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"Sloppers, Supersloppers, Slimers, & Sponges": Get Creative Now - Or Technology Will Eliminate Your Job

If you are doing anything repetitive, it is susceptible to automation.

Automation means the machine does it, not you, and you can find a job somewhere else - involuntarily.

The divide between employees who add value ("creators") and those who don't ("servers") was highlighted in this week's Wall Street Journal in an op-ed by Andy Kessler, author of Eat People: Unapologetic Rules for Entrepreneurial Success, where he breaks down "servers" into four categories.

(Lest anyone think that I am standing on a soapbox, I read this and winced because branding professionals are one of them.)

1. Sloppers - people who move information or things from one place to another without adding any value - e.g. I send the form to you, you send it to someone else, it gets approved. Not brain surgery, that.

2. Supersloppers - people who add an illusion of value to products through branding.

3. Slimers - people who earn their living in finance - because it's getting easier and easier to eliminate the middleman.

4. Sponges - people who rely on certifications to establish their worthiness for a job - because computers can do so much of the work nowadays (e.g. paralegal research, computer-aided diagnostics) that "sponges" aren't needed to do everything associated with their specialization.

I personally don't agree that branding inherently adds no value - it's the practice of providing an illusion of value that is going to be useless.

Nevertheless, whatever you do, it's time to ask yourself whether you are a "server" who adds no value. If so, get out of denial (if you're in it) and face facts about the state of the economy. There is no refuge from the budget axe, whether you work in government or the private sector.

Are there parts of your job that are mundane and repetitive? Automate them yourself - and find something else to do where you are a source of unique, creative value that cannot easily be duplicated by a machine. Even if you have to pursue training in subjects you're not familiar with. Do what you have to do.

In this process, don't let the fear of change stop you. We're all going through the same thing, and most of the time these kinds of challenges make us stronger down the road.

Don't be afraid to share your situation with others. Get support! And practice self-compassion as you make the transition to the new economy. Maybe even help someone else, too.

Americans are strong and we will get through this time - but the first step to take is to face reality.

Good luck!

Thanks to Google, I Remember Their Names.

These are some of my relatives, on my father's side, who were murdered in the Holocaust.

Thanks to several visual and content databases created in partnership between Google and Yad Vashem, I finally learned what names were. After an entire life of not knowing, because it was considered something we should not talk about - should move on from.

The photo database was announced on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

My father's family was from Romania. They were (are) Hasidim. A sect called "Satmar." They keep to themselves, mostly, and are very religious.

I still don't know much about why they do the things they do. I just know that they were nice to me when I spent time with them.

I would like to know more.

Due to Google's efforts, there is a YouTube channel dedicated to testimonials as well as a searchable photo archive online.

I couldn't find them there, they were listed in a database on Yad Vashem's site.

Sometimes I hear the anti-Semitic accusation that Jewish people "relive" the Holocaust over and over again, "beat it to death," as a sort of political trump card.

The truth, in my experience, is that the victims don't like to talk about it.

I for one wish that my grandparents, when they were still alive, had told me more. Or that I had a list or a photo album.

Sadly, sometimes when you go through a painful experience, you have to name it and talk about it even though it hurts you, so that you can help others who have suffered or prevent something similar from happening again.

I am grateful at least to know some of their names.

And yes, I am grateful that there are brands. Because without names I know and trust, I wouldn't have found my family. Google provides searchability. Yad Vashem preserves what happened. And The New York Times reports accurately, timely, and in a way that I appreciate.

The Wounded Child and The Personal Brand

Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver in one movie - a good reason to watch "You Again," out on Redbox this weekend, and it was worth the price of "admission." Painfully I laughed and winced as well as the ensemble cast, led by talented Kristen Bell, conveyed the secret struggle many of us go through as we overcome the petty, constant emotional scarring that was high school.

The opening sequence of the movie hit especially close to home. When Bell tells a group of PR trainees that "You can't control what others do to you, but you can control how you react to it, and that is the essence of public relations," I literally felt like she had reached into my high school yearbook. (I mean, it wasn't that bad, but let's just say there's a reason why the tome isn't coffee-table reading in my living room today!)

Aside from learning that my life is a Hollywood cliche, I gained some insight from the movie about a topic that has been percolating in my head for some time. That is, I think there is a connection between the intense interest people have in personal branding nowadays, our earliest experiences, and the pernicious threat posed by crimes where people are bought and sold like cattle.

