycle and just to set a little foundation, we've had some really difficult times and we went through technology layoffs and those are soul searching moments and really hard in an organization as you can imagine. But as we rethink this and you're working in a leaner environment, and in our case serving multiple constituents, this means we have three different product sets, retail, brands, consumer products. Where do you start? How do you allocate resources? Where within that because everyone needs something from you and you really need an anchor to help drive that decision. And when you can root back to something, right? Consumers, helping everyone everywhere discover the magic of cannabis, empowering consumers. It's so helpful to go, oh, that's right, that's right. Where do we start again? Okay, deliver on that proposition to our consumers because when we do that, we know we can create value for the retailers and brands on our platform.

So to me, it is the anchor from which the answers come when you are swirling, when you need to drive clarity in your decision making. That's one. Another one for me was kind of thinking through North Star pillars and North Star being this really ambitious thing that you're going after, and I'm going to always say, I am falling short of it because it's always going to be here, but your pillars and how you manifest that, how do you build the building blocks to get to where you are? It was really interesting for me recently to be thinking about, oh, the pillars might shift because the context shifts. And so you need to keep thinking that you need your North Star to anchor you and to assess your brand pillar. Let me give you an example. Leafly, long history of we are one of the largest information resources for cannabis in the world.

When Leafly started originally as [inaudible 00:14:22] databases, the richest resource for information on cannabis streams, we have over 6,000 entries in our database today. And then we built the news arm on top of that and imagine building a cannabis news arm almost 10 years ago now. Nobody else is talking about cannabis. Nobody's following the day-to-Day shifts in state legislatures. No one's talking about, and no one's talking about what's happening in a global stage. So we build up quite a meaningful team to cover that in and out of this on multiple markets. But what's shifted? In the last two years with New York going recreational legal New York Times now has two full-time staffers. Politico has a cannabis beat.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Oh wow.

Yoko Miyashita:

And so for me it was, oh yes, our brand pillars understand, but who's doing the heavy lifting? Okay, this allows us a chance to say in service of our North Star, how can we shift our content strategy? How can we be more tailored to meet the demands of the day in service of our North Star?

Lindsay Pedersen:

I love the way you articulated that, and this is something that I think about and I'm asked about is how much longevity should you think about when it comes to brand slash North Star? And with a lot of things, it depends on how you're defining these terms, but if you're defining the brand promise large enough, then it's the things underneath it, the products, lowercase P products, all of the things that make up the customer experience, those things are going to evolve as fast as your context is evolving, which might be very fast if you're in cannabis in the 2020s, it might be really slow if you're marketing laundry detergent, but it's going to have a lot of wiggling. It's going to have a lot of shifting. The thing that it's in service of might not ever change, or it might last decades, it might last. I mean, Volvo's North Star has been safety since 1927. The products have changed. There used to not be such thing as seat belts, right? And it's a safety brand.

So the pillars are the things that have lots of maneuverability that live and breathe with the rest of the environment, with the customer's expectations, with what the competitors are doing, with the needs of the market. But my experience is that people want to revisit brand more frequently than is ideal. If it were a big enough thing to begin with, it probably is still resonant. Shifting might actually lose the trust of the audience. It doesn't mean that's never the case. There are definitely times when changing the North Star makes a lot of sense, but I think the way that you articulated the pillars as sort of the release valve, that's where the evolution is happening less than with the outcome or the desired outcome. What do you think?

Yoko Miyashita:

It feels so validated like, oh, good, that's the right answer in terms of what we were doing.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. The guru says.

Yoko Miyashita:

Oh, that's very sweet of me to say. It was really interesting. We actually went through a visioning exercise again late last year, and you go on with a very open mind, are we going to change something? What is going to shift? And it was so interesting to really walk out of that. I'm like, no, this really hasn't changed. Interesting.

And it might be because I do hold that bar so high because what I think it can be, we're still short of that. This is not going to change. The problem set hasn't changed. And I think that's the reevaluation that you ask yourself in a commercial enterprise of like, has the original problem shifted? No, sorry. Then stay on course. Stay on course, right?

