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Scenes from Gov 1.5

Take my hand

Photo by Redjar via Flickr

If you want to know why I volunteer with the Federal Communicators Network, an independent interagency group dedicated to facilitating free training for federal communicators, it's because of emails like this one. I received it in response to an invitation to join our February event:

"I am located in (far from D.C.)...would love the opportunity to participate in more of your events that are available online or via teleconference...however we have a limited training budget so I wanted to make sure there were no costs involved before I sign up."

Our entire mission is to help federal employees (often government employees, or "govies") get the training they need to serve the taxpayer better, in an environment where training budgets are slim to none.

So I say yes it's free, hope you can join us, and receive this response:

"I...have experience in crisis communications following the devastating tornadoes that impacted the state of (far from D.C.). My organization was closed down for a week...employees and their families had been severely impacted...

The person went on:

"Social media was one of the biggest means of communication throughout the impacted area, but my organization did not have Facebook at the time....We do now, and we plan to use it for this very purpose as a result of lessons learned the hard way!"

This is shorthand for "we made mistakes that were unnecessary, and with training we could do better." So I was happy. The topic was relevant, the day was consistent with our other events, it didn't conflict with Toastmasters, the speaker was ready, what could go wrong?

Of course...there was just the minor fact that we had scheduled the event on a Federal holiday. Oh no. Presidents' Day. Yikes.

(See what they mean about crisis management? Own those mistakes, be accountable, turn it into a brand positive...OK, forget it.)

Not only that, but for the first time I had unleashed a tech innovation that involved integrating EventBrite with MailChimp to send a personalized invitation to all of our members. In about five minutes.

Well the speedy aspect of the email worked great but my govie friends very diplomatically held my feet to the fire: "You do realize Feb. 20 is a Federal holiday, right?"

Goodness gracious. It - is - always - something!

I thought of a few quips, like "FCN never sleeps." Obviously that was not an option.

And I didn't want to make a Komen-like PR mistake and delay too long in handling this. Or bother the rest of the Board.

Within the space of an hour the speaker had been reached, event rescheduled, and all was right with the world again.

And at the end of the email was this note from my remote correspondent:

"Glad you changed the date from the Holiday! :)"

From my perspective there is only one obstacle to Gov 2.0 and it isn't money or technology. Rather it is organizational culture.

  • Experienced govies: At the one extreme we have a seasoned generation of government employees with strong institutional knowledge but lacking a behavioral model for how to perform in the new system. They lack training, they lack policy, and they lack rewards for thinking outside the box. Not only that, but they are used to the game of "gotcha!" and lack the confidence to make mistakes. Any screwup is a terrifying prospect rather than a part of learning and growth.
  • New recruits: On the other extreme we have a new generation impatient to catch up to private-sector best practices and who may have technical knowledge but also lack policy and rewards for innovation. They also lack the entrenched support systems and institutional knowledge that seasoned govies have. They don't know what the rules are, the rules are changing, and it is all very confusing.
  • The forgotten middle: A bit lost in the shuffle are folks like me, who have been around for sometime between five years and a decade, who have both the institutional knowledge and the technical skills, and who can see the gap between where we have been and where we need to go. We Gen Xers (broadly speaking) do well autonomously and are skilled at "getting things done," but lack the incredible organizing skills that seasoned govies (Boomers) and new recruits (Gen Y) both have, simply because their default setting is to think in teams.

Right now we have a sort of patchwork situation that I think of as "Gov 1.5." In some parts of government there is much progress, in others there is less so. And a lot of that has to do with the collision between groups each competing to be relevant.

What I learned from yesterday's brief episode was that each one is. What we need to do now is initiate a series of conversations and interpersonal connections between them. Incorporate subject matter expertise, experience, collegiality and diplomacy on the one hand; technology and transparency and crowdsourcing on the other; and the knowledgeable and results-oriented mentality somewhere in between.

If we just work together, the results can be more than we we ever imagined...and well beyond the limited thinking even Gov 2.0 offers us.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


All opinions, as always, are my own. Originally posted to my blog at

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Weekend Soup for the Super Lazy

While I do recognize that this is a blog about branding it is also true that we thinkers must eat.

Keep in mind that my family normally begs me NOT to cook anything, and yet this still tastes great. (Try to put out of your mind the fact that it sort of looks disgusting in the picture.) If you have this soup you will feel like Popeye!

You would pay $5 for a measly fraction of this recipe at a place like Whole Foods. Yet if you just take the time to dump some veggies in a pot you will have so many servings for about the cost of a salad and drink at Chop't.

