It's Everywhere

Branding is an inescapable part of our lives.

A Critical Skill

Professional presentation is important to master regardless of one's profession.


It begins with a sense of inner joy at recognizing and sharing who we are.


It's important to recognize what others see and value in us.


When we successfully match our inner selves with the realities and demands of the outside world, the result is both profitable and joyful.

"Feds," A Reality Show - Here's The Pitch

I know you must be thinking that my idea involves comedy. Since we normally see headlines that may as well shout: "Federal workers are bumbling fools."

But I don't mean this as comedy at all. And anyway, we're not.

What we are, on the whole, is:
  • Highly skilled
  • Passionate about helping other people
  • Caught in a system that does not always achieve its highest goals or intended ends
What I'd like to see is a reality show of the "interventionist" kind. Where the "makeover expert" - an organizational development type, most likely - has a chance to take total control for a week.

This person:
  • Is introduced to the agency and its mission.
  • Joins a small team - let's say, a unit or working group - with a task.
  • Learns from them about their preferred way of getting it done, their culture and processes.
  • --Normally, expresses shock that the processes are so inefficient.--
  • Introduces his or her "expert" approach and is given total control of the group for a week.
  • After that week, we come back in 2-3 months and find out how the unit is faring.
I think this show would be a huge, huge hit. Because reality shows like this are a hit. And the public loves federal workers - even as they distrust the government itself. They are endlessly curious about the "real" goings-on in Washington, and value any opportunity to peek behind the curtain.

More than that, it's a common source of frustration that D.C. suffers from gridlock. A show like this, even though it would be apolitical in the strict sense, would be a chance to discover some of the factors that contribute to government inertia. To to make a real, positive difference in shaking that up. 

Because, obviously, it's well-known that when you put the microscope to a socially aware being, the being itself changes. That is true whether you're talking about tracking someone's eating habits and then weighing them [The Biggest Loser], or following a group as it battles to survive in the wild [Survivor]. 

That's social media. That's digital engagement - where you must answer others who "see" you. 

That's the premise of transparency: When we see ourselves, we are forced to change and grow.

I hope a TV network decides to do a show like this, and films a range of federal agencies in action. The public would thrill to see it. Federal employees would revel in some well-deserved limelight. And all of us would benefit from watching the interactions then hearing an impartial expert's view from a grounded, real-world setting. 

Everybody wins when the operations of government are optimized.


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 by Bryan Jones via Flickr.

15 Reasons To Watch CNBC's "The Profit"

This show, hosted by investor/business turnaround expert Marcus Lemonis, is one of the few that really does give you something for nothing: priceless advice.
A synopsis doesn't even come close to doing it justice. Because what you learn from actually watching the show, and its various interactions, is that business theory isn't just an abstraction - it works.
It's education for business and for life. In that vein here are 15 juicy takeaways from tonight's rerun episodes ("Courage B." and "Planet Popcorn"):
1. No matter how profitable the concept, if your business partner demonstrates a lack of integrity, walk away. But not before you call them on it.
2. Relationships have to work for the business to work. Never allow someone else to mistreat you, at work or anywhere. Don't treat your employees as your friends because you need a big power trip. 
3. Get yourself under control. Don't yell at people. Don't condescend to them. And keep your ego in check, especially the control freak in you - it could cost you everything.
4. Most people have too limited a view of their own potential. Or, on the flipside, they fail to market themselves properly because they're convinced that their brilliance "sells itself."
5. Narrow your product line - the 80/20 rule. Find your niche. It's generally "the thing people always ask for but which is getting a little boring."
6. When you need an expert, bring in an expert. 
7. Management controls are unsexy but critical. If you're leaving cash lying on the floor, literally, stop it.
8. A small boost in quality can mean a huge boost in sales because you have that "premium" image.
9. Packaging, packaging, packaging, packaging. For example, fewer items and more variations. For another, more sturdy packaging (canisters) brings in more money than plastic bags and it isn't much more expensive.
10. Focus on margins more than revenue.
11. Do your research before you walk into the room. Not only does this educate you, but you have a competitive edge with a cocky prospect. For example, try buying their domain name before you start talking.
12. Emotional intelligence is your secret weapon. For instance, ask questions again and again until you drive to the point you're trying to make. When you ask a question, listen to the answer. Solicit opinions from those who are quieter, marginalized, scared.
13. The brand matters, but only insofar as it helps build a profitable business. And the purpose of the brand is to tap into the customer's wishes effectively, not only to disseminate your personal vision. It's where your talent meets their need that you strike gold.
14. "Greed is good" - to an extent - because it focuses you on a common goal. 
15. People will respect you if you know what you're talking about, are willing to invest in your own ideas, and dress as though you take yourself seriously. It's the combination of the three that works, not any one in isolation.
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 via CNBC

Here's Why Most Leaders Suck, But You Won't

This is a a child whose name I don't know. In North Darfur, greeting the United Nations, a couple of years ago. Looking at her, I hate my spoiled ways. Can't live without wifi for half an hour. 

But then I think about the leaders I've worked for, who are trying to help her. And I think, maybe I can redeem myself just a little bit by sharing their qualities with you. Because I've imitated them, consciously and unconsciously, and they work, though my life and challenges aren't remotely as significant.
Although to be honest there are more frustrations than victories, and I've had to learn to live with that.
You may be thinking you're fairly powerless to do anything of real significance "out there." It's true - most people easily fall into survival mode, are cynical, take the pessimistic view because then they'll never be wrong. They haven't seen great leadership in action.
You are not powerless, though. You have all of the qualities I'm about to list here. And you've probably used them all in some way, in your personal life. You just need someone to tell you that you can use them, at least in some measure, professionally.
So here goes - a short list of effective leadership techniques for making a difference - that anyone can adopt in their own way:
#1: Believe it 
This part is sort of basic, but it needs to be said. You have to actually envision the positive difference you want to make. I asked a rabbi the other day if the Jewish concept of messiah referred to a historical age or an actual person. He said that there will indeed be a person who will save the entire world from destruction, ushering in an era of peace for all. He believes it and I believe it. Without belief you can't do anything.
#2: Stick with it
The year 2014 has been horrible for me and a lot of other people I know. It's been challenging to maintain my belief in anything. I've seen terrible suffering that made me wonder how G-d could indeed be good. I've made stupid and obvious misjudgments that made me question whether my optimism and idealism is the result of intelligence or infinite immaturity. I've been hit with more than one natural plague - try bedbugs! - which made me reconsider whether it's smart to spend my time thinking great thoughts rather than throwing every possible item in my home into a hot dryer for at least two hours a day. 
And then I look back on this year and I think about the many concrete victories that I cannot share with you, I can tell you that they are very satisfying. The ones that mean the most to me have to do with people, with seeing that light come on in their eyes and knowing that they will carry a torch forward somewhere else and I will never know about it.
#3: Gather powerful supporters
There is no question that the most effective leaders have financial, political and cultural backing from people of influence. Nobody lives on an island, and you can have the best ideas in the world, but it really does take an army of people to implement positive change effectively.
I have observed that people who have this particular skill are able to defer to the supporter and make the vision seem like the supporter's idea, when in fact it is the leader's ideas being promoted.
It's truly brilliant to kind of merge yourself with somebody else who has deep pockets and whose Rolodex holds the phone numbers of people who can make the difference between your vision being adopted and totally ignored or dismissed as insanity.
#4: Communicate frequently and visually
It never ceases to amaze me that people still dismiss the importance of communication in achieving any kind of positive change. Listen: I didn't make this skill up because I enjoy doing it, I am telling you to "own it" because it works.
In two decades, and having executed it well and imperfectly, and having watched others own it and become handsomely rich and powerful as a result, I am urging you to either communicate on your own or get some help doing it. It is not only worth every penny, but the return on your investment is far greater than whatever you will pay.
Communication of course is not limited to formal campaigns, but includes everyday verbal communication and emails, much of which we tend to ignore because we think it isn't "fancy" or "formal."
#5: Learn to compromise
We live in the real world with real people. Human beings are funny, they are flawed, they don't live a black-and-white existence that's either perfect or totally flawed. I was talking to my husband about the rabbi who was accused of voyeurism in the ritual bath: Are all his good deeds nullified because of this one terrible thing? I don't think so. Those deeds will live forever, but the bad deeds he has done can't be ignored either. 
In the same way, there are going to be be inefficient or unhelpful people, structures, or traditions in the workplace that prevent you from making change happen easily and quickly. Don't worry about it. That's the world we live in.
You just do the best you can.
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 by the United Nations via Flickr.

