Spirited Communication

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Facing Fear and Fire Through Firewalking

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In June 2016, several participants in a firewalking exercise at a Tony Robbins motivational seminar, were taken to local hospitals after suffering burns.

Why would anyone walk across fire, and how do so many thousands of participants at events like Robbins’ avoid injury?

Stephanie Kurokawa

Stephanie Kurokawa

Listen to this 14-minute with Stephanie Kurokawa, a speaker, trainer and volunteer for Tony Robbins. She has successfully firewalked three times at Robbins’ events, and shares her thoughts on the benefits of the exercise.

Real Freedom

Independence From AddictionI’m not like many of you.

Today, millions of people in the United States will celebrate the anniversary of the date when our founding fathers in the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

That “Independence Day” often is marked by parades, picnics and parties that include barbecued foods, fireworks and the consumption of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. Millions of Americans 12 years of age and older also smoke marijuana, according to surveys including the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It goes without saying that people will be getting high in many ways today.

But not me and millions of other recovering alcoholics and addicts.

For us, real freedom today comes from avoiding substances that, while pleasurable in smaller doses and infrequent use, led to physical, emotional and spiritual bondage.

Unlike prohibitionists, I don’t support laws that ban alcohol and other drugs. That isn’t freedom either.

Not everyone who will overindulge today is an alcoholic or drug addict. Some are just naïve or foolish about the effects of alcohol and other drugs. However, as someone who has experienced the compulsion to drink and drug, I know that I am not one of the people who can take a few sips of a drink, put it down and forget it.

I’ve had to make adjustments in the 30+ years since my last drink and drug. I’ve regained a spiritual foundation for my life, and have worked to clear the wreckage of my past caused by my addictions.

I speak to groups and individuals regarding my experiences before, during and after addiction. The main point of my talks is that real freedom is something that we have to work for, and at times fight to maintain. The benefits are more wonderful than someone can imagine when under bondage, but those benefits do come true when we work for them.

Happy Independence Day!

Loving Memories of my Dad, Ed Keefe on Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to anyone reading this who has had the privilege, joy and challenges of being a father.

The day is bringing out more emotion than usual from me, because this is the first Father’s Day since my dad, Ed Keefe, died.

This is my dad, Ed, and my mom, Donamarie, early in their relationship.

This is my dad, Ed, and my mom, Donamarie, early in their relationship.

I’ve heard it said that we have to go through so much training to drive a car, but someone can become a father without any training or preparation.

I’ll agree that someone can become a biological father without any training, but no one truly succeeds at parenting without a lot of effort, education and personal growth.

Any successes that I’ve had as the father of my son, Kevin, and my daughter, Caitlyn, stem from lessons that I learned from my dad. Just as most of us learn more from our mistakes than our successes, I’ve learned more about parenting by examining what my dad did, and deciding whether I would model his approaches, or choose a different way. I can think of many times when I did or said something the way that I thought dad would have—and quite a few times when I said or did something the opposite of how I had experienced dad’s approach when I was growing up.

I’m the fifth of six children, all but my oldest brother being born at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago. My brother Bob was born at Great Lakes Naval Base because my dad was serving in the Army at that time. We had many struggles, including years of meager living in Peoria, where my dad was in sales. Decades later, one of the most difficult times for my family came when my sister was diagnosed with cancer.

Mom and Dad pose with their six children,  back row from left: Bob, Scott, Mike and Steve. Front row: me and Annette, who died of cancer at the age of 26.

Mom and Dad pose with their six children, back row from left: Bob, Scott, Mike and Steve. Front row: me and Annette.


Annette, a young mother, endured an 18-month battle before she died, leaving behind a young son, her husband, and her parents and brothers. Nothing could prepare us for that battle, but I learned many valuable lessons from dad and mom about commitment, compassion, and how to release a child into the care of a loving God.

I always felt that my dad was an awkward father, not being a good communicator and somewhat of an authoritarian. But that was the general parenting style of his generation. But he was a dynamite grandfather, taking time to attend the many events that his grandchildren were into. Dad loved to laugh and amuse the kids, and they all responded to him with joy.

A little more than one year ago, Dad found out that he had cancer, and soon realized that some of it was inoperable. In late summer 2015, dad went into hospice at home, and passed into glory on Nov. 17, 2015.

My brother Steve and I plan to take mom to the cemetery on Father’s Day, to honor dad’s memory. Wherever you are, if you are able to tell someone that they are doing great as a father, do it! It’s never easy, but always deeply appreciated.

A recent family photo. Back row: Bob's spouse, Allen; Bob; Dad; Mike's son, Marcos; Scott floating above the crowd (this is a family joke), Mike. Front row: My son, Kevin, me floating above the crowd; my wife, Kim; my daughter, Caitlyn; and Mike's wife, Alejandra.

A recent family photo. Back row: Bob’s spouse, Allen; Bob; Dad; Mike’s son, Marcos; Scott floating above the crowd (this is a family joke), Mike. Front row: My son, Kevin, me floating above the crowd; my wife, Kim; my daughter, Caitlyn; and Mike’s wife, Alejandra.

Making Comic Books More Inclusive

FreeComicBDay16%2015yrs_logoToday is “Free Comic Book Day” in North America, but how meaningful are comics in today’s world?

The industry remains healthy, with 2015 sales in North America of $579 million (up 7.17% year-over-year), according to Diamond Comic Distributors. Demographics of comic book readers is difficult to find. I came across this “back of the envelope” estimate of how many Millenials regularly read comic books. (Hint: not many)

So who is buying the comic books that launched media powerhouses like The Walking Dead cable show and The Avengers movies?

We do see attempts to draw a more diverse customer, as more women identify as comic book fans.

Comic book writers, artists and publishers also are adding characters that they hope will appeal to a wide range of ethnic and other demographics.

Although the following National Public Radio (NPR) report is a year old, it discusses that trend.

The Free Comic Book Day site provides a link to more information about comic books.

Here are a couple of well-known actors hawking Free Comic Book Day and their individual projects:
 

VR, AI Will Be Mainstream Soon Enough (Part 2)

My previous post summarized the growing attention to virtual reality (VR). This post focuses on another breakthrough technology that is gaining interest and acceptance: narrative science and artificial intelligence storytelling.

Kristian Hammond explains AI and narrative science during the G&S Global Street Fight business communications conference.

Kristian Hammond explains AI and narrative science during the G&S Global Street Fight business communcations conference.

When I joined VW Credit, Inc. in 2004 as its first (and only to-date) IT Communications Specialist, my boss told me that they were looking for me to help communicate the “value of IT” and other messages. One of the biggest difficulties that IT leadership faced then, he said, was that they were “data rich, but information poor.”

In other words, they didn’t know how to extract deeper meaning and narratives out of the massive amount of data to which they and the organization was privy. I did a good job, I believe, but we would have benefitted from the analytical and narrative text-generation systems developed by one of the presenters at the April 17 “Global Street Fight” business communications conference in Chicago!

At the Global Street Fight conference organized by G&S Business Communications, Kristian Hammond, chief scientist and co-founder of Narrative Science, explained that human beings aren’t built for the kind of data analysis that so many employees within financial services and other fields toil.

“There is a phenomenal amount of data today; way more data than we can understand,” Hammond said to Global Street Fight attendees. “There is a gap between the data and the end-user. We don’t want the data; we want the analysis derived from the data.”

Humans don't want data that we aren't built to analyze efficiently. We want the analysis from that data.

Humans don’t want data that we aren’t built to analyze efficiently. We want the analysis from that data that machines can process for us.

Although humans are not built to analyze data efficiently, machines are, he said. That is why he has spent decades working on the science of extracting narrative text from data and creating a system that automatically and efficiently creates accurate, useful narrative text for reports, press releases and other publications.

Hammond founded the University of Chicago’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1986, and formed Northwestern University’s Intelligent Information Laboratory (InfoLab) in 1998. Lately, he is marketing Quill™, an “advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) platform.”

