Friday, October 31, 2014

Is Your Career Haunted By Ghosts?

My friend slid into the seat next to me.
"I'm out of money," she said. "It's been a year and I'm still not working."
"Let me see your resume," I offered. She pushed it over.
"There's nothing wrong with you."
"Well, that's kind." She started laughing.
"So I don't understand why you're not working."
And as she started to talk, I learned why.
"My daughter is still with that guy, up in New York," she said.
"Oh no. Not that bad guy."
"Yes. He's in prison. And she won't come home."
"Did she have kids with him or something?" I asked.
"That is crazy," responded. And thought, If there is nothing tying her to this criminal, why is she running to be with him?
My friend sat back in the chair.
"You look tired," I said.
"I am."
"You worry about her a lot."
And then I said, "Are you holding yourself back as a way of saving her?"
Her jaw fell a little and her eyes went open, wide. She started crying. I felt bad for her but it was like I was frozen to my seat, and only my mouth would work.
"You were so full of joy when we talked about your business last year. But you won't give yourself permission to do it, unless she comes home first so you can help her."
"Yes," she quietly said. "That's right."
"You have a silent contract with your daughter," I said. "You save her and then you get to live."
"I worked so hard to save her from the neighborhood," she said. "I got her scholarships, I put her in a good school, I took out student loans for her. I did everything..."
Her voice trailed off and I knew she was thinking to end that sentence " that she wouldn't end up like me at her age."
"You aren't helping her by doing this," I said. "You're making it even worse."
"I know it. I feel what you are saying."
I could feel my heart breaking. I knew exactly what she was feeling because I had felt the same way a million times, myself.
I remember that I was very close to my mother, as a child. I could sense that she led an unhappy existence. And I'd reassure her, "I'll never leave you, Mommy. Don't worry I'll take care of you all my life."
When I met my husband it was horrible. It was the most natural and normal thing in the world for a young woman to get married. But I felt like a betrayer of the person I always had loved most in the world.
Of course I did get married, and had children. Then somehow the guilt was transferred onto the family. I couldn't live my life, it seemed - couldn't take a single step forward - unless every aspect of their minds and bodies was 100% kosher.
My career - never a job for me, but a calling - always waited until late at night when they were sleeping, or early morning when my husband was doing a jog. It was unquestioned that my feelings and needs not only came last, but were literally mortgaged to the well-being of everybody else in my orbit.
So I understood my friend's feelings well. So well in fact that my throat choked up and I teared for her, with her. I was in her brain, and it hurt to see how messed up she was.
Because my friend had no more money left.
"I want to tell you something," I said. I felt scared inside. I hadn't seen her for so long, was I entitled to give so much advice?
"Yeah." She seemed to want to hear it, but maybe she didn't. And there was no good way to let this out.
"Your emotional strategy is only making things worse."
"What do you mean?"
"On some cosmic level, your daughter senses that you are holding on to her, hovering around, and interfering with her journey toward freedom. As long as you do that, she's gonna keep doing stupid things." Self-destructive, I was thinking.
"And you don't need to look for yet another routine job. It doesn't just take up your time, it takes the energy and joy right out of your life." A substitute for your runaway daughter, I thought.
"You're right," she said, shifting around in her seat. "You said it." It was funny, she looked so happy right then. Her eyes were dancing.
"The best thing you can do is pursue your business," I said. "You love it and the people love you. You know what you are doing."
I had to say it again. I was talking to her, but I was also talking to myself.
"Just get out of your own way. The debt is over, the past is gone. Let yourself succeed already!"
We chit-chatted a little more, but it was nonsense and we both knew it. The business of the day was done. We got up and paid the bill and walked out of there.
And I knew that I would never see her again.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by U.S. Army Africa via Flickr; no endorsement expressed or implied.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't Get Stuck In The Chickenshit

