Tearing Down Silos and Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone, with George Brooks

August 8, 2020
PRODUCED BY POLLY YAKOVICH

George is a UX designer by trade and an entrepreneur by accident. He’s spent the past 10 years growing and evolving Crema, which started as an operation in the second bedroom of his home and has now grown to a 40+ person, multi-location company in the KC crossroads. His background is in digital design and all things UX, although, more recently, his focus has shifted to 1) new product experimentation through Venture Lab and 2) methods and ideologies for building successful product teams.

Over the years, George has helped craft health system websites, social networks for auto-parts, small business lending platforms, construction resource allocation software, and cybersecurity evaluation and automation tools. He’s also helped launch startups at SXSW and has overseen innovation projects as they took hold inside their corporate teams. This wide variety of work has shaped the way Crema thinks about product teams. It’s allowed their products and clients to grow into multi-million and even billion-dollar businesses.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How George's career path led to focusing on UX and the founding of Crema, and how they have grown to over 40 full-time employees with a focus on enterprise-level work
  • How George and his team learned to focus their content on the needs of their clients rather than on themselves, and how they work to create free resources that deliver value
  • Why content creation has helped the team at Crema build trust and strengthen relationships, and how the sales process has changed in response to content creation
  • Why growth is inherently uncomfortable, and why embracing many different perspectives and avoiding department silos is critical for not only growth but a strong culture
  • How Crema is structured to maximize collaboration, creativity, and efficiency, and how they teach their clients to use similar methods despite the initial discomfort
  • How "structures", "disciplines" and "postures" are three unique frames for various aspects of your business, with different challenges when attempting to change them
  • What steps you can begin to take now to change your way of thinking and adopt Crema's philosophies and strategies

Additional resources:  

 

Show Transcription:

Intro:

Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich:

Welcome back to Brave New Podcast. I am super stoked to have as my guest today, George Brooks, who is the illustrious cofounder, and CEO of Crema. And I'm going to totally botch this. I'm going to let George introduce himself, but Crema is a digital product agency. George himself is doing really amazing things, and has been releasing quite a few articles and speaking. So, I'm really excited to talk to you about that. George is a lover of cheesecake. Orders it every day-

George Brooks:

Twice a day.

Polly Yakovich:

... That I'm with him. When I get to see you.

George Brooks:

Have we had cheesecake together that much?

Polly Yakovich:

Just like two or three nights in a row. So, it really stuck in my mind.

George Brooks:

That's fantastic. I had no idea.

Polly Yakovich:

So, just give me the little bio about Crema, how you started, what you're doing, what you're excited about.

George Brooks:

Yeah. So, Crema started, man, a long time ago. So, we've been doing this for about 10 years. 12 years ago I was freelance designing, and I slapped UX on the front of my title, and then all of a sudden I started getting all this work because UX was super hot at the time.

Polly Yakovich:

Yes. That was a great time of year to slap UX at the front of your title.

George Brooks:

Oh, gosh. It was totally just like, "Oh, that sounds cool. U and X, who knew that those two letters could be next to each other?" And yeah, it really just spring-boarded us into getting to work with some cool companies in Kansas City. And then, I accidentally started getting more clients. I mean, I'm sure there was some intentionality there, but it just started to happen. And, I realized I had no idea how to run a business, like zero knowledge. I dropped out of college. What was I thinking? My kid was in the hospital at the time. I mean, there was a lot going on. It was like, "What have I done?" So, I immediately went to my best friends, Daniel and Hart and said, "You're finishing your MBA and you're much smarter than me will your wife let you work with me?"

George Brooks:

It's really like that's the basis of the conversation. And that was 10 years ago. So, we joined up and formed Crema, and pretty quickly had another designer and another developer on staff. And we were real small for a long time for, oh gosh, four or five years, no more than seven, eight people. And then 2015, I think it was, we leaned in and were like, "Hey, what if we grew a little bit?" That's when we doubled in size, got up to about 20, which hurt, and was hard, and we had to figure out how to do that. And then, we survived for another couple of years, and then we said, "What if we grew a little bit more?"

George Brooks:

And so, now we are just over 40 full-time employees. It's completely flipped from us building software, and technology, and designing user experiences for startups. And now almost exclusively, it's for enterprise innovation teams or in-house teams that are trying to build really cool efficiency tools, and new lines of business and stuff like that. So, yeah, that's the quick version. I can add flavor to that with my illustrious ... I liked the fact that you said illustrious when you describe me. I've never ever been described as illustrious and I-

Polly Yakovich:

Well, now you can put it on your resume.

George Brooks:

I'm just going to wear that around all the time.

Polly Yakovich:

I'm here for new adjectives for people. That's really my like main strength in life.

George Brooks:

I'll take it.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, let me know if you need to Polish up your resume, or your LinkedIn bio is more likely.

George Brooks:

Yeah, well, hopefully, I'm not job shopping right now.

Polly Yakovich:

Tell me about that first inflection point. Like what does that look like from an owner, accidental owner entrepreneurial journey when you're like, "Hey, what if we grew?" What kinds of things did you decide to do?

George Brooks:

Yeah, I think that was the first time I realized, I'm going to have to replace myself. And at the time I was doing design, I was doing strategy, product management, and really working with pretty much every client in-house. And it was the first time I think we brought on really a more of a design team and I started really handing off all the design work, which to be honest, that was the thing that was really hard. I was known as the designer, and I had to give that up to a certain extent, or I wanted to give it up to a certain extent. So, yeah, handing that off.

