Brian is the Founder of Authentik, Studio Press, and a Partner at Rainmaker Digital. Brian is a champion of community, and he loves minimalist design and believes in white space. He is a well known and influential leader and minimalist designer in the WordPress community and marketplace.
My connection to Brian Gardner began when I decided to take the Forward Thinking Workplaces website to the next level. That search led me to Brian Gardner and his work, which I soon embraced. But I also came to know that Brian was mastering the art of creating his own workplace where he could thrive and work independently and with others. While most of the Forward Thinking Workplaces interviews address the traditional workplace, Brian brings innovation and clarity to creating our own workplaces where more and more of us are now moving to in greater numbers.
Brian, welcome to this forum and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of Exploring Forward-Thinking Workplaces 2.0 where we are uncovering the footprints that lead to the Forward-Thinking human and workplace.
How can we create a workplace where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Brian Gardner: First off, it depends on whether you’re referring to your own workplace at home — for those who are solo entrepreneurs like myself — or those who work in buildings and offices with other people.
As a creative, it’s very important for me to have a palette that allows me to paint the pictures I want to paint. If I have a busy atmosphere, then I’m not going to be able to clear my mental clutter and create the things I want to create. I think a lot of it is just the general space you’re in. Whether it’s pictures, or furniture or even music in the background. For me, those are all key elements to creating something that helps me thrive.
I just wrote a blog post on Authentik on creating more and consuming less. First, you need to give yourself the opportunity to step outside of the office if you will. I do a lot of my best creative thinking either on the trail or in the shower. The idea is to create enough of that time so you can come up with those things. But then follow it up with time where you’re back at the desk or back in front of the computer, so you can expand those thoughts that you had into something that’s more meaningful.
Bill: What is the most important question we should be asking ourselves?
Brian: The most important question we can ask ourselves is two-fold: 1) What is it I want to do, and 2) What’s keeping me from doing it?
Really, the second question is the one I focus on because I think it’s easy for us to have wants, but am I willing to do it? Am I willing to sacrifice whatever it is to pursue that whether it’s a dream, a particular job or even moving?
Identifying what you want to do and do you have the courage or tenacity to make that jump and a leap of faith? Sitting here as somebody who loves the mountains, the easiest way for me to explain that is being at the bottom of a mountain and looking at the top of the summit and saying I want to be there. I want to ski down that hill. Am I willing to get on that lift? Am I willing to remove the barriers and go there? As you go down that hill, it’s a pretty good feeling. That’s what it really comes down to. Are you willing to take the step?
What’s the most important question we should be asking each other in the workplace?
Brian: While I don’t work in a traditional office building, I do consider myself a leader because I have a team that I lead. The question I always want to make sure I’m asking the people I work with and for is, are you doing things that make you happy and are you doing the things that you love?
That’s the most important part to me because if I know that they’re not happy, then I know their work isn’t as good as it could be. Maybe they’re not in the right spot or the right position, and I want to be in a position to know if they’re not feeling like they’re in the right spot. I want to put them in the right spot as it makes sense in our business. Really what it comes down to is, are you fulfilled? Are you happy with what you’re doing? Because if you’re not, first of all, you may already be able to detect that, so more importantly I’d like to put you in a place that makes you happy.
Your latest project and passion is called Authentik. What can you tell us about it?
Brian: Authentik is something I’ve had on my heart for many years. Over the last two years, it’s come very specifically as a domain name and the written-out project. I’ve always been a fan of authenticity and transparency in life. And of course, life as the person and as the way you do your business.
Through all the experiences and the ups and downs, the one thing I learned is that being true to yourself and surrounding yourself with the things that bring you joy and make you happy have always been important to me. For 10 years now, I’ve been an online creative entrepreneur, and I’m currently a partner at the content marketing firm, Copyblogger. I’ve learned through this experience many things about people who are trying to do the same thing I have, which is create a business, do it online, and work from home.
I’ve grown an affinity for the types of people who I am — a sort of creative entrepreneur. For me, Authentik was about creating a movement and way of doing life and business because I believe they’re symbiotic. Just being intentional about things, open and honest. And consequently, attracting people who might become readers or customers or followers or members of your community that are like-minded.
What question is at the heart of Authentik?
The question at the core of Authentik is what do you want to do, how do you want to do it, and who do you want to do it for? —Brian Gardner
Brian: Authentik is a lifestyle ideology. It’s a business ideology. It’s really about being intentional. That’s the word I like to put at the foundation of it all. It’s making sure that what you’re doing has meaning. That there’s a heart-centered message built around what you do.