To be very direct about it: I am not a psychologist, but from my own experience I believe that the effort to "brand" oneself can stem from a rational, logical place (make money, compete successfully) as well as an irrational one (recover self-esteem eroded a long time ago).

If the former, fine.

If the latter, hold on a minute.

Because if you are looking at yourself through the lenses of a time when you were made to feel "not good enough" - no amount of image-building is going to make you feel whole. Which can lead you to make bad choice after bad choice in an attempt to feel successful.

So it pays to have some awareness into this whole area, if only to have a measure of control over your own life.

As I think about the connection between the wounded child and the personal brand, it strikes me that there is more than high school bullying that can cause someone to be intensely interested in image building and image control.

Again, not that I am a psychologist or psychoanalyst, but it seems logical to me that there is a relationship between one's upbringing and the way one would use personal branding.

Meaning, if your parents or caregivers were there for you, supported you, and validated your worthiness no matter what, you would be less likely to need a brand to give you self-esteem.

Conversely, if you were ignored or mistreated, you may very well turn to a product to give you substitute love.

In the sentence that follows, I am not (!) blaming anyone here for working - please don't get me wrong. But it strikes me as no accident that just in my generation, where divorce became ordinary and staying at home to raise the kids became less and less the norm, we saw the rise of the pervasively branded culture.

More than the Baby Boomers, my generation was disconnected from solid, rooted families; raised on TV; cared for by daycare givers and later, peers; and divided into tribes based on the logos we displayed on our clothes. Perhaps lacking in validation from a solid unit of caring people at home, we validated ourselves by buying things, and as adults we reassured ourselves for leaving our kids at home by buying them Einstein videos and just the right kind of organic baby food. Not to mention expensive nannies who we could order around in our absence (a form of depersonalization right there).

If you take this line of thinking a step further, it is not a very far leap to see why social cancers like human trafficking are such a threat, if we ignore them. Because if we have made it acceptable to view ourselves as products, then we have become de-sensitized to our own uniqueness, and we are less likely to value the humanity of others. We understand that we must sell ourselves, in a way, and so why is that such a far leap from accepting the reality that others get sold?

In the brand-based global economy, we are socialized to accept that it is not our inner worth that matters but rather what others think of us - this is after all the very definition of brands. And we are savvy enough to know that in a world where every product is reducible to a commodity, manufacturing is not the basis of value. Rather, marketing is, because it is only the illusion provided by the brand that gives anything any value at all.

This is a lot to overcome. As individuals, how do we overcome the painful past, and deal with a challenging present, without losing our humanity in the process? Here are some suggestions.

1. Practice "self-compassion": There are a few books with this name floating around and they all center on the same concept. Rather than trying to achieve things by putting yourself down (e.g. the "drill sergeant" model of self-improvement), you take the opposite path and re-parent yourself in a loving way. You pursue an inner journey to value yourself separately from your paycheck, your weight, your social status, or any other irrelevant external marker.

2. Validate others: Do for your family, your friends, and your co-workers what you should be doing for yourself. Encourage them to value themselves as three-dimensional people and not for their "marketability."

3. Practice "mental environmentalism": Basically, take some time each week to unplug from all the marketing crap. All the TV, the magazines, the everything. Disconnect and get back to yourself.

4. Find your passion: What do you love to do in this world? Find a way to do it, either on the job or in a classroom or as a hobby. Get in touch with your true self no matter what you have to do to earn a living.

5. Volunteer: The act of helping other people whom you don't know puts you in touch with both their humanity and your own - and the fact that all people have an essential self-worth despite their life situation.

You may be wondering how all of this can help. For on the surface, doing the above gets you out of business mode and perhaps off the professional "success track" that you may have been chasing.

In a way, that is true. You're not as single-minded anymore.

But on another level, if you do all these things and have a more balanced life, you may actually be more valuable as a professional. Because when you are fully self-validated, you are not looking to your image to shore you up as a person. You are simply looking at personal branding objectively, as just another tool to help you achieve your goals in a rational way.

And when you are calm and your mind is centered in this way, you stand a greater chance of not only achieving your professional goals, but sustaining them over the long term in a balanced way. As a thinking person. As someone who cares.

