How Microsoft’s Board nullified Gates, boosted Nadella, and set a positive tone for the next 10 years


After reading Barb Darrow’s post earlier today asking the question “What about Bill?” in the Microsoft transition, I immediately recognized what happened and quickly commented on Google+. But I wanted to take those notes and expand a little further here, because I have always had a keen interest in organizational strategy and culture, and especially how corporate cultures are set through executive action.

First off, I don’t know if Satya Nadella is the best possible pick as Microsoft’s new CEO, so I’ll leave that to the “analysts” out there (although he looks like a pretty darn good choice to me). But one thing struck me about announcement: it’s brilliant in its almost Machiavellian construction.

Here’s how this delicate-yet-strong power transition works:

  • As everyone expected, Ballmer is now 100% out of the picture, which is good because he was rocking the boat too much with his overly-emotional and disruptive monkey-dance style. There was never going to be a role for him going forward because he has only one volume setting (11) and he can be a loose cannon in interviews.
  • Meanwhile Gates is removed from the Board Chairman seat and he’ll now “help” Nadella with the transition and participate in product innovations. This is undoubtedly the joint work of the Board and Nadella, who expertly crafted a way to both keep Gates around long enough but also politely escort him out of the executive suite. Gates’ power is now deeply neutered so the Board can discuss matters without him second-guessing them. Whether the Board can really guide the company effectively from here is debatable, but at least they don’t have to play second fiddle to a legendary founder with whom they just can’t compete.
  • Nadella has neatly cloaked himself in the Gates shadow by pulling Gates into his own orbit and putting Gates into an active — but not too active — and temporary role as “advisor” to Nadella and selected product teams. This is a way to dazzle the long-time Microsofties with the sparkly goodness of Gates and show that Nadella is the true chosen successor — all while Nadella consolidates power and starts to turn the ship.
  • The icing on the cake for Nadella, the Board, and hopefully customers? Gates’ temporary participation is focused on fostering a new culture the Board knows they desperately need: a culture of innovation. Microsoft has blown it on multiple tech revolutions for years, and they need to find the next wave or just drown. Bringing in a legend to work for the new CEO sends a clear message to everyone in the company: help us innovate or hit the bricks, no matter how much money you’ve got.

Going forward, it doesn’t much matter whether Gates actually does anything of technical or product value for Microsoft. His primary value now is being the poster boy for innovation. If he doesn’t deliver much, no big deal — he can fade nicely into Microsoft history and guide the amazing work the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is doing. He just can’t sit on the Microsoft Board anymore, telling everyone how he did it in 1995.

This CEO transition strategy really is remarkable. It’s done two seemingly impossible things at the same time: It’s gotten Gates out of the way without setting up a series of narratives that compare Gates and Nadella ad infinitum. And I’ll bet you a tiny fraction of Gates’ fortune that he’s actually cool with it. It relieves him of a lot of pressure to deliver results in a company that he’s not really been running for a very long time. He can spend a year or so hanging out at Microsoft part-time, and slip away.

The Microsoft Board has really set the tone for the next 10 years with three simple messages:

  1. We love the company Gates built and the legacy he’s leaving us.
  2. But Nadella is our guy now, so listen to him.
  3. And you all better get to innovating right away. There’s no time to lose.

More on the Revolution

Upon arriving in Washington, DC this week conversation with my public media colleagues immediately turned to the new Revolution PBS blog. Two questions came up: “Are you behind it?” and “Then who is?”

I still don’t know.

We didn’t get much time to talk about the new blog while at CPB, as those proceedings moved very fast (thanks to awesomely energetic facilitator Allen Gunn) and we were focused elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the conversation continues as Revolution PBS posts more material and at least one freelance journalist has picked up on it for a proposed article in “Public Broadcasting Report,” a print-only publication (what’s that?) from the for-profit trade magazine publisher Warren Communications News. (NOTE: If the story appears, it will only be in print, so I’ll be unable to link to it and they don’t provide copies for digital distribution.)

Laura Norton, the freelancer writing for the Report, sent me some questions to answer, and I thought I’d share my complete responses here, since I took some time prepping the answers.

And here’s what you can do: How would you answer some or all of these questions?

Q1: Can an anonymous blog critiquing PBS have any traction? The intended audience appears to be PBS brass, but is the more-likely audience station managers, directors, etc? Does it make a difference?

