Kristin Johnson Kristin Johnson | Bio | Posts
7 Oct 2014 | 5:25PM

A contagious disease – first presenting in several West African countries – is now a pandemic, crossing continents and striking virulent fear in the U.S., Spain and around the world.

  •  The virus incubates.
  •  Victims often do not realize they are infected.
  •  Millions around the world – including those right here in the U.S. – are afflicted. 
  •  There can be deadly consequences. 
  •  I am not referring to Ebola.


The malady I speak of is miscommunication, with side effects including misinformation, confusion and fear that drive outcomes at every level of community response.

Communication – or lack of – is what is arguably at the center of disease control and care. Ebola is no exception. While Ebola is infectious – meaning that it is likely to spread upon exposure – the actual transmission, or contagiousness of the disease, is reportedly low given transmission is from contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

Miscommunication, however, is highly contagious and on the rise.

The Spread of Miscommunication

Today, news emerged that a Spanish nurse tested positive for Ebola after minimal exposure. According to a report on NPR quoting Dr. Antonio Alemany, a health official from the regional government of Madrid, the nurse “entered the infected priest’s room twice – once to treat him and once after he died to collect some of his things” and as far as health official know, the nurse “was wearing a protective suit the whole time and didn’t have any accidental contact with him.”

Miscommunication changes everything about what we thought we understood about the spread of the deadly disease, Ebola, and risk management. Fears are now elevated among healthcare workers, governments, media and people around the world because doubt has been cast on what we thought we knew about transmission. If the nurse, suited in protective gear, gets sick after minimal contact with an infected patient, what does that mean for the rest of us? There is no central, trusted authority on this issue to address this question or the many others being raised in the 24-hour news cycle world. The U.S. Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) hasn’t updated the “latest news” portion of its website in more than 48 hours.

Instead, media outlets – competing with each other for viewers and readers – are spitting out puzzle pieces of a larger story in a rush to be the ‘breaking news’ source, which is spreading alarm worldwide. Uncertainly is leading to panic and, in the absence of a clear solution, a public outcry to simply do something – without a clear assessment of actions and outcomes.

Symptoms Rising

The pressure to do something is mounting. Just this morning, there were calls for the resignation of Spain’s health minister, Ana Mato, in response to the “safety lapse” after the nurse’s infection. In the U.S., there are cries to shut down U.S. borders to anyone who has been to West Africa and the White House, which objects to blocking flights from West Africa, is in discussion to appoint CDC staffers to certain airports to screen passengers. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy today declared Ebola a public health emergency, signing an order for state health officials to quarantine individuals or groups “exposed to the virus or, worst case, infected.”

According to Sarah Crowe, UNICEF’s chief of crisis communications, in an interview with Columbia Journalism Review online, “It’s all so new that you can’t say that any one organization had figured out protocols. It’s unmapped terrain, whether you’re at it from child protection to precautions for the media.”

While the disease – which brings the prospect of isolation and death – is terrifying, the confusion over risk, containment and care is what truly is driving fear and potentially dangerous, impulse responses. It’s fight or flight, challenging humans’ most basic needs to preserve physiological wellness and safety (Maslow).

While there may be authorities that do fully understand Ebola – including risk, containment and care – it takes coordination on the part of governments, health care institutions, care providers, media and communities to manage the communication. This includes the ability to impart urgency for resources, discipline in safety protocols and transmission risk to vulnerable populations.  It is also of paramount to get the right message to the right audience at the right time. But that is where we, as a world, are struggling.

Some public health specialists now speculate an asymptomatic person infected with Ebola could spread the virus to others. Dr. Philip K. Russell, a virologist who, according to LA Times online, “oversaw Ebola research while heading the U.S. Army’s Medical Research and Development Command, and who later led the government’s massive stockpiling of smallpox vaccine after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks” acknowledged that we are working with an unknown. According to Dr. Russell, “scientifically, we’re in the middle of the first experiment of multiple, serial passages of Ebola virus in man….God knows what this virus is going to look like. I don’t.”

In Search of a Cure

While statements such as Dr. Russell’s discourage hope of clarity any time soon on the disease management of Ebola, what we do have is a strategy to combat miscommunication: ordered thinking.

Pulling from The Power of Communication, by Helio Fred Garcia, it is important to never confuse means with ends or goals and strategies with tactics. In order to at the very least provide some guidance to a world that is impulsively responding to the terror of uncertainty, a unity of effort on three levels can help foster clarity:

(From The Power of Communication, Chapter 6)

  • Strategy: The strategic level is focused directly on the objective, beginning with the desired outcomes. Define the audience(s) and ask “what do we need people to think, feel, know and do” in order to achieve the goal?
  • Operations: The operational level is focused on anticipating and adapting to the audience(s). The best manner, time, message and messenger should all be considered in this to better address concerns, fears and trust.
  • Tactics: The tactical level is where communication with the audience(s) takes place.

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” The miscommunication pandemic we are dealing with is greater than Ebola.  Why?

Ebola alone is not a global health problem; it is a global health problem because its contagion, containment and care protocols are unclear.

As a result of this uncertainty – a communication problem on many levels – the infections and fear are multiplying.

Among the inconsistency, speculation and chaos surrounding Ebola, the world needs a trusted authority to emerge with calm guidance and a clear message to help address the fear. But among all the uncertainty, it seems only more questions develop.

Today I ask, who will this authority be and, in the absence of a cure, what messages will this person deliver? Do you agree that a communication issue is at the center of this pandemic? Feedback welcome.



Helio Fred Garcia Helio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
2 Sep 2014 | 11:55AM

What’s on your business card? Twenty years ago this month I was staffing a client investor meeting when an analyst handed me a business card that baffled me. I took it to my client, a very experienced and sophisticated investor relations head of a major bank.  She stared at it and said, “How strange.  Why would anyone want to put their email address on a business card?”

1994: What is the Internet, Anyway?

That same year, the cast of the Today show, in an unscripted moment, tried to make sense of email address protocols.

Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric couldn’t figure out what “@” meant.  Gumbel called it “that little mark, the a with a ring around it.”  Couric thought it meant About.  They asked their producer, off camera, what the Internet was, anyway.  His answer is worth watching.

In the 20 years since, email has gone from being a quaint curiosity to a basic reality of work.

But it wasn’t easy.  Fifteen years ago my firm started working with a major financial services company.  But one of our key client contacts, responsible for internal communication, wasn’t allowed to email outside the company.  Or to access the Internet.

2004: What is a Blog?

And on Meet the Press just 10 years ago the then host, the late Tim Russert, asked the now incoming host, Chuck Todd,  then the top editor at the political newsletter The Hotline, “What is a blog?”

Todd answered by referring to then presidential candidate Howard Dean’s blog as “essentially a digital bulletin board.”  Russert then recast the definition for the audience’s benefit: a “Cyber Bulletin Board.”

2014: Business Cards

Over this Labor Day weekend I’ve been thinking about that pioneering analyst with email on her business card.  That’s because my firm is now ordering new business cards, and grappling with the questions of what to put on the card:

  • Cell phone number?
  • Skype handle?
  • Twitter handle?
  • Blog site?
  • Website?
  • Fax number?! (Overheard at the office: “Does anyone use faxes anymore?”)
  • Titles? Do work titles matter?

And in my case, since I’ll be heading to China soon, and have already planned to have a Chinese translation of my business card, the questions include: Do I put my Twitter handle?   My Weibo handle?  Both?  Neither?

Fulfilling and Managing Expectations

In the case of my business card, the criteria I’m trying to use are these:  What would those who receive my card expect to find there?  And beyond that, what do I want them to find?

HFG Business Card

These criteria track the decision-making criteria we at Logos teach our clients and students on how to make choices in a crisis: What would reasonable people appropriately expect?  And how do we shape those expectations?

Those criteria seem to work quite well here:  Twenty years ago, most people did not expect to find an email address on a business card.  Now it’s completely expected.  The jury seems still to be out on blogs and Twitter; it’s more of a personal choice, or a set of expectations of the individual business card owner.

But the question of business cards is a relatively trivial microcosm of a much larger phenomenon.   A recent surge in connectivity has changed expectations of when one is on the job and how to connect with colleagues.

“…and then the Internet happened and everything changed.”

It seems almost trite these days to note that the Internet changed everything.  It did.

But I believe along the way there was one other event that took that change and supercharged it.  Until just a few years ago, most Internet developments were self-contained:  Search engines (Google), online video (YouTube), news, finance, entertainment, email, phones, Skype, etc.  And we experienced them one at a time.

Then in June, 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone.

Apple Reinvents the Phone

CEO Steve Jobs said that  Apple had reinvented the phone.  And they had.

But they also, eventually, reinvented our sense of connectivity. On one device we now had a phone, our music, and the Internet.  And with the introduction of apps, within a few years suddenly our phones were capable of just about anything.  (I once transferred money to my college-student daughter in Boston from the back seat of a taxi in Beijing, using just my phone and two apps — texting and banking.  The whole transaction — request to me, transfer, notification to my daughter, took less than 30 seconds.  My Chinese colleague was astounded that such a thing was even possible.  Come to think of it, so was I.)


Perhaps as significant, Apple provided the ability to link the apps, so that we could seamlessly move from one to another — email to phone to text to calendar etc.) without having to stop and start, or even to understand how it all works.


That made it easy for someone like me — who knows nothing about computers — to use the device as if it’s an organically integrated whole.  I don’t know how it works.  And I don’t really care.  I just care that it works.

If you can spare an hour, it’s worth watching Jobs’ complete introduction to the iPhone, if only to hear the audience reaction to his demonstration of how everything is connected.  And to see how only seven years later, we take so much of it for granted.

So suddenly, whether with Apple’s iPhone or their competitors’ recent offerings, we can now access just about the entire Internet on our phone.  We carry more computing power in our pockets than the Apollo astronauts took to the moon. And all of this has now changed our sense of what it means to be on the job.

Work is No Longer a Place You Go

And the integration of everything onto devices makes possible a new way of understanding work.  Work is no longer a place you go.  It’s what you do, wherever you happen to be.  (So it’s valid to ask, should I put my street address on my business card?  Or will just my email address do? My office land-line phone?  Or just my mobile?)

This raises all kinds of work/life balance questions.  But it can also be empowering.  And the possibilities, just a few years into the future, are exciting.

Which leads back to the question I started musing about this Labor Day weekend.  Why would anyone want their email address on their business card?

And I can imagine 20 years from now someone asking this question: Business card?  Why would anyone want a business card?

On the Wednesday after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, President Barack Obama called for changes in gun laws to prevent similar tragedies in the future. He said:

“We may never know all the reasons why this tragedy happened. We do know that every day since more Americans have died of gun violence. We know such violence has terrible consequences for our society. And if there is only one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events we have a deep obligation – all of us – to try. Over these past five days a discussion has re-emerged as to what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day.”

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Consider this post Part 2 of Emotions are Stubborn Things. Part 1 happened such a long, long time ago that I won’t even say anything more about it. But, I’m back now and feeling stubbornly emotional about communication.

Twitter! I can’t capture in a small number of words – much less 140 characters – how my life has changed since my tweets debuted, just 6 short days ago. I’m now 49 tweets and 49 followers into the Twitter Matrix.

Let’s just say that up until last week, I suffered from a generational bent away from Twitter. Before my conversion, tweeting represented rapid technological transmission (a significant plus) aggravated by an accelerated loss of privacy (a catastrophic minus). But, I buckled up anyway and got on this Social Media ride, precisely because I am determined to stay contemporary. I want to avoid being that person who shuns technological breakthroughs.  I’m not calling out any names here (like my mom’s), but you know that person I’m talking about, the one who, in decades gone by, didn’t want to hear about call waiting, wouldn’t leave messages on answering machines, and poo-poo’d email, saying, “ahoo, yahoo, what’s the difference?!” So, yup, I joined the Twitter corps and got the esprit. I started tweeting about emotion, a subject near and dear to my heart, and, apparently, I can’t stop.

As a consultant, coach and lecturer, I’m always emphasizing how emotion lubricates communication… or makes true dialogue skid to a stop. After an initial tweet or two along those same lines, I felt wildly invigorated. And, then, I got some followers. Wow! And, then, I noticed that those followers followed intriguing tweeters. Cool! So, then, I started to follow them. And, then, I heard so many voices out there, talking about everything and nothing all at once. Some of their messages resonated deeply. Others gave me belly laughs. Some left me feeling disturbed. Hmm…

True: What every tweeter chats up in cyberspace is not always engaging or even interesting – just as my own tweets are not to everyone’s tastes – but when the periodic updates fuse together with clever vignettes about the tweeters’ ideas, their passions, their friends, their blogs, and, of course, the 9 quick ways to monetize Twitter, the result is a lively, delectable, followable mix.

Clearly, tweeters inhabit a parallel universe that so many people don’t even know about. Yes, I think I’ll stay here.

The trouble with staying in the Twitterverse is that it’s hard to tear myself away. Calls still have to be returned, dishes still need to be washed, and books still need to be read. More importantly, bills still need to be paid, so I’m taking my colleague Laurel Hart’s advice and being very strategic in how I engage with Twitter, and how I permit it to engage me.

