Joy Stauber of Stauber Brand Studio and I recently got all wound up on our annual March birthday call, when we realized we’d both reached the same conclusion about our work. She’s a creative director in Chicago who I met some 20 years ago when we both lived in Portland, OR. Throughout all our opposing direction, cross-country moves, we’ve kept up an ongoing dialogue about business books and leadership topics.
What drives each of us now, in our mid-career wisdom, is that what we do is not just for today, or for this or that particular client, but it’s always work with a future impact through-line. Here’s a partial re-creation of our discussion:
Joy started by noting: It’s about that growth mindset, right? Either you have it, or you don’t. What is your vision and how are you going to get there?
Growth (for a business or a person) means you may see or hear things you don’t want to hear, or have conversations you’d rather avoid, or have times where you feel unsure of what to do or what it will lead to. Stuff will happen that you didn’t plan on, that is how the world works. Growth is the creative process itself – sometimes, that’s a messy process. You’ve got to embrace it, and be curious, and work through all that stuff. Some people retreat into analysis paralysis. It’s a fear reaction — avoidance.
Andrea chimed in with: So true. The way that comes out in my work is that people or organizations hold to this ‘competitive’ sense, which means they miss out on the power of cheering on others who may well be heading in the same direction. The short-sightedness is in not realizing that by being the first or the loudest in celebrating development of the whole field, YOUR organization is the one people will turn to. It will become the source for journalists ,and be the one with speakers on industry conference agendas, and so on. Keep your head only on your very specific, usual way of doing things and any impact you may have pretty much stops there.
From there, our conversation moved to swapping frustrations about when prospects or clients don’t see the importance of being able to back plan from their intended future result. Because the immediate “fires” are all they can think about, there’s just not energy left for developing their brand narrative or thought leadership.
This prompted Joy to share an example: We were working with a client that said they wanted to grow by doing X, Y and Z. So we are building this picture of a possible future – that is both amazing and possible — and laying out some ways to get there. In one part of the project, we conducted interviews with their customers, and every time something came up that wasn’t 100% flattering to the business, our project contact wanted to downplay it. But how can they make good decisions without that information? It was frustrating, because it would have been entirely possible to frame the information in a way that was professional, objective, and connected to achieving business goals. To move forward toward the brand vision and goals, businesses need to be willing to gain that experience. TO GROW! If you have a vision for your brand and business, you have to be willing to work through the process. As Tom Peters says, “Try things! Screw things up!” It’s OK. Life is not linear, so neither is business!
What Joy and I have both been noticing more, too, is that it’s about dot-connecting, and perhaps a form of knowledge transfer. We naturally do that in both of our creative businesses. We put together what we’ve already observed or experienced with what might be applied in a whole new, seemingly unconnected, future circumstance. Cross-pollination.
Andrea was reminded of some of her frustration in the climate action and social impact worlds: Many people seem to work in a more silo-ed way, and not look up to see what is out there to bridge their work or content to. But, for this work to be any good to anyone – to be a foundation from which next generations of leaders can build further momentum – it has to be more about adding on to existing information and insight, and cheering on all climate action focused organizations as they, too, contribute a piece to the collective effort.
From the design perspective, Joy noticed: The truly growth mindset clients that can transfer and cross-pollinate — people that enjoy doing that — are the ones that are going to make progress in their brands/businesses. And, of course, those are the ones who are fun to talk with and work with! I moved that to the top of my “ideal client” profile. We want to work with smart, fun, engaged people who are trying things in their business – but not randomly, they are oriented toward a clear vision. It’s the same reason we enjoy our annual birthday calls, right?!
To which Andrea chimed in, a loud: Yes!
Like the MadLibs-style tool image we include with this post, the work we each now do with our best-fit clients are those driven by growth mindsets and sustainable, long term vision. With these types of teams, all are excited to do innovative work that will ultimately CREATE ENDURING POSITIVE IMPACT for whatever their greater cause or purpose. They start with the “what if,” then dream big, and work back from there with creative vision.