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Jun 292014
 

Eli Wallach passed away this week at age 98. The world has lost one of the finest actors of our time and a wonderful man. A few years ago I had the privilege of spending an amazing afternoon interviewing Eli for our Emmy Award winning television show, Cool In Your Code which aired on NYCTV. I will always treasure that time as one of the highlights of my life. Our four-hour interview was edited into a four-minute segment that won an Emmy Award. (Here’s a link to the video.) Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.10.23 PM What started out as an “interview” quickly evolved into an intimate and emotional chat about Eli’s entire life. I came away inspired and totally energized by Eli’s zest for life, love of his family, and devotion to the profession he loved so much. After we had chatted for about two hours we realized that we had only covered the early years of Eli’s life. When I asked Eli if he wanted to stop he said, “ I Just need some more tea. I love talking. Are you ready for more?” He held us spellbound for another two hours. There was so much more to tell beyond what could be captured in a video segment, so we transcribed the entire interview. Based on that transcript I published a Blogcrtiics article, “Eli Wallach: Inside The Life Of A Legend, The Early Years.”  I think it is appropriate to re-publish this article to celebrate Eli Wallach’s amazing life. You will be treated to a rare glimpse into life of a a very special man that will touch your heart. Thanks Eli for sharing your life with us.

The Interview

3254979866_7035d61210It was a chilly March day when Eli Wallach met me and my film crew at Sardi’s in New York City. It also happened to be the day of his 59th wedding anniversary. Sardi’s was where he and his wife, Anne Jackson, had their wedding night celebration 59 years earlier. A great convergence of time and circumstance, so you can imagine the emotions that were stirring in Eli when he walked in. He was a bit frail, but still spry, with a gleam in his eye. Eli couldn’t wait to get started and put everyone at ease from the moment he entered the room. What happened next was pure magic – non-stop give and take, storytelling, and sharing of intimate moments and memories. The interview lasted four hours and Eli could have stayed for two more. When it was over, all of us, including the waiters and staff at Sardi’s, gave Eli a standing ovation. You can imagine our challenge when we had to cut three hours of tape into a five-minute segment. Fortunately, we were able to put together a piece that captures the essence of this wonderful man. Take a look when you have some time.

Interview Insights

At one early point in their lives, successful creative people discover their passion and make a commitment to pursue it regardless of their circumstances and whatever life throws at them. They find and follow their “mighty cause.” In Eli’s case it meant finding a way to respectfully and purposefully not go down the path his family chose for him and overcoming one obstacle and unexpected circumstance after another.

Eli talks about the early formative years that shaped his incredibly successful career. What follows are the parts of the interview that didn’t make it to air. Get ready for a great discussion with a legend.

Hank: Everyone that knows you says that from a very young age you knew you were going to be an actor.

Eli: Yeah. I always had that desire in me.

Hank: So it all started in Brooklyn.

Eli: Yeah, at 166 Union Street, but my mother, father and older brother were born in Poland.

Hank: A close family?

Eli: Very close. I had a brother Sam and two sisters, Sylvia and Sherry. They all became teachers.

Hank: How was life in Brooklyn?

Eli: We had a family business. A candy store named after my mother…Bertha’s. We were the only Jewish family in an Italian neighborhood. I watched Italians make the sign of the cross 40 times a day and I learned how to do it.

When I was making a movie with Clint Eastwood called, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, the director, Sergio Leone said, in this scene you have to cross yourself. My mind flipped all the way back to Brooklyn. I crossed myself the way Italians did, you know, the short hand way they did it. Sergio asked me where I learned that. I said Brooklyn. He said, “Do it again.”

Hank: When you, your sister Sylvia, and your brother Sam were growing up, you went to a small theater in your neighborhood.

Eli Yes. We all enjoyed it. We did a lot of puppet shows.

Hank: Tell me about high school.

Eli: I didn’t like high school so I spent a lot of my time at The Boys Club on Bedford Avenue. It had a drama club. I remember doing a play at the Boys Club in which I played an old man with a beard who lost his daughter and didn’t believe in God any more.

All the kids in my neighborhood were sitting in a row and one of them shouted, “That’s not an old man, that’s Eli and he’s got that beard stuck on with glue.” I wanted to jump off the stage and kill him, but instead, I decided to do my part and I became that old man.

Hank: Even then you were unflappable. One night your mom and dad were there and after the play your dad gave you a compliment and your mom said she cried. That must have meant a lot to you.

Eli: Yes it did, very much. I said to myself, I can be an actor.

Hank: Your older brother Sam was a really big influence in your life. He was a teacher. You wanted to be an actor. What was his reaction?

Eli: He wanted me to be a teacher. He said everybody in my family teaches. I said, no I want to be an actor. He told me that as an actor nobody makes money, you can’t make a living, and you don’t get a pension. As a teacher you’d get a pension. It’s the depression; I want you to go into teaching and I’ll get you into a school.

First he tried City College but he couldn’t get me in. Then he found out that the University of Texas in Austin had scholarships with a $30 year tuition. So, off I went to Texas with my sister Sylvia.

Hank: How as it going to college with your sister so far from home?

Eli: Sylvia only went for the first semester. I did four years there and each summer I would hitchhike back to New York and work in the summer camps. I always had a big buckle, which said ‘Cowboy’…I talked with a southern accent.

Hank: How did a Jewish boy from an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn ever make it at a school in Texas?

Eli: I learned how to ride horses and learned to speak with a slightly southern accent. And, I had all sorts of jobs, made good friends, and graduated after four years.

Hank: Speaking of accent, why did the professors always call on you?

Eli: They wanted to hear me speak. They didn’t want the answer to the question; they just wanted to hear my Brooklyn accent.

Hank: True to form, you got involved with a theater group at the school.

Eli: Yes, called the Curtain Club. That’s where I met Walter Cronkite and I actually played my first scene with him. I forget the name of the play, but he was playing a doctor and he has a black suitcase and he said to a grieving woman who was crying, “Where is the body?’ She said, “He’s in the closet, in the closet.” Walter went over, pulled open the door and I fell out. I was the body.

That was my first introduction to Walter Cronkite. Every time I see Walter we kid about that. We’re very close still.

Hank: So, school was over, you went back to NYC, and said to yourself, “this is my time.”

Eli: Right. I was ready!

