The Rage Podcast: Voices All Around Us

Visit ThisIsRage.comAbout three years ago I published my first novel, This Is Rage. It’s been an amazing journey, including creative development and four public readings of my stage adaptation. Now we have something additionally exciting to announce: the first three episodes of a podcast adaptation.

We made it easy for you to find either on iTunes or at the online home that saved Kimo Balthazer from irrelevance and started his movement:

Who is Kimo Balthazer, you may be asking? Well, if you haven’t read the book, I would hate to spoil it for you. Let me say in the form of a teaser that he is a 20th century old-school radio talk show host lost in a world of 21st century digital communications. Although he has lost everything, and that’s largely his own unrestrained shock-jock fault, he still has a few things to say about how the business workplace is no longer the same for the everyday hardworking person.

Kimo’s anger is his listeners’ anger, and when that anger collides with a nasty bit of corporate insider deal-making that is going to eliminate thousands of great jobs for no good reason except increased profits, he takes his tirade to the Internet. Pretty much all hell breaks loose.

I kept notes for this novel for over a decade, wrote it over a two-year period beginning in 2011, and then published it with The Story Plant in 2013. At that time, the social climate of the Occupy Wall Street movement was opening the dialogue around the 1% and the 99%, and the voices around me eerily echoed the voices in my story.

The political reception to my book was as heated as it was overwhelming. I began hearing from readers all over the world who had suffered personal losses similar to the employees of the fictional EnvisionInk Systems and Atom Heart Entertainment. They recognized the roaring rage of the main characters in the book plotting against and outmaneuvering each other, while also empathizing with the quiet rage they felt in themselves as victims of an economic system they no longer recognized. They didn’t recognize Kimo, he was purely fictional, but what he was shouting rang true. They were playing by the rules, and the rules were failing them. Income inequality was becoming much more than a story.

Then something happened that surprised me. The novel was optioned for the professional theater so it’s echoing story could be experienced live and in person. I worked with the producer, Mitchell Maxwell, and my editor/publisher, Lou Aronica, for two years delivering four different drafts, each culminating in a public reading that drew equal laughs and tears. It was an unpredictable experiment that often left me drained, but each time I listened to the audience dialogue following the show, I knew the seeds had been planted for something good to come of this, if only people saw themselves in the mirror of drama and refused to let it stand as the status quo.

Then something else happened that surprised me again. The Story Plant Media team called and asked how I felt about adapting the stage version to a podcast. In facing this challenge, I reminded myself of the daunting task of writing the novel, followed by the daunting task of the four stage drafts. With the podcast, the true voices of the characters could resonate in the listener’s imagination, much as Kimo’s voice resonated with his audience. An old-fashioned radio treatment for an ironic tale of Internet radio seemed like the prefect path to firing up the voices all around us.

Those voices now belong to you.

How about that; old-fashioned serialized radio drama, all new for the digital age? There are twists in this version of the story I am exploring anew, many quite different, and dare I suggest, the romantic elements have come a little forward. Of course since we are talking the immensely flawed Kimo Balthazer, we are talking a dysfunctional romance. Perhaps it’s even hard to call it that. War of the broken-hearted might be closer. It goes to some strangely dark places of the soul.

If you read the book, you might remember the hint at the end that Kimo asked for coffee with corporate attorney Sylvia Normandy? In this adaptation of This Is Rage, Kimo and Sylvia go way back. I mean WAY BACK, as in a personal history together. Sylvia is the narrator of the podcast. She is the storyteller. It’s told through her eyes, her point of view, her play-by-play commentary. I told you it was different.

Why revisit Rage now? If you’ve been following my blog, you won’t be surprised that certain candidates in this year’s elections have stirred raging emotions in me. Throughout the past year, we’ve seen all kinds of signs that Occupy was not an isolated affair, and the People’s Revolt is showing signs of resilience everywhere. We live in difficult times, and sometimes we forget we always have choices.

It’s been said by many that change happens when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. The pain around us is not sustainable. Change has to happen. It remains my hope that this story of an amateur kidnapping in corporate America elevated out of control by thundering voices can be part of the narrative that leads us together toward change.

I’d like your voice to be a part of that change. I’d like my characters’ voices to be in your heads, and I think the actors in this podcast have delivered on that front. I want to keep hearing the voices of post-show conversation, and I’d like our collective voice to reach up and grab the attention of those in power not listening. Our shared voices can bring reform, human innovation, and make change happen.

A story is one voice. When we read and listen and hear and react, it can become way more than a manuscript. My voice is meant to be a catalyst. Yours is a conduit. Let’s put them together and share a little podcast drama, shall we?

You can download or stream the podcast, and it’s free. You can also use the social media buttons to “Forward to a Friend.” That would give Kimo great satisfaction. Me, too.



This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.


Say It Loud

I like that people are speaking out.  I like that customers are letting corporations know what they think.  It’s good for democracy and free enterprise.  It’s great for business.

