Friday, 30 September 2011

A Debater's Truth

I'm a political freak.  Election night, for me, is like Super Bowl  (without the Doritos commercials, but not without the Doritos).  If I could have two TVs going I'd be flipping between 3 or 4 stations watching results come in.

Debate night is like a play off game.  I'm glued to the set, waiting for someone to say something that will turn the tide, even if it's against my guy.  I like intelligent discourse.  Remember a few of the best lines of the last few years of televised debates?

"You had an option, sir"  Brian Mulroney to John Turner in 1984.  Mr. Turner should never have come back to the patronage issue after he had already deftly maneuvered out of Mulroney's first trap, but for some reason he reopened the subject and Mulroney landed this punch.  He'd been waiting.

"Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle in 1988 in the U.S. VP candidate debate.  Like Turner, Quayle felt compelled to address a vulnerability; the question of his relative youth and readiness for the Presidency if called upon.  Quayle pointed out that John F. Kennedy was about the same age when he became President, and Bentsen delivered the "I knew Jack Kennedy, and Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" punch, right to the solar plexus.  You could actually watch Quayle lose his wind, angry at Bentsen for the cheap shot and at himself, aware he had made the mistake of walking into a rehearsed line, into a well laid trap.

"Can we have it back, please?"  Fictional President Jedd Bartlett of The West Wing challenges the fictional Governor of Florida in the Presidential debate to renounce federal association and his state's shared tax revenues with the other 49 states, if he despises federalism so much.  You have to see the episode and the campaign episodes leading up to the exchange to fully appreciate it.

Of the three lines quoted, though The West Wing is fiction and obviously scripted, Martin Sheen delivers it as though extemporaneously, unscripted.

In the Ontario Provincial Leaders debate this week, all three tried to score that memorable line, the challengers tried harder than the Premier had to.  They failed because they tried.  They failed because they were too obviously programmed, scripted, waiting for an opportunity to recite their lines, instead of seeking an opportunity to speak their truth.

We're not that stupid, folks.  Give us a real debate.  We want to hear you speak with passion from your guts, not from your memory.  That's why it's called gutsy - you wonder if you might lose the contents of your stomach in nervous apprehension of working without a safety net. 

That's why you're a leader - because you do it anyway.  Except our three couldn't be bothered.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Consequences and Youth

I take no pleasure in it, and I have absolutely no knowledge of the upbringing of this young man, but yes, I'm making a connection between his temporary foolishness and his ability to discern consequences.  Read the story about a young polo player and his part in the Vancouver riots, and what it has cost him:

I feel bad for the kid.  Trouble is, he's not a kid anymore, and these are the adult consequences of his actions. We've all been there...well, maybe not THERE, but the young men in our midst can relate, and yes, there are gender differences.  We have all done something terribly stupid and maybe even risked all that we and our parents have worked for.  Some of us get caught.  The vigilante judgement has been swift and terrible.  Read this story from the Vancouver Sun that printed immediately after the riot:

I pray for his ability to rise above this, get past it, and I pray for the community's ability to forgive and move on.  He's paid the price.  God bless him, he stood up and took it like a man, so you know his parents have done something right.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Coffee Shops, Bars and Other Cool Ventures

"The Coffee Shop Entrepreneur Myth":  I read the title with interest, even more so because the blog was written by Craig Ballantyne of Men's Health fame.  Finally, I thought, someone is busting open the notion that just anyone can successfully own and operate a cafe, a lounge, a restaurant or a boutique hotel.  Thanks to TV shows like Cheers, Friends and Newhart, many dreamers have tried and failed; heartbroken, disillusioned, exhausted and broke.

But Craig Ballantyne's article had nothing to do with actual coffee shop ownership.  It was an attempt to kill the fairy tale that wannabe millionaires will ever actually reach their goal in a coffee shop.  Ballantyne contends, with real world experience, that Starbucks might be the worst place to attempt to develop a business.  Read it here, it's a great article.
The Coffee Shop Entrepreneur Myth Early To Rise

Here are some cold hard facts for anyone who wants to own their own restaurant or lounge, three simple dream-killing (or inspiring) realities:

1.  If you build it, they might not come.  Field of Dreams was a movie, dammit.  Your best ideas, your grandmother's recipe, your flat screen TVs and the encouragement of your buddies to sell your special (burgers, donuts, muffins, whatever...) may end up in your lasting fame and fortune.  Truth is, it probably won't, particularly if your entire marketing plan relies on other people innately recognizing your brilliance.

