Rediscovering Civility

Last month I wrote briefly about the fallacy of the upper hand. The responses I received from people navigating similar bouts of forced will remind me how not normal our lives remain. Over the past year and a half, many employees have learned to work remotely, and to some the routine of working from home is now its own form of normalcy. At the same time, we are increasingly returning to the workplace and trying to adjust to the structure of sharing a space with colleagues and strangers for a third of each day.

To assume everyone can walk back into the workplace and public spaces without some enhanced focus on conduct seems to me naïve. Human beings are certainly adaptable, but I worry that we might be presuming a level of adaptability that confuses the comfort zone of individuals with the smooth functioning of collective interests. You’ve no doubt heard about the outbreaks of passenger rage on commercial flights. They are not as isolated as we might want to believe.

Covid-19 has taken away a lot of daily practice from our interactions. It’s not just that it is easy to forget how different it is to interact in person than it is to communicate through electronic platforms. Talking into screens is not a fully rendered substitute for being together. We have developed habits in our physical solitude that have taught us to be effective in doing what is expected of us, but some of those habits may not make the most of opportunities to emerge with a broader purpose. We may find it easier to behave in certain ways when we are alone than when we are together, and bridging those geographies may not be as simple as flexible switching between environments in what many now label as hybrid work.

There is more to the next generation workplace than where we do what we do. There is a mindset I think we need to share—a set of shared values—that seems to me more traditional than circumstantial. If we want to adapt to new paradigms for interacting, perhaps the rules governing those interactions are agnostic to place. It seems critical with the perpetual noise around us that as we adjust to the new back-to-work standards we insist on a standard of decency in our endeavors.

In recommitting to an extraordinary standard of civility, here are four simple pillars I would expect of myself and others.

Tell the Truth

When I say tell the truth, I mean all the time. It’s easy to tell the truth when it is what others want to hear and it avoids controversy. It is much harder to tell the truth when we have made a mistake, when data is being manipulated by someone in authority, or when the cost of that truth is one’s own popularity. The problem with honesty is that it can’t be a tool of convenience. We must tell the truth not because there is penalty if we don’t, but because we cannot universally insist on it from others if we don’t stand by the promise that it is inarguable. Understand what is empirical and fully embrace integrity. Silence when the truth is known is not a noble dodge, it is another form of mistruth.

Your Name Belongs to You

Unless one’s life is at risk for civil rights abuses, most of what people author anonymously is cowardly. We can argue the difference between old media and new media is the presence of an editor creating an artificial funnel on access to audience, but one of those old school norms was the expectation in authorship of identity. We should write with a by-line, with our name associated with our thoughts, and with our style of verbal and written communication enhanced by our ownership of that expression. You have only one good name. Protect it through accuracy, clarity, absence of pointless invective, and even if eloquence is beyond reach, at least frame the deliberate use of language in a context that is purposeful.

Manners Matter

We can stand on our authority, or we can strive to get people on our side. It has never been clearer to me that style is content, that the outcome we are trying to achieve is inextricably linked to the form of our argument. Approach those around you with respect and there is a much higher chance they might be interested in the thought behind the point you are making rather than just the interpretation of their role in the outcome. Avoid the opportunity to build consensus at your own peril, but even when you must deliver the top-down tiebreaker, do it with finesse, restricting the hammer to the impossible sell. The Golden Rule survives the centuries because some ideals do make sense even when we fail ceaselessly to take them seriously. Hear the words you are saying. Would they get you encouraged, inspired, and onboard?

Think Long

Survivors know that careers can last or not. The yes you got today—the yes that was so important you worked tirelessly for months to hear—is as fleeting as any other decision in the moment. Short-term action without a long-term framework is a high-risk gamble. Telling a half-truth might get you to the end of the week. Cleverly masking your name from an unpopular report might get you through the review cycle. Effectively bullying a coworker might swing a lost debate to your advantage. All of those will cost you. Steve Jobs used to talk about brand deposits and brand withdrawals. You need both in balance to build a lasting brand—to establish and reinforce a credible promise. You can’t make deposits and withdrawals at random and go “up and to the right” repeatedly without a plan. The winning strategy when others are winging it is to think long.

Welcome to the new world. Sounds a lot like the old world, only with less commuting. Count me in.


