First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Apologia as Bonus Program for Hospital Charity on August 1

I want to spend some time talking about the August 1 BONUS PROGRAM at the First Friday Book Synopsis  in Dallas.  My topic is:  KarlJ.Krayer


The bonus program runs from 8:30-9:30 a.m.

The fee is only  $5 , and all proceeds will be donated to TAKE TIME TO READ, a literacy program sponsored by the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children

Participants are given the opportunity to donate funds for children’s books at an average of $15 each.

You must register for the First Friday Book Synopsis in order to attend the bonus program.  To do that, simply click here.

ScottishRiteHospitalABOUT THE PROGRAM:   Giving a sincere apology is not the same as speaking in defense of yourself.  They are different contexts, representing different challenges, and requiring different skills.  Learn to do both in this bonus program.  You will learn four strategies for speaking in defense of yourself, as modeled by famous Americans who did so.  You will learn how to give a genuine apology and how to say it like you mean it.  All participants will receive printed resources for both topics.

KidsReadingLogoABOUT THE CHARITY:  Scottish Rite Masons across Texas are discovering the many rewards of reading to youngsters. As part of the Take Time To Read program, Texas Masons are teaming up with their local libraries and schools to read to children, collect books through book drives, and reap the rewards of glowing eyes, smiling faces and eager listeners.  Reading experts agree that reading aloud to children may be one of the most important things that adults can do to prepare kids for success in school.  Their vocabulary is enriched, they learn new information, and the experiences of their world are expanded, Being read to can create a love for books and generate a desire to read.  As facilitator of this bonus program, I am a 30-year member of the Dallas Scottish Rite Bodies, and was honored in 2013 with the Knight Commander Court of HoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnor (32o KCCH), wearing the red hat in the picture above.


The picture to the right is from last year’s First Friday Book Synopsis bonus program where I posed with the Take Time to Read Director from the Scottish Rite Hospital.  We collected donations to buy 31 children’s books at an average of $15 each.

Friday, July 25, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talent Masters is the Choice for the September FFBS

I know that we are still working on the August 1 First Friday Book Synopsis with two excellent books and our bonus program, but I am already looking forward to my September presentation. It has excellent reviews and plenty of strong publicity, including one by our blogging partner, Bob Morris.  You can read his review published on this blog by clicking here.

The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers
By Bill Conaty and Ram Charan (New York: Crown Business)

Here is a summary of the book from, and a review published in the Wall Street Journal.

From and Charan Picture

If talent is the leading indicator of whether a business is up or down, a success or a failure (and it is) . . . do you know how to accurately judge raw human talent? Understand a person’s unique combination of traits? Develop that talent? Convert what supposedly are “soft” subjective judgments about people into objective criteria that are as specific, verifiable, and concrete as the contents of a financial statement?

The talent masters do. They put people before numbers for the simple reason that it is talent that delivers the numbers. Success comes from those who are able to extract meaning from events and the forces affecting a business, and are able to look at the world and assess the risks to take and the risks to avoid.

The Talent Masters itself stems from a unique combination of talent: During a forty-year career at General Electric, Bill Conaty worked closely with CEOs Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt to build that company’s worldrenowned talent machine. Ram Charan is the legendary advisor to companies around the world. Together they use their unparalleled experience and insight to write the definitive book on talent—a breakthrough in how to take a business to the next level.

Here is the book review published in the Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2010, p. A21

A decade after Jack Welch stepped down as chief executive of General Electric, he still commands remarkable respect as a management guru. The company he once led has lost its magic, the business processes he developed to battle bureaucracy have become bureaucratic themselves, and many of the “graduates” of the Jack Welch school have since stumbled—think Bob Nardelli at Home Depot or Jim McNerney at Boeing. (Has anyone seen that Dreamliner yet?)

Yet Mr. Welch and the management mythology surrounding him continue, untarnished. “The Talent Masters” is the latest celebration of the Welch way. It’s written by Bill Conaty, the recently retired senior vice president for human resources at GE, and Ram Charan, the business adviser and author who often collaborates on books with ex-CEOs.

