How Do We Fix It As We Leap Over a Cliff?


I’m in London – capital of “we have no idea what’s going to happen next.” 

This much is certain: Never in recent decades have Britain’s intelligentsia and political elite been in such a fog – baffled by Brexit and troubled by Trump.   I can’t remember a time when so many op-Ed writers end their articles with the limp observation that “only time will tell.”

It’s almost as if you can hear an audible shuffling of papers and clearing of throats, as the great and the good struggle to explain how great events might unfold in 2017. Most of them – us really – were so wrong about remaining in the European Union or the inevitability of Hillary. We have no idea exactly what is coming next.

It’s well past time for a little humility.

Speaking in Liverpool this week, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, admitted that many ordinary people had been screwed by the rise of globalism.  “The combination of open markets and technology means that … a globalized world amplifies the rewards of the superstar and the lucky,” said Carney. “Now may be the time of the famous or fortunate but what of the frustrated and the frightened?”

What indeed?  The usually bold and confident Governor didn’t seem to have much of an answer. 

How much damage will the Brexit vote do to the U.K. economy? It seems that the economic forecasts change almost weekly. 

After dire predictions during the summer of a great slowdown, promoted by uncertainty over the implications of the Brexit referendum, Britain should finish the year as the fastest growing economy of the G7 economies – according to a survey by Scotiabank. The Bank of England recently upgraded its outlook for the near future.

What will Donald Trump do to the environment and America’s standing in the world?  The omens are not good, but it’s hard to know if America will be the laughing stock when so many other countries are facing a similar challenge.

The voters smashed the china and there is very little agreement – here or back home in the U.S – on how it’s going to be put back together again. As “The Thunderer” (aka The Times of London) said in a recent editorial, it is not business as usual.  

To be continued.

How Do We Fix It? After We Smashed the China

img_3887

Viewing art helps me take a fresh look at the world.

Painters do it all the time.  They deconstruct the objects, landscapes and people they see – putting them back together again on canvas. Reimagining the world. What a brave and profound thing to do.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would do the same thing with the way we think about politics and culture? Question our identity or tribe. Take a fresh look at the views of those we hang out with.

After the dramatic results of the Trump election, Brexit in the U.K. and now this week the vote in Italy, it’s time for the chattering class to go back to the drawing board – especially those of us who were surprised or deeply troubled by the electoral eruptions of 2016.

Voters smashed the china. We have to find new ways to put it back together again.

That’s the starting point for “How Do We Fix It?” – our podcast about ideas and solutions. Jim Meigs and I are political independents, who listen to many different opinions – especially guests who are able to come up with creative, undogmatic fixes for the problems they’ve considered.

We have a lot of fun doing our show. Playing in the sandbox of ideas.

This playful abstract painting (above) illustrates the point. It was completed in the 1920’s after artist Stuart Davis spent a whole year focusing on three objects on a table – an electric fan, an egg beater and a rubber glove.

He observed them solely on the basis of color, plain and their spacial relationships (at least that’s what I’m told by curators who studied his work!)

These objects became flat plains of color. He mixed things up, creating a fantasy space. This painting – now part of an extraordinary retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in Washington – is the result.

“I see the artist as a cool spectator,” said Davis in 1957. A “reporter in an area of hot events.”

Isn’t it time for us adults to create our own fantasy space? See the world from different points of view? Right now, at the end of this crazy year is a great time to try.

 

How Do We Fix It? What I’ve Learned Since Donald Trump Won.

img_0245

I’m one of those damn fool East Coast journalists who was stunned by the results of last week’s election.  I didn’t see it coming.  I thought that we’d elect our first woman President.

So why should you bother to read this? Because I’m listening and learning from others who may be a bit smarter than me.

That includes our podcast co-host, Jim Meigs.

“We have an entire institution of media and opinion who misunderstood the country,” he told me the morning after the election on “How Do We Fix It?” “The sense of anxiety that was out there was not taken seriously.”

“This was the Caddyshack election,” said Jim. “In our popular culture, the idea of rich, sophisticated Ivy League-educated people often is met with a certain amount of resistance and cynicism by people who consider themselves salt of the earth.”

