Val Nguyen ventures into the unknown

In the month of January, I thought I reached the limit of my capacity. Again. I returned to work from a week away from the “office” to all that awaits when you are off for a week. Days of non-stop meetings, and non-moving deadlines kept me moving from item to item wondering when I would run out of steam. This was a combination of professional deadlines and personal commitments. I really had that thought. “This is the limit of my capacity.”

But I didn’t. I thought for sure I wouldn’t get it all done. But I did. This is the third time since last March that I was sure I couldn’t handle anything more. But I did. Somehow I got it all done. Again. Guess what? In February, it happened again, going on right now. I’ve reached the limit of my capacity.

Once I prided myself on efficiency and productivity, even before hustle culture and the quantified self. What I have learned over the last year is that in uncertain situations, people err on the side of action. They add to-do items and new initiatives because doing something feels better than doing nothing. I added things to my own plate. Personal projects, family activities. Work is busy, of course, but I’m contributing, too. Ultimately, it will all get done. I’ll just find new ways to do it.

We won’t have research to prove what I am about to write for another decade, if research into mental health is still a thing when (if?) we escape today’s reality. This emotional and productivity rollercoaster cannot be good for us. Just because it is possible doesn’t mean it is okay. When I think about cutting things like the podcast, like my fiction writing, this very thing I’m writing at the moment, I think – Should I be forced to choose between personal satisfaction and work? The answer is to be determined. One way or another it will all get done.

I had the opportunity to talk to someone who is learning new ways to push strategy forward, which is saying something because she has already worked in such a diverse collection of organizations it boggles the mind. Valerie Nguyen possesses an incredible strategy mind but maybe more importantly, an adaptable mind. Here we discuss her ability to shift gears and take on wholly new approaches in her role as CSO at Decoded Advertising.

Listen to the conversation here with your very own ears.

Transcript below:

Adam Pierno: All right, welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything very excited to be back today’s guests and I have been talking about this. Today I have the Chief Strategy Officer at Decoded Advertising, Val Nguyen, who has graciously scheduled time we’ve already been talking for about 20 minutes and we had to remember to hit record which is always my favorite part of the show is getting off and running on conversation. Val, how are you?
Valerie Nguyen: I’m doing good how are you.
Adam: I’m good, thank you so much for joining and making time for us. h
Val: Happy to be here.
Adam: Would you do me a favor for the listeners would you give people a little bit of a rundown of who you are and what you’ve done in your career?
Val: Sure, yeah.
08:17:37 So, as you said, I’m Val Nguyen. I’ve done strategy in the kind of creative agency sense I spent time like you said it Anomaly, but also like Mother, New York, great fabulous agencies really steeped in creativity. I’ve also practice strategy but more upstream and innovation space, I spent time at Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects, and innovation arm which you know working, instead of with creatives working with engineers to say what what is this brand Why are we creating it how do we actually embed that into the product development lifecycle. So again like very different from of course briefing creatives engineers have a very different you know mentality and mindset and so that was like, you know, building another kind of gear. In terms of, you know, How do you do strategy and also how do you communicate strategy the strategy of strategy, you know, which, which seems to keep getting more complicated over time.
Adam: Yeah, exactly.
