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I'm writing down names, I'm making a list
I'm checking it twice and I'm getting 'em hit. Loss Leader 2020.
Loss Leader 2020
2020 was a lot of things. A tragedy. A tire fire. Seventy six months long.
It was also the year that our leaders failed us. Not all of them, globally. But most of them, profoundly. There were individual acts of compassion or forethought, sure, but they were overshadowed by a lack of boldness and the weakness of our systems, which we have long failed to shore up with the right reserves of talent.
2020 put the lie to the idea that who’s in charge doesn’t matter. That the private sector is better equipped than the public. That public outrage will provoke systemic change.
But it also reacquainted us with our own individual capacity for leadership. The actions we could take to care for ourselves. For our families. Our neighbours. Our friends. The opportunities we have to be selfless, to be brave, to be generous. To have each other’s backs. To speak up and demand more.
The leadership I saw this year was almost always at street level. The people fighting it out in the trenches. Doing their jobs as well as they could. Parenting their children as well as they could. Pitching solutions. Raising alarms. Asking for help. Offering it.
I hope that this year will be remembered for the Leadership Boom it precipitates: a generation motivated towards power because they saw how ineffectively it can be wielded, and understood what a difference they could make.
The soft guardrails coming off:
Donald Trump proved, as did Toronto Mayor Rob Ford before him, that the soft guardrails of our democracy, as AOC called them, are made from little more than chewing gum and dreams. We watched how quickly and completely institutions and norms in the US could be dismantled at someone’s whim. And we saw how many people would stand by and do nothing while they were.
The Internet biting us in the ass:
As long as the Internet was just syphoning off our privacy, our credit card information and our attention spans, we all seemed okay with it. But 2020 was the year when more people seemed to realize that this ungoverned terrain was also being used to spoon-feed us conspiracy theories that are making us go collectively mad. And we have no idea how to make it stop.
Failure of Forethought:
The most frustrating experience of the year was watching leaders struggle to contend with realities they should have seen coming a mile away. To anticipate and adapt and augment and get out ahead of things. to address root causes. This is tragic because it could have helped defend us, medically and economically. But forethought could also have also been used offensively to carve out some benefits from the new landscape. Like if we had thought to tax Amazon for the astronomical rise in deliveries made on our roads. Or recognized the actions that would protect people long term, like paid sick days or increased mental health supports.
Black Lives Matter*:
The movement isn’t a lowlight, but the institutional response to it has been. 2020 was the year that we watched more Black and Indigenous people die or be brutalized on camera and responded with some dark squares on our Instagram and a request to our headhunter to find more diverse candidates for our boards.
Clicks for Kindness:
Ted Lasso. Schitt’s Creek. Rex Chapman. When things got bad, a lot of us turned to content that promoted generosity of spirit and the idea that you could lead with compassion, even if you yourself are a bit of a mess.
There were countless artists who used the period of prolonged solitude to produce works of art: novels, albums, films, sculptures. But it was the amazing variety, resourcefulness, playfulness and responsiveness of TikTok users that showed us what people are capable of when left to their own devices. Sometimes the kids aren’t just staring at their screens, the screens are staring at them.
The opportunity to reset:
We spent time with our kids. We talked on the phone more. We realized we hated the office, or loved it. We missed people. We mourned our freedoms. We went outside and experienced the seasons and looked at the sky. And our priorities reset. Some good can come of that.
Better candidates for Chief Medical Officer: Now that we’ve seen how important these positions are, perhaps we can attract a new cohort to vital public health leadership roles: one that understands and embraces the ‘public’ part. We need strong policy minds, courageous implementers and effective communicators. And no, just because we’ve realized these jobs are important now, doesn’t mean we have to stop giving them to women.
I swear to god someone’s going to “invent” TV. Hilariously, new media is just recreating the paradigms and business structure of old media, barricading content behind siloed brands. We’ve all got seven streaming subscriptions now, so it’s only a matter of time before some tech genius invents the concept of cable.
Board retreat: Will 2021 be the year we ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing with most boards? People go on them for the wrong reasons. People are asked to go on them for the wrong reasons. No one really understands what they are trying to do, or how to do it. Plus, now that they’re getting more diverse, I’m sure someone will suggest they’re no longer necessary for good governance.
Class Uprising: Just kidding. But there should be one.
I will release a book: Just in time for Valentine’s Day and stumbling back out into the world, post-vaccine: It’s called How to Get Laid Without Your Phone. A reflection on how technology affects the way we relate to one another. It’s based on the talk I gave here: