Showing posts from March, 2013

Why Jones Soda Is My Soda

Tastes great - and it says it's "my brand." They'll post a photo on their label if I send it in. The URL is

Love it!

10 Gen X Attitudes About Leadership, As Seen On TV

I notice there's a certain type of show I like: "Olympus Has Fallen," "Red Dawn," "Die Hard," "Homeland," "24," and "The Walking Dead." I'm a Generation Xer.

Each of these shows has a totally different plot. But they all seem to say the same things about leadership from a Gen X perspective. Here's how the leaders in these stories think, and what they seem to believe:

1) Freedom is the goal - this is the highest goal - we don't dictate to others and we don't let others dictate to us.

2) Bureaucracy hurts - the rules are getting in the way, they slow the response time so much that the response is ineffective.

3) Nobody understands - I get the danger, but others do not - and I will have to live with that.

4) Extreme self-sacrifice - the risks are so great and the odds are so against us, that I will likely die or be severely harmed to save everybody else. I am the only one who can fix it.

5) Likelihood of punishment…

Is Spin Inevitable?

While it is impossible to eliminate spin, we can take steps to minimize its likelihood. The reason spin is inevitable is that people (being what they are) will always try to game the system. Personal preferences, power games, cultural styles and even technology literacy all get in the way of the end goal - pure transparency. In addition, there is no getting away from the human bias on how pure data is presented. So the data itself is always suspect: Someone has to put the data into a format so that people can use it. That container is going to influence the way the data is perceived."History is written by the winners." That's because there is no such thing as objective history, only the perspective of one party or another. Any phenomenon can be observed completely differently depending on whether you are looking through a historical, sociological, biological, religious, Western/Eastern, economic etc. lens.Relying on science is not an escape. Academics have a field day takin…

What Do We Do With All That Anger?

"Angry Bird Fist" by LincolnBlues via Flickr
Once when I was eight my dad came home and mom was angry. I mean really angry. Steamed.

He said, "Where is the grape juice?"

To which she replied, "You want the grape juice? HERE's the grape juice!"

And with that she brought a huge bottle of Kedem brand kosher grape juice down onto the glass-topped table. Shattering the glass. Shards flew all over the dining room.

As an adult someone once told me that their boss used to throw things at them - on alternate days. Literally, one day it was books thrown at the head and another day it was a gift card to Starbucks.
It ended when they said, "Next time I won't duck. I will call 9-1-1."
Most of us associate workplace anger with negative things:
Outburst TerminationReassignmentLawsuitDepressionHeart attack or other physical ailmentWorkplace shooterHowever there are some more positive methods of handling it:
ConversationCommunicationApologyTraining MediationEmplo…

The Solution Is Big Data

"Spin" means intentionally misleading the audience so as to persuade them (propaganda). This is NOT OK for government to do - unless you're in the military doing psychological operations overseas as part of war. In all my years in the federal government, I have never - not once - had someone tell me to lie or mislead. EVER. If that were to happen I would report it and you should too. I have read about such occurrences though. Normally they leak into social media, and then into regular media if there's overwhelming credibility to the story. That said: --My experiences is that agencies are responsive rather than proactive. They wait for the question. They are not hanging around waiting to air what they perceive as dirty laundry. It is often frustrating to me personally as a communicator that we don't get more in line with the private sector, where there is a pretty good understanding that when you share bad news very early on, it loses impact. (Best example is David …

"Ten Commandments" For Change Agents

Below are 10 distilled pieces of advice I've received over the past year or so. I'm sharing these with you in case they might be helpful. What they all boil down to is - do the basics well first, earn trust, and then do more. Let it be their way to begin with, so that eventually you can contribute to real, lasting, positive forward movement. 1. Do what is asked, meeting formal and informal requirements, staying flexible. FIRST do what you have been asked to do, NOT what you think needs to be done. 2. When asking for action, give concise and complete background information. NOT a dissertation's worth of paper - you are more passionate than most people, get over yourself - and NOT simply forwarding the most recent email - no they do not want to read the entire trail.  3. Begin any communication with a "headline" - what is the purpose? Your boss has about fifty million people breathing down his or her neck. If you interrupt them - you have three seconds to convince them n…

You Are Entitled To Your Journey

When I was a little girl I took an I.Q. test. They pushed me from kindergarten into first grade. Later on they pushed me from 5th grade into 6th, to manage an out-of-control rabbi (e.g. rather than fire the rabbi, who wound up getting fired anyway for smacking a student to the floor in front of the entire class). I was always two years ahead of my peers. Intellectually, that was fine. Socially it caused problems. You can't grill people into adulthood like a steak. No. People need slow-simmering, like a good winter stew. It got in my head that life was all about rushing. Degree - another degree - family - kids - job - sequentially and simultaneously. I imparted this ethic to my kids: "Hurry up, get it done, don't waste time." Etc. Time has passed and I've started to wonder. Sometimes it feels like rushing has become the point of life. Instead of the means to an end, where we get to stop rushing all the time. My mom called me yesterday before Passover. "Your sister is…

10 Success Tips From My Manager Pat

(Well, it could have been Pat or any of them.)

