Friday, April 29, 2011

10 Fears Creative People Share - And How To Overcome Them

Myth: The world is divided into "creatives" and "non-creatives."

Fact: Everybody, everybody, everybody is creative in some form or fashion. Has nothing whatsoever to do with art. Deep down inside a person is a talent that at its core is not just mechanical repetition of what has gone before. But one generates a new kind of offering. Something the world has never seen before.

Even a soldier, born to fight, is creative in his or her own way.

The problem is, somewhere early in life, most people are squashed into conformity. Squelched. Smushed. Drowned. In a sea of you-shoulds, you-wills, threats mild and overt, economic or psychological or spiritual deprivation. In the laughably ineffective memorization pit that is much of traditional education.

The part of us that is creative, once it is squelched, does not go away. No. Instead it lays in wait within a person's being. It actually fights to get out. Like water or sunlight peering behind a rock. And the very moment there is a crack in the surface, the creativity comes flowing through like it originally did, at first as a trickle and then, with any encouragement, as a healthy stream.

The unfortunate part about having been squelched, and then finding a way to be creative again, is that the person fears they will once again lose their creative spark. In a helpless way. Like when they were younger. And that fear, being unbearable because it is so unpredictable, morphs into something even more threatening and painful: the worry that "I am not really creative in the first place."

In other words, the fact that the creativity was squashed, means it was never truly there to begin with. Otherwise, the person reasons to him or herself, if it were there and strong they could have stayed intact.

Normally, none of this is ever really articulated in life. We all just go about our business. But there is a subgroup of people that does end up affected by it. Even traumatized: Professional communicators.

Having overcome the forces that would squelch their creativity in the past, professional communicators are always extremely protective of their special spark. Not only do they know that it's delicate – enough to be taken away – but they also feel inadequate compared with others in their field.

For most writers and artists, every work they see that possesses the special spark, that expresses that kind of genius that only a creative has, both inspires them and makes them feel insecure. They see, right in front of them, the reality that should they fall away, somebody else would step in and take over – pretty much immediately.

The desperate need to preserve and nurture one's creativity leaves a communicator inherently afraid. Yet rather than focus on the numerous issues that really can harm their ability to produce – lack of time, lack of money, lack of confidence, lack of sleep, insufficient help with childcare and housework, elderly parents, home maintenance demands, health issues, poor nutrition, stress, and lack of updated skills – they get superstitious and worry about things that have nothing whatsoever to do with creativity. That in fact, can get in the way if you don't know how to incorporate them in your life in a balanced way.

Here they are boiled down to 10 basic incorrect fears, as expressed in words or attitude. But at the very bottom, all of them have to do with the incorrect belief that creativity and business savvy are incompatible. I truly believe that somehow, in the back of the communicators' mind, the concept of business savvy takes them back to a time when they were held back from being creative and forced to be just like everybody else. Because "corporate America" is stereotyped as being a place where everybody thinks, dresses, and acts alike – like the goony executives we see portrayed on TV and in the movies.

Nobody I know has ever stated any of these fears out loud. But if you look closely enough, you can see them underlying our behavior. Making us shoot ourselves in the foot, even as we protest loudly that "nobody takes us (or 'communication') seriously."

Ironically, it is this complex of fears – the fear of being a business success – that keeps us from being taken seriously as communicators, and having the license to take our skills and our imagination to the next level.

The 10 Fears – Stated as Myth vs. Fact

1. Myth: "When you get too logical, it strips away your creativity."

Fact: If you get carried away with your imagination, and can't stop to analyze how it might be received or what it will produce for the customer, nobody will see your creativity as having any value.

2. Myth: "Real artists break the rules, they don't follow them" or "I am unique in my personality…I can't be reduced to a robot who lives by a so-called 'process.'"

Fact: First of all, you are not as unique as you think you are, and that neither adds to nor detracts from your value as a human being. You are what you are. Secondly, you do at some level have to work among other people, and if they can't coordinate their actions with you through a process, you will not be able to accomplish anything without a lot of stress.

