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Fail Upward

"So tell us, Dannielle. What is the secret of your success?"
The interviewer stood there, calmly waiting. It was 8:45 a.m. and she was fresh and undisturbed.
I, on the other hand, was wringing my sweaty hands trying not to freak out.
What a question! What an arrogant ass I'm going to sound like! I'm not qualified to tackle this! Only G-d knows!
The clock was ticking. This was live TV. The wind on my face felt icy and violent.
The words shot out of my mouth like a missile.
"Fail upward."
Oh crap. Oh, crap oh crap oh crap. Does this mean I sound like a failure now?
But it is not my way to be political. And my heart truth is that everybody fails, constantly. There is no other way to learn to live. Think about it:
  • Toddlers fall down - a lot. Then they walk.
  • Students start their dream major, then can't keep up or are disinterested, and realize they'd rather do something else.
  • Professionals armed with degrees and certifications apply for jobs and are rejected, then change careers or start their own businesses.
  • Couples find that love is a complicated dance, and that they will trip over each other many times instead of looking elegant. Sometimes they can't dance with each other anymore.
Life is pain. Winners fall down and pick themselves up.
In a job setting, or any setting really, they act roughly like this:
  • Action Bias. Looking for a job is not enough. Join an industry group. Help others find work. Volunteer. Read. Train. Re-train. Go to lectures. Repeat.
  • All-In Effort. When you're in the job, you do your best. You're not bitching and complaining and hanging back because things aren't perfect. You're the 110% girl, or guy.
  • Active listening. You're observing all the time what's going on. When you get good feedback yourself, or you see others get it, you make a mental note. A-ha! That kind of thing works well around here. When the opposite happens and you get negative cues, you never, ever dismiss it as irrelevant or incorrect. Perception is always reality.
  • Acceptance. The cycle of life applies to all people, all relationships, all groups, all brands, and all jobs. One way or another, they all eventually come to an end. It sucks, it really sucks, and you'll grieve and as part of that you will blame yourself. In some ways you'll probably be right. Gather in the reality of what happened without judgment. Observe it like an anthropologist, a sociologist, a psychologist studying a case.
  • Adaptation: When you are accepting of yourself, you are able to pinpoint with clarity where you flourish and when you flail. From there it is a short step toward saying, the next time X happens, I will respond in Y way and not Z.
In short, winners take for granted the bumps and bruises of life. They are not shocked to find themselves confronted with the latest and greatest screwup - theirs or someone else's. They watch and they learn and they move on.
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia as well as her own independent, freelance sole proprietorship. This blog is written 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: Stig Nygaard via Flickr.

Waking The Government Up From Its Slumber

"They get you, one way or another."
She had come up to me from behind. And hearing that voice I gave her a GIGANTIC hug, gigantic.
" -----! " I roared. "It is so good to see you!"
We stepped back for a second. Took each other in.
"Well you haven't changed," she said. "At all."
I should never have seen her again in my life. We'd chatted briefly once or twice about a decade ago, and I moved on to other things.
But the universe makes us encounter people. I was in town that day for a conference, and stopped for food on my way home. It was wildly improbable that she would ever go to such a greasy, cheap food bar, but improbably, she had.
We each got food and took our seats. There I was, with ravioli and french fries. While she, of course, had broccoli and honeydew melon.
"Things over there haven't changed at all, either," she said. And proceeded to tell me everything.
I am from a family of Holocaust victims and I tend to gobble my food, because I subconsciously fear it will be grabbed away.
My friend was clearly not from such a family. She took slow, steady jabs at the vegetable. Her plastic fork impaled and sliced it. And as I watched her I knew that the broken bureaucracy had without a doubt met its counterpart in her.
They might leave her in her cube until she rotted, sure. But she would doggedly show up, every day. Until once they would find her leaning forward, lifeless. As though she had taken an afternoon nap.
The encounter was a bucket of cold water after the conference.
There, we saw dazzling hours and hours of bright and sparkly concepts:
  • Disruption
  • Innovation
  • Change
  • Culture
  • Results
I think I got a little high, actually. The lights were dimmed and disco bulbs were beaming. There was a candy bar and Pirate's Booty and cupcakes and they even brought in an arcade.
And the crowd clapped and hollered and cheered. (Well, Washington-style, at least. We clapped a lot.)
We watched the speakers and we knew - or maybe, we told ourselves - that the old, staid, bureaucratic version of Washington was headed out fast.
And that in its place was something even better.
I get so excited by this stuff. There was me flying high, so high up on 99 red balloons. This was different than in the past, I somehow knew it.
My friend took her garden shears to my inflated enthusiasm. Her appearance that day was a reminder.
The house you are designing may be beautiful.
But before you can even think of building it, you'll first have to get rid of the one you're in.

