In addition to the indomitable nature of the human spirit, history has also borne witness to the ways in which moments of crisis present opportunities for innovation, reinvention, improvement, and transformation – at the personal, enterprise, and community level.

Along with the more obvious (and worthy of support) Nonprofit relief organizations putting their shoulders to the wheel during this challenging period in world history, a number of commercial enterprises and other private ventures, less accustomed to tackling this sort of circumstance, are rising to the test and inspiring their peers and partners to seek out new models in collaboration, community, and constructive social action. 

Médecins Sans Frontières, the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and others are doing the admirable work for which they were founded: providing services and support to the neediest among us, while also offering vital research and data to help enlightened nations accelerate their journey toward community, social, and fiscal health. Other entities are meanwhile also studying and leveraging their unforeseen circumstances in a noteworthy fashion. As we continue to travel along this unpaved path, possessing only a folkloric sense of our destination, and with no knowledge of the distance or time that we will be traveling, the responsiveness and visibility of many brands and entities will become case studies in corporate social responsibility, stewardship, brand positioning, sustainability, customer relations, and even profitability.

Sometimes a small risk is worth it, if the intent is good, and the initiative is thoughtfully manifest.

The simple yet important early actions taken by numerous grocery brands ( Trader Joe’s, Giant Food, Costco, Target, Whole Foods, to name but a few) to accommodate the higher risk members of our population by establishing special “seniors and immune-system compromised citizens” shopping hours set a tone of thoughtful accommodation that deserves mention. The goodwill garnered was a great bonus, in addition to any maintained or even increased sales volumes. While many questions were still being formed as to transmission, safety, and other considerations, many brands made decisions to welcome, accommodate, and protect those at higher risk, rather than wait and see. Of course, hindsight being what it is, emerging data might have shown the actions to have been somewhat dangerous or foolhardy, but that was not the case this time. Solid protective measures were taken (social distancing, masks, wipedowns, etc), and it was a win-win for all. Sometimes a small risk is worth it, if the intent is good, and the initiative is thoughtfully manifest.

 

An elderly gentleman, wearing gloves and mask, prepares to enter a grocery store

 

In the absence of clear and timely support action from the Federal Administration, commercial brands such as Crocs, Starbucks, Garnet Hill, and The Company Store  are donating their products to frontline workers, while brands including New Balance, Fanatics, Hanes, Razer, and others have shifted production to making masks for frontline workers. Numerous other companies have donated funds to the cause. This is the best of corporate social responsibility, but it has been necessitated largely because of national government failure to proactively and persistently address a crisis that was foreseen years ago.

 

As and when nations begin the laborious climb out of the present quagmire, it will be important to watch and learn from those infrastructures initiating methodologies that prove most successful at lifting up the social and fiscal health of their citizenry.

Innovation is often manifest at times of highest urgency, and always best realized at moments of purest intent.

Educational systems have meanwhile not been idle. While public and private schools alike scramble to find new models to minimize the disruption to student curriculums in 2020 (and beyond?), some standouts deserve mention: Logitech  is giving k-12 teachers free webcams and headsets as they transition to virtual teaching. Audible  is making hundreds of their audiobook titles available to students for free. Google, Zoom, and Microsoft  are all offering their online meeting and communications tools for free. This is perhaps where we can best see how stewardship and social responsibility can convert fluidly into opportunity. The move by Zoom to take the lead in offering free online learning and meeting facilities to K-12 institutions, notwithstanding privacy and security concerns that they aggressively addressed, skyrocketed the company’s valuation, and it remains strong. At the same time, competitor brands were inspired to not only step up and offer the same deal, but their go-to-market strategies for feature and function improvements were also accelerated and improved. The challenge laid down encouraged a whole fleet of online communication brands to rise together. Innovation is often manifest at times of highest urgency, and always best realized at moments of purest intent.

