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"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.
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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.

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.

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










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.
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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.