In “Caddyshack” (released in 1980) a brash, vulgar, nouveau riche land developer (played by Rodney Dangerfield) offends all the well-healed, preppy guys at a ritzy country club.  “That’s who Trump is,” says Jim. “People got a kick out of him tipping over the apple cart and causing trouble. They’re responding to a trait in our culture where we tend to distrust the polished elite.”

No, that doesn’t mean most Trump voters are racist or anything else -ist. In fact, Trump got more votes from people of color than Mitt Romney did.  There was no great surge of white voters for Trump.

In the words of George Packer of the New Yorker (his book “The Unwinding” is a must-read if you want to understand what the hell happened), this was a middle-finger election.  A lot of voters – especially late deciders – saw Hillary as elitist and more of the same. Pissed off, they decided to give the other guy a try.

One week before the election in “Bring the Right Wing Into the Mainstream Media,” Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View made the case of more diversity in newspapers, magazines and on the networks.

“The media is overwhelmingly liberal,” she wrote.  “It tends to mirror the left-to-center-left spectrum of the social class from which most journalists are drawn. That affects coverage, which right-wing readers pick up on.”

Most of the bias is subconscious, not deliberate, McArdle argues.  Those inside the castle gates of the Mainstream Media look down on those in flyover country with mixture of disdain and horror.

“Whoever is to blame for the problem, yelling at the residents of the swamp to behave themselves is probably not going to fix it,” wrote McArdle.  “What would fix the problem is if the folks in the castle made a concerted effort to open the doors and persuade some of the swamp-dwellers to move inside. Not just to move inside, but to help run the place, pushing back on liberal pieties and dubious claims with the same fervor that liberals push back on conservative ones.”

None of this is meant to excuse Donald Trump for what he said during the campaign nor suggest that we should “sit and down and shut up” for the next four years.  But right now – at least for the next few weeks – a little humility is in order. First understand. Then act.

And never assume we know what’s coming next.  As Janan Ganesh wrote this week in The Financial Times:  “The only intelligible lesson of 2016 is that William Goldman’s verdict on Hollywood – “Nobody knows anything”, said the screenwriter – applies to matters of state.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re Going to Fail 99% of the Time. And That’s OK.

img_3726

“Data is the new black” gushed one speaker at Advertising Week, the just-completed annual gathering in New York for the advertising and marketing industry.

Thanks to great improvements in data research on customer behavior, “now we are not guessing,” said another.

The wow factors here this week were data, video and Virtual Reality.  With good reason.  The rapidly changing advertising industry is always on the hunt for the next big thing that will turn heads and make a splash.

But the marketplace is more crowded that ever. “We see disruption in so many markets,” Fiona Carter, Chief Brand Officer at AT&T told one well attended session.

“We have an on-demand culture,” said Alex Sutton, Global Director of Digital Acquisition at Avis Budget group. “The number of customers engaging our brands on mobile keeps increasing and increasing and increasing.”

Which is why – with all the talk about change, disruption and the surge in mobile – I was surprised not to hear a little more about podcasting and the other creative ways brands can use relevant content to go deeper when engaging their customers and followers (Full disclosure here: I am a podcaster).

People consume media very differently. We engage in a multiplicity of ways.  Just look at a row commuters in a New York subway train.  Many are playing games on their devices. Others are reading and some are listening.

For marketers the future is about creating different versions of your message and let the consumer choose.

Tens of millions of Americans decide to listen to podcasts each week. The median age is 30. According to Steve Goldstein at Amplifi Media, 68% of people aged 13-24 listen to some audio on their smartphone every day. Podcasting is no longer niche.

Perhaps my argument to the advertising industry is pay attention not only to “wow!” but to “ah ha.”  Podcasts are the intersection of ideas and emotion. They don’t show something. You, the listener, imagines it.

I really like what Ben Clarke, Chief Strategist of the marketing agency, The Shipyard has to say about disruption and creativity.

“Even if you try a thousand things and 995 don’t work, the five winners are better than not trying at all.”

“We’re going to fail at 99% of the things we do. Not only is that OK, it’s essential,” he says.

Richard Davies is a podcast consultant and co-host of the weekly solutions journalism show, “How Do We Fix It?” http://www.daviescontent.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, Hillary! Tell More Stories.


By most measures Hillary Clinton had a pretty good night in her first debate with Donald Trump.  But something was missing.

Her disciplined performance may have convinced wavering voters to be somewhat more comfortable with the idea of her as President.  Clinton’s cool, calm demeanor contrasted with Donald Trump’s repeated interruptions and bluster.  She was also successful in getting under his skin.

However, Clinton did little to overcome her two biggest negatives: likeability and trust.  Neither did Trump.  Both are still disliked by surprisingly large numbers of voters. 

In the two debates to come, the breakout candidate could be the one who tells the best stories.

Clinton’s strongest moment on Monday night came right at the end of the 90 minute debate, after many may have turned it off.  She raised the case of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who Trump had called “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”

She made it personal. Her remark struck home because it was about a woman who many viewers could relate to.  

Same thing when Clinton talked about her late father and his work as a drapery maker. 

“Donald was very fortunate in his life and that’s all to his benefit. He started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father,” she said.  “I have a different experience.”

In podcasts, the most successful moments are often the most intimate. When podcast guests share something unrehearsed, unexpected or emotional from their lives, they lift the curtain on they are and establish trust with the listener. 

All too often Clinton talks about “it” – policies and programs – while her opponent talks about “me” – himself.

Donald Trump could also be a much better storyteller. And given his extraordinary success in building his brand, it’s surprising he doesn’t know this.

Instead of talking about the “rigged system” in the abstract, Trump could share stories of the working class Americans he speaks for, who’ve seen their living standards decline in recent decades.

In the weeks to come, a personal touch potentially would have a far greater impact than his angry attacks on illegal immigrants and free trade. It would also counter the impression that Trump lacks empathy and is obsessed with his own success. 

Ronald Reagan understood this trick all too well – much to the frustration of his liberal opponents.  In debates and speeches, he always had a good tale to tell.  Skeptical voters who’d been warned that Reagan was a shallow extremist would ask themselves: “How this man be mean or out of touch when he was such a good storyteller?”

It was of Ronald Reagan’s great secrets. But then he was an old radio guy. He knew the stuff that today’s podcasters learn along the way.

How Do We Fix It: Are You Risking a Ryan Lochte Problem?

It all happened in a flash.

Within 24 hours, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte lost all four major endorsement deals after his bizarre behavior in Rio de Janeiro.

Swimwear Speedo USA was the first company to sever ties, saying in a statement that “we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for.”

Ralph Lauren, a hair removal brand and a mattress company made similar announcements, ending their relationship with Lochte.

To limit the damage to its reputation, Speedo announced that it would donate $50,000 to Save The Children for relief aid in Brazil.

The 32-year-old swimmer could lose millions of dollars, because of a false account about being robbed at the Olympics.  His personal brand is in tatters over a catastrophic lapse in judgement.

But for marketers this scandal is about much more than Ryan Lochte. Or at least it should be.

Integrity and trust are crucial parts of any company or institution’s relationship with customers and followers – especially when events very rapidly can spin out of control. Linking up with entertainment and sports stars and other public figures carries risks as well as potential rewards.

Due diligence is required before firms sign endorsement deals.

But much more than this is corporate culture. Are you working with content creators who are deeply guided by a sense of ethics and truth telling?

Speed is vital in crisis communications.  But so is transparency.

All these concerns should be front and center when deciding who to play with in the multi-platform world of marketing and branded content.

Richard Davies is podcaster and podcast consultant.  His firm DaviesContent designs and makes digital audio for companies and non-profits.

 

How Do We Fix It: Time to Stop Sneering At Donald Trump Voters.

imageRetired steel workers union boss Lou Mavrakis is the Democratic Mayor of Monessen, Pennsylvania.  In 2008 he campaigned for Barack Obama.  This year he’s supporting Donald Trump.

“You’re in the heart of where steel and coal was born,” Mavrakis told Martha Raddatz of ABC News. But most of the good jobs have gone and this faded town’s population collapsed from 25,000 at its peak to 7,000 now. Monessen and countless other communities in “rust belt” America are places of pain – plunged into crisis by decades of decline.  Globalization, foreign competition and technology had a devastating impact on working-class Americans.

Asked if Trump could bring back lost jobs, Mayor Mavrakis replied: “I don’t think any one of them could do anything for us, but he’s saying what I want to hear and what everyone else around here wants to hear.”

“I haven’t heard Hillary Clinton say we’re going to bring back steel.”

