Its Paul McCartney’s Birthday

Paul turns 66 today June 18, 2008. I have been celebrating Paul’s birthday since he was 14 years old. It was that year that he gave up his dream of becoming an electrician, picked up a used guitar and began singing. Soon instead of writing sonnets (he also considered being a poet at one time) he had tunes pop into his head while in the shower and found himself writing lyrics on the back of napkins.

I had always surmised that he was the lesser half of the Lennon-McCartney song writing duo. To a large degree I believe that Wings bears this out. Yet, he has become a living legend, former husband 3 times over and accumulated wealth beyond my wildest dreams.

I will always celebrate this day. Happy Birthday Sir Paul!


Good Help Is Hard To Find

Work is harder for me than it needs to be. Far too many of the people I work with can’t do their job properly. Its not that they are unwilling to work hard. They either do not know enough and/or are not smart enough to figure it out. My frustration overwhelmed me Friday when one of my best people, someone who usually thinks about what he does, gave me a report that that cut and pasted pages from prior reports on the same topic. I am all for efficiency but not at the expense of quality. Data on one page was inconsistent with and even contradictory with conclusions on another. It was enough to make this hardened road warrior cry.

I spent the day down in Dallas at the expense of my free time, not all travel time can be billed to the client, in order to work with a young staffer. He was to have done some pre-work so that we could focus on the big issues. We present to the client this week. The pre-work sucked. I spent part of the day telling him what to do, part of the day waiting for him to do it and only a small amount of time doing what I had come for. It was back on the plane and home at 10 pm on a Friday. On my way home from working with this well intentioned but clueless young man I realized that I rarely get to work with the “wise son”.

During the Passover Seder one of the traditions is to tell the story of the four sons (in today’s PC world it typically becomes the four children but I am a traditionalist). These sons represent different types of children requiring different ways of telling the Passover story. The wise son asks to be told the meaning of the holiday as it applies to him and his people. The wicked son knows to ask questions but believes that none of this applies to him. The simple son only knows to ask “what’s all this then” (at least that’s what the Monty Python version of the simple son asks). Lastly there is the son who does not know enough to ask a question.

I tire of working with simple sons and those not even knowing how to ask a question. I try to get our people to recruit and hire more wise sons and daughters but to no avail. Maybe its time to wander in the desert for awhile. Or at least on a beach again.

Beautiful Biking Day

Yesterday was very close to perfect biking weather. The sun was warm, the air had a touch of coolness, and the wind was minimal. It was a joy to be out there.

53 miles. 3.5 hours. Average speed of about 15 mph.

I am right where I would hope to be at this stage of the summer. Of the 50 or so miles I felt strong for 45 and had a little kick left for the last one. I biked hard. For me that means being aware of pushing the pace as often during the 3.5 hours as possible. I am working on my cardiovascular training and speed (speed being relative to me not the world) in addition to endurance. My goal would be to take 30 minutes off the 8.5 hours it took me to complete the 107 miles of the North Shore Century in September. Only 3 months away.

Some day I will figure out how to get a ride or two in during the week and still get my work done and see my family. Others do it I know. This one long ride a week is far from an optimal training regime. 

Someone asked me if I am one of those people who get sore the next day or the second day after a long ride. I just looked at her quizzically and said, “I am sore all the time.” 

Bill Evans Trumps The Donald Any Time

I am on another long plane ride – no I am not complaining, just stating fact. I had a choice to make. Watch the E Hollywood story of Donald Trump or listen to music. No contest. I am not a celebrity junkie and it would take someone vastly more interesting than The Donald to hold my interest.

I plugged my E2c headphones into my iPod and headed right to Bill Evans. For those of you who may not be familiar, Bill Evans was one of the foremost jazz pianists of his generation and mine. My interest in jazz was just beginning to bloom when I first heard his album “The Paris Concert: Part One”. The beauty of the sounds astounded me. Not being a fan of classical music, I could only imagine that this was what it felt like for someone who did because not only was their beauty in these sounds but also complexity. Most of what I had listened to up to then was rock or country music. Good tunes but fairly simple. 

Unfortunately when I said album I meant vinyl. I have not found this music on CD and therefore cannot enjoy it while flying.  Instead I am listening to one of his solo efforts aptly named “Alone” (Verve 1968).  Most of his work was in trios or quartets.  “Midnight Mood” is particularly worth listening to.

Bill Evans was a jazz genius. The Donald. Not worth another mention. 


