I always cringe a bit when I read a news report that refers to "informed sources."
Often, it seems, it's only one informed source and we never know exactly who informed the source about whatever he or she or they are informed about. Sometimes, there are two informed sources, but it’s possible that both received their information from the same person, so they really should count as one source.
When the source is a few levels down in the food chain, it's like a game of telephone, where the story changes just a bit with each retelling. It can make a huge difference if the "informed" source was the actual doer or six steps removed from the scene of battle.
Worse, there is a pathology I noticed in my days as a news reporter and, later, as a consultant, that can skew the story significantly. This isn’t about bias or agendas; it’s about life.
When we interview people for insights, the best informed people will often be the ones who say the least. Perhaps they give us the smallest amount of time or they are more circumspect about how they speak. As rule, people whose words are impactful will be careful in their choice of words.
That means, often, that the guy who gives you the best quotes and the largest amount of time might also be the least informed or least connected or least powerful person on the interview list. Of course, that person might have tons of spare time to spend as a source.
There’s a difference, of course, between least connected and least powerful. The most connected and powerful person might be in the best position to see the big picture, understand the competing issues, and deliver on his claims, or he might be out of touch with the daily details or too protective of the status quo. The least powerful person might be a whistleblower or most familiar with the way plans are actually implemented. Other times, the least powerful person turns out to be a crank.
It doesn’t matter if I’m reading something from the right or left, about business or art or politics, simply calling someone an informed source doesn’t do it for me. Of course, if the person is referred to as a well-informed source or a senior-level source, that changes everything. Those are the people you just know you can trust.
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Take a quick look at the photo that accompanies this post, the one with the panels from three comics that appeared recently in my daily newspaper. (Note to Millennials: Ask your parents to explain what a newspaper is.) Today’s post was supposed to focus on those comics, but it turns out that you won’t be able to read the story online.*
That’s because I have discovered the one thing you absolutely cannot publish on the internet. Yes, you can post pornography, threats, vile characterizations, fake videos and the worst moments of some stranger’s life. The thing you absolutely cannot post, though, is satire.
I tried, I really did, and my failure offers up a lesson about the medium that transforms the message.
Quick flashback: I was sitting at the kitchen table and I noticed that three comic strips all focused on the same topic on the same day: women’s hair. It’s pretty common that two comics might touch on the same theme on any given day, of course, because there are only so many general areas (family, money, exercise, pets…) that are universal sources of mirth. When I saw the trio about hair, though, it reminded me of Auric Goldfinger’s explanation that, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action.”
Genius!! I had been meaning to put together a post about conspiracy theories, but I hadn’t found the right way to tackle the subject. This blog is a politics-free zone, which prohibits any comments about 99.9999% of all conspiracies. But the comics pages are perfect. Nobody could really see a conspiracy among cartoonists, so a funny riff on a comics cabal would be exactly right.
So I wrote a post about the conspiracy I had uncovered among cartoonists to undermine America with their flagrant attacks on women, families and other institutions. I added ALL CAPS and bold type and underlines and SOMETIMES ALL THREE to mimic the suspect screeds that arrive in my morning feed.
And it’s pretty good, at least in comparison with most of my stuff, so I put it in the queue to run today. But then reality set in. The problem with putting satire online is that so many, many, many, many…many people do not grasp the difference between real and fake. Our subscribers would recognize the post as satire, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that somebody somewhere would miss the humor and launch a boycott against Blondie.
I tried adding a spoiler alert of sorts to the beginning of the post, but that’s like trying to explain why a joke is funny. I thought of adding a note at the end of the screed, but that would work about as well as the “thanks for sharing the fun” announcement at the end of the War of the Worlds broadcast.
In the end, I gave up. If we were sitting in a bar and I leaned in close and told you about the comics conspiracy, we could have a good laugh. On the internet, though, we’d cause a panic.
Damn. Now I need to think of something else I can post today.