To Make Your Brand Beautiful, Eliminate Bias

"It turns out members of the upper-class are more dishonest, corrupt, deceitful, and unethical than their lower-class counterparts," wrote Charles Faraone the other day, summarizing a 2012 study.
Put less dramatically, the higher you go the more likely you are to break the rules. A counter-intuitive finding, as most people think that poor people are more desperate and therefore more "naturally" predisposed to being criminals.
Educated people are fortunate. They are forced to read academic texts. Their brains are molded such that there is at least a token respectful distance between the imperative to act, and the act of making a decision.
Most of us are not educated, even if we've gone to school, because really good teachers are rare and few people have the time and space to really study.
We're thrown out there into the waters of business, and we do the best we can to swim. Today, that means we create or join an entity that lives or dies on its brand.
Economic need has a positive side. We learn to draw quick, "good enough" conclusions quickly. This is a survival skill; without it, we would simply die in the competition.
But as a long-term proposition, "gut feel" just doesn't work. To drive a business into the future requires rationality as well as emotional intelligence. Ruthless, continuous reflection.
And your strategy has to be objective. That is to say, it cannot suffer from the unconscious biases you and your peers bring to the table. It cannot be the product of an article in Fast Company, one person's impenetrable "genius," or an unquestionable canon that doesn't hold up to common sense in the daylight.
Nowadays, it is fashionable to dismiss traditional notions of strategy. We celebrate a "nimble," "adaptive," "flexible" and "organic" approach.
But you cannot dispose of strategy. You run an organization of people. They must understand how you plan to get from Point A to Point B. So that they can support you, and do it on their own.
Bias, however unconscious, and bad or unskilled strategy always go together. You can tell in about 5 seconds, because the ordinary person can't explain what it is their company does, how they do it, or why.
In a good place, however, the strategy fits neatly on a wallet card. (I've seen it!) The thinking is smart, and it's seamless, and it's visible wherever you go.
Smart strategy, neatly executed, with impressive results.
That is how you turn a business into a beautiful brand.
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:
 via Flickr.

Pop Culture & the Making of an Alleged Rabbi-Voyeur

Remember that Duran Duran music video, “Girls on Film?”

I thought of it today when I found out that local rabbi Barry Freundel was accused of wiring his synagogue’s mikvah (ritual bath) as a continuous, live-streaming peepshow.

Actually the first time I heard, I didn’t understand what the crime was.

Because it would never even occur to me that a widely respected religious figure would ever even think of violating his congregants in such an indiscriminate yet intimate way.

The truth is I still cannot understand. In a world literally soaked in porn, couldn’t he find an easier way to get his X-rated fix?

But there was something more deliberate here, if the accusations are true. It's about victimizing people who trust you. And that is what makes me, frankly, want to puke when I think about this.

It is not only men who are voyeurs. Lena Dunham is one, too. Yet - perhaps because she is a female, and typically would be the target of same - her version is unusual, compelling, highly rewarded and recognized.

To me, it doesn't work. In Girls, she shoves women’s (and men's) nude bodies in our faces, for no other reason than that they are there.

It's offensive. Their most intimate moments - her most personal, sexual emotions and expressions - are splayed out for us as if revealing something artistic.

But really, it's just for the meaninglessness of it. That's all.

Lars von Trier does not hate women, although from Nymphomaniac - a movie almost entirely about peeping in on a woman's deviant sex life - you might conclude the opposite is true.

After all, we find the heroine beaten up badly as the movie starts.

And as it continues, her sheer self-hatred at having normal human emotion becomes our hatred of her for being such a “whore.”

What keeps the film from being woman-hating though, is its focus on telling the story. Not judging, just telling it all.

Back in the real world, I am part of a community deeply, deeply traumatized. At the circus that is now all things Freundel.

I am crying tonight for the women whose trust was destroyed, whose privacy was violated in a totally shattering way, for the husbands who have to look at him and imagine him looking at their wives.

For the children of all ages whose religious belief will be sorely tested by this.

Maybe we will have the intelligence to use this episode as a “teachable moment.” To have compassion for the Freundel family. To get the victims help. To get legal redress for them. To make sure that the rabbi gets psychiatric care, if he is indeed guilty.

But we probably won’t...probably. Because popular culture turns on profit. The more extreme the behavior, the more money passes hands.

And so stories like this are at least 50% about the sexual thrill of imagining the whole violation.

Rather than actually changing things. So that it becomes horrifying, socially taboo to exploit a human being sexually, or for that matter in any way, at all.

It is actually hard to imagine a world like this. It's almost impossible even to think it.

But we have to think it, don't we?

Because the problem is not a deviant boogeyman lurking in an alley.

It is the average consumer, watching average TV and clicking average click-bait. It is us.

Waiting, in the most bored fashion possible, for something interesting to happen.

To take us away from our less-than exciting existence.


