Despite having a business, I don’t identify as an “entrepreneur.” Despite having a following, I flinch when people call me an “influencer.” And despite living in the most “car culture” city of the world, I’m certainly not a “car person.” So when Mazda invited me to an “Entrepreneurial Influencer immersion trip” to launch their new CX-30, it was a quick but polite “no.” While I knew it would be fun, it didn’t feel like the right fit for this lady. It would be like inviting The Rock to a hair and beauty influencer event. Sure, I drive a car and I want it to work for my family but the level of torque in a car’s flux capacitor doesn’t hold my interest. Wherein lies the twist?
I finally (and enthusiastically) said yes because A. They told me that my job would simply be to “cover the event” in whatever way I wanted to, not try to sell you their new car. And B. It was two nights in Montecito the Rosewood Miramar Beach, with a resort full of “Entrepreneurial Influencers.” Your damn right I was curious how this was going to go down and wanted to know who the heck these people were.
Cut to, it was incredibly fun and extremely worthwhile. I met a “beard influencer” and did yoga on the beach with dolphins jumping (literally). But little did I know that I would come away with something that will heavily influence me, my company, my design and my team in 2020. It’s not a car. No. Somehow, I turned what could have been a random “gig” with a car partner into my own personal self-improvement weekend.
But first, I’m sure you are wondering…what happens at a sponsored “Influencer trip?” Well, they are all different, I’m sure, but the goal for these types of experiences is for the attendees to be immersed in the brand in a more impactful, meaningful way. Some pay influencers, some just comp their trip. Some require specific deliverables, some just trust that you will tell whatever story to your audience that you feel is right (if any). Most let you have creative freedom on how you cover it, because they understand the extreme importance of our authentic voice for our audiences, on different platforms.
It started on night one with what we would have predicted to be a very boring and standard brand presentation. Instead, we were enthralled by a very compelling French artist that is now the head of design at Mazda. It was less about tech and car innovation and more about the creative process and their larger philosophy on people and business. Thank god.
We learned of Mazda’s mantra—what everyone on the team values and brings to their daily work:
Performance, positivity and humility.
On each person’s desk, they have this simple sculpture of three entangled wire triangles that represent the three pillars of what they deem is good success both in business AND creativity.
The fact that humility was in there struck me. HUMILITY???? It’s definitely something I feel I don’t see valued as much these days and certainly not something I would have touted as a common theme at an “entrepreneur influencer car event.” It’s laughable, actually. The oft-correct stereotype of “influencers” and “entrepreneurs” is literally anything but humble. It wasn’t intentional “brand messaging” by Mazda. Humility wasn’t written on a brochure. It was simply what I took away from it and maybe it’s what I needed to hear or is what I’m looking for right now, both in business, my personal growth and in my creative projects. I turned 40 this year and the blog turns 10 in January, so the level of self-reflection is HIGH right now.
Projecting a successful image, “knowing it all” and having a large and respected sense of self are what we are taught make a great CEO. The world is full of “fake it ‘til you make it” idioms, which I have always abhorred. Instead, let people ask the perceived dumb questions without shame. Lord knows I do.
This obsession with ego is probably why I never identified with being a CEO or entrepreneur (have you seen Succession yet??). Am I creatively driven and hardworking? Sure. But the word entrepreneur has always implied valuing “business,” which I link too closely to valuing money and not valuing people. It feels false to me, which is where my imposter syndrome kicks in. But being confident in fact that you don’t know everything, and being willing to fail, say it, adjust, ask questions and try again is crucial to truly creating anything new and meaningful. Whether you are creating a sculpture, climbing a cliff or running a digital media company. So many of our projects would have turned out badly had we not stood back and admitted something that I did wasn’t working. It’s not ideal when you have a client involved, but it strangely gives you even more credit with them as they likely were thinking the same thing.
This was echoed the next night by the very inspiring filmmaker Jimmy Chin (shown above), both about the importance of optimism and humility when building a team. He had to find the impossible—a group of world-class rock climbers that were also videographers to film Alex Honnold attempting the death-defying free solo climb up Yosemite’s El Capitan…no ropes, nearly 4 hours of climbing with just a handful of videographers who had agree to do this 3-year project and climb without spooking him). They could have no one with ego on the team, they were there for him, or it could literally have led to death. If you haven’t seen the documentary Free Solo, please do, it’s incredible and beautiful and certainly not just a documentary about rock climbing.
To have two highly successful men in widely different industries touting the importance of “humility” in 2020 was insanely refreshing and was something that I actually DID identify with, despite my missteps in this category, as well. After 10 years in the public eye, you bet that my humility has been challenged.
But yes, this was an event through by a car company, so…how did they bring this unpredictable value into the design of a car?
Here’s what the Mazda team did:
When Julien Montousse became Senior Director of Design at Mazda North American Operations, with the intent (5 years ago) of creating the CX-30 that launches today, he took the entire design team on a two-week retreat full of meditation and bonding. The intent was to come together to attach one singular emotion to the design and experience of this car. A car.
When we design a room/house, we always put adjectives to it, caring more about how it feels than looks, but not homing in on or naming emotions other than my usual “happy.” I certainly wouldn’t have thought that a car company would care so much about emotion.
