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[Podcast] Chris Do’s Biggest Mistakes, Failures & Regrets

[Podcast] Chris Do’s Biggest Mistakes, Failures & Regrets

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Chris Do reveals his biggest mistakes, failures & regrets, plus shares how you too can overcome these adversities. We then dive into how to get paid more as a creative, how to move into brand strategy & sell it, Chris’s strategic branding process, the powers & pitfalls of the labels we put on ourselves and the quest for success.

Chris Do is an Emmy award-winning designer, director, CEO and Chief Strategist of Blind and the founder of The Futur—an online education platform with the mission of teaching 1 billion people how to make a living doing what they love.

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, and welcome to episode 13. We are incredibly excited to have Chris Do on the show with us. If you don’t know who he is, he is an Emmy award-winning designer, director, CEO and chief strategist of Blind and the co-founder, or the founder, sorry, of The Futur.

It’s an online education platform with a mission of teaching 1 billion people how to make a living doing what they love. Welcome to the show, Chris.

Thanks for having me, Jacob.

So today we’re going to be talking about mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned with a positive… Yeah.

We just like to go there, Chris. We just like to go there. Make it awkward, you know, why not?

Welcome to the show.

Give me a softball right at the beginning.

Yeah. So we’re going to talk about mistakes with a positive spin on obviously with how you’ve learned from your mistakes. And let’s start at the top.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me means the ability to have the freedom to choose to do what it is that I want to do when I want to do it. And I think finally, after 20 plus years of working in the industry, I think I’m starting to get really close to that what success means.

Brilliant. So what is a mistake to you then?

A mistake is necessary part of learning, of growing and finding new things. I have a hard time looking back on my life and trying to identify what is a mistake because I think it was all necessary. The story I like to share with a lot of people in terms of thinking about mistakes is that scene between Brandon Stark and Theon Greyjoy.

At the end of this giant arc in the Game of Thrones, Theon is just like full of remorse. And he’s come to his moment and he apologized to Brandon for what he’s done and what he’s put his family through. I think this is the spoiler alert part, guys.

And I won’t say anything. And then Brandon, having been wronged by Theon, says to him, it’s okay. He doesn’t even want to let him finish.

It’s like, if you hadn’t done what you did, I wouldn’t be here and we would not be here at this moment in time. So all these things are necessary for us. And I think creative people have to get really comfortable with this idea of making a mistake or falling short of their own expectations because it really is the biggest killer of progress and of growth.

Totally. And I think another point of another perspective is regret. Like with perspective, like looking at in the past, like, oh, I wish I had done this sooner or earlier or done it a different way.

I know in the past we’ve chatted and you said one of your biggest regrets was not starting the future earlier. So why is that?

Well, I do have a few regrets. And one of the things I want to share a little personal experience, I think when I was like 10, 11 years old, I had $20 in my pocket and $20 back then was a lot of money. And it was after Lunar New Year.

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And it’s when parents and your aunts and uncles give you money. And I lost the $20 bill. And I asked my mom, mom, have you seen this money?

And she’s like, no. And what about dad? She’s like, no.

I said, well, somebody took it. Obviously, it couldn’t be my fault. Somebody took the money.

And she looked at me and she said something in her kind of her inner wisdom. She’s like, do you think somebody in this house would want to steal money from you? And then I just have to resign to the fact that the money’s gone.

No amount of crying about it. And I did. No, no amount of accusing anybody.

It’s gone. It’s gone. You just have to deal with it.

At that point in time, I made a promise to myself, live your life without regret. If something bad happens, you learn from that. And I develop habits of where I put my money and where I put my keys and my phone.

So I never lose stuff. I very rarely lose stuff that I can’t find like within an hour’s worth of looking. So when you ask me about regret, now I have to force myself to look at my life through the context of what would somebody else consider a regret.

So I have two regrets, really. The first regret is I worked at an ad agency for about four to five months, and they offered me an incredible job with all the perks you can imagine. I turned it down.

I quit. And that’s one of the regrets I had because I was 20 some years old. Had I worked in the agency in which they offered me the job, maybe my life would be very different today, especially after watching the series Mad Men.

I wonder if I could have been something small and something really big. I don’t know. The second regret, I guess, is not starting the future earlier.

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I waited until 2014 to start to make content, and I feel like what most people in my community feel, which is, I’m not ready. Why am I doing this? Everybody’s going to attack me.

People are going to judge my intentions, and they’re going to judge my work. They’re going to judge so much about me. I have a lot to give up, not a whole lot to gain.

Once I started doing it, I realized most of those fears were unfounded.

You said a key word there, being attacked. When you do get exposure, you get a bit of hate, just as a part of growing. I know you’ve made some comments, and people have not resonated the way you thought.

You’ve really confronted these and made podcasts and episodes out of it. What’s your point of view on standing up against these challenges?

You can become famous, I think, and you can become quite popular without people totally hating on you. But there’s a very rare space for those kinds of people. They tend to be loved by all universally.

That’s okay if that’s the person you want to be. But as soon as you have an opinion, it means that some people are going to agree with you and some people are going to disagree with you. And if that’s the case, then you just have to prepare for that.

And I don’t think freedom, true freedom, is you sitting there second guessing everything that you believe and say. Now, of course, you want to be really intentional. You want to be thoughtful on what you say.

But if this is what you truly believe in your heart, and that’s your intention, and it’s to help people not to hurt people, I think you’re going to be okay to put your truth out there and let the chips fall where they fall.

So let’s talk about your aspirations to get to where you are today, because I know you talk about coaches and everything on your platform, and I think everyone needs a coach. So what are some people that really elevated you to where you are today?