Lindsay Pedersen:

You and I were talking before I pressed the record button about the reason that I'm doing this podcast, which is that I'm obsessed with this topic of the paradox of leading a company that's both commerce driven and purpose driven. And I'm curious because you are my archetype of somebody who's doing that. Do you ever wish you weren't? Do you ever wish that you were leading a company that was just mercenary and trying to drive profits but didn't have a purpose? Or do you ever wish that you're a nonprofit and you're driving a purpose but you weren't beholden to shareholders?

Yoko Miyashita:

Pretty loaded questions, it's not for the faint of heart. What you're doing is not for the faint of heart. My eternal optimist and belief in two things should be simultaneously possible is what fuels, and in the search of that, it might be hard and you're not going to nail it, and I know we haven't nailed it yet, but why can't money and mission work together in tandem and why I am so motivated in this space, why Leafly is so motivated in this space, because this is a ground rich for that. I started with, we talk about the history of what's happened with this plant. Humans impacted. Disproportionate policing. And we know some of the banking things I mentioned, access to capital. Disproportionately impacted communities are the same communities that are impacted with lack of access to capital. These are compounding issues.

And you have this amazing industry, legal industry being built out of the plant, the legal industry will be worth $40 billion today. We've got legal pathways now saying, Hey, what we did to these communities was wrong. Can we build legal on-ramps and ensure participation happens at a much, much wider brand so that the people who paid the price prohibition can be part of the growth of this?

Lindsay Pedersen:

Wow.

Yoko Miyashita:

When I think about that structurally, where else do you have an opportunity to bring these two things together?

Lindsay Pedersen:

Wow.

Yoko Miyashita:

So I look at that and say, not all industries are going to present that to you on a silver platter like that. For those of us who are playing here, this is such an amazing chance to try and make that happen and realize that vision. So those are the pretty words. Those are the words that just get you so excited. And then you get hit by, this had been an 18-month period in which there has been very little access to capital for all. We're one of the larger players, and there's a whole host of reasons that you could spend hours talking about.

But when then, to me, this is the crux of the issue. When you've got to deal with the real life challenges, how do you realize this vision, this aspiration, this grand belief of what you believe it can be? And I think where we were starting with was in the moment under those constraints, you feel like those things are intention, and if you can take a deep breath and step back long enough, I think the way to think about this is we need to avert that. It actually comes from that purpose. It comes from that aspiration that can actually drive and solve your challenges. And so it's money, mission, we always pick the diametrically opposed version of that. And I am just saying, can we change that way of looking at things and can we bring the best minds and can we just keep ramming our heads up against it?

Lindsay Pedersen:

I hear so much hopefulness in what you just said too that, and I kind of presented this as like a contradiction, these two aims of commerce and purpose. But what I hear you saying is they actually can amplify one another, that there can be a contradiction. There certainly are moments when there's a contradiction, but if the tapping in is done kind of like the right vein and with authenticity, then they actually enable one another. The more economically vibrant it is, the more of that purpose you can unlock, and the more of that purpose you can unlock, the more people you can bring along from all of these stakeholders, which then in turn enables more economic growth, et cetera.

Yoko Miyashita:

Way more artful way of trying to express what I was saying. But absolutely, and I'll be honest, it's hard to see that materialize right now. I feel like I am having a hard time even with the belief in this of making that happen, but you don't stop trying.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah.

Yoko Miyashita:

And how do you find your pathways back? And I think the North star construct is just a great reminder of go back to that. Go back to that. And that needs to be the lens, that needs to be the filter to find your path, because it can be really hard when you're just trying to solve for so many of the day-to-day practical challenges.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I would love to ask you more about how you show up as a leader, tools like that. You mentioned a second ago, sometimes you have to take a breath and step back. That's a tool for leadership. The North Star is a tool for leadership. What are the things that you do, given how challenging this industry is to be in and to be the CEO of a company in this industry, what are the things that you do so that you have the energy and the mindset and the peace to bring to navigating these?

