Thursday, December 31, 2009
This thing with the floors has been going on ever since we became dog owners many years ago. There have been numerous carpets and rugs that have been damaged by the dogs or me. I thought I had solved the problem a couple of years ago when my wife and I moved into our current house. I removed all of the carpet from the house before we moved in replacing it with a dark chocolate wood that my wife picked out. She said it was the perfect color because it would match the furniture and décor that she had planned for the house. The floor color may be perfect for many locations but in our case we are located on a base of caliche soil that is a light tan color. Do you see the problem here? Dirty foot prints stand out like a neon light which means continued trouble for me and the dogs.
She has tried many different gadgets and cleaning solutions in an attempt to find an easier way to keep the floors clean. A few weeks ago she told me that she wanted me to buy a steam cleaning device she had heard about as a Christmas present to give to her. She said a friend of hers had bought one recently to use on her floors. I will spare the product name here but the device she requested appeared to be very flimsy causing me to question whether it would hold up long term. Another thing I noticed was the phrase “As Seen on TV” on its packaging. This encouraged me to jump on the internet to research the product further. I found many product reviews that supported my concerns about its capability and longevity. I did not question the validity of the steam cleaning process though because I saw a commercial grade steam cleaner in action at The Rental Show 2009 in Atlanta. I remember thinking then my wife would love it. I continued my research on the internet and found a similar product that seemed to be well built, would handle the floor cleaning requirements, but also provided attachments for other types of surfaces that require cleaning. It would cost more then the one she requested but the quality and capabilities it provided justified the difference in price. I ordered it without hesitation.
When my wife first opened the gift she saw a picture of a device that she was not familiar with causing her to think that I got her a vacuum cleaner. I laughed and told her it was a steam cleaner like she had requested. I then explained that she could use it to clean the stove, countertops, windows, furniture, bathroom fixtures, steam the wrinkles out of my clothes and even clean the wheels on my truck if she was feeling overly energetic. Better yet, with the steam generating a temperature of 212.5 degrees we could save hundreds of dollars on cleaning supplies each year. She listened to all of this and then asked if it could clean floors. I was happy and quick to respond that it could clean the floors also. I can only imagine how proud she must be to be known as Mrs. ARM Dude. However, for some reason or another I am still locked outside while the dogs are inside laughing at me through the window.
So help me out here folks. Did I make a mistake by going the extra mile to buy her a cleaning device that exceeded her initial request? Did she really mean that she wanted expensive Spa and Sauna treatments at a beautiful resort located in a tropical paradise? Did she interpret the fact that it cleaned more than floors to mean that I question her cleaning abilities? Am I still locked outside because she is unable to find a way to adequately communicate her appreciation for the thoughtfulness and generosity I demonstrated with this gift selection? Hopefully we get this resolved soon because freezing weather is in the forecast. Thank goodness that friend, the one that started all of this mess by recommending she get a steam cleaner, gave me a warm jacket as a gift. It looks like I am gonna need it.
Friday, November 20, 2009
There have been many “light switch” moments in my career. Most of these moments were triggered by older or more mature co-workers of mine. Other times it would be an article read or a training class attended that help move the switch to the ON position. For example, there was that sr. technician that pulled me aside early in my career. He recognized that I was struggling to meet the production outputs my employer and I expected. He told me that I was spending too much time beating myself up because I thought I should know all of the answers. His message to me was that I will never know all of the answers and that failure was just around the corner if I ever did think I knew it all. He wrapped the conversation up by stating that it was my job to know where to find the answers. “Click”. Immediately my daily output began to soar.
I have never forgotten how that conversation impacted my career. It encouraged me to look for opportunities to share my experiences with younger co-workers in the hope that I can have a similar impact on their careers. I have done this because it has been my belief that part of the whole maturation process is to mentor younger, less experienced teammates. A recent “light switch” moment flipped the tables on me though. This time it was me being mentored by the youngest of young. The spark it provided was invigorating. The mentoring source originated from time spent with my two grandsons. Let me explain.
