After the Deluge (Looking for a Connection and Finding Many)

I’m sitting here in our local Public Library because it’s the only place in town that has lights, heat and WiFi. Our house is cold and dark as we’ve been left in Hurricane Sandy’s wake without any power or heat. So I’ve come here, along with half our New York Hudson Valley town seeking refuge from their homes, in search of a connection. Not just an online connection but a human one that seemed to move further and further away as the days and nights without electricity kept us isolated and in the shadows of candlelit rooms. I run into many people I know, and we all share our war stories of the past few days—who survived without a scratch and who has been displaced by trees falling through their homes. But among all the hardships are warm smiles and therapeutic hugs of comfort.

The first few days of the storm are an adventure as everyone is in survival mode. Securing the house, keeping candles lit and the food cold. “We’re roughin’ it just like the pioneers!” I say to my wife as we cook and eat by candlelight. She rolls her eyes as I continue to egg and bread our chicken cutlets and pour another glass of Merlot. Our daughters (ages 23 and 24) go along for the ride,  at least for awhile, and after dinner we pull out a deck of cards and old board games we haven’t played in years–Crazy Eights, Gin Rummy, Chinese Checkers, Scrabble and Bananagrams. I also took this as a perfect opportunity to catch up on my reading as I began to dig into the tall stack of books that’s been sitting in our den and on my nightstand. I rediscover the pencil and begin writing. I also play with some charcoal in an effort to magically turn a few strokes of black on white paper into something interesting and new.

After four days the novelty seems to wear off and the inconveniences become ever so magnified. Can’t shower, wash clothes or dishes, or run any appliances. Keeping what little food we have left entails daily runs to the grocery store for more bags of ice, which are becoming increasingly scarce. It gets dark early, and the temperature is dipping into the 30s at night. We’re definitely not having fun yet.

Each morning I wake up early to call our company hotline to see if our workplace—which has been closed since the onset of “Superstorm Sandy”—will be open for business. I feel like a kid again, waiting to see if we’ll have a snow day, and so far we’ve had three, albeit without all the fun that comes along with the typical snow day: sledding, building snowmen, hot chocolate and lots of TV. By day four my perspective is becoming a little warped as claustrophobia sets in and I start to feel a lot like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” except without the creepy kid, Shelley Duvall and all that snow. The chance to be at work with heat, hot water and an Internet connection is looking like a much better deal than another 24 hours at home.

So what does this all have to do with us in-house designers? Well, one of the biggest challenges we face is isolation. And over the past few days I thought about how inherently introverted and introspective we all are. And how as in-house corporate creatives we quickly forget that we have access to so many resources and are surrounded by colleagues from a broad range of departments, business groups and divisions: Human Resources, Public Affairs, Finance, Sales and Marketing. They’re all under one roof and within reach, and sadly, we often take it for granted.  We forget we have so many opportunities to make a connection–in lunch rooms, coffee rooms and hallways. And magical things can happen when these accidental intersections occur. So reach out to your neighbor—who is often a cubicle ore levator ride away, and look for ways to connect, to build new business relationships and explore opportunities for collaboration. Sometimes amazing ideas come from cutting across disciplinary boundaries and looking into other areas for new ideas. Synergy! Cross-fertilization! Life and business are all about relationships, right? So reach out often and make a connection. And that’s all I have to say about that.

It’s now day five, and I’m up at 6 AM foraging for gas to keep our cars and generator on life support. I make my way back to the library, and as the warmth gradually returns to my toes, I look around and recognize a lot of faces. They’re my friends and neighbors—my community. And although we’re all huddled around the glow of our laptops and iPads, I’m feeling a connection here that is stronger than any storm.

Glenn John Arnowitz is Director of Global Creative Services for Pfizer and co-founder of InSource. He is a designer, musician, composer, writer, actor and speaker, always looking for new ways to scratch that insatiable creative itch.