Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Insiders who are Willing

There was a time, a few months back, when I was ready to give up on the whole customer service industry. I was starting to loose faith in the ability of the Customer Service Representative (CSR) to actually help the customers. I was tired of CSRs telling me they didn’t have stock (when they didn’t check), talking on their phone (instead of helping the next person in line) and never being around when you need them.

I started to think, as we move forward into the 21st century, companies (in the sales industry) are working toward becoming more efficient about how they run their business. The first place management often looks to improve is their front lines. These are the people who orchestrate their sales and often spend most of the time doing nothing.

Therefore, to achieve the highest possible number of sales, why not eliminate the CSR altogether? Turn the whole CSR industry into something that no longer requires a middleman – get rid of the people.

The way I see it, I know exactly what I am looking for. The real question I need to ask myself is, “Where is it?” For example, last week I went shopping for a book at my local bookstore. Of course, since it was the week before Christmas, the whole store was filled with people. I began looking for an available kiosk to search for my book, and to my dismay they were all full. I walked back and forth waiting for one of the three I was hovering around to open up when a young CSR asked if she could help me out.

Something inside of me wanted to tell her no, but I was in no mood to refuse a helping hand. I didn’t think she would know what book I was looking for (she didn’t), but what she did know was invaluable – she knew where the unused computers were. I followed her through the twists and turns of the aisles and eventually we came to a quiet little corner where an open kiosk awaited our arrival. It didn’t take her long to type in the book I was looking for, and before I knew it I was out the door with book in-hand.

As I left the store I thought – I could have done that. There isn’t any special mystery behind finding where a book is on a computer. What I realized was, this young CSR, who was willing to help, had something I didn’t, the added knowledge about the store.

I overlooked the fact that not everyone is capable of guiding him or herself through a retail outlet. There is a whole set of people who require the “expertise” of a CSR to purchase what they are looking for. I love to use the Apple Store as a perfect example. This is a store that truly understands the power of good customer service. You walk in and the number of employees is almost equal to that of the number of customers. Someone is always available to help you. When you purchase something, all they do is bring up the items online and scroll you through their stock. Is this something you could do on your own? Of course. Is everyone capable of ordering stock online? Of course not. With a ratio of almost 1:1 customers are in and out in record time – completely satisfied.

For the time being, I suppose CSRs still serve a purpose. The next question is, how do we keep them performing at a high level to ensure customer satisfaction? When customers can’t help themselves, they need to be willing to go to the next level to ensure satisfaction. Whether or not this is possible, is a whole other post altogether.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Boxing Day Knock Outs

It’s December 22 and I can’t stop worrying about the things I still need to pick up before Christmas. Interestingly enough, at work today I was asked if I knew what I was going to buy on Boxing Day. “Boxing Day!” I replied, “I hardly know what I am going to bring to the Pot Luck tomorrow.” As we began talking about possible ideas I asked why Boxing Day was on his mind. “It’s my six year old,” he said, “She knows about the deals and she has been asking me about what we are going to buy.”

I can hardly imagine what I would do if I had kids. Six years old and she already knows the day after Christmas is associated with lower prices – a young consumer.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized his six-year-old daughter wasn’t the only one thinking about Boxing Day deals. A few nights ago I went to visit some friends and one of them was on their laptop looking at flyers for electronic stores. I won’t go into any details as to what companies he was interested in, but as the conversation continued I realized that “deal hunting” was a real skill. “The fliers are in the store, but customers can’t get a hold of them yet. So, I decided to search for them online,” he told me with a growing enthusiasm, “See, this company hasn’t updated their flyer, but this other one has and I like what I see.”

All this talk got me thinking about what types of industry would issue discounts on Boxing Day. First and foremost, there is electronics. Everyone wants them and with the product turnover rate it just makes sense to sell something at a “cheaper” price before the actual price of the product drops one month after Boxing Day. Grocery stores might also have some really good options on Boxing Day. Think about it, they bought a large variety of stock to supply the needs of Christmas and one day later they have an abundance of items that didn’t sell. What do you do? Lets have a sale. I was asked, “Why don’t car dealerships ever offer sales?” If you think about it, people will still want to buy cars even after Christmas and Boxing Day have come and gone. The car market is structured differently and new models aren’t made available on January 1st they have different release dates.

At the end of the day, listening to my friend with the six-year-old daughter made me feel like a juror hearing the final testimony from the defendant, “Boxing Day is a fun day where people rush around looking for deals – it’s contagious.”

When you wake up the morning of December 26th I want you to turn on your TV and find your local News channel and tell me if they are covering a story about people lining up in front of a store to get an awesome deal. You’ll probably even see an on the scene reporter who stops people on their way out to ask if they can check out what people purchased. It creates a spending frenzy. If this person on the news is getting a “great deal” why aren’t I? Before you know it you’ve hopped in your car and started making your way to the closest shopping centre.

At the end of the day, you really need to ask yourself, “Is there really a deal?” I remember when I used to work in retail. Boxing day was one of the busiest days of the year. We would often have people lining up out the store, but why? There wasn’t a deal – customers just assumed there was. Maybe there is a deal for the first 50 purchases or while quantity lasts, but at the end of the day – prices stay the same.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Who Eats Chicken Wings?

It’s cold; you’re hungry and looking for a place to go eat. You drum through the list of regular places: Italian? Pizza? Asian? None of these options are very appeasing. But, then it hits you! You remember a tip your best friend shared with you earlier in the week, “If you’re hungry, you should check out _____________ they have the best chicken wings in town.” You’ve made up your mind – you want wings.

Am I right when I say that the best places to eat are often hidden in the smallest of corners? You pull up to where you have been told to go and in a small corner of a small plaza you see a small sign that reads, “Best Wings in town! Don’t forget to try our Fat Girl sauce.” You sit down and a waitress brings you a menu. You don’t need to look at it because you already know exactly what you’re going to have.

As you sit there waiting you begin to wonder… What kind of person goes to a restaurant to eat chicken wings?

You start to look around and begin to notice details you hadn’t before. There are an assortment of TVs scattered throughout the room that are all tuned in to the same sporting event. The tables are all filled with a collection of people who all appear to be good friends. You begin to wonder would this be a good place for a first date? You look around and spot a few couples sitting at different tables and you begin to assess how long they have been dating for. The male is in track pants, a hooded sweater and is wearing a toque. His female counterpart has her hair tied back, is wearing glasses and a pair of old worn out jeans. Nothing about this couple says “first-date.”

As you look around, you notice that no one else is looking around. No one is hiding the mountain of napkins on their table or is embarrassed about the number of times they need to ask for a refill on their water because of their hot sauce. You don’t need to look too closely to realize eating chicken wings is not for the self-conscious.

Would we eat more chicken wings if we weren’t worried about how they made us look when we eat them? A large majority of us really enjoy eating wings, but they can be awkward to hold onto and make us look really messy.

At the end of the day, like any good thing in life, the timing has to be just right. It makes it easier to go and grab wings when we know the game is on, all our trusted friends will be there and the napkins are in ample supply.

Who eats chicken wings at a restaurant? We all do.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Having a Good One

When I was a young child, I would sit and listen to my parents and hang on their every word. I can remember asking, “What does that word mean?” or, “Why does it have to happen like that?” I can only imagine my parent’s thought process, as they were forced to find an answer that would suffice. A parent thinks carefully in these situations, knowing that their response will be carried with their child from that point forward.

