Every two years…
…I figure out what I want to do when I grow up, and switch things up accordingly. I started doing this at Microsoft when a mentor suggested I reflect on my impact and opportunities every 18 months, and then adjust. I remember the exact week. It was early April, 2004. I was a young product designer on the Hotmail team, and had just had a good laugh when Google announced Gmail and their ridiculous 1GB inbox on April Fools’ Day. Yeah, right. No one would do that. We gave users 2MB for free or 25MB for premium subscribers. A week later we realized that it wasn’t a joke, and my life was forever changed. I was in awe of the bold 10x thinking, the speed of innovation that comes from a beta mentality (the label came off Gmail five years later), and the playfulness of the prank.
So I took my mentor’s advice. I felt I wasn’t impacting the world as much as I wanted to. I switched things up. For two years I explored how design can impact emerging markets and families who make $5/day, I headed Interaction Design for the Surface project for the next two, and for the next moved to China to lead an entire Design Studio. It didn’t stop with Microsoft. I led Design Research for Motorola to learn more about hardware design, then after two years joined Regina Dugan’s ATAP team at Google for a fixed 24-month term. Some seemed to have a hard time with the time limit, but it felt just fine for me :). During my two years I founded and led the design for Project Ara.
And when my time was up, I chose Capital One. I chose the opportunity to work with several design teams to take a fresh look at finances, and left behind the security of working at another Silicon Valley heavyweight. And I would absolutely do it again. It was the most exhilarating stretch of my career. I have never worked at a company with such alignment of deep purpose, genuine leadership and inspiring talent. And I will be forever proud of what my teams accomplished in the past two years.
But when I took stock after 18 months at Capital One, there was one persistent desire that I’ve never given space to. It’s the thing that I’m both most afraid of and most excited to do: start my own design agency. Literally hang a shingle. My Dad owned his own design firm for the past 30 years, and I’ve loved seeing him connect to projects that fuel his passions. But I also remember the hard times when clients were scarce, and I never wanted to put my kids through that. But after consulting with the family, I have their universal support to give it a go. I have 6 months of operating costs set aside, which gives me the financial confidence I needed to go for it. And whether I’m still doing this after another 18 months or not, I can’t wait to fail, learn, adjust, and hopefully have some profound impact along the way.
I will be forever proud of my time at Capital One, and want to encourage my teams to be bolder, move faster and have deeper empathy for the peoples’ lives whom we have the privilege to make better. I can’t wait to see what they will all do next!
Originally published at www.garagepartners.com.