What I Learned in 2020 – Jon Wolanske, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

By thesanfranciscoegotist / /

What an insane year.

Wow. Thanks, Jon, for that insightful, rarely uttered observation.  

But really … what a year. And it’s still going. Wheeeee!

I learned a lot in 2020. Many of the lessons are lessons others have already written about for this site in far more eloquent ways than I could ever put. While some other things I learned just don’t feel right to expound upon. Like the fact that I am way more productive when wearing a pair of non-elastic-waist pants. But I’ll save that lesson for my TED Talk.

This year, in ways big and small, I learned again and again that I have two ears and one mouth for a reason and that I work at a remarkable place, full of remarkably alive, compassionate, game, ethical, considerate, funny people who are tirelessly working to fight for real change and make what they’re a part of better every day. But the lessons I gleaned from my home life were no less important.

I should mention here that my work-from-home situation was—maybe like yours—utterly thrown together. A hastily ordered folding desk. A shabby kitchen chair. And a corner of the house far enough away from the general biz of the family to feel like a genuine commute: my five-year-old son’s room.

It’s into this cave of stabby LEGOs and assorted stuffies that I escaped every weekday and even on some weekend days to try to maintain a face of calm for Zoom. And Teams. Slack. WhatsApp. Google Chat. And Outlook. And in the way back, Yahoo! Mail—where you at?! Really, all the platforms. Sometimes all at once.  

On one August day, during the third creative check-in that day on a project that was at that point on its fourth or fifth round of labored resuscitation, I hit a breaking point. I had turned off my camera and was listening to the somewhat circular conversation unfolding in front of me when my eyes drifted to something sitting on the end of my son’s bed.

A misshapen toilet-paper tube stuck to another toilet-paper tube by some errantly placed electrical tape, with a random sparkly pipe cleaner jutting in between, around which were wrapped gobs of Scotch tape, to which was stuck, I want to say an end of that morning’s granola bar. Hard to place the exact origin of that granola bar, actually. But there it sat, this creation my son had so lovingly assembled that morning. And if your mind thinks “binoculars,” well, you made the same mistake I did when my son first showed it to me. It’s a rocket ship. Duh.

Anyways, as I sat listening to the call continue on and on, this little rocket ship kind of took my breath away. We spend a lot of time on calls and in meetings distinguishing the garbage ideas from the good ones, and yet here was this object my son had built out of LITERAL GARBAGE, and it was his most prized possession. A creation he’d take to bed with him that night, to the beach with him that weekend and into the bath several evenings in a row.

Kids believe in the potential of their ideas in ways adults dismiss so easily. But seeing this junk rocket ship made me realize that we all have our tape and TP rolls, and we’re just trying to make others see what we see in them. We’re incredibly lucky to get to make things. And in this year when—despite having a lot of refuse shoveled our way—we’ve wanted to say yes to all opportunities in order to prove ourselves and our worth again and again, the realization that my own particular garbage had real potential, that any idea could become something worthy of the kind of attention a five-year-old pays to his craft, was a real saving grace.

I know that my son will likely abandon these daily paper-craft work sessions sooner than I think. But I’m going to try to make them a continued daily activity with him for as long as we work from home.

And in, like, two years’ time, when he asks for a Nintendo Switch, I’m going to hand him two stuck-together toilet-paper rolls and say, “Dude, have at it. Merry Christmas!”


Jon Wolanske is a GS&P Creative Director and Associate Partner.


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