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Diversity in Science: Making a Difference on Aging Brain Research

Discover how aging brain research benefits from diversity in science. And help address disparities in health by taking the MindCrowd online test.

When we learned about Dr. Huentelman’s MindCrowd project and his team of scientists, two things caught our attention. First, he achieved diversity in science. His team consists of more women than men with a variety of backgrounds. Next, his cognitive function and aging brain research study was designed to allow everybody to participate.

Achieving diversity in science is no simple feat. Science can benefit from the varied perspectives brought about by a diverse team. Each team member contributes different approaches to problem-solving and research analysis.

Not only has this team achieved diversity in science in their workplace, they also want to engage the largest and most diverse group of people to take part in the MindCrowd study. Many demographic groups (including women and Latinos) are often absent from clinical trials and scientific research studies. Minorities’ lifestyles, genetics and environmental factors are not studied or taken into account. This lack of representation has serious consequences like inaccurate findings and/or healthcare disparities.

Table of Contents

MindCrowd is the largest online scientific research of the aging process. Backed by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in collaboration with the Universities of Arizona, Miami, Emory and John Hopkins.

Its goal is to find out how to extend quality of life by helping people keep their cognitive abilities in old age. In simple terms, they are trying to help us keep our thinking, learning, understanding skills and working memory for as long as we live.

Given the impact of the study, we sat down with Dr. Matt Huentelman, TGen’s Professor of Neurogenomics and Dr. Carol Barnes, Regents Professor and Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Arizona, to learn about this powerful project and to listen to some of their insights on achieving diversity in science.

Bonus for those who read to the very end. These two scientists share their recommendations on dealing with COVID-19.

If you want to take part in the study, grab your laptop, desktop or tablet and visit mindcrowd.org. The test takes about 10 minutes, it’s like a video game and you will find out how your brain compares to others like you.

MindCrowd, the Most Diverse Aging Brain Research Online Study

Dr. Matt Huentelman envisions a future where successful aging prevents age-related disease. Discover how aging brain research benefits from diversity in science. And help address disparities in health by taking the MindCrowd online test.

Dr. Matt Huentelman envisions a future where successful aging prevents age-related disease.

RSM – Matt, what led you to study the aging brain?

MH – Aging has always fascinated me because of its complexity. Our differences in aging are due to our genetics, our lifestyle choices, the diseases we have, and even diseases we may have had and recovered from. The long-time frame of aging in the human being is such a tough thing to study… and I have always been attracted to that. The process of time – aging – amplifies our individual differences, which is both interesting and difficult to study at the same time.

RSM – Carol, are there similarities between the animals you have studied and the human aging brain?

CB – Yes, there are actually many similarities between them. I have been studying memory and the aging brain for over 4 decades in rats and monkeys. And there is one kind of memory we can test across animals – spatial memory.

That’s the kind of memory that allows you to remember your way home or where an object is in relation to another. Something you may have noticed people with Alzheimer’s dementia have trouble with.

Spatial memory worsens with age across every examined species, including humans. Of course, a rat is old at 2 years of age, monkeys at 22, and  humans at 65. So far, the fundamental biological process of “brain aging” is similar across species, but sped up in other animals compared to humans.

RSM – What is the difference between normal brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease?

CB – Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias are not part of normal aging. Furthermore, only humans develop Alzheimer’s disease – other animals do not. Thanks to this difference we are able to use these other animals to define what to expect for normal aging.

There are two consistent changes in normal brain aging. A lower number and reduced function of connections between brain cells or synapses. And a reduced ability to strengthen the connections made between cells that are thought to be the biological basis of memory.

So, in normal brain aging you may forget which word to use, you may lose things or make a bad decision once in a while. You may even forget what day it is but remember it later.

While Alzheimer’s usually occurs in an aging brain, its changes happen in a cell type that is well preserved in normal aging. Some warning signs of dementia are life disrupting memory loss, confusion with time and place, difficulty having a conversation or completing familiar tasks. The good new for us is that, only 14% of people over 70 have dementia symptoms.

Latinos are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. And they are severely under represented in scientific research studies for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Taking the MindCrowd memory and reaction time test can help scientists find out how to slow down brain aging.

And they are severely under represented in scientific research studies for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Help scientists learn more about the aging brain by taking a short memory game at MindCrowd.org

The MindCrowd Project: A Scientific Study of the Aging Brain

RSM – What is MindCrowd and what is it trying to achieve?

MH – MindCrowd is an online scientific research study of the brain whose ultimate goal is to learn how to slow down brain aging. That way, people can preserve their memory for their entire life. And by doing so, avoid diseases of learning and memory like Alzheimer’s.

