Don’t Wait to Celebrate

Validation helps us fight the good fight.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “the Great Reset.” That’s my shorthand for everything that’s rocked our world and our industry in the last 100 days as we navigate a pandemic, fight a global recession, and come to grips with a new Civil Rights movement that is justifiably disrupting the status quo. I used to think that companies like Freeman, who have overcome every conceivable challenge and adversity in 90+ years, had seen it all. But we’ve hit the trifecta of sea change, compressed in an unimaginable time frame.

I suspect that this is what it means to live at the speed of digital, where there is scarcely time to process the significance of events in real time because they are coming at what feels like warp speed. It’s physically exhausting and emotionally draining for everyone. But baked into the formula of rapid change is inherent hope that rapid change can also bring positive transformation. And that’s why, even when we are scrambling to keep the plates spinning and feeling overwhelmed — especially when we’re feeling that way — we need to celebrate our victories.

Cause for applause came from a surprising quarter last week when Forbes officially included Freeman on its annual list of America’s Best Employers for Women. This unsolicited accolade from such a credible source served as validation that when we act with intent, live our values, and refuse to accept the lazy, ingrained habits that excuse discrimination, we can affect positive change. The Freeman manifesto states that all employees can expect a “career experience to promote an enriching life of learning, creativity, growth, and fulfillment.” We are committed to the relentless work of ensuring equity in the way people are hired, compensated, and afforded opportunities for promotion — regardless of age, gender identity, race, or any other point of differentiation.

We are not ready to declare absolute victory in the fight to ensure diversity and equity at Freeman. But as an organization grounded in design thinking, we know that diversity is critical to success in an industry that demands innovation. This affirmation encourages us to push harder. And on a larger scale, it is a welcome reminder that the seemingly thankless task of tilling the soil today may bear fruit sooner than we think. Until then, we would do well to stay focused on promoting growth. And let’s make time to celebrate each green shoot.

Compassion, Compliance, and Continuous Improvement

Better design means better for everyone

Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities act was signed into law, declaring that people with disabilities could no longer be denied access to jobs, school, transportation, or to public places. The need to design our conferences and trade shows to be ADA-compliant may have been met with resistance by some and compassion by others, but today we can see that by transforming events to be more accessible to those with limitations, we made those events better for everyone.

In the United States alone, it’s been estimated that one out of five Americans has some form of disability — 48.9 million people. Add to this the graying of America, the fact that the percent of the population over age 60 is dramatically increasing. When we consider how many total people are grappling with issues related to personal mobility and impairments that affect vision, hearing, and cognitive ability, we realize that being inclusive is just good business.

That’s a fact we cannot ignore. Harder to prove, but even more compelling to me, is the notion that inclusivity expands our intellectual capital. Consider, in the 30 years since ADA has gone into effect, how many people with disabilities have been empowered to contribute. Whenever we increase accessibility, we increase diversity, which is an indispensable aspect of innovation. Continuous improvement as a species demands that we leverage our combined brainpower.

Today, we are called to transform the nature of live events in response to a pandemic. Compliance is in everyone’s best interest, and because we are designing for a space that we control (a big, empty ballroom) it’s not that hard. The members of the Go LIVE Together coalition have voluntarily set, and will comply with, health and safety protocols developed in accordance with guidelines from the CDC, WHO, medical and scientific professionals, and local health officials.

Further, the Events Industry Council, through its global APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force, has established a platform for curating, cultivating, and communicating the accepted practices across the global events industry. The prime directive is to enhance safety at in-person gatherings and fuel recovery efforts. And we’ve already begun to imagine what future events could look like. It’s all pretty inviting; you can take a virtual tour here.

To be sure, as an industry, we are getting a great start on the post-pandemic reboot. But we can do more. Consider the lessons of the ADA-era. We must raise the bar and design for expanded accessibility. Even as we manage the size and scope of attendees at live events, we can reach broader audiences by streaming live content for people to consume wherever they happen to be.

And we can surround live events with meaningful, engaging, interactive virtual content that unfolds over time, before, during and after the live event, to contextualize the experience in a robust way. Hybrid events give us new avenues through which to personalize the experience for discreet audiences, wherever they are on their journey, whatever their ability, and whatever their level of commitment or interest.

