July 27, 2020

Start-Up Survival 101: Stress Less, Learn More

A learning culture is the secret to growing both your team and your business.

Start-Up Survival 101: Stress Less, Learn More

72 hours. That’s the amount of time I had to complete the take home assignment and land the job as a Creative Intern at Circles.Life. Factor in all the other things you have to do in life and it was more like I had 30 hours.

The assignment was to create a hero image for an email that said “Your adventures need data too.” I admit, 30 hours to do this is reasonable for someone who knows what a hero image is, or how to use Adobe AfterEffects. But the thing is I had very little knowledge of either of those things.

This is the first motion graphic I ever made for Circles.Life. It’s rather humiliating to put this up for people to see, but “A for Effort,” eh?

So you can imagine my amazement when Circles.Life offered me the job as a Creative Intern. I thought I had tricked them into thinking I was an Adobe Suite master with my amazing 5 second animation. Little did I know, they were quite prepared to take on a noob like me. In fact, everyone was a learner at Circles.Life and it was precisely the learning culture that helped me survive through the crazy experience of working in a startup.

As an ode to my survival, I’d like to share with you the key elements of the Circles.Life learning culture that I have observed.


And so little answers but we'll figure it out together. Source

1. It’s okay to ask questions.

I know a few people who’ve felt uncomfortable to ask questions at work. So instead, they bumble about trying to figure things out on their own until they meet a dead end and are super frustrated. I did this too for a while, until I realized it was okay to ask questions. Everyone constantly reminded me that they were there to help. So I took up their offers, and my first few weeks were filled with questions that my co-workers kindly answered. “Guys, why does my screen look blurry on AfterEffects?” “How do I export a gif with a transparent background?” “Why is Illustrator selecting something when I didn’t click on it?” I soaked it all up and took so many notes.

Baby steps, progress is still progress no matter how small. Source

2. Try things outside of your comfort zone.

During my first 1-on-1, my manager didn’t bat an eye when I said I wanted to do graphic design, motion graphics, UX, UX research, all within the span of six months. Such breadth of interests was normal. In fact, everyone in my team has done so many different things throughout their career at Circles.Life, and they never seem to stop looking for new things to learn. Graphic designers do analytics, carry out A/B testing, build websites, work on UI, and more. As long as you want to learn, you can find a project to work on that will help you learn that skill.

You don't have to be perfect all the time cause the truth is, no one is. Source

3. Make space for imperfection.

“I want to see drafts!” is something I always hear from our team leader. Constant feedback loops, such as our daily team standups, make space for us to learn from each other. It means that you don’t have to go and create perfection before you can share what you did with the team. Everyone supports and learns from each other.

You all knew this was coming. Source

4. We’re all in it together.

One day, I was about to give an update on a project that I wasn’t sure was going in the right direction. I worried that my stakeholders would be upset that I didn’t have all the answers to my questions. But really, I worried for nothing because my stakeholders were more than willing to discuss my questions and fill in the gaps for me. I realized that the project wasn’t all on me — that team work and co-thinking was expected.

5. Failure is fine.

“We try but we never get it right the first time.” This is what my manager often told me. It was a mantra that I heard over and over again. Of course, failure is not what we aim for, but we are prepared to take it if it happens. We learn to recover, to be sensitive to things that are not working and quickly change course.

Wow, look at how much better I got at motion graphics because of the supportive work environment in my team.

What I have been most grateful for during my time at Circles.Life is the learning culture within my team. With a learning mindset, we take more risks, we ask more questions, and we act more empathetically towards our peers, our co-learners. Even if we fail sometimes, we know we can get up again.

This article was contributed by Isa Pengskul and was originally posted here.


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