Category Archives: communications

Are You Too Old to Innovate?

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photo by CutandChicVintage

With the Rolling Stones celebrating their 50th anniversary, I was surprised to hear recently that the average age of the band (69) is older than the average age of the Supreme Court Justices (67). More specifically, the Stones are one year and 10 months older than the Supreme Court.

I was less surprised to read last week that the average age of employees at technology companies is significantly lower than the overall median age of U.S. workers, which is 42. See “Technology Workers are Young (Really Young)” from the New York Times blog Bits. Among the companies with the youngest employees are Facebook (28), Google (29), and AOL (30). PayScale, a company based in Seattle, looked at age, gender, and turnover at 32 of the most successful technology companies. Some of the companies with older workers are Cisco Systems (35), Samsung (34), and Microsoft (34). Turnover in the industry is also very high. At Amazon.com and Facebook, the average stay is just 12 to 13 months.

Katie Bardaro, the lead economist at PayScale, explained there are a number of factors in the youth of these workforces. One is skills: “Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to know C# and SQL. Gen Y knows Python, social media, and Hadoop.” Another is the current focus of these companies: “The firms that are growing or innovating around new areas tend to have younger workers. Older companies that aren’t changing with the times get older workers.”

What do you think? Does innovation have an expiration date?

Are You Orbiting the Giant Hairball?

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I recently interviewed someone for an interactive job, and he told me his ideal job would be 80 percent strategy and 20 percent tactical. I chuckled and asked how he’d feel if those numbers were reversed. The truth is, whatever field you’re in, there’s a good chance that you spend most of your time reacting to the latest crises and requests rather than sitting back and shaping strategies. But I’m a big believer in finding purpose and enjoyment in your work, and for me that includes being as creative as possible.

To re-charge my creative batteries this summer, I’m going to re-read a book I read several years called Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace,” by Gordon MacKenzie. This is not just a book for people in the corporate world — it could just as easily be titled “how to be creative in any environment.” MacKenzie writes about his 30 years working for Hallmark Cards, where he learned that even innovative organizations can become giant “hairballs” — with a big mess of rules, traditions, and systems that stifle creativity. MacKenzie found ways to cope, and inspired many of his colleagues to orbit around the hairball instead of getting sucked in. First published in 1998, the book is fun, irreverent, and funny, with lots of illustrations and anecdotes.

We can all benefit from more creativity in the workplace. Read this book, and you’ll find ways to improve your attitude, satisfaction, and performance. What books have inspired you in this way?

How Can You Make a Difference Like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Ben Franklin?

If you want to hear great speeches, I recommend two sources — TED talks and commencement addresses. Walter Isaacson, who wrote Steve Jobs’ biography, recently gave the graduates of Pomona College some great advice: “You are officially credentialed as smart. That’s the good news. The bad news, as you’ll learn, is that smart people are a dime a dozen, and they usually don’t amount to much.”
In telling three stories — about Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Ben Franklin — Isaacson pulled no punches in telling the graduates that the real measure of their professional lives will not be how much money they make, or what titles they achieve, but by what they create to improve people’s lives. He advised the graduates: “At the end of your days when you look back…it’s not just about saying how successful you were, how many toys or trinkets or how much power you accumulated. It’s about what you created, about what you did to make the world a slightly better place because you were here.”
Read highlights of Isaacson’s address, “Three Stories About Steve Jobs, Einstein, And Ben Franklin Prove That Creative Beats Smart.” Or watch it below.

Paula Deen: Too Late to Recover from PR Missteps?

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After working in PR for a long time, I’m used to communications professionals coming forward after any scandal saying confidently, “Here’s what he/she could do to survive and get past this crisis.” It’s the PR equivalent of an ambulance-chasing lawyer — so-called “crisis experts” come forward to suggest that if only Paula or whoever would hire them, all their problems would (eventually) go away.

So I find it fascinating that so many of these commentators are saying Paula Deen is cooked (sorry), as suggested in this article from USA Today, “Paula Deen is Done, Experts Say.” Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com, says, “Paula Deen will survive but she will never be whole again. She will never make as much money, she will never have the respect that she once had, there are people that will never be in business with her again.” And Mark Pasetsky, CEO of public relations and marketing content firm Mark Allen & Co., says, “Her brand is now tainted beyond recourse….She will have a viable business, she will have a lot of fans and make a lot of money, but it’s never going to be the same.”

