Are you waiting to be anointed?

It’s classic workplace culture: employees shake their heads and curse the inaction of management (whether under their breath of with colleagues around the water cooler). In times of stability, it’s a drain on innovation. In times of disruption, it’s dangerous (and quite possibly fatal.)

I visited the newsroom of the Wichita Eagle yesterday and gave one presentation on social networking and mobile and one on managing news as a conversation. I started the day, however, with a call to action, drawing on the wisdom of Stanford’s innovation guru Tina Seelig. Her tips for fostering creativity and innovative thinking include:

  • Don’t frame the problem too tightly
  • Know how to fail fast and frequently
  • Never miss a chance to be fabulous
  • Don’t wait to be anointed

stobiasThat last point struck a chord in Wichita. Like most newsrooms, there is a mix of people out front in terms of experimentation, some still resisting change and a whole bunch in the middle who want to move forward but aren’t quite sure where to start.

rsylvesterIf you follow the use of Twitter by journalists, you’re probably aware of Ron Sylvester‘s innovative work. He’s one of the first newspaper reporters to consistently use Twitter in the courtroom. Also in Wichita is a reporter named Suzanne Tobias who covers family life issues and started using Twitter as a networking tool around the same time Sylvester started using it to cover court proceedings.

Both reporters started using Twitter around the same time without really asking an editor or manager for permission. Their assumption was simple: if this works, if it makes me a better reporter, then it won’t be a problem. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just stop doing it.

As a safety net, Tobias created a “Twitter Tips” file and used it to stash away story ideas received via Twitter connections. This was going to be her defense if a supervisor challenged her on the usefulness of this new (and often misunderstood) phenomenon.

The file grew large. But it was never needed.

“One of the items in that “Twitter Tips” file mentions a story headlined ‘Error on state test slips past everyone — except student,’” Tobias told me via email. “That story — gleaned from a random tip from someone I follow on Twitter (a local teacher) — ended up setting an all-time record for page views on Links to the story from the Yahoo home page and Fark sent
nearly 4 MILLION people to our web site that day. And all from a lowly Twitter tip. :)”

While the story of how Tobias and Sylvester effectively used Twitter is instructive to journalists everywhere, the story of how to take initiative – and not wait to be anointed – is an even more powerful story for anyone working their way through these turbulent times (whether in journalism or not).

You’re not still waiting to be anointed, are you?

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