Feeling Like Charlie Brown

By Larry Gennari
Boston Business Journal
January 10, 2022

2022 has arrived and so many of us feel like Charlie Brown. When Peppermint Patty asks “Chuck” whether he has made resolutions in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown, he answers for all of us: “Yes. You know how I always dread the whole year? Well, this time I’m only going to dread one day at a time.”

By now, we all know this feeling. Yet we also understand the need to stretch beyond, and with each passing season and each successive year we get that much better at — or at least learn more about — change, uncertainty and preparation for the road ahead. No surprise that I am recommending business leaders triple down on positivity, learning and experience in 2022 by reading a few new books to consider next best steps for their companies, their communities and themselves.

At every company, managers should embrace — not dread — innovation and quickly adapt to customer needs. How they do that will have profound implications for society, according to The Voice Catchers: How Marketers Listen In to Exploit Your Feelings, Your Privacy and Your Wallet, by University of Pennsylvania Professor Joseph Turow. This is a fascinating look at the voice intelligence industry and Turow offers countless, cautionary examples of companies using artificial intelligence to mine voices for clues about our emotions, sentiments and personality, all in real time. Call centers actually now can identify a person’s gender, weight, height and race, and even illnesses, via voice biomarkers. Further, if you use Alexa or similar cloud-based voice services, consider the possibility that the network recognizes your voice in a retail store so your “profile” appears on a dashboard, advising you on what you might like before you even know it. Turow urges industry leaders and policymakers to have crucial conversations about standards and legislation, and he wants consumers to know that voice assistants most definitely are NOT our friends.

For every community in 2022, of course, building friendships, managing alliances and sharing resources remains critical. That’s why I really enjoyed The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal The Future Of The World, the compelling latest book by foreign affairs expert Tim Marshall. His previous book, Prisoners of Geography, was terrific as well, and here Marshall updates and takes us through 10 regions that will shape our future in the next decade, including space and beyond. Are past geographic skirmishes and rivalries prologue for the future? Could the next arms race take place on the moon and depend on “satellite-killer” systems? Do we need new alliances for sharing innovation around food, medical technology, and communication? Shouldn’t every country be working harder to preserve its own communities by using and sharing natural resources most efficiently? For more on that here at home, I’d recommend Oklahoma Professor Luca Bessires’ provocative, page-turner Running Out: In Search Of Water On The High Plains, a part memoir, part call to action about the fast-diminishing Ogallala aquifer that has served American farms on the Great Plains for millennia. Time is running out, and the depletion of these aquifer waters will reverberate across the nation for generations. In fact, both books emphasize a simple truth: We need to identify and build on common interests for a better shared future — and we should make a resolution to do that now.

Finally, and for ourselves, after the past two years managers need to dispel the dread and be more intentional about the things that truly matter and bring joy. For me, that means food, family and travel, and actor and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci’s new book: Taste: My Life Through Food offers all three.  I enjoyed this smart, incredibly funny book about growing up Italian, with a backdrop of great food, unforgettable people and unique and beautiful places. Tucci’s recipes — especially for Timpano and Negroni cocktails — are worth a try, and his movie Big Night should be on your must-see list.

As for Charlie Brown’s other resolutions, for 2022 he’d probably repeat what he told Peppermint Patty: “Keep the ball low, don’t leave crayons in the sun, use dental floss every day … and feed your dog whenever he’s hungry.” That’s the key, he advises, to a “better life” and a “fat dog.”

Looking ahead to 2022, let’s hope for that and a lot more.

 Authors & Innovators is an occasional column by Larry Gennari, a transactional lawyer, law professor, and chief curator of Authors & Innovators, an annual business book and ideas festival.  Gennari also teaches Project Entrepreneur, a business fundamentals bootcamp for returning citizens, at BC Law School.


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