The Knock Knock marketing team just created the most kick-ass video ever. EVER. I’m really, really proud to debut it here, an introduction to an innovative children’s book in our Fall 2013 list, Hide & Eek!, by Hat-trick, the amazingly talented folks I met at Design Indaba a couple years back, and illustrated by Rebecca Sutherland.
Oh my god, it’s just so good.
The video is just beyond. But what’s even more beyond than the video’s beyond is that, as with the experience I outlined in last month’s Head Honcho Hello, this kick-ass video was made without any input whatsoever from me. I doubt that most people who aren’t entrepreneurs will understand how happy and proud this could make a lady. But the gratification isn’t just pride, and it doesn’t just stem from the fact that I no longer have to work ninety hours a week: a team that can execute without its founder (or, indeed, any one person in particular) is vital to the health of a young company, and critical to its value down the road.
“Single-point failure” was one of the first pieces of execuspeak I learned when I entered the strange world of business. Indeed, there was so much weird jargon that we created Corporate Flashcards just to explore that rich and freaky world. No sooner had I learned what single-point failure meant than it became my biggest nemesis. One formal definition of single-point failure is “a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working.” In business, it basically means that there’s no backup: one person and only one person does, knows, or encodes something, and he or she goes out of commission. Or quits. Or dies.
In the early stages of a business, single-point failure is one of the biggest risks an entrepreneur faces because a young company’s staff is so scant. At first you have a few people each wearing multiple hats. Then you have one accountant, one manufacturing person, one ops person, etc. Each one of them is single-point failure. We’re now at a point that in every department we have at least double-point failure, meaning that two people have to die (or, you know, leave) before Knock Knock is good and truly screwed.
One of the biggest challenges with Knock Knock, though, has been its creative focus. Knock Knock’s voice started as my voice, and I concepted almost everything and wrote every word. If I had wanted to sell the company in those days, I wouldn’t have had a company to sell. I would have been selling only myself (which, believe me, I’m not above doing). It was the superstar model of business, with everybody else executing on the things I envisioned. Never mind what would have happened to Knock Knock had I gotten hit by the proverbial bus.
Together with Knock Knock’s management team, I began focusing on this challenge about six years ago. Hiring the right folks was a big part of solving the problem, but the biggest hurdle was replacing myself. And I couldn’t just replace myself with another single-point-failure superstar. If I wanted Knock Knock to be my (and others’) nest egg down the road, Knock Knock needed to be a team capable of creating and distributing great products without requiring any one person, a team equipped with the company’s DNA and know-how and proprietary processes. An analogy: the Spanish city of Ávila is completely surrounded by a stone wall built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It is said that each and every stone has been replaced during the wall’s maintenance over a millennium, yet it is still the same wall. That’s what you want with a team, with a company.
Now THAT'S an old wall. Or is it?
The right creative makers—writers, editors, designers, creative directors—aren’t so easy to find. They’re the chefs of Knock Knock’s secret sauce. And the company’s proprietary processes around creating neato products are far more difficult to articulate and formalize than the operational stuff. That means (unfortunately for the operational team members) that the moments when I realize this entire team kicks serious ass and can do about 95 percent of the business without me are more frequently when creative projects come to fruition. The operational team is less visible and their vital contributions are often apparent only when things go awry, poor souls. I do frequently find myself, however, asking something about international logistics or general ledgers or manufacturing compliance or routing guides or buyer turnover, etc., and the answers make me understand that this team has so far surpassed me in sophistication and capability that, well, I kvell with pride. And feel a little embarrassed that I might have asked a stupid question, or proposed that a software problem be fixed with, say, a typewriter. Plus, there’s not a small amount of gratitude that I don’t have to do or know the details of that stuff anymore.
Someday I and the management team of Knock Knock will likely decide to sell the company—or maybe just retire to be absentee owner/managers and still draw a paycheck (I’ve always thought “passive income” was an oxymoron, but maybe I’ll be proven wrong). I don’t know when that day will come, and it’s not in the immediately foreseeable future. When we do, however, the value of the company will be determined not by my ongoing contributions, but by the ability of Knock Knock to continue its own legacy. And that’s exactly what I see and feel when I’m presented with something as awesome as our Hide and Eek! video, something I had nothing to do with, something I probably would have done differently (and likely not as well), something that I got to enjoy more as a proud parent than as an accomplished creator. That’s when I really, really like my job.*
*You’re probably wondering what my job actually is at this point, given that everybody can do everything without me. I would say my role has evolved from doing just about everything—chief cook and bottle washer—to being the sprinkler of fairy dust, asker of hard questions, initiator of new projects and strategies, big-picture overseer, lawyer liaison (barf), and mascot. Mascot might just be my favorite.
Use an eye-grabbing stamp of your choice to create a visual reminder of who the book belongs too. It’s almost like you’re creating your very own logo for each insert. Feel free to use our WTF Stamp in a few books while you’re at it!
Step 1. Get your own Knock Knock Personal Library Kit.
Step 2. Stamp the inside of your book and make sure to write your name.
Step 3. Insert the pocket into the front of your books. And voilá!
