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What happened to me is a journey. I don’t know when I started feeling frustrated about advertising and marketing. I had been working in different roles, in different organizations, across several countries very successfully. But all of a sudden, in spite of my relentless changing spirit, I went through a period of being stuck because I felt frustrated.

My own definition of frustration: the gap between our expectations and our reality. The bigger the gap, the bigger our frustration. To minimize it, we can choose to either simply lower our expectations or to change our reality. Here’s my journey on how to use frustration, and get unstuck, by turning it into change.

Reigniting Passion: My First Visit to the d.school

After attending a couple of conferences at the Cannes Festival back in 2013, something clicked. Advertising was stuck. We were solving the wrong problem. We had lost touch with people. We needed to go back to putting them at the center of what we do (worry more about the outcome we create versus the ideas themselves). I blamed the industry, as if the problem were external. But I’ve always said that in order to change something, you have to do it from the inside. I had to start by changing myself.

A friend suggested the d.school — a hub for innovation at Stanford University, focused on training future innovators. I was lucky enough to participate in the d.school bootcamp that fall. It was common-sense brainwashing, getting back to basics but, at the same time, getting smarter about solving problems. I became fully immersed in the principles of Design Thinking, relearning the art of empathy or, in other words, how to put myself in other people’s shoes. Understanding their real problems and needs before determining the right solution. There’s no failure, but constant learning and improvement.

Going back to the idea that change starts from within, I initially struggled with how to put the pieces together at my organization, LAPIZ. I wondered how I could face the unknown: Will this make sense? Will people care about it? Will a new approach work? How could I get support after the expected initial resistance? I spent hours talking to many colleagues, trying to get inspiration. People like Adrian Ho, Alex Pallette, Gareth Kay, and many others were all candid enough to share their journeys on overcoming their own frustrations related to our industry.

Starting my Own Slow Revolution at Work

Back at my organization, I tried different things, from small experiments to more ambitious attempts to change deeply rooted behaviors. After conducting a couple of very hands-on workshops (like “Redesigning the bike experience in Chicago” and “Bridging the generational gap in corporate America”), we started building momentum. We committed to training the whole organization and we did it in less than a year.

It hasn’t been an easy journey. Lots of back-and-forth, testing, adjusting, and building advocates when many others felt skeptical. We continued challenging how we work, trying to eliminate hierarchies, breaking departmental silos, and fostering collaboration.

Building a new culture takes time, consistency, and coherence. Especially when you are trying to change longstanding industry paradigms. Like Jason Fried said: “You don’t create culture. Culture happens. It’s a by-product of consistent behaviors”.

It wasn’t easy at first to use a human-centric innovation process (Design Thinking) to develop marketing solutions. We applied different parts and principles to redefine the client challenges we were asked to solve, from fighting the skepticism of Americans towards Los Cabos’ fast recovery after Hurricane Odile to helping Purina redefine its corporate culture across Latin America. We continue on our quest to mash-up the old and the new ways of working. The good thing is that we have more positive experiences than not. We’re still trying to figure things out as we continue to make adjustments. In the meantime, the team has a sense of ownership, plays with the approach, hacks it, and uses the different pieces as needed.

After this very intense journey that included several client projects and bringing Stanford coaches to help build stronger teams, I’m back at the d.school. I had the honor to be nominated, along with three other professionals, to be part of a unique experience. The d.leadership program that I’m attending is about taking innovation and team leadership to higher levels. We work on real-world challenges, leading teams from different organizations to rethink the way they do business from the ground up.

I’m ready for this new personal challenge: to question my own experience and strengths. I’m ready to push myself and to experiment with new styles of leadership and of doing things that can help our team get better and better. Frustration can turn into a powerful tool. I decided to use it to my benefit.

PS: A special thanks to @Felipe Cabrera , a partner in crime, for being an advocate and strong supporter since day one.


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