Hola (Argentina, Mexico, Spain) — Hallo (Norwegian, Afrikaans) — Здраво (Macedonian, Serbian) — Tere (Estonian) — สวัสดี (Thai) — Përshëndetje (Albanian) — Sawubona (Zulu) — Hej (Danish) — هتاف للترحيب (Arabic) — Salut (Moldovan) — Mholweni (Xhosa) — Hei (Finnish) — Tung (Kosovar) — Buna (Romanian) — Wie geht’s? (German) — Hello (US, Malaysia) and greetings, dear friends!
TL;DR version: 2017 has been a whopper year, even without the politics, hurricanes and wildfires. Our love affair with Portland (and, trying to avoid sounding sappy, our love for each other) continue to deepen. April traveled about two-thirds as many miles as in 2016, but still managed two trips to Africa, six trips to Europe, two trips to Asia, two trips to Latin America, one trip to the Middle East, a smattering of domestic trips and her 100th+ country. Jerry didn’t travel as many miles, but he did find his way to three big projects that resonate wonderfully with the ideas he’s been generating for the last two decades. We enjoyed a family reunion in Arizona, the midnight sun in Finland, and our Pacific Northwest backyard. We expanded our portfolios, prototyped, worked a lot, played as much as we could, and are ready to lean into 2018.
2017 began quietly. We were mostly at home, suffering from typical winter colds and the like. In January we spent a week in Laguna Beach (which has become a sort of tradition every three years, when Jerry teaches a class there). April hopped up to Seattle and down to SF for a couple days each, kicked off a few advisory relationships, and gave a speech on the new economy, sustainability and the energy sector in Trondheim, Norway at the end of the month. The days were short but cozy.
February continued the trend, as April was home the entire month, a feat that would not be repeated the rest of the year. (Quiet time is treasured; it’s when we do the thinking, mindmelding and creating that power everything else.) We painted our loft: it is just one big room, so we had fun and chose four colors. In the first quarter of the year, Jerry had an engagement with the Institute for the Future to help design and facilitate a client workshop in Dallas three times, which also involved some prep travel to IFTF in Palo Alto. The workshop was so tech-futures focused that Jerry had to “reinstall” his brain from the 90s, when he covered things like neural networks and virtual reality.
In early March, we took a long weekend getaway to the nearby Willamette Valley. We explored the towns around Salem, a Benedictine abbey, took a magical hike at Silver Falls national park, and of course explored some of
the 500+ wineries. (Did you know that the Willamette Valley has more wineries than Napa? But without the commercial hype, as most remain small, family-owned and cooperative. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!) The morning of our Silver Falls hike, Jerry awoke to find his right big toe red and swollen, but no signs of a bug bite. He ignored it for a few days until it interfered with walking; after a clinic visit, antibiotics took their full 72 hours to work their magic and the toe to resume its normal appearance, just in time for Jerry to board his flight for the second Dallas workshop. The next weekend, April ran her first half-marathon in more than 10 years. She didn’t train, didn’t have a pacing watch, just ran her heart out and clocked 1:42. This inspired her to run more — Portland is perfect for that.
Okay, that was the slow part of 2017. The rest of the year was a bit more intense, interesting, and thankfully had more direct and positive impact on the world. Buckle up, here we go!
Towards the end of March, April headed south to Argentina. The main purpose of the trip was the annual YGL summit, this year in Buenos Aires, though she joined a pre-trip to Salta (the northernmost province of the country) which was a huge highlight. She and 10 other YGLs explored the Quebrada de Cafayate, the town of Cafayate (think ramshackle Sonoma),
Purmamarca with its famous Seven Color Hills, and the enormous Salinas Grandes salt flats. The scenery was extraordinary — reminiscent of a combination of the Grand Canyon, Utah and Australia, yet entirely its own. Moreover, Jerry spent a summer working in Jujuy (another town in Salta) when he was in college, so it was a fun trip down memory lane by association.
