Monday, February 2, 2009

We Need to Talk

This is probably what we call in the Air Force a BFO--a Blinding Flash of the Obvious--but how we communicate has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. We in the Air Force have some catching up to do.

For the last 18 months my stump speech on the speaking circuit to whomever will listen goes something like this:

*We're in a communication revolution that started in the early 1980s and is in afterburner in 2009. I don't know where we are in the life-cycle of this communication revolution but I do know that it's not over and some incredible things are on the horizon. The revolution started when we evolved from IBM Selectrics to word processors and eventually computers that linked us to the rest of the world. And, let's not forget the wall-bound telephone has given way to cell phones and now the iPhone which lets us connect with anyone, or anything, almost anywhere.

*Technology wrought from the communication revolution has dramatically changed how we receive information and how we pass that information on to others. Check out Jeff Greenfield's piece on CBS Sunday Morning that aired Feb. 1. Mr. Greenfield clearly and succinctly recounts the changes in the communication environment over just the last five years. He says the revolution has been so dramatic that the word "change" just doesn't do justice to describe what has taken place.

*The communication revolution has also caused the business of the media to change dramatically. For the last 18 months I've predicted that by 2015 there will only be four printed newspapers left in America: the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the USA Today and the Washington Post. They're just too expensive to print and deliver and readers are going on-line to get the specific information they want from the sources they want to read. Just take a look at the Romenesko column and you'll see the media business is in dire straits.

The technology is designed to work for us. Gone are the days when we had to wait for the morning paper or the evening news to get caught up. Now we control what information we want to receive, when we want to get it, how we want to get it and we can pass it on to others we know are interested.

We have to make a few adjustments if the Air Force is going to stay "in formation" with regard to the changes in the communication environment. First, corporately we need to embrace the change. Many AF folks won't even be able to view the CBS news piece I linked to above because their work computers are blocked from accessing media sites. Secondly, Airmen at all levels must be armed with ROI--Rules of Information--so that they are cleared and available to engage the public. Thirdly, we in the Public Affairs career field need to merge our writing, video and photo capabilities and produce Internet-ready packages that communicate in ways the public wants to receive information.

The consequences are serious if we don't engage; our Air Force will be divorced from the national policy debate and others will define our capabilities and relevance.

The Air Force must have an enduring commitment to communicate with the public it serves. If they don't know, they won't care and we won't matter.


  1. Good post, Mike. I like what I've seen recently in terms of getting out the word about all the good things the Airmen are doing. Keep up the good work!

    All the best,
    Gray Rinehart

  2. It is not just the Air Force that has catching up to do. Our customers are writing about us on forums 99% of the HQ and field managers/associates cannot access because of websense blocks! Communication must take place on the customer's turf...not the corporation's backyard. The tables have turned. We are taking baby steps to address these issues, but it will require a culture change and patient change agents!

    Lauren Vargas (Disclaimer: Chief Blogger for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service/AAFES)