Saturday, December 31, 2011

Your Personal Brand - When Are You Ready?

the wings-become-windows butterfly.

When I was in yeshiva I learned that the Jews only accepted the Torah when "God held the mountain over their (our) heads." Meaning that we were forced.

At the time the Jews said, "Naaseh Venishma," Hebrew for "We will do and we will listen."(Which is sort of a clue - normally you would listen first and then act, but here there is action seemingly without even knowing what one is doing.)

I asked the teacher,  "If we were forced to accept the Torah when what does it mean that we agreed to accept it? There was a mountain over our heads!"

If someone has no choice, then their choice is no choice at all.

Did a little research and found an interesting response by rabbi/computer engineer Mois Navon.

Basically Navon says that the Jews had already accepted God's authority on their own - it was the Torah part they weren't so sure about.

Navon says that just like children have to be forced to do what's right until they are ready on their own, God initiated the Jews into Torah law without their consent. Only many years later, when they did voluntarily accept it (in 432 BCE), were they "accountable" for keeping its laws.

At that time, now a holiday which Jews call Purim, the nation eluded a mandate by the Persian King Ahashverosh (goaded by his adviser Haman) to exterminate them. They did so through acting on their own behalf in the political realm, and fasting and praying to God in the spiritual one.

The timing of the true acceptance of Torah is no mistake, says Navon - it occurred only after the Jews had to take responsibility for their own fate, and not rely on direct interception by God.

He argues that the exercise of free will - a fundamental tenet of the Jewish faith as well as a basic American value - is a thing that can only responsibly be exercised once a person has been forced, like a child, to accept basic "moral values."

We don't let 3-year-olds run into the street; we don't let 12-year-olds get married; we don't let people vote till they turn 18.

There is a similar principle at work when it comes to your personal brand, which is really your identity. You start out with someone telling you who you are, you obey, and then you get to decide later on.

I obeyed till I was about 8, and then the process of change began. One of mine involves the '80s, neon, and a seemingly endless series of perms.

After that was college, and...well there are so many years of phases, aren't they? How do you know when you've arrived at "you," a brand you can be accountable for, rather than one that was forced on you?

Here's the way I look at it. It's a little bit different than Navon.

There is a time in one's life when identity and values have to be foisted on you. This is part of normal development. But the point of this is not for you to accept what others say. Rather it is for you to have a model to start out with. One that you can modify, adapt, mash up and mix around on your own.

In other words, you start out with somebody else's brand so that you know what a brand is. And when you grow up, you get to create your own.

I don't agree that maturity means you finally accept whatever has been dictated. Or that it only comes to you through an experience of hellish adversity. Or even that you snap into it all at once, or that your identity is ever "final."

Instead I think your brand is a gradual thing that evolves over time, that you find and settle into, through a process of questioning and experience and yes, even going through phases you would rather not think about later on. It's about exploring and recognizing that the journey never ends.

So when are you ready to brand? I guess when you realize that there is never going to be an end to the branding - you'll start out as version 1.0 and just keep chugging along.

Here's what I believe: Trust in yourself, and look to the One Above to guide you.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Photo by Eddie Van 3000 Via Flickr

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Friday, December 30, 2011

How To Let Yourself Succeed In 2012

Local harvest

Branding works pretty much the same whether it's personal or for a product, service, corporation, nonprofit, or government agency. And although there are bells and whistles that make it superficially different from marketing, advertising, PR or reputation-building, there are certain core concepts that never go away. The most important of these is:

Outcomes are what matter. Not intentions.

This occurred to me last night as I ate precisely 2.5 handfuls of chocolate almonds after dinner (no, not 25 but 2.5 is bad enough!) I have resolved about 50 million times not to eat too much at night, and I know that those handfuls probably cost me in the neighborhood of 500-600 calories - and that is after dinner. But all my resolve to "be good" and not overdo it melted in the face of the tempting treat.

If someone like me, who shares success tips all the time, can't keep a simple resolution like eating a lower-calorie dinner, then it's not hard to understand why many people don't even bother to make New Year's resolutions. According to today's USA Today (Dec. 30, 2011; poll by Bing/Impulse Research) fully 1 out of 3 respondents (32%) "just say no" to this annual tradition.

The flaw in my thinking, I believe, is that I gave myself "extra credit" for having good intentions when it is results that count.

You can see this very clearly in the movie Margin Call (I rented it on Redbox or you can rent or buy it from As a government employee I was sort of shocked at the way they treated people in this movie (in fact the treatment of employees is part of the movie's premise, so I won't give it away) but suffice it to say that people were punished or rewarded by the company based on the results they generated.

I didn't agree with what I saw in the movie. But it was a good slap of cold water in the face. It reminded me that what matters is what the outcome is, not what you wanted it to be. And in branding, unfortunately, this is often the first thing people forget.

In fact the most common mistake in branding is confusing the message you are sending, for the impression that people receive. The fact is that people think whatever the hell it is that they want to. So the challenge of brand communication is to focus on the results, the outcome, the end impression.

On this, the mental block to overcome is that you may not be entirely comfortable with the methods it takes to get people to think well of you. But that you have to do those things in order to achieve success. (Example: When you make your customers angry, you either explain yourself and get them on board, or change course, and do it fast.)

Similarly, when it comes to staying in shape, you may not totally like all the things you have to do to succeed. For example, I vastly prefer walking to any sort of weight training. Yet it is starting to enter my brain that building up muscle is a more effective way to stay trim than just cardio. It is up to me what I do, but just because I walk with good intentions that doesn't mean any difference will occur with respect to results.

If you want to succeed in 2012, avoiding resolutions isn't going to help anything. Rather, introduce to yourself the concept that facts are facts no matter what you feel about them and no matter how much they are to your liking.

Have a good day everyone, Happy New Year, and good luck!


Photo by George Alexander via Flickr
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Excerpt: "An Open Letter To The Beit Shemesh Spitter"

This letter is a response from Aish HaTorah, a Jewish outreach organization, to a hateful lunatic who doesn't know the first thing about God, or Judaism.

"How dare you spit on an 8-year-old schoolgirl and terrorize her as she walks to school? I don't care what she's wearing; spitting, verbal abuse, and threats of violence cannot be tolerated. How dare you call yourself a Hareidi, God-fearing Jew? Your despicable actions are diametrically opposed to Judaism. You are a thug and a hooligan whose conduct, in the words of the statement from Agudath Israel of America "is beyond the bounds of decent, moral – Jewish! – behavior."

Extremists in religious garb are not religious. People who live, speak, walk, talk and breathe compassion and fairness are the ones I follow, no matter what they call themselves.

Read the full letter here:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are You Secure Enough To Handle An Engaged Employee?


A true story:

Recently I did a demo at work on something technical.

