Find charities consistent with your values to support — whether it is a free independent press, public radio & TV, youth sports, local food bank, help the organizations you believe in get through this period so they can thrive and continue on their mission
As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn.
Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am a child of the 60s and 70s who grew up in the Deep South. I am the oldest of 3 and was always a good student and athlete growing up, responsible and hard working. My father and both grandfathers were in business so I always thought I would go that route too. From a young age I loved sports, movies, TV and travel. I was an exchange student in France in high school and Italy in college. As an adult I have lived and worked in NYC, LA, Bay Area, Atlanta, DC, Cincinnati, etc. but have been in Boston for the past 20+ years. After graduating college with a degree in Economics, I started my career in finance on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing before they went public or were sold. I took the leap into entrepreneurship right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. I have never looked back and love being an entrepreneur.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was raised to be responsible, honest, hard working, and confident all great qualities for an entrepreneur. Both my grandfathers were successful entrepreneurs and only one graduated from high school. My dad took a more traditional corporate path and my mom stayed at home and I had always assumed I would. go into business (vs law or medicine) and follow in my dad’s footsteps. After college I took a series of corporate jobs and got an MBA like my father but by my early 30s I knew I had more of the entrepreneurial gene in me so I took the leap and started my company. My parents always supported me to challenge the status quo and question authority when I had done my homework and could make a strong case which is also great training to becoming an entrepreneur. They were also very proud of me and encouraging when my high school guidance counselor told me I needed more back up schools because I was shooting too high for college and I went ahead and applied to my top choices anyway. My mother reminded that man every time she saw him how much I loved going to college at Stanford and getting my MBA at Harvard Business School so I come by my renegade tendencies naturally I guess. My parents seemed to get me when I tried to bend, break or change the rules if I had a solid argument so I learned early on to not stop just because someone says no. That is such an important part of being an entrepreneur and has served me and. my business very well.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I think every project is exciting! That is the beauty of running your own business, if you are not genuinely excited by the work then you can pass on it. I only take on work that I find interesting and worthwhile. Finding the right words and pictures to tell great stories that attract more customers to our clients’ products and services is incredibly fulfilling. We have had a few delayed projects during the pandemic but for a professional service firms like mine we will recover even if our revenues slow from the crisis. Current projects include PR for a tech services firm, market research for a B2B tech company, a new website for a B2C company, and creative development for a nonprofit. We do anything a marketing department, ad agency, market research shop or PR agency does on an outsourced basis. We have resources in 14 cities in the US and major metro areas overseas. Everyone in the group comes out of industry so our heads and hearts are much more aligned with our clients than a typical agency or consulting firm. We are not professional PowerPoint makers, we have actually done the job as marketing and communication leaders so our recommendations come from having been in our clients’ seats before. We are an extension of their team and spend their money the way they do, not as a vendor so I think that is a compelling angle when they hire us. We do not see marketing as a necessary evil, we believe in the power of great brands and think all organizations regardless of size or budget deserve great marketing advice. Our passion comes through in our tag line and everything we do.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, senior women in organizations where I worked but the person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and butt kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love books by and about strong women. Two of my favorites are:
Notorious RBG — Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a national treasure, every woman in this country owes her a huge thank you
Atlas Shrugged — by Ayn Rand
I could not put it down it inspired me and fueled my interest in business in college
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
I saw this quote from Angela Davis, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept” and it inspires me to turn my ideas into action. Another great quote is “For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Eleanor Roosevelt said it and it is still true today.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership today is about being resilient. The world has been forced to pause and hit the reset button while the pace of life and business has slowed. The current crisis has provided a stage for our leaders to rise to the occasion. Between the pandemic and the possible recession, leaders have an opportunity to further connect with anxious people and focus on the true relevance of their message. We have to acknowledge that now things are different so we need to communicate in a way that will give our audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from today to the future. We need to communicate in a way that combines information and need, synthesizing feeling and facts. I feel leaders have a tremendous responsibility because never before has communications had the power to help society in the way that it does right now. Words are part of the healing process and we can see which leaders are doing the best job every day with messages that touch not only the mind, but also the heart and soul. There has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness. I think being authentic, confident, empathetic, providing substance, and staying relevant are all the qualities we need right now.
