Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Your Profile Photo as Your Personal Brand

Image by Christopher S. Penn via Flickr
I am so sick of hearing the phrase "knowledge economy," all right?

The truth is it's all about relationships. Like always. Who you know, how you know them, who knows your name.

Whether someone picks up the phone when you call.

In the social media sphere, you've got to start that personal brand from somewhere. And so nothing is as important, especially when you are starting out, as your profile picture (or avatar, etc.)

You may be thinking it has something to do with looks. Not so!

It's about getting your USP (unique selling proposition), your positioning, across just right.

If you want to approach it strategically, consider these 5 things before you launch:
  1. Exaggerate one quality rather than trying to be "all things to all people"
  2. Be yourself in the sense that you are conveying a unique brand - but then again, keep it relatable.
  3. Pull back a bit - those facial close-ups are frightening. (And no cutouts of your left eye!)
  4. There are some moments for which Photoshop is made - the profile photo is one of them.
  5. Animated images or cartoons are best left to graphic designers or gifted technical professionals.
Finally keep in mind one rule of thumb: Whatever your profile photo is in the rest of the social-media-sphere, on LinkedIn it's got to be banker-professional. It's exactly like you're going on a job interview, except this one is perpetual.

Take it seriously but make it fun, put time and care into the image, and don't be afraid to change it up if it's not working.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!
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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Kardashian Mystique and The Paradox of the Great Brand

 Image: Screenshot from E! Online of Kim Kardashian at her wedding to Kris Humphries 

 Do you want to know why branding is so hard?

It's not because audience demand is unpredictable. That part is easy - find an underserved cluster and wow them.

(Elderly folks need a place to kibitz that isn't a nursing home; dads-on-weekend-duty probably don't want to be feminized by frozen yogurt places or the kiddie section at Barnes & Noble.)

No what is hard about branding is that it requires you to live a deeply personal and yet coldly professional paradox: On the one hand you can only create a vision of what you know and love. On the other you can only sell effectively when you don't care - or can be objective enough to ignore your feelings when they get in the way of sound business judgment.

Kris Jenner and the Kardashian sisters, along with Kourtney's partner Scott Disick, are absolute masters of this game. Maybe the mental rift caused by such an unhealthy life will bring Kim or Kourtney down; Kris is immune and Khloe is otherwise grounded.

But for as long as it lasts, the fantasy of one's personal emotional life lived baldly on stage, catering to the most dramatic wishes of the audience, makes this crew platinum in brand equity. And though I keep thinking they will fall down and it is over, somehow they keep getting back up again.

Part of me wonders who to credit for this success. I have concluded that it's a weird kind of synergy between the family and the E! channel, which seems to know how to pump them up perfectly.

I believe the brand genius here is due to some genius-like marketing craftsmen in the background, working magic as the people at the center play along.

And the ultimate trick is that no matter how the Kardashians mess up, it's always jus part of the script as if they'd planned it. Genius!

Never look down on anyone who's succeeding in marketing their brand through popular culture. Instead, watch them carefully for cues and clues.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Conversations, Your #1 Branding and Marketing Tool

community conversation

In the world of innovation, I occupy that weird age space (or maybe it's a mental mindset-space) where I'm too old to be an actual nose-pierced, tattooed, spiky-haired innovator but young enough that every forward-thinking best practice I present is at first still considered insane.

So it is with trepidation that I re-emphasize to you the importance of that '90s classic, The Cluetrain Manifesto, a treatise that has now found its time. Either you'll tell me that this stuff is old news, or you'll say it's as nutty as it ever was.

Either way.

Do you remember Cluetrain? Are you so obsessed with it that you remember where you were sitting and what you were doing when you first came across it? I am, and I do.

It was approximately 2001. I was sitting at my desk in Georgetown, Washington DC. Looking out at the cobblestoned street. Then back to surfing, surfing, surfing the Internet always looking for that brand new brand idea.

Somehow I ran across this amazing text, and - just like when I read Tom Peters' "The Brand Called You" in Fast Company - I knew that I was looking at an instant classic. One that would change the way we saw the world forever.

The text opened:

"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter - and getting smarter faster than most companies.  These markets are conversations....Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked."

Wow. Wow. Wow. I could feel the electric pulse of that book running through my veins like a double espresso. This was the real deal.

The book first came out in 1999. It wasn't the right time yet, although the idea was on target. People did not have social media, not really - it was still mostly about word of mouth. But in the decade since past a heck of a lot of has changed.

I go by my own life - fast forward quickly, in blips, to 2012. I remember...
  • Going from using the card catalogue to Google to do a search. 
  • The first time I set up a website and did it in reverse type thinking that yellow type on a black background actually looked good. Till someone in India emailed to correct me.  
  • Setting up Yahoo! Groups to help think-tank advisory board members around the world communicate. 
  • Having my email spoofed by hackers who apparently had lots of fun pretending to represent the Institute for Brand Leadership.
  • Trying to do a five-star rating system for internal newsletter articles and succeeding with the programming, but having the concept of feedback shot down in horror.
  • Setting up my very first personal blog in 2007...and getting lots of positive feedback but definitely a few insults along the way. That stung!
  • Learning what a Tweet was a short time later.
  • Getting on LinkedIn for the first time, but not really knowing how to use it.
  • Starting to participate in the government-employee conversation on GovLoop in 2009.
  • Resisting Facebook on and off until I finally hopped on and have stayed there.
  • Trying Google+ and deciding "no dice."
  • Gradually becoming more comfortable having my online activity shared, from Huffington Post comments to music on Spotify and more.
I look back on my personal journey and realize that the story is not one of technology, but one of me gradually becoming more and more immersed in conversation. Conversation that leads me to buy things, to talk about things I buy. Conversation, and self-revelation through blogging that leads me to be more extroverted in real life and more comfortable in social settings. 

While I realize that I'm the type of person who tends to try things before other people - not the earliest adopter but maybe the one right after that, who will buy a tool after it's been tested and the kinks worked out in beta - it seems that the next generation has shot way ahead of me very fast. They don't even use email anymore. It's all about instant messaging, texting, and every single moment of their lives is on Facebook.

