The title sounds a bit like a dichotomy, but it’s a little hidden gem at InterWorks we explore all the time. I personally believe the connection is something everyone seeks; my interest professionally is to find out how we pull more people into these connections. Equity and inclusion are some important values that are close to my heart. I tend to take on the mindset of “If you have it, share it,” and I try to live by that daily. At InterWorks, I love cultivating new ideas and sharing them with others.
Having Fun with Gratitude
It all started a few years ago. A friend and co-worker of mine told me about how his mother handled conflict between him and his two siblings: “When we would argue, she’d make us stop and sit down and write lists of what we liked about each other … it usually caused us to chill out and appreciate each other then move on.” We’ve all probably heard of the power of gratitude and the practice of expressing it often. One day, I came into our shared office and saw my name on our brainstorming whiteboard: “Things We Like About Jenny”. To my surprise, throughout the next few days as people passed by, they started filling in their thoughts:
I felt so touched by all of the personal comments and immediately wanted others to share this experience that I got. Fast-forward to our new office in Tulsa. We installed a whiteboard in the main break room/kitchen area, and every few weeks, we add a new name to our board and gratitude gets added. It’s a favorite pastime in the office (ya know, before the pandemic sent us all to work from home):
After a while, we started using our new community whiteboard for all sorts of other challenges. New year’s resolutions, favorite things about the fall season, our favorite animals. People also tend to get creative with their presentation and draw full-blown art pieces:
That got me thinking … what else can we do to share our ideas? I attended the 99u Conference in NYC in 2019. I attended a session from Ivan Cash who specializes in ideas around human connection. The workshop pushed everyone out of their comfort zone, including having attendees turn off their phones and work with a small group to build the highest phone tower we could. Then we also had to share our life story with a perfect stranger in five minutes. Ivan also shared this idea of the “Passenger Project”. With this, he takes a clipboard on a plane; the paper on the clipboard has some simple empty spaces and a prompt to “decorate a space based on the surrounding space or simply pass this to your neighbor,” as well as instructions on getting the clipboard back to himself at the end of the flight. I thought this was such a fun idea—non-intrusive and, honestly, unexpected. It was building art and a collective something. Maybe just building a momentary shared community amongst others with whom you only have a short time.
Building Culture and Connection as a Group
When I returned to the office, I tried this out on our whiteboard a few times. At first, most people wanted more rules. They wanted to know what the point was. But then someone just started drawing, and every time we went to the kitchen for a passionfruit La Croix or coffee, we saw new additions and more people were compelled to start contributing. Really there was no point beyond “let’s create something together.” Isn’t that we’re all doing at work and in life anyways?
I affectionately call these “whiteboard challenges”, which are a fun form of inclusive challenges.
Beyond our office, and now with a pandemic that has everyone working from home, I really started thinking about how we can make sure to include folks digitally. We have a number of hobby-based Slack channels. One that I am in is #hobby-music where we chatter about all sorts of music topics and share recommendations.
We started a tradition there of all sorts of inclusive challenges. Share your favorite covers, share your favorite songs that get you in the mood for summer, favorite rainy-day songs, favorite movie songs, and a new one this week – describe your music style with three emojis. This music channel has also led our team to integrate these interests into our work. Every year, we do the InterWorks version of Spotify Wrapped and combine the intel into our favorite viz tool: Tableau.
Above: Examples of challenges from our #hobby-music Slack channel
I take this mindset into marketing work all the time. We dig into customer insights, surveys, feedback. We look for forums where our customers might be hanging out and sharing what’s important to them. We forge connections based off of a common goal of gaining insight, trust and having some fun – together as a team. Group projects and meetings thrive on this shared experience, common interests and growth to new ideas. If you look at any of my other blogs, they’re usually centered around people, their connections and finding out how people feel.
Being Known and Affirmed Through Inclusion
So what’s the point of all of this? I think it’s the desire to share a part of yourself with others. To be seen and to grow into new ideas when you do share those parts of yourself. There is a discovery here that can be so special in a group format. The inclusive challenges also allow people to share and contribute on their own terms, in their own way, and it’s voluntary. I think we all can appreciate reminders right now that we aren’t alone. We want to know others and we want to be known. It takes inclusivity for us to reach those goals.
Take on the challenge of inclusivity and see what happens. When you think of the world as a shared experience and what you want to bring to your communities, the ideas can be limitless and help you get out of your own head for a while.