How do you change a personality trait that helps you?

So we're talking at work about potential new projects for me and the subject of feedback comes up. Oh how I hate this conversation.

Because on the one hand, you want to know what you're doing wrong, and on the other, you don't want to hear that you're doing anything wrong.

Because that would make you flawed. Which feels bad. :-(

Anyway, I am reflecting on the fact that my strengths are also my weaknesses. Which is so cliched that it's what you say in a job interview. Except for the fact that this is actually true. And it's like one of those computer loops where you want to fix a problem, but if you fix it you will ruin something else that is equally important.

In a nutshell here's what I got: On the good side, I am a "wonder" because I blaze through problems like a Mack Truck. On the bad side, I tend to be a bit inflexible about believing that my solution is the right one.

I couldn't really argue with any of it, although it hurts! Yes it does! to be told that you are not perfect.

I think it would be good to broaden my mind and be more flexible. But I am afraid that if I alter my personality I will lose my ability to size up a problem, decompose it into parts, adjust the parts, and come up with a plan to reassemble everything quickly and in better shape than it was before.

You can tell me that the client will feel good if I figuratively hold their hand but in my heart I believe that I owe them a solution that will work. Not nice words.

So here is the question. I throw it out to the wisdom of the crowd:

1) Can you change your personality without destroying the benefits it brings to you and your organization?

2) If the answer is yes, what is a general roadmap for doing that? Is there a step-by-step way of changing?

3) More specifically for the realm of communication, how do you balance the delivery of actual results, with the maintenance of the customers' self-esteem?

Have a great weekend everyone.


Photo source here

10 Social Media Safety Tips for Government Employees


This is just a quick post - my opinions only, based on my personal experience - to warn other government employees to be cautious online.

I recently received a tip that seems like it was intended to help law enforcement. I passed it on. And to that person, if you are reading this blog, THANK YOU for caring enough about public safety to send your tip forward. Next time though you may want to simply call 911 because I am not an official conduit for this stuff.

Despite that situation being seemingly good, it also gave me pause. I don't go out there talking about my job - in fact I keep a significant distance from it online and constantly use disclaimers.

Yet as we know from years of experience with social media, the audience controls the conversation and not the speaker.

So as a government employee, one can be targeted for positive things (helping law enforcement) or negative ones (shudder).

Here are some suggestions based on my own practices, thinking and reading to try and help others stay safer on social media. They're meant for government employees but anyone can probably use them.

1. Don't put photos of your family on your profile picture or in your Facebook account. Also on Facebook, lock down the part where other people can tag you in photos. 

2. Don't use social media services that track your location (Foursquare) or that announce when you're going on a trip (TripIt). Turn off geographical tracking on your smartphone device and on your Tweets. If you have a Google account, go into the settings and change the zip code of your location to something else. 

3. Don't click on unknown links, especially short links. Sometimes I get "thank you's" in response. Sometimes I'll get a message that says, "You may find this interesting: (short link)." I have no idea who this person is so I don't click on the link. Remember: Don't click on the link! 

4. Check regularly whether your personal account passwords have been compromised by hackers. (Gizmodo published an article with a search box to help people check on that last week. I'm not vouching for who is operating the search box, but I did use it.)

5. Check your Twitter account under "Applications" and remove any unauthorized settings that allow others to Tweet for you. Last week some Twitter service Tweeted a promotional item on my behalf; I must have clicked "OK" when I shared an article and they ended up with access. Be careful.

6. Lock down your LinkedIn and Facebook contact lists. The entire world doesn't have to see who you're friends with or connected to. On LinkedIn, it's "Hide My Connections" under Settings. On Facebook, this is controlled through Privacy settings.

7. Be cautious about what your family and friends post on your wall or their Facebook walls. Don't be tagged in their photos unless that's something you want. Be especially careful about appearing in photos with minor children.

8. Don't post things online on social media sites from a government computer. Aside from the fact that this violates usual social media policies, it's stupid because the person running the site can, if they wish, track down who visited the site and from what IP address. They will then connect you (or your pseudonym, which could be trackable if they can connect the dots) to your agency directly.

