See You Real Soon

“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd

All lands, all attractions! With last week’s Disneyland Paris re-opening, once again the sun no longer sets on the Magic Kingdom. It’s hard to believe it has been over a year (17 months) since we could say that. And, as vaccination coverage increases and the COVID numbers improve, we are starting to see more restrictions lifted and some levels of “return to normal.”

My youngest is the last one in our family to be fully vaccinated. Tomorrow marks two weeks after her 2nd shot and we feel the relief and freedom that can bring. We are looking forward to traveling again and seeing more friends and family in person. While required safety measures at times, quarantining and isolation is not what humans are built for. It is amazing how well we adapted to make things work. We successfully deployed fully remote work. We adopted safe, masked and social distanced ways to safely and caringly pick up necessities. Things like Zoom and FaceTime became brilliant and sometimes lamented tools to stay connected with family and friends as well as work. But in the end, we all felt that missing part that even those of us who are introverted suddenly discovered we needed… in-person social interaction.

Humans are made to be with other humans. As a family of all sorts, strengths and sizes, as intelligent beings with our unique perspectives, personalities and pet-peeves, it turns out, we all need each other. I’m looking forward to setting sail once again on many more in-person voyages.

Hope to see you all real soon!

Begin Again

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!’” –  Robin Williams

A blue California Scrub Jay just landed outside my window.  His beautiful white beard and bright blue feathers seemed to glow in the early morning sun.  He hopped across the fence and suddenly dove down and picked up some seeds he spotted on the ground.  He jumped back to the fence and then soared into the sky.

Spring!  I know it started a couple of weeks ago, but this weekend finally felt like Spring.  Having been safe-at-home inside for the past several months, there is something wonderfully hopeful about the budding, blooming and greening debuting outside our windows.  When I take a walk outside, I see new life emerging from the death of winter.  Fresh new green leaves are unfolding on the ivy and trees.  Seedlings are poking their heads toward the sun. Tiny flowers begin to pop color across the faded winter landscape.  I look up and see birds like my early morning blue Jay visitor, swimming through the new Spring air, singing and dancing across the sky.  I hear and see the  squirrels running across the yard, darting gracefully over fences and up the trees with renewed vigor and determination.  Spring is here!

It is easy to be busy.  We all have planning to do, tasks to complete and meetings to attend.  But before you get too lost in the hustle, I encourage you to take some time this week to enjoy Spring.  Go for a walk.  Grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit outside and relish the melody.  Listen to the sounds.  All creation sings, “We begin again!”  Drink in the new colors.  Smell that new life energy.  Breathe in the cool April air and embrace the warming sun, peeking over the housetops.  Don’t miss it!  We are all part of this springtime party.  Enjoy it!

Epilogue – Eternal Dividends

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.” – Steve Jobs

My wife’s mother, Alice, has myelodysplastic syndrome.  It is a disorder that disrupts the production of healthy blood cells and is related to leukemia.  Some of you had the opportunity to meet Alice at one of the annual Christmas parties we host (prior to COVID).  She enjoyed the holiday treats and the opportunity to meet many of you and your families.  She always loved to tell the stories of her 87 years.  She came to live with us about ten years ago and has been on many adventures with us this past decade.  Last week, at her request and the advice of her doctors, we put her into hospice in our home.  She is ready.  Our goal is to keep her comfortable and allow family and friends to safely visit, commemorate her pending graduation and bid last farewells.

As the final paragraph of my mother-in-law’s life is penned, sadness and joy crash against our hearts.  Like the tide, those feelings and memories rise and fall.  Those of you who have lost parents, siblings or other loved ones know the complex fog that sets in as grief and mortality arrive with powerful force.  The emotions and the moments begin to refine the matters of the heart.  There is a clarity that surfaces.  What’s really important begins to emerge.

How will we end?  We will all face and journey through the valley of death at some point.  We all have the pending task of writing the epilogue to our life.  What will be in that final chapter?  How shall we sum up?  Will we have regrets?  What would we have changed?  These powerful questions are really a gift. It’s life’s housekeeping angel that reminds us to examine what we are doing, reflect on our priorities and focus on what really matters.

