“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
I don’t know about 1859, but 2020 was a tough year. My tour business came to a grinding halt in March and has yet to recover. A month later, I tore my left calf muscle while running up Stone Mountain. That took me out of commission for twelve weeks. In November, I pulled a back muscle while exercising. That sent me packing for another four weeks. 2020 has not been kind to my business or my body!
While frustrating, I feel fortunate when I think about the pain and suffering that too many Atlantans are experiencing right now. I am as angry as I am heartbroken that so many people in this great city ― a city that enjoys so much abundance and has so much promise ― are hurting this much. I am also concerned that so many of our fellow citizens are so vulnerable! When the pandemic ends, these folks will still be in very precarious financial situations. We can and must do better!
Before you start hurling spears my way, please know that my intention is not to dwell on the present but to make sense of it and to share some thoughts that might be helpful and/or insightful.
The ‘silver lining’ of 2020 might be that Americans have come to terms with the fact that the human and economic cost of the wealth gap in America is staggering and it threatens all of us in a very tangible way.
Tale of Two Economies
The irony is that 2020 was a banner year for most Americans. You probably know people who had their best year ever when it comes to business. Homes are, as my real estate friends would say, flying off the shelves! Home prices are surging because of a structural supply-demand imbalance, a scenario I described in my “Perfect Storm” piece in 2018. Most 401(k) balances and stock portfolios are at all-time highs.
Companies enjoyed enormous windfalls thanks to sharply reduced travel and entertainment expenses. Many individuals witnessed similar savings as a result of curtailed activities such as dining out and going to concerts and sporting events. Those who telecommute have saved money on things like gas and dry cleaning. Of course, we have spent tons of money on new computers, office furniture, and other accouterments that make our residential spaces more conducive to working from home. Shares of Zoom and Peloton have soared while those of Delta and Marriott have struggled. Did you know that there’s an ETF for that?
Every T&E dollar that was retained by a giddy comptroller was a dollar of income that never made it to an Uber driver, a skycap, an airline agent, a baggage handler, a flight attendant, a pilot, a hotel desk clerk, a shift manager, a room keeper, a hostess, a waiter, a busboy or a chef at our favorite lunch spot. Rinse and repeat for the business dinner and, again, for the return trip home.
We have become acutely aware of the impact that our discretionary spending (or lack thereof) has on our friends in the restaurant and entertainment industries. When these vulnerable individuals suffer a significant loss of income, they have a hard time paying rent. That impacts the landlord and you know where that story ends. In a pandemic, the velocity of money goes from 60 to 0 in a hurry for those who are struggling to get by.
We are all part of an extensive and fragile ecosystem. In our fast-paced, cloud-enabled society, the fragility of those connections is easy to overlook. It has become painfully clear that the nodes in this delicate system are human lives.
Building on the Customer Experience
Many companies today go to great lengths to design and deliver exceptional customer experiences. With the help of consultants, management teams painstakingly map their customers’ journeys. They look critically at the many touchpoints their companies have with their customers in hopes of finding opportunities to eliminate friction and exceed expectations. This process has become a best practice for the best companies.
As we look ahead to 2021, it might make sense to add another journey to this mapping process. One example is the myriad of people we come in contact with when we take business trips. These “frontline workers” are highly dependent on us and we are equally dependent on them. I’m just thinking aloud here, but there must be a way to quantify the two-way impact of these symbiotic relationships. The insights gained from this exercise would, at the very least, make us more appreciative of those who serve us along the way — those who help us to get to our board meetings, our trade conferences, and our new deal closings.
In addition to our interactions with customers, vendors, and employees, maybe we should consider the impact we have on people outside of our organizations and supply chains.
Virtuous and Vicious?
To paraphrase Dickens, what we have here is a virtuous cycle and a vicious cycle occurring at the same time. Most Americans are doing fine while millions of Americans are having a hard time putting food on the table. Like gears in the economic engine, these cycles are interlocked. When one stops turning, another stops turning. If enough gears stop turning, the engine seizes up. All of us are interconnected in ways we may not have considered until now. That may be the most important takeaway from this strange and turbulent year. Mercifully, at 12:01 AM on Jan 1, hindsight will actually be 2020!
Over the coming weeks, I will be sharing some thoughts about how the events of 2020 might shape the future of ATL. We will also be looking at some of the very exciting things that are coming down the proverbial pike. As always, I will share some fun and interesting place to explore. The treasure hunt is on!
If you know anyone who likes to learn and explore, please let them know about the ATLsherpa. Until next time, please stay healthy and keep exploring!
Steve Saenz, ATLsherpa
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