Showing posts from December, 2012

Addicted To Your Own Misery?

Image by Lisa Jacobs via Wikipedia
The gift of a movie is that it lets you live someone else's life. Learn from their experiences, often sorrowful, without having to live them.

"Paradise Now" is out on Netflix. In a very matter-of-fact, wryly sarcastic, but empathetic way, it shows you how two ordinary young Palestinian men wind up drafted as suicide bombers. It's told from the perspective of Hany Abu-Assad, the Dutch-Palestinian writer/director. And it deserved the Academy Award nomination it got in 2006. Because after watching it I understood the culture - something  I could not grasp by reading words on a page.

In the movie the lone character who can see a way out of occupation is a woman, who rejects misery and embraces life. She chases one of the intended bombers...she loves him. The conflict in the movie is very much between her positive vision and the death-embracing terrorist one. The latter addicted to a never ending cycle of shooting, bombing and a sort of neg…

How's That "Make The Customer Angry" Strategy Working For Ya?

Image source: "Angry Tiger" by Guyon Moree via Wikimedia
I heard the radio ad first.

"Melty cheese...three kinds of cheese...come to Panera."

So - like a tried-and-true lab rat - I did.

"Grown-up grilled cheese, please." (Feeling famished.) "What do I get with that?"

"I can't take your order here." A quick and irritated-sounding response. Finger pointing to the other cash register -- not three feet away. "This cash register is for baked goods only."

Now I was feeling irritated. Sure I bought the greasy thing. It was okay, I guess. But in my head I resolved never to buy that "waste of money" again.

Consider that I have faithfully bought Starbucks' bitter brew for nearly twenty years now. And that they are uniformly willing to take my order, anywhere, anytime, pretty much right away.

How much did that air time cost Panera?

At an otherwise nice hotel, an early-evening request for more of something. A call to the all-pur…

Are You Really Suited For Social Media?

Social media is the buzzword nowadays, but honestly not everyone is meant for it. Here are some thoughts that might help you discern whether it will ever be part of your comfort zone -- or not.

I. There are three basic kinds of social media:

A. Primary content - you are the author

* Words
* Photos
* Graphic design
* Video
* Audio
* Applications/games

B. Secondary content - you produce it in a secondhand way

* Commenting on content or news
* Integrating two or more pieces of the same kind of content
* Mashing up one kind of content over another
* Redoing, rethinking, remixing old content - updating it

C. Third hand content - you share

* Any of the above (A or B)
* News
* Opinion (e.g. a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to someone else's more lengthy commentary)
* Coupons, promotions, deals

II. Here's what people who consume social media want:

A. Authenticity - it has to seem real - and you cannot lie
B. Utility - it has to be useful to them in some way, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually, artistically

When A Culture Fails To Adapt & You Fail To Understand Culture

"I'm sorry if this sounds stupid."

"No, what?"

"What is a hookah?"

"Excuse me?"

"In South Beach they show something called 'hookah' all over the place. It looks illegal."

"Oh, HOOKAH. Pass the peace pipe."

"Come again?"

"Muslims can't drink so they smoke together. Cherry flavor, vanilla..."

"Do they change the tip?"

"Here in the West they do. But authentic hookah, no. They share."

I have been going for years thinking that hookah is marijuana. Not understanding why they don't arrest all those people who sell it and use it.

I thought hookah was like a "bong." Where did I get that?

Don't laugh - from watching "Greg Brady" who had one on "The Brady Bunch."

How I think reflects my upbringing, psychology, class, gender, education, geography, religion, family history, and so on. Everyone's "recipe" is unique.

My perspective is tiny, limited…

Your Personal Brand In 2013

What are you going to do differently next year?

Over the holidays my dad sent me a picture from a Chanukah party in upstate New York. It showed an aunt and uncle I hadn't seen in many years. My uncle was wearing one of those t-shirts with a tuxedo painted on the front.

It was a funny shirt. I laughed.

My mother's brother is a pretty no-nonsense kind of person. He is a doctor and takes his work seriously. But never too seriously to be a little humorous. To help the family or community. My aunt is similarly a "mensch."

I saw an old friend around the same time. She too was down to earth, relaxed and happy. It was like time had never passed.

How do you think about your personal brand? Do you draw up strategies? Or do experiences just fill you up like gas, until you exhale and take your life in a different direction?

For me it's usually the latter. I have a vague idea, then interactions and observations wake me up a little.

My plate was a little too full last year. I made i…

Media Consolidation vs. Fragmentation: Action Steps for Government Communicators? (Updated)

Right now we are seeing increasing fragmentation/personalization of the news through the pervasiveness of web-based outlets. At the same time, a few large companies own the vast majority of American media: 1. Fragmented/personalized media According to the Pew Research Center "State of the News Media 2012" survey: * Revenue is down for network TV, local TV, magazines and newspapers but increasing for online TV, cable and audio (meaning radio or streaming web audio) * 54% get news on at least one "digital, web-based device" * 9% of U.S. adults "get news on any digital device very often through Facebook." 2. Consolidation of mainstream media in the hands of a few Media Consolidation: six companies own 90% of American media: GE, Disney, News Corp, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS (Infographichere) How can government communicators turn this data into insight - to deliver information to the public more effectively? What concrete actions should we take? I am reflecting on this …

The 10 Eternal Rules of PR

1. Be who you are.

2. Apologize only for breaking your promise.

3. Go all the way with your message or not at all.

4. Play offense not defense.

5. Respect differing views and others' sensitivity.

6. Admit it when you have a crisis.

7. Know when you are a lightning rod for other issues and respond accordingly.

8. Stick to the facts.

9. Connect emotionally.

10. Trust your gut over opinion polls.

In Case You Need To Start A Business: 5 Undervalued Industries To Watch In 2013 (Updated)

Jack of all Trades image via the blog Merlin's World
With a fragile economy upon us and constant talk of cost-cutting, it is prudent to explore alternative means of earning income, even in one's spare time. What follows are five industries that to my mind will only grow. For some of them, I envision them going in a certain direction (e.g. more integrated) but one can certainly explore opportunities as they exist right now. Usually some seal of approval from a third party - licensing, certification, etc. - is recommended or required. (Of course if you are already employed, especially by the federal government, you will want to make sure to comply with ethics rules before undertaking any part-time work.) Good luck!
1. Coaching According to a 2004 article from Harvard Business Review, coaching is a $1 billion per year industry (more statistics here) This is therapy by another name, and pretty much everyone needs it in one form or another. Due to the stigma associated with reaching out…

Why Republicans Are Losing The Brand War (Along With The NRA)

You don't have to be a genius to see what's going wrong with a brand or reputation. Or even how to fix it.

But you do have to have the courage to tell the client. 
And because the client can fire you - they have a lot of money, power and yes, ego at stake - there's a lot of incentive for courage to fade away.

Clearly the Republicans are what you would call a "challenger" brand. Similarly the National Rifle Association, in the aftermath of the tragic school massacre in Connecticut, is fighting and losing its very own brand war. 
I put them together because they're ideologically aligned, and they're making similar mistakes.
A very good and classic book about how challenger brands fight to win is called "Eating the Big Fish" by Adam Morgan.  Here are some ideas derived from the book, in my own spin. It's worth reading the original.
Redefine Yourself: Whatever you were doing before, is not working. Right now the Republicans look like people Democrats …

Instagram, R.I.P.

Image sources: Grave, Wikipedia. Instagram logo: Asbury & Asbury; see their blog on the Instagram PR crisis.
The Instagram brand is dead. Let's stop and accept this.
Why is the Instagram brand dead? If you don't understand this you are missing the point.
Basically they touched on a fear that people have been avoiding. Which is that they are putting too much personal stuff on the web, and that someone will use it in a way they don't like without their permission.
I can't figure out who would have been so incredibly stupid as to change the terms of service in the first place so that people's personal images could be used for advertisers!
I had to read this twice before I believed it: (screenshot via CNNMoney)

"A business or other entity may pay" Instagram to display users' photos and other details "in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."
They really thought people were going to sit back and ig…

Scared of Sequestration? Get to Work.

Image source: Bus Driver's Route, an interesting blog
If you're a federal employee and worried about the possibility of losing your job due to spending cuts, you have one of two choices:

Continue to worry.Do something about it.The advantage of continuing to worry is that you don't really have to do anything, and yet the action of worrying makes you feel like something has been accomplished. Of course the downside is that your situation stays the same.

Going for the "do something" category has more upside in my view. For one thing, it might distract you from being scared. For another you may be better situated to get another job or start a business if you have to. A third is that you're mentally prepared in case things turn bad. Finally and perhaps most important, assuming that your job stays the same, you will probably be a more motivated and skill-enhanced employee because of any preparation you've undertaken.

Of course on the downside you may invest time an…

What Men Do While Their Wives Shop

Smart mall.

If Government Were Run Like A Four Star Hotel

Source: Interalpen-Hotel, Tyrol

1. Taxpayers would be "guests," and we would fall all over ourselves to win their repeat business.

2. Customer service would be in the first paragraph of everyone's job description.

3. The people who interact with the public would wear name tags.

4. We would ask the public what they need and then deliver it rather than waiting for them to contact us.

5. We would keep our facilities sparkling clean.

6. We would promote high performers and fire poor ones without apologizing or making excuses.

7. We would have multiple guides to Agency-related services easily accessible to customers.

8. We would know who our customers are - it's a segment of the world that cares, not everyone.

9. We would have comment cards and collection boxes everywhere.

10. We would measure performance by the numbers, make the numbers public then adjust accordingly.

"That's Offensive."

Not long into a project my colleague and I were discussing a design that she had made. The colleague somewhat junior.

"I really don't like it," colleague said, referring to an element that someone had insisted on.

"Yeah, that's really bad," I replied. "In fact it makes me want to throw up."

"That's offensive!"

Oh my. I seemed like I had really said something wrong. But wasn't I just agreeing?

When I was little we used to go from New Jersey to Borough Park (an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn) and my dad used to make my mom, me and my sister wear skirts.

"Why can't I wear pants?" I used to ask. "It's so hypocritical the way you act."

My mother tried to explain.

"Women don't wear pants in that neighborhood," she said. "It's offensive."

The other day, at work, someone was lost near my cube. "Is anybody here?"

"I'm here," I said, rather loudly I'm…

Brand Opportunity: Make Grocery Shopping Not Feel Like This

Photo credit: Phil and Pam

What Communication Really Is

A lot of people labor under the misconception that communicators write pretty words. Interspersed with pictures and white space.

Not so.

The placement of grammatically correct sentences on a screen or page is only the outcome of a much more fundamental process.

Communication is fundamentally about trust. It is what happens when one human being engages in a dialogue with another. A dialogue based on mutual respect and recognition that others have something worthwhile to say.

Communication is goal-oriented. But the goal is not simply to vomit words at your readers. It is to honor their intelligence and critical faculties with a meaningful piece of information or insight.

Good communication is honest. You can hear somebody speaking, as if to a friend.

It is not about obfuscation. About verbal martial arts.

It's not technology, used as a substitute for substance.

If you want to communicate better start with your heart. Open it and keep it open. If you are lying or hiding from yourself, your …

Preventing School Shootings - An Exchange With A Friend

What follows is my side of an exchange with a friend about yesterday's massacre. I share her grief; despite our differing ways of thinking about social problems, our hearts are broken together. I hope and pray that we as a nation will start to focus on solving problems rather than scoring points.