Not only that, but it's considered uncool for kids to spend one waking minute of their lives outside a gaggle of friends anymore. Life is lived pretty much in groups. And in those groups people inhabit a running loop of conversations.

Always word-of-mouth was a powerful tool to create customers (marketing) and enhance the value of the products you already had (branding). What's happening now is that you have to learn better the art of conversation. While all the other tools of getting the word out still matter, the one that really counts is knowing who to talk to, how to start a conversation with them, how to get them to talk about your product with others, and how to manage the conversations about your product and its competitors that are already taking place.

On that note, here's one conversation I would like to start about an idea that is important to me: getting food to hungry people all across this country. I see that Starbucks has baskets for collecting foods, and that occasionally the grocery store does too. How do we make it a social norm to drop off the food you aren't using before you buy new food for the week ahead? If you have any ideas, please share them. (Hopefully this "ideavirus," as Seth Godin termed it, will spread!)

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


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Saturday, January 28, 2012

How To Encourage Innovation In Government

Lego Ballista 3

The other day I was urging that we do something or other and got the response: "You're so cutting-edge."

It wasn't a compliment.

In the government, innovation can be scary. But we can do it if we focus on the "how" - meaning the technology platforms we can use to move us forward.

Thinking about technology, rather than the amorphous term "innovation" - which sounds like "new" and "scary" and "untested" and "change" - can help bring people together.

Further, using technology to mediate brainstorming can enable the sharing of new ideas and comments on those ideas. It can help us think scientifically and generate pilot testing rather than leading us down the road of endless whiteboard exercises.

Focusing on technology helps to overcome some of the obstacles that have bogged us down thus far:
  1. We can all agree on the process issue (need to find methods for innovation) but we don't all agree on the specific innovative ideas - eliminates a hangup
  2. Commenting to a computer (and receiving comments via reading a screen) depersonalizes the experience and allows for more objectivity and rationality on both sides - vs. in-person sessions can get hostile quickly if someone dominates the room with ideas, or face-to-face shoots down ideas they think are unworkable
  3. It helps us stay grounded in reality - it's not about the ivory tower of ideas but about progress on the ground
In addition, beginning with technology helps us get around the underlying challenge government has with innovation: The latter is inherently individualistic and therefore disruptive to the large, stable, orderly bureaucracy that government is. In fact individualism is a challenge to any social system that is designed specifically for the masses to rely upon.

The result of a structural framework that encourages stability is that employees who exhibit conservatism and throw up obstacles to change are promoted and rewarded. While those who are impatient with old-fashioned rules are viewed with suspicion.

The logic follows that if you want government reform, you have to create a reform-oriented social environment. For example:
  • Encourage work in small, decentralized units close to the action.
  • Reward innovators through recognition, promotion, bonuses, incentives, speaking opportunities, etc. - hold them up as an example.
  • Give a special award for the best failed experiments each year.
  • Set up Apple-store-style training labs with "Genius" bars where people can drop by for training.
  • Set up reading areas, temporary workspaces, encourage telecommuting, etc.
  • Rotate staff around for professional growth.
  • Design public-private-academic partnerships, etc.
  • Encourage volunteering and participation in community life - it adds to one's sense of personal responsibility and empowerment and reinforces the values of public service.
  • Encourage social networking and social media for productive purposes (in a manner consistent with cybersecurity).
  • Give people time each week just to go off in the woods and think. Or to the gym.
  • Put a suggestion box on every floor.
  • And generally encourage people to be simple, honest and direct about their thoughts and opinions.
Like always, it comes down to the kind of culture you set up and reward.


Note: This post is adapted from a comment I posted on a blog post by Pat Fiorenza at GovLoop. The post was a comment/recommendation of an article on brainstorming at The New Yorker, "Groupthink." Photo by Creative.Paradox via Flickr.
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28 Things I Should've Known Earlier

"Neuron" by Roxy Paine
The neurons in my brain connected a few dots this weekend, so here you go. What do you all think of this list? How would you add, change, modify?
  1. The Creator of the Universe is not a man (or a woman), but the perfect synthesis of love and justice.
  2. Suffering is not to accept but to strive to overcome.
  3. Poverty is a human invention and humans could end it now if we wanted to.
  4. Blind faith is sometimes necessary, but only if it's truly impossible to get the facts.
  5. Hatred from others is a form of feedback.
  6. If we can't solve a problem often it's because we begin with the wrong assumptions.
  7. The worst kind of discrimination is the kind people level against themselves.
  8. Giving charity is selfish for a lot of reasons, but letting that stop you is just an excuse.
  9. People intuitively know how to find your flaws, so you may as well laugh about them.
  10. Marketers distort the truth only to the extent that customers want them to.
  11. Rarely is there a problem so unique that you can't find an example of it on the Internet.
  12. Some personality traits are best viewed online, especially bluntness and transparency.
  13. All significant trends start locally, spread sideways, and then funnel up.
  14. Most meaningful things in life are undiscussable in words.
  15. Strategic planning is a process exercise not a journey toward an end state.
  16. The more influential others think you are, the more legitimacy you will actually have.
  17. About 50% of your career success will come down to how you dress, 25% to how you speak, and 25% to your awareness of what the real influencers really want.
  18. Other people know a lot more than you may give them credit for.
  19. Karma is real - the energy you give out, is the energy you will receive in return.
  20. Family is made, not born.
  21. You can give up a lot of things but never your integrity.
  22. Wearing black all the time is a cop-out not a clothing strategy.
  23. Friends who make you laugh are priceless.
  24. Blaming others is a way of making a choice.
  25. Chasing meaning will make you happy but the reverse is not true at all.
  26. If you want to live forever, only eat food that you can identify without an ingredient list.
  27. You can get endless good advice but it is worthless unless you act on it.
  28. Rarely will anybody give you 28 pieces of good advice unless they want something in return.
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Image credit: Christopher Neugebauer via Flickr

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Friday, January 27, 2012

5 Rules to Market an Unknown Technology (From Redbox To Roku)

English: Photograph of Roku XDS player with re...
Image via Wikipedia
Blame Woody Allen.

I was walking around the office generally singing the praises of Midnight In Paris.

