I’ll Never Be a Wine Writer plus Raising Successful Kids

Today I learned:

1. I’ll never be a wine writer:  I fancy myself as a bit of an oenophile – my expertise may be questionable, but it is improving and I at least approach the subject with a relentless enthusiasm to which the empties in my garage can attest.

That is why I am saddened to admit I would never make it as a wine writer.

This lesson hit me today, like the feeling you get after quaffing too much (or really any) Yellowtail,  as I read this month’s edition of Ask an Oenophile in BC Business Magazine. One quote sealed it for me:

Everybody should drink more Beaujolais. It’s romantic, it’s sexy, it’s lyrical, it’s ethereal. Really good Beaujolais smells like you just made out with your first love in a field of fresh strawberries – there’s a smell of wet earth, a little sweat, ripe strawberries…This wine, especially the 2009 vintage, has this incredible Audrey Hepburn character. It’s lithe, but there is this enormous charm and depth behind it all. 

I can’t talk like that.

More precisely, I won’t talk like that.

I could learn, but I need to be able to enjoy a nice bottle of Syrah and then respect myself in the morning.

2. Raising Successful Kids: I came across a thought-provoking blog post today about 5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children (link below).

Several interesting points are made – I think there could be merit to the concept of giving incentive to learn from the masters. I particularly like one of the responses to the post which included a suggestion kids could learn alot from Ted videos. This seems like a viable way to introduce new ideas and it may be worthy of experimentation with our oldest daughter. With the recent explosion of TedxKids events, I expect age appropriate content may be more and more available, making this idea quite tangible.

The point I really keyed in on though was the final one in the article – teach kids to be powerful.

This led me to reflect on our approach to parenting. As the author recommends, we try to avoid any form of negative self-talk. We encourage the kids to avoid expressing actions in terms of accomplishment (i.e. “I am good at riding my bike,” or “I can’t tie my shoes.”) and instead we ask them to frame everything around the idea of practice. The thought is that this will ensure our kids understand that if they set a goal and then put in the time and effort, eventually they will be able to do whatever they want.

For example, when my daughter learned to stand up on skates, we congratulated her and then we talked about how the first time she tried she was not able to get up, but she practiced (by doing x, y, and z) and she gradually got better, to the point she was able to do it by herself. The idea is to re-enforce the concept that it doesn’t matter what you can or can’t do, it only matters what you are willing to put the time in to learn.

Thinking back now, this approach seems to be working.

Our oldest daughter now tends to frame her comments around the process of learning as the accomplishment, rather than the activity itself. We don’t hear things like, “Mommy, I cut my fish!” but rather she says “Mommy, I learned to use my knife!”  Hopefully in the long run this type of framing goes a long way to helping our kids understand that setting goals and practicing will allow them to do anything they want.

Link to the original blog post referenced above: 5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children.


Disney Day 5: The (Un)happiest Place on Earth, plus Service Recovery

The final post in a series of Disneyland-based learnings. A.k.a. Day 45 @ The two things blog.

Today I learned:

1. (Un)happiest Place on Earth: Apparently, if you treat a 2 year old to 4 days at Disneyland, somewhere on day 5 she will return the favour by rewarding you with a 65 minute meltdown in Tomorrowland. The location was, at least, a fitting backdrop for the tantrum – about 1/2 way through it felt like tomorrow would never come.

I tried moving to Fantasyland to see if it was really happening, but unfortunately it was not a dream. At least when we made it to the Tea Cups and Dumbo the sight of a 2 year old screaming at the top of her lungs was not even a notable spectacle. The behaviour was more prevalent than Mickey Mouse ears.

