Understanding Culture in Crisis: Ensuring Responsible Organizations Emerge and Lead the Way

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

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Terry Young, Founder and CEO of sparks & honey, joins the program to share his diversity story and the work that his organization does to combine social and data sciences to solve world changing challenges. Discover how the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to unite disparate communities, how AI can be used to augment human abilities, and why leading with social responsibility is the only way forward.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Terry’s diversity story, including growing up in a small town in Kentucky (15:00)
  • The true meaning of diversity (19:00)
  • How sparks & honey has made the transition to virtual work (22:00)
  • How the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting culture (30:00)
  • How AI will augment human abilities (34:00)
  • How a common enemy can galvanize us (38:00)
  • What has become visible during this crisis (41:00)
  • How virtual teams are changing the power structure in organizations (45:00)
  • How culture impacts technology (50:00)

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

JENNIFER BROWN: Terry, welcome to The Will to Change.

TERRY YOUNG: Thank you, Jennifer. Happy to be here.

JENNIFER BROWN: Hey, where are you calling in from in your remote location?

TERRY YOUNG: Yeah, we’re upstate New York right now, so we’ve huddled, my partner and I and our little five year old. A little home schooling and remote working. So far so good under this unprecedented circumstance.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, indeed. Just to give folks a little context, I’m on the influencer advisory board for Sparks & Honey, which Terry leads. I know Terry and his partner, Bryan really well. Bryan’s a serial entrepreneur and somebody that’s been an incredible resource for me, and Terry and the Sparks & Honey team have built are so many ways of understanding the future of work and the future of the world, really. The future of commerce, the future of health, the future of technology, the future of gender identity. It’s really a community that stretches my thinking and challenges me to bring sort of that future state to my clients, and I know they do that for their clients, too, which are some of the biggest brands in the world, trying to help all of us see around the corner.

It’ll be interesting today, Terry, to explore. I’m sure you all have been reflecting on and sharing with your audiences in your briefings the ways that the seeds of all of this were planted and underway. I know I’m thinking a lot about what we’ve known to be true, but what we haven’t really wanted to grapple with. And now we are being forced to grapple with it, whether that is, for example the virtualization of work, whether that is the ways that teams can be productive with limited information and enabled by technology, whether belonging can be generated in this new way. And what do we need to do as leaders and colleagues and friends and loved ones to generate belonging around us and check in on each other and have kind of communities of trust because that’s where we do our best work.

And we also know, I know you know, how broken the workplace has really been for so long and how, I think commercial ventures, when they don’t have a heart and they’re not leading with social responsibility, when they’re not leading with values, they’re very much at risk of not resonating with talent, with markets. I think it’s interesting to see what leaders are doing right now, what companies are doing right now to have a voice in this crisis, both for their employees and also in the world, and how they’re stepping up and all that stuff. Anyway, I won’t foreshadow too much, and there’s a limited amount we’ll be able to get into today on the episode, but I want everyone that listens to The Will to Change to tune in to the show notes. We’re going to post a series of briefings that Sparks & Honey has been doing virtually that I think are really illuminating because these folks specialize in the future. That is literally where they live.

So what better way for us to kind of grapple with some amazing facts that we are not privy to, but that the team of data scientists and culture experts at Sparks & Honey are literally ferreting out for us. I have found it really actually soothing, because at least it tamps down a bit of the uncertainty to listen to your experts on your team, Terry.


JENNIFER BROWN: I mean, so much we don’t know, and I think if we can ground ourselves in what the experts are saying, because they look at this every single day 24/7 in all realms, too. Like the deep web, so many sources of data that they have at Sparks & Honey that we don’t have access to except through the platform that they’ve built, which I want to talk to you about, too. So anyway, I really instruct everybody to go, check this out, become a listener and an audience member of the community and perhaps even lean on Sparks & Honey, consider that as sort of a relationship if you have an employer who you think would really benefit from these kinds of insights.