I often say, “We should focus on high value targets.”  Don’t get busy with being busy, apply your talent, time and energy to what matters.  Understand the outcomes you want to achieve and trim away everything that doesn’t contribute to making that happen.  Keep the faith.  Don’t settle.  Pursue your dreams.  Love with all your heart.  Care for your loved ones and invest in others.  Eternal dividends are not measured in dollars and pounds, they are measured in the moments, the people and the legacy we leave behind.  Today begins the first day of the rest of your life.  Optimize for greatest impact.

One Year of COVID-19

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” – Fred Roger

We were boarding the flight to Orlando for a week packed full of meetings.  The plane was mostly empty.  Speculation and warnings about the new SARS-CoV-2 virus were just starting to hit the news and guidance had been given to wash hands and sanitize everything.  Scientist were still studying how long it could survive on surfaces.  My wife sent me a video on how to “sanitize your seat” on the airplane.  All of us on the trip discussed and shared wipes and sanitizers.  Little did we know that the Coronavirus variant would transmit primarily through the air, so masks were not yet a priority or recommendation. 

Walt Disney World was full of guests when we arrived, but there was an eerie feeling that something was about to change.  By the end of the week, Disney leadership announced the closure of the Parks and Stores.

“In an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of our theme parks…”

Guests were urged to stay in their rooms.  We all worked from the hotel room on Friday, watching the news break and seeing the stock market plunge into free-fall territory.  In just a few days, California would be the first state to announce stay-at-home orders and shortly after, other states would follow.  Public venues, theaters and sporting events began reporting cancelations or closures.

Returning home on that flight was somber and surreal.  Everyone kept distance, not knowing how much interaction would be acceptable or safe.  It was clear that things were going to change dramatically. Guidance to wear masks and temporary “Safe at Home” remote work direction came.  Little did we know that these temporary measures would still be in place a year later. 

In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that we were on that flight and in other ways, a decade ago.  We have all been through a lot this past year.  So many changes and challenges.  Over this past year, some of us experienced tragic loss, sadness, frustration, and loneliness.  At times, we may have felt depressed and overwhelmed.  The dark clouds of the pandemic seemed to cover the sky, blocking out all the rays of optimism. 

Yet in the midst of this crisis, there were glimmers of hope.  I saw heroic efforts from our team to help each other, showing kindness, compassion and concern for each other.  I saw us step up to the challenge and help our company move forward with efforts to improve security, reduce costs and support our businesses.  We saw the explosive growth of our streaming platforms with hits like The Mandalorian and WandaVision, the release of Raya and The Last Dragon, Mulan and Soul, Ecommerce shopping records, the NBA Bubble and the invigorated determination of our company to help combat social injustice.  All of that proved that we can survive and thrive even during difficult times, even remote. 

On a personal note, we learned how to balance home life, child care, school and work projects, sometimes colliding together on calls as we figured out and embraced the new normal.  We might have picked up a few new hobbies, completed some much-needed maintenance work, taught ourselves some new technology or learned a new language.  OK, maybe some of that was more of a directional goal than an accomplishment. 😉

The good news is that there is a light ahead. Scientists and researchers discovered not one, but many effective vaccines that are now being rolled out.  Infection and mortality rates have declined.  More things are opening up.  We are all looking forward to being able to go out freely in public again, to be able to enjoy a dinner out, a movie, a concert or a day at Disneyland.  It seems more possible with each day and it seems confidence grows as the days grow longer.

As we mark this one-year anniversary, I challenge you all to hope.  Appreciate all that has been endured and must still be healed, but celebrate the discoveries you have learned and the accomplishments we have reached. The rest of our life begins today.  Give it a warm hug and let it thrive.  We can do this!  We have just begun…

Stay well,

Jason

Remove the Barriers

“The talent is here. We just need to remove the barriers.” – Ed Catmull

I confess, I am very sentimental.  At all hands, sendoffs and celebrations, I love to show photos to reminisce about events, people, places and days gone by.  The photo storage platforms I use all know this about me and are always offering me “on this day a year ago…” teasers which I can’t refuse.  I love those.  As we wrapped up January, the AI wizards began sending me reminders of our 2020 and 2019 Cloud Summits.  First of all, I was shocked to realize it has been a year since that pre-pandemic in-person gathering and streaming event in 2020.  Second, I was reminded of the great 2019 event and particularly our special keynote guest, Dr. Ed Catmull.  The talk from this incredibly brilliant technology leader and the prior discussion over dinner was a highlight of a lifetime.  I want to share the impression he made on me by giving you a glimpse into his story 