Val: And then, I spent a bulk of my career at Wolf and Philomena which was a strategic consultancy so operating still upstream still doing some innovation work but also really just focusing in on like setting foundationally. What are the purposes and all the different brand architectures for a lot of different brands some of those being brands that were, you know, kind of babies, they had gotten their kind of legs under them but they were really looking to take their business and brands to the next level so for example we worked very early days with bonobos and helped you know us brand to kind of get them up to that level and of course they eventually exited to Walmart which was you know phenomenal for them. But then also kind of going in and and doing a bit of a blow up reset moment for very old iconic brands like for example Bacardi rum has been around for 150 years they had a lot of, you know, amazing heritage and legacy and sort of come in take that all in but then also look towards the future of like, Where is this all going and how to like run fit into that so like, again, a lot of building from scratch or from like very nascent stages with startups to like, Okay, you’ve got a lot of baggage here like sort of like reset like you don’t you don’t, you know, become 150 year old brand or that like a lot of history right so, um, you know, did a lot of that and then yeah I’ve also you know freelance consulted was that a normally as I mentioned, and so it was really exciting to me to come to Decoded because it felt like very different again It felt like another completely foreign in a good way, facet and corner of the strategic universe

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Adam: For you to say it feels different. Given what you just the, all the things you’ve already done. That’s why I wanted to talk to you, because you have gone from consultancies that are hardcore brand you’ve been on the, the ad side at great shops with deep strategic shops, but also as a consultant and Google for you to say this one is different. It’s like, ‘Well, what was left?’ How about–talk about how it’s different from what you’ve done or maybe it’s maybe it’s different because it’s different from what you were doing most recently, before that or is it different just overall
to different approach is
Val: I think an overall different approach and I think that what is really inherent to that and what I was excited to chat about today as we think about like approaches and like mental models and tools and whatnot is that, I think a strategist we’re expected to have the answer. We are in the business of having the answer, and what is really interesting about decoded and what felt just so so different was this embracing the unknown and actually using the unknown as a tool to push further versus a, you know, maybe Scary, scary challenge to conquer right I think we have this mentality of like, here’s a problem we got to figure out the answer and like let’s move forward with that but you know I think as we’ve seen in this past very wild ride of a year that we’ve had. And I think we will continue to have just more more chaos more plot twists more left turns and I don’t that doesn’t seem like it’s going to get easy yeah I don’t think you’re getting off the roller coaster I think we’re like in it. The safety bars like locked in like was
Adam: White knuckles now.
Val: Yeah, exactly. Um, but you know with with all of that change that we just have to embrace as the new normal going forward. It doesn’t make sense to me to necessarily say there is one answer or this one problem and I think the interesting thing about Decoded is because we are fully integrated we are able to ask really big questions, embrace the fact that we don’t know everything and actually experiment, and not just experiment, you know, and I use the word experimentation very deliberately here because I think there’s a world and there was a world where when I first started having conversations with decoder I was like wait you wait you if you’re talking about like testing like you’re just doing split testing like is it better for there to be a plant in the background or not, which I actually think working on another client they did tell me that anytime there’s a plant in the background like these ads like outperform true. Adam: Yeah, yeah,
Val: It was like very actually not that surprising to me but kind of good to hear that, you know, based on this statistic like that was actually true. So it’s not that though, and I think that’s, that was a big misconception I had coming in as soon as you know, the founder and I met runner we’re starting to chat, I was like, oh okay like, this is just split testing like frankly not interested in that, right, um, however, we talk about experimentation because the issue is split testing is one like you are playing with just like very executional variables, right? Is there a plant or not? That’s pretty executional that’s not very deep you can frankly like sneeze and like come up with like maybe some variations yeah there’s nothing to it.
Adam: Right,
Val: But rather, when you know we talk about experimentation we practice it at Decoded it’s going very very deep in terms of to go back to this idea of like strategy having the answer. Of course we’re always limiting the universe of possibilities through what we do. Strategy is as much what you don’t do It’s what you do, so we’re still limiting it but we’re opening ourselves up to this idea that there can be multiple things that are true at the same time, and if we think about maybe the classic strategy brief in a creative agency being like the square where you’re like okay, creative team like this is the square we’re going to play in one still super hyper valuable. But I think what’s interesting about Decoded is like we take that square. And we actually kind of pull out the dimensionality and make it a cube, and we give creatives, and everyone you know CX design whoever’s working on the brand we give them like multiple facets to play with versus just having, you know, this one corner to play with you could say, let’s actually strategically prototype some of these positioning, right like instead of saying, This is the positioning like let’s, let’s experiment let’s like allow for some of that dimensionality to actually play out in the real world. And we might. Experiment with different tonality is like we’re taking all these different dimensions got it, and we’re putting those out into the real world to understand what people actually, you know want respond to etc because I think we’ve seen take, you know, not the most recent election but the election before that. All the polls were wrong Why were they wrong because when you ask somebody in an artificial environment, what are you going to do. And then you get into the privacy of the voting booth or the privacy of your own phone.

