[Managing Your Career] Mitt Romney Fires Big Bird

Optics – whatever they might be – count. A lot.

Just ask Big Bird.

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney announced that he’d stop funding PBS – effectively sacking Big Bird and the Sesame Street crew that generations of kids and their parents have grown to love – as one of the first steps to lower the multi-trillion Federal debt. It was a rare misstep in a sterling first debate performance against President Obama in Denver.

Romney’s comment that he loved Big Bird but would be cutting funding for PBS caused an online explosion on Twitter.

With a well-viewed video saying “I like being able to fire people (for bad service)” the Big Bird line by Romney plays to the stereotype of an insensitive, rich man – the Thurston Howell Romney caricature created by the New York Times David Brooks.

The Heath Brothers in their really good book Made to Stick identify 5 elements that make something durable and memorable. Mitt Romney  (unfortunately) nails all 5: the “Fire Big Bird” sentiment Romney left people with is simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories.

So what’s a person to do when you’re stating what appears to be obvious? Here are four thoughts:

  • Think before you speak: what are you communicating and how does it fit with the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish?
  • What’s the worst headline to your comment or action read? If it’s not a headline you want to have hung around your neck, think about a different course of action.
  • When in doubt, don’t: Ben Franklin’s advice and also attributed to a Yiddish saying.
  • If you’re going to fire Big Bird, do it with a little more grace and thought. Kids have grown up on the yellow tall character since the 1960’s. A little tact, honor, and maybe empathy to time well served goes a long ways.

We’ll see where Romney and Barack finish up in the election. Right now my vote is with Big Bird.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


(Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives) Mrs. Nixon meeting with Big Bird from Sesame Street in the White House, 12/20/1970


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