Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reconcile or Perish

The heartbreak of watching television, particularly the news, is seeing the apparent chasm of understanding between the two hugely polarized segments of society, here in the U.S. and also around the world.

To summarize the essence of the conflict as I see it:

On the one hand there are Traditionalists who adhere to a strict set of moral standards that they firmly believe come from a higher power that renders those ideas sacrosanct and immutable.

On the other side there are what we might call Progressives that believe we can "improve" the circumstances of human existence according to ideas that come from human beings and that scientific advancement, along with removing past moral divides among people, will create a better world.

The choice of terms or names is not meant to favor either of these camps over the other.

The heartbreak, for me, is to see both sides mauling one another verbally and sometimes even physically, and generally parroting the pronouncements of the most shrill and extreme proponents of their respective positions, without any compassion or understanding of the other side.

To watch cable news in particular is to never see spokespeople for either side actually listen, take in, weigh and appreciate the point of view of the other.

To allude to a Christian concept, or actually one attributed to a spiritual master named Jesus, the idea of loving one's neighbor as oneself, and thereby at least being open to his/her ideas, is absent from current dialog.

To see children thrust into these disputes, carrying placards and voicing ideas that they have gotten from others, is even more disturbing.

Clearly if these two camps cannot somehow be reconciled, our society is in serious peril. To his credit Obama mentioned this in his campaign but for various reasons his administration has so far been unable to effect a way of letting both sides hear the other and work out their differences.

I believe that a road to reconciliation may exist if we align the two camps to what they hold sacred; for the Traditionalists that would be God or Religion; for the Progressives that would be their God or Religion, namely science (or what man has discovered and achieved).

Perhaps the preeminent proponent of the Scientific perspective would be Stephen Hawking, who in his lastest book, The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, has attempted to strip all mention of God out of any explanation of reality, claiming essentially that natural phenoma alone can explain existence and that a "multiverse" came into existence out of nothing.

On the surface, this point of view flies in the face of the Traditionalists and Religious community.

But what was interesting was to see these ideas discussed on of all things The Larry King Show, and to hear Deepak Chopra "take in" the Hawking/Mlodinow ideas and describe them lovingly as actually embracing both the sacred and the idea of higher consciousness.

What Chopra suggested as he questioned the co-author, Mlodinow (with whom he will now collaborate on a new book) is that the very natural laws on which Hawking bases is complete theory of everything are at their base… Intelligent –of an order of intelligence much higher and far vaster than what ordinary common sense would have us believe.

When Quantum Physics demonstrates that at the subatomic level particles behave or exist only according to how they are observed, that firmly places an 800 lb. gorilla into the domain of science—namely Consciousness.

Whether you use the term "God" or "Natural Law" to refer to higher levels of intelligence or consciousness that are being discovered at the macro and micro-cosmic levels makes no difference—clearly such energies, forces or realities are now accepted by both camps under different names.

From this perspective, with a sense of awe of the unknowable that seems to lie at the heart of smallest and the grandest scales of at least our portion of the "multiverse", I would submit that the Scientific Progressives might offer an olive branch to the Traditionalists by acknowledging that certain things are in fact sacred or simply "higher": for example, Life.

After all, for all of our advances we have still not managed to create life out of non-life; we can only manipulate life for our purposes.

Now before Progressives excoriate me for threatening womens' reproductive rights let me say that this doesn't necessarily mean the adoption of one extreme belief or another.

Rather, it should merely represent the first step for showing respect for one aspect of the beliefs of the Traditionalists; Life is not possible without a degree of Consciousness—whether we call that God or simply higher form of Intelligence or Energy.

One would hope that once the scientific community can come to this conclusion and become open to the concept of the higher or the sacred, that the less extreme members of the Traditional camp will similarly open and accept some of the tenets of the Progressives—namely that we are all expressing the same genes (or God's children) and worthy of respect.

In a nutshell, we are not better than them—we literally are them. We're all really the same stuff.

One would hope that this sort of reconciliation in the middle might lead to a way for new leaders to emerge and truly begin to solve the many problems facing our society by respecting the foundational beliefs of both sides, as they begin to come together.

Unfortunately this can only be achieved if we begin to re-examine and alter our attention and subjugation to the mass media, because clearly the FOX/Traditional and the CNN/Progressive channels have a vested interest in continuing to foster hostility and controversy.

