I distinctly remember the day I made the decision to resign from my design position at a fun, creative, entrepreneurial company and join a global market research comany. My creative friends thought I was insane. “It’s not a creative place! You will hate it,” they warned. On top of that, I was warned that I’d never win any industry awards and this move would make it harder for me to make a name for myself within the creative field.
They didn’t understand.
Let me stop there and move the needle over to the topic of entrepreneurialism for just a sec, because sharing my views on this will help to explain a lot as I move through the rest of the story:
In January 2009 I was laid off from the editorial design job I’d moved to New York for, in the industry within which I’d chosen to pursue my creative career. Maybe you’ve heard by now, but that industry—publishing—has kinda gone through a ton of disruption and attempts at transformation since then. To me, it was no longer a viable career option. Why beat a dead horse?
But maybe the most eye opening and revolutionary realization for me came during that two-year time period after I was laid off, before I returned full-time to the workforce. I hustled for two years never knowing when the next paycheck was coming, sharing my apartment with a veritable revolving door of roommates to keep costs down, and learning as much as I could about as many things as I could on a daily basis. There was no money to go back to school, but it turns out there were plenty of other ways to learn anything I needed to know to make myself more marketable in the changing economy. And it also turns out that those two years have, to date, been the very best two years of my life.
People thought I was nuts then, too. “Alyssa, get a job,” they would say. “It’s time to go back…”
But the freedom I felt to pursue my own ideas and dreams, to keep learning by reading a book a day (and amass quite a personal library), to be able to stop what I was doing at any point in the day and run two miles on the track in my neighborhood park if the mood struck, to volunteer to walk dogs during the day at the local animal shelter… This was total happiness. And I realized I’d never really been happy before. Yes, sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, remembering that I didn’t have a job and hadn’t yet lined up enough gigs for the month. But the happy times far outweighed those fleeting moments of lizard-brain panic.
This experience changed my entire worldview about work, the economy and education. And I realized that I am an entrepreneur at heart.
So it was only natural that I would finally return to the workforce full-time in a growing company that was founded by an irreverent potter whose ceramics teacher had once told him he had no talent and shouldn’t pursue pottery as a career path (of course, his many retail stores sell more pottery than anything else). I spent as much time as I could in that job learning—about product design and prototyping, supply chain and operations, how a business is run and maintained, how a business grows, how customer service is handled, how marketing plays a role, retail and store operations, and I learned a lot about ecommerce and merchandising, too.
And then I quit and went into market research in a global company that was in desperate need of transformation in order to survive, and part of the largest advertising and marketing holding company in the world. Here’s, in a nutshell, why that was a good decision for my design career:
- I learned more about the politics of global business in three years of trying to manage relationships and have my ideas heard than most people will learn in a lifetime.
- I learned how to speak to executives in a way that communicates design's value and what I can bring to the table as a designer—design is something that many executives still see little vaue in.
- I learned how to be successful in making change.
- I learned how to balance analytical thinking with design thinking to achieve strategic goals.
- I learned how digital transformation and change management works at the highest levels of an organization, and how all employees must play a role for a successful outcome.
- And… Data. Big data, small data, all data. I learned everything I never knew I needed or wanted to know about data and translating that data into insight.
Since January 2009, the world and the economy have continued to change rapidly. Disruption is a buzzword but it’s also very real to those in the industries being affected. And having been part of a global buisiness that was dealing with it and helping our clients navigate it was maybe the most valuable experience I could have hoped to gain by working in market research.
So maybe I spent three years not winning creative industry awards and being a traditional creative rockstar. That’s okay. Because what I learned and accomplished—paired with all of the things I took away from working for the entrepreneurial potter—has prepared me to be the kind of creative rockstar the future really needs instead.