5 Reasons Why Facebook will beat Google+ Easily


This boxing match is over before it gets started: Facebook wins. Here's why:

* Brand: Facebook is about staying connected with friends. Google is about making the world's data searchable. Google is therefore not on solid ground. Analogous to Starbucks desperately trying to make more money by expanding into grocery store ice cream. It just dilutes the brand.

* Monopoly: Google is already pervasive in our lives due to its dominance in search, email, collaboration, smartphone integration, and more. People are going to resent or ignore the company's attempt to elbow out Facebook just like we resent it when one close friend tries to eliminate another one from our lives.

* Insanity: The definition of which is continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Examples: Google Wave. Google Buzz. Orkut. Knol. Face it, Google: Social networking is not your thing.

* Enemy: Facebook stays focused on its core business for a reason - they really know what they're doing. Already Mark Zuckerberg has an account on Google+. Talk about confidence. Talk about being connected everywhere, even on enemy ground. Talk about turning enemies into friends. Talk about keeping those enemies close. Can you say brilliant?

* Privacy: Last but not least, Google doesn't seem to get that people actually care about privacy and worry about being tracked online, especially when it comes to their personal email. Who wants to have their individual account connected socially to everything they do online? Despite all the company's reassurances about privacy protection, the fact is that when you do business (personal or professional) using Google email over Google's servers, they have touched your data. Now do you want to have an endless circle of friends, semi-friends, and contacts who aren't friends but who you've friended anyway, linked to your Gmail account? There's a reason why people do their professional networking on LinkedIn, their commenting on Twitter, and their friendship activities on Facebook: We like to keep different streams of our data separate.

Google is a great brand on many levels. But this one was a bad idea from the start. Doomed by its roots in envy of a competitor rather than the expansion of Google's own areas of excellence. Just like Microsoft laughably trying to overtake Google with "Bing" rather than get better at what it is they do best: create integrated software suites that are useful to the average business person. (How 'bout working on Sharepoint?)

Lesson for them and for the rest of us:

Stick to your core competencies--your unique selling proposition--the thing you can do better than anybody else, almost effortlessly. Succeed at that and then expand from there. Don't let yourself get jealous. (See "Obsessing about the competition blinds you to opportunity.")

Good luck!

Photo source here

How to Kill A Brand Without Even Trying


One day in 1985 it was my “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”


I ditched school, caught the bus to Greenwich Village, and goofed around. By 5:00 I had returned with “outside” pajama pants (the non-sleeping kind); white T-shirts splattered with Madonna-trendy neon-colored fabric paint; and my favorite “find” of all, a lipstick-red fez (Moroccan-style hat) with a long red tassel that hung from the front like on a graduation cap.


Wore the fez to the Science Fair, at which I showed off my salicylic acid experiment—an early Lifehacker.com-style offering where students learned how to cure acne with crushed-up aspirin paste.


The principal walked straight up to me.


“You’re scaring the parents,” she said. “Go home.”


“I think I want to be a fashion designer,” I told my mom afterward. “But Mrs. N. didn’t like the hat.”


“Forget her,” she responded. “Go for it.”


As a supervisor of sorts, my mother provided me with endless developmental opportunities: drama, gymnastics, piano, violin, guitar. She may have been bleary-eyed half the time from working so hard, but she shlepped me everywhere and never complained.


She and my dad (let’s call him the “CEO” of the family) are total opposites. But they share an unshakable belief that everyone is entitled to follow their dreams.


My dad’s retirement plan: “I will go to law school and become a litigator.” He actually will do that.


In the olden days parents taught kids to fit into their given caste. Today the opposite is true. A parent is supposed to facilitate the kid’s personal journey. No matter how weird it may seem.


The family has progressed. But unfortunately our schools and our workplaces have not. Instead of rewarding creatives, we have a de facto system of groupthink, where the robots who can pump out standardized answers on cue are rewarded. While those who see things differently are mostly not prized by the system.




* In recruiting new employees, favor is still given to “known” schools; high quantitative GPAs; an unbroken employment history; standardized “scannable” resumes; and the “conservative navy blue interview suit.”


