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It’s InnovatorsBox’s 6th Birthday! 6 Key Lessons I Learned In That Time

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Throw the confetti and bring on the cake: it’s InnovatorsBox’s 6th birthday!

Six years in college would normally end with graduation. For InnovatorsBox, it’s just another beginning. For innovators and creators, the growth never stops. That’s why, as we celebrate our successes, we always remember to stay humble and reflect

Not only are we celebrating our 6th birthday, but we’re also trumpeting the release of our third 2019-2021 Impact report, which you can read here where we celebrate our highlights, lessons learned, and our vision for the future. Thank you innovators for going on this journey with us to unlock creativity for all and continuing to do so each day.

InnovatorsBox® Impact Report 2019-2021

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6 years ago, I started InnovatorsBox with a dream – how can I help more people get unstuck at work and find happiness? What does a happy inclusive creative workplace look like? How can we uniquely help teams, leaders, and communities? While the how evolved, we kept seeing how the root to why we were born stayed the same – make creativity and innovation accessible for all to help design workplaces for all. 

As a result in 6 years, we have:

Reached

0 +
Individuals

Led & Participated in

0 +
Speaking Engagements

Worked in

0 +
cities in 6 countries

I’m humbled. This is not just the result of all the work work me and my team have done, but really the care and love the community has shared with us. We continue to wrestle each day to learn how we can build an innovative culture, empathetic leaders, and thoughtful workflows that empower all workplaces to be creative. And each day, we’re learning that the resources and tools need to be even more broadly available. 

So, in celebration of our 6-year birthday, I wanted to take a moment to look back at my top lessons as the Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox and the lessons I hope we continue to remember as we serve more innovators around the world. I hope these insights inspire you in your innovation, your business, and your dream.

1. Believe In Your “Why” To Manifest It

If you don’t deeply believe in why you’re doing what you’re doing, you will lose sight of the reason as the going gets tough. 

I’m human. Honestly, there were moments in the beginning when I felt discouraged, ignored, or even crushed as I looked at our bleak bank account, worried how we would make it through to the next month. But we were able to push on and show up again day after day because the “why” was clear: we wanted to help people who were unhappy and stressed out at work. If they could just find their source of joy, their lives would be much happier and more enriching. Our goal was to help make this world a better place by creating and sharing content that inspires and motivates employees to be more creative. 

So in addition to not giving up on your “why” dream why you want to dream bigger and what you want to do. There were many projects and initiatives such as music, podcast, online courses, animation, and character development that I wanted to do for years, that we were not ready to do. 

Instead of feeling discouraged, I continued to wonder, what would it look like for us to do those one day? Why would making these resources be available? What should I prepare now so that we could be ready when we are ready to do it?  I kept going back to how the reason why I could find my creativity, courage, and curiosity is because I had access to learning opportunities, communities, and readings. If more people had access to it and came across those resources they will be inspired and reminded how they can be more creative and can lead their team more creatively. They may know that they can do it too. 

This is why, when the pandemic halted all our in-person sessions, it gave me the chance to reinvent and rethink how we serve. It was scary to lose 90% of our business and had to pivot abruptly but having a clear why ground us how we showed up. Everything we did we focused on the question – are we making creativity and people development in the workplace accessible? If yes, we dove deeper. I’m so grateful that today not only did we find a new and better way to serve our community and clients online but also expanded our capacity for all the things I wish to start one day. In 2021 alone, we got to launch two award-winning podcasts – Dear Workplace and Curious Monica, created online games, produced music (9 original albums scheduled just in 2021!), created a cooking show, wrote a children’s book, published audiobooks, and developed mascots, all while serving more clients for culture, leadership and team development online. 

So remember your why. Why are you doing what you are doing? The how you’ll find if you never forget your why and why that is important for the people you want to serve.

2. Build A Team Based On Strengths To Grow Together

Build a team that you can grow together with – not just today but tomorrow and everyday. In the beginning, I didn’t realize how important this nuance was. Even though I thought I was being mindful with my hiring and team development, in hindsight I realized I focused more on bringing on people who were showing interest as a fan and for their personal interest instead of being curious about how they would grow together as a team. 

It’s hard to know at first. Sometimes I thought they understood our why as they expressed enthusiasm but I realized their capabilities or capacity did not align – they were either years ahead of what we needed or not ready for the pace and agility we needed. Sometimes they had the right capabilities but they didn’t believe in our mission or understood why we did what we do. Creativity, innovation, culture, and people work require a lot of care and thoughtfulness and not everyone saw it eye-to-eye on why deep care was needed. And sometimes the growth they were looking for was something we couldn’t provide. We’re still a small business with a big dream, there are things we cannot provide that a big corporation could. (But then again, we do have other perks that other big corporations may not have in flexibility, agility, and growth too!) 