"The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by his nickname." - Jeffrey Goldberg, "The Crisis In U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here," The Atlantic, October 28, 2014
"I don't think I've been so angry since I don't know when," somebody told me.
I'll be honest. I am fiercely supportive of Israel's right to exist, infuriated that her defenders are attacked on all sides, sick of hearing about my kids' friends pelted with pennies as a bullying anti-Semitic "joke" in school - and I had the same visceral reaction.
But that's not what this post is. Let's consider the remark as a PR crisis. Because there are five fundamental mistakes happening here, and you won't want to make them yourself. Remember these principles:
  1. Anonymous remarks from a leader seem cowardly. Hiding behind it, or allowing your people to do it, makes you look weak - an indefensible stance for someone in charge of any major enterprise. We're all grownups here, and people can disagree. If the President has something to say he should just say it.
  2. When warranted, apologize right away. You may think the person you're dealing with is wrong. You may have been caught on a hot mic. Possibly your car broke down or you had a big fight with your spouse or a bad day. No matter what, the longer you wait to take ownership and say "I was wrong" for that stupid thing you did, the worse the fallout will be.
  3. Grasp the symbolism of your act. The use of the word "chickenshit" is read by Jews the world over as an as arrogant, careless, disrespectful and degrading attack on all of us, symbolically through insulting a single person who bears our brand. We know it, we feel it, and in an environment of rising global anti-Semitism it heightens our fear of being singled out and victimized.
  4. Your motives don't matter. What you think or feel is irrelevant to the situation. Your personality doesn't count. People look at you, your words and the effect of your communication, from their own lens and they aren't mollified by the fact that you may personally be a nice person. If you create or are in a PR crisis, get help to solve the crisis appropriately.
  5. Reputations are built over time, not in a single moment.  Like him or not, the public knows that Netanyahu has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to Israeli security. And while the Nazis lived by the credo that "a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth," the truth is that you cannot substitute aspersion for fact. When you call someone the opposite of what they are known to be by the public, your own credibility gets called into question.
In the end, I don't know why an "anonymous official" thought it was smart to publicly insult the Prime Minister of Israel, and at such a lowly level, in street terms. 
Whatever was behind that, the result is now - as former President H.W. Bush once said in the '80s - some serious political "deep-doo-doo."
The bottom line: When your words provoke a firestorm of reaction, consider whether you've crossed a "tipping point."
As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book of the same name, sometimes you push, and push, and push so far but nothing happens. One day, a seemingly minor additional push makes the whole situation explode.
That is exactly what happened yesterday, when a fool very foolishly shot off his mouth, and called a Jewish hero the same.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by David Phillips via Flickr.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Finding The Courage To Live Your Truth

You have to tell the truth, or you will die inside, a little bit more every day.
You will feel yourself struggling with this concept, as it goes against every grain of advice you'll get. From the world-weary, those who have fought this battle already, shriveled-up bits of ectopic flesh posing as humans.
You can see the immense popularity of people who own their truths. From this I would deduce that those who hide under the covers are not destined to do great things.
  • "Transparent" is not just about a man who finally comes out and lives his life as a woman. It is also about his kids, who emerge from their cocoons as well.
  • "Enlightened" is about a woman who decides not to be a corporate drone anymore. "I will not run away from life" she declares, and we love her awkward, painful, heart-wrenching journey down the corporate ladder toward personal success.
  • "Girls," of course, is about a young woman who freely takes off her shirt every five minutes to show us her flab. She walks away from a highly paid job writing advertorial copy to go to the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Because she has to.
  • Audi is running ads about a guy who says "yes, yes, yes," because he is a well-trained yes-man, until he finally gets his car and can be himself. A "Mad Men" version of freedom but it says something nonetheless.
  • Leah Vincent and Deborah Feldman have both written memoirs about their dangerous and painful, but ultimately rewarding escape from the ultra-Orthodox communities where they were cloistered off from the world. 
Many people mistake personal branding to mean "the development of a phony image." That's true, in a sense; because you're trying to make yourself look the best you can, and in real life you don't always look that good.
But in a deeper sense, it's about finding out who you are, precisely so that you can share your unique and unparalleled skills - even if, and perhaps because - you prove to be uncomfortable for others to bear. That is the definition of genius. To create something, add something, introduce a new mode of living - that transforms the way we fundamentally approach a subject.
Yeah, it will scare the shit out of people. And to do it you have to speak your truth - what you see, what you feel, what is real to you. Not the truth, necessarily, because narrative has many perspectives. But you must make the leap and own what is your own.
What are you destined to achieve in this world? What are the unique gifts you were given, the knowledge that was instilled in your brain in you were born?
You must find out - you cannot censor your search.
Accountability to your higher purpose. It's the the ultimate act of courage, and conscience.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by vincent desjardins via Flickr.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Discover Your Brand, Discover Your Life