If people can get honest with who they are, what they want to do, and who they want to do it for, it opens the doors to an opportunity to be successful.
I’m a huge believer that the journey is the reward. The things that you learn and identify along the way are so much more important than the things you think you’re seeking. I know for me that’s been the case on a number of different projects where I started in one thing, but I’ve been open to the idea of change or being agile and realizing where I think I’m going isn’t necessarily where my heart wants to go when I started that journey. Being open to fluctuating with your circumstances and the encounters along the way really help bring you to a place of peace.
What does it take to build an authentic brand and digital platform?
Brian: A lot of it is a very obvious thing, but I think it takes it takes some guts. Sometimes the business world can be very scary and ominous. The ability to go against the norm or even what is expected of you really is at the core of it.
Authentik is going to take a lot of courage. The courage to stick with the plan and stick with the things I feel strongly about and not to get swayed by social media or other influencers and the way they’re doing business. Just be true to that and hold that mission as straight as possible.
Would you like Authentik to become a movement?
Brian: One thing I’ve learned as a business owner and as a consumer is that the brands I love just aren’t brands. They’re really lifestyle choices. My friend Jeff Sheldon runs a company called UgMonk. It’s a very small organization but to him, it’s his passion. He’s been able to build a lifestyle brand and those are kinds of environments where tribes are built. People are connected to that type of community.
I wanted Authentik to be the same thing. I didn’t want it to just be a blog or a business. I wanted it to be a way of life. A way of doing things from a personal and business perspective.
I have a huge affinity towards building audiences and communities. Life is best done with other people. Life is better together is what a friend of mine used to say. I feel like there is so much we can do together from a business perspective on our personal journeys to help and encourage one another. The type of success I want to build and the type of success that I hope others who follow Authentik want to build, those are the foundations built on stone. When they’re built on courage and honesty as well as doing things with one another rather than gimmicks and marketing plays and witty word choices.
The following quote on your blog caught my attention, “Where your passion meets their need, that is your calling.” Who said it and what does it mean to you?
Brian: I met Alison Fallon a few years ago as a happenstance. She was on the cusp of finishing her book Passion Life. As I was reading through it, a lot of things she wrote about resonated with me specifically about letting go of things that hold you back or you don’t have any need for. But when I came across those ten words in the book, it forever changed my life.
Where your passion meets their need, that is your calling. —Allison Fallon
However, it took a couple of years to get to a point where those words became clear to me. I loved what she wrote, and it made so much sense to me. But over the years as I’ve tried to identify what it is I want to do and who I want to do it for, it’s taken a little time beyond when I first read those words.
Within the last six months, things have become crystal clear to me in terms of the creative entrepreneurial space where folks need to be. Not taught but just encouraged and shared with the things that I’ve learned along the way — both good and bad. I realized that my passion is for creative entrepreneurs — those who write, design, take pictures, create videos, etc. I just realized there’s the group of people I want to do work for. They have a need to have tools especially as it pertains to being online whether it be a website or even as granular as social media graphics. Supplying a toolbox if you will of items that might be relevant to them such as WordPress themes, design aspects and other things that can help them create the business they want to build.
I have a specific design aesthetic design I like — a minimalistic, monochromatic design. I feel from a web perspective that enables people to focus on the things that matter, which is primarily the content and photography. When I realized this is a group of people I want to work with and for and this is how I want to do it with them, then I realized I am on the cusp of my calling. That synced up with the availability of the Authentik domain, which I had been after for a number of years. I realized my next life journey in my entrepreneurial career is this Authentik thing. I don’t know yet where it’s going to go. I have an idea and I’m willing to adjust as I see fit but really identifying the passion and the need and realizing this is my calling. I’m so excited about this path that I appreciate being on here with you and finding avenues in which I can talk about this especially as Authentik starts off.
What is the “Authentik Equation?”
Brian: What it really came down to was identifying that I wanted to create something I can talk and write about that makes sense on paper. It came down to identifying the three things that got in the way of my own journey with fear and limitations — a lot which are self-induced. I wanted people to see if you take these factors and remove all of them, then taking the concept of adding them together then you’re able to create freely.