Who knows? Odds are this blog won’t make a big difference. It’s easy for pubmedia leaders to dismiss it because it’s unsigned and — so far anyway — it’s not specific enough to allow for meaningful action.

However, if the blog continues to offers new ideas or points to consider, it might push more conversation. Public media folks *love* to talk, and maybe some of these ideas could be drawn into the conversations of the powerful and drive changes. It’s possible.

As for audience, I don’t know who will really pay attention over time. I suspect it might make it to executive suites at PBS occasionally. And a few GMs around the country might make note of it.  Probably the best audience, as with any blog, will be anyone that wants to see positive changes that preserve the core goals of public service media in an age when old broadcast media business models are under siege.

Q2: How curious are you about who is writing it?

Very curious.

The author (authors?) have already demonstrated an understanding of the construction of the public media world that far outstrips that of the average citizen or donor. Even major donors often don’t understand the relationship between the stations, the network, producers, CPB, Congress and so on.  That suggests — though by no means proves — the author(s) are from inside the system, either currently or formerly.

Knowing the identity of this new voice could lend the ideas more weight. Or the reverse.

Personally, I want to know more about the writer because I’m not a fan of anonymous commentary. I understand the need for anonymity in some circumstances, but I still don’t like it. Plus, if they remain anonymous, how can we put them on a panel at the next pubmedia conference? 😉

By the way, in talking with colleagues in the system, everyone that’s aware of the blog is curious to know who it is. And speculation to date is that it’s an insider.

Q3: Are the ideas proposed too far off target from where PBS is heading?

The ideas proposed so far are nowhere near where stations or PBS are heading — if in fact they’re headed anywhere in particular. It’s a radical rethinking of how the service is organized at pretty much every level. That kind of change is incredibly scary and would definitely result in job losses (and some new jobs, too). Corner-office types everywhere, in CPB, PBS and in stations, would be at risk.

Ideas like these could only come from people that either stand to gain from the changes or from people deeply committed to an ideal. Or both.

Q4: With lots of pubmedia groups out there talking, critiquing, etc, what makes this different?

It’s different because the changes proposed are more radical than anything in recent memory (at least publicly). Mostly those of us yakking in the pubmedia sphere talk either about smaller matters or more evolutionary changes. We may talk about new things (like expanding digital media efforts), but almost no one comes out and says “this system is messed up and should be destroyed to be saved.”

It’s also different because of the anonymity. To my knowledge, everyone else signs their work in the pubmedia commentary world.

Q5: How (if at all) do the critiques ring true?

DO the critiques ring true? That depends upon who you ask.

Some of them ring true from me, and, if asked privately, I suspect most people working in public television with a view of the whole system would agree there are points here that are spot-on.  On more than one occasion I’ve heard people in the system ask, “If you were going to build a public television system today, would you duplicate what we have now?” The answer is always “No way!”

There are so many things that are “wrong” with the public TV system you could write a book (and some have). But to me the inefficiency argument is the easiest target of them all. When each of the 300+ stations create virtually identical program streams (some of it dictated by PBS common-carriage rules), the argument that “we need a local station because our community has unique needs” just doesn’t hold up.

And local control of the broadcast schedule is pretty much the only defense left for the majority of stations out there. Most pubTV stations no longer produce meaningful local content because:

  1. it’s incredibly expensive to live up to national quality standards and make a program people want to watch in sufficient numbers to pay the bills
  2. funding of all types has been dwindling for years (membership, sponsorship, foundations, government)
  3. viewership is declining as new channels and platforms proliferate.

So if you’re not generating local value, why, exactly, do you need a local full-service station? Why not just run a “repeater” in your area, offering a national “feed” of PBS content?

That’s the apparent “Revolution PBS” critique (or at least much of it), and I think it’s a discussion worth having. Who knows — what if we found a solution that solved the problem just by talking it through?  What IF we had a “C-SPAN style” PBS with tiny local offices doing intensely local (and cheaper) work? What would that look like? Would it serve the public good better than what we’re doing today?

Q6: You say PBS should engage on these issues, how? to what extent?

It would be very easy for PBS to dismiss the blog, and I suspect they will, at least officially. PBS is a huge corporation and this is some anonymous blog with not-entirely-coherent (or at least incomplete) arguments, especially from the PBS perspective.