As I grow older, I begin to find myself in the same conversational dilemma. As I work with students who are learning how to speak and write English, I am asked similar questions, “What does that word mean?” or, “Why do we say this like that?”

I am a big fan of teaching through conversation and like anything in life it is best to start at the beginning. We go over phrases like, “Good morning. How are you? What did you do last night?” It’s an ongoing process, but we steadily work our way through it.

At first, they are unsure about what to say, but over time, they become comfortable with the phrases and you can see the pride on their face as we talk with one another. I try my best to consciously think about what I say because I know if I say something out of the ordinary I will be asked to explain what I just said.

Of course you can’t be “on” forever and eventually I find myself in a situation where further explanation is required. To be honest, one of the best questions I was ever asked came from one of my students who is undergoing college preparation and already knows English.

We were finishing another day of classes when I said, “Have a good one.” I was received with a sideways glance and was asked, “Have a good one? What’s that?” I had never thought about it before. “It must be a Canadian thing,” she said as we went our separate ways. I began doing a little research and asked if anyone had heard the phrase before. Of course, a lot of them agreed that they have heard the phrase prior to me asking, but never really thought about the meaning behind it.

Having a good one. It’s obviously a good will statement. I guess the real question is, what does the one refer to? In true Canadian fashion, I believe we have found a way to wish someone well without having to refer to anything in specific. It’s a good-natured send off with a twist of modern day ease. It says, “I may not know everything about your day, but I want you to have a good one.”

The next time you say goodbye to someone – stop and think. You may not realize it, but this phrase may already be part of your spoken vernacular. As for me, I need to re-think my approach to spoken dialect. I am going to take things to another level. It’s all about encouraging social “positivism” – Be sure to have yourself a good TWO.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Did I Get Here? Where am I Going?

How did I get here? As I sit here brainstorming I find myself thinking about this question. What choices led me to where I am presently? How do we find the time to balance our activities? How do we prioritize?

We make decisions everyday. Of course, some are easier to make than others and require no time at all to decide upon (Run or walk? Shirt or sweater? Walk or drive?). But, what about those decisions that need the extra attention? The decisions that will have a profound impact on our life and the lives of others around you – how do we go about answering those? When you break it down and really look back at it – all of our major decisions consist of several little decisions.

For example, one of the biggest decisions we will make in life is choosing the career we are looking for in life.

It begins in grade nine with a decision between academic or applied courses. Are you University or College bound? There is nothing wrong with either, but the choice will have a profound impact on your future. Then, when you reach the end of high school, you will make another choice: which University or College should I attend – if any at all? And, What program should I sign up for? This decision alone is the foundation to your future career – your life.

After another four years (a few more for you Doctors and Lawyers) and you find yourself with a degree in hand and another big question mark glooming over your head, “What now?” Just when you think you have broken free from tough decisions – another one presents itself.

I currently find myself looking for a career. But, what is a career? Isn’t it just a job? Or, is there a difference between the two?

When I think career, I think about working for a long period of time. A career is a commitment. A job reminds me of something I did back in high school. I kept random jobs here and there to get by (at that time in my life I made the decision to hang out with friends instead of working a number of jobs), but they didn’t hold places dear to my heart. I wasn’t worried about keeping those jobs.

Do careers even exist anymore? These days the average person works with one company for an average of two and a half years. The job market is always changing and researchers say that the jobs students are training for today won’t exist by the time they enter the work force. Just when you think you have made all the right choices you wake up to find that your chosen career path is obsolete.

The only foreseeable solution is to find something that will be in demand forever. People will always grow hair, people will always get sick, people will always need clothes, people will always need food, people will always need! You need to make decisions that will put you where the people are.

Life is filled with a series of decisions. While I can’t give you a definite way to answer them – what I can do, is suggest that you follow where the action is and do what works best for you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Envisioning You!

Tom Cruise and I share a birthday. I am not trying to brag or anything. I always thought it was special to think that Tommy and I are born on the same day – while he celebrates, I celebrate.

Tom is an icon to a generation. Tom has spent dancing around in his underwear in Risky Business, he captivated audiences with his jet fighter prowess in Top Gun, and continues to awe us today as the center of numerous entertainment rumour mills. Tom is what we would call a Mega Star.

I am by no means a star. I am but a grain of sand in Tom’s world. Beyond sharing the same day of birth we have nothing else in common. I may have watched a few of his movies here and there, but he was never able to witness my performance in Footloose: The Musical and, at the same time, I never watched Cocktail. Tom exists in my world, but only as five grains of sand.

In my mind – I am the star. Is this confidence? Cockiness? Does this mean I have an attitude? I don’t think so. I think it’s perfectly healthy to hold yourself in high regard.

Growing up playing sports, I was always told to envision success. Before a game, I was to sit and think about all the positive things I was going to do on the field. As I grew older, this advice was reinforced, when I read a sports therapy book that talked about envisioning what you do at fast speeds. Their reasoning was that if you envisioned yourself doing things at a fast pace you would be able replicate those fast motions when you began playing. The constant envisioning created a belief in myself. The more I thought about success the more successful I became.

This “envisionment” (I will call it) has stuck with me my whole life. It has branched out from simple sports therapy and flowed into other aspects of my day-to-day. Oddly enough, my envisionment is often conjured by music. I’ll be listening to something and before I know it I am the singer, I am an actor, or I am the world’s best athlete. Am I living in a fantasy world?

I decided to do a little research and ask some close friends and family if they also “envisioned” themselves in the same light. I initially thought that most people were probably like me, but I quickly found out this wasn’t the case. Some people told me “no” outright, others said they only envisioned about one specific aspect of their life, while others said they were only able to envision themselves as the best if they were actually the best at it. When I asked if envisioning made them feel good they all replied with various answers – all ending in a “yes.”

Whether it’s self-taught or self-practiced “envisionment” feels good. I mean, I may not be a rock star, but what I do know is, when I open my eyes I feel pretty good and how we feel inside is reflected on the outside – it’s how the world sees you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Need to Worry

I must have checked my hair three times before I left my house this morning. I am not sure what my issue is. In my head I think to myself, “when people look at you they are going to focus on your face and hair – if you can make your hair look nice then you won’t have to worry about what people may be thinking about you.”

When I stopped and thought about it I realized it’s really silly. Think about it, most people are probably preoccupied with how they look/appear to really spend time thinking about me. Case and point, a couple of weeks ago I went to work without a belt. In all the hoopla of the morning I forgot to put a belt on and when I arrived at work I realized my blunder. I quickly closed my door and assessed the situation – will my pants fall down? No. Do I look bad? No. Can you tell I am not wearing a belt? Yes. Hrmmm – do I have a problem here? As I began to apologize to people throughout the day I was told that no one would have realized if I hadn’t mentioned it.

But, something interesting happened. Just as people finished saying they didn’t even notice about my belt they began to tell me about what they felt was off about them: mismatched socks, bad hair, un-ironed pants, broken glasses, botched make-up, etc. Did I notice any of these “blunders”? No.

I began to ask myself, “do people really spend much time thinking about me?”

