A Prayer

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 peace

The arrangement we sang was this one, set to music by Mary McDonald. She attributed the lyrics—as many do—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.

Lenovo USA Customer Service Saves the Day

Lenovo Customer Service Saves the Day

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 fiend, 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 hate spending 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 because 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 high quality piece of hardware that was spec'd out with a super-fast SSD, a top-of-the-line processor, a decent GPU, and tons of RAM?

For high quality 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 price, 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 initially 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 refund 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.

Thank you, Lenovo. I love my ThinkPad.

Why Even Conservatives Want to Save the Celery Fields

Why Even Conservatives Want to Save the Celery Fields in Sarasota

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 menace—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 observed—and been humbled by—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, and—yes—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.

Why?

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 homes—soon to exceed 2,600 with new developments going in—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 too—about the Celery Fields, sure—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.

Congratulations to Jo Hagan, CPA

A huge congratulations to our longtime accountant, CPA, and all-around business adviser, Jo Hagan, on the rebranding of her accounting practice from Hagan CPA, Inc to Barefoot Accounting, PA.

In the process of re-branding, Jo recently launched an all new Barefoot Accounting website.

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’s 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!

How to Communicate with Me

How to Communicate with Me

TL;DR: Email me.

This post has been on my mind for a very long time. I’ve formulated 20 or 30 different versions of it in my head, but I’ve never made the commitment to just go ahead and write one of them.

Mostly, I think I’ve avoided it because I haven’t imagined a scenario in which what I have to say here doesn’t come across as obnoxious, rude, or otherwise disagreeable.

However, reality is reality.

If you’re a client of our digital marketing agency, you’ve no doubt already had a moment where you said, “that guy is hard to reach.” (OK… you might have used stronger language. But you know what I mean.)

And so… the time has come to just spell it out.

Unscheduled Contact

I used to tell people right up front that I’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 don’t default to the phone call anyway these days. Instead, it’s the text message.

And unfortunately, you don’t get my voicemail when you send me a text. So I don’t have a good context to have you hear my cheery “radio voice” explain that in order to get the fastest response, your best bet is to email me.

And let’s face it. Auto-replies to SMS messages are terrible. Even if I came up with polite wording, unless you know for certain that it’s an autoresponder, you get the impression that I took the time to write you a response that said, “I can’t respond right now,” instead of actually responding.

Why Unscheduled Contact Doesn’t Work

The nature of the work that I personally do revolves around two things:

  1. Lengthy (paid) consulting sessions.
  2. Creative work that requires long uninterrupted periods of focus.

If you’ve ever been in a meeting with me, you know that I don’t look at my phone when we’re meeting. This is a habit that I developed long ago. Being paid for your time trains you in unusual ways to think about clients’ expectations and how to be effective.

But it’s more than just time that gets sucked away by the phone when you’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, “Wow, that must be important for her to interrupt our $500/hour meeting to take a call.”

And you’d probably think nothing of it, dismissing it as an unusual occurrence.

The second time it happened, you’d start wondering, “Am I going to get billed for the time she spends on these calls?”

The third time, you’d note the start and end time of the call just to compare it to your bill later and make darn sure you aren’t paying $8.33/minute for her to talk to someone else!

But there’s something else you’d notice. Each time your conversation with your attorney was interrupted, you’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, it’s not just the time that gets sacrificed by an interruption, it’s the attention.

Some years ago, when I first read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, I was struck by a concept he laid out in the midst of all of his productivity hacks. Put simply:

Attention is more important than time.

I won’t elaborate too much on this concept here, but this blog post does a fantastic job of concisely explaining the thinking behind Tim’s statement.

Here’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 effective—not just in those meetings, but in the blocks of time when I’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 “pings and dings” demanding your attention as well.

But if you try to handle them in a more or less “real-time” fashion, as I imagine most people try to do, then you know what it is to have an attention deficit. It doesn’t have to be a disorder, it’s a lifestyle for most of us these days.

My phone is no different from yours… often, when I leave a meeting and have a moment to see what’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 manageable—or at the very least usually possible—is email follow-up.