In return for absolutely zero effort, the 5x-benefit you will reap includes:
  1. Healthy - it's just vegetables
  2. Diet-friendly - no added fat or carbs other than complex carbs from vegetables
  3. Earth-friendly - no meat or animal products
  4. Cheap - the whole thing cost at most $10 and it made three Tupperwares worth
  5. Versatile - have it chunky or smooth  
Here's how you make it:
  1. Look in your freezer for frozen vegetables. I picked one 16 oz. bag each of spinach, cauliflower, and broccoli. This week I did my grocery shopping online so I didn't even have to go to the store to get them.
  2. Look around for fresh vegetables. I found some cut up red pepper, mushrooms, and also some red onions, which I chopped into huge pieces as I have no idea how to dice them.
  3. Dump into big pot. Add water to cover, or stock if you have it sitting around.
  4. Add a few broth cubes. (I also added a can of spicy tomatoes but don't think you have to.)
  5. Bring to a boil, then let it simmer for an hour, then turn it off. Eat as is, or blend first for a creamier texture.
That's it. Super-easy and super-rewarding.

Enjoy, have a great weekend, and good luck!

5 Management Secrets I Learned From My Mother

Image: My mom shows me an article she found on personal branding. 
She still has absolutely no clue what I do. 
But she likes that I like it. 
Photo credit: My dad.

I've never seen my mom manage people at work. Only once did I visit her there. But to me she has always been a manager - she managed me and my sister directly.

The older I get and the more I observe, the more I go back to what she taught me about how to get people to perform at their best.

Briefly, my mom always did these 5 basic things and still does till this day:
  • Publicly, defended me: Whenever anyone questioned my behavior, she immediately got on their case first, took my side, and then privately asked me for the facts. 
  • Privately, told me the truth: Never pulled punches or said something she didn't mean just to make me feel good.   
  • Everywhere, labeled me a star - and was happy for me: My mom encouraged me to take violin, piano, gymnastics, theater, everything. She helped me give a major national speech when I was ten years old (against cults, before the National Council of Young Israel - and I'm still fighting groupthink!). I did dance performances and musical recitals before I could spell. She grabbed opportunities for me to shine, and my success was hers. 
  • Made sure to always be there: Mom was always there for me first, even though she worked crazy shifts full-time - picked me up, took me everywhere, was the person at the other end of the telephone when I called.
  • Told me that I had a good heart: No matter what mistakes I made, she always told me flat-out that she believed in me without question.
        I truly believe that anyone can be a great manager. All it takes is understanding the true nature of the job - what it is and isn't:
        • It's not about continually exerting your authority - although a certain basic respect does have to exist or the working relationship can't. Trying to always show you're the boss is very "Mr. Rooney" (from the movie Ferris Bueller) - and as I recall his pants leg got chewed off by the end of that movie. 
        • It is about engaging people to do the very best job that they can do, and being the facilitator (community manager, offline gardener, shepherd, take your pick) who lets them shine.
        Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

        Zuckerberg's IPO Letter, the "Shadow Core Group" & Other Strategies for Legitimizing Gov 2.0

        Been thinking about concrete ways to bridge the gap between the ideals of Gov 2.0 and the actual reality of government organizations. Have found two approaches that seem to work and wonder if others have additional ideas.

        Idea #1 - Organize Around An Alternative Vision and Widen The Group To Include Members of The Status Quo

        To me this is basically the GovLoop strategy. Per Art Kleiner (Read a little more here or buy the book):
        1. Organizations act the way they do based on the disproportionate influence of a "core group" of influencers.
        2. To change the organization, get together and form a "shadow core group" with a different vision - imagine the story clearly (see "If We Can Put A Man On The Moon") and embody it behaviorally (e.g. collaboration vs. information-hoarding)
        3. The shadow group gradually includes members of the "legitimate" core group in its conversations until the new ideology replaces the old.
        Idea #2: Be A Living Ambassador Through Your Own Networking and Relationships

        Mark Zuckerberg's IPO missive (read the whole letter here) lays out his vision of transforming society one relationship at a time. Excerpts:
        • "Personal relationships are the fundamental unit of our society."
        • "People sharing more — even if just with their close friends or families — creates a more open culture and leads to a better understanding of the lives and perspectives of others."
        • "As people share more, they have access to more opinions from the people they trust about the products and services they use. This makes it easier to discover the best products and improve the quality and efficiency of their lives."
        Looking forward to hearing what others have to say as I'm very interested in proven ways to move from theory to reality.


        Originally posted as a comment to GovLoop.

        It's Tough To Write A Good Social Media Policy. Here's Why.

        I Am Majid Social Media Campaign
        Image via Wikipedia
        In the community where I grew up, at the time when I grew up, there was no Internet.

        If you were bored on the weekend you went outside to ride bikes. You listened to bad music (I mean late '70s...we are talking really bad. Serious.) You went to the mall and basically did nothing. You watched TV on those big old floor models with lots of wood.

        In my case, you took out fifty books from the library at a time. (Refer to the '70s and lack of any appealing popular culture whatsoever...a situation that fortunately was alleviated with the onset of MTV, Madonna, and John Hughes movies.)

        If you wanted to talk about things you picked up the phone and called your friends. Or passed notes in class, or went to youth group events, or sleepovers. But the concept of a "text message" or a "wall posting" would have seemed completely from outer space.

