Why Sheldon ("The Big Bang Theory") Should Be Microsoft's Next Spokesman

Image via QuickMeme, source here

Microsoft is messing up their brand image by trying too hard to be Apple and Google. They should not have Bing commercials on Google's home turf. Bad!

Instead the goal of branding is to make virtue out of what you already are - accentuate reality. Reality plus so to speak.

Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory" is cool right now. Microsoft should get him to be their "spokesman" or at least do extensive product placement on the show. 

Think of how similar Microsoft and Sheldon are: Both brilliant but arrogant. Both socially clueless.  Both hopelessly geeky, but capable of a certain geeky charm.

Microsoft + Sheldon: A winning brand combination.

The Public Owns The Data

On Thursday night my daughter pointed to my face, under my right eye and said, "What's that?"
"What do you mean?" I studied her vaguely worried expression.
"Those things," she said. "Lines."
"WRINKLES? I'm getting WRINKLES? Oh my G-d." I went to the mirror but didn't see anything.
Friday night my husband looked at me funny. "What's that?" Again, that area under my right eye.
"What do you mean?" I studied his face just like I had hers. Except he seemed to be laughing a little.
"The lines," he said. "You're getting wrinkles."
"OH NO." I went to the mirror. I did not see anything. Or maybe I did? Blame it on the makeup, blame it on the weather, blame stress.
I'm not going to admit a thing.
Very kindly my daughter added, "You've staved them off long enough, Mom."
Freaking out about wrinkles is not only about looks. Really it's about your own mortality. At a certain point the Universe starts to show you your own death is coming, and in demonstrable ways. Like a leaf fallen from the tree, you too are going to crumble back into the Earth. You realize:
* You don't own the environment.
* You don't own your loved ones.
* You don't even own your own body.
The personal is professional in that at work, we tend to think we own things:
* Our cubes.
* Our job titles.
* Our functions.
But the fact is we don't own anything at all. It's called "employment at will" for a reason.
If you work for the government like I do, there's one other thing to remember:
We don't own the data.
Everything we do belongs to the public.
If there are things they can't see, it's not because it belongs to us. But rather it's that they have vested us with the power to hold on to it - like a bank - to protect the collective from disaster.
As a government communicator it's important to me to hold this understanding in my mind at all times. 
My job is to be a steward of the taxpayer's assets. The citizens are my ultimate boss.
So the laws that are in place to protect the data, and citizens' access to that data, are really a responsibility. To be taken very gravely.
In every organization information is power, and there is an ongoing conversational buzz about it.
* What is happening?
* Who should know about it?
* What will we say?
* And what is the right timing?
All of that is well and good.
But at the end of the day, we should not confuse those conversations - which are really about efficiency and appropriateness - with any fundamental shift in the ownership of data.
Everything the government says - every piece of data it collects, all the information it generates, and the research and insights that result from that - are in the end the property of the citizens.
It is therefore the government's job - speaking as a whole - to make sure the public can get to the publicly accessible data it's paid for. In a way that makes sense to them. In a way that shows its significance.
And where the public cannot access data, for reasons of national security, for example, that those boundary lines are drawn clearly and publicly, without fanfare and in plain English. The bank has restrictions on how deposits are withdrawn because you the customer need to be protected. 
I'm not talking here about an action shift, but perhaps a reflection on attitude. Are we always cognizant of our role and whom we serve? Or do we spend too much time getting lost in the day-to-day issues of the moment - looking inward instead of outside-in?
* Note: As always, all opinions are my own.

Why To Use LinkedIn Even Though You Hate It

LinkedIn right now is like the Sharepoint of professional networking. It’s a common tool, and most everybody uses it, but it is often difficult to understand.

To make matters worse it’s intimidating to put yourself out there (“what if I say the wrong thing?”) and uncomfortable to be “self-promotional.)

Nevertheless you have to do it - because LinkedIn, like physical exercise, healthy eating or financial planning, works best as long-term insurance not as a short-term salve. It is reputation management in the form of a living, breathing, online resume.

Note that exercise, salad and money-saving are not fun things to do. But medicine, including preventive medicine, is often bitter.

You make an upfront investment (the profile) followed by a little deposit at a time (status updates, keeping accomplishments and projects current), and in so doing establish a professional brand that is real, consistent and stable.

Plus you can export your profile as a PDF and use it as your resume, so no need for separate documents.

Why LinkedIn?
The colleagues you work with every day look to your LinkedIn profile to establish your credibility. Not to Facebook where you post pictures of your cute kids, cat and dog and where you don’t want them to find you. Not to Twitter which is crowded. Not to email where they’re drowning with day-to-day work responsibilities.

Why Status Updates?
Status updates are the most important aspect of your LinkedIn profile after your photo, headline and basic information. They show you’re a thinking person who is committed to their profession consistently.  If you used to use Twitter for status updates, note that it doesn’t send your status updates to LinkedIn anymore, but LinkedIn goes to Twitter.

Note that status updates do not imply original thinking. They can be you sharing original thinking, too. When you come across a headline that strikes you and that is relevant to your field, share it along with the link and let it go to your Twitter. (Make sure your profile photo matches on both sites, and that your name on Twitter relates to your personal brand.)

Update your status at least once a day.

The Profile: What To Focus On, Most Important First
  1. Profile photo. Don’t want to think about this? Embarrassed? Choose a day when you’re wearing a grownup outfit (shirt with collar, blazer, etc.) anyway. Get a smartphone, stand in where natural light is facing you, aim the camera at yourself, point and shoot. Email the photo to yourself. Crop it. Now you can post the photo to LinkedIn. We need to see your face. Don’t be all weird and shadowy.
  1. Headline. This is not your job title. Make something up that describes very well who you are and what you do well professionally. I was torn between “Brand Savant” and “Problem-Solver.” I chose the former because it’s unique. Both phrases could have worked.
  1. Current position. If you’re unemployed, it should show that you volunteer or are engaged in some career-worthy, financially in demand pursuit. For example let’s say you are in school learning to sell real estate. This is your current position. Do not write “student of life.”
  1. Previous positions. Do not provide a laundry list of every single thing you’ve ever done in an unfocused way. The narrative should tell a consistent story. Mine is about breaking through barriers with communication as the tool. You’ve done amazing things. Don’t be shy about sharing them.
  1. Additional information. A lot of people ignore this. Do not ignore it. You have done, over the course of your life, tons of things that are professionally interesting and useful. Were you around during the Y2K computer coding crisis? Did you stay at work all night fixing things so the systems wouldn’t shut down? That is a major project! Own it.

Complex Issues and How To Deal With Them
  • Personal Brand vs. Professional Brand: Representing your organization is very tricky. If you do it, you’ve just tied your personal brand with your professional brand. Only do this if you are a C-level executive or if you own your company and the two reputations are tied together anyway. (If you choose to go this route make it very clear that the profile is a hybrid and distinguish what elements of it are your own, e.g. your status updates.)
  • Quality vs. Quantity of Contacts: You want to connect with the right people not the right number of people. However, keep in mind that contacts are a gateway to other important contacts you don’t even know yet. These can be people who teach you, not just people who give you a job.
  • “It Doesn’t Sound Like Me”: People are very self-conscious about promoting themselves. That’s natural. But often that leads them to write very badly when it comes to their own resumes. That is essentially what LinkedIn is - a living, breathing resume. If you don’t feel comfortable promoting yourself there, find someone who can help.
  • Nasty Exchanges: It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen that people say nasty things to you on LinkedIn. Usually this is when you’re participating in a group discussion. If you work for the government and participate in an open forum expect to be personally attacked. My favorite is: “Since when does the government need a Ph.D. in marketing?” (I have a Ph.D. in sociology.) You do not have to respond to these. On the bright side, sometimes a seemingly nasty person can wind up a valuable teacher. One such person wound up sharing so much genuine insight in a group that it was like attending a graduate seminar in branding - priceless information. Plus she gave me good, free advice about my profile and how I sounded online. Finally, know that most exchanges are positive.

Paying For Help
Don’t get soaked, but don’t expect to pay peanuts either. A really good profile should take about 5-10 hours to put together; an excellent writer charges about $125 an hour; so at the most expensive end of the scale you would pay $1250. It will take more time, and more money, if you want to optimize your personal brand across Twitter, Facebook, etc. and make everything consistent. 

If you are an executive, and you can’t write for a hill of beans, you should consider paying for your profile like buying a good suit - a necessary expense.

If you are not an executive, but you need some help, look around you. You probably have a professional colleague, friend or family member willing to help out, if you will let them. If that won’t work, try a freelance service like Elance.com where you can get writing help for a modest charge. Any objective advice, taken sensibly, will elevate your professional presence about 50%.

Sequestration As An Employee Engagement Opportunity

Lots of articles flying around about sequestration. The federal workforce is uneasy, waiting. Instead of letting fear fester like an open wound what if agencies would say something like this:

1. Yes budget cuts are coming.

2. Yes we are at risk.

3. Yes we have some room to cut.

4. Yes your performance as a group can improve.

5. Yes we can tell you what improvement looks like.

6. Yes we will train you, if you commit to the plan for improvement.

7. Yes we want your ideas on how to save money.

8. Yes we want you to stay here.

9. Yes your years of service mean something to us. The more the better.

10. Yes we are in it together.

Note: All opinions my own.

The Exaggerated Pain of Misbehaving Leaders

I strongly believe that our feelings about leadership go back to Dad.

When was the first time you realized yours was fallible?

Probably around 1976, my Dad and I spent some time, once, feeding the birds on our back porch.

That is literally my only such memory. After that he traveled a lot. I got souvenirs from an extended trip to Korea. At home, rarely saw him except to argue this or that.

Decades later. My Dad and I are actually friends now. I have become very similar in fact. Work too much, obsessed with technology, jokesters, politically almost completely aligned.

I spent 25 years angry at my Dad before we got to this place. And now - I'm over it. I think I realized that I am human just like he is. And responsible to make my own life worthwhile - not to wait for him or anyone to take care of me.

