How Debate Moderators Get their Game On

Jim Lehrer, Canday and Bob Scheiffer will moderate the 2012 Presidential debates. Martha Radditz (not pictured) will moderate the vice presidential debates

Imagine being in the position of asking a question—the question—whose answer may decide who will become the next leader of the free world?

There is non-stop coverage of how presidential candidates are prepared for their debates by cadres of political operatives, who advise them on body language, zinger usage, deportment and even substance. But what about the moderators?

Being a moderator of the presidential (or vice presidential) debates makes the job of a NFL replacement ref look easy. The moderators must manage the pressure of appearing in front of tens of millions of people at one of the most pivotal and analyzed moments in the election season, as well as be a tough but impartial questioner and handler of two very forceful opponents fighting for the most powerful job in the world. In today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, around the clock news cycle and real time Tweeted critiques, moderators who were once respected as journalists, are now considered fair game—as when during the Republican primary debates Newt Gingrich dramatically confronted CNN’s John King for his line of questioning

What struck us in an excellent The New York Times process piece by Jeremy W. Peters in which he digs into the behind-the-scenes preparations of the four upcoming debate moderators, was their two-fold process. The moderators focused as much on managing their emotions as on mastering the subject matter of their debates.

Here are some of their practices:

ABC’s Martha Raddatz (who will moderate the vice presidential debate)

  • Stays off Twitter to avoid reading unflattering things about herself—although she was amused when her son re-posted the message “Who the heck is Martha Raddatz?”
  • When she thinks of questions, even if they wake her up in the middle of the night she emails them to herself on her BlackBerry.
  • Talks to dozens of sources and colleagues “as wide a net as I can cast without making myself crazy and overwhelmed.”

CNN’s Candy Crowley

  • Meditates twice a day to tune out the negativity. And there must be quite a lot as she says, “every morning I wake up, I want to throw up thinking about it.”
  • Jots down thoughts on blue index cards that are scattered all over her home and office. “I even have a stack [of cards] next to my bed and in my bathroom for when I’m brushing my teeth and think of something.”

CBS’s Bob Schieffer

  • Recuses himself from the network’s coverage of the debates he’s not moderating to avoid any appearance of bias.
  • Keeps a 3-ring binder with news clippings of foreign affairs and interviews “smart people” for expert guidance.

PBS’s Jim Lehrer

Moderator of the first 2012 presidential debate, Lehrer acknowledged that it’s a “rough rough world” and and that with it will come “smears.”  On his preparation, he added somewhat ellipitically, “If I’m not physically doing it, it’s in my head.” But perhaps having moderated 12 presidential debates, for him, it’s just another gig.

Although only a handful of people will ever moderate a presidential debate, we all have moments when our success will be determined by a performance—whether it is a job interview, a pitch or a negotiation. To increase the chances of pulling it off, we can look to the simple two-fold preparation of the debate moderators—school yourself in the knowledge you need and manage your emotions. And perhaps even remind yourself if you do have stage fright and slip up, at least you won’t be mocked, vilified and accused of electoral manipulation by political pundits all over cable news and talk radio.

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How Groundbreaking Artists Steal — And What We Can Learn From Them

Gosfield’s influences (left) and an image from his fine art project.

Josh (co-author of “The Art of Doing”) never would have been able to create his fine art project of a fictional celebrity, Gigi Gaston, The Black Flower, had he not stolen from the history of graphic design. He studied—then methodically recreated—the design styles and photographic trends of fanzines, 45 and LP covers, American and European scandal and celebrity magazines from the 60’s and 70’s, to create a fictional but ultimately believable, archive of his star.

Pablo Picasso was a genius at being a thief. “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” he allegedly said.

African art that inspired Picasso to paint Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

When Picasso first saw African artifacts, he was inspired to “steal” the style, features and motifs, and commit the revolutionary act of inventing cubism. And of course he wasn’t the only one. Instead of merely copying from Masters who came before them, other groundbreaking artists stole from styles outside the realm of what was considered acceptable fine art—Andy Warhol stole from commercial art, Cindy Sherman from film stills, Jean-Michel Basquiat from folk art, Damien Hirst from utilitarian museum displays.

Warhol “stole” from commercial art to create his iconic Campbells soup can
Cindy Sherman took her cue from film stills.
Jean-Michel Basquiat purloined styles from folk and urban art.
Damien Hirst appropriated museum-like display.

Because these artists had the audacity to steal from outside the boundaries of their worlds and create styles that had never been seen in galleries or museums, their work had shock value—gold in art world currency. The new imagery had the power to make viewers not only re-examine but often rethink their original perception of the source material. After Warhol, can anyone look at a Campbell’s soup can as just a can of soup?