The audience was an informal group of staffers who meet once a week to share information, brainstorm, and laugh. Well not expressly to laugh but it doesn't hurt to work with people who have a good sense of humor.

In any case, I hauled out the laptop and connected it to the monitor and started briefing. What is this, why do we need it, what is the proposed solution...

Suddenly out of nowhere one of the people in the meeting, who works in a completely different area, starts talking about a topic related to the demo. The person brings up a technology-related idea that has unbelievable potential for the agency.

Not being a very formal group we want to hear more about the idea now; the demo can wait a minute. Especially since the idea is just as core to the business strategy as the demo. We are charged up!

Now instead of one person being engaged in one thing, another in another thing, and not much movement on either, we have an entire roomful of people on fire.

The conversation goes back to the demo, briefly, and then it drifts out again.

After an hour and a half we didn't finish the demo totally. We didn't get to watch the brief episode of a really funny television show that featured us and relates to our mission. Which had me cracking up when I saw the preview. And we didn't get to go over everyone's stuff.

But the level of engagement in that room was so high! And we had discovered not one but two people who had the potential to contribute not only where they were, but to cross-office projects as well. That means in-house expertise that we otherwise would have had to pay a consulting fee for, or get someone from another group to contribute when everyone is on overload with their projects.

When you think about the subject of employee engagement, often the assumption is that strategy is something dictated from on high and we all, like kindergarteners, are just supposed to "get on board" as if strategy were a choo-choo train.

(Actually once a leader at another organization where I worked did actually urge us to "get on the train" with respect to strategy. He meant "so that you won't be left behind" but me being the grandchild of Holocaust survivors I couldn't help but think of the train to Auschwitz and I had an intense desire to stay right where I was. Yes I know - I can be very intense and depressing.)

Real engagement actually ADDS to the strategy. Not only are people excited to do what leadership sees is important, but they come up with new ways to do it that previously were unheard of. In the process they may modify the vision a bit, but that's OK, because they make the concept theirs and serve as "ambassadors" (I dislike that word but it's true) to evangelize for it in places corporate communication can't reach - the water cooler, the office microwave, the food court, and yes, even in restroom chatter.

At the meeting the staffer who initially offered the demo-related idea apologized for talking too much at the meeting. As if they had had the experience of being shut down before; as if they were worried that someone from a lower level of the food chain should not steal the thunder of someone higher. I understood the worry but honestly, my mind was someplace completely else. I was thinking about all the evolutionary, revolutionary, time-saving and productivity-enhancing technology-based upgrades we could employ in the agency if every single person had the knowledge and enthusiasm of this one person.

After the meeting a couple of my friends, including the other tech-savvy person, stopped by to chat. We uttered a collective, "Wow" - as if we had just seen someone start speaking Greek fluently out of nowhere. It was just amazing to see what can happen if you shut up and let people talk. Not trying to own or take credit for everything, but opening up the floor to all the talent that is there.

Maybe that's the true meaning of diversity and inclusion. Not to "tolerate" people who are different than us, but to let down our defenses and stop being so insecure and encourage talent wherever it is, whatever it looks like, however it sounds, and whenever we hear it.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

P.S. All are welcome to join the Federal Communicators Network Lunch & Learn Webinar this January 19 for our dial-in webinar on employee engagement, featuring Chris Gay. This event, tailored to government employees, is free;  click here to register.


Photo by Yoppy via Flickr

Note: I am the chair of the Federal Communicators Network, an independent group focused on providing free training to federal communicators to help them serve the taxpayer. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

10 Tips for New Leaders, Most of Them From a Wise Friend

English: Margaret Thatcher, former UK PM. Fran...
Image via Wikipedia

  1. Act the part till you feel it is “you.”
  2. Have someone in mind to model yourself after.
  3. Dress the part – time to go shopping!
  4. When someone is hostile – remember it’s not personal; don’t engage at their level; and don’t be afraid to call them out and remind them to be a professional.
  5. Remember that you are a leader now, and it's all about approach (not agitating to be heard).
  6. Build coalitions and make sure everyone is informed who needs to be.
  7. Timing is everything – ride the wave when you have it, and don’t push things when you know they won’t fly.
  8. Document how you make key decisions so that you can defend them later; document meetings, conversations, and accomplishments.
  9. Ask for input; challenge people to make your concepts better; do small hands-on demos so that they can see what you’re working on and help improve it.
  10. Set up regular meetings, make them open but have an agenda, and provide an incentive for people to attend – especially food.
Have a great day everyone - and good luck!

Hit a Nerve, Make a Billion

Various Listerine products
Image via Wikipedia
My friend was telling me the other day about how she sleeps.

It takes 5 pillows, 2 of them under her head, 1 under her knees, and another 2 at her side.

She has to have a certain kind of cover and it has to be just so.

And if there is a single noise in the room she wakes up totally.

My friend told me that she has been married almost 50 years because she has her bed just the way she wants it. And when her husband brought in his computer and other electronic devices, including an alarm clock that projected the time onto the ceiling, she promptly made sure to get rid of them.

The way people sleep is a core issue. It hits a nerve. In a relationship, given all the things there are to compromise on, it can be a bastion of freedom. And so any sleep-related product that both offers better sleep and a unique and personalized experience has an advantage over the competition.

What is brilliant about the Sleep Number Bed is that in promising an individualized experience, the product markets itself as bringing the couple closer. Mirroring the real-life concept that "if you love someone, set them free" and if they love you, they will come back.

Other examples:
  • The "sleeved blanket" - I think of Snuggie. This is a completely unnecessary item in my mind as any piece of sufficiently heavy, soft cloth can keep you warm. But it hits a nerve. Have you noticed that it makes a person look like a swaddled newborn? I would venture to guess that it connects people back to that sensation, of being a little baby warm and cared for.
  • Products like dandruff shampoo and mouthwash (I think of Head & Shoulders and Listerine) which elicit the fear of "social undesirability." I once heard, though can't source, that mouthwash also is marketed to target customers' fear of death. When you hit somebody where it hurts, so to speak, you create a desire for the product that goes way beyond the actual functional need for it. 
If you are fortunate enough to come up with a product like this, the key is to brand it. If any product in the category strikes the same nerve, then there is no reason for you to charge more than any commodity-level offering. Think about what aspect of the product you can emphasize to make it different than any copycat who will follow you. And then think about why it will be relevant to your target audience, and how you will sustain the promise over the long-term.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

10 Ways To Empower Government Employees In 2012

"VETERANS, EARN WHILE YOU LEARN THROUGH O...Image via WikipediaIn 2011 public servants faced the threat of a government shutdown more than once. Though fortunately these were averted, the sensation of having your head on a chopping block (even if temporary) can leave you unsettled and afraid.