Shortly after the acquisition of Pixar, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter were given the charge by Bob Iger to reboot the Walt Disney Animation Studios, which had been suffering a string of box office flops.  Pixar was delivering blockbuster movies that leveraged innovative technology to deliver compelling and connecting stories to the big screen.  Walt Disney Animation Studios on the other hand was not.  Ed tells how he dreaded but was expected to clean house and start over, hiring Pixar level talent to reboot the studio.  To his surprise, as he began to spend time there, he discovered that the problem wasn’t the talent.  The problem was the management and the debilitating processes and culture.  They began to change the management, removing obstacles that were blocking the creative process and unleashing the team to be able to deliver results.  That same team that had delivered a series of flops in the past, suddenly were able to deliver blockbuster hits like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen.  Ed observed, the talent was there, we just needed to remove the barriers.  

I know what you are all thinking.  Sounds great, but Jason, the lesson here is that we need management to remove barriers for us!  Yes, that is true.  Leaders must take on the challenge of empowering people and removing blockers.  Our job is to unleash potential, give opportunity with responsibility, not control people.  But that’s not all, nor does it fall to managers only.  If we want to unleash the generative potential of our organization, we all must be laser focused on removing constraints that slow down the delivery of value to our guests and to our company.  That job falls to all of us.  You are all capable of helping build platforms, tools and processes that empower our cast members to deliver magic, better, faster, safer and happier.  We just need to do it!

This week, I challenge you to look for opportunities to remove barriers.  Devise plans to make it better and raise those with your leadership.  We can swarm, align and drive the change.  Let’s remove barriers and unleash the incredible potential of our talent to do amazing things.

Ed Catmull and Jason Cox
“The talent is here. We just need to remove the barriers.” – Ed Catmull

Fragrance of Life

Flowers

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
– Amanda Gorman

Grandpa was fast asleep on the sofa.  The grandkids decided to play a prank on him and quietly smeared a dab of pungent limburger cheese on his moustache.  Hiding from the shadows, the grandkids watched as he startled to wake.  He wrinkled his nose and squinted his eyes.  He sniffed himself and cried, “Wow, I really stink!”  He made his way into the kitchen and soon discovered, “It smells bad in here too!”  Wandering from room to room is suddenly dawned on him that the odor was all over the house, “The whole house stinks!”  Hoping for some fresh air, he plunged outside and drew in a deep big breath and was shocked.  He declared, “The whole world stinks!”

As we all manage through the current pandemic, grapple with family difficulties, experience or see social injustices, face financial hardships, receive bad news or deal with health challenges, there is definitely an odor of despair, frustration and weariness.  My wife spent the weekend trying to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for my high-risk 86-year-old mother-in-law, waiting 10 hours on hold (that stupid hold music is still stuck in my head) and several days juggling the overwhelmed scheduling systems.  My wife kept telling me. “They seriously need some DevOps.”  Almost on a weekly basis, we hear about some friend or family member seriously impacted or taken by COVID.  In the US we recently witnessed a powerful assault on our democracy with the insurrection.  Division, hate and uncivilized war seems to dominate the landscape.  Each week seems to bring news of new challenges or disappointments.  Frankly, it stinks.  

The truth is, there is still so much good to experience.  Sure, the hurt is real.  Grief is real.  The fatigue is real.  But we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to count our blessings too.  This safe-at-home lockdown means I get to spend more time with my family.  My daughters and I recently made a habit of tea and Anime before bedtime.  For all the mask-wearing social-distanced adventures outside the house, I always have willing volunteers to join me.  What teenager ever wants to go with dad to the store otherwise?  Those are simple but precious times and enjoyable moments. I could continue to despair about all the bad, but I would miss the opportunity to enjoy the good.  It occurs to me that much of our experience of reality is determined by what we bring to it.  Losses can become learning.  Hurt can become hope.  Grief can become growth.  Buried in the bad is a bed of begonias.  

What fragrance are you bringing to your situation?  You can be the aroma of hope to yourself and others.  A perfume of positivity and an odor of optimism can make a difference.  Wear it well this week!

Channel of Peace

“Make me a channel of your peace… Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness joy.” – St. Francis of Assisi 

“Your screen time was up 39% last week.” Just 39%?  What a week!  The events in the United States made me feel overwhelmed and numb. Like many of you, I became fixated on the news.  How will we survive and overcome this?  I remember feeling the same way after 9/11, but for different reasons.  The external threat has become internal. The insurrection is testing our core, our democracy and our ability to peaceably pursue happiness together.  The backdrop of all of that is the devastating impact of the pandemic, now claiming more lives per day than all of the souls lost on 9/11.  I need a hug, how about you?