Compassionate leaders attract the best talent and I predict the most trusted leaders and brands will have a big competitive advantage in the new normal that evolves in a post-Corona world. Employees, customers and clients will remember who treated them well during the crisis and they will be rewarded with loyalty from earning that trust during the bad times. The current crisis has provided a stage for our political and business leaders to rise to the occasion. We have learned that it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more for a while. Online meetings, webinars, social media, etc. are a smart and productive way companies like ours can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis period. Once we lay this groundwork it all will be in place to continue moving forward as the economy reopens and some businesses come back quicker than others. Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another. With Zoom, social media, cell phones, etc. we see that technology does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too!
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
It is like the story of the frog in the pot of water that gets turned up one degree at a time and it does not realize it is getting boiled alive by the water around it. It is easy to see now so the frog would jump out if thrown in but because it happened slowly over time it was not so clear. I always knew I had family and friends who voted differently than me but it was never taken as personally as it was in the last 2 elections before. Political party preferences became a proxy for so much more but the truth is I believe most people are more centerist than the extremes of either party. The problem is we got our news and information from different sources, social media spreads misinformation so quickly, the global pandemic hit and we spend more time now with technology and devices than each other so it was a perfect storm for hitting the tipping point. There are friends and former colleagues I no longer stay in touch with now I guess if the relationships were important we will reconnect again but somehow I doubt it. I do hope the elected officials across the aisle in DC though can find their way back to a productive working relationship even if they no longer socialize together.
I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, co workers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?
I think every family has been affected by this. Ours is still on speaking terms but we do not discuss politics at all. I have definitely lost some friends though. You have to weigh the depth of the relationship and history on a case by case basis though. I have clients who stopped working with people across the aisle because it got so uncomfortable.
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
Find places of common ground and shared memories and experiences. When you talk do not discuss third rail topics at all. If you want to rebuild or maintain the relationships then focus on sports, weather, funny memories of relatives or holiday traditions past. Remember when Grandma…How about those Patriots?…Sounds like a big Nor’easter in on the way can fill time and keep everyone connected to the conversation.
How about the workplace, what can be done to bridge the partisan divide that has fractured relationships there? Can you please share a story or example?
Same advice works here too by finding places of common ground and shared memories and experiences. When you have small talk before/after meetings do not discuss third rail topics at all. If you need to rebuild or maintain the professional relationship then focus on sports, weather, and past projects where there was shared success. How about those Patriots?…Sounds like a big Nor’easter in on the way…Wonder if we should try the same strategy on this project that worked so well on the last one? can fill time and keep everyone engaged in the conversation here too.
I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self identify. But of course there are many other ways to self identify. What do you think can be done to address this?
I agree if we can open our hearts and minds to people with shared hobbies, interests, volunteer opportunities, neighborhoods, alma maters, sports teams, etc. we can build trust again by getting to know people beyond their voting record. No two people agree 100% on everything but by seeing where your interests do overlap is a great starting point for conversation and in my experience once you get people talking again there is space to move forward. The door has to be open to start rebuilding trust.
Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?
Regulation may be the only way at this point to turn the ship around. The amount of misinformation spreading online and across airwaves is dangerous and our society was built on people following the rules so we clcarly need to agree on a process to move forward. The same rules apply to men and women, black, white, brown, Republican and Democrat and everyone in between, We have a Constitution, Bill of Rights, speed limits, rules for sports, dress codes, stop lights, parking restrictions, etc. so we need to develop a code of conduct and laws around proper use of technology and communication waves so we can rebuild trust in the information being shared. It is going to take time but we need to start now and make it a priority.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
Beware of echo chambers and be open to opinions that are uncomfortable, try to see things from others’ perspective. Think for yourselves and tune pundits out or at least listen with a grain of salt. We all have to take responsibility and hold ourselves accountable going forward. Find people who push you out of your comfort zone to stay connected with and commit to being part of the solution not adding to the problem.