So, my quest began. My boss probably doesn’t think about me as long as I do my job. My friends will always be there to support me and hang out, but they probably don’t spend much time thinking about me unless I give them a reason to. Loved ones probably think about me more than I realize, but most of the time they probably assume I am doing okay unless I indicate otherwise. Even the family pet probably doesn’t stop think about me as long as I continue to feed them and take them out to “do their business.”

We’ve all heard it before “we are often our toughest critics.” I was beginning to give up on searching for times when other people really worry about how you conduct your life when I heard a car honking behind me. The driver pulled up beside me, waved their arms around in the air, and sped up ahead of me on the road. What had I done? I wasn’t exactly sure what I did to upset this driver, but one thing was certain – I felt noticed!

When we drive on the road we often pick and prod everyone. We get upset when people drive slow, change lanes at the wrong time, when they don’t engage the intersection, when they don’t signal, or when they signal for no reason at all. We honk, we yell, we wave our arms, and we wonder where other drivers got their licenses.

On the road – we are always critiquing other drivers. It’s our cathartic release. We can never guess what will set someone else off, but, in a weird way, at least we are being acknowledged. So, the next time someone honks and waves at you - embrace their acknowledgement - smile and wave right back.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coffee Culture

On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and with it came the birth of coffee in North America.

In Canada, coffee, and its consumption, is a culture all its own. When we wake up - we have a coffee. When we head to work – we’ll grab a coffee. At work – we’re definitely having coffee. If we go somewhere after work – grab a coffee! After dinner (I’m so full) – I’ll have a coffee.

I can only imagine what all this looks like to an outsider. So, when I came across a polite English woman (whom we’ll call Mary) I took it upon myself to ask her. “I tried coffee once,” she replied, “Tim Hortons. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.” I was taken back by her response. Tim Hortons, the pride of Canadian coffee, is disliked? Mary went on to say that coffee appeared to be some sort of security blanket – we always have one with us. In England, coffee isn’t the same.

So of course I chime in, “Oh I forgot! In England it’s all about tea time!” I quickly found out, such is not the case and without realizing it I was being very stereotypical. Mary explained that while she has fond memories of Tea Time with her Grandparents as a child – not everyone partakes in Tea Time. Mary went on to say, if she could find England’s equal to coffee it would have to be none other than its distant cousin beer.

Beer is the social drink of choice in England. In Canada, or more specifically the suburbs of Southern Ontario, we are bombarded with a small selection of restaurant chains. But, in England every neighbourhood has their own unique pub that people frequently visit. It isn’t uncommon to see all your friends at the local Public House having a pint with dinner.

This caused me to think about why coffee hasn’t taken over in England like it has in Canada. First of all, there is not really any extra land for developers to build drive-thrus for people to grab their coffee. Secondly, chains don’t exist like they do in Canada and if you wanted to open a coffee shop you would have to do so on your own accord (this can become quite costly very quickly). Finally, Mary explained to me that in England people usually drink coffee every so often as a sit down drink with a friend.

I can’t imagine a world without travel mugs, coffee cups or drive-thru windows. Coffee is an intrinsic part of Canadian culture and I can understand why it must seem very strange to new Canadians.

I keep thinking of the commercial where the husband is rushing to pack winter jackets and warm clothes in a bag before heading to the airport. Along the way he stops to grab a coffee – “what are you thinking?” I say to myself, “aren’t you late?” We realize near the end of the commercial that he was rushing to pick up his wife and two children who are coming to Canada for the first time. He walks up to his wife and before he can hug her, or give her a warm jacket, he says, “welcome to Canada” and hands her a coffee. Coffee, and its consumption, is a way of life in Canada.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In a Rush

When you absolutely need to get somewhere in a short period of time our brains go into overdrive. We begin to make decisions at a rapid pace: should I take the highway or the main road, should I race to beat that light, or can I squeeze in here? When the pressure is on, the answer we turn to most often is, “YES, YES, YES!”

How do we compensate for time? We take short cuts. We drive a little faster, change lanes more often, and honk our horns. We do things that inform other drivers on the road we are in a rush. But, does taking short cuts really work? Let’s create a series of events to check and see if “rushing” really does get us ahead.

It’s Tuesday morning, a very important day in some circles, and “oh my goodness” I’ve slept in. After the initial moment of absolute panic you begin to prioritize the things you need to do.

Forget brushing your teeth, taking a shower, eating breakfast, or having a cup of coffee. You’re in such a daze when you wake up that all you care about is the hair on top of your head. Also, thanks to the “Powers that Be” you were able to press your clothes and lay them out the previous night – that came in handy.

Before you know it, you’re running out of your house. Your heart is pounding, beads of sweat are pouring down your face, and your report is sitting on the kitchen counter. You pull out of your drive way, if you’re fortunate enough to own a motor vehicle, and pop a piece of gum into your mouth – “take that!” bad breath.

You’re on the road asking yourself, “why is everyone driving so slow!?” You begin the process of swerving in and out of traffic to try and get ahead. You’re driving 80 in a 60 zone and 100 in a 80 zone – 20 km above the speed limit never hurt anybody, right? WHY ARE ALL THE LIGHTS RED! On the days you’re hoping, wishing, NEEDING green lights you seem to hit every single red on your trip. Someone, Somewhere, is laughing at you…

Finally, you make it to work. You look at the clock – an hour late – not too shabby. You plop down at your desk only to realize you forgot your report, you look like hell, and your heart is beating faster than the Lead in River Dance – was it worth it?

When we are in a rush we cut corners, but what do we really achieve? Does rushing really get us ahead?

There are going to be times in life where we are going to ask ourselves, “should I be rushing?” Sometimes you answer “yes” and other times you will say “no”, but what’s the harm in taking your time?

Lets replay our sleeping-in scenario and see what differences would occur. You wake up, “OH CRAP!” I slept in. You go to the bathroom and do your morning “clean up.” Your clothes are ready for you, but coffee might be out of the question – you’re going to have to drink from the office pot. You grab your report and head out the door. Pulling out of the driveway you remember the voice of your first driving instructor and decide to drive to work as if it was any other day.

This is where I would like to make a specific point. On the days you are not late for work – do you ever notice the people who are? You can see them whizzing in and out of traffic and you think to yourself, “they’re crazy.” Do you ever notice that even though they are driving faster than you, you always seem to be right behind them at each stoplight? What if driving faster really doesn’t mean getting to your destination faster? What if it meant you got to each light faster, but still had to wait. What if driving at the suggested speed meant getting to your destination in the same time? (Just a thought)

So, you get to the office and maybe instead of being an hour late you’re actually an hour and a half late. What’s the big deal? You look good, smell good, you’re relaxed, and more importantly you can handle the presentation you have to make about the report you brought with you today. You aren’t one of those people who are habitually late – you can legitimately be late every once in a while. (Life is good)

Now, I have used the example of sleeping in for work, but if you stop to think about it we can transfer our “rushing” theorem into a number of facets in our lives. We stress and we stress – for what, an extra minute here or thirty minutes there? When the mind is in a state of panic we overload our frontal lobe and our ability to make good decisions falter. Life is in perpetual motion forward and our actions shape each moment. Do things on your own time.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What to Wear

I have never been the kind of person who worries about the clothes he wears. I mean, I understand the basics - no socks with sandals and how to match colours, but beyond those minor details I don’t really bother with clothes. I am the guy who wears his lucky plaid sweat pants and green Jamaica “No Problem Mon” t-shirt. I am the guy who owns three pairs of jeans and rotates accordingly. I am the guy who still has clothes from five years ago because technically they are still wearable. Shopping happens for me once a year – Christmas.

