How to unlock a creative corporate culture S4E5

This week in the Dojo, we chat with Serene Yew of Pixeltree Inc.

We explore the idea of corporate culture, and how finding the right culture can unlock creativity… and a whole lot of engagement (and fun!) for employees. As a leader in the tech start-up community, Serene isn’t your typical leader. She’s a driving force behind changing how employers engage with their workforce in Calgary and beyond, and provides a lot of insight into the culture they’ve created at Pixeltree….

That’s pretty impressive for a benevolent overlord….

Get out your brushes, and be ready to spill a little paint as we get into what it takes to create a workplace culture masterpiece.

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Transcription Below

S4E5 – Serene Yew

Tue, 6/14 4:46PM • 52:32


people, books, culture, company, office, day, team, work, businesses, creativity, create, calgary, employees, space, life, feel, shoes, home, talking, pixel


Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc., Seth Anderson, The Biz Dojo AI, JP Gaston

The Biz Dojo AI  00:00

The Biz Dojo is brought to you by beyond the beaten path. If you’re on the lookout for a personalized gift head to be on the beaten and get started on your custom creation beyond the beaten path, personalize it, because everything else is boring.

JP Gaston  00:22

For many, the morning routine is the same alarm goes off, we wake up to shower and get ready for the day, a quick toothbrush changing into what we call work clothes, a coffee and a to go mug and we’re out the door. We jump into our car and perhaps for the next hour or more, we sit in traffic watching all the lanes move except for the one that we’re in. We do this to go to an office where we’re likely to sit at a desk all day, only to turn around eight hours later and do it all again. Over the past two years, many organizations have managed to enable work from home option for their employees, we often consider it a new and exciting concept that organizations have enabled. So it may come as a surprise to learn that working from home isn’t new at all. The origins of office work do have roots that fall back centuries, religious orders would have a space designated for learning and copying scripture. And of course, governments would have buildings dedicated to providing services collecting personal and property taxes and so on. But these uses were fairly limited. It wasn’t until around the 17th century, when we would start to see offices for lawyers, civil servants and other professionals begin to take hold in some select cities. Even still, the majority of working professionals were found at home, no internet, no phone, and no double mute. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that we would see the beginning of what we call an office today. As technologies such as the telegraph, and later the telephone as well as typewriters and dictation machines would evolve, the idea of working from an office started to take shape. Though these advancements in technology would help enable a better connected and more distributed workforce. Many offices were formed to centralize their workforce. In part this was due to both the cost and availability of these technologies. Well, not every home could get a telephone, an office could have a shared telephone line between its employees. Around the same time, technology was improving for industrial and blue collar work as well. And with it came new ideas about what an acceptable workday or work week might look like. Though President Grant would proclaim a standard eight hour day for government employees in 1869. By 1890, the US government conducted studies that found the average worker was still in during a 100 hour workweek. Some companies would make way for an eight hour workday in the coming years, including Ford Motor Company, but changes to legislation didn’t happen until 1938 When a 44 hour workweek was implemented. Two years later, that would be shortened to 240 hours. Ford also took strides on several other fronts as it relates to the office environment and employee wellness in 1914. At a time when unemployment was on the rise, Ford would make the decision to more than double employee wages from $2.34 per day to $5 a day for their factory workers. In 1922, Edsel Ford Henry Ford son and president of the company was quoted in the New York Times to say every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation. In 1926, Ford would make a change to a five day 40 Hour Workweek. As much as shifts happened in both time and technology when it came to the office, so too did the space. For years office environments were set up in the same way. individual offices for high ranking managers around the outside with an open concept bullpen style in the middle. It wasn’t until 1964 When Robert prosper, a home furniture designer for Herman Miller would design the very first cubicle. He called it the action office. It provided a desk a small vertical filing system space for a phone and for the first time for many employees a small amount of privacy. In 1968, the cubicle was finally released for purchase and would instantly flop. At the time businesses weren’t interested in the new cost so Herman Miller would take the design back to the drawing board and come up with a less functional but cheaper design. By the 1980s cubicles would become prevalent supporting an office environment and have since blossomed into a $3 billion a year industry. The original cubicle designed by prosper, also included The interesting feature, it had an adjustable height desk, creating the very first sit stand capable desk in the market. Krause believed that allowing people to stand would help with blood flow a man ahead of his time. With employees now firmly planted at their cubicle for eight hours a day Monday to Friday, the debate around what makes for the best work environment would begin. Open Office environments or bullpens provided a space for working together, but the lack of privacy and feeling of being watched at every moment. And the social nature of this setup has proven to produce a slight lift and creativity and collaboration, but a significant impact to productivity. On the other hand, where a cubicle might provide some limited privacy, the office space typically became so tightly compacted, that it was only marginally better than that of an open office. At the same time, it also created barriers to things like natural light and connection to the outside world, which have both been proven in a multitude of studies to increase morale and overall employee wellness. And then, of course, there’s working from home, a private comfortable space for employees that has shown to increase productivity, creativity and overall wellbeing. It’s a tricky space to navigate to create a culture that is also collaborative and generates a feeling of togetherness, but has other benefits to it as well. It creates a pause for us to reflect on not only the space we work in, but also how we engage with work. Many businesses including Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others have experimented with a four day 32 Hour Workweek. And several countries have also run experiments on work hours, including a massive study currently underway in the UK with some 3000 employees across multiple industries. To date, each of these studies has shown significant benefits to productivity while changing the way we work and how we think about work. The environment we work in whether the physical space, the time or the technology all play a significant role in setting our workplace culture. How we engage with that culture can impact our wellness or spark our creativity. It sets the tone for collaboration and finding new ways to connect to our team that drives productivity and ultimately, it balances our need for business growth with our desire for personal fulfillment. Many businesses are finding opportunity to challenge the way we think about work, and foster a culture that allows workers to connect with their work and with each other in new and exciting ways. This week, we chat with serene you from Pixal true about fostering a creative culture that lets individuals show up as their best selves and focuses as much on personal development and wellness as it does on driving results. Serena and her team have challenged the typical office environment and channeling her inner Bob Ross, she paints a wonderful picture of how corporate culture wellness and results are all interconnected. Even when falling back on a centuries old practice of working from home

