Tina Roth Eisenberg
Tina Roth Eisenberg on the Deep Value of Heart-Centered Leadership
In 2014, at the Adobe 99U conference, the Swiss-born, Brooklyn-based designer Tina Roth Eisenberg stood on stage in front of a mocked-up illustration of herself as a larger-than-life superhero figure. “Captain Enthusiasm,” it read in block, title-case letters. The playful title, even if meant half in jest, checks out. She is a powerhouse. Through her collaborative spirit, exuberant energy, and deep sense of optimism, Eisenberg has, over the past 15 years or so, built a cult following of creatives around the world who, like her, constantly seek to connect, reflect, and grow together—and who view her as an inspirational curator and guide. Taking what she calls a “heart-centered” approach to life and work, Eisenberg, through all the trials and tribulations of start-up life, leads with a joy- and love-first outlook. “I believe there are two ways of operating in life,” she says on this episode of Time Sensitive. “You’re either in love, or you’re in fear.”
In 2008, Eisenberg founded Creative Mornings, an egalitarian platform that hosts free talks and events; with chapters currently in 225 cities and 67 countries, from Bucharest to Berlin to Boston, the organization has grown into what it describes as “the world’s largest face-to-face creative community.” A serial entrepreneur and the creator of the widely followed Swissmiss design blog, Eisenberg also founded that same year Studiomates in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood; a predecessor to WeWork, it was the borough’s first co-working space. An ahead-of-the-curve environment, Studiomates brought freelancers and small businesses together within a single setting to forge and share in a collective, collaborative atmosphere. (Eisenberg now operates the co-working space Friends Work Here in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood.) Also over the past decade-plus, Eisenberg has founded and launched the aptly named to-do list app Teux Deux and the temporary tattoo company Tattly, the latter of which she sold to Bic Group earlier this year.
On this episode, Eisenberg talks with Spencer about why she views the idea of time as a farce, her spiritual belief that everything is vibration and energy, and her mantra of leading with a sense of gentleness and what she calls “an extra layer of love.”
Eisenberg questions the notion of time as we tend to think of it, and elaborates on why she views it as “an extremely amorphous, blobby, expansive thing.”
Eisenberg highlights three pivotal moments in her life: coming to New York City for the first time, in 1999 (and moving to the city shortly thereafter); giving birth to her daughter and founding her design studio, in 2006; and her divorce from her now ex-husband, in 2015.
Eisenberg looks back on her childhood in the Swiss countryside, growing up with two entrepreneurial parents who instilled in her a certain sense of creativity and strong work ethic.
Eisenberg recalls some of her favorite Creating Mornings events from over the past 15 years, including a talk in 2016 by Casey Gerald, the co-founder and CEO of MBAs Across America.
Eisenberg shares her “heart-centered” approach to leadership, her “full-body yes” decision-making process, and her thoughts on delayed gratification.
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SPENCER BAILEY: Hi, Tina. Welcome to Time Sensitive.
TINA ROTH EISENBERG: Hi! Thanks for having me. [Laughs]
SB: I wanted to begin with a series of questions from a talk you did. You have a standard series of interview questions that you like to ask potential hires. I thought before we get started, I would ask you in the context of today’s interview.
TE: Oh, my! [Laughs]
SB: So, first, why are you here?
TE: I’m here because, obviously, I was invited. But also, because I am an idealist at heart that wants to spread my message, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
SB: What do you do when you’re not working?
TE: This is so funny that you’re asking me these questions. [Laughs] Touché, man! Touché.
TE: When I’m not working, I’m finding other ways of gathering humans, other than what I do at work. I love walking my dog, and I love spending time with my teenage children, and I’m probably reading. There’s a long list of things I’m doing when I’m not working.
SB: Can you tell me a joke?
TE: No. I absolutely can’t. This is like you’re really embarrassing me right now. [Laughter]
SB: Well, tell me about—
TE: Wow! You’re really giving me my own medicine right now.
TE: Thank God there’s no picture here because I’m blushing right now.
SB: [Laughs] Tell me about a difficult time in your life, and what did you learn?
TE: Oh, that’s easy. In 2015, my marriage crumbled, and it was a real moment in time for me because I’m an extremely optimistic person, and I need a sense of possibility in order to move forward in my life. That was a real moment for me to dig really deep and see that sense of possibility and flip the narrative of a divorce on its head. Because I’m a big believer that the way you see your life, the way you look at life, defines it. I just didn’t want to give in to the narrative of a divorce having to be nasty and horrible. And so, I flipped it and I managed to flip the script. I’m super proud of how I did that with the help of my now ex-husband. I’m really proud of how we co-parent and we’re friends.
SB: Against all stigma.
TE: Yep, divorce needs a rebrand.
SB: And the final question—courtesy of your son, Tilo—would you rather fart confetti or burp glitter?
TE: Fart confetti all the way. I’ve had so many long conversations with my kids about this, so thank you for asking me this in public. This is so great.
SB: I think I should mention here that you do keep a confetti drawer at the office.
SB: I thought it would be appropriate, so I asked our director of production [Ramon Broza] to put some confetti in a bowl. Unfortunately, we chose glitter confetti.
TE: Yeah, I mean, everyone that knows me really well knows that I consider glitter the herpes of the crafts world.
