Guest Post: Must. Be. AWESOME!

By Christopher Dufour

Too often in government, we settle for the most expedient solution. The cheapest option. The quickest way. The path of least resistance.

We justify it by quoting acquisition regulations. By glomming onto existing authorities. By refusing to challenge the status quo.

It’s this attitude that prevents us from accomplishing big goals. Immense objectives. Tremendous challenges. Gi-normous grand strategy. Instead, we choose to do just enough to get our assignments completed to a preexisting or arbitrary standard. This is the culture of Washington.

We shouldn’t make this choice. We shouldn’t be shooting for "just good enough." Instead, we should be shooting for AWESOME.

Take communication for example. In the Defense Department, we have information operations, PSYOP, public affairs, deception, strategic communication, and all manner of other information warfare disciplines. At the State Department, we have the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, the Bureau for Interational Information Programs, the Global Strategic Engagement Center, and multitudes of public diplomacy officers across regional bureaus and indvidual embassies. In a quasi-governmental fashion, we have the Broadcasting Board of Governors and all its associated international broadcasting institutions. We have so many people and agencies and offices responsible for communicating and overseeing communication that you would think America speaks with one concerted voice, right?

If you just heard the "EHHHH!!!" strikeout noise from Family Feud, you wouldn’t be crazy. The example I just provided has been reiterated time and again. America’s strategic communication / public diplomacy / IO / PSYOP / whatever-you-want-to-call-it apparatus is broken. Everything is wrong. Foreign Affairs Officers consorting with PSYOPpers. Mass hysteria. Nothing new in that observation.

Part of the reason this is true, however, has to do with our will – or lack thereof – to achieve the very best in all things. We have become comfortable with a government that maintains a status quo, even when it’s a status quo of dysfunction. We no longer strive for the feeling of AWESOME, if we ever did. Instead, we SETTLE. We settle for what works, even if it’s only 80% or 70% or even 51%.

In terms of our communication apparatus, we shouldn’t be striving for one concerted voice. We should be striving for a CHOIR. We should be assembling an ALL-STAR CAST with an AWARD WINNING DIRECTOR. We should be forming a ROCK BAND with all our combined GUITAR HEROES. We should be AWESOME!

So what does AWESOME entail in This, Our Foul Age of the Interwebz? Here are a few suggestions for all you communication types in the USG. Maybe you’d like to add more…?

  1. Get dynamic: Still looking to apply Web 2.0 "stuff" to your operations? Guess what? Train’s left the station, dude. You should constantly be asking yourself, "What’s next?" What’s Web 3.0? The information environment will not let you skate by if you’re just discovering Facebook and Twitter. Get on the edge or lean on someone who is.

  2. Get together: The great thing about Web 2.0 is that it’s social media. It’s interacting with communities organized around the things YOU care about. Don’t see a community of interest built around your issue? Then build one. Even cooler – watch it fragment and spiral off into different social hubs on its own.

  3. Get human: Tomorrow’s communication is not about "messaging." It’s about being human. The information age has totally flattened our old impressions of elites, leaders, and management structures. Now it’s about trust networks and communities. It’s about learning to interact with your people (notice I didn’t say "audience"). Not preaching to them, not "press releasing" them. Humans interact. Socially. So do that. But do it AWESOME.

  4. Get happy: The best of everything (insert your topic: work, decisions, child rearing, etc) comes from a place of joy. If you don’t love communication and communica-ting, then by the power of Greyskull, get the hell out! Your shitty attitude will infect the communities you should be influencing for the better. And vice versa, if you love communicating, find ways to shout it out loud .

  5. Get crackin’: What are you waiting for? Someone to do it for you? Even the SOUTHCOM Commander’s writing his own blog now. Get on it, doggone it!

So, in conclusion, I leave you with five examples of AWESOME. You be the judge of each one’s efficacy.

  1. Zemanta: A blogging/writing application that analyzes your text as you write and suggests stories/links/research/multimedia related to your content that you may want to include.

  2. David Sasaki’s case for a National Journalism Foundation (courtesy of PBS’s MediaShift Idea Lab, also AWESOME).

  3. The LibForAll Foundation and its Musical Jihad against extremism with international rock stars like Ahmad Dani and Dewa.

  4. Battlestar Galactica, one of the best damn television shows EVER with a series finale replete with badassery.

  5. LOLcats… ‘coz everybody laffs at funny cats:

goin 2 save lois lane brb

Stay tuned for more Must. Be. AWESOME!

Christopher Dufour is an interagency communication, influence and creativity consultant. He’s pretty AWESOME too.

Guests posts are the opinions of the respective authors and published here to further the discourse on America’s global engagement and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MountainRunner.

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Must. Be. AWESOME!

  1. Nice post though I would still argue that no successful choir, band or performance has been possible without a conductor of some kind tying it all together.In the words of a guy who gets paid a hell of a lot more than me:
    “Information Operations is the conductor in the symphony that is modern military operations”
    Now doesn’t necessarily need to be an FA30 or equivalent but there does need to be someone setting the tone, tempo and emphasis of the individual communication sections.
    Leads me to another point … we strive for mission command in our operations (in our part of the world it is the fundamental approach of our Army … apparently ;)). We’re happy for manoeuvre commanders to crack on with an intent and some left and right guidance boundaries yet in the communication world we struggle to apply the same philosophy … there’s either no guidance and intent forcing tactical organisations to MSU based on guidance gleaned from statements to the media by higher/government or so much direction that we completely disempower those that should be communicating.
    To me that is what ‘strategic communications’ should be … setting the mission command approach for communication activities so that there is a conductor (who doesn’t mind a bit of improve from his skilled musicians as long as it fits the overall intent of the piece.)
    That’s far too many musical analogies for one morning.

  2. Thanks for the observation, Jas, and for what it’s worth, I agree with you on the idea of a “conductor.” But even the best-suited directors for this “thing” called strategic communication / IO / public diplomacy / global engagement / whatevs have been hamstrung by limited authorities, no resources, and cloudy guidance from the top.Your observation about commander’s intent is very on target: because we have no strategy and thus no defined end states in our communication & engagement programs, our people become assed up with what’s “permissible.” This is not AWESOME. This is WEAK.

Comments are closed.