99 Learnings From 99u

Hamza Khan, Bailey Parnell & Janakan Srimurugan at the 99u Conference in NYC.

The 99u conference was hands down the best professional development conference I’ve ever been to. That’s a fairly strong statement to open up with, isn’t it? But it’s true. The 99u experience was life changing for me. Maybe it was the content; maybe the people I went with; or perhaps the ones the ones I met there. Maybe it was the city of New York itself; or the inspiration that came from being surrounded by like-minded people, but either way, it was an amazing experience.

Opening reception at Highline Ballroom

For those who don’t know, 99u is a brand under the Behance & Adobe families. I have been following it for years and it has legitimately inspired the way I look at the world. It all started 3 years ago when Mr. Janakan Srimurugan (a co-writer of this piece) introduced me to who is now my favourite speaker, Simon Sinek, and what is still my favourite talk, “Why Leaders Eat Last.” 99u curates content driven by this sole quote:

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
— Thomas Edison

The blog is filled with content that focuses not just on ideas, but on making ideas happen; especially creative ideas. Yes, you have this great new project idea or a revolutionary app you know would change the world, but how do you get from idea to presentation? How do you get from “You know what would be cool?” to “You were right, this is revolutionary”?

*Enter 99u*

Hamza, who also writes for 99u, Janakan and I all work together at Splash Effect, a full-service digital marketing agency downtown Toronto with a niche in the education ecosystem. As many who work with a startup know, the words “You know what would be cool?” get uttered at least once a day. We love entertaining new ideas: new campaign or content ideas; new stories to tell, new strategies, etc. 99u (among our other tools) has helped us be the people who can also execute those new ideas we think up. So, you can imagine how happy I was when I was accepted as a delegate at the 2015 99u conference in what is now one of my favourite places on earth, New York City.

A few months after I bought my ticket, Splash Effect was accepted as the host of 99u Local Toronto (coming in September). I was even more excited when I found out that my colleagues and friends would also be joining me on this trip. This blog will be a collection of our experiences infused with some of my photos.

For all my fellow OCD companions, here is 99 Learnings From 99u…

Some pier.


Part 1 / Fuelling Collaboration & Innovation

1. Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone | If you aren’t uncomfortable or stressed, chances are that you’re probably stagnating. If your objective is growth, know that outside of the comfort zone is where progress happens. Hamza

2. Constraints Breed Creativity | Whether you’re limited by budgetary constraints or by hardware specifications, defined parameters cause stress but conversely help to inspire creative solutions. Hamza

3. You Have A Team For A Reason | Be open to the idea that someone else can do what you do and help make them really good at it thus freeing up more of your time for stuff you love. Don’t hoard the work. Bailey

4. Planning Isn’t an Afterthought | Preparation and planning can beat out talent if the talented are running in the wrong direction. Bailey

5. Outputs & Outcomes — We should not celebrate output. It is expected that we will complete what we set out to do. Celebrate outcomes, the byproducts of these outputs. Janakan

6. Step Up and Step Down — If you’re losing excitement in your role as a manager, you may want to consider stepping down into a role that excites you. Be open to the thought that someone could do your job better than you. Janakan

7. Plan Before Perspiring — Getting things done means giving things up. Plan before you perspire and don’t confuse your output with outcomes. Janakan

8. Project Warmth — It isn’t enough to say that you’re happy, or write that you’re feeling good. It’s important to use body language to communicate warmth as well. It’s a disarming quality that will inspire people to gravitate towards you. Hamza

9. Beware of The Perception Gap — Is what you’re saying matched by what you’re doing with your body? It’s important to synchronize your words and actions. Hamza

10. Team Dynamics Are Key | Create a sense of “us” within your team. You want people that are close and relevant to each other, like the Williams Sisters, but who still win and lose together. Bailey

11. Context is Key — It require time and effort, but letting people in on the bigger picture and “the why” is an effective way to make your ideas happen. Hamza

Part 2 / Rewiring Your Mindset & Avoiding Burnout

12. Put Humans First | Remember that what we all do is for humans, whether that’s a product they buy, a service they use, or simply something they look at. We are looking for the human responses to the work we do, so prioritize those human metrics beside your cold data. Bailey

13. We Are Not Our Twitter Bios | Though it may be hard to separate the two (and I definitely struggle with this), we are not our work. Our work is only one piece of us and attaching our fate to its is dangerous in this volatile world. Bailey

View from our hotel.