TE: I’m having so many conflicting feelings, because I so love the generosity and just the gesture of you organizing some confetti next to me. But the fact that it’s confetti that is actually glitter is giving me lots of conflicting feelings. [Laughs]
SB: Well, we can leave it in the bowl. You don’t have to touch it.
Let’s turn to the subject of time. In that same talk I mentioned earlier, you said you get up at 4:30 every morning. That may have changed during the pandemic—I’m not sure, but—and you said that you’re “learning every day to allow the space between where I want to be and where I am to inspire and not terrify me.” Could you speak to how you think and manage your time sort of day-to-day, and what’s your general approach to time management?
TE: You know, it’s so interesting when you give talks, and then you’re being interviewed. And then, obviously you’ve done your research and I love that, but I almost feel like sometimes you’re being referenced to moments in time. And like, the getting up at 4:30 is no longer the case. So I just love, like in these moments I realize, Oh Tina, you have evolved. [Laughs] The way I see time now, coming sort of out of what we consider out of the pandemic, I don’t know—
SB: There’s an emergence.
TE: An emergence, yeah. To me, time is an extremely amorphous, blobby, expansive thing. The pandemic has definitely changed how I think about time, to the point where I now wear a watch that says “NOW.” To me, time is nothing but a collection of “nows.” And as someone who very easily starts worrying or sort of catapults myself into the future in my head, which is not helpful, I feel like I’ve really tried to channel this “nowness” during the pandemic. And I think it has forced us all to do that, right? But I honestly am—I feel like I am readjusting at reacquainting myself with just living a regular life again. And where time management falls into that? All I can say is that I think overall, I’ve become much more aware of flowing with the day and don’t allow the rigidness that I had before to enter my life anymore.
SB: And, I guess, philosophically or even spiritually speaking, how do you think about time?
TE: I think time is a made-up construct. I don’t think it’s real. I think we need it. We need it to operate in the world and know when we’re going to be on that Zoom call. But I honestly, deeply believe it’s all a farce. [Laughter] To the point where I am very spiritual, and there have been moments where I felt like I’m running late, or you know, like, where I just, I was stretched in time, and I sort of forced myself to relax into believing there is enough time and it’s all going to work out. And it did. Which makes me then believe we are actually in control of how we experience time and how much time we have.
SB: It’s beautiful. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever heard a guest on this series talk about time that way, as a farce.
TE: I think it is. [Laughs]
SB: Many life and executive coaches will work with what they call “a life spiral.” It’s basically a way of viewing one’s life in a big-picture context, so sort of thinking about one’s story from birth to death as less linear and more like a spiral. And, thinking this way—of life as a spiral and not a straight line—and besides birth, I was wondering if you might speak to two or three of the most significant, catalytic moments in your life that have led to you becoming who you are today. Like on your life spiral, what would those be?
TE: Oh, there’s so many. I would say the first big moment was when I finally managed to come to New York. There was multiple attempts on my end to—
SB: Manifest this.
TE: Yeah. And in 1999, after I graduated from communication design at University of Munich, I just did it. I was at an age where I could just do it. That was the first time in my life where I experienced what I now call “the universe is cheering me on.” Where just, doors open. Like they just—like, this is happening. Like, I came for three months, hoping to find an internship and within sixteen hours of arriving I had an interview that turned into an instant internship. And then within two weeks, into a visa and a job. So that was one.
The next one was when I was pregnant with my daughter. I do not understand what happened, but it was like some planets realigned, and I all of a sudden had clarity on what I need to do professionally. And to me, in my life, if I’ve learned one thing it’s that there’s nothing more powerful than moments of deep clarity. I just knew I was pregnant. I was like, “What the heck, Tina? What are you waiting for? You always wanted to run your own business.” And I started. The day my daughter was born is the day I started my design studio, and I instantly had amazing clients. So, that was two.
And then, I would say, the really big milestone for me was, again, I mentioned this earlier, is the moment of my divorce. Again, one morning I just woke up in clarity. And then, when I have that clarity, I am so unstoppable. And so, it’s really the moments of clarity I would say, that are sort of the life-defining moments in that spiral of life.
SB: Of aging, you’ve said that your long-term goal has been to redefine what age looks like. And given that you wear a watch that says “NOW,” I’m kind of curious if you could speak a little bit to this idea of how you think about aging, how you think about this sort of across-time experience of what it means to be alive.
TE: Yeah. So interesting. I just had a coffee chat today with someone in my coworking space where we touched on this subject and sort of how I’m surrounded by a lot of women in their fifties, late fifties, that don’t feel relevant anymore. I’m 49. I feel like I’m starting to sense my age, even in my own companies. Like, I hire a lot of people that are way younger. The thing I remind myself of often is, I think of my crazy Aunt Hugi [Hugentobler]. I had this extremely eccentric aunt who lived in Zurich. I grew up an hour east of Zurich, in the Swiss countryside, with entrepreneurial parents, but somewhat conservative parents, and like living by the rule book of life in Switzerland. There, I had this extremely outgoing, extremely creative aunt that lived in Zurich. It was always my highlight when we would go and visit her. And she lived her life in a way that she didn’t give a damn what people thought about her decisions, about how she showed up, about how she dressed, about how she lived her life.
