Thursday, December 31, 2015

How To Reduce The High Cost Of Loneliness

We may live in a more connected world than ever, but in many ways it is also a lonelier one, too. And though isolation may feel like "an intensely personal, private problem," as Janet Choi notes in Lifehacker, the manifestation is both social and costly. She shares research published by Hakan Ozcelik and Sigal Barsade, documenting the link between loneliness and employee disengagement, as well as "weaker productivity, motivation, and performance."

At work, loneliness comes in many flavors.
  • Mismanagement: It could be that the company doesn't pay enough attention to the importance of real connectedness. Observes Choi: "Work is a social thing....when you’re not connecting with the people you spend so many hours a day with, you get lonely." 
  • Lack of Diversity: Writing at, Jennifer Thorpe-Moscon notes that "othered" employees don't get the same advancement opportunities as their peers. Potentially great contributors to the mission gradually become demoralized and don't bother. (Doug Maynard and Bernardo M. Ferdman add that they may never even engage in the first place.) 
  • Bullying: In a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, "the 'silent treatment' to 'ice out' & separate from others" was #4 among the top 25 methods used to target victims, with 64% naming it explicitly. WBI researchfound the impact on employees from prolonged workplace bullying includes cardiovascular problems, inflammatory bowel disease, more frequent and more severe infections, auto-immune disorders, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and more. 
Because loneliness is so common and so painful, we see it depicted in Hollywood quite a lot.

Enlightened (2011), for example, starred Laura Dern completely hysterical, and hysterically funny, as she rockets down the ladder of life. Like Alice in Wonderland, she can't believe how she is tumbling down the rabbit hole and in near-complete isolation.

Stripped of husband, home, job status (and social graces), she tunnels with her fingers through the dirt of hell. But in the end, Dern emerges very much whole. She still has nothing - she doesn't have the respect of corporate America - and she doesn't have her husband or her former life.

Yet she is not alone, nor is she lonely. Because she has found herself. And the connections she makes with other people, just like the causes she has dedicated herself to at work - they are really real, they matter to her, and they bind her to the world in a way that no expensive trinket can.

There is no need for a superficial pat on the back by her company. She isn't at the mercy of a husband too drug-addled to see.

I think about the invisible loneliness in young people.

It's easy to miss it: They seem so happy from the outside, bopping around with their friends in school, practically from the minute they walk into kindergarten. Not a minute is spent without someone texting someone, Whisper-ing something, Snapchatting that one, sending selfies here and there.

But inside, so many of them are lost. Cutting themselves just to see if the skin bleeds. And when they get to work, the money just doesn't cut it. As Time magazine noted nearly a decade ago: 
"20-something workers...just want to spend their time in meaningful and useful ways, no matter where they are."
Intelligence Group research from Rob Asghar at Forbes was very similar. Among millennials, "64% of them say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place," and "88% prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one."

These preferences both lend themselves to jobs where loneliness is minimized, because the nature of the work itself requires forging real, meaningful, trust-based connections with one's coworkers.

What about older people?

I read somewhere recently that people get happier after the midlife crisis, which generally happens in the '40s. The Guardian recently shared some academic research, focusing on the responsibilities of midlife, that bears this out: "Happiness is U-shaped."

But there is something else here beyond the practical, and Penelope Trunkcaptures it well. As we've seen, over and over, loneliness and a lack of meaning, purpose and connection in life tend go hand-in-hand.
"Our 50s are—for people in a wide range of cultures—a time of re-calibration, when they begin to evaluate their lives less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness. So all those people who are getting kicked out of the company for being too old are about to start feeling a lot happier.
Thus loneliness, at its core, is not about being cut off from other people, although that certainly doesn’t help. 

It is about the need to find your purpose. 

Once that happens, the more you are encouraged to be yourself — everywhere you go — the less likely you are to feel so alone.

It’s a formula, so amazing it’s hard to believe that this is true. But as your level of personal fulfillment increases, the less of a financial toll loneliness takes on your employer. 

So it’s in everyone’s best interest when “you do you.”

Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Cover photo by David Ingram via Flickr (Creative Commons). Enlightened screenshot via

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Brand Audit" vs. "Product Review" [Case Study: Hotel]

A brand audit is not a product review and it is the single most important thing you can do to improve your brand. Yet most people aren't familiar with the term, or if they are, they don't understand how it differs from a product review.
But it's actually very simple - exactly what it sounds like, actually. Just substitute some common words for the jargon:
  • Brand = image
  • Audit = inspection
A brand audit is an inspection of your image.
More concretely, it is a comparison of the image you wish to project to the world with the image that you actually do, as seen through the eyes of the auditor - usually, a brand consultant.
This week we stayed at the Gallery One Doubletree Guest Suites by Hilton Hotels, in Ft. Lauderdale Beach, Florida. The visit provides an opportunity to illustrate what a brand audit is, and to situate a brand audit in the broader context of a review of a product (or service, or even an individual's performance on the job).
Let's start with a review. Essentially, this is an evaluation of what is good or bad with reference to a broadly accepted, abstract, functional quality standard. A review is not about "personality," "core values," or any attribute of the product or service that is intentionally inserted to provide emotional rather than functional differentiation.
In a hotel setting you aren't looking at this brand of hotel, but at all hotels, and at how they perform compared with an objective standard of quality.
For example, let's say a common standard of customer service is "picks up telephone calls by the second ring." And let's say you test quality by making 100 phone calls to the front desk. If more than 90 of those calls are picked up before the first ring, this is considered "excellent," versus if most of the phone calls are picked up after 10 rings or even go to voicemail, you would probably rate the hotel "poor."
(At the Gallery One, they have upped the customer service game by allowing customers to eliminate telephone calls altogether in favor of texts, which provided a considerably faster response than the typical phone call.)
A brand audit, however, explicitly evaluates the emotional experience the brand purports to provide. In a hotel setting, brands vary widely and are important to the overall equity of the property, since it is easy to mimic functional attributes. Hotels sell themselves, explicitly or implicitly, in such ways as:
  • "Elegant and exclusive retreats where you may easily find a celebrity"
  • "Funky and cool boutique experiences"
  • "Family fun resorts with an activity for everyone"
Product reviews are often written by members of the public, sometimes paid for by the company involved, and they are posted on social media. In the aggregate these reviews are intended to influence others.
Brand audits are paid for by the company and carried out confidentially. The task is to influence the client directly to improve the emotional experience associated with their brand such that it matches the intended outcome - or to introduce the idea that quality alone is not enough.
The step-by-step tasks of the consultant include the following:
  1. Establish with the customer what they think their brand is about (it very likely will not be what is actually experienced, which is normally why they're calling in a consultant)
  2. Break apart the fuzzy notion of "image" into 5-10 concrete, if slightly abstract, elements that can be tested. Normally these elements will begin with or incorporate the idea of "feeling" rather than a provable fact. (Example: "It feels like a premium property.")
  3. Reach agreement with the customer as to what an excellent performance on each of these elements looks like, realizing that a high level of performance is not necessarily a perfect performance.
  4. Propose a method of testing the elements in such a way that the results are reliable, without being exorbitantly expensive or intrusive of the paying customer's experience. (Since people tend to change their reactions when they consciously think about them, it is preferable to observe people rather than simply interview them.) 
  5. Actually carry out the test.
  6. Brief the client verbally on the results so that they can provide reaction and feedback that is later incorporated into the final report.
  7. Provide a report to the client that sums up the audit and offers recommendations for next steps. These can vary from offering methods to narrow the image gap, to suggesting a different ideal image, and even to recommending further future testing before any action is testing.
At the Gallery One, the brand promise articulated over and over again, in writing and in person, is to "tell us if something's not right and we'll make it better." Over the course of a week, the hotel kept this promise. 
It's why I go there, year after year, again and again.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Photo of the Gallery One, a Doubletree Guest Suites by Hilton Hotel, by the author via Flickr (Creative Commons). No endorsement expressed or implied. No compensation was received for writing this post, nor is any compensation expected in the future.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Hard-To-Kill Myth Of The Self-Made Man

To read most business magazines is to think that success is born mostly of hard work, a great attitude plus a spark of creative genius. But the reality is that wealth, at least in the United States, has historically come from standing with one foot planted very firmly on others' backs.
You already know about the slave trade in the U.S. Did you know that slave traders covered men and women in iron chains, made them walk over raw terrain stretching not one mile, not ten, but hundreds? And sold them to other people who had little money themselves, but borrowed from the U.S. government to buy people and land, and lived off the loans and the labor to become extraordinarily rich. 
Here is a picture of a group of "Breaker Boys," circa early 1900s, by Lewis Hine, a U.S. government photographer paid to document how children lived and worked at that time. Working in the coal mines, the kids were paid to pick out impurities from coal, one at a time, using only their hands. 
Did you know that today, the average cost of childcare is about $12,000 per year, per child, in after-tax money?  And that is for one shift; full-time parents actually work the equivalent of three. Historically, it is mothers who have done all this work. So if you assume one female raising two children, that's $36,000 x 2 = $72,000 per year of labor she is giving away for free.
And don't forget prison labor. In a 2015 article called "American Slavery, Reinvented," The Atlantic asks, "How is it legal?" There are more than 2.2 million people, earning "pennies per hour, if anything at all," doing "mining, agriculture, and all manner of manufacturing from making military weapons to sewing garments for Victoria’s Secret." That call center you've reached? It might even be staffed by a prison laborer.
You already know that prison populations are disproportionately Black and Hispanic.
A few years ago, an article in Global Research, taken from El Diario-La Prensa (2008) noted that many well-known brands in more than three dozen states are legally allowed to trade in prison labor: "IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more."
All of this activity is 100% legal, or at least it was during the time that businessmen (men) earned handsome sums of wealth from it - sums that, of course, grew bigger and bigger and bigger, almost un-countable from the perspective of the average you and me, by the time 2016 is just about to roll around.
Maybe it's time we stopped telling ourselves the story that money grows from a magical innovation tree that lives in Caucasian mens' minds.
Maybe we need to stop living in a branded, intermediated reality where the "truth" is defined by movies and magazines. And start looking at what's happening on the ground.
Maybe then we can start making things a little better in America, in reality, for the real people who suffer from our popular myths.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Photo: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men" by Zennie Abraham via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

We Don't Do Branding On Shabbat

"The federal government does branding?" he said.

The congregant goes to this this synagogue we visit when we're on vacation in Florida.

He owns a billboard company and was president of an ad agency and is "retired, but retirement is boring."

"Yes, the federal government does branding," I said. "But not the kind of branding like they do in advertising."

The rabbi's wife interrupted us. "I brought you your gluten-free cake," she said with a smile, sailing the clear glass serving tray onto the table and eyeing his plate. "You can have it after you finish eating your bagel."

So obviously bagels have gluten and I turned to her, a guest in the house of worship she and her husband maintained, not sure if I should be a wiseass.

But she seemed very in on the joke and so I said, "consistent" and gave a little chuckle, as did she, but not the congregant who seemed a bit more focused on the fact that there was an entire chocolate cake sitting there, and apparently, just for him.

"Tell me what you do," the man said to me. 

I did not especially want to explain what I do, because it was Shabbos and frankly what I do is very hard to understand unless you're "in it." So I said, "well my day job is to communicate for the federal government," and then I got a little more specific about the where and the when and the how.

"If you want to know the problem with the government," he said - which is what most people seem to want to tell me, given an opportunity - "it's regulation. All of that is well and good, but the businessman can't get things done."

"Tell me about David Ogilvy," I said. "Did you know him?"

"Oh, Ogilvy." He nodded. "Ogilvy was an old man when I was in the business."

"Maybe you could interview him," said my husband. 

But I sensed that the man did not want to be interviewed, he had something to say and it was Shabbos and not time for business, so I would sit back and let him say it. 

Or rather, ask.

"How do you do branding?" he asked.

I was sort of surprised at this question, coming from an "ad man." Did he mean how do you brand the government or how do you do branding in general?

So I proceeded with where we had started the conversation, and after that discussed the second thing.

"Like I said, I don't do branding for the government like in the private sector, because we can't do propaganda."

He looked at me almost quizzically. 

I decided that perhaps regular people don't overthink this subject as much as I do, they aren't as sensitive because they're not in the Washington world, and so I'm talking on a level that seems somewhat ridiculous. Do you do branding or not? If so, how do you do it? That was the question.

"We do a name and a logo for authenticity," I said. "But we don't promote ourselves for the sake of self-promotion. We are very sensitive to that in D.C., because it isn't allowed."

He looked at me. There was a little piece of chocolate cake stuck on the right side of his lip. I decided I would never tell him that. 

"Sounds very frustrating," he said. 

There was a silence. 

We were silently in agreement. Not uncomfortable. 

This guy, whoever he was, completely understood my situation. 

"That is why I study branding on the side," I said in response. "I've written about it for fifteen years. Recently I started a business."

He looked at me. "Guess which one of those ladies over there is my wife."

We were seated at a long and skinny rectangle inside the shul and he was pointing to a circular table about twenty feet away from us, positioned toward the side. 

"We've been married for almost fifty years," he said. "We started dating in high school."

This was a more normal conversation for Shabbos and I didn't mind digressing from my business, and my plans, a bit. "That one," I said, pointing to a woman in black sunglasses, her blonde hair slicked back into an elegant bun. 

"Who?" said my husband. "The lady in the black shirt?"

"Yes, that's her," said the man proudly. "How did you know?"

I couldn't explain it. I knew.

"So back to the question," said the man. "How do you do branding?"

"It's pretty straightforward," I responded happily.

In my mind it felt like some kind of quiz, and the dean of Madison Avenue was quizzing me. It was a relief from the oppressive nature of shul. 

While it is true that I think about G-d quite a bit, I also find it quite suffocating to think about the many levels of guilt I should be feeling at any given moment. Synagogue always reminds me.

And branding is a welcome distraction. Like chess.

"First you determine what it is you have to sell," I said. "What makes it different, compelling, important to the user."

He nodded.

"Then you figure out who the competition is. How are other people selling the same essential thing?"

He nodded. "Go on."

"Then you have to determine who the audience is. Who will pay for this stuff?"


"...and what are the communication methods they use to take in information? How will you break through the information overload?"

He just kept nodding. Keep in mind, this is a man with a billboard company.

"Once you know what your product is and what makes it special, and you know who you're selling it to, and you know how they take in information, and you've figured out how you're going to get past all the other people fighting for their attention, you're in a position to reach them, and market your brand."

"All good." He smiled at me, kindly.

I really wanted to give him a business card.

It was Shabbos. 

You cannot. He wouldn't even want it. 

The rabbi approached my husband and I to wish us well on our journey. "It was such a pleasure to have you here," he said, with genuine warmth. "I hope that you will visit us again."

There are a few people in the world who radiate light. This rabbi, of this shul, is one of them.

"Thank you, rabbi," my husband said and I said, both more or less in unison.

Looking sadly at the exit.

Vacation almost over.

"I guess I have to go now," I said to the semi-retired advertising executive, still enjoying the gluten-free cake. "What was your name again?"

I had half in mind to contact him after Shabbos. Business development.

Wrong! Wrong!

He repeated his first name and bid us goodbye. 

That's G-d telling you that there are limits.

My husband held the door open for me.

I walked out, and I wanted to look back and look.

"Just keep walking," he said. "It's only another fifteen years."


Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own. Photo credit: Olaf Herfurth/Wikipedia.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

CMO Jargon: 5 (Maybe 6) Words For That Elevator Ride

1. How do you define leadership in one sentence?

Knowing what to do and doing it.
2. What Is CPE?
CPE refers to cost per engagement. It is a fancy way of saying, how much money did it cost me per person who clicked on my commercial Tweet, or Facebook ad, etc.
3. What is crowdsourcing in terms of being able to define “crowdsourcing services” in a sales pitch?
It means getting many people to contribute ideas or services for free. It’s like saying that you know how to popularize a brand on social media to such an extent that people would give away their time and expertise to be part of it.
4. What is gamification?
Gamification is when you insert the characteristics of games into marketing activities.
  • Examples:
  • Points
  • Multiplayer competition
  • Virtual simulation
  • Multiple levels (e.g. “expert”)
  • Avatars
  • Gamer names
The converse is when you insert elements of marketing into a game, such as:
  • Use of a celebrity brand (e.g. the Kardashians’ games)
  • Sponsorship by a brand (e.g. Disney games)
  • Product placement (like using a popular brand of car in an action game).
5. What is the difference between business analytics and data science?
Business analytics is the study of data you collect in order to optimize your company’s performance. It is applied research and is used in everything from business process optimization to marketing.
Data science is basic research and consists of the study of what data is in the first place, how it interrelates with other data, and how it can be analyzed reliably.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.; all opinions are the author’s own. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand. To contact her regarding a potential client engagement, request a speaking appearance, or site sponsorship, click here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Unbearable Lightness of Freedom

I have decided to live my life. Really live it. At the ripe old age of 44.

Where was I before? I think I was sleeping.

“The universe will show you the way you need to go,” said a friend to me many years ago.

And it is true. The universe shows the way, and it blocks the way, and the whole time you think that it’s you.

But maybe I wouldn’t hear it.

For how many times did I bang my head against the wall?

I thought there was something wrong with me, when I failed at things I was supposed to master.

To understand, understand that I grew up with the Holocaust as though it were a sister.

Try to visualize this: A respected, well-educated woman, hauled into the town square and raped before the whole town, not once but in an orgy, not by a few lone wolves but by a mass of recruited participants, who included the priests; not in a single nightmare of a night but over the course of many.

That happened, and I only found out this year because somebody wrote a scholarly article about it and my cousin sent it to me on Facebook. As it turns out my Zayde was on the burial committee for the Jews who were bludgeoned with shovels and massacred in a field not far away and not long afterward.

The legacy of years of destruction like that was physical, obviously, for the survivors. It was emotional as well – I can tell you that for my father’s parents (may they rest in peace), there was no such thing as discussing that time until they neared their very end. It was spiritual, because we could never look at things quite the same way again. Some of us couldn’t even look at G-d.

It was generational. My father inherited something, not just because he was born a couple of years after the war had ended but because he lived with the aftermath all his life. He learned from my Zayde never to speak in a direct manner, never to say anything unless it needed to be said, and yes, that the authorities were dangerous and that one must be prepared to live a whole lifetime of lives in secret. Even to lie.

Because that is what Zayde did in the war, he hid the freezing skeletal Jews under the horseshit in the hay, and that is how he kept them alive when the officers passed. “Nobody’s here.”

We had been beaten and exposed and violated again and again inside the Holocaust, and after it we all decided to move on.

But we didn’t lose the shame.


Jews – that is, the majority of us, not the few who insisted on the Old World ways - learned to be more American than American, much Whiter than White, and much more Christian-friendly than any Christian.

We would do anything to escape being identified as one of them. We would not be identified as the past, as victims, as people so weak and helpless they could very easily be dragged from their living rooms and prayer halls and the coffee shop down the street. Stripped and raped and almost lifeless, while everybody took a turn.

It is a lifetime of pain and it is in my skin, and I dealt with it however I did. But fundamentally, at the bottom of things it is fair to say that I denied myself an existence.

Everything, everything we did as Jews and as people who survived from the survivors was to fight and fight and fight our way forward and upward in this world. We would not be defined by the past. We would be creative of the future, a better future. “Never again!”

But in the process of that fighting something was sacrificed, was lost.

The ability to have a normal childhood, normal development, an arc of identity not tied to all the others who were kicked into the pit, spat upon and generally forgotten.

I am Rip Van Winkle, the old woman in the shoe, stepping out into the sunlight the first time. 
It looks good. It feels so warm on my shoulders.

I love you so much, Zayde. I know you are watching me now.

Thank you for giving me your silent blessing from above.

Just like any ordinary person I might pass on the street, I am endowed with the right to be an ordinary person.

The weight – it is removed.

I now pronounce myself free to live.


All opinions my own. 

Tortured By Your Gift

You may think brand people are a dime a dozen. But I would gladly pay that dime for a moment of their singular value.
Which is this: A brand-minded person can tell you what it is about you, or your product, or your company that sells.
It is shocking to me that people do not know this kind of thing about themselves. After all, don't we spend all of our time pretty much in our own heads? Haven't we grown up immersed in our own companionship?
But settling on an elevator speech - which is to say, developing and implementing a brand strategy - is the single most difficult challenge you will ever face in your life.
Which is why so many of us put it off. I put it off. I don't really like even thinking about it.
But I do think about it, and when I look at you I can tell in less than five seconds who you are and what you are good at. Your gift, what it is you should be doing, in the limited time you have left on this planet.
Don't think for a minute it's an easy thing. Your gift is always difficult. Because life on this Earth equals suffering, not natural joy. And you have a certain task to do to ameliorate it.
For you to do that, somebody had to give you the tools. These are the talents in your brain, your heart and your hands. You already have the equipment.
It's nice to say this as theory, but most of us don't want to think this way. Confronted by talk like this, we shy away - no, we run away - from such "nonsense."
We tell ourselves: "A task? Maybe for others. Not me: I am going to choose my own life."
Of course it feels better to think it's all up to us. Who would want to consider the unpleasant thought that we've all got a job to perform, if you will. A task we must do whether we like it or not.
(Usually when you're doing your life's work, you're happy. But leave that aside for now.)
Even if we can accept the idea of a life's mission, and even if we can relate this idea to a brand, there are many obstacles that tend to confuse us:
  • Social conditioning
  • Parental expectations
  • Trauma
  • Financial obligations
  • Too many choices
The list goes on and on.
But the task you have to do is your brand. Your real brand. The authentic you. 
Know it or be ignorant. Believe it or rage.
The truth is, the image you will be happiest projecting, the one that will give you the most meaningful life imaginable, is the one that fits the job that you were made for.
It is your gift.
The sooner you come to terms with it, and stop worrying that you should be someone else with a different set of talents, the happier your life will be.
Even if you never "make it" in terms that Fortune would understand.
Even if your resume has lots of other words, besides "CEO."
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Rule #1

It is the only rule that matters: You are the brand. You are always the brand.
Whether you work for yourself, or somebody else, or you don’t work at all.
Therefore, you should do the things that feel right for you. And you should not do things that feel wrong. No matter what anybody tells you.
Make your own way in life. There is only one you.
Think of it this way: All of us, no matter who we are, lose everything eventually. Money, health, looks, loved ones, and yes, life itself.
But there is one thing that cannot be lost: Our legacy. The impact of our actions on others.
No matter what you think, no matter what anyone has told you in the past, nobody else on the Planet Earth can control the choices you make in your life.
So remember: Your personal brand is your personal choice.
You have the right to seize it.
Every minute, of every second, of every day.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

You Don't Need To Be A Ruthless Jerk - Do You?

