Showing posts from September, 2012

When You Leave Others Thinking, "What A Jerk!"

Screenshot via
So my husband and I had lunch in a great vegetarian place except for one thing: The couple on a type date.

The guy was so loud and obnoxious. First of all he kept interrupting the woman. Every time she started to say something he had to agree, disagree or amplify.

The other things he did that screamed "I'm a jerk" included:

1. Bragging about his "positivity," degrees, experience, books read (this was by far the worst)
2. Asking the waitress her name and then not using it
3. Taking forever to order as he deliberated out loud
4. Telling the woman he would have to get the soup if she wouldn't order dumplings, which apprarently he has never tasted
5. Interviewing the woman like a job candidate

My husband said - better to be more reserved. Humble. Ask how the other person thinks, feels, etc. and wait for a response. Listen!

Sometimes by observing quietly we learn a lot.

Demanding Women

Officially I have 15 years I of professional experience but if you actually count all of it - from advanced education, fellowship, internships to temp jobs to entry-level administrative and database work -the amount goes up to 25+.

During that time, for whatever reason, I have worked mostly for strong female executives. Their demands were usually exacting and they did not spare your feelings when you made a mistake.

I think it's about proving yourself. Many of my friends tell me the same thing about these larger-than-life, legendary figures. Particularly bosses who earned their stripes in the '70s and early '80s. It's not just something you see in the movies - these women clearly have confronted lots of stereotypes about passivity and overcome them.

I was thinking about this today. I watched "In The Land of Blood and Honey," by Angelina Jolie, with my husband this weekend. Ostensibly it's about Serbs vs. Croats but from what I could tell it was very much ab…

Yom Kippur Apologies - Insight from a TV Commercial

Tonight starts the fast of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. It's traditional to begin the fast by apologizing to the people in your life: "I'm sorry if I did anything to hurt you this year."

I'm not a huge fan of these general apologies. What do they mean? "If" I hurt you "by doing anything" during "this year."

You might argue that the vagueness has to do with not wanting to call attention to something that could cause a fight.

But actually, I think most people just hate to apologize directly and specifically, because they mistakenly think:

* "Apologizing creates anger whereas 'going on' enables it to be diffused."
* "If I admit guilt, I will get punished."
* "Apologizing keeps us in the past, and we need to move on."

(Ever noticed that executives tend to share these beliefs?)

Bounty Paper Towels captured these intertwined feelings well with their 1990 TV commercial, "Bounty Means Never Havi…

Permanent Disbelief & Its Impact On Government Public Affairs

"Permanent Spin" has an eye-catching headline but the Weekly Standard article makes a pretty routine claim: You can't trust the government.

This article in particular focused on political PR, criticizing the Administration for refusing to label several terrorist attacks for what they were. Jibes like this fly from both sides of the aisle and in popular culture; even Saturday Night Live joined the fray with a satirical skit mocking a candidate for secretly taped remarks at a fundraiser that undermined his carefully crafted public messaging.
Sometimes political PR goes off-the-cuff, and people can't decide whether it's a good thing or bad. The New York Timesreported on the angst within the party that followed unscripted remarks at a national political convention. The New Republic had mixed reviews but admitted that it could be "accidental political genius." Others said flat out that it was in fact "genius," no miscalculation at all.
In the civil se…

Steve Jobs, More G-dlike Than G-d?

Screenshots from around the Web demonstrating the pop culture equation of Jobs with Jesus
"Creative Genius or a Tyrant?" The two are not mutually exclusive, and though we worship creativity in America, it has nothing to do with goodness.

In fact, Steve Jobs was both: "the last great tyrant."

"Great," notes the New York Times, because "there was no one quite like him. He used his powers to make devices that are beloved by their owners in a way that very few American products manage to achieve.""Tyrant," notes the Times, because he did not hesitate to be cruel in whiplashing staff when the product wasn't right - equating one engineer's work with "dog feces." Forbes notes that his business practices were equally ruthless.  
Yet everyone, it seems, forgave him, even apologized for him, because he gave the people what they wanted, with a triple acumen that most people lack:

Creative: He knew what customers wanted before they di…

That Leader You've Been Waiting For - It's You.

