We got to speak with Freddy van Waning about her career as a project manager, her icks when it comes to processes and why she has decided to open up a bar.
“Hopefully, we're getting to a world where everyone has equal chances. ”
When you started out, what did you think your job would be like? And how does it really compare?
I always imagined project management to be incredibly dry and very uncreative. You know, keeping budgets, planning, scoping out work — a lot of Excel maybe. But in reality it is a creative job because you are always having to come up with creative solutions to problems that occur during the project.
And you also have to speak the language of the creative team you're working with, and also have an eye on their work and see if the stakeholder also understands it. So it really does require a lot of creative thinking as well.
Then there’s the other side which is more technical. There’s a whole theory behind project management with books and classes in order to master this profession. AdmittedlyI've never done it and have always learned on the go, but I'm now working with somebody who was educated as a project manager and she's super inspiring.
Tell us about a time you were pushed beyond your comfort zone.
About seven years ago I was hired as a freelancer by a German agency who were working together with Sonos in Amsterdam. I was there to advise them on what kind of venue they should pick for a brand activation related to a new product they were releasing together with the new album release from Gorillaz.
We needed to find a venue, we needed to find influencers, we needed to find local artists for the activation. So they hired me, because I was from Amsterdam, and theoretically I knew all these things.
But over time, they asked me to do more and more things that were way beyond my comfort zone. So at some point, I was not only project managing the whole thing but also running the comms and comms strategy — which I had never done — so I kind of bluffed my way through it.
I remember being so nervous that so scared to fuck up and during every presentation I felt like: “Okay now I'm going to be disposed”. In the end though, I kind of nailed it. But still that was some scary shit.
When impostor syndrome strikes, how'd you deal with it?
I don't think it's the best way to handle it, but I probably try to overcompensate and work harder and get control over what it is I am doing and what I’m insecure about. My insecurity often goes hand in hand with not really having full control over whatever it is I’m working on and when I feel in control again — maybe I get a few little compliments for my hard work — I’ll be at ease again.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I would definitely tell my younger self not to be so insecure. I think I've always been quite insecure in my career even though, if I look back, I've done some pretty nice stuff and I’m proud of it. It's such a pity to feel like that, so I would definitely tell my younger self to be a little bit more confident and cocky.
What about your future self?
Not to work too hard — I’m getting older and have a family now, and I would like to tell myself to make sure that I have time to relax to spend some time with my family and friends. Work isn't everything.
Are there any processes that you wish everyone would adopt?
I think processes should be challenged if they're not really facilitating you in your work. Processes can become outdated and they stop really serving you the person. So it’s probably more important to challenge processes than to just blindly follow them.
How do you see the world of project management changing?
Project management has really moved into digital. And within digital there’s a huge part of it that is all about agile working — meaning the way we work is always super fluid and malleable.
What types of projects do you enjoy managing?
I like managing projects that have a great social impact. In the commercial and creative industries — where we work on getting likes and sales, strong performance metrics and lots of money — it's super refreshing when there is a project in the mix that you feel is actually positively impacting the world or people around you.
Which is what I do outside of my day job really: personal projects where I try to create a positive impact — at least in my close environment.
My partner and I are trying to set up a space here in Amsterdam — in de Bijlmer district we live in.
Balmer is super safe, packed with talent — extremely talented people in fact — but they don't always get equal opportunities compared to the rest of the city. So we felt like we could probably make some impact here if we created a cultural space where people can get together, have a drink, have a little dance, where we can organise our events.
There's a lot of social work to be done and we're hoping to combine a commercial business together with a foundation that serves for the community here.
How do you think the culture of the creative industry has shifted over the years? Is it changing? How fast?
I think it's going quite slowly, but after the whole Black Lives Matter movement erupted there was a huge lens on companies — both small and big — across the creative industry and across all brands which was definitely a good thing.
Within adidas where I work for example there was a lot of internal criticism of our company culture and now I think it's a good thing that we are paying more attention to facilitating more diverse & inclusive cultures. But it’s hard work — and I know brands are doing their best and a lot of them are genuine about it.
So that's really good. I really hope moving forward there is more opportunity for women, women of colour, gender fluid people in senior leadership positions, or board members — because it's still a very white leadership layer. Hopefully, we're getting to a world where everyone has equal chances, where we can work with diverse teams — which ultimately is great for creative output as well.