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The Counselor - From Seat 9F - Fall, 2009

What It Means...

New Orleans has always been thought-provoking, but it is more so after Katrina. Four years into the recovery, progress varies depending on where one looks. The city is a mix of familiar sights, new construction, abandoned neighborhoods, and new initiatives. The French Quarter, part of the original high ground, seems unchanged, at least when looking at paintings in Jackson Square. But New Orleanians have always incorporated sadness in their art, so this most recent tragedy has added a poignant beauty to the mix. Now you can miss New Orleans while visiting it.

So a glance at a painting of tourist icons – a cheerful streetcar, and a trumpet player – gave the impression of typical Jackson Square fare. Painted in the streetcar were three monkeys, seeing, hearing, and speaking no evil. It took a minute to recognize the medium – Artist John Perret had painted a door salvaged from flood debris, retaining the spray-painted X in the window at its top. Rescue workers going house to house had painted these markers to track inspection, condition, and the count of dead found inside. In four years, the X has become a tourist icon as well, along with the three monkeys.

It’s difficult to find agreement as to what, or even whether to rebuild. The city is different things to different people – a home, a playground, a museum, an oil port, a culture. Absent the task of recovery, the question “what is this city?” was an interesting hypothetical discussion. Faced with hard decisions of what to repair, replace, abandon or omit, the parties discover that they weren’t talking about the same city at all. Questions of housing, growth, infrastructure, transit, history and education all lead to different solutions, often contradictory. So it is when we pause to question something wonderful that came to be without the benefit of an orderly plan.

Though the October meeting of the Counselors focused on New Orleans, another important exercise happened there. For at least the fourth time, our organization is developing a new strategic plan. Were we a single-purpose, clearly defined group, this would be easy, but we are not – we are, like our host city, something wonderful that came to be. The struggle in writing and defining a plan reflects that every Counselor gives a different answer to the question “what is this organization?”

Counselors range across professions, career stages, and geography. Some work for monolithic publicly-traded companies, others from a home office. Our clients, our staff, and our prospective membership hold very different views of the organization and the credential. The Counselor Experience can mean anything from attending (or leading) an authoritative panel on markets, to an impromptu trumpet solo on Bourbon Street, to the heated philosophical debate of strategic planning. We are unlikely to agree on what unites us, but we agree that we are united. And for that, and for the too-slow but evident recovery of a favorite city, I am thankful.

Copyright 2009 - Noah Shlaes