Seth Anderson  08:11

Welcome to The Biz Dojo today we have serene you. Serene is the CEO of pixel tree, local tech company at Tech with heart as it were, I believe is your guys’s slogan. And we’re gonna chop it up today about all things creativity, but maybe we’ll just start out with how we met hanging out at the Kensington reds as part of founders coffee. And that’s that seems to be you know, as I’ve gotten to know you a little bit, you’re very involved in like the entrepreneur circuit within Calgary. How did the what got you into that whole space.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  08:52

Um, it was kind of by chance, actually, I actually have a background in software development. So I have a degree in computer science. And when my kids were little, I realized I wanted to create a lifestyle where I could stay home a little bit more with that, but just start doing some consulting. And I kind of fell into the startup space. After working in it for a little bit, I found that I was pretty good at working with startups, just helping them to figure out exactly what they wanted to build and making sure that everything we were doing had as much value as possible. And so I just started working more and more with entrepreneurs, and I really enjoy it. So here we are,

Seth Anderson  09:30

how is it and how did you meet Jade? So for those of you that are listening in Jade Albert’s is, I would say like a master connector within the Calgary entrepreneur space but the How did you end up meeting him?

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  09:42

I don’t remember. I think somebody connected us a couple of years ago. And so we went to grab coffee. He had great shoes, and we just had a great conversation about his journey and how he runs a values driven business really resonated with me. So he invited me out to founders breakfast. I started going there. And since then over the last couple of years we’ve just done a ton of work together work together on lots of different projects, not just relating to my companies but also just the community in general.

Seth Anderson  10:17

He does have great shoes. I feel like the last time I saw him he was wearing like, purple slippers. But they were they were majestic like I want them.


Majestic. That’s exactly what they are fresh from a prince video shoot base.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  10:36

Last week, the uniting the prayers, conferences, and he has he’s wearing these sparkling blue slippers almost like the red slippers from Wizard of Oz. But blue. And they were majestic.

JP Gaston  10:48

I’m sensing a shoe related theme here.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  10:52

Jade I think he said he has over 50 pairs of shoes. I believe that believe in

Seth Anderson  10:58

you haven’t met him yet. JP you gotta come to breakfast one anything?

JP Gaston  11:01

Yes, yes, I do. I need to see these shoes. Should I bring sunglasses? It sounds like I should work?

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  11:07

Yeah, you might have to, they are pretty bright. You’ll be mesmerized.

Seth Anderson  11:11

So tell us a little bit of a pixel tree? I you know, I’ve kind of looked a little bit on the website here. I think one of the things that really stood out to me, you had a LinkedIn Post recently, where you talked about training day where you guys take a day a month, and you just focus on personal development and learning and what inspired that. And, you know, from a CEO standpoint, have you seen some benefits really materialize from that having that approach?

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  11:35

Oh, yeah, definitely. I came up through very corporate oil and gas in Calgary just like basically everybody else. When I moved into the startup world, I found that it was a little bit different. But Calgary tends to still be pretty traditional as to how they run their businesses. And at my last position, I was director of technology there. So I worked with both the technical team and the executive team, the board of directors to help them to figure out how to create technical strategic plans that align with what the what the board wanted. However, I found that there still wasn’t a very good work life balance, there was a very heavy bias towards very traditional corporate work culture, everybody needs to be in the office for eight hours a day. You You have to produce as much as possible. And I didn’t want that for my life. As a single mom, I wanted to be able to spend time with my kids. And I wanted my life now to be valuable, I didn’t want to be working for something in the future that I may or may not have wanted to create of meaningful and valuable life right now. So I left that position. And I wanted to create a company where I could make that happen. One of the things that was really important to me was making sure that everybody on my team is able to live that flexible lifestyle and a creative lifestyle in a way that’s meaningful to them. Most companies don’t really offer training, if they do, it’s in the form of some budget that you can spend on courses, but you still have to do those courses on your own time. I didn’t want people to have to do that, because I wanted them to be able to spend their time off actually taking time off, I want him to, I want them to spend weekends with their families and their friends and just unwinding. Same thing with after work. So that meant that we had to bake that into our work schedule. So now once the first Friday of every month is Training Day, everybody gets to pick whatever it is that they want to work on. We often do pair programming sessions, we do any, anything that people want to learn together, we do on those days team building activities, Team lunches, I found that it’s really great. It’s actually one of the ways that we attract a lot of talent, people are really interested in that recognizing that companies putting their money where their mouth is, and really investing back into the people. Also don’t tell people what it is that they need to learn. So because it’s not necessarily just about creating more value for us, where we were reinvesting into our team, as people, as human beings, so if they want to learn something that’s, that may or may not be related to work, then they should be able to do that. It helps us to really retain our staff. It’s pretty

