Be The Human Candle (On The Evolution Of Brand)

Image by Phillie Casablanca via Flickr

It All Started With Great Ads

Used to be that brands were what we said they were: Advertisers pushed the message and the public bought it all. The eye-patched “Man In The Hathaway Shirt” was macho-for-the-office defined, and that was it.
Later we said that brands were what the customers said they were: Social media turned Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Google, Dell, Nike, McDonald’s, the whole wide world of brands into a global conversation.

Boy did we talk. About their logos, their advertising campaigns, their labor practices, everything. It was as if brands were people: Did we like their personalities? Did we want to be like them?

Now it is the conventional wisdom that the image you hold in your mind of the brand, is itself the brand’s definition. It’s out of their control.

But Today's "Social Media" Definition Doesn’t Fully Work Either

Well…sort of. It’s an incomplete definition. Because really, there is no such thing as one image, is there? The customer’s mind changes year-to-year, month to month, day to day, minute by minute.

I’ve had fifty different perceptions of Starbucks and it is my favorite brand, but I would not describe it the same way twice on two consecutive days.

Mostly what changes my mind about the brand, to be honest, is the particular store that I’ve visited most recently. If well-treated I am happy; if they don’t care I walk away a little bit annoyed and let down.

This happens to me in airports sometimes, where they sell Starbucks coffee from what looks like a Starbucks stand, but it’s somehow not the “real thing.” Generally the airport Starbucks folks just don’t seem to care, or to enjoy their jobs, the way the regular baristas do.

A Personal Experience That Taught Me Better

A couple of months ago I was at a Starbucks close by.

Was putting half-and-half in my coffee when the employee cleaning out the trash cleaning out the messy, wet, sticky Splenda and sugar packets – started telling me how much he loves his job. He was literally singing!

Completely unprompted, not knowing that I blog about branding and not recognizing me as a frequent customer at all, he told me how much he loved his job.

He said: “I used to have (insert unfulfilling other job), and I always wanted to work at Starbucks, and now I do! And I love it!”

I sat down. Several hours later he shifted stations and was serving espresso and other caffeine creations. There was a visible aura of good energy around the counter. It just went everywhere.

The Human Candle Effect

People like that Starbucks employee are what keep this relaxation brand (to me it is not coffee they sell but a time out) in business. They are human candles. And what I learn from them and from others is that a company’s overall brand depends on not just one image, but many images. Not just static images, but dynamic images. It’s not a singular thing that gets built and is defended.

A brand is people in motion, connecting and interconnecting all the time, reinforcing something that holds the core of the brand together.

Remember those cartoon flipbooks they sold years ago? And when you flip the pages fast you see the story? That’s a brand in miniature, except millions of people are flipping the books and creating a moving mosaic together.

Yet at the same time, like any relationship, brand is invisible and yet there is something very tangible and real about the experience of interacting with a representative of it.

In fact the brand is never exactly the same twice – nor should it be - because the interactions between the customer and the company’s representatives are never identical. And yet as the repeated interactions have the same quality and flavor, there is a consistency to the experience that qualifies the brand as being “a thing.” A thing of value.

Employees As The (Overlooked) Secret Sauce

Looked at in this way you can see why employee morale, understanding of the brand, passion for the brand, championing of the brand accurately is absolutely critical to delivering a value-added experience for the customer.

And most companies totally overlook this and from what I have heard, they treat their people as the least valuable asset on the books.

This is so crazy! It is the human relationship that brings together the buyer and the seller again and again.

It is the knowledge of one another and the trust the customer has for the seller – however fleetingly we think of it - that creates a perception of value over and above what is actually being sold. I cannot emphasize this enough.

“Some Of Our Ice Cream Isn’t Kosher”

When we were in Florida we went to buy ice cream. No sooner did my  husband start to order than the woman behind the counter, noticing his yarmulka, said,

“I’m just warning you, as one Jewish person to another, that some of our ice cream isn’t kosher.”

Imagine that. This person makes a living from whoever walks into the ice cream store. And it’s not like there are tons of people in the store every minute. She was ready to take money out of her own pocket, or her employer’s (which could be even riskier), for the sake of doing what she perceived to be the right thing.

