Opportunities Flow Through People

Cap Watkins, lead designer at Etsy, wrote at length on how he got his start. New to San Francisco, he sent out 20-30 emails to designers he respected but had never met. He got only one reply:

Daniel Burka (who at the time was the creative director at Digg) said that, sure, he’d love to grab coffee. We set up a time and I took the train to the city to meet up with him and his friend Mark. We chatted for awhile and, just before we left, they both mentioned that they were going rock climbing the next morning with friends, and asked if I’d like to join.

Absolutely, I did. The next morning I hopped on a 6am BART train from Oakland into the city to get the climbing gym at 7am. There, I met a few more people, which turned into a few more people, which turned into a few more and suddenly I wasn’t all alone in Oakland anymore. And months later when I was let go from PMOG, I had good friends who helped me find contract work while I looked for something fulltime. Eventually, my friend Willo introduced me to the guys at Zoosk and suddenly I was off to the races, designing products for millions of users.

I wonder sometimes about where I would be now if Daniel hadn’t responded to that email.

Cap’s journey (which you should read in its entirety) gives us two lessons:

  1. Your kindness can make or break someone’s career.
  2. A lof of hustle (and luck) is required to “break in” to any field.

It reminds us of Ben Casnocha’s theory from his interview with 99U EIC Jocelyn Glei: “Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky,” he said. “They’re attached to people.”

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Use the Restroom Test to Make the Most of Conferences

Toilet Paper designed by Collectif Intro from the Noun Project

Toilet Paper designed by Collectif Intro from the Noun Project

Being shy or introverted doesn’t mean you can’t network like a pro at events. Over at Atomic Spin, Phil Kirkham gives us three tips on how to get the most from a conference or event. Our favorite is The Restroom Test, a way to check how well you’re doing at mixing and mingling with your fellow event-goers:

Take a walk to the restroom and back and see how many people that you did not know previously nod in recognition or say Hi. By the second day of the conference, I could count on getting at least 5 nods of recognition during my walk.

Even if you’re not overly shy, conferences can be intimidating thanks to the sheer number (and talents) of those around you. If at the end of the conference, you still find yourself among only strangers, it’s a good indicator that you’re not making the most of your time there. At the heart of it, Kirkham’s Restroom Test is a great way to not only help measure the number of new people you’re meeting during the event, but also to strengthen your memory of them. 

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Paul Jarvis: Find Your Rat People

rats

Illustration of Paul Jarvis’ rats

Web designer and author Paul Jarvis wants you to find your “rat people.” These are the people who are passionate about the same things as you, in Jarvis’ case, that’s pet rats. Not everyone is going to have the same interests and that’s perfectly alright. However, stay away from those who insult you because of who you are.

The ones who think your work is useless or worse, disgusting don’t truly matter. Their dissension should fall on deaf ears because they’d never support you, pay you or join your secret club. When you give up trying to please everyone your work becomes much more focused and valuable to the people that matter.

Your rat people get what you do and love it. These are the people you should look for as clients, have on your mailing list and friend on social media. Too often we let the client decide if we are the right designer for them when we should be questioning if they are the right client for us. Jarvis reminds us, “for your creativity to support you, you need to find your 1%. Your rat people.”

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Recover from Failure with a Deep-Tissue Post-Mortem

Stones by Roberto Notarangelo from The Noun Project

Stones by Roberto Notarangelo from The Noun Project

Creative professionals who practice rapid iteration believe in the mantra of “fail fast, fail often.” And while quickly bouncing back from mistakes is essential to accelerated progress, not adequately reflecting upon failure can prevent complete recovery. Sometimes, deeper reflection is needed.

Founder and CEO of “failure consultancy” Fail Forward, Ashley Good, recommends performing what she calls a “deep-tissue post-mortem” to thoroughly recover from failure:

Our tendency in times of failure is to try to figure out what caused it, fix it as soon as possible and move on. That undermines the depth of learning that’s possible.

Good suggests asking the following questions to get started:

Try to figure out why the failure happened. What assumptions were made? What experiences led to it? That really deepens what you can learn from the experience. Also, listen to other perspectives on what happened. I often bring together different stakeholders in the failure to talk about it. If you bring five people together, you’ll get five different stories about what went wrong.

Don’t just sweep the failures under the rug and move on. Take some time to sufficiently prepare yourself for when you will, inevitably, fail again.

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For Better Ideas, Use Your Blank Space

Outline designed by Diogo Trindade from the Noun Project

Outline designed by Diogo Trindade from the Noun Project

Intentionally leaving part of an idea blank can actually make it more engaging. Over at Harvard Business Review, author Matthew E May describes the benefit leaving intentional spaces in our work creates:

When we respect the white space — or when we intentionally create by removing just the right thing in just the right way — we allow others to fill the void, adding their own interpretation and impact. In fact, I’d argue that some of the most engaging ideas have something purposefully missing. Limiting information engages the imagination

There is nothing more powerful than the ability of the human mind to create meaning from missing information. Whatever form your idea takes–strategy, product, service, startup–if you want it to “tip,” you might just want to make it more about less.

A great example of this strategy in action would be working on a story — for a novel, or a project storyboard — and creating only the beginning and the ends. Presenting the story to your peers allows them to generate their own ideas for what happens in-between, ultimately creating a more powerful story than if you had otherwise come up with it entirely, from beginning to end, on your own.

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Got a Great Idea? Find Your “Devil’s Advocate” First.

Sinner designed by Jim Lears for The Noun Project

Sinner designed by Jim Lears for The Noun Project

You’ve come up with a great idea to advance your work. It’s going to change the world! And it’s so great, that you move fast to execute it. But not so fast says Todd Henry, the founder of Accidental Creative.

No matter how great an idea sounds, if we don’t properly evaluate it, we run the risk of not shaping it to its most optimal state, seeing all possibility, or foreshadowing potential problems.

So when a genius idea strikes, Henry suggests we:

Spend time thinking about the opposite viewpoint. If you were going to make an argument against it, what would it be?

Find someone to play “devil’s advocate.” Ask them to challenge you with questions that provoke doubts and poke holes in your idea.

Pause – just for a moment – before execution. Why? Because the initial excitement over an idea can lead to ignoring obvious blemishes and result in substandard work.

It’s hard to argue against a promising idea, especially one that seems like a game-changer, but pushing ourselves to deconstruct the idea helps to ensure we’re moving forward with the best possible course of action.

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Don’t Answer Emails That Lack Questions

Trash by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

Trash by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

Is it rude to ignore emails? Yes. But does it happen anyways? Yes. And can anyone blame you? Your inbox is cluttered with emails of no consequence, including one of the worst offenders: the email that lacks a question. Kristin Muhlner, CEO of NewBrand Analytics, shares her rule for emails that don’t move projects forward: ignore them.

“I love email…But unless I’m specifically asked a question, I don’t respond. If a CEO responds, everyone thinks they need to respond back, and that kicks up a lot of dust.”

You’re super-busy; it’s tough enough to do your work AND triage emails in a timely manner. So should you respond to every email? Here at 99U, we think not. Unless an email is making the way forward clear, feel free to hit delete.

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Relevant: Should You Respond to Every Email?

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