Bureaucracy's Drive To Survive Keeps The Debt Crisis Alive

It's pretty obvious to me, looking at the collapse of the debt talks, that something is deeply wrong with our society.

It's like everybody knows this, everybody wants to do something about it, but nobody can seem to figure out exactly what to do.

Interestingly, if you ask people on the individual level to describe the status quo, what's wrong, and how to fix it - you will usually get a pretty intelligent response.

But when you assemble those individuals together and ask them to run large social institutions as a group - more often than not they fail. Doesn't matter if we're talking business, government, education, healthcare, correctional facilities, you name it. The reality is that groups tend toward dysfunction. Because it is a law of groups that they develop a collective consciousness that literally turns the system into a separate, distinct entity. One that perpetuates its own survival - even at the cost of its members.

On a micro level, you see this very often with parents and children. The parents are there to nurture the child's development. You would think that this automatically makes for happiness. But instead, the typical Thanksgiving table is a petri dish of personal misery.

Take it a step beyond - go bigger. Think about the implications of this statement: The very bureaucracies that are supposed to be most efficient at running society, end up adding to the social burden. Creating more problems than they solve.

Again, this is not unique to any bureaucracy but common because we are programmed for survival. The large institution perpetuates its own existence, even at the expense of the mission it is supposed to serve. So if a particular individual within the large institution has, let's say, a way to get the mission done faster, better, cheaper and with half the personnel and budget - the institution will of course resist this. What the group wants is more: more budget, more power, more reason to exist. Not less, not fewer, not the equivalent of the group's death.

The connection with the debt ceiling and other current social problems is obvious. The problem is not what it seems on the surface. We are defining it incorrectly. America is a smart country. We can get this fixed and fix it quickly. We've faced crises before and we can do it again.

The problem, unfortunately, is that correcting the economy is going to mean the death blow - or at least critical injury - to some big social institutions. Perhaps, even, we will end up rejecting the axiom that only large, complex groups with massive funding are capable of administering a particular social function.

In other words, what is at stake on all sides of the aisle is survival. Are the parties to this traffic accident willing to impale themselves on the sword for the sake of doing what needs doing? Are they willing to tell the highly coordinated, massively funded groups to whom they owe their existence: "Back off. We are doing what needs to be done." (?)


Would you?

I wrote a column the other day about horrible bosses (the movie and the reality) and somebody commented that a friend had done some pretty nasty things, firing and all that, because he saw it as part of the job. He felt he had no choice but to survive. So he became a person he didn't want to be. As a part of the system that paid his bills, his own individual ethics, beliefs, values were subordinate to the paycheck.

Every time I've seen a big problem get solved - an individual did it. Or a very small, tightly coordinated group, working closely together. These forces detoxify the system that created the problem by doing an end-run around its dysfunctional logic. They blast through the walls. They just don't care about anything but GETTING IT DONE.

An example of someone who gets it - and was punished for her excellence in furthering the mission - is Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools. Rhee dared to insist that the schools actually perform the mission for which they are being paid by the public: Teach children. And every single thing she did left me applauding.

Why don't we have more people like Michelle Rhee running our social institutions? People who think straight and simple and clear, who do what has to be done, who don't quibble and waffle and blame the other person for their screwups.

The answer is not, as one may think, the ego of the leaders themselves. Although we could have the discussion of whether leaders are inherently narcissistic egotists whose personalities are designed for the deflection of all blame and the seeking of all spotlight.

Rather, the problem is that big institutions reward constipated thinking. While incrementalism can be a good thing - enabling correction of mistakes before they are rolled out on such a large scale that they become disasters - and enabling a massive system to absorb the change - it is also not suitable when the problem being faced requires a radical adjustment.

We are in that kind of situation right now.

Unless this country radically changes direction - detoxifying our thinking about the problems themselves and the range of options available to solve them - we are going to keep lumbering along until someone chops us off at the knees and we fall.

