Talking strategy at Newsweek

Richard Perez-Pena writes that Newsweek’s “ingrained role of obligatory coverage of the week’s big events will be abandoned once and for all,” according to execs.

Let’s leave aside whether this strategic shift makes sense or not. Notice how Newsweek editor Jon Meacham articulates the shift in a way that is concrete, specific, and full of uncommon sense:

“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”

If you’re leading a strategic shift in your organization, that’s the way you need to sound. (And for more pontification on this point, see the “Talking Strategy” chapter in the new edition of our book.)

Bill Gates at TED

In his talk at TED, Bill Gates released a jar full of mosquitoes, sending them out to feast on some of the world’s best & brightest blood. “Malaria is spread by mosquitoes,” he said. “I brought some. Here, I’ll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be infected.” He then waited a few minutes before reassuring the crowd that the mosquitoes were malaria-free.

A bit mean, maybe, but at least he broke through to people’s emotions.

He also used a nice comparison: “There is more money put into baldness drugs than into malaria,” Gates quipped, triggering laughter. “Now, baldness is a terrible thing and rich men are afflicted. That is why that priority has been set.”

I’ll link to the video once it’s posted.

“We let polluted air speak for itself”

How do you convince people that air pollution is a problem? You let them see it for themselves. Check out this very smart outdoor campaign in Hong Kong. (Thanks to Choleena at Tantramar for the tip.)

On bathroom signage

One of my favorite coffee shops here in Raleigh is part of a strip mall, and the businesses all share a common bathroom. Recently, someone started locking the communal bathroom, and a sign was scotch-taped to the door. In that inimitable management-font-style, the sign read: “THE BATHROOMS HAVE BEEN LOCKED FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE.” 

Well, no. In most civilizations, it is considered more convenient to simply push open the door than to request a key from the overworked barrista. But no matter.

One day I asked one of the barristas what gives with the locked bathroom, and she said, “We had to lock it because a crazy homeless man was smearing his feces on the wall, and the janitor threatened to quit.”

OK, that gave me a dramatically more favorable attitude toward the lockup. And it made me wonder — isn’t there something to be said for the cold, hard, gross truth: “THE BATHROOMS HAVE BEEN LOCKED TO KEEP THE CRAZY, FECES-SMEARING HOMELESS GUY OUT. SO WE KNOW IT’S A HASSLE FOR YOU TO GET THE KEY, BUT JEEZ, THINK ABOUT THE JANITOR.”

Jokes aside, I do think there’s a communication moral buried in here. By keeping me at arm’s length from the real issue, the management allowed me to jump to false conclusions. (I assumed that the landlord was trying to keep non-paying customers from using the facilities, and I fumed about how petty that was.)

Wouldn’t our audience understand us better, and feel more empathy for us, if our instinct was to give them a glimpse of our reality rather than try to obscure it?

Daily Show statistics

The other night Jon Stewart mentioned that if you commit murder, you’ve got a 48% chance of going to jail. Versus if you’re an Illinois Governor, you’ve got a 50% chance. (4 out of the last 8 Governors have ended up in the clink.)