 

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Schools are scrambling to develop new lesson plans, leverage heretofore peripheral toolsets, and accommodate previously negligible considerations, as they seek to shepherd their students through this challenging period, and give them the best education possible, under the circumstances. Very recently, some school districts have given up  on the experiment, citing overwhelming logistical challenges for both teachers and parents.

Meanwhile, around the world, institutions and programs are refusing to let this crisis compromise their commitment to the highest standards in education they are capable of offering. In “better” times, many institutions struggled somewhat passively under the edicts of bureaucratic regional, State, and even national governments. Today, teachers and administrators alike are demanding the best possible support for their students, and many parents are stepping up to help in ways not seen before. Organizations such as Girls With Impact  and Coursera  are offering their curricula free of charge, and educators are collaborating with impressive transparency and a commitment to high standards in learning and social health alike. Faculty at my daughter’s school, The Ethel Walker School, have been internally sharing best practices and discoveries with enthusiasm and impressive thoughtfulness, and I suspect many other institutions are doing likewise.

 

 

It becomes clear, the more I study the varied brands, industries, and markets impacted by this epidemic, that progress and prosperity will be realized first by those entities (professional or otherwise) that embrace a culture of service and community. Transparency and collaboration will be stepping stones that elevate us from our current difficult situation; cooperation and fact-based responsibility will be the guideposts.

Companies that find themselves in suspension can either close down or leverage their skillsets to innovate and enrich their sector and, by extension, our world. In Australia, enterprises such as Passions of Paradise, Wavelength, Ocean Freedom, Sailaway and Quicksilver Cruises are nurturing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, during the tourism industry’s absence. SodaStream  is donating to global NGO WaterAid  which provides clean tap water for drinking and washing hands. The sparkling water company, based in Israel, also recently announced its commitment to eliminate the use of 67 billion single-use plastic bottles by 2025 and to switch the packaging for all of its flavors from plastic to metal bottles beginning early next year. Meanwhile, a Los Angeles company, Orly  has reconfigured its factory to produce 75% alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and 10,000 bottles will be donated to the City of Los Angeles  for distribution throughout the city’s at-risk homeless population. These are just a few examples amidst a growing collection of case studies in community leadership and industry innovation.

What case studies have you come across that demonstrate laudable examples in stewardship, cooperation, and creative innovation, during this time when many might otherwise trend toward apathy and surrender? Is your organization doing some interesting and inspiring work? Do you have a community-building and uplifting idea that deserves to be realized? Let us know!

Transparency and collaboration will be stepping stones that elevate us from our current difficult situation; cooperation and fact-based responsibility will be the guideposts.

I was recently invited on a fascinating inspection visit to a couple of sites operated by the largest supplier of treated water in the United States: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

We first visited the Weymouth Treatment Plant, an impressive 150-acre site built in 1940, just before WW2 (thus its noted Mission Revival-style architecture).

The plant has a treatment capacity of 520,000,000 gallons per day: blending water delivered a combined 700 miles via the Colorado River Aqueduct and the California Aqueduct. It is also home to one of the world’s largest machine shops, housing some awesome toys.

We next visited the adjacent Water Quality Lab, which performs more than 320,000 water quality tests annually on samples gathered throughout the vast distribution systems, for the detection of bacteria, viruses, protozoan parasites, chemical contaminants, and toxins – thereby safeguarding the drinking water delivered to more than 19 Million Southern California residents every day.

An hour or so away, we entered the Advanced Purification Center: a high-security half-million gallon per day test facility, built as a proof of concept for near-future construction of a full-scale recycled water plant.

A unique application of membrane bioreactors significantly increases water recycling efficiency. If approved, this innovative system will have global applications, and greatly reduce dependence on imported water. The full scale initial planned construction can produce up to 150 million gallons of drinkable water daily, enough to serve 500,000 homes.

