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Showing posts from September, 2016

If You Screw Up, It's All Your Fault

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As Rosh HaShana is coming up next week I've been thinking about Jewish guilt.


Of course, at work, we all make mistakes and we all feel bad about it. But as a Jew, at least for me, failure is never a "fun thing," like they say "it's a learning experience, reframe it."


No, there's always an extra edge to failure: "Shame on you."


Of course, we did grow up soaked in the Holocaust, both at home and in school, and my nightmares are full of Jews in the gas chambers, Jews getting shot, Jews getting beaten on the street, ghettos and rapes and cattle cars. And I think that it is a coping skill to tell yourself that somehow we deserved it.


A colleague visited the opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture last week. I was telling her how we saw Free State of Jones, which showed just a sliver of the horrifying life of a slave. She told me about the very upsetting exhibits at the museum, including tiny shackles for little bab…

When The Public Wants Information, Resistance Is Futile

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In my nuclear family we never talked about controversial stuff. Basically, we handled conflict either by my mother saying "shhh" or my grandmother saying "shhh."

If unfortunately it would happen that a fight broke out, we simply didn't talk to one another. Three days was the minimum, a few months was the max. It was never clear how we would start talking again, because nobody believed in apologizing. But just as it began, it would be over and talking about whatever the fight was about was simply not allowed.

"Shhh."

Joining the government more than a decade ago, I rapidly felt right at home.

"There is a problem with this program that the public should know about."

"Shhh."

"Someone is selling a service we provide for free, and charging $250."

"Shhh."

"Our technology is on eBay."

"Shhh."

"I have a Tweet I would like you to consider for your approval."

"I don't know what that is. Let …

5 Distorted Ideas About Communication That Destroy Americans' Trust In Government

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I've been a government communicator for a long time. In 13 years of doing this job at half a dozen federal agencies, I see the same problems over and over again. They lead people to think that the government can't be trusted, when the problem really is that we allow a bunch of messed-up ideas to govern the way we talk to people.
Messed up idea #1: Make them look for it: Typically the government keeps its mouth shut about things unless it absolutely has to communicate. The faulty reasoning behind this notion is that communicating with the public will inevitably lead to misunderstanding at best and public opposition at worst. As any journalist will tell you, just the opposite is true. The more you keep the public informed of your activities and the output of your operations, the greater their trust in you. The policy should be to overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate, and overcommunicate some more. (In very plain and accessible English, which by the way is also the la…

Interview on Popular Culture and Feminism now available

You can find the full interview here, at NoDon'tDie.com.


As always, all opinions are my own.

Free Pre-Recorded Webinar, "Advancing Federal Government Communications," Now Available

On September 13, 2016 I presented a webinar for the Federal Communicators Network called "Advancing Federal Government Communications." The audio is now available here (includes slide presentation). You'll need to have Java enabled to see and hear it.


Note: as always, all opinions are my own.

How Bad People Rise To The Top

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If I had a list of Top 10 topics that people like to talk about in life, this one would undoubtedly be on it. In his book of the same name, Harold Kushner asked Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People and this is sort of the same thing.

How is it that jerks always seem to get ahead while "nice guys finish last?"

Based on my observations of evil, awful, corrupt leaders over the past fifteen years or so, here are a few suggestions:

1) They have infinite ambition. You and I want to go home at the end of the day. We want to have a life, go to the movies, make art. We feel bad when our work commitments cut into our family time. But to a corrupt leader, the only thing that matters is getting the position they're after.

2) They lack emotional intelligence.
You and I feel bad when we see somebody crying. But the corrupt leader either doesn't notice or doesn't know why they should care. They don't relate to other people.

3) They feel fundamentally deprived of something th…

Reflections on my pre-Rosh HaShanah visit with the family

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This is a picture of a certificate I got in the Hebrew year תשׁמא, or 5741 (1980) when I was 9 years old. My father found it in the attic. Apparently as a kid I dragged the family to 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights to get a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and at that time my father purchased a letter in a Torah on my behalf.
This certificate might not seem very significant to you but it matters to me a whole lot. It says that even if I am not religious (or observant, call it whatever you want) like my family raised me to be, that I still have a place in the Torah. The Torah, mind you, not just the Jewish community but the actual body of law that describes our contract with G-d.
Someone posted an excerpt on Facebook the other day with violent language from the parsha. At that time I wrote that we can't possibly even try to understand what the literal words mean anymore. I say this not with any authority whatsoever, not as a rabbi and not as a scholar and not even as a man,…

How Not To Be Anonymous On Social Media

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One of the things people worry about, when it comes to their behavior on social media, is how much of their personal opinion can be shared.

And they should worry. Putting the legal discussion of rights and responsibilities aside, we exist in a social context. People judge us by what we say, and also how we say it.

