Category: My Blog Posts

What Working in a Seafood Department Taught Me About Life & Business

Flickr: mattieb

When I was in college I worked at the Safeway in Bowie, MD.  I did lots of jobs in the store and learned a lot from all of them, but I think I learned the most while working seafood.  I liked working in seafood most because it was like running my own business.  Most days and nights it was just me behind the counter and I had a small corner to sell seafood.

Sometimes it Stinks

One of the things I learned while working in seafood is it stinks.  I would work and then put my shoes in a plastic bag I kept in my car’s trunk so I wouldn’t smell up my car.  When you work more than 30 minutes in seafood you smell like seafood, there is no getting around it I’ve found.  Whether the seafood is fresh off the truck or not, seafood has a unique odor to it and after working with it for a few hours, you will too.  Similarly in life if you are around someone for long enough you will start to take on characteristics you may or may not like.  Be careful who you surround yourself with.

Another thing that working in a sometimes smelly department taught me about life is no matter what you do, life is going to stink for you or others around you at one point or another.  I am convinced there is an communal mood across the masses.  You know how there is the saying “it must be a full moon”?  When working retail I interacted with hundreds of people a day.  Depending on what you believe, whether the law of attraction or the law of “full moon”, moods across the masses for the most part seemed fairly consistent.  I don’t know that the law of attraction always works because I think we’ve all had days where you are in the best mood and ready to really tackle life and as soon as you interact with a few people you see a pattern of moods across the office, coffee shop, or home life.  You can’t control the mood of others so don’t let them affect yours.

If it Smells Fishy, Don’t Buy It

There is a saying in life that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” and similarly in life if something smells fishy don’t do or buy it.  Trust your gut.  I don’t think I need to say much about this, just rely on your instincts, they are usually right.

Sometimes You Need to Take a Step Back

One of my favorite business interactions was also while working in the seafood department.  As a young college kid on weekends I was usually scheduled to come in at 7am and setup the seafood case which meant putting fresh crushed ice in the case, laying out trays in rows, and finally putting product on the trays with proper signage. One of the weekends the District Manager was in the store and had a brief interaction with me as he was inspecting the case I had setup.  I felt pretty proud of myself and the job I had done setting up the case that particular day so I asked how he thought it looked. How he responded might seem like common sense, and I think it is, but as I’ve found over the years what is common sense doesn’t always mean we do it.  He responded by motioning for me to come over and stand next to him about 20 feet away from the seafood case.  As I stood next to him he said “Jeremy what I do isn’t all that hard and I’ll teach you a secret, business is all about taking a step back every now and then.”  He next said “you see that hole where you don’t have any product in that tray over to the bottom right of the case?”  I immediately replied with “yeah, I am running low on that” to which he said “yeah so break that tray up into two types of product so there is product everywhere the customer looks”.  He said “customers won’t buy a product they can’t see and they don’t and can’t buy those metal trays…they aren’t for sale…our seafood is”.  As basic as a concept as it is, taking a step back resonated with me and I’ve used that simple “secret” the DM taught me throughout life from that point on.

Jeremy’s Theory of Supply & Demand

This one has always intrigued me.  Seafood isn’t the most popular thing people think to buy when they are in a grocery store.  There can be a  negative connotation to it for some.  Trust me, if you are a young college kid trying to interact with college aged customers (of the female type), being behind a seafood counter doesn’t work to your advantage.   I am convinced if you can sell seafood you can sell just about anything else.  One of the things I saw first hand was what I’ve called Jeremy’s law of supply and demand.  I took economics in college and you probably did too.  You probably didn’t learn about Jeremy’s law of supply and demand though did you?  My law of supply and demand says that c + c = $.  That is one customer + one customer = cash money and lots of it.  I could literally go an entire hour without any customers and all the sudden one customer would order something and almost instantly others would appear.  It was odd and it was very consistent.  I would get that flood of customers and then business would die off again.  I don’t know if you’ve seen this concept in life but it always fascinated me.

