• Ben Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy Year Three in Review – My Favorite Comments from our Participants

The Common Sense Colloquy is one of the things I’ve prioritized since launching it in February of 2018. It does require time and effort, but it’s always worth it. I get so much out of the insight and perspective of the people I’m fortunate enough to interview for this Q&A series.


Sharing favorite comments from the participants is always the most fun part of summarizing the year we just concluded. It’s also the hardest part: what should I choose when everything that the participants share is so good? I’ve done my best again this year in this final, wrap-up post on our Year Three in Review.


Many of my favorite comments addressed the challenges of 2020 specifically: there’s a lot here about structural racism, COVID-19, the power of authenticity in communications, the role of allies and the communications traits of the most effective leaders. Reading these all again gives me hope that despite the tragedy of the multiple pandemics we’re facing, we have leaders in every corner of this country with the intelligence, compassion and empathy to help us persevere. And that’s definitely “common sense.”


· Laura Taylor, Silverline Communications: I wish I could say that there weren’t challenges due to gender, but they exist. It’s been proven in studies time and again that a wage gap is real and we have to work hard to close it. It’s also challenging to break through comfort zones and remove barriers. Over the decade I’ve been in business, I’ve learned how to anticipate what’s around the curve, and I may have seconds to do it. My tap shoes are always shined! This type of mentality keeps me hungry and scrappy. Minority-owned businesses often don’t have second chances, so our first “at bat” needs to be better than average. So…watch out competition - we know what we have to do to win.

· Russ Carnahan, BuildingAction: There is a critical component to pandemic response to support essential employees and infrastructure such as healthcare workers, grocery stores, pharmacies, firefighters, police etc. Existing and developing technologies for keeping front line buildings and their workers safe must be part of the conversation. There have been many articles recently describing the dramatic changes in technology, products and design of buildings after the 1918 Flu epidemic along with the observations that we can expect even more dramatic changes to buildings during and after the current pandemic. We can expect changes to how we enter buildings and conduct business without touching a door handle or a key pad, to air ventilation systems, health screenings and the very design and layout of places where people gather. Beyond the immediate response, when we look at the longer-term economic recovery strategies, buildings can play an enormous role. And not just to build for the sake of building but to build better. We can build better new buildings and improve existing buildings that are resilient, healthy, efficient and sustainable. A national initiative to “Transform America’s Buildings” would be a powerful economic engine to drive us to a more sustainable future.

· Judy Rader, Exelon: Building a successful communications function means attracting and retaining the best talent. That’s the first step. The next – and equally important – step is to create a team culture based on inclusion, collaboration, continuous improvement and mutual respect. I am fortunate at Exelon to have an extremely talented, diverse and high-performing team of more than 100 communications professionals, who are committed to excellence in everything we do. The best thing about our team is that we all genuinely care about each another and help each other succeed, while delivering the highest caliber strategic communications work.

· Bob Witeck, Witeck Communications: First, fifty-one years ago, Pride grew out of an uprising. It was born not in celebration but in protest out of frustration and indignity. LGBTQ people hated our oppression and invisibility and took to the streets. Sound familiar?


We can and must bridge to other movements. We should put #BlackLivesMatter leaders and queer allies in central roles. Pride is actually a great marker for civil right movements. Our own history tells us that out of repression, hurt, alienation and ignorance, good things are rising if you fight hard enough. Stonewall and the emergence of Pride showed that – and these narratives are central to our story in 2020. An expert communicator is sensitive to the times and the tone it demands.

· Paula Glover, American Association of Blacks in Energy: What COVID-19 has demonstrated is how much inequity exists and how great the disparity is for African Americans in his country. From health, to education, to employment, etc., we are lagging. This has affected our work in that people are not only ready to listen and learn from their African American friends, neighbors and colleagues, they also want to make change. It feels different. As an organization, we are just one of many voices who can not only share our experiences, but also offer solutions to our industry on how they can lead by doing more. Several weeks ago, we issued a statement which outlined 5 actions that industry should take, and I am so pleased at the response we’ve received. Our industry’s leaders are asking questions, hosting listening sessions and working to drive change in their organizations.


