Sunday, May 31, 2015

5 Reasons Facebook Is The New LinkedIn

1. People prefer to do business with people they connect with emotionally. Your postings on Facebook reflect your feelings.

2. People prefer to do business with people they trust. An authentic presence on Facebook shows that you are a real, trustworthy person, rooted in relationships and community. 

3. Facebook is easy to use and friendly, while LinkedIn can be difficult to use and feels elitist. The future is about including all, not leaving people out.

4. Facebook provides a lower barrier to entry for honest comments. It is less uncomfortable to be yourself in this environment, where everyone seems to be chiming in and having their say.

5. People increasingly get their news from Facebook, but not from LinkedIn. It is the equivalent of the civic commons, and going forward the line between work and life will be virtually erased.

I am on Facebook at If you're not insane, feel free to reach out and friend me.
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. 

A comment on the New York Times story about Jonathan Rosenblatt

My husband saw the New York Times story on the screen and immediately gasped. "Oh my G-d. Rosenblatt." 

I knew right away.

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt was the rabbi of the shul we attended, the Riverdale Jewish Center in New York. He was the officiating rabbi at our wedding. And unfortunately, he also took Andy to the mikvah for a quote, "ritual bathing which he said was needed before marriage."

For a few years now, I have watched the stories come out in the media about rabbis and pedophilia. I had hoped that it was just one person here and there, and finally it dawned on me that something much more pervasive was going on. On top of that, it's also become very clear that the Jewish system of rabbinic ordination and supervision, as well as the educational system, have failed our children utterly, with offenders protected by the system while victims were punished and expelled. 

I count myself lucky that the negative experience I had with a perv-y rabbi (Mordechai Sevy) was limited to said rabbi "hugging" me. But unfortunately, the negative impact from the experience affected me terribly for many years, and hurts to this day. For a small child can intuit, but not comprehend, what's happening when someone "creeps out" on them, and unfortunately I self-blamed, shamed, and felt lousy about myself for a very long time after fifth grade.

In any case, we are discussing this story at Failed Messiah and I wanted to share my comment there below as well, in case you're following this story and it could be helpful to you:
"Pedophiles typically 'groom' their targets in five stages:
1. Find someone vulnerable
2. Learn more about them
3. Give them what they need (e.g. a shoulder to lean on...)
4. Lower their normal inhibitions about nudity
5. Attack 
"It is not surprising that a rabbi would be helpful to his victim. In fact that's the only way he'd get away with it. 
"It's also not surprising that we still have so much denial going on. Nobody wants to believe this stuff; it's disgusting. 
"But it flies in the face of reason to defend Rosenblatt for having 'searching conversations' about spirituality WITH 12 YEAR OLD BOYS WHILE THEY ARE NAKED IN THE SHOWER. 
"Anybody who has been to yeshiva knows that you're not supposed to discuss holy subject matter in the bathroom, period. 
"And anybody who's spent even five minutes reading the paper over the past five years has seen the explosion of reports of sexual abuse against children by the point where even the most Orthodox among us say, please go to the police. 
"It is not clear what help can be given to survivors of past abuse, other than love, acceptance and support. It is however clear that going forward, we have an obligation to our children to be very, very, very careful about who they are spending their time with and under what circumstances. 
"And you don't have to be a genius to know, that if a grownup is trying to get a kid alone and naked, ROUTINELY, that person should not be teaching, coaching, counseling, or clergy-ing that child, anytime, ever."
It is heartening that the observant Jewish community is waking up and taking action. It's not necessary to provide a laundry list of names, but the most fundamental level of understanding has finally been reached that sex abuse is a crime to be reported to the police.

There is also a watchdog and social services organization called Jewish Community Watch.

And though I'm still pretty angry and hurt inside, I have come to a realization. Bad Jewish leadership made me run away from religion for such a long time, as if to save myself. But what I really want and need is to go back into the faith, and help rescue it from the bad people who have led it astray.

I'm happy to see that there are many good rabbis, men and women, who will not tolerate the destruction of our people from the inside. 

I intend to serve as a microphone to amplify their efforts.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

the invisible thing driving your brand

If I ask you -- as brand producer or a consumer -- why you make or buy the things you do, you will not answer me well. You may try to be truthful, but the level of real insight that I get from you will likely be fairly low.
This matters for marketers a hell of a lot, since we want to make money and spend the least amount of money doing that. For a marketer to help a brand producer effectively, the producer has to know what they're doing and why - and they have to understand what motivates the customer extraordinarily well.
Your value proposition is tied partly to the functional asset you give the customer, but it's more fundamentally about your passion. This is the space where your customer connects to you, when they could simply buy the cheapest product at the cheapest price from anybody else. It's your source of equity.
Brand consultants can help you, and so can market researchers. But be careful -- bad data puts you in a worse place than having none. 
  • A survey may be cheap, quick and carefully worded to be objective. But it's also unreliable, because people filter their spontaneous answers through the self-aware and self-conscious mind.
  • Interviews and focus groups, meanwhile, while potentially interesting, are a minefield of potential bias, group dynamics and transference from interviewee to interviewer and vice versa.
  • Observation is biased by the researcher's own filters.
  • Textual analysis - such as a review of popular culture - is also subject to cultural bias and interpretation.
And we haven't even talked about the influence of the research sponsor - the things one can and cannot actually discover, given whoever is paying the bills.
Yet we have to do research, and we must arrive at answers. And we don't have all the time in the world. So what are we to do?
  • Rely on the creative genius of a brand producer - someone who knows what the customer wants without asking.
  • Triangulate the methods - use two or more, and compare the results.
  • Work sequentially - start with the most qualitative and exploratory approach, as in ethnography, and narrow it down to the survey.
  • Have multiple people review the same data - minimizing the chance of any one person distorting it with bias.
All of the above are standard answers. But there is one more I really like, and that is less often talked about: studying the nature of the interaction itself. That is to say, one studies not only the content of a subject, but also the research process.
Process data is implicit. It's frequently unexamined. But it's highly influential over one's results. Don't look at only what you learned, look at how you learned it: Seriously, how did you get the work done? What was the sequence of events, what were the methods, and what stands out as odd or strange?

For example, let's say I'm studying the fashion preferences of preteen girls. The typical way to find out what they like to wear? Poll them online; pay them to participate in a discussion; observe their outfits at a local hangout; review the stuff they write and share online.

Or maybe I just find someone who "just knows."

But that partial view would exclude so much about process.

  • How does one gain entry into their world? 
  • Who among them speaks up as a leader? 
  • What kinds of things are they comfortable talking about?
  • What types of devices do they use to communicate? 
  • To what extent do they interface with others virtually or in real life? 
  • How do they actually get to the store, or do they even go? 
  • Do they make their own clothes, or buy them? 
  • What do they seem to take for granted?
  • Who do they seek to impress?
  • What in the research process went wrong, was unexpected, or proved difficult to work through?
  • What did the brand producer or whoever sponsored the research expect to hear? What did they not want to admit into the study?
The "how" of research is incredibly important to record, even in one's mind. It is a deep and rich wellspring for creative inspiration.
All are opinions my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Nagesh Kamath via Flickr Creative Commons.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Die, Or Community

As a child I led a very lonely life because we moved every year and best friends became increasingly hard to come by.
Plus we were a weird family, as far as families go. A little of this, a little of that, but we didn't really belong anywhere.
I found refuge in dolls and later in reading, performing and art and eventually (as you can probably tell), writing took over my life. Also, eventually, family.
"To love and to work," Freud said is the balance required for mental health.
He wasn't a great fan of community. For him in fact it was just the opposite - a contributor to mental illness, a gigantic thicket of rules that functions like a restraining order against mature thinking.
But Freud was incorrect. A person needs a community in order to function. At work, for example, innovation is increasingly driven not by the lone genius but by a creative team that plays off each others' strengths. And for the individual, community is a source of meaning, fulfillment and service regardless of the state of one's personal relationships.
Social media is actually an expression of community. People need it - it is only going to grow in importance - because it enables anyone to participate in community.
If Web 1.0 was information, Web 2.0 was interaction, and Web 3.0 is community, Web 4.0 is going to be the extension of virtual communities into the physical world. As we confront one another as people, recognizing our shared stake in a mutually safe place for humanity, social media will bring the world together, very literally.
I do believe it will bring about world peace. 
We have a choice: It is either die, or community.
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Painting: "Color Study: Squares In Concentric Circles" by Wassily Kandinsky via

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Federal Workforce & The Federal Brand (A Comment)

Many argue that the presenting problem is a talent gap, i.e. the Boomers are going to retire, soon. There won't be Millennials waiting to replace them, because they've lost patience with the system. Presumably the civil service will fall apart absent a solid talent pipeline to back up the Gen Xers who will need to take over when the Boomers retire.

