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Showing posts from August, 2013

5 Social Tools In The War On Groupthink

The #1 problem we face today is not physical, i.e. that we cannot live together on this planet. It is social-psychological, i.e. that we cannot get groupthink, "mob justice," the "herd mentality," out of our heads.

Groupthink has always been with us. The modern-day version is branding. It started out as a decision-making technique: The simpler you think, the easier it is for me to sell you my version of soap flakes...breakfast cereal...motorcycle.

But branding has become way too successful. We see people living a glorious life on TV, we want the things they have, but our minds are dumbed-down by preoccupation with consumption. We fail to see the real world and to challenge and change the status quo for the better. (As Marx pretty much predicted.)

Last night on HGTV they had this show called Amazing Water Homes. One home was like an aquarium with walls. Another was a house built on top of a waterfall, the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Yet anot…

5 Leadership Lessons from "Hell on Wheels"

 Image via At The Movies With Silver
For the unfamiliar: "Hell on Wheels" is a fictional TV series about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the USA in the mid-1800s. The main character, shown above, is Cullen Bohannon, the crew foreman, whose wife and son were murdered in the Civil War. Initially preoccupied with revenge, over time he becomes determined to play a leading role in the railroad. More at Wikipedia.
The AMC channel has discovered a formula for success that appeals to Gen Xers like me:  Take a small band of people;Set them against deadly hostile enemies;Show how they try to make normalcy in an extreme;Then have one character (usually male) lose the woman he loves, after which;Said leader emerges as a true leader who fights off his evil counterpart. Let me say that I do not like Westerns, action movies, or horror flicks as a rule but "Hell on Wheels," like "The Walking Dead" is none of those things. It is actually a leadersh…

The Elegance Of The Code

Photo by DeviantArt
Though I could never construct them from scratch, and have always had trouble getting "into the weeds," I've always been fascinated by elegant logic systems:

Talmud, Hasidism and the Kabbalah; comparative religionAstrology, macrobiotics, and all that New-Agey stuffHTML, Drupal, Sharepoint, Google AppsSymbolic interactionism, Marxism, and all the other -isms, plus feminist theory for good measureMarketing and branding
But these are most useful as brain puzzles. In my own life I prefer to manipulate ingredients somebody else has already made from scratch, i.e. blocks of code. I am a Lifehacker, and appreciate the genius of Sandra Lee, the queen of "semi-homemade" cooking.

My grandmother was an innovator. During the Depression she would make an entire meal for six from the ShopRite "can-can" sale. My aunts and uncles reminisce that for a few pennies they had gourmet peas and mushrooms in brown sugar sauce. Never knew the difference.

People…

From "OpenGov" to "MyGov"

Photo via abhinavhaibbindaas at Photobucket
It's pretty simple.

Right now the "one government" paradigm is a portal which you can access for comprehensive information -- USA.gov, GOV.UK, and see also Singapore's website.

Imagine a different scenario: MyGov.

MyGov would be similar to iGoogle in that you have an account that enables you to access the portal. It would be as simple as choosing a username and password -- this could be keyed to your social security number for identity verification.

The government would be responsible for

Developing the portalHosting itPosting data sets online
The portal would be an empty shell that could be populated by "gadgets," or modules, of an infinite number and type. These could be created by

GovernmentPrivate companiesCitizens...and either free or paid - similar to an app.

Data would be "verified" with a certain "seal" so that the public would know that it comes from an authentic source rather than a hacker.

Rat…

7 Ways To Make Open Government Real

1. Begin with internal communications and radiate that outward. Understand that open government is a fundamental change in mindset for most long-time government employees. They are used to a completely different attitude: "We have the data, you'll wait." Tell them what you're going to do, and then tell the rest of the world.  2. Get out of the stovepipes - establish an Open Government council.  Organizational change has to be more than just talk. If you want to make it real, build an alternative culture that draws people in and puts them to work doing things another way. The physical manifestation of culture is an actual council that draws from every arm of the Agency. It establishes goals, metrics and standards and most importantly celebrates and champions success.  3. Define the term "Open Government" repeatedly. People tend to put their own spin on buzzwords. That is not always a good thing. Tell people repeatedly "what we're doing here."  &qu…

Are You A Visionary or a Leader? Ask Steve Jobs

Screenshot via Anonymous Art of Revolution
The new movie Jobs is out and has crashed and burned on impact at the box office. Even Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak weighed in with some tepid criticism: "I was attentive and entertained but not greatly enough to recommend the movie."