I am a Jewish-American, and my family was brutalized during the Holocaust. My grandparents had to run. And eventually my parents settled here, together. Giving me a beautiful life, for which I am extremely grateful. I work for the government, which to me is an incredible honor, and has sensitized me tremendously to the urgent need to take care of each other; the pressure for institutional survival; and the diversity of the groups that share our nation. I also teach students from many different countries. All of us are grateful to be citizens here.

This is all the more reason that I am worried about our collective future. I try to think aloud in the hope that some of this can be used as part of the solution to our problems. Railing for or against Big Government or Big Business or what have you does not help anything. Constructive action does.

Long way of saying, I want to look around and think, as the song says, "the future's so bright I've got to wear shades." But the way things are going, I see extremism on all sides, potentially devolving into chaos and "every man (woman) for himself" type thinking.

I often wish we could remember where good fortune comes from - not really our efforts. We are only asked to try. The One above sustained the Jewish people in the desert with only a mythical food for sustenance. G-d can do anything. It's when we sink to the lowest common denominator that we are smitten with punishment.

So let us get up, support each other, and make our society better. Forget the hatred and division and start working together. It's not about "group vs. group" but keeping humanity intact - as one.

Have a good weekend everyone, and good luck!


Image source here

Your Brand Is Failing. Here's Why.

Like a lot of other people, I spend a lot of time thinking about branding and I admire when organizations do it well.

However, at the same time I notice that much discussion around brands and branding remains at the kindergarten level. For example, we're still asking "what is a brand?" And we can't agree on the answer! Even among professionals! For example, a recent discussion among brand-ers on LinkedIn, where we were asked to define the word, yielded almost 500 (!) comments.

And we have other conversations of a similar nature. My favorites are "what is branding vs. marketing?" and "what is brand vs. reputation?"

You can say what you want about marketers - that we're lying, greedy bastards - and I'll give you that some of us are. You can also say that we're stupid. Also, sometimes, granted. But there is enough mental firepower at work in the profession that it makes no sense that we cannot even define our basic terms of art. Every scientist knows "what is an atom?" and every psychologist knows "what is emotion?" and every historian knows "what is history?" Yet we still go round and round.

Which should tell you that on some level we still don't know what we're talking about. Although it is true that well-branded products and services enjoy a price premium, the alchemists who create them haven't been able to systematize the formula. There are many useful attempts - no need to list all the books here, but they are easily findable on Amazon - but the profession remains relatively backward still.

The reality is, the most successful brands did not start out with the intention of building great brands per se. Rather, they were trying to achieve something else. A HUMANISTIC mission. They were trying to do something important TO PEOPLE and they built organizations completely centered on the achievement of that goal:

* Google is about helping people find information.

* Apple is about making life simpler in a complicated world.

* Starbucks is about helping people escape the pressures of home and work.

* Amazon is about making the customer feel safe to buy whatever they want, online.

* Nike is about celebrating high achievers.

We eagerly invite these brands into our lives because they speak to us as people. We give them money and they give us something back that we feel is worthwhile. It is a win-win.

However, most organizations are not at the level of Google, Apple, Starbucks, Amazon and Nike.

So how do we get there? I propose that the marketing function needs to shift radically in three fundamental ways that align with the secret ingredient to brand success: MAKING PEOPLE HAPPY.

1. Audience-based structure: Right now professional communications is functionally siloed: PR, advertising, marcom, media relations, exhibit media, multimedia, social media, etc. Instead, divide communicators into groups based on audience segments. If it's about relationships, set yourself up to build relationships, with the right people, working as a team. Every segment gets a specialized group reaching it across all communication vehicles. Integration, integration, integration.

2. Education and training: We focus narrowly on mechanical skills rather than higher-level and relational thinking. We need psychologists, organizational development specialists, sociologists, and critical thinkers in marketing - not only MBAs and code writers. And the education should be broadly based, with input from many sources and many disciplines. That is what produces people who think holistically.

3. Values: We take it for granted that success means "I win you lose." Instead we ought to insist that the employee and the customer are left with more than what they started with, as a result of dealing with us. Not just because we'll make more money that way and for a longer period of time. But because we understand that there is a higher power who ultimately decides what happens. If you don't like the concept of G-d, try karma.

The last point here, one worth pulling out because it unfortunately doesn't get said enough, is that one's employees have to be well taken care of because they are the #1 source of brand value in any organization. Without employees you have only machines. And even machines need people to run them and make decisions about how they are used.

Looking at this list it seems very simple...but in practice it would be a very huge shift. I wonder if we are ready. I hope that we will at least think about it.

Have a good day, and good luck!


Image source here.

"Horrible Bosses" and the Fallacy of Productivity


I have to tell you that the trailer for this movie does not do it justice.

The entire theater was laughing so hard I think you could have heard us in the street.

All of the actors were good but the "bosses" themselves - Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston - really took the cake. They were perfect caricatures of the power-hungry, irrational, harassing boss who lives to drive their workers crazy.

Which is why the whole lot of us at the matinee were in stitches.

One has to ask: 

If everybody recognizes the grain of truth in the narrative, why do we put up with abusive bosses at all?

The answer, I think, lies in two other stories.

I once had a friend who told me her boss was abusive. Seriously bad. The kind that leaves you shaking in your boots with fear.

The friend told another friend about the situation. Both of them were in the same workplace.

Listener responded, "Oh, I know ___. He does get a lot done though."

My friend was completely dumbfounded. It was as though the listener was saying, I'm sorry for your situation, but it has nothing to do with the abuser's level of competence.

Another story.

When I was a kid there was a teacher who was a creep. There was something wrong with him. Everybody knew it.

There were people who complained about it. But nobody in the administration of the school would listen. Because to all appearances, the teacher was doing their job.

Until one day, a wiseguy in the class rigged a bucket of cold water just over the classroom door.

Creepy teacher opened the door, walked in, bucket dumped a lot of cold water on their head.

Teacher turned around fuming. 

Teacher found the culprit easily by the look on his face.

Teacher proceeded to smash face of culprit right across said face. Right in front of my eyes.

Only then was the teacher fired.

Analysis of above:

Our society remains mired in a worship of money and power.

We therefore justify the behavior of abusive rich and powerful people by telling ourselves that it is people like that who foster productivity.

What we don't see - I don't know why we don't see this - is that the era of money is over. We have enough money.

What we lack is creativity. We lack the ability to innovate our way out of the messes that we are in. And the reason we lack that creativity is because we are forever squelching the quiet but brilliant voices that could help us to overcome.

Another story.

Last night on "America's Got Talent" Piers Morgan dressed down one of the acts pretty sadistically.

It was a cowboy act and it involved a horse. On stage.

I don't understand why you would put a horse on stage in front of people and expect it to do anything, but apparently the horse had done well several times before and this was Round 3.

Last night the horse wouldn't cooperate.

Piers was ruthless in his criticism of the entertainers.

The entertainers, for their part, took responsibility for the act not working. "You're right," the guy said, "It didn't work."

Piers wouldn't stop, asking basically, "So why did you waste our time?"

The entertainer explained.

But none of it was good enough for Piers. Who later justified his cruelty - his outright sadism - by saying that it was Round 3, there was a lot of money involved now, and so the judges had a right to be "crotchety."


There is no justification for abusing people, ever.

It doesn't make them more productive or productive in the first place.

And the people who act abusive are known to everybody else. Increasingly, we aren't going to tolerate it. And the system will self-regulate, for the sake of survival, to promote gentle, constructive, creative people to the point where they can lead us forward.

Until then, I think, it's a good thing to talk, raise our consciousness, and think about this issue collectively.

Because a nation of traumatized people is at a definite disadvantage when it comes to any kind of survival - economic, emotional, spiritual. 

There is a German saying to the effect that G-d sees everything. 

