Jen Bilik: Losing Focus to Find Focus (and Vice Versa)

Jen Bilik began by announcing, “I have made many typos in my life, so I immediately felt right at home.” Her hilarious and charming talk provided insights on design as well as on life.

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“Trusting in the unknown,” she assures us, “is the key to creativity, and to life.” Interweaving scientific theories and research, from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Jen introduced three focus categories and highlighted both the importance and the rarity of the incubation period. Daydreaming, working with our hands, walking, are all examples of this incubation period. Procrastination, she tells us, is productive.

Jen Bilik

Company Owner, Founder & CEO (Venice, California)

The owner and founder of Knock Knock, Jen Bilik has a background in book editing, writing, design, and arts and crafts. Knock Knock’s witty, design-driven books, gifts, and stationery products are sold in 6,000 stores across the United States, including such retailers as Barnes & Noble and Urban Outfitters, and are also available in international locations spanning around 45 countries. For the first five years, Jen wrote, edited, and proofread just about every word on every product Knock Knock released. Since launching the company in 2002 Jen has performed every role and made every mistake—and lived to talk about it.

After introducing the concept of teleology, the idea of telling a story from the point of view of its end, she shared her story, beginning with her six years in “the abyss,” of wandering, “anxious, depressed” – without focus. Prior to wandering, her personal journey included attending and leaving institutions, and after, a period she calls ‘home improvement.’ She tells us that one of the most important lessons she’s learned is “knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.”

And so, Jen shelved her memoir. In the days that followed, she filled an Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of product ideas before Knock Knock, her brand of witty, design-driven products that continues to thrive today. She has since grown her company, through periods of extreme focus on Knock Knock, at the expense of all other aspects of life, reaching profitability, evolving the brand, and now working toward achieving a self-sustaining company that will survive without and beyond her.

Jen ended her talk with Steve Jobs’ quote (because no talk is complete without two Steve Jobs’ quotes, she quips) on connecting the dots. In closing, she recommended that we allow ourselves to go “in and out of focus.”