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

 

 

So often we find ourselves working incredibly hard to “fit” into a mold we believe might position us better for success. This mold has more often than not been formed for us by someone else, be it a predecessor in our life (whether professional or personal), or an “expert” who apparently knows us better than we know ourselves. It takes one or two (or more) turns around the carousel of one’s career to realize one has been riding the wrong horse, and it takes a good degree of humility, introspection, and courage to reconnect with that confluence of what we do well, what we enjoy doing, and what might remunerate us to the level we aspire.

Sometimes people spend their whole careers doing what they think they were “meant” to do, only to realize upon retirement that they have been unwittingly untrue to their inner potential. As adults, we grow all too easily afraid of pursuing those dreams we so readily embraced as children; conditioned by our teachers, peers, and others to toss aside those childish fantasies as the fragile baubles of youth, insufficient to withstand the rigors and challenges of “the real world”. But it is those visions we construct in our hearts and minds when young that we eventually come to discover were far more robust than we were led to believe, and far more in tune with our true potential.

The form which the realization of our dream takes is not as important as the fact that the vision has been honestly expressed. Nobody will convince me that a ballet dancer is a “better” aspiration than a dance teacher, aerobics instructor, or occupational therapist: they each share their passion, in their own special way, for the power of the human body and how it operates. An intelligent and aggressively pursued related career strategy is just as apt to be financially rewarding as any quest for a leading contract with a premier ballet company. In fact, probably more so (with apologies to any readers currently applying to ABT, Paris Opera, or the Royal Ballet!).

I can’t recall who sent me the link to this video, so am sorry not to fairly tip my hat to them. That said, I think this is a fascinating piece, demonstrative not only of the impressive artistry of animators whose work we might otherwise blithely take for granted, but celebrating the unique and extraordinary talents and expression that lie within every artist, every creator…every person. These are but four people who have found a way to retain their individual vision, express it with unique eloquence, and meanwhile also apply that talent and commitment, sometimes with small compromises, to a larger whole that proves greater than the sum of each part they contribute.

If we could each pursue that goal within ourselves, we and the world we live in might be that much happier and fulfilled. To listen to and act upon the truth that lies within us, express it with integrity, and then find a place to marry it with other admirable and complementary talents…to balance our own personal integrity with the needs of a community …to recognize that the best collective result is ALWAYS attained when each individual voice is given the room to be fully heard…to find a way to celebrate and elevate the individual and the collective, at one and the same time…the best companies and communities achieve this union, and they do so by hiring and nurturing the best people.

 

Just as one of my recent posts demonstrated the impressive prescience of some individuals from the recent past, so have I just come across equally compelling proof of our failure to rise to the challenge and optimism of previous generations. The following is a Disney forecasting from 50 years ago, a long time when you realize all the wondrous things that were accomplished between 1908 and 1958…

This 1958 piece (brilliantly animated) sets a marker that we are still far short of hitting. What have we lost in the past decades that we no longer seem as ambitious and capable as our fathers and mothers? We are capable of developing all sorts of IP that focuses on individual consumption and gimmickry, but have little capacity it seems for social change on the grand sort of scale imagined by these people:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6pUMlPBMQA]

with thanks to B.Daul for the link

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Storytelling is at the core of communication, and we get it right when the listener/reader/viewer leaves with more than they came with. In some instances, the story will impart information and enlightenment; in other cases, humor or inspiration.

What is important, always, is to ensure that the platform, channel, or mode of storytelling not become more impactful than the story itself. This was the problem that Technology companies struggled with throughout the latter part of the 20th Century and even up to the present day: Technology is SUPPOSED to be in service to the content or solution offering, but too many companies became enamored with their proprietary or adopted technology of choice, and subsumed the initial value of their offering to the lure of the latest tech wizardry.

As our mobile phones show us, the latest technology will very swiftly become a cumbersome paperweight, to those who insist on being “early adopters”. Companies such as Disney (“Little Einstein” DVDs), Leapfrog (a whole mess of “tools” that now litter playroom floors across the nation), and Fisher-Price have learned the hard way that a technology should only be employed if it truly serves the communicated purpose.  Of course Disney wanted to sell DVDs, but it promoted its “Little Einstein” series as an intellectual and emotional enrichment program, and it was recently deeply embarrassed by the none-too-surprising revelation that its DVDs held little to zero value, in those particular areas. As a result, it has been forced to offer refunds to all consumers who purchased that series of DVDs. Examples such as this abound, all to say that when we develop a new way to tell stories, we should ponder whether the perceived advantages complement, replace, improve upon, or simply accessorize the core value of the traditional storytelling media: the voice or the written word.

When Guttenberg invented his press, and Christopher Latham Sholes subsequently invented the typewriter, these gentlemen unquestionably advanced the cause of storytelling (especially if you take MY handwriting as a case study in the challenges inherent prior to the printed word!). Edison and others who followed in his wake, brought storytelling to a new level, when they developed the mass appeal of Film, as a medium for enhancing the story.

The book, the radio, the film screen, and – arguably – the TV screen; all have served their purpose in increasing and enhancing the power of the story. They have also been often abused, platforms for the dissemination of content that represented everything from propaganda to junk to violence and more. The desire to sell consumer goods to the widest cross-section of society has led to the imperative to appeal to the lowest common denominator. This “dumbing down” of content has done little to advance the cause of storytelling, and technologies developed recently have sometimes contributed to this decline in intellectual and creative standards.

So, how do we assess the value of emerging channels and platforms that purport to represent the newest standards and advances in storytelling? Will these new tools and gewgaws deliver on their promise, or continue to contribute to the atrophy of our imaginations?

The latest gadget being touted comes from Japan, and is certainly compelling. I wonder, however, if this is a new take on an old system, or truly a new platform and concept in effective storytelling?

What do you think?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnZTul_9fWc]