I left my corporate job: the lessons I’m bringing with me

Emily Smith on June 27, 2016. Tags: , , , ,

It’s been a little over a week since I left the corporate job I’ve had for almost 17 years. There’s hardly been time since then to be introspective, since my company, *no campfire required, feels like is about to finally “making it”. However little time I do have has been spent with my family and thinking about the future… which surprisingly it seems working at Bell prepared me for.

It’s easy to be callous and make a list of things I learned from corporate culture’s mistakes; far too easy. But if I take a second and think back, there are a number of valuable lessons that I’m bringing with me. Here are my top 5:

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Every tense situation I’ve had in my adult years had an origin in lack of communication. I’m as responsible for this as everyone else. But since my work style is generally head down and plow through stuff, I have often not taken the 3-4 seconds every hour or so to go “Hey guys, this is what I’m doing.”

Like everything else in my life I’ve tried to change, this comes down to making new habits. Segue!

2. Habits. Break old ones, forge new ones.
A 17-year career at a company breeds habits, some good, some bad. Good: organize your file structure, name your Photoshop layers and projects sensibly and keep tons of notes. Bad: YouTube rabbit hole time sucks, easy distractions and “good enough”.

And you know what? There’s no better time to start forging new habits than when you’re starting a new chapter in your life.

3. Consistency and clarity.
The one thing corporate creative jobs excel at teaching is clarity and consistency in processes and communications. There are obvious reasons for this, but they are not often on the top of the list of priorities for startups and smaller organizations. From an optics perspective, that’s what sets organizations apart.

Your company’s product and experience look and feel need to always feel consistent. The brand must be strong and based on tangible values. This is how the world sees your company; if you look ragtag and pieced together, people will assume you’re an amateur.

As for processes? Establish a rule book of methods and approaches to dealing with situation that may come up. If you use that as your litmus test for your actions and decisions, it will show in your work. Giving your products a consistent voice and set of priorities.

4. Appreciate what you have and don’t dwell on what you don’t
For anyone who has not worked a corporate job, here’s a secret you don’t see from the outside: often, you don’t have the tools or resources to do what’s asked of you. Often you need to find work arounds and even make your own tools. In my experience, large, successful companies don’t typically throw down money every time a problem arises. Instead, they trust that their people will come up with a solution. And if their people can’t come up with a solution, than the the lesson learned is a good business case for spending money.

Necessity is the mother of all invention – this is true no matter what. Don’t let the lack of resources be a dead-end. Work the problem and a solution will always come out.

5. Make a plan. Stick to it.
Professionally speaking, there’s nothing worse than heading down a path and not knowing where you’re going… unless you’re an explorer I guess. But in business, you need to make plans, long term ones, short term ones, daily ones… they’re important. Plans keep you from running aimlessly headlong into the unknown.

That being said, keep in mind plans change and need to change. So review and assess your plans regularly.

6. Don’t forget the project trifecta.

Fast. Cool. Cheap. On any project you can have only two. Don’t ever lose track of that. Ever.