To a New Year of Dreams and Dreamers

Greetings. After a bit of a sabbatical from blogging, I am delighted to be back with a new sense of energy and focus about writing and business. In addition to dealing with a couple of pressing family matters, I have spent the past nine months continuing to think about the importance–or should I say the “necessity”–of strangers, the real keys to unlocking the genius that exists in everyone in our companies and organizations, and the value of stretching our thinking in order to live lives of meaning and make a real difference in the world around us. I have also been thinking about the value of dreams and why daring ourselves and those around us to dream is a vital ingredient in innovation and success.

As I begin to write a new book about how we can all discover and leverage our greatest abilities in today’s fast-paced economy, I am inspired by people from all different backgrounds and walks of life who dared to dream about what could be possible. The brothers Wright from Dayton, Ohio, who turned their skill as bicycle mechanics into a compelling passion for empowering humans to fly. Martine Rothblatt, a renowned telecommunications entrepreneur in Silver Spring, Maryland, who changed fields in the middle of a remarkable career in order to find a cure for her daughter’s seemingly incurable respiratory disease. In the process, she created one of America’s most successful biotech companies. Shahid Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan who bought a small auto parts supplier named Flex-N-Gate from his employer and through hard work, vision, and innovation turned it into a global company with more than 24,000 employees based in Warren, Michigan. It is worth noting that he is also the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League.

The list of people who dreamed about a different and better life and world is one of my favorite lists, and a constant inspiration to continue our work with our customers and in the local community. Work that we hope inspires people discover their own potential and imagine what is possible. Because it turns out that there are powerful and important dreams in all of us. Yet sadly, too many people lack the opportunity to make their dreams come true. People struggling to simply get by. People stuck in cities and towns that have been hit hardest by economic and technological change. People fleeing countries devastated by natural, economic, or political disasters. People discouraged from believing in themselves and their ideas. People who lack the financial resources or legal status to continue their educations in search of a better life.

Dreamers of all different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Dreamers with the promise to innovate and contribute in so many different ways if simply given the chance.

Throughout our history America has, at its best, been a place to hope and dream. Which makes it especially troubling to see how quickly we have changed our view of people, opportunity, immigrants, equality, and what is right. Throughout our history America has, at its best, been a place where anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules had a chance to make a meaningful life or even make it big. Which makes it especially troubling to see how quickly we have changed the rules to limit so many of our greatest assets from dreaming because of fear, ignorance, politics, or racism. Let’s hope that this is simply a blip–and a call to action–on the road to being more caring, enlightened, and prosperous. And let’s all commit during the year ahead, beginning with this week when we pause to honor the legacy of Dr. King, to dream dreams of kindness, innovation, and growth, and to support everyone among us who dreams of making a difference in our workplaces and communities.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 15:  Dozens of immigration advocates and supporters attend a rally outside of  Trump Tower along Fifth Avenue on August 15, 2017 in New York City. The activists were rallying on the five-year anniversary of President Obama's executive order, DACA - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Security throughout the area is high with President Donald Trump in residency at the tower, his first visit back to his apartment since his inauguration. Numerous protests and extensive road closures are planned for the area.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

We succeed in business and in life when we dare to dream, and when we nurture the dreams in those around us.

Cheers!

Everyone Matters

Greetings. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It was one of the most powerful speeches in our nation’s history and a challenge to all of us to ensure that America fulfills its real promise of offering social and economic opportunity to all of its people. While we’ve made a lot of progress since 1963, there’s still a lot of work to be done to unlock the real genius and potential in everyone here in the richest nation on earth (not including Norway). And it is clearly in our best interest as a nation to figure out new and innovative ways to use all of our human “capital” in order to grow our economy based on a keen understanding that everyone matters.

march_on_washington4

In focusing on this essential idea, several colleagues suggested that I re-post an article I had written earlier in the year about a woman I met on a winter day in Chicago. Her name is Linda and she challenged me to think about the real meaning of Dr. King’s words and the measure of a just, caring, innovative, and visionary society…

The post was titled “The Lesson of Just Getting By“…

On a walk through downtown Chicago yesterday afternoon I happened upon a building that was originally built for the London Guarantee Accident Company in 1923.  It’s kind of an odd name if you take it literally…an insurance company that could guarantee that you would have an accident.  Not a particularly brilliant idea for you or for them.  Though I’m sure that wasn’t their intention, the name carved into the building in stone did bring a smile.  But under this sign and just outside the entrance to a local branch of the Corner Bakery which now occupies part of the retail space, the words “guarantee” and “accident” quickly took on new meaning when I met a stranger named Linda who, cup in hand, was trying to get $37 to pay for a room at a less than perfect hotel.

Let me backtrack to suggest that while there is no good place to be homeless, Chicago in the middle of winter presents additional challenges.  And there are a lot of homeless people in Chicago.  At least the sun was shining yesterday, but the temperature never got above 30 degrees and the place where Linda was standing seemed to be mostly in the shade.  But it was her “best place,” or so she believed, based on nearly two years of trial and error that comes from living on the streets.  A life that seemed, from her perspective, to be almost “guaranteed” by a number of setbacks, challenges, less than perfect choices, and even accidents that had occurred in her life…but for which there was no insurance policy.

And this spot, next to the door of a restaurant, was where she felt most hopeful that she would get enough money for a night indoors and a bit of food.  “Why don’t you go to a shelter?” I asked somewhat naively.  “Cause they’re all full of bedbugs and they ain’t so safe,” she quickly replied.  ‘Not as safe as being out on a Chicago street in the cold,’ I wondered to myself.  A scary thought for those of us who go to sleep each night in the comfort of our warm homes or nice hotels.

