Great Starts

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Checking In

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of staying at a brand-spankin new hotel, two days after they opened the doors. I didn’t plan to be their thirteenth guest, it just happened. How fun for me!

The parking lot was sparkly and all the landscaping perfectly-manicured. The lobby smelled like fresh paint and new carpet. The staff stood behind the counter and were smiling. Widely. They were excited to see me. All their attention was on me.

That was the moment that it occurred to me to inquire, “Did you just open?’ “Yes!” They all exclaimed- “Monday!”

In that moment, I was instantly both excited and a little sad. You see, I had just come from a three-day conference where I led focused sessions on hospitality and guest services. So, I was secretly hoping the service I was experiencing was genuine and unique. It was probably genuine, but it is most likely temporary. Nerve-enduced attention. And, I’m okay with that. It was a fine experience.

I’ve come to expect a certain level of service from hotels and other hospitality providers. Occasionally I am overwhelmed with expertise and accommodations, but usually, I am-(how to say this nicely?)- satisfied.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Satisfaction is good. But it isn’t a goal. Because, how can we possibly know the extent to which some guests will require being completely satisfied with their experience? Not always is that information clear. But what is clear is genuine care and attention.

It only takes a single visit to a Starbucks to know that the priority has been placed on speed and drink accuracy. That’s good. And that would make most customers “satisfied”. But is it enough? For a while, perhaps- or at least until someone opens a coffee shop that provides exceptional customer-focused service. Today, I look for coffee shops where the barista (not wearing a headset), is willing to engage in a conversation. I want to know about the coffee’s origins, I want the expert’s advice on the best brewing process for a particular roasted bean. (Thank you, Stone Creek Coffee)

Start Start Start Start Well

What if every day was a start? What if each day was a new gift? What if we treated every day like it was the first?

Maybe if we begin looking at every day from the customer perspective, it would change our outlook. After all, it is new to them.

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Pulling a Creative All-Nighter? Nope.

On a recent Tuesday morning, after enjoying a long-weekend due to holiday, I studied my list of to-do’s, and attempted to organize the week ahead. I have become accustomed to starting my day with a ‘big three’ list, the top three things I must accomplish that day. Throughout the day, I revisit the list, to ensure I am on track for completing my agenda. Sometimes the items are specific: ‘Complete Photo Assets for Web Project.’ Sometimes they are general: ‘Forecast Design Profiles for June.’

As I made my way through the day, I quickly learned that Tuesday’s list may get held over to Wednesday, which is often the case. Waking early Wednesday, I proceeded to the airport for an early flight, and quickly boarded the plane. I am writing this while aboard a United CRJ 700.

It got me to thinking- perhaps I should have pulled an all-nighter. Remember those?

The old, college all-nighter. The thirty page term-paper, or exam-cram, or presentation prep. Back in the day, no all-nighter was complete without a pizza, a trip to Denny’s, or endless amounts of caffeine. They worked, usually without many long-term consequences, besides sleeping through the next few days while trying to catch up.

But, did they really work? They always felt more like cheating than really accomplishing anything. Virtually nothing of those evenings made it into long-term memory, and, aside from nailing the presentation, or landing that score, they were a blip on the college experience.

Creative Work is Unique

Okay, I know that’s a ridiculous headline- obvious, perhaps. But, for a moment, let’s acknowledge that many of us find ourselves in creative work. And, whether we ever thought those two words would cram themselves together and haunt and befuddle our lives, they have, and they do. Creative Work.

In my more than twenty years as creative and art director, I have learned that, even though every project begins and ends on a specific date, the life experience of your art director is part of his or her employment.

For example, if I know that I am starting a project focusing on, say, the rebranding of a major soft drink, my eyes are opened to every drink around me. The customer at the table next to me during date night becomes my test patient in my very public laboratory. I eavesdrop on conversations, spy on consumers, and evaluate every sip of every drink in my sight.

And that is the creative work. Though my pen hasn’t yet touched paper, and no images have been conceptualized, no talent hired, no scripts produced- the work has begun.

Some days I jump from the shower and type notes into my iPhone centered on a thought or idea that works with the new beverage campaign. And sometimes I test ideas on my family or friends.

Perhaps it is that way with every profession. Perhaps lawyers, accountants and teachers all do the same thing. In fact, I am sure they do.