* Once hired, employees are paid by “number of hours worked” rather than “quality of output” and telecommuting is primarily viewed as something one does after they’ve worked a full day at the office. Not to mention that part-time and flexible schedules are “accommodations” only.


* Within the organization, external communication is vastly favored over the neglected stepchild called “internal communication.” Organizational development specialists are called in only when there’s a “problem.” And anything related to emotions – whether conflict, distress, or even laughter – is seen as distracting from “real business.”


* The social phenomenon called “training” is viewed as the experience of having an expert teacher mush your brain full of lessons, whether “hard skills” (technical) or “soft skills” (emotional intelligence). Thus “training rooms” are set up for a “trainer” to lecture rows and rows of raptly listening students. And “questions” are to be restricted to having the trainer “clarify” the material rather than challenging its validity in the first place.


And we want to know why employees aren’t adding enough value to the workplace? Why they aren’t fully engaged?


If you look around, there are literally tons of blogs, articles, and books that will tell you how to “empower your employees.” But do you know what? If you have to empower disempowered employees, you have already lost the war. Because once you take the spark out of people, once you turn them into yes-men-slaves, you cannot easily get them to come back.


This is why G-d made the Jewish people wander in the desert after being enslaved in Egypt. It takes a long time to get your groove back.


So empowering people is too late. Instead you have to find people who come to you empowered. Who are endlessly jumping up and down with creative ideas. And who want nothing more than to join forces with a partner who will harness their energy.


What is so interesting to me is that this is obvious stuff. That jargon-y sounding phrase “human capital” is well-established as the key (forgive me) “value-driver” of any business. Leadership and management gurus from Peter Drucker to Jack Welch say it over and over again:  Everything can be replaced but your people. Let them be!


But most organizations still don’t get it. The shift in thinking is still too radical. People who will spend thousands of dollars for a seminar on innovation will return to the office and kick the dog. Even David Ogilvy, who is well-known for his humanistic philosophy of management (“we treat our employees like human beings,”) wasn’t immune from the gap between business theory and his own personal practice.


Donny Deutsch, whose father used to work for Ogilvy & Mather as a creative director and who told him “many stories of what a son of a bitch the guy was,” relates one typical episode: “He (Ogilvy) was known to have once walked by a secretary’s desk, found it too messy for his liking, and with a sweep of his arm, pushed everything onto the floor.” – “Often Wrong, Never in Doubt,” p. 19


I have a theory:


Companies pay lip service to the worth of their employees because, in the end, they still think that executives are the brains behind the machine (and employees are the machine, with interchangeable parts).


Thus they think that treating employees well is like a form of charity.


What they don’t see is the “ROI” of finding unique people and harnessing their creativity. Because they don’t understand that the value of the business is reducible to the value of the brand. And that the brand does not live in a dead, stale, picture on a website or in a glossy brochure on a side table. Rather, it exists in every single interaction between every single employee and every single person that employee talks to. Whether they are “on duty” or not. 


A case in point is Donald Trump’s “Branding 101,” written by Columbia University marketing professor Don Sexton, Ph.D. In many respects this book is an outstanding introduction to the discipline of building a brand. Reference the subtitle:


“How To Build The Most Valuable Asset of Any Business.”


However, it is an unfortunate fact that the chapter relating to the role employees play in building the brand—“Your Employees and Your Brand”—sits at the end of the book. (It’s Chapter 23.)


What a message. What a meta-message. Even though, as Sexton readily admits, “The values of…brands often depend on how employees live the brand,” the “how” of that living is relegated to just nine pages that sit just next to the dust jacket. There is no analysis of the incredibly complex relationship people have with their organizations, of corporate culture, of unifying the workforce.


In Trump’s/Sexton’s world, which is to say how most business people think, the delivery of the brand is analogous to the delivery of a pizza: If the delivery people (employees) know what the pizza (brand) looks like and know where to take it (key stakeholders), then that little problem is all taken care of.


This paternalistic attitude is exactly why brands are failing left and right. Not only are employees not living the brand, they’re disgusted with the companies that create these supposed brands and disgusted that they are treated like little show ponies who must repeatedly mouth the platitudes that a marketing writer came up with.


