Showing posts from March, 2014

Finding Your Calling, In Kickstarter & Life

"Hand Raised In Worship" by KOREphotos via Flickr
Imagine you want to start a business for customers who aren't buying anything except satisfaction. That is exactly the model for creative project crowdfunding site Kickstarter, which just reached the $1 billion mark in pledges.
Cofounder Yancey Strickler explained the motivation for participating in an interview with Charlie Rose for Bloomberg Businessweek. It's not about money, he said: "There is no financial upside to these things. It’s not an investment."
Well then what is it? In short, a calling:

"From the very beginning we decided—my co-founders and I—that we would never sell, never go public. We viewed Kickstarter as a public trust....a living, breathing cultural institution that’s there to represent the interests of everybody."

Any activity can be a calling. It can be your family, your job, your weekend hobby. It it is what gives your life meaning.
This week I took a project management class on a …

The Distraction

By Tognopop (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is a new baby in town. He cries day and night.

Somebody stays with that baby to feed him, rock him and sing him lullabies. To watch the sun dance across the lawn. To walk to the park and sit in the grass, just sitting.

In school there is a child that can't sit still in class. Lectures are boring - she's rather play video games and build rocket ships. A teacher adjusts her other lessons accordingly. "Suddenly" a scientist is born.

A couple moves in together, and there are all these little things to decide. Who will do which errand and when? How long can friends stay over? What are the limits of my money and yours? Where do we go on vacation? It's a dialogue over takes time.

A new employee shows up for orientation. She pulls up to the front door alongside a veteran of the company. She is greeted with balloons and brochures. 
He is greeted with...well, nothing.

It is 9:00 sharp as he sits down at…

The Hottest Content On The Web

Photo by Betsey Webb via Flickr

A kid asks, "What Is My Teacher's Problem With Me," and there are dozens of answers on Quora already.

Many of us are saying the same thing - she's an abusive person, stay away - but there is more to it than that.

The genuineness of the question, the detailed nature of its context, the story and the drama - this is real life and the audience is hooked.

It matters because the future of advertising is not advertising at all. It is community.

Community is very hard to infiltrate. It is by nature suspicious of outsiders.

But if you can somehow make your way through, the payback is huge.

What keeps this scenario from being mercenary is that the rules of social media are known.

That is, we go online to give and to get.

Sometimes the transaction is commercial. Sometimes it's social. Sometimes it's just a shoulder to cry on.

Often it's a mix of all three, or more.

But the fact that such incredibly compelling content exists in one place, makes …

Text & Context In The Struggle To Own Cultural Heritage Narrative

Meme via Buzzfeed (I could not locate the original meme at the location cited in BF)
I'm not as smart as I'd like to be. Often it's like I can see a glimmer of the meaning of a thing, but I can't figure it out all the way to the bottom.
That's the way it is with postcolonial theory, or with any kind of theory or 'ism. I don't understand all the details, the jargon and the arguments between the players. 
But I do see the big picture. I "get" that Whiteness is a "situated thing." And that Caucasian is not the default stance but rather one among many. 
I am so glad that in this generation we finally turn "normal" on its head. We find out that it's a spectrum, a fracturing, a rainbow carnival parade where each of us is a wholly valid representation of something singular and yes, Divine.
Situatedness is the idea of text and context. It's your picture inside a frame. Whoever makes the frame, in a sense makes the picture. 
If I look…

President Obama On Quora: Oy Vey

Screenshot of President Barack Obama's Quora profile accessed March 25, 2014
You can agree or disagree with the Affordable Care Act. (I personally think that few of us understand it.)

But there is little doubt that the President's incredibly powerful social media machine is pushing government-to-public engagement tactics to new heights of the stratosphere. Even when he makes some serious mistakes, as I will talk about in the case of Quora, he pushes the envelope for the rest of us.

But first a look at risk-taking and success. I think it was completely brilliant that the President took to Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. It is so insane to do that, to be part of that incredibly rude, disrespectful and popular show. Phenomenal virality. Fearlessness.