I was surprised that the MWD staff knew nothing about the Gates Foundation Omniprocessor initiative, given the inherent opportunities for cross-collaboration and mutual benefit. Then again, I was equally surprised how little attention has been paid by MWD to the opportunities for IP development and protection. Public utilities tend not to think of their own inventions and innovations as opportunities for IP and licensing growth. It is important, however, for publicly funded entities engaging in pioneering R&D to explore channels for revenue generation beyond taxpayer funding, which is subject to legislative redirection at any given time. The State of California has a history of developing globally impactful innovations, be it in water management, earthquake detection, or fire protection. Some of these innovations merit protection and consideration as foundations, upon which future R&D might be funded.

The inspection team on this infrastructure trip comprised some of the brightest and best of California leadership. Admittedly, some of the more complex engineering parlance flew over my head, but I learned an enormous amount, most notably that – once again – the State of #California is leading the way in finding and building new ways to distribute, treat, conserve, and maximize one of our planet’s most valuable resources.

 

Greetings from Sunny California!

Now is an ideal moment to take stock of our performance, and reorient ourselves in the direction of peace, renewal, introspection, and togetherness.

However challenging this past year may have been for you or your business, we hope that the net effect has been a positive one, not only to your bottom line, but to your and your colleagues’ personal sense of wellbeing. We work to live, and may we all live to make our world a little better – whether through art, commerce, social service, or whatever pursuit gets you out of bed at the beginning of your day!

As always, our firm’s marker for success is how much we were able to learn and grow, in any given year. 2019 was no exception, though it had some unforeseen moments!

Our recent engagements have taken us into a variety of new markets and fields, for which I am grateful. Whether working with the UN Foundation on their “Girl Up” initiative, restructuring a nationally syndicated radio talk show for the podcast era, or celebrating the opening of a new local business venture. Our company’s focus remains on people, sustainability (environmental and fiscal), and innovation.

 

 

Grand Opening of Los Angeles’ Artesano Tamaleria

 

Attendees at the UN Foundation Girl Up Summit

 

Personal commitments prevented me from spending my usual couple of months with our London and Lisbon teams, but more time in the Los Angeles area allowed for greater participation in some local initiatives.

We continue to enjoy supporting the great work done by the film and TV industry’s Green Production Guide team, and I enjoyed spending a day at the Produced By Conference in early June, roaming the Warner Bros lot, challenging the thousands of industry professionals in attendance to rethink and upgrade their approach to sustainable production. Personal engagement remains the foundation stone upon which fruitful change is built.

 

Leaders of the Producers Guild of America Green Initiative

 

Our firm continues to work with and advise a variety of political and educational initiatives and organizations, including the City of Burbank, where we are based. We are passionate about improving the transportation infrastructures and community health of this beautiful city – no small undertaking in an area so slavishly devoted to the automobile! We were thrilled to participate this year in some milestone events and initiatives, including the groundbreaking ceremonies for a bikeway we’ve been working on for a number of years, the continued development of a regional rapid transit system (BRT), and ongoing improvements to the intersections between our regional and local traffic infrastructures (more access for bicycles, pedestrians, and public transportation!). There has been a lot of success in 2019, but, as with all such projects, the movement is glacial and there remains much to be done!

This was a great year for improving the city’s fiscal and functional health, and it’s been a pleasure to welcome new City Manager Justin Hess, while thanking outgoing City Manager Ron Davis for his service. Each person, though cut from different cloth, brings a standard of excellence and service worthy of appreciation. The inimitable Emily Gabel-Luddy, nearing the close of her term, will shortly be succeeded as the City’s Mayor by our other admirable friend Sharon Springer, and I look forward to a period wherein her infectious enthusiasm, love of community, and intelligence will continue to inspire and uplift not only City Staff, residents, and businesses, but the municipalities around us, as California continues to lead the way in facing the challenges and opportunities of our myriad communities.

