One of the most helpful business books I’ve ever read (Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up) was written by a columnist for Esquire (Stanley Bing, who has since left that magazine to write for Fortune). So when I heard that another Esquire columnist (Ross McCammon) had written a business book, I was eager to give it a read. Continue reading
Right about the time that I was reading Paul Jarvis’s excellent piece for TheNextWeb on the virtues of a social media sabbatical, and contemplating taking one of those myself, I had a sabbatical of sorts foisted upon me after I fractured my right elbow during a basketball game on Super Bowl Sunday.
It wasn’t a social media sabbatical, per se (since I posted about my plight on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook). But it was an abrupt and unintentional blogging stoppage. With one arm out of commission, at least for a while, it was difficult for me to type. Also, pain and the weariness that resulted from the injury made me not want to do much of anything.
Which is too bad, since I was prepped to post about the new mStoner book, #FollowTheLeader, which had just come out, and I feel bad about not posting my thoughts about the book. That may still come, but not for a while. My right arm is still in a sling most of the time, but I am able to type a bit. I’m just not quite up to blogging on a regular basis.
So, the blogging sabbatical will continue for the time being, but I’ll still be around on the usual social media hangouts: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, occasionally, LinkedIn. So hit me up there. But don’t expect a quick response. Everything is taking a little bit longer these days.
Back in the heyday of the hippie era, counterculture comedian George Carlin created a stir with his anti-establishment monologue about the seven dirty words that weren’t allowed on television. (Four decades later, as The Atlantic pointed out in 2012, society is still struggling with the role of government on restricting language.)
More recently, Brian Wm. Niles, founder of TargetX, has identified some dirty words that make many of us in higher education nervous. Niles spoke recently at ACT’s annual Enrollment Planners Conference and shared the “five dirty words” that admissions officers — and others in higher education — should embrace.
Topping that list, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s coverage, is the C-word.
“Many people who work at colleges dislike the word, preferring to call students ‘students’,” writes Eric Hoover of The Chronicle. “But as more Americans question the value of higher education, Mr. Niles said, institutions must think more like businesses, with customers to please, customer-service to enhance: ‘It gives you a sense that you have a responsibility to them.’ Colleges exist to serve students, he insisted, and not the reverse.”
Cussing and fussing about ‘customer’
Why do college and university personnel find it so difficult to think of students (and other groups, such as employers of our students) as customers? There’s something unsavory about instilling our academic world with the language of corporations.
The subject came up in a recent conversation with a faculty member, who expressed the thought that today’s students feel a greater sense of entitlement, and that thinking of them as customers adds to that sense. (The customer is always right, so we must give the customer what he or she wants, which is a passing grade, if not an A, at all times.)
The comments on the Chronicle post point out that there is a difference between college students and consumers of other goods and services. This response from John Nezlek, a psychology professor at William and Mary, probably summarizes the thoughts of many faculty:
Students’ needs, values, and opinions certainly need to be taken into account as institutes of higher education decide what to do; however, students attend institutes of higher education to be taught, to be led, they are not patrons in a restaurant. They are not to be served anything. They are clients in a collaborative relationship with the faculty. We work together.
At Missouri S&T, we have embraced the word customer, at least at the leadership level and among many staff members. Yet, some faculty I speak to still bristle at the term. Just as they bristle at words like “marketing.” Our university’s strategic plan even goes so far as to identity six “customer groups,” and on our strategic plan website, the introductory letter from Chancellor Cheryl B. Schrader (@SandTChancellor) uses the term when she talks about “providing a top return on investment to our key customers.” (Return on investment — or ROI — is another candidate for Niles’ list of bad words and phrases, and it, too, came up during the ACT meeting.)
Embrace the profane?
So, what will come of the term customer in higher education? Will it, like Carlin’s seven dirty words, still be the subject of angst 40 years from now? Will we still wince when we hear it used as a synonym for student?
I don’t think Niles is trying to be higher ed’s version of George Carlin. But perhaps if he makes fun of the dirty words you can’t say in academia enough, we’ll begin to laugh at ourselves a bit more, and at how much we worry about certain terms. As The Atlantic‘s Timothy Bella writes about Carlin’s shtick:
To George Carlin, the routine’s driving force and message weren’t in the ideas behind the seven words, but rather the words themselves. For the first time, someone was doing a convincing enough job of cajoling an audience into thinking that these words weren’t really so tasteless after all.
In the 42 years that have passed since Carlin’s famous rant, the media landscape has changed radically with the rise of cable TV, live-streaming and satellite radio, and the fragmentation of audiences into smaller and smaller niches. In step with those changes, the use of profanity on television has increased dramatically. All of those seven dirty words actually can be said on television, at the right time, on the right channel (usually cable) and in front of the right audience.
