We worked on it for nearly a year, our new visual identity. We were at 90%; only the implementation was left. Designed by creatives with extensive expertise. Lots of positive reactions, evenings full of discussions and a lot of time and hours.

But this week we pulled the plug on the project. We are starting again from scratch. The end result we achieved was fantastic — award-winning, according to some. But there was something wrong with it, it just didn’t feel right. Virtually impossible to justify rationally, but emotionally all the more. In the end, both the process and the end result were incompatible with our DNA. And when that is the case there’s only one thing you can do: stop.

A difficult decision with a lot of consequences, but a decision made on the basis of our DNA. Heart v. head thinking. I would like to take this opportunity to share my learnings from a project in which a lot of people were involved. A project with a lot of exultation and ditto frustrations by people who all dug deep to give the best of themselves.

DNA acts like a boomerang

In the second half of last year we spent several months working on and off on our new visual identity. A creative and Stefan and I as the proprietors of Concept7. It wasn’t until February of this year that we made a presentation to the team. At that point the project was already nearly finished. With a lot of enthusiasm and a few slick images we showed our team all the beautiful things we had created together.

Although, together? This was actually the first time we had involved the entire team. Not that the presentation didn’t go well. How could it not? We have confidence in each other and it looked good. But it didn’t feel like it was owned by everyone. It was mostly something devised by Stefan and I, that the rest of the team would be using. No, that could not have been the intention. This was about our identity. About what we represent as a whole.

Looking back we started to show some initial signals after just a few weeks. Signals about how it didn’t feel right not to share. Especially that early in the concept you want to involve people. And in a company where openness and collaboration are high priorities, this didn’t feel like the right way to go. But time after time we ignored this feeling. After all, every time the result was just so great. Looking back we literally ignored our DNA and focused far too much on the result. And that will come back and hit you like a boomerang. We knew that, but we didn’t listen.

Trust in your process

When we design for our clients we use a clear process. This process is our guide. You put in a challenge, you follow the process and the solution that is best at that point will emerge. It seems so simple. But: combine this process with 15 years of experience, the best people in the market and always wanting to do the very best, and you really make a difference. The process ensures that we can always take a step back and take a fresh look at things. So it’s never hit and miss, it’s always substantiated. Each and every step.

When we created our visual identity we did things differently. The whole process was based much more on intuition. On ideas that appeared to come from everywhere. It was intangible, for us at least. Maybe that is impossible or you have to want it. But it becomes uncomfortable if you can’t answer the ‘why’ questions; or at least in a club like ours it does. Because our people ask those questions, and rightly so.

And no matter how award-winning your product may be, the question remains if it is really your product. Your visual identity. We could not wholeheartedly say ‘yes’ to that. Even more, we observed discrepancies between our DNA as we had expressed it and the explanation behind our visual identity. And because we didn’t follow a clear process it was impossible to take a step back. The result? Starting again.

The ultimate holacracy case

Since April of this year we have been following the rules of holacracy. This wasn’t a random choice for us. It was the next step in our philosophy as to how organisations can and must contribute to a better world.

Holacracy distributes responsibilities on the basis of roles. Each role has a clear objective that contributes to the higher objective of your business. Within a role you have autonomous responsibility. People can and may make decisions within their role on the basis of their own insights, provided these decisions contribute to the joint higher objective.

One of our roles is ‘visual identity and corporate style’. This role is fulfilled by Esther. She was given the new identity by Stefan and me and would run with it from there.

Very quickly she encountered the tension that was caused because our process had not been followed in the creation of the corporate style. Therefore no-one from our team could tell her why certain choices had been made and why this was the visual identity for our company. It appeared that deliverables were not substantiated based on our DNA. After doing the rounds of the company it became clear that many people looked at it the same way.

This created a dilemma. Either Esther relinquished her role, which she was unable to fulfil the way things were, or she halted the process. We devoted countless telephone calls and discussions to this. Not an easy decision. After all, the owners had been working on this project for a long time and the end result was good, but still something was wrong. Both the process and the end result were incompatible with our DNA. And when that is the case there’s only one thing you can do. Make the best decision for our company. Stop and start over.

And that is the decision Esther made. I am incredibly proud of the fact that such decisions are being made within our company. Whereas some people feel that, as one of the owners, I should have intervened, I can honestly say I never wanted to do so. It was her role and she had the qualities to fulfil that role. It was her decision. This makes us a better company. This is holacracy in top gear.

The next step

Of course there was a lot of disappointment and incomprehension. How can you stop a project that is already so far along? Everyone had worked so hard, with such good intentions. The result was amazing. Of course I had my share of doubts. But I know that in the long run this was the best decision. The boomerang is back on the ground. We are once again navigating on the basis of our DNA; we are back to who we are as a company.

And yes, we will do it all over again. This time incorporating all the learnings from last time, and with the right role in the lead. And inevitably the result will be even better. That’s just how these things work.