Of crises and corporate culture

I opened up my Facebook feed earlier this week and found this story, written by a JetBlue flight attendant named Kelly Davis Karas. I don’t know Kelly, but her story has been shared widely at this point and even made it to CNN. But I’m going with the Facebook post here, because it’s everything a personal story should be: detailed, emotional, resonant.

I hadn’t intended to make this post about comparative literature, but if you compare Kelly’s Facebook post with the CNN article, you’ll see a perfect example of authenticity vs. objectivity. If I were writing this up for JetBlue—either for an in-house communication or for an executive speech—I’d be quoting Kelly, not CNN.

Kelly Davis Karas
June 14 at 3:23pm · Kennebunk, ME ·

Below is a picture of Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo. Omar, as his friends and family called him, was a Latino man gunned down at an LGBTQ bar in Orlando last weekend. He was 20-years-old.

Today my dear friend Melinda and I had the sad privilege of attending to his grandmother on our flight as she made her journey to Orlando to join her family during this unspeakable time.

Knowing she was making this hard journey alone, JetBlue employees made sure to be at her side every step of the way. Melinda stood quietly by her wheelchair while we waited until it was time to board. Kellie, the gate agent, boarded with her and helped get her settled. Melinda and I gave her a blanket, a pillow, a box of tissues and water so she could be as comfortable as possible. She was understandably distraught, but met us with kindness and gentleness. And gratitude.

But here’s where our flight got truly inspiring. I had the idea to pass around a piece of paper to everyone on board and invite them to sign it for this grieving grandmother. I talked it over with Melinda and she started the process from the back of the plane. As we took beverage orders, we whispered a heads up about the plan as we went.

Halfway through, Melinda called me, “Kel, I think you should start another paper from the front. Folks are writing PARAGRAPHS.” So I did. Then we started one in the middle. Lastly, running out of time on our hour and fifteen minute flight, we handed out pieces of paper to everyone still waiting.

When we gathered them together to present them to her, we didn’t have just a sheet of paper covered in names, which is what I had envisioned. Instead, we had page after page after page after page of long messages offering condolences, peace, love and support. There were even a couple of cash donations, and more than a few tears.

When we landed, I made an announcement that the company had emailed to us earlier in the morning to use as an optional addition to our normal landing announcement, which states “JetBlue stands with Orlando.” Then with her permission and at the request of a couple of passengers, we offered a moment of silence in Omar’s memory.

As we deplaned, EVERY SINGLE PERSON STOPPED TO OFFER HER THEIR CONDOLENCES. Some just said they were sorry, some touched her hand, some hugged her, some cried with her. But every single person stopped to speak to her, and not a single person was impatient at the slower deplaning process.

I am moved to tears yet again as I struggle to put our experience into words. In spite of a few hateful, broken human beings in this world who can all too easily legally get their hands on mass assault weapons – people ARE kind. People DO care. And through our customers’ humanity today, and through the generosity of this wonderful company I am so grateful to work for, I am hopeful that someday soon we can rally together to make the world a safer place for all.

I will never forget today. ‪#‎Orlandoproud‬

I had intended to write here about empowering employees to embody the corporate culture in their interactions with clients and coworkers. But I think I’ll just leave you to contemplate the power of words. Excuse me while I hunt down another box of Kleenex.

“Hamilton” & Creativity

You could roll out a wheelbarrow full of adjectives and still not capture the brilliance that is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.

When I saw Hamilton at the Public Theater in February 2015—in previews, before any critic had anointed it as the groundbreaking work it undeniably is—I was astonished at how quickly it grabbed both my attention and my heart. Specificity. Complexity. Intelligence. Emotion—all the things I preach about to my clients, right there in one wondrous package.

Standing ovations have become the rule in New York rather than the exception. Someone in the front stands up during the curtain call, so everyone has to stand or miss seeing the actors’ bows. But the moment that preview performance of Hamilton ended, the entire audience leapt to its feet simultaneously. I’ve never seen anything like that before. And I probably never will again.

I’ve seen the show twice now—it’s even better on Broadway than it was downtown. But as remarkable as Hamilton is, what’s even more remarkable is the tsunami of creativity it has unleashed.

There’s the a cappella group that condensed the entire show into a beautifully arranged seven minutes.

