So, Now What?
Just a few hours remain before January 2021 is a wrap in the U.S.
A month that leaves us feeling a little shortchanged, as the first twenty days were a bit distracting to say the least as our country finally took the first step towards having actual adults in the white house. There is still much work ahead in order to make lasting long overdue shifts. In all honesty, I didn’t really feel like 2021 had started until after January 20th.
However, at the same time as we were adjusting to a new year that still felt much like the last one, we are all still having to focus on ourselves and what keeps us healthy, what generates revenue, and what provides us with sustenance.
As we near the one year anniversary of when most of us first went into pandemic-mode, many of us by now have figured out how to optimize our time at home and how to still accomplish what we need to. As Genta shared in her recent write-up, “Four Ways to Overcome Pandemic Fatigue”, a key way to maintain some semblance of normalcy and to remain productive, especially for those not accustomed to working from home, is to maintain a regular routine and fixed schedule.
I recently had a good conversation with a small group of colleagues who are all currently scattered across the world, centered primarily around how we are all coping with forecasting and making plans for 2021both in our personal lives, but also at this moment perhaps more importantly, professionally as we lead the organizations for whom we are responsible for into a year that is still somewhat undefined. We each represented an array of industries and companies from consumer goods (Vans) to software/technology (Salesforce) to beauty (Estée Lauder) and of course Music and Philanthropy from my side that we continued in a smaller more intimate side conversation. We each shared with each other just how we drove the brands we represented forward, still generating revenue in 2020, as well as how we retained and acquired new audiences. It was interesting to see certain similarities and crossovers among our various industries.
However, being not just colleagues but also friends, we each also shared how we personally adapted to the pandemic and how we were currently coping with the continued shutdowns. Both my friend from Vans and I had opted to not remain in L.A. during most of the pandemic and our friend representing Estée Lauder had flown to Spain after the pandemic set in to visit family, but had been unable to return to New York after travel restrictions were enforced. We all talked about if L.A. or New York was where we each wanted to be in the near and long-term future.
I had similar conversations last year and one question that I’m fairly certain surfaces multiple times was a variation of “What comes next?” “Where do you think we’ll be in the next couple of years?”
One specific moment that stood out last year during a conversation, was a similar conversation to this recent one with another good friend and fellow entrepreneur who actually is also on our Consciously Studio Board of Advisors. Her company pre-pandemic relied on bringing in international C-level executives for collaborations with top Tech companies and so once none of them could continue to travel to the U.S. she had to re-think how to do this remotely and how to still provide the same level of access and exclusivity that her programs had held before. I’d been a thought-partner to her often in the past, someone she could bounce ideas off of and who could help her to turn them into actionable and executable activations or how to make them unique and more desirable. However, the moment that sticks with me most is from our first conversation that we had when the pandemic lockdown was in full swing, where she shared maybe for the first time with anyone the way that her life really had changed not just professionally, but also personally. In the past, she had become used to being able to focus a fair amount of time on her own company, developing a routine and schedule with her kids that allowed her to still spend time on her passion projects.
However, once the pandemic became long-term blocker, her young daughters now required home-schooling. Her nanny also decided to fly back to Germany to be closer to her family instead of staying in the U.S. to avoid potentially getting stuck here later.
However, first-world problems aside, the hardest part for my friend was that although her husband had always been a big supporter of her own endeavors, at this time he had to ask her to invest less time her company and more time on running the household as his role as CEO of a well-known and successful beauty brand was now even more time-consuming as he shifted the entire organization to work- from-home mode as well as leading the strategy to to re-think how the brand would continue to generate revenue, primarily relying on online sales instead of the additional dollars generated from partnerships with salons, spas, hotels, etc. This example was a very different example from some of the ones at the forefront of conversations which tend to include more of the lower income classes. However, just as important in some ways as these are who help keep many employed. However, what my friend was now battling was psychological, going from being a dynamic entrepreneur to having to take on the role of stay-at-home mom/homemaker (a role many others also needed to balance along with their career). While she recognized her own privilege and is grateful that her family can survive comfortably on her husband's salary, she did still feel as though she’d lost a part of herself.
I recognized that she was going through a challenging time and gave her some extra time, even helping her brainstorm new ways to optimize her current company.
So back to the question, what comes next? Collaboration, Optimization, and Innovation.
