Philosophy

10 things I wish I’d learned in college

UCMORecently I spoke to a group of undergrads in the communications school at my alma mater, the University of Central Missouri — something I always imagined doing but wasn’t sure how or when it would happen. As it turns out I was speaking at the Integrated Marketing Summit in Kansas City two days before UCM homecoming. I didn’t know what to expect when I reached out with an offer to share some insights from my career with the students, but the idea was warmly received by Tricial Hansen-Horn, public relations professor in the UCM Dept. of Communication.

My comments centered around things I’ve learned throughout my career that I would have like to have known sooner or felt would be relevant and helpful to these young people who are about to walk out of the halls of UCM and into the “real world” as I did nearly 20 years ago. 

Key points of my talk included:

  1. Learning to cut bait sooner and the art of saying “no” (including a rare public display of my “no card”)
  2. The art of “pitching,” the perception of public relations and the radical shifts in PR over the past 10 years
  3. The difference between product and service businesses and the importance of scale
  4. Partnerships and the value of imbalanced ownership 49/51%
  5. The importance of salesmanship and how to ask for (and get) what you want
  6. The importance of relationships and distinctions between friends and contacts
  7. Knowing what you want and creating a mission statement for your life 
  8. Why knowing yourself and your core values matters most
  9. The importance of learning to think critically
  10. Life is short, so thrive

While my talk was in the spirit of “giving back,” I did so knowing the fulfillment I would receive from doing it, something made even more meaningful by the feedback I’ve recived from both students and faculty who have followed up with me since then. The process was also cause for an introspective look at my career accomplishments, not judging good or bad, but rather taking a moment to reflect on several years of hard work and the value of those experiences. In sharing them I hope to have inspired a few of the students who turned out to hear me speak that rainy morning in October and that you too will consider doing the same and seeing what it does for you.

View my photos from UCM homecoming

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Bill Clinton’s Win-Win Philosophy

clintonI attended a talk by the 42nd President of the U.S., William Jefferson Clinton last night at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, part of the Distinguished Speaker Series. Packing a wealth of stories, stats and a good sense of humor, he promised and then delivered a framework we can all use to make sense of today’s complex world in which we live. Wondering about what caused the financial meltdown of September 15, 2008? How about our education crisis (according to Clinton we slipped from first to tenth in the past decade)? Or how we’re to “win” in Afghanistan?  For most of us, it takes every bit of our energy to deal with life’s immediate challenges, let alone trying to sort fact from fiction from all the information we’re bombarded with in today’s fragmented and often biased media ecosystem. His talk gave a fresh perspective on how to interpret the world today and some guidance on what we can do to affect change.

The number one definining characteristic of the 21st century is our global interdependence.  The result of our diversity and new technologies like the Internet carry with it both good and bad consequences. Posit for a moment that we know the good things, namely technology. Most of the bad consequences of our interconnectedness are defined by inequality and instability.

Inequalityis presented primarily in education and income. One billion people live on less than $1 per day, one billion people will go hungry tonight and one billion don’t have access to clean water. One quarter of everyone who dies on the planet this year will be due to tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS or dirty water. And of the dirty water victims 80 perent will be under five years old. In the U.S., 90 percent of our growth in recent years has gone to 10 percent of the population.

Instabilityis created by how quickly thing can spread, from terrorism (easy access to information) to Swine Flue (permeability and uprootedness) to the world financial crisis (inter-connectedness of financial systems). Even with $3 trillion in cash, a whopping 2 million factory workers in China are unemployed because the rest of the world is not buying as much of their exports.

In light of the complexities in our interconnected world, we need a framework from which to act. How do we respond to these many challenges? Not more liberally, but in a more “communitarian” fashion — more succinctly put, by focusing on creating win-win situations. For every situation or decision, he asks “will this  bring us closer together or tear us further apart?” 

Prime examples where “win-win” has worked are in Iraq where the people ultimately declared a common enemy in Al Qaeda. In Tanzania where our continued efforts to finance AIDS and Malaria relief have demonstrated our commitment their children. And in Rwanda, where the Tutsi leader insisted his post-genocide successor be a Hutu, and engraining in his people the need for win-win by granting land to those who would live next door to someone from the rival tribe.

Another timely example of searching for win-win was through a clear explanation of health carereform, including the back-story on “death panels,” and distinctions between terms like “public option” and “socialized medicine.”  Every year we spend 17 percent of our income on health care– money consumers aren’t investing in other things, which gives other countries that much more of an advantage over us on the world economic stage.  The bottom line: if you’re not for some kind of change in health care, you are a proponent of win-lose, not win-win.

One of the things that stood out for me most was Clinton’s commentary on the differences between being a sitting president and a former president. “The good news is, you can say anything you like,” he said. “The bad news is that nobody cares about what you have to say…that is, unless your wife happens to be Secretary of Sate.”

While this was met with laughter, it was obvious everyone should care about what this former president has to say. He is using his clout and connections through the William J. Clinton Foundation to make a difference in the lives of millions through several thoughtful initiatives. And while he has raised hundreds of millions from the wealthiest people in the world, he stressed the importance of each individual being called into service in some way. He spoke of the secret of the U.S. economy having always been the strength of our middle class, and how this group must now stand and help the U.S. regain its footing in our inter-connected world. “It’s not enough to work and pay taxes, raise a good family and show up to vote.” There are one million public service groups to which we can donate our time and expertise, over half of which were started in the last year.

