Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?
My work day starts at 8:30am and ends at 5:30pm and typically includes both working in the business and working on the business. As Chief Strategy Officer, I’m responsible for leading our team to execute digital product strategy engagements for our clients, while also working on our internal business strategy for our agency.
The tasks I have everyday differ greatly so my calendar is organized into 30 mins time-interval blocks of tasks or meetings to handle pre-planned tasks, while having the flexibility to move my tasks around throughout the day to accommodate last minute meetings.
What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?
I started my career as a software engineer. As a maker, my tasks were assigned to me but as I advance in my career, the biggest challenge has been to learn to work and grow as a thinker.
That includes developing skills that would allow me to research/think/work and translate the strategy into executable actions for our team. Afterall, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” (by Sun Tzu)
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
I grew up around classical music along with mathematics/computer science as my academic choice. Both playing the piano and coding to me are forms of creation and self expression, and are both built on the simplest structure (black and white keys, and 0s and 1s).
I believe both of those trainings have helped me as an engineer to visualize the architecture of our product (software) and work out the most effective way to code through the logic. As I advanced my career, this background has definitely influenced the way of how I approach and solve problems strategically as well.
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
I have been fortunate to have a number of both individual and team career-related accolades under my belt but I’d say my biggest win was to be able to break out on my own, chase my vision and found The1stMovement some 17 years ago.
I had to learn how to build and grow an agency on-the-fly and my biggest loss would definitely be losing a number of our key team members due to business mistakes I have personally made.
Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
There are a number of agencies I gain inspiration from, especially when we were part of SoDA (Society of Digital Agencies) and were surrounded by not only talented creatives but brilliant business agency leaders.
My inspiration drew not only from their creativity but their abilities to navigate an ever-changing industry of marketing. But one person above all has inspired me most - William Wang, founder/CEO of Vizio. While he’s not someone in our industry, over the early years I have leaned on him for sound business (and personal advice) and his insights into work culture and ethics have heavily influenced who I am today at work.
If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?
I grew up in Hong Kong and moved to the US for High School. As a teenager, I was more concerned about making fast friends and fast decisions. Chasing short-term goals was definitely something I regret.
If I could go back, I would learn how to make better sound decisions, and build my community of friends instead of individual friendships that did not last long.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I would have loved to be a travel photographer. I do travel and take a lot of photography, but I would have loved to do it full-time. It combines both of my biggest life passions - seeing the world and experiencing different cultures, while capturing and expressing it through different perspectives.
What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?
My one big dream would be to see more developers, engineers, or technical folks getting recognized for their creativity. “Creatives” have long been labeled for designers, marketers, or mostly “right-brained” individuals.
When the best of the two halves of the brain (“right-brained designers/marketers, etc.” & “left-brained developers/engineers/data scientists, etc.”) come together and are able to collaborate under a system that encourages innovation, that’s when creativity truly happens.
What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?
As a creative professional, from the start you are tasked with coming up with the ideas and/or producing the work. Knowing and mastering your tools and craft is the minimum requirement for your job. But don’t forget the soft skills like learning how to communicate with your team, express your ideas, and most of all, pitch your work as a creative.
What are your top tips for other creative leaders?
Tom Peters once said: “Leaders don’t create followers.. They create more leaders”. As a creative leader, your top priority should be to foster a culture that allows your team to not only execute individual work effectively, but a working environment that allows them to dream, visualize and collaborate with each other efficiently.
It’s more than having free food/drinks or foosball tables in the office, but how we as leaders create a work day for them that minimizes noise, and encourages workflow so they can excel as individuals, and as a team.
When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?
Chemistry. How they work and collaborate with each other, and how they cover each other's weaknesses and more importantly, elevate each others’ strengths.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
Most of my days are spent problem solving and making decisions and that is one skill set that any one of us can always get better at. There are a few books that I’d recommend around this topic in general: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell amd Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemn.
And specifically in terms of digital product development: Sprint by Jake Knapp and Hooked by Nir Eyal.