George Brooks:

I think as I did that, I had to learn how to do a bunch of other things. So, immediately it was like, "Oh my gosh, we have to feed this larger beast, which needs more sales, needs more deals coming in because our costs obviously went up, as our overhead did." So, it was all about figuring out how to get new clients, and how to build a team that worked well together because we were all young, and figuring it out. And I do think ignorance is bliss.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, absolutely.

George Brooks:

Do you know what I mean? And so, I think it was really helpful to be able to say, "We didn't know what not to do." So-

Polly Yakovich:

You tried a bunch of stuff.

George Brooks:

Yeah. We were just experimenting all the time. But the big one was how can I hand things off to people that aren't me? How can I hand clients off to people that aren't me? And that was the start of a long journey of trying to replace myself, and most of my client roles.

Polly Yakovich:

Would you say that you made decisions about marketing or business development ... What kinds of things do you think were the smartest things you did first in those areas?

George Brooks:

Yeah, so I had a mentor probably about that same time that I was talking to, because we were growing and I didn't know how much we wanted to grow, or if we wanted to grow. And he had grown a wildly successful company, several hundred people, tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year. And I said, "Well, what's the one piece of advice?" And he actually said, "Take pictures. Just take more pictures of what's going on around your office, and what it's like when you're four people, and then when you're six people, when you're eight people, and 12, and et cetera. And you're going to forget, you'll just forget what it was like when it was a smaller team. And so, take pictures." And it was about the time when YouTube was really exploding and we said, "Well, we could go further than a picture. Let's just start-

Polly Yakovich:

What about a moving picture?

George Brooks:

Yeah, let's just start a moving ... These crazy ideas. So, we started filming it, and it was very vlog style at the time that was becoming popular. And one of my guys on staff liked video editing. So, in his free time, he would spice together, and we'd ship a video every week, and we just said, "Let's just build a discipline of doing that every week." Who knows what will be in it? We never planned very well. We just shot. We occasionally go, "Oh, you know what? That's a good topic. Let's talk about that topic." But we just started producing content. So, really what we did was we said, "Let's build a habit."

George Brooks:

Just let's build a discipline of shipping frequently, and we'll get better at it over time. It's not going to be perfect. And looking back at our old videos, we have gotten better. But I think that was the first thing was just figuring out what's going to be our new habit routine that we need to tell the world we exist because all of our clients today ... And then still a lot of our clients do come this way, were through word of mouth or through referrals. And so, no one knew outside of a small circle here in Kansas City that we existed. And so, we needed to figure out how to tell the world that we existed, and what we were thinking about. And that's a very, very, very simple start was build a habit.

Polly Yakovich:

What do you think was the more important piece of it? Was it the content or was it the habit?

George Brooks:

The habit? No question. I hate to say that because I know that content is king, but I think that it was being willing to lean into the discomfort of creating a new routine. We got better at creating content, and even over the last few years we've said, "Yeah, the vlog running gun, we beat it to death, and we need to up our game. And so, we have a lot better planning process now. And of course we have a whole team around it now, but at the time it was, we don't really have enough time to craft content because we would do a client work. So, we just knew that we needed to do it. And so, shipping was the most important thing.

George Brooks:

And then of course we got better at saying, "Oh cool, that video could be repurposed into a blog, and how do we repurpose content?" That was the next step. But at very first it was just making a decision to take a step forward.

Polly Yakovich:

That's great. I think that's a really interesting conversation too because I see a lot of clients that we encourage to do content outside of what we're doing for them. Particularly, like organic posting, which nobody wants to pay their agency to do, nor should they really, because you are the one who can do that best. But then I do see a lot of clients falling into this trap of sort of overtalking about themselves. I think a lot of early marketing content like you were talking about, it does end up being really cultural and about you because there are lots of other things that constrain you.

Polly Yakovich:

You're spending all your time on client work. It's easier to produce content that's like, "Hey, look, we're walking around and see what we're doing." Is it just time? Was it the habit of doing it? How did you pivot from like this content that's about you, and how you're doing things to content that's like really valuable for your audience?

George Brooks:

Yeah. I think the biggest pivot was we started asking, what are the questions that are being asked the most in sales process? So, that was a really easy way for us to say, "Oh, multiple people have asked that question, let's make a video about it." And so, that was a great content creation tool or inspiration tool. And so, we started answering questions. And then it really became, "Oh, I wonder if we could review the tools that we're using." And the things that we know that our clients are stealing from us, in a good way, I wanted to say, "Oh, they're going to steal it from us anyway, let's just give it to them." Right?

George Brooks:

Like if they love the way that we think about X, Y, and Z, let's go ahead and train them how to do that. Because if we can give them value, they're going to come back to us as a trusted resource. And that, I think leaning into answering those questions was pretty easy, [inaudible 00:10:16] we still struggle to figure out, "Okay, we've talked about the same process. We talked about the same tools. We don't want to be an ambulance, chaser ... " Which I can talk about at some point. But how do we lean into what's next in the content game?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, that's hard.

George Brooks:

Yeah, it is.