But this is a series of critiques that are new and nuanced. This isn’t some right-wing screed about how PBS isn’t relevant anymore in a world of 200 cable channels or Big Bird is a millionaire and doesn’t need public money or PBS is a liberal indoctrination system infecting our children. No, this is a critique about the construction and efficiency of the system and the split roles of local and national. If PBS dismisses this blog, and if the ideas gain traction (which can happen on the web very fast), this could be a new critique that maybe — just maybe — brings down the house because you can’t dismiss it as political invective.

How to engage?  I’d say at first you meet the blogger(s) on their turf — their blog, in the comments, and sign your name. Participate in the dialog where it makes sense. Correct statements or assessments that are wrong or miss the point or don’t address real concerns from stations, producers, the public, etc. Push the bloggers to be more specific, to back up their points.

Who would do this? It doesn’t have to be PBS CEO Paula Kerger, but mid-level and upper-level leaders in PBS would be great. Other bloggers in the pubmedia space should chime in occasionally.  Make it a robust — but honest and realistic — conversation.  That would show PBS is serious about doing the “right” things and the “best” things for the public as a public service organization. And it would show respect for the public in ways that would actually pay PR dividends for PBS leadership.

The blog so far has not been a screed, it’s not been a rant. It’s respectful. They’re saying they care about the future of public media. This is someone we can talk to, someone we might be able to learn from. So let’s do it.

On a side note… When I entered the public media world several years ago, I had picked up a book on the industry, one that was somewhat critical of the system, especially in terms of its insular nature, its unwillingness to collaborate with other nonprofit media organizations and its drift toward commercialism and away from the core notions of the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act.

One day my GM at the time saw the book and asked why I was reading it. I said I was trying to learn more about the industry. I was promptly told the ideas in that book were irrelevant because they were written by “outsiders.” I’ve never forgotten that.

I agree that “insiders” have a more insightful view on current practice and operational challenges. But insiders lacking outside views develop huge blind spots — how do you know if you’re serving the public’s needs if you never ask?

I’m hoping when thoughtful and respectful people come along with criticisms and suggested solutions, maybe now we can listen, think and offer conversation in return.

Yelvington on paywalls and community

I recently told public broadcasters, er… I mean public service media folks, to ignore the paywall option. Don’t do it. And while I stand by that assertion generally, the invaluable Steve Yelvington has a much more nuanced take in his piece Thinking about a paywall? Read this first.

It involves this little chart, and there are lessons for those that would create both a popular general web destination and an online community, all in one. Highly recommended.

FINAL CUT: The Future is Public Service Media

Here’s the final cut of my recent presentation for WOSU Public Media in Columbus. This time I’ve got a video I created myself plus a complete set of slides and links back to all the original material.

In this case, the video is a revised presentation deck with a brand new voiceover track. This way, if you couldn’t see or hear the presentation clearly in the video shot at WOSU, now you can get the slides and the talk directly.

First, the video, then I’ll follow up with a final collection of links.

Final Cut Presentation Material

Additional Material

Nonprofits and engagement media

I’m out of the nonprofit world these days, but I’ve spent some years in it, so I’m not at a total loss as to how things work and how cultural norms accrue. I’ve got my opinions, to be sure.

So when I saw, via FriendFeed, a post from Beth Kanter — Seth Godin’s Non Post About Nonprofits: Deers in the Headlights? — I was curious. I like both Kanter’s and Godin’s work and this seemed to be generating some buzz. So I clicked over to both Kanter’s post and to the original Godin post: The problem with non.

Quite a bit of the conversation was on Kanter’s site, so I joined the fray with the following post-length comment…

I was, until recently, trying to develop engagement media practices inside a public media company. It was a disaster, but not for the reasons most nonprofit managers would point to.It wasn’t about the tiny budgets or the excessive time required. It was about EXACTLY what Godin was talking about: resistance to change and slothful, good-enough-for-a-nonprofit management practices. It was also because the traditionalists liked their ivory tower positions; they liked speaking from on high to the little people in the audience. I was told we didn’t want to get the public involved in public media — that’s too messy.

Godin has nailed it and the reason for the violent response is precisely because he nailed it.