JP Gaston  14:27

cool. I think there’s this interesting shift that’s happening right now. And to your point, a lot of companies don’t, especially the larger corporations take a long time to recognize the value of some of those. I will say off the wall, but a lot of them have like, as an example Microsoft did this whole study in Japan where they moved their people to have a four day workweek and not four day, 10 hour days, which is where everybody goes instantly it was your same salary, you just work for days, you just become better with your time and they they actually in increase their productivity by something like 40% As a result of giving their people more space, and also allowing them to fit things in better. And there’s a lot of really great research on those sorts of things. But it takes these bigger companies a lot more time to appreciate and understand and try the research, even though, I would argue that a lot of them have more capability to implement those things and, you know, kind of be innovative and at the forefront in those spaces. Yeah, I

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  15:27

think you have to push, you have to, you have to trust your people. And so that’s, that’s where the shift in leadership mentality needs to happen. And so in order to move to a four day work week, you have to recognize that there’s a lot of time wasted, we can provide, we can create more value in less time, and give that time back to people to do other things outside of work that also bring them value. And then in turn, they bring their best selves to work when they are actually there.

Seth Anderson  15:56

What if I’m just curious for you, personally, there’s some skills that you’ve been focused on developing through self training over the last little while, for myself or for my team for yourself. And then we can talk about your team, but for the for you, what have you been working on,

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  16:10

I’m always working on becoming a better leader and becoming a better mom, which usually means being a better listener, and better communicator, being more self aware, and just calm, calm, just stopping my need to react to everything immediately. When you’re a startup founder, or I guess, any business owner in general, there are a lot of things that seem like fires. The clients said, somebody’s quitting. And it seems like it’s the end of the world at that time. And it’s my job as the leader to keep the army calm, so that we can figure out a solution and move forward. So that’s where I’m at right now. So why isn’t there’s always the next fire?

Seth Anderson  16:58

Always, always, what? Is there any? Is there any type of learning that you gravitate towards? Because I think in my mind, I always had this bias that because I didn’t have a degree. In my specific circumstances, I didn’t have a lot of formal learning that I was sort of blocked, until I started to realize just sheer amount of information that’s available online books, podcasts, etc. So that’s, that’s where I tend to gravitate towards online learning. But is there any like particular tools or mediums that you’d like to use to develop those things you’re talking about?

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  17:30

I’m really big into books, I saw I read a lot of tunnel leadership books, and just communication books, podcasts as well. I’m a little strange. And sometimes I’ll buy the book and the audiobook, so that I can listen to the audiobook while I’m doing things, and then I can go back to the book and underline them. People think is a little strange, because I buy the same book twice. But the audiobook is more for consuming of the the the information. And then the physical book is for retention of the information.

JP Gaston  18:00

It’s like university when you’ve got your professor talking. And you’re sitting there looking at the same book that he’s talking to you and you’re just like, okay, highlight that for the exam.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  18:08

Yeah, exactly. So I’ll be I’ll be making dinner with my headphones on listening to an audiobook. And then I’ll have to pause right into the book, find the page.

Seth Anderson  18:19

That’s great, though. I love that. That’s, that’s like a creative process in itself. And on an earlier episode, this season, JP and I were talking to someone and they were, and the conversation came up that JP will actually watch the baseball game, but listen to the radio feed, because it describes what’s happening much more deeply. And so you know, you kind of have those two different mediums, and the creative component of putting them together because you know that it works for you. I don’t know, that’s just kind of where my head went. That’s kind of a cool process. It’s cost inefficient. But if it works for you, and you end up retaining the information longer, then it’s great.

JP Gaston  18:53

Depends depends on your definition of cost efficiency, because if you’re actually getting more out of it, it might be more cost efficient.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  19:00

Yeah. Yeah, it is the books I have. People like to borrow them quite often, because I’ve already kind of Coles notes for the higher price. I’m underlined all the important pieces. And I have I have tabs on the pages that were important to me. So people just borrow them and go through the important tabs. And now they’ve gotten this summary and they didn’t have to read the

JP Gaston  19:24

book. It’s like serines notes. Like it’s like Coles notes, but a business version.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  19:27

Yes. It’s true. I think it I think it is cost effective for me anyway, because it usually when people read a book, they read the book, they remember a few things from the book, but then they forget the rest. Now I can remember okay, I saw this. I remember reading about this idea from this book, and I can go back and pretty quickly find what it is that I was looking for. So I feel like I retain a lot of that information better and I’m able to reuse it later on.