Polly Yakovich:

Talk to me, I want to come back to that, but talk to me a little bit about decisions. And I'm sure in the beginning they were financial, but you've talked a lot about building up your marketing capabilities in-house rather than hiring somebody to produce content for you. Talk about that decision and how that's worked out for you. It feels that you have done that really well.

George Brooks:

Well, yeah, I mean, on the surface it does look like that way.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, great.

George Brooks:

Yeah. I mean, you're always kicking under the water, right?

Polly Yakovich:

Yes.

George Brooks:

I think we did run a lot of experiments early on. So, one of the big things that we did was we did work with some external agencies that were friends, either for trying to buy ads, or trying to maybe ghost write for us, that kind of stuff. And the biggest challenge was what we do is pretty nerdy. And so, it was really difficult for someone who is not as familiar with the nuances of how we do what we do to go straight for us. There was a few articles that came back and we said, "Okay, cool. We can basically edit those down to what we need, and that they got the bulk of the work done." But it just wasn't ever our voice. And Crema is such a unique place that we just knew that we needed to own our voice.

George Brooks:

I felt that we needed to own our voice. I think that's what it came down to. And I think that was the biggest key. So, as we started to say, "Okay, cool, let's do this in-house." It was just me writing an article, or Dan writing an article, or a dev, or a designer writing something about what they knew. Okay. But that was restricted by time because God-willing we're all booked with client work, we're billing hours, right? That's how we make money. But we actually had the opportunity to bring an intern in about the same time that that original video editor was leaving our company, and there was an intern that was working with us, and she was just rocking it. She was super great, and humble, and confident to like just be able to say, "I can do this."

George Brooks:

And we had a lean setup, like just a little point and shoot camera, and no fancy mics or anything. And she was willing to say, "I'll shoot it, I can edit it down." She was learning Premiere really fast. And what ended up happening was we said, "Oh this is really nice to have somebody full-time dedicated to this. Are we willing to, again, lean into the pain financially to invest in someone being here all the time?" And that was our first hire, actually, was video production. And then I still acted as a director for that activity. And then over time what we've done is we've taken it as we can, and leaned in and said, "Well, what would be really nice is if we had somebody who really oversaw how to distribute this content everywhere, and how to think about the strategy behind that, and how to maybe get better SEO standing."

George Brooks:

So, Gabby came on as a marketing specialist, and then we've now since added the last intern that we had last summer, and we had a copywriter who again was just crushing it. She was just really getting our voice. And so, we decided to bring her on. So, right now we have three full-time production people on our growth team. And then we have a ... I moved one of our salespeople actually over to being a project manager for that team. And then I get to be the client now, which is fun, and also ... Again, like I have to let go.

George Brooks:

But I get to be the client to them as they pick my brain about where it could go, and maybe have ideas that they want to bring me about where they think it should go. And it's an awesome and fun collaboration.

Polly Yakovich:

That's great. And I think you really are embracing what we talk about in inbound marketing, which is like content to help your audience.

George Brooks:

Yes.

Polly Yakovich:

Just fully helpful bringing people in through engaging helpful content.

George Brooks:

We truly believe that we can create ... I'm always like, I guard myself from being this lofty, but I honestly think we can help people do the best work of their lives. And if that's the case ... And it may be in a product team, and maybe in some other team, I'm not exactly sure yet. But as we think about the content that we're putting out, as we think about the things that we're even showing off, it ought to be in a posture of this is so you can do better work. This is so you individually, your team, or your organization can flourish and thrive. I mean, we'll all win if we're all lifting each other up that way.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. I totally agree. I feel like we're very like-minded that way. Like if your hand is open and giving, then you'll always get it back.

George Brooks:

That's exactly right. It's exactly right. It's not perfect, and we still are experimenting, and we're still learning. And just trying to figure out what's the right thing at the right time. But it's been a lot of fun. A lot of fun.

Polly Yakovich:

How does that fit in and fill your sales engine, your business engine? Like what is unique for you about marketing a service-based company versus a product? Like how do you approach using that as a sales engine?

George Brooks:

Yeah. I will say, the internet has very, very little information about how a service-based, especially, a high-end professional service-based company should do marketing. There's tons of content about how product people should do marketing, but service-based companies, there's just not a lot out there. So, for us it has been a really long play. If I'm honest, it took us really two years of cranking out content that actually at first was a pre-qualifier. So, someone would be talking to us through another channel, usually another door, or window that they came in through, and then they would go, "Oh, while we've been talking to you, we went and checked out all your content, and now we trust you even more."

George Brooks:

So, it was just a rapid trust builder, but it was part of the existing conversations, these weren't net new conversations. Really it wasn't until the early part of last year when the whole team had come together, and we were funnily investing totally in that, that we started to see net new leads coming in through inbound content. Again, if somebody's going to spend 50, 60, up to several hundred thousand dollars building software, they don't click buy now on a website. Right?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, 100%.

George Brooks:

And so, how do we build enough trust, and create the right space for them to lean in, and say, "I'm interested, and I'm willing to have the next conversation." And I think that's been really fun to see that actually clicking in. It's maybe not at the volume that we want now, and we're always going to feel that way. I'm always going to want more, right? But I think the most fun example of that is we had a sports brand who we have no connection to, there's no referral there, they reached out to us and said, "Hey, we've watched your entire YouTube channel."

Polly Yakovich:

Oh my gosh.

George Brooks:

And we were like, "Wow."

Polly Yakovich:

You're like, "No, the whole thing?"

George Brooks:

Yeah, and they were just like really in, and they said, "We love, love the way you guys think." And then it was, "Cool. Tell us about your project. Tell us about the software you want to build." And they said, "No. We have in-house teams." And then it was this awkward like, "Well, what do you want?" They said, "No, we want you to help us look like you." Which then of course we've done this, this is like consulting, and strategy work, but I've never heard anybody say it that way. And so, we ended up doing a longterm engagement with them where we still continue to work to help them shape their teams. And without that YouTube channel they would have never known we existed.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. That's exciting.

George Brooks:

Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

How has your sales process changed as the inbound or the content engine has gotten up and running? How does that interaction work? Any lessons learned for people there?

George Brooks:

Yeah, that's a great question. So, we have that growth team that we talked about, and what we'll do is we actually run like an Agile team. So, we run two week sprints on that team, and during our Agile Sprint Planning where we'll do a retrospective looking back at the week that we just had, and then plan out what our initiatives are for the next two weeks, the sales team will be involved. So, I have two full-time sales people, and they'll actually be in that meeting. And they'll be talking about, "Here's the leads that actually pan out. A lot of these were duds." And that happens. That's just normal work, normal sales. "And we're getting these types of requests right now, which is good, but we really need more development projects or we really need more full stack projects." What that might be.

George Brooks:

And so, then we can start to shift our content strategy or what they'll say is, "Hey guys, we're actually in a good spot right now, but about three months from now, we're going to have a empty spot where people would be on the bench because projects are going to wrap up. And unless we upsell those clients." Which we're always trying to do, "There's potential, there's a gap there." So, we start looking ahead, and we say, "Okay, well, who's going to be in the gap?" And it's going to be a pretty design and strategy heavy gap. Okay, cool. I'm going to start pushing content three months out that's for design and strategy. At least that's what we're trying to lean into. And I think it's working. I think we've still got some tweaking to do-

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, that's great.

George Brooks:

But that's the stage that we're at where we're trying to think not about the, "Oh I need to publish an article right now so I can get a client for the work that we need today." And instead saying, "I need to produce content that's actually going to pay off for me in three to six months."

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. I think that environment that you're describing, I just read an article that you recently posted about teams about cross-functional teams, and I think that that environment you're describing, I think to lots of people listening is like, that sounds crazy. None of those people would be in the same conversation and meeting together.

George Brooks:

Oh, do you want me to nerd out for a second?

Polly Yakovich:

Yes. Yeah, bring it.

George Brooks:

Because I would totally, totally disagree. I just actually had an opportunity to give a talk the other night. And this is the exact same response that like three or four people after the talk came up and said, "Hey, that was very inspirational and completely not possible."

Polly Yakovich:

Yes.

George Brooks:

And I said, "Oh, funny. That's how I've run my company for the last 10 years. So, tell me why it doesn't work where you work?" And the number one thing I find is that people are not willing to lean into the discomfort because it is uncomfortable to sit with people that aren't like you. But just like our body is a complex system that takes in lots of information through all five of our senses, we're getting all these different perspectives that allow us to basically stay alive, and to hopefully flourish. So, yes, technically, my body's telling me I'm hungry and I will eat to not die. But I hope that I get to have a great meal and I can flourish eating it. Right?

Polly Yakovich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

George Brooks:

So, there's this two sides of it, but it's all coming from the fact that I've got multiple perspectives coming in. And if you are working in a siloed department that is only focused on one activity, their lens or their perspectives are extremely limited. And so, yes, they may be surviving or helping the organization or the team survive, but they're not flourishing, they're not thriving. And what ends up happening is that your process becomes incredibly slow because you're throwing things over walls. No one really knows why it got tossed to you. You don't really believe in the purpose. And so, you're going to let it sit-

Polly Yakovich:

It's too hard to walk down the hall to another room.

George Brooks:

I mean, you didn't even walk over to the other place for a podcast studio.

Polly Yakovich:

Exactly.

George Brooks:

So, yeah, I mean, people don't like being uncomfortable, but the most growth, and the most rapid results come through making decisions and moving forward. And the best way to do that is if you have the informed perspective. And so, when we're working in a cross-discipline team, not only do you have the traits, and the crafts, and the skills represented to actually get things done, but you also have the perspective so that when you make a decision, you have the informed buy-in of the people that will actually have to do the work. So, that's truly what Agile preaches, but almost no company does it. And so, we preach it hardcore that cross-discipline teams are and should be the future of how all people are doing work.

George Brooks:

That we should be sitting next to each other. So, the example I gave in this talk was a guy said, "Well, my leadership doesn't have it set up that way." And I said, "Well, break the rules. Go take your chair. Go roll it down the hall. Go pull it up next to the guy ... " Whether it's a designer, a developer, a project manager, whatever, "Go pull it up next to their desk. Who cares if they're in a cubicle, and squeeze in there, and work with them. Work right next to them for even if it's just for a few hours, get their perspective, see or feel the empathy of what they're going through right now, and then start to create new disciplines of how to work that way."

George Brooks:

So, on the flip side of that, the risk there is that now you have these cross-discipline teams that actually have like little micro silos. So, each person now is going, "Well, I'm the only designer here. I'm just losing my creative juice, and I don't know how to think better on content writer, and I'm all by myself."

