Search This Blog

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. 

"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