Seth Anderson  19:56

I like that. Do you have any books where you’ve taken these notes? That would be good for me to borrow from you at some point.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  20:02

Oh, I have an entire library. I think Jim Collins is probably my favorite author. But I also like all the Patrick Lencioni books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and things like that. Yes, you’re more than welcome. I have, I have a whole library. People borrow from it all the time, you can get all those cards so we can put in the front of the books, or sign up.

JP Gaston  20:25

I’m gonna take the entire business model here. Like you can have memberships, you get every great startup idea strains,

Seth Anderson  20:34

Coles notes, that’s awesome. There’s a there’s a YouTube channel. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. It’s called philosophers notes where this guy, he reads his books, and then he gives you like the 10. My main points from it. I love that.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  20:46

Yeah, yeah, those are super helpful. I like I still like reading the books, though, because that always comes with stories to prove their point or evidence are just examples of it happening in real life. So I, I still enjoy reading the entire book. But I understand that not everybody wants to, or has time, I just

Seth Anderson  21:05

find this is sort of a tangent, I guess. And I’ll open it up for your guys’s thoughts. I just heard most books because I’ve read a lot of books the last few years are probably like 30 to 50% longer than they need to be like they could, they could really like kind of get to the point and shorten them up a little bit. Like I really appreciate like a two to three hour audio book or like a nice thin book. A because it doesn’t feel so overwhelming and daunting of a process to start out with. And like I just find most books like you kind of make two three good points. And like, that’s all I need.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  21:37

Yeah, sometimes I read books, and I call them could have been a blog post, or even a blog.

JP Gaston  21:44

The books are for the author, ultimately, really, very few books are written with the listener, or reader in mind, unless you get into the creative side, like the really storytelling books. If you’re reading for the purpose of storytelling, like I feel like you’re gonna get away from it what you want. And no matter the length, it’ll probably feel okay, because you’re trying to get the story. But when you’re trying to especially like leadership books when you’re trying to get the point, so that you understand the point and can apply it to your own. And there’s not really, there’s not always a story there. It’s like research says blah, blah, blah, it’s just so much better when they are quick about it. And to your point, you don’t have to consume it over the course of nine weeks at 11pm.

Seth Anderson  22:22

Or when they try to like merge it and put a story into it. And like the 5am Club is like the ultimate example of this for like, I really appreciated like the three like modules that were at the end of the book and could have done without that entire storyline. But I took something valuable away from it. This is I don’t know, it’s good point, though. Like, sometimes you read a book and it’ll be like one sentence or one chapter. And that was a gold for me. And I took it away. Like I didn’t read the rest

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  22:48

of the book, or a blog post, or blog posts.

Seth Anderson  22:53

I like that. And I’m even flipping that then when you look at you know, sort of being the CEO of a company and having your, you know, employees, is there a skill or two that you’re really interested are you really like, try to guide people towards developing, when they started working with you.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  23:12

The biggest one that people tend to come into our organization with is imposter syndrome, we hire a lot of juniors, and we find that they always they often come in feeling like they’re not worthy of being there. And that’s something that we work on all the time. As we’ve been working with these juniors on this, we found that actually everybody suffers from this. I think we spend a lot of our time trying to show others that we are stronger than we are that we’re more courageous courageous than we are. And on our team, it’s actually really important for us to just be and it’s okay to not always have the answers, or feel like you can solve the problem right away. That self awareness and humility is actually what brings our team the most strength. Because when people can acknowledge that they don’t have the answer, then they can go out and asked the team for help. And then we can all roll in the same direction together. So that’s often always the first thing that we teach people when they come into our team. And something that I work on all the time because I feel like I have to be the fearless leader all the time. And sometimes things happen and I don’t have the answer. Actually, all the time. I generally don’t have the answer every day, basically everything but I know that my team has my back and it’s totally okay. And they are totally fine with that and they’re like okay, we have this issue. It’s a it’s a team’s issue. Everything Is Everything is a team’s issue. No problem is one person’s problem. It was a it’s been a really, really emotionally grueling once i And when I got back from the airport on Friday from a conference at the front desk of my building for flowers from my team. And they’re like, you know, we got your back, everything is going to be fine. We will figure it out together. And I found that I felt like I had made it as a leader. And as a business owner, not because I had all the answers, but because I have created this team that is so supportive of me and each other. Now I have flowers.

JP Gaston  25:31

I think I’ve said it on the pod before. But one of the things that I’ve I can’t remember where I got it from, but the one one of the things that I’ve always used with teams in the past is that, like doctors and lawyers don’t necessarily have answers, but they know where to find them and how to get them. And that’s what makes them successful. And it’s no different for any business. Like, it’s okay to say, I don’t know, but I’ll find out. And I think that’s one of the most powerful things that you can say to somebody, I don’t know, but I’ll find out means I’ve got this for you. I’ll go I will do the work required. And I’m okay telling you the truth. Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes I think people feel like they can’t say, I don’t know,

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  26:05

our clients respond really, really well to that as well, we will tell them right away, either. No, we don’t like we don’t know, or we this is not an area of our area of expertise, we’ll help you find another team that can do can do it. And that’s what brings us a lot of our reputation in the city is that we’re going to be honest with you, even if it’s not something you want to hear.

Seth Anderson  26:29

So interesting. I’m just sort of thinking back to a coaching conversation I had with someone like a year ago. And I remember he was talking about his inner voice, and how, you know, no matter how hard he worked, or how well he did it something, there was always just sort of this voice in the back of his head, telling him that he wasn’t good enough, or he was never gonna be anything or whatever. And, and I remember he asked me like point blank, what do I how do I manage that? And I was just like, I don’t know. That same voice. But what that did like just being like, I don’t know, the answer to that question, led me down this path of listening to a bunch of podcasts, reading a few books, pulling out some information that was actually really useful for me to start to be to navigate that space. And I came across this really interesting book called chatter by Ethan cross. And I know JP, we talked about that one last season. And it just had some really simple tactics on how you can manage your inner dialogue. I think one thing was, you know, if you find yourself spinning or getting away, or like, you know that you’re off, tilt in some way, shape, or form, just say your own name, and you coach yourself, because like, when you’re on a sport field, and you’re playing and someone’s like, hey, serene, you’re like, you tune in. But you can actually do that with yourself. And they’ve proven it through science, that that little Jedi mind trick can make a big difference if you’re, you know, if you’re stuck. And anyway, my point being like, just that, that willingness to be like, I don’t know, because I probably could have just made some stuff up on the spot. But it was like that moment as a leader, where you’re like, I don’t know the answer to that. Let me go find out. And then you’re open to all this other information that you never would have been otherwise, I

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  28:09

think that acceptance, that it’s okay for you to not know is the first step before you can go find out. If you try to, if you try to fool yourself into thinking while I should know the answer, or I’m going to make something up, that actually stops you from being able to go and figure out the proper solution. So that acceptance of imperfection is really critical.

JP Gaston  28:33

I think, especially when people do find their own version of the answer without that, except, it’s like, like you’re saying they make something up or they you know, add this is good enough, I’ll throw it in there. I’ll look it up later that look it up later never happens because you made it you made it past the point that you needed to present whatever it was, and then it just ends up later snowballing like crazy, then all of a sudden, people need more info on that thing. And you’re like, Okay, well, I’ve already started this lie, here we go, I’m gonna try and keep propagating it like it just, I don’t know, I just find that stuff like that just gets harder and harder and harder over time. And, you know, as a kid, you, you probably do it more often than you do as an adult. But the more you do it, the more you get into it. And the more often it happens, and then it just, it just becomes a part of who you are.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  29:22

I think it’s it’s part of over promising. So you know, we talked about under under promising and over delivering, that’s that’s where that comes in, we want to only promise the things that we definitely know we can deliver. And then if we can do more than we do more, but if you’ve already lied to yourself or lied to a client or everyone put it and you over promised you have no ability of delivering on that now.

JP Gaston  29:46

Yeah, absolutely. I see it so much in so many parts of life, like not even just my own careers. I’ve seen it across so many different people in their personal lives and their work lives and it’s just, I think, I think honestly, I’ll A lot of my ability to step back has come from being a leader in coaching. Like, the more I’ve stepped into leadership roles, the more I’ve wanted to better myself as a leader, the more I’ve started to understand the importance of doing those things for myself, but also the importance of teaching that to others so that they can capture that much earlier in their career, then I may have,

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  30:20

I see that a lot of parents and I think it’s really important for me as a parent to show my kids that it’s okay not to have all the answers so that they know it’s okay for them to not have all the answers.

Seth Anderson  30:31

That’s a real thing. I even find, I’ve had so many enlightening moments as a parent in the last couple years, but like my, my son, he’s 10. And I just find like myself, regurgitating things that were said to me, and they’ll be like, these moments where I’m like, wait a minute, what am I? What am I saying right now, like, I found myself the other day, he was working on some project, and he wasn’t taking it very seriously. And I was like, You better start taking this seriously, or, you know, you’re not, you’re gonna fail, and then you’re not gonna able to get a good job. And like, I just, like wind down like this whole train of thought in my head. And I was like, wait a tick, like, none of that is actually true. Maybe we should just reframe, and try to find a way to make this project interesting. And you can learn something from it. But we kind of get these like stories in our head. And I think the most effective thing from a coaching perspective, is when we can catch ourselves in those moments and be honest, and like you said, like self aware, and you can actually do something about it. Like once you see it. Yeah, I

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  31:30

see that when I’m struggling with something, I think about what advice would I give my kids if they were in this situation? What how would I? How would I speak to them? What would I want them to think about themselves? Obviously, you’re not going to tell them that they suck at whatever it is that they’re doing. So I shouldn’t talk to myself that way, either.

Seth Anderson  31:51

Ideally, yeah, like if we’re just kind to ourselves.

JP Gaston  31:55

Turns out that paper mache Solar System projects not going to prevent your little guy from getting a good job later in life. I just tried to imagine a scenario where he’s like, damn, I wish when I was 10, I just really nailed paper mache.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  32:12

Back in grade five.