I recognize that many of you, like me, are impacted by the events over the past week and will most likely continue into the weeks to come.  Make sure you are taking care of yourself, your loved ones and each other.  I need to constantly remind myself of that.  We are all being affected by this new stress and grief.  It can have a negative impact on how we think, work and relate to others.  We need to give ourselves time to decompress and heal.  “Breathe.”  Soak in the positive goodness as well as the negative news.

In the darkest hour, light becomes the brightest.  Ask yourself what you can do today to sow some light.  Embrace extra consideration, empathy, truth and kindness.  And that for yourself and for others.  We will get through this.  

Our work matters.  YOUR work matters.  Let’s do our best to keep bringing unity, peace and happiness to our human family that so desperately needs it.  

A New Year, A New Start

Forward

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Dan Millman

My home office is in our dining room, specifically on our dining room table.  Like many of you, I built up my home office area to best accommodate work.  I have an office chair, large monitor and plenty of accessories.  However, for the holidays, I needed to vacate the area.  As is our tradition, our dining room hosts all of our holiday treats and Christmas dinners.  We sit around the table, enjoy the feast and pop Christmas crackers.  Yes, we even read the corny jokes and wear the paper crown.  The pandemic limited our ability to gather with our extended family, but we still had a delightful Christmas holiday.

As I re-assembled my “office” this past weekend, I was struck by the amount of stuff I had accumulated.  At first, I blindly started to stack it all back onto the table.  It occurred to me that this was the perfect time to apply lean principles and deploy only what is needed, when needed.  There is an incredible satisfaction when you can thin the clutter and start fresh.  To me, that is what a New Year is all about.  Sure, it is just another revolution around the sun, but there can be a human significance. It is an opportunity to mentally restart.  It is a chance for us to reduce the clutter and begin again on a new canvas.  

As a young art student, I had just been introduced to oil painting.  I had been struggling with a landscape I had been working on for weeks.  I expressed my frustration with my art teacher.  She said she knew what needed to be done.  To my horror she grabbed a tube of Titanium white and with a large brush, quickly whited out all but the outline on my scene.  Shock became relief as new possibilities began to explode in my head.  With the constraints of my past mistakes gone, I could begin anew.  I could focus my energies forward, projecting my imagination and crafting a new world. It was a great lesson to a young artist… Don’t be afraid to start over.

What is important?  What should we start doing?  What should we stop?  What new thing should we build?  What should we leave behind?  These are all great questions to ask as we embark on this new year.  

I’m excited to dream into where we are going!  I’m looking forward to the things we will build, the investments we will make in ourselves and others, and the outcomes we will achieve.  Let’s celebrate the new adventure!  Welcome to 2021.  

Happy New Year!  Let’s make the best of this new slate.

Painting note: “Into the Dawn” by Julia R. Cox.

It’s a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life

“You see George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?” – Clarence

Strange, isn’t it? Each person’s life touches so many other lives.

What is your favorite holiday movie?  Each year, at our house, we celebrate the countdown to Christmas with a selection of some of our favorite movies: Home Alone, The Santa Clause, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Christmas Story, Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and many more.  Whatever your list may be, I suspect many of us would also list “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a holiday classic.  You might be surprised to know it was a spectacular flop and very well might have vanished from history, if it hadn’t been for a mistake. That’s right, a mistake. Let me tell you about it…

Philip Van Doren Stern was unable to find a publisher for his 4,100 word short story, “The Greatest Gift.”   He eventually privately published the story in the form of a Christmas Card booklet that he mailed to friends and family. Producer David Hepstead happened to receive one of these and decided to purchase the rights to make it into a film.  Frank Capra was selected to direct the film starring James Stewart.  It opened in 1947 to extremely poor performance.  It resulted in a bankrupting loss of $525k for RKO Radio Pictures. Paramount Pictures purchased rights to the film temporarily and through a sequence of other sales, it landed a new home with Republic Pictures.  This is where the crucial mistake happened. 