To achieve this goal we need to engage one million participants with the most diverse backgrounds in the United States and the world.

RSM – Who should take the MindCrowd memory and attention test? Why?

MH – Everybody who wants to be represented in scientific research or is curious and would like to know how their brain compares to others like them. All they need to take the memory and reaction time test is to visit mindcrowd.org on a laptop, desktop or tablet.

Lack of representation in medical research often translates into health care disparities. Quite often, scientific research is done in person. That is not convenient for those who work full-time jobs, have more than one job, or live far away from a University. This results in a lack of scientific and medical information for these underrepresented groups of people. This can then translate into poorer medical care.

In short – the discoveries made in science and medicine are most specific for those groups who take part in scientific studies. We recognize that this is a problem, that some groups of our United States “melting pot” are being left out of research.

We hope that by conducting a study online, we can encourage everybody to be part of our human brain research and help end disparities in healthcare.

Participating in scientific research is a step towards addressing disparities in healthcare. Test your brain and be counted!

Participating in scientific research is a step towards addressing disparities in healthcare. Test your brain and be counted!

CB – We want to expand MindCrowd to include studies of people across the United States that are representative of the population. Most studies of cognitive health in aging have been small, cross-sectional, and geographically and ethnically constrained. We need to study more people so we can understand what groups will benefit most from what types of treatments.

A so-called Precision Medicine approach such as used in cancer research, is a must to understand how to avoid age related cognitive decline. We want to be in a position to guide public policy and health decisions, and to take the next steps to personalize intervention strategies. When we apply these approaches to the process of aging we call it Precision Aging.

How to Achieve Diversity in Science

RSM – What do you believe it takes to achieve diversity in science?

MH – I strongly believe that diversity in science is driven by actions that encourage participation by young students. We have to begin to encourage grade and high schoolers to consider science as a career. Help them understand that they can be leaders in high tech fields. So, I believe it starts with a focus on the young minds out there.

It is critical to develop and support programs that have a focus on the recruitment of diversity into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math-based fields). Support the teachers who foster and represent diversity in the grades and high schools. Help students of all types understand that their future is their own and that they can overcome any perceived pre-destiny.

I admit that it is a tall order. That our society for all of its opportunities has competing stereotypes that serve to push certain groups away from some careers. However, in science, we thrive on creativity and differing viewpoints and world views… so I really view a lack of diversity as a disservice to science and medicine.

CB – I served in many service capacities at the Society for Neuroscience, including President. One of the working groups I was involved in was tasked to try to figure out why there are so few female Full Professors in Neuroscience. At that time it was about 11%. While there are about 50% women graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, somewhere after that we start to lose women – the classic “leaky pipeline.”

No one has a good answer, of course – other than active mentoring, and developing support groups.

The situation is even more severe with respect to achieving ethnic diversity in science – where the numbers are even more extreme. Most now think we need to start at early ages to show kids how amazing STEM can be. Getting them to actively participate and realize they can be ‘good at science.’ But first, we need to tackle as a nation health and wealth disparities that need not exist.

Diversity in science: Making a Difference on Aging Brain Research

Diversity in science: Making a Difference on Aging Brain Research

RSM – What would be your message for women who are considering a career into STEM?

CB – Find out what really keeps your attention – find something you are passionate about – and, if it is in the STEM field – I say go for it!! There will be challenges to overcome as in any area of life – but I believe the key is to follow your heart with respect to where your passion is.

Every day I feel lucky to be in a position to ‘go in and learn and discover something new.’ My determination to understand brain aging and memory so that I can help people maintain their brain health is truly sustaining. To be sure, there are obstacles to overcome for women in STEM – but if we don’t fight to do and excel at what we love – we all lose.

I’ve gotten many awards for my work and have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. But the award I treasure most is the Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award for mentoring women in neuroscience. So, a final word – once you find your stride in STEM – encourage others.

COVID-19 Recommendations for Dementia Caregivers

RSM – What are your recommendations for people who live and care for others with age related memory issues during this quarantine?

MH – For the caregivers, life during stay-at-home orders and quarantine can be especially challenging. Here are some suggestions that are important to consider.

Keep yourself well: This is the time for the caregiver to pay special attention to themselves. Follow the basic precautions, such as hand washing, physical distancing, don’t touch your face, and clean high touch surfaces (like doorknobs) frequently, and follow the guidelines about face coverings.

Keep others well: Remember that you can carry the virus and not show symptoms. So, when you are in public you should wear a mask.