I know we have a lot of corporate folks in my audience for Will to Change, Terry, so this might be something you want to think about as a brand. Because our ability to perceive the future is going to be everything. It was everything before, but it really, really is going to be everything coming out of this, and the ability to shift and change, depending on what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing and how we can anticipate things and really be present is going to be critical for business. That was a very long exposition, but I wanted to give you all a call out.

So Terry, on a personal level, I really feel bonded to you and your family. We’re both in the LGBTQ community. You’re a founder. You’re an LGBTQ businessperson. Tell us, and I know that’s not your only diversity story, but I know that it’s played a big role in your life and how you show up as a leader and a parent and a dad and a team member. Tell us, as we always start The Will to Change, about your diversity story. What would you share with the audience to kind of allow them to get acquainted with you on a personal level?

TERRY YOUNG: Yeah. I mean, thanks for that question, Jennifer. I guess I would rewind all the way back to where I grew up, which was Kentucky, a small town in western Kentucky. Being from a small town, I think the population there was maybe 30,000 people, and that gave me a certain world view on what it’s like to be in the south, what it’s like to be in a small town community, and I bring many of those ways of thinking and ways of interacting in the world, kind of a different type of world view to the work that we do in New York, which is kind of the opposite in a certain way. As you said, I am in a relationship with an amazing man. His name is Bryan, and we’ve been together for wow, it’s I guess now 12 or 13 years.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow, congrats!

TERRY YOUNG: Yeah. About five years ago, we had our son, Xavier, moving into being same-sex parents. I remember the process of finding a surrogate and going to Colorado under now governor Jared Polis, and I think we were one of the first same-sex couples to both be on the birth certificate. And if you know how that worked, previously, and I think still in New York, you needed to adopt, because the laws are so challenging. And Jared then was Congressman Polis, had worked through Colorado that, if you’re same-sex, that on the day of the birth, just like any other couple, both parents would automatically be listed on the birth certificate as co-parents, therefore you didn’t need to go through the adoption process. A lot of things have changed since then. I mean, in five years we’ve seen some incredible changes. I think the acceptance of same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting, but we have a long way to go.

I was telling someone in the office the other day, and I think this is just good for the listeners on the podcast is, we went to do our passports for X, and in the process, I walked up to the window and I was with Bryan, I was with X, we all needed to be there physically, and they’re like, “Who’s the dad? Where’s the mom?” And I said, “Oh, there’s no mom. He has two dads.” And the person on the other side said, “Yeah, yeah, but who’s the mom?” I said, “No, no. There’s no mom. There’s two dads.” They asked me…

JENNIFER BROWN: What year was this?

TERRY YOUNG: This was in New York, in New York City. This is why it’s fascinating. And they asked me a third time, and then I go, “No, let me explain to you. We’re in a same-sex relationship, and this is our son.” And then it triggered and they went, “Oh, I get it.” But it took me three times to explain that. And if you think about, that was in a passport office in Manhattan in New York City. You could imagine what it would be in a small town in Tennessee or Oklahoma or Kentucky. Right? It would have been a very, very different situation. So yeah, that’s part of the journey. And I think being a gay founder and CEO, I bring that to the organization that I lead, which is Sparks & Honey, and I think it’s part of who we are. We’ve woven diversity and inclusion, and even discussions on really complex topics into the fabric of the way we operate.

For us, diversity isn’t about the numbers of the people in the organization, but it’s the way you interact in the fabric of society and how you capture where we are at a given time, back to seeing around corners, and help guide a preferred future. Having a very diverse team allows you to tackle different types of challenges and problems, and I’m very excited that many times we’re tackling those problems for some of the biggest corporations in the world, and I think that that level of diversity you have within an organization helps shape at scale many of the decisions that those organizations make.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. Right. You’re right. I know you’re all virtually working now, which you were sharing with me was an easy pivot for you all. I say, what made it easiest, and what might your advice be for workplaces that are far less comfortable with this as they’re making decisions? I don’t know, I’m sure you’re being asked this by all of your clients. It’s seamless for you, not so seamless for companies, I’m sure, and I’m personally worried that diversity and inclusion and the valuing of that is going to get lost or put to the side as these really important sort of precedent-setting decisions are happening, and I think my whole community of practitioners is particularly concerned about this.

And yet, I talked with somebody in I think it was Asia, and they said as they’ve gone through the curve of all this that D&I might have taken a temporary backseat, and now it’s sort of roaring back in terms of being more important than ever because we realize that, to be productive, there has to be a sense of belonging and collaboration and trust. And what engenders that more than acknowledging difference than starting from a place of different communication styles, different comfort with technology, blending the personal as well as the task at hand. Things that all of us know that have been sort of working in remote certain areas for a long time, but most of the business world doesn’t. So what kind of advice are you giving what I would imagine are some of your sort of older-school, for lack of a better word, brick and mortar kind of clients?

TERRY YOUNG: Well, the first thing I’ll say is, I think so far, and what we’re two or three weeks into 100% remote work, it’s been a fairly easy transition for Sparks & Honey, and that is for a company, we’re about 65 people, that mostly were not working remote. I mean, we definitely allowed individuals to work remote, and that was part of the culture, but because of the briefings, which you’re so familiar with, we do in-studio, it’s kind of like you’re running a show every day. You’re present in-studio for that show. So what we’re really good at is using technology, clearly. So whether that’s Slack or Zoom or Webex or any of the other technologies for collaboration, I think that is one component.

A second component is that we use a lot of tools and technology and artificial intelligence to do the work we do. We built a platform called Q, which is a SaaS platform, and every single person in the entire company uses it. I think that gives us continuity between the way we work and a common language that you don’t have to be in front of someone.

And then the third thing, which I didn’t know how it was going to translate, but we brought the briefings, which were in-studio, so if you’ve ever gone and seen a Sparks & Honey briefing, and I know you said you’ll post some of the links, four days a week we basically go in and we unpack what’s happening in culture over a one-hour period. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, they are live-streamed out to Facebook and YouTube and LinkedIn, and we talk about culture, different aspects of culture. It’s a very human, premium interaction. It’s people looking each other in the eyes debating. It’s a full studio audience, so this is the most physical manifestation you can imagine. So two weeks ago we said, “Okay, if we’re going to be remote, can we do those remote? Can we create some of that same energy?” And within two days, the team had taken technology platforms and taken the format and modified it and turned it into a really impactful, a little bit shorter briefing that is done 100% remote.

We got the team members the right kind of hardware and software, we changed up things a bit, but we kept the integrity of the briefings. The ones we’ve done for the last two weeks have all been on COVID-19, so we basically took different aspects of what was happening around the coronavirus and we unpacked those in real time. I was saying before, you know Jennifer, as you’re an advisory board member, tomorrow we’re inviting advisory board members into the panel. We’re doing the remote discussions and inviting people from the outside in and it’s going really well. So that’s kind of the Sparks & Honey story. I think that it’s required us to think very quickly about the adjustments that we would make to really leverage the technology that we already had in place but maybe weren’t using at scale, and definitely everyone in parallel. It’s required us to have really good communication and probably build some new ways of working and interacting, because doing everything on technology is a little different than the face to face interactions.

And I’ve also been pleasantly surprised that people say, “Oh, technology puts so much of a barrier between us, and how would you build culture or how do you create connection points?” I’ve seen some amazing things develop with the team. So one thing, we use Slack, and today they’re doing a Slack… Maybe they’re on Zoom for this one, but it’s Zoom meditation. So at 2:30, everyone in the company is coming together to do a silent meditation. They set up a Slack channel called #hottub where people were just posting fun things. It can’t be anything about work. It’s nothing about COVID-19. It’s just where people can be lighthearted and interact and kind of build culture. We’re doing Slack happy hours where people log in, make your own cocktails and do things jointly together. I think those things are really important to create human connection in times when we’re 100% separated for very, very long periods of time.

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And do you think, I mean we can’t know this, but this could alter the way you do business… There could be some permanent things from all of this. It’s interesting to consider that, as well, like thinking about office space, thinking about what’s gained and what’s lost when we have to go through such a big change.


JENNIFER BROWN: So I’m fascinated to see how that evolves and what value does gathering in physical spaces still mean coming out of this? Ideally, we take the best of both worlds. Ideally, this really shows us what the best of both worlds is and then that we can kind of curate a hybrid answer, right? And we just can look at this as an accelerated learning process that we are being forced to undertake.


JENNIFER BROWN: Which actually opens up all kinds of landscapes for us to explore. So I fully expect that that’s what’s going to happen. You have eight laws of culture at Sparks & Honey, and I wondered if you can talk about the things you watch, when you think about, and it’s funny, maybe perhaps COVID has been seen by you all through these lenses of the laws of culture. I know, for me, you’re right that so much diversity and inclusion pertains to the lenses you use at Sparks & Honey, because you and I know this is important for the world. It’s sort of a thread that runs through almost anything, whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s AI and bias in AI, whether it’s the changing norms of gender, whether it’s accessibility and the dynamics of ability, which I know that you’ve studied.

I’m learning right now a lot about neurodiversity and being a neuro-typical, so I’m diving into that and learning some really amazing, surprising things about how some neuro-diverse individuals are actually really, really taking to this new way of working, interestingly because it forces us to be in our communications a lot more literal with each other in these virtual places, which actually works really well for some neuro-diverse individuals. Anyway, I just love discovering those truths that we just weren’t forced to look at, and when we do actually see them, we realize that actually what’s good for one community that’s struggled to be seen and heard is good for so many communities, that we can take these universal truths from what we thought were individual experiences and globalize them right now. It’s like the deck of cards has been thrown up in the air to me, and right now it’s like I’m looking at things and seeing things in a whole different way.

So tell us some of those lenses, and I might even ask how do you decide which lenses to look at COVID through, because I think actually they’re lenses that you use to look at all things that are happening through, as well.

TERRY YOUNG: Yeah. Our eight laws of culture is partially the way we built the firm. We have constructed our methodologies, our frameworks, the way we think about solving some of society’s greatest challenges around these eight laws, and I think if you compare Sparks & Honey to a McKinsey or Bain or BCG who may be tackling some of the same questions for Fortune 500 clients, the fact that we use the lenses of culture is what differentiates the way we problem-solve. And I think to your point, this is incredibly important in a time where we’re tackling COVID-19, we’re thinking about a pandemic. We’re understanding, “What does it mean, at the moment we’re in right now, which is, in New York specifically, heightened crisis, what does it mean post-crisis and what does this great reset, what does the new normal become once we come out of COVID?”

I’ll just share some of the laws with you to give you a sense for how we think about culture in the world. One is that many organizations are really focused in on their particular vertical. I’m in CPG, Consumer package goods, and I’m thinking about just that, or automotive, or something and so on. Culture lives in the horizontal, meaning it’s everything that’s happening around us, all around us at different times, and everything is blended together. So we believe that to really understand human behavior and what’s changing in the world, you have to understand culture at the horizontal. You also have to understand that culture moves at different speeds.

One speed is everything that’s happening around us on social media, news, and influencer culture. Another speed is things that are going to impact us two, five, 10 years down the road. Most organizations, and even most ways that research has been done is those things have been separated. We believe those things are integrated together. It’s almost like you take your social media department and you mesh it with your long term thinking group and they’re one and the same. I just use this example, which is a sustainability example, you have long term sustainability challenges. You have challenges around climate change that have been moving over two decades to where we find ourselves today. One level below that, which is at the more macro level, you have our view of plastics and what’s happening with removal of plastics, whether that be plastic bags or the movement that happened around straws.

Those movements are at a much more micro level. They’re built with micro tribes, but they ladder up to the bigger concepts, and we look at the world in that integrated view, from a very micro type signal all the way up to a macro signal that’s going to impact us over the long term.

The other thing that we do and I think is really important with the COVID-19 is to think of culture intention spaces and where culture is, and knowing that, and this is something you deal with all the time in the work you do at D&I. There are people on both sides of the discussion, and we have to bring people sometimes to the other side, sometimes we just need to know that both sides of the discussion exist so that we can take a real position, because without a position you don’t move the needle. I’ll give you a couple of examples, just COVID-19 specific. The idea of we need to social distance, and we’re all doing that right now, versus what does social distancing do to our mental health? What does social distancing mean… On one side it’s going to protect us, so it’s helping our health. It’s helping decrease the spread of COVID-19.

On the other side, we start to be worried about loneliness, we start to be worried about singletons that are living by themselves that may be more isolated than people that have been able to aggregate in the household. Single parents, things like that. So beginning to understand tension spaces like that. Another one that is playing out with COVID-19 is our ability to track the crisis and use tools like GPS, DNA analysis, understanding who has it and how we use what we call surveillance technology to monitor it versus privacy rights. How do we make sure that, in the process of shifting into a high-alert crisis mode around a pandemic, that we don’t also compromise privacy rights for the long term. And you see different models playing out in Europe, in the US, and then clearly what happened in China and Wuhan. So those are some examples.

I think the last one I’d say around the eight laws, and I think it’s a very important one, is that we believe in this concept of augmenting humans, giving humans superpowers with technology. That artificial intelligence allows us to do things faster, better, smarter than you do without it, and when pointed in the right direction it is going to allow us to scale and tackle challenges that we typically couldn’t tackle. I think humans are incredibly good at breaking through an algorithm and understanding and building in serendipity and being curious and providing empathy to situations. But AI, on the other hand, can allow us to look at large data sets very quickly and identify patterns very fast and then produce outputs that probably you would never be able to produce as an individual. So this idea of this collision of human-AI experience is another fundamental component of our laws.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh, and those are just some of them. It’s so interesting.

TERRY YOUNG: Yeah. Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: You always give me so much to think about. What I hear in what you’re talking about is polarities. You called it human-AI partnership, if handled responsibly, which is the big if. The question is, in whose hands are these decisions and who has the power and intention spaces, can we hold that healthy tension, that healthy balance. It’s kind of reminding me of what we were talking about before, what is the healthy balance of the physical space and virtual space? What is the healthy balance between human interactions and what technology can enable. I think it’s always about those polarities. So fascinating.

Gosh, there’s so many things I’d like to ask you. How are you… I guess I would say, are there any trends and laws of culture that are particularly top of mind for you right now as risks? As we navigate this, whether it’s as business owners or whether it’s as founders of larger organizations or whether it’s corporate employees and perhaps even executive leaders, when you think about cautions right now that you would give, is there some wisdom that you can share from the fact that you look at the future all day long, some danger that we’re in right now that we can be vigilant around? The hard part is that there’s the we that have the sort of power on paper, there’s we that have informal power, maybe from the bottom or wherever we sit, but I wonder, is there something that is very, very top of mind for you right now, even on a personal level, that if you could wave your magic wand and say, “These outcomes that are ahead of us have much to do with the decisions that we’re making right now.”


JENNIFER BROWN: So what is the risk right now for us on any of these trends?

TERRY YOUNG: There’s two things that I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last 72 hours, because we find ourselves in a really unique moment in time. One of those is, over the last what would we say, eight years, 10 years, we have been in such a period of divide and polarization. You used the term just a moment ago. And we have done a lot of research over the last 12 months on hate. What’s happened with the rise of hate? Is there a mechanism to disrupt hate? What would an anti-hate machine look like? How do we begin to decrease this divide politically? How do we tackle extremism and terrorism and white supremacy and all of these things that have galvanized over definitely the last four to five years?

What I’ve been thinking about is, right now we have found a common enemy, globally, and sometimes common enemies galvanize us. It brings us together. It’s something I want to watch very closely because I was talking with a colleague that worked at DARPA yesterday, and one of the things that they were saying is, “We wondered, around the time that 9/11 happened, the impact because we saw that bind people together, create a connection point, but it didn’t have longevity to it.” Whereas what they knew from their scenario analysis is that to really create a tidal wave of change around breaking down those walls, it takes something pretty massive. You can go all the way back to World War II where there was a common enemy and things coalesced in order to tackle that common enemy.

The question that I’m considering is what does that mean for us? Are we at that point? Have we found a common enemy in COVID-19, and what does that look like on the other side? Can that, for as much harm as it’s doing right now, is there a healing effect in binding us together in a new way coming out of this particular crisis? That’s not an answer. It’s just one thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about.

JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. I love that. Do you know what, it kind of reminds me…

TERRY YOUNG: … Baselines in the past to see kind of how that begins to unfold. The other one, which we did a briefing on, and you’ve probably seen some things written on it which I think is fascinating and I think is just an example that can be used for multiple areas is, when you look at people flying less, in fewer cars, it is having an impact on climate change. And for all of those discussions we’ve been having around, “How do we make our world more sustainable? How do we think about cleaning up our rivers? How do we really make an impact globally on pollution and create new practices?”

This crisis has given us a glimpse of what it might look like if we changed our behaviors. When I mentioned before, this great reset, one of the things that we want to do is to extract the things that are very positive about this great reset, and when we establish our new normal, make sure that the new normal isn’t back to where we were. In certain cases we want it to come back 100% because we’ve lost something, and then there are other cases where these adjustments give us a glimpse of a better future. I think we want to try to understand what those are and figure out, is there a way to maintain those beyond the crisis?

JENNIFER BROWN: Terry, I think you were reframing something in such a productive way that feels like it’s something that’s hopeful and something that will require care and vigilance to assess every day, let alone every week, every month. What are we learning every day? What are we being reminded of? What are we being shown is actually possible? And so we’re living in this accelerated era right now where it’s sort of this future that we could choose to have and we’ve been forced into certain things. But I think the urgency is so different. And I can relate that to my world. We’ve been trying to manufacture urgency I think, around diversity and inclusion, even though we all know on this call and in The Will to Change, we shouldn’t have to manufacture it because it’s at our doorstep, but I have spent so much time over the years kind of communicating the crisis that nobody sees, at least people in power don’t see, and people that have the power to address it don’t see.

So when we talk about, for example when I think about young talent coming into organizations and demanding inclusiveness as table stakes, bringing those values in that are so different from perhaps yours and my values as Gen Xers, Terry? Not ours, personally, but our generation’s. And certainly different than Baby Boomers, you know those expectations of employers, taking a stand on social issues, being better for the climate, having real corporate social responsibility, having diversity in leadership, all those things. I’ve often thought, maybe the big thing that’s going to change all of these outcomes when it comes to diversity and inclusion is the tidal wave of generational shift. It’s going to do, what I couldn’t do in 10 years, it’s going to do in a year.

It’s this fantasy we have that would make our jobs easier, because we have all felt, on my side, we’re sort of pushing this boulder. And we’re not at the table and we struggle to be at the table, so it’s this constant push. And yet, with this tidal wave of demographic change and the values that come along with that, it could literally reshape the conversation with one kind of generational shift. So I think this is a similar thing that’s happening right now, which is this is a tidal wave of change, and in change is tremendous opportunity. Like we said, it’s sort of like everything’s on the table right now. I think we’re going to start to hear new voices. I think some of us are going to come to the fore. I think it’s going to democratize a lot of things.

