“The Team Builder”

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Critical Mass
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Dianne Wilkins is the CEO of Critical Mass – a global digital experience design agency.

Episode 44: “The Team Builder” Dianne Wilkins

Welcome to Fearless, where we explore the “art and science” of leading creativity – the world’s most valuable business resource.

Each week… we talk to leaders who are turning the impossible… into the profitable! And in the process, are discovering what they’re capable of themselves.

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Today’s show features my conversation with Dianne Wilkins of Critical Mass and is called,

The Team Builder

“How do we create a mecca for amazing talent but enable them to live their lives they want to live their lives and where they want to live their lives, Upstate New York for example, and not have to commute every day.”

For most of the last two centuries, companies have relied on four tangible offerings to attract and retain talent. Predictable income. Physical space in which to work. Appropriate tools for that work. And a reliable stream of that work.

And if you look at the P&L of too many companies today, the wiring of this increasingly old-fashioned model is still far too evident.

Creative talent, difference-making creative talent, want to make one thing more than anything else. A difference. And they will go where they think they can do just that. And increasingly, they’re willing to do that alone if they can’t find a company that can give them a life equation that works for them.

Fearless leaders are willing to strip away the sticking plaster of paychecks and office space, and look at their companies through more open eyes.

How do we solve the physical, technical and emotional problems of virtual workforces? Of flexible schedules? Of people revealing skills we didn’t know they had and didn’t hire them for?

If your leadership depends on the physical ties you have with your best people, they won’t be your best people for long.

Inspire them, know them, connect them and celebrate them.  Those are the foundations of companies that attract talent magnetically. And the characteristics of fearless leaders.

Dianne Wilkins is the CEO of Critical Mass.  digital design and experience company. She is also a talent magnet, drawing people to her with her openness and her commitment to their success.

She is also a survivor.

We talked about her willingness to jump in, the tragedy that changed her life, and the role that ice cream played in shaping her remarkable career.

Let me know what you think.

Charles:

Dianne, welcome to Fearless, thank you so much for being here, thanks for being on the show.

Dianne Wilkins:

Thank you Charles, pleasure to be here.

Charles:

When did creativity first show up in your life? What’s your first memory of something being creative?

Dianne Wilkins:

I thought I might get that question.

Charles:

You thought you might.

Dianne Wilkins:

I’ve been thinking about that question. The first memory that I have that I would truly attribute to creativity and me exhibiting creativity and realizing what it was, was first grade. Got to first grade. I had a very young first-year first-grade teacher who had quite a large class, and there were a couple of us that already knew how to read, and knew how to read quite well, and write. Yet her whole plan for the first grade was to teach these kids how to read, and most of the other ones didn’t. Within a week she had no ideas what to do with the four of us. She ended up sending us to the library to do independent study, which to us meant race through the readers against each other to see who could go fastest.

Then we started writing stories, we were done. We were done with the first grade in about a week, we were done with the second grade in about a month. We just started composing stories, and we were actually writing them. Independently writing stories, sharing them with each other and then ending up sharing them with the class. We didn’t really realize we were inventing and creating and those kinds of things, until it became a big deal in the class, that, “Look at what these creative kids are doing together.”

It was fueled largely by competition and boredom, but all of a sudden we were making something and being called creative, and I don’t recall hearing that before.

Charles:

So the notion or the idea of creating stories from what you were reading was just instinctive to you?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah. I think so. We were reading. We were on a mission to read, and when we were done reading we had to write something else and share them with each other. It was very instinctive. It wasn’t assignment, it wasn’t whatever. It was filling time. We’d already read everything there was to read.

Charles:

You grew up where?

Dianne Wilkins:

Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, of course.

Charles:

How big is the population in Medicine Hat?

Dianne Wilkins:

50,000 people.

Charles:

Oh it’s quite large.

Dianne Wilkins:

Quite large, yeah.

Charles:

What got you out of Medicine Hat?

Dianne Wilkins:

Golf.

Charles:

Golf?

Dianne Wilkins:

Golf. Yeah. We can take a meandering route to where I am now clearly. I was a kid and I wanted to be a writer forever until I realized that my sports craziness was overtaking my reading/writing craziness. I was about 13 or 14, and I found golf. I played everything, but golf became the one, the sport. I gradually through high school whittled down all the other sports until it became just golf and decided I’m going to go on a golf scholarship somewhere in the States, and I did. I did one year at Washington State, realized, okay, this is not really better weather than Canada, and transferred down to Mobile, Alabama. Played NCAA golf on a golf scholarship down in Alabama.

Charles:

Was golf instinctive to you? Do you find that you had a natural aptitude for it?

Dianne Wilkins:

No, not at all. Actually my dad was a big golfer. He’s as much as he can, a big golfer. Of course, I fought it the whole time because he loved it so much, so there was no way that was going to be my thing, and then I got hooked. I’m not at all natural in sports. Quite natural at the reading, writing, quick study academic with the brain and absolutely a spazz. Uncoordinated, horrible as an athlete but oh man I wanted to be an athlete. I just practiced more than everyone else, worked harder. The strategic part of the game made sense to me and willed my way into being I think a decent golfer.

Charles:

Did you find creativity playing a role? I’ve played a lot of golf myself and I’ve always loved playing links golf because the imagination just comes into play, like where is this thing going to bounce and which way is this going to go and the wind’s a factor. I relish that where I’m not worrying as much about my technique as I am about the results on the all and what’s the ball going to do.

Dianne Wilkins:

Absolutely. I love that. When you get good enough to do shot making and that sort of thing.

Charles:

I never got to that point.

Dianne Wilkins:

My favorite thing is to be in a horrible spot, when it doesn’t matter by the way, but behind some tree having to make it low and curve around, whatever. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite because I get to try super creative stuff or because the expectations are so low, but yeah, there is the, “Oh yeah, watch this. No one’s ever taken this flight path before. I’m going to cut across this thing,” or whatever.

Charles:

Would you bring that out at competition as well or just when it didn’t matter?

Dianne Wilkins:

No, I would chicken out.

Charles:

Really?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah. I was far too mechanical and just not natural enough, so when the nerves hit me and stuff, I would struggle. I wasn’t a complete choker but I wouldn’t usually play my very best when it was the most meaningful. I was pretty average when it counted.

Charles:

How did your golf career go?

Dianne Wilkins:

I finished NCAA division one sort of thing. I did very well in my junior year. Not so well, a little choke-y in my senior year. I developed chronic tendonitis in both my wrists. It got to where every swing hurt. I was just in constant pain and cortisone shots.

Charles:

Was that the result of playing?