Darn skippy I’ll be in Yo Mama’s for ice cream (A1A & Sunrise Boulevard) the next time I’m in Fort Lauderdale. And you see – I’m mentioning them, so you may go there too. That’s the effect of a human candle in action.

Loneliness Makes The Relationship Matter

The fact is that we live in a very impersonal world today. Most things can be automated and done remotely. Most people are desperately seeking financial and emotional survival. And there is precious little time to interact.

So if a company can hire people who deliver that emotional connection, however brief, on demand and with no commitment other than the price of the merchandise, it’s an exponentially powerful recipe for success.

Emotions became part of our work decades ago. The sociologist Arlie Hochschild wrote about the increasing importance of human emotional labor in The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Labor, published in the mid-1980s.

Hochschild showed that the art of putting on a face was not just an add-on to a job, but increasingly integral to it. And she was right: People want to buy from other people who bring them joy.

Why Are Human Candles So Important?

There are two basic reasons why human candles matter so much to building a brand.

·      On the ordinary level, they light up the darkness and ordinary misery of the customer’s day, they stand out above other employees of the company, and make the customer want to patronize that business again and again. As discussed.

·      In the out-of-the-ordinary, exponentially exciting, value-added way that only a candle can, they make up for other employees who are negative representatives of the brand, who deliver a terrible experience you wish you could forget.

Pay The Human Candles, Retrain The People-Haters

Many people who deliver great brand experiences don’t even realize what good representatives they are. It just comes to them naturally. They have high emotional intelligence.

So instead of being looked down upon for their people skills – “that’s easy” – and paid insufficiently, they should be actively recruited and promoted to positions of authority.

Too often leaders not only have terrible people skills, but they actually have contempt for the people they lead, preferring instead to value an abstract “mission” over real human beings.

Sociopaths may look serious and be efficient, but they are often arrogant, cruel, and turn people off. In contrast human candles make money. They are the ones who make sure that the brand lives on in the customer’s mind and the customer’s life and that it is paid for from the customer’s wallet.

Anyone Can Do It With The Right Mindset

You don’t have to work for a big brand like Starbucks to be a human candle. In three ordinary interactions last week I met three of them:

·      At the post office. I was irate after waiting on a line for half an hour, to send packages that were already covered with pre-printed postage, sealed and wrapped. I was tapping my toes with impatience. But I knew her from past interactions, and when I complained, she explained the policy to me.  “We do things that way, honey,” she said. “It’s just the way it is.” Or something like that. Whatever she said it wasn’t the words, it was the tone. She was sympathetic to the customer’s experience. And what was funny was that there was a sign on her keyboard that told her, “Make eye contact with the customer.” She barely looked at me, but she made contact anyway.

·      At work.I needed to find a specially equipped conference room. It was late on a Friday, I had no idea where to get what I needed, and he was sitting in somebody else’s seat. He looked busy, but he took fifteen minutes to help me get what I needed. No questions asked; he just accomplished what for our group was an insurmountable, last-minute task. This one person encapsulated the entire value system of our agency – collegial, responsible, helpful. Without any fanfare.

·      At a credit union. She deals with a lot of people who don’t have a lot of money. But what money they do have, and deposit there, is tied up in taking care of their families, especially the kids. She talks to people about their kids, and what’s going on in their lives, even though it has nothing to do with her technical scope of responsibility. She makes sure that people will go to that particular credit union again and again.

In today’s day and age it is tempting to make things simpler by keeping people and their quirks out of the business equation. But in the end it is people that buy things, and it is only other people that keep them coming back for more.

The Key Takeaways

As an employee, be one.

As a business owner, hire them.

As a leader, promote them and pay them, put on a hat and serve them ice cream every now and then.

As a manager, develop them, train them, and learn a lesson or two as well. It’s not only about keeping the trains running on time, but about making sure those trains are comfortable.

As a human being, just be nice to other people. Not everything is about money, and the way you earn a living is also the way you earn joy in this life and also in the World To Come

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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Misery Is Not Productivity

One time I wanted to use a photo of people smiling for a corporate type report.

The photo I had was really happy. The executives were laughing, leaning in toward one another, engaged.

The photo made everybody nervous.

Happy? Smiling? LAUGHING?

You can't do that, they said. We have to look serious. Otherwise people will think we're not doing our jobs.

