Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category

Smorgasbord of Timely Reflections


Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Rather than one topic today, my brain is filled with thoughts about three timely subjects:

  1. Amanda Knox and where she goes from here
  2. Andy Rooney’s legacy
  3. The Jewish New Year

Amanda Knox: The story of Amanda Knox’s release from prison in Italy dominates the news. But the coverage isn’t just about the court’s decision, her reunion with her family or flight back to Seattle. What’s next for this young woman who went to Italy her junior year of college and ended up in prison for four years? We’re told she spent much of her time in the Italian prison writing and that she’ll likely write a book. One news report said that she wants to help others wrongly imprisoned. We’ll see how the trauma of her last four years — and the fame she didn’t ask for — defines her future.

 

Andy Rooney: At 92 years old, Andy Rooney delivered his last commentary on this past Sunday’s “60 Minutes.”  Mr. Rooney was almost always sarcastic and on occasion his humor had a nasty overtone, but he was always, always, always a consummate observer of life. He noticed everything and wondered why things were as they were. I often watched his commentary and thought to myself, “Exactly!” And, yet, somehow I hadn’t stopped to notice in the moment. The excuse is always that we’re too busy. Reflecting on Andy Rooney’s years of commentary during the Jewish holidays made me think about a quote from Moses, “Stand still and see!”  Andy Rooney and Moses actually make the same good point!

 

The Jewish New Year: Jews around the world are celebrating the Jewish New Year. We observed Rosh Hashanah last week and are approaching Yom Kippur.  Many of us ate apple dipped in honey to celebrate the sweetness of life. We blew the shofar (a ram’s horn) to awaken our spirits, to challenge ourselves. In our family we don’t go to synagogue, rather have a tradition of engaging in reflective, thought-provoking conversations about our Jewish identity. Many years ago I developed a series of readings, quotes and questions that our family and friends ponder each year. For example, “Life is a gift. You appeared. You had nothing to do with it whatsoever. You had nothing to do with the color of your eyes, the color of your hair, the color of your skin, or how tall you were going to be. You stand with this gift of yourself.  What are you going to do with it?….” (Millard Fuller, Founder of Habitat for Humanity)

The question Millard Fuller posed is also relevant for Amanda Knox. She’s been given the gift of an overturned sentence and a return to her life, her family and friends. What will she do with it?  Andy Rooney, at 92, can look back on his life and evaluate all he did with it…and still intends to do in retirement from “60 Minutes.”

And each year the question is relevant for me. What will I notice, think about and do?

Silencing the Monday morning critics


Monday, August 29th, 2011

I just have three things to say to the Monday morning critics of the preparation for Hurricane Irene.

 

  1. Hindsight is 20/20: We saw what happened when we underestimated the impact of Hurricane Katrina. It was impossible to mobilize the needed support after the fact. Leaders in the East coast cities and states along Irene’s path weren’t willing to risk waiting. Two cliches pop into my mind, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and “Better safe than sorry.” Cliched but never more relevant.
  2. Predicting the weather is only part science. How many times have we (in the Northeast) been surprised by a snow storm that wasn’t anticipated that turned highways into parking lots?  Or, as we experienced with Hurricane Irene, by storms that were forecast as record-breaking that passed through with less damage than predicted. Not no damage…just less damage. Thankfully Hurricane Irene didn’t live up to expectations in New York and Boston, but that’s little comfort to the people whose loved ones lost their lives, or the coastal communities that were flooded, or the neighborhoods without power because of downed power lines, or the peoples’ homes destroyed by massive uprooted trees that were no longer able to stand tall in already saturated ground.
  3. In a time of epic natural disasters, we are reminded of the sheer power of Mother Nature. Grotesquely large hurricanes, earthquakes in our major cities, record-breaking tornadoes, and a year of unprecedented droughts and floods.  Reminders that we are just mere mortals.
And I have only one thing to say to the leaders who took the risk of over-preparing for Hurricane Irene. Thank you. I hope you show the same conviction the next time when we will still have to rely on flawed science, history’s lessons and a healthy respect for Mother Nature.

How to Use Quotable Language That Connects with Your Audience


Friday, August 12th, 2011

Ace Hotel lobby, FastCompany.com

Getting my morning dose of social media, I came across an article on Fast Company.com about an intriguing hotel concept.  “Creatives gravitate to a showy New York hotel lobby [The Ace Hotel] to work hard and look good doing so,” according to the article’s author, Lizzy Goodman in \”Ace Hotel\’s Communal Workspace Shows A Winning Hand\” I highly recommend reading about this very creative — and successful — concept.

But this isn’t a blog about the Ace Hotel. This blog was inspired by a quote in the article. I’m always struck by brilliant examples of well-delivered messages, odd sentence constructions or examples of spokespersons trying too hard

“The environment here is more or less a spontaneous organism striving for homeostasis,” said one of the hotel’s co-founders.

This quote certainly makes you stop and think. But rather than ponder what the spokesperson meant, I immediately formed an impression of the spokesperson as trying too hard to be erudite.

The article’s author wrote about the experience in a way I found more immediately descriptive, “For a class of designers, academics, stylists, advertising execs, writers and entrepreneurs,” (the reader can now visualize who’s sitting in the hotel lobby), “the Ace Hotel lobby is their collective workspace….The Ace is a model of the modern workplace in a borderless world.” Got it!  And more…I love it!

Here are three suggestions for how you can speak in quotable language that connects with your audience and creates a positive impression of you as the spokesperson:

  1. Use image-rich words and metaphors that paint a picture for your audience. One example in the quote above is, “collective workplace.” Another example — very relevant during today’s tumultous economy — is the contrast between “Wall Street” and “Main Street.” Crystal clear and very visual. Here’s one more fun example:

Flight attendants typically warn us to, “Please keep your seat belts fastened until we land and the plane comes to a full stop.”  (Blah-blah-blah….) How might we listen differently if they instead said, ” If you’d like to avoid the humiliation of falling down in the aisle, please stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened until we come to a stop at the terminal.(Much more visual, conversational and fun, and this phrasing has the added benefit of being unexpected.)

2. Explore word play:

 Alliteration: “artsy ambiance,” “the practical, popular place-to-be.”

Parallel Construction: “adjusting their expectations but not yet adjusting their pocketbooks” (adapted from a quote by a financial industry spokesperson)

Compare and Contrast:

“More than 15 million people are involved in traffic crashes each year.  That’s equivalent to the populations of New York City, Chicago and the entire state of Virginia.”

“In 1990, three million people were injured and 42,000 died in auto accidents. That’s an average of 115 deaths per day or, said another way, the equivalent of a major airline crash every day of the year.”

3. Simplify or dramatize:

Physicists used to call an important phenomenon, “a gravitationally completely collapsed object.”  No one cared, or could remember the concept, until someone related the phenomenon as “a black hole.” 

Please forgive one tangent…Reading about the Ace Hotel lobby reminded me of the late 1970’s when I met with publishing friends and an occasional author in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel. I never quite felt like an insider in this amazing lobby frequented by literary and theatrical legends, but relished every moment soaking up the ambiance. The lobby — even more than the hotel rooms — was a population destination.  

Tough times for a liberal optimist


Saturday, August 6th, 2011

It’s an understatement to say that these are tough times.

It’s painful to read the newspaper each morning and watch the news at night.  Our government failed to govern, a very few extremist legislators usurped the will of the majority, we thought we’d narrowly escaped a financial crisis caused by defaulting on our nation’s debt only to witness a horrifying drop in the markets and the shameful implications of being downgraded by a ratings agency. The global economies are so tied together that a financial crisis in Europe or the United States has staggering impact everywhere. Our president — who I so desperately want to successfully lead our nation back to security, prosperity, jobs and more reasonable dialog — repeatedly demonstrates how not to negotiate. As a progressive Democrat, it was hard to watch President Obama completely give up on raising revenue along with cutting spending as the debate got tough.  It’s not negotiation when only one side compromises in any significant way. 