As time goes on, what I’ll have to develop more of is what Howard Gardner has called the synthesizing mind, something I learned about due to my organic, free range grazing on Twitter: “The synthesizing mind is about knowing how to deal with an avalanche of information; knowing what to learn and what to reject as irrelevant.”

All that being said, here are some other interesting tidbits for the Sticky Wicket:

–A video clip of Clay Shirky, discussing the “transmission of emotionally engaging messages rippling around the world at nearly the speed of light.” (Social Media Enhances the Emotional Dimension of News)

–Brian Solis blogging about “connectivity through inspiration.” (Social Media is Rife with Experts but Starved of Authorities). Communicating on Twitter in the age of viral sound bites requires observing and listening, he says, and I agree.

–A completely fascinating but somewhat scary search tool called Start by typing in your own name.

*For those of you wondering why I’ve used Jimi Hendrix’s image here, well, I’ll just leave you guessing (Hint: “Freedom”). In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter:@emoticomma

A public apology is a good way to express remorse and offer reconciliation to an affected party. But the very act of apologizing can be daunting.

If delivered effectively, an apology can mend relationships and restore trust between two or more parties.

If delivered effectively, an apology can help maintain company’s competitive advantage, reduce litigation costs and minimize business disruptions.

If delivered effectively, an apology can create a perception of genuine regret on behalf of the offender and mend his or her reputation.

But here is a question:

Can an effective delivery distract the audience from an insufficient apology?


Can a weak delivery diminish a powerful message of a genuine apology?

I invite you to look at three recent apologies and share your opinion about the effectiveness of each apology is in terms of its message and its presentation.

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Humility is strength.

More than a year ago I began a series on this blog about humility as a leadership attribute.  I noted that

A dollop of humility tempers other attributes, and makes a leader even stronger. Humility helps a leader to recognize that maybe – just maybe – he or she might be wrong; that there may be other valid perspectives; that he or she doesn’t have to be the smartest person in every room, at every meeting.

Humility also helps leaders to connect with others up, down, and across the chain of command; to build organizations and cultures that more likely thrive; to understand the perspectives of other stakeholders.

Yesterday at the close of the G-20 Summit in London, President Obama put his leadership in full focus as he demonstrated both confidence and humility on the world stage.  It worked.

He gained the confidence of world leaders, including those who had previously been America’s adversaries or who had predicted that the Summit would fail.  He even got a rousing ovation from an otherwise skeptical world press corps.

In a press conference closing the Summit, President Obama demonstrated a tone that was a stark contrast to that of his predecessor, and that rallied other world leaders to seek to cooperate with the United States rather than to resist us.

President Obama set the tone before a single question was asked: Read more

Photo by KiraKalina

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.
” Paul Boese

A significant increase in public apologies over the past months could be seen as a positive trend.

We saw the most senior leader of this country apologizing to the American public: “I screwed up.” We watched two prominent athletes A-Rod and Michael Phelps issue painful apologies to their fans.

We saw four bosses of British banks saying sorry to the Treasury Select Committee, and watched Japan’s Finance Minister announce his resignation along with a formal mea culpa.

And finally, in the last couple of weeks we heard the words of regret from Rupert Murdoch and Bishop Richard Williamson.

And yet many of these highly visible apologies failed to earn public forgiveness. Some were criticized for being too shallow and insincere, others could be hardly recognized as apologies at all.

So, what does it take to make an effective apology that comes across as true and genuine? And what are some examples of ineffective apologies that failed to resolve conflicts or earn forgiveness?
Read more

‘Nuff said….


No, this is not a post on the financial markets or political campaigns

A month ago, I paused to digest the report out of Pakistan that a truck bomb had destroyed the Islamabad Marriott, killing 55 people and wounding more than 250.

The news unnerved me. I had stayed at the Islamabad Marriott for five nights in February 2007 while on an ILO mission to evaluate the Soccer Ball Project. I remember the modern, glitzy lobby, the Thai restaurant, and the “foreigners only” club in the hotel basement that played cosmopolitan Hindustani dance mixes and served alcohol outlawed for most Pakistanis. Read more

It can be hard to describe what characterizes the personality of a firm, what with different personalities, areas of expertise and converging (and sometimes diverging) passions. But here at Logos, one thing that brings us all together is FOOD.

Yes, food. All of us came to Logos with an interest in food, but we really discovered our mutual obsession in Japan. I was working for a client of Logos at the time, and Anthony, Fred and Barbara were all in Kyoto as part of the team. Over our long, sleep-deprived days (and during our few and fleeting moments of down-time), we talked food. And of course, being in Japan, we talked Iron Chef.

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