2-2: "The Pressure Valve Leaders" - Jaime Robinson and Lisa Clunie

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"The Pressure Valve Leaders"

In this episode I talk to Jaime Robinson and Lisa Clunie, the founders of the New York agency, Joan.

Joan was started by two women who came together at the very beginning of a moment in history. 

As you’ll hear, they didn’t decide to start a company for the explicit purpose of creating an environment overtly designed for women. 

But they did decide to fuel the company with the unique qualities that the two of them bring as women: empathy; determination; sensitivity; resilience; intelligence and originality.

They brought one other thing that runs through the DNA of Joan. A desire to get the best out of everyone who works there. And you’ll hear how they support each other to do that, in their own ways.

You can read more about team building here.


Three Takeaways

  • Respect others as individuals

  • Celebrate the common ground

  • Listen to your instincts


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-2: "The Pressure Valve Leaders" - Jaime Robinson and Lisa Clunie

Hi.  I’m Charles Day.  And this is ‘Fearless’.

In this episode I talk to Jaime Robinson and Lisa Clunie, the founders of the New York agency, Joan.

Joan was started by two women who came together at the very beginning of a moment in history. 

As you’ll hear, they didn’t decide to start a company for the explicit purpose of creating an environment overtly designed for women. 

But they did decide to fuel the company with the unique qualities that the two of them bring as women: empathy; determination; sensitivity; resilience; intelligence and originality.

They brought one other thing that runs through the DNA of Joan. A desire to get the best out of everyone who works there. And you’ll hear how they support each other to do that, in their own ways.

As I explained last week, we’ve gone back over the first 68 episodes of Fearless and identified 13 themes that have shown up consistently - themes that are evident in those leaders who are best at unlocking creativity in others. 

Each week, we’re going to highlight one of those themes. I’m not guiding any of the conversation towards any particular theme. And every conversation will continue to have multiple insights on how these leaders lead. 

But it’s a useful lens to capture each week, and should make it easier to build understanding about the attributes of fearless creative leaders. 

And I’ll also post a short article on the profitable creativity blog that adds a little more thinking about that week’s theme. 

And we won’t repeat any theme until we’ve covered all 13. And then we’ll begin a new cycle.

If you hear a theme that you think we’ve missed.  Or if you have other thoughts about this or any other aspect of the podcast, let me know at charles@fearlesscreativeleadership.com

This week’s theme is “Team Building”.

And this episode is called, “The Pressure Valve Leaders” .

 “Everybody in this room has ideas, and it's okay, not every idea is going to be great. But everybody has a right to put them out, and we should look at them, we should pick them up, we should turn them around, we should see if they spark something different, we should roll around a little bit and that's what part of our process is, it is to open that up. And the great thing is that when you do that, you take all the pressure out of the room”

Team building is such a simplistic term. It connotes images of leaders with limitless enthusiasm, cheering on their staff. Or listening empathetically to better understand their needs so that they can combine the right people at the right time.

These are both elements of team building. And in some situations, they’re critical aspects of leadership.

But we don’t pay enough attention to another aspect of team building. Which is that leaders need to apply and release pressure at the right moments and in the right amount in order to create game-changing teams. 

The best people want to be challenged. They want the bar set high so that when they succeed, they feel they have achieved something worthwhile. 

At the same time, human beings want to make progress. To know that even though they haven’t reached the final goal yet, they are moving closer.

The ability to regulate the pressure - to raise the bar and move the needle - to meld two cliches - is at the heart of forging highly creative teams. 

Sometimes that means asking for the nearly impossible. Sometimes it means taking the pressure out of the room.

It’s a skill that requires empathy - last week’s topic - and becomes easier with experience.

What’s your leadership pressure valve like? Can you raise it high enough to create diamonds? And lower it enough to see progress.

Here are Jaime Robinson and Lisa Clunie.



Charles:

You guys are ready.

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah.

Lisa Clunie:

Yeah.

Charles:

Okay, good. Jaime, Lisa, welcome to Fearless. Thanks for coming on the show.

Lisa Clunie:

Thank you for having us, Charles.

Jaime Robinson:

Thank you for having us, yes.

Charles:

And you are at the moment in San Francisco. Is that right?

Jaime Robinson:

We are. We're in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, which is if you're not careful you’ll get knifed, as you're walking down the street, it's really expensive real estate. But it's up and coming, as they would say.

Charles:

Emerging.

Jaime Robinson:

It's emerging. It's an emerging market.

Charles:

Let's start with my usual first question. Jaime, I'm going to start with you first.

Jaime Robinson:

Okay.

Charles:

When were you first aware of creativity playing a role in your life or when did you first perceive something as being creative?

Jaime Robinson:

Well, I mean, I was lucky enough to grow up with two really creative parents, they were creative in how they behaved with us, and we were always making stuff at home, even though they technically were ... My father was a stockbroker, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. So they weren't artists or poets or anything like that. But the first time I remember hearing the word creative was when I was little. And I had always had always liked really strange things. I remember that my ... I have a twin sister, and she would like all the normal girl things, she would like baby dolls, and Betty Crocker kitchens or whatever, and Holly Hobbie and all that stuff, but I was always really attracted to the monsters. As a matter of fact, I used to sleep with this 14-inch tall replica of the alien monster from movie, Aliens. That's what I carried around. And so I remember people saying, "Well, she's a weird kid. No, no, she's a creative kid." Pretty early on. And so wondering what that word meant and what creative meant.

Jaime Robinson:

I was lucky enough when I was in kindergarten to have a teacher that noticed that I like these things and thought there was an outlet that I could have to explore some of those things. So she suggested to my parents that they sign me up for something called Creative Theatre which was a local thing, it was probably in a church basement, but where kids could come and write plays and act them out and just explore creative sides of themselves. So I think that that was probably my first recollection of those words being used and in some ways I look back at that time and I think it was a really formative time, because I think that there was in that moment when you're five or six and you're just figuring out what your seven, what you're going to be.