Back in Buenos Aires, there were a couple of days to explore Palermo and its delightful, hipster boutiques as well as gems like El Ateneo Grand Splendid (a classical theater transformed into a bookstore). The summit was intense and inspiring, with lessons on leadership through tango, learning about Argentine education innovation with the education minister (and fellow YGL), and connecting with YGLs from around the world who constantly remind us of what is possible — if we are committed to try — and encourage us to stretch beyond ourselves.
Returning to the northern hemisphere, we quickly packed our bags and headed to Boulder, Colorado for the week-long Conference on World Affairs (CWA), to which we had both been invited as speakers. We loved it. CWA is basically a university-wide bonanza of panels and sessions on a range of international issues. Jerry spoke about infrastructure, innovation, technology and the politics of immigration; two of the panels were in Spanish and German (he’s fluent). April’s sessions focused on innovation and economic development, though she also joined a panel
on constitutional and criminal law reform. We stayed with family friends, and are grateful to have been able to combine personal and professional benefits for a truly memorable time. From Colorado, Jerry went to Dallas for the third and last workshop. Here’s a pic of the happy crew at the end of the series.
While Jerry was in Texas, April departed on her first round-the-world adventure of the year. It was 80% business, 20% personal retreat, and 100% wonderful. First stop: the tiny oasis of Haramara, on the Mexican coast. April has finally figured out that she likes yoga (better late than never!) and has found a perfect fit with YoYoYogi in Portland. YoYo is a family-run studio that focuses as much on yoga’s spiritual and community outreach aspects as on the physical practice. They host one retreat each year, and this year was Haramara. For eight days life was yoga, dharma talks, breathwork, healthy food and lots of sleep. She basically realized how yoga — holistically — is a missing, valuable piece of life. More on this later!
From Mexico it was a world (and two days’ travel) away to Bangkok, for a keynote on the future of work, travel and tourism. The summit was fantastic and confirmed how much April enjoys advising travel-related stakeholders. She had a day to catch up with longtime B&R guiding friends who live there now, get a taste of local neighborhood life, and learn about the Bangkok’s fascination with ghosts. Who would have guessed that ghosts’ preferred beverage is strawberry Fanta?!
While April was in Bangkok, Jerry flew to London to facilitate a different workshop, this time a one-day customer experience journey for a pharma company, courtesy of Ziba Design, the firm where Jerry is a Resident (six blocks from home, with the cool lobby below). It was a chance for Jerry to see consumer marketing from pretty deep inside the beast, which was as instructive as it was disheartening.
From Bangkok April had a relatively quick hop to South Africa (seriously, look at the map: 12 hours from SE Asia, or 30 hours from Portland!), where she spent the next two weeks. Her first stop was Durban, for the WEF regional summit on Africa, where she participated in several sessions on the new economy and future of work. From there it was off to Johannesburg and Cape Town, with the mandate of “landscaping” the country’s sharing economy: what does it look like? What do people think about it (if they have heard the term at all)? How might the sharing economy be harnessed most responsibly and to enable more inclusive growth? It was a fascinating engagement that also underscored how much she enjoys building bridges, finding common ground, and cross-pollinating ideas around the world. Bonus: on her final day, she was able to run the Cape Town half marathon and take in the city’s most famous sights en route!
While April was criss-crossing the south of Africa, Jerry headed to Phoenix for the first-ever reunion of people who used to host and attend PC Forum, which was the “it” conference for startups back in the 80s and 90s. It was like old times, only everyone a bit grayer: Esther Dyson (who owned the conference and the newsletter that Jerry wrote) interviewed Eric Schmidt (who just stepped down as Google/Alphabet’s chairman) in front of the group. We all reminisced about companies and trends long forgotten. What? We haven’t always had smartphones and the Web?