Talent Masters Book Cover

“The Talent Masters” rests on three principles that characterize the Welch approach to management: (1) A focus on talent development. Mr. Welch and the other “talent masters” in the book—we also hear from folks at companies including Procter & Gamble and Novartis—claim that they spend more than a third of their time developing their people. (2) Differentiation. Talent masters create a meritocracy by constantly evaluating their people—a process which, in Mr. Welch’s case, was derided by critics as “rank and yank.” (3) Candor. This is the ultimate Welch trademark: ruthless honesty in evaluating the performance of people and businesses.

By now the book’s principle-trilogy is familiar. 
But the authors add to the Welchian wisdom by documenting some interesting examples. For instance, we learn about the day in 2000 when Larry Johnston, head of GE’s appliance business, flew to corporate headquarters in Fairfield, Conn., to tell his bosses that he was leaving to head up Albertsons, the supermarket chain. The news was a surprise to 
Mr. Conaty, to Jeff Immelt—who was then making a transition to the CEO job—and to Mr. Welch.

All three tried to talk Mr. Johnston into changing his mind. But after determining that their effort was futile, the executives turned their attention to succession. Within a half-day they had agreed on who would replace Mr. Johnston and on who would fill three other slots down the chain of command. The quick action was possible, we’re told, only because the three men had been heavily involved in the continuous evaluation of the company’s top talent.

The authors compare GE’s rapid-fire performance in replacing Mr. Johnston with what happened recently at Hewlett Packard, when Mark Hurd was forced to step down after indiscretions involving a marketing consultant. The company, the book says, came “unhinged.” For the third time in little more than a decade, the HP board felt compelled to pick a chief executive from the outside—an implicit acknowledgment of failed succession planning. (Mr. Welch seems almost personally offended by such corporate inattention: The HP board, he told me in an interview before the World Business Forum earlier this year, has “not done one of the primary jobs of a board, which is to prepare the next generation of leadership.” Asked if he knew any of the HP board members personally, Mr. Welch said: “I wouldn’t admit it if I did.”)

Messrs. Conaty and Charan also show the forgiving side of Mr. Welch’s GE. They tell the story of Mark Little, who in 1995 was promoted to vice president of engineering at the company’s Power Systems group. Following his appointment, the group missed its numbers three times in a row, and Mr. Little was demoted. He suspected that his career at GE was over.

Instead, executives there worked with Mr. Little to assure him that he still had a future and to help him rebuild his career in a position that made better use of his talents. Today he is the senior vice president in charge of the corporate R&D center, and one of the company’s top 25 executives.

The book begins with GE-related examples, but some of its most arresting stories come from outside the company. A particularly interesting chapter involves Hindustan Unilever, Unilever’s $3.5 billion Indian subsidiary. The company routinely evaluates candidates for management jobs by putting several applicants together to discuss a specific business issue in a group. This allows the company to see how they interact with each other and who has leadership potential.

Another instructive anecdote comes from Adrian Dillon, Skype’s chief financial officer. Mr. Dillon tells of how, early in his management career, when he was working at Eaton Corp., he was accosted after a meeting by his boss, the company’s CFO. “That was a great meeting, but your problem is that you still think your job is to be the smartest guy in the room. It’s not,” the man told him. Instead, Mr. Dillon was told, his job was to “make everybody in the room think that they’re the smartest guy in the room. You’ve got to teach them what you know and what you do, not tell them.”

Overall, “The Talent Masters” offers a valuable window into the skills of talent development. And it makes a persuasive case, yet again, for the wisdom of the Welch way. But you do have to wonder whether, a decade after Mr. Welch’s retirement, it isn’t time to find a new icon for the rapidly evolving world of business management.

Mr. Murray is deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and the author of “The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management.”

Friday, July 25, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Please Like Us on our Facebook Fan Page

We want to increase our presence on Facebook for the First Friday Book Synopsis.

Would you please click here and LIKE us on our fan page?

We promise you some interesting content there, along with lots of pictures and book information.

The actual link is as follows:

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Friday, July 25, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Maybe Leaders need to offer a Corporate-wide “Big Block of Cheese Day” – To actually Listen to Their People

cheese_oh_cheese{Twitter length summary – you need a “big block of cheese day” n yur own organization 2 facilitate communication, especially listening, throughout entire organization}.


Read a book on leadership; read any ten books on leadership… You will likely find this in each one. A leader has to be a listener, a very good listener.