Sort of this wildly quiet confidence that this woman had. She rode a Monster Ducati way into her eighties. She had a Porsche. She was just, like, so cool. She went to Rolling Stones concerts with me, up way into her late seventies. And I truly believe we all need someone like that in our life that sort of gives us permission, makes us realize that we can be that. I think of seeing, for example, Milton Glaser, I remember when he spoke at Creative Mornings, just seeing him still so lit up by his work, by being a creative, having creative output. Maira Kalman who, when I had the chance to meet her… If you don’t know who she is, just look her up. Look up her talks.
TE: Yes, I mean, this spark that oozes out of this woman. I really want us to celebrate people that are lit up in their older age, because life is a lot of fun and I really truly believe it can stay fun until the very end. And I hope I’m going to be able to live that. Even though, to go back to the conversation, I’m even sometimes feeling like, Am I still relevant? Do I need to get out of the way of younger people? That’s even crossing my mind. That’s crossing my mind as somebody who runs a company where you’re starting to think, Is it time for younger people to step up?
SB: Yeah. I think appreciating elders’ wisdom, and understanding the role that that can play in anyone’s life.
TE: But I feel like the older I get, the less I believe I know a lot. [Laughter] Then comes this younger generation that’s just extremely confident and it makes me actually question what I do and what I know.
SB: I mean, on the long view, I did want to mention here the Long Now Foundation, which you recently tweeted about, writing that, “Every now and then I stumble upon an organization that quite literally takes my breath away. It just happened now when I discovered @longnow.” This is a Stewart Brand project that’s incredible. I was hoping maybe you might share a little bit about why it took your breath away, why this sort of “long now” concept resonates so much.
TE: Well, you know, so many of the things I’ve been doing, I’ve been doing just… I’m such an intuitively driven person and I just follow what feels right and what feels good and what lights me up. And now, looking back, I just see that I have stamina. I think that comes from my upbringing in the Swiss Alps. You don’t just give up, you just keep going. And to me, the things I’ve been building, especially Creative Mornings, there’s a purpose to it that is: I’m here for the long haul of it. There’s no way for me to even consider not doing this anymore.
SB: You’ve said you want to see it a hundred years from now.
TE: Yes. I do. I feel like the Long Now Foundation has given me words to this feeling I have in my gut, that we have to move into a notion of the “long now.” We have to start building things that we know will make our lives so much better in a hundred years from now. This is the only way there is a path forward. There is just, and I’m guilty of it, I’m an extremely instant-gratification kind of human. But every now and then, when I beat myself up about it, I also look over to the things I’ve been building. And I’ve been building for a long time, and I’ve been showing up, consistently showing up for it. So, I guess, what just resonated with me was just like, there’s other people who consistently keep showing up and don’t just throw in the towel. That just gave me a lot of comfort.
SB: And this idea of long-view thinking, zooming out, do you think that helps you in your own work kind of avoid the sort of fear spirals that can come with entrepreneurship, taking that extended, you know—
TE: Yes. For sure. I mean, to be very honest, like for example, Creative Mornings, we’re the world’s largest creative face-to-face community in the world. It’s a miracle we survived the pandemic. I don’t know what the next two years hold, if I’m really honest. And I have moments now where I wake up at 3 in the morning and I’m like, Can I hold it? Can I continue? But then, the thing I just tell myself is that there are certain—like, I have a list that I keep in my notes that is titled, “The Universe is Cheering Me On.” So, in these moments, at 3 o’clock in the morning when I wake up, I pull it out and I start reading. And, every time I have these moments where a universe is cheering me on, I put that in.
And I’m just realizing there’s certain things that are just protected. Somehow, they’ve always made it. We’ve had lots of ups and downs with Creative Mornings. Our business model is as backwards as it gets. I mean, just the fact that we exist is unreal because everything’s free. Radical generosity is our business model. So we’ve made it through a lot of choppy waters. In these moments, I just keep telling myself, if I can keep my energy in a hopeful, optimistic, :we’re going to make this happen” place, then we’re going to be okay.
SB: Tell me a bit about the last two years in particular, or I guess, almost three now—the Covid-19 lockdowns and slowdown of 2020, 2021—and also the sort of reemergence, the speed-up that we find ourselves in right now. How are you thinking about this moment?
TE: I just sensed my whole chest constrict. If I’m really honest, the last three years were tremendously hard on me. But I mean, they’ve been hard on a lot of us. I thought everything I’ve built is going to go away and collapse. I have built multiple businesses that are built on the notion of face-to-face connection, so that was gone. I’ve bootstrapped another business called Tattly, a temporary tattoo business, where I never raised money. That was almost 70 percent relying on wholesale orders, which also crumbled once the orders stopped coming in. So, that was a real moment of, All right Tina, you’ve handled a lot, and you can endure a lot. [Laughs] It was a bit of a breaking-point moment for me, personally, and a real moment of introspection, and I’m sure we’ve all gone through it: What is really important to me?
I’m extremely grateful for the clarity that came out of it. Because to me, as someone who’s run multiple businesses at the same time, which I don’t recommend, it was a real moment of clarity on: Where is my heart, really? And so, I was able to sell one of them. I was able to sell Tattly recently. I’m very grateful that that happened to be a very cool company [Bic Group]. And really lean into the understanding that what I’m building with Creative Mornings is a real gift to the world.
