How to succeed in business at Penn

Like 21 other people, I was in a high-tech auditorium at the end of an ancient, marble-floored corridor in the School of Medicine one hot day in June, listening to a fast-talking, funny man tell me how to market my ideas.

The talker was Seth Godin, author of “Unleashing the Idea Virus,” the most downloaded e-book on the Internet. Deepak Chopra could have taken a tip or two from Godin, so motivational, so inspirational was he.

Larger than life, too, and almost like life, but not quite.

That’s because Godin was visiting Penn via a live satellite broadcast provided by Human Resources’ Learning and Education division. It wasn’t the first live satellite broadcast HR presented. It was the fourth. And more are coming (see “Success via satellite” below).

The live satellite broadcasts are open to any Penn employee. “We’re not exclusionary,” said Beverly Edwards, executive director of Learning and Education. And HR plans to offer them free to the University community.

The broadcasts, which depend on technical help from the Networking and Telecommunications division of Information Systems and Computing, offer a chance to ask the speaker some questions at the end via e-mail. For example, while I sat there with not a question on my mind, Said in Saudi Arabia e-mailed to ask if Godin’s approach would work in marketing ideas inside the company as well as to the world at large. (The answer was yes.)

The broadcasts are presented in partnership with WHYY. “They’re the master shopper,” There are a lot of e-learning vendors of employee training out there, but the quality varies. WHYY “narrows the field,” Edwards said.

The WHYY partnership and a partnership with the American Management Association to bring customized versions of their courses to campus at greatly reduced rates are unusual.

“We think we are in the forefront of forming alliances so we can bring in more diverse offerings and varied programs to the University,” said Laurie Fanelly, the program coordinator for Learning and Education

So far, the satellite-downfeed offerings have been “world-class business leaders and thinkers who we could never afford to bring to campus otherwise,” said Fanelly. For example, upcoming is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, with some advice on leadership.

At Warren Bennis’ satellite broadcast about visionary leadership, Stefany Williams-Jones said, she took 10 pages of notes. Bennis has advised four U.S. presidents and numerous industrial leaders on leadership skills. And now he has advised Williams-Jones and the other Penn employees who attended his talk. Williams-Jones, director of Community Housing, is trying out some of the tips she got with her staff.

Godin had some good advice for me. He had discussed how hard it is to get people’s attention on the Internet, with 40 million Web sites competing for each user’s attention. Wow, I thought, that’s a lot like Penn. There’s so much going on here, there’s what he called a “crisis of clutter.” So if I want my product—The Penn Current— read on the Penn campus, I’d do well to listen to Godin’s approach, and start with a terrific product. And then I need to market it to the people on campus with influence. Watch for the marketing campaign later this fall.

The satellite broadcasts are the newest twist in Learning and Education’s efforts to deliver career skills to Penn faculty and staff in a variety of ways. “Not everyone has two days to devote to a program,” said Fanelly. “We also offer on-line programs that give people a year, from the date they register, to complete the work any time they want.”

Patricia C. Tillson was inspired by one of Learning and Education’s “brown bag matinees”—you bring the lunch and HR will bring the popcorn. After seeing “FISH!,” a video about the value of customer service, Tillson began increasing the leeway she gave people in her office who work with clients. “It’s important sometimes to let people have some creativity,” said Tillson, the assistant director for customer programs at Wharton Executive Education.

“I think it is such a gift to have [these kinds of programs] offered here at the University,” Tillson said. “I just take advantage whenever I can. It keeps you restimulated about your work.”

See related story, “Tips.”

Success via satellite, live

Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state of the United States, will address the elements of strong leadership, including assembling a winning team and focusing on strategic goals. She will draw on her experiences on the world stage to discuss leading and managing in an interconnected world.

“Global Leadership,” Oct. 16, Class of ’62 Auditorium, John Morgan Building

Peter Senge, author of best-seller “The Fifth Discipline” and senior lecturer at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management, will offer insight into how leaders at all levels of an organization can work with the forces that generate and impede deep change.

“Systemic Leadership and Change,” Nov. 13, Austrian Auditorium, Clinical Research Building

Michael Hammer, named by Business Week as one of four pre-eminent management thinkers of the ’90s, will talk about managing by using collaboration and teamwork to get beyond the inadequacies of an organizational structure.

“Managing Without Structure,” Dec. 11, Biomedical Research Building Auditorium

The programs run from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Registration required. For information and registration, navigate from to the individual programs.

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Originally published on September 13, 2001