Don’t forget to Tweet your Knock Knock-related posts and pics to @knockknock with hashtag #knockknockstuff so we can easily find your creative posts!
The 826LA Mar Vista's "A Fireplace with Cold Fire in It" book release party. It was a crowded house! (Photo courtesy of 826LA)
In our Read Across America post, we mentioned one of our favorite orgs, 826LA, a literary and creative writing nonprofit with a branch down the street from Knock Knock headquarters.
An 826LA student reads his story aloud. (Photo courtesy of 826LA)
A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of attending 826LA Mar Vista’s book release party for A Fireplace with a Cold Fire In It, a paperback filled with Denver-inspired vignettes, poems, and short stories—all written by kids who all deserve high-fives. The Denver theme stemmed from the city’s 80206 area code. But we appreciated how the kids went above and beyond in the creativity department with their final story concepts. (Why stick to just the Mile High City when you can write about vampires, your love for donuts, or wanting to nap at the farmer’s market?) If you want your own copy, it’s only $5 here!
During the party, writers read their own stories aloud in front of a full room, which takes a level of courage that’s rare to find at such a young age. So bravo to all and thanks to the 826LA folks—Carolyn, Birte, and the whole Mar Vista crew—for being great host and hostesses! It really was bracing to be around buzzing minds and roars and roars of infectious laughter.
Glad the 826LA students loved our "This . . . or That?" Activity Book!
Likewise, we’re thrilled the young wordsmiths were excited to receive their own copy of the This . . . or That? Activity Book. We got word that the students are already bringing theirs in to use for fun writing prompts. Seriously, our heart is feeling overly warmish.
Thank you again to 826LA for having us and we’re oh-so happy we got to share in celebrating these young writers’ fantastic achievement!
In honor of Read Across America Day, we're donating fifty This . . . or That? Activity books to 826LA Mar Vista for their upcoming book release!
NEA’s Read Across America program lands on Dr. Seuss’s birthday and aims to encourage kids of all ages to get excited about reading through local reading events and reading resources. And we are all for that! Now in its 16th year, Read Across America festivities have spilled to outside the U.S. (despite its name) and bookworms in over twenty-four countries continue to participate. Therefore, it should actually be renamed Read Across the Entire World. But that doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it.
The root of reading is of course writing, and one of our favorite nonprofits in town, where a handful of Knock Knockers love to volunteer at is 826LA, an organization with the mission of cultivating creative writing skills in children and teenagers through inventive workshops and after school tutoring. One of their programs is called “Chapbooks, Chapbooks, Chapbooks (and ‘Zines),” wherein the kids, with the help of 826LA volunteers, write, revise, and publish their own pocket-sized book.
To celebrate Read Across America Day, use code READ at checkout for 25% off our This . . . or That? Activity Book 2/25/13-3/5/13.
So to celebrate Read Across America—other than cracking open and reading our favorite novel—we thought we’d bring this whole shebang full-circle and donate fifty Knock Knock This . . . or That? Activity Books to 826LA’s Mar Vista location, which is just a hop and a skip away from our own office. They’re wrapping up their own chapbooks, which revolve around a “Denver, Colorado” theme (that city’s zip code is 80206—those clever kids). At their book release party on March 21, each kid will receive a This or That? Activity book to not only reward them for their hard work, but to also keep their creativity going! (Pictures to come!)
And for all of our fans, in honor of Read Across America Day, we’re offering 25% off the This . . . or That? Book from Monday, Feb. 25 through Tuesday, March 5. Just use code READ at checkout! (Limit one per customer.)
So, what book are you reading to celebrate with us? Tell us in a comment!
Meet the founders of Hat-trick Design: Jim Sutherland (left) and Gareth Howat (right). (Photo courtesy of Hat-trick.)
In spring 2011, designers Jim Sutherland and Gareth Howat gaped at the city of Cape Town from a helicopter tens of thousands of feet above South Africa’s mountainous coastline. The Hat-trick Design duo was in town for the annual Design Indaba Conference, and traveled from their UK studio to participate as speakers. During that helo ride, they met a fellow Indaba conference speaker and attendee—our head honcho, Jen Bilik—and like propellers, the creative sparks flew.
We teamed up with the award-winning design firm for our new book, Phobophobia, a grownup picture book that invites readers into a visual guessing game with clever images and typography. And since this is the first time we’ve ever partnered outside the US, our cup doubly runneth over with excitement!
Though we can imagine how very long their to-do lists are, the Hat-trick guys carved out some time to let us pick their mind.
A day at the Hat-trick studio. Jim and Gareth founded Hat-trick in 2001, and since then, the design firm has grown into a staff of thirteen.
1. Did you always want to be a designer? How did you get started?
Jim: I studied math and physics at school, but always liked drawing. I went to art school to do illustration, but when I got there, everyone was better at drawing than me. I looked around and saw people doing design, and it looked easier.
Gareth: Originally, I wanted to be an architect. I got a place at university to do the course, but changed my mind at the last minute. It’s a seven-year course and the big thing is it takes so long to actually see any real work appearing, so I decided to do a foundation course, which led me to graphics in the end.
