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Showing posts from September, 2014

10 Great Tips From Government Executives

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Over the years I've been fortunate to receive some really good advice from senior government leaders. I carry these "golden nuggets" around in my brain and refer to them often. Hope they are useful to you.

1. "If you want to be successful, be polite, be professional, and have a good work ethic."

2. "The pie gets bigger the more you share it."

3. "Our people don't get enough credit. We need to make sure the public knows the good work they are doing."

4. "How is your husband doing? I remember him from ___" (This is the head of an Agency, who took the time to remember and thank each and every person he interacted with.)

5. "Think it through before you bring it to me."

6. "Dashboards, metrics, high-level bullet points...please."

7. "There is nothing new under the sun."

8. "One thing I like about you, is that you always support the executive" (and don't put yourself in the limelight.)

9. "That…

Leveraging The Power of Online Communities

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Today marks the re-launch of my open, free-to-join GovLoop group, Community Cultivators, formerly E2E (Employee-to-Employee Communication), as well as Online Communities Best Practices at LinkedIn.
I hope you'll join the conversation at either place, because online communities today represent the #1 opportunity to reach and influence a target audience, yet few understand the science of influencing their beliefs and behaviors.
Jump in and join the conversations.
___ 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 source: Open Clip Art

How To Succeed Without Even Trying (Well, Almost)

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My mother always said I was a schmuck.  "All of the women in our family are," she says. "We work like goddamn animals, and what does it get us? Nothing." We call this the "Coopersmith gene," for my grandmother Muriel, may she rest in peace. Grandma had a heart attack in her early 40's, shoveling snow off her stoop. She didn't wait for Grandpa. I don't believe that people die, rather they go to another more spiritual dimension. So I will speak of her in present tense: I love my grandmother fiercely. She raised six kids. She made a Jewish home and cooked from scratch. The family was poor, "so poor we couldn't afford the 'o' and the 'r,' my aunt Sari says. But Grandma made sure they never knew it. She ran a real estate business with my Grandpa, after the mattress factory burnt down. A beautiful woman, it was dangerous for her to show properties to strange men, but she handled it. I can't remember the whole story she told me o…

The Case For Taking A Job Against Type

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In my teens I dreamt of being a fashion designer. The walls of my room were literally covered with ripped-out pages from Vogue.  They had to be clean pages, only photos, no words. I would be Kamali, Karan, Lauren, Klein. For a time it seemed I was actually on that path. They took me into Parsons, and I spent the summer before college taking a prep class. Drawing bowls of fruit and nudes. By the middle of August I quit. It was the nudes part that threw me. After spending all my life in the equivalent of a nunnery I just. could. not. In college I took a lot of writing classes. I finished and still didn't know what to do. Maybe I wanted to be a lawyer. After all I had watched The Paper Chase many times. I am Jewish - we argue a lot. How about that? I applied to law school and got in. But the commute from my apartment to the school was ridiculous. We're talking Bronx to Long Island, at night. And lawyers worked all the time. Not a lifestyle for me, a young bride. Plus my mind was not tha…

When Innovation Holds You Hostage

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Everyone's got ideas. My father-in-law has a million. They just pop out of his head the same way you and I breathe. Before any of us could spell "metrosexual," Dad made his own "Magic Cream." No chapped hands in the winter and nobody called him a girl.When we weren't sure if the kids needed changing, Dad invented diapers with a smiley face, which told you when they were wet.Way before I was even born, Dad had created the Bug Zapper. It vacuumed up apartment pests just like THAT. Dad is not a formal inventor. But he loves to tinker with his creations. And all of them, perhaps accidentally, have since been productized. For example: Soft Hands For Guys: O'Keefe's Working Hands has you covered.Wetness alert: Try Huggies "Little Snugglers."Bug sucker: How about the BugZooka!The best thing about Dad, as an inventor, is his complete lack of ego. It is always about the product, and how it could theoretically be improved. Which leads me to think about 

How About UX For The Employees?

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"The Scream" by Edvard Munch, 1895 via Wikipedia
A thing isn't a thing until it's got a fancy technology acronym. Preferably one with an X. And so the simple idea that users should own the experience has one: UX. Briefly, it's the art and science (mostly science, they like to say) of optimizing the customer's interaction with your digital properties. But I have to wonder: Why must we limit UX to a website? Or a mobile app?Why is it only bounded by your brand, as it inhabits the virtual?Why can't we expand the UX concept so that employees become a primary target audience?Any leader will tell you that the most important stakeholder of any organization is the employee, not the customer. Because if employees are happy, understand their jobs, and are resourced and empowered to deliver, they will do that with joy.  Did you know that only 13% of employees around the world are actually engaged with their jobs?  That means 87% of the salary you're paying is garbage. T…