3. Myth: "Teamwork destroys creativity…no great novel has ever been written by committee."

Fact: If you are a great novelist, you can write that novel on your own time, waking up early in the morning, and eventually sell enough books never to have to work on a team again. Until that time, it usually takes a lot of collaboration to arrive at a product that will actually work. sIf you welcome early feedback rather than consider it an enemy, you can avoid being sorely embarrassed by a flub later on.

4. Myth: "I am inspired when I am inspired - I can't work on a time clock."

Fact: This is a crisis of your own making. Nobody said you had to be an automaton. What most employers want is a reasonable level of certainty so they can plan their own day and yours, and account for your physical safety if you're supposed to be at a certain place at a certain time. The real issue here is your fear that if you settle down to work, you'll have writer's block (or artist's block) and not be able to produce – so you procrastinate and procrastinate under the guise of "waiting for inspiration."

5. Myth: "I work best under pressure, so project management/time management is a waste of my time."

Fact: You are getting an adrenaline rush from the pressure and it's giving you an excuse to do less than your best work on the excuse that you didn't have enough time. Living in crisis mode is a habit; it's much more pleasant, and conducive to creativity, to structure and manage your time so that you are relaxed. When you achieve a peaceful state of mind, your creativity really can flow.

6. Myth: "I don't need to understand operations. Communications is enough of an expertise."

Fact: You can't do a good job of communication in the absence of knowing what you're communicating about. This does not reduce you to an operational type. Rather, it shows that you're conscientious and integrated in your thinking."

7. Myth: "Technology is just a substitute for creativity. Real artists can do everything the old-fashioned way. Why I still have a manual typewriter…an 8-track player…a working record player…."

Fact: Technology helps you to be more creative because it frees you from the drudgery that gets in between thinking and putting the product of the thought down on paper or on a screen. The real fear, again, is that you're a sham, so you try to buy time to procrastinate until you have the nerve to put something out there – if you ever do.

8. Myth: "Managers are boring, political jerks – so I can't be a manager! I am a creative - someone who never just 'toes the line.'"

Fact: Creative people make great managers. They are able to see all sides of a problem, think outside the box (please forgive me for repeating that silly cliché), unite completely opposing people. A little unpredictability makes life more interesting. Didn't you ever watch "The Office?" Michael Scott was one of a kind!

9. Myth: "I don't have to worry about my image. Real artists get respect because of their work."

Fact: Ha. Hahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Get over it.

10. Myth: "Real artists are above money…money is crass and disgusting. If I earn it, I will become a sellout and lose my soul."

Fact: Lots of people do well and do good at the same time. Refer back to The Office. Pam drew great cartoons. What was she doing as a receptionist? She should have stayed in art school and gotten a real job.

Overarching fact: You don't have to be a robot, evil or a sellout – unless you want to be, that is.

Find a middle of the road.

The truth is, good old fashioned business sense REQUIRES a lot of creativity. Because you're trying to come up with a competitive advantage – do something new, different, better than the others so that you get the money and not them. That requires a lot of thinking, innovation.

Admit to yourself that you are holding your own self back. The more you operate balanced, the more the business will respect you, and the more license you will have to be fully creative.

In the end, what these myths cover up is that your own fear is your #1 worst enemy. That and the lifestyle issues that are seriously getting in your way. So change your bad habits. Embrace a more peaceful way of life. And most important of all, come to terms with yourself.

You are neither as bad as you fear nor as good as you aspire to be. You're just human. Let it go.


Template for communication metrics - easy to use, simple to adapt, free

Note: The cut and paste into the blog doesn't look so great, but the Excel format is workable. Please take a look and let me know what you think or how you might improve on it.

You'll have to go to
GovLoop (joining is required) to get the Excel version and Posterous to get the PDF version.

Good luck!

