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Showing posts from January, 2014

"Blue Jasmine" As A Meditation On Good Vs. Evil

When it comes to "Blue Jasmine," most people focus on either one of two actors: Cate Blanchett or Andrew Dice Clay.
Blanchett (whose character, to me, was about Allen's ex-wife Mia Farrow) has most of the airtime. 
She is hard to watch. Shaky, talking to herself. Self-absorbed. Beautiful. Shallow. Cold. Pained. Condescending. Unaware. Narcissistic. Mean. Selfish. Blithely amoral.
Her husband buys her diamond bracelets, and cheats on her.
Andrew Dice Clay was her brother-in-law. Until he wasn't, because Cate Blanchett's husband (Alex Baldwin) soaked him out of two hundred grand. 
He never pretends to be what he's not. He only wants his own business and his wife.
Baldwin, a Wall Street crook, gets the money because Clay is pressured by his insecure wife, Blanchett's adopted sister. She feels "genetically" inferior -- but maybe she too can buy self-esteem by investing with a Park Avenue money man who eats lunch every day at Le Cirque.
As a lying, cheating…

Are You Training Your Team To Be Incompetent?

We build statues to the knight in shining armor. Everybody wants to be one. 
Implying that the rest of us are there to be rescued.
I met a woman in class today. We exchanged pleasantries. She used to be a manager, she said. And volunteered this:
"One thing I learned is always to ask people what THEIR process is -- before changing anything. They love that."
Gee, I need to do that more, I thought.
All my life I have hated micromanagers.  But when I became a manager myself, I inadvertently fell into the trap: No matter how well-meaning you are --No matter how accurate your conclusions --Even if the staff are asking you to do it --...you can't adopt the posture of a savior.  People have to find the way for themselves.
The issue goes back to ownership. The old "teach a person to fish."  In the short term you can dominate the team and sure you will drive results.But long term you may be cutting yourself off at the knees. Because you cannot do all the work alone -- cannot ant…

What Rebels See In The Football Game

Photo by iam_photography via Flickr
Being a change agent is not a convenient way to live. It's risky, because there is no recipe. You think about it a lot - it becomes a kind of life goal, even though you know the situation is only temporary.
So why bother? Because I don't feel alive unless I've taken a side. I always think about victory. What would it be like to carry that football, outrun the other team, and hit the pigskin to the other side?
I think I would be bored if everything were calm at work. I have this inner need - to make order out of the chaos.
Clearly it's psychological. It's me. Which is why it's silly that pop management culture tends to lionize change agents as somehow better than everyone else.
It is true that doing change well takes a lot of skill. You face resistance no matter what. You often feel like you've had the s**t kicked out of you, frankly.
Because at the end of the day there's this double bind: 
Make things better - but don't …

If You Aren't Innovating, You're Dead

Here's a little GIF I made. Feel free to use it whenever people start with you about innovation being useless, nonessential, a waste of time, doesn't belong in government, etc. The fact of the matter is - innovation is absolutely mission-critical. However much the agency is spending - it absolutely can spend less and do more. In fact it is entirely possible for the agency to become a revenue center as opposed to a cost center and eliminate the burden on the taxpayer, if not mostly, entirely. We can reconceive of government not only as a customer-centric enterprise but as one that wholly benefits the taxpayer rather than taking money from them and returning questionable value in return. To do that we have to work smarter, not harder. Collaboratively, not in stovepipes. Trustfully, not with hate and jealousy and turf wars. And above all inclusively, allowing the world to breathe air into stale and musty areas of the mission that we mistake for essential operations. If we don't emb…

The Brand-Centric Business In 5 Steps

Many people make the mistake of thinking that branding is separate from business operations. 
Here is a new slide I put together (download at SlideShare) showing how branding is key to managing day-to-day operations, no matter what environment you find yourself in.
The reason branding is so important is that it guides all of your decisions in a very focused way. Your brand is a promise, and a very specific one. You only do things in a way that honors the brand.
Today on LinkedIn, brand expert Laura Ries expressed the sentiment this way:
I've been a brand consultant and I've worked for government agencies in a public affairs capacity as well as in management.

The reality is that if you do not have a very strong brand ethic to work against, disagreements and turf battles on the inside easily divert time and attention from the unifying focus that any organization must have: the customer.

What is your organization supposed to do? Just do it. That is your brand.

Anything else must be ruth…

Promoting Open Data Relies On Step 4

Just uploaded this slide today. It's a one-pager I put together to explain what our Office does at the National Archives.Basically, we look for faster, better, cheaper ways to promote public access to historical records.The most efficient way to do that, obviously is to put those records on the Internet.But one of the most frequently overlooked issues concerns the importance of private sector partners who will display that data where the public actually congregates.This is step 4 of the wheel.It is no small feat to get our data organized, consistent and uploaded. As much of it as possible.But after that, you've got to get those raw feeds out where people can see them.The web is good.Social media is better.Wikipedia is better - we're doing a lot of work there.But it would be best if every piece of information we had in our catalog, were available wherever the public consumes information.And even beyond that - imagine if the public could crowdsource what they see in front of…

Sycophancy, The Breakfast Of Fools and Killers

Photo of Hitler (may his name and memory be erased forever and ever), left,  with his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, right, via Historical Times
During the Holocaust Joseph Goebbels served as Hitler's Minister of Propaganda. Hitler who famously said
"By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise."
Goebbels loved Hitler, unconditionally, and served him with a fanatical loyalty that has been described as "the emotional essence of totalitarianism." 
The world they inhabited was a thicket of lies.
Their association did not end well for Goebbels. He and his wife killed themselves and he arranged for the murder of all their children on May 1, 1945.
Photo via Wikipedia
Goebbels was an extreme example of a sycophant. 
But this quality is also very common. As they say, "flattery will get you everywhere" and so many people try it as a means to achieve self-esteem, populari…

Boil It Down & Blow It Up

Photo by chootushing via Flickr
Red balloons are simple, clear and there is nothing else like them. They stand out in every room. There is even a hit song about them called "99 Red Balloons."
Similarly, the most valuable brands are totally different yet belong everywhere -- always while being completely unique.
On an individual level, celebrities are in-your-face memorable: The KardashiansElvisLiberaceWhen you think of engaging retail or place-brands -- that is, brands that are more than just a single individual -- they effectively express a larger-than-life personality that is distinct and hard to duplicate: StarbucksAppleDisneyMost people are pretty tame. They paint inside the lines and use the ordinary amount of colors.
But if you want to be an extraordinary marketer, you've got to walk, talk, eat, sleep and dream in glowing neon.

More than that, you've got to show the most fiery part of your soul right there on the surface. Don't bury it under a lot of irrelevant ta…

The Workaround

Photo via Flickr by Pupok
The following is a fictionalized composite meant to illustrate the difficulty of obtaining needed software in a bureaucratic system.
Part I. What's The Problem?
"Tell me what's happening. Why can't we get a proper system in place?"
"They told us to take it to the Committee."
"What Committee?"
"The one that makes decisions about these things."
"Why do you need a committee? Isn't this a basic off the shelf product?"
"Well we have another system that we use. They installed it last year."
"What system is that?"
"Oh, it's called Marbles. It works for anything."
"Marbles?"
"Yes, Marbles."
"Marbles isn't meant for that kind of function. It's a completely different animal."
"I know, we told them."
"And?"
"Well they said to write up our requirements."
"Did you do that?"
"Yes, here." 
A piece of paper i…

5 Ways To Rebrand & Their Implications

(Madonna photo via Wikipedia.)
The most successful rebrands are continuous - the Kardashians. Madonna - because you keep the audience with you the whole time.
A second is the amnesia strategy - wherein you pretend "not to know" that brand you once were. Ronald Reagan the President not Reagan the actor, same with Schwarzenegger. Works of you can pull equity from the prior brand, e.g. polished or tough image.
A third rebrand strategy is the facelift - JC Penney - works if you stick with it and make it convincing. Difficult to execute though because it implies "aging brand" and a recognition that you dropped the ball for awhile.
A fourth is the apology - Domino's Pizza - where you simply vow to improve the existing brand. I like this approach though some disagree.
Yet a fifth is the drop-out-of-sight approach - Molly Ringwald 80's movie princess - you go away and come back as an icon for another era, e.g. a mom on ABC Family. Again related - mass entertainment - bu…

Mommy and Daddy Are Fighting (The Hidden Cost Of A Turf War)

Source: AFL-CIO
Did you know that in 2012, the average CEO was paid 354 times as much as the average worker? 
Potentially that is an inspiring fact. Anyone can "make it."
Well, sort of.
Most aspiring CEOs will likely hit a brick wall. 
Because the gap between themselves and the people at the top is so vast.
Image via Wikipedia
We all know this in an academic sense.
But how often do we stop to think about it?
Imagine that we had only 100 people in the United States and $100 in total.
* One person would have about $35. * Sixty would have less than $2 - ALTOGETHER.
Source: AFL-CIO
Well, you say, perhaps these people at the top are very wise owls who keep the rest of us from destroying Planet Earth.
Image via QuickMeme.com
But then again, it is also entirely possible that they just...got...lucky.
Source: Jen Sorensen, "Who Are The Real Moochers?" via Alternet Comics
I guess it bothers me that some people have everything while others sleep in their cars. (Check out Tyler Perry's Goo…

What Is Underneath The Talking Points, If Anything?

