Studio Leadership and Direction During 2020: Endure or Adapt?

For anyone who follows my writing, it’s known I will often share internal communications I express within the studio. During this month, I listened to an a16z podcast entitled Growth in Turbulent Times. It showcases two core ideas during times of duress and recession — endure or adapt. What is written below is the communication and questions I shared with the studio right after. Before joining argo, and even while being a part of argo, these are the types of questions I asked myself in terms of how we stayed successful with our studio and within Europe. I strongly believe to stay relevant, you must always question your approach and value to customers.

I break the thoughts into two sections — clients and our studio. For clients, I address a potential issue with bringing in new business looking past COVID times. For our studio, I ask if we’re taking the wrong approach to endure in this pandemic situation, rather than adapt. There is no finite conclusion, but for those who are curious how good leaders may think of studio direction, this may give some insight.

Goor Morning Amsterdam,

Yesterday I listened to an episode of the a16z podcast on Growth in Turbulent Times, linked below. It essentially expressed companies are going through two paths — endure or adapt. https://a16z.com/2020/05/15/growth-in-turbulent-times/

It made me reflect both on our studio, and our clients, each of which I’ll speak to briefly below.

CLIENTS

For clients, I’ve thought the problem we now have with new business is that companies who often need our help (less innovative or struggle in technology) are the first to have difficulties during these times. They go into “endure” mode, cutting costs, but often don’t change their model. Cutting costs, of course often means cutting vendors.

For those companies who are heavily into technology and leverage its real power, specifically software at scale and speed, are thriving, and in no way need our help. They are also working in a slightly more adaptive model.

This bifurcation is setting up clear difficulties in our business development. It makes me wonder if this bifurcation will become even larger over time creating a longer term rift in our business development efforts.

This leads into the second point…

OUR STUDIO

We, as argo, have gone into endure mode. We have cut costs, looking to weather the storm. We are set up well and looking to come out the other side fine as business picks back up. However in continued reflection, I’m left thinking…. “But what if we’re wrong?” Or perhaps more appropriate “But what if we could be better”? I have heard this same question from clients as well.

What if the world on the other side looks completely different. We are preparing for a return to normalcy when we should be preparing for adaptation. Now, of course, chances are it won’t be different. The studio model, and consulting model, has long proven effective as it solves problems that have been consistent over decades.

So chances are, we’re safe… but that doesn’t stop me from thinking, what does adaptation look like? In Amsterdam, we adapted to a distributed world with relative ease, although it has proven difficult for several reasons which I will address in our Friday Morning Meeting. It has certainly showcased a better understanding for the importance of gathering.

I wonder if we’re so deep into our studio and consulting model, we can’t think of anything but the obvious. Will someone who is 17 years old now, and never worked in an agency, spot a different model that will thrive looking forward in ways we could never have foreseen.

I suppose this is exactly why companies hire us — to provide that perspective that they don’t have. But who provides that to us? How do we stay fresh? In the 5 years of this studio existing, we adapted our story and path multiple times — Lily, one of the first designers at Raft, will remember the failed and comedic “IoT period”. We have done so to always adapt and ensure survival. I have no doubt that instinct is still with us.

I offer this only as discussion. No actions, no changes. Nevertheless, if we don’t at least ask the question and ponder, I do feel we are doing a disservice to ourselves as designers, and us as a studio.

Thank you for your patience in reading.

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