On the eve of the first Creator Awards in Shanghai, WeWork talked with the finalists in each category about their work, their plans should they win, and what being a creator means to them. For some, creation necessitates social impact; for others, it means forging a new path in life. For all, however, creation has been a matter of hard work and dedicated passion.

Category: Business Venture

Turning Surfaces into a Canvas for the Imagination

Justin Cheng of Hipaint: ‘I think I should thank my daughter’

Company: Hipaint
Founded by: Justin Cheng, 33
Founded in: 2014
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 40

Mission: Our mission is to be the generator of new ideas for mankind.

What is Hipaint? Our main product is a paint that turns surfaces into whiteboards. Unlike a board, Hipaint is limitless, with no boundaries. We also sell board accessories, markers, etc. And we’ve been adding paints with additional functions, [like] magnetic paint [and] projector paint.

Why did you start the company? I remember when my daughter was around two (she is now six). She just grabbed a marker and drew on the wall. Other parents may have stopped her. But when I saw that, I joined. We drew giant monsters, jumped around, [and] had a great time. I thought, paper fills up so quickly. An entire wall can hold a totally new world for kids. Back then, I was working in one of the largest paint companies in Britain. Shortly thereafter, when I met a doctorate from Oxford, we started Hipaint. I think I should thank my daughter.

How many customers have you served? Currently we have 1,000-plus office customers (including Apple, Tencent, and Alibaba), 100-plus school customers, and about 10,000 individual users. In 2017 our sales revenue was about 12 million rmb. We have passed our break-even point.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? When I worked in a Fortune 400 company I had a good life, [a] good salary. But I was not creating things, just following the path where I could clearly see the future. The thing I’m doing now, it’s totally new. I’ve created something that never existed. From zero to one. I just want to create something different that can make people’s lives better.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I’m wondering what the event will be like.

What will you do with the money if you win? There are many children in faraway villages, in the mountains in China. I visited their schools; they are in a terrible situation. Our paint is small, and cheaper and easier to transport than boards. Though we are a startup, we want to do something for society, to help kids in poor regions get better education. If we have this money, we will donate whiteboard paint to 100-200 schools in poor regions without any charge.

Tracking a Baby’s Heartbeat from Your Couch

Jiliang Ma of ExtantFuture: ‘A creator is a problem solver’

Company: ExtantFuture, which produces the Modoo fetus monitoring device
Founded by: Jiliang Ma, 29; William Zhou, 46; Rambo Du, 31; and Nicky Shi, 34
Founded in: 2015
Where: Beijing
Number of employees: 30-plus

Mission: We want to create a consumer health product for mothers who want to know their baby more. Also, we want to create a closed circle with medical service within our app to reduce anxiety and frequent travel to the hospital. Finally, as we collect data, we want to gather the world’s largest dataset about the developing baby, which may present a massive opportunity for AI technology to predict more issues and save more lives.

What is the Modoo? Modoo is a wearable device that can stick on a pregnant mother’s belly to track heartbeats and kicks in the comfort of the home.

Why did you create it? When I started this company, I hadn’t even married. A lot of people laughed at me. But in 2014, a lot of friends and classmates started to get married and pregnant. I discovered that if you get pregnant, you receive hospital check-ups just once a month. That’s not enough, both from the consumer and medical side[s].

How many customers have you served? We have sold more than 15,000 units in 12 months, with a 12 to 15 percent monthly increase rate.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator is a problem solver who uses developing tech or a smart business model to solve the problem. A qualified creator is also a businessman. A creator should spread the service/tech to as many people as possible.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Actually, not too much. I was busy negotiating some business in Shanghai and doing clinical trials in the hospital.

What will you do with the money if you win? We are applying for the CFDA [China Food and Drug Administration] and FDA; these certificates have really high barriers and are expensive. We need to have a professional team, make our platform better, hire more physicians, etc.

Genetic Testing Makes Individualized Skin Care a Reality

Le Duc of Uniskin: ‘We want to see what is beneath the surface’

Company: Shanghai Inertia Biotechnology, which produces Uniskin
Founded by: Le Duc, 30
Founded in: 2017
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 34

Mission: We want to help skincare customers understand the uniqueness of their individual skin and how each skin should be treated differently.

What is Uniskin? Skin genetic testing in the form of a kit that customers use at home. It includes a swab for saliva and a couple skin patches. Then we offer a series of skincare product lines based on analysis results.

