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Co-creation is eternal

September 10, 2009

On September 11, 2001, I lost two of my colleagues and friends on the first flight that hit the World Trade Center towers. The memories of the day are still raw eight years later — I keep a photo of these guys on my desk at home to give myself the will to fight every day. But rather than focus on the sadness, let me highlight the redemptive power that came from the community they helped us build around them.

It started close to home. My friend David Norton, of Balanced Scorecard fame, came to see us as soon as he heard in the morning that two of our guys were in the first plane that crashed on the Towers. Several times during the day, he visited our conference room, as we were trying to find out information from the American Airlines emergency call center and relay it to the two wives of our colleagues. Dave is not the exuberant type, but seeing him there provided a strongly reassuring presence. I particularly remember the deeply egalitarian nature of human suffering, which brought everybody together at that moment, from simple front-desk people to world-class scholars. Toward 7 pm, American Airlines told us there was no hope left. No more need to look stoic and resourceful. We all broke down and cried.

While the emotional burden felt heavy, it was nothing compared to what the families of the victims were going through. I remember this time as one of extraordinary clarity of purpose. My role was not to show compassion, but to provide support: help the widows and their children financially, provide support mechanisms for the surviving employees of the firm, and figure out how to survive economically as a firm in spite of the human losses. Undoubtedly to make me feel better, people undeservedly kept praising me for my focus in managing our little ship through the storm. But what else is there to managing a ship in a storm than try to survive it?

We discovered we had famous friends. The widow of one of the victims sang for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The entire group came and sang at the memorial service. Warner Music — the company for whom my two colleagues were working on that fateful day — not only sent superb artists for the service, but gave us another project to make sure our little firm would continue to exist in spite of losing two of its key people. Ted Kennedy — who passed away recently — intervened to allow one of the two victims to be recognized as the father of the child he and his wive were in the process of adopting — the first time in Massachusetts a child was adopted by a deceased father.

We also learned we had a lot of other, regular friends. The downstairs cafeteria in our building had a particularly gruff employee –nicknamed the “soup Nazi” after the Seinfeld episode. When he handed me my food a couple of days after the attack, he had a tear in his eye. The landlord in our building erected two flag posts in memory of our two fallen comrades, one at each end, and both flags still proudly fly today at that building. We received e-mails and cards from friends we never knew, simply because people all over the world were touched by the story of what happened to our little firm. The memory of our two guys still lives at the new firm we have created since then. Two members of our current firm were close to one of the victims, and although we rarely speak about it, we know the memory of our fallen friend binds us powerfully.

So tomorrow, I will not be sad. I will celebrate the community that these two people built for us. Through this community, they still live with us. Co-creation is eternal.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    September 14, 2009 1:57 pm

    You said it. May they rest in peace and may we look forward with resolve and hope!


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