Those are the three things that come next. Especially collaboration.
In order to get industries on par with where they were previously (or actually hopefully in much better shape) optimized not only for growth, but also for adaptability should anything like this pandemic ever occur again, we will all need to continue to collaborate. The important part is to collaborate with the right individuals. I half-jokingly had stated towards the end of last year that this pandemic truly showed us which of our friends, colleagues, and family members were most likely to survive and even lead during a Zombie Apocalypse. The same applies to companies and entire industries.
We now know what is pandemic-proof and what isn’t. Your list of collaborators should ideally be primarily composed of pandemic-proof strategists, hard-workers, and innovators. Carrying dead weight at this time won’t serve you. First you need to be able to create the opportunities before any of those second, third, and fourth tiers of individuals can fill them.
Collaborating across industries will also be helpful as this is a time for diversification, not only in who you employ, but also in the type of companies and organizations that you collaborate with.
Another very important lesson is that there isn’t much room for egos in 2021. Having pride in what you do, is very different from being prideful. I am lucky enough to get to engage in collaborative dialogue with many a leader on a regular basis and very few of them have brought their egos to our Zooms and calls. We had the largest example of an ego-in-office and at the helm the past four years and if you can think back to what you felt watching that, that should serve as what not to behave like. Not having an ego in business doesn't mean groveling nor begging, but it does mean being courteous, respectful, and humble.
I’ll give you another example that may have flown under your radar. While I was at NBC, I got a front row seat to witnessing how not to behave as a professional a few years into my role. You may recall that Jay Leno hosted the Tonight Show until 2014 when Jimmy Fallon took over as host. However, in the summer of 2009, Conan O’Brien actually became the host of the Tonight Show, something that had been announced and set to occur years before he actually officially took on the role. At a time when The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and SNL were thriving, a Tonight Show with Conan as host, actually was a smart move and although Leno was fine to work with, most of my colleagues were excited at having Conan as the new host. For me personally, I knew it’d be fun to market and conceptualize campaigns around him. He was known to be a great leader of his team and to further prove that he moved his entire production team from New York to L.A. to keep them on his payroll. However, what we got to see was a very public meltdown not only of the former host but also of the brand for a few rocky months when NBC decided to pull the plug prematurely on the Conan Tonight Show after only about six months into his run. Low-audience ratings were partly blamed, but the reality involved other things including mixing egos with business. To this day, I hold respect for O’Brien for standing up for himself.
Having been a part of another legacy’s transition, I am happy to say that the Letterman-to-Colbert transition was conducted in a much more dignified and even mostly seamless fashion. Even if Letterman jokes about being pushed out from time-to-time, he has been more successful at maintaining the respect of the industry and while of course it took us some time to build up the Colbert Late Show audience, hitting his stride once the Clinton/45 political season was underway, he still had a far better start at CBS than that which I’d witnessed just a few years prior with the Tonight Show franchise and the mistreatment of O'Brien.
That brings me to my final example of a conversation and collaboration that included zero appearance of egos. When we went full-steam ahead with our Bring on the Ballot campaign, one of the first folks that I shared the initial campaign outline and roll-out plan with was in fact a former colleague and friend who still leads the Late Show w/Colbert strategy. We collaborated and I shared with him some tips to improve their Better Know a Ballot site and their VotePSA social campaign (some of you will recognize another good friend of mine that we’d highlighted here in a past blog, Grace Balridge and her “State of Grace” series exploring religion who was part of that social campaign) and in turn, he and that team championed our Gen Z voter campaign, even taking the time to attend regular meetings initially with my Gen Z co-founders. Of course, there were many, many others that we collaborated with on that campaign, but
I was honored to have my friend's support since we are on each other’s short lists of people we will always answer an email or call from--something that could only come from the trust and respect that comes from working closely together without egos which we’d already done so often in the past as we grew the Colbert brand.
This is exactly the kind of teamwork and collaboration that is needed across industries today. All working towards a common goal. I know the entertainment industry has more than it’s fair share of sharks and con-men, and greed can drive competition for personal gain. However, there is also a lot of heart. And many wwho are ready to build or stand back up industries, not just entertainment, who aren’t fueled by competition, but instead driven by thought-partnering, where both or multiple parties are bringing something to the table.
That is what will help industries rebuild and for revenue streams to once again flow.
My resources and your resources. Ours. Together.