The same month, Jerry began an involvement that blossomed wonderfully through the rest of 2017 and is now a major project of his. It began when Salim Ismail, an old friend and entrepreneur, asked if Jerry would be interested in learning more about the consulting companies that he was forming out of the business success of his book, Exponential Organizations (watch this talk of Salim’s). That led to a trip to Madrid to learn the “sprint” process they had developed alongside 35 peers, and later to a five-week virtual sprint that led to a certification in the process. But Jerry’s role isn’t as a consultant in the “ExO” (Exponential Organization) network. To learn more, you’ll just have to read along :)
From Cape Town, April flew to New York City. From Phoenix, Jerry flew to… New York City! Hurray! We enjoyed a week together in the Big Apple, with Jerry attending events at the United Nations (with ExO) and April speaking at the Sharing Cities Summit (hosted by NYC, with some 20-ish cities from around the world). We were both pretty exhausted by then, but glad to be reunited. Four weeks is waaaay too long to be apart.
Finally, we left NYC and went home to Portland. A few days later, April’s Italian sister Jessica came to visit from Aspen for Memorial Day weekend. It was our first time playing Portland tour guides and it went well: bicycle riding along the Willamette River and up to the Japanese Garden, hiking to the Pittock Mansion, strolling around the Pearl, the Kennedy School, and more types of beer than we typically drink in a month.
No sooner than Jessica departed than April left again, this time for Spain. She spent three days at a futurist think tank in Madrid. It was fun to be in the audience for once, rather than leading the workshop! She caught a quick visit to the Museo Thyssen Bornemisza as well, which now ranks among her favorite small museums in the world (plus none of the Prado lines). We then enjoyed a brief respite at home, the onset of Portland’s rose garden season, and our 10th anniversary (of meeting, not marriage — yet). April hopped to San Francisco for the kickoff of a Future of Work series that she is advising. Meanwhile, Jerry began a big rethink of how he’s doing what he wants to do in life, inspired by a website called Patreon.
You likely know about Kickstarter, a wonderful way to crowdfund projects like albums, software, inventions and more. But Kickstarter is for one-time campaigns. Patreon is for patronage, for ongoing support. Patreon “creators” are out there publishing video explanations, investigative articles, podcasts and other creative things. Once Jerry realized this was a perfect way to back his quest, he had to articulate that quest, which then helped him realize that his work revolves around trust. It also led him to turn his REX group inside-out, making it much more public. See the results here. New backers warmly welcome!
Having caught our breath, albeit briefly, it was time for our biennial family reunion. The 2017 edition was held in Flagstaff, Arizona. We flew into Phoenix and headed north, only to be stranded for several hours by wildfire that jumped the interstate. With flames behind us, we made it north to celebrate with cousins, aunts, uncles and 13 grandchildren. It was hot, rambunctious, and fun.
From the desert, it was time for tundra… and a couple days after Flagstaff, we went to Finland. April had been invited to the European Business Leaders’ Convention as a new generation leader; Jerry was asked to join the summit too. We had a lovely time at the Kalastajatorppa retreat, in discussions with Nordic leaders while the sun shone 22 hours per day (notwithstanding quite a few clouds). We went jogging around Seurasaari Island — a treasure nearly frozen in time — and then had a half-day to stroll around Helsinki, including the Kammpi Chapel of Silence, harbor, Parliament Square, Kaivopuisto park and Ullanlinna neighborhood where we stayed.
We’re now halfway through the year. The second half was definitely more full than the first. Still with us?
We weren’t going to come all the way to Finland without going to Estonia too, so from Helsinki we boarded a ferry to Tallinn. April spent the next several days with the Jobbatical team, and was grateful to finally have some f2f time at HQ. Jerry’s stay was shorter, though long enough to explore the Kalamaja neighborhood (a fabulous combination of traditional Estonian architecture and renovated Soviet industrial buildings) and stumble upon the Mextonia mural series, which now ranks among our all-time urban art initiatives. Estonia turns 100 in 2018; talk about a unique birthday gift!
Back at home, Jerry attended the World Domination Summit in Portland (yes, there is such a thing), facilitated a two-day Open Space workshop for Trov (a wonderful startup we both advise — think insurance for the new economy) in SF, and got word out about his Patreon project.
Meanwhile, April finally launched her transformed website. After nearly four years, it was high time for an upgrade and to sharpen her areas of focus: the new economy, the future of work, and (a new and natural addition) global citizenship. Please check it out — this is also a shameless plug to subscribe to my periodic updates, too! :) (Huge thanks to Elan Morgan, website design maven extraordinaire.)
