Spotless Spotlight: The Power of Cool Conversations at Work with Sam

7 min read
Evelina Molis
Marketing Manager
Inside Spotless

Have you ever heard of Spotless’ ‘Sh*t That’s Cool’ series? Chances are, you haven’t, as it’s been kept under wraps until now! Join us as we delve into the inspiring corners of our professional (and not-so-professional) environment with its lead, Sam Hollingum

I’m so excited to talk to you today, Sam! Could you share with us the story behind the inception of “Sh*t That’s Cool”? What inspired the idea, and was there a specific need that drove its creation?

“I’ll be the first to say this was not an original idea that I had created. This concept initially started off as ‘Friday and Learn’, led by a previous colleague. It evolved out of a need to have a space for staff to share anything they have learned and sharpen some presentation skills. Even after the departure of the colleagues, we kept the spirit going and rebranded it to ‘Sh*t That’s Cool’ (STC).

I personally got involved in March 2022. My previous company had a Friday and Learn style session, which ran a very similar format as STC and had some forfeits for running overtime (ones which have been left behind to take any pressure off presenters). So having the initiative here at Spotless, I naturally wanted to jump at the chance to help run and shape this to what it is today.”

Sam Hollingum - the lead behind Spotless' 'Sh*t That's Cool' series

I really loved the idea of it when I joined Spotless! For those unfamiliar with it, could you explain how it works and what the process entails?

“STC runs on the last Thursday of every month, and runs at the same time every month. Speakers can have between 15 - 30 mins of speaking time, depending on the number of speakers. We tend to limit it to 2 speakers per session in order to be mindful of speaking/discussion time and, most importantly, to ensure we are not overloading the audience with too much information.

It's open for all staff members, from Senior Leadership to Juniors and everyone in between. Employees are given notice and calendars to see what available spots are for the taking. Prospective speakers would message me with a topic they have in mind and how long they would need for talking time. Whilst we aim for consistency in hosting the talks once per month, we also allow for flexibility to cancel the session to make way for company related events and/or client based priorities."

There have been so many interesting presentations over the years, but which ones stood out to you as particularly cool or unconventional?

“The list could go on and on, but here are my favourites that sparked some really good conversations:

  • Dark User Experience in Korean Popular Musics Mobile Apps: Mark Cox brought in the surprise and delight of the malpractices used within Korean app manufacturers to retain attention and engagement. This opened discussions of parallel learnings and examples found in the West, and what can be done to mitigate the risk of similar patterns being designed.
  • Confidence, Money & Culture: Nadja Toft talked about understanding levels of inequality that women face in the workplace and, through business cases and companies, the importance of financial education in helping to overcome levels of bias and inequality. It definitely produced thought provoking conversations around held biases and examples of companies providing genuine support for women, prompting us to reflect on our own biases.
  • Emotional Labour & AI: Lilias Adair unpicked the gendered stereotypes of conversational AI technologies, with reflection on the emotional labour (manipulating feelings to satisfy perceived requirements of a job). It allowed staff to reflect on conversational design of AI technologies and their own actions, conscious or otherwise, influence how technological change and recommendations."
'Sh*t That's Cool' sessions: Dark UX in Korean Music Apps, Confidence, Money & Culture, Emotional Labour & AI

Some other presentations worth mentioning:

Have there been any instances where a STC session inspired new ways of working or processes within the company?

Some definitely gave some inspiration for our team members. Sessions such as data visualisation, how to approach solving a client problem, how to best learn about new tools such as Figma helped them become better at some tasks and learn new skills.

Oh I remember some of these! The dark UX in Korean music was my favourite for sure, so interesting! Is it hard to encourage our team to step out of their comfort zone and present topics that might be outside of their usual work scope?

“Like in my personal life, I embody the phrase of “Treat others how you want to be treated yourself” and I take it very seriously. I personally like to lead by example and be the one to try things first, even if I spectacularly fail. To show others that it is alright to try, have a go and play the fool if need be. Sometimes it requires bravery but it is only out of care and love of the subject matter, the performance elements and the audience.

I myself have presented some very different topics outside of my usual work scope in the past, for example:

  • Spongebob Squarepants: Unpicking how theatrical pitching and storytelling can result in successful buy-in to a product, such as a TV show, with tremendous return on investment with the show making $13bn per year on retail merchandise alone.
  • Kaupapa Māori Research: Respectfully communicating how we can learn from indigenous cultures, such as the Māori of New Zealand, through unique ways of understanding the world and working with people to co-design products and services.”
Sam leading the 'Sh*t That's Cool' sessions: same time of the month, same place (almost), fresh topics!

Love that! What role do you think curiosity plays in fostering a culture of sharing interesting things at work?

“Curiosity is central to our DNA here at Spotless. It is a core tenant of what we do and what we profess here. I think individuals and the group of individuals that make up a company must simultaneously cultivate the culture of curiosity internally (within themselves and the company), as well as externally (the wider world).

Combined with our practices of ‘Mindfulness’, of how others see the world and what they choose to share, these are the foundation to successful sharing sessions such as STC. It is the insatiable hunger for pushing out knowledge to better ourselves. These qualities and sharing spaces help us be mindful of how we work with our clients and, most importantly in my mind, represent the people we are designing for.”

How is this year looking? Are you planning to implement any changes or anything new?

“2024 is looking to further evolve the practice and productionisation through revision of its successful formula, building upon its foundations and exploring what topics/methods can be introduced. External speakers would be great to have too!

It will still have its DNA at the core of sharing and caring for what is being shared. We are always collecting feedback to know what we can focus on and what to get better at.

I would like to evolve STC as a platform for people to help road test ideas or things they might want to put in the world. Whether these are business development, prototyping, ethical challenges or debate style commentary on trends and signals we see in the world.”

What advice would you give to other companies or teams looking to implement a similar initiative to foster inclusivity and collaboration?

“There are two sayings which in my opinion encapsulate the advice and mindset to consider:

‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ - Steve Jobs
‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in’ - Ancient Greek Proverb

Some of my tips would be:

  • Be mindful that incremental changes over time can lead to demonstrable differences. Atomic Habis and other behavioural science books will attest to this mindset, application and benefits.
  • Learn to be comfortable with failure and a lack of expectations being met. We can’t always hit home runs, so be prepared to settle for less from time to time.
  • Don’t obsess over the number of attendees
  • Have a firm but fair and open minded individual run/facilitate the sessions transforms these sessions. How you introduce the space, place, norms and expectations is everything when it comes to sharing with others. 
  • Invest time into an effective productisation and categorisation of past presentations, to help recall insights, actions, recommendations. It is also helpful in the onboarding process for new employees to showcase a unique part of the company culture outside of baseline delivery. 
  • Have clear and effective updates for staff members, especially when scheduling talks, last minute cancellations/changes, makes a world of difference. Like everything in life, the name of the game is ‘Managing Expectations’. 
  • Tease the talks out like you would a movie trailer. To help with this, I advise familiarising yourself with your primary communication tools (email/slack) and explore the functions of scheduling messages ahead of time. This allows you to set up templates and send messages in advance, taking a few tasks off your backlog. 
  • In my experience when crafting messages, keep emojis to a limit and be mindful of overuse as emojis mean different things to different people."

Thank you, Sam, for taking us through that! Encouraging employees to present their interests, whether related to work or outside of it, is something every company should consider and I love this initiative at Spotless.

To keep up with Spotless and our exciting initiatives, follow us on Linkedin or reach out to Sam for more advice on implementing similar series in your organisation. We're also open to external speakers - if you have something exciting to share, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a message!

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