Why did you start the company? I used to be a resident physician in the U.S. and noticed genetic testing and tech was increasing dramatically. Testing is getting more affordable. I wanted to bring it into real life. We picked skin care because that is one thing we deal with every day.

Furthermore, the capability of a doctor is not complete. Sometimes recovery is out of our hands; life is so complex. Technology like genetic testing can help us uncover more information that gives us more control than we previously had. Hopefully we plan to use our genetic data to expand to other areas of medical and clinical use.

How many customers have you served? We’ve served over 2,000 people. Our revenue so far is 2 million rmb received; 5 million rmb in accounts receivable by mid-year.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator must do something innovative, something people haven’t seen before. It then has to be beneficial to a scalable target. If you create something but it cannot be used by people, it’s not creation or innovation.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I’ll just try to relax. Get good sleep. Run the company as usual.

What will you do with the money if you win? Probably we will put most of the money into research and development. We need more analysis people, and we’ll trying to build a new lab to process more samples, more data.

Category: Nonprofit

Helping Children with Cerebral Palsy Integrate into Society

Kate Wang of AngelHouse: ‘I have been preparing for this moment for 16 years’

Nonprofit: AngelHouse
Founded by: Kate Wang, 50, and Lvjiang Li, 57
Founded in: 2002
Where: Nanning, Guangxi
Number of employees: 44

Mission: Angel House is a charity organization that helps individuals with cerebral palsy (CP) integrate into society.

What does AngelHouse do? We provide children with CP housing and rehabilitation, academic courses, [and] opportunities to attend normal school, as well as social adaptation activities, such as visits to the supermarket. Additionally, we provide training and counseling for families and partner organizations in the CP network (currently AngelHouse has 55 partner organizations throughout China).

Why did you start the organization? I have twin daughters, and one of them has CP. Most schools don’t adapt for these kinds of children, and she was not accepted by normal schools.

I am solving a problem with two sides. One is awareness from society: People consider this group to be an in-patient group. But actually, CP cannot be solved simply [with] medical treatment. Secondly, those with CP don’t have their own disability association and representation.

How many people have you served? [On] any given day, we serve about 90 kids.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator is one who can impact and improve history, and in this way, create history.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? We are diligently preparing. It feels like I have been preparing for this moment for 16 years.

What will you do with the money if you win? We want to bolster our support system of physical training, education, and social work. Also, we want to support 80 children with CP for one year with full tuition scholarships.

Second-hand Items Fuel Work Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Shujie Jiang of Buy 42: ‘I want to leave something beautiful in the world’

Nonprofit: Buy 42 Charity Store
Founded by: Shujie Jiang, 31
Founded in: 2010
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 20 full time, 100-plus involved in various degrees

Mission: Our mission is to have a charity store in every community. Our vision is to change people’s attitude toward used items and recycling, as well as toward disabled people.

What is Buy 42 Charity Store? We started offline stores because the experience is better than an online store. Customers can see disabled people working in our store [and] can touch the products. Sometimes they can dig through the merchandise and discover a hidden treasure.

Why did you start the organization? We encourage people to donate idle resources, as well as corporations to donate samples and overstock to us, which they would abandon anyway. We also resell gently used items: books, wheelchair, toys, etc. As we generate revenue, we use it to support people with disabilities to work. We use idle products and idle human resources to build up our sustainable business.

How many people have you served? We have eight stores in operation [and] nine stores [under] construction. Our biggest store on Jiangning lu has 150-200 customers everyday. Every month our cash flow is more than 200,000rmb.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? For me, a creator has more responsibility on her shoulders, social responsibility. We live only 80-90 years; we’re nothing in this universe. A creator can leave something in the world; I want to leave something beautiful in the world, for my daughter and for the future.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I hope to just enjoy myself and let people see and feel our team’s passion.

What will you do with the money if you win? This year we are building many stores in Shanghai and later in other cities. We will invest the award to speed up the [construction of the] stores, and to build the team’s operation and team capabilities.

Walking 31 Miles to Raise Money for Children’s Charities

Jie Xiao of E.G.G. Walkathon: ‘Young people want to challenge themselves’

Nonprofit: E.G.G. Walkathon
Founded by: Jie Xiao, 33
Founded in: 2011
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 5

Mission: E.G.G. Walkathon (Enjoy Give Go) is a fundraising campaign held to support small projects for children’s charities related to nutrition, education, social education, and child protection.