Polly Yakovich:

"I only learn from other designers. I can't be inspired."

George Brooks:

Yeah, exactly. And so, we actually do say there's two groups. There is the product team, and then there's the craft team. Product team is where you're doing your work. It's the cross-discipline team that's actually moving an initiative forward. And then there's the craft team, which is ... It could be inside your company or outside your company, but it's where you go find other people of the same skill and say, "Hey, I want to get better. Can we do this together?" And so, you spend time on a regular cadence, no less than a couple of times a month, meeting, sharing what you've learned from your experiences, consuming what they've learned, and then getting better. And then taking that back to your cross-discipline teams.

George Brooks:

And I think that rhythm of going in and out from cross-discipline to craft I would say is where I can't think of an industry or a company that ought not work that way. And I'm pretty bullish about saying we should just destroy the vocabulary departments and just go to working this way.

Polly Yakovich:

Absolutely fascinating. Do you think even with smaller companies you can still start working this way?

George Brooks:

Yeah. I mean, that's how we started at the beginning. Because partly it was like, "I need to fill in gaps."

Polly Yakovich:

One of each of you. Yeah.

George Brooks:

Yeah, exactly. But then as we realized, "Oh, this works really good that we're sitting right next to each other." We said, "What we need is we just need another team just like this." So, then it's about figuring out how to hire up that way. There is an imbalance, right? The balance won't always be perfect that you're perfectly cross-disciplined in like it's a five point star, and then you have another five point star because you hired all five people, it just doesn't happen. That's not reality. But if your purpose is that, if your goal is that, then you can move towards thinking of how to work that way.

Polly Yakovich:

That's amazing.

George Brooks:

I'm going to control myself. I could go more, but that's ... I'm going to control-

Polly Yakovich:

But this is a nerdy question, but then what do you do for reporting? Do you report up in your team structure? Do you report within your craft?

George Brooks:

Oh, team structure. So, the craft again is more professional development, and continuous learning. The reporting structure for us is all based through the cross-discipline team. So, they do reporting a little bit different than coaching. So, coaching is at least in our company, our craft teams for coaching and one-on-one purposes, they report in that way to a craft lead or a director of their craft. But it's purely to say, "Are you flourishing in what you're doing? Do you feel like there's an area where you can grow or where you can learn? How are you feeling right now?" We actually talk a lot about feelings around here, which-

Polly Yakovich:

That's great.

George Brooks:

... Not everybody ... I mean, especially, in technology company, it's a little uncomfortable. But one of the first questions I ask in my one-on-one is, I'll give them a chart of feelings, which is for some people it might be their own personal health, but it's like, "Here's all the feelings you could potentially have, name two." So, you're not binary. You don't feel one way. So, I could be ... Actually the one that comes up the most is I'm excited, and I'm anxious.

Polly Yakovich:

Fascinating.

George Brooks:

And so, excited and anxious actually is a similar part of the brain that's firing off. Those two emotions live very close to each other, but almost always they say, "I'm excited about what we're working on, excited about what we're doing, but I'm anxious. I'm not sure we're going to be able to pull it off. I'm not sure I'm qualified to do it." And et cetera. That's a great place to live. If you're excited and anxious, you're probably in a pretty ... It's like good, and hard. Yeah. It's like those things can live right next to each other really well.

George Brooks:

But then the followup question really easily is, why do you feel that way? Because immediately they go, "Oh, well, it's because of this circumstance." Or it's because of something outside of work. Which then is affecting their ability to do their job. So, now we're focusing on people actually doing great work so that we can get to the outcome of whatever our business does.

Polly Yakovich:

Right. That's amazing. Ah, so much to think about. What do I-

George Brooks:

How does that tie back to marketing?

Polly Yakovich:

Well, the thing for me, even in the department conversation is every organization is different, and you have a lot of really technical people. And I think what you're saying makes a lot of sense. I think even if I think about my business, a marketing agency, like a classic marketing agency in some ways I think of the ... And I mean this with all love to creative people, but the people who would like raise their hands, and cry, and scream the most are the creative department. They're the graphic designers, and the content creators-

George Brooks:

So, true.

Polly Yakovich:

... And the writers. They're not going to like it. They're going to say that they can't learn from one another. They're going to get behind in their skill, and their craft. I do like the idea of giving them that cross-function with the craft, but it's just so unfamiliar to people. My mind goes to how I would execute it.

George Brooks:

So, one of the things that we just talk about is like pick a spot, and move forward. Right? So, it is leaning into saying, "We're going to try doing this maybe in a small way at first." So, maybe just on one project, or on even with something internally. So, let's figure out if we can come together in a cross-disciplined way, internally, so that we can try this. What I have found is that the results are so exciting to most people after they get past their discomfort, that they then sell it to their peers. Not always. It depends on personality. And there's a lot of tricks and tips around giving people voices that normally wouldn't be the ones to speak up about what they like or don't like about it.

George Brooks:

But, yeah, if you can actually prove the results, then they're going to go share that, and that works with our clients as well, cause we oftentimes they'll say, "Here's how we work. If you want to work with us, this is what it's going to look like." We adapt a bit depending on the climate. We have a purpose. We have a process of the way we like to work. And almost always at a certain percentage of the way through the project, they go, "Oh man, I wish the rest of our company worked this way."

