Fundamentals for a Kick-Ass Creative Company

Fundamentals for a Kick-Ass Creative Company

This post has a little background to its inspiration.

At the start of Summer 2009, we started Officeal as a way to showcase the offices of companies that “get” creative culture. The numbers are slowly increasing, but it’s ended up serving a more important role. We’ve seen the kinds of things that make companies more than just a place to work. These are the types of companies that create lifestyles you want to be a part of.

As some of you may know already, Sam and I also run a web and creative company called One Mighty Roar. (Build Internet was originally developed as a side-project after a few years of small-to-mid range client jobs as a way to contribute back to the web design community.) Since then we’ve expanded in both client base and number of people involved. Put simply, we’ve seen a lot of growth this past year from the business side of things.

Somewhere along the line of these internet crusades, we started to look at what all of this meant to us. After a while, we realized that we kept revisiting the same big ideas:

The Big Question

A very good question

What makes an awesome company on the inside? My answers will probably not be the same as yours. With that in mind, I’d like to share the philosophy One Mighty Roar has developed over the past couple years. If by the end you’d like to share your own insight, please feel free to treat us to your ideas in the comment below.

Our answers so far…

You’ll find One Mighty Roar’s philosophy-in-progress below, broken down into the big ideas:

Always Have a Lead that Excites You

Do you have something to look forward to? We like to always have a reach goal or project that excites the hell out of us. A reach lead keeps us excited with a constant chance of landing something extraordinary. Even when we work on smaller projects, we know that something bigger could be on the horizon. This could be a big brand website, a long term project with a steady budget, or just something with fascinating possibilities to grow.

Is this easier said than done? Absolutely. But it’s also motivation get moving and network with the right kind of people.

Nobody is an Island

There's a need for collaboration

The Internet is build upon the ability to create communities and extend social connections. How the hell could a company based in web be any different? If you’re a web design company in our area, we’d love to meet up for lunch. You have a side-project you’d like to talk about? Awesome. We’re not in the business of cutthroat competition. Collaboration breeds creativity, and we’re all for networking to do so.

Professionals do not have to be good at everything. Learning from the work of others gives an opportunity to fill gaps your own company may have.

Know Who Does It Well

Building off the last point, we have a lot of role models in the web industry to whom we look to for motivation. We’ve met several, but most have no idea we exist. For years we’ve watched as some of our favorite companies have landed larger clients, launched huge projects, and gone through general growth.

Good Ideas are Universal

When it comes to the startup culture, industry is not a limit for inspiration. I will never sell shoes online, but Zappos never ceases to amaze me with their take on customer service. David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals has redefined how I look at simplicity and metrics for success. Collis Ta’aed is the type of accessible and transparent entrepreneur that we can model communities after. Even though a company has a different focus, there’s almost always at least one thing to learn from it.

Congratulate Brilliance

That's a great idea

Let’s rephrase this slightly. Congratulate the brilliance of other people. I’ve started to turned my “Why didn’t I think of that?!” frustration into motivation to build something just as great. If you frequent the design communities online, it’s easy to forget that good design is not as common as it appears. With millions of websites out there, a truly well-designed website is statistically worth recognition.

The Compliment Challenge

Here’s a challenge that you can start today: The next time you find someone’s blog, design, or idea that impresses you — let them know! You’d be surprised how many networking opportunities can be found in a simple “Nice work!” email. Genuine compliments rarely get old.

Entrepreneurship is a Constant

When an idea succeeds, the entrepreneur that brought it to life shouldn’t magically go through a change. We believe the best CEO’s are the ones who never lost touch with the excitement of pushing through a new idea. Entrepreneur is not an entry level title for the yet unsuccessful — it’s a full-on personality type.

We gravitate towards people who have ideas in the making. Collaborating with big ideas only inspires bigger ones. The self-described entrepreneurs are the ones who will get fresh ideas realized, rather than maintain those that already exists.

Choose Clients that Motivate You

Good clients make happy creatives

By this point, many people (myself included), have made Clients from Hell a daily read. While we laugh at the stories, the reality is that there are plenty of clients out there that rub companies the wrong way. They make us irritable, and turn an otherwise cheerful culture into a pile of stress and “get it over with!”

While there’s no foolproof way of avoiding these kinds of clients all the time, it still helps to know who will bring out the best in your company. As business grows, and you have the luxury of turning down jobs, aim for the right attitude. We think that in many cases an awesome client is worth more than a high budget headache.

Closing Thoughts

This is our manifesto so far. It will probably not be the same a month from now, but that’s perfectly fine. We learn as we go, and that’s part of what makes us excited to land the next project. Business is sometimes serious… business. These are principles we strive for. Does this mean we’re able to practice them without compromise from time to time? Of course not. They’re called ideals for a reason, after all. If T-ball taught us anything in school, it’s that the ongoing effort matters most.

We’re a Fortunate Group

The creative and marketing industries a lucky breed. They don’t have to worry about the seriousness and stresses of client insurance policies. They don’t deal exclusively with people at their worst times (e.g. auto repair shops). This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re living in a dream world, just that we’ve been given the opportunity to create “corporate cultures” that reflect the creativity of our work. We’re in the business of ideas, and it’s refreshing lifestyle and people (not cubicle structure) that promote more of them.