It occurred to me that in 2012 we can empower government employees to have more control over their (our) own fates by implementing some structural changes that would promote and reward for productivity and efficiency - facilitating effective government from the inside out.

A few areas where we can do this in a low-cost, high-impact way:

1. Mentoring: Times are changing quickly and employees need to learn to adapt their skills accordingly. An on-the-job buddy at a higher level can be an invaluable asset in retaining good employees and helping them learn the often-subtle skills they need to contribute effectively. And it doesn't cost anything other than time.

2. Technology training: People who do things the old way when there are faster, cheaper, better ways to get the job done may be comfortable, but also wasting taxpayer money and their own opportunity to grow professionally. Let 2012 be the year we learn how to use technology. Again, it doesn't have to cost a cent if you get skilled employees to teach those who are just learning.

3. Performance planning: An employee's performance plan for the year should be a guiding document that they generate to align with agency and office goals. It should not be up to a manager to tell someone how they fit in, but rather this is a chance for a person to learn more about the mission and where they belong. It's also a chance to re-orient once a year and make sure the scope of one's position is of value. Worst comes to worst, a person needs to be reassigned, but that is a realization best made by the employee rather than something foisted onto them.

4. Evaluations: Here again, allow the employee to evaluate themselves, and bolster that with a 360 degree evaluation from a panel of supervisor and peers. It doesn't have to be lengthy or complicated, but it should be a combination of numerical ratings and narrative content so that a person receives a truer picture of how they've done and where they can improve in the next year. The more engaged the employee is in evaluating themselves, the more it will mean to them and the more it will be a true process for both them and their supervisors.

5. Rotations: Many people in government have served for decades. They have experience that cannot be learned in college and that cannot be easily duplicated. After many years in one place, it would be of benefit for them to rotate to other agencies, preferably of their choosing, learn new skills, and offer back some of their accumulated wisdom in return. Just keeps people fresh and mindful that we all ultimately work for one government, not just an assortment of agencies.

6. Retraining: When someone is no longer adding sufficient value in the position they hold, retrain them. It's not a shameful thing to admit that skills you had 30 years ago might not be as useful today, and that some adaptation is needed. Again, the better your skills the better your resume, so if the government is willing to assist an employee in retraining rather than let them flap around uselessly, that is a wonderful and empowering option for them to take. And it need not cost anything other than on-the-job training.

7. Communities of interest: If you have a group of thousands of people doing the same kind of work (e.g. writing), it makes sense to connect them in person or virtually so that they can support one another. Peer networks encourage excellence from within.

8. Interagency councils: These are groups of government employees that work across agencies on a formal or informal basis to consult on best practices, make recommendations, and generally leverage employee insights to help government move forward on matters of interest. There are a number of good examples in the government already and it seems we could expand on this greatly if employees were encouraged to do so.

9. Work/life self-help and fitness groups: I have noticed that federal employees love groups like Toastmasters, Weight Watchers, and even spiritually oriented groups that gather once a week for a lunchtime break focused on personal growth. It is a good thing for government to encourage employees to take advantage of these, as they increase skills, increase fitness, and teach employees to take responsibility for fixing problems on their own if possible.

10. Charity and volunteering: There is no better feeling when you're down than that of helping someone else. If government employees - who are public servants, in the end - are encouraged to do even more charity and volunteer work than they already do, it would lift spirits and build excellent relationships between government and the public, which add to the trust reserve that enables good government.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Why "Midnight in Paris" is Better Than "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol"

Woody Allen and Tom Cruise are both make profitable movies as expressions of a brand. And that is where the similarity ends.
  • Gil Pender, a trademark Woody Allen character - confused, harried, lost and unhappy - takes us on an emotionally riveting journey in Midnight in Paris. He goes into the past as he tries to find a way out of the miserable present. We moviegoers collectively "voted" to make it Allen's most profitable movie ever, now reportedly having earned more than $56 million at the box office.
  • Ethan Hunt, a trademark Tom Cruise character - seemingly perfect, playing the role of a hero operating effectively against impossible odds - led Mission Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" to earn almost $59 million just since its release on December 16, 2011. It's only been about a week and a half, so we can expect it to bring in a lot more.
Woody Allen and Tom Cruise employ different strategies to promote their brands. I think Woody Allen's is vastly more effective. How do I know? Because I enjoyed Mission Impossible despite the fact that Cruise was in it - not because.

In some of his popular earlier movies - Rain Man and Risky Business come to mind most prominently, although I know there are others that can serve as an example - we see Cruise playing characters that screw up. That's what makes them watchable. We, as the audience, know that no human being can go through life perfect. And when we see people pretending to be perfect onscreen, it is a huge turnoff.

So although Mission Impossible is redeemed by its great action sequences, good chemistry among the characters, exciting plot, and high-tech everywhere, Cruise makes an obnoxious hero because everywhere you go, there he is - always "winning," as Charlie Sheen might way.

Honestly, watching the movie I felt kind of bad for Cruise. I thought that he must feel pretty insecure or inadequate if he has to constantly portray characters who have absolutely no flaws. And he looked old.

I sometimes look at myself looking older, and at TV characters I used to watch when I was young, and I feel bad because we're all aging. It's tough to watch in person and it's tough to see onscreen, too, especially when someone seems to be holding on to their youth with a death grip.

The experience of watching Midnight in Paris was completely different. I had read the positive reviews, but I didn't expect it to be all that good - just another recycled Woody Allen formula. After all these years and all these movies, what could be new?

But it was magical.

The cinematography, for one thing, is beyond description. It is worth watching this movie just to see Paris in the rain. Paris at night, Paris in the past, Paris at the historical monuments, Paris cafes, Paris Paris Paris. You can't not want to go after seeing it.

The characters work well too. I can't say that Woody Allen got it totally right - he tends to make most of the characters one-dimensional foils for the hero, and here he does a disservice to Rachel McAdams in that respect - but with Gil Pender he hit the baseball out of the park. Allen explores Pender's psychology in such depth and nuance that he can only be making a movie about himself. And when you see the contradictions in this character, his complexity and the realizations he encounters - you find that you learn something very profound about the human psyche.

With a brand it is great to be consistent, so that the customer knows what to expect every time. That's what you get with Mission Impossible. But it's more important to be perfect. And that can only be achieved through art - by realizing a vision that is ultimately flawed, just like people are. And that's why Midnight in Paris is a better movie, that gives us a glimpse of human truth.
That, in a way, brings us closer to God.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Whatever They Say, Do The Opposite

rock climbing is fun!

The Internet is loaded with career advice.

Everywhere you look there are tips on choosing a major, writing a resume, navigating an interview, diplomatic skills, time management, innovation, project management, leadership, strategic thinking, career dressing, moving up the ladder, and on and on and on.

Some of this advice seems like it was written for shock value, although maybe it's a good thing to challenge the conventional wisdom. We hear that we should "First, Break All The Rules" rather than follow them; that we can earn a full-time income in a "4-Hour Workweek" and not over 40 hours; and even that "Unhappiness is good for you."

With all this advice, you would think that all of us would be rich and famous. Yet the opposite is true. Why are so few people able to advance the way they want to? Lots of things get in the way: health issues, relationship issues, and in the workplace, organizational culture, interpersonal dynamics, power politics, sexism/racism/other isms, and so on.

At the heart of the matter is one piece of advice I think we don't talk enough about, from Roseanne Barr - who was aiming square at women. She said:

"Nobody gives you power. You just take it."

Barr's perception that women are passive about career advancement is echoed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. In her words:

"Until women are as ambitious as men, they’re not going to achieve as much as men."

In my view, one of the most important things a person can do to achieve career success is to ignore the pressure to be like everybody else. In the workplace, most rules are unspoken; and where people on the lower end of the ladder are concerned, one of the primary rules will always be, "don't rock the boat."

While it is safe, in a way, to conform to what everyone else is doing, wearing, and even thinking - and while it may feel comfortable to stay in the status quo and not try to out-achieve your peers - if you want to go higher you have no choice but to break through the glass ceiling of conformity.

This, I think, is what people get uncomfortable about. They feel like they have to follow the crowd to be accepted, but the only way to become a leader is to flout what the crowd is thinking. To trust their knowledge and instincts, embrace their ambition and their vision of how things could be done differently and better, and actively look for opportunities to advance.

It takes a lot of courage to be different, ambitious, and active instead of passive. But the joy of becoming a leader is overwhelmingly worth the risk.

Read the career advice if you want. But in the end, take it with a grain of salt. Because whichever way the crowd goes, there is another path a contrarian is taking to great success.

Think about it - go your own way - and embrace our own North Star.

Have a good evening everyone, and best of luck in 2012!

Photo by Maria Ly via Flickr
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fake Friends & The Fallacy Of An Infinite Social Network

We often hear that you boost your chances of professional success by increasing your network of contacts.

This is true, but only partially.

The goal is to be connected to as many of the right people as possible.

So you do want a lot of people who know you, or know of you, sufficiently to say,

"This person is indeed a credible expert in their field."

You grow this social network through participating in live and online communities oriented toward the subject matter that you wish to gain professional recognition in. In this respect, the quantity of people who are aware of, and respect, your work is indicative of the quality of your expertise.

Your professional network is somewhat superficial and very focused on work. It is important. But even more important is the inner ring. These are the people who know you, love you, and genuinely like you (love and like are not the same thing), and who support you regardless of what professional goals you have.

In short, your inner circle consists of your family and friends (by birth or by choice). They don't care about your career insofar as it affects your happiness. If you are happy, so are they.

When it comes to friends like these, the goal is not quantity but quality. The caring they feel for you is mirrored by yours toward them. And you help each other through the challenges of life, applauding for the victories and crying together at the challenges and failures. Helping to pick one another up and keep going.

Unfortunately there are times when toxic dynamics develop in our relationship circles, either inner (personal) or outer (professional). Like odorless, colorless carbon monoxide, the poisonous intentions of others toward us creates a negative energy that gets in our way. We criticize ourselves, develop incorrect self-perceptions, feel self-conscious, and even shoot ourselves in the foot. All because of the relationships we thought we needed, that actually aren't good for us at all.

It is not true that your social network has to be infinite. It only has to be infinitely healthy for you.

When a social interaction turns toxic, recognize that you are being harmed and have the courage to walk away. Your real family, friends and colleagues will stand by you. Whoever falls off was not worth your time in the first place.

"Never allow someone to be your priority, while allowing yourself to be their option."

Happy holidays to everyone. Have a good day, and good luck!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Look around you this Christmas and help someone out

Five minute walk to work, five homeless and hungry people. One dumpster-diving for food.

Enjoy family, friends and gifts this holiday, and the special joy of giving something back.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe gave everyone who visited him a dollar. Imagine what would happen if we all looked for people to visit, and then did the same.

Three Ingredients, One Great Leader

Many people have one or two of these but only those with all three can rise to the top:
  • A vision of the desired future that is so clear and focused you can see it in your mind's eye
  • An incredible determination to see that vision achieved
  • An emotional connection with the people who must build the new future
When leaders put this recipe into action the results are amazing:
There are many more examples - these are only a few. But when you are looking for examples of effective leadership to guide your own path, the individuals above provide a good start through a simple roadmap.

Visualize the goal. Decide you are going to pursue it. Connect with others along the way.

With God's help, it really is that simple.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

5 Personal Branding Tips From My Sister (The Life Coach)

Heading into 2012, you have the power to change your life and your career. Here's how, courtesy of life coach Cheryl (Sarah) Herbsman, a.k.a. my sister:

#1: Visualize a person who possesses the characteristics you want. You can't change your image unless you replace it with another one.

#2: Develop a phrase that you repeat over and over again, morning and night. You have to train your brain.

#3: Remind yourself that the person you were in the past, is also someone else's idea of who you should be. Your inner self has no limits and you can be whoever you want.

#4: Keep a journal of your feelings during this time. One entry a day is fine.

#5: Do something special to treat yourself during this time of change. You are worth it!

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Abusive Subway Customer, We Saw You

Beautiful Christmas tunes were playing in the background and there was nobody but her on the line.

She stood ahead of us. We stood behind and waited to place our order. I assumed it would be quick.

The first sign of trouble involved the bread. "That bread looks hard," she said. "Is that fresh?"

The woman serving her was a native Spanish speaker and stood there for a moment. She waited to be told what to do.

"Get me the other one," said the customer, gesturing at the bread case. "God!"

The customer ordered something involving meat and cheese. This is always of special interest to me as meat + cheese is forbidden fruit to people who keep kosher.

The server put the meat on the bread and the bread somehow tore. She continued to pile on the sandwich ingredients the customer requested.

"Do you see that that bread is TORN?" said the customer. "What is WRONG with you? Are you NEW?"

The server looked up and said nothing.

"Replace that bread."

The server told the customer that a new bread would cost extra.

"Alright then, try to put the fillings on, but if it falls out I am coming back here and I'm gonna FORCE you to make me a new sandwich."

The server blinked.

"You know what? Change that bread!"

The server changed the bread.

This went on until said customer ordered sandwich #2. A long line had formed. The servers were struggling to keep up so they took our order and tried to handle both at once.

"What? Are you LEAVING my sandwich to work on HERS? I'm about ready to blow my top!"

The other people on the line murmured amongst ourselves. You could actually hear it, like a low rumbling. I wanted to say something, but I was afraid that she would pop me one.

