Friday, May 20, 2011

Building a Cathedral

There is an old story that describes three bricklayers working together out on a large construction project.  
A tourist who happened by, asked the first bricklayer what he was doing and the first bricklayer replied, "I'm laying bricks 8-hours a day for $100.00 a day". 
The tourist then asked the second bricklayer what he was doing and he replied, "I'm making sure we are following the proper specifications and doing a quality job here".

The tourist then asked the third bricklayer what he was doing and he replied, "I'm building a cathedral for God".  

Over the course of the last week, I found myself on vacation from my normal daily activities such as office and house work.  The setting was spectacular in Northern Europe.  Each town and city was more picturesque than the next.   

My travel companion (my girlfreind Susan) was patient, adventureous, and loving.  We spent time with old friends and met new ones along the way.

We toured enchanted places, dined at nice restaurants and small bistros, visited national treasures and of course cathedrals.

The weather was beautiful...not too warm or cold with no rain for the entire seven days.

Yet with all the makings of an incredible memorable trip, I found myself in severe pain most days due to a flair up of an arthritic toe (gout) that caused me to chew pain killers like they were mints.  In addition, l found myself fighting off a lingering upper respiratory infection which was causing me to cough incessantly during the entire trip (albeit much less towards the end than the beginning).  

In short, the places, people and weather conditions were the best anyone could hope for but if you don't have your's much harder to enjoy the bounty placed in front of you.  I suppose that this experience is just a fore-shadowing of the autumn and winter years ahead of me as I approach the ripe old age of a half-century later this year.

This experience has also given me reason for reflection.  I recall my days back in college studying introductory psychology. 

Abraham Maslow, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1908.  He was a professor at Brandeis and Columbia Universities for most of his life.  He was the founder of Humanistic Psychology and created Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

The hierarchy of needs is a visualization of human needs beginning with basic human physiological needs at the bottom of the pyramid, such as food, water, shelter, and health and rising to a level of self-actualization where morality and creativity become dominant.  Only when the lower levels of needs are fulfilled, can one rise to a higher level on the pyramid.  


For example, it is hard to enjoy love and friendship (level three) when a person is cold, tired and hungry (level one).

In my experience from last week, it was hard to enjoy the beauty and awe of travel to incredible places when I was barely able to walk with so much pain.

The hierarchy of needs pyramid is also ever-present in the home or the workplace.  In the workplace, the bottom level of the pyramid typically concerns trading time for money.  As the levels rise, so does the complexity.  The next step is job security and benefits followed by responsibility and trust, all the way to the top where the "job" becomes a "purpose".

There are many companies and employees who operate toward the bottom of the pyramid (just like the first bricklayer in the story). 

From the employer's perspective, employees are replaceable and interchangeable.  There are few skills and little training required to perform the basic functions of the position. (Think manual laborer, assembly line worker or fast-food employee).

From the employee's perspective, these are entry level positions, summer college jobs, or temporary positions in order to pay the rent and buy food.

In the middle of the pyramid, are the companies and employees who think of business in terms of responsibility (like the second brick layer in the story).

On the top of the employment pyramid, are the companies / employees who have successfully committed to a "purpose of being" (the third bricklayer).

These companies / employees are not trying to provide goods and services; they are trying to change the world.  These entities operate at the top of the pyramid.

Since returning to San Diego, I went to see a doctor about my foot.  After a short search, I found a podiatrist who could see me the same day.  The scheduler was extremely pleasant and she quickly understood my predicament.  She found a way to work me into the doctor's schedule that day.

When I later arrived the medical office, I was given some very basic paperwork to complete and then was led into an examining room where a brief personal interview was conducted by a nurse regarding personal / family medical history and the symptoms that I was suffering from.

The doctor promptly came to the examining room, took a look at my condition, explained his diagnosis, ordered an x-ray to confirm his conclusions, and presented his treatment plan - including an injection that gave me immediate symptom relief.

The entire visit took no longer than 20 minutes and I felt great. 