Dianne Wilkins:

No, it was a result of a summer job, injury when I was actually quite young, 14, 15 years old and I was scooping hard ice cream. I worked at an ice cream shop in the summer. I’ve always had about six jobs at a time, and one of them was scooping hard ice cream. The freezer was set too low. I ratched one of them, and so I started scooping with the other, I ratched the other one too. Then just being a golfer, they never really got to rest. I played volleyball and everything else in the offseason. It was just repetitive injury that wouldn’t go away.

Charles:

Wow.

Dianne Wilkins:

I got to where if I played enough to play, I was in too much pain to play, but if I rested enough, I couldn’t golf worth a crap.

Charles:

How ice cream wrecked my golf career, the title of your biography.

Dianne Wilkins:

It’s a sad story, exactly.

Charles:

How did you get into the creative industries?

Dianne Wilkins:

You’ll find there’s very little that’s actually planned in my path to Critical Mass and the creative world. I stayed in Alabama. I got an academic scholarship when I finished my undergrad, which was in English lit and creative writing. I had no idea, I was just taking something I liked while I was played golf because I was going to be on tour. I did get an offer to do an academic scholarship, an MBA and thought well why not? I have no idea what I’m going to do. I did that and then actually went back home to Calgary, near home. Met the guy who’s now my husband, typical story there, and just didn’t know what I was going to do.

Did some strange jobs, and then we decided we were going to get married and move to Europe. He had a German passport. I go, “Okay, let’s go do this.” He’s a Canadian kid but dad was born in Germany. Right around that time, we went out for beers to watch the Olympics actually with a friend of mine who I’d grown up golfing with and her husband. He was the founder of Critical Mass. We’re sitting there over beers, and he’s talking about how if he wins this big pitch thing, he’s going to open a new agency in Sweden. I didn’t know it was Stockholm at the time. In Sweden, and that’ll be really cool. That was it. I went back to my other job and went on with our wedding plans and all this other stuff.

I get a phone call, and she had said to him, “You know, if you win that thing, you should hire Di. She’s really organized.” I get phone call going, “We won, do you want to go to Sweden? Do you want a job?” I firmly believe if he’d have offered me a job in Calgary, because we were just going to explore. If it would have been an industry where I wasn’t able to wear jeans most of the time, I would have said no. As a result, I said it was Sweden and I could wear whatever I wanted most of the time, and kind of a casual creative whatever industry, and I said sure. I went as a project manager. I ended up going to Stockholm.

Actually that was the one question I had to phone and ask. He said, “Call me if you have any questions.” I phoned back, I’m like, “Stockholm or Gothenburg?” I didn’t even know which side of the country I was committing to. Never been to Sweden before, whatever. That was the path, and I went over. There were 13 of us that went over from Canada. Formed a whole new agency. That was half the company by the way. Critical Mass was about 25 people. Half stayed, and they hired some new people and half went to Sweden and started a new thing. No one was in charge, so I was in charge, which is a little bit of a theme in my life. That became the whole thing. I was there for two and a half years, and then back to Critical Mass in Calgary for a long time and then here three years ago.

Charles:

Other than being organized, what was it you think that they saw that you would bring to the table?

Dianne Wilkins:

My friend was just trying to help him fill a spot, but he told me many times he had no idea what he was hiring when he hired me. He really did think I was relatively intelligent because I had a master’s degree, person and a friend of his wife and that I must be organized. I don’t ever think he thought at that point that he wasn’t trying to find anything more than a project manager. The fact that I was the CEO of a 65 person agency in Stockholm in six months, that was not a path that crossed his mind, certainly never crossed mine either. A void in leadership is almost like a beacon screaming to me boss people around, take charge.

Charles:

You reached to fill that gap.

Dianne Wilkins:

Accidentally, innately. I do it all the time. I just am not good at … I can follow someone. I’m not the best follower, but I can’t not have someone in charge, it drives me bonkers, so I tend to seize control often.

Charles:

Did this feel brave to you at the time? Would that feel like a brave move or just a let’s go and see what happens?

Dianne Wilkins:

It was very much let’s go and see what happens, and “Hey, we need you to take on more. Hey, you’re going to be the head of client services. Oh no, hey, you’re going to be the head of the agency. Oh no, you got to pitch new business,” whatever. I don’t even know if anyone told me that. It just happened just kind of organically. It was 1998, and we’re a digital company. No one had a clue what was going on. Clients, agencies, we were making this stuff up as we went along. We were doing Saab Automobiles. Saab Automobile’s global websites, 18 countries, 21 languages, and they wanted all the font on their websites to be in their corporate font, which is a custom font, so every piece of text on 21 websites was an image because it had to okay right.

This was the kind of idiotic mistake that people were making back then because we didn’t know about it.

Charles:

Now you can make that on your phone, right?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah, exactly. That’s right. It was hours that we put in, pulling files out of Quark and saving them as images.

Charles:

Oh my god, quark, that’s right.

Dianne Wilkins:

It was absolutely stunning now how crazy that was. I was teaching between my master’s degree and leaving, and teaching college and teaching business and golf and all this stuff and trying to figure out what I was going to be. Waiting for my husband to finish his master’s degree, and all of the sudden, I’m running a creative and technology company at the forefront of the whole internet revolution in Stockholm. It all just kind of happened. We moved our wedding to accommodate my start date at work, and that was that. That was just how we were rolling.

Charles:

Do you find yourself suffering from imposter syndrome at any point or did you just feel like I’m just going to do what feels right to me?

Dianne Wilkins:

There were definitely moments. I had the benefit of being absolutely clueless. I had no idea what the industry was all about. I was from outside. I went to Sweden, which was its own beast and obviously started picking things up as we went along. It was in partnership with [Lowe] at the time, and so we were tightly associated with Lowe [inaudible] in Stockholm, which is a great agency. That was all I knew. What I did know was that everyone else was a 40-year-old guy in a suit and I was a 28-year-old girl with no clue. Yet, I had most of the answers when it was coming to our stuff. Definitely, the weird North American in Sweden and the youngest, which I keep forgetting I’m not anymore even close. Very much the only female at the time.

There were the moments, the introspective “Oh shit, do I really know,” the self-doubt moments, but they weren’t the prevailing feeling for sure.

Charles:

Did you instinctively develop a leadership philosophy or guidepost? What was your approach to leading since you hadn’t had a lot of experience in that?

Dianne Wilkins:

I had certainly led everything I’d ever been a part of my life instinctively from captain of my every team I was on, student counsel to you name it. I definitely think it was instinctive, I think truly my style. Critical Mass, one of its great strengths to this day is a heavy, heavy emphasis on values and I know that sounds a little bit cliché in our industry but it’s not. It’s not for us, it’s the kind of people we attract. It’s the style of our relationships. It’s our approach. It’s not necessarily perfect for everybody. It’s served us very well, and Critical Mass’ values and my values tend to line up really, really well. Not exactly by fluke because I wrote Critical Mass’s.

I think it’s very much a best intentions kind of approach. Good people. Good intentions. Going to make lots of mistakes. We’re going to make lots of mistakes together. We expect to make some mistakes, acknowledge them, admit them, apologize.

Charles:

Do you want to make mistakes?

Dianne Wilkins:

It’s never very fun, but I don’t believe in most of what we’re doing, there is an absolute right or an absolute wrong. It’s just I hope I’m more right than wrong. I certainly do make mistakes a lot, I don’t know about if I want to.

Charles:

I’m curious, because I think there are some leaders I think who actively seek to make mistakes. I don’t know if they would ever describe it that way, but they’re so comfortable with the experimentation, with the need to take risk that I think what I’ve started to recognize is this sense, this underlying sense that if they and if their companies aren’t making mistakes, they’re not pushing the envelope hard enough.

Dianne Wilkins:

I definitely agree with that. We’re sort of a constantly evolving company, and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to achieve at Critical Mass from 25 kids in Calgary to 950 people around the world and 21 years later in an industry that literally blew up, consolidated, blew up, consolidated twice and we weren’t from here either. Calgary’s a weird place to start, and that is the headquarters of the company. It’s been a constant evolution and I think yeah, probably I have much more tolerance for screwing stuff up. Not on purpose, but screwing stuff up and dealing with it, than maybe some. I’ve been in this role as CEO for over 13 years now, so obviously I have done a lot of things and screwed a lot of them up and we’re still here.

I think the hard part, what I’ve observed, one of the hardest things I’ve gone through on this CEO journey at Critical Mass is trying to change before we have to. That what’s next or I see the trajectory is, how are you with swearing on this program? I’ve heard a bit. I’ve heard a few of my friends swearing a bit.

Charles:

I’m fine. I don’t claim that it’s clean. I think I put not rated, so if you’re listening, be prepared. I think Dianne’s about to swear.

Dianne Wilkins:

You know what, I won’t.

Charles:

No, no, it’s fine.

Dianne Wilkins:

In trying to rally the team to realize that I think we’re going in a direction on a pace, on a path, that is going to not be good soon. It was okay then. We were fine. We were fine. I just have seen this a couple of times get caught in fine. This is a fast-paced dog eat dog innovation-driven creative meets technology, which are both creative when done right, and I think fine gets you run over pretty quickly. Figuring out the right way, and probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made was trying to engineer a very big re-imagining of the agency about five or six years ago.

I thought I had everyone with me, and let’s go do this. I raced off because I was going to do these other things, and after a couple months I looked back and I’m completely alone. No one. It’s not because they didn’t want to. I have this incredible super tight leadership team that half of us have been together for decades, and the other half was part of this turnaround, came on in the last three or four years. I’ve never had a better team or group of people to work with. The group that was there, still here, was there at the time was just like, “What do you want? We get what you’re saying, but we only half believe it’s urgent.” They didn’t say this at the time, but looking back. “We only half believe it’s urgent and we don’t know what you want us to do about it.”

That was probably a gigantic screw-up.

Charles:

As you look back to that, where did you think the gap was, as you look back and thought what should I have done differently? What did you conclude?

Dianne Wilkins:

The often painstaking job of communication, communication, communication can’t be skipped. It’s easy. We are busy people, and devices everywhere and priorities pulling us apart. At Critical Mass, we’re also a geographically distributed leadership team. We’re in six or eight different cities, countries in some cases. I think I just bring everyone together, now you’ve got 48 hours in Vegas and you’ve got the mission and let’s go do this. Send me emails. Let’s talk. Let’s get on the phone once a month, whatever. I frustrated the hell out of my best people because they just couldn’t quite get from viscerally grasping it and practically doing it, and I thought they had.

Charles:

It’s a real challenge, isn’t it? It’s a real leadership challenge I think particularly as you’ve described it in a creative business, because to drive great businesses, I think part of the responsibility of the leader is to live in the future and really occupy that space and really imagine yourself and be surrounded by the company as it’s going to be. Then you have to pull back into the present and connect people, because now you’re bored by the present because you could already see in the future, right?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah.

Charles:

You have to keep coming back and they’re like, “Oh for god’s sake, we have to go through this again? I’m already here.” [inaudible]. No, they can’t. I was reading an article this morning actually I think in the Harvard Business Review that talked about exactly this, which is you have to be unbelievably prescriptive and repetitive in your messaging. You have to bore yourself silly with the repetitiveness of the messaging. I think it’s such an important point of how do you keep innovating businesses?

Dianne Wilkins:

It’s true. It’s kind of counterintuitive. I need to be repetitive and boring to drive innovation. What? I’ve got really, really smart people around me, so most of the time it’s grabbing onto somebody else’s great idea. I’m the one that gets to be repetitive and boring about trying to drive it through and implement and get everybody else bought into the great idea and get people excited about something that I’m already like, “Seriously, I got to talk about this shit again?”

Charles:

That’s true. Yes, you do.

Dianne Wilkins:

I’m not good enough at that. That is absolutely I would say glaring weakness as much as I talk constantly. I’m not as organized and disciplined a communicator as I could be. There are some that are and I think they’re magicians.

Charles:

Did you want the CEO job? You’ve talked about the fact you like leading. Is that something you wanted?

Dianne Wilkins:

There was a funny time right before I got the job where there was a bit of a generational regime change thing happening, and three of us were talking with the founder about changing the structure of the agency and that sort of thing, and one of the three of us obviously was going to take over and be the new CEO. He said, “Well who’s it going to be?” I look at both the guys and they both go, “Well Di, of course.” I’m like, “Really?” We hadn’t talked about it. We talked about us as a team wanting to lead the next phase, but they were just like, “Of course. Are you nuts?”

Charles:

It’s a testament to your [crosstalk].

Dianne Wilkins:

I don’t know that I wanted the CEO job. I don’t know that I wanted to lead in all those other times I led. I’m probably just not a great follower. I’ve been called the accidental CEO a number of times because I wasn’t ever seeking, I don’t know, yeah.

Charles:

Would you give yourself that title?

Dianne Wilkins:

I’ve heard the argument made persuasively enough that I’ve accepted it at the moment. I don’t know because I really enjoy it. I’m lucky as help to have sort of accidentally become this and in this role and particularly at this company. I don’t know that I have ridiculous ambition to go be CEO of 10 other companies. This is the company for me. It’s scarily already a life’s work kind of thing with a 21-year-old company. I would have trouble not being a CEO of Critical Mass now because it’s just what I do.