What is E.G.G. Walkathon? E.G.G. is an annual event where teams and individuals walk 50 kilometers over one day to raise funds for charities. Young people want to challenge themselves, do something difficult but that can make a difference for others. You don’t have to be super-rich to be a philanthropist.

Why did you start the organization? E.G.G. was originally conceived to fund a project to donate one boiled egg each day to a number of children in rural western China. We’ve since expanded the usage of the money to funding for library projects, child protection, left behind children, etc. We now have about 4,000 walkers each year.

We fund private-sector organizations because in China, there are many nonprofits, but most are very dependent on government funding. They don’t have enough independent financial resources. And legally there are many barriers for newcomers to grow and register.

How many people have you served? More than 260 charity projects have been supported over seven years. We raise up to 10 million rmb per year.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? For me, a creator could be someone who creates something concrete. A creator can make a vague idea into something real.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Luckily enough, we had a three-day public holiday just last weekend. I spent the days at a temple retreat and had time to think through how I want to present.

What will you do with the money if you win? We don’t have the bandwidth to do public promotion or media purchases. If we win, one thing we’d like to do is help more people know about E.G.G. We’d also like to help fund our research.

Category: Community Giver

Recycling Clothing to Help Kids and Companies

Nick Lim of Baosquared: ‘I feel physical pain when I see nature destroyed’

Organization: Baosquared
Founded by: Nick Lim, 46
Founded in: 2013
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 4.5

Mission: Our mission is to minimize environmental damage as a result of the lifestyle we’re all caught up in and to raise public awareness. Every one of the decisions we make every day has an impact on the environment.

What does Baosquared do? We provide people with an avenue to recycle old clothes, and we provide companies [with] an avenue to dispose of excess inventory –– shoes, school bags, toys, equipment, etc. In doing so, we help kids in poor communities, and we help retail brands save money.

Why did you start the organization? I love nature; I feel physical pain when I see nature being destroyed. When I see people running the tap, not paying attention, it pains me. There are people who see something wrong and move on. They think, “It’s not my business.” For me, it’s everyone’s business. There are more intelligent ways to handle products rather than recycling because a lot of clothing is new and clean.

How many people have you served? We’ve sent clothing to 4,596 children.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? Someone who creates something tangible out of an idea. A lot of us have ideas and fantasies about how we want to change and improve the world; not many people roll up their sleeves and get things done.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Nothing really, because I’m trying to launch the project in a few other places. But I’m very grateful.

What will you do with the money if you win? Hire people to make the clothing selection and sorting process better. Sorting clothes for hundreds of kids is time- and labor-consuming, but we can’t compromise that because it’s our goal to make kids feel better about themselves, not to feel as though they’re being handed someone’s trash. We’ll also use the money to expand to different cities.

Connecting Young Women to Create Professional Opportunities

Samantha Kwok of Beijing Women’s Network: ‘Twelve women turned into 4,000’

Organization: Beijing Women’s Network
Founded by: Jessie Wang, 26, and Oma Lee, 26, who are no longer with the organization; currently managed by Samantha Kwok, 26, and Leslie Dong, 26
Founded in: 2015
Where: Beijing
Number of employees: 7

Mission: Young professional women of all different backgrounds, countries, and languages help each other through peer-to-peer mentorship, connections, and resource sharing.

What is the Beijing Women’s Network? We offer panels, workshops, and casual dinners.

Why did you start the organization? A lot of younger women professionals based in Beijing were finding it hard to find mentors, especially those working in smaller companies, entrepreneurs, etc. An initial group of 12 women started to get together regularly to discuss different challenges and issues they were facing within professional settings. Those original 12 women turned into 4,000. Now the committee organizes events every month, [like] panel discussions and professional development opportunities.

When BWN was founded, existing professional organizations for women were a bit older. The founders wanted to find a more relatable group for young professionals. Lean In, which is a similar organization with similar goals, produces events in China only in Chinese. BWN wanted a more expat-friendly organization; our events often have interpreters and translations.

How many people have you served? We have 4,000 members. Proceeds from events go toward one women-focused charity. In the past two years, we’ve raised 70,000rmb for Wheels for Life and Rural Women.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? Someone who makes something out of nothing.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Not much, actually. We’re just really excited.

What will you do with the money if you win? We will hold more professional events. With the funds, we’d be able to continue to drive the growing force that has been volunteer-driven for the past few years. We’d hire an administrator to take care of the logistics, event management, and curation. We’d like to invest in a space, as well as develop a WeChat mini-program, to foster online engagement more efficiently.