Television has done a better job. This weekend I watched "Pop Innovators Presents: Steve Jobs" on E! It presented, in a nutshell, the highlights of his life, his personal philosophy, his business vision, and his leadership style (or the lack thereof).

The continuing fascination with Steve Jobs is the desire to copy his unique brand of magic. But it's important to point out that he had vision, not leadership ability.

See for example this comment from Steve Wozniak in Gizmodo about the new biopic:

"I will add one detail left out of the film. When Apple decided not to reward early friends who helped, I gave them large blocks of my own stock. Because it was right. And I made it possible for …

10 Ways Technology Will Change Your Personal Brand

1. You will master the art of selective connectivity - meaning, you'll be reachable when you want to be and you will use this selectivity as a display of power.
2. You will develop the ability to switch tools rapidly and without excessive handholding.
3. You will develop confidence to question the usefulness of the tools even as others are more fluent in them - to see beyond the gobbledygook.
4. You will consider the world your workspace and disavow a dedicated office, chair and door.
5. You will create your own work:life balance, because technology will make it too easy to work all the time.
6. You will master technology programming to the point where it really does become your virtual assistant.
7. You will network virtually as never before, and it will be hard to tell your work colleagues from your business partners.
8. You will routinely be ranked and rated by the people who interact with you. Your composite score will determine your employability.
9. You will be empowered to start a …

The Curse of the Boring Leadership Blog & How You As A Communicator Can Fix It

Too often blog posts are only a token item on the leaders' busy and important agenda, and as a result people inside and outside the organization fail to understand what they're trying to accomplish. While media interviews can provide some visibility, only the unfiltered lens of social media can really allow the leader to share their priorities with the world.

Here are some thoughts on the leadership assumptions that perpetuate the problem, and how communicators can help to remedy it.

7 Faulty Leadership Assumptions

Communications is not important, the work is (read: any time spent on this is truly wasted; that's what I pay communicators for; I'd rather say in my comfort zone, which is technical mission execution).If we do communicate, we're talking to our "primary audiences" (read: the people we usually talk to, the ones whose names we know) and they can "decode our jargon" (read: normal people don't have to understand).Senior executives have t…

So You Have A Dead Intranet, Now What?

Photo by Pete via Flickr
Yesterday's post on Intranets focused on control issues and how to resolve them. It consisted of notes from a keynote presentation at Drupal4Gov featuring a three-year case study on this subject.

For the sake of focus I left a very important piece of the talk on the cutting room floor, and so will expand on it a bit in this post. This is the implementation portion of the engagement piece: How do you go from a website nobody visits or uses, to one that engages the workforce?
The basic idea is to think of your job as starting a conversation. "Encourage participation and don't interfere...start a discussion, build momentum."
You may think that not enough people are participating in the space but it takes time for people to work up the courage. Peltzer suggested the 1-9-90 rule:  1% are the talkers9% are the commenters90% are the watchers "Whatever happens on user generated space, everybody will be watching."
But how?

It starts with the user pr…

The #1 Intranet Problem That's Already Been Solved

Image by Ben MacLeod via Flickr
Intranets are somehow not communicators' favorite project but they are critical to collaboration and communication among knowledge workers.

Today's opening keynote at Drupal4gov was a multi-year (2007-2010) case study with Jayson Peltzer, founder of U7 Solutions on building an intranet, based on his experience at the National Defence (sic) of Canada.
For the purpose of this post I'd like to highlight just one item from the extensive talk -- the #1 issue that keeps executives from sleeping at night and the one that, when resolved, allows the rest of the Intranet to flow:
CONTROL.
Executive worry about: Employees publishing unauthorized material about their functions.Excessive socializing. The core of the issue is this: Executives want to control who says what. But the more barriers and censorship, the less engagement. "People need to believe they will be able to do the things they want, even though it's built by corporate."To work, empl…

A Call To Gov 2.0 Drupalers

Upstairs at Drupal4Gov2013 there were donuts and coffee aplenty to fuel the work going on downstairs, where the Drupal community is working on a way to help government agencies post open data sets quickly, easily and consistently. Photos by me.


It's Day 2 at Drupal4Gov 2013 and one of the most important sessions taking place today is not actually a session but rather a collaboration aimed at helping federal agencies post their data sets more easily on the free, open-source Drupal website platform. 
The all-day event is called "Project Open Data Code Sprint" and it was led by some Drupal community volunteers who also work at Acquia, who apparently brainstormed with New Amsterdam Ideas (no endorsement etc. etc.) All are welcome to help out, whether onsite today or virtually tomorrow or anytime. The goal is to create a "module" (building block) in Drupal that agencies can use to catalogue their data sets to meet the requirements outlined in the May 9, 2013 White Hous…

Fitting People Into The Open-Source Equation: Observing Drupal4Gov 2013, Day 1

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."  Ferris Bueller
I wanted to try and write this while the experience was still fresh in my mind. So I hope that you'll forgive me if the words seem raw and unpolished. It's my way of respecting what is going on in the world of government, technology, and open data: Everything I thought I knew is not-so-slowly going by the wayside.
There isn't a big crowd here this year. I'm actually surprised that there aren't more people (especially when you consider that there is free food). It's probably because we're in Bethesda at the NIH, rather than in midtown DC like last year (at Commerce). But the energy level is very high. It's like a drumbeat charging slowly and steadily throughout the place.
Not only that. The geekery is truly amazing. I like to think that I am geeky. In the normal world this is true. But observing the interchange here is something els…

5 Ways To Crush A People-Hating System

Profits before People from Bruce Kasanoff
The other day, I was headed out the door when I heard a woman's voice in the hallway. Her voice was muffled but she was clearly yelling. I heard a child's quiet voice in response.

Didn't want any trouble and it did not sound like there was abuse going on, so I quietly left when the hallway got quiet. But there they were, downstairs. A little toddler not more than three, and an angry and frustrated caregiver. "Get off that curb!" "Stop it now!" "I'm warning you!"

They weren't words of love. The woman was spewing hatred at that child and it made me sick to my stomach.

Another time, in the nursing home, I was walking past a semi-closed door. Heard two people talking to each other inside, and a resident talking but being ignored. Stopped and listened, and the employees were talking to each other about other patients. They said almost nothing to the resident at all.

In my heart I felt what was going on -…

Some Thoughts On "What Does The Boss Want" - 5 Things

1. See things from boss's point of view - yes!

You don't have to drink the Kool-Aid but try to understand their perspective.

2. Communication - yes, qualified. 
Boss wants to know where you are getting stuck. Boss wants status of project. Boss especially wants to know about crises and how you are managing them.

3. Passionate - not so much. 
Boss does not need your passion so much as your absolute motivation and engagement to deliver results against what THEY are passionate about.

4. The stepping stone issue
I take it for granted that any employee is looking to advance and so the key is for employees to align their ambitions with the boss' success. 
For example of you want to be chief editor of the magazine, show how you can get the writing team organized without exercising direct authority. Boss will be happy to let you take on that responsibility - one less thing to worry about - feather in your cap.

That said - the boss is the boss. You should never try to undermine them or steal…

Telling Your Story In A World Of Half-Truths

This week I read a wonderful blog by Penelope Trunk called "How To Tell A Tidy Story Of An Untidy Life." (Google it please, as I am writing this on my mobile.)
She concludes her post, which as always mixes apples-and-oranges self-observations, with this:
"I am still that girl who wants a friend, and a job, and a place that feels safe. That’s my story."

Reading that line brought tears to my eyes. Deep down inside aren't we all the same. It is so simple but how quickly things get complicated, and then later we can't quite put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
This is of course the essential branding question too. Given that...
--we are judged by what people see of our behavior (the partial view, the half-truths)
--we are complex beings
--we play different roles in life
--we evolve over time
--circumstances sometimes force our hand
...how do we explain our personal or corporate brand (mission+values) simply, coherently and compellingly?
On a broader level, how do we giv…

Building The Government Enterprise: What's Missing Is The Brand

Screenshot of the 9 recommendations from PPS modified by me to ask a key question: Where's the brand?
Yesterday I stumbled upon a C-Span program of intense interest. It aired August 8, 2013 and featured a presentation of recommendations in in a joint report by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton: "Building the Enterprise: Nine Strategies for a More Integrated, Effective Government."

