Business

Just Plain Folk

I’m probably tilting at windmills here but I’ve got to be straight – the thinking that aww, shucks, I’m just a normal, every-day-guy is exactly the kind of quality we need in Washington, or our local governments for that matter, drives me absolutely. fucking. crazy.

Take a recent interview with Ted Nugent (see the entire clip here) where Fox host David Asman says the following:

“Well Ted, you have common sense, which probably 98 percent of the people inside the Beltway don’t have. And common sense means much more to living a good life than any kind of degree from an Ivy League university. These government officials, just because they have an Ivy League education doesn’t mean they know more than we do.”

Take away for a moment that, well, it kind of does, and instead consider this: when did having an education become a negative? That former President Bush projected the everyman persona any time he was in front of a camera boggles my mind. That the country elected him twice while he did so makes me want slam my head into a wall. Twice. The right’s continued love of former Governor Palin (due in large part to the same kind of personality) does the same.  

Sure, we elect politicians. But it’s important to note that we call them by another name, too – leaders. And don’t we want our leaders to have a first-rate mind? One that’s informed and analytical and capable of attacking the problems our country faces – problems that are incredibly complex, nuanced, and in dire need of all the brain-power we can put behind them, by the bye – with a little more intellectual might than Joe the Plumber?  

Thoughts?

Thanks to Eileen Smith at In the Pink for the original post.

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2010

A great writer named Chris Brogan provides, in one of his many, many posts about the topic, a list of ways to improve your blog. I’ll try to find the specific post I’m talking about shortly, but the list I’m referring to offers dozens of pointers on the subject and includes ideas like keep it short, use smart headlines/titles, link often, engage with your audience, and so on. The one that I’m thinking about right now actually goes something a little like this:

Stifle, with wild abandon, the urge to begin any post with, “I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while.”

Yeah, sorry about this, Chris.

So I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. I can give you sound, reasonable explanations for my absence (a bizarre and somewhat ironic twist at work, surgery, the loss of a family member, the stress that inevitably goes hand-in-hand with the holidays, and on) but baseline is the fact that I just didn’t get here.

In fact, it’s quite possible that writing about some of those things above would have been helpful. As to whether or not they’d be interesting I couldn’t say. Regardless, it’s now a new year and one (of the many) things I’d like to do this year is post with a little more regularity. 

So, old friends, stay tuned. If there’s a topic you’d like to see addressed here don’t hesitate to let me know. For now, I’d like to know about the things you’re going to work on this year. What does 2010 have in store for you?

My first speaking gig

Last week went by about (snap) that fast. Sure, it was busy at work – when is it not – but Tuesday afternoon I slipped out of my day-to-day and boogied my way (via United Airways and damn them times ten for now charging for checked bags) to do something I’d been both excited about and dreading for more than a month.

My first speaking gig.

A little back-story: one of the things I do at work is manage our Online events. That’s just a dressed-up way of saying webinars, but it’s a gig that takes more than a bit of thinking and one that I genuinely get quite a bit of pleasure from doing. At any rate, our technology provider (the guys that handle the back-end of our events) invited me to join them on a panel at the Marketing Profs Digital Mixer in Chicago and talk about how we use webinars to capture high-quality leads and promote the actual events using social media. 

In a word, awesome.

I was on a panel with two other people, so there was very little stress once things got rolling. It helped that I made the audience laugh about 10 seconds in, but as this was my first time getting up in front of a group of people and speaking there was a little apprehension going in.

I could produce quite a few paragraphs about the experience, but I’ll sum it up briefly. I met absolutely great people (see here and here), the panel went swimmingly (see the review and comments here) and I’m, to use the technical terms, totally stoked to do this again.

Cheers.

How to pump it up

 muscles, weight lifting, venice beach

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Self, I wish I were better at (insert at will)?” I certainly do. The things I’d like to be better at are many and varied, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the time my little wish, usually said quietly in the back of my head, is as far as I go to actually do anything about it.  

I’m thinking I’m probably not alone in this.

My friend Tim, who might be steadily becoming absolutely wearyof being mentioned here, has talked with me about this a number of times; generally about this blog. But first, as a few people (to include my mother) have requested I do so, I present you with a Boot Camp story:

Before I joined the Corps I’d discharged a firearm only twice in my life. Once, and even now I shudder at the stupidity, I and a handful of other knuckleheads fired shotguns into the air on New Year’s Eve. The second time occurred when my father and I went on our (only) duck hunting trip. That time I fired another shotgun into the air (hitting nothing except perhaps one of the eight million mosquitoes in the area) and shortly after we called it quits. As I didn’t enjoy hunting, or (at that time) spending time with my father, I was more than ready to get back to the safety of my room and sink into the melodies of a Yaz or Depeche Mode album through my headphones. 

And yet it’s generally the guys exactly like me, those with little or no experience with firearms, who perform the best on the firing range once trained. Instructors say it’s because we don’t have a mass of bad habits that we need to break. There’s probably a post about that idea (Tim, Russ – the gauntlet is thrown) but that’s for another day.

And while I’m certain the lack of bad habits had something to do with it, I’m more than convinced “Snap-in” was actually the key to my success with an M-16.

You see, Boot Camp provided two weeks of rifle training – one week of position training (Snap-in), and another week of live-fire practice and testing. While going through it, Snap-in was horrible: five days, eight hours a day, of sitting or lying on the ground, holding a rifle and staring off into the distance, imagining your target floating between the sights.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was building muscle-memory in those five days. That because of standing up, sitting down, kneeling, or lying in a the prone position, over and over, I was teaching my body the correct way to get my trunk, arms, and legs out of the equation when it came to tracking, targeting, and eliminating a target.   