The financial crisis has the potential to dominate our thoughts but then we’d miss noting the presidential hopeful talking about our “Christian nation.”  What happened to separation of Church and State?  The United States of American isn’t a Christian nation, nor a Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist nation. That’s the point!

And still, more horrifying than the frightening mess facing our nation is the staggering famine in Somalia and the world’s inability to get food to the starving. How can we — in the year  2011 — merely watch the devastation, powerless to help because of the armed and violent thugs who steal the food, kill the hungry and claim there’s no food shortage.

And in this morning’s, Boston Globe, I read about three fifteen-year olds in a New Orleans suburb who were plotting to shoot fellow high school students during the first day of classes. But…we’re told that guns aren’t a problem. 

These are tough times around the globe and I feel so fortunate that my family and friends are all safe, secure and well-fed. Still…sometimes this liberal optimist just feels like screaming!

Evolving good intentions into consistent habits


Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Early in 2011 I unveiled my new SEO-friendly website (The Loeb Group) and embarked on a strategic web-marketing effort. I thought more carefully about how I used LinkedIn, tweeted daily (mostly sharing others’ tweets that I found insightful), made a point of actively participating (aka commenting) as a member of many professionally-relevant LinkedIn groups and focused on writing two to three blogs per week. I was on a roll and very soon started to reap the benefits of my hard work. Prospective clients found me via google searches. Long-standing clients checked back to discuss doing more work together.

I’m here to testify that this web marketing stuff does work! The only problem was that I soon found myself without a spare moment to keep up with my good web marketing intentions. A week went by with no new blogging. Then a few weeks, a month and too quickly more than two months had passed. While google searches still generated many Beryl Loeb and The Loeb Group links, I could no longer boast that there were pages of links.  

My good intentions had not yet evolved into consistent habits.  Worse…Without doing something quickly — blogging, posting and tweeting — I ran the risk of becoming less and less visible. So I’m back…chastened and committing to getting into the web marketing routine again. 

I’m filled with the best of intentions and hoping that this time, with the knowledge that the effort pays off and that I absolutely need to keep working at it, that I will really, really, really make web marketing a habit.  

Wish me luck…

Taking responsibility as citizens of the world, at home and work


Monday, March 21st, 2011

Do we standby and merely witness or do we get involved? How can we each personally — and then collectively — take responsibility for improving our condition in the world, at home and at work?

These are tumultuous times. The world watches as Japan is devastated by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant failures and radioactive leaks. The world watches as people revolt, in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. Our economy struggles to recover, yet remains so fragile that world events such as the flow of oil from Libya and the industrial uncertainty in Japan shake investor confidence.

Two experiences this past weekend prompted this morning’s blog about personal and collective responsibility. I attended a protest rally this weekend, just one of many protests I’ve joined in my lifetime. The mere act of attending, of standing up to be counted, is an act of personal responsibility. There was collective potential from a gathering of close to a thousand people coming together to send a message to our legislators. Perhaps most significant for me was the rallying cry in response to one individual’s speech, “Not on our watch.” A reminder that we can either sit back, shake our heads in frustration and let it happen, or step forward to try to influence what takes place in our lifetime. “Not on my watch.” “Not on our watch.”

While still thinking about the rally, I read Seth Godin’s blog, Idea Tourism.  “Idea Tourism” urges us to actively engage in our life’s experiences, to participate vs. just pass through.

Taking responsibility in Japan: worldwide expert counsel and rescuers, and individuals sending desperately needed financial support.

Taking responsibility in Libya: a coalition of countries vowing to help after debating what constitutes another country’s internal conflict vs. a humanitarian crisis. (This remains a controversial and difficult decision and the outcome remains to be seen.)