Category: Performing Arts

From a College Campus, A Cappella Goes Global  

Zhiyao He of Calculasian: ‘We think this genre is really magical’

Troupe: Calculasian
Founded by: Zhiyao He, 25; Chen Chen, 26; Ziming Li, 26; Xu Chen, 27; Tianyi Wang, 27; and Ye Lu, 27
Founded in: 2013
Where: California (Bay Area), Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou
Number of members: 6  

Mission: We have two goals: to introduce the a cappella genre to China, and to introduce Chinese pop culture to the world.

What is Calculasian? We sing and record a cappella music in Chinese and English. Our debut album consists of 10 covers and two original songs, all with original a cappella arrangements of mostly pop songs.

Why did you start the group? We enjoyed singing together in college, at UC Berkeley. We think this genre is really magical because when you sing harmony together, the brain releases a “trust” chemical, the same that is released when you trust other people. We are attracted to this trusting environment and want others to experience this as well.

For how many people have you performed? We did a crowdfunding scheme when we produced our first album; we’ve used the funds to produce the album, fund our travel and reunions, rehearsals, and marketing.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? It’s something based on your past experience and your passion. You have a passion; you have a goal; you have a mission. And then you use your experiences and your skills and works to achieve that mission. In the process, you create something inspiring and great.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? We were really intensively rehearsing, selecting outfits, and making sure we put on our best performance for the night.  

What will you do with the money if you win? We will have the funds to create, produce, and market our new album, which has a strong focus on Chinese musical heritage. Part of the funds will be used to hire world-class producers and engineers in order to achieve the best quality of music, and the rest of the funds will be used for marketing the material on a global scale.

Spreading Joy and Good Health with Jump Rope

Shengxi Li of Yuedong Jumprope: ‘Don’t drink, don’t smoke – just jump’

Troupe: Yuedong Jumprope
Founded by: Shengxi Li, 35
Founded in: 2009
Where: Shanghai
Number of members: 70 full and part time

Mission: We hope we can use jump rope to change people’s lifestyle and to instill a love of sports and health in young children. Don’t drink, don’t smoke –– just jump. Jumping rope is proven to be beneficial for heart health. Our dream is to turn jump rope into an Olympic sport.

What is Yuedong Jumprope? We do jump rope performance, as well as teach jump rope courses. We also make jump rope equipment. Our three studios in Shanghai are in Baoshan and Minghan.

Why did you start the group? When I was a student at university, our professor showed our class a jump rope video, and we thought it was so cool, so interesting, and so funny. So, we began to learn their style. Now, when we perform, other people also say, “Ah, jumping rope can be like this.” We began this group with the joy of jump rope, and we want to spread that joy.

For young children, if they have a good experience with sports earlier, they may become more capable, healthy adults.

For how many people have you performed? More than 600 schools have worked with Yuedong for teacher training, performance, or workshop.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? We say at Yuedong: Jump your style. That means: Be unique, be yourself. In other words, it means: Live your passion.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Our group now practices every day and discuss[es] what we want to let the audience know. We are working very hard.

What will you do with the money if you win? Help our team promote the sport, especially to young children in primary schools. We want to let them have a positive sports experience. We hope to reach out to and work with 1,000 more schools.

Welcome to “How to Thrive at Work,” a new series by Creator and Thrive Global about how to enhance your productivity, well-being, and happiness in the workplace.

It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: Your social calendar fills up right as end-of-year work deadlines loom. Office parties, staff volunteer days, and other worthwhile but time-consuming events cut into both your workday and your downtime, making it that much trickier to hit all your project deliverables and get your gift shopping done on time. Wait, isn’t this supposed to be the season of joy?

It can be. There are ways to successfully integrate work and life while staying motivated and inspired. We tapped three career and well-being experts to share their best work survival tips for this season and beyond.

Say yes to things that truly make you happy. This time of year, “joy” can feel scripted—cue the over-the-top decorations, nonstop Christmas music, and gifts you neither need nor want to buy. And we feel incredible pressure to live up to the spirit of the holidays. To create a season that will truly make you happy, learn to say no. “You don’t have to attend every function. You don’t need to put yourself in financial stress. You don’t need to succumb to the pressure,” says Jennifer Moss, author of Unlocking Happiness at Work and co-founder and CCO of Plasticity Labs, which helps organizations increase at-work satisfaction. By paring down to the events and activities that mean the most to you, you’ll be able to put your attention where it matters most. “We feel most fulfilled and rewarded when we are present with the people we’re closest to,” says Camille Preston, Ph.D., CEO of AIM Leadership, a management development and coaching firm. “Focus on the sentiment or the emotion in these moments.”

