Support and discovery

Last week, I had a client call that didn’t go so well.

We were in the middle of our discovery phase for the project and there were some concerns about where things were heading.

The thing is, I wasn’t worried because, deep down inside, I knew everything was going to be OK.

How exactly did I know this?

Simple - I had/have the support of a solid team behind me.

At Slalom, everyone really does look out for each other, especially while solving complex problems for our clients.

You better believe I went back and reviewed what happened in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, but overall, my team reminded me that this is part of almost any discovery process.

Organizing chaos and understanding uncertainty is never going to be neat and tidy, but as long as you can communicate learning and progress while trusting everyone around you, everything will be just fine.

Closed mouths don't get fed

As an adult, I think it’s obvious that you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

When I freelanced full-time, my survival depended upon whether or not I spoke up and shared how I could be of value to someone else.

Now that I work with Slalom, this idea means something a little different to me.

It means that, even though I consider myself to be fairly proactive, I still need to ask for help when I need something.

In this type of setting, I don’t always know if there is a mechanism already in place in order to accomplish the thing I want to do.

I would assume this is pretty common with a lot of companies in hyper-growth mode, but the thing about Slalom St. Louis is that I have the ability to help create those mechanisms.

Basically, if I need to accomplish something and I don’t see a good process or system in place, I have the autonomy to help create one.

I’m learning to speak up when I see room for improvement and connect the dots when the opportunity arises.

Emerging strategy

It blows my mind that I get to be a part of a company that is actively involving everyone while creating an emerging strategy for the future.

Yesterday, I participated in one of the many small group discussions meant to gather insight from all of the consultants here at Slalom.

We explored questions like:

• What might the future landscape look like?
• What do we want to preserve and grow?
• What do we want to modify?
• What do we want to eliminate?
• What do we want to prioritize?

Think about this for a moment.

How often does management ask you to give feedback on questions like these at your company? How often do you feel as if you have any say in the direction your company is heading?

The beautiful thing was that Slalom’s management didn’t mandate this initiative from the top-down. A group of consultants got together, used our “Request for Comments” forum, and started sharing this from the bottom-up.

Since everyone is encouraged to participate, we have insight from people who have been here for a few days all the way to a few years.

Is this process perfect? Of course not. But the fact that we’re being intentional about it speaks volumes about where we’re heading in the future.

And that is a future I want to be a part of.

Problems with success

For the first time in my life, I’m working with a company that is facing the right kind of problems, the kind of problems that naturally come with success.

For the most part, successful growth means more revenue, more people, and more impact thanks to more audacious goals.

Much like when a child hits a growth spurt, a successful company experiences growing pains when this growth happens a little too quickly.

What do these growing pains look like day-to-day?

When a company grows too quickly, there can be overall ambiguity for people, both at the management level and for those with boots planted firmly on the ground.

Where does this ambiguity come from? During this period of hyper-growth, key processes and systems fall by the wayside which, ironically, are needed for future scaling.

No matter how hard people try to avoid these growing pains, it’s almost inevitable. That is, unless intentional growth is made a priority from the beginning.

I haven’t been at Slalom from the beginning, but I have had the pleasure of seeing what hyper growth looks like firsthand and I can confidently say, this team is different.

It’s exciting to be part of team of people that is willing to slow down and put people first while turning hyper growth into intentional growth.

Bringing people together

This past Friday, I had the chance to come together with all of the other experience design consultants from Slalom for an all-day offsite get together.

We reviewed where we’ve been, what we’re doing now, and where we want to head in 2019.

Not only was it productive in the sense that we all got to express and align our ideas together, but we also got to know each other a little better.

With many jobs, you work in the same office with the same people and the culture organically grows around you.

With consulting, many people are offsite with clients, which means you may not get to meet everyone until an all-hands meeting or a quarterly get together.

Because of this, it’s much more important to spend the time we have together intentionally because, whether we realize it or not, we’re setting the tone for how things will be in the future.

I am truly grateful for a company like Slalom that invests not only in their people but in the time those people spend together.

Screw my ego

Something strange happened a few days ago: I felt a little twinge of resentment.

In the moment, I was frustrated with my own inability to take ownership over a new project.

However, after taking a few moments to look inward, I realized I was projecting my own insecurity onto someone else.

As someone who worked for myself for almost a decade, I got used to taking 100% ownership over any project I started.

As great as this may sound, this isn’t how things happen in corporate America.

People work in teams and those team members are collectively responsible for the overall success of the project.

Unfortunately, people tend to forget (like I did) that everyone on that team has something to learn from everyone else, whether it’s directly related to the project or not.

Like most people in a professional setting, I feel a need to prove my value.