I said, "I can't believe you can get all these movies for just $1 from Redbox." (Well a tiny bit more with tax.) I was bragging of course. Going to the machine to rent and return was a bit of a pain. But I didn't talk about that. It's about crowing about the money you save without spending up to ten times as much in the theater - and that is per ticket!

Somebody chimed in, "You can get Netflix from the computer. My sister does that and it's great."

Damn! One-upped again! I had to find out who was getting a better deal than me.

Rule #1: Nobody wants to be the idiot who overpays. Make me compete!

So I went on the Internet to find out more about this.

Rule #2: Emotion gets them in the door, but rational thinking is what keeps them. Rational = Internet comparison shopping.

I went to the Netflix website, because I know the Netflix name in addition to hearing about it in the office. I also related the color of Netflix to the color of Redbox (both are red-dominant) so it felt like a "safe" transition to me.

 Also did a Google search with the keywords "watch TV online". Then went to Amazon.com to look up online video players. Found the Roku. With a detailed explanation. And pictures.

Of course, I looked up product reviews on places like Cnet.

Rule #3: Trusted brands are the gateway to unknown brands. And the more they hold your hand and explain it to you, especially visually, the better.

I called Netflix customer service to find out how the service worked. Could it really be just $7.99 a month? What do you get for that? They picked up the phone right away and explained. I called Roku. They had a comparison chart of the different players online, and I wanted a little more information. I got it fast.

Rule #4: Rapid-response, well-informed, friendly customer service is part of the equation. It is about making the customer feel comfortable risking the purchase, not just providing information.

I bought the Roku from Amazon and it arrived fast. My daughter set it up. We didn't use the manual, really. She only needed help briefly. The equipment was small, manageable, easy to use.

Rule #5: Make the technology so smart it's simple.

We are having fun with the Roku and Netflix now. It is a little daunting, but it's also fun. And it feels like we are moving toward saving money and getting more out of our TV. Which will contribute to some hopefully relaxing times.

Bottom line: In technology you start with marketing - creating a customer - not branding, which is only about adding a price premium to something a person already wants.

You get people moving emotionally, by harnessing their inherent competitive drive, greed and curiosity.

And you turn their awareness into trust through expert opinion, trusted vendors, simple design, and great customer service.

Consider this: After years of awareness I haven't yet developed an interest in TiVo. But I bought a Roku and Netflix in the space of a couple of days.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Don't Really Serve Your Customers At All

Golfers at Shoreline Golf Course

Most important decisions are made informally as a result of conversations between influencers. They're the ones you should keep in mind before you do anything with respect to your career.

If you don't read anything else in this post, remember that. 

Core Group Theory: Who Needs It?

Right now I am reading Who Really Matters, by Art Kleiner*. It's hard to believe that 2003, the book's publication year, is almost a decade ago because the content is extremely relevant today.

This well-researched work talks about what really makes organizations tick and how you can use that to your advantage. (If you like the work of Edgar Schein, Peter Senge, Peter Block, Elliott Jacques or Chris Argyris you will definitely want to read it.) It's useful if you want to:
  • Get a job, advance in your job, or understand why you can't advance at work
  • Help an organization get past its dysfunctional behavior and achieve transformational change
  • Market your product or service to a particular organization or target audience
  • Influence the policies of an organization or group of organizations
  • Further your academic understanding of the underlying principles of organizational behavior
It's Sort of Like "WWJD"

The basic idea is very simple: All organizations serve their "core group" of influencers first and foremost. It's sort of like the saying "What Would Jesus Do?" Except that the question goes more like this:

"What Would (Influencer Names) Want?"

This is all bound together into "Core Group Theory" - a fancy way of saying that everything an organization does boils down to serving a few people that people go to great lengths to serve. Or we serve our imaginary version of those people - "we carry our bosses in our heads." (p. 51)

Core Group Theory explains why organizations usually fail at their stated purpose - to serve the customer, public, shareholder.

It's not that organizations are "bad." Nor are the people in them incompetent.

Blaming the Bureaucrats: A Great Example

Kleiner goes out of his way to point this out with respect to government, citing research by James Q. Wilson published in the book Bureaucracy (quotes are by Kleiner):
  • "If great government agencies are rare in the U.S., it's not because government people lack dedication or intelligence." 
  • Rather, the problem has to do with lacking a "leadership team (empowered) to take charge of an operation and make it work." (p. 165)
When you combine an empowered leadership team with a clear mission (or "influence mandate" - my term) you have the building blocks of success because then you can hire people, provide them with a goal, and let them reach it.

Can A Higher Purpose Exist In Organizations?

From Kleiner's perspective, the mission doesn't have to be meaningful on a spiritual level (e.g. in Margin Call, the main character happily leaves rocket science for the financial rewards of Wall Street) but if it's clear, and there is someone in charge, people can effectively achieve it.

Of course, if the mission is both clear and meaningful and the Core Group is mentally and behaviorally dedicated to it, then you have the makings of a world-class brand. Because then you have aligned people's desire to be part of something more, higher and better with their practical need to put food on the table and their dependence on leadership to tell them what to do so as to make that happen.
Branding, "Personal Branding" and Core Group Theory

Kleiner doesn't talk much about branding in the sense of how an organization can use it to succeed. His focus is on the individual and how to survive given the fact that Core Groups are real and routinely hurt the careers of qualified people.

So when he does mention personal branding (pp. 61-62) it is to offer an alternative to the Tom Peters "Brand Called You" strategy - befriending the Core Group for mutual self-interest rather than promoting yourself shamelessly to its exclusion.

Core Group Theory and Human Nature

In fact, Kleiner doesn't think much of Core Groups at all. To him they are inherently self-serving.
  • In the opening section of the book he talks about a devoted employee slighted thoughtlessly by a Core Group member, whose career at the organization is gradually destroyed despite his valuable hard work. 
  • He cites a study by William Whyte (of Organization Man fame) showing that despite seemingly objective studies, inevitably corporations tended to relocate their headquarters amazingly close to the home of the CEO: "average distance...was eight miles." (p. 38)
I recognize that I am stubbornly idealistic, but my perspective is more like the one expressed by Anne Frank. Her beautiful optimism in the face of sheer hatred may have been a survival tactic but it continues to humble me:
"I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart." - Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
This is a whole other conversation, but the fact that Kleiner even wrote his book; the vitality of social media, which has no real purpose other than to give; the fact that people give away their lives to feed their families, run into burning buildings, take responsibility for the lives of millions - it can't all be greed and ego.

