Over lunch the other day, a friend related the challenges of adjusting to changes within his own company. He is the boss, the owner, the big cheese, but his biggest job is that of a professional shape shifter, finding ways to adapt in order to remain relevant, and valuable, within the company he founded.
He was once the chief salesman, chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, and the chief everything else. Now, though, he needs to figure out new roles for himself at each step of the company’s development and with each new hire.
Over lunch the other day, a friend related the challenges of adjusting to changes within her own family. She is the mom, the aunt, the grandmother, but her biggest job is that of a shape shifter, finding ways to adapt in order to remain relevant, and valuable, within the family she founded.
She was once the mom of children, then college kids, then the mother-in-law and, now, a grandmother. And there’s no stability in sight, because she knows her relationships with her grandchildren will shift again as they grow.
Life, it turns out, is a continuous process of adaptation, a series of transformations into new roles, new responsibilities, new identities. We’re the...
...big-dog eighth grader
...new hire again
...old hand again
The crazy part is that we seem to be surprised when it happens. We change our roles and our positions in each organization continually, whether it’s our family, school, workplace or homestead. Each time, though, we wonder at the experience of needing, once again, to find our place, to make the adjustments, to fit into our new situation. Some people say they avoid change in their lives, but those people aren’t really paying attention, are they?
This could be a great life hack, a terrific lesson we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. Your life will be a continual process of adapting to new roles and new situations, with so many transformations that you probably won’t even notice when some of them are happening. Stay alert, though, because the lessons are largely the same and you’ll be applying them again and again and again.
Just as we share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, our transitions share 99% of the same factors, as well. New job, new school, new marriage, new friends…all bring the same mix of excitement and trepidation, insecurity and identity. The jargon changes, but the fundamentals are the same.
Unfortunately, our mistakes are often the same, as well. We all have a friend who keeps falling into mismatched relationships or jobs or investments. Sometimes that “friend” is the person who looks back at us in the bathroom mirror each morning. Once we learn to recognize the patterns, though, we can figure out what we’ve done well and poorly in the past, so we can ace the next test and the one after that.
The specifics will change, but the process is eternal. New situation? No sweat. I’ve done this before.
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The mysteries of business meetings, thriving on jargon, and the most thankless job in the world are all top of mind this week, among other cautionary tales…
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Six Tires, No Plan has a rating of 4.7 out of 5.0 on Amazon, so I shouldn’t be complaining about grade inflation…but it does seem that we’re all getting trophies for showing up these days.
I must admit that I am a true curmudgeon about praise. I don’t clap when some famous actor walks onto the stage, because he hasn’t done anything yet, and I seldom applaud when the fat lady sings, because that what she was paid to do in the first place. And, yes, I am the same guy who wrote that I want applause for finishing my dinner and tying my shoes, but that was about me, not other people. I am special and deserving, but the rest of the world? Not so much.
Like Yoda, I believe that there is no try and coffee is for closers. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate effort, but I don’t like participation trophies, either. Maybe it’s okay for toddlers, but we all need to be weaned by the time we’re seven. (This is the point at which readers will begin to feel bad for my daughters.)
I am clearly in the minority, though, because I cannot go to a play without enduring a standing ovation at the end. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it was> Everyone’s on their feet for the close, clapping like seals who just snagged a mackerel.
The same puzzle awaits me every time I take a Lyft ride. I always start with four stars and the driver can work up or down from there, but Lyft assumes that four stars is a mediocre rating and the only acceptable rating is five stars. Give the driver four stars and the caption comes up, “Okay, could be better,” and then they ask what was wrong.
Nothing. Nothing was wrong. It’s a *&#@$% cab ride, not a private jet. I’ve had two or three rides good enough to bump my rating up to five, but really? Five stars for taking me to the dentist?
All this grade inflation has made the ubiquitous rating systems meaningless. A 4.5 rating on Yelp! could mean “very good” or “entrails with sriracha.” There’s no way to know. Ratings become meaningless when the top score becomes the starting point.
Clearly, we need a six-star scale to restore meaning to this quagmire, and we should institute jumping-jack ovations for truly exceptional acting. Grade inflation will creep in, of course, and we’ll need seven or eight stars, and headstand ovations, in another year or two.
In the meantime, I probably need to lower my standards for pretty much everything. And you need to rate this post 27 stars.