Taking responsibility back home: the budget crisis has sparked individuals and groups to get involved, to stand up to ensure that budget cuts are compassionate, balanced and compelling vs. knee-jerk, self-serving and politically motivated.

Taking responsibility in the workplace: managers and employees are taking responsibility, to add value, to help their companies save money, and ultimately to help create jobs so that more Americans can pay their mortgages and feed their families.  Managers and employees need to hold each other accountable for doing things differently.

These are tough times, and we all need to consciously live the mantra, “not on our watch.”  What will you take responsibility for making happen? What negative outcome can you help prevent?

Reputation-Building 101: What You Say and Do Matter


Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

In the news this morning there were three short celebrity stories that begged a 101 tutorial on reputation-building or at least on avoiding reputation-busting. Beyond our seemingly endless curiosity about celebrity behavior, it’s worthwhile to think about lessons we can apply to our own reputations.

John Galliano apologized for his drunken anti-semitic rants after he was fired from his job as creative director at Christian Dior.  Dior was concerned that Galliano’s reputation for inspired dress design was being overshadowed by his now infamous reputation as an out-of-control and hateful drunk. Like Mel Gibson, Galliano will be going to rehab, hoping not only to deal with a drinking problem and bad behavior but also hoping to rehab his reputation. Clearly what Galliano says matters. What you say offers the world a peek at your values. Will what you say (in conversations, in interviews, in public appearances) enhance or tarnish what you want to be known for?

In the Boston Globe’s “Names” section, Lindsay Lohan was quoted about her desire to be “identified with great films and not her personal problems , ‘I don’t want that to be what I’m known for anymore — the tabloid stuff.'”  Lohan has blown any good will that people felt for this child star with her repeated bad behavior. Her name no longer conjures up an image of her film performances; rather our brains see a disheveled party girl. Clearly what Lohan does matters. Your collective actions frame how the world (your employees, managers, clients, colleagues…) see you.  Do your actions signal confident leadership or does everything about your behavior scream, “can’t be trusted” or “volatile.”

Charlie Sheen was back on the news within hours of his children being taken away from him. No need to recap his too-many-to-count missteps lately. He says he’s “winning” and in control. But the cumulative impact of his ego-centric words and actions is that Sheen is spiraling downward. While he was previously thought of as personally wild but with some impressive credentials, his reputation is now consumed by his decline. Clearly what Sheen says and does matters. What impression do your words and actions leave with the people watching and listening (your clients, managers, employees…)?

So how’s your reputation?  What are you doing to help or hurt it?

Morning After Musings About Leadership, Messaging…


Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Looking beyond politics and what the special election in Massachusetts means for healthcare reform, economic recovery, war and peace, Constitutional rights…the state of the state, both in Massachusetts and the nation, raises questions about vision, leadership, influence, consensus building and compromise, communication and messaging.

  • Let’s start with how many Americans really understand the President’s vision — beyond rhetoric?   What does America stand for today?  How many (and who) can articulate that vision with clarity and passion?  Who’s listening and are we  unable to hear that vision through the impenetrable filters of joblessness and a not-yet-recovered economy?  Ironically, in periods of both extreme comfort and discomfort, do we retrench into a “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me) mindset that obscures our ability to hear and follow  a vision for everyone?
  • Similarly, was it conflicting visions that drove the vote in yesterday’s special election in Massachusetts or something else?
  • Just one year ago today President Obama was inaugurated after having been elected as our nation’s leader on a platform of change.  But in our understandable desperation for immediate change and frustration with the pace of the change we’re seeking, many Americans have abandoned his direction looking for what they believe might be a “quick fix” elsewhere. Is the President moving in the overall direction he mapped out during his campaign or has he radically changed course?    And, in our fast-changing world, should our leaders hold firm to a course set more than a year ago, or do we need to trust our leaders to adapt based on today’s context, circumstances, needs and opportunities?
  • When we step back and reflect, what really influenced Massachusetts’ voters?  Was it policy statements and values?  Or supporters and endorsers?  Logic or emotion?  Substance and/or style?  Which media had the greatest impact?  What role did websites and social networks play?   Powerful questions to be pondered by both politicians and business leaders.
  • Massachusetts has long been known as the “bluest of the blue” states.  A staunchly democratic state.  Yet the largest block of voters in Massachusetts are registered as independents.   (Democratic party take note.)   Despite partisan, Republican political viewpoints and supporters, Scott Brown painted himself as an independent and to his credit, he fired up the dissatisfied, disenfranchised independent voters (and many similarly unhappy Democrats) in this previously-believed-to-be-liberal state to follow him.   A lesson for future candidates that challenges the old adage that “perception is reality.”
  • What can we expect now from our legislators?  Paralysis?  Fear?  Obstruction?  Or compromise and consensus-building that will move us beyond stuck?  The “now what?” is the most important question to ask the morning after.
  • Finally, there is no question that some messages “stick” and inspire and others make the audience’s eyes glaze over.   As we’ve seen, when crafted brilliantly — and delivered passionately — even what many might consider unbelievable messages become believable. The message and messenger matter.