If you read them carefully, you will sense that people are starved for leaders who will listen to them. People simply do not feel listened to!

(Side comment: overall, women really are better at listening than men; and, women are underrepresented in top circles of leadership; and, people complain that their leaders do not listen to them. Maybe more women in top circles of leadership could go a long way in lowering such complaints!).

So, if all of these books talk about listening as a needed leadership skill, then maybe leaders should work a little harder at developing their listening skills. (Here’s a good article by Greg Anderson, Listen is an Action Verb, to help you think about some of those specific skills).

But, before you show off those skills, here’s the first step – leaders have to put themselves into a position where they can listen. You know – be physically present, actually seek the comments and suggestions and questions and complaints of the folks who wish they were listened to.

So, here’s a thought. Maybe your organization needs a “big block of cheese day.” With your leader, and your circle of leaders (your leadership team), just sitting and listening for the day to anyone and everyone who has something to say.

CJ has to listen to people who want to change the way we draw our maps on "big block of cheese day"

CJ has to listen to people who want to change the way we draw our maps on “big block of cheese day”

If you don’t know about the “big lock of cheese day,” it was a wonderful episode (actually, 2 episodes) from the West Wing television show. Resurrecting an old practice from the Andrew Jackson days, the White House would open its doors, offering a slice of cheese to any and all comers, and “forcing” their top leadership team members to listen to ideas from the people. These are great episodes. And, it might not be a bad idea for all public servants.

(Recently, President Obama’s administration had a “Virtual Block of Cheese Day.” The purpose: to listen. To listen to people who do not feel listened to).

What if your company or organization did this a couple of times a year? What if your leadership team really did listen to people who work for the company/organization, but never feel listened to?

This is kind of the premise behind the television show The Undercover Boss. In each episode, the boss goes into intense listening mode, and always learns important things that he/she would not have learned any other way.

What could come from this?

First, people would begin to feel listened to.
Second, you might get some pretty good ideas. And some solutions to problems – solutions that you had not thought of.
Third, you might develop a reputation of being an organization that listens to its people well.

Will it work? I don’t know. But, I think it might be worth a try.

Here’s what I do know. I’ve been reading leadership books for quite a few years now. The books seem to be in full agreement — people don’t feel listened to. I don’t see much progress being made in the listening department. Maybe this idea is worth a try.

You got a better idea?

Friday, July 25, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

What to Look for When You Go to an “Event” – Content + Networking

Content + Networking.

Something to learn, someone to see.

Something to learn that will help you in your career, in your business, in your life.

Someone to see that will stimulate your thinking, push you forward…

These are the essential ingredients of  an event that is “worth your time.”  You have stuff you need to learn.  And, there is always that next new person to meet.  You never know when that next new person is exactly the one who will help you move forward, or make that next important introduction for you.

Content + working – that’s what you need to make an event worth your time.

And, don’t forget, you might be that someone that someone else needs to meet.

(OH — and good food doesn’t hurt).


Click on image for full view

Click on image for full view

Shameless plug — our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis has both of these: content + networking.  Great content, because we provide  synopses of useful, valuable business books.  And great networking — there is always a conversation or more that lingers well past our “end time.”  People make important connections at our events!  We started back in April, 1998.  In our 17th year, our next session is August 1.  Click on the flier for all the details.  And go to our home page on this web site to register for our Aug. 1 event.

(And, by the way, the food is…  well, the Park City Club provides the best breakfast buffet I’ve had in Dallas).

Thursday, July 24, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Be Sure You Know How Your People Learn about Ethics

Before you decide upon an ethics program for your organization, consider how the facilitator conducts it, and what content he or she exposes your people to.

We don’t think training people about ethics should be from a situational or conditional perspective.   We don’t believe in excuses or promises.  We don’t believe in people sitting in a chair absorbing content.  We think participants must immerse themselves in the world of ethical behavior and then practically apply that behavior every day on the job.  We are serious about this.  However, learning about ethics does not have to be uncomfortable, dry, and a guilt trip.  We make it interesting and fun by emphasizing interaction and participant input.  Afterwards, many people want even more!