What a big mistake.

When I see people frowning or stern, I think they must be miserable or doing something wrong and I don't trust them with my business.

Unhappy people screw up. Happy people excel.

Did you see the movie "Margin Call"? Boy were the characters serious in that film. Do you know why?

Because they were messing up big time. No spoilers here but we are talking way more trouble than chump change millions.

I trust people who smile. Visionary leaders smile. Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Hillary Clinton, Meg Whitman, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Joel Osteen, Warren Buffett, Donna Karan, Mark Zuckerberg (occasionally), Jack Welch - all of them smile.

True leaders are happy because they are fulfilling their life's purpose. They take us ordinary folks on a grand adventure. We willingly go along.

Miserable, fabisseneh (Yiddish for miserable) people are stuck or worse, drowning. I don't want to buy things from them.

Go to Lulu's Bait Shack in Ft. Lauderdale and get the fish and chips. The people there work their butts off. But they are happy at the same time.

I would rather look at a smiling photo than a tight-lipped one.

And every senior exec should be as happy as the waitresses at Lulu's.


A gift of love from my husband Andy.

The Brand Power of a Chocolate Chip Cookie - Doubletree by Hilton (TM)

A chocolate-chip cookie.
Image via Wikipedia
Among hotels the Doubletree by Hilton (TM) - I call it "The Doubletree" for short - is famous for giving you a warm chocolate chip cookie upon arrival. But inside that cookie is much more than gooey chocolate chips. Actually it holds an entire management philosophy that, studied closely, also gives you a clue about the power of brand when it's done right.

The recipe for a powerful brand is to combine all aspects of the business into one focused image that you want the customer to hold in their mind.

To create that image you have to unite:

1. A basic idea about what kind of value you want to provide. Over and above the product or service itself. At Doubletree that value is to make you feel like a valued part of a family even when you are away from home. Not everyone wants to be treated that way - there are those who prefer anonymity, or who want to be treated in a very formal, distanced way like a VIP at all times - but some people like that classy-yet-homey feel. For them, there is the Doubletree and the warm cookie.

2. A business strategy for how you will provide that value. In the case of Doubletree by they are aligned with Hilton, a hotel brand that has built a reputation for quality and attention to customer service while also being reassuringly "everywhere." By being part of the "Hilton family," Doubletree distinguishes itself as the special kind of place that it is - not claiming to be "all things to all people" but almost like a boutique kind of hotel.

3. Operational decisions. These are the tactical "how" decisions in which you put more resources into some things, while reducing or eliminating your investment in others. For example, at Doubletree there is a visibly big investment in breakfast as a foundational meal for the day. The way they lay it out and run it, feels very much like a family breakfast.  In fact food plays a big part of how the brand is carried out, and operationally that generosity makes itself felt day-to-day. Cookies are given out more than once, if you ask for them, and we have often been greeted with a "hello" basket of chocolates for being frequent guests.

4. Corporate culture in which every employee reinforces the basic idea. At the Doubletree, everyone from management-behind-the-scenes to the people who greet you at the front desk to those who work in the food service areas and even the people who clean the room - every single person remembers you personally, and many even greet you by name. That is an unbelievable achievement when you consider how many people pass through and interact with these individuals on a daily basis.

5. Consistency of approach. The Doubletree clearly runs their properties the same way, everywhere, and in a way that is consistent with family values. For example, they engage the customer to "conserve to preserve" (I hope I got that right) - reducing the amount of wash and waste they generate. Respect for self (the employee), respect for others (the guests and other employees), respect for the environment. Consistency.

So it may look like a simple chocolate chip cookie. But within the cookie there is so much more. A holistic approach that combines financial, human, technology, marketing, branding, public relations, operations, and more into an integrated whole that is larger than the individual parts.

A little cookie - a big brand.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Note: This commentary is not an endorsement and is offered voluntarily for the purpose of research and critical discussion - it was not solicited. All opinions my own.
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A Hypothesis About Leadership Culture In Government

Here is a hypothesis, see what you think:

  1. Economic survival dictates organizational culture.
  2. Organizational culture dictates expected team behaviors.
  3. Expected team behaviors dictate individual behavior.
  4. The behaviors we carry out dictate our beliefs about what is right and wrong.
  5. And then the feedback loop - we process what they tell us to do, then spit back a modified cultural model as we become leaders ourselves.
In the case of private industry, where competition rules, pleasing the customer is #1 because customers can go anywhere to fulfill their needs.

