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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.

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.

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.

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.

Top 10 Reactions To Passover Cleaning (Overheard of Course)

1. Eeeeww! What the hell is THAT?

2. Oh good, I found it!

3. Don't throw it out, we can sell it on eBay.

4. Is that MOLD?

5. You are NOT leaving this house till your room is clean.

6. Where did I leave those Cheerios?

7. How long is Seder gonna be this year?

8. Now I have to go shopping...I just donated all my clothes!

9. I want to rearrange my room/get new furniture/move.

10. Next year let's celebrate in Jerusalem! Or at least book a cruise.

What a Government Communicator Can Learn From Watching "The Soup"

Last night's (4/16/11) satirical TV show "The Soup" (Saturday nights, 11 p.m., E!) had a great segment on gibberish in political reporting. I like complicated things dumbed down, but this clip showed Good Morning America doing so just a little too much.

Believe me I am not snotty about communication. I actually prefer what I call the "USA Today" version of most things. Speaking as a Ph.D. myself, I feel like I can confidently say that many of us experts overcomplicate things either because we don't know how to communicate well or because we think it makes us seem smarter. (And like that degree in sociology was worth the investment, when it is almost impossible to get a job as a professor unless you know someone.)

Almost as bad as the experts are the PR people (I fall into that group as well) who say much but explain very little because they don't understand how to fully and truthfully explain a client's actions in an engaging and understandable way without lying/distorting/omitting facts etc. They actually don't realize that there is a negative correlation, not a positive one, between "spin" and credibility. (Sigh.)

Then of course there are the TV shows that try to explain things in as simple a way as possible. Often too simple. But we watch!

Suze Orman is a good example of an expert who knows how to communicate about complicated things without dumbing them down excessively. She understands that people are smart but also busy, and that they don't need or care to listen to a whole megilla about the microscopic elements of financial planning in order to make good decisions.

Anyway. If you aren't familiar with "The Soup," and you are sort of a pop culture junkie, I highly recommend it. Even if you're not, you will probably laugh, even when you don't get the specific references. Because what comes through is the hilarious inability of paid communicators to communicate.

In a way, the show is more than just an extended comedy sketch. It's a free training course in communicating well. Because it wakes you up to the fact that if people can ignore you, make fun of you, and even trash you - guess what? They will!

(I once took a corporate communications class taught by Steve Crescenzo and Shel Holtz. It was excellent, and I remember Crescenzo's concept of the "C.R.A.P." awards. They're still out there, actually. Sort of like the Razzies for film - display some really bad corporate newsletters and we get to make fun of how bad they are.)

Nobody and nothing is sacred these days, especially not the government.

What is interesting to me is that we still can't come to terms with this fact. Rather, we persist in holding an array of somewhat shocking fantasies about communication, considering that we live in the age of social media (actually I think this is why we tend to shy away from it):

  1. "The entire world is waiting, with bated breath, to hear what we have to say." (Oh, absolutely! They don't have jobs/relationships/kids/aging parents/school/volunteering/church/car problems....)
  2. "They will just have to read the entire text of our press release/report/article because the material is complex/sensitive and if we don't spell it all out exactly/technically/correctly they might misunderstand and then say something bad about us." (More likely we will get sued for boring them to death.)
  3. "It is accessible. After all we are complying/tagging/metadata-ing/translating it." (Noooo...they would never throw our flier in the trash and of course they're going to find our website eventually. And our sub-page within that website. And they even know our agency's name. Uh-huh.)
  4. "We can reach them if only we do enough brochures." (And hand them out...where?)
  5. Last but not least..."They will never make fun of us if we deny them the channels to do so."

In the end, good communication is not an academic thing. You can study it in school, but you can't master it by writing to a "rubric" and getting an "A." Nor is it only about on-the-job training and getting along with people.

Really, what it's about is the ability to picture yourself on the receiving end of whatever it is you are spewing. If you don't know how you come across to others, there is no way you can decide what it is that you should say.

Watch people's faces as you talk. Monitor their behavior when you give them something to read. Observe your target audience in their natural habitat, how they act, who they interact with and in what way. Those things will give you the clues you need to communicate well.

Most of all, get over yourself and develop the ability to to laugh - not just at others but also at yourself. Where there is no ego but an abundant willingness to learn, you will find the best communication. Which is sometimes (as Peter Sperry commented on about just being there, and listening - saying nothing at all.

Good luck!