On clipboards & leadership.

When I was about 10 years old, I started a club for a few of the other kids in my neighborhood. But this was no ordinary club with a tree fort, nor one that met in a basement, or had a secret code, no. This was a club of organization. I gave each of my members clipboards (I, keeping the biggest one), and cut out their names from construction paper and scotch taped them to the top of their metal clips. Every week we would meet in my living room and talk about what needed to be accomplished. I divvied up tasks and gave each of my three members assignments. I would prepare these assignments and task lists a week in advance, and clip the white letter-sized paper to each of their boards. Our meetings were brief – maybe 15-20 minutes – but it was enough time to discuss the agenda and follow up on the previous week’s assignments. We met maybe 4 or 5 times before Danny Carney, the most senior member of the team at 8 years old, announced towards the end of one meeting that he was leaving because it wasn’t any fun. Shocked, I turned to my younger brother, who was only 5 at the time, for support. I found only his nodding in agreement that the eponymous club was boring. I searched my soul for reasons why anyone wouldn’t want to participate and get things done, but the club quickly stopped meeting soon after that. I can recall my disappointment in having to stow the stack of clipboards in my closet for another day, and another team configuration.

My people management and organization skills, I realize now, started developing at an early age. It helped that my Mom’s interior design business was located in the former living room of our house, above the garage. There were four big white desks, a drafting table, a brown IBM Selectric II, small photocopier with moving top, and a green-screen Compaq for the bookkeeper. Mom had drafters, design assistants, and secretaries working for her for years, each with their individual schedules.

When there was downtime and we weren’t invading the premises, or on a weekend, my brother and I would gather the stapler, staple remover, single and loose-leaf hole punch, glue, scissors, tape, rulers, white and sometimes construction paper (for variety, and to make it more fun), and sit on the floor and “play work-work.” We would assemble blank packets and booklets, put meaningless labels on folders, and draw lines and color in shapes. This was fun to us. It was endlessly intriguing and seemed like a totally normal way to spend our time. While there were always outdoor hikes and lots of other ways we’d spend our time, my formative years held these two activities in portentious regard.

These days, I still have an office products fetish and enjoy a well-organized supply closet. But my people management skills have moved beyond clipboards, and my task assignments are updated almost daily. I went to the Yale School of Management this summer for a taste of an MBA through AIGA’s Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders program, and my nearly 14-year-old business is up between 250-300% over last year (previously our most profitable). In many ways, I am able to see how the paths of our lives emerge to us, even though our daily choices do have a huge influence on our overall trajectory. I appreciate the gift of perspective just as much as I appreciate the gift of rationale.