There have been so many people who were probably not classically labeled as teacher, coaches or mentors to me. It starts with my dad, my older brother, my mom, my entire family, essentially. Each one of them saw something in me, opened a door and encouraged me to go somewhere.

But if you’re talking about in terms of the realm of a professional coach, my first and most influential coach is a guy named Keir McLaren. He’s been on our show. I worked with him for over 10 years where I met with him once a week, every single week for an hour and a half to two hours without fail.

And that’s where I really started to learn about business, about communication, about management, but more importantly, how to be a good human, to be a good leader. Those are really important.

So Chris, can I ask you a quick question?

Of course.

If I was to say, where does your inner drive come from, right? You’ve mentioned two regrets. And I wonder, actually, if you’ve taken that job at the ad agency, you know, maybe that would wreck you.

Maybe the Chris Do we see today helping a billion people would not exist. Maybe he’d have been stuck there in a corner office, you know, somewhere and be really dull and boring and no one would ever think about Chris Do. But the Chris Do we see before us is someone who, you know, turned that down, went his own way and, you know, didn’t start the future till relatively recently.

And maybe that’s given you an impetus, a drive, an energy, which perhaps wouldn’t have existed if those two things hadn’t happened. So where does that drive come from, do you think?

I think the drive comes from being poor. I’m just going to be really honest with you. My drive to do what I do is because we came to America from Vietnam in 1975, escaping communism and landing here with nothing, having lost everything.

Our culture, our country, our money, everything that we had was gone. It vaporized in the course of about 24 hours having to flee the country. And so my parents are here.

They don’t understand the customs and the culture. They don’t really speak the language well. So we grew up poor.

And I didn’t know it at the time, but we were poor and we went to secondhand shops. We lived because of the generosity of other people, of the country and the support systems that were in place. And so whenever I would desire something, I would ask my mom, you know, you go to the toy store and the general rule is you can look at everything, you can’t ask for anything, and you just go home with hopes and dreams.

I would spend a lot of time fantasizing about all these things I saw in magazines and comic books. They have ads targeted towards kids. I wanted the x-ray vision glasses.

I wanted to be like the strong man on the beach so that the nerd gets his sand kicked in his face. I wanted all those things. And the way to that was through money.

And so I hustled as a kid. I had many different businesses that failed. Everything from catching crayfish to washing cars, selling popsicles to kids that were younger than me, selling candy, ninja stars, everything that I could think of.

So this is what drove me. That I saw money as a means towards freedom. And so that’s what’s pushed me.

And that pushed me very far. Because that’s why I started blind. I wanted to have this freedom.

And I wanted to use that freedom to surround myself with super creative human beings to create what I would have, my ideal office space, a place where I would have want to go to work if I were to go to work for someone else. And that went for a really long time. And it came into clarity this one day, because I was talking to my financial planner.

And I asked him, his name is John. I said, John, you got to just tell me, how much longer do I need to work so I can retire? And he goes, OK, let me look into your books.

So then shortly he’s like, well, given what I know about you and Jesse, and you have everything squared away, and the amount of money that you spend, you could have retired years ago. And I looked at my wife, I’m like, honey, you kept telling me five more years. And she was just like, keeping extending that.

That was like a never ending five more years. She’s like, give me five more years. Because for her, financial security was really important, that she didn’t want to worry about like, oh, my God, we’re going to run out of money.

And then in that moment, I had to come to this realization that I don’t need to work anymore. So if I work, what is it for? What’s the point?

What’s the purpose of this? So this is when I started to think about, why do I get up every single day and go to an office if the money isn’t the motivation? I need to find something deeper, something bigger, something that’s going to be more meaningful.

People call this your genius work, the work that matters. That’s what I needed to find and I found it in the future.

Thank you.

Let’s talk about, to bring it down for our listeners. You talked about some failures in the beginning as an early entrepreneur, but what is your biggest professional failure and what have you learned from that?

I think the biggest professional failure is probably in the early days when we lost all of our clients. When I say all, it’s like I didn’t have many to begin with, so when you lose one, it feels like all. The two biggest clients we had at that time were E Entertainment Television, and Sebastian International, and Sebastian International was a billion-dollar company, healthcare, wellness, hair products, and things like that.

One we did a website for and the other we did animated motion graphics for, and both within about two and a half months of each other, decided that they’re going to stop working with us for different reasons. For E Entertainment Television, it was because they wanted to save money, and it was fair because they were spending probably too much money with us. Every single month, they were spending in excess of $20,000 with us making animated promos.

And so if you look at that, it’s like that’s probably better if they brought it in-house. And that made sense. They hired somebody.

And then with Sebastian, they had a changing of marketing directors. And so of course, the new broom comes in, sweeps out the old, which we’re the old, he’s the new broom or she’s the new broom. We got swept out.

So in that case, we had our major revenue sources just vaporize. And we’re still a very young company at this point in time. So I had to tell my staff of four people that I have no more work, that money is running out.

And since the money was running out, I encouraged them all to go get work. And that was hard for us. It was really hard.

So we went from a team of five people, four people plus myself, to a team of one. Luckily, one of the people who was working for me at that time, and now my wife, said, look, I don’t need to make money. As long as I have something to live in some place to live and eat, I’m good.

If you can cover that, I’m going to stick it out with you for as long as I can. Slowly but surely, we rebuilt and I’ve learned from that lesson.

That’s absolutely brilliant. I think the agency model as typically it used to be, I ran an agency and I totally sympathize with that. It’s such a precarious model when you’re so reliant on the client and the power really is all in the client’s hands.

