2015 was a banner year for Trestles. We almost doubled our year-over-year revenue and I grew our core team from one to five, beginning to bring talent in-house after a number of years of relying heavily on contractors to achieve high-impact results. In addition, Trestles serviced a number of new client types and new industries, brought on three business mentors, and piloted a refined service delivery model that includes implementation coaching and problem framing. We also cultivated a powerful community of champions in our local network with whom we began facilitating a dialogue about what “connectivity in the Triangle” might look like. I, as founder and CEO, began speaking at conferences and events related to innovation and entrepreneurship, and even got an offer to consider writing regularly.
But with all of those “high growth” accomplishments in mind, what we accomplished in 2015 that I am most proud of is getting super clear on who we are as a company and who we want to be in the future. We did this by investing time, and money into uncovering our core competencies and making some difficult decisions about what types of work (and what partners) were and were not a fit for us. In this messy process, we crafted our new vision statement: “creating a world where people feel less like strangers.” This vision has compelled us to action, and it has compelled us to change our focus from “service design” to “design management,” a discipline that I studied in graduate school.
Our Big Pivot
Design management is a term that feels both broad enough to encompass all that we do, and narrow enough to explicitly define us in a category with which I’m wildly comfortable. We are designers, but not of the sort you might often imagine: we craft experiences and environments. Our work is that of a conductor, not a band-member. We help our clients fine-tune their offerings and craft new ones that hit the right notes. Admittedly, we don’t know how to play all of the instruments, but what we do know is how they should sound. We have the ears and eyes of human-centered designers and are keenly aware of what feels “off” and what feels “on” when it comes to engaging people and building a people-powered brand.
In 2015, we also discovered, maybe for the first time, that radical hospitality and human touch are at our core and are our competitive edge in an increasingly digital world. We decided to focus on them, rather than shying away.
And Why A New Identity?
As we enter the new year, we are excited to unfurl our new identity as a design management consultancy, a creative firm that cares most about human relationships. Accordingly, it’s only natural that Trestles build a culture of authenticity, trust, creativity, and radical hospitality. Because, as many of us know, the best organizations drive from the inside out. If we are to live into our vision as an organization that’s all about welcoming strangers, then we must embody that vision internally as well as externally. And we must welcome the stranger first.
Breadmaking Analogy for Business
To kick off an internal strategy retreat that we hosted in early January, I shared a bold and unusual idea with our team: “What if we thought about building our culture the same way that bakers think about making bread?” This framing came to me just days before the retreat, as I took off work early to learn breadmaking techniques with my mother at La Farm Bakery, arguably one of the best bakeries in the Southeast, if not in the country. While exploring the intricacies of stretching dough to make flatbread crust and mixing simple ingredients (read: often less than four) to form a dough that could enable dozens of different creations, I realized two important things that helped me understand the task before me as Trestles’ CEO and founder in a year where we anticipate more growth than ever before and live deeply into our identity: 1) Simple, pure ingredients make for great dough, when placed into the hands of a well-trained baker; 2) It’s the artful kneading and stretching process that makes for great bread.
One of my favorite things about visiting the La Farm kitchen was the simplicity of its backstage operation. La Farm’s kitchen was nothing fancy, nothing extraordinary, to the naked eye. It was full of the basics, no major bells and whistles from an ingredients standpoint or even an appliances standpoint. But, it had just what it needed to build great bread: great bakers who had mastered the art of turning the ordinary (simple, pure ingredients like flour, water, and oil) into the extraordinary-fluffy, light ciabatta, croissants, flatbreads. What sets La Farm apart is not its kitchen, its not La Farm’s raw ingredients, its the bakers who work there: people who are deeply passionate about their craft, who are eager to learn, and who show up ready to fully apply themselves to the task at hand.
Great bread isn’t made through a process of adding more and more complexity. It’s made through a process of “sensing” and “feeling.” The breadmaker’s task is one of learning how a dough should feel when it is ready for baking, and preparing a dough to be ready as such. Often, for the breadmaker, this means letting a dough rest when it has been stretched too much. If you keep stretching a dough when it’s ready to tear, I learned, it will tear, and the result will be bad bread. Meanwhile, if you give a dough time to recover after much stretching, the bread will be just fine. Sometimes this means letting the dough sit for 30 minutes, sometimes it means letting it cool down in the fridge if it is not at the right temperature.
Organizations stretch as they grow, and they often need time to rest. This task of building a great organization requires a similar type of a skill as breadmaking; it is an intuitive, sensory process that involves knowing when things are right and knowing when things need to mature or evolve. The best breadmakers start out by mastering the basics and learning how to work a dough by feel. They wait to add complexity until they’ve mastered the essentials. They are not afraid of mistakes, which are inevitable, and even start from scratch when it is necessary.
There is much to learn here, and much still for me to uncover in the coming year as I manage our growth as a company and a culture, and advise a number of our client organizations in a similar capacity. For now, let it suffice to say that the breadmaking analogy has empowered us, and let it empower you too as you join us on this journey of making our bread, and at times helping you make yours. Welcome to our digital table, the Trestles blog! We can’t wait to break bread with you regularly and hope to meet you face-to-face someday soon!
Founder & CEO