However, I care way more about creating successful outcomes than I do about stroking my own ego.

At the end of the day, I’m part of team which means sometimes taking a back seat and learning from others.

Make less commitments

At this age, I take commitments very seriously.

When I give someone my word, I try to do whatever it takes to back up that word with action.

Sure, there are times when things get in the way. After all, part of being human is being imperfect, which means we take on too many commitments, set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others, and we let our optimism get the best of us.

As long as this is the exception and not the rule, I’d say this is just fine. We should strive to either keep all of our promises or focus on the quality of our commitments instead of the quantity while knowing full well that we will sometimes fail.

No matter how much we learn, no one actually enjoys failing. It’s messy, uncomfortable, and it forces us to admit we were wrong.

The thing is, it’s OK to make mistakes because that’s when we learn the most.

Most people would probably agree that the one thing we shouldn’t do is to continue making the same mistakes. Not only is this disappointing, it means we aren’t learning.

Moving forward, I’m doing my best to make fewer promises while also making new mistakes. This way, I can devote my time and attention to fewer commitments and learn from the past.

Taking a break

I’m sitting at my kitchen counter, thinking about this long Thanksgiving weekend, and I can’t help but notice a huge difference.

In the past, each day of this break has felt the same. When I was freelancing full-time, I was never able to fully appreciate each of these days with loved ones - I always felt as if I should be working or making progress towards something bigger.

This year, I’m thankful for stability. It has always been an abstract idea that I strived towards, but I never really knew what it looked like until now.

It means the peace of mind to spend quality time with the people you care about. It means not letting stress infect every part of your life. It even means being able to show the people you love how much you care about them.

I will always strive for something greater, but during this long weekend, I am able to pause and give thanks for the fact that the people I care about are safe, happy, and healthy.

I can’t think of a better way to take a break.

A significant shift

There has been a tangible shift over the past few years.

As I catch up with friends who live in different cities, I’m noticing that more and more of them are dipping their toes into the worlds of freelancing and entrepreneurship.

I’m hearing origin stories that include turning a previous employer into a first client, partnering with a significant other, and even catching a big break after sharing some work online.

I don’t really believe in blanket statements, but if you think this is simply a fad, you’re dead wrong.

At this point, over 43% of the U.S. workforce is subcontracting and that number is only getting larger.

Sure, the gig economy plays a large part in all of this, but there is also a huge shift in mindset.

People are tired of working their asses off for companies that don’t appreciate the value they bring to the table.

I’ll admit - I was extremely lucky to find a progressive company like Slalom Consulting that embraces everyone’s individuality while working towards a collective goal.

I feel like this sort of progressive mindset is rare, especially in the Midwest.

Whether you’re working for yourself or looking to align with a company, think about the things that matter most to you in the long-run.

Otherwise, you’ll probably remain unsatisfied and uninspired, no matter where you work.

Coffee and consulting

Whenever I get stuck in a rut with my online writing, I sometimes ask myself:

“Why the hell am I still doing this?”

I was reminded why earlier this week over coffee.

I sat down with an independent creative director who came across some of my writing on LinkedIn and she wanted to hear more about my transition from full-time freelance to joining Slalom Consulting.

She was curious to hear more about my background and why this was my first full-time opportunity.

What started as a review of my first three months at Slalom turned into a full-blown conversation around working for yourself as an independent creative professional in St. Louis.

We covered everything from self-awareness to strategically positioning yourself and everything in-between. We even addressed how St. Louis-based businesses can balance outside opportunities while using the competitive advantages this city has to offer.

This was the kind of conversation that spanned over two and a half hours and two coffeeshops.

It was clear we both walked away feeling energized and ready to get to work on our own priorities.

I couldn’t help but feel validated in becoming a consultant because I realized a significant part of consulting is having these types of conversations, listening to understand, and then asking thoughtful questions that provide objective perspective.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to an individual or team from a multi-million dollar company - listening and asking the right question is valuable in any setting.

Finding balance

I’ve had a full-time job for seven weeks now and I’m finally learning what it means to have balance in my life.

From finding more stability to spending quality time with the people I care about, I’m practicing being more present each day.

Some small part of me will always be looking towards the future, but in the meantime, I can start to tackle my priorities one at a time as opposed to letting them overwhelm me all at once.

With balance comes clarity. I don’t feel the urge to quickly solve all of my problems.

Instead, I can identify root causes that impact multiple parts of my life and focus my energy on solving them, one-by-one.

It’s hard to truly appreciate this sort of balance until it becomes a part of your life, but like most things worth pursuing, it takes patience to figure out what it looks like to you.

What it means to be a team

It’s been one week since I started my first onsite client project with a team from Slalom and I can already tell we kicked things off on the right foot.