I contemplated majoring in psychology in college, I always loved my psychology courses.  I always wanted to try an experiment where I paid someone to have a cart full of products who played the role of an actor who came by my counter every five minutes.  My hypothesis is that my seafood sales would at least double but I never got to put my theory into practice.  I think the reason why customers attract other customers is for many reasons like the common peer pressure tactic many marketers use but I also have another theory.  I think in part people don’t approach a certain area of the store because I am standing behind the counter and it is awkward for some to approach.  I have always wondered if part of the reason people are more likely to approach a department when someone else is already there is it helps ‘break the ice’ in some unconscious way.  If you have a business and can try putting this theory into practice, I’d love to hear what has worked for you.

OK so you are probably thinking “OK Jeremy great…and crazy Seafood business theories…but what about every day life…how does this theory work in real life?”  I’m glad you asked skeptical person, I have an interesting video that demonstrates this theory in about 3 minutes.  In the video you will first see a guy dancing all by himself in a audience.  In the first 30-45 seconds another person joins him and every 20 seconds or so after that more and more people start to join him until it becomes a viral event.  In life there are a few people who will do something despite what others think and it takes just a few people to join that person to create a movement very quickly.  If I took more than a few semesters of psychology I probably would have learned what theory can be applied to these types of events but for now I’ll pretend I’m the only one who has ever thought of this.

The Future of Work

At one point or another most of us have to work.  Some volunteer their labor but most of us are working for our wages.  I might have blogged about this in the past but when I was in kindergarten I rode the school bus to and from school like most kids.  I remember sitting on the bus one morning going to school thinking “wow, this is incredibly monotonous.”  OK I might not have known the word monotonos at six but I remember thinking another twelve years of school seemed like forever.  I’ve never really liked monotony, I don’t think many people do, but for some reason I seem to be particularly sensitive to it.  Once I have done something, I don’t tend to want to do it too many other times. I seem to be pretty good at looking at patterns and making connections based on what I observe, more so than most I think. Maybe that is why at six I already saw the road ahead of me. My son Tyler is the same way from what I’ve been able to see so far. We were working on a Batman activity book one time which had a bunch of batman characters every few pages and the goal was to spot which picture of six didn’t match the others. He could spot the picture that didn’t match the others incredibly fast. I think it is how we are wired or something, it is odd but cool.

When Routines Are Bad

IMDB summarizes the movie Groundhog Day by stating the main character played by Bill Murray goes through life as a weather man who is “reluctantly sent to cover a story about a weather forecasting “rat” (as he calls it). This is his fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration. On awaking the ‘following’ day he discovers that it’s Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day.”

In life a lot of us are living like Bill Murray, we’re living each day like the previous and we’ve become masters of our environments so we can almost predict what will happen before it happens.  This is when life starts getting monotonous, unchallenging, and to some demotivating.

When Routines Are Good

Routine can be a good thing and I think Flannery O’Connor said it best in The Habit of Being, letter to “A” by saing “If you do the same thing every day at the same time for the same length of time, you’ll save yourself from many a sink. Routine is a condition of survival.”  We’ve become adapt at minimizing risk and the unknown to make us more successful, or so it would seem. I have all sorts of habits like putting things in the same place, parking my car in the same place, learning what makes people happy and repeating it, avoiding repeatedly what makes people angry. We all do this, many times without even thinking about it.

The Future


Here is where the topic is going to get even more interesting.  In the future of work I am seeing incredibly efficient processes as compared to what we have today.

 

 

Robots

I’ve become obsessed with robotics recently. Everywhere I look I see human jobs being replaced by robots. I won’t weigh in on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that robots are “taking” human jobs, my only thought on it is “like it or not…it is inevitable…and often times fascinating.” Kiosks, phones, robots, manufacturing, 3D printing, and more are all ways humans are getting squeezed out by more efficient, less costly, and non unionised robotic work forces. Each generation seems to face new innovations and with change comes the need to evolve or get passed over. In the future of work, creative people willing to adjust quickly will rule.

I’ve started noticing people are trying to get creative work over the “grunt work.” Here’s the odd thing though, thanks to all of our more “efficient” processes, the grunt work is going away as well. Work as we know it is quickly changing.  It is at times more difficult to be creative when templates, systems, standards or processes limit creative freedoms.

Globalization

I find the global economy fascinating and I think we are only seeing the beginning of a distributed economy. Technology is changing nearly everything.  In the future, and arguably to some extent today, if you want a job done you can outsource that task to the masses on the Internet. Instead of competing with people in your geographic area for that project, we are now all competing with one another in the future. Reputation and keeping your skills up will be even more critical than they are today.