Hank: You went home and made the declaration to your family that you were ready to be an actor.

Eli: There was a terrible silence. They said, no, you can’t because you can’t make a living in the theater. I said, I will try and really wanted their approval. They said no. Instead I should get a Master’s Degree in education and then I can teach.

Hank: Not what you wanted to hear.

Eli: No, definitely not. So I went to City College and I kept thinking that the master’s degree consisted of reading four books and answering questions about those four books. When I went to take the teacher’s exam I was nervous and perspiring and answered the questions as well as I could.

The teacher said, “Thank you, you’ll hear from us.” Ten days later I got a letter saying, sorry, but you did not pass the teacher’s exam. Then I had to go home and tell my family. My brother was crushed and my elder sister told me that she had a friend who knows about an acting school and that she could get me in there.

Hank: That was a major turning point in your life.

Eli: The school was the Neighborhood Playhouse and the teacher was Sanford Meisner. I’m on the Board now. So I went, and Meisner interviewed me and he said, “Do a scene, do something.” I did an ode called ‘on the wire’ about a soldier dying on the wire, complete with plenty of tears.

When I finished Sanford said, “That was interesting, we’ll take you as a student. It’s going to take you 20 years to become an actor.” I said to myself that he doesn’t know who I am. But you know, it did take about 20 years.

Hank: I know you’re being modest, but after the first year, you had to be invited back. Half the students didn’t make it to the second year, but you did.

Eli: Your memory is amazing. Yes I did and was lucky to be with some wonderful actors. Me, Tony Randall, Gregory Peck, we were all in this school. I also studied dance technique with Martha Graham. She was one of my mentors.

Hank: Okay, so you didn’t pass the teacher’s exam and you were studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Then?

Eli: One day, I remember watching a newsreel about the draft and when I get home there’s a letter at home from the government saying, welcome, here’s your selective service number. It was a very low one. I said to myself, wait a minute.
I went into the Neighborhood Playhouse, became an actor, and just as I’m about to get out I kept saying Broadway here I come. Then I get the lowest number in the draft. Not what I expected.

Hank: About that time you had a girlfriend who was a doctor. What advice did she give you?

Eli: She said she could keep me out of the army. I asked how could she do that since I had such a low number. She told me she could do an artificial pneumothorax. She said, she could stick a needle in my back, pump in air, and it would cause the lung to collapse so I couldn’t serve in the army. I thought, either she loves me so much she’ll risk her career, or she wants to kill me.

I said no thank you and I went into the army. The first day I’m on line, I’m naked and the doctors examined the guy in front of me and he couldn’t hear. They rejected him. So, I’m next and I told the doctor that I have flat feet. He said, “So do I,” and into the army I went.

Hank: You had a pretty interesting and diverse time in the Army, didn’t you?

Eli: Yes. I was assigned to a medical unit and my first deployment was to Hawaii. Then I was sent back to a school called the Medical Administrative Corps and become a Medical Administrator. We did the administrative work in the hospitals to free up the doctors. We worked in the hospitals so I put on these little play for the men. We all really enjoyed that.

Hank: I think you are one of the few people in the army promoted for theatrical prowess.

Eli: My commanding officer liked my work so much that he promoted me to Lieutenant. Then I became a Captain and I found out that I buy my own uniforms. By the way, one of the plays we put on was an Irving Berlin play called Is This The Army. I played Hitler. I put on a little black mustache, did the hair, and I was Hitler.

Little did I know that three months after Hitler committed suicide in 1945, I would be sent to Berlin to work on our plans for Japan. I was taken around by a Russian major, a young lady with a big pistol on her hip who spoke English. She took me into a room about this size, and it was the ministry of propaganda.

Hank: It was the photo archive, wasn’t it?

Eli: Right. Pictures were strewn all over the floor and I asked her permission to take some. I took about 50 pictures and sold some to Life Magazine when I came out of the army for about $300. Then, about a month and a half ago, I was looking at these pictures and I decided to donate them to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. They will use them to create an exhibit in the museum.

Hank: How did the war end for you?

Eli: I was in Berlin on a special job and I was scheduled to go to Japan to start and to help put in hospitals and I thought I’d never get out. The bomb was dropped, and I thought, “Thank God, at last I’ll get to go home,” without really thinking of what we did. That thought bothered me and I was reminded of it years later.

Hank: How so?

Eli: I was playing an Okanogan on a stage in New York. Norman Cousins had brought over four or five girls from Hiroshima and he brought them back stage to meet me. They all had reconstructive surgery. They’re bowing and I’m bowing, and they’re bowing and I’m bowing, and I kept thinking, “I hope they don’t know what I thought when the bomb was dropped.”

Hank: You’re a very sensitive caring man.

Eli: Well, it bothered me very much.

Hank: So, the army was over, you’re back to New York. Broadway here I come.

Eli: Ironically, my first play after the Army was Skydrift, about a bunch of soldiers who were going home, and all of them were dead. I’m cast as a soldier on a plane and I thought, that this is not a cheerful picture, not a cheerful play.

The play lasted a week, but there was a young girl in it who was fabulous and I stayed friendly with. We did a movie together. She’s won an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Tony. It was Rita Moreno.

Hank: Then came The Actor’s Studio.

Eli: What happened is after the war in 1947, Kazan, Bobby Lewis, and a lady named Cheryl Crawford founded the Actors Studio. You see it now on your television. It’s called Inside the Actors Studio. Most of the people on it now have never been inside. I was in the first class with the greats – Marlon Brando, John Forsythe, Maureen Stapleton.

Hank: Your wife Anne Jackson was in it also.

Eli: Yes Anne was in it, and that first year it was run by Bobby Lewis, and Kazan took the younger group, and we learned and learned. I’d already studied at Neighborhood Playhouse, so I had studied what they call “the method,” Stanislavski’s way. Each time I act I adapt or adopt different methods for myself.

Hank: Do you need a quick break?

Eli: Just need some more tea. I love talking. Are you ready for more?

Intermission

Eli and I spent four hours together. I came away spellbound with a great feeling of joy and totally energized about the future. The interview taught me plenty of life lessons and it also earned me an Emmy Award. I dedicated it to him.  Thanks for everything Eli.

 

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Mar 132012
 

Article first published as Mad Men: Back (Finally). And Back To The Future. on Blogcritics.