So I do think that Core Groups can be selfless, at least for a time, and value contributions by their team members above the personal egos of those in charge. And these are the groups that inspire genuine commitment from their followers, and that therefore have the greatest value and stand the greatest chance of long-term success: because they are truly functional.

Adapting to Reality

Yet even if a Core Group is ideal for awhile, because people are people, even those can't last forever.  So most people will find themselves at one point or another with a conflict between the mission and the influence wielded by whoever has legitimacy among the workforce.

(Note: I realize that this blog has a classist bias toward the elite knowledge worker who has choices and is not functionally or actually enslaved).

The conflict is essentially psychological in nature:
  • On the one hand we feel pressure to serve the mission: Consciously we come to work looking for meaning, not just a paycheck, because serving a higher purpose makes us happy. If we can't find meaning, at least we want to add value in a way that seems objective and justifiable. So we try to do "objectively valuable work" in the service of "the customer."
  • On the other hand we feel pressure to serve the influencer: But somehow we end up breathlessly trying to find new and inventive ways to serve the often-irrational demands of people we don't even personally know, whose wants and mandates we may not even fully understand. Bias toward survival.
If there is a clash between the mission and the influencer, how do we psychologically adapt and behaviorally survive? I did not see it in the text but would understand from the theory that we tend to choose from among the following:
  • Unquestioning and passionately committed allegiance to influencer group: The benefit of this is that you are seen as committed. The downside is that you'll do things that don't make sense or are even illegal if it means taking care of the boss. 

  • Conflicted but committed service to influencer group vs. mission: Tell ourselves we're committed to the mission, but unconsciously serve the influencer group first, try to work mission priorities in, and when that doesn't work, rationalize that the influencers know what they're doing. The benefit of this is that influencers see you as having integrity. The downside is that they don't fully trust you.

  • "Give me liberty or give me death" approach: Focus on the mission and more or less ignore the influencers. The benefit of this is that you're seen as functionally valuable. The downside is that you're furthest from the "circle of trust" and therefore most expendable in a pinch, unless you truly have skills that nobody else does.
All of this sounds so bleak - like you can't really win. While it's understandable why someone would adopt a mission focus, what are the psychological rewards of being a brown-noser? Or, in Kleiner's words, "If commitment and legitimacy are so important....Why do we legitimize bosses who don't really deserve legitimacy?" (p. 49) Three reasons:
  • We need the money: "We tend to do what we think we're supposed to do, because....We believe our jobs, incentives, and rewards depend on it."
  • Our brains prefer simplicity: "It is terribly hard to make all the decisions. Most of the time, most of us would rather just act in favor of those who have legitimacy in our minds, even if we feel antagonistic to them." (Which is why I continue using Microsoft Word, an annoying word processor I detest, even though I have alternatives.)
  • There is the possibility of becoming one of them: It feels blissfully good to be part of the inner sanctum, in which the organization "is chivalrous toward you and dismissive of all others." (p. 37)
A Healthier Way to Survive

I don't want to spoil the experience of reading the book and gaining from the tons of wisdom, research and valuable advice there. So here are just a few key points from the book that may be helpful. All of them apply no matter what your interest in career growth and organizational functioning is:
  • Organizations are not necessarily "bad": You may read this and instinctively decide (or reinforce your innate belief that) "Hell is other people." However, especially in a social media world, that's probably not going to work. So Kleiner urges win-win coexistence ("be friends" on "equal footing" (p. 62). See Chapter 16.
  • Ignorance may feel good but failure feels bad and is costly: If you don't understand the way organizations really work, including who the influencers are, what they want, and what constitutes an unforgivable offense to them (whether or not it is written anywhere), you are at risk and your efforts to function effectively within them will likely fail.
  • Don't walk into the boxing ring untrained: This should go without saying but I'll repeat it just in case, especially since Kleiner makes the point: Core Groups can be dangerous. So don't do dumb things like try to verbally attack, gossip about, insult, or "start a revolution" (on the aggressive side) or "put yourself down" or submerge your efforts (on the self-punishing side). (pp. 190-101) Chapter 23 has some suggestions that seem like they might be more effective.
All in all, this is one of those books that I plan to read very slowly in the hopes of absorbing as much of it as possible. What's nice also is that it has a number of simple exercises and tools you can use to help yourself using the principles of Core Group theory.

If you read this book and experiment with the theory, please let me know how it goes. And if you are an influencer or eventually join some sort of Core Group, I hope you'll remember the power of your microphone, and use it wisely and and well.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

* I learned about this book via a post by Steve Davies mentioning another book, The Age of Heretics, also by Art Kleiner.

Photo by Don DeBold via Flickr. I was not asked or paid to read or endorse this book, and as always, all opinions are of course my own and do not imply endorsement by any organization. Originally posted to my blog, Think Brand First by Dannielle Blumenthal, at www.dannielleblumenthal.com. Permission is granted to repost with attribution.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Should You Speak Up To Your Boss?

It can be a tough call. Here are seven things to keep in mind:

1) Power: Bosses intensely dislike hearing the word "no." They generally value "team players," "problem solvers," people who will jump right in and take the assignment even if they don't know what they're doing. As long as their heart is in the right place. Part of giving you an assignment you can't handle is to see what you do under pressure from them.

2) Organizational culture: Does the organization expect you to be a straight shooter or are you supposed to diplomatically say "yes" to everything and then figure it out later? Do they expect you to grow by taking "stretch" assignments and learning as you fall down? Then you may have had a mis-impression about your true job scope. I believe I once found the description for my current job in my files, and then I promptly lost it and forgot about it, because the scope is always changing. I like that. Not everybody does!

3) Your personality:  Are you like a vacuum in that you can can inhale a lot of toxic dust and then empty out the dustbin at home? Or will you carry it around like black smoke all day unless you express yourself right then and there? If your personality style is to be more direct and upfront then it is probably unhealthy for you to be something you are not - and that can hurt you later on.

