The following was a “speech” I gave at Vision Quest (our company retreat) a couple weeks ago. Upon the request of my team, and in the essence of transparency, I’m sharing it here with all of you.
This year, we have grown immensely. We’ve taken huge strides toward defining who we are, how we carry out our process, and how we work together. Today, we’re faced with opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible only a year ago, and with this team — with all of you — we’re equipped to handle anything that comes our way head-on.
I’ve been asked countless times, “What makes Proof stand out?” So, I’ve had plenty of time to think about my answer. Here’s where I’ve settled: Proof stands out because of the people we have. We don’t tout that we’re the “best” or “most experienced”, rather, we have a knack for always figuring things out. Together.
I’ve witnessed first-hand that a small group of people with a common goal can be, and is, extremely powerful. Our greatest distinction is that every person here touches every project we work on. Clients know us by name: Sydney at KIPP asks if she gets to work with Lesley. James at The Escape Game wants to make sure Jess is at a meeting to talk design. Amanda from BURN can’t get over how amazing Caroline’s style is. The list goes on…
I constantly have clients telling me positive things about every single one of you. I’ve worked , and we, together, have worked, to build a culture that allows individuals to thrive. Presenting your work to a client. Selling what you believe in. Being direct in your recommendations. Managing your own time. In front of a client or working quietly behind the scenes to deliver an outstanding product that’s thorough and thoughtful. We go above and beyond. We go ALL IN. That’s why it’s one of our “core values” – one that I believe, maybe more than any other, we live and carry out every single day.
With this, I understand, comes pressure. Proof isn’t a place where we can “hide”. We are all supporters and leaders. We are all doers and thinkers. It’s not always easy to be in that position. It’s more obvious when you’re having an “off” day. It’s clearer when you’re prepared and maybe, well, when you’re not so ready. But with this also comes an amazing opportunity for each of you and for us as a company, to make things possible for the people we work with and for each other, in a real, tangible, hands-on way.
Have you ever had one of those moments that you stop and say, “Wow, I did that!” ? Maybe you’ve seen your design on a billboard or you’ve read something you wrote that’s been published. Whatever it is, I have it every single day. Little moments about little things. Seeing a logo here or a brochure there. Walking past someone in a Nashville coffee shop who has a website we designed on their computer. Little “wow” moments.
These little wow moments matter. A lot. They offer humbling, inspiring perspective on the work that we do, and more importantly, on what we were able to make possible for someone else.
At the CCF (Community Care Fellowship) dinner last week, I had one of those moments. This time, it was simple gratitude for being able to work with their organization. A group of selfless, loving individuals who donate their time and energy to shoulder the burden carried by others. Not because they feel compelled or obligated to, but because they can. As I listened to the speakers talk about how the homeless population has been served over the past 30+ years, how they’ve served and saved lives, I felt grateful for the opportunity — the privilege — to call them our client. Our partner. Our friend.
One thing I wrote down that was said by a speaker: “There is joy in shouldering the burden you can manage.” To be a bit more specific and to quote a little scripture, Galatians 6:3 tells us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.” I’ve never been one to quote scripture, but on a basic, common sense level, this makes perfect sense for what we’re tasked with here at Proof, every single day.
Each of us has the opportunity and obligation to make each other better. To shoulder each other’s burdens. To build each other up and focus on the best possible outcomes. To tell it like it is. To share honestly and openly. To push each other for more direct, clear communication. To help. To care. To love.
Another thing that was said last week at the CCF dinner: “Only in community do I find my true self through the love and compassion of others.”
We are nothing without each other. There is no “me” at Proof. I’m not a fearless leader that expects you all to march in line behind my command. We work together. We decide together. We grow together. And together we win.
Together, we make things possible for awesome people like Jenn and Bob at CCF. Or Neill at GEO Jobe. Or James at The Escape Game. Jenn at Levy. Amanda and Chase at Burn. Lauren and Farns at KSBJ. Sam at Zeitlin. Emily at WVCAN. Justin and Wendy at Project Renaissance. The list of names goes on and on and on…over 250 brands we’ve worked with over the years and thousands of lives touched in some way by the work we do – by what we, together, have been able to make possible for someone else.
Which brings me to a very important, albeit somewhat dramatic point that I want to make, and that I want to resonate with each of you:
We are in the business of transformation and possibility.