Why The Heart Of Your Brand Is Not A Pretty Face

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Photo of Dani Zimmerman by: Daniel M. Viero / Flickr Creative Commons
Runway models sell products. 
But don't confuse them with the brand.
The heart of who you are - your image, to other people - is more boring.
It's real, but it's invisible, and extremely difficult to describe. 
Your brand is a series of decisions. Who is picked to run a company, an agency, a school.How ordinary people treat one another within the organization.What kind of website you design. Which mobile apps you fund. Whether you personally go out on social media or not, to represent your brand.How budgetary funds are allocated. Which projects get the go-ahead, or not.How people get recruited, promoted, demoted, and fired.What stories are chosen to run on the news.What people do with your material in their spare time. If they share it on Pinterest. The values you portray everywhere. How employees act, who use your name on their business cards and LinkedIn profiles.That's why having a focus is so important…

Management Lessons from Challah & Wine

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Photo credit: Tim Sackton/Flickr
The traditional Shabbos meal begins with wine and challah. Although they taste good, I never really understood why we bothered. 
* On the traditional deep purple wine, or grape juice often used in its stead. When you combine them with the also-traditional white tablecloth, get ready for someone to spill - and stains that never come out.
* Re: challah, it literally takes forever to make. Mix, knead, rise, punch down; rise, bake; wash everything. 
You could use white wine, or clear sparkling peach grape juice. You could buy the challah. A lot of people do that. But why do so many bother to do things the old fashioned way?
So what about this.
* What if the point of the grape juice is the stain?
* What if the challah exists for the slow nature of making it?
Here's what I mean. 
When you have an organization full of people, those people are going to be "imperfect." The systems will frequently be "broken." The surrounding environment will neve…

A feminist at the Shabbos meal.

When I was a little girl we used to travel to Toronto, Canada to visit my Bubbie and Zayde. And to Monticello, New York to visit Grandma and Grandpa. (May they rest in peace.)
To the outsider, Shabbos meals were anti-feminist. Bubbie and/or Grandma both cooked and served the food, and sat at the table and listened as Zayde and/or Grandpa led the goings-on.
The men made kiddush, doled out the wine, gave us bread after the traditional washing of hands.
But you wouldn't want to "liberate" them, Norma Rae. Had you dared the women would have tossed you out on the doorstep by your ears. The kitchen was actually "her-space," and the women knew that we could gather there "getting food ready" and just let the men do the men thing.
We could participate in the table conversation or not, but it wasn't in the end "our" conversation.
"The neck turns the head," Bubbie used to say. Traditional Orthodox feminism is that the woman tells the man what …

"Girls" Season 3: Hannah, Feminism, and the Addict(ive) Jessa

Now it's onto HBO's "Girls" Season 3.

I have a lot of trouble watching this show, and yet. Here I am binge-watching.

It is not at all self-serving, poorly acted, or lacking in any mechanical kind of way. Just the opposite, the show is brilliant. It's Lena Dunham's mind encased in glass. And she is "crazy," but not truly; it's what happens when you're super-sensitive to the stuff everybody else doesn't get or successfully ignores.

She is "out there" in a way that's watchable. I have to.

I don't like the sex scenes. It's like "Sex and the City," I think they could have gotten the point across without being NC-17.

It's exploitive of the actors personally when shows force them to appear nude and to engage in sex with others in public.

I don't like the anti-feminism. Lena/Hannah can't rent a car by herself, she needs her boyfriend Adam to do it. Hannah supports him, while he whines and loses his keys and …

A Comment on Penelope Trunk's Blog, "Could 9/11 Ever Become A Time Of Celebration?"

Here's Penelope's blog
And my response, below.

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Penelope,

You drop a mention of harboring a Palestinian who supported the overthrow of Israel.

Then you say you’re sort of sympathetic, but don’t ask me any questions, because this is a blog about something else.

As a Jew, where do you stand?

How about as a human being? What do you believe?

If you don’t know what to believe, couldn’t you at least study a little bit before making any kind of statement at all?

You would find that Israel (although imperfect in many serious ways) was settled by Jews who bought the land and who were happy to have a fairly tiny bit of it.

The Arabs in Israel could not tolerate the concept of a Jewish state and so attacked them from the very start.

Note, it was not the concept of coexistence that was a problem. It was the idea of a State itself.

Where before there was…nothing.

What gave birth to Zionism (the belief in a Jewish national state) was NOT racism or even religious conviction. Rather it was the fact th…

It's 9/11 & I'm Angry

I wanted to write about other things today.

