Some people demand signed non-disclosure agreements before they will tell you their idea. I’m not one of them any more and here’s why.

“Hi! I’ve got an idea that I want to talk to you about, but first I need you to sign this non-disclosure agreement.”

I’ve had a few conversations that started this way. Most of them, embarrassingly, as the person uttering those words.

If you’re not familiar, the principle of asking for a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, before speaking to someone, is an attempt to get some security around the ownership of ideas being discussed between two or more people (and the organisations they work for).

In essence, you’re asking someone not to take your idea and do something with it, or even to talk about your idea to anyone else, and that’s never sat very well with me. When I meet someone opening with this line, I usually respond with “sorry—I don’t sign non-disclosure agreements.” Partly out of principle. Partly to send a message. Here’s why:

Ideas are not a limited resource

Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, and really, given how hard it is to take an idea and turn it into something, a product, a business, a project, the likelihood that someone is going to think “gosh, what a great idea, I’ll steal that” and turn it into something successful is vanishingly small.

By putting secrecy around your idea, you run the risk of sounding like an ideas guy, or worse, a no-idea guy. Ideas guys (I am guilty of self-describing as such in the past) assume that because they’re good at riffing on things and coming up with good suggestions that their ideas are of high value. And no-idea guys are people who have a predisposition for thinking they can come up with few ideas, and that this current idea is their one big idea of their life.

The thing is, idea-having isn’t a limited resource. Everyone’s coming up with new ideas all the time, but because of the nature of time and work, only some ideas can ever be turned into a reality. The hard bit is deciding what to work on, and what not to work on.

Will it really protect your intellectual property?

Many would advise you to get some legal protection around your idea somehow before launching a business. That could be a patent, an exclusive contract to supply something in a particular market, ensuring you retain copyright over certain components, amongst other things. Raising investment for something where you’ve not covered the basics could prove pretty difficult.

I work on the web, though, and most of what I do relies on free, open-source, patent-free software, so it’s about finding the right parts to protect. Twitter’s approach sticks out as an example of a company doing things in a new way—they patent defensively with their Innovator’s Patent Agreement.

If there’s a part of your idea that’s patentable, sure, patent it if you want to do that, but you don’t need to lock down all conversations about your thing just because a component is novel — it’s counter-intuitive.

And furthermore, if you think I’m the kind of person who might take your idea and register something as a result of a conversation, why are you even speaking to me about it?

Pop your invention bubble

Given that there are a great many people coming up with ideas for things all the time, there’s a tiny chance that something you come up with is globally unique. To declare that you’re in that tiny bracket of utterly novel invention could be a sign that you’re probably in an invention bubble, and have an inability to consider that others have had a similar idea to yours.

It’s a solipsistic point of view, when in reality you’re only a few months or years ahead of many people who will soon discover similar things. You might even find that you’re behind in your thinking, but you haven’t done enough research to find out!

Don’t make life complicated

If I were to attempt to keep track of a number of non-disclosure agreements it would make it really hard to remember which ideas I am allowed to know about, and which ones I’m not. Which ones are expired? Which ideas are now public anyway?

“Oh, I have a friend who… Oh sorry, I’m not allowed to talk about it.”

I really don’t want to have that internal thought process when I’m in a conversation because it’s bound to make me err on the side of not talking about interesting things as much. It decelerates serendipity.

Optimise for serendipity

The opportunity to excite people about your idea using your and their networks is very valuable. By locking down the person you’re speaking to about your idea to deliberately not sharing, you’re going after the opposite of serendipity. There’s a word for that? — ?zemblanity.

When you’re speaking to someone, you’re not just connected to them, you’re connected to their network. By disabling their ability to make as-yet-unknown introductions, comments at networking events, to speak about your idea over dinner, you’re saying that the only value you place on that person is them, and not their network. That’s a mistake, because for any idea to work, you need a little luck.

Optimise for serendipity—enable the people you know to get excited about your idea and to connect you with others who can help.

