Category Archives: Personal Thoughts

Defining cool

I was in New York for the 140conf on Wednesday this past week. It would also be the hottest day of the year at 80+ degrees already at 7:30 in the morning.

I agreed to meet up with a colleague at a bakery on the Upper East Side before heading to the last day of the conference. After riding the train up town and walking a few blocks in the heat, I met him outside of the bakery and we went inside. The host greeted us and asked us where we would like to sit.

“The coolest seat in the house,” my colleague said.

“You want to sit here,” the host said, pointing to a table next to the open window. “Everyone passing by will see you.”

My colleague wrinkled his forehead, trying to process why everyone seeing us would make that table the coolest place in the bakery. What did that have to do with getting us a nice air-conditioned seat? We quickly figured out that his definition of “cool” was the polar opposite of our definition of “cool.”

Apparently seeking personal comfort is the most uncool thing you can do in New York City on a hot day.

Standing out in a large crowd

Last Christmas, a friend of mine who lives in New York City sent me a box of cookies from Levain Bakery. If you have never had a cookie from them, go right now and get one.. or two.

I’ll wait.

Aside of being the most delicious cookies in the whole wide world, what struck me the most is the label they put on every box and post card. Along the bottom, they draw the New York City skyline in pen. Toward the very end, they color in their bakery and float a heart above it.

Subtle, but the message is clear. Even in a crowded, dense city like New York where everyone is seemingly insignificant to everyone else, you find meaning, purpose and love in a little bakery in the middle of the chaos.

Slow down and find your little heart place.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, Cookies. To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

I apologize for that expectation

I apologize for setting that expectation. Apparently it was done during a weak moment of kindness, one that you are now making me wholeheartedly regret.

I’m sorry I answered the phone on a Sunday morning. You mistook a moment of genuine helpfulness for permission to call me and demand that I now put down my Sunday paper, cup of coffee and quit petting my dog to update your website because you failed to plan your resources in advance.

I’m sorry I returned your phone call switching planes while on a flight home Friday afternoon instead of waiting until Monday morning. You now have my cell phone number which you mistook for permission to call me any time, night or day and demand that I answer because it is a cell phone and not a call my receptionist has to process.

I’m sorry I answered your email at 5:30am on a Monday. You mistook that as permission to call me and email me before 9:00am and expect an answer right away since you now know when I start my work day.

I’m sorry I went out of my way to fix that database issue “on the back end” which you could have done yourself using the administration tools we spent thousands of dollars writing for you. In my eagerness to save you a few clicks, you now have the expectation that it is my job to do yours.

But mostly, I’m sorry I unwittingly set an expectation to be available for you on a 365/24/7 schedule. Apparently now when I am not available, I am crap to work with.

Will you now take my calls after 5:00pm and pay your invoices on time?

Yup, thought so.

Why you are unemployed

I recently responded to a LinkedIn posting about why employers find it hard to find qualified employees despite the 9.x% unemployment rate. Someone responded to my comment with a long diatribe about why I was wrong.

And he started off by calling me Gerald.

For anyone who knows me, they know this: I have what I call the “Gerald Test.” Any resumé, cover letter, vendor email, sales letter, etc. that calls me Gerald gets thrown in the trash immediately because my name is Gerard. I simply do not care at that point how talented the person tells me s/he is, how great their product is, whatever; her/his performance says otherwise. As someone who needs to rely on the impeccable skills of his staff, that error is a nonstarter. A full 70%+ of all applicants and salespeople fail this test, making my job of sifting through the remaining stuff a whole lot easier.

It’s not hard to verify my name. If you get it wrong in a conversation, I’ll correct you. Once. If you get it wrong after that, I’m simply no longer listening to anything you have to say.

But here is where the comment thread went off the tracks quickly. He apologized for getting my name wrong and then followed up with a justification of why typos may not matter all that much. He cited another LinkedIn thread where others felt it was ok to have typos in resumés and cover letters.

You are unemployed because you showed an initial disrespect to the person you are talking to, you failed to pay attention to the relevant details and you appear to have a rationalization for every mistake you make or will make.

And that shows up readily in your resumé, your online presence and your interviews. Employers have neither the time nor the patience to deal with mistakes that cost the company money nor do they wish to engage in battle with you at every turn.

Don’t be that guy.

In case you really want to read the LinkedIn thread, here it is.

I named mine Gerard

I get a kick when pop culture recognizes the name “Gerard” because it happens so infrequently. Maybe it has something to do with the popularity of Gerard Butler.

From the few to choose from though, Raymond’s cousin Gerard remains my favorite character.