Like many first days onsite with a client, we went out for a team lunch to discuss the project ahead of us.

Sure, we anticipated some amount of chaos coming into another company’s culture in order to accomplish a specific goal, but we wanted to make sure we were aligned as a team.

It helped to go around the table and share our initial impressions, but there was one question that made all of the difference:

“What do each of us need in order to feel like a successful member of this team?”

When you stop and think about it, how often do individual team members get to voice their answer to this question, especially in the beginning?

Some people might see this as “touchy-feely” or inconsequential, but after sharing my answer (feeling connected to other team members through honesty and humor), I instantly felt heard and more connected than when we sat down for lunch.

It was a fairly simple question, but it made all of the difference moving forward. It laid a solid foundation that has already helped as we’ve tackled challenges as a team.

Whether you’re leading a team of your own or part of a newly formed team, consider posing this question and truly listen to the answers.

You might even learn what it means to be a team.

Me versus we

I met someone new for coffee last night and, as we both agreed, it wasn’t weird.

This might be an unusual way to look at it, but even as an extrovert, I sometimes feel uncomfortable meeting new people.

In this case, I met with someone who has also been in the St. Louis design/marketing industry for a while. We shared our stories, talked shop, and touched on some of the problems St. Louis is trying to solve.

One of his biggest questions right now is, as an independent professional, should he brand himself as a one-many army or an agency. In his words, he was debating on “me versus we.”

For many independent creatives, this is one of the toughest hurdles to overcome in the beginning. The thought of a potential client not taking you seriously because you’re on your own can be paralyzing.

I dealt with this same question when I was first starting my full-time freelance career.

Since radical transparency has always been a core value of mine, I decided to brand myself as the individual I am instead of “hiding” behind a brand that seemed bigger.

When tackling this question, the most important question to ask yourself is what matters most to me?

Is your goal to scale and work with others from the get go? Then maybe a bigger brand is right for you. Do you want to communicate a more person, one-on-one relationship with your clients? Then create a personal brand that reflects what matters most to you.

At the end of the day, there’s no silver bullet to any of this. You have to make your own decisions (and mistakes) and learn from them.

When it comes to solving the problems of others, it doesn’t matter if it’s “me” or “we.”

The focus should be on “us.”

MBA the hard way

There have already been so many opportunities for learning and growth at Slalom.

One of the newest is a series of talks called “MBA the Hard Way” where consultants share their entrepreneurial experience with other consultants.

Last night, we heard from someone who made the hard choice of leaving his start up in order to join Slalom. Like many of us who have worked for ourselves, he had to make a personal sacrifice in order to provide for his family.

I don’t have kids (except for a little fur baby), but I do know what it’s like to give up complete autonomy in hopes of a better life in the future.

Before I came to Slalom, I was a decade into a full-time freelance career and honestly, I wasn’t really sure why I was still doing what I was doing.

Thanks to a series of conversations, I realized I could still create my own path as a consultant, but I would be able do so in a more intentional way

This didn’t make the decision any easier.

As a freelancer or entrepreneur, it can be way too easy to attach your identity to your work or your company. When you have to give it up to do what’s best for you or your family, it can feel like a part of you is gone.

The hardest and probably most important realization is that you are not your work. You’re also not your company. These things are byproducts that come from your actions and efforts.

It’s important to remember things will always change and new opportunities will always come.

What one decision can you make now in order to impact your future the most?

Leadership and vulnerability

I went to a panel discussion based around design leadership this morning for St. Louis Design Week and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Most of the time, a panel discussion seems to devolve into each panelist sharing a prepped series of answers that may or may not be helpful to the audience.

If you ask me, most of the value of a panel discussion comes through during the Q&A.

At the end of today’s panel, I noticed none of the leaders addressed vulnerability as a leader. So, I decided to ask the following question:

“Since vulnerability is an important part of design leadership, or any leadership for that matter, can you share what single part of your specific business today will put you out of business in the future?”

It was pretty apparent the panelists weren’t prepared for this healthy dose of vulnerability before 9 AM this morning.

What followed were a range of answers, including:

“Not adapting to the future quickly enough.”

“Not capturing some of our processes better.”

“Being based in St. Louis.”

This last one created a collective gasp from the room.

Hey, when someone is vulnerable and honest, it isn’t always easy to hear what they have to say.

I just wish more leaders (from any industry) were more vulnerable, especially in public settings. Whether they realize it or not (and they should), leaders influence others even when they aren’t actively leading.

When vulnerability is shared from the top down, it becomes a strength for everyone else.

So, here’s to the next generation of vulnerable leaders.

