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

 

As pundits across the Internet continue to post their predictions for 2010 (what’s the cut-off for this, by the way? It’s bad enough that Christmas starts in October now, but aren’t “predictions” supposed to take place BEFORE the year in question?), I am struck by two things: the struggle between our growing desire for less clutter and our impulse to acquire and hoard, and the continued admiration for truly innovative activity, regardless of its commercial or technological viability.

We persist, as a society, to seek the newest and most disruptive opportunities, if only to engage in flights of fancy. Attendees at this past week’s CES show in Las Vegas will be the first to testify that much of what was touted there as “the next big thing” will never move beyond the prototypical. This is not necessarily due to the nature of the prototype itself, however, but rather the willingness (or lack thereof) of a business venture to invest in that emerging offering.

Before we start delving too deeply in to the obvious realms of technological invention, let me stress that innovation is a concept that permeates every industry and market sector. Whether you are semiconductor company seeking to maintain (and even best) Moore’s law, a TV or film producer hoping your property will have just the right “magic sauce”, or a car manufacturer investing in one alternative fuel research pipeline, as opposed to another:  innovation is an “agnostic religion” which has unfortunately become somewhat synonymous with instant viability, and not with process-oriented supportive infrastructures of creativity. In an incessantly bottom-line focused business world, truly supportive nurturing of bright ideas was replaced by desperate flash gambles: far better to throw small investments at multiple opportunities, hoping for speedy returns on one, than to put all one’s proverbial eggs in one basket, and wait patiently for nothing more than the possible…right?

So is there actually a timeline for innovation? Can we plot the building blocks for innovation or, by process of elimination achieve the same, by identifying the obstacles our business culture may have erected, in its past 3 decades of greed (and I do not use the word lightly)?

Businesses today have become too tightly focused on short term ROI, leaving little or no room for creativity or invention. The investment required to support an innovation pipeline is no longer being made by most traditional technology providers, product developers and R&D labs, now focused on saving themselves to prosperity by milking their IP portfolios as efficiently as possible.  Admittedly, a few companies, studios, and other enterprises have invested very small sums in “incubator” ventures, recognizing very cautiously the value in maintaining *some* sort of connection to long-term growth models. Others, such as Google and Facebook, hold a commitment at their very core to embed the pursuit of innovation as part of the daily task list of every employee. As a result, the consistent commitment to process and product improvement, regardless of sources or roles, leads to what I call “3M moments”: true innovations realized by everyday employees seeking to meet market needs, supported by companies fostering “permitted bootlegging” policies, rather than R&D investments made only on the basis of direct ROI.

I suggest that – with the exception of military imperatives (World Wars and the like) – the greatest business and social growth has occurred historically when the least pressure has been applied by the businesses “hosting” the research and development leading to that growth. We are now entered in to such a time, when an economic downturn of such harshness has released companies from the day-to-day “make me a buck” pressures imposed by day-trading shareholders of past. The next two to five years present a fantastic opportunity for businesses large and small to integrate innovation pipelines back in to their midterm and long term strategies. There is no distinct single formula for innovation, however, nor any marked timetable. Instead, invention occurs at the confluence of myriad flexible solution environments, be they fiscally, technologically, or socially driven.

People will always come up with brilliant ideas. It then falls to business or academia to incubate those ideas, until such time as the market is able to make best use of them. Take, for example, the seemingly never-ending saga of the e-book. This is not some newly emerging wonder toy. The e-book has existed for more than 20 years. Indeed, over 15 years ago, it was fully recognized as a tangible replacement for print journalism:

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/17295950[/vimeo]

I believe that e-books and e-magazines will be mainstream in the very near future, rather than early adopter indulgences. Will print journalism disappear? I don’t know. I can’t see a reason why we should continue to invest in deforestation, unnecessary hard distribution costs, or ink, when the alternative permits us to invest in more sustainable environmental and business practices. E-journalism allows us to pay our reporters more, lets us deliver information under multiple revenue generation models (advertisement-based, subscription-based, single POP-based), and makes more sense in a world seeking less clutter and more time.

Whether we end up holding Kindles, Nooks, Ques, Skiffs, Apple Tablets, or Sony Readers in our hands, our physical relationship with information will continue to evolve, at a pace governed by the consumer, and the speed of adoption will sometimes be influenced by very un-business-like elements. Software elements such as Kurzweil’s Blio may accelerate or arrest this evolution, and if there’s one thing that trumps humanity’s drive for innovation, it is its nostalgia. eBay built an empire on the back of this certainty, and political parties feed off of our thirst for non-existent “good old days”.

Our job as thinkers and business leaders is to balance our responsibilities to our shareholders with our younger dreams, born perhaps when we were bright-eyed undergraduate visionaries: imaginings wherein anything was possible. We were once able to construct whole worlds absent of patent trolls, stock valuations, or balance sheets. Perhaps the greatest innovation of the next 30 years will be the discovery of a formula that elegantly balances commerce and creativity once more, heralding a new and thrilling renaissance. Not so much the undeniably great advances of this past century, but the more balanced and measured movement that brings forth whole societies. Now that would be a great “Reset” to look forward to!

(*William Shakespeare; Hamlet; Act 3, Scene 1)

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