2-8: "The Path Finder" - Skyler Mattson

Skyler Mattson.jpg

"The Path Finder"

Skyler Mattson is the President of Wongdoody - a small creative agency that’s been successful for 25 years.

She’s also the cofounder of June Cleaver is Dead, the agency’s consultancy whose expertise is in brand experiences for moms. 

Skyler is caring, determined and not a surfer. Which, metaphorically, is surprising because she rides the waves of a rapidly changing set of creative industries with great skill and grace.

This week’s theme is Intention. 

And this episode is called “The Path Finder”.


Three Takeaways

  • Empathy for others

  • Intention in helping others and in how you work

  • A clearly defined set of values applied to everything you do


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-8: "The Path Finder" - Skyler Mattson

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

Before we step into this week’s episode, a quick note. 

I had a lot of feedback that though many people appreciated the ability to listen to Fearless in 5, the general feeling was that the conversations were too abridged.

So, we’ve replaced Fearless in 5 with Fearless in 15. And we’ll be back filling the season 2 episodes with Fearless in 15s over the next few weeks. 

I hope you’ll share them with friends and colleagues you think will enjoy and benefit from them.

Secondly, if you haven’t yet done so, please take a moment and rate the show on iTunes. It helps the show’s profile as we reach out to guests we think you’d like to hear from.

We’ll be airing one episode over the Christmas / New Year break.  I think it’s one of the best episodes so far so I hope you’ll take a listen and pass it along to others.

Now, here’s this week’s show.

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

Skyler Mattson is the President of Wongdoody - a small creative agency that’s been successful for 25 years.

She’s also the cofounder of June Cleaver is Dead, the agency’s consultancy whose expertise is in brand experiences for moms. 

Skyler is caring, determined and not a surfer. Which, metaphorically, is surprising because she rides the waves of a rapidly changing set of creative industries with great skill and grace.

This week’s theme is Intention. 

And this episode is called “The Path Finder”.

I have this print out on my wall at my desk and it says "at any point in time you have two choices, step forward into growth or step back into safety" and having been at the same agency for really my entire career, I have had so many points where I've been given a chance, and I'm either going to step forward into growth, and there's a little bit of fear there, and there's anxiety over not being able to accomplish what is expected, or step back into safety. Every time I've stepped forward into growth and every time I've figured it out. Maybe not perfectly at first, but I've figured it out and so the next step for me isn't as scary because I know I'm going to figure it out.

We often wake up in the middle of the night and find ourselves lying in bed next to our fears and weaknesses. They grin back at us through crooked teeth and bad breath, holding a pillow over our hopes until we either suffocate or fight back.

Over time, they can linger - even in daylight. The dawn of the day not being strong enough to free us from the anxiety or worse that can hold us back from making even obviously right decisions.

Being willing to confront and walk past those things that make our breathing more rapid and our stomachs churn is a pre-requisite for successful creative leadership. 

But doing so requires help. 

Not, in this case, from other people. But from ourselves.

That help comes in the form of intention. The desire to make a difference and the determination to take the steps necessary to do so.

Intention pulls us forward. Past what once seemed unimaginably frightening. But which as we get closer, looks suddenly much less important than the change we want to lead. 

Here’s Skyler Mattson.

Charles:


Skylar, welcome to Fearless. Thank you so much for being here when doing this today.

Skyler Mattson:

Thank you for having me Charles.

Charles:

What's your first memory of something appearing to you as creative in your life?

Skyler Mattson:

It's hard for me to think of a specific event that happened, but I think because of where I grew up and what my parents did for a living, creativity was all around me. We grew up in Hawaii and my parents run surf stores. So, my dad was shaping surfboards and my mom was doing the buying and the merchandising and us kids were running around in the stores and then running around the beach, and their business felt creative and felt a part of our lives.

Charles:

Wow! What an incredible environment to grow up in, were you a surfer?

Skyler Mattson:

And this is the question that is just ... I always devastated when I'm asked, because I'm the oldest of four. My dad is a phenomenal surfer. My two brothers are really good surfers. My sister is a good surfer and I am the only one in the family who doesn't surf. Which makes me the least cool person in my family by far. And now of course I've married a surfer, my husband surfs, my oldest son is learning to surf and trying to become a little cooler, I've taken up stand-up paddle boarding, which is like the safe version, the boring version really of surfing.

Charles:

Why did you never become a surfer? What do you think?

Skyler Mattson:

Because waves are scary. I just preferred to just swim where I knew what I was doing.

Charles:

So, maybe this is redundant, but I'll ask anyway. So were you a risk taker as a kid in other areas?

Skyler Mattson:

No. I was-

Charles:

[crosstalk] never, not at all.

Skyler Mattson:

A risk taker as a kid. I was calculated and I would think things through and I didn't like getting hurt and I wanted to be good at things and so I stayed within my realm of things I knew I could be good at.

Charles:

And what about your siblings? Are they more risk taking than you other than surfing?

Skyler Mattson:

They are. They actually are. I have definitely taken the more traditional path of college studying what I wanted to be taking a job in that field, staying in that field, marrying my college sweetheart, buying a home, having the babies, yeah. And my siblings have done more ... Have taken more adventurous paths I'd say to find what they want.

Charles:

How did you express yourself as as a kid growing up?

Skyler Mattson:

How did I express myself? That's a good question. Well, I had to wear a uniform. I went to Catholic school and I think free dress days were the greatest things that I would plan out, leading up to the free dress day, what I was going to wear. So I liked fashion early on. I took dance, so I took ballet as well as gymnastics. And so, I think I expressed myself through dance and through sport. And probably also in the way I grew up with three younger siblings. I liked being the teacher and being the leader in directing what us kids would go out and be doing. And I think that's one way to express yourself.

Charles:

Yeah, for sure. What's the age gap between you?

Skyler Mattson:

So my closest sibling is two and a half years younger than me, a brother. And then I have another sibling who's eight years younger than me. And then a sister who is 13 years younger than me.

Charles:

So you must have very different kinds of relationships because you are based on that age gap.

Skyler Mattson:

So different. So of course my brother closest in age was my partner in crime growing up. And, Oh my gosh! I had wanted a sister so badly. I would dress him up as a girl walking around the neighborhood. His name is Blair and I would say, Oh, have you met my new cousin visiting? Her name is Blairina. Just parading him around. My parents had us, and then they called us the first generation and then when they had my other brother and sister, they were the second generation. And I was not as close with them. My sister was only four when I left for college. So I didn't have that close of a relationship with her. And it was more of a motherly relationship because of the age gap. Now it's a little less so, but I do like that she'll call me for advice about things and we talk about careers when we talk about love and relationships and it's turned into a really cool dynamic, because of the age difference.

Charles:

What did you study in college?

Skyler Mattson:

I studied communications. I think I'm one of those few people who I knew I wanted to go into advertising, and so I picked that major and I studied that and worked at the Daily Bruin. I went to UCLA and I sold advertising because that was the closest I could get to actually doing it. And when I graduated, two days after graduating, I got a job in an advertising agency.

Charles:

Why advertising? What drew you to that?

Skyler Mattson:

So when I was in high school, there was a show called Melrose Place and it was my favorite show and I watched it every week with my mom, and in Melrose Place there's a character called Amanda Woodward. Played by Heather Locklear and she ran Woodward and Associates Advertising. And I saw the creative aspect of it and the business aspect of it, and this woman who was running the business in these amazing power suits. I was obsessed with these power suits. He has actually very short skirts and blazers, and it looked fun. And I didn't really know much about it except for this show, and I didn't know anybody who worked in the industry, but I learned more about it through college. And that show I really have to think. Because I absolutely believe I'm in the career and the industry I was meant to be in.

Charles:

And when you got into the business, so clearly you'd say in the world of advertising through television, dramatic Lens, but how did it compare to what you thought it was going to be?

Skyler Mattson:

It lived up to the expectations.

Charles:

Yeah. That's interesting.

Skyler Mattson:

It really did. And perhaps I came into it with so much optimism and excitement that I almost welded to live up to my expectations. But I loved being in the creative environment. I knew that I myself wasn't super artistic. I like business. I saw my parents running a business as I grew up. So I knew I wanted to be on the account management side, but I still had access to the creativity and felt a part of it. And the first account I worked on was Nestle. And it was that Daily and Associates. And being early on in my career it was my job to get all of the competitive. So I was just watching these competitive sports for Candy and I had to manage this candy closet with all of the candy, competitive looking at the packaging. And I thought, man, this is the coolest job ever.

Charles:

Do you still have the same love affair with the industry?