What seems to be happening in the government now is an increasing realization that we no longer have a monopoly over the services we provide. Rather we are in competition and can be put out of business by other parties who may work faster, better, cheaper. So it is in our economic best interest to become more customer-centric.

The hypothesis would then apply to government 2.0 like this:

1) Economic survival dictates organizational culture - and so in the future we will increasingly seek to do a better job of pleasing the customer, who has choices and can find alternative means of obtaining what we provide.

2) Organizational culture dictates expected team behaviors - customer-centric government will mean that no matter what the policy is, if it's not working to serve the customer then it must be questioned, modified, deleted.

3) Expected team behaviors dictate individual behavior - the more we form teams, committees, task forces, and departments that question policies on the basis of customer-centricity, the more individual staffers will do the same.

4) The behaviors we carry out dictate our beliefs about what is right and wrong - in the not too distant future it will become axiomatic that the customer (whoever that may be) comes first. It will be like, "Of course!" rather than "Oh no, that would be too difficult/costly."

5) And then the feedback loop - we process what they tell us to do, then spit back a modified cultural model as we become leaders ourselves. - Each successive generation will interpret the dictum of economic survival for itself; create a culture accordingly; and the cycle will continue.

But the key difference between Gov 1.0 and Gov 2.0 and successive iterations is that transition from being a monopoly to being a brand among other brands, and trying to distinguish ourselves as the best possible brand among many choices.

This whole thing reminds me of what Henry Ford said about his Model T: "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black."

Only worked when the competition was horses.

(Image & quote: Wikipedia; originally posted as a comment on GovLoop)

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How Can Public Affairs/PR Specialists Prove Their Worth?

English: Phillippine stock market board
Image via Wikipedia
 Thought provoking article by Gordon G. Andrew, managing partner at Highland Consulting, "Why PR Is Often Missing At The Senior Management Table."

He argues that PR (in government, public affairs) isn't taken seriously by senior leaders because:
  1. They lack acknowledged credentials equivalent to an MD, MBA, etc. (I think to myself - this could be true;  PMP is a well-respected credential and has elevated project management's status)
  2. They make leadership uncomfortable because of their role with respect to enforcing the organization's values (e.g. PR folks hold leaders accountable for keeping their promises)
Andrew says that there are three possible routes upward:
  1. Prove the financial contribution to the bottom line - he concludes that this is difficult
  2. Prove that having PR folks on the senior leadership team acts to minimize risk
  3. If there is no choice - it occurs by "regulation or competitive influence"
He concludes that the best choice is #2 - show that PR minimizes risk.

"To quantify the tangible value of PR, it could be beneficial for the profession to conduct research that compares the long-term stock price volatility (or beta) of public companies that include PR in its senior level decision-making process against those companies that do not. If a stock’s beta reflects market uncertainty, then a company’s track record of consistently avoiding “PR problems” as well as its ability to address those issues quickly and effectively—as a result of having a PR professional involved in operational decisions—should have a measurable effect on its stock market valuation, cost of capital and brand reputation." 

So my question is, does Andrews' analysis apply to government too? Is it true, as a rule, that chief communicators are relatively out of the loop when it comes to operational decision-making?
And if so - how can that situation be addressed? Is risk minimization the right approach?


Originally posted as a comment on GovLoop.
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The Essence Of Change Is Adding

The classic New Year's resolution is weight loss. Whichever way you slice that it involves restriction, right? As in less calories.

But what if weight loss, and other desired changes, had more to do with adding things to your life than taking them away?

After all isn't deprivation a top reason why diets fail?

So for example you could think about weight, or kicking an addiction, or pursuing a better job, better relationship, you name it, in terms of adding.

Which might work better since America is a country where acquisition, accumulation, and greed for more is considered a good thing.

As you add more of what you want to your life, the things and people that are toxic will naturally drop away and the success you desire will become a habit.

Success will be so natural to you, so self-reinforcing, that long-term fidelity to your goal is more likely than if you feel punished for pursuing the goal.