This year began with an emphasis on better marketing the capabilities of BCS ProSoft and the product and services that we provide. Business was dropping off as prospects were locking down their IT expenditures in order to better survive the economic downturn. Traditional methods of generating leads such as cold calling and sending out mailings were not delivering results. It was beginning to impact my attitude and confidence. This all changed for me one evening when my grandsons came over to spend the night. We went on an adventure by walking through the woods on my property. I noticed several perfectly formed fossils while doing so. My place is covered with these things. After our adventure, we went back in to say goodbye to my daughter before she left. My 3yr old grandson didn’t want her to leave until he could show me a game that he liked to play on her iPhone. He was really good at the game but I was more surprised at how comfortable he was using this device. My night ended with me lying in bed replaying the evening’s activities with the boys. I could hear them calling me Dude, I could see those fossils in my head, and I kept thinking about that iPhone. I then began to think about things I needed to do at work the next day. “Click”.
It was in that moment of clarity that I realized that I had two choices in front of me. Change the way I conduct business or become a fossil. The latter of the two choices was not appealing to me at all so I jumped at the chance to embrace change. This did not mean that I had to throw away the knowledge compiled during my career. Instead it meant that I needed to expand upon my methods of communicating by embracing new tools available to us all like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Doing this would mean stepping out of my comfort zone. It would also mean exposure to criticism if people don’t understand my message. The rewards are worth these risks though because it provides me with new opportunities to help our current customer base, our partners, and new prospects as well. It also provides me with an opportunity to improve upon my communication skills. Another pleasant side effect is that it added some fun back in to my workday. I can’t say that I have mastered any of these tools yet but I am confident that the light switch will flip ON soon.
This brings me to my closing question. What are you and your company doing to make sure that you don’t become a fossil? Share with everyone by leaving a comment.
Friday, October 30, 2009
I didn’t mean for it to happen. I don’t even remember for sure how it happened. I believe it occurred during the tryouts for the initial season of the show. I walked past the TV and saw numerous people auditioning. The majority of those trying out were terrible. So terrible in fact that they made me feel good about my singing abilities. You should know that I am an awful singer. I used to sing every now and then when no one was around to hear. That stopped after having surgery to repair a bum ear. The surgery improved my hearing enough that I could hear just how bad I really am at it. Lip syncing couldn’t make me sound good. Now I “think sing”. This means I silently sing in my head. I am proud to say that I am an awesome “think singer”. OK, enough about my lack of singing abilities, back to my confession.
That initial introduction to American Idol hooked me. Simon Cowell’s harsh and somewhat illustrative critiques kept me watching because I was completely shocked by his brutally honest remarks. In my neck of the woods we were taught that if you didn’t have anything nice to say then say something nice. People from my area understand they still have some improvements to make when they hear you say “That’s nice.” We have learned to get our message across without ripping out the heart of another and shredding all hint of self confidence that they may possess. Needless to say, Simon isn’t from my neck of the woods.
I kept struggling with this secret of mine throughout the show's first season. I kept hearing the voices telling me that I was wasting my time watching tv when I should be preparing myself for the next discussion or presentation with each of my prospects. I kept trying to justify why the time spent watching was beneficial to me.
The justification that I was searching for finally came to me after I had watched numerous seasons. I found that I became less entertained by the audition train wrecks or Simon’s nasty nature. Now I was hooked because it gave me an opportunity to watch individuals react to the extreme pressures that this competition presents. Each week, would present an opportunity to watch how some of the contestants could harness the constructive criticism received the previous week so that they may get better the following week. It is cool to see their individual progress week over week. Other contestants might take a more defiant approach to the criticism received. Invariably, the defiant approach mostly resulted in a regression for that contestant that would lead to their elimination from the show.
I believe the most important lesson I have learned is when a contestant would come out and sing a nice rendition of a song. The judges would respond that they sang it well but it was not something that they would remember. Generally the supporting reason for saying that they would not remember the performance is tied to a couple of thoughts. The contestants were either playing it safe or picked a song that did not allow them to fully demonstrate their talents. The contestant might have avoided harsh criticism but they weren’t doing enough to win.
