Archive for February, 2016

Last week I asked the question: How important is Truth? A long-established historian and recognized scholar sent me a very perceptive response. He preferred that I publish it without attribution, so here is a slightly trimmed version of what he said:

“Time, not truth, is (our) unit of value. The more information we are offered, the less we have. Information is conveyed through time, and (today) time is purchased with money. Hence truth must be ‘trimmed’ to fit the narrow confines of the time offered by the (news or other) medium.”

He went on to point out, “This is the reverse of the order of what prevailed for the last two centuries. Our ancestors had scads of time… stood in the open for hours listening to addresses and debates. They read tiny printed newspapers, transcripts, documents and public records. There never was a need for a commercial break…”

“My fear,” he concluded, “is that we do not live in the Information Age, rather (we live) in the Entertainment Age.”

I share this sage’s perceptive thoughts as our “entertainment-driven” political debates rage on day after day. Admittedly, my constant call for more media literacy education might not change this game. But at least it might produce some measure of public awareness of what is really going on.

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The 24/7 cable news and social media revolution has changed political campaigning in many ways. One of the most troublesome developments is the acceptance of deliberate and  incessant lying.

How important is it to you that your candidate tells you the truth? And what can be done when everyone starts making outrageous claims just because everyone else is doing it?

In past years I remember hearing that kind of “group-think” from well-meaning fans about cheating in intercollegiate athletics. But when a game changes to rationalize lies and partial truths as acceptable what happens to the game, and the fans?

In today’s instant digital media environment there is a  growing acknowledgement that the more a lie is repeated the more it begins to sound true. One lie enables more lies, and  suddenly everyone is following with their own outrageous claims. Otherwise they fear the news media will ignore them.

How then should responsible journalists respond to such a situation? The accepted approach seems to be to ask one tough question and then leave the response unchallenged.  The thought is that challenging the truth is the other candidates’ responsibility… or at least someone else’s. After all, there are a number of “fact checker” websites that can be consulted. But truthfully, how many average voters are consulting them… or even know they exist?

Given the intensity of the situation, should we be expecting responsible journalists to be questioning outrageous  statements more aggressively? Should they be pushing newsmakers on the spot to substantiate suspicious claims? Or is reporting the drama of continuous political fighting, shouting, and poll fluctuations just too good for the business of media, i.e. just too good for tomorrow’s readership and ratings?

Whatever you think, I think now more than ever media literacy education is needed in schools, colleges, PTA’s, professional associations, community organizations, and everywhere possible. Citizens need to become their own editors and fact checkers. Even news organizations could be doing more to explain how they see their role and what consumers can do to find the truth.

In fact, I believe that leaders at all levels in all organizations should be analyzing all this and noting how media and technology revolutions change everything… inside and out!

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Last week I discussed the danger of rigid marketing models and evolving executive groupthink when the market outside is changing. However, this should not be confused with a strong corporate culture that monitors and embraces ongoing change.

Some organizations build their corporate cultures gradually over time. Other organizations are created at the outset with values and cultural characteristics intended to differentiate them from the others.

For example, some silicon valley companies are building team cultures by offering free food, child care, attractive health and other benefits, parking, recreation facilities, mid-day rest time, paternity and maternity leave, etc. These perks serve as hiring advantages, team building tools, and high productivity incentives.

On the other hand, Amazon was recently criticized for a no-nonsense culture with high expectations for fast work and long work hours. But the company responded that employees there were energized by a culture based on exciting new challenges and being a part of a cutting-edge organization on the move.

Even though universities are more like small cities they too have corporate cultures that help define their competitive advantage. Some use benefits and a sense of family in place of salary to attract top quality faculty and staff. Others count more on a culture of rigorous scholarship, academic prestige, and competitive salary to motivate achievement and define competitive advantage.

No matter how corporate culture is established it becomes a major  part of an institution’s brand identity. A clear understanding of “how we do things around here” can be a positive force so long as those things can evolve with outside market changes. The challenge is to let those things evolve without damaging  the features which have established the institution’s competitive advantage.

The interesting thing about corporate culture is that it both defines the nature of the workplace inside and much of the appeal the institution has with most of its external constituents.

Experience suggests that cultural features can be so strong in many organizations that even in hard times every effort should be made to hold on to as many as possible. Some may go so far as to prefer cutting staff positions before damaging the external “brand promise” and the internal work experience for those who remain.

In the final analysis, groupthink and marketing models that insulate executive teams from the forces of change are certainly harmful. But organization-wide task forces and internal think tanks that monitor market changes and carefully manage the evolution of strong and creative corporate cultures are really powerful and essential strategic communication tools.


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Back in the day, I was among several others seeking to find and articulate the perfect planning model for communicating institutions. The “buzz term” at the time in management was MBO, Management by Objectives. I wanted to find the communication equivalent.

But over time I came see that “groupthink” of any kind can be a trap. “This is the way we do things,” has caused many executive teams to plateau just when reinventing themselves and revitalizing their organizations became necessary.

In fact, entire consulting firms have based their work on a formula for success they have developed.  In higher education many fundraising consultancies and marketing and communication firms have based their work on formulas. And so when the core business is disrupted the initial response is to do more of what has always been done.

But when overall conditions change, competition deepens, and markets broaden, the game is changing. Now is when marketing thinking, integrated processes, strong team building, fresh thinking, and new strategic initiatives might be necessary.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently  described Georgetown University’s “Red House, a house near center campus, as a kind of  “skunkworks.” Students and faculty are engaged together in developing creative cutting-edge projects in search of a more innovative and cost-effective education.

In order to avoid falling back on past models, maybe all organizations could benefit from forming their own version of a “skunkworks.” Such internal think-tanks can objectively use integrated group processes to clarify founding mission, fine-tune brand authenticity, update message points and overall  “look,” revitalize the vision, and inspire a strong sense of renewal.

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