Josh Higgins didn’t dream of being a creative leader for the most prestigious tech companies in the world. He just wanted to play the bass in a Southern Californian punk rock band.
His band, fluf, was the epitome of 90’s SoCal punk – skating, dive bars, tour buses, and good vibes. They toured with Blink 182, Vans Warped Tour, Sublime and Fugazi to name a few and were signed with MCA Universal Records. Before fluf, Josh’s first band was a small punk band called Mercenary. When that group was just starting out, Josh made all their concert posters by hand, printing copies en masse at the local Kinkos.
He didn’t know it then, but making those posters on his kitchen table was preparing Josh for a star-studded career in design that would take him to the Obama White House and, later, prestigious tech companies like Meta and now Atlassian.
When Josh tells the story of his life and career, one mantra rings out with resounding clarity: Honor what makes you unique.
After his music career, Josh pursued a career in design, a path that eventually led him to serve as the Design Director for the 2012 Obama Presidential campaign. Having a former punk rock musician on the creative team of a major political figure was a bit outside the box, and Josh harnessed that off-the-beaten-path perspective to work on some great projects for Obama.
“This was a strategic decision by the Obama administration to hire disciplines with no prior political experience,” Josh says. “The thinking was there would be no ‘that’s not what is done in politics’ thinking”.
As he led the team that made all the campaign’s creative assets – websites, ads, videos, digital products, donation platform, merchandise – he still channeled that concert poster aesthetic, this time for campaign fundraisers featuring musical acts like Death Cab for Cutie and Ryan Adams. Artists had been performing benefit concerts for politicians for many years, but no one had approached the design and marketing of the event like a concert tour. It was an instant success.
This love (obsession?) with posters followed Josh to Facebook / Meta. As Chief Creative Officer, one of his duties was to lead an internal design studio in essence, a maker space – from which came some iconic Facebook culture posters, most notable among which is “Move fast and break things,” created by Ben Berry.
Josh explains that “the studio had three full-time designers from which other posters originated, and we invited other Facebook employees to visit and express their creativity through poster-making. The Analog Research Lab was embraced and supported all the way up to Zuckerberg because of the huge impact it had on employees.” The model became a cultural phenomenon, spreading to other tech companies.
What Josh’s work and story tell us is that, even as you change careers and industries, your unique experiences and interests are a core part of the value and innovation you bring.
Nobody in the Obama White House told Josh that they needed a Death Cab for Cutie poster. Josh found a way for the team to have impact with a shared artistic passion, and then it became the thing everyone wanted.
Once Josh made the leap into the corporate world, it would have been understandable if he’d left his creative roots behind and conformed to a more conventional approach. But he didn’t. He let his past and his passions inspire him to create new things in different spaces.
How to honor what makes you unique
You may not devote too much of your headspace to pursuing your individuality at work – and that’s okay. There’s plenty of work to be done without deep-diving into the unique history and experience we all bring to the table.
But, if you can, leaning into your individuality can yield lots of benefits. Here are some questions to ponder as you think about what makes you unique:
- What was your favorite hobby as a child or teen? How can you incorporate that into your work?
- What was a talent that somebody called out in you at an early age? Are you making use of it at work today?
- What was your life like when you last felt the most “alive”? What were you doing, and what made it so special for you?
- Think of a time when you stuck up for your beliefs or passions. What does that reveal about what you truly care about?
- What is something you love doing now?
Asking yourself these questions, and then thinking about how you can apply these passions to your work can unlock a ton of creativity for you, and value for the place you work. It requires putting yourself out there, but the payoff can be, as Josh puts it, “rad”.
“At the end of the day, how we spend our working days is how we spend our lives,” Josh says. “I want to make sure that whatever I do, it’s always with heart and putting my whole self into it.”
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