They’re spitting on the pizza in the kitchen before they deliver it.


Do leaders, once they attain high status, somehow unconsciously slip into a certain “mode” that enables them to forget that all these people being hired are actually adults who are responsible for homes, children, elderly parents, marriages, and who often possess advanced degrees?


Employees are pretty smart, usually. So we really can do better than “orienting” people to spit out a canned “customer service statements” like “Have I served you well today?” “Is there anything else I can do for you right now?” “It is my pleasure to be serving you.”


Come on. Brand success – business success – is very simply about hiring people who fit in in the first places, and then setting them up to succeed. They don’t need you to train them because they hit the ground ready to roll. Win-win. That’s it.


I remember we took a flight and the stewardess was so angry. Angry enough that she marched up and down the aisle, banging the overhead bins shut. It was clear that something was wrong between the crew members. Yes, she said what she was supposed to say, her little brand speech about how happy she was to have us there. But I was afraid for my life.


Logically, think about the implications of this statement:


Business = brand = employees.




You can have the crappiest, most homemade logo ever.


The worst-sounding name.


A store design that’s little more than “hole in the wall.”


Computers rescued from the garbage bin at Best Buy.


But if you have outstanding employees, you will succeed.


When will organizations learn? It’s all about the people, stupid.


If you aren’t engaging, exciting, and enabling your employees, I can promise you that eventually your business will wind up in the scrap heap.


That you are the one killing it.


And that despite all appearances to the contrary, an unhappy and unprofitable end to the party will come.


This is a certainty. It is only a matter of time.


Hire for brand, live the brand, evolve the brand. It should be natural and it should be fun. If you can say that then you are well on your way.


Good luck!


Photo source here

Battle of the Brands: Borders vs. Whole Foods


It is one of those beautiful, lazy summer days.


The sky is so perfect it looks like a screensaver. Warm air. Slight breeze. Relaxed people walk up the little streets then back down again, always with something in hand. Some clutch mini-purses with loops for around the wrist.  Others, iced coffee. Huge strollers with tiny babies. Everybody talking idly about nothing.


Some of those happy people go into Borders. Not knowing that they’re about to be sucked into an airless tunnel. Where the experience rips the cheer out of all but the most resilient.


Open the door. Immediately there are neon circles flashing some amount of percent off of this or that. A haphazardly placed black plastic basket holds discs of some sort and says “50% off.” Shelf signs promise, “buy 2 get 1 free.” Everywhere you look, low-low- prices. When it’s retail anyway so it starts out all marked up.


If you stand still too long, you worry, they might put a price tag on you.


Move toward the magazine section, scanning for “People” or “Us” or “Star.” No warning: They’ve moved them since last week. Now the gossip magazines are sandwiched next to the music ones and the intellectual film journals.  No logic here since you can tell from the cover of each respective kind of publication that they are intended for completely unrelated audiences.


Onward through the confusion. Look for the book “The Help” and saleswoman herself can barely find it. Return five minutes later to get an unscarred copy and can’t remember where the hell it was. Was it before “Inspirational?” Or After “History?” Who knows? Who cares? One cannot tell what the point of the layout is at all.


Of course, there are those who come in just in search of the Wifi. Waiting miserably for a table and chair, or sharing out of desperation. Skulking around like thieves.


I always feel guilty about doing that. So I will buy something. But the coffee is terrible no matter what kind of syrup they put in it. Not to mention that the food looks completely stale. That the half-and-half is forever empty, and the counter around it is unkempt. That there seems to be no strategy behind what kind of food they sell.


Plus the people who work there – you can’t call them baristas because that would imply some level of enagement with coffee – seem like prisoners serving out a life sentence. Not that they should be jumping for joy, but why are the people at Starbucks so much happier?


I went to a Starbucks the other day and the person who was cleaning the trash can said to me, “I just love this place. I love it so much I should do a commercial.”


I mean, if there is a secret sauce then Starbucks has it.


But not Borders. The people there are visibly depressed. They try to be polite but wear the facial expressions of people being held hostage at a convenience store, trying to pass a “call 911” note to a hapless walk-in.