- Dannielle Blumenthal

The ABCD Customer Satisfaction Survey
A Free Template You Can Use, Adapt, Remix and Integrate
Created by Dannielle Blumenthal (@thinkbrandfirst) 4/29/2011
Note: this worksheet has 3 tabs
Project Title: Sample Project 1
Item # Category Meaning Ranking
1 - Poor 2 - Average 3 - Excellent
1 Awareness Audience has increased knowledge
2 Attitude Audience has positive reaction
3 Action Audience buys or complies
4 Branding Consistent graphic/message/font
5 Cost effectiveness Project executed within budget
6 Customer service Communication team responsive to requests
7 Communication Open, honest, constant flow of information
8 Coordination Team members work together synergistically
9 Deadlines Deliverables provided on time
10 Excellence Overall performance by communication team
Subtotals 0 0 0
Total - This Project 0
Running Total (across projects; use worksheet tabs) 0
Customer Comments
This is sample text to show you that the cells have been merged so as to provide room for customer comment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Internal Communications: An Essential Investment in Crisis Prevention

Who knows better what’s going on inside a home: The people actually living within its walls? Or the neighbors, friends, Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts?

The people living there, of course.

Same goes for an organization: Is it the employees who are best-informed? Or the customers, the investors, the regulators and the media?

There again – it is the employees, at some level, who know the story first and better than “outsiders” do.

Internal stakeholders – read employees – know what’s going on. They also care – a lot. Because their sustenance depends on things going well at work.

So it is not only stupid, but can be organizationally suicidal, to ignore what they have to say. Or to punish them for constructively and appropriately trying to communicate information that can save the organization from itself.

Going back to the family analogy: When I was a kid I lived in a house with a winding staircase. You could sit at the top of the stairs on the second floor and listen to what was going on downstairs at the base of the stairs. Without anyone seeing you.

So when my parents argued over things – like where we would live or what type of school I should go to – you can bet I was sitting there at the top of the stairs listening very hard.

Employees are exactly the same as kids in this way. Living in their parents’ (the employer’s) house. Wanting to know what’s going to be. Watching for signals that affect their safety, stability, and future.

Not every employee is passionately engaged with the mission. Not everyone cares about doing a good job. The day-to-day news affecting the organization often flies right by them. But three things worry them deeply, and those are the things you can count on them to be attentive to:

• The financial stability of the organization – is it going under?
• Their standing within the organization – is their own job in jeopardy?
• The reputation of the organization – is their own good name at risk by being associated with the organization?

If you look at these things closely, they are exactly what most CEOs are worried about as well.

And so it would be smart for leaders to get employees involved in monitoring and reporting on these matters.

Not just because it would boost morale. But because employee warnings can serve as an early alerting system to help avert crises before they blow up, real damage is done, and the mainstream and social media rake the organization over the coals.

On a practical level, obtaining this kind of feedback from employees has to be simple, real-time, and available both in-person and electronically. Standard things like an “open door” policy, town halls, two-way email feedback systems, etc. are good, but the problem is that they’re difficult to standardize, make consistent, and monitor when your organization is extremely large, complex and geographically distributed.

On the other hand, an online message board does a great job of handling this:

1) Establish a central, anonymous tipline where employees can report anything they feel is important - whether that be fraud, waste and abuse; inaccurate or slanderous news coverage; or even a process that could use improving.
2) Publish tips to a central message board where others can comment and/or vote on their usefulness. Use a moderator to filter out extremely sensitive or confidential material that doesn’t belong there, but that needs to be investigated. The moderator can also delete “spam” or slanderous tips as well as generate productive discussion in the repository.
3) Enable access to the message board for employees from home so that they have the privacy and anonymity they need to report items of importance.
4) Reward employees for submitting tips that lead to misconduct being discovered, a dangerous situation corrected, etc.
5) Train employees extensively to behave appropriately with this sensitive material. Publish a clear and simple policy that is prominently displayed.

(Of course, every organization operates within its own constraints, and you will need to check to make sure that establishing any communication tool or mechanism abides by applicable laws, regulations and rules. This blog is not a substitute for obtaining the appropriate advice.)

Executives commonly worry that providing this kind of tool will just give license to destructive people to destroy morale. But the reality is quite the opposite. Usually it is the employees who care the most about the mission, who believe the organization the most, that hold it to the highest standard of conduct and that therefore get engaged in these types of forums.

And you know what? If you don’t give people a constructive way to share the problems they see, they will find a way to do it anyway – one that the organization doesn’t control, can’t have any input into, and may well regret because things will be said that put people in a bad light without giving them an opportunity to explain and defend themselves.

It is a virtual certainty to me that 90% of the time (the other 10% being an unavoidable accident or disaster), crises can be prevented before they start.

