Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Two Most Important Lists

I read an interesting piece the other day by Alan M. Webber, blogging on Harvard Business Publishing. He poses a challenge to create arguably the only two lists you'll ever need at work to keep you balanced and your priorities straight:

Things That Keep Me Up At Night.
Reasons I Get Up In The Morning.

Here's what I came up with:

First, the TTKMUAN:
As my son says, "Dad, we eat what you kill. Get out there and kill something!" Hard to find enough "meat" in this economy. How will the bills get paid?

On average, a person can expect to live 75 years. Reflecting on how much of my life has past without distinction, or accomplishment, I wonder if this last third will have any significance. Am I becoming obsolete? Are my most useful years behind me? Do I now merely take my place among those people whose voices diminish with age, and gracefully abandon any thought of having an impact in the world?

As my daughter leaves home, goes out into the world to find her place, will she be safe? Have her mother and I prepared her properly for what awaits? How will the dynamics of the family be altered with her gone?

As my son enters manhood, have I been enough of a role model for him? Will he keep the loving, thoughtful and inquisitive nature I love in him so much, or will he begin to resemble the grumpy, worrisome old man I have become?

How was I behaving today so as to diminish the twinkle in the eyes of my children? I've defined myself through fatherhood for so many years, and taken such daily joy from it that I find myself denying there can be anything beyond this pinnacle.

Finally, I question how I can reinvent myself constantly.

Seriously, I think this stuff.

Unquestionably, the admiration I have for my wife of 20 years who has weathered everything life throws at us and remains the unswerving force in both our marriage and our family. Her job sometimes has her rising in the wee hours of the morning, driving to a bus stop ten miles from home to then take an hour and a half bus ride to the airport where she will hop on a flight to the west coast. She turns right around and is back in the house about 16 hours after she left, only to repeat the schedule later that second day. This pattern repeats four times a month. Never once have I heard her say "I think I'll just call in sick and stay in bed this morning." When her schedule calls for her to leave in the late afternoon and spend the night away from home, I can sense the hardship it is for to leave the family at a time when we are all gathering from our daily pursuits.

Regardless of the time I went to bed, and the fact that both my high school age children are capable of getting themselves up and out in the morning, I feel compelled to kiss them goodbye, wish them a good day, see them out the door and watch them board the school bus that stops in front of our house. Some mornings their mom is home and she gets them going, and I oversleep, only to carry that disappointment with me all day.

With a "yappy," hyperactive dog, and a noisy overhead garage door to announce my arrival, I know that whatever time of day I enter the house, whoever is there will drop what they are doing to welcome me as I come through the door. It's a habit instilled in the children by their mother, and one I find extremely gratifying. Regardless of what has happened to any of us during the day, the reception is always the same warm hug and kiss. Even the dogs have learned to race to the door and await their turn in line for pat on the head.

It's an oddly short and narrow list isn't it? I don't lose sleep over business matters. As much as I enjoy my work, and passionately try to bring real value to my clients, it is not how I define myself. As many nonprofit roles as I've had, I don't lose sleep worrying about how to better the world through the various causes, nor do I view my work or avocations as reasons to get up in the morning.

I found this to be a fun exercise. Try it for yourself.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fr. Pflager: The Upsidedown Flagger

I want to make two points right at the start:
1. I believe Fr. Pflager has every right to fly his flag upside down. Let's not pretend the flag is exempt from use as a political statement. People wrap themselves in flags, burn flags and have demonstrated with it from its introduction. Why shouldn't he be afforded the same rights? While I fully respect their service and contribution, Veterans who are complaining that he is somehow insulting their effort have no greater claim to the flag than does any other American.
2. Children are being killed at an alarming rate, and if instead of bullets, it it was as a result of being hit with swine flu darts, the nation would be enraged and taking action.

I've dealt with Fr. Pflager and I have no respect for him. He is a showboat, self-serving, a media grandstander, and often seems more interested in getting his Pompadour on TV than leading meaningful action. Frankly, if any other pastor, or a more generally respected individual had hoisted their flag in this manner, I doubt there would be the level of outrage expressed by those who are opposed to his action. As usual, he shows his indignation, and bellows about injustice in America, but he has the equation as upside down as his flag.

He hangs the flag upside down, but offers no solution. He intends to keep the flag inverted until? Well, on his rounds of the radio stations today, he kind of stumbled through a vague response that didn't really answer the question. When asked exactly what action he'd like to see taken he blubbers and mutters some gibberish about "America protecting its children."
Why doesn't Fr. Pflager use his enormous community influence to identify real methods of ridding his community of drugs and gangs, which are the real causes of the violence?
Why is Fr. Pflager so reluctant to challenge the two real causes of despair in his community -- lack of personal responsibility and parental influence?
Father absence is the greatest social crisis we face in America, and it is no more evident than in Fr. Pflagers neighborhood. Why doesn't he instigate a campaign for men of his community to "man up" and take the responsibility they should for their children which includes discipline kids, teaching character and serving as good role models?
Why doesn't Fr. Pflager take responsibility for seeing that every child in his neighborhood is claimed and guarded by an adult male. Think of it as a "house by house" campaign to rid the neighborhood of any influence that tolerates illegal drugs, guns, gangs and violence. He doesn't do it, because he knows the majority of his community won't actively support it.