That is something that really puts you on the success track at work, and in life - a potent contributor to both your own personal economy, and to society.


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Personal branding tip: 10 Ways To Make Sure Your Voice Is Heard


Lately The Huffington Post has been posting some great blogs on communication by psychologist Robert Leahy (@AICTCognitive).

It's funny how most of us are so bad at communication yet we think we are so good at it and there is "nothing new under the sun" to say on this topic. So untrue!

For example I am paid to communicate. And yet I have learned that I can sometimes be vague when I communicate verbally. That is a big deal!

I've also learned that there are times when it is more efficient for me to communicate in person (brainstorming sessions can't be done by email) while other times writing is much better (strong opinions are good in blogs, but sometimes off-putting in person).

Obviously understanding where and how you communicate best has a major impact on your personal brand. Although the proliferation of social media encourages us to think that everyone is interested in our every little thought, the opposite is actually true. Sometimes the more you say, the less people want to hear you.

I got a dose of this one when I started blogging more frequently, and participating in discussion groups more. It was the Law of Diminishing Returns. I noticed that people were less interested in what I had to say. Whereas they continue to comment voraciously on bloggers who post relatively infrequently (to me) - say once a week or so.

In any case, the first Leahy post that caught my attention offered 7 reasons "Why Men Don't Listen to Women." A "grabber" headline so I read it. What an original and convincing argument. While usually these kinds of articles put the onus on women to be less emotional, Leahy explains why men have trouble with emotionality, period. His explanation is convincing: It makes them uncomfortable both psychologically (power dynamics) and physically (literally, emotional conflict causes their pulse rates to rise and "they find this unbearable.")

What a helpful article to read. Because it's not about being "right" or "wrong" about how you communicate. It is about understanding your audience and making sure that you have a fighting chance, given their predispositions. What matters isn't gender, of course - anyone can have "male" or "female" characteristics when it comes to communicating. And the setting doesn't matter either - home or work. You can be the best speaker in the world, you can be completely "on target," but if you're very passionate and emotional and your audience is moved by facts, figures and a monotone, you will be out of luck. And vice versa.

Similarly, the other post I recently read by Leahy, "How To Talk So That Your Partner Will Listen," had much good advice for all contexts. If you don't have time to read the whole thing (it's well-written and worth the time, if you have it), here is the "Cliff's Notes" version. Some of this is new, some of it is old but sound. Taken together it's a good mini-workshop on personal communication effectiveness. Here goes:

#1 - Preparation: Based on your knowledge of the person you're trying to talk to, when are they most receptive to listening to the kind of thing you want to talk about?

#2 - Say it the Twitter way: Don't go into a whole "shpiel" (Yiddish for lengthy diatribe). Get to the point fast.

#3 - Stop, stop: In the middle of what you're saying, ask for some kind of reaction before you continue

#4 - Balance, be objective: Don't make things more extreme than they are - "if you make too many things sound awful you will lose your credibility"

#5 - Be positive toward the listener: No matter how strongly you feel, no matter how just your cause, no matter how wrong the other person may seem - do not criticize them at all. Just talk about what you would like to see changed, and thank them in a realistic way (it has to be true) for the good that they do.

#6 - Clarify what you want from them: Generally if your audience is higher-level than you they will think you want problem-solving. Lower-level and they think you want to vent. Is that true? Maybe not. State what you want from the outset - support, suggestions, or help in solving a problem.

#7 - Expect another opinion even if you're just venting: The listener is not your robot. They are a thinking person. So expect them to offer you their own perspective, not just to agree with you. If you don't want input you can talk to a pillow, or the wall.

#8 - Be respectful of the advice you get: Similar to the above, but it's about your attitude when they start spouting. Maybe you just wanted to vent but you got advice instead. And you really don't like the advice or don't think the person is qualified to give it. Doesn't matter. If you want them to listen next time, be grateful.

#9 - Be constructive: Even if you just want to be heard, people like it when you come in with a possible solution rather than just griping. You don't want to end up with a Pavlovian situation where the very sight of you is associated with negativity.

#10 - Thank the listener: You've taken up their time, and their time is precious: They get paid X number of dollars an hour. Be grateful and tell them so.

Better communication, better brand, better chance of success. And a more harmonious world, too.

Don't you think?


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