In short, change means redefining the process. Or as Penelope Trunk put it, reframing it.

So it goes like this in real life - some examples:

1. Weight loss is not the goal - gaining better health and self-esteem is.

2. You will not eliminate any food, but rather add five servings a day of fresh fruit and vegetables.

3. You don't cut down on your responsibilities to work out, you add the responsibility of "me time" which includes that, and other things.

4. You aren't taking time out to study, but rather are adding a circle of mentors and peers, together with "brain food" (immersion in a subject), to add depth and value and joy to your professional life.

5. You aren't "leaving" anybody behind as you pursue more fulfilling work or relationships, rather you are adding happiness to the little corner of
Earth you inhabit.

The Buddhists believe that health is partly about effectively managing change - since it is inevitable.

For most of us this is hard. Often change is painful, because it involves the natural processes associated with decline, decay, and death.

But sometimes the way we handle change is worse than the change itself. We associate change with death, dig in our heels, and fall into the toxic pattern of doing the wrong things, the same way, over and over again.

Sometimes we even tell ourselves that our toxic behavior is a genuine attempt to adapt and evolve. But the ultimate metric is that we fail o move the needle, sigh, and throw up our hands as if to say, "Oh well."

We have a lot more control over our lives than we think. The world is built that way.

When we find ourselves in a negative situation, seemingly boxed in on all sides, one way to wedge things loose is to deliberately add good things. Good habits, good friends, good food, good fun. So that the bad ones fall away.

Try and see if it works for you.

Meanwhile, I'll keep working while the Red Line fixes the current delay. At least in here it is warm.

And as you can see from the neon shoelaces, I will be headed to the gym to add some "me time" to my day just as soon as I can (get off this train that is)!

A-ha, there we go. Just in time.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

If Washington, D.C. Were On The Beach

Founding Father

We were walking along the sidewalk parallel to the beach and happy people were everywhere.

They were sitting at the cafes, laughing and talking. Brightly dressed people running around, smiling in the sunshine.

Everyone seeming so carefree.

And the joking thought came up, "Can you imagine if Washington, D.C. were like Florida?"

It seemed like a crazy idea but then I thought, you know, this has a sort of logic to it.

We in D.C. are so serious all the time. We have briefcases. There are monuments. The weight of history stands behind every move we make.

Maybe all that heaviness gets in our way? Makes us afraid to try something new? To laugh?

I can't imagine that we would hold a session of Congress with everyone in bathing suits. That would be...well it would be disrespectful for sure.

But I can imagine that we let people wear polo shirts and shorts and flipflops every now and then.

I can imagine that we have workspaces that look a lot like the front of an Apple store. Where people work standing up, together at a big glass desk, live.

Maybe on that desk they see models of new concepts at times. And they can debate and discuss them together.

What would be so bad if we decided things over a volleyball game at the National Mall?

Or turned the whole city into one big walking, biking, rollerskating maze where all of us serious people did business outside in the sunshine, with our brains as in motion as our feet?

It's not to say that Florida is any better than anywhere else, or that D.C. is worse.

Just that sometimes, our minds benefit from incorporating a change of scene.

I think it would be fun, anyway.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!
"Founding Father" photo by Nikki Mansur via Flickr.

An Open Letter to Penelope Trunk In Response To Her Post, "Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence Is Wrong"

Today I posted the following comment on Penelope Trunk's blog, in response to her followup post to the domestic violence (warning: graphic photo) taking place in her household. (An earlier post by Penelope on this is here.) Note that this is slightly edited and updated from the comment and relevant links have been added.

Hi Penelope,

I owe you a great debt as a writer. I believe I have mentioned this before, but since stumbling upon your blog I have learned to challenge myself to be more open with my writing and to be more objective about its quality.

There is no doubt in my mind that you have the gift, it is rare, and I hope that you will continue to share it with the world for as long as you live.

So I feel that I owe you a debt. I also care. I would like to pay you back as you clearly want and need help and this is the mechanism you have chosen to receive it.

Also, I feel pretty strongly about women's empowerment and women's rights, and I think you are hurting us because you don't fully understand the potential impact of what you are doing. Maybe you think you are preaching personal responsibility, but I think your emotional blind spots make it impossible for you to be objective here.