"What do you want to order?" my husband always asks me at the Chinese restaurant.
After fifteen years going there, we know the three lunch specials among which we rotate but imagine it is always a choice.
"Oh, I'll just have what you're having," I always say. Because no matter what you order there, it always tastes the same.
* * *
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" my grandmother asked me as a kid.
"A lawyer," I answered - because there were only four professions that existed in my world - doctor, lawyer, accountant and psychologist.
And I had watched The Paper Chase on TV, and liked it.
"Good girl," she said to me. "Hang out a shingle, don't ever depend on a man."
* * * 
"Do you want to get married?" I asked my husband. (This was 25 years ago.)
"No, I've only known you for two weeks." In his world, people got to know each other first. 
"So what? That's enough time." In my world of origin, that is to say the traditional Hasidic world, by the sixth date it's either on or it's off.
* * * 
We make so many major decisions in life before we even know what we're doing.
We box ourselves into corners. Because somebody gave us a set of cardboard boxes. And each one tells us what the outer limits of our choices are.
  • How to act like a man or a woman: check.
  • What we ought to believe about G-d: check.
  • What a respectable career consists of: check.
  • ...And on and on and on.
Before we know it, we've lost our freedom, all the while telling ourselves that every choice we made was free. 
I remember that it took me four decades to sign up as a Libertarian. Four decades! And that was only because a new friend started talking about her views.
All my life I'd been friends with liberal Democratic progressives, and challenging those ideas seemed like challenging...air.
* * * 
Personal branding is a personal cause.
It is not your career, or only your career, though that may be the way people have used it.
No - it is a journey that you take to:
  • Discover who you want to be in life;
  • Map out how you plan to get there; and
  • Measure progress along the way so that you can adjust.
You can use a lot of tools to figure out your brand, and then give yourself permission to pursue it.
  • Admit that there is a need to improve; that you haven't done a perfect job so far of fulfilling it; and that you need to embark on a journey to improve. This is the first step in all successful change initiatives, breaking through the denial and making the commitment.
  • Take a personality test; take two, take three. There is no one instrument that will tell you exactly what you need to know; it's the confluence of several, together. Try Now, Discover Your Strengths. Try astrology - Vedic and Western. Don't be shy about this, you need to hear whatever it says.
  • Look back reflectively on your relationships, your career. When were you really happy? When were you so sad and stressed you wanted to wanted to crawl under a rock and hide?
  • Ask your family, friends, and peers to help you. They want to help you. Are you ashamed or afraid to ask? Listen to the feedback you get from others - really listen, don't just sit there and wait for your turn to talk.
  • Enlist professionals. Therapy has a bad rap, plus it takes a long time to get a psychology Ph.D. or even an M.S.W. so you can do counseling. This is why so many people are coaches nowadays. Whatever you call a support person, find one who is qualified to help you grow into yourself. If this is too daunting or you lack time, join a support group, either in person or by telephone or online. I know more than one person who has found strength through in Overeaters Anonymous. Join a fitness club. Whatever it takes - the key is to get outside your little head, your little world, and do something, hear from someone, who is paid only to help people grow. 
At the end of the day, personal branding offers a kind of freedom that you cannot find in religion or life prescriptions from others. It is a roadmap you create and are accountable for, it is unique and it is moral for you.
At The Brand Consultancy, my former boss Mark Morris used to call it "a decision filter" for business and it works the same for you as a human being.
Choosing your brand means deciding on who you are. It empowers you to "break the script," as the Audi commercial implores us, and make the right decisions for yourself. 
More importantly, it stops you from making stupid ones. As so many of us - including myself - are wont to do. Over and over again.
 Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What If You Weren't A Phony?