Compelling Content And Characters Transcend Time And Place.


Mad Men
 Season 5 is upon us and we’re ready to head back to the ’60s—the Golden Age of advertising, decades before the internet, digital communications and social media. Mad Men is quintessential 1960s Madison Avenue, yet the show has been enthusiastically adopted and adapted by today’s digitally enabled viewers as well as modern Mad Men (and Women). While the narrative of Mad Men is firmly entrenched in the ‘60s, the show enjoys a thriving present life in both the real and virtual worlds of its fans. These connections flow from an enduring interest in the ad world, a fascination with the ’60s and, perhaps most of all, the deep, character driven, storytelling prowess of the show. Compelling content brilliantly executed. And now, Google has enabled a way for us to experience the iconic advertising of the Mad Men era interpreted through digital eyes – a tribute to the creativity of the real Mad Men who lived it. Compelling content brilliantly re-imagined.

Follow us @

As expected, the show set up its own @MadMen Twitter account and it has a nice following. But something unusual happened as Mad Men took hold. Independent of the show’s marketing campaign, MadMen characters started popping up on Twitter with their “personal” accounts. We got to meet @dondraper, @peggyolson and the rest of the cast in real time. These “unauthorized” Mad Men Twitter personalities were created and painstakingly brought to life and cared for every day by dedicated fans and followers. Fictional characters from the ‘60s actually live a fan generated parallel life in the present day. Their digital personas became intertwined and interconnected with their lives on the show and a Mad Men character driven Twitter sub-culture evolved.

Interestingly, when these “unauthorized” Twitter accounts popped up, the network acted like they were stuck in the ‘60s and moved quickly to shut them down. But reaction from viewers to bring them back was so strong that the decision was reversed and they live today in our digital lives. Don Draper’s sobering welcome to the power of social media.

Creativity Inspires Cultural Infusion

Beyond these personas on Twitter there are fan generated Facebook Fan pages, stunning Pinterest boards, countless blogs, You Tube Videos, etc. The scope and creativity of this fan adoption and adaptation is impressive. Mad Men infographics visualize a range of facts and information from achronicle of events across each season to a Wired magazine “who slept with who” bed hopping show all. There are “What Would Don Draper Do” articles about everything from problem solving to Occupy to advertising the Olympics. An article in The Huffington Post covered the growing popularity of a new meme that one-ups #Tebowing…#Draping. These are fan created visualizations that mimic the iconic Don Draper silhouettes from the show’s advertising that reside on tumblr.

A recent Wall Street Journal article chronicled a wide array of planned virtual and real world events to mark the return of the show. There’s even a special “Mad Men In The City” package being offered by The Roosevelt Hotel where Don Draper stayed after his wife Betty threw him out. Mad Men has found its place in our present day virtual and real world culture.

Google Meets & Morphs The Ads Of Mad Men

All of this is exciting, entertaining and fun. But as an ad guy and a Mad Man, one of the most interesting and unique events that captured my attention isn’t about the show. It’s a very special project that celebrates the advertising campaigns that were created in the Mad Men era. Google’s Project Rebrief: “A grand experiment whereby Google partnered with five of the brightest “old-school” advertising legends to re-imagine their most iconic creative work from a half-century ago for the modern web.”

Thanks to this marvelous undertaking by Google, we get to see famous campaigns for Coke, Volvo, Avis and Alka Seltzer re-imagined and executed for the digital age. What makes this especially wonderful is that Google pairs up the original Mad Men that created the ads with Google’s young, bright, energetic creative staff. We watch them work, interact and ideate. Magic happens. Thanks Google, Amil Gargano, Howie Cohen, Bob Pasqualina, Paula Green and Harvey Gabor for making this digital Mad Men adventure possible. Shining Lights…still.

What Would Don Draper Think

This is indeed an exciting time to be bringing great advertising ideas to life. Technology enables better, more personal ways to tell stories and connect with people 24/7 wherever they are. The Project Rebrief melding of traditional and digital ideation and media creates a very special story and a captivating journey that even Don Draper would have loved. Sure, Don would have been a bit skeptical at first, just like some of the real life Mad Men and Women in this series. But in the end, Don would have enjoyed more than a few cocktails to celebrate the end results and seize the opportunity to lay down some Draper dogma at SCDP:
1. Big emotional ideas are at the heart of all great advertising
2. Passionate invested people create & bring great ideas to life
3. Big ideas stand the test of time and travel well across all media
4. It still all comes down to the art of great storytelling

Sage advice that modern Mad Men would be wise to follow. No matter how much things change, some things stay the same.

Season 5. About time.

 

 

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Jun 062011
 

Article first published as Innovation – It Makes The World Go ‘Round on Blogcritics.

The Social Media Inside Of Innovation

Innovation is all around us and impacts just about every aspect of our lives. In today’s digital, technology empowered world the pace of innovation is ever increasing. Concurrently, the performance bar is also being raised in everything from product development, service delivery, creativity, design, and workplace management. It is very easy to get swept away by the technology of innovation…it can be amazing. So, it is very important to constantly remind ourselves that the essence of innovation still lies with people and their passion for ideas and discovery. And this week I am very lucky to be surrounded by some of the most innovative and passionate people in the world. How good is that!

A Collaborative Innovation Summit

The World Innovation Forum 2011 is being held in New York City this week and I am honored to be one of about 50 people designated as “some the very best business bloggers” embedded right in the middle of all the action. The World Innovation Forum brings together ideas and insights from a unique group of experts and practitioners offering their personal perspectives on how innovation is being implemented across an array of different fields. This is a powerhouse group of innovators including one of my all time favorite big thinkers and innovators Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.

Listening “Softer” To See Deeper

As an asset-based thinker I’ll be looking at how speakers tell their stories about unleashing their personal power and innovative spirit, how they persevere by seeing threats as challenges, turn shortcomings into aspirations, and leverage collaboration versus competition. Learning how these asset based approaches have helped motivate and leverage the power and promise of innovation in the past can serve as invaluable guideposts for the future.

Another great opportunity at this event will be listening to the buzz and chatter of the businessmen, academics, and innovators in the audience, observing their body language and feeling their enthusiasm. There will also be a Bloggers Hub complete with high speed internet access, cloud resources, and all the electronic bells and whistles we’ll need to report live from the conference.

