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Inspiration for Action
The Newsletter / Edition 017
From Sylvain Labs, this is Progress Report.
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This weekly newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

In today’s newsletter…
  1. Democratic design challenges from Eliza Hadjis
  2. Secrets secrets are no fun from Sherzad Rahmatian
  3. How to bounce right back from Hannah Jegart
And this time, our illustrations from Nora Mestrich.
From the Field

01 / Wisdom of The Crowd

From Eliza Hadjis
With cold weather fast approaching, the city of Chicago launched a city-wide design challenge in August to solicit creative ways for restaurants to continue outdoor dining well into its infamous winters.

Across the country, outdoor dining has been a saving grace for restaurants and employees alike. To put things in perspective: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio estimated that outdoor dining saved 100,000 jobs and extended its outdoor dining allowances, originally set to end October 31, indefinitely. But with cold weather just around the bend (or already here in some cases), restaurants find themselves newly vulnerable and desperately in need of fresh ideas to make it through.
Why It Matters
Faced with a critical challenge, the city of Chicago turned to its citizen base to source creative and surprising solutions. In doing so, Chicago made a strong statement in support of its citizens, recognizing the value of and leveraging the might of their varied experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives.

Chicago’s ‘Winter Dining Challenge’ winner, for example, took inspiration from her time teaching abroad in Japan where she relied on a kotatsu, a heated table common in Japanese households that includes a heating element below and a duvet-like blanket that extends from the table’s edges to trap heat for warmth in the wintertime. Her winning design not only leverages a distinctly Japanese approach toward solving winter chill: heat the body, not the air, but in doing so, also cuts down on energy costs and leverages restaurant’s existing furniture rather than requiring new outdoor structures be built.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Turn inward. And go democratic.
Draw on the knowledge, skills, and experience already within your organization to help solve your business’s hairiest challenges. You might be surprised to find you already have the answers you need. Though travel is restricted to many parts of the world right now, how might we continue to reap the benefits of adopting perspectives that are different to our own? How might we keep the inspiration that comes from trading and sharing in cultural exchanges alive?

02 / Transparency Reigns

From Sherzad Rahmatian
While many companies worried that sending their employees home would stifle creativity, Matt Mullenweg, founder and CEO of has been running a 100% remote workforce that values transparency as the ultimate resource. In his recent interview, Mullenweg described 5 levels of distributed work. Most companies are grappling with levels 1 and 2: working in the office, or attempting to mirror office work online. He describes that the higher levels require a fundamental shift in thinking about resources for your employees. The key to level 5? Radical transparency. The company has nearly done away with email (a private tool) and instead uses an internally public blogging system for all discussion, including conversations with the CEO.
Why It Matters
Transparency is a common principle of modern leadership, based on the idea that the more employees feel connection to leaders, the more likely they are to connect with colleagues and perform better. The trap in this is oversharing. The key is creating space for free flow of information and vulnerability from the top, reinforcing a sense of trust that can be easily broken when we aren’t face to face.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Embrace the discomfort of transparency (and other new solutions).
While you don’t need to start with complete abolition of private communications, transparency is still a novel concept within the hallowed halls of hierarchy. Protecting information can often feel like a way of protecting ourselves, and any approach that embraces more transparency than you’re used to will inevitably come with apprehension. In these moments, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of what we’re gaining from change, and break away from a focus on what we’re losing. Maybe our moms and elementary school teachers were right all along— secrets don’t make friends.

03 / Resilience As A Resource

From Hannah Jegart
The ADP Research Institute recently surveyed two groups of people on how to cultivate resilience for both themselves and the people they lead. They noted that an individual’s resilience “set-point,” a baseline for how fast someone bounces back from challenges, is merely one factor that enables them to overcome obstacles in the workplace. Leaders have influence too by changing certain behaviors and the environment to ensure accountability, psychological safety, communication and more.
Why It Matters
Resourcefulness is a cousin of Resilience: if you can’t see a way ahead, how can you keep motivated to work around a problem? The optimism of resilient people makes it easier to be resourceful. The million dollar question becomes— how can leaders with a higher resilience set-point motivate less-resilient teams to be more resourceful?
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Build your team’s resilience to improve their resourcefulness.
Resourcefulness ultimately is a product of your ability to contend with set-backs and come-up with creative solutions. It takes resilience in those moments to be able to feel the psychological safety and trust in your teams to overcome. The 10 Resilience statements of this study give a rubric for all of us to audit the resilience creating attributes of our companies, our teams, and our own behaviors and make a change. It might take a leap of resilience to start this process, but we trust you have what it takes. (That’s a first deposit in your resilience bank. You got this!)

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