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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 did.
  • Human capital: He knew how to get people to create those products. (Perhaps exploitively; he's been accused of stealing their ideas.)
  • Business: He was a slave to the brand and mercilessly demanded loyalty to it. (And raged at what he viewed as copycatting, as in the case of HTC Android.)
Americans believe in the separation of church and state, but oddly in the realm of business we seek to deify people who are all too human and prone to sins like greed and cruelty:
"The communicants of the Holy Church of Steve... mumble pardons and shrug their shoulders at all of his sinister doings....Who can justify the ways of Steve to mere mortals?"- Forbes, Sept. 8, 2011, criticizing Apple's business practices (emphasis added)
In a country where trust is at an all-time low, and where we demand that leaders meet an almost superhuman standard of corporate social responsibility, what is with the deification of brand tyrants like Job?

It would seem that grownup life is still a lot like high school. Trying to get into the clique of "mean girls" instead of hanging out with the nice kids who are a little less glamorous but more loyal by a lot. Woody Allen, quoting Groucho Marx in "Annie Hall: "I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member."

If we're going to undo some of the damage that brands have done to society, by making us buy things we don't want or need, and can't afford, we're going to have to go further than changing one at a time. We need to look at the brand ecosystem - at the society that tells us, in many and unsubtle ways, that we're not good enough unless we're some kind of superstars. Brands are the secular way of affirming that.

G-d is all powerful, but would never promise us perfection, then treat people so badly as did Steve Jobs.

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

follow the leader
 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." - Foreigner
How 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 tug on it and find themselves older. Curious, they keep tugging until they are old.

Election season feels a lot like that. It seems like everyone is caught in waiting mode. You can almost feel it hanging in the air: "When will X candidate utter those magic words?" "Maybe that already happened, and we missed it?"

In D.C., in fact, no sooner does Inauguration roll around than some people start their waiting all over again...thinking "Less than four years until the next one."

It is always surprising to me how many fully grown adults, seasoned professionals, with tons of experience and huge responsibilities at home and at work, turn themselves into virtual infants on the job. They are paralyzed with fear. They wait for a leader to say something, or put it in writing, so that they're never at risk of coloring outside today's momentary lines.

In any halfway decent organization the leaders will tell you they don't want you to act like this at all. What a waste of your brainpower!

Instead, truly good executives get their energy from the people. When they see frontline employees engaged in the job, they take direction from that place - a place of vitality, of life, what's working. 

Similarly, political candidates are lit up by the enthusiasm and achievements of those they serve. The energy is not in their dead words on a platform - but rather inherent to the public.

All this by way of saying, if you're finding yourself sitting around waiting for someone to magically "empower" you so you can achieve upward mobility - whether in your current job or somewhere else - just stop. 

The leader you've been waiting for all your life, is you. It's "The Wizard of Oz," and you're Dorothy, and you're wearing those red shoes. All you need to do is close your eyes, focus your mind, and say it: "There's no place like home."

Wherever you want to go, lead yourself there. Trust in the Universe to do the right thing. If you're on track with your life's mission, the rest will surely follow.

Live your life, pursue your career as you want, without waiting. The hallway monitor you remember from grade school is long gone. And the days of getting the principal's permission to exhale are long since over.

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."
  • On 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 abstract idea or a functional deliverable but it has to be at the heart of your brand.

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 trust individuals in alliance with one another to solve problems. 
How about other workplace groups?
  • Matures - very senior leaders - have a completely different attitude toward negativity. They are group-oriented like Boomers, but more honest and less defensive. Their attitude, probably because they've seen war, is military: Someone's breached the walls of morale, it's a problem, let's take it out and deal with it, now. They get it on a very deep level and are quietly effective. Like Boomers, they don't like to talk about it.
  • Generation Y employees dislike negativity much like Boomers do. There is an uncanny similarity between Generation Y and Boomers in their thinking. They're very positive and forward-thinking and cheerful. They don't shy away from problems, but they believe that simply taking action as a team is the way to fix them. They don't like all the dark sarcastic stuff.
  • Generation Z - this would be roughly teenagers and college-age kids - are very similar to Xers. This is the generation of "memes." They are very comfortable with negativity. They turn to their peers to talk about it though. They are also much more open than Generation X. These are the kids who write on their Facebook walls about just about every personal problem imaginable, and to them it's like asking "How's the Weather?" They are also like Generation X in that they are likely to take individual action to solve a pressing problem - regardless of what anybody thinks they can or can't do or what established institutions say.

The good news, looking at all this, is how much energy the different generations bring to the table in terms of getting things done. The potentially bad news is that there is room for miscommunication between them.
If we take a step back from the individual situations that we face in our organizations and look at things from a generational diversity perspective - rather than an interpersonal one - we might find that sometimes what looks like a stubborn issue is really not so bad. The key is to look at things from the perspective of the other person, the other group, and recognize how they are looking at you.

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 when he had to take action.

* On “House,” the brilliant but drug-addicted and totally rude diagnostician “Dr. House” could see what was really wrong with the patient, no matter how politically incorrect – and “Dr. Cuddy” took the heat and covered his back, so that he could actually do the procedure the patient needed.

Here's another parallel: the concept of “possession.” The “devil” occupies the soul of an innocent and a religious figure is called into drive them away.

In every depiction I've seen of an “exorcism,” the victim roars hysterically as the priest banishes the devil from their soul. It's tempting to arrest the priest. But the family has to know, has to be confident that the priest is doing G-d's work and ignore those blood-curdling cries.

It's the same thing with the dysfunctional organization. Very poor communication is a sign of “possession” by a “devil” of some kind, that has led it astray from its “normal,” meaning functional state. A state in which the equivalent of diagnosis, surgery and excision (or exorcism) is required.

Leaders are often tempted to think that internal communication means executive messages, informational web copy, factsheets, things like that. All true. But if there is something else going on behind that – and we should take this as the norm – then any model of internal communication is incomplete unless it contains some element of organizational development.

Therefore, the communicator's role overlaps closely with the organizational development specialist, the business process specialist, the strategist, the project manager: This person must identify what is going wrong, what “devil” has taken hold of the organization. It should be noted that the communicator cannot in and of themselves exorcise the devil – but they should be sufficiently resourced and supported to get rid of one when they see it.

The process of healing involves looking at the devil agnostically, impartially, as part of an integrated project team. Just like in medicine, when there's a complex problem, you bring in a group of specialists. And they ask: What's going on, what kind of a devil is it, from where did it come? And then working across the organization to deal with it, disempower it, render it limp and useless and dead.

The above should make clear that brilliant leaders alone are no longer the heart of the organization. The maniacal dictator who can throw people around is no longer effective. Rather, organizations are led by healthy teams. It's critical that communication leaders look objectively at what is getting in the way of team functioning, and stare that devil down no matter how strong it may seem.