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Adam: Yeah, then all of a sudden like behave that gap between behavior.
Val: And, you know, self reporting becomes really apparent and so at decoded we actually experiment in the real world we’re not in focus group rooms which like never yields anything that good with your like weird, maybe still snacks I think the one blessing. Because I think focus group facility is maybe our bygone era I think even if you’re doing a focus group, you know through zoom at least people are in somewhat of a natural environment I just, again to go back to this kind of route is there an almost like nerdy and scientific but like, it’s not a real experiment unless it’s in the actual environment in which people are going.
Adam: The further, the further you get from that environment, the more artificial the answer and then we’re terrible humans, we are terrible at predicting what we’re going to do or how we’re going to act given anything, especially when we’re really far away from it, you can ask me if I’m standing in the grocery store, what I’m going to put my cart but if you ask me in that focus group room with the two way mirror. I’m just going to tell you what I think you want me to say, I think.
Val: Totally well and I think if people can’t even really tell you what they want. I think sometimes as you know marketers and strategists we also walk around thinking that we can we can you know read the tea leaves and tell you what people on a mass scale want and yeah i mean i think there’s still room for gut intuition and really amazing upstream you know like qualitative and quantitative research and you know expertise knowing an audience like I think all those things are still valid but you have to kind of let in between all of that this embracing the unknown it’s so interesting, we will you know sometimes in our. When we have initial meetings like in our creds decks and that kind of thing. At the beginning, sometimes we’ll play a bit of a game where we’ll say okay, we had this brief, we needed to, I’m just going to make something up. We needed to reach you know Millennial Moms with a certain product right and we’ll show actual actually three pieces, three ads that we put into the real world very very different again thinking, thinking back to that multi dimensionality they just talked about, you know, one would be like really leaning into like being a mom and making time for what matters and you know even from a creative standpoint kind of executing in a way that like really tugs on those heartstrings, right, another, another way might be something that’s really about like hardcore efficiency and it’s like you know your warrior getting things done you know very also very different like tone and feel and then like say a third one and it’s so interesting because will say, and this is, this goes for clients as well as new hires. All the same, we’re all in the same bucket we all think we’re experts in this and we asked, What do you think performed the best, and nobody knows.
Adam: Nobody knows.
Val: And I think it just goes to show and I think that’s, I mean in some regards I think that can be terrifying right like. But that shows the that shows the value of doing the test. It shows the value of doing the task when we get also like for me and maybe this is just for those of us who’ve been doing this a little too long, but it’s exciting that people can still surprise you, like I think that, to me, is where that’s where things are interesting right like if it just come down to. It’s just kind of an algorithm in terms of like you know this plus this plus this equals this result like, that’s fine you know and we’ll just go over that, right, we just go turn the screen and going, and I actually get really excited by the fact that we, we don’t know everything and then you know as we go into our experimentation like we designed so that we can figure things out because I didn’t. The other thing that we’re–to go back to split testing–and a lot of other even say focus group research, where it falls down is sure you might get a result and let’s pretend. People know what they want,
Adam: And let’s pretend that people are hundred percent honest in focus groups like just.
Val: Yeah, sake of argument let’s roll with that right. Well, the interesting thing is that even if you get the correct read, you don’t know if you didn’t design for it you actually can’t, you don’t you’re not learning anything new, you just know that ad A did better than ad B right, but unless you design, add a and add be together with the strategic foresight to say, if I know, learn that he does better than be ‘How can I actually know why it did better?’ And that’s where again the way we kind of approach things in terms of not just strategically defining like what are some possibilities that we want to play with but then strategically designing the whole experiment so that we can actually learn something off the back end, like, again, that’s where it’s like, it just feels it’s very different.
