Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014



Over the years I've been fortunate to receive some really good advice from senior government leaders. I carry these "golden nuggets" around in my brain and refer to them often. Hope they are useful to you.

1. "If you want to be successful, be polite, be professional, and have a good work ethic."

2. "The pie gets bigger the more you share it."

3. "Our people don't get enough credit. We need to make sure the public knows the good work they are doing."

4. "How is your husband doing? I remember him from ___" (This is the head of an Agency, who took the time to remember and thank each and every person he interacted with.)

5. "Think it through before you bring it to me."

6. "Dashboards, metrics, high-level bullet points...please."

7. "There is nothing new under the sun."

8. "One thing I like about you, is that you always support the executive" (and don't put yourself in the limelight.)

9. "That issue is very divisive here - I bring it up judiciously."

10. "Go out there, be creative...I trust you."

______

Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo credit: Jesus Solana/Flickr
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Today marks the re-launch of my open, free-to-join GovLoop group, Community Cultivators, formerly E2E (Employee-to-Employee Communication), as well as Online Communities Best Practices at LinkedIn.

I hope you'll join the conversation at either place, because online communities today represent the #1 opportunity to reach and influence a target audience, yet few understand the science of influencing their beliefs and behaviors.

Jump in and join the conversations.

___
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Image source: Open Clip Art

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Everyone's got ideas. My father-in-law has a million. They just pop out of his head the same way you and I breathe.
  • Before any of us could spell "metrosexual," Dad made his own "Magic Cream." No chapped hands in the winter and nobody called him a girl.
  • When we weren't sure if the kids needed changing, Dad invented diapers with a smiley face, which told you when they were wet.
  • Way before I was even born, Dad had created the Bug Zapper. It vacuumed up apartment pests just like THAT.
Dad is not a formal inventor. But he loves to tinker with his creations. And all of them, perhaps accidentally, have since been productized. For example:
The best thing about Dad, as an inventor, is his complete lack of ego. It is always about the product, and how it could theoretically be improved.
Which leads me to think about Alibaba. Wall Street is going crazy for this company:
  • A middleman - doesn't buy or sell anything.
  • Biggest U.S. IPO ever - market cap of $236 billion.
  • $8.5bn revenue on $300bn sold on its sites in 2013 alone.
I'm not that innovative myself, unfortunately.
But I admire people who are.
And it's insanely great that someone figured out how to match and surpass the power of Amazon, eBay, and Paypal combined.
And there's one thing I do know as sure as I'm standing here today.
No matter how inventive you are, or think you are, there's always somebody better at it than you.
So it pays to keep a very open mind. To destroy your own inventions, regularly. And then to incorporate the technology of those who are superior.
Quickly and effectively replacing yours, with whatever powers theirs. 
Rebranding, repackaging, redefining and starting over again.
And then going about your day, more profitably.
_____
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo credit: Fengschwing / Flickr

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch, 1895 via Wikipedia

A thing isn't a thing until it's got a fancy technology acronym. Preferably one with an X.
And so the simple idea that users should own the experience has one: UX.
Briefly, it's the art and science (mostly science, they like to say) of optimizing the customer's interaction with your digital properties.
But I have to wonder:
  1. Why must we limit UX to a website? Or a mobile app?
  2. Why is it only bounded by your brand, as it inhabits the virtual?
  3. Why can't we expand the UX concept so that employees become a primary target audience?
Any leader will tell you that the most important stakeholder of any organization is the employee, not the customer. Because if employees are happy, understand their jobs, and are resourced and empowered to deliver, they will do that with joy. 
That means 87% of the salary you're paying is garbage. 
That means for all of the emotional customer service you claim to provide and all the intellectual knowledge production and collaboration you say you offer...you don't.
Want to maximize ROI? 
Set up a workplace that makes logical sense to the staff, and consider only secondarily the biased views of executives - who mostly interact with each other.
  • Organize departments to facilitate collaboration and not stovepipes
  • Display KPIs prominently on a TV screen in a public place, one that includes both mission performance indicators and leadership feedback scores
  • Make projects responsive to a dedicated PMO (project management office), and not to a functional lead
  • Establish an employee communications council staffed from every department in the company
  • Make the physical layout easily navigable
  • Establish places and spaces to socialize, and to retreat
  • Have walk-in counseling, mentoring and training
  • Establish on-site daycare
  • Yes, offer free food and drinks
Again, it's just so basic: Workplaces cannot be robotized, virtualized, or dehumanized. They are enterprises of people. And people work well when their experience of the workplace is positive.
The premise of UX is that control is removed from the mind of the designer, the architect, the party formally "in charge." This person or group may be well-trained, an expert and have the best intentions. But that does not mean they know what the people want or need.
The job of a designer is only to follow the lead of the user. No matter what kind of user they are.
If you want the organization to be well-run, let the employees themselves run it.
________
Painting: "The Scream" by Edvard Munch, 1895 via WikipediaDisclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Photo of Dani Zimmerman by: Daniel M. Viero / Flickr Creative Commons

