- On June 27, 2019
I visited my old stomping grounds in Old Town Alexandria last week, seeking out the comfort of my hangouts and friendly faces. Like the 80’s TV show “Cheers”—the places where everybody knows your name.
But something had changed!
A peek in the window of one of my fave coffee shops, dark and empty. What had happened in the space of 30 days since I had moved away?
I asked a passerby. They were forced to close she had heard, on short notice, pointing across the street to their new location.
My immediate reaction was, What????? It can’t be as good. The old place had a cool eclectic vintage vibe, complete with tight spaces, peeling walls. It was an iconic institution where families came with kids in strollers, dogs leashed up outside, old men, business people, women from the yoga class upstairs, the homeless, and others who needed a place to be for a while.
After sitting at the new coffee bar for a few minutes and taking it in, I thought, Wow! It is a bit like the old, but so much better!
Honoring the spirit of the original. The signature red wall. The humungous harlequin jester pictures. The excellent jazz. The burlap bags of coffee beans. The roaster.
And building better. More space, for the customers, for the baristas. More food selection. More counter. More space to read, to work, to converse. And real outdoor seating!
The same delicious coffee. And now a sense of lightness, with the same eclectic vibe.
Presented with a forced opportunity to transform, this favorite coffee shop honored what was dear about the past, melding it into the vision of creating an even better experience.
I once worked in a global tech company that had just broken off from an iconic highly successful global brand to create their own multi-billion dollar company. Many opportunities for transformation, clearly driven by market forces. They consciously embarked on a two-year plan of engaging employees, customers, and stakeholders to identify the best that should be kept and what really needed to change. Not without its bumps in the road, in the end it created a stronger company enriched by the best of its history and fully engaged from top to bottom on the things that needed to change.
I’ve also had the unpleasant experience of being in organizations that forget to honor the history of what made them great. It’s ‘slash and burn’ change, leaving a huge swath of anxiety for the employees, managers, and often the customers. For a very long time, there is a feeling of being unmoored and disconnected, hurting engagement, productivity, and retention.
I have even found myself doing the same thing in the pursuit of my own change and transformation. Forgetting the richness of my own history, the good and the challenging. It is what has brought me to where I am today, to this point of change.
What part of the past do we take with us to honor, to keep us grounded in our strengths, in our past success?
What part needs to change for the better?
What to honor and keep?
What to try new?
What is the perfect blend of what’s been well-loved and what to become?
Photo: JMaliszewski, 2019, the new Misha’s Coffee House and Roasters, Old Town Alexandria.