May 10, 2021

Product Manager Adam Attas Co-Founded an Organization Excited by Compelling Ways to Greatly Intertwingle Design and Business—Starting in Chicago, Illinois

What are you working on—on the side?

I’m the co-founder of Business Designers | Chicago which is focused on the intersection of design and business—how this intersection creates meaningful, sustainable and mindful value. Our members have diverse backgrounds in design and business. They seek to create richer conversations. We foster this desire through guest and member presentations, social events, working sessions, published content and more. Our mission is to use business design methods and mindsets to influence change and drive impact through hybrid thinking, including the formation of meaningful alliances between practitioners, educators, entrepreneurs and innovators—in order to improve the world we all live in. It’s a lofty goal—but worthy cause. 

We’ve been doing happy hours, speaker series, workshops and more since November 2018. I started the group with Leon Hovanesian, a Business Strategy Manager at Doblin, because we realized that there is more than one way to be successful as a “business designer.” My journey from my formal education to my career in product management may look different from Leon’s journey on paper, but what we realized through our initial conversations way back was how similar our perspectives on innovation and systems thinking were. We were also super-passionate about tracking all of the changes in the industry and how they were impacting our peers and those graduating from places like the Institute of Design, Kellogg plus other schools teaching business design. 

I started this group because I hate formal networking, but I love talking about hybrid thinking. I don’t want people to come to our events because they are seeking a job or trying to level up their LinkedIn profile. I want people to form meaningful connections and I want our content to speak to people who think these things matter.

One of the first exercises we ever did as a group was to get people together to talk about whether they felt more aligned to a business discipline with design empathy or a design discipline with business empathy. We did this in a physical space where we could actually line ourselves up along that spectrum and have a conversation about why we placed ourselves where we did. These moments are really special because they showcase why we are different from your traditional meetup group. Creating the right environment to bring together people from business and design backgrounds of all types is really what this is all about.

Outside of Business Designer | Chicago, I spend a lot of time giving back to tennis. I worked with EPIC Chicago to do a brand refresh for the non-profit Tennis Opportunity Program (I’m the treasurer of the organization). I also worked with some people at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association to provide advisory support for Tennis for America, a post-graduate year of service for collegiate athletes to give back. 

I have some other side projects I’ve wanted to kick off but never really had the same momentum. At some point, I want to either start a venture studio, build a tennis club or start my own company. 

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

It’s all about having the right people around you to help manage your energy levels. It’s really easy to get super-excited about an idea and do a ton of work in a vacuum and then burn out quickly. I like to put an initial idea on paper and then socialize it a ton with friends, family members and people’s opinions who I really value. Some people may think it’s crucial to keep a novel idea a secret, but I actually think the opposite. So much of getting a good idea right is in the execution itself. I also think these conversations energize me just as much as the work itself. 

COVID has made it really hard for me to keep this up. My day job has been pretty all-consuming and with such little separation between the home office and the virtual office, I often don’t want to look at a screen outside of work hours. I’m looking forward to the coffee shop conversations, drinks and whiteboard sessions in the post-COVID world. 

Why have a side project?

A career is so much more than the things we do at work. Additionally, our jobs should not define us. I’ve always thought of myself as a builder and a connector, but at times during my career, I’ve felt like I couldn’t own the process of planting a seed of an idea and growing it into a living breathing organism. With a side project, you can do that at your own leisure on your own timeline. I find that type of autonomy refreshing. I also think of side projects as a way to test the waters without diving in headfirst. I can dabble in something new. I can put it down and pick it up when I want. Lastly, the people I’ve met through all of these experiences is what makes this worthwhile. Being intentional with my time and having things I’m truly passionate about are really important to me. 

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Diptych courtesy of Adam Attas.

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