2. Service Recovery: I have been searching for an example of service recovery to see how Disney responds to problems. As we are appraoching the end of this adventure I was starting to conjure up a plan to buy something, just so I could return it and see how I was treated. “Fortunately” there was no need to fake it – I had the opportunity to test the system this morning.
We bought the girls some small toys (basically the Disney version of Polly Pockets which they know and love). Unfortunately Disney’s manufacturer doesn’t quite meet the exacting standards the Polly Pocket brand and within 15 minutes both girls broken the arms off their dolls.
High ho, high ho, back to the store we go.
To make matters worse, unfortunately in their brief play period one of the toy shoes went missing so we weren’t even returning the entire package. Broken and incomplete. A better test!
At the counter we apologized and stated we felt bad we broke the toys. We were immediately told, “Please don’t feel bad. You shouldn’t feel bad. I feel bad. This must be tough for your little ones to deal with. Let me make this right.” She had no concern for the missing piece and immediately refunded the purchase price to my Visa.
The return experience? 100% positive.  
The result? 2 happy parents. 2 happy kids. 4 happy customers. We returned $32 worth of toys and promptyl purchased $43 more. Despite the broken toys I suspect Disney still managed to eke out a profit from us on the purchases.
This service recovery example made me reflect on my experience with the return policies of other major retailers. There are those that do things exceptionally well, like Costco which “guarantees your satisfaction with the merchandise you purchase,” and in return they keep me coming back again and again. And there are those like Future Shop. Believe it or not I still hold a grudge over a failed attempt to return a defective answering machine in 1994. Eighteen years later and I still make a point of shopping elsewhere based on one single negative experience. When things go bad you can lose the customer forever.
A simple lesson to businesses. Treat the customer right in the good times and the bad times. How you respond when things go wrong, as much as when things go right, defines whether of not the customer comes back. It also doesn’t hurt you if they plan to blog about their experience with your brand either later that day, or even 18 years later.

20 Year Reunion and Fear the Facebook Timeline

Today I learned:

1. 20 Year Reunion: The first thought to run through my head when reading an email invite for my 20 year high school reunion is “I am old.”  The second thought is “Wow. When I graduated we didn’t even have email.”  This realization in turn brings me back to the first thought.

Once that all passes I then also learned my motivation to exercise is heightened by reunion invites, even if the event is a year away. This strikes me as a potential cure to obesity. If we all woke up to a daily reminder of a high school reunion coming up I bet our health and fitness would improve. This would be an interesting experiment…

2. Facebook Timeline: After my recent hiatus from FB, I returned to the site today to check out the new timeline feature, intrigued after reading about it in a Globe and Mail article. The author – somewhat horrified with the simplicity and ease with which any of his friends could track his history on the social network – first took to culling posts. When that was deemed too time consuming he took the dramatic step of deleting his account and starting fresh.

Intrigued by the pain this caused him I activited the timeline feature on my account today to check it out.

He was right. It is a bit scary to see, all in one place every photo, comment, status update, check-in…everything on a shiny little timeline.  You can track my life since I joined the network in 2007. Or at least you can track a few important events like the birth and milestones of kids, along with a about 200 status updates that seemed funny at the time.

At least everything is relatively benign. Nothing to delete, or at least it is not worth my time to bother.

I doubt the lack of true privacy on Facebook (despite using the most restrictive settings) is going to burn me in any future job search or attempt at public office. That is, unless the reviewer attacks my judgement based on what is clearly a poor understanding of how interested people will be in how much I liked my dinner on Aug 12, 2008, or how I played golf on July 1, 2007.

I do fear for people that actually post things that could hurt them in the long run though. I certainly don’t hire anyone these days without scoping out their presence online before making an offer. If I come across a Facebook timeline in this research it will wrap everything up in a pretty little package for me.

My Three Tunes and Why Kids Love Ketchup

Today I learned:

1. My Three Tunes:  It’s no wonder my kids rarely ask me to sing to them. Tonight I realized I sing all nursery rhymes using one of only three tunes.

How did this come to my attention? At bed time tonight my four year old corrected me when my version of Yankee Doodle sounded a bit too much like the Itsy Bitsy Spider.

If I was ever asked to sing a national anthem prior to a sporting event I would, rather unfortunately, be this guy…

 2. Why Kids Love Ketchup: While shopping at Costco I decided to buy a 5L tin of Heinz Ketchup. It’s the size you see at a picnic for about 300 people. I suspect it will last us a few weeks.

Conceptually the purchase made perfect sense – we go through Heinz Ketchup at a pace rivalled only by milk – but admittedly it presents some logistical challenges in terms of storage. At the end of the day though, it will be eaten. Our kids put it on everything. While I will admit to some hyperbole on this blog, this is not one of those times. They smother noodles in it, douse fish with it and even dip fruit in it.

