Meet: A TEDActive Entrepreneur

jasonjasonJason Lankow has a refreshing combination of humility, perspective and vision that makes an entrepreneur truly inspiring. At Column Five, Jason and his co-founders, Josh Ritchie and Ross Crooks work with clients to provide visual storytelling around their products, services, and missions via the revelatory infographic. They’ve even released a (stunningly beautiful) new book on infographics, Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling.

And if you’re wondering about the quote above, Jason wrote it himself, on the spot, after our interview:

“Surrender your old ways. Let the scales fall from your eyes. You are awake and everything is already perfect.”


How did you get involved in infographics?

Infographics came to play for us a differentiator. The New York Times’ digital team was a pioneer in the use of online infographics, but no one was using them in content marketing. Brands in marketing liked the perspective of treating a company blog like a publication, to provide more editorial value and show industry expertise, which contributed to the popularity of infographics. We were able to capitalize on that trend. We’re at the intersection of rising ports, with design for brands online, an influx of data, and the increasing treatment of blogs as publications and brand extensions.

How do you navigate your role as a co-founder now that you company has a solid foundation?

I was always in sales and business development, so I’m particularly interested in identifying opportunities for us to innovate and exploring new territory that isn’t a distraction from what we do. As you start thinking about how you want to grow, who you want to be and what you want to be doing, you realize you won’t be able to rely on the same exact methods, ideas, and thinking that got you to where you are currently.

This week, Chris asked Elon Musk how he built a space company and a car company at the same time. I think the real answer to that question, which I’m learning for myself, is that it’s all about your team and your ability to surround yourself with people who complete the package. You can be the pioneer or starter, but you have to know your own limits and when it’s time to get out of the way and let people who really thrive on execution take over. As a founder and leader, your team wants to see you jumping out there and doing big things, driving new partnerships and relationships, and even opening up new business lines. Our company isn’t about me; it isn’t about either of my cofounders. It’s just about getting this really great group of special people in the room, putting our heads together, and making shit happen.

What is something you’ve enjoyed about this week? What have been the highlights for you?

I really enjoyed working with the IDEO team and the Robin Hood foundation on the Impact project. That project, in addition to letting me meet awesome people and be bombarded with great ideas, gave me a sense of purpose for being here as well. It’s nice to see something tangible and actionable coming out in a relatively short time. Just observing the challenges and the breakdowns in communication during that process makes you realize how much that mirrors any challenge in any organization. It’s been a very special week with a lot of really “awake” people who are just open-minded and who just get it.

What’s something that you’re really curious about in your life right now?

As our company grows and we meet and develop relationships with more people, more doors are starting to open, and we’re starting to do big things. I’m really curious about how we can manage to stay focused while also remaining open to jumping over to another set of tracks in a sense. I’m always curious about how you balance that commitment to consistency and stability while still being able to be curious, innovative, and willing to try new things.

Can you share a conversation or interesting interaction you had this week that you found inspiring?

One theme this week that I think is really cool, that I’ve been enjoying on a personal level, is the idea of finding perfection in imperfection. There’s a fine line. You still dedicate yourself to excellence and to growing—but without this assumption that you’re somehow going to arrive at this place called perfection and never grow from there or evolve again. I loved how Phil Hansen, in his talk this week, talked about just enjoying your own growth and learning, and even being OK with stepping away from a particular area. Sometimes we can only realize that we’re limitless by being limited or having limits imposed upon us. It’s amazing to realize that we’re skilled in infinite areas of opportunities or ways to approach solving a problem.

You can follow Jason at @jasonlankow

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