A colleague and I had disagreed many times, but on this point we both nodded: Most executives are ruthless.
Statistics can't validate personal observations. But here is some data:
  • A 2015 survey of consumer trust levels worldwide by the public relations firm Edelman found that "the number of trusting countries fell to the lowest level ever recorded."
  • A 2015 study, "You Scratch His Back, He Scratches Mine and I'll Scratch Yours," out of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management (reported in ScienceDaily) found that "although reciprocity fosters trust and cooperation it can also create an interlocked circle of deception." The real-world example: Executives who sit on each other's boards and overpay each other - regardless of the impact on shareholders.
  • A 2015 survey by the U.S. government of all federal employees found that only 1 out of 2 employees believe "my organization's senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity." Just 61% agreed "I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal." 
  • A 2013 survey by the Ethics Resource Center showing that 41% of employees had seen "unethical or illegal misconduct on the job." 
  • A 2012 survey of U.S. and U.K. financial professionals by Labaton Sucharow LLP revealed that 24% of those surveyed believed that "the rules may have to be broken in order to be successful" and 26% had "observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace." Additionally, "16% of respondents, would commit a crime–insider trading–if they could get away with it." 
Bringing my organizational development training to the discussion, I guessed as usual that seemingly dysfunctional behavior was actually functional: 
  • "Moral" types are difficult for the organization to control, because they serve the organization only second to their personal sense of what is right and wrong.
  • Executives not predominantly driven by morality at work are easier to direct, because they prioritize the organization's goals over their personal principles.  
It should be noted, of course, that morality differs for every individual. So having an executive driven by their personal beliefs may actually create more problems than one thinks. Similarly, having more malleable executives may create more harmony in the workforce because they are not driven to live up to (or impose) any ideals of right or wrong on others.
Nevertheless, amorality at work is dangerous. Lacking a reliable barometer for right and wrong, it is theoretically possible for someone to try to get away with just about anything. And if the leaders of the organization have zero universal, significant, unselfish principles or values to guide them, the potential harm to employees, stakeholders and the community is incalculable.
Some may argue that contemporary trends in leadership serve to counter the tendency to amorality. For in today's business environment - where success depends on eliciting brain-power and heart-feeling from employees - it has become conventional to emphasize the carrot and not the stick.
But it can also be argued that rampant economic insecurity leads professionals to work, simply, for whoever will pay them and pay them the most. And in a system where the worker is bound by financial need to an employer, that individual must play by the employer's rules or face unemployment.
Normally this means that you will get hired, and you will be retained, if you serve your bosses without question and you serve them well. You are paid to honor the bureaucracy just as much as you're paid to contribute your particular talents to it.
The easy answer is to tell individuals to fight this. "Only you control your own behavior," is the pop psychology mantra, and this is true. But it is too easy to ask each person to fight what is essentially a larger, social, institutional, often impenetrable reality. The facts are the facts: People must eat and they must feed their families.
The moral challenge of success, therefore, is not only or even predominantly for the individual employee. It is primarily a demand on those at the very top of the organization. It is their job to stop perpetuating a system in which career growth requires blind obedience to corporate goals. "There are some things we just don't do," should be the credo. 
In short, live by real values - don't just pay lip service to "the brand."
If it doesn't make rational sense to be moral in a money economy, consider this. A lot of people think that there exists a higher power. Certainly it's hard to explain why some CEOs succeed despite doing everything stupidly, and others fall on their asses despite outstanding skills, extensive education and a track record that puts most of the world to shame.
Life is full of illusions, and in the short term it may seem like expedience is the way - rationality - the controlled organization run by "killers."
But the long view is what counts.
From the perspective of Heaven - as well as employees - corporate values are a winning strategy.
Create them intelligently and sincerely. Hire people who are them. Put them on your emails. Print them on your business cards.
Hold an awards ceremony, every year, to recognize the good people you've hired.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand.  The opinions expressed are her own. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Consumer Trends 2016: Love & Sex In Augmented Reality

