Punch. Business tools, conscious communication, Mr. Dickens. His stories were essentially about fairness, and they inspired reflection and the study of one’s own accountability to others. The man who reminded us about the true meaning of a beloved holiday loved gathering and entertaining. Here’s to Charles Dickens and all he taught us.
Symbols. Shaka, emoji, the presepe. I love knowing what things mean.
Intentional. Grains, entrepreneurs, a place for Appalachia. For many of us, carving a place for ourselves in the world is a lifelong journey. It can be joyful as well as poignant, especially when it seems as if others we meet along the way have known their place all along or, at least, have found it. Appalachia’s place in the world has evolved, from its origin days as the dominion of Native Americans, to its colonization by what are now foreign powers and domestic corporations. I’d like to think we are on the dawn of not just a new economy but of the mindset essential to self-determination: setting an intent of abundance and contribution, as investor Ben Horowitz might say. Intent is critical not just for achieving prosperity but the kind of fulfillment we all desire.
Risk takers. Italian American women, anthropology, the workers of today. One of the many aspects of the American promise that I hold dear is the embrace of risk. Not just tolerance of it, but the capacity to explore how to use the process of taking a chance. There will be times in every life that a professional or personal gamble does not deliver the desired results. We just have to absorb these times without deterring from action we know is right, action we know will help others, action we know will advance all of us over the long term.
Innovators. Manufacturing in Virginia’s Southwest, overcoming resistance, Black Olympic gold. One step at a time. Be patient. Your moment will come. This type of counsel is meant to soothe, yet it actually can be a barrier to essential change and true progress. Or a wall to hide behind while protecting the status quo. In the rural parts of America, there has been significant taxpayer investment in economic studies and projects for decades. Some of this has delivered results, a healthy percentage of which is the building of bureaucracy that serves the empire builders of what we can call the agency class. These folks need a new call to action, centered in a new definition of return-on-investment. Shift gears and put muscle into delivering jobs and a broader tax base, an open path to prosperity for all, and a more welcoming attitude to newcomers and new concepts.
Puppets. Misery, collaboration, epic stories. This is the time of year for joy, reflection and connection. Yet many of us feel like hostages to the “shoulds” of daily life, which we think will deliver that joy and help us to reflect and to connect – while what actually happens is a sense of overwhelm. The things we seek to control wind up controlling us. Time to hit pause and stop feeding the overwhelm. The answers are waiting for us there.
The great resignation. Reputation, complexity, talent recognition. Word gets around. And not just because people talk. They watch. The talent base in every community – large, small, urban, rural, remote, on-site – is comprised of people who are beginning to realize the value of their own sense of accountability and expect nothing less from their employers. This is a significant opportunity for organizations who break free from command-and-control mindsets that limit agility, force incorrect values on employees, and contain performance. Managers who open doors will find that workers want to enter and stay.
Useful beauty. Cosmos, virtual exploration, STEM, Caligula. Lousy Roman emperors met different fates than today’s ahem non-performers do. Or maybe we’ve just evolved into conducting a different type of bloodbath. Anyway, we do know that acts of beauty manage to outlast us and can be a way for future generations to digest otherwise distasteful episodes. Those who deny the relevance of creating beauty are doomed to endure ugliness.
Setups for success. Decision software, website traffic, deep feedback, productive meetings. This is a good time of year to ponder improvement. And a lot of specialists are sharing their thoughts on exactly how to do it.
Giants. Appalachia’s renaissance, Mr. Sondheim. I knew Stephen Sondheim, even though we never met. I encountered him as a teenager when, on a Sunday afternoon, Dad put a brand-new Time-Life Records Broadway collection on the stereo and “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch”, in the trust of Elaine Stritch, hit me right between the eyes. Hearing those words and that melody delivered by Stritch made me want to know the world she and Sondheim and the musicians were painting. Beyond honoring the essence of every art form – provoking curiosity and wonder – Sondheim taught me that embracing new thoughts, questions and challenges, out in the open, is the first step to making good change and including others in the process. As we tangle with what makes for influence and impact, it seems that fearlessness and focus are the hallmarks of the giants who, just by being who they are, help us to move forward out of comfort zones and swamps alike.
