I was lucky enough to attend the seventh annual 3% conference last week in an unexpectedly snowy Chicago. Originally a platform for the underrepresented female creative director, the conference has evolved into a conversation of inclusivity, acceptance, leadership, and creativity. I was expecting a conference that mixed advocacy with group therapy, but walked away with lessons much more powerful and nuanced.
Everybody has a truth.
I was struck by how many people spoke openly and matter-of-factly about who they are. No covering up, or spinning, or “storytelling” — but there were many stories told: Authentic, vulnerable sharing that, honestly, sometimes was uncomfortable. With each story and anecdote of failing, learning, and growth there was a core truth and authenticity that had been realized, acknowledged and followed unlocking creativity and ultimately success.
The bravery and vulnerability of bringing your whole self to work is actually the key to authentic, powerful creative work. Individual vulnerability opens the door for empathy and connection that lets us authentically represent culture and time. We heard from the Chief Data Officer at Possible that we have to check and recheck ourselves, with data and truth. We must strike a balance so that we do not assume, but inform the work that we are doing with as many perspectives as possible.
Getting to your truth.
Putting Emma McIllroy, CEO and Co-founder of Wildfang, at the top of day one primed us for possibility. Her talk on “Yeah, Maybe” and all of its possibility laid the groundwork for questioning the status quo (and our own). It’s a growth mindset rallying cry that leaves the “Yeah, right” closed-minded naysayers in their mediocre sameness. We are squashing the possibility of greatness if we start with “Yeah, right” instead of “Yeah, maybe.”
When we employ “Yeah, maybe” in context we are paving the way for new truth and perspective to come to the surface. Having the space to share the elements that make us who we are, what drives, passions, quirks and experiences shape our world view will ultimately inform our creativity.
Why truth matters for creative teams?
The best work comes from teams and clients who trust each other. Where diverse, nuanced perspectives are represented. Trust is built on mutual understanding, on allowing for space to be vulnerable, to fall on your face, feel passionately, express an opinion, be heard, and be supported. It doesn’t mean agreeing all of the time, quite the opposite. We heard from the CCO of Mother about fighting the stereotype and going against the grain. “Don’t hire yourself,” she says. “You already have that point of view.” If you want originality, strive for it in diversity. In an impassioned talk by Liz Jackson, she underscored the importance of 'Design thinking without including diverse groups of people has reinforced the narrative that people are recipients rather than participants of design.' The notion of co-creation is trotted around as a pillar of innovation, but true co-creation, especially with people who will ultimately be using the product, is really the only way to authentically represent their perspective. Designing with instead of designing for includes the nuanced needs and perspectives of different backgrounds, abilities that humanizes our design and make it accessible for all, not just relevant for the few. Inclusion, not empathy sells—and we need to stop leaving it our of the design process.
If originality isn’t what you’re going for, perhaps what Amanda Enayati said will resonate with you more: she enlightened us in her talk on “Stress: What Late-Stage Cancer Taught Me About Serenity,” about how to create the space for people to belong. We need each other’s perspectives in order to see our shadow – and blind –spots .
How do we get there?
This conference was a reminder that we are evolving from a world of play by the rules, lean in, and there’s no crying in baseball. But as an industry we haven’t fully embodied the change we want to see and we are going to get it wrong many more times before we get it right. We shouldn’t be afraid to show our failures, as they are evidence of learning, of growth, of compassion.
That change won’t come without a backlash. There is hard work ahead. We aren’t quite using the right language, but we know it needs to change, we aren’t quite speaking up enough, but we are finding our voice, and we aren’t totally being our truly vulnerable, raw, fully creative selves, but we are starting to bring it in all of the small ways that add up.
Thank you 3% for bringing together diverse perspectives, awareness, a nudge to find our truths, and be our authentic selves and for the reminder to not just lean in, but stand up.
When it comes to our work and striving for truth and connection for our clients, these are seven takeaways and mindsets we can start practicing today*:
1) Be quiet and listen. Create the space for understanding.
2) Uncover the truth – it’s a process to find and not always found in the most obvious places.
3) Live with a “Yeah, Maybe” attitude and all of its possibility.
4) Make room for vulnerability to shine and protect it. It is a key to authenticity.
5) Bring your whole self to the table.
6) Gather diverse perspectives.
7) Don’t lead with somebody else’s playbook.
If nothing else, maybe we can all do as Paul Veneables suggested and as this conference did for me: leave people better than you found them.
*many thanks to Megan Bednarczyk, Harrison Prak and the Digitas and Publicis Groupe team for Bringing It, co-creating, contributing, and collaborating at 3%.