Archive | September, 2011

Caffeine by Way of Coffee

28 Sep

Earlier this week my favorite Columbus coffee spot, Cafe Brioso, posted on Facebook about a new study exploring the wonders of coffee.

One interesting finding: Fifty-four percent of Americans like coffee so much because it makes them feel more like themselves.

I couldn’t agree more.

My long-term relationship with coffee didn’t begin until I was 22 or 23. Prior to that, I was not partial to it. But since then, I’ve been a two- or three-cup-a-day kind of gal.

The two exceptions were when I was pregnant with my kids and while I nursed them afterward. Adding that up, 27 months for my daughter plus 51 months for my son. (I did not make a mistake with those numbers. My son was a dedicated nurser, and I wouldn’t change that.) In total, this was a very long time to be without caffeine.

I still remember the day I went back on coffee after my son stopped nursing. My first cup was a metaphysical experience. I just know that I heard the Hallelujah chorus while sipping that mug.

Three cups a day (two in the morning and possibly one just after lunch) is perfection for me. Additional coffee beyond that point in the afternoon makes me overly spazzy at first and then laying awake in bed at 1 am (see photo at left from Dr. Seuss’s Go Dog Go).

Mountain Dew and Diet Coke do not count. The variety and amount of caffeine in coffee cannot be replaced by tea or cola. Other caffeine delivery vehicles pale in comparison.

The clear, awake and motivated sense of self I have after two cups of coffee makes me unstoppable. The world is suddenly bright! I can see the truth! Watch out: I WILL be getting things done, and anyone or anything in my way will not survive to tell the tale.

Few things in life top the joy of caffeine. Well, a couple of items far exceed it. But it’s definitely in the top 10. And surely worth writing about.

How Being Right Can Be So Wrong

27 Sep

Sometimes, you can be so right that you actually become wrong.

How is this so?

In business, time is money. Drucker’s The Effective Executive offers up some good advice on prioritizing time. In business and in life, time matters. Spending time doing things that don’t matter wastes time.

Drucker’s words ring so true:

Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.

Take for example:

  1. Belaboring the point when the point has already been made.
  2. Having the last word.
  3. Saying more than you need to and/or repeating yourself.
  4. Proving yourself right.

All of these things can at times be related, but it’s the last that’s my focus today. Spending time on proving myself right is so often both an exercise in futility as well as lost on deaf ears. Most people think they’re right anyway no matter how much energy you waste trying to convince them.

Really, what does it matter? I am saying this from personal experience, as an individual who HATES being wrong. But over the years I have either become:

A. Too old/lazy to care,

B. So full of my own Zen that it makes no difference to me, and/or

C. So right that I no longer need to make a point to people who will never get it anyway.

You decide which it is!

A, B, and/or C….my new middle-aged approach of no longer proving my “rightness” has freed up a lot of time for doing other things, like getting real work accomplished (while at work).

Another added benefit is not obsessing on work stuff while I’m away from work (i.e., compulsively checking email all of the time and being on alert so that I can be ever-responsive…I only do that some of the time these days—progress). And this gives me time to hang out with my family, play with the dog and learn righteous guitar solos.

Peter Drucker would be proud.

The Death of E-mail?

25 Sep

crystal-ball-scary

Reposting this oldie but goodie….first published in August 2009.

Back in the early 1990s, e-mail was considered exciting and new. Hard to believe, Millennials, I know. There once was a time when e-mailing attachments was as exciting as sharing video with friends on Facebook. You could even send around prehistoric versions of Facebook quizzes and notes…they were called chain letters.

Long ago, in the dark ages of the 1990s, e-mail was considered revolutionary because it was “instantaneous.” We’ve come a long way, baby. “Instantaneous” is relative. It’s getting faster, and more complex, every day. Instant messaging tools from just a few years ago (like MSN Messenger and AIM) are now obsolete, replaced by social networks that facilitate instant sharing of pretty much any type of media that can be digitized–not just text. Even my mother, who is 71, recently joined Facebook so that she could see mobile uploads of her grandkids’ vacation photos.