Nuclear disasters. Oil spills. Car defects. Medicine recalls.

Could these costly crises be avoided if only the companies responsible had done a better job of getting employees to share what they know? What they are concerned about?

Could things be better if crisis identification – a.k.a. risk management – were seen as part of everyone’s job, not just crisis communicators or leadership or even supervisors?

Meaning that the “not my job” attitude and the “none of your business” attitude were effectively history?

Imagine how literally billions of dollars could have been saved rather than being washed down the drain of fighting, finger-pointing, and crisis recovery.

Most crises are not a surprise. Instead they are the result of a long-term dysfunctional pattern, process or practice. Anybody with half a brain can see them coming.

The question is whether we have eyes to see. Ears to hear. Courage to accept the nasty truth from a messenger who isn’t necessarily favored, or high in status.

All you have to do is imagine an asteroid. You want to explode it while it’s still in outer space. Rather than having it blow up the earth from under your feet.

*All opinions, as always, are my own and my comments do not represent any individual or organization.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

20 Ways To Be More Likable

Likability. It's something we're all worried about, because to survive we must have the approval of at least some other people. 

The good news is you have a lot more power than you think to make people like you. And it doesn't cost any money at all to do most of these things.

The bad news is that to become more likable, you'll probably have to change. Since the fact that you worry about this means that you're doing some stuff incorrectly. But that's is about learning and growing.