I disagree, even though parts of the problem are presented in a way that I agree with (e.g. the part about Millennials not having patience for the system.) 

--For one thing, Boomers frequently want or need to work beyond retirement age, sometimes well beyond. So I am not convinced they're leaving as quickly as people may think.

--For another, some aspects of the system work well for Millennials, who are highly team-oriented, and prefer clear-cut criteria and expectations - defining characteristics of the civil service. 

The real issue, I think, is that a variety of external forces are combining to change the nature of work rapidly and permanently. These changes cut across all generations. And the federal civil service has trouble understanding or keeping up with them.

An article in Fast Company sums them up well. Briefly:

1. Work is more remote than on-site.
2. Employees are expected to be on-call 24/7.
3. Work is expected to be "a calling" not just what you do from 9 to 5.
4. Work/life boundaries are increasingly nonexistent as friendship is being replaced by "networking."
5. Work is increasingly project-to-project (i.e. temporary) rather than long-term or even permanent.

("These Are The New Rules Of Work," URL:; May 18, 2015; Ross Perlin)

Related trends:

1. Nomadic living - you set up shop in a remote area and telecommute
2. Communal working/workspaces - you find other freelancers and co-rent space with them
3. Full-time job + side work - you have a hobby or two that you do for money, while keeping a steady income flowing (yes, this is supposed to be your passion, ideally...I suppose)

In the federal civil service, a related major issue is the relationship between contractors and federal employees - because work culture is not manual - in order for it to be productive there has to be seamless collaboration - one team, one culture, one mission.

Given all of this, in my mind, the real question is how we define civil service as distinct from non-civil service. If it is fair to say that a key distinction is the desire for an "inherently governmental cadre of dedicated employees" then a more robust model might be a federal-wide approach, where we recruit people into the civil service in an agency-agnostic way, and then deploy them across agencies in a manner that builds a core set of skills as appropriate.

Looked at in this way, you hire for dedication and you train for skills, and you start people right out of high school. Because you want a permanent workforce with institutional knowledge that is specific to government, not a disposable one that can pretty much work anywhere.

Which would make Pathways incredibly important.

As well as employee assistance program type programming.

...a lot of other implications. 

But it goes well beyond retaining Millennials.

Once you define the structural problem and then the desired solution you're ready to start defining that solution in terms of brand.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. 

An Unlikely Brand Maestro

Strong brands are a polarizing thing.
And so it is literally impossible for me to bring up the Kardashian Klan as a form of brand brilliance without somebody yelling "boo."
As in: "They're trash!" "I can't stand them!" "You're kidding me!"
But I have long said that the Kardashians, and in particular the "momager" Kris Jenner, are a stunning example of success in creating brand equity where there was none before.
  • Most reality show stars earn a pittance. The "Krew," in contrast, earns $10 million a season for their famed show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, which is really nothing more than the cameras following them around as they do...not much of anything.
  • Kim Kardashian alone made $28 million in 2014, again for...not much of anything other than her body and her notoriety. 
  • And Kendall, aside from inking a monster deal with Estee Lauder to be the face of their makeup, reportedly earns $5,000 just for a single (140 character or less) Tweet.

But the real star of the show, one who has remained hidden in the background for a number of years, is Bruce.
Bruce represents the emotional heart of the family - what is real and honest and true. Not the image.
It is his approach that encapsulates "authenticity" and it is his style that will dominate corporate brands in the future.
I remember when Kendall and Kylie were very young. Bruce wanted to shield them from the limelight.
He didn't like Scott.
And he didn't like Kris pushing everyone around.
It turns out that Bruce had a secret all these years. But he kept it to himself until it was appropriate to share it.
And so he did, on national television. And completely stole the show from Kris and Krew in the process.
He was simply honest. He wasn't trying to get attention. But he was speaking up not just for himself, but for others who have been marginalized pretty much all their lives, for no reason other than that they represent a "threatening authentic self."
Being transgender is a very personal experience, and yet has been interpreted socially as an unjust and even shameful thing. 
What Bruce said, when I saw him on TV, was that he thought his message was much bigger than his narrow experience. And I agreed with him.
He said that the world needs a lot more tolerance. And it starts with adopting a live-and-let-live kind of attitude. You do your thing, and I will do mine.
On the same show, which was an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kris broke down in tears at the kitchen table. We saw her thick black mascara streaking down her cheeks.
Superficially she was a woman whose marriage had fallen apart, and I felt bad for her. But as a cultural text she was a brand whose image had not just fractured, but splintered, no - actually it shattered, it shattered into a thousand pieces.
All her carefully scripted moments of "being real," the episode where she had to get Depends for urinary incontinence - they were supposed to show an authentic Kris, but they were a lie.
What we really wanted to see, what we needed to see, and what brands will now need to aspire to, is the encapsulation of the most private of human experiences, packaged in a way that others can understand, tolerate, and value.
The brands that succeed at "being Bruce Jenner" are the brands that will succeed in 2015 and beyond.
All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo credit: "Bruce Jenner" by jla0379 - . Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Shavuot - Memorial Day 2015: Reflections of a Jewish Patriot