Skyler Mattson:

I do. I absolutely do. And I feel so grateful to love what I'm doing. And I remember when I graduated from College, my dad's saying, you really need to pick something that you love. Because it's going to become such a part of your life. And he and my mom loved what they did and it was so ingrained in the way we grew up and this was part of life. And I feel what I do is a part of my life, I joked to my husband. Well actually it wasn't a joke. I said on the other day, I feel like I need more hobbies. I don't really have that many extracurricular activities that I do. Maybe I should learn how to play tennis. And he said, "your job is like your hobby." I mean that could be sad in one regard because obviously I do things outside of work. But I think what he meant was that I get the gratification from this career that many people do from the things that they choose to do outside of their career. It just is all blended for me.

Charles:

What is the gratification that you get? Why do you find it so satisfying?

Skyler Mattson:

I think that the fact that it's a business built on creativity. Earlier on I liked the creative aspect. I liked being in the room and contributing to ideas that I could later see made. And now, I like that I can see this creativity and these ideas moving a business forward. I think it's really cool to solve a business challenge with creativity and I love being in an environment where ideas are the currency.

Charles:

Do you have a definition of creativity? Because obviously there are so many different definitions of it, right?

Skyler Mattson:

Gosh! Definition of creativity. That's a really hard question to answer. I think it shows up in so many different ways, but in some ways it's unexpected, it's provocative, it's unique and it changes things.

Charles:

Yeah. I think that's fascinated by the application creativity in a business environment. I think it's perhaps the most powerful business Forrester out there. So I'm always interested to hear how other people think about it and define it. What was your first job coming out of college?

Skyler Mattson:

[crosstalk] Yeah, Daily and Associates was my first job coming out of college and it was this big corporate agency in retrospect. I didn't know at the time what different types of agencies were like. And the creatives were on one side of the account. People were on one side. I had a big account with a big budget, and a lot of people above me. There were so many people working on things. And I remember asking to go to a meeting that I had been integral and preparing for and my boss saying, well, no, you're the assistant AED. By the time you get to the Account Supervisor, you can join the Management Supervisor in the Account Director and myself at this meeting. And I thought, Oh man, that's a long time before I'm going to get to go to a meeting. And at the time, I had a friend who worked at Wongdoody, and he calls out the blue, I'm about two years into Daily and he says, Hey, "somebody just left and we're looking for a new AED, do you want to come interview here?" And I said, "Sure, why not?" And so I interviewed.

There were 15 people in Los Angeles office at the time and I met with everyone I think. Maybe over the course of a couple of days, including the CEO, Ben Wiener, who's, who's still the CEO. And I thought, this is cool. It's small, but I definitely get to go on a meetings. So if I took this gig and I decided to move and my boss at daily pulled me into his office after I gave him the news and said, "I think this is a career mistake." "I want to tell you that, because I think you could do great things and you have a career path here at this agency and I don't see why you would want to go to this small agency." And-

Charles:

What was your response to that?

Skyler Mattson:

I said, "I want to go to meetings and I want to do more and I feel like I don't have the opportunity to do more here." So I'm going to go for it. I mean, Gosh! At 24, I was brave and I didn't doubt my decision for a second.

Charles:

And where do you think that confidence came from? Given your background as follow the rules, laid out a plan, don't take risks.

Skyler Mattson:

It didn't seem risky to me to take a new job. I would still have a paycheck. I still had opportunity. And the idea of not succeeding or not being able to do it well was ... That never entered my mind. So there was ... To me that wasn't a risk. As a child risk was like getting hurt, but it didn't seem risky to me.

Charles:

That's interesting. So for you, the fear was physical.

Skyler Mattson:

I think so. I do think there was that element of I might not be good at it, I might fail at it, so I'm not going to try surfing. Well, I did try surfing and I just wasn't good at it. So of course I have to forget it. But in my career I knew I could do it. And I felt good at it. Early on I felt I knew that this was what I was supposed to be doing.

Charles:

So what did you think Wongdoody was going to be like with 15 people? And how was it by comparison to your expectation?

Skyler Mattson:

I thought that I would have the chance to do more, to be able to wait in more, to be able to work directly with clients more. And that was all true. What I didn't expect and what turned out to be the most beautiful gift was that I would be asked to contribute to creative development. And I remember I had been at Wongdoody for maybe two weeks. Now at Daily there was the side where there was creatives and then there was a side where there was account management and there was a key card to get to each side and I didn't have a key to get to the creative side. So it was never sitting next to creative saying, hey, I'm running this candy closet. And I've looked at all the competitive and I've all of these ideas about what we should do to be different. I didn't get that opportunity.

Charles:

So, the creatives were literally behind a locked door?

