Election Day Memo

Election Day Memo

Maxwell Ryan
Nov 9, 2016
(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

Early Wednesday morning I woke up with a bad headache and flew out here to Kohler, Wisconsin to attend their annual Design Summit. I, like many of you, was up too late on Tuesday night watching the returns come in from our national election. As I wrote to you all briefly yesterday morning on Slack, I went to bed thinking what I was seeing would go away and it didn't. Luckily, I've been out here in the incredibly peaceful town of Kohler, far away from home, with plenty of time to think things through. What I am going to share with you now are my CONSTRUCTIVE thoughts on what happened on Tuesday, which clearly now has been growing for awhile in our country. There's a tremendous learning here in this election, and as much as many of you (and I won't pretend that we all share the same politics) may be disappointed and others were happily surprised, I would say that we should all be surprised. It is in this shared surprise that I see a path forward for all of us and tremendous meaning to take into our work together.


Kohler, Wisconsin is a peaceful, idyllic town transformed in 1900 by the Kohler family when they moved their factory and offices from nearby Sheboygan on the lake to the fields of what was originally called Riverside, Wisconsin. It is a model of American manufacturing and social progress. Now a six billion dollar annual business, it is global in scale, consists of businesses that range from toilets and baths to generators to furnishings and even golf courses and hotels. It has factories in every major continent including China, India, Europe and South American. It is still family owned and run, now by the great grandson, David Kohler who is the same age as I am, fifty.

This is a liberal family by rust belt standards, but this is nevertheless a part of the world where folks love their guns and their freedom. It is NOT New York City. It is also a state that voted heavily for Trump, which was a surprise because the state voted twice for Obama.

So as I sat yesterday in the Kohler spa reading about guys in pickup trucks and camouflage hunting for dinner in Field & Stream, I felt strangely out of place, like it was better not to speak up, because I didn't know who I was among. Despite the Kohlers, who are pretty cool, I realized that as a New Yorker I've looked down at this part of America for a long time, which, I have to own, was not only an extremely judgmental and unfair thing to do, it was also very shortsighted in the face of current circumstances.

All this discomfort got me thinking that if I just stepped back for a moment and realized that A LOT of people, not a few, but A LOT, had just made their voices heard very clearly, and I put aside my New York City narcissism where I believe I live in the center of the world, I might just learn something.

If there's one good thing that has already come out of this election for me, it's that the "rift" and "polarization" that has haunted our country for the past few decades now can be clearly seen and we all have some work to do. We are all responsible.

There's personal work to do here, for sure, but beyond that I think what happened this week and what will now unfold more clearly over the next year is going to inform our work together as we chart the progress of this new millennial generation that is our readers.


I grew up in New York City, and it has molded me. NYC has always been a place of change — still is — and I didn't always like how fast things changed around me, but ultimately I went with it. Education also made the difference. I was lucky enough to have received a very good education. Education creates the mental flexibility to deal with and make sense of uncertainty. It helps one see through what is confusing and see bigger patterns and new ways of living. Designers do this for a living; they try to find new solutions for old problems with the idea that solutions do exist. There is excitement and hope in this.

So, at this point I'm pretty optimistic about change and eager to find new solutions when things aren't moving forward very well.

Think of all that I've included in my memos this year. I've talked of the unpredictable and fast-changing environment that we all work in. Together, we've adopted Lean Startup principles and OKRs to gain control over it. We all, I trust, share a belief that we're living and working in a part of the world that challenges us and requires us to move forward (we don't get an option here), otherwise it will spit us out.

Around us in our world there are also many social issues that press upon us — ideas and changes that challenge us to accept, adapt and change with them. From gay marriage to legalizing marijuana to transgender bathrooms to abortion to racial profiling and #blacklivesmatter, these are just a few of the flashpoint issues that are bubbling up around us as we live right now. All of them challenge all of us to rise above our easily triggered emotional reactions, let go of our traditional upbringings and ways of doing things and imagine a different world — a world that is becoming more complex on every level.

It is normal to want to push back on some of these changes that pull us out of our comfort zone, but the world will not stop moving forward. I've never found that resisting these social changes that allow others to more fully express their own humanity does any good, nor have these kinds of changes ever hurt my own humanity.

Not to get too religious, but wasn't Christ really just a pretty radical change agent who embraced all those around him — including his executioners — and challenged everyone to realize that the ultimate path to growth and deeper insight came through a much more sophisticated acceptance of the world as it was becoming?

As I sat yesterday in a very lovely, but extremely traditional, very white, fancy spa in a state which voted in droves for Trump — having not voted for a Republican since Ronald Reagan — I felt I was seeing the world we live in much more clearly, and I am grateful that this election has surfaced what it has, because in my own narcissism I figured the world was as I saw it: moving towards a shiny, profitable future that I could understand and felt the intelligence to navigate despite all its awkward challenges.

I am clearly not in a majority by a long shot and too many of the people in our country are not ready, are not understanding and not BENEFITTING from all the changes that have dramatically reshaped our country in the past twenty five years.

We all need to listen to this, because we all can't move forward if we continue to simply ignore one another and hope they go away. There is also a very real and fair complaint at the bottom of it all.

What are the changes that I'm talking about?

Many call it globalization, but I would also throw in the rise of the internet and computers which has allowed all of it to happen.


A friend of mine recently had the good fortune to attend a fundraising dinner at which Obama spoke totally candidly and off the record about Hillary Clinton and his own time in office. He admitted that the most frustrating thing he'd discovered during his eight years was that while he felt the country was moving ahead and he was able to effect many good changes, there was a group of people in our country that he was not able to help enough. These were the people being left behind by the tremendous shift towards a global economy, whose skills and education did not prepare them to find a good place in this new world. He literally said that he was not able to save them and flagged it as a big issue.

