Bozoma Saint John has excelled at many roles. As head of music and entertainment marketing for PepsiCo, she championed the power of pop culture to define a brand and connect to audiences in groundbreaking ways. As head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music, she pioneered playlists and made iTunes a household name. As chief brand officer at Uber, she helped revitalize a brand struggling with public image problems. Currently, she is the chief marketing officer for Endeavor, where she oversees marketing efforts for all of the entertainment conglomerate’s properties, including talent agency William Morris Endeavor.

But the role the marketing guru is most proud of is that of her true, authentic self.

For many young people, moving up the corporate ladder can seem like a fade to gray—compromising a sense of self to blend with the corporate culture. Saint John, however, marches to the beat of her own drum and knows that her success has come from flaunting—never hiding—her unique and vibrant personality.

“There’s always an opportunity to learn and grow when you throw the plan out the window,” says Bozoma Saint John.

“My superpower is wholly and truly appreciating me,” she told the audience of WeWork employees at the “Superpower You” panel discussion at the company’s recent Global Summit in Los Angeles. She said in the past she has actively rejected opportunities and situations in which she felt she was expected to tone herself down or work with people who “never saw the full range of me.”

It’s not only her innovative work that sets her apart. In a world of button-ups and nondescript hoodies, Saint John’s vivacious style, influenced by her African heritage, stands out. The powerhouse, described by Vogue as “the best-dressed woman in Silicon Valley,” once drove an Uber in a ballgown (she was gathering some real-life experience to inform her work with the company). “I’m extra,” she laughs, recounting the experience. “I’m like, you are this ridiculous—but you know what? That’s what I was wearing that day.”

Saint John got her start working as an assistant to director Spike Lee before joining his creative agency, Spike DDB, and has spent her career using pop culture to connect and inspire audiences across the world. Growing up in places as varied as Ghana and Washington, D.C., before her family settled in Colorado when she was 12, Saint John understood the power of pop culture to make us feel a little less alone. This belief, underscored by her personal confidence, is what led her to champion Beyonce years before the singer became an icon (she appeared in Pepsi ads during Saint John’s time at the company, and Saint John worked with her on the lauded 2013 Super Bowl halftime show).

While at iTunes, Saint John had an idea for a commercial that sold the streaming service as a way to connect to niche music fans. She was turned down repeatedly by the company before finally enlisting pals Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, and Kerry Washington to appear in a self-financed spot that she paid to air during the Emmys. The ad exploded and was dubbed “the greatest Apple commercial of all time,” cementing Saint John as the tastemaker du jour.

As a woman who has worked at major brands like Apple and Uber, it might seem that Saint John has an airtight game plan. Nope. “Plans stifle you,” she says. “They make you look at boundaries. There’s always an opportunity to learn and grow when you throw the plan out the window.” Saint John’s career has been guided by a belief in herself and an eagerness to learn everything she can from the diversity of opportunities that comes her way.

In a time where women, and especially women of color, have to fight to be celebrated for their accomplishments, says Saint John, she knows the importance of celebrating herself and the women in her community. “The only way to be appreciated by others is to appreciate yourself,” she says. “As women, we’re told to be humble, but that’s a lie. Don’t be humble.” For every woman who’s been encouraged to stifle her opinions or make herself seem like less than she is, Saint John is a reminder that style and substance can go hand in hand.

As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In this column, Work Flow, we’ll delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions about ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.

Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard, but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything:

Our office has recently moved into a new building with an open-office format, and while I love the collaborative vibe, I’m having trouble with the fact that people assume I’m always available. I’ve tried using headphones, but this does not deter folks from interrupting me—even when I am clearly busy. Any suggestions on how I can better manage this transition?

Headphones are a start. (Are yours noise-canceling? Here are a few options for you, if not.) The trick is, you must sometimes remove your headphones completely—when you’re not in “uninterruptible” time—otherwise they become just another part of the scenery and something people will ignore. Set the expectation that when they are on, you’re working on something urgent and should not be bothered. If someone comes up to ask you a question during that time, tell them politely, “I’m so sorry, I’m on an immediate deadline. Come back at X time and we can talk?” Then get back to work. People should begin to get the point.

You could also ask your boss to send a reminder that headphone-wearing folks should not be interrupted unless the matter is truly urgent, like the copier is on fire. Alternatively, is there a conference room or empty office where people needing extra quiet might work on occasion? Some of the frustration may be from feeling helpless in this situation, and acting in a forward-thinking way can combat that.  

How can I exit a job gracefully? People become close (professionally) with their bosses, now more than ever. You follow each other on social media; maybe you even hang out casually outside the office. Can I tell my boss—whom I trust—that I’m looking? Are there new rules?

Every so often, the old rules are the best rules. The long-held standard of two weeks’ notice is there to help you out, as are the general best practices for resigning: Tell your boss in person if possible, write a nice resignation note (even an informal email thanking them for the opportunity and what you learned), don’t steal a bunch of staplers when you leave.

I would not tell even a boss you’re close with that you’re looking for another job before you actually have another job and are officially ready to give notice. When we’re very close with the people we work with, there may be an urge to say, Oh, I’ll stay longer, I’ll help find my replacement, I’ll do whatever it takes to make this transition easier for you, my friend—but don’t do that, either. Quitting a job is like a breakup; setting boundaries, and adhering to them, is important.

And here’s the thing: Your boss is not your friend, really and truly, even if before they were your boss they were your friend and after they are your boss they can again be your friend. Your boss is your boss, just like your company is not just some lovely spot with good coffee where you happen to sit and do work on your laptop now and again. The boss and the company should be treated with respect during your relationship and also as you’re ending it. Think about what you would prefer if you were in their shoes—but don’t undermine your own interests and well-being to achieve that.

Treat the severing knowing that you might want a recommendation from this person down the road. (You don’t have to keep following each other on social media. Kondo that stuff if it doesn’t bring you joy!) The important thing to remember is that this person might be your boss again at some point, but even if they’re not, they can help you figure out other opportunities, connect you to new professional acquaintances or gigs, and even be mentors. Or even better, good friends.

How can you tell someone you love that having their email signature in Comic Sans looks really bad?

Be brave enough to send them this link. In the case that the Comic Sans user is someone you don’t love, let them dig their own grave.

Illustration by Jiaqi Wang

Your local coffee shop may have recently banned the straw, but takeout practices will need to evolve way more radically if humanity intends to keep roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution from entering the environment each year. According to anti-plastic advocacy group 5 Gyres, millions of tons of that junk are byproducts of quick meals we eat on the go: candy wrappers, bottle caps, soda bottles, and clear plastic bags.

The We Company is one of a growing number of companies around the world that are doing their part by eliminating single-use plastics from their daily operations. But making this transition takes time, planning, and a culture shift away from our ingrained, single-use ways.

To outline some best practices, we talked to Lindsay Baker, The We Company’s head of sustainability and wellbeing, who oversaw the company’s six-month transition to single-use-plastic-free workspaces, and Rachel Labbé-Bellas, science programs manager for 5 Gyres, a member at WeWork 5792 W Jefferson Blvd in Los Angeles.

Tackle low-hanging fruit first. Consider your workspace kitchen—and your colleagues’ and your own habits. Is coffee made with single-use plastic pods or in a communal pot? Is water served in a glass or a plastic bottle? Is there a compost receptacle? A recycling container? Do people use them?If your answers err on the plasticky side, start by tackling those problems first by eliminating coffee pod systems or improving recycling options (and coworker compliance). “If you’re in an office where you do nothing else to be thoughtful about waste and your impact on the world, [eliminating single-use plastic] probably would be tough [to start with],” advises Baker.

Demonstrating to co-workers how much waste is saved by replacing plastic water bottles with a water cooler and reusable glasses could help plant the seeds for a bigger commitment to office sustainability.

Don’t swap one problem for another one. When The We Company tackled the plastics in its kitchens, “we really tried to prioritize not replacing single-use plastics with single-use other crap,” says Baker. Ceramic mugs and metal cups replaced disposable cups in the company kitchen, metal cutlery took the place of plastic silverware, and glass jars of honey landed on pantry shelves. “We’ve always had the choice of paper cups for water and beer, but ultimately, reusability was the bigger message here,” says Baker.

That’s because “recyclable” plastic alternatives might not necessarily make it to the proper processing facility once they’re discarded. “Many cities around the world don’t process compostable waste outside the landfill,” says Baker. Your “eco-friendly” paper cup might end up at the garbage dump, and trash in landfills does not break down—it just sits there forever.

Products made of biodegradable plastics won’t break down in the landfill or ocean, either. “They biodegrade in industrial facilities at 4,000 degrees,” says 5 Gyres’ Labbé-Bellas. “It takes that much heat to actually break down that item.”

Finally, 25 percent of properly recycled goods in the U.S. will be exported to another country, increasingly in Southeast Asia, where there’s a lucrative market for waste plastic. Once abroad, it could be reused—or it might be incinerated or end up in a landfill.

Baker recommends using alternative disposable materials only if there’s no reuseable option. The We Company is transitioning away from the use of wood stirrers, for example, with messaging that encourages coffee stirring with metal spoons.

Break it down to dollars and cents. Financial incentives can encourage buy-in from employers. “For us at The We Company, a reusable cup typically pays for itself after about 30 uses,” estimates Baker, which is why it could be in your company’s best interest to buy reusable cups for everybody in the office. And if your office pays for its waste disposal by volume, there could be an additional savings when all those single-use plastics are no longer filling up the trash cans.

Struggling to get the whole staff on board? Labbé-Bellas says that turning green initiatives into a competition—like who can waste the least or recycle the most—with prizes like gift cards or cash bonuses for the winner, can go a long way in changing people’s habits.

Get the messaging right. This involves more than just putting signs up around the trash area. 5 Gyres recommends officewide screenings (or just share the link) of The Story of Stuff’s 5-to-10 minute animated videos that show what happens to everyday items like disposable water bottles once you get rid of them. They may convince even the office skeptic.

When you do start making those signs, suggests Baker, “picking accurate terms like ‘zero single-use plastic’ as opposed to ‘zero-plastic’ will make sure people aren’t confused when they still see plastic around the office.” And one more tip: Labbé-Bellas says that newly-reformed coworkers may end up with stacks of plates and cups in their offices at first, and might need a reminder to return them to the kitchen.  

Work with green-friendly vendors. Your office may have rid itself of single-use plastics, but what about your caterers and food-delivery services? For most restaurants, it’s the default move to load up a bag of to-go food with single-use plastic forks and paper napkins. Offices that depend on catered meals should figure out which restaurants are most amenable to reducing waste in their packaging and encourage employees to order their food from those places. Restaurants might cut back on plastic wrap, use bigger trays to decrease the number of cartons, and eliminate plastic to-go boxes. “There are lots of things caterers can do just to reduce [plastic waste] if you ask them to,” says Baker.

Eager to reduce single-use plastic ASAP? Make sure your next coffee or lunch break is free of plastic straws, utensils, containers, and bags. It’s one small way to do your part—and it will only grow from there.

Photo by Katelyn Perry

If you’ve ever sat in a Womb Chair or marveled at the period styling of the Mad Men offices, you’ve seen the design influence of Florence Knoll Bassett, a pioneer of American modernism, who passed away in January at age 101. An architect and designer who worked deftly across media, Knoll Bassett—born Florence Schust, and known to close friends as “Shu”—had a rare seat at the table in a time when the design and architecture industry was even more heavily male-dominated than it is today. She remains an inspiration for her countless contributions to design. Below are just a few of Knoll Bassett’s lasting influences.

Her furniture designs exemplified the ethos of 20th-century modernism.

Knoll Bassett was the creative force behind Knoll Associates, the design company and furniture manufacturer founded by Hans Knoll, whom she married in 1946, becoming partners in both life and work. After his untimely death in 1955, Knoll Bassett stepped up to take the reins of the company, serving as president until 1960, and director of design until 1965, when she retired.

Her classic furnishings from this period channeled International Style architecture—precise, spare rectilinear forms with a visual lightness—at an intimate, human scale. While these early works have since reached iconic status, Knoll’s initial goals were less lofty. She referred to her stylish yet highly sensible range of sofas, desks, and tables, which comprised nearly half of the company’s collection, as the “meat and potatoes” basis needed for furnishing the modern home or office.

The spare, geometric minimalism of Knoll’s functional designs, while modestly conceived as “background architecture” for the modern workplace, resonated with the modern era—and  replaced the stuffy traditional pieces that were ill-suited to the midcentury boom of high-rise office towers and glass skyscrapers. Today, Knoll Bassett’s furniture designs are held in the permanent collections of several museums, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, even as many of these seminal works have remained in continuous production. Others, such as the Hairpin Stacking Table (based on her Model 75 stacking stool, first designed in 1948), have recently been reintroduced and brought back into production.

CBS interiors designed by Florence Knoll Bassett.

She shaped the look and feel of the postwar American workplace.

To Knoll Bassett, furniture was but one element of an all-encompassing whole. In 1945, she significantly transformed the look of the American office with the founding of the Knoll Planning Unit, an in-house architecture studio that consulted on space planning for Knoll’s corporate clients. Together, the small team planned and designed corporate headquarters for companies such as Seagram’s, IBM, CBS, GM, and Look magazine—all of which occupied some of the era’s most innovative buildings—with the assertion that modern buildings necessitated modern interiors.