Once, walking away from the counter, I heard one food representative half-heartedly joke to another, “Do you call it ‘iced decaf’ or ‘decaf iced’?” In Starbucks the baristas say, “I hate that freakin’ song, turn it off!” Yeah!


A store full of morose people is a store in trouble.


It’s a fractured experience to be in Borders, actually. With most of the store for books and such and a separate portion for food and WiFi. They don’t relate. And you can see it visually: The color scheme doesn’t match (maroon walls and summer-hued posters) and the fonts in the signage don’t go together either – almost as if two or three different agencies had competed for the business of building the brand image, and Borders just walked away with carpet samples.


If you can get away from Borders and go across the street, you will enter a world that I am confident Borders executives have never seen. For if they had, they would be ashamed to admit where they work at all.


It’s called Whole Foods. You’ve heard of it. Well, they are ramping up their game. Based on a visit to the across-the-street store and another one not far away, here are just 20 noticeable applications of the Whole Foods “brand recipe” (the list could go on):


1.     Joy is in the signage. Peach cobbler, “Oh how sweet it is!” Every detail lovingly captured.


2.     Free community events – especially cooking classes for adults and kids, for free.


3.     Signs hung prominently from the ceiling that talk about the company’s commitment to ethical practices.


4.     Comment cards placed in front of the cash register that make it easy and inviting to rate how you were treated that day.


5.     Educational information placed prominently near the fruits, the vegetables, the ready-made food bar, everywhere.


6.     Beautiful displays of cut-up fruit, of soap, of coffee, of peanut butter, of trail mix, almost anything you can think of to display, they display. Even beans and dried mushrooms.


7.     Absolute abundance everywhere you look. Piles and piles of stuff.


8.     Sales are discreet and don’t look desperate.


9.     Fun machines that let you make your own combination peanut butters and pop your own multigrain wafers. Stations where you can assemble your own custom-made granola, and so on.


10.  Small but ample spaces where different cuisines and types of foods can be enjoyed – a cultural world tour.


11.  Everything is packaged as if it were premium.


12.  Aisles are wide.


13.  Checkout is fast.


14.  There are accommodations for people with disabilities, including free power scooters.


15.  There is a cafeteria where you can take the food from the carryout area and enjoy a restaurant-quality meal.


16.  Curb appeal – with flowers, watermelons, and all types of things displayed outside in an appealing way.


17.  Nice mini-shopping carts for those who don’t have a ton to buy.


18.  Excellent lighting – bright, designer-looking, but not harsh.


19.  A constantly changing array of products but a consistent supply of the staples you need.


20.  Attention paid to the cost factor that can be daunting – they give you educational booklets about how to buy grains and beans and such in bulk, and cook them well.


The most important difference between Whole Foods and Borders, though, isn’t any specific thing that either one of them does.  Rather, it’s the big picture. The pure joy of living the brand. Whole Foods really has it. It has passion. Starbucks, too.


Borders, on the other hand, does not. The whole operation has the feel of a family whose members are so unhappy they want to run away. But they are bound to each other  for reasons nobody else can understand.


You want to know what I would do with Borders?


I would change the name to Starbucks. Apply the green brand. Implement the Starbucks Way of training. And integrate books and chairs just like you mix together salt and pepper – inseparable because reading and coffee go together. (Seattle’s Best coffee is Starbucks’ anyway…and that brew can only get better with the Starbucks logo attached.)


When you have happy customers, you can trust them not to spill.


Have a good evening everyone, and I wish these two important businesses – brands that are an important part of my life and so many others – good luck!



Photo source here.



Remembering "Transparency College"

Really good teachers influence us long after the class is over.

My forthcoming book, a compilation of my best writings at the intersection of branding and social media, is called "Beyond Brand Transparency: How to Succeed In A Radically Different World."

I gave it that title at the last minute. I didn't know where it came from, but it just seemed right.

