Talent for Good Interview Series: John B Johnson
At Brighton Jones, giving back through time and treasure is a core part of how we operate. In this series, we highlight members of our community who put their professional talents to use to help make the world a better place.
We hope their stories inspire you! If you would like to share your own, please reach out to our philanthropy team.
John B Johnson – Principal, Identity Architect | a small studio
What do you do/what does your company do as a primary service?
a small studio is a collection of creatives who use our gift of design to bring peace to people’s lives. We do this by helping impact-driven leaders translate their vision into world-class brands and digital products. Over the last three years, we have worked with 50+ companies all over the world. From startups to enterprises, fashion to health care, and civil rights to financial management, no matter who our client is or what they do, everything starts with identity.
Identity is the unique composition of attributes that reveals to others who a person truly is. We believe that by starting with an individual or a collective identity, all the work we do after that will be set apart because every human being is unique.
My role as an identity architect at a small studio makes my job of helping individuals and organizations understand who they are and why they are unique. This work has become my passion, and I have been able to build a business out of it.
When did it occur to you that you could use what you were doing professionally to give back? Was it a single event? A process over time?
Well, I have known I wanted to do impactful work since I decided to study architecture in college. However, it has taken me a few years to understand my unique gifting and gain the experience I needed to truly give back in a specific way.
The single event that helped me realize that I could use what I was doing professionally to give back came in early 2019. I was helping a friend build a brand for his non-profit organization Cause to Connect, whose mission is to bring the internet to developing nations. One of the first places he was able to do this was a small village in Madagascar. I had an opportunity to interview one of the people whose life was changed because of internet access. After the interview, he asked me if I would be willing to come to Madagascar and teach his community about identity and branding. Long story short, after receiving a grant from the Mandela Washington Exchange Program, the first Identity Architecture Workshop was born in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
After hearing how the work impacted the Malagasy people, it was clear I needed to continue offering this work to people who need it most. I realized that so many people are looking for answers externally when all they really have to do is look within themselves. Our identities are a product of our unique experiences and our unique perspective of those experiences.
The sad part is that most consultants, including myself, are constantly trying to give our clients the answer when that is not our job. Our job is to ask the right questions to pull the answer out of our clients and the people we work with. We must empower and equip others with the tools they need to impact the world with their unique perspective, with their unique identity! That trip to Madagascar confirmed this as my calling and my passion—and I haven’t looked back.
What are you learning? What are the challenges?
With a few workshops under my belt in the most beautiful place in the world, I had a foundation to build on. I returned to Seattle and instantly got to work on the next evolution of the workshop. I felt that it needed to be 100 percent about the individual, so I pulled all of the business and branding language from the curriculum. This also made it more accessible to all demographics.
In January, I facilitated the first workshop in Seattle. One of the participants was recently released from prison. The workshop helped to open his eyes to the fact that he is much more than a guy who just got out of prison. Later, he told me that he was able to use what he learned about himself in an interview for a job and he got the job! Another participant said that the workshop reminded her why she was doing the work she was doing after feeling burnt-out. Stories like these continued pouring in, and I could not have felt more fulfilled.
The most fulfilling story was nine months later when my brother told me he facilitated the first Identity Architecture Workshop inside of the prison where he is currently incarcerated. I was originally scheduled to facilitate the workshop there in March, but COVID hit and everything was shut down. However, my brother and I both knew that incarcerated individuals could benefit powerfully from this work. Now that the workshop has been facilitated by someone other than myself, without any technology, I am optimistic and proud of what the future holds for this work.
Ultimately, by providing this work to individuals, I have learned so much about myself in the process. Who am I as a leader? How am I using this work to impact my family, my friends, and my employees? It is something I struggle to turn off because I do not want to! My biggest struggle right now is balancing building a small business during a pandemic and helping as many people as possible understand their identity.
There is just not enough time and every day is a new challenge. However, every day is a new opportunity to use my gift to bring peace to people’s lives. I feel honored that I get to do that every day through my work at a small studio.
Lastly, I believe that any expert consultant has a responsibility to make their expertise available to all people. If it is only available to those who can afford it, what kind of impact are you truly making? When we make something available to those who have the least, we make it available for all people. This does not work in the inverse.
So I challenge you to think of the person in your life who has the least. Then ask yourself how you can use your profession to help them. I promise you it is a problem worth solving.
John B Johnson is an identity architect and principal at a small studio.
Read more from our blog: