What I learned last year – Alain Sylvain

By christinewatson / / The funny thing is, if I wasn’t asked to sit down and write what I learned in 2012, I probably wouldn’t know what it is I actually learned. It’s the sort of question I don’t stop and think about because I’m busy rushing, running to finish the next thing. Learning is something I just didn’t build time for in 2012. But, as it happens, I learned a ton. The obvious answer has something to do with my family and kids. Something to do with losing teeth and combing afros. But as an entrepreneur, so much of my perspective is tied to my company, Sylvain Labs. This month we’ll be 3 years old and 15 people. And much like a 3-year old toddler, we’ve hit some important milestones. 2012 was a year of firsts: we saw the fruits of our work finally hit the marketplace; we received our first unsolicited new business inquiry from someone we didn’t know (that was weird); and we developed our first product in partnership with an ex-client and now friend. After thinking about it, this is what I learned as an entrepreneur and human in 2012: Work with people, not companies. This year I learned that companies are mostly symbolic systems of organization. Our clients are the people behind these systems, each with his/her own interests and motivations. I’d like to think we’re devoted to people and trust that their personal ambitions are loyal to the companies that they serve. Yes, our client list includes big companies, but the relationships I hold dear are with the people within. I don’t mind working. I just hate jobs. In 2012 I learned that even if I didn’t need to work to pay my mortgage, I’d be working. Working – whether in an office, at home, on the beach, or whatever – is a natural, maybe even primal, instinct that keeps me motivated, healthy, and validated. And because it’s something natural, it’s not something I hate. People hate jobs, but people don’t mind working if they’re working on stuff they care about or that gets them excited. So that’s what I try to do: to work, but not to have a job. My company is a platform to work on whatever we want, as much as possible. That can be solving a problem, creating a product, or hanging out with friends. Work speaks louder than labels. People used to pressure me to better describe the company – the so-called elevator pitch. I’ve never been in an elevator when someone asked me for the perfectly concise and pithy description of the company. I’ve found that the description of the company isn’t what works, it’s the work itself that works. We speak through our successes, our character, our collective purpose. People don’t really want perfect descriptions, they want a sense of confidence that we’re good at our job and of good character. I can’t imagine a phrase or word that so perfectly encapsulated me or the company. We’re constantly changing and trying new things. Simply put, what I learned as an entrepreneur is tied so closely to what I learned as a person that it’s impossible to separate. I learned that my work is not driven by any quantum reason, it’s driven by a very human instinct. I think that’s how I’ll measure 2013. Alain Sylvain is the founder of Sylvain Labs, a strategic planning consultancy providing (1) innovation and ideation, (2) brand strategy, and (3) general strategic framing. Sylvain Labs’ clients include: Bloomberg, Pepsico, AB InBev, IAC, Nike, LVMH, GM, AOL, and Toys ‘R’ Us. SylvainLabs.com.