As independent advisors, we share the upsides of flexibility and crafting our own professional paths, and of course, the responsibility of figuring it all out. August is typically a slow month, especially for global work, and April’s wanderlust had kicked into higher gear. (We realize this might sound bizarre to some of you, given how much she travels already, but there is a big difference between having an itinerary — even if it’s business one loves — and truly footloose, off-the-beaten-path travel. Between enhanced connectivity and busier lives, the latter is increasingly difficult to pull off.)
So in early August, armed with a carry-on backpack, an outbound ticket to Tirana and a return ticket from Kiev, April set off on a sort of Balkans Grand Tour: Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Moldova and the Ukraine. It was an excellent trip, and deserves its own travelogue (more on that later). For now, here is a summary.
As Winston Churchill quipped, “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” Indeed, there is more culture, complexity and intrigue per square kilometer than perhaps anywhere else in the world. From the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires to the Turks and Soviets, many powers have put their stamp on the region, and (for April at least) the more one learns, the more
questions one has. Her trip began during the “Lucifer” heat wave, and she spent the first week exploring Tirana, Berat (aka City of 1,000 Windows) and Lake Ohrid in 100+F/38+C degrees every day. She stayed almost entirely in Airbnbs, including a delightful stone home inside castle walls, and a concrete Soviet-era flat with retro decor.
From Lake Ohrid it was over to the quaint town of Bitola, then a long bus ride to Prizren, Kosovo. Kosovo is the youngest country in Europe (both in terms of age: 9 years, and average age of its citizens: 28 years) and this youthful energy is evident everywhere. She caught a few days of the Prizren Film Festival, climbed around castle walls and saw countless churches now surrounded by barbed wire due to past and present ethnic conflicts. From Prizren she headed to the outdoors hub of Peć/Pejë, and the heat wave finally broke. Visiting the Patriarchate of Pec was one of the most moving experiences of the trip, and a first-hand reminder of religious commitment and resilience. From Peć it was a quick hop to the gritty, lively capital of Pristina, where she met up with several friends and would have loved to stay longer.
Even without a fixed itinerary, April did have to be a few places on time… so from Kosovo it was back to Macedonia (because travel between Kosovo and Serbia is forbidden for foreigners) and Skopje, aka the new capital of kitsch. It was actually delightful, thanks to superb Airbnb hosts and local humor about how surreal the city is. Putting Disney World and Vegas aside, where can you find an Arc de Triomphe, Statue of Liberty and Capitol replica within walking distance of each other?
From kitschland it was another long bus ride up to Belgrade, Serbia, with superb (albeit largely crumbling) architecture, hidden cafes and a serious party culture. April then hopped on a plane to Copenhagen, worked in Denmark with wonderful colleagues for a week, and flew back to her final Balkans destination: Chisinau, Moldova. Moldova holds the titles of least-visited country in Europe and most unhappy country in the world, both of which are reasons to go there. It turned out to be one of her favorite places of all: Chisinau is a quiet, leafy city that the world seems to have forgotten (which is great if you’re a visitor, though admittedly not great if you’re a local). What it lacks in grand monuments, it makes up for in liveability. She liked it so much that she opted to change her itinerary and fly home from there, rather than testing her luck in Transnistria and flying home from Ukraine (which she’d been advised by many people to avoid with a U.S. passport). That was not the kind of adventure she needed!
While April was eating her weight in baklava and burek, Jerry met his SF buddy Charles to camp out and catch the full lunar eclipse near Salem, OR –
– right on the full occlusion path. He’d been through a couple partial eclipses before, so all was normal until the middle two minutes, when a magical corona appeared around the sun, larger and more beautiful than he was prepared for. Jerry also went to Woods Hole for a telecom geek get-together he attends almost every fall. While there, an NPR tech journalist friend interviewed him, which turned into 15 minutes of airtime on NPR! You can listen to it here.