Lots of nonprofit workers, after a while, develop a sort of victimization mythology that serves the stagnation problem. “I don’t have enough money, so I can’t do this, so I can’t make more money… woe is me. But I’ll keep at it because I’m such a nice person. And maybe someone rich will come along and notice me. It could happen!” I saw that all the time.

Is it all nonprofits? Nope. But it’s a lot of them. Of the 2 million out there, how many are really creating engaging relationships with donors or their constituents regularly? Maybe 10,000? Whatever the number is, it’s not enough.

Here are the key nonprofit organization questions you have to answer:

  1. Who are you, why are you here, and why should anyone care? (And if you spit out a mission statement, you just failed step 1.)
  2. What are you doing today to build authentic, meaningful relationships with donors and potential donors? (Mass mailings via any means don’t count.)
  3. What are you doing today to build authentic, meaningful relationships with the individuals, firms or communities you serve? (Look up the words “authentic” and “meaningful” before you answer.)
  4. What are you doing today to connect your donors and your beneficiaries, either directly or indirectly, so the donors feel energized and involved and the beneficiaries feel supported and involved, too? Or in other words, how are you building a community around your mission? (And broadcasting doesn’t count as connecting.)
  5. Given #1, what tools will best help you handle #2-4? (Notice I made no mention of Twitter or any other social media tool.)

charity:water is just the beginning. There’s a new generation of donors growing up right now and they won’t take your call or your e-mail or your mass mailing. But they will respond to an earnest call for help, especially from a friend they know. The next-gen trick is to be that friend first.

Nonprofits had best start making new friends. Because the old ones are dying and the broadcast campaigns (e-mail blasts, newsletters, appeal letters) will largely die with them. There’s still a place for building awareness, but action will come via relationships.

Godin’s pointing all this out through this post, his recent Tribes book and plenty of other posts. It’s a tough message, especially if you’re a “victim” inside a change-averse nonprofit (or a for-profit, for that matter!).

From here, you can deal with it — seeking new ways to engage your community — or just hope he’s wrong.

Frankly, I think it’s more fun to engage with your community regardless of what Godin says. But if proving Godin wrong sounds more fun to you, enjoy.

What I didn’t mention in my comment was my own immediate experience with fundraising for a cause via social media — via connections built across my own “community.” It was a small, first effort. But it was the collective action of a group of people with no nonprofit organization whatsoever. We came together to help a friend we’d literally never met.

For my generation and especially for Generations Y and Z, the old impersonal “broadcast” approaches used in public media and across the nonprofit spectrum will have diminishing returns.

But if I know you and you know me and we know we care about one another in some meaningful way — if we’re engaged in each other’s lives — the support will be there.

Alaska public media falling apart

Updated 16 Sep 2011. Updates at the bottom of the post.

Things are tough all over the public media world these days. But if you think you’ve got it bad, you should try working in the Alaska public media world. It’s brutal.

In case you hadn’t heard or figured it out, I was fired from APTI back in March, along with our news director, ostensibly for failing to “align” with the CEO’s preferred — and secret — strategy of merging all the public radio and TV operations in the state into a single company (there are roughly 25 separate companies). We were firings #3 and #4 from a management team of 7, all in less than a year. The GM hired a personal friend to replace us literally the next day. Oh, and the rest of those 7 managers? Only 1 is left, and that position was demoted below management level last year.

So if you’re feeling down about pay freezes, furloughs or being laid off, just be glad you’re not living with this series of unfortunate events (and these are just the ones from memory)…

August 2008

  • APTI (Anchorage): Reorganization – General Manager (GM) fires Communications/TV and Development directors; no one hired to replace them

December 2008

  • APTI (Anchorage): Award-winning and beloved statewide program, “AK” is canceled, staff terminated

February 2009

  • APTI (Anchorage): GM decides a statewide merger of all public radio and TV stations into a single company is the strategy of the future; GM doesn’t announce his intentions to the rest of the company or the other stations in the state — stations that have been suspicious Anchorage would try this one day
  • KTOO (Juneau): It’s revealed — privately — that the Juneau-based stations are roughly $250,000 in the hole due to falling underwriting sales and other issues
  • KUAC (Fairbanks): It’s revealed — privately — that the Fairbanks stations and statewide TV service (AlaskaOne) lose roughly $1,000,000 per year, but the University of Alaska Fairbanks fills in the financial hole annually