Sadly we have reached a fevered pitch where it seems that the greatest existential catastrophe that can happen to our country is that “the other side” seizes power. We tend to lose sight of the fact that as a society and as a planet we face more immediate dangers. What can we do to lower the ante a bit and not make every small election cycle a battle for the “very existence of our country”?
For me it comes down to leadership. For our democracy to work we need leaders who understand that leadership is about transforming self-interest to shared interest. The starting point, however, is not the leader’s self-interest, but the self-interest of others. That requires the act of empathy. A leader’s word is only as good as the last promise kept. Leaders need courage (the strength in the I) while empathy is the connection in the we. If someone is only empathetic, they may lack the courage to make tough decisions. And if someone is only courageous, they may be disconnected and interested in only their own heroics. Leaders today need both courage and empathy.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
Our country will only rebuild from the inside out, from the bottom up where everyone helps us become our best selves. As the President says this is not about red and blue states this is about the United States! Like most people today I am deeply saddened and concerned by what is going on around the country. Most of us are in the center not extremists, there is a lot of middle ground to work with. Here are some ways we can come together again and find common ground:
* Support local and independent retailers and businesses — for the country to be strong our local communities must be healthy too so shop local, spread the word and be generous
* Find charities consistent with your values to support — whether it is a free independent press, public radio & TV, youth sports, local food bank, help the organizations you believe in get through this period so they can thrive and continue on their mission
* Volunteer — every community needs help so find the organizations you can give your time and talent to make a difference, together we can accomplish so much
It is up to each of us to raise our hands and roll up our sleeves, set goals and stop making excuses. These problems are not going to fix themselves it is up to each of us to be the change we want to see in the world. The time is now. As Nike says, just do it. You have permission to change the world.
My ancestors came to this country to build a better life so I believe we will get through this but it really will take everyone to play a part in our future to make it better. We are all connected and must join forces and rise together to succeed. Our future depends on it, it is up to each of us to leave the world better than we found it so do your part and leave your mark. Everyone has a gift to share and a way to contribute so find yours and get started today.
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
When in doubt be kind and take the high road.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am an optimist by nature and believe there is more good than bad, more light than dark ahead. As we move to a more remote/virtual world trust becomes an even more important currency and building trust will determine your success so lack of trust will be a huge obstacle I think after the pandemic ends. When it comes to relationships the currencies that really matter are trust, respect, credibility, loyalty and gratitude which are all free. Our job is to get through this period together intact so that when this crisis is over if I remain healthy and have stayed tight with my inner circle of people who mean the most to me and we all find a way to incorporate the lessons of gratitude, simplicity, friendship and love into the new normal I will be incredibly happy that we did not waste the crisis. If we can hold on to the very best parts of this lockdown the world will be a better place for it.
If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?
I keep a running list of inspiring quotes on my computer at all times. Here are a few that resonate with me I would share in hopes of inspiring them too:
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” — Mother Teresa
It is a great reminder of the impact you can have in small ways everyday by touching someone’s life or inspiring others to take a chance or just be better.
“We must become the change we want to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Every one of us can make a difference to make the world a better place.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” ― Nelson Mandela
Anyone can make a difference in the lives pf others.
“We all have ability. The difference is how we use it.” ― Stevie Wonder
Find your gift and share it with the world.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot nothing is going to get better, it’s not. — Dr. Seuss
By caring about something you can make a difference for the better.
“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
All it takes is one person to share their light and make a difference.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d choose Michelle Obama I think her perspective and experience will be critical to our future success and she will be part of the solution to many of our problems now. She is smart, kind, and makes things happen. Michelle can be the catalyst that lights the spark on our new path.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thanks so much it’s been my pleasure!