As we rounded the corner into autumn, April was all too happy to stay put in Portland for a while. The fall colors were especially spectacular this year, and she dove deep into work. When they were in Helsinki earlier, a friend of Jerry’s also attending had mentioned he was organizing Techfestival in Copenhagen, and that there might be an interesting role or two for Jerry. So
he went. There he delivered a one-day workshop on trust, as well as the capstone speech of the conference, which you can watch here. In addition, he was among 150 abductees from Techfestival, who collaboratively wrote the Copenhagen Letter on Tech, an open letter asking the designers of tech to stop creating addictive offers and aim instead for human wellbeing. Rounding off a busy month, Jerry went to NYC and started a short-term project with betaworks, which was founded by an old Silicon Alley friend of his.
At the end of the month, April went to Chicago and Berlin for keynotes on the new economy and future of work. Public speaking continues to be an absolute joy; she loves connecting with new audiences and bringing fresh perspective on what’s happening around the world. Closer to home, we continued to enjoy learning about local innovation to tackle thorny social
issues. One of our favorite local innovators is Guerrilla Development, a wildly creative architecture firm that’s among the first to use crowdfunding for real estate, tackling homelessness and building community in the process. Here’s a great New York Times article about it. April invested in Guerrilla’s Fairhaired Dumbbell, which we got to see from the inside right as it was being finished.
Having been pleasantly surprised by her half-marathon performance in the spring, April decided to run the full Portland Marathon in early October. Unfortunately she didn’t do much better on the training front, but she did finish the marathon — and loved it! On a more somber note, we watched helplessly as wildfires tore through the Napa wine country; it touched too close to home for too many people we know.
Work-wise, the fall was a productive time. Jerry went to Bluffton, SC, to participate in a workshop with the executive committee of the Consortium for Service Innovation, a group he’s worked with every few years since 2003 (bit of a pattern here, eh?). He also flew to Connecticut to give a “disrupt” speech for a client of ExO’s (the Exponential Organization) and judge their internal startup ideas, which was great fun. Meanwhile, April returned to Cape Town to co-host the country’s first sharing economy think tank, a marvelous gathering of 100+ policy makers, entrepreneurs and other leaders focused on inclusive growth in the Western Cape. It’s incredible (and inspiring!) to see how many more places are leaning into new business models and approaches to local economic development.
Heading into November, as the golden leaves continued, a long-simmering issue was boiling over in Jerry’s life, an issue that’s hard to write about here. Jerry’s Mom had been hearing annoying noises from upstairs neighbors, a situation that escalated to the point where she would avidly describe an “illegal business” that the neighbors were busy running. Problem is, whenever Jerry was present, there were no noises, a state she ascribed to the neighbor’s cleverness. All Jerry’s efforts to prove his Mom’s case were fruitless, and he became convinced there was no “industry,” which of course caused strife with his Mom. To solve the immediate problem, Jerry moved her up a floor, so there would be nobody above her, and for a week there was peace. That peace has melted, and the situation is in crisis again as we type these words.
With a long and complicated year already behind us, we mustered our energy for the final sprints and travels of the year. Jerry created and
delivered two new webinars, one about the relationship between learning and play for PlayFutures (which is unfortunately buried inside a mediocre webinar platform) and one for the Disruptive Innovation Festival in the UK, which you can view here.
Jerry also gave a short talk about his use of TheBrain and how it relates to trust at the very interesting DazzleCon in Portland, which focused on Zebra companies (Zebras fix what Unicorns break; a Dazzle is a group of Zebras). We’re both part of the Zebras community, which has lots of overlaps with impact investing, social enterprise, and social venture capital. Learn more here!
April’s last trip was another interesting, multi-stop marathon. Her first stop was Bucharest, Romania for a keynote on the sharing economy. Bucharest retains its Baroque-Communist architectural allure, though it now also holds the title of most congested city in Europe (and #5 in the world, alongside Bangkok and Mexico City). Then it was a relatively quick hop to Dubai for the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council summit (April serves on the GFC for mobility). The schedule was intense, but she had just enough time to visit the emirate of Sharjah as well as the Louvre Abu Dhabi on opening weekend — with a handstand, of course!
