Archive for December, 2012

Creative and powerful ideas are the key to advancing institutions and society. Extremely talented executives and statesmen are often remembered for their service. But more often than not it is the bold and inspired ideas that they chose to champion that made the difference. As we enter 2013 the world is crying out for a new set of bold and creative ideas. Stong armed dictators, and smooth talking, ideology-driven politicians, clearly are not meeting the need.

The middle east is in total turmoil with countries in various states of disintegration. Dictatorships have failed them. Countries  that have been at war are now in complete disarray. Tribal leaders have failed them. Washington is polarized and paralyzed, and political extremism has failed us. The economy in Europe is threatening to crash, and a common currency alone has failed to unify them. And higher education, which may be the best long-term hope for finding these bold new ideas, is currently under attack in the U.S. for being overpriced and inefficient. And all this just when our educational institutions are struggling to comprehend the full implications and responsibilities of becoming a global enterprise. It’s hard to imagine that so many parts of the world are in turmoil all at the same time.

You may have noticed  that the title theme in the masthead above has changed with this issue. It has been: “Pioneer in Strategic Communication and Integrated Marketing, ” but now it will be:  “Powerful Ideas for Changing Times.”   My  focus in the months ahead will be more on ideas and trends than on “how to” tactics and innovative professional practice. As I told my honors college students this past fall: ” My intentions for the days ahead are to facilitate an “adventure in ideas” about understanding issues and solving problems.

I have come to believe that social progress in 2013 will demand very smart people who can think beyond their profession. It will require rethinking the missions of entire organizations, reconsidering the political influence of individual values and religious systems, re-clarifying the necessary roles and limitations of governments, and much more.  If peaceful coexistence in this rapidly changing world is ever to be achieved, the turmoil of 2012 has convinced me that we will be desperately searching in 2013 for some insightful breakthrough ideas.

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Once again the United States is polarized on a critical issue. Once again extreme ideologies are resisting compromise. Not only have we been dealing with extremism in campaign politics, we are encountering it again as congress struggles to deal with the “fiscal cliff.” And now suddenly here it is again with guns.

We have bragged that America is a “melting pot” of cultures, ideas and beliefs. Indeed this diversity is precisely what  we have come to call, “American exceptionalism.” And we take great pride in that we have been among the very few to have made it work. 

But history issues a dire warning. There are few examples where groups with deep culture and value differences have been able to survive indefinitely as a country. Countries come apart when compromise and middle ground is no longer possible.

So when it comes to guns what are we going to do?  Can we come together through give-and-take and resolve this issue once and for all?  Why is it so difficult?  After all, we are America. We believe we are exceptional.

Other constitutional amendments have agreed upon limits, including our most treasured freedom of speech. If we all can assert that we will protect our basic right to bear arms, then, just as with freedom of speech, we should be able to bring this exceptional, multi-cultural, melting pot of a society together with a few reasonable restrictions.  So here are some suggestions:

1. To purchase guns for personal and family safety, and/or for sport, citizens should register, submit to a background check, and complete limited basic training.

2. The sale of weapons and ammunition designed mostly for warfare to private citizens should be illegal, as well as gun shows and other sales venues that do not include the legal gun registration and training process.

3. Schools and school systems that feel they want armed and trained security present should be allowed to work with the NRA, or another local law enforcement agency, to acquire such protection.

4. Mental health monitoring and treatment should be included in all health insurance and delivery programs, as well as a mechanism for tracking those with violent, or potentially violent, tendencies.

5. Private organizations should be able to not allow concealed guns on their premises so long as a public disclosure is made of what security is, and is not, available at their facilities.

Investigative journalists and academics must now assume two major responsibilities: (1) Uncover and communicate the funding sources of the NRA and similar organizations, and the amount they spend to influence votes in legislatures, and (2) Communicate the results of research on the effects and consequences of violent games, movies, and mass media, and propose ways forward to protect society from unnecessary harm. 

All five of the above listed restrictions should be proposed and implemented simultaneously. This will demonstrate the give-and-take of  American exceptionalism, and will be critical to preserving the very stability of our society.

