Last week, on the drive in to the office, I was mentally preparing myself to give a talk at my team’s annual Design Week (a whole other story). I heard a great segment on NPR about a phenomenon called “The Edge Effect”. Basically, it was about the “Jimi Hendrix of Bagpipes” and the importance of creating diversity of ideas through diversity of experiences.
Hours later, as Sudie (@sudiemusic), one of our guest speaker/performers, was unpacking how she is inspired by life, collaborating and the process of producing music — it really started to hit me how many incredible people I’ve met as a Design Leader; all of them while leading my team at Intuit, all of them incredibly important in shaping my point of view as a designer and leader.
Sudie taught me about how relationships and stories weave together to create powerful ideas — in her case, musical ones. In many ways, my career mirrors one of her songs: rich and complex with vibrant, textured relationships and inspirational stories. And delightful harmonies. And with an awful lot of guest appearances.
Steve Schrag, musician, entrepreneur and educator at Booker T. Washington High School for the performing and Visual Arts, taught me about the importance of developing the skills of active listening. Developing the skill is invaluable. But to teach it to others — especially high school students? Really powerful stuff. Steve is my kind of guy — constructively dissatisfied with the status quo and open to trying just about anything, as long as it serves the goals of his students.
Adam Littke, from Set & Co, taught me about curation. One walk through his store tells you that Adam and his wife value simplicity, utility and a special kind of rustic minimalism. Every object has a certain solid authenticity. Something I really value in the folks I’ve met who inspire me. He spoke to our team about creating and curating a vision — and thinking about how to extend that vision into every new endeavor.
Daron Babcock from the Bon Ton Farm taught me about the importance of “you’ll never really understand the problem until you’ve lived there” empathy. Daron takes bravery to a new level — moving to a place that distrusted him on sight. And then working consistently to develop trust, communication, goals, accountability and success in a place that needed any reason to believe in itself. He spoke to my team about how proud he is of the growth he has seen in the people he’s partnered with to grow the BonTon Farm. I feel the same about the design team I’ve been privileged to assemble here in Plano.
Chad Houser from Cafe Momentum taught me about the importance of proving your leap of faith assumptions — as he did with his first pop-up restaurants. Tackling the enormous problem of juvenile recitivism started with a couple kids and a single dinner. And a whole lot of learning, adjusting and love. His kids are the bigger inspiration — and Chad knows it. And Chad also knows that “learning how to cook” wasn’t going to be enough for people to change their minds about these kids. They needed to run one of the best restaurants in Dallas. So that’s his expectation. And that’s what they do. Understanding and exceeding expectations — if that’s not a core job of a designer, i don’t know what is.
George Esquivel, co-founder of Four Corners Brewery, taught me about using the celebration a diverse cultural identity to develop a brand ethos. George’s journey of taking something he loved and making it mean something to his city and his community is as beautiful and successful as it is delicious. George and his partners recently sold FCB. They’ve created something incredibly valuable — the business was as desirable as the product and the packaging. I have a similar goal: not just to create great products for our customers, but to develop an incredibly desirable talent “product.” Designers that other teams only wish they had. And would be willing to pay handsomely for.
What a privilege it has been to invite these people to come meet my team. To share their story, their vision, their failures and successes. Not a single “Designer” among them — but every one dripping with talent, empathy, ideas and a learning mindset that has transformed their lives and those they interact with. Every one inspires me to continue to reach out beyond my comfort zone and be humble and curious and brave. And push for excellence.