Think of others, think of the people those you encounter will be in contact with and make sure you protect them. After all, it’s not only about you. This is a pandemic.

Keep physical distance but don’t socially isolate: It is critical to protect the most vulnerable by observing physical distancing guidelines, but we cannot let this slip into social isolation. We know that a lack of social interactions has a negative effect on the brain. Humans, by nature, are social animals and this aspect of the pandemic is perhaps one of the most significant.

Be creative about ways to keep in touch with loved ones. Each case is different, but consider video visits, phone calls, and writing letters. There are many games that can be played online with a loved one. And sometimes listening to music together or sharing a meal on a video call can be calming.

COVID-19 Recommendations for Dementia Caregivers: Keep physical distance but don't socially isolate

COVID-19 Recommendations for Dementia Caregivers.

Carol A. Barnes, Ph.D.

Regents Professor, Psychology, Neurology and Neuroscience
Evelyn F. McKnight Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging
Director, Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute
Director, Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging
University of Arizona

Matt Huentelman Ph.D.

Professor, Neurogenomics Division
Scientific Director, Center for Rare Childhood Disorders
Head, Neurobehavioral Research Unit
Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)

Inclusion: Pushing for Real Results in Academia

If there’s someone pushing for real results in diversity and inclusion at all levels of academia, that’s Dr. Alison Davis-Blake, the eight president of Bentley University.

RSM #IWDleader Hall of Fame

RSM #IWDleader Hall of Fame

Before this role, Dr. Davis-Blake was the Dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan (2011-2016) where she positioned the school globally for its new mission to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. Prior to Ross she was the Dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota (2006-2011.)

Dr Davis-Blake was the first female dean at both Carlson and Ross and is Bentley’s second woman president. She is a talented scholar with expertise in strategic human resource management and organizational design for effective management of human capital.

For breaking the glass ceiling in a historically male-dominated sector, and for relentlessly pushing for real results when it comes to full inclusion in academia, we honor Dr. Alison Davis-Blake with the 2020 Hall of Fame.

The influence of great women leaders

Red Shoe Movement—Why do women make great leaders?

Alison Davis-Blake —In a recent study published by Harvard Business Review, researchers found that women in leadership positions are rated equally or more competent than men in leadership positions. I am not surprised by this data which also show that in particular, across thousands of the 360-reviews used for the research, women leaders were highly rated as “excelling” in “taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty.” I have personally found that women are more likely to engage in integrative (both parties win) negotiations than distributive (win-lose) negotiations in the workplace. It is also my feeling that due to personal experiences of exclusion women can often be more sensitive to the need for diversity and inclusion, thus unleashing organizational potential for creative and innovative solutions.

RSM— How have women helped you along your career?

ADB—Women have been essential to my career as sponsors, mentors, collaborators, and supporters. While the importance of sponsors and mentors is well understood, I think we overlook the vital role of collaborators and supporters. My female collaborators have provided a space where it was safe for me to be myself, to vet concepts, and to test ideas. A space where it is safe to express incomplete thoughts in private with a collaborator or a supporter is vital because so often women face a smaller margin for error in public. I have also been the beneficiary of a great many women who were working on the front lines but who went out of their way to tell me that they were supporting me as a female leader and wanted to see me succeed. Their votes of confidence kept me going during some of my most difficult days.

President Alison Davis-Blake pushes for real results

President Alison Davis-Blake pushes for real results

RSM— You were the first female dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and at the time that made you the highest-ranking dean at any U.S. business school. Why did it take so long to have a woman in that position? What changes were you able to implement during your tenure there?

Business schools and fields of study have historically been male dominated. And there is a very, very long road to the deanship. One must obtain a Ph.D., get a good academic job, obtain tenure, become a full professor, and get some administrative experience. That can easily be a 20-year process. And, research is clear that just like the corporate pipeline data reported by McKinsey & Company each year, the academic pipeline is extremely leaky at every stage with fewer women than men (proportionally) advancing to the next stage. Thus, there is a pipeline issue with regards to women achieving the highest ranks of academia, from which administrators are typically chosen.

When I became dean, it was not uncommon for only 10-15% of the full professors in a business school to be women, and, based on that, one would expect very few women to be in senior administrative roles and even fewer to be deans.

While at Ross, I led strategic efforts to increase global study opportunities for MBA and Bachelor of Business Administration students and formed new partnerships with universities around the world. Through this work we expanded activities in India, Japan and South Korea. Domestically we expanded our Executive MBA program to Los Angeles and introduced the Master of Management and Minor in Business programs.

