Concurrents: Wayfinding With Friends 

Jen Levisen

Hey, everyone — Jen here. I hope your summer is off to a great start. Mine is, although it’s off to a very different start. For the first time in the last four years — well three thanks to the pandemic — I wasn’t at NeoCon representing Mortarr and, most recently, ecomedes. I decided back in May to part ways with the company, and while it was my decision, I’m still unraveling, so to speak. The week of NeoCon was especially tricky. I missed opportunities to connect with dear friends, industry colleagues who had become friends, industry leaders I was dying to meet, new products and storylines I wanted to experience in person, and of course, to take a moment in my life-long love, the Archibald armchair courtesy of Poltrona Frau and Haworth. I love that fat lady in stilettos. 

In my last few weeks with Mortarr and ecomedes, I had the opportunity to reach out to some of those individuals mentioned above about my decision and hope of staying in touch. I was determined not to make that something I just said, and hoped they all felt the same. One of those was Rob Kirkbride, editor of this very publication. Whether he knew it or not, I considered him a valuable instructor over the last five years as I leaped into the deep-end of the commercial design pool on behalf of Mortarr. In a way, his articles were my textbooks, his interviews, my lectures. I followed along with his coverage of events and happenings to learn about the industry so I could establish my outlet — Forum by Mortarr.  

When Rob offered me this column opportunity, I’m sure I looked like a cartoon, you know the ones — coffee spits out, jaw hits the table, eyes bug out, etc. I’ve spent my professional career writing about others, their ideas, their projects, their products, but I have only just started to write about my thoughts and ideas. Here’s hoping this is a very interesting and entertaining ride for you and me! 

In light of those friends I mentioned above, I wanted to float an idea by you — the idea of a personal board of directors. A PBOD, if you will. The concept was first introduced to me by Meena Krenek during an ASID SCALE presentation to the students at Arizona State University in 2019. She emphasized the importance of surrounding yourself with individuals who know you well, who ground you and remind you of your values, who you trust, and who aren’t afraid to be truthful with you. Creating a PBOD at such an early age, she was talking to design students after all, would be vital in establishing and maintaining a true sense of self as you navigate your career and life through all its twists and turns. Meena doesn’t need me to validate her thoughts on the matter, but I have to tell you — my PBOD has never been more critical. And every time, I’m always struck by how valuable it is. 

So, who should be on your PBOD?  

  • If you like them, your direct manager — if you don’t like them, let’s talk. 
  • Someone with decision-making power, think director level or higher, within your industry, but not at your company.  
  • An industry colleague in a similar seat. 
  • Someone who has known you most of your adult life – a friend or family member would work here. 
  • Someone you admire, a “professional crush” if you will, even if your roles aren’t similar. 

 And what should these individuals be able to do? 

  • Be able to see and articulate your strengths. 
  • Be aligned with your values, and remind you of those values during good times and bad — especially bad. 
  • Be able to challenge you and not be afraid to disagree — you don’t have time for yes-people.

Right now, when I think of my PBOD, I think of:  

  • Joee, Beth, and Lindsey, who see me clearly — even when I can’t. 
  • Julie, who helps me find and strengthen my voice. 
  • Abby, who illustrates what it means to be a person of integrity, what it means to build and lead, and what it means to honor and celebrate the strengths of others. 
  • Aaron, who makes dreams come true and empowers others to do the same, leads a team unlike any other in the industry, and is always just a text away. 

There are others, some with ex-officio status, but I think you get the idea. There is no greater gift you can give yourself than knowing yourself and being surrounded by people who truly see you. And it’s never too late to start, I promise. 

I’d love to know your thoughts on PBOD — what yours looks like, what seats you try to fill, how it’s changed over the years, how often you reach out to yours, the list goes on. You can find me on LinkedIn or via email. See you next month! 

Jen Levisen is a writer, editor, and content strategist passionate about connecting and storytelling, and using both to highlight impact. She was a founding team member of Mortarr, the commercial design industry’s search and discovery platform that was acquired by Ecomedes, Inc. in early 2022. There she helped lead the marketing team and developed the digital publication, Forum by Mortarr. Jen is the host of the Impact Icons podcast, an Imagine a Place Production, which celebrates leaders within the built environment who have been instrumental in creating a more sustainable tomorrow. 

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