In many crisis situations, advisers often suggest that the charges seem worse than they are because of poor communications and PR missteps. But Pasetsky goes on to say the crisis was caused because “someone…so famous…cannot tell the difference between right and wrong.” In another article, I think Jonathan L. Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., hit the nail on the head when he commented, “She clearly didn’t understand that if you have done something in your past that you know is going to look bad, don’t try to defend it, and act apologetically if you must discuss the issue. Had Deen said in the deposition, ‘Yes, I did say those things, but I now realize they were inappropriate and hurtful,’ she may still have a job.”

I’ve had some interesting conversations with family and friends over this topic, and for me I think Deen has been unconvincing because she can’t seem to decide if a) she did nothing wrong and is being unfairly victimized or b) she made a mistake (or mistakes) that she now regrets, and she’s remorseful. By trying to say both, neither position is credible. In the deposition, she recalls using the N-word in describing the person involved in a bank robbery, and when asked “Have you used the word since?” she says, “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.”

Fast forward to Deen’s “Today Show” interview with Matt Lauer, when he asks if she has ever used the word any time other than the bank robbery event:
DEEN: I have never. I never. They asked me in all of my 66 years on earth, had I ever used it.
LAUER: So, reports that you were asked in that deposition whether you had used the n-word on other occasions and said, “Probably,” or, “Of course” are inaccurate?
DEEN: No.  I answered the question truthfully.
LAUER: So, you have never used the n-word, other than that one occasion.
DEEN: No.  It’s just not…it’s just not a part of who we are.

This whole story is fascinating and sad from both a legal and communications perspective. After she received coaching from her lawyers and advisers, her story changed. Was she wrong in her deposition, or in her interview and other statements? Is she being advised to take a legal fall (by contradicting her sworn testimony) to try to repair her public reputation? Now Paula has fired her longtime agent and has hired the crisis expert who inspired the TV show “Scandal.” Sadly for Paula, I think it’s too little, too late. What do you think?

If you’re interested in this story and haven’t already, read the “Today Show” transcript and the deposition.

Marilyn and Me

By Adam Fagen
photo by Adam Fagen

This blog and this first post were inspired by Marilyn Monroe. Under the influence of nitrous oxide at the dentist’s office the other day, I was sure I saw Marilyn’s image in the ceiling tiles. That hallucination reminded of this mural of Marilyn in Woodley Park in downtown Washington, D.C.

In the mid-1990s, I had a job I loved and a fun part-time gig as a freelance writer for the Washington Post (mostly covering reggae concerts and CDs). I also contributed articles to the Washingtonian and other local and national publications. Around that time, I recall being curious about the origins of the Marilyn Monroe mural, which I had seen so often in my neighborhood but had never read anything about.

Back then, I would come up with a story idea like this and pitch publications to see if they’d be willing to publish it. The way I saw it, if my story wouldn’t be published, there was no reason to research and write it, because I had no audience. That wasn’t all that long ago, but communications has changed so much since then. Now, we can share ideas, news, and opinions to potential audiences much larger — and at the same time more focused — than what I relied on print publications to do.

My perception was that the Post, Washingtonian, City Paper, and other publications were the only real way to reach people. These publications held all the power, and the only connection to a potential reading audience. (I never pitched the story and kicked myself years later when I read the detailed story in some newspaper or magazine. Today, if you Google “mural marilyn monroe dc,” you’ll find about 600,000 results.)

Some would say we have too many ways to communicate now. Who really wants to read and see every detail of our lives on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram (photos and video now), Vine, Pinterest, YouTube, blogs, and more? But it’s up to us how we use these tools. The point is, the power has shifted, and communications is in your hands now. For those of us who remember a time when this wasn’t true, that’s as amazing as a nitrous-induced hallucination.

So this blog is a place for me to share some thoughts and commentary instead of waiting for someone to ask, and in a little more depth than I can on other platforms. Please comment, follow, and let me know what you’d like to read about.