Adapting for Success

Communications, Leadership, Public Relations, Social Media

I’m a huge fan of nature and often times see things very differently by simply observing.  Now, let me be clear before any of you really outdoorsy types start inviting me on a major hiking, camping or exploring adventure: I like being out in nature and enjoying the beauty…then going home to high-speed Internet, air conditioning, and running water.   =)  Anyway, I believe there is a tremendous amount that can be learned by watching how the world moves without us impacting it.   Observe how all kinds of creatures fit into the world and how the ecosystem has a natural rhythm to it.

However, what I noticed last week had nothing to do with a natural setting.  I sat at a drive through bank waiting for the teller to send me a receipt via that amazing wonder of the world known as an air tube and noticed a small bird flying above me.  I watched him fly into the overhang above.  His feet hopped deliberately from the broad girder to a thin piece of metal tubing running downward for several feet to reach a platform below.   He remained there a moment, picked up some sort of twig, and returned in the same focused manner to the overhang above while chirping happily.

What was it about this that made it stand out and stick with me so clearly?  And, how in the world does this relate to communications and PR?

This little bird has adapted to the environment around it which is by no means typical or natural for him.  In the heart of downtown Minneapolis this bird has created a home surrounded by concrete and steel with a constant hum of traffic moving past it each day.

Public relations as an industry must find ways to  successfully adapt to a changing world.

  • PR practitioners must thing critically to understand the goals of the business.  We cannot depend solely on media relations to validate our existence.  The environment is changing and the barriers to traditional media are being dissolved.  Anyone with a computer and a little creativity can find ways to get information to media outlets.  Maintaining a list of contacts isn’t good enough.
  • PR pros have an ever-increasing list of tools available to us that connect with key audiences. We should take the time to expand our own skill sets to understand how social media, geolocation applications, and customer created content on Yelp or blogs impacts our organizations/clients.
  • For the good of the industry, PR must take an honest look at the traditional models of how we measure success.  Does the typical client/agency model still work?  I don’t know.  What is the value proposition for organizations like PRSA and IABC?  Access to thought-leaders is far different thanks to technology versus 10 years ago…how do we need to provide opportunities for continued learning?

I will never pretend to have all the answers but would sure enjoy hearing what others think on the issue of adaptability for our industry.  Change isn’t always easy but a little birdie showed me that it is possible.

Hubris Always Ends Badly: Will Facebook Fall?

Communications, Leadership, Social Media

It’s a lesson as old as the days of the great Greek civilization. Hubris.  Exaggerated pride or self-confidence clouds vision, creates a focus centered on self more than on community and others. I’ve been wondering lately if we may be seeing the signs of a pending fall for one of the giants in the social media world in Facebook. 

For the last several years Facebook has been fighting a battle around how to monetize its business while facing the ever-present rumors about adding user fees and creating backlash that comes and goes. Mark Zuckerberg and company have managed to continue to grow the base of users despite the flare-ups.  However, I’m starting to wonder if the shine is beginning to fade a bit. Facebook has become a haven of Farmville, Mafia Wars, and fan pages for everything.  (Who isn’t a fan of “eating” really??) It could just be my perception but more and more I hear from friends, colleagues, and contacts in my community that Facebook is no longer a “must visit” for them. 

The last straw for many could be the constant privacy creep that continues to erode user control of their data. Now, many users were never savvy enough to control their data in the first place which led to many of the significant “fired because of Facebook” headlines over the years. However, recent changes that limit the option for even advanced users to control aspects of their use and the Social Graph concept are pushing the boundaries of creepy big brother control.  I tend to agree with Dan Costa on his interpretation of the privacy issues around the concept of Facebook providing such detailed history of “likes” with other sites.

Where does hubris fit into this? In recent comments from Zuckerberg, it’s very clear that Facebook will not go out of its way to protect its users’ privacy. When leadership no longer cares what is important to the audience that feeds its own success, I believe you’ve lost sight of your own place in the world. You’ve crossed a line when you believe you’re untouchable. There seems to be a growing sense of invincibility coming from the Facebook folks. A belief that users should “just trust us, we know what you really want.” That is what concerns me as an outsider looking in. Hubris. 

Maybe I’m entirely wrong. Perhaps enough users will continue to love the game apps that Facebook offers regardless of privacy.  Maybe there are enough true Facebook loyalists who will never leave.  However, I wonder how the giant in social media will maintain its position. And what happens if the floodgates open and 400 million users becomes 300? If the walls start to crumble and some leave, the experience for those remaining is diminished.  If your friends aren’t on the site, your experience is less rewarding as you aren’t connecting.  What is the tipping point? Are there enough new users still coming into the funnel to replace the ones that are tiring of stale info and constant changes designed to make the site a more open data source for Zuckerberg and crew to sell? Maybe for a while but somewhere there’s a bright creative student creating the next big thing for consumers like Facebook was…four years ago.

