Human, Marketer

Vacations, not quite unplugged

It’s really nice to take a vacation unplugged.  To leave it all behind… and to know that there’s nothing you can really do to help out with all those responsibilities you left behind.  (Like the responsibility of writing daily blog posts.)

And yet… there are advantages to a vacation that’s not quite unplugged.  When you’ve told everyone who depends on you that you’re available in emergencies, and will be checking just in case.  Then you’re not bottlenecking everyone while you’re gone.

A not-quite-unplugged vacation gives you the best of both worlds.  You’re aware of any work issues.  But you’re not on the hook to respond to each and every urgent incoming message demanding your attention.  Best of all, you can pick and choose the messages to respond to, at your vacation-enabled pace, so that when you do return, you’re not buried in rampant problems.

(As long as there’s not, like, an actual work emergency, because then you’re not enjoying the rest of that vacation…)

Marketer, Musician


In his magnificent book On Writing, Stephen King describes makes the amusingly accurate claim that writing is basically telepathy.  “All the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation,” he offers.  As an example, he points out that the book is scheduled to be published in late 2000, and that that makes you the reader

…somewhere downstream on the timeline from me… but you’re quite likely in your own far-seeing place, the one where you go to receive telepathic messages.  […]

So let’s assume that you’re in your favorite receiving place just as I am in the place where I do my best transmitting.  WE’ll have to perform our mentalist routine not just over distance but over time as well, yet that presents no real problem; if we can still read Dickens, Shakespeare, and (with the help of a footnote or two) Herodotus, I think we can manage the gap between 1997 and 2000.  And here we go — actual telepathy in action.  You’ll notice I have nothing up my sleeves and that my lips never move.  Neither, most likely, do yours.

He then goes on to prove it by describing a table covered with a red cloth, and a cage on the table with a white rabbit that has a numeral 8 on its back in blue ink, and then dissects how he’s transmitted this image to your brain, even if we fill in our own details.

But by that point I’m already hooked. Telepathy! Who knew? I’m writing thoughts right now at my desk, and they’re being beamed directly into your brain by whatever Black Mirror has commanded your attention right now.  The time-shift doesn’t matter; you are literally able to read my mind.

Writing, for me, is like music; I’d make a career of it if I could, but economic forces and skills with more powerful earning potential have relegated such pursuits to leisure time hobbies. Still, I continue learning more about how to sing, and about how to write… and the best way to excel at either hobby is the same way to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.  This may not be the few thousand words a day that King advises for the serious writer-in-training, but it doesn’t matter — telepathy is an amazing trick, and one I want to keep trying to master.

Human, Marketer, Musician

“Flipping the Bit”

A few more chorus members have left the chorus I sing in, casualties of trust from the transition. They’ve decided that for them, singing for that conductor in that chorus under these circumstances is just causing them angst. There are enough other musical outlets in the Boston area that they’ll certainly find another chorus to join.

It’s a cause for further grieving, as many of them are friends whom I enjoyed hanging out with during Tanglewood residencies. But at the same time, it might be a reason to congratulate them.

If you’re like me, you’ve been in situations where you look around yourself and say, “What am I doing here?” For me, that’s most often happened in my trailing months at a job. I realized that the work I was doing wasn’t satisfying, or that I was unlikely to advance my career path, or that the people I trusted and built a culture with had drifted away to other parts of the organization.

When that happens, you say to yourself, NOW what? It takes courage to make that assessment. To realize that something you’ve ALWAYS done is no longer giving you joy, and to change it.

Friend and fellow chorister Will Koffel called it “flipping the bit” (as in, moving a two-position switch from OFF to ON).  It’s an expression he picked up at a previous startup company to indicate when someone has irrevocably made the decision to leave. As in, “Foley’s been talking for months about quitting to go to another company, but you can tell he’s ‘flipped the bit’ because he’s stopped pushing for changes.  I think he’s serious this time.” At a certain point, you know you’re done. It’s a bit terrifying, but also liberating. And once you’ve done it, cognitive bias sets in, and no one can convince you it’s worth sticking around. Every smile by your boss is sinister; every good will gesture is viewed cynically; every mistake is further evidence why you should have left a long time ago. But I’ve seen people reach that stage and then quietly suffer, becoming more bitter with each passing day.

