I was once told years ago by a former boss that it’s important to create a home that feels safe and relaxing. A space to take refuge in after long days of work or being out in the world. These days, with many of us working from home, that sentiment rings even more true. For me, it’s all about being surrounded by the things I love.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Parker Gates. Parker Gates is one of the co-founders of Stoked, a global culture and strategy firm. He has been leading Stoked as well as coaching executive education workshops at the prestigious d.school at Stanford for the past 10 years. He calls Nashville, TN home, but finds himself working and traveling all over the globe — in person and virtually.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Istarted teaching and practicing design in 2010 after leaving a 15-year career in the IT field. I was introduced to design thinking at the d.school at Stanford where I attended an executive education course and, as corny as it sounds, that changed my life. I was instantly drawn to the human-centered approach to problem solving as well as the new ways of working and collaborating with my teammates. It was such a drastic departure from anything I’d ever done before and I was forever altered.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Hands down, the most interesting thing that happened has been the opportunity to coach exec education courses at the d.school for the past 9 years. I barely made it out of high school and I never went to college, so to be asked to work at such a prestigious place like Stanford was pretty mind blowing. It’s something I still don’t take for granted even today.
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?
My first year of coaching at the d.school, I was with my team of executive participants on Day 1 of our bootcamp program. I’d taken them somewhere on campus so we could quietly get to know each other and I wasn’t paying attention to the time. Meanwhile, the entire rest of the cohort were catching buses to go to SFO for some empathy research. By the time we realized it, all the buses were gone and my team and I had to catch Ubers to the airport. The teaching team was laughing with/at me and I caught a lot of slack for it for the next few years.
One positive outcome was that I taught my team how to conduct empathy research with the Uber drivers so they never missed a beat when we finally arrived! The lesson being you can almost ALWAYS reframe a situation or mindset to make the most out of things.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
More and more we are designing and leading work to help create workplace cultures where innovation and creativity can thrive. People are starting to see the benefits of intentionally nurturing culture and the dividends that pays. We have designed a few long term engagements where we take large cohorts of employees though months of in-person and remote work that involves completing a project using design, but also practicing new behaviors at every turn. The feedback is amazing and we’re starting to see the positive impact we’re having in people’s lives.
According to a Gallup Poll, 30 percent of Americans are engaged at work. That means that 70 percent of all US employees are disengaged. We spend way too much of our lives at our work to feel like that. To make work feel fun and fulfilling and important is such a big part of what Stoked aims to do.
What are your “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I was once told years ago by a former boss that it’s important to create a home that feels safe and relaxing. A space to take refuge in after long days of work or being out in the world.
These days, with many of us working from home, that sentiment rings even more true.
For me, it’s all about being surrounded by the things I love.
Outdoor space: I have a screened in back porch where I can sit and meditate, take naps, read, or take calls. It keeps the bugs out, but not the fresh air. During the warmer months, I’m out there every morning.
Books: We have a few built-in bookshelves in our house and I’m a big reader so I love looking at all the spines, remembering stories, and looking for the next thing to read if I’ve just finished a book.
Record Player: Yes, I love Spotify and the ease of digital audio, but there’s something really special about taking out an old (or new) record and listening to one full side at a time. No jumping around and skipping tracks. But listening to a collection of songs in the way the artist intended it.
Espresso Machine: We have a small home and enjoy living in a small space. But I have a big espresso machine. Making good coffee each morning is just as much about the routine and the craft as it is about the beverage. I have a little butlers pantry with all my coffee accoutrements and it’s the first place I go in the mornings.
Walkable Hood: This isn’t technically about my living space, but it’s where my living space is located which is critical for me. In addition to riding bikes and climbing and spending time in the mountains, I love walking with my wife and our dog. Living in a neighborhood that we can easily walk all over without traffic or much noise suits my lifestyle and my desire for peace and quiet. Someday, I’ll live out in the country where all my walks will involve seeing more wildlife and less humans.
What insights can you share with our readers to help workers who are now working from home to survive and thrive while working remotely and to help them in balancing their work and home lives?
MOVE! You have to get up and move. Frequently. Stretch, go for a short walk. Your body was never designed to sit in that chair all day. Use it or lose it.
BREATHE! I’ve noticed when working from home I can be on my laptop for hours taking in just enough oxygen to not die. But when I stop and actively take some deep breaths, my mind comes alive! There are apps and videos and tutorials to walk you through breath work. Give them a shot! See if it doesn’t make a big difference.
WATER! When working from home I’m not moving around as much as I do when I work from our studio. And because of that, I forget to drink water. I can arrive at the end of the day and realize I’ve had less than 12oz. That’s not good for our bodies, so fill your bottle up and make sure you go through a few of them. You’ll feel better which will make your work better as well.
CONNECT! It’s easy to substitute email and text for connection with friends, family, and co-workers. But that’s not quality connections.. As a matter of fact, research has shown that it can actually drive disconnection between people to only communicate over digital mediums. That is why I encourage you to reach out and have a conversation. Hop on Zoom and share a cup of coffee together. The additional effort pays dividends especially in these uncertain times!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” — Chuck Close
This quote reminds me to quit waiting around for the right moment. To bias towards action and know that I always have editing powers if I don’t like what I’ve done.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Generally, I’m interested in how to help people enjoy their work lives. We spend too much time at our jobs to be disengaged or unfulfilled. And I don’t care what you do for a living, as long as you’re getting something more than a paycheck out of it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had a boss back when I was in the IT healthcare world that saw something in me I couldn’t yet see in myself. He used to say “You’re not an IT guy. I don’t know what you are, but it’s not an IT guy.” And that used to scare me because I didn’t have another skillset to fall back on. If I wasn’t an IT guy, what was I? Who was I? Well, that same boss had the foresight to send me to Stanford to attend an executive education course at the d.school and that changed my life’s direction forever.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I don’t have a lot of heroes in the world, but I’d love to spend a little time with Yvon Chouinard. He’s one of the few mega-successful people in the world who seem to stick to their values after they’ve found success and fame and wealth. I don’t care so much about fame and wealth, but I do care about maintaining my values and my character regardless of how much money I have in my bank account. He is principled, and I respect the hell out of that.
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