So as hard as the pandemic has been, I am also really energized by seeing the blinders I was wearing, to a certain extent, on what’s possible. Just to give an example, when the lockdown happened. So Creative Mornings is a lecture series that happens all over the world, once a month, for free, breakfast and lecture. And we’re in two hundred twenty-four cities, sixty-seven countries. We gather about twenty-five thousand people a month, for free. We were told that we can no longer meet up. That was just, like, I didn’t even know how to comprehend that. I would’ve never, ever, ever, ever done a virtual event because I built this on the notion that real connection is made face-to-face and not behind a screen.
So massive blinders on, right? But then our chapters, the volunteers that put on these events, three chapters put on in April, put on deeply connecting, moving, warm, engaging Zoom events. I sat there crying my eyes out, realizing that, Okay, Tina, you didn’t believe this was possible, but it is. And so then we moved our events, we moved our chapters to digital. And I’m super proud because we really leaned in and asked ourselves, “Okay, given the platform constraints, given what this is, what makes a Creative Mornings warm and beautiful and sort of the specialness? How do we translate that to digital?” And to the point where we had people come to us and say, “Can you teach us?” Because we get off your Zooms, we get off your events, and we’re buzzing, and we are filled up.
They would use the same language as if they were attending one of our IRL events, which I know are really special. So, to me that’s the gift I’m taking out of the pandemic, is asking myself regularly in my personal life, in my professional life, “Tina, what are you not seeing? What blinders can you pull aside?” Because there’s so much opportunity in front of us.
SB: Now that you’ve kind of seen this duality of more than a decade in of in-person events and then this sort of two, three-year period of largely virtual events, what do you think still makes the in-person perhaps stronger, or if not stronger, at least different than virtual, in a way that virtual will never achieve?
TE: Mm-hmm. Well, I think there’s something energetically happening to us when we are in the same room. I still think that’s always going to be stronger and more palpable than virtual. I’m not saying that’s not possible virtual. But there’s the context of being in a space, the context—
SB: The light hitting your face right now. The fact that we’re not behind screens.
TE: Yes. And also the fact that we’re experiencing the exact same environment energetically, like spatially. That’s what makes the magic as well. And to be honest, I feel we have lost the muscle of being in space together, and we need to be really patient with each other in learning to do that again and rediscovering the magic of being face-to-face in a space.
SB: I did want to touch on Tattly really quickly, which you mentioned. And you had sold it to Bic Group. I was curious to hear about the sale. I imagine it was a mix of emotions from, probably rewarding, but also quite difficult. I mean, this is an operation that brought you and so many other people enormous joy. Still does. Your daughter even once told you, “Mom, please never, never, never, ever sell Tattly, because I want to run it one day.” [Laughs]
TE: You’re pushing the knife into my heart. Thank you very much. [Laughter]
SB: I had to ask, I’m sorry. Just tell me about the sale. What was it like for you to just have this feeling of this thing you created and seeing it sort of evolve in the way it has?
TE: Oh, man. How much time do you have? So, Tattly was a complete labor of love slash joke. I just wanted my daughter to have really cool temporary tattoos. And because I’m a web designer, graphic designer, I was able to just do that, and I had friends. It was the most accidental, joyful, “wouldn’t this be fun if this existed in the world?”
SB: Yeah, right. Aesthetically pleasing temporary tattoos.
TE: Yes. But really coming from a place of, wouldn’t it be fun? Which is how I started everything. And, I built it with so much love and joy that eventually, and this is actually many years ago—and I wasn’t really talking about this because it’s a really weird feeling to have—I was starting to feel that I no longer want to run this. But founders don’t talk about that because it’s a really weird feeling of building something, and I call it a labor of love. I mean this. But then, feeling like you outgrow it. How is that possible? That was something I had a really hard time wrapping my head around. I actually was working with therapists and coaches just to say the words, “I want to sell Tattly,” or, “I’m thinking about selling Tattly.” And to then really leaning into making that happen. It was for me, personally, I’m a very emotional heart-centered person. It was a long and painful process.
And, interesting enough, I have not found any other founders who were able to articulate that. Or, I don’t think founders really want to talk about this all that much. Anyone who wants to talk to me about this, please reach out to me. But, I must say, the emotional labor it was, just to release Tattly and feel like I can pass it on to someone was a real growth moment for me, personally. In the end it was the pandemic that gave me the clarity. So, that was, I guess, the spiral moment.
But I must say, what a beautiful thing it is to create something and then have really capable people take it from you. I wish somebody would’ve told me that that’s possible. Because, again, I think it needs a rebrand, the selling of a company. Because, what we hear is often times horror stories. Again, like I should have probably approached it like the way I approached my divorce. [Laughter] I’m just realizing this now, sitting here now, because I didn’t do that. But I am just so proud of the people who bought it and who run it now. And I just know it’s loved and it will expand into something that is not me, which is also a very odd feeling to sort of see your company evolve, but also a moment of true letting go.
SB: Thank you for sharing that.
Let’s go back to your youth. In previous interviews and talks, you’ve said quite a bit about your childhood in what you’ve called “the Arizona of Switzerland.” The green pastures, farmhouses, cows, the Alps, little Tina running around trying to conquer the world. Your parents, as you mentioned, were entrepreneurs, and you clearly got that gene. Um. You’ve also described your dad as spiritual and interested in past lives.
