Archive for February, 2014

If I say, “You are compromising your principles,” and repeat it over and over again, I might actually be setting into motion a redefinition of the word “compromise.”

‘Compromise” for many of us still might mean a “win-win” way to move a complicated project forward. It’s what governance meant in the past. It has been a positive word for many people. But that might now be changing.

The word “dog” brings me happy thoughts, while it might bring you grungy and smelly ones. The word “democracy” for me embraces individual freedom, but dictators today claim they have democracies because they hold periodic “orchestrated” elections. The word “friend” for me describes very close relationships, but now it means a large collection of names on Facebook. And on and on…

Meanings are in people. Even when it comes to single words, people must have the same meaning in their mind or communication will fail. Their prior experiences must overlap. And only over time can we interact enough to reach common understanding. And what’s worse, we can choose to reach out for understanding… or we can choose to shut it out.

In an already polarized world, it’s difficult to imagine the conditions under which communication can succeed. When it comes to individual, institutional, or even international understanding, maybe all we can do is chip away little-by-little at creating more shared experiences. That way we can at least hope for little pieces of understanding to appear, and maybe over time we can build on them.

Is there a plan in place anywhere to apply this kind of strategic communication understanding to Syria, Iran, Ukraine, North Korea, or China? Is this a matter of more effective diplomacy, or is it the future of international education? 

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As I plan a new adventure in ideas about media revolutions for my honor students, it again has become an ideal time to rethink everything. I can honestly tell them that this is not the only time. In fact, I have never explained the same material in exactly the same way twice!

Each time there is a new insight, a better structure, a clearer explanation, or a whole new social or political context to consider. I re-write every handout and PowerPoint each and every time.

The fact is I have been living and developing a subject matter that has been constantly evolving. No yellowed lecture notes here. This is what is exciting about most lifelong teachers, and many of their students don’t fully realize it. How the teacher approached the topic today is not necessarily how the teacher approached it yesterday, or will tomorrow.

All this applies to this blog as well. It is an adventure in ideas that should never become static. My life’s work is a continuing journey. It has no certain destination. And that is good.

You should make note of the new blog tag line at the top of the homepage, as well as the “Lessons Learned” and “Globalization” links. I will be taking still another fresh look at what I have learned about communication, media and institutions in the months ahead. Our adventure continues.

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Frequent travelers these days complain that flying is no fun any more. Airline personnel  are grumpy,  passengers sit on top of each other, basic services are gone, security people are often rude, and on and on. But on a day when weather delays and cancellations could not be blamed on the airline, one special  flight attendant made the difference.

This is a testament to the power of body language shaped by a positive outlook. One face with one big smile, broadly and constantly displayed while walking up and down the aisle during a long wait on the tarmac, and an even longer flight, literally changed the mood of an overcrowded and gloomy cabin.

Suddenly there was hope again in the midst of an industry where customer service has become artificial, insincere and manipulative. We are now paying more for less. Basic services have become itemized with countless individual fees. What is claimed to be “customer service” now feels more like clever  manuevers designed to serve only the company. This is a one-time happy industry that is rapidly losing its’ soul.

But on this one flight on this one miserable day, one smile is what I now remember. It was big enough to light up the cabin, and contagious enough to overcome the intense frustration of endless delays. So I say “Thank you, Pam” for your smile on AA 1033 from Washington, DC to DFW.  Keep it up. You have no idea what a difference it made.

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I imagine a world where a large number of innovative small colleges become the “boutique agencies” of higher education. They will use the advantage of their size to become quite nimble and highly innovative as they design totally new approaches to address the competitive realities of the future.

Such small, lean and highly creative boutique groups have emerged in the advertising and public relations industry to compete head-to-head with the well established, large, high-priced, high overhead  and cumbersome agencies. In response, small teams of professionals and creatives have come together  with little or no overhead to produce very innovative project and branding solutions, make compelling use of digital media, and serve clients with a price that makes sense.

The boutique college idea came to me at a recent conference as one president reported how she was able to align her tuition price directly with what it actually costs to deliver her college’s special kind of undergraduate education experience. Thus, she refreshingly will no longer be stating a higher tuition in order to maintain a high discount rate.

Discounting is the common practice in all of higher education that has enabled significant financial aid for some… which really amounts to a discount on the price. But the practice has evolved to where it confuses virtually everyone about what an education actually costs to deliver. Now there is at least one small college that is creatively addressing the problem.

Diversity of institutional type has been the hallmark of American higher education. Even so, in this age of intense competition and economic hardships, many have predicted the decline and fall of small colleges. “Boutique colleges,” however, with talented leaders who maximize the creative possibilities of their size, just might be able to show the rest of the world that American institutional diversity can and will  continue to lead higher education into the future.

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