But, how do people become clothing savvy? Is it an innate skill born within us? Or, can it be acquired? If so, how? Is there a crash course we can take to catch up on the latest fashion trends? Is doing that even possible? I would argue that fashion trends evolve faster than electronics. That reason alone is why I decided to stay away from getting involved with haute couture.

But, something strange is happening. My fashion awareness is starting to gradually change. Maybe it’s because I am no longer a student in University, but rather a fully functioning adult member of society. All I know is that my feelings about clothes are starting to alter. Buying nice clothes… feels… well… nice. My eyes are finally adjusting to the mirror. I wake up each day and consciously think, “what should I wear today?” It’s really strange.

How do people go about maintaining their “freshness”? Does their style begin with a bigger wardrobe? Doesn’t that directly translate into spending more money? As much as I want to look nice I also need to be realistic and maintain a budget. I can’t go from shopping for clothes once a year to changing my wardrobe every three months.

When it comes to clothes is it quantity or quality? Or, is there something I am missing being a male? I mean, I have looked at quite a few feminine closets and, to put it simply, they usually out number what I own ten to one.

Or, is actually buying a new piece of clothing, regardless of whether or not you “need” it, part of the thrill? I like to buy books and sometimes I buy books faster than I can read them. Does that bother me? No. I can only imagine it’s the same for clothes. I can understand why sales are so important and where people go all Saturday when an outlet store has a “clearance”.

But, can a balance exist? Is there ever a point where a wardrobe is complete? Or, am I a na├»ve shopper thinking there will be a point where I won’t need new clothes? All I know is that this new awareness has opened my eyes to something else - my closet needs to be organized.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Service Industry

If I owned a Multi-million dollar business I would initiate a business motto that states, “the customer is always right.” That should make for very few problems at the customer service counter. How could an employee get confused about the procedure? The customer walks up to the cash, tells you what kind of issue their having, the customer service representative looks at their handbook, “the customer is ALWAYS right”, and together the employee and the customer work to solve the problem. Both parties are happy. The customer gets exactly what they wanted and in the process my company has hopefully provided the type of service that breeds a loyal customer base.

Nothing kills a relationship between a company and their customers quicker than a dreadful shopping exchange. I use the word “exchange” because essentially that is exactly what is happening. I am interested in a product or service the company provides and in exchange I am willing to use the money I have earned in previous business exchanges to purchase said product or service.

So, what would my rant be without a story to support it? Two years ago I purchased a TV from a company that will remain nameless (just know they are a rather large company known for their electronics). I was looking for a bargain and I was able to find a no name 37-inch flat-screen TV that was in my price range. Just as I was about to pay for my new TV the Sales Rep. asked if I would be interested in buying long-term insurance. It was something I hadn’t thought about until he asked me and I began to wonder if it was worth it. For $159.99 I would be covered for four years and if anything were to happen to my TV I could bring it back to the store and exchange it for a working product. The deal was too good to be true and while the added fee was a little steep I decided to shell out the extra cash for some added security.

So, here we are in the present day and the TV works fine, but the converter is a different story altogether. One day I woke up and my converter would not turn on my TV. No problem! I would go to the store, buy some new batteries, and my converter would work again – problem solved. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I tried several sets of batteries and the convertor still wouldn’t turn on the TV. I opened the battery pack and noticed a small amount of rust on the coils that connect to my batteries and figured that must be the reason behind the malfunction. No problem round 2! I would take my handy dandy long-term insurance plan and get a new converter.

I decided to call the store ahead of time and ask what the process would be for exchanging product, but after several phone calls I was unable to coax anyone into picking up the phone. To avoid any problems I decided to bring in the TV, all the cords, and the converter incase they were required to make the exchange. I walked in through the front door and headed towards the TV section where I met a young man and told him about my problem. I was told to wait a moment while he walked away to find, what I presumed to be, the answer. After a couple of minutes he returned and informed me to contact the customer service phone-line and they would put me in touch with the people who would conduct a repair for me. A repair? Something was awry. I decided to try one more time and after about fifteen minutes of walking around their store I was finally able to speak with someone. I told them about my insurance and how the TV works fine, but the remote looks like it has some rust on the coils – PLEASE HOLD!

I don’t think there is anything worse then waiting on hold. After another five minutes the lady on the line came back on the line and informed me that the problem with my converter has nothing to do with the company because it is “cosmetic” and will not be covered by my insurance – I’m starting to get angry. So, maybe, I started to raise my voice a little with the poor girl on the phone – it’s really not her fault. But, what’s the point of buying a no hassle insurance plan if the defective exchange is a hassle? I hung up the phone and decided to go head hunting for managers. I must have looked like a snarling beast by the time I finally found someone, “where can I find a manager!?”

The manager asked what the problem was and I went through my whole story. Finally, I was told to stand in the customer service line and he would help me out – it was about time! When I got to the counter I told the young lady about my story and that her manager was willing to help me out. By this point my frustration was at "optimum capacity" I was ready to return anything I had ever purchased at this store and cut any ties I ever shared with them.

Then something amazing happened. A young man came out with two converters in his hands and asked me to pick the one I liked more. Could this be for real? I asked the glowing figure in front of me if either remote would work on my TV and he assured me they should - I was ecstatic. After roughly two hours of frustration my sanity was restored.

Reflecting on my experience I realized the whole exchange could have gone quite differently. But, for one reason or another it didn’t and it ended up turning into what I like to call “I get angry before anything gets solved business transaction model.” Why do I have to get completely frustrated and on the brink of taking out everyone in the store before my problems are solved? If you think about it, chances are a lot of people who experience problems, warranties or not, will probably never bother to make a return. Each time they do this the company profits from their problems – Profiting From Problem (PFP) is shameless business model.

The real money is in cooperation. Happy customers are even happier to give you their money again and again. I don’t want to have to jump through hoops and leap over hurdles to get what I am looking for. I want to spend my money in a world where the company knows my happiness leads to long-term loyalty.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have some TV to watch.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hello? Operator?

When a phone rings something inside my head tells me to pick it up. I can’t quite explain it, but when a phone rings (regardless of what caller ID says) I want to grab at the receiver and say hello. When people call me – I want to talk to them. I actually get really excited when my phone rings and it’s a number I have never seen before. I often think, “Who could be calling me?”

It’s always the same story; I am sitting at home doing something important and right at the most critical point the phone rings. My house has been signed up for the do not call list, so of course, I pick up the phone and so it begins…

“Hello?”
“Is this Mr. Raposo?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hi Mr. Raposo this is blah blah blah from blah blah and I am calling today to offer you the chance of a lifetime. You see if you give us your money we’ll take said money and spend it on ridiculous things – like my salary.”

**Phone Beeps**

“Can you hold please? Hello?”
“Hi, is this Mr. Raposo?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hi Mr. Raposo this is glub glub glub calling from glub glub. I am calling today to offer you the chance of a lifetime. You see if you give us your money we’ll take said money and spend it on ridiculous things – like my salary.”
“I don’t mean to be rude” I say, “but I have blah blah from blah blah blah on the other line – can you hold?”

Needless to say I think people have tried putting blah blah and glub glub on hold before because when I went back and forth between the two lines both of them had hung up (but, what about my opportunity of a lifetime!?)

