Almost everyone who knows me – my friends and family, work colleagues, favorite clients, even blog followers – has picked up on the exciting transformation going on at Freeman.

Our commitment to being a design-driven company, under the inspired direction of Freeman’s Chief Design Officer Bruce Mau, has led to the development of what we call our Learning Cycle.

2016 Freeman Leadership Conference - August 16-18 - La Costa Resort - San Diego, California

That’s shorthand for the process we are using to embrace a fresh approach to each new assignment or project. It’s a process that requires us to think like designers, learning from past experience and considering new opportunities, before we rush to build and execute.

Of course, Freeman leadership understands that we must practice what we preach. Back in May, as plans for 2016 Freeman Leadership Conference got underway, we all agreed to apply the Learning Cycle to develop the concept and content for our annual summertime event. And here’s one of the first things we discovered: it’s hard.

It’s hard, when we’re challenged to take a completely new perspective on an event we’ve done so many times before. It’s hard to step backward and use our precious time to probe new strategies, ask tough questions, and invite a more profound level of collaboration, one that broadened and deepened as the experience was brought to life by our people – for our people.

It’s scary to let go of a proven template to consider something that might not work and is certainly fraught with risk. It’s frustrating when we can’t just issue directives and trust that the team will “make it so.” Because if you want your people to get out of their comfort zones – you have to go first.

By the way, the 2016 Leadership Conference is currently underway, and it’s amazing. The journey to get here has been an experience unlike any other, and everywhere I look, I see evidence of how our methodology resulted in a better conference design.

2016 Freeman Leadership Conference - August 16-18 - La Costa Resort - San Diego, California

We expanded the participants team to include a new cast of players with fresh insights. We reached out to renowned thought leaders from some of the world’s most respected institutions and companies – people who are designing innovations that will change the future of brand experiences. And they accepted our invitation because of shared purpose – to connect people in meaningful ways. The breathtaking insights they are sharing with our Freeman leaders are inspirational and dazzling. And we still have more great presentations and experiences on the agenda.

So, to all of you struggling with change in general, and specifically with Freeman’s new directive, let me say this. I feel your pain. Really.

But, the benefits of investing the time and resources in a design-thinking approach are invaluable. In fact, one of the things that came out of our planning for this year is the need to understand what we want to achieve at next year’s Leadership Conference, when we celebrate our 90th anniversary.

As a result, we are ahead on our planning for next year. All that time and effort that felt “wasted” back in May has paid off in getting a jump on next year. What felt inefficient is already paying dividends. Thanks to the Learning Cycle, we were able to create an extraordinary event with our leaders and not just for our leaders. And that makes all the difference.

Bruce always reminds us that design is leadership—that we must lead by design. Try it; you’ll like it.