Last night on Big Bang Theory, Penny, Amy and Bernadette were talking about some “tension-relieving techniques for ladies that [Amy] has been perfecting over the years.” One of these techniques involved an electric toothbrush. Amy named hers Gerard.

Amy did not offer any details. We may have to do some additional character analysis and research, but I’m not terribly shocked that the name Gerard was chosen by a brainiac character as the ideal for the task at hand. Gerards have a long history of success with natural selection.

Why are you here?

There is this trend going on in the social media world that almost every new industry goes through. The “fun” part of getting in there and connecting and talking and chatting is over and the Social Media Elites are finding out they don’t have time to do all this stuff any more. Some whine and complain, but some are doling out advice on how to slim down, get to the basics of what you do, make to do lists, get naked, stick to the knitting, don’t get sidetracked by the chatter.

I think that may be the wrong way to look at things.

I had a conversation a while back with the smartest PR person I know. She cut to the chase by asking, “What do you want to do?”

“I want to spend the entire day sitting in a beanbag chair, eating Cheetos and chatting with people about nothing in particular,” I said. I was speaking metaphorically, obviously, because that much sitting around and that many Cheetos does not make for a very long life. The point being is that I want to build a company, not a busier, more efficient job for myself.

I don’t view long telephone calls with friends and colleagues or twitter chatting or blogging a “time suck” on my day. When someone calls and wants to do lunch to “pick my brain,” I don’t see that as stealing from me because I don’t sell my time. Chatting, tweeting, blogging, lunching, talking on panels, attending conferences are all my really big bean bag chair and the conversations are my Cheetos.

I spend time building a great staff who can run this place without me. Really, they can. All they need me to do is bring in one or two great ideas a year and they tear at it like rabid dogs and in the end they build software, systems and marketing that allows me to stay in my beanbag chair.

And I am happy and I am having a lot of fun. I suppose to the outside world, I am somewhat rudderless and lazy. I don’t much care about them. Who really matter are the people who have a great client list because somewhere in a conversation, I said, “You know who you should work with?” I’m sure they are saying the same about me to the people they meet.

And I have no charts, no ROI studies, no metrics, no twitter lists. Just ten fingers with Cheetos dust all over them.

Am I getting this whole thing wrong?

Quality Newspapers in Education (NIE) respects the intelligence of young readers

This was originally written as a comment to Karina Stenquist’s post on her blog. The issue of respecting the intelligence of young readers came up again today and I thought I would post this here as well. While specific to NIE, this comment could — and should — apply to anyone creating marketing and reading material for young readers, especially those who think it clever to turn the “N” and “R” backwards on a chalkboard. Read the original post from Karina first.

I was at the Newspapers in Education department at a daily newspaper from 1998-2002. Anyone who has worked in NIE knows that on paper, the department was set up to “promote literacy, cultivate young readers, blah, blah” The real world was, “We’ve got a captive audience where we can dump newspapers on Tuesdays and make our 5-day ABC numbers look better.”

Before I got there, the NIE page was kids mazes and puzzles, word games, etc. the typical crap you see on kids stuff. Part of my gig was that if we were going to really increase literacy and make the newspaper a teaching tool, let’s really do it. Let’s write articles that teachers could use as lesson plans. What did we have to lose? We had a captive audience where we were dumping papers anyway.

So, we wrote serious articles about wildlife, conservation, the science of the Olympics, nutrition using a pizza analysis, the physics of snowboarding. And we used smart words; we spoke to the kids (3rd-6 grade) like we respected their intelligence. We reduced the font size from 14pt goofy to 11pt real newspaper. We wrote in AP Style. We went out and got our own photos and wrote real captions. But for the KidsINK logo on the page and the small line of “editorial disclaimer” on the page, it was indistinguishable from the rest of the editorial.

And our sales went through the damn roof! Teachers couldn’t wait for every other Tuesday. When we visited classes on NIE day, kids would have the newspapers sprawled open and they were reading the articles aloud and talking about the things they were reading about. Discussions got lively! When kids got to a word they did not know, it become an ad hoc vocab lesson. And if you watched closely, they got that momentary flash of “smart” when the eyes get slightly brighter, the lips smile gently, the face flushes and the head bobs when the word is filed in the brain. And teachers had that almost giddy look of excitement on their faces. This was “real world learning” for them and anyone who knows a good teacher, you know they ache for this kind of stuff.

There is nothing like that feeling you get when you watch your work being consumed by a room full of eager 4th graders. Nothing. It made all the dirty, messy bits of pulling together a page worth going through the next week and more.

But then, the marketing people at the newspaper saw resource consolidation and figured our little 3-person rag-tag band of talent could also be used to do in-house promotions and “merged” the departments. I left then. The mission was over, the magic was gone. And NIE sales declined as more puzzles were added as filler when nobody had enough time to “write an article.”