Runway models sell products. 

But don't confuse them with the brand.

The heart of who you are - your image, to other people - is more boring.

It's real, but it's invisible, and extremely difficult to describe. 

Your brand is a series of decisions.
  • Who is picked to run a company, an agency, a school.
  • How ordinary people treat one another within the organization.
  • What kind of website you design. Which mobile apps you fund. Whether you personally go out on social media or not, to represent your brand.
  • How budgetary funds are allocated. Which projects get the go-ahead, or not.
  • How people get recruited, promoted, demoted, and fired.
  • What stories are chosen to run on the news.
  • What people do with your material in their spare time. If they share it on Pinterest. 
  • The values you portray everywhere. How employees act, who use your name on their business cards and LinkedIn profiles.
That's why having a focus is so important to having a brand.

Because it isn't any one thing. It's a combination of multitudes. And if nobody knows what you stand for, you will end up standing for nothing.

Branding is a business call. It's for leaders to lead. It's that serious.

Marketing folks can tell you a lot about your brand - afterwards.

But if you want to actually build a brand, you must be more than a well-designed ad.

_____

Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Now it's onto HBO's "Girls" Season 3.

I have a lot of trouble watching this show, and yet. Here I am binge-watching.

It is not at all self-serving, poorly acted, or lacking in any mechanical kind of way. Just the opposite, the show is brilliant. It's Lena Dunham's mind encased in glass. And she is "crazy," but not truly; it's what happens when you're super-sensitive to the stuff everybody else doesn't get or successfully ignores.

She is "out there" in a way that's watchable. I have to.

I don't like the sex scenes. It's like "Sex and the City," I think they could have gotten the point across without being NC-17.

It's exploitive of the actors personally when shows force them to appear nude and to engage in sex with others in public.

I don't like the anti-feminism. Lena/Hannah can't rent a car by herself, she needs her boyfriend Adam to do it. Hannah supports him, while he whines and loses his keys and is "delicate" and has sex with someone else and then just...skates away from it.

I don't like it that one of the moms says that "men hurt women, that's what they do, get over it."

They actually debate whether a woman can be President.

But I know Lena's making us actually question all of these things, because she doesn't like them.

You say that you believe a woman can be President, but do you really?

Are you really onboard with all the difficult steps and choices along the way? What a woman has to do, and discard in order to get there?

I am not sure that you are.

Do you say one thing, as a woman who supports women's empowerment, but then actually do and think another?

About the sex...there is a very big difference between sex and sexuality. I know, really that Lena is trying to get to something past the human body, same as "Sex and the City" before that.

In fact sexuality is the universe of human emotion around the concept of sex. It is the girl in one of the episodes who "huffs lighter fluid" and blames her early molestation but can't admit that she is a lesbian, and that is why.

In the graphic-ness of the show, Dunham forces us to see what the characters are doing to themselves, and each other, through their use and abuse of the body and the body in intimacy with other people.

Jessa, an addict who has lost all semblance of innocence, is the only one of the characters with  no sympathy left for herself or anyone else.

You know that she is in serious need of some help. But you respect her refusal to ask for it. She knows better.

She is honest, too. Sitting there in rehab she tells each person, right to their face, what their problem is. "It's the vest," she tells the lesbian. And then has sex with her, which she later calls an act of kindness.

It was.

I watch the show and feel the pain that Jessa feels. She's so scarred and so scared. There is something so repetitive about what she's going through. There's nothing left for her to do.

She reminds me of Robert Downey Jr.'s character in "Less Than Zero," the one who died.

Lena Dunham understands women. That's why "Girls" is a great show.

___

Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I wanted to write about other things today.

  • Why pop culture is essential to digital engagement. (Because you have to speak to things that are relatable to the masses, not interesting specifically to you in your context.)
  • Why having a positive attitude is so important at work. (Because it is the nature of people at work to bond over negativity, and negativity is toxic and feeds on itself.)
  • Some of the most important lessons I've ever learned from executives. (To be positive/professional/have a great work ethic. That being loud is not the same as being effective. To put the bottom line of what you're saying up front.)
  • Who I aspire to be as an executive. (Sol Berenson, from the show "Homeland," who acted as the head of the CIA for a time. Because he has phenomenal judgment, uncrackable loyalty to his people, delegates leadership to them, sees the vision of peace in his head at all times. Doesn't give a flying fig about his ego. Has colleagues, friends, and loved ones for life.)
  • Why government has such a hard time speaking in the people's terms. (Because we are so full of ourselves, think that government has to be stuffy, find it nearly impossible to put ourselves in the people's shoes, want to preserve the idea that our subject matter is so incredibly esoteric that no Earthly being can ever figure it out.

But I can't, because it's the anniversary of 9/11, and I'm so angry. I remember being at home and watching the planes fly into the World Trade Center and thinking it was some kind of joke or mistake or technical glitch...

but it was a nightmare and I had to run to the elementary school and pick up my kids and I was afraid they wouldn't make it home, that they would bomb more of the D.C. area...

and my husband was stuck in the city and I thought that I would never see him again.

So I am so, so angry that anybody dared to carry out such an attack on our Nation, that so many people died and for absolutely nothing.

I visualize them screaming, and choking and running. The smoke. The jumping. The endless, endless death.

___

Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

There's this movie out on Netflix called "How I Live Now," about a girl who finds redemption through love and hard work. The movie shows her looking in the mirror and thinking about how awful she is.

We've all had those thoughts, and they can seem very natural. But when you see the scenes in front of your eyes, it's striking.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who was prone to depression, used to say that thoughts are like a horse, and you need to lead the horse in the direction you want it to go.

What you tell yourself can change your reality. It works like this: You acknowledge what's happening, but you look at it from a different perspective. For example, tough times are an opportunity to gain insight into what really matters to you in your life. Difficult relationships are an encounter with a person who teaches you something about how to correct your own bad habits. And so on.

Changing your thoughts is like changing a cassette tape. It can be done, but requires some effort. You can't just flick the radio buttons or the iPod to make the song change...you have to actually put forth some work. But it isn't impossible.

All you have to do is realize those negative thoughts when they're happening, focus on the fact that they exist, and decide that you don't want to have them in your life.

Think about the reason that you're having them.

Connect the dots...what needs attention in you, your job, your relationships, your life?

And put the hard work into making things better.

Even if you don't succeed totally, the fact of taking action, plus the vision of a better future that you are working toward - will.

Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Screenshot source: Quotessays.com
Emma Goldman was a Jew born and raised in late 1800s Russia. There was no such thing as dissent in her world, which was "ruled by fear and the ubiquitous secret police, a world in which even the mildest expression of dissent would be summarily crushed."

She joined the Russian revolutionary movement with the intent of overthrowing Russia's leader, the Czar. Once she emigrated to the U.S., she also plotted the assassination of the capitalist Henry Frick as a political statement.

But people admired, and continue to admire Goldman for her belief in freedom. As a young revolutionary she and her peers imagined, as PBS puts it,
"...a society of free equals, a tantalizing Utopia in which all problems could be solved on earth, by ordinary people."
Questioning is the key to freedom. In an 1843 letter to his friend Arnold Ruge, Karl Marx said that change can only happen when we begin to question our thinking - a lot:
"The reform of consciousness consists only in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out of its dream about itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own actions."
Unfortunately, said Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), we can't question ourselves most of the time. This is because our behavior is determined by the unconscious mind, which can only be reached indirectly. For example:
"Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious."
Modern-day business theorist Chris Argyris is known for trying to help organizations change their cultures. But this can only be done, by helping them to look at their misguided assumptions. He states:
"Effective double-loop learning is not simply a function of how people feel. It is a
reflection of how they think—that is, the cognitive rules or reasoning they use to design and implement their actions. Think of these rules as a kind of ‘‘master program’’ stored in the brain, governing all behavior." 
In the toxic organization, people say they want to learn new and better ways of being, but they're blocked because of flawed assumptions. Argyris goes on:
Defensive reasoning can block learning even when the individual commitment to it is high, just as a computer program with hidden bugs can produce results exactly the opposite of what its designers had planned.
In practice, dysfunctional organizations are all alike in one respect. They tend to have people in power who demand allegiance without question. And when people do stand up and say something, they are rapidly shoved aside - either because they are somehow stupid, or crazy, or even disloyal.

This happens everywhere, for example:
  • Governments
  • Businesses
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Charities
It may sound paradoxical, but even in an organization dedicated to free speech, a toxic culture can mean that dissenting voices are silenced. Or voices who sense a disconnect between what they are seeing on the ground, in their lives, and the theories espoused on TV.

So the greatest thing a person can do, who otherwise has no institutional power, is to practice the art and science of questioning. It opens the door to rational thinking and sweeps away the cobwebs of dictatorial assumption, including the assumption that only one approach is right and true and all others are obviously to be discarded.

* This post was written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

Thursday, September 4, 2014



"I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it."
– Col. Nathan R. Jessup (actor, Jack Nicholson; writer, Aaron Sorkin), A Few Good Men

I see a lot of stuff out there criticizing the U.S. on its handling of foreign policy, criticizing the President personally, suggesting that internecine conflict hampers us from making a move, or suggesting that an intelligence agency or secret world conspiracy is behind the many seemingly inexplicable things we see.

You could argue any of these points of view, but in the end your arguments will be flawed. Because you do not know what you do not know. You're not in the room when the foreign policy discussions are held. You aren't the President. You would only have a second- or third- hand account of a story leaked by someone who has a bias or vested interest in portraying things a certain way. And you definitely aren't still on the inside an intelligence agency or the pit of a secret world conspiracy and simultaneously standing on the outside talking about it.

Does that mean the information bubble is hermetic? No, obviously. But it can't be trusted because the nature of secret information is to remain as such.

The real issue is informed consent. We need it, but what if we can't afford it?

What if "the people" need to be protected from themselves in order for the world to survive?

You will respond, and I won't blame you: "That's unacceptable to me," because "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

You will say: "The very same people who claim to 'protect' us will, in a world without informed consent, also be our physical and virtual jailers, and will be impossible to resist or overcome.

You don't want to live in a police state.

I don't have the answer for you.

I can only say that the basic human need for free choice compromises the two opposing models of governance we're seeing in the world today.

* The first is the open dictator model, which essentially says: Our ruling group is in charge, we only care about ourselves, stay out of our way, and if you don't we will kill you.

* The second is the model which says: Our inter-denominational ruling group is in charge, we have to manage this world together, and whoever doesn't want to play nice gets isolated from the rest of us.

The people in charge of these modes of governance don't seem to get it.

They say, in effect, you don't get to know what we know, because your open debate of secret information compromises the integrity of our rule (Model 1) or our ability to keep you safe (Model 2).

They don't understand that freedom is so basic a need that people will die for it. They will exhaust their entire lives seeking it, like a suffocating person chokes for air. They will stand on their sword, ruin their careers, walk away from lives that were formerly bought and paid for with silence.

Open communication is fundamental to freedom. People will not rest. They will force the issue.

People will make up stories or piece them together in order to force communication happen.

And so - since you cannot silence the people even though you may think this is a necessary thing - what has to happen is as much credible communication as possible.

The government, any government, must say: I can tell you this much, this is real information, chew on that. I can't tell you any more.

