The Feedback Loop (2017, Q1)
Things I’ve learned along the way
3 months ago I announced a new chapter in my professional life. After years of being involved in product innovation — from freelance app developer to running my own product design studio — I wanted to focus more on the human side of creative collaboration.
This new adventure started from the idea that creative energy is one of our most precious resources. It fuels our teams to innovative solutions and being involved in this can be one of the most rewarding aspects of working life.
Helping people grow their ability & courage to create improvement in the world. That’s what matters to me.
So after years of embracing & cultivating creative energy myself, I decided to help others do the same. It has been an exciting journey already, and I want to share some things I’ve learned so far. Here we go!
I started with a small newsletter initiative to reach out and gather an audience of early adopters. Wrapped inside a new website I introduced my new mission — helping people grow their ability & courage to lead creative teams — and I used my social media channels to promote this launch.
Over the past years I have been involved in over 100 projects where creative teams collaborated on a new product, service or workflow. I’ve experienced at first hand what made so much of this creative energy go to waste. These experiences have led to a few strong opinions and assumptions about the cause and how to deal with it.
The idea of this newsletter is to validate these assumptions and to learn more about my audience. I wanted to grow a better understanding of their fears, struggles and desires as a Creative Leader. And more importantly: to find the sweet spot between what I could offer and what they would find valuable.
Through my newsletter I wanted to find out these 2 things: who is interested in my learnings and why?
When I designed my first content roadmap I had a list of over 15 topics & titles to choose from. The type of stories I had in mind were either opinions, how-to articles or testimonials.
The flow of getting these stories out there was pretty straightforward. I wanted to give my readers exclusive first access before sharing the stories online. This is why I’ve sent out large emails containing a complete story. A week later I shared these publications online through my blog, Medium & LinkedIn.
It was really interesting to see how my readers responded to the articles. I had no idea which articles they would like most, and sometimes I was scared none of them would actually pop out.
Luckily there was no need to question myself because 2 stories clearly outperformed the others. Both of them were how-to articles and both focussed on Talent Management: The War for Talent and The Pursuit of High-Performing Creative Teams.
If there is one learning that stands out, it is that a lot of Creative Leaders struggle to identify & attract talented people. And to inspire & further educate those who are already on board.
Why is that? Because Creative Leaders are often very good at the craft their companies require to serve customers. They share backgrounds in creative education such as product design or computer science. Throughout their career they never engaged deeply with HR and People Management.
So why aren’t they looking for help?
Most of the Creative Leaders I spoke with feel uncomfortable with external recruitment or employer branding services. It’s expensive and difficult to predict the outcome at the same time. Another frustration frequently mentioned is that external partners never really seem to get what the team is trying to accomplish.
While every Creative Leader understands and acknowledges the importance of talent management, many of them fail to find the right people manager. Which makes the following illustration the most important and insightful one I’ve designed so far.
So how did I capture all of these learnings? To move on as quickly as possible I created a Private Facebook Group called Creative Leaders.
Connecting with engaged readers was crucial for my learning curve, so I automatically invited every newsletter subscriber to join. The idea was that some of my readers would probably be interested in being a bit more involved. After a few weeks I reached a target of 100 subscribers of which 26 joined Creative Leaders.
At the moment our community contains 50+ members and 30% of the growth comes from existing members inviting new members. It’s difficult to say whether or not this is a good conversion rate, but I feel really good about this.
After 2 months of publications and online discussions I organized a Breakfast Meeting. I wanted to thank all the members and allow them to meet up in person.
During this meetup I received several requests from members who wanted to invite our community at their offices. These requests were a highlight for me personally, because it clearly validates the idea behind this community and the interaction it stimulates.
A few weeks later I already hosted another event, and I have a few upcoming ones in the pipeline. Keep them coming, boys!
Keeping all of this in mind, I’ve decided to slow down a bit on the writing part and focus more on growing this community through events & gatherings. I’m currently working hard to finish our new website, I can’t wait to launch it.
To wrap up this post I have another exciting announcement to make. So here’s my one more thing.
As of May 2017 I took on an interim management position at Intermodalics: a robotics software company in Leuven. I will help the company grow further by coordinating high-priority marketing, strategic roadmap & operational initiatives. A very exciting challenge with a large variety of to do’s.
Guess I’m ready for another learning curve, I hope you are too!
Have a great day,
— Special thanks to my wife Nele for supporting me along the way, to Yannick for helping me set up my website & newsletter, to Wim, Dries, Glenn, Dennis & Pieter for our challenging conversations, and last but not least: to all my readers and members of Creative Leaders.