Here are the top 20 pieces of advice I would give to someone who wants to be more likable - in no particular order because they're all important: 
  1. Stop judging other people harshly. Karma is like that - bad energy to others means hatred of you; goodwill results in likability. It's OK to disapprove of a certain behavior. But if you do that, have in the back of your head some kind thought as well. Two examples: "Most people are doing the best they can to survive," or "That person must be in tremendous pain to act that way." Doesn't mean you sanction evil. Does mean you separate the person from the behavior. Karma aside, when you do this, you become more likable because you learn not to unfairly judge yourself. 
  2. Find a balance between being spontaneous and socially appropriate. Too formal is bad, but "wild and crazy" only works in the movies.
  3. Be helpful but not a doormat. It's good for your likability to assist others in getting things done. But if you can't draw the line, they won't respect you. In general, practice asserting yourself - often. People who worry about their likability tend to let others walk all over them in an attempt to curry favor. But inside, the unfairness of this bargain causes them to seethe. In the end, they go too far the other way and end up seeming aggressive.
  4. Focus on doing what needs to get done and avoid thinking about yourself. It's about action, not thinking. The more you think, the more you will worry, and the more you worry and become self-conscious, doing socially awkward things will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Watch The King's Speech where the guy can't speak because he's hearing his domineering father yell at him in his head. He literally has to drown out that yelling with headphones. Action, action, action.
  5. Give charity, volunteer, and in general try to leave the world just a tiny bit better than it was before you got here. It can be as simple as wiping the floor after you spill some coffee at 7-Eleven, so that nobody else gets tripped up. 
  6. Make a conscious decision, once and for all, to accept yourself. You don't have to think you're the greatest talent ever, you don't have to love yourself, you don't have to distort the truth in any way. But you are what you are, so you might as well accept that and stop fighting it. If you believe in G-d, think of the fact that G-d created you. The Christian preacher and motivational expert Joel Osteen tells a funny joke that a child asked his mother where people come from. The mother said, "From G-d, of course." The child responds, "I don't understand because Dad said people come from monkeys." Mother replies, "Oh, that's his side of the family." I love that joke. Bottom line: G-d made you, and G-d is perfect, and you are a child of G-d. Just fine.
  7. Practice thought-stopping. Affirmations can sound phony and stupid, but at the very least you should not tell yourself "I'm a jerk," "I'm a dummy," etc. As soon as you start beating yourself up in your head - STOP.Own your flaws with humor. Have a good sense of humor in general. But especially when it comes to your own idiocy. We are all stupid in a certain way. We are all defective. That's what makes life fun. For example, when I count things I am always off by one. If an even is supposed to be on May 1st, for example, I will blurt out that it's on May 2nd. It never fails. It's frightening. Yet when it happens, I go, "ha-ha-ha-, you see? I'm always off by one." And I laugh at my own little foible. It's like that.
  8. Learn to laugh. You don't usually laugh? Life sucks that bad? Force yourself to smile. It's free - Google "jokes" on the Internet. Pick up a funny book. Watch "The Soup" or "Saturday Night Live" or "The Colbert Report." In Yiddish we say "Lach a bissel" - "laugh a little." The greatest humor comes from tragedy. If your lack of likability is tragic to you, join the crowd and watch George on Seinfeld. He was the most unlikable guy ever, but his character was hilarious. 
  9. Do what you have to do image-wise as a matter of general routine. Brush your hair, brush your teeth, take care of your health, and take care of your appearance, but don't get all obsessed. While it may be true that people who look good have a better chance of getting the job, it is also true that people who are obsessed with their looks are a complete turnoff to other people. Read: the opposite of likable. 
  10. Don't be a jackass. This should go without saying. You might have the very odd idea that people like and respect jerks who throw their weight around. No, no, no. People like people who are very respectful of others. 
  11. Follow your conscience. Your conscience. What you believe to be right. Do that. If something is wrong, don't do it. If you want others to like you, you have to like yourself. And you will like yourself if you make it a habit to live according to the beliefs you think are right. If you believe in G-d, fearing and serving a higher power helps you to not care what others think of you. Which automatically makes you more likable.
  12. Widen your circle of friends. This is very important. You have to let the sunlight in. Don't get stuck in a rut with the people who knew you from way back when. If you want to stay friends, that's fine, but it's good to network with a lot of people. First of all, this keeps you from feeling terrible if something happens and you get in a huge fight with a friend and suddenly a whole group won't talk to you. Second of all, in general, it's like a cushion of self-esteem that you just know a lot of people. Superficial is OK. And the good thing is, the more people you talk to, the more comfortable you get talking to people with whom you have little in common. Your social skills improve. You become more likable.
  13. Deal with the specific social skills that usually screw you up. For example, I have trouble eating in front of other people. I'm a spiller, for one thing, and the coffee or the salad always ends up on my clothes. Secondly, when I am hungry, I eat fast because I actually worry that somehow the food will be taken away before I'm done eating, and I will go hungry (O, there are a thousand ways to analyze this). It is nuts. And thirdly, it is unfailing that I will get spinach in my teeth. Now, the way I deal with this is to eat with people who can stand the sight of me. But if you have to interact with and/or eat around a lot of people, you have to practice eating in a normal way. OK?
  14. Get intensely engaged in some creative or intellectual pursuit. You do not, repeat NOT, have to have any talent. The point of doing this is to lose yourself in something enjoyable. If you're good at it, all the better. Because if you like and respect yourself because of something you are objectively accomplishing, outside of simply winning the approval of other people, you will seem less desperate for approval and your likability factor will increase.
  15. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. So you have something to talk about with other people. You should always be aware of at least the top stories of the day. So you don't seem like the girl from the movie Hanna, who grew up in the forest. Also, reading and staying current with what's going on gets you out of your own head. Which as stated previously, is a bad thing.
  16. Prepare yourself to be criticized. We all get it. It's part of life. Some of it is well-intentioned. Some of it is mean and abusive because somebody else is having a bad day. Learn to sort the useful from the non-useful. And go on with your life. Do not allow a mean comment to ruin your day.
  17. Ask questions of other people. Start with closed-ended questions like "Where did you grow up?" and then progress from there to open-ended ones like "What was that like for you?" Make sure you listen to the answers. But don't stare at them in the face. Alternate looking at them, with looking at someone else. Otherwise you seem like a stalker.  
  18. Write a blog. Tweet. Put yourself out there. The more you write it out, the less it will eat you up in your head.
  19. Question your beliefs (and others' too). For example, let's say you freeze up during a speech. You tell yourself, "Now I really did it. Now I really look like a fool. Nobody is going to talk to me now." Or you make a mistake at work and your "frenemy" says to you, "Great you've really made us all look bad." Are either of those statements really true? I don't think so. You have to do a lot of other things to truly lose people's respect. To lose credibility. Lying is one great example. If you're generally an honest, ethical, unassuming and nice person who has trouble with public speaking or who makes a mistake now and then, that is not going to reduce your likability one bit. Don't just accept the automatic beliefs in your head or the things that others tell you.  
  20. Start accepting the friendship of those who genuinely like you. You know the famous quote by Groucho Marx, "I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member." That's a very insightful thing he said. Some people refuse to be friends with people who like them, assuming that whoever would like them must be a fool. Instead, they chase the popular crowd (oh, adult life is exactly like high school), the ones who will never give them the time of day. If you automatically refuse to be around people who like you, but instead chase people who think you're a dork, how are you going to solve the problem of your own likability exactly? 
A lot to think about and there's a lot more to say. Certainly this is just a start, and I would appreciate reading others' ideas. Because we're all in the same boat here. 

