(An internal article. Not to be shared externally.)
Hey Iris Team,
I want to share some thoughts with us. I’ve been contemplating a lot recently and thinking a lot about how to lead this organization towards the most generative outcomes. I’m proud of how far we’ve come and what we’re now able to create. I’m excited about the potential and possibility that exists between us and the indicators that say we’re moving in the right direction.
Mapping the Territory Ahead
To get to where we’re headed we’ve got some improving to do. If I’m honest, with myself and ya’ll, I’m not nearly satisfied yet with the performance of our organization nor my experience operating within it. There’s a lot more I want us to be doing, and a lot more fun I want us to be having. I fully believe we can get there, but it will require new action, from all of us.
Shouldn’t we be happy where we’re at?
Yes! We should be happy about where we’re at. We each have a lot to be proud of, and we have a lot to be proud of in the work we’re doing together now. Personally, I am so grateful for the opportunity to work in this way, live so freely, and learn from some of the wisest people in the world.
If we’re not enjoying the journey we’re probably not headed in the right direction. This doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes hard. Sometimes things are going to be really hard. Growing ain’t easy. But I fully believe we’ve got to enjoy that difficulty. Learn to love the growing pains and, I promise you, you’ll realize all your dreams.
Why stress so about developing?
Clients are generally satisfied, we get to work on interesting projects and set our own schedules, and we’re all growing and developing as people and service providers. We’re profiting, that says a lot in a recession.
Yes, we should celebrate these facts 🎉. And, as the leader of this org I also have to look at the underbelly of our business. I’m here to help it stay healthy and continue to grow.
If I look objectively I notice a lot of complaints, a lot of dissatisfaction, and a lot of ways we can improve the service that we offer and our experience in it. There’s a lot of opportunity on the other side of that improvement. Clients could be happier, you guys could be happier, I could be happier, and we could be making a much greater impact on this world. I want to view happiness as a metric, an indicator of our success. If we are all happy I can trust that we are doing a good job.
There are also other metrics we should look at and domains we should consider as we develop
Important Indicators of our Success
1. Generative Impact
In my mind, this is the most important and the hardest to measure. Personally, I want to make this world a better place for the next generations, our unborn descendants. I want to help this planet through a troubling time and into futures of greater abundance, equity, and civilized life in harmony with Nature and Cosmos. This is my biggest desire and I will abandon all other desires in the pursuit of this generative impact. This is a long game, there is no quick way to achieve these goals. I don’t expect to witness the futures I’m willing to fight for in my lifetime. I’m totally fine with that, not because I want to be a martyr, a savior, or a saint. Quite the opposite. I simply believe that it is in that wholehearted pursuit of the good that one can have the most fun here on planet Earth. I’ve only been here 30 years, but I’ve had the privilege of meeting thousands of people and knowing at least hundreds. People from all walks of life. Wonderful people, and not so wonderful people. Successful people, and not so successful people. Happy people, and not so happy people. Privileged people, and not so privileged people. I notice a lot of patterns in the people I meet and get to know. As an imperfect human, these assessments are surely subjective, and biased. However, as a born pattern recognizer, (tested in the top 99.99th percentile for pattern recognition), I weigh my subjective assessments over the subjective assessments of most other individuals. The clear pattern: The happiest, most joyous, most pleasant to be around, most loving people I’ve known have been those that are striving, joyfully but wholeheartedly, with others, to co-create brighter futures. There’s a lot of miserable do-gooders, stressed-out activists, and misguided campaigners. This isn’t who I’m talking about. There’s a particular flavor of an individual. They could be a CEO, a non-profit organizer, an artist, a teacher, an author, a mother, a therapist, a web designer, or a shaman. They could be Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim. They could be adamantly atheist or devoutly religious. They could have grown up in New York or Nairobi. They could be liberal or conservative. They could be hyper-cognitive or extremely heart-centered (though most likely they have a healthy balance). They could be focused locally or globally or both. They could be working on the macro or the micro, but they’re willing to see both. There’s this persistent pattern. The folks I know who are consistently happy, are striving to make the world better, together. I can’t think of any exceptions. Not only are they happy they are successful (on their own terms), they are open-minded, and they create joy and positive outcomes wherever they go. Happiness and Impact are inextricably linked. Let’s create both.
