Lynette Xanders – The Doctor Is In

Bend Design | 10.06.17

Bend Design Speaker, Lynette Xanders, returns to Bend Design in 2017 with two sold-out workshops.

Lynette is CEO and Chief Strategist of Wild Alchemy, an insight-based brand strategy, creative development and cultural momentum company. We help companies optimize their branding and marketing efforts to enable them to create something amazing℠.

René Mitchell, Bend Design Co-Producer, caught up with Lynette and talked shop and explored what does not keep her up at night.

RM: You are back for a second year at Bend Design with two workshops and they are already sold out. What do you have to say about that?

LX: Amaze-balls. I’m so delighted I can hardly stand it. The people I met last year were truly remarkable – I’ve thought about most, connected with some, and worked with a few. I can’t wait to meet this new wave of creative, curious, open-minded, electric people. BND DSGN was a highlight for me last year and I suspect it’s going to blow the doors off this year. I am most grateful for the opportunity to do two workshops and connect with even more folks – this is so my tribe.

RM: What keeps you up at night?

LX: Nothing. My sleep is sacred. If I can change it, I shut up about it and change it. If I can’t, I change how I feel about it. That’s part of the magic sauce I want to share. But if you want to know what worries knock at my door regularly, they run the gamut of “is anyone out there listening?,” “Do I have enough money coming in to feed my family like kings?” and “did I just overwater my jade plant?” Life, you know. But I work really, really hard at making my life really, really easy and am happy to report that my happy meter usually hovers around a 9.  Excellent sleep is part of that and I’ll let nothing get in the way.

RM: Who Inspires you?

LX: Timothy Ferriss (The 4-hour Workweek), Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist), Kurt Vonnegut – all authors, huh. I look to businessmen who are also artists with a heart as a North Star of how people could/should be behaving: Richard Branson (he may just have a good publicist), Elon Musk (I’ll forgive him his connections for the Tesla way), Oprah (I know, I know, but she’s still the bomb. Who else is doing what she does?). I actually learn a ton from my daughter (as you may know from my stories) but in our industry, Stan Richards is the man.

RM: What are your three favorite publications?

LX: Communication Arts is still the shizzle in my mind. I also really like Uppercase. For life topics, I like Cook’s Illustrated and Real Simple. They’re the only things I read regularly. That said, I buy a ridiculous number of books and e-books so I can peruse at will. And BlinkList is a great app for synthesizing nuggets from books. For me, this is my greatest source of inspiration – digging for nuggets that help me understand more about what interests me, what I believe in or what I’ve never once thought about before. They’re the source for anything you want more of — as my dear friend once convinced me, “You aren’t born as someone who can’t cook. If you can read, you can cook.”  Dang, right?

RM: Last year at Bend Design you talked about the importance of keeping a clean desk. For those who missed, why is this important?

LX: Yay! Someone out there was listening! I’d be delighted to tell you why. We, as creatures, have only a certain capacity for stimulation. The things we surround ourselves with provide stimulation – either good or bad – whether we’re actively thinking about it or not. Visual clutter and lack of order are drains on our energy and our psyche – again, whether or not we notice it. Think about walking into the DMV – can you feel that knuckle-dragging energy? The walls have something to do with it for sure. The papers stacked on your desktop, the files on your computer desktop, the crumbs in your keyboard all have an affect on you (think “vampire”). The opposite of this, though, has the opposite effect. The act of cleaning your desk and sitting down to a clean desk or clean piece of paper can make you feel like you just got home.  Guess what effect this has on your thinking, writing, creating? Exactly.  French chefs coined the phrase mise-en-place (which is French for “get your shit together” or, if more polite, “everything in its place.”)  They don’t start cooking until they’ve assembled and prepped all their ingredients and tools so they’re not scrambling while something may be burning. Keeping freneticism out is key to doing good work. There’s another related story about fireman, theatre directors and pilots that I’ll tell you about – as well as how this relates to writing a killer brief. Remind me. The beautiful thing is that you don’t even have to believe it for it to truly work – just do it. It’s a 10 degree shift that can have a revolutionary impact on your state of mind. I call it getting to an “elevated state”: one where you’re inspired and have the capacity to spend all your time and energy on the things that do matter (and turn your crank) instead of looking for your keys.

RM: What did you want to be when you were little?

LX: Every kid wants to be a vet, but I vividly remember facing my little yellow roll top desk to face my bedroom door and hanging out a sign: “Problem Doctor.” I just love solving problems – always have, I guess. Was I that serious as a kid? Perhaps. But it’s my ya-ya. I had a sign-in sheet and everything! Lucy from Peanuts should go in my inspirations list then, huh?

RM: Why did you choose a career in strategy and design?

LX: Because I couldn’t tend bar forever. Seriously, I fell into it. I knew I loved figuring out how things worked and how to make them work better, more efficiently, and with a more beautiful output. I just didn’t know for the longest time that there were people out there who could make a living at doing that. Then I discovered brands – and those brand-spoof stickers that came with nasty chewing gum the same size and shape of trading cards (Wacky Packages) showed up.  I was fascinated that the brand name and the image could not only be wrong, but overtly negative – and I still knew which brand each was for and liked them more for the self-deprecation (Crust, anyone?).  My stars aligned when I met Stan Richards (The Richards Group/Dallas) – still the smartest, most efficient and creative person I’ve ever known. He helped me see that this “commercIalIzed” world that I wasn’t sure I wanted to step into wasn’t some evil force in the world. Making things that are beautiful and important is good – making them to persuade someone to buy them is also good. We’re helping people make good decisions. And if you don’t believe in your client enough to believe it would be a good decision to support them, don’t work with them. Strategy and design go hand-in-hand; both rely on knowing what people want and doing your damnedest to give it to them.

RM: When have you seen design thinking solve an important issue?

LX: When has it not? Truly, it’s the scientific method. It’s the way we don’t keep doing the same thing over and over and simply wishing for a different result or praying for an idea to fall out of the sky. Begin with the end in mind. Have a hypotheses. Iterate. Test. Get feedback. Rinse. Repeat. I see it every day in how businesses – large and tiny – are being asked to operate. Most companies I work with these days have morphed their businesses at least by half in the past year – they’re doing entirely new things because that’s what the market (and the client) is demanding. It’s all spinning so much faster than it used to. That’s when you really have to hunker down and go back to basics (writing a brief is up there with design thinking, btw).  Basics that keep the plate spinning while we’re all learning to do something we’ve never done before (often on a deadline and within a budget) with people (who have their own shit going on). No small feat. I’m not really answering your question, so let me be specific: in working with a client who’s never done something like a survey before (it happens), we set the expectation that this is an experiment – that we’ll learn from the experience and make the next one even better. This is mostly to keep them from cramping up trying to find perfect. There is no perfect. Wabi-Sabi, baby. We build the questions based on hypotheses of what we think might be going on (without leading), so that we know what we intend to do with the information on the back end. After we get it back, we do a post-mortem and write down what we would have done differently and we carry on. This doesn’t mean I love surveys, btw, but I love KNOWING what we know so we can move the ball forward and create something amazing.