Being Relevant

Elizabeth Derrico
Elizabeth Derrico & Associates

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”

--Fran Lebowitz

It was my first NABE Comm Workshop. The place was Seattle. The year was 1985. I wrote a memo to my boss (the Dean of Bar PR Brad Carr), detailing all that I learned. It was written in long-hand on a yellow legal pad. It was handed to an assistant. The assistant typed it into a Wang word processing system.

That practice soon ended.  The following year a Macintosh Plus--with 1/64th of my iPhone’s capacity--landed on my desk. Typesetting became desktop publishing. I migrated from PageMaker to Quark to InDesign. I left an Apple shop for a Windows world and back again. I deserted WordPerfect for umpteenth versions of Word. I mailed news releases. I sent them via PR Newswire1. You emailed news releases. Now you tweet them. You get the idea.

As such changes crawl through our workplaces, we are always acquiring new skills. I suspect we don’t give it too much thought. We adapt. We figure it out.

But I think we need to do more. We need to commit to being life-long learners. We need to be self-directed knowledge seekers. This month’s Harvard Business Review reports only 24% of employees are curious about their work. Really? How career stifling. How professionally dead ending. How boring.

If you are heading to NABE Comm, move out of your comfort zone. Social media mavens hit the print track. Marketing types hit a media relations presentation. Jack of all trades in your role? Add another one. Burst and move beyond your bubble.

Figure out how to understand an audit report.2 Read your organization’s bylaws. Know the difference between a 501©(6) organization and a 501©(3).

Go beyond your organization. Go beyond the bar community. Go beyond the association world. Yes, by all means, read NABE News, Bar Leader Weekly, and Association News. But don’t limit yourself. Check out Forbes or Inc. or Entrepreneur. Follow HBR on Twitter.

Your next great idea just might be sparked.3

Make the time to read. Grab a book from the “Business Section” like Adam Grant’s Give and Take. Keep it at your desk. When you're eating that leftover Thai takeout, read the book. Use tape flags. Highlight.4 Share your “aha” moments.

Heck, start a reading group at the office.5

If you are hiring, ask candidates, “tell me about what you’re reading and whom you follow on Twitter." You will learn a great deal.6

Be curious. Ask questions. Read. You will be a better whatever you are now and position yourself to be a better whatever is next.


1 Yes, I haven’t personally sent out a news release in a very, very long time. I do remember the terms lede and slug.

2 Numbers aren’t natural to communicators, or we would be in the A&F Section. I get that. However, knowing the numbers and the letters gives us a higher valuation.

3 “Hamilton” the musical was inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s beach reading of the 800-page biography Hamilton.  Not exactly the kind of book you would ascribe to a musical theater type.

4I always have to two to be read piles. They are in two different rooms. One for professional development and one for the pure joy of fiction and of biography although they aren't mutually exclusive.

5 Nice idea in theory. In practice, it is harder than it sounds. Trust me.

6 One of the worst hires I ever made couldn’t answer the interview question, “Tell me about the last book that you read." The job was a position that required lots of writing. Lesson learned.