The Future of ‘Future Directions’


To:  John Fahey, CEO of NGS
Re:  Opening up the Conversation

We’re delighted to hear about Future Directions, your new in-house initiative to explore National Geographic’s… future directions. [To read John’s memo to the NGS staff about this in-house project, click here.]

While we applaud any discussion intended to bolster the Society’s health and well-being, we’re a bit puzzled by one thing: Why is your new blog about National Geographic’s future hidden behind the corporate firewall?

To help Future Directions become a more open, social, transparent, member-friendly, and useful conversation, we’ve put together this comparison of your new blog and our blog here at Society Matters. Our hope is that you’ll steal all our best practices and ideas, so we can eventually fold our blog into yours (or maybe vice versa). Problem is, when you choose a URL like — but then exclude NGS members from shaping “our ngs” — we’re left scratching our heads in bewilderment. After all, whose Society is it?

FD vs. SM

By “zone of safety,” we mean the ability of NGS staffers to constructively criticize existing NGS policies without fear of losing their jobs. Right now that safety zone does not exist—at least not on the staff of National Geographic magazine.

If one goal of Future Directions is to “transform the organizational culture” (as your memo says), then establishing that safety zone should be Job #1. Without it, your blog and “discussion” will simply be another echo chamber, reverberating with the voices of employees who are anxious to say what they think managers want to hear.

How could you stimulate a real conversation? How could you help end the internal balkanization and turf battles at NGS headquarters? How might you enable employees to stand up and say: The existing system is broken and could be reformed if we [insert innovative idea here]—and then not have them worry they’ll get whacked in retribution for speaking out? Most important: How could you send your staff a credible message that we’re all in this together?

Here’s a simple first step: Tear down that firewall.

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.