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Reflections on 2021: Turning the “Lost Year” into a redefining moment

Illustration of person with think bubble above their head
Illustration by Sarah Kula Marketing Designer

I remember in my early 20’s, after I had moved to Philadelphia for my first consulting job (at the long-ago-acquired Strategic Management Group in University City), overhearing someone in sales leadership saying, “I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day so I could get more done!” 

I also remember thinking that phrase would be a good addition to the “bullshit bingo” card that I had hanging in my cube, and vowing it was something I would never myself utter. I believe I’ve held true to that, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t come to understand the sentiment—especially now that both of my kids are firmly within the “activities every night and all weekend” stage. 

Although I now similarly groan when I hear (or say… yes, I’ve said this…) “Can you believe it’s the middle of December already? Where did this year go?!” In recent conversations I’ve been getting the sense that this is maybe a feeling more commonly shared this year than ever before. I suppose that checks out since it felt like 2020 Part Deux as the pandemic itself, let alone all of its impacts, has continued to drag on in so many ways. I know and honor that everyone’s experience has been unique, but for me personally, it’s been easy to automatically feel like 2021 was a bit of a “lost year” and went by like a rope I wasn’t able to ever really grab hold of. 

Upon reflection though, for Think Company as a whole, and even for my role within it, the reality was quite different. 

We worked on ourselves

As our team kept our heads down and continued working together to rebound from 2020, what we were actually doing was retooling, redefining and creating better technology and process infrastructure, and fully morphing into a truly national company. At the end of 2019, almost 100% of our team was located in greater Philadelphia—and now, over 30% of our workforce is distributed across the country. The distribution of our client base has changed in a similar manner. There was a herculean effort to find, attract and hire new Thinkers for all of the built up demand—resulting in us fully vetting and hiring 72 (!) fabulous folks since the first of January. 

We continued to improve how we service clients

And for our clients? Transformative work as part of both new relationships with household names as well as relationships approaching (or in some cases exceeding) a decade in length. To make that claim in an industry such as ours you must be able to demonstrate you can do what you say you’ll do. And we have, day after day, year after year. All thanks to this incredible group of humans I get to work with everyday who represent us on the front lines of challenging, game-changing project work. 

Just like in previous years where we were able to look back on what we had achieved and say, “these things were just dreams for us not too long ago,” the same is true of what I just wrote above. But, while we were in the thick of it and still operating in a daily mode of “Recovery & Strengthening,” our stated narrative for 2021, I’m not sure the full gravity of what we were achieving in aggregate was being appreciated. Certainly not by me, until around mid-year when it became clear that we no longer needed to set expectations that our stated performance metrics would likely be a stretch. 

We became future-focused once again

At that point, several folks on our Strategic Planning team started asking about plans to update our future vision and my thoughts for what comes next, and only then did I realize how fatigued I really was from the prior year and a half. I had become so focused on the day-to-day, and it had been so long since I had been able to peek out over the top of the trenches, that I was candidly at a bit of a loss for words and next steps. Clearly, even as evidenced from this blog post, that was a little alarming to both myself and those around me!

As they do, Thinkers rallied around their own—in this case, me. They offered to design a way forward, allowing me to be a stakeholder and participant in our strategic planning process this year, which included a refresh of our company vision for the next five years. What we’ve put together is really exciting and energizing, and dang, does it feel good to be shaking off some of the rust I took on and moving forward with this renewed sense of purpose and optimism as we head into the new year. 

Our narrative for 2022? “Back to the Future”—as in, getting back to thinking about, shaping, and actualizing the future as opposed to the present.

Ready to take on 2022

No matter how we slice it, 2021 was anything but a “lost year” for Think Company. It is an objective statement to say we are stronger, more capable, and better positioned than ever before. We tend to go into each new year in a very level-headed and pragmatic way, realistic about what we can expect to achieve. That’s just our way. But you know what? After this long, transformative, hard-to-grab-on-to year full of its own unique ups and downs… I’m just not feeling that. I’m not level-headed about what I think we’re going to do in 2022. I think it’s going to be an absolute barn-burner, and I can’t wait for you to ride along with us on this continuing journey. 

As we close out the year, I’d like to wish peace for you and yours in this holiday season. I hope you’ll get some time together with loved ones to reflect, recharge, and if you haven’t already, think about what your own personal narrative might be for the new year. Onward!

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