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Musings from the C-Suite: Insights from a Blackout

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

The power in my NYC neighborhood went out at 5:15 this morning. It was still dark out at that time, so it was pitch black in my apartment. With no power, my smart fire alarm started to beep, because the unit doesn’t operate when there is no power and it wasn't smart enough to let me know that its backup battery had died long before. I couldn’t use the house phone to call the doorman to find out what was going on, because the internal comms system operates on electricity. My wi-fi was out and the cell tower must have been affected by the power outage, because I couldn’t make a call on my cell phone. I am a cord cutter, so I watch TV and listen to radio through apps that run on wi-fi. With no wi-fi or cell service, I couldn't get any information about what was going on. I do not have a landline, but if I did have one, it would be a cordless phone and those don’t work in a power outage.

I started to hear sirens in the neighborhood, so I knew it wasn't just my building, but I had no idea if there was a fire, a terrorist attack or just a very rare power outage in Manhattan (it was the latter). As I sat in the dark contemplating if my cat Bella and I should navigate 12 flights of stairs to evacuate, it occurred to me that old ways still have a place in the modern world.

Bella's expression when she needs to get in her kitty carrier

In this case, I could have used a battery operated clock radio. I just gave it away a month ago after deciding I could get everything I need on my iPad through apps, whether it was Bloomberg News or WQXR classical (Bella's favorite when I am out). I also realized that I needed a landline with an AT&T corded telephone. I gave up both of those a few years ago when I left LA and earthquake country.

As an executive and department head, I push my companies to embrace change and move quickly when we see a disruptive force moving in on our traditional business lines. As a consultant, I teach executive teams about the need to alter practices to recruit and retain Millennial and Gen Z workers and consumers. I am a change agent.

I also tell those companies that it is important to incorporate our legacy practices. For example, my book, "Culture Shock," is an entertaining look at the differences between the five generations in the workforce. Unlike other books that focus on the changes that Millennials and Gen Z bring, "Culture Shock" also explores the seasoned generations—the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers and Gen X—and how their attitudes, opinions, lifestyles and interests effect the way they are in the office.

As someone who constantly pushes for change while respecting the past and advocating for integration of old practices that still work, I seem to have forgotten to do that myself. In the name of change, convenience and technology, I inadvertently abandoned everything that could have helped me in a power outage. I'm sure that Spectrum, AT&T and Amazon were pleased to get my orders today for a landline, corded telephone and clock radio.


Joanna Dodd Massey is C-level communications executive, author & corporate speaker, board director and adjunct professor at Columbia University. Her upcoming book, "Musings from the C-Suite: Philosophies on Leadership and Life" will be published next spring. Previous books include: "Communicating During a Crisis" and "Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace."


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