Polar Notion
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Polar Notion

Clarifying Company Values

Defining the DNA of Polar Notion

As a company grows and evolves, values become indispensable in guiding decisions. I’ve found few things to be more impactful in facilitating a healthy culture. Values govern how we operate. They summarize what matters most.

Sometimes however, it’s helpful to dive a bit deeper into defining what they actually mean to us. While values like ‘passion’ and ‘innovation’ can be telling, they fall on deaf ears without context, explanation, and examples.

We pursue excellence, not perfection.

Rather than pushing for perfection, which is illusive, we pursue excellence. For us, excellence is exemplified in 4 ways.

We produce quality products.

Is the work we’re doing quality in the eyes of our clients and our peers? Not everyone has to ‘get it’, but our attention to detail and thoughtfulness should be evident. Standards change over time but we want to set the bar ever higher.

A great example is our Client Handbook. It’s quirky and playful, yet obviously deliberate.

We learn from our mistakes.

First, it’s important to note that we should be making mistakes. Mistakes should not be a result of sloppy execution rather attempting to achieve greater heights. If we accomplish everything we set our minds to, it’s likely we are not challenging ourselves enough.

Secondly, are we learning. We shouldn’t be making the same mistakes over and over. Reflection and improvement are key.

In late 2015, an app got rejected from app store approval due to misuse of GPS functionality on the device. Rather than merely fixing it and moving on, we explored the reason behind the problem and ensured that every product since complies appropriately.

We improve continually.

Are we getting better? Whether we are learning from our mistakes or anticipating challenges ahead, we value improvement. A refusal to change leads to arrogance and complacency, which is death of the creative and craftsmen. Our minds are constantly open to trying new things.

During 2017 and 2018, our processes have evolved to be almost indiscernible from previous years. By applying feedback from our team and clients, we’ve tightened feedback loops, improved transparency, and distilled the process into a clearly defined system. We’re able to deliver industry leading precision… and the work is not done.

We seek customer validation over untested theory.

Does the idea survive outside of the board room? We push ourselves and our clients to release something into the wild and be ready to iterate. Designing in a vacuum causes things to take longer than necessary and removes empathy from the process. Things move fast and we want to be people who lead the way.

We time box Strategy Sprints. By caping the amount of time we have to plan, it prevents us from over-engineering or dwelling too long on details that just need to be tested. There is only one way of knowing what the customer actually wants: show it to them.

We create remarkable experiences.

In service based work, merely delivering what’s expected will prompt a race to the bottom that we’re not interested in winning. Experiences are what separate the boutique from the commodity.

For our team, we focus on each level of the exchange; team members, clients, and their customers. Human-centered interactions share value at each step.

The most beautiful element of commerce is that two people can come together in an exchange and each party walk away feeling like they’ve won something. We strive to exemplify that within each transaction.

Remarkable experiences for our team members.

Does our team enjoy the work? The decision to list our team members is deliberate. A healthy work environment is the life blood of a creative agency and ensures everything else is in proper balance. Neglecting team members in pursuit of pleasing clients will lead to an atmosphere where neither truly win.

If you’re a client, we trust you’ll appreciate the passion and joy our team brings to our work together.

Remarkable experiences for our clients.

Do our clients enjoy the process and product? In an industry filled with jargon and miscommunication, we lead with clearly defined expectations. Continually reevaluating our level of communication, we take ownership of educating our clients and removing confusion.

We make this easily measurable. After each sprint, we ask for feedback and they’re given a chance to rank our performance. We shoot for 5 stars.

The work and attention to detail within our Client Handbook is just the first step in delivering a 5 star experience. We’re proud that our business continues to grow rapidly while driven by referrals. Each new project stems from a previously delighted client.

Their customers.

Do our clients’ customers stay engaged? We’re trusted to represent our clients’ brands well. When our clients win in the eyes of their customers, everyone comes out on top. We never want to loose site of who we ultimately serve.

Great design involves empathy for the end user.

We are effectively human.

Perhaps our most loaded value, being effectively human captures the marriage of technology and humanity. In the world of software, hardware, AI, and technology it’s easy to get lost in a sea of cold, lifeless machines. We want to capture the efficiency of cutting edge technology without loosing our humanity in the process.

We lead with a human centered perspective.

Who are we optimizing for? Keeping the main thing front of mind, people are the greatest prize and what we optimize for. Revolting against the industrialization of humanity, we see people as unique contributors in an ever evolving story.

We engineer thoughtful, simple solutions.

Deliberate and simple pursuits are a mindset we impress upon those we work with. We use words like engineer and strategy because they evoke an attitude of thoughtfulness. More than a title to be claimed, it’s a mindset that we expect at every level of our organization.

We engage in thoughtful debate.

We disagree often. Championing the notion of ‘strong beliefs held loosely’, few conversations are off limits. We reject the idea that we have to agree to interact respectfully. Diversity and unique perspectives drive us towards the best outcomes.

Respect and disagreement are not mutually exclusive.

We seek empathy before efficiency.

People over process. As we grow, efficiency and humanity continually square off. Rather than building a sterilized environment without blemish, we celebrate the tension and hold individually as a basic human right.

Our greatest work has come from being open to unpredictability.

We go boldly forward.

Our fourth and final value, Go Boldly Forward is our battle cry as much as a directive.

What do we do next? Go! Refusing to stay still, we are moving.

How will we go? Boldly. With courage and confidence, we take risks.

Where will we go boldly? Forward. We live in pursuit of the future, not the past.

We default to action.

Rather than waiting for permission, we prefer deliberate action over indecision. If you care or have an opinion, speak up and go get it.

We openly share our systems and processes because it’s action, not knowledge, that makes all the difference.

We make decisions.

Fighting against endless debate, we step out from the crowd and make a choice. Perhaps our most aspirational element, we challenge each other and ourselves to decide. Pick something!

A good decision now beats a great decision later.

We nurture a humble curiosity.

Try things. Explore. Venture out. Whether the services we provide or the clients we entertain, we love life outside the box. We don’t have the all answers, no one does. That’s not going to stop us from trying to find them.

We take risks.

Try things that might not work. Balancing a healthy dose of experimentation, we like new challenge rather than rinse and repeat. Humans are adaptable and few things exemplify that more than risk taking.

In Closing

While these values play out daily around the office, we hope they’re embodied to touch all areas of life. Excellence, delightful experiences, human centeredness, and courage allow us to confront the choices on all levels. Healthy values should build a better business and a better world.

When our values come alive throughout the organization, it’s obvious ‘how we do things here’ and it is something worth protecting.

We pursue excellence, not perfection.

We create remarkable experiences.

We are effectively human.

We go boldly forward.

We are Polar Notion.



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Morgan J. Lopes

Morgan J. Lopes

CTO at Fast Company’s World Most Innovative Company (x4). Author of “Code School”, a book to help more people transition into tech.