There’s the fabulous opening number, which has been parodied in many ways by many people, including Lin-Manuel and the cast themselves: giving it the Sweeney Todd treatment at a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fund-raiser and using it to introduce host James Corden at last weekend’s Tony Awards.

But this may be my favorite Hamilton-inspired song—the children from the cast of Fun Home (itself a remarkable, groundbreaking, inspiring, multiple Tony Award-winning show) addressing themselves to Lin-Manuel directly:

“Gee, Mr. Miranda” – Fun Home at Easter Bonnet Competition 2016 from Broadway Cares on Vimeo.

Seth Godin is a Brilliant Man

I have read several books either written or edited by Seth Godin, but I only recently discovered his blog.  It’s fast become one of the first emails I open in the morning.

A few days ago, Godin blogged about the business variant of my mother’s old admonition, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”  His contention – with which I am in violent agreement – is, “If you can’t say something, don’t say anything.”

I still remember the time I interviewed the CEO of an investment fund that hired me to write a marketing brochure.  “What’s different about your fund?” I asked him.

“We are value investors and liquidate our positions at a premium.”  He paused to let the majesty of this statement sink in.

“Oh,” I responded.  “Buy low-sell high.”

I loved watching his face crumble.  And a few questions later, he finally abandoned the b.s. and gave me something real.

You Never Know (or, My summer reading so far)

I tucked into my first book of the vacation ready for some intellectual stimulation. Just because the sun is out doesn’t mean I can’t learn something that might improve me professionally, right?

The Black Swan turned out to be (as advertised) well-written and well-argued. Also an incredibly subversive read for a girl with a specialty in financial services who makes her living writing speeches for corporate types. This book could get me fired, I thought, even as I giggled my way guiltily through the author’s dissection of…well, all the things that pay my mortgage, like narrative and causality and forecasting.

So my next selection – Brother Ray, the autobiography of Ray Charles – is turning out to be lemon sorbet for my overstimulated brain. And while I thought I would be reading it from my perspective as a musician, the speechwriter in me is extremely impressed at how the co-author, David Ritz, has captured Charles’ voice perfectly.


Oh I know, I know, I wrote about The New Yorker in the last posting. But, hey, it’s the thing I read the most, other than The New York Times. But there’s an article in the current issue – March 3rd – that’s been generating a lot of interest for what it says. I’m equally interested in the way the author says it.

The author is the poet Honor Moore, and the article, “The Bishop’s Daughter,” is, as the title suggests, a memoir about her relationship with her father, Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore. The New Yorker‘s Web site doesn’t archive every story in perpetuity once the current issue is off the newsstands, so I’ll also link to the article about the piece in today’s New York Times“A Bishop Unveiled God’s Secrets While Keeping His Own.”

Yes, Reader, unbeknownst to much of his flock and his nine children – though possibly not his two wives – the Bishop was gay. There’s a lot more to the story, though, which didn’t make it into the magazine, so I was pleased to find out it’s an excerpt from a book that will be out in May. I look forward to seeing it on a nightstand near me soon.

But as newsworthy as the revelation about the Bishop’s life may be, what drew me into the piece was the way Honor Moore uses words to paint pictures. It’s not surprising – she is a poet, after all, and a darn good one. I first encountered her voice back when I was in college and read her play Mourning Pictures, which opens with the declaration: “Ladies and gentlemen, my mother is dying” and takes the audience on quite an autobiographical ride before it ends.

So how do you learn to use words like that? Reading the few pages of this excerpt, the answer seems to be “By listening to words used like that.” Without ever quoting Bishop Moore directly, Honor leaves no doubt that the power behind his speaking and writing lay in its specificity. Here she talks about the lasting effects of a Good Friday service remembered from her childhood.

“I don’t remember [a specific incident], but I could tell you the whole [Good Friday] story, and as I told it I would see the darkness that descended as the rain fell, the light that broke through a gash in the clouds as the sky cleared, how it sounded when the young man on the Cross said, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ I would tell you about the rich old man who offered his own grave for Jesus at the last minute. I could make you see Jesus’ face loosen as he finally died, and what I imagined Mary Magdalene looked like, sitting there on the ground looking up at him, the vials and pots of fragrant ointment in her lap.”

Specificity brings the written or spoken word to life, gives it color, makes it memorable.