SB: I wanted to mention how at age eight you started and photocopied and stapled a magazine together with jokes and quizzes in it [laughs], and were selling this to your neighbors. So, already you were like little entrepreneur Tina. And also around that time you made this giant poster that said, “Do you want to join my fan club?” Which I think is hilarious. [Laughs]
TE: Yeah. Because somebody asked me, “What are we fans of?” There’s this big poster above the garage in our neighborhood where everybody parks their car. And I was like, “Do you want to join my fan club?” And one of the neighbors, very rightfully so, very kindly asks me, “Tina, what are we fans of?” And I was like, “It doesn’t matter! It’s a state of mind! We’re fans!” And I feel like that so encapsulates me as a person. Details. Details. [Laughs]
SB: Yeah. So, I mean, I wanted to lay this all out, because you’ve already painted it so beautifully before, but I was wondering if there are any moments that stand out to you from your time in this little Swiss village that have, you know, maybe little markers of time that have led to who you are today? That you think about, in retrospect, as kind of catalytic moments?
TE: I don’t know if there’s specific moments, but I feel like it’s a bit of a source of having extremely entrepreneurial parents, which as a kid you don’t realize how much that impacts you. Just seeing it, living it, hearing it every day. My dad was a real visionary. I mean, just so incredible. Now looking back, as a kid, you’re like, “Yeah, whatever. My dad is starting a business with new computers. They’re called Apple. I don’t know. Amazing.” I feel like what I’m just so grateful for, and this is not a moment, but this is like sort of the recipe that I was given, that the entrepreneurial side, and like bam, my mom was a badass. She had thirty employees at the time. As a woman, you didn’t run your own business. That was just so cool. Combined with seeing my parents, how they led. So, I remember, and I’m saying this lovingly about my parents, that was a different generation.
But, I was an extremely sensitive, empathetic kid. And I would walk into the businesses behind them and I could literally sense the fear emanating through the businesses and people contracting. And while I, at that time, didn’t have the language for it, I now do, being a boss myself. And I’ve seen how I’ve alchemized knowing that that’s not what I want, and have sort of created the complete opposite of what I think, how my parents led their businesses. And granted, it was a different time. So seeing what I didn’t want. So that I’m really grateful for.
And then also just—this might be TMI—but my parents were just very unhappily married. And it was an emotionally unsafe home, I would say, I grew up in. Very volatile. They did the best they could. But again, I do look back and think that made me so aware of how emotional safety is such a big one. And it’s something I crave and create in my businesses. The way I lead my businesses, the way I show up as a boss. So, I always feel like, Was it hard? Was it stressful? Yes. Did I alchemize it into something better now? Yes.
SB: Tell me a little more about energy. I mean, it’s so central to this conversation and to your life and your work, and I was just wondering, how do you think about energy—bodily, in your businesses, even spiritually, in the ether?
TE: Yeah. Oh, this is like my favorite topic. Well, I’m a big believer that everything is vibration, everything is energy. The way we sit here, the way we show up, the what we’re surrounded with. And, I’m a big believer that companies are energetic entities. They literally have soul. They vibrate on a certain level and that vibration is dictated by the people that contribute to it. I feel like everyone I hire, everyone that I allow into my network, is contributing and adding and possibly damaging, or amplifying, the positive.
I think it’s a beautiful lens to experience your life through, especially when you love humans and you believe in a better future and in a positive future, and you are someone who naturally skews more optimistic. Because I am a big believer that like attracts like. Just to give you an example: So many of my friends who run companies have the hardest time hiring. That is one thing that was never hard for me. I truly believe that the companies I have built, they vibrate on a high level. They have so much purpose. There is such an attraction to them that we have literally attracted, sometimes it takes my breath away, the people that apply for jobs to work with me. Because they’re highly positive, warm, heart-centered, “it is possible” kind of people.
SB: I think Creative Mornings should be talked about here. It came out of this incredible moment in your life, where you’d created this coworking space [Studiomates, now Friends Work Here]. One of the first, really. And it’s exploded, as you explained, to two hundred twenty-four chapters, twenty-five thousand monthly participants. Could you talk a little bit about the energetic power of Creative Mornings, this idea of non-transactional giving—
SB: —and what that creates?
TE: Mm-hmm. So Creative Mornings, for those that don’t understand what it really is, it’s basically the community I wish existed when I moved to New York. So, I was a trained graphic designer. Moved to New York. Didn’t know a soul. Couldn’t afford the industry events. There were graphic designer events, there were art director events, there were photographer events, et cetera. They were all in their own silos. And I was just like, “What the heck? We’re all believing in living a creative life.” So fast forward a few years later, I started my own company, and I was like, “I don’t want to work by myself in a room.” So I sort of had this vision of, there’s other people like me, so let’s create—I built out this small white box on the East River, in Dumbo [Brooklyn]. And really it was one of those moments of build it, and they will come.
And I said, “I’m a graphic designer. If you’re in a creative industry and you’re a kind person, apply to rent a desk here.” So it was one of the first creative co-working spaces in Brooklyn in 2008. And the magic that unfolded over lunch conversations, being in community with each other. Again, being in the same space, and having a set of values that was positive, like, “It’s possible there’s a better future. We’re creative and kind,” was quite magical, I must say. And, at one point I was like, “There’s more of us here.” And so, that was the desire to create a monthly gathering for the creative community, which I then ran here in New York just by myself, very scrappily. Just having a speaker, just ordering some bagels and coffee. And what it was fascinating—and again, this is the energy part—I could tell something magical was unfolding because the universe was clearly cheering me on.
