Tag Archive | debate

If face-to-face with the president, you’d shake his hand

As some of you know, I wasn’t the biggest fan of President Bush. I didn’t like his wars, I felt that his tax cuts cost the country more than they stimulated in growth, and I thought he came across as a goof.

I wrote snarky FB updates, shared snarky FB posts, laughed at his expense, called him names, etc. I was younger and dumber.

I had the chance to see him when he visited Fort Hood in 2005. His visit sparked all sorts of security craziness on the base. Roads were closed, vehicular traffic around the speaking venue was prohibited, and we soldiers had to be thoroughly searched upon entering the cordoned off area.

It was quite a production, actually. We had to be around our headquarters building at 0300, so we could be in formation and counted ‘all present’ by 0400, so we could march the 3-4 miles to the venue by 0530, so the thousands of us could be searched and processed through the gates, so we could fill the outside venue (a military parade field) by 0800, so we could be ready to hear him when he arrived by 0930. That meant I was awake by 0130 to get on the congested roads by 0215 (most of Fort Hood was involved in the visit). He was late, not showing up until 1030-ish (hey, he’s the president…). We had to hear about an hour long speech, then wait for him to leave—like in the chopper and out, leave. Then we had to march back and were dismissed in the late afternoon. Long day.

It was kind of the crowning “uggh” toward a president I wasn’t the most enthusiastic about, anyway.

But you know what? When I saw him, I clapped. And I meant it. When I saw him relatively close up, I cheered. And I meant it. The anticipation, the influence and fame the man had as a result of his office…it’s intoxicating for someone first experiencing it. And there’s something else going on there, something that has been written about monarchs and the presidency for centuries—a general reverence of authority and a love of country.

All the grumbling and name calling and things said in quiet inbetweens go out the window when you are face-to-face with the subtle majesty that comes with physically meeting the elected leader of the free world. I realized that he is a supremely accomplished man of power and prestige.

I shut my mouth and showed some respect.

Later in 2010-ish, I was traveling through Houston, in the George W Bush Airport. I came upon a crowd of people as I was going from one terminal to another. The commotion was from the airport’s namesake and former first lady, who had come to welcome the day’s freedom bird, the chartered airliner carrying uniformed soldiers back from deployment.

Again, people all around were ecstatic to see Mr. and Mrs. Bush. I was too. Because when push comes to shove, you shut your mouth and show some respect.

Later I was working at USAA. One of my duties was to serve public relation functions. USAA sponsors the Army Navy football game every year. It’s this big thing where all the friendly rivalry between the two services (and all of the DoD, really), comes to a head. It’s a very easily likable game.

Anyway, President Obama was going to be there. Cue a few of my nay-sayer coworkers: “Oh if I see that guy, I’m gonna…” “Man, I really hate that guy, he’s so…” “That scum-sucking piece of sh*t!” “What a coward. If I ever got a chance to, I’d…” “That Muslim SOB. Not even an American…”

I rolled my eyes.

Sure enough, when the game was still building up, when the cadets and the midshipmen were filing the stands, the president and his entourage arrived on the field to shake hands and pose for pictures. I got close enough to snap the pic at the top of this post (link)

And you know what? When they saw him, the nay-sayers clapped, and they meant it. They cheered and they meant it. All the grumblings and name calling and things said went out the window.

Afterward, so many of them were showing the pictures they snapped. They were swapping stories about seeing him and the rushes they felt. You could see the excitement in their eyes.

Because he was the president. And you should respect the president.

Look, you can disagree with a man—strongly disagree with a man, but it’s pathetic how we feel we have to emphasize our points with vehement hyperbole.

We can’t just say we disagree, we have to say the current president is the worst. Worse than the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Worse than Kony and the LRA. Worse than Ariel Castro. THE WORST EVARRRRR! We start talking about him being un-American, we call him a coward, we list the thousand talking points Fox News gave us as to why he’s about to usher us into a 1,000 years of darkness (link).


You know how some people wish for the ‘good old days’ even though they probably weren’t as good as people think they remember? How maybe they romanticize aspects of those days and long for those idealized notions?

Well I’ll do that too, for a minute. I wish for the ‘good old days’ when a man might get shot in the face if he called someone a coward. When breaking your word was seen as a major deal. Because all I see these days are champions of keyboard courage—people who will attack through emails and messages or, worse yet, through anonymous comments. (And yes, I realize the irony of pointing out the flaccidity of keyboard courage from behind a keyboard.)

