Preoccupation with “Progress”

We hear memorable sayings about living in the moment, the “now,” all the time. It’s good, solid advice. I often catch myself saying things like “I’ll feel satisfied when…” or “After such and such I’ll feel better.” This mentality robs us of our ability to appreciate what’s right in front of us. It’s misdirects our focus and attention. It can rob us of our ability to live in the present. Of our happiness.

This post may feel like it’s headed somewhere substantial, but I assure you it will be as superficial as usual. Let’s talk about my car (which is really more of a metaphor in this post). I am perpetually fixated on what parts I’m going to get, what I’m going to do and what it will be like “when.” What’s up with that? I have done a bunch of cool upgrade and all I can do is think about the next one. There must be some emotional component at play I’m not in touch with (spoiler: there is).

Realistically the Turbo S has all the power you’d ever need in a street car. But there I am online looking at the COBB AP, Kline exhaust systems and an IPD plenum. Why? So it will go a little faster? I don’t even open the car up as it sits. I live in perpetual fear of being pulled over or crashing; more power has got to the last thing I need, logically speaking. I have had some bad luck with car upgrades in the past and, again logically assessing the situation, I don’t know why I’d want to void my warranty and risk catastrophic engine failure to achieve a higher trap speed in a quarter mile I won’t even run. Insane.

Visually I’m super happy with my car. I love the black wheels, the carbon fiber accents and the ’16 styling in general. And yet… I look at rear diffusers, I consider putting in different door sills (With lighting? Yes please!), carbon fiber side view mirrors, a spoiler swap and maybe painting that rear valance… maybe I’ll just trade it in for a 2017. Again, I’m so fixated on going another round I can’t even appreciate what’s just been added, what’s right in front of me. All to common, I think.

So the question is “Why?” Is it the “more” mentality that seems to drive this generation? Is it the fear of missing out on something better? Other people have this stuff and they’re happy, right? Or maybe it’s just a hole – and emotional void – that I try to fill by dumping endless stuff into. And as I explore my feelings I begin to realize that I loath things. Not all things are bad, of course. But things are demanding. They need other things. They need your time.

Thinking about what’s next for my car isn’t limited to upgrades and modifications. No, it extends into worrying about what the next problem will be. It involves thinking about that little speaker buzz I couldn’t find, the clicking noise I imagine I hear, the fear that my boost level will drop, the transmission will fail, the car will literally fall apart. To what end? Every drive should be a chance to enjoy the car’s capabilities and performance but part of it inevitably ends up as a worry session. An opportunity to try and predict the most negative future I can imagine based off of fear. Fear controls. Things control. Somehow they have to power to grab our attention and shift it.

Things often distract us from what’s important. Every moment wasted thinking about my car is time I could have writing, reading, learning, spending time time with family, friends. Don’t get me wrong- a hobby is fine, probably even healthy. But when a pastime consumes you and tricks you into giving more time that it deserves and removes you from the now then you lose and everyone around you loses.

As I mentioned my car is a metaphor; you can substitute the idea of a car for anything, really. I chose a car because it’s clear to me that my car gets more than it’s fair share of my time. I see people who become obsessed with all kinds of things (some, like me, are not limited to just one thing): work, money, food, interior decorating, home improvements, Facebook, video games, health and exercise, travel, art, toys and phones. There are no end to worldly diversions.

So I’ve recognized a problem. What’s next? Far from being preachy this post is simply an exploration of my own feelings. None of these ideas are new to me, but I wanted to put them somewhere. I don’t have advice to dispense. After I finish this post I’ll probably look at carbon fiber car parts, see what’s new on Facebook and think about home improvements. Alas.

After I wrote this post I actually did a Google search for “living in the now” and found this TED talk. I’ll just put this here for later. Maybe what I’m really blogging about (saying) is that things can be an obstacle to our happiness. Duh. But it’s more than that. I’m also trying to convey that things can take us out of the moment. And being out of the moment can diminish our happiness.