George Brooks:

And that's again, at first they're like, "You mean I don't get to use email anymore?" "No, we're going to communicate through Slack, and through Zoom calls." "Okay. That's not normal. I don't like that." But as you lean in and say, "Just give it two weeks." I used to joke that getting used to a new operating system ... This is such a nerdy analogy, but if you switch from Mac to PC or by vice versa, that it would take at least two weeks to get comfortable with it where you're like, "Okay, I know where to click. I'm familiar with how to open something." And then you start to just ... It becomes part of your routine. It's now a new habit routine.

George Brooks:

And I think it's the same with work, or with a new process, or a new way of doing things. Just like with the video, it was like, "We have to lean in to say we're going to ship a video every week." The first couple of weeks it was like, "This is hard, and we don't have time." And then you get to the rhythm, you're like, "Oh no, we can carve a couple of hours here and there." And the next thing you know it's just a part of what you do.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Talk to me about how ... It seems like a lot of the ways that you work are very core to your brand. And it seems that you are really differentiated by saying to clients, "This is the way we work. This is how you're going to do it." Really carving up these spaces, everyone should work this way. Departments aren't as effective. How have you found that those brand differentiators, or the way that Crema is has really allowed you to grow? Because you're not always trying to figure yourselves out. You're really trying to find people who fit you well. Do you think that's true?.

George Brooks:

Yeah. And you named it. You named it. That's it. I mean, and it's not perfect, but it's a discipline of saying, "We have found a really great way to work, and by us creating efficiencies, you client get to benefit from that." So, if I adapt to you, I'm actually going to be slower because of that, and that's fine, but you want something done fast, and nobody ever wants things done slow, well, most of the time.

Polly Yakovich:

You're right.

George Brooks:

But if I go do this custom way for you, I'm not going to actually be able to serve the next person at the speed that we all are getting it. This is the same thing when we're building like a SaaS product. So, software as a service product for somebody, and they will almost always want to say, "Hey, we got one client, and that client's giving us lots of feedback. And we just want to serve them. So, we're going to do everything they say." And they start customizing this tool to that one client. Now, they go to try to sell it to somebody else and nobody else wants that custom tool, that was customized to that client. So, now you don't have a tool that can scale. And I think the exact same thing is true for a service-based company.

George Brooks:

If you don't lean into saying, "We have a proven process, the way that we do things, or at least a confident process." You can't scale across multiple clients. You can't create efficiencies in and of yourself. And then when you go to sell something or when you go to do something, you're not confident that you're actually doing it the right way because it's different than the way you did it last time.

Polly Yakovich:

Do you think that ... I mean, you're a very forward thinking, forward service for clients. Do you think that people buy that more because of you or because of the product they're trying to-

George Brooks:

That's a question. I would hope ... Yeah, I'm not exactly sure. I mean, I think maybe I'm a little spoiled in the fact that I've only been able to see that through my own lens. I think people want confidence, I think really people want to be able to trust someone else. And confidence is unfortunately a pretty quick trust builder. It's also a great way to destroy trust if you actually don't follow through. But if you are able to follow through with that confidence and it leads to building trust, which is consistency over time, now you have the opportunity to say, "Yeah, you can work this way, and it will happen."

George Brooks:

It does take asking them to lean in. It's one of the reasons we say, "Our first strategy sessions we'd love for you to step out of your building, come spend time with us here or at a third party place." Because the way you think inside your building is part of your habit routine. And we're new, we're going to change part of that habit routine. And we want you just to jostle yourself for a second. Yeah. And I'm sure there is a certain aspect of, we're working with innovation teams. We're working with people that are tasked to go build something new so they know they have to think differently.

George Brooks:

But we've worked with some pretty traditional companies as well. Especially, like engineering or manage consulting where they have their processes down. And they've been that way for 150 years. So, it's definitely slower. We talk about structures, disciplines, and postures. Two seconds on this, so, structures, disciplines, and postures. We've already mentioned postures, which is how are you feeling? What's your mindset? How are you thinking about the work that you have to do? Disciplines, we mentioned as well, what are the disciplines? The rhythms of the things that you do over and over and over again. And then structures are, what are the things that are hard to change?

George Brooks:

They may be good or bad, it doesn't really matter. It's just that they're hard to change. So, for example, an office space is really a structure. Moving offices sucks, and so, people don't do it very often. It stays that way most of the time. Your mission, vision, values, those should be structures that are really like hardcore. They don't change very often, but also people's disciplines, and the way they're working, and where they sit, and how they think, and when they check email, those become structural. They become calloused over time.

George Brooks:

And moving that structure or moving that way of thinking just takes a little bit longer. Moving those structures takes a little bit longer than maybe trying to say, "Hey, would you try new discipline for me? Can we just try maybe jumping on a call every morning at 9:00 AM to do a little, quick standup?" That new discipline, suddenly then you start to go, "Hmm, I'm thinking a little different, and this got me in a different position in my body." So, my postures is ... See what I'm saying? And then slowly their structure starts to change with that. And so, I think those are the levers we pull on to get people to change over time. Even when new employees come in, they're like, "I don't like working like you do. This is uncomfortable."

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Especially, if they've worked in other environments.

