Growing up I didn’t know anyone who worked in the creative fields. Nor, in fact, in any kind of leadership capacity. Entrepreneurs were people I often saw on the television, so distant from my world that the thought never crossed my mind that I could end up on that same path.
The tired school teacher's cliche of "it’s not what you know, it’s who you know" didn’t fill me with confidence that I’d ever get to make a living doing the things I liked - my D grade in A-Level Art was proof of that.
Safe to say that given this background, finding myself as a Creative Director of a company I’d founded with one of my best mates and having a team and clients all reliant on me still comes as a shock.
I’ll save my thoughts on why one of the first pieces of advice I always give to anyone finding themselves in my old shoes is to get a good Co-Founder for another post. But what I will say now is that without having someone there to share the life-changing highs and suffer the soul-crushing lows, I’d never had made it this far. For that, I’ll always be thankful.
And the word "share" is key. Because as many find out, becoming a leader or a founder can be a lonely place. When you live and breathe your company, when it’s what wakes up your brain at 4am and it’s the first thing people ask you about when you see them, it becomes as much part of your identity as your family or friends. It becomes a bubble around you. And that can be kinda dangerous.
One of the key learnings I made that helped me pop that bubble and regain some balance to my life was to find "Communities of Practice" - groups of people who find themselves in such similar yet so different positions to share experiences with. A true community - not just a network of peers.
A good Community of Practice is;
- A group of people in a position to safely share their experiences, good and bad
- A place to share your current challenges
- A place to be transparent about your hopes and fears
- A group to hold you to account when needed
A good Community of Practice isn't;
- Attending the usual conferences with the usual suspects talking about the usual topics
- Following all the usual suspects on social media chewing over what someone else has just done
- Reading the usual industry blogs covering the latest trends
My biggest learnings came when I was invited to be one of 22 Creative Leaders invited to spend a week in San Francisco with the pioneers of Human Centred Design - IDEO. This experience brought together a wide array of people - CEO’s of Global Banks, Heads of Innovation from Brand Leaders, City Designers and Planners, and me, to share our experiences of navigating the ever-changing world of Creative Leadership.
We spent time in the IDEO studio with Tim Brown, Suz Howard and Coe Leta Stafford discussing Design Thinking and while it was this philosophy that brought us all together, it was the small casual conversations between us - the Impact House Fellows - that were so rich in content. Because as different as our backgrounds were and as far apart as our industries and specialisms may have appeared, common grounds soon began to surface.
I discovered that as lonely as it may feel in that bubble at times, others have been there. They may be there now. The struggle, as they say, is real but can be overcome with support and guidance. Our industry is still so focussed on competing for awards or trying to out-hustle the competition and that just doesn’t reflect a healthy reality of our day to day one bit.
Being part of a good Community of Practice taught me:
- It’s ok to feel uncomfortable with the hustle
- It’s normal not to know all the answers
- It’s fine to be vulnerable
- It’s not always advisable to attempt to outwork the struggle
- It’s not a competition
Learning to share our biggest mistakes as well as our proudest moments allowed me to become more gratified with what we’ve achieved. And even better, I realised that by sharing experiences the real impact our business has on the world won’t just be the work we’ve created but the relationships we’ve built and the support we’ve been able to offer people along the way.
I’m fortunate enough to still be part of this community of peers and we will continue to discuss, share, and learn about the challenges inherent in our field. Next week we will meet again, this time in Madrid, to continue our Community of Practice formed at the IDEOU Impact House of 2016.