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The Things We Don't Blog About

There is an old saying: “Those who know don’t tell, and those who tell, don’t know.”

We don’t hear honest stories enough but if we did I think that could be a catalyst for real change.

These are the things we should blog about more, not only because we need to vent and get support but also it’s the personal stories that reflect social reality.

  • The personal is political.
  • The personal is economic.
  • The personal is cultural.

The personal can change society for the better.

What happens when we proliferate the opposite? All the supposedly "authentic" and "unbiased" interviews, case studies, market research, Facebook posts, Tweets and blogs that are only there to sell.

Typically they have no disclaimer at all, because you're just supposed to know that they're promotional.

Truth be told, I have come to expect it but also feel a little angry trying to figure out the credentials of every piece of information out there. I fully understand that "product placement" is a value creator in the New Economy. But the longer-term consequence of undermining true social media is a culture of inherent distrust.

A couple of issues here:

  • How do we make it safe for people to share their personal experiences in a constructive way?
  • How can we establish rules of the road, so that business blogs and posts are clearly “marked” to the reader so that they know where your interests lie and so they can judge for themselves how big a grain of salt they should take it with?

We are seeing the rise of a transparency ethic that insists on peeling away the layers of the onion ruthlessly, even if it seems like no matter how much you do so there is always more underneath.

It’s one of those social experiments where we don’t have all the answers now, and so we will inevitably make many mistakes until we find some kind of balance.

The most important civil right we have is free speech. We shouldn't ruin it with phony sales talk.

All opinions my own. Photo by Philippe Teuwen via Flickr.

"The Pie Gets Bigger When You Share"

I always think we are better off when we share. I have never thought it possible to do otherwise and survive.

What should we share? Our feelings, especially. Our truthful beliefs. Our authentic presence in the moment.

What should we share? Our information, if we can. What is useful to others. The tide that lifts all ships.

What should we share? Our creativity. Wthe best of ourselves, our gifts.

Why don't we share more? Because we have learned not to trust one another. Because we think there is only one pie. And that the pie gets smaller the more guests you have at the table.

The opposite is true. The more you share, the more the pie expands.

A very wise Chief of Staff told me this once, before I truly understood the importance of the statement. Like with all true statements, it remains a principle for life.

We aren't happy unless we share.

All opinions my own. 

The Language Of The People

According to a new Gallup poll, Americans believe that government is the #1 problem in America today.

Not jobs.

Not wars.

Think about this staggering accusation.

Now think about all the things we depend on the government for. Jobs that get done, reliably, by people who actually do care.

Is it possible that people hate on government because we don't communicate well?

I think so. I think it's very likely.

We may blame screwups but even screwups can be explained in honest simple terms. And they should have reasonable consequences.

Government should speak in the language of the people. 

Not at them, not around them.

Say it plain and clear and in terms that average people understand and appreciate. 

It is such a basic principle. It is not rocket science.

We ought to keep it in mind.

All opinions my own. Photo by me.

"The Walking Dead" As A Commentary On Community

You misunderstand "The Walking Dead" if you think it's about zombies. It's about the question of whether community is possible.

You won't even think the premise of the question is valid unless you are of the mindset to ask it. I personally believe the show is aimed at Gen Xers, who do ask.

We are not like Boomers, or Millennials at all. I once read that they are closer to one another than to us. That is true.

To oversimplify, Boomers and Millennials have this idea that "we all should get along." We should try to change the world, no doubt -- but at the end of the day, diplomacy and group belonging come first.

Gen Xers are different. We don't believe people naturally get along -- not at all. We are very tribal; we have a select, small group of family and friends that we carry through your our lives, and that's it. 

"The Walking Dead" speaks to the deepest fear of the Xer. That their most beloved ones will be taken away. Leaving them (us) utterly alone and rudderless.

The perfect brands for Gen Y epitomize the idea that "we are all one." A fluid, interconnected mass of basically good people. When one leaves, another joins the social network. All is good because all are good.

Xers don't buy it. We are not one, we are many ones, trying to work it out and survive. 

And we're not sure which we're more afraid of, either: living through or dying from the Apocalypse.

All opinions my own. Poster via Wikipedia.