March 2009

  • APTI (Anchorage): Strategy change! News/content and broadcasting/web directors fired; GM’s personal friend hired to replace them (a print journalist and professor with no broadcast or public media experience)
  • KUAC (Fairbanks): GM quits to take a job out of state; he’s not replaced

May 2009

June 2009

About that last item… I met with and worked with KYUK’s GM a few times. He was one of the good guys. He resurrected the station’s finances and dealt with the privations of living in rural Alaska — a far cry from his decades of work in the Lower 48. I won’t name him here as that’s not really my right to do so — you can look him up if you’d like. But I can say I sure wish he had taken the GM job in Anchorage back in mid-2007. Things could have turned out very differently for a great group of people that have persevered through so many challenges in the last few years. They don’t deserve the chaos they’ve inherited.

Crystal Ball Time

I have no idea what the future holds for public media in Alaska. Public radio — of the rebroadcasting NPR variety practiced in Anchorage — is probably pretty safe, barring straight-up mismanagement. Pubradio gathers a good chunk of change in Anchorage and the cost structure is comparatively light. Public TV is another story. The cost of merely rebroadcasting prepackaged material is excessive and traditional TV production is out of the question for pretty much all the stations in Alaska (without special project funding, which goes to outside contractors anyway).

Internet effects on the business models are definitely coming to urban Alaska, as are demographic shifts that represent brand new media consumption habits for which public media outlets aren’t really prepared, at least not here on the continent’s edge. Those changes will occur slowly, accumulating quietly until, one day, it’s just too late for the old guard to meet the new challenges, and that’s when public media either gets more government funding (a bailout) or it just disappears.

For the Alaska stations, and especially APTI in Anchorage, the biggest problem remains the same one I identified when I started working there in late 2004: You must answer two questions: [1] Who are you? and [2] Why are you here?

Those questions remained unanswered for my entire career in Alaska’s public media world, no matter how many times I asked or how hard I pressed for an answer. (The current GM thinks he answered those questions with a “strategic planning” process everyone regarded as a waste of time.) But without knowing, deeply, the answers to those seemingly-simple questions, it doesn’t matter what “strategy” you have — you’ll drift, you’ll live off the good intentions of past supporters. Without those two answers your future will be created by fate, happenstance, luck and disaster rather than by coordinated effort around a shared, meaningful goal that’s relevant to the world today.

But enough of all that. What happens next in the 49th state’s 50th year? Hopefully nothing worthy of adding to the harrowing list above. Public media up here needs a breather.

And maybe, one day, new leadership.

UPDATE: 15 Sep 2011

A few weeks back, the other shoe dropped. APTI and the other Alaska stations officially gave up on merging the stations together into a unified company. They are continuing to look at unifying the TV service.

This is both a relief and a vindication.

In the months leading up to my ouster, I was clear with the CEO in that I opposed the organizational merger concept, though I agreed that the TV services should be unified since they were so deeply and unnecessarily duplicative.

In place of pursuing a merger, I specifically recommended the organization spend its energies on reconnecting with the local community, not trying to create some mythical “all Alaska” media firm. There were so many things we could do to create meaning and value locally, in Anchorage, that we didn’t need to create a bunch of new work, namely beating back the obvious wishes of those local Boards and communities we’d have to take over.

Now that the merger push is dead, Alaskans that favor local public media can breathe a sigh of relief. Too bad it took 3 years of dragged-out talks and $88,000 of CPB money to get here. I should have just charged CPB $44,000 for the advice I gave on Day 1 and they could have pocketed the other half.

The last thing still under consideration: merging the TV signals into one. This is a slam-dunk and should have been pursued years ago. Oh, wait… it was!

Many years ago (the mid-1990s) 3 of the 4 Alaska public TV stations merged their signals into AlaskaOne. Anchorage was the only hold-out — they wanted to retain local control and — the real reason — local fundraising (cha-ching!). Back then, local PBS stations were pretty localized and raised a lot more money. But over the years all the stations converged on the same schedules as PBS tightened control over common carriage and everyone gave up local production and scheduling capacity as their fundraising and ad sales collapsed.

Today, merging Anchorage into the AlaskaOne family should just be done. The schedules are carbon copies anyway. Hell, I’ve been in favor of PBS just going all C-SPAN and taking the signal national and being done with it. But that’s another story. For now, let’s hope AlaskaOne finally captures Anchorage public TV and APTI turns its attention further and further toward local media and local public services.

