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.

A Sonic Revolution

“We knew it could become big but could have never imagined it would be a revolution.” – Lou Ottens

Magnetic tape was genius!  A ferric oxide placed on a thin plastic film allowed the world to record, store and playback audio.  It revolutionized broadcasting, radio and especially, music.  In 1960, the portability of that music was still captured in a clumsy 7-inch reel.  It wasn’t easy to play. You needed a hefty machine the size of a small suitcase.  Lou wasn’t happy with that.  

Lou loved technology.  He was ever the engineer and loved solving problems.  As a teenager during World War II, Lou made a radio for his family so they could listen to programs like Radio Oranje.  To avoid the Nazi jammers, he even constructed a primitive directional antenna.  Just as he had made those freedom broadcasts accessible to his family, he now turned his attention to democratizing music.

The 7-inch music reel was too bulky and awkward for the general population.  He wanted music to be portable and accessible.  He thought a lot about what it should be like.  Trying to envision something that didn’t yet exist, he began shaping it into a small wooden block.  It needed to be small enough to easily fit in your hand and more importantly, fit in your pocket.  His “compact cassette” tape came to life in 1963 and quickly became a must-have sensation across the world.  It unleashed a multi-billion dollar industry but also taught us how to use our own voice.  The cassette became an audio canvas for the masses to self-create their own albums or compile their own mixtapes to share with others.  For those of you who don’t have as many candles on your cake as I do, mixtapes were basically the playlists of the 1980s.

The cassette tape was a raging success, but Lou wasn’t happy with it.  He complained about the noise and distortion that would eventually plague the aging tapes. In his mission for higher fidelity, he worked with his company, Philips and Sony to co-develop the digital optical storage system, the compact disk (CD).  As he had done with the cassette tape, Lou championed a portable disk size that could be easily held and used.

Lou Ottens passed away earlier this month, at the age of 94.  He sparked a worldwide sonic revolution, but humbly dismissed his role as nothing special, instead crediting other engineers and designers for bringing his ideas to life.  Lou reminds us that making science and technology accessible is just as important as the discovery itself.  

Do we make our complex technical inventions and solutions accessible?  When technology is done well, the technology itself fades to the background and becomes “indistinguishable from magic”.  That is to say, it provides a human experience and value and doesn’t get in the way.  My challenge to us this week is to examine the solutions we deliver and ask ourselves, can we make them more accessible and magical?  

As Lou taught us, the genius of a great idea is not just in the science, it is making that technology portable and accessible.

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