If You Aren't Innovating, You're Dead

 photo Innovation-OnlyDeal_zpsd15c9db0.gif

Here's a little GIF I made. Feel free to use it whenever people start with you about innovation being useless, nonessential, a waste of time, doesn't belong in government, etc.
The fact of the matter is - innovation is absolutely mission-critical.
However much the agency is spending - it absolutely can spend less and do more.
In fact it is entirely possible for the agency to become a revenue center as opposed to a cost center and eliminate the burden on the taxpayer, if not mostly, entirely.
We can reconceive of government not only as a customer-centric enterprise but as one that wholly benefits the taxpayer rather than taking money from them and returning questionable value in return.
To do that we have to work smarter, not harder. Collaboratively, not in stovepipes. Trustfully, not with hate and jealousy and turf wars. And above all inclusively, allowing the world to breathe air into stale and musty areas of the mission that we mistake for essential operations.
If we don't embrace innovation we will all figuratively die if and when the public decides they no longer can afford the overhead - no matter how important or essential we think we are.
And if you don't believe me, turn on the news any day of the week. They aren't saying that agencies are lean and efficient. Rather, we are constantly accused of wasteful spending.
For the GIF:
  • Embed code - click here.
  • Direct link - here
  • Image - here.
* All opinions my own.

The Brand-Centric Business In 5 Steps

Many people make the mistake of thinking that branding is separate from business operations. 

Here is a new slide I put together (download at SlideShare) showing how branding is key to managing day-to-day operations, no matter what environment you find yourself in.

The reason branding is so important is that it guides all of your decisions in a very focused way. Your brand is a promise, and a very specific one. You only do things in a way that honors the brand.

Today on LinkedIn, brand expert Laura Ries expressed the sentiment this way:

I've been a brand consultant and I've worked for government agencies in a public affairs capacity as well as in management.

The reality is that if you do not have a very strong brand ethic to work against, disagreements and turf battles on the inside easily divert time and attention from the unifying focus that any organization must have: the customer.

What is your organization supposed to do? Just do it. That is your brand.

Anything else must be ruthlessly chopped away, no matter how painful that may be.

* All opinions my own.

Leah Vincent, Disruptor of Jewish Identity

I do not normally have time to read books, nor do I like to pay for them (I'd much rather scan them on the weekend, while drinking my Starbucks at Barnes & Noble). 

But given my own painful journey out of the stifling world of ultra-Orthodoxy, when I came across a review for Leah Vincent's Cut Me Loose I had to find out more.

The subject matter of the book is obviously dramatic and an easy sell - high conflict, high drama, religious cultism, abuse of women, the social meaning of self-abuse, sexual promiscuity, parental abandonment, poverty.

But given that you can write anything on a book jacket, I still wasn't sure. Had they exaggerated to make a buck? Would the narrator be shallow and self-absorbed? Was it worth reading, or would it be boring, like most books? This comment by Beth DeRoos addressed my initial objections and made me take the leap.

(Marketing note, because this is technically a marketing blog: 1) Title books descriptively to reach your target audience 2) Get them covered in a blog your target reads 3) Have someone review it comprehensively on Amazon.)

Having read the book in one night from cover to cover, I am writing this post to urge others, particularly Jewish women who come from an ultra-religious background, to do the same. 

For one thing, it's a great read.

Second, in the end Leah gets the true love that she always wanted, was denied, and deserves. I don't think it's a spoiler to reveal that Leah ultimately creates her own kind of life, her own identity, finding joy in selfhood, a non-subservient and equal marriage, and motherhood.

Photo of Leah Vincent and her child via Failed Messiah

Finally, Leah makes meaning out of her own extraordinary pain by joining Footsteps, an organization that helps other Jewish refugees from the contemporary cult known as ultra-Orthodoxy. (And they ARE refugees, often left penniless and on the street by their families, for others to prey on.)

Sin and Salvation, of course, is the kind of book Leah's parents would never read. 

But it's for that reason alone that the rest of us should do so. So that we can save their children from Leah's intended fate.

 * All opinions my own.

Promoting Open Data Relies On Step 4

Just uploaded this slide today. It's a one-pager I put together to explain what our Office does at the National Archives.

Basically, we look for faster, better, cheaper ways to promote public access to historical records.

The most efficient way to do that, obviously is to put those records on the Internet.

But one of the most frequently overlooked issues concerns the importance of private sector partners who will display that data where the public actually congregates.

This is step 4 of the wheel.

It is no small feat to get our data organized, consistent and uploaded. As much of it as possible.

But after that, you've got to get those raw feeds out where people can see them.

The web is good.

Social media is better.

Wikipedia is better - we're doing a lot of work there.

But it would be best if every piece of information we had in our catalog, were available wherever the public consumes information.

And even beyond that - imagine if the public could crowdsource what they see in front of them, and add more information than is available to the government.

Talk to each other, and refine the data together.

Eventually, with all of it connected at the meta-level.

Pretty wild, right? 

That's the vision of Open Data - and the government cannot do it alone.

* All opinions my own.


Sycophancy, The Breakfast Of Fools and Killers

Photo of Hitler (may his name and memory be erased forever and ever), left, 
with his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, right, via Historical Times

During the Holocaust Joseph Goebbels served as Hitler's Minister of Propaganda. Hitler who famously said

"By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise."

Goebbels loved Hitler, unconditionally, and served him with a fanatical loyalty that has been described as "the emotional essence of totalitarianism." 

The world they inhabited was a thicket of lies.

Their association did not end well for Goebbels. He and his wife killed themselves and he arranged for the murder of all their children on May 1, 1945.

Goebbels was an extreme example of a sycophant. 

But this quality is also very common. As they say, "flattery will get you everywhere" and so many people try it as a means to achieve self-esteem, popularity and success (screenshot below via Google).

Remember Sally Fields' famous Oscar-winning speech? Who can ever forget it - she said:

"You like me, you really like me."

The funny thing is, when you act like a sycophant, people always know you're doing it. And they generally always know why, too.

Needless to say, this doesn't make you look good. Thus a definite career-limiting move. So actually the strategy doesn't work all that well.
Screenshot via Urban Dictionary

Boot lickers are a constant feature of the movies. Remember Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games?

Screenshot of Elizabeth Banks, left, as Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games 
(with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, right) via The Hot Hits

Effie wasn't totally bad.

She, like the rest of us, was just trying to survive in a system that seemed far more powerful than she was - or could ever be.

But at the end of the day you have to ask yourself whether the sacrifice of your most personal soul is worth it. 

Maybe it's better to have a little less flattery in the world. And a little more objectivity. A life you can look back on and say, "At least I lived my real, personal truth."

* All opinions my own.

Boil It Down & Blow It Up

Red balloons are simple, clear and there is nothing else like them. They stand out in every room. There is even a hit song about them called "99 Red Balloons."

Similarly, the most valuable brands are totally different yet belong everywhere -- always while being completely unique.

On an individual level, celebrities are in-your-face memorable:
  • The Kardashians
  • Elvis
  • Liberace
When you think of engaging retail or place-brands -- that is, brands that are more than just a single individual -- they effectively express a larger-than-life personality that is distinct and hard to duplicate:
  • Starbucks
  • Apple
  • Disney
Most people are pretty tame. They paint inside the lines and use the ordinary amount of colors.

But if you want to be an extraordinary marketer, you've got to walk, talk, eat, sleep and dream in glowing neon.

More than that, you've got to show the most fiery part of your soul right there on the surface. Don't bury it under a lot of irrelevant talk. Unlike the rest of life, people are looking only for the main and most relevant idea.

* All opinions my own.

The Workaround

The following is a fictionalized composite meant to illustrate the difficulty of obtaining needed software in a bureaucratic system.

Part I. What's The Problem?

"Tell me what's happening. Why can't we get a proper system in place?"

"They told us to take it to the Committee."

"What Committee?"

"The one that makes decisions about these things."

"Why do you need a committee? Isn't this a basic off the shelf product?"

"Well we have another system that we use. They installed it last year."

"What system is that?"

"Oh, it's called Marbles. It works for anything."


"Yes, Marbles."

"Marbles isn't meant for that kind of function. It's a completely different animal."

"I know, we told them."


"Well they said to write up our requirements."

"Did you do that?"

"Yes, here." 

A piece of paper is produced. With bullets.

"Those are requirements for the kind of system you used to use."

"Yes, it worked fine."

Part II. The Manager's Dilemma

Right. The old system worked fine. Just like the new one. 

Except we had no hard data on--
  • How many requests? Week to week? Year over year?
  • What types of requests? 
  • How fast were they fulfilled? Were they on time? Did we prioritize?
  • How happy were the customers? Or would they claim that we missed a requirement, one added in the hallway during a conversation about weekend golfing and scope?
  • How about the employees? How was morale? What was the division of labor?

On to the Committee. Which went about as well as one would imagine.

Part III. The Post-Game Discussion

"You went to the Committee? Why?"

"What was our choice?"

"Oh, man." 

He guffawed a loud guffaw.

"And what did you say?"

"I outlined the business requirements just like they told me to."

"Let me guess...they told you that Gus is in charge of this one."

"That's right."

"And that you should wait until he and the team come up with the Big Solution."

"How did you know?"

"Welcome to the Organization. I'll see what I can do."


* Note: All opinions my own. 

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