· Malcom Woolf, National Hydropower Association: There is truth in the DC beltway adage - “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” Policy makers can only solve the problems they are aware of. Also, you need friends. Finding common ground and building broad based coalitions is the most effective way to advance an industry’s agenda.


· Chiqui Cartagena, The Conference Board: I hope the big legacy of this pandemic is more transparent communications internally and externally, as well as renewed focus on the alignment with brand purpose. Now more than ever, what you do and how you do it as a brand is intrinsically tied to your brand values and purpose. Consumers not only look for that alignment and transparency in companies but will start demanding it. This trend had started already before COVID-19 hit, but I think it will be accelerated and amplified given all the important issues that have come to the forefront as a result of this pandemic. We recently interviewed Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation as part of our CEO Forum: Building a More Civil & Just Society, and he told us he thought George Floyd’s death will have a more profound impact on America than the pandemic itself – that’s powerful stuff.

· Earl Fowlkes, Center for Black Equity: The extension of full civil and economic rights to African Americans have challenged the consciousness of Americans for over sixty-five years. Yet I believe 2020 is different because many Americans were confronted with raw images of police violence towards African Americans unseen for many since the 1960’s. Tens of thousands of people of all races, ages, social and economic backgrounds marched in solidarity with African Americans seeking justice in communities both large and small. I think this increased level of consciousness will impact the 2020 general election dialogue and could prove advantageous for more progressive candidates running for offices up and down the ballots.


· Denise Brogan-Kator, Family Equality: Each of us has a unique story to tell (I have a friend who jokes “We’re each unique, just like everyone else”). But, regardless of how unique our story, we share a common humanity and most often we can find points of agreement and connection with just about anyone, if we take the trouble to look for them. Sometimes, it’s like panning for gold. You may have to sift through the mud to find that nugget of gold in someone’s communication to you. But if you persevere and remained determined to find it – that nugget of gold, or that connection – you will. And, in those connections, in those elements of agreement – even if seemingly small – we have an opportunity to learn. And, if we do that, our opportunity to speak and share and be listened to and learned from will inevitably arise. There are no shortcuts.


· Tom Kiernan, AWEA*: Effective leaders need to lead from their head and their heart – sharing, communicating, and demonstrating the personal beliefs and values of the work if you want to inspire staff, donors, and volunteers. So, while leaders need to communicate strategies and information, they must also be genuine and personally meaningful in how they communicate to be most effective.


· Jennifer Martin, Center for Resource Solutions: I think we’ll always remember the lessons of 2020 in this regard—if you believe your content can be a force for good, as we do, then you should make it available to those who may someday become that force.

· Louis Vega, Dow: And my advice to the allies and would-be allies out there: just make yourself known as a ‘safe place’ for all to come and talk, learn and listen. Conversation does wonders for helping people on their various journeys and your role is critical.


I hope this insight is as useful and inspiring to you as it is to me: I plan to refer to it often in the next year and beyond. I’m thankful to Laura, Russ, Judy, Bob, Paula, Malcolm, Chiqui, Earl, Denise, Tom, Jennifer and Louis for making the third year of the Common Sense Colloquy a fascinating, informative and helpful experience.


Next, we’re starting the fourth year of The Common Sense Colloquy with former Houston Mayor and current Victory Fund and Victory Institute President and CEO Annise Parker. Watch for that Q&A later this month. As always, thanks for reading these posts and sharing your thoughts on our social media channels and in emails and calls. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and like us Facebook and Instagram.


Note: Paula Glover is now President of the Alliance to Save Energy, a position she assumed in January 2021. Tom Kiernan is now CEO of American Rivers, a position he assumed in February 2021. Congratulations to both of these impressive leaders on their new roles!




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