Mostly when we are angry at our leaders for disappointing us - we are working through some anger at Dad.

Maybe when we forgive him without false justifications, we can evaluate our leaders' foibles more objectively. Appreciate the good we've inherited. And stop making mistakes we have the power to control ourselves.

The Cold, Hard Case for Social Media, Cloud and KM

If anyone remains unconvinced that we must move very fast to a shared work environment across the government or any organizational unit of work, consider this:
  • Employees are more mobile than ever. They stick around only as long as the job makes financial, logistical and emotional sense to them. When they leave, information and insight departs with them.
  • New information comes at the organization more quickly than ever. It's carried into the organization by employees as well as external stakeholders who interface with employees. As well as by the media, Congress, organization-watchers and so on who simply discuss the organization outside its walls. We are constantly bombarded with data.
  • The insight generated by this information changes the scope of our projects, creates requirements for new projects, and obliterates the need for old ones.
Appealing to employees themselves to make this change is silly. "What if G-d forbid you died tomorrow? How would anybody at work find your stuff?"
For one thing a lot of people hate their jobs, their bosses or just don't care. Or they like the secrecy a little bit. After all, a certain amount of mystery lends them value.
From the perspective of the employee, sharing of work is more enticing when the organization encourages it, the user interface is friendly and if there's peer pressure that makes it weird to always work in isolation.
However, employers still resist the social workplace. They don't fund knowledge management, they don't implement it as part of standard operating procedures along side "regular work," and they don't like for work to be overtly social. For it implies that nothing productive is being done.
Employers like the idea of an assembly line out of which work emerges. Which is of course a very faulty vision. Since people are not machines and what we produce is the result of our unpredictable, creative and inspired brains. Creativity and inspiration often come from interacting with other people.
Inevitably social work involves conversation. Employers are worried about what people will say. Not only will they discuss fluff but very likely they'll say rude things, things that offend, inappropriate things. And how will you moderate that? Will there be legal problems? It feels like a big headache.
Knowledge management as a function does exist to make sense of our work data in theory. The problem is that old-fashioned tools - or tools implemented in an old-fashioned way, with extensive controls and lockdowns - make it absolutely miserable to share.
"Yes, let's sit around all day and upload documents and "tag" them. That is just so fun."
From a rational perspective it is time for employer and employee to take social work very seriously. Time to get over the irrational fears and teach people how to impose security controls and then loosen them as needed.  More broadly to teach people technology in an immersive and continuous type of way rather than turning them loose on it.
Handing someone powerful sharing technology without giving them continuous access to training is like putting a child behind the wheel of a car - no driver's ed, no testing. 
But you can't use the excuse of a car accident to keep growing people at home.
What we need to do is get to a place where work is both social and secure. Where people are sufficiently skilled in the technologies and trained to know what's appropriate to do and not do. Where the technology itself is a help and not an impediment to actually accomplishing the task. 
To get to this place it is necessary for all of us to get over unfounded fears and address the founded ones.
On the employee side, it's not going to be possible to hide a lack of tangible value forever. You can play cat and mouse for so long by pretending to be busy, and keeping information to yourself, but sooner versus later the organization simply won't be able to afford keeping people who aren't clear producers.
On the organizational side, failing to promote the social workplace means a lot of duplicated effort, unnecessary work and competition to fight for and keep turf that really doesn't belong to one stovepipe or another, but is shared.
I once worked for someone who said, "Fighting for a piece of the pie is stupid. Because when you share, the pie actually gets bigger." 
Conceptually that is hard to believe. But in reality, I have found that to be true. Sharing creates new ideas, new projects, new directions and leads to new and valuable activities all around that are actually in touch with what the customer wants - a sign that the organization is mentally healthy.
In the end the shared work environment doesn't have to lead to disaster. But it is a new kind of place, with different metrics for value. The world isn't waiting for employer and employee to play catch-up. We can put our stake in the ground, now, or we can feel the pain later. 

To Promote Culture Change, Don't Talk About It

Photo by Kin Mun Lee via Flickr

Conferences and self-help books promote lofty ideas. At work that means empowerment, collaboration, "going virtual," and so on.

But when it's time to actually implement a vision it's wise to never talk about it on that abstract level.

Instead start with a requirement that is very specific and preferably tied to the introduction of a new technology.

You let people know way ahead of time that the requirement is coming. You talk about it frequently, knowing that most of what you say - if not all of it - will be ignored as people cling to the old way.

When the requirement arrives you let people continue to work the old way for a period of time that feels lengthy enough. Even if it does not feel efficient to you.

You hold meetings and training sessions and brown bags and forums where you talk about the technology tool - only briefly touching on the requirement if at all.

The people doing those sessions should be focused on building good relationships as well as on understanding the way things traditionally have been done.

There should be ample time built in for questions and for things to get off track.

People who resist the change usually have a good reason for doing so. Listening to and engaging with them means they will convince everybody else to go along.

You don't talk about trying to do a culture change when you're doing it. That much is axiomatic. You can tout it when you write the case study at the end.

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