Adam: Yeah, well, so you’re not just doing a post analysis where you’re trying to rationalize. ‘Oh, it did better for this reason because there’s x in the background or this.’ You actually designed for it so you know what you were looking for and you knew what kind of results were going to create differences of opinion or difference of action.
Val: Yeah, it’s like, it’s going back to you know the scientific method from middle school and high school or you learn about, you know, independent and dependent variables and of course there’s–we can’t completely isolate because that’s also the magical creativity right where it’s like the reins a little bit of that alchemy that happens when different elements come together but you can design so that you can at least get a signal that helps you understand how and why things are doing better and then of course like you if you keep exploring the world changes new inputs and insights come in that you need to then throw into the mix, so you’re not like converging down to like a super ad, you’re, maybe if anything converging on a super idea but like that idea needs to, you know, the same with all the brand strategy that we all do like have the flexibility to, you know, moving grew with all the different changes that a brand, you know, might face in the future. Plus, the back kind of testing that you’re describing doesn’t just say, unlike split testing, which is kind of like Winner, winner moves on.
Adam: And the other thing that might be marginally different gets cancelled out. This gives you permission to look at the dimensionality of the brand and say, okay, we did, we tested three we tested five. These two approaches were totally out. People do not want this positioning from this brand. These were okay, even though they finished, you know, second and third, but they were a facet that people accepted about the brand, a little bit more or maybe there’s a possibility for the next round that we could look at to see, okay, they didn’t like humor, but they did like, you know, intelligent ‘Economist’ type content.

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Val: Totally. And that’s where like again the scientific mindset comes in where I think in the classic, you know, testing mentality of advertising it’s about finding the winner and then cool that’s the answer versus like to take a scientific you know when scientists are developing things, a failure is as much of a learning as a success.
Adam: Yeah.
Val: And frankly, you’re going to have a lot more failures, than you’re going to have successes I mean just think about how we’ve all been thinking about science differently because of COVID and the incredible feat of just humanity in terms of getting to a vaccine. The way that we did even though it was built on years of research and I’ll be like, That’s when you’re a scientist like you’re like, I don’t know these are big questions. These are big–we talk a lot about hypotheses at Decoded, like ‘What are your hypotheses?’ and curiosity is like, ‘Let’s go chase them let’s figure that out.’ I think it’s also like freeing for clients like they have curiosities about like we can go and like learn and like we can build those things into experiments and whatnot and it’s just I think it just creates a bit more of a feeling of like we’re, voyagers on this expedition and we’re like figuring things out together which is also really fun, do clients like it. Adam: Are they comfortable with it are they are they sort of gritting their teeth and going with it to get to an answer, down the road.
Val: I think there are two types of clients in the world. I think there are people are–I mean you could divide that across, like, you know, I think there are people who, who get what we do and they’re excited about. You know what we bring to the table and our approach and some of them are excited they don’t fully get it right like they, they couldn’t do the experimental design themselves but like they appreciate the, The methodology and frankly they also appreciate the results, because what we’re able to do is like build your brand and business at the same time versus I think sometimes.
Adam: Yeah.
Val: And because we are fully integrated because we’re thinking about like that big picture all the learning all the dimensionality like we’re actually able to deliver on that so I think there’s some people were like, I get it I see the value. They don’t fully maybe like understand like all the science and I mean I’m still frankly six months and I’m still learning a lot about, you know, the media landscape, learning about, you know, going back to brushing off my statistics from
Adam: Yeah.
Val: Yeah, that’s the general theme I’m just going back to like high school, middle school my like AP stats classes, I’m Adam: Cracking those textbooks back open?