As you say, if you help them become more successful, at some point, they’re going to think, we could in-house this and completely control it end to end and understand all the layers. And then we can basically cut your costs down. So you’re in a precarious situation there.

And likewise, also, as you say, they can move away at any time. So what are your thoughts in terms of the agency model? And what would you now put in place or have done differently to make that not happen?

I don’t know if you can make it not happen. It happens to small companies. It happens to really big companies.

If you look at the biggest version of what we do, I think are large multinational advertising agencies. And they lose their clients too. And there was a relationship that Ruben Poster and Associates had with Honda for over 30 years, working with Honda and doing advertising for Honda.

And then one day they just woke up and decided to sever ties and split the account apart and give some of the business to a whole different agency. Coca-Cola did the same thing. It goes on and on and on.

The reason being is people get, they take each other for granted. The client takes the agency for granted and the agency takes the client for granted. They both tell each other a very different story.

One says like, why aren’t they grateful for all this work? They should be doing more for us. The other one says, why aren’t they grateful to us?

They should be giving more to us. And really, they just look at it like that. That’s one of the early lessons that I learned to be appreciative of my clients.

But relationships evolve. So you should evolve with them and sometimes beyond them. You should prepare for one day that they will leave.

It’s not marriage and even marriages don’t last forever. So you have to prepare for that. You have to keep growing.

And if initially you did logo design for them and now they need an identity system, you evolve into that. And beyond the identity system, they need a copywriter, they need a website, they need all these other things. You keep evolving.

And then to a point you start to do brand strategy and you do consulting, which to me is at the highest end of it. And then you can sell the creative services if you want to. But if you don’t evolve, you eventually get swapped out.

You got to generate value, haven’t you? You’ve got to create value in what you’re offering to people. That’s why we get paid ultimately because, you know, there’s some value in what we’re doing.

So I guess you’ve got to continually evolve that and keep thinking, keep that energy going into that. And that’s why I think it’s really interesting what you’ve done with the future, because obviously you’ve evolved, haven’t you, in terms of what you offer and how you kind of go out there and put yourself out there. Tell us about that evolution, because you’ve gone from designer into strategy and to now teacher.

How has that sort of worked?

Yeah, so it’s been, my life is this complex tapestry of things that I’m interested in and not always getting perfect alignment out of. Prior to doing The Futur, a lot of people don’t know this, I taught at private art schools for over 15 years. I taught at art center and I taught at Otis College of Design.

And I gave my life, sweat and blood to these things when I was there, while running a pretty high profile motion design company back in the day. And it wasn’t until I was able to find where all these things overlap that I came into my full power in knowing like who I was and being able to express myself fully. And so that’s what The Futur has done for me.

Now, the idea of teaching isn’t new to me, but the idea of teaching to essentially a camera, a piece of glass, we call it the soulless one-eyed creature, and that’s just the camera. And it gives you nothing back. It gives you no energy, gives you no response.

It’s literally or metaphorically like talking to a wall. Talking to a wall gives you nothing back. But if you’re used to and learn how to speak to a piece of glass, I guess you will do better than others.

So we had to learn those skills, learning how to speak in ways that are unscripted, right? You have to learn how to be in the moment and speak to people, not at them, have a conversation with people. And that’s a really critical skill that I had to develop.

And I had to just get comfortable with being in front of camera talent versus behind camera talent, which is what I’ve done for the last 20 years.

What you said about teaching for 15 years, people don’t realize this and you’ve gone into that role. And you just seem so natural on the future, even though you just came from what people believe the agency world. So to pivot to that, it’s important to consider the background.

So I’m glad you touched on that.

I want to talk about the transition, the evolution, because the reason we started this podcast, Matt and I, was because I’ve been transitioning from design to strategy. And Matt’s a strategist and we’re going to talk about that. You mentioned your evolution to consultant from starting from a logo designer.

And it’s a very common thread on the future. It’s very popular. And like watching Linda Livesey and people like that evolve.

So there’s a few questions. What advice can you give to people that actually want to get to this consultant level to stop being an order taker? And any, I guess, mistakes you’ve made along the way in that realm of things.

Yeah, so there’s, I forget who says this, but everything that got here won’t get you there. All these skills that you learned in school and in practice, refining something, caring about the beauty and the craftsmanship, attention to details, just exactly right point size with right letter spacing and leading is just, it’s so good. And the finishes and the printing and the quality is just immaculate.

Nobody, no other right-minded designer is going to critique you on that. But what’s happened is you’ve become very myopic to the thing that matters to the client. They actually don’t really care that much about art.

As much as they might say, they really don’t. And that’s evident. If you just look around the world at how much bad design there is, I’m not talking about graphic design, I’m just talking about just architecture, urban design, fashion, everything.

It’s like people aren’t as particular as we’d like them to be. And the reason why we want them to be is because it fits into our narrative that if people care more about the way things look, we are going to be more valuable. But ultimately, people want something very different.

They want to grow. They want to grow in all ways, personally, professionally, spiritually, physically, everything they want to grow. Who’s going to be the person to help them get there?

Like if I want to get really jacked, if I want to get super ripped, I want to hire a personal trainer. And the best personal trainer who fits with my style of learning is going to get my money. And so if you think about a business, what do businesses care about?

Yeah, they care about the aesthetics, but they might care about the way that the food is served or the menu, how it’s presented, or how people have a total complete dining experience from beginning to end. They might care about getting more customers or a different type of customer. They might care about getting the word out so that they can launch a prepackaged meal plan or something like that.

Well, where do you fit into any of that? Because the only problem you’re looking for is an aesthetic problem. So what you keep thinking is the most important is actually not so important.