        Even those phones we used - oh my. I remember the first cordless models. They were huge and they had those weird plastic antennas. And we used them and thought we were cool. Major sigh.

        Somehow we went from the '80s to the '90s - where did all that time go, it was a blur - and fast forward into the realm of social media. Do you remember those printers with the plastic things sticking out on the side and you had to fit the paper to them? What was that, dot-matrix? And the fact that everything was on mainframe, and then those "function" keys? It's amazing we got anything done.

        I'm trying to remember the first time I even heard the words "social media." I'm sure it was not before 2004 or 2005 at the earliest. For me, just the fact that we had e-mail and the Internet was revolutionary. That I didn't have to use a physical card catalogue for every piece of research I did? What?

        Point being that I think pretty fast. And even for someone like me, social media was f-r-e-a-k-i-n-g scary. Like - what is a blog? I can write something and everyone can see it? And what the heck is a Twitter? Soon enough it all came rushing at me, Facebook and LinkedIn and YouTube and on and on and on.

        I tried to learn these tools without actually getting an account for them. It's true. I was really scared. I could not imagine the incredible risk I would be taking by going out there and actually...well I didn't know what I would be doing. But the concept of me writing and other people reading without any mediator was frightening as could be.

        Especially Facebook. There was something about the philosophy of that company, the lack of belief in privacy almost, that really unnerved me. I found it all hard to fathom and I dropped in and out several times before it stuck and became "no big deal."

        By using social media, I learned how to use it. By watching others use it, I learned. By discussing and debating as we used it, I developed a frame of reference for making judgments.

        Social media is not like any other communication tool we have ever had in history. The rules are totally different. The expectations of the audience are completely unique. There really is no precedent for it. And there is no way to understand the experience or to make judgments about it until you are actually there, and swimming.

        I'll give you just one example, because by social media standards I have gone on too long:
        • In the real world when you write a letter to the editor and you sign the name of your company, there is some implied connection between yourself as the writer and the organization for which you work. Including the name is therefore socially understood to be inappropriate (generally) if you're writing in a personal capacity.
        • In the social media world when you write, it is suspicious if you try to "hide" where you work. Because the suspicion is that you are "astroturfing" - doing something propagandistic on behalf of your company. In the blogosphere the only real rule is transparency, as far as you can take it legitimately. So you need a disclaimer. But if you write something that violates your company policy, you can forget thinking that the disclaimer will fully protect you. So it is truly, truly complicated.
        There is other stuff too but I think you get the gist of it. Social media is not something you can apprehend from a distance. It's like learning to do surgery: You've got to stick your hand in the kishkes (Yiddish for innards) and "get it" by doing. When you actually see that beating heart only inches from our face, it's a heck of a lot different than reading about it in a textbook.

        Which explains why social media policy is really very hard to write well. Even for those who "get it," social media is frightening. It upsets the apple cart:
        • How do you "regulate" a conversation that's about you, that takes place right in front of you, that you do not control, that you may not understand, and that you really don't like? 
        • How do you decide what is and isn't OK, really, when in fact the very thing that scares and upsets you the most is the thing that will give you the most credibility with your audience? 
        • Finally, how do you navigate the gray areas that you inevitably run into? Headfirst and risk an ugly confrontation that may have been unnecessary? Or ignore it and fail to prevent an ugly disaster?
        I wish I could say that I have all the answers - I don't - although I've read a lot and I continue to try to learn. And I wish it were as simple as the words "trust your judgment" - unfortunately people aren't always good at knowing what to do, and sometimes they don't even know what it is that they don't know.

        What I do know is that whatever we're afraid of is real, and scary. But not half as scary as if we let fear overtake us, and prevent those important, productive, problem-solving conversations that we need from taking place.

        Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!


        As always, all opinions are my own. Originally posted to my blog,
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        Branding vs. The Temptation To Conform

        Nike+ chip on Vibram FiveFingers Bikila
        Image by soopahgrover via Flickr
        When you work in D.C. it seems like everyone naturally dresses in tan, navy and black.

        In New York they all wear black.

        In Miami it's surprising when people wear anything.

        Even within metropolitan areas there are codes.

        The kids at University of Maryland dress different than at George Washington University. But within each setting you can tell who fits in.

        Similarly the people walking on Georgetown have a totally different look than at Adams-Morgan.

        All I have to do is look down at the shoes and I know where each chicken goes home to roost.

        Professionally, your brand is all you have. And if you look like everybody else, you are killing your ability to make your mark.

        What distinguishes the brand-smart from the brand-stupid is that the former take conformity into account before deciding to "think different."

        In a sense, the nonconformist must be an expert on fitting in - a student of grammar - before s/he decides to misspell words purposely.

        To the untutored it looks like a teenage boy in pink Nikes is an oddball. To the fashion insider it is clear such an outfit is ultimately cool.

        Whether you fit in or not is up to you. But at the very least, know how to play the game.

        Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

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        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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        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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        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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