9. Let me say this ten times: Don't use public wifi without a VPN! I use a free one called ProXPN that I think is safe (tell me if it's not). Be careful because I tried another one that seems like it was spyware. Be especially careful because theoretically a so-called "free VPN" may actually be spies sucking up all your data on the other end of that cyber-tunnel.

10. Last but not least, be careful who you friend online. Don't assume that people are who they say they are. Anyone can grab a photo and make a social media profile; it doesn't remotely mean that they're for real.

If you have other suggestions please share them.

Thank you, stay safe, and have a great day everyone!


Image source here

Paying by the word is like a haircut at Shop-Rite


When I was little I got $5 haircuts at the grocery store.


My mom used to take me. Toodling along we would go to a decrepit mini-strip mall housed on the inside of the big shopping plaza.


The inside of the haircut place was painted aqua blue. Really cheap.


The hairdressers used to put you into the hairwash chair and crane your neck way back.


You’d stare up at the ceiling where they had falling-down taped pictures of the Bahamas or whatever.


The lady would ask my mom, “How short?”


And my mom would say, “Cut a few inches. I want to get my money’s worth.”


I didn’t know any better than that the haircut was, shall we say, “wash-n-wear.” (Stop shuddering.)


Other times I would get perms. It was the ‘80s. “The curlier the better.” (I have burned all those pictures.)


Obviously the value of a haircut has little to do with how much you cut it. Instead it’s about the quality of the styling as aligned with your particular face.


Just like you can pay $8.99 a pound for fresh grilled organic vegetables brushed with olive oil and sea salt and they’re worth every penny. Even though technically, yes, you can actually buy regular vegetables at said Shop-Rite for about half the price or less and "grill them all by yourself at home."


It’s a similar thing with corporate communications. Let’s talk about taglines because they pertain to the brand and set the stage for everything else.


When you consider that a tagline can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more, it’s easy to see that a client would want the line to be lengthy. As if ROI could be measured in cost per word.


Of course this is not the right way to measure value. But the perception is hard to fight.


Actually what you want is a one-word tagline like "Happiness" or "Joy" or "Refresh." Something that captures the essence of the brand perfectly, yet abstractly, so that it can be applied across a range of products and services.

We make the same mistake with all manner of corporate communications, turning writers into the equivalent of "Mechanical Turks." (Refer to "AOL Hell" for more on this.)


On a bigger level we have for what seems like forever paid people for their work by units of time. Why do we do that today, if we are interested in results? Knowledge workers aren’t working in a factory – we should be paying for the worth of output.


It’s a big change moving from “cost-per-unit” thinking to “compensation for value.” But imagine how much better we would produce as individuals, companies, and as a country if we thought more strategically about what we pay for things. Rather than so very mechanically.


Once again like so many other changes that need to happen, the reason why we don't go this route is fear. Because if it's all about producing and you can't produce, or you can't compete with the other guy to get a chance to do that, you're outta luck unless there's one heck of a safety net beneath you.

What if we confronted this issue directly instead of persisting with a way of thinking that doesn't fit with (post)modern times?

Thinking about it, no answers - only more questions as to how a future system would really work. But it seems like a pretty pressing question considering that so many young people are coming out of school without the promise of a job.

With that heavy thought in mind...enjoy the rest of the evening everyone, and good luck!



Photo source here






Old: "Fear of Failure" ---> New: "Managed Risk"

A friend of mine is completely clueless about my job.

"I'm so stressed out," I told her the other day, just around the time when my stomach starts growling for dinner. "It's unbelievable."

"You work for the government," she said matter-of-factly. "You sit around and shuffle papers all day. What could be so bad?"

Other "govies," of all ages and tenures, understand intuitively what the stress is.

In private industry, generally, you have too much to do. ("Employment at will.")

In government, from what I've seen, you actually want to do MORE.

Unfortunately, too often you can't because there are so many fears about 1) process 2) outcomes 3) blowback if something goes wrong.

So you get excited about an idea or initiative...only to watch it die on the vine. Strangled by task forces, committees, "vetting," "socializing," Powerpoint briefings, routing, and on and on until you wish you'd never suggested the thing in the first place.

Or you forget about it and suggest some other idea. And start the whole process again.

Don't get me wrong: Reasonable process is not a bad thing. Through it, problems are anticipated and ironed out before anything actually goes wrong. Along the way, the diversity and quantity of voices gets people engaged with the concept. 

Although with so much input, the original vision can get muddied or worse.

However, confronted with interminable delays, sometimes there is a decision to "just do it already," without enough forethought about the consequences down the road. Which is expensive to fix later. (Classic examples: Web design. Social media.)

Someone I spoke to expressed this frustration perfectly: "Every day I see opportunities to do so many great things, but the opportunities just seem to slip away."

It seems to me that the government would benefit from moving toward a "managed risk" approach.

Which says openly: "We can't guarantee this will work 100%. But we are REASONABLY sure. And we're going to try."

I only know things for sure from my own experience: 

* I have never done a job that I didn't learn on the job.

* I have rarely seen a teenager get a driving license who would qualify for NASCAR.

* I have never seen a kid start kindergarten without crying their eyes out.

Startups of any kind involve screwups. That's just life.

Let's get over our fear of being wrong and throw out a bit of rope in the knowledge that we will often be pretty close to the mark.

Have a good evening everybody, and good luck!


Photo source here.

Who are we writing for?

When I sit down in front of the computer, I imagine that I am telling a story to my mother.

When corporate or agency communicators write, who are they talking to?

It seems to me that everything we say and do ought to be geared toward the outside. Toward the public. Toward the generic "mom" who always could see the truth in plain terms.

If the intended audience wouldn't want to read past the first sentence, throw the whole thing out and start again.

It can be tough to negotiate with internal audiences, but an excellent end result is worth it.

Good luck!

Leverage Your Employees’ Personal Brands for Mutual Benefit

You haven't lived until you've had an argument over "brand versus reputation."

A long time ago when I started working as a brand consultant I had this very discussion with somebody else in the firm.

It was their espoused philosophy that functionally, brand and reputation were the same, and that the language was easier for clients to swallow. Nobody wants to be stamped with a brand like a can of Pepsi.

I was an impractical idealist who belonged in a university and not a consultancy, and so I insisted very Talmudically that branding connoted all aspects of image while reputation was limited to only a few. Further, that a brand could be "negative," in a way, and still succeed. (Though reputation always matters.)

For some reason the disagreement took on proportions way beyond the issue itself. Because within the firm, my point of view represented a different philosophy - a different point of view - and it wasn't clear what they could do with it.

In the end we came up with a way to box my personality off and put it a different corner - creating a standalone brand out of it. This was a smart move on the part of my employer. They recognized that I was different, and they used that in a way that benefited both of us. (Disclaimer: Separately, I write thought leadership posts for this firm that espouse their unique philosophy; no endorsement expressed or implied.)

What I did for the firm was useful. But it was still difficult for the small group to tolerate having such a different personality onboard. One of the partners tried to give me advice. "Bring them along," he said. "It's hard for them to deal with someone who is off on her own while they work as a team."

If I could go back and do it over again, I think we could have communicated more clearly the distinction between my role (brand) and the others'. Using supporting communication materials that looked different from what the rest of the group was doing. Using sophisticated internal communication to make sure that everyone was clear about who was doing what. To reinforce mutual respect and understanding.

But it was a small firm, we moved pretty fast, and words like "personal branding" were never even used. Heck, we had a hard time using the word "branding" to begin with (see above).

Go to the bookstore and you will see all these self-help books about change. Employer manuals, too, try to "orient" you to the company. But in the end, people are who they are. The traditional way to recruit them is to find people who are "just like" you. Like-minded folks. (Zappos pays people who don't fit in to leave.)

Another, perhaps more strategic thing to do is to purposefully seek out people who "think different." And have them contribute in a different way than those in the mainstream. Calling it something different. Leveraging their personal brand.

Somebody at work, seeing me program stuff on the computer, likened me to the character in NCIS who sits in a lab in the basement, experimenting away in her wacky lab environment. I had a good laugh over that, because it's pretty true. I'm not like the rest of the group - I never have been. Everyone is different, I know what I can do, and I put it to work for my employer.