My daughter was scared.

The customer motioned to the manager. "What kind of CUSTOMER SERVICE is this?" she said. "I am going to REPORT this!"

I was actually speechless. It was just an unbelievable scene. How could there be such beautiful music playing, and this woman comes in and abuses the servers, just because she has $5 to spend on a footlong and they make $5 an hour trying not to lose their jobs.

When the customer left, I paid for my sandwich and salad. I said to the manager, "That lady was SO mean. We saw her. It wasn't her (gestured to server) fault at all." I just really had to.

"That's right," said the lady behind me. "She was AWFUL."

And all down the line, a row of smiles and warmth to the woman whose basic human dignity deserved to be respected.

And do you know that woman looked up at all of us and she gave the biggest, most beautiful smile I have ever seen.

Happy holidays everyone...have an incredibly good evening, and good luck!

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Chanukah, Freedom, Gratitude

Thanking God for the abundant blessings we enjoy here in America.
Among the most important - FREEDOM.

May we use our freedom responsibly. May we help those enslaved - by poverty, dictatorship, or their own limitations - to find a way up and out.

The joy of freedom is amazingly real to me today, this first night of Chanukah.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ask A Comedian How To Spearhead Innovation

Robin Williams and Pam Dawber as Mork and MindyThere is something about Robin Williams that scares the hell out of me. It's that genius-cracked-up thing: The same genes that give him brilliance also make him willing to be just a little bit crazy.

Yet there are two kinds of crazy, the bad and the good. Bad crazy is when you're out of touch with reality and don't realize it. Good crazy is when you realize it and are willing to play.

When I was a kid it was with trepidation that I watched Mork & Mindy on TV. If you don't remember it, the show was a sitcom about an alien ("Mork"/Robin Williams) from another planet ("Ork") who comes to earth in a giant egg and lives with/falls in love with/eventually marries a very "normal" lady, "Mindy."

"Normal" meaning she thinks inside the box. She doesn't even know that there is one.

Like I say, Williams in character scared me. He was And yet I was compelled to watch. There was something about his character that felt real. The things he said were really a social critique.

A few comedians have shown us the shock of the foreigner really well:
The characters these comedians portray have three key things in common:
  • A personal experience of culture shock: Cohen, Pinchot and Allen are all Jewish, and Robin Williams describes himself as an "honorary Jew." Jewish culture, and religious culture in general, is decidedly different from mainstream secular culture and to join the larger group you have to learn new values that contradict what you were raised with. Thus the natural comedy about being a foreigner in a foreign land.
  • Love for the rejected past: Williams once described being an Episcopal just like many Jewish people describe their religious upbringing: "Catholic Lite - same rituals, half the guilt." When you are raised to believe that salvation depends on following the rules, but then you reject those rules in favor of another system that makes more sense to you, a part of you is constantly torn. Underlying the comedies about acculturation is a kind of familiar longing for the past, that you know doesn't work, but that you still remember with love anyway.
  • A pretended sense of innocence: There is a reason that Mork, Balki, Alvy and Borat are all characters situated in unfamiliar places where they cannot possibly know the rules. Obviously they are written by people who do know very well what what norms they are challenging. But the way they become palatable to the mainstream - the object of the critique - is for the comedian to feign ignorance. In the process of the "ordinary" person teaching the foreigner "right and wrong," which are really just social decisions, both the alien and the native question whether those rules make sense in the first place.
If you are really serious about promoting innovation where you work, think about these fictional characters as you develop your strategy. Here are three specific things that you can do as a result:
  1. Immerse yourself in another organization, culture, or experience for a period of time so that you get in touch with the "culture shock" that occurs when people are forced to embrace change.
  2. Find, preserve and celebrate aspects of tradition that people are attached to and don't threaten the way forward. Not everything has to change - only the things that get in the way of productivity.
  3. Get into the world you want to change and talk to the people there, rather than lecturing them from above (think like Undercover Boss on CBS). Observe and then ask employeesto explain their processes to you. As they talk, innovative ideas will come from them and they will be more receptive to your suggestions as well.
The bottom line is, try to distance yourself from the situation you see as the "problem" and remember that every organization is a loosely collected set of rules that can be adjusted for whatever purpose makes the most logical sense. Nothing is set in stone anymore, and today you can be sure that change is going to happen faster than ever - whether you want it to or not.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Image via Wikipedia

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Horrible Frustration + Instant Gratification: It Works Every Time (Marketing Technology)

A Kerr mason jarYou know how sometimes you can't get the lid off a jar?

It's stuck, so you run hot water over it, put rubber gloves on, hit it with a metal spoon, twist and yank it until finally the lid pops off. Sometimes the liquid in the jar explodes over its lip, and you jump back. You might even drop the jar because it's so exciting to see that it finally opened. And then it falls off the counter and shatters into a million pieces. Which is sort of sad, since not only can't you eat what's in the jar but it's a real pain to have to pick up all those glass pieces.

In any case, yesterday I finally popped the lid off a technology jar at work. Actually a few of them. Considering all the projects involved, the combined effort was more than five years of work. It was like boom - boom - boom, one problem solved; then another; then another; then another. By the end of the day three people had seen it and they were suitably shocked and awed.

I had an epiphany:

The magic formula for getting people to adopt a new technology is to show them how it resolves a real frustration in their lives, by providing an instant gratification.

The solution has to do both of those things. The frustration has to be real - it has to be their frustration, not one that you've invented or imposed on them. The gratification has to be truly instant - if they have to fiddle with it for more than five seconds, they're gone.

Some other associated realizations, that can help you be more successful and manage the stress associated with having to "fix your baby," the technology solution:
  1. Expect that it will take you a really long time to develop a solution to the problem. You will have to test it, fix the bugs, redesign it, show it around, fix it again, over a period of months and maybe years.
  2. Expect that nobody cares that you solved the Rubik's cube. You are the geek and they are the end user and usually, never the twain shall meet.
  3. Expect that you will need help packaging the solution for the end user. Usually that means finding someone in a leadership function who is not a communicator, but who has something to gain by promoting this technology. This person will know exactly how to market it to other people who need to support it.
  4. Expect that you will have to pare down the solution's capabilities to only the simplest and most obvious things. The end user does not want to know about every possible thing that can be done, only the thing that solves their problems.
  5. Expect that you will also need help from a non-technical communicator to help you design the interface so that it is easy to use from a visual standpoint. (This is a HUGE mistake technology companies make, thinking they need technical communicators instead of ordinary folks who don't speak in jargon, ever.) You'll also need an easy-to-use set of screenshots to walk a user through the first time.
Sometimes when you're working on technology solutions you can get frustrated yourself. You may think that it's a waste of time, nobody will ever use it, and things don't change. Not true! I have pushed through a few significant projects like this and while not all of them have gone through (yet), enough have actually been adopted that it's worth taking the game.

