Responses to the October 6, 2008 Newsletter

We asked for ideas about our agenda and mission statement. Here are a few of the responses we received (please note that some letters have been edited for length):

I do totally understand the bit about use of company email/image being inappropriate. However, I must also confess that this election cycle I have broken my own 'rule' not to mix business and politics, discussing merits of the choice in front of us in November with fellow employees and folks in client offices. Each of us has a different threshold of when it's critical to put those standards aside because the issues are simply too significant to respect the standard 'gag rule' for appropriateness. I don't have any language to suggest, but I do think there are circumstances where as a business, it becomes important to communicate with everyone to try to advance a particular cause. For BKP, now may not be the time or the choice between these candidates may not be perceived as reaching a critical stage as I think it has, but I do think it's important that the option to do so is reserved.

So… not the majority opinion, but I admire the willingness to take the risk because I do think this is one of those moments in history where the stakes are high.

- Marilyn R. McConnell, President, American International Distribution Corp.

I am working from what Steve Piersanti wrote in your fall 2002 catalogue.  My suggestion is: BK's mission is to help focus reader's thinking on non-traditional ways of reframing issues with the hope of presenting innovative and non-traditional solutions, reflecting a balance of points of view, to the world's problems. 
- Karl Strandberg

While I agree that a certain level of neutrality is good, I would advise you against trying to be "everything to everyone." Philosophy and business, when partnered correctly, can be profitable. But, like business, your philosophy should also be focused and supportive of a particular audience. Chelsea Green (my other fave publisher) makes no bones about the fact that it is pretty radically liberal and pro-environment. They may isolate some readers, but they certainly have the attention of the environmentalist community precisely because they outline their stance so visibly. By not taking a stand politically, are you not losing readers and/or fans?

- Steven Mallus

Just my advice, but I would advise you to worry less about "policy language" and more about "saying what you mean and meaning what you say." Any good publishing house such as yours, that prides itself on innovation and creativity, can be expected to make endorsements of both candidates and initiatives from time to time...and whether they're official company policy or just one staff member's opinion seems to me irrelevant. You're not funded by taxpayer dollars, so why do you need to be silent on important matters? Mr Marshall's apology was unnecessary, but not entirely unexpected in this climate of appeasement and anti-intellectualism. So...if I disagree with him (which I don't), I'll never buy another book from you??? Come on!!!

-Britt Moore

The e-mail in question was the opposite of your stated values ("rethinking the traditional ways of reframing issues and the traditional solutions to the world's problems"). There's nothing more traditional than framing the causes of and solutions to issues in terms of people and personalities.

There's also little that's less productive.

When I consult with clients on this sort of thing, the solution is pretty straightforward: frame everything in terms of issues, evidence, and logic -- about the what and how rather than about who. So in the e-mail in question … assuming for the moment that Berrett-Koehler has no concerns about employees using its e-mail system to exchange philosophical views that aren't directly related to business issues … then the restrictions are for employees to:

* Feel free to identify issues that are important to them no matter how controversial

* BK encourages all employees to share its view that just because two people disagree, that doesn't mean one is right and the other is wrong.

* This is especially true when the subject is values or aesthetics. Exchanging views can enrich both parties if they start by assuming the other person has something valid to say.

* "Here's what I think, and why. What do you think?": Valid. "Here's what you think, and why you're wrong. Just try to defend it.": Structured to cause offense.

Or, take the easy and businesslike way out: "We provide e-mail for business purposes. We encourage employees to exchange views about philosophy, metaphysics, politics, religion, or dendrochronology … after work hours, and with beer rather than e-mail as the facilitator."

- Bob Lewis, President, IT Catalysts

Perhaps I can comment on the idea of being "a lefty" publisher...

Perhaps you should step away this label, and start defining yourself as a publisher first, last, and only; a publisher, a good publisher, a thoughtful publisher, or an excellent publisher. Choose your adjective, but not a label.

Labels are for the inarticulate. The ignorant. The propagandist - eager to stir up "us versus them" feelings that divide our family, our community, our nation.

In the end, ideas are either based on truth, or falsehood. Surely a publisher's role is to identify, feature and foster the ideas that work, and expose the ideas that fail us because they are based in falsehood. And if we can do that, we have fulfilled our mission, built our readers, even equipped people to cope more effectively with life.

-Jamie McDonald

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