We’ve experienced a lot of growth in the last two years and, as a result, our company has more than doubled in size. With so many new personalities and talents, it was time to evolve our culture to meet the elevated aspirations of our team. We spent the last year redefining our purpose, noble cause and the values required to accomplish them everyday.

A month ago, we asked ourselves a very specific question: “Can we run our business solely by our culture?” Being the inquisitive creatures we are, we showed about as much restraint as Houdini floating in zero-g, singing “Freebird.” We set the ambitious goal of communicating The Way of our culture on one piece of paper and with a single world to represent it.

After many whole company conversations and a clutch vision quest, we created the Tao of DT (now the Tao of Telepathy) as a simple way to use our culture to guide every aspect of our business.

Let’s be honest, simple wasn’t easy. It took a team of ten to produce a whopping 131 slide presentation and a three-hour session by yours truly to initially communicate the essence of the Tao. We’ve made this presentation public, for your perusal. Slide 115 has the one-page version

Spreading the Tao

We wanted to avoid a great unveil so we leaked the Tao ahead of time by enlisting a small team to run a guerilla marketing campaign. They added our noble cause to our outdoor signage, hid more than 80 sticky notes around the office with inspirational quotes from the Tao and ran a contest for those who found the most. When it was time for the official Tao presentation, the team was already familiar with the concepts, so we could focus on the big picture and connect everything together.

Resting just two-stories above 11th Avenue and A Street in downtown San Diego, the billboard stands-out by shining its Dorito-shaped beacon of awesomeness. Yes - IT'S REAL.

We wanted to show our team how committed we were to running our company via our culture, so we surprised them with a big-ass billboard with the Tao emblazoned across it. The billboard is strategically positioned near our office, clearly visible to 90 percent of our team during their daily commutes.

See! It's only four blocks away from our front door.

More than 10,000 cars pass the billboard each day. There is no branding on it, just the hashtag #TaoOfDT to lead you here and hopefully accomplish three things:

  1. To demonstrate our commitment to running our business via our culture.
  2. To inspire anyone who drives by and happens to look up.
  3. As a symbol to encourage other companies to run their business via their culture.
The Undeniable Power of Design Culture View Reading List

It’s important to note that this is an experiment. We don’t know if we’ll be able to make all future decisions based on our culture, but the Tao of DT tells us to commit to the uncharted path, to take initiative and fail or succeed with equal pride and a readiness to learn. Each time we do, it brings us closer to accomplishing our purpose as a company. We believe that most successful companies tend to have great culture and a clear purpose. That being said, culture can be difficult to scale, which is why we feel the Tao will help us stay true to our values as our business evolves. The Tao provides a clear company vision and empowers us all to make a positive impact on world while working in a way that no employee handbook could ever aspire to.

We designed values cards to provide a daily reminder of what bonds us together.

Since we started as a two-friend company, we’ve always been known for our unique culture. As we’ve grown, friends and colleagues continuously doubted that we could maintain this culture. In the last two years, we’ve organically increased our headcount by 166 percent, and yet, we’ve found a way to improve our culture in the process. We did this by putting our tribe first before growth and making sure we found the right people before adding any business. We turned down plenty of opportunities, but preserved our culture and scaled the right way. Hopefully our experiences inspire you to power your business by putting people and culture first.

So, what the hell!? Why not give it a go with us? You can always go back to your normal business practices. What’s your Tao?

  • A very good friend of mine has a great motto that I think applies nicely here:

    “There is no use in anything but a bold life, well-lived.”

    I feel like this is one of those key moments that you can directly trace huge changes in your life right back to. I’m so proud to be a part of this, and I can’t wait to see what comes of our grand experiment!

    • Thanks being such a huge part of this process Jason.

      See what happens when you bring up batshit crazy ideas? We make them happen!

  • Love it! I’m blown away at the dedication and acceptance of this culture. A freakin’ billboard? Amazing. True success isn’t about revenue, but creating a lasting impact and meaningful growth for all involved. Keep it up and very excited to see where this takes you!