2.  Get ready for competition.  If you're any good, they'll try to imitate you (and put you out of business).  If you're pretty good, they'll try to best you (and put you out of business).  It's why you're thinking of opening your dream spot, isn't it?  You make better (burgers, donuts, muffins, whatever...) than those other guys, right?  And if you serve crap and have lousy service, even unintentionally, there's a good chance you'll put yourself out of business.  It's only a matter of how long you can avoid the inevitable.

3.  There are 24 hours in the day.  If you're open 12 of them, and probably it's more like 18, be prepared to work most of them.  And then sit down and do your paperwork after the last customer leaves, or before the first one comes in.  If all this attention to detail and long hours isn't enough, remember the success of your business is often in the hands of a minimum-wage,  part-time front-line employee, who can make or break you with each transaction.

4.  Your friends are the ones who insist on paying full price for everything, who come back often and bring friends and clients because they know they can count on you to make them look good for choosing your place.  People who come in looking for discounts and freebies aren't your friends (though they may be family and there's nothing you can do about that).  They're leeches.

I said I had three points.  I've actually shared four points already, and that's point number five.  If you can't count you should stay out of the biz.  Your profits will be exiting the back door with your dish guy, either due to waste or theft.

This is why I can't abide some Twittering Twit trashing restaurants on-line, and I've discovered how thin-skinned some of these textperts are when challenged about it.  They wouldn't last 5 minutes in the hospitality industry, or anywhere else in the real world.  If the place is great, tweet away!  They need all the help they can get.  If you're displeased, let them know privately but stay off line.  If they can't improve, they'll put themselves out of business without any of your help.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Be Human

I don't mind sharing that I'm a little bummed today.  Last night I made the horrendous mistake of communicating with an on-line superstar, a self-described on-line strategist, in what she perceived to be a criticism.  Actually, my hero was having an on-line meltdown and I was trying to caution her that I thought she may have stepped way over the line, publicly.

So, my hero tweeted that I was a "troll".  Actually, an "awkward troll".  At first I wasn't sure she meant me, then I thought it might be some sort of internet slang that I didn't understand.  And then it got personal.

You see, I'm a little self-concious about my height.  (And of my thick eyebrows and scruffy beard, my pointed ears and my penchant for fresh goat).  As the tweets progressed, I realized "troll" was a slur on my name.  Tyrrell - Troll, get it?  If at first I didn't, but I caught on after she tweeted something about J Troll.  She's so clever, my hero.

OK, so what did I learn?  First, even admired leaders sometimes just blow it.  I feel bad that all 20,000 of her followers had to see it happen.  There, but for the grace of God, go any of us. 

Secondly, even though we feel like we know someone who tweets 5 or 6 times a day, even though we admire their insight and appreciate their timely links, we are not friends.  We've never met, although I used to hope we would someday. 

It still hurts to be mocked publicly.  And that's my third lesson learned.  Although well intentioned, she saw my communication as an attack.  (She actually tweeted that - "I've been attacked by a troll.")  If I had to do it all again, I wouldn't.  She was clearly having a public, reputation-destorying meltdown, and I know I didn't help though I didn't intend to hurt.

And so I leave you with the tweeted words of another of my internet heroes, Mr. Shane Gibson.  "Social Media Tip: When you criticize people online realize that one day you may have to interact with them face to face. Be human."  Good advice for trolls and nanny-goats alike.

Monday, 19 September 2011

This Beautiful City

I am fortunate that through a combination of my work, my natural wanderlust and my upbringing as an Air Force brat, I love to visit new cities.  I'm not one of those cosmopolitan travellers who can regale you with tales of exotic locales.  You're more likely to hear of gritty inner cities in unlikely destinations.  This is one such story.

