Sunday, August 31, 2008

Care in the workplace

If care were a stock being offered on the market, it would be a wise commodity to invest in at this time on the planet. Care will soon be on the rise because everything else has been tried. --Doc Childre

While caring is a characteristic noted in philanthropic work or purely service businesses like health care, there are broader implications where care is not as prevalent a topic and should be. The care of employees, of customers, of communities around the world that are impacted by our businesses. I would go so far as to say if business leaders are not empathic, compassionate, and caring, then their success going forward will be compromised. 

This week I'm going to lunch with the VP of my division. A busy man, traveling all the time, sent me an invite on his first day back from vacation. And then came to my desk to make sure I received the invitation and to make sure I understood that he invited me to lunch to get my perspective on what the company is doing that makes sense and what's "just stupid". (His words not mine.) "You were hired for your opinions as well as your talents." In other words, I count. A rare straight-forward statement that opened a whole new world of caring in the workplace for me.

This new job is making me a kinder person. Our Division President gave his monthly town hall two weeks ago and he was emphatic about listening to the voice of the customer (VOC), so much so that he is including VOC metrics in every business and employee review. Because I'm new to the role as well as the company, I am spending a lot of time talking with people who are experts in areas I know nothing about, and they are patiently helping me up my very steep learning curve. I imagine their advice as a helping hand that's reaching down as I trudge up this mountain of vocabulary, processes, and requirements. The internal politics are virtually zero, and despite the strong structure and culture, they have maintained a feeling of a flat organization where ideas, opinions, and questions from everyone of every level are encouraged, valued, and vetted. It is nothing short of remarkable for a company that is so old and so large. And it's driven by the care and concern of individuals. 

Business leaders are famous for spouting trite cliches like "it's business, not personal." On this one, I'm with Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail: it's ALWAYS personal. Everything in life, anything that involves people, is personal. We cannot continue to disconnect the business aspects from personal aspects of doing business. The line is blurring to a point where it's barely even distinguishable. The sooner we embrace the fact that management and leadership are personal, service-oriented endeavors, the healthier our world economy will be.      

Images above can be found here

Saturday, August 30, 2008

American Express Members Project

The American Express Members Project is an opportunity for American Express Card Holders, and Guests who don't have an AMEX card, to create briefs for philanthropic projects that are then voted on to have the opportunity to win $2.5 million dollars worth of funding from American Express. My friend Amy just sent me a message letting me know that a nonprofit we have worked with has a project available for voting. "Help Women and Children Survivors of War Rebuild" by Women for Women International.  

Here's an update on the Members Projects so far: 1190 projects were submitted and the voting continues to Monday, September 1st. From there, the top 25 projects will be put up for a final round of voting. You can search through the projects for one that interests you by topic, location, most popular thus far, or by keyword. You can vote for multiple projects and if you need more information on a project, there is a discussion forum on the site where members of the community can ask questions, gather more background, and offer up their opinions about different projects. 

A perfect balance of technology, goodwill, and financial management, it's my hope that the Members Project will encourage other companies to handle their philanthropy in the same way that American Express is doing it. I encourage you to log on, find projects that interest you, and vote! 

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Obama means to me

I am one of those people that Barack Obama talks about all the time - I am frustrated and disheartened by politics. I feel let down by our government and its officials. I've long thought that there is nothing that any politician can do that would get me to believe again in our government. For me, business has been the answer. A free market economy can do much more for peace and prosperity than any government. Until now. 

Usually I don't write about politics on this blog, though I think by my expressed beliefs and opinions it is obvious that I am a liberal. Until this year, I have never belonged to a political party and I have never made a political donation. After 8 years of watching us go down the wrong path in every area: education, healthcare, foreign relations, the economy, the environment, I couldn't be an "NE" anymore and there's no way I could ever be a Republican. 

So I became a Democrat and I voted for Hilary Clinton in support of a woman whom I very much believed would fix healthcare, an issue that I have grown increasingly passionate about since my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly two years ago thanks to advanced technology that found the smallest of tumors and treated it effectively. 

I have always liked Barack Obama; I have read his books, and now that he is the nominee, I support his efforts whole-heartedly, with my money, with my writing, and with my time. After hearing his speeches, I cannot help but feel hopeful, and it has been so long since I felt that sense of hope in our government that I barely recognized it when it hit me.  

I believe that he is like the greatest of stage directors - honest, passionate, and unifying. He listens and speaks with conviction, not stating opinion as fact but making his case to bring seemingly disparate parties together. He's decent and fair to the point that he softened the sharp edge I develop every time I hear the word "politics". He makes me feel like we can and will be safe in this uncertain world. I feel his energy through the TV and in the people who support them. He may be our first President in a very long time who gets that leadership is about service, not ego. 

He has already moved mountains by motivating millions of people like me around the world to get interested again in our government and the people who run it. And if he can do that, imagine what he'll be able to do as our Commander in Chief? To me, he is a rock star in every good sense of that word. He makes me proud and optimistic, and in this day and age that is exactly what we all need. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What no one tells us about China

Last night, my friend Allan and I had dinner at Barbuto, an Italian place in the West Village that I have been meaning to try for a year. Allan is going away for 6 months - off to Singapore for work. I'm a little jealous of Allan - part of me misses flying off to a new place every week. And then I remind myself that I should be careful what I wish for.

Allan is one of my dearest friends from business school. If you had to 5 people from your life who were cheering for you, you'd want Allan there. His loyalty to his friends is something to be admired. And his work ethic would leave any American student in disbelief. He got an MBA and a half out of Darden; he put the rest of us to shame. Usually Allan and I talk about books and work ad what every crazy little projects that are taking my time these days. But last night turned to the topic of romantic relationships. Allan is confused by women. I smiled. 

Allan explained to me that in China, things are not complicated. Love included. People live a simple and diligent life. In a planned economy, there isn't all this choice that we have here in the U.S. Nothing is really all that trying. An absence of angst.

And now when I reflect back on those Olympics Games and those inspiring, creative beyond measure, ceremonies that preceded and closed them, I understand how they came to be so precise, so perfect. They were singularly focused, the entire nation. They are unencumbered by a multitude of choices and complications. 

Now, I'm not advocating for a planned economy. I'm saying that we have more to learn from the Chinese people than we ever imagined. Their creativity and their passion is built around simplicity. And the question I'm left with is I wonder if we, as Americans, could get out of our own and get focused. It might be out only hope out of so many problems that are plaguing us.  

Monday, August 25, 2008

21 Ways to Celebrate Life

A woman named Nancy Rothstein lost her son Josh very suddenly. Once a year Nancy adds a new way to celebrate life to her growing list - one suggestion for every one of Josh's birthdays. I received the link to the list today - it's now at 21 items - and I spent my commute home thinking about how I celebrate life and ways in which I'd like to celebrate life. Here's my list for every birthday I've celebrated:

1.) Buy an ice cream cone on a sunny day and walk through my neighborhood 
2.) Listen to my favorite songs and repeat them as many times as I want
3.) Write
4.) Spend time with friends I adore
5.) Explore a NYC neighborhood I'm not familiar with
6.) On a rainy day, I hole up in my apartment with good food, a good movie, and never change out of my PJs
7.) I walk through my favorite area of Riverside Park and linger there as long as I want
8.) Watch re-runs of my favorite sitcoms
9.) Read the latest issues of my favorite magazines cover to cover
10.) Toil in the little shops in my neighborhood
11.) Play with a dog
12.) Practice yoga
13.) Travel abroad on my own
14.) Meditate and remind myself of all the reasons I am grateful for my life
15.) Savor a good meal slowly with good company
16.) Take care of a plant
17.) Call an old friend I haven't talked to in a while
18.) Dance around my apartment
19.) Paint a watercolor while sitting in a beautiful place
20.) Try something new that scares me
21.) Clean my apartment - I don't necessarily like the task but I love the result
22.) Spend the afternoon with a good book
23.) Visit one of the amazing museums in NYC
24.) Get a pedicure
25.) Volunteer my time with an organization I care about
26.) Recycle
27.) Don't money to a charity I believe in
28.) Light a candle, say a prayer
29.) Work on a home-improvement project
30.) Remain conscious of my breathe
31.) Watch live music
32.) Take photographs

Click here for image above. 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Change for Notice

I had dinner with my friends Chas and Amanda over the weekend and we got into a discussion about the importance of change. On Friday I needed to stop by the post office in midtown and it would be best for me to take the ACE to Times Square. I couldn't recall where I'd seen the ACE sign though I know I see it everyday when I got off at the subway stop at work. Turns out it's actually the same stop that houses the 23 (my line) and the ACE. Everyday I look at that sign and couldn't recall the ACE symbols. Chas was telling me that at his former job they would change the colors of important signs around the office so people wouldn't get numb to seeing them the way I did with the subway. 

On my way home from dinner I thought about the comforts and dangers of routines. How quickly we can get used to circumstances the way they are and grow apathetic to them to the point where we don't know how we got from point A to point B. We stop being present and fall into this mental fog that clouds our ability to fully experience our lives. And that fog is heavy to lift, and diminishes joy. 

I'm wondering if there is a time for routines and a time for changing everything up. Are routines ever good for us? Do we have to recognize that they serve their purpose for a short period and then we have to break from them and find a new way? Is renewal critical to happiness?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Buckminster Fuller

I went to the Whitney today with friends Dan, Steve, and Liane. It was our inaugural museum / dinner quarterly outing. (As just decided by Steve at the conclusion of our time at the Whitney.) Dan and I had been planning to go to the Buckminster Fuller exhibit for a good 6 weeks and finally our schedules aligned today. Luckily Steve and Liane were free as well. 

Fuller is an interesting guy, though after an hour long tour by a woman who is clearly a scholar and viewing close to 100 pieces of his work, I'm still not sure if or how he is relevant to the art and architecture worlds. Entirely self-taught, he can't be called a designer, architect, or engineer. (Leaving me highly skeptical about his relevance to begin with.) At 32, the age I am now, he had an epiphany that rather than commit suicide by drowning himself in Lake Michigan, he would spend his time as a guinea pig of design, throwing out crazy ideas one after another and seeing if any of them stick to help improve the quality of life on this planet. Hmmmm...I am growing more skeptical by the minute. 

Fuller was very concerned with a handful of concepts and activities: marketing and branding, developing a design language all his own, optimism under all circumstances, and the state of the human condition. Now I'm growing a bit more interested. And then two other facts really pulled me in: he did not give a lick about the historical preservation of architecture (he cared only about the futuristic city) and he was so obsessed with the ideation / prototyping phase of a project that none of his ideas ever made it to market. 

As someone who loves the history of architecture and often spends days walking around a city just looking at buildings, I'm horrified that anyone in this field would ever admit to not caring one way or another if any architecture is ever preserved. And then I considered how many people I know who love thinking up ideas with no ability / desire to execute them. I like endings; I enjoy completing projects and reveling in the analysis of the outcome. (Perhaps that's because I was born a Pisces, the last sign of the zodiac.) I cannot imagine anyone loving to think up ideas for ideas' sake and not doing what it takes to see those ideas realized first-hand. To say you are a visionary with no ability to operate is like saying you would enjoy the company of other people if only you didn't love to hide in your apartment. A million good ideas have no relevance if you don't have the inkling to make them come to life. Or do they?

My friends and I left the exhibit interested and confused. Why on Earth would the Whitney devote an entire floor to a man who couldn't get things done? I thought about this on my walk to dinner. This sliding scale of a man, equal parts genius and crack-pot. This man with no formal training who has talents that defied any kind of definition. A man without a community. 

I wonder if it is people like Buckminster Fuller who provide the shoulders for us to stand on to do great things after him. He could see that building environmentally sustainable vehicles and communities would be important, even if he didn't have the ability to get them built. He could see that we were building so much manufacturing capability in this country that someday those resources would have to be used in new ways such as green energy production. So the question becomes can someone else with more energy and organization pick up the good points of his ideas and run with them to create something that benefits humanity in a tangible way? Maybe that is his lasting legacy: he confused, inspired, and infuriated us so much that people picked apart his ideas and salvaged the pieces that could be brought to life with a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work. Not a bad legacy for a man who almost ended it all at 32 on the shores of Lake Michigan. No bad at all. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

In Praise of Emptiness

I'm looking at my to-do lists for the weekend. 23 items, some of them time consuming. And this is just a typical low-key weekend for me. No traveling, I'm not hosting any event, none of the tasks require advanced preparation. 23 items - exactly who do I think I am that I can finish a first week of a job, jam pack my weekend, and be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for Monday morning?

This week in the New York Times, there was an article entitled "A Place and an Era in Which Time Could Stand Still". It discusses the need to let kids have some time with nothing to do during summer camp rather than cramming activity after activity into their days. And this consideration is worth a look for adults, too, especially those engaged in creative pursuits. We need time to let our task-master minds unwind if we are to get at our best creative thinking. It's buried beneath all of our to-do lists and action items.     

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why are we obsessed with the need to be productive at every moment. Our European neighbors have a way of looking at life that is practically the antithesis of the American view - they enjoy life and the people around them. They savor the experience of life and the simple happiness that comes from lingering over a cup of coffee and a good book in an outdoor cafe. We chug the coffee and speed read the book in a packed subway car. Is it any wonder that we are dealing with so many health issues and a general lack of enjoyment in this country?

Recognizing this need to unwind, the editors at Real Simple Magazine put together a 14-day stress detox program. I looked for an on-line link but the list is only available in print and includes things like taking time to be grateful and investing a little time in gardening of any kind, even if it's just a windowsill house plant. It's well worth the look with one caveat - I would recommend stretching out the changes and enjoying them, reflecting on them, and fully ingesting their meaning and power. The last thing we need is another deadline and a another item on a rushed to-do list.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting to what's possible

Considering the possible alongside the impossible is one of the joyful dichotomies in product development. The excitement bubbles over when you begin to consider, and help others consider, what it would take to remove those two tiny letters, "im", from the latter. Put another way it's the commitment of individuals - I am (I'm) going to remove them, and help others do the same.