Positioning. Appalachia’s economy, serving customers, brand advantage. There is a boatload of taxpayer-funded grants and incentives floating on the sea of economic development. If yours is an area currently suffering economic distress, it can be pretty easy to prevail upon the sympathies of public sector leaders to “help”. You follow the buzzwords and get those funds under management – and your performance measures are rarely those a business organization would use to report production. So: a true economy is built upon understanding the twists and turns of a marketplace, figuring out the needs you can turn into opportunities, producing, and portraying your region as an answer within reach.
Tangible. Appalachia’s promise, people and machines, the whole public-private thing. As a fervent believer in the power of execution, within the corporate model of business management, I hope that our renaissance is upon us. Most of us who have logged time in companies have encountered the disappointment of the dangerous cocktail of duplicity, unprofessionalism and ineptitude. Or even been damaged by it. So we must be realistic. The company we keep in our organizations is more important than ever. We begin with uniting around this question: what promises are we making and how do we keep them?
Accessible joy. Baroque art, a new novel, ale, whiskey, vines. What it takes to live life well: a prevailing sense of gratitude for the surprises that make us laugh, collaborate and gasp in amazement. Bernini and his contemporaries in Virginia’s Great Southwest. A new novel from a sister. Ale made with friends. Whiskey deconstructed. A valley called Tramonti.
Old is new. Evolving expertise, the updated resumé, a valuable cohort. Ageists reject the relevance of experience, while stubborn seniors reject new information. The key to relevance is the willingness – in fact, the passion – to evolve. And the evolution of personal or professional strategy and perspective requires open minds.
Saying and doing. Costumes, follow-through, values. Boundaries are never easy and these days, they are particularly difficult to set and respect. Some of us feel the goalposts keep moving and some of us think it’s generous to think we even have goalposts. A good first step is to remember when you make a commitment and to deliver to it.
Maps. Virginia grain, native American commerce, employee moods. Embracing history often inspires the writing of new chapters – economic, societal, industrial – to reveal and surface strategies that do a better job of righting wrongs than any rhetoric can deliver. We are the mapmakers of a prosperous future.
Cracking codes. Medieval alchemy, return to stakeholders, HR craziness. Those artists of the operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan, captured one of the basic risks of being human in these words, put to music: “things are seldom what they seem… skim milk masquerades as cream”. How often we get caught up in the wrong perception or worse, give it fuel. For those seeking a laugh and some satisfaction regarding the brokenness of the corporate HR function, the story here about the fake resumé is a case in point.
Basics of strategy. Writing with depth, understanding the customer, freeing company cash. Strategic planning is critical and, in some cases, complex. Whatever the organizational environment, strategy is best done by breaking everything down into practical realizations about the current situation and engaging in grounded goal-setting. It should go without saying that honesty and transparency are critical. But we must say it.
Healthy resistance. Horticulture, universal human characteristics, job hunts. If we focus too much on history, we might wind up living in the past. If we ignore history, we are pretty much guaranteed to repeat it. It’s all because human nature is essentially the same, in any chapter of civilization. Our opportunity is climb out of the cave, learn from history, honor experience, and do better.
Tech centric. Defining antitrust, choosing a career, planting data centers. Information is what we do – as people, businesses, communities, governments. Our choices for handling information have multiplied. Instead of being overwhelmed, these choices should inspire understanding, action, and invitation to those not in our backyards or backrooms.
Momentum. Technology’s impact, data’s professions, rural’s surge. All the deliberation over infrastructure funding should inspire us to ponder the potential of technology in our age, to empower every single human being into self-sufficiency and contribution. For Americans, this means using our strength to help urban and rural areas understand their advantages and integrate them. America is designed for this – to show how zero sum gaming is truly irrelevant.
