I attended the excellent Arthur Page Society conference late last week and took home some good ideas and insights into communications. The theme of the conference was “Cultivating Reputation in A Complex World.” Three different presentations got me thinking about context. Dick Parsons, former Chairman and CEO of Time Warner and current Chairman of the Board at Citigroup, was interviewed. Of course the discussion veered towards the whys and hows of the Great Recession. When the board was convening over the economic meltdown, Parson described how it became clear that everyone was learning about what was actually happening from the 24/7 news and social media coverage. Parsons mentioned that he would continuously hear “we read or we heard” from regulators who were reading the news like everyone else and talking to the same insiders, analysts, etc. The news coverage was providing the context as our economy and major institutions were trying to figure out what was actually happening and what was going to happen next.
The previous day, Anita Dunn, former White House communications director, described what the world looked like when she was gone from the White House. She said that reading the news on one’s blackberry eliminated all context to how people outside the White House were really seeing and absorbing the news. Capturing the news of the day on a small screen without learning what else was making headlines that day and what other stories were rising to the top led to extreme “tunnel vision.” Dunn said that she has since implored her communications collegues at the White House to make it their business to abandon blackberry myopia and get the full screen, the full view with all the context it deserves to listen and relay messages properly.
The third speaker that left me thinking about context was the global communications officer at Toyota. After he humbly and humanely described living through the Toyota recalls, he provided 10 Lessons Learned which I will share in my next post. The 10th lesson was not to take crisis personally and let it ruin your life. He described how easy it is to lose perspective or context and take each criticism to heart (literally). He told how he would have to tear himself away from the long days of anguish to attend a basketball game in order to get real — gain some context on his wider world and greater being in order to lower the pulse rate. It was a compelling example of reeling in that context to get through those sudden speed bumps of our lives and workplaces.
Reputation is all about context as well. Understanding where your company sits in the wider world of success and failure and ultimately who even cares.