And the real information has to be as extensive. The data has to be raw and cooked, that is people need data sets as well as an explanation of what those data sets mean. Not an ideological explanation but a narrative.

There arises the question, what happens when the enemy uses this data against us? That is not a light question. Someone has to sit down and think about it, logically, rationally. It's an issue that must be debated, in the open, in public.

I believe that government can do better. Official communication does not have to be clumsy and flat-footed and leave us lurching toward chaos. It can be measured, and reasoned, and believable and calm. It can be the kind of talk that speaks to intelligent adults, as opposed to the substitution of Tweets for speeches. (I cannot tell you how much that irks me.)

It wasn't always this way. Something has gone off the rails. Either the threats are worse and we can't talk about them at all, or the solution is so radical that we can't talk about the vision that is unfolding, and so we try to pass the time in the meantime, hoping that people won't notice.

They notice.

Sometimes I want to crawl into my old TV set, I want to live in The West Wing. I want to be the C.J. who represents Martin Sheen. I want to be Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, a hopeful young Republican admiring the image portrayed by Ronald Reagan.

I know we can get back to where we need to be. We don't have to accept murky silence as the price we pay to avoid Model 1 dictatorship. But we will need an honest debate about freedom and the boundaries of official communication to get there.

* This post was written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Currently I'm in the middle of Homeland (Season 3), having just finished the latest season of Tyrant on VOD. Before that it was 24: Live Another Day.

I watch the shows and the messages about national security come through loud and clear. This is art, not life but art frequently gives people permission to air things that cannot be said in ordinary discourse:

* From a security perspective, transparency is a ridiculous concept. Information is power and when you give it away, you're giving it to your enemies and not just your friends. Why would you give the enemy your secrets?

 * The facts are much more interesting and complicated than anything the media will portray. Whatever we are getting downstream is not the reality closest to the action. In a democracy, it is that reality that the public wants, needs and has a right to know, in order to make good decisions rather than be inflamed by hype and huff. The question, though, as indicated in #1, is how far can and should you go? If you tell everything, the public is at risk. If you tell nothing, you've surrendered to totalitarianism.

* Public opinion is regularly manipulated. The purpose of doing so is regularly offered as a noble cause, although some are honest enough to simply admit they want power. It is done through the omission of information or the provision of information that is incomplete, misleading or false. 

* The line between bitter enemy and close colleague is not only blurry but ever-changing. We tend to think of enemies as people difficult to understand and remote from ourselves, but actually if you want to gain power over someone you need to bring them close and leverage their interests so as to advance yours. (Only when you have no other choice do you push on their weak spots.)

* Within any social system, there are different factions vying for power.  Some factions attain and maintain power over other factions by holding onto information, or by conducting operations without the other factions knowing (and having the opportunity to "ruin" them).

* The term "crazy" is used as a tool. It may indeed be that the person's mind has snapped. Or it may be a convenient excuse to nail them to the wall so that they don't interfere with someone in power.

* The best national security assets are 1) technical experts with 2) superior judgment about when to break the rules, who are 3) also willing to die for the cause. To be great at this kind of job, you must have absolute mastery of each of these three areas - having one or two but not all three puts everyone else in danger.

What do we do about this as citizens? Perhaps take the time to evaluate multiple perspectives with a critical eye. Refuse to jump to quick conclusions. Consider facts but also the unsaid nature of much that surrounds them. Connect things that don't seem to go together. Be willing to change one's opinion.

Above all, participate.

* This post was written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

Monday, September 1, 2014


This is a can of Coca-Cola.

This can holds memories, sweetness, refreshment, joy.

I don't care how many calories are in this can.

This can is a selfish pleasure, all for me, now.


This is a can of a Coca-Cola with someone's name on it.

It is a sacrilege to all the brand stands for.

By creating this can Coca-Cola has demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of its own core product.


And this is the Coca-Cola sharing campaign.

It magnifies the original error.

All I want is a classic Coke. Not New Coke, not a soda with someone else's name.

I don't want to share it.

And I don't understand who messed up what was the #1 brand in American history, or why.

* This post was written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Screenshots via various Google searches for Coca-Cola cans and the "sharing" campaign online.