Well, except for all the money made by rebroadcasting NPR stuff.

Out of the mouths of (27 year old) babes

If you’re involved in public radio, this is required reading / listening.

Jesse Thorn, host of public radio’s The Sound of Young America (which is really a podcast that happens to be on a handful of 25+ public radio stations nationwide), speaks with Josuha Benton (Nieman Journalism Lab / Harvard) about his notions of creativity, business, media scale, public radio economics, audience interaction, passion, awesome content and more.

In particular, he nails the problems of the public radio industry today: the saturation of the older, educated white market and the industry’s pull back from attempts to stretch into new market segments with old formulas. He also keenly understands and explains the financial models in “the system.”

Because what Thorn proposes is that public media programs, hosts, writers, and others do is, well… make great content and directly interact with the audience that gels around the content and experience. He’s suggesting you build a Tribe.

Take a listen…

While listening, pay special attention to his observations about how he pays himself for his work, how he interacts with his audience, and how small-scale his show’s production model is. Also pay attention to how he thinks programs in the future will work — using mass media as “calling cards” or “advertising” for the interactive media experience the programs are creating.

From a Tribes perspective and a mass media model perspective, there’s only one other major national project I know of that’s doing the same thing: Planet Money, in a tiny, experimental pocket of NPR. And that could be said to be an outgrowth of the defunct Bryant Park Project.

There will remain a place for mass-produced and mass-appeal general news production. But for everything else, and especially for any local station that wants to survive, your future is in building a community around awesome content and services, a la Jesse Thorn.

Bonus Listening: If you haven’t heard the SxSW presentation by Merlin Mann and John Gruber on creating content online, that’s your immediate next destination. Indeed, here’s your reading list for surviving in the 21st century media world:

Double-Bonus Listening / UPDATE 2009-04-19: Thanks to the unstoppable Jesse Thorn for stopping by with a comment (below) and sharing the link from the discussion at the 2009 Integrated Media Association conference in Atlanta. Highly recommended, too. Thanks Jesse!

21st century leaders foster talent, not scale

I’m starting to (finally) get back into reading great stuff from around the web, fueling some new thinking. I stumbled across this nugget from consultants with frequently insightful writing:

…the rate of learning, innovation, and performance improvement within the institution must match (or exceed) that of the surrounding environment if the institution is to survive (or thrive). Given that innovation is inherently a human activity–one performed by talented individuals–it follows that talent will pull institutions into the 21st century.

That’s because a rapid rate of innovation cannot be programmed from above. At best what institutional leaders can do is to create the environments–the “creation spaces”–that foster innovation and faster learning. But here’s the rub: many of these institutional leaders are caught in the mindsets of the previous generation of infrastructures and the related assumption that scalable efficiency is the key to success. Talent, on the other hand, is under increasing pressure to get better faster and will either leave institutions that cannot help them or become catalysts for change within those institutions.

[full article]

Let’s just say I can vouch for the above quote 100%.

Questions for public media firms, leaders and talent:

  • Does your corporate culture, as led from the top, regularly share, explain and praise positive examples of media innovation both inside and outside the firm?
  • Do stakeholders in your firm’s success understand the risks of stasis in a rapidly-changing media and business environment?
  • Do you have a plan, a process or even just a notion of how to ensure everyone in your firm is learning substantial new things every year, every quarter?
  • Which activity absorbs more of your time: protecting sacred cows or fulfilling a mission in a presently-relevant way?
  • Is your firm innovating in media creation and delivery at a rate that matches or exceeds the media changes in your service area? (note that media changes occur at variable rates based on where you are)
  • Is your solution to a changing media environment becoming “too big to fail” (AIG) or becoming “too vital to ignore” (NPR)?
  • Are you leading a tribe or building an audience?

Digital Public Media: From Broadcasting to Leading a Tribe

Thanks to @garyinalaska, I was invited to speak at the Alaskan Apple Users Group (AAUG) on March 4 in Anchorage, on a topic more or less of my choosing, but dealing with “digital media survival.”

I took that notion, applied it to public media, and tried to bring forth my current thinking about how we in the public media space — at least where I am these days — must change in order to better serve our original mission and do it in a sustainable and meaningful way. Broadly, I suggested we must move from being a purely broadcasting-focused firm to leading a “tribe,” as Seth Godin would put it.

Frankly, my presentation needs work. A lot of work. But the core ideas are there. We’re only just getting started on this in my firm, so I should be able to revise this in the future once we’ve got more experience. For now, however, here’s the presentation files as well as lots of links that are the foundational pieces of the notions presented. I’d love to hear your comments or suggestions, and if you take these ideas and expand upon them, drop me a link.

  • Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, by Seth Godin (
  • Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, by Seth Godin (free at
    Godin’s book on the tribes notion isn’t perfect (there are complaints out there about generalities that aren’t backed up with examples), but it’s quite good and I suspect it will form the backbone of our strategy going forward. It is not a prescriptive book; it has no “instructions” — it’s more faith than religion, if you know what I mean. In any case, as I noted in the presentation at AAUG, if all we in the current public media are doing is talking at people instead of communicating with and connecting people with shared interests and values, we’re not likely to survive. Content is free. Distribution is free. Contact, context, connection and community are priceless.
  • Seth Godin’s blog
    Godin covers the tribes notion periodically and relates tons of next-generation marketing and communications concepts; highly recommended reading for just about anyone.
  • Seth Godin Talking About Leading a Tribe (YouTube, 6 min)
    Audio quality is a little weak, but crank it up and you’ll hear everything you need to hear. Godin succinctly hits the notion that companies are focused on interrupting you enough to trick you into buying their products or services, but they don’t care about you.
  • Seth Godin: Sliced bread and other marketing delights (TED / YouTube, 19 min)
    TED Talks are legendary and Godin does his typically masterful job talking about marketing. This one is not about tribes, but the notions covered are integral to understanding how our historic mass media model is failing. It’s 19 minutes, but it doesn’t feel like it — he’s a wizard of fast presentations that are smart, funny and revealing.
  • “No One Cares About You” (YouTube, 2 min)
    Short and to-the-point advice to companies that think they need to get into social media to tell the world about what they are doing. Surprise: people don’t care about your company.
  • Kevin Kelly / The Technium: Better than free
    This piece set off a ton of blogosphere and public media commentary last year because Kelly sets forth not only the notion that you can’t stop things (media) from being free, but that there are still ways for companies and individuals to create value and gather revenue. Brilliant stuff.
  • Kevin Kelly / The Technium: 1,000 true fans
    Godin refers to this piece in Tribes, and rightly so. It’s a seminal work in the new media world, as it proposes that an artist can surivive if only he or she can find 1,000 true fans/supporters. Godin suggests, rightly, that the number might be 1,000, but it also might be 100 or 10,000 or 1,000,000 — depending upon your situation. But there is a number, and you need those true fans.
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto
    Now 10 years old, the Cluetrain is still being studied as companies of all kinds try to understand how to behave in the new media, interactive world. The 95 Theses are priceless.
  • Clay Shirky: “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus”
    Shirky addresses the rise of television in concert with the industrial revolution and how it acted as a “cognitive heat sink,” yet now people are participating in media creation rather than simply passively consuming it. Critical to understand because it signals and explains how and why people are, more and more, rejecting
  • Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody (the web site)
  • Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody (
    Subtitled, “The Power of Organizing Without Organizations,” this is a critical idea that public media companies must understand. There are aspects of running a public media service that require the power of a formal organization. But engaging with and leading a tribe cannot be achieved by a pure firm (or corporate) approach because it cannot scale. But if we can “organize without an organization,” we can get there. Of special note are his brief references to “cost of coordination” and how and when a firm (a formal organization) is useful and when it stands in the way of progress.
  • Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration Strategy Lab
  • Umair Haque / Harvard Business Publishing
    His writing is perhaps the most dense of any of the links here — it’s probably a half- or full-generation ahead of contemporary economic thinking, so it can be hard to follow. But if you’ve got an imagination to see a world that doesn’t quite look like ours and a world that operates on different economic principles, expectations and practices, you should be following Haque. Those in traditional mass media — especially commercial media — will ignore Haque at their peril. By the way, his PowerPoint slides on co-creation of content (at Bubblegeneration) are equally dense, but there’s a kernel of public media’s future in there: a collaborative approach to media capture, editing and distribution that we could never have considered in the past.

Thanks again to @garyinalaska for the invite. The crowd was great!