Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Nothing new - but plenty to renew

I'm feeling a bit flat today - the natural come down after completing the fifth of my six essays for this year's modules on my MA. There's no chance to cruise though, as essay six - and it's a biggie - needs to be submitted in just 14 days, while there's also a research proposal to write and a dissertation to get moving.

But while the course is taking me into new areas of thought and really stretching both my knowledge and capability to learn, I'm not quite getting that same buzz from work - well, this last couple of weeks at least.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the projects I have and will put heart and sould into them, but my current pattern of work is a bit formulaic, and with a certain sense of deja vue.

Like others of my experience, I've come to the conclusion that there's nothing new in IC. Despite what the gurus and consultants might say, and no matter how it's dressed up, it's about organisational leaders building relationships of trust with their teams that enable everyone to do their jobs better. We don't all need to be best mates or even to share the same beliefs, but we all need the right information to do our jobs effectively brought to us in a timely and relevant way; and the right channels to be heard. Frankly, that hasn't changed since January 1989 when I moved from straight-forward journalism into my first in-house role at Nationwide.

We may be talking about engagement and involvement rather more than reporting these days, and there may be slightly more emphasis on two-way communication, but the essentials of the job remain the same. The so-called revolutions that have exploded the box around social media and broken the barriers between internal and external communication are important: but 15 years ago I was working on issue-based communication. True, our tool kit has changed, but the underlying skills and experience required are far less changed.

Where those of us with a few grey hairs have to adapt and indeed renew is in our cultural referencing. This strikes home to me every time we kick off a debate at university. The background to my life was the fall of Saigon; breaching the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The recent intake of undergrads were born after the fall of the Wall and have never known a world precariously tottering on a balance of power. While the icons of my youth are the heroes of punk, new wave....and yes, even new romanticism, my colleagues on my postgrad course come from an age when R&B is dominant; where schoolwork is conducted on the net and where meeting your mates happens through MSN.

It's not quite 'jumpers for goalposts' stuff, but it's totally unfair and wrong-headed of us as communicators to assume our audiences share our values and references, or that we should impose what matters to us onto them. We can't always hark back to the good old days - some of them were pretty shitty - and we can never assume we've got nothing to learn.

I'm doing the same-old same-old in terms of the process of communication; but my tools are a little different, and my outlook has to change a little too.

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