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One of the highlights of my mentoring work with entrepreneurs is the day they decide they don’t want to be entrepreneurs anymore. That might seem counterproductive, of course, but it’s a decision that can enrich the rest of their lives.
Social media sites, especially sites like LinkedIn, are filled with odes to entrepreneurs who tirelessly battle the naysayers and emerge victorious in their crusade for success. Start-up founders are exhorted repeatedly: Never give up, never lose your drive, never accept that it can’t be done, never surrender your dream. Never never never. Ever.
You can, um, pivot, 500 times, but pivoting is for pioneers and exiting is for losers. If you take a different path, you’re a quitter, doomed to be a drone in a corporate world, a follower, a lackey. You’ll be thinking inside the box, wrapped in a corporate cocoon, a drone, a minion, tortured by un-shifted paradigms and un-pushed envelopes. Simply stated, you’re a failure.
Entrepreneurship has become a religion in the business world, with all the zealotry that drives true believers. The entrepreneur is Erik the Red, Chuck Yeager, Davy Crockett (before that Alamo unpleasantness), Thomas Edison and Louis Pasteur…the superhero who will lead us into the future. Or maybe entrepreneurship isn't a real religion; perhaps it's more of a cult.
Entrepreneurship, like bungee jumping and fourth marriages, is an irrational act. The hours are intolerable, the odds for success are abysmal, financial strains are constant, and social/family ties atrophy. Most people who take this path are unbalanced. That doesn’t mean they’re mentally ill, although I do have my suspicions about several, but they often live outside the norms for factors like risk tolerance and ego.
Frequently, I’ll meet a younger person who is swept up in the mania surrounding entrepreneurship. She wants to be a part of the creative process, the disruption, the new frontier for business. She has an idea, usually an app, and she’s ready to change the world.
When it’s a person I’m mentoring, we examine the full range of issues connected to the adventure—and to the adventurer. What will it take to make this a viable business? How can the process be systematized or accelerated? How can cash be charred instead of burned? What are the options for timing and structure of an exit?
The most critical conversation in all of this is about the trade-offs inherent in starting a business. The owner will be foregoing the opportunity to advance in a traditional career in order to roll the dice at an all-or-nothing table. Often, the owner will be taking on loans to finance the first steps of the venture, delaying by years or decades their opportunities for financial security. Almost always, their bucket lists grow dramatically with everyday goals like travel, family, home ownership or binge watching.
Sometimes, the owners make a rational assessment of the situation and decide to move forward. Sometimes, they make a rational assessment of the situation and decide to end the venture.
Maybe they determine that the business won’t be profitable enough to justify the investment or that they will have too low an equity stake by the time they get to the finish line. Maybe they look at their own parents’ relationships, or availability to them as children, and decide that’s where they will make their biggest investment of blood and toil.
Whatever path they choose, they’ll have a solid foundation for their decision and an improved likelihood of success. They won’t quit. They’ll make a decision about the value to be received for the value invested, and then they’ll choose their next steps.
Meanwhile, online, there’s a bro culture surrounding entrepreneurship. Guys post about how hard they work or how little sleep they get or the trails they are blazing, and I can’t help but wonder if they are trying to convince themselves that they deserve a seat with the cool kids. It’s reminiscent of high school, at times, and I hope they grow out of it.
There are many paths to success, many ways to change the world, and many ways to have a fulfilling life. When someone I am mentoring makes an informed choice about the right path, it’s a glorious day.
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Thank you for contacting our customer support center, although we wish you would have followed our suggestions—27 times in the 40 minutes you were on hold—that you visit our website instead. Frankly, we’re impressed by people like you who stay on the line while we bombard you with reminders that you could hang up the phone and get all the information you need online. If we ever get into a staring contest, we want you on our team.
Let us remind you, yet again, that you could go to the Frequently Asked Questions tab on our website to obtain information about how to get to our website, the products we sell, and how to make us your home page. We cannot imagine that there was any reason for you to call our support center, if only you had scoured all 2,788 pages of our newly revised, more user-friendly online presence.
But you didn’t do that, did you? No, you called customer support and spoke with Agnes, so now we need to follow up and find out how well she met your needs, which are very important to us and certainly could have been met if you had gone to our website.
Please note that Agnes might have pleaded with you to give her a 10 rating in every category, if we should happen to ask. She might have wept a bit, as well, suggesting to you that she would be fired on the spot if you gave her anything less than a 10 on anything.