Think of it like archery. You have 20 arrows to throw at the target. If you don't know how to shape them only 1 may hit it. By learning in advance how to package and refine your work, and then sell it to the end user, you may up that number to 5 or 10. Which is really totally awesome.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Image via Wikipedia

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Are you addicted to the problem?

Old joke --

Father: "Why are you banging your head against the wall?"

Son: "Because it feels so good when I stop."

Are most of us really so different when it comes to solving our problems? We actually create them and then we spend our lives flailing around trying to make them go away. In the end we are like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" - realizing we could have just clicked our glittery red shoes together instead of making such an arduous and dangerous trip.

It's not a new idea that we subconsciously seek out interactions that will force us to confront our own problems. I wish I had a dollar for every psychologist who put their kids through med school on the frustrations of clients who seek out the same kind of painful and often impossible relationships again and again. The person "can't get it through their head" that if you play with your own particular type of fire you are more than likely to get burnt. They do it again and again, try to "fix it" again and again, and too often fail.

Come to think of it I wish I had a dollar for every self-help book that's been published on this topic, too. I wish I were Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura.

It is easy to tell people addicted to pain that they should turn instead to less challenging situations. But that would be the wrong advice.

The reason we seek out challenging interactions is because we know that we have to heal. In effect we use other people as a way of pinpointing the defects in ourselves.

The way people do this, normally, is to find someone or some situation totally on the opposite end of the spectrum. Overtly they are trying to justify their own extreme-ness. Covertly they want the other person to bring them back into balance.

So for example, glamorous, shallow, attention-seeking LA lady Kim Kardashian rushes to marry a simple homebody who represents the polar, extreme opposite and who literally tells her to her face that her career in the limelight is short-lived.

The truth, if you ask me, is that Kim doesn't even like the limelight but is only trying to please her mother Kris. Who really, really does. And who has pushed Kim into an identity that is fake. And so Kim's way of "rebelling" is to find someone who disagrees with her mother's values. So that she can battle him, instead of dealing with what's eating her.

Ultimately Kim's marriage fell apart fast. She went too far, too fast in choosing Kris, and he is not going to be able to help her reach the balance that she needs. So she'll go on to the next relationship. But until she deals with the inner demons driving her, it is always, always going to be about Kim's inner conflict.

Will Kim Kardashian live the rest of her life satisfied to be a pure object for the camera, with no self, no inner life? Or will she walk away from her mother's projected expectations and discover a calling, an identity that is more meaningful and not dependent on her "assets"?

Similarly, will Kris Humphries evolve in terms of having respect for other people? Will he become respectful and gentle instead of "brutally honest" (rude) and roughly physical (throwing Kim around, shaking baby Mason in his play house)?

Only time will tell.

In a sense, it can be socially productive to try and heal yourself by finding out-of-balance situations that only you can address effectively, because you are so unbalanced in the other direction. For example, sometimes you need someone who is obsessed with rules to tighten up a loosey-goosey culture, and vice versa. (If you ever watched that show "The Odd Couple," you know what I mean - it's that Felix vs. Oscar dynamic.)

At the same time, just because an imbalance works for you, doesn't mean you should let it drive your life and use it as an excuse to avoid achieving more balance on your own - without having to be confronted by challenging people and situations. If you're walking around with your iPhone in front of you, texting all the time, then you probably ought to take it upon yourself to put the device in the drawer a few hours a day. Rather than wait for someone to tell you to stop managing by e-mail.

In the end it really comes down to two things: Choice and objectivity. You are free to choose how to live your life, but the choices you make will be vastly better if you can be objective about why you are making them.

Ultimately whether you are dealing with personal choices or business decisions that affect your brand, it is more gratifying to confront yourself and grow, rather than ignore the subconscious drives that keep you locked in the same painful patterns again and again.

Your existence on this planet is intentional - you have been placed here to accomplish a goal. You have the power to eliminate the distractions that are getting in the way. Stop wasting time looking for negative people and negative situations that you can complain about. Start focusing on what matters to you, and then go out and get it done.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

P.S. RIP Amy, I am still a huge fan.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10 Things Bosses Appreciate That You May Overlook

1. Look for ways to add value instead of waiting to be asked.

2. Stay out of the way unless you are needed. Bosses are busy.

3. Work with other people to resolve issues that will affect implementation of an idea before you present it.

4. Ask how they are doing sincerely, not just to score points.

5. Bring them a fully packaged brief but leave room for them to customize it their way for later presentation.

6. Volunteer for crappy stuff that nobody wants to do.

7. Refuse at all costs to participate in miserable negative talk that just drags everybody down.

8. Dress more formally than you think you have to.

9. Take notes in meetings where your boss is present and provide them afterward as a courtesy.

10. Follow up on conversations where a next step is needed - do not wait for them to ask you.


Image via Flickr, courtesy of thebarrowboy
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Uncontrollable, Yet Predictable

Brand like a tree lives. It has the appearance of bending and stretching in all directions, suddenly sprouting leaves, decaying and then starting again.

I love looking at trees because they are naturally beautiful. It doesn't hurt that they remind me how to brand.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Brand Yourself for the Cost of a Paper Plate

The concept of a "brand bubble" is not new. It's a way to categorize consumers based on the types of brands they like and buy.

This morning it occurred to me that you could do your own little "brand bubble" test as a 5-minute exercise in self-discovery. I took a paper plate and scribbled all the brands I could think of that are "me."

The ones I feel strongly about are circled.

Note that "steak" is among my brands. It's not a brand name, but it just really seems to me that we carnivores are in a class by ourselves.

So I'm a Starbucks-drinkin', Merrell-wearing, Madonna-admiring, Lubavitcher Rebbe/Dalai Lama/Joel Osteen watching, Penelope-Trunk reading person who relates to VW but dreams in Christian Dior.

Who are you?

Finding out can save you lots of time, effort and money.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Invented Occupation" vs. "Invented People"

Yesterday, Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich made a statement regarding the Palestinian people that is factually true, but politically controversial, as follows:

"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state — (it was) part of the Ottoman Empire. I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places." - Newt Gingrich to The Jewish Channel, as quoted in The Daily Mail

Gingrich's choice of words - "an invented people" - put him on the hot seat across the board as commentators agreed that he had missed the mark in terms of political strategy. For while "facts are stubborn things," the reality is that the Palestinian people are now bonded by a shared historical and cultural reality, and the world community, including Israel, accepts that they are a legitimate people. As (conservative) pundit Charles Krauthammer put it on Fox News, "that train has left the station." Similar sentiments were expressed by various other analysts on CNN as well.

