A Tale of Two Bicycles and The Nesting Man

Today I learned:

1. A Tale of Two Bicycles: You enjoy your bike ride around the neighbourhood more today…

…when you know the only bike you will be riding for quite some time starting tomorrow is this one:

2.  The Nesting Man: Prior to the birth of our two kids, my wife went through a predictable cycle of nesting. The walls were painted, crib assembled, clothes and diapers bought and arranged. Everything was ready much earlier than necessary, and all the work seemed to satisfy whatever innate instinct she was experiencing.

I didn’t really get it all until this morning, when some sort of abbreviated pre-surgical version of the phenomenon seemed to kick in for me. Today I became The Nesting Man.

It all started when I woke up with a sudden urge to go grocery shopping. Knowing I am faced with about 2 weeks where I will barely leave the house, my sweet-tooth made a pre-emptive strike, trying to entice me into shopping for a bunch of junk food that I can enjoy in the surgical recovery period. Thankfully, this desire was easily killed with a review of my Basal Metabolic Rate.  At about 1850 calories per day for my age/height/weight, you quickly realize that if all you plan to do is lie in bed all day then you can’t afford many empty calories!

Next came organization of my work and play spaces. I setup an office in the kitchen printer et. al (to avoid the stairs to my regular home office). I also made sure all the fun things I might want in the day (books, music, electronics) are within reach of my side of the bed.  Once everything was good to go, I moved on to other things that could weigh on me – unreturned emails, anticipated bills, laundry – anything I might need to do in the next couple weeks.

Oddly it all helped, and now I seem to have moved on to whatever the male equivalent is to a woman’s “just get this over with already” stage.

Happily Oblivious or Just Plain Ignorant and a Desire to Dance

Today I learned:

1. Happily Oblivious or Just Plain Ignorant? It is a toss-up: I was either avoiding the issue or ignorant to it. I was skipping through life (figuratively at least), waiting for my ACL Reconstruction assuming it would just create a minor blip in the road. That ended today when I finally allowed myself to more clearly understand just how long I will be laid up.

I received a call to advise when to come in to the hospital for surgery on Monday and this led to a long discussion on follow-up visits, therapy and driving restrictions. Essentially I was told to “get ready to tackle that book you have always wanted to write” because you won’t be doing anything else for the next few weeks. I knew exactly what the long-term recovery picture looks like, but I hadn’t spent much time thinking or planning for the short-term.

With the sudden realization, and forced acceptance, that surgery is going to upset my routine for longer than I had hoped I spent this morning in a panic trying to prepare for the inevitable. The bottom-line: Frantic preparation or not, I am not ready to spend 2-3 weeks sitting on my butt.

2. Desire to Dance: When you know you will be laid up for awhile your desire to spontaneously dance with your daughters skyrockets.

To be clear, my desire to dance generally sits at about a 0.1 on a scale of 1-10, but knowing I will be off my feet for a couple weeks, and certainly not dancing for months, I found myself dancing around the kitchen this morning with the girls. Notably, this was pre-caffeine dancing, so no artificial stimulants were involved.

It makes me think of the song lyric, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” and seems to be part of an innate desire to fit in all the things I need/want before I can’t do them for awhile. It is an odd emotion, and I better go feed it while I can…

The most gratifying purchase you can make and You can’t fool a 2 year-old

Today I learned:

1. The most gratifying purchase you can make…is a new belt one size smaller than your previous one.

2. You can’t fool at 2 year-old: About a month ago our daughter lost her prized stuffed bear at Costco. For 2 1/2 years it had been at her side for about 23 hours a day so this development was relatively problematic.

We immediately went into problem solving mode and within about 2 hours we were out $60, spent on 3 potential replacements. None exact, and each with some flaw that we were well aware of, but it was the best we could do. By bedtime she was somewhat satisfied.

I just didn’t feel right about it all though.

I understand the attachment kids have to these sorts of things. I actually still have the stuffed dog I had as a baby. I can’t even stand dogs now so it is about the only one dog I ever loved. And no, it is not immediately at my disposal. I don’t sleep with it, or keep it on my desk at work. It is in a box at my parents house. But, I know it is there, and there is something oddly comforting about that.

To solve the problem I looked to eBay.  The 21st century version of the “replacement hamster from the Pet Store.”  An exact replica was on it way, and another $30 was out the door. We even told her the people at Costco would mail the original bear to us if they found it, to buy some time.

Fast forward two weeks, and we found the original bear in the camera bag.

It was never lost.