For my part I think that you should be yourself online, just like in real life. If other people don't like it then you probably shouldn't associate with them.

But there is a problem with my position. And it has to do with the continuum along which "being yourself" turns into "sharing my views that are very offensive to you."

At work, in person, we know to keep strong opinions to ourselves. But online, we are becoming more and more conditioned to say exactly what we think, and the reaction of others be damned. And unless you're expressing your views in a way that is fully anonymous, someone can easily take offense to you -- someone you work w…

In Honor of Star Trek's 50th Anniversary: Captain Picard's 10 Best Quotes

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Did you know that September 8, 2016 marked exactly 50 years since the first episode of Star Trek was aired? In my world this is a very big deal, not just because I'm a fan but also because Captain Jean-Luc Picard is one of my leadership "gurus." In honor of this momentous occasion, here are some of the Captain's most well-known and inspiring lines about leadership, humanity and life: "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.""What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived.""It is possible to commit no errors and still lose. That is not a weakness...that is life.""If we're going to be damned, let's be damned for what we really are.""The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably." "There are times, Sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly fol…

"Time Out"

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The Washington Post has an article out about the pompous nature of over-workers. Yes, Silicon Valley startups, the lot of you are awesome. But the rest of us need to shower and sleep without buying an app to tell us how. The truth is, it's good to be somewhat aimless half the time. As a kid I was always encouraged to be creative, and that "undiscipline" came precisely from wandering strange roads, exploring the county courthouse on the weekend, invading the library, constructing makeshift tents out of dining room chairs, stuffing swaths of old fabric with cotton, cutting off the hair of my dolls, running away from home and running back, and writing, writing, writing. At summer camp nobody knew from insurance and liability. We had a schedule, sure, but the truth of it was that we were basically free to do drama club and Color War and tetherball and pottery. Of course, I ran around, broke my fingers one after the other, got dirty and ate blueberries right off the bushes t…

It Takes A World To Support Our Girls

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In an essay written for Glamour, "This is What A Feminist Looks Like," President Obama shares his views on women, gender and feminism. Long story short, we've come a long way baby, but we sure as heck aren't there yet:
"When you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way." And though I disagree with the President about a lot of things, I will always admire his personal family values. As Yoda said in Star Wars, "do or do not, there is no try" and it is obvious to me how much work the President and the First Lady have put into raising two beautiful, high-achieving, hardworking and empowered young women.

Our President is a male, and he is a male who is deeply feminist.

A few years ago one of my daughters interviewed m…

Branding to Transform Government Customer Service

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The September 2, 2016 edition of NextGov ran a story on the 2016 edition of Forrester Research's Customer Experience Index. The report will cost you $499 to purchase but the article highlights what for me is the main point:
"The federal government finished dead last among 21 major industries, and had five of the eight worst scores of the 319 brands, leading Forrester to note that government has a “near monopoly on the worst experiences.” Before saying anything about this study it should be noted that we don't have a clear sense of what its methodology was. Superficially we know that there were 122,500 adult respondents polled within the past year, asked for input on 319 brands covering 21 major industries. But when you drill down a little deeper, it's important to ask: What exactly were the questions? How were they asked? Was there an opportunity for respondents to expand on their answer? Why this odd number of brands? What constitutes a "major industry?"

N…

"Freedom to Call the President an Idiot"

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It was a cold winter afternoon and we were sitting at one of those elegant, traditional restaurants in Washington, D.C. where you can get a fish and chips and a beer while craning your neck to hear both journalists and diplomats.

Oh, how I hate these forced social gatherings, I thought to myself. Maybe it will come and go quickly.

The occasion was a birthday celebration for a colleague. I didn't know why we had to do these kinds of things, really, but then again socializing at work was never my strong suit. Dutifully I listened to the various remarks, the "hear hears," the heroic tales about muddling through the trenches of red tape, turf battles and general inanity.

It was time for dessert. Mercifully there are no more speeches, I thought but sure enough just then my boss stood up and rattled her thick glass mug with a spoon. "Just one more speech," she said, grinning widely. "Try to tough it out, and maybe I'll release you guys from the staff meetin…

Authentic Tweeting Without The Mask

It's a question that comes up a lot when companies decide how to use social media: "How should we present our identity to the public?"

Here are the typical options, along with the pros and cons:
A single organizational account where you don't know who is talking (a.k.a. "The Wizard of Oz"): The benefit of this approach is that the organization does not risk its brand on the reputation of any one individual. On the other hand, obviously social media is all about individuality and authenticity, so having an unnamed entity issuing messages is jarring to say the least. A single organizational account explicitly populated by a staff, with messages identified by name: This approach is helpful in that it humanizes the brand, but at the same time there is a lack of consistency in terms of "voice."An individual account in the corporate name where the person is identified as a brand representative: This approach can be extremely successful, but a problem com…