Learn to Say "No"

Over the past few months, I’ve learned the importance of saying, “No.”

Growing up as a people-pleaser, this was one of the toughest things to wrap my head around. After all, how was I supposed to let someone down without them hating me?

As we get older, we learn how to not take things so personally. Saying, “No” has nothing to do with them and everything to do with us. We want to protect our time for the things that truly matter to us.

Since everyone has (or should have) their own set of priorities, it’s impossible to align ours with everyone else 100% of the time.

That’s why learning to say, “No” with finesse can be one of the most useful skills as an adult.

Whether it’s turning down another freelance project to make more time at home or passing on a volunteer opportunity to find the one that aligns with a cause you are more passionate about, there is always a way to pass on an opportunity without burning bridges.

I’ve realized the more I do say, “No” to the things that don’t align with my priorities, the happier I am when the right opportunity comes along.

As always, it’s hard to reach this point. It takes practice to unlearn past behaviors that don’t get us to where we want to go.

What matters most is deciding which opportunities wall into which categories.

Otherwise, you’ll find yourself saying, “Yes” to everything.

Priorities

My priorities have been out of whack recently.

In fact, they’ve been mismanaged for a while now.

About six months ago, I went through what I would call a “series of unfortunate events” that impacted pretty much every facet of my life. From my health to my finances to my relationships, not a single thing was left untouched.

Because of this, I developed a series of habits that seem to creep in whenever someone is in “survival mode.” One of these is deprioritizing my relationships for the sake of taking more freelance work.

Now that I’ve finally reached a more stable place, I am taking a second look at my list of priorities and in hopes of recommitting to the things that truly matter.

For me, this means reinvesting in my relationships by carving out more quality time.

Time where I listen with the intention of understanding. Time where I cope with the inevitable stress that comes with living life. Time where I follow through, show up, and match my actions with the words I say.

This need to change is apparent now, but it won’t always be. Life will get in the way again and stress will inevitably come knocking.

That’s OK. Next time, I’ll be ready.

Space for creativity

It seems like the older we get, the less space we create for creativity.

That is, unless you work for a company like Pixar or IDEO.

These organizations not only promote creativity, they rely on its application in order make a living. They’ve learned what it takes in order to successfully apply creativity year after year, project after project.

If these select groups can embrace child-like curiosity and create the space needed to foster creativity, why can’t other lesser known companies? After all, the results speak for themselves.

Like most things in business, I think it all comes down to ego.

People are so focused on appearing professional or that they already have all of the answers that they’re afraid to acknowledge more abstract concepts like creativity or vulnerability.

If you ask me, these things make business even more human, They remind us that business isn’t just B2B or B2C - its P2P, or people to people.

Since most companies still don’t recognize this truth, the ones that do have a competitive advantage.

Which type of company sounds more appealing to you?

Investing in process

When you work for yourself, investing in processes is one of the most valuable ways in which you can spend your time.

Clients and users come and go. Results eventually fade. However, the processes you create for you and your business will stay with you over time.

Unfortunately, most don’t pay attention to processes that scale until it’s too late. You can file this under the “important” category that most people ignore because it doesn’t seem that urgent.

Do you know what else falls under this category? Health, fitness, financial saving, relationships, and other long-term considerations that we don’t think about until it’s too late.

We don’t pay attention to these until something catastrophic happens, like a heart attack or the death of a loved one. Only then do we stop and think about what we’re doing and where we’re going.

With entrepreneurship, it doesn’t have to be something this drastic - any number of smaller, less obvious issues can eventually sink your company.

When you focus on creating processes that scale, you’re ultimately giving you and your business the competitive advantage of time. This is why so many startups are able to “out-innovate” larger, more established companies with greater resources - they make the most of their time.

Your company doesn’t just create a product - it is a product. When you adopt this mindset, investing in processes just makes more sense. Both for your own sanity and for the long-term success of your business.

Drifting

Do you ever feel like you’re drifting?

As adults, we’re surrounded by this invisible pressure to have all of our shit together when, in reality, our lives resemble organized chaos more than anything else.

I’'ll be honest - in this moment, I feel a little lost.

Since making a pretty big shift from freelance to full-time employment, I’ve made a tough realization: I didn’t know what I was doing.

The more I think about it, I wasn’t being guided by anything concrete.

Like many freelancers, I was making enough to get by month-to-month while fumbling through the process. This uncertainty inevitably carried over into my new professional life, hence the feeling of drifting.

Now that I have a sense of stability, I need to shift focus to where I’m going and why I’m going there.

Otherwise, I will never feel grounded.

This goes for anyone. If you have the luxury of stability, you owe it to yourself to look forward and figure out how you can eventually help others in doing the same.