Val: Yeah, exactly, blowing the dust off them for sure but um so yeah I think their clients like get it and they’re down or the believers and then I think there’s a lot of people that. What we do is really scary because one it’s very new and to, to go back to that idea of uncertainty. Some people embrace uncertainty and some people don’t. Some people want to feel like you know like I know my, I know our target audience, like the back of my hand and I can tell you exactly what they’re going to do and like that.
Adam: Yeah.
Val: Like that little quiz that I shared with you earlier like yeah can be that can kind of shake you in a good way, or a bad way right like that can either be like, Oh, I’m having an existential crisis.
Adam: Right, exactly. There’s this makes me so uncomfortable.
Val: Yeah, exactly. so just. It kind of depends on, you know, it goes back to like Fight or Flight, a little bit like, Adam: Yeah, I know, what do you do as a human yeah there’s a cut there’s a type of person that wants to charge into it and there’s people that want to back away from it.
Val: Exactly. So, so I think yeah I don’t think all of the marketing world is on board I don’t think all the possible clients are on board but the ones that get it. It’s really fun because we can, you know, hold hands and run far and fast together.
Adam: Yeah, and it’s not what’s so wonderful about what you’re saying is it’s not the only way. There’s you’ve, you’ve through your career you’ve tried a lot of other ways that were also very successful. So, this is another way and if there’s people that are very comfortable with it and they’ll get the benefit of it.
Val: Exactly. Yeah, and it’s not to say that the other ways are bad either. Right. Exactly, exactly. There are some instances where you know the saying right like if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail I think a strategist, the more you can have, you know, flame throwers and, you know, like 100%, like all these different tools like in your, you know strategic toolbox, then you can come to problems and say okay what’s the right tool for this versus. “Well, you know, it’s all about brand purpose” and that’s the only answer for this when it like if you,
Adam: If you wrote a book on brand purpose then brand purpose is the answer to every single problem, right? On creative briefs, you mentioned pulling them out in more into more dimension, are you writing a creative brief for each position you want to test, or is it more, one version of a brief that you split out different parts like well, this one’s going to be about personality or this one’s going to be about the single takeaway this one’s going to be about the competitive set that we want to focus on, and giving them playgrounds and each have given the creative team playgrounds in each of those areas.
Val: Yeah, it, it honestly I mean I feel like this is always the answer it varies right.
Adam: It depends.
Val: I think that sometimes it makes sense to say divide up the briefs by audience right where it’s like okay we really want to not only allow teams to just kind of get deep and immerse with a specific type of audience but i think you know representation on the creative team like I think there’s a lot that goes into casting, to make sure that like the right creatives are thinking about the right problems and so I think sometimes it does make sense to kind of divide up by okay like this team might take this audience that you might take that audience and like still sharing across but like, that’s, you know, kind of creating that structure but then sometimes, it depends like some some of our experiments are very large scale and some of them aren’t right sometimes are just, you know, playing with like, you know, maybe two different tonality is and like that’s that’s okay as well right so sometimes the same creatives right are working across the different dimensions. And, and I think the other thing that is what I think is fun about the process is this isn’t just about Kimberlin to say put this on the record but this isn’t about the strategist just coming in and saying, Okay, ‘These are the things.’ The whole idea of this is learning and experimentation and this feedback, this virtuous feedback loop that just keeps going and going and also like creative really should inform what our briefs and our dimensions look like I know every strategy says as soon as you get the problem you go and you riff with the creatives and like I think that’s always kind of been a part of, you know, the strategic process when done the right way with the right amount of time. But, you know, I think, you know I’ve been calling them like these creative preheat we’re we’re just preheating the oven where, you know, let’s not even think right now really about dimensions like if we were to just wide wider universe start to crack
Adam: This is before a brief? You just call it?