As for snail mail, the U.S. Postal Service is considering the elimination of Saturday delivery. I won’t miss it. What about our not-so-old, reliable and not-so-instantaneous friend e-mail? What’s to become of one-sided messaging?

Here’s my prediction: As more baby boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials transition to regular use of social networks for both personal and business use, e-mail will fade away. More and more of our time will be spent in real-time interaction through tools like Facebook and Twitter, and their successors, and less time will be spent in cleaning out our in-boxes.

Why? Because in a world of information overload, we are hungry for friend-sourced information. Just knowing that a friend recommended a particular article or video makes me more interested in seeing it. And commenting in a venue where other friends can comment back just opens up the conversation for more thoughts. Social networking creates a forum where I can read the news “with” my friends–having the added bonus of their feedback and opinions built right in.

It’s all about engagement in the context of information. Social networking makes us happy because it informs us and keeps us connected with friends, at the same time. While it doesn’t replace in-person interaction, social networking is a good complement, when used judiciously.

Delis and Agencies: Lessons in Leadership

15 Sep

I wrote this post three years ago and am reposting due to the good nuggets in there. Made me a little bit sad to read as my first deli boss, Audrey Block, has since passed away.

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I started working when I was 14, at a Dairy Queen in Pickerington, Ohio. My commute involved a short but uphill bike ride to work, and a blissful downhill coast coming back home. Since then, I have worked at 14 places, including: six restaurants, one preschool, one au pair arrangement in France, two PR agencies, one university and one state agency.

Hands down, my favorite places to work have been those where true leadership reigned. The common theme was “here’s how we do it here,” but not in the McDonald’s way. The earliest examples were delis, all of which had standards for performance, built upon years of experience. And they were led by people with the ego strength of titans.

Audrey Block of Block’s Bagels is a good example. She never approved of my crazy mohawk or weird hair color, and made no bones about telling me so. She most liked the more carefully coiffed girls from Walnut Ridge High School who lived closer by. Probably because I was less presentable than these girls, Audrey had me come in to work at an ungodly hour, 6:30 a.m., to help the bakers take bread out of the ovens and pack it for delivery. Working with bakers is tough. They are an unforgiving lot, and I don’t think that they were very happy to be working with a little punk rock girl like me. I have never been quick in the morning, but this job made a keen set of reflexes absolutely necessary.

When you have hot loaves of bread being gunned your way by grumpy flour-covered men twenty years older than you, being light on your feet is a must. There are important people out there waiting for bread, and getting their order right is priority one. Being directly in the line of fire, I learned quickly. This was character-building at its best, both because of having to get up so early and because of not being cut any slack. Today, when I go into Block’s with my two kids, Audrey is always amazed that by all outward appearances I turned out normal, and she makes sure I know it. My kids have no idea what she is talking about and just think she’s a very opinionated grandmotherly figure.

Another common theme among my favorite leadership styles is this: We will teach you how to do it right, but if you want to put your own, individual stamp on the work–if it means adding quality that keeps people coming back–then be our guest. Even more: If you have a personality, please let it be known. It makes working here funner, and it makes our unique approach to service stand out in people’s minds. When waiting on people, throw some personality into it. For goodness’ sakes, don’t be shy. Feel free to give people a hard time if they can take it. They’ll remember you for engaging them in the sales process.

Katzinger‘s is probably the best case in point. This deli is anti-flair (ever seen Office Space?) but pro-individuality. Diane Warren ruled (and continues to rule) the roost. She’s small but mighty. All cheese had to be labeled with a hand-made sign, faced appropriately and wrapped so tightly that customers had a clear view of the goods. There is a special deli secret to doing this, so that you cannot even tell that the cheese has been wrapped.

And another thing…THE most important thing: TELL A STORY. This helps people to remember what you’re selling. Lack of interactivity in sales is a killer. If there’s not a story that goes along with that 15-year-old cheese, then why bother? The story should involve either a monk or a Red Riding Hood Grandmother-esque character involved in making the product. Preferably in an exotic or isolated location.