Within six months, we were hosted at Google and I was like, “What the heck? How did that happen?” There was a sort of resonance within the creative community that was so clearly, “We want this. This is nourishing.” And then fast forward two years later, people started reaching out to me saying, “We want to bring this to our city.” And it is completely free. It’s volunteer-based. Radical generosity is the business model of Creative Mornings. So talk about just, enthusiasm bulldozed a business model. Where everyone told me, first of all, “Nobody’s going to show up in the morning” because at the time, there were no morning events. And I was like, “New Yorkers are flaky. If we do an evening event, they’re just not going to show up.” Sure enough, people showed up. Right, so. The notion of this being accessible for anyone. The fact that this is an invitation and not a transaction. So that the non-transactional giving is basically, if I will buy a ticket to a concert, you have this expectation, “I bought a ticket. I want to see a concert. Hopefully there’s going to be a few encores and then it’s done.”
But when you attend a Creative Mornings event—and I’m going to sound cultish—they feel really warm, they feel extremely… you are kind of wrapped in a blanket of warm and fuzzies. And then on top you probably have an inspiring talk. And you kind of leave thinking, Well, that felt good. How can I tap into this more? How can I contribute? It’s an invitation because it wasn’t a transaction. To be honest, it is kind of church for creativity. It is something that our society has lost. This notion of gathering, contributing to an entity that fills you up, and contributing either by volunteering, or maybe you can donate money, or like I think about this so much these days. Especially with a recession looming. Especially with just where the world is heading. But sort of the lens I’m walking the world these days is, “What would the world be like if X was gone?”
I walked the streets these days because it really hurt me during the pandemic. Some of my favorite coffee shops, my favorite acupuncture community space, they didn’t make it. I wish I would’ve known. I would’ve tried to help. So, I keep thinking, like, we all need to move—If we don’t want to end up just with the giants, of the Amazons or whatever, we all need to move into this notion of, What am I contributing to my field, the world that I’m participating in, the things I care about? And if you can’t contribute financially, what can you do otherwise? Can you send that newsletter to someone? Can you bring a friend along? Can you…
So, I have this thing in me right now, that I feel like Creative Mornings is just about to evolve into what it was always meant to be. I’m tasked right now with figuring out a business model that will sustain it for the next hundred years. And, I have a very idealistic notion that’s brewing in me, that is nonexistent right now, I think. But is pure and is driven by generosity and kindness from the community. So, as you can tell, I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m on my way there. I’m a feeler, I feel into these things and I just keep chiseling away at it and then hopefully I will figure it out.
SB: Well, on the feeling subject, I should bring up fingerspitzengefühl.
TE: Oh, that was good! [Laughs] Do you want me to share what that is?
SB: Could you share what this word means, and also, how do you apply it to your life, to Creative Mornings, to the work that you do?
TE: Oh, I love that. So anyone, context here: I grew up speaking German, and every now and then, there’s words that I really miss that just don’t exist in the English language. And anyone that works for me will eventually know this word because I keep bringing it up. So it’s fingerspitzengefühl, and if you translate it literally it’s like your fingertip sensitivity. And, it basically means having, like you can say, “Oh, he has a lot of fingerspitzengefühl,” if you were saying it in a German sentence. Which basically means he has a great sense of tact, great sense of situational awareness. And to me, life needs to be lived with such a carefulness and a gentleness when it comes to humans and interactions, and what I call an extra layer of love.
Like when you start working with me, the pride I take in how we communicate and how we email. I always say, “Nobody can ever see an email from us, from Creative Mornings, from Tattly, in their inbox and go, ‘Ugh! They emailed me.’” It needs to be a delight. Like at all times, write your email, but then, add the extra layer of love on top. That to me goes into the fingerspitzengefühl. Just to give you an example of what that means, is just extra friendly, really warm, upbeat, but then also, funny. So when my former COO, who was a former lawyer, started working for me, she apparently, after like a week or two weeks went home to her husband and says, “I need to learn how to speak GIF.”
TE: So whenever, like we have this thing that we attach a GIF to most emails and especially like big partnership emails or with big companies or whatever. And it’s been a running joke that eventually we break people down. It’s sort of a GIF that summarizes the notion in a funny way or the feeling. And I tell you, there’s something to be said that just is this little pocket of delight at the very end of your email. Where, whenever we would break someone down like a top CMO of a big company or CEO, and eventually they would start like sending us GIFs back, and we would literally dance through the office and kind of like, “We broke another one down!” [Laughs]
SB: Yeah. They brought me a lot of joy during the pandemic, particularly the ones you would post on Twitter and Instagram.
TE: GIFs are—one of the co-founders [Alex Chung] of Giphy actually gave a talk. It was really intense. It had, I don’t know how many thousands of GIFs in it, but he did say it’s like another language, it’s another way of communicating. And I truly believe it.
SB: Yeah. It’s like GIF, emoji, English, German. [Laughs]
TE: Exactly, yeah, it’s true.
SB: Back to Creative Mornings, what have been for you, some of the most memorable? And I know it’s probably impossible to choose, but I’m thinking here—you’ve talked about an early one with Michael Bierut previously. Another at the Metropolitan Museum with George Lois. There was this World Wide Wander event that recently took place online. Really incredible. I know Andrew [Zuckerman] did an early Creative Mornings.