Mavrakis believes Trump will win more votes in Monessen than any previous Republican Presidential candidate, – telling the Financial Times  voters are rebelling against the establishment just as Brits did during Brexit.

But far too many Democrats – my friends included – shake their heads in amazement about how anyone could be lunatic enough to support him.

“In the land of NeverTrump, it turns out one American is more reviled than Donald Trump. This would be the Donald Trump voter,” writes MainStreet columnist William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal.

The same thing happened during Brexit.  Voters who bucked the metropolitan establishment and decided to opt out of the European Union are sneered at for being anti-immigrant, jingoistic racists.  No doubt, some are.  But people who’ve seen their living standards decline, their dreams fade to gray and their communities fall apart in the past few decades are understandably frustrated by the failure of politicians to address their concerns.

Even if you are disgusted by Trump and believe he’s an unprincipled opportunist, it’s time to look beyond the messenger.

Instead of “contempt for the great Republican unwashed” – as McGurn puts it – a conversation is needed about what many American people are trying to tell us.

 

 

 

 

The 5 Things I Learned About Leaving a Job In Corporate America For a Brand New Startup.

    

It’s been just over a year since I left steady employment in corporate America, jumped off a cliff and launched a podcasting start-up. My work is now more exciting and purposeful, but at times I’ve been scared and uncertain about what to do next. 

There’ve been some painful mistakes that I don’t want others to make. So here are five things that I learned about making the switch: 

1.  Prepare, prepare, prepare. Do as much as you can before quitting your corporate job to get ready for the future. Talk to an accountant or financial advisor. Form an LLC. Speak to friends who run their own businesses.  Rehearse your new role and give yourself time to let the initial excitement wear off.  Your current job might be boring, but since becoming my own boss I have a greater appreciation for that old regular, steady paycheck. 

2. Once you’ve truly decided to make the move, tell all your close friends and family.  From time-to-time, they’ll ask  about your plans, making it harder for you to procrastinate or put your ambitions on hold.  As one friend told me: “Stop talking about your dreams. Pull the trigger.”

3. When you leave your job – especially if you’ve held it for a long time – be prepared for a psychological shock. Your  daily routines are in for a big change and so is your sense of identity.  The startup you’ve given birth to is this organic thing.  It will change you. Instead of being an employee you’re now an entrepreneur.  In my case it was longtime network correspondent becoming podcast startup guy. 

4. Don’t be a loner.  Have a “no bullshit” committee.  It could be your spouse or good friends. They will sound the alarm when you’re selling yourself short or getting in a rut. I know a guy who always gets his wife to negotiate prices on consulting gigs.  She understands his true worth.  He’s likely to underestimate his value and experience.

5. Remember that you gave up your day job to follow your passion.  Put yourself out there every day, calling and emailing new contacts.  Be good to people, especially to those you work with. Build a community around you. Stay true to your goals. But also know that you will make mistakes and be open to change. Unlike that big employer you’ve just left, you can turn on a dime once you’ve discovered the next big thing for your startup. 

Richard Davies is Director of DaviesContent, a New York based firm that makes podcasts for companies and non-profits. For 29 years he worked as a news correspondent at ABC News. Reach him at daviescontent@gmail.com.

How Do We Fix It? When Did It Become Cool To Be So Angry?

image

Why are so many of us so damn angry?

Signs of fury are everywhere.  The national mood has darkened and it’s doing nothing to improve our democracy.

From chaotic scenes last weekend in Las Vegas when Bernie Sanders’ supporters threw a hissy fit at the Nevada’s Democratic Convention, to Donald Trump’s string of outrageous insults, it seems perfectly acceptable to claim that those who we disagree with are evil.

Yet these eruptions come at a time of modest improvement in many aspects of American life.  President Obama has been a disappointment, even to many supporters,  but his approval rating  – 51% says Gallup – is pretty decent for a President close to the end of his second term.

The jobs and housing markets are far from great, but they’re in much better shape today than when Obama first took office after the worst financial crisis in nearly 80 years.

The Affordable Care Act, while flawed, has not been the utter disaster claimed by many critics. Many more people are signing up and the U.S. uninsured rate is at a record low.

The “flood” of Mexicans surging across our southern border is a myth.  Since 2009, more Mexicans left the U.S. than entered the country.