We also completely revamped our undergraduate curriculum to make it more experiential and more integrated, better meeting the needs of today’s learners.

Iris Bohnet, Dean, Harvard Kennedy School shares how to get real results in gender inclusion.

What can be done to get real results?

President Alison Davis-Blake

President Alison Davis-Blake

RSM—54% of university professors who work full time in degree-granting postsecondary institutions are White males while 27% are White females. Only 2% of the following groups are full time professors: Black males, Black females, Hispanic Males and Hispanic females. What is the reason for this disparity in both gender ethnicity and race?

ADB—If doctoral programs don’t begin with a diverse group of students, subsequent stages of the pipeline will continue to be less and less diverse. The long and leaky pipeline is the underlying reason for all of these disparities. This is why efforts such as the Ph.D. Project, which focus on increasing diversity among doctoral students in business, are so critical to generating a diverse set of faculty and administrators for the future.

RSM—Can you share the story of a male champion who supported your ambitions along the way?

ADB—When I was an associate department chair, my chair (who I was in line to replace in several years) spent time introducing me to every key leader on campus and telling those leaders how much they would enjoy working with me. He was an extremely well-connected and well-respected person on campus. Those introductions, which took quite a bit of time to accomplish, were invaluable when I later became a department chair and then senior associate dean.

Want real results? Set the example!

RSM—As a leader, what are you specifically doing to level the playing field for women in academia and elsewhere?

ADB— “Diversity & Inclusion” is a key feature in Bentley University’s strategic plan. We have put hiring practices in place at the university to ensure that we are developing a strong pool of gender, ethnic and racially diverse candidates for every faculty and staff position. I believe that setting the example starts at the top. When making my own personnel decisions, I’ve mandated that all executive searches feature a broad slate of highly qualified candidates. And the results have been very positive. My Provost is a woman of color, my CFO is female, and my Cabinet (the people who report directly to me) has a roughly equal number of women and men. As we work together every day, we demonstrate that the contributions of men and women are equally valued and that both women and men can be successful at the highest levels of Bentley University.

Board diversity is also a top priority for both Bentley’s Board of Trustees and me. We are actively working to add women from all industry sectors and, importantly, women from academia to our Board.

RSM—What has been the most difficult lesson you’ve had to learn to get to where you are?

ADB—Earlier in my career, I imagined that by this point in my life, the playing field would be more level than it is. So, the hardest lesson I have had to learn is that the playing field is not level and will not be level during my lifetime. I sometimes joke that women of my generation have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. While that may not be exactly true, it has been my experience that women still have to produce better and cleaner results to be recognized. And we know that it is true that women are less likely to be paid equitably. While I believe the world is improving and that many leaders, both male and female, are working to change these dynamics, the work world I hoped for when I was younger has not yet materialized.

President Alison Davis Blake always looking to bring real results around inclusion to academia

President Alison Davis Blake always looking to bring real results around inclusion to academia

4 Steps to do less and achieve more to feel better

I’ve spent many years working long days and weekends building one company or another. Finally, I figured out how to do less and achieve more.  In the process I found my passion and time to live my life. Here are my insights.

“Do less and achieve more” may not come naturally

I had just finished my Master’s degree when I first arrived in the U.S. So not only did I have to work hard to get my career going but I also had to learn a new culture, improve my English and do it all as a newly wed away from my family. Hard work and effort was a given. I had to pave my way, pay my dues, and all that.

But the truth is that perseverance and a strong will to succeed had always been part of my DNA. I had worked hard to get good grades in school and had done a ton of extra curricular activities since I have memory. So it was only natural that I’d continue in that vein once I entered the workplace.

After I worked at a company for a couple of years my now ex husband and I purchased it from the owner. It was about to go bankrupt so it looked like a good idea to restructure and re-launch an existing company rather than start from scratch.  It wasn’t any easier, though. With the bankruptcy looming over us, it meant we had to work 16 hour-days and 7 days a week to keep the company afloat. All the while taking very little money out and investing in marketing new programs and services.

That was my first professional taste of an imbalanced life. We worked all the time.  We took no days off, no vacations. We did nothing for pleasure. It was work, work work. And when I look back, the results we got for the amount of work we did were not commensurate. Not even close.

The idea to “do less and achieve more” never even crossed my mind back then. It would take many more years for it to sink in.

So, let me save you the learning curve and share the insights I gained along the way.

