Those Glory Days of Mood Rings and Pet Rocks

You can tell a lot about an era by the gadgets it spawns.

In the mid-’70s, two must-have items were the mood ring and the pet rock (both of which I owned, courtesy of my fad-sustaining mom).

Although both of these product niches flared out in fairly short order, I think they reflected some common values of the time – at least in America.

Both embodied the “Me Decade” mantra that Novelist Tom Wolfe coined to describe the passive individualism that took root in the 1970s (contrasting the communal lifestyle associated with the ‘60s). The mood ring, in particular, empowered each of us through its ability to measure – and share – a wearer’s unique state of mind at any given time.

Another intriguing characteristic of both gadgets is how they supported – even celebrated – a sedentary lifestyle. You didn’t actually have to ‘do’ anything to enjoy their benefits. Body temperature regulated the color that purportedly evaluated your mood, and the pet rock was, well, a ROCK.

(Of course, this elevation of inactivity would be dethroned in the early ‘80s by the Jane Fonda-inspired workout video craze).

In retrospect, probably the most amusing part of our ‘70s baubles is the fact that they were total farces – and we all knew it. Neither product actually delivered what it was supposed to, but we all played along with the gag as if for the sake of a clueless bystander (a role, oddly, also played by us).

I kind of understand the appeal of the mood ring. It was fun, gimmicky, gaudy-stylish. And from what I remember, comparing moods with others could be a hoot (stop snickering, I had a men’s version).

But the pet rock? It was an inanimate object devoid of any meaningful characteristic of owning a real pet. It was nothing more than a corny joke.

That didn’t matter – at least not to my mom, who thought it was hilarious. I think I played along for a while, until I got bored and decided to paint a monster face on the stupid stone.

We demand so much more from our gadgets these days.

Unlike kitschy jewelry or faux pets, our smartphone devices can’t be one-trick ponies. They need to connect us, direct us, inform us, entertain us, awaken us, and on and on.

So what will they ultimately tell future generations about what we valued during this era?

Certainly that we craved technology. Couldn’t get enough of it.

We liked to explore and were easily distracted by bright, shiny objects/apps.

We had short attention spans.

And probably most telling of all: that we were all too willing to increasingly devote our lives to a tiny device that promised so much (yet, like the ring and rock, didn’t necessarily deliver the satisfaction we hoped it would).

I wonder what gadgets will define us in 10, 20, 50, 100+ years? 

Confronting the Biggest Bully

As I step up to the podium, I catch my first glance of him. Big, burly, snickering widely. With an imposing presence that pollutes the space.

“Who IS this guy”? I wonder, turning away and inhaling deeply. My stage-fright angst turns to total dread as I consider the unlikelihood of delivering my presentation in a composed, confident way.

“Why in the world did I agree to this”? I wonder, mentally kicking myself for having to endure this needless stress.

The fight-or-flight instinct begs me to make a run for it, but instead I bite my cheek and prepare to begin.

Hooligan.

I launch into my presentation, hoping some magical autopilot instinct will propel me forward. Gently skimming the crowd, I can’t even fathom making eye contact with anyone. It’s hard enough to feign audience engagement.

Praying my peripheral vision will fail, I lock in at about 2 o’clock, a safe distance from my enemy. I try to convince myself he is sitting attentively, but my better judgment tells me he is probably snickering or sneering or whispering verbal attacks against me to his neighbor.

Thug.

I continue my speech, quite certain of its mediocrity. I imagine that some will demand a refund of their money – or their time. Perhaps I should apologize from the podium or refuse the token thank-you gift likely to be presented to me.

Instead, I soldier on. And on. And on, hoping to eat up whatever time is reserved for the Q&A. A typical highlight for me, this “open mike” section could only spell trouble by allowing my nemesis a platform to publicly maim me.

Fat chance, sad sack.

As I near the end of my speech, I muster up the courage to gently turn toward the guy who ruined my evening. Curiosity wins out and I just have to see what he’s up to – whether laughing, or yawning, or making obscene gestures. I will not allow this bully to bully me anymore.

But I’m not quite prepared for what I witness.

The chair is empty, except for a ladies coat and purse slung across it.

Sometimes the biggest enemy lies within.

Confessions of a Watermelon-Hater

Cutupwatermelon

Who doesn’t crave a pink, juicy, sweet slice of melon goodness? It’s the ultimate in thirst-quenching summer refreshment – especially during these dog days.

Not so fast.

That’s right, I am a closet watermelon-hater.

