Most blogs about “what I am reading” are as boring as Justin Timberlake's Super Bowl halftime performance and usually self-indulgent attempts to demonstrate your smarts. I obviously will do that in this blog but along the way I am also going to jazz things up with hilarious cultural and personal references while still making my point.
My point is you have to have a reading list. I am looking at you, communicators. We are in a business that requires eternal learning vs. let’s say, my dog Charlie who dashes to the front door barking every damn time a doorbell rings on TV. No learning.
A reading list should be broad and deep, literally. Mine is stacked a foot high in my office awaiting my next long plane ride or surgery – lately, the latter being more likely. It should address the issues that continue to perplex you and others – what the hell are blockchain and cryptocurrency, and can I buy artificial intelligence for my personal use, such as figuring out the ending of the movie Interstellar?
Understanding emerging topics – even at a basic level – will make you a better communicator and leader in your organization. When I was at GE, I tried to get a basic grasp of China and India’s increasing importance in the global economy, or how additive manufacturing might disrupt industrial companies, or how changing social values could influence employee attitudes and company policies.
Part of my motivation was fear of being embarrassed. Sometimes I was. In 2008, I presented to the GE Board on the reputation risks associated with GE’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games in Beijing. There were protests against Olympic sponsors by actress Mia Farrow and others related to China’s failure to act on genocide and human rights abuses in Darfur. One protest bumper sticker said, “You Can’t Spell GEnocide Without GE.”
This wasn’t my first Olympic reputation rodeo and I could articulate how best to handle the China issue. But then the board started asking very specific questions about the situation on the ground in Sudan. I was like a stumped spelling bee contestant: “Uhhh….could you use it in a sentence?” Luckily, the GE Foundation leader bailed me out. I was half prepared.
No one in GE was going to give me a course on Darfur. I had to educate myself on the issue and many others that confront a global company. It can be exhausting and sometimes not fun. Instead of watching GE-funded “Must Watch TV” comedy classics such as “Joey” on airplanes, I would try to get through my reading pile.
Reading lists should be diverse in their topics and source and force you out of your comfort bubble. The usual suspects such as the Wall Street Journal are important but so are Scientific American, Harvard Business Review, The Economist and Foreign Policy.
Sounds like fun, right? Well get a gander at some of the things on my list:
· “Effects of corporate online communications on attitude and trust: Experimental analysis of Twitter messages,” from the Institute for Public Relations
· “Report From the Buy Side: The Power of Intangible Factors on Investment Decisions,” by Weber Shandwick
· “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture,” from the Harvard Business Review
· “Five Ways to Spot Fake Research,” by the amazing Sarab Kochhar, Ph.D.
· “How to Read a Financial Report,” by Merrill Lynch
· “Why Facts Don’t Change our Minds,” by Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker
· “Brain. Behavior. Story. Why Public Relations Needs to Return to its Scientific Roots,” by Christopher Graves of Ogilvy Public Relations
· “Hello, My Name is Jeff,” a New York Times profile of Jeff Bezos
· “Selective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence from the consumption of fake news during the 2016 presidential campaign,” by three really smart professors from really smart schools
· “Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble,” by Steven Johnson of the New York Times Magazine
· “How to Get The Most Out of A Mentoring Relationship,” by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations
You’re saying, “Sheffer is a gas bag. He’s not going to read all those things.” You’re right. Sometimes the topic gets moldy by the time I get to it and I move on, constantly curating the pile to try to stay current.
Okay, sorry, you’ve had enough of this haughty and pedantic harangue but you haven’t endured anywhere near the hectoring others have suffered. At GE, I often droned on about the necessity of reading and being the most informed person in the room.
I know, that's not as fun as watching the GE/NBCUniversal comedy classic, “The Land of the Lost?” But hey, what is?