The spend. Old companies, new initiatives, potential waste. Back to a look at the infrastructure spend: Americans must become obsessed with following the money, whether it’s company funds or taxpayer resources. This is a productive obsession because, in tandem with real management thinking, a watchful eye daylights alignment of priorities and honorable stewardship of other people’s money.
Where stuff is. Shipping infrastructure, libraries, architecture. For a couple of decades now, we have been looking to information technology, as the solution in and of itself, to fix business inefficiencies, to replace costly human talent, to expand financial portfolios. Through much pain and stress, we are now served up an opportunity to understand new technology for what it is: a force for innovation under human control, which fortifies reason and extends prosperity to all. Of course, the study of history has shown us, all along, over and over, what every iteration of technology can do, in the right hands.
Once and future earth. Distributed economy, traditional food, foliage. Ideas are flowing. There is life left in this planet and its inhabitants, many of whom honor tradition by expanding definitions of responsibility and stewardship. Action is flowing, too.
The tales we tell. Created value, tarnished brands, Merlin. The past half century, in corporate years, has delivered twists and turns in company stories – as well as many gyrations in the format of communications strategy and operations. New facts always emerge, so it’s best to set a priority for truth. This way, you’ll never have to back-fill your position with suspicious spin or specious logic. Your honor remains intact.
Celebrity wisdom. Lucille Ball, Ringo Starr, Galileo. Celebrity wisdom: two words you rarely see in a phrase or a sentence. Yet we can find wisdom and corresponding inspiration all around us, even if we merely stumble upon it. For example, I’ve always admired Lucille Ball, for all the usual reasons. When I came across a new podcast featuring radio interviews she did with other celebrities in the 1960s, it felt like a treasure trove. Miss Ball gets to the essence of subjects through her elegant way of conversing with interesting people. Genuine interest, kindly expressed, always brings out the real story.
Origin. Accelerating startups, remembering names, baking cakes. Origin stories, for families or businesses, often become important aspects of their identity. It’s important to keep them in the realm of the true, and not just because it’s the ethical thing to do: true stories, well-told, are often more interesting than fiction. And regarding cakes: the practice of the dumb cake is not something I’d want in any origin story.
Decency. Work, the siren call of power, the danger in success. As we search for signs of a true meritocracy in the workplace, solid thinkers initiate their pondering with transparency, honesty and fairness. When they learn that the meritorious among us are often stuffed down – suppressed – the thinkers emerge from the shadows to make things right.
Watching. Workers, innovators, demons. As we dig out of bacterial and managerial toxicity, on a national level that has trickled into every corner of American life, it is good to know that we are not the first generation of civilization to step in waste matter. Let’s make our generation the last. If you read nothing else today, check the interview with Safi Bahcall. He has a prescription for corporate achievement that works on a personal level as well.
Paradigms. Job agglomeration, talent attraction, reality re-shaped. Economic development practices in rural regions are influenced by cultural markers, habits, and legacy powerholders that remain unquestioned or unchallenged. To reach new heights of growth and prosperity for all, the best first step is to take a fresh look at the factors that generated economic decline or achievement. It clears the way to seeing solutions. Not only those missed, but those which can serve to unite people and to make bias, favoritism and turf irrelevant.
Invincible. 007, reengineering, innovation. We can learn from every story and every situation. Over the centuries of human experience, the characterization of what we mean by invincible shifts and changes. One constant: even business organizations must be mindful with their intentions. Best to focus on the innovation opportunity, the tools, the work – because we might run into a form of invincible we never anticipated.
Uh oh. More new stuff: the metaverse, an explosion of choice, flipped learning. By now, those of us who have our high school years behind us know that we have reached an entirely new pace of research and innovation. Oh, why not.
Saga. Family attics, totality, like everyone else. When we listen to others and invite them to hear us, our stories show that more elements bond us than divide us.
Boss. Factors, funding, facing truths. Amid all the wackiness surrounding us, rational thinking endures. New discoveries and realizations amplify the reason that abides in a productive executive suite. Reason? You know it when you see it, so honor your instincts.
Inspiration. Colliding innovation, getting ahead, finding solidarity. Life feels hard right now. But to one way of thinking, taking on the challenges will get us to better places of productivity and contribution.
Flying the world. Viking warriors, leadership potential, earned autonomy. To fly through this planet often requires sacrifice, which itself indicates the capacity for long-term thinking and for channeling ambition to serve a vision. This is our generation’s moment to propel the world forward, by including people with energy, intestinal fortitude, and talent. And turning them loose.
Rural Virginia. Big Tech’s role, energy’s legacy, reinventing news. It is a national conversation: how the infrastructure spend can serve Americans who choose to live a life in rural regions, by strengthening and even rebuilding local economies. Some answers are emerging. And so are many experiments. Virginia is turning into a lab on several fronts, not the least of which is how true stories are daylighted and told.
Trigiani: Kismet and Virginia’s Great Southwest. Cardinal News, September 23 2021. McKinsey & Co. partners Erik Roth and Laura Furstenthal study innovation. They have distilled, into a pretty basic formula, what it takes to get real results from any investment in innovation. And while their focus is the corporate setting, the formula stands out as relevant to public sector investment.
A Call for Renaissance. Mary Trigiani’s speech to the Leading Tomorrow Summit, June 2021.
Unsung heroes. Transforming organizations, taking pictures, defending the lagoon. September 23 2021. Every day, every one of us bears witness to the intellect and the accomplishments of unsung heroes. As we deal with our modern-day plague – and I hope, make a renaissance of our own – we can derive much joy from our companions on the journey who innovate and produce, in the shadows and behind the scenes.
Hurry. Consistent leading, humane augmenting, better socializing. September 22 2021. It is super easy to blame the new kid on the block – whether it’s a person or a technology or a company – when negative things surface. More often than not, though, new players merely daylight things we might have been denying. As C. Northcote Parkinson said, “delay is the deadliest form of denial”. Renaissance thinkers hurry. They not only embrace the new, they welcome the data and they promote the truth.
Healing. Under pressure, with entrepreneurs, over cookies of joy. September 21 2021. Roughly three centuries ahead of the Italian Renaissance, Hildegard of Bingen was defying labels. She truly had a sense of self, the starting point of contribution, which also served as a sort of armor against challenges, silly and significant. And she knew that cookies help to fortify us as we seek solutions and opportunities.
Off the bench. Brand-new careers, employee retention, experienced workers. September 16 2021. From the earliest days of working, I have avoided labels such as “young” or “old”. (As well as a whole bunch of other ones, frankly.) There were times when being young was a liability and being older meant irrelevance. Labels just do not matter, unless we use them about ourselves to tell our stories in ways that forge connections and establish parity – not to assert dominance or to put others in convenient compartments, locking them out. We must get back to making the story about the work we do, because – especially in business settings – all that should matter is one’s ability to perform and to contribute to the stated objectives. Renaissance is on the other side of that door.
Intricate. The customer experience, energy as we know it, thoroughbreds. September 15 2021. Economic development is, for some, the game of redistributing taxpayer money and sustaining agencies for that purpose – without reporting ROI back to taxpayers or marking real progress. When it’s done right, however, economic development is an intricate process of modeling businesses, vetting partners, and building bridges – so that people can find jobs, prosper, and enjoy life. This shift in definition is a condition of today’s renaissance. And I believe Virginia’s Great Southwest will show the way.
What’s smart. Partnership, breakthroughs, a fresh look at expertise. September 14 2021. We are all looking for light these days. How fortunate we are to have the tools to find and share information that propels us to new levels of thought and action. In a renaissance, a society converts distress into progress.
Let’s extrapolate. Austin, attrition v. attraction, the tears of the sun. September 9 2021. Real economic development delivers a return on the taxpayers’ investment in the form of companies creating jobs that produce more tax revenue and, hypothetically, more ability to protect shared public infrastructure. How to get there, rurally speaking: consider that areas like Appalachia possess some of the same challenges minority workers face – access, equity, image – and the same strategic calls to action companies must answer – comprehensive employee health, fairness, balance. The path to true economic development is revealing itself. Renaissance ahead.
Finding things. Buzzwords, advisors, ancient structures. September 8 2021. It’s essential to stay on top of new terms and concepts. However, we should use them only if we understand their meaning and if they are of true significance. As a former consultant, I know there is often a thin line between jargon and an innovative thought. Fact-based communication is essential to innovation. And renaissance. Especially when it comes to the taxpayers’ investment.
How to spend taxpayer money. Examples from Virginia, cluster strategy, the value proposition. September 7 2021. Renaissance – as a call to action, not just an era – has held my interest since my days as a student in Rome. (Maybe it’s hardwired into my DNA😁) Since my re-entry into Virginia five years ago, I’ve been speaking and writing about what makes a renaissance while studying what others are researching and reporting about how to keep America’s economic spend focused and legitimate. Conclusion: our renaissance must create wealth, not merely redistribute it.
Trigiani: Innovators are helping Southwest Virginia forge a new business identity. September 5 2021. Guest editorial by Mary Trigiani for THE ROANOKE TIMES.
Playing games. Political awareness, boardroom lessons, theory. September 2 2021. When we endure disappointments and enjoy triumphs, if we do it right, we recognize that it’s more than doors and windows opening to a next phase. What we have is an opportunity for an individual renaissance that can radiate to the others around us. Of course, it never hurts to use every experience to get savvy – or to celebrate the fact that you already are.
Rescue. Skills, dynamic talent, hiding Cupid. September 1 2021. We are in a collective state of overwhelm – and if you research it, the word has been used, ironically, as a noun since 1596 – so the workplace is an appropriate lab for testing ways to create a better reality. Hiding the ideas and contributions of others is rarely the path to innovation, though. Today I’m hoping our renaissance doesn’t force the producers to retreat, only to be validated 350 years later.
The changing universe. Telescopes, landscapes, plans. August 31 2021. Tellers of truth often encounter the most resistance of all. Across history, disruption begins when someone observes there is a better way, or a new thought, or a breakthrough discovery. In our renaissance, we must be vigilant to those who promote disruption, i.e. progress, but, in reality, do everything they can to maintain the status quo and the power structures they understand.
Heritage. Egyptian pyramids, Anglo Saxon queens, American suffragists. August 26 2021. History is our story to tell – not just to preserve. A renaissance amplifies the truth of the human experience and bears witness not to repeating mistakes or sustaining them or positioning them as worthy heritage. In a renaissance, we advance.
The good life. Rich, lies, mastery. August 25 2021. I am all for expanding our definition of wealth – beyond the realms of finance and influence. Our renaissance must change the game. We must design a new perspective on what constitutes true value.
Cognition. Nuanced perspective, owning the weight, dark hours. August 24 2021. The scholarship on decisions is abundant. Driven greatly by the work sponsored in the world’s business schools, from psychology to case analysis, we learn that sound decisions come from open minds and even open hearts. In a renaissance, we decide to optimize the worst as well as the best.
The test of time. Stonehenge, spirits, heroes. August 18 2021. Indestructible is a worthy characteristic of products and services in a business, and it might even be a good goal for developing intestinal fortitude in a person. We just have to realize that there is disruption, and even a little destruction, on the way to a renaissance.
Vectors and vaccines. Honey and mead. Emblems and sculptures. August 18 2021. It’s funny how etiquette became a way to level the playing field, the theory being that if all people can perform to the same standard, they might have the same opportunity. We still have a long way to go. But if it had been left to the barons, serfs would never have had a chance to take a seat at the table. In any renaissance.
