Disclaimer: this is not some kind of “rise and grind” or “you got this” kind of post. Not at all.
2020 has been a hard year. For all of us.
And just when I think it’s dumped as much sh*t as it can possibly pile on, 2020 seems to find new ways to exceed my expectations.
I was already dealing with some tough personal stuff coming into this year. And although I’ve done my share of full-on “head in the sand” avoidance, I’ve been determined to do the hard work. It means facing unpleasant things.
Unpleasant. Painful,even. But worth it. I’m compelled to grow and move forward.
Not long ago, I ran across a couple of lines in one of my notebooks:
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
I wish I could tell you precisely who said these words, or even if they were spoken exactly this way. But I jotted them down during a panel discussion at the Menfluential Conference in February, 2018.
9/11 will always represent a pivotal moment in my life.
19 years ago, I decided to take a massive leap of faith and commit fully to the business that I still operate today. I gave notice at my job, and Monday, September 10th, 2001 became my first day as a full-time marketing consultant.
Instead, this is a brief meditation on how 9/11 feels in the most bizarre year of our lives.
2020 is the year that so much has crystallized for me. And possibly for others.
In 2020, more than ever, I find that I:
distrust government, media outlets, and tech platforms more than ever
detest the politicization of everything from wearing masks to treating human beings with dignity and respect (or not)
despise the binary view of beliefs which attempts to place everyone on either the “left” or the “right”
lament the loss of hopes and dreams on the part of so manyâ€”from fires and other calamities… from watching the fabric of our society fray before our eyes… or from witnessing the foundations of our economy quake
labor every day without the sense that I’m making a meaningful contribution any more.
In 2001, we were attacked by an enemy. I wept for the families of the 9/11 victims. I was heartbroken for New York City. And I was stricken with a sense of duty to protect the freedoms and values that I thought our nation represented.
In 2020, we are the enemy. We’ve lost our ability to listen and to speak. Our love for our fellow human beings seems to have vanished. Our system of government seems to be failing. Our institutions are untrustworthy.
The 9/11 attacks took place over the span of mere hoursâ€”a bright flash of terror that changed us forever.
The 2020 attacks have taken monthsâ€”a gradual glow, not of terror, but of dismay.
When I was in high school, a youth choir I participated in did a piece of music that was, in many ways, quite transcendent.
It comes to mind from time to time. Today, as I was thinking about the very idea of prayer and the many ways that the concept has evolved in my thinking over the years, it came up again.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace Where there is hatred, let me sow love Where there is injury, pardon Where there is doubt, faith Wherever there's despair, hope Where there's darkness, light Where there is sadness, joy.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace
Oh Lord, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled as to console To be understood as to understand To be loved as to love
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace
For it is in giving, that we receive For it is by faith that we believe For in forgiving we are forgiven It is in dying that we are born to eternal life
Make me an instrument of Thy peaceï»¿
The arrangement we sang was this one, set to music by Mary McDonald. She attributed the lyricsâ€”as many doâ€”to St. Francis of Assisi, but there appears to be little evidence that they are any older than the early 20th Century.
Regardless of their origins, these words are resonating with me today. I hope they provide something meaningful to you.
A few weeks ago, I did something I'd been planning to do for a long time: I ordered a Lenovo ThinkPad.
Having looked forward to this for years, I was refreshing the UPS tracking URL like a , and I knew the moment it arrived. Imagine my shock when I opened the box and discovered that a completely different machine than the one I ordered was in the box.
What followed can only be described as a sequence of customer service SNAFUs that I can only hope were accidents.
Regardless, I'm happy to report that as of today, Lenovo USA has gone above and beyond and made everything right.
Some Important Thanks
There were a few key players who got involved when this situation was rapidly devolving into a disaster:
Kayle, who answered one of my phone calls and then really took ownership of the issue until it was resolved
Erica, who was one of the helpful folks staffing the @lenovohelp Twitter account, and who pushed a case through the necessary escalation to get it to Tonya
Tonya, who called me back in response to the case that was created after my Twitter outreach, and who emailed me her direct contact info in case Kayle's efforts were unsuccessful.
