The Tomorrow Project

Erwin-Penland Tries an Exercise in Inclusion

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Cynthia Davis
Cynthia Davis
When times are rough, sometimes it helps to just open up. Erwin-Penland invited all its employees to join a creative dialogue about the future. Cynthia Davis tells what happened.

In our life at work and at home, we have experiences large and small to inspire us. But sometimes we don't have creative avenues to express those moments and the feelings they elicit. What we've found at Erwin-Penland is that when you include everyone in developing a dialogue, amazing things can happen. Not only does it open the floor to new ideas, it also helps introduce people to new ways of thinking. And when you're developing campaigns for a diverse group of consumers, inclusion only helps to expand thinking.

We started this project during a time of unprecedented change. We invited our staff to participate in a conversation about what this change meant -- to them, to their families, to our country. We challenged them to express what tomorrow will be like. That vision was not intended to be focused on agency life but to represent their personal interpretation of what tomorrow might bring.

If you're anything like us, you'd be amazed at the response to our Tomorrow project. Nearly 70% of our entire team across all disciplines -- account executives, PR managers, IT members and art directors, among others -- responded with a myriad of interpretations and a resounding positive outlook for tomorrow.

Although there was acknowledgement that times are both difficult and uncertain, there was a uniting belief that tomorrow will be better. This viewpoint went beyond optimism. It was grounded in a belief that goodness will endure and is indicative of a shared belief that goodness is inherent in who we are. It may be the result of individual effort; it may be integrated into a deep faith; it may be part of the enduring cycle of life. But regardless of where goodness springs from, this belief is fundamental and deep-seated; it exists even within the context of all of the problems that are facing the nation and the world.

Interestingly, the idea of responsibility was personal, centered on individual action, rather than solely relying on community-based solutions. Many believed in the responsibility to take charge and shape tomorrow by creating positive change; others focused on taking responsibility to be ready for whatever tomorrow would bring, while depending on their faith in the greater good to provide relief from today's distressing issues.

The uniquely personal way in which individuals interpreted these views offered a rich visual display. Erwin-Penland became a small art gallery for a short time, displaying such Tomorrow representations as a piece of key lime pie, a dress fashioned from shopping bags, family photos and printouts of the weather.

Overall, the exercise illustrated how individuals are not afraid of stepping outside of their comfort zones. By incorporating everyone at Erwin-Penland, we not only reaffirmed the importance of inclusion but also the need for originality and innovation from all team members regardless of their area of expertise. Together, we were able to share views, creatively express those views and realize a new approach to inclusion.

By doing so, we enhanced the development and growth of both the agency and our employees, which will in essence create a better tomorrow for everyone involved.

Cynthia Davis is VP-director, account planning, for Erwin-Penland, Greenville, S.C.
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