Charles:

I know that you had a tragedy in your life. You lost a son.

Dianne Wilkins:

Yes.

Charles:

How old was he?

Dianne Wilkins:

He was three when he was diagnosed with cancer and seven when he died, which was about five years ago.

Charles:

Five years ago?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah, and a tough journey. Obliviously an awful situation, but that was a tough four-year journey too when he was sick and he had a cancer called neuroblastoma, which is not a good one, let me tell you. Very rare. 65 kids a year in Canada. 650 kids a year in the U.S. It is very rare.

Charles:

How unfair.

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah. No cause, no nothing. A lot of the treatment is very experimental and based on what worked best for leukemia last trial and that sort of thing. Harsh, harsh treatment schedule and everything that he went through. It clearly has had lots of impact on me personally, but I think it’s had a lot on Critical Mass too and certainly all those same guys that I left behind me when I took on this great mission, which was not long after my son died and I’d come back too, by the way. A couple of times, I took time off. One he was eight months in the hospital when he was first diagnosed, and then when he passed away.

The company just rallied around, waited. No one even considered making some power play to take the job. It’s just now how we roll. I think we’ve been there, the company still puts on this unbelievable walk for, his name was Thomas, so there’s a walk for Thomas every year, and Critical Mass basically throws it and hosts it, and 500 people in the neighborhood come out in Calgary every fall and walk around. It’s an amazing agency. It’s good intentions, good people. It shows this amazing heart. Certainly I’ve experienced it personally the way your colleagues, the way your company can have your back, but I’ve also heard it from hundreds of staff over 20 years when we’ve been there for them from loss to illness to divorce to challenges with kids and life and you name it.

People go through stuff all the time. I’m awfully proud to work at a place that certainly doesn’t judge you for what you’re going through and frankly wraps them self around you and holds you up.

Charles:

How did your view of yourself and the world around you change when he was diagnosed and when he died?

Dianne Wilkins:

Diagnosed was, I don’t even remember me or the world. It was all about him and his sister was almost two years older, so she’s 15 now. Obviously my husband too, and we were shellshocked. We had never heard of this cancer before. It was just I think stunned. Pretty stunned through that whole first eight months. We got to where he was more outpatient than in, and for a while he was in remission for a year and a half or so. When he relapsed, we knew it was a matter of how long could we keep it away and that sort of thing. That’s when I started thinking about things. We knew for certain what the outcome was going to be. We didn’t know when the outcome was going to happen. It was our worst fear.

I’m like, “Now what do I do? Do I go back to work?” I was still at work until shortly before he died, but I wasn’t quite sure. After he died, I took about three months off, and really tried to figure out does what I did before matter at all anymore? It was tough, but, again, maybe a little bit when I first went back was I don’t know what else to do, but I was so glad I was back and I think vowed that I would keep the perspective and not take the angry client call or the whatever, bad news, whatever or the problem at work so seriously and I absolutely do just like I do, but before this happened, so it gradually has lost that perspective.

I think when it comes to the big things and the emphasis within Critical Mass on I think values and the way to conduct yourself, being as important in a lot of ways as some of the other things. Clearly I think we get better work and we have better client relationships. We have an incredibly successful 21-year track record. I think there’s some empirical evidence here, but this is not fighting cancer. This is not life-threatening. This is no time to be a dick or a cheater. I think that that’s just not what we are. It’s a great place, and I’m quite sure I came back fired up to elevate that even more. I probably felt it so personally and viscerally too going this is an asset. It’s also a pleasure. How do we make that just absolutely intrinsic to what we are, and I think we really have.

We have people that want to leave great jobs and careers because of it because they meet people, hear people and feel it talking to us.

Charles:

Who are you doing this for now?

Dianne Wilkins:

Probably the other 949 employees at Critical Mass. I think primarily, I’m not exactly ready to retire tomorrow, but I’m not that far away. I’ve been doing the same job for 13 years. Not all days are fantastic days like everybody else in the world, but I love this place. I’m just so proud of what we’ve been able to build. I think I’m doing it for the people around me as much as for myself. Certainly I derive a lot of value and I’m learning constantly. That and the jeans thing was I must continue to learn every day or I’m done kind of thing, and soon as you make me wear nylons every day I’m done.

The digital part of the industry is such a great opportunity to surround yourself with so many different kinds of thinkers that are all massive subject area experts in something that I can barely understand, that it is I’m constantly learning things and seeing the perspective in them. I think the neatest, fastest moving, most challenging and bullshit ridden part of the industry, and so to be this real, plainspoken, honest, passionate, driven, multidisciplinary, collaborative culture, I’d be obsolete if I didn’t work here. It keeps me, even my daughter and her friends think I’m not a complete moron when it comes to things because of work and being 20 years older than the average age at Critical Mass. I think it helps me, well I’m not cool, but it helps make me a little bit cool.

Charles:

Just going to finish the thought, I’m struck that interesting and not surprising perhaps that coming back from that tragedy and putting yourself back in the workplace, that that period thereafter was when you tried to re-engineer the company and rebirth it almost.

Dianne Wilkins:

I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons I looked behind me and no one was with me was the doubt in their minds too going, “Is this for us or is this for her?” Trust me, I still wonder. I absolutely believe that I was correct in my assessment, and part of why we were fine was they were waiting for me. We weren’t innovating as fast, we weren’t changing as much, and we have this wonderful curse of senior people staying forever at Critical Mass, which also means it’s hard to get fresh perspectives and we can get caught a little bit stale sometimes, and that was kind of the grant that we end up doing it. Just, I thought we could make this big transformation in six to nine months and it too 18 to 24/we’re still working on it.

Certainly, there was a little bit was I don’t know why we’re putting all this pressure on ourselves when we’re doing just fine. A little bit was I don’t actually understand what she wants us to do, and I’m certain a little bit was maybe she overreacting.

Charles:

Responding to.

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah, exactly, the opposite and equal reaction kind of thing.

Charles:

How have you now engineered disruptive thinking into the organization? Have you consciously gone about instilling that? I remember reading that Howard Schultz had created I think a weekly Friday morning committee where he had four of his closest advisors and he’d introduce two or three other rotating people. They had what I think he euphemistically calls the disruption group and the agenda for the hour every week was to talk about all the things that might be happening that would make everything that they believed about the future of Starbucks wrong. A very, very powerful provocation, right?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah.

