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History of Lootok: Where did it all start?

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Lootok began at the end of my corporate consulting career ten years ago. The company I worked for was facing yet another management regime change, and I was at a point where I just could not take it and its inevitable political alliances, new taglines and mantras, unrealistic goals, and working 70 hours a week without recognition. We had a saying around the office: “The beatings shall continue until moral increases.” I finally called bull$%*& and starting saying and doing what I thought was right. It was my Jerry Maguire moment, and I was soon shown the door.

In my last corporate performance evaluation, my manager and I were sitting in the office that had once been mine for a short time—72 hours—before it was taken away from me as corporate punishment for my refusal to worship the person running the practice. My manager told me, “There are things I know and can tell you. There are things I know and cannot tell you. There are things I don’t know, which I cannot tell you. So let’s focus on what I know and can tell you: You maybe have two weeks left. Good luck. ” This amusing yet candid comment has stayed with me for years. It is a great way to approach any sensitive topic or personal experience. So, what is the history of Lootok? Well …

Here is what I know and can tell you.

Nowhere to Go but Up

“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” - Galileo Galilei

So there I was, on my own in New York’s Alphabet City (Avenue B & 3rd Street to be exact), unemployed, single, and broke. The best part of being at the bottom—personally, professionally, and economically—is that there is nowhere to go but up. I had no fear of losing, because I had already lost; instead, I had the internal drive to survive. I also had time, a lot of time, to think.

New York City Alphabet City Map

People don’t make real changes until they have to. At that time, my sole objective was survival. I needed to find something, and fast. That meant making choices: should I stay in this industry or should I get out? I thought about all the things I’d dreamed of doing: being an anchorman, opening an art studio, going back to school. So I took an anchoring, interviewing, and reporting course at NYU. I loved it.

I even applied for a cashier position at Blick’s Art Store on Bond Street (which should have been a strong signal of complete burn). It seemed like the perfect new start. I always wanted to own an art studio. The store was close to my favorite spa and restaurants (Great Jones Spa; Il Buco, Bond Street Sushi), and it was walking distance from my apartment. What a great way to start a new career and reach my dream, right??

Well, much to my surprise, the art store turned me down. Even more surprising, it wasn’t because I was over qualified, but because I was unqualified. But what do you do when you have gone down a road too far? You keep going. Though where I ended up surprised me.

I started reading. Military, cognitive and behavioral sciences were starting to hit the mainstream. I read and interviewed many great authors, such as Gary Klein, Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler, Max Bazerman, Cass Sunstein, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky. These original thinkers wrote the source code for popular authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, and Chip and Dan Heath. I eagerly devoured all of their books.

One of the first books I came across introduced me to two critical concepts called “confirmation bias” and “affiliation bias.” Confirmation bias says that once we decide to believe something, we screen what we see and hear in a way that ensures our beliefs are always correct. Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that supports that view while ignoring or rejecting anything that casts doubt on it. Affiliation bias says that people tend to believe what their institutions would like them to believe.

So rather than confirming what I already thought I knew about risk management - business continuity management, I decided to see it with fresh eyes. I set out to disprove its usefulness. What I found was both disturbing and revealing. First, I discovered that most risk management - business continuity management programs produced negative returns on investment (ROI).

What I also found, though, was that risk management - business continuity management itself actually wasn’t a waste of time or money. Rather, it was the way it was being implemented that produced the negative returns. This was music to my ears: Even though I’d disproved my own beliefs, I had discovered a huge opportunity in risk management - business continuity management just waiting to be realized.

The solution the industry had developed for each company was cookie cutter—follow the standards and fill out the templates and abracadabra: you have risk management - business continuity management! The more data collected, the better the program would be. In theory it made sense, but in reality there was very little real value in it. Once the project was over, no one wanted to do anything with what was recorded. Companies could check the risk management - business continuity management box, which was nice for audit purposes and appearances, but didn’t do much of anything in the long run. Once in a while, something valuable would be caught, but very rarely did anyone do anything with the data.

I decided I was going to start an operational risk management - business continuity management company, and I was going to do it my way or not at all. I had the freedom to re-imagine the field. I was willing to work hard, experiment, and take risks—sometimes, out of curiosity and other times, out of desperation.

I had lucked into starting the company at a fortuitous time, even though it was in one of the worst business environments, 2006. And at the time I didn’t know it was going to get worse—the house bubble was right around the corner. Life in general could not get any leaner. But all kinds of negatives ended up being positives for me in the end.

No one would give or lend us money, but that meant we incurred no debt. My credit card company would block my card with any expense over $500, which led to constant embarrassing moments at client dinners, and there were times we had to pick and choose what bills to pay because we could not pay them all. But this gave us a real sense of business prioritization.

The only people I could afford to hire at the time were artists. Luckily, I lived in a neighborhood full of them. Creative people were always great fun to work with. Their irrepressible enthusiasm for anything new was invigorating, and the ones I found loved the idea of working in an esoteric industry like risk management. It gave them street cred. I soon realized that building a risk management company with creative types was the niche I was looking for. One of my first hires was BOT. She was going through a divorce and liked robots so she changed her name to BOT. Extremely talented, incredibly creative, wildly unpredictable… and very affordable. Exactly what I needed. She and her cohorts were clearly different from any other risk management consulting firm employees. Their creative sensibilities and resilience brought a unique perspective to crisis management.

Humans are great at falling into activity traps, which is what happens when we become so busy with something that we forget the original aim of that activity. We keep doing what was done before because it was done before and it is familiar. Risk management - business continuity management is no different. Companies fall into these traps of handling risk management - business continuity management a certain way because it’s the way it’s been done before, not because it’s actually valuable. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Risk management - business continuity management was insane. The industry was caught in an eddy, but I’d found a way to escape it: turn a bunch of creative, brand-aware artists loose in what had always been the realm of stodgy number crunchers.

That early period of Lootok was instrumental in establishing who we are now and what and how we do risk management - business continuity management. And that’s how we became a (creative, resilient, brand-aware) risk management – business continuity management advisory firm headquartered in NYC.

Considerations When There’s Nowhere to Go but Up:

  • Identify activity traps in your program and rectify them
  • Perform confirmation and affiliation bias analysis of your program
  • Read one book per week with half of them rereads
  • Brainstorm with artists on your materials and ideas
  • Try Il Buco, it’s a great restaurant. Bond Street Sushi was also good and fun. The Great Jones spa is a great place to crash when you are burnt out
  • Go to a warehouse party in Brooklyn to look for talent (I found a couple great colleagues at a tribal party in Dumbo)
  • Make sure to hire a couple people that do not belong… a.k.a. BOT.
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