Val: Exactly. But what’s interesting with that is like especially when you are designing experiments that have creative dimensions like there’s a reason why I’m a strategist and not a creative right there’s certain thoughts that would never occur to me as a strategist, that might be like, oh, it’d be interesting as creatives to like try something out yeah and and so like kind of allowing space for them to actually not just like have a conversation with me but actually start to play because I think it’s hard sometimes with to talk about something in theory like sometimes you have to just actually you know get the pieces on the table and start like wishing them together and like seeing what happens.
Adam: So you’re saying, creating space for the craves actually kind of create a little bit, then taking that in and saying, ‘Okay, Wow, this was really interesting.’
Val: I think another you know misconception I had was like you know data and creativity don’t go together. Experimentation and creativity don’t go together but actually like when we’re just trying to put out a lot of stuff in the market like ‘Yes, creators can take those shots now,’ things that would have been killed by a well meaning you know client but to go back to the idea that none of us really always know what’s right or wrong like you’re actually able to take a shot and actually make it and sometimes those things, perform so well and they would have been killed otherwise so I think that’s also part of the fun is that we actually open up the court a little bit in terms of, you know what, where do you want to take a shot from creative like let’s actually make that happen and give you a fair shot versus. So many amazing brilliant ideas ending up on the cutting room floor for all sorts of reasons, more ideas will make it through the agency creative processes,
Adam: It’s all a series of experiments anyway I mean that the copywriter saying an idea out loud to an art director and a technologist. ‘Hey, what if we did this,’ that’s an experiment that’s a test of the idea if both of those
Val: Right yeah it’s true,
Adam: That’s a that’s a terrible idea that idea dies and or if they all love it and they bring it to the CD, and to the next person, and to the next person to the next person, you know, those are all mini-test it’s just not a great sample size.
Val: Yeah, exactly.
Adam: As a strategist, you have to be not flexible Yes. But also, it sounds like you have to be a little vulnerable and willing to say, I’ve heard you say a couple times: ‘I’m not sure what the answer is like let’s talk it out and figure out and work together to get some directions that I can come back with and and have some thinking on what I think is worth pursuing as the direction, and then let’s work together to see which one is comes together the most coherently, and we’ll learn together in the market.’ Is that is that a challenge for you? Is that how you work?
Val: If I’m being really honest there is a bit of vulnerability because I think that, yeah strategists were trained we’re supposed to be the smart one in the room that has the answers I think on a personal level, like I’ve never worked in a media agency before like I’ve worked with media agency partners you know in kind of you know your typical like IAT style structure but like I’ve never worked truly handed in hand with media and so I’ve had to go, you know, learn a lot in terms of how does media really work in a way that like before you didn’t, you could, you know I have rough. I knew enough to be dangerous enough to
Adam: You’re part of it!
Val: I’m having to learn kind of that next click in and, by no means am I not like a media strategist or anything like that but I’m having to learn a deeper level of fluency, whereas before maybe I was just like visiting and I come in every now and then actually live here to now so like I need to know the neighbors. Yeah, I got to know the the language, and you know, other you know how they think about for example strategy versus how brand creative strategy thing so strategy very different again another another toolbox but like coming in as as a leader, and saying ‘You know what?’ I don’t know this has been really challenging at times because you know not only the strategist do I feel like after the answer but also stepping into a leadership position you also feel like you’re supposed to have the answer and so for me this kind of theme about embracing the unknown being vulnerable to that. And you know, along Of course with the backdrop of none of us know what the hell is happening this year with the pandemic and there’s also just yeah there’s also that just, you know, that’s been my. It’s been a bit of my mantra I feel like over, you know the past six months, especially. Adam: Well, I think that may be the last question I wanted to ask is, you started this job during the pandemic What is it like starting a job? I’m assuming you’re working remotely like like I am for most of my days. What is that like? Because I picture agency, I just remember you know the being around each other and the swimming in the same water and and that shared space does a lot for both the culture and the work, how is it, how has it been getting up to speed and learning all the things you just said remotely more of a challenge or you can’t really tell because there’s. It is what it is.