Experienced managers generally will tell you stuff like this:

1. Learn the business. If you don't understand the subject matter nobody will take you seriously.

2. Do things our way first, then we'll trust you enough to change things.

3. Only tell us things when we need to know. We are already bombarded with useless information.

4. We notice typos. They matter.

5. Let it be the other person's idea.

6. Don't be like a bull in a china shop. It's threatening.

7. Standardization beats innovation every time.

8. Did you save us money? That gets you extra points.

9. There is a very fine line between creative and crazy.

10. Heart, humor and genuine team spirit all matter more than brains.

7 Lessons From A Tree

Image via
You can't blossom without roots.

Even in chaos there is always a path.

Know how to listen without talking back.

Seeing the big picture helps you deal with the little things.

Branching out makes you stronger inside.

If you want company you have to reach out.

The more you stand together the more beautiful the scenery.

23 Marketing Hypotheses, In 7 Categories, For 3 Products (Life As A Marketing Case Study)

Photo by Renee S. Suen via Flickr; permission to share with attribution

"The purpose of business is to create a customer." - Peter Drucker
Preface - Journaling To Learn

When I taught consumer behavior at GW University in Washington, I made the students go to the mall. There they stood with notebook and paper, tracking people as they walked through the stores. Observing their buying behavior. It was great!

Most market research we get in the news is massive in scale. Quantitative surveys, useful to a point but in my view biased toward the sponsor. It is therefore helpful to balance research sources - survey, interview, focus group, and observation.

One underutilized tool is the personal case study. This is where you observe yourself in the process of buying, then take the time to write what you see and extrapolate the lessons learned. These are probably better stated as "hypotheses" because they're just one experience from one person's perspective.

In that spirit h…

Break Yourself To Make The Brand

Photo by Charles Strebor via Flickr (Creative Commons)
We fundamentally misunderstand branding.

It is not an ad exercise alone - at least, not anymore.

Branding is the creation of a facade which you must then deliver on in reality.

Reality means you do the work. You "operationalize."

Executives tend to think they are immune from the process. "Hey, don't bother us -- we're visionaries!"

But we aren't immune. We are not.

To make the brand we must break ourselves. Sufficient to be in a team, the team, our team. It is not about "me" -- again, not anymore.

The painful thing about life is that you aren't ever done with the breaking. You make one grade only to face another. What worked before does not work now.

To make matters worse -- at least for many of us who prefer the realm of intellectually challenging ideas-- often reaching our goals means breaking our mental mindsets. Really these are invisible chains, and we may not even see that we are in the…

All I Need To Know I Did Not Learn In Fifth Grade

Photo by Aislinn Ritchie via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Actual words written in marker on a large white Post-it sheet. Left up on a wall at an elementary school.

Astonishingly similar to every group retreat I've ever been on except that in the adult version we don't talk about #2.

Especially considering the waste involved, what happens between fifth grade and adulthood (or does not happen) that prevents us from overcoming these obstacles to group work?

1. "Problems"
Having to redo work
One person does all the work
Paired with someone you don't like
One person takes over
Having to compromise
Different answers
One person does no work

2. "Problems I Cause"
Goofing off
Taking advantage of others
Getting frustrated
Not getting it
Talking too much
Getting angry
Taking out anger on others
Not concentrating
Needing to feel in charge/I can be bossy
Pushed over (around?)
Not communicating
Don't know wha…

Crying for Steubenville

It was actually a normal party scene that Saturday night, August 11, 2012:
"For the lucky ones on the Steubenville High School football team, it would be the start of another season of possible glory as stars in this football-crazy county. Some in the crowd, which would grow to close to 50 people, arrived with beer. Those who did not were met by cases of it and a makeshift bar of vodka, rum and whiskey, all for the taking, no identification needed.....'Huge party!!! Banger!!!!' Trent Mays, a sophomore quarterback on Steubenville’s team, posted on Twitter, referring to one of the bashes that evening." - The New York Times, December 26, 2012On Sunday, March 17, 2013, two football players, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, were found guilty and sentenced to juvenile jail for raping one of the girls who attended that party while she was unconscious. They dragged her around from house to house as if she were a "toy".
"Mays was accused of assaulting her in a…

The Sociology of SOPs

So I spend a lot of time on standard operating procedures (SOPs) and it occurs to me that they say a lot about workplace culture.

There is a branch of sociology that deals with things like this. It is called "ethnomethodology" or the study of everyday life.

Consider the concept of SOPs in the first place. They are rules. They are more likely to be followed in a rule-driven work environment, naturally. Conversely a work culture that prizes innovation and creativity will be rule-averse.

In an innovative environment the people who occupy the highest status will likely demonstrate that status by flouting the rules. As if to say: "What are you going to do about it, fire me?"

In a creative culture the people who must follow the rules are of a lower class. They are not the designated innovators. For them, rules apply.

Think of an ad agency. How esteemed are the accountants as versus the genius who writes a catchy slogan?

This is why we see Hollywood portrayals of powerful, out-…

Have Your Data Talk To My Data

About thirty years ago on a short winter Sunday the sun went down and my room got dark. I flicked the light switch but no light went on.
“Ma,” I called out. “What’s with the lights?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “Talk to your father.”
My father wasn’t home but when he did arrive the lights were still out.
“Daddy, what’s with the lights?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I paid the power company.” (You are thinking at this point that I grew up in a hardscrabble part of town in a shack perhaps, that we were poor, and that my dad was trying to salvage his dignity. No.)
What a mystery, I thought to myself. Hmm.
My kids cannot figure out my parents’ relationship at all. Each one is absolutely independent and yet they are also a team.
If my parents were a government agency, we would say that they lacked a “dashboard” and “metadata.”
I can imagine the meeting of the senior leadership team of Passaic, New Jersey. “Commissioner Stroli,” someone might ask. “There is a new tool that can house all your…

Civils and Politicals

We already had a YouTube channel. That was launched quietly with no fanfare, in 2007 I believe.

A group of us interagency folks got together. We started the Federal Social Media Subcouncil, a lot of us civil servants in a room. That was about year later.

Around that time I spent a long time doing research. It was hard to figure out what the rules were. I was worried about how we kept records, mirroring. If we did a Tweet we had to have copies on our site, right? How would that work?

Terms of service...Section 508...freedom of speech...ethics rules. Codes of conduct.

We met with the lawyers. Gray they said. A lot of it was still gray.

One day we had a meeting with the lawyer in charge. He did not know what social media was. We talked about analogies like op-eds in The Washington Post, or talking to friends at cocktail parties. How would traditional principles work with a new media world?

Eventually after lots of research and too many meetings I came up with a chart. Things to consider as we …

Don't Show Weakness

"Never cry."
"Give it to them before they give it to you."
"Don't trust anyone."
"Be on your guard."
"What are you, a fool?"
"Grow up."

This kind of thinking kills companies and kills people too. 

It's true: Some people are greedy and cold and grasping for power.Others have too many problems. They cope by acting them out on others.Some cultures are messed up. Stagnant. Fearful. Besieged. Cutthroat.

What is the best response for the individual? Must we choose between Clint Eastwood type leathery toughness and its opposite, despair and blubbering?

Not really. In any situation, bombastic bullying at the one extreme and excessively giving in on the other are both maladaptive. Aggression just adds fuel to the fire, making others angry at you. Martyrdom leaves you angry at yourself. 

Psychologists tell us that assertiveness is a middle path. Seeing reality for what it is, we take in the environment and respond appropriately--

1. Self-…

Social Media In Government - Legitimate and Illegitimate

Social media is legitimate when it helps people access government services  and to reinforce social marketing messages from government.

But if you can't bake the cake in the first place (write informative content) then don't bother putting on frosting with sprinkles (social media). Maybe someone will take a bite, but they will soon realize that the calories aren't worth it.

I don't think poor writing is the problem. The government is full of outstanding writers actually. 
The problem is also not lack of social media skill because again, the government has lots of techies as well as clever Tweet writers and Facebook page-makers.

Rather, the problem is fear. Legitimate fear and illegitimate.
* The legitimate fear from a managerial point of view is that we lack sufficient management controls. We've got a car - who is allowed to drive it? How fast? What is considered appropriate versus inappropriate use, and by whom? 
* The legitimate fear from a leadership point of view is …

Emails Are Meant To Be Forwarded

"Brand Simple" and Good Intentions

"Brand Simple" by Landor brand thought leader Allen Adamson is an excellent book. It explains one of the key functions of branding, which is to simplify the decision-making process.

People have trouble making decisions. They don't want to be wrong. Wrong feels like trouble - you're a fool, you're out money, you're inferior, it's irrevocable.

Branding is there to reassure you. More than that it takes the place of thinking.

The Staples easy button symbolizes branding used in this way. "That was easy." (If only the store were not confusing!)

There is a saying, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM."

There is "analysis paralysis."

I overheard someone say in an elevator that there are way too many brands in this country. It's hard to buy even a bottle of milk. "One percent, two's a cow!"

But used well a brand connects the skim milk drinker who is allergic to lactose to precisely the right product.

People wh…

Article by Andy Blumenthal: "Perfection - To A Point"

Perfection To A Point from Andy Blumenthal

What an amazing article. So proud of you Andy. I hear G-d speaking through you.