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Showing posts from March, 2015

10 Leadership Lessons From "The Walking Dead" Season 5 Finale

TWD offers a harsh view of the world. It is not, as most people think, about preparing to survive an imagined future apocalypse. It is a morality tale about navigating life as it is RIGHT NOW.
It is a show that knows its own significance. 
* Takes itself as an object to be discussed -- "The Talking Dead" aftershow.
* Offers platforms for strangers to experience the show together, on Twitter and through the show's "two-screen experience" on TheWalkingDead.com.
* Sells "the experience" to consumers  through a wide variety of commercial products.
People talk about TWD anyway. On social media and off. It is widely parodied and copied.
It has become an important social text.
Why?
Among many other things it offers us a way to talk about leadership. 
There is a clear model here of right and wrong, epitomized by the main character Rick, a sheriff by training and he plays this type of character in the show. 
The top 10 aspects of Rick's leadership style:
1. He leads …

Why We Love To Hate "Public Affairs"

Over the past eleven years, I've worked in a communications capacity for five federal agencies. Chaired a best practice group for federal communicators across the government. And interacted with colleagues on task forces, working groups and listservs.

They're just as smart and capable as their private-sector counterparts.

I've talked with many of them personally, too. And I'm here to tell you, with rare exception, they all want to tell the whole story to the public. Unvarnished, unfettered, straightforward. Using the newest technologies and at the lowest cost.

So why does "Public Affairs" have such a bad reputation?

For one thing, the role of this office is poorly understood, even among many within the federal government. Public Affairs is not supposed to "make the government look good" - that is propaganda, and propaganda is not a legitimate use of appropriated funds.

Most people understand that the office is charged with the transmission of information…

What It's Like To Live With A Writer

When I was in college I wrote a short essay about a painful experience at our Sabbath table at home.
My father reacted with such grief. I remember him picking me up one day in the city. His right hand gripped the steering wheel tightly, almost involuntarily. 
My mother sat next to him, explaining softly in soft tones: I had betrayed the family and our religion. I had shamed us.
I don't remember very many things from my life, unfortunately. But I do remember my reaction: angry, stony, ice-cold.
Maybe you think it was an odd reaction, but the truth is I did not care about my father's feelings. Nor my mother's attempt to explain. Frankly I had absolutely zero worry that others might look down on my for sharing such a personal thing.
Even then, I trusted the world to be a fair and objective audience. All I needed to do was put the words in front of them. 
I have been married for nearly 25 years now. We've raised two kids. 
It has been hard on my family to live with a writer.

My hu…

"Race Together": Flawed, But Brilliant

Brand mastery, like leadership, means taking a stand and sticking with it. 
Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of Starbucks, has taken such a stand with his new "Race Together" campaign. 
Even though it has generated much controversy.
Even though experts in the branding community have slammed it.
With his insistence on following a singular vision that is true to the brand -- not politics, not popularity contests and not opinion polls -- Schultz shows once again that he is the definition of a brand master. 
What people don't understand, but should, is that Starbucks is a vision of community.
It is Schultz's world to build. A world of conscious capitalism. 
In this world, as in every well-organized system of production, profits come first - they have to. 
But the relationships among people dominate the conversation always.
From Schultz's point of view, when the gulf in our community is so great that people can no longer talk with one another, the brand is in danger.
If he m…

"Why Do You Care?" The Walking Dead S6 E5

TWD characters Rick and Jessie (screenshot here from an earlier episode) have electric chemistry. He is the sheriff of Alexandria. Her husband is beating the crap out of her. And the whole town knows it.
Yet when he asked her to let him help, she responded: "Why do you care?"
This question, to me, is more than just an exchange. It is the entire premise of the show.
Why do you care?
Rick asked this of Carol previously.
She said, my husband beat me, too. So you know why.
She said, I know why you care. I see the way you talk to her.
Why do you care?
In the world of TWD, you actually have to ask that question.
Because it's not possible that you would care organically.
It is a generational comment, the question Xers ask.
Why do you care? 
The assumption being: Caring is normally not possible, absent self-interest. 
And even if you have a reason to care - I am still suspicious.
A powerful question. A loaded question. One that tells us a lot about the person (and the reference group/generati…

What The Public Wants From A Government Twitter Account

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the average citizen feels like they don't know what the hell is going on in Washington.
I feel fairly confident in drawing this conclusion because every time, or nearly every time I talk to someone outside the Beltway they say something like this to me:
"Well I don't know what the hell is going on over there in Washington, maybe you can explain it to me."
And most of the time when I talk to people inside the Beltway, who don't work in my agency, my office, or my division I hear the same thing, well sorta:
"What exactly do you guys do over there?"
And then we start talking and...MEGO (my eyes glazeth over).
It's not like we government people don't try to explain. We do. But it's hard to do, and when we try to say it simply while also balancing the things we can and can't say, the result is usually less than compelling.
But the truth is that government work is fascinating, as we employees find o…

A personal comment on analytics.usa.gov - content and process

It is an amazing achievement that we have this now. We can see which websites are popular - needed and useful - and which aren't. 
Unfortunately the headline on Drudge was: "Obama Admin Tracking Visitors To Government Websites." It links to NextGov, headline: "New Dashboard Tracks Which Federal Sites You're On, And How You Got There."
I think the problem here is twofold:
* Government was lost in congratulating itself rather than thinking about/being sensitive to how the public perceives (mistrusts) government
* The visual that went with the NextGov article (which was based on the 3/19 White House blog post) didn't convey the intended message. The intention was to show a data-driven improvement in customer service. But the unintended consequence, given the context, was to make it look like the government is invading people's privacy with Orwellian-style monitoring.
This comment is NOT to rain on the parade at all. It is to suggest a way to improve governm…

What Is So Shocking...

Have you ever noticed that some people tend to find things "shocking?"
* That outfit - "shocking."
* That opinion - "shocking."
* The way things went at that (insert occasion) - "shocking, shocking, indeed!"
And yet there are others who never seem shocked at all. No matter what happens, no matter what you throw at them. Always calm, cool and collected.
What is the difference between the two?
In my experience, the "shockable" types tend to fall into one or more of these categories:
- Easily angered - Insecure  - Dramatic - Passionate about their "cause" - Power-oriented - Highly engaged - Intuitive, sensitive - Traditional values - Literal, black-and-white thinking style  - Change-averse
Super-calm types, on the other hand, tend toward any or all of the following characteristics:
- Tolerant - Diplomatic - Disengaged - Laid-back - Politically savvy - Emotionally intelligent - Astute observer - Analytical, rational - Highly educated - Experienced, mature
U…

On The Use of Memes In Government Communication

We begin with the assumption that government communication should be as good or better than private-sector communication, for three reasons:
     - The public relies on the government as a trustworthy source of information
     - Many are misinformed or under-informed about what the government does and the services it offers
     - Trust in the government by the public is extraordinarily low
This is not only a bad situation, it is a dangerous one. 
From that perspective, using the communication tools that are popular among ordinary citizens has the capacity to build trust. Whereas using highfalutin language - the equivalent of standing on a soapbox and preaching -builds mistrust.
Memes are a popular way to communicate in the age of social media. However, there are a couple of concerns that government rightfully has about them. This article aims to address them.
Issue #1: Copyright 
A meme is a derivative work based on an original piece of art. At issue is whether the meme is a form of free sp…

Steal This Idea - "The Closet"

So I have this idea but am not gonna do it. Steal it and make some dough.
Basically - it's a brand franchise that lets people rent fashionable clothes on a membership basis. 
You pay your monthly fee, go to "The Closet," pick out your clothes, dry clean and return them.
A way to look good without investing in designer price tags.
Possibly part of a larger franchise - fitness club, quick healthy food, yoga and meditation, plus the clothes.
__ All opinions my own. Photo of me by Rebecca Blumenthal.

The Things We Don't Blog About

There is an old saying: “Those who know don’t tell, and those who tell, don’t know.”





We don’t hear honest stories enough but if we did I think that could be a catalyst for real change.

These are the things we should blog about more, not only because we need to vent and get support but also it’s the personal stories that reflect social reality.

The personal is political.The personal is economic.The personal is cultural.
The personal can change society for the better.

What happens when we proliferate the opposite? All the supposedly "authentic" and "unbiased" interviews, case studies, market research, Facebook posts, Tweets and blogs that are only there to sell.

Typically they have no disclaimer at all, because you're just supposed to know that they're promotional.

Truth be told, I have come to expect it but also feel a little angry trying to figure out the credentials of every piece of information out there. I fully understand that "product placement"…

"The Pie Gets Bigger When You Share"

I always think we are better off when we share. I have never thought it possible to do otherwise and survive.
What should we share? Our feelings, especially. Our truthful beliefs. Our authentic presence in the moment.
What should we share? Our information, if we can. What is useful to others. The tide that lifts all ships.
What should we share? Our creativity. Wthe best of ourselves, our gifts.
Why don't we share more? Because we have learned not to trust one another. Because we think there is only one pie. And that the pie gets smaller the more guests you have at the table.
The opposite is true. The more you share, the more the pie expands.
A very wise Chief of Staff told me this once, before I truly understood the importance of the statement. Like with all true statements, it remains a principle for life.
We aren't happy unless we share. ___
All opinions my own.

The Language Of The People

According to a new Gallup poll, Americans believe that government is the #1 problem in America today.
Not jobs.
Not wars.
Think about this staggering accusation.
Now think about all the things we depend on the government for. Jobs that get done, reliably, by people who actually do care.
Is it possible that people hate on government because we don't communicate well?
I think so. I think it's very likely.
We may blame screwups but even screwups can be explained in honest simple terms. And they should have reasonable consequences.
Government should speak in the language of the people. 
Not at them, not around them.
Say it plain and clear and in terms that average people understand and appreciate. 
It is such a basic principle. It is not rocket science.
We ought to keep it in mind.
___ All opinions my own. Photo by me.

"The Walking Dead" As A Commentary On Community

You misunderstand "The Walking Dead" if you think it's about zombies. It's about the question of whether community is possible.
You won't even think the premise of the question is valid unless you are of the mindset to ask it. I personally believe the show is aimed at Gen Xers, who do ask.
We are not like Boomers, or Millennials at all. I once read that they are closer to one another than to us. That is true.
To oversimplify, Boomers and Millennials have this idea that "we all should get along." We should try to change the world, no doubt -- but at the end of the day, diplomacy and group belonging come first.
Gen Xers are different. We don't believe people naturally get along -- not at all. We are very tribal; we have a select, small group of family and friends that we carry through your our lives, and that's it. 
"The Walking Dead" speaks to the deepest fear of the Xer. That their most beloved ones will be taken away. Leaving them (us) utt…

The Epiphany - Brand Exists ONLY In Interaction

I get it. I finally, finally get it. Brand does not live in the artifacts of the brand. The symbols. Brand does not live in the brain of the consumer. Nor in his or her heart. The brand does live in the human interactions that surround it. We have been thinking the wrong way for so many years. We've been thinking that the brand was somehow magically built by television commercials, by "Mad Men." But this is not true. It was the relationships around the commercials that built brands. It was not desire that created consumerism. Rather, it was the inculcation of desire as a social activity. We've been thrown by the glamour of the billboards. We've been taken by the mirage of the brand-makers themselves. That is to say, they wanted us to believe that they had some magical power to bestow great brands upon us, and to pay them accordingly.  But this is not the case. The greatest brand-makers in the world don't live on Madison Avneue at all. They live somewhere else. They ar…