February 26, 2010

All week long, I have been haunted by something I read earlier in the week by Ronald Bosrock of the Global Institute. So early this morning, I found myself digging through piles of clippings and print outs on my desk to find it so I could review and ruminate on its message.

Bosrock began by sharing this unflattering observation from the World Economic Forum in Davos last month: Even in the worst financial crises in modern times, its proceedings took a back seat in the world media to what was happening with the celebrities – the wannabes who just like to be seen with the real thing-to the point that attention generated by them oftentimes detracted from the serious business at hand. How sad is that-but what a statement, not only about the media coverage but the public that clamors for this.

The business world has similar examples, Bosrock continues, and we can all name recent “celebrity executives” here at home who sacrificed the reputation of their company and the business community for their ego and status. But historically, he reports, Minnesota has had “far more examples of local business leaders who knew what their jobs were and set about doing them without the fanfare of celebrity”. And so they were able to build successful companies, create jobs, and develop a culture of success and innovation. Because they knew the difference between being a business executive and a rock star.

Likewise, he offered examples of national politicians who stage “pseudo-events” to create news and influence the perceptions of reality, become bigger than their jobs, and are promoted in the media not based on achievement, but because of their celebrity. Again, he points out, Minnesota has generally been fortunate to have serious politicians that knew their jobs and represented the people of Minnesota first – men like Walter Mondale, Arne Carlson, Dave Durenberger and Paul Wellstone.

Overall, as a nation, however, we give false standings to “power of personality” over the power of ideas and the authentic issues of the day.

As I re-read this over my morning cappuccino, why it has haunted me began to crystallize. How often do we succumb to this shallow viewpoint and vision in our own industry? Why do we gravitate to the self-promoting celebrity personalities? Why do we judge them on how well-known they are rather than on how well they perform and what they accomplish for their clients? How many of us yearn for “recognizable name” status or put good press before good works? Is it merely the Minnesota inferiority complex that makes us think only a celebrity from outside Minnesota can guide us in our continuing education within our industry?

As I thought about this, a colleague’s response to an entirely different circumstance came to mind. As teens and young adults, before we are able to head out into the real world, experience life and develop our own worth as a player in that life, we want to be accepted, to be welcomed into that clique in every school that represents the “in-crowd”. Can it be that some of us never grow past that adolescent insecurity?

I’m not so sure of the answer, but I do know I’ve got some research to do. So my Barnes and Noble Sunday afternoon coffee break will certainly include perusing both Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image; A guide to pseudo-events in America” and Richard Schickel’s “Intimate Stranger: The Culture of Celebrity in America”. Maybe that will help me gain some clarity on this strange phenomenon and what we need to do to change it.

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