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Read a textbook in 2013?
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A couple of months ago, I “rejoined” LinkedIn, the social network for business professionals. I got back in to it because the network was beginning to expand from simply helping people network for that next big job to helping them with their current jobs. A few friends and family members had also joined up at the same time that LinkedIn began adding some more news-oriented and thought-provoking features.

One of those recent features is the recruitment of what the network calls “thought leaders.” Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson is the most notable. Another is Tom Keene. If you’ve never heard of him, don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either until a few days ago when LinkedIn had 50 of their thought leaders come up with “Big Ideas” for 2013.

Keene is Editor-at-Large for Bloomberg Television. In addition to being an economist and a mean chart-maker, he is also, apparently, a pretty funny guy. His three top “skills and expertise on LinkedIn” are making coffee, dark comedy and tying bowties.”

His big idea for 2013: read a textbook. After about age 30, Keene noted, most of us throw away our college textbooks. He said that while we “do the Internet, read op-eds, distract our way through the latest light reads,” we hardly ever “go back to the idea that made you educated in the first place.”

So, his suggestion is to read textbooks relating back to your field of study.

Now, Keene, obviously, sticks to suggesting mathematical and economic texts. On the other hand, he also mentions “French, Japanese History, Biology or the History of Journalism” (hey, that sounds like a good one).” The point, he said, is to “lift the mind and the spirit.”

I responded to his post (as did several others), noting that I earned a masters degree in something esoteric called Organizational Communication” -- 22 years ago! -- and then promptly left it behind.

My undergraduate work was in broadcast communications, an obvious choice considering the work I was in at the time: radio. When I went back for my masters, my advisors told me not to focus on broadcasting anymore, but on something a little more “practical.”

I chose organizational communication because I wanted to see if I could bridge a communication gap I had found between, very specifically, radio announcers (creative people) and radio station managers and owners (bottom-line people). I had found -- and, indeed, my masters research pretty much showed -- that DJs and station managers practically speak a different language.

Those were my ideas, but I had to apply concepts being taught by my professors and the textbooks they had us read. I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember any of it. But, perhaps, now that I’m editor of the C-I, those concepts and theories might prove useful?

Luckily, there’s the Internet. Wikipedia, despite problems with editing of some articles (usually of news and entertainment personalities) is not too bad a way to go to pick up  the basics.

The website reminded me that organizational communication is the “consideration, analysis and criticism of the role of communication in organizational contexts.” In other words, a look at the different ways organizations communicate within themselves as well as with other organizations, how those forms of communication define and shape the organization -- and how that plays into the organization’s success -- and, finally, how that communication impacts groups and individuals within that organization.

Mouthful, huh?

Wikipedia mentions Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon and W. Charles Redding as men who led the way in this field in the 1950s and ’60s. They are names that I think I remember from my classes. They also mention Peter Senge, a name I also think I remember even though his ideas on “modern” organizational communication apparently came after I earned my degree.

Simon and Redding’s work focused on five ideas: that while humans act rationally, some people don’t behave in rational ways; formal logic and verifiable data are the foundations of any theory -- so to understand communication in organizations, you should observe and measure communication behaviors; that communication is a mechanical process -- messages are constructed, encoded, transmitted, received and decoded (all of which can mangle the original message); organizations are mechanical, too, which means communication that works in one organization should work in another, carefully managing individual differences; and organizations function as containers in which communication takes place -- a high and mighty way of saying that the type and “shape” of communication, if you will, will affect the communication activity.

Senge added in concepts called learning organization and systems thinking that are now mainstream.

Obviously, I don’t have time to go all through this here, and you’re probably not that interested anyway. My point is that one idea -- reading a textbook -- has inspired me to look back at the work I did in college and see if I can apply it now, 22 years later.

What about you? What did you study in college, and do you continue to be inspired by that education? If not, why not, or are you inspired by something else now?

Either way, it might be time to go back and hit the books … or tablet.