 

Burbank City Council and Community Leaders at Los Angeles Bikeway Groundbreaking Ceremony

 

A summer opportunity to travel back to Seattle, Washington allowed me to catch up with a previous client, OneRedmond, and the numerous technology and entertainment companies with whom we collaborated during our most recent project in the area. Some very interesting progress has been made, including the establishment of a very promising Public/Private partnership serving the Greater Seattle Economic Development area. This region includes not only Seattle itself, but also the wonderful cities of Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue. We were also able to spend a good amount of time with another cherished client, one of the Northwest’s top event and hospitality firms with whom we are developing a growth strategy, as they expand into more strategic and global ventures relating to their already impressive core capabilities.

The Northwest region remains a favorite one, and I’m excited to see its continued growth as a hub of innovation and workforce development. The area’s renowned commitment to sustainability and community makes it an excellent breeding ground for the next generation of purpose-driven enterprises.

 

Back in Los Angeles, I was recently invited to participate in a long-overdue Mobile World Congress workshop session entitled “Women4Tech”. It was inspiring to see and talk with such a diversity of women leaders in the fields of tech, marketing, engineering, government, and creative production. Some of next year’s most compelling innovations from around the world will be coming from women-led enterprises, and we can only benefit from their contributions, guidance, and insights.

 

Women4Tech Conference at Mobile World Congress USA

At the end of last year, I was invited by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Leader, helping to inform and inspire communities to become more actively engaged in combating the undeniable climate crisis we all face. In addition to giving presentations to schools, local governments, corporations, and community organizations, it was an honor to be asked to establish and chair one of the newest Chapters of the global Climate Reality Project. This proved a mighty and worthwhile challenge! During the course of this past year, we recruited more than 40 passionate advocates for responsible stewardship, and together we have made a marked impact on local, state, regional, and national policy and action. We look forward to helping the organization further consolidate and maximize the energy, knowledge, and commitment of these leaders.

 

 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been a favorite organization, ever since I was a student at Duke University, helping to set up a chapter of the Center’s then-new “Teaching Tolerance” initiative. I’ve long enjoyed supporting the great work done by this laudable organization, and this year we were offered a marvelous opportunity to spend some time with co-founder Joe Levin, as we reviewed the extraordinary efforts undertaken by the SPLC, on behalf of the disenfranchised, marginalized, and oppressed members of our nation’s family. I remain in awe of their passionate zeal and commitment.

 

With SPLC Co-founder, Joe Levin

 

While 2019 provided a diversity of opportunities and discoveries, it also unhappily took away important treasures. I was greatly saddened this year to participate in memorial and funeral services for some great people, including my friend, Blake Byrne; an important mentor, David Picker; a previous boss, Michael Lynne; and former colleague and icon, Cokie Roberts. It would be pitiful to attempt here any sort of In Memoriam for such admirable people, so we will instead commit ourselves anew to conducting our professional business in a manner reflecting their integrity, passion, and service. We are sure that each of our friends, colleagues, and clients has experienced the pain of loss this year, in their own unique but equally important way, and we offer each our sympathy. Life is indeed a fleeting gift, the value of which we seem to fail to take full measure, until we find ourselves being ushered toward the exit. To borrow the latest aphorism: KonMari the year ahead, and share the joy you keep!

 

 

The future must always be seen with optimism. We are looking forward to continuing our work with our newest client: an exciting tech & creative startup venture focused on increasing access for the visually impaired to content otherwise out of reach. We’re eager to see what other opportunities and innovations present themselves next year, in markets and industries that will assuredly teach us new lessons and show us new wonders!

My thanks go not only to my colleagues, but to clients and friends alike who have welcomed us this year into their offices and labs, as well as onto the many studio lots and sets! The opportunity to learn from and watch you invent inspires me on a regular basis!

 

 

Wishing you the peace, renewal, and togetherness to which I alluded at the beginning of my post, I close, grateful for a year where the positives outweighed the negatives, and in the hope that this trend continues robustly in the year to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicholas de Wolff

 

More than cellphones and 5G

Today’s the last day of LA’s Mobile World Congress, at the labyrinthine Los Angeles Convention Center. I had the opportunity to spend some time there earlier this week, and it was time well spent because I targeted specific gatherings. Of course, the exhibitions and keynotes featured lots of interesting discussions and demos (NVIDIA has an AI shopping experience that purports to match Alibaba Group, Amazon, and the few other players in this space. Will our retail shopping experience be disrupted and automated sooner or later?).