I registered it with the Copyright Office and then turned to update my list of publications. Wouldn't you know it. There on my list of books I had authored or edited was an online book called "Brand Transparency," written by Chris Macrae, a lead Advisory Board member at the Institute for Brand Leadership where I served as director from 2001-2003. (It's not online anymore...I am looking for it but haven't found it yet.) Here is the description from the created by another brand thinker,  Jack Yan, who participated in our branding discussions at that time:

<<Macrae: Brand Transparency. Washington: Institute of Brand Leadership 2002. 
Chris Macrae’s excellent collection of writings about brand transparency, edited by Dannielle Blumenthal, is one of the best in getting us to question dogma and convention, breaking through the business world’s conditioning and its use of falsehoods in the process. I appear in it once and am honoured to be amongst such illustrious company. Hop over to Valuetrue.com and learn more about Chris’s initiatives.>>

I recalled that when I edited the book I tried to make Macrae's thinking accessible to the average person. His basic thesis was that transparency is a way to unlock economic value by promoting trust, and thereby collaboration. But it's a little hard to get to that nugget through the dense thicket that is his website (worth a thorough review anyway...maybe the book is there somewhere? I don't know.).

Anyway, I just wanted to give credit where credit is due, as I consider Macrae along with the authors of this article in the Journal of Brand Management to be significant intellectual mentors in the field of branding. They wrote something called "The Brand Manifesto," and many contributed to a book called Beyond Branding as well. 

The thinking of this group was well ahead of its time and remains prescient today. I owe them an intellectual debt. If my book has any impact on anyone at all, I hope they will know that its ideas were inspired by others. To me this lends credence to the belief that progress is not about one lone thinker coming up with an idea-invention that changes the world. But rather that we take what others have done and mold it, like clay, into something hewn from wrestling with our own experiences and learning.

My way of saying, thank you to the Institute for Brand Leadership Advisory Board and all my teachers and mentors. Transparency College is forever.

Marketing government to an ambivalent public


Every Saturday night my dad would take orders for T.'s Pizza. 

No sooner would he make havdala (the Jewish ceremony ending Sabbath) when I would hear his voice wafting up the stairs: "Who wants pizza?"

Being a good dieting teenager I would always say, "No thank you."

"Are you sure?" I would hear.

"Yes, absolutely, I don't want to eat so late at night, especially after dinner."

What is it with him, I would think. I don't want the damn pizza, why does he always ask?

About an hour and a half later after attending the informal Jewish community meet-n-greet that was T.'s on a Saturday night, my dad would pop back in the back door with a humongous pizza in hand. Hu-mongous.

Usually he also had falafels too. 

The spicy hummus platter he would eat at T.'s, where he thought it was hilarious to continuously challenge the pizza shop owner to make it too hot to actually consume. "Ha-ha-ha," my dad would say, tears rolling down his face, "You can't make it too spicy for me!" 

The Israeli owner, who thought spicy hummus was a mild challenge at best compared to living under the constant threat of a terrorist attack, would look at him briefly, shake his head, smirk, and go back to flipping dough. (There were times when I witnessed this live.)

Anyway. The point is that my dad would walk in and I would be watching TV in the living room, waiting for Saturday Night Live to come on.

The smell of that pizza would knock me to the floor. And I would go to the kitchen just to be around it.

I would tiptoe to the fridge and pretend to get a Diet Coke. But really, I was leering at that pizza.

I would lift the lid.

It was soooooo cheesy.

Off I would go. "Just the crust," I would mutter as I savagely tore off a piece. "Well, maybe a bit of the cheese from on top."

Before you knew it I'd be gobbling away. And two slices and a half a falafel later, would go back to the living room absolutely unable to focus on the TV because I was in pizza heaven.

I recall this weekly routine after watching the movie "The Next Three Days." Generally, it's about Russell Crowe's attempt to break his wife out of jail (no spoilers there) after she is convicted for a crime she didn't commit.

Despite the gripping nature of the show I found myself ambivalent about its content. 

* On the one hand I sympathized with Crowe's character, his motives and beliefs. He tried to do what the law told him to do, but the system failed him. Did he have a choice?

* On the other I felt grateful that we have a law enforcement system where its members actually give a damn - let me be more precise, they are passionately committed - about public safety, order and the law. On top of that, how many movies and TV shows have I seen where law enforcement is portrayed as uncaring or incompetent at protecting the public?

This last part is what got me to thinking about law enforcement from a marketing perspective.

For it seems that the public is as ambivalent about government exerting social control as I was about getting pizza on a Saturday night.

* On the one hand, we expect to be protected. And we get mad when the government doesn't seem to do so.

* On the other, we expect to live our lives free of interference. And we get mad when anyone tries to tell us what to do.

(Note that I think about this especially because I work in public affairs for a federal law enforcement agency. However, all opinions are my own.)

I'm not writing this post to generate a list of 5 or 10 superficial answers to the problem because I don't think the problem is so simple.

It's important enough right now just to note that marketing depends on satisfying human need.

And in order for the customer to feel satisfied and even delighted, there has to be:

1) clarity about what the need is; 

2) a standard for how to satisfy it; and then 

3) evidence of that standard being met and hopefully surpassed.

To carry this train of logic to its conclusion, if law enforcement is to market itself to the public successfully - thereby establishing the positive relationships that boost both compliance by the public and accountability from the government - there can't be any ambivalence about what is expected. About how success is defined and achieved.

The question is how do we get there. 

Now I need a cup of coffee.

Have a good day everyone, and if you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them.

Good luck!


Photo source here.

On the Facebook-ification of Government (Transparency Starts With Ourselves)


The other day I was walking to my car from Trader Joe's and saw a
woman loading their signature brown paper shopping bags into her car
trunk. (Fortunately for her the bags were not breaking in transit as
has happened to me, thus necessitating double-bagging every single
thing I buy there.)

Anyway, she was bald. But some bits of hair were growing back in rough
fuzzy patches.

She had gotten chemo. And unlike in years past, when women wore wigs
or scarves to cover up the telltale baldness, she just didn't bother.

I thought to myself, that woman is beautiful.


Time doesn't change who we are or what we're interested in. My
dissertation was about bringing emotion back to mainstream culture,
when it had long been relegated to the world of talk shows and (in my
study) soap operas.

I grew up watching Phil Donahue. Days of Our Lives. General Hospital.
Oprah Winfrey. And yes, I have to admit it, even the Jerry Springer

On the radio, Dr. Laura for sure, when I could catch her. Now if I'm
home I'll watch Dr. Phil.

I pay attention to people who take emotional issues that affect a lot
of people, and put them front and center.

And I am still fascinated by people who step up to be the guinea pigs
that talk about them.


This weekend I made the decision to crowdsource some feedback I had
received in my 360. It was tough for me to do that. After all who
wants to admit that they are flawed? But it felt important to me to do
that. I routinely give armchair advice from my blog, but I definitely
don't have all the answers.

My mom and dad disagreed on the relative wisdom of that post, even
though if you compare it to the sea of blogs, magazine articles and
books with much more dramatic self-revelatory content, it was
comparatively tame. (The best and most frightening example is where
the blogger talks about smashing a lamp over her own head in
frustration.) The reason such content is so "good," of course, is
because it's honest. But it's also risky to the writer because, as my
dad put it, "You want other people to think good of you."

There, for me, is the question. Do people think well of you because
you say good things about yourself? Or refrain from saying bad things?

Or do people think well of you because you are honest about yourself
to a level that's appropriate for the audience? (No way am I
advocating the "overshare.")

In today's communication environment, where there is deep mistrust of
business and government alike, as well as heightened expectations of
transparency (nothing is hushed up or stays in the closet for long
anymore), I have long said that organizations should aggressively
"own" their weaknesses - i.e. bring them up and deflate the criticism
balloon before others can level it at them.

But is this really good advice? After all, if talking about your
problems makes an individual look bad....then how is it different for
an organizational entity?

If you look at the tragic screwups of crisis communications we've seen
in just the past few years, the pervasive logic is still very much
what my dad believed was self-evident: Don't give people a reason to
put you down.

