Photo by John Robert Marasigan on Unsplash


The world as we knew it had changed in ways that we hadn’t fully grasped: from the ups and downs of 2007, including bankruptcies of companies dealing in something called “subprime mortgages” to inexplicable all-time highs in the stock market. In 2008 Fed intervention, government stimulus, the collapse of some companies and selective bailouts for others deemed “too big to fail.” In 2009 small business owners began to see these impacts in real time and rebuild on the foundations of a shattered economy. Uncertainty reigned. Inequities abounded. People suffered.

Throughout 2019 we’d seen Fed and political machinations to keep unsustainable economic momentum tracking along a wobbly foundation. In early 2020, we were unprepared for the haymaker punches we took to our societal and economic well-being — and no one knows quite how long it’ll take for us to shake those off. Today we have a whole new lexicon: essential workers, Zoom fatigue, selective reopening, social distancing. States and localities are doing what they can to revive on a small and large scale, but this time the risks to public health and economic well-being are teetering on a razor’s edge. Uncertainty reigns. Inequities abound. People are suffering.

Does this feel weirdly familiar to you too?

Readers of our blog may not know that Connect_CX is the outgrowth of an LLC started when the “Two Marks” (Levine and VanderKlipp) were still leading competitive design firms. In the middle of the last recession, we joined forces to approach work together in the Middle East. While our idea of “co-opetition” didn’t ultimately bear fruit as intended, it resulted in a lasting friendship and mutual respect.

Since then, we’ve successfully led two companies through the recession, transitioned away from competition and a sole focus on wayfinding design and in 2017 launched Connect_CX, primarily for healthcare experience design but taking root in other industry verticals as well.

So much has changed in the world. But what hasn’t changed is our expertise. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t suddenly make us biotech analysts. It didn’t make us doctors. We’ve been fortunate to not serve on the front lines, and for that we’re immensely grateful. So as the economy slowly reopens, we’ve taken time to reflect back and write about what we know: the discipline and mindset it took to look beyond the chaos of the last recession and build a business focused on new opportunities. Here, we’ve compiled five quick thoughts about the habits we’d built to recover:

  1. Share What You Have
    When the current shutdowns began, our clients reached out to us to immediately reposition our skill sets: crisis communications, revised agreements, adjustments to scope, allowing everyone the space to regain balance before moving forward again with project work: on a revised timeframe, conducted from our homes.

In this spirit, we’ve taken time over the last 4 weeks to add content to our website in a new section titled “Insights,” sharing over 10 years of thought leadership in our primary practice areas (healthcare, corporate, education and Wicked Problems) as well as topic areas including Human-Centered Design, Systems Thinking, Wayfinding and Business Transition. Each of these includes links to articles we’ve authored or co-authored, and summaries of past speaking engagements. We trust you’ll find these helpful in your work as well.

  1. Pick Up the Phone
    The idea that brought The Two Marks together was initiated by Levine: we’d both received an RFP for a new city springing up from the desert sands between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He commented that he’d rather have half of the project than none of it … a few weeks later we met for dinner, and the plans began to take shape: all of it initiated by a single phone call.
  2. Comfort Zone, Schmomfort Zone
    This clearly took us both outside of our comfort zones: competitors developing a shared point of view to pitch the project together, forming alliances with people we’d never known, in a region to which we’d never traveled, to pursue work on a scale we’d never imagined. Stepping outside of our previous conceptions of how business should be conducted, the geographic scope and scale of our world view was both both tremendously inspiring and exhausting. But now, as back then, our world had forever changed; necessity was truly the mother of invention.
  3. Help the Helpers
    If we’re fortunate to have you as a client, you are one of the helpers. The reason we’ve positioned Connect_CX for healthcare is because we know this to be an industry entirely comprised of helpers. Others have become clients because you work to impact other social determinants of health: keeping children safe, educating our students, protecting fragile resources, working to end homelessness, supporting local food systems and promoting the health of our communities. By focusing our business on serving those who serve others, we’ve adopted their challenges as our own; continuing to do so builds both our business and the communities we serve.
  4. Take Care of Yourself; Check In on Others
    As so many people are now discovering, appropriate self-care in this time of stress, anxiety and uncertainty is paramount. It takes discipline to maintain your physical, mental health and that of your family, your colleagues and those in your networks. Do the things every day that can help you deal with living in these stressful times.

For our part, we’ve been reaching out to friends and fellow business leaders as a way to seek validation, share advice and check in to see how other parts of the world are faring. Doing so, we’ve reestablished relationships that had been set aside for decades, and in the process uncovered new opportunity. Take the time now to re-build the foundation that will continue to support you both personally and professionally.

As the saying goes, we are truly all in this together. Adopting the five habits we’ve outlined above will allow you to built a sense of control over the things you CAN control, as well as positioning yourself for the future. As for now, take good care and steel yourself for what’s ahead; we look forward to continuing to help our clients lead into a new shared reality as it unfolds.

Originally posted May 11, 2020 on



Mark VanderKlipp

Partner at Connect_CX, The Adjacency; speaker, facilitator, systems thinker, healthcare experience designer: