How the Tech World’s Sticker Company of Choice Helps Rethink Creativity at Work


It's easy to understand why the Octocat is so ubiquitous in the tech world. I mean, just LOOK AT IT:


This adorable little creature is named Mona Lisa, though she's more frequently referred to as Mona, and even more frequently referred to as "GitHub's cat/octopus thingy."

GitHub is a popular developer platform and community acquired by Microsoft for $7.5 billion last year. With a price tag like that, you might assume that their marketing centered on massive ad buys and the brute force tactics that fellow tech unicorns exhibit. And while they surely have a portfolio approach to their marketing, one of their earliest tactics proved vital throughout the companies growth.


They're not alone, either. Alexis Ohanian, the cofounder of Reddit and a veritable tech celebrity, once called stickers, "The soundest investment I've ever made.

And whether it's GitHub or Reddit, your local developer shop or the next global tech giant, there seems to be ONE company behind almost every sticker purchase in the weird, wonderful world of internet startups. But here's the thing: From the outside looking in, they don't look overly creative. Sure, their website has some nice design, they have a clever name, and as you'll hear, they have a strong CEO as their leader. But it's not like they ooze the kind of whimsical tone of voice on social media or the articles and videos and podcasts or even the Octocat-like logo that all feel like requirements to be "creative."

I think NOW is the best time to share this story with you, as I was recently talking to an executive at a cocktail party following one of my keynotes. I'd remarked that creativity was desperately needed in industries beyond tech and media -- places likes finance, auto retail, and healthcare.

He scoffed.

As you'll hear in this story, his definition of creativity was so far apart from my own. Bridging that gap is something I'm desperate to try today on this episode of the show. If we can re-frame what it means to be creative, we might ditch our reliance on Random Acts of Creativity -- or its evil twin, Shortcut Culture. Both are born of the same parents, a sort of union between our need for short-term gains and our belief in finding THE strategy or tactic.

So, let's hear the story about that surprisingly dominant sticker company from one of their cofounders, CEO Anthony Thomas. (Their other cofounder prefers to remain anonymous. I wanted to interview him. I tried to find him online, asking around and everything. But I couldn't find his name -- nor did the company volunteer it. Just another mystery in an already mysterious story about what consistent creativity REALLY requires.)

Hear the story on the Unthinkable podcast below, or subscribe free via Apple PodcastsOvercast, or wherever you listen.

Unthinkable shares stories of conventional thinking in our work and the people who dare to question it. Each episode is a sweet-sounding, atypical approach to telling business stories and distilling insights that help us question conventional thinking in order to think for ourselves. Entrepreneur called it "one of the hottest podcasts out there." Salesforce called Jay "a creative savant," while Fortune, Forbes, Inc, the Content Marketing Institute, and others have all praised the show's unconventional style and sound.

Posted on February 20, 2019 .