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Running a creative business - finding my tribe

Deirdre Wilson – Wednesday, January 13, 2016   


This is the first of a series of occasional posts about what happens in creative businesses - small creative businesses. But, I have to clarify already, small is a whole different definition when it comes to creative businesses. There are four and a half people and one kelpie in our business which makes us bigger than small in our industry but teeny, tiny in other industries.

We are not a startup. Hothouse Design has been in business for around 25 years. As an established business we face a bunch of different issues to startups as well as some that are the same. A lot of the issues we face are the same as those being dealt with by our clients and suppliers although the scale may differ.

I don't claim to have answers and I am actually I on the search for them most of the time, but I am happy to share my experiences and hope you will share yours via comments. I find that the clues to solutions are found within experiences, not in recommendations that come out of them, so please share your experiences.

The issues that are dogging me at the moment are growth, pricing and staff. Alongside those 'everyday' issues, I am aware that the skills we have now aren't the same as the skills we need for growth. If they were, we would have grown instead of bouncing around the same spot for the past few years.

Part of my solution to developing new skills to enable us to be a different version of the good parts of the business is to join a new tribe. I went looking for people who will challenge me, people who will question what I am doing and who have the sort of experiences that I need to learn from.

The tribe that I found is EO. One of the main tenets of EO is to experience sharing rather than giving advice. Experience sharing is part of the social learning model where participants draw their own conclusions from a shared experience. I find this to be a valuable learning model for me because I can refer back to the story from time to time and draw out new conclusions as my situation changes - something not possible if I have to outcome only.

Similarly, I tell long stories because I believe that the context for the story informs the outcome and I want the listener to have all of the information so that they can draw their own conclusions. This doesn't work well for everyone in my life, some just want the punchline from which they can draw all the wrong conclusions much to our mutual frustration. But that's another, long, story!

Another benefit to experience sharing is that each of us can only make recommendations that reflect our own experience and knowledge so those recommendations are by their very nature limited. Someone else looking at the same situation will see a different outcome informed by their own set of experiences and knowledge.

My niece is opening a cafe soon and is being flooded with well-meaning advice from the people around her who, by virtue of having been to a cafe, feel they know something about how to run a cafe business. I suggested she ask them to describe the experience that has led to their advice so that she can draw her own conclusions from that experience. Not only does this remove the annoyance of people giving her unasked for advice but it turns that advice into a learning opportunity and allows the person who genuinely wants to help to actually be helpful.

Finding a tribe as a source of inspiration, growth and encouragement is a great strategy for personal growth. There are lots of tribes out there and it is fun to try different ones out to see where the best fit is - or where the best challenge comes from. I find special interest clubs to be great sources of learning, not only in the sport or activity they support but in the management and running of the club itself.

Recently, in the gliding club I belong to, the committee proposed to reduce the size of the committee (yep, give itself a trim). A special AGM was held to vote on the motion. Club committees are a great place to learn. There needs to be sufficient room on committees for pathways to the executive or flag bearer roles to be built. Members need to learn how the organisation is run, what to do when the occasional but repeated club specific situation arises, what the relationship between the club and the local council has been and how to manage it.

Lots of long term issues exist in clubs and the knowledge and expertise on how to manage those issues resides within the club membership. It takes time to hand that knowledge and expertise on to other members. Club / tribe - same, same. Not only are tribes and clubs great for learning about your sport / business / passion but there are a heap of ancillary skills there for the asking.

And the gliding club motion to reduce the committee size? By asking why five times it was easy to discover that problem of not having all the committee seats filled was not a problem after all and the motion was defeated.

Further Reading

Keep asking! Find the cause and better solutions can be found!          
- Ask WHY 5 Times

This post is by Deirdre Wilson, Director of Hothouse Design – Australia's most sensible information design company.
Deirdre applies her background in industrial design and design management to the complex and wondrous projects undertaken by Hothouse Design.

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