What they came up with, the intent of this car, was the feeling of “restrained allure.”
I identified with this immediately, although we at EHD often say “quiet impact” or “simple but special.” It’s a bit sexier, for sure, but I think a lot of people want to feel a bit of sexiness when driving their car. It also, again, hits on this humility point. It doesn’t scream “I’M FANCY’ or “I’M RICH’. It’s quiet but attractive.
So how the hell do you make A CAR have “restrained allure”? How does that actually translate into the shape, style or finish of a steel vehicle?
Here’s what they did (which blew me away):
1. In the design process, they got rid of all the hard lines in the body of the car, so that nothing stopped your eye and instead it flowed beautifully, but it’s not flat. They actually created a water-like and subtle S shape on the side that when moving, gets hit by the natural light in a really pretty way. Yes, it was strangely alluring (check my stories).
2. Check this out: they took a painter and hooked his arms up to nodules to track his exact painterly technique and motion, so they could create robots/machines that painted like him. WHAT. They successfully replicated a painting technique that makes it look and feel more hand-painted, with more depth and movement.
I don’t know how most cars are conceived and designed, honestly, but this seemed so thoughtful and impressive to all of us.
I loved the spirit of the design and my wheels were turning fast for what that means in design, in digital media?
In a town that highly (and mistakenly) values how fancy your car is, Brian and I have always tried to reject this. I drove a 2005 crossover until 2017 and only upgraded because it seemed crazy not to have any sort of ability to voice call while driving, especially with kids. My hesitation was out of laziness, but I also liked rejecting a culture that judges your success on what you drive.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are “car people” that value innovation and tech, who notice and care about engines and torch and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I obsess over the finishes of wood and the tuft of a sofa to a shockingly and seemingly superficial degree. We all value different things and driving a really high-end car certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t humble.
So I drove it around because what car partnership wouldn’t let you actually test it for a day. We cruised around Montecito in the CX-30 and checked out all their design stores. I liked it, guys, a lot. It was smooth and easy and super intuitive; all the necessary bells and whistles are right there and simply laid out and I really did like how fluid the body was. It’s unpretentious, functional and pretty.
Beyond the features of the car, I more identified with the notion of its “restrained allure” and the philosophy behind the company. But that’s likely because I’m, again, “not a car person.” What “I am” is a person (influencer or not, entrepreneur or not) who, 10 years into running a business, is seriously searching for growth in design, personal connections and business, but in ways that feel intuitive and right to me. Mistakes have been made this year, bad ones, and oh have the lessons been learned but coming out of this event where I was reminded of the importance of humility in all of these processes, I felt strangely so much better about myself. Empowered even. Of all the things I maybe can’t tap into as a business owner, humility is one that I think I can—both in design and business.
The sharp, wonderful and humble entrepreneurs who joined, from left to right: Natalie Elizabeth Ellis of BossBabe, Evelyn Torres of Brickellista, Amy Landino who authored Good Morning Good Life, Tara of Rad and Happy, ME, Sarah Faherty who was runner-up on Masterchef Season 10, Erika De La Cruz from Passion to Paycheck, and Caileen Kehayas Holden of Career Contessa.
Of course, the irony didn’t escape me. I was staying at the beautiful Rosewood Miramar Beach resort on the beach, wearing snakeskin knee-high boots, being followed by my own personal paparazzi (Mallory and Sara shooting and banking my insta-stories and photo assets for the partnership) while eating $28 breakfast from Malibu Farms. I definitely wouldn’t say this event was setting the landscape for an article about humility. This wasn’t the intended take away.
And yet if what they are saying is true, that humility is one of the keys to success and greatness in business, then, guys, there is even more hope for me and this business that I’ve proudly (if not accidentally) created. I’m looking at you 2020, we got this.
I left with some great connections with entrepreneurs that are indeed very humble, thus shaking my judgment/fear of that word a bit. I went in intimated by their business prowess, but by day three, they were telling me all of their failings and mistakes (of course, I shared mine on night one RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE). It was such a great reminder that we all FAIL, because running an actual business that was born out of creativity is hard as the two are innately at odds. It’s the subject of my third book and no I’m not joking. There was a ton of great advice exchanged and a lot more of it coming from me than I thought possible. Turns out, I’ve learned a thing or two.
If you want to see who all was there over the 3-week period (they had a creative/influencer group and a more outdoorsy/influencer group), head over to the hashtag on Instagram. The car launched today as did all of our different stories on different platforms and I for one am excited to see how each “influencer” told their story of this trip to their following. Turns out, that while I may have a big following, I for one was highly influenced by what I learned.
Thank you, Mazda, for a lovely few days. And thanks to all who I met for your generous advice. Head to stories to see what we did and come back later today for a “design store tour in Montecito” post.
**NOW PUT DOWN YOUR LAPTOP AND GET YOURSELF A MAZDA, CX-30, TODAY! For this weekend only, head down to your local Mazda dealer and quietly whisper the name Emily Henderson into the ear of your salesmen, to receive exactly ZERO% off. (I’m joking, dear god, I’m joking).
*This post is in partnership with Mazda but all words and feelings are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help support us.
**photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp