California’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing App Available Today

As of this morning, California finally has a COVID-19 contact tracing app! I installed it this morning, and I’d encourage fellow California residents to do the same. If you, like me, use Android, install the CA Notify app from the Google Play store. (You may have even gotten a notification this morning encouraging you to do it.) If you have an iPhone, you don’t even need to install anything. Just go into Settings, click on “Exposure Notification,” and go from there.

If you want to understand how a contact tracing app helps us keep the virus under control, how this implementation (which uses the Google and Apple APIs) works, and why it’s taken so long to get built and adopted in the U.S., this New York Times article has a pretty good summary. If you’re worried about privacy, The Markup was on this early, and they also published an informative followup article in August.

Permission to Dream

A few years ago, I started tinkering with a new toolkit, which I’m calling the Rubber Band Visioning Toolkit. I created it for a bunch of reasons.

First, I want to see consultants design and facilitate better visioning sessions. I often see visioning designed as a one-off. This is not only an ineffective way to do visioning (as I articulated in my blog post, “Rubber Bands and the Art of Visioning”), it can even cause harm by opening loops that won’t get closed. I also noticed that many consultants who facilitate these sessions don’t actually do their own visioning, not even in one-off form. My hypothesis was that, if consultants had the opportunity to do their own visioning, it would have a slew of benefits, including helping them get better at designing visioning for others.

Second, I want people to have widespread access to visioning. It’s a crazy thing to say, because visioning is simply about stretching your imagination, it’s about striving for something you really want. You don’t need any special tools or guides to do it. You definitely don’t need to hire a consultant for it. And yet, we rarely give ourselves permission to do this, much less the space and the time. That’s a huge loss. I think we all would be so much better off if we all had a clearer idea of what we wanted in the world.

As is always the case with my toolkits, I’ve been piloting it with a bunch of different folks, tweaking and evolving it along the way. I have another set of changes I want to make to it before publicly releasing it hopefully early next year, and I’m planning on making it part of an official offering as well. (As with all of my toolkits, it will be public domain.) While I figure all this stuff out, I’ve continued to pilot it with friends and colleagues. (If you’re interested in giving it a go, ping me.)

I love piloting all of my toolkits. I love designing and tweaking, and I love the excuse to engage with others with this stuff. But I especially love piloting the visioning toolkit. It is so stupidly simple, and yet the impact it has on folks is profound. It’s also incredibly intimate to silence your self-censors, if only for a moment, and then to share what you really want. How often do we really do that with even our closest friends and family?

I kicked off a new session earlier today with two new folks and an old friend and colleague, who had gone through the process once before earlier this year. It was 90 minutes at the end of a packed day, but it just re-energized me and made me very happy. I am so grateful to all of the people willing to give it a spin. I can’t wait to share it with more people, and I hope others will use the toolkit to facilitate sessions with people they care about.

Change Fatigue and Appreciating Local Restaurants in These Times

This morning, my sister and I dropped by one of our neighborhood favorites, Arsicault, to pick up some croissants. The line there was always long, even before COVID-19. Like many other businesses, Arsicault had markers drawn in chalk to make sure folks stayed socially distant while in line. Today, I noticed that the markers had gotten an upgrade:

Change is hard under normal circumstances, and these times are obviously far from normal. I’m moved and inspired by how quickly small businesses, especially food providers, have adapted to these challenging times. I’ve also watched with curiosity the journeys many restaurants have taken and the hard choices they’ve had to make, from adapting their menus to adopting online ordering software to building outdoor dining spaces to drawing socially distant line markers. How have they decided which changes to make, when to make them, and how far to take them? How have they dealt with change fatigue on top of struggling to survive?

I don’t know how Arsicault’s painted line markers came about, but as I pondered them, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my friends, Sarah and William, several years ago. I was explaining to them that much of my work boils down to helping groups navigate change fatigue. William listened quietly, nodding thoughtfully as I talked, then said, “I know how your clients feel. When we first moved into our house, I fixed everything I saw that was broken. After about a month, I stopped. It’s not that I thought I had fixed everything. I see the same broken things every day, and they bother me just as much as they did the first time I saw them. Real life just caught up to me — family, work. It’s just exhausting trying to keep up.”