I am in Saskatoon as I write this.  I've never been.  So far we're off to a good start with a nice meal in a small "global café" (their words) called  St. Tropez.  The front desk agent recommended it and pronounced it traw-pez, but hey, she pronounced my surname correctly (teer-rül) so I won't quibble.

This morning started with a run along the river on some nice trails and I was impressed at the fitness level of the locals  Not a sloppy, overweight, out-of-shape person in sight, yours truly excepted.  It occured to me how much I would enjoy living here, going so far as to be a little envious that our little city isn't more like this little city in so many ways.

Truth be told, living here is different from visiting.  I would imagine the citizens of this city experience frustration probably as much as anyone.  They may not even recognize their beautiful river and vibrant downtown (sidewalks dutifully rolled up on Sundays) for the gems that they are, seeing them every day.

That this town, or any town including mine, is a good place in which to live, visit or work, is not by accident or happenstance.  It takes political will, vision, trust, cooperation and an engaged citizenry.  That didn't just happen here.

It is happening in my town.  Sometimes you just have to leave to see it.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Chopped Liver

"What am I, chopped liver?"  One translation of this old Jewish saying turned modern colloquialism suggests that since chopped liver is a traditional side dish, the implication is that the offended party just didn't make "main dish" status.

Imagine being invited to a dinner party.  Everyone who is anyone in your social scene is invited.  You're looking forward to it, and you arrive at the party ready for a great time with a great host and good friends.

Now imagine you're the only guest who shows up.  You and the host for dinner.  No one else arrives; a host's worst nightmare.  And now comes your nightmare.  The host spends the next few hours listing off the guests he invited but didn't show, looking at the door; if he stares at it long enough someone will knock.  It becomes clear that the people who aren't here are more important to the host than the one who is sitting right across from him.  "What am I, chopped liver?" one would legitimately wonder.

How many times have we done that in our own lives?  From talking about parishioners we don't see in church anymore in front of those we do, to beating ourselves up over lost customers, crying over lost loves or mourning lost loved ones in the face of the present and apparently unaccounted for, we miss the here and now.  We miss the chance to celebrate the gifts we have.  This day is a gift.

There's a time and place to mourn, wonder, worry about, pray for and remember those aren't with us today.  And there's a time to pay attention to the ones we love, the ones who love us, the ones who count on us, the ones who are here; now.

It's September 12.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Oh Lord Open My Lips

"If you watch the video of the half time entertainment at the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans, you can hear Bono, over the music and the cheering, speaking into the microphone: "Lord, open my lips that my mouth may sing forth your praise."  These are the same words spoken at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Hours every day in the Catholic Church."  Deacon Greg Kandra

I wish I wasn't so damned cynical that I could have appreciated this performance as much then, as I do now.

Watch the video here:  U2 at the 2002 Super Bowl

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Promotion DE (wait for it) NIED!

Tom, (let's call him Tom), has reached the pinnacle of success in his current job.  He's ready for a challenge that can only be realized with the responsibility, and frankly - the reward that comes with a promotion.  There's no internal candidate more qualified or even as qualified as Tom (just ask him). 

He applies, he interviews...and an outsider is brought in.  What now, for Tom?  In one section of his mind he knows that once upon a time HE was the external candidate who got the job over an internal candidate.  A man of faith, the words of the Gospel ring in his ears, "A prophet is not without honour except in his own country."  It is difficult to recognize homegrown talent.  He knows how that feels, and it smarts. 

Tom goes through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' stages of grief after a loss, which do apply to his situation, sort of.  Tom experiences denial, and then anger.  In a form of bargaining, he mentally lists all the reasons why this was a bad decision on the part of his boss, as objectively as he can, which in truth is the farthest thing from objective but he's a long way from admitting it.  For a short time he experiences a kind of depression and then, God willing, acceptance.

His wife doesn't hear the news until he gets home late that evening, so she is a full 8 hours behind him in all these stages.  It's actually harder on her and not made any easier that he's already accepted the decision while she's still listing his fabulous attributes against the obvious shortcomings of his boss, his internal competition, and a few outside candidates neither has ever met.

What Tom will hopefully internalize is that there is a higher purpose that he has neither given thought to nor is willing to acknowledge.  He can't see things from the Boss' chair, so he doesn't know all that factored into the decision.