14. Stress Is Good | Not all stress is bad. In fact, experiencing work-related stress is probably the best indicator that you’re making progress of some sort. Hamza

15. Adopt a Positive Stress Mindset | Instead of viewing stress as the agent that makes us [insert numerous negative symptoms], view it as a sign that you are doing something worth caring about. Science shows the mindset actually makes you more productive and feel less depressed about stress. Bailey

16. Put a Lid On Your Hustle — There’s a difference between doing things, and doing the “right” things. Don’t glorify productivity. Hamza

17. Your Hustle Need Direction — Can you beat Usain Bolt in a race? Sure — just have him run 5 seconds in the opposite direction. Plan before you perspire. Hamza

18. Know When To Stop — Sometimes stepping down is the best way to get things done. Be open to the idea that someone can do your job better than you. Hamza

19. Audit Your Time — Map out how you spend the 24 hours allocated to you each day. Hamza

20. Scale Shows Fail — Once you grow, you begin to lose control of your initial idea and build unnecessary stress. Hamza

Part 3 / Startups (Hijacked by Self Awareness)

21. Medium Is The Message | Anil Dash has some serious flow with his presentation style. I don’t think he looked at his slides or stumbled once. Admittedly, his delivery made me more reception to his message. Bailey

22. Tell Your Personal Story Too | Sharing your own story can be a way to thank those that helped you along the way, but also educate others on new ways of doing things they may not have found themselves. Bailey

23. Share Your Liner Notes | We know who creates our movies or music because their names are shared in the liner notes and credits, but nothing exists like that for apps, which we now spend a significant amount of our time on. This covers up who has an opportunity to contribute, which people should be able to know. Announce your human stories like a bug fix. Bailey

24. We Are Responsible for the Next Generation | We are so fortunate and have the ability to pave the way for the next generation and so then have a responsibility to do so. Did I mention I love working with students? Bailey

25. We All Have Biases | The first step in overcoming any sort of bias, related to race, gender, class, age or anything else, is acknowledging that you have one. Bailey

26. You Can Change Your Biases | You need to move from a place of sympathy to a place of empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of others as they say, and really try to understand and feel how they feel. Only then can you change. Bailey

Park chills.

27. EDI Isn’t Just a Policy | Equity, diversity and inclusion is a way of life; of looking at the world; and then finally woven into our workplaces. “We must stop looking at others outside of ourselves as people who need to change. Diversity and inclusion belongs to all of us.” — Kimberly Bryant Bailey

28. Leading Comes With Added Responsibility | Remember that Perception Gap? Well, a leader needs to be extra aware of how their actions and words can have a much larger impact on the ‘followers’ or team than they intended. Leaders need to be aware of how they are perceived, not just how they act. Bailey

29. Be Vulnerable | You may not feel so, but sharing your failures usually makes you more accessible to everyone around you. It makes you seem human and shows that you bounce back. Embrace it. Bailey

30. Growth Hacking Isn’t A Job | It’s a phase that marketers are going through. And it needs to stop. Like, now. Practice creating something of value instead of writing cheques with your mouth that your ass can’t cash. Hamza

Part 4 / Scaling New Ideas

31. Politics & Persistence | Always consider the politics and dynamics of the teams you work with. Often times you may need to contact a second, or third person within an organization you wish to collaborate with before something sticks. Janakan

32. Slack is Gold | I don’t even remember what #RyersonSA and Splash Effect did before Slack. Just do it. Convert your team. You will thank yourself. Bailey

33. Long Sales Cycles — Be disciplined and mindful of your collaborating organizations pipelines and align it with your own before pitching collaboration opportunities. Janakan

34. Validation — Socialize often with the people you work with to validate your efforts. Work towards references from your clients and people you work with. The more, the merrier. Janakan

Umm, this would be a great engagement photo if I knew who they were.