Your Turn

What do you think?  How will we be working, or not working in the future?  Let me know in the comments.

What Ceramics Class Taught Me About Life

A Geek in Ceramics Class

When I was in High School I took two semesters of ceramics.  Yeah you read that correctly, ceramics!  I actually really enjoyed it.  I made figurines, pots, mugs, faces, and monsters.  I made some great stuff that probably got thrown away before it ever made it home.  One of my best friends was in the class which made it all the more fun.  The pottery teacher was an artsy type (go figure) and used to talk about the old house she was fixing up as we sculpted our bowls.  She got to wear the best outfit of all the teachers, a t-shirt and jeans and because she basically got paid to teach us to mold mud, her clothes were almost always dirty.  This story will pick up, I promise.

One morning the teacher walked into the class a little late while we all sat on our stools perfecting our muddy creations remarking “weren’t the trees simply amazing this morning?”  Now I don’t know if there was a little extra something in her coffee mug to make her extra inquisitive but the statement was so odd to a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds that it made most of us all stop what we were doing and look at her to see what she would say next.  She then quickly went on to list a few other things she had seen on her drive to school.  “I mean wow…not just the trees, but the birds, the clouds, the sun, the sky” she remarked.  I think one of the students made a smart remark back to her like “uhhh nooooo I didn’t see the stupid trees today.”  She seemed perturbed by our lack of interest.  She went on to further explain herself: “you guys have lived almost a quarter of a century and you don’t notice the things that matter…the beautiful things…the things all around us that go by quickly and if you don’t stop and pay attention to them you won’t ever notice them” she said.  For some reason unlike most of the other students what she was saying made perfect sense to me.  It was a great two minute rant from a teacher.  It wasn’t great because it was an abstract concept I hadn’t thought about, but because I hadn’t really thought about slowing down and enjoying my surroundings until that point.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone stops and “smells the roses” every now and then but I took her rant a step further.  Almost literally from that moment on I didn’t take too many things for granted which sounds silly but it is true.  You know that scene in Office Space where Peter is hypnotized and is in a state of complete relaxation?  It was almost like that.  I started to see life differently.

Why Enjoying Life Matters

If enjoying life isn’t important, I have to ask…what is the point of life?  No really…what is the point of life if you don’t enjoy it?  Everyone has bad days, weeks, months.  Heck, I’ve even had a few bad years, but at the end of it all I have really enjoyed life.  I don’t know what the road ahead has in store for me, but I’m finding the older I get the less focused I am on the destination and the more focused I am on the journey.  There are lots of people who have mid life crises where they suddenly realize they are half way through life and they haven’t really gotten out of life what they anticipated.  There are probably even more who on their death beds that have regrets.  They haven’t lived the life they wanted to live.  Even worse, there are some who spend their entire lives living someone else’s life, or a life they didn’t enjoy.  The biggest regret I think I would have in life is regretting to live life to its fullest.

I have written about it in the past but I see loads of zombies.  I see people who live their lives with their heads down.  They don’t notice the sky, the birds, the clouds, or the trees.  They don’t notice the things that matter.  I read this poem a few years ago and kept it around because it said things that made a lot of sense to me.

“Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?  Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?  Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?  Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?  You better slow down.  Don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last.  Do you run through each day on the fly?  When you ask: “how are you?” do you hear the reply?  When the day is done, do you lie in your bed with the next hundred chores running through your head?  You’d better slow down.  Don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last. Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow?  And in your haste not see his sorrow?  Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die cause you never had time to call and say “hi”?  You’d better slow down, don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last.  When you run so fast to get somewhere you miss half the fun of getting there.  When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift thrown away.  Life is not a race.  Do take it slower.  Hear the music before the song is over.” – Chain email