The report has the usual common-sense recommendations that taxpayers normally agree to (i.e. combined purchase of janitorial supplies to keep prices low) and that Washingtonian civil servants typically roll their eyeballs at ("Yeah right, sounds good but we've tried all that before andit will never happen here.")

As if to anticipate the myriad objections their report might generate, Speakers Lara Shane (PPS) and Ronald Sanders (BAH) said some things of a supposedly calming nature. No we are not saying to centralize everything. No we are not trying to add new …

An Open Data Model For Talent Management

Photo by Susan NYC via Flickr
Over the years I've been blessed with some brilliant managers. They had varying levels of technical skill but an outstanding ability to understand and harness human capital. And one of the things they always had in common was this:
They never held people back.
These managers understood the true inner logic of talent management, which is:
Find out what people do well and then let them do it.
Unfortunately some managers think they're supposed to "retain" people at all costs. But if there is a poor fit between employee and role, the organization only suffers from their demoralized and disengaged presence. Think about a married couple that can't stop fighting, and then put that into the workplace -- who does this model serve?
Instead of retaining the wrong people, help them find another position where their talents will be well-utilized.
Other managers have a traditional (old-fashioned) view of the employer-employee relationship that says, we h…

Thinking About The Bezos Acquisition Of The Washington Post: What Does It Mean For Federal Communicators?

When you consider that 6 corporations own 90% of the media in the United States it becomes clear that we have entered an entirely new world of communication. For government communicators, here are three consequences of this consolidation:There are no isolated stories about the agency but rather there is an overarching narrative and every story feeds into it. So within the agency it is not OK to have one group working on Initiative A and another group on Initiative B and they are connected in the public's mind yet internally the people are not talking to one another. Public Affairs has to be that connecting linchpin working between Groups A and B to insist that the narrative be made whole.Similarly there are no isolated news outlets or platforms on which news is delivered but rather one always connects to the other. So it is impossible to say, we'll do a press release but avoid social media; or we don't want to get involved in mobile now; because the reality is, your conten…

Implications of Platforming for Government

For government, the challenge of the trend toward branding the platform is the trust factor. According to 2013 research by Rasmussen, only 24% of Americans trust the federal government. That means 3 out of 4 people don't! Think about that for a second. The government is most importantly a platform upon which the rest of society functions. If trust is critical to a platform brands, and the federal government loses that trust beyond what Gladwell called "the tipping point," other platforms will arise to take its place. This is not an impossible scenario especially given all the divisive and sometimes extremist rhetoric we are seeing in public fora today.

If government does not regain the public's trust there is a significant risk from a business perspective that the brand will be discredited and the platform will be undermined and "disintermediated." Not only will people to go other platforms to get government information and services (which is already happeni…

Platform or Die

Story Board: The Collaborative Economy for Corporations (Official Slideshare Version) from Jeremiah Owyang
This week one of the top presentations on SlideShare is Jeremiah Owyang's presentation "What Companies Must Do When Customers Share – Rather Than Buy," with nearly 32,000 views.

Owyang is a partner at Altimeter Group, which helps companies deal with and profit from disruptive change and this presentation accomplishes exactly that. It's essentially a free and in-depth primer on the collaboration economy, bringing together trends that I first began following in 2000 working for futurist/trend spotter Marian Salzman, president at Young & Rubicam's The Intelligence Factory.
Salzman has spent at least a decade working through the consequences of "prosumption" for marketers. Her work begins with futurist Alvin Toffler's concept of the prosumer, or proactive consumer (1980), which was rapidly adopted and promulgated by mainstream marketers, such as P…

Why Simple Is Powerful

Can you name one piece of legislation that you fully understand? Can you really say that you understand the nuances of any major news story? How about your agency or company – do you have a pretty good grasp of how it works, and where it’s headed in the future?

For most of us, the answer is no. Not because we are lacking in information. Rather it’s because we’re drowning in it. And we cannot sift the valuable stuff from the crap.

In the age of more words, more functionality, more choices, more signs, more tools, 24/7/365 and instant gratification, a little simplicity is truly sanity. We don’t need to know everything, we don’t want to know everything, just give us the bottom line. Otherwise we are illiterate and illiterate people lack power.

This week I was fortunate to hear a talk by from the authors of the new book Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, brand consultants Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn.

The thesis of the book is that simplification is not only about doing communicati…