Jaime Robinson:

Someone said that this was okay for me to do, and a good thing for me to be an explorer. And I often think about that how we talk to children and how we ... The labels that we put on them from a young age can stick with them forever and can either give them incredible strength to explore our different sides of ourselves or can make them shut those things. And I think it's such an important thing for us to look at kids and see how we can really enable them to be their most creative and fulfilled selves regardless of who they are.

Charles:

Just so important. Absolutely critical, isn't it? Do you remember who it was who gave you permission to be creative before your teacher did?

Jaime Robinson:

My mom for sure. She loved it. And I remember that when I would get ... Okay, so I had this alien doll. And I also wanted to dress up like Dracula, even not on Halloween. And I remember the teachers in preschool apparently said to my mom, " Jaime's scaring the children, she can't come to school like this, and she can't come to preschool like this." And my mom just said, "This is how she wants to be, and she loves it, and quite honestly, I think it's great too." So she encouraged me there. I think she stopped letting me go to school like a vampire, but I definitely know that collecting masks and making my own masks was something that was really encouraged at home.

Charles:

So it seems redundant to ask you if you were a risk taker as a kid.

Jaime Robinson:

I guess so. I wasn't the kid that was on the monkey bars, doing flips. I was definitely against those physical risks, but I did like I did like going into dangerous places. I like things that scared me. I love stuff that scared me, and I would recoil a little bit and then go deeper and deeper, and then soon I'm sleeping in bed with them. I mean, I can't imagine why I would be intrigued by the alien doll. Because it's really hideous, and it's not at all soft or cuddly, but I slept with it every night and I remember it.

Charles:

What was it about the term being scared that you were attracted to?

Jaime Robinson:

I guess there was a thing about if it was something that was unusual, different and wasn't ordinary and it was something that had an otherworldly quality to it, then it was something that was ... You don't see it every day, and it just felt so special. But I think probably also that there was a little bit of a daring of, "Can you overcome this fear that you have of this thing enough to appreciate the stuff you really like about it, which is that it's really weird?" And so yeah, I mean, all of my toys as a kid were Glow-in-the-Dark Skulls, and my favorite books, from a kid and I still have them, had monsters and were haunted houses, and I was always going to the section in the library when I was in elementary school that was like the Halloween, the scary haunted books that are meant for older kids, and pulling them out and just looking at all of the drawings of skulls with worms coming out of their eyes.

Jaime Robinson:

Or I remember also there was a comic book, my grandma did flea markets, and there was a comic books stall in the flea markets, and there was a no kids allowed section, and it wasn't pervy, it was because it was scary, there were horror comics, it was back in the early '80s. So they had these horror comics, and just there were things that were so horrible, oozy swampy things. But I would get them and I would convince them to let me have them and then I would not look at them for a little bit, and then go dig deeper and get into them. I don't know.

Charles:

Do you still like being afraid?

Jaime Robinson:

I don't know. I like being afraid of, for example in work, if something's a big idea, and it's a challenging idea, I love that feeling. Because it means that it's something that's new, and we're creating something different. So I really like that. I think that a lot of times now, the things that I'm afraid of involve other people, they'll involve my family or the people we have at work, and I want to make sure that those are the kinds of fears that I don't like, I want to protect people that are around us. So when the stakes are higher, it's not great. Even right now, we had some turbulence on the way over here, and I don't like it, but I don't like it because I think about what would happen if, God forbid, something happened, I would leave behind a lot of people that really need me.

Jaime Robinson:

So those kinds of fears, I don't like. But I do like the kinds of fears that are, "Ooh, is this...could we pull this off? Or is this something that would be new for us or another brand that we're working on the side?" Those are the kinds of things that I do like.

Charles:

And do you get a visceral fear? Do you have a sense that there's a feeling attached to the best ideas?

Jaime Robinson:

Oh yeah. Oh my God, totally. I think if you have an incredible idea, there's a lot of fear around it. And the fear for me is a couple things, one is, "Are we going to get to make this? Is this something that the world's going to get to see? Is this going to become a reality?" And then the other fear is, if it's new and it's never been done before, there's so many things that have to take place in order to get it to be a real thing. So I think it's more like a giddy excitement and a giddy anxiousness, but I also know that I'm surrounded by tons of incredible smart people who we're going to fix it, we're going to solve it, we're going to figure it out. So if we can put a man on the moon and we're headed to Mars, then we can figure out you this advertising idea, that's not a problem, we can do it. But a little bit of that fear of like, "Oh my God, this is crazy." Is a great thing.

Charles:

Context being everything, right?

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah, exactly.

Charles:

Lisa, what about you? When was the first time you were conscious of creativity showing up in your life?

Lisa Clunie:

That's a good question. I mean, I also was raised by a mother that was very creative, encouraging of creativity. My mom was an early childhood educator and so she always had manipulative things around. Plato and clay, and crayons, and construction paper and all kinds of things that were just freeform for you to think about. I think the first time I really thought about choosing to be creative was, she bought us, my sister and I a book that was a play that we could put on it was, "There's a fly, waiter, there's a fly in my soup." I don't know if you remember those things. Yeah, it's back and forth, one of us is a waiter, one of us is the customer with a fly in a soup. And there were so many ways to read those lines. And you could do it with an accent. And you could do it as a total princess, and you could do it as a jerk. And the ability to choose this. How you interpret the same thing in different ways was a moment that I really remember about, " Don't just take things for what they are, but see what else you can do with them."

Lisa Clunie:

I also remember, I had a little sister, I have a little sister, she's still with us, my God. But she was much younger, she is seven years younger than me, and she was my doll. I would dress her up, and I would take her places. And my mom had this red sparkly fabric that was in our basement, I don't really know why, and I made her stand there and I sewed her a miniskirt, a tube top thing, around her as if she was dress form. And I didn't know how to sew, so I was just doing it with a needle and thread and scissors and whatever, and I made her this little outfit, kind of racy actually come to think of it, she was like six. And I'm sure she really needed a little tiny mini skirt, a tube top. But anyway I remembered that as a very formative thing, just making something dimensional out of nothing, yeah.