Photo via Flickr "I've been waiting for a girl like you to come into my life....been waiting for someone new to make me feel alive." - ForeignerHow much of your life have you spent waiting?

As a kid, I waited a lot. Waited for the school van. Waited for synagogue to be over. Waited for the commercials to end. Waited for the microwave, impatiently.

As a teenager I waited for high school to be over, then happily escaped New Jersey to Manhattan. 

In college there was the endless wait to graduate, then the lengthy trek through graduate school to dissertation.

Of course the kids go through stages and so you wait for them to grow out of those.

And when my early jobs were boring - as most entry-level, pay-the-bills type employment is - I waited for the day to be over.

So many people are waiting for retirement.

Are we so busy waiting, that we miss the opportunity to live?

Once somebody gave me a fairy tale book as a gift. Brother and sister find a skein of golden yarn in the forest. They…

A Suggestion for McDonald's Advertising

The other day I observed a group of seniors from the local retirement community hanging out at McDonald's - playing a bingo game. They stayed there for a long time. 
Another time I visited around three p.m. and saw the kids hanging out after school. They were boisterous but calm and having fun.
There is also a mini-playground in the McDonald's near me, and in the one I recall going to in New York City.
I told this to a friend and she told me that in California, the elderly men in the Vietnamese community hang out at a particular McDonald's near her home.
It occurred to me that the company should go back to "Food, Folks and Fun" as a theme for their advertising. Especially in tough economic times, people still want to go out but they want to go somewhere that a meal won't completely destroy their pocketbooks.
Just a thought - the food and service have dramatically improved, and they deserve a great ad campaign to go along with them.

Can I brand myself naturally?

My response to a question on Quora:

Your brand is natural but it never comes about naturally. Basically it is the result of the interaction between the "I" (who you are without trying) and the "me" (who people think you are). 

On a marketing level the skill is to engineer things so that the "I" and the "Me" align. This is basic symbolic interactionism. Via Wikipedia: "The I is the impulsive tendency of the individual (similar to Freud's notion of the Id). The I is the spontaneous, unorganized aspect of human existence. The Me is the incorporated other (generalized other) within the individual." a practical level you must have a mission that makes sense. I like how Jim Collins explains a profitable one in "Good To Great" - it's the convergence of 1) what you have a passion for doing 2) what you're the BEST in the world at 3) what others will pay you for. Your mission can be an abs…

Generational Miscommunication & The Issue of "Negativity" - A Diversity Issue

This is the third in a series of posts on internal communications and the "dark side" of the organization. (Click here for #1 and here for #2). I have often wondered why organizations are slow to deal with difficult issues surrounding internal communication. Part of the answer, I think, has to do with generational leadership styles. My working hypothesis is that there is a generational miscommunication between Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, the two generations that now dominate the workplace. Baby Boomers are idealistic and deeply team-focused - the members of the team create a unit that looks out for one another. They see any negativity as a threat to the team. They are good at intellectual analysis and love robust debate, but aret uncomfortable with the intangible emotional issues behind them. Generation Xers are also idealistic and get things done in teams. But not the way that Boomers do. Because we've seen teams fall apart due to denial and exploitation, we tend to…

Internal Communication and the Devil Inside

The communicator's most important duty is to find breaks in the organizational narrative, explore them and put them back together again. Inhabiting the breaks rather than denying them heals the dysfunction that causes poor communication in the first place.
It's a cycle, briefly: Lack of unity ---> dysfunctional organization. Dysfunctional organization ---> fractured communication Fractured communication ---> lack of engagement, lack of credibility, mistrust Mistrust ---> lack of unity ...and the cycle perpetuates itself. If you step back and look at the big picture, it becomes clear that poor internal communication is a symptom, not the disease. That's why communicators depend on executive sponsorship to get the job done. Without the backing of leadership, effective internal communication cannot happen.
This was the entire premise of the popular TV shows “24” and “House.”
* On “24,” “Jack Bauer” got his hands dirty to get to the truth – and the President backed him…

Communicating Amid a Fractured Narrative: The Secret Nobody Tells You

In the days before the Internet, and particularly social media, it was hard to get a real clue about anything.