Through our creativity, strategy, thoughtfulness, and care, we’re able to transform individual perspectives about the impact work like ours can and does have. On raising money, creating awareness, and generating support. And maybe more importantly, we’re a catalyst of possibility. Through our work, others are able to be better at their work. Sometimes it means selling a product, sometimes it literally means saving lives.
Don’t underestimate, undersell, or undervalue the importance of the work you do – that we do – every single day. It matters. A lot. Where we’ve been and where we continue to go is up to us, and what we’re able to do for each other and for the clients who choose to work with us.
So where ARE we going? Jess asked me recently what I wanted to see for Proof over the next few years. It was that “5 Year Plan” question that everyone LOVES to answer.
The truth is, there is no clearly paved road ahead of us. And part of what I love about Proof is that tomorrow can always bring the unexpected. Much less what the next five years have in store for us, but I can tell you a few things:
- We will continue to grow well, not fast. I have no desire to turn Proof into something it’s not. We will continue to be selective about the projects we take on. We will stay committed to growing well (not fast) with good quality work (not a “lot of work”).
- We will work with more clients who “get it”. In other words, by doing our best every single day and by continuing to grow as individuals and as a team, clients will come to us with a clear understanding and value of “branding”. We’ll do less convincing and educating, more affirming and strengthening.
- We will have a world-class process. The way we work is unique. It would be much easier to go the “traditional agency” route. Track hours. Micromanage time. Sit at a desk nine to five. Communicate differently. What will make us stand out is a commitment to a refreshing and dynamic workflow and process. This is something that we’ll always be working on and will never perfect, but we’ll always be thinking critically about the “why” behind our process and what we do.
- We’ll stay together. I don’t think about “shelf life” when I hire anyone. Of course, expecting all of you to work here for the rest of your life is a pretty lofty expectation, but why wouldn’t I always be focused on creating a workplace that each of you wants to be a part of forever? I will — and we will — continue to make strides toward making Proof the best place you’ll ever work.
- We’ll stay humble. When I talk about our clients, I talk about the individuals. The Neill’s, the James’, the Lauren’s and Amanda’s. No matter where we go from here, whether we’re working with a small nonprofit or an international Fortune 500, I will always use their names. I always want to talk about our relationships with amazing individuals. Let’s not forget that it’s individuals like them — like us — that make companies, organization, brands, run.
I’m confident that through everything, together, we’ll always figure it out. I’ve never (ever) doubted our ability to get something done or to try to figure it out. We’re scrappy and collaborative and ambitious. It’s a marked distinction of Proof as a collective unit of amazing individuals.
We focus on people. We keep it simple. We go all in. We learn every day. We’re honest. We have fun. We transform perspectives. We make things possible. Together, we win.
The reason we come away for Vision Quest twice a year, and have Vision Day once a month, is that all of us, maybe myself more than anyone, needs to be reminded of the impact we have and the importance of the work we do. Most important is a reminder that I really like you guys – and we like each other. We care about each other and want to make each other better. We’re all working REALLY hard to make Proof a great job and, more importantly, an incredible part of our lives. We’re all here for a reason. And we’re all pretty cool. It’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re writing, designing, developing, meeting, scheduling, slacking, emailing, base-camping, and other “-ing” words I’m leaving out.
An impeccable attention to detail, a love for your craft, and care for each other is what sets us apart, and will set us apart every day moving forward. It’s the fuel — our fuel — for winning.
We keep winning.
If you’ve watched my Creative Mornings talk from last year, this may sound familiar…
There’s a classic Saved by the Bell episode titled, “Zack’s War”, where Zack and the gang join the Army Cadet Corps at Bayside. At the end of the episode (spoiler alert) the blue team and red team go head to head in the “super obstacle course”. Of course, everyone thinks Zack will represent the red team in this final event against the blue team’s stud, Butch.
But in a surprise move, Zack let’s the unlikely Screech take his place, to which Screech immediately disputes, “But Zack, I’ll lose!!”
Zack’s reply? “Not if you win.”
See opportunity where others see obstacles. Be irrational, ridiculous, and nonsensical. Win, even when no one gives you a chance.
Let’s raise our drinks in celebration of where we’ve been, where we find ourselves today, and where we’ll go from here. I couldn’t be happier or more proud to call each of you my employees, my staff, my colleagues, my friends, and my team.