Summer 2019@work: Cathedral Thinking, Blue Oceans and Redefining the Purpose of a Corporation

While you were away, the U.S. commemorated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the effort to rebuild Notre Dame began in Paris. In New York, members of the Business Roundtable considered a new definition of the purpose of a corporation and Ava Duvernay continued to challenge conventional wisdom. It was a summer of cathedral thinking, blue oceans and questioning expertise.

These are the stories of folks who went to work every day, extending the definition of work and workplace beyond traditional boundaries to solve problems and create a vision of the future.

Here’s a sampling of articles from the Summer of 2019:

‘Why the Moon Landing Matters’ David Lidsky, Fast Company – June 1, 2019

In this moment when government is viewed by so many Americans as being unable to dream as big as it did in the 1960s, whether the dream is traveling the solar system or forestalling the calamitous effects of climate change, understanding how NASA got us to the Moon the first time is both important and inspirational. The Apollo Moon landings were an extraordinary undertaking, but they were the work of ordinary people back on Earth. We need exactly that kind of effort to tackle some of the problems we face today, from economic inequality to climate change. The Moon can show us the way.

‘Two Magical Places That Sent Apollo 11 to the Moon and Back’ Kenneth Chang, The New York Times – July 13, 2019

The two key pieces that were the astronauts’ home during their lunar trips were built on opposite sides of the country.

The Apollo capsules rolled off the assembly line in Downey, Calif., a small city 15 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Fifty years ago, NASA owned a 160-acre swath of Downey — the size of two Disneylands — that was home to factories, offices and test facilities.

The story was almost the same in Bethpage, N.Y., on Long Island. That was the headquarters of Grumman Aircraft, which won the contract to build the spindly spacecraft that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon.

In April, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris came close to being destroyed by fire. This summer The New York Times created an interactive site to document the event and the story of those who saved the cathedral.

‘Notre Dame came far closer to collapsing than people knew. This is how it was saved.’ Elian Peltier, James Glanz, Mika Grondahl, Weiyi Cai, Adam Nossiter, and Liz Alderman. July 18, 2019

That Notre-Dame still stands is due solely to the enormous risks taken by firefighters in those third and fourth hours. 

Disadvantaged by their late start, firefighters would rush up the 300 steps to the burning attic and then be forced to retreat. Finally, a small group of firefighters was sent directly into the flames, as a last, desperate effort to save the cathedral.


“There was a feeling that there was something bigger than life at stake,” said Ariel Weil, the mayor of the city’s Fourth Arrondissement, home to the cathedral, “and that Notre-Dame could be lost.”

On August 19, the Business Roundtable issued a new statement on the purpose of the corporation.

‘Business Roundtable Redefines the Purpose of a Corporation to Promote ‘An Economy That Serves All Americans’

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:
–  Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
–  Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
–  Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
–  Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.
–  Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

We learn from the wisdom of others and this summer, writer, producer and director Ava DuVernay leads on innovation.

‘How Ava DuVernay Is Finding Blue Oceans in Hollywood’ Nilofer Merchant, Harvard Business Review – August 7, 2019

“Conventional thinking in red oceans is why blue oceans go undiscovered.

New markets are found when someone stands in a spot that gives them a point of view distinctly their own.


DuVernay has shown us what the work of discovering blue oceans looks like: It is claiming that spot in the world where only you stand, even if that means leaving rooms where you’re being dismissed and marginalized. It is gathering your crew, those who share your commitment and purpose and will work to create new truths. It is finding the communities that can share your vision and scale it. These are unconventional ways to lead. Leaving. Social. Sharing. They seem counterintuitive and even wrong to those who lead red oceans. But they are how growth and progress and innovation happen. It’s what explorers do to chart new territory.”

The last article from the summer continues the conversation on expertise and how we are all being asked to ‘do more with less.”

‘At Work, Expertise is Falling Out of Favor’ Jerry Useem, The Atlantic – July, 2019

“By 2020, a 2016 World Economic Forum report predicted, “more than one-third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations” will not have been seen as crucial to the job when the report was published. If that’s the case, I asked John Sullivan, a prominent Silicon Valley talent adviser, why should anyone take the time to master anything at all? “You shouldn’t!” he replied.

As a rule of thumb, statements out of Silicon Valley should be deflated by half to control for hyperbole. Still, the ramifications of Sullivan’s comment unfurl quickly. Minimal manning—and the evolution of the economy more generally—requires a different kind of worker, with not only different acquired skills but different inherent abilities. It has implications for the nature and utility of a college education, for the path of careers, for inequality and employability—even for the generational divide. And that’s to say nothing of its potential impact on product quality and worker safety, or on the nature of the satisfactions one might derive from work. Or, for that matter, on the relevance of the question What do you want to be when you grow up?

Summing up the summer recap: ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. You just need to find your unique scenic view of the world, an employer who values your contribution, and an ability to adapt.

