Creative Leaders Embrace Tension—An Interview with altMBA Alumni Kristen Allison
In March 2018, we began a partnership with the altMBA—an online four-week intensive workshop designed by Seth Godin.
Seth started it for one simple reason: “Most people go to bed at night with their best work in them — but I wanted to build a place where their best work could come out of them.“
We believe in the program’s values and process. You ship projects every week, learn new frameworks, receive hands-on coaching from alumni, work in small groups and learn from peers that have diverse skill sets and backgrounds. It looks a lot like the CreativeMornings community.
The program’s goals is not to become popular, but rather to find the right people, which is why we’re working together. To understand whether this program is a fit for you, we interviewed a few alumni and asked them to share a before-and-after picture, to talk about the hard parts, and who they became in the process.
Meet Kristen Allison, partner and co-founder of Accomplice Content Supply Co., an alumni and coach in the altMBA program.
What inspired you to take the altMBA?
Kristen: For me, the question is not what but who inspired me to take the altMBA. The answer is Kelli Wood, Provost of altMBA and, more importantly, a dear friend. I had been watching her from afar (less creepy than it sounds, I promise…) participate in and then run this course on the internet that looked like anything I’d seen before.
I got curious — curious about the way it seemed to be changing the way she worked, curious about the process, and curious to see if it might do the same thing for me.
Describe a lesson learned from the program that had a profound impact on your life and work.
Kristen: Oh, the tension! Before the altMBA I hid from tension. If I didn’t have a place to hide, I ran away. If I couldn’t run, I’d dig a hole. You get the point. The thing I came to realize is that you can’t create change without tension.
The altMBA thrusts you into a month-long sprint full of changes. Things as small as when I went to bed, to as big as how I expressed myself, were flipped, twisted, and put to the test. The tension was real, but within the altMBA I had the mechanisms, support, and space to just sit with it.
Now, whether in life or work, I don’t avoid tension anymore. I might even be attracted to it. Because where there’s tension, there’s the possibility for change. And where there’s change, there’s an opportunity to make things better.
What happened in this program that you didn’t expect to happen?
Kristen: Ummm… can I say all of it?! All of it. All of it was unexpected.
If I had any expectations going in it was that I’d learn some skills that I could apply to the way I worked. What I didn’t expect was that it would fundamentally change me.
Honestly, I’m thrashing a bit as I try to find the words. The future is something I can create now, rather than something that will just happen. Obstacles are just logistics. Constraints just mean I need to get crafty. It’s incredibly empowering to believe in your own ability to design the life you want.
Describe a recent endeavor/project where you used lessons learned from the program and how it impacted the work.
Kristen: As a leader in a creative environment, I’ve got to be able to foster a culture that holds space for trust and exploration. One of the lessons I learned from the program that helped me do that actually came through the mechanism of the course itself. It was the feedback process.
Client-based creative work is no stranger to feedback, but this was different. Feedback at the altMBA isn’t prescriptive. It comes from a place of generosity. It is empathic, challenging, and honest. We learn how to give it, but arguably the more valuable skill is learning how to receive it.
Recently, I was on the receiving end. The feedback was good. It was real talk. It highlighted some of our blind spots and it made me just the right amount of uncomfortable. I sat with it for a minute. Checked my reaction, and instead responded. We listened, pivoted, and it worked. The team and the work they were doing felt stronger.
What was the hardest part about the program and what was hard (or continues to be hard) after the program?
Kristen: A lot of things about the work we do at altMBA is hard. That’s the point.
For me, the hardest part — and the part that continues to be hard — was the acknowledgement and acceptance that it’s all a practice. The lessons you learn aren’t things you master and move on from. You have to choose to be intentional about them at every opportunity. That’s not easy for me. I like to be great at things. I’m not sure I’ll ever be great at the lessons we learn at the altMBA, but knowing I’m actively practicing them has become good enough.
Learn more about Kristen’s work here.