Perhaps the biggest hero of this whole story is a guy from Pennsylvania named Cameron. When I reached out to him because I'd received the machine he ordered, he responded and agreed to ship me my machine (which thankfully he had received) while I shipped his to him.
A Dream Machine
My Lenovo ThinkPad T570 is truly a fantastic piece of hardware. It lives up to the longstanding reputation of the ThinkPad family of laptops going back to the IBM days.
To give you some context: I hatespending money on laptops. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most significant one is probably the sheer amount of abuse that gets dealt out to any laptops I own. With frequent travel for consulting and speaking, my devices get a lot of miles.
Consequently, years ago, I adopted a policy that I would buy the cheapest possible machines that I could find. This approach served me well. My last machine lasted me for over 6 years (a record by at least a factor of 2), and I originally paid less than $500 for it (including tax) at a local Best Buy.
Because I'm a geek and I like to tinker (another reason I don't enjoy laptops as much as the good old days of desktops that you could take apart and upgrade), I'd done a number of things to my last machine, including:
Like I said… I've been cheap where laptops were concerned.
But that last machine (a Gateway), was seriously on its last leg. And part of the reason I kept trying to stretch out its life was I was avoiding Windows 10 at all cost, and was grateful that Windows 7 was still serving me reasonably well.
Since I'd proven I could make a cheap machine last so long, I decided to re-think my strategy a bit. What could I do with a piece of hardware that was out with a super-fast SSD, a top-of-the-line processor, a decent GPU, and tons of RAM?
For hardware in the laptop space, there's nothing better than Lenovo's ThinkPad line. And they tend to be built to be taken apart and upgraded, which adds an enormous benefit to me personally.
So I started watching the Lenovo Outlet (yes, even when I'm making a bigger investment, I can be a little cheap) for a ThinkPad with at least 32GB of RAM, an Intel I7 CPU, and a decent NVIDIA GPU video adapter. When I found this ThinkPad T570 that I'm writing this blog post on right now, I was elated. It was a great and had everything I was looking for (except the SSD capacity, which I planned to fix by adding another SSD).
Perhaps now you can see why I was so utterly disappointed when I got a completely different machine that didn't have anywhere near the specs that I had paid for.
I immediately opened a chat session with a support person on the Lenovo Outlet website, got lots of assurances, but ultimately no help. After a few days of giving plenty of time for people to work and swapping emails, I took to Twitter:
They responded, but they just investigated my existing case and weren't able to improve the situation.
A few days later, I was tired of waiting, so I placed a phone call and expressed significant displeasure with the entire support experience. I kept poor Kayle on the line for far longer than she wanted to be, while I tried to urge her to do the right thing for me.
Not confident that that would turn out well, I took to Twitter again:
That resulted in a call from Tonya, who checked into what was being done for me, and who also invited me to contact her directly if things didn't turn out well.
Ultimately, Lenovo paid for the shipping cost I incurred when I sent the laptop I initially received to its rightful owner. I'm sure that had my initial contacts with their support people worked out, they would have arranged for that to occur, but they were simply not responding fast enough nor appropriately.
It was an unusual situation, to be sure. When I compared the order numbers for my order and that of Pennsylvania Cameron's, they looked similar. It would be easy if you were working in a Lenovo warehouse full of nearly identical boxes to stick the wrong shipping labels on two boxes. Thankfully, the person who made this simple mistake managed to swap the shipping labels. It would have been a real disaster if multiple orders/shipments were affected.
In any event, I couldn't imagine having Pennsylvania Cameron ship my long-awaited machine back to Lenovo's warehouse, letting them sort out what happened, and then almost certainly be unable to ship it to me for one reason or another. (In fact, the first thing the customer support person I initially contacted via chat wanted to do was cancel and refundï»¿ï»¿ï»¿ my order. I didn't want my money back, dangit. I wanted the machine I had watched the Lenovo Outlet for!)