People rise to challenges. People ache for challenge. Using simpler words is not the answer; it is the cause of the decline of readership. Newspapers and media in general have abdicated their public trust. Everything now is entertainment, but those who lead this charge are forgetting that learning and reaching are also entertainment.

I dunno.. sad that dumb is the new black.

Contact

How to win a comment war

A couple days ago, I posted a comment on a very popular blog. A few minutes after that, the blog owner commented briefly on my comment more of an acknowledgment to say, “Hey, I see you” rather than to support or refute my opinion. A few minutes later, a reader posted a comment that ran contrary to my opinion and more aligned with the blog owner’s post.

So, I commented on the reader’s comment and the blog owner then commented a bit more. The reader hopped right back in and commented on my comment. I then walked away.

I won.

My personal comment policy is two-deep and only if the reader asked a question or appears confused about my point of view. That is as much energy as I am willing to put out on a blog.

Most readers comment on popular blogs to be seen. And when the blog owner comments on a comment, that means s/he has seen the comment and think it worthy of their time to comment. Savvy blog readers know this and many jump at the opportunity to get seen more by commenting on a comment that has been commented on by the blog owner. It’s a game of “I know more than you” that many people get sucked into. It never ends as this reader will always try to one-up you.

The way to win a comment war is to be the first to shut up, walk away.

As long as you asked, the blog was Chris Brogan’s. You’ll have to dig further into the posts and comments if you care that much. And then, after you’ve done that, ask yourself why you cared enough to waste your time hunting down what I said.

Why you lost me as a customer. Do you even really care?

Name and product was removed to protect the guilty.

I think too many companies just walk away from a provider without giving them any real feedback as to why. It is really, really hard to lose me as a customer. Once a system is in place and working — unless there is a major feature shift somewhere else — it is always a hassle to change. Whether they want it or not, I tend to write a quick email, letting them know exactly why they lost me as a customer.

Here is my email. Is it too direct? I don’t think so, but weigh in if you disagree.

I tried to renew everything on Friday, but nobody was answering my live chat emails, your system was spitting back every other login as not being correct, you said my records did not match — even the previous one — and then I got to thinking:

We don’t really sell the type of product your service supports anymore. And, if we ever did in the future, there is so much more competition that is would not be that hard for some over-eager salesman to walk my paperwork through the system. Consumers aren’t as knowledgeable about privacy and security as they once were, so the bar is a whole lot lower than when we first starting using your company.

My corporation has not moved in the sixteen years we’ve been in business. If I was to define a corporation that is easy to find, easy to verify and easy to trust, it would be us. Yet, you have made the renewal process so egregiously cumbersome by asking us to verify everything again to a minute detail that it is just easier to do nothing.

You guys used to be great, but what the heck happened? You are just kinda average like everybody else.

So, not seeing any real competitive advantage, I just decided — after trying for about three hours to get this renewed — that I would just not.

Thank you for being there for our last six renewals over a span of twelve years. Good luck with everything you are doing in the future.

G.

PS Please don’t try to win me back. It is too late for that as I have already decided to move forward without you. Please take me off all your mailing lists and do not send me sales material.

Mentor me this, mentor me that

I’ve never had a formal mentor arrangement with anyone. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but perhaps I’ve always associated with folks who weren’t closers. And when feeling closed upon by my “mentors,” I backed away. Perhaps that is the way these things are supposed to work; a support system of bumper rails without risk of co-dependency.

Looking back, when asked to be someone’s mentor, my first question was always, “What do you want?” It was almost always met with indecision. “I just want some help. My career seems to be stalled, I’m feeling frustrated and taken for granted. I want to be more like you” was a common reply. Little did any of these poor, hapless, rudderless folks know that I was just as lost. I guess I just hid it better.

But without a direction, without knowing what they wanted, I could not help. But I tried anyway, helping perhaps to define the direction, the needs and wants and winding the charge own the path. But because the direction did not come from the fire in the gut, it usually burned quickly, smoldered and finally died. Most drifted off, afraid somehow to tell me they no longer wanted to be mentored.

For myself, I’ve always wanted a mentor and have attracted a few. But what started out as a mentor relationship slowly evolved into someone older guiding me into a career they wished they had, not what I wanted. We usually parted without a goodbye.

And now blogging has replaced the need to mentor for me. If any of my ramblings are helpful in any way, take them, use them and make them your own. But don’t ask me for more than I am willing to give here; both of us will be disappointed and part strangers.

This mentor round-table challenge was thrown out by Holly Hoffman of WorkLoveLife.com