TE: Oh, my God! He gave his first talk and it was so good. He was so good. Yeah. I mean I have so many memorables. I mean, it’s been fourteen years, twelve talks a year. That’s a lot of talks. Some of the ones that stand out, just you saying this, is Casey Gerald. I forget the year, but it’s been many years ago. He got the first standing ovation. He gave a talk on purpose being the new bottom line for businesses. And it was such a powerful talk. It was probably like nine years, ten years into Creative Mornings. And for the first time seeing the audience getting up and giving a standing ovation. That was a real moment for me, personally. It was in the beautiful Brooklyn Museum space.
Also, I mentioned this earlier, before you were recording, but this year, we actually, I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but we had what I would call my favorite New York City chapter talk by Dev Aujla on sort of reading as a way of living. It’s just every now and then certain talks just really, really resonate with me. I mean, I always say, if there’s one person in the room that needed to hear this talk, it was worth organizing the event. It just amazes me that fourteen years in, I still get such a kick out of helping speakers get their story out.
Just last month, Patricia Garcia-Gomez, who is this wonderful human who lives on the North Fork [of Long Island in New York] who has created this really gentle water practice, which has changed her life and she’s a year-round swimmer now. She gave her first ever talk. She did an incredible job telling her story. To me, that’s my currency, this. Because it just makes me so happy when I can not only get established, well-known people like Milton Glaser or George Lois on stage, but then really help people say, “It’s time. Tell your story,” and making them feel safe and helping them get the story out.
SB: How do you choose or find the people that you ask to join?
TE: Well, it’s probably a little similar to you and here. I just feel like I have constant antennas out. And feel like, “Who deserves the spotlight? Who should be given a mic?” And, to be honest, sometimes I look back and I’m a little embarrassed sometimes looking back. No, I want to really be honest. I feel like we’ve mostly had men speak in the early days, and here I am, a woman organizing this event series, and it didn’t cross my mind. I don’t know. I hope I’m doing a good job. Sometimes I’m wondering, Do I need to push more? But, all I know is I’m trying really hard to have a good, interesting, and diverse roster of speakers.
SB: Creative Mornings has also—and I have to mention this—created a series called Time Well Spent. What have you learned about time through this project?
TE: What have I learned? So, this was in partnership with Harvest, a time-tracking service here in New York. What have I learned about time? It has definitely made me appreciate the vastness of the topic. Honestly, before that, I haven’t really thought about time that much. But then when it came down to finding people who have something interesting to say about it… I always believe it’s like putting that antenna out and sort of starting to see the world through a certain lens. Well, the one thing I learned is that creating campaigns like that take a lot of time. [Laughter]
TE: Indeed. Thoughtfulness takes time. That’s the one sentence that just keeps coming up in me is, if you want to be deeply thoughtful, it takes a lot of time. And not a lot of people want to be deeply thoughtful these days.
SB: Yeah, making sense of things takes time.
TE: Mm-hmm. [Laughs]
SB: One thing I love about your approach to life and business leadership, and I know I am not alone in this, is that you take what you call a “heart-centered approach.” You’ve already used the phrase “heart-centered” several times in this interview. And sure, it could be argued, it’s a little woo-woo, but I think there’s incredible structure underlying this heart-centered idea, and real substance. So I was hoping you might speak to that a little bit, define it. What is “heart-centered” to you?
TE: Mm-hmm. When I started hiring people, and I would start reading leadership books because I want to be the best boss lady I can be, and just, my heart sank. Because these books were so cold and they didn’t speak about the things that I naturally gravitated to towards work being fun, and kind, and warm, and gentle, and a playground for your future self, and joy-driven. And, if I’m really honest, for a very long time, I felt very confused and feeling like, “I don’t get it. I’m not made to run a company.” And I almost didn’t really dare to talk about my vision of how I would run a company. Until many years later, when I started realizing that when you run a company, you as the founder, you as the leadership team, you set the tone of the environment you’re creating. And you have to hire accordingly. That’s it. There’s no right or wrong.
I’m an extremely warm, heart-centered, sensitive person. I am extroverted. It’s important to me that my environment feels warm and loving and kind and fun, and hence, I create environments that exude that. But it took me so many years to stand in that confidently, and speak to it without feeling ridiculed or made fun of by mostly men, I have to say, that run the business the “right way.” But I do sense there is a shift in society happening. There’s a softening happening. And it makes me so happy that I feel like the way I’m seeing leadership and sort of this heart-centered way of running a company is more and more accepted. I remember in 2019, there was this moment where I found myself on stage at Oracle and at Google internally, speaking on running the teams the way I do it. They’re community driven, they’re warm, they’re around playfulness, they’re around joy. And I would just stand on that stage and go like, “What the heck? Isn’t this just being human? Isn’t this just living a loving life? Isn’t this what it comes down to?”
I want to believe that you come to work and you feel safe and you feel like you can be your true self and that you go home and you actually don’t feel depleted. Actually, you feel replenished. Isn’t that just being human? I don’t believe in there being a difference between who you are at home or at work. I don’t. And I know some people would fight me on this, but at least at this point, I know I have created beautiful work environments, and I’m proud of it. And, I feel maybe it’s the forties, I don’t care anymore what people think. It’s great. [Laughs]
But I also have found more people that openly say that being a loving boss, creating an environment where love is palpable, that’s what I aspire to. I don’t want to live a life that is devoid of love, be it at work or at home. I believe there’s two ways of operating in life. And I ask myself every day, “Tina, where are you right now? Where is this decision coming from?” You’re either in love or you’re either in fear. And I do not believe in running a business in the fear mindset, or driven by fear.