Seth Anderson  32:14

I tell you, like, if schoolwork was any indicator of being successful in life, I would, I would not be where I am right now. But it actually took that moment for me to connect those two things. Because I have these stories and biases built up. It is

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  32:29

really tough when that’s the standard that society is based on, right? The grades are what other people see. Your transcripts are what you submit for your job applications. Nobody really sees the attitude that you have additives that you’re bringing to life. I think some companies are starting to look for that we definitely look for that in interviews, I don’t. We don’t ask for grades we look for what courses did you take? Why did you take them? We’re interested you bought them? But did you suck at? How self aware? Are you about what you suck at? Things I’m looking for? And how do you talk about them?

Seth Anderson  33:06

And that’s kind of where my head was going to as a CEO of a company. Obviously, one of the big roles you have is sort of gatekeeping the culture and who comes into your team? And I wonder like, do you assess for things like creativity? And do you have any like, how do you know when someone is got sort of a creative energy about them? And is that does that factor into your hiring

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  33:29

process? We most of our interviewing processes, actually around culture, I don’t need people to come in with a whole bunch of technical skills, I can teach that. But I can’t teach culture and I can’t teach attitude. So our interview process is around asking probing questions to get people to tell us more about their lives and what they’re interested in. Like I said, How willing are you to talk about the things that you fail that the stuff that you’re not very good at? Tell us about? How you’ve overcome those challenges? I know that sounds a little cliche, we don’t really ask it in that way. But we talk about what did you do well in school, what did you not do well in school in grade five, your paper mache project that has never come up? Before we try to get people to get really comfortable with us because we want them to have a real conversation with us. It’s it’s a matchmaking process. It’s not just us hiring them. It’s them hiring us as well. Do they want us as part of their team in life? So we want to tell them as much about ourselves as we can as well so that they understand what crazy ship they’re getting into? Because we’re we’re a wacky bunch. Now we do Star Wars memes and we have tons of emojis and gifts. We want you guys to be okay with that as well. We look for whether they take initiative, how they approach problem solving, and it, whether they are interested in joining us, and our Motley Crew.

Seth Anderson  35:08

I’m just picturing Vince deal and Nikki six and everybody else.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  35:14

You don’t know that’s not what it is.

Seth Anderson  35:16

I don’t know, the image

JP Gaston  35:19

that I’m having painted over the course of this conversation for

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  35:25

jokes document so that new hires can get up to speed. That’s awesome.

Seth Anderson  35:35

So instead of like an acronym document, you get the inside joke. Yeah,

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  35:38

it’s got inside jokes, we have internal memes that people have made. So that, you know, it’s part of the onboarding process actually, like, Hey, this is how you, this is how you get your pay stubs. These are all the memes, you need to get cover caught up on. And here are the gifts that you may need frequently,

JP Gaston  35:56

like a test period there where you’re like, Okay, you’re coming up on your three months, we need to test you on your ability to understand these means. Your study duration,

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  36:05

we actually do have a, we do actually have a three months probation graduation type thing where people pick their own internal titles on Slack. So I mean, you can have your LinkedIn titles, but the mine on Slack is benevolent overlord. In our last appropriation graduate, she is the harbinger of jank.

Seth Anderson  36:32

So I’m sensing a very creative culture here that is in the fiber of pixels. Yeah.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  36:37

And we really want people we really want to encourage people to find their own place on the team in a in some in a way that’s meaningful to them. So that they can, they can really feel like they’re bringing their authentic flavor to the team, and they’re not assimilating, we’re not the Borg that they, every new person who joins our team adds to the culture. It, it started as me kind of defining the guardrails of the culture, I want it to be a very safe environment with open communication. And since then, it’s really evolved on its own. One of our new hires really Lightspeed movies. And so he he shares his weekend B movies with everybody, I think, this weekend was velocity pastor

Seth Anderson  37:25

must check this out. You’re, you’re speaking to JPS. Yeah, call this

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  37:32

to bring you out to the office. And, and we have, we have like a Bob Ross, Lego guy. And we have pickled Rick. And somehow all these things have, are now a part of our culture mosaic, but as our team, and it’s not something that I created. It’s just I all I wanted was for people to bring themselves to their job, and not feel like every day is just work. So now we have this really interesting culture on the team that I never even thought was possible, but I quite enjoy

JP Gaston  38:09

it. I love the concept. I think a lot of businesses tried to define their culture and hire into it. I love the concept of putting those guardrails on and then having people join and develop the culture together. Add to

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  38:22

it, yeah, we add to it. You know, the culture is basically our values, we want to make sure that everybody is being transparent and authentic, honest with each other. And everybody we hire shares the same values, how we practice those values may differ. But that’s what makes us a really unique team.

JP Gaston  38:42

I was listening to this interesting concept the other day about culture versus subculture. I think a lot of businesses get stuck into this idea that they have one culture within their team rather than sort of the sort of subculture that exists, especially as you get into larger businesses, you know, they have this high level culture that must permeate down and everyone must follow those sort of same rules. It’s really cool that kind of in that tech startup space, I feel like one of the things that’s that’s super cool is exactly what you’re doing. You’re kind of living the subculture as your culture, which is pretty, pretty amazing.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  39:15

Yeah, I think that’s what allows people to be more creative and bring their best problem solving skills. When they are relaxed. We have a giant beanbag in our office, it’s couch sized.

JP Gaston  39:26

I was gonna say do you play giant hacky sack

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  39:32

don’t know if that would work. It’s pretty interesting that we kind of laid in front of the patio so you can you can work with your laptop and the beanbag in the sun if you want. No shoes. No shoes. No, we don’t really wear shoes in the office. But just shackles are your feet really?

JP Gaston  39:52

Who put his foot shackles?

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  39:57

There’s no need for shoes. provide no productivity.

JP Gaston  40:02

I mean, in fairness, I do my best work at home where I do not wear shoes. So

Seth Anderson  40:06

listen, I’m, I’m all for the no shoes thing. Reminds me of when we had Jamie smart on the pod and he was talking about how we’re basically just cows with shoes. We we’d like to think we’re a lot more complicated, but I’m stuck on the one thing I really loved what you said about how interviews are like a two way process, right? Like, it’s as much about the employer interviewing the employee as employee interviewing the employer in my entire life. I never thought of it that way. I always felt like I was like, being put on interrogation and I had to be perfect and all that kind of stuff. But now I definitely see that as a two way process. And like, I would love it when like a candidate asks thoughtful questions and comes like, prepared to learn as much about me and the company as otherwise. It’s wonder like, if you ever had a candidate that sort of blew you away with a question or like their curiosity in that process,

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  41:02

yes, are higher. Tiffany, I’ll give her a shout out. She’s one of our more recent hires. So she came as an intern from a bootcamp. And she didn’t quite have the technical skills that we needed. But when I interviewed her, I just I knew, I knew we needed her on the team. And I wanted to do what we could to train her up on a technical level so that we could add her to our team. She just, she had an amazing curiosity and authenticity about her. I knew she would fit in great, she really bought into my world domination plan, and

JP Gaston  41:42

said, the benevolent overlord,

Seth Anderson  41:46

like a pinky in the brain.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  41:47

Yes, that’s exactly what a side note, my son says, We’re pinky in the brain. But I’m brain and he’s stinky. And so we’re stinky in the brain. But he’s nine. So we call it the world domination plan. But what we’re really trying to do is just create a culture of education as part of the tech ecosystem in Calgary, so that people don’t need to come in already as senior programmers, but it’s okay for you to be Junior and then learn things. And we want more companies to buy into that and invest in that education. Part of the pipeline, is to take students out of school out of boot camps, and we’re pivoting into tech, really trained them, and focus on the culture piece, and train and focus on culture and train the tech. So that’s kind of our world domination plan. It sounds better when I say world domination plan. But it’s, it’s not quite that exciting.

JP Gaston  42:47

I feel I feel like the cool thing about that as you get this, like fresh perspective and creativity, rather than getting the you know, the programmer has been doing the same thing for 30 years and programs in a certain way, or any role, not just programming. Like it’s just cool to inject that freshness of life. Yes,

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  43:07

that energy. People who are so passionate about values in the community self growth, I just love hiring those people. Like it’s so excited about hiring them. And even if they don’t have the technical skills, I say, Okay, well, let’s, let’s figure out how to get you to a point where we can hire you. Because as a small company, we can’t just, we can’t just hire everybody, there still needs to be some amount of productivity that each person is pitching in. But I want to figure out how to get you to that point so that you can be a part of her team. And I absolutely love having her on her team. I’m so happy we made that investment into her. She’s just invaluable. I could not train that kind of personality.

JP Gaston  43:49

It’s awesome. I know that one of the Seth and I have talked about this, he probably doesn’t remember it. But it was a few years ago. We talked about Zappos, and how they onboard into their culture, and they actually send people away to attend kind of like a boot camp, if you will. It’s they often send them off to do like, community involvement stuff. So they’ll hire them, they’ll bring them on for a set amount of time and say, Okay, well, we want to see that you’re actually involved in the community. So we want you to go, we don’t want you to come to the office for the next three weeks. We want to go like work at a soup kitchen for the next three weeks. We want you to feel empowered, and we’ll pay you and we want you to feel empowered and connected to the community. This is the one of the ways that as a business, we connect to the community. So we want you to be a part of that. And then on the tail end of that they actually start offering their people, buyouts to see if they are now invested in the company and they’re interested in the culture because to your point that’s like personality and that excitement about being there like you. You can’t train that it’s impossible to train that. But you can train anyone on all of the technical stuff. So if you can get someone who is like really invested in ready to be a part of your company like it makes it all worthwhile.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  45:04

That’s a really interesting concept. But I need to think a little bit more about how we could maybe do that. And the tech community, I tried to think at a bigger level, outside of just pixel tree. Because my goal is to create a more cohesive tech community in Calgary, it’s not just about

Seth Anderson  45:20


Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  45:22

it turns out, it doesn’t sound as good. If I say the Alberta domination plan doesn’t sound as good. We really just need to find an international company to buy in. And now it’s international.