His story resonated both personally and professionally. In my own life, I have a long list of things I know I need to do, but I can’t ever seem to muster the energy to do them. Similarly, many of the groups I work with know exactly what needs to change in their organization, but they’re so exhausted just keeping things up and running, even taking a small step seems daunting.

Maybe painting line markers will save the good folks at Arsicault time in the long run, since they won’t have to redraw their chalk markings regularly. Maybe they just wanted something that looked better. All I know is that simply painting those lines while trying to survive in these challenging times must have been exhausting. I appreciate them and all of the local businesses doing their best to stay alive while also trying to keep their customers safe.

Chimamanda Negozi Adichie’s Brilliant Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”

Among the many interesting things that came up in my conversation earlier this week with my friend, Eugene, was his recommendation of Chimamanda Negozi Adichie’s wonderful 2009 TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”

This line summed up the talk beautifully:

I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

A few things came up for me as I watched. First, Adichie mostly talks about the single stories told by others. I think her premise also applies to the single stories we sometimes tell ourselves. Finding that balance between honoring the truth of our experiences while also recognizing that it is just one experience is really challenging.

Second, Adichie’s complaints about the single stories many Americans have about Africa in general and about Nigeria in particular reminded me of my travels there in 2008, especially this line:

Every time I am home I am confronted with the usual sources of irritation for most Nigerians: our failed infrastructure, our failed government, but also by the incredible resilience of people who thrive despite the government, rather than because of it.

In a blog post about my experiences leading up to the trip, I wrote:

One of my best and oldest friends, Gbenga Ajilore, is Nigerian. So is one of Blue Oxen‘s advisors, Ade Mabogunje. I spoke with both of them before the trip, and they were excited about me coming here. The reaction from other friends and colleagues was quite the opposite. Most of the non-Nigerian Africans I spoke to do not think highly of Nigerians for reasons that I don’t quite understand. Several of my well-traveled friends had horror stories to share, although none of them had actually visited here. Cheryl [Francisconi] is the most fearless and experienced traveler I know, and even she had some scary stories.

I was incredibly fortunate to have many stories about Nigeria going into that trip, as it enabled me to have an open mind. Cheryl told me something else right before the trip. She thought that my week in Nigeria would be one of my most difficult travel experiences, and that I would walk away loving the people there. She was so right on both counts.

Stripe Is Paying to Remove Carbon from the Sky, Hoping that Others Will Follow

Last year, Stripe shared on their blog their commitment “to pay, at any available price, for the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and its sequestration in secure, long-term storage.”

Their reasoning was straightforward. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions will not be enough to resolve our climate crisis. We almost certainly need to remove carbon dioxide that is already in our atmosphere. The technology to do so is in a classic early stage conundrum. Because it’s so new, it’s both not good enough and too expensive to be viable. However, those who buy early help fund improvements to the technology, which drives the price down, which leads to more customers and investments. Wash, rinse, repeat. All the while, carbon is being removed from the atmosphere.

This is the promise all early stage technology makes. The question is, who’s going to buy early? For carbon removal, Stripe raised its hand, committing to spending at least $1 million a year. Their hope was that other companies would follow suit.

I thought this was awesome, but I wasn’t blown away by the dollar amount. A million dollars isn’t nothing, but Stripe is worth $36 billion.

So I was disappointed to read in this week’s The Atlantic that a million dollars turned out to be a big deal. The article quotes Stripe’s Ryan Orbuch, who said, “We got a positive response from the carbon-removal community, because the field is so starved for capital that a million dollars will raise eyebrows.”

I find this infuriating… and sadly, not surprising. With an estimated $500 billion a year being invested in climate change by companies, governments, and philanthropic foundations, how is it that a million dollars shook up a market that is so clearly necessary right now? My guess is it boils down to two things: Lack of leadership and lack of strategic action. The need to wait for others to make an obvious idea okay before being willing to jump in themselves is very, very strong in most people.

While I find this very sad, Stripe deserves even stronger kudos for recognizing this and doing something about it.