In the 2-hour program we offer at Creative Communication Network, we use the following agenda to cover these topics:

  • Traits:  A failure in ethics starts with the loss of foundational human traits.   What kind of person works in an ethical organization?
  • Danger Signs:  Most ethical failure is quite unintentional.  Discover and examine your organization’s own danger signs.
  • Prevention:  An “ounce of prevention” is good for physical health, and it is equally good for ethical health.  What preventative disciplines do you have in place in your organization?
  • Ethical Bases:  Sometimes, ethical failure is the failure to cover every ethical base.  Does your organization have all the key players, and elements, in place?
  • Scenario Discussion:  Each participant will also participate in some challenging scenarios that open up discussion for noble, ethical behavior.  We will also have time for questions and answers.

We call our program:

Ethical Undergirding in a World of Intentional, even Willful, Blindness


Here are the terms:

  • $800 facilitation fee for an unlimited number of participants.
  • $3.50 per-person materials fee.
  • Discounts available for same-day, 2-sessions – $1500; same-day, 4-sessions – $2750.
  • You are responsible for any location or audio-visual equipment rental, and refreshments.
  • 50% deposit required upon booking.

We’re really excited about this program.  We are confident about what we do.

Complete information is available simply by calling (972) 980-0383.  You can also send an e-Mail to



Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Book on Organizing Change Features Three Key Principles

When Bill Lee and I wrote Organizing Change (San Francisco:  Pfeiffer-Jossey Bass, 2003), we did so from a large-scale perspective.  Our premise was that it is easier to consider change from a high-level such as a one that affects an entire organization, then, whittle it down to whatever level you want to use, such as a division, department, or unit.

While the magnitude of a change may differ by size, the principles do not.  As you read our book, you will find three major concerns that you want to be aware of for any change that you lead or initiate.  These are to be:

inclusive – go as deep as possible in the organizational charts of the areas affected by the change; get input from as many people as you can; it is difficult to argue against a change you helped create.  Remember what Covey said years ago – “without involvement there is not commitment.”  Make the change “our initiative” not “mine.”

systemic - consider how the change will affect all types of stakeholders; consider other departments or units in the organization, internal and external customers, consumers, and so forth.

systematic – organize the change phase by phase; decide who does what when;  get it right the first time, and you will not lose productivity while kicking off the change initiative.

When you lead change, you are in the driver’s seat, not the passenger’s seat.  You make decisions that craft and create important paths that various stakeholders take to solve a problem, correct a difficulty, or make something  that is “good” even better.  What is important, however, is to know that you never begin with the change initiative.  You always begin with the recognition of a problem, issue, or uncomfortable situation.  That principle will remind you of John Kotter’s first step in his change process, which is URGENCY.   In fact, he wrote an entire book about that step, which you can purchase a synopsis of from

It is amazing how many people I have taught this process to in professional workshops and courses over the last ten years.  I remember the first one for Citi so well, as if it were yesterday.  Right now, we have two weeks to go in the MBA course “Leading Change” at the University of Dallas College of Business, where I use this book and teach practical implementation of the process.  In this course, we don’t talk about change – we make change.

I know it works.  We would not have had this many interested people if the process were unsuccessful.  Fortunately, I hear back from so many individuals who implement the program in their organizations, that I am inspired to continue to share it with others.

At Creative Communication Network, we offer two paths for change.   We do this in workshops, consulting, and coaching for both paths.



if you want to:

Cope with change you didn’t create

Work in a change-friendly environment

Reduce personal anxiety about change

Produce an environment of freedom

Look for positive changes to implement



if you want to:

Reduce the impact of a problem

Design an organized change initiative

Gain commitment by influencing others involved in the change

Boost the positive impact of change on those affected by it

Measure and evaluate the effectiveness of the change


We’re really excited about these programs.  We will be going into companies as well as conducting public workshops.  Complete information, including agendas, outlines, objectives, pricing, and other details are available by calling (972) 980-0383 or sending an e-Mail to:

Don’t wait!  Join the fully satisfied individuals from many organizations who have benefited from these programs.

