In a fast-paced world where long To Do Lists and being busy is the norm, a year can seem like centuries away. But, making the good stuff? Whether that’s memories, a career change, a business, or a creative endeavor…well, those things can take time. It turns out, a year isn’t too long when it comes to making something meaningful.
My first job out of college (which seems like a lifetime ago), I was hired by a small, very successful, family-owned firm to start a new business arm. Yep, at 22. Right out of college. With zero experience. The owner of the firm was on the eccentric side. He was wearing slippers and chewing on an unlit cigar during one of my interviews. And, when he offered me the job, he did so with a challenge, “I bet you won’t last a year.”
“I’ll show him…” I thought to myself. So, on the spot, I made a commitment to myself, “I will stay in this job for a year AND I’ll grow out my bangs for a full year, too.” Remember, I was 22. And, both things, it turned out, needed that full year. Sometimes, you’ve just got to give it a year.
When that first job proved to be not-the-right-fit and the eccentricities became too much to handle, I left. It was just after my one-year anniversary. My bangs had completely grown out (lesson for the future) and I’d learned a TON about myself, about what I didn’t want in a job, and about how to leave something behind and move on. That year had been worth it.
My next stop as an intern at the cool and creative company I’d been stalking was a quick stepping-stone to a full-time position as their receptionist. When I was offered the job, the HR Director said, “I’m so tired of hiring receptionists and having them quit in three months to go work for a more exciting, creative department within the company. If you’re going to take this job, you have to commit to staying in it for a FULL year.” She didn’t scare me, I knew I could do that. And, once again, it paid off. By the time my year anniversary rolled around, I’d gotten to know every single person in the company and had three different job offers waiting for me. Giving that receptionist position my all for a full year gave me the opportunity to make incredible connections with every person in the company. It allowed my brain to focus on learning and growing rather than constantly looking for the next place I wanted to jump to. I slowed down—I wasn’t going anywhere for a year—I learned everyone’s name, memorized everyone’s phone extension, and truly got to know them. I committed to a year, planted my roots, and let myself BE and GROW in that spot. I moved from that receptionist position to another exciting department where I stayed, growing professionally and personally, for six more years.
Now, deep into my 40s, I realize how valuable those early work experiences were for me. Those one-year experiences paid off when I eventually left that cool, creative company to start my own studio. “Give it some time. No self-judgement for a year.” It paid off when I developed and took a new product to market with partners, “Let’s see what we can accomplish in a year.” This mantra has helped me get through hard times. “It’s okay if you need a full year to heal.” It’s applied to personal goals. “You want this, so really DO THIS for one full year.” And I try to use it as a way to give perspective to my daughters. “If you dedicate yourself to this, in a year, you won’t believe how much you’ve grown.”
We live in a fast-paced world and it’s important to be nimble and open to new opportunities. But, I’d argue that it’s just as important to give things time, let the seeds that you’ve planted have a chance to grow, and remember that sometimes, especially with the good stuff, it can really pay off if you settle in and give things a year.
This Old House is a Home for New Ideas
Originally published July/August 1999
“If you can change your mind, you can change the world,” says creativity guru Joey Reiman. But how do you change your mind? By slowing down long enough to think: “Experience the power of a slow company.”
Joey Reiman, 46, CEO of BrightHouse, an Atlanta-based “ideation corporation,” likes to boast that his firm conducts “business at the speed of molasses.” Forget ever-faster computers and ever-increasing bandwidth on the Internet. You can’t hurry great ideas. “I tell our clients that we’re the slowest company they’ll ever meet—and that we’re the most expensive,” Reiman says. “But you only have to see us once.” Plenty of big-name companies (including Coca-Cola, the Home Depot, and Georgia-Pacific) like what they’ve seen.
Slower is better. That’s just one of the many unconventional ideas about creativity that are taking shape inside the restored yellow mansion, on Atlanta’s Peachtree Road, that BrightHouse calls home. The 17-person company, founded in 1995, works with only one client at a time. It charges $500,000 per project, and the entire firm spends 10 weeks on each assignment. And while the firm’s goal is to devise breakthrough ideas, Reiman insists on following a rigorous four-step process for achieving that goal.
First there’s an “investigation” phase. For each project, BrightHouse interacts with an average of 50 to 75 experts. They might include a butler, a Talmudic scholar, a five-year-old kid—even the founder of a client company. For example, while working for Holiday Inn, Reiman interviewed the company’s 86-year-old founder. “I asked what had been on his mind when he started Holiday Inn,” Reiman says. “He said he had wanted to build a hotel chain for children, so that they would feel good about where they were going—and so that their parents would follow. In 15 minutes, he explained what I had been hypothesizing about for several weeks.”
Then comes an “incubation” phase, during which BrightHouse staffers give themselves lots of time to let their thoughts coalesce—without letting their brains go soft. “Incubation happens when you let things simmer,” Reiman says, “when the left brain and the right brain play with each other. And that takes time. One way to arrive at a great idea is by letting yourself be slower than everyone else.”
One of Reiman’s favorite examples of focused slowness is the tortoise, from the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Another role model is Albert Einstein, who started developing the theory of relativity at age 16 but didn’t publish it until a decade later. “For 10 years, he noodled it, and then he submitted it,” Reiman says. “That takes my breath away. That’s why I make this pitch to prospective clients: ‘Visit BrightHouse and experience the power of a slow company.’”
It is during the “illumination” and “illustration” phases that the firm’s big ideas really come to life. For one recent project, involving Coca-Cola’s presence at Turner Field (home of the Atlanta Braves [until 2016]), the goal was to improve upon billboard advertising. BrightHouse analyzed the architectural drawing of the stadium, found an area that no one was using, and built Sky Field—a 20,000-square-foot experiential park, complete with mist, picnic facilities, and million-dollar prizes for catching a ball.
Back in 1995, Reiman and his team helped the giant fragrance house Coty Inc. to create “ghost myst”—the first perfume to embrace values and spirituality (“inner beauty” rather than physical beauty) as the focus of its market positioning. Ghost myst became the best-selling fragrance of 1995, and it launched a spirituality-in-beauty movement that many other fragrance and cosmetics companies have rushed to join.
In 1996, the Professional Photographers of America Inc. (PPA) came to BrightHouse with a problem. Its members were losing business to outlets like Wal-Mart, which churned out photos far more cheaply (if much less artificially) than PPA members did. BrightHouse recommended that PPA reposition itself as a cadre of storytellers. Since then, the rate at which consumers ask the organization for photographer referrals has more than tripled.
“If you can change your mind, you can change the world,” Reiman says. “Before you can be creative, you must be courageous. Creativity is the destination, but courage is the journey.”
Slow and steady. Creative solutions take time. Give yourself time to investigate, incubate, and illuminate. Reach out if you want to collaborate! I’ll be filing this zerox copy again, but at least now I’ve got it here for safe keeping.