When we cultivate experiences that enable individuals to learn more, achieve more, and contribute more, we gain more as a society. Compliance is where we begin. Designing the platform for constant design, and continuous improvement, must be the goal.

It’s a Small World

Expanding globally promotes design diversity.

Have you ever thought about the expression, “It’s a small world”? Typically, it’s an exclamation used when we run into a friend unexpectedly, or meet a stranger who happens to share our esoteric tastes. Technology has made the world smaller in the sense that it is easier to visit – virtually, at least – its farthest expanses. We can Snapchat with our friends in Asia, WebEx with the London office, and read the latest news from South Africa in real time.

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I believe that people from diverse cultures and locations are more alike than they are different. But I also believe the differences are worth noting and celebrating. One of the serendipitous benefits of expanding into new business sectors and global markets is that it brings a unique perspective to the enterprise. No matter how well-read, well-travelled, or well-staffed we may be, the odds are slim that someone in our Ottawa branch will bring the same resources to a challenge as one of our people in Singapore or, for that matter, in Dallas. And that’s a good thing.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to visit with our teams in Sydney, New Zealand, Singapore and China – offices that joined us as part of recent acquisitions. I was totally energized by their ideas and the diversity these professionals bring to our enterprise. I learned that these APAC offices have a great mix of men and women and age groups, all tackling a broad range of client businesses with interesting opportunities and challenges. And everyone seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what we can accomplish together.

I am especially interested in how things are developing in the critical China market.  Given its size, growth potential, and importance to the long-term global economy, I’m glad we have solid people in China who can help build our resources and capabilities. Especially as it relates to intellectual capital.

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report, which you can download here, indicates that China is the home to “global innovation powerhouses in e-commerce, messaging, travel, financial services, and on-demand transportation.” Further, she suggests that as disposable income continues to grow within China’s vast population, it all points to burgeoning opportunity for smart marketers.

For any enterprise hoping to remain relevant in the coming years, the ability to bring both local knowledge and a wider, more diverse world view to the process will prove invaluable. The nature of innovation requires that we shift perspective – stand on our heads, change our vocabularies, and imagine new worlds in which the familiar laws don’t apply. Global expansion, and the commitment to work face-to-face with people who don’t share our list of “givens,” forces us to make the leap.

Diversity by design

{A Note to Readers: Tomorrow evening our Chief Design Officer of Freeman – the amazing Bruce Mau – will be receiving the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum 2016 National Design Award: Design Mind. I asked him to collaborate with me on this blog… and on a special announcement we’ll blog about tomorrow.}

Bob:  We are always surprised when people talk about “diversity in the workplace” as if it’s an end in itself—something companies do to look good, or to meet quotas, or to seem user-friendly to various demographic groups. This may be a holdover from the ‘60s and affirmative action laws—but it loses sight of the whole point of diversity. The idea is to create an inclusive culture that knows how best to use the individual talents of all its employees—and in that way, elevates the output of the enterprise as a whole.

diversity

Diversity of ideas is the payoff. Diversity is bigger than race, age, gender, size, physical ability or faith-based demographics. A dancer might understand things about gravity that aren’t expressed in Newton’s Laws of Motion. A photographer might see light in a different way than an optometrist. A musician might have insights into technology that would escape an experienced software developer.

Bruce:  Diversity helps us rise above the narrow assumptions that can quickly become institutional baggage. Because diversity brings fresh perspectives, new world views, and entirely different sets of filters, it helps us generate more innovative solutions. At the same time, it helps us fend off the gremlins that kill innovation: complacency, risk-adversity, ignorance and time constraints.

One of the ways Freeman and many other companies diversify is by hiring new people and acquiring new businesses. We’ve seen the benefits of this approach–it helps us keep pace with change. But it’s impractical to staff for every possible twist and turn in the market.

When we considered this challenge as a design problem, we arrived at a pretty brilliant conclusion…

Bob:  We’ll be making an announcement tonight at a press event and reception in NYC that honors Bruce’s achievement as the 2016 Design Mind. I can’t say just yet what that announcement is… but it’s really going to help Freeman raise our diverse-design-thinking quotient.

We’ll be back with more on this tomorrow… so stay tuned

~Bruce and bph