You've got this. Photo Credit: Emma Matthews. Unsplash

You’ve got this. Photo Credit: Emma Matthews. Unsplash

1 De-glorify busyness

The one thing you learn pretty quickly when you enter the U.S. workspace is that being busy is considered good. It’s the only acceptable answer to the question: “How are you?” If you’re not busy people immediately think you’re not successful. So even when you are taking a well-deserved break, you may automatically answer “Busy, very busy.”

The truth is that being busy for the sake of being busy is like being famous for the sake of being famous. It’s empty. It’s shallow and it’s completely and utterly unfulfilling.

So if you want to do less and achieve more, my first suggestion is that you take a personal stand against busyness. Its only function is to occupy your time with things that may not be relevant at best and may distance you from your real goals at worst.  So, when someone asks you how you are doing, try any of the following answers:

  • I’m enjoying every minute of my life
  • I’m involved in a very interesting project
  • I’m thinking about my next step
  • I’m spending quality time with the people I care about
  • I’m evaluating my priorities so I can focus on what really matters

You will see how by training yourself to give one of these more thoughtful responses, you will give yourself permission to actually do all those things.

When you learn to do less you achieve more and find more time for what you love. Photo Credit: Joanna Kosinska. Unsplash

When you learn to do less you achieve more and find more time for what you love. Photo Credit: Joanna Kosinska. Unsplash

Learn how to flow

2 Figure out what you enjoy most in order to go with the flow

It’s not a simple thing, but figuring out what you most enjoy doing in life and for work is a cataclysmic discovery. It can throw everything upside down, that’s how infrequently you’re likely to give this any serious consideration. Ask yourself right now:

  • What comes naturally to me?
  • When do I feel I’m in the zone? In a psychological flow?
  • Where do my ability, knowledge, experience and joy intersect? Doing what?
  • If I was given five years to live and the only way to extend my life were to work in something I love, what would that be?

When you uncover what it is that you like to do and you figure out a way to enter that space, you’ll start going with the flow so you are overcome by a feeling of effortlessness. Rather than making efforts against what comes naturally (upstream efforts as Bethany Butzer calls them in her Ted talk,) you’ll be making an effort in the same direction as the current.

I tell you, many people spend their entire lives moving from job to job or developing a career someone else designed for them. Stop. Think. Decide for yourself. Start the path towards doing what you enjoy. It may take a while to course-correct to get there, but it’s worth it.

Learn to do less and achieve more. Photo Credit: Katie Moum. Unsplash

Learn to do less and achieve more. Photo Credit: Katie Moum. Unsplash

3 Start enjoying the process

You’ve heard me say before that success is a journey, not a destination. And although that may sound cliché, the idea is profound. Most of us have arrived to our definition of success through our parents, our culture, our media… We’re so focused on the end result that quite often when you achieve it, it feels meaningless. Why? Because it wasn’t you who gave that goal a meaning. You just went after it because someone out there said it was important. Or it would make you feel important.

To really do less and achieve more, you have to enjoy the process, the path that leads to wherever you are going. And if you’re the one who sets up the direction and you are doing what you like, that path will be much more enjoyable. Granted, it won’t be all smooth sailing all the time. That’s not what this is about. But even when you encounter setbacks and obstacles, you will feel okay. You will have the internal resources to help you navigate through anything. You will have a naturally built-in resilience that comes from doing something you find meaningful.

4 Share the stories you create

In the last few years I realized that because I’ve aligned what I enjoy doing with what I do, my life has gotten much more interesting. I’m having lots of fun, doing less, achieving more, and I have a lot more free time to engage in activities outside of work. I also noticed that the stars seem to align seamlessly and things fall into place with a minimum amount of effort.

What’s happening? I’ve reached a point where the only thing I do is share with those who are interested the stories of what we’ve done at my company, the Red Shoe Movement, and the impact our work has had. I don’t need to convince anyone, I let the stories do the talking. I focus on listening to what people need and then I share what we may be able to do. But I don’t push, I don’t insist, I don’t proselytize. When someone feels we are the right fit and I feel they are the right fit for my organization, things work out beautifully. Everything flows, we become great partners and then, inevitable friends for life.

Because in the end, it’s about creating the conditions that allow everyone to be their best selves and live their most fulfilled lives. Figure out what those conditions look like for you and you’ll feel that it all comes to you effortlessly.

De-glorify busyness and you'll be much happier. Photo Credit: Unsplash

De-glorify busyness and you’ll be much happier. Photo Credit: Unsplash

Living One Day at a Time: A Short Story

Living one day at a time has been my consistent approach to life. Being present. Enjoying the moment.