I say just the opposite. (Most public relations specialists would tell
you the same, really.) Say it, own it, put it on a plaque on the wall.
Everyone points to the Tylenol crisis many years ago. But you don't
have to reach that far. Look at David Letterman and how he surpassed a
scandal in his personal life merely by acknowledging it
matter-of-factly. Charlie Sheen, as ill as he is unfortunately, never
lied nor hid who he was - which is why he retains so much goodwill
even as he's made so many serious mistakes.

Look at where we are, OK? It used to be that when people got divorced
you had to acknowledge it in a quiet w-h-i-s-p-e-r. When they had
cancer. When they were gay or lesbian. When there was autism or ADHD
or other debilitating illnesses. Now Michaele Salahi gets her MRI for
multiple sclerosis done on reality TV. And discusses the results with
the doctor while we watch. And kids routinely write things on their
Facebook walls that you would have to sign a HIPAA agreement to see.

One kid said to my kid, "Everybody has something. What's wrong with YOU?"

We are living in the Facebook society. The can't-control-the-Wikileaks
society. The hackers-who-BitTorrent-merrily society. The
hidden-camera-in-a-plastic-clothes-hook society. We can't afford to be
so highfalutin. We actually are at the mercy of the crowd. So we have
no credibility UNLESS we are simply ourselves.

This was my experience with the blog. I toned it down, a bit, per both
mom and dad - the original was too much - but the essence is still
there. And I know this doesn't prove anything, but I not only received
support, but helpful advice and feedback to the effect that - maybe I
was being too hard on myself.

In social media land, the crowd is self-correcting. If you're too
self-flagellating they bring you back up. And if you're all full of
yourself, they will knock you down too.


I happened to be home the day that President Obama did a virtual town
hall with Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook. I was riveted. But do you know
what? Not to the part where the President talked about policy. No, I
thought it was fascinating when they both admitted that it was too hot
in the room and they needed to remove their jackets.

Similarly, the First Lady recently led an event in support of her
"Let's Move" campaign where she danced along with students, as she
sometimes does. She was so real, so down-to-earth, so smiling. I could
tell that her heart was in this. And I sang along with the Beyonce
tune that was playing.

I found myself wishing that all of government, business and society
could look as human as this. As real.

Why are organizations afraid to be transparent, in the end? In
government and outside of it?

In the end it comes down to "survival fear." In a dog-eat-dog world,
if we show ourselves weak, will we not be crushed by providing
evidence of our incapacity? Not everyone wishes us well - no matter
what we do - and enemies will use what they can to bring you down,
whether it's fair and accurate or just a fragment taken out of

Some people think that open government needs a champion. I do not. I
think we need a flash mob. One that instantly activates the second we
see a whiff of "gotcha culture."

As in, "Who made the mistake? You? Gotcha!"

We must insist on changing the tone of our civil discourse so that it
is normal to be kind and outside the norm to be vindictive,
self-serving, and soulless.

The way to do that, though, is not to look to others to change. That's
not in the average person's control.

If we are going to change our organizations to make them more open and
transparent, here is what the average person can do:

1) Redefine success on personal terms rather than materialistic ones.
There is a Jewish saying: "Who is strong? S/he who conquers the evil
instinct." That way you won't be the kind of person who uses others'
transparency in order to backstab them. Thus making it safer for
others to come forward and be themselves. And on a larger level, come
together in groups to populate like-minded organizations of tolerance
and peace.

2) Refuse to play the "gotcha" game. For one thing, give people the
benefit of the doubt until they're proven guilty. For another, don't
gleefully gossip about the latest leader accused of wrongdoing. If
they screwed up, they screwed up...let the system do its work to
remove them but don't be so happy about others' downfall. It creates
negative energy.

3) Remove "othering" language from your vocabulary. The world is not
divided up into "winners" and "losers." We are all simply humans
trying to get by and eke out a small bit of happiness on this
challenging earth.

While there is no escaping that we live in a competitive society, it
is also becoming more and more true that we can't advance further
unless we cooperate. You don't have to be an economist or a day trader
to see that we've run out of money, and yet that we have the potential
to create untold abundance, if only we would help each other and

When we take the first step of coming to terms with ourselves, this
will automatically lead us to (at the very least) to refrain from
harming others. Just imagine how much money, equipment, personnel, and
time we would save if we made a conscious decision to accept our
flawed humanity and work together to solve our mutual problems. So
that everyone can have a bigger piece of the pie.