While I was checking out, I told the scheduler how impressed I was with their medical practice, the skill, efficiency and overall positive experience.

She replied to me that this wasn't a medical practice but a place where people came to feel better and become healthier.

They understand their purpose...they are building a cathedral...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we believe we are building something better for our customers (and future customers)...

A Bad Reputation...

This week's blog comes to you this week via the high-speed train from Paris, France to Antwerp, Belgium.  I'm on vacation this week in Europe where my girlfriend and I are getting a chance to visit with some close friends.
Although I've had the opportunity to travel to many different places over my lifetime (almost exclusively for business purposes), I've purposely shied away from going to Paris. 
Parisians, I am told, are rude, they smoke like chimneys, smell as though they haven't bathed in a week, refuse to speak English (even if they do know the language), and the generally hold Americans in very low regard.
Paris was founded by the Parisii, a sub-tribe of the Celts, in 250 BC, as a trading center.  Today Paris is a large urban city with over 2 million inhabitants within the city limits but growing to over 11 million when including the surrounding suburban areas.   Like most world metropolises, Paris is rich with history, diversity and culture.  It is known throughout the world as the City of Light, the City of Love and the home of high fashion.  With 42 million foreign tourists each year, it is the most visited city in the world.
A few days ago, after an overnight flight, we arrived at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris early in the morning.  The airport was bustling with hordes of people but the lone person at the information booth was so kind and polite and took extra time to give us directions to the train station (within the airport) and circled the transfer stops that we needed to use in order to get to our hotel on a map that she provided to us free of charge.
The underground Metro is Paris's answer to mass transportation and is an extremely convenient and efficient method to transverse the city.  The trains are inexpensive, frequent, clean and safe. 
For two days, we traveled about the city seeing sights, monuments, and museums.  We ate at small alley bistros that we happened upon as we walked from one place to another.       
The truly most amazing discovery of Paris was that Parisians are nothing like the reputation that surrounds them.  The people of Paris are kind, talkative and generous.  They did not appear to be unhygienic (even in close quarters of the Metro).  They smiled often and were incredibly helpful when we asked for directions or dining recommendations.  We often laughed together as we tried to communicate in broken French/English using hand signals more often than not.
In the mornings and evenings, I saw far more joggers and cyclists than smokers and I noticed that the city itself was incredibly clean and free of trash.
Other than my sore feet and legs (from all the walking), the last 48 hours have been fully of fun and amazement thanks in great part to the wonderful people I met along my journey. 
As I now am leaving France for Belgium, I am now wondering just how the ill reputation of Parisians came about.  Was it perhaps the work of century-old bad blood between the English and French?  Was it a diabolical plot by the U.S. corporate media to keep Americans from traveling abroad?  Was it just a misconception by stereotypical "ugly American" tourists who demand that the places they visit cater exclusively to them?
I'm not really sure how a reputation is earned or more importantly dispelled once it has become widely known.  This is especially true when millions of people are involved covering trillions of day to day transactions such as it is in Paris. 
Whether or not it is true, the perception certainly becomes reality. 
Most brands are created because of perception, whether the reality is true or not.  Perhaps you buy things or go places based on what your parents or friends bought or went.  Is it reality or is it nostalgia?  Will their experiences be yours?  Why is it that you trust their opinions rather than your own experiences?
In a greater sense, what is your own reputation?  What do people think about you as a person? a boss? a coworker? a parent? a friend? 
What are the words that would describe you?
- reliable
- trustworthy
- emotional
- intelligent
 -  loyal
 - creative
 -  uninformed
 - prejudiced
 -  greedy
 - vain
What if these descriptions aren't really you?  How do change someone's perception? 
What do you do each day to ensure that other people know the real you?...and more importantly will those other people speak up when they hear the contrary from others?
How Parisians got their bad reputation is truly beyond me...I'm just here to say that based on my own experiences, they weren't what their reputation made them out to be...and Parisians are alright by me.
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we try hard each day to improve our reputation by providing quality products and outstanding customer service at a phenomenal value...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Teaching Pigs To Sing...