I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in a networking and coaching event hosted by the GSMA’s Women4Tech program, an initiative to drive more female representation in the technology industry. I met some impressive future leaders in engineering, programming, marketing, and government, and I gained invaluable insight into the aspirations of (and challenges faced by) female innovators and business execs. Sadly, this track was somewhat hidden from the main conference, which I feel was a lost opportunity for all. The big questions that invariably dominated the exhibition halls and panel stages included “how and when will 5G networks fully deploy, which standards (beyond the preliminary 5G NR) will prevail, and whose DCN will rule the roost?”. All good questions, but I would have preferred that the organizers had helped attendees expand their horizons a little more.

I do admit that the most fun for me was meeting some compelling startups in the 4YFN (4 Years from  Now) space. Many clever innovators focusing on solutions to improve health, connectivity, & community, though some of these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed founders need help with strategic planning if they seek viability beyond the first couple of years! Perhaps all they want to do is sell their idea and move on, like so many “serial entrepreneurs”, but that’s not entrepreneurism, in my opinion. It’s banking.

For more than a decade I have been railing against Unicorns, while concurrently coining the notion of Workhorse or Zebra startup mentalities. My passion for reimagining the approach that innovators and inventors take to building their business propositions is matched by my zeal for an equally aggressive repositioning at the other end of the enterprise scale.

Too many large enterprises (I’ve worked at a few) operate much as an aircraft carrier [if you’ve heard me speak on the topic, you know this analogy of mine all too well!]. They are slow to respond, costly to maintain, and require astonishing lead-times in order to effect any sort of course correction. I have long held that modern businesses need to model their operational efficiency on a “Jetski” principle: nimble, reactive, fast, and able to jump over any unexpected wave running counter to its objective. While one of the most telling characteristics of the lumbering giant enterprise is its slow response time, these sorts of megacompanies have mitigated that weakness by establishing, as best they could, de facto monopolies or regional agreements with competitors, so as to ensure themselves the lead-time necessary to implement unavoidable changes. That worked while technology and society moved at something close to the same pace as these brands. One of the most important aspects of jetski companies (as I have called them, for a while), is that – while they may not have the resources to individually manage the same volume of customers or clients as the aircraft carriers, they are able to adapt much more efficiently and effectively to sea changes.

Residential ISPs have been operating under a massively flawed business model for years now, and seem to have no interest in changing said model. AT&T, Spectrum (formerly Charter and Time-Warner), and others believe that customer churn is an acceptable cost of doing business.

So long as they can successfully seduce an equal or greater volume of new customers each month, to offset loss of customers due to their shady price hikes (or keep a sufficient volume of customers who are too lazy or ignorant to contest the price hikes), these near monopolies are happy.

Any intelligent market analyst will note, though, that inevitably accelerating changes in technology always disrupt long-established yet unchanging business models. These large behemoths are lumbering along as if their revenue streams are secure.

As 5G continues its maturation and deployment, and initiatives such as Loon point the way to yet more compelling alternatives, customers repeatedly abused by current ISP giants will be eager to explore emerging options.

In the face of these disruptions, no amount of retroactive price cuts will restore customer faith in the big brands that for so long exploited their market dominance.

No matter how faithful these brands may have been to their shareholders, if customer volume drops, so will the share price.

The painfully obvious lesson here being that in an age of accelerating technological and social disruption, the relationship a product or service brand has with its customers is the most important relationship to establish, manage, and honor.

This doesn’t mean brands should become enslaved by the vicissitudes of mercurial and sometimes manipulative shoppers: “two wrongs don’t make a right”, as our parents often said!