These projects presented an optimistic reworking of professional workspaces, channeling transparency, order, and flexibility in a contrast to the dark, heavy interiors of the past. The far-reaching influence of the Planning Unit, which came to be known as “Shu U,” also served as a de facto incubator for young designers who would go on to other architecture firms and start in-house interior design divisions, similarly modeled around Knoll Bassett’s pioneering approach.

She raised the bar for design retail.

In 1947, Knoll Bassett was inspired to establish what’s now known as Knoll Textiles. “It became apparent to me that suitable textiles were not available for our furniture and interiors,” she wrote, matter-of-factly noting a void in the market for custom upholstery that could work with the pared-back style of modern furniture.

Launched with fabrics drawn from men’s suiting, the collection elevated contract furnishings and, with the addition of signature offerings, led to the opening of a dedicated textiles showroom that raised the bar for design retail. Designed with Herbert Matter, the displays  featured cardboard-backed swatches and an immaculate gridded display of the division’s many textiles—retail innovations that quickly became the industry standard, admired and emulated by competitors.

Restaurant at the Idlewild Airport (later renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport) designed by Florence Knoll Bassett.

She brought us works from some of the midcentury era’s greatest designers.

Orphaned at a young age and taken under the wing of the Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen and his family, who became lifelong friends, Knoll Bassett’s personal life was intimately intertwined with some of the midcentury era’s greatest designers and architects. Through her work at Knoll, she not only commissioned a number of classic works by these 20th-century masters, but visibly credited, licensed, and established royalties for designers, a model that has since become de rigueur.

Anyone with a passing interest in design would recognize many of these famous chair designs, which have remained in production for decades. Among these are the classic wire-grid chairs by Harry Bertoia, a sculptor and classmate of Shu’s from the Cranbrook Academy of Art; and the sinuous, enveloping Womb Chair by Eero Saarinen, son of Eliel, and a close friend since childhood. She also brought into production the steel-and-leather Barcelona chair, which originally debuted at the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion by Lilly Reich and Bauhaus master Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe; the latter was a mentor and teacher whose work heavily influenced Knoll Bassett’s own.

Connecticut General building board room lounge designed by Florence Knoll Bassett.

She was an active example of “total design”—and an inspiring figure behind many firsts.

Knoll Bassett eschewed gendered roles and practiced “total design”—an approach that considered all parts and elements of an environment in its entirety—fully in her multidisciplinary work, which spanned architecture, workspaces, interiors, furniture, textiles, graphics, and retail spaces.

As Knoll Bassett firmly and famously asserted in a 1964 New York Times profile, “I am not a decorator.” Her drive and talents pushed the rigor and range of modern design—as well as a path for women—forward in history. As the same Times piece noted, she was “the single most powerful figure in the field of modern design.”

Photos courtesy of Knoll Archive

The same day that Chanel confirmed the death of longtime creative director Karl Lagerfeld, the French luxury house made another announcement, naming studio director Virginie Viard as his successor.

The news was monumental for several reasons. For one, Chanel is one of the most celebrated brands in the world, and few people outside the industry knew Viard’s name before last month, though she worked alongside Lagerfeld for more than 30 years.

For another, as the New York Times put it in a 2015 piece, “fashion is notoriously bad at succession planning,” so for the company to have an heir waiting in the wings before the rumor mill could start churning was an achievement in itself.

Many designers and industry executives have struggled in recent years to find the right person to whom to pass the baton and the right time to do it. Last year, Diane von Furstenberg rehired former creative director Nathan Jenden after Jonathan Saunders—whom von Furstenberg once called “the perfect creative force to lead DVF into the future”—resigned less than two years into his tenure. In November, J.Crew announced that CEO Jim Brett would exit the company just 16 months after taking the reins from legendary chief Mickey Drexler; a committee of four executives is currently in charge as the retailer searches for a replacement. The house of Oscar de la Renta, too, is on its second round of creative directors since the designer’s death in 2014.

Fashion is hardly alone in its challenges with succession planning. According to Ronald Friedman, a partner at the accounting and advisory firm Marcum LLP, a member at New York’s WeWork 115 Broadway, the task is “probably the hardest thing” that many leadership teams have to handle. While publicly traded companies have boards that are specifically tasked with planning for the departure and replacement of executives and creative leaders (and even then, sometimes fall short of this mandate), private businesses are often ill-prepared when the time comes, particularly in the case of a death or a surprise exit.

