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A word for 2021: OPENNESS

By Lenora Rand

2020. Was. A. Year. (Or a year and a half…or five…who can be sure?)

A year in which worlds shifted in so many ways for so many people. A year filled with unbelievable loss. And fear. And anger and division. And uncertainty.

And we’re really glad to be done with it.

As Mylene, my fellow founder of SmallGood, and I have been reflecting on our hopes and fears and wild guesses about the year ahead, we’ve also been trying to come up with our Word for the Year. Something that could be our business’s intention for 2021 - a north star to follow, a touchstone, maybe even a kick in the ass, at times.

This is actually a tradition we started last year at SmallGood and the word we chose for 2020 was ANTIRACISM. (You can read about that here.) Of course, as the year developed and the names Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor became headlines and the racism woven into the fabric of our country became more apparent, we couldn’t help but feel grateful for the path that intention had already started us down.

The word we keep coming back to now, as this new year begins, is OPENNESS.

Yes, we’ve decided we want to commit ourselves to be more open to newness and change. To the beauty of different styles and life experiences and points of view. To new ways of working. We want to commit ourselves to have more open minds, open eyes and ears, open hearts, and open hands. And yes, even open mouths - willing to speak the truth, be vulnerable, not remain silent.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a lot of companies these days have begun to include openness as one of their core values. Probably with good reason. As Judith Radnai-Toth, founder of Talentbrand, a European-based strategic and branding consultancy says, “Being an open workplace is not only the right thing to do but it also makes business sense. Diverse and inclusive organizations perform better and their employees are happier. They attract and retain talent better and are more creative and innovative.”

There’s also been a lot of push for companies to adopt a beginner’s mind in order to truly unleash their potential. As Melody Wilding writes in Inc: “Whether you're trying to tackle a challenging assignment, push the limits of your creativity, or otherwise advance your career, Beginner's Mind can help you approach your work with fresh eyes and levelheadedness.”

Ah…but here’s the thing.

Actually being open and staying open… that’s definitely under the category of easier said than done. And if you’ve ever had any doubt about that, enter 2020 - one long, painful test of how open we could really be.

Basically, boot camp for openness.

We thought we were pretty open before this year, but it was like 2020 kept saying to us: “You wanna be open? Try dealing with this…

Even as it required us to close our physical doors and shelter at home, it asked us to open up to new ways of working (real pants optional), new ways to run a business, be an employee, act like a friend, even new ways to be a neighbor, a student, a family.

It required us to open our minds to learn new technology like Zoom, Slack and Instacart. To connecting with family/friends, joining phone banks, and attending fundraisers separate - but together. And gave us a new appreciation for this bit of wisdom from the unforgettable Frank Zappa: “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open.”

It required us to open our eyes to new ways of seeing ourselves, our country, and our ears to previously silenced voices about the depth of racism in this country. It asked us to be open to new ways to care. And to show our solidarity. It forced us to learn new ways to grieve.

A few months ago, in the midst of this very strange year, I got a very good example of radical openness…it fact, it began wandering around my house.

My twenty-something daughters were both at home, sheltering in place with my husband and me for a while, and during that time they convinced me it would be a nice idea to foster some kittens. And then, surprise, surprise, we ended up keeping one. Mind you, we already have three other cats my daughters had previously convinced me to bring into my life.

Max is what we call this new little guy and, of course, he’s a lot of trouble and also adorable, constantly curious and ready to try anything. However, he’s not been immediately embraced by our older cats. They haven’t been all that open to this intrusion, this difference, racing through their nicely established way of life. They often groan and growl and grumble at him.

But Max is dauntless. He follows them around jauntily...hopefully…and all I can imagine he’s trying to say to them is “Get to know me. I might be better than you think.” I’ve got to admit, watching Max in all his goofy, brave, bold openness brings me joy.

And it’s been helping me believe that no matter how scary it feels, a deep-down, intentional commitment to openness as one of the core values of SmallGood, can also bring more joy. To Mylene and me personally. And to the folks we work with as partners and clients.

“Adapt or die,” the famous pronouncement from Charles Darwin is also popular in business leadership circles these days. Mylene and I may have even said it to each other a couple of times in the grip of 2020. However, we’ve come to believe there’s a better mantra, at least for us and our business: Be open and find joy. Stay open and find joy. Embrace openness and find joy.

That’s also our wish for you, as we head into the unknown of 2021.


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