However, artists begin their work- their craft- long before they sit at a canvas, and dip the tip of a brush into paint. The only difference is, they don’t look at those moments of ‘life’ as ‘Work.’
My children will often chastise my wife or me for talking ‘work’ for hours after we get home, How unfair is that? We shouldn’t be clouding our home with the mess of our days. And yet, some of the greatest insight I’ve had comes from our smart, insightful boys, usually unbeknownst to them.

Today, it is expected that employees and associated be available, or at least on-call virtually always. When was the last time you ignored work issues over a weekend? Being available to life is equally important. Or, we may miss it.

So- when does the work begin? When does it end? Maybe it is as simple as re-framing our thinking.

Maybe life fuels our work, not the other way around.

 

Heroes Created and Destroyed.

In the past weeks, we have been bombarded by the Facebook scandal, recently accused of skirting their responsibilities in protecting users’ data through a relationship with Cambridge Analytica.

Many of us can recall those days or yore when Facebook didn’t exist. If this isn’t you, simply imagine yourself on the subway, on the couch, or at your office desk without having the nuanced details of your closest friends at your fingertips. Those were the days– the pre-Zuckerberg era, if you will.

In 2010, Time Magazine named Mark Zuckerberg Person of the Year. After the successful, if not entirely glowing biopic The Social Network, the world recognized the awkward, quirky Zuckerberg as an American success story.  The Forbes Top-lister and Facebook CEO is reportedly worth more than $36 Billion. He and his wife recently announced they would donate 99% of their Facebook shares’ value over the course of their lifetime. An American-made hero, to be sure.

But that was then.

Just like so many ‘created’ heroes before, Mark Zuckerberg now faces the scrutiny of defending that which he created to the general public, Facebook users and the U.S. Congress. Surely, this was not the big plan.

There is no doubt the world celebrates Zuckerberg and all his success. And, by late 2017, Facebook had a reported 2.2 billion monthly users– nearly a quarter of the earth’s population. The product works. The ‘global village’ first dreamed about in the early 1990’s is now a reality. Facebook is a catalyst for uniting this expansive planet.

Zuckerberg has his enemies, to be sure. Some are competitors, thinking the child-king is too big for his breeches. Others don’t entirely understand the platform and wish him ill. Some are just worried about the future of their identity, and their personal information.

It does seem that America loves to identify these heroes, build them up, and then work to destroy them. Perhaps it is to test their mettle. Perhaps it is jealousy. Perhaps is something far worse– that we never believed in the hero to begin with.

During the hearings on Capitol Hill yesterday, Zuckerberg seemed cool to the touch when questioned by Washington stalwarts. His attire (scrutinized in today’s New York Times) and his drinking from a glass of water (mocked on late night television) combined with his apparent inability to discern when the questions were ‘softballs’ and ‘serious’ makes him a curious figure to all who tuned in.

Frankly, I was more embarrassed to watch these congressmen and congresswomen attempting to ‘understand’ the complex algorithms and structure of Facebook. It was cringe-worthy.

Gawkers watch and criticize every move. Why? I wonder. The Zuckerberg Honeymoon is over, I guess. 

I agree that the third party’s misuse of sensitive data was inappropriate. And I agree that there should be tighter restrictions on the sharing of private information. And I agree that offensive and hate-speech laced advertisements should be edited. And I believe Facebook should employ more diverse engineers. And I agree that Facebook should monitor the possible infringement of these rules by foreign intruders who wish the U.S. ill. And guess what? Mark Zuckerberg does, too. He said so yesterday. On the record.

This man created this thing that we use everyday. It’s free. It’s accessible around the globe. Its goal is for good, not for ill. I like it. My mother-in-law likes it. My kids use it. My high school teachers and choir director connect through it.

What if the narrative was “Fix Facebook, We Love It!” Wouldn’t that be refreshing? At least that would be honest.

And, while many have stated (on Facebook, ironically) that they would leave the social network site, the Facebook platform is still king. Even if Zuckerberg himself is on the brink of being dethroned.

 

Call it a Multi-Task-Mistake

About a month ago, I was watching one of my favorite television cooking shows, and I saw a respected chef preparing his mis en place (the French term for prepared peeled and sliced ingredients) using a Mandoline (the French-created utensil for quickly slicing and cutting vegetables). Please keep reading– this is not a fancy French lesson.