Photo: Pixabay


Godspeed, Barack Obama


I found President Obama’s farewell speech magnificent. Maybe he did divide the nation. So did Abraham Lincoln. On matters of principle it’s necessary to force us to face our lesser selves. Social justice, inequality, racial bias, healthcare as a human right, healing our polluted planet, science and data as benchmarks, yeah, those are divisive issues that need to be in our faces.

Where he divided us on the what, he will be a historic figure in the continuum of our empathy — as he said, this is a process and we’re not where we need to be. Where he divided us on the how, I have empathy for the lines where we split — that is political and he is admittedly imperfect, driving us to carry the torch to fix the unsolved problems of implementation.

We should disagree, but not as much about the what as the how. It’s healthy to divide on the how until thesis and antithesis resolve in synthesis. Where we can disagree respectfully on matters of resource allocation, we can commit to working together toward compromise. Where we shouldn’t disagree on matters of fairness and sustainability, we must continue to grow as a nation and people.

Barack Obama leaves office loved by many not just within our borders, but in the global community where he is a welcomed traveler. That kind of passion is extraordinary. His style is content. He is embraced as an ambassador of authenticity, positive change, and achieving complex goals. He reminds us what we can be if we set the bar higher than we can ever imagine.

Among those of us who feel this sense of love, our admiration is heartfelt and has been earned. Love is about inspiration and aspiration. Love causes us to care more, work harder, and believe in a call to service. We know this because we have lived it together, guided by his leadership, knowing we are part of something that has mattered and will continue to matter.

On this Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday, it is my true joy to say the only words I know that express my pride, admiration, and humble gratitude to the outgoing President of the United States: Thank You. His courage, his life example, his visionary contribution to our world may not be repeated in my lifetime. To have shared these eight years with him from afar has reminded me that hope is possible, good deeds are possible, one person’s life can forever make a difference for the better in the legacy of selflessness.

I don’t think I have ever been more inspired to thought and action than I have by this man. He will forever be in my heart. He makes me want to spend my remaining years trying even harder to help lift humanity a tiny inch higher.

Yes, we can.

Blog Begets 100

It’s hard to believe this is my 100th post on Corporate Intelligence Radio.

I started this blog over two years ago, about the time I committed to writing my novel, which I announced last month.  Soon after I started the novel, it became clear that it was going to be a very long time before anyone read a word of it.  Initially I was okay with that.  Then it became overwhelming.  I needed to publish something, to start this dialogue, and I needed a way to warm up my fingers before filling blank pages with thousands of words.  The blog became part writing exercise, part wish-fulfillment, and part therapy.  It also caused me to talk less to our dog when I was having a particularly slow day on the word processor, which I am not sure she misses.

One of the questions I often get is why I called it Corporate Intelligence Radio.  My friend Mitch Dolan who used to run ABC Radio named it.  He likes to call me KennyG.  If you know me and you know my taste in music, KennyG is a tough fit other than the extrapolation of my name, but Mitch does like to come up with names where I’m concerned.  He knew my book was about a radio talk show host and that someday this blog would feed the story, and we have always talked about doing some kind of a show together, so he just said to me over dinner in New York, call it Corporate Intelligence.  I tried to get the URL for that but of course could not, so I added Radio and there you have it, a bit of nonsense referencing radio on the internet.  Maybe someday we will do that show together and it will make sense, or perhaps when you meet Kimo Balthazer, one of the main characters in This is Rage, you’ll understand.  Or maybe I’ll change it.  Who knows?  Another distinguished publisher I often cite has since started calling a section of their periodical Corporate Intelligence, but I predate them.  Plus I have my Twitter handle CorporateIntel, and that will always be mine.

There are a bunch of things I have learned since I began blogging.  They are the kinds of thing I really couldn’t have learned any way but doing it.  Here are a six (6) that come to mind:

1) STYLE IS CONTENT – For the first year, the hardest part was finding a voice.  I had lots of topics, things I wanted to write about, but finding the right conversational tone that could both be mine and yours was the hard part.  There were more things to write about than there was a clear way to express them.  The longer a post took to write, the less conversational it seemed.  I had to learn not to over rewrite, the opposite of the book, where there is no such thing.