Nevertheless, I wish we didn’t give so much credence to insults flung by talk show pundits and through Facebook comments.

Because just like in actual fistfights, it’s normal for people to talk a big game until they are actually facing someone who is about to rearrange their face. Then all that smack talk gets deflated. All that hate and consternation gets replaced with the realization that words and actions have actual consequences.

Actual consequences. Amazing.

So disagree away. VOTE. Write your Congressmen. Hell, record a video of your objections with whatever story is in the headlines for that day. Build support. RUN FOR OFFICE YOURSELF!

But mean what you say and say what you mean. Have facts to cite, not just emotions and hate-filled rants that veer toward the absurd.

Let’s freely disagree, but ultimately show some respect to our elected leadership. We might just discover the maturity and decency of yesteryear we often pine for.


Preamble to the revolution

There are a couple of quotes that I use to start off my social media seminars/talks/whatnot. Today, I’ll share those.

There are two kinds of fool. One says, ‘This is old, and therefore good.’ And one says, ‘This is new, and therefore better.’

— John Brunner, author
“The Shockwave Rider”

Most people who run across jerks like me resist. And rightfully so. There is no shortage of snake-oil salesmen who promise the world, if only some company hire them or some company buys a service to cure all that ails. Social media is no different. It’s immediately overwhelming the number of speakers, conferences, books, seminars–not to mention blogs, wikis and videos; all explaining how social media will solve the world’s problems. So, when faced with yet another session from yet another presenter, there is often skepticism. And I don’t blame people.

What I try to convey with this quote is that there are two ditches to each road, and both have a danger to we, the travelers. On the one side you have the ditch of too little–too little action, planning, whatever; it’s the extreme of inaction. On the other side you have the ditch of too much–rash, impulsive, misplaced emphasis, too much action. Falling off of either ditch means a stuck car. Anyone who advocates either ditch is a fool, Brunner says.

When it comes to social media, these extremes apply as well.

You have the guy harping about “new new new” like it’s some kind of cult. Guys like me can fit into this category. These are the snake oil salesmen, latching on to social media because it’s new. Nevermind the fact that it might or might not be needed. People in this category–advocating this ditch, are out to tear the world down because it’s old. Everything must go! Shake up the system! Oftentimes, paranoia about becoming irrelevant drives a person to such zealous rage, or perhaps frustration at a circumstance, or perhaps still ignorance. It is foolish.

Likewise, the other side of the argument is foolish as well. These involve the “old” people, advocating “old” things. Many times, the new zealots attack old because–well, it’s old. What more does a thing need to demonstrate before being taken down? Regardless, people who advocate the old ditch do so out of zealous conservatism. They are worried. Sometimes they’re scared. They would rather be safe than risk a foray into the unknown. And, to the defense of what works, it has done so. Established norms have proven themselves. Otherwise, the organization wouldn’t exist today. Where this mindset paralyzes people, though, is that comfort in past procedural or philosophical victories stagnates. Spartans were amongst the best warriors of the world in their time, but even the mighty phalanx became obsolete, as did the Spartan strategies.

Flirting with either ditch is risky. That’s why we stay in the middle. We bring the wisdom of experience and temper it with relevance and constant introspection. We push to wisely move forward. With social media, we aren’t burning down the house–we’re remodeling and reshaping things as we find tools that better meet our established objectives. There is a place for the zealot revolutionaries and staunch conservatives–both offer valuable insight and innovation. But neither can be given too much sway. Too much of either is foolish.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Of a good leader, who speaks little, when the work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will say, ‘We did this ourselves.’

— Lao Tzu, father of Taoism

When advocating change, starting a revolution, orchestrating an attack on the status quo or whatever; it is important that the thought leader, commander, policy maker, whomever, is not chasing after glory or personal gain. Side effects can occur, sure–a book deal, a better job offer; but these are best accomplished when the above quote is held close to the heart. It is in the essence of every good leader to be selfless. Being the frontman/woman should be a role taken with modesty and supplication. Cults of personality are too easily swayed toward the dangerous cliffs of disconnection, misdirection or self-affirmation. When a leader falls in love with him/herself, the movement is in peril. While it is still possible for such a movement to continue to do good, based on the altruism of the leader; more often than naught, petty personal squabbles and short-sightedness keep the vision from seeing past the fog of the immediate morning.