Whether we know it or not, the blessings come from Above, and they can be taken away just the same way.

Whether you believe in G-d or not...think about it.

Have a good day, everyone - and good luck!


Image source here.

Social media is a culture—not a technology

If you ever have a few minutes to spare, find a job description for “social media” or “new media” and see the required qualifications. 


Universally they call for someone with technical skills.


Never – not once – are social skills, emotional intelligence, or personal qualities ever mentioned.


Think about it: From a job description point of view you can be a so-called “social media expert” but have absolutely no personal integrity, no commitment to transparency, and no belief in the importance of collaboration or information-sharing.




Imagine if somebody were to put an ad on “Match.com” seeking a husband or a wife with “qualifications” like these:


·      Must be good-looking.

·      Must have high-paying job or be rich.

·      Must have spacious home in fancy neighborhood

·      Must be able to produce children.


…and so on.


Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?


A relationship ad, we expect, will mention things like caring, compassion, personal interests, religious beliefs, and so on. The things that are eternal. The things that matter.


Only superficial people ask for superficial things. And those people don’t belong in committed relationships. Because anything can happen, anytime, anywhere. And the “corporate culture” of a marriage is to be able to adapt to those realities and move on.


The same thing holds true for social media. It is called “social” for a reason. The use of interactive communication tools implies a culture in which communication skills are prized. A new way of doing things. A break with the past. An openness to feedback and a belief that transparency is better than hiding things.


So if you advertise for social media pros but don’t ask for these skills, favoring instead temporary tools like Blogger or Twitter or Facebook – tools that will no doubt be surpassed or evolved or changed utterly and rapidly over the next few years – what are you really asking for?


I will tell you. You have asked for an administrative assistant whose primary qualification is knowledge of Microsoft Word—rather than deference, discretion, and dedication.


The biggest insult an organization can commit in dipping its toes into social media is to cut and paste its press releases into the window box used for composing a blog.


The biggest achievement is changing the way we do business.


The next time you consider who you want to run your social media function, ask if it is really social media you want to do at all—and then hire accordingly.

10 Ways To Get More From 24 Hours

I read so many of these kinds of articles and they're all great. Throwing my two cents in:

1. Make TV a reward for exercise. TV has a way of totally numbing your brain. Exercise is mind-numbingly boring without TV. They go together and you need both. Combine.

2. Sleep. Or you won't be able to concentrate.

3. Work in bursts. Focus your mind intensely on one task at a time, do it for a short time, then do something else. As opposed to not working on it all day long.

4. Overschedule. Ask more of yourself. You will find that you get more done in general, even if you fail to do it all.

5. Write down your tasks. Go through the list once a day. Mark things "open," "hold," or "closed." Your goal is to have almost nothing in the "open" column by the end of the day.

6. Buy healthy food that is prepackaged. Let's be honest, there is usually no time to cook. But don't eat crappy food either. Giant has a healthier food section and it's worth paying a little extra.

7. Terminate going-nowhere conversations. Just end them. Imagine you are getting paid by the hour for your time. Wait a minute - you are!

8. Get to the point quickly regarding tasks. Keep the emotionally intelligent, chat-about-irrelevant-stuff to the edges of the conversation. Once the work is dealt with you can talk.

9. Cut down on the email. Life isn't a court case. Pick up the phone or stop by. Email is usually misinterpreted anyway.

10. Relax. It stimulates your brain to come up with new ideas. You lose steam if you are always "on task."

Hope these are helpful and as always, please share your ideas too.

Good luck!

The "Hive Mind" + 9 Other Ways Social Media Has Changed Us For Good


The other day my kid came back from a camping trip and said it was fun, but "a little too much" and she needed a break.

The problem was that her friends apparently don't believe in the concept of alone time.

I knew this was going to happen because we are basically a quiet, creative bunch and her friends tend to be Libras who want to interact nonstop. So the strategy was to just say, 

"I need to take a little space" 

...and then take it without apologies.