4) Resources: Are you being asked to do something you absolutely cannot do, or that you can do with some training and support? Maybe the thing to do is to say, "If you give me XYZ training, staff, etc. I can do a great job with this."

5) Personal ethics: One can feel it is unjust to be hired for A then asked to do B. In my mind, for a full-time employee this is normal since nobody can predict what the financial needs of the organization will be and you sort of have to be flexible. Then again, if you've been truly misled and committed yourself to a full-time job on overtly false premises that's something else. (Note: this is not legal advice.)

6) Generational communication style: I will be very broad brush about this and share my impression that:
  • Gen Yers tend to be more focused on needing to know exactly what to do in order to succeed. (Gen Z, younger than Gen Y, is not like this - they care a lot less about the rules and tend to make them up as they go along.)  Gen Y also tends to feel more entitled to rewards, advancement, etc. 
  • Gen Xers tend to be more focused on getting things done - result matters more than process and they work more autonomously. 
  • Baby Boomers like to solicit input but in the end want to have the final say. 
  • Matures just expect you to listen. 
7) Boss's Psychological State: Is the person you're talking to rational, or nuts? I am really not kidding about this: If they are rational you can have an honest conversation. If they are irrational, neurotic, psychotic, deluded, paranoid, sadistic, narcissistic, etc. then they are carrying around a personality disorder all the time. So your presence in the room gives them a chance to let off steam in your direction - and they don't even see you. Fortunately I don't deal with people like this 99% of the time, but the other 1% of the time, my best advice is to run in the other direction!

Bottom line - 3 lessons:
  1. If you want to earn a living you sometimes have to go outside your comfort zone. 
  2. The one who has the pocketbook generally makes the rules. 
  3. No matter what, be true to yourself because otherwise you'll be miserable anyway.
If it's not a good fit between you and your employer, it's about more than a single conversation. There is always another job - or you can start your own company.

Why Social Media Belongs At Work

A common misconception about social media is that it wastes employees' time by "distracting" them from "work."

Whoever had this idea must have been thinking that workers are still sewing buttons on shirts all day or herding farm animals.

In those situations social media doesn't help. Mostly everywhere else I am for it. Because in fact social media saves money, boosts morale, increases team spirit, and enhances employee productivity and value.

That is why people who aren't allowed to access social media at work will viciously grind the keyboard of their "Crackberry" all day, sending mindless email after email.

They want to hear something back!

So while I am NOT an advocate of opening up the corporate firewall to YouTube and such - cyberattacks are pretty nasty - I am in favor of providing or facilitating access to standalone computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.

Here are 10 benefits to productivity that result from encouraging employee use of social media at work:

1. They solve problems independently rather than using corporate resources to obtain them

2. They import best practices that can save the company time, money, and frustration

3. They receive advice and support regarding issues at work that could otherwise cause them to disengage

4. They learn to write more effectively as this is the primary online communication tool

5. They discover ways to innovate that go beyond trying to fix currently recognized or obvious problems

6. They become more adaptable and flexible regarding change and thus more likely to welcome new directions from leadership

7. They wind up engaging in continuous ongoing professional training rather than asking you to pay for costly weeklong seminars as their "once a year learning opportunity"

8. They independently compare themselves to their peers and discover areas needing improvement - helping you avoid difficult conversations that introduce resistance to you as a factor

9. They discover and import new technologies that can help you serve the customer faster, better, cheaper

10. Most important they build relationships with peers and customers internally and externally - enhancing your corporate brand

So as Wayne Dyer might say, don't fight the flow of the river - just harness its energy to help it flow safely and energetically.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Five Stages of Brand Maturity

Ecosystems - Flourish Everywhere
Image by Jeff Arsenault via Flickr

One of the central problems with developing a systemic approach to branding, historically, is that we have trouble defining what a brand is.

The reality is that there is no one definition. Actually, brands can be defined in different ways based on their level of maturity - just like people at different ages and stage of their lives. While it is true that babies and Baby Boomers are both human, there are different norms for interacting with them at an optimal level.

Similarly with brands - depending on the stage the rules for effective branding differ. I won't get into those here, but what follows is a rough sketch of the five stages:

1. Linguistic and/or visual icon: "Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers." - American Marketing Association via Wikipedia

2. Image: "A successful image is the foundation of every successful company. The image of your brand determines your credibility in the mind of new clients, and establishes the value of your products and services." - Sales Creators

3. Relationship: "It is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers." - The Marketing Blog

4. Community: "Your brand...is represented by your entire organization: employees, business partners, shareholders, all the members of your supply chain, and even your customers. That's why a strong brand requires complete understanding and expression of your brand promise by everyone in your brand community." - Reach Communications Consulting

5. Ecosystem: "The best youth brands in the world know that it’s essential to create a BRAND ECOSYSTEM (sic)…a living, breathing organism that is all about stimulating and feeding off conversations that happen within it, then using that to build further brand stories." - Dan Pankranz

The difference between these stages has to do with control and comprehensiveness.

The least mature and most prevalent brand is created by someone who then tries to control it.

As understanding of the meaning of brand grows, the brand creator realizes that its meaning has more to do with the perception of the user than the intention of the producer.

At still the next stage, there is an understanding that branding is about a continuing interaction between parties rather than a static formed image.

Beyond that, there is a sense that the brand has gone beyond the individual level and ideally functions as a group that is all singing from the same song-sheet.

Finally, at the last stage, the brand creator takes their hands off the steering wheel and lets the participants in the brand process take control. This is the most genuine, spontaneous, but also self-sustaining form of branding there is and the one that is most likely to result in sustainability as the members of the community "police" themselves to remain true to the brand's core values. Values that include respecting themselves, each other, and the environment.

It's an interesting conversation. I look forward to hearing what others think.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Personal Branding and Your Moral Code

freedom ... !

How I ended up recently at a Reform Jewish prayer service - when my community of origin would have urged me not to go - doesn't matter.

What matters is that for me it was a small but hugely significant step toward taking back my own religion. Rather than letting other people define it for me.

Disillusioned once, I told my aunt that I wanted to walk away from Judaism altogether. She responded quickly, "It's your heritage. You owe it to yourself to explore it and find your way."

My spiritual journey is not relevant to your life. What matters is that, on a quest for your personal brand, you are really dealing with who you are as a person, your identity. (As Jack Shaw stated in a comment to one of my blogs on GovLoop.com.) So you can't get away from the question of your moral code. As in: must have one.

"The promise you make is the promise that you must keep," they taught me at The Brand Consultancy. That's a moral thing. So when you are building a brand, the way you treat employees matters. The way you treat the environment matters. And of course the way you back up your product matters as well.

Can't have a logo without a corporate Ten Commandments.

Another time I encountered someone who knew me years ago, before my spiritual evolution had started. We had a brief interchange ending with her comment: "So you used to be Orthodox and now you are...nothing?"

I have to laugh as I write this. Wince even as I laugh. "Nothing?"

That's a matter of how you look at it. I feel at peace, close and connected more than ever. But she operates according to her moral code. It wasn't meant personally, more as a description of how a certain group would categorize me.

Here's another incident.

Recently I watched the South Carolina Republican debate. (Note: this is not an endorsement of any candidate or person and all opinions are my own.) Four men talked vociferously, each arguing that they were more "pro-life" than the next.

It was such a disturbing sight, watching them talk about the morality of a choice that is widely understood to belong essentially to the person who is carrying the fetus. Every abortion is a tragedy, and nobody is in favor of enabling people to irresponsibly go on fetus-killing sprees, but the labels here still seem a bit mixed up to me: "Pro-life" should mean taking care of all the lives affected by an unwanted pregnancy. Particularly the mother, who is already born and for whom the carrying of the fetus affects her physical and emotional health irrevocably.

Still I tried to ignore it and only focus on "the major issues." Then one of them said that the upcoming election would be an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.

It was a shocking moment. I realized then and there that in every single circumstance you are making a moral choice. You can never separate "running a country" from "establishing a moral code." And you cast a vote in favor of one agenda or another.

It would be so easy if we could talk about personal branding as a matter of platform shoes vs. flats, or the right way to answer a set of interview questions. But the truth is that it comes right down to your own core values and how you practice them, or don't.

Doesn't mean that you have to be the nicest person in the world. Does mean you have to grapple with the question of ethics. And come out someway, somewhere on the other side.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck in your own personal journeys.


Image by Kalyan Chakravarthy via Flickr
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Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Middle Manager's Double-Bind

McKenzie's snake reef knot

One of the subtle but standout moments in the movie "Margin Call" occurs when a certain middle manager gets fired.

The manager had been working in-scope, "keeping the train running on time."And above and beyond, sounding an alarm about the equivalent of a bomb on the train tracks ahead.
 Middle management doesn't divert trains. The alert was ignored.

It was only when a relatively new recruit saw the bomb and sounded the alarm that leadership sat up and paid attention.

This is the double-bind of the middle manager - that they should not lead, ever:

* Logically, based on their decades of experience implementing initiative after initiative, they should be responsible for alerting the organization that a plan will likely fail.
 * Yet paradoxically, their job is to "magically" make staff execute on those impossible plans.

Every leader has the fantasy that they are Captain Piccard in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and it is so fun for them when they can lift their hand and point their finger at the manager and utter those famous words: "Make it so."

A related double-bind has to do with staff - that they should keep people "under control":
 * Logically, if a manager's job is to obtain the most productivity out of a diverse staff that includes new recruits and more seasoned employees, they should be able to encourage employees to do things in unique, innovative ways that save time and money

* Yet paradoxically, the middle manager's job is to "magically" make these diverse people conform to rules that at times make no sense, which leads employees to disengage and lose morale, which in turn forces managers to put in place measures that detract from productivity (such as monitoring)
 Oddly, the very thing they are supposed to discourage (their staff coloring outside the established lines) sometimes ends up praised and rewarded when senior leaders become aware of it, as occurred in "Margin Call."

Also quite upsettingly, when a new-ish employee does think innovatively, he or she is lauded while the manager would have been chided for not sticking to the game plan.

All of this is terrible stuff, from a branding perspective.

It is the job of a brand to deliver the perception of premium value to a customer who passionately prefers it above all other choices.

The only way to do this is through insanely motivated employees. Not robots!

Insanely motivated employees cannot exist if we continue to cast the middle manager's role as though we were still living in factory times.

So for the sake of all our brands, it is time to get rid of three incorrect assumptions right now:
* The assumption that "real work" has to do with apportioning budgets, setting schedules, and that relationship work is "natural" and therefore "not real"
 * The assumption that managers inherently have a negative relationship with employees who don't naturally want to work, but must somehow be "incentivized," not to mention "monitored," "rewarded," and even "contained" (and who of course want the manager's job)
 * The assumption that the manager does not bring any inherent strategic value to the table, but must rather be like Silly Putty, reflecting blandly whatever priorities the current leader articulates

 Let's replace them with the following axioms:

* Relationship work is THE MOST IMPORTANT work there is, it is valuable, and it requires training and skill.

* The job of a manager is to correctly identify, bring forth, and harmonize the talents of every individual on the team, and to encourage them to do things more innovatively.

* The manager holds a vast repository of institutional knowledge in his or her brain that should be tapped at every opportunity by senior leadership, who more often than not are change agents that tend to change jobs and so have a superficial understanding of the culture in which they operate.

We are moving toward times when producing economic value and actually having values - as human beings, as people - are going to converge. Corporate social responsibility is rapidly becoming wedded to buying choices and therefore brand value.

How companies treat their employees is part of the way they make money. (For years now in marketing circles there has been talk about the "fifth P" - adding "people" to "product, price, promotion, and place.") What we must do now is engage in a conversation about the critical role of the middle manager, who brings their energies together.

While it is valid to examine corporate expectations of this role in the "new workplace," we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, let's take apart the double-bind and put it back together more logically. Leverage their vast experience to inform strategy. And more importantly, pay them for having that innate sixth sense about how best to draw out people's talent at work, and form individuals into teams that can effectively work together.

A true manager is not the one who keeps the trains running on time. Rather he or she is the one who brings flowers to the hospital bed of the train employee who broke their leg the other day. Trying to avoid hitting that bomb on the tracks by slamming the brakes down really hard.

Have a good day, and a good weekend everyone - and good luck!