* If you’d like to read the conspiracy rant, just leave a comment (include your email in the appropriate info box) and I will send the pdf to you by email. Don’t share it on the internet, though, because innocent lives are at stake.
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So, last week I explained why being a dad is the easiest job in the world, which led millions of unengaged dads to leap off their couches and do their duty. I know because my mailbox has been stuffed with poopy diapers that other fathers have sent me, clearly to show their gratitude for my lessons in the Tao of Fatherhood.
This week, we continue our tutorial with a Father’s Day list of all the things you need to know to be a great dad. (Also a great mom, but I finished this too late for Mother’s Day.) Our super-secret list shows how simple it really is to raise great kids and finally earn your “World’s Best Dad” coffee cup.
And so, we submit with great pride and just a bit of trepidation…How to Be the Bestest Parental Unit Ever!!
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Over lunch the other day, a friend related the challenges of adjusting to changes within his own company. He is the boss, the owner, the big cheese, but his biggest job is that of a professional shape shifter, finding ways to adapt in order to remain relevant, and valuable, within the company he founded.
He was once the chief salesman, chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, and the chief everything else. Now, though, he needs to figure out new roles for himself at each step of the company’s development and with each new hire.
Over lunch the other day, a friend related the challenges of adjusting to changes within her own family. She is the mom, the aunt, the grandmother, but her biggest job is that of a shape shifter, finding ways to adapt in order to remain relevant, and valuable, within the family she founded.
She was once the mom of children, then college kids, then the mother-in-law and, now, a grandmother. And there’s no stability in sight, because she knows her relationships with her grandchildren will shift again as they grow.
Life, it turns out, is a continuous process of adaptation, a series of transformations into new roles, new responsibilities, new identities. We’re the...
...big-dog eighth grader
...new hire again
...old hand again
The crazy part is that we seem to be surprised when it happens. We change our roles and our positions in each organization continually, whether it’s our family, school, workplace or homestead. Each time, though, we wonder at the experience of needing, once again, to find our place, to make the adjustments, to fit into our new situation. Some people say they avoid change in their lives, but those people aren’t really paying attention, are they?
This could be a great life hack, a terrific lesson we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. Your life will be a continual process of adapting to new roles and new situations, with so many transformations that you probably won’t even notice when some of them are happening. Stay alert, though, because the lessons are largely the same and you’ll be applying them again and again and again.
Just as we share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, our transitions share 99% of the same factors, as well. New job, new school, new marriage, new friends…all bring the same mix of excitement and trepidation, insecurity and identity. The jargon changes, but the fundamentals are the same.
Unfortunately, our mistakes are often the same, as well. We all have a friend who keeps falling into mismatched relationships or jobs or investments. Sometimes that “friend” is the person who looks back at us in the bathroom mirror each morning. Once we learn to recognize the patterns, though, we can figure out what we’ve done well and poorly in the past, so we can ace the next test and the one after that.
The specifics will change, but the process is eternal. New situation? No sweat. I’ve done this before.
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Dad would have been 95 today, and so...
My dad owned a small business, which meant he worked 12 days a week. Every so often, he’d take me downtown with him on a Saturday morning and I’d get to play with the T-squares and the copy machine and, best of all, the electric erasers.
One such morning, we’re walking past the library (now the Cultural Center) on the way to breakfast when a beggar comes up and asks for money for food. My dad declines to give him any cash, but he says we’re going for breakfast and the beggar is welcome to join us. And so, our party of three parks at the counter of a diner near the IC station under Michigan and Randolph.
The waitress takes a look at our guest and declines the opportunity to serve him, but my dad insists and notes that he is going to pay the bill for our new friend. Then, dad sits between me and the beggar and talks with the guy during breakfast. I have no recollection of the conversation, but the amazing part to me was that they had a conversation at all.