2) CONTENT IS HARD – After the first year, coming up with a worthy topic became the hard part.  I had honed my blogging voice, but I didn’t want to bore you with things that didn’t matter.  To this day I would write more often if I could think up more interesting stuff to write about, but I have a newfound respect for journalists who write a weekly column.  For the old school guys who did it daily — Herb Caen (San Francisco Chronicle), Jack Smith (Los Angeles Times), and Mike Royko (Chicago Tribune) — I have no idea how they did it without going bonkers.  Sports writers and movie reviewers enjoy a steady stream of topics, news reporters get desk assignments, columnists just gaze until something comes to mind.  Pondering is weird, and makes you weirder.

3) THE FIX IS IN – Electronic publishing is really cool, because it lets you fix things and change your mind.  I have rewritten very little once I have published here, but every once in a while when I think of a better adverb, I can deploy it painlessly and not even tell you.  I can unceremoniously make a No a Yes and vice-versa after rethinking it.  I love the Update button on WordPress.  Sometimes I wish the rest of the world had an Update button — or the “recall” function on email actually worked, which we know it does not.

4) KEYWORDS RULE, DUDE – Keywords are the lifeblood of online traffic acquisition.  Learning to tag is an art and a science, brewed with a touch of alchemy.  It never ceases to amaze me how people get here, but other than regular readers, the best door remains random keyword searches, that in Google’s eyes aren’t random.  So many of my readers land here accidentally because I indexed well on some search term they queried,  and then they subscribe without my asking.  What Google sees matters, and what Google indexes is the whole shooting match (plus good writing, of course).

5) YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT STICKS – There is literally no way to know what will get people’s attention and inspire their imagination.  Little throwaway pieces I have done have become among my most read, and proclamations of vision and justice died in a few days.  You write, and then you set it free.  Words have a life of their own after you give them away, and the writer doesn’t get to decide their fate, only their intention, which matters increasingly little across the democratic digital world.

6) TALKING BACK CAN BE A QUIET AFFAIR – I get a lot more private than public comments.  No matter how much I encourage people to comment publicly, most people are shy, especially when they have to post under their own name.  I don’t blame people for this, who wants to say something in public and risk attack for no particular gain, but it does remind me how brave and vulnerable all writers are.  I have become increasingly brave and vulnerable each time I push the publish button, and that’s with a book of fiction on the horizon.  Oy, please come along with me, and hey, keep the comments coming, public or private.

So here we are together at my one hundredth blog post, and this is an especially ironic bit of timing because I have just submitted my pre-copy-edit draft of the book to my wonderful publisher, The Story Plant.  I promise you I didn’t time it this way, it just sort of happened.  I used the blog to pace writing the novel from the blank page through countless rewrites, and sure enough it all came together this year right before Memorial Day.  I will continue to blog on the topics I cherish — innovation, creativity, imagination, leadership, vision, business ethics, smart marketing, well-reasoned investment strategy, creative destruction, and every so often politics (say it ain’t so!) — and I will also keep you posted as we take my novel from manuscript to release date on October 8, 2013.

I have already begun discussion of a follow-up book and may bend your ear on that, and of course I want to include you in the sales and marketing journey as my first book comes to market in paperback and eBook.  Mostly I just want to thank you for being friends, listeners, readers, and clever people who tell me things I need to know.  I have learned way more from writing this blog then I ever imagined, and it is because of you.  Writers write surely to be true to themselves, but without an audience it is even more lonely an activity than good sense would suggest.  Knowing someone will read the words and share the ideas makes it a community, and hey, that’s intensely gratifying.

Again, my deepest and most sincere appreciation for sharing the journey with me!  We’re maybe in the second inning of the first game of a doubleheader, so grab a bag of peanuts and plan to stay awhile.  We still have a lot of ground to cover and it will be entirely more rewarding if we do it together.

100 Candles

The Disingenuous Bop

Imagine working for a company where more than 80% of your customers held you in disregard. Congress has achieved that milestone of late, with an 82% disapproval rating. I want us to internalize that carefully, as the vast majority of us continue to share a sense of patriotism and love of our country, the very freedom and opportunity and dignity we believe to be our core shared values as Americans. We are patriots and we love our nation, but 82% of us hold our employees in Congress in disregard. Is it possible that we have found a way to separate the institution from its inhabitants, that we can continue to have pride in the ideal of democracy separate and distinct from its practice?