Today is the first day of Shavuot, the annual Jewish celebration of the giving of the Torah.
It is also Memorial Day Weekend here in the United States. (Tomorrow, May 25 is the holiday itself.) 
Shavuot and Memorial Day have something in common: nationhood. Each honors an essential fight that must be fought for shared identity to form.
  • Shavuot - the intangible fight for identity: The Torah, and specifically the Ten Commandments, is the fundamental framework from which the Jewish nation derives its identity. "I am the L-rd Your G-d," "Thou shalt not kill," "Honor the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." It is said that G-d held a mountain over the Jews' heads to make us accept it. And yet we also learn that the Jews said these words: "We will do (first) and we will understand (later)." It is hard to understand - did the Jews want it or not?  Given the durability of Torah observance over time, the intensity with which we have clung to it, and the passionate debates about Jewish morality that never seem to die, it appears the answer is yes and the rest is only commentary. Shavuot represents not the transmission of a policy, but rather the victorious effort to win allegiance in the hearts, minds and souls of a people.
  • Memorial Day - the physical fight for survival: The United States of America was blessed with the wisdom of its founding fathers and mothers, I believe inspired by G-d, to write the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They are similar to the Torah in laying the foundation for our beliefs as a nation. The intellectual part is all fine and good, but without actually killing the enemy, and sadly, risking and often losing our own lives in the process, our nation would never have stood a chance. Military service is more difficult and more fundamental in many ways than intellectual arguments about right and wrong, because it can cost our soldiers literally everything they have. Plus, it's inevitably ugly and morally gray no matter what the victory. If only we could all just get along, right? But we can't, and history is played out on the ground, not in a computer simulation. On this day, we honor the men and women who not only took the risk, but suffered the ultimate loss, one for which there is no compensation.
"Jewish patriot": We Jews are often stereotyped as bookish and nerdy, unable to defend ourselves - sometimes we even stereotype ourselves that way. But we have a long history of military activity, and bravery and heroism not only for Israel but in establishing the U.S. and defending its freedom.
We want to fight for what's right.
The truth is, Jews are a courageous people and again, contrary to the stereotype, we are not by and large greedy and scheming and selfish. Rather, we are deeply motivated by belief, though we may disagree vehemently about what "right beliefs" are.
So this weekend is a double holiday for me, specifically as a Jewish patriot. I love my faith and I love the United States, having been born here and bred here and being a deep believer in its framework for a civil and just secular society.
In addition, I am always awed at the respect shown to me by non-Jews, of diverse faiths, who unfailingly go out of their way to respect whatever version of my religion I choose to keep at any given moment in time.
It was good timing therefore that I walked into synagogue just in time for a certain special prayer - the prayer for the safety of the American military. 
Here it is, in English and Hebrew (via the Orthodox Union).
May it be G-d's will that we know and interpret and perform His desires correctly. May He grant us protection from those who wish us harm. May He protect our soldiers, of all kinds. So that they can simply love their lives in peace, never having to know war anymore. 
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Prayer source: Orthodox Union. Photo of the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan by Sgt. Mark Fayloga, USMC. Uploaded by Palm dogg. Source: Wikipedia.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"On Message"