But then the President went on Quora. He made a mistake not in using it, but in the way he did it. I've been on there for awhile and know the culture a little bit. Propaganda is a matter of disgust there, and the President&…

First Find The Trends, Then Inject The Content

Photo by Rachel James via Flickr
Today's Wall Street Journal has an incredibly important article, "Advertisers Use Social Media to Promote Brands in Real Time; Advertisers Watch What's Trending—and Craft Content to Match." 
Essentially, advertisers first go where the people are, i.e. they watch for what's trending. Then they produce content placing their brands in the center of the action.
This builds on already-established best practice:
1. Go where your customers are (don't force them to your website) 2. Declare who you are 3. Speak in their language 4. Follow cultural norms 5. Actually contribute something to the community 
This strategy is so smart and it's very much like how you network at a party. Go up to a group, find out what they're talking about, and then say something about that, working a mention of your brand in.
The analogy for me is sports. I will never understand the Super Bowl or March Madness, but I know enough to know that they could come in…

How 10 Mass-Market Brands Form A Personal Relationship With You

Screenshot of TV character "Barney" via
Here are 10 mass-market brands that grew over the past 10-20 years to communicate to a mass audience in a very personal way. They include: Barney, the '90s children's TV characterDisney, an entertainment empireThe Kardashians, the stars of a reality series currently on TVEminem, a rap singerMiley Cyrus, a singerApple, a consumer electronics vendorAmazon, an online vendorStarbucks, a coffee and related foods purveyorMcDonald's, a fast food sellerHarley-Davidson, a motorcycle gear sellerAs a general rule, these brands have employed the following kinds of tactics: Communicate using visual mediaGo for an authentic-seeming, even intimate, emotional connectionSpeak to a customer who is clearly envisionedDominate a single channel, e.g. in-store, on TV, or InstagramTell a story that evolvesKeep the elements simple, basic, and dramatic - for global appealReach the customer during formative years or during times of vulnera…

New Presentation: Performance Reviews Are For Babies

"It's Just Business"

Image via
When I was a little girl one of the topics we fought most furiously about at the Shabbos (Sabbath) table was Jews who cheat in business but are still treated as respected members of the community. Honored in synagogue and at community events.

My mother used to say, what a chillul Hashem (disgrace of G-d's name). How can those people even be considered religious? How can they go to shul? (synagogue)

As I recall it my father thought her views were simplistic. His mother was in Auschwitz. Members of her family shot in cold blood. His father was in a Romanian labor camp. The scars were fresh and government could not be relied upon to enforce the law after the Nazis got away with raping our people, murdering them, beating us in the street and stealing everything down to our gold teeth.

But he did not say she was wrong, either. Rather he would say that you should quietly do what was right. I am not sure how he felt about Jews trying to survive financi…

Which Way Is The Wind Blowing Again? 15 Social Media Trends Govies Need To Know

Photo by Mike Baird via Flickr
Many people think that social media is sort of easy, like, just send a Tweet out or write a blog and it's done.

The fact is it's so much more complicated than that. What works for one audience does not work for another. For example after five years I decided that I liked Facebook. My youngest kid, who introduced me to it, has now decided she hates it and uses other tools where the kids talk to each other and the parents cannot find them. No, not even Snapchat. There are these Q&A boards, and kids register, and then other kids can ask them anything they want.

It's complicated!

So how do we effectively reach and engage with our audiences using social media? Now, and in five years from now?

A presentation now on Slideshare has excellent information about the current trends. These are things I sort of vaguely knew about, but Eric T. Tung really has put them together in a neat and useful way.

Reviewing the 78 (yes, 78) slides, a lot of it is more pe…

Numbers Don't Matter. Only Numbers Matter.

Photo by Daniel Dionne via Flickr
The brand master understands the three basic rules of decision-making:

* It's about emotion not logic.
* It's preferable for things to feel good.
* It's painful to have to stop and think.

There are times when marketers use numbers objectively. For example, to bolster credibility. Or if they can get sued for saying an untruth.

The rest of the time, they are using numbers to tell a story. That story can be very close to reality. Or it can be a force-fit, designed to say what they want to say at any given moment.

You can think very broadly about what a "marketer" is. It's not always a brand manager at Procter & Gamble. Rather the marketer is anyone who must influence others, persuade them of the veracity of an idea.

I have very little faith in numbers. I know they can be twisted around and around. They are useful to compare to other numbers. But I always ask myself, who has an interest in putting these numbers forward? What is the c…

New Visualization: 5-Step Strategy Boot Camp - Elevating Change Communication

I'd Rather Be A Fool

Photo by Amorphes Ding via Flickr
You could say that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was a Jewish self-help guru. He taught that one must avoid depression at all costs, even if it meant acting silly. Depression was distance from the Divine. Which was death to a Jew.

Breslov was a serious person. He knew the law. He starved himself, too, and regularly walked alone in the woods. His devotion was extreme and ascetic.

Still, he took the people as they were and loved them. He could handle the heavy stuff. They could not. He carried the load for them and simply asked them to feel joy in return. Joy does the rest.

Joy can be achieved through silliness. Fools feel free to be silly. Laugh, tell a joke, crack a smile.

Fools are limber. Their minds are relaxed enough to believe. Not inherently closed off, like skeptics and pessimists.

Thus Breslov wrote that fools are actually better off:
"It is better to be a fool who believes in everything than to be so clever that you do not believe in anything.