Despite being surrounded by melon-craving fiends my whole life (my sister foremost among them), I never really liked the stuff. Way TOO sweet, TOO juicy, TOO much work avoiding those annoying seeds.

I’ve tried to like it, honestly I have. Repeatedly attempted to convince myself – and others – that I was just a normal watermelon-loving kid. To no avail.

You know the drill. I was gripped by that vulcan force known as peer pressure. It hovered over my childhood, dictating what I wore, listened to, considered cool.

It ruled.

Thankfully, I’ve evolved a bit since then. I no longer have to feel sheepish for liking spinach or listening to Lady Gaga (OK, maybe a tad on that latter point).

Wish I could proclaim that I’ve experienced a total transformation into a bold man who stands up for what he prefers, regardless of the risk or cost.

But that’s not exactly the case, even though I’m gradually chipping away at the caked-on gunk from my youth.

So until I’m able to fully shake loose those ghosts of peers past (and present), I’ll be content in admitting I’m still not wild about watermelon.

Although strangely, I rather enjoy a watermelon-flavored sucker.

Don’t try to figure me out. Stronger wills have failed. 

Watermelon_sucker

 

 

Even My Dreams Taunt Me With Stories

Dream

Everywhere I turn, someone’s flapping their gums about the amazing power of storytelling.

It’s a universal, deafening drumbeat bent on convincing all of us that it’s time to recapture the lost art of sharing stories.

OK, I hear you. I believe you. I even agree with you.

But to be honest, I’m a bit storied out.

That’s why I was particularly miffed (amused, actually) the other morning when I realized that my dreams were complicit in this storytelling conspiracy.

It dawned on me as I was trying to process the previous night’s dream and finally grasped the fact that I dream in stories.

Yes, my unconscious mind strings together a mishmash of mismatched characters, locations and themes. It weaves them together into a messy, but unmistakable story – probably with a moral that escapes me altogether.

I always neglect to write down my dreams, so I can’t even recall most of them. But when I do, I usually enjoy my mind’s ability to jumble up details and play fast and loose with logic. Accuracy rarely seems to be a priority with these tomes.  

Imprecise as it may be with details, though, my mind seems to be constantly trying to tell me stuff, and its megaphone of choice is the good old-fashioned tale.

Bet that’s true for you as well.

Which only reinforces the notion that, at our core, we are wired to communicate and connect through stories.

Guess that makes perfect sense, as life is pretty much a series of unfolding stories, complete with plot twists, tension, climaxes, lulls, and a final denouement.

As for those bandwagon-jumping story evangelists? I’ll try to be more patient with them. Even if they’ve found a way to invade my dreams.

 

Are You a Curator or a Packrat?

Curation

At first glance, the contrast between these two handles couldn’t be sharper.

A curator is a specialist who oversees a cultural institution’s collections. (S)he makes decisions about what objects to collect, oversees their care, and conducts research to share with the public through exhibitions and publications.

Conversely, a packrat is a disparaging term for an undisciplined hoarder. (S)he’s named after a bushy-tailed rodent that uses its well-developed cheek pouches to store food and miscellaneous objects.

Seemingly disparate terms, yet in the unwieldy world of digital content, there’s a fine line separating the two.

Most of us, of course, would much prefer to don a curator’s hat. We aspire to be that cultured – somewhat snooty – expert who has a skill for selecting and sharing content that’s ideally suited to whatever audience we seek to reach.

But who or what determines what’s OK to share? How much is too much? Is there a specific formula or general rule of thumb?

The frustrating truth is: it depends. One person’s trusted curator is another person’s annoying packrat.

Each morning, as I scour news sites and blogs for content that I think may be of interest to my Twitter community, I wonder which moniker I most embody.

Some mornings, it’s slim pickings. Others, it’s a bountiful harvest and I find myself fighting trigger-finger tendencies.

Regardless, it’s really hard to gauge whether I’m viewed as more of a curator or a packrat. I suspect the answer depends on whom you ask.

In many ways, trying to organize and serve up digital content is much more challenging and murky than it is for any cultural institution. Holdings don’t fit nicely within a discrete, climate-controlled environment. They never will. 

Instead, the goal is to cast a focused net within the seemingly endless ocean of internet content (estimated to reach 20 billion items by 2020).

The role of digital curator is in its infancy. It’s messy. Imprecise. And often like chasing the wind. 

But it’s an increasingly valuable — and valued — function.

So if you’re wondering whether you’re more of a curator or a packrat, you’re probably a bit of both. 

Welcome to the family.