“Can I at least buy you a meal,” I asked after learning more of her story.  “That would be nice,” she replied and I took her inside to look at the menu and pick whatever she wanted. Then after she placed her order I encouraged her to sit down for a while and warm up.  “I can’t do that,” she told me.  “Why not?  You’re a paying customer,” I suggested.  “Not really,” she quickly responded, “but that’s not it.  I can’t spend any time inside if I want to make my $37 before it gets dark.”  “Then let me also get you a large hot drink to warm you and your hands up a bit until the food is ready.”

Two years on the street.  A sharp contrast to the frustrations that many of us face when we have to work long hours or come in on the weekend.  Or when things don’t go just as planned in our work or personal lives.

Two years on the street.  No doubt filled will more challenges than most of us will ever know.  And yet, through it all, Linda and too many others have somehow figured out how to endure.  How to be more resilient and resourceful that any of us give them credit for.  Skills that would be incredibly valuable in most of our companies or organizations if only the circumstances were slightly different.

As all of you who read this blog know, I’m a keen believer in the importance of strangers…and a keen believer in their power to teach us things we don’t know or provide the missing piece in a puzzle that matters in our work or personal lives.  But how many of us believe that any stranger could teach us something important?  And how many of us take the time to find out?  Especially from a homeless woman struggling to just get by.

Yet here I was understanding more clearly the challenge we face as a society and the challenges we face as companies in times when a slowly improving economy is testing our abilities to create greater value with fewer resources.  To be much more innovative, resilient, and resourceful than we have been before.  By understanding what it means to just get by.

Because if Linda can survive and hope for a better day, the rest of us have little or no excuse for not making the most of the opportunities in front of us.

london guarantee

We win in business and in life when we take the time to connect with strangers from all walks of life.  And when we find the time to not only learn from them but acknowledge that they matter.

And when we decide to use our resources and our creativity to bring their talents and their hopes to life.

Cheers!

On Inauguration Day

Greetings.  Today marks the 57th inauguration of a United States President.  It also provides an opportunity to think about the history and promise of our country, and the challenges we face living up to our ideals in a way more complicated world than our forefathers (and our foremothers) ever imagined.  And regardless of your political persuasion, the nature of our presidential inaugurations speaks volumes about the stability of our democracy–and the unique potential of our increasingly diverse nation.

Today also suggests the possibility that each of us can periodically (in this case every four years) take stock of where we have been, where we are trying to get to, and the best path for reaching our goals and dreams as companies, organizations, and individuals.  To reflect on the powerful stories and rich histories that have brought us to where we are today.  To take account of our real promise and the challenges we face in making it a reality.  And to imagine a newer and more optimistic set of priorities that would challenge us to reach our real potential by working together with colleagues, customers, partners, and even competitors.

Who knows what the next four years will bring in Washington.  We can only hope that our leaders on both sides of the aisle will seek to find meaningful compromise and even innovation in addressing the biggest issues we face as a nation.  Because whether we are willing to admit it or not, their actions and inactions have a great impact on almost all of our enterprises…and on our ability as a nation to continue to be a remarkable source of energy, imagination, creativity, invention, hope and opportunity.

Inauguration

We win in business and in life when we decide to inaugurate our own fresh starts.  And when we find the courage to get beyond old thinking in building a more compelling and shared future.

Cheers!

Getting Beyond the Politics

Greetings.  In a few days we'll know if 15,000 delegates to the "U.N. Conference on Climate Change" have figured out a way to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  You know, those pesky little "by-products" of our over dependence on fossil fuels.  It's a very tough assignment, and one that probably doesn't have a political or a policy solution.  But since a bunch of smart and dedicated people are willing to spend their valuable time seeking common ground in the semi-tropical winter destination of Copenhagen, Denmark, I'll try to remain optimistic.

That is until I listen to many of our politicians talking about the issue.  People who won't actually be around to see the results of their deliberate in-action.  And since they are politicians, its safe to say that most (though not all) are more interested in the special interests that support them and their own survival than the survival of the planet.  As a result, many have determined that the best way to derail the real question is to scream "Climategate" and sing the amazing if not completely honest praises of "clean" and "abundant" coal.  Are these the very same people who tout the power of the free market while attempting to undermine the single biggest free market opportunity in our future–the challenge of converting the entire world to clean and sustainable energy?  

If there was ever a challenge worthy of our investment, this is it.  A potential driver of the global economy for decades to come.  An amazing opportunity to unlock our collective genius and assure our future and shared prosperity.  A path to restore our environment before we find polar bears swimming the breaststroke in the English Channel.  Not to mention the chance to free ourselves from the tightening grip of foreign oil.  An infinitely finite resource that is, with the possible exception of the Norwegians, controlled by people who really dislike us.

To see one picture of what our future could look like, check out the November issue of Scientific American.  In it you'll find a very thoughtful article by Mark Jacobson of Stanford and Mark Delucchi of UC Davis titled "A Path to Sustainability by 2030."  In it they suggest that we have the ability to create all of our energy from wind, water, and solar power in only 20 years.   

Wind 

Then ponder whether we're asking the right questions in our public discourse–a discourse that is more about fear than the promise of a new future of remarkable possibilities.  A future filled with innovation, genius, and the chance to create real opportunity for a much greater percentage of the world's citizens.  And while you are at it, try to imagine what would happen if you ran your business based on fear rather than creating opportunities to be brilliant.  

The question is not whether climate change matters.  The real question is whether or not we are bold enough to transform our energy future. What's your role in making it happen?

Cheers!