Skyler Mattson:

Yeah. We're literally behind a locked door. And so I think maybe as an Account Supervisor I would have had that key, but it wasn't integrated the way Wongdoody is. And so when I got to Wongdoody a couple of weeks in, I was in an internal. We have internals where everybody who's working on a piece of business comes to the table and we all talk about the creative together. The creatives bring it to the meeting and we all discuss it. And I had never been in a meeting like that before because I got to see the creative right before we took it into the clients. And here I am at Wongdoody week two. And Tracy Wong is in this meeting and the creatives go through everything and he looks at me and he goes, well, what do you think?

Charles:

What a moment?

Skyler Mattson:

It was thrilling. I was so excited and I had a lot to say. I knew what the competitive was doing. I really understood the target audience and I had an idea and I shared it around the table and Tracy said, that's great, let's do it. And I couldn't believe it and I was so energized by it and it to this day, that is how this agency runs with a creative democracy where everybody is expected to contribute and everyone does.

Charles:

Other than having a mindset or philosophy from a leadership standpoint that defines or sees the world through that lens, how do you practically make that happen? Because obviously some people are natural contributors and other people less are. How do you make sure that everybody is contributing?

Skyler Mattson:

Yeah, that's a really good question because I've seen some people in the meeting and the moment who are able to quickly react to something and voice their thoughts and we can shape it in the room, and others need a little bit more time and it's easy to mistake someone who's quiet as maybe not having something to contribute. But I found that if I seek them out after a meeting and say, "Hey, maybe over the next couple of days you could type out some of your thoughts to that work or any input that you have based on what you saw." And they'll do that. And they will have so much to contribute and I didn't realize that at first and it’s taken some time to sort of understand different peoples’ styles on the team and how to find ways to enable them to be their best. That might not be in the same style that a creative internal is demanding.

Charles:

So give me an example of different kinds of styles that you see. I think that's a very interesting area.

Skyler Mattson:

There is certainly the styles of people who are more outgoing and really comfortable throwing out their thoughts, whether they are right or wrong, and sometimes pushing for them whether they are right or wrong. And then, I think there are other styles that are certainly more introverted where just sort of going for it, based on gut, in the moment and throwing something out. They're not comfortable there and so they want to be more thoughtful.

And some people are more comfortable communicating verbally, and some people are more comfortable writing down their thoughts. And I think that finding a way to nurture both of those styles is so important in a creative environment because, just because you have the loudest voice doesn't mean it's a more important voice.

Charles:

And there's a predisposition don't you think that ... so how you show up in meetings tends to be, to your point, highly influential in terms of how you are perceived in a creative environment. So, negativing against that, becomes an important part of making sure that everybody has a voice and has help to find that voice.

Skyler Mattson:

Oh, it absolutely does. And I think that's why one on one meetings with people are so important and really understanding what's going to allow them to thrive. And giving them the opportunity to do so in a way that's more natural to their personality.

Charles:

So I know that part of your mission and focus is becoming and has been for some time, making sure that or encouraging women to have a voice and developing initiatives that support women finding a voice. That's true, right?

Skyler Mattson:

That is true.

Charles:

First of all, where did that influence come from? When did that start to become a priority to you?

Skyler Mattson:

With motherhood. I think I ... being a woman in this industry was not a thing for me, until I had kids. I didn't think about it. I didn't feel as though I didn't have the same opportunities as my male colleagues. It just wasn't a thing. And then I got pregnant with my first son and I remember looking around the agency and realizing that I had never seen a woman at this agency have a baby. And I was going to be the one to figure that out because I didn't have someone to ask or I hadn't seen it modeled.

And it was hard for me when I came back after having my first son to know how to draw the line and to be comfortable asking for what I needed. I was really mindful of still being able to work the way I had before. And that's just not possible. And so, I didn't ask for certain things that I learned to ask when I had my second son and then third. And by the time that happened, I was able to have a team. Who then was entering a stage of motherhood. And it was almost even more important for me to make sure they had what they needed than it was when I had my first son to make sure I had what I needed.

And perhaps that was with maturity and sort of learning as I went. But I really wanted to make sure that the women I was working with felt like motherhood was a possibility and felt like they would be supported. And encouraged to jump into that next stage of their lives.

Charles:

And why do you think your early experience in the industry was so different to those so many women? Who clearly in many cases, have been held back and have been differentiated against.

