This past April, the Carbon War Room asked attendees at its conference to come up with recommendations and strategies for solving six major problems in green technology.
All six groups said that better communication with the public, investors and policymakers about the issues and benefits of green technology had become absolutely essential. PG&E's problems with its smart grid efforts revolve around poor communication with the public.
Meanwhile, newspapers, television stations, web sites and magazines have been shedding reporters like dead skin follicles at a day spa.
In honor of this week's Labor Day, here's the obvious solution: corporations and consulting firms need to start hiring the journalists being sent to early retirement, preferably at mid- to high-six-figure salaries.
Naturally, I expect resistance to this plan. The corporate overlords of the world often view media types and even the communications departments in their own organizations as just one step above a pack of Northern White-Cheeked Gibbons on the evolutionary scale. For their part, reporters often exude a heavy dose of self-righteousness ("How can you people continually fail to realize that I wrote that first?"), which can impede group dynamics.
True, but we also didn't cause the derivative securities crisis or rubber-stamp excessive CEO pay, so maybe corporations need a new infusion of skills.
So what will a reporter do for you?
1. Contacts. Why do people go into media? To meet people. The day primarily consists of making phone calls or going to conferences and talking about other people behind their backs. It's sort of like high school with name tags. With enough practice and time, you wind up with an impressive list of email addresses and phone numbers. Marketing, sales and recruiting will thank you.
2. Horizon. Analysts tend to live vertically. They might understand a single subject -- databases, silicon production, etc. -- comprehensively, but have little knowledge of adjacent subjects like PCs or wafers. Reporters live in a horizontal world. Their knowledge may lack depth, but they are often the first to notice or pick up on trends and connections, such as like how the solar and optical industries overlap, or how biotech will change batteries and EVs, or how Mississippi will likely start offering incentives and perks to your company to relocate, between different fields.
3. History. Cisco will likely do well in its strategy to move into smart grid and energy efficiency by buying startups, while IBM and Intel will, more than likely, flail. Why? The basic pattern was established in the '90s during the first internet boom. Cisco honed a process for absorbing startups. Intel spent $11 billion on 37 companies between 1999 and 2003 and offloaded most of them soon after. Behavior doesn't change much. Reporters are walking, talking databases of this kind of information.
4. Executive Evaluation. U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina is an engaging, charismatic individual that also happens to be a control freak who alienates subordinates. How do I know that? I interviewed her several times and had even lengthier conversations with people that worked for her before she got fired at Hewlett-Packard. Venture capitalists often talk about how they invest in people, not technologies. A great untapped reservoir of knowledge about leadership in action resides in the reporting ranks.
Admittedly, the radar fails. I remember how the press scoffed at a special guest Andy Grove introduced during a speech in February 2000 at the Intel Developer Forum. The guest, whom most didn't know, said he wanted to store the entire Internet on DRAM -- an expensive but rapid storage technology -- for better customer experience.
That token crazy guy was Larry Page. (Check out the transcript. Page had to explain what Google was.)
5. Clear, Concise Communication. Be honest: how many times have you actually gotten past the executive summary in a white paper? The world thrives on summaries. PowerPoint slide decks are so popular as a means of communication because the pictures outnumber the words: they are really pop-up books for grown-ups.
By hiring someone trained in a newsroom, your longest memo will shrink to two pages.
6. Deadlines. The lithium-ion battery was invented in the U.S. at Exxon in the '70s. The modern hybrid came out of a DOE program. Both died a lingering death in the U.S. through mission creep. Holding fast to a due date has its virtues.
7. An Ability to Hold on to Small Plates Filled With Egg Rolls and a Drink at the Same Time. It's a more useful skill than you might think.
8. Shorter Meetings. Letting everyone have their own opinion is perhaps the biggest hindrance to U.S. competitiveness. Michael Dell tackled the problem of interminable meetings at his company by eliminating chairs in some conference rooms. With reporters as employees, meetings will rarely last longer than half an hour. Sometimes, it requires a person with eroded social skills to break the log jam on an eddying conference call.
9. Casual Day Becomes Dress-Up Day.
10. Visionary Leadership. John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, and Teddy Roosevelt worked as journalists before becoming titans on the world stage. Note how all three tended to speak in bullet points and sound bites.
We've had two engineers become President: Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter.
Look, I'm just going by the record.