Having worked in government for almost 10 years and trying to reform what's inefficient I believe very strongly that power should be distributed and not concentrated in any one sector of society. Also that the more you inhibit people in favor of the machine, the more the abuse of power. When you destroy the Second Amendment you destroy freedom.

Enforce the law we already have, keep guns away from criminals, but train law-abiding people to use them responsibly. Put armed guards in every school or have armed, trained volunteer parents patrolling the grounds. The problem is not guns. The problem is that when this guy started shooting, the school was defenseless.

Imagine that it is your chi…

Why Feds' Morale Is Getting Worse (It's Only Partly Internal Communication)

"Two-thirds of all federal agencies experienced decreasing employee satisfaction."  - Federal Times, Dec. 13, 2012
The Washington Post article on federal employees' morale led me to reflect on what seems to me like a downward trend. Here are my thoughts on the reasons why:

1 - Increased centralization under the new Administration for greater efficiency - less autonomy for individual agencies, less autonomy for leaders, less autonomy for managers, less autonomy for staff.   2 - Discomfort with the rapid pace of change and new initiatives. This could be related to the Administration coming from "outside the Beltway" - e.g. traditional Beltway/Washington culture is much slower and more interpersonal vs. this Administration works rapidly and is very techno-centric. (This comment refers to management style not political ideology.) 3 - Increased scrutiny on (blaming of) federal employees due to the bad economy. Impatience with the civil service culture. Endless headlines …

Connecticut Shooting - So Sorry.

Allegedly, this note was written by a child during the#Newtown, Connecticut shooting.…— iTweetFacts™(@iTweetFacts) December 15, 2012

Why Plain Language Training Lacks Teeth

My daughter taught me a Taoist saying:

"Beautiful words are not true, and the truth is not beautiful."

There are many reasons why government writing is not plain. Only one of them has to do with skill:

1. Confused thinking

2. Lack of critical thinking

3. Lazy thinking - you pass the buck to the reader to figure it out

4. Jargon has replaced standard style guide - e.g. "writing for ourselves then pretending everyone else should understand"

5. Legalistic approach - "give them all the raw data and that way we're not interpreting it for them" - and can't get in trouble

6. Executive preference

7. Public Affairs type "messaging" replaces substantive information or Public Affairs can censor

8. Unrealistic deadline or insufficient staff

9. Lack of collaboration, stove piping - e.g. "Stay out of my business"

10. Communication is one person's job vs. everyone's

11. Writing not exposed to broad audience for critical review

12 . Insulation from …

You Have Spinach In Your Teeth

A good friend will tell you when something is "off."

Not long ago I had the habit of wearing orthopedic men's shoes to work. They are comfortable, OK?

For years not one colleague would say anything. (Although they did make a comment one day about my mismatched socks.)

Then I worked on a project with someone different. We had never been friendly. But as we worked together I came to appreciate her sharp observations. They made the project better and she had something to say about me, too.

"You might want to rethink the shoes."

I had to laugh. What a statement!

So it is thanks to this colleague that I actually went and broke in a pair of shiny flats.

It is this same colleague who would tell me, without fail,

"Dannielle, do this." indicate that some aspect of lunch was appearing when I smiled.

Do you tell people when a button has popped, they have lipstick on their teeth, or they've got toilet paper on their shoe?

Yesterday I saw another colleague on the c…

When It's You Against The Group

The other day I was taking my daughter to school when a public service announcement came on the radio. It was sponsored by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an agency I once worked for. The narrator was talking about foreclosure, and how the OCC could be able to help.

I turned to my daughter. "The OCC! I used to work there. Oh my G-d, a radio commercial! That's so cool!" and on and on.

My daughter said, "That's nice, Mom."

What did it mean to her, she wasn't there. But I was.

I remembered that day when Elizabeth Warren came to speak. It was sometime around 2004. She wasn't a senator-elect then. I sat at the back of the room and watched her rail against the exploitation of the consumer through deceptive marketing practices. She urged the OCC to get involved.