In any event, I've managed to write one of my longest blog posts in recent history about a customer service issue. I'm going to wrap it up now by saying this:
Even though I initially had a poor experience, Lenovo USA has truly won my trust and turned a negative situation into a perfectly acceptable one.
The past seven or eight months have been quite a learning experience for me.
We hadn’t made it far into 2017 when I first heard of the plan to construct what amounts to a dump at the Celery Fields in Sarasota.
Now I am not what you would call an “activist.” Prior to 2017, you could count one hand the number of times you’d have spotted me holding a sign in a crowd. Some people enjoy it and would find a reason to do it every week if they could. I just don’t happen to be one of them.
Nor am I what you would call an “environmentalist.” This issue has become one of the growing number of issues for which I consider both sides of the argument to be less than honest and certainly not aboveboard.
Nor am I someone who believes in giving government even more control over our private lives. I regard the increasing incursion of the State into our individual liberties as a dangerous menaceâ€”one that was foreseen by the Founders and Framers, whose counsel on the issue we ignore to our own peril.
In other words, I’m not what you would call a “liberal,” at least not according to any modern definition of the word.
And yet, in 2017, I’ve signed petitions, gone to rallies, attended public hearings, and spoken out in a number of ways to ask Sarasota County to deny petitions to build on Celery Fields lands.
Knowing this, many casual observers might assume that they could accurately guess my political leanings.
And yet, over the last number of months, I’ve worked alongside card-carrying members of both of the major political parties, and many others who are harder to classify, politically speaking. Lifelong Republicans, tree-hugging environmentalist Democrats, frustrated independents, and members of other parties have aligned themselves to oppose these projects, most notably the one proposed by local developer turned public official, James Gabbert.
And this is how I have learned so much this year. Never before have I seen so many people willing to lay aside their cherished ideologies and work together with people who, in other circumstances, they’d probably vehemently oppose.
There’s an old saying about nothing being stronger than the heart of a volunteer, and that is what I’ve observedâ€”and been humbled byâ€”throughout this process.
I’ve watched people give up hundreds of hours of their time, sacrifice business opportunities, and risk embarrassment (or worse) to protect the Celery Fields. Business owners, former journalists, retirees, birders and wildlife enthusiasts of all ages, andâ€”yesâ€”people whose interest in activism has risen to levels deserving of the word, “professional,” have linked up with one another in a shocking display of heart.
It can only be because they care.
They care about beauty. They care about nature. They care about what sort of society we are creating. They care about what we do with Publicly-owned land. They care about our water supply and the health of estuaries and aquatic wildlife. They care about the birds and the beautiful habitat that’s been created over the last twenty-plus years, by accident or not. They care about preserving the peaceful serenity of the Palmer corridor, which only looks “industrial” on maps created during the Reagan Administration. They care about the two thousand homesâ€”soon to exceed 2,600 with new developments going inâ€”and the neighborhoods that have grown up around them. They care about Tatum Ridge Elementary School and the 700 students, not to mention the hardworking faculty and staff, just down the street.
And it’s been my honor to work alongside such caring people. Maybe in other circumstances and on other questions, the things we care about would find us disagreeing.
But after months of working alongside people of this quality, I must say I’m more inclined than ever to really listen and to try to understand where they’re coming from and to see if perhaps there aren’t better ways to solve our problems than the bitter public thrashings that seem to be the order of the day.
In other words, I care tooâ€”about the Celery Fields, sureâ€”but more importantly, about the people I’ve come to know through this unique experience.
Tomorrow, we’ll hear from the County Commissioners. That means today we’re all busy making our final preparations. Regardless of the outcome, I want all of you to know how much I have grown to deeply respect and appreciate you. Thank you for the honor of working with you.
Jo and I met at a networking event in 2001, not long after 9/11. I had just gone full-time in my business, and she had decided she wanted to sacrifice some of the security and stability of a corporate job in favor of working from home and being there for her two young daughters.