Photo courtesy ajh1963 via Creative Commons

The Miracle of Teamwork


Today, the United States Olympic hockey team will try to win its first gold medal since the legendary Miracle on Ice team of 1980.  A lot has changed in the last 30 years as this team is made up of NHL players and veterans that are far from the college team filled with kids who captivated the country, and many all over the world, decades ago.  However, the game today got me thinking about that team of kids and their accomplishment and in particular about the coach of that team, the legendary Herb Brooks.  The way he built that team is an example of outstanding leadership on so many levels.  One of the keys to their collective success was Brooks belief in teamwork.  It’s been well documented, most visibly in the motion picture Miracle by Disney, that Brooks took a unique approach to creating a team that he believed could achieve more than anyone thought possible. 

How did he do it?  There are a few specific areas that I believe are key.

  • The Right Players- One of the quotes that has always stayed with me since first hearing it was “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m lookin’ for the right ones.”  In creating a high performing team, no matter what the situation, an essential element is getting everyone to buy into the goal and to be willing to fit a role that will best support the team.  I’ve been part of some really great teams and some that probably didn’t really reach their full potential.  When you can get the “right” mix, it’s truly awe-inspiring to see how the efforts of many come together to produce more than the sum of their parts.


  • Egos Are Checked- Another common pitfall for teams, which ties back to understanding roles, is the interference of ego.  Let’s face it, we have them.  We all like to be recognized and viewed as good at what we do.  And, there’s nothing wrong with wanting recognition for good work; but if it becomes the source of jealousy or any member of the team focuses more on their own glory than team it can become a distraction or downright cancer to the success of the team. 


  • Heart- This is one of the elements that you can’t just preach or teach.  Feeling personally connected to a team has to come from each member and it has to be genuine.  For the highest performing teams, in sports or in a professional environment, you have to care about others on the team.  You won’t always be best friends, or even close with everyone, but you have to support them.  You must accept both the strengths and weaknesses of the team members and find ways to succeed together.  Brooks understood this and created a tremendously demanding environment for the team and intentionally kept them at a distance, which was unusual for him versus other coaching efforts, but it strengthened the team.  The team joined together, put differences aside, and became as it worked to reach a far greater goal.

As the United States and Canada meet today, I know that nothing will ever top the 1980 team in my eyes.  I also recognize that the reason that team was so special to me has a lot more to do with teamwork, pride, and courage than just hockey.  It’s about the miracle of teams.


If you want to check out more about Herb Brooks and his work, you can visit

PRSA Progression

Business Communications, Leadership, Public Relations, Social Media

Let me get this out-of-the-way right at the beginning.  I am a huge PRSA supporter.  I’ve been a PRSSA and PRSA member for roughly 15 years now.  This could be construed as negative but I want to make sure that everyone understands it is meant only as a valid question in the hopes of continuing to consistently improve the offerings provided to the organization’s membership.

When I began as a recent graduate, I recall attending monthly meetings featuring some of the best and brightest in the Twin Cities.  I was honestly in awe of what many of these professionals had accomplished as I was starting my career.  Over the next decade, I was able to build relationships and connections that helped me along as I learned how to stand on my own.  PRSA played a valuable role in enhancing my career.

However, in today’s environment when so many senior communications professionals are only a Tweet or webinar away, I”m wondering if PRSA needs to alter its traditional approach to delivering value to its membership.  Access that was stunning to me years ago is now commonplace, and expected.  As professionals continue to shell out a few hundred dollars each year to be a member, what can the organization do that really delivers a significant benefit to those of you out there that support it?  What methods of programming are you interested in? Should there be a greater emphasis on webinars or perhaps more focus on a regional set of programming versus strictly local?  Or does the price point need to change to more frequent but targeted lower cost events?

As more and more professionals are struggling with justifying the cost of professional development to their employers (or paying it on their own during a tough economy) what’s the mix you’d like to see?

A Shared Dream

Leadership, Life

This post is simply to thank the great Martin Luther King Jr. for his vision and the courage to follow that vision.  From a communications standpoint, he was an amazing storyteller and leader.  While I’ll likely never write anything so powerful, I think we can all learn from his work. 

You can view full text of MLK’s amazing I Have a Dream Speech and his acceptance of the Nobel Prize here

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values
and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false
and the false with the true.
-Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.