Thus I mean it when I say - 

Good luck!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Movie About Product Placement That Gets Its Funding From Product Placement

It's a tongue-in-cheek movie by Morgan Spurlock (of "Supersize Me" fame) about product placement.

But like an onion, or a Russian doll, it has layers and layers beneath that.

* A layer about brands, and how inescapable they are today.

* A layer about the non-reality caused by living in a marketing society.

* But perhaps most strikingly, a layer about how everyone and everything is suddenly up for sale - even a documentary maker who is chiding the deceptive practice that is funding his work.

Check out the trailer:

Here is a link to DC showtimes this weekend. If you see it, I'd be interested to know what you think.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It’s About Learning to Try

I remember when I was five.

We lived in a nice little house in New Jersey. I used to stand in the doorway by the back yard with my father and feed the birds.

One day I came home from school and my mother dropped the "m-bomb":

“We are moving, pack your things.”

I don’t remember anything else.

When I was a kid, we moved a lot. It was the life of a consultant’s daughter.

So it’s a little bit hard for me to take concrete goals seriously.

When I graduated college I got a scholarship to study sociology in a Ph.D. program. I remember that I was completely surprised. They called my old roommate to tell me – and by some miracle she hadn’t lost my telephone number.

So much of our lives happens in this way. Unpredictable, fortuitous or seemingly accidental. So much out of our control. As they say, “Man (woman) plans and G-d laughs.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals. It’s not about achieving anything in particular, in my view. You can throw a hundred darts at the board and only hit it once inside the line.

Rather it’s about learning how to try. The process. Setting yourself up to succeed in those areas where you have been destined to make a difference.

Here’s where the book
Change Anything comes in. It lays out a specific course of action you can take for any goal, professional or personal. Generally they fall into the categories of "motivation" and "ability," or wanting to change and then knowing how.

The suggestions below are adapted from these principles as laid out in the book.

1. Motivation

* Visualize your goal: See yourself in cap and gown on graduation day

* Solicit positive peer pressure: Describe goal to supportive people – family, friends, etc.

* Reward your own successes: Fill out college application, then go to a movie

2. Ability

* Learn the skills to succeed: Read an article on time management

* Surround yourself with others with those skills: Join an Honors club at school

* Make your environment reflect your chosen goal: Set aside a study space in your home

Keep in mind that all of these actions require consistency to work. After the initial “high” of embarking on a path, you have to stay motivated and keep learning new ways to progress continuously.

With motivation and ability, and of course G-d’s help, you can do just about anything.

Stay strong, and good luck!

Awards Are The Best Motivator

A group of us at work received an award recently for mission support - generally for collaboration between Public Affairs and Information Technology. Our shared goal: deliver information the public wants and needs.

I know nobody cares about somebody else's award. But I just wanted to share this. Because I don't need to win them all. Just once in awhile, and I'm inspired to keep on trying despite all the challenges.

That's what I want to say to whoever reads this. Hope you will keep up the spirit - never, ever give up. Award or not.

P.S. This is my own post, not an official one.

Think Your Way Out of a Dictatorship

Confronted with dictators and their dysfunctional organizations from the outside, people usually express surprise:

"How did this one person rise to such a position? Why does anyone go along with this?"

From the inside, the very same situation seems obvious:

"Oh, it's always been like that."

After awhile, people don't even blink to acknowledge it.

The difference between the dysfunctional group and the functional one is insularity.