But won’t being content and living in the moment rob us of our motivation? Maybe I’m misconstruing vision and progress as an obsession with material goods. Eh.

May 1, 2017: An Update- For the record I find that I become hyper-fixated on my car when I have something very stressful looming over me, as I do right now. 

New IT Dept

May 2, 2017 – Ah yes! Some way back when pics from the ‘ol scrapbook. This is from when we were finishing of the IT space over the storefront. That has been a great IT department, BTW. 

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Framing

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Drywall and finished

Orange You Glad?

I modified this Dilbert cartoon to express my feelings about work (with regard to the last couple of weeks). If you think you understand it then you’re most likely part of the problem.

dilbert-with-fruit

The SHOT Show. Why Do We Go?

Once a year Blade HQ heads out to Las Vegas to attend the SHOT show. Our goal: Fuel “Operation Grow & Dominate.” We’re on quest for new products, a mission to strengthen existing relationships and a crusade to excel (it took me awhile to come up with all that stuff).

Personally I think going to the show is pretty grueling. It’s non stop walking and talking, wheeling and dealing and wining and dining. None of that is stuff that I’m particularly good at and sometimes I get the impression that I may even be in the way (as well as another owner who won’t be named at this time). We have people attending the show who are much more qualified to handle this stuff. So why do we keep going?

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Sure…something about the atmosphere is Vegas is exciting.  And hanging out with coworkers is definitely fun. Perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to show we’ve still got “it.” Confession time: It’s the sandwiches. I was upfront with everyone volunteering that I was “going just to get a lobster sandwich” (found at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio). In a strange twist of fate Jim was also going for a sandwich. Specifically to mock an incredibly oversized club at the Carnagie Deli (he mocked it by finishing the entire thing).

Thanks Vegas! We’ll see you next year.

 

 

Playing Ostrich at Work (An Egg-citing Day!)

I have been feeling a little stressed out at work this month (the whole year thus far). We have some ambitious goals and that means there’s a lot to get done. I’m pretty sure time is moving faster than it used to and that means we have to work harder and smarter. But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy… so we work hard and play hard (hope there are enough adages here for everyone). Seriously though- we try and make work a fun place. Stuck in a rut? Do something crazy. We ate an egg. A big egg.

The backstory is weird and complicated. Tim, Adam and I had discussed getting a pet penguin. Somehow that segued into trying to get a penguin egg from a zoo. And that turned into a conversation about eating eggs. What would a penguin egg taste like? Turns out you can’t really get a penguin egg, but you can get an Ostrich egg. Before I knew it Tim had a “small” ostrich egg on it’s way to the HQ.

warehouse-ostrich-egg-1

For the record a “small” ostrich egg is huge. It’s the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs. This is only the second time I have had the pleasure of holding an egg this big. Since it was chilly out we wheeled our grill over to warehouse three (no active inventory) and commence the cooking indoors. First we fried up some bacon (sadly from the common pig and not the hippo bacon we longed for).  We then spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to hack into the egg. After a failed (and smelly) Dremmel attempt we poked holes in both sides of the egg and used an air compressor to force the yolk and white out. It sort of worked…

eating-an-ostrich-egg-at-work-2

… but eventually Adam had to give the egg mouth to shell (it’s really all about the seal). With the contents in the skillet we one step closer to our goal of eating a not-chicken egg. It took awhile to get the egg cooked up but it smelled good and, aside from a texture difference, looked like the scrambled eggs we all know and love. This is the plate I scooped for myself (probably about 4 chicken eggs worth). No turning back.

Size aside, there are definite difference between ostrich and chicken eggs. I’d describe both the texture and taste as “regular eggs infused with grit” (as in grits that one might eat in the south). While the egg was good I’m not sure I’d ever eat them in lieu of chicken eggs given the taste difference and price (they are not cheap). We took the cooked egg around work and forced it onto anyone we could find. Horizons were broadened. Hearts were warmed. And ostrich was shared. Thanks to Adam’s efforts next week we’ll be eating a swan egg.