If "they" told you something was true - parents, school, job, media, religion, government, university, etc. - you generally believed it. Especially if it was in a book. If you didn't, it was your fault for doubting or not being smart enough to follow.Alternative versions - the grapevine, etc. - had their place too. But that was always "the grapevine," and most of the time the official version trumped "gossip."
In short, before there was cyberspace, there was certainty. And even within a debate, the outer boundaries of that discussion - its framework - was more or less clear to most people, even if they inhabited different cultural realities.

All of this has fallen apart. Narratives still appear on television, in the paper, on the Internet, wherever. But instead of reading them uncritically, people now see them as only an opening gambit. No longe…

Reject Hatred

The best way to fight against a terrorist is to reject the premise of terrorism itself. Hatred.

All around us we see people turning to rage as a way of solving their problems. It doesn't have to be that way. The Jewish people saw the destruction of our Holy Temple because of baseless hatred within the Jewish community (in Hebrew, "Sinas Chinam.")

Reject hatred. Identify those who promote hatred and killing as a way of life. Make their true goals transparent. Hold them accountable for their acts. Eliminate their influence.

It's not about deciding which religion is better or whose morality is "righter" or solving the War of the Worlds. Instead the focus is on helpful vs. unhelpful.

What are the problems? How do we solve them?

The One above is omnipotent, sees and rights everything. It's on us only to do our part.

Next week is Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year.

This year I am praying to G-d to save us from ourselves.

New Job? 5 Ways To Make Ignorance Work For You

My job consists of three things: build relationships, respond to questions, and have information ready for people before they ever need it.

In the abstract I have a lot of experience at this.

But in the particular it's a daily challenge.

Having started work in a new organization, I am immersed in a completely new and unique organizational culture, as well as working with technical specialists across multiple lines of business.

In order to be helpful I've got to understand the unique cultural language of each office as well as the bigger picture, plus become literate in the subject matter.

It is hard to tolerate my own ignorance. I know that no matter how much I read or observe, or how quickly, there are decades of history to absorb.

I am getting a little bit better at handling it though. It's even becoming like a growing experience: embracing ignorant me. Here are some ideas for others in a similar situation.

1. "Let go and let G-d." Ignorance makes you realize how …

Why Not Just Fire Everyone?

Compared with the private sector, career civil service is known for its job stability. From an internal, employee recruitment and retention perspective this makes government work appealing. On the other hand, from the outside (and sometimes from the inside) the fact that the system is set up for stability can make it seem like we don't manage poor performers appropriately. The private sector version of what to do is efficient, but also extreme. (Donald Trump's famous line "You're Fired!"?) Is this what has to happen to improve performance in government? Having worked in the private sector both for a large company and for a small business I think the answer is no. We should not just be able to "fire at will." Not because government workers deserve a form of welfare, but because it's poor leadership and management to dispose of people at whim. Consider the parallel of family. When you start a family - whether it's marriage or partnership, or whether …

8 Ways To Encourage Change Agents In Government, What Are Yours?

1. Drawing on change agents in a local environment to solve a local problem innovatively. Example: CBP's Small Vessel Reporting System, which started as a pilot in Florida. I worked on the outreach for the project, which is critical when you consider the potential threat a terrorist can do with hidden WMD in a small boat, where they might leave the U.S., pick up a weapon, then try to come back in "under the radar."

2. Appointing change agents as leaders. Leaders, for all their human frailties, are normally extraordinarily driven workaholics who are literally unable to fail. There is something inside them that motivates them to persist no matter what. The problem comes when they get scared. But when they are confident and charging toward a noble goal, people are drawn to that and they will follow.  3. Putting change agents in charge of social media, especially YouTube because this is a medium most people can follow and comment on. Government words are usually too complicate…

Using Principles of Branding to Address Mistrust of Government

This is in response to the question of "Why do people mistrust government?" A comprehensive answer would get into politics, history, sociology, economics, philosophy, etc. I can talk about it from a branding perspective. Definitions Here the noun "brand" means "your image" and the verb "branding" means "positioning" or the act of distinguishing yourself so that you have an image.Branding is basically long-term, holistic marketing.Branding is a business (government here is conceived of as a business) activity not solely a communications activity. It incorporates frontline operational decisions (mission), human capital decisions, technology decisions, etc. because all of these have an impact on your image.Therefore "positioning" means setting up the organization in such a way that you actually can fulfill your promise (or in branding terms, the "brand promise.)You can fail to live up to the brand promise through real activit…

"Melrose Place" Feminism, Not A Blessing In Disguise

Image source: Movie news/review site Collider
As a younger person I used to watch the original Melrose Place series on TV (not the CW version which I sneer at...wasn't everything better in the "good old days" :-)?