SB: Connected to this, as you were saying, there’s this blurred line between life and work, and you’ve called your life your “biggest design project.” And you’ve also said that you view living as a creative act. And you follow these four core principles, or at least these are four core principles you’ve laid out in a talk, which is create, play, trust, respect. And you kind of said this earlier, because you’re like, “It is impossible to juggle all these companies at once. I don’t recommend it.” But I’m wondering how do you find balance amidst all you’ve got going on, all the juggling? What’s your—
TE: Balance, as in not losing my mind?
SB: Or, even just simply staying grounded, while you’re juggling all that you have in front of you?
TE: A few things. First, I think having an incredible team that you trust, that knows that you will have their back and that they can make decisions without you at all times. One of the sentences that I keep saying over and over is “trust breeds magic.” Because I ran so many companies at the same time, I empowered my people, probably more than I should have often. But I tell you, good people will grow and rise to the occasion. They will blow your mind. They will blow their own mind.
And to me, that’s where the magic is at. When you give someone the chance to really expand into a better version of themselves because you trust them and they’re safe, and if they make a mistake, you laugh because if nobody dies on an operating table, that’s winning right there. So I think, one, it’s just like I’m a very trusting person. And then the other one is, I do think my spiritual practice helps me just to not lose my mind. I meditate. I go for walks. I do consume teachings that just remind me that you’re exactly where you need to be. And I think that really helps as well.
SB: GIFs help, too.
TE: GIFs help. Oh, GIFs are always good for the soul. [Laughs]
SB: You also practice what you describe as a “full-body yes.”
SB: What is a “full-body yes?” And how does one achieve it? Or more particularly, how do you get in the zone so that you’re actually having one?
TE: Yeah. “Full-body yes” is… I experienced it for the first time when I was separating from my husband looking for an apartment. Looked at multiple apartments and then walked into this one apartment, and my whole body lit up. I can only explain it as warmth rushing through my whole body, and especially in the chest. And just this feeling of expansion. And to me, that was a pivotal moment, because even though I probably had this before, it was just not as pronounced. I have since learned to listen. I do really believe our bodies hold so much wisdom and we just have completely forgotten or lost the ability to tune into that. So a lot of my journey over the past few years has been sort of what I call the journey from my mind to my heart, and to my body.
And so the “full-body yes,” I have it when I hire people. I have it when I’m dating. I have it in moments with my children where, like it’s my body giving me a sign that this is right. This is right. This is a moment. I feel like we all need to learn. I’m sure we all have it. Some people have tingly hands, other people, whatever it is. But, I would say, whatever you can do, find your “full-body yes.”
SB: I hope you’re feeling that right now with this interview.
TE: Of course! [Laughs]
SB: Let’s end the interview on the subject of delayed gratification. You spoke about instant gratification earlier, but I think a lot of what you do has this component of delayed gratification. Every project, of course, follows its own path and pace, and you have always kind of had several running concurrently. How do you stay optimistic, full of joy, focused? And what’s your philosophy around delayed gratification? You seem like the kind of person who would wait for the second marshmallow.
TE: [Laughs] I don’t know. I find this question so hard because I wouldn’t call myself someone who’s good with delayed gratification because I am a very phone-addicted, Instagram-addicted. So, to me, that’s not delayed gratification. That’s like, the minute I can I—
SB: Yeah, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.
TE: Yeah. I have a hard time. I fully admit it, especially coming out of the pandemic. I have a hard time focusing these days. But then, at the same time, I’m looking at some of the projects I’ve been showing up for consistently. Like my blog, I started it seventeen years ago.
TE: Swissmiss, yeah, and I still love it. I still show up for it. And it’s not making me money. It just makes me happy. It makes me happy to share things I find. Makes me happy when people email me, “Hey, that bump made a difference in how much I sold on my store,” or whatever. I don’t know. I honestly have no answer on the delayed gratification, other than I think when you enjoy the process so much that you don’t have to think about the end result, I think that’s the secret. There is no end. Creative Mornings—sometimes I think like, I need to be more that person that says, “Here’s where I’m heading. This is the end result.” But then everything’s so organically evolving. If we’re not staying in the moment and sort of evolving with what is unfolding in front of us, if we’re too much focused on the end result, we might miss what’s in front of us.
SB: Life is a conversation. I mean, if I came with just a list of questions that I wanted to ask you: dit, dit, dit, dit, dit. Like, it’d put listeners to sleep probably, and probably wouldn’t engage you. And so I think it is—it’s flow, right? It’s getting into that flow state, finding the flow state.
TE: But then it’s also, I do think there needs to be a balance between that and having sort of an end goal.
TE: But sometimes I think I avoid the end goal because the process of the sauce we’re in right now is so fun. [Laughter]
SB: Tina, thank you so much for coming in today. This is really a joy.
TE: Thank you for having me.
This interview was recorded in The Slowdown’s New York City studio on November 9, 2022. The transcript has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity by Jennifer Grant. The episode was produced by Emily Jiang, Ramon Broza, and Johnny Simon.