My advice to Tom?  His coworkers and boss will remember how he acted in the hours and days after he got the news.  A period of disappointment is natural.  For damned sure let's hope he keeps his thoughts to himself.  Misery does indeed love company, the rest of us can stand it only for a short while.

A period of reflection, a frank conversation about the boss' expectations and some private reflection would serve him well as he applies himself to the goals and aspirations of this new phase of his career, wherever that takes him;  a smile and a cheerful countenance to welcome the new guy, who shouldn't be able to tell that Tom was the spurned applicant.  And finally, a consideration of his standing within the company outside of his annual performance review.

An old boss once explained how he had moved up the ladder with several different employers, "sometimes you have to move to improve".

Tough Decisions

I'm kind of missing Jerry Lewis this year, but his absence proves that the cause is greater than the man.  That's a lesson we need to learn in all areas of our lives, whether we're reeling from the loss of a loved one, picking up the pieces after the fall of a hero from grace, or a parishioner adjusting to a new Pastor.

By all accounts the Muscular Dystrophy Association raised more money this year than ever before.  We armchair critics can chalk it up to one thing or another, but initial results indicate the board of the MDA made the right decision in asking Jerry to hang it up.  In a day and age where boards and managers and teachers and politicians are operating in fear of upsetting real and imagined up applecarts, this executive team took a bold step.  It hurts to see a man who's given so much asked to step away.  It must have hurt like hell for them to have to do it, but it had to be done.

There's a lesson in this for all of us.  We may not always like it, but an effective leadership team makes tough decisions that are best for their organization.  That's the job of an informed, educated, dedicated and courageous Board.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Say Only the Good Things People Need to Hear

From time to time a blogger will present a criticism of a product, process or experience.  Hopefully the intention is to serve others with a lesson learned, and ultimately an introspective evaluation keeps we service providers humble, knowing that, except for the grace of God, there go any of us.  Sometimes criticism is malicious.  This criticism isn't.  It's about a bad business practice, and not about the place in which it occurred.

I guess it's better than Tweeting
Today's businesses are but one Tweet away from closing the doors.  Any idiot with a smart phone is a critic.  Sometimes is seems like every idiot with a smart phone is a critic.

When do you concentrate on excellence in product and service, and when do you sacrifice quality and service for cost?

Recently my son, a Business major in University, received incredibly bad service from a well-known local restaurant, the gist of it being that his take out order was mistakenly prepared a full hour before the requested pick up time.  The deficiency in execution came in at least two parts.  First, the order taker argued with him about exactly what time the pick-up had been arranged, and took as proof of her own infallibility her history of apparently never having made a mistake.  Secondly, the restaurant protected their costs by determining the hour-old food to still be edible.  It wasn't, and that presumption leads to two sorrowful conclusions.

First, that merely qualifying as "edible" is their culinary standard, and secondly that the restaurant, for the sake of saving about $3 in food costs, placed its reputation on food that had been sitting under the heat lamp for over 60 minutes.  In effect they determined that even though this customer would base his opinion of their restaurant, his recommendations and all future dining experiences on this one meal, rather than make a fresh order they were willing to risk everything on hour-old, cold, and dried out food.  The good news in all this bad news is that they saved a few bucks in not having to prepare it twice.  The bad news is that they will never have to bother making my son or his friends a meal, ever again.

And that, my friends, though I'm sorry to report it, is nevertheless painfully good stuff we all need to hear and learn from, we in business.  We can't fix that place, but if we take our eye off the ball for even a moment in our own operations, there go any of us.  We walk a fine line between watching the bottom line and serving the customer, but even when our priority is necessarily the bottom line, it can't be obvious to the customer.

We don't need to know the name of the business.  Does it matter?  It could be any of ours, no matter what we make or do.  The error was executed by a front line employee in a culture that finds it's source and support at the top.

To deny that it could happen to any of us is the first step towards closing the doors.

The final word is that my son did complain to the manager, and after a full day of reflection(!), she offered to replace the meal on his next visit.  He took her up on her offer immediately.  There was no apology.