You Are What You Charge

Saying yes to uncompensated work can be a smart move.

I’ve done a handful of
pro bono gigs over the years that changed my career forever.

But when we donate our services, our job as independent
professionals is to set a precedent of value. To always remind buyers what the
market pays us, even if they don’t. And to always alert buyers that our time
isn’t just valuable – it’s billable.

Without that declaration, without taking a stand for our own
professional worth, we not only cheapen our instrument, but we also earn a
reputation as a doormat. And that makes it increasingly hard to get fully compensated
work in the future.

We are what we charge, but only if the market knows what we

The Belonging Sessions 013: Chung Ng from ROKKAN

ROKKAN is an independently owned digital agency reinventing the way brands interact and engage with their consumers. 

I sat down with co-founder Chung Ng, and posed three crucial questions about belonging:

a) Good brands are bought, but great brands are
joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

and time again, when a new hire joins our team, they talk about how it was the
work and the culture that drew them to ROKKAN. We look for young, fresh talent
to work on top-tier, adventurous brands. We hire very carefully and intentionally,
since every new person is a new link in the ROKKAN chain; we like our small
size, and keep it that way. The opportunity to roll up your sleeves and work on
killer brands right off the bat is a pretty huge draw that we hear about from
our ROKKANites, almost as much as the communal, open vibe around the office and
in our approach/process to client work. When an office runs on creative energy
and mutual respect, amazing things are bound to happen.

b) The great workplaces of the world have soul.
What do you do to humanize your culture?

a new person joins ROKKAN, it’s not about joining another company—it’s about
joining a family. We have a very close-knit community here, often, fellow
ROKKANites are friends as much as co-workers. Since we’re a small company,
we’re able to really put culture first and do a lot of events that a larger
agency just couldn’t sustain.CWe
have the annual Pool Party + BBQ, where we hold our own
hot dog eating contest and a Dim Sum Day where new employees have to try the
weird stuff on the menu a la Fear Factor. 

But, we’re about education as much as
we’re about fun. “Recess” happens once a month—a company-wide gathering where
any ROKKANite who wants to may have the floor to teach anything they want for
an afternoon, whether it’s how to maximize frequent flyer points, how to play
bar chords, how to make an app, or analyze Shakespearean sonnets. It’s a great
way to feature “the other side” of our ROKKANites, and let everyone glean from
shared expertise as well as learning about each other’s side projects and

c) Belonging is a basic human craving.
How do you remind employees that they’ve found a home?   

ROKKAN’s SoHo loft, we don’t have any cubes–it’s an open plan. Even our
conference rooms are clear glass.  We
have several lounge areas where people can just plop down on the couch, work,
and have spontaneous conversations and collaborations—almost like home.
 We also are extremely pet and bike friendly, so it’s quite often that we
have ROKKANites commuting in together, or bringing their puppies to work with them. Snacks and a kegerator
are always in the kitchen, along with a never-ending supply of coffee. Tunes
are crowd-sourced and different people “guest-DJ” the workday.

line: being at the office is inviting and comfortable, allowing for maximum
creativity and a very healthy, positive work environment. At times, the only
difference between working at the ROKKAN office, and working from home, is that
you probably couldn’t get away with those footie pajamas in a client meeting.

Thanks Chung! Learn more about ROKKAN here.

Nine Words Worth Repeating

“Thank you for allowing me to learn something today.”

That was the exit line from the customer service agent of
Bank of America.

Not, thank you for calling. Not, is there anything else I
can do for you? Not, are you satisfied with your level of service today? Not,
would you be willing to take a minute to answer our online survey about your
customer experience for the chance to win a thousand dollars?

Just thank you. Thank you for teaching me something.

In his gratitude, he demonstrated respect.

In his ignorance, he projected vulnerability.

In his unexpectedness, he created memorability.

I wonder if your service department can do all that in nine

Truth Vs. History

As much as we seek consistency, there are parts of us that are always changing.

What we thought was a cherished value was just a
preference that was too convenient to be killed. What we thought was a
limitation was just an illusion about what we can and can’t do. What we thought
was a perfect future was just an outdated plan that had no relationship with
reality. And what we thought was an essential part of our identity was just
some idea we made up a long time ago.

We are one constant re-beginning. And as human beings, it’s
our responsibility to keep that margin open. Otherwise, in the name of
sticking to our guns, we shoot ourselves in the foot. We live a lie in
perpetuity instead of appearing wrong once and moving on.

In a way, the consistency is still there. It’s just a matter
of what we’re consistent with.