How can we measure the impact we’re creating in our business?
- Client Projects
- When we consider the clients we want to work with we consider the impact they creating and can create.
- We do everything we can to support the impact they can create with their offers.
- Connectivity Conference
- We co-create a stage where the most generative impactors we can find can convene and co-create more impact together.
- We give these impactors a platform and a means of reaching more people and gaining more support.
- Creative Community
- We grow and develop as individuals and as creative service providers, learning together how to create greater impact and satisfaction in our offerings.
- We can provide a means for impact-oriented creative service providers to reach and serve impact-oriented clients and organizations.
2. Team Experience, Client Experience
If we’re striving for the good, it should be fun. Also, it should be fun (period). What do I mean by fun? I don’t mean fun like a playing a game, or hanging out with friends, or watching a comedy. We all love those things. But when it comes to this business when I say fun I mean interesting, engaging, educational, developmental, rewarding. What do you want your experience working in this business to be? Really, please tell me. Let’s discuss. Impact aside, I want the experience of working with, and working within, this business to be a generative one. There’s that word again ‘generative’. What do I mean by that? I mean growth happens. I mean we leave a project, an interaction, an experience being, and feeling, better then when we went in.
I want to feel, I want you to feel, and I want our clients to feel…
Safe. Allowed to be who we are. Allowed to express what we want. Made to feel welcome and valued. Allowed to be imperfect, improving, and inconsistent. Allowed to make mistakes. Allowed to share ourselves and be vulnerable. How can we create a psychologically safe environment for ourselves and our clients?
Cared about and taken care of. I want everyone to feel cared for as a client, as a team member, as a creative, but most importantly as humans. How can we hold each other’s hearts with tenderness and consideration?
Listened to, truly heard, seen, and understood (as best we can). The greatest value we offer to our clients is our ability to be with them in their domain of concern. This is an important skill we will develop as individuals and as a team. How can we truly listen to the needs, perspectives, and concerns of our clients and each other?
Connected. We are each a part of a community of creators and a global network of bright hearts and minds. There is a joy, and a satisfaction, in being connected to each other and to these movements. I want to broaden and deepen those connections. I want us to connect each other to new learning, new business, and new ways of seeing. How can we cultivate a culture of sharing in the brightnesses we’re each connected to?
This is a reminder to take a moment to take a deep breath. In and Out. Thank you for taking the time to read and understand these words.
Inspired. Inspiration is the life-blood of our work, and our clients work. It’s all inspired work. Inspired means infused with ‘spirit’. We can also call it ‘light’, ‘novelty’, ‘innovation’, ‘creativity’, or ‘excellence’. What it is and where it comes from we can’t know, but we can sense that light in each other and in our ideas. Ideas are like currency, I want to let them flow between us, our clients, and the worlds they’re influencing. How can we stay inspired and create inspiring work?
Inter-subjectively engaged. I want us to be as We-oriented as possible. I want us each to know and care for each other, and also to be aware of the singular ‘we’ that we are. There’s something magic about the space that exists between us as individuals. It wouldn’t be the same if any of us weren’t a part of it. How can we each be a generative part of our thriving We?
Supported. I want you each to feel supported. I wan to feel supported. I want our clients to feel supported. Notice I’m talking about feelings. In the first indicator ‘Generative Impact’ I wrote about being a support to the impactful projects of our clients. This is important. But it’s also important for us all to feel supported. This means understanding the concerns of each other and our clients. I want to get to know each of you better and better so I can help you feel as supported as possible, in your careers, in your learning, in your financial stability, in your growth, and your happiness. I want our clients to each feel like we have their back. Like we are supporting their mission and they can count on us to deliver what we promise. I want them to feel like we are carrying them through a journey and delivering miracles in support of their vision. I want to feel supported in my role as leader of this org. I want to trust that the requests I make will be heard and delivered on. I want to feel like you each understand what we’re trying to do here and are striving with me towards our goals. I want to know that if we are misaligned, if things aren’t clear, if you’re falling behind, that you will speak up, communicate, and ask for the support you need to be in support of our goals.