My deli learnings eventually led me into public affairs and public relations. I’ve found that, when done well, agency leadership models the discipline and passion that my deli leaders upheld. It makes a difference when a leader of any business–deli or agency–comes into the office every day, armed with the rigor and the vigor to make a difference. Sitting quietly in one’s office doesn’t get it. Mingling with the people in the business and constantly thinking about what’s next is what builds a business.

And another thing, which is the true measure of a leader: Let your people live up to their potential. My current leaders set the tone for how it’s done, and they expect everyone to go well beyond. There’s always a better way to do the work. It’s about discipline, getting there early and staying late on some days. But more than that, leadership in the client-focused world is about cultivating creativity, so that our clients’ success reflects back on us. All of us are leaders in one way or another, and the best organizations’ leaders know it. Good agency leaders are not offended when associates ask questions and try to improve business processes. Holding people accountable and expecting them to take on responsibility is the best compliment a leader can give.

In my last eight months at my current agency, I’ve seen this ethic hard at work. There’s always more to do, but the trick is in approaching best practices slightly differently each day. Quality is a given. What should be different is how we constantly improve how we do the work, so that we are always making it more of a challenge for ourselves. This is how we distance ourselves from the same old/same old…how we build business during challenging times.

Who knows, maybe I will start riding my bike to work, just like I did 27 years ago for my first job at the DQ. If it helps me to think differently in the process, then I’m one step ahead of the expected.

Strunked, or ‘Omit Needless Words’

10 Sep

Every year, there are two books that I re-read, at different seasons. At Christmastime, it’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (a poem, but the size of a book) because it has end of old year and start of new year themes. At back-to-school time, I re-read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. This post tells a bit about why.

I’m a bit of a language geek. I think about it a lot in my spare time. I enjoyed diagramming sentences in 8th grade, and I wrote my honors thesis for undergrad on Cajun French morphemes.

Words matter to me, and putting them together smartly, in particular in the business world, is the difference between grabbing or losing an important person’s attention. I write for a living, so for me it’s a practical matter. And it’s just plain enjoyable for me to read this tightly written book about being a better writer.

While the book includes many “how-to’s,” it is also chock-full of humor on the side.  For instance:

Rather, very, little, pretty–these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.

(First sentence to explain the rule: “Avoid the use of qualifiers.”)

The history of the book is also worth knowing. Many don’t realize that E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web) kept the book alive “with” his Cornell professor William Strunk Jr, albeit after Strunk had passed. Professor Strunk wrote the book for his English undergraduates in the early 1910s, and White was one of them. Years later, the publisher Macmillan asked White to re-work the book for more widespread use, and White stayed true to the “little book” that Strunk created. The first edition was published in 1959, and since then there have been another four additions, each containing updates that keep it current.

The Elements of Style has become a necessary and nearby bookshelf item for all writers. Consider these words of wisdom that everyone tries to remember, without realizing their origins in the mind of Strunk (and White):

  • Omit needless words.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Use definite, specific, concrete language.
  • Nice: A shaggy, all-purpose word, to be used sparingly in formal composition.
  • Do not overwrite.
  • Write in a way that comes naturally.
  • Revise and rewrite.
  • Avoid fancy words.
  • Be clear.

I received my most recent edition from Bob Boltz (the most precise writer and honest editor I know) when working at Columbus, Ohio PR firm the Cochran Group. Bob would probably appreciate that I have threatened to give my daughter, newly a freshman at The Charles School, her very own copy of the book. She has indicated more than once that she’d rather I didn’t. If only these young kids would appreciate the wisdom buried in Strunk’s “little book!”

Here’s a closing thought from Strunk, called in E.B. White’s preface to the 1979 edition:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word should tell.

“Tell,” indeed. Every piece of writing should tell a story without “unnecessary” embellishment.

What’s the point? The best writing is created from the heart but polished by the discipline of the mind.

The Freshman

6 Sep

Today is my firstborn’s first day of her first year of high school.

I am too overwhelmed to write much about it, but in her honor I am posting the link to a well-written new online mag for teenage girls called Rookie, where a friend’s daughter is now a columnist.

Remembering my own first day of high school, all I can say is that I hope my daughter enjoys hers more than I did mine. I was too nervous to truly appreciate it.

What a special milestone, for both The Freshman and her parents!