Establish vacation time early—and stick to it. Playing the office martyr is an express route to unhappiness and burnout. Instead, be clear in advance with your boss and your team about your time away—and how much support you’ll need when you’re OOO. “Write down guidelines for those specific needs and set up your out-of-office properly,” says Moss, who is also a founding member of the Global Happiness Council. “That means explaining that you will under no circumstances be checking emails while you are away.” Not sure you can keep off Slack? “You are no good to anyone if you take time off and don’t actually use it,” she warns. (Science backs this up: A 2017 report from the American Psychological Association on stress in America found that people who check their email/texts/social media accounts on a constant basis experience more stress than those who don’t. And for those who checked their emails regularly on their days off, the stress level was even higher.) If you can’t turn your work brain off easily, a good start is to remove your work email and Slack from your phone. “If it isn’t a life-and-death situation, it can wait,” she says.

Separate the must-dos from the nice-to-dos. It’s time to take a harsh look at your lists—assess what actually needs to be completed by the end of the year, and delete what doesn’t. “Think in terms of work and relationships that need to be procured or managed,” says Preston. “What must be done is anything that moves the dial or brings you joy.” Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at the New School and co-founder of wellness-education program Healthclass 2.0, offers a sanity-saving way to end this year and usher in the next. “Tackle anything that is already overdue—projects, debts, and even tough conversations,” she says. “It’s anxiety-producing enough to be behind on things, but carrying this baggage into a new year only adds to that unease. Cross what you can off this list, and at least set new, realistic expectations for what you can’t.”

Automate and delegate. Preston has a simple four-step formula for creating more time in the day: Collate everything in your brain; eliminate what you can (see above); automate—build once, use many times; and delegate to whomever you can. Do this and you’ll have time to create and celebrate. Preston put this process to use with her extensive holiday gift list (collate): rather than buy individual hostess and other small gifts to hand out all month (eliminate), she bought one case of wine (automate). Then she paid someone to tie ribbons around each bottle (delegate). Now the case of wine is sitting in her cellar, each bottle beribboned and ready—no thinking or additional shopping required. “I can grab a bottle and go for different social occasions,” she explains.

Be deliberate with your time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by obligations, it’s time to lean on your calendar more, not less. “Every Sunday night I look at the week in front of me and decide how much time I’m going to devote to things throughout the week,” says Mehlman Petrzela, who blocks off time for work-related projects, self-care, and everything in between. “I find it crucial to my sanity to get in five to six workouts a week, but this time of year, having that standard creates more stress for me,” she says. “So I block out three days for classes, and on other days I schedule a shorter 20-minute run on the treadmill in my building.” At work, she’s equally detailed. “I feel I can be a better colleague to others if I can be clear on what I can accomplish and commit to,” she says. Social activities get time-blocked as well. “I try to be reasonable about how much I can do and enjoy,” she explains. “These events are fun, but not when attending them makes everything else not fun.”

There’s a reason time-blocking works so well, says productivity expert Kevin Kuse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. “Because there are only 24 hours in the day, time-blocking forces you to be realistic and to say no to things that aren’t a priority,” he explains. “We can’t do it all, but we can usually do the things that align with our values. This reduces stress as we don’t have that feeling that we are ‘failing’ or drowning in our to-do’s.”

Set daily work goals. “Prioritize projects and set three objectives for each day,” says Moss. “Don’t make an overwhelming list that feels insurmountable—just slowly and steadily get through your plan.” Moss explains the science behind this approach, known as Snyder’s Hope Theory: “When we feel like we’re accomplishing daily goals at work, we increase our cognitive hope skills by building up a sense of agency. Our brains respond in kind and predict that we accomplish more and with more consistency.” The payoff: These steps increase engagement—and boost happiness and performance at work.

Make it a team effort. “It’s easy to get frustrated as your projects pile up toward the end of the year,” says Moss. Instead of looking inward to tackle your to-dos, she suggests banding together with coworkers to get it all done. “Increase team collaboration to get projects finished,” she says. “See who needs help and create a network of volunteers who can jump in to support each other at work.” Each moment of accomplishment will fuel the next—and give everyone something to feel grateful for.