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: Snapsi Ctajikep / Flickr

5 Personal Branding Opportunities To Seize Right Now

Everybody's got a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page. But few are making the most of these tools to enhance their professional value.
Here are 5 things you can do right now to better promote yourself. They don't cost any money. Why not do them all, right now?
1. Profile photo. I've been studying these and can tell you that most of them truly suck. It's not about how good-looking you are (you knew this already and it's 100%) but rather about how confident you seem.
If you're uncomfortable having others take photos of you, take a selfie. Mine is a selfie - I used iPhone to fix it up. Don't think it is pathetic and egotistical to get your profile photo this way. It's hard to get a good picture.
It goes without saying that we should see your whole face and that you should not put brand names into the background, e.g. that time you were interviewed by CNN or a banner showing your current employer.
2. Narrow your LinkedIn headline. This is a combination of theoretical mission statement and practical tagline and it is extraordinarily difficult to execute. You want to communicate something broad enough to cover the spectrum of what you do, and narrow enough to set you apart from others. It should feel right and be true.
You know it's good if it represents:
  • The way you think.
  • Your actual approach to work.
  • Some sort of value that you have already added to another organization.
3. Use Klout. I hadn't logged in to Klout in awhile and was pleasantly surprised to find they'd really upped their game. Now, you can tell the application what subjects you're interested in and schedule Tweets in advance, in those areas. It is so incredibly, stupidly easy to use. I am very challenged when it comes to figuring apps out, and this one is a breeze. You can use it on a regular desktop computer or on your iPhone.
4. Fix up your bio. Everyone should have a professional description even if they aren't a public figure. These brief paragraphs are your story. The story might change, but having them focuses you on a narrative that you can use in talking to other people, when they ask "What do you do?"
I know I always have trouble with this question because in my mind, I'm thinking, "Well, a little bit of do I explain's too much..." By the time I get my thoughts together, the other person's attention span is gone.
In the bio, you want to include bullet points that describe more narrowly what you do, your experience, your honors and your participation in industry activities. Keep it short and punchy. Feel free to review other people's LinkedIn bios to get a sense of what works.
5. Integrate your personal brand across channels. Over the years you've planted "seeds" of your personal brand in various places. You may not think of it this way, but you have. LinkedIn is not the only place people look - they're checking out Twitter, possibly Facebook, and any other mentions of you that would turn up in a Google Search. To the extent possible, make sure that your brand "matches" or at least represents an evolution over time that is rational.
For me, this is extremely challenging as I've worked in the public sector, private sector and academia and have the versatility to do a lot of things well. The key though is to look at yourself in terms of the greatest match between how you see yourself, and how others see you.
For me, the greatest and most consistent match has to do with the subject matter called "branding" and activities related to writing and teaching. No job is perfect, but if I can do any work that relates back to the above, I'm happy. And in the end, that's really what you want - a job where you can earn money and come home with a smile on your face.
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: Abigail Batchelder / Flickr

Are "Concerned Employees" Destroying Your Brand?

You think your reputation is excellent. After all:
  • Your recruitment video is top-notch.
  • Your "brand ambassadors" are the best on campus.
  • Your marketing materials are beyond compare.
But your news coverage is kind of...pesky. Employees "talking trash," who never took their case to you before "spilling it."
Consider these examples:
How can you avoid these kinds of disasters? It boils down to common sense, but you have to overcome your natural biases first. Follow these steps:
  1. Change the organizational communication paradigm from "mostly talking" to "mostly listening." Reputation depends on perception, and if employees are saying negative things about your organization, you will be perceived badly. You're better off if they say them to you first.
  2. Upend the hierarchy, and privilege input from the lowest ranks first. Remember that the employee closest to the action - i.e., the operational reality of the organization - is not the employee who makes the most money or has the highest status. You depend on these people as sources of intelligence. Do not be foolish and ignore or marginalize them because they don't sit in the C-suite.
  3. Reward employees for reporting their concerns. Nobody wants to lose their job by being branded a troublemaker. Unfortunately, too often that is exactly the case - when people speak up, they get hammered. You have the power to change that easily, by establishing formal channels that reward people who provide information that helps to keep the organization functioning properly.
All of the above must be carefully considered. You don't want to wind up with a free-for-all, an endless gripe session, or a negative work environment. But you do want to harness and leverage the most valuable resource you have - your employees.
Remember that people are your business and your brand. They have a stake in your success - it is their success. And they want to work with you to preserve it.
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 by Art G. via Flickr.