I find myself longing for the same excitement that came with answering the phone that I experienced when I was a young boy. Like the time I tried calling 555-5555 to get in touch with all those people I saw in the movies. Or as excited as one of my students who lights up when she sees the area code (604) because she knows it is from her hometown of Vancouver. Even that time the girl gave me the “you’ve been given a fake number” number was more exciting then current phone calls from these 17 digit numbers.

When a phone rings – I want to be able to pick it up. The more foreign the area code the better. But, I want to trust who calls me. I want the excitement of conversation and the exchanging of words from one mind to another. Who wants to live in a world where they don’t even bother to pick up their phone because they know it’s not worth their time?

Mind you the more I think about it – I may actually be interested in spending some money to receive the opportunity of a lifetime. Anyone have glub glub’s number?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Say It to Their Face

A while ago I was driving home with a friend when they said, “someone was talking about you today.” I instantly thought to myself, “Here we go again…” When a friend comes to you saying someone has been talking about you most people instantly assume that they are about to hear some sort of nasty story or rumor. To my surprise this wasn’t the case at all - my friend actually told me something nice that someone else had said about me. After we were done talking – I felt really good. So good in fact that I developed a new theory I like to call “Say it to their face.”

Whether we like to hear it or not negative things people say about us seem to make their way to our ears. We’ve heard it all before with comments ranging from our looks to our demeanor or attitude.

The amazing thing about this is that most of us have been on both sides of the fence. In many situations we may not be saying it directly to the persons face we may find ourselves commenting to a friend, “Who would wear that?” or “Can you believe they would do such a thing?”

On the surface it appears harmless, but what if the person found out? Would they be happy to know that you thought what they were wearing was ridiculous or that you think the way they act isn’t up to your standard?

We all know that sooner or later all the “bad” information seems to make its way back to the person it’s about. When you hear it – how does it make you feel? I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t feel good. You start feeling angry followed by a wealth of frustration and ending with a lowered sense of self-worth (to think it all began with someone saying something harmless to someone else).

The keyword here being “harmless” because when we make the comments we don’t think they are going to actually be heard by the person – we don’t want to intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings, but each time we say something harmful it could possibly happen.

What if we could take our “harmless” words and use them to do some good. As it currently stands, we often hear about the negative things people say about us, but how often do people share the good things with us? Sure, we do hear good things every once and while, but I would bet good money that the bad things we hear out numbers the good in 9 out of every 10 situations.

So, what’s stopping us? If our words are truly “harmless” wouldn’t it also be easy to say nice things to people? But, we often hold back. We’ll think it, but we won’t say it. Why is that? We know how good it feels to hear really nice things about us and we know it doesn’t take much to share our “harmless” words – so what’s holding us back?

As the band Sloan would say, “If it feels good, do it.” From this point forward I’m saying it to their face.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Turning Have to into Want

One my favourite parts about going to an Asian restaurant, besides eating all the food, is the fortune cookie at the end of my meal. While most fortune cookies usually say something along the lines of “You will find riches in the most unlikely of places” or “You will be recharged with a new found zest for life” there was one day when I looked upon the piece of paper in my cookie and found an interesting fortune that read, “We do what we have to do, to do what we want to do.” Is this even really a fortune? I felt rather gypped.

The more I reflected upon the cookie – the more I realized that the message it carried could be more valuable than any fortune I have ever read.

Imagine the fortune from the perspective of a child. It’s a lesson we all must learn – the lesson of want vs. need. When we are young we see things that look foreign and amazing and we want them. It doesn’t matter what it really is or that we will only use it for a few days we want it so bad we start to cry and make a scene right there in the store. We’ve all witnessed this before – we look at the child and talk about their bad manners, comment on how spoiled they must be, and at the end of the day we can’t help but think about how disrespectful their actions are. All these descriptions draw up negative feelings in our imagination as we envision this child wanting so badly.

But, what if we could transform our childhood want for the material into an adult want for the things we have to do? Like the fortune cookie says, “we do what we have to do, to do what we want to do.”

I know what your thinking, “How am I supposed to know what I really want in life?”

And here is the kicker – you are already doing the things you have to do – it’s only a matter of flipping them into what you want to do. What I am trying to say is - what if we were to develop goals around the things we have to do in life in order to turn them into the things we want in life? Your not sure about your ultimate wants in life? Who is!? But, why not be the best at whatever have to dos you currently have to do.

This word “have” sounds so labourious. We would all rather do what we want over what we have to any day. But, if we can turn our have tos into wants then we can beat the system.

Before you know it you’ll be writing your own fortunes. I can see it now, “We do what we want to do, to do what we want to do.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What If Growing Up Is Today?

I do a lot of thinking when I am driving around in my car. These days I cruise by a number of different gyms and I find myself thinking, “when I grow older I want to do more weights.” I want to get bigger, with more muscle, and one day (hopefully) I’ll attain that mean looking body I always wanted.

I find myself saying these, “when I get older” and “when I grow up” statements quite a bit. What I also notice is that they are usually attached to improvement statements. I am always looking to eat better, run more, lift weights, see more places, and visit more friends/family. All of these are things I want to do “when I grow older.”

Then one day I had a moment where lightning struck my brain and started a brush fire across all my neurons - what if growing up was today?

I realize I’ll never be that muscle man if I don’t go to the gym, I’ll never start eating better if I don’t take the time to learn how to cook the right meals, I’ll never see more places if I don’t make a commitment to travel, and I’ll never see more friends/family if I don’t put myself out there to visit.

As I grow older I need to realize I am older. Change does not occur without action and to achieve the goals on my list I am going to need to start my action sooner rather than later. As Thomas Jefferson would say, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Making Your Mark

Every once and a while people will see me walking around with a limp and ask, “what happened to you?” People often assume I must have sprained or broken something in my leg, but my limping is usually directly related to the jogging I put myself through the previous day and my body is sore from all the work – I’m getting old.

When talking about running/jogging I often hear people say how they use their time to think about “everything”. When I run I am usually thinking, “oh crap! Keep going, this hurts, don’t die, keep going, you can do it”.

Lets try to get specific - what is everything? Are we thinking about work, school, family, friends, health, money, sports, books, jokes, TV shows, laundry, dinner, or commercials? If you stop to think about it – everything is a lot. I think we need to change thinking about everything to thinking about “our” everything. When we focus our mind has the opportunity to work through the things that are important to us – our problems at work, dinner for the family, paying the bills, talking with friends, thinking about family, and the list goes on.

If you think about it – it makes sense. In life our aim is to fix a series of problems (a.k.a. everything). Our ability to fix these problems will lead to a less stressful life, but ultimately we do the best when we work on one thing at a time.

At this exact moment of epiphany during my run I stepped right into fresh asphalt and lost all train of thought. My cries returned, “oh crap, I’m tired, keep going, you can do it”. The more I thought about the footprint I left behind in the asphalt the more I thought it to be a fitting metaphor – If you can narrow your thoughts/goals to the specifics your opportunity to leave your mark/achieve success increases.

Spending all your energy trying to solve everything at once will lead you to solve nothing. But, just like when your running, if you can remain focused on that single idea your chances for success increase.

If all else fails – you can try my mantra, “oh crap, this hurts, keep going, don’t stop…”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Canadian Words Revisited

Four months back I wrote an article titled New Looks. The underlying theme of the article was focused around the idea that every small action counts when it comes to going green. At the post’s core was an interesting story about my misuse of the word “author”, which I was spelling “authour.” I had thought the word was spelt with an “our” like many other Canadian words (favour, behaviour, endeavour) and it wasn’t until my Literacy Professor pointed out my misuse of the word before I realized the error.

Recently, my post was referenced by Tyson Seburn at CourseTree.ca in his blog post We’re Word Snobs, but Maybe we Shouldn’t Be. Seburn’s post provides a brief and colourful critique of the many situations where we choose between a Canadian or foreign spelling.

The whole post summoned flashbacks of my Fourth-Year Canadian History classroom and stories of Guglielmo Marconi the inventor of the Radio. In the early 1900’s there weren’t too many Canadian Radio Stations. They would often only function a few hours out of the day at specific times. During the rest of the day the channels were often silent or off-air. In the 1920’s we began to see a change – Canadian's who were close to the American boarder began to pick up radio signals from our Southern Neighbours. This was the beginning of the Identity vs. Pop Culture debate in Canada. Canadians needed to figure out a way to keep the airwaves playing Canadian content so that citizens had something to remind them of their heritage. They feared that American popular music would “dumb us down.”

Almost 100 years later and the debate still continues. Today the CRTC (Canadian Radio & Television Telecommunications Commission) is still placing regulations on Canadian Broadcasters in an attempt to protect Canadian culture and content.

We can go on talking about how we use Radio and Television to protect/promote our Canadian Identity and if it is really worth protecting. Better yet, we could sit and talk about - what is Canadian Identity? But, we'll save that topic for another day.

After reading Tyson’s article I was asked to take part in a survey related to the What’s the Word: Research Project. During the process I was asked to choose between a series of words and select the one I thought was appropriate. (For Example, Sean asks his friend to do him a ____________. favour or favor).

The whole survey brought me back to the thought about American Culture taking over our lives. At the root of all communication is speech and that can be perceived in any given manner, but our written words can truly define us. Maybe there is something distinctly Canadian after all…

If you would like to take part in the research project you can follow the link here. It takes about five minutes to complete and every entrant is appreciated. If there is really a need to protect our Canadian Identity – why not start with our written word?

Should or shouldn't we be word snobs?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Story of Engagement

Every once and a while you ask yourself the questions: should I? Or shouldn’t I?

In this story it begins with a keyword search on twitter. A twenty-four year old Media Studies & Public Relations Graduate was fiddling around on Twitter when he searched the term “media” only to come across @BrianSolis.

For those of you who don’t know, Brian is a self-made social media guru in Silicon Valley. I did a little research and found that he has written quite a few books about Public Relations and more recently a book about how to use social media in PR and marketing.

I began the search for his book and found that Canadian stores weren’t carrying it. So, I did the first thing that came to my head – I asked him for a copy. Yes, you read that correctly I decided to ask him for a copy. I figured what’s the worst thing that could happen – he says no or he ignores me all together? There is always the off chance that he might actually say yes.

So, I did it. I sent him a message in less than 140 characters, “student – searching for your book. Can’t seem to find a copy. Any chance you have one laying around?” I hit send and waited. Within 30 minutes I received a message asking for my mailing address saying he would send me a copy – was this legit?

As I read the book I began to understand more and more as to why he would be the type of person to send me a copy.

At the heart of Brian Solis’s newest book Engage! is the statement “Engage or Die” where we, as social media professionals, embark into an online world where genuine participation is a form of new marketing, which he titles "un-marketing".

We are addressed as the “Champions” leading the socialization of our company’s marketing and service who must also ensure that our actions are observable. Social media is the new form of communication to the masses and before we can begin to properly disseminate information we must first learn how to “speak”.

Messages are not conversations. The era of “top-down” (meaning from the top of the company to the masses) message creation is nearing it’s end and it’s time to begin meaningful conversations from the bottom up. Social media is a means, not an end. It’s about being human.

Engaging is: showing interest in what people have to say and responding accordingly.
Engaging is: developing relationships with those who care enough to mention you or your company in the first place.
Engaging is: giving people something to believe in.

Engage! has instilled within me the confidence to develop my own social media plans. It has presented me with the resources to be a social media champion.

Be warned! There is a lot of research involved. Like anything worthwhile you need to be dedicated to your cause and understand that a large amount of time will be spent researching keywords, blogs, opportunities, threats, etc. But, with the right attitude Brian Solis has convinced me that success is possible.

Our goal is to take socialization, a human element, and create the same socialization in the online world - Solis writes, “technology is facilitating the social effect and it is most certainly connecting us in ways that truly make the world a much smaller place, one where we can participate in its definition and evolutions – and also define our place within it.”

Engage! is a must read for any social media enthusiast.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How a Good Morning = a Good Day

When I was in high school I wanted to change the world. I remember in my final year I took a course titled “Peer Leadership in the Community.” It wasn’t your typical course. If you looked in our school course booklet you wouldn’t find it in there. You don’t choose the course – your “course” chooses it for you.

Now by “course” I am referring to the course of life – or in this case – your school life. Looking back at it now I think you were chosen because somewhere along the line someone thought you could make a difference. May it be a teacher or a principal – somebody thought you had the qualities of a leader.

I remember feeling as if I was part of a secret society. There were ten of us in one small classroom in the corner of the school’s cafeteria. There were no tests, no daily homework, no major assignments, no essays, or any of that sort. A lot of what we did was talk and listen to one another. We shared stories we couldn’t share with other students and teachers. For an hour each day we would sit and share – it was quite the experience.

One day we were talking about how to make someone’s day. How do you go about making someone’s day? Well, you could surely buy them something or perhaps take them out for a meal. But, what we discovered was that one of the easiest ways to make someone’s day is to say, “good morning.”

Think about it! Your walking down the street or a hallway, you see someone coming your way, you make that first bit of eye contact, you look away, they get closer, you look again, look away, they are within three feet of you, you make eye contact again, and… NOTHING. We don’t say anything. Why not look that person square in the eye and say, “good morning”? Acknowledge they are alive! Share that life inside of you!

Needless to say – I was inspired. So, what does any good student do? If any of you have watched the movie Pay it Forward you would know that students put their plans into action. With each new day I would walk down the hall, look people in the eye, and say my new favourite word, “good morning.” Do you know what people did after? They smiled.

With all this newfound success I decided to take things one-step further. With words comes feeling and the next natural progression was to reach out and touch somebody. This was how Sean and Greg’s High Five Day came into creation. The plan was simple: spread the word over the announcements, create a buzz, and revive the high-five.

We hit the airwaves and began to announce the upcoming High-Five Day. Looking back at it now I always laugh. In high school I was the Weather Man – very sexy. Each day I would walk to the main office and read the weather. I used my position to sneak on all different kinds of announcements. I’ll never forget bringing Greg (the other part of the operation) into the office to say them with me. People would ask, “who’s Greg?” To which we would respond, “The Greg from Sean and Greg's High-Five Day of course.”

The big day eventually came and it couldn’t have been a bigger success. I think Greg and I both told each other we had a couple hundred high-fives each. People we didn’t even know would cross us in the hall and we would hold up our hands and slap some skin. We had done it – we went from a good morning to a high-five and let me tell you – the smiles got bigger.

