• Ben Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Julio Friedmann of Carbon Wrangler


Welcome to our tenth Common Sense Colloquy, a Q&A with Dr. Julio Friedmann, Senior Scholar at Columbia University and President of Carbon Wrangler.

We’ve had the good fortune to work with Julio as part of our work with the Carbon Capture Coalition. As the former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, Julio has a wealth of experience and expertise. As the CEO of Carbon Wrangler, he now has a new platform from which to advocate and educate about carbon capture as a private citizen (albeit one with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the topic based in part on his years of public service). As any reporter who has interviewed Julio will tell you, he’s a smart man and a terrific interview.

Prior to his appointment at the Department of Energy, Julio was the Chief Energy Technologist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. He also served as a senior scientist at Exxon and ExxonMobil and as a research scientist at the University of Maryland. Julio is an acknowledged expert on carbon capture technologies and is now a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Global Clean Energy Policy at Columbia University and a Senior Research Fellow for the Climate Leadership Council.

Our thanks to Julio for sharing his time and insight with us – and you.

Q: How has the need to communicate about policy and technology innovations changed in the past few decades? What's different and what's the same?

A: Awesome question. Thanks.

What’s the same is the need for sound, factually grounded information and analysis. Overall, it’s still true that most people (and most important people) want to learn and engage positively around facts first and rhetoric second. Also the same: everyone wants to engage in communications built on respect. Use positive phrases like “It has been my experience…” and “I’m excited about...”.

What’s different now is the media we use – blogs, Tweets, posts, and fragmentation of attention have increased the need for careful use of words in crafting a message. Good points are amplified – so are bad points. Also different now – ever shorter time and attention spans. There’s need for speed indeed. Condense: 600 words is better than 1000 words, and much harder.

Q: You're recognized as a skilled communicator on complex, challenging issues and topics. What advice do you have for others looking to engage target audiences about difficult issues?

A: Thank you. I’ve found it useful to practice. Try talking to many different audiences. Try new phrases and new metaphors. Watch for how individuals and groups respond to specific points and words. Listen to others. Engage many. Adapt. Learn.

Second: Find the essence. Seek to distill any discussion to its essential points. Not only is that more memorable, but it usually allows more time for discussion, which is almost always fruitful for all parties.

Q: In your career, you've been a public and private sector executive and an academic. What have you learned about communications from these experiences and how do you apply that insight in your work?

A: Three things:

  • Most people want useful information – it’s a service to provide it in any sector. Since useful is in the eye of the beholder, progress is made when you understand your audience and conversants.

  • Most important people do NOT operate from an information deficit, but rather have a goal or experience that’s different from yours. You can’t bludgeon them into agreement by loading on. Watch. Listen. Ask questions.

  • Good narrative wins and is very difficult. Sound bites and talking points are NOT the same as narrative – it takes time and effort to get it right.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?

A: It’s not “dumbing down” to distill your points to the core information in a way the audience can believe. Many points can be made in 10 seconds or less. Keep it really brief!

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?

A: God gave us two ears and one mouth. Communications works best when you listen to who you’ve engaged and attempt to understand them.



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