It does mean that transactional relationships need to be more equitable, manageable, and transparent. ISPs and other businesses incapable of upgrading their methodologies and practices will be disconnected, beached…insert analogy or metaphor of choice.

 

Finally got to test “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire”, launched last year by The Void, a location-specific “whole-body, fully immersive VR experience”.

While this experience is certainly superior to their other immersive walkthru, Ghostbusters, I continue to question whether these platforms for VR tech will ultimately be able to settle on a sustainable price point? is still trying to find its place in Entertainment, IMHO (ed.: I admit I’ve not had the opportunity to try their third, older walkthru, “Nicodemus”)

While experiencing this product, I returned to my now decade-old claim that AR would likely prevail in M&E long before VR. Is it fair to label an immersive walkthru, with physical cues and feedback, haptic feedback, and multisensory components (smells, physical environmental audio, etc) as , strictly speaking? The parameters seem much more akin to , in a sort of inverted fashion.

VR is showing itself to be enormously compelling in construction, healthcare, research, and real estate, among other market sectors. Not Entertainment.

AR is a marvelous and *still* undervalued opportunity for the Entertainment industry, and I remain eager to see how brands, both creative and technological leverage that potential.

California State Senator Scott Wiener and I communicated with one another several times during his campaign to push SB 827 through the legislature, and I warned very early on during our exchanges that the singlemindedness that gave him the courage and conviction to introduce and champion such disruptive legislation would be the very undoing of its hopes for success.

I do not delight in being proven right in this case, because the intent behind this bill was and remains laudable. Urban zones, especially in California, are in desperate need of increased housing inventory. That said, the housing most needed in many of our cities is not luxury condominiums or lofty apartments for the well-heeled. What is sorely lacking in major municipalities is thoughtfully centralized housing for the people who keep our cities alive: the teachers, city workers, restaurant and store staff, and other citizens presently struggling through daily commutes to work in places where they cannot presently imagine ever being able to live. A healthy community caters to its best and most conscientious citizens, irrespective of their income, net worth, gender, color, or creed. Our cities have lost sight of this dictum. Another element in ensuring the health and well-being of our urban societies is protecting the best core differentiating characteristics of each of these communities. Senator Wiener’s bill did not satisfy its critics on either count. Desperate circumstances do NOT always call for desperate measures.

Senator Wiener made it very clear to me how disdainful he was of early critiques, and his dismissive answers to polite questions in numerous online forums repeatedly undermined his chances at developing transversal support. It was only after a groundswell of opposition presented itself, from such quarters as the Sierra Club and the LA Times, that he begrudgingly agreed to revisit the details of his proposed bill. The damage had been done, however, and he had alienated too many potential interests, who might have proven invaluable in developing a piece of legislation that could have been truly revolutionary, if somewhat more nuanced than the original form.

My hope now is that Senator Wiener learns from this experience. He was not wrong in his general objective. He was incorrect in his specific approach. Credit is due, though, to the Senator: for lighting a match under municipalities whose bureaucracies have for too long kicked this can down the road. The warning bell has been rung, and it would not behoove our cities to meet Senator Wiener’s unfortunate strategy with their own arrogance and hubris. Change is due, and I sincerely hope that when Senator Wiener looks to revisit the matter, he will find that local legislatures will have done the job well enough to both adequately approach his noble aspirations and meet the needs of the community they more knowledgeably serve.

Betamax was better than VHS (smaller tapes, better color reproduction, APS, 250 lines vs. 240 lines of resolution, superior sound, a more stable image, and better HW (recorders) construction).

HD DVD was better than Blu-ray, from a production scaling perspective: a fact that would have proved even more profitable given the lack of wholescale Blu-ray adoption for which Sony et al were hoping. While Blu-ray picture quality is superior to HD DVD, the cost for upgrade (to studios, manufacturers, and consumers alike) will have proven too great, once we look back and see how non-existent the transition from DVD to Blu-ray was.