It occurred to me, watching this, that Gingrich - clearly both knowledgeable and strategic - had made a tactical error on the communication front. Rather than focusing on the legitimacy of the Palestinian people, he could have talked about the legitimacy of the "anti-occupation movement." That would have helped him to articulate a policy position on the Middle East - why peace is so difficult to obtain there, despite so many decades of struggle and good intentions.

Focusing on legitimacy is an exercise in flawed logic because:

* From a political perspective, if a group believes that it is real, and if that group has the recognition of other groups, then it is real whether you agree with it or not.

* From a sociological perspective, we are all inventing our personal and group identities every day.

* Human beings act on our constructed identities both diplomatically and militarily: Countries are formed, deformed and destroyed both through mutual agreement and through war.

In short: "History is written by the winners." And those within the Palestinian community who wish to eliminate Israel know this. In Israel, a 2007 study of the textbooks used in the territories found:

"The teachings repeatedly reject Israel's right to exist, present the conflict as a religious battle for Islam, teach Israel's founding as imperialism, and actively portray a picture of the Middle East, both verbally and visually, in which Israel does not exist at all."

So the goal is not to argue what happened in the past, but to shape a desired reality - the things that we will look back on in the future.

The opportunity that Gingrich had, and still has, is to talk about how the Arab community created the Palestinian identity for the purpose of waging war against Israel. In fact the Arabs have declared war on their own brothers and sisters for the sake of obliterating the Jewish state. The occupation is an invented cause through which Jew-haters cast Jews, historically the victims of persecution, as active persecutors in their own right.

This is why Middle East peace still cannot occur: The Palestinians are human shields and the "occupation" is the excuse for continually carrying out attacks on, and politically de-legitimizing, Israel itself. Which is why the Palestinian logo eliminates Israel from the map.

In other words, from the perspective of those who hate Israel, a peace treaty is absolutely the worst thing that can happen. The only way to make the failure Israel's fault is to blame the "occupation." And therefore the "occupation" must continue, even if Israel tries mightily to withdraw from the conflict and build bridges between itself and the international community.

The book Son of Hamas, by the Palestinian Mousab Hassan Yousef, chronicles the former terrorist's journey out of the destructive world of these people and toward a universe of hope, change and reconciliation.

In the end, the only way out of this conflict is going to be mutual recognition or mutual destruction. Mutual recognition can bring prosperity to the region and the world and help us focus global resources on eliminating poverty, disease, and other social ills. Mutual destruction will only suck up our resources and end with illness, suffering and death. We are counting on our political leaders to call out those who only want "a culture of death," so that our energy is focused on living.

It seems to me that Gingrich was courageous in stating implicitly what is normally hushed up: The Palestinian people were created from the larger Arab community for the purpose of serving as human shields. But it seems to me that we ought to focus our attention on those who are actually holding them hostage, and using their suffering as leverage to rouse world opinion against Israel. And from that position, the so-called "occupation" is a more strategic target. Because there is significant momentum toward peace - but both sides have to embrace it for it to occur.

Have a good day everyone, and here's wishing us all good luck.


Image source here

Friday, December 9, 2011

10 Professional Secrets for a Friday

Is it me or is this holiday season even more crazed than usual? I heard recently that someone did a study of consumer vacation habits, and people are taking less time than they are entitled to, probably to keep their jobs but also possibly because when you go away there is just that much more stuff waiting for you when you get back.

In any case, my to-do list isn’t any shorter and there continues to be a need to be as effective or more effective with less time, less money, and frankly less attention from others who might have input on projects, because they are so busy with the overload of items on their plates.

So here are a few tips that have been working for me, most of them recently discovered. I hope they are helpful to you as well:

1. Let your RSS feeds do the social media for you. Don’t be scared of the acronym “RSS,” which sounds horrendous and should have been called “Microphone” or something. It just means that you put good content out on the web (short bursts, easy to read), figure out how to find or burn your feed (this is stupidly easy), and help the public find and subscribe to it. I like Google Feedburner for this – it’s the screen you usually see when you sign up for stuff. The benefit of getting good at feeds is that rather than you sharing the content, the audience shares it, which multiplies your credibility about a thousand times.

2. Use your work as an opportunity to learn instead of running to expensive classes. A good example is this RSS thing I’ve been working on. I went into Feedburner and cut and pasted their “promote your feed” code into a Word document, then played around from there till I had formatted a web page in HTML. I used free tools online to help me – for example by Googling “preview HTML” and putting the code into the screen to see the result. Did you know that having squiggly quote marks screws up your hyperlinks? I did not know that. In the future all communicators will be expected to know their way around the basics of “coding,” which is really nothing more than a kind of language that you can teach yourself with the help of the tools that are out there.

3. Engage other people in the work that you are doing and get their advice on how to sell it. When I am in technical mode I become extremely weird and nearly uncommunicative. It’s because my brain is like a computer working on a problem, and I have to focus intently until I can come up for air on the other side – yes, I used to be a swimmer and it’s the same type of principle as when you do laps. So when I’m done (like with the RSS thing) I am so deep into the technical side that I can’t even communicate with normal people about what I’ve done. So I end up saying, “Look, I’ll show you on the computer screen” just to get them to pay attention. That’s all fine and good, but there is an editor at work who has been extremely helpful to me in reading my briefings and asking me to clarify them for someone who’s just coming to the party, so to speak. You must talk to a lot of people and get their advice on packaging the work, even if you’re already a good communicator.

4. Take significant time to learn from others’ experiences. Sure you are busy but do you really have time to clean up an avoidable mess? Personally, I learn best through stories. Stories come from people who have experienced things. So I like to read blogs with people’s stories in them, or ask them directly about their experiences. Sometimes it’s hard to listen or follow what they’re saying, but there you’re developing another great skill – listening rather than just waiting to talk (you knew this).

5. Get rid of social media tools you aren’t actively using and shape up the ones you want to focus on. I recently closed my Tumblr, Wordpress, and Posterous accounts and finally mapped my domain name to my blog, so now is my blog. I have to do more work on the design of the blog and match it to the Twitter account a little more artfully, but having so many outlets was too much.

6. Stop doing things that you can’t commit to, and commit more to the things that are indispensable to you. I don’t have time to do freelance writing, but teaching is important to me. My job is even more important. And my family is even more important than that. Charity, volunteering, friendships and social networking are important all the time. But it’s impossible to do everything, all the time.

7. Teach yourself new skills all the time despite how stupid it makes you feel. Today I learned a new program and ended up making a dumb mistake that resulted in me sending an email intended for one party to three other people. Oh well. That’s life. I am trying also to learn Gimp so that I can have free photo editing software on my computer that will enable me to cut out a foreground and put it on another background. It is difficult. But I’m going to try anyway. When I finally do learn something new it is exhilarating.