Val: I mean it’s it’s been a huge challenge, a challenge that, you know, I think I’m actually really grateful for because you know as I think about leadership, you know, of course, part of it is, you know, the smart. Let’s lead from a strategic viewpoint perspective but leadership to me is also so much about taking care of your people making sure that they have the structures and the tools to thrive and I think that I don’t know if I would have had the same level appreciation for the challenge of onboarding into a company like decode has been phenomenal everyone’s been phenomenal like, yeah, there’s nothing that I couldn’t say like, Oh, if only this like, you know, I’ve had a shared experience otherwise like it’s been working but like it’s been really tough and I don’t think I would have appreciated the challenges of onboarding unless I had actually gone through it myself and Decoded has grown a lot during the pandemic, we’ve added a lot of people we’re going to continue to add people, and I’m thankful because I think I can now, you think about that kind of, you know, user journey if you will for people on my team that I’m onboarding because it’s like not only are we asking you to completely unlearn so much what maybe you held as like self evident and unshakable truth and strategist but like you’re having to do it remotely like that incredibly challenging and so because I’ve gone through it I think I’m like, ‘Okay, Maybe we need a little bit extra in terms of these types of tools or we need a little bit extra in terms of like structures to help people just get to know each other.’ It’s sometimes just like basic human stuff but like a joke like, You know, even now sometimes it feels like I’m looking through a peep hole that’s like the size of shape of a Zoom square and I’m just like trying to look inside this organization to say, ‘Okay everyone who else is in here?’ Even the visibility I think I mentioned earlier kind of that, the push that we’ve had as an industry and as a culture around Equity and Inclusion. You can’t see potentially people that look like you like unless you’re directing and I think you know we’re doing a really good job of that but again like unless you see directly. Those people on your team like you’re not really seeing other people. It was –
Adam: No you’re not writing the elevator or you’re not walking the halls you’re only seeing the nine people that are on the screen at that time.
Val: Exactly. And so like just creating opportunities for people to see and get to know each other, even if it’s as simple as like a little bit of like a, and I’ve done kind of like a down the rabbit hole and was like, not an interview but like I get to know know the next week and then I asked them the same in this wide world of like decoded you know who else do I need to know that I might not have run across naturally and like, it’s just, it’s a fun way to get to know people and take kind of paths that maybe don’t follow the traditional like you know this department or this team like there’s certain kind of cuts in terms of how we think about organizations and it just kind of surpasses that and sometimes I’ll be put in contact with somebody because, like, ‘Oh actually, you mentioned Dim Sum like so and so like love soup dumplings.’ Like sometimes just like the cutest path, I think, is it takes.
Adam: Yeah doubles the effort but it’s worth it.
Val: Yeah, yeah,
Adam: I lied about that being the last question because you mentioned something that you mentioned, people your onboarding, and then you said, you know, asking them to challenge their own beliefs or unlearn things they had learned is that, because I think you have to do that almost everywhere.
Val: Yes
Adam: I’m sure more so with the approach you’re talking about but how do you interview for that skill? The ability for people to leave things behind or to be open minded about new approaches and then be when they’re there, how do you make them feel comfortable with that vulnerability of? If you are trained to be the smartest person in the room. That’s a hard thing for your ego to are my ego to let go of that seat at the table level I’m the person who says this versus now saying, ‘No, I’m the person who gets to ask questions and write down the answers and and responding to those answers.’
Val: Yeah. So I think in terms of interviewing there’s no silver bullet.