Packrat

Hey Chick-fil-A: No, it’s ‘MY’ Pleasure

Think common courtesy is outdated and great customer service is obsolete? Then you probably haven’t visited your local Chick-fil-A restaurant.

I stopped at mine for a bite to eat on Saturday night (a day after Cow Appreciation Day) and was confronted by an uncharacteristically warm hospitality – particularly for a fast-food restaurant.

The experience started when I pulled up to a backed-up drive-thru, dreading an inevitably long wait. But remarkably, it was one of the speediest, most efficient drive-thru lines I’ve ever navigated.

My order was taken by a cordial guy, who immediately comprehended it, repeated it back (correctly!) and replied to my “Thank you” with a genuine-sounding “My pleasure.”

Nice.

When I arrived at the pick-up window, my bag was awaiting me, accompanied by a pleasant woman who greeted me and efficiently completed the transaction. She eagerly responded to my “Thanks” with a familiar refrain: “My pleasure.”

Nice.

So how can Chick-fil-A achieve this high level of service when its fast-food brethren falls miserably short?

I won’t pretend to know the secret formula, but I think it’s safe (and logical) to assume that it boils down to hiring great people, treating them well, providing them with a nice environment, and holding them to high standards. I’m sure a killer training program is part of the equation.

The resulting culture of respect shapes employees who exude pride (the good kind).

Founder – and current Chairman – S. Truett Carty has never been shy in proclaiming that he built the business on traditional “Christian principles,” including an uncommon-in-the-retail-world practice of staying closed on Sundays. It also supports numerous community service activities and sometimes-controversial alliances.

 

The formula seems to be working at the $3.5 billion chain, which has more than 1500 locations in 39 U.S. states and continues aggressive expansion despite the anemic economy.

Next time I visit my local restaurant, I plan to play a little game. Not only will I say “Thanks” to every crew member I encounter, but I’ll kick it up a notch by responding to their “My pleasure” with a quick retort of my own: “No, it’s MY pleasure.”

I’ll be curious to see if their responses are equally as cheerful and consistent.

Regardless, I gladly join those famous cows in exhorting everyone to:

Eat-more-chikin

 

 

 

What Online Dating Taught Me About Brand Loyalty

Applewalmart

I’ve often joked that I’m a lifetime member of eHarmony. Which is my way of laughing off the fact that I haven’t found love on the online dating service – despite repeated tries over many months.

Friends have accused me of being too picky, too ambivalent, too idealistic.

As if those are bad traits…

Looking back, I think my first – and gravest – mistake was getting sucked in by those sappy TV commercials and assuming my dream woman would just drop into my virtual lap with little time or effort.

Accordingly, I started developing feelings for my first “match,” based entirely on a fantasy I had concocted around a few breezy email exchanges.

Naive, silly boy.

The fact is, I didn’t have nearly enough data to truly “know” this person, so I relied on my imagination to fill in the blanks.

When we finally met face-to-face, the actual woman showed up (as did the actual man), and there was no actual love connection.

A similar pattern plays out as consumers interact with companies and brands. You develop an initial impression (or fantasy) based on limited data: an ad campaign, a friend’s opinion, a cool logo. It’s only when you have a personal encounter with a specific company/product/service that you get a truly authentic experience. And it usually sticks.

My experience with Apple is a prime example. Raised on PCs, I didn’t have much experience with Apple computers. But I had admired the company’s marketing campaigns and cool factor. When it came time to replace my aging HP, I decided to give Apple a try. Fast-forward a few years, and I’m now a proud and avid user of an iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. I suppose that officially qualifies me as an Apple fanboy, but it’s only because the company lived up to its hype for me.

And speaking of fanboys, my mom most certainly functions as one for Walmart. She lives in a small town and considers it a treat to venture to the shopping mecca and pick up some greeting cards, yarn and a prescription refill. Despite her Walmart enthusiasm, however, I consider a trip to my local Walmart as something akin to being waterboarded. Sure, I appreciate a bargain as much as the next guy, but my first experience with my neighborhood Walmart carries painful memories of derelict crowds, disorganized merchandise, butt-ugly displays and surly sales associates. I’ve gladly decided to place my loyalty and dollars behind Target, a retailer that created what was a far more positive first experience.

For professional service companies, brand preferences most certainly boil down to a personal experience with a specific individual(s). I may opt to have my taxes prepared by H&R Block (if I receive a promotional discount) or a small independent professional (based on a colleague’s recommendation), but my actual experience with a provider will determine whether I choose the same one the following year or look elsewhere.

Which makes me wonder why companies don’t spend more time and money on the hiring and ongoing training of their people.