We’ve been talking about how virtual teams, the sort of hierarchy of who’s been invited to the meetings and who gets to speak, and all of the stuff is being kind of democratized. It’s just really interesting, the shuffling that’s going on, and I think it’s a great opportunity for those of us who’ve been less represented to really seize the opportunity to be heard. Know that the tidal wave is actually at our backs. When we think of headwinds and tailwinds, we talk a lot about that with anybody who’s different from a dominant culture in the workplace, in particular. Some of us face a lot of headwinds, but some of us have some tailwinds. And I wonder if there are some new tailwinds that are speeding along the messages, that might help us solve some of the exclusionary dynamics that have been created and have been perpetuated and haven’t been interrogated and honestly haven’t really needed to be interrogated because those in power don’t want to give up any power. There’s a total disincentive in the system to “share” and also to question the way we’ve always done business.

Literally, right now it’s just this tremendous time of potential. I’m sure you feel that. And you can get your thought leadership in there right now, too, in a very different way, and be heard. Your clients are calling you saying, “What do we do?” I wondered, without naming names, what is some wisdom that your team is supporting clients with? Because I know what’s happening with corporations at least right now has such a trickle down effect for so many of us. Whether we are nonprofits that rely on those dollars, which is going to just I think have a devastating impact, but it’s such an ecosystem. We’re all so bound up with each other, and yet the big and the strong and the mighty might survive in a very different way than the rest of us. Do you think of it in terms of an ecosystem that’s more interdependent than ever before? Or are we going to see sort of a Darwinian outcome from all of this?

TERRY YOUNG: I can give you some of the things that we’ve done and maybe some of the questions we’re getting from clients. When we started to see all of this unfolding, we’ve been watching it for some time, as you sort of recall, because this wasn’t just a US and Europe thing. This happened way before that. We did a few things. One, we have a platform that’s called Q, and we started monitoring very closely everything that was happening around COVID-19. Everyone who was working on that platform, we went in and we customized what we call pro-level bouillons, or search queries that can be put in and track by industry. So if you’re in the tech industry or CPG or it could even be D&I. You can have the system every day giving you input on what is shifting, what’s changing, what’s the cultural nuance, how consumers are thinking about one thing versus another. And the beauty of the platform is that you can isolate on a global level. So I can go into China and see China’s zeitgeists versus Italy versus the US. So that was one aspect we did very early.

The second was that we moved our briefings remote and we made them 100% about COVID-19 so that we had a forum to bring thought leaders together, experts who are watching this every day, but not just watching the health side of it, watching the things that were happening around it, like what is the impact on sustainability? What is the impact of social distancing versus mental health? And then the third thing we did was we built a small unit that just all they’re doing is watching this particular topic. They’re producing regular white papers out for free, and the briefings and the white papers we’re just putting out to the world because this is a community effort. We’re all in it together. We have to try to navigate a complex time, and we need to roll up our sleeves and help anywhere we can.

From a client standpoint, there’s been, and this might be just some good thoughts for other people that are listening. One thing that immediately was an opportunity is that clients came back and said, “Okay, we had this plan. We had a plan for the next 12 months, and now how do we make sure that plan is still relevant? How can we refresh our initiatives through the lens of COVID-19?” Not just the crisis side of it, but what are those scenarios that may implode when we come out of it, both that are threats and opportunities? So with many clients, we’ve been helping them take what they knew they needed to do when they ended 2019 and now give them the new lens to think about what those efforts might be in 2020.