Charles:

And what about you, were you a risk taker as a kid?

Lisa Clunie:

I was not that much. I mean, I think I was in my mind. Somebody would talk to me and then in my mind I would feel the spiciest thing back to them. But I didn't say it, you know what I mean? I think I had more caution growing up. Yeah, I think it was actually something that I needed to work to overcome.

Charles:

And by the spiciest thing, what do you mean?

Lisa Clunie:

Well, I mean, for people who know me very well, like my sisters and my parents, when I was like, 13, man, my viper tongue, I would just yell it, I did the bad teenager stuff, just slam my door and talk back and stuff like that. But outside of the safe zone of my own home, it was all happening in my brain as I was politely smiling to my teachers or whatever. So I wasn't very daring in that way. I was more internally naughty.

Charles:

What did you focus on in school?

Lisa Clunie:

I was great at math, really good at math. Less good at things that I needed to memorize facts, and better at concepts. And I loved reading really rich and interesting novels, and then figuring out the themes and the allegories, and things like that inside, big works. Also concepts. The things where I needed like rote memorization which just really requires you a concentrated level of study, those were things that I was, "I'll get to it." You know what I mean? I don't know when that war was, whatever, who needs to know that?

Charles:

Did you find you started expressing yourself more as you got older? Did those thoughts start to permeate into the rest of the world?

Lisa Clunie:

Yes. I think that there was a point when I was in college, when I switch flipped in terms of my personal sense of power, I would say. I think for a long time I felt like I was a little bit in someone else's life or I was following rules, and then at some point being on my own in college, and I must have come into my own in terms of the way I was thinking about the world, and just started feeling more interested in what I thought that didn't agree with the way everyone else was thinking. I read Civil Disobedience, the book Civil Disobedience, and it was like, "Oh yes, that's right, I have a point of view." It's probably everyone's classic college story, the coming of age but being able to hear my own thoughts, independent of anyone else.

Charles:

And Jaime what was college like for you? What did you focus on?

Jaime Robinson:

Drinking. I'm sorry, totally. Did everyone say that? I don't know. Maybe no one says that, probably nobody says that. I went into college thinking that I was going to do a dual major English and economics, because I actually thought that's what you needed. I knew I wanted to be in advertising or I suspected, and I thought that's what you needed, economics would really be something that would be helpful, and then I-

Charles:

Wait, so you had an economics interest and Lisa had a maths interest.

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah, I guess. But I was terrible at economics. Once I realized what it was I'm like, "Oh, wait, I have to know all about global economics. No, no. I just want to know ..."

Charles:

Keynesian theory right?

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah, that was way out of my league. So I ended up being an English major and a creative writing minor. And that was great, because I actually felt the creative writing minor which I fell into was so liberating because you would be given incredible and crazy tasks, things that you wouldn't necessarily write, in ways that you wouldn't necessarily write.And then you were given these deadlines and of course, it was always because I was a procrastinator, it would always be like the night before. And I'd be looking at a blank computer screen, it would be 2 AM and I needed to figure out what I was going to write about. And that's when I just found, "Okay, if you just start putting your hands on the keyboard, something will come out, and it was super fun, I loved it.

Charles:

And what got you into advertising and marketing? What was this progression from university, college into that world?

Jaime Robinson:

Well, right from college, I got lucky, I got an internship at an ad agency, we won the National Student Advertising Competition, which I think the American Advertising Federation puts on every year. So my group of people in college we had done it, and it was basically our entire senior year, and was pretty consuming. But it was fun, it was great. You basically were an agency for a client, the client was Hallmark. And we won the national level, so to win national level meant that our team could get internships in New York or a few members of our team could get internships in New York. So I was like, "That's awesome. This is really fun. I think I definitely want to do this for a career." I didn't know if I wanted to be a creative or an account person or strategies. I didn't even know what any of those were.

Jaime Robinson:

But I ended up finding Mad Dogs and Englishmen, which was really quite a Godsend, and which just feels like this place seems crazy and fun, and there's really interesting people that work here, and they gave me a copy test, and I apparently did pretty okay, because they were, "Okay, we'd love to give you a creative internship, and come on in." So yeah I ended up getting creative internship right out of undergrad, and then that turned into me sticking around, they were, "We like you but we don't know if you're really a copywriter yet, so can you stick around as a creative assistant, and pick up [inaudible] on the side, and then about a year after that moment, I got a fully promoted to copywriter. So it was great, and I stayed there for I think about six or seven years, with some incredible people. And it was a pretty amazing walk.

Charles:

Lisa, what about you? How did you get into the business?

Lisa Clunie:

Mine was also luck. I was living in St. Louis and I was a waitress at the Pasta House, which is a restaurant in the Galleria. And my roommate at the time was the front desk person at a local ad agency, and she was going to leave that job, and she asked me, do I want it? Because I wanted to get waitressing. And I said, "Sure." And I went, I met the people who work there and they were so great. And I took the job and then from that I actually learned more about the field itself. I mean I have to say I think it was a little sheltered. I knew that there was marketing but I didn't know that there was a career in advertising, or that it was so fun and creative, that you could work on a variety of clients. So it was really eye opening, and it made me fall in love with the industry.

Charles:

And what did you do from there?

Lisa Clunie:

From there, I was promoted to an account person, and the agency is called Simmons Durham. And at the time, they had Jack Daniels, which was an independent, Tennessee whiskey business, and then it was purchased by Brown-Forman and all of a sudden overnight it became a giant global brand. And so part of my job being a new account person was to help it deliver a global strategy for this brand. And I hadn't even left the country really, I mean, I'd been out once, out of the country once. So it was such a vertical take off for me, on a brand that was that famous and also working across markets as varied as Korea, to Russia, to the UK.

Charles:

Were you daunted by that? Were you daunted by your own lack of experience? So how did you approach that?