Positive Social Media Amps Up Engagement

The event organizers, HSM Global, get a big Asset-Based Thinking shout-out for creating the Bloggers Hub, a unique feature at the event. It is a state-of-the-art resource placed right in the middle of the action that provides the featured bloggers with full access to everything happening at the event—upfront and behind the scenes. The bloggers hub is a very smart communication idea for conferences, with some great “ABT” benefits.

• Facilitates a friendly, open platform for bloggers to provide real time updates, commentary, and coverage of the speeches of some very smart and influential leaders.

• Serves as a micro-community of a diverse group of bloggers to connect around a common interest…live reporting and disseminating information of significance…what I call “Content of Consequence.”

• Creates an environment of mutually supportive and connected energy that feeds on itself. A special “vibe” that brings a new collective dynamic to a usually solitary writing process.

• Provides a “streaming commentary” on topics and discussions as they happen and invites real time response and interaction from each blogger’s audience which we in turn can use as fuel for our reporting.

• Links a network of “Trust Agents” and enables their power to apply leverage to issues and opportunities. Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) describes this as the “Archimedes Effect” in his book entitled (of course) Trust Agents.

Stay Tuned. More To Come

 

 

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May 302011
 

Article first published as Unleashing the Soft Impact of Knowledge Sharing on Blogcritics.

Creating Commitment, Connection And Community

Technology and the people driving it are changing the way we see and experience just about everything, especially the dissemination of knowledge in meetings, events, seminars and classrooms. Over the past few years  I’ve been honored to speak at a number of events… everything from digital marketing summits, social media conferences, event planning think tanks, American Heart Association global conferences, Asset-Based Thinking workshops to local town hall meetings with moms and kids. And now, I am fortunate to be teaching at USC’s Marshall School of Business creating lectures and engaging students in the digital classroom. For me, these experiences have been an invigorating, ever expanding exposure to a new world of communications, information exchange and a re-discovering the art of personal persuasion in a digital age.

The Gift Of Positive Disruption

After almost five decades in the marketing communications business and at the ripe young age of 67, I find myself in awe of and thoroughly energized by how the nature of knowledge based meetings, conferences and facilitated learning has changed. As a communications person I was fascinated by (and sometimes leery of) the pervasive influence of technology…it is everywhere, every time and with everyone. Live-streaming, iPads, open laptops, video, i-reporting, real-time blogs, tweet streams, back-channels, podcasts, blackberries, personalized video channels, i-phones, webinars, etc. are now standard fare. As an asset-based thinker, rather than being intimidated and threatened by these tech tools and rapid-fire changes, I looked at them as challenges and powerful positive gifts of disruption and jumped on board. My leeriness about depersonalization, disconnectedness and distraction dissolved into a firm embrace of these tools as assets and a belief that, when properly utilized, all this tech is helping create richer, deeper, more connected and sustainable knowledge sharing.

Technology Enables. People Experience.

Over the years we’ve come to expect the dissemination of information and knowledge to be continually enabled and enhanced by the latest and greatest technology. What’s changed now is that this impressive array of technology is also in the hands (literally) of recipients, attendees and casual observers. This means that everyone involved…teachers, technicians, organizers, facilitators, speakers, recipients, support media….everyone, has the opportunity to raise their game and their expectations. Knowledge management is now as much about listening as it is broadcasting and engaging as it is educating. We’ve all heard the term “listen harder” which implies narrowing your focus and blocking out distraction. Enlightened use of technology enables  “listening  softer” so we can actually pay deeper attention to a person and listen with our eyes and hearts as well as our ears. Everyone involved hears, speaks and feels more. Connected, engaged communities emerge.

Inside The Softer Side Of Technology

Earlier this month I was invited by Sonic Foundry, a leading edge rich media webcasting, lecture capture and knowledge management company, to deliver a keynote address at their 5th annual Unleash Conference in Madison Wisconsin. Each year they bring together over two hundred of the best and the brightest in their fields to look ahead to what’s next in technology, network and share ideas and best practices. Attending the Unleash event gave me an even greater appreciation for the power and promise of technology, reminded me of the responsibility we all have to use and share it wisely and provided the motivation for this article. It was an honor to have the opportunity to talk to the attendees about Asset-Based Thinking and how it could help them make the most of the rapid change influencing their professional and personal lives. Here’s a link to my talk enabled by their Mediasite technology.

The practical knowledge I gained through the presentations, workshops and individual discussions will make my work easier and better. What impressed me most, however, was something that went well beyond the amazing technology and expertise present at the conference. What stood out was the emotional side of the experience. The energy and passion of the people behind the technology, their sense of mission and higher purpose and the open, collaborative community of sharing they created was wonderful. It was all about people creating,developing and refining ideas together. A wonderful example of technology being in service to people and their ideas, not vice versa.  Asset-Based Thinking at its best. Sonic Foundry’s mission statement captures it well.

Helping create the libraries of tomorrow with technology that doesn’t compound the world’s information overload. We are working to put a human face on all knowledge online, and we believe the world will be more knowledgeable, more connected as a result.

Technology driven change presents opportunity and challenge. The opportunity to engage people in communication experiences (large or small) that are interactive, iterative, participatory, shared and sustainable. The challenge is to remember that great ideas and powerful content make technology its most meaningful and valuable.

This quote from advertising pioneer and creative genius Bill Bernbach sums it up best.

An idea can turn to dust or magic depending upon the creative talent that rubs against it.

Now. Unleash the Magicians!

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Sep 232010
 
Leverage Strengths, Skills & Savvy To Maximize Assets Present In Any Situation.

Change Agents don’t have to look very far or too closely to spot resistance.  Setbacks are commonplace.  Unwanted and unintended circumstances abound and come from many directions…economic issues, internal politics, revenue shortfalls, entrenched legacy systems, etc. Professional and personal disappointments always arise. None of us is exempt.  That’s why Asset-Based Thinking in the face of difficult situations is so important and so useful. With ABT, build your power and influence by uncovering and magnify what’s best in virtually every situation you encounter.

Over 50 years ago, psychologist David McClelland suggested that we measure the value of a given day, month or year in three ways:  results, learnings, and experience.  When you stop to think about it, McClelland’s suggestion is a true ABT practice.  The invitation to examine what is learned and experienced—alongside the results that are achieved—creates three valuable bottom lines for any time frame and situation.

Valuable lessons and life experience are embedded in victories and defeats, in turning points and crossroads.  We may not always get the results we seek, but we are always in line to become a little wiser and a little bit better of a person as a consequence.

Mine The Gold In Any Situation

Expanding What You See – What is happening here?

Remember the children’s magazine picture games? The instructions read: Find 8 items hidden in this (seemingly straightforward) picture. At first, you are stumped…then, suddenly, the more you examine the picture, the more you realize that things are not what they seemed at first glance. You can employ these same skills to spot new opportunities in the way you “picture” a challenging situation.

Take your blinders off and start with a good hard look at the dynamics of the current reality. Analyze what is really going on.  Concentrate on tapping into the nuances.  Identify the real or potentially real gains and benefits associated with the situation.  Dig deeper. What is happening here that I or we can leverage?  Remember that even crises and upheavals have their upsides.  As an Asset-Based Thinker, you see and capitalize on the assets inherent in every situation—especially when they are invisible at first glance.

Maximize the Upside  – What do I want to make happen here?

Given the assets in this situation, how can I use what is happening (whether I like it or not) in order to achieve worthwhile objectives.  Which skills and talents do I or we need to move forward in a positive way? What are the keys to my success? Ask yourself (and others involved) to set specific, worthwhile objectives to be achieved as you engage the challenges and pushback at hand.

The best way to mine the gold in any situation is to find out what is meaningful and worthwhile about the situation, then take action to “milk” the situation for all it’s worth.  Find out how you can use even upsetting moments to inspire great solutions and ensure that everyone involved benefits in the short-term and the long run.

Minimize the Downside – How can I prevent or contain the losses?

In the midst of personal setbacks, business downturns and resistance to change, you may be tempted to look at all the things that are going wrong or could possibly go wrong. That, of course, can be overwhelming. Magnifying what is “worst” can even lead to panic and despair.  Those fear-based thoughts feed a deficit-based downward spiral.  There IS a better way to contain unwanted consequences.

Make desire based outcomes the source of your strength and power. Identify the one or two real or potentially real problems associated with the negative situation, upheaval or resistance.  Then create concrete strategies for minimizing the negative consequences of each problem.  Next, get in action.  Measure your impact.  Revise your strategies if necessary.  Stay the course.

A Helpful ABT Tool: Shifting From Threat to Challenge

In any given situation that you see as a problem, disappointment or setback, use this ABT Tool to shift from threat to challenge.  You are far more effective and proactive when you are motivated by the “promises of victory” than you are by the “fears of defeat”.

Step One.  Ask yourself, “What do I fear most about this situation? What are the real or potentially real losses associated with what’s happening?”

Step Two.  Ask, “What can I or we do to eliminate my fear?  What can I or we do to minimize the fear of change or loss?”

Step Three.  Given this situation, what are the possibilities and opportunities for myself, others, team or organization?  How could I/we grow or benefit?  What could I/we learn?

Step Four.  How can I/we put our drive and enthusiasm for achieving these possibilities and seizing those opportunities to work?

One final thought.

“I have always believed and still believe that whatever good or bad fortune may    come our way, we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

Hermann Hesse

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Jul 092010
 

Over the past few months I’ve attended or spoken at more than a half dozen events and meetings. All different and very worthwhile. Last month I was fortunate to attend The World Innovation Forum in New York City. This particular event was a gathering of some great thought leaders across an array of industries, causes and companies. (More on the highlights and impressions from this powerful conference soon.)

This post is about how technology and  connection are changing the very nature and experience of meetings, events and conferences….for the better. As a communications person, I was fascinated by the pervasive presence of technology at all of the conferences I recently attended – everywhere and with everyone. We’ve come to expect the event organizers to employ the latest and greatest technology to deliver a powerful experience. What’s changed now is the impressive array of technology that is also in the hands (literally) of the attendees and how smartly and creatively people are using it to build relationships and connections that enhance their event and meeting experiences.This convergence of technology is definitely changing the way everyone “experiences” the event experience…organizers, attendees, speakers and media.

Events Inside The Event:

Video, livestreaming, i-reporting, laptops, tweet streams, blackberries, i-phones, i-pads, podcasts, videographers are everywhere. In some ways the energy and buzz around all of this activity and technology creates mini events within the events. For me, these were all positive experiences that generated energy, enabled new forms of engagement and added spontaneity to the events. My most recent experience at the World Innovation Forum was particularly interesting and worth sharing.

I was fortunate to be one of about thirty bloggers invited to “cover” the event as part of what was called The ‘Bloggers’ Hub”….a private social media press club. We had great seats, full access to everything at the event, and all the power and broadband internet connectivity we needed. (Well, most of the time…we did crash it a few times). We had free reign and were encouraged to be active and free flowing. None of us really knew what to expect. It turned out to be a very positive and productive experience for the bloggers, our audiences, the speakers, attendees and the organizers. The open and diverse mix of people created a “bloggers’ hub effect” with some very tangible benefits. Here are few:

Bloggers Hub Benefits:

• Facilitates a friendly, open platform for bloggers to provide real time updates, commentary and coverage of the speeches, presentations and other content. These are simultaneously shared with everyone at the event, over the internet and archived for later use.
• Serves as a micro-community of a diverse group of writers connecting around a common interest…live reporting and disseminating information of significance from the event…on the spot content creation centered on innovation.
• Creates an environment of mutually supportive and connected energy that feeds on itself. A special “vibe” that brings a new collective dynamic to a usually solitary writing process.
• Provides a “streaming commentary” on innovation topics and discussions as they happen and invites real time response and interaction from each blogger (and their audiences) which in turn fuels better reporting and writing.
• Links a network of “Trust Agents” to leverage the content being presented and discussed among the attendees. We created our own mini “Archimedes Effect” at the event.
• Provides a sustainable linked in platform for follow up commentary, analysis and networking that lives well beyond the event itself….in some cases for months.

As Asset-Based Thinking Perspective:

Technology is changing the way people see and experience just about everything, including meetings and events. Technology driven change presents opportunity and challenge. The opportunity to engage people in meeting experiences (large or small) that are more interactive, participatory, shared and sustainable. The challenge is to remember that it’s great ideas, substance and powerful content that make technology meaningful and valuable.

Now, where’s the cocktail party?

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May 102010
 

HOW SOCIAL MEDIA IS CHANGING MADISON AVENUE

No, I’m not Don Draper from Mad Men. But I’m an ad guy. I teach advertising in the grad school at USC and, yes, I am a twitterholic, @hankwasiak.

My career in advertising started in the Mad Men era and I am fortunate to still be doing what I love at The Concept Farm, a very cool creative company located on .85 acres in the heart of Chelsea in New York City. I’ve gone from a Mad Man to a Happy Farmer and along the way have lived through just about every shift and change in the advertising business over the past five decades.

And, coincidentally I’m right in the middle of putting together a syllabus for my class, picking a text book, and selecting case studies. It became obvious pretty quickly that the way business schools teach advertising has not yet caught up with actuality and, in many ways, is a metaphor for the mindset of Madison Avenue today. All of this has mashed up in to a point of view and perspective on where social media is taking the advertising business.

The Times They Are a Changing — Fast

Unlike the conventional doom and gloom wisdom about the death of advertising as we know it, I can honestly say that my enthusiasm for the future of advertising has never been higher. This enthusiasm and optimism is fueled by social media. Social media is the game changer, the killer app that is reshaping Madison Avenue at its very core in three major ways:

  1. The fundamentals of the marketing mix
  2. The nature of how advertising is supposed to work
  3. The measurement metrics of success

This is big time change. It’s powerful, exciting stuff. It’s all happening at once and it’s happening fast. Now is the time for Madison Avenue to re-invent itself by focusing on the endless upside possibilities opened up by social media. And, to do this, today’s Mad Men must change the way they see social media because the term social media has becomes a self-limiting frame of reference. To put what’s next into perspective, it’s helpful to look back.

Back To The Future? No Way

My first job in advertising was in 1965 at an ad agency called Benton & Bowles as one of those account men you see at Sterling Cooper on Mad Men. I often get asked if the show is an accurate reflection of what it was really like. In most respects it is. Sterling Cooper is eerily similar to Benton & Bowles. The client situations, office dynamics, and, of course, the drinking, sex, and smoking are all spot on. Except when I arrived, most of us were smoking something a lot more stimulating than Lucky Strikes.

Mad Men is a great show that beautifully captures a time when Madison Avenue was seen as a trendsetting arbiter of American values and these Mad Men showed us who we wanted to be and told us what to buy. And, for the most part, we loved it. While it’s clear that Madison Avenue as Don Draper knew it is gone forever, the fundamentals of the advertising business have remained essentially the same, until now. Just about the time that advertising was catching up with how to harness the power of an Internet-driven digital media world, along comes social media. Social media has created a “watershed moment” for Madison Avenue because of these fundamental systemic changes.

The Pillars of the Marketing Mix: The 4 Ps

Four fundamental pillars of the marketing mix have been embedded in marketing plans and practices since the 1960s: Product. Price. Place. Promotion. As relevant as ever. So, when social media came along the conventional wisdom was to see it as a new form of advertising — another way to “reach” consumers. While treating social media as a subset of advertising might have been okay initially, it grossly undervalues social media’s real role today. So, if social media is more than media, what has it become? Social media has morphed into the fifth pillar “P” of the marketing mix: People. Today a marketer must have a People Strategy developed in concert with its Product Price, Place, and Promotion strategies.

Time Magazine named YOU as its Person of The Year in 2006. The power and potential of what that cover foretold is just now coming into its own. When People Strategy becomes as fundamentally important as the other four Ps,it changes the way you strategize, organize, monetize, and commercialize a business. This isn’t semantics. It’s fundamental change.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is a person I admire. He is a visionary who saw this potential long before everyone else and he nailed it with this quote: “Embarking on social media strategy to help with marketing is like embarking on a facial muscle strategy to help with smiling.”

The 5 Ps. It is fundamental systemic change.

The Advertising Communication Model Has Expanded And Stretched

For decades, Mad Men have used a simple, four-letter shorthand for what advertising has to accomplish to be effective: AIDA Attention. Interest. Desire. Action. Not bad but then but not good enough today. Social media has added two other dimensions that are critical to success. The first is the letter “E” for Engagement. Consumers welcome getting involved with products and brands on many levels — on their own terms. People want to talk amongst themselves before they interact with a brand or a business.

The other dimension is the letter “S” for Sustainability. Today ideas and messages must be crafted to also encourage shareability so they sustain themselves well beyond their initial delivery and media contexts.

So now the shorthand should look something like this: A+IDEAS. They are connected and interdependent. Unless creative ideas and programs organically lend themselves to this construct they will miss the mark.

A New Success Ethic Has Changed the Metrics of Effectiveness

And again, social media has been the catalyst for much of this change. This really came into dramatic focus for me earlier this month when I had the opportunity to be a real-time blogger embedded at the World Business Forum in New York City. CEO after CEO and some of the best global thought leaders talked about the future of business. Here are the relevant highlights.

The hard assets that are traditionally used to gauge the strength and value of a business are as important as ever. However, they are the “table stakes” of today — the costs of entry. Soft Assets are increasingly seen as the business differentiators of the future. Here’s a sampling of the descriptions and comments that permeated their talks and filled the blogs.

  • Values based business – culture
  • Purpose driven marketing – passion
  • Trust built on transparency – truth
  • Corporate responsibility that fosters collaboration
  • “Healthy” companies that act “human”
  • Motivation that creates aspiration

If these words and expressions sound familiar, they should. This IS the language of social media. And, these differentiators are changing the way socially responsible businesses see “profit.” Now there are three tiers of profit that matter.

  • Dollar profit – The fiscal performance of the business
  • Emotional profit – The rewards for employees and stakeholders
  • Greater good profit – The positive impact on the community

These are major, important, enlightened shifts that are taking place in big, medium, and small businesses everywhere. Mad Men can lead by listening to them.

Mad Men&Women 2.0

This convergence of changes brought about by social media ( the five pillar “Ps”, the new communications model, enlightened metrics of success) has created a perfect storm for a mindset makeover on Madison Avenue. My top five thought starters:

Spend as much time talking with people as creating ads to reach them and shift from shouting and selling to sharing and helping.

Suppress the urge to say “we can do it all” and deliver the best of what you do best. Protect the integrity of your ideas, not your “turf.”

Embrace collabetition. Collaborate with like-minded competitors to create and deliver A+IDEAS for clients. Fair compensation will follow from value added.

Move from a master of the universe mentality to thinking like a maestro conducting a symphony orchestra of communication “instruments.”

The quality of an ad agency’s culture and values should be as visible and award-winning as its work.

Don Draper would not like what he sees on Madison Avenue today. But I sure do. We’re on the cusp of big change. As with most disruptive change, innovation and bold new thinking usually come from the fringe and then go mainstream. I’m very excited and grateful to be part of what’s next. And, I can’t wait to get in front of my class at USC and see what they have to teach me.

Also, we are launching a new regular feature series in the Video section of Blogcritics called Mad Men Confidential featuring real Mad Men commenting on advertising and AMC’s Mad Men TV show. Informative. Entertaining. Provocative. True.

Check it out and stay tuned.

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May 012010
 

VALUES ARE THE KEY TO BUILDING VALUE

In previous posts I covered highlights from the outstanding line-up of thought leaders who spoke at The World Business Forum, 2009. (An Afternoon Of Concern and Contrast at The World Business Forum) One of the big observations that came out of the conference concerned an enlightened view of profit that encompasses both hard and soft assets.

More and more of today’s CEO’s now see a three tiered metric of profit as essential to building a strong and sustainable company. Dollar profit for fiscal sustainability. Emotional Profit of company stakeholders for a sustainable corporate culture and ethos. Greater Good Profit that extends benefits beyond the company for sustainable connected communities.

Now there is a study that seems to confirm that this enlightened profit perspective may do a lot more than just make a company CEO feel good. Valuing and building soft assets can actually be the key to delivering even better financial results and a healthier, stronger company. Recent research shows that CEOs who make it their business to place a higher priority on stakeholders’ interests and well-being rather than a relentless pursuit of  delivering dollar profit come out on top.

The research,entitled Unrequited Profit: How Stakeholder and Economic Values Relate To Subordinates’ Perceptions of Leadership and Firm Performance was conducted by some top people in the their field: Mary Sully de Luque, of Thunderbird School of Global Management; David A. Waldman, of Arizona State University West; and Robert J. House, of the University of Pennsylvania. Their findings are based on survey data gathered from 520 business organizations in 17 countries, including emerging markets. Here’s how the authors summed up their study.

We were testing the hypothesis that if a CEO’s primary focus is on profit maximization, employees develop negative feelings toward the organization. They tend to perceive the CEO as autocratic and focused on the short term, and they report being somewhat less willing to sacrifice for the company. Corporate performance is poorer as a result.

It turns out that this reordering of priorities and balanced perspective generate greater workforce engagement and extra effort that in turn yield significantly better operations and superior financial results. There also appears to be some risk to a CEO’s leadership effectiveness associated with a “profit above all else attitude”… the mantra of many a “hard driving” CEO. The exclusively profit driven CEO is seen as an autocratic leader and is less likely to garner employee commitment.

The values driven CEO is seen as a visionary, a motivator and is more likely to positively influence loyalty and inspire “extra effort”. He or she is viewed as a kinder, more empathetic breed of CEO superhero. This wholistic view being embraced by CEOs is Asset-Based Thinking at its best. It builds upon core asset-based leadership communication skills we call S.O.S. Leading with Substance. Sizzle. Soul. The hard assets of performance and skills are the substance…costs of entry. Sizzle is the personal style and presentation that gets attention. Soul is “why” it is personally important and meaningful….the secret ingredient that makes it all work.

I recently read a New York Times article about new values based organizations and business cultures and this bit of sage Asset-Based Thinking advice from Brandon Busteed, co-founder of Outside the Classroom really resonated with me. “Run like a business, act like a nonprofit, care to be better.”

Simple, smart, savvy advice for any business, non-profit or anyone just involved in the business of life.

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Apr 132010
 

See The Future Through A “What’s In The Glass” Mindset

How many times have you heard people ask… “Is he or she a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person?” It’s a simple question designed to get at how people generally perceive and approach life. Are they a positive or negative person, an optimist or pessimist, a doer or a doubter, etc.? In actuality, this is an irrelevant question because the the answer is it’s both. The opportunity is to focus on making the most of what’s in the glass.

This week my friend Gail Goodwin, founder of Inspire Me Today, asked me to give some ABT advice (in 500 words) about my life lessons learned. As I reflected on this I realized that my perspective could help some of my Boomer generation approach shaping their lives for the future. This motivated me to undertake  some personal introspection about how I should approach what’s next in my life. So, I put a half full/half empty glass in front of me for some self inspiration and here’s the result.

I am 66 years old and have been blessed to have a good life, a wonderful family and a pretty successful career. At age 60 I discovered Asset-Based Thinking and since then I have found more meaning in work, determination, personal fulfillment, confidence and humility than I could ever have imagined. As I contemplated what’s ahead, I found it rewarding to look back through the lens of Asset-Based Thinking and imagine the upside of the future.

Here are five ABT insights that are guiding me that I hope will help you.

Power is Who You Are Not What You Have.

You always have something of value to add. Always. Be Authentic. Expose yourself. Rather than relying on external sources to fuel your progress, look  inside yourself to find your Signature Presence…your unique combination of passions, capabilities, qualities, values and beliefs. Let passion be your power and the most magnetic version of you will shine through. Embrace your assets. Never doubt them. Put them out there for people to see and watch what happens.

Forget Perfection. Pursue Progress.

Preoccupation with eliminating flaws to achieve perfection is pointless and invites self-absorption. Relentlessly pursuing progress promotes self-awareness and growth. Measure everything you do by the progress you make and your aspirations. Never stop learning.

Be an Opportunity Advocate Rather than a Problem Solver.

I spent most of my early years in business helping clients avoid or solve problems. And why not? Solving problems yields tangible results and gets you a pat on the back. The problem with a problem fixation is that it usually protects the status quo and, at best, winds up being a zero sum game. Try seeing problems as just a pause. See through them and focus on how much you can accomplish by spending most of the time seizing opportunities, finding the potential in people rather than seeing their shortcomings and taking opportunistic risks rather than avoiding them. Jump in. Immerse yourself in opportunities.

Mentors Matter – Imitate Shamelessly and Often.

