Last week, while sitting in the audience at #dareconf USA, a conference I helped organize, it occurred to me just how much the interests you pursue outside of work influence the way you think.

My parallel project has been organizing events of all sizes, ranging from intimate living room gatherings to filling theaters with hundreds of people. I try to approach each event with the same sensibility: what do I need to do to make everyone feel comfortable, happy, relaxed, and inspired? How do I need to communicate in order to convey a message of trust and enthusiasm?

Every event has been an opportunity to learn from and improve upon. I consider these experiences to be hugely influential to my iterative approach to design and more specifically, to the way I approach research. Speaking to attendees has helped me learn how to make the experience better. Understanding the way humans use and interact with things through interviews and conversations is a key part of my work now.

During side conversations with speakers and attendees at #dareconf (the best part of any event), it became clear to me that many of us find parallel projects that bring both personal satisfaction and new professional perspectives.

One person I spoke to gardens in her free time. Gardening makes her think about the design of systems and relationships -- which greatly influences her service design work in the community. Several others support their work with improv classes, which helps them learn be more open and adopt the Yes, And… philosophy. I met a knitter, a runner, a filmmaker, and a meditator. It seems like everyone has something that adds color to life and work.

I became curious about how side projects influenced the work of my colleagues at Fastspot, so I threw the following question into our virtual chat room:

What do you do in parallel to your job that both interests you creatively and makes you better at your job?

I didn’t realize I was in for such a treat. Fastspot is known for its creative contingent of artists and tinkerers. It’s a differentiator and one of the big reasons why our clients choose to work with us. Getting an even richer picture of my friends and colleagues was truly inspiring.

Here is what I learned about my team:

Tracey Halvorsen is a painter. Painting helps remind her how important creativity is to everything we do. It inspires her to help others think creatively about their work, whether on an internal project or something we’re delivering to clients.  With Tracey at the helm, it’s no accident that Creativity is #1 in the Fastspot Words to Live By.

Ben Plum has been playing around with Legos. According to Ben, the building blocks feel analogous to fitting code together. I have no doubt Ben approaches his code like an artistic engineer.

Tim Buckingham plays World of Warcraft. Tim says this has helped him learn to be more patient when working with a team. I suspect it might also help Tim support the growing BigTree CMS community.

Yianni Mathioudakis is a photographer. Photography is a huge component in the design work of Fastspot, and Yianni’s careful eye and editorial point of view contribute to the powerful impact of our work.

Matt Hisamoto has been landscaping his backyard. Working within the constraints of the space has proven to be an exercise in creativity and patience, which I am guessing is not unlike the complex code he thoughtfully creates at Fastspot.

Billy Fenyes is an avid reader and writer. He’s a bit of an information sponge, taking tons of free courses online, and rating YouTube videos based on their ability to teach him something within five minutes. I don’t know about you, but now I want to know how much I can learn in five minutes!

Curt Kotula has been spending his free time cooking and baking. It’s certainly a creative act, but Curt enjoys the peaceful energy he gets from it. He says it is some of the most productive thinking time that he has. As a father of two boisterous young sons, I am sure he appreciates finding this quiet, contemplative time.

Sarah Jones loves practicing yoga. According to Sarah, it has changed the way she thinks, reacts, and challenges her to stay present. It allows her to let go and leave room for what’s important.

Kim Koenig loves to puzzle. Kim says that working on puzzles challenges her to not just make things fit together, but to always try and see the bigger picture. Kim cultivates and nurtures long-term relationships with our clients and I’m sure this big picture thinking is a major factor in guiding our projects to success.

April Osmanof sums it all up rather nicely. According to April, all things/hobbies that make you happy outside of your job make you better at your job. Whether that’s travel, reading, writing, happy hours, or conferences, being excited by what you do and feeling passionate about your side projects will fuel your creativity at work.

I enjoyed learning more about my coworkers by asking the question.  Care to share what parallel project you’ve been working on? We’d love to hear more! Please share in the comments below.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published May 28th 2015