George Brooks:

Yeah. And they want autonomy. Most people want autonomy until they actually have it, and then it feels really uncomfortable. And so, it's like leaning in to say, "Hey, you got this. We trust you. We actually do trust you. I'm not going to micromanage you. If you expect to be micromanaged, you should probably go work someplace else." So ...

Polly Yakovich:

It sounds like very practical for everyone. Do you feel like the way that you think about it teams, this structured discipline process, do you find it's really resonating with people?

George Brooks:

I think we got something. I really do. I was talking to my wife about this. She works as a nurse actually in a massive hospital. And she said, "Yeah. I mean, we deal with the same stuff as a nursing unit that has 120 nurses, and we're dealing with some of the same ... Our disciplines need to shift and we have structures." Of course, they have compliance, and safety structures that cannot move, right? They have certain protocols that have to be met. Okay. Name those protocols, put that structure in place, and then think about how your disciplines and postures change around it. Because she talks about our culture's terrible, and the people they're bored, or they're mad, or they're frustrated, or they're whatever. And if you look at it, you go, "Oh, it's because their posture's wrong, or their disciplines ... "

George Brooks:

Well, of course, I'd be frustrated if I was doing that over, and over, and over again. Do you have to do that? That policy doesn't have to change, but could you do it a different way. And so, she's picked up on some of that, although, she probably doesn't want to admit that she has, but so, she's picked up on a little bit-

Polly Yakovich:

No, never.

George Brooks:

So, I do. I do think that this is ... I'll be honest, as we've been using this vocabulary, I find myself thinking about it with my kids. I find myself thinking about it with my faith. I find myself thinking about it with my workout schedule. I'm like, "Oh, I need to lean in to tear some muscles where it's going to hurt so I can get stronger. I need to create a new discipline, a routine, which is going to suck for the first two weeks." Because no one likes working out for the first two weeks. But then I know that a habit will start to form. I'll get more comfortable, and the structures of literally my muscles will change. And so, I'm going to be capable of doing more. I can ride my bike farther, I can whatever. I think it works.

Polly Yakovich:

I'm really intrigued. And I also think the way that you're talking about it all makes everything feel like if you can remove some of the like chaff, for lack of a better word, then you can get faster. And not faster for faster sake, but faster learning cycles, faster moving out of all of the garbage in my brain that I'm thinking about and just jumpstart into something new.

George Brooks:

I mean, it's basically removing bureaucracy.

Polly Yakovich:

Who doesn't want that?

George Brooks:

Internal bureaucracy like our own blockers or our leaders as being ... I think leaders are the number one bottlenecks of any organization. This is the reason I've been replacing myself. How can we create a space where you give people the trust, and autonomy, and the cross-discipline decision-making power so they can move something forward?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Or even try and fail, and learn, and then be able to pick it back up again.

George Brooks:

So, there's another part of this, I won't go through the whole thing, but basically, the idea is if we're able to pay attention more, and then pay attention to what we're paying attention to ... So, how do we tune our minds to be focused on seeing the problems we need to solve about working better together? So, we pay attention. It's like when you go to buy a car and you finally pick out the car you want, and then you just see it everywhere. Like, "Man, why am I seeing Outbacks everywhere?"

Polly Yakovich:

Because you live in Seattle. Just kidding.

George Brooks:

Yeah, I pulled that one out for you. Although, my wife really does want an Outback. So, yeah, you're paying attention. So, this is a passive activity. You're just tuning your mind. The more active activity is that you're collecting ideas. Now, we're pulling in inspiration. So, for you, on content, you're pulling out, "Oh, I really like the way that other company position themselves, or I really liked that blog post the way they wrote it, that tone of voice." Or for us it's, "I liked that UX, or I liked the way that they built that product." So, we're collecting ideas. And we're then moving into making a decision about how we might experiment with those ideas.

George Brooks:

So, for me, it's a lot about how we work. So, it might be saying, "The new experiment will be that we need to have an outline before every video that we ship." So, I have to have an outline. I can't just wing it anymore. I have to have an outline before I actually produce a video. So, that's the new experiment, right? And then what you do is you run the experiment. Of course, you iterate. That's lean. I'm not going to kill that but what you find is success or failure, you've learned something, right? And most of the time we learn more from failure, but I think there's one more step, and people miss this. And this is what I'm trying to do myself. And I think what you're trying to do with your podcast is once you figure out a success or a failure, you need to go teach it, you need to go share that data.

George Brooks:

The scientific community does this really well. They'll have a hypothesis. They run the hypothesis, they test it, they then get the results, and then they write a white paper about it, and they share it with the scientific community. We don't do that as business people very well but we need to get better at saying, "Not only was this a success, but oh by the way, don't do it this way, because it failed for us. Or at least this is what the conditions were when we tried it and it didn't work." Share that. And as you share it, you get way more confident. So, like, even as I'm using these three-pillar vocabulary, I'm getting more confident each time I say it.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Well, when you share it, you get real time feedback. Like, "Wow, that's amazing. I should try that. Or I don't think this part would work for me, but these two I'm really attracted to."

George Brooks:

Yeah. That landed. And that pers ... Their face didn't move when I said that. Okay. I'll try different next time. Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. That's amazing. What would you say as an experiment, so for anyone out there who is in maybe a different field, or thinking about what you've talked about, I have a lot to go away and think about from what we just talked about. And you and I have talked about this before.