Here is how to get the book that we use in Leading Change.  It is now a print-on-demand book directly from the publisher.  After you get it, you can contact me for the templates that are featured within the book.  This is the link to use:
Organizing Change: An Inclusive, Systemic Approach to Maintain Productivity and Achieve Results (0787964433) cover image
Organizing Change: An Inclusive, Systemic Approach to Maintain Productivity and Achieve Results
Authors:  William W. Lee and Karl J. Krayer
ISBN: 978-0-7879-6443-6
272 pages
May 2003

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Your Ethics Are Unethical – A Lesson From History (“Restrictive Covenants,” Including from Right Here in the Heart of Wealthy Dallas)

following accepted rules of behavior : morally right and good


So, here’s a question. What happens when your ethics are unethical? What happens when “following accepted rules of behavior” actually means following utterly unacceptable rules of behavior?

Try this line of thought:

Property values must be protected
Anything that threatens property values must be opposed
It is unethical to do business in a way that threatens property values

Sounds reasonable, “right,” doesn’t it?

But what if it is wrong?

Colby-Some_Of_My_Best_Friends_horizSomething I heard recently sent me combing back through my handout on the book Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America by Tanner Colby. (I presented my synopsis of this book at the Urban Engagement Book Club). I remembered the passage about Hugh Prather, who developed part of Highland Park (that’s the “Wealthy Dallas” I referred to in the title of this post) early in the last century. It was modeled after other developments across the country. So, If I lived in a different city, it would be a different developer and a different development I would have thought of. Across the country, developments put “restrictive covenants” front and center in their legal language. From the book:

Self-perpetuating restrictive covenants soon found their way into… Highland Park north of Dallas,… and many other high-end subdivisions.

The people behind these developments considered the increase of, or at least the protection of, property values to be a major ethical obligation. Nothing was to threaten the value of the property. Nothing! Which led to a code of ethics, developed by the “National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB), one of the most powerful trade associations in the country.”

A code of ethics. That is a good thing to have, right? That is a good practice, to establish a code of ethics, for all professionals to follow. Professionals would proudly let it be known that they abided by such a code of ethics. They were safe and reliable, good folks to do business with.

So, here is what was included in their code of ethics (again, from the book):

In 1924 NAREB made racial discrimination official policy, updating its code of ethics to say, “A Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood… members of any race or nationality… whose presence will clearly be detrimental to the property values of that neighborhood. Like termites, they undermine the structure of any neighborhood in which they creep.” All of which was legal.

So, it was ethical to practice discrimination; it was unethical to not discriminate.

cover._American_Nations-576x860I am currently reading American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard. Here’s a key passage:

Wilbur Zelinsky of Pennsylvania State University formulated the key theory in 1973, which he called the Doctrine of First Effective Settlement. “Whenever an empty territory undergoes settlement, or an earlier population is dislodged by invaders, the specific characteristics of the first group able to effect a viable, self-perpetuating society are of crucial significance for the later social and cultural geography of the area, no matter how tiny the initial band of settlers may have been,” Zelinsky wrote. “Thus, in terms of lasting impact, the activities of a few hundred, or even a few score, initial colonizers can mean much more for the cultural geography of a place than the contributions of tens of thousands of new immigrants a few generations later.”

So, let’s recap.

Property values are to be protected – it is ethical to protect property values; it is unethical to lower, or even threaten, property values.

“Initial colonizers” carry a lot of weight, no matter how many different kinds of people come into a place later…

So, here’s what I ‘m saying. Racism was basically placed in the very ethical DNA in many parts of the country. To allow people from the “wrong race or nationality” to purchase property and move into the neighborhood was potentially “detrimental to the property values.” Thus, it was an unethical practice of any real estate professional to do business with such people. Because the protection of property values provides a higher ethical standard than acceptance of fellow human beings.

And, make no mistake. This had nothing to do with “meritocracy.” If a black person had the means to buy a house in a given neighborhood, they were prohibited from doing so – legally prohibited. It would threaten the property values. (Read the book Some of My Best Friends Are Black. It is a sobering read).

I would call this unethical ethics. Wouldn’t you?

(And, yes, sadly, racism is still present in too many ways in too many places).

Now, here’s the issue for today. Do you think this ethical stance, this “restrictive covenant” practice was wrong? I do. And it has certainly been outlawed. Restrictive covenants are no longer legally allowed (though some have “stayed on the books.”)

