Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What does Walter Cronkite’s career have to do with winning design work?

I am often accused by my family and co-workers of wringing metaphors to death and today I am offering up a real doozy.

I had a college professor who told me once that the world as he knew it changed in 1968. 1968 gave us the tragic assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy. It brought us President Richard Nixon. And in Vietnam, 1968 brought us the Tet Offensive – a series of military engagements engineered by America’s enemies to demonstrate the futility of trying to drive Communist interests out of South Vietnam. CBS News reporter Walter Cronkite was a first-hand observer of the Tet Offensive.

Until 1968, mainstream print and electronic journalists were expected to report “the facts” – the who, what, why, when, where and how of events they were covering – and Cronkite was no different. In fact, the professional detachment with which Cronkite reported the news made him one of the most trusted men in America. But after witnessing the events of the Tet Offensive, Cronkite did the unthinkable: he made a personal commentary to Americans and stated clearly that from his perspective, the war seemed unwinnable.

The repercussions were felt immediately. President Lyndon Johnson said “If I have lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America”. Cronkite’s assertion gave instant validity to American voices that had opposed the war in Vietnam from the outset. A man who reported the news spent a few weeks in Vietnam and his interpretation of what he saw was valued more highly than the opinions of political and military leaders who had been dealing with the Vietnam for many years. How could this be?

It boils down to a single word: TRUST. In periods of uncertainty, people will believe in someone they see and hear every day – someone who has treated them with respect and taken a fair and even-handed approach to all problems great and small.

Think about this as you evaluate your relationships with your clients. Are you worthy of this level of trust? How do you demonstrate it? Do your clients recognize it? You’ll know you have achieved it when your client explains a problem to you and values your opinion more highly than people who have been dealing with this problem for much longer and at a much more intimate level.

Until next time,


1 comment:

Matt Handal said...


It most likely had more to do with authority than trust. Especially back then, people didn't question the news. If you were a news reporter, you had the scoop. So people probably believed him because, well, he should know.

When Bush said, "Mission Accomplished" did anyone really question it at that time? No. Because he was the President and, well, he should know.

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