Skyler Mattson:

It's because I'm at Wongdoody and Tracy Wong and Pat Doody and Ben Wiener our CEO are phenomenally supportive. And it just wasn't a thing, and it's because of them. I always had opportunity it was ... I would prove myself. I'd be given more opportunity. I'd take it. I'd prove myself again and it was from them. I didn't realize how lucky I was because I've been here for practically my entire career. Until I started meeting other women and learning about their experiences. And then I felt this obligation to make sure Wongdoody never became like that. And I think that was really this catalyst for all the initiatives that we do to support moms. Not just in our workplace but in the industry.

Diversity of all kinds in a creative industry is absolutely crucial. And the industry really isn't set up to support that. Its not set up to support flexible hours. It’s not set up to support something very basic like, needing to pump breast milk for your child when you return to work. And we talk a lot about using our superpowers for good at Wongdoody and so we put benefits in place that make it easier for moms to transition back. But it's not enough for us just to do it internally. We then need to push it out into the world. Superpowers for good.

And so, we call them push projects. So, a push project is a project that we're not doing for a particular client. It's a project that we've taken on ourselves because it's a cause that we believe in. And we are going to use our creativity to make a change in the world. Where we see there might be a problem.

So, one of our first push projects was called, I Pumped Here. And it was to shed light that many working women across all industries, not just advertising, don't have a clean, private place to pump breast milk when they come back to work. So, they're doing it in the closet or they're doing it in a bathroom stall. And it's unsanitary and it's sad. So, we created a campaign to shed light on that. We were able to use our creativity to sort of wake people up about something that's not right.

Charles:

So is the focus of the initiatives always framed through motherhood or do you go beyond that in terms of gender equality as well?

Skyler Mattson:

We do go beyond that. Another Push project was called The Real Ten. It was when congress was going to put a female on a ten dollar bill. We knew that well, a ten dollar bill is a little bit different for women than it is for men. Because women make 7.9 dollars for every 10 dollars that men make. So, we created a social campaign where you could upload your photo and you could type in your ethnicity because a white woman makes 7.9. If you are Latina or African American, you make even less. So, you'd upload your picture, you'd type in your ethnicity and it would create what a ten dollar bill means for you. Whether that's 6.4, 6.2, 7.9 if you're a white woman. And it was a really cool campaign. It got shortlisted at Cannes. And was just a creative way to once again shed light on something that's not right.

Charles:

Do you think the need to move with Times Up, do you see those movements starting to make sense in to change in the industry or do you see just it's generating a lot of conversation without very much actually changing? What's your perspective on the state of the industry now, in terms of how it supports women?

Skyler Mattson:

Oh, there's still such a long way to go. And I do think that those movements have shed light on something that needs to be fixed. They haven't fixed them. And those movements aren't going to fix them. It's going to take very tactical changes within industries and within agencies to make a change. And men who are supporting women and women who are supporting women to do that.

I love the movements and it's such an exciting time because the now the attention is there but it is the start of change. It is not the change itself.

Charles:

What does the change look like? What has to happen?

Skyler Mattson:

Wage equality to start. An absolutely zero tolerance for any sort of harassment. Encouraging moms to come back to work and having policies in place that get them back in work. There are so many things.

Charles:

As you look the industry today, do you see places where that's, not necessarily companies specifically, but do see places where that stuff is starting to happen? Or again do you think that we're still at the formative, debate stage about what that should look like?

Skyler Mattson:

Things are starting to happen, and it makes me so happy. I'm learning from policies that other agencies are doing. 72 and Sunny has a really robust maternity benefit package and we're learning what they're doing and adopting the things that we're able to adopt. Obviously, 3% is at the forefront of this. And we just signed the pledge for wage equality across all roles at the agency and many other agencies are doing the same. So, things are absolutely starting to happen. That makes me really happy and it makes me feel more proud to be a part of the industry when I start to see those changes. But there is still so much work to be done.

Charles:

And to your point earlier, creativity is so dependent upon diversity and different points of view and experiences and backgrounds. Why do you think that the industry has ended up where it is? What were the drivers that allowed an industry that should be about different points of view to become so male dominated?

Skyler Mattson:

Gosh, I think people are inclined to hire people who look like them and act like them. And I think, at the start of the industry, it was white males who started it. And that human predisposition to hire more people like them and then promote more like them just had a snowball effect. And I just don't think they recognized how much better a business could be when there were diverse perspectives around the table.

Charles:

And better from what perspective?

Skyler Mattson:

Just better in terms of a uniqueness of a point of view. Different backgrounds bringing in different ideas and different ways to solve a problem. If you have group of the same type of people sitting around the table, you're only going to get so far.