Lisa Clunie:

I was so daunted but I was so focused on doing a great job, and really leading this brand that didn't listen to that voice that was like, "Whoa, you're really out over your skis." You know what I mean? So I just did it. I just powered through it. And it's actually something that I learned, often in my career, I was promoted quickly into the next level before I really had the training to do that job. And it was partly a matter of circumstance. Partly I was ambitious at asking for the next thing constantly. But there is this moment where your stomach churns at night. You just really don't have the tools necessary to pull off what you've been asked to do. So you're really inventing it every single day for yourself. That was pretty much my first five to seven years in this business.

Charles:

And where do you that willingness to leap in came from? Because, I think typically people understand a lot of women struggle with that. It's a characteristic that men tend to have more comfortably, right? Just jumping into the next thing regardless whether they think they're ready or not. Many women feel, "I need to be prepared. I haven't checked the boxes on this. I can't ask for that yet, until I've done this." Where do you think you got that level of fearlessness for want of a better description?

Lisa Clunie:

Well, it is interesting because like I had said earlier, I actually was, I think a little bit listening to my fears quite a lot before I got out of college. And at some point I decided that that was feeding the wrong side of me and that, when I see my potential or where I wanted to go in the world, it was not a nervous thing. I thought it would be a boss somewhere, so how am I going to get there if I don't go grab the brass ring. So part of that is coming from the place of knowing that I'm afraid, and going for it anyway, and becoming more conditioned to admit that that sense of butterflies in my stomach is about growth, versus about, "I should go back to where I was before, because it's more comfortable."

Jaime Robinson:

It's classic Clunie there, by the way. Guess we're right there, it's classic Clunie.

Charles:

So in the same way that Jaime has this visceral feeling about whether the idea is big enough to ... Is it exciting? And do I have that sense of anticipation or anxiousness in a good way? Do you have the same thing in terms of driving yourself? Or do you need to feel a certain tingling or tension?

Lisa Clunie:

It's interesting because it goes in these waves, right? The tingles happen when I know I'm onto something, I know I'm onto something and it's scary and I haven't done it before, but it's compelling and it's interesting, and I pressure tested it as much as I could in terms of logicing myself into it logicing myself out of it and realizing at the end, I'm more for it than against it and let's just do it. That's all a sense of ... My whole body goes on fire. I get so excited. And Jaime knows it because she can see it coming around the corner. Here she comes, she's got an idea. Flying around the corner.

Jaime Robinson:

You better duck.

Lisa Clunie:

It's true. But then that is quickly followed by an intensity in terms of delivering that dream. I kind of conserve all my energy than to focus on delivering that dream. So new dreams can really kind of come in at that time, I have to make that dream happen. So it's an interesting thing. I feel like I'm either, yeah, sparkly or my eyes become very focused like drip.

Jaime Robinson:

Also classic Clunie. Oh yeah.

Charles:

So you almost have this switch whereby you're either conceiving, envisioning, dreaming or you're doing. Is that right?

Lisa Clunie:

Yeah. I mean, I feel very much like ideas are overrated. I mean, it's so funny, because in our business, it's like, "It's all about the idea." Well, it's not. How many people have said, "I had the idea for Facebook." You didn't, you didn't do it. You know what I mean? Unless you do things they're just figments of your brain, and other people have those ideas too. So you have to run at doing them. So for me, it's like I love a good idea. But as Jaime said, the fear of not getting it into the world and making sure that it really happens, and it happens the way you want it, and its top rate, that is actually in some ways the more disciplined focus-driven part of myself than the idea itself.

Jaime Robinson:

The other thing that's interesting about that, the good thing about that, and this is something that we talk about too all the time, is that if you can just make ideas happen, and working on them, and setting your sights to those ideas is what makes them happen, then there's no reason why you shouldn't have a screenplay that becomes a movie. Or you shouldn't have a great painting career. I mean, obviously, there's a lot of luck. Or you shouldn't have an agency. And I think that is part of one of the reasons also why just getting down and getting to start Joan together, was something that happened.

Charles:

Yeah, so, thank you for that. That's a perfect segue, actually, Jaime.

Jaime Robinson:

Oh, I knew, I read your script.

Charles:

No, it's really a perfect segue, because you guys have both had storied careers. You've worked with extraordinary companies. But rather than talk about your career biography, I think what's really dynamic about this conversation about your partnership, is how you have come together and the business that you are actively building together. So Jaime let's start with you, what was it that you wanted to build? What kind of company were you looking to build? Or what were you looking for in a partner?

Jaime Robinson:

Well, I got to say, I think that what I wanted to build changed as Lisa and I spoke a lot about the company. When I first started thinking about this, which was well, a while ago, right? Many years ago. I think that one of the things that definitely was a focus of mine was just try to create a place where people could bring their wacky doodle creative ideas, and their full voice to the table, and try to do things that were a little bit more outside of comfort zones, I think. We have a great opportunity and a great responsibility in our business to get an outsized amount of attention for our clients and to do that and especially in this crowded landscape, you need to bring something that is unusual, or fresh, or different. And I got a piece of advice which I shared with some people a million years ago, from my very first creative director who was Nick Cohen, who owned Mad Dogs which he caught me writing about, he caught me writing lines, I was trying to emulate one of the senior copywriters there, that was a guy named Neil.

Jaime Robinson:

And I was really trying to write like him, and he called me out and he said, "Are you trying to write like Neil?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Stop that, because I don't want you to be Neil, I want you to be Jaime [inaudible], and I want your fucked up version of the world, and I want you to show how you see the world." And to me that was incredibly powerful because it meant that it meant that my vision, my perception of the world and my ideas were something that were were special and they should come out. And so when we started, Joan, when we started talking about Joan, my initial thing was, I really wanted to make sure that people felt enabled to be their most creative self. And really try to harness that for ourselves, and our employees, also for our clients, and also for the audience, because the audience are real people out there in the world that have tremendous ideas too, and if you open up the responsibility or the ability for them to be creative as well, you get really interesting things back and they also then are very indebted to the brand. So I think that sensibility was the very first thing that personally I really wanted to try to to bring to life.

Charles:

And so what were you looking for in a partner to to build that business?

Jaime Robinson:

Oh my God. Well, I mean, I don't know, I didn't know I was looking for a Lisa Clunie until I walked into the Lisa Clunie and then I'm, "Holy crap, this is definitely the partner." I mean, I was looking for somebody who had more business sense than me for sure. And I was looking for someone who, I think this is ... If I wrote this down on paper before I met Lisa, I would say someone who has more business sense and someone who is dedicated. I think when I met Lisa, I realized that I was also looking for someone who I would deeply enjoy doing this with, somebody who pushed me sometimes whenever I started to feel less than brave, and somebody who could also have a wild inventive streak, that in her own right who could bring wonderful beautiful big ideas to the table. And the minute I met Lisa, I realized that that was that, there was never going to be another partner for me.

Jaime Robinson:

So it was again another stroke of incredible luck to come face to face with her at this very moment in our lives for me. And my entire definition of what I was looking for in a partner change in an instant It was not to someone who knew how to do Quicken or whatever the hell software people do, and it wasn't someone who knew how to negotiate a contract. Lisa knows how to negotiate contract and more, but she also has all these other incredible things that just completely blew my mind.

Charles:

Did you always think you wanted a partner?

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah. Well I mean I would say, I knew I wanted a partner who was ... I knew I would want someone to help me with the business, I don't know how I could say that I wanted a partner per se, I don't know that I could say that I wanted somebody who I would be so emotionally and I guess loyally and whatever, involved with. I probably thought it would be somebody who I would not be equals with first, if I'd written down on paper, and then to meet Lisa and to see the the cosmic power of her brain, I think that I had to make a decision, "Okay you are getting a true capital P partner here, and damn, it was so worth it.

Charles:

Lisa, what about you? Coming out of refinery, what kind of business were you looking to build? What was the change you wanted to make?

Lisa Clunie:

Well, first of all thank you Jaime. Can you imagine if she had answered the opposite. That would have been a really….

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah, I don't know.

Charles:

It would have made for a memorable episode, for an entirely different reason, "This was the beginning of the end of Joan, captured live."

Lisa Clunie:

There you go. So funny. I wasn't sure I wanted to start a company to be frank. I had already started two companies before this, a fashion design company, and an intellectual property company, and a lot of the glamour of the entrepreneur lifestyle was definitely not in my world. I knew it was hard, I knew it would keep you up all night. I wasn't fascinated with the unknown in terms of that, and I knew it was just grueling and so I wasn't obsessed with starting a new company, until I met Jaime, and I thought that this is a person of the likes of which I've never met in my life.

Lisa Clunie:

For so many reasons both her skill, but also her as a person. Her legacy creatively is second to none. But maybe even more important to me was her visionary quality of about what the future holds, about how audiences play roles and ideas, about how creativity is a feeling, creativity is an environment, it's not a department. And all our conversations together were so incredibly fortifying, that new things started happening when we were in each other's presence. And I think part of that is is the genesis of Joan in that, I don't think I could have come up with Joan alone, I don't think maybe Jaime would have come up with Joan alone. It was what happened when we were together, that all these all these new connections were made.

Charles:

What has surprised you most about having a partner and being in business together?

Lisa Clunie:

Well, I think that first of all, I feel so emotional about her. I feel like this is deep, this is real deep, picking a spouse deep. And so much appreciation, so much gratitude, so much trust, all the way down, deep, deep, deep. But also I feel so shocked that people can do this by themselves, because it is incredible the amount of times you call each other frantic like, "Okay, this is a new one. What are we going to do?" Or celebrating your win with somebody who is there with you, deep in the trenches. It's hard to imagine doing it without somebody like that.

Charles:

Jaime, what about you?

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah, I mean I completely agree. I guess I am surprised and not different from really Lisa's answer, but I'm surprised about how much I enjoy her companies to this day, and it is like a spouse in some ways, and that it is business, of course it's business, and it's very serious business, right? But I think the serious of the business we would get crushed under the weight of a serious business, or a single person could get crushed under the weight of the serious business, if we didn't have each other. And it just to me, I feel so great that we have a build and release and we ... I was just saying, I just texted her picture of what my hair looks like right now in this room, and it's ridiculous, I have this crazy Mohawk and because I've been messing with my hair and it stacks right up. But that's the kind of person you have to go with, it's a partner.

Charles:

I mean, I'm so struck by your relationship because I think in my experience, partnership, true partnership is perhaps the hardest aspect of being in business. I mean, obviously most people are not partners, most people are employees of companies, but for those people who decide they want to start a business, and want to find a partner or feel drawn to the idea of a partner, or as with your case find people, find partners that suddenly make you realize there is a different and better way to do this, it is nevertheless an incredibly difficult and challenging things to put together. As you look back over the first, what is it now? Three years? How old is the business?

Jaime Robinson:

Two and a half.

Charles:

Two and a half years?

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah.

Charles:

As as you guys look back over the first two and a half years, what has surprised you most about what you needed? What great partnership looks like? What has surprised you most about what you found out about your own capacity to be partners perhaps better put?

Jaime Robinson:

Well, I'll just say one thing that I have found, it is surprising, but I think it feels great is being able to be comfortable enough with somebody to say, "You're better than me at this part of this, can you help me out? I need your help." And not to feel ashamed about that at all. I think in our industry, we get promoted and promoted and promoted and promoted. In a certain point, you're supposed to know everything, right? And I can imagine, it's very hard in any other relationship for someone who founded a company to say, "I don't know, I need your help. I don't know what I'm doing in this thing." Or, "I need your advice. I trust you so much. I trust your opinion so much. I need your advice on this thing." So I feel like the ability to be so vulnerable with someone, who you work with and as your partner, is a surprise.

Charles:

Lisa, what about you?

Lisa Clunie:

Yeah, I think that's true. And I also think that there's a authenticity that we can feel from each other in terms of really wanting each other to be our best selves, and be as powerful as we are, and do our very best, very best work, and so I can actually tell when whatever the conditions that we're in are making Jaime not feel like her full self, and I will actively work to change that. And she does that for me too. And so there is this feeling like you can be completely honest with each other, because we're working very hard to make each other succeed, and therefore the company to succeed. And that level of generosity, I think is part of what makes it feel even more personal than the business arrangement or partnership.

Charles:

This is probably a completely unfair and impossible question to answer, but let me ask it anyway, just to see what you guys think of it. How conscious are you both of the baseline similarities, that you each bring right? You're both white women of roughly the same age I think.

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah.

Charles:

Both happily married, both with children, both at similar points in your career. Have you thought about or talked about how much that, the overlapping factors have brought you together, and have made this easier? Have they made it harder? What role do you think those factors have played in your success?

Lisa Clunie:

It's a good question. I mean, probably I haven't thought of it just quite like that before, but I'm imagining that some of the decision to be partners has made it tougher, meaning it's easier to be in business with a man in terms of getting business. Now, I don't think that that's actually been the truth for me and Jaime and Joan, because we've been on a tear. We have a lot of clients, there are fortune 500 clients. But the reality is women-founded businesses raise less capital, get fewer opportunities just in general.

Charles:

Statistically that's the case.

Lisa Clunie:

Statistically, yeah. I think with the exception to be fair, because I think that, as it relates to being a two and a half year old company, with the type of clients that we have, that's unusual. But on the flip side, I think that the fact that we have similar backgrounds has made it very easy for us to have a shorthand with each other. The one thing I would say, though, is that we are uniquely suited in a way that is, I think, very unusual and doesn't relate to the fact that we have similar backgrounds, in that I truly believe that Jaime has strengths that I do not have, in a very clear way and vice versa. And I don't know, some partnerships may be more like we both do the same thing. You know what I mean? "These two partners are walking on each other's turf." And that's making it tough. I think Jaime and I are very distinctive, very distinctively different, and we're very complimentary.

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah.

Charles:

Jaime, are you surprised that you're in business with a woman? Or I mean, did you have a perspective about if you were going to have a partner, what that would look like?

Jaime Robinson:

No. I can say that like many women that have come up through this industry, I probably, if you asked me five years ago, would I be partners, would I be co-founders with a woman, I'd probably be like, "No, I don't even like women. I'm a man's girl." You know what I mean? I think it was a thing that a lot of women coming up through creative departments either put on or naturally were or learned or I don't know what. So, I think the surprise that I could have the best partnership of my life. I've worked with a lot of men creative partners, and I've worked with one female, creative partner. But the best partnership of my life is with a woman, I guess it's surprising only because I had been conditioned to really think that I was more comfortable around men. I swear, and I do all these things that are not lady like, I'll leave it at that. And I think it's just part of that, but I think Lisa also swears and it's not lady like sometimes too, so that's good.

Lisa Clunie:

Don't tell my secrets Jaime.

Jaime Robinson:

I will always.

Charles:

When do you disagree with each other?

Lisa Clunie:

Oh gosh, we do, we definitely disagree. And it can get spicy in a funny way. Don't you think Jaime?

Jaime Robinson:

I do. Yeah, we definitely disagree, I think ... I'm trying to think of a good example.

Lisa Clunie:

The thing is that we agree on the big things, it's the little things like, maybe something in a piece of work that I think should go to the right, and she thinks should go to the left. Or maybe it's a hire or something like that, but then that's not a little thing, but it's not the big business strategy. And so it can be funny because in all the things that most people probably really fight about, money and direction and vision, and all that stuff, we're totally simpatico. But, "What do you want for lunch?" "I wanted Dig Inn and you wanted Sweetgreen." And now we're in a fight.

Jaime Robinson:

Actually we did get in a fight about that once. I was, "I don't want salad." And I’m like, "Well, all right then don't get salad, it's fine all right." But, yeah, I mean, I think there'll be times where I'm a fairly strategic creative, but Lisa's an incredibly creative, she's not a strategist, but she's got a very strong strategic bent. Or they'll be times where I'll be ... Every once in a while I want to put something in, an idea and because I'm just really attracted to it creatively and they'll be like, "Well, it's really completely off their strategy, and I'll be, and then for a second will be a little flare up, but it's very rare, usually we even see eye to eye on most work, frighteningly so.

Charles:

You started a company at an extraordinary point in history, right? And not just the way the business is evolving but also in terms of the way that gender equality and representation is beginning to change substantively in some companies, not as fast in others. Are you mindful of your ... Do you feel you have a responsibility to create an environment that is equally supportive of both male and female?

Lisa Clunie:

I mean, that's an interesting question. Joan is more female than male, though fairly equally balanced in terms of our staff.

Charles:

Was that a conscious choice?

Lisa Clunie:

No. I mean, it wasn't. I don't know, Jaime. It was not that conscious, I would say it was sort of just-

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah.

Lisa Clunie:

What did you say?

Jaime Robinson:

I was just saying, I think it was the people that we you people that we ... Great talent that we have coming to us. Yeah, I don't think it was really particularly conscious.

Lisa Clunie:

Only in that we wanted to make sure we were well represented with men, I think that was more conscious than the women side. So I think our environment is really for people who want to be excellent and who really want to show that there a company that can be founded by women, who can also hold its own in terms of the world's Best. So it's an interesting question because the typical conversation around making an environment friendly for women talks a lot about flexible work hours, and things like that. And Joan is a startup, right? So we are focused on making that startup come and grow and do the best work in the industry, and be heralded as one of the beacons of creativity in the world. And that is our first and foremost goal and there we're stacked with women and men, and all kinds of interesting people who want to see that happen.