When week two finally began I was a “natural.”

Okay, so how does that apply here?

Tim told me a story a few months ago about a Comic Book artist who, when asked by an aspiring artist how to get into the business, suggested that the inquiring individual draw 10,000 sketches. Yup, not a typo – that’s four zeroes. 10,000 sketches and you’re going to know your way around a drawing, was the idea. “Chops,” you could say.

So I wonder – out of all those things, those wishes that we’d like to be better at, just how awesome would we be after a week of Snap-in or 10,000 practice swings? Want to get in shape? Start tracking the miles you walk or run. Or the number of push-ups you do. Seriously – imagine how your arms or chest would look after ten thousandpush-ups. What will this blog look like after 10,000 posts?

Of course, it’s far, far easier to look into the air and wish we knew how to do this or had more talent at that and chalk it up to genetics or talent. Which will you choose?

Image by RightIndex

Zombies and pedicures

Zombie March Chicago 2009

You might be wondering what could these two things possibly have in common. Other than the former could probably really, really use the latter, I mean. The answer is that they were both topics covered in a rather odd meeting at work not long ago.

I guess ‘meeting’ is a bit of a misnomer. It was actually a group of about 15 people hanging out in a conference room during lunch on a Friday, laughing and chowing down on greek-style pizza, kicking-off our first  Pecha Kucha party.

In a nutshell, Pecha Kucha is a presentation where a brave soul queues up 20 images or slides and delivers a presentation dedicating twenty seconds per image. Meaning, each presenter gets up and does their thing for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Awesome.

The topics, as you might have noticed, can be just about anything. Zack’s presentation on zombies – and I had no idea zombie culture is as popular as it is – had us shaking our heads and cracking up, one after the other. MB had us all convinced that the secret to productivity at work was to take the time to give your toes some love.

Am I a total nerd, or does this seem like something that would be fun to do at a party? (If you’re in the Austin area, you can check out a local gathering here)

Photo by Eric Ingrum

A word or two on service

customer service

I think it’s fair to say that when I first started at Hoover’s I had a little difficulty adjusting to an office gig. Which is remarkable, considering just how laid-back the organization and culture is at the office. Consider – in the four or so years I’ve been there I’ve worn slacks into the office twice and I think I’ve only tucked in my shirt a few more times than that.

Still, going from bartender and freelance writer to sitting at a cube and interacting professionally with people every Monday through Friday was a challenge.

In the years that have passed (although it’s infinitely more difficult without an oak bar between me and them) I’ve slowly gotten better at that interaction. My language is sometimes inexcusably inappropriate, but, luckily, they cut me some slack knowing that I’m working on it.

In any case, in all that time, it’s always been fairly clear to me that everyone at Hoover’s takes treating the customer right pretty seriously. It’s one of the things that makes working there something I can (genuinely) be proud of. And, because the economy is what it is, it’s something all of us have been keenfully aware just how important it is to keep doing well. 

Which is why I’m so irritated about a personal situation, I felt the need to tell you about it.  

The short version is this: the contract for our pest service was up as of April and Sarah and I have been checking out options for a new vendor. Last Thursday, or old vendor came out during the day, treated our home (we have a system that allows them to do everything from outside) then left an invoice for about 30% higher than we paid before.

This is after we cancelled our service with them in April.

So I’ve spent the last few days, original contract in hand, arguing with their office. And I’m not trying to get over – it was time for a treatment, and even though we’d cancelled our service with them we haven’t yet found a replacement; so I’m happy to pay for the services we received. Just not at a 30% mark-up. And still they argue.

Sarah and I, in our original contract, decided to pay for the entire year of service up front. So I ask you – isn’t that the kind of customer you want to not only keep, but also take care of? These guys seem to want to demonstrate some shady practices and then hope their customer will simply fold.

Sorry, not gonna happen.

A friend has written about this kind of thing before, see here, but now I’ll ask you: in an environment where every interaction counts, what are you doing to take care of and keep your customers? Given my recent experience, I’d love to hear some good examples…

image by yummiec00kies

Bad advertising, courtesy of Burger King

Burger King Ad

I came across this not long ago and sometimes I’m just lost for words.  Not only did a creative team come up with this idea, such as it is, they actually had the stones to take it their creative director. That CD then took it the account rep. Finally, once all was said and done, the agency gathered up their storyboards and mock-ups and pitched it to the client.

Who, for reasons passing understanding, somehow said yes.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m a former Marine and a long-time bartender, so sketchy humor is essentially part of my genetic make-up – so I’m not offended with the ad. At least not in the traditional sense. I’m simply left, pardon the pun, with a really, really bad taste in my mouth.

I’v said this before, and I’ll no doubt have countless opportunities to say it again, but there is some absolutely horrible advertising out there. Ads that don’t really do much more than lean on a dick joke to one degree or another and then exit stage left.

And maybe most people don’t expect much more. They’re just ads, right?

Except they’re not. Not when they’re good. There are some absolutely phenomenal ads that have been written and produced that not only manage to make us think, or smile, or talk to one another; they represent a business or product in such a way that we consumers choose to do business with them. Gladly.

But doing both is hard, and because of that you get crap like the Burger King ad pictured here. On the other hand, you can find an example of a banner ad that rocks here. What are some great/horrible ads you’ve seen?