As the kids started in on our massive new tin tonight it occurred to me I have always just accepted their Ketchup love-in as “one of those things.” I had never questioned their behaviour.

I had never asked myself, why do they love Ketchup so much?

Interestingly, it is not so much about the taste as it is about control. I found a great piece by Malcolm Gladwell from a few years back in The New Yorker. From the article:

“If you are four—and I have a four-year-old—he doesn’t get to choose what he eats for dinner, in most cases…but the one thing he can control is ketchup.  It’s the one part of the food experience that he can customize and personalize.” 

It makes sense. We offer very few choices at meal time, partly as a coping mechanism to maintain some semblance of sanity at meal-time when faced with two kids that possess desires which flip on and off as fast as a light switch. But regardless of what we are serving we always allow Ketchup in pretty much whatever quantity they would like.

It’s the shoes plus a DRIP Problem

Today I learned:

1. It’s the shoes: Well, it’s the shoes for today at least.

Our daughter was not exactly enamoured with dance class yesterday. The shift from free-form play in previous classes to a “big girl” class with a bit of structure appeared to put her off. By the end she was pretty clear she didn’t want anymore of it.

I learned how to solve the problem today though, at least temporarily. We bought her dance shoes.

Resorting to bribery has her absolutely ecstatic about her next class. She begged mommy to practice her moves this evening. Tears one day, and sleeping with her dance shoes on then next. For the short-term at least, dance class remains a highlight on the activity list. The only question that remains is this: When I will learn that correcting behaviour with a bribe is a very, very bad idea?

2. A DRIP Problem: While meeting with a vendor today the term DRIP came up. Data Rich, Information Poor.  In the world of  I.T. where it sometimes feels like there are acronyms for acronyms, this stands out as a good one. It certainly fit the issue we were discussing and with work in the insurance industry I suspect I will find ample opportunity to use it again. We are never short of data, but getting good information is a completely different story. Reflecting on this differentiation helped provide me with a simple reminder of where to spend my time and resources.  Getting the numbers is the easy part.  Meaningful analysis is far more valuable.

My kid sucks at hide and seek, plus “They kill you a little bit everyday.”

Today I learned:

1. My kid sucks at hide and seek: My four year old can do simple math, including multiplication and division. She can sound out and read basic words. She can swim, skate and ride a bike. But if you play hide and seek with her you will be most likely to find her writhing like a fish out of water under a blanket in the middle of our living room. Best case, maybe she’ll be under the table, yelling “come find me – he he he.” Regardless, the next time she just goes back to exactly the same spot. And the time after that? Same spot.

Surprisingly, according the the fine people at the Lego Learning Institute, my kid is on track. At least for now, anyway. She better learn to hide by age 5 though or we are going to need to write her off.

I must admit that even after a bit of research I am having trouble selling myself on the fact everything is normal. The next time I see her hiding half covered under a pillow on top of her bed I may need a reminder.

Full disclosure: Louis C.K. has a great bit on this topic. Google the clip – it’s no stretch to call the video I found offensive to some viewers so no link here.

2. “They kill you a little bit everyday”: This quote comes from a friend we ran into while taking the kids swimming today. After a morning of fits over unfinished oatmeal and a full on battle to have the 2 year old stay put on the potty, it certainly rang true.

It made me think though, is it correct?

It turns out no. At least not if you are Norwegian anyway. Research there has shown mortality rates are highest among those with no kids, and rank second for people with only one child. The research doesn’t spell it out but I can’t imagine that inverse relationship holds true very long long. I doubt 8 kids helps you live longer than 4. Eventually another relationship – the one between the number of kids you have and how many glasses of wine you want at night – is going to get you.

I am turning into my dad, but my kids aren’t turning into me

Today I learned:

1. I am turning into my dad:  I checked the twitter feed of a person I come in contact with frequently through work. Everything I saw was professional and above board, but I couldn’t help but notice the timing of the posts. Tweet after tweet during regular work hours.

That bugs me.


And worse, I fear that along with the appearance in the workplace of things like purple hair, tattoos, and hipster mustaches, I am pretty sure it would bug my dad too. Am I growing old or more conservative? And which of those is worse?