The truth, or our history?

You Want It Now?

I met a guy who runs a nursery.

He told me that when customers walk in to buy mulch, his favorite service
moment is when he gets to ask them, “You want it now?”

Jaws. Drop.

Now? Really? You mean I don’t have to wait all afternoon?

Nope. Thirty minutes. You can get your mulch before you get your pizza. Chip
will even follow you home from the store if he has to.

That’s service. And our job, no matter what we sell, is to explode the gap
between what people expect and what they experience.

Creating a Holy Shit Moment

The goal is to create a holy shit moment.

An interaction so soaked in wow, that people can’t help but
tell the world.

Try making an intentional point of over delivery. When customers
ask you for an arm and a leg, hand them a hacksaw.

Try responding promptly, not just when you can. When customers
send you a message, get back to them instantly and watch what happens.

Try stalking just enough to learn what they love. When
customers show up, give them a personalized gift you couldn’t possibly have
known about.

Try invoking something obscure. When customers come back,
mention something from their last visit they barely remember.

Trying memorializing their brand. When customers get your
email, demonstrate a valid reason for your persistence with a value forward

The more holy shit moments we create, the more money we

Simplicity Isn’t Just Elegance, It’s Eloquence

Apple users don’t need instructions.

In a pinch, they can always hop online to find product
information sheets,troubleshooting pages, installation
handbooks, online tutorials, user guides and owners manuals.

But why search for instructions when
you already have permission?

Steve Jobs democratized technology. He
created products that don’t require anything but curiosity. You just open the
box, press the button and let your imagination carry you away. Meanwhile, his
competitors at Blackberry, whose 329-page instruction manual could pass for a
university textbook, are seeing an eighty percent decline in stock price.

Simplicity is isn’t just elegance –
it’s eloquence.

Make it beyond easy for customers to
use your products. Invest the majority of your time, money and energy creating beautiful
things that don’t require a degree to operate.

And people won’t think twice about
taking a bite out of your apple.

Open to the Complete Possibility of What Could Be

Innovation is impossible without imagination.

Only when our curiosity overwhelms our certainty, only when we’re more open to
the complete possibility of what could be, does everything change.

Kodak failed to innovate. Instead of
reading the writing on the wall and adapting to the digital world, they clung
to their analog past and went bankrupt. And the irony is, they were actually
the first film company to develop digital cameras, and the first to acquire an
online photo-sharing site.

And yet, Kodak died with over a
thousand digital imaging patents under their belt.

Because they never outgrew the belief
that they were in the business of printing pictures.

Had they used their imaginations, had
they been more open to the complete possibility of what could be, maybe they
still would be.

Inhaing Our Own Fumes

Entrepreneurs are notorious for being too close to themselves.

Too close to the business, too close to the product and too
close to their own perspective. And the problem is, when they’re in too
deep, inhaling their own fumes, they start seeing things that aren’t really there.
Like a mental magic trick, they create optical illusions that obscure the truth
and delay the execution process.

I remember writing a book a few years
ago that drove me up the wall. Since the layout architecture was more complex
than usual, by the time the document was print ready, I literally starting
reading words that weren’t there.

My designer was convinced I was hallucinating.
So we met for coffee. And Jeff patiently cleared my eyes and helped me see what
I needed to see. Then he told me to let it be. Eventually, we shipped the books
in time for my overseas seminar and nobody got hurt.

But could have been much worse. As a
freelancer, I don’t have a big furnace to feed.

Other entrepreneurs, ones with
employees, vendors and multiple stakeholders, have a much broader constituency
to cope with. And the minute they get to close to themselves, things start to
get broken.

Smart organizations build external
networks. Community platforms, social media outlets and other online listening
posts to help them scan the horizon better.

Otherwise, they never get out of their own head.

And the mind can be a dangerous neighborhood.

We’re Never Going Back in Our Cages

Hiring ourselves has never been easier.

Thanks to accessibility, democratization and instantaneity
of the web, artists and entrepreneurs now have the ability circumvent many of
the power structures that used to prohibit us from executing, sharing,
promoting and selling our work.

If we want to write a manual, start a podcast, create a
blog, host a television show, curate a collaborative novel, open an online art
gallery or launch a digital publishing platform, we can (finally) just do it.
Art has turned into one big Nike commercial.

The gatekeepers have
lost the key, and we’re never going back in our cages.

Which means starting is easier than ever. We can achieve
digital immortality with fewer barriers, zero permission and a whole lot of
hard work.

But that also means that execution is more important than

And most of us are awful at taking action on what matters.

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