I’m a developer. I spend my days building, coding, sketching, and making websites for some amazing organizations that are contributing to a better world. On the surface, you might think that’s it. Developers sometimes have a reputation of being the ones who hide in their corner all day, not wanting to talk to anyone, not wanting to come up for air, furiously clicking and typing away for hours, days, weeks on end to beat the deadline.
I’ll be honest with you – that was me at one point. Then I joined the Case Foundation in 2010 to lead their digital technology team, and I learned about what really matters when we talk about “company culture.”
My time at the Case Foundation and Revolution, under the extraordinary leadership of Jean Case, who is now also Chairman of the National Geographic Society Board of Trustees and Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, taught me the true meaning of giving back and giving it your all – and how that manifests itself in company culture. I’ve taken those lessons with me to Creative Science Labs, and it’s something I look for when hiring new employees, when working with new partners, or even taking on new clients.
Here are a few of my biggest takeaways:
1. Be Fearless
I can’t talk about my time at the Case Foundation without talking about one of their biggest campaigns, Be Fearless. Jean’s set of five principles (Make Big Bets and Make History, Experiment Early and Often, Make Failure Matter, Reach Beyond Your Bubble, and Let Urgency Conquer Fear) was and is a rallying call to individuals and organizations alike who want to change the world in big and bold ways. Being fearless is never about being reckless, but about aspiring to make a difference in an innovative and authentic fashion.
After learning some amazing stories from the likes of Senator Harris Wofford, Barbara Bush of Global Health Corps, and dozens of individuals across the country fearlessly creating change in their communities, I felt empowered to embrace the principles every day. I felt that our entire team approached our work with a new perspective, with a deeply rooted common purpose, which ultimately made things a lot of fun!
2. Have a Seat At the Table
Perhaps one of the best “perks” of working for the Cases was that everyone literally had a seat at the table. Whether you were in your first job or you had 20 years of experience, you got to participate in planning and strategy sessions, create budgets and lead brainstorms, and even present to the board at the end of the year.
Jean and Steve value the opinion of every one of their employees, and they encourage them to pull up a chair, speak up, and come up with a plan. Because of this, I had the opportunity to be involved with some fantastic campaigns and discuss tons of ideas with people of all different backgrounds and perspectives. Find your seat at the table. Then speak up.
3. Make Your Case – and Stand By It
Pun not intended here. Time and again, I was encouraged to pitch an idea or project or platform and illustrate why it was worth experimenting. In an environment where pioneering and testing was the norm, this was refreshing and inspiring. What’s even better is that the entire team really did work as a team – each time someone had an idea, we rallied and supported each other to figure out how to make it happen – and if it didn’t, we embraced the failure and learned from it.
There are dozens of ideas that I staunchly pitched or fought for -- or even against -- and no matter the outcome, I felt I had the room to do so, because again, we were shown the value of it.
4. Relationships Matter
You wouldn’t believe the number of people that came in and out of the Case Foundation with stories of long-ago partnerships and experiences with Jean and Steve who were always ready to work with them again. The impact over the decades was immeasurable, and I was blown away at what everyone had accomplished.
When you work in a place where it’s truly a family, you will forge relationships that will last for life. You will always have a place to go, you will always have a mentor or a new business partner, or a new best friend. You will discover that when you work for a place where being fearless and really doing good is the priority, and where people matter, you take that with you everywhere you go thereafter. I know that I have allies in my former colleagues, and with the partners and vendors I worked with, too, and they know they have me in their corner as well. Your relationships with your colleagues are only as good as you make them. So make the most of it.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned while at the Case Foundation was how to be a leader, and how to confidently pursue my own goals, while supporting those around me. Today, Creative Science Labs thrives because we are fearless, because everyone has a seat at the table, because we stand up for our ideals and ideas, and because we create meaningful relationships. And I think we have a pretty great company culture because of it.