The Corporate Whisperer

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Next week is the start of the spring semester at university and I am back at the Arts Faculty of the University Of Wollongong for a reprise teaching the Digital Communications course I initiated last year and one other course.

DIGC302 is a course that I have developed that last year was a huge amount of work for me and also for the students, but we all found it extraordinarily rewarding. (Here is a link to a pdf of the course outline as proposed: DIGC302 Final It may be subject to late changes however).

The course essentially puts a small group of students into dealing with the real world situations that they would face if they were in a business. They use the skills that they have developed in research, writing, analysis, design, communications, together with their own wits to delve deep into a specific client’s challenges of communicating.

This year the real world clients (without revealing specific names) are a major national trade association in Australia whose members are being seriously impacted (both positively and negatively) as a result of e-commerce, a substantial charity in Australia whose contributing base has been eroded as a result of the internet and the efficiencies of digital communication, and a new $54 million manufacturing facility that is about to open for business and has not yet established its digital communications strategy.

I am pretty excited about the possibilities associated with this and hope that the students will be too…

One thing that I have to deal with this year is to ensure that I have all of the potential ethics issues clearly defined. In order to deal with the kinds of surveys that students will need to undertake and manage this semester there is a lot of planning work that needs to be approved by the university ethics committee which means that I have to think through a number of problems that the students will also need to deal with as they go on the journey.

I also have to manage the industry clients’ expectations and ensure that they have a clear idea of what they want from the project. Its a daunting task to undertake, but I think this is the kind of course that it is very rare to find in a university today, mainly because it is so hard to put together.

Unfortunately lecturers and subject co-ordinators have so much administrative work to undertake that to take on the added burden of having to spend the number of hours that are necessary to set up the outside clients, and then to think through and then execute on what needs to be done is too difficult. So they just revert to doing what is easy – which is to get a bunch of texts, set some readings, put in place assignments, and do what they have always done – which is to talk at the class.

This class is all about the class taking the journey, rather than the class being told about the journey.

This is ultimately a class that teaches students how to develop vision and ideas.

That is what is needed not just in universities and education but also in business. Without ideas and the means to execute them what do we have? Not a lot.

I see the same thing happening in both business and in academia – and I am in a relatively unique position having spent 40 years of my life in business and now spending time with academics across two very distinct and different areas of activity (science and arts).

Early this week I put on a breakfast networking event in Sydney (in conjunction with NSW State and Regional Development, who were tremendously helpful). The intention was to bring together CEO’s and others from small manufacturing businesses and give them some insights into the potential of additive prototyping using nanostructures to make them more competitive. In preparing for the event I spent a fair bit of time working with the scientists getting to grips with what they have – and then turning that into a value proposition that they appreciated and which the business people coming to the event could also understand and resonate.

This translation of language and concept from one culture to another is the role that I have taken on in recent years. Its fascinating, intellectually rewarding, and I believe, one of the most valuable areas of activity that older members of society can play – filtering communications based on insights into how corporate life functions into language that scientists and academics can understand so that they can help deliver it for society and markets.


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