Images and Our Unspoken Communication


Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

What image best represents who we are and the reality others perceive about us?

A recent experience renewing my passport got me thinking…I dutifully filled out the forms and went to the local FedEx/Kinkos to take new passport photos.  I smiled, ready, but was told that we are supposed to look expressionless in passport photos.  The photo that resulted is dull and almost scary-looking and bears no resemblance to the person I am — but it will represent me on my passport for the next ten years.   Looking at this image of me you might imagine that I was at the very least depressed and, at worst, that I was dangerous.   So tell me why “expressionless” is the preferred look for a document that will be used to evaluate our identity when we travel?

Images create an impression.  Images tell a story about you.   Are you happy with what your image is telling others about you?

Four Weeks to Go


Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Four weeks from tonight we’ll joyously celebrate the end of 2009 and welcome the new year — a new beginning with renewed hope for economic recovery, health and the still-elusive world peace.  Now is the time for CEO’s and their management teams to anticipate how they’ll jump-start the new year.

2009 will be remembered as a year that challenged everyone globally, businesses in just about every industry; homeowners with tighter budgets and families facing the unimaginable prospect of foreclosure; the employed working harder with fewer resources and the unemployed desperately seeking work in a dismal economy; continued terrorism, war and conflict in the Middle East; and a worldwide epidemic.  In fact, the only companies frenzied by too much demand were those struggling to manufacture enough vaccine to fight the H1N1 flu.   2009 was the year of “mission critical” investments, and a paralyzing wave of doom and gloom that prompted too many people and companies to hunker down…and just wait.

2009 kicked off with the historic inauguration of the United States’ first African American president — a candidate who ran on a platform of much-welcomed change.  Unfortunately the euphoria so many felt inadvertently set us up for unrealistic expectations that change would happen immediately.   We’d been waiting so long…Instead the year was marked by the harsh reality that recovery and real change take time.

While we no longer expect life to return to “business as usual” because we know it won’t — as it didn’t after the earlier dot.com bust — we remain hopeful.  We’re encouraged by the language we’re now hearing, “recovery” (albeit slow and not yet in every sector), “growth,” and even industrial “ramp up” to meet renewed demand.   The improved morale and optimism are a powerful reminder of the impact language has on our well-being.

This year’s holiday season that kicked off with Thanksgiving, continues with the eight days of Chanukah, and moves toward Christmas week, is an opportunity to find reasons to celebrate.  New Year’s Eve this year will help all of us look ahead again to new possibilities, renewed positive spirit and a belief that, as Patti LaBelle belts out in one of my favorite songs, we will survive!

Company leaders and management teams should kick-start 2010 with events that inspire and messages that clarify the ways in which each person can contribute to success.   Look ahead now (beyond year-end wrap-up) to plan for dynamic ways to jump-start new attitudes, new ways of working together and new opportunities in 2010.  The potential that next year holds is just four weeks away.