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Running a Business When the World Keeps Changing

How do you manage and set the course for your creative business when technology is changing the world so rapidly? Tim DeSilva has some insights, but he also stresses that it’s something that he continue to learn every day. Tim is one of the founders of Culture Pilot, a branding, strategy and design agency in Houston. He does consulting, speaking and mentoring on his passions in brand development, human-centered design, marketing strategy and innovation within culture and technology. He is an advocate for the creative economy of Houston and, in collaboration with Culture Pilot and creative thought leaders, he co-produces the TEDxHouston and Visualized conferences and Houston’s Hand Lettering Meetup Community Events.

Define the processes, methods and tools that work well and can grow with you.

In the last decade, I’ve learned a lot as a business owner; however, my schooling has just begun. What it means to be a creative business, or agency per se, is wildly different than it was just 10 years ago. Advances in technology, tools and communication have disrupted major industries. The creative businesses that prevail are those that are well organized and can adapt quickly to changing landscapes. Here are five of the key lessons on running a business that have shaped Culture Pilot’s evolution.

1. You have to be able to scale.

As a business owner who was educated as an artist and a designer, I’ve struggled with scalability, and I’ve witnessed peers and clients face similar challenges during times of quick growth. Organization and solid frameworks are key. Define the processes, methods and tools that work well and can grow with you. From project management and accounting to office chat and social media, we foster an environment that teams can adapt to more quickly. In 2015, for example, our office began operating without a brick-and=mortar building. Before that big shift, we grew accustomed to remote work and cloud-based collaboration during our off-site event productions. But this is still a rapidly evolving space, and we’re continually challenging ourselves to improve.

2. Versatility and key roles are both important.

Do you have lots of different interests and creative pursuits? Congratulations — you’re a multipotentialite. I look for that quality in teammates as it relates to creativity, problem solving and personal growth. But while it’s favorable to remain diverse, it’s also important to know where roles and specialties fall within a team, especially when decisions are expected quickly.

3. Combine data and design.

As we’ve seen big data become a mainstream term, we must adopt the mindset that the challenges we solve be intuitive by design, and designed by data-driven insights. Test cycles and metrics must be part of our process and the basis of our intuition. The ability to predict and pivot, as the startup world knows, will continue to make the difference.

4. Short is the new long.

Short term, mid-term and long term have new meanings now. Your business must be agile enough to “turn on a dime” almost instantaneously. Since we aim to make informed decisions and iterate often, we no longer look at objectives five to 10 years away. To stay realistic and practical, we plan blueprints for, at most, six months ahead. It is this constant flow of testing, analyzing and iterating that keeps us from veering too far from the path toward our goals.

5. Users are still at the heart.

With all that has changed, our heart has not. The core component — solving challenges to achieve desired results — always roots back to user-centered design. Whether we’re focused on branding, strategic planning, event production, product development or any broad-level design challenge, the end-user will always remain at the heart. Two years from now, five years from now, and even 10, it will always be at this key point where empathy is born, and that problem solving truly begins.

When we started the business, I don’t think my co-founder, Kara, or I could have predicted how much our company would change. And when Javier joined as our third principal five years in, the three of us still didn’t quite grasp how quickly our models and methods would evolve. Now, attempting to predict what our business might look like in the next 10 years is almost laughable, but I couldn’t be more optimistic to see where it takes us next.

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