From Dubai, we met up in San Francisco for the first YGL alumni summit, held at WEF’s new office in the Presidio. YGLs continue to be an extraordinarily important, inspiring part of our lives and community. However, San Francisco leaves us less and less inspired. Each time we return, we have less desire to live there. The inequalities are impossible to ignore, the city looks tired (as do many people who struggle to live there), and policy makers have not kept pace. We don’t wish to sound critical, but it’s heartbreaking to see this happening, especially in a place with so much wealth.
It would be reasonable to assume that we headed back to Portland together after all that. But not quite! Rather, Jerry headed to Miami and April headed to Malaysia. (At least we got the M part, right?) Miami is nothing like it was when Jerry lived there (in South Miami) at age 13; he hardly recognized a thing. One part of town, the part where Jerry’s meetings were held, blew him away. Starting around 2006, real-estate developer Tony Goldman and his two grown kids bought a bunch of warehouses in Wynwood, a neighborhood that had spiraled downhill in the 70s and 80s. They then commissioned 30 street artists to go crazy on the walls in the neighborhood, creating the Wynwood Walls Walk to coincide with the Art Basel Miami show. Many others had a hand creating what is now a stunning neighborhood. We’ve seen cities with great murals, like San Francisco, Berlin and the Mextonia murals in Tallinn, but Wynwood left Jerry’s mouth agape. Don’t pass through Miami without seeing it.
The murals were amazing, and so was the work. The Miami meeting involved Salim’s Exponential Organizations project, which has emerged this year alongside another ambitious project, both of which resonate strongly with Jerry’s ideas and will form the foundation of his work in 2018. The second project, started by a woman who used to run software teams for Steve Jobs at Apple, is her passion project to help people collect, connect and share the things they care about online. Think about the way Jerry uses TheBrain to connect and share what he sees and you’ll have an idea of the possibilities. More on this project in 2018.
April spent a week in Kuala Lumpur, advising the country’s economic development and innovation agency on the sharing economy and future of work. Malaysia is full of enthusiastic talent, and it was a delight to meet entrepreneurs and policy makers who are really leaning into new ways of doing business. What’s more, they are laser-focused on opportunities for lower-income populations. Needless to say, a refreshing engagement!
Finally, we landed in December, together. No sooner than we chopped down our own Christmas tree (a Turkish fir) than April got whacked by a bad virus for 10 days. The rest of the month was bumpy. April recovered, we went to
San Francisco (to do some stuff you’ll hear about in 2018), and Jerry got whacked by his own special bug. Our Christmas plans went sideways, we took a gorgeous road trip, and we opened gifts on New Year’s Eve instead (that’s why this letter is also belated). One nice side note along the way: Ev Williams, founder of Twitter and Blogger, answered a Twitter question this way:
We are really looking forward to 2018. We plan to keep leaning into what we love: trust, the new economy, global citizenship, and doing our part to help fix what’s broken in the world. For April that means more speaking, writing, advising, and developing a crisper point of view. For Jerry, it means diving into his two new projects, expanding his renewed REX group, and getting more of his ideas out of his head and into the world. We’ll collaborate on a trust-, education- and future of work-related fellowship in Portland and hope to strengthen our local communities and portfolios. We have no doubt we’ll continue to travel globally, though our top destination for 2018 is our Pacific Northwest backyard. April is enrolled in a 200-hour yoga teacher training course (not to teach; simply to learn), and Jerry has picked up his aikido practice again at a dojo two blocks from home. As usual at the end of our holiday letter, here is 2017 in review, in Jerry’s Brain (view on a laptop, not a phone).
We wish you all a new year full of peace, inspiration and courage — and if you’re in the Portland area, please let us know!
April & Jerry
PS: if you haven’t read enough already, here is a sampling of our favorite op-eds and (for Jerry) videos this year:
- Trust is central (short, shot in Tallinn)
- What we know for sure, but just ain’t so (longer, group video call)
- Jerry’s DIF webinar