Why does what you say really matter? Because whether you like it or not, or feel like it or not, you have become a public figure with respect to "advice for women." Both women and men listen to what you say, they consider it. And there is significant potential negative impact to some of the headlines you write:

  • When you say, "Don't report sexual harassment" and things of that nature, there is an impact that you may not have considered when you wrote the post. You meant, hey women, for the sake of your career, don't report it. But did you think that maybe male (or female) harassers would take notes and be encouraged?
  • When you say, "Zero tolerance for domestic violence is wrong," you mean that victims of violence should consider how they may be provoking it rather than helplessly throwing up their hands. But did you think to yourself that maybe popular culture would twist your words and that you would wind up doing victim-blaming?
In addition, when you exploit yourself - as in posting a revealing picture of your wounded body (I hope that you crop it) - you show disdain for yourself. As if you are only worth looking at if there is some exploitation involved - an injury is not enough.

As if a bruise in and of itself is boring. Or worse (the subtext reads) that the bruise is sexy somehow. 

I think you posted that photo because your father tookinappropriate photos of you as a young woman (you mentioned this in a previous blog post about deciding how transparent to be about your life). In some complicated psychological way you are punishing yourself by repeating the sin he committed against you, but this time with the illusion of control. Just like a prostitute who joins the profession after having been raped or otherwise sexually abused as a child.
But the outcome for other women, when you do something like that, is bad. You make violence seem somehow sexy and exciting and controlled. You hurt victims and potential victims too. So again, bad outcome.

Here is the advice part. Like I said, you are a gift to me personally. I follow your blog and see you have helped so many others. You are a worthy person and clearly a loving mother and wife who wants to do good. So here are some suggestions for you. I am going to post all this on my blog because I hope that other women will read it too:

1. Think 5 years ahead when making current decisions, especially when it comes to the safety of your boys.

Your boys are young right now. What will happen when they become pre-teens, or teens, and rebel, provoke, etc.? Will they be safe if your home is not safe for you?

Also, it would greatly benefit your kids to have a community of friends to turn to, physical or virtual or both. They need support too.

2. What feels familiar to you, and your husband as well, has a tendency to be inappropriate - and particularly when it comes to personal boundaries.

It seems like both of you came from families where the parents were way too involved with the kids, be it physically or emotionally. To you, drama and violence and craziness feel like "normal." So does over-closeness.

On the other hand, normal boundaries, stability, and a certain amount of distance feel like rejection. As you say, "you want to be missed."

Therefore, you absolutely MUST do the opposite of what feels comfortable now. Please get help to create some safe space in this relationship, for you, for your husband, for your kids. And some stability, routines. Think "No Drama Obama." That should be you.

I don't know what the status of the nanny is, but I would get someone to help you full-time to create a calming home environment for the children. You do not have to do everything yourself. And for God's sake, please either live in a separate part of the farm or get your own house. Or even your own bedroom, your own office in the same part of the house where he is. Your "cave."

Think about it: You are on a second marriage, you are bringing in two children who are not his, and he has lived by himself for many years without you. It is OK for you to live in a separate space to give both of you some peace.

Better a little distance than the constant fighting and making up.

The fact that you are counting the time between beatings suggests that it is something you wait for and that is an established part of your life, and that cannot continue.

3. Stop hating yourself.

You said that there was a lot of woman-hating in the reaction to your post. I read the reactions and didn't get that. It seemed like people were on your side. They are on your side. I am on your side. You were HORRIBLY mistreated as a child and maybe that has left you with low self-esteem. Of course! But you have to know, as Joel Osteen says, that YOU AREA CHILD OF THE MOST HIGH GOD. And that you are worthy of total and unconditional love. Believe me. If you have a predisposition to violence, if you are drawn to violent people, that is an illness that can be healed. But you, yourself, are not bad and never ever think so.

4. Use the blog and other writing projects as an outlet for your desire to provoke. And DO NOT include your husband or kids in the posts anymore.

At heart Penelope you are somewhat of an entertainer. You write the blog as "research" but also to spike our interest. In short you are a writer, you tell a great story. Please, restrict the drama to the blog. And keep your family out of it. Part of what has fueled your current problems is that you're mixing your professional life with your personal one, and they're two separate spheres.