Think of 2015 as the year technology took us all back to the figurative womb.
For one thing, parent-style health-minders such as Fitbit exploded in popularity: In June 2015, cited research showing that it outstripped Apple Watch in sales the previous month. For another, creative-mom crafts center Etsy got so popular that it rolled out a program to match its craftspeople with small manufacturers to fulfill volume orders. And the Tile fulfilled the vision of parents-to-the rescue, helping many of us find lost wallets, phone and keys. What started as a small crowdfunded venture has morphed into a second-generation, mainstream product you can get in "regular" stores as well as online.
Next year is going to be different: 2016 is the year tech hits puberty.  Much like in the movie Ex Machina, the focus is going to be on automation that enables intimacy on demand:
  • All-purpose virtual fantasy worlds: These environments have existed for years but will hit their stride in 2016, allowing users to participate in the sexual experience of their choice without actually having to be present. Utherverse, for example, is a massive multiplayer online game oriented to fantasy fulfillment of all kinds, but mostly sexual. As of 2014, it had 50 million members - 53% of them female - in a million "personal worlds." All of them are virtually liberated, "free to do what you want, without the constraints of everyday life," reports IB Times.
  • Holographic porn: Google Glass didn't enjoy the success many expected, but it set the stage for a product that lets users engage in experiences ranging gaming to simulated sex as easily as putting on the headset. With a product widely acknowledged for its sophisticationOculus Rift began as crowdfunded venture on Kickstarter, hoping for $250,000 and raising $2 million - and is now owned by Facebook. Ostensibly for gaming, there are plans afoot to offer virtual porn by subscription when the consumer headsets hit the market in early 2016. As the market for virtual sex grows, so too will the appetite for sex with full-body robots: A study released in October 2015 by futurist Dr. Ian Pierson hypothesized that such simulations will be the norm by 2050.
It isn't all sex - there's emotional intimacy, and community, too:
  • Computer-powered conversations: Look for computers that interact with you (like in the movie Her), not just telling you the weather but understanding what you're saying and responding. As MIT Technology Review reports, Chinese Internet company Baidu has designed "deep-learning" software that understands language better than people do.
  • Recreating the village: Virtual Harlem began as a "learning lab" experiment in the digital humanities aimed at recreating the 1920s version of the neighborhood. Today, it has evolved into a vision of "a vibrant virtual world populated with the avatars of real people...interacting with each other." We will see more and more examples of experience enactment through immersive worlds.
The medical applications of fantasy are numerous:
As alternate worlds develop, we will see a blurring of the line, or even no line, between environments normally considered socially taboo and those considered ordinary. For example, when Utherverse members aren't having sex or smoking marijuana with other avatars, they can indulge in home decoration or even study up for a better career.
The trend toward "technology for intimacy" reverses a direction that's picked up steam over the past ten years or so. This is the use of technology to steal another person's personal space, or even their life, from a distance.
The most obvious example, of course, is drone killing. As their operators zoom in on identified targets for death, the sensation has been described as that of "playing a video game."
Another example is photographing or videotaping people without their knowledge, during intimate relations and even sexual assaults. A third, seemingly more benign yet psychologically invasive, is the administration of personality-based, in-depth screening tests for everything from recruitment to online dating.
As more and more realistic immersive worlds become available, some profess concern at the potential for harm. They see human relationships suffering as virtual interaction gives users so much control that they lose the motivation to deal with people.
But it is possible to see things another way. Virtual sex, for example, satisfies real needs that might otherwise be expressed in unhealthy - even criminal - ways. Virtual conversations relieve loneliness that could otherwise descend into clinical depression. Virtual therapy promotes management and even recovery from disabling conditions. And virtual education brings high-level skills to those who don't have the money or the means to gather in a physical place of learning.
Bottom line: The future is more and more virtual. And it's easy to find the diversity and intensity of human fantasy expressed there unnerving. But we could look at it another way: safe, healthy, healing and promoting a better real-world existence offline.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of All Things Brand.  The opinions expressed are her own. 

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