Crushing Mr. Roboto ("Serious Business People Do Not Feel")

Photo by Handmade Stuffs via Flickr
One of my favorite movies is Working Girl. I never fail to cry, rooting for good-hearted, hardworking, honest Melanie Griffith against the stuffy, scheming, not-too-original Sigourney Weaver. 
It is hard to pick my favorite scene. Is it where Sigourney gets her comeuppance, and she can't remember the idea she stole from Melanie that got her so much kudos? Or is it when Melanie gets her little lunchbox from Harrison Ford, who has packed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to take to work?
Doesn't matter. The movie pointed up the importance of feelings. Melanie, Harrison and the other good characters in the movie represent the idea that you can't and shouldn't leave your heart and soul behind when you pull into the corporate parking lot.
Senior executives truly understand the concept of heart at work. But the people who work for them -- that is to say, the upper management ranks -- has a lot of trouble with it. They persist in defining …

Mutually Assured Privacy

Photo by sheriffmitchell via Flickr

They say the greatest luxury in the world is time. But another one is personal space. The time and ability to think and reflect. Without it, you spend your entire day focusing on minutiae rather than the big picture, a waste.

Reflection means that you think to yourself about stuff. And you don't necessarily share everything you think. But if you do, it is important that others respect your right to privacy.

This weekend we went to a Purim party in Baltimore, at my friend Penina's house. This is Penina's beautiful family, which runs the Jewish Collegiate Network locally and has dedicated their entire lives to religious outreach.

It is OK to share the photo because they've put it online as part of the outreach effort.

They also put a Purim photo and assorted videos online, publicly as well. It's all about drawing people into their home to learn about how to practice observant Judaism.
After we left I wondered to myself, how can they live…

The Next Frontier In Personal Branding: Rough Edges

Photo by cheesycheese01 via Flickr
Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past 15 years at least, you have heard of the term "personal branding." (Here is the classic 1997 Fast Company article by Tom Peters.)
And then came Naomi Klein's No Logo in 1999. Branding was more important than counter-branding, but slowly a backlash built, fueled by the concept and technology of social media. And the online publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto in 2000.

Nowadays it is fashionable to be completely revolted at the thought of selling yourself like a product. The ultimate symbol of such understatement is the hoodie. Whether Mark Zuckerberg wears it or Eminem does, the message is the same: Why are you trying so hard? People who "force it" have nothing real to offer.

And so we talk about "authenticity." Authentic skills, authentic survival gear, bows and arrows, dystopia, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, Viking…

Three Posts Are Back Online Now

Over the past few weeks a few folks cautioned me that I should not speak so freely on my blog. I took the coward's route out and removed a couple of posts. But looking back at the content, I believe it is wrong to self-censor. I've put the posts back and changed the headlines slightly.

We cannot let the thought police get inside of our head: It is a free country and we are all entitled to our beliefs.

* All opinions my own. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Normative Fallacy That Gets In The Way Of Diversity Programming

"Uncle Sam" is an example of an implicit normative figure.  So is Santa Claus - the Caucasian male against whom others are "different."
The hidden premise of diversity programs is an imaginary figure (the normative figure) who sets the standard.

This is never articulated outright. And we don't even like to admit it to ourselves.

But it is there, and it's why messages around equal employment opportunity are often so out-of-touch and stale.

In the protective sense, i.e. in the interest of ensuring the employee is not prevented from enjoying equal opportunity, diversity messaging should emphasize that:

* Nobody is the "norm" -- we are ALL diverse, even if you can't see it on the outside

* There are endless categories of diversity -- way beyond the protected groups in the EEO statutes

* Within categories, there is substantial variation -- e.g. the Jewish community is relatively tiny, but incredibly diverse

In the productivity sense, i.e. in the interes…

10 Factors That Undermine Women In Authority: Yeah, That Makes Me Mad

Photo by Gerard Stolk via Flickr
Things that get us tied up in knots:

1. Interactions demonstrating that men "naturally" hold authority -- at work, at home, at school. Men speak up, men write, men are the heroes in the movies, men act. We may SAY different things, but the messages come from what they WITNESS through interaction. For example, the media did not know what to do with Hilary Clinton as First Lady because she was clearly every bit as much the politician as Bill. However, they are very comfortable with Michelle Obama, because of her "feminine" role promoting nutrition. (Of course, both of these women will kick your ass.)
2. In school, children reinforce gender messages in ways large and small. Girls make fun of girls who aren't "feminine" (i.e. sexualized) and boys make fun of girls who are "bossy." Boys who are "sensitive" are targeted as well. Teens who have gender identities along the spectrum, whether gay, l…