You may know the old joke – “Doctor, it hurts when I do that.”  “Don’t do that, then.” Why spend any part of your no-dress-rehearsal life trapped by inertia, doing something you don’t like? There’s joy in taking control of your reality and shaping it the way you want, rather than be a victim to the decisions and work of others. What can you “KonMari” out of your life that doesn’t bring joy?

Human, Marketer

The End of the Day

Sometimes the day didn’t go as well as you had planned. The projects didn’t get done. People aren’t getting along as well as you’d like. You’re questioning your actions, second-guessing yourself and fighting off imposter syndrome.

Then you wrap up the day with a bike ride, or a strong choir rehearsal. Or both.

And suddenly, you have perspective on the day, and you go to bed tired and happy and ready to take on tomorrow.

Find joy at the end of a tough day. Plan for it if you can, to counteract whatever negativity arises from the work day, and wash it away.

Leadership, Marketer, Musician

Common Ground

Back about 25 years ago, when I was an undergraduate living in a fraternity, I was right in the middle of a house-wide contentious debate about how we would choose to support the co-ed chapters of our fraternity, if at all.  The details aren’t as important to remember as the emotions — at the time, it felt like the house’s very survival depended on resolving this intractable situation. Tempers flared. Ad hominem attacks flew. Fallacious accusations and misattributed positions confused the issues. But I distinctly remember one person playing peacemaker by trying to identify the beliefs that everyone had in common first. It went a long way towards defusing the tensions and building at least some consensus, which led the way to compromise and resolution.

Since then, whenever I find myself in a situation in which two opposed groups have formed and emotions are running high, I regularly make a point of looking for common ground facts that all sides can agree to, state them for everyone (with as little “marketing spin” as possible so as not to inject my own opinion), and try to converge support for the reality they represent.

One can usually find something to build on. Even strongly opposed groups, such as pro-choice and pro-life supporters, may have common ground somewhere — for instance, both want to lower the rate of abortions. By elevating the discussion above the points of contention, you can discover problems both sides can work together to solve.

I’ve been trying this rhetoric when it comes to the recent schism in the chorus I sing in. You can read my attempt over here on my other blog. Rather than talk about who’s right and who’s wrong, I try to talk about what happened, to identify the questions being debated, and to point out a higher level problem — in this case, the need to rebuild trust.

It’s also how you can spot when you’re unlikely to succeed. For instance, in today’s politics and media coverage, when the facts often get shoved aside in favor of a good narrative, it’s even more difficult to find that common ground. Some retreat to their own realities and see any admission of common ground as a sign of weakness. In the chorus example, as the rhetoric ratchets higher and higher, I’ve seen some members so overcome by emotion that they make highly charged, arguably unreasonable and hurtful statements. I don’t yet know how to elevate the discussion with people who have stopped listening and are determined to scuttle any compromise. So far I think the answer is the same answer to “how do you eat an elephant” – one bite at a time.

There’s joy in finding that common ground that can be the first step toward getting two factions to listen to each other.  See if you can spot it the next time you’re watching the Hatfields and McCoys go at it, and be a peacemaker yourself.

Leadership, Marketer

Seeing Thestrals, and the Bridge Test

Firing someone is a terrible but necessary rite of passage for every manager.

I have two overly dramatic metaphors that have helped me describe it.

In the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry learns that what he originally thought were magically self-propelled carriages are actually pulled by mystical creatures known as Thestrals — winged reptilian horses that are only visible to wizards who have witnessed death.  It’s a tangible symbol of the perspective change after seeing another person meet his end.

In the Star Trek: Next Generation episode “Thine Own Self,” the character Deanna Troi earns her promotion to Commander by passing the Bridge Officer’s Test.  The solution to the test is to order a fellow crew member to sacrifice himself in order to save the ship.

Years ago, as a manager, I passed my Bridge Officer’s test.  And now I can see the Thestrals.

There’s no joy in the deed.  In fact, you rob joy from someone else’s life, which is hard for my personality type to handle.  But addition by subtraction can still bring joy, if it inspires the rest of the team by reinforcing their belief that hard work is rewarded.  And once you’ve lost your innocence and can see the Thestrals, it’s disturbingly easier to order the next crew member to his fate, for the good of the crew.

I find joy in knowing that I can save the ship when I have to.  I hope you find joy when you discover you are strong enough to make tough choices.