"I'm supposed to be the soldier who never blows his composure
Even though I hold the weight of the whole world on my shoulders
I ain't never supposed to show it, my crew ain't supposed to know it
...I'm supposed to set an example
I need to be the leader, my crew looks for me to guide 'em
....And even though the battle was won, I feel like we lost it
I spent too much energy on it, honestly I'm exhausted
And I'm so caught in it I almost feel I'm the one who caused it" - Eminem, "Like Toy Soldiers"
False Logic
There is a fallacy about branding that really hurts the credibility of the organization trying to enhance its image.
That fallacy is the notion that people who speak for the company are in effect toy soldiers, with no brains of their own.
That spokespeople, which is to say everyone, because nowadays everyone is presumed to be an emblem of the brand (a.k.a. "brand ambassador") must robotically repeat a simple message, set of messages, themes or stories over and over again in every encounter with the public.
It is assumed, again falsely, that such repetition will somehow build up a certain image in the public's mind, because they've heard it over and over again.
The "Staff Meeting" Test
The way you know this kind of thinking is wrong, is that normal people don't believe it.
So you tell them what to do at a staff meeting, and someone speaks up. After two or three rounds of argument, they find that continuing is just not worth it.
Let's listen in:
Says A: "Everybody, remember, we must stay 'on message.'"
Responds B: "Why?"
A: "Because we don't want to confuse people."
B: "So you are saying that clarity of understanding is the result of us conforming to some talking points?"
A: "No. I'm not saying that. I'm saying that we should avoid coming up with our own answers."
B:  "Why?"
A: "Because if we speak with multiple voices, people will get confused."
B:  "Why don't we just tell people what we know?"
A: "Because WE do not have all the information."
B: "Oh."
A: "So the main thing to remember, is that we should speak with one voice. And then the people we're talking to, won't get confused."
There are parts of this conversation that make sense. But in this staff meeting, they've been overtaken by an explanation that would befuddle anyone. 
Achieving Clarity
When does "messaging" make sense? When is it a good thing to stay "on message," "speak with one voice," "stay consistent?"
And when is it better to simply let one person's observations, perceptions, and collection of facts speak for themselves?
Without getting into the realm of policy, we can talk a little bit about communication theory, and how it works in practice.
From a theoretical point of view, your brand is:
  • the ongoing and dynamic result of -
  • the numerous interactions between -
  • "your organization" - meaning you and all the people you employ and the systems you use that touch the customer - and - 
  • "the outside world" - meaning any human being on the planet who physically or emotionally touches a manifestation of your brand.
Your brand becomes credible the more you tell the truth, the more people you tell the truth to, the more qualitatively authentic your speaking of the truth is.
And so from that point of view, you have a vested interest in allowing the members of your organization to speak authentically, at all times, on matters of interest to the customer.
At the same time, the reality of all organizational life is that valuable information is often highly confidential.
And so the "facts" -- to someone who works for an organization but is not privy to its confidential information -- may not be facts at all, but rather misperceptions.
When & How 
It is for that reason that organizations need to tightly control who talks about which thing, because when somebody does talk, the things they say need to be true.
And if the organization cannot talk about certain things, it needs to know precisely which things those are, and say so to the public explicitly.
Things like "talking points" and "messaging" are helpful, to an extent, but only to those who are supposed to speak on behalf of the organization.
They don't replace the facts on the ground, but they do provide a context, a way of helping the outside world understand the reasoning behind a given set of actions.
Only a few people should be dealing with communication aids like this, and they are the individuals who are specifically appointed to speak for the company.
As for everybody else, a far preferable way of ensuring consistency, accuracy, and ultimately credibility is to have a very simple set of policies in place, that allow for a maximum flow of information about facts that the public is entitled to, facts that the speaker would be in a position to know intimately and to represent.
And to leave the messaging to the professional spokespeople, the messengers if you will -- who actually do know what is going on, who understand the context within which certain things get said and not said, who know the distinction between what can and cannot be shared, and who aren't just playing the part of "toy soldiers" but actually have a hand in the battle plans.
No brand benefits from robots pretending to be humans speaking in its name. Credibility comes from authenticity, humanity, spontaneity. From accurate information, distributed widely, with confidential information explicitly identified and just as explicitly protected as appropriate.
Photo by Onion via Flickr. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Is Internalized Sexism Holding You Back?

It may be popular to think that the feminist revolution ended when women got the right to vote. (Along with a host of other legal wins.)

I am not so sure.

It seems to me that women still hold themselves back, in ways both subtle and explicit. I want to talk about the subtle ones, because often it is what we do not say that holds the most power over our actions.

1. Believing that everybody else comes first.

Where did we get this idea that women don't count? That it is our job in life to throw ourselves onto the train tracks so that everybody else can survive? It's not an either-or; in fact it's just the opposite. Half-starved humans make terrible caregivers, because they're always thinking about what they personally lack: food.