Go to the company holiday party—or not. Moss, Preston, and Mehlman Petrzela agree: Deciding to bail on your holiday party really depends on your office culture. You know best whether you’ll be missed (and if that your absence will count against you down the road). But before you blow it off, consider the upside of spending time with colleagues in a more casual, social setting. “Everyone should have a choice about participating in these types of work events,” says Moss. “But community and friendships are important—they can be the difference between loving or hating work.” If you’re dreading making small talk, Preston offers a few conversation starters: “Think about things you might share, and then ask others, ‘What are you most looking forward to this holiday season? What’s a magical holiday memory from your childhood?’ she suggests. “If someone shares of themselves, others usually do the same.”

Find your ballast. What keeps you stable and feeling like yourself? Listening to music? Reading? Dancing? For Preston, it’s physical activity—and that’s why her workouts are nonnegotiable. “Amidst the social whirlwind of this time of year, people let go of the things that energize them and give them stamina,” she says. Big mistake. Huge. Instead, she says, hang onto them now more than ever. “Know what those things are to you and reconnect to them,” she urges. “You might not be able to do them as fully as you want, but finding ways to fit them in is essential.”

Consider working between Christmas and the New Year. True, the office will be a ghost town. But, hey, the office will be a ghost town. More time for you to wrap up 2018 distraction-free and get set up for a productive 2019. “I love to work that week,” says Preston. “It’s nice to have that demarcation of the end of one year and the beginning of the next. You start the new year fresh and ready.”

Graphic by Naomi Elliot

Black Twine, a New York-based “event-inspiration” website that’s on a mission to cure Pinterest fatigue, was just about a year old when its co-founder, Anne Hyun, a member in WeWork 222 Broadway in New York, sent a cold email to a woman she’d never met. Until then, Hyun’s fledgling business marketed to busy millennial moms, supplying them with party “blueprints”: gorgeous photos paired with lists of what to buy (many items in the inspiration photos are shoppable), menu ideas, and a suggested timeline for event prep and execution.

On a hunch, Hyun reached out to Eva Chen, Instagram’s director of fashion partnerships, who was about to release a children’s book, Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes. Hyun wanted Black Twine to work on an event for the book’s launch. “We’ve been longtime fans of Eva,” Hyun says. “She’s such a role model for women, but she’s also a mom, and my two co-founders and I are all moms. [And then there’s all] she’s done for the Asian community.”

It was a risky move—Hyun had admired Chen only from afar—but it worked.

For the month of November 2018, the front windows of Books of Wonder, a children’s bookstore in Manhattan, featured a dramatic jewel-toned archway of balloons surrounding a cutout of Chen’s character, Juno, all designed by Black Twine. “We had never actually done a window before,” Hyun says of her company’s partnership with Chen, which also included styling her book-signing event at the store. “But for us, it was about being able to work with someone who was really inspiring.”

(Above) Anne Hyun, co-founder of Black Twine. (Top) Hyun and Eva Chen, Instagram’s director of fashion partnerships, in front of a window display at New York’s Books of Wonder.

She stays true to that entrepreneurial spirit while running Black Twine, which she says is a lot like planning one big party. “Managing a business and planning a party both come down to time management,” she says. With event planning, she explains, there are five different things you need to worry about: the decor, the guests, the food, the beverages, and getting all the vendors and different pieces in place. Similarly, she can break down her business into specific tasks—which she then has her team divide and conquer. “Like with event planning, if you try to do it all on your own, you’re going to be in a world of misery,” Hyun says.

Her team is also not afraid to hire others for certain to-dos. “It took us a long time before we were able to say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to be the ones who put every single product on our site,’” says Hyun. “We’ve gotten more comfortable outsourcing different pieces of work as we’ve grown.”

And when they want to invite someone new to their party (or, um, business), Hyun isn’t afraid to send a cold email. “The one thing that we’ve learned on this entrepreneurial journey is that you have to make your own destiny,” Hyun says. “A lot of the successes that we’ve had have come from that same story, just trying to see what might be out there and giving it a chance. A lot of times it doesn’t work out, but the one time it does, it’s someone like an Eva, which is amazing.”

Hyun’s holiday party survival plan

Keep decor simple. “Place a garland down the middle of a table. It really just makes the table pop.”

Tweak the traditional palette: “One of the color combinations we used this year was sage and wine, which was a play off of red and green. It’s a bit more subtle.”

Ask people to bring booze instead of dessert. “If it doesn’t get used, unlike dessert, it can be saved for your next party.”