My G-d, I think I just described a kibbutz.


Photo source here.

Diagnosing the system, then using success as a surgical scalpel


In yesterday's blog I wrote about the dilemma of personal change. Specifically, not being sure what to do when a personality trait both helps you and gets in your way. Essentially, you want to retain the benefit of the trait, while mitigating the downside, and that's not easy to do.

In thinking about the "helps you" part I go back to this nice note a customer sent me. It was a thank you for "the professionalism, dedication and care that you and you staff have given to the marketing of (campaign). It has been and it is an honor and a privilege to work with you and the people in the Office of Public Affairs."

It occurred to me that although sometimes we have creative differences about method, customers universally have found our office to be immediately responsive to their needs and very well able to grasp the nature of the challenges they face. My part of the effort has long been to take on their cause as a kind of crusade, helping them bust through the bureaucratic barriers that can cause frustrating delays. Sometimes it literally feels like being a character in a TV show, huge hacking sword in hand, cutting away at the low-hanging tree limbs that impede progress.

So I guess you could say, as somebody said in a comment on the blog, "broaden the problem to include the customer" and they will value that you're a hard charger on their behalf.

Thinking more about that note, it reflected a campaign that everybody left feeling good about. The customer relationship was good, the communication content was good, and we even got to be innovative - incorporating branding, new media and social media:

1.  We created ONE simple but bold visual + tagline and used it across everything

2. We used QR codes for the first time (they let me program it using a free online tool!)

3. We wrote a public service announcement in-house, got approval almost immediately, recorded it pretty much the same day, and then made it easily available online, free

4.  We created downloadable print ads of varying sizes that any outlet could take and run with

5. All of this is easily shareable via Twitter, Facebook, etc.

How did we do that?

The answer has to do with culture, a factor that is routinely overlooked when it comes to designing better work processes. (I know that sociology degree would come in handy sometime.)

Very roughly, culture is "the way we do things around here." It is a set of behaviors that derive from shared values - beliefs about what is right and wrong.

* On one extreme, if the organization believes that "the role of a communicator is to make the customer happy," then the norms associated with those beliefs will tilt towards letting the customer dictate the content of the communication.

* On the other extreme, if the organization believes that "the role of a communicator is to create impactful communication," then the norms will have to do with producing work that is solid from an audience perspective, whether the customer likes it or not.

In the case of the project that worked well, the customer was made happy by seeing the communicators create impactful communication. He was joyful to be part of the communication process, but he also stepped back and said, in effect, "I am a subject matter expert but they know their craft." 

Similarly, we said, "we know communication but he knows the program itself and can tell us if we're not portraying it accurately." We discussed and collaborated but there was clear "role distinction" (to borrow a sociology term) and a division of labor. 

It also did not hurt that the customer and his supervisor were both native New Yorkers like myself. So apart from the organizational values that created shared norms for the project, we shared a direct, "take no offense" communication style geared only toward achieving results.

If I could replicate the processes that created success in this project in the future, here's what I would do:

1. At the initial meeting to kick off the project, spend sufficient time that the goals of the project are clarified and that the roles are clear.

2. Make sure that the project team is comfortable with one another - that there is a good working chemistry. Replace team members if necessary.

3. Hold separate internal meetings (apart from the customer) to discuss new ideas to be presented rather than presenting them at customer meetings first. (This is how advertising agencies operate.)

4. Create small successes to engage and delight the customer and create forward momentum for next steps - rather than delivering all products in one shot at the end.

5. Respond to all emails, phone calls, and inquiries from the customer immediately, even if it's just to say "we'll call you back by X time." And then do so. Follow up with them if there's been a lag. Quietude does not mean that nothing is happening.

It is easy, perhaps too easy, to look to the individuals who comprise a system when asking about its overall functioning. One thing I've learned over the years is that when there are challenges, it's likely that there is something going on in the system that needs course-correcting. And that the best way to actually make those changes is to look for examples of success in the context of that particular organization, and then copy that.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!


Photo source here

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