Keeping to oneself, never letting in an outsider, never learning from best practices, refusing training, staying away from conferences, avoiding networking with unfamiliar people, shunning social media networks, and being too busy even to crack a book or a magazine that you usually don't read --

All of these are a breeding ground for mental bacteria. The kind that thrive on dictatorship. Insular thinking, because it leaves you unaware of common norms, strips you of confidence. You end up wanting to be told what to do, often abusively; rewarded for total obedience; punished for asking a question; and accepting it when you are made to do things in an insanely unfair and inefficient way "or else."

The worst misconception people have about dictatorship is that if they comply, they will be spared. Not true.

Anywhere you work, anywhere you live, if you see insular thinking taking root, challenge it. Bring forward external perspectives and a critical approach. It is neither "rude" nor "weird" to do so.

Where you see a dictatorship blossoming, nip it in the bud.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

5 Lessons From Yesterday's Facebook Town Hall*

April 20, 2011 - a historic day. The President of the United States sat down to do a live chat with the public, with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as moderator. (What a brand coup for FB, with that big banner sign...)

Normally impatient, I happily sat in front of the computer waiting for it to start. I was literally clapping at how cool it was.

I "checked in" and watched for a few minutes - the intro speeches by Sheryl Sandberg and question #1. Read the comments in the chat alongside. Here are my key takeaways:

1. People LOVE interacting with the govt. on social media. But their expectations are high and they are vocal if disappointed.

2. You can trust the audience to self-correct members of the community who are rude, inappropriate, etc.

3. Suit and tie on Facebook looks overdressed.

4. Q and A must be very short. Quantity better than perfect quality answer. Need to find balance in answers between simple and substantive.

5. Need to get to the point, fast - intro of prominent audience members could be done at the end.

Overall I thought the President was pretty brave to put himself out there like that. (I am not sure I could handle the spotlight, the pressure, and the criticism.) I respect the effort and look forward to seeing others follow in his footsteps.

Who day we could be watching town halls with life-size 3D holographic avatars!

The future of communication is all about social interaction - emotional intelligence - played out on a digital stage.

What did YOU think?


*Note: I work for the government but all opinions, as always, are my own.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Customer Service Lesson #1: Help Me Not To Worry

I buy things, often.

I sell things, sometimes.

I don’t like shipping - at all.

It’s an irksome, worrisome, expensive process where things can easily get messed up.

On the positive side, this makes it an excellent industry to use as a focus area. One that can help us think about great customer service and how to implement it in any organization.

Think about it. Customer service is something we take for granted. Because you don't really need it unless there is something to worry about.

However, isn't it true that there is frequently something to worry about?

So companies that handle worry well, are set up to win and keep customers. Who are, after all, a source of money.

Customers will turn to great customer service providers in times of need. And they'll remember where to go when there is nothing to worry about at all. Because something can always go wrong.

Therefore, looking at three major providers of shipment services - FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service*, and UPS, here are some quick "do's and dont's" I have learned. All are based on my personal experience. Note that I am not endorsing any of them.

The two-second summary:

When it comes to a customer-service-intensive process like moving things from place to place, I prefer a company that -

  • I can easily remember how to contact by phone
  • Doesn't quiz me endlessly for information in order to get the task done, and
  • Literally delivers with no glitches - quick and simple.

That, to me, is great customer service. For any company.

Here's an in-depth analysis (see table):






Great brand. Memorable, memorable, memorable. The color scheme, the phone number, everything. I instantly think of them when I have to ship something and want it there fast and reliably – even though I know it will cost more.

Telephone customer service representatives facilitate everything – you don’t need a label, a box, or anything

Knowledgeable, friendly, helpful customer service representatives (same as FedEx)

They were willing to correct an overbilling mistake, but I had to let them know about it - they didn't notify me

Beyond the simple things, it’s tough to get an answer – like a comprehensive telephone quote for a shipment that includes all fees

· Daunting online shipping process. (Make it easy – I want to hand the money over and get the shipping taken care of.)

Make your brand memorable

Get a good telephone number and make sure it works well

Telephone customer service is critical to your success

Educate customer service representatives to answer questions comprehensively

Catch and fix mistakes before the customer does

If you offer online self-service, make it easy to use

U.S. Postal Service

Pretty good brand. Memorable color scheme, ubiquitous locations, consistent process.