Perhaps, as the media landscape and the higher education landscape continues to morph over time, we will grow more accustomed to the coarse business language that is invading our academic lexicon, and customer will be as common in the language of higher education as Carlin’s dirty words are on Netflix programs.
But will the word be thought of as a profanity?
Maybe we should let the customers — I mean, the students — decide.
P.S. – For more on Brian Wm. Niles’ take on the use of the word customer in higher education, check this blog post from last summer.
I’m very glad I was able to attend a portion of the Public Relations Society of America’s 2014 PRSA Midwest District Conference in Springfield, Missouri, on Thursday. I’m especially happy that I was able to hear kickoff keynote speaker Jim Lukaszewski’s terrific presentation on gaining influence. Jim is head of the Lucaszewski group and a big name in the PR and crisis communications fields. He shared a lot of knowledge and great ideas with us today. But the best takeaway of Jim’s talk, for me, was his five-step personal action plan. (And wouldn’t you know it? Those five steps fit perfectly with this blog’s Friday Five format.)
Since Jim so graciously shared his wisdom with us, I don’t think he’d mind my freely passing it along to all of you. It’s a pretty good template that I think would apply to fields outside of PR, marketing, branding and strategic communications. So even if you’re not in the PR, marketing or branding business, you might find Jim’s plan adaptable to your vocation — and/or your life outside of work.
Jim Lukaszewski’s five-step personal action plan
- Broaden your interests. In the context of the PRSA conference, Jim asked us to “Broaden your interest beyond the media.” Our organizations’ leaders have broader interests. So should we.
- Teach yourself to ask these five questions at the end of every day:
- What do I know now that I didn’t know at the start of this day?
- What is the most important thing I’ve learned or witnessed today?
- What is the most interesting thing I’ve learned or witnessed today?
- Who did I help today (and how)?
- What new questions came up today that I need to find the answers to?
- Teach others. Along those lines, Jim also suggests we find compliment those who learn from us. Beyond that, we should strive to find someone to compliment and write that person a personal, handwritten note. He strives to do this three times per month.
- Study leadership. Read biographies or books about leaders who interest you, regardless of their field or discipline. But don’t limit your study to books. Study the leaders around you, including those in your organizations and in organizations you’re affiliated with (as a volunteer, for example).
- Do and say things that matter. Jim suggests we learn to moderate the suggestions we make to those who seek our counsel. We should keep our advice “simple, sensible, positive and constructive,” and make sure it helps our leaders achieve their objectives as well as the objectives of our organizations.
A good plan — for work and for life.
Follow Jim Lukaszewski on Twitter at @JimLukaszewki.
Some recent-ish posts from the higher ed blogging community that I’ve enjoyed reading and thought were worth sharing:
- Pay more attention to the attention price you pay. This post by Karine Joly hits home on several levels and is well worth reading by anyone who is struggling with cognitive overload.
- Why are we still writing press releases? Tim Nekritz takes on the time-honored tradition of pelting media outlets with “news” they don’t care about and asks if there’s a better way.
- Startup U? That’s the question posed by Kyle James, in infographic form, on .eduGuru. Most thought-provoking to me is the idea that “universities that prepare students for a creative economy prioritize the same three things that drive successful startup cultures.”
- Why repositioning your brand is like pushing water uphill. Deb Maue of mStoner discusses the challenges of rebranding. “[W]hether you’re a shampoo or a college, brand repositioning is extremely difficult. Why? Because you’re not starting with a blank slate.” Her advice is for universities to “stop wishing they were someone else and embrace what they are.”
- How to spot good social media marketing research, by Chris Syme, provides some great tips and resources for finding good social media research products or embarking on your own research project.
Have a good weekend.
As I plan to overindulge in food and holiday cheer this long Thanksgiving weekend, I also plan to curtail my digital gluttony by unplugging from the online world for a bit. I hope this plan helps to slow things down and bring a bit more focus to my life and my thinking.
This idea came to me after I read Kneale Mann’s recent post about Warren Buffet, The Disconnected Leader. At first, the title threw me. What leader wants to be disconnected? We need to be in touch, engaged, on top of things.
Yes, that’s all true. But we need to be in touch, engaged and on top of the right things. The things that matter.
I’ve been a bit out of touch with some of those things lately. I hope to reconnect with some of them over the Thanksgiving break. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this thought from Mann’s blog post:
Imagine we woke up tomorrow and there was no Internet, the smartphone had not been invented and there is no email. We have all those things but one idea we could try is to type less, turn off our toys more, and speak directly with humans rather than devices or channels.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.