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.

 

April Perry


Following is an Interview with April Perry, Managing Consultant at Drake Beam Morin, now Adecco – the world’s leading Human Resource services consultancy.

 

de Wolff Advisors President, Nicholas de Wolff consulted to DBM and its Managing Consultant for more than a year, providing advisory and restructuring counsel, as the organization moved toward its successful acquisition by Adecco. The following are excerpts from an interview we conducted with the firm’s Los Angeles Director.

Q. What can you tell me about working with Nicholas de Wolff?

Nicholas always found time to help me and my staff with a variety of projects – everything from editorial rewrites on corporate documentation, to serving as an invaluable sounding board on some very high-level strategy we were exploring. As such, it is impossible for me to compare him to others, as I have yet to meet an individual so adept at wearing a diversity of strategic and tactical hats.

Q. What would you say are his greatest strengths?

Extraordinary insight, piercing intellect, and sensitivity. A marvelous sense of humor, and a degree of innovative thinking and creativity matched only by his tenacity and efficiency.

Q. What type of contributions did he make that had a definite impact on the company’s bottom line?

His ability to crystallize our messaging and positioning (and at extraordinary speed!) saved us time and money, as well as increased executive attendance at our events. He has a way of getting straight to the point, and clarifying reality, vision, and the ways to connect the two that ensure a superior degree of operational and strategic efficiency. He works at a fantastic pace, without sacrificing the quality of his contribution. I find him to be a motivational, inspirational, challenging, and charming collaborator.

Q. How responsive was he to the suggestions of others?

He is very open to input, and in fact requires it. However, he will be swift to challenge your position if it is not well-thought out.

Q. Can he communicate technical ideas to non-technical associates?

I have no doubt that, as the one-time Chief Marketing Officer of one of the world’s largest multinational technology service providers, he fulfilled this role with deceptive ease. On a personal note, I am consistently amazed at how much he knows about technology trends, and how he is able to explain them to me without making my head spin!

Q. Would fellow co-workers consider him to be a leader or follower?

Leader.

Q. What would you want a prospective employer to know about him?

Don’t let this one go. Do whatever you must to get him on your team.

Q. Would you hire him again, if you could?

Without question.

 

Last week’s LA Street Summit was both inspiring and frustrating.

It was great to see over 500 people in attendance at this free one-day workshop and networking session – nearly double the number from last year. It was wonderful to observe several corporate leaders and sponsors making their presence known, and it was great to see so many people committed to the idea of livable urban centers, in a community that has long enslaved itself to the automotive culture. The workshops I attended were informative and energetic, and I look forward to this event expanding its reach, if only to “keep the dream alive”.

My frustration stems from an observation that our communities are long on energy and “foot soldier commitment”, but short on policy-making leadership. The difference -at least with respect to the issue of implementing complete streets and sustainability initiatives – between Southern California and New York (from whence guest speaker Janette Sadik-Khan hails) is largely in how government and businesses function, relative to their populace.

Mayor Bloomberg runs the City of New York, and – but for the possibility of bureaucratic opposition from his own lieutenants (and the inevitability of fiscal cuts), he is largely able to manifest his vision of a more sustainable urban metropolis. This is in no small part due to the intelligence, passion, charm, and drive of his Transportation Commissioner, Ms. Sadik-Khan. What she has accomplished, over the course of the past 3 years, is a success story likely to propel her into President Obama’s cabinet, or at least in to the history books, as an example of policy-making leadership, urban vision, and community spirit.  It is also due to the fact that businesses in Manhattan welcome the idea (albeit sometimes begrudgingly) of making more navigable and accessible the 60% of the city’s real estate that comprises the streets and open spaces. If people can get around more easily, they’ll hang around for longer, they’ll wander around more agreeably and, as statistics are already showing, retail sales will go up, rentals will rise, and home sales will skyrocket. No need to even mention the more obvious social, environmental, and medical benefits.