When “eBay bear” showed up we noticed it looked a bit too new. Despite this, we tried to rotate it in to see if we could pass it off.

She was having none of “clean bear” and wouldn’t even let it in her bed.  She banished it to the toy box. It distressed her so much that we had to secretly switch in the original when she wasn’t looking.

Not wanting to let the issue die, my wife has spent the last 2 weeks staining “clean bear” with Ketchup, rubbing it with dirt from the garden and distressing the fabric. She even left it in the mud for almost a week. It looks like crap. We thought it was a pretty good match.

Last night we tried to switch it into the rotation again, sneaking it into bed with her in the middle of the night. At 2am this morning we awoke to a screaming 2 year-old sitting up in the the pitch dark yelling “it’s not right.”

You can’t fool a 2 year-old.

Why I won’t hire you and Girls’ toys suck

Today I learned:

1. Why I won’t hire you:  I read a great blog post on hiring today that echos many of my opinions on the subject.  While I agree with quite a few of the points in the post, it made me reflect on other things I look for in a candidate. For me, there are a few additional things:

  • You treat me differently than the receptionist: When you leave the first thing I do is ask her how you acted on your arrival, before I showed up. If you showed me more respect than you showed her it me gives a good sense of how you really treat people.
  • Your resume sucks: You can’t spell. You can summarize accomplishments. You can succinctly tell me what your skills are. If you can’t create a professional document given no time limit, I assume this will carry over when time limits are applied.
  • You know nothing about where I work: If you haven’t done your leg work to know who is interviewing you and what our company is like, I assume you will take short cuts in your work too.
  • You don’t ask me questions: This means meaningful questions that help me understand what is important to you in the selection process and not basic things like “what are the hours?” I want to know you have put some thought into this and you aren’t just flying by the seat of your pants.

2. Girls’ toys suck: While replaying the day at the dinner table the other night, my daughter expressed an interest in Lego. This led me to do some research into what kinds of products Lego is making these days. I was familiar already with some pretty cool stuff, like Super Hero and Star Wars products that my nephews are addicted to. I was excited to see what I could find for my daughter.

It turns out girls’ toys suck. Or at least, in my humble opinion lego for girls sucks.

With hundreds of creative products for boys, all they seem to have managed for girls are things like a beauty shop, doll house, and bakery.  At least give me a pink doctors office or something that I can work with her on to aspire towards, rather than a weak knock off of Barbie’s convertible.

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.

Disney Day 3: Down-sizing and Upselling

The third in a short series of posts that touch on Disneyland as I continue to blog my way through the process of learning two things a day for 66 straight days…

Today I learned:

1. Down-sizing: It took us 2 days, but we have now learned to down-size any food orders in the Park. We had forgotten we were ordering based on U. S. sizing.

How did we learn this lesson? While seated for a late morning kids snack we looked at the two tables next to us and simply observed what was going on.

Table 1: A family of 4 from Ohio (which I hold as a solid assumption based on the plethora of Ohio State garb), each gnawing on their own “Giant Turkey Leg,” which cost about $13 each, along with a Diet(!) Coke AND a cheese stuffed pretzel.

Table 2: A family of 4 people from Japan (which I hold as a solid assumption based on the fact they were speaking Japanese), each sharing pieces from single “Giant Turkey Leg,” and part of a large bottle of water.  They all had some Apple slices too.

From that moment on I realized the portion sizes were more likely to give me a heart attack than the Space Mountain Roller Coaster. Needless to say we all split a couple things for lunch.

2. Upselling: If there is one thing the fine people at Disney have figured out it’s upselling. As a patron of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver I can recall attending several events, mostly in the early days when organizing and queuing methods were suspect , where it was not possible to spend my money. Either horrendous lines or empty shelves empty actually prevented me from getting what I wanted. None of that is true at Disneyland

They seem to understand – better than any other example I can come up with – that the easiest sales to convert are to those people you can already count as customers. With that understanding they make sure to never miss an opportunity.  Once you are in the door they try to draw a little more cash from your pocket around every corner.