Bank Transfer DayLast week one individual, 27-year-old art gallery owner Kristen Christian, kicked off a true grass-roots movement that came to be known as Bank Transfer Day.  No one told her to do it, no giant entity or association formally backed her cause, she just did it and thousands of people got on board.  Since September 29, 2011 when Bank of America announced its $5.00 debit card fee, as many as 650,000 new credit union accounts have been opened.  This past week, Bank of America changed its mind about charging that fee.  You think they aren’t listening?  Maybe not as carefully as they should be, but it is clear some message got through.  This is how it should be.

Companies must never forget why they exist — to serve customers.  When they forget that, they are on a slippery slope.  Corporations can have a tendency to be inward thinking, they can focus with intense obsession on their internal issues, efficiencies, operations, politics, succession plans, and tactics for improved profitability.  Internal company struggles can become engrossing to the exclusion of more important matters, like creativity and customer focused quality.  When companies forget about customers, the other stuff ceases to matter.  They need to be reminded of that often and with passion.  Don’t feel bad when you complain or move your business, you are helping them.  They need to hear from us.  Our voice is vital to their survival.  If they don’t believe that and embrace it as a core value, creative destruction will do its job.

As I have written before, we are customers, we cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to the notion of being treated as consumers.  Customer service in a company needs to be both reactive and proactive:

Reactive customer service is when you call them to identify an issue or concern, the person on the phone or chat or responding to your email should do everything possible to solve your problem.  Great companies love these inbound calls, because each contact point is an opportunity to bond a customer for life.  If something goes wrong and a customer service person “makes the save,” your loyalty and lifetime value to that company can increase exponentially.  Conversely, if the customer service person manhandles the “win-back” moment, not only are you likely to be gone, you are likely to take a few dozen of your friends or the company’s future prospects from them, maybe more with the power of social media.  Again, you are doing the company a favor.  If you give them a chance to be helpful and they succeed, you have invested in their brand.  If they let you down, you teach them a lesson they need to learn quickly before their brand is permanently damaged.

Proactive customer service is the job of listening to customers before an action occurs, reading the trends and common themes that flow through the data bases of feedback systems.  Did banks know of the anger of the 650,000 customers who opened credit union accounts last month?  Some did and some didn’t.  Did they act in advance?  Did yours?  Why not?  If they are taking your business for granted, they deserve to lose it.  We all have options.  Proactive customer service focuses on retention activity in advance of crisis.  After crisis, it’s a public relations campaign, the spin doctors join the fray.  That may have worked a generation ago, but not so much today.  When we go, we are gone.

The Bank Transfer Day effort was careful to acknowledge that although it shared some inspiration from the activities of Occupy Wall Street, it was not part of that movement, it was its own thing.  Here again, the idea of customer voice is the key takeaway — what is being said, what is being heard, how can this help make systems function better?  Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Jeff Greene suggested the same basic idea, that “We Should Listen to the 99%” because they “are giving us a chance to address our problems before they grow worse.”  Neither Greene nor I are suggesting that every idea being articulated by OWS is necessarily actionable, but there is most certainly upside in listening and nothing but downside in ignoring the voices of passion.  If people have something to say, business is always well advised to listen.

And how about Congress, where the public approval rating dropped to 9%, are these elected officials not in need of working much harder at hearing?  Never has the need for the public’s voice been in more demand, and yet, as so many of us keep asking, is anyone listening?  The debt ceiling follow-up deadline for the Super Committee is November 23, just weeks away.  I don’t sense a consensus plan on the horizon or an amicable resolution, seems like business as usual in Washington to me.  Maybe we aren’t making enough phone calls or sending enough emails, we are much too polite.

It takes courage to speak out, to draw attention to oneself in a public forum and ask to be heard.  Likewise it takes courage in a corporation to align with the customer and advocate for improvements in the enterprise that cause customers to embrace goods and services along the lines of brand.  How much do banks spend on advertising to drive people through their doors?  What is the lifetime value of your business to a bank, to any company for that matter?  Can the banks not offer us valuable services over the course of a lifetime that produce reasonable profits?  Of course they can, or there would be no such sector.  While corporations worry about driving the value of their share prices, is there any better way to create value than to address customer needs and build lifelong customer relationships?  These are the backbone of profits, not much else that isn’t short-term financial engineering.  When innovation is applied to addressing real customer needs, good things happen for buyers and sellers.

It is so easy to give up and think that one individual cannot make a difference, but then someone like Kristen Christian comes along, fires up a Facebook page and shows us that there is power in the fabric of our nation.  That power of responsiveness is at the core of what can make a business great.  Our economic system can serve us well if we demand that it be responsive.  Don’t be quiet.  If you have something to say, say it and share it and drive the companies who need to earn your respect to work harder for the privilege to serve you.  When businesses listen they can only get better, help them to hear you by being brave and bold and honest.  A robust feedback loop makes good business sense, and everyone can have a say in that.  This is a business proposal with unlimited potential.

Let’s Be Careful Out There

The private reaction I received to last week’s post on career opportunities was quite overwhelming.  I expected to get a few calls asking for similar consultations from people I know trying to decide between this or that gig, and I did, but the breadth of emotion I received in reaction to the first paragraph — the seemingly unmovable 9% national unemployment factor — reinforced for me just how far this epidemic has reached.  A few years ago, I remember hearing about how many of my college classmates could not afford to attend our 25th reunion.  That was eye-opening and unsettling.  This is much worse.

Look around you.  The impact is everywhere.  People need jobs.  People need opportunity.  People need leadership.  People need purpose.  They are wondering if anyone is listening.  I don’t mean running for office, I mean listening.  Caring.  Responding.  It is hard to see much evidence that any response is on par with the outcry.

For the past few years since the recession began, it would seem many people have been suffering if not in silence, then at least maintaining a difficult quiet.  Of late that pain has become manifest in anger.  The anger we are seeing expressed by Occupy Wall Street is one form of reaction, but there are others all around us.  If you are not personally impacted, just listen to the dialogue around you.  Listen, really listen.  You may be surprised at what you hear, and who is saying it.

Compassion is a noble reflection that we celebrate usually in the final few months of each year during the annual holiday season.  Regardless of our various faiths, public messages of Peace on Earth become evident in everything from retail sales displays to city street decorations.  Then shortly after the Rose Bowl, we take down all the signs with all those slogans and catch phrases and get back to normalcy with the new year.  Can we afford to do that this year, with all of the requests for outreach we are hearing from friends and acquaintances?  I wonder if this time maybe it’s different.

Each holiday season I look forward to a touring rock band known as Trans-Siberian Orchestra that puts on a theatrical spectacle with a tremendous amount of meaning captured for me best in the following few lines from a song called Old City Bar:

If you want to arrange it
This world you can change it
If we could somehow make this
Christmas thing last
By helping a neighbor
Or even a stranger
And to know who needs help
You need only just ask

I usually post these lyrics around the holidays, but I thought I’d get an early start so the sentiment does not get lost in the year-end noise.  We need compassion now and year round.  Some people are going to ask you for help.  Others are not going to feel as comfortable asking, so maybe you can offer it without the ask.  As I discovered in the response to my post last week, sometimes it’s as easy as being a good listener to someone who has lost hope, having chased down every opportunity they can and not found work.  For others you can make a phone call or two, or help edit their resume, or simply remind them that they are good at what they do and these are extraordinary times.  Just returning a phone call can be a very big deal.  The point is that your compassion will go a long way right now, further and deeper than you can comprehend.  Remember Pay It Forward?  It’s always a good time as Steve Jobs would say to make a brand deposit.  Now is an especially good time, never better.  Someday you too will need a withdrawal.

There’s one more thing on my mind this week besides reminding us all to be compassionate, to help where we can, and to not let the message of the holidays flicker out when the crowds leave the Rose Bowl.  There remains a good deal of misunderstanding on all sides of the equation as to whom we can blame for our problems, the catastrophic impact of hyperbole and invective, how simplistic notions of corrective strategies can be naive, and whether justice is a shared ideal that can be broadly and fairly enacted.  When you combine the complexity of all that anxiety with the pain and anger that seems to be spiraling, you have a very bad brew.  The potential for rotten things to happen — events that cannot be reversed, stalemates that cannot be reconciled, words that cannot be taken back, violence that will be regretted — becomes a turbine gaining momentum, suddenly with its own inertia.

Certainly we all want change for the better, regardless of whether we agree on the definition of better.  What we can agree on is certain definitions of harm — physical harm to individuals, extended harm to the economy, permanent harm to our democracy.  Business enterprise is not all wrong, investment is what drives opportunity; there are no jobs without investment, and there will be no investment without risk and return, that is the backbone of free enterprise and prosperity.  A nonviolent protest against unfairness is not wrong, there is a message in the expression of pain and anger we need to hear; every one of us plays a role in this economy as a consumer, that voice cannot be taken away, and that voice says people want to work.  Real trouble begins when an impasse cannot be bridged because too many people decide that it cannot be bridged.  The path through that impasse is ours to negotiate, one at a time, with each other.  It is the very compassion of one person helping one person that gets the wheels moving again.  We don’t have to wait for a grand proclamation of resolution to express humility.  To not do so is to let a fire burn that we needn’t allow consume all that we have built together.

People always wonder if they can make a difference, if any individual can make a difference.  The answer is yes, one individual can make a difference to another individual, and that can become a movement.  The opposite choice is to allow the stalemate to divide us.  That seems like a dangerous choice.

On the groundbreaking 1980s TV series Hill Street Blues, a police drama set in an extremely troubled and decayed metropolis, the avuncular Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (played until his own premature passing by Michael Conrad) would conclude roll call each week with the words, “Let’s Be Careful Out There.”  I think for the foreseeable future that is very good advice.