We are in a new era of communication, whether we like it or not. The fact that you may be reading this article on your phone, in an online newsletter or on Twitter proves this. In a world of multiplying content and channels, we all struggle to identify fake news, select reliable sources and focus on what really matters.
How can we best deal with this situation? How can we manage the endless stream of information while conveying our own message to the world? Here are five tips to get you started:
1. Know your environment
You don’t need to have a million Twitter followers or a thousand Facebook likes, but you should have a good understanding of the different channels of communication, and how to use them effectively. This includes being searchable and having a clear presence on the web, regardless of whether you are a local osteopath or an executive at a multinational company. Word-of-mouth is no longer enough to establish a reputation.
2. Good writing skills are essential
The ability to write well and express your thoughts clearly is often underrated. It applies to every area of communication, from marketing to journalism, from social media to print. Storytelling can be a particularly powerful tool in communicating your message, and it is worth studying different narrative styles and techniques.
Some companies have long recognized the power of good writing. Sixty years ago, the oil and gas company Eni put the poet Attilio Bertolucci in charge of its in-house publication, “The Wild Cat”. Pirelli, the tyre maker, commissioned famous writers such as Eugenio Montale, Umberto Eco and Dino Buzzati for its own magazine, “The Civilization of Cars”. Pirelli now publishes a volume called “New World” that looks more like a coffee-table book than a magazine, featuring high-quality illustrations and photos. Olivetti, famous for its iconic typewriters, also partnered with well-known storytellers to promote its brand.
Hiring talented writers is a crucial first step in this complex, hyper-connected world. Skilled storytellers can work across a range of platforms. In my own role as editor-in-chief of an in-house publication, I am currently experimenting with new formats for our branded content, such as short documentaries that are published on our website.
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3. Live, analyze and interpret the context
Not all communication skills can be learnt in a formal way. Lived experience is a vital part of understanding overall context and making the right decisions.
Emile Zola, the 19th-century French writer, journalist, critic and photographer, would not pen a single word until he had the chance to go for a walk, take a few pictures and jot down some notes. His beautiful notebooks still illustrate this method. He would walk around and survey the scene, which Google now makes very easy to do. Still, no online search will ever replace actually visiting a place and seeing it with your own eyes.
Zola's equivalent today might be the curator and critic Germano Celant, who always highlights the value of context. For his Fondazione Prada exhibition, “Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918-1943”, he studied the context in which artworks were created, and the artistic, social, economic and cultural systems of the inter-war period, adding depth to the display.
4. Creativity is key
Is it innate, or can it be taught? In my view, much can be learned by reading about the lives and methods of artists around the world. Rules and a sense of structure are indispensable for most creative people. Reading “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant, I was struck by how many singers, writers, painters and photographers of the past and present were driven by an urge to rebel against the establishment. Starting with complete freedom may actually hinder creativity, or fuel ideas that lead nowhere.
Successful creative careers require commitment and persistence. John Legend continued to give powerpoint presentations during the day and sing at night, even after the release of his first successful album. Stephen King worked as a teacher, watchman and petrol pump attendant until seven years after the publication of his first novel. T.S. Eliot kept working in a bank until 1925, three years after the publication of his most popular work, “The Waste Land”. Harper Lee was working for an airline company when her lifelong friend Truman Capote persuaded her to write down the stories of her childhood.
As Grant says, to be creative you need rules to break. Even the myth of the genius who dropped out of school is fading: people who manage to launch a start-up while keeping their job have a 33% greater chance of succeeding. From talent shows to fulfilling hobbies, there are countless ways of following your dreams without giving up your day job - though of course there are always those who risk everything to devote themselves to art.
5. Hold on to a sense of wonder and curiosity
We tend to associate creativity with artists and inventors, when actually all of us are creative, according to David Kelly and his brother Tom in their book “Creative Confidence”. We simply need to tap that creativity and share it. This idea speaks to me because of my own family background in the textiles industry. Unconsciously, I absorbed many lessons about creativity and craftsmanship, drawing and fashion, business and cross-cultural values. And I never lost a boundless curiosity for the world. How about you?
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