Adam: I wish
Val: A question that really allows you to ascertain that but I think by asking a bit more. Not inappropriate of course but more personal question less about like the work itself but like how people felt while facing challenges, I always like to start with you, everyone wants to start off of course with like the tap dance of who they are and like, you know, we’re also used to that but I’m really trying to break that a little bit and starting with like well where do you want to go. Because I think, to have the kind of mental flexibility and eagerness to really tackle something different I think that, yes, it comes through and like what you’ve done in the past but I’m really interested in like where, what are the big questions that I think we’ve all had those things are like wait like okay everyone’s nodding along and this is supposedly true but like I have questions about this. Yeah, and really like trying to ascertain like what are the questions people have or what are the things that like, like for me one thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot is like brand identity and what’s the balance of, you know, consistency and building a core of like who have brand is in the world while also embracing the fact that identity has become so multifaceted things that were binary are now on a spectrum, why are we building brands in such a model and that was just like a question that I had kind of like bubbling it’s like those tight like I’m kind of just like put all the, you know, career stuff aside and you’re like, well, what have you been really curious about or what do you think is just wrong like asking people about their unpopular opinions Adam: That’s hard in an interview especially, that’s hard for people to get to talk
Val: oftentimes you’re just trying to get through like okay like what are the things you’ve done that other down it’s like no like what are the questions you have left to answer like that’s what I’m interested in. So I think that’s smart, you know, having questions around that is great and then in terms of onboarding I think there’s a lot I mean they’ve done lots of studies I think there was a very kind of broad study done at Google, I think it was called Project Aristotle don’t quote me on that but they looked into you know what are the things necessary were the elements and characteristics that are necessary for like innovation, and one of the big findings was just this idea of psychological safety.
Adam: Yes.
Val: And so I think that is again if we’re asking people to unlearn things we’re asking people to experiment and take risks and put things, not just in front of clients that might be risky but not risky like more in the sense of like kind of intellect like is that the right answer, or challenge challenging risk Yeah, yeah, like, but actually like let’s put that into the real world like that can be very.
Adam: I’m telling you, it’s, it’s almost always scarier to even share the idea with the internal team that you really respect, if it seems like an out their idea, even more so than putting it out in the world to, to, you know, an audience that you know but strangers for the most part, sharing the idea with that intimate group of people that are all counting on each other if it’s a really unpopular idea or a kooky idea is sometimes that’s that can be really scary for some people.
Val: Oh exactly yeah like I would so much rather go on stage in front of a bunch of people I don’t know that hundred percent. Do anything more you know somebody that like knows me and well you know follow up with me.
Adam: Yeah, I’ll go pitch something but presenting the same deck to the internal team later as like, this is what we showed them isn’t always much scarier because they’re going to those people call you out on your.
Val: Yeah, exactly. So that sense of psychological safety and just like creating different avenues, you know, for example, I think most, I would say all of America but I think especially the industry that we’re in prizes extraversion.
Adam: Yeah, yeah, right. And it’s all about who can take up the space in the room and have that loud voice and like i a lot of, you know, if half the world is extroverts and a half year olds are injured and we’re losing out in a lot of really interesting ideas because maybe introverts don’t feel that safety to express ideas that in the way that feels comfortable to them so like we’ve been working on. How do we create avenues for expression for people that may be again aren’t the loudest in the room? Because otherwise those voices, always get drowned out are always looking at you know so it’s like some people are great on their feet again extroverts like we don’t riff we can do whatever you know and this speaks to your thing about focus groups do it’s those those extroverts those loud voices dominate the direction of their conversation, versus creating space like some people need to like marinate on things, and they might not have the thing in the room, but give them, you know, an hour after the meeting and they’re going to come back with something incredible like why would I miss out on that and so, you know, working to, you know, build in cultural structures that allow for people to contribute and a lot of different ways like that’s just an example of like how, how do we make sure that people feel the safety, that is necessary, it’s like kind of counterintuitive like you have to feel safe in order to do the scary things.
Adam: Yeah, that’s true. Well it’s like jumping out of a plane you want to know for sure that the shoots going to open. Val: Yeah, yeah.
Adam: Well, now this has been great. I’m glad we were able to get this, make this happen. Thank you so much time.
Val: Of course, thanks for chatting was fun. Yeah.
Adam: I learned a lot. I wrote down a bunch of notes that I’m gonna have to go follow up today now. So thank you and I hate you for giving me more things to think about.