Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Welcome to Tag Town, USA

I know this is my third DC-related post in the past week, but I just couldn't pass up this absolutely fascinating article (thanks to Christin Berry from ASAE):

Washingtonians love their game of tag...

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The dark suit is impeccable, the hair conservatively cut, the shoes a refined statement of solidity. But the outfit isn't complete for a Washington insider without an identity tag or two -- or more.

While some know this city as "the capital of the free world," its denizens recognize it as Tagtown.

Virtually everyone in downtown Washington wears some kind of credential during working hours. For some, it may be a simple pass that unlocks a garage or an office security door. But for those who work with the sprawling U.S. federal bureaucracy, it is literally a badge of honor.

There are tags for Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Treasury, the Justice Department, the Supreme Court, individual trials, museum openings and even some news conferences. And instead of taking off the tags when the workday is done, as people elsewhere might do, Washingtonians tend to keep them on, especially if they hint at a close relationship to power.

Anthropologist Edward Smith recalls that when he worked as a White House speechwriter, there was a rule against wearing the White House tag after work. He also recalled it was widely flouted. The willingness to be labeled fits with the Washington mindset, said Smith, a professor at American University and a third-generation Washingtonian.

"People wear these things as if they were bars on their uniform," Smith said. "I think that some people, particularly young people, want that extra patina of prestige. In Washington, you are much more recognized as a position than as a personality."

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You know, it's funny. Whenever I speak to businesspeople, I stress the importance of "leading with your person, not with your profession." For example: whether you're prospecting, networking or just meeting someone new, you DON'T always have to revert to the default "So, what do you do?" conversation.

Rather, it's more valuable to find the CPI. To make a friend in 30 seconds. Get to know someone for who they are, not just what they do. It reminds me of an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio featuring Dave Chappelle. The almost-too-famous comedian told James Lipton, "I went to Africa on sabbatical because nobody knew me as a celebrity, as a comedian; but just as a guy. As Dave."

Personally, when I meet someone new, I try to go as long as possible without asking the question, "So, what do you do?"

In other words: person before profession.


Are certain cities/countries more apt to lead with "person" vs. "profession"?

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Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag