Call to Action: For the Future

I always get excited when people say, “The future is here, now.”

My mind overflows with images of throwing off old shabby coats and well-worn hats and scarves, to reveal bright colors and airy fabrics that reflect the glorious sunshine, which, by the way, is what I’m looking at outside my window as I write this post.

Okay. So maybe “The future is here, now” is a pretty common phrase. I’ve heard it many times. Maybe you have, too? Yet it never fails to work its magic on me.

But, if I’m so excited about hearing the phrase, can you imagine how excited I feel when I’m actually witnessing the future?

That is, can you guess how I feel when I work with young people who are coming up in the advertising/public relations/marketing and communications fields? I am exhilarated! I get to see their new ways of doing things and their fresh approaches. And I feel the radiated glow of their energy and commitment.

Last month I had the great good fortune to be a part of a student development event at a local college, and since then I’ve been doing some one-on-one mentoring with another young person who is embarking on a communications-as-a-profession journey.

I’m so grateful for these opportunities. And while I hope that I’ve contributed something to the young people in these cases, I have to admit, selfishly, that I’ve gotten so much more out of them for myself. Novel ideas. Radical perspectives. Re-commitment to values. Renewed energy. Oh, and a lot of laughs.

So, here’s my call to action to you, communications professional: Reach out to your local college, high school, library, community center, or the professional association to which you belong, and find a way to contribute to the up-and-coming generation by sharing your expertise and know how. Maybe you can provide writing help. Maybe you can share your hard-won career wisdom. Maybe you have technical wizardry to dole out. Whatever your communications experience or specialty, there are young people who are the communicators-of-the-future who will benefit from your acumen and skills.

You’ll be so glad you did because the future will be here, now, before you know it.


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Bill Murray on Art & Life

Embed from Getty Images


Bill Murray is a wonderful storyteller. A couple of years ago, I linked to this wonderful interview with Bill Murray by Howard Stern. In this radio interview, Murray said the key to being funny was being able to tell stories. How, then, does one become a good storyteller, Stern asked. “Is it something you are born with?” Murray’s reply:

“No, I don’t think you’re born with it. You have to hear stories and you have to live stories. You have to have a bunch of experiences and be able to say ‘Here’s something that happened to me yesterday….’ And if you can make people laugh by telling them what happened to you, then you are telling the story well. So that’s what I learned in improv….”

People often ask great storytellers—writers, producers, directors, authors, etc.—where they come up with their stories. They inevitably say something like “write/tell what you know.” In other words, write (or speak) from your own life experiences. This is why I always say you have to live a life to tell a life. I believe this is what Murray is saying above when he says it’s important to have a “bunch of experiences” from which to draw. The experiences—good and bad (but especially bad)—are like a persona library of history and insights for the storyteller.

The video above is a nice example of a simple, short story that Murray tells, seemingly impromptu, to a question from the press during a panel interview for the film The Monuments Men. Most people may think nothing of this tale from his life, but it’s a great example of the everyday kind of real-life memory from one’s past which holds a lesson or a gem of wisdom. His recollection is a kind of “man-in-hole” story. Right from the beginning, we hear of a traumatic failing that sends Murray out onto the streets of Chicago for a long walk. He’s at his lowest, and things look like they will get worse. He continues to walk, not feeling especially hopeful, until he stumbles upon the Art Institute of Chicago. There, expecting nothing, he is moved by a piece of art. His day went from one of his worst to one with hope and a new perspective, in part because of being exposed to The Song of The Lark, an 1884 painting by Jules Adolphe Breton.


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Got Communicator Brand?

During the past couple of months, I’ve met or refreshed contact with several interesting communication professionals. What makes them so very interesting (and admirable) is that they all offered different attributes and skills in the field of organizational communications. What’s even more impressive is that they presented themselves in a way that was crystal clear. I mean it was really easy to “get” what each one offered that was special. In other words, each one had brand.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because we hear about personal or professional branding in the context of job search and networking. And while those are the times during a career when personal/professional branding is essential, job search and networking were not the settings where I met these talented people.

So, I had to reflect on what makes them so successful at conveying their unique offerings, and I realized they are living their brands every day.

How do they do that? How do they enable the people they come into contact with to easily grasp who they are and what they have to offer?

I think it begins with self-awareness. I think that either naturally or intentionally, these people have stepped outside themselves. Perhaps they’ve worked with coaches or in workshops or conducted self-examinations. They’ve inventoried their experiences and skills and cultivated a deep understanding of their abilities and interests. They’ve assessed what motivates and inspires them, and what doesn’t. And they’ve considered those things they’re not so good at. Finally, and this might be most important and most fearless, they’ve accepted their whole selves. That doesn’t mean they’re not developing areas where they want to be stronger, but it does mean they understand themselves and they’re not trying to be someone else. They’re being authentic.

Wow. That’s powerful.

There’s nothing new about self-awareness and self-acceptance, of course. (How many books and articles have you read?) Yet it’s often forgotten when the pressure is on. In those moments where we’re squeezed from the outside to do this or deliver that, go here or go there, we may find ourselves blowing up smoke and fog, which causes others to struggle to see us, which leads to relationships of confusion. In those moments, if we could sharply focus on our one-of-a-kind offerings, others would see us with clarity, which would lead to relationships of trust and confidence.

The process to gain that professional clarity requires hard work, tenacity, and courage. And it needs to be regularly refreshed. Yet defining and honing your personal/professional brand is so worth it!

All this to say, I’m going to commit myself to work on my communicator brand. What are you going to do about your communicator brand?


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National Grammar Day: March 4, 2017

Joy! Rapture! It’s almost here!

National Grammar Day.

Yes, here in the U.S. we’ve got a day for grammar. It means a lot to me because, truth be told, I’m a grammar prodigal. There was a time when I spent a good part of my day turning my nose up at grammar rules and eschewing commonly-accepted usage.

Needless to say, at that time I wasn’t earning my living using my writing skills.

But I have seen the error of my ways. Today I am in grammar recovery and that’s why I want to celebrate by sharing some grammar sites that I’ve found helpful:

  • LinkedIn Learning: From Fundamentals to Syntax, there are courses and videos for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
  • Grammarly: Downloadable apps that help you monitor your grammar as you write. Tame those chronic commas and dastardly dashes in the moment!
  • Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips: Rich resource of information for grammar, usage and word play. Fun!
  • Class Central–Grammar & Writing: A long list of free, online courses on writing, grammar and related topics. Coursera is the most popular source but there are offerings from edX, FutureLearn, and others.
  • Harvard College Writing Center: Quick reads with good advice about checking your writing for common grammar and punctuation mistakes.
  • Poynter: The learning section of Poynter offers great advice for better writing–and  tips on good grammar are regularly featured.
  • Daily Grammar: While it’s targeted to teachers and school-aged children, there are many  lessons that are presented in a way that’s visual. If you’re struggling to recall the basics, you just might find this site does the trick for you.
  • Business Writing: This blog is dedicated to business writers. Succinct posts typically refresh you on the parts of speech, usage, and syntax.

I’d love to hear how you are going to celebrate National Grammar Day! Leave me a comment.





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The Humble Manager Tookit

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re talking with an HR or communications leader. The person shares with you that the managers of their organization aren’t communicating as well as they should. When you probe and ask about the manager communications toolkit you get a blank look.

But we’ve transformed, they say. We’ve got forums, blogs, online communities, instant messaging, video calling, and hangouts! Why would we need a communications toolkit?

Those channels are exciting. What’s more, they’re easy to access and use. Yet, there’s an assumption that managers know how to use them effectively. Effectively is the important word here. In other words, leaders assume managers understand how to use a channel to reach employees so that they can hear a message and make meaning of it.

I think that’s a big assumption. Further, I don’t think the evidence bears it out.


For example (and my personal favorite): How many times have you seen the email flip? Hundreds? Okay, sometimes that’s they way to go. But more often than not, those managers haven’t even read the message before they forward it onto their teams. The teams get a message for which they have no context or insight. So you know what they do with that message!

As we change inside our organizations, adopting new ways of working and new channels for communication, we need our managers to remain up to the task of communicating effectively. That’s why I think most companies need some sort of manager communications support and equipment–a toolkit. The content and how it’s delivered can reflect the organization’s communication philosophy and strategy.

Regardless of the substance and delivery mechanism, it should be practical. Managers can use it to get on the same page with easy-to-follow communication principles, coaching and resources around good communication practices, and supporting templates or tools. With that basis, they’re ready to hear from their leaders, and in turn communicate with their teams in ways that their employees can hear and understand and, maybe, even get excited.