According to the Narrative Science website, Quill “goes beyond reporting the numbers—it creates perfectly written narratives to convey meaning for any intended audience.” Hammond told us that Quill can create a financial analysis report in a professional, conversational tone literally within seconds. Compare that to the days or even weeks that some financial firms devote to their reports written by human analysts—who, as Hammond pointed out, don’t tend to like creating those documents.

One aspect that remains important in the AI narrative business is human oversight, Hammond said. He gave an example of a future in which he might enter a self-driving car and tell it to take him to the airport. “If it suddenly diverted to the nearest medical facility rather than the airport, I might be upset…unless the car told me that it detected, by monitoring my vital signs through a device on my wrist, that I was having a cardiac issue. We just want to know why it is making the decisions that it makes.”

Hammond’s belief in the need for human understanding of the software’s decision-making is a relief. Especially when I read that he most recently has been part of a United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) team that is working on shaping policy “regarding the control and regulation of the weaponization of autonomous devices.”

As my fellow Terminator fans would agree, we don’t need a real-life Skynet!

VR, AI Will Be Mainstream Soon Enough (Part 1)

VR Demo by Matt Overbey at VCI IMG_4265Two presentations focused on “breakthrough” topics during the April 19 “Global Street Fight” business communications conference in Chicago, organized by G&S Business Communications

The topics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) narrative science, were fanciful ideas just a few years ago. They have become nearly mainstream, but awareness and adoption by communication and business leaders is just now accelerating.

No better sign of that move toward the mainstream is possible than a photo of U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel geeking out on VR during a tour of the Hannover Messe trade fair.

Rather than discussing world leaders engaged in VR activities, two presenters at the Global Street Fight shared how VR is becoming part of news coverage by media organizations.

Raymond Soto, Gannett creative lead of applied technologies, and Holly McCall, Midwest vice president at the USA Today Network, led a discussion of how media companies are warming up to the idea of virtual reality journalism.

The Des Moines Register and its parent company, Gannett Digital, were awarded an Edward R. Murrow journalism award last year for coverage of dramatic changes in a rural community using VR technology. The Harvest of Change series included a 3D tour of an Iowa family farm, possibly the first example of VR journalism.

Global Street Fight attendees could download a USA Today VR app that, along with free VR goggles distributed by the presenters, allowed attendees to experience VR on our own.

During a Q&A sessions, my hand shot up and I asked whether people with motion sickness can comfortably watch VR videos. (I had a bad experience with the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts 3d ride at Universal Orlando, and didn’t want a repeat experience.)

Soto said VR video creators are sensitive to that issue now, and use techniques such as zooming in and out, rather than panning left to right, which brings on motion sickness.

He was right, because later at home I was able to enjoy a VR ride along with Blue Angels as we made several maneuvers, without me needing an airsickness sack!

As the above photo of a work colleague shows, the VR videos were a big hit when I shared them with coworkers the day after the conference.

NEXT POST: VR, AI Will Be Mainstream Soon Enough (Part 2)

‘Leadership Amid the Battleground’ Panel Hits Close to Work

Global Street Fight study cover graphicThe purpose of the final session of the 2016 “Global Street Fight” according to its organizer, G&S Business Communications, was to “explore public perceptions of CEOs in today’s hyper-competitive global marketplace.”

As a communicator who receives a paycheck from Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., I connected with the session title: “Leadership Amid the Battleground.” In fact, Volkswagen came up several times during the opinion panel led by Steve Halsey, managing director of G&S Business Communications, and featuring Carol Gstalder, Nielsen senior vice president of consumer insights.

Comments hit uncomfortably “close to home work.”

During the panel discussion, Gstalder and Halsey referenced results of the “Fourth Annual Global Street Fight Study,” and provided context for some of the findings.

The Global Street Fight Study, Halsey said, has tracked the trends and issues that impact our expectations and perceptions of leaders in the C-Suite.

Findings from the 2015 Street Fight study indicated that major U.S.-based corporations were focused on “reputational triage” a year ago, Gstalder said. This year, although some notable companies are dealing with a reputational crisis, more senior leaders are described by Global Street Fight study respondents as “bold,” “innovative” and “strong.”