Yesterday, I had dinner with my college friend, Chris. I hadn't seen him in 10 years! He's now at Carnegie Hall working on the international education exchange program. And along the way we have both become interested in technology as a way to communicate art, and we got into a long discussion about vision and funding, whether that funding comes from donors for a nonprofit or from sales and investors for a for-profit company. Money can and often in time does follow vision. The opposite does not work. No leader can gain vision by having funding, and any leader who thinks (s)he can or should progress in that order is setting himself / herself up for a rude awakening.

And yet, it happens all the time. Organizations lose their way. Companies forget their core customer or core competency in favor of some hot trend or a fervent desire to just grow and make as much money as possible. It might work in the short-term; in the long-run failure is nearly certain. In the case of vision, an ounce of prevention is worth a least a pound of cure. So how do we, as individuals and as organizations, stay true to who we are and keep our vision front and center?

I have a few ways that I maintain my vision for my life. I have the great gift of being able to delude myself for a very short period of time (about 60 seconds several times per year). On occasion, I take a minute (literally) and imagine what I'd like to be doing, right now, if money didn't matter. If I'm doing something radically different, chances are I'm on the wrong track. My writing helps - in print, it's much harder to lie to yourself. We have this built-in filter that does not allow us to put falsehoods to paper without feeling really awful about ourselves. I also consider my level of sleepiness. While most people may consider their sound sleep to be a good sign, if I'm feeling worn out at the end of the day, sleeping dead to the world, something is terribly wrong. If I'm energized and ready to go 20 hours a day, then I know good stuff is happening.

And in recent months, I have thought a lot about one other remedy. I am still mourning the loss of Tim Russert, especially as this election grows closer and closer. I still flip on the Today Show and expect him to be there guiding us, coaching us along. And the sentiment that everyday he woke up as if he'd just won the lottery sticks with me. I think about people like Tim, people I admire and look up to, and consider whether or not I'd be proud to tell them what I'm doing with my days if I ever had the chance to meet them. In short, I'm trying to win the lottery of life everyday, and trying to take as many others with me as possible. That's my vision.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Public Transportation and Old Friends

On Sunday I drove to East Haven, Connecticut - my last drive in my car. I took it to Carmax for a painless 45 minute selling process. Slightly above Blue Book Value, check in-hand. I took a cab to a train (which broke down, delaying me another hour) to a bus. I had forgotten how sensitive my stomach is to jerky motions on a bus or train and I got sick on the sidewalk as soon as I got off the bus (a truly New York moment) and then was sick all night, too. Not an ideal situation the day before starting my new job. Welcome to the ups and downs of a public transit girl's life.  

The one saving grace of last night was that my dear friend, Mark, is in town rehearsing for a show and he is staying only a few blocks away. We used to spend a lot of time together when we worked on The Full Monty. And when I saw him yesterday, despite my queasy stomach, I was grinning from ear to ear. And despite the fact that I haven't seen him in 4 years, we picked up our friendship right where we left off. Laughing and talking with the ease of old friends. 

Visiting with Mark reminded me about beginnings and endings and cycles in our lives. I used to think that I've had three constants in my life in recent years: my cell phone number, my mom, and my car. Now, I've traded in that car for a subway card (and a hefty supply of Dramamine). That leaves me with my cell number and my mom, both of which I am glad to have. And my time with Mark reminded me of all those people who have made such a difference in my life, even if I don't get to see them all the time. 

Even across distance and time, there are those people who keep cropping up, who stick with us despite the hectic nature of our lives. Just knowing they're out there, that all the memories that we have of them and they have of us keep the best parts of us alive and well, makes each day a little easier to get through. And these people, these angels in my life, seem to re-appear when I need them most. Just when I am setting off on a new adventure, like my new job, or trying to get through an ending. These people keep the cycle going, and consequently keep us moving forward.   

Saturday, August 16, 2008

NBC's Olympics website

I've started to have discussions with some companies and non-profits about the possibility of integrating social media into their marketing plans. Originally when I considered this type of consulting work, I thought the issue would be content creation. What I'm finding is that it's about commitment and organization - the same two issues that companies struggle with in many aspects of their business. 

For the past week, I've been obsessed with watching the Olympics, and like so many people across the world, I am most keen on women's gymnastics and the U.S. men's swim team. I want to see Michael Phelps get his 8 gold medals in Beijing and I wanted to see Nastia Liukin win the all-around. Michael's got 7 and Nastia surprised everyone, including herself, with her win in the all-around. 

