Little Boxes – Conforming to the New Norms

Many of you, particularly baby boomers and older have heard this song written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962 and made famous by Pete Seeger about the development of suburbia, associated with conformist middle-class attitudes that dismayed many social activists of the time.   The song mocks suburban tract houses that were filling up the hillsides across the country as “little boxes” of different colors “all made out of ticky-tacky“, and which “all look just the same.”

Now that the perpetual threat of COVID-19 has changed our way of life, I suspect many of you are seeing the “little boxes of 2020” through countless ZOOM meetings. These are our current “neighborhoods. Whether it’s for work, or to see the grandkids, or connect with your friends, or for medical and other appointments, we now live our lives in these little boxes that by now are starting to “all look just the same.”

As we all find our own ways of conforming to this new reality, be sure that you aren’t just having “ticky tacky” conversations in order to fit in.  Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • For meeting hosts, be clear why you are meeting, and what you aim to accomplish – even if it’s just to have fun. Otherwise, you will miss the mark on meeting others’ expectations.
  • In large group ZOOM meetings with video cameras on, participants can feel the need to force a smile for the duration, when often just a few voices are heard, especially as there is usually no design for who talks next.  The dominant personalities continue to dominate making it difficult for the others to continue to aimlessly smile quietly.
  • For large ZOOM meetings with video cameras “off” for participants, the chat room is where all will go to be heard.  Be sure you are moderating comments, and allot the time to address as many of the comments and questions posted, either during, or after the meeting.
  • If you are participating in an online conversation just to conform to what is expected of you, know that you have the same options you would have if invited to an in-person gathering:  to say, “not feeling up to it today,” or “I really just need some time to reflect,” or “thank you, I will miss you this time, but looking forward to getting together soon.”

Finally, remember, that we will all actually see each other “physically” once again.  The “little boxes” will be needed less then. You will once again need to think about wearing nice, less comfortable clothes.  You will  reduce your screen time, and society will rekindle old ways and find new creative ways of expressing ourselves, strengthening our families, work, friendships and society.

What Value Do You Add?

All the buzz these days is about framing your narrative, telling your story, development and sustainability.  It is as if all the newer ways of looking at your businesses and organizations have buried the underlying reasons why you even have a story to tell, or need to expand your revenue sources toward sustainability for non-profits and growth for businesses. Those underlying reasons are the “value” you offer to your customers or clients.

A value proposition is a business or marketing statement that an organization uses to summarize why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. For non-profits, your value propositions help people consider, engage, and better understand the services you offer.  For businesses, your value propositions are why people consider buying your products or services.

It’s time to dig out and reevaluate your business’s value propositions which just may be the most important element of your overall marketing efforts. Craft your value propositions “by audience” in a way that that audience can understand the value you will bring to them.

These ARE your elevator speeches depending on who you are riding the elevator with.

Answering the following questions may help:

  1. What makes your organization/business so special?
  2. What distinct benefits does our organization offer?
  3. What problems does our organization solve?
  4. Why your organization, and not another organization?

So, before you work on your development and sustainability plans, and before you craft and frame your narratives and stories – be crystal clear about the value people would be “missing out” on by NOT doing business with you, or NOT donating to your cause, or NOT selecting your services. The rest will come more naturally.


Preparing for Fall and Winter

While getting ready for the cooler weather, and trying to clean up some of all that “stuff” that has somehow accumulated in my house, I stumbled on an old book of poems I wrote as a young adult that have been nestled away in my closet for 30+ years.  These poems have never seen the light of day, so I thought I would post this one.  We will see how it flies.

Angel Dove

Angel dove. Snow dove.
Beckon my call.
You are out in that sunrise.
Basking in the orange mist.

Let’s go ice fishing.
For a heart to heart.
Angel dove. Snow dove.
You pierce my ears with silence.

Fly me to the tundra.
Where the air is crisp.
And the wind whispers.
Of stories untold.

Let’s soar to the mountain peaks.
So statuesque.
Above the common folk.

Let’s master their glory.
Become one with the elements.
Weathered, mounded terrain.

Do not hold me.
Don not mold me.
Do not take form.

Speak poignantly snow dove.
Encompass all with your wings.

(c) Sandra Rodriguez. 2018

What is Your Narrative?

.narrative‘Narrative’ is today’s latest and greatest buzzword. Everyone is weaving the word in their conversations from the news media to politicians to businesses, neighbors and friends. Narrative is really just a fancy way to “tell your story.”

I recently led a Communications Workshop at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Workforce Development Council in Washington DC for a room filled with aspiring (and inspiring) leaders in workforce development. We talked about organizational missions, visions, communication planning, measuring communication outputs and more. Of all these organizational brand communications areas, guess what interested attendees most?

The answer: Being able to tell their story better. Helping people understand what it is that they do! Their story. Their ‘narrative.’

I counsel those who feel the same way to focus on refining their value propositions. What value does your organization offer to different stakeholders in your work. What are the defining characteristics that are most important to the people you are talking to. Break these propositions down by each stakeholder group: clients, youth, legislators, teachers, businesses, neighbors, etc. Explain your “value” to them, and they will listen. It is simple.

It’s time to hang up your ‘narrative’ in the ‘big word closet’ and do a better job expressing your value to those you serve. At the end of the day, these become the foundation of your narrative, now and in the future.

In Search of Civility

Merriam-Webster dictionary identifies the following synonyms for civility: politeness, courteousness, courtesy, genteelness, gentility, graciousness, mannerliness.

It also lists many related words: attentiveness, consideration, thoughtfulness; formality; respect; decency, affability, cordiality, friendliness, hospitality, sociability; gracefulness; humility, and modesty, to name a few.

With today’s Federal government administration setting the stage, and with the news media feeding right into their game by publicizing and giving air time and print space to seemingly endless incivility, it is important to remember, on the “every day stage” we gain more by inviting civility into our lives vs. controversy and pushbacks. See how you can emphasize civility in your daily life at home and at work. You may be amazed by the outcome.

R E S P E C T …

In this modern age disruption and divides, “respect” isn’t being given the “respect” it deserves. So, take a moment to recollect these two songs:

“RESPECT” is a song written and originally released by Otis Redding in 1965 and then became a 1967 hit and signature song for R&B singer Aretha Franklin. While Redding wrote the song as a man’s plea for respect and recognition from a woman, the roles were reversed for Franklin’s version. Franklin’s cover was a landmark for the feminist movement, and is often considered as one of the best songs of the Rock & Roll era. Here is an excerpt from the lyrics:

If you’re walking ’round think’n that the world owes you something ’cause you’re here
You goin’ out the world backwards like you did when you first come here yeah

“RESPECT YOURSELF” the name of a classic soul song by The Staple Singers released in 1971. It is still being sung today by Mavis Staples, an amazing 46 years later, continuing to entertain and inspire audiences around the world. The song was written by singer Luther Ingram and Stax house songwriter Mack Rice. Ingram, who was frustrated with the state of the world at the time, told Rice “black folk need to learn to respect themselves.” Here is an excerpt from the lyrics:

If you disrespect anybody that you run in to
How in the world do you think anybody’s s’posed to respect you

Many people are just too busy. They are self-absorbed and too inwardly-focused to “respect” those around them. Whether it is the cashier ringing up your groceries, the driver in front of you who may be driving too slow in the fast lane, the call center employee who handles customer complaints all day, or the overpaid CEO who is seems to be making deals behind closed doors . . . respect is in short supply.

What you may not know, is that cashier may be working three times as hard as you to support his family, the slow driver in the fast lane may have just been given a cancer diagnosis, the call center employee may have just been verbally abused to the point of shock, and the CEO may be making a deal that may eliminate some jobs, but will double jobs in the longer term. Make the effort to respect them. Even those with religious or political views that you don’t understand or whose values are not aligned with yours, deserve the same amount of respect you would expect to be given to you and your values.

No one ever said life was easy, but believe it or not, it is “easier” when you take the time to respect those around you. And that is why it is so important to remember these two great songs and play them over and over and over in your head. Imagine what a “Respect” movement could do for the world today. Let’s get it started.

Motolyrics: ARETHA FRANKLIN – Respect Lyrics, Translation |
Motolyrics: The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself Lyrics | MetroLyrics


Last week, the Department of Labor hosted a Learns and Works Conference in Connecticut featuring keynote speaker, Larry Quick on the topic of “disruption.” Ten to one – I bet you are feeling disrupted these days. Whether it be in your home life, your work life or both, disruption is just plain “unsettling.”

Yet the reality is – disruption can be a very good thing, if you let it be. Some of the key messages I got from Larry’s speech last week are: 1) we are all connected 2) we need to be focused on both immediate and emergent conditions 3) we all need to be better at managing strategic risk because the only way to capitalize on opportunity is to take calculated risks. Another way to look at it – once we recognize we are all part of the same game, keep our eye on the ball, and dance like no one is watching great things can happen – individually and collectively.

Larry gave the “Kodak” example of a great company that got it wrong – they focused on the future of “film,” when in reality, the emergent condition they needed to focus on was the future of “imagery.” We all know what happened there. Disruption is a given, and if you aren’t feeling disrupted now, wait for a minute and you will. So, prepare for it, embrace it and get ready for all the good it can bring.

Larry Quick is a strategist with significant global experience in both the corporate and civic sectors. He is the co-author of “Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change,” the original developer of the Strategy in Action framework and the founder of Resilient Futures.

No More Comfort Zone

Remember your comfort zone?  Forget about it. 2017 is the year of disruption. Political disruption, societal disruption, business and process disruption, and lifestyle norm disruption.  Larry Quick, the founder of Resilient Futures, and author of several books on this topic stated, “Disruption-ready individuals, teams and organizations focus their strategies on leveraging disruption.  If you aren’t thinking this way, you should.

If you want to learn more on this topic, plan to come to the Connecticut Forum – at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, March 10th at 8:00pm.  Among the distinguished speakers is Ezra Klein, founder and editor of which has capitalized on the disruption in the world of journalism.  Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack and former Google executive Anjali Kumar will also be there.  Learn more or purchase tickets at

Also, Larry Quick is coming to Connecticut as the keynote speaker for the Connecticut Department Learns and Works Conference, May 12th in Rocky Hill. Put that one on your calendar as well.  Learn more and register here.

Are YOU a ‘Who’ or a ‘That?”

You can read in a lot to the way people talk with their simple use of grammar.  People who refer to other people “who” do things, or children “who” behave well, or elected officials “who” are creating positive impact think of their subjects as “people.”   Yet, more and more, people are referring to other human beings as objects. President Trump, while not known for his poise or grammatical prowess does this often.  From one of his more famous quotes:  “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems …” He surely doesn’t think much of Mexicans. This is just one example.  You should see and hear many examples of people objectifying others – in traditional and social media and especially in commonplace conversation.  You may even do it yourself!

Generally, people “who” refer to others as “people that” are sharing one ore more of three subliminal messages about themselves:
1) They don’t think much of the people they are talking about;
2) They are very self-focused individuals; or
3) They are simply a product of modern day society.  This grammatical error has become so common place, it has simply become an acceptable way to speak.

I suspect, it is either one of the first two possibilities.  What do you think?