But we’re still not to the point. Here’s the point. If those who came before us – people who were smart, well-educated, “pillars of the community” – called such practices “ethical,” and were so wrong (and, they were in fact so very wrong), is it possible that some of our own stances today that we consider “acceptable rules of behavior; ethical” are equally wrong?

My bet is yes. And the pursuit of ethics is all about that quest – identifying our own unethical behavior, even behavior we have not yet realized is unethical.

Here’s my bet. The horror I feel while reading about practices in the early 1900s (practices which lingered well into my own lifetime) will be similar to the horror others feel 100 years from now as they read about some of the practices we follow today.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | 3 Comments

Sam Ford: An interview by Bob Morris

Ford, SamSam Ford is Director of Audience Engagement for Peppercomm. His 2013 New York University Press book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, was co-authored by Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green. The book was named one of the best business books of 2013 by Booz & Co.’s Strategy+Business and was voted one of the “Top 10 Best Marketing Books You Read This Summer” in a reader poll at Advertising Age. In 2011, he co-edited the University Press of Mississippi book The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington. Sam is a columnist with Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Inc. He is a research affiliate with the MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing, an instructor with the Western Kentucky University Popular Culture Studies Program, and co-chair of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Ethics Committee. Sam was named a 2014 Social Media MVP by PR News and was Bulldog Reporter’s 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year. In the past two years, he has written pieces for The Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, PRWeek,, and other publications and presented at events like South by Southwest, Social Media Week NYC, Planning-ness, and the Front End of Innovation.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Spreadable Media, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Ford: It’s tough to narrow down who has had the most significant impact on my personal growth, since it really was a village. My wife’s constant feedback as a partner these past 14 years to help me figure out what it is I want to do in my life, my dad’s consistent work ethic and drive, my mother’s deep attention to detail have all been key. But one person who helped set me on the path I’m on early on is my grandmother, Beulah Hillard. One of our favorite pastimes was sitting on the front porch swing and sharing songs—trading around a mix of gospel, old country/bluegrass tunes, and anything else we could think of.

Her passion for “her story,” the soap opera As the World Turns, helped shape my interest in the intersection between immersive story worlds and the social relationships that build around them. She and my mother talked about the lives of the residents of Oakdale, Illinois, almost every day by phone, interspersed with conversations about friends and family in our little town of McHenry.

And my grandmother was also a society columnist in the local weekly newspaper, covering specifically what was happening in our little town of 400. She wrote about the babies that were born, the old man down the lane who had passed away, the church potluck next Sunday, the visitors from all the way in Michigan who had come to town last week. Her phone would ring regularly with people in the community who had something for her to share in the paper, or she was calling them because of something she’d heard that was going on. And she always had her police scanner on, to keep up with anything going on with the law enforcement, the fire department, the EMS, the school bus system, etc. When I was 12, she had some health complications and asked me to take over the column. There I was, writing alongside the blue-rinse set in The Ohio County Times-News as a pre-teen. But it invigorated my love of writing, of being part of the community, of telling human stories…and it had a really significant impact on the direction I’ve headed since.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Ford: Again, there have been many. It’s been an honor working with Henry Jenkins, who was the most generous grad school mentor I could hope for and who has been a true partner and friend on various projects along the way. Steve Cody and others at Peppercomm provided me the opportunity to translate my work to the world of professional communication and marketing, in a way that has been greatly instructive. And Grant McCracken, the cultural anthropologist, has been a key figure throughout the past decade for me—inspiring me and challenging me to think in new ways as only he can do. But, before all that, I have to give great credit to Dr. Karen Schneider and Dr. Ted Hovet at WKU. I entered college planning to be a professional journalist. I ended up with a journalism degree but knew fairly early into my college career that my interests were in studying culture. My first semester at WKU, I had Dr. Schneider for an introductory English class—and the questions she asked of us, the intense discussions she directed, and the way in which she used studying literature to get at the heart of important questions about life inspired me. Karen and Ted Hovet were both key figures in WKU’s English Department and in launching their Film Studies program. They became great mentors for both me as well as for my wife, and remain good friends. And they were key coaches in driving me to go to graduate school and in making sure I was more than prepared when I arrived there.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Ford: There’s been much more serendipity than there has been epiphany for me. For me, it has been having the great opportunity meet many interesting people along the way, learn from them, and make sure that I’m listening when new career turns might pop up. At one point, I knew I was going to attend graduate school, but I didn’t know where. I thought American Studies would provide me the best way to study culture, storytelling, and active audiences in the way I wanted to. An academic named Henry Louis Gates came to WKU. I had a question I was trying to ask him, and I never could get through. Finally, I was up to him in line after his public talk, and they told him that he needed to stop and go to dinner. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you come with us to dinner?” And my dinner with him that night inspired me to definitely attend graduate school and to consider going to Boston (as Skip is a professor at Harvard) for grad school. Then, my wife and I took a visit up to Boston. I remember passing MIT’s campus several times, and my wife would try to bring my attention to it. “That’s a science and engineering school….” I told her.