Instead, when a leader is focused on empowerment, on teaching others to fish, such a movement is timeless. It speaks to the essential goodness in people: self sacrifice, extraordinary effort, collaboration, truth. These are the virtues that social media tries to extol. After all, it does take a lot of work to set up and maintain a wiki; to write a blog; to prepare a seminar lecture. If a leader pushes for these initiatives with the intentions of being beneficial to as many people as possible, it stays genuine. People listen. It sounds socialist, sure, but people trust it. That’s why most of Web 2.0 is free. So many tools that do so much…free. Who is the head of Google? Who wrote Facebook? Ok, even if you know those, who is submitting data sets to data.gov? Who put in the long hours to establish drop.io? Or any of the other thousand free and extremely beneficial tools out there?

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

— Army General Eric Shinseki (ret.), former chief of staff, as quoted by Tom Peters in Reimagine, DK 2003

Ha! Priceless. And spot on. Now we’re getting down to business. With the process of revolution qualified and the new guys hopefully humbled a bit, the conservatives need a good kick in the butt too. Every time I run into a brick wall when teaching social media–every time people say, “Not now” or, “We’d rather stay with email”; this quote comes to mind. And I said brick wall, mind you. People who are generally hesitant are normal. I’m talking about when all is said and done–when the objectives have been defined, the leadership pushing forward, the tools identified, the initiatives begun, the training established. Then, after all of that, if the general consensus remains, “Who are you? Go away! We’re fine with what we’ve always done”; then it’s time for this quote. Safe might be safe, for now. But soon (soon happening sooner and sooner every day), such stagnation will render an organization irrelevant, if it isn’t already.

DINFOS, where I work, was skirting close to irrelevance. When no one could be bothered to push for new material in the curriculum. When everyone was happy just plugging along. When change was too hard, according to some. Or worse, when change was not needed. I would often liken it to working in a monastery. We painted over the windows with our incredibly limited Internet access. We stuck to studying our ancient texts of journalism, complete with “FLITJ” headline counting and dummy sheets for pagination. We never mentioned blogs, wikis or anything like that. Hell, even our “field training exercise” had media pools, a practice decades old and not used very often anymore.

But some in the schoolhouse started kicking people in the teeth and got things moving. For various reasons, certain mindsets were resisted. I was one of the advocates for social media, joined by several others in the building. We started tearing down the rotted, old framework and started reinforcing our operations with new material. We had to. Some of the services had already set up follow-on schools to augment the training of individuals from here. When I was in the field (out in the regular Army), doing things the “DINFOS way” was a joke–synonymous with wrong or uninformed.

Whereas instead of being the bastion of military communication, as we daily laud ourselves as being; we were instead the babbling old relative in the corner–someone the services tolerated because of our history, but arguably one who never said anything of much value.

Irrelevance should be the fire than always nips at our heels to wisely change. Businesses change because irrelevance equals bankruptcy. In the bureaucratic morass of government service, where irrelevance does little to stymie promotion, it takes the girded zeal of well-intentioned introspection to push through the expensive and suffocating layers of mechanisms dedicated to the status quo.

So many say, “Why bother? It’s easier to just sit back and get paid.”

Easier, yes; but God is watching. I’d rather better the world, in my small way.


Trends versus platforms

trends vs. platforms

trends vs. platforms

Ok. Today I will hash out the “trends versus platforms” speech. It’s something I speak to quite often. Hopefully we can increase awareness and keep ourselves from being wrapped around the axle on certain things.

I feel that too often we become tangled up in arguments of semantics. Those in the know and those sort of in the know tussle over wording and ideas, both usually with good intentions, over what I see as a misunderstanding of trends versus platforms.

Every time someone says, “We need a Twitter policy” or, “There’s no regulation allowing Facebook,” I feel the fear/caution/enthusiasm  is misplaced. This post will try to clear some things up.

So, platforms and trends. To begin, I would like to point everyone toward a picture I often use at seminars. The graphic at the beginning of this post is something I grabbed from the Web. It’s from 2008, so it’s slipping into being “dated” (which happens ever faster these days, dangnabbit).

There are two things described in this graphic: the petals and what’s in the petals. Each petal is a social media trend. New petals don’t crop up too often. New trends do emerge, but not everyday. What is inside each petal is a social media platform. Platforms change constantly. As one platform dies (MySpace) another or several take its place (Facebook, Ning, etc.).

