What If Countdown Clocks Didn’t Have Reset Buttons?

This tweet last week from my colleague, Ann Christiano, says everything you need to know about what we’re focused on at frank these days:


If you press her, she can even tell you to the second when our 2015 upcoming frank gathering gets underway. That’s because we have a clock on our website furiously counting down the days, hours, minutes and yes, seconds, until the February 25th kickoff.

Of course, we’re not unique when it comes to countdowns. It’s a very common way to herald the coming of something big.  Despite its ubiquity, however, the word is relatively new. It was first introduced into the English language in the early 1950s as a term to describe the procedure NASA used to tick off the minutes and seconds before a rocket launch.

See how it’s taken off ever since.

But what if it countdown meant something else? Instead of the number days until something begins, what if represented how may years, weeks and days we have left before time runs out? Imagine if we were counting down the remaining days to adequately fix some of the many pressing social issues we face in the world? Like climate change? Poverty? Hunger? The list goes on.

That’s an idea put forward a few years ago by Grant Oliphant in a Tedx Pittsburgh talk. Oliphant, who at the time headed the Pittsburgh Foundation and now serves as president of The Heinz Endowments, argues in his talk (see video below) that people in the business of building a better world would be better served keeping track of how long you have before the clock runs out and you run out of time.. As he wryly suggests, imagine a countdown clock without a reset button.

Oliphant’s message should resonate loudly for communicators. If part of our job is to amplify the messages of the organizations we serve, we don’t have a minute or second to waste. We must use every precious moment of time to ensure our messages are thoughtful, on target and we constantly measure how they’re working — and while there’s still time.

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The clock is ticking. What are you doing about it? One option: be part of the conversation that we’ll be having in February in Gainesville about how social change communicators effectively use communications to drive social change.

Posted: January 5, 2015