History is littered with the corpses of superior or more reasonably positioned systems, all killed by the same disease: poor strategic marketing. Herewith, another one bites the dust:

The Windows Phone OS family (WinPhone 7 – Windows 10 Mobile) was a fluid, elegant, sophisticated OS group, murdered by marketing failures galore (as well as by the marketing successes of the opposition). For more than 6 years, I have been writing about Microsoft’s failure to effectively position or market their mobile platform and operating systems. A lot of good that did!

What are the lessons learned, and has Microsoft burned their mobile user base enough times now, that their Windows Core OS offering will fail to elicit enthusiasm from mobile consumers who carry too many scars?

https://www.windowscentral.com/microsoft-windows-10-mobile-features-and-hardware-are-not-focus-anymore

13 years ago, I gave a small talk at the Cannes Film Festival, evangelizing for more measured creative and business growth. I had been working with several startups and noticed a trend toward accelerated scaling that I found worrisome. I encouraged my audience (mostly independent filmmakers) to give themselves time to develop their properties, instead of desperately rushing to sell their idea, fearful that it would be illicitly co-opted by some unknown competitor.

In 2005, I joined a large multinational corporation and noticed that this trend was reflected in the sense of urgency with which budgets and projects were managed throughout business units, and even at the corporate level (usually in response to shareholder demands for the semblance of repetitive short term gains).

Instead of engaging in careful long-term strategic planning and consistent scaling at a manageable pace, enterprises large and small were increasingly (and often retroactively) chasing mythical goals. Business ventures want to convince investors, shareholders, and others that their offering is worth obscene valuation, yet they don’t want to “waste” time actually doing the work of conceptualizing, developing, testing, productizing, marketing, selling, and supporting any tangible offering. It takes less time to make a PowerPoint, it would seem, than it does to make a product. The collateral damage from this mentality continues to be ignored today, by too many people who ought to know better.

Permit me to jump to another topic, for reasons which will become apparent, I hope:

The C-130 Hercules remains the longest continuously produced military aircraft in history. The first flight of the YC-130 prototype was made on this day (23 August) 1954 from the Lockheed plant in Burbank, California. Burbank’s relationship with Lockheed was long and proud, but the city demonstrated a painful lack of strategic planning that left it in dire straits in the early 1990s, when Lockheed left town. The job losses and economic downturn were dramatic, to say the least. Burbank had relied too heavily on one industry, even though the signs of change in that industry had been evident for years. Today, the local economy in this charming SoCal city is once again relying heavily on an admirable and powerful industry. That industry is also showing signs of dramatic change, and Burbank must work proactively – in partnership with its resident businesses from the Media & Entertainment industries – to adapt and evolve, in order to stay aloft in turbulent times, economic, technological, and social.
Cities are growing, as populations increasingly urbanize. Too many of these cities rely on a very few large sources of tax inflow, instead of diversifying their portfolio of revenues. Given that 99.7% of businesses in the US are small businesses, and 48% of US employees are small-business employees, I continue to advocate (with increasing volume!) for municipalities to support sustainable small business incubation: providing for scalable workforce growth, complementary innovations within pre-existing business ecosystems, and more agile infrastructures, capable of adapting to the increasingly explosive nature of 21st century markets, without becoming unduly subject to that same volatility.

The window of opportunity narrows, the closer one comes to a point of inflection. Will Burbank adapt in time, so it is able to manage, rather than be subject to, dynamic market changes? Will the Media & Entertainment industries pull back (even just a little) from the precipice of quarterly performance, in deference to more long-term strategic measurements? Will business ventures invest more thoughtfully in smaller initiatives (subsidiary or autonomous), more capable of adapting to the creative, technological, and economic forces that wait around the corner?

In the words of my close personal friend, Dame Shirley:

“They say the next big thing is here,
That the revolution’s near,
But to me it seems quite clear
That’s it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”

I often get push back from a few urban residents and business owners, whenever I speak at events and propose the idea of widened sidewalks, increased tree canopy, and raised, marked, and/or buffered bicycle lanes. My campaign is not merely in support of a changing streetscape, but for an evolution in how we coexist.