Charles:

I read somewhere that you said once that you think motherhood is the greatest obstacle to women successfully evolving their careers. And I think to your point, especially the way the industry’s typically set up. Like motherhood is a best of struggle for most companies and a worse, I think some cases where they're subconsciously or not, some companies work pretty hard to avoid having to deal with too often.

How do you think the industry going forward can start to deal with that better? You talked a little bit about some of the policies but from a mindset shift, how do you build a leadership mentality given the fact that women need to step out for some point of time right?

Skyler Mattson:

Right.

Charles:

How do you build culture that is capable of absorbing that kind of dynamic and doesn't see that has a negative, sees that as a net positive?

Skyler Mattson:

You know it's not as much the stepping out that I think the businesses find challenging. It's three months, it's four months, maybe it's six months, but it's never an amount of time that is going to be so detrimental to the business. I don't think that it's the maternity leave that is the challenge. I think it's the coming back that is the challenge when there's an industry that the norm is to work all hours of the day into the night, all weekends. A client needs something, it doesn't matter what is happening in your life. You are going to be there and you are going to deliver. And I think from a leadership standpoint, this entire industry is only going to thrive if there becomes a better work/life balance for everyone. Not just mothers. And acknowledging that, the return to work, the hours that are put in, don't always have to be in the office. I really think is key.

And I tell my team everybody has a baby, because it's really important for me that because I'm so focused on making this agency a good place for mothers. I don't want those who are not mothers to feel like, "Hey, gosh. I'm not getting this benefit, because I don't have kids?" Everybody's got that five o'clock soccer game they want to be at. Whether that's a cooking class or a place they volunteer or a furbaby that they need to get home to. Everybody has something else and when work is more important above all of the other things in life, you're not going to attract talent. You're not going to retain talent and you're not going to foster a culture where you are getting the best thinking from people.

Charles:

So clearly, there's an organizational responsibility to establish philosophies, practices, policies, against that kind of perspective. Right? I mean that's clearly the right perspective, at least from my point of view it is. Do you have to also focus on hiring people who embody that kind of perspective? I mean if you hire a group of people who are so driven that the only thing they care about is the next job, the next promotion, the next raise, the next title, the next opportunity. If that's the only kind of person you bring in the door. Doesn't it actually make it harder to create the kind of balanced environment you're looking for? Don't you have to hire people who have themselves been looking for balance in their own lives?

Skyler Mattson:

Absolutely. Hiring is such a key component to being able to continue a culture that you're creating. And that component of hiring has actually gotten easier. I feel like I am learning a lot more about work life balance from our younger team who’s coming in. And the millennials who are asking for what they need and are really confident in what they need and why they need it and bringing that to me. Much more confident than I was to ask for it, when I was starting out in this career and so, that actually give me hope for the industry as a whole that the new generation coming in, a work/life balance is just a part of who they are and it's an expectation they are going to have. And bringing them into the industry so they can help foster that culture is actually great.

Charles:

So, do you have to change your expectation about how much the company can get done? If you're hiring people who are more interested in balance and less interested in purely just throwing themselves at, to your earlier point, throwing themselves into their career without regard for how much sleep they're getting. I mean, you know, the industry I grew up in and, to some extent, you grew up in I think was much more about that kind of personality, right? It was truly 24/7, when you were measured by a, you know, you left at 10 o'clock at night, I was here till midnight. And the result of that was, as you said, a complete lack of balance, but the other result of that was a lot of stuff happened very quickly because people were spending more hours doing it. So do you as a company leader, do you have to change your expectation about what can get done in the same amount of time? Because people are less willing to spend those hours?

Skyler Mattson:

Not at all, because when you are sleeping well and eating well and taking care of yourself, you can give something your complete energy and attention during an eight-hour work day, whereas if you've slept two hours and you've been at the office non-stop for four weekends straight, the quality of your output is so much lower.

I mean, that said of course we have a crazy new business pitch we're going to pull an all-nighter, we're going to do what it takes, but it's not the norm, so that when it happens, people are almost sort of energized by it, like "okay, we're going for it." And also, there's work that happens at home. There are people who leave at a certain time to do a favorite yoga class or be able to do homework with their kids and feed their kids and put them to bed, and if they need to check back in later in the day, they do. I think that everyone here realizes that we have a good thing going and no one's going to let anyone else down. And so people are really responsible with what it is that they need to do and how they can get it done with everything else they have going on in their lives.