35. Make Meetings for Action | If you have a meeting that doesn’t end with action, it probably shouldn’t have been a meeting. Instead, email or Slack. Bailey

36. Build Versus Buy | The people you work with are not oblivious to the fact that others can perform similar functions to you. Show them exactly who their alternatives are, how they can achieve what they need on their own, and most importantly, why they need you to achieve what they need to. Janakan

37. Practice What You Preach | Build products that you and your team would use. Spread ideas that you yourself believe and practice. Simple. Janakan

38. Empathy is Not A Buzzword | The Slack CEO said the number one quality they look for when hiring is empathy. The outward expression of empathy is courtesy and it’s important to everything we do. Bailey

39. Study Job Titles | The positions that you’re collaborating stakeholders hold are often a good starting point when looking for new opportunities. Look for people who hold similar positions and reach out to them to see how you can help. Janakan

40. Efficient Creeping | Use tools like Rapportive to get an accurate picture of everyone you contact right within your email dashboards. Janakan

41.Research Venture Capitalism | It is currently the easiest time in several industries to get funded. Research the vast world of venture capitalism and see what others are doing. This can expedite the scaling process of your idea. Janakan

42. Scale Your Management | Often times partnerships and potential client opportunities require your team to grow. Sometimes it may be very rapidly, so you must brace for a change in your management styles to reflect this. Janakan

43. Don’t Juke Stats | Present the real facts to the people you work with. Phrasing things to show more appealing stats may be tempting, but a good partner will see through this. Janakan

44. Find The Right Sponsor | While looking for partners that have the most benefit to you may seem like the best way to begin looking for partnerships, reframe your way of thinking and connecting with people to find people who genuinely believe your idea. Janakan

Part 5 / The Creative Process

45. Scale Shows Fail | Once you grow out your idea, you will begin to lose control over your initial concept of it. Be mindful of this and plan accordingly. Janakan

46. Cap Your Hustle | Small wins trump misguided ambition. Put a lid on your hustle and work towards tangible goals and iterate to create new ones once those are completed. Janakan

Iris, our new friend from Melbourne, AUS.

47. The Puzzle Process | Treat the start of every project and discovery opportunity as you would a puzzle. Start with what you know and consider it the border of your puzzle. Consider the middle as the empty parts you’ll need to work on to fill in. Great ideas require great amounts of strategic research. Janakan

48. Embrace Lateral Thinking | The most elegant solution is the one you get from looking at it from a different perspective. Think sideways to look to other industries to see how they solve their issues. Janakan

49. Understand your Opponent | “One of the best ways to win an argument is to be able to state your opposing view better than you can your own.” — Rochelle King Bailey

50. Parlay | A common success method is parlaying. This game specializes the importance of small wins and how psychologically motivating they are. The small wins also help us build our story which in turn can help us build our support. Keep your ambitions grounded with this foundation. Janakan

51. The Box | We often tell ourselves to think outside the box. What this reinforces is the idea of creativity coming from radical constraints. Think simpler with what you want to achieve to provide more constraints and work from there. Janakan

52. Assumptions | List every assumption you can about your idea. Pretend they are false. Now continue with your research and planning. Janakan

53. Embrace Rejection | Rejection will be persistent. Embrace it and continue to work on the value your idea until it is reframed in the eyes of those who rejected it. Janakan

54. Consider Behaviour | When working on your user experience based design, consider the current behaviour of your users and then consider what you can do to build habits to change pre-existing behaviours for the better. Janakan

55. You Are Industry Agnostic | The skills of a designer and more importantly the design thinking that designers use is applicable to businesses in any industry. Find your niche. Janakan

56. Be A Guide | Designers communicate by trade. Effective design doesn’t beat down the concept you’re trying to communicate to the viewer, but rather guides them to their own conclusions. Janakan

57. Make Frenemies | Your perceived ‘enemies’ are often the peers that will push you to create your best work. Look to them as your primary resource of feedback, as they will love to give it to you. Janakan

58. Express Yourself | The more confident you are with expressing your idea, the more it will translate in your work. Do what needs to be done to build on this quality, whether it be debating with your peers or creating work purely for yourself. Janakan

59. Don’t Be Scared of Data | Remember, behind every data point is a human. Use data to your advantage to reinforce your design ideas. Janakan

60. The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ Epiphany | The problems we have come from the following fears: Not being good enough, irrelevant work, and being out of ideas. The truth? Every single designer encounters this. Realize this. Now. Janakan

61. It Should Be Painful | Think of your creative muscle as an actual muscle. Want to improve and do better? There will be pain in taking on projects. Embrace it. If you’re work is easy or not causing you stress, it probably won’t make you better. Janakan

