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Posted under: Interviews Technology

Jason Mayden on believing in yourself and success

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Jason Mayden is a designer/entrepreneur-in-residence at Accel Partners and lecturer at Stanford University's d.School (Institute of Design). Prior to joining Accel and Stanford, he spent 13+ years at Nike, where he led and contributed to the creation of innovative sport performance products for athletes and cultural icons such as Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan.

Since leaving Nike, he has worked with industry leading organizations, such as Pixar, Google, Disney, LinkedIn Pinterest and Apple to help develop strategies focused on building and scaling diverse and inclusive creative organizations.

Get to know Jason further before he presents at AfroTech this November and read our interview with him below:

Jason Mayden
Jason Mayden
Photo: Courtesy of Jason Mayden

Blavity: Your story reminds me thats its possible to live out our dreams. Tell us about some of your outlooks on life that got you to where you are today?

Jason Mayden: I generally was driven by the idea that impossibility is an illusion. There are only varying degrees of difficulty. I never looked at my upbringing, my skin color, my socio-economic status nor my small stature as a child, as an excuse to NOT try to tackle difficult problems.

Doubt, fear, concern and frustrations are emotional/mental models that are heavily influenced by the resounding egos of man. We tend to set our limits based on the expectations placed upon us. I simply chose to set my own bar. Ride my own wave. I never cared about being "liked" or "popular," those positions are fleeting and superficial. I wanted to build a legacy which would lead to a life where people would "respect" me for my dedication to my craft, rather than the accouterments of my success.

I want to live a life that affords me the chance to have the Most High tell me, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." As a result of pursuing a higher calling rather than a higher tax bracket, I have far exceeded my own expectations. I have lived every single childhood dream and I have checked every box. This allows me remove the residue of hesitation left within my spirit when I was struggling to "keep going." I now have a renewed sense of peace, a renewed focus and a more robust set of dreams, aka "goals" that I am trying to accomplish during this chapter of my personal and professional journey.

B: What were some of the conflicts you faced when making the decision to go back to school?

JM: They ranged from financial concerns to colleagues making questionable statements about my intelligence and how I was able to get accepted to Stanford. In life, whenever you step out and take a calculated bet (I would never say investing in myself is a risk) you are naturally opening yourself up to not being liked. When you have been blessed to overcome, and have been put in a situation to build a solid income, hatred and questionable remarks are the natural outcome.

Despite these situations, I realized that I was being put in a position to serve as an example of what could happen through faith and the constant pursuit of evolving beyond my comfort zone.

I was not the problem, I simply represented what some of my closest peers felt they had lost, which was freedom. It's why I am so dedicated to giving back, not with just words but with my presence. It's why I do things behind the scenes and I never try to chase the press cycle. I simple want to serve as an example of what blessings in action look like. If it could happen to me, it can happen to any of us. We just have to remain faithful and humble and helpful while we wait on our own personal breakthroughs.

B: Talk to us about your background in industrial design, how has it shaped the framework in which you create?

JM: It's given me the unique perspective to see the world for what it could be rather than what it is. Design is in service of humanity's greatest needs. We have to take an observant, empathic stance on all topics because our products are a reflection of our ability to understand the things that people say with their vibe rather than their words. It's my place of peace. Designing for others makes me feel connected to my faith in the most transformative way.

Creativity, in my humble opinion, is a direct extension of God's love for us. He created us, He saved us and uses us to do His work in the world. I just want to be a craftsman for a higher calling. That gives me the greatest joy.

B: I'm obsessed with your idea of the cultural alchemist, can you talk more about the importance of human potential and why it's important to invest in people?

JM: Because people are the most important part of the equation. They are the "why." It's important that we step outside of our own biases to discover the rising geniuses of tomorrow. There is no monopoly when it comes to greatness. No one race, gender, social class, etc. can control the way in which innovation and advancement occurs. We can only participate in the installation and extension of the guardrails of empathy and understanding to ensure a safe journey as tomorrow's geniuses begin their journeys today.

B: Furthermore, what are your thoughts on the importance of investing in young black creatives?

JM: You have to. Simply put. We have contributed to the creation of almost everything coveted in modern culture, but yet we own almost none of it. Investing is only strong if it protects and sustains ownership. Money is one thing, but IP is everything.

B: How do you stay motivated to seek out new opportunities and push yourself outside of your comfort zone?

JM: Remembering where I come from and reminding myself that I am doing it for my city. Every lecture, every project is intended to encourage someone to pursue their dreams.

B: Describe your creative process, how do you go from idea to execution?

JM: The famous "Design Squiggle" and it's true for most creatives:

the-squiggle1
the-squiggle1
Photo: Courtesy of Jason Mayden

B: What advice do you have for creative entrepreneurs who struggle with self-doubt and trusting their ideas?

JM: You are born with everything you need to succeed. Those are called "gifts." You acquire the tools you need to ensure your success, those are called "skills." Take the time to step back and enjoy how far you've come. Remember that design is a lifelong sport. You should never feel that you have "arrived." That is the death of curiosity and the birth of arrogance and bias. Stay humble, acknowledge the sting of doubt, but do not linger on it for long. Move forward. With purpose and passion. Move forward.

B: How does the city you're from and/or the city you currently live in inspire you?

JM: Chicago raised me. It gave me a different gear and a different level of mental toughness. Chicago gave me the confidence to chase down my dreams and wrestle them to the ground. It gave me a sense of purpose and pride. It gave me a sense of self. As a result, I have been blessed with opportunities to interact with very diverse groups of individuals while maintaining a centeredness and a sense of self-awareness.

I am fully confident with my love for my culture. I will never compromise who I am by culturally sanitizing myself, aka playing small so that others feel big. It gave me the ability to be confident and comfortable in my own black skin. Im thankful for my struggles. They have defined me as a man and as a designer.


For more from Jason Mayden and other game-changers, get your tickets to AfroTech! We'll see you there. 




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Blavity Staff Writer