Charles:

Yeah, it's an interesting tension, isn't it? Because creativity depends, I think, on finding the balance between creating an environment in which people can do their best thinking in all the ways that you've just described, and also creating enough urgency and enough intention around it that people are... the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention, who is it? Thomas Jefferson, I think, said nothing focuses the mind like a hanging. So the notion of having some amount of urgency in place while also creating an environment that is, to your point healthy, constructive, gives people the ability to think laterally, to have a moment to breathe, to have the brain work in a different way. I think that's a real challenge these days in running a creative business.

Skyler Mattson:

It is. Luckily or, well, I guess it is to our benefit, there are deadlines in our business, there are always deadlines and so we know what we are working toward and we know we have to get there. And does that mean we meander along the way and pull three straight all nighters to get there? Or does that mean we're thoughtful in the way we set up the process so that we are checking in, making decisions and moving things forward along that timeline, whether it's a two week timeline or a three-day timeline. I think we've become more responsible with our time management in trying to have this balance.

Charles:

Yeah. It's such an interesting point. Are you, have you had experience of any success with people working virtually?

Skyler Mattson:

We have. And I do think it's more challenging in an environment where you're ideating together, I mean, there's a lot of magic in the room where you're looking at each other and you're riffing off what the other person is saying, so it sort of just builds in that regard, but we are learning to have remote workers and work remotely. We have an office in Seattle and now one in New York and we always thought, okay, the creative teams need to be together so the whole creative team needs to be in one of the offices, but we can pull in strategists from another location or we can have an account lead from another location, because you know the creatives they need to be in the room together. But now we're learning that that's not always the case, there can be an art director in Seattle, working with a copywriter in Los Angeles. And technology is enabling that.

Charles:

And what makes that work beyond technology? What are the dynamics that have to be in play for that relationship to actually create, you know, original valuable thinking?

Skyler Mattson:

Probably the same dynamics that need to be in place when you're working with somebody face to face, right? It's trust, it's respect, it's this desire not to let a teammate down because you're both responsible for getting this thing to be as great as it can be. I don't think that that dynamic is much different whether you're Zooming or doing FaceTime or sitting across the table from someone.

Charles:

Your company is at an interesting point in its own evolution, because you're beginning to deal with the evolution of the relationship of the founders to the organization.

Skyler Mattson:

We are. We are at a very interesting time, I would say the most exciting time, absolutely, in the time I've been here. We were acquired by Infosys, a global IT and consulting business based in India, and this happened in May, and they are hundreds of thousands of people and we are about a hundreds in the US. And it's been exciting because they have the digital capability to build anything that we can imagine. And we were sometimes stifled by our own ability to develop something and now we have this massive support, to really create anything we can dream of.

Charles:

And what's it like guiding the company through the evolution of the relationship that the founders have, because obviously you've worked there for, what, 16 years at this point?

Skyler Mattson:

Yes.

Charles:

And so the founders in any kind of business that has that kind of level of intimacy have such a powerful, profound role to play, in ways that sometimes the founders can articulate and define, and I think often in ways the founders don't always recognize the power that they bring when they're just around, right? Their presence and their perspective. How are you dealing with, and how are you guiding the company through that evolution of those relationships?

Skyler Mattson:

Well our founders are still here, so Tracy Wong is still active and Ben Wiener is still active, Pat Doody retired about five years ago, but he still comes into the office in Seattle weekly. I think the biggest thing has been helping the agency navigate this change, we were very proud of our independence, we'd stand up and do business pitches and say we're fiercely independent and we've had to scratch that from the script.

Infosys acquired us because we can do something that they cannot, and because of that they have allowed us to continue to do things the way we do them, which is amazing, so we're still Wongdoody and we still have control over how we hire and our internal processes and our benefits and I think because of that on a day to day basis, it doesn't feel like much had changed, but the idea of change is very scary and a lot of people when we announced the news and they heard it, got scared, because it's the unknown. Helping to preserve our culture during a time of change is something that I think about every day. It's the most important thing.

Charles:

And how are you doing that?

Skyler Mattson:

It's a lot of open communication, it's a lot of honesty, because some of the things that are scaring people in terms of the unknown are things that we don't have the answer to and being honest about that is okay. And really just I think the open line of communication is the most important thing. Talking about things as we learn about them, sharing ideas for the vision, having an open door policy for anybody who wants to ask questions one on one, not in a massive all agency meeting. And then, I have to believe that my personal optimism and my personal excitement about the opportunity this brings and what the future may bring with this acquisition, I think that energy rubs off and it's an energy that I'm really mindful of when I walk into the office every morning, what is the energy that I'm bringing to my teams and what do they feel from me? And it's authentic, genuine excitement about what's about to come because of this partnership and so that's what they feel.

Charles:

So you are codifying the culture but also making sure that you are completely conscious of the role of, or the impact, better put, that you have as an individual leader with a big profile walking into that environment every day.

Skyler Mattson:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Charles:

I'm always interested in hearing from people who are talking about the importance of creating an open door policy and clear communication, those things, as you well know, are easier said than done, how do you make sure that both you and the rest of the organization are behaving that way on a day to day basis? Because things get in the way of that, right?

Skyler Mattson:

They do get in the way of that, and there's the very tactical way of I have direct reports and I have one on ones scheduled on the calendar and I don't move them unless there is something that absolutely must happen at that point in time. Usually it's client driven, but I have been able to honor those meetings that are scheduled.

Because of that, the people who report to me have people who report to them and they set up one on ones with them and they honor that time as well. Of course things happen and there have been points in time where that has been less of a priority and that was a problem. Any time the running of the business and the, I mean I say profits over people, any time that becomes more of a focus, I am not enjoying what I do anymore and the team is not getting what they deserve, and so I'm very mindful of it. Our most important asset, and anyone's most important asset in a creative industry, is their people. And so that is the number one. The people come first. The people we work with internally, and our clients and our vendors who we partner with externally. Number one thing. And if we all agree on that, then it's not hard to make the decision. We know how to make the decision.

Charles:

Yeah. That's very powerful. What's your relationship with fear?

Skyler Mattson:

That it's never as scary as you think it's going to be. I mean, I have this print-out on my wall at my desk and it says "At any point in time you have two choices, step forward into growth or step back into safety.” And having been at the same agency for really my entire career, I have had so many points where I've been given a chance, and I'm either going to step forward into growth, and there's a little bit of fear there, and there's anxiety over not being able to accomplish what is expected, or step back into safety. Every time I've stepped forward into growth and every time I've figured it out. Maybe not perfectly at first, but I've figured it out and so the next step for me isn't as scary because I know I'm going to figure it out.

Charles:

And how do you lead?

Skyler Mattson:

I lead through inspiring others and encouraging others to take that next step too. I have found so much gratification as I've become more senior in the agency in seeing people under me, my team, succeed, and so leading in a way that puts them in a position to be their very best I think is contributing to why I feel so gratified in what I do.

Charles:

And my last question for you, what are you afraid of?

Skyler Mattson:

I'm afraid of letting people down, I'm afraid of letting my team down by not being the leader that they need. I'm afraid of letting our founders down by not being able to help take the agency to where they want it to go. And I'm afraid of letting my family down by not being the mom I want to be for them.

Charles:

I finish every episode with three takeaways that I've heard that I think make you successful as a creative leader, so let me offer you these three and have you tell me what you think.

First is, you clearly have a deep and abiding concern for other people, I mean a real empathy for what other people are experiencing and supporting them. Two is I think you go about helping them and also just your day to day things you're trying to get done with a real sense of intention and you put order and practice around that in a way that I think is fairly unusual. I think it's easy to talk about the fact that you want to do something or there's a set of behaviors that you want to follow, and then most people don't have the discipline to actually make sure that they're doing things in a way that are consistent with that, and I think three is supporting that, it seems to me that you have a very clearly defined set of values that are important to you and how you show up, and in your case, how the company shows up, that you want to make sure are present in everything that you do and that you can influence within the company. How do those three strike you?

Skyler Mattson:

Well, thank you, it's really powerful to hear someone else be able to articulate what you're trying to do, and so that feels absolutely what I'm trying to. The part about discipline resonates well because we didn't talk a lot about that but I am really focused on accomplishing, but not so much that I'm not going to keep people as our priority, but that is part of it too. Everybody wants to succeed.

Charles:

Yeah, and that's a hard balance to maintain, isn't it? Because I think a lot of people have the intention of wanting to help other people but the business gets, you know, kind of sweeps you along, the day to day reality can sweep you along if you don't bring something to buttress your intention in terms of discipline and practice every day, it's a difficult thing to actually show up as the person you want to show up as.

Skyler Mattson:

It can be, unless you are so intentional about that being a focus and then it just becomes a part of the way you are.

Charles:

Yeah, I think that's very well said. Skyler thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it.

Skyler Mattson:

Thank you, Charles.