Besides me using the PA system for my own private agenda – this whole plan was a lot of fun and what effort did it take? Granted, you can’t really walk around and start high-fiving people (unless it’s National High-Five day – the third Thursday of April). But, always remember – a single good morning can help a single person toward a good day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Will They Grow Up?

I was rummaging through my closet the other day trying to find space for all the notes and work I accumulated over the years at school when I stumbled upon an old box labeled “Sean’s Stuff”. I was curious as to what might be inside so I decided to pull the box down and uncover the mysterious “stuff” I had in my closet.

What I found melted my heart. Over the years my Mom had collected some of my earliest pieces of schoolwork. There was a book that documented my school pictures from about kindergarten to grade four and I even got to look over my first report card (straight A’s of course).

But one item in particular took the prize for the most interesting piece of memorabilia – a painting I “painted” on paint shop. When I was a dapper young lad I remember I used to sit and play on paint shop all day. I would make the screen all one colour or use a spray can to swirl all across the page. On this particular day I decided to draw me driving in a car. I’ll admit, it’s not the most exciting picture, but it was the fact that one of my parents were able to search into the computer’s history, find my painting, print it, and put it away in a box to find years later that makes this picture really special.

I must have been experimenting with minimalism because the proportions of the person and the car were all very small in proportion to the space I had on the monitor. But, like my minimalist artwork – it seems as though most things are getting smaller. The computer I designed the original work on was gigantic compared to my laptop, I used to have a large/bulky rotary phone, a huge record player with two speakers, tape players that clipped onto pants (would never fit in a pocket), Nintendo was a big grey box, and Oprah’s hair made her look at least four inches taller.

Technology is getting smaller and faster. In fact that seems to be the trend. If we can make a smaller microchip that holds more information or can process information faster – technology gets better. In my lifetime (24 years) I have witnessed a huge change in how society interacts with technology – from the inside – meaning my own life has been changed during this whole process.

What I am left with is a question I am not sure I have the answer to. “How will they grow up?” Meaning: how will the children of today grow up in a society where technology has traveled light years in a short period of time to where it is today? I see babies with a Blackberry in their mouth and apps that are child friendly on the iPhone.

How will technology influence their lives? Are there any signs out there already? Is their interaction with technology for better or worse?

How will they grow up?

Friday, July 9, 2010

As we Grow

As a child growing up in Brampton I spent a lot of time playing outside with friends. We would go to the park, play tag, adventure in the woods, ride our bikes along paths, etc. There was never a lack of anything to do as long as you had your friends with you.

As I grow older my friends and I find it hard to keep up with the same activities. No one is really interested in going to the park, our stamina for tag is lost, adventuring in the woods has turned into one big trespassing fine waiting to happen, and we have all pretty much traded in our bikes for cars.

What does a twenty-something do in Brampton?

I have become a personal fan of getting together over coffee or drinks and just talking. There is something calming and enjoyable about catching up with an old friend or continuing conversation with the friends you see more often. It’s therapeutic in a way. The more I listen to my friends the more I reflect on my own life and formulate new ideas on how to live it.

Recently, I was out with a friend and we were talking about the days ahead and being excited for upcoming events. When my friend brought up a very interesting point. I am not sure of the exact wording, but it was along the lines of don’t get too caught up in the exciting days ahead or you might miss out on the exciting things happening right now.

Recently, I celebrated my 24th birthday. I remember when I was younger I used to count the minutes before my birthday two weeks in advance. This year I applied the new enjoyment strategy and realized that birthdays will come and go and you should enjoy it like any other day. Thanks to some great friends – this year’s birthday was fantastic. A very busy day filled with lots of conversation and love. A day I will never forget.

So, now I am 24 – just graduated from school – and I still consider myself to be a youthful person. My recent additional qualification class has confirmed this assumption. I look around the room and while I view my classmates as a group of peers - I can see in their expressions that to them I am still the “youngling” – the freshest of the fresh.

At the same time I was having a conversation with a friend on my soccer team this week when he asked me how old I was. After my reply – his face dropped. To him (an 18 year-old) I was beyond old. For the first time in my life I had this deep connection with how my parents must feel when they look at me.

Another good friend recently got engaged to his long-time girlfriend he met on vacation years ago. She is a beautiful person and has moved to Canada from Australia to help get their life together before they move to Australia. A small group of friends went out last night to celebrate her arrival and on the way home she asked a very interesting question, “what is everyone’s plans for New Years?” New Years!? It was funny to hear, to say the least, but not completely unwarranted either. The general reply was – in Canada we only really get two months of summer and we weren’t really even thinking about New Years yet.

While the interest in the days and events to come will always be there – I think it is important to slow down and enjoy each day as they come – especially if you are worried about something in the future. Seymour Schulich in his book Get Smarter writes, “Ninety per cent of what you worry about never happens. Usually the negative things in life that befall you are things you have never thought about at all. The 10 per cent of the worries that materialize are rarely as bad as your anxious mind envisioned.”

With that being said – live, love, laugh – enjoy life – one day at a time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mashable's #SMdayTO

It’s hard to find at first. We all know where we should be. We’ve checked in on foursquare, twitpic-ed cupcakes, and @ mentioned everyone we know. So, how do you find an event you’ve only heard about online? I asked the bartender.

For me, #SMdayTO was an opportunity to engage in the world of social media. I don’t own a Blackberry, Android, or iPhone. I have an LG Keybo. I tweet from my Mac Book, I don’t own a multi-million dollar venture capital in Silicon Valley and I don’t know much about graphics or web design, but what I do know is the value of talking with people.

When I tell friends I use Twitter I am often laughed at – the price I pay for being a social media fan I suppose. But, #SMdayTO was different. Using “twitter” in a sentence was socially acceptable vernacular – I was home.
I woke up this morning - reached into my pocket - and found an Independent Contractor, a Culinary Expert, Post-Graduate Students, a Web Developer, and a Growth Coach/Culture Catalyst. Who are these people? I am not sure if I will ever really know, but last night we were all together for the same reason – social opportunity.

I woke up this morning and found two new followers on twitter. Two people I remember meeting and sharing conversation with. I’m not sure if I will ever meet these people again in real-life, but I am certain I will catch a tweet here or there – someone (me) needs to learn how to use filters.

A big thank you needs to go out to @Dan_L for organizing last night’s festivities and if you haven’t already you can add me to twitter @SeanRaposo.

See you all next June 30th, 2011.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Show Your Cards

In my second year of University I took a course designed to analyze subcultures. The class was based around the theme of, “displacing is a way of surviving” (Minh-ha, 1990, 332) and we talked about what this meant to us and looked at various subcultures in detail.

One of our assignments was particularly interesting and it came up again in conversation with a group of friends this past week and I thought it appropriate to share. Below is an excerpt from the course syllabus detailing our assignment titled “Bricolage”:

Demonstrate your understanding of the term bricolage by taking an everyday object and puttering with its meaning. Malcolm McLaren took a safety pin, put it through his ear, and called it jewelry; Vivienne Westwood took garbage bags, sewed them onto supermodels, and called it haute couture. Your job is to select an everyday object and alter its meaning through creative play.