Choosy. Reading, community v. audience, attention span. August 17 2021. We all are stretched. Choosing where we put our attention is not only personally rewarding, it’s professionally productive. Renaissance players value thinking, not reacting, and connecting, not bloviating.
First person. Scapegoats, innovation coaches, board members. August 12 2021. The desire to succeed is something we pretty much all share. It just manifests individually. Power and control remain in the sights of some, but as we learned in one renaissance, the lasting elements of success often reveal themselves from unexpected corners of society. This is what we must hold dear in our own renaissance.
Drop the clutter. Images, scripts, optics. August 11 2021. The acronym “PR” has outlived its usefulness. I know a lot of communications professionals stand by “public relations” as a functional title or activity, but it’s time to move on to better descriptors. Positioning, public affairs, media relations. In a renaissance, you de-clutter by forging a transition from terms that reek of -isms. All via proper grammar, of course.
Markers. Norton and inclusion, founders and expertise, strategy and uncertainty. August 10 2021. The Italian Renaissance covered a period of roughly 400 years and included both ongoing bouts with plagues and extraordinary accomplishments. Virginia’s coalfields present an intriguing parallel. Their enduring legacy of fairness from many corners, despite what many might think, offers a lesson to today’s investors and strategists alike.
Indispensable. Money, tech companies, the Sistine Chapel. August 5 2021. Things change all the time, so it is always good practice to determine what is indispensable in an organization. Because they are results oriented, renaissance thinkers and doers remain open to altering what they think is essential and acting accordingly.
A dent in the universe. Intention, adaptability, common sense. August 4 2021. Did Steve Jobs ever ponder the Renaissance? Whether or not he did, he clearly understood what it takes and wound up encouraging a generation to ask questions and challenge things.
Distilled. Metaverse, true power, respect in football. August 3 2021. As our world continues to expand – to enter another renaissance – some will be tempted to contract, in fear, competitiveness, scarcity. Best to tap the best in ourselves: curiosity, collaboration, abundance.
Microenterprise. Orchestration, new creation, progress. July 29 2021. In a renaissance, building institutions is not nearly as important as clearing paths to products, prosperity and fairness. We are learning that sometimes the most effective agencies disband once their work is done.
Disruption. Hiring, hypotheses, the alphabet. July 28 2021. At the same time we are using tools invented thousands of years ago, we are tasked with disrupting practices that, if they ever worked, are way past their due dates. Making a renaissance requires wisdom.
Gilded. High wealth, blessed investors, cursed diamonds. July 27 2021. The question, debate, and ultimately, call to action in making a renaissance: are we creating wealth or merely redistributing it?
Gimmicks. The better bank, the right documents, the smell of fuel. July 22 2021. Gimmicks may have worked in burlesque (See “Gypsy” by Sondheim, “You gotta have a gimmick If you wanna have a chance”, etc.) but in most businesses, they can be trouble. Especially if the audience is being deliberately tricked. A company does not grow via spin or stunt and neither does a renaissance.
Endurance. Jazz, architecture, leadership. July 21 2021. Things swirl during a renaissance and it can be so satisfying to hang on and create, whatever the challenges.
Sketch. Math, Wingdings, Van Gogh. July 16 2021. All innovators must be welcomed on the scene. Even and especially the mathematicians, who are often the overlooked artists in a renaissance.
Electric. Beethoven, Alma Thomas, Digger Phelps. July 15 2021. Feeling inspired by the individuals in today’s stories, because they demonstrate the importance of the unconventional in life. Renaissance-makers stick out their necks. With gusto.
Women in Public Affairs to Know: Mary Trigiani July 6 2021. This interview is part of a series on “Women in Public Affairs to Know,” by the McGuireWoods Consulting Women in Public Affairs initiative. To learn more about the initiative or recommend a woman for a future interview, please visit the McGuireWoods Consulting website. The interview was conducted by Michele Satterlund, senior vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Virginia State Government Relations team and Margaret Rockwell, assistant vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Infrastructure and Economic Development team.