"Never try to teach a pig to'll never succeed and it just annoys the pig"
-Robert Heinlein (science fiction writer - 1907-1988)

This past Wednesday and Thursday, I found myself at the Del Mar Electronics and Design Show, a local trade show for the electronics, biotech and medical industries.  This local exhibition has been around now since before I joined the workforce in 1985, and attracts some 400 exhibitors and 7,500 guests early each May.

What amazes me is not that the show is still around (most trade shows have gone the way of the dinosaur) but rather how the show continues to thrive.

The "secret formula" of this successful exhibition is pretty simple:

·        Make it convenient - the site is in a central location to most San Diegans so it is very convenient for industry people to "pop-in" for a few hours on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon.
·        Make it low cost - Booth space costs less than $1,000 for exhibitors and admission and parking is free for patrons.  The low cost provides value to the participants whether an exhibitor or patron.
·        Make it informative - Throughout the two days, free instructional classes and seminars are held, providing valuable information to the participants.  In addition, the exhibitors display new products and/or services to provide new knowledge to the end-user.
·        Make it personal - the show has become THE place to see old friends and make new contacts.  The show organizers facilitate this point by hosting an open cocktail party on Wednesday afternoon providing free food and drinks to participants in attendance.

The success formula for the DMES is really no different than any other type of business whether it is a restaurant, shoe store, accounting services or automobile repair shop.  Convenience, value, information, and personalized service are what drive business to success.

While at the hosted cocktail party Wednesday evening, I struck up a conversation with the owner of a local distribution company.  He explained to me that his company was doing fairly well but could be doing better if they could find some quality sales people.      

I asked him a few questions about his company's interviewing process and sales training program.  He explained that his company really had not yet systemized their hiring process.  The selection process was typically based on the candidate's prior employment history within the industry, regardless of whether or not they have experienced any success in their previous employment.

Once that sales person was hired, there was very little training being offered as it was implied that the person already possessed knowledge (supposedly from their previous employment).  

After listening to him for a moment, I said to him, "I guess you guys just grab someone at random and throw them in the deep end of the pool and see if they can swim" but then are amazed at how so many people drown"...but you continue to repeat the process over and over. 

I thought to myself, It's no wonder why he can't find any good sales people...the company hasn't done their job in hiring a person with the proper talents and trained them so that they are equipped with specific skills and techniques.

A quality sales person, waiter, chemist, accountant, nurse and/or mechanic require certain talents and aptitudes to succeed.   A square peg needs to be placed into a square hole in order to fit properly.  People need to be able to fit into the position that they are best suited for in order to find success.  

Not everyone possesses the innate talent to become a sales person and even if one has the talent, those talents must be honed into skills, through specific training and coaching, to really be effective.

The same might be said for other professions as well.  Some people may have an aptitude to become an engineer, a carpenter, or a teacher but to become truly effective, specific training is required.

The converse is also true, no matter how much training is provided, it is nearly impossible to train someone do a job for which they have no real talent but I see this happen each and every day with people and companies.

Training comes in the form of education and education is provided by our schools.  Unfortunately the curriculum in our schools is now mainly focused in the area of math and science.  Unfortunately, not all students have an aptitude for math and science yet we force feed this core curriculum to our children and expect them to succeed.

As I talk with parents of teenagers, I see this disconnect.  Many of today's children are failing because they do not possess the interest or talents in math and science.  For these young adults, it might be best to learn an industrial trade.  Machining, welding, drafting, carpentry, electronic assembly and auto mechanics are no longer being offered as alternatives to the math and science track.   This would allow our children to develop skills in areas that are still vital to our communities.

Today, our schools teach to standardized tests that focus on math, science, and language arts.

Perhaps it might be better to allow children to follow different paths to their own success instead of a single track...

It just might lead to a greater number of successes and an overall better trained workforce.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to support all types of educational endeavors...