I have to admit that I am beginning to feel at peace with my decision to get this secret off my chest today. I feel like a great burden has been lifted. Now I can’t wait to speak to my next prospect. I will not play it safe or short change the abilities of my company and the products we market. I encourage everyone to differentiate yourselves from your competition by being memorable. I say this because I am the ARM Dude ya’ll and I want my company and I to be remembered.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I began working part time in the Portrait Center at the local Sears store during my senior year in high school. I would spend a few hours each day asking little kids to look at me and say “Fuzzy Pickles” or “Chocolate Spaghetti” in order to get them to smile. Some kids were more difficult to get to smile then others. Either way I would generally end up getting some great shots that would make their family happy.
This was my first job working directly with the consumer. The photography part of the job was a snap. The interaction with the customer was where all of the lessons were learned. I had the opportunity to deal with all types ranging from pleasant to down right mean. This helped me to learn how to address situations without feeding off of the emotions that might be pointed my way. I also learned to expect the unexpected at this job. More importantly, I learned that it was important to maintain my composure and react in a professional manner when the unexpected did occur. This included everything from women beginning to disrobe while asking me to take risqué shots of them to nursing mothers that wanted to talk to me while they nursed their child without a hint of modesty or a cover up. Remember that I am a seventeen year old boy at this time so maintaining composure in these situations was challenging. None of these lessons prepared me for the day I met Barbie.
I met Barbie when her mother brought her in so that I could take her picture. She was about 3 ½ years old and was wearing a pretty little dress with long sleeves. I used to pick the kids up by their arm pits in order to place them on the posing table where they would sit while I took their picture. I did this same thing when I went to place her on the table. Words can not describe my embarrassment when this effort resulted in me lifting two empty dress sleeves into the air while her feet remained firmly on the ground. I immediately realized that this was the little girl that I had read about many times in the newspaper. She had been electrocuted while climbing on an electrical transformer located at the apartments that her family had just moved into after relocating from New York. Her mother helped me overcome my embarrassment while I was trying to calm her daughter’s fear of having her picture snapped. Barbie was very shy and somewhat scared of men due to all of the unpleasant hospital experiences. Fortunately, I had a baby face and long hair which helped her relax long enough for me to get some good shots of her.
I transferred to a new store location after I graduated. The mother tracked me down so I could take pictures of her daughter a couple of more times based on the connection made during our first encounter. I lost touch with them when I left the photography business.
Fast forward to 2008, my wife and I are flipping through the tv channels when we come across the Discovery channel. There on the screen we see a young lady without arms sitting on a bathroom counter while applying makeup with her feet and toes. We watch as she cooks a meal and then we see her get in her truck and drive using her feet. I began wondering what became of that little girl I took pictures of so many years ago. I got my answer a few minutes later as the show described how she lost her arms. It is Barbie. She has grown up to be a mother and an athlete that has made a name for her self in the fitness competition world. Her website is www.fitnessunarmed.com.
So why is the ARM Dude writing about a young lady without arms? Because I feel her story is an uplifting one. It is also because this was a lesson that took almost 30 years for me to comprehend. The mother, that had so graciously put me at ease when I was holding empty dress sleeves, had not accepted the doctors’ initial prognosis that her daughter would not survive the trauma caused by the accident. At best, they told her, her daughter would be in a vegetative state for the rest of her life. Barbie and her mother’s motto became “Can’t is not an Option”. It is simple motto that involved heavy doses of tough love from her family. This approach to life has delivered extraordinary results.
I don’t know about ya’ll, but the next time I hear that something is impossible I am going to think about Barbie and her motto.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The project involved making some large letters that spell the name of the baby daughter she is carrying. Apparently a common thing to do in nurseries is to place the baby’s name on the wall by hanging these letters with pretty little ribbons. They can be painted or stained to match the color or theme of the décor. I had a pretty good idea of what she was wanting because I have seen similar letters above my granddaughter’s bed when visiting my youngest. I felt confident enough in my understanding of what she desired to respond that I would be happy to do this for her.
