I miss my partner

Reflecting on one year after Teehan+Lax, and one year at Facebook

When I set out to write this article, I figured it would be pretty simple. I’d write about my transition to Facebook — you know, all the things I missed about my old life, love about my new one, etc. But as it turns out, as I took my personal and professional inventory, attempting to assimilate all of that change hasn’t been as linear or simple as I’d expected.

There were many reasons Teehan+Lax worked so well and became such an influence in the design industry. As with any company that produces art and design, it can be difficult to quantify what the “it” is that made them work so well. However, I have a few thoughts and reasons worth sharing. First, I think our business model worked well for us, and it was different than the old agency model. We embraced limited hierarchy. We grew by adding small teams of 7–10 cross-functional people led by partners. We put in place new ways to bill clients that didn’t rely on the billable hour. These were just a few of the things that made us successful, in ways that we wanted to be successful.

Of course, simply having a good business model won’t make a design company successful, much less produce the high quality design we delivered. Our company worked and grew and refined itself due in large part to the interpersonal relationships the partners actively and consistently cultivated. This synergy fueled the growth and sophistication of our ability to design well. Subsequently, the partners were a model demanding a culture of interpersonal respect that could, at appropriate times, support a confrontational exchange of knowledge along with information. At Teehan+Lax, this led to personal and professional growth of everyone involved in the system. We had a business plan that worked, we had the interpersonal interest and caring, and that, along with being good designers, was what made us work as well as we did. It’s also what I’ve seen and been a part of here at Facebook.

We also had that unquantifiable magic that sometimes happens between people. You know what I mean, the kind of thing that can’t be created or anticipated, or even described — it just palpably is, and is transformative. For 15 years I basically had the same guy sitting ten feet across from me. He was young, smart and focused. I liked him. He was good at (and interested in) things that I wasn’t — and in return, I was a similar complement to him. We were self-aware. We knew our strengths and played to them. We knew of shortcomings in the other and compensated for them in a caring way. It was the best kind of collaboration, because we trusted each other enough to challenge the occasional opinion or desire. It worked because we tried to do it a way that allowed both parties to understand and often appreciate the other’s point-of-view. We strived to do it in an informative way, avoiding combative or hurtful comments or nasty intonations. In other words, the person who was questioning a decision was open to the fact that the other might be right, but that they wanted to double check, just to be sure. It came from a place of deep respect, and not tinged with resentment for one person or the other “being right”. Not many “I told you so” dances happened at Teehan+Lax. I really miss having that close relationship that only business partners that were founders can understand. You both have keys to the black box and a lot of lives rest on you making the right decisions. A good partner helps you grow and make better decisions. I had a great partner.

We used to laugh when people said we were like an old married couple, but it really wasn’t much of a joke.

In the office we really were like the best parts of an old married couple, including things like bickering over which matching sweater vests to wear for our holiday card. For 15 years we both cared about what happened to one another, and that care was reflected in our company, and trickled down to each employee. We raised a professional family for whom we cared, a lot. Despite what some thought at the time of the acquisition, it all mattered to us. Those who were in the actual know during that time of transition, knew.

Coming to Facebook made me realize a ton of stuff. For example, I love sunny winters. I think that American milk that comes in cartons makes more sense than Canadian milk that comes in bags. I also realize how much I miss my partners. And staff. And everyone. I still see many of them every day, but it’s different now. We don’t know every single little thought and move about each other’s lives. Owning a business and working at one are two different things. Having a partner that you sit with—that you have a shorthand with like we had—might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

I really love working at Facebook. I’m enjoying the projects and the new people I’m working with…but this post isn’t about that. Instead, it’s really a thank you to Jon, Dave, Jer, and all the employees we got to work with at Teehan+Lax.

Sometimes I find myself wanting to run a thought by Jon or ask his opinion on something, but then when I look up his desk isn’t ten feet in front of me anymore. I miss that. Working at a big company has a plethora of advantages. Believe me, not having to worry about client deal-flow or payroll or how much the rent on our office building might increase frees up a lot of my brain space for things more aligned with my true calling.

Making the move to Facebook was absolutely the right move for me. It has been a liberating and welcome challenge for me personally as well as professionally, affording many interesting growth opportunities that just are not available at a smaller design firm.

But…

I still miss my partner.


Me, on Twitter.

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