Preparing for the future but focusing on the now. Being mindful of what is rather than dreaming about what could have been or how things should be.Granted, it’s not always easy. There have been many times when I got disappointed because I expected things to go one way and they went in a totally different direction. Times when I wished for what I didn’t have. Others when I looked forward to a moment in the future when I’d be enjoying x. But through the years, I found myself coming back to living one day at a time in a very concrete way. I exercise my gratefulness and practice what is now referred to as “mindfulness” and used to be known as “being present.” I find joy in simple things and celebrate even the smallest accomplishments. They help me build my confidence and keep me aligned with the here and now.

This short story deals with this topic. It’s a reminder to make time for yourself every day, no matter where you are, no matter how busy you are. It’s also a reminder of the value of sharing your life with those with whom you spend most of your time. That almost everything is better when it’s shared. That being human together enhances our experience. Enjoy your coffee break!

Living one day at a time at Paul's in London

Living one day at a time at Paul’s in London

Coffee Shots: A short story about living life one day at a time— by Mariela Dabbah

She had been collecting pictures of her coffee drinks for the past ten years. Cappuccinos, lattes, cortados… You’d think she was creating a photographic exhibit or a connoisseur’s guide to the top espresso bars worldwide.  She used the shots to remind her of where she’d been, what she was doing right when she stopped to smell the coffee.

That small instant when she interrupted her journey and froze time in one frame was precious. Put side by side her coffee pictures told the story of her life during the past decade.

Having coffee with medialunas, in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Having coffee with medialunas, in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

She used simple, dark wood frames and carefully hung them around the walls of her home office. From the ceiling to the mid wall, the little frames went round and round like custom-made tridimensional wallpaper.

The effect was mesmerizing. You could even smell the intoxicating aroma as soon as you walked into her house. But that may be because Alexis Beaumont grinded fresh coffee every morning.

As an international sales executive, she practically lived on a plane. Jet lag seemed inevitable until many years ago she discovered that a cup of espresso at the right moment helped her ease into whatever time zone she happened to be in.

Creating a collection of pictures of her drinks gave her the perfect excuse to take periodic breaks during her travels to avoid becoming so sucked into business that she forgot to experience life fully. It reminded her not to take things for granted.

Her husband and teenage kids teased her about her compulsion. They were convinced that had she not be consumed by the coffee shots she’d be doing drugs, or drinking. And perhaps there was some truth to that.

One afternoon, while in Rome, Alexis had taken her team out for a drink. They went to an old restaurant off Piazza di Spagna. Although the cobblestones were still glittering from a recent summer shower, the group decided to sit outdoors under a red awning and take advantage of the cooler air.

The waitress brought a big tray with drinks. And as usual, Alexis’ was the only one who had ordered a cappuccino rather than a glass of wine.

She quickly reorganized the items in front of her. Pushed the salt and pepper shakers out of the way, positioned a small vase with a lovely bunch of wild flowers right next to her cup, and turned the chocolate square that had arrived with her cup, so that the label was facing her. Then she angled her phone just so and took the shot.

Living one day at a time on board the Celebrity Edge cruise ship, having coffee at Cafe al Bacio

Living one day at a time on board the Celebrity Edge cruise ship, having coffee at Cafe al Bacio

She put her phone away and returned her attention to the group. But an obvious silence had fallen over the table. Alexis caught a few furtive looks passing among the members of her team and even perceived that they were avoiding eye contact with her. She wondered what could possibly be going on.

Not one for ducking hard questions, Alexis asked as lightly as she could not to spoil the mood:

“Am I missing something?” A few giggles confirmed she had read the situation accurately, but she was still in the dark as to what had happened. Nobody seemed interested in looping her in. Some took a sip of their wine, others were suddenly immersed in the menu or in their screens. “Come on now, what is it?” she fixed her stare on Jackie, one of her most recent hires. This was her first trip overseas and she had Alexis to thank for.

“Just you taking food pictures… We thought executives didn’t do that,” Jackie turned crimson. Nice going with her new boss.

“You mean my coffee shot? I collect them,” Alexis replied nonchalantly. “I’ll invite all of you to my house one of these days so you can see my private exhibit.”

The group quickly moved on to other, more interesting topics but the episode stayed with Alexis through the evening. She didn’t know what bothered her more, the fact that her own team didn’t know that she was a collector of coffee shots or that she had obviously never bothered to tell them. Had she always taken her pictures when she was alone? How could she have not shared this hobby with the people she worked closest to? Over the past few years they had spent such a large poriton of their lives together, how could that even be possible?

