Courage, Cowardice, COVID-19 & Podcasts
By LeiLani Cauthen
Ivory Soap? Yes, but first courage and cowardice points leading to one of the great stories that New York’s famed Mad Men helped spawn back in the Great Depression.
Courage is a confidence of reaching out, rushing toward whatever it is that needs to be attacked and overcome, accompanied by an assumption of success. It’s also, in some instances, a willingness to lose everything including possibly your life. Someone who has charged forward in battle has discarded all other intentions or interests anywhere in life in exchange for a raw emotion that takes over them that can best be characterized as charge-fight-win. They become this singular intense force. Thoughts like, “if I fail, my kids won’t have a parent,” or “I’m not paid enough for this,” or “I’ll wait here and hope maybe the enemy will take out others and not me,” or “where’s my next meal coming from,” are all repressed. There is no thinking, there is a concentrated roar of energy. Cues from others or past memory are discarded wholesale. That is the way emergencies work. You go, you do not think, you throw your all at it, win or die in the attempt.
Forming courage or falling into cowardice
Courage, then, is when you form emotion and will, not thought. Let’s call this will something like can, go, and nothing-will-stop-me; not a full-sentence formed thought, but an in-motion wordlessness. It is lethal in war and any other human pursuit.
Courage takes risks. That is intrinsic in the definition of courage because why be courageous if there is nothing to be courageous about? Courage always wins all or loses some or all. Because courage is action, even when you lose you can still say you tried and gave it your best.
On the other side of the coin, cowardice cringes and goes motionless, quivering in place while assuming some loss or failure is imminent. Perhaps total failure and total loss. In these times, it’s understandable that we are all fearful, the parents and students are fearful, and there is a chance that COVID-19 just changed everything. We are trying not to know this but be courageous so it’s important to remember that cowardice takes all of its cues from others, dwelling on them to sink lower and shy further away from motion of any kind. Cowardice makes a point of wantonly absorbing stories of others failing or rumored to be failing and sympathizes and syncs up with those as justification for stopping, stalling and weakening self. Cowardice thinks too much, conserves too much, goes protectionist. Here’s the kicker: cowardice always loses something small or large.
We see these two opposites, courage and cowardice, at play right now with COVID-19. We are on new ground so there is no fault in choices, only a concern for long-term outcomes. We can go big or, well, we’re already at home, so the new thing to say is not go big or go home, but go big and stay home rockin’ the smartphone, computer and wireless. While we are at it, brush aside, if we can, the failures that are or could be and courageously be positive and innovative.
All schools and industries are small empires of communication lines and their endpoints, the people. Energizing and organizing these lines to zing along with lots of communication and interchange is what has always accomplished learning, but now it’s at a distance. Will the lines hold? If we let the lines somewhat decay with disuse will loyalty keep the empire solid? Maybe, maybe not. Right now the fight for loyalty and the lines of communication are possibly only assured by going outside your comfort zone and saying charge-fight-win to provide any service needed for your students/parents or customers and I can and let’s go regarding spending with your partners. Every dime of financial transaction creates the interchange that is the larger economy. Every financial or communication transaction energizes the lines in and out of your institution. It’s so hard to go out on a limb and communicate or spend when the future is uncertain and all around is fear and terror. Yet, charge-fight-win and I can and let’s go are empire-building moves, even patriotic moves. That is what true leaders do. They double-down on both communication and spending and ignore risk.
From the Mad Men
One story from the Great Depression era of our grandparents was why businesses talked for decades with reverence about how the Mad Men of Madison Avenue were the real saviors of our economy back in the 40’s and 50’s. Those messaging, advertising and media geniuses in old New York could teach any leader a thing or two. They created want for all kinds of products and services out of thin air when there was virtually no ability by anyone to spend. They found fountains of revenue in a desert economy. It was pure magic.
The best example was with Ivory Soap for Proctor & Gamble. It’s what gave us the term “soap opera” that we still use today.
People were so poor that during the Great Depression, orders for soap plummeted. P&G, being courageous, did not cut back on their advertising because they saw the moment as a brand dominance moment, a way to make more money now and way more money later. Instead of shrinking in spend, they spent more than ever and ramped it up even further by going into the relatively new medium of radio to advertise their soap products instead of just print. Gutsy moves, and probably caused other things to be cut from budgets or debt incurred just to do. Probably there were some boardroom fights over it, and some accountants quit in disgust, but they did it anyway. What courage!
They sponsored a daily radio drama called “Ma Perkins” for housewives who could listen in during the afternoon. The response was so positive for sales that other soap manufacturers started sponsoring daytime radio dramas, too. Soon commentators were calling all daytime radio dramas “soap operas” in a sort of backhanded compliment that all started with Ivory Soap. Notice Ivory Soap is still a major brand today.
Here’s the take-away. If your EdTech marketing campaigns as a company are getting lackluster results, or if your school or district is awash in chaos and had been experiencing lackluster results or losing students to alternatives even prior to COVID-19, you have the power to control your destiny.
What you need is thoughtful innovation, the right sources, maybe a new groove that you can use to go boldly and amp up just like Procter & Gamble did. Essentially they said, and sorry for the mixing of metaphors here, “No, we will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight!” (Reference to one of my favorite movies, Independence Day, a movie-President speech worth re-listening to.)
For EdTech businesses, you should be marketing like crazy, right now with the independent dedicated EdTech media sources. Many of you have phenomenal products desperately needed but you are lurking in the background, not marketing, avoiding spend and risk. Schools are shopping but unfortunately, they aren’t finding you. To help, we stood up Knowstory.com’s marketplace for you to put free ad-like tiles as another way to share your products with schools.
Also, there’s a new Podcast series coming so you can be just like P&G and get involved with a new medium. The first recordings are about to come out, all voices in the education sector who have great courage. Sign up here to get the notifications and later, the place to download the mobile App.
For schools and districts, please, please use this time to lead to a stably transformed future. Take some big risks. There will be magic you never saw coming from innovating right now and spending on ed-tech. These are the days that try our souls, and what you do in this moment may be the bravest things you have ever done. You won’t regret it.
About the Author
LeiLani Cauthen is an everyday philosopher, author, speaker, research analyst, and futurist. As CEO and Publisher of the Learning Counsel, a research and news media hub for K12 education, she produces leadership training events in twenty-five U.S. cities annually plus virtual discussion internet seminars. She is also the Founder of Knowstory, a new social media site just for education and the GrandMaster of the Edujedi Leadership Society.