Be a good guest. “RSVP promptly. And if you think you can’t make it, a quick ‘No’ is better than a long ‘Maybe.’”

 

A few weekends ago, I was at my business partner’s birthday gathering, lightly facilitating some sharing of his impact—what we appreciated in Edmond, what we saw in him that he might not see in himself. A friend of his commented that most people don’t get this level of appreciation and celebration reflected back to them until they are dead. At funerals, people give themselves permission to bring their emotions, to reminisce about favorite memories, to share the life-changing impacts that person has had on them. It feels cathartic and connecting—but the person who has passed isn’t hearing a word of it.

Why we should skip ahead to the good stuff

Too often, we wait until there is an ending or closing to say kind words, or we don’t give appreciative feedback at all. The ending doesn’t have to be death—it might be when a beloved employee announces she’s leaving a job. Heartwarming emails pour in in response to the farewell email, or some words are said at the company all-hands, or people write emotional notes of appreciation.

When I left a recent job, I received brief but beautiful emails from people I had interacted with only once or twice, sharing that even in their different function, they were inspired by seeing me show up as a senior woman at the company. I hadn’t known that. One of my direct reports showed up a few minutes late to our last one-on-one because she was writing a letter—a handwritten letter! I was also presented with a foam board with more notes from the engineering team and other coworkers.

Take the first step in creating a culture in which sharing appreciation and gratitude in the moment is as natural as showing up for daily stand-ups or checking email.

I treasure those words. They reflect to me what I already know, which is that in an imperfect system, I have lived and acted true to my values and what long-term success means to me. At the same time, I wonder what might have been different for me if I had deeply known the appreciation throughout my time there.

The impact of appreciative feedback

A few months ago, Edmond and I conducted a few dozen interviews to find the patterns in frustrations, pains, hopes, and dreams of engineers, tech leads, engineering managers, CTOs, and VPs of engineering. What struck us is that so many people cared deeply about doing well and were trying to do their best, but we heard this over and over again:

“I don’t even know if I’m doing a good job.”

When I reflect on moments in my own career that I’ve received meaningful appreciative feedback, a few come to mind. In written feedback at Google, at a time when I struggled with a feeling of having “snuck” in through their internship program (rather than the normal full slate of rigorous interviews), my manager told me the work I was doing was on par with what was expected of more-senior engineers. That gave me a concrete calibration of how I was doing, so I was able to leave behind a lot of those feelings of uncertainty. A year or so after I left Google, I had lunch with a senior engineer who had been my mentor there. He mentioned in conversation that he felt like my career was a rocket ship and soon he would see me as a CTO of a large tech company. He showed me a glimpse of how he saw me as a leader before I saw myself that way.

There was also the time after I returned from my second maternity leave. I felt like I was doing all right, and as I transitioned from four days a week back to five, my manager told me, “It feels like after your maternity leave, you leveled up a huge step. I bet a lot of people didn’t even know you were working only four days a week.” The impact was that I had a better sense of the perception people had of me and my work—and that rather than just doing all right, I was kicking ass.

In each of these instances, something that was clear as day to the other person was obscured for me, and by sharing what they had seen or noticed in me, it shifted how I viewed myself.

Kicking off the gratitude loop

Companies are starting to catch on to the importance of expressing gratitude. Anil Dash, the CEO of software company Glitch, wrote on Medium about how Glitch fosters a culture of gratitude, and Camille Fournier shared how they did this at Rent The Runway. And Jen Dennard of Range Labs, a company that facilitates better communication and strengthens relationships among teams, wrote about building a culture of gratitude through high frequency and gratitude catered to each individual. Edmond and I try to express gratitude when we feel it and also reflect in our monthly debriefs with a prompt around what we’re grateful for.

When I started training to become a coach a year ago, the coaching skill of “acknowledgment”—noticing something positive about the other person and saying it to them out loud—was the most difficult for me. It felt awkward, inauthentic, contrived. Positive feedback in the form of “good job” felt like a pat on the head—condescending, almost. I imagine it feels that way for many people—and so we shy away from it, hoping that people already know what we appreciate about them.

I’ve found that more-specific prompts guide me and make it feel more structured and less awkward to share appreciation and gratitude.

  • What quality do you see in this person that they might not see in themselves?
  • What is the most noticeable change you’ve seen since you started working with this person?
  • What qualities do you most appreciate about this person? What do you see as possible for them if they lean into these qualities more fully?
  • What is your favorite memory of this person?