One of the benefits of working from home, of course, is that you can go barefoot if you’d like! Today, Jo’s daughters are off in college, and Jo is taking advantage of the opportunity to help others like her who might be Moms or would otherwise prefer to work from home.
Jo’sÂ new brand represents a fantastic new direction as she helps other CPAs and bookkeepers develop a stable livelihood while simultaneously refocusing her own efforts on providing top-shelf business advisory services that go way beyond filing taxes and producing reports. We couldn’t be happier for Jo!
This post has been on my mind for a very long time. Iâ€ve formulated 20 or 30 different versions of it in my head, but Iâ€ve never made the commitment to just go ahead and write one of them.
Mostly, I think Iâ€ve avoided it because I havenâ€t imagined a scenario in which what I have to say here doesnâ€t come across as obnoxious, rude, or otherwise disagreeable.
However, reality is reality.
If youâ€re a client of our digital marketing agency, youâ€ve no doubt already had a moment where you said, â€œthat guy is hard to reach.â€ (OKâ€¦ you might have used stronger language. But you know what I mean.)
And soâ€¦ the time has come to just spell it out.
I used to tell people right up front that Iâ€m unable to take unscheduled phone calls. For a while, I even used a nearly rude voicemail greeting that instructed callers to please not leave a voicemail and just email me instead.
But in 2017, it seems that most people donâ€t default to the phone call anyway these days. Instead, itâ€s the text message.
And unfortunately, you donâ€t get my voicemail when you send me a text. So I donâ€t have a good context to have you hear my cheery â€œradio voiceâ€ explain that in order to get the fastest response, your best bet is to email me.
And letâ€s face it. Auto-replies to SMS messages are terrible. Even if I came up with polite wording, unless you know for certain that itâ€s an autoresponder, you get the impression that I took the time to write you a response that said, â€œI canâ€t respond right now,â€ instead of actually responding.
Why Unscheduled Contact Doesnâ€t Work
The nature of the work that I personally do revolves around two things:
Lengthy (paid) consulting sessions.
Creative work that requires long uninterrupted periods of focus.
If youâ€ve ever been in a meeting with me, you know that I donâ€t look at my phone when weâ€re meeting. This is a habit that I developed long ago. Being paid for your time trains you in unusual ways to think about clientsâ€ expectations and how to be effective.
But itâ€s more than just time that gets sucked away by the phone when youâ€re in the middle of something.
Imagine paying your attorney $500/hour to discuss a complex legal issue and having her take a phone call every 5 or 6 minutes.
The first time it happens, you may think, â€œWow, that must be important for her to interrupt our $500/hour meeting to take a call.â€
And youâ€d probably think nothing of it, dismissing it as an unusual occurrence.
The second time it happened, youâ€d start wondering, â€œAm I going to get billed for the time she spends on these calls?â€
The third time, youâ€d note the start and end time of the call just to compare it to your bill later and make darn sure you arenâ€t paying $8.33/minute for her to talk to someone else!
But thereâ€s something else youâ€d notice. Each time your conversation with your attorney was interrupted, youâ€d find that it takes a moment or two to settle back in to the conversation. Maybe the train of thought got lost. Perhaps a complex chain of reasoning had lost a link or two and needed to be rebuilt from the beginning.
In other words, itâ€s not just the time that gets sacrificed by an interruption, itâ€s the attention.
I wonâ€t elaborate too much on this concept here, but this blog post does a fantastic job of concisely explaining the thinking behind Timâ€s statement.
Hereâ€s what it boils down to in practical terms for me: in order for me to do my part in delivering the results to our clients that we deliver, I have to engage in attention management more than time management.
This means that the way my schedule works forces me to schedule phone calls and meetings so that I can be effectiveâ€”not just in those meetings, but in the blocks of time when Iâ€m not in meetings and am working insead.
