Processed things must come to an end

Katerina taking pictures at Pixelgrade's office

We live relentless times. We’re heavily processing way too many things from food made in the lab to fake news, from useless products that put the lives of those who create them in danger to misleading PR content, packed as an alibi. As Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder would say: “we need to turn around and take a step forward.”

It’s hard to cope with everything that takes place out there. It’s even harder to choose a different route to stay sane and serene. What’s happening in the world fills our mental space to the brim.

When you feel burned out and full of worries, you no longer have the energy nor the drive to change your perspective. Better and wiser ideas come when things are in good shape and when your health is not in danger.

At the same time, I genuinely believe we can make a positive dent in the universe. We can impact things, lives, communities for the better. We can do that on our terms, without waiting for official policies, the next election, or a change we’ve been waiting for a long time. “We” as in me and you.

For that to occur, we should change the narrative.

I’m grateful I work for a company where we lead our actions in tune with our mission: support people who want to have a positive impact in their communities. I have plenty of faith in it, mostly because my inner-why is synced with this mantra.

At Pixelgrade, we’ve been searching for ways to accomplish it by putting our values at the core and following them thoroughly. I’m well aware that we pay a cost for embracing this approach at full speed.

However, what we get in return in terms of satisfaction and peace of mind is priceless. We gladly leave opportunities on the table, and we intentionally avoid shortcuts in order to keep being consistent and coherent.

While this vision implies a laborious system and an ever-changing dynamic that sometimes feels tough to manage, it has also brought us balance and clarity.

Since I started reading the book written by Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia‘s founder—Let my people go surfing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process industries, especially those who are creating stuff in a non-sustainable and unfair way.

I’ll cease myself from digging into the fantastic stories I discovered in the book, and encourage you to give yourself a present and buy it; you will thank me later. One of the author’s ideas, in particular, really struck a chord. Its simplicity is so powerful and engaging that it blew my mind. It goes something like this:

By doing things organically and naturally, you not only grow in a healthy rhythm that’s sustainable but also give your actions the best changes to have an echo in the long haul.

In other words, he encourages us to have an unprocessed approach to life and business and build personal or professional growth in an organic way. It’s not new in terms of the underlining message. I came across a similar perspective on Paul Jarvis’ bookCompany of one, but I think this time, I was ready to deconstruct and get to the gist of it. It just clicked.

After I read those words a couple of times and seeing things from that perspective, I started thinking about how we’ve been doing stuff at Pixelgrade. An avalanche of questions popped-up:
— Did we process our products, our culture, our team?
— Did we deliver things just for the sake of proving something?
— Did we speed up our growth to get more (money, attention, resources of any kind)?

As a tiny part of our team, who’s been part of the puzzle for more than four years, my honest answer is yes, we did our fare share of processing around here.

I’m able to acknowledge it today, but I wasn’t aware at that time. Regardless, the punch in the stomach still hurts a bit, so does the nostalgia.

This assent reminds me of an intriguing question I received from George, the CEO of Pixelgrade, and a guy who’s investing a lot in self-discovery, a few months ago while drinking coffee in the kitchen:

“Is it still a mistake if you didn’t know or simply lacked knowledge at a specific moment?”

George, CEO of Pixelgrade

As someone who tries to expand the acceptance, forgiveness, and tolerance limits, I vibrate to an answer that manifests kindness and compassion. I genuinely belive we all need more of that.

Thus, I feel I’m ready to further this exercise of vulnerability and highlight a few areas where we heavily processed stuff without even realizing it. Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore. It’s part of our becoming, and I think it’s mature to treat it accordingly.

We did some processing with our marketing.

Here, the temptations and the pressure were huge a few years back. With its ups-and-downs, the WordPress ecosystem has pushed us to believe that there’s a big fish to catch if we run Facebook ads, give discounts, promote and frame bold messages around our work. It felt like a pill that we need to swallow to keep things going.

I don’t blame myself nor any of my teammates for doing so. We did all these actions from a place of care and authenticity. But now, looking at those actions with more clarity, I notice we have made a fair share of processing that impacted us and created negative ripples.

Even though we experienced some growth, by not letting things happen organically and naturally, we didn’t manage to sustain it over time.

🤓

Lesson learned: we have plenty of mixed feelings regarding Facebook (mostly bad), and we will not run ads anymore. We’ll also stay away from decontextualized discounts or any tactic of cutting corners just for the sake of earning a buck or two.

We did some processing regarding the team.

We were the victims of all kinds of management biases that reinforce putting people on performance scales. We always saw it as a weird way of evaluating our teammates, but since all consultants recommended it, we gave it a go, hoping it would help us build a performant team.

From my CPO (Chief People Officer) role, I’m a firm believer in the idea that having a transparent and honest mirror is mandatory for everyone’s growth. You need to know where you stand today to have a clue about what it takes to make the next steps. There are a bunch of routes I can choose to achieve this goal, so why choose an already processed box full of constraints just because it works (whatever that means) for others?

We did some processing while working with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).

While the system is valid and brings concrete business results, especially for large organizations already familiar with the procedures, it was not the right tool for our garden. Not then, not today.

It gave us the false impression that our tables are full of valuable work, that everyone is on the same page, and that we know why we do what we do. It wasn’t the right scissor for our flowers, and it brought more harm than good. We’re a small independent company that needs to play by different rules to remain relevant and competitive in this industry.

🤓

Lesson learned: we think adjusting our way of working by following our values is far more valuable than implementing a system that looks great on an Excel sheet, so we will continue to keep iterating while being in the trenches one day after the other. It’s the best framework for our needs.


If you succeeded to digest my thoughts, I would genuinely like to thank you and encourage you to read further. You will find out when we managed to stay away from this attempt to process and treat ourselves with organic things only.

For instance, we’ve never processed our inner-why. We’ve been true to ourselves, our mission, values, and the way we treat people from the very beginning. To be more straightforward: we did not bulls**t anyone.

Deep down, we know that there’s no other way than doing good and talking things straight up. We could not sleep at night if we were chasing for easy money, cheap promotion, unhealthy relationships, fake numbers, one-size-fits-all products, obnoxious shortcuts to get media coverage, superficial features, misleading content, privacy gaps, and so on.

We are not strangers to change over the years, but these changes were natural and in line with us becoming more mature, learning from our mistakes, and making the most of our successes. Our values and mission never left the core, so changing meant we found better ways to express our beliefs.

Our focus is on creating a mindset and attitude across the board that aligns and respects our mantras and values.


The truth is that I’m not eager to eat crappy food. I don’t want to drink dirty water. I don’t want a fish full of pesticides on my plate. I don’t want investors who bring a lot of cash and so little humanity. I don’t aim to be the number one of something just for the sake of the trophy. I don’t dream of conquering the world. I don’t believe in empty words.

I want to keep doing work that I’m proud of next to people I admire in a human-centered company. While it sounds easy like a Sunday morning, I know the underlining efforts we need to do on a collective level to make it happen.

To be honest, I’m grateful I came across Yvon Chouinard’s classic memoir right after reading Romanians’ psychology book, written by Daniel David. It’s a lecture that grants me a broader understanding of who we are as a nation, where we come from, why we manifest certain behaviors, where all the lack of trust and skepticism come from, and why we still need to practice teamwork way more than other countries.

Due to all these narratives and our becoming, I can grasp the pitfalls that shaped us. Our cultural history highlights how downtrodden we’ve been, how many nations betrayed us, how many blockages we’ve had to push through, and with how much fear we used to live.

We had nothing, and we needed to start from somewhere.

When you deal with sand, you can only be creative and dare to manufacture a sand tower that gives you a sense of accomplishment to dream of a better future.

So maybe we all need a bit of processing into our lives from time to time. As long as we turn around and take a closer look, we’re good enough. There’s still hope and faith in human nature if we chose to get closer to the best version of ourselves.

P.S. Photo credits go to Katerina Nedelcu. She’s been documenting the entire process of redesigning the first floor of our office. Yaaay!

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Oana

Oana is a storyteller at Pixelgrade and community builder for creative industries. A true believer in the power of making the world a better place one story at a time.