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Leaders in university advancement gathered last week in Boston to “rethink” their profession. Education at all levels is in the midst of a revolutionary “sea change,” and advancement people are among those expected to help address  many of the most significant challenges. They are experts in institutional fund-raising, alumni relations, marketing, communications, and government affairs. So why them, and why now?

Simply put, states all over the nation are cutting back financial support. Admittedly, the cuts are more drastic in some states than others. But almost everywhere governors and legislators are rethinking their role in education.  The impact has been significant.  When funding to state supported public institutions declines, tuition goes up. And when this happens, access declines and market dynamics change. Thus, private and for-profit institutional markets change as well. In short, many education leaders are rethinking their core business simply because they have no choice.

The situation in Washington is making matters even worse. In this stressed economy federal financial aid amounts, low-interest rates on loans, and a significant amount of research and program funding are also threatened. Therefore,  advancement officers are launching new initiatives to mobilize their alumni to reach deeper into their pockets, to find more private funding anywhere it’s available, to fine-tune competitive advantage messages, and to expand marketing initiatives. The good news is that in a changing market advancement professionals are more important than ever. But meeting expectations won’t be easy.

Every non-profit organization and cause in the world is currently accelerating its fund-raising activities. They are becoming quite sophisticated. Institutional executives everywhere are approaching every individual, every foundation, and every corporation they can find. New and creative donor recognition ideas are being generated. As a result, past donor loyalties are often threatened, and institutional health can be threatened as well.

At the same time education is becoming a global enterprise, and this is bringing even more change. It’s not merely increasing study abroad programs, or forming foreign partnerships, or building satellite campuses. It’s also foreign institutions coming to North America with marketing ambitions of their own. They begin by calling on their own  alumni, but they also look  for wealthy individuals, foundations and corporations who understand that the world economy and new opportunities are  moving eastward. This also soon leads them to searching for prospective students and parents with the same vision of the future.  

I cannot imagine a more exciting time than now to be in the educational advancement profession. Opportunities to make a difference are extremely high. But performance expectations are even higher. So it is not a profession for the faint of heart. It is that reality that led to the  “rethinking advancement” meeting last week in Boston, and it may have been just the first of many more.   

As I told some of my TCU honors students this week:  “Your talent alone entitles you to nothing. To change this world you will have to work harder than you ever imagined. You will have to go beyond your incredible talent into the realm of competitive strategic problem-solving, complicated issues management, and compelling innovative thinking.”  That is the reality for every profession today, just as it is for university advancement.

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The consequence of the digital revolution has been an explosion of information, much of which is not checked for accuracy or objectivity.  24/7 news channels, bloggers, and websites that bring information together with various motivations all require consumers to become their own editors. Is it therefore possible to teach consumers how to be selective editors, and to understand the importance of consuming a wide range of viewpoints? If so, where and how can this education take place? And who should be responsible for making it happen?

For example, is it possible for the news media themselves to assume some responsibility for generating a greater awareness of the situation? Certainly traditional news networks and newspapers could offer ongoing public service messages that point out the need to regulate one’s own information consumption. 

With greater public awareness it should be possible to get other initiatives noticed as well. For example, parent-teacher organizations could offer programs on media literacy. I know from experience that these are eager audiences for programs about the effects of media. Other service and religious organizations are also likely to take notice and find such programs to be of interest to their constituents.

Public awareness should also make it easier for schools to offer various types of study units. Elementary teachers  can offer activities that show children how to select the media they use. Social studies and english teachers can incorporate study units into more comprehensive courses. Complete courses on media literacy can be offered for the more highly motivated students.

Think tanks, foundations and associations could be asked to sponsor many of these school and community projects. And some of them might even want to launch projects of their own. Books, articles, study materials, and videos can be produced to support the cause. Websites can act as portals leading to even more information. Blogs can offer ongoing media criticism. And social media campaigns can generate ongoing conversations. All of this has the potential to produce widespread public awareness, and even behavior change.

Experience suggests that the key to increased media literacy is therefore a multi-faceted effort, i.e. combining media messages with more comprehensive courses and public programs. This simultaneous mixture of initiatives could  reach large numbers of people. And even minimal knowledge can make a significant difference. It does not take long to convey how important it is to have an accurate account of what is actually happening in the world, and how to get it. It’s just a matter of getting started.

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