I was so excited to see that NBC had created so much incredible content and integrated so much functionality into their Olympics website. Sadly, the organization is so frustrating that after a few visits of endless clicking, I've all but given up on trying to figure out the televised schedule. And that's the trouble with an abundance of great content - all of a sudden the management and organization of it becomes just as critical as the information itself. 

I was surprised that NBC didn't think through the site design more thoroughly. NBC had so much time to plan out how they would cover these games that the expectations of fans skyrocketed, mine included. I wanted it to be a piece of cake to navigate the website and find exactly the content I was looking for with barely any effort on my part. If anything, I've had to spend much more time sorting through the site and rarely find what I am looking for. I guess the network doesn't hold simplicity in very high regard.

I take my hat off to the content creators of that Olympics website and to the many reporters who are contributing to the coverage; what the network really needed was a simplicity expert who actually understands how to use new media. With a once-in-a-lifetime event like these Beijing Games, it's a shame that the executives didn't see that for themselves.  It's not abut throwing as much information in there as possible - this isn't a flea market or a treasure hunt - and they certainly had enough money to do it right. Here's hoping that they'll learn from this error in time to make adjustments for their 2010 and 2012 coverage.         

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A By-product of a Tough Economy: Enemies as Friends, or at Least as Willing Partners

I don't know anyone who says, "Thank God the economy is tanking!" That doesn't mean there aren't some positive, and unexpected, side effects of our latest economic decline. With dollars scarce, investors leery, and earnings expectations scrutinized like never before, companies previously considered bitter enemies are sharing marketing dollars, cross-promoting one another, and sharing best practices.

And we're not just talking about retailers like Bed, Bath, and Beyond and The Container Store who have a very small amount of overlap in product. This week in The Economist there is an article detailing that even bitter rivals like the New York Post and the Daily News are discussing ways to share distribution; car companies are considering the co-production of common parts. 

These kinds of previously unheard of collaborations beg the question about competition: Is the competition level to the extent that we have it in the U.S. necessary, or even sustainable? Is it good for us? I don't doubt that healthy competition is the basis of a stable free economy; it is the corner stone of a capitalistic society. But is too much competition, well, too much?

I think about all the choices that we have in grocery stores, big box retailers, car lots, and the endless supply of different brands of products available on-line that do essentially the same thing. Look at all our choices of social networks and on-line communities. My friend, Jon, and I were discussing the likelihood that at some point some of them have to die out or merge. Maybe the same is true for companies like newspapers, retailers, and car manufacturers. Tough times can make strange, though perhaps necessary, bedfellows. And maybe they'll even persist once we come out the other side of this latest downturn. In difficult times, maybe we learn to mend fences and see their value even when we don't have our backs against the wall.             

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Grace (Eventually)

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors - secretly I'd love to have her as a dear friend because I love her combination of wit, cynicism, and hopefulness. An ecclectic mixture with various aspects shining through depending upon the situation at hand. Most recently, I read her first book on the discovery and development of her faith, Grace (Eventually), partly because I'd read anything she writes and partly because I am in the midst of a similar journey. 

As a general rule, I am afraid of organized religion. When people ask me my religion I tell them I am a recovering Catholic. My mother, lovely though she is, still gives me grief about the fact that I purposely avoided the Pope's recent visit to NYC, turning down her numerous attempts to get me a ticket. She still hasn't fully come to grips with my lack of Christianity. I understand - I imagine it's hard to have a child who blatantly refuses to follow the path you raised her on. 

For years, my faith as been based in my belief in goodness, found in the beauty of nature, and considered while on my yoga mat and in my daily meditation. I haven't been able to bring myself to committing to a community, a church of any kind, even though I think the public announcement of faith can be very beneficial. 

I've flirted with the idea of joining a church several times. Most recently when I was living in D.C., I did go to a Catholic Church that I loved, even though I reject most ideas of the Catholic Church. I was lonely and sad and so unhappy with my job that I began to have panic attacks on Sunday nights. So I went to church because it calmed me down and gave me some strength for the coming week. Plus, I thought the priest was cute. Sorry. 

My friends Matthew and Alex attend a Unitarian Church in D.C. and on a recent visit I accepted their invitation to go with them. The sermon was about grace and its meaning and importance. I love that Unitarians accept everyone wherever they are whatever they believe. That kind of organized religion I can live with. Lamott's book reflects that same kind of acceptance of people and their circumstances. And she spends a lot of time explaining that we can all find grace (eventually) on our own terms. It's hard won but worth the effort. And she's accepting of the fact that she's not perfect in her faith and that she occasionally has a bad attitude. Her idea of faith is that it understands that we all make mistakes, we all veer off the path every once in a while, and the only requirement is that we commit to be gentle and patient with ourselves and with the world around us. The only thing we really must do is love, ourselves and others. 