The Mandoline has always looked to me like a ‘made-for-TV’ item that 1970’s housewives used to impress their Tupperware party guests. So, imagine my surprise seeing this established chef using one on his show. Before the segment cut to commercial, I had grabbed my iPhone, browsed the various models, and chosen my free-two day shipping from my Amazon Prime account. Now, I waited.

The Mandoline arrived, and I immediately inspected it, but it sat mostly untouched in the box for almost 30 days. Until yesterday.

Now, in full disclosure, I must admit that I regularly attempt to ultimate-task. I say ‘attempt’ because it is my general understanding that multi-tasking is impossible: One thing always wins. One thing gets more focus than the other. Also, in full disclosure, I should tell you I am writing this very blog post from a local bookstore while sipping cold brew coffee and listening to the early Beulah recordings of Sir Noel Coward. I know- I am a constant contradiction.

Yesterday, though, I was scheduled to be in New York City. The impending weather report led me to cancel my flight and reschedule my Friday meetings as video conferences instead. After our morning hours of meetings, I decided I would make a quick run to the grocery and gather ingredients to surprise the family with a homemade chicken soup for dinner. I could easily make it back to the house before the afternoon conference began.

When I returned to the house, I assembled my ingredients and utensils, including my new Mandoline. It was the perfect way to get two things done at once: soup and conference call. I would be nearly finished with my prep before the call would begin, and I would easily stand and stir when needed. With my earbuds securely in place, they would have (nearly) my full attention.

As I started on the call, I only had to finish slicing the carrots. Thus far, the Mandoline was a dream. I sliced 2 lbs of celery, two large onions and was nearly through my second pound of carrots when– it happened.

The Mandoline has an exposed blade, with an adjustable base which determines desired thickness. More blade for thicker slices, less blade for thinner pieces. Easy enough. One tends to move quickly when using a Mandoline, because it is just so simple to do. And, the more force you use, the easier the carrots slice. The more engaged you are on a conference call, the more quickly one whizzes through to the nub of a carrot… straight through to the thumb. My thumb.

Let me say, nothing interrupts progress (on the call, or the soup, for that matter) as quickly as a razor-sharp, Japanese-made, French-inspired blade to the first digit of the (previously) confident home chef and marketing executive.

Why, why, why did I think this was a good idea? Why couldn’t I wait twenty minutes until the call was over? Why did I feel that multi-tasking was the right plan? I didn’t. I didn’t think about it at all, and the Mandoline won.

I had shifted focus to the other thing. The call. Naturally. I had allowed the carrot slicing to become out of focus. The slicing action had become so mechanic, so easily repeatable, I didn’t have to think about it. Or did I?

To Task, or to Multi-Task? That is the Question.

I am well aware that there entire books written about the benefits of multi-tasking, and the skills to be achieved at keeping multiple channels of productivity at work at once. Yes, I have seen these, I’ve even read some of them. I’ve learned the terms switchtasking and background tasking, and I might even occasionally understand the difference.

The respected Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, claims that it is beyond our brain’s capacity to multitask. He challenges the popular assumption even, claiming the quality of output falls when one attempts to multitask.

“You’re not actually doing both activities at the same time, in fact, you’re now diverting your attention from one part of your brain to another part of your brain. That takes time, that takes resources, that takes brain cells.” (Your Brain on Multitasking, CNN, Mon., Aug 1, 2016)

It is a lesson I learn time and again. Or, perhaps I should say, it is a lesson I am reminded of time and again. I am not sure I have learned it at all. I continue to grab my iPhone at red lights while driving. I check emails during dinner or while watching television. And, I slice vegetables while on conference calls.

I prefer to be singularly focused. I am thrilled when I can shut my office door and begin writing or creating art for a project. I love when I have nothing else to do but prepare a meal for the family. But alas, productivity and goals and interruptions often win. Or in my case– productivity and the Mandoline.

I failed to mention the (now) hilarious and ironic scene that took place immediately after sending a portion of my thumb into the veggie bowl. “Umm, guys– I think I am going to need to, er, umm, ohhhh boy. I’m gonna have to bounce off the call.”

