The not-so-semi-permanent lessons learned from Semi Permanent

A Semi Permanent attendee shares some of the lessons he learned attending the conference for creatives.

From August 12th to 13th, I attended the infamous creative conference Semi Permanent in Auckland. It was a chance to hear both local and international creatives talk about some of their experiences, struggles and ambitions in the creative space.

Over the two-day conference, I was overwhelmed with lots of questions, quotes and thoughts to take away and apply in my work. In fact, I was so bombarded with thoughts that my key takeaways represented something similar to a birds nest — all tangled up with no clear message or result at all.

It became clear to me that I needed a day or two to unwind, reflect on what I had learnt and what were my key take aways from the weekend to consider for the future.

I ended up taking away the messages that weren’t as impactful for me and narrowed down my takings to three key speakers that gave me the most think about.

Lesson 1: Designing with friction

Without a doubt, experience designer Steven Seiser from Airbnb won my top speaker prize. There were a lot of interesting thoughts he brought to the table about how to design products that not only achieve goals, but also provide positive impact to peoples everyday lives.

Further in the talk, Steven presented a theory from the Human Centered Design process he followed: “To responsibly design for others, we must know ourselves first.”

To Steven, this meant that in order for him to shape the experience of Airbnb’s product and shape the right experience people get using Airbnb (both the host and the guest), he had to understand how we as people felt about the idea of letting strangers enter their home and finding out what kind of value people would need to receive for letting unknown people enter the comfort of their own home and share it with them.

To tackle this design problem, Steven mentioned he went with a designing with constraints process. Instead of flourishing with wild and new ideas, Steven added “friction” back into the user-experience. By keeping the product focused on a set of strong core values and ensuring the product had “people’s values in mind,” he made sure the experience for Airbnb was properly thought-out and only allowed for anything new to come in when the current solutions were not going to provide the best answer in a particular case.

Lesson 2: Failure is not attempting to learn

Another stand out speaker for me was Maria Scileppi. She is an international business creative well known for her work in 72U, a creative program built to help grow people’s creative talents in the workforce.

A lot of her key pointers were about being motivated to pick yourself up and start learning and growing. A particular comment I found relative to my creative growth at this stage of my career was this: “You fail if you are not attempting to learn.”

Maria explained this further by saying that in order for us to live a fulfilling career journey, we must be motivated to make a choice every day. In this particular case she meant make a choice to keep on learning something new or refining what we know to get better. With every piece learnt and every new decision made, they must be driven by change rather than fear. If we are always fearful about making an effort or stepping out of our comfort zone, a lot of life opportunities in the creative space will drive forward without us and we will cease to expand onwards and upwards.

Lesson 3: Diversity in skills

Having someone speak from Google is always an exciting time. Cecelia Hebert is a leader in diversity and inclusion for Google Australia and New Zealand and considers it her mission to strengthen the diversity of Googles workplace in the Tech industry.

For Cecilia, her talk covered a lot of interesting facts and theories she had about how to build a better team environment, but she also mentioned an interesting fact about diversity. She felt that diversity is split into the following: “Who you are now / What you have become over time?”

To Cecilia this meant that you should be looking at who you are now, but what have you done over time to make your career. Further on in the talk, Cecilia mentioned that a way to grow in your career is to stop working in teams of the same people and reach out to people with different skills to expand further than the norm.

When coming up against more complex tasks that may need a team, Cecilia explained that the outcome can be quite different to those who only work with people who think the same as them. When people in a team have a different mix of skills, they feel like they can contribute more and can get more involved when suggesting ideas for the group. This can be extremely useful in a team that needs diverse skills, like a product team where everyone throws their fingers into the pot to help out.

Although there were a lot more takeaways from many other speakers at Semi Permanent, the three speakers discussed above were my key learnings from the conference, both on a personal and career level.

Discovering how to break rules when desired, what it means to be in a career in tech where it is always important to be changing your skills, and understanding how having different skills can help an outcome, makes me look forward to enhancing my own skills and growing in the team I am with for results that provide value for others.