Iced coffee at Aroma, Israel

Iced coffee at Aroma, Israel

The next afternoon, after a long day of visiting clients, Alexis took the group to a favorite coffee shop of hers. This one had a view of La Fontana di Trevi. It was quite a bit more touristy than the place they had gone to the day before but that was part of her plan.

When the coffees, teas, and juices arrived, Alexis asked for a minute of attention.

“I’d like for all of you to capture this moment. Right now. Here, in front of this beautiful place. Focus your camera on your drink,” and Alexis started moving things around her latte while she explained. “Make the table around it look pretty.  Then, place the fountain in the background so you remember where you were, who you were with, what we were talking about… Like this!” she said and showed the picture she had just captured on her phone.

They all bought into it immediately. Comparing shots and helping each other get a better angle or a better composition.

“Now, all of you, text me your pics,” Alexis said.  She quickly created a collage with all their shots. It was really something. It quickly became their thing. Every time they traveled together they took coffee or drink shots when they went out at the end of the day. A moment to take stock of how fortunate they were to be together, to be doing something they enjoyed, or to simply be alive. The nice thing was that when they traveled separately, most of them sent Alexis a coffee shot as a way of saying, I’m okay, making time for myself during this business trip.

Six months later, Alexis invited her team for dinner. It was the first time she had them over at her house so she introduced them to her family and gave them a tour. She left the home office for last. They couldn’t believe their eyes. The walls were covered from ceiling to half the way down with small, white frames of the drink shots they had taken all over the world.

“I realized seeing you take pictures and receiving them on my phone made me happier than my own pictures ever did. So I redecorated a bit. These used to be all my coffee shots,” said Alexis smiling. And without missing a bit, the team posed in front of one of the walls and took a selfie.

Coffee shot with shoe design in El Salvador

Coffee shot with shoe design in El Salvador

I hope you enjoyed the story! Would you share with me any tips and tricks you use in order to remember living one day at a time? Leave your comments here!

 

 

Leadership legacy: a journey built on details and values

When your leadership legacy is a 130,000-ton cruise-ship that redefines the meaning of luxury, there’s little wiggle room for mistakes.

At the end of a two year journey ideating, designing and building the Edge, Celebrity Cruise’s CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo can be proud that is almost impossible to find any areas that need improvement. Celebrity Edge is so close to perfection that probably only Lisa can detect the deviations from her vision.

So much so that when a guest who was walking out of a Spa shower said: “This doesn’t work,” I asked astonished: “Did you actually find something that is wrong on this ship? Do tell!”

The woman said that there weren’t any hooks to keep the towel handy after you showered. Wow. The ship is missing a few hooks in convenient places. Take a second to digest that. A 130,000-ton ship, with the most innovative technology you have seen anywhere, let alone in a ship, it’s missing a few hooks. I’d say, mission accomplished, Lisa!

Celebrity Edge leadership legacy is in the details

Celebrity Edge leadership legacy is in the details

Building a memorable leadership legacy

I was invited by Lisa herself to join the inaugural sail of Celebrity Edge. And to describe my experience on the ship is to minimize it right away. Because some things are hard to put into words. After a few minutes on board, the Wows and OMGs don’t do justice to what you’re feeling.

For starters you should know that I’m not a frequent cruiser by any stretch of the imagination. If you ask me to choose, I’ll arrive to my destination by plane and walk once I arrive to my destination. But Celebrity Edge completely changed my mind. When you step into this self-contained universe, you quickly realize not all ships are created equal.

Magic Carpet on Celebrity Edge. A very unique detail created that undoubtedly is part of Lisa Lutoff-Perlo's leadership legacy.

Magic Carpet on Celebrity Edge. A very unique detail created that undoubtedly is part of Lisa Lutoff-Perlo’s leadership legacy.

When she took the reigns of Celebrity Cruises, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, or LLP, as she’s known to her team, had a powerful vision. She wanted to revolutionize the cruise industry and particularly redefine the luxury category. She got started right away. One of her first decisions was to increase diversity and inclusion on the bridge and at the executive level in the organization. (We talked to her about this in her Hall of Fame interview.)  That step spoke volumes about her commitment to affecting change in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

But pushing boundaries is never easy, whether it is gender stereotypes or established ideas of what a luxury experience should be. And here, LLP’s inability to hear “no” is without a doubt one of her strongest assets to push forward. She threw away the book and invited her team to think as if the sky were truly the limit. And she did it with a level of care and intentionality so all associates could take her at her word and be at their best proposing innovative solutions and totally out of the box ideas.

A deliberate focus on facing the sea includes the Gym's equipment.

A deliberate focus on facing the sea includes the Gym’s equipment.