62. Iterate, iterate, iterate. | The creative struggle comes from never being happy with your work. Just one more change can make this perfect, right? Use that mentality. Be your harshest critic and iterate until you hit your deadline. Janakan

63. Cannibalize Your Art| If you are your own harshest critic, you are in turn your biggest competition. Your last creation is your biggest competition. Work to beat it. Janakan

64. We Are A Community | Find designers and build on that community. Learn from these people and teach them. This community will push you as you’ll both work to ascend with these people while you’ll probably also share the same pains as them. Janakan

Part 6 / Changing The World

65. Don’t Try To Change The World | Our work is like climbing a mountain. If you look up, you’ll be paralyzed by the scale of the mountain. If you look down, you’ll tremble with fear. Look ahead, and do the work before you. Climb the mountain one crevice at a time, and eventually you’ll scale it. Hamza

66. Be The Change | Gandhi had it right. We can’t complain about issues of equity, diversity and inclusion and then go back to our homogenous companies and continue to perpetuate practices that marginalize (and worse, alienate) people. Live your values instead of simply paying them lip-service. Hamza

My team is pretty cool.

67. Know Your Team | Anil Dash spoke of “Liner Notes” for products. Who are the people that contribute to your work? Similar to how musicians list all of the contributors to their songs, it’s time for product developers to be listed on apps, sites, books, etc. Hamza

68. Know Your Customers | Who are the people that you’re building your products for? Who are the people that are using your products? Are they aligned? Hamza

69. Our Industry Needs A Shakeup | Browse the “About” page of most companies in our space, and you’ll see more-or-less the same type of people. What does this say about our values? What does this say about our system? Hamza

Part 7 / Mastery

Selling & Pitching Your Work to Skeptics

70. We’re All Skeptics | We are all skeptical of things we are unsure of. Why are we skeptical of new ideas? 1) They require us to acknowledge that we’re not currently doing things entirely right. 2) They often mean more work needs to be done. 3) They ask us to take a risk. Bailey

71. Understand Your Skeptic’s Point of View | If you’re buying a pen, you may value it at $1.50 whereas if you are selling the pen, you may value it at $5. It’s the same pen. We all come from different angles. Understand that. Bailey

72. Myers Briggs is Everything | Shoutout to #RyersonSA for drilling Myers Briggs into my head for the last 4 years. Understanding people’s personalities helps you accommodate their style. Bailey

73. Understand the Skeptic Personality Matrix | Just read these slides. You’ll understand. Bailey

74. Stalk People | Wait, what? No, really. Look up your skeptic online, look into their past decisions and even call a mutual friend if need be. Understand who you’re dealing with. Bailey

75. Convince Your Skeptic to Act | You aren’t just trying to convince your skeptic your new idea is good. They may know that. You are trying to make them act. If you don’t convince them to act — make a decision, buy your services, change a behaviour, etc. — you haven’t done your job. Here’s how: Bailey

For the full Firstborn presentation, visit here.

Startup Funding Secrets and War Stories

76. Pick a Strategy | A mistake that most entrepreneurs make is to make their products do everything. Pick one thing — and one thing only — that your product excels at. Make that your focus. Hamza

77. Measure Everything | Even if you don’t know why you’re measuring it, measure it anyways. In the end, that which gets measured is that which gets managed. Hamza

78. Think About Ecosystems | Design with an end user in mind, but plan with an entire ecosystem in mind. How will your product interact with other products? Hamza

Branding Your Start-Up Business

79. Branding is More Important Than Ever | Consumers have more choices before them than ever before. Inspiring interest and loyalty is proportionally important. Hamza

80. Mood Boards | A good practice for understanding the essence of a brand is to throw up photos, words, colours and all sorts of visuals onto a blank canvas and to try and capture what the brand “feels” like. Hamza

81. Brands Stand for Experience | Brands are the sum total of consumers’ experiences with them. Their perception, and how the brand has made them feel, inform what the brand is more than what a creative agency can produce. Hamza

82. Good Presentation Design Goes A Long Way | Take the extra time to beautify your slides. Your audience will thank you for it. Hamza

