Is Innovation Possible in Communications?


A couple of days ago, in occasion of the acquisition of Huffington Post by AOL, Jay Rosen asked: Is ideological innovation possible in online journalism? He think it is. His suggestion: Drop the View from Nowhere and go with transparency throughout the reborn AOL.

He then proceeds to characterize what he calls the View from Somewhere — plurality of starting points, strong points of view, and transparency (and by that I mean characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices).

Non-negotiables like fact checking, accuracy, fairness in portraying situations, up-to-date information, and multiple portals for people to interact with and influence information. He ends the post with a quote from Peter Goodman of the Huffington Post, a former economics correspondent for the New York Times.

What about communications in general?

As I'm looking at all the excellent points he makes in the post, I wonder: Is innovation then possible in business communications? Is it possible for organizations to start accepting that more than their own survival could be at stake?

After all, people don't join an organization or a business as empty vessels, either. In fact, not especially. They are often wooed and hired *because* they have experience and skills — those very characteristics that appeal to organizations before and generally not after someone is on the inside.

Which one is more resilienta business that knows itself and what it thinks and says throughout while it does, or one that still talks us-vs-them? Upper management vs. employees, company vs. customers, manager vs. people in the department, open market vs. between your walls.

Talking sense

Comes with sensibility — awareness of and responsiveness to things. The difference between a motivated and energized group and one that sleep-walks through the day is engagement. And isn't that the very thing so many organizations are seeking from teams?

What is engagement if not awareness, seeing what's going on around you, and responding appropriately and accordingly?

Innovation in communication is more than possible. For businesses to realize the full benefit of the tacit knowledge and experience of the people who choose to be there, the conversation needs to go beyond us vs. them. Why lose all those life experiences, stories?

Why force people to leave their passion outside that door?

Where public relationships fit in

I've also been reading up on the Open Source movement and how the advances in the Apache — and in all large free software projects — rely on the existence of a collaborating group of people, and the ability to recruit that group and integrate its work.

I propose that the same happens with communications. That what makes the connected company agile and strong rely on the ability of individuals to contribute and integrate their voices in the work and vision of the business.

Communicators have the renewed opportunity to facilitate those conversations. If they can overcome what scares them — and the organizations they work for — the most: The truth, the unknown, and the perception that stand between a business, its reputation, and value.

Teach organizations to behave differently

By encouraging and harnessing, as Rosen suggests of the new AOL with Huffington Post:

Many voices and points of view — this used to be the role of managers; listening, and helping mix things up in the groups they mentor and coach. The role of the manager is not to expect that the team magically makes him look good, or get promoted.

Instead, it is to help people speak frankly from experience, and solve problems collectively. Cookie cutter answers come from "cookies as rewards." (better than carrots) We need to expect more of internal dynamics.

The way to avoid drinking your own kool-aid is by welcoming choices through multiple lenses and perspectives — not to pick that of the top gun and get rid of the rest. Now imagine if this lack of plurality comes from an organization that "sells" a new kind of business, one that is more "social."

Transparency — in addition to accountability, there should be more thought put into disclosure. Put names next to things. We already said that managers take the credit for coaching and mentoring, which lead to rich rewards in the results the team contributes.

I also do like the idea of making disclosures that are specifically relevant to a project or program. Keep everyone honest, and make motivation visible. That way you free cognitive surplus that would have been otherwise engaged in gossip and guess-work.

What's in and what's out — agility can coexist with focus, tackling what's most important, what's on the agenda, what needs to be taken into consideration, with a little room for what can be added at the edges: The Things you don't know you know yet, and suspect may be important or interesting soon.

Making the process visible provides more opportunity for people to insert their contribution, for teams to integrate different ideas, for actual problem solving. Too many organizations are a product in search of a problem, when it should be the other way around.

Non-negotiables — respect, decency, and ethical behavior. Honesty. Fairness, the ability for all voices to speak up and be heard – backing up statements with facts and due diligence. If you go dig a little under the surface of most communication problems, you will find manipulation for personal gain. That is bad for business, and bad business.

People do not all of a sudden become empty vessels, as Goodman puts it, when they cross the security gates. They don't stop thinking and having opinions of their own, they will put them somewhere else, if they cannot share them freely, and responsibly.

In my experience, mergers of any kind rarely work well. There are always casualties. And in closely held environments, the first casualty is always the truth. Communicators have the opportunity to innovate by helping to bring those voices to the same conversation.

What are your non-negotiables in communications?


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