Photo credits: Moon Landing – NASA, Notre Dame worker – Patrick Zachmann for Magnum Arts

The week@work – @AMarch4OurLives, Evolve Entertainment Fund, ‘Wonder Boys’, Facebook & “always a little further”

It happened again this week@work: violence@work – another school shooting, this time in Florida. In Los Angeles a new entertainment industry diversity initiative was announced by Ava DuVernay and Mayor Eric Garcetti. And three ‘long reads’ on creative partnerships, Facebook’s identity, and a polar journey.

Violence@work
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school are grieving for their colleagues and teachers who were murdered in another incident of workplace violence on Valentines Day. Since Wednesday, a remarkable group of student representatives have  given voice to the anger at adults who have failed to keep students safe in their schools. This time, high school students organized @AMarch4OurLives for policy & change vs. thoughts & prayers.

“Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard.
Stand with us on March 24. Refuse to allow one more needless death.”

It may not be a surprise that this group, from this high school, seized the moment and demanded change. Their school namesake, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was an author, editor, environmentalist and early advocate for women’s right to vote. gettyimages-112963085-e1518738141248.jpgJournalist Mary Schmich interviewed Ms. Douglas. “She was 95 by the time we met, hard of hearing, almost blind and as opinionated as ever.
I’d gone to visit her because finally, after decades of crusading to save the Everglades from being turned into subdivisions and shopping malls, she’d begun to see the fruits of her labors.
She had battled governments, developers, engineers, sugar cane industrialists and the apathy of normal people. She had pushed so hard and for so long that the state had finally committed to preserving one of the world’s great wetlands. We have her to thank for Everglades National Park.
Had she ever been discouraged, I asked?
“What does it matter if I’ve been discouraged or encouraged over the years?” she said, brusquely. “This thing’s got to be done. It’s not a question of how I feel from moment to moment.”

Inclusion@work in Hollywood
Speaking of thing’s got to be done. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and producer Dan Lin announced the creation of the Evolve Entertainment Fund to promote inclusion @work in Hollywood.

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Journalist Dave McNary reported on the new initiative. “The Evolve fund is an alliance between the City of Los Angeles, industry leaders in entertainment and digital media, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions. The EEF has already secured 150 paid summer internships for students participating in the Hire LA’s Youth program — partnering with leading entertainment and digital media organizations that include DreamWorks Animation, Ryan Murphy Television, Film Independent, WME, CAA, Kobe Bryant’s Granity Studios, and Anonymous Content.

That number is expected to grow to 250 by the end of 2018, with a goal of 500 placements by 2020.

“As we radically reimagine Hollywood, it is critically important that young people are included in our vision,” said DuVernay, founder of Array Entertainment and EEF co-chair. “Real change happens when we take tangible action — and that means giving young women and people of color opportunities in the industry early on, so they have the chance to shape its future.”

‘Wonder Boys’
The next three articles fall into the category of ‘long reads’. The first, from reporter Laura Jacobs recounts the creative partnership of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. In 2018 we celebrate the centennial of both the composer and choreographer.

IMG_0443.jpg“Both these men were about energy—positive, negative, generative—and while they racked up stunning achievements separately, they were elevated when joined. Put them together in collaboration—in masterpieces such as the joyous ballet Fancy Free, the breakaway musical On the Town, and the electrifying experiment West Side Story—and you had an ongoing theatrical Manhattan Project, work kinetically detonated, irreducibly true, and oh so American.

They met in October of 1943, the beginning of what Bernstein would call “the year of miracles.” Bernstein was living in New York City, marking time as the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and Robbins was in the classical company Ballet Theatre. Both were hungry for the Big Break, but it was hard to see anything on the horizon. Bernstein’s would come a month later, when on November 14 he took the podium at Carnegie Hall—without rehearsal!—and conducted for the ailing Bruno Walter. This kiss of fate allowed him, in one afternoon, to loosen forever Europe’s grip on the conductor’s baton. His debut made the front page of The New York Times, and the skinny kid, soon dubbed the Sinatra of the concert hall, soared to stardom. Two months later his Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah, was premiered.

Robbins had to make his own luck. Though a dazzling mimic and scene-stealer in character roles, he was tired of dancing courtiers and exotics in the corps. He wanted to choreograph ballets that were immediately American. After inundating company management with over-ambitious ideas for ballets, Robbins finally offered up a timely, simple scenario—three wartime sailors on shore leave in Manhattan. Management bit. All he needed was a score, which took him to Bernstein’s studio in Carnegie Hall.”

When Vision and Reality Collide @Facebook
Next, Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein take the reader ‘Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook – And The World’

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“The stories varied, but most people told the same basic tale: of a company, and a CEO, whose techno-optimism has been crushed as they’ve learned the myriad ways their platform can be used for ill. Of an election that shocked Facebook, even as its fallout put the company under siege. Of a series of external threats, defensive internal calculations, and false starts that delayed Facebook’s reckoning with its impact on global affairs and its users’ minds. And—in the tale’s final chapters—of the company’s earnest attempt to redeem itself.”