This is why, as more time passed, I kept thinking more deeply about how we bring on our team members to grow truly together as a team. Yes, we’re all here living life and I wanted to find members who would want to see their time at InnovatorsBox to be a time of growing in their personal career but also help us grow together as a team.

Here are four suggestions, for instance, for you to consider!

1. Be Intentional During Hiring

When it comes to finding people to interview and hire, you must be intentional. Don’t rush through the process, or else you could hire those who lack values, motivation, and even the skills required for the job. 

Instead, take your time and find people from diverse locations and through different methods. We found a lot of people through the word of mouth, referrals, and reaching out to different online recruiters. You never know where the gems are. When you find them, you can help them grow and build as members of your team. 

2. Be Intentional During Onboarding

Be intentional in onboarding, and how you make your new employees feel welcome. What are some cues that will make them feel included, like they belong? 

I’ve started being more intentional about how we position, how our welcome system is set up, and the way operationally map out workflows so that everyone feels they can succeed and grow in this team. Most importantly, I want them to know that I have their back. 

3. Make Space For New Employees To Be Themselves

Make space for them to be themselves and bring out their best traits. Create workflows and processes where they can optimize how they work and collaborate, instead of feeling like they always must ask you how you want them to do it. 

We found Slack to be a great program that allows employees to initiate communication and collaborate by sharing documents, audio, and video. 

4. Provide An Intentional Feedback Loop

Provide an intentional feedback loop and a way for your team members to see how much you value and respect them. Give bonuses and write team articles. Get them involved in the steps of creatorship, so they feel a sense of ownership and can practice sharing their thoughts with their peers. Schedule quarterly team meetings so that your employees can get to know each other. 

By treating your employees with respect and making them feel like individuals, you grow a better team. 

These lessons are easier said than done. It will take iterations but I hope this is a reminder to why hire slow is so important for you and for your people. For more actionable guide about growing your team mindfully, especially when your workplace is growing rapidly, check out our blog here that we wrote!

3. There Is Always A Creative And Agile Way To Do Everything

I strive to always do more with less, and I’m always hungry to find new creative ways to accomplish that goal. However, even though I spend hours optimizing my workflows, it’s only after time has passed and I look back that I see those new ways and where I could have improved. This has helped me become more adept at developing my flexibility skills and creating workflows that permit staying agile.

“Monica delivers! Her deep subject-matter expertise combined with her creativity, flexibility, and empathy make Monica an unbeatable facilitator. Monica is exceptionally skilled at meeting both people and business needs. She crafted an outstanding webinar for my company, and I would gladly work with her again."
- Middle Border Forward

We made something as simple as scheduling meetings and ideations more flexible by using Google Docs, where I and any of my team members can go at any time to share ideas and perform edits. Similarly, we use Slack to create threads that we can revisit at any time to make changes or brainstorm. 

I found that part of my creativity lies in helping the company stay agile and nimble and creative. Everything I’ve learned at InnovatorsBox has taught me that agility is key to constantly staying curious and encouraging your team members to share their thoughts and feelings.

Want an easy to follow way to optimise your own workflows like we have? Check out our roadmaps to Building a Happy Company Culture Roadmap and Building a Happy, Hybrid Workplace.

4. You Never Know How Far The Ripple Effect Goes

Sometimes when we do speaking engagements or workshops, even though we put hours of hard work into them, it’s hard to see if what impact we made. We hope we did, but we don’t always have a front-row seat to see how people in the audience feel and grow afterward. And at times it makes me hear my imposter syndrome voice of “Are we really making a difference? or is this all in just our mind?”

Fortunately, I’m humbled to share these six years of work have given us data – and perspective. We received reader responses to our newsletter telling us how the message in that newsletter was exactly what they needed to hear that morning.

I get emails saying how reading my books a few years ago changed their life, and our clients often find us after seeing us speak at another event or an introduction made by someone who saw us a few years ago. The conversations start with “I was at your event three years ago and it was still one of the most effective, fun, and interactive workshop that I remember which is why I wanted to ask if you could help our team with our people and culture development too.” 

As someone who loves speed, I feel my instant validation seek stops me from appreciating this ripple effect and I want to hold and remember how important it is we think about things in the long run. The care we put in now, some may see and some may not but we do it because we see it and we’re not looking at the effect just for tomorrow but we hope years to come.

With that perspective in mind, we now create all our content – podcast episodes, music tracks, workshops, consultation programs, etc. – with the knowledge that every interaction we create can have an encouraging ripple effect. One new offering we created was the Rethink Facilitation Course which outlines how professionals can lead more engaging and effective meetings – especially online! 

