Some highlights for us included hearing from Heidi Dukolil on 'Designing Your Day Job, Then & Now', Sarah Norton on Fear, Failure & Risk, the effervescent Liane Rossler speaking about her experience as a business woman who has followed her passion and become an active member of the art and sustainability community and lessons for creatives conversing with the business world from Siobhan Toohill.
We explored successful alternative business models with Avis Mulhall from Mmmule & LooLoo Paper, Lisa Fox from collaborative consumption startup Open Shed. Amory Starr shared lessons from the booming local food movement in the US - which we can glean a great deal from when it comes to the 'soul craft', DIY and 'local object' economy.
After a great deal of reflection on our journey and thought about the advice we could offer to young designers trying to turn their passion or purpose into their livelihood, we decided to speak around 4 themes. Here are the slides and the gist of each of them:
The Tribes we Lead
Here we reference Seth Godin's book "Tribes" in response to the session topic of 'Your Tribe: who are they and where do you find them?'.
Tribes are a new way of thinking about the segmenting of people in society, with Seth himself describing them as being “founded on shared ideas and values"
The first step in reaching your tribe is identifying them. And you may need to challenge your own ideas about who your tribe actually is.
For us, given the kind of work we do - you might think our tribe was inner city eco foodies and to be honest, for a while even we thought we should stick to people who get us and 'get' sustainability. But as it turns out, our tribe is actually all about common values and a common goal which is change.
We work with everyone from community and campaigning groups, up to big shiny blue corporates like AMP. And what they all have in common is not being a certain size or industry, but being linked by a common attitude of openness to change and transformation.. And that attitude is what attracts them to us.. and us to them.
Once you've identified your tribe, Godin encourages us to think about how we can lead a tribe. An attribute of a group who share values is that they find affinity with those (people, brands and leaders) who share their values. Therefore "tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change.”
Our experience has taught us that yes you do need to go out and find work and meet people, but more importantly: when you go out with a strong message and purpose, people of your tribe will feel a strong sense of alignment with you.. and they will come to you..
- when you find your purpose.. (which I think most of us here have)
- when you go out with the courage that comes from that thing that makes you come alive
- when you talk and walk your passion
- you will naturally attract people who want a piece of you
and when you’re publishing.. which is my second point.. then people can FIND you..
There's this guy I know.. and he’s not famous.. but he is industry famous. He almost made an entire career from publishing one piece of online content. And my friend David had been reading books, thinking big ideas for many years, but was in his room one night and just had to get an idea out. So he put together a slide deck with Keynote, the simplest tool at his disposal.
He wasn’t a designer, it wasn’t flashy, but he got an idea down. He called it ‘Digital Strangelove: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the internet” [essentially about the rise of self publishing] and he uploaded it to Slideshare and went to bed. He woke up the next morning with about 50,000 views.. tweets from digital agencies and publishers and thought leaders all over the world, then he starts being asked to speak at events. Now he jumps from jobs as Head of Digital at Profero in Sydney to Head of Strategy at Big Spaceship in New York. He became an overnight authority on self publishing.. He's the Digital Strangelove guy.
So I want you to think about what guy or girl you are going to be. [Re. my fellow panellists] Anna Lise’s the champion of Sydney creatives who started &Company. Siobhan is the Sydney’s sustainable cities guru. Hungry Mondays are the slow cooking guys revolutionising mid-week takeaway. Whatever you rest on... start publishing about it and around it.
If you want to be an expert in something - just be one, there are no barriers any more! Focussing your writing or production on one area over time will make you an expert, and also paints a picture for everyone else about who you are and what you do.
Our only marketing expenditure for the last year has been writing blog posts, twitter, instagram, attending events and speaking at events, and I’d say it’s going to be the same for you for a while, so have a plan and a routine in place to publish all of your brilliant ideas and work.
Spit & polish
So these last two points are all about working with large organisations: corporates, international NGOs, city councils and the kind of spit & polish you may have to apply to your product or projects to work with the kind of companies that have money or the dream partners that you’re dying to collaborate with. We work with everyone from volunteer groups like the Youth Food Movement to dream clients (dream clients being both values-aligned AND paying) like the Centre for Australian Progress. but really it’s the corporate clients that let us do what we really want to do with the other guys and keep our heads above water.
When you find yourself pitching for a major piece of work one day remember:
you don’t necessarily have to compromise yourself.. they’ve come to you because they like you and you’re going to inject creativity or wisdom into their business.
BUT they’ve also come to you wanting to get a job done.. and you are going to need to pull out all stops for your first couple of projects, and work in a certain style
In our experience, the thing that will pull off a big fish or put off a big fish is your style of working or interacting with them rather than just your amazing ideas.
I’m lucky enough to work with a business partner who has experience producing very complex projects. Our way of working - the agenda setting, the benchmarking, the expectation management, the evaluation, all to a high professional standard - is what gives us the polish and seamlessness that means companies enjoy working with us. And they enjoy working with us so much that they often open up to our ideas.. which means we can give them our crazy ones and they come on board, and they trust that we can execute them.
So the polish has also meant referrals, testimonials, repeat business BUT ALSO greater freedom to do it our way..
AM : PM
And this brings me to 2 points of focus for your enterprise that I’ll leave you with..
1. AM - ‘artist management’.. (or perhaps ‘activist management’ in my case) my point being.. that you have to manage the artist (or activist) inside you that is saying “get me out of this bureacratic hell hole” and remember that at the end of the day.. if you want to love what you do, you have to find a way to love business. And it shouldn’t actually be that difficult, because it’s going to enable you to get paid to do what you love.
We have the #oneprojectrule which means we give everyone a chance to show us what their attitude is like. And we try to approach every organisation with the openness, empathy, sense of journey and challenge that we hope they would afford ‘flakey creative do-gooder types’ like us.
2. PM - is what I’ve already mentioned, and what may actually be your greatest challenge (it certainly is mine) and that is ‘project management’ to a professional standard. It's SO important.
Your options are:
- DIY - get bloody good and learn to love it
- find a brilliant business partner whose passionate about it
- find a brilliant broker (eg. &Company) who can act as an intermediary
And with anything that's not a strong point for you, you must know and acknowledge the things you’re absolutely crap at, and ask for help, collaborate, team up.
I wish every designer starting their career could have been at this event!
As we expected from &Company the day came complete with beautiful touches like a gift bag full of letter-pressed goodness and a book stall selling loads of great titles about starting up and surviving in the creative industries. &Company also collected notes and insights from audience members on the day from attendees and compiled them afterwards.
For a full run down on all the content of the day take a look at &Company's wrap up.
If you'd like Wildwon to speak to students or business about our journey contact us here.