Meet Parissa Behnia

Parissa is 678 Partners’ Idea Chef. Balancing her playful imagination with a surgical, strategic mindset, she splits her time three ways to help current clients and inspire the future of business.

First, in the buffet of 678 Partners’ services, she serves up the “capital-M marketing” of 678 Partners’ services, with a taste and eye for the bigger picture. She can act as sous chef — leading the charge in the trenches as “marketing mercenary” — or executive chef, a stand-in CMO overseeing marketing strategy development and other initiatives.

She’s also active in the close-knit entrepreneurial community, in Chicago and beyond. Always on the lookout for startups to advise or invest in as an angel, she’s got a special place in her heart for female founders but is excited to nurture the next generation of creative minds.

Finally, Parissa is a mentor with Future Founders Foundation’s College Founders program.  She provides one on one advice and also participates in larger foundation events to serve Chicago based entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs.  

Parissa is also a frequent speaker on topics from customer experience mapping to leadership and entrepreneurship. And in her brief moments of free time, she’s a wannabe pastry chef glued to the Food Network, HGTV and Bravo.


What do you know for sure?

I know for sure that I don’t know.  There’s a very old Persian poem dating from the 13th century that Donald Rumsfeld managed to ruin for me when he was talking about known knowns and whatnot.  The English translation is rather like this:

Who knows, and knows that he knows,
Makes the horse of intelligence jump over the vault of heaven.
Who does not know, yet knows he does not know,
Can nevertheless bring his lame little donkey to its destination.
Who does not know, and  does not know that he does not know,
Remains mired forever in double ignorance.

I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of not knowing but confident in the fact that I will eventually know and my little donkey will arrive at its destination.  The more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn.  And, I’m okay with that.

Who helped get you here? 

My family is the quintessential American immigrant story.  Through grit, determination and a whole lot of guts (insert other word here), my dad availed himself of the opportunity to finish his medical training here and my mother supported him through similar grit, determination and guts.  My dad’s story is amazing and would take pages but imagine a young boy with little to no options in his town who decides — on his own — what his future will be, gets the training for it, moves to the US and spent the rest of his professional life living up to it.  Imagine also a young woman who has similar gumption, becomes a teacher and then principal in her own country and then drops it all, uproots herself with two small kids in tow and moves to the US to live a shared future with her husband.  Neither of them had a strong command of English when they got here.

Some of the stories are hilarious and some of them make the mind boggle.  Everything I’ve done, every opportunity I’ve had, every freedom I’ve enjoyed, every good and bad decision I’ve made is because my parents are the ultimate optimists and the ultimate fighters.  I can’t imagine dropping what is comfortable and moving clear to the other side of the world and yet they did it without Google to help them along.  Though the benefits to us have been great, there are bittersweet moments and tremendous emotional costs, too.  Consequently, for good or bad, I am driven to succeed to keep proving to them they didn’t make a mistake.  And, I take failure very personally.  

What don’t people know about you?

People don’t believe me when I say that I am very shy and introverted.  But I am.  I’ve always been like this.  I’m only at my best when I’ve one other person I know at my side.

Also, I happen to be a fabulous baker.

What do you hate?

I hate literal, discrete interpretations of anything, large or small.  Anytime I have a conversation with someone who is unable to appreciate there may be multiple points of view on something makes my skin crawl.  It really is like kryptonite for me.  I get visibly anxious — something I’m trying very hard to control — and then, I reach for chocolate.

It is true that I have certain disciplines or rigidities of my own about things I believe, things I’ll do, etc., but I try very hard not to impose that on others because I know their experiences aren’t mine.  Though I have a point of view, I still have the capacity to recognize that there is not just one view of it.  Or, when something has to get done, there is likely more than one way of doing it.  

Ultimately, how creative of a person are you?  Do you have the capacity to recognize that everything can be seen through a prism?  Are you able to accept that you may learn something new or unexpected?

There is something about hospital corners that has always been a turn off for me.  I think I like a little mess.

What do you suck at?

Hiding what I’m thinking.  There are some people who are masterful at smiling, saying all of the right things, glad handing/backslapping — really, the ultimate diplomat.  They do an excellent job of drinking it all in, getting the lay of the land and then plotting the best, wisest move for their course of action.  Sadly or gladly, I’m not one of those.  

I’m an expressive person which, in my mid 40s, I don’t think I can 100% change.  I can’t be that politician.  So, the one trick I’ve learned, which has saved me oodles of times, is to leverage my hyper analytical mind and ask questions which help me do the following: 

1. show someone I’m listening;
2. validate what I just heard;
3. understand better what I just heard;
4. sussing out the motivations for what was said;
5. see where there are common points (or not);
6. formulate a response (or not).

It seems like this list of 6 is a long, arduous, time consuming thing.  But, it’s really not.  It’s kind of like free flowing stuff that happens interchangeably which helps me get to where I want to go.  Most of the time.  I am human, after all.  :) 

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