A few of the best examples I found today:

  • Food: There seems to be something new in every different “Land” and (at least in February) there is never more than a 3-5 minute wait to get what you need. Healthy? Got it. Horrendously unhealthy? See the Massive Turkey leg referenced above. Kids sizes? Yup, and toddler too. $12 R2-D2 shaped plastic souvenir container? They have for both popcorn and soft drinks.
  • Memorabilia: We all know Disney is famous for their animated franchises and characters, but the tie in to products and ability to find the perfect place for it is equally impressive. At the exit of every Character-themed ride you can buy related product. Perfect placement. Every product you can imagine, plus thousands you wouldn’t have dreamed of tying back to all the Disney and Pixar movies. They know as well as I do that kids will want the Snow White doll, even if the ride just scared the hell out of them.
  • Cross-Promotion: If there is a free moment where you might have otherwise noticed a bit of peace and quiet, they have filled it.  Audio ads on the Monorail. Posters for upcoming movies. If Disney has a stake in any other product, you will find it on display somewhere here.
  • Two-part pricing: Examples of this are everywhere. Admission to every ride is included with the ticket, but on each of the major attractions (typically at the exit), Disney has added secondary products targeted at enhancing the customer experience. Customized driver’s license at Autopia. Photos and t-shirts with your freaked-out face from Space Mountain.  They have consistently found ways to extract (or to convince your kids to try to extract) more cash to add-on to the experience throughout the day.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I expected it all and I am not bothered by the constant bombardment. I love marketing and I find it impressive when a company can get me to take my wallet out of my pocket when I wasn’t planning to. It’s like we are in a friendly 1 on 1 battle for my cash all day here.

Disney Day 2: It is all about me and Get the Right People on the Tea Cups

This is the second of what I expect will be several consecutive Disney-themed posts as my family and I fit in a brief winter trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Today I learned:

1.  It’s all about me: At ages 4 and 2 it is debatable if our kids will remember their first trip to disneyland.

The two year-old? No way.

The 4 year-old? Maybe.

Regardless of the kids memories, I will never forget the look in their eyes as we embarked on our first ride,  The Finding Nemo Submarine. The unbridled laughter as they raced along the Autopia. The absolute terror as our 4 year old exited the Space Mountain Roller Coaster.  The enthusiasm as they sang along on It’s a Small World.

Will they remember it?  Who cares. 

The build up and anticipation. The look in their eyes. The laughter. The fun. Today I learned that it doesn’t matter what they remember of this when they grow up, because it’s all about me of course.

2. Get the right people on the Tea Cups: Even before you get through the gates at Disneyland one thing becomes abundantly clear.  They know culture, and they protect it voraciously by ensuring that they have the right people in every role, and that those people are empowered to do whatever they need to do to build lasting memories for the visitor.

It reminds me of a quote from Jim Collins in Good to Great, where he reflects on examples of truly great companies and their understanding of the importance of fit, and ensuring everyone is pulling in the same direction:

“We found…they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And then they figured out where to drive it.”

Disney definitely has the right people on the bus, or in this case on the Tea Cups, Mark Twain’s Riverboat and Splash Mountain.

To a certain extent I expected that though. What surprised me is this appears to extend to other the businesses operating within the park and surrounding areas. The people in the hotel are beyond pleasant. Restaurant staff ooze enthusiasm. The shops in Downtown Disney are staffed with young kids that are the dream of any retailer.

As an example, think about the interaction you had with staff during your last visit to a fast food outlet.

Now picture this: A young teenager at Jamba Juice made me laugh twice, asked open ended questions about our day, and at the same time managed to up sell me in my selection. She made the occasion of buying a smoothy into an occasion. This is so unlike any other fast food experience I have ever had it is unreal.

It is clear Disney knows a lot about hiring and they are passing along what they know to those in and around the park. They have figured out that it is not enough to control the customer experience solely at your own touch points, but you need to manage the same thing at every point that the customer comes in contact with your brand.

Unbelievably, rather than coming across as an act, the people all seem genuinely happy to work here.  I get the sense Disney, like other corporate culture leaders such as Zappos, is as much a lifestyle as a job for these people.  It’s infectious. It’s impressive.

Anticipation – Mickey’s Victory, plus Trust Your Team

Today I learned:

1. Anticipation – Mickey’s Victory: Little girls have a hard time falling asleep the night before they fly off to Disneyland.  What is interesting to me is this phenomenon, while expected, far exceeds the same problem on Christmas Eve. Despite having a thorough understanding of the concept of Santa and only a cursory knowledge of Mickey et al., Disney takes the cake as a cause of sleep deprivation.

Hopefully this does not foreshadow additional sleep issues in the coming days.

2. Trust your team: While preparing for a brief absence from work today I was bolting around the office like a chicken with my head cut-off through most of the morning. It took someone else to wake me up to it.

One of my reports said, “Well…somebody is trying to clear his desk for vacation.”

Unfortunately it took someone else to snap me out of it, but fortunately she was successful.