Photo by Clover_1 via Flickr
So I was surprised that my sister came to my mother-in-law's funeral.
I have missed all the family functions in New York. I just don't go there. Too much information as they say - once I leave a place I move on. 
But as much as I lean on my cognitive side to deal with life, that's how feeling my sister is. It would be unthinkable not to show up, and be there for me and for my husband.
It was just before she left that I thanked her one last time. We were standing outside my parents' car. My dad drove four and a half hours to get there by morning, and they were facing another similar drive back.
"Hey, thank you," I said. 
She replied softly, "I know."
She looked at me very closely. We were standing not a foot apart. I realized that I never really looked at my sister and knew little about her at all. Only vague and distant memories from childhood. Things like chasing her around the living room with a vaccuum cleaner and pretending…

Why Community Is Built In Congregation

Photo by Truah via Flickr
Today for the first time I understood why people find consolation in synagogue. 
I went to the funeral of my beloved mother-in-law, Gerda Blumenthal. 
Never in my life have I felt one with the community. But today we set all differences aside to honor her.
Every person said the same thing: She always asked howI was doing.
The rabbi said that she always asked about his sons, even when she was in the hospice.
Even though he was visiting her and she was in agonizing, unyielding pain.
We looked at the casket before us and we cried, together.
My husband, a quiet man, spoke about her life and what it meant to him.
I do not think anybody was prepared for those remarks.
There is no way that a transcript can do them justice.
He spoke with so much feeling that the rest of us cried along with him. 
I cried with people I don't even know.
We went to the cemetery and for the first time I saw a casket being lowered into a grave. 
We took turns shoveling dirt over the casket.
I saw my …

Why Social Media Is More Powerful Than Branding

Community.
Brands create a pretend one.
Social media creates a real one, customizable to suit your level of interaction.
Life is lived among other people. When we experience pain, rage and love, the high of a lesson learned or milestone achieved, it is higher in community.
Brands do well when they create community. But not in a way that is at all obvious. And not to constantly push product.
The best thing a brand can do is create a platform around an idea, step back and let the interaction happen by itself.
People will expect the brand to sell them things, at some point - shopping and rating goods is a primary way we interact after all.
But it should always, first and foremost be about bringing people together. That and not the Marketing Department's version of an image is what makes the brand one-of-a-kind and (not unimportantly) uncopyable.
* All opinions my own. Photo of a community bulletin board in Starbucks by me.

Thank You To My Readers Here & Around The World

Celestial globe via Wikipedia
Judging from the audience stats, this is truly an international blog, with visitors from: United StatesChinaUnited KingdomUkraineCanadaGermanyIndiaFrancePhilippinesAustraliaI guess we're all trying to read meaning into the stars. 
* All opinions my own.

Beats By Dre: What's The Strategy? (Identity or Ingredient)

Photo by Foeoc Kannilc via Flickr

"Beats by Dre" is a headphone brand. Wear the headphones and it says something about who you are: cool, you live for the music, you have discerning taste.

Wait, I forgot. You "become" Dr. Dre, just by buying them. The quintessential identity brand.

Photo of Dr. Dre performing via Wikipedia
Yes, except that Beats may actually be selling "bass-delivery systems" - an ingredient, according to Jesse Dorris. As he puts it, writing for Slate:

"He’s conquered the headphones market, but Dr. Dre isn’t selling great sound. He’s not even selling celebrity. He’s selling the concept of 'bass.'"
--and this ingredient has a very particular cultural symbolism--
"Bass has signified both sex and rebellion at least since Duke Ellington got the ladies on the floor in 1920s."
This isn't an abstract argument. The discipline of brand is essentially reverse-engineering others' success and failure so that others may rep…

30 Ways To Get People Talking

Photo by Martin via Flickr Advice, especially "insider"AnimalsBabies Before and after - e.g. a dramatic makeover of one's life or looks"Caught on tape"- video, audio - funny, unusual, extreme, tragicCelebrity-related, including business leaders, politicians, religious figuresConnect disparate people around an issue or interestControversyCraziness, how insane or disturbed people thinkEternal love and/or doomed romanceEtiquette Extreme, unusual or unpopular culture or point of viewFriendshipFun facts, statistics, etc.Gender-specific or debating issues related to gender GriefHeroismHonesty, preferably unusually rawImaginationInspiration, e.g. a quotable quoteMoral dilemmaPhysical or emotional struggleRebellion against dictatorship, breaking free from ordinary existenceSafe topic for the watercoolerScandalSecrets - reveal something previously hiddenSurprise -  tell us something we wouldn't have believed was true, or show us a photo of something unusualTimesaverT…