Going Further

There are plenty of blogs out there that focus on the day to day business of freelances and small ventures. The sites and resources below have a different kind of approach. Many of them focus more on the big picture rather than the intricate details. I’ll warn you now: not all of their purposes will be immediately apparent. Take some time to read an article or two from each, and you’ll hopefully begin to see where the value lies.

Sites & Blogs

  1. The Netsetter
  2. The Blog of Tim Ferriss
  3. Seth Godin’s Blog’
  4. LifeDev
  5. TED Talks on Business
  6. Signal vs. Noise

Books & Reading

  1. The 4-Hour Workweek
  2. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
  3. Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion
  4. Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application
  5. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
  6. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

That’s our take. What about yours?

Posted Monday, February 8th, 2010 · Back to Top

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29 Comments 8 Mentions

  1. JD Ross Author Editor

    Loving the manifesto trend right now. Also: 3 of your top 4 books are on my top reading list right now.

    One to add when it comes out: Rework by 37 Signals.

    Also: No “Made To Stick”? Interesting

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  2. Gert Wierbos (Alterview) Author Editor

    That was a nice read! :)

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  3. Paul Gordon Author Editor

    Great read! Certainly inspirational stuff.

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  4. Ericka Author Editor

    LOL – nice piece – and thank you for stating what should be obvious to most of us, but I think a lot of us forget! I am a habitual “voyeur” on design/develop sites and I never comment even though the work done by the authors is very much appreciated. Thank you!

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  5. moabi Author Editor

    “Choose Clients that Motivate You”
    DEFINITLY !!!
    i was laughing ’cause my boss likes to party, i mean…a lot!!! But i came to this conclusion, he does the fiesta, so does his clients…for real !!!
    We’ve got the clients we deserve, and i far prefer to get the ones that enjoy life !

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  6. Moe Author Editor

    Great read for sure.

    We are a smaller web design firm who count EVERY potential lead as an important must-win – BUT – we too have learned that sometimes taking on a client who you know from the get go is going to be one big massive headache is not worth it. Big budget or not – we prefer to work with people who are ready to take on the challenge of building a “real” web presence, not to mention the ones who appreciate the time and attention it takes to do it right.

    Will def check out some of your recommended reading and blogs. Thanks.
    Moe

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  7. JP Author Editor

    Thank for the inspiration. I kind of needed it.

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  8. christian Author Editor

    nice words, bookmarked for inspiration :)

    keep up the good work!

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  9. Yagnesh Ahir Author Editor

    Hey Dunn, thanks for sharing such a nice helpful post. Its short, simple and effective. Keep posting.

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  10. Marcio Garcia Author Editor

    Absolutely outstanding post!
    I believe that this is the next generation of the companies and we could call them c-gem (in apology to the x / y / z gen)
    I hope to have a c-gen-company and more than that, have c-gen-companies as clients.
    Congrats!

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  11. Tanya Roberts Author Editor

    Great post. Very inspiring and thoughtful content.

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  12. Chandlershotgun Author Editor

    Company culture is a huge reason why things don’t get done in American business. When there are walls, when there is a physical chain of command that isn’t just structural, there’s a problem. A very successful firm I worked at is slowly finding its best ideas getting shut down before the higher-ups even hear them. What kind of culture is that?!

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  13. NeuroWebDesign Author Editor

    Funnily enough I’ve only recently discovered you guys. Some very worthwhile posts.

    Thanks!

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  14. David Silva Author Editor

    Hello Zach,

    I agree with you completely on the things you have said. It’s a lot easier to cultivate an exciting creative culture in the web design industry because we are forced to think and adapt from project to project without ever being able to have a mental block. You must always be creative. Just today I had a couple of bad experiences in the corporate world and I think that it ‘s that much more important to cultivate those cultures in this setting because it keeps people working and trying everything they can to do a better job. When you have people happy in general they tend to stress out less, make fewer mistakes and appreciate what little they do have without always feeling like they “deserve” for money for what they do.

    I’m slowly picking up my freelance at http://davidsilvaonline.com and what keeps me going is my side project, http://flickthis.tv , that is what I am most excited about and keeps me experimenting and learning more much like you guys have done with Build Internet and Officeal.

    I just discovered Officeal and I love it. Maybe we can shoot some ideas back and forth between that and my side project, flickthis.tv.

    Talk to you guys soon and keep up the good work!

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  15. davide Author Editor

    Wonderful post and blog! i’m starting a little company and this is the kind of ideas that we have in mind and we are trying to reach!
    Congratulations from italy

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  16. Philip Downer Author Editor

    Thanks for this post Zach. Was exactly what I needed this morning!

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  17. Sarah Lynn Author Editor

    Interesting article. It’s very true that depending on your business culture, it can either make or break the work you will get out the door. Working in a corporate setting like @Chandlershotgun said, can be stifiling when a chain of command shuts down new and fresh ideas. You have to take some risks to gain a lot, otherwise you will never be an innovator. Only a follower.

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  18. volkan Author Editor

    thanks! great post : )

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  19. volkan Author Editor

    thanks! great post man : )

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    Has learnt a lot of the new, thanks a lot!

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  21. Tramadol Author Editor

    You must always be creative. Just today I had a couple of bad experiences in the corporate world and I think that it ‘s that much more important to cultivate those cultures in this setting because it keeps people working and trying everything they can to do a better job.

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