Charles:

Because we all know we can fill ourselves with our narrative. People in this industry, people who lead in this industry are very smart and they tend to be very natural salespeople, and the people that they can sell the fastest is themselves.

Dianne Wilkins:

Agreed.

Charles:

I think having the ability to have something cause us to challenge our own belief system in a real way I think is powerful. Have you incorporated that more actively?

Dianne Wilkins:

Not in any kind of disciplined way, like Howard I’m afraid. It kind of goes with the communication thing. I’m not quite as disciplined as I should be. What I think what helps us is I think there’s an openness, we can certainly sell ourselves and sell each other quite a bit. Within the leadership team and frankly ideas that can come from anywhere, and I do think I’ve got a group of people that I work with every day that aren’t at all afraid to say, “Hey, this is kind of broken, or those guys were doing that and I think they got it half right. What if we tried this kind of thing?” I think there is a bit of an ability to just throw shit out there and see what sticks and how people react to it.

I think one of the things some of the team and everyone’s getting there, but some of the team is incredibly good at, is anybody with a good idea is welcome to throw it out there. In some cases, like, “Hey, take a couple of weeks and go build that for me. Go see if that works. Prototype that thing.” Then all of a sudden we’re like, “Okay, let’s test it on a client.” We don’t force it necessarily to say all right, that has to be the new global standard. Now everybody stop what you’re doing and learn how to do this. The risk of course is at what point do you have duplication happening? There are so many ways to innovate that that duplication thing is far less our problem than realizing that there’s 950 people that might have a good idea. If we think that the five or ten or seven at the top are going to figure them all out, we’re I think toast.

Our job is to curate them and take flyers on them and endorse them and sponsor them. Then once we have something, we got to make that the next big thing. We got to be the salespeople, which unfortunately we’re fairly well equipped to do.

Charles:

Talent acquisition and retention obviously are two of the very biggest issues, maybe the biggest issues in creative industries. Are you consciously going after certain kinds of people and do you look in certain places for them? How do you go about looking for talent and finding talent?

Dianne Wilkins:

It’s one of our biggest challenge. Anyone who says they got that fixed, I’d like their number. The breadth of talent that we hire is always staggering to me. We’re in 11 different locations, plus a few other satellite areas with about eight different disciplines, and then levels within those disciplines, and then specificity in some of the places where it’s a specific type of client. We can cast a pretty wide net, I think, maybe more so than different kinds of agencies or a little more focused kinds of agencies. We kind of do a bit of everything. We have big recruiting team. We have external recruitment partners. We host events and sponsor portfolio shows and do a lot of the typical kinds of things.

We have had now and again people lecture at different schools or get right involved at the school level. We’ve also got absolutely stunning internship program, which is a great source of talent for us. It’s talent we have to nurture and grow, but that’s not foreign to us either. This company started in Calgary. It’s 250 people. It’s still headquarters, and so there is no market in Calgary. It’s not like there are six other agencies we can pull from. It’s developed a bit now, but right from the beginning we were the only ones in town and have been the big dominant player there for so long that if we’re going to find talent, we’re going to hire them young, junior, and they’re going to get this unbelievable opportunity to work on amazing global brands and travel all over the world and do all this stuff while being at Calgary.

The internship program was certainly born there, but it’s a global program for us now. We’ll bring in somewhere between 40 and 50 students every summer.

Charles:

Oh wow.

Dianne Wilkins:

In at least six or seven or eight locations. All the different disciplines, and some configuration. Fully paid internships. Last year I think we had 12,000 applications for 42 spots or something. This year we’ll have a few more spots as we continue to grow. We’ve basically run a thing where half their job is being the junior learning, contributing person on a team working for somebody in their discipline. The other half, they’re paired up with the other people in whatever office they happen to be, cross-functional teams and there’s a live brief with a live client, and they have to pitch. They pitch the global executive team as well as the lead team of that client, that knows the client the best.

We select the winners and then fly the top teams in to present to the senior client and have them choose the overall winner.

Charles:

That’s fantastic.

Dianne Wilkins:

The live client thing we actually just did last year for the first time. It was absolutely stunning. First of all, our client’s wonderful. She was really, really, really inspired by the program and loved the opportunity, made time to do live Q&As with our interns, and it was just like the head of Citi FinTech. Amazing experience for all of us. The reality of time pressure brief on an industry, you may or may not be super in tune with the future of the U.S. banking system when you get this brief from Citibank. We tapped in, the brief was wisely done by our team and Citi’s team to focus on a millennial perspective because our interns were all 22 years old, but then forced into this cross-functional team with people you may or may no really have met other than at orientation and worked together for eight, 10, 12 weeks under a bunch of pressure about deadline and expectation in a competitive environment.

It’s a pretty good indoctrination into what it’s like in the agency. We hire I think the rate right now is 58% of our interns.

Charles:

Do you really?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah. It’s kind of trial by fire. It’s also the best three months of the year, not just because I’m Canadian and it’s summer, but because of the energy that 50 super hungry 22-year-olds bring to any company. It’s awesome. It I think makes everyone pick their game up a little bit, and we were blown away by the talent last year. Their composure presenting and the breadth of their thinking, we were exceedingly impressed. It’s [crosstalk].

Charles:

What’s notable about that whole description is how much you’re investing in them. Fully paid, willingness to move them around, giving them opportunity and access to clients. There’s so many components of that that I think are truly generous. Obviously they create a benefit for you, but there is real generosity I think at the core of that description that you’ve just given me.

Dianne Wilkins:

I think so. It’s evolved. It’s about a 10 1/2, 11-year-old program. Every year it gets better. We’ve got a woman that runs and owns it for us. You can tell how, I’m engaged in it. This matters to us. The staff volunteered to be mentors and coaches for the intern team, so it’s just more and more and more people getting engaged in developing the young talent and learning from them at the same time.

Charles:

It gives them exposure to what it is necessary in a professional environment these days, which is clearly a disconnect for a lot of people. You see a lot of companies struggling with young people walking in and having a completely disconnected sense of what reality is about. Somebody told me over the weekend, I had some young person they hired and the person said, “I only do concepts, I don’t do executions.” 22, you’re like, “No, actually you definitely do executions.”

Dianne Wilkins:

You can do whatever you want over there.

Charles:

Yeah, exactly. Feel free to apply that somewhere else.

Dianne Wilkins:

You’re going to do more execution.

Charles:

How do you lead? How do you get up in the morning and go about leading?

Dianne Wilkins:

I don’t sleep that well, to start with. Actually ever since my son got sick. First of all, when I had kids, you stop sleeping a little bit. Then all that, I stopped sleeping very consistently. I have one of those always on brains that I try to numb with wine and now I’m trying to read all the time. I read books. I got Book Quest and that sort of thing, trying to preoccupy myself a little bit.

