How do you think that your background and your life experience, and having people with different life experiences, informs your work?
Because I am a member of two very distinct ethnic groups, both African-American and Caucasian, I’ve grown up being extra sensitive to my cultural surroundings. I’ve had distinct visibility into the nuances or ‘codes’ of these groups and therefore developed a heightened degree of sensitivity. I believe this has helped me adapt to my environment, but it is also a big part of my skill-set as a communicator. What I’m crafting in language and visual communication is influenced by the sensibilities that I developed as a survival mechanism.
At times I really struggled with this, in my teens, in high school, I had moments where I thought “I am not Black enough, I’ve got to figure this out.” Or “I’ve got to be more Caucasian.” It’s a very strange thing and I don’t know exactly when I became more comfortable, but in my adult years I’ve settled into the idea that I’m a very distinct human being and I will never fit neatly into these categories. I think that’s part of being mixed-race, and as individual members of this group. We’re all so different.
Empathy is also a value that I’ve embraced as a result of my background, an additional outcome of straddling two worlds for most of my life. It has heightened my awareness and sensitivity for others, their distinct journeys and experiences, and it’s a big part of my emotional make-up.
What are some of your really exciting and proud moments of your career, and what have been some of the struggles?
Gosh, I totally get the question. I just don’t think that’s how I’ve thought about my journey, in terms of proud moments. We all take steps in what we believe to be the right direction, and that’s my own challenge to myself — to stay mindful of the journey while working away at each individual step. These past three years is just about the longest I’ve ever been at a single company, which I think is a great time for me in terms of the work and the challenges ahead.
Have there been any major roadblocks or things that you’ve had overcome in your career?
Finding a really strong, good, creative fit is the ultimate challenge for us as makers, as communicators. We’ve all had gigs or jobs where we feel like crazy people, or when our best work is received really poorly, and that too is a crazy making experience. It took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t necessarily me, but it was the fit. So that has been a constant pursuit of mine, finding creative problems where my creativity offers the right kind of solutions. This is never a static pursuit, it’s a constantly moving relationship and dynamic. Brands, companies grow and evolve as do jobs as do collaborators. A really beautiful creative fit can be wonderful today, and might not be the case tomorrow. But that’s the dance.
Have you had mentors or people that you’ve looked up to for inspiration along the way?
I have, and they’re wonderful and are still guiding lights, both academic and professional. When I first landed in advertising back in the year 2000, I realized quickly it wasn’t a good fit for me but I was able to identify people around me whose work I thought was really interesting. So my ploy was to pull them into conference rooms, and feign a really dramatic reason, and then be like okay, I’ve got to ask “How did you get to where you are? What was your journey?” or “Tell me about where you’re heading?” That’s still something I still do today. There is so much to learn about the world and how to navigate it by better understanding the stories of people who you admire.
So what is your trajectory, where are you going, what are your biggest motivators?
I constantly work on stoking my fire and creativity, to find new ways to be in touch with that side of my brain. Things like seeing theater, visiting galleries, looking at and appreciating fresh expressions of creativity are all exciting. I also know that I want to make a difference, even if in small ways — I want to contribute to the world, I want to contribute to our ongoing cultural dialogue. These are things that motivate me. This is not necessarily about scale, but specifically about furthering the way we think about the world and the things we expect of the world. So these are things that intrigue me and drive me.
Where do you find your support networks?
My wife, my family, my friends. I’ve got a good crew of friends who are there for me and for us and that’s incredibly helpful. And in my wife, she is really — she’s is so solid and such a good person, she is there for me and I for her.
You mentioned earlier the idea of authenticity in corporate America and I would love to hear more of your thoughts on that.
I’ve found that authenticity isn’t always welcome in corporate America, or it’s just paid lip service, but actually it’s one of our biggest virtues as individuals. In my current role, I’m encouraged to bring my authentic self to work each day which is an incredibly empowering notion. I’ve worked for companies where that’s not the case and it’s clearly best when people can be themselves, and even better when that authenticity is celebrated.
I think for decades, if not generations, and it probably comes from as early as the industrial era, authenticity was not a virtue, in fact is was a burden and it slowed down the industrial process. I think that we as a society are figuring out that if you can be you, authentically, all day, even when you’re working, we’re all the better for it. And it’s a real luxury at this point I would argue. So I feel very grateful that this company embraces that value.
What advice would you give to folks who either come from similar backgrounds to you or have faced similar struggles, who are in tech or hoping to get into it?
It’s interesting, I didn’t come into the field by pursuing tech, it kind of happened. But, my passion is design and crafting visual communication. Communicating complex notions and structures in a very distilled and succinct way. It’s so cliché, but finding your passion is really empowering, and that starts with identifying what you enjoy. I think if you stitch together the things you enjoy, this typically paints a particular vision that is different for everyone. Maybe that means tech, maybe it means design, but for me my formula has been the things that I enjoy doing come more easily and I can do them at length without limit. It’s how I’m able to work tirelessly at what I’m doing because I’m enjoying the process, it’s a genuine kind of pleasure. That for me has been the key. So if I had advice it would be to start with what you enjoy.