Consistency is key. To be consistent, you cannot lose sight of your ambitions. There are 365 days in a year, think “what challenge will I overcome today?” and you will be surprised with your result
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jordan Felber.
Jordan Felber, holds an AAS degree in Horticulture & Landscape Design and a BSAS degree in Architecture from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Following graduation from the School of Architecture & Urban Planning (SARUP) from UW-Milwaukee in 2019, Jordan worked for Bjarke Ingels Group in New York City.
After leaving Bjarke Ingels Group in 2020, Jordan freelanced for upscale landscape design professionals in the US while COVID caused a boom in the landscape industry. While freelancing, he noticed the lack of resources for new and experienced designers in the field. He also noticed the amount of quality residential work under-represented, and over-shadowed by commercial projects, in the media.
Jordan, in 2021, shortly realizing this, founded The Landscape Library — an online platform that provides digital tools, resources and media for landscape designers seeking inspiration and education to innovate the field.
Currently, Jordan is the Editor & Curator at TheLandscapeLibrary.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I guess my journey within the landscape field started at an early age. My mom gardened and my dad was a handyman so chores were heavily focused around yard work. I enjoyed mowing the grass, which is why I eventually started a childhood business mowing lawns around the neighborhood.
My first degree from a technical college is in Horticulture & Landscape Design. I used this degree to work in the field of landscape architecture for about 5 years in a variety of roles and companies (small to large) before returning back to school to fulfill my itch of studying architecture.
Upon graduation with my Bachelor’s in Architecture, I was hired at Bjarke Ingels Group in NYC. While this experience taught me more in 9 months than what I learned and experienced in 9 years, little did I know the little kid inside of me was still interested in entrepreneurship.
TheLandscapeLibrary.com started as a freelancing side hustle after work. It grew into a profitable servicing business within a year. Eventually it shifted into what it is today — digital tools, resources and thought leadership (maybe a podcast soon) for other designer’s, like myself.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Just 2 weeks after I quit my job to become a full-time freelancer, the world shut down because of COVID-19. This was a sudden, harsh reality that felt very uncertain and like something I had never felt before — I guess my back was against the wall and I didn’t know if I would sink or swim.
What I didn’t know then that I realize now is that every thought leader has one of these experiences, maybe more! Being an authority in the topic of thought leadership means that you’ve gained credible wisdom from real-life decisions. These decisions either help you learn or they help you succeed.
Either way, you become a thought leader not from reading a bunch of books but from experiencing trials and tribulations and devising strong opinions and/or strategies because of them. You then take the leadership responsibility of teaching what you’ve learned to others knowing that there’s always room for life to throw more roadblocks (learning opportunities) your way in the future.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The time I got called “an underground designer in New York.” It was a cool feeling. I felt like an underground artist in a way.
I was on a call with the owner of a company in Chicago. We were about to work on our 2nd or 3rd project together when he realized that I also freelanced for another firm he highly respected in Chicago, as well.
At the time, I was still living in New York and had clients in 10 or so states. That’s not what makes the story interesting, though.
What makes this story interesting is first, the power of connecting on the internet and how much we can make an impact with our laptop. And secondly, when you’re good at what you do, you attract clients alike. I didn’t have a fancy website. I didn’t spend any money on marketing. But I quickly became known as a “go-to” resource in my niche in the field because of word-of-mouth.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
While I was in school for architecture, I had a job interview lined up for a really good firm in Milwaukee, WI. Simply put, I got the interview date mixed up.
I got a call from HR (the day I was supposed to be there) asking if I was still coming in. Oops! Luckily, they scheduled another interview with me and I ended up being offered the job.
To the contrary, I didn’t wind up taking the job but I did learn a few lessons: confirm day and time more than once and an extra follow up with an email will never hurt anybody.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader, to me, is a future-oriented individual having an innovative and bold vision for impacting a specific sector, niche or industry.
In some ways, thought leaders, typical leaders and influencers overlap. I think one thing that typical leaders and thought leaders have in common is sensibility and intuitive behaviors for thinking ahead. However, a typical leader, in my opinion, is motivating and unifying a team so they’re focused on completing tasks that achieve a specific goal. A thought leader, on the other hand, may or may not be in charge of a team but is focused on educating and informing listeners to frame their own viewpoints in hopes that those viewpoints lead to individual action and greater impact on an industry.
Influencers drive consumer behavior and could be seen as thought leaders. However, I think an influencer is not a thought leader if there is no responsibility for what is being “influenced” and it’s not for the betterment of the audience it’s being influenced to.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
One word: Community. All of the responses I have received from members, customers and readers of TheLandscapeLibrary.com make what I do fun, humbling and worthwhile.