While it’s of course possible to donate to the Clinton Foundation, he did not make a direct pitch but rather spoke about Kiva.org, where for $25 you can make the difference in the life of someone anywhere in the world whom the group has already vetted as qualified for needing assistance.

Something else that resonated with me personally, and I don’t think he would have said as president, is how we treat others is dependent upon our own identity and what we think about ourselves. Identity is highly complex, but we need to realize how much we are all alike. In fact, the argument in genomic circles is whether we are genetically 99.5 or 99.9 percent alike. By continually forcing ourselves to communicate with the other side we become more comfortable with one another. When we see how alike we are, we eventually decide that it’s less costly to work with together than to keep killing each other and we collaborate in the interest of finding win-win situations. It is imperative in the modern world that we leave the door open.

While everything President Clinton had to say was in line with my own opinions, I hope his thoughtful presentation gave those of every political persuasion a new perspective on tolerance and possibility. It was awe-inspiring for me to hear this brilliant mind, speaking in his familiar and reassuring tone of so many examples of hope and of what is possible if we work together and apply ourselves to overcoming our collective challenges, be they local or global.

Think win-win and dedicate yourself to some form of public service. And when you do, I hope you’ll let me know about it.

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Think.

Think smallFew things possess more Power than a Thought.
Because a Thought has the potential
to become something significant.
To solve something meaningful.
And to inspire us to achieve great things.

What makes a Thought so powerful is that it can be created by anybody.
At anytime.
From anywhere.

That’s why thinking should be encouraged
and nurtured in all its forms.
No matter how small.
Or how impossibly grand. 

Because wherever Thinking happens,
Big Ideas follow.
Minds become enlightened.
Knowledge grows.
And people discover new ways to unlock their Potential.

So start Thinking

View this inspiring spot for Qatar Foundation.

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My Private Burning Man

bm09While it wasn’t to be for me to attend Burning Man this year (thanks Christian for creating that possibility and keeping the dream alive!), I did get to experience, in a very small and personal way, what the event stands for this long Labor Day weekend. Not familiar with Burning Man? Or perhaps, like some I know, you hold a negative perception of it being some hedonistic subculture with little purpose beyond an excuse to party? No worries…maybe it’s just not for you!  I’m not here to defend the festival, which is now in its 23rd year attracted around 50,000 participants. I’ll leave that to more hard core “burners.”

But what you should know, is that underlying all of the fine people, art and music that comprise the festival, there is at the end of the weeklong event a ritual of burning “the man.” I suppose the burn, and the entire event for that matter, is symbolic of whatever you want it to be. But certainly one dominant theme associated with fire and burning is renewal and the idea of shedding, both literally and figuratively, those things you are ready to leave behind.

Over the course of the past couple of weeks I’ve been cleaning my garage, part of which has included finally going through the last remnants of a company I once owned, called iAgency. Known non-affectionately around my house as “the iAgency boxes,” they contained a few hundred three ring binders that were the results of our work for clients and literally  represented the “early days” of online marketing and public relations. They were the physical representation of years of hard work and dedication by a team of young professionals in the mid-nineties too many to name, but to whom I remain endlessly grateful.

While I could not part with a few of the books for some of my favorite campaigns, like our early PR efforts for Zappos.com, creative online community programs for Symantec,  my favorite film and television projects for Fox, Paramount, NBC and Imagine Television, the extensive online marketing and PR work we did to launch Warner Bros. Online or the binder for our first clients, Hollywood Online and The Palace — I did undertake a purge that for me was of Burning Man proportions. As I let go of these heavy books representative of a past life, in my heart there was a bitter-sweet feeling of finally moving on combined with pride for all we accomplished from 1995 to 2002 and knowing that all of that experience was invaluable and led me to where I am today.

The whole Burning Man thought came as I carted off my last load of notebooks to a neighbor’s dumpster late Sunday night. As the squeaking of my antique dolly filled the quiet street, I found myself wondering what other people ready to move on and clean house may have carted out to the Playa to burn this year — or even what percentage of the people who attend even think of the event in such terms. 

While I would have of course enjoyed being there for the second time in eight years, I was equally delighted to have in a small way privately shared the experience, knowing that you don’t have to be on the Playa to have Burning Man in your heart.

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The Importance of Downtime

dsc_0819bOf what value is a good work ethic if it is not held in balance with a healthy lifestyle, quality relationships and putting family first? While I’m far from reaching such a balance, it doesn’t mean I don’t strive for it. I was reminded of the importance of downtime during our family vacation to Eau Claire, Wisconsin last week. It was one of the few times in my career I’ve taken 10 consecutive days off and the vacation served its purpose. Being [mostly] unplugged and away from the daily routine, made me more grateful than ever for family and close friends.

The highlight of our trip was distant cousins hitting it off as though they lived next door, followed closely by spending time with my sister and experiencing firsthand how she and her family live. Water skiing, a nighttime thunderstorm and seeing Night Ranger perform at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair were my personal highlights.

But a more salient point that stuck with me was something Don Grainger said as we sat on Lesley’s front porch. As he relayed a story about someone who taught him the importance of leaving one’s work at work, I was reminded of people  I’ve known who appear to do that well, and more importantly how much I need to get into that good habit because ultimately it’s better for business and better for life. 

That includes turning off the computer at a reasonable time and getting enough sleep, so with that I will take my own advice and head off to bed!

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