Social Engineer or Transformational Change Agent? You decide.


Bob Wheatley


The decisions you make now have significant impact on the trajectory of your career, your life. You control your destiny. It’s in your hands. And what those hands believe about your mission, role and vision will play a big part in how things go. 

This is a story about glasses half full, not half empty. About optimizing your opportunities and creating a runway for personal growth that sits squarely in the zone of extraordinary achievement. Of course, you can settle for vanilla, for medium, for half empty. But life is short and what you do with it counts.  

That said as the world around you and your personal experiences coming up through school evolve, it’s easy to get the wrong impression about this whole subject of your future.  

No surprise when you’re in school the agenda is learning skills. Internship experiences often focus on basic contributions around these capabilities, in writing or media, social channel content and the like. And when looking for your first position or second or third, it’s not unusual for the assessment of your abilities to be based on these skill contributions and work product.  

Of course you’re going to say well yeah! So gotta have those skills as that’s the game your playing in. To be sure. But this is wayyyyyy too limiting. Here’s my story, in brief. 

I started out in Seattle, with a very specific goal in mind: I wanted to be in the business of communications. To be in business. In communications. This meant the agency world; as consultant, creative expert, marketing thinker maybe, as well as businessperson all rolled into one. I got there and at the premier firm in that part of the country. Trading for the most part on those skill sets we know and a certain amount of chutzpah. Translate: ambition burnished with a degree of drama and passion in how I said things. 

After starting I noticed pretty quickly that there might be more — the business could be more interesting and challenging, if looked at through a different lens. Clients wanted to grow their businesses. Communications is an important part of this, but nonetheless it’s a tactic really — or “one cog in a big wheel” along the road to success. The more I listened (listening is a good skill by the way) the more I saw that organizations were looking for strategies that would change their trajectory. 

And in thinking about their trajectory I changed mine. I sat down with my very first client, a regional packaged foods company and started asking questions about where the business was headed; what the chief barriers and pain points were – about the business itself, not necessarily the communications needs.  

Then I started to work on a strategic vision document, an analysis of their brand and business in its context, sandwiched in between generics and large national brands in their key categories. I made recommendations on strategy to create competitive advantage when your David against better financed Goliaths.  

No one asked me to do this. It wasn’t an assignment. I was the PR guy. No one expected this, especially from me. Sure it might have been risky – what if they didn’t like what I recommended! Your brain will tell you that. Fear. It’s insidious and stops progress in its tracks. Way too often I might add.  

Or I might never have done this in the first place if my view of what I do was locked into a narrower definition. Stay in your box, right? 

I presented the analysis to my colleagues on the brand team. They thought it was interesting and wanted time to digest. Two weeks later it happened: An envelope on my desk and inside a message from the brand team plus copy of the title page with a hand-written note from the company Executive Vice President – it said, “This is really insightful — why don’t we get this kind of guidance from our ad agency?” 

Three months later the account went into review. We got the ad business. Two years later I was given a shot at running the PR company — when I was 29 years old. Wasn’t easy and I made plenty of mistakes but it worked out.  

So here’s the guidance: if you decide to be a transformational change agent, to elevate your game, your sense of purpose, what you’re here to accomplish, with it will come more interesting work and opportunities. Today I can walk into a grocery store and point to some categories at the shelf and say, this business is an outcome of helping clients think differently, to transform their strategy and adjust the trajectory of the business. Or I could have been honing my skill sets as PR guy. 

Ironically I am the PR guy in many ways, but I don’t look at it that way. Neither should you. These days the skill focus is on social channels. And you can become an accomplished engineer in this space. But what if you add to that another vision for yourself. What if you’re a transformational change agent, too?  

If you think that way other doors will open. And that’s the secret: its how you see it, how you think, what you believe that will impact your future.  

What say you? What’s your future look like? 

Bob Wheatley is CEO of Emergent Healthy Living, the third company he’s launched since starting his career at Ogilvy & Mather. You can subscribe to his blog at


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