Didn't work. As she put it,

"If you don't have friends all around you every minute, you're considered a loser."

So apparently it's not just a Libra thing. Kids nowadays are connected ALL THE TIME.

We watched a show on ABC Family last night called "Cyberbullies," which was about online bullying but in the larger context that kids are so constantly with their friends, online and off, that it is actually odd-seeming when they are alone. 

I was thinking about "alone time" this weekend as I took a break from the frequent (perhaps constant) blogging, tweeting, Quora-ing, LinkedIn-ing, and GovLooping I do. I had literally three different projects to take care of and there was no way that a blog was going to fit in with all the responsibilities going on.

It was a little odd to be off the grid, but also a little nice. I wasn't used to it.

I realized that in becoming so engaged with social media, I had joined the Borg (from "Star Trek") or perhaps "The Matrix." That in a way, part of me lives in a virtual world - and I feel odd when I don't visit there on a regular basis.

Believe it or not, I even missed the comments on my Facebook vs. Google+ blog. (My favorites: "Anyone with a Ph.D. is an idiot" and "Can you believe this drivel?" Classic!) It was nice to know that somebody gave enough of a damn to take time out of their busy schedule and read my stuff. 

Another interesting moment occurred when I had lunch with my friends last Friday and we blah blahed about work and stuff. During the conversation I mentioned that I had blogged my bad feedback at work and it was a whole hullaballoo afterward with debates among the family as to whether I had completely lost my brains or was completely in control, a master of spin (neither believe me...just ordinary.) Just a couple of days later I read another blog by someone related to me where she talked about dating and a really bad encounter with an ex. I realized, reading that (she is much younger than me), that my blogs are actually TAME compared to what the next generation is writing.

So here are the 10 ways social media has changed us, in my view. (Also, and this has nothing to do with anything, "Horrible Bosses" is a great movie and you really have to see it.)

Here goes:

1. As a society we are mentally connected with one another despite not knowing each other or having permanent social ties. We process information collectively like an amorphous "hive" - crowdsourcing even when we don't think about it.

2. Individualism is acceptable today, but only if it is packaged, productized, and brought back to the collective to be consumed in some way. "Going off on your own" without sharing what you learn is not seen as normal.

3. Emotional intelligence is vastly more important than technical skill and people who can't share their feelings appropriately are suspect.

4. Direct, honest, frank comments are to be expected, but it is socially unacceptable to be rude or stalker-ish...the system corrects itself.

5. Plain talk is credible and jargon gets you booted out of the conversation before you even get to the second sentence.

6. We are willing to trust and "friend" anybody, but if that person shows ill intentions or bad motives, we remove them from the conversation quickly, again to keep the system somewhat "pure."

7. People are expected today to be empowered and resourceful, but also to work in groups to achieve big goals - the individual change agent is more likely to be seen as a dictator than a visionary.

8. It is almost inexcusable to fail to participate in the conversation in some way - doesn't have to be a blog, can be Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or something else, but you have to bring something unique to the table and share it. Or you're seen as somehow hiding something.

9. We are becoming an information society where it is expected that you will give away information at no charge. Thus the profit opportunity is to be the trusted source of analysis of that information - a knower of things who understands what they mean - who only shares this analysis with some people.

10. We are rapidly becoming a society beyond money, although we don't see it yet. It is about giving of ourselves to others for the greater good, not taking from others to advance oneself. There are people pioneering the art of giving, the results of whose work we don't really see on a massive scale yet. But if we can just hold on and reinforce their efforts, there will be a time when we regulate ourselves to remove social disorder and ensure that everyone has what they need to survive.

It is an amazing time we live in that is for sure. But being essentially an introvert, I still think we do need alone time regularly. We can't absorb ourselves completely into the collective, for then we will lose our freedom and distinctiveness. And given the crazy world we live in nowadays, it's more important than ever to be able to think for yourself.

Have a good day everyone - and good luck!


I couldn't resist that photo - it's Monday for cripes' sake! Image source here.

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