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A few months ago I found a story in the Wall Street Journal that riveted me, that is, it shook me from my coffee drinking observer mode to “whoa, I couldn’t do that…I wouldn’t even think of doing that” The article by Stefanos Chen was titled “The Paul Williams Premium” and detailed how Mr. Williams, a California based architect and the first African American admitted to the American Institute of Architects (1923), was enjoying a resurgence of recognition today’s southern California real estate market. One home alone in Los Angeles carried the names; Frank Sinatra; Mia Farrow; Audrey Hepburn and Eva Gabor as owners or renters.

Williams quality work attracted a large clientele in the 1920’s and 30’s of Southern California. The lengthy article detailed the different styles and amenities, “the intricate detailing and elegant proportions” Mr. Williams put in his designs and the ever increasing prices that the homes he conceived are fetching today. What riveted me, however, was the anecdote regarding how Williams adapted his presentation style for his potential clients in order to accommodate prejudices they might (knowingly or unknowingly) harbor. Specifically, Chen highlights from an article Williams wrote in 1937:

“In an era of deeply held prejudice, he learned to draw renderings upside down (emphasis added) so as to never force his white patrons to sit beside him”

How many of us would have the power, the insight, the acumen to adapt to that level? To “suck it up” and adjust so that our “goods” would see their way to market? To enable the achievement of our life’s work?

Paul Williams, an example of a man who adapted, adjusted and ultimately overcame. Doubtful that he enjoyed the prejudices and discrimination of his time, enlightening that he found the will to accommodate and in so doing ensured his work would endure long after his passing. An insight for us all, play the long game….he kept his “eye on the prize”