A glitzy marketing campaign can absolutely create buzz and attract customers.

But it’s the actual consumer experience that builds the brand loyalty that builds brands.

 

Nouns with a Nasty Case of Verb Envy

Grammar_police

Call me a grammar purist, but I was taught that nouns should act like nouns and verbs like verbs. 

Apparently, that’s far too limiting a concept, as nouns are increasingly encouraged to masquerade as full-fledged verbs.

I suppose life as a mere person, place or thing isn’t nearly as dynamic as that of a carefree action word like “jump” or “sashay.”

I’ll be first to acknowledge that it’s far more efficient to “Google” something than to “conduct a Google search.” And it’s way cooler to “Skype” with a friend than to “engage in a video conference call.”

But it’s a slippery slope, folks. If we’re not careful, we just might find ourselves facing a full-on syntax free-for-all.

Case in point:  a recent press release whose headline stated that the company wanted to “obsolete” cash registers. Now why in the world is this once-proud adjective stepping out of its zone to demand some action of its own?

Think it may be time to call in the Grammar Police, before we slip into complete word anarchy.

So who wants to join me in restoring some order to our lexicon?

Oh, by the way, don’t forget to friend me on Facebook.

Some old-school preaching from Schoolhouse Rock.

Tresselgate vs. Weinergate: Dueling Deceptions

Scarlet Sweater-Vest Meets Not-So-Mysterious Crotch Shot

These are the tales that sustain cable news networks.

In one corner: squeaky-clean coach from one of the most storied collegiate sports franchises steps down in a blaze of cover-ups and ethical misjudgments.

And in the other corner: cocky politician with grand aspirations admits to sending a series of lewd photos of himself to various young women on Twitter.

Prior to being scandalized, these “gentlemen” didn’t have a whole lot in common.

Yet through their deceptive ways, they will forever share a special bond.

Strange bedfellows, as it were… 

TRESSEL                                               WEINER

Conservative…………………………………………………Liberal

Christian………………………………………………………..Jew

5’8” (with platforms)………………………………….6’0”+                       

58 years old………………………………………………….46 years old           

Midwest humility………………………………………….East-Coast brash

Married for decades……………………………………Married for less than a year

Four kids……………………………………………………….No kids

Fellowship of Christian Athletes…………………Subcommittee on Public Housing

Heckled by Wolverines………………………………..Heckled by a Pack of Wolves

Resigned (under pressure)…………………………Vows not to resign (under pressure)

How’s Your Stuff?

Pitcher

Ah, baseball. That wholesome, all-American pastime on par with hot dogs, apple pie, Chevrolet…

…And a whole lot of stuff.

Ask any major-league pitcher about his most recent performance, and he’s bound to use the term “stuff” to describe it.

Like it or not, stuff is the universal idiom in the MLB pitcher lexicon. It’s as if they have a contractual obligation to weave the term into every media interview.

These multi-million-dollar athletes, who devote nearly every waking moment to fine-tuning their technique, get away with explaining their performance with a breezy, “I just didn’t have great stuff today.”

Wish I, who earn a tiny fraction of their take, could get away with similar breeziness. But something tells me the following response just won’t fly:

“Gee, sorry (boss/client/CEO), but I missed the mark on that (article/plan/project) because I just didn’t have my best stuff yesterday.”

I think it irritates me most because baseball – like any sport – provides such an extremely personal and emotional experience for fans. When a pitcher struggles, I want him to own up to it, express some passion, have a more substantial explanation.

I’m not looking for a pitch-by-pitch diatribe, just something along the lines of: “You know, I was really disappointed that the velocity of my sinker was lacking, but my change-up was as good as it’s been all season. I know what I need to work on.”

Apparently, that’s too much to expect.

I have a similar disdain for the shenanigans of professional weathermen, whose absolute lack of accountability permits them to consistently bungle forecasts and escape scot-free. It makes me wonder why, if meteorology is indeed a science, it’s still such a crapshoot.

But I digress.

No doubt, baseball has its share of quirky terms and acronyms – everything from balk to ribbie to grand salami. But none of them is as vague and meaningless as stuff.

And apparently, the term is reserved exclusively for pitchers. I challenge you to find a batter, fielder, coach or umpire who uses “stuff” to describe his performance. 

If I were a sportscaster, I wouldn’t allow major-league hurlers to get off so easy. I’d demand they explain what they really mean.

Don’t think I’d last long on that job. 

So I’ll turn the tables and ask everyone else: How’s YOUR stuff?

Pitcher2