Frankly, the stakes are too high, and business objectives are too important to leave manager communications to a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best approach. A humble manager communications toolkit can make all the difference. What do you think?

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Pixar Studios Offers Free Storytelling Lessons Online


In cooperation with the Khan Academy, Pixar and Disney have been offering Pixar in a Box, an on-going series of behind-the-scenes lessons taught by Pixar’s professionals  (storytellers, animators, directors, artists, etc.). Subjects have included color science, animation, effects, sets & staging, character modeling, and so on. Part of the aim of this project, as stated on the Pixar-in-a-Box website is to show how “The subjects you learn in school — math, science, computer science, and humanities — are used every day to create amazing movies at Pixar.”

These lessons are remarkable, but what I am most excited about is that last week, Pixar in a Box announced a new series: The Art of Storytelling. Pixar may be the best at the technical side of animation, but what really made them successful is their understanding of story and storytelling. In this interview regarding Pixar’s success, Steve Jobs said this: “Even though Pixar is the most technologically advanced studio in the world, John Lasseter has a saying which has really stuck: No amount of technology will turn a bad story into a good story.

The new Art of Storytelling series is great news for educators who want to bring the principles of storytelling into the classroom and help their students understand the art of story. Yet this is also useful for anyone who wants to become a masterful storyteller in business or in any other endeavor. Here’s the introduction video for the Storytelling series.

The storytelling series will cover six main parts that take you from the formation of your rough idea to actually creating storyboards. Each lesson features videos and activities, so this is something you can do on your own or as part of a class. Here are the six sections to be covered as outlined in the introductory video in lesson 1:

(1) We are all Storytellers
(2) Character
(3) Structure
(4) Visual language
(5) Filmmaking grammar
(6) Storyboarding

Currently, all six lessons are available. Even if you do not desire to make an animated film, the lessons — especially those related to structure and visual language — will help you create better presentations in all their myriad forms or incorporate storytelling into other aspects of your work and life.

If you have not heard of Pixar in a Box, here is a video presentation that explains the concept. And in the true spirit of Pixar, the video introduction is done with great clarity and humor.

Related Links
• The Art of Storytelling (Khan Academy)
• Tips for creative success from Pixar
• No amount of technology will make a bad story good
• Study the basics: John Lasseter on the secret to success
• Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling
• The storytelling imperative: Make them care!
• 10 tips for improving your presentations & speeches

Here are two good books on Pixar I read recently. The first one is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. The other book — To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History — came out at the end of last year. Both give great insights into the workings of Pixar and also the story making process.

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Hans Rosling: Doctor, Professor, & Presenter Extraordinaire

The Zen Master of data visualization has died. I am sorry to have to report that Dr. Hans Rosling passed away today in Uppsala, Sweden. He was just 68. A profoundly mournful day for anyone who knew Professor Rosling, obviously. But it’s also a sad day for all of us in the greater TED community or data visualization/business intelligence communities as well. Dr. Rosling’s work was seen by millions and will continue to be seen by millions worldwide. It is incalculable just how many professionals Hans inspired over the years. His presentations, always delivered with honesty, integrity, and clarity, were aided by clear visuals of both the digital and analog variety. He was a master statistician, physician, and academic, but also a superb presenter and storyteller.

Almost eleven years ago, just after TED began experimenting with putting some of their talks on the web, I wrote this post called “If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters.” In that post, I summarized my impression of Dr. Rosling from his 2006 TED Talk:

“Hans Rosling, an expert in public health from Sweden, does an amazing job in this presentation bringing the data to life. If you want to know how he did all those graphics, go to It’s all there. Hans is saying the problem is not the data. The data is there. But it’s not accessible to most people for three reasons: (1) For researchers and journalists, teachers, etc. it is too expensive. (2) For the media, it is too difficult to access. (3) For the public, students, and policy makers, it is presented in a boring way. His solution is to make the data free, let it evoke and provoke an ‘aha’ experience, or a ‘wow!’ experience for the public. I loved the way he got involved with the data, virtually throwing himself into the screen. He got his point across, no question about it.”