Charles:

Wendy Clark actually said to me a couple of months ago, she said, “The entire future of DDB is mapped on the ceiling of her bedroom,” yeah.

Dianne Wilkins:

I might have listened to that. She’s a friend of mine, and a genius and a disciplined communicator. When I grow up, I would like to be Wendy Clark, except we’re the same age. She’s a force. There’s work to be done. There’s ways to make it better. I don’t know. I love the invention part and the tweaking part and the human relationship. I’m a people person. I think most of us are in this area of the world and certainly creative in the leadership. You probably better be a people person. There’s always something to do, something I want to do. That was a terrible answer. How do you lead? I don’t know. There’s a drive there to make it better, and again, I don’t know if I would be the earth’s most transferrable leader or if I’m just perfectly suited to Critical Mass, but I want this place to be the best it can be.

There’s always work to be done there.

Charles:

What’s the definition of the best from your standpoint? How do you define the best?

Dianne Wilkins:

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think it is the best it can be, not the best. I’m not like on some ranking list or whatever, that matters a lot less to me. I don’t mind the outside accolades, but we’re not particularly good at promoting ourselves. We can be better at that. I don’t know. I think delivering at our full potential and not letting the bullshit get in the way of what’s important. We’ve got a great point of view and position in the market in what we do and the ability to do work that actually helps people in some cases. Some cases we’re selling cars or checking accounts, but in other cases we’re truly helping people improve their financial lives or working with the UN to eradicate landmines around the world.

There’s a lot of motivation to do those good things, and we’re big believers, we talk about experience, design and a relentless focus on the customer and/or the end user, and those two things we think coming together in a deliberate experience can actually move the need for people, both on a little way every day as well as quite a meaningful way in the world. I think best for us is doing lots of that and not letting the day to day and the drama and the hassles and the process get in the way.

Charles:

You talked earlier about being very much values-oriented and values-driven. Do you find it’s, easy is probably the wrong word, but do you find yourselves living up to your own values? Are you willing to take action against them and do action? Are they actionable?

Dianne Wilkins:

  Our values are honest, inspired, driven, passionate and real.

Charles:

Wow, a set of values that one could actually remember.

Dianne Wilkins:

That was good.

Charles:

Five words.

Dianne Wilkins:

That was good, yeah. We’ve had other values that no one could remember. We always did a B roll internal video thing. Remembering the values is like experience, design. These are pretty well known throughout the organization. Not everybody, certainly at senior levels. A lot of them are stylistic. We will conduct ourselves with honest. We don’t cheat. We don’t lie. We sell.

Charles:

Do you fire people who do?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah, we do, in a really nice way because we’re still Canadian. We’re not all Canadian, but our roots really are. Lots of As and apologies. We’re proud of that too. If you think of some of those values are very Canadian, we’re an incredibly diverse workforce. Our gender split is 50/50 roughly, 53 and whatever, both at the executive level and throughout the entire organization, and has been…

Charles:

Have you done that consciously?

Dianne Wilkins:

Not entirely. Certainly in the last few years we’ve been very conscious of maintaining it. It’s not perfect in that we have some disciplines that have more female than men, but on the aggregate, certainly across the whole company it is just about half and half.

Charles:

Where do you think that comes from, because obviously it’s the conversation point at the moment, right?

Dianne Wilkins:

It really is. I get asked this question a lot. We talk about it a lot. I actually was listening to Wendy answer this question about what the industry can do the other day on your show. We don’t have quotas. We don’t have any ensure there is a candidate that’s a woman or diverse or whatever. We just never have. I’ve said super corny stuff like it’s just in your spirit and having an open mind and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, which is really kind of corny, and yet it’s kind of true. It fits with our values. We are open-minded, but if I had to guess, I think it goes back to the Canadian roots.

It is a little bit more open. Certainly we’re seeing the differences between Canada and the U.S. not just in the Olympics, but in the political realm and everything else right now in that there is an openness, there is a willingness, there is an ability to stand up and say we were wrong. There’s just a little less ego, and I think that shaped us accidentally because good people, good intentions bring the bias. We’re not perfect in any way, shape or form, but we certainly have a pretty strong track record and a pretty good view around we could be better at it. I’d love to be even better at diversity without forcing it and creating the backlash that comes with that. It’s been exceedingly natural for us to be like this, which I think is a bunch of power behind it. It’s been almost unconscious.

Charles:

I’m going to ask you the most unfair question I’ve ever asked anybody, and there’s no way you can actually answer this, but I’m curious to get your instinctive reaction. Do you think the company would be the same if you hadn’t been the CEO for the last 13 years, if a man had been the CEO for the last 13 years?

Dianne Wilkins:

No, I don’t. Instinctively, it might be better. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be, that it’s the best it could be.

Charles:

Even the balance in terms of the gender, in terms of the sexes would be the same? Would there be as much support for women?

Dianne Wilkins:

I don’t know. The one thing I absolutely need to say is our president, Chris Gokiert, who literally started three weeks after, I mean we’ve been doing this together the whole time, super, super, super close. The whole team, it was me and a bunch of guys when I took over, and the whole time before that, and he was like, “This is gross. I can’t take it anymore.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, we don’t have any other women.” It was almost he’s as big a feminist as I am and honestly if I wasn’t here, I’m sure he would be in this job. It would still be different. I don’t know how much. Actually there was a woman, a creative director in our Chicago office yesterday that was part of a small group that launched a program, #Unstoppable, and it’s sort of a #MeToo type thing within the advertising agency business basically standing up saying women together and women that back women and women that believe women when they tell stories of abuse are banding together.

She sent a note sharing what she’d done, it was all passion project. It’s really nicely done, and I think a really strong point of view and I really applaud her for it. When she let people know about it, including me, she said, “Listen, I didn’t do this because of my experience at Critical Mass at all. I have heard, have seen, have whatever at other places and I’m pretty lucky to work at one of the most open-minded places in the industry, plus we have a female CEO. I think there’s more to that than I give credit for because I was born this way.

Charles:

Right, just [inaudible] this way.

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah, and Chris reminds me of that a lot. He’s like, “Don’t forget the symbolism of that.” I’m like, “I don’t think about the symbolism. I think about all the stuff I got to do.” I think probably it does help. The company really is only 21 years old. I’ve been there for 20. I was running the Swedish one for two years and then came back and I was president at Critical Mass. I’ve either been number two or number one kind of thing in the whole company for the entire time.

Charles:

The DNA has been appeased by it.

