Thursday, 3 May 2018

Learning from one of the greats

I had the rare privilege this week of a one-on-one coaching session with one of consulting's all time greats, Alan Weiss.

One on one with Alan is challenging. He's experienced, astute and very, very quick. I had prepared for our meeting with an email in advance and more or less stuck to the script. Topics ranged from better marketing of my services, how specific client relationships can be optimized and new potential buyers.

What I found particularly valuable were the specifics. Alan offered clear, pragmatic and provocative suggestions to improve my practice. How he responded to my questions taught me something: he was listening. As Alan put it during our conversation: "When I'm listening is when the best learning takes place."

Writing up my notes afterwards I was reminded that one of the best ways to improve your own performance is to work with someone on a much higher level than yourself.

Thanks, Alan!


Saturday, 13 January 2018

Why "Fake News" is not the problem

The people who complain the loudest about "fake news" seem to be threatened by real news, either because they have something to hide, it doesn't fit with their worldview or both. But there's a lot of hype about how much influence "fake news" actually has on news consumers.

A study out this month found that leading up to the 2016 election so-called "fake news" articles made up just 1% of Clinton supporters' and 6% of Trump supporters' total news consumption. In other words, consumers still get almost all their news from real news sources.

The real threat to real news isn't "fake" - but it is something that isn't often reported: the massive cuts in news organizations' budgets over the past decade. Starting in the mid-2000s, billions of advertising dollars were re-directed to digital media, forcing drastic cuts in newsroom staff and resources and sparking the perceived decline in the quality of news content.

To keep up with changing times, TV stations and newspapers once were falling all over each other to get on social media platforms in the name of "visibility." 

But the "fake news" era may end up changing that. 

Facebook said this week that it wants to take steps to "clean up" its News Feed and shut out many news organizations.

But many news executives already recognize they don't benefit all that much from having likes and followers; certainly they don't make much money from it - unlike Facebook, of course, which profits hugely from the content generated by news organizations.

News organizations will gradually start disassociating their brand from (and subsidizing) the reliably trashy social media culture Silicon Valley created. They will seek and find new, proprietary and engaging digital solutions for their content and start profiting directly from it.

By the way, the study also found that by far most of the "fake news" articles consumers read were on... Facebook.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Here's to 2018 being the year we start talking "to" each other again!

A lot of the excited dialogue over the past year has been about pointing a finger at "the other" - assigning the "blame" for our current sad state of affairs to the President, the ex-President, the Congress, the Republicans, the Democrats, the corporations, the conservationists, the developers, the liberals, the far right, the 1%, the Russians, Facebook, etc, the news media and so on.

Here's to the idea that people who really care about addressing the very real problems we are facing will take some time to sincerely listen to "the other" - not talking "at" them but start talking "to" them again. And another, even more "retro" step: seriously considering, without preconception or prejudice, whether the "other" just might have something there.

Governor Tom McCall of Oregon put it this way: "A hero is not a giant figure framed against a red sky. A hero is someone who says: this is my community and it is my responsibility to make it better. Put a lot of those communities together and you have an America that's standing on its feet again."

We can always learn something from each other. Sometimes it can be what we least expect: something of real value and relevance. And that can be the beginning of positive change in our communities and in our own lives.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Ending "net neutrality" - what 1987 and 2017 have in common

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to dismantle the federal "net neutrality" regulations which ensure equal access to the internet.

Getting rid of the net neutrality rules would allow internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon to charge users more for certain services, speed up access for their business partners and slow or restrict access to any online content they choose.

The ISPs emphasize that limiting government intervention in their businesses will favor investment and innovation and ultimately their customers will benefit from new services.

It sounds a lot like the argument for eliminating the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980s.

Broadcasters didn't want the government regulating what they could put on the air. They argued the resulting freedom would mean more diversity of programming and viewer choice. And the public affairs programs "in the public interest" required by the Fairness Doctrine as a condition of holding a broadcast license (also called the "license to print money") would not go away.

In 1987, the FCC sided with the broadcasters and the free market.

Thirty years later, click around the cable box and then take a look at your monthly cable bill. Few would say the public interest has been well served.

The media companies, however, did very well.

Monday, 13 November 2017

How "framing" a crisis effectively can show the path to change

A critical function of leadership is successfully moving organizations toward change, especially in times of crisis and volatility. But what are the key components of that narrative? How do leaders "frame" what's at stake effectively? How do they explain what is to be gained from the change and even more importantly, explain how to get there?

Nancy F. Koehn, a historian, Harvard Business School leadership coach and author presents some practical and useful approaches in her new book "Forged in Crisis - the Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times" (John Murray UK 2017.) Professor Koehn tells the story of five historical figures facing terrible crises and how they were able to surmount them. 

One of the most powerful examples of effectively framing what's at stake and showing the path toward change is Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; 272 words spoken in less than three minutes on the site of one of the Civil War's deadliest battlefields. The full text is here:

For today's leaders facing volatility and crisis, Koehn identifies five elements from Lincoln's famous speech they can use to "frame" the stakes, increase understanding, inspire action and finally, show the path to change:

1. Connect the current change efforts to the history and future of the enterprise

2. Locate those efforts in the arc of ongoing events

3. Explain each stakeholder's role in the process

4. Identify the specific trade-offs of making the change

5. Understand the costs in relation to the ultimate goal

"Every modern leader navigating through a crisis can learn from the Gettysburg Address. We are unlikely to approach the eloquence and power of Lincoln's language. But we can take from his leadership the critical importance of framing the stakes of a particular moment." - Nancy F. Koehn, Harvard Business School

Monday, 6 November 2017

How powerful stories effect political and social change

Why do some civic organizations succeed in their political and social goals and others don't?

Consider that organizations with a powerful narrative (such the National Rifle Association) achieve their political goals more readily than those that don't. 

There are some excellent insights about this in Professor Hahrie Han's book, How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press) 

It's obvious that narrative has the power to engage and inspire people to action, but for activists, storytelling goes far beyond that. Narrative is decisive in helping civic organizations find their path to power. 

Han points out that the narratives ("interpretive frames") organizations tell themselves have a decisive role to play in the organization's structure and strategy: 

“Framing is central to how leaders strategize because it identifies both challenging groups and adversaries and suggests potential allies. Framing specifies the unjust conditions that must be changed and the appropriate strategies and tactics to achieve the desired ends.” 

Example: after weeks of organizing an event and pulling it off successfully, the narrative of how that was done and what was achieved shows "how we do things" and the way forward. Stories about past victories and defeats show "how we won (or lost.)"

Narrative gives meaning to challenges, constraints, opportunities and change.

Stories also help organizations identify how to allocate scarce time and resources. "100's of people came to our event" vs. "we wrote a killer analysis" are very different paths to power and require very different resources.

Narrative helps us understand "which kind of organization are we?"

And: stories encourage sustainability. Individual experiences ("narratives") contribute to the collective identity of the organization, which is passed on from person to person.


Saturday, 31 December 2016

Six resolutions for the news media in 2017

1. Stop the hand-wringing; start breaking stories.

2. Stop trying to be all things to all people; play to the strengths of your core medium.

3. Fight "technological determinism." Put more people, and fewer robots, in charge of setting editorial priorities.

4. Prove relevance. Allocate more resources to covering stories that directly affect your audience. Your colleagues are not your audience.

5. Promote your successes; show what changed as a result of your reporting.

6. Never assume news will be as profitable as entertainment. To change that, see point #1 above.