From that point on, I watched virtually every talk he made and featured him in every book I wrote on presentation. I saw the professor in person at TED 2009 and was a fellow presenter with him at Tableau 2014 in Seattle where he, as usual, had the crowd of data geeks in the palm of his hand. If there is a Zen Master —or Jedi Master — of data visualization, then Dr. Hans Rosling is that master. His contributions are immense, and he will be missed deeply.

Below is Dr. Rosling’s debut at TED 2006. It’s as good now as it was then.


A photo I took of Hans at TED 2009. Love his analog pointer!

Hans Rosling presented at TED ten times, more than any other presenter. All of his TED presentations are featured here on the TED website. Below are links to a selection of other posts from which feature videos and analysis of Dr. Rosling’s presentations over the years.

If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters
Hans Rosling: Don’t just show the notes, play the music!
Hans Rosling: The Jedi Master of Data Visualization
Hans Rosling redux: Mixing analog with digital visualization
Hans Rosling: the Zen Master of Presenting Data
Hans Rosling & the Art of Storytelling with Statistics

His message and spirit live on
Hans Rosling’s contribution to the world in his 68 years was extraordinary. I’ll continue to do whatever I can to spread his teachings in future. His work will continue to inspire and educate. We need his message of a fact-based worldview now more than ever. Here is part of today’s announcement by Anna R. Rönnlund & Ola Rosling which appeared on the Gapminder website:

Across the world, millions of people use our tools and share our vision of a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand. We know that many will be saddened by this message. Hans is no longer alive, but he will always be with us and his dream of a fact-based worldview, we will never let die!

Indeed. Let us all remember Professor’s Rosling’s contributions and continue to keep the dream of a more fact-based, rational worldview alive.

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Edward Tufte on Data, Analysis, & Truth

Edward Tufte is a leading expert in the data analysis and data visualization space. His books are classics and required reading for anyone interested in understanding how best to display quantitative information. I read his books just after I left Apple in 2003 to become a college professor in Japan. His books are foundational. I’ve talked about Tufte in my own books and on this website going back to at least this post in 2005. I have not seen him speak recently, so I was happy to see this 50-minute presentation by Dr. Tufte which took place at the Microsoft Machine Learning & Data Science Summit 2016 held this past September. Microsoft’s David Smith introduced Dr. Tufte at the 2:30 mark.

Video and transcript also available on the Microsoft website.

In his talk, Tufte warns against confirmation bias and massaging the data to arrive at findings that are desirable or somehow in your interest. He paraphrases one of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous lines: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” This reminded me of the old Darrell Huff chestnut from How to Lie With Statistics (1954): “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything.”

You want to generate your findings from the data not from the analysis, Tufte says. To do this he recommends specifying your analysis first before you collect the data. “This is to avoid all the generating findings just by analysis, not out of the data.” Tufte stressed the importance of “…full pre-specification of the analysis so they can’t over search the data, so they can’t run a million models and publish one. I think this is the future of confirmatory data analysis.”

Exploratory and replication
“We should be mucking around in our data to find out what’s going on. We can learn from it. We can run it through powerful exploratory things. We can run it like a map through millennial time and look it over and say, that look interesting….and what this means, though, this kind of searching, is that you must have an honest replication of the results of the search. To go back on innocent data, maybe somebody 500 miles away does it. Maybe that’s better, independent replication of the search results to distinguish now between noise and signal.”

“It is impossible for any normal human being to stare at a spreadsheet and look for contradictions, and problems.” This is where data forensics comes in. Tufte recommends the Quartz Guide to Bad Data at GitHub.

Scattering the eye and mind, producing vague anxiety & clutter
At the end of his talk, Tufte said something very wise. Something simple as can be, but it was one of the most important things he said in his talk. After talking about the need for us to learn about the entire process of data and analysis and to go out in the field and watch directly how original measurements are made, Tufte said this:

“In doing creative work do not start your day with addictive time-vampires such as The New York Times, email, and Twitter. All scatter the eye, and mind, produce diverting vague anxiety, clutter short-term memory. Instead, begin with your work. Many creative workers have independently discovered this principle.” I completely agree with this.

And finally this bit of wisdom concerning data analysis and thinking in general. The most powerful question you can ask yourself, and of others is: “How do I know that? How do you know that? How do they know that?”