One of the unofficial taglines of Authentik is to create honestly. Filters are great when you want to put the spotlight on something, but I believe so much of at least my art comes from the very core experiences I’ve gone through. It’s being able to remove the things that get in the way of being able to hone in on that honestly and creating from that. That turns into an end product that I think is so much better both on an honest standpoint but also from a production or creative standpoint. I feel my best work comes when I’m able to move all the other things that get in the way, and I can just do my thing.
One lesson you talk about on your blog that I really liked is you said that the more you focus on how many people your work will reach, the less impact it has. Can you talk more about that?
Here’s one thing I’ve learned over the years as a creative: The more I focus on how many people it will reach, the less impact it has. The more I focus on how deep it will reach, the more impact it has. —Brian Gardner
Brian: My Internet story starts when I was a project manager at an architectural firm. I loved my job. It was a smaller company, and l loved the people I worked with. I learned a lot about business and computers, but I did realize that’s all it was for me. That was the job I went to. I cared for the people that were there, but that’s all it really was. I would go home and then start the other life.
Early in my career, I had the good fortune of being able to sell some products online that have taken off and enabled me to leave that situation to pursue a career on my own terms. I realize that not everyone gets that lucky and not everyone has that opportunity.
During the ten years I’ve been doing the online work, there have been seasons of where I was still living to work. This was still a job and still something I was trying to figure out. But over the last four or five years, as we’ve grown as a company and brought in mid-level management, I’ve been able to pursue outside projects and also more things I’m passionate about. I know it’s something people say all the time and a lot of times people don’t believe it’s ever possible, but I get to wake up and do what I love every single day. At some points and in many cases I can’t even define the differences between living and working because as they say when you love what you do, it’s not work. For me, I get to create and that’s my job. That for sure is living a dream.
You shared something interesting on your blog that you learned from Sally Hoggshead. What does “different is better than better” mean to you?
Different is better than better. That being the best isn’t enough, if nobody notices or cares. Stop trying to be THE best. Start being YOUR best. —Sally Hoggshead
Brian: I was attending a conference and had no plans on seeing Sally’s session that morning. I was busy, and it was just going to go hide in the corner and do my thing. I couldn’t find a corner, so I sat in the corner of the auditorium. I opened my laptop to get some things done when Sally walks on stage. She starts her talk by asking if anybody in the audience had never done a shot of Jägermeister before?
I immediately said to myself, “What is going on here?” She brings a person on stage and they do shots of Jägermeister! She goes on to talk about Jägermeister and what that company is about, and how they choose to differentiate themselves. Some things she said made a lot of sense to me.
The punch line of her talk was it’s not enough to just try to be better than the next person, it’s to try to be different. I always like to use the analogy of Hollywood stars and celebrities who put on makeup but the Instagram shots that go the most viral are the ones without makeup because they’re showing their naturalness.
So many people look up to these celebrities but when they take off their makeup and they just show themselves as real people that’s where they’re resonating. That’s where people come out of the woodwork and they say, “Hey, yeah, that’s me.” I have blemishes. I have pimples. I have all the things that normal people have, but it’s just really good to know.
The greatest gift you can give someone is the reassurance that they’re not the only one. That’s what Authentik is all about. It’s channeling your inner uniqueness and being comfortable with that and living off of that. There are things about me that my CEO, Brian Clark likes to tease me about. One of which is my affection for the singer Sarah McGlauglin. It’s me. It’s who I am. It’s what I love. I can pretend to be something different. That won’t make me feel good. It will convince you that I’m something I’m not. What’s the point in all of that? There’s a lot to be said about being different and how setting apart that can be.
What are your thoughts on building a legacy?
The more we focus on being great, the less we succeed at being good. —Brian Gardner
Brian: I wrote a blog post about what we want the perception of our work to be. Usually, the authentic material is written in the context of business people. I was trying to sift through and figure out what are the things I want to be known as 20 years from now when Brian Gardner is up in the mountains, not online, doing his own thing.
One of the things that came up while writing that blog post was the news of the death of the Cranberry’s lead singer Dolores O’Riordan. It really hit me as I was writing that post. Part of me was really trying to identify what are the things I really want people to know and love about me. Again, not facades and masks but what are the things I think are most important from a creation and art standpoint. What are those things I want to leave behind? Not just how people think of me from a personal branding standpoint, like the Starbucks guy. I also want to leave behind things that are useful. For example, what are the things that are important to me? What are the lessons I want to teach? What are the things I want people to come away with? When you start thinking of creating in those terms, then you are able to craft things a certain way and provide for people who I think there’s a huge need for.