What if the fear and malaise and anger isn't merely being reported by cable news…
What if it's being caused by cable news?
What if ubiquitous video accompanied by frightening and freaked out talking heads is actually, finally, changing our culture?
Which came first, the news or the news cycle?
We seem to accept the hegemony of bottom-feeding media as some natural outgrowth of the world we live in. In fact, it's more likely an artifact of the post-spectrum cable news complex in which bleeding and leading became business goals.
There's always front page news because there's always a front page.
The world is safer (per capita) than ever before in recorded history. And people are more frightened. The rise of the media matches the rise of our fear.
Cable news isn't shy about stating their goals. The real question is: what's our goal? Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into a fear-based posture on a regular basis, we're making a choice about the world and how we experience it.
They want urgency more than importance. What do we want?
[I wrote this months ago, and every time I'm about to post it, I hesitate because recent events make it look like I'm writing it for that reason. Finally, I realized that it's never a quiet moment in the media cycle any more, is it?]
Everything you're working on is an investment in tomorrow.
While we can choose to enjoy the process, the end result is always at the end of an arc, always the result of many steps, of earning trust, of building a connection.
If you view any particular day without context, it is almost certain to be a failure. Because now never happens. The results always happen later.
Since later is just around the corner, today, right now, is the perfect time to begin.
Now is the moment we get to plant the seeds for later.
When creating a layout, designers put low-resolution, imperfect, non-final images, all marked "for position only." They exist to help the client understand the gestalt of the piece and to give feedback.
They're temporary, parts of a whole ready to be replaced with the real thing once the big picture is locked down.
And the concept works in just about every project, every conceptual structure we seek to put together.
We act 'as if', then we worry about the polish at the end, not at the start.
It's almost impossible to walk past a spewing faucet without stopping and trying to turn it off. We can't bear to see the waste.
But our organizations leak all the time. The talented people who don't stick with the job because they're not respected, the potential customers who bounce from a clumsy website or the assets that go unused and unnoticed as they waste away.
The first step is seeing it.
And then refusing to go back to not seeing it.
"I" as in me, you, us, the person who's on the line. This is the work of a human. The audience can make a direct connection between you and the thing you're offering.
"Made" because it took effort, originality and skill.
"This" is not a wishy-washy concept. It's concrete and finite. It didn't used to exist, and now it does.
and, "Here," because the idea is a gift, a connection transferred from person to person.
These four words carry generosity, intent, risk and intimacy with them.
The more we say them, and mean them, and deliver on them, the more art and connection we create.
That would be today.
And every day, if you're up for it.
The things that change our lives (and the lives of others) are rarely the long-scheduled events, the much-practiced speeches or the annual gala. No, it's almost certain that the next chance you have to leap will come out of nowhere in particular, and you'll discover it because you're ready for it.
Someone to inspire, to connect with, to lead. A system to transform. An idea to share. Responsibility is often just lying around, waiting for someone to take it.
get really good at what you do.
You have nearly unlimited strategic choices and options about your career and what your organization does.
Which means you can focus on doing things you are truly good at.
Or, if a particular task, project or career is important to you, you can do the hard work to get good at it.
But it makes no sense at all to grumble and do something poorly. To insist that the competition is playing unfairly. To try to persuade your market that their standards make no sense…
The market is selfish. It doesn't care a whit about how hard you're working or how difficult the task is. If someone else is consistently telling a better story (and delivering on it), the market will find them.
Years ago, I asked fabled direct marketer Joe Sugarman about the money-back guarantee he offered on the stuff he sold through magazine ads. He said 10% of the people who bought asked for their money back… and if any product dipped below 10%, he'd make the claims more outrageous until it got back up. He told me that this was a sweet spot, somewhere between amazing people with promises and disappointing them with reality.
That's one path.
The other path is the insurance company that points out that 99% of its customers would recommend them–after filing a claim. Imagine that standard: dealing with the emotions and financial impact of an insurance claim, knowing that you need to maintain a 99% delight standard.
That's the other path.
You can't do both. Either you dazzle with as much hype as you can get away with, or you invest in delighting people, regardless of how difficult it is.
One seductive brand position is the posture of being indomitable. Unable to be subdued, incapable of loss, the irresistible force and the immovable object, all in one.
The public enjoys rooting for this macho ideal. Superman in real life, but with the rage of a caged tiger. It is our avenger, a Jungian symbol come to life.
This is Norman Mailer or Mike Tyson. It's Wells Fargo or VW.
There are problems.
First, it doesn't scale. When an indomitable brand or figure encounters an obstacle that can't be overcome, suddenly, the promise is hard to keep. And if the indomitable begins to succeed, he gets hungrier for the next conquest, making this failure inevitable.
Second, it's a bad strategy. In the long run, resilience always outperforms sheer strength. The instincts of the indomitable brand are to win every single battle, no matter how small. If you have armor, you will have chinks in that armor, and if those chinks distract or disable, the hero will stumble and eventually fall.
Mostly, though, the indomitable brand is self aware, and causes his own problems. The pressure is on for the next conquest, the next opponent to humiliate. The endless need for more people to bully, more opponents to vanquish, and more fights to pick (it's fuel) leads to drama, but not useful output.
If you must constantly create an 'other' to oppose, your tribe gets smaller.
If you can't say, "I made a mistake," then it's incredibly difficult to lead. You end up managing instead, picking small fights, skirting the rules and blaming the ref.
Ultimately, the brand that embraces the position of indomitable ends up weak and afraid, because there's no way out, nowhere left to go.
Most companies seek to be more profitable.
They seek to increase their Key Performance Indicators. More referrals, more satisfaction, more loyalty. They seek to increase their market share, their dividends, their stock price.
In fact, most companies strive to be just ethical enough. To get ethics to the point where no one is complaining, where poor ethics aren't harming their KPIs.
What if instead…
Being more ethical was the most important KPI?
Perhaps profit and market share and the rest could merely be tools in service of the ability to make things better, to treat people ever more fairly, to do work that we're more proud of each day.
It might be worth trying.