10 Things Ceramics Class Taught Me About Life

  1. As my High School teacher recommended, you can enjoy your surroundings while driving into school, but you can’t take your eyes off the road for long before you crash and lose track of where you are going.
  2. You can learn something from any situation you choose, or life chooses for you.  I took ceramics thinking I would create some pots and other useless things…OK I did…but I took away a really important life lesson.  My ceramics teacher probably has no idea the impact she had from a rant she made one day in class.
  3. Making things in life, like ceramics, are better when done with friends.
  4. You can have lots of ideas but few people will buy your art until it is fully baked from the kiln.
  5. That scene in Ghost where you are Patrick Swayzi who comes back from the dead to meet a young Demi Moore at a pottery wheel.  Yeah no…that won’t happen to you…no…it won’t…ever.  Sorry.  The good news is a true love will love you when you are there and when you aren’t…like in Ghost.  True loves love forever.
  6. Step outside of your comfort zone every now and then.  I’m not usually the artsy type but when I give new things a chance I usually tend to enjoy it.
  7. Some of the best things in life take time.  Slow down and don’t be afraid to create something slowly.  Everyone knows the saying that good things come to those who wait.  Often it is true.
  8. My teacher was crazy and probably did have something in her coffee, but man was she cool.
  9. You can make whatever you want in life.
  10. Look around you.  Enjoy life.  Enjoy every bit of it.  Wake up!  Don’t be a zombie.  Do what you want.  If life isn’t giving you what you want…go get it.

Collaborating Without Trespassing

Photo Credit: http://bestlawn.info/organic/does-organic-really-work-t4659.html

From the time I was capable of pushing a lawn mower, I was mowing my parent’s lawn. At first I would mow a strip of grass and my dad would critique how straight I stayed with the previous row until I eventually got enough experience and strength to mow the entire lawn. When we moved to Maryland we had a front yard with a fair amount of grass that we shared with our neighbor in the front yard. At first we mowed our own lawn from the property marker near the sidewalk to the fence which separated our front and backyard. My parent’s yard was sometimes longer, and more healthy than our neighbor’s property. In other instances throughout the year our yard was also shorter and less healthy than our neighbor’s. With inconsistent approaches for caring for our lawns, we had very different results depending for the amount of care we each put into it. One day our neighbor asked us if we would be willing to take turns cutting and caring for each other’s lawns each week. This allowed us on some weeks to only cut the grass in the backyard, as well as have a nice consistent look across both of our front yards. Our neighbor edged his lawn so he edged ours, he knew more about fertilizing, he aerated, and other lawn care best practices we previously hadn’t done or been knowledgeable of. Our lawns never looked so nice and the consistent look and feel across both yards really helped make the neighborhood shine.

When I entered the business world I quickly realized that it wasn’t just property owners who tended to primarily look out for their own areas. In business each “silo”, or business unit tended to think about their needs first, and rarely did they want to willingly collaborate with others. The result of silo’d business processes led to times where I learned we were working on something another team had already been working on, was about to work on, or even a few times when another team had already done what we were doing. I learned about “turf wars” where people didn’t allow others to encroach onto their areas of responsibility within the business. Silo’d businesses aren’t fun to work for because they are highly competitive instead of collaborative, and it seems everyone is in it for themselves. I don’t want to spend too much time writing about the problem, or the impact of silo’d thinking because most of us have lived or worked in a silo’d and uncollaborative environment.  Think about your religious institution, business, education, or even personal lives.  If you have ever tried to do something big, you’ve likely stepped on someone’s toes.  I want to spend the rest of the time writing about how to change or create a more collaborative work environment if you are at a company with a silo’d approach to business.

Recommendation #1: Set Boundaries
Make sure you have property markers in your business. You wouldn’t buy a home or property unless you know what you own versus what your neighbor owns. If people don’t know what areas they are responsible for, they will encroach all over everyone’s areas of responsibility which will cause massive amounts of conflict.

Recommendation #2: Communicate Boundaries
Once you have property markers, share them in a very public and accessible location so team members can never say “I didn’t know they were responsible for that”.  There is an old adage which says it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  The adage is true, but what it fails to advise is the end result.  You may get what you are looking to accomplish done, but if the impact is so great that others stop trusting you, the only strategy you have left is to continue the same adage.

Recommendation #3: Clarify Boundaries When Appropriate
Once you set the expectation for who is responsible for what area(s), create processes to get clarification if something isn’t clear. Many times there are “gray areas” in areas of responsibility which also leads to conflict. Responsibilities cannot always, nor should they always be “black and white” but if you have turf wars because your employees claim a responsibility wasn’t clear, look to clarify and define responsibilities when it makes sense. Don