Blood was everywhere, my arm now above my head, trying to race to bathroom, only to find the gauze box empty. In the vanity drawer, there were a handful of bandages, all individually wrapped, and some cotton balls. “You alright, George?” asked our partner, Brian. “Yeah, well– er, not really.” And then the members of the conference all proceeded to give me instructions, “Keep it above your head, You’ll need a tourniquet, I’ll bet you’ll need stitches.”

Multitask, indeed.

I endeavored to unwrap a plastic bandage with my left hand and my teeth, to little success, actually gagging and choking at one point on a small piece of wrapper. Every time I instinctually lower my right hand to aid in the mess, blood would spew everywhere. All the while, still on the conference call. The effort to disconnect from the call would require removing my iPhone from my pocket, and using my right thumb to unlock the screen. This was becoming ridiculous. Would my thumbprint even work anymore? Now I was distracted by this horrible predicament- what if I can’t unlock my phone? What then?

Everything was, of course– just fine. There’s a code for the phone. There’s talk-to-text. And there’s masking tape and cotton balls. I called my wife to request she stop and pick up some gauze and bandages, and told her I’d manage until she got home.

When my wife and son got home, we re-bandaged my silly wound, cleaned up the trail of blood from kitchen to bathroom, and sat down to enjoy my piping hot soup. And checked our iPhones. And watched Wheel of Fortune. Oh well.

When in “Roam”

I am sure I am already dating myself by using this olde-tyme phrase, but it makes sense to me.

Remember when we used to “roam?”

For those of you reading this who were born after (gulp) 1999, there once was a time that our mobile phones would declare we had strayed beyond the comfortable limits of our homeland. Or, more easily put, they would blink orange or red lights and display the phrase “Roaming.” The undesired side-effect of that status was an immediate decrease in device capabilities– you couldn’t use all the features of your phone. And, when you did- they were increasingly expensive. Think “airplane mode.”

The technological side of this was something like, you were outside your network, or you had a poor signal, or something like that. (This is the part where it becomes painfully obvious that I’m the ‘make it look pretty guy’, not the ‘tech guy’). Hang in there, I have a point.

Virtually every time you would jump in your car, or board the train or subway, your phone would move to the “Roaming” status. I, like everyone else, would be instantly enraged, longing for a better signal, a better network, and occasionally- a better device.

The unprescribed side-effect of that archaic technology was humans, from time-to-time, would put their device away, and look around, read a book, and sometimes (though rarely)- interact with other human beings.

Today, I am available. All the time. Or, at least my iPhone thinks I am.

I recently found a handy little setting on my phone that allows me to set ‘quiet hours’- times that I am unreachable. Because I value my five hours of evening respite, I created the times of 12:30 a.m. – 5:50 a.m. as my private time. How delightful, right?

CBS This Morning co-host John Dickerson recently experimented with attempts to “shut down” his screens: computers, tablets and mobile devices. It was painful to watch. Embarrassing, actually. A recent study found Americans look at their phones more than 40 times each hour. Oh, dear.

We Will Never Get That Time Back

I have two sons, ages 20 and 15. Occasionally, I impart my wisdom (frustration) upon them regarding their use (misuse) of their devices. And, I know I instantly sound like an old man. So be it.

When I sit down, after a long day, I have a choice to make: What will I do with my time?

My problem with their answer to that question is not that they spend time on their devices, but rather, what they are doing while on those devices. The time spent trolling Twitter, or Snapchat or Instagram is all reactive time, or- time that we allow others to orchestrate. If some Silicon Valley algorithms determine you should see this ad, or that article, that is what it sends to your eyeballs first. And, I am savvy enough to understand that those decisions are being made by algorithms- not human beings. And, certainly not by my sons.

Compare this arbitrary allotment of time spent on social media with the proactive decision to choose a novel or a newspaper or a book with a title or subject of interest, and investing a set amount of time with that content. Investing that time in a subject or topic. Undisturbed.

Now- I know, I know, books and articles and newspapers can all be read on tablets and devices. But, who chooses to first place their phones or devices on “silent mode” or “airplane mode” or “do not disturb.” None of us.

We think we need the disturbances. Because they are so important. Every employee checks email on the weekends. Every boss sends texts after hours. It’s dangerously similar to working around the clock.

Now, I am not suggesting that we abandon every device, and delete our social media accounts. However, perhaps we think twice when evaluating our “notifications.”

And- I apologize if the “alert’ of this blog post interrupted you today.