A few months later, while doing my honors thesis at WKU on the world of professional wrestling, I came across an essay that Henry Jenkins was working on but that hadn’t been published yet. In fact, it was coming out as part of an edited collection called Steel Chair to the Head that was set to be released right as my thesis was due. I didn’t know who Henry was, but I reached out to him to see if I could get an advanced copy of my essay. In the process, he told me about the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT he was running with Dr. William Uricchio. I ended up getting to know Henry a bit and found that the focus of that program completely matched what I was interested in studying. In the end, I applied to that science school—and it was the only one of 6 or 7 programs I applied to that accepted me.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Ford: My formal education has been extremely important to me. I’m a first-generation college student and product of the public school system. My life was shaped by a series of important teachers I had along the way who passed along to me less specific knowledge and more the critical thinking skills and passion for learning that drove me to seek the next level. My time at WKU fundamentally reshaped what it was I wanted to do in my career. MIT did that once again and provided me with the skill set, the peer group, the connections, and the validity I needed to move forward—and move into areas I would have never expected and into a job title and job description I wouldn’t have even understood a short time before.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Ford: You should always be able to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re consulting, working with, or seeking to reach. Don’t underestimate their intelligence, but don’t overestimate their knowledge. Find the meeting place between what they want and need to know and what you feel it is important to tell them. And don’t just reactively respond to what they are asking you to do; trust that you are providing them with strategic guidance, not just responding to their queries. That’s been the difference in being able to be a consultative partner to the companies and colleagues I’ve worked with, rather than a vendor, executing requests.

Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Ford: There are many great lessons learned from films. One that I wrote about for Fast Company a few years back was a thrilled named Buried, starring Ryan Reynolds. In it, a U.S. civilian contractor working in Iraq has been captured and wakes up buried under the ground. He’s being held for ransom. And he has a cell phone with him in this small space he’s buried alive in, in the ground. What is remarkable about the film is that the whole movie—which is quite suspenseful—takes place with the camera inside this tight box he’s buried in underground. We don’t see flashbacks. We are stuck in there with him. And we go through what is, in effect, a series of extreme “audience experience” failures as he tries to navigate communicating with a range of entities to be rescued. I found the film a great illustration to the extreme of being able to empathize with an audience member and see/feel the pain from their perspective.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Ford: Perhaps no “genre” of book is more insightful about the art of consciously building one’s character and of understanding and communicating with one’s audience than the “pro wrestling memoir” genre, of which I have read many books. Anyone looking to understand how to connect with audiences, how to tell stories that connect, and so forth might do well to read Mick Foley’s Foley Is Good…and the Real World is Faker than Wrestling, as well as Foley’s other books, as well as Ole Anderson and Scott Teal’s Inside Out, among others.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Ford: I love this quote. Truly inspiring change within an organization, a community, or a client you’re working with is getting an idea so ingrained within that people start taking ownership of it and living it themselves…and requiring the old academic (Ford 2014) when doing that won’t make cultural shifts truly happen within an organization. The more you demand to “own” a concept or initiative, the less you allow others to really make it their own—and to take it in their own directions. To allude to the conversation that is to come about the book, content can’t become spreadable if you don’t provide ways in which people can make it their own. I’d counter with a paraphrase of fellow Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren, who once said that many of the most insightful ideas are ones that, when you read them, you realize you’ve known all along.

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Ford: I can’t remember who said it, but I heard recently on the radio that someone said our time is one in which those who know the most are more uncertain than ever about their opinion, and those who are willing to state things definitively are those who know dangerously little. And it reminds me of something I once heard wrestler Shawn Michaels say to fellow wrestler Chris Masters—to extend on the pro wrestling example used above: “You don’t even know enough to know what you don’t know.”