Yoko Miyashita:

Some days more successful than others, so let's start that with that caveat. For me, it comes out of a foundational belief in service leadership, servant leaders. And so who are you serving? Talking to my employees, just getting out and about for the people who are working for you and being able to see what they're doing and really just appreciate living from that space of gratitude, talking to our customers, some of whom are very angry, and figuring out who are you, what have we done, and what can we do better for you, what challenges are you facing? That empathy that can come from that we're a public company now, so your stakeholders, just listening. We're all on this journey together, and I think that it's a reminder to when you're myopic you're lonely.

Lindsay Pedersen:

What a thing to say. That's exactly it, right?

Yoko Miyashita:

Well, why I think this is such a hard thing is that when you're in that moment, the hardest thing to do, right is to open back up.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah, you want to close down, not open up. You want to be like, this is it.

Yoko Miyashita:

That's been, just opening that back up and going, okay, okay, okay, that's energizing.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes.

Yoko Miyashita:

And you can feed off the energy of others when you are most depleted. And I find that inspiring and I have all sorts of personal tactics of, right, I have two kids, I'm married and all of these things. And you have your different ways of outlets and your support that you build, and all of those things are relevant, but I do find that just getting out of your own myopic and sharing that and tapping into others, I found that absolutely energizing and motivating to keep going.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I love that. What are the rituals that you lean on to set yourself up for a good week or a good day? What do you always try to make sure that you do?

Yoko Miyashita:

I've kind of gotten really militant about the personal care piece, and I think this one's hard for women. The counterintuitive part of we are caretakers and you can't take care of others unless you take care of yourself.

Lindsay Pedersen:

It's a journey and a lesson for all of us.

Yoko Miyashita:

Yes, indeed. I'm religious about sleep, I'm religious about exercise and just the physical, basic lights on functions and what am I eating? It really does, especially as I've reached this nice riper age, being super cognizant of these things. I'll try to start every workday with just yoga, just a little bit of yoga. It's quiet time. It's forcing yourself to try to just clear the Maya before you fill it back out.

And I built work breaks throughout my schedule. I think work from home has enabled me to incorporate a walk through that, I know that my brain just clearing out the old oxygen is really helpful. So those are just some of the basic tactics I have. I'm constantly trying to nail what is my morning start ritual to know I'm on track and feel really good about the day, so I'm always experimenting with things, but maybe it's the 15 minute reflection and what is the most important thing I know I need to work on? Where do I memorialize that? How do I keep my eye on that ball? Because it's so easy to get distracted along the way.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah, I love that. I, it's interesting, and I agree with you about there are definitely some gendered elements to prioritizing things like taking care pf yourself before taking care of others. As I say, it sounds so obvious. Get a good night's sleep, exercise, eat good food, take breaks. It sounds so obvious and it is. And yet it's the difference between showing up as your best self and not, so it's sort of despite how basic it is or maybe because it's so basic, it's so crucial and not everybody does it, and probably most people don't do it. Just because it isn't a sexy, cool, avant-garde, self-care ritual doesn't mean that it's not wildly helpful to you and to protecting your energy.

Yoko Miyashita:

It's pattern too, the repetition of it too. There's something in just the ritual of these things that I think that I've learned over time, and I know I can diagnose when I've broken off the ritual and I'm like, oh, no, this doesn't feel right. And I think part of our growth is humans is also just where am I connecting them? We use our heads, the work we do. We are always here.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes.

Yoko Miyashita:

I didn't grow up with the language or the tools to really registered here to here, got to here, and really on that-

Lindsay Pedersen:

Head to gut. Gut to head. Yeah.

Yoko Miyashita:

And so learning that is like, oh, and you do notice when you remove the ritual that starts to get disruptive. And so maybe it's kind of like your personal North star, where do I need to-



Lindsay Pedersen:

Ooh. And it's just like with any north star, repetition and ritual is so supportive and it removes the decision fatigue. Like, well, I'm not thinking about right now whether I'm going to do yoga this morning because I always do yoga. Like you're not putting a cognitive load between you and the thing that you want to make happen.

Yoko Miyashita:

Ooh, that cognitive load piece just triggered something for me. Cognitive load and speed of decision-making. That's my job. That's actually all of leader's jobs, right? The velocity with which we can make decisions because we're the blocker for everyone down below us. Our decision making is the blocker.

I think about that a lot. I think about speed and scale and agility. And so for me, cognitive load and decision making are so correlated and speed at which I can make decisions. I really like this idea of can you leverage these north stars, your pillars as tools to reduce cognitive load and improve and speed of decision-making.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Boom. I love that. It's so instructive for so many things. It's like friction is not your friend. Well, if it's friction between you and something you don't want to do, I suppose friction is a good thing, but if you literally can remove load between the things that you're doing and the things that you want to be doing, and it's actually only a question of making it explicit or making it repetitive or communicating it with a lot of clarity, it's a huge unlock as a person.

Yoko Miyashita:

That's so spot on. I feel like we developed a tool we can use both personally and within the organization.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I love it.

Yoko Miyashita:

Because I think as a leader, you're always thinking about how do I scale? I scale by disseminating empowerment, right? Empowerment, and what are you always worried about? You've got to balance empowerment with are the right filters being applied in the decision making? And when you can get those tools down, the further you can push those down within the organization, the faster we all move.

Lindsay Pedersen:

And everybody around you will thank you. They don't want cognitive load either.

Yoko Miyashita:

No, no, no.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Oh, Yoko. This has been such a joy. Before we finish, I have five rapid fire questions to ask you. Each has a one word answer. Are you ready?

Yoko Miyashita:

Oh, I'm going to confess to you. I'm terrible at these, so I'm as ready as I can be.

Lindsay Pedersen:

There is no way to be terrible at these, by the way, so you just let it go. Okay.

Yoko Miyashita:

Okay. I'm ready. I took a deep breath.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Last Netflix binge?

Yoko Miyashita:

Ooh, Korean drama. Queen Maker.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Queen maker. Favorite ice cream flavor?

Yoko Miyashita:

Salted caramel.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Me too. Favorite season?

Yoko Miyashita:

Spring.

Lindsay Pedersen:

If you were a superhero, which superhero would you want to be?

Yoko Miyashita:

I'm going to give you a slightly complicated answer to this, and if you don't know my background, I'm Japanese and there is a Japanese comic hero called Anpanman, red bean bun man, and it's a children's comic, but Anpanman goes and saves the world against Baikinman, who is the germ man. And part of what Anpanman does to save people is there's a chunk of his red bean bun that he gives off and gives to people and helps heal them and helps tackle the world's problems, is the red bean bun man.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I love that. I see it. I see it. Okay, my final rapid fire question is what is the best way to spend a Friday night?

Yoko Miyashita:

Wow. A long run.

Lindsay Pedersen:

So virtuous. Oh, Yoko, thank you so much for this conversation. If folks who are listening want to follow you or learn more about you, where should I send them? Online?

Yoko Miyashita:

[inaudible 00:33:32] journey at leafly.com. It is the world's richest resource and for anyone who's looking to understand this plant, whether it's right for you, whether it's not right for you, I believe we do this better than anyone else. I'm on all the usual social channels. You can find us on LinkedIn, I;m in and out of X, I'm more of a lurker there.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Right? But LinkedIn, I definitely see you on LinkedIn. LinkedIn and leafly.com. Thank you again for joining me.

Yoko Miyashita:

So wonderful to spend time with you. Thank you for having us on.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Thanks for listening to this episode of North Star Leaders. Make sure you don't miss an episode by subscribing on your favorite podcast app. For show notes, transcripts and newsletter signup, visit ironcladbrandstrategy.com. Please join us again for another episode of North Star Leaders.


Lindsay speaking

About Lindsay

Lindsay Pedersen is a bestselling author and brand strategist with a scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She has advised companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Coinstar, and IMDb.

Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered in Lindsay a deep appreciation for the executive’s charge: increasing the company’s value. There, she led mature, billion-dollar businesses and newly-launched categories, from Clorox Bleach to Armor All to Brita. In each case, she was solely responsible for increasing the business’s value.

Thanks to this executive perspective, Lindsay demands that brands be hard-working, disciplined and rigorous in growing a business. Her brand strategies are tested in the crucible of her proprietary Ironclad Method. Lindsay arms leaders with an empowering understanding of brand, and an ironclad brand strategy to guide choices as they grow.