Dianne Wilkins:

I think so. Even though I was the only female for the first eight years or so, and then we started, Chris was the first one to hire women, or promote or whatever. We were all that age too. We were all 28, 29, whatever when we started, so everyone went through a lot of the, we were actually a bunch of couples for quite a while running the place, and then my husband stayed home to be the stay at home dad, but the other guys’ wives stayed home. The ranks thinned a little bit that way in terms of internal candidates because life happens and choices are made and absolutely zero judgment from me. That’s up to each person, family, whatever, to figure out for themselves.

I don’t know if that’s a good answer, but I think it probably has been very helpful to have a female in charge the whole time.

Charles:

What do you want your legacy to be?

Dianne Wilkins:

Oh gosh, legacy.

Charles:

Do you think about that?

Dianne Wilkins:

No. No, I don’t. Someday I want to be able to go do something else, even if it’s just sleep for two years and have Critical Mass be even better without me.

Charles:

Are you building for that consciously?

Dianne Wilkins:

I probably should be more. I’ve probably said it enough times already, I got a great team around, so I don’t worry about the hit by a bus kind of situation at all. Every time I think we’re in pretty good shape, it’s like you know what we need to do, we need to come up with these and we need to elevate. We just promoted a woman into SVP of Talent, first time we’ve ever had that role. The outpouring of excitement over that role and that person in that role has just been stunning. Of course making me think why the hell didn’t I do this two years ago.

Now I’m like, okay, we got all the employee experience, I want to re-craft it just like we would the customer journey for a client of ours. Is it ever going to be good enough for me to go, okay, I’m kind of done. I know it’s in great shape, and it’ll just be better forever. Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe I won’t let myself think that.

Charles:

Are you consciously developing the next generation of leadership?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah, we try to do that quite a bit. Chris and I in particular were quite deliberate about that. We worked together on it, so we are assessing people and we do move people around to different roles, different posts, different offices, different situations and trying to, in some cases, I see a two-year path for somebody. In other cases, this is the rising star. It may be six, ten years, but this is going to be the president. How do we build the portfolio, the exposure, the experience for this person while putting them in roles we need now, but to groom them for sort of a future kind of thing?

Charles:

Are you conscious, I’m sure you must be, from an organizational structural standpoint? Somebody actually emailed me a couple weeks ago and said, “I’m curious to understand how different leaders look at the hierarchy of organizations in terms of unleashing creativity.” Are you flat? Are you hierarchical? What’s your organizational structure?

Dianne Wilkins:

We’re pretty normal I think in the ad agency world, probably too hierarchical. Part of that comes from the number of disciplines and the number of locations. You can’t help but inherently have leadership at every turn and level and place. I was trying to picture what a three-dimensional matrix would be, and I’m not that creative, but then you’ve also got the account based teams and operations as well.

Charles:

You’re at that size where the third dimension is a really big factor, isn’t it?

Dianne Wilkins:

It is. We’re just that size. Just under 1,000 people, it’s almost a weird place to be.

Charles:

How many offices, eight?

Dianne Wilkins:

11.

Charles:

Oh 11.

Dianne Wilkins:

Lopsided. Some are really big and some aren’t as big, and some are 21 years old and some are two years old kind of thing. We’re big enough and far enough apart that it doesn’t feel like one family kind of thing anymore, and yet we’re very, very adamant, and I am a broken record on this one. I think I’d get consistency on communication, but there’s one CM, one Critical Mass, one brand, one P&L that matters, one approach. We all win when we win. We all suffer when we don’t.

Charles:

Everybody’s pulled into that. Consciousness.

Dianne Wilkins:

I try. It’s really hard to overcome, but I see it with these guys. I’m a designer, so whatever.

Charles:

[crosstalk].

Dianne Wilkins:

I’m in data science. I don’t really care about the flaky stuff as much. That’s why I’m so repetitive about it. It’s like there’s only one reputation out there and only one set of values. A bunch of different cultures and I think the different disciplines and the different locations have different feels to them, which is totally fine and natural and I think to be encouraged. I think it’s a tricky balance to say how much needs to be consistent and institutionalized and how much do you just let the creativity and the passion and the will to make it special and make it their own take root?

Charles:

Do you cross teams across geographies?

Dianne Wilkins:

We do. Constantly and more and more. It happened, we tried not to and it happened anyway, because so many skillsets. It sends up being a lot more specialized. We have some groups, we call them studios that are COEs specifically in a single location that serve the rest of the company, but just practically speaking, you can’t have everything everywhere. It’s just crazy.

Charles:

Yeah, it’s too expensive.

Dianne Wilkins:

We also have a currency triaging and opportunities to be more effective that way too. We’re sort of shifting to it’s a pipe dream to think we’re not going to crisscross all over the place. We need to really embrace and get better at virtual collaboration, which we do fairly well now anyway, and really imagine a future where we do it on purpose. We’re literally casting against projects and assignments and clients in a very, very deliberate way with geography being almost a non-factor. Almost. There are exceptions.

I think one of the things we’re talking about a lot now too is I think the big change, the drive that I’m going to be driving everyone crazy with for the next few years, is just the modernizing the agency to be prepared for the workforce of the future. It’s not going to work the way it has worked. You’re seeing it now. You mentioned people struggling with their 22-year-olds and stuff already, and certainly we do too. We’re similar to a lot of other companies, and wrestling with this whole everyone wants to be a contractor and everyone wants to work remote and people are giving up the “I’m going to come and slog it out in the city for 15 years to make my career and then I’ll go back to Milwaukee,” kind of thing that I think we all grew up in.

How do we create a mecca for amazing talent but enable them to live their lives they want to live their lives and where they want to live their lives, Upstate New York for example, and not have to commute every day. It’s [crosstalk].

Charles:

It’s such a powerful reference point. It’s funny how much this has come actually for me in the last two or three weeks, and I’ve been surrounded by people having these kinds of conversations. Obviously that’s my lifestyle, to your point. I read somewhere that 35% of American’s workforce now works the way that I do, don’t work for a company or corporation, self-employed and put together virtual capabilities around us.

To your point, if you have confidence in yourself, you don’t need a company anymore. The company has to come out with a different set of reasons why, come here and do this.

Dianne Wilkins:

That’s right.

Charles:

Access to the marketplace is clearly one, right?

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah, access to that kind of client and that kind of work, for sure.

Charles:

Mentorship I think will be another.

Dianne Wilkins:

Certainly. The inspiration, ability to learn. You can get so far hanging out, I’m not speaking about you obviously. You’re doing very well, but the 30-year-old sitting at home cranking out designs for example can get so far, but spend a year working with Connor Brady or a chief creative officer and you’re going to get better, and that take you to that whole other level. Even if after that you go back working from your apartment or your barn upstate or whatever. We have not nailed this yet. This is what we’re talking about now. This is the creation of the SVP talent role is we can be better at interim communications and all kinds of things currently, but I think we do have good intentions and a lot of great programs and stuff. It could just come together more nicely.