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Ford: One of our favorite initiatives at Peppercomm is to put our teams, our clients, and other leaders through stand-up comedy training—in part because it helps them not just learn to read their audience but also to understand their own unique charisma, and how their presentation of self is so deeply determined by understanding and being true to who they are.

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Ford: This is a problem we run into constantly, particularly in the business world—where (to draw on work that Dr. Amanda Lotz has done in the past) industry lore and accepted logic often takes on a life of its own and where companies forget that they ever created it in the first place. One of my favorite examples are market segmentations, which create constructed profiles which people ultimately forget were fabrications of their marketing department in the first place and which, like Frankenstein’s Creature, starts terrorizing its creator.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Ford: A really shrewd soap opera writer once said of a television executive, “She was a very hard worker. I sure wish she didn’t work so hard.” We have to be careful to be sure that all that creative energy is going toward something that will ultimately benefit the publics a company is looking to serve. I find Carol Sanford’s “pentad” useful here—that any business decision must serve the customer, the co-creator, the earth, the community, and the shareholder…in that order. If organizations made all their decisions along those lines, I’d have to imagine their decisions would look quite a bit different.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Sam cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Spreadable Media link

Peppercomm link

Twitter link

HBR blog link

Fast Company link

Inc. link

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Horizontal Connections; Vertical Connections – What Good Networkers Can Learn from a Great Journalist (A Networking Lesson from Lawrence Wright)

This is great advice for all who what to become better at “networking.” And, who doesn’t want to become better at networking?

Looming TowerLawrence Wright won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. His latest book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, is also an award winning work of journalism. And, this book was the selection of the Summer Points Book Club of the Dallas Morning News.

Mr. Wright spoke this past Sunday here in Dallas, sponsored by the Dallas Morning News. He gave a brief presentation, then had a terrific, lengthy question and answer session. Nicole Stockman, the leader of the Summer Points Book Club, asked him how he manages the research challenge for his books. He interviewed many hundreds of sources for his book The Looming Tower, and fewer, but still hundreds for his book Going Clear.Going Clear

Here’s his answer (paraphrased, from my memory):

First, he comes up with every name he can that could offer him information and insight. Then he talks to as many as would agree to talk to him. (As he talked about this, he described how he would fly to any city, to speak to any source for information).

Then, after each visit, he just knew when one visit would be enough, or… he would like to go back to certain folks time and again. He called these his:

Horizontal Contacts
Vertical Contacts

A horizontal connection was a one-time visit – valuable, but once was enough. Maybe once was enough because that was all that source had to offer. Or, maybe, once was enough because that person was not open to further conversations

Here’s a reinforcement of this idea from Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (The Ultimate Networker Reveals How to Build a Lifelong Community of Colleagues, Contacts, Friends, and Mentors) by Keith Ferrazzi:

Sticking to the people we already know is a tempting behavior. But unlike some forms of dating, a networker isn’t looking to achieve only a single successful union. Creating an enriching circle of trusted relationships requires one to be out there, in the mix, all the time.

A vertical connection was a person for whom one visit/interview was not enough. This person was perfect for repeat visits/interviews. Maybe they had more to offer; maybe they were willing to talk more. These were the folks he would go back to time and again.

(From somewhere back in my memory, I remember reading how David Halberstam, another Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist, organized his research.  This sounds similar.  But I really like the clarity of the terms:  horizontal and vertical connections).

So, there’s your networking strategy. Practice Horizontal Networking; meet every one you can. Talk to as many people as you can. And, Practice Vertical Networking. Some of those “new connections” become repeat connections – those “we become evaluable to each other” connections.

never eat alone coverAnd here’s the challenge, again from Never Eat Alone:

The successful organization and management of the information that makes connecting flourish is vital. Tracking the people you know, the people you want to know, and doing all the homework that will help you develop intimate relationships with others can cause one heck of an information overload.

Lawrence Wright learned how to manage all of the information from all of those “sources.” In our lives, we have to learn how to manage all of our connections. Horizontal and Vertical Networking can be a good way to tackle this challenge.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment


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