Now I have been married to the momma of my babies my entire adult life. That is just long enough to know that it is not safe to assume that I know exactly what my wife wants when she asks me to pick up something at the store or to complete a project for her. Left to make the decision on my own will most likely mean that I will make the wrong choice. This is not a good thing because I have disappointed her. Not only that, but I get to live with her and experience this disappointment repeatedly until I can mediate a peaceful resolution. You got it, I am going back to the store or I will redo the project. Don’t get me wrong, she is a sweetheart and far better than I deserve. She just expects that I will get clarification from her if I am not sure what she is requesting. Based on these lessons learned I knew that I needed a lot more information from my daughter before I could start work.
I began the process by peppering her with questions. I covered all of the bases. Size, style, finish, placement, and material were addressed. Her response, “Wow, that is a lot to think about. Let me get back to you”, indicated she was a bit overwhelmed. A couple of days later she called and asked if I would stop by so she could show me some samples she found online and to show me the wall where they would hang. When I visited her she showed me the samples while explaining that she wasn’t fond of any one particular font. However, she preferred the less formal styles that look like they may have been printed by hand. I measured the area and then I placed various sized objects against the wall so that she could have a visual aid to use to help me determine the proper size or scale to use. Perfect, they need to be in a freehand style that is slightly smaller than the picture frame on the dresser.
I am ready to get started now because I am confident that I know what she wants and that I can do the work. First thing first, I head straight to Home Depot to buy that 16” scroll saw that I have had my eye on for the last year. I know, I know, I have some other tools that would have done just fine but I had a 10% off anything coupon that was about to expire. This was just the push I needed to execute the purchase. Besides that, the way that I figured it, as fast as my daughters are spitting out babies I am sure to use this tool a lot.
The actual making of the letters was quite easy. I printed out some templates, traced them out on the mdf board and then I used that new scroll saw to cut them out. Next, I rounded off the edges with my router before applying a coat of primer. I delivered them to her the next day. Her excited response let me know it was a job well done.
I left her house that day with the feeling of success. My daughter and I had communicated effectively in order to achieve a common goal. She had not taken offense to all of my questions. She even engaged me in a consultative manner. This helped her be equally as confident that I would be delivering a product that would meet or exceed her expectations. Together we had avoided disappointment. We had also negated the need for any costly problem mediation steps. I am digging the results so much that I believe I will follow this model with the next prospect that calls me wanting to buy software. Do ya’ll think it will work?
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The MacGyver reference in the opening paragraph is one that has been with me ever since the original tv series aired. My family used to watch as MacGyver would take commonly found items to build some intricate contraption that would help him and others escape the situation that was being dealt with during that week’s episode. Immediately the comparisons started because over the years I have been challenged by family to fix items of all types. A common theme in these situations is one of them coming to me with a broken item and a sad look on their face. In most cases I will know immediately that replacement parts are not going to be available. Even so, I will study the item for a few moments before stating that I can fix it. Sometimes I will know how I am going to do the repair but most times I have no clue. The one thing I do know is that I committed to fixing it and this is when the fun begins.
I take the item down to my shop to begin the process of determining how I am going to fix it. The easiest repairs are those that can be accomplished using duct tape. I love this stuff while my wife loathes it because she thinks it looks ugly. I care more about the results it provides rather than how it looks. The more difficult repairs will result in me searching through all types of salvaged parts in order to find just the right items needed to accomplish my goal. Sometimes this also means heading to the local hardware store so that I can wander the aisles waiting for the perfect item or idea to jump out at me. I am not sure exactly what I am looking for but I will know it when I see it. Every now and then I will find the item I am searching for immediately. Other times it might take me hours to find the right combination of items to complete the repair. The reward for me is always the same. I get to see my wife or daughters smile when I return the repaired item to them. Granted it might have been cheaper to just buy a replacement when you look at the time invested in the repair but the return on this time invested makes it worthwhile to me.
