Last month I was on a call with many accomplished communications executives to select Communications “Hall of Fame” candidates as part of an organization I am part of. In the evaluation process, one of the leaders of this group kept asking one question: “what impact has this individual had on our profession or their organization?”
Following the call, I kept thinking about his question. What impact have I had in my career? In the past nearly 40 years, what advice changed the course of some client’s actions? What campaign had I worked on, or led, that had true impact? What other areas of impact have I had?
In the process, I looked up the Webster’s Dictionary definition of impact. According to Webster, impact is “the force of impression of one thing on another; a significant or major effect.”
Well, reflecting on this over the past several weeks I have been asking others what impact they feel they have had in similar areas.
When I think of people who have had real, social or global impact in my life and lifetime, I would put people like Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping and Golda Meir at the top of the list. These people were each remarkable in their own ways, and they changed the course of history by their actions.
Impact in Sports
If I extended this to the world of sport, a favorite hobby of mine, I would say Michael Jordan had huge impact as the model of athleticism and driven competitiveness. Pele and Serena Williams were impactful for their brilliance in sport, characterized by their commitment against all odds. Muhammad Ali for everything he stood for and his charisma.
I had the delight of meeting Yao Ming last week during a Special Olympics event in Beijing, and I would argue he had fantastic impact on the understanding of China in the US. I miss such influence today.
For those historians in this community, I would also place people like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, at the lead of the historical impact category. My son, Samuel, and I were discussing the vision these gentlemen had nearly 250 years ago when they crafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
In the area of impactful inventors, there are too many to mention. I suppose those that come to mind today include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, among many others. I bet many people don’t know that two scientists in the 1970 and early 80’s, Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, developed a “communications model” standardizing how data could be transmitted in multiple networks giving way to what is known as the Internet today.
On a personal level, in my world, like most of you, my father and mother had the greatest impact on my life, and both passed along valuable lessons that has made me who I am today.
This group of people below, my siblings, also had, and still have, a huge impact on my life.
And this group of people below have been my passion for the past 30 years. They have an impact on almost everything I do.
I have a ton of extended relatives and friends, both from my childhood, early work and life overseas, that have their roles in impacting me; the late Paul Dresser among the most impactful, as well as my aunt Ricia Scharf, Peggy Kronick and Gertrude Young.
I want to call out Ruby Fu and Li Hong here as well. Ruby hired me in Taiwan 30 years ago and changed the trajectory of my life, and LI Hong paved a beautiful future for me in China.
I suppose I am just one big ball of positive impact from all of the above, and I am really most grateful to everyone I have met along the way.
Back to career impact.
In reflection, I have always been proud to be a core part of Ogilvy, the brand building company I worked for more than 36 years and helped contribute to such brands as American Express, “Membership Has Its Privileges”, IBM, and Dove soap’s, “Campaign for Real Beauty”. In the area of brands, these companies have been real leaders during my career, and I would argue our work has had an impact on their success. Check out this film for Dove that has been part of this campaign and was created by Ogilvy.
When I started my career, I worked for the American Management Association and found a book they wrote on “AIDS in the Workplace.” This was the first book of its kind, and I suggested they promote it as part of their thought leadership. It was covered by hundreds of news outlets and became very popular at the time. Perhaps I can say, as a sliver of impact, I had a role in how HIV victims have been treated in the workplace today. Who knows? I learned this past week a campaign we created for Unilever nearly 20 years ago, is being copied in various forms by other companies. If “copying is the best form of flattery”, I suppose this campaign can be considered as having some impact.
My intention here is not to present a laundry list of my career highlights that may or may not have had impact, but to put the question out there as a probe into your lives. For me, I found it to be useful in helping prioritize what I plan to do and not do with my time. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Beyond all the areas of impact outlined in today’s missive, the one thing I have learned is how we as individuals impact other people’s lives by offering a helping hand, a job introduction, a piece of advice, a listening ear, or whatever constitutes a little generosity, for me is the easiest and the greatest measure of impact today. I may not make it into the “Hall of Fame”, but I can tell you the lift I have when someone I know gets a job from an introduction I have made.
Just food for thought. Have a great week ahead.