And that’s how you run a company. With protein.

The People on the Bus Go Round and Round

In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins explains how important it is to have the right people on the bus. I’ve always thought this is a great metaphor for any group – obviously one where members are selected –  trying to accomplish an objective: a symphony, a relay team and, of course, a business team. Over the years I have thought a lot about the people on the bus.

Periodically in my companies people hop off the bus and people get on. Sometimes we’re very sad to see people leave, sometimes we’re relieved. And occasionally we look at each other and ask “How did that guy get on here in the first place?” I’m always surprised at how difficult it is to determine the level of dysfunction in an active element. It’s only once certain people leave that it becomes clear they were not helping the business and, in fact, that they were harming it.

It is not my intent to pick on anyone who is no longer with us, regardless of the reason. I wish no one any ill-will (well, okay, I confess that I enjoy the idea of karma). That being said…

Recently we went through a substantial change in one of my companies and removed two entire departments for various conduct-related offenses. Some of these people had been with our company for many years. One of the big concerns we had, prior to taking action, was the effect it would have on our operation. The contribution of these individuals with regard to our overall effectiveness seemed substantial.

Yes, we definitely struggled for awhile- we were down half a dozen members of our team. However, even with our reduced workforce people stepped up and we were able to accomplish the same amount of work as before. We changed some of our operating methods, restructured the departments and hired a smaller but more focused team to replace those we had let go. In the end things ran much better than before. And as we retrospectively analyse the previous team and department operations I’ve come to recognize several employee attitudes that diminish effectiveness and undermine company efficiency.

1. Laziness: Employees may not realize how easy it is to spot laziness. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Laziness, as I see it, is decision to withhold your best effort. Sometimes it’s easier to overlook laziness if the offender is charismatic, excellent at some job aspects or isn’t always lazy. But seriously- if you think you’re getting away with something guess again. Laziness, as I’m defining it here, diminishes effectiveness and, in the worst case, is almost the same as theft. If you’re lazy you don’t belong on the bus.

2. Entitlement: We have had our fair share of people come through companies who nurture a sort of “you owe me” attitude. They perceive an injustice in the system because they feel that somehow they have less. One example of this “injustice” might be a company owner’s car collection. If you consider that someone created the business, took that risk and associated stress, invested their money, time, emotional, energy, worked one hundred hour plus weeks and sacrificed for years and years… if you consider everything then maybe it’s not a big deal that person drives an expensive car. But if you have an attitude of entitlement then you perceive a car as a manifestation of greed. You feel that wealth is being withheld from you instead of realizing that the wealth is, in fact, being shared with you. An entitlement attitude – in any setting – always creates a negative experience. If you feel entitled to be on the bus then you don’t deserve to be there (even if you’re the owner).

3. I Know Better: Time and time again we’ve seen a visceral reaction when we are unable (or sometimes unwilling) to implement ideas proposed by employees who “know better.” One employee really sticks out in my mind. After this individual left we discovered a letter he had written (on his work computer) outlining everything wrong with the company. He was certain that, after only working for us for a few months, he understood our company better than we did. He incorrectly identified instances of favoritism, proposed promoting many employees who are now no longer with us (for various reasons listed here), misunderstood business policies, practices and even predicted the demise of our company. This employee gave us zero credit for the things that we had accomplished and had no faith in the company leadership. I believe that part of the “I Know Better” attitude is rooted in unwarranted mistrust. If you suspect the motivation for action is always negative it’s akin to wearing blinders. Ultimately if you really know better then you’ll know to hop off the bus.

4. “Awesomeitis”: Occasionally we’ll interact with someone who thinks they’re amazing and that without them the company would dry up and blow away. Typically this attitude is present in conjunction with many of the others noted here. Awesomeitis is used to conceal laziness. It is used to justify entitlement. It fuels the “I know better” attitude. We have had people threaten to quit with the belief that our company will be crippled. Ex-employees tell mutual friends that they were essentially “running everything.” Spouses wonder how “idiots” like us stay in business without their significant other at the “helm.” The truth of the matter is this: In every case where someone infected with awesomeitis has left, the company has been better off. There is simply no room on the bus for people with an inflated sense of their importance.

5. Pleasers: Sometimes an employee who wants to make you happy (at least to your face) can cause serious business issues. When an employee tells you what you want to hear in lieu of what you need to hear that mean that facts are being skewed or omitted.  “Everything is good!” The result is that you think things are under control when they aren’t. An unhappy employee gets unhappier, inadequate systems become overwhelmed and, in the worst case, you make important decisions based off of misinformation. When you run a business it’s critical that you know the factual state of things and pleasers aren’t able to present them. Additionally, pleasers tend to please everyone. If the owner hates something then the pleasers hate it. If a coworker hates the owner then the pleasers hate the owner too. Such duplicitous actions only cause rifts, bad feelings and help to cultivate the aforementioned mistrust. Do you really want to please everyone?  Then escort yourself off the bus.

Okay, okay- so having the right people on the bus is important – more than important. Sure, sometimes it seems like having a couple of the wrong people on the bus isn’t a big deal and it feels good to have the bus full. But experience has taught me over and over that the wrong people get you to the wrong place. The difficulty – for me anyway – often lies in identifying the offenders while they are still seated. I imagine it’s something I will perpetually have to work on. In the meantime we have overhauled our hiring practices and we systematically screen for attitude elements that can destroy the culture and effectiveness of our company. The bottom line: A company is only as good as the team behind it. Make your team great. Get the right people on board, put them in the right spot (that’s important too) and you will get where you want to go even if you don’t know the final destination.

The ideas shared here are not comprehensive or definitive by any means. I’m open to the idea that I’m being unfair. I’ve always told people that if they don’t enjoy working for me that they can leave- no hard feelings. They can go start their own company and run it however they’d like. I wish them all the success in the world because their success does not diminish mine (and vice versa). But show me a successful company with employees heavily infected by any or all of the five attitudes I’ve listed here. Can’t find one? Didn’t think so.

A Business Story

Bob had an orange stand. Each week Bob was able to get 100 oranges and at the end of the week he had sold 100 hundred oranges. Bob was happy. Bob’s customers were very helpful and offered him business advice. Bob decided to hire a dancing cowboy to promote his oranges. His customers loved the cowboy! At the end of the next week Bob had sold 100 oranges and then he had to pay the cowboy. One day a man came to the orange stand and told Bob that he wanted a grapefruit. Bob told the man that they only sold oranges. The man said that the cowboy had given him a grapefruit on his last visit. Bob decided to sell grapefruits. Bob had an orange and grapefruit stand with a dancing cowboy. Each week Bob was able to get 90 oranges and 10 grapefruits and at the end of the week Bob had sold 90 oranges and 4 grapefruits and then he had to pay the cowboy. Bob was working harder than ever and making less money. Bob’s customers were very helpful and offered him more business advice. They told Bob to take pictures of all the oranges to help them decide which one they wanted to buy. Bob spent all week taking pictures while the cowboy danced. Bob was very tired. That week Bob was able to get 90 oranges and 10 grapefruits and at the end of the week Bob had sold 70 oranges and 2 grapefruits because he didn’t have time to run his stand. Then he had to pay the cowboy. Bob died poor, tired and unhappy. The End.

Notes: I wrote this story after “fighting” with some some members of a knife forum. Quite a few people were livid that my company doesn’t take pictures of each individual wood handled knife we sell. From their point of view I suppose it makes sense- since each piece of wood is different they want to see exactly what they’re getting. But if I sell every wood handled knife I can get as things stand why would I want to incur the expense of photographing them all? The assumptions people make about my business (i.e. the reasons that we do things a certain way) are often perplexing and almost always incorrect.  If I did some of the things they suggest I’d quickly be out of business. In any event, forum fighting easily makes my top ten “most frustrating things in the world” list.