If you want this type of feedback, ask for it. Before your next one-one-one, take a moment to consider these prompts and share a piece of appreciative feedback. And then, in whatever way feels comfortable for you—perhaps in the same meeting, or in a Slack thread or email request—tell people that you’re looking to better understand your strengths and the impact you have on the those around you, and would love if they could answer one of these prompts. Take the first step in creating a culture in which sharing appreciation and gratitude in the moment is as natural as showing up for daily stand-ups or checking email.

Jean Hsu is a cofounder of Co Leadership and a member at Berkeley’s WeWork 2120 University Ave.

Celebrity stylist Karla Welch knows the importance of having a style uniform—and what happens when you try to fight it.  

Welch, dubbed the No. 1 power stylist by The Hollywood Reporter—with clients including Amy Poehler, Ruth Negga, Karlie Kloss, and Zooey Deschanel—recently booked a crack-of-dawn flight from Los Angeles to New York for an event at WeWork 205 Hudson. Bleary-eyed at 3:30 a.m. and prepping for her flight, Welch packed exactly one outfit: a dress. At the last minute, she threw in a favorite pair of jeans. Just in case.

When she landed in New York, she slipped on the dress to wear to the panel discussion about WISHI, the on-demand personal-styling platform she co-founded with stylist Cleo O’Hana. But the dress was all wrong, she says. Backup jeans it was.

Celebrity stylist Karla Welch’s own style uniform consists of three items: jeans, a blazer, and a white T-shirt.

That’s the power of a personal style uniform. “It’s a security blanket,” says Welch, who wears a white shirt, jeans, boots, and blazer during most of her nonstop days spent styling clients, consulting on advertising campaigns, and designing custom pieces for Justin Bieber’s world tours.

There’s a reason uniform dressing is catching on: When you streamline one aspect of your life, it frees up your brain to focus elsewhere. When you’re busy or building a company from the ground up, says Welch, “your mind is needed for other things.”  

At WeWork, Karla Welch shared the stage with fashion names like WISHI cofounder Clea O’Hana (left) and B Sides Jeans cofounder Stacy Daily (right).

Famously, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Barack Obama have all admitted to wearing nearly the same outfits every day; now entrepreneurs and ambitious workers are following suit (while ditching the suit). How to begin? First, take a deep breath. “The thing is, it’s just clothes,” Welch says. “You don’t need to stress out.”

Keep it supersimple. Ask yourself, What are you looking for? advises Welch, who says it’s the first question she poses to clients. For example: “clean lines, not too fussy, something to move around the city in.” Creating a style target helps narrow your options. Welch’s own uniform consists of three items: jeans, blazer, white T-shirt. Yours could be a slight variation: stylish trousers, say, or sweaters during the winter.

Consider your days. Are you in and out of meetings? Does your commute feel like it’s 100 degrees, even in the winter—except when it’s not? Your uniform should be adaptable and feel comfortable in a variety of situations. “A uniform is a time-saver so you can do better things,” Welch says. It should never be a source of worry.

Start with what you have. Uniform dressing seems like a minimalist endeavor, yet it’s easy to think you need to buy a new wardrobe. Don’t, says Welch, who advocates wearing pieces for years. Start by shopping your own closet. It’s less expensive and more sustainable—plus, creating a style identity from familiar pieces you already own makes it more likely you’ll stick with it.

Ask one crucial question. Pick items that make you feel powerful and build from there. Ask yourself, “Do I feel good in this item?” If the answer is yes, add it to your rotation. If the answer’s no, consider donating it.

Look to the greats. Channel inspiration from artists, cinema, and celebrities. Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons dresses almost exclusively in black, save for the occasional white shirt. And the artist Georgia O’Keeffe was notoriously rigid with her self-created wardrobe—so much so that her iconic androgynous silk, cotton, and wool outfits have been showcased in museum exhibits.

Solicit a second opinion. If you’re at a loss, hire an expert. It might be a better use of your time than opening 47 shopping tabs in your browser and searching for the right piece. On WISHI, each user is matched with a professional stylist. You send photographs of your wardrobe, and the stylist sends back suggestions from your own closet and from online stores.

Beat back boredom. Growing up, Welch wore a school uniform, but instead of resenting the predictability and sameness, she says, “it pushed me to be creative.” The same goes for an adult uniform. “The goal is to feel confident, not bored,” she says. “It takes a remarkable amount of confidence to wear something over and over again.” And if repetition can breed success, then a uniform could be your strongest style move yet.

Photos by Lori Gutman