Can Chris Johns Inspire The Crowd?

microphoneImagine a massive stadium with more than four million people inside. You’re in the middle, on stage, microphone in hand, with an opportunity to keep the crowd excited about the show they’ve come to see. Problem is, the more you talk, the less interest people seem to have in the performance, so they’re gradually standing up and leaving.

What would you say or do to convince them to stick around?

That’s the big challenge facing Chris Johns, National Geographic‘s Editor-in-Chief, who stands on stage before a dwindling audience. The Society’s membership, once 10.2 million strong, is now below 5 million. Yet Chris’s Editor’s Note—his monthly moment with the microphone—offers nothing new or inspiring to rally the troops. This month he delivered a message about redwood trees. Other recent topics have included salmon, state fairs, and the need to “balance the needs of today and tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, the crowd continues to stream out the exits….

(In related news: Society executives recently told National Geographic staffers that more layoffs are likely later this year.)

Uplifting words from (clockwise, from top left): King Henry, President Obama, Bluto Blutarsky, and Coach Brooks

LEADERSHIP (clockwise, from top left): King Henry V (Kenneth Branagh), President Barack Obama, Brother Bluto Blutarsky (John Belushi), and Coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell)

But what if that Editor’s Note—or even a few Magazine pages each month—directly addressed the challenges that confront the Magazine and our Society? (National Geographic is the official journal of the National Geographic Society.) What if Chris could actually give people some good reasons to stick around? What if he could share a message, a mission, a Story that would make those departing members stop for a moment, look back over their shoulders, and think: Whoa! What’d he just say??

We’re asking Chris to share The Vision Thing. We’d like him to step forward—in the Magazine, on the web, here at Society Matters…  anywhere—and give us a word picture of where we stand as a Society, where we’ve been, and where he wants to go.

That is, after all, what good leaders do. 

For inspiration, we offer Chris (and Editor-at-Large Cathy Newman, if she’s still ghost-writing the Editor’s Note) this video playlist featuring four great speeches. While they differ dramatically in substance and style, all of them overflow with vision and vigor, history and hope. They inspire because they have a clarity of purpose, a sense of possibility, and real passion.

People listen to these men—and follow them—not because of the title they hold, or the institutional power they wield, or the stage they control. Rather, these leaders captivate us with their words and ideas. They draw us in because they’re willing to take a stand, to confront seemingly insurmountable challenges, to speak truth to power, and to risk failing in public while striving to accomplish something great.

Henry, Barack, Herb… and even Bluto found the words to rally their troops.

Question is: Can Chris Johns rally the Society’s?

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