A second is, we’ve been taking individual industries, so like the tech industry, broadband industry, beauty industry, and doing two-week very intensive sprints with the C-suites of those organizations to understand what we’re calling the cultural decode. So how do we decode what’s happening in culture that is going to impact the way we think about technology? If you just take technology, just the fact of everyone using technology in a different way in our remote settings and remote work, that by itself is redefining our relationship with tech, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

TERRY YOUNG: So we’re doing really intensive analysis around those particular areas, and then we’re calibrating our AI system to then help those organizations measure that over time. So those are a few ways we’ve been doing it. And we’ve been getting lots of different questions. People come in either in a kind of reactive mode and they’re like, “What’s going to happen with this crisis?” And that’s kind of the base. Other people coming in asking the question of, “What do we do coming out of the crisis? What does this mean for our business, both threats and opportunities?” And then some people are saying, “What do we compare this to? What are the analogs?” Whether that is other pandemics, whether that would be recessions, and when those things are over, where do we place our bets, typically, and where are we seeing the most upside coming out of something like this?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Yeah, I love that. You’re reminding me of the SWAT analysis, to go back to the classic models of revisiting our strategic plans and not knowing the answers right now. It’s just the activity of staying open to perhaps letting things go, not being attached to what was committed to in the past. And that’s emotional letting go as well as strategies and who knows, products. I think, yeah, there’s so much that’s going to change, and how does a giant company that has so many years in business or so much invested in who they’ve been in the past, how do they morph in this time and be sensitive?

Thank God for your tools, Terry, and the wisdom of your team. I know we’re out of time, but there’s so, so much knowledge that is being imparted by the Sparks & Honey team in these virtual briefings, and now that we’re all at home, many of us, these are things you can watch, and I just really recommend you do it and you bring it to your teams that you’re on. You talk about it, you watch it together, maybe a suggestion is to kind of treat it like a book club, but it’s a viewing party and something that’s really going to blow your mind, because I always find everything I watch from this team blows my mind and challenges me and sort of stretches it. And that actually feels really good right now, because in a weird way, we have a bit of bandwidth, I think a lot of us, to invest in some of these resources and really, really sit with it versus kind of moving on to the next, the next, the next. Right?

The pace of life has changed in some fundamental ways, and we are almost being forced to slow down and be present, actually, and I’m finding that to be really creative. All this stuff is popping up that I never had time to really let sink in and be with and find out and discover what that feels like, and also to generate new ideas that come from deep within because we have to sort of jump on the surface all the time in the way that we work. And that’s a very American culture kind of thing, I think. We’re an intense culture. So this slowdown is a really interesting challenge for a lot of us, culturally and personally for some of us. But Terry, thank you. Would you like to point folks… Of course we’ll include everything in the show notes, but where would you like to point us specifically so that we can tune in right away to some of what your team is creating?

TERRY YOUNG: First of all, Jennifer, thank you so much for having me on the show. It was a great, great discussion. I really appreciate being able to discuss, especially in a time like this, things are challenging and we want to make sure we’re giving as much back out to the community as we possibly can. If you go to sparksandhoney.com, you will find a link directly to our cultural briefings. You will find links to our reports. There’s some on COVID-19 and many, many other topics, like you talked about our gender report and things like that. And you can also go to LinkedIn or Facebook, and that’s where you’ll find the livestream of the culture briefings.

JENNIFER BROWN: Perfect. Yep, and we’ll share all that in the notes. But Terry, keep it up.

TERRY YOUNG: Thank you.

JENNIFER BROWN: You know what I love thinking about is, your leadership and your voice right now, it’s not just the data, but it’s what you’re bringing and your lens for inclusion, which I know you continue to be deeply committed to. That’s something that gives me comfort, too, as you sort of steer this work. Good news is, I know you’d probably agree, even if the rise of hate and the other sort of difficult things that you and your team look at every day is real, your data also shows that inclusiveness is… It reminds me of that beautiful quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I carry that with me, that even in the midst of challenges that feel hopeless and discouraging, that I do know your data is showing us that that is indeed an opportunity for us to come together, to have community, to take care of each other right now, and that’s borne out in the data that you look at every day, as well. So I think there’s so much hope that can be found in what your team is discovering that I think that’s where we need to kind of be aware of everything that’s happening, but for those of us that have a bit of a heart for justice, I do think there’s a lot to encourage us to keep going in your data and in who you are as a leader. So thank you very much for joining me.

TERRY YOUNG: Thank you, Jennifer.


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