Dad was a patron of the art of panhandling, adjusting his largesse for the originality and personality of the donee. It was a good bet that the people who asked for money had made some big mistakes along the way, but it was an equally good bet that my dad, like almost all of us, could have made a comparably bad move that landed him on the street.
After we parted from our new friend, dad said he preferred to buy food instead of handing over cash, because the recipients might just buy booze if left to their own devices. Once, he said, the guy asking for money simply admitted he was a drunk and would spend it on hooch. Dad gave him extra points for honesty and financed his next round.
(Modern note: Doesn’t it seem very patronizing and patriarchal for him to have forced his judgment on the beggars regarding how they spent their money? Wasn’t that a blatant assertion of colonial power, cultural appropriation and severely infantilizing? In hindsight, now that I am superduperly woke, I am mortified that he bought them food. What a privileged bastard he was.)
Fast forward to a family vacation in New York, when we’re walking with our daughters on 42nd Street near Grand Central Station and a man comes up to ask for some change and I decide to buy him a meal. It costs more than spare change, of course, but it does more good, even if I am paternalistically imposing my choices of nutrition on an otherwise sentient soul. After I make sure my new friend is served, I relate my childhood story to my daughters, and they remember.
Fast further forward, my girls are grown now, with children of their own, and I received a note from one of them about buying lunch for a beggar. Maybe, one day, their children will do the same.
Some heirlooms are well worth passing down.
What story do you tell from your childhood, and what story do you want your kids to tell about you? Please share your memories in the comments section and subscribe if you haven’t done so already.
Panic time starts this month as a million young adults feel the sting of being ejected into the real world. Yes, we’re entering graduation season and 99.9% of the post-millennials who shake hands with the principal/dean have no idea what happens next.
It’s a failure of parenting, if you ask me. The time to prepare your kids for the future is when they’re in diapers. Even if you bribed the dean to get your kid into school, or went the old-fashioned route of endowing a chair at your selected institution, and even if you hired dopplegangers to sit in on their classes and take all their tests, you’re still a failure if you didn’t begin paving the way for them in utero.
Proper parenting requires optimal curation of the music that’s piped into the womb, detailed consideration of the best native language for their nannies and precise dietary choices. Most important, success-driven parenting must focus on the ultimate prize: the best possible job for our scions. Beware, though, because predictions about the best jobs are often wildly off target.
Every so often, I’ll read an article about preparing our kids for the jobs of the future, and precisely as often, I get a good laugh. Coding is the rage right now, with special coding camps and toys that teach preschoolers the basics of writing ifXthenY and ifJdoK.
There’s no harm to it, of course, but the future has a tendency to turn out differently than we planned. The earlier we set our direction, the more off course we’ll be ten years from now. When I was in high school, we learned Fortran, which, as everyone knows, is the dominant software language today.
Absolutely nothing could move Fortran from the top of the list. Ditto for the punch cards we used to enter data into our computer. Such a great tool, absolutely irreplaceable.
Similarly, we were encouraged to plan for careers in space travel and we would have levitating cars and trains to ride in. Also, as predicted, we’ve been moving around for the past 40 years on jet packs strapped to our backs.
Ah, good times.
When our girls were younger, we were encouraged to teach them Japanese, since Japan’s economy was ascending and Japanese businesses were obliterating American industries. I never got around to enrolling the girls in Japanese studies, but it didn’t make a difference in the end. It turns out they should have been learning Mandarin.
Yogi Berra said it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future, and that is a very wise bit of wisdom. One thing we can assume about almost every prediction is that it will not come to pass, and the odds of failure increase with the length of the timeline.
Still, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t err on the side of hubris, so I have identified with 110% accuracy the top five jobs of the future. Train your children now, and you can thank me later.
Remember to thank me when your children have grown up and can afford to move out, thanks to these incredibly surefire job predictions. And, as a bonus, here is one more career that is certain to be a winner decades from now: Job of the Future Predictor. It’s a no-brainer.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.