For the first time in a long time, I feel unafraid to at least consider the idea of organized religion in my life again. And I have Matthew, Alex, and Lamott to thank for that. Maybe my grace is on the way. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Survive and Thrive

I woke up this morning wholly unemployed. Sort of. I'm being paid through Thursday, which I greatly appreciate, though I'm not actually going to work. Yesterday was my last day in the office. My suspicion is that my access to information because of who I worked for is too much for some peoples' comfort. And that's okay; I get it. I'm very grateful to have a few free days before my new job begins on Monday, particularly because I'm being paid, so we all came out ahead by me leaving before my time was scheduled to be up. A win-win all around.   

The day was anti-climactic. I've cried every single time I've left a job. If not at my good-bye party, then certainly afterwards by myself or with friends at the after-party. This time - no party, no fanfare, no tears. Maybe I'm growing up. Or maybe there are times when a change occurs that is so obviously a good move that there isn't any way for sadness to be a part of the shift. I wished them well, they wished me well, and off I went. It was a departure entirely free of drama. 

There are two main lessons that I received in this experience and that I fully realized as I was driving that long, slow drive home for the last time. No matter what kind of business, the products or services that are sold, big or small company, the single defining determinant of success is leadership at the very top. Without it, truly nothing else matters. Nothing. As if CEOs needed any more pressure on them. Sorry CEOs - that's why you get paid the big bucks.     

I realized the other insight as I crossed over the border to NY, looking out along the skyline sparkling in the cool, unseasonal sunshine. A few hours earlier, there was a storm that seemed almost apocalyptic in nature. The sky was practically black at 11am. My friend, Richard, said it was Heaven's way of washing away this experience in favor of the new adventure I am about to take. I agree with him. I also think the weather today, its vascillation between storm and sun, was very much a reflection of two pivotal professional experiences I've had - one in 2000 and one now, 8 years later. 

The storm: In 2000 I worked for a woman named Charlotte Wilcox, a crusty broad who didn't let anyone push her around, ever. If she was involved in a show, there was no question who was the top dog. She was hard on herself and hard on her staff, especially me. She taught me how to survive in business - it wasn't a pleasant experience, in the same way that a root canal isn't pleasant, but the lessons she taught me about follow-through and work ethic, your own and that of your boss, have been absolutely critical to my success. She told me that the great problem with my generation is that we have no follow-through and that I should never, ever, under any circumstance, work harder than the person signing my paycheck. And if I ever get the opportunity to sign paychecks, I better remember that I need to work harder than anyone I pay. As a result, I am conscious to ask more of myself than I ever ask of anyone else and I follow-through, always. 

The sun: Bob, my most recent boss, taught me a very different lesson. He was what I think of as the anti-Charlotte. I spent a mostly joyful year, a bit more, working for him. I learned and read and reasoned and tried my best to offer insight, advice, and counsel. And 99% of the time I was greeted with gratitude to an embarrassing degree by everyone I came into contact with on a variety of projects. I worked very hard to be valuable and helpful whenever and wherever I could. In short, Bob taught me how to thrive - how to use my very best strengths to make a difference, and for that lesson I am most grateful. 

In the end, I think all of life, and most particularly our professional lives, comes down to those two basic blocks: surviving and thriving. The rest is all decoration.   

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shelby Lynne

Nearly all of my new music recommendations come from my friend, Ken. He always knows what's new and understands my taste in music exactly. A few months ago, he introduced me to Shelby Lynne and I've been listening to her recent album that is a tribute to Dusty Springfield. Lynne was on CBS Sunday Morning this morning, and showed a much different personality than her sultry voice lets on. 

She describes herself as a Hell Cat, someone who doesn't like rules and doesn't like people who like rules. Now, I like her music even more. She turned away from a big deal music career in Nashville to build her own road on her own terms. When I was a kid, my mom described me as "hell on wheels". I'm not exactly sure what that means - maybe that I used to raise hell and then run away really fast. It seems that Shelby Lynne and I both have spicy personalities, and neither of us would have it any other way.

As  general rule, I like risk takers who bet on themselves more than they bet on someone else. There's a certain independence and confidence in those people that I greatly admire. A friend recently told me about her fear that she has no ability to take a risk - twice she has turned down professional moves to companies that eventually went public providing the partners with million of dollars each and the opportunity to do ground-breaking work. Now she's worried those chances have passed her by. I hope that's not true and it was a good lesson for me. 

Life waits for no one so if you have something you want to do and something you want to say, it would be wise to do and say it now. There's no rewind or pause button on the world. And if you need some inspiration or a soundtrack for your journey, I'd recommend that Shelby Lynne album.      

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bottle Shock

I have a crush on Bradley Whitford. His role on West Wing almost made me believe in the goodness of politicians. I went with my friend, Dan, to see Boeing-Boeing. A bit long, but I loved it. During intermission I was reading the Playbill and saw in Bradley's bio that he has a role in the new film Bottle Shock. Never heard of it. Then walking around my neighborhood a few days ago, I saw a poster for the movie. Must be a sign - I need to see this movie. Whoever said that good old fashion promotion doesn't work?

My friend, Monika, agreed to go with me and I'm stilling smiling from the good feeling I got watching that film, even if Bradley's part is all of 5 minutes long. I can't believe that I almost missed this film - the promotion seems very light. And that's a shame for a movie that is so delightful; as an indie film, I suppose money for promotion is scant at best. I've heard people refer to it as this summer's Sideways. Forget that - it's 10 times better than Sideways. As Monika said, "it's all the fun with none of the cynicism." And it's based on a wonderful, heart-warming, true story. Plus that cutie, Freddy Rodriguez (Ugly Betty), is in it, too, along with a perfectly cast Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman.

I've been fortunate enough to have visited Northern California a number of times, mostly for vacation. I nearly moved there right after college but I didn't get the job I was interviewing for there and couldn't afford to move there without one. I have a particular fondness for that area of the country, and if it weren't for the 3000 that separates it from everyone and everything that I know and love in this world, I'd be there in a heartbeat. But those 3000 miles are significant, and I gave my heart to NYC so Northern California will remain one of those places I adore from afar and occasionally have a fling with while on vacation. 

What I love about Bottle Shock is that it dispels Napa and Sonoma as these snobby, upper-crust places, and tells the story of their humble roots and the people who grew up cultivating that land and building an industry from scratch, despite the presumably superior competition of the French winemakers. But, you know what they say about those that assume...

In a sort of cheeky, sappy moment in the film, there were a few quotes I've been thinking about all day. Bill Pullman is walking the vineyards with his intern and says that the best fertilizer for vines are their owner's footsteps and that it's best to starve the vines, make them struggle, because that is the way they'll produce the best grapes. Just before that scene, Freddy Rodriguez discusses his philosophy about wine-making - that it is best done not by the rich who buy up land to grow a hobby, but by those who have spent a lifetime feeling the soil under their nails. 

While the movie is about wine-making, these lessons are certainly applicable for all of us. At its core, the movie is about sacrifice and commitment. Can we surrender the certain, predictable choices to stay true to who we are, what we believe, and what we love? There is a passion among wine-makers that is difficult not to share when we hear them speak about their art, their calling, and their love and affection for the land. Their dedication is admirable and their ability to enjoy and savor good wine and a good, honest life left me longing for the left coast. Maybe someday....   

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Exchange: Honda for Granny

Recently I was visiting my friend Moya in Washington, DC. One of her roommates was running out to the store and taking the Granny cart with her. One of those rickety metal bin type things with wheels that look like they are about to fall off at any moment. Clunky, and too expensive if you ask me, but they get the job done when one if car-less with arms full of stuff.  

As I was cutting up mangoes for the fruit salad I asked Moya why in the world someone doesn't invent a better Granny cart that doesn't make everyone who owns one feel like a loser. She stopped mashing up the avocados for the guacamole, looked over at me, and said, "I nominate you." And then she went back to her guacamole. 

I have been thinking about this now for weeks. I was toddling around the Container Store this weekend because I am on the brink of trading in my beloved Honda which has seen me through more moves than I care to admit, and many a tough time. I'm joining the legion of Granny cart owners in NYC - and those metal rickety things are indispensable here. You must have one for laundry, groceries, etc., unless you are fortunate enough to have some big hulk-y man follow you around for the express purpose of carrying all your packages. I don't have that man, so it's me and Granny. And because I refuse to spend $40 on something at the corner store that might make it a month or so before falling apart, I bought one that was slightly more expensive from those wonderful people at the Container Store. 

Not to be purposely critical, but the Container Store could do better. Or as Moya told me when I sent her a picture of the Container Store model, "You could do better." She's right, and I need to stop complaining and start prototyping. I am critical by nature - my mother will back me up on this one - and I am now at a point where I can improve products and bring them to market if I put my mind and muscle to the test. 

Already I'm compiling a list of improvements to Granny. The challenge is I haven't the slightest idea of how to get a product like this made so I have begun researching manufacturing, shipping, etc. It's fascinating to learn how all of these products that we take for granted in a store actually get on those shelves. And I'm excited to work on the project. So if you've been wishing for a better Granny, she's on the way!    

Friday, August 8, 2008

What bird are you?

My friend, Alex, recently had a company off-site where they evaluated their personality types in an effort to work better as a team. They took a relationship assessment that I had never heard of. Tony Alessandra developed an assessment related to birds that describes four common personality types:   

The Dove: Relationship-Oriented
The Owl: Detail-Oriented
The Eagle: Results-Oriented
The Peacock: Socially-Oriented

I may have a predisposition to these type of exams because my father was a clinical psychologist and used to administer them. Alessandra's main point is that communication type, and knowing which one you are, can make all the difference in your career progression. Of course there are always hybrids - my friend, Alex, is a pea-gle - a combo peacock and eagle. My conundrum is always that I think I have elements of each type. I strive to be relationship, detail, results, and and socially-oriented. So what do I do? How can I learn how best to work with people if I am very honestly a complete chameleon?  

On the one hand, I could be the perfect partner - able to work with anyone. And conversely, I could be in a tough situation because I may never be quite certain that I am being true to myself, mostly because I have the ability to adapt almost to a fault. My challenge will be identifying which of these relationship types is the one which plays most to my strengths, and perhaps which one leaves me the most energized and effective. I envy those who easily fall into one bucket or another. My path is more a long and winding road.    

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Spinning the web: Making the most of the final two weeks at a job

I never expected that anyone would much care that I was leaving my current job for a new opportunity. I figured people would pat me on the shoulder, wish me luck on my new adventure, and send me on my way. Just the opposite. People have gone out of their way to connect, to learn about my new job, and to make sure that they have my personal contact info correct so we can stay in touch. And these aren't just my friends from work, but senior people whom I greatly respect and admire. It is nothing short of flattering. Of course, there are a few odd responses - people who have written me off before I'm out the door and those who have even chosen to ignore me altogether - but those are the very small minority and are people I never hoped to stay in touch with going forward.

While I have sometimes dreaded winding down my time at a job, and know many others who have had similar experiences, this time around I am glad to have over a week remaining. Closing these loops and ensuring their long-term stability are important. I now understand how professional networks and webs are built, and absolutely see that they are at least as valuable, if not more so, than the actual experience from a job. These days, everything seems to be about relationships.

The dawning of the age of social networking tools also eases the sting of leaving a job. I am a self-admitted sap. I think I've cried every time I've left a job. Though this time with these new tools at my disposal, it is easy to see that the many wonderful people I have worked alongside of will be in my life for years to come. It's not a "good-bye", but a "see you around the bend". All the more reason to make sure those bridges remain whole and intact.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Irony of Company

I love company - so much so that I sometimes I think I am running a small hotel in my studio apartment. My sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece just left after a four-day stay with me. I loved showing them around, taking photos of them in places familiar to me but new to them, and seeing NYC through their fresh and appreciative eyes.

The irony is that I have worked hard to create a very peaceful life. Odd that we should have to work at peace, but I must admit that it is a daily process rather than a destination. And sometimes I wonder if my desire for peace is causing me to create a world where change is something I resist. 

This is strange ground for me -- I am used to actively seeking and embracing change. Now it seems the challenge for me is how to have my peace and maintain it too, while also staying flexible and open to the world and the opportunities it presents. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Unreasonable drivers

Why is it that people in cars in New York City feel they have the right to tell people how to park, where to park, and when to move their cars? And why do they think it's okay to do that by screaming at others from their own cars? I returned to New York today with my sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece for a vacation. We found a parking space right in from of my building with enough room to easily move in and out of when leaving. 

We had arm-loads of things we were carrying inside(including my niece!), and a man with a large station wagon yells at me to move my car forward so he can shimmy his way in behind my car, wedging me into the space.  I tried to ignore his screaming, telling him we couldn't just drop our things in the middle of the sidewalk and we certainly were not going to wedge in the car in front of us, and then be wedged into the space ourselves. Then he yells "Well, I hope your car will be safe!" We walked inside and didn't think anything of it, except that he was rude and bordered on crazy. 

I came back out to the car a minute later to gather the few remaining items and he is putting a note on my windshield, and I asked him to back away from my car. His response (after removing the note): "next time, be a little more civil. Parking is at a premium around here." "What?" I asked. "In case you didn't notice, we have an infant with us and arm loads of things we're carrying. And why would I box in the person in front of me and then have you box me in? How would I move my car out with you wedged in behind my car? And besides, even if I did move all the way up to the next car, you still couldn't get your big car in that space." He walked away in a huff.

I'll never understand people like this - people who are naturally so irate that they feel they have the right to upset and harass other people who are minding their own business. I find these people generally are those who drive in the city. Does the driving cause them to go crazy or is it their craziness that encourages them to drive here? I wish people like this guy didn't make me so upset and stressed; I wish I could chalk it up to funny and weird experiences. And maybe I will once this car is a thing of the past in my life - I'm so looking forward to returning to life as a subway girl.