“Always a little further…”
On Sunday, January 24, 2016 British polar explorer, Henry Worsley died in hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile. He had been attempting to cross Antarctica on foot, unassisted and unsupported. He had traveled 913 miles since November 13, 2015 and was 30 miles short of his destination.

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On Friday, January 22, Henry Worsley called Antarctic Logistics and Explorations to request a rescue.

“When my hero, Ernest Shackleton, stood 97 miles from the South Pole on the morning of Jan. 9, 1909, he said he’d shot his bolt,” the British adventurer Henry Worsley said in the message. “Well, today, I have to inform you with some sadness that I, too, have shot my bolt.”

“My journey is at an end,” Mr. Worsley said. “I have run out of time, physical endurance and a simple sheer inability to slide one ski in front of the other to travel the distance required to reach my goal.”

Writing for The New Yorker, staff writer David Grann takes us on the journey behind the headlines into ‘The White Darkness’.

“Worsley was a retired British Army officer who had served in the Special Air Service, a renowned commando unit. He was also a sculptor, a fierce boxer, a photographer who meticulously documented his travels, a horticulturalist, a collector of rare books and maps and fossils, and an amateur historian who had become a leading authority on Shackleton. On the ice, though, he resembled a beast, hauling and sleeping, hauling and sleeping, as if he were keeping time to some primal rhythm.

Worsley’s journey captivated people around the world, including legions of schoolchildren who were following his progress. Each day, after trekking for several hours and burrowing into his tent, he relayed a short audio broadcast about his experiences. (He performed this bit of modern magic by calling, on his satellite phone, a friend in England, who recorded the dispatch and then posted it on Worsley’s Web site.) His voice, cool and unwavering, enthralled listeners.

By the middle of January, 2016, he had travelled more than eight hundred miles, and virtually every part of him was in agony…”

“Always a little further”—a line from James Elroy Flecker’s 1913 poem “The Golden Journey to Samarkand.” The motto was painted on the front of Worsley’s sled, and he murmured it to himself like a mantra: “Always a little further . . . a little further.”

 

 

The week @ work March 16 – 22

This week@work invited us to broaden our thinking with ideas from TED and SXSW, a suggested reading list from Mark Zuckerberg and a David Remnick pick from The New Yorker archive on the creative life. Using a variety of online resources and social networks we can construct an individualized professional development curriculum based on our interests and career aspirations.

On Friday The New York Times included a continuing education ‘special section’ in their print edition. In the lead article ‘That’s Edutainment’ reporter Greg Beato described the growing phenomenon of “the academization of leisure: casual learning propelled by web culture, a new economy and boomers with money.”

In a companion article, Peder Zane asked the question, “If you can know it all, how come you don’t?” He goes on to report on Jonathan Haber, a “52 year old from Lexington, Massachusetts” who is attempting to “meet all the standard requirements for a bachelor of arts degree in a single year.” And he is doing it by selecting from a menu of online offerings from Harvard, Yale and Stanford, chronicling his experience in a book and of course, online.

This past week folks came together to discuss ideas at the annual TED conference and celebrate music, film and interactive at SXSW.

You may categorize all these formal and informal experiences as ‘edutainment’, but I would suggest that lifelong learning, often promised, is finally here. And the topics discussed are widely relevant to today’s workplace.

Visit the TED website and access presentations recorded at the conference. One of the most compelling, Monica Lewinsky on our ‘culture of humiliation’. The Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza summarized the key point of her talk: “For nearly two decades now, we have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation in our cultural soil. Gossip Web sites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers traffic in shame. Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.”

And on the SXSW site, you can view film maker Ava DuVernay encouraging her audience to pay attention to their intention. She takes the audience on a narrative of her early success and then cautions from experience: “The dreams were too small. If your dream only includes you, its too small. If that dream is just about the thing you want to accomplish and you don’t even know why you want it…it’s to small…When you win awards and the light is on you, that’s not gonna be enough. If we limit our visions to those things outside of us to validate us, we’re making an intentional error that might very well bring the outside thing you want, but will bring hollow in the end.”

Online, lifelong learning allows us to make connections beyond our comfort zone, sparking new ideas and important conversations.

The availability of a variety of content online in a global economy where the majority does not have access to the innovators and great thinkers is a good thing. It’s a source of career inspiration for the young, professional development for the worker and sustained intellectual engagement for the retired.

Closing the week, David Remnick in his ‘Sunday with the New Yorker’ email recommends a selection of stories from The New Yorker archive on ‘The Creative Life’ including a 2007 profile of the British graffiti artist Banksy.