Chris Heuer is attending The Future of Social Media with Chris Heuer.
The globe-trotting journalist Murray Sayle died last week, and a former colleague at The Guardian, Martin Woollacott, said of Sayle:
“He treated every story as a puzzle whose real meaning had to be drawn out from the cloud of clichés, simplifications, lies and misunderstandings with which others, including some of his colleagues, had enveloped it. He believed that within weeks, even days, of a big story developing, a received view emerged to which most journalists then unthinkingly conformed. Not he.”
When I read this morning that the best airline in the U.S. (Southwest) had purchased one of the very worst (AirTran) I expected a raft of analysis considering how Southwest would maintain its corporate culture despite inheriting those rotten, dispirited AirTran employees. This was like a Brady Bunch number, but with the merging families being some Mormonic spot weld of the Huxtables, to the crew from Married with Children.
Granted, I'm a communication fruitcake who thinks culture first and business strategy second, but still, I thought it was odd that I couldn't find a mention of this obvious culture point in a half-dozen stories on the subject. It was all, market saturation this and compatible routes that.
A Google search for "Southwest Airtran corporate culture" yielded a post on a blog called CultureMap that asked the question of the hour, "Will AirTran completely ruin Southwest?"
But that's it!
How can the business press and the analysts they quote ignore the cultural angle when one of the most renowned cultures eats one of the most dysfunctional?
I do not understand it. And I'll bet you your A pass that Herb Kelleher doesn't, either.
As a friend of mine once said, "If I were dead, I'd be rolling in my grave right now."
My dad once had a funny piece in The Wall Street Journal in which he posited that most people's favorite season is fall—and most people believe this opinion makes them unique.
The odes to fall on Facebook prove Dad's theory. People publicly looking forward to wearing their hoodies, people posting pictures of dappled leaves, even grouches like me, talking about a weird sense of well-being provided by pumpkins.
But goddamnit, let's not forget what comes after fall.
This comes after fall.
So even with the inner peace that deeper sleeping brings, this is the season when I start doing strange things.
I watch professional football for hours, and wish that I still cared about it.
I watch sleeping babies, longingly.
I start perfecting sardonic lines, like, "I've got half my life in front of me!"
With white knuckles I cling to promised pleasures—a nippy motorcycle ride, a leaf-strewn round of golf—because they might be my last, for awhile.
I start reading the obituaries, and tell myself it's not bad because I read mostly about the younger corpses.
I actually have thoughts like, "What would make me happy is a new pair of bucks."
And, "As a person, I don't know whether I'm getting better or worse."
And, "This winter I am going to reread Light In August, goddamnit."
This winter I actually am going to sail a boat from Annapolis, Md. to the British Virgin Islands. I am going to learn to cook, in a house equipped with a brand-new love generator (more on that later in the week). Thanksgiving plans are a little hazy, but Christmas and New Year's plans are made.
Before long, it'll be March. And there'll still be snow on the ground, and my pals and I will lean against the bar at the Chipp Inn, debating without making eye contact, whether we're depressed because Obama isn't doing enough, or because we are getting old, or because it's still fucking winter in Chicago.
(And a particularly nice version of it.)
Eventually, the mind becomes merely a Magic 8-ball of contradictory bits of wisdom bouncing off each other and bobbing to the window. The best we can do is to categorize them.
Yesterday's post has me thinking about branding, so here's my Magic 8-Ball—Branding Category:
Nobody likes a whiner.
Everybody loves a winner.
People crave authenticity.
"The market for something to believe in is infinite." —Hugh Macleod.
People like to be around happy people.
It's good to show a little vulnerability now and then.
Never let 'em see you sweat.
"A leader is a dealer in hope." —Napoleon Bonaparte
You've got to see yourself as other people see you.
You wouldn't care so much about what others thought about you if you knew how seldom they do.
"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—Success in Circcuit lies." —Emily Dickinson
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
You are what you consistently do.
You are what you eat.
If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
"If you want to draw a crowd, start a fight." —P.T. Barnum
People don't often remember what you say, but they always remember how you made them feel.
"Everybody already knows everything." —David Murray
Whether you're a person or a company, it is which of these notions that we apply to what situations, and how we do it—and the mysterious way it all interacts with Who We Really Are (and Who Our Audience Is)—that determines whether people find us lovable or even likable, compelling or even interesting, worth listening to or impossible to hear.
This is why, when someone calls him- or herself an expert in branding, it's an awfully big claim they're making.
Probably too big.
Then again, to win at this life you've got to act as if ...
Like chubby people who always call themselves fat, we local Kent State students always rapped our school in order to cut others off at the pass.
"If you can't go to college, go to Kent," we said, and we called it, "Can't-Stand-It University."
I was surprised when I moved away and learned that people had respect for the school—especially the Baby Boomers who were hiring us. Because of the May 4, 1970 shootings, they equated Kent with the antiwar movement and the antiwar movement with places like Berkley and so Kent with Berkley. So I stopped running down my alma mater with ironic references to "the Harvard of the Midwest," and started sticking my chest out a little. "Yep, Kent State."
The truth is that Kent was a good enough school for me. I always had at least one interesting professor per semester, including an early writing mentor, Dr. Jack Null. And the classes that weren't fascinating weren't terribly taxing, either. So I always had time to look out the window and think up poems, and wonder at the purpose of it all. And along the way, I met Tom Gillespie, who would become my best friend, and Cristie Bosch, who would become my wife. What wasn't to like?
So I don't know exactly how I feel to see this commercial, where the guy from Devo vaguely credits Kent with his success. "So while you may not know my name, you probably know my music. And if my music moved you, thank the place that moved me."
While I liked "Whip It," I wouldn't describe it as a composition that "moved me," exactly. And I'm not encouraged when I think of all the alumni lists they mined before turning up Mr. Mothersbaugh as the shining gem.
Keeping it middlebrow: Using Mothersbaugh for this ad puts me in mind of the exchange in Caddyshack when Ted Knight's character Judge Smails says, "And I'm no slouch myself." And Chevy Chase's Ty Web replies, "Don't sell yourself short, Judge. You're a tremendous slouch."
[For alerting me to this ad, hat tip to Kent State PR associate prof Bill Sledzik; he no doubt would have been one of those one-per-semester intellects whose lessons I still fondly remember.]
Why speeches still matter (sez me, in my latest Huffpost, on what I've learned in a year of editing Vital Speeches):
The social utility of speeches is undiminished by technological advances such as YouTube, Twitter and even the Kryptonite of rhetoric, PowerPoint. There comes a time—a crisis in confidence, the crescendo of a debate (and, yes, commencement season)—where everyone knows: One member of the society has to screw up the courage to stand naked before other members of the society and share what he or she believes is true. The act is significant for the same reason it always has been: The audience has the speaker outnumbered and can accept or reject the speech before, during or after its delivery.
And the more communication tools we have to hide behind, the more the public speech comes to matter.
In a speech to be included in the next issue of Vital Speeches International, China vice president Xi Jinping makes the country's economic policy quite clear:
What we have is an open world and an open global economy. Under such circumstances, countries need to develop an open economy if the were to accelerate development. The pace of growth of an open economy hinges on how wide it opens, and its prospect is determined by how well it opens. China will expand the breadth and depth of opening-up to deepen opening-up along the coast, accelerate opening-up in the hinterland and upgrade opening-up of the border regions. We will promote reform, development and people's living standards all through opening-up.
Any questions? Yeah, I didn't think so.