As an example of a past project our professor talked about the student who created a pack of playing cards. Now, these weren’t your standard 52 pack of playing cards, but rather an imitation of the sports cards that used to come with bubblegum inside. But, instead of famous athletes from various sports with their statistics on the back – this student developed “Doctor Cards.” Each card had a picture of a doctor on the front (in this case surgeons) and on the back were statistics for successful surgeries and other various categories. Their idea was, we give a lot of our time and attention to pro athletes, but the people who are actually saving lives receive little to no credit at all.

A couple of months ago in my post Playing to Win I alluded to conversations I have had with friends about life being a game. In our latest addition to the ongoing conversation we discussed an interesting theory, in relation with our bricolage, about the cards we hold in life.

Much like a Chance card in Monopoly we decided that everyone in life is holding a card. For example, my friend works in the automobile industry and we decided that he held the “Car Card.” Meaning if we or someone we knew was interested in purchasing a vehicle he would be the person most of us would send them to. Or, we can look at a personal example, I was interested in purchasing business cards - nothing too flashy just a simple card with my name and some of my contact information. What did I do? I contacted my graphics design friend (Anton - acgraphics@ymail.com) and asked if he could help with the design and printing. Sure enough, he was more then willing to help me out and before I knew it I had what I was looking for.

You can use the cards you hold to help you, but as I think about our discussion I realize that our cards are better used to help the people we know. It helps to shine a light on the positive aspects of networking. The more people you get to know and the more time you spend talking with them – the more you realize you can both help each other.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “what if I don’t have any special cards?” We did talk about the fact that some people hold more cards then others. This doesn’t mean that they will have more opportunities to succeed in life. If anything it creates the opportunity to mix/mingle and help people along the way.

Remember the goal of the Doctor Card bricolage: it was designed to showcase the life-saving power of doctors. The ability to help others is a very powerful way to show our cards in life.

Monday, June 21, 2010

When Leisure Becomes Labour

Growing up my parents would often tell me that I had a hollow leg. I was probably four feet tall and ate as if it was my day job. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I love a good meal and you can imagine my dismay when I realized I would have to cook for myself while I was away at school this past year.

Fortunately for me, I had an amazing roommate who taught me all the ins and outs of making different dishes. Some of you might find this silly, but I was really excited when I learned how to make potatoes. It seemed simple enough, but I had never tried my hand at it - desperate times called for desperate measures.

I grabbed my knife and my potato (from P.E.I) and began to peel. I think my first potato took me about ten minutes to finish. My hand was clumsy at the knife and deep down inside I felt as if I go to fast and I might cut my finger. By the end of the year I was a pro. I was in control of the whole process from peeling, to chopping, boiling, adding some spices, and finally, the part I was best at, eating the potato.

This weekend I was asked to help peel potatoes and when I looked at the amount we had to peel I almost fell over. I had only really done four potatoes in one sitting for myself, but there were over 30 potatoes to be peeled. I began looking for a knife when I was handed a potato peeler. This was something new. I had never used a peeler before and I wasn’t really sure how it worked.

I quickly became the master of the potato peeler. The skin was flying off the potato and before I knew it I had peeled over 15 potatoes. To be honest – I was rather proud of myself. In a short period of time, thanks to the help of our potato peelers, the three of us had peeled all the potatoes in under five or so minutes.

All this innovation (the peeler) and teamwork got me thinking about what life must have been like hundreds of years ago. When life was about “reaping what you sew” and working together as a community. When someone wanted to build a farmhouse for their animals to live in they needed the help of the nearby community to do it. Months of hard work would go into building a barn, but eventually with hard work and lots of extra hands the job would get done. As the years went on animals were used to help with jobs, after animals came small tractors, then even bigger tractors, until eventually you get to a point today where timed machines do a lot of the busy work.

We are entering an age of technology. Computers, cell phones, and video games are second nature in our daily lives. But, what happens when leisure becomes labour? We read earlier that machines are slowly making jobs easier, but there is a trend growing where our “leisure” technology is slowly bringing us closer and closer to work. Everything we do, even work, is becoming "accessible" from wherever you are. Is this For Better of For Worse?

What happens when leisure gets mixed up with someone’s labour? Could you imagine explaining the idea of a workout gym to someone who lives in a Third World country? I can hear them now, “You have a row boat that doesn’t go anywhere?”, “You run on a machine that moves for you?”, “You actually make heavy objects to lift?” We have created these “leisure” machines to keep us fit because we find ourselves working a forty-hour workweek and have these machines to help keep us fit. Our friend on the other side of the planet wakes up, gets in his boat, paddles to wear he works, lifts heavy objects around while running them to wear they need to be, and finally paddles back home at the end of the day.

We have developed a high-functioning technocratic society, but we need to be sure we are using it properly and don’t loose sight of what is important to us. There is a great big world out there and if you really think about it the size of the Internet is probably even bigger. Remember to take to the time to get outside, see that world, and really appreciate it.

If you don’t know where to start – maybe you could peel a few potatoes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Willing to Trust

A plane was taking off from the Airport and after it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Flight Number 293, nonstop from New York to Los Angeles. The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax.. OH, MY GOD!" Silence followed, and after a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, the flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!" A passenger in Coach yelled, "That's nothing. You should see the back of mine."

If you have ever been on an airplane you can understand the feeling of giving complete control to the pilot and his crew to get you to where you need to go. I remember my first plane ride – I read the safety evacuation manual, paid attention the seatbelt instructions, sat with my seat belt fastened the whole time, listened to the Captain verbatim – your basic worrywart.

In life we find ourselves in situations where we need to relinquish control and essentially put our trust in someone to get the job done. You’ve read about my experience on an Airplane listening to the Captain, but what about the Manager who puts faith in their staff hoping not to be let down or the parent/student who believes in their teacher trusting in their curriculum plan?

While some of us haven’t been on a plane or had a relationship with a manager – we can all think back to the teachers we have had over the years. In the profession they call it “rapport” which is used to describe the relationship between teacher and student. During my time in the school system this year I had the wonderful opportunity to attend numerous workshops about various topics. There is one in particular that sticks out in my mind. It was about being a “coach” and at the workshop we were asked to watch a video of a speech by David Booth from the Toronto District School Board who spoke about “Why Coaches Wear Hockey Skates.”

The premise being: teachers need to get “hands on” with education – a good coach “skates” on the ice. Keeping with the hockey mentality Booth tells a story about listening to former Montreal Canadiens Coach Jacques Lemaire talking about how he grew up illiterate. Lemaire admitted that he had hid his problems from all his teachers and didn’t tell anybody during his time as Coach for Montreal. It wasn’t until he turned 60 years old that he finally admitted to not being able to read and began to take lessons. Lemaire said, “Those who are willing to learn – will learn.” Booth also emphasized this through an emphasis on harvesting student potential.

When the video was over the group I was sitting with began to discuss the speech. They said they were confused about the Lemaire reference because they all agreed that you cannot force a student to want to learn – it’s impossible. But, what I think Booth was trying to say is no matter who you are, even Jacques Lemaire, if you are willing to learn – it will happen. As good coaches sometimes we will need to wait for some of our students, no matter their age, to come around.

There are going to be moments in life when we need to place our trust in someone else. But, if you think about it, putting your trust in someone else is a lot like being willing. Of course the goals need to be reciprocal – you can’t have someone taking advantage of your trust. But, if you can show your willing and offer your trust there is no limit to what yourself and others can accomplish – together.