The Epiphany - Brand Exists ONLY In Interaction

I get it. I finally, finally get it.
Brand does not live in the artifacts of the brand. The symbols.
Brand does not live in the brain of the consumer. Nor in his or her heart.
The brand does live in the human interactions that surround it.
We have been thinking the wrong way for so many years. We've been thinking that the brand was somehow magically built by television commercials, by "Mad Men."
But this is not true. It was the relationships around the commercials that built brands.
It was not desire that created consumerism. Rather, it was the inculcation of desire as a social activity.
We've been thrown by the glamour of the billboards. We've been taken by the mirage of the brand-makers themselves. That is to say, they wanted us to believe that they had some magical power to bestow great brands upon us, and to pay them accordingly. 
But this is not the case. The greatest brand-makers in the world don't live on Madison Avneue at all.
They live somewhere else. They are the ones who generate a positive network of interaction among like-minded souls.
It is the memory of that interaction that creates the brand in the mind, the brand which the customer is willing to pay a premium for. 
Memories come from talking to other people. Which in the past was very small-scale: parent and child, shopkeeper and customer, doctor and patient.
Today, the brand is built through not one or two interactions but millions and billions of them. Perhaps even trillions.
The definition of a brand, therefore, is "A social unit that exists independently of the individuals which comprise it."
Following on this, you can have a positive brand or a negative one. A positive brand is a social unit that adds value. A negative brand detracts. You want to associate with a positive brand because it adds equity to you, individually.
To do the work of building a brand, then, one must actually build a social network. You build the social network around shared symbols, which serve as a linguistic and visual code that tell existing and prospective members of that network what it means.
Kanye West is a brand not because he is Kanye West. He is a brand because he crashed Taylor Swift at the Video Music Awards win, and grinned for the cameras with her in 2015, when he repeated the stunt with Grammy winner Beck.
He interacted with her, his fellow celebrities and the media interacted with him, and we interact with the spectacle. The genius of the brand maker is to know how to create a unique, relevant, compelling and consistent social commons, that others join with urgency.
Photo by Susanne Nilsson via Flickr. All opinions are my own.

A Comment On: "Why Good Judgement is the Ultimate Social Media Skill"

One approach, the approach you advocate here, is keep your personal stuff personal - don't deluge us with TMI, rants, etc. Good judgment means stopping before you post. 

Another approach, which I have come to believe in and advocate over time, is to be yourself at all times. So I do get personal, political, etc. This is not the opposite of the approach you advocate but rather a different path. Good judgment here is deciding what to say, how to say it, in what context, how often. 

 How do you decide which approach is right? How do you develop good judgment? For me it is a combination of trial and error, instinct, observation, imitation (yes!), reading, and feedback.

(All opinions my own.)


A Comment On :"Are Government Agencies About To Undergo Rapid Evolution?"

1. Extreme Scenario - Positive: Government voluntarily becomes astronomically more transparent and uses the changing paradigm as an opportunity to learn and evolve. The public reacts with dismay at some of what they learn and successfully demands reform, but ultimately trust in government is increased as reform is undertaken strategically and at a measured pace. 

2. Extreme Scenario - Negative: Government defends more and more against public demands for increased transparency. The public reacts with dismay, causing trust levels to decrease. When change inevitably is brought about, it is painful all the way around. 

 3. Likely Scenario - Hybrid: Some forces in government move toward increased transparency, others against. Some in the public try to reinforce the positive, others are angry and suspicious no matter what. Process not optimal. Outcome not clear. 


(Opinions are always my own.)

Do Government Employees Have Freedom Of Speech?

Ran across this comment I posted to GovLoop on April 22, 2013, that was picked up by the Washington Post with a mention. Nearly two years later the principles still hold up pretty well. 

It’s a free country, everybody has freedom of speech, and it is statistically impossible that you will agree with every single thing your agency, another agency or the government does as a whole.

You want to make the government work better. And every day people take to social media, face-to-face conversation and everything in between to say what they think.

Plus, honest conversation promotes transparency and therefore credibility. To my mind it shows the public that we care.

However, there are times when speaking your mind may not be the best choice.

Here are five factors I use to guide and sometimes limit my public comments:

  • Focus on the general (rules and best practices) not the specific.
  • Remember that I am in a sense a representative of my Agency’s brand (and the brand of government) whether I am speaking in a personal capacity or not. This is true of any employee of any organization.
  • Stick to designated roles and responsibilities – in my Agency only Public Affairs or designated experts on specific topics are authorized to explain or comment on what we do publicly, and to address controversy.
  • Do not do anything that may interfere with mission performance. In some Agencies this is written into a code of conduct.
  • Confidentiality–don’t talk about things that are nonpublic information.

Since then: a few updates that can all be boiled down to "good judgment":
  • There is no foolproof decision filter for any of this; the answer is often "it depends." 
  • Given the low trust that the public has in government, I actually think it reinforces government credibility when employees themselves are respectfully critical. 
  • There are going to be times that all of us go out on a limb because of an issue we care about. We should never be so cautious and so guarded that we forget to be human, as long as we are appropriate, constructive and follow the law. One good middle of the road approach is to focus, rather than taking on everything. Another is to limit the audience for your past personal posts as they become irrelevant.
  • Social media is increasingly making it impossible to distinguish professional from personal, and we are really going to have to think through the norms that will dually make us trustworthy in a social media setting while also maintaining a distinct public persona as a civil servant - this is a very complicated row to hoe. 
  • It is always important to choose your words carefully, and also to remember that whether you intend it or not, or have a disclaimer or not, if you are known as a federal employee then you may be seen as speaking on behalf of the government. This is particularly so if you inhabit a visible position, a high ranking position, or a position where you engage in outreach on the same platform where you speak in a personal capacity.
I am a deep believer in our civil right to freedom of speech and in my mind and heart I know it ultimately moves us forward. At the same time, I am also a believer that when you work for any organization you are ethically bound not to get in the way of its operations. And we do live in the real world, a world where social media has effectively erased the line between professional and personal.

In my view, the ideal balance is to present yourself always authentically, but diplomatically.

Everyone feels strongly about things. You don't want to seem like the kind of person who's forever hiding, but you also don't want to make it impossible for others to work with you.

Note: All opinions are always my own. Nothing here constitutes official advice or agency guidance, and I am not a lawyer. When in doubt, please seek the advice of a competent legal professional.

5 Ways To Help Your Resume Stand Out

Over the past couple of months, a few people have asked me for advice on this. I don't have the magic formula but I do think there are some things you can do over and above the standard things, like tailoring your resume to the job announcement. 

1. Ask A Mentor

Ask someone to help you out, to give you advice either regularly or periodically. Join a mentor-mentee program. Most people would be honored to do this as long as it's not too big of a time commitment. You can have more than one. Remember to return the favor.

2. Volunteering & Professional Industry Activities

You want to show that you add value. You are driven to add value, and will find a way to do it no matter where you are - working independently and together. You can volunteer for a charity, join an industry group, start a group, and so on. By doing this you show that you are proactive, a team player, and it helps you gain visibility in your area of expertise.

3. Innovate 

If you want to stand out from other applicants, do the work first and let it speak for you. Start a project or initiative. Demo a best practice. Get your name out there. The more you do, the more you share, the more recognition you receive, the more you've proven that you are the expert and the more reason to choose you.

4. Technical Skills

Employers are generally very impressed when you show that you have a lot of technical skills. List them on your resume exhaustively. If you don't know something, train yourself using one of the free resources out there. 

5. Portfolio & References

These two things go together: Build your online presence through a self-created portfolio of creative work, and endorsements for the work that you have done. There are a lot of free resources out there with which to do this. People who do this are showing that they have confidence in the work they'v done, and that others do too. It's not technically difficult at all, more emotionally challenging because most people don't like to promote themselves so baldly.

What can you spend less time on? Personally I don't think the cover letter matters all that much. It's often a lot of fluff. And if it sounds insincere, then it's actually a real turnoff.

Overall, it's a competitive world we live in and growing more competitive by the day. It is tempting to think that a host of unfair factors are holding you back. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't, but my experience is that people who are highly skilled, highly motivated, and highly literate in the process job-hunting are at an advantage.

All opinions my own. Photo by Michael Maggs via Wikipedia.