Tag Archives: psychology

Our Flaws Are Our Strengths

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Not my best photo

I get distracted easily. I don’t call my mom nearly often enough. I’m sometimes, ok, oftentimes, arrogant. I have constant anxiety over the fact that I give presentations talking about how success isn’t measured using impressions and likes, yet I find myself building client reports that do exactly that. I’ve sent emails complaining about how bad my client is…to my client. I have no idea how to use power tools.

The list of my mistakes and flaws could go on and on. Just ask my wife. So could yours. So could everybody’s…if people were willing to talk about them.

But no one wants to talk about their flaws, mistakes, screw-ups and failures. They’re embarrassing. They’re uncomfortable. They’re awkward. They make us seem weak and inadequate.

That’s why we use technology to hide every flaw, cover up every defect, and filter every word. Every text, email, post, and Snap is concepted, staged, shot, and shared to emphasize our strengths and optimize our brands.

We can present the absolute best version of ourselves all the time. And that’s the problem.

Our flaws are our greatest strengths and we’re not only not using them, we’re actively hiding them.

Don’t believe me?

  • Think about the waiter that tells you not to order the fish because it’s not fresh.
  • The car salesman who tells you the car you’re considering has a lot of reliability issues.
  • Or the politician who goes on Saturday Night Live and lets the cast poke fun at him.

Now think about your reaction to those situations.

  • You don’t order the fish, but you do order the pasta the waiter recommended.
  • You believe the salesman when she directs you to another car she says is much more reliable.
  • You start to think that politician isn’t such a bad guy – you might even say you’d have a beer with him.

These reactions are driven by science. The Pratfall Effect states that people viewed as highly competent are deemed to be more likable following a blunder. And as Robert Cialdini explains in his book “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” – when you admit your flaws, people are more receptive to what you say or do next. And several recent studies have demonstrated that while we over-magnify our own flaws, we minimize flaws we see in others.

It’s why we still embrace celebrities like Charles Barkley or Britney Spears. It’s not despite their scandals and mistakes. It’s because of them. It’s why celebrities read mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel. It’s why shows like Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition and Dancing with the Stars exist. It’s why Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has won every award. It’s why Eminem won the final rap battle against Papa Doc.

Psychologically speaking, it’s our own insecurities that prevent us from using some of our greatest assets in building and maintaining relationships. We underestimate the power of authenticity, flaws and all. Our flawed reality, no matter how difficult it is to talk about, creates a stronger, more sustainable brand than a perfectly manicured one.

That’s why flaws are the basis for PRSA Pittsburgh’s annual PR Summit – “Failing Forward.” We’ve all bombed job interviews, flubbed presentations, sent emails to the wrong person, and shared unflattering pictures of ourselves. Instead of hiding from those things, let’s celebrate them. Let’s turn our flaws into our strengths.

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Try Looking Outside to Solve the Problems Inside

Quick – who recently said this in reference to his organization’s social media efforts?

“…if our consumers are younger, and they love video games, and they have shorter attention spans, and they love interactivity, and they love social media, and everyone blogs, and everyone’s on Facebook, why wouldn’t we put ourselves right in the middle of that?”

What social media or Government 2.0 champion could have said this? Could it have been Federal CIO Vivek Kundra? Maybe Director, New Media and Citizen Engagement at GSA, Bev Godwin? Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Price Floyd?

Nope. Try Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals. In this week’s Washington Post, Leonsis discusses why the team is aggressively using social media to engage with their fans and the potential impact that social media can have on his team and on the sport. Sound familiar? Sound anything like what us in the Gov 2.0 and social media communities have been telling our bosses and clients for years now?

Leonsis goes on to say that, “what’s unique and different about us is that most organizations are managed [with the thinking], ‘We’re bricks and mortar, we’re buildings, and we have this Web operation beside us,'” Leonsis said. “We’re kind of different. We look at the Web as being our basic power plant, kind of like electricity, so the Web and communicating in this fashion is second nature to us now. It’s not like we go brochure, television, mail. It’s Web, and then everything else. It’s social media first, and everything else.”

Hmmmm…sounds like his perspective, experience, and business acumen would be a valuable addition to the Gov 2.0 conversation, don’t you think?

I recently read a fascinating article in the latest edition of Fast Company – “A Problem Solver’s Guide to Copycatting.” This article argues that instead of solving our toughest problems through brainstorming or consulting with experts, we should start looking for analogues outside our industry because someone (or some thing) has probably already solved our problem. For example (from the Fast Company article),

“In 1989, the pilots of the Exxon Valdez ran it into Bligh Reef, spilling enough oil to cover 11,000 square miles of ocean. To finish this cleanup job, you’d have to clear an area the size of Walt Disney World Resort every week for about five years. One major obstacle was that the oil and water tended to freeze together, making the oil harder to skim off. This problem defied engineers for years until a man named John Davis, who had no experience in the oil industry, solved it. In 2007, he proposed using a construction tool that vibrates cement to keep it in liquid form as it pours. Presto!”

This methodology, this thinking, that someone who has absolutely no experience with or knowledge of your organization might be able to solve a problem that your top domain experts haven’t been able to crack is a totally foreign concept to most organizations, especially those within the government. What if instead of talking with the Gov 2.0 “experts,” we started getting more people from outside of Government involved in Gov 2.0? Think about the value that Craig Newmark has brought to the Gov 2.0 discussion. Or Tim O’Reilly.

The social media community seems to have realized the value these outsider perspectives can bring – just last year I attended conferences featuring Jermaine Dupri, Brooke Burke, and Jalen Rose. This year, Gov 2.0 events like Gov 2.0 LA reached out to Hollywood to get that perspective and author/entrepreneur/professional keynoter Gary Vaynerchuk will be speaking at this year’s Gov 2.0 Expo. Getting these influencers involved as speakers is a great start, but we need to achieve more consistent engagement beyond just singular events.

What if the next Director of New Media and Web Communications for DHS was someone like Mike DiLorenzo, Director of Corporate Communications for the NHL? What if we talked with some behavior modification psychologists about the best way to change people’s behavior from one of “need to know” to “need to share?” What if we studied Native American tribes to learn more about how they build and maintain a unique culture even in the face of extreme changes?

While government may be unique, the problems we’re facing aren’t. The challenge shouldn’t be in solving them, but rather, in finding out who or what has solved them already.

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