By Bram Weinstein/@RealBramW
Being a intense consumer of sports or politics won’t automatically translate into you becoming a beacon for your chosen sect of the broadcasting profession. Communication skills are key. Forward thinking abilities are paramount. And of course the platform will determine how widespread your message can be disseminated. But even then, not all broadcasters on CNN become Wolf Blitzer just as not all Sports anchors have the reach of Dan Patrick. So there is something else at play here.
This is why I’ve become as big a fan of Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, etc.) and Stephen Dubner (Freakanomics franchise). Understanding social psychology and the economics of time are building blocks of success regardless of profession but in particular ours. I’m going to guess your path to this profession won’t deviate far from mine. I watched TV, sports mainly and started emulating the people I saw. And then I determined that this was what I was going to do with my life. I watched and listened intently taking note of all their tricks. When did he pause? Why did he pause? How does he get from one story to another in such a seamless fashion? The importance of tone and why it works for this person and not that one. On and on and on. But the lessons learned from those who look at originality from outside the paradigm of our profession has been an eye opening experience. This is not about emulation. It’s about carving your own identity using the lessons of those who have succeeded in the past.
So I’m drawn to all works on the subject of people who succeed and how they use original thought and work ethic to get there. Thus a new release by Wharton Business School professor and New York Times author Adam Grant “Originals” was not a hard sell. There was a particular chapter that hit home and it essentially struck a chord on a subject that rarely gets discussed among young broadcasters entering the field, the dynamic of working with your employer.
Grant used the example of a famous intelligence agent who spoke openly about the need for a more transparent sharing system among the various departments for the greater good of the security of the United States. As you might expect, intelligence agencies are expected to maintain high priority levels of secrecy based on the premise of need to know material. Sharing was counterintuitive to their respective department policies but this made no sense in the larger sense of overall national security. This agent spoke openly of her mission to change this paradigm, to her detriment. And while ultimately she became a success in her personal mission to make the intelligence community a more productive unit as a whole, the trials of getting that message across and implemented was hard. It took years and nearly cost her career. That’s because she was not in a power position within her organization and her ideas threatened her superiors.
There is a lesson learned here in broadcasting. As the faces and voices of the content, we can too often believe our ideas are the right ideas. Speaking up too often or too soon in your tenure can turn careers upside down. The point is you need to learn how to implement new ideas politically. Just because you are on the air and just because the Constitution affords you the right to free speech does not mean your job and career trajectory are secure. Understand where you stand before taking position of content alteration. Do you believe that in this changing landscape that you have an idea of altering the format of a news program that can grow a younger more digitally inclined audience? Great. You may be right. You may be an Original. And you also may be out on your ass looking for a job in a heartbeat if you don’t offer your ideas in a way that does not threaten your established models of success. Understand how risk averse the group you are working with is. The biggest fear you should have is that pushing your agenda will force superiors to diminish your exposure. If they are scared of what you might do even if you think it is in the best interest of the company, they won’t give you the chance to prove your theory.
Grant’s examples touched on the “Me vs Mission” dynamic. Remember, unless you are joining a start up (clearly this is much more of an option in this landscape then ever before) the tenets of how the network succeeds have been set. They hired you to protect their brand and in some cases, be open minded to new ideas. But remember they don’t owe you the opportunity to be the Outlier of their network. In fact, until you have proven yourself to be trustworthy in the roles you are assigned, you run the risk of placing yourself in a capacity of distrust. There is nothing more detrimental to your career then having your superiors feel as if you cannot ascend to the top positions based on fear that you are thinking more about yourself then the greater good of the company.
So when can you speak up? What ideas are OK to broach? The answer to that is to understand where you work first. Also, and probably more importantly, tell your ego to step out of this conversation. Place yourself in the shoes of the people you want to be open to your ideas of forward thinking. How long have you been there? Are you one of the prominent players in the institution? Have they been open minded to your ideas in the past? Are you trusted and when you have been trusted with idea implementation, what was their reaction? All of this applies to hungry open minded producers too.
Read “Originals.” Grant went into great detail of how to navigate getting your ideas heard from the viewpoint of the employee or to the business owner trying to seek investment. It was fascinating and correlates directly with the highly politicized world of broadcasting.
We are in the people business. We want people to listen to our messages. If you cannot communicate effectively with the people you work with behind the camera, you have almost no chance of succeeding with those who are watching you. Now once you have ascended to a position where you know to grow involves changes that you believe in, that is the crossroad time to determine if you are indeed in the right place for you moving forward. Originals don’t allow the workplace to determine where they end up, they only use platforms to be the conduit for new memorable ideas.
If you are a fan of psychology and social economics like me, please send me your recommendations. I’m happy to share my other favorites too. You can reach me at Bram@reel-reporting.com to talk books, sports, broadcasting or if you want me to come speak to your group.
Follow me on Twitter: @RealBramW
Check out my podcast: “Talking Heads with Bram Weinstein” Here’s the link..