2. How did your collaboration come about? And where does the name “Hat-trick” come from?
Jim: Originally, three of us set it up, hence the name. We had all worked together at another London company after leaving college.
Gareth: Choosing a name was one of the hardest things we’ve done. It took us longer to come up with the name than anything else.
3. This question is a two-parter. Your work spans such an array of sectors—from designing Olympic-themed stamps for the Royal Mail to crafting the ad campaign for Action on Hearing Loss, so:
a. Where does your design inspiration come from and how do you apply it to all the different stuff you work on?
The silver cupboards of discussion. The Hat-trick team stick their designs on these cabinets every six months to spurr their creative process and talk through any problems that arise. (Photo courtesy of Hat-trick.)
Jim: We are really keen to work on all different types of projects across all sectors. It keeps us fresh and is much more interesting. I get inspired by so many things around me—books, films, exhibitions, anything really. From Jacques Tati and Tom Waits to Bruno Munari and Alan Fletcher, etc.
Gareth: Like fashion designer Paul Smith says, “Inspiration can come from anywhere.” There is so much work out there now and it’s so easily available. One idea is to have your own “filter” to pick out the work you like and use it to spark new ideas.
b. Do you have any special organizational routines to keep the creativity flowing—or simply to help retain sanity?
Jim: We work a lot together. We put all the ideas on a big metal wall and discuss them, since the best ideas come from talking the problem over. We also put aside an afternoon every week to do research and experimentation. This is where “Phobophobia” came from originally. I constantly scribble notes and lists of ideas in notebooks.
Gareth: No, that’s why we are actually insane. In reality, we are quite an organised company so that we work pretty quickly. But we don’t follow any really rigid ways of doing things, it just comes from experience.
Phobias get the design treatment in Phobophobia.
3. What sparked the idea for Phobophobia?
Jim and Gareth: We had been working on several projects that were word and language based. Once we started finding out these amazing words for phobias we started visualising them and bringing them to life.
4. Do you have any fears or phobias you’d like to share with us?
Jim: As the introduction of Phobophobia states, I’m scared of lots of things. Mainly spiders, but also cows and dancing. I think it’s fascinating what fears we hold inside.
Gareth: Being bored, and spiders, I really hate spiders. There is something inherently evil about them.
5. What are your hobbies outside of designing?
Random objects we've fallen in love with inside the Hat-trick Studio: 1. This should be the standard caution sign.; 2. Your typical mannequin torso and legs.; 3. Hat-trick's array of projects.
Jim: I love designing and don’t really treat it as a job. I spend a lot of my spare time thinking of new projects I could be doing. It’s not a proper job.
Gareth: Tennis, running, and outdoor stuff. We spend so much time at work, so it’s good to be active and not indoors.
6. As you know, there are numerous phrases in the US language that mean something completely different in Britain. What’s your favorite American slang word or phrase, and what’s the equivalent in British vernacular? Or, if you don’t have a favorite, what American phrase irks you the most and why?
Jim: I want to find out more about the difference between American and English spellings. For instance, why does ‘color’ have no ‘u’? Who decided to do that?
Gareth: It has to be “pants”—that really makes me laugh every time I hear it in the States.
Hat-trick's view from their studio in London Bridge. We are jealous. Seethingly jealous. (Photo courtesy of Hat-trick.)
7. What’s your favorite Knock Knock product and why?
Jim: I love the Clump-o-Lumps. It’s a genius idea and I am very happy we have some.
Cereal is the tasty breakfast juggernaut that’s been a cultural obsession even before sliced bread (take that, cats in bread!). It’s slowly evolved into a meal we’d eat at any time of the day, and has reduced prepping “brinner” (breakfast + dinner) time to roughly five seconds!
Our Foldout History of Cereal book chronicles the fun and frivolous factoids behind our favorite cereal brands, and features thoroughly researched tidbits good enough to eat. These atypical facts answer questions like, “Which brand almost made Elmo the Elephant their mascot,” “How and when did marshmallows get into the mix,” and “What the hell are puffing guns?” It’s certainly a mini coffee table gem that can also sit kindly on the breakfast table.
This lineup of cereal was originally for a photoshoot back in January. Our editor at large, Jamie, and managing editor, Erin, had to choose the best-looking piece of each cereal to be photographed. Afterward, the rest of us ate breakfast at the offce for a few months.
Giveaway: What’s the Best Cereal of All Time? Giveaway is now closed.
So as you can tell, we’re really into cereal. Don’t you love it when you eat a bowl of your favorite sweetened grains, and you’re mentally transported back to the days of bumming on the couch, watching Saturday morning cartoons without a care in the world? Oh, to relive last weekend.
We want to find out what your favorite cereal is, so enter our “Best Cereal of All Time” giveaway. Follow the rules below to enter, and one winner will be selected at random to win a “Deck-out Your Desk Kit.” This kit features:
Write a comment in this blog post that tells us what your favorite breakfast cereal of all time is. Or email your entry to email@example.com with “Best Cereal of All Time Giveaway” as your subject line. You’ll receive one entry per comment per day regardless of method.
The winner will be selected at random, using Random.org.
The giveaway starts today and will end Wednesday, August 29 at 11:59 PT.