Why pop culture is essential to digital engagement. (Because you have to speak to things that are relatable to the masses, not interesting specifically to you in your context.)Why having a positive attitude is so important at work. (Because it is the nature of people at work to bond over negativity, and negativity is toxic and feeds on itself.)Some of the most important lessons I've ever learned from executives. (To be positive/professional/have a great work ethic. That being loud is not the same as being effective. To put the bottom line of what you're saying up front.)Who I aspire to be as an executive. (Sol Berenson, from the show "Homeland," who acted as the head of the CIA for a time. Because he has phenomenal judgment, uncrackable loyalty to his people, delegates leadership to them, sees the vision of peace in his head at all times. Doesn't give a flying fig about his ego. Has colleagues, friends, and loved ones fo…

The Power of "Good Shabbos" & Saying Hello To People Generally

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So we've started to keep Shabbos more. I don't drive, which is driving me a little bit crazy actually, don't go to Starbucks or Barnes & Noble or shopping. I don't do laundry.
I feel unproductive on Shabbos, but paradoxically more at peace. The family is together. Although I still use the computer, too much and they complain that I'm not paying enough attention. Plus there is no fancy Shabbos meal waiting when we get home from our morning walk.
But one really nice thing is how people say "Good Shabbos" to us. I can't tell exactly how we landed on that side of the dividing line that says, you're one of us even though you don't go to synagogue enough and even though you aren't as religious. But it feels really good to be part of things.
We have these narrow sidewalks near the synagogue, and each and every person, or almost each, says "Good Shabbos."
I thought to myself yesterday that this very small gesture means so much. 
You can k…

The Cassette Tape Playing In Your Head

There's this movie out on Netflix called "How I Live Now," about a girl who finds redemption through love and hard work. The movie shows her looking in the mirror and thinking about how awful she is.

We've all had those thoughts, and they can seem very natural. But when you see the scenes in front of your eyes, it's striking.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who was prone to depression, used to say that thoughts are like a horse, and you need to lead the horse in the direction you want it to go.

What you tell yourself can change your reality. It works like this: You acknowledge what's happening, but you look at it from a different perspective. For example, tough times are an opportunity to gain insight into what really matters to you in your life. Difficult relationships are an encounter with a person who teaches you something about how to correct your own bad habits. And so on.

Changing your thoughts is like changing a cassette tape. It can be done, but requires some e…

Making A Difference Through Questioning Authority

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Emma Goldman was a Jew born and raised in late 1800s Russia. There was no such thing as dissent in her world, which was "ruled by fear and the ubiquitous secret police, a world in which even the mildest expression of dissent would be summarily crushed."

She joined the Russian revolutionary movement with the intent of overthrowing Russia's leader, the Czar. Once she emigrated to the U.S., she also plotted the assassination of the capitalist Henry Frick as a political statement.

But people admired, and continue to admire Goldman for her belief in freedom. As a young revolutionary she and her peers imagined, as PBS puts it,
"...a society of free equals, a tantalizing Utopia in which all problems could be solved on earth, by ordinary people."Questioning is the key to freedom. In an 1843 letter to his friend Arnold Ruge, Karl Marx said that change can only happen when we begin to question our thinking - a lot:
"The reform of consciousness consists only in making th…

Freedom and the Problem of Informed Consent

"I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it."
– Col. Nathan R. Jessup (actor, Jack Nicholson; writer, Aaron Sorkin), A Few Good Men

I see a lot of stuff out there criticizing the U.S. on its handling of foreign policy, criticizing the President personally, suggesting that internecine conflict hampers us from making a move, or suggesting that an intelligence agency or secret world conspiracy is behind the many seemingly inexplicable things we see.

You could argue any of these points of view, but in the end your arguments will be flawed. Because you do not know what you do not know. You're not in the room when the foreign policy discussions are held. You aren't the President. You would only have a second- or third- hand account of a story leaked by someone who has a bias or vested interest in portraying things a certain way…

Transparency Is Impossible. Now What?

Currently I'm in the middle of Homeland (Season 3), having just finished the latest season of Tyrant on VOD. Before that it was 24: Live Another Day.

I watch the shows and the messages about national security come through loud and clear. This is art, not life but art frequently gives people permission to air things that cannot be said in ordinary discourse:

* From a security perspective, transparency is a ridiculous concept. Information is power and when you give it away, you're giving it to your enemies and not just your friends. Why would you give the enemy your secrets?

* The facts are much more interesting and complicated than anything the media will portray. Whatever we are getting downstream is not the reality closest to the action. In a democracy, it is that reality that the public wants, needs and has a right to know, in order to make good decisions rather than be inflamed by hype and huff. The question, though, as indicated in #1, is how far can and should you go…

How Coca-Cola's "Sharing" Campaign Messed Up Its Brand

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This is a can of Coca-Cola.
This can holds memories, sweetness, refreshment, joy.
I don't care how many calories are in this can.
This can is a selfish pleasure, all for me, now.

This is a can of a Coca-Cola with someone's name on it.
It is a sacrilege to all the brand stands for.
By creating this can Coca-Cola has demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of its own core product.

And this is the Coca-Cola sharing campaign.
It magnifies the original error.
All I want is a classic Coke. Not New Coke, not a soda with someone else's name.
I don't want to share it.
And I don't understand who messed up what was the #1 brand in American history, or why.
* This post was 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.Screenshots via various Google searches for Coca-Cola cans and the "sharing" campai…