If you are the employer, go beyond a "tolerance for diversity" to making it work for you through sub-branding and strategic brand architecture. What you should be doing is collecting a portfolio of personal brands, and making money from them.

Here are five things you can do:

1. Encourage employees to develop their individual skills on company time - and develop new products and services (Like Google)

2. Pay for them to go to school on their personal time. (My agency does this.)

3. Host a blog space where they are free to hold forth. Add a disclaimer that clearly outlines whose views they are representing. (Like Gartner)

4. Empower them to be mini-entrepreneurs on behalf of the company. Take a cut of the profits. (My former employer does this.)

5. Communicate back to the rest of the organization when an employee "mini-brand" has achieved success, and publicly congratulate them. (Common knowledge but often underutilized.)

I hope these tips are helpful to you. If you have others, please share.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here.

Transparency is more expedient than lying

The biggest fear people have about transparency is obvious: they'll be "found out."

What they don't realize is that everybody around them can see the truth anyway.

Transparency is not really about whether you've done something wrong, although it can be.

Rather, and more importantly, it has to do with who you are as a person.

Here is why.

We live in an age where your identity is largely "constructed" (made up) rather than inherited like it used to be.

Today, as long as you declare yourself to be something, nobody has the right to tell you different.

Not to pass judgment - but to observe a significant social shift:

--A man can declare himself a woman because s/he feels like one on the inside.

--A person born into one religion can assume the identity of another, without converting.

--A college student can declare themselves a CEO.

--A homeschooled or online student can be awarded the same status as a student who attended a physical school.

--Non-married couples can declare themselves "committed."

And there is no contradicting this. Everything is seen as a matter of opinion.

Because there are no longer any really objective standards about things, opportunities for self-determination are greater.

But people also have a correspondingly higher level of anxiety about your authenticity when you declare yourself to "be" something.

Today when you want someone to "prove" their authenticity, you can't really go by physical evidence or credentials.

So where we have turned instead is what I would call "authenticity of personality."

Meaning, if the viewer sees your personality as integrated, healthy, consistent, and aligned with the identity you have assumed, then they accept you.

But in order to establish this level of psychological health requires an unprecedented, and unbelievably constant, level of honesty. And self-awareness.

That is why transparency is more expedient than lying.

Now we are the Facebook generation.

And being an upfront scoundrel is more credible than a "Mad Men"-like veneer of politeness.

Today, you can be honest and reviled and still come out on top.

But you absolutely cannot be a hypocrite or a liar.

Good luck!


Image source here.

10 Suggestions for More Efficient Government

It's a rainy Monday morning here in D.C. and for some reason I am having all these heavy thoughts about the state of things. 

Oh I know what it is...I spent too much time on the Fast Company "30 second MBA" page yesterday. Excellent.  

Anyway, here goes:

1. Run it like a business - with a focus on financial return on investment. 

2. Facilitate a healthy emotional environment through the expanded use of internal communication.

3. Use diversity as a strategic planning tool rather than just looking at it as a compliance exercise.

4. Incorporate training into work all the time.

5. Create programs to recruit members of the public who would not normally join government.

6. Bring advanced technology to bear on all jobs, and train people to use it.

7. Look at work in terms of projects rather than programs; train people in the art and science of project management.

8. Dismantle hierarchical organizational structures that impede innovation and change.

9. Reorganize along lines that make sense to the customer.

10. Make key performance metrics easily accessible to the public and employees. 

Please add your suggestions to the list.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

5 Drinks for Dieters Who Hate Water


10 Trends I'm Watching Now

#1 - Survivalism - products, TV shows, clothes

#2 - The word "badass," particularly applied to women

#3 - Hand-to-hand combat as a recreational activity

#4 - Monster-sized organic food stores

#5 - Self-help, crowdsourcing, etc.

#6 - Lunch trucks for office workers

#7 - Home-delivered meals

#8 - Parodies of the '00s

#9 - Social media as mainstream media

#10 - Entrepreneurship as a career path

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