It might seem trivial, but I believe this distinction is very important. It is critical to argue for policies and best practices centered around trends, not platforms. Trends should be understood to greater extents than should platforms, specifically. Instead of getting a “Twitter policy” out there, focus on what makes Twitter useful and include a policy on micro-blogging (the trend that Twitter represents) as a part of your larger body of policies on blogging and social media.

When policy makers and social media advocates push platforms and not trends, we tend to paint ourselves into corners. Weeks of time and effort are spent to push some sort of guidance through concerning platforms that might disappear–and verily I’ve heard this as a reason why social media has no place in government or business. Some say it is too fickle–it travels too fast. The original 2007 ban that started all of this seems silly. Even it doesn’t ban “social media,” but instead MySpace and YouTube (and 9 other sites, including MTV.com). Ok. Big deal, we’ve moved on to other sites (Vimeo, Facebook). This is a small example of when policy focuses on platforms vs. trends. They quickly become irrelevant.

And as to the assertion that social media is changing too quickly–well, yes, things are progressing at an astronomical rate. Watch the “Did you Know? 3.0” video if you need to see the exponential times we’re living in.

But this is where focusing on trends makes things manageable. Platforms do pop in and out like electrons buzzing around an atom, but the nucleus–the trend, gives us something we can plan for and adapt to.

The focus on trends shifts things back to a more big-picture perspective. Instead of bickering about how Twitter seems silly, we begin to focus on if it has value as a communication tool–if it can be used for us to more effectively accomplish our missions as dictated by the DoD Principles of Information, Joint Publication 3-61 and service-specific public affairs guidance.

Joint Pub 3-61, especially. LOTS of good stuff in there. Practice OPSEC at the source. Every DoD servicemember is responsible for protecting OPSEC. DoD should be dedicated to a free flow of information to the public and within itself…on and on. So much applies to the fears and concerns about using social media, in PA or otherwise.

Because it’s important to remember we are in the business of communication, not for arguing for social media per se. If the world moved beyond social media (which the world is doing), I would move with it, for the sake of being the best communicator I can be. If people all started using sign language and nothing else, to be a good PA professional, I’d shift my zeal for social media to sign language.

I lament the discussions on social media relevance that degrade into arguments of preference.

Twitter is silly! Facebook blurs personal/professional lines! Persistent cookies violate privacy!

Well, the above statements may or may not be true; but they focus around platforms–around specific methods of transmitting information; and not around the philosophy of communication.

Trends, friends, trends are what we can plan for. Horses to cars to airplanes. These are the evolution of trends. Saddles to wagons; seats to seat belts to air bags;  propellers to jets to autopilot. These are the evolution of platforms.

By focusing just on platforms, we become blind to new trends, when they occur. For the moment, the big ticket trend evolution is from legacy media (broadcast, print) to social media. Our policies and practices should focus on the trend changes, not platform specifics.

One last example. Let’s say we are roofers (God bless ’em. Did that for a family project one summer. Whew!). We lay shingles by tapping in nails ever so often. Well, after a while, we get pretty good at hitting in nails. We even get to the point where we Daniel-san that thing and slam it flush in one swing.

Well, along comes the nail gun and our company is given some. We all have to get some training. Nail guns can be dangerous if misused (hammers can too, but nail guns seem more ferocious, I suppose). Some of our fellow roofers start to bicker about whether we should use nail guns or not. After all, someone could disable the safeties and hurt someone else. Someone could hit a nail into the wrong part of the roof (as they could with hammers too, albeit not as easily). And, most importantly (it is argued), we’re really good at hitting in nails in one swing. All of our expertise at using a hammer wouldn’t be as necessary if we used the nail gun. ANYBODY could lay shingles if nail guns were used.

But are any of these objections debating the inherent value of the nail gun? Doesn’t it, with the proper training and guidelines, allow for more efficient work? More consistent roofing? Faster?

Sure, there are risks. Someone could maybe possibly one day do something bad. But does that fear keep us from moving forward. What happens when company A sticks with hammers because they’re so proud of their skills, and company B gets all the jobs because they can do the work far more quickly and with consistent results?

This is why we need to focus on trends and not platforms. It keeps us focused on what we are. We need to stop arguing Twitter and start discussing public affairs. We need to stop bickering about bandwidth and examine how the new tools we have can make us better at our mission. We are to become better roofers, so to speak, not defend our pride of using one tool over another. What is encouraging is a lot of our prior experience makes us better at the new tools, anyway.


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