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: Helga Weber via Flickr.

A Fun SlideShare Pilot - "Professional Journey"

12 Social Media Trends for 2015

Last night I gave a talk in my personal capacity (not as a representative of the National Archives, or the U.S. government) for the University of Maryland University College MBA program, which was kindly hosted by UMD's Universities at Shady Grove.
The video is now available here. It's an hour-long webcast; you'll see me answering the questions as they come in.
Below is a brief summary of the trends outlined there. To get the full flavor and context of the talk, please view it. There's a lot of interaction and it rolls pretty quick - hope you enjoy.
I. "People" Trends
  1. Employees as social media ambassadors
  2. The end of corporate messaging in favor of employee-generated, user-powered collaborative spaces
  3. LinkedIn as a social space - with real opinions
II. "User Process" Trends
  1. Immersive social
  2. Services that post content for you
  3. Continued imbalance between total anonymity and disregard for privacy
 III. "Content" Trends
  1. Web-based shareable entertainment content
  2. Music as a focal point of social
  3. Real-world events captured on social media
 IV. "Business Model" Trends
  1. The end of the term "branding"
  2. Focus on the individual expert / boutique agency, owned by a corporation
  3. The demise of traditional project planning and the rise of ever-faster agile and spontaneous approaches, with instant metrics
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 Flavio via Flickr.

Why A Show About Sex Makes Me Cry

Thanksgiving is coming up.
You know when you bring the turkey home from the kosher place, or Trader-Joe's, Giant, Publix, Shop-Rite or wherever? And you stick your hand into the bird and pull out all the guts? And then look inside?
That is what watching Transparent is like. It's the first show I've ever seen to mix so naturally what we laboriously termed "sex, gender, and sexuality" in graduate school.
In a way, it's not even about sex.
It's about who you really are at the core. Your most personal self, your truths, the things you think you're hiding but you're not.
You can't.
As you get older, the gradually increasing inability to act like someone else.
Transparent wouldn't have been watch-able, or even make-able, 10 years ago. Or even 5, I don't think.
It reflects something happening in our culture, a seismic change.
But it's so imperceptible we think it's happening naturally.
After so many tentative years of drawing, then photographing, then filming ourselves -
Then learning how to post it for the world to see---
Every minute.
After discovering that our personal selves were like brands, and that their inner qualities existed, in a sense to be harnessed---
After realizing that our quirkiness would make us never fit into any corporate kind of mold---
We have emerged, or are emerging, from a very restrictive kind of box.
A box that held a set of rules inscribed in stone.
Not the rules themselves, necessarily.
But the belief that every situation has a "right" and a "wrong" way to handle it, to represent it.
Rules about what to do.
We've grown tired of all the boxes and rules, haven't we? We know there is no salvation in obeying.
Transparent represents the loosening of tight collars, pulling out neckties, putting up one's feet to have a glass of red wine.
It shows adults breaking free from social convention, because sometimes you have to do that to be who you are.
It shows that everyone's life has at least one good shonda - roughly translated fro the Yiddish, "a disgrace" - and once they are free, they can actually breathe again.
It shows that things weren't better in 1952, 1972, or 1994, either. When they were shoved under the rug to varying extents.
It's almost 2015 now.
We are looking for entertainment like this, that reflects back our endless search for ourselves. What is deepest, and authentic and pure and what we somehow lost amid a modern life full of artifice.
All our worries, all our pain, all the struggle and the tears. We are so hard on ourselves, and on each other, for nothing.
Joy in life comes from simple authenticity. From recapturing the childlike ability to love, and trust.
To be intimate with your other.
To know and be yourself.
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. "Transparent" graphic via Amazon.

That iPhone Under The Desk May Be Telling You Something

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17.... you may wonder whether something that affects so many people can really be a disease. - Richard A. Friedman, "A Natural Fix for ADHD," The New York Times, October 31, 2014 (emphasis added)
Astonishing news here: Boredom is caused by...boredom.
No way!
And here I was thinking that it was a dis-ease.
Only human beings are so odd as to turn normal human reactions to abnormal situations into mystifying, stupefied clinical diagnoses.
The average child is full of wonder and energy. The classroom is set up for adults' convenience.
Plop the child into an average classroom, with the average boring teacher and dried-up curriculum, and watch them begin to wriggle and writhe. As if in pain.
They are in pain!
Put the average opinionated teenager in a classroom full of 36 kids and make them raise their hand before they speak.
It isn't long before they're skating out into detention, or "behavioral reform review," or whatever they're calling it nowadays.
As a teen bored out of my mind by high school, my favorite character in The Breakfast Club (1985) was Bender. Only Judd Nelson could have played him like this.
This character was smart, he was angry, he was opinionated and he didn't give a shit.
I felt like I wanted to be him.
I wanted the courage to talk back to lazy, smug, abusive teachers who acted more like prison wardens than mentors. As Bender did in this exchange with Vernon, the detention master:
Richard Vernon: You're not fooling anyone, Bender. The next screw that falls out will be you.
John Bender: Eat my shorts.
Richard Vernon: What was that?
John Bender: Eat... My... Shorts.
Richard Vernon: You just bought yourself another Saturday.
John Bender: Ooh, I'm crushed.
Richard Vernon: You just bought one more.
John Bender: Well I'm free the Saturday after that. Beyond that, I'm going to have to check my calendar.
Richard Vernon: Good, cause it's going to be filled. We'll keep going. You want another one? Just say the word say it. Instead of going to prison you'll come here. Are you through?
John Bender: No.
Richard Vernon: I'm doing society a favor.
John Bender: So?
Richard Vernon: That's another one right now! I've got you for the rest of your natural born life if you don't watch your step. You want another one?
John Bender: Yes.
Richard Vernon: You got it! You got another one right there! That's another one pal!
Claire Standish: Cut it out!
Richard Vernon: You through?
John Bender: Not even close bud!
Bender doesn't win anything as a result of standing up to authority.
But watching the movie we know who is going to succeed professionally...Claire.
The one who secretly sided with Bender, but openly told him to pipe down.
Organizations always reward conformists - like Claire.
But it's the independent thinkers - the Benders - who provide the creative input that adds value.
The Claires of the world tell their bosses what they want to hear.
They are dressed perfectly at all times.
They show up at 9 and leave at 5 and think in boxes so that they can get an "A."
Most of the time they're just as smart as the Bender. But their spirits are broken. They've been "socialized," meaning they're mowed down by the machine.
You are fooled by them, because it seems so natural.
But while they're looking at you and nodding, there's this hum of tapping that's almost indiscernible to the ear.
That creativity they have - it's flowing into an iPhone. Into texting, and Facebook, and Instagram, and Pinterest and anything else they can do to keep from going insane while they grind away at the mind-numbing tasks you've given them.
They know you don't want to hear what they really have to say. So they're sharing their true thoughts and feelings in such a way that you will never be able to access them.
How would you diagnose that kind of ADHD?
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 Julie Edgley via Flickr