Week 210 in Detroit. I usually call this the Saturday Cup of Joe because I publish it late Friday night in time to accompany your Saturday cup of coffee. This week, it was not ready for your coffee, so perhaps an afternoon beer, evening tea or cup of decaf. The Saturday Cup of Something from Detroit opened the door for too many jokes. (Saturday Cup of Shit from Detroit.)
Many Sunday Cup of Joe would be more appropriate. A few times in 210 weeks it came out mid morning or mid afternoon on Saturday; thanks for rolling with it this week.
I thought a lot about shifting perspective this week. For instance, time passing, in and of itself, would not change a decision unless something else changed. At the same time, our perception of the decision changes. The more we think about it, over and over, the more comfortable with outcomes we become. At the same time, when the decision is a transaction, or of a transactional nature, the more time that passes the less likely a deal is to get done. Even when nothing else changes, delay diminishes chances.
Our perspective is what changes. We either talk ourselves into it. Or we talk ourselves out of it.
The power of perception never ceases to amaze me. It’s everywhere.
One example that comes to mind is how working from home can change how an organization or a team addresses work. Whether working in an office or from home, work is prioritized by the most urgent or high level projects. Those projects are interrupted by things like urgent emails from leadership, unexpected changes or delays in aspects of the existing projects or new ideas or opportunities that may be even bigger or more urgent than the existing work. You know, all the usual shit.
The aspect of working from home that struck me this week was how fire drills or faux fire drills changed depending on the environment. Not surprisingly, the distance of working at home provides distance between the urgency and the decision. The same thing that could spark hours if not days of drama and distraction in the office may get wrapped up in one call or by one person from home.
On the other hand, some things — like brainstorming — are more difficult from home when you lose the kinetic energy of building on each other’s ideas in the room.
Many organizations are starting to make decisions about the future of their offices. I had more than one conversation this week that either implied or outright questioned the viability of commercial real estate going forward. “I wouldn’t want to be holding a ton of commercial buildings right now.”
Twitter announced moving the company fully remote. AMEX offered employees the ability to request full-time remote work and/or move out of the area of their current office assignment. Zillow is going to be remote for the remainder of the year.
When the full scope of the COVID-19 threat became clear, or as clear as it was going to be so far, one question that came up was — what will change after this?
Certainly 2 months of working from home will change some things, 9 months or a year, even more will change. Aristotle provided Marcus Aurelius a reminder centuries ago “you are what you repeatedly do.” This week the reminder still applies “we are what we repeatedly do.”
We are now a remote workforce. We are resistant to change. I talked a friend of mine this week — also in strategy & innovation — and he was an addition to his existing company and the first executive to be remote. Many other executives and colleagues questioned how he could get his work done with all the “distractions.” Never mind the distractions of commuting, escalating the drama and required meetings while working in an office setting each day, perception is that the comfort of home limits effectiveness.
We’re now finding just the opposite. Teams are more effective. In fact, too effective. Some companies are finding that team members work too much and are not logging off as the day wraps up. Leaders are working on plans to ensure team members balance home offices without a natural boundary to end the day.
We just went through 10 years of changes in 2 months.
As the changes begin to permeate our businesses, different aspects of our day and our companies will certainly change. For example, recruiting can be nationwide. Whereas, parking can be much more efficient. Other aspects like summer internships are changing dramatically. We’re doing our summer internships entirely virtually which will be exciting to be able to honor those positions and connect with students. The challenges of conducting an internship over web chat are overshadowed by the potential benefits. Yet, it will be a big change for everyone.
Other big changes will, undoubtably, follow.
Short term, one change that I’ve been talking a lot about is the dramatic reduction in car traffic. We’re not commuting and of course the twice a day slog isn’t happening either. It seems there has been a small changing in thinking. People who previously cared about environmental protection and climate change issues but said “honestly, what could I do?” are now rethinking that in small ways.
Long term, there will be some reduction in air travel because meetings can now occur virtually. At the same time, there may be some slight increase in air travel, for some. Anyone who can move away from their company’s permanent office building or is now recruited as a remote employee may be asked to travel back to a headquarters or main office from time to time. That individual could find themselves no longer car commuting but flying 2–3x a year more than they did in the past. Overall the effects of the virus would have a reduction in air travel. Consider a company in North Carolina that can now draw talent from anywhere in the country but from time to time brings the staff into Raleigh-Durham for in-person meetings. Daily travel is reduced. Annual travel shifts, perhaps increases.
One strategic question I’ve been struggling with over the last few months is how to approach change. It’s beyond cliché to say people resist change. What I’ve noticed during the COVID-19 response is that the timing and order of change is the key. Recommendations too far down the road and a team or organization cannot absorb the steps required to implement the change.
Connecting the dots from present to future is the hardest part.
Take cities as an example. For years cities have been the subject of speculation. Entire areas of study and professions — urban planning — are dedicated to our cities and how we live. I never thought I’d live in a city, honestly. When I moved to the metro DC area after college, I ended up in Fairfax or Arlington not in DC. When I moved to Connecticut to join Meredith there, we were outside NYC and outside Hartford. I actually had accepted another job prior to our move to Detroit and it was going to be in Manhattan. That was the first time we seriously contemplated living in NYC, or any city.