We have the opportunity here to become a highly profitable business. We can use those profits for whatever we want. What are your dreams? How can we support you to get there? This brings me to the 3rd and final indicator:
The most measurable of the indicators. (We need to get better at measuring this btw). Profit is not to be dismissed or shamed. I believe it’s important that we embrace profits and pursue them with gusto. Profit indicates that we are being of valuable service to our clients. Profit should never be our only indicator (I put it 3rd for a reason), but it’s nonetheless important. The ‘righteous’ often shun profit citing money as the root of all evil. Personally, my journey around this belief has been a long one but I now conclude that evil is the root of all evil, and it has infected parts of the Tree of Commerce, but commerce and capital are in no way in and of itself evil. Capitalism get’s a bad wrap because it has many ugly faces. But if we look objectively at history it’s not hard to see the incredible good that has come from private enterprise, industry, and capitalist innovation. Surely the toxic side-effects of our industrial and post-industrial revolutions are now killing the planet (along with other effects), but this doesn’t make the pursuit of profits evil. Many evil people pursue pure profit, yes, therein lies the mis-association. Profit is itself not evil. Capitol is a current that can be used to create new futures. It is one of the most powerful forces in our modern world. We should not be afraid of power, nor afraid to seek it. If we hold it together, with virtue, openness, and honesty, there’s no limit to the good we can do in this world, and the fun we can have while doing it.
Compared to many digital service providers around the world we are doing well. Compared to many digital service providers that I know personally we are currently making nickels and dimes compared to what we could be making.
Umar, Moenja, Lauren. You each could be making double what you are currently, and then you could double that, as many times as you like. The question isn’t how much money could you make, it’s how much do you want to make, and how much effort are you willing to put in to make that happen? It takes effort, it takes learning, it takes growth, and it takes forming new habits and taking new actions. It’s not easy. If it were there’d be a lot more people making a lot more than they currently are. My proposal for you is that you choose where you want to be financially, and I’ll do everything I can to help you get there, as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
Am I really the person who can help you up-level your abundance?
Maybe not. I’m not rich, I’m rather poor on paper actually. I’ve spent most of my career not making much money at all. I’ve spent years as an anti-capitalist. I’ve made poor financial decisions. But I’d wager that I know quite a lot about creating value in the creative service industry. Currently, I can charge up to $250/hr for my highest level of creative services to my highest level clients. This could be even higher if I had better organizational systems backing it up. I’ve learned how to find clients that pay and deliver the quality they’re willing to pay a lot for. At least 3 collaborators I worked with and brought into the creative service industry are now making 6-figure incomes and have careers that they love. I’ve been privileged to have studied with, and continue study with, some of the world’s leading experts on service, business design, and wealth creation. I don’t know nearly enough about this domain, I’m learning with you. But I’ve spent years learning about how this business can be hyper-successful. I’m only starting to put that learning into action. I ask you to trust me in that and trust also that our success is your success, that what you learn from what we can do together will benefit you in all your future endeavors.
Why do I care about your profits?
I want you to be happy, I want you to feel taken care of, and I want you to be able to show up as fully as possible for the business we’re trying to create here. I want you to trust me to make key assessments about your actions and performance (even if you’re aware of my failings in the same domain). I want you to know that I have your interests in mind in addition to the interests of the business.
I say these things because I want to start being more rigorous about how I communicate expectations and request actions. This might be perceived as being critical, and perhaps it is, but I’d like to critique processes, not critique you as creators.
I want to ask more of you all. And offer more in return. At first, I can’t offer much more financially, the money’s just not there. But if we can develop as an org, the money will be there. I want to push for this. My question is, are you willing to be pushed? Are you willing to push me too? Are we willing to step up our game and achieve bigger outcomes together?
These are honest questions and I really do want answers to them. If you honestly don’t want this that is okay. It doesn’t mean that I won’t want to work with you or that we won’t have work for you.
I have to be honest, there is something specific that I want to build here with Iris. It includes all of the above. I need a team with me that’s willing to go there and willing to push for this. I wan to show up fully for that team, and I want to trust that that team is showing up fully for the vision.
If you say, ‘that’s not really for me’, I will uber respect that.
