(Note: This article first published as Losing Our Religion on Technorati.)
Last night I came home and heard the news. “Steve Jobs died.”
“What?” I stood right in front of the screen, the huge screen.
“Oh my G-d.”
We watched the coverage. Over and over they played the same thing, pronouncements of grief, a statement from the President, snippets from his speech about death and its meaning.
I stood there and I cried. I was embarrassed that I cried. I don’t even know Steve Jobs. Over an iPod? An iPad? A MacBook Air? I don’t cry that much in synagogue.
Our nation is in mourning over the passing of this man. Commentators like Meghan O'Rourke at The New Yorker offer a laundry list of reasons – he was an innovative genius who represents our own aspirations; he was an innovative genius who improved our lives; he was an innovative genius who was also one of us. Her view is psychoanalytic; our subconscious reaction is to grieve as though we'd suffered a personal amputation:
"Not every celebrity death elicits such an outcry: one wagers that it is only the death of those people in whom we see something of ourselves."
There is truth in that. We are deeply attached to what Steve Jobs represents and to the brand that he built. And it is part of our lives and something very real has been taken.
But that is not why we’re crying so hard.
We’re crying because we lost a spiritual figure. Because Steve Jobs invented not just a brand, but a religious sect, in the larger institution we could call Brand Religion.
We Americans are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist. atheist, agnostic, Wiccan. Fighters for social justice – for the environment, against exploitation, even driven by vague drives to root out corruption and greed (“Occupy Wall Street.”)
Whatever we label ourselves – or maybe we prefer the term “No Labels” – we are a deeply spiritual nation even though others may see us as materialistic and shallow. But we haven’t found refuge in religion. Because religious leaders, like leaders in business government, education, healthcare and elsewhere, have abused our trust and our faith. Leaving us a bit rudderless.
So, without thinking, we have turned to brands as the national religion. Because they are unfettered by the limits of true religion. With a brand, you think for yourself, you invent yourself, and you create community around your unique personal preferences.
We are mourning Steve Jobs so painfully – we are crying before our TV screens – because so many of us joined the religious community he created in Apple. It was an outlet for our beliefs, crystallized in a name. And we are scared now that our place of worship is gone.
Mr. Jobs, wherever you are, I join a devastated nation in mourning your passing. But at the same time, I know that you are just a person, and that Apple is just a company. There is only one G-d and we must find our path to the Divine individually.
Maybe that was what you were saying all along.
Steve Jobs, RIP.
Photo credit: FreefotoUK
For government professionals, the start of the fiscal year (October 1) signals the start of professional evaluation for the year that came before. As I wrote up my work for the year it seemed like it might be useful to categorize projects in terms of their significance, and then go up a level and analyze some trends they seemed to point to.
I am not sure that all of this represents trending - some of it is just my workstyle, is unique to my professional life, etc. - or whether it's about government communication or communication in general. Either way, in case it has broader applicability, here you go:
1. Integrating communications solutions across the board: It’s been a year of getting a single message across using new media and traditional media, creative but consistent branding, and synthesized external and internal messaging.
2. Partnering subject matter experts in the marketing strategy process: Through brainstorming sessions, helped operational offices spanning traveler processing and import inspection adapt marketing strategy to their unique situations. Provided guidance and technological solutions based on their expressed needs.
3. Toward generalization and away from hyper-specialization: Contributed to a wide variety of projects using diverse skills rather than focusing very narrowly on a specific field of expertise. Emphasis on flexibility and willingness to jump in proactively as needed, rather than wait to be asked.
4. Increasing the proportion of research, testing and metrics: Shifted away from emphasis on creativity, intuition, anecdotal evidence and personal opinion and towards an emphasis on best practices, benchmarking, and process.
5. Focus on customized, rapid-response, modular tools: Communication needs this year cropped up quickly and required professional yet quickly customizable tools that can be emailed as PDFs or shared as presentations. Developed and continued to update various products, including factsheet and PowerPoint template, for this purpose.
6. Enabling easier access to communication materials for internal customers: Programmed publication catalogue to enable field offices to easily access brochures and posters without submitting special request. Developing ad catalogue for similar purpose. Developed graphical representations of key communication messages to introduce new material to diverse audiences quickly.
7. Technology-enhanced process reengineering: Programmed self-service site for responses to common questions and requests for guidance. This process also cut down on unnecessary calls to staff while enabling more meaningful questions. Used project-management best practices to break down complex processes and identify greater efficiencies.
8. Engaging non-technologists with technology: Leveraged pain points in the organization to demonstrate how basic applications could increase work efficiency and communication effectiveness. Examples include mobile application development, collaborative file sharing, project tracking, specialized metrics searches, and internal discussion boards.
9. Maximizing investment in knowledge already produced: Trained new employees in unfamiliar functions; built collaborative document repositories to make older documents easy to access; repackaged printed materials in abbreviated form for specialized audiences.
10. Saving on training costs through interagency partnerships: Helped organize volunteers from the Federal Communicators Network, at times in partnership with the National Association for Government Communicators to hold three training events spanning social media, executive communication, and internal communication.
If you have any comments or questions, I’d appreciate them.