No matter how long you’ve been at it, you can be both a mentor and be mentored. They go hand in hand. Everyone needs guidance, inspiration and motivation. Find people you admire and put them on your Mt. Rushmore. Let them know how much you admire them and why. Mentoring can come from anywhere, anyone at anytime. Keep your vision turned on and tuned in so you don’t miss the many gifts that mentoring brings.

Live Legacies Now.

Leaving a legacy makes your life meaningful. Living your legacy changes the game because what you do right now contributes to your legacy in real time. Building your legacy in the present inspires others. We all have at least one “Mighty Cause” in us…a reason for being that gives us special meaning. Finding yours and making that part of your legacy is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

Life is good. The life you can imagine and create is even better. Live on the upside.

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Feb 082010
 

Pepsi’s “opt out” of the Super Bowl and “opt in” to Social Media Is A Game Winner.

Sure, with over 90 million viewers the Super Bowl is the one of the most watched events on the planet. Its commercials have become an essential part of Super Bowl appeal and folklore. Super Bowl spots generate more buzz than the half time show spectaculars. Last week Nielsen released a study that shows more viewers like watching the ads than they do the game by a margin of 51 to 49%! Even in a challenging economic environment and at $2.5 to $3.0 million per :30, CBS sold out its Super Bowl inventory of 60+ commercial slots in record time. As a long time advertising guy who has been part of all this commercial fun and frenzy since Super Bowl I, I readily admit that I too eagerly awaited the 2010 commercial line up and the subsequent debate over the hits and misses. (For the most part this year’s crop was disappointing, but that’s another story) Nevertheless, there will always be a market and demand for Super Bowl advertising stardom. That’s not in question.

So, What’s The Big Deal?

After 23 consecutive years of paying big dollars to air some of the best Super Bowl spots ever, Pepsi’s decision to opt out as a Super Bowl sponsor when Coca Cola stayed in, was big headline grabbing news. It certainly was the number one topic of discussion among the students taking my USC graduate school advertising strategy class. So, we decided to apply some Asset-Based Thinking and look for the “teaching moments” in all of this media hype. The more important story that emerges with even bigger implications lies in what Pepsi is doing in lieu of spending all that Super Bowl cash. Pepsi turned the deficits and problems associated with pulling out of the Super Bowl into brand assets and opportunities by implementing a smart, creative, values based marketing program.

The Refresh Project: Fostering Innovation In Social Good Through Social Marketing

Throughout 2010 Pepsi will be doling out at least $20 million to fund great ideas that improve America’s communities. “Pepsi will fund ideas that will move the world forward in six categories: Health, Arts & Culture, Food & Shelter, The Planet, Neighborhoods and Education. People are encouraged to submit their ideas and cast a vote for their favorite projects at the Refresh Project website www.refresheverything.com.” There will be commercials to promote the project, substantial digital media, customized content created by media partners and extensive use of social media. A year long consumer engagement program that Pepsi hopes will become a key element of the Brand’s relationship with people and demonstrate that doing good is also good for business.

A Very Smart Brand Building Decision.

The Pepsi brand has established a reputation for thinking differently and aligning itself with the exuberance of youth, upbeat messaging and being ahead of the communications curve. Pepsi’s Super Bowl side step and concurrent social media plunge hit the mark in six important ways:

  1. Pulling out of the Super Bowl is a provocative way for Pepsi to question conventional wisdom and very much in line with its brand values. The brand’s absence generated as much, if not more, coverage and discussion than usually afforded the actual commercials.
  2. Their opt-out is in sync with current and emerging consumer values of responsible consumption and spending. Meaning matters as much as money and much more than hype.
  3. Pepsi’s opt –in to Social Media is recognition that it understands and values the new way people connect and communicate.
  4. By aggressively embracing cause marketing with a significant financial commitment ($20 Million+) Pepsi tangibly demonstrates a respect for and commitment to corporate social responsibility. This resonates with youth and shows that Pepsi is willing to do what it takes to deliver on that promise.
  5. The Pepsi Refresh Project is a powerful delivery of the Brand’s new global campaign theme… “Every generation refreshes the world. Now it’s your turn.” (I posted an earlier commentary on the Pepsi campaign)  The Refresh Project provides the delivery system for people to bring this theme to life in their own way.
  6. Pepsi is trading a perishable advertising message for a sustainable communications platform upon which a wide array of people engagements can be developed, grow and take on a life of their own.

The Medium (or absence of it) Is the Message.
Having an advertising presence in the Super Bowl carries with it a certain cachet and gravitas. Participating as an advertiser “says something” about a brand or company’s importance, resources and creativity. The message delivered can range from being a fleeting moment of creative fame or flop to becoming an institutionalized part of one of America’s most beloved and iconic sporting events. Pepsi certainly has become part of the Super Bowl sponsor elite so its decision to opt out spoke volumes about the Pepsi Brand. Here’s what it said.

Pepsi is….

  • Bold enough to move from being one of the “usual suspects” expected to show up on Super Bowl Sunday to being the “exceptional exception” that people seek out and personally engage with all year.
  • Has the confidence to trade the immediate, center stage brand buzz of a spectacular event for an on-going, meaningful conversation that builds a sustained shared experience.
  • Proud to share and live its brand values through the values and passions of other people.

This quote from Lee Clow, the legendary chief creative office of Pepsi’s ad agency, TBWA Worldwide sums it well.

Our idea was that this year we’d try to shift the marketing and communications to something that’s truly walking the walk. The goal is to develop a mechanism for young people to create ideas to make things better that will ultimately become part of the global behavior of the brand.

The “P” In Pepsi Stands For People

All of this reaffirms my belief that for companies and brands to survive and thrive in the future they must value people as asset and embrace a transparent and ongoing People strategy as the fifth pillar of the marketing mix….right along side Product, Price, Place and Promotion. My article from a few months ago, “From Mad Man To Twitterholic”, describes how Social Media has fundamentally changed the game on Madison Avenue. What we’re seeing with the Pepsi Refresh Project and their exit from the Super Bowl is a manifestation of these systemic changes and a sign of exciting and positive things to come. Trust, Transparency and Truth are the new currency of marketing. The Pepsi Refresh Project spends the Pepsi brand currency very wisely. By the way, is anyone talking about the Coke commercials?

Oh yeah. Super Bowl XLIV turned out to be one hell of a game….much better than the commercials. Kudos to the Saints.  Congratulations to the winning spirit of the people of New Orleans.

Can’t wait until next year!

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