8. If you don’t have time to exercise, walk a little further to do your errands. Listen, I’m not judging; not everyone can get to the gym. But help yourself somehow because your body does need to move. I am going to walk from the train to the office today and go for another walk at lunch.

9. Bring your lunch but buy your Starbucks. I take the food from the fridge that nobody will eat because it’s “leftovers,” nuke it the next day, and to me it looks great compared with nearly $7 for a salad at Chop’t, and that’s without extra “choppings.” But the Starbucks I need, because it’s a chance to take a chill pill, and get good coffee, and use free wifi. Worth it for me.

10. Give back whenever you can, as much as you can. I believe in God – you can call it karma – and the fact that good energy and good acts are returned back to you (the same conversely applies). The “force multiplier” if you will is that when you are being good to others, you actually feel good anyway, so whatever good comes back is like interest on top of the original investment.

How are you saving time nowadays, or money? Send in a comment, I’d really like to hear.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Idea: Run The Election As Reality TV

Watching Donald Trump talking politics last night (“Why didn’t Obama call me? I would’ve helped him out”) I had an epiphany: We should run the next election like a reality TV show – slash – competition. Imagine how great that would be, on so many levels.
First, a reality TV campaign would truly reflect American popular culture and values. Think about the amazing popularity of these shows: Celebrity Apprentice, The Biggest Loser, Ultimate Fighting Championship, Big Brother, Survivor, Dancing With The Stars, The X Factor, American Idol, and so on. All have the most American of principles in common:
1) Level Playing Field: Have the contestants complete common challenges
2) Humanism: Interview them to let us know who they are
3) Transparency: Follow them around so we can see how they act relatively unscripted
4) Meritocracy: Have an expert panel of judges to critique their performance
5) Democracy: Ultimately, let the people decide!
Second, a reality TV election would replace so much negativity with positive, momentum-building energy:
1) We'd get rid of divisiveness and unify people around solving problems - there is nothing we Americans like to do more - to participate!
2) We'd reduce the concentration of political energy in D.C. and encourage everyone – to participate!
3) We'd decrease the moaning and groaning by people who feel closed off from the political process and encourage crowd-sourcing by everyone – to participate!
Third, rather than wasting money on endless, spiteful TV commercials that only add to the hatred out there, we could generate positive energy promoting a TV show that brings forth solutions to problems. And wouldn't it be amazing if the Hollywood studios donated a substantial portion of the proceeds from the competition directly to citizens who need it.
Fourth, once we have a winner, having picked that person so openly and transparently we would have more invested in their success, rather than tearing them down.
Fifth, and finally, it would save us from having to watch the endless loop of Kardashian Koverage every...single...night on E!

I say we try it. What do we have to lose?
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!
Image source here

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blogging Is Dead? Far From It!


Thanks to blogs + Google Reader + iPhone, lines in the store no longer phase me, ever. I can flip through any number of subscriptions quickly, change them up on the fly, and find out what's going on. Amazing.

Over the past few years I've discovered all kinds of useful feeds - ranging from news, to technology, to government and politics, feminism , spirituality and commentary on the Jewish faith. Mostly they're the voices of bloggers. Strong, opinionated voices. Usually not selling anything, but they do promote a point of view and a product when it's useful.

One thing I've noticed is that blogs are a lot more interesting than the mainstream news media. To be blunt, this is because they're honest. You know who's talking, you get that they have a definite point of view, you see the same research they see, because they post it (usually, unless they've promised confidentiality.)

When there was only "regular" news it was intimidating to challenge whatever was out there as the standard line. Now it's practically a given that what the media offers is only a starting point, for the audience to deconstruct, analyze, make fun of, compare with other sources, and generally take issue with.

Are you a fan of It's news headlines, sort of; entertainment, sort of; commentary, sort of; and so funny. I laugh pretty much every time I click on a link.

According to Technorati's State of the Blogosphere 2011 bloggers have significant influence on public discourse. Great summary at Blogworld notes that:

"Blogs outpaced other media for inspiration, product information, and opinion. They won out over traditional media in all categories except news information."

In other words, people don't get their news from blogs, but their values and opinions are influenced by them.

Bloggers themselves are educated, dedicated, and generally unpaid for what they do:

* 79% have college degrees

* Most bloggers run an average of 3 blogs and 50% have been blogging for more than 4 years

* The #1 metric for bloggers overall is personal satisfaction (more than 60%); see here for detail

* 66% of bloggers blog about brands, including reviews and experiences with the brand and its representatives; in 2011, 25% of bloggers "encouraged readers to boycott brands"

* Most bloggers are not paid - only 14% receive a salary and of the 6% who write "sponsored posts" they generally make less than $50

* 86% of bloggers disclose "when a post was sponsored or paid" and 58% disclose "when they receive a product for review" (The FTC requires disclosure.)

As of August 2010, eMarketer forecasted blog readership to continue rising from 45% in 2008 to 60% in 2012.

If blogs are so influential why aren't they more visible in mainstream conversations about what's going on in the news? I rarely see them brought on TV, for examples, as news commentators, and when they are it's always the same select few that seem to have gained "credibility" even if their views are somewhat extreme.

Essentially, the problem with bloggers is the same thing that makes them (us) so appealing and trustworthy to the public: Their influence can't easily be measured and reported upon. Thus the 2012 prediction for social media marketers that in the coming year, metrics are going to become more important. For example, the MarketingSherpa "2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report" (Nov. 2011) had 64% of marketing agencies/consultancies committed to "social marketing," (i.e. marketing through social media), albeit on a "conservative" basis until the return on investment could be more clearly demonstrated.

As a blogger myself and one who follows other bloggers, I don't really need metrics to see how influential they are. All of the stories I've seen blogs focus on intensely over the past year or two - TSA privacy issues, the Fast & Furious issue, the rise and fall of Herman Cain and Anthony Weiner, the Toyota safety issue, the BP oil spill, pedophilia and coverup in various trusted institutions, including the religious community - and on and on - have gone mainstream.

Others have documented how blogs' influence goes far and wide, even as far as the Supreme Court and Congress: "the blogosphere has a much stronger voice being heard by legislators than previously considered." Of course, blogs (and other forms of social media) also influence purchase decisions: 42% of respondents to an April 2011 study said blogs "somewhat" influence their decision to buy.

So I don't believe the kinds of headlines that scream "Blogs Are Dead" because people no longer possess an attention span. The reality is that blogs are very much alive. They've helped me grow both personally and professionally, and through blogging I have found and celebrated my own unique identity and voice.

If you're reading this and haven't started blogging yet, I hope that you will consider it. It's a great hobby that can benefit your life in so many ways. And the world wants to hear from you.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here