This week brings my 6 month stint with Stokefire to an end…and what a 6 months it has been…My goal when I first took this internship, was to further improve on my existing skills, gain new experiences, and see how my topic of interest – Design Ethnography – can benefit a small Branding and Strategy firm like Stokefire. All this was to happen within a limited time frame since I would be in Washington DC for 6 months before my husband and I move to Scotland. I am about to attend the University of Dundee to pursue my Masters in Design Ethnography.
I think I have been given a tremendous amount of opportunity and insight here at Stokefire during the past 6 months, but more so, as things “never come as planned” (read below why this has much personal meaning to me) I have been given the opportunity to get a unique insight into the workings of an evolving and changing agency.
When I first started with Stokefire it was a growing company with about 10 staff members – they had just hired their first ever Creative Director, and everyone was working hard to move the company into new territories. Within a few weeks of starting here, it became more clear to the leadership that they needed to return Stokefire to its “strategic roots” – so within a couple of months and some re-structuring and re-focusing, the staff has now returned to three core team members (+me), and the focus of the work has shifted back to strategic branding.
I knew that in order to maintain my focus on the “Design Ethnography approach” during this time of change, I had to adjust and quickly shift my focus to match the situation. So I went from predominantly studying the relationship of Stokefire to its clients and partners, to observing and investigating the relationships and structures within the company and among its now very intimate (and extremely dedicated) core team members.
While I don’t think I need to share pages upon pages of field notes, I do think it is of value to share these key points I took away from this 6-months experience:
- Nothing comes as planned: Those who know me, know that this is a valuable lesson my “hippie-dad” taught me when I was very young and one idea that I live my life by. I am an extreme type-A personality, an uber-punctual German planner with multiple to-do notes and lists going at all times, so this is a hugely important lesson for me to remember, no matter how frustrating. Sometimes I shake my head at how my life has progressed in the past 10 years – I would have called anyone mentally-unstable had they tried to convince me 10 years ago that at age 19 I would immigrate to the U.S. by myself, live in South Dakota for 5 years to study Journalism, just to find my path at 27 and, after living in the deep South and now the East Coast, would return to Europe to study Design Ethnography in Scotland. But here I am. Every time I have a moment of “How the hell did I get here?” I look back at the last time I thought that and realize that yet again, every single event, whether it was great or devastating at the time, has led me to another pausing point for reflecting. And these moments of reflection make me see that even though nothing comes as planned, everything comes the way it should.
– In any given situation, for any amount of time – try to be as creatively and purposefully engaged as you can. Coming into this internship I knew that I would be here for 6 months, and no longer than that. Throughout the changes of the company and additional undulations that come with life I saw moments of my creative drive dwindling and looking back it would have been easy to slip and miss out on opportunities to be fully engaged. It is hard and exhausting and frustrating sometimes, but the process has once more reminded me that it is HUGELY important to yank yourself back into the present moment and engage with as many people as you can. And learn from them. Any second that you possibly can.
– Learn from the people you are surrounded by – directly and indirectly. This goes hand in hand with the previous point, but especially for someone like me, who is used to working independently (and fairly efficiently, if I may say so myself), it is important to take advantage of the many knowledgable people around you. Even if it is just 15-30 minutes here and there to learn something new. Everyone is a specialist in something and even if at first glance it looks like they don’t have anything specific to teach you of relevance to a current situation or project…they do. It is up to us individually to gather that knowledge from those who surround us and to make use of it. Learn as many things about as many different topics from as many people as possible.
– Be flexible – take evolving situations for what they are and learn from them. Again, when things are evolving, it is often easy to get lost in the flow and process of transitions and change. If you have the ability to step back and see the whole picture, it makes it a whole lot easier to make sure you are placed in the right position to deal with, and hopefully, guide change.
– Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I feel extremely lucky to have found this internship, but I think more than anything the greatly positive experience I have had here (and I hope the rest of the team has had with me here) was merely a combination of preparation and opportunity. I prepared for this step for months in advance and applied for an internship with a company that at the time, didn’t even have any openings and Stokefire saw the opportunity to explore a new field like Design Ethnography within Branding and Strategy and offered me this internship.
My last blog post was focused on the philosophy behind Ray and Charles Eameses’ design (AND life) and I need to borrow Charles’ words once more to make better sense of this experience. This is an excerpt from a speech Charles gave at the end of one of the famous Norton Lectures that Charles delivered at Harvard.
“I can never think that our pleasures, our rewards from the things around us, could ever possibly be diminished by additional knowledge about it. And the contrary is true. I heard Richard Feynman describe waves on the beach. He’s a particle physicist and he was describing the waves in terms of insights that he felt and knew about the reactions of the particles within the wave, the relationship between the molecules of water, what happened as the light came into it, the forces of gravity and the inertia [that] was taking place – and it was a description of a breaking wave because he had a tremendous appreciation of the exquisite beauty of what was going on, not only on the surface of the wave, but what was going on inside the surface of the wave and what had gone beyond to make that wave possible. It was a delightful thing and no better pleasure or experience could I wish you all.”
I am thankful for the experience given, the insights shared, the knowledge gathered, and the connections made. I feel that my attempt to focus on learning valuable workplace skills has led me back yet again to the very basics – observing and understanding human interactions and relationships.