Seems like a reach to me. I am struggling with it as our nation reflects the wounds of the war of words being waged on our behalf in Washington, where our representatives are charged with an absolute mandate to serve the public good above all else. I am having a hard time believing an election cycle or two with the peaceful reassignment of power is likely to bring broad healing,

I have been writing a good deal of late about process, looking for corollaries of acceptable norms between business and government, digging into the core of behavior where bad form results in bad outcome. The entire tone of the debt ceiling debate felt wrong to me, and I wondered again if what we were hearing publicly was the same as what was being said privately. To that end, I wondered about the very nature of the language spoken in chambers and to the public, the rules of order imposed historically to remind us that with each gavel banging resolution we remain on the same team with a common purpose.

The imposed civility of government dialogue (“the gentleman from Nevada,” “my distinguished colleague from the great state of Virginia”) clearly was intended as a matter of protocol to smooth out the edges of vehement disagreement. I suppose that makes sense. Yet when one or the other party was asked as the hours ticked away about the claim that”we were getting close to a deal,” inevitably the retort would be: “I don’t know what they are talking about.” Some may call that negotiation style, readying for backroom agreements. To me it all seemed laden with secondary agendas that in the acceptance of dysfunction became unofficially primary—disingenuous at best, destructive at worst.

The problem for me with disingenuous discourse—posturing, grandstanding, two-faced commentary—is that it a symptom of a fundamentally unhealthy organization. Saying one thing to someone’s face and another behind his or her back may provide a temporarily effective tool in maintaining order, but it is fraught with peril in the critical endeavor of building consensus.

If we all lost the battle together, perhaps we can take from it a lesson for the business minded in moral application and at least get our heads screwed on straight as it applies to office behavior. We’ve all had occasion to dance The Disingenuous Bop. Let’s put a spotlight on the dance floor and see what reflects in the disco mirror ball. In the business world we sometimes call this gossip, and we know it is rotten to the core. It can go something like this, two employees in an ordinary private exchange, talking about their boss…

Jane: What do you think about Barry?

John: I really like Barry. I just don’t think he is very good as a leader.

Jane: Yeah, I like Barry, too. He was great when he hired me. But now he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.

John: Did you read what they wrote about Barry in the Wall Street Journal?

Jane: Yes, I wrote him an email and told him I thought they were unfairly harsh. He needed the boost.

John: Yeah, me too. I hope that helped him feel better. But you have to agree, he had it coming. He championed that stupid project and we lost a ton of money on it.

Jane: Yeah, I know, I thought it was going to be high-profile so I asked Barry to put me on it and he did. Then the project tanked. I tried to get off it, but I was stuck on it. Luckily I’m not taking the heat, he is.

John: Yeah, you dodged a major bullet on that. Lucky you. I was in the final milestone review last month and I knew it was a dog. It needed at least another month of polish.

Jane: Did you tell the group more time might save it?

John: No, it would have pissed them off. They were so happy with it, feeling self-satisfied and even though Barry asked if anyone thought we were in trouble on it, I knew that wasn’t what he wanted to hear, so I just went along with the program.

Jane: You probably would have taken some heat for being disruptive, so you kept your head low, that makes sense. I just wish the project would have been a winner, because I was going to ride it all the way up and ask Barry for a raise and a promotion.

John: And you would have earned it, too, if the project had been a winner. Barry would have been a happy camper, so you probably would have gotten it. Too bad.

Jane: Yeah, what a lost opportunity. Hey, are you going to the party at Barry’s house this weekend?

John: Absolutely, wouldn’t miss it. Career limiting move not to go to his party.

Jane: Yep, I’ll be there too, same reason. Good thing we both made the guest list. I guess he still likes us.

John: Yeah, I like him too. I don’t really like his parties though.

Jane: Agree 100%. Boring and not fun. See you there.

Harmless water cooler chat? A bonding experience with a fellow employee meant in good humor? Of course you would never engage in anything like this. It is rooted in the disingenuous, ugly in every respect. A person of honor would either reset the give and take or walk away.

There is nothing about being disingenuous that is ultimately productive. We see the embers all around us. Dance carefully, your name could be substituted for that of Barry at any time. If someone plays the game with you, they’ll play the game against you. Honor by definition is consistent. Smug is not a long-term strategy. Not caring about not caring is not sustainable. We are meant to live in one world, not maintain parallel existences for convenience and expedience. Style is content. Integrity only has one face.