In many cases, Friedman says, leaders “get so busy with their day-to-day life that they don’t think about succession. It’s like how a lot of people don’t think about buying life insurance until it’s too late, right? Because they’re not proactive; they’re more reactive.”

The past two years, in particular, have highlighted the urgent need for companies of all sizes to have a plan in place in case a key leader leaves or needs to be removed unexpectedly, as the #MeToo movement has led to the dismissal or resignation of numerous executives across seemingly every industry.

This kind of abrupt transition can be destabilizing for a company, says Elizabeth Zea, co-founder and managing partner of JUEL, an executive search and talent consultancy, and a member at New York’s WeWork 54 W. 40th St. In these situations, she says, companies “might want to bring in an interim leader to steady things—and that could be the chairman of the board, or it could be a past leader, or if not the chairman, then a board member.”

For instance, after Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich was forced to resign last June over revelations that he had a consensual relationship with a subordinate, the company promoted CFO Robert Swan to the role of interim CEO. In January, Swan took the top role permanently.

A planned retirement allows for much more advance preparation, but many businesses still wait too long to act. “In general, succession planning should happen a lot earlier than most people think it should,” says Zea. “If you’re starting to think, ‘I need a successor,’ you’re almost too late. It should just be part of the culture of the company.” If an executive wants to leave at age 55, she says, “Don’t start looking at 53. You should start looking at 47, understanding that you want to get him or her in, try them out, make sure they’re right, and have a little bit of buffer time if they’re not.”

Even after taking every precaution, a company’s first choice may not turn out to be the best fit for the role—particularly if they are trying to fill the outsize shoes of a founder.

“With the founder, it’s their identity,” says Brenda Malloy, president of executive-search firm Herbert Mines Associates. “It’s a much more challenging search. And culture fit is even more of a mandate because they’ve got to trust that this person understands the particular nuance of the business and the culture.”

The tech industry, in which many major companies are still founder-driven, has seen a wave of such departures in the past year, particularly within Facebook’s portfolio of companies, which lost the co-founders of both Instagram and WhatsApp in a matter of months.

These transitions tend to be much more seamless if a leader is promoted internally after years of learning the ropes, says Friedman, rather than being forced to acclimate in a matter of months.  “A good leader starts giving responsibility to the successor long before he steps down,” he says. “Give them little bites of the apple. Let them learn the shipping department, let them learn the accounting department, let them learn the design department, and let them take them over and start directing the company.”

Retailer Kohl’s brought in CEO Michelle Gass in 2013—five years before longtime leader Kevin Mansell officially retired. Gass rose through the executive ranks and was promoted to CEO-elect in September 2017, giving her eight months to work alongside her predecessor before officially taking the top job.

And while CEOs and creative directors may bear the ultimate responsibility for steering the company, management teams should go a step further and identify potential successors for members of the C-suite and even below—what Malloy calls “bench succession planning.”

“At first you say, what are our critical roles? What can we not afford to have vacant?” says Zea. “And then you say, whom do we have in the organization we can start to groom to succeed this person? In most really good companies, it will be part of their bylaws for a certain level of job that the hiring person or the person in charge of that function has to have a successor or two identified.”

This also gives firms a contingency plan in case something happens to their initial pick. Last spring, Nike lost at least 11 executives—including CEO Mark Parker’s heir apparent, Nike brand president Trevor Edwards—amid charges that the company and its leaders created a hostile work environment for women and failed to adequately promote women and people of color.

Both Apple and Disney have also recently seen executives widely considered to be next in line for the CEO role exit unexpectedly (albeit under less dramatic circumstances): Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts announced in February that she was leaving the company for “new personal and professional pursuits,” while Disney’s former COO Tom Staggs departed in 2016, two years before CEO Bob Iger’s planned retirement. (Iger has since extended his contract through 2021.)

To vet potential successors for top leadership jobs, Malloy says there are several techniques that should be used in tandem: “competency-based assessments, third-party testing, and deep referencing. Those three mechanisms together are the most predictive.”

Boards or management teams can also reduce the time it might take to find an external candidate by starting the search well before a candidate is actually needed. “What that does is it cuts the recruiting time in half if you’re really systematic about it. So instead of a search taking 12 months, it might take four to six months because you’ve already met five fantastic CFOs over the last two to three years,” says Zea. “Proactive pipelining of talent is another way to externally succession plan smartly.”

Photo by iStock by Getty Images