Cross-disciplinary thieving doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) apply just to artists. If you’re going to write a romance novel, why not steal from pornography and end up with a “50 Shades of Grey”? If you’re going to start a cable channel, why not steal from the Hollywood feature film aesthetic and end up with an HBO? If you’re going to launch a social media platform, why not steal from mobile text messaging and end up with a Twitter? And by being the first, you become the standard by which all followers will be judged.

So whatever it is you do, whether you’re an artist, a startup entrepreneur or a magazine editor, look to influences outside your chosen field to find inspiration and the shock of the new.

Will Facebook Users Determine the Election?

A study in the journal Nature reveals the first hard evidence of the Facebook community’s potential political clout.

A recent study shows that a nonpartisan “Get Out the Vote” Election Day message put out by Facebook during the 2010 Congressional election generated 340,000 additional votes. Facebook sent out this message to all U.S. users 18 and older. Users could click on an “I Voted” button after which their profile pics would appear to friends, and friends of friends indicating they had voted.

While the percentage of these Facebook-influenced votes is small compared to the number of people who voted nationwide—.37%—winning or losing can be determined by tiny slices of the electorate. The 2000 presidential election was decided by less than 0.01% of the vote in Florida.

Facebook’s 2010 “Get Out the Vote” message

Researchers determined that it was that Facebook moment of seeing that a friend (or a friend of a friend) had voted that inspired those 340,000 to go vote themselves. It’s what is known as the “social contagion effect” in which a community’s power multiplies, influencing behavior of more and more individuals.

Just as Facebook increased voter participation by encouraging interaction among their users, the superacheivers we interviewed for our book stressed the critical importance of building a community to achieve a goal  We heard this over and over. From a teen circumnavigator to a succesful blogger, from a rock band to a war photographer, they actively sought communities with networks as large as possible that could include customers, investors, advertisers, fans, fellow enthusiasts, critics and even competitors.

But back to the election. It’s only a matter of time before campaign operatives figure out how to capitalize on the huge social reach of Facebook’s communities to influence elections. Or alternatively will it be the actual members of the social media communities themselves who determine who’s sitting in the Oval Office?

Simon Doonan: An Artist’s Interpretation

We are madly in love with the brilliant work of conceptual photographer Henry Hargreaves. So we sent him our chapter (“How to be the Most Fabulous You”) on Simon Doonan—author, style maven, creative ambassador of Barneys New York and high priest of the gliteratti—and implored Hargreaves to “capture” Doonan.

Hargreaves, who has created a portrait of Queen Elizabeth out of 1400 pieces of toast, a Damien Hirst dot series out of M&M’s and a portrait of himself out of Jello, decided Doonan was best represented with glitter. GENIUS! And since Doonan’s chapter reminded Hargreaves of “that kind of kid-like thinking where anything’s possible,” he glittered his glasses red as an homage to Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz.

HOW PERFECT?! Dorothy in her magical slippers envisioned an Emerald City much like Doonan who has not only conjured “emerald cities” in his iconoclastic Barneys windows, but encourages us through our clothes, attitude and very way of being to create “emerald cities” of our selves.

But in the end, just as Dorothy had to look no further than her ruby slippers for what she needed, Doonan tells us that while fashion arbiters may spark our imagination, it is only when we look inside of ourselves and find our most idiosyncratic individuality that we will discover our most fabulous selves. His fashion credo,

“Evolving your own brand of unique glamour is a process of self-discovery. Reimagine your personal style by uncovering and exaggerating all that is unique about you.”

Hargreaves’s art is based on an iconic photograph of Doonan by Roxanne Lowit.

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The Art of Doing Artist’s Interpretation project is a collaboration between us and imaginative artists we’ve chosen to depict the superachievers we interviewed for our upcoming book using excerpts from the book.

How a Teacher Learned to Teach by Becoming a Student of her Students

Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Erin Gruwell was an idealistic young student teacher when she walked into her classroom at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Gruwell, who we interviewed for a chapter our book, told us that she approached teaching with a lot of assumptions. She believed that with her good intentions and great enthusiasm she could compel her students to embrace the classics. But arriving that first day in her pearls and polka dot dress she was met with an unexpected reality: a class of apathetic and hostile racially-divided remedial students. No one accorded her respect. A paper airplane of her carefully planned syllabus whizzed by her head and as the bell rang she heard a student say, “I give her five days.” Gruwell told us,

“It became painfully obvious that every theory I had learned in my graduate courses paled in comparison to the raw lessons I would learn in my urban classroom.”

Facing failure, Gruwell could have retreated into apathy herself, like so many of her fellow teachers at Wilson High. But instead she told us,

“I became a student of my students…. I had to learn to speak their language instead of expecting them to learn mine.”

Although becoming a student of her students was not an overnight or painless process, the very simple concept changed everything. Eventually, Gruwell not only won over her class by creating a learning environment designed specifically for them, but helped them become the people that she—and they—never imagined possible. And after she coaxed them into writing about their lives, their stories became the bestselling book, The Freedom Writers Diary.

But we all know that letting go of assumptions can be challenging. Without the comfort of our preconceptions we can feel as if we are in a vacuum. It takes humility to admit that we don’t know as much as we think we know. And taking the next step, learning to understand others, can be just as difficult, whether it’s the retailer learning his customers’ needs, the politician studying her constituents or the manager working to know his employees. But the example of Gruwell’s ultimate success at understanding her students is something that we can all strive for.

Erin Gruwell Fact: All 150 of Gruwell’s students graduated from high school, many the first in their families to do so. And along with Gruwell, several of those students formed The Freedom Writers Foundation dedicated to changing the education system one classroom at a time.

How Tennis Legend Martina Navratilova Went from Good to Great

Photo Carol Newsom
Most of us strive to be the best at what we do, but even those with the greatest advantages don’t necessarily rise to the top and stay there—what makes the difference?

Born with incredible athleticism, by her late teens, Martina Navratilova was one of the top players in the world. But in her early twenties, Navratilova played with uncertain commitment and was prone to puzzling losses.

When we interviewed Navratilova for our book, she told us about a fateful meeting with Nancy Lieberman a one-time pro basketball player that changed the course of her career. At Lieberman’s urgings, Navratilova, who had previously practiced for about an hour a day, took up weight training to achieve peak conditioning, running and basketball to improve reach and footwork and began a daily four hour, on-court practice regimen. Navratilova told us,

“All that training improved my reaction time and speed. I could hit the ball harder. I could run just as hard at the end of a match as I did at the beginning.”

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At the time, this form of cross training was unheard of on the pro tennis circuit. Players hadn’t yet conceived of a physical regimen to achieve peak fitness. Because Navratilova was the only player training this way, she had a tremendous physical advantage, which allowed her to dominate the sport.

Once she began to win consistently, Navratilova told us, she “got religion.” She applied the same rigor to improving her diet as well as the mental, strategic and emotional aspects of her game. Navratilova went on to become one of the greatest tennis players ever, winning a record 59 Grand Slam titles in a career that spanned four decades.

What made the difference? Of course, it was the rigorous training that today is understood to be a necessary component of every elite athlete’s success. But just as with an innovative entrepreneur who creates a new business model, Navratilova had the self-awareness to recognize what was lacking in her game. With no precedent or model in her field, Navratilova had the creativity to evolve new ways of achieving her goals and the tenacity to carry through, which put her and kept her at the very top of her game.

We wonder, who is out there today, in tennis or any other sport, who will be tomorrow’s game changer?

Navratilova Records: Most singles title wins—for men or women (167), most singles match wins (1,442), longest match winning streak (74) and only player to win Grand Slam titles in four different decades.

Inside the Mind of Constance Rice: A Civil Rights Activist’s Word Cloud

Frequency is the currency of a word cloud. The more a word is repeated, the larger it appears in the cloud. (Click to enlarge image above.)

From this word cloud, based on our interview for our book with Constance Rice (author of Power Concedes Nothing, cousin of Condaleeza), we can see what matters to her most. What you won’t find are the warm and fuzzy words—“compassion,” “nurture” and “help.” Rice is fighter. She’s battled and won $2 billion to improve L.A.’s public transit system, $1 billion to build 147 new schools. She’s negotiated gang truces and effected profound change within the LAPD. And she’s done this at times confronting, at times partnering with, the most powerful forces in Los Angeles—lawyers, politicians, gangs, LAPD and the entrenched bureaucracy. Rice told us rather than to fight for justice one person at a time,

“If you see a need for change you have to ask yourself, ‘Who has the power to get it done?’ Sometimes it’s the voters. When it comes to gangs, it can be gang members and their communities. When it comes to police reform, it’s the police.”

Send Us To SXSW in 2013

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South by South West Interactive in Austin, TX is one of the most creative conferences going. Our proposed talk, “The Secrets of Superachievers,” is based on our book, “The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well” (Plume, Jan 2013). In the talk, we’ll feature discoveries we made interviewing dozens of extraordinary people including celebrities, businessmen, artists and iconoclastic achievers. We’ll discuss how anyone can learn to incorporate these strategies, principles and tips into his or her own work and personal life. PLEASE VOTE NOW to SEND US to SXSW. All you have to do is go here, register your email, and CAST YOUR VOTE for “The Secrets of Superachievers.” Many thanks in advance, amigos!

How we took the photo.