The Tyranny of the Follow-Up
The other side of this coin, then, is that inbound communications are especially difficult. We are all bombarded by incoming notifications, these days. I am certainly not alone in this. You have too many emails to read, too many text messages, Skype calls, Facebook Messenger contacts, WhatsApp notifications, Snaps, Twitter DMs, and any number of other little â€œpings and dingsâ€ demanding your attention as well.
But if you try to handle them in a more or less â€œreal-timeâ€ fashion, as I imagine most people try to do, then you know what it is to have an attention deficit. It doesnâ€t have to be a disorder, itâ€s a lifestyle for most of us these days.
My phone is no different from yoursâ€¦ often, when I leave a meeting and have a moment to see whatâ€s going on, my notifications list is endless.
And therein lies the rub.
Maybe other people have found a way to do this, but for me, follow-up from notifications on my phone is not possible.
What is manageableâ€”or at the very least usually possibleâ€”is email follow-up.
Maybe itâ€s because email, of all these seemingly endless inboxes, is the one thatâ€s been around the longest, and so Iâ€ve had the most time and experience to develop a system for at least attempting to follow-up on it.
Or maybe Iâ€m just backwards.
Either way, itâ€s what I do.
In other words, if you email me, Iâ€m much more likely to follow up with you. Even if itâ€s not immediately (which it almost never will be).
Your text message? I might see it. I might even see it soon after you send it. But it will quickly get lost in the sea of other notifications that came in on my phone, and it will never be seen again.
This Will Only Take a Second!
Maybe itâ€s the technical nature of what we doâ€¦ maybe itâ€s because I have a knack for finding a long answer to a short question.
In other words, Iâ€m sure itâ€s me, not you.
But most of the inbound communications I receive that are business related are impossible to answer quickly. Perhaps they require investigation or research. Perhaps that involves logging in to 3 or 4 systems to dig up the answer. Or maybe youâ€re not going to understand the short answer that I might give to one of my team, and out of politeness to you, Iâ€ll spend the extra 10 minutes explaining whatever it is.
But, in my experience, the â€œthis will only take a secondâ€ questions are often the ones that take the longest.
Iâ€m Sure This is Frustrating
The practitioner of customer service in meâ€”the one that drives me to think about every interaction we develop for our clients that either creates or nurtures relationships that lead to sales for themâ€”is a constant voice in my head that screams, â€œyou must communicate with people in the way they prefer to be communicated with.â€
And somewhere thereâ€s an idealist in me that is working on this in the background. A little hamster on a wheel that one day will come up with a magical solution to the whole problem that makes everyone happy.
In the meantime, let me just say that if youâ€re working with me, I apologize for any inconvenience or frustration that this creates.
Perhaps someday Iâ€ll hire someone to help me with this. A person is probably the right answer.
But of course that means that Iâ€ll have to increase our fees.
This may happen at some point. In the meantime, youâ€re welcome to let me know if youâ€d pay more to have a better experience.
In the meantime, Iâ€ve made a commitment that I will do my darndest to respond to your email within one business day.
And in case youâ€re wondering, hereâ€s a quick summary for how to communicate with me:
Need a quick answer? Email me.
Need to talk on the phone? Email me some possible times that work well for you.
Need some training? Email me to schedule a session.
Need to change the scope of a project? Email me.
Have something youâ€d like to text me? Email me instead.
Need something done in a hurry? Mention that in your email.
You havenâ€t gotten an answer to your email? Please accept my apologies, and email me.
AÂ huge congratulations to my good friend and sometime collaborator, Rod Thomson, on the launch of his new project The Revolutionary Act.
Rod is an insightful thinker with a strong dedication to principles, which makes discussing topics of all kinds with him a joy. He challenges me to think, and I am always the better for it. Not only is he a veteran journalist and a published author, but he’s makes frequent radio and television appearances to discuss public policy and other issues of the day.
I’ve been bugging him for months to start blogging. I’m excited that he’s finally doing it! Can’t wait to see what comes of this!