Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is The Gray Flannel Guy Finally Fading?

Is The Gray Flannel Guy Finally Fading?

At 1871 we talk a great deal about breaking down boundaries and coloring outside the lines; taking the often bumpy and uncertain roads less traveled; and about the need from time to time for entrepreneurs and others to act first and then, if necessary, to ask for forgiveness instead of waiting for permission and letting important opportunities to make a statement or help bring about critical changes pass them by. Rest assured, this isn’t going to be another rant about Uber or Airbnb.

There isn’t a single rule book for these kinds of real time judgment calls and – as often as not – there isn’t a way to check with others (apart from the teammates at your side) even if you were so inclined. In the field and on the front line, you don’t always get a second chance to make a first impression. You’ve got to go with your gut and with what feels right in the moment and, from a management standpoint, you just have to hope that your people make the right decisions most of the time. It’s especially exciting when your team hits it totally out of the park.

Apart from a lot of talk, we try every day to actually model the kinds of behaviors we expect of our member companies and we also try to put our words into action by participating in community activities like the recent Serve-A-Thon day of service which was held with Chicago Cares. These are important practical and meaningful commitments which we much prefer to editorials, speeches or posturing polemics from our politicians. We just need to get going and do the things that can make an actual difference.

For Chicago Cares, we had a great team of our folks spend the day at the Earle Stem Academy and – as with all giving back – it’s never exactly clear who gets the most out of the process – the donors or the donees, but for our team, it was a great learning experience as well as a lot of fun.

In these kinds of programs, the size of the gesture doesn’t really matter as much as the commitment of the time and the attitude of the participants. Sincerity means everything.  Even the seemingly modest gestures like some fresh paint on a school’s walls can say a lot to our teachers and to the kids who need to know that we care about them and about cleaning up and improving the places where they spend a significant part of their lives.  And it’s abundantly clear that actions like these will always trump even well-intentioned advice – especially the words of wisdom from the sages sitting comfortably on the sidelines. If you want to make a difference, you just have to get out there and do it – not talk about it.

It’s even more exciting when the circumstances conspire to deliver a double bottom line. We’ve been talking about “unconscious bias” a bunch at 1871 and it’s sometimes hard for people to get a concrete handle in their own day-to-day lives on what that idea actually means. It’s a little too tempting to lump this in with the rest of the lectures on political correctness which we hear all too often from the folks who are going to fix our futures for us. So when the world unwittingly (or unconsciously) gives you a lemon, it’s a great chance to make something much more of it.   

When our team arrived, they were given a stencil as a guide to paint on the staircase wall. I’ve pasted it below. Lots of gray guys. Not exactly STEM-ish or STE(Art)M-ish.


And certainly not the story that any self-respecting team of creatives from 1871 would be interested in telling.

So they hunkered down and got right to work because at 1871 work is what we are all about.


And when the dust settled, the picture was MUCH different and a LOT brighter. And something we can all be proud of.


Thanks to the whole team for making it happen and for helping to make a real difference.




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