I believe that this is where the Internet comes in. If the Internet and social media can foster a new paradigm of communication that is not based on advertising and conflict (and mass consumption) but rather participation and acceptance, reconciliation has a chance.

At its core, true social media is exactly that, embracing the social and cooperative and rejecting the zero sum concept of limited resources and winners and losers. It represents reconciliation through listening and understanding.

It's important that individuals embrace the values of openness and tolerance for other ideas and perhaps even change their own points of view if properly influenced, so that the social institutions that are currently unable to transcend sharp divisions can do so and begin to function effectively once again.

The essence of such an attitude is compassion; I happen to believe it is of a higher order of intelligence in the same way that consciousness or life is, and that if we don't begin to manifest it in significant ways we're in serious trouble, both domestically and globally.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tools of Engagement: How the World of Communication is Changing

I'm proud to announce that my new book, "Tools of Engagement:  Presenting and Training in a World of Social Media," is now available at As someone who has written extensively on video and presentation, I wanted this book to reflect the many changes that are impacting how we communicate with each other using technology.

The main theme of the book is that where presentations used to be targeted one-time events, they are now part of an ongoing conversation, and while authority figures may still claim the main podium, all presenters subject to a new democratic set of expectations of participation and engagement by their audience.

I strongly urge anyone with a message to avoid a "broadcast mentality" and simply give a PowerPoint presentation—and hope for the best. Such a strategy is doomed to failure today on many levels.

First there is the expectation of engagement and participation by any modern audience. Audiences expect a speaker or expert to have done a lot of research into their needs, and to be transparent and available online prior and subsequent to any presentation or event for interaction and feedback.

Whether the information is for internal or public consumption, a speaker today needs to have a presence, either through a blog, YouTube channel, Facebook group or event page, or some other interactive venue where the audience can get in touch and develop a sense of who they are—and often begin to interact with the speaker and become involved in the material directly.

There is also the phenomenon of the "Backchannel"; which is the reality that many of those attending any presentation are actively commenting and reacting with smartphones or PDAs, so that if the speaker is not aware of the sense of the audience, or engaged with the commentary, he or she will be tuned out.

Getting a sense of the reality of social media allows a presenter or trainer to be attuned to the needs of an audience and provide significant value. In terms of ordinary PowerPoint—it's the difference between trying to impress an audience with a spinning logo and information about YOU, as opposed to leading with insightful questions and foreknowledge of issues of importance to your audience.

For example, if a presenter has been active on blogs, monitoring and participating in Twitter and Facebook, or uploading video or images relevant to their field, they will generally find a receptive and knowledgable audience eager to hear more and open to calls to action.

These ideas have been well documented and presented in popular books like Groundswell, Tribes and Trust Agents, so what I've tried to do in my book is to provide some examples of the actual social and desktop tools and how to make them work effectively together.

For example, while PowerPoint is a staple for live presentations, its stale title and bullet slides are old hat, and professional speakers generally opt for more powerful visuals using image metaphors, analogies and diagrams. What I try to do is suggest how social tools like YouTube can set the stage for PowerPoint prior to an event, and then YouTube and its cousins SlideShare and AuthorStream (presentation hosting sites) can become powerful sources of additional content to maintain a connection with an audience.

I am also a big believer in the new web conferencing technologies which provide instant communication with a large group of attendees, but have the issues of maintaining a connection with an invisible audience, using just the power of the speaker's voice, message and visuals and graphics. In a world where getting anywhere is proving to be a challenge, going to a virtual event is proving very popular, but it has its own set of rules, risks and rewards.

What I want to do in Tools of Engagement is provide a reader with enough ideas and scenarios to spark the imagination in whatever his or her field may be—from an entrepreneur to a marketing executive at a large organization, to engage their colleagues and customers in ways that make the style of presentation effective and valuable.

I conclude the book with some speculation as to how social media and its impact on the organization may be evolutionary, in my hope that as a new "worldwide nervous system" the social Internet will either force or simply shift organizations to be more responsive to human and planetary needs, as opposed to simply making profits for shareholders.

Certainly it seems as though brands are having to listen more and more to customers online—we can only hope that this trend also translates into more than just public relations initiatives but eventually, with the instant involvement of customers and workers through the web—to a more natural and real awareness of higher values, like cooperation, philanthropy, compassion and wisdom.

If you're interested in discussing issues raised in the book, please feel free to comment here and perhaps we can demonstrate the power of social tools for engagement in a flourishing dialog.