Maybe it’s because email, of all these seemingly endless inboxes, is the one that’s been around the longest, and so I’ve had the most time and experience to develop a system for at least attempting to follow-up on it.

Or maybe I’m just backwards.

Either way, it’s what I do.

In other words, if you email me, I’m much more likely to follow up with you. Even if it’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 it’s the technical nature of what we do… maybe it’s because I have a knack for finding a long answer to a short question.

In other words, I’m sure it’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 you’re not going to understand the short answer that I might give to one of my team, and out of politeness to you, I’ll spend the extra 10 minutes explaining whatever it is.

But, in my experience, the “this will only take a second” questions are often the ones that take the longest.

I’m Sure This is Frustrating

The practitioner of customer service in me—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 them—is a constant voice in my head that screams, “you must communicate with people in the way they prefer to be communicated with.”

And somewhere there’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 you’re working with me, I apologize for any inconvenience or frustration that this creates.

Perhaps someday I’ll hire someone to help me with this. A person is probably the right answer.

But of course that means that I’ll have to increase our fees.

This may happen at some point. In the meantime, you’re welcome to let me know if you’d pay more to have a better experience.

In the meantime, I’ve made a commitment that I will do my darndest to respond to your email within one business day.

And in case you’re wondering, here’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 you’d like to text me? Email me instead.

Need something done in a hurry? Mention that in your email.

You haven’t gotten an answer to your email? Please accept my apologies, and email me.

Hawkins Road Festival 2017

My family & I are definitely looking forward to the first-ever Hawkins Road Festival on Saturday, February 18th!

This looks like a truly unique community celebration for Sarasota, featuring music, art, spirituality, and social awareness. Oh… and food trucks. And stuff for kids.

Should be fun!

Congrats to Florida Fence!

Congratulations to Kevin and Theresa Dermody and the entire team at Florida Fence on joining the Grow The Dream family! We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to serve such a fantastic company.

Earlier today, the first piece of content our team produced for Kevin & Theresa went live on their website. It’s a piece that explains what an easement is and how it might affect the new fence you want to install.

I know our entire team is excited to be working with them and we’re looking to great results in the days ahead!

Congratulations to Rod Thomson!

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!

KidsCamp at WordCamp Tampa 2016

Grace working on her blog at KidsCamp #WCTPA 2016

Earlier this week, I mentioned WordCamp to my amazing, talented, brilliant daughter, Grace. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she seemed interested in going!

So… here we are at the beautiful Marshall Student Center on the USF campus with quite an assortment of WordPress enthusiasts. We opted to check out KidsCamp, and in less than an hour, Grace is already busily crafting her first ever blog post!

No Soliciting: Should Candidates for Office Go Door-to-Door?

No Soliciting Sign - Photo: Marcus Quigmire via Flickr

He knocked on our door around mid-day on a quiet Saturday—something that almost never happens in our neighborhood.

Thankfully, I had the advantage of being able to see him through the glass panes of our front door. I knew several things about him at once: he wasn’t one of our neighbors or friends (any friends of ours would’ve called first, of course), he was well-groomed and neatly dressed (casual, but put-together), and bore all the outward signs of being a respectable human being.

But… as someone who takes the safety of his family very seriously, I know that outward appearances can be deceiving.

  • Does he have “pals” waiting in the bushes just beyond my view?
  • Is he a sex offender?
  • Is he here to see whether I have kids?
  • He can see through the glass panes just like I can… is he here to case the joint? Should I have a weapon when I approach the door?

Mind you… I live in a solidly middle-class suburban neighborhood. It’s not a gated community, so perhaps if he were here with some sort of evil or malicious intent, he might’ve chosen a different neighborhood.

And he might’ve chosen a weekday when we aren’t likely to be home.

But still… there are types (pedophiles, for example) that are looking for homes with kids when everyone is at home so they can see what conditions might be like.

I made sure I knew the whereabouts of everyone in my family, and then I opened the door and stepped partially out onto the stoop.

He greeted me with a warm smile, “Hi, I’m _______, and I’m running for _______”

I’m dropping the name and the exact local office he’s running for to protect the innocent… or guilty, as the case may be.