In that moment I realized the world doesn’t stop when you leave the office. If you have a good group around you, and they are competent and engaged, it really doesn’t matter what you fly around trying to accomplish in a few hours. Everything is covered. Any fires that come up will be put out. Everybody already knows exactly what they need to do, and they will do it.

Today I learned, thankfully, that I needed to get over myself.

Locus of Control and Don’t Blame the Tech

Today I learned:

Locus of Control in Parenting: One of the most disconcerting times in life for a parent is knowing your child’s future will be impacted by factors beyond your control.

Our daughter – set to being kindergarten in the fall – has her name in a hat tonight with hundreds of other preschooler’s registered for French Immersion.  With more families interested than spots available, the method of schooling of our daughter is now left to chance.

Growing up I didn’t learn another language, and this remains a regret.  I would like to provide her with an opportunity I did not have, and it is quite bothersome to know I cannot control the outcome of the draw.  It is not a matter of money. I would gladly pay for it it that option was available.  It is simply a matter of which names come out of the hat.

So, today I learned for the first time, but certainly not for the last time, that not being able to control the path your child takes through life doesn’t feel good.

[Note @ 2013.02.01: After losing the draw she spent this year in English Kindergarten. It has been mostly great, with some annoyances…but we are now VERY pleased she won the lottery this year and she can switch to French for Gr. 1. Sad for all the other parents and kids that lose out to chance again.]

2. Don’t blame the tech: I participated in a webinar today which got off to a rocky start. Immediately after logging on we were all kicked out and told to wait five minutes then restart, giving the presenter time to deal with a technical issue.  The program eventually started 15 minutes late and in turn went 15 minutes long, impacting the rest of my day

Blaming the technology is a nice fallback option to have, but this excuse is starting to feel like crying wolf.  When a carpenter learns his trade, the rule #1 is “measure twice, cut once.” Other similar maxim’s include “success is 90% preparation,” and “practice makes perfect.” One of my favorites comes from from Abe Lincoln:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spent six hours sharpening the axe”

How come then a similar lesson on preparation for presentations doesn’t seem to catch on? I wouldn’t wing it if I was renovating a bathroom.  I would make a plan, learn the tools and find a way to practice. Yet people seem just fine winging it in front of a crowd of people? Here’s hoping this quote, from Wayne Burghaff, one day becomes as popular as the rest:

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.”

I Dance at a Pre-School Level and If Nobody Clicks your Link does a Tweet Make a Sound?

Today I learned:

1. I dance at a pre-school level:  I have never considered myself much of a dancer. Today I was presented with a wonderful opportunity to gauge my proficiency level.  With Mommy working, Daddy was on the clock for two dance classes this morning. The 2 year-old & parent participation class proved to be the most enlightening.

I rocked it.

Bunny hopping? Jumping on one foot? Rolling on the floor? Listening quietly to the teacher?  One class and it is clear I’ve got all that down cold. Maybe it’s not that I am a bad dancer so much as I have not been assessing myself against the correct criteria.

2. If Nobody Clicks your Link Does a Tweet Make a Sound? When I launched this blog I started a new twitter account (@twothingsblog) to accompany it. My initial intention was to experiment and try to see if I could engage an audience and bring them to the blog with a “passive” account. The strategy was simple:

  • Tweet 1 time per day, posting the topics of the day and a short link (via automated WordPress functionality)
  • Follow only a few random people initially
  • Follow back anyone that follows me (aside from tweeps that were obviously porn fronts)

It didn’t take the MBA to know this strategy would ultimately fail, but I really didn’t think it would be so colossally unsuccessful.  One month in and I can report some statistics from my twitter account:

  • 136 followers
  • 34 tweets
  • 13 re-tweets, seemingly all by bots
  • Exactly zero people have clicked through

Lucky I was not trying to monetize this little blog experiment.

Based on my experience so far it seems I have located a colony of people that want to gain followers for no other reason than, I presume, ego-stroking. I don’t read their stuff and they don’t read mine. Seems a fair trade, but utterly wasteful for both of us.

This proved to me that, as I expected, a passive twitter account is not going to get you anywhere.  It might work for a few people with a tried and true message or those with a dedicated base outside twitter (e.g. @thisissethsblog), but if you are just starting out there is no substitute for hard work. Unless you engage others directly, and in a meaningful way, you are just another addition to the background noise.

It strikes me that the term “follower” is part of the problem. It seems relatively easy to gain followers, but that alone is not going to get you anywhere. If I was trying to promote a business via twitter I think I would try to redefine the term as “customers.” That might shift my perspective towards an approach that has more of a hope at being successful.

Time to develop a new Twitter strategy…or abandon the channel.