    • Thanks so much Christopher. Very, very well said. Like Jason inferred, what’s the point of life if we aren’t swinging for the fences and doing what you believe in. If you fail, you can always try again or go back to what you were doing before.

      • Agreed. It’s easy to remain complacent, safe, and comfortable to avoid failing. But failure is simply a fertilizer that nourishes success. From it grow the wonderful things that enrich ourselves and those around us.

  • Jesse Wood

    There’s an expression in Taoism “When I point to the moon, my finger is not the moon.” I’ve always felt that this illuminated how our words are inadequate to describe truth.

    I think what Christopher said “True success isn’t about revenue…” follows from this same idea. We have traditionally used revenue as THE measure of success when really it’s more like a marker that bluntly points at a job well done. Companies are made of people who in some way all affect other people and to entirely monetize a person’s success is to deny what is essential about being human.

    That’s why adding value to consumers, partnering with clients rather than selling to them, and helping/sharing with coworkers rather than directing them is the way to a better corporate future -we’re all in this tribe together right?

    It’s incredible to see this kind of dedication to the corporate equivalent of “soft-skills”.
    “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry

  • This is bold and experimental thinking at its best. I’m always impressed with the high quality articles and knowledge that DT shares with the world. Taking risks and forging new ideas is commonly referred to as innovation. I’m a fan.

    • Thanks Cain. We are lucky to have a great team that cares about sharing this stuff! Comments like yours keep us going 🙂

  • EXCITING! This is impressive and inspirational and I thank you for sharing your Tao with the rest of our community. I always appreciate the insights you share about your business process and culture. Your discussion here really helps me clarify the vision for the future of my company(tribe). I respect everything you and DT are producing; keep blazing trails!

    • That’s great to hear, David. Our intention is to share the few things we get right with people like you to inspire action. It’s always nice to hear that it’s working.

      Plus, why advertise when you can just tell true stories, right?

  • Lynae Metcalf

    I love everything about this article! I believe these values are exactly what every company needs. Happy tribe, happy life! And I am so excited to meet some of you today and potentially become part of your awesome tribe! Cheers!

    • Thanks Lynae. I love Happy Tribe, Happy Life 🙂

  • You’re absolutely right: life is about making the most of our experiences and finding that deep level of happiness and content.

    I think the most satisfying happiness comes from providing meaningful value to others. Impacting others positively in a lasting way. There’s a deep underlying psychological driver for that as social creatures: we thrive most when elevating others because it helps us succeed. What a remarkable evolutionary trait! And to bring a tribe of like-minded individuals together hell-bent on elevating the world around them – there simply are no limits.

    This is the only way to do business – people first. It’s not hard to find success when your driver is creating a better world.

  • Well, well this is……cool.

    I came upon your beautiful site by way of Twitter and the Jeff Gothelf interview-very sweet article-and instantly fell into your groove. Hell I thought, “What these folks are doing with their site and their biz is exactly what I have been working alone to do for several years now”. Though now in actual time I have been doing design for nearly twenty years. –> Very cool.

    And I read already that you’ve had some thin times, which in reality are the best for growth, both personal and on a business level. It’s the quality of the journey and not the ultimate end that counts. And all the goals along the way are just markers along the road saying, “We’ve been here, we did that”. Failure is a bullshit term because I have never failed and my losses actually were gains when I got on the other side of them. That’s Tao-te-Ching stuff btw. 😉

    We are in new times; have been now for a while but more and more people are starting to open their eyes to it and it just makes such simple sense to create this way – the way you guys and gals are at DT.

    I was taking time out from compiling a couple of servers today and reading on the word, “UX” and I read one thing that synched it: It’s simply solving problems simply. I love puzzles. Don’t you?

    It’s great to know your site and your souls are just around the corner on my browser because I’ll be back to check out more.

    Thanks for the experience!

    (And you guys are still young; just wait – it gets even better. :-}

    • Thanks for the wisdom Dale!

  • Chuck – I can’t stop reviewing this because I think it is so powerful. Good inspiration for all of us in the business of generating ideas. I love it!

    • Thanks Jen! Hope you are great 🙂