This all came rushing back to me as I saw the returns get dissected on Wednesday morning. The huge majority of those that swung this election were less educated, white voters who feel they've been totally forgotten as the world has marched on. They are angry, insecure and not benefitting from all the changes that have affected not just our country, but the world in the last few decades. It is exactly this inability to cope with change that defines them.

I totally get it.

Our country continues to grow and has been remarkably productive coming out of the Recession, with the Renaissance of the Internet one of our crowning glories, but it has also created a divide of haves and have nots because the change has been greater than everyone's ability to deal with it.

So, the defining characteristic of Trump's message, which I originally found humorous and shortsighted, was to "take back America" and to resist all the change.

But on Election Day, paradoxically, this anxious minority swarmed to the polls to elect as president the candidate who promised to "make America great again" and warned that he was its "last chance" to turn back the tide of cultural and economic change. NYTimes

But if you see it from the other side, it makes total sense.

It's not about any one issue. It's about not being able to deal with change.

There was another story I read this week about a militia training camp in Georgia that made a big impression. Again, the words are the same:

When Mr. Trump says he wants to make America great again, a message that has appealed to a broad segment of the electorate, Mr. Hill and his roughly 50 local militiamen are particularly enthralled. They long for an America they believe has been stolen from them by liberals, immigrants and "the P.C. crowd." Their America is one where Christianity is taught in schools, abortion is illegal and immigrants hail from Europe, not faraway Muslim lands.

(Image credit: NYTimes)

These weekend warriors form the obdurate bedrock of Trump Nation: white, rural and working class. They vote, and they are heavily armed, right down to the .22-caliber derringer fired by Nadine Wheeler, 63, a retiree who calls her tiny gun "the best in feminine protection." NYTimes

If we are truly to move on, grow and lead as a country we have to take this huge difference in experience very seriously and not look down, discount or think that others are simply wrong. They are doing the best they can, but they don't have much to work with.

This election was a wake up call.

We need to figure out how to get everyone over the wall and into the future, or we will simply be divided and dragged back into the past.


I had dinner with three Brits on Tuesday night as we watched the early returns come in. One of them is a well known architect in England, extremely educated but also quite traditional and he was proud of the fact that he voted for Britain to leave the EU. He, a young smart person, voted for Brexit. I was totally shocked, but it also made me realize that not everyone sees hope in greater unions, complicated global trade deals and the giving up of autonomy. It is a difficult path and one that requires a tremendous amount of faith and trust in human nature. Even my friend prefers the England of the past to what he sees in the future with the EU.

Our election and the Brexit vote, seen together, shed a much deeper light on what is going on and help us to see what needs to be done in our future. First and foremost we cannot get caught up in the endless Punch and Judy sideshow that is Trump yelling at everyone and Democrats and Republicans blaming the other for everything that goes wrong.

If you look at the words used to describe the Brexit vote, you see the same thing, only without the buffoonery of Trump.

Britain's vote in June to leave the European Union sent tremors through the political and financial system and the center-left news media. It was a blow to the betting markets and to the pollsters. It was a rejection of the governing political class. And it was delivered by older, working-class voters in areas of Britain hit hard by globalization, angered by immigration and anxious about their nation's identity in a borderless world.

"At first blush, the parallels with Brexit are uncanny," said Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, a research institution in London. "I heard older voters in Florida saying that they 'wanted their country back again,' almost exactly the same language" used in England and Wales.

"It's the rebellion of the Rust Belt," he said. "The bigger, broader message to the elites is, 'Hey, guys, a large portion of the public is rebelling against the consequences of globalization.'" NYTimes

Secondly we need to think very hard about what really stands to suffer should we resist our global economic and social changes and try to go back in time. What is really at stake is our ability to take mature adult responsibility for ourselves and others, which is a deeply spiritual priority and one that has defined us as a country since the Second World War. While we haven't been perfect at home or abroad, we've always held that is our job to support freedom and democracy, move towards the future and share our wealth with others.

The abdication of this national responsibility is what is really bubbling under the surface, truly capable of hurting others and where we must do our work.

... she worried about another possible parallel to Brexit in the rise of hate crimes and discrimination against foreigners and nonwhite Britons that followed the referendum.

While the parallels are real, said Jan Techau, the director of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum at the American Academy in Berlin, "compared to the impact of the Trump victory, Brexit looks like a mild spring morning."

"Both are a kind of abdication of responsibility to the world," which will be very destabilizing, he said. NYTimes


While I know all of this may seem miles away from our daily work, I don't believe it is. As hard as it was for many of you to get up and go to work on Wednesday morning, I want you to see this as a call to action, not to protest, cry or more loudly denounce the other side, and certainly not to laugh at those that are truly having a hard time with where the world is going.

We speak to thirty million readers every month.

They come because we work hard to inspire, teach, connect and make their lives better. We have a responsibility in this to do a good job and a bipartisan job so that we speak to everyone. We also have an incredible opportunity to take the high road, see what is truly going on, not get stuck in the sideshows and describe a world that is of the future, understands change and sees the good and the possibility in everyone getting there together.

The way I see it, we don't really have a choice, but I also think that it could help to set us apart as a company with a new and higher standard, while others may get dragged down.

I ask you all to think about this over the weekend. Consider that with a clear understanding of what really happened this week and a vision that "goes high," we can bring light to this confusing and difficult time and take our mission to an even higher level, saving the world, one room at a time.



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