Proven teams: Ainsley & Sarah interview each other

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Proven teams. MASHups that come up with the goods, every time.

Strategist Ainsley (left) and Creative Director Sarah (right) are the creative duo we MASHed together for Express Glass, and Knight Frank. Individually- they’re impressive (read a combined 40+ years of experience, and a check-list of brands they’ve worked with including Westpac, PWC, Carnival Cruises, Tourism New Zealand, Bellroy, RMIT Online, Wingate and Libra), together- they’re a winning blend of corporate insight and creative talent. 

So we asked them to interview each other. 3 questions each, 3 thought starters from us- get clever, get curious and get creative. 

Over to them… they talk hip hop dance classes, the power of empathy, the perception of brand strategists, and Albert Einstein. Genius.

SARAH ASKS AINSLEY:

How do you approach a new project like Knight Frank or Express Glass? What are the ingredients to your secret sauce?/ What do you need to know to work on a company’s strategy?

Fortunately my secret sauce, isn’t very secret 😉 It’s all about customer experience design thinking. Knowing your audience and being super clear on the business’ value proposition to them is where I start. I spend a lot of time understanding the perspective of the customer, client, shareholder, stakeholder, commentator on a particular business. What’s the environment of this sector? What forces and perceptions are at play? And then look at what the company’s proposition is to each of those areas and how close the connection is, needs to be, or could be to their customer. I find that process gives great insight to guiding strategic discussions. For Knight Frank whose clients are commercial, corporate and high net-worth consumers, influential credibility was the common key. For Express Glass whose customer base is very diverse in profile, the common thread was practicality and personalisation. 

What’s the biggest challenge or misunderstood perception about strategy?

That it shouldn’t take as long as it does! If only I had a dollar every time I’m asked to ‘whip up’ a strategy, I’d be rich. But much like all creative work, our excellence shines when we have time to prepare, plan and produce. Albert Einstein summed it up best when he said “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions”. 

When was the last time you did something for the first time? And what was it?

I’m a massive fan of constantly doing things I’ve not done before. To be future fit, it’s not enough to simply be curious, you have to actually do it as well. One of my lead principles in work and life is to experiement often with low-cost ideas – purely to see what happens. Because how do you know, if you don’t try? The older I get the more I have to actively make time to do this because day-to-day life can simply get in the way, and before you know it another month has gone by. I recently ghost wrote a chapter for a book, made pasta from scratch and biked for six hours. All things I’ve not done before. With Tribal Chocolate (my hot chocolate business) I’m constantly experimenting with flavours not normally used, new delivery methods and right now I’m figuring out how to turn my wet product into a dry product. Very different to strategy work and I love it because pretty much everything I do with Tribal Chocolate I’m doing for the first time.   

AINSLEY ASKS SARAH:

Most people have creative sparkers to get them into the ‘mode’ – what’s in your toolkit to help you creatively focus?

I don’t really have one go-to strategy to go into ‘creative mode’ nor do I have a switch that I can just turn on (I wish). I usually get excited about a project when I am able to talk directly with different stakeholders and can ask as many questions as possible. The more I learn about the service or product, the audience and obstacles that the client faces, the better I can help solve problems. Empathy is definitely helpful – put yourself in the shoes of your client’s customers and think about what makes them stop or use the product? How can you help them, what are they interested in? I like to have some time to think when I have to come up with designs and creative solutions, however sometimes you don’t have that luxury. I always find the spark, sometimes it just takes a break in nature and a coffee. 

If you could ask one thing of strategists when working with designers, what would it be? 

I like to be involved as early as possible – just the way we worked together on Knight Frank and Express Glass! Yay Ainz!

I’d ask strategists to invite us to workshops (with the client and internally) and regular catch ups to keep us posted, we might be able to flag some hurdles, point out design debt and advise on scope, which will make their planning and everyone’s life easier. I often feel that designers are advocates for people (who happen to be customers) while some strategists often only focus on conversion and numbers.

Asking you the same in return, when was the last time you did something new, and what was it?  

I have recently joined a session of the Adult Debating program of Debaters Association of Victoria (oh dear, with English being my second language – that was intense), I went for a hip hop dance class and tried bouldering (instead of climbing). I try to do something new every week or at least once a month … I give myself little tasks and try to be aware of how I approach things and go about challenges. I think if you force yourself to try something new (and sometimes scary) you train your brain to be ok with ‘not knowing’ – which in return helps me to stay creative and think out of the box.

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