Starting up for design success…

As I look back across the nearly 15 years of design gigs that formed the basis of my career path, I noticed an interesting commonality that marks how I actually begin each gig, whether full-time, agency, or contract. It consists of two somewhat interrelated notions that I take to each new job on Day One, as described below:

a) I’m already fired: Yes, let’s start on a boldly dramatic note ;-) Actually, this is a concept I borrowed from reading many years ago the “Code of the Bushido”, a revered Japanese guide to honorable warrior-ship. It begins with the notion of acting as if you’re already dead (or will be), that death is an inevitability and pervasive in the course of one’s life. Grim, indeed. Yet, this notion frees up the warrior to perform to the best of their abilities, with nothing to lose. The field of possibility opens up, unencumbered yet not desperate. Similarly, I apply this to my roles, to invoke a certain degree of fearlessness within my self, of nothing holding me back in doing what I believe to be right and necessary to achieve meaningful success, devoid of anxieties around “getting fired”. It truly becomes a liberating mindset, setting up bold action framed by personal conviction grounded in solid principles and vigorous processes. (Note: obviously, this is not something you go around bragging to folks, nor does it give license to be a reckless jerk! A moral compass is a pre-requisite, with good ol’ common sense.)

b) I’m preparing for my successor: Somewhat ironically related to the former is the belief that what I’m doing will hopefully outlive me and be useful for successive designers occupying my current role, or complementary to it. Work is unpredictable, companies change, roles shift in rather different ways than initially expected. That’s simply how it goes! Yet, I want to be sure that whatever I’m designing serves an impactful cause, effort, or model of enabling design-driven success beyond any one person. Thus, I’m continually thinking of ways to shape and define systems of thinking, principles for prosperity, artifacts that enable, and processes that can propagate beyond any single design output or person. I often ask myself, is what I’m creating contributing to a culture of good design habits, promoting a way of design-driven thinking, that supports the business? Each action you perform is setting up expectations for the person who comes after you, so do what you can to help that as yet unknown individual be set-up for success before they even start!

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