Meanwhile, back in SoCal, or LA County to be specific (since the OC has made quite a good start, I must admit), policy-making leadership and visionary municipal governance are apparently as welcome in the council chambers of Burbank, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles (among others) as Universal Health Care Legislation is at a Tea Party Rally. The various municipal councils seem utterly incapable of committing to any endeavor that does not have granular buy-in from 95% of their constituency. They (council members) argue that their role is to represent the people, but I offer the counter-argument that sometimes we, the people, are not in the best position to make and manifest policy. Democracy gives us the right to elect those whose beliefs most closely resemble our own, and to neglect those who do not aspire, or have failed, to deliver on promises which we hold dear. Great change rarely is manifest by a committee, and meanwhile, our streets become gridlocked, our air thickens with smog, our children grow obese, and we increasingly sequester ourselves in our hermetically sealed homes, with our 3 cars sitting in the driveway, and the light from 5 TVs permeating each household.

Yet, we are still far enough from the point of despair suggested by some of my above comments that we – business leaders, political activists, residents, taxpayers, et al – have a great chance to do our part, if we are not doing it already.

If you own a business, have you ensured that it welcomes and supports your employee and customer/client efforts to walk/bike/bus/metro to and from your location? We should focus a little less on building massive parking lots above and beneath our offices, and behind our stores and restaurants. If city ordinances demand it, we must campaign for alternatives. Instead of 3 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, why not 2 spaces and 12 bicycle stands? Better yet, why not measure and manage community parking spaces from a truly communal perspective. Perhaps metrics should be managed on a neighborhood basis, and not “per-business”…

If you work with, in, on, or within spitting distance of municipal government (especially if you are an engineer), rediscover the joy of innovation! Stop MANAGING the problem of urban sprawl, gridlock, and parking, and start SOLVING it. Putting a lid on a boiling pot of water, does not cool the water, it merely delays, and eventually renders explosive, the challenge.

If you live, work, or play in an urban locale, make 2010 the year when you will (a) ask your employer about alternative transportation options, or offer your employees incentives to explore said alternatives; (b) explore your city’s rail, bus, and pedestrian networks (make it a family adventure!); and (c) challenge your municipal leadership to demonstrate the type of vision and commitment that was so warmly shown at last weekend’s Street Summit.

It needn’t happen overnight. Baby steps. One step at a time. One cycle at a time…but let’s keep moving:

(Links courtesy of lastreetsummit.org):

VIDEO:

AUDIO:

  • Go Play in the Street: New York’s Transportation Commissioner Wants to Re-work Los Angeles (KPCC)
  • Streetscast: Full Audio of Janette Sadik-Kahn’s Speech Last Night (L.A. Streetsblog)
  • Streetscast: StreetSummit Speakers Inspire, Educate and Rally Livable Streets Advocates (L.A. Streetsblog)

 

ARTICLES:

  • A New Route to a Better L.A. (Huffington Post)
  • Sadik-Khan Packs the House, Then Brings It Down (L.A. Streetsblog)
  • NYC Commissioner Says L.A. Should Quickly Move on Transportation Pilot Programs (LAist)
  • Streeeeeet-Summiiiiiiiiiit(Urban Adonia)
  • Carless Streets and Creative Thinking: What LA Can Learn from NYC (Curbed LA)
  • Why StreetSummit was just the 2nd most inspiring thing I saw this weekend (BikingInLA)
  • L.A. Street Summit, The Time Is Now, Let’s Kick Some Ass (Gary Rides Bikes)
  • Janette Sadik-Khan on Changing the Transportation Game (Urbanophile)

Once again, a volume of rainfall considered “manageably heavy” anywhere else in the world has paralyzed Greater Los Angeles. Today it rained 2.4 inches. That’s a lot of rain, but it’s not End-of-the-World-Where’s-The-Ark levels…unless you live here.

In the Los Angeles area, the wash systems (sewers and drains) are built to accomodate the volume of water generated by a wasteful idiot, too lazy to rake or broom sweep his driveway. You know, that chap who aims his hose at the concrete and stands there watering the sidewalk clean of all those awful leaves…

Anything more than that, or more than the amount of water needed to regularly wash one’s blinged-out SUV (with those great new spinning hub caps), overwhelms the system. Drains backup, and street sides flood. Less than an hour after it began raining today, I drove through a section of town where the cars parked on the side were actually submerged up above the TOP of the wheels!

In the Los Angeles area, there exist a system of dips at most intersections, ostensibly designed to slow vehicular traffic in the same way speed bumps do along residential streets. It works during the other 360 dry days of the year. It works too well when it rains. Giant lakes 12 inches (or more) deep form at these intersections, which sounds fun unless you’re the one diving…uh, I mean driving though it.