Jaime Robinson:

That's a great point Lis, because I do think that too often when the people stay friendly to women, they do mean those things that are just a different interpretation of grateful women, but grateful for women is also, are you going to do the best work of your career here? Or you can have a fair shot at the best briefs we have here. Are you going to bring every bit of creativity you have in you and say the things that you've been meaning to say forever. Can you say those things here? Then the answer's yeah. We are trying to make this great for women, we are trying to make this great for men, we are trying to make this great for everybody. But I think you're right. That oftentimes that that's the discussion.

Charles:

I'm struck when I work with founders of companies, how often they are guided in a large part by the experiences they've had in the past in their careers, and by being focused on the kind of company they don't want to build. Are you more drawn to that? Are you drawn to a clear vision about the kind of business that you do want to build?

Jaime Robinson:

I think that they are so closely linked, right? We have an interesting foil right now and that the industry is obviously going through changes, and there are some big behemoths that are lumbering and maybe haven't done things the right way, or we were perceive the right way. So I think it's hard in this day and age to talk about the company that you want to build without pointing, "They definitely don't want to be that." But I think that as you look for the positive aspects, I think that those not want to bes can quickly turn into incredible, I do want to bes. So I don't think that they're so different, I think that by looking at some some perceived mistakes, or perceived missteps from agencies of the past, you can unlock the things that you do want to be that are the opportunities for you and the rest of the people that work at Joan for the future. That was not an answer. Was it an answer? I don't know.

Charles:

I think it was a very good answer. Lisa, are you conscious of a responsibility to build a company that supports women, and that is a reflection of the kind of a future face in business that is supportive of and respectful of the needs of women in the marketplace?

Lisa Clunie:

Absolutely. I think that when we are a scaled company. Well first of all, at our size we offer three months maternity and paternity leave, which I think is great for a company of our size, two and a half years old. So we're already trying to do the things that we can do within our control, to be as supportive as possible to gender equality, and offering paternity leave also, is very important to Jaime and I as well. So building women's careers, building their ability to have access to excellent work, excellent briefs, good opportunities, being put in front of clients earlier than most places in their career, those are all things that we're already doing. The question is, can we be a leader for more maybe creative ways to bring and retain women or other people who, who would like to stay in the industry but need some consideration? The answer to that is, yes. I think the trick is at what point are you in the right place from a business perspective to be able to really support those people?

Charles:

Yeah. Such an interesting reference point. There's a couple of different questions, actually I want to ask you guys. What have you learned in the process of building ... Clearly in the process of your own career but now embodied in the process of building this business? Jaime, let me start with you. What have you learned about how you unlock creativity in other people? What kind of environment do you have to provide for that to happen?

Jaime Robinson:

That is such a great question because one of my biggest sadnesses throughout the course of my career is noticing that the traditional agency setup makes a creative department who is creative and then everybody else is not creative, right? And in some point too, such a degree that no one feels like they can even bring up an idea who is not in the creative department. And one of the things that we talked about a lot, at least and I talk about a lot is, how do you actually activate and bring out the creativity in everybody that you come into contact with, over the course of the day. And that may even mean the guy that works the front desk as you walk into the building. How can you do something to bring more energy into their space? Where they feel open and able to throw out a joke or contribute an idea or look at the world a little bit differently than they are, at that moment.

Jaime Robinson:

And it's actually part of our process too for creative workshops and talking with clients and collaborating with clients on work. Is to create an environment where right away the rules are set. Everybody in this room has ideas, and it's okay, not every idea is going to be great. But everybody has a right to put them out, and we should look at them, we should pick them up, we should turn them around, we should see if they spark something different, we should roll around a little bit and that's what part of our process is, it is to open that up. And the great thing is that when you do that, you take all the pressure out of the room, the pressure to say, "I'm not a creative, but I had this idea." And people feel bad about contributing, when they have to say that. And all of a sudden automatically they were just counting their ideas before they even say it. And you got to take that away, you've got to give the right amount of oxygen in the room, so that the fire can build and grow.

Jaime Robinson:

And therefore everybody can feel as if they have a chance to say something that's in their heart or in their minds. Because I really think that it goes back to that time before when they were a kid, right? And I watch kids who have all these things probably inside them, right? But nobody put the crown on their head to tell them that they were creative. And think about what a waste that is, and what a sad thing it is for the world that those people now don't get don't feel encouraged to share the thing that's happening in them. So I think the my best part of my day is when I see someone who doesn't necessarily usually contribute in that way, come to life and and feel a second to be able to contribute and share that way.

Charles:

It's really powerful. And Lisa from your perspective, what do you have to overcome to create that kind of environment? What are the obstacles to that?

Lisa Clunie:

Well, I think that you know both for the employees that we have and the clients that we work with, there's a well worn way agencies and clients operate. There are some implicit rules, and so you have to find ways to disorient the room and disorient your teams, and the clients and and get them to feel like they're real people again. We actually talk a lot about when we hire new people, having to deprogram people from the way they've been conditioned in this environment. The creative person is the only one who can have an idea, and everything works in a linear process. First, the camp person gets the problem and then they give it to the strategist who comes up with the brief and it's like a relay. And at Joan we don't really work that way.

Lisa Clunie:

We put five smart people in a room and they can tackle any project and the account people and the planners, and the producers, they see those things all the way from the beginning to the end, not during their specific period of time in which they're involved in. So that means our whole company feels, and activated and engaged in problem solving and creativity making. The other side of the fact is how do clients get disoriented slightly so that they can feel like people again in the presence of great ideas? And part of that is to declare them as part of the creative team, bring them in before you're ready, let them see, have them come in to brainstorm, share their idea, sometimes make their ideas, when they're good, allow them to comment on your ideas without feeling like they are walking on eggshells. How do you create this low stakes, lots of fun, lots of energy room and place for good things to grow? I mean, that's how we do it.

Charles:

Last two questions for both of you. Lisa, let me start with you with this one. How do you lead?