The cave: The secret place were a legacy is built

When I visited Royal Caribbean’s offices in Miami for our “Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas with Celebrity Cruises,” a Red Shoe Movement Gender Equality global initiative, I saw The Cave. The secret place to which only a selected group of Celebrity executives and designers with special “clearance” had access.  They got together with their counterparts in other parts of the world and used virtual reality to ideate and design the Edge. Every detail of the ship from the cabins to the chairs, from the circular theater to the incredible art pieces was created in this space.

An unimaginable number of hours and sharp attention to detail went into this process. The result is pure magic. It’s a magic you feel in the smile and polite “hello” of every crew member you meet; in the ocean-facing lounge chairs; in the way the infinite veranda in the staterooms brings the sea indoors, and in the three story Eden— the garden-like bar where actors are in a seamless interaction with the guests. One of Lisa’s most remarkable legacies might be the sense of awe that this ship inspires at every turn, a hard task if there ever was one. At a time when sensory overload seems to have dulled our senses, you feel them come alive on Edge.

A number of iconic villas that range in size up to close to 250 square feet offer an amazing travel experience.

A number of iconic villas that range in size up to close to 250 square feet offer an amazing travel experience.

Highlight of my trip

One of my most memorable experiences on the ship was dinner at Le Petit Chef— an unassuming restaurant with just a small, one-page menu. The dinner was arranged for a group of six and as we sat at the table, we noticed each plate was lit up from above. We would soon find out why.

As the lights in the restaurant were dimmed, a projection over each plate and seating area began. It was the animated, brilliantly illustrated story of a competition between four chefs. While all of us stared in utter joy, laughing like five year-olds the little characters walked across our plates in an endless back and forth preparing a specific dish. Once the dish was finished and the image of it projected on our plate, waiters would simultaneously place the real food— which looked exactly like the illustration— on everyone’s plates. Voilà.

The food tasted delicious but the immersive experience was incomparable to anything I had seen before. And that’s the point. The constant surprise, the lasting feeling of having been through a unique moment, the relentless upending of assumptions. And underneath it all, a warm sensation akin to… love? Yes, you feel the love with which each detail has been planned. The love that every person involved with any part of this ship, has put into it. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true.

Animated and interactive dinner at Le Petit Chef on Celebrity Edge

Animated and interactive dinner at Le Petit Chef on Celebrity Edge

Building a leadership legacy that redefines what can and can’t be done on a ship

When LLP and her team set out to redefine luxury, it’s not only the luxury segment of the cruise industry that they ended up redefining. In the end, they are part of a larger industry: Travel and leisure. You feel it in your bones when you step into the Spa, my second top highlight of the trip. A 22,000 square feet area that has nothing to envy the best ones in the world. And very likely as close to walking into paradise as you and I are ever going to get. The kinds of treatments that they offer hail from all over the world. You can tell that they’ve researched the most innovative, effective and pleasurable treatments out there to bring onboard not only the best, but also the least well-known.

I lay down on a warm waterbed while I got rubbed down with a special brush that activated my metabolism and then got covered in a seaweed paste. Wrapped in foil like a human taco, the music in my headphones was helping synchronize the right and left side of my brain while my feet were being massaged. By engaging all my senses I was transported to a different dimension.

An unforgettable massage session on Celebrity Edge

An unforgettable massage session on Celebrity Edge

This is what legacy looks like

One evening, Adora English Avalos, LLP’s PR person, and the woman behind a lot of great things that happened on the Edge’s inaugural trip, shared a very revealing story with a group of us. We were ending a wonderful evening together and we headed to the rooftop bar. After a round of stories about the ship and how we each had met Lisa, Adora said: “You know, I was with her on the bridge when the Edge came into Port Everglades for the first time. She stood there, leaning forward, hands on deck, staring ahead and I could clearly see that she owned the moment. She was probably thinking, ‘Yes, this is it. This is my legacy.’ It was beautiful to see.”

What does it take to get to that point of sheer satisfaction with your work? Knowing that you brought to life your vision, that you steered your team in the right direction? What does it take to fully own that accomplishment so you can build on it?

It takes a solid, humble leader who knows that the most important legacy you can leave is a set of unbreakable values that outlive you. Values like passion, a sense of fairness, and real love for those around you. Values that point North regardless of where the winds blow from. That keep your hand firmly on the steering wheel looking forward, always leaving the future behind.

The circular theater on Celebrity Edge offers top innovations in technology like the rain curtain.

The circular theater on Celebrity Edge offers top innovations in technology like the rain curtain.