Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

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John Fahey

Well I suppose I should have waited to update till after meeting John Fahey, and who knows, I may have to add more to this entry after I meet with Bill Marr.

He spoke quite a bit about the future of the magazine, about taking chances and about digital media, but what really struck me was what he said about his "secrets to success."
1. Never take things too personally - he noticed how a lot of people here will really gripe about a particular comment that a colleague makes, or take offense. The key is to understand that comments such as that are directed at the work. If you understand the criticism as part of the entity of the job, or the product, and not take it to heart, you can take necessary steps to change what needs to be changed, and see how the criticism can work for you as a whole.

2. Don't be afraid to speak your mind - Fahey has been at NGS for about 9 years now, and he noticed when he first got here that Gil Grosvenor (Chairman of the Board) would have meetings and ask if people had things to report, and they would say no. It completely startled him, the environment here where people often try to say things that they perceive might be the outcome of a decision, and he wondered "how can you not have anything to report?!"
He reminded us that we, in business or in life, should not endeavor to provide a mere affirmation of someone else's thoughts, but to develop those thoughts through our own individual contributions. I felt this struck such a deep chord in me - it's precisely the characteristic that frustrates me in some of my colleagues. We're all different, all have something to contribute - only through that exchange of ideas can we come closer to the "truth", which he then explained as being the frame of mind in which you become comfortable with the conclusion of a discussion.

3. Learn how to rely on people - When they first began launching local language editions here at NGM, the editors were very reluctant to hand over the reins of their stories to anyone else. Their main concern was "how can we ensure that the articles remain true to the English edition?" In one meeting, the editors were saying that the German language edition editor wanted to make changes and then commented "he's only been working with us for three years, how can he know what changes to make?" To which Fahey replied "I've only been working here two and a half years, and I'm your boss." Today, local language editors have much more freedom to add/remove articles, change cover photos, etc to make the publication fit their own audience. You need other people to inform you; you can't possibly know everything.

He spoke as well about the idea of NGS as a non-profit. He said that so many non-profits are very diffiult because of the effort needed to obtain financial backing. So often people wonder if what they're doing is really making a difference. What he loved about National Geographic is that he never has to worry about whether or not they'll have the money to fulfill their mission - furthering exploration of our planet. He loves his job because he can meet all the fascinating and exciting people who keep the organization running - from the editors to the researchers to the photographers. Yet he's never wanted to have their jobs. "You are what you are and you can't change the stripes on a zebra," he said. Hearing that was so powerful for me. More than anything it reminded me that I've loved editing, and probably always will. Yes, there's other outlets that often seem more appealing, but are they really?

It's odd too to find that the one of the highest people on the NG totem pole is also one of the most humble, dedicated and down-to earth people. Some of the other people we met with, I could really feel their ranking, but with Fahey, it was just comfortable. He was so at ease with us, and he put us at ease, and dished out the wisdom in a way that only someone who's lived their whole live with those principles can. I know I've said this before, but I think one of the greatest things about this internship is that we are put in touch with people like Fahey, or Chris Johns, who have these strong principles. I can see how each of them is a leader in so many ways, and in so many different ways. I believe we all need to hear those kinds of people speak to keep our own focus intact, to remind ourselves that we're not in this world to bring glory to ourselves, but to create something powerful to impact others' lives.
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