George Brooks:

Yeah. Right.

Polly Yakovich:

What is an experiment or a small thing that somebody can do to take a baby step into this way of thinking?

George Brooks:

Yeah. I think it-

Polly Yakovich:

Whether it's in their workplace, or their home life.

George Brooks:

Yeah. I think the first thing is to ... Really it comes back to that pay attention. One thing I do love about lean is it talks about their methodology where you step back and you survey your situation. And so, I think paying attention or even maybe documenting what's going on around you is a really good exercise. I did this really nerdy thing where I documented absolutely every habit that I have in my day down to when I take a shower, I wick the water off my body before I get out of the shower. Then I would dry off my left arm, then I dry off my right arm, then I do my hair, then I go to my bo ... And I do it the same way every single time.

Polly Yakovich:

That's amazing. How many? Did you count them?

George Brooks:

Oh yeah, I mean, I probably could have gone deeper, but it was over 100 and 200 things-

Polly Yakovich:

Habits.

George Brooks:

... That I do literally every single day.

Polly Yakovich:

Fascinating.

George Brooks:

I make my eggs the same way every morning. I pour the orange juice to the same level every day. I mean, it's crazy. And I think by taking inventory you can start to say, "What in this routine do I wish or what I long to be different? Where do I think that I could create a space where I will flourish, and I will thrive if things were a little bit different?" And I think, so often we just assume things are the way they are, and they're always going to be that way. And whether it's in your workplace, or in your personal life, or in your parenting, or in your marriage, or whatever, it is that way, and it's just going to be that way forever. Nothing's going to change.

George Brooks:

That's only because we have this fear of stepping into saying, "Okay, that area right there, I would love to change that, or I'd love to do something different there." And it's impossible to introduce a new habit routine without replacing an existing one. So, you have to be willing to say, "I'm going to give up this one thing that I do every day." Maybe it's eating eggs every morning. I'm going to give up eating eggs every morning so that I can replace it with whatever. Right? I'm not going to give up my two eggs every morning, I love my eggs.

George Brooks:

But I think it's just as simple as that. Pay attention, and then maybe document what's happening. We just got done with the session here at Crema where we documented all the key processes here at the company, and said, "What are the four to nine that are going to be the most important things as we try to grow again over the next three years?" Okay. We just took inventory. Now, we need to make decisions on what to do with that, but we took inventory.

Polly Yakovich:

That's amazing. Thank you so much. This has been very rich. I have to go away, and think about everything that you talked for a minute.

George Brooks:

Go for a walk.

Polly Yakovich:

I know. I really am thinking about the way we structure our teams, so thank you for that.

George Brooks:

Good.

Polly Yakovich:

I am asking everybody one question at the close of the podcast which [crosstalk 00:44:54]-

George Brooks:

Cool.

Polly Yakovich:

... So, fun, and also illuminating. But if you could hone into one thing, what would you say is your super power?

George Brooks:

Oh, this question. I'm terrible at these questions. Okay. What's the first thing that comes to mind? I think my super power is learning about new people really, really fast. So, my wife will give me crap because I come home ... Crap. She just pokes at me with it. So, I'll come home from like go to the grocery store, and she'll be like, "So?" And I'm like, "Yeah, the guy that was bagging he's going to college, and he's going to be studying this, and he's probably going to graduate in two years."

George Brooks:

But [inaudible 00:45:38] I don't know that he knows what he wants to do with it yet. And I'm like, "You learned that while the guy was bagging your groceries?" Right? I love people. I just love people. And I love trying to figure people out, I'm trying to help them and yeah, I love people. So, I think that's my super power.

Polly Yakovich:

That's a great super power. Tell everyone where they can find your writings, thoughts, musing, follow you, what are your deets?

George Brooks:

The deets? Yeah, I mean check out crema.us, it is the company. And then Option Five is our podcast that we've been really exploring a lot of these ideas over the last year. And Option Five is this idea of say yes, lean into it, and figure it out. So, you can learn more about it on the podcast. Check out our YouTube channel Crema. If you search Crema Lab is our YouTube channel, and we've got over 150, 200 videos there. Yeah. Follow us on Twitter. I'm pretty much Crema, search us for Crema. There is two other Crema ... Actually there's three other Cremas. There is a Mexican sour cream that supposedly is very good.

Polly Yakovich:

It is actually really good. [crosstalk 00:46:48].

George Brooks:

Yeah, there's actually a coffee startup in San Francisco and Seattle, I think, called Crema.

Polly Yakovich:

That's [crosstalk 00:46:57].

George Brooks:

And then there's a really great coffee shop in Nashville called Crema. We're not any of those. We are the-

Polly Yakovich:

I feel like the differentiation is easy to spot. If you're getting a food product, you're in the wrong place.

George Brooks:

Although, we did have to put on our front door of the office because we have a retail space, we're not a coffee shop, but we do love great coffee. And then we put really ridiculous prices for coffee, like a pour over is like $150, and a drip coffee is like $50. And we've had people legitimately like laugh and take pictures, and it was featured on a couple local things, but it was funny.

Polly Yakovich:

That's amazing. I love it.

George Brooks:

Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. It's been super valuable.

George Brooks:

Oh, boy, I love it. This is fun. This is cool.

Polly Yakovich:

Thanks.

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