6 Learnings from Kitchen
“He not busy being born is busy dying.” -Bob Dylan
It’s been a year — a year since we hosted our first class at Kitchen, a year since I told our managing director now CEO this would need t0 be a full-time job. It’s been one of the most meaningful, yet also one of the hardest years of my life — full of inspiring mentors, tough business problems, curious and active learners, skeptics and naysayers, excitement, fear, joy, stress, anxiety.
Anniversaries invite moments of reflection. Here are my six big learnings from the past 12 months.
It’s your garden, not your child
One of the best pieces of advice was given to me by our HR Manager Xander, “Think of Kitchen as your garden, not your child.” As a window box gardener, this really struck me. To know that I might not be the only gardener, that some things might flourish, other things might die, and one day I might leave the garden. It’s important to be personally and passionately invested in what you do, but there’s a danger in viewing your work as an extension of yourself As President of Pixar Ed Camull said, “You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”
Tough skin, big heart
Criticism is inevitable when you are starting something new. As corporate leadership advisor Vince Molinaro wrote, “The only way we can carry on with our duties is to have a thick skin and accept that criticism is part of the job.” Tough skin is important, but so is a big heart. I always try to find the best in people — and my strategy when dealing with harsh skeptics and tough stakeholders is by killing— or rather uplifting — with kindness and utility. I constantly ask myself, “How can I make this person’s job easier? What can I do to help them shine? As music conductor and writer Benjamin Zander says, it’s about “generating a spark of possibility for others to share.”
Travel together, not alone
“If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.” — African Proverb
Doing things inside a business means you can’t do things alone. You can’t tell people what to do. You might get compliance, but probably not commitment. You have to bring everyone along the journey with you. Know internally who your champions and early adopters are. Identify key touch points of sharing — whether that’s a weekly email newsletter, departmental lunch and learns, a company meeting. There’s no rule book for how to do this. Experiment. Know who to invite the party — how and when.
Know what energy it’s going to take
I’m more of an introverted leader. Being around a lot of people, taking new business meetings, presenting at events and facilitating workshops takes a lot out of me. I have to be conscious about the energy things take. It’s addictive to keep pushing, but sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses. I do this by going for a walk along the canal after lunch, avoiding back-to-back meetings (particularly ones that will require a lot of mental energy) and constantly assessing my calendar to see what I can cancel or move around.
Remember why you even got started
I recently asked a friend who heads up a creative agency and design publication, “Have you ever thought about quitting?” He said, “Of course, all the time. But I feel so incredibly lucky to be doing what I do.”
I’ve had too many a sleepless night this year. And when I’m having a shitty day, I always go back to my purpose — my reason for being.
Someone once described my superpower as “finding the superpower in others.” For me, that’s about helping people discover what they’re good at and what they love — that’s what Sir Ken Robinson defines as ‘the element.’
That’s in part why I started Kitchen. I believe in people and potential.
Imagine a story that’s never been told
For me, innovation is about having the courage to imagine a story that’s never been told. I’d love for business to follow a straight and predictable path, but it is often messy and ambiguous. The key as Wolff Olins CEO Ije Nwokorie often tell us is to “embrace the messiness.” It’s within the messiness that different and better possible futures emerge.
2014 was hard. I’m sure 2015 won’t be easy, but I’m ready for it. Let’s go!