The U.S. copyright protection law act of 1909 required that copyright holders file renewal notices with the Copyright office after 28 years from publication.  Republic Pictures failed to file for this renewal.  The film lapsed into the public domain in 1974, meaning anyone could show the film without permission or royalties.  As a result, television stations, networks and distribution groups looking for low cost ways to program holiday content, picked up the movie and begin airing it at all hours and in all markets, often times even in back-to-back showings.  Over the next 20 years, this beloved story found its way into the hearts and minds of so many who would have never seen it.  It surged to become one of the greatest “holiday classics” of all time, all because of a clerical error not to renew the copyright.

It’s a Wonderful Life tells a great tale of how we all make a difference.  In the story, Clarence gives George Bailey a gift to see what the world would be like without him.  In that revelation, George and the audience discover the incredible impact that one person has on others and on history.  Every person matters.  We are all of infinite worth and are irreplaceable parts of our human story.  We imperceptibly touch lives around us, profoundly affecting the performance of our human symphony.  We may never know all the lives we touch or events we change, but it is there.  Every encounter, each friendship, every word, each choice and every actions radiate from our lives as a force of change.  They are like ripples of gravity invisibly pushing and pulling us together and weaving the sparks of life into the beautiful tapestry of our human story.

I know I say this often, but I can’t emphasize this enough.  You matter!  As the protagonist of your own story, you are part of a much bigger epic and you make a difference. Every role, every part is significant. As we go through this holiday season in the 2020 pandemic way, continue to play the part you were born to play.  Be the best you, you can be!   You have a wonderful life.  Enjoy it, celebrate it and use it to continue to touch other lives. 

I wish you all, a wonderful and blessed holiday season!

Reference: Library of Congress https://blogs.loc.gov/copyright/2017/12/its-a-wonderful-life/

Love, Joy and Peace

Love, Joy, Peace

The decorations are up!  The lights are on and the trees are trimmed.  We are ready for the holidays!  As the shadows of darkness grow long in the shortening days, I’m reminded of the importance of light.  As is our custom, we hang lights on the house literally moments after the last Halloween trick-or-treaters leave.  Our human family, all over the world lights candles, adorns their houses and trees with lights.  It’s a beautiful time of the year to stir the embers of joy and share the warmth of hope with our fellow human travelers.

Speaking of sharing, I love sending greeting cards.  It has become one of our family traditions.  I know it seems old fashioned and tedious, but there is something magical about going through the list of family and friends. You get a chance to stop and think about each person as you address, stamp and stuff each envelope.  Fond memories, care and concern arises with each note sent.  We normally select a generic holiday greeting, but in this crazy pandemic and challenging time, I stopped to think about the best, most appropriate message we could wish to everyone this year.  I landed on a three part wish that I think fits our time: love, joy and peace.

Love.  We have symbols, songs and slogans about love.  It often gets described as a feeling or a desire.  But at its core, true love is a choice and an action.  It is an act of selflessness, consideration and giving.  In this season, we unwire our selfish tendencies and focus on others.  We give of our time, our treasures and our talents to benefit someone other than ourselves.  That is love.  As we think about our freedoms, privileges and blessings, think about it for others too.  Have empathy: understand each other.  Humility: encourage others.  Charity: care for one another over your own comfort or convenience.  Yes, in a pandemic, love even means wearing masks to protect others not just ourselves.  We can choose to love, to be the best that we as humans can be.  This time of the year, the world becomes a bit brighter as hearts and minds turn toward love and giving.  As the song by Jackie DeShannon, says, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”  I wish you love! 

Joy.  Like love, joy is often described as a feeling.  It is often explained as the state of having cheer or vibrant happiness.  But that would sell it short. True joy is a purposeful decision and attitude.  Even in difficult times, you can feel joy.  Darkness, loss and pain can rob us of happiness.  But even in those moments of sadness, we can still choose to have joy.  Joy is living in the moment, combating the darkness and choosing to put on the mantle of hope.  It is our mind and heart choosing to be above the circumstances.  Joy chooses light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.  I wish you joy!

Peace.  With the chaos, conflicts and challenges we have seen in 2020, there is an increasing need for peace.  It is a unique and rare gem.  But we can experience it, wield it and promote it.  It is a gift we can give that always gives back.  In a world of polarized views and tribal separations, peacemakers are needed now more than ever.  Peace shines in unity over conflict, collaboration over competition, and civility over combat.  Peace is born of love, embracing our differences while respecting each other.  It brings a calm to raging seas and graces us with wisdom that there is more that unites us than divides us.  I wish you peace!

I wish you all love, joy and peace this season and always!