And we see this happen over and over and long after I’m gone, the debate will continue. Oh, I hate that logo. Can you believe that that’s the logo they came up with?

That logo sucks. Let me tell you how to design a better logo, you stupid monkeys. And oh, the logo is the end-on-be-all.

It’s the ambassador for your brand. It’s the reputation. It’s the tip of the spear.

Get over it, people. Just get over it. It’s not.

It is not. Have a horrible company, an amoral company that just screws people over with child labor, sells inferior products to hurt people. What’s the best logo going to do for them?

That.

Yeah.

And that is not okay. That’s just zero.

That is awesome. I 100% agree with that. You can have the best logo designed in the world and not make a penny and not solve a problem.

So yeah, it’s about… You’re right. We’re too…

Sometimes, Jacob, would you agree with that? We’re kind of too… We’re too into it.

Like we’re too into the design and fluffy stuff. When the business people, they want to solve big business problems. And that’s what brand strategy can begin to do.

I’m glad we’re going down that brand strategy role, because a lot of us, well, designers, start with that, like doing design logos and brand agendas. I guess the next rung up the ladder is strategy. So do you want to talk about brand strategy and the value of that?

Yeah, I have to be very careful here, so let’s get into this. I’m not telling you that I own the definition to brand strategy, I’m the all and all and be all to everything about brand strategy. I am not, but I am pretty critical about people using this term very loosely.

You know, people are like, I’m a brand strategist. First of all, you don’t know what branding is. You make logos, okay?

Stop calling yourself a branding expert, because you’re not, you’re just not. And it’s okay to be a person who gives, who creates amazing forms. And I respect that.

Like, you can just put together a circle and a square in a way that I just, that’s so good, and we need people like that, we really do. So to me, a brand strategist does one thing in particular, they solve a goal. They have a plan on how to go from here to there.

And I’m not talking about from going from red to darker red. I’m talking about a plan on how to get a client, a client in front of a customer. How do you do that?

How do you do that is that in a way that is authentic? How do you help them find a new tribe that’s going to fall in love with them? So the role of the brand strategist is in a way, as my friend Yolanda Santos talks about it, they’re a matchmaker and they were made to fall in love with each other.

So we know that you’re not right for everybody and everybody is not right for you. So it requires a process of asking questions, of listening, of drawing insights and making connections that the client may have known instinctively, but just never communicated or agreed to as a group. You as a brand strategist come in there and ask the questions and you let the answers lead you to the solution.

You don’t lead the witness and say, well, it must always be premium. It must always be upscale because it doesn’t need to be.

So what is your process and how have you developed that over time?

Okay, I’m relatively new to branding, to brand strategy relative to my career arc. Most of my time has been spent making commercials, moving things around on a screen to tell somebody else’s story. So all the stuff that was done before that point in time had been fairly opaque to me, that there was a marketing directive with an objective, a strategy was formed, a messaging, a copy was written, and a script was sold to a client.

That’s usually where we took over. So it wasn’t until my friend Jose Caballero came into my, re-entered into my life, and this was in 2013-2014, I think, and I asked him a very simple question, which was, my websites suck and there must be a better way. And I know for as long as I’ve been doing motion design, you’ve been building websites, teach me.

He goes, I will show you. And he showed me a process, basically design thinking and user experience design, that just blew my mind apart. It literally changed my life and everything that I did, it transformed our company and it took us into totally different directions.

Because when I started to learn it, I started to realize the multitude of things that apply this thinking towards, understanding who the customers are, what their wants, needs, pain points, challenges, who they aspire to become, the change that they want to achieve in their life. Once you understand it through the lens of the customer, the end user, oh man, the creativity just flowed and was amazing. And then learning how to capture some of those insights and translating it into a visual system, a menu design or the website, or even writing copy for a landing page, it changed everything.

So I immediately took that and started to apply it to what we were doing with our clients. It just so happened to, around this time, we were moving away from doing agency work, which we’re just the post production production arm of an agency. We started doing client direct work.

And I had this vision in my head that from this point forward, we’re going to act like the agency that we used to work for. We’re not going to be the end of a creative process. We’re going to be the beginning, the middle and the end.

And it required a little bit of time to ramp up from zero to where we were. It took about a year to convince my first client to hire us for strategy work. Prior to that, they hire us for design work, and we would do that.

And I had to prove it. I had to prove it to them that this was valuable, that this was necessary, and that it would make an impact on their business. So it took about a year to be able to get my first paid brand strategy consulting gig that led us also to do the design work.

You already led into our next question. It’s like, how do you sell strategy? Yeah.

So how do you sell strategy? It is tough. If you are not known for something, there’s always this bridge.

You got to go from where you are to where you want to be to build a bridge. So if you’re a strategist, you strategize yourself. Not always easy to do.

Sometimes actually very challenging. So what we have to do is we have to pivot. Every client that came to us knew us for something other than brand strategy.

That’s for sure. They’d most likely call us because of our deep body of work in motion graphics. So they wanted a video ultimately from us.

And so what we have to do is begin the conversation something like this. I would say to them, I’m so thrilled, Mr. and Mrs. Client, that you’re talking to us right now. And I know you want this thing.

And if that’s what you want me to make, I’m going to be happy to take your money. I’m going to do this for you. But recently I’ve embarked on this journey about doing brand strategy for my clients.

If you have 20 to 30 minutes, I’m going to show you how valuable this might be to you and your company. And this meeting is free. Normally I would charge $20,000 for this, but this meeting is free.

Do you have 20 to 30 minutes to talk to me about this? And they would naturally say what? Yes, I’ve anchored up the price.

I’ve told them there’s value. I’ve also been very clear at disclosing to them that this is not something that’s new to me. I’m not telling them I’ve done this for 10 years.

I’ve not. They agree. And in that moment, it’s a make it or break it moment.

I go straight into the questions. I start asking them about their customers, what their goals are, why they haven’t been able to achieve their goals, the challenges, the pain points, all that kind of stuff. And it helped them to get clarity in those first 30 minutes that they’re sitting there and I could see it.

Not literally, but the steam, the brain is cooking and things are happening and they’re leaning in. And I’ve literally done this before in a room of C level executives in a multi-billion dollar company. When I looked at the back of a very long conference room table, all the creative people are like leaning in like, yeah, and what’s next?

And you know you have the fish on the hook. All you have to do is bring it in gently. And that’s how you do it.

So if you truly, truly do brand strategy, consulting work, your advisor, a mentor, a coach, you can prove it. You can demonstrate it to somebody. You don’t have to talk to them about some abstract idea.

I do this for my clients.

For our listeners, what sort of questions are you asking to get this information out of the clients?

Okay, so I’m going to recommend that everybody that wants to dive deeper into this to read Michael Bungay-Stanier’s book. It’s called The Coaching Habit. He has seven questions, seven questions that you asked that help you to get to this thing.

I think he wrote it just as a book on leadership and management, but I actually found the framework actually to be very applicable to lots of things. So his first question, I think it’s called the foundational question, I think. I forget how he calls it, but it’s what’s on your mind?

Well, what’s on your mind seems like such an innocent, silly little question to ask, but it’s open enough that the person has to sit there and think, why am I meeting with you right now? And because they know who you are or a little bit about why, because they’ve agreed to the meeting. You don’t go and meet with the designer and not think, I must be here to talk about something design related.

But what’s on your mind starts the dialogue. It’s not the end. And your job is to find the right problem to solve.

That’s your only job right now. Find the right problem to solve. And I love the way that he says in the book, because the right problem infers that there are a lot of wrong problems.

So when somebody comes to you and says, I need a new website. That’s what’s on my mind. That’s why I’m talking to Jacob.

I want a new website. OK, well, and tell me what else is on your mind. You keep going.

And then until you get to like, OK, so what’s the real challenge for you in relation to this? Then you start to understand. They need a website because they want something else to happen.

They want to feel that the website reflects how they feel about themselves. And I can guarantee you, you ask any designer, are you happy with the website? They’re almost always going to say no.

Because in their mind, they’re better than what they see. Clients are not that different, except for they’re not looking at it from a design point of view. They’re looking at it from a usability point of view, a traction, a conversion point of view.

And they always feel like it could be better. Some of them, really discerning clients will say, well, if the design doesn’t really live up to our standards, I know it can be better. We’re a multi-million dollar brand.

Can you make us a multi-billion dollar brand in the way that we look and talk about ourselves? I think I can. That’s what design is really good for.

And so you start to excavate underneath all these layers, because what you’ve seen and what the client knows is the tip of the iceberg. And if you’re willing to stay in the pocket and ask enough questions, go out of your comfort zone and stay there. You will find something that’s really important to the client that matters, because the bigger the problem, the bigger the price tag attached to it.

Solve a small problem, you get paid very little. So you’re looking for the big problems.

I think that’s absolutely fantastic. My story is similar to yours, Chris, in regards to workshops and broadening out into strategy. When I ran my agency, I employed this guy, and he said to me, one of the problems that you have sometimes as a designer, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced it, is back and forth with clients, right?

So you set your quote. Usually the way I used to do it was hourly rates, right? And then you go back and forth, and ultimately the designer gets absolutely thrown under the bus because you spend more time than actually you factored in sometimes.

So that was a major problem. Anyway, I employed this guy, and he said, Matt, do you know what I want to do in the next project we get? I’ve got this idea of just kind of having a kickoff workshop.

So I sat into this workshop, and it blew my mind because we got designers in there, we got the clients team in there, and we started going through these questions for free for the client. Like you said, you got to start for free. And suddenly I realized this is the bit that I’ve been missing, right?

Because suddenly you get to understand in depth what these people are going through. They don’t want a new website. They need to grow their company by X percent, by X time.

That’s the problem. And actually the website might actually be a small part of the bigger picture. Once you understand the bigger picture, and once you can then apply some thinking, and designers are perfectly placed to apply foresight and thought and mapping out how you could go from where you are today to the future.

Once you’re in that place, you can then become more valuable, like you say, and then you can start charging more, which eventually happened to me until I cut off design altogether and just stayed in that uncomfortable dragon pit state, which you talked about there, which is, you’re right, you’ve got to be uncomfortable. But sometimes we’re too kind of in our ivory towers. So I agree with you.

Let’s get out there. Let’s get a bit more uncomfortable. Let’s get our hands dirty a little bit with clients so that we can really find the problem and look to solve it.

So, have you got any other tips in terms of how someone might go from, say, a design scenario where they’re just used to executing on a brief, to that kind of point where they’re finding out those nitty-gritty questions?

Yeah, the list of things to do to learn to experience their choir is going to be quite long. This is why I’m a little sketched out when an 18-year-old kid tells me I’m a brand strategist. Really?

Really? I mean, you need to learn some business fundamentals. You need to learn how to look at a balance sheet.

You need to be able to have intelligent conversations about operations, about cost of goods sold, about what it takes in terms of net profit and gross profit and gross sales, and how sales teams are doing, and what marketing initiatives are, return on investment, and you can learn these things. You really can. I bet you can learn it probably enough to be functional in three to five business books.