The big, big, big job is what’s it going to be like? It’s hard enough to hire and find people. They don’t want to stay. They don’t want to come to an office. They don’t want to come to a consolidated holding company level office that everybody’s moving to, that is shared space.

Charles:

Yeah, somebody 12 levels above them and five blocks away is going to tell them how their lives are going to work, right?

Dianne Wilkins:

That’s right.

Charles:

They’re going to have no interest in that.

Dianne Wilkins:

What they’re going to work on today. They don’t want to be told what they’re going to work on. It’s going to be I think the next five years is going to be quite pivotal for especially groups of creative and technical. You can do tech remote. Data. Do you really need to be there? What needs to be there? What needs to be collaborative? What needs to be in person? Is there a true substitute? We haven’t seen it yet, my team, for getting in a room and having the argument and drawing shit on the wall and erasing it and erasing someone else’s crap and pissing them off. That, I don’t know, formative normative whatever.

Charles:

The [inaudible].

Dianne Wilkins:

Yeah, that one. It’s hard to replicate that with a big multidisciplinary different-kinds-of-thinking team, and yet we have certainly seen that those kinds of teams are what breeds the best results for us.

Charles:

I think that the other challenge is that there’s just not that much expertise about how do we even think about this stuff. I’ve sat through recently some large consulting group presentations, and you think this is too formulaic, it’s too structured, it’s too regimented. It’s too templated. It just doesn’t work that way. I think the challenge is going to be where do we get the expertise and the knowledge and where do you as leaders find the time to even begin to think about this in the onslaught of everything else that goes on day to day. It’s an absolute fundamental requirement, I couldn’t agree with you more.

Dianne Wilkins:

The time to focus on those what’s next big things is certainly a challenge for everybody I’ve ever spoken to in my entire life, and me included. I do think there’s an advantage. We have an advantage having started in the Wild West, literally actually the Wild West, but also the Wild West of the internet, nobody knew what we were doing then either. There were theories, there was ad agencies saying, “This is how you be an agency,” but then there was these digital agencies saying you don’t have technology departments. We do, and kind of forming our own as sort of a subculture figuring this whole thing out and how do you incorporate a bunch of coders and now a bunch of statisticians and linguists and you name it into a creative agency.

Sort of the best prep I can think of to also now envision nobody wants to come to work anymore and they’re going to cherry pick what they work on and who they’re going to work with and charge you double.

Charles:

On a good day, charge you double.

Dianne Wilkins:

On a good day, oh yeah, from their Airstream in Santa Fe.

Charles:

What would people be surprised to know about you they don’t already know?

Dianne Wilkins:

Surprised? I don’t know, I’m a pretty open book. Surprised to know about me that they don’t already know? I don’t know. I open up, tell everybody everything I think. I’m a terrible secret keeper. I sort of really wish I had a motorbike and played online poker all the time, but only sort of. I’m searching for what the hidden anti-current die is always, and always coming up with these wacky, like I’ll be a something when I retire, driving a Harley and going to the poker tournaments in Vegas, but I’m not a good poker player and I promised my dad I wouldn’t ride a motorbike, so that’s not really going to happen. Maybe that’s why it’s out there, I don’t know.

Charles:

I think you and Heidi [inaudible] can ride motorbikes together.

Dianne Wilkins:

There you go. Exactly.

Charles:

I don’t know about the Vegas part, I’d have to ask about that.

Dianne Wilkins:

World Series of Poker. You got to earn your way in now at this point. I’ll just go to Molly’s Game again. That was a good movie.

Charles:

What are you afraid of?

Dianne Wilkins:

Cancer, my gut reaction. Failure I guess to a certain extent. Not mistakes, but failure. I’m afraid to let people down. That’s what I get my I guess reward from feeling like I’m there for people and helping people and building a great place to work for lots of people. I guess failing at that would probably be something I’d worry about certainly.

Charles:

I have three takeaways for you if you’re interested?

Dianne Wilkins:

Sure, yeah I am. Yeah.

Charles:

The first thing that strikes me is your relentless curiosity about what the future should look like and is going to look like and how do you contend with that. I think that those are really very thoughtful and very important view that you I think very naturally bring about. Today is okay, but what’s going to happen next and how do we prepare for it and how can we be better. That just seems to me to be very instinctively built into you.

Dianne Wilkins:

That sounds good.

Charles:

The second thing obviously is your resilience. To overcome what you’ve overcome, go through that and come back from that and actually be able to show up and drive 900 plus people forward and everybody else that you influence in effect as a result of that I think is extraordinary. Obviously people talk about resilience being the characteristics of the best leaders and you have that in spades, it’s just remarkable. Third is your openness and your humanity. We’ve never met before, and I’m grateful to you for and appreciative of the fact you just show up and this is who you are and you don’t make excuses about it. You’re not uncomfortable about it. You just show up.

I can understand why so many people have such confidence and faith in you. It’s really refreshing.

Dianne Wilkins:

Thank you. Do I pay you? Thank you very much. I wish I didn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate the resilience as much as I have, but I have realized that about myself. That’s true, and I had an experience probably earlier in my career where we were pitching something and I had an old boss and a woman who worked in Biz Dev. We rehearsed and I’m not the queen of rehearsal because I’m better when I wing it a little bit. I didn’t know that then. Well I did know that, but they didn’t. They rehearsed us and rehearsed us and rehearsed us, and I was critiqued to the point of almost being inept in the room the next day. I just wasn’t myself. Everything I said, I felt like a phony. I was conscious of my hands.

Just one of those awful insecure brutal where I couldn’t even remember the point, I was so busy wondering how I looked and sounded trying to express the point that I’d lost already. I just said, “Never again.” I had a bunch of peers around me who had seen me go into rooms a hundred times and carry the thing and they were just like, “What the hell happened? Did those rehearsals do that to you?” I’m like, “I think so.” Never again. Rehearsals and tequila, I’m done. Not rehearsals, but it just made me think you know what, I suck at being anyone but me. Not everyone’s going to like me and not everyone’s going to love me, but I’m better at being me than I am at being somebody else.

Charles:

That’s so well put. I think it takes a while doesn’t it for us to figure out who we are and be okay with that?

Dianne Wilkins:

It does.

Charles:

Dianne, thank you so much for being here. I’ve really enjoyed this.

Dianne Wilkins:

Thank you. Me too.