This was new for me and at first, some asked why don’t you make it simpler and cheaper production? I could have but I thought about how the experience would be for the participants. From the live online sessions to the online course, I decided to take a lot of work to produce the videos, workbooks, and more. As a result of the care, many shared how not only has the course been effective but a fun, reflective and powerful tool that made facilitation training accessible and relatable. One participant, for example, said:

“For a while now, I have been questioning my facilitation skill. I knew for sure it wasn’t great so when I saw the opportunity I felt it would be worth exploring. I received a Scholarship Discount to attend the facilitation session and I must say I learned a lot and feel empowered and intentional about improving my facilitation skills and style. I feel more confident about facilitation and can't wait to put it to practice."

So whether it is services or content development, I ask “are we really putting everything we got to think of all the people who may use or engage with this?” Yes, maybe they will never know how much care and editing we put in. Maybe we won’t get the feedback loop immediately. But we know and someone will eventually and it will mean the world for that person. So we show up each day thinking of the ripple effect – not just today but for tomorrow and years to come. If it were that easy, we wouldn’t have those gaps or challenges so don’t give up!

5. Be Patient. Good Things Take Time

Everything involved with InnovatorsBox took more time than I thought and that’s ok. An acorn does not turn into a tree and forest overnight. You need constant gardening, caring, watering, and nurturing. So when things took more time than I thought from the logo, trademark, to finding our team members and clients, I’d remind myself to be patient and rever that energy to future planning and dreaming. 

When I started InnovatorsBox I knew I wanted to build a company I could run for a long time. There are so many people out there who need help and that I want to support, and I needed time to do it right. I didn’t know all the “hows” or where I could help, or how long it would take. So while there were many moments that I stumbled when things took longer and were harder than I expected, I reminded myself that I’m not just looking to build a business for 1 year but for years to come. I need to map out small wins but also long-term wins to plant a forest not just for today but for the future.

"Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago."

Warren Buffett

A good example of the power of patience is how we find our team members. As I mentioned earlier, at times I wish we could do certain things faster or find certain talents earlier but it was worth spending more time interviewing and waiting to find the team we have. Today our team of 20+ individuals comes from not only diverse backgrounds but are all individuals passionate about their crafts and committed to building a creative workplace for all.

Be patient with your three types of growth: personal, business, and team. The key is to not give up and always continue to progress.  

6. Make It Fun

Lastly but most importantly, make fun and play a priority and everything you do.

Yes, we’re doing serious work but that doesn’t mean everything has to be always serious. I loved how  Serin Oh, one of our InnovatorsBox Studios team members, described how she felt about the work we do at InnovatorsBox – play. Creating experiences and content that inspire play and creativity is key but so is the process in how we develop as individuals. If we feel like we’re not having fun while making it or leading the sessions, then where is the fun! Work can be fun and playful if we design the process and workflows with those elements in mind. 

Yes, there will be times we feel stressed and overworked. I’ve had many of those late nights where I stayed up working on client projects or wrapping up an internal project launch process with some last-minute tweaking. But you can design this work to be fun and create an environment that is playful for all your team members. That’s why I try to keep in mind how we could design workflows, projects, and opportunities where we are having fun and can bring play into the process. 

Where are opportunities that you could work hard and play hard at the same time?  

InnovatorsBox® Impact Report 2019-2021

DOWNLOAD
Conclusion: Here’s To Another 6 Years Of Team Building, Growing, And Helping People Be Creative

As we celebrate our 6th year as a company, I have learned (and am still learning) that it’s not just important to learn how to be a strategic and better business leader, it’s also important to become a better human being. 

In six years, I’m most grateful at how InnovatorsBox has taught me how to be a better human being. As our business matures and our team grows, I see myself feeling more at ease in face of conflict and wanting to step more into humility. I joke with my family about how I became kinder and more patience since I became an entrepreneur because how can you not when you constantly experience how nothing goes the way you originally thought, but it will all come together in the end if you dream and build for it. Humility grounded growing is key. 

This is why, I’m grateful to also share our 3rd impact report where we reflected on our last three years of InnovatorsBox. We learned a lot and we’re still learning and I can’t wait to see where we’ll go in the next six years and more. As my dear friend often says, the hardest part of overnight success is the first ten years. We’re on that journey now. Thank you everyone for being part of this journey of bringing creativity to all. I can’t wait to empower more communities, teams, and leaders with my team at InnovatorsBox. We need more color of possibilities in this world. 

InnovatorsBox® Impact Report 2019-2021

DOWNLOAD

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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