Part 8 / Personal

83. UberX > Yellow Cabs | Yellow Cab drivers seem to have a death wish. Always choose UberX over the other option. Hamza

84. Truffle Cheese Fries | Have you ever tried truffle cheese fries? Yes, it’s a thing. And they are heaven. Bailey

85. Creativity Is A Universal Language | Creatives from all over the world converged at 99u. Initial language barriers were quickly overcome once the focus of the conference became making ideas happen. Notebooks were opened, canvases were revealed and sharpies were brought out to enable everyone to literally and figuratively get on the same page. Hamza

86. We’re All The Same | We made close friends from Bristol, ENG and Melbourne, AUS that were going through the exact same highs and lows in their agencies. They had the same questions and concerns. Oceans may separate us, but we’re all the same. Bailey

Had to watch the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight.

87. Bagel Bites are God’s Gift To Mankind — They are right up there with Beyonce and fast WiFi. Hamza

88. We Are Doing The Most Important Work — It’s a fairly bold (and almost obnoxious thing to say), but creatives carry the burden of moving society forward. Whether as painters, musicians, founders or developers, creatives are (and always have been) the vanguards of culture. Our work empowers, inspires and mobilizes people to do their work. Hamza

89. Introverts + High Line on Saturday = Bad Idea | Yes, we’re outgoing and personable, but Janakan, Hamza and myself are actually introverts. If you also identify as such, the High Line at 1pm on a sunny Saturday is not for you. We spent exactly 10 minutes there and got popsicles by the water… Bailey

90. New York City is My New Home | Don’t get me wrong, I love and rep. Toronto, but this trip was just perfect. I was inspired by the city, the people, the conference, the weather; everything! I’m moving there. I don’t know how or when, but I am. Bailey

91. We’re Doing It Right | I have never been more proud to work where I work. I can honestly say that both #RyersonSA and Splash Effect have consciously incorporated cultures of empathy, equity, diversity and inclusion into our creative work. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but we’re on the right path. Bailey

92. We’re Not Angry Enough — Racism, sexism and issues of access to our industry should have us riled up. But these are sensitive subjects that we would prefer to engage with piecemeal, rather than drop everything and focus our time/energy/attention on solving. Hamza

93. It’s Okay To Be Awkward In Networking Sessions | Be that person that slides into a conversation awkwardly and smiles uncomfortably. The alternative is that you stand by yourself (or with your friends) all night and don’t learn anything new. Hamza

Part 9 / Next Steps

94. Give Things Up — Scott Belksy said it best: “Getting Things Done often means Giving Things Up.” The frequency and volume of our work will continue to increase. In order to be effective, we should get comfortable with delegating, deferring, diminishing or deleting. Hamza

David & Max, our new friends from Gather’Round Agency in England.

95. Enhance Human Communication — Increasingly tethered to our devices, we can’t afford to lose our ability to communicate effectively in-person. Being aware of verbal and nonverbal communication styles is crucial to our work. Hamza

96. Reinforce Creative Culture at #RyersonSA | 99u was full of people who wanted to make a difference in the lives of their users; who understand biases and overcome them; who incorporate equity, diversity and inclusion; who get shit done; and make ideas happen better, faster and cheaper. Get ready, Ryerson. Bailey

97. Practice My New Skills | Thanks to Firstborn, I’m basically a selling machine, or so I feel. Show me your skeptic and tell me what they need convincing of! But I should probably practice all of this stuff first, so I’ll start immediately. Bailey

98. Surround Yourself w/ Creatives | They say that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. 99u was full of people brighter, smarter and more creative than I could ever hope to be. And that was exactly where I needed to be. Hamza

99. Make Ideas Happen | Idea without execution are just that: ideas. Don’t die with your music still inside you. Hamza

For more blogs from Splash Effect and our people, check out our Making Waves collection.

For more pieces by me, go ahead and visit my Medium. ☺

Follow me on Twitter @BaileyParnell.

Bailey Parnell
Bailey Parnell is the Founder & CEO of SkillsCamp and was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2016. Bailey is a 2x TED speaker with over 3.5 million views, an award-winning internationally-recognized entrepreneur, active humanitarian, and one with a talent for helping people develop the skills they need for success. Her work and expertise have been featured in Forbes, Good Morning America, CBC, FOX, and more.

For speaking, media, or a quick chat, reach out to Bailey today.

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