When we decided to move to Detroit, we committed to being downtown and supporting the city. Anyone who has read the Saturday Cup of Joe since the first year or two knows that I wrote a lot about the opportunity and value in Detroit.
Beyond Detroit, the cities of the #NextBelt — Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Louisville — offer the best cross-section of what millennials (but really anyone) claim to want. The urban, walkable lifestyle in a place that has history, character and a story with the economic value that actually allows for entrepreneurship, homeownership and wealth creation. Three things that can be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in New York, San Francisco and Boston.
In the end, though, after 210 weeks of writing about it; I came to realize that there’s enough “cities” of all shapes and sizes to accommodate. What I’m urging my generation to do is to be intentional about these choices. Choose a place that fulfills what you are trying to do. If part of what you stand for is trying to build diverse, dynamic opportunity for everyone, consider the #NextBelt.
I agree that wealth creation and ideas to address equal opportunity exist through building companies and products in Silicon Valley or changing hearts & minds through storytelling in Los Angeles, but there is a higher degree of difficulty and risk of loss in places where so much of a monthly budget goes to housing and food/entertainment. Committing to a place that craves jobs and economic activity offers millennials (and really anyone!) the opportunity to participate in a community that transforms purpose. With purpose, on purpose as my friend KimArie said to me last year.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve advocated so hard for Detroit and my concept of the #NextBelt. Not just because I found a place that accepted me and made me feel like a part of something larger than myself, but because I can see how a small part of a generation or group of people can remake the narrative of what it means to choose, to commit. Gentrification remains a radioactive word in many cities, including Detroit. The challenge I’ve tried to live up to in Detroit is how I can show my participation and commitment to the city without displacing, without ignoring, without pushing out, without judging. We never wanted to “remake” Detroit. We just wanted to be here and be a part of the fabric and story of the city.
I always feel I can be doing more. I always feel like I’m falling short of that goal. Yet, I try to ask questions, to take the opportunity to get involved, to commit to my neighborhood and my city. I think there’s power in that choice, in that commitment. It’s a power that comes from intention not obligation.
Our family is privileged to be able to make choices, like where to go and where to work and where to live. That privilege creates an obligation. But it’s not an obligation because I was born here or because my family is here. It’s obligation to recognize the power of intention and choice.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt even more driven and excited about choice, as a power for good. We’re all looking for silver linings and some good news in this crisis. One for me has been how clear it is that we vote with our spending.
Our spending is our commitment.
As retailers, restaurants and businesses of all sizes have had to close down, it became obvious and painful (painfully obvious?) how communities have the power to choose what businesses stay open and which do not. Not in this short term shelter-in-place period, though every purchase at your local small business helps, but in where and how we spend our money over the next 1, 3, 10 years. It’s always been true that buying cheaper, foreign-made goods at a big box store slowly hurt American manufacturing jobs. I used to allow political rhetoric to get me all fired up (by used to, of course, I mean as recently as last year) about how many voters will chant or make signs about American jobs and American labor but just as quickly or easily stop on the way home and buy the cheapest toaster, air conditioner or car they can find. We wanted one result with what we said but we ensured the opposite with what we did.
…uh,oh…soapbox alert…I’m letting my point get away from me…
So, let me get back to it.
We’re doing the same thing we’ve done for several generations with our cities. Allowing perceptions to threatening the opportunity we have to choose what we want the future to look like. Choosing what to value, through policies and funding, to some degree, but more than that, through our actions. Where we choose to live, how we choose to treat others in that community and what we’re willing to sacrifice to do it.
What we found in Detroit was the chance to participate in a community of passionate, determined and proud people from all backgrounds and all walks of life, who love this city and want the whole city, the region to succeed. It’s as complicated as any American city. Filled with the injustices and inequalities that have plagued our policies and our economy for years. But further separation and further isolation is not a path forward under any economic, political or social model.
The Atlantic called this a “make or break moment” for our cities. I think that’s what caught my attention this week. The idea that as hard as this moment is and as difficult as it will be to rebuild our economy and our cities after this, it is our choice. Yes, federal funding is responsible and capable of playing a role in either the gutting or rebuilding of our cities. But it’s only a small part of the remedy. The larger power is in our commitment — physical and financial. Communities of diversity — economic, racial, occupational, housing type — tend to be more dynamic, more resilient and more attractive.
Carol Galante, housing expert and former FHA Commissioner, put it this way, “We have an obligation to ignore the short-term reactionary impulse to blame density for the spread of coronavirus and instead use this opportunity to rethink the policies that impede the construction of new housing, at more price levels, in the places where housing is most needed.”
Imagine for a minute if instead of worrying about the future of commercial real estate, we proposed the equitable creation (of those same buildings) as residential real estate. Did your mind immediately jump to all the ways that is impossible or stupid or economically impossible?
