Testing the boundaries, and shedding your skin

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I’m on a plane flying to Dubai as I write this. I’m four hours into a thirteen-hour flight, which will be followed by a six-hour stop-over and then a 5-hour connecting flight to Athens; returning in 10 days.

If you groaned out loud at the long-haul thought — you just verbalised what I can’t verbalise at this very moment because everyone around me is asleep.

But you have no idea how much I’m missing my children right now.

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When you look back on your career do you see a trail of personas you’ve played, each of them moving you towards the one you inhabit today?

When you look back on your career, do you see all the skins you’ve shed?

How does this make you feel?

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Over the Summer holidays, my eldest daughter and I watched a show about de-cluttering and cleaning a home. A young Japanese woman walked a couple through the processes of de-cluttering their home and one of the key moments in the episode was when she asked them to thank the clothes they were throwing away, before they put them into a pile to be discarded.

They thanked their clothes.

Yes this was bizarre, but looking back now, I see the point.

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When you look back on the trail of personas you’ve played. The things you’ve done that you no longer do. The people in your life who are no longer in your life.

Do you thank them, before letting them go?

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I love de-cluttering and shedding skin — I too, give thanks to the things that I once thought were going to be amazing and no longer are.

I wish them well and let them go.

I look deep into my own fallible personality and do the same with attributes of my own in this very same way.

I’d hope to be able to say that I’m a kinder and more compassionate version of myself today than I was ten years ago.

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This process of looking through these vignettes of thought is my own sense of pushing and pulling at the things that occupy my world at work.

There are things and people that no longer serve me and I know I must let them go. Apps on my phone that take up space. Insecurity inducing social media feeds.

I thank them and say goodbye.

Which in turn leaves space for new thought. New ideas and if we are to be true to the opposite end of this spectrum, ideas that push into uncomfortable spaces.

Like sitting on a long-haul flight to the other side of the world (where it’s very, very cold at the moment!) and writing this article.

Leaving ourselves open to do these things is paramount in my world at work and the ethos in my team.

Being open to taking an idea from zero to something in a blink of an eye is something we see as immensely powerful.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon calls it the principle of ‘Day one’ — in that every day at Amazon should be like Amazon’s first day of business. A willingness to take leaps into the unknown, a thirst for discovery and an obsession with creating customer value.

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I guess you could say, I’m testing my boundaries by being on this plane. I’m getting uncomfortable and I’m seeing how I, my business, my team and even my children might step up to something new.

Something novel, interesting and compelling.

Something that not only tests, but pushes the boundaries of what we are capable of achieving.

Working with a tech company that is head-quartered in Athens and has sites in five other global centres has been really wonderful for a small consultancy such as ours. They’re a world leader in marine mapping technology and we’re working with them to help their 120+ people from around the world, come together and understand the principles of innovation, high-performing teams and creativity.

It’s the type of work that interests us and scares us with equal measure.

The type of work that raises our eyebrow as well as motivates us to make it better.

The type of people who are smart, intelligent and capable — the type of people that expand us because of who they are and what they do.

I’m also a little chuffed personally, because I get to go to one of my favourite cities to do work I’m passionate about and as a by-product, I get to catch up with some friends and family who live there.

Bonus!

So this had me thinking that good things don’t in fact come to those who wait. Good things come from purposeful work. Good work and sometimes hard work.

Good things come from testing the boundaries and shedding, albeit slowly, a little bit of your skin to make way for the new and wonderful.

In our office, we often talk about Kurt Vonnegut’s quote of ‘sitting on the edge’ so he can ‘see what those in the centre can’t see’. A quote I won’t repeat in full here, because it appears often in my writings. We often discuss the meaning of this insightful piece of writing and how much it inspires us in our personal ambitions and in the way we run our business.

To stay on that edge should we not continually shed our skin?

Should we not continually test the boundaries of which we operate in and question even our own assumptions of what we do?

Should we not question the boundaries of what we do as individual creative practitioners? Not always conforming to the way things have always been done?

And should we not, as creative businesses and altogether as an industry look to provide a different, an evolved type of value to our customer?

I’m talking about deep, self-reflection.

I’m not talking about a ‘rebranding’ that is a new coat of paint and a ‘big idea’ with all but a limp execution.

I’m talking about testing a hypothesis that you have in your gut with real people. Real customers and listening to them tell you whether they like it, or not. And then getting off your arse and making the thing they need.

I’m talking about treating ourselves like client number one.

Client number one.

Now there’s a thought.

“But studio work always takes a backseat to client work.”

If you believe that – you go ahead and believe just that, while the rest of us are shedding our skin.

No problem.

See you next week.