Managing Rice Communications. IRRI catching fire

clip_image002MANILA: Let's talk genius.

It's not my wont, but this genius is reading the print issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer of today, Wednesday, 4 December 2013, page A11, and it says, "Scientists discover wonder rice – IRRI." It tells of the discovery of what is now called a spike gene, which increases rice yields ranging from 16 to 36%. That's what I call IRRI's genius.

Never mind that it was written by ANN (Author Not Named), which means it's essentially a press release. It doesn't take genius to realize that this is good news for this international Institute, the sister of my favorite ICRISAT, which has been catching the 7 o'clock news, because IRRI has been catching fire in its own hunger games!

IRRI hasn't received good news for too long because of the controversy surrounding its own genetically modified organism (GMO) called Golden Rice, which it has been propagating as a public good for humans who have a hidden hunger for Vitamin A.

IRRI's stature in international agriculture science is firm, but it has so far not recovered from its daymares brought by the GMO bogeyman. And why is that? Thinking of IRRI's awny reputation in the mass media, I suspect it is because IRRI has not learned to grow, nurture and nourish its own communications to a much healthier state and that, in fact, it too is human and has a hidden hunger for Vitamin A – Art of Reasoning. Even as it has been catching fire, IRRI has been fighting fire with fire.

Based on my personal experience of almost 38 years in creative science writing, starting 1975, in and out of the Los Baños Science Community, I believe IRRI must understand more the logic of the attack on one hand and the defense of GMOs on the other. Another way of putting that is to reinvent the adage: Keep your enemies close, but keep your friends closer.

At least, IRRI has started to do something about it. I am listed in LinkedIn looking for an online job, and that's how I received an email yesterday that the International Rice Research Institute is looking for a Manager (for) Communications for its Golden Rice, Iron Rice, and Zinc Rice (linkedin.com).

I laughed loud, sorry; when I read the whole ad and the candidate called for, funny they didn't match! A case of mistaken ID?! Because after describing the job and enumerating "Major Accountabilities / Responsibilities" in all of 431 words, all demanding much creativity and commitment, IRRI was requiring that the applicant have a "Master's degree in communication, journalism, political science or related discipline" – IRRI didn't know that creativity and graduate courses don't mix?! Maybe one in a million, yes. IRRI was dreaming the Impossible Genius.

I know for a fact that even in and from my own alma mater UP Los Baños that offers DevCom and Com Arts, an unbelievable number of MS and even PhD degree holders don't have much experience in communicating science to the people without assistance from their friendly neighborhood editors. A higher degree is a guarantee of higher knowledge, but not higher creativity.

More to the point, I'm intrigued with one of the roles IRRI wants its Communications Manager to play: "Set standards for frequency, images, terminology, and tone so that all communications about Healthier Rice are consistent." That is to say, IRRI is looking for an excellent manager and an expert photographer and a first-rate scientist and a world-class journalist – all in one person. IRRI is looking for a genius!

That is to say, IRRI is looking for a be-degreed genius in communications. Sorry, geniuses like that aren't born every minute. I would say IRRI can't even find a pedigreed genius in communications, one born to be a writer. When it all comes down to brass tacks, Communications is Creative Thinking leading to Creative Writing, which is the thing that IRRI sorely needs but does not yet recognize. Writers are born, yes, but there is an intelligent technical writer and there is an intelligent popular writer, and how will you find out if someone is both?

Specifically, IRRI is looking for someone "to serve as head of IRRI’s Healthier Rice Program Communications activities." My advice to IRRI? For healthier communications, go back to the Writing Board and rewrite what you want as Manager for Communications, to make sure of the one you desire, that he knows about the health issues surrounding Golden Rice, that he knows how to argue; that is to say, with GMOs in mind, the Communications Manager Candidate must know by heart all those Logical Fallacies. I'm a wide reader; I know that the pros of Golden Rice have yet to master their logic, as do of course the antis. The best defense is offense. IRRI must be on the offensive in this case, not simply defensive. If you have to play with fire, throw it, not catch it.

And yes, since IRRI wants a Manager, the Candidate must know, even if those in communications don't, about the 6 functions of management, as according to the Father of Modern Management, French original thinker Henri Fayol:

Planning – IRRI's Communications Manager must come up with a Vision and a Mission for his communications campaign(s). The Goal is easy to set: To sell all those rices. Because it must be a campaign, and I would say it needs a plan for at least 5 years. And yes, what it wants to achieve must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

Leading – IRRI's Communications Manager must be creative and, along with that, must have initiative. He must be a Team Captain and not simply a team player.

Organizing – IRRI's Communications Manager must know how to organize a communications campaign. He must know Everett Rogers' Theory of Technology Diffusion at heart; more than that, he must know how to meet resistance to the diffusion using the force of logic, not the force of law, using social media, not simply print media. He must be not only computer literate but computer savvy.

Controlling – IRRI's Communications Manager must know how to handle his funds, or ask for them and from whom when he has none. IRRI could learn from the Ilocanos how to be thrifty, not stingy.

Coordinating – IRRI's Communications Manager must know how to relate to other people and other programs and projects in other departments inside and outside his Institute.

Forecasting – IRRI's Communications Manager must be keenly aware of and be able to forecast or sense the climate changes of droughts and floods when it comes to communicating IRRI news and views in the media, especially Internet-mediated mass media.

IRRI's Communications Manager must be a genius!

Unfortunately, they don't teach communications management in school and, even if they did, if it's all theory and no practice, they can't produce the genius IRRI is looking for.

IRRI must understand that only practice can produce a genius in communications. If IRRI were to find the genius it's looking for, it must stop catching fire, stop looking inside classrooms – and start looking inside itself.

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