2. Believing that femininity revolves around being weak.

Those Hollywood depictions of innocent, ignorant, and not by-the-way half-starved young girls as desirable has directly contributed to this belief. The truth is, femininity is whatever you want it to be. But it's a lot easier to make personal choices when you have the physical, emotional, spiritual and financial strength to stand up for them. And did you know a lot of men depend on strong women to keep the family fed, clothed, educated and raised?

3. Believing that G-d made women essentially inferior to men, cursed, etc.

I don't care what passage of Scripture some wiseguy going by the name of holy person pulls out of their hat. This one is a big lie - a whopper. A truly religious person, of any faith, will tell you so.

4. Believing that men are "natural" leaders, "naturally" better at "important things" like military matters and finance, etc.

You may say you don't believe this but in practice do you speak up? Or defer?

Do you believe that "female chatter" is meaningless, annoying and mostly a waste of time?*

5. Believing that education and career are optional for women but mandatory for men.

Again, do your actions match your (surely very loud) protests that I have raised an irrelevant and outmoded point?

*Guess what: We're talking about you, and 99% of the time, we've got your number precisely.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Absence Of Fact - The Logic Of Faith

If you're anything like me you have a hard time with the notion of prayer. 
It's hard to say the same words again and again. It's hard to drag yourself to the house of worship. It's hard to still your mind and concentrate. And most of all it's hard to believe that saying a bunch of words makes any difference to things at all.
You can't see the results of a prayer. You can't prove that it makes any difference. Invisible words, invisible wishes, invisible intentions directed toward an invisible, possibly made-up deity who has lots of other things to do, if He does exist at all.
A couple of years ago, I saw a sermon on TV by Pastor Joel Osteen. Though I'd been taught the same thing in yeshiva, the way he put it changed my views on prayer completely. The sentiment went something like this:
"You've got to ask G-d explicitly for what you want. You've got to put your heart's desire into words, to give it form, and when you concentrate your energies on seeing it and when you ask the Lord above to favor you with Divine grace, that is when you will see abundance beyond what you have ever dreamed."
First comes thought, then intention, then activity, then goal. Genesis, Chapter 1:
"In the beginning...the earth was formless and empty....And G-d said, 'Let there be light'....and he separated the light from the darkness."
All of creation is like this. Parenthood: the movement of a soul from some mysterious origination point, into the mother's womb, and finally incarnated as a being.
Thus the popular saying: 
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
It's not popular to talk about faith among rationalists, or among people who have seen religion rampantly abused.
And if you hang around pessimists a lot, they will tell you nothing matters: "life sucks and then you die." They point to poverty, disease, and rampant human rights abuse, committed seemingly with abandon by the few against the many.
But if you look at things another way, it becomes clear very quickly that "reality" depends very often on the perspective that we choose to take.
There are people who deliberately choose an attitude of optimism, who choose a sunny disposition, despite having every reason to doubt. Despite flat-out evidence that seems to indicate: G-d never cared about their existence at all.
Those people are the ones I want to follow.
Because logicians are too quick to treat apparent facts and figures as oracles. They are not; they are just markers; at most they can tell us one story about which way the wind was whipsawing at a particular time.
And pessimists will look for any reason to harp on the negative -- practically ensuring that no good can come from any amount of effort.
From a historical point of view, human measures have always suffered from the limited perspective bestowed by limited technology. They tell us only the things we have capacity to count.
So prayer, as flawed as it inevitably is and as illogical as it may seem to many, may actually be a good use of our time. If it has absolutely no other utility, the act of stilling our busy minds can help us focus on exactly what it is we want and need to do. 
In the process, we may begin to see that we're not the masters of the universe that we thought we were. That no matter how many hours we put in at the gym, no matter how many juice smoothies we ingest, no matter how much money we have or how creative our output, there is a big clock ticking over our heads.
We are here for a limited time, during which we're given the chance to feel our limits and surpass them. We can use the power of prayer to get in touch with this inescapable reality. We can then channel our every intention toward doing things that are meaningful, productive, loving, and just. 
Beneficial from the perspective of omnipotent spirit.
Image credit: Hartwig HKD via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why The Floss Is More Important Than The Toothbrush

"Mrs. Blumenthal, it's been awhile since we've seen you," the dentist said. 
I shifted uncomfortably in the comfortable leather seat.
"Uh, you've never seen me."
Come again?
"You've seen Mr. Blumenthal," I said. "You've seen my kids. You've never seen me."
The dentist consulted his chart.
"You're right, Mrs. Blumenthal. We've never seen you."
I cringed. Here it comes.
"Why not? When was the last time you had a cleaning?"
Here comes the confession. Boom!
"I - I think it was - maybe a year ago?"
("You haven't been to the dentist in a year and a half!" my husband said later that evening. "And now it's going to cost us two thousand dollars!")
"Well why haven't you been?" asked the dentist.
He sounded genuinely puzzled.
"Ah - ah - more water, please." I rinsed and spat, embarrassed and buying time.
"I was thinking that if I stayed away from the dentist, then I wouldn't have a cavity."
Had I been able to, I'd have hung my face in shame. 
"Let me guess, you don't floss either," the dentist said.
Silence in the small exam room. Complete silence.
"Get me the anesthesia," the dentist said. "She's gonna need a double."
* * * 
I've known for years that I need to floss. But frankly it's inconvenient, a little time-consuming, and there's always the bad taste of blood at the end of it.
I don't like the reminder of decay, of death. Of the fact that the graveyard is inevitable.
So instead I brushed my teeth, faithfully.
The toothpaste smells good. The scrubbing-things-clean feels reassuring. And it's the very last thing I do before leaving home in the morning, so it makes me feel accomplished and complete.
* * * 
All of this points to the #1 fallacy of our collective thinking. A fallacy that costs us not just money, but misery and even lives.
We get all excited about launching things, a.k.a. "new beginnings." We love to architect, design, tinker. What could be sexier than a year of not shaving, not eating, working round the clock in the garage?
We get our knickers in a twist about the finish line, too. We plan the kickoff, the launch party, the ribbon-cutting, the ceremony: We love to "close the deal."
But we frankly ignore the middle. That unexciting middle. That arid stretch of desert, of plain old work, that nobody really celebrates. That is fraught with lack of motivation, failure, and missteps. That requires building and rebuilding and seemingly invisible maintenance once it's done.
We walk away from infrastructure, and so we build things that cannot stand.
* * *
My daughter is now choosing her college major. There is so much there to choose from; it seems quite overwhelming, in fact; the world before her so open, so full of stuff, so seemingly free.
As we all know a parent cannot tell a teenager anything. But if I could tell her something I would tell her this: No matter what you study, make it your business to gain the technical skills necessary to help a business build its infrastructure.
I read a lot of books in school and wrote critical analyses out the wazoo. And don't get me wrong: all of it has come in handy.
But money is scarce, nowadays. And the skills that are needed have to do with infrastructure. Making things and making them work, behind the scenes, so that the show can go on.
* * * 
Why most businesses fail? It's easy: They neglect their brands, they don't know how to build a brand, because branding is essentially infrastructure.
It is not the logo you've so carefully picked out, the color palette that so vividly depicts your corporate identity, not the "messaging" you repeat like a robot again and again.
Your brand is built in all those day-to-day, mostly hidden and hard-to-encapsulate ways that can broadly be described as "infrastructure." How you talk to your staff, how you answer the phone, how you track your projects and how you preserve your institutional knowledge. How you manage risk and how you prepare your enterprise for the future.
Maybe you thought this was boring, interchangeable, outsource-a-ble and the real work has to do with creativity, or "implementation."
If you've failed to understand the value chain, then you're right.
* * *
I'm building a brand right now. It is infrastructure. The brand itself is infrastructure, and the work I do is infrastructure too.
We're working in a very B2B space, which has been loosely defined as "advanced manufacturing." What you need to know, if you're not involved directly, is that it's the science of "making smart things in smarter ways."
Advanced manufacturing isn't a basic invention like the lightbulb. It's not a product you'll buy at the hardware store. It is an enormous, encompassing series of processes that enable you to take an invention you've already prototyped, and scale up its production rapidly and efficiently, so that your company can sell it worldwide.
In the United States, we have neglected our manufacturing infrastructure, woefully so. Unless you're in that sector and recognize that there is a crisis, and that it's hot, you don't really know about this; it's a nearly invisible deterioration. The subject brings up assorted headaches; it's had about as much glamour to the ordinary person as flossing.
But the important thing to know is that manufacturing's got teeth, quite literally. It's the primary building block of our economy. It enables us to take the things we invent and make them usable and sell-able, not just to a few people but to millions of them, billions of them, here at home and around the world. And not only that, but there are things you create when you develop infrastructure that themselves can become the primary inventions of the future.
Other countries know this and they plough money into manufacturing R&D. And over time, their investment has left us at a disadvantage.
* * * 
On my way out of the dentist's office I admitted that I hated flossing. "Is there anything else I can use?" I said, my eyes imploring the hygienist to give me some alternative that wouldn't be as unpleasant.
"It's called a dental irrigator," she said. "They invented it about a thousand years ago." And she shoved one in my hand.
Wouldn't you know it? The thing was invented right here in the U.S., more than 50 years ago, by a hydraulic engineer and a dentist.
A little bit of American infrastructure, made perfectly for my mouth.
I use it every day now - and it's great.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. There is a mention of my professional position in this post, and my understanding of the work that I do is consistent with the outreach I conduct on behalf of the federal government as part of my position. However, my communication here is personal in nature, does not represent a commentary on the management, policies, or budget of my agency or the federal government, and does not represent any attempt to conduct outreach on the government's behalf. Photo credit: 2-Dog-Farm via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Friday, May 15, 2015

5 Reasons You Can't Find The Right Words

Very few people are actually bad at communication. I freely admit to being one of them. 
It's not to knock myself, but to be honest: I live so deeply in my head, I am such an introvert, that it actually feels like a painful and difficult waste of time to stop exploring the world of ideas and converse in the real world with other human beings.
For most other people, I've found, this is not an issue. Rather, it is that they are mentally constipated -- that is, they know what they have to say, and they feel the urgency to say it, but the words get stuck in their heads.
When it's not a result of some disability, difficulty communicating is normally caused by some external factor. In my observation, if you find yourself "stuck," it's because you've been unnaturally silenced:
  1. Intimately - by an abusive parent, trusted authority figure or romantic partner
  2. Professionally - at school or at work, on the grounds that you're somehow incompetent
  3. Structurally - by your class; either the social system in which you operate has deemed you dis-privileged (economically a failure, inferior, unworthy, criminal, mentally unstable) or super-privileged (wealthy, celebrity, politically powerful). In the former case, you're considered unworthy of an audience. In the latter, you're so worthy of an audience that communication from you is a risk that requires management
  4. Ideologically - you are part of a belief system in which words must be regulated, for example religion
  5. Officially - your job is to represent an organization, and therefore your remarks must be reviewed prior to your speaking
Of course, not all regulation of speech is bad, wrong or unnecessary. At the most basic level it keeps the social order intact; imagine if we all just said what we thought! (Baseball bat, anyone?)
And in our jobs, of course, we work in a team. We have to coordinate the things we say on behalf of the organization, if only because there are sensitivities that we might not be aware of, or policies that ensure an accurate and consistent message to the public. I myself am subject to these; we all need "rules of the road."
But what I'm talking about goes beyond the rational ordering of business and social life. It's irrational, a dysfunction, and represents the tendency of social systems to oppress their individual members, regardless of the intentions of the people inside the system.
We are very blessed in the United States that communication is protected. Our Declaration of Independence says we have an "inalienable" right to three things: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" -- and the First Amendment specifically protects free speech.
When you stop people from being themselves, you turn them neurotic -- depressed, symptomatic, and unable to simply relax and "be." It's the same thing that happens when you count calories, poke your head into people's bedrooms, take attendance at prayer services.
You see, communication is more than just an output of pictures and words. It's the flow of a person's natural human energy. It's representative of their unique existence. And when it's stuck, it's like their whole life is on hold.
So how to get oneself out of this? One suggestion: RUN --
  • Away from people who try to silence you.
  • Toward those who treasure the words you have to say. 
I am very fortunate. Though at times there were those who silenced me (well, they tried) it was my mother who ferociously encouraged me -- to write, sing, play the piano or any instrument, perform in theater, pursue art and fashion studies, and express my creativity in any way imaginable.
Sadly, in her own youth she was silenced fairly regularly. Not out of any intentional cruelty, but simply as a result of living in less enlightened times, where the intimate, the professional, and the structural mixed.
As an adult my mother made things right in her own way. 
Handed me pen, paper and a ride to any lesson I wanted.
And even today, every single day, in some way, shape or form, she encourages and empowers me to speak. 
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by David Precious via Flickr.