So, if you’re willing to make a commitment, if it takes you a week to read a book in between three to say seven weeks of reading, you could probably acquire enough business skills, and then you have to kind of really think, how do I connect my creativity to solve these business problems, and to expand your definition of what it means to be a designer. Now, most people will call themselves a graphic designer, an identity designer, a communications designer, and the label that precedes the word design really matters. It really does, because an interior designer solves what kinds of problems?

Interior problems. Layout with interiors, right? If I’m the world’s most amazing menu designer, if I don’t see a menu, I don’t see a problem.

This is where I think we have to kind of either drop the word before designer or we have to change that word. So oftentimes, I would come out and tell people, I’m not a graphic designer, I’m a culture designer, I’m a business designer, depending on who I’m talking to, because that’s what I’m mostly interested in, and that’s what I’m going to help you solve. So design to me, and in some of the books that I’ve read, is just a person’s ability to connect two disparate ideas to come together in some kind of elegant form.

And I’m not talking about form in terms of graphics, but just some kind of form that seems to fit. And that’s what it is. And if you can invent a new and novel solution to a wicked problem, you’re a designer.

So your accountant, your doctor, the engineer outside the bricklayer, anybody can be a designer in that sense.

So it just shows how meaningless titles can be. You can just adapt to the client or whoever you’re talking to. And I know I’ve changed my title many, many times and it doesn’t really matter.

It’s about the problem you’re solving for the client.

I think actually, Jacob, titles can be actually very powerful. They work for you and they work against you depending on how you use them. So when a title is used to box you in into what you can do, you would say, well, that’s a pretty powerful title.

And if the title gives you a direction to move towards, that could be very uplifting. It could be motivating, it could help you to focus in. And so words are very powerful and they’re also very dangerous if used inappropriately, right?

Like you and I think about it. If we were to take inventory of all the things that we think about ourselves, our self-talk, I think I was reading this book, like 97% of what you say to yourself is negative. So we can learn to speak to ourselves in a different way that’s more positive, optimistic and future-based versus past-based.

Maybe we can start to align ourselves with something that is going to help us get closer to our goals versus to get as farther away from our goals. Matt, your turn.

I just think that’s fantastic. I think you’re right, knowledge and language defines reality. It helps us make sense of reality.

So choosing our words carefully, even though we all fail miserably sometimes to do so, but if we choose our words carefully, that can create the reality as well. So it works both ways. I think words describe reality, but they also make reality.

Yeah.

I was just going to say, Jacob, out of interest, I’m happy to also share mine. What’s your current label that you put on yourself?

Yeah. So I call myself a brand designer because brand is very broad. So you’re designing the brand, but also depending on what platform it is, I can adapt it.

So I also put strategists in some places as well. So brand designer plus strategist. So I think what you said about the future state is very important because the image you put out there is who you’re going to become in the future.

You may not be the best brand strategist at the moment, but you have to portray that image to get to that state. So I think that was some valid points.

Just out of interest, Chris, how do you label yourself if you do it at all?

Probably educator.

One word. You beat me hands down. Mine’s brand and culture strategy consultant, which is just a massive long word, but a long series of words.

But it kind of does the trick for the circles that I play in. So yeah, I love educator. I wish I could get mine down to one word.

Maybe I need to work on this. I’m going to go away after this.

I’m sure you can. But you know, I think the reason why we have these titles and since we’re on it is because there’s an internal dialogue and there’s an external dialogue. And I want to be very clear about that, too.

The internal dialogue matters a lot because it controls and limits how far you can go or it can open up things for you. The external dialogue is just so the person who’s standing in front of you can understand what the hell you do. So in your mind, you’re like, I am the god of design.

Let’s just say that’s what you think of yourself. You might not want to say that externally. Kanye West does that all the time and he gets into a lot of trouble.

But I admire him because he actually the filter between what he thinks and what he says is zero. He’ll just say it like I’m the greatest since Picasso, you know, or I’m the Steve Jobs of culture. I’m like, wow, that’s what he really thinks.

Most of us are like, I design fashion, I make music. And that’s okay. So we have to understand that the person in front of you doesn’t have all this time and energy to invest in trying to figure you out.

That’s why we use titles. And that’s why we use words that are familiar to them. And that’s totally okay.

So, Jacob, you’re right in that one sense where sometimes they’re meaningless and sometimes they’re quite meaningful. It just depends.

And I find myself if I’m like at a party or anything, I’ll say like I’m a graphic designer just to end it, like, you know, adapt to who you’re talking to. So I think we’ve really explored titles a lot. I just want to jump into some questions from our users that have submitted if you’re comfortable with that.

Yeah, totally.

So this one comes from Jackie Krabinski, and he asks, how do you deal with failure?

Hmm. This is important because I think people have issues with this. They struggle with failure.

And I think failure is a lot about expectations, and expectations are the root of unhappiness or of depression and all of the things that are not good in your life right now. Let’s talk about this. So when you go and do something, you tell yourself this story, that it’s going to be great, that it’s going to achieve.

This post is going to get me 2,000 likes and 400 new fans or whatever it is. And then when it doesn’t happen, what happens? You tell yourself the story.

You’re a failure. You suck. You’re terrible.

Why do you have those big ideas? And if we just go into it, telling ourselves the story that this is an opportunity for me to learn, to get feedback, to find out what works and sometimes to find out what doesn’t work, to find out what my audience and community shows up for, then the internal dialogue that we have will be very different. I don’t try to make too many things with giant expectations.