You might have thought she was exaggerating. She wasn’t. We demand perfection in our organization and we expect people like Agnes to deliver that perfection 120% of the time.
Agnes is the sole support of her mother, aunt, and three children, and she needs to work three jobs to make ends meet, because we contracted for her through an outsourced staffing firm that provides no benefits. But don’t let that sway you in your assessment of her performance when you called (instead of visiting our website). Please answer the following questions to let us know what you think of Agnes:
Thanks for your responses to our survey. We appreciate your business and look forward to engaging with you in the future.
But only contact us on our website, not by phone. Agnes’s replacement can’t handle the pressure.
When I told my nephew that Jill and I were looking into leasing an Acura, he commented:
“That’s a good car. It’s a Honda.”
When I told the Audi dealer we were also looking at Acuras, he commented:
“That’s a good car. It’s a Honda.”
It might not be clear from reading these identical quotes that the two comments meant very different things. From my nephew, it was an affirmation. From the car dealer, it was a putdown.
On the screen or on a sheet of paper, you could read those quotes a hundred times and never see the difference. Unless you were physically present, listening to the tone of voice and watching the face of the speaker, it would not be obvious that these statements were different at all.
Herein lies the challenge of communication in a digital age. We see text, a thought registers, and we never wonder if that thought was framed accurately. We hear what we hear, we understand it the way we understand it, and we move on. It simply doesn't occur to us that we should/could/might interpret it differently. Even without translation, much gets lost.
I know this has never happened to anyone else in the world, but I have tried to make a joke once or twice in an email or text, only to have my humor misunderstood, misconstrued, misinterpreted, and misapprehended. And they missed the joke, as well. Suddenly, we’re into a string of emails about how I was trying to be clever and every explanation makes it worse until I have to pick up the phone and actually speak with the person who is now furious with me.
Of course, that’s exactly what I should have done in the first place. If I had simply called, the other person would have understood my tone or inflection or that place our voices go when we transform a statement into a question. It turns out that you can tell a person, “I know this is really too difficult for you to understand,” in a way that makes it clear you don’t think they are stupid. But when you write it, it’s absolutely clear to them that, yes, you do think they’re stupid.
No matter how many emojis we add to an email—and I never understand any of them except the smiley face and the poop—the written word is incomplete. Face to face, we have tone, body language, pauses, volume, eye contact and other organically integrated cues for what we mean, how adamant we are, what we want, and whether we are finished with the conversation.
On the screen, all we have are letters and punctuation. And those inscrutable emojis.
It’s a safe bet that every one of us has offended somebody, possibly at some cost to ourselves or an important relationship, through a misinterpreted email or text. We might not be aware of who or when or how, but that’s really the point. We dash off 100 notes a day of one sort or another, almost invariably without re-reading them before we hit send…and voila. Strained and pained relationships ensue.
We see the damage from all of this when there’s some investigation or leak and we get to read someone else’s emails. “I will kill you,” or “I’ll do whatever it takes,” or “Of course, I’m guilty as charged,” shows up in text format and we know all we need to know about the writer.
By the time the author gets out the standard, “that-doesn’t-mean-what-it-looks-like-it-means,” disclaimer, pretty much everyone in the world has concluded that it absolutely means what it looks like and all that’s left is the sentencing.
Most of us can assume our emails won’t become social media fodder, either because we aren’t violating any rules or because we aren’t very important. You can never be sure, though, so it’s generally a good idea to adopt some protective rules for electronic communication.
First, never put anything negative, demeaning, incriminating or snarky into an email or text. This is impossible to guarantee in real life, but we can absolutely minimize the stuff that will be very embarrassing in hindsight. Even when discussing politics or a performance review or a disastrous date, the right wording can limit the need for future denials.
Second, if a conversation is going back and forth without a resolution, pick up the phone and call. Continuing an email string that isn’t coming to a conclusion reminds me of people who go to a foreign country and yell loudly and slowly in English to people who DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH. If no resolution is reached via email, the problem might be email itself.
I know this is an unexpected argument from a guy who earned his living putting words on paper, but facts are facts. The written word is a powerful tool, but it's not a complete workshop. As with any tool, it's important to know how it can be used and when it's a third-rate substitute for something else.
Remember that old saying that the medium IS the message? Finally, I think I am getting the idea.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.