Photo by Vivian Evans via Flickr.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Brands Rely On The Placebo Effect

My mother was the nurse at a sleep-away camp in the Catskills.

So I went for free, which was great.

But I lived with kids who were totally rich. Their parents paid a ton of money for the fees. And so that part was not.

Do you want to know how I learned about branding?

One time a kid in my bunk got a "care" package from home. Like Veruka in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" she ripped it open.

She held up a pink sweatshirt with a weird overlapping squiggle on it and the word "Benetton" written on the front.

"Benetton?" I said, pronouncing it with the emphasis on the second syllable, "E."

"What's that?"

"It's BEN-etton," she gasped, laughing. Of course everyone else did too.

Hands stuffed into my pockets, humiliated, I skulked out to challenge myself to yet another game of tetherball.

What is it about brands that makes us feel safe, insulated, protected?

Over the weekend we went to Jamesway (like Wal-Mart) to pick up some stuff.

I said, "Ma, I need a sweatshirt."

She said "You can have any color as long as it's $5."

A sweatshirt is just a layer of warm cloth. But if you put the right logo on it you get to charge more because of the placebo effect.

That is, we think of the brand like real medicine to cure our troubles, but as often as not it's a sugar pill.

Have you ever heard the saying. "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM?"

I have a feeling that is true.

Purchasers tend to feel more comfortable dealing with names they know and trust.

In fact sometimes we buy things that we could get for free, like water, just because they are branded.

The job of a marketer is to use the brand to provide additional value, whether psychological or material.

At the same time, we should be honest enough to admit that a fair amount of the perception of value has to do with the way we leverage the placebo effect.

To be ethical, we should be more upfront about that, distinguishing between a real value-add and the promotion of magical thinking.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Time to Cut The (You Know)

Remember that show "Melrose Place?"

With little babies running around at the time, I didn't get what valuable workforce training Heather Locklear's character provided (hope she gets better soon - if you're following celebrity news and such.)

Whoever tossed flimsy excuses Heather's way was quickly reduced to shreds as she nailed through all the B.S. and got to the heart of the problem.

My maternal grandmother and grandfather (may they rest in peace) were like that. They used to pick up the phone simultaneously in separate rooms and then stay on. And listen intently. If you fed them a line they would say in unison, "Come on!"

My nuclear family and friends are like that too. Yesterday my daughter looked at my new scarf and started laughing: "You look like a stewardess."

I think of this today as I reflect on the subject of meetings and why they often bore the participants so badly.

It's because a lot of phony talk is flying around and nobody gets up to challenge it.

Growing up in the culturally very direct New York metropolitan area, coming from a family of straight shooters, educated by people with a Talmudic rational approach to seemingly everything, and personally just a blunt and direct person who dislikes wasting time and money intensely, I find myself playing the role of B.S.-cutter a fair amount.

It was harder to do that when budgets were more free-flowing. Now the approach is increasingly welcome.

Challenging economic times can definitely get you down. But if you look at them as an opportunity they can be inspiring.

Cut the mental bloat that clouds thinking like a cataract. You will see better and be happier too.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

For Every Brand a Freak ("Milton's Red Stapler")

Collectors edition red swingline stapler on clearance at officemax
"Collector's Edition Red Swingline Stapler" photo by Martin Bowling via Flickr

My sister prides herself on being professional and reserved.

But if you put her anywhere near a Staples or an Office Depot, better stand back. As soon as she sees those two-toned binders with the endless organizer flap pockets - she loses all sensibility.

Do you make the mistake of thinking that your product is boring?

If you do, why are you selling it?

You have to be completely excited about whatever widget you're plying, even if it means nothing to me.

Here is where office supply companies really miss the opportunity: We need a Target type approach to staplers, tape dispensers and folders. And everything related to it.

We need it for the office supply junkies like my sister, and me too - I remember leafing through the Quill catalogue VERY slowly as a kid - the same type of people who can spend hours chasing organization at The Container Store.

I also remember when it took me four months to get a new stapler at work (don't ask). Can't tell you how many times I thought about "Milton's" red stapler from "Office Space" - just had to have one. Had to!

Drucker said that companies exist to create customers. Marketers exist to bring them joy. And yes, possibly product addiction. Can't have one without the other.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!


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Adding Value vs. Looking Busy

New York City
Image by kaysha via Flickr
When I graduated high school I moved to New York City to go to college.

I bid my parents a fond farewell as they dropped me off at the dorm. Dad idled the car as Mom turned around and handed me a $20 and said, "Good luck."

Looking at this it sounds harsh. But those were different times; in my family it was the tradition to make your own way in the world. Including the girls.

So it was with some pride that I took that $20 to the bank, then set off to find work with which to add money to it. After landing a few menial jobs I realized that office work paid about three times as much AND I didn't have to stand on my feet all day long.

Fast forward to the temporary jobs I held in those early college years. None of them were difficult, except that the computers seemed to keep changing - I went from the early Mac, to WordPerfect and its function keys, then Microsoft Word. That was fine; I could learn.

The boredom factor was simple too. There was no Internet but I could read, talk on the phone, do a crossword puzzle, or what have you to prevent my brains from frying.

What was more challenging for me was giving the impression of being busy when I was bored. Because inevitably the boss would stride by every now and again, and if you didn't look incredibly freaking busy all the time they would give you a glare.

It is hard to believe that it is nearly 25 years since I graduated from high school. But things haven't changed very much since then. We make the same mistake, confusing busy-ness for productivity. And they are not at all the same.

We probably have the technology right now to automate most of the jobs people do. And we also know that in a knowledge and/or relationship economy people have "spurts" of energy, and in between they require downtime so as to recharge and be more effective.

Just like exercise works best when you do interval training, alternating fast and slow, so does work. It's not only OK but probably more productive to work this way.

The question is how do we change our organizational structures to accommodate reality? The reality of how people work, and the reality of what the economy demands - because the days when we all had to stand behind machines for 12 hours a day, or farm from dawn till nighttime, are long since gone.

Mostly I think it is fear - that we will be seen as irrelevant if we are not killing ourselves every second. But if we can overcome that fear I think we will be a happier society. Spend more time together watching TV, or taking a walk outside, or just hanging out doing nothing. And the rest of the time achieving something financially meaningful.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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Monday, January 16, 2012

How To Turn A Brand Negative To Your Advantage (Whole Foods vs. Trader Joe's)

English: Woman looking at Bach Flower remedies...
Image via Wikipedia
My mother's cellphone rang about ten times before she finally picked it up.

