When "good enough" just isn’t.

My daughter went to an event put on by her school last week.  Called the “Enchanted Fall” the Edmonton Digital Arts College (previously known as Guru) it was an event where the students at EDAC could showcase their work.  My daughter decided, rather late in the game, that it would be nice to have business cards.  Because there is a Staples on the way home I figured it would be advantageous to order from Staples and then pick them up the next day.

I went to their website, ordered the “Same Day Business Cards” and, after ordering them Wednesday night, I went to pick them up on Thursday.  Here is what I wrote in the letter I dropped off with the Manager of Staples that night:

No cards were ready for us when we arrived at 5:30 PM. There was a record in the system of our having ordered the cards, but no business cards were waiting for us. The staff was quite apologetic and offered to print up some business cards, but they did note that the printer they used for business cards was not operational and that they would have to cut the cards by hand. If we could come back in 20 minutes they would have the cards ready.

We left and came back at 6:00 PM. The cards that they showed us were, to be brutally honest, of insufficient quality to use as any sort of business card. The cards were of different shapes and sizes and nowhere near the quality expected. They asked for one more chance and they were given one more chance. They took their time and did the best job they could and while the quality is probably “good enough” for this event, they will likely be tossed after the event while better cards are ordered. (I have included two samples of the business cards to show you that even after all their efforts the cards are still inconsistent. Closer, but still inconsistent.)

On Friday, the day of the event, I got a call at home saying that the business cards were ready and that I could pick them up at any time.  I am guessing her, but I think that the Manager of Staples had them put through their system so that they would get printed again.  Curious as to the quality of this latest batch I went and picked them up.

They were a higher quality than the batch produced on Thursday night BUT they were still below the quality that I expected.  The cards still had a slightly inconsistent size with some cards fractionally larger than others.  The cards themselves were larger than the standard business card and the printing was better than the previous night, but the trim job was just as bad.  Dark lines marking where the cuts were supposed to occur were still seen on the business cards.  The paper was of a higher quality (white as opposed to off-white/pink) than Thursday night and the printing was cleaner.

All in all it was a better job, but still not as good as I have seen from a myriad of other printers.  I chose Staples because of convenience.  I have now been shown that convenience should not be a factor in choosing where to get something printed.

I have learned my lesson:  Staples will not even be in the top 100 list when I am thinking of getting damn near anything printed.  The lack of care from the Staples staff (the first set of cards was pathetic and should never have been presented to a customer) and the lack of response from the Manager at Staples (while he may have had the order reprinted he did not contact me) has shown me that they don’t care for the product nor for the customer.

Goodbye Staples.


Personal involvement in presentations

I kind of like the Harvard Business Review, or at least some of the blog posts that they have.  The latest entry that I read was “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling”.  The research that was done seemed to indicate that character-driven stories, in particular stories that sustained the attention of the recipient by developing tension, made the recipient more likely to “continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.

As I am on a writing kick this month (see the bottom for the latest stats) I really embraced this concept of creating tension early on in the novel so that people would be able to empathize with the characters and want to continue reading.  I also learned other techniques such as shortening the length of the sentences during action sequences.  Nothing kills the action like a long exposition between punches.  Or ending a chapter with in the middle of an event.  The reader is almost forced to read the next chapter to see what happened.  Or, if there is no action happening, ending the chapter with ominous words or phrases that foreshadow what might be coming up.  (ex. As he flipped on the light switch John realized that this was where he was going to die.)

So, how does this help you in your day to day work?  Well, perhaps not your day to day work, but what about when you are doing a presentation to a crowd.  The more abstract the presentation the more it requires a story for people to connect to the content.  The more emotional you need the response to be to the ultimate question the more tension you need to invoke and the more you need a likeable protagonist in your story.

When you are giving a presentation to a group of people you have their undivided attention for, what, 30 seconds?  You need to grab them by the shirt and drag them into your world in those 30 seconds.  You need to make sure they don’t want to leave.  You want them invested in the outcome.

I have been in a number of presentations where nothing is done except read the slides.  Goodness knows that I have been guilty of that way too many times.  This does nothing to engage the audience.  It does nothing to make them want to do something with the information that you are providing.  The most exciting, the most engaging presentations are where the presenter talks to you, not at you and gives you a story that you will remember.  A story that you can empathize with.  A story that makes you feel like this is something important.

Harvard Business Review

A blog posting at the Harvard Business Review really roasted organizations.  Entitled “The Core Incompetencies of the Organization” the article roasted organizations, most predominantly large organizations in three areas:

  • Inertial.  Change occurs because of a crisis and is not a natural part of the organization. Renewal is not something that is done without “bloodshed” (aka overhauling the leadership team).
  • Incremental.  The organization has “structures and processes that are inherently toxic to break-out thinking and relentless experimentation.”  Ouch.
  • Insipid.  Managers don’t know how to effectively engage their staff and many are actively disengaged.  (A 2013 Gallup poll shows that in Canada 14% of people are actively disengaged at work while only 16% are actively engaged.)

The author (Gary Hamel – Visiting Professor at the London Business School) makes an interesting case in what needs to change.  He essentially says that:

When confronted by unprecedented challenges, like an inflection in the pace of change, the most important things to think about are the things we never think about—the taken-for-granted assumptions that are to us as unremarkable as water is to fish. The performance of any social system (be it a government, a religious denomination or a corporation), is ultimately limited by the paradigmatic beliefs of its members; by the core tenets that have been encapsulated in creeds and reified in structures.

 

“You are what you believe.”  Recent research seems to corroborate that statement.  If you believe that you will fail, you will fail.  While believing that you will succeed will not necessarily make you succeed, it definitely puts you on a better footing for the potential to succeed.

In order to re-invent the organization, be it public sector or private, you need to believe that you can change it.  In the immortal words of Adam Savage “I reject your reality and substitute my own.

And isn’t that what making change is all about?

NaNoWriMo2014

So NaNoWriMo 2014 is just a couple of days old and I have learned a lot about myself.

I spent days planning my novel, days and days and days.  I have had dreams that take place in my fantasy world and I have walked alongside almost all of my characters.  I plotted out my novel and dedicated over 5000 words to planning their every move so that when I started to write the novel I knew exactly what needed to be done in each scene.

And I’m not really following the plot.

Well, the main points I am, but the sub plots and little tidbits of information that I was going to insert into each little scene?  Changed.  Sometimes massively and sometimes I just moved things around to a different scene.  I was reading where some authors just come up with a concept and then sit down and see where it takes them.  Others write such an extensive outline that all they need to do is fill in some blanks and the book is complete.  I seem to be somewhere in the middle.  I have a plot, some general ideas as to the scenes that I want to put in the book and the rest will kind of write itself.  I guess that’s why they call it “creative writing”.

In some respects I consider writing an application to be a creative process.  No matter how detailed the design specifications (outline) are, the end result depends upon the person writing the application.  Do they use the specs as a hard and fast guide as to how the application needs to be written or do they use it as a general guide and see how the application decides to build itself.  Well many will say that the hard and fast guide is the only way that successful business applications are built I will argue that some process in the is where the most revolutionary applications are built.  Yes, they meet the business needs but perhaps not in the way that the business expected.

I’ll let you know if I change my mind after writing my 50,000 word.  If you want to keep track I shall be including the link to the stats image at the end of this and the rest of the notes for the month of November.  What better way to encourage me to keep up the work than by making my progress (or lack thereof) visible to the world.