Facilitator helps people standing on the line at the post office to complete simple tasks

Flat rate shipping

TV commercials good at raising awareness, and the personification of the mailperson is effective

Great online experience – easy to create account, print label, ship or arrange for pickup

Easy to get supplies for shipping

Knowledgeable, friendly, helpful customer service representatives

What telephone service?

You don’t have to be perfect to be good enough

Lessen the pain of standing on a line by helping customers get off the line

TV commercials can be a good adjunct to your advertising if used well, and spokespeople are critical to their success

Give away supplies for free, so that people use your service


Packing service at the stores is first-rate. If you can get there.

Brown who? I remember the color, but that’s about it as far as the brand goes.

Daunting online shipping process

Owning a color is not the same thing as building a brand

*I work for the government, but all opinions here are my own.

Who's afraid of senior management? Internal communicators! (UK survey results)

According to research just released from the UK, fear of upsetting the leader stops communicators from generating good internal communication:

"Internal communicators are most likely to pull back from what they believe to be the appropriate course of action because of problems with senior management." More here or see summary results below.

Survey title: “Fearless Communication – What Encourages It and What Kills It Stone Dead Conducted online by Institute of Internal Communication (UK) - released April 2011


1. “Major block to progress in communication”?

Senior management – 45% of respondents

Budgetary or time constraints – 19%

Attitude of colleagues – 11%

General lack of confidence – 11%

2. “Scariest challenge you face?”

Getting support of leaders and other staff – 45%

Effective use of social media and new technology – 19%

3. “Key factor with potential to reduce fear and initiate positive action?”

Understanding leaders – 44%

Supportive network – 16%

Mentor – 13%

4. “Attributes most associated with fearless communication”

Excellent interpersonal skills (persuasion, influencing, listening, ability to inspire and engage) – 16%

Honesty and consistency – 14%

Tenacity and persistence – 12%

General confidence – 10%

Clarity of management and focus – 7%

5. “Behaviors most associated with fearfulness”

“Toeing the line in relation to senior managers” – 16%

“Generally not standing up for what they believe in and watering everything down to avoid upsetting people” - 7%

What do you think? Are leaders a help when it comes to internal communication, or not?

5 Toxic Myths about Internal Communication That Can Destroy a Leader's Reputation

Remember "Mr. Montgomery Burns," Homer's boss (from The Simpsons)? He was a satirical sketchup of a callous corporate boss, with an "unquenchable desire to increase his own wealth and power," and a striking lack of caring about his own employees.

Wikipedia elaborates further on the fictionalized character's attitude toward his staff:
"He is a his...inability to remember his employees' names — including Homer's, despite frequent interactions...and lack of concern for their safety and well-being."
Speaking from the perspective of someone who has worked in, consulted to, researched and presented on internal communications for the past ten years, evil intentions aren't why internal communications goes wrong.

Actually, most leaders care a lot about what their employees think.

  • In the best case that's because they care about the mission being accomplished, and they understand that only the employees can do that.
  • In the worst case, they have a narcissistic need for adoration.
Either way, if you can forgive the double negative, "they don't not care."

Yet the way things stand today, in my observation, there are a lot of "thought filters" between a leader's desire to communicate and the resulting internal communication. The failure of these filters leads to poor communication and poor perceptions of leadership.

Here are just a few:
  1. The incorrect perception that "internal communication can wait"
  2. because "I have to focus on achieving results" ("results" being satisfying the pressure from stakeholders to handle an endless series of unpredictable crises)
  3. The incorrect perception that "internal communication requires no special skill other than to say what we want to say" because employees "have to listen...they need the job"
  4. The incorrect perception that external stakeholder communication requires more funding and staffing than internal communications
  5. The incorrect perception that "internal communication has no ROI (return on investment)" because "it can't really be measured"
  6. The incorrect perception that "internal communication is a girl's job (women's job)" and therefore worthless versus "real work"
Bad internal communication matters a lot more today than it did in the past. Two words:

Social Media

Bottom line: If you don't communicate well with your employees, they will communicate about that to the world.

Smart organizations don't allow their leaders to end up looking like Mr. Burns.