2. My kids aren’t turning into me: I told my oldest daughter we could do whatever she wanted today. Her plan? “Let’s go buy flowers for Mommy.” This is a thought, unfortunately, that virtually never occurs to me. It led me to conclude, unfortunately, my kids are not turing into me and maybe I should be turning into them.

I get Twitter…finally and Free is not free

Today I learned:

1. I get Twitter…finally:  I’ve used Twitter for about 3 years, mostly to follow old school friends and to source news, articles and blogs. I post a few things on my personal account (@darrenmcknight), and it is actually the first app I use in the morning, just to see if anything critical has happened in the world. Admittedly though, the whole conversation thing has been lost on me. Until now.

Tonight I watched Dragon’s Den on CBC – easily my favourite show and along with Amazing Race the only reality TV I can stomach – and simultaneously followed the stream of tweets.

Wow – value add!

It might be that the Dragon’s Den audience is a wee bit more refined than Bieber’s Army or just about anyone that tweets about the NBA, but it is hard not to enjoy a stream of thought provoking comments along side something you already enjoy. It was like watching the show with a hundred cool, smart people and the Director in my living room. How can you beat it when the stars – actual Dragon’s – chime in real-time?

I am the kind of guy that watches tv with my phone next to me and my laptop open doing three things at once. Now that I have a use for Twitter it will need to be four things.

2. Free is rarely free: I signed-up for a free webinar on LinkedIn today that, at first glance, sounded topical to my work and I hoped to get a few nuggets out of it that I could apply at work.  I can’t believe how easily I was fooled by good marketing. I won’t burn the company here but suffice it to say it took about 90 seconds to realize the presenters had only one goal. They wanted to sell me their software.

Looking back the promotional material, it was deliberately misleading.  I don’t mind a bit of a sales pitch but if you are going to offer to educate me then educate. If you are going to sell me on something then sell me. You aren’t going to trick me into spending $50K on software. The only guarantee today is that you lost a potential customer.

So, today I learned, or maybe I was just reminded, free is rarely free. When you find something that is both good and free, it is probably also worth paying for.

Eating local and Is ‘Temporary’ pain worth it?

Today I learned:

1. Eating local: We stopped by a farmers market this morning and ran into a friend helping out with her dad selling locally produced sausage under the name Chef’s Natural.  I have to admit 99% of our meat and fish comes from places like Costco and Safeway, but today we bought a few meals worth to support a friend. Dinner tonight was exceptionally tasty, and with no chemicals on the ingredient list I even felt watching my kids chow down.  Surprisingly, it was not much more costly than the something similar from a big box retailer. A good lesson in eating local and supporting the little guy.

2. Temporary Pain: I spent a chunk of my day working on planning staff resources for 2012 projects. Realizing workload will exceed resources, I started thinking how I could utilize temps to offload some tasks.  This made me reflect on past experience and reminded me of a quote I wrote for myself one day last spring:

Keep your enemies close, and the temps you hire to do menial tasks even closer.

The motivation for that came from a day lost dealing with two temps hired to do a time sensitive task.  That experience taught me there are few things you can actually pass off to a temp to save your staff time.  If your operation is lean enough those tasks either don’t exist, or they are done more efficiently and with less supervision by those who already work for you.  A good reminder and an opportunity to rethink priorities for the year ahead.

Fluent in Smurf and a LinkedIn Fail

Today I learned:

1.  Fluent in Smurf: It turns out my 4 year old is a whizz at picking up new languages.  I watched the Smurf’s movie with her the other day and tonight at dinner she asked me to smurf her a cookie.  At least she didn’t tell me to smurf off when I told her she need to smurf down her noodles first.

Trolling on LinkedIn: Every few weeks I get an unsolicited connection request from someone I have never met or even heard of on LinkedIn.  Typcially they have “Job Seeker” in the headline. Rather than ignoring these requests my response is always the same. I send an email back with the following:

Hello <name>,

I apologize, but I don’t recall if we have met.  Can you please refresh my memory?



Prior to today, not one person has ever responded – not even a “Sorry, I was just hoping for an introduction as I am looking for work in your field.”  I finally got a response today: “Sorry, I think I hit ‘connect’ by accident.”

Bottomline: Today I learned the name of one more person I will never hire. Good networking works. Bad networking keeps you unemployed.