I was sitting at the dining room table working on a profile photo.
I liked it, but I didn't like it: Hair and makeup good, but you could see the wrinkles around my eyes and I sensed I was getting old.
My daughter walked in and sat down next to me.
"I'm a little bit in the middle of something right now," I said. 
She peered over at my phone. "You've got to be kidding me."
And then she said, "Mom, what if you weren't a phony? I mean you're so obsessed with your image."
Har de har har, I laughed. True. Aren't we all.
"Remember that time when I went with you to the city and I met your friends? I liked you better when you were with them." too. I liked being able to be clumsy, goofy, and laugh without pretense.
And I suddenly realized that my entire life was about navigating the tension between being myself and fulfilling a role.
This is the conflict inherent in personal branding: We are called upon to act in a certain way in order to "succeed" as part of the social order, but left to ourselves it is not clear whether or how we would fit in anywhere.
And we cannot live with either extreme:
  • When we are completely "in the role" we are alienated from ourselves and others sense the falsity and back away. 
  • When we are completely "authentic" we are every shade of odd, strange, bizarre and weird...sometimes even scary.
In fact, neither extreme is profitable or helpful. You are more likely to succeed when you are employed by or situated within a group where others appreciate your natural self.
For example I am a natural teacher. The minute you pull out a whiteboard I am there with a marker, drawing. I like to do research. I write, obviously. And I'm innately a coach, counselor, trainer, a giver of advice.
I am not a natural tracker of details, except where the subject matter is of critical importance to me. I am not diplomatic, political or polite. And I hate, hate, hate all forms of pointless combat.
The biggest mistake I've made in life was listen to well-intentioned people who told me that being a phony was the "right way" to go - as though it were a moral choice. Was failing to trust my instincts.
The children teach the parents and my daughter's simple honest words have taught me something. Authenticity isn't just a nice-to-have but critical for your success as a human being. 
Not the kind of success where you earn a lot of money necessarily, although logically you'll probably will do better professionally playing to your natural strengths.
No - I am talking about looking back on your life and really liking how you lived, who you loved, and how you spent the time you were in control of.
That is authenticity and that is success. There is not a single phony thing about it.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by Scott via Flickr. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Feds," A Reality Show - Here's The Pitch

I know you must be thinking that my idea involves comedy. Since we normally see headlines that may as well shout: "Federal workers are bumbling fools."

But I don't mean this as comedy at all. And anyway, we're not.

What we are, on the whole, is:
  • Highly skilled
  • Passionate about helping other people
  • Caught in a system that does not always achieve its highest goals or intended ends
What I'd like to see is a reality show of the "interventionist" kind. Where the "makeover expert" - an organizational development type, most likely - has a chance to take total control for a week.

This person:
  • Is introduced to the agency and its mission.
  • Joins a small team - let's say, a unit or working group - with a task.
  • Learns from them about their preferred way of getting it done, their culture and processes.
  • --Normally, expresses shock that the processes are so inefficient.--
  • Introduces his or her "expert" approach and is given total control of the group for a week.
  • After that week, we come back in 2-3 months and find out how the unit is faring.
I think this show would be a huge, huge hit. Because reality shows like this are a hit. And the public loves federal workers - even as they distrust the government itself. They are endlessly curious about the "real" goings-on in Washington, and value any opportunity to peek behind the curtain.

More than that, it's a common source of frustration that D.C. suffers from gridlock. A show like this, even though it would be apolitical in the strict sense, would be a chance to discover some of the factors that contribute to government inertia. To to make a real, positive difference in shaking that up. 

Because, obviously, it's well-known that when you put the microscope to a socially aware being, the being itself changes. That is true whether you're talking about tracking someone's eating habits and then weighing them [The Biggest Loser], or following a group as it battles to survive in the wild [Survivor]. 

That's social media. That's digital engagement - where you must answer others who "see" you. 

That's the premise of transparency: When we see ourselves, we are forced to change and grow.

I hope a TV network decides to do a show like this, and films a range of federal agencies in action. The public would thrill to see it. Federal employees would revel in some well-deserved limelight. And all of us would benefit from watching the interactions then hearing an impartial expert's view from a grounded, real-world setting. 

Everybody wins when the operations of government are optimized.


Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by Bryan Jones via Flickr.

15 Reasons To Watch CNBC's "The Profit"

This show, hosted by investor/business turnaround expert Marcus Lemonis, is one of the few that really does give you something for nothing: priceless advice.
A synopsis doesn't even come close to doing it justice. Because what you learn from actually watching the show, and its various interactions, is that business theory isn't just an abstraction - it works.
It's education for business and for life. In that vein here are 15 juicy takeaways from tonight's rerun episodes ("Courage B." and "Planet Popcorn"):
1. No matter how profitable the concept, if your business partner demonstrates a lack of integrity, walk away. But not before you call them on it.
2. Relationships have to work for the business to work. Never allow someone else to mistreat you, at work or anywhere. Don't treat your employees as your friends because you need a big power trip. 
3. Get yourself under control. Don't yell at people. Don't condescend to them. And keep your ego in check, especially the control freak in you - it could cost you everything.
4. Most people have too limited a view of their own potential. Or, on the flipside, they fail to market themselves properly because they're convinced that their brilliance "sells itself."
5. Narrow your product line - the 80/20 rule. Find your niche. It's generally "the thing people always ask for but which is getting a little boring."
6. When you need an expert, bring in an expert. 
7. Management controls are unsexy but critical. If you're leaving cash lying on the floor, literally, stop it.
8. A small boost in quality can mean a huge boost in sales because you have that "premium" image.
9. Packaging, packaging, packaging, packaging. For example, fewer items and more variations. For another, more sturdy packaging (canisters) brings in more money than plastic bags and it isn't much more expensive.
10. Focus on margins more than revenue.
11. Do your research before you walk into the room. Not only does this educate you, but you have a competitive edge with a cocky prospect. For example, try buying their domain name before you start talking.
12. Emotional intelligence is your secret weapon. For instance, ask questions again and again until you drive to the point you're trying to make. When you ask a question, listen to the answer. Solicit opinions from those who are quieter, marginalized, scared.
13. The brand matters, but only insofar as it helps build a profitable business. And the purpose of the brand is to tap into the customer's wishes effectively, not only to disseminate your personal vision. It's where your talent meets their need that you strike gold.
14. "Greed is good" - to an extent - because it focuses you on a common goal. 
15. People will respect you if you know what you're talking about, are willing to invest in your own ideas, and dress as though you take yourself seriously. It's the combination of the three that works, not any one in isolation.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Image via CNBC

Friday, October 17, 2014

Here's Why Most Leaders Suck, But You Won't

This is a a child whose name I don't know. In North Darfur, greeting the United Nations, a couple of years ago. Looking at her, I hate my spoiled ways. Can't live without wifi for half an hour. 

But then I think about the leaders I've worked for, who are trying to help her. And I think, maybe I can redeem myself just a little bit by sharing their qualities with you. Because I've imitated them, consciously and unconsciously, and they work, though my life and challenges aren't remotely as significant.
Although to be honest there are more frustrations than victories, and I've had to learn to live with that.
You may be thinking you're fairly powerless to do anything of real significance "out there." It's true - most people easily fall into survival mode, are cynical, take the pessimistic view because then they'll never be wrong. They haven't seen great leadership in action.
You are not powerless, though. You have all of the qualities I'm about to list here. And you've probably used them all in some way, in your personal life. You just need someone to tell you that you can use them, at least in some measure, professionally.
So here goes - a short list of effective leadership techniques for making a difference - that anyone can adopt in their own way:
#1: Believe it 
This part is sort of basic, but it needs to be said. You have to actually envision the positive difference you want to make. I asked a rabbi the other day if the Jewish concept of messiah referred to a historical age or an actual person. He said that there will indeed be a person who will save the entire world from destruction, ushering in an era of peace for all. He believes it and I believe it. Without belief you can't do anything.
#2: Stick with it
The year 2014 has been horrible for me and a lot of other people I know. It's been challenging to maintain my belief in anything. I've seen terrible suffering that made me wonder how G-d could indeed be good. I've made stupid and obvious misjudgments that made me question whether my optimism and idealism is the result of intelligence or infinite immaturity. I've been hit with more than one natural plague - try bedbugs! - which made me reconsider whether it's smart to spend my time thinking great thoughts rather than throwing every possible item in my home into a hot dryer for at least two hours a day. 
And then I look back on this year and I think about the many concrete victories that I cannot share with you, I can tell you that they are very satisfying. The ones that mean the most to me have to do with people, with seeing that light come on in their eyes and knowing that they will carry a torch forward somewhere else and I will never know about it.
#3: Gather powerful supporters
There is no question that the most effective leaders have financial, political and cultural backing from people of influence. Nobody lives on an island, and you can have the best ideas in the world, but it really does take an army of people to implement positive change effectively.
I have observed that people who have this particular skill are able to defer to the supporter and make the vision seem like the supporter's idea, when in fact it is the leader's ideas being promoted.
It's truly brilliant to kind of merge yourself with somebody else who has deep pockets and whose Rolodex holds the phone numbers of people who can make the difference between your vision being adopted and totally ignored or dismissed as insanity.
#4: Communicate frequently and visually
It never ceases to amaze me that people still dismiss the importance of communication in achieving any kind of positive change. Listen: I didn't make this skill up because I enjoy doing it, I am telling you to "own it" because it works.
In two decades, and having executed it well and imperfectly, and having watched others own it and become handsomely rich and powerful as a result, I am urging you to either communicate on your own or get some help doing it. It is not only worth every penny, but the return on your investment is far greater than whatever you will pay.
Communication of course is not limited to formal campaigns, but includes everyday verbal communication and emails, much of which we tend to ignore because we think it isn't "fancy" or "formal."
#5: Learn to compromise
We live in the real world with real people. Human beings are funny, they are flawed, they don't live a black-and-white existence that's either perfect or totally flawed. I was talking to my husband about the rabbi who was accused of voyeurism in the ritual bath: Are all his good deeds nullified because of this one terrible thing? I don't think so. Those deeds will live forever, but the bad deeds he has done can't be ignored either. 
In the same way, there are going to be be inefficient or unhelpful people, structures, or traditions in the workplace that prevent you from making change happen easily and quickly. Don't worry about it. That's the world we live in.
You just do the best you can.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by the United Nations via Flickr.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

To Make Your Brand Beautiful, Eliminate Bias

"It turns out members of the upper-class are more dishonest, corrupt, deceitful, and unethical than their lower-class counterparts," wrote Charles Faraone the other day, summarizing a 2012 study.
Put less dramatically, the higher you go the more likely you are to break the rules. A counter-intuitive finding, as most people think that poor people are more desperate and therefore more "naturally" predisposed to being criminals.
Educated people are fortunate. They are forced to read academic texts. Their brains are molded such that there is at least a token respectful distance between the imperative to act, and the act of making a decision.
Most of us are not educated, even if we've gone to school, because really good teachers are rare and few people have the time and space to really study.
We're thrown out there into the waters of business, and we do the best we can to swim. Today, that means we create or join an entity that lives or dies on its brand.
Economic need has a positive side. We learn to draw quick, "good enough" conclusions quickly. This is a survival skill; without it, we would simply die in the competition.
But as a long-term proposition, "gut feel" just doesn't work. To drive a business into the future requires rationality as well as emotional intelligence. Ruthless, continuous reflection.
And your strategy has to be objective. That is to say, it cannot suffer from the unconscious biases you and your peers bring to the table. It cannot be the product of an article in Fast Company, one person's impenetrable "genius," or an unquestionable canon that doesn't hold up to common sense in the daylight.
Nowadays, it is fashionable to dismiss traditional notions of strategy. We celebrate a "nimble," "adaptive," "flexible" and "organic" approach.
But you cannot dispose of strategy. You run an organization of people. They must understand how you plan to get from Point A to Point B. So that they can support you, and do it on their own.
Bias, however unconscious, and bad or unskilled strategy always go together. You can tell in about 5 seconds, because the ordinary person can't explain what it is their company does, how they do it, or why.
In a good place, however, the strategy fits neatly on a wallet card. (I've seen it!) The thinking is smart, and it's seamless, and it's visible wherever you go.
Smart strategy, neatly executed, with impressive results.
That is how you turn a business into a beautiful brand.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo credit:
 via Flickr.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pop Culture & the Making of an Alleged Rabbi-Voyeur

Remember that Duran Duran music video, “Girls on Film?”

I thought of it today when I found out that local rabbi Barry Freundel was accused of wiring his synagogue’s mikvah (ritual bath) as a continuous, live-streaming peepshow.

Actually the first time I heard, I didn’t understand what the crime was.

Because it would never even occur to me that a widely respected religious figure would ever even think of violating his congregants in such an indiscriminate yet intimate way.

The truth is I still cannot understand. In a world literally soaked in porn, couldn’t he find an easier way to get his X-rated fix?

But there was something more deliberate here, if the accusations are true. It's about victimizing people who trust you. And that is what makes me, frankly, want to puke when I think about this.

It is not only men who are voyeurs. Lena Dunham is one, too. Yet - perhaps because she is a female, and typically would be the target of same - her version is unusual, compelling, highly rewarded and recognized.

To me, it doesn't work. In Girls, she shoves women’s (and men's) nude bodies in our faces, for no other reason than that they are there.

It's offensive. Their most intimate moments - her most personal, sexual emotions and expressions - are splayed out for us as if revealing something artistic.

But really, it's just for the meaninglessness of it. That's all.

Lars von Trier does not hate women, although from Nymphomaniac - a movie almost entirely about peeping in on a woman's deviant sex life - you might conclude the opposite is true.

