Controlling the Agenda
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This is Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man for KCRW.
All day long in the metropolis, each of us tries to seize the agenda. It's not about your deal in Brazil, it's about my initiatives in Asia. It's not about your definition of happiness, it's about the direction of our relationship. It's not about your serious concerns, it's about my to-do list. It's not about Ken, it's all about Barbie.
In fact, the very definition of success in this town lies not in your bank account, but in your ability to redefine the issues, discuss your vision, fix the North Star.
I remember one late night in a conference room, when my colleagues and I first met our new boss, a hot young VP from Atlanta. Pizza had been brought in, and the walls were littered with large tear-off sheets covered with lists in red and green marker pen. We wanted to talk about boring things like infrastructure and delivery times. But like all new VPs, this man wanted to establish an important new direction for our work. You could see the flush of delight in his face as he tore another sheet from the flip book and taped it boldly to the wall. I recall him standing for a moment and saying, "Forget about everything you've been doing. I'm giving you a new paradigm."
And I remember thinking, "Surely, this must be his finest hour." Indeed, in the right light, I suppose it mattered little if his new agenda made sense, or even if it eventually made a profit -- which it did not. I mean, anyone can be wrong. The great thing was to have stood there at 10:30 p.m. in a half-lit conference room above a glittering city, confront the litter of coffee cups and hard-driving professionals, and deliver a new agenda. How many people ever get to do that?
Now, the Urban Man knows that the only folks who can seriously flip the conversation on a regular basis are industry leaders, politicans, celebrities, celebrity politicians and lawyers. The rest of us can only hope to nudge it a little, moment to moment.
For example, if everyone in the room wants to talk about your failure to land the Apple account, the best you might be able to do is switch the discussion to "emerging trends."
If Joe wants to discuss your flat delivery in scene 23, you might mention his overacting in scene 39.
And come evening, when you drag yourself home at eight and your spouse wants to sit down and discuss the uncertain course of your career, you might only manage to bring up her book club. Personally, you didn't like The Kite Runner, and you can't understand what her friends saw in it. And what about that guy who faked his memoirs, what was his name? Did they read his book?
Indeed, when it comes to resetting the agenda, the dreams of the Urban Man are generally quite modest.
One morning, when I awake, I'd like to find my 18-year-old willing to discuss his future. My wife willing to sit down at the kitchen table and restructure our IRAs. At work, everyone would listen to my "Next Generation" marketing concept. Over cocktails, I'd ask everyone to talk seriously about fixing the health care system.
Still, what good is fighting it out here in the city if events just wash by, barely ruffled by the oar you've chosen to dip into the cold black currents? If you can't actually turn the canoe?
And yes sometimes, late at night, I think sympathetically -- even fondly of the millions of us, urban men and women alike, out there jostling elbows in the dark ocean of the megalopolis, each of us trying so hard, if only for a moment, to grab hold of the agenda.
Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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