Archive for January, 2014

The State of the Union address each January has evolved to an hour-long (or longer) list of every problem imaginable, along with statements about how to solve them which have little (and sometimes no) actual substance. President Obama’s speech this year was no different.

No matter your political bias,  it seems obvious that there is no way the country can afford to accomplish all these recommendations. It is therefore likely that most people will conclude this exercise was mostly just talk. And with such an endless list, it is impossible to remember what the president might really want to accomplish.

By covering so many issues the president gives up an opportunity to control the message you receive. In fact,this kind of speech actually allows you to choose whatever points you want to remember… and those are likely to be the ones that make you most mad! This type of speech, intended to unite and inspire, will  inevitably end up dividing and confusing.

I suggest that next year the president revise the state of the union address format to focus only on a few of his priorities. In fact, it would be best to limit the speech to only 3 or 4 points, with possibly only one of them emphasized. His introduction should focus on convincing the audience that he knows their priorities, as well as their pain. The body of the speech should follow with a pragmatically thought-out plan for actually solving the main problem, with a brief description of how he is addressing the others. Examples can then support these points with credibility– rather than having so many of them come off as emotional platitudes. His conclusion should then be a quick summary, with a dramatic call to action. It’s deadly to sound like you are concluding when you are not!

Days before his speech this year the president said his priority will be to close the widening gap between the rich and poor. I believe it would have been a much more successful speech if he would have focused mostly on that point, made his case with a substantive plan, and then called the country to action.

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A large group of students and faculty in TCU’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication gathered this week to hear Bob Schieffer talk about the consequences of the communication revolution. One of his major themes was that in this world of 24/7 cable, blogs, and social media, it’s possible to surround yourself with information based only on your own personal biases. And what’s frightening is that it’s possible to do that without realizing what you are doing. Schieffer’s point simply was that if you don’t take the initiative to hear the other side, you are not getting the all the essential facts.

In my work over the years, I have found that selective processes work in many ways in many situations. For example, institutional executives often become insulated because they get their information solely from people in their inner circle. These people tell executives, and even lower level managers, pretty much only what they want them to hear, or what they think the “bosses” expect to hear. Often it is not the whole story.

We tend to create information “bubbles” around us, and then think we are fully informed. Bob Schieffer’s message essentially was that in today’s information-saturated world, each of us must become our own editor. We must seek out various sources of information, ask whether or not the information is one-sided (or even true), and then act cautiously on the information we come to trust over time.

I continually ask my students if they think we should be teaching “media literacy” as  a subject of study in schools?  Should there be an entire course on understanding how media changes the way things work, and how to become your own editor?  Should it be required?  At what grade level should it be offered? How about offering such a course open to everyone at the university level?

Last week I argued in this blog that the internationalization of higher education has the potential to develop truly global leaders and citizens, enhance cross-cultural understanding, and solve world problems. This week I add: Should becoming an intelligent and skilled editor of confusing and contradictory information be a requirement for a truly global education?

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My interests have evolved over the years.  As a young radio and television producer, and soon-to-become professor, I focused my thinking on understanding media. Soon, however, I shifted to helping organizations communicate more effectively, and eventually found myself focusing on universities. This challenge led me to bringing the subject matters of marketing and group process into the strategic communication field… and eventually writing about it as one of the early pioneers of “integrated marketing.”

Currently I am intrigued with rethinking the psychic and social consequences of media, and the implications for advancing institutions. I am also especially interested in how communication technology and the globalization of higher education are coming together with compelling new future problem-solving possibilities.  These range from developing truly international leaders and citizens, to addressing cross cultural conflicts, to using research and topic experts to help solve serious global problems, to responding to concerns about higher education’s continuing relevance as it currently is configured.

Beginning today I will focus more of my posts on the future of higher education as it evolves into a truly global industry. Delivery formats, international communication, digital technology, and even foreign policy, will not escape examination. For all of these will have to converge and change if we are to shape a better world  for tomorrow.

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Key Washington legislators are currently collecting the hiring and salary information of recent graduates in various fields of study. Their thinking is that those fields that produce early jobs and strong salaries are worthy of more government support. Other fields are fine, but students interested in them should basically be paying their own way.

Such thinking demonstrates that as a country we are becoming more interested in “how to” training than in educating people to solve complex social problems, create new initiatives, manage complicated projects, or lead cutting-edge enterprises.

Don’t get me wrong, training for new high-tech jobs is especially critical. The declining job market is not a matter of political ideology as much as it is a matter of technology eliminating jobs. Even many small businesses are able to hire fewer people these days as a consequence of technology innovations. Community colleges can deliver that job training, and must. And, of course, many university fields can as well.

But as a nation we also must not lose sight of the fact that a broad comprehensive education that includes the humanities, social sciences, arts, and more, not only prepares people for much-needed  leadership, it also prepares them for their second, third, and fourth jobs. It provides historical context. It teaches past successes and failures. It enhances personal creativity, and thus increases capacity for innovation.  Broad comprehensive education is what builds and maintains competitive superiority in individuals, businesses, institutions, and nations.

A recent article in the UK’s Times Higher Education (THE) writer David Matthews points out that in the past educators in Singapore focused mostly on science and technology research as the pathway to international superiority. But more recently they have added broader programs in humanities and the arts in order to produce graduates with greater capacity for innovation and creativity.

The US is still the unquestioned higher education leader in the world. But current domestic political trends could quickly change all that. Diversity of institutional type, well supported research, and a full array of professional and liberal arts fields of study, have together been the US hallmark.  Just when others around the world are beginning to copy our success, it seems we are now about to dismantle what we have achieved.

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“I resolve that I will lose 25 pounds this year, and become a better person.” Good luck with that! Wishful thinking resolutions can be fun at parties. But a new year is also a great time to take stock of previous accomplishments, and to think realistically about coming year possibilities.

What can be accomplished in the next year that is both realistic and challenging? And at the same time, how can your sensitivities be heightened so you don’t miss unanticipated opportunities?

As a teenager I was advised to determine where I wanted to be in 5 years and to plan exactly what I needed to do to get there. I was told that without a map I would have no direction. But I had no basis on which to draw a map. So I found author Joseph Campbell more helpful. He advised simply to “follow your bliss.”  The most reliable path to personal happiness, he believed, is to get better and better at doing those things which bring you the most satisfaction.

In my own experience with students and colleagues, I found that those who identified and developed their most fundamental talents, and never got diverted by unrelated goals, eventually became the most successful. Their plans largely were based on developing their talents. And for most of them, unimagined opportunities appeared along the way.

And so I suggest in 2014 you consider fine-tuning your talents. Identify what worked in 2013, and do it even better in 2014. Top talent, plus hard work, enhances luck… every time!

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