These books by Dr. Tufte —especially The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Visual Explanations, and Envisioning Information — are ones you want on your bookshelf. They are beautifully designed and well made. Over the years I have come back to these books often. Of course, the examples are dated, but the principles are the same and the examples hold up well and you can easily apply the concepts to modern problems. And they are just beautiful, smart books.

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2 Great Visual Storytelling Books for Children

There is loads of evidence that reading to children at bedtime is not only good for their emotional well being, it also has long-term benefits for their cognitive development. We have a 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. Since they were babies they have been exposed to books. Bedtime stories are one of the great joys of parenting and is a nightly ritual for us. As it is the Christmas season, I thought I would recommend two books here that do a great job of presenting their material in an engaging, visual way.

Before-christmasThe first is the classic The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. There are many editions of this classic tale, but based on the amazing and numerous reviews on Amazon, I purchased Robert Sabuda’s The Night Before Christmas Pop-up last year in time for Christmas.The pop-up art is amazing and imaginative. I was not sure at first that I would want a pop-up book for story time, but the great thing about the 3-D aspect of it is that the kids are always touching the paper and playing with the tabs and strings as the story progresses. They use their imagination to believe now that the story is about them and their house. In the final two-page spread, for example, a snow-covered town pops up with Santa flying over the houses. My son will say something like “here is our house and this is our bed room window.” My daughter would then comment “here’s grandma’s house and here’s our school across the bridge.” I read each page, but we spend more time on questions and adding to the narrative before I move on to the next spread. It’s a well-made book, but you need to be a bit careful with it, especially with infants. Still, if you are just a little careful, the pop-ups should keep working long after the kids are grown.

Popup1My 4-year-old son pulls tab to have Santa and his reindeer fly above the snow covered village.

My 6-year-old daughter opens the page which reveals the eight reindeer and Santa scurrying down the chimney.Starwars-reader

The second recommendation is not a pop-up, but rather a series of visual books that come with an audio reader than the child can control. My wife had a business trip to New York City about a year ago and brought back The Disney Star Wars Me Reader. It was an instant hit.The box comes with eight short illustrated books and a durable plastic electronic reader. Of course, I can read the book as my children follow along, but they actually prefer that I hold the book for them as they press the buttons on the reader to go through the story page by page. The electronic reader is intuitive to figure out for the child. We got this Star Wars set over a year ago when my son was 3-years old and he knew how to navigate the analog menus after 1-2 minutes of playing around. The narrator’s English is extremely clear and easy to understand and I believe this has helped with their English pronunciation. The kids don’t just listen but repeat phrases from the book — “It’s a trap!” As we live in Japan, I am about the only person they interact with in English, so tools like this were surprisingly useful. My son is the Star Wars nerd (as am I), so I think we’ll get a different Me Reader for my daughter for Christmas such as the Frozen Me Reader.

The Star Wars Radio Youtube channel has a preview of one of the books along with the audio for each book. This should give you a feel for what they are like. We’ve already gotten a lot of mileage of these books.

 May The Force Be With You.

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New Book for Researchers, Scholars, & Technical Presenters

Better_presentationsThere’s a new book just out that focuses on improving the kind of presentations that scholars, researchers, and other technical specialists need to give. The book is Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks by data-visualization pro Jonathan Schwabish. Jonathan is a Senior Research Associate in The Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center and a member of the institute’s communication team where he specializes in data visualization and presentation design. Jonathan is an economist by training and an expert in data visualization. He’s a numbers guy with a special skill for helping others communicate their data in ways that engage and connect with an audience.

Jonathan also created the PolicyViz website which features a popular podcast that covers a range of topics related to effective communication and the display of data visualizations. Recently, I was a guest on the PolicyViz podcast. You can hear that episode here on the PolicyViz website.


“Presenting is fundamentally different from writing,” says Jonathan. “[But] with only a little more time, a little more effort, and a little more planning, you can communicate your work with force and clarity.” Better Presentations is a simple, well-written, visual book that is useful for students, teachers, and other academics, as well as for anyone who needs to give data-driven presentations. Check it out.


• Follow Jonathan here onTwitter.
• The PolicyViz website
• Jonathan’s book Better Presentations on
• A great book on using charts called Good Charts by Scott Berinato
• Another book for tech presenters: Presenting for Geeks by Dirk Haun

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