"What is it?" she spoke all dreamy-like into the phone. "I'm in Whole Foods."

I got it immediately. Whole Foods has that effect on me as well: Nobody is allowed to interrupt the trance.

Normally we're a lively set of Chatty Cathys. us two. But since she was in the equivalent of food synagogue I let her go fast.

"It's alright Ma," I said, laughing. "I'll call you later."

What is your favorite part of Whole Foods? For me there are almost too many to list:

* The delicious natural food bar and hot soups

* The good-smelling natural soaps they have stacked up by the deli

* The "core values" sign near the front of the store

* The fact that I know whatever I buy is going to taste good

* The way they manage to make plain old fruits and vegetables so appealing

But one of the things I love the most is not even inside the store: the "Whole Deal Value Guide."

Never have I seen a weekly sales flyer used so effectively as this little booklet printed on newsprint. Even Trader Joe's "Fearless Flyer" - which is pretty good - doesn't come close.

Here's the similarity: Both use the flier for brand reinforcement -

* Trader Joe's version shows us that they sell fun, unusual, interesting and delicious food, that's affordable. Nice!

* Whole Foods' version conveys that its food is not only healthy but, among other things, sustainable and ethically produced.

Here's where Whole Foods goes above and beyond:

In my opinion the #1 brand negative for this company is the perception of overpricing.

Especially in a bad economy people don't want to pay more than they have to for anything. And they are angry when they feel they are being cheated - could get the same product for a similar price.

Whole Foods could ignore this perception and simply say, in effect, "Too bad on you - our kind of customer is willing to pay more."

Instead, they actively attack the possible negative perception and use their flyer to:

* Show you how to save money when shopping at the store - pointing out sales and coupons.

* Teach you how to live a healthier lifestyle - providing healthy recipes so you can cook easily and well for yourself and your family.

The end result is the perception that Whole Foods is on a mission to change the way all Americans eat - not just the elite.

In effect, they use the flier to open up the brand community - and in the process win goodwill from those who don't necessarily want to spend $6 for a little-looking pouch of gluten-free granola.

The next time you recognize that someone has bad feedback for your brand, think strategically about whether you ignore it or leverage it into a positive branding/marketing tool - one that can amplify your reach without watering down your distinctive brand message.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!


Elsewhere on the Web:

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Govies Sometimes Act Like Zombies

Zombie activist

Thanks to Redbox we were enjoying family movie night and the show was a third of the way through.

In this scene the main characters have to go to the local government office and get some help.

Right away the first word out of the clerk's mouth is "No."

They peer over at her workstation. "Why not?" says one.

"Because it's not in the computer."

"But that makes no sense," says the other.

"I'm sorry, it's not in the computer."

The first one has to restrain the second one from lunging over the desk.

Later in the movie they have to go back to the same government office.

"Come back in three days," another clerk sitting in a basement office says.

"Why three days?"


Basically it's going to take three days.

I cannot count the number of movies I have seen where government workers are portrayed as mind-numbingly rule-driven brain-dead zombies.

The reaction of the normal person, played by the main character, is always the same: Utter frustration.

They had a special on CNBC the other night called "Customer Dis-Service" that talked about the phenomenon of - well, you guessed it - customer dissatisfaction with the state of customer service these days.

Someone in the show made the point that ironically, people have less money to spend than ever and yet when they go out they expect customer service to be almost perfect.

Reminds me of when we were in Florida and someone was ordering a deli sandwich at Publix. He was haranguing the woman putting the sandwich together (this is a cold cut hero for goodness' sake) to this kind of a tune:

"That's right, put the lettuce on just like that. Now the tomato. Add the cheese....I want it just the way I want it. You know I think you were born to do this job!"

I kid you not, this customer was completely serious. It was his moment to get that sub and by golly he was going to make the absolute most out of it.

Back to the government. Why do people think we govies are stupid? I have worked with a lot of government people over the course of my career - in fact I've spent most of it in public service - and I can tell you that my colleagues are no slouches.

Yet the stereotype persists.

Having completed many projects, involving lots of task forces and cross-office meetings in a variety of agencies over the years, I think I have a hypothesis as to why:

The expectation of the customer is that we will meet their individual needs, while government is set up to meet the needs of many and varying stakeholder groups simultaneously.

This creates an inherent conflict for the government employee.

Think about it: Government bureaucracy is a set of rules meant to be applied impartially to serve a vast, vast audience.

When we do things we are not like the handcrafted jewelry makers at Etsy.com.

We are more like the hamburger makers at McDonald's.

When we make a decision we have to think about how it will play out over hundreds, thousands, even millions of subsequent reactions and interactions.

So what seems like a simple thing to the customer (the end user) can be a tremendously complicated thing to us.

And if the government employee takes matters into their own hands to provide superior customer service, what is the return on that investment for the public?

Certainly for the individual being served the return is a closer and more trusting relationship with the government, more willing compliance, and positive word-of-mouth.

But for others who may be shortchanged as a result of that interaction - because special customer service was not extended to them in particular - the actions of that individual could result in later cause for complaint.

Or, perhaps the employee who was motivated to "think different" tried to help the citizen, but along the way misstated a fact or forgot about a rule and that action was later cited as precedent for uneven compliance.

I was impressed by someone in a meeting the other day who responded to a suggestion that sounded innovative.

The person said, "I like that idea, but just keep in mind the consequences if that were to play out." And went on to list the various possibilities.

What is missing from the conversation about why govies sometimes act rigid, or like they don't care, is a broader contextual picture of the unique demands of the environment in which we find ourselves.

Actually most people do give a damn. The issue is, how do you equip them to effectively handle situations where the cut-and-dried approach just isn't going to cut it?

It's something to think about, but I liked the approach of that one employee. Who said, in effect, I'm not closing innovation down, but let's think about the risks ahead and navigate them effectively.

Hope you're enjoying the holiday weekend everyone; have a good one; and good luck!

Photo by Paradigm via Flickr
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