Seth Anderson  45:37

Amazing, I think, a couple more things yesterday. And so maybe the most exciting thing I wanted to talk to you about today, we had an extended chat slash back and forth on LinkedIn about entry music slash theme songs when entering into just business seems like we really need to get like that wrestling, kind of like you’re coming, you’re running down. And there’s like the music playing. And I know for you in particular, you have a love for? Was it late 90s, early 2000s Hip Hop similar to me. What how do we get that going? Because I mean, you’re gonna, you were gonna attend event, attend an event. And you’re like, I need some theme music to come out to and I feel like that’s a great idea.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  46:19

Yeah. So Jade had asked me to speak at the Alberta tech symposium. So this was a couple. That actual conference was a couple of weeks ago. But I had said, Sure, I’ll speak on your panel provided that you can announce me in WWE style with with entry music. And he said no, but I think that we should definitely he crushed my soul that day. But I think that it would be so fun to do that at another event at a later date. and posting it and posting some stuff in the summer. So maybe I can just do if I’m organizing it. Really no one can tell me no,

Seth Anderson  46:57

I feel like that is 100%. Like you can just do that. Yeah, to get like a little creative like ingredient.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  47:05

Exactly. And I think it’s it really gets people thinking about if you were a wrestler which wrestler would you be which themes on resilience, right, and think about your personality and what I think it gets. You’re gonna learn a lot about people based on what theme song they would pick

Seth Anderson  47:20

100% So what’s the what’s your theme song?

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  47:22

Oh, if I had to, I would go Stone Cold Steve Austin with like that. Crashing glass. That’s definitely me kind of coming in wrecking ball style. With that.

JP Gaston  47:32

You just come out to the pinky in the brain theme. Like a rock version, where like, the pinky end parts taken out. So it just says the brain. That’s fine. Did you change it to stinky companies

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  47:47

thinking? I think a rock version of pinky in the brain would be pretty good. Perhaps to get some remixes done.

Seth Anderson  47:54

We’ll make it out of you coming into what are you coming into JP?

JP Gaston  47:58

Oh, man, you’ve got me thinking about 100 different songs.

Seth Anderson  48:00

I know. He’s got to pick one though.

JP Gaston  48:02

I know that as a kid. I can’t think of the song for the life of me right now. But I know that I really like bam bam, Bigelow’s walk out.

Seth Anderson  48:10

Okay. I don’t remember I don’t.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  48:12

I was gonna say Rowdy Roddy Piper, but all right.

JP Gaston  48:16

I mean, a loaded in the background here just so. Oh, man. No, no, not for me.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  48:22

How about you, Seth?

Seth Anderson  48:24

I mean, if we’re going to WWE, I probably take Bret The Hitman Hart. Although I can’t totally remember what it was. I feel like it had a guitar in it.

JP Gaston  48:33

Just one

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  48:36

you can do Honky Tonk Man I think he’s

Seth Anderson  48:40

I think if I was picking just like a song though. I think this is one that a lot of like boxers and who are in UFC guys come out to which is intro by DMX off his second album. And it’s like, I don’t know like an ominous like, beat and then it goes up. Yeah, that would be mine.

JP Gaston  48:59

I feel like if we’re doing late 90s rap stuff. Mama said knock you out. Rap Tracks rap tracks, two or three.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  49:07

You could do an entire podcast episode and just 90s Hip Hop.

Seth Anderson  49:10

Oh, I could do a whole series on it for

JP Gaston  49:12

Seth. Seth has tried to insert that into every episode.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  49:18

Perfect. You make some intro music for this episode.

Seth Anderson  49:22

Amazing. Thanks for joining us today. Serena, I’ve one last question for you today. How do you define creativity?

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  49:31

Creativity is a way for you to express yourself in a meaningful and authentic way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in visual or audio art. I think creativity can be shown and everything that you do on a daily basis. Even the way you communicate with others may interact with the world. The only way to have true creativity is for you to be really aware of who you are, what you believe in and what you value.

JP Gaston  50:00

If I were asking this question on every episode, and I love that everyone gives just a slightly different answer, and every single one of them I’m like, Yes, that’s creativity. Yes, that’s also creativity. Oh, wait, that’s great.

Seth Anderson  50:11

That’s That’s why creativity is what it is. I love how serene kind of was like, I don’t know what I’m gonna say to this and then she like, tapped into something and it just like all flowed right out like it was like, right,

JP Gaston  50:22

like, it’s perfectly sussing. I didn’t think about this at all, but here it is.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  50:27

I happen to have a chat with my son the other day because he brought home some painting that he did at school and he was talking about how he accidentally got some colors on it, but he didn’t mean to get on it. And so now it was all a mess. And I was trying to tell him that that’s that’s what art is sometimes different colors of paint happens to happy accident Yeah,

JP Gaston  50:49

I’m gonna say little Bob Ross would say happy accident. Lego Bob Ross.

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  50:55

Really a metaphor for life. Right. You always end up paint on your life that you didn’t intend to be they’re gonna roll with the punches.

Seth Anderson  51:06

Perfect. Awesome. Well, let’s, let’s let’s leave it there. And if anyone wants to learn more about pixel tree and potentially come work at your fantastic culture, where can they

JP Gaston  51:17

know the answers to the questions now so

Serene Yew – Pixeltree Inc.  51:21

yeah, they they can check out our website pixel can follow me on Twitter. That show stream s zero SVR e n e.

Seth Anderson  51:30

Find me on LinkedIn. Perfect. Thanks for joining us today.

JP Gaston  51:33

Thanks so much.

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