It was an ensemble cast but the central character was really "Amanda Woodward" (Heather Locklear). Amanda was one of the first female characters on TV to boldly assert her right to be ruthless - not for any larger goal, but purely because "I want it." To that end she had these characteristics:

Used her intelligence to manipulate people rather than solve problemsUsed her good looks to charm and flirt to get her wayPreyed on the morality of other people as she broke the rules to get what she wantedThe counterpart to Amanda's character was "Alison Parker" (Courtney Thorne-Smith) who was the polar opposite. Alison was smart, but not manipulative; pretty, but didn't "work it"; and above all moral and kind.

Amanda and Aliso…

Functional vs. Emotional Branding in the 2012 Campaign

Image via Wikimedia
Maybe “branding” is a relatively new word for the mainstream, but the use of it in politics is old. They called it other things, probably – I couldn't tell you. But there's no doubt that the great political consultants are the equivalent of great brand strategists. Some examples: Roger Ailes, Dick Morris, Frank Luntz.
I still remember watching The McLaughlin Group as a kid, especially Eleanor Clift and Pat Buchanan as they battled it out in “Round 1” and “Round 2,” the tiny speck of time allotted to every issue on Sunday mornings.
Today, I don't watch the news primarily to find out what's happening – there is the Internet for that. I watch to see how the various political commentators, media veterans, and subject matter experts debate how the speech (or blooper) of the day will affect this person or that.
My absolute favorite, a rarity nowadays, is to see James Carville and Mary Matalin interviewed together, because Carville is a Democrat and Matalin …

Panera's Positioning: A Suggestion

I like what Panera stands for:

1. They give back to the community through various programs

2. They are piloting a cafe where you pay what you can, take what you need

3. The CEO was on Fox News tge other day talking sense, about how we must forget political divisiveness and solve real economic problems

Their brand needs help though. A very brief suggestion - change the positioning.

Right now Panera doesn't own any unique mind space. They are competing with Starbucks instead. With better food but worse coffee.

Suggest changing the focus to one it already owns, judging from who goes there and its corporate values: family meals.

More specifically, build the brand around the concept of old-fashioned Sunday dinner. Sort of like Boston Market, but with a Midwestern feel.

My two cents. Good luck to them.

President Obama and Clint Eastwood, Masters of Positioning

In "What Marketers Can Learn From Obama's Campaign," "positioning" (branding) master Al Ries explained how effective marketing helped the President go from being a relative unknown to the most powerful person on the planet.

At this year's Republican convention, actor Clint Eastwood gave a speech that has provoked viral interest and much controversy in the blogosphere as to whether it worked or not, or was smart or not, or what it was. Some even called it "bizarre" while others said it was "genius."

Below are some comments Ries made about the 2008 Obama campaign's successful use of positioning, and how the Eastwood speech - of course, just one moment in time - matches up.

1. Own a simple, relevant, credible-for-the-brand idea in one word. In the Obama campaign, this was "change." No "ands," commas, subheads like his competitors. It was relevant because people thought the country was "headed in the wrong direction…

5 "Normal" Mistakes Leaders Make That Starve The Organization To Death

Veterans of the workplace know that there is "nothing new under the sun." Leadership and management initiatives, fads and buzzwords come and go. But the basics always hold true. Yet this does not stop leaders from regularly making the following mistakes, so often that one can think of them as "normal."

Unfortunately, the fact that dysfunctionality is normal means that brand-destructive behaviors are normal too. Breaking these rules means you can't build a good brand (image) either internally, among employees, or outside the organization. The good news is that if you're smart enough to do the right thing, you have a natural advantage compared with most of the pack.

Mistake #1: Putting PR Before Culture
Every morning leaders wake up and are confronted with a) the crisis of the day b) nagging operational problems and c) the potential or actual bad things someone is saying about them in the news - or some combination of the above. Cultural problems are below that …