Gstalder attributed that shift to factors including an improving economy, greater consumer confidence, and C-suite engagement and comment in popular social issues that resonate with employees.

Then the panel discussion hit close to work. Gstalder said the type of crisis taking the forefront in survey participants’ minds changed this year.

Last year, the crises that came to mind included General Motors’ quality issue and recalls, and a rash of data breaches that required senior leaders to calm customers and regulatory agency concerns about customer privacy and data protection.

This year’s study uncovered a high emotive level of concern regarding potential corruption and wrong-doing by organizations including FIFA, pharma company greed, corporate tax diversions through the Cayman Islands and Volkswagen.

“When we asked the public this year what potentially would be the most damaging crises, it’s lying or corporate wrong-doing,” Gstalder said. “It goes to the “code of conduct, and what some of the other conference speakers here talked about this morning: A culture of compliance and values, and the importance of senior leaders to be living by those values.”

In the months since the Volkswagen diesel issue broke, I’ve been asked many times from family, friends and acquaintances “how are you doing?” and “what will this mean for Volkswagen?”

Let me be very clear here: I do not represent Volkswagen A.G. or any of its subsidiaries when I write this blog. These are my posts, my thoughts and feelings.

You may know that Volkswagen is not commenting publicly about its ongoing efforts related to the diesel issue, except as it posts information on its diesel issue website. According to that site, “Specifics of the agreements in principle are still being finalized. Until finalized, details remain confidential in accordance with the Court’s direction.”

As a communications professional who has received training in crisis communications, I would love to be more involved. However, my role with VW Credit, Inc., the financial services subsidiary of Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., is as an internal communications specialist. The fact is that I learn about this issue the same as most people inside or outside of the organization: through the company website and occasional email updates, and through media posts from people outside of the VW organization.

I work with many wonderful people who remain passionate about the company and its brands. We want the issue to be resolved fairly, and we want to do our part to help restore trust in the VW Brand.

It was difficult to bite my tongue during the Global Street Fight Conference when VW was mentioned. That’s as much as I can say, even though it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

NEXT POST: VR, AI Will Be Mainstream Soon Enough (Part 1)

Highlights of the 2016 Global Street Fight

The Fourth Annual Global Street Fight Study is being released next week by G&S Business Communications, and earlier this week, study highlights were made available to attendees of the G&S “Global Street Fight” business communications conference in Chicago.

The study, conducted in March by Harris Poll on behalf of G&S Business Communications, queried 2,018 adults online. Study highlights provided to me and other conference attendees, focused on social media patterns and preferences. Some results were broken down by generational categories of Millennials and Generation X, as well as the “General Public” and “Opinion Elites,” which G&S defined as “a sub-segment of the main survey respondents who are more informed, engaged, involved in current issues and exert influence on the general public.”

In subsequent posts, I’ll share some of the great content provided by conference panelists who covered global trends in:

  • Corporate compliance and diversity challenges in the C-Suite
  • Reputational and economic challenges that are plaguing organizations
  • Breakthroughs and advances in narrative science and artificial intelligence storytelling
  • Virtual Reality in journalism and media
  • Leadership and crisis responses

Here are three slides from the G&S 2016 Study Highlights:

Global Street What They Should Post

Study respondents (46%) want senior business leaders to share information about their company’s business activities.

They DON’T want senior leaders at large companies to share personal opinions on social media (64% of all respondents and 71% of opinion elites).

Global Street What They Want From Leaders

More than one-third of study respondents want senior leaders to use social media to address company vision, company products and services. Low on their list are posts focused on advice on running a business (13%), personal stories and anecdotes (15%) and professional development tips (18%).

Global Street Why It Matters

It matters, to somewhat varying degrees, to each of the study subgroups because large percentages of the study respondents use social media to familiarize themselves with a company before deciding whether to purchase that company’s products or services.

They tend to place more trust in information about a company when they get it through social media. And they tend to believe that senior leaders who are transparent on social media are more trustworthy.

NEXT POST: Leadership Amid the Battleground

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