After all, we find the heroine beaten up badly as the movie starts.

And as it continues, her sheer self-hatred at having normal human emotion becomes our hatred of her for being such a “whore.”

What keeps the film from being woman-hating though, is its focus on telling the story. Not judging, just telling it all.

Back in the real world, I am part of a community deeply, deeply traumatized. At the circus that is now all things Freundel.

I am crying tonight for the women whose trust was destroyed, whose privacy was violated in a totally shattering way, for the husbands who have to look at him and imagine him looking at their wives.

For the children of all ages whose religious belief will be sorely tested by this.

Maybe we will have the intelligence to use this episode as a “teachable moment.” To have compassion for the Freundel family. To get the victims help. To get legal redress for them. To make sure that the rabbi gets psychiatric care, if he is indeed guilty.

But we probably won’t...probably. Because popular culture turns on profit. The more extreme the behavior, the more money passes hands.

And so stories like this are at least 50% about the sexual thrill of imagining the whole violation.

Rather than actually changing things. So that it becomes horrifying, socially taboo to exploit a human being sexually, or for that matter in any way, at all.

It is actually hard to imagine a world like this. It's almost impossible even to think it.

But we have to think it, don't we?

Because the problem is not a deviant boogeyman lurking in an alley.

It is the average consumer, watching average TV and clicking average click-bait. It is us.

Waiting, in the most bored fashion possible, for something interesting to happen.

To take us away from our less-than exciting existence.


Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo credit: Snapsi Ctajikep / Flickr

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

5 Personal Branding Opportunities To Seize Right Now

Everybody's got a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page. But few are making the most of these tools to enhance their professional value.
Here are 5 things you can do right now to better promote yourself. They don't cost any money. Why not do them all, right now?
1. Profile photo. I've been studying these and can tell you that most of them truly suck. It's not about how good-looking you are (you knew this already and it's 100%) but rather about how confident you seem.
If you're uncomfortable having others take photos of you, take a selfie. Mine is a selfie - I used iPhone to fix it up. Don't think it is pathetic and egotistical to get your profile photo this way. It's hard to get a good picture.
It goes without saying that we should see your whole face and that you should not put brand names into the background, e.g. that time you were interviewed by CNN or a banner showing your current employer.
2. Narrow your LinkedIn headline. This is a combination of theoretical mission statement and practical tagline and it is extraordinarily difficult to execute. You want to communicate something broad enough to cover the spectrum of what you do, and narrow enough to set you apart from others. It should feel right and be true.
You know it's good if it represents:
  • The way you think.
  • Your actual approach to work.
  • Some sort of value that you have already added to another organization.
3. Use Klout. I hadn't logged in to Klout in awhile and was pleasantly surprised to find they'd really upped their game. Now, you can tell the application what subjects you're interested in and schedule Tweets in advance, in those areas. It is so incredibly, stupidly easy to use. I am very challenged when it comes to figuring apps out, and this one is a breeze. You can use it on a regular desktop computer or on your iPhone.
4. Fix up your bio. Everyone should have a professional description even if they aren't a public figure. These brief paragraphs are your story. The story might change, but having them focuses you on a narrative that you can use in talking to other people, when they ask "What do you do?"
I know I always have trouble with this question because in my mind, I'm thinking, "Well, a little bit of do I explain's too much..." By the time I get my thoughts together, the other person's attention span is gone.
In the bio, you want to include bullet points that describe more narrowly what you do, your experience, your honors and your participation in industry activities. Keep it short and punchy. Feel free to review other people's LinkedIn bios to get a sense of what works.
5. Integrate your personal brand across channels. Over the years you've planted "seeds" of your personal brand in various places. You may not think of it this way, but you have. LinkedIn is not the only place people look - they're checking out Twitter, possibly Facebook, and any other mentions of you that would turn up in a Google Search. To the extent possible, make sure that your brand "matches" or at least represents an evolution over time that is rational.
For me, this is extremely challenging as I've worked in the public sector, private sector and academia and have the versatility to do a lot of things well. The key though is to look at yourself in terms of the greatest match between how you see yourself, and how others see you.
For me, the greatest and most consistent match has to do with the subject matter called "branding" and activities related to writing and teaching. No job is perfect, but if I can do any work that relates back to the above, I'm happy. And in the end, that's really what you want - a job where you can earn money and come home with a smile on your face.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo credit: Abigail Batchelder / Flickr