Terrorism is always a threat, but the worst attack on U.S. soil happened nearly 15 years ago.

And he many of us are gripped by a deep sense of malaise and insecurity.  More than 7 in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country.  Cultural divisions, income inequality and a decline in living standards for non-college educated Americans threaten to pull is further apart.

All are reasons why Trump and Sanders have attracted huge crowds and surprising levels of support. But their policy prescriptions are simplistic.  We have very little idea of what they would do, if elected.

Who would pay for Sanders’s sweeping pledges of free health care and college education? How would Trump deal with China, The Middle East, immigration, job creation or the details of tax policy?

After his recent meeting with Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “Going forward, we’re going to go a little deeper in the policy weeds.” Too bad that hasn’t happened already.

Perhaps, Yuval Levin is right.  In his new book, “The Fractured Republic,” he argues that our politics have been paralyzed by nostalgia for the 1950’s and 60’s.  Liberals hanker for a time of greater income equality, before “the rise of the rest” meant that our workers had to compete in the resurgent global marketplace.  The right is nostalgic for cultural cohesion and  “traditional values”.

But those days of post-World War 2 U.S. dominance will not return. Our politics must address the technological and global challenges of today, instead of wallowing in the past.  We need to move beyond the primal screams of anger and work together, across party lines for a better future.

How Do We Fix It: Our Neighbors Just Across The Border

  
With audio/visual media class at UTEP.

El Paso:

Sometimes we learn a lot more than we expect to from the kids that we’re supposed to be teaching.

And so it was during my visit to Kate Gannon’s audio/ visual production class at UTEP – The University of Texas, El Paso.
I was asked to speak to the young students about my career in journalism, radio and podcasting. But during our 90 minutes together, I’m pretty sure these smart, switched-on students gave me something of much greater value than I was able to share with them.

The majority of the undergrads at UTEP are Mexican-Americans. Many come from poor families and struggle to keep up with tuition. But thanks to this school and its visionary President, Diana Natalicio (named to the TIME list of the world’s 100 most influential people), they’re on the up escalator.

That’s true of this class. Some come from the city of Juarez, which shares the same crowded valley as El Paso – just across the Mexican border. 

Their stories of what they must do to get to campus are moving. One young woman told me about her friend from Juarez, who wakes up at 5 a.m. each day, rides three buses and makes a time-consuming trip across the border to make a 10 a.m. class. 

   The crowded border border between El Paso and Juarez.

Armed with the right documents, you can walk across the bridge from Juarez. But going to a job, a University class or visiting a family member isn’t nearly as easy as it once was. And if Donald Trump gets his way, it could get much more difficult.

Another young Mexican in Ms. Gannon’s class burns with irritation over how Jaurez is portrayed by the media. After graduating, she wants to do something to change perceptions of her home town. 

“It’s nothing like what they say,” she says, speaking of Juarez’s stark reputation for murderous drug gang violence. Another student tells the story of a young Italian man who fell in love with a woman from Juarez and moved there. 

“He says he feels safer in Juarez than he did in Italy.”

Perhaps the crime statistics tell a different story. And there’s no doubt that the gangs are still a malevolent force in Jaurez and many other parts of Mexico.  

But a city or a country is more than numbers or abstract concepts. It is the sum of its people, its families, workers, grandparents and students. The vast majority of Mexicans shares the same hopes for a better tomorrow as we do. Dreams don’t stop at the border.

For far too long, Mexicans have been considered “the other.” The U.S. immigration debate needs to be reframed. As with Canadians, Mexicans are our neighbors. We are all North Americans together.

In this bilingual city, the people on the other side of the valley are not “them.” They are “us”. More than three-quarters of the residents in El Paso are of Mexican descent. This region has the largest bilingual-binational work force in the Western Hemisphere. 

None of this means the border should be forgotten or that U.S. immigration law can be flouted. Those who are here illegally should face deportation or other penalties.

But both countries need to have an understanding of their shared history. Since 2007, the border flow has changed dramatically. More Mexicans are leaving than coming to the U.S. 

One gesture that could send a powerful message and change the conversation: The next President should come here, walk across the bridge to Jaurez, arm-in-arm with civic and business leaders from both cities and speak of our shared humanity. 

  
Walking on the bridge to Juarez.