When I first got started, my mission was to create a better industry which seemed pretty far-fetched. However, when architects and designers (some who’ve been in the field for 30 years, others who are just starting out and are learning from my products) reach out and say “we love what you’re doing for the industry”, I know that the energy I’ve put in will quadruple over time.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
I think specifically for The Landscape Library, it’s not so much about creating lucrative opportunities for ourselves, but focusing on creating lucrative opportunities for other designers in the field…
But would they buy if we didn’t have a voice? That’s the question that I think thought leadership answers. When you have a voice, trust is built quicker with who you’re aiming to help in profitable and non-profitable situations.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
I believe that there are many different ways to become a thought leader based on someone’s personality, skills or abilities, but I will tell you how I became a thought leader:
1. Passion — naturally speaking, if you just follow your intuition, I believe good intentions come from pursuing passion
2. Externalize — observe the field from afar, question what’s working and what’s not and formulate solutions for a greater cause
3. Define — start with defining one person or entity you want to help, dissect attributes and once that’s defined, multiply your efforts to grow an audience
4. Mission — it’s important to have a clear vision. Outline these values in the beginning & you’d be surprised how aligned your customers reactions are to it
5. Implement — consistency is key. To be consistent, you cannot lose sight of your ambitions. There are 365 days in a year, think “what challenge will I overcome today?” and you will be surprised with your result
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
For me, Elon Musk is somebody who inspires me as a thought leader. I’m most impressed with his innovative ambitions that seem to question traditional methods and certainly defies them with his meticulous engineering mindset. I also think, with all of his projects, there are two components that he addresses: 1) what is the user experience and 2) how can this innovation transform the user and the world?
In reality, Elon Musk is more than a thought leader. I’d say the ultimate lesson we can learn from Elon is his willingness to think bold and face backlash with results. Our society has this preconception that failure means you suck or that success “looks” a certain way. Rather, I think those who embrace humility and can withstand backlash become more than thought leaders — they build upon what works while always asking “Why?”
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I disagree, I personally think “influencer” is overused because of social media. But instead of “thought leader” maybe the new title should be “disruptor” — sort of like a rebranding with an edge in challenging traditional naming conventions.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
First hand, I’ve experienced burnout early in my career. It’s not something you want to experience because it leads to things like questioning your every move, anxiety and in severe cases, it can cause depression.
Today, I go by the rule “if something isn’t working efficiently or effectively….it’s probably not meant to be”. That doesn’t mean you completely stop, it could just mean the timing is wrong or that you need to alter/pivot something small for the effect of something large. Sort of like the 80/20 rule, 20% effort should result in 80% productivity.
All in all, energy (and when I mean “energy” I’m referring to positive and negative energies, not caffeinated high/low energies) is something I am always evaluating throughout my day. We’re all energy, we give off energy and we attract energy. So it’s necessary to get good sleep and take mental breaks. My wife and I go on “inspiration trips” where we focus only on wellness and mental peace while we work.
I highly suggest leaders make it a priority to embed themselves in a natural environment (mountains, water, forest, etc.) once in a while to spiritually take in the surroundings because you make clearer decisions.
And as a real life example of this, TheLandscapeLibrary.com was not conceived in my home; the idea was formed in North Carolina in the Great Smoky Mountains.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
So I’m writing a book right now specifically about residential landscapes and how they can help create sustainable futures with the use of modern technology. If I could inspire a movement, it would be what I’m writing in this book.
Residential landscape design is an interesting field. We (as designers) meet with homeowners to implement designs. I’d like for the entire field of landscape design professionals to infiltrate and educate homeowners on sustainable landscapes rather than aesthetic-only landscapes or minimal-maintenance-only landscapes to ultimately bring functionality and sustainability together. This book will be a manual on how to do just that.
When you change your perspective about things, the things you perceive change. Therefore, I’m hoping that this book will influence professionals to communicate with homeowners in a way that is bigger picture — more meaningful and opportunistic rather than transactional and convenient.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin so in honor of the Milwaukee Bucks winning the NBA Championship in 2021, I’m quoting the great Giannis Antetokounmpo in saying “Before I leave this Earth, I’m going to help people have a better future.” This quote is a testament to the impact a voice can have and the heart of what any large voice should bestow.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
As I’ve already alluded to, I’m a big Elon Musk fan. He’s inspired me to think different, think bold, think innovative for a greater good and greater impact.
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram is @The_Landscape_Library. That is where information about launches, news and inspiration are posted. You could also subscribe to our email community at TheLandscapeLibrary.com
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.