It was inspiring to see what Warren was trying to accomplish. She was outside the OCC system looking in. She was using her standing as a third-party wedge to say hey, the world is watchin…

How Will Your Colleagues Remember You?

Today I attended a memorial service at work, for someone I didn't know and probably never would have run into. It's not the first one I've attended for a colleague who lost their lives in the line of duty and it is an awful sight to see.

Know this before I go any further:
--This isn't an excuse to promote my Agency, or any Agency, or the government in general. Although I could. I don't think most people have a clue of the devotion of the average frontline employee serving in dangerous circumstances. Have you ever seen a leader's voice shake, eyes redden as he eulogized a fallen employee? It is horrible. I have seen it happen more than once. In the zeal to find fault with those who shepherd our organizations we quickly overlook what is good.
--It's not about one person. You did not know them and neither did I. It was - moving is not good enough a word. I actually don't have a word that could cover the sight of one colleague describing his everyday interacti…

How to Waste Money Without Even Trying

Do you remember that episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy got a job in the factory and got in trouble because she worked faster than everybody else? This is exactly how money gets wasted in government or any organization. It's obvious from the outside that an activity has no point, but on the inside there are all these justifications. Over the years I've heard how these justifications are communicated, directly and indirectly. Given the impending "fiscal cliff" I wonder how much money we could save if we started to examine the ways that we perpetuate wasting it. Here are 5 mechanisms of waste that we can start with: Narrowly operational focus: Project management is defined as delivering any project on time, on budget and within specification as opposed to stopping an ill-conceived project before it launches. The employee is supposed to follow along transactionally, not critically because the bigger decisions are "above my pay grade" and "outside m…

The Absolute Funniest Bad Parody of "Gangnam Style" You Can Imagine

Communication at its finest!

10 Success Traits You Can Adopt In 10 Minutes

Image via Wikipedia

1. Return calls immediately.

2. Treat everyone with the same amount of respect.

3. Dress more formally than you think you need to.

4. Work harder than everybody else.

5. Follow through on the details.

6. Laugh at yourself - lose the ego.

7. Praise someone else - boost them up.

8. Make life easier for your customers, and your #1 customer is your boss.

9. Focus on solving the problem, and that's it.

10. Communicate to people in their preferred manner.

Good Girl, Bad Girl and the Quest for Certainty

Every day we see stories about the abuse of women and children in the media. One of these concerns a young girl raised in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect called Satmar, in Williamsburg.

This sect is nothing more than a cult. It's a cult that I am familiar with because of my family. They are good people led by what amounts to nothing more than fundamentalist thugs.

The alleged assaults started at the time the young woman was just 12. She had been sent to unlicensed "therapist" Nechemya Weberman, a member of the "modesty committee," for "counseling" for the infraction of asking questions in school.

The story is lurid and I won't repeat the details of the allegations here. But suffice it to say that the victim's testimony reduced the courtroom to tears. One wonders how she survived at all, let alone kept it to herself. (The blog FailedMessiah covers the case extensively.)

The worst part of the whole thing, to my mind, is that the cult's "Gran…

Making Your Case? Everything Counts

At a high school debate competition, kids barely old enough to drive, drink or vote argue in teams about the finer points of morality and public policy. One of them is my daughter.

It's interesting to see the different ways people justify an argument and how well those are received. It's noteworthy that each type of argument will likely appeal to a different personal mindset or culture. 

The logical types avoided judging right and wrong and merely related a possible course of action to its likely outcome. Clearly to the judges - I think they were academics - these kids were the stars. But what scared me as a regular person was the elegance of the argument combined with the completely morally absent nature of its potential conclusions - e.g., "Who am I to say who's a terrorist?" (Think about the Nazis, the Taliban, etc. and their "logic".)The G-d talkers had a very straightforward view of right and wrong. They compared a possible course of action to what G…