The Cracks in our Business
I can identify ways in which we are currently lacking in major ways in all of the above indicators, and in all of the domains. I won’t overwhelm us now with these observations, I’m sure you have your own observations as well. I’ve been hesitant to communicate lacks out of fear of being perceived as being overly critical, pessimistic, or hypocritical. Now that I’ve communicated the above contexts I feel like I can better express myself, and start holding us all to a higher standard. Starting, first and foremost, with myself. I see major lacks in my own performance and ways in which I need to step up. I also see ways in which I can better design my own experience to be more fun and rewarding along the way.
For example, let’s look at ‘Team and Client Experience’ indicators, let’s look specifically at my own personal experience in the business, I can identify some shortcomings that may be worth naming: I’m often stressed about too many issues in too many domains and I often feel like I’m lacking the support I need to deliver on the promises I’ve made, I’m always skirting overwhelm, or overwhelmed fully. I feel drained, sometimes uninspired. I’m lonely up here in the mountains by myself and desire more connection to the people I’m working with the most. I name these issues and take responsibility for them. I design the roles I take on in the organization and I make the promises that we have to deliver on, if my experience isn’t ideal it’s my own fault. But I still want to name it. Noticing I’m not including the ways in which I know I need to improve in terms of my performance. I’m only looking at my experience. I’m learning all the time about what I can expect from whom and what I’ll need to do myself. I’m not making any requests here. Only to be witnessed in my negative experience. Of course, I also have very positive aspects of my experience which I am supremely grateful for. I hope they were communicated earlier in this article. My positive experience justifies my negative experience (I tolerate it willingly), but that doesn’t mean that the negative things can shift.
For tangibility sake, I want to share a specific example of a lack I just noticed. The version of the Caravan logo that Katie Mottram is using in her email signature is the wrong version created from an AI file that didn’t have the right fonts loaded (it defaulted to Myriad Pro). I don’t know where this version of the Caravan logo came from but it deeply upsets me every time I see it. It doesn’t matter at this point how it ended up in use on their website and other places. It could have been any one of us honestly, and might as well have been. But I highlight it because I want to point out that it is not only a minor detail, this is a major snafu. Many clients will not tolerate this kind of mistake if they notice it, but even when it goes unnoticed by the client it’s still a major issue. Clients pay us thousands of dollars for these brands. We take a lot of time and put a lot of care into creating them. If we accept anything but perfect delivery then we are cutting ourselves way short of what we can offer.
Why pick such a minor error to call out?
In the scheme of things, there are much bigger issues I could point to. I chose this one because it’s a good example. Also, I don’t think any of us know how this mistake happened exactly, it’s not any one of our faults, it’s the fault of our system. I take responsibility for it because I am responsible for it. The point of this letter is not to point out the ways we can improve, it’s to explore you into a culture of perpetual improvement and to set the stage for that ongoing conversation for action that I desperately want to have with you.
We need to get a lot better at how we share our work with our clients and how we organize those assets and deliverables. I’ve been noticing a ton of little mistakes like this recently, a myriad of mistakes. Balls getting dropped, requests going unresponded to, assets getting mixed up, clients not having what they need when they need it. Admittedly, I am the guiltiest among us in this. I won’t let this stop me from calling it out. Know I’m calling us out. Not anyone of us, not you three, all of us. Ultimately, as the initiator of this operation, I take responsibility for all of our work. Clients hold me accountable to everything we deliver or don’t. I’m willing to take even more responsibility for the work so I can be clearer in the offers I can make to the clients we want to go after. But I need us all to take more responsibility for what we each need to deliver. These small mistakes and inconsistencies will keep us from getting and keeping the bigger clients. Things like this will go unnoticed with most of the clients we have right now. Higher-level clients will freak out about mistakes like this and would be justified in doing so. If we can be diligent and detail-oriented we can be in the highest bracket of design service. At the highest bracket, we can charge 5x, yes 5x, of what we can charge at the level below that. The difference is not the quality of design or quality of development. It’s the quality of the service we offer and its consistency. All 4 of us can improve dramatically in this domain. I promise you that if we can we can improve our quality of service then we will all be happier and much freer to do the work that we love.
Step 1: is acknowledging that we’re not there yet but recognizing that there is a there we can get to. We can get there and we can feel good about the work we need to do to get there.
This is my intention for this letter. Are you onboard? If not, what do you need to get fully on board?