On that subject, remember that your husband is not you. The things you love about him are the things that make him crazy about you. Stop doing those things.

If you are going to get in his face and jump up and down and break lamps over your head - what is really going to be the outcome of that? You do not have to perpetuate the violence that was perpetrated on you. Just let it go.

5. Don't confuse your intellectual ability with emotional skill.

Penelope, you are brilliant. But emotionally you have special challenges. I don't fully understand them because I don't have Asperger's. But I understand that there is a gap between your brain's knowledge of a situation and your heart's desire to do what it wants to do - whether logical or not. This is why you must get competent help in making important life decisions. And not from people who have contributed to your problems!

Overall Penelope - I wish you every good thing on your life's journey. I pray for you and your family, and hope that you all land on your feet. But please also know that your actions affect other people - your sons, your husband, and yes, the people who read your blog and are influenced by it.

Do the right thing for yourself because you are a child of the most high God. Do the right thing for the other people in this world who feel the ripple effects of your decisions. And please get competent advice from a professional as you make these decisions - and take it seriously.

Let us know how you are doing.


A tremendous fan of your work,

Dannielle Blumenthal


Image is a Joel Osteen magnet - source: (you can buy the magnet there)

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Leader vs. Loser

Customers talking to a Relationship Manager du...
Image by GoldMoneyNews via Flickr
One day, two employees, different companies, both branded. Both in front-line customer service jobs that don't pay a heck of a lot. Each in a role that could turn out a job or a career.

The behavior each person exhibits - not their personalities, background, friends or anything else - is what guarantees them totally different destinies.
  • One starts a dispute with a repeat customer over the cost of a paper cup (!) and proceeds to goad them, even though they don't take the bait, till she finally calls them a nasty name. She insists on a petty policy that doesn't make sense in the particular situation as if she had no control over it, resulting in the entire order being returned - that's six times as much money - and a turned-off customer who no longer wants to patronize the establishment. Her manner is rude, insulting, bitter - she chooses to feed her own dis-empowerment and misery to everyone. Her job will always be a job; wherever she is, it will be nowhere, for her and for whoever has to deal with her.
  • The other responds to an unusual request for food to be packaged and provided for takeout, even though it's a sit-down establishment; helps the customer make two trips to get it; and remembers them on a return trip, out of hundreds of guests served every day. This person is take-charge, active, proactive, and confident - conveys a sense of control, welcoming, and happiness to the customer. Her horizon is infinite. And though she does not have a lot of money now, one day she will be a senior leader, company owner, CEO.
I was the customer who interacted with both of them personally. Felt angry at and bad for the first and applauded the second - told management at the company what a wonderful asset to them she was. Walked away smiling. Wanted to be a customer of this company again, because of how they treat their people, because of how their people treat me.

Leaders may have different styles but one thing about them is always the same: They act as if they own the situation, whether they actually do nor not. This leads them to the following behaviors, which in turn lead to change on the ground:
  • Listen to the customer intently to understand what is wrong, from their perspective (not for charity - it's about enhancing the customer experience for the lowest cost and greatest future profit)
  • Do something immediately to fix the problem, an ownership behavior - customers want to deal with the person in charge
  • Focus on the customer's biggest pain point rather than all aspects of the problem - they're not there to fix your life, but rather to keep you as a customer for life
  • Go outside their scope of responsibility to keep a customer - at times respond to issues that they are not responsible for
  • Speak to customers respectfully and as a valued "member of the family," even if they will never see them again
It's 2012. Your future is on the line. There are people coming out to challenge you every single day, from every corner of the globe. They are poor, they are hungry, they have seen what Hollywood depicts as success, and they are going to learn everything they have to in order to take care of themselves and their families.

What about you? Are you going to wait around this year? Hope that somebody sees your potential and gives you a shot? Or are you going to take responsibility for your fate - make it better - become an owner in your mind, someone customers want to deal with again and again?

It's up to you - that's a choice that only you can make. But the longer you wait to make it, the more negative and disempowered you act, the less likely it is that you will have the kind of life you want this year. Conversely, the more you take charge of your life, and the more you do to make others happy, the more happy and empowered you yourself will be.

Think about it - have a good day everyone - and good luck!
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