Lisa Clunie:

I'm very direct, I would say. So I have to figure out what my point of view is and making sure that it's very sharp. I don't like to speak without knowing where I'm going. And then when I say something, I ask for debate around those topics. So I'm eager to engage in conversation but I'm not good at putting squishy half-thought about things in the room for everyone else to play with. So I think it's about knowing where you're going, but allowing other people to help you build it, and see it through. And then I also, I'm very hands off I would say in terms of being a direct manager. I have always felt in my own career that I could do more than my role expected me to do, and so I love to give really ambitious people the room to take their first crack at presenting to a client or writing the deck themselves or coming up with the proposal or working on an RFP, before they've ever had a chance to do that before.

Lisa Clunie:

It gives people a sense of ownership and also to test their own limits. The trick is to do that in a way in which they're safe and you're safe. So offering the support behind the scenes for questions, also doing a final review before anything goes out. So it's like yin yang of giving people the room, and not micromanaging, but also a fail-safe of making sure that it's checked it before it goes.

Charles:

Jaime, what about you? How do you lead?

Jaime Robinson:

Oh, boy, that's a question. I've been trying to think of the answer [inaudible]. I think probably it's with, I think I'm very aware of energy and I try to bring it into places where I think that it's needed and try to get that energy to spin into a ball and for that to pick up. I think as far as decisions goes, I read this book, someone gave me one time about, it's called Crucial Conversations, and they talked about how different people make decisions. And I identified by reading that book, that the way I make decisions is that I unlike Lisa put something soft or squishy out, and then we all talk about it and I hear lots of point of views, and then I make a decision based of where I think it should be, but after I've heard everybody's point of view.

Jaime Robinson:

So I think that probably ... That's for decisions, but for general deciding about what we're going to do, and what direction I take energy and I push it into places. And then as far as setting vision goes, I think it goes like what's probably getting me most personally excited as selfish as that sounds. But things that get me the most excited are the things that I'm going to be probably driving more energy towards.

Charles:

And last question, Lisa starting with you. What are you afraid of?

Lisa Clunie:

Oh, nothing, everything. No, I'm afraid of a lot of things. I'm afraid of making sure that this thing works. I want to be a great partner to Jaime. I want to see so much success for all the people who work for Joan, I want to see our clients business grow, and I'm afraid of letting anyone down in any of those ways. And what I would say about that is that in the same way, I learned how to overcome my fears by just running at it. That is exactly what I do. It is like I can't listen to that side. I have to focus on what I'm doing every single day, to ensure that the best possible outcome is going to happen for all of those things. Doesn't stop me from having that feeling on the inside, like I'm afraid. But I'm actively managing that, and turning that into dynamite.

Charles:

Jaime what about you? What are you afraid of?

Jaime Robinson:

I mean, I think it's the same answer. I think we have tremendous opportunities in front of us, and we have work that we're creating on behalf of our clients and with the agency and I just want to make sure that we are really taking advantage of this moment in time, and that we are really doing everything in our power to bring wonderful things into the world and to make our clients successful beyond belief, and then therefore make Joan successful beyond belief, and all of our employees successful beyond belief. So, I think if there's any fear it's in not doing those things that we want so bad, but the great thing is, to Lisa's point, is that we have all of this, everything at our disposal all these tools at our disposal to make sure that that doesn't happen.

Charles:

And what about personally?

Jaime Robinson:

Personally what am I afraid of?

Charles:

Yeah.

Jaime Robinson:

Turbulence. I mean, I think there's physical danger and then there's I don't know, I have to say personally, I'm pretty happy, I feel like the adventure is beginning. And that is such an exciting thing. To know you have an amazing partner and an amazing company, and who knows where we're going? We don't need roads. It's like that feeling of, "All right, it's on." So I don't think that personally I'm afraid of much. I think you just get in there and you just get after it.

Charles:

And Lisa, what about you? Anything personally.

Lisa Clunie:

I mean, I think the only thing that I that is just ... And it's the classic parents struggle of what is the right balance between being home to tuck my kids in at night and calling a client at 9 p.m because we have an emergency. And I say that out loud because I don't think that there's an answer you know, I think that on either end you have a feeling of not being, I should have spent that hour with my child, or I should have spent that hour at work. So I guess the only personal thing I have is I hope at the end of the day my kids feel like I was a great mother to them and that I was there for all the times that they needed me and that they're super proud of what we've done and what we've built.

Jaime Robinson:

That's love Lisa. Now I feel terrible because I didn't talk about my kids. But that is true, that is lovely. And it is true.

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three takeaways. Three things that I've heard, perceived though, I think make you guys successful as leaders, and I'm going to talk about it through the frame of your partnership. So tell me what you think of this when we're done. The first is I think you clearly have this just deep abiding respect for each other as individuals, certainly as partners, but as individuals, as people. And I think that informs everything.

Charles:

Two I think, interestingly, there are clearly differences between you but you celebrate the common ground, you focus on the things that are connective tissue, and I think there are so many people whose instinct is to look at the things that are different, and that create barriers and distinctions and I think you guys gravitate towards the things that are the same, and use that as a foundation. And then I think the third thing that's clear to come out of this conversation is that you have both a trust and a willingness to listen to your instincts. And that allows both of you to jump sometimes into really deep black abysses with a lot of faith, actually, that it's going to work out, that you will together be able to figure it out. Do those resonate with you?

Lisa Clunie:

Yeah, totally 100%. I think that the place where we're ... We're matched very well in many ways, but the jumping into the abyss together is a place where we're very well matched.

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah, it's true. I mean, I think we always say, "We'll figure it out. The answer will present itself, as long as we're stronger together, we'll figure it out."

Charles:

Yeah. Fundamental truth to unlocking creativity. Right? We'll figure it out.

Jaime Robinson:

Yeah, it's true. We'll figure it out.

Charles:

Thank you both so much. Thank you both for joining me. This has been fantastic.

Jaime Robinson:

Thank you, Charles.

Lisa Clunie:

Thank you Charles.