Breaking the silence; looking back, looking forward

(This is a more personal post than most. It’s not the normal fare for this blog, but I need to explain what’s been going on recently. I would put this all in Twitter updates, but I can’t do the story justice in 140 characters.)

The last few weeks have been unusual for me. Stressfully fraught with disappointment, excitement, opportunity, new ideas, reversals, and finally a resurrection of hope.

A little over a week ago I teased my Twitter friends that I had a “big announcement” to share. Then I delayed a day. Then another day. Then a couple days. Then I went silent — because I realized I had no idea how long it would take for this announcement to go from “expected” to “official.”  Now, a week later, I have a totally different announcement.

But I get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning, eh?

About 18 months ago my then-CEO decided to leave for a better opportunity. While I had thought about leaving just before his announcement for other reasons, I stopped cold when he chose to leave. I figured I’d have front-row seats to a changing of the CEO guard and I’d learn a lot from the process. And indeed I learned a lot.

About 12 months ago we actually got our new CEO, a guy from outside the public broadcasting world, but a natural networker in our community with a history in commercial media (newspapers) as well as nonprofit organizations. Prior to his arrival, our Board recognized the need for a strategic re-visioning of the company and a key task for this first year with a new CEO was developing a new strategic plan, though there wasn’t much figured out beyond that. Staff, management and the Board simply knew there was something wrong — we were in a financial crisis and there was no coherent mission for the company — and we knew this wasn’t sustainable.

About 8 months ago we began serious discussions about a new organizational model for the company — a model that would deliberately shatter our historical divisions and bind our media services into a unified, localized, relevant and interactive service. Last November is when it began in earnest, when I and a colleague developed this first-draft whiteboard:

I’m not yet making a high-res image of this plan available, pending reorganization.

Meetings with the Board, presentations to managers and staff, development of org charts and more Saturday and Sunday meetings than I can remember filled the calendar from December through March. There were definitely some bumps along the way, some of them really disheartening. But on the whole we had momentum, we had fairly solid ideas, and we were determined to succeed with something — almost anything — new.

Then it all stopped.

Basically, we’d reached the limits of what we could achieve without actually making real, on-the-ground, hard choices and changes. We’d reached the limits of charts, chats, theories, PowerPoint slides and whiteboards. Indeed, we’re still there — effectively stalled out — and it’s been that way for months (this my opinion, mind you — others would likely make a different assessment of the situation).

Well, if I get the scent of stasis or stagnation in my job, my mind wanders. My eye wanders. I’m not satisfied with a maintenance job, especially when there’s so much original construction that could be done. Point of fact: in 2001 I left one of the best jobs I’ve ever had because I wasn’t willing to sit around and wait for the economic downturn to play out. My job was secure, high-paying, comfortable. I left because I knew I wouldn’t learn anything substantial over the next couple of years. I took a pay cut and moved all the way to Alaska to challenge myself. Had I stayed, things would have picked up 2 years later. But I wasn’t willing to wait. That’s just me.

So when a collection of indicators (which I can’t discuss openly) started pointing to stasis in my current job and company, my patience began wearing thin. After a while I stopped pushing, prodding, suggesting and requesting. I put some Craigslist RSS feeds in Google Reader in addition to the CPB jobs feed I’d been following for months. I began actively keeping my eye open for something else out there that might be a solid move.

And one popped up.

A New Job?
It wasn’t a public media job, but it was with a nonprofit cultural institution. It was an IT job with the Anchorage Museum. I won’t go into details here, but it was interesting on several levels. So I polished up the resume and threw my hat into the ring.

A month later I got a call for an interview. I went to the interview and a day later I had an offer. We negotiated. Two more days later and I was asked to attend a second interview (huh?). The day after that interview I got a second offer and I accepted. Meanwhile, I maintained open conversation with my existing employer. It was a friendly and extraordinarily adult and professional process — more so than anywhere else I’ve worked.

While waiting for the rather lengthy background check to complete (the longest, most detailed one I’ve ever experienced — a process I ultimate thought was excessive and even a little insulting), I hinted at the change in jobs on Twitter. And the delays gave me time to think. I think my boss had an extra chance to think, too.

Over this past weekend the conversation continued and, lucky for me (and for us), a new participant was brought into the conversation. Very quickly what seemed impossible was possible; the clouds parted and I could see a forecast that included sunny skies — at least somewhere out there. (Okay, that’s flowery talk that doesn’t really mean anything, but I can’t go into details here.)

A Second Decision
Following all these chats and after a great deal of hard thinking, I made the decision Tuesday morning to pass on the Museum job and re-commit myself to this unusual public media company on the Last Frontier, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s the first time in my professional career I’ve ever made a decision to leave and then change my mind. Partly this is due to the unique nature of the opportunity where and when I am right now. Partly it was the timing of events surrounding this change. And yet another part was the support of a handful of really great people that made it very easy, and very attractive, to stay.

For a long time I’ve felt like we have a chance — a long shot perhaps, but a chance nonetheless — to change the way public media is organized and change the nature of our public service. Due to the small size of our company in Anchorage we just might be able to change, piece by piece, and become something new, maybe even something innovative or revolutionary.

I told public media consultant Tom Livingston something at IMA 2008 in late February that played into my thinking this past couple of weeks. I told him that if we in Anchorage could pull off the strategy we’ve developed, there’s no place in the pubmedia system I’d rather be. For a while that dream receded impossibly into the future. But now it’s back within reach.

So the “big announcement” is now actually a non-announcement of sorts. I’m not leaving APTI; I’m staying (despite what I may have said or what you may have heard). After some changes come to the company, I’ll be much freer to discuss what has actually changed and why. It could be the things we change might be relevant to other public media outlets and leaders out there.

For now, I have to thank my patient Twitter followers for the confusion, offer my deepest apologies to the Museum for reversing course so late in the process, and especially thank a small group of people at APTI and beyond that will make my re-commitment all worthwhile.

7 thoughts on “Breaking the silence; looking back, looking forward

  1. Thanks for the informative post. I sympathize with the struggle of making the decision between staying and going, having been in that same position myself. I hope the potential that you see at APTI soon becomes motion to enact the vision. Good luck!

  2. Well, what a ride, but glad to hear you will still be in the system here in Alaska. Being no stranger to big chnage, i understand completely how goofy it can all get. My best to you all at APTI with hopes of great success.

  3. Thanks David and Gary! It was definitely a wild ride, and it’s only settling down in the latter half of this week. I’m looking forward to a positive and growing future at APTI for me and my colleagues. And when the time comes, I’ll share insights on that process that, for today, must remain private.

  4. I am glad that APTI will continue to have such a passionate and knowledgeable person on their staff. You bring a lot to the discussion of public media that I, for one, appreciate. Congratulations on your decision! And best of luck to you and to all of APTI in your renewed work together.

  5. These things happen. In my corner of the world we are in a transition. Many different expectations from everyone. My expectation? Not sure yet, so I’m keeping cool and try to say “yes” to as many things as I can accomplish.

  6. All the best in the reorganized APTI. I, for one, will look forward to hearing the full story.

    Question on an old post – how is your shift to Google Apps going?

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