In that Atlantic piece referenced above, William Whyte described the benefit of cities in “variety and concentration.” I love that because it sparks in my mind the image of how most New Yorkers describe their love of New York (or at least of a New York that existed when they were young there). My point is not that everyone has to agree with me or feel the same way. My point is that there are enough people who do or could be convinced to that will make the difference between one future and another.
We actually have that power. The power of choosing with our purchases, our lifestyle choices and our homes. Now, thanks to the coronavirus, we will likely have greater flexibility to work for a company in New York or SF without living in New York or SF. It was already happening, but it’s happening faster now.
Choose a place where you can participate NOT displace.
Many Americans do not have that luxury and those of us that do, can choose to make a difference. It may feel like you have to do a really big thing to stand up for your worldview, but I think it’s a bunch of small things by many people that equal the big thing.
This crisis is going to constrain resources across the board. We’re going to have to make incredibly tough choices about infrastructure, transportation, housing, education, energy and healthcare.
Our choices both politically and personally will reflect our values. That’s what makes it so difficult but so exciting. The power of choice means the power to make a difference.
David Brooks, the longtime New York Times columnist, quoted William F. Buckley as saying, “Materialistic democracy beckons every man to make himself a king; republican citizenship incites every man to be a knight.”
To me, inherent in the citizenship comment is the choice I’m referring to. We have the choice between acting like a king or “serving” each other as a knight.
Reverend Stephen McKinney-Whitaker put it another way, “Freedom is a responsibility, not just an unearned privilege to do as we please.”
Consider this in big and small ways.
As you consider how to support your team or your company in reopening or returning to work, the choices we make will have wide-ranging economic impact. Bring intention to those choices.
As we consider how to return to shopping or buying things in the community, the choices we make ARE economic impact.
As we consider what’s fair in the coming months and years, the responsibility of freedom, of being a part of a community, is a choice, our choice.
I’m excited about what this means for cities, for entrepreneurs, for me. I hope, without getting my hopes up, that a sense of community — wherever that may be for you — is strengthened. Use it to empower your choices this week, this month and this year.
Wargaming. My colleague and friend, Bill Weber, has been reading the Saturday Cup of Joe from the beginning. Bill and I served on a Board together and we’ve stayed in touch about the company but also about ideas of leadership, entrepreneurship and current events. Bill sent me an interesting article recently about how wargaming is benefiting Boards of Directors and companies.
I think he’s spot on. Calling it wargaming and leveraging the experience of military leaders is an excellent opportunity for any company or anyone to improve thinking and problem-solving. For instance, in the article General Motors brought in a high-ranking retired military officer to serve on it’s board. Many companies might not have that luxury. Not to worry because in its most basic form, wargaming is the forced activity of considering all the variables an scenarios in a given situation.
If you can do that, the company or the team will benefit. Playing out, talking out, mapping out a variety of possible actions and outcomes could have lasting value in your organization even without a military leader at the table.
This is a trend that is likely to continue to expand and an opportunity for your team or company to consider.
Perspective. A few weeks ago, I wrote about what I imagined the perspective of someone born in 1994 and all the events of their young life — 9/11, 2008 financial crisis, 2016 Presidential election, COVID-19, etc.
This week, I saw a post about an American born in 1900. At 14 years old, World War I starts and lasts until 18 years old. At 18, Spanish Flu claims 22 million lives and lasts for the next 2 years, claiming another +25 million lives in the process. When you are 29 years old, the Great Depression begins and lasts until you are 33 years old. A few years later, at 39 years old, World War II begins and at 41, the US becomes fully entrenched in the war.
At 52 years hold, the Korean War begins.
At 64, the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for many years. Finally when you are 75, the Vietnam Wars ends.
The post where I saw this (pictured below in its unreadable entirety) doesn’t go beyond 1975. It focuses almost entirely on body count. Wars and what not. It also doesn’t mention the Civil Rights movement of the 1950–60s, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, or the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
I just wrote 2700 words on perspective focusing mostly on big picture issues related to housing, cities and the economy. I hope this is actually helpful to put in historical and social context, rather than piling on the negative news.
Quote: “Incremental change is great and is what is feasible for people. If you set yourself too high of a goal and you don’t need it, the danger is that you think that your efforts don’t count. But the efforts absolutely do count.” — Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist, Natural Resources Defense Council
Bonus Article: Every heard of QAnon? 4chan? 8chan? 4kun? Long-time readers of Saturday Cup of Joe know that I’m a fan of conspiracy theories. A willing imagination, I’ll indulge conspiracy theories of all shapes and sizes. My favorites are those closely tied to American history or American politics, but let’s not kid around, I am happy to go all the way down the Dan Brown, DaVinci Code rabbithole every now and then too. The Atlantic posted a fascinating article about the online community launched around an account called “Q” posting first on Reddit’s message board and then migrating to other sites. Q created a nationwide following and even sparked some readers to take real world action. If you are curious about the far right or online conspiracy theories, this might be one to check out.
Continued success and continue to answer well,