You can only work for people that you like.

In his talk, Ten Things I Have Learned, Milton Glaser hands down a list of axioms he earned through an amazing, life-long career in design. I recently rediscovered this document after it sat in a folder marked “save” for a few years. Instead of leaving it there I thought I’d share these “ten things” and add my own two-cents, maybe even a whole dollar.

So, here we go with Milton's first thought (more to follow):

01/10 — You can only work for people that you like.

This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because in fact at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realized that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.

During the formative years of Airbag as a design studio, many of our clients were fans of Airbag the blog. Our work was not representative of what I wrote about. That would have been an amazing cornucopia of client curiosities. Instead, we worked with people who were drawn to the tone and style I used to write in for many years (obviously that changed as I added employees who drew their own ‘audience’). Our culture was strong and it noticeably changed when we started to sign more and more clients who knew nothing about me or Airbag the blog. And, like Milton shares, the work grew more difficult because we didn’t have a relationship between us and our clients outside of the work itself. 

When I moved out of client services and into the Enterprise that feeling did not go away. It got worse the more distant I got from designers and the folks they were working for or with. During those times, my happiest memories and the work I am the most proud of have a direct correlation with the the type of relationship that I had with the people involved. And though I am a relationship guy, a diplomatic leader as Peter would say, it’s still not always possible to forge the type of relationship that Milton talks about, and it’s completely out of your control.

After ten years of being a partner and an employee at companies of all range in scale, from boutique studio to global enterprise, I made two decisions:

  1. I’m never going to work with or for someone who is not self-aware of their bullshit or refuses to get professional help for said bullshit.
  2. I am going to work with the people I want to work with because they mean something to me, no matter what we’re working on.

This is all still in prototype, as they say, but I’d rather go down with the ship surrounded by people I have affection for than any other way. To some extent I can work on anything as long as I’m working with people I care about and visa versa.