Like most things in life there are exceptions. I firmly believe there is no room for a MacGyver mentality or approach when the item to be repaired involves something that provides safety or security for my family. For example, suppose my wife decides to take up biking because we have a lot of bicycle riders visit our area on the weekends. Now let’s imagine that I have an old bike that no longer has brakes because someone might have used the brake cable to fix the throttle lever on his lawnmower. It is not ok for me to clean the old bike up for her to use while solving the brake issue by duct taping some worn automotive brake pads to her shoes so that she can drag her feet until she stops. It would work and it would look really cool to watch the sparks fly when she is doing so. However the price I am sure to pay will be much greater than just purchasing a new bike along with the appropriate safety gear.
I know that I am not the only MacGyver wanna-be out there. I know more of you exist because I continue to see references to this character in current tv shows and commercials even though the last episode aired in 1992. I also know this because I have visited numerous businesses over the years where it was clear that a MacGyver type was either in charge or on staff. I say this because of the number of quick fixes, patches, and work arounds, including duct tape, that were implemented in order to keep the work flowing.
I would love to get your response to this article. Do you know any MacGyver types? Do you have examples to share? Did your company implement a MacGyver type solution? If so, please feel free to share with me and others by leaving a comment.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Hey ya’ll, it’s the ARM Dude here. I just finished a conversation with a prospect regarding the systems they use to manage their operations. It was a discussion that mirrored many others that I have had during my 25+years in the IT industry. Each occurrence left me thinking about some lessons my late father taught me many years ago.
My father was an auto mechanic that worked on a commission basis. I remember watching him bring old carburetors home so that he could practice rebuilding them. BLINDFOLDED! He would put on a blindfold, tear the carburetor down, clean everything, and then rebuild it. He would time himself as he did this so that he could measure his improvement each time. He was blind in one eye so the first time I saw him do this I thought he might be losing the sight in his other eye. I remember him laughing when I asked if he was going blind. He then provided me with a very simple but true explanation. “Time is money, boy. I get paid more when I fix more cars.” Through this unusual practice he was eliminating the inefficiencies that would impact his ability to achieve maximum earnings.
I began working for my dad as a helper during the summers while in high school. One of the first things I noticed is that he had more tools than any of the other mechanics. He kept adding to this collection each time a sales rep for one of the tool companies would visit the shop. I was curious why he was spending so much money on tools, some of which were quite expensive, when I didn’t see the other mechanics doing the same. Again his answer was rather simple, “You have to spend money to make money”. He further explained that he didn’t buy tools just to buy tools. Instead he bought tools that would allow him to further reduce the time to complete a specific repair. This would result in higher earnings that would pay for the tools several times over during the course of their use.
He would always troubleshoot the problems with a car when we brought it into the stall for repair. He would then tell me how to do the repair and the tools to use before starting to troubleshoot the next car to be fixed. I was amazed at his ability to pinpoint the problem after hearing it run or after a short test ride. I wanted to learn how to do this as well but he told me that we would go to that step once I learned how to use my tools effectively. He then pointed out that I was still learning how to determine which tool was the best to use for a particular task. A non-mechanical example he provided was that there were multiple tools that could be used to dig a hole. The purpose and size of the hole would help determine the proper tool. A hand trowel would be fine if I was digging the hole for a small plant, a shovel would be better for a bigger hole, but a backhoe would be needed to dig a large trench. All three tools were capable of digging the trench but it would take much more effort and time to use anything other than a backhoe.
Dad brought all of these lessons together for me one day when he showed me a report that indicated he was fixing two to three times more cars than any of the other mechanics. His explanation for this was that he spent his time and money on eliminating inefficiencies and adding tools that increased output. However, the other mechanics were reluctant to do the same because they placed more value on their knowledge than they did their tools or processes. Their knowledge would help them fix cars and keep them employed but it alone could not provide a significant increase in their output.
The prospect that I mentioned in the opening of this blog reminds me of those other mechanics. It is a successful business but growth has stagnated. The owner is satisfied with the current state of the business yet our discussions revealed numerous issues that could be equated to digging a swimming pool with a shovel. The jobs were getting done because his hard working staff was diligent in their efforts. There was no perceived value in changing processes or adding tools as long as this was the case. I left the discussion feeling deflated because I recognized a business that needs help but was not ready to accept it. It made me want to shout, “It’s time to drop the shovel and put on the blindfold!”