In the Los Angeles area, the idea of porous tarmac, white paving, and other sustainability practices simply has not taken hold. Perhaps, one day, someone with some influence might choose to repeat that suggestion about larger drain systems and porous tarmac…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP_Zug2D-tY]

The above footage was taken by a 15-year old boy in the Los Angeles area today. Granted, the issue extends beyond drainage, in to the realm of wildfire prevention and erosion control. The point remains, however, that this is not a new phenomenon!

The forecast calls for heavy rain every day, for the rest of the week.

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Here, the first of my archive-dives:

While I’m flattered that many friends are eager to participate in my monthly Salon, I remain curious as to why an almost equal number seem unable to RSVP. This seems to be a uniquely West Coast phenom, and I previously assumed it was one of those “LA flaky” things, that served as just another reflection for the superficial self-absorbed nature of the “typical” Angelino…but that explanation doesn’t sit well with me, in light of the fact that most of my friends are simply nothing like this typical slouch. I’ve been blessed with a small circle of friends whose reliability has rarely been questionable, and whose interest in creativity and intellect is certainly beyond any doubt active.

So what holds people at arm’s length?……”THE DRIVE”.

There is a strange haze that hangs over Los Angeles County. Not the usual haze of smog and deals in the making, but a depressing vapor that has for decades kept residents of our area from tapping into the diversified offerings of Los Angeles, in the way that citizens of New York, Chicago or London seem to do all the time. Despite the weather, residents of these cities are always going out, be it to a gallery exhibit, a play, a restaurant, or a friend’s apartment. New Yorkers think nothing of catching a cab or bus downtown, spending an hour in travel each way. Londoners use their famously ancient public transportation system (The double-decker buses and underground “tube”) to access every nook and cranny of their fascinating metropolis. Chicagoans brave snowdrifts and gale force winds to drive or bus or “El” to a friend’s home for dinner and a playreading…

Yet we, the sun-drenched residents of LAlaland, find it soooo difficult to drive to one of the hundreds of theatres dotted about town. We regularly turn down invitations to art shows and live events. We prefer to stay home and order Chinese, than to get into the car, and drive a short way for home cooking. Why?

It’s impossible to grasp, until one has lived, and tried to function, in this unique land. Even then, it is impossible to fully explain. What keeps us from attending “Babe’s and Ricky’s“, the best and oldest Blues bar in Los Angeles? When was the last time you went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art? What about MOCA?The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena has a wonderful sculpture garden, not to speak of the artwork in its galleries. While you’re in Pasadena, go early and spend the morning at the Huntington Gardens (tea in the Rose gardens is quite delightful, dontchooknow!)…

There is so much to do here in LA, and yet we so rarely do it…

Those of us who have lived in New York, Chicago, London, or nearly ANY other major city for that matter, will acknowledge that we once used to go out almost every night and “do stuff”…”see things”….”expand our horizons”…

Nowadays, we all too often drive home after work, and watch the lovely LA evening horizon burn its warm goodnight across the sky, as we numbly shovel Spicy Orange Chicken and rice into our mouths.

I’m just as guilty as the next guy/chap/bloke…Whenever I get an invitation, I vacillate between the pleasure of being thought of, and the dread of the road ahead. Literally. I dread having to turn around after a hard day’s work, and battle the bad drivers, torturous on and off ramps, etc…, etc…, ad nauseam.

But I now recite a little mantra: “In life, it’s all about the journey. In L.A., it’s all about the destination”. I remind myself of the fun I had at that art reception, or how much I learned at that industry seminar, or the joy of watching that great little play, in the company of 98 other individuals “in-the-know”. I buffer myself against the ignominy of “THE DRIVE”, with recollections of the pleasures to be found at the end of the line.

I don’t know whether this works for everyone, but if you haven’t tried it yet, please do. Look at all your evenings spent watching Judge Judy, Friends, American Idol, or CSI…use your VCR/Tivo/DVD Recorder!!

LA is a counter cultural megalopolis. There is so much going on, some great stuff, some lousy, but this community’s pulse is driven by the it’s inhabitants. If we all continue to stay home in our own little sanctuaries, the pulse slows.

So let’s drive….

Over Six and a half years later, has anything changed?..