A mixed-use sidewalk in Lisbon, Portugal – comfortably accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists alike.

The resistance to my proposals is almost always borne of an innate fear of change. There exists in many of us an unconscious aversion to change, perhaps founded on a sense, however mistaken, that the status quo is always safer. Let’s be clear: it is only safer for those who benefit from that structure, and that structure is always perilous if it sits on unstable foundations. The pillars of fear, untruth, greed, and violence are made of the weakest mortar.
 
While it is true that the “evil we know” may be more predictable than an unknown and unquantifiable alternative, our evolution is based on a drive to innovate and disrupt. How do we reconcile these instincts that seem so diametrically opposed? We must become living testaments to the notion that oil and water can coexist. It seems a silly suggestion, until you look around at the turmoil that is escalating in otherwise developed communities.

So long as we respond to the “other” with fear and aggression we will never advance our society. We won’t evolve. We must, therefore, offer proposals for change and improvement that are tenable. Proposals tend to work best when they offer opportunity and options.

  • It might be something as relatively innocuous as getting a town to accept a plastic bag ban; offer them compelling and creative alternatives, such as reusable bags branded with their favorite store. The consumer gets a quality freebie, and the store gets the best sort of marketing possible: free grass-roots brand evangelism!),
  • convincing your community to finally accept that urban infrastructures require multimodal transportation options, and the streetscape is no longer the exclusive domain of the single-driver combustion fuel vehicle, but rather a vital part of our urban landscape that must be shared and managed with thoughtful consideration for all (develop a well-planned and comprehensive network of multimodal transport options, including pedestrian, bicycle, and public; ensure these options function efficiently and are well-signed; enforce the law for *all* stakeholders; and provide follow-up metrics to prove the merits of the model: social, safety, environmental, and economic);
  • or encouraging society to accept and adapt to the often complicated but unavoidable complexities and nuisances of the present world in which we live, with a view to improving the future *together*, as opposed to yearning for a yesteryear that only existed for an entitled few.

How do privileged individuals such as myself support positive change, without injecting our own ignorance or arrogance? How do POC, women, the disabled, and other underrepresented constituencies secure their overdue rights, without feeling that they must do it all alone? Societies do not advance by fragmentation. Lasting change works best when we are all invested. How do we acknowledge the nuances that comprise every individual, so we each feel empowered and represented? How do we, ourselves, practice this inclusivity when we’ve perhaps never had to exist in a constant state of powerlessness and underrepresentation?

The questions will be many, and embedded with complexity. I worry that the portal to a stronger society, which can only be unlocked by the many keys of a truly enlightened and unified community, will remain locked longer than we hope. I fear we’ll struggle: pushing angrily against each other, instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, confronting the obstacle together.

I don’t have the answers. Our politicians believe they are supposed to provide solutions, and we reinforce that sense with our demands and complaints. Perhaps our political system and its representatives are only supposed to provide thoughtfully crafted legislation and infrastructure. Then, We The People, are obliged to manifest the sustainable solutions that will advance our society, through our daily actions and interactions. Whatever the best option may be, it will not be discovered, let alone developed or deployed, unless we work together. At this juncture, this may seem an unrealistic and possibly untenable option. Do you have a better option? One which recognizes the humanity in each of us? One which respects and supports our equality, even though it may not yet be realized? One which refutes hate, social fragmentation, oppression, and exclusion? If we are only willing to listen to or read opinions that conform to our pre-existing beliefs and values, the status quo will be maintained, until it falls apart – a victim of its own internal frictional forces.

The challenge is in putting that change into action in a way that recognizes the urgency of the need, the diversity of given circumstances, and the enormity of the baggage we each bring to this journey.  How do we bring about positive change – inclusively, enthusiastically, intelligently, sustainably, meaningfully, realistically?