Justice for Taj Patterson

Screenshot via NY Post; also see the NY Daily News story
In a nutshell, here's what happened --  based on several news reports of the incident, and analysis at Failed Messiah:
On December 1, 2013, at 5 a.m., a black, gay, male student named Taj Patterson left a party bus in Williamsburg on foot. Williamsburg is home to a lot of people, including some from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Hasidic community. He was jumped by a group of white, male Hasidic Jews who proceeded to beat him so badly that his eye socket was broken and his retina was torn.
What was this group doing walking around at five in the morning? According to Failed Messiah they "appeared to be part of a street patrol, probably Shomrim." That would make sense, as Williamsburg does have such groups to protect the community. 
But why would they attack Patterson, if he didn't do anything wrong? You could say that it was pure racism, as the attackers were white, and the person being attacked was black. (Th…

Pat Benatar & "The Survivor's Club"

"Most men lead lives of quiet misery." - Henry David Thoreau
Recently I ran into an old acquaintance. She told me some stuff about her life that I did not know before. It was horrible and I wondered how she had endured it. And never a hint of self-pity or sorrow on her face. Always such a practical person, always bent on doing some kind of community project or the other.

On the way back I was doing the errands and again, I saw someone I recognized. Not exactly an acquaintance, not really a friend, but a familiar face and we've exchanged pleasant conversation several times. This person too has suffered unbelievable pain in her life. But she didn't refer to it this time. I just hugged her. Because I just did.

As a kid I had a manner about me. I really used to piss people off. Especially people in authority. I suppose I was the spiritual child of Emma Goldman, the anarchist and activist who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia. Emma knew what the all-powerful state could do, …

One Team, One Principle, One Fight, One Brand

Photo by Thelmage Group via Flickr "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.  That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it." - Rabbi HillelFor the past few months, with the help of several business interns, I've been mapping out success metrics at work. We are very close to understanding the full alignment between work goals, management goals, office goals, agency goals, and a larger and very intricate functional analysis we've done as an agency.

Seven months into this new management position, the picture is finally coming together. And I am starting to see how the pieces fit together both on paper and in terms of the larger culture. But the whole thing has made me realize that success is not only about putting goals on paper. It is about finding the essential principle according to which the organization operates. That is what one needs to carry out every day.

For my agency, The National Archives, that principle is making Amer…

What Is A Brand, If Not Your Logo?

Photo by Timewinder via Flickr
This week a few people shared with me how they got into government. More often than not it was accidental. It was the same with me. I did not plan to be here, and yet it's been more than a decade.

Nobody likes their job all the time. And it may seem odd that an "out of the box" person would be happy working inside the box.

So why do I like it here, in the federal government that is? Why do I stay?

The answer has to do with brand. Not logo. Brand. And these are two very different things.

A brand is nothing more or less than experience. It's that feeling you get when you go to Starbucks and that "whoosh" hits you, a time-out. It's the solicitousness of the customer service staff at Nordstrom. It's that happy-welcome-smiley thing they do at Disney.

When a lot of people experience the same kind of treatment from a particular vendor, and they are willing to pay extra money to get that treatment, then we say that the vendor has a …

The Thought Police...They Live Inside Of My Head

Photo by Kashklick via Flickr
The difference between diplomacy and political correctness?

A diplomat thinks freely, but chooses their words carefully.

The politically correct think only what they are told to think, say what they are told to say, fearful of any idea outside their little box.

The diplomat conveys meaning clearly and with a full appreciation of the complexity of the circumstances. This person does not run or hide from the truth. They simply do not find it useful to be confrontational about it all the time.

The diplomat is a strategic communicator.

The politically correct do not fully understand what it is that they say, and cannot defend it either. They are ideologues rather than full of ideas. The ideology must hold together, or they themselves collapse.

When you challenge a diplomat, they simply smile quietly, and say "Fine." And they might respond, or they might wait another day to have the conversation.

The politically correct get very angry, and it's personal.…

The Bad Advice Feds Get About Branding

The best advice is simple advice:

To build a great brand, oversimplify the story.

Federal agencies shoot themselves in the foot (and are shot there) by the bad advice they get and by their confused way of thinking about branding.

For example The Washington Post recently ran a story called "Building A Brand For Your Federal Agency." They interviewed the Partnership for Public Service rather than a brand consultant for this piece, which is inexplicable to me. And got this definition of a brand:

“The essence of who you are, who you want to be and how you want people—in this case potential job seekers—to view you.”

Huh? How does this even line up? Is the brand the current reality (who I am), the desired reality (who I want to be) or the image I want, which may or may not be the desired reality (how I want to be viewed).

Listening to this, most people would be completely confused as to what it means or how to implement it.

In fact, defining a brand is very contentious even for brand exp…