You see, while Fr. Pflager talks about kids dying all over America, the killings are essentially confined to the urban areas where fatherlessness, and father absence run at about 80-90%. In the state of IL as a whole, 35% of children are born without a father listed on their birth certificate. 40% of ALL children in the state of IL have no adult male in their household. These numbers skew most heavily toward the urban areas and speak to a lack of responsibility by the people in the very communities Fr. Pflager contends need America to wake up.

Want to stop the killing in your community Fr. Pflager? Teach adults not to make babies for which they are not willing to be active, daily parents. Teach parents to actively raise their children with high moral standards by setting a daily example for them. That would be real. Instead, Fr. Pflager would rather tilt the image upside down and blame "them" instead of us.

MLB - America's Tainted Pastime

Manny Ramirez of the LA Dodgers can add his name to the Baseball Hall of Shame. MLB and its brand reputation are fast approaching a point a no return. MLB = performance enhancing drugs (PED).

Can we all finally admit illegal drug use is as prevalent and ingrained in baseball (and maybe all of professional sports) as fighting is in hockey. Baseball and the players union will pat themselves on the back for testing for and "exposing" violations, but they will not do what is needed to seriously curtail drug use. The window of opportunity to characterize PED as a brief, ugly phase in the past is no longer credible. Front office people tsk-tsk, on-field managers hang their heads, and the commissioner's office cranks out statistics on how limited PED use is, and how vigilant they are in ferreting out the offenders. And still, the game is dirty.

The fact that MLB and the clean players have circled the wagons and allowed the union to protect offenders to the extent they have, means everyone in the game must now be considered suspect. Ramirez gets a 50 game suspension. So, while he forfeits around 8 million dollars of his mega contract this year, he's still eligible for the playoffs and a slew of related incentive clauses should the Dodgers qualify for postseason play. Ramirez will hardly miss the eight mil. At this point, he's got more money than he could ever spend. Fining a guy like him isn't a deterrent and far from the greatest damage being done.

At this point, no right-thinking brand can align with individual players as endorsers. Too many heroes have been unmasked. Even those players have submitted to and passed every conceivable drug test is a risk to consider as future endorsers. You can't have it both ways. Singing the praises of your teammate when the team is winning and then trying to distance yourself from a guy who is exposed as a PED user who occupies an adjoining locker only results in the old adage that people are judged by the friends they keep.

A faltering economy and the disenchantment fans feel toward players and the game may be creating the "perfect storm." Attendance, particularly in the "high roller" seats in the newer stadiums, is down. It's still spring, so it's not unusual to see lots of empty seats in MLB ballparks, but I contend the purity of the game, which has always had a mystical hold over fans, has been compromised so badly that those feeling the pinch of the economy most severely will find other ways entertain themselves and their children.

Talk to any group of young teen boys and you'll see the mystical fascination for the game, rabid support for individual players that once was a hallmark of baseball fans no longer exists. A generation exposed to graft and corruption in traditional sports has taken its pursuit of fantasy elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Communicating Isn't Connecting: Disney Knows Christmas

Once and for all, let me clear this up. I am not anti-marketing. A good part of how I make my living has to do with marketing. The distinction I make is marketing is a means of expressing a brand, but not the BRAND itself, or even the core of "branding." Branding is the master, marketing is but one many servants. Sales process, product development, organizational development, distribution channels, and a host of other disciplines are no less significant in defining and advancing a brand.

Marketing is all about communicating. Branding is all about connecting. People sometimes confuse the two. Building a brand is done by defining, clarifying, and refining behaviors, practices and policy that reinforces the experience you want with your target audience.

So why is it that people are so quick to hang the full weight of their brand on the hook called marketing? It has a lot to do with the people in marketing who are quick to promise that a spiffy new logo, name change, or revamped collateral materials will establish a brand. Why? Because those are the things they have to sell. As the old saying goes, "to a carpenter with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." In a sense, marketing people are house painters. They promise you a "like new" home through a splash of paint. Marketing(painting) is a repeatable deliverable that generates revenue for the marketing people. Their income depends on their ability to get cleints to "repaint" frequently.

One of my favorite examples of true branding at work is the way Disney decorates its theme park in Orlando for the Christmas season. If you've ever been there during the Christmas season you know the entire place is transformed into a winter wonderland with garland, Holiday lights, Christmas trees, and poinsettias everywhere. It truly is a spectacular sight.

Twice, I was staying at the park during the change over from "fall" decorations to Christmas displays. Both years, my family and I went to bed late in the evening and woke to find the entire park including every tree, light, plant, fake snowfall, and candy cane was installed while we slept!

Can you image the logistical challenges associated with a task of this magnitude? Why does Disney do it all in one night rather than spread it over a couple of days? The simple answer is Disney's core value is Imagination. To be true to that value, the company insists that every decision be made with the intent of supporting the imagination of the park guests. If a child goes to bed at night and wakes the next morning to step ladders, crates, and workers installing decorations, how would that support imagination? On the other hand, how cool is it that a child can go to sleep after an exciting day in the park and wake the next morning to find that everywhere they look, it's Christmas!

That branding at work, boys and girls.