He offered me a flyer or brochure, I’m not sure which, because I wasn’t looking at it. My eyes were 100% on him… still trying to accurately assess the situation.

I cut him off mid-sentence. “Did you see the ‘No Soliciting’ sign at the entrance of the neighborhood?”

“Oh no… I didn’t notice that,” he said, almost sheepishly.

Maybe he did… maybe he didn’t. I’m not sure.

I proceeded to let him know that the sign is legally posted at the entrance to the subdivision and that we have it there for a reason.

The rest of the conversation was pretty brief. I don’t think I was rude to him, although I might’ve been. I certainly didn’t take the flyer he was offering.

Good Hustle, My Friend

Look… I appreciate the challenges that candidates for local office face. It’s hard to get the word out about your candidacy, your beliefs, your strengths, and all the other reasons why you believe you should be elected.

And I’ve gotta tell you, I truly respect the effort and the chutzpah that it takes to go door to door and introduce yourself to voters.

I’ve done plenty of cold-calling in my life… for business, for charitable work, for… you name it—face to face, on the phone, and even online.

Any time you approach an unwilling subject and interrupt their life, you know you’re going to get every kind of reaction known to mankind. And most of them will reject you. My hat is off to anyone who knowingly faces that and goes for it anyway.

Seriously… respect, my friend.

Were I in some sort of advisory role for a candidate like him (which I am not, for the record… not at the moment, at least), I might even suggest that door-to-door solicitation would be a smart move. It puts you in front of the voters, lets them see your face, look you in the eye, shake your hand, and hear from you—straight from the horse’s mouth—why you’re running and what you have to offer.

I mean… even if the voters don’t agree with your positions, you will benefit from a simple human dynamic that we know makes a difference on election day: people vote for candidates with which they are familiar.

This guy was a nice enough guy… at least as much as I could gather from the 20-second conversation we had as I eyed him warily on my front porch.

And he was smart enough to walk straight down my driveway, get into his vehicle (yes, I noted the make, model & color—not that I really needed to… after all, he introduced himself by name), and drive right out of the neighborhood.

I looked him up after he left. He’s a family man. He’s got to understand the difficulties faced by someone like me who wonders exactly who it is that has marched right up to my front door.

But all of those factors that are in his favor can’t overcome one simple fact: any subdivision with a “No Soliciting” sign is off limits.

The sign serves as legal notice, so any law enforcement officer (or judge, if it got that far) would not accept the “I didn’t notice it” excuse.

If you’re going door-to-door, it is incumbent upon you to know whether you’re legally allowed to solicit in that neighborhood or not.

“Well I’m Not Selling Anything”

Fair enough. There are specific Florida statutes (501.022, for example), that regulate the behavior of commercial solicitors.

I’m not an attorney, and I haven’t researched any case law where political candidates are concerned. So… I could be wrong about the specific legality of the actions of my unnamed new friend.

However, there are also Florida statutes (102.031, for example) that regulate the behavior of people involved in conducting elections, and that particular subchapter specifically uses the term “solicit” to refer to the action of “soliciting” votes (although it specifically deals with actions that occur at polling places).

So… our “No Soliciting” sign could clearly be construed to apply to people soliciting votes. We don’t, after all, specify the type & nature of the solicitation.

Regardless of whether or not a Court would find that a political candidate soliciting votes had violated the law by ignoring a “No Soliciting” sign, the voters themselves might find it pretty easy to believe that the candidate had broken the law.

And after all… do you want to vote for someone who ignores the law (or at the very least, your stated wishes) in the very act of soliciting your vote?

I don’t think so.

For the record: I may or not find myself casting a vote for this guy on election day. It remains to be seen. I haven’t evaluated him nor his opponent(s), as of yet.

As for the matter of him coming to my door? I’m going to withhold judgment on that particular issue as I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt over whether he actually saw the sign or not. For now. Especially since he did the right thing and immediately left the neighborhood after we spoke.

But if you’re a candidate for office, you would certainly do well to notice the signs at the entrance of any subdivision you enter. Others might not be so kind.

Photo: Marcus Quigmire via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)