I think one of the big things that we struggle with in our day-to-day existence is this, is that we put labels on everything, a positive and a negative label. And sometimes the label that we need to put on is just completely neutral. I know everybody hates this expression.

Jerry Seinfeld does a whole bit on this. He’s like, I want to kill people who say this. I don’t say it that often.

But people say it is what it is. He’s like, that’s the most meaningless thing ever. You just use the same words over and over again.

It is what it is. And what is that? Right?

Like somebody will get a plate of food, they go out to a restaurant, they get a plate of food and they look at it like, oh, you know, this was supposed to be bigger or I was supposed to, you know, they did, they were supposed to do all these things. And I’m like, you know what? It’s just food.

They’re nutrients, you eat it, sometimes it makes you really happy and sometimes not as happy as others, but it just is. But we work ourselves up into this kind of frenzy state and then now our relationship with the person next to us is ruined, the dialogue is ruined, the moment is ruined, and the drive home is ruined. And then think about what happened with such an innocent little thing as getting food.

So in your life, you’re going to make a logo and the dialogue you tell inside yourself is going to largely impact the way you feel about that moment. I like to just say neutral for as long as I can about as most things as possible. When I start to feel those emotions conjure up, I have to take inventory and say, what am I feeling?

Why am I feeling that? Do I want to feel this? And then I make a decision, go ahead and feel it or change the course of that feeling right now.

It is what it is.

Yes, it is.

All right. Well, with that, with that summarized, how would you, like right now, what mistake do you find yourself still making? This is from Samoa Lagoa.

I hope I said that right.

Yeah. The mistake I keep making, and I’ve shared this before, is I get excited about too many things. I’m going to be honest with you guys.

You know, I have a stack of papers here telling me what I’m supposed to be doing, and I foolishly choose to ignore all of them. I’m just in this moment. I want to do this thing.

To me, that’s freedom, right? And even though I’m my own boss, I’m like, God, who wrote this note? Oh, yeah, I did.

I don’t want to listen to you. And so I’m having that fight right there. So I think the mistake that I keep making is, you know, what is the most important thing that gets me closer to my goals today?

If it doesn’t get me closer to my goals, maybe I don’t need to do it right now.

So how much persistence did it take you to get from where you were to where you are today?

Oh, where’s the way where you were? Because it depends on where you set the initial point to the point that I’m at. I know where I’m at today.

When you say where you were, are you talking about the junior high kid who is afraid to talk to girls and just hating my life and just having identity issues?

Let’s not go there.

Yeah, that’s pretty far back. So where are we talking about?

Well, let’s say after your agency life to where you started the future, because that’s really what your big thing is, your big, hairy, audacious goal. So what’s really great? Like, I can’t even imagine your to do list.

You’ve already just mentioned it. So like your persistence to, I guess, keep doing it. Like, what keeps you going?

I know we touched on this earlier.

Yeah. OK, what keeps me going is this, is that I have set up a very big goal that I’m not sure anybody can achieve in their lifetime. It is possible, but it’s going to be some ginormous effort to be able to get there.

And that is very clearly defined in my mind, is that if I’m done, then the world of education, the way it looks like today, is unrecognizable to some kids in the future, where high quality, best in class education is available to anybody that wants it at a price in which they can afford it. So that we don’t have to have this class war where the smartest, aka the richest kids get access to the best teachers and the best tools. I think we need to level the playing field and a lot is going to have to change in order for that to happen.

So this is my Everest and it’s pretty high.

I love that. And you know, you’ve set this goal of one billion. Talk to us about that.

How did you, did you just kind of wake up one morning and go, that’s the thing? Or did you spend time with your team? How did you come to that number and what kind of made you made that thing?

Yeah, that’s very good. So it’s not a thing that we sat around and did focus groups and try to figure out what the heck are we trying to do? I think a lot of times I have ideas and my team isn’t always able to figure out what the heck I’m thinking.

Naturally, duh, because they can’t read minds and my mind changes quite often. And so it was coming out of like Chris, what do you want, man? What do you want?

And we will fight about this all the time. Sometimes we need to make money. Sometimes we need to make more courses or grow our YouTube channel, whatever.

I said, you know what? The end of the day, I didn’t walk away from agency work making a lot of money to worry about trying to make more money. I want to make a difference.

I want to make an impact on the world. And then I knew when I needed to form this idea in my mind was a million. That’s too little.

We could do that. Some might even argue that’s already been done. And since there’s not a number between a million and a billion, just the next goal up on the ladder is just a billion.

Let’s go there. And I think that’s one in eight people on planet Earth. So that’s a pretty big goal.

And I remember early on when Apple first launched its iPhones, Steve Jobs said he’d like to sell 100 million phones. 100 million. I’m like, dude, that you are crazy.

Steve Jobs, you are crazy. They’ve already passed one billion phones sold so they can do with tech. Maybe we can do with education.

I don’t know.

How are you tracking it?

Oh, OK. How am I tracking it? That’s a very good question.

So in my mind, the math is a little fuzzy. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because if I teach 10 teachers who teach 10 people who teach 10 people, I’m going to say if you trace it all the way back and you do the genealogy of ideas, it will then funnel back to us.

And I’m going to consider that the billion, OK? But that didn’t make enough people happy. They’re like, Chris, we need to make this accountable and measurable.

And I’m like, OK, fine. So somebody in our group said, hey, make a counter on your home page so that people can claim a number. And so now we’ll know officially.

So I think that number is past 10,000 and we just got it going. So we’ll see every day that number goes up a little bit. And when we make these big pushes, we’ll see the number jump and grow.

And that makes me happy, too.