There’s a down side to stealth

Non-disclosure-by-default introduces the risk that your company culture could be poisoned by secrecy at an early stage. I distinctly remember moments in a previous “stealth startup” company where I and those around me were so tied down with non-disclosure that we didn’t tell our own families what we were working on.

The effect of this after we launched was that nobody was sure when or if they were allowed to talk about what we were working on. As we all know, regularly communicating about what your company is working on is a big part of a good marketing plan.

Stealth can be poison to company culture. Through secrecy, you accidentally push your company into a closed, rather than open, mode. And that can be hard to cure.

Are you really going to sue me?

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that you do have something amazing and original. And I sign your piece of paper. And something weird happens and it ends up with you suing me as a result.

Seriously, are you going to spend those ultra-limited seed funds on litigation? If not, why make me sign it?

You can’t steal execution

If making a business was as simple as stealing an idea, we’d have lots of examples to point toward of people taking an idea from a conversation, ripping it off wholesale and turning it into a successful business.

There is the occasional horror story—the guy who pitched his idea on the “Dragon’s Den” TV show, didn’t get investment and someone watching the show thought “that’s a good idea”. But that’s an outlier.

Many of the big success stories you see started with an interesting approach in a “me too” area, and they differentiated by executing better than their competitors. You should focus on the execution of your plan and let the copyists copy if they want to try.

How about taking an unusual angle with your next idea?

In thinking about this post, I’ve realised I have a few unusual approaches to the NDA, and revealing ideas. Perhaps have a try…

Friend + NDA = FrieNDA

This is an alternative to the NDA. You don’t write anything down, you just say “I’m not making this public at the moment, but you can talk to your network about it.”

I’ve done this a few times, and it seems to do much of what an NDA does, but it feels more sane, less legal, and as Fred Wilson said, “you’re far better off working with somebody of high ethics with no NDA than somebody of low ethics with a signed NDA.”

The PDA—Please Disclose Agreement

When you next start a conversation about something, start or end by explicitly saying something along the lines of “I’m doing this idea in the open. If you like it, please pass it on, or let me know who I should talk to”.

Head-in-sand research

When I come up with a new idea, I often delay doing market research on it, focus on thinking it through without external influence, under the assumption that it is very, very likely that a similar or overlapping version of it exists out there. It can be pretty demoralising at an early stage, get excited, google it and discover someone having a go at a relatively similar incarnation of your idea.

The thing is, the execution on an idea will always be different, depending on who takes it on, so hearing that someone has had a punt at a similar idea to you is not a problem. In fact, that kind of market validation could actually prove helpful in validating that it’s a potential business idea. All good ideas have competitors around nuance. “And anyway, screw those guys, they’re doing it wrong.

Alternate your idea-openness

Idea-having isn’t a depleting resource. There’ll always be another idea. Unless you think this is the only one you’ll have, which is a worry in itself, and another article.

You could, as I have, alternate between a number of different modes in relation to your ideas. For instance:

  • Please disclose—immediately tweet the idea you just had, then publish a hack after one day of work, then follow through, probably with an open source or creative commons licence thrown in for good measure. On Thursday we did this and put out four things in a day, including Shhare.io and Rumbleroll.com.
  • FrieNDA—tweet “hey guys, looking for some folks to try out a hack I’m working on”, share it with immediate friends but ask them not to talk about it just yet, put up a landing page, slowly develop the idea. We’re doing this with Wrangler.
  • Hack-and-think—do a little bit of “hey guys!” but spend most of your time collecting great people around your idea, fulfilling regulatory restrictions and developing a product that is secure before you launch to market. We’re doing this with Savemates.

Open by default

Some modes seem to work better for some ideas over others. In general, I am open by default, and only if there’s a very good reason to not talk about what I’m up to would I keep it quiet.

Given the enormous amount of personal sacrifice, risk, hard work, stress and conviction it takes to make something successful in this world, I am confident in my general approach to meetings:

You might try to steal my idea, but you can’t steal my passion, so I’ll assume you’re here to help.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Medium by Stef Lewandowski, the Founder of Makeshift, a London startup that makes tools for startups.

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