The Longest Baseball Awards Banquet In Recorded History

Probably a good thing that I waited 48 hours to write this.  I have calmed down some. Instead of a long post, here are some key stats:

  • 4.5 hours long
  • Each coach talked about each kid on each of the 4 teams, approximately 110 kids
  • Two coaches took way too long per kid
  • 16 quasi-inappropriate comments about individual players by the varsity coach alone
  • 2 embarrassing and 4 good things said about my son over 3.5 hours after the start
  • 1 varsity most improved player award taken home by my son D

Good intentions but poorly paced. At least the food was good, and most importantly my son knew that I was there on a night that was important to him. I came close to staying late at work like most other nights. Didn’t. Good call.


A Teaching Moment…Or A 3 Stooges Moment

Two and one half decades ago I was young, new in my career, and in need of someone to help me grow and develop in this world of consulting I had entered. When I started there were two managers and the Big Boss. It was like learning from the Three Stooges. All were bright and good at doing the work. None had a clue about how to manage, train or mentor someone entering the field. From the Stooges I learned how to be a good manager and mentor by doing exactly the opposite of what they did.

Three examples and then on to why I started to write this morning.

 I went to Manager Larry as he was leaving the company to get some sage advice on how to progress in my career before he was forever gone. He looked at me in his most serious, reflective manner and said, “Wear better suits”. Now there may be a metaphor for life in there somewhere or perhaps it was time to upgrade my sartorial standards, but that is the best ya got? After working with him for a year I should not have been surprised.

Manager Shemp (none of the three lived up to the high standards of Curly) once gave me feedback on a report I had drafted. He called me to his office and as I stepped through the door, the papers came flying towards me just ahead of his words, “This is a piece of S–t!”.  I learned so much from Shemp.

Then there was Big Boss Moe. I am ashamed to say that I worked with this man for 14 years. In the bizarro world one can gain great wisdom by doing the opposite. There are too many Moe stories to tell here. I should put the collection of stories in the next business book best seller, “Everything You Need To Know About Management Can Be Learned From The Stooges” or the more simple title of “Stoogeology. Lessons For Today’s Business Leaders”.

OK. A quick Moe as manager story.  It was early in my career and we were working directly with the CEO of a fairly large company. The project had a short time line and we needed to schedule our next meeting with him. The best day for the CEO was in two weeks on a Thursday. Moe looked at his calendar and stated to my great disbelief, “No, I am in a golf tournament at my country club that day.” To this day I do not know if I was more shocked that he put off an important business meeting to play golf or that he admitted it to the CEO instead of just saying that he was booked that day. That was Big Boss Moe.

Fast forward 20+ years. I have been directly responsible for managing people on and off throughout my career. Regardless of my formal duties I have taken it as a key priority to help people coming up behind me to grow. I have been very good at this. However, lately I  have sometimes let the weariness I feel for my work –it has been 27 years — occasionally influence how I interact with my people.

Most of the time I give positive or at corrective feedback in a constructive manner. I regularly check-in with my people to see how they are doing. I take time to work on their skills regardless of whether they are working on something for me or for someone else.  I teach others who seek to learn whether or not they report to me.

Now that I have laid the groundwork that I am really a good guy I can confess to my weak moments. Sarcasm is not foreign to my speech. In fact it is an integral part. When used wisely it can be a good learning tool. When used indiscriminately it can be mean. There are a couple of people at work that frustrate me because they are bright, no longer brand new, and have great potential. Yet they are not growing despite some of the best efforts to guide and teach them. With them I get indiscriminate.

I have not yet gotten to the level of throwing reports at them and evaluating their work with four letter words. (Today, throwing a report would involve tossing a laptop which could not be good in any sense of the word) and yet I can riff one sarcastic comment after another for quite awhile. It hit me the other day when I was riffing to one of the Frustrators and I had to pause for a moment and declare ” You should listen to that last one. This was a teaching moment.”

Yeah, a teaching moment from Curly.

The Man Behind Improv

The names are familiar, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Shelly Long, Mike Myers. Saturday Night Live, that great NY phenomenon got much of its best talent from Chicago–especially from The Second City. Long before the rise and fall of comedy clubs there was this improv club in Chicago. By the time I started going and seeing and laughing with Belushi, Murray and Long in the 1970s it had been a Chicago institution for almost 20 years. Thanks to Paul Sills. Paul was a co-founder of The Second City. He was the man behind the curtain and the wind beneath the wings of dozens of comic players who later went on to far bigger and better things.

His was not a familiar name to me when I read about his death a couple of days ago at age 80. Del Close, a performer and improv teacher was much better known. (There was a rumor that after his death a few years ago that Del’s skull was on stage in several local productions.) Yet none of this would have started without Paul Sills. Click on this list of Second City alumni. A large number of amazing talents trained on that stage.

I appreciate the quite people who are content to be the people behind the scenes that make things happen. In this case, an uncountable number of uproariously funny things.