I think that’s absolutely fantastic. For those for the listeners that don’t really know, you know, been living under some sort of rock, the future, you can go on and you can buy courses, can’t you? You can buy training, as you say, at accessible prices.

And it’s interesting that you mention education generally. I’m really excited about that. So, you know, traditionally, my understanding of the future is it’s very design sort of style, design led.

Is this something, is there sort of an ambition to branch out at some stage to wider education? Or is it, are you going to stick in this space for a while?

Yeah, so I think we need to stay in a certain lane. The reason why is because this is where our domain expertise lives. And we’re going to teach business skills, communication, mindset and design related skills.

And we’re going to stay in here until we start to figure out this is how people want to learn. This is how you deliver it to them. Because once we figure that out, we can either open source it and say, look, here’s the blueprint.

Everybody that’s an educator wants to do this. Either do it for yourself, join us in our revolution, help us make content following a very specific framework, a formula or structure, if you will, because we found that this to be the most effective in terms of teaching. And we’re still kind of inventing it.

So I don’t want to go too broad before I go deep. And you know that we got to focus our energy. The law of concentration says focus your energy on something.

Get that part right, because you know when this works, when design schools are put out of business because of what we do. And then we can expand it out.

Loved that. Loved that. Beware design schools.

How do you choose what content goes on your personal brand or the future?

Very good question. Are you talking about on the Instagram?

Yeah, that’s the first thing that came to mind.

Yeah. Okay. So the Futur’s Instagram account was created once we started the company, but my personal Instagram account has been around a little bit longer than the Futur’s.

And I felt like I needed a place to share what I was thinking. And when we were running blind, it felt strange. If I post something as blind, is it me?

Is it the company? Do we all vote on this? And I think it was kind of weird for me to be speaking on behalf of everybody.

So what happens? You wind up creating the most vanilla bland content ever. And if you look at most brand websites and their Instagram social media accounts, it’s really dull content.

It really is because it has to be very safe. It tends to focus mostly on the work that they’ve done or the thanking their clients, like great job, congratulations, that kind of stuff. So I just started writing as myself.

And then we launched The Futur. So I was like, what do we do here? Because for now, The Futur was just mostly me and a couple like volunteers until it became a company.

And so today, the way that we manage it is we have Elle who writes the content for the future. And what she does is she scrapes the content that we make in terms of podcasts and videos and my social feeds. And then she figures out the brand’s voice and she’s very objective about it, which I love so it can be as inclusive of all the different creators and writers that we have on our team.

Whereas my personal account, I say and do whatever it is that I want. Now, it used to be less of a problem when I had a smaller following. Now that I have a bigger following, this is a strange thing that happens and you guys know this.

People feel like they have ownership over you and it’s a strange thing that I’m going through. Like, Chris Do, you wouldn’t say that. I’m like, well, no, I would say that because I did say that.

Nobody else is saying it. And that’s inconsistent with who you are. I’m like, dude, it’s not.

I promise you because it’s me. How could you say that? Don’t tell me who I am and who I’m not.

I am who I am. And it’s like, well, you need to say something, Chris. I’m like, no, you guys could say what you want.

You have your own voice. And I’ve been battling this in this last week. Like, well, who am I?

What do I want to say? And I just found that, you know what? I got to live my truth.

The end of the day, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do. But I’m not going to change who I am because it makes you uncomfortable.

So if it’s something you don’t want to follow anymore, I totally understand. But here’s the thing. My personal account.

I’m not selling you anything. I’m just trying to teach you how to win. And if you say you’re so pissed off at me, you don’t want to follow me, who are you really hurting?

I give it to whoever else wants to show up, right? It’s like I gave you the answers to the test. You’re like, no, screw you.

I hate you. I don’t want the answers. Fine.

Go work through it yourself. That’s totally okay by me. That’s my philosophy on that.

I love that. Don’t give up. Don’t give up, Chris.

We need you. We love your insights. I’ve learned loads from you over the years.

You know, in fact, I think, you know, there’s Instagram carousel things like that. I want to offer you that was totally your post on that. And that’s just one small insight listeners.

Like if you want to learn big stuff as well, you follow Chris. So, you know, hopefully you’ll get a couple more.

And Matt, I appreciate you saying that. And if you don’t want to follow me, that’s okay, too. You know, so many people, so many people think like your value in life is how popular you are.

And let’s get over it. I wasn’t popular in school when I was growing up. I was definitely not popular in high school.

So, hey, let’s just say I have a lot of years of practice not being popular. And look, I’m still all right. I’m still here.

It’s fine.

You’re all right. And I would say, although it’s all right with you, Chris, if people don’t follow you, it’s not all right with me and Jacob.

Put them in a headlock, will you?

Okay.

So, Jacob, we’ve got any more for Chris while we’ve got it?

I think that’s a great way to end it, actually, because it’s the real rags to riches story, and it shows you how the persistence and actually serving people can really grow your brand and elevate who you are as a person. And I think that would be a great note to end on. So thank you so much, Chris, for joining us on the show.

It’s a pleasure having you. Thank you for everything you do with the future. And anything else you want to say, Matt?

I just wanted to say, although you had those two regrets that you shared, I’m so pleased you didn’t take that job. And I’m really pleased that you started The Futur when you did, because I think personally, both those events that you mentioned have become a catalyst for who you are today. And we all respect and really appreciate all the effort that you put in to educating and lifting design, brand, mindset, creativity up in the world.

And we need that. So thanks so much, Chris, and thanks for your time today. We really appreciate you coming up.

It’s my absolute pleasure. And my parting words is, it is what it is.

It is what it is.

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