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Friday, November 14, 2008

Experience and Youth

In the mid-1980s, I volunteered to work on a committee to prepare for the dedication of a small local park in the name of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat credited with helping to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from extermination near the end of World War II.

At one of the early committee meetings, I asked: "Can you find me a survivor?" Indeed, someone knew someone in town who could recall being rescued by Wallenberg. Then in his 70s, Andrew Fodor could clearly remember his fate.

I met Fodor, and enlisted his assistance, immediately impressed. Here, a relatively young guy (I hadn't quite turned 30) would work co-operatively with someone well past twice my age. Fodor certainly had all his wits about him: In fact, he operated a home-based typesetting business with the then up-to-the-minute computer equipment. He helped design and produce a 'backgrounder document' for the news release I prepared.

I then called on other committee members to research media names, and send out the news release.

The phone rang. Newspapers, radio and television all picked up on the fact that, while we were publicizing a rather bland event -- a park dedication, -- we had someone real who lived to remember his survival story. When the park dedication day occurred, hundreds attended. I stood in the background, outside of the public and media's own eyes (because of my full-time employment I couldn't be directly and publicly identified with the project) but everyone in the organizing committee knew that I had pulled off exactly what they had hoped to see: Real recognition and publicity for their cause.

Today, I see some important lessons from the experience, which you may find useful in your own business,especially if you are struggling to survive under recessionary conditions.

  • When you combine young people with people who are 'young at heart' -- that is, with the magic of experience yet the eagerness and willingness to learn new things -- you have a potent business and life combination;
  • When you work together collectively for a higher purpose, you achieve wonderful things;
  • When you combine your natural talents, with your passions and interests, in community service, you excel;
  • Fame is much less important for you than your cause or objectives;
  • You win when you magnify your group/business power through positive media publicity.
Only a few of us have life experiences as dramatic and soul wrenching as Andrew Fodor -- escaping evil and horror; and even fewer have been put to the test of risking our lives to save others such as Raoul Wallenberg. But we can all contribute useful resources, services, and (if we have it) money to our communities and causes we respect.

If you are young, and going through your first real recession as an adult, call on older business people who have been through the process before, and survived. If you are older, hopefully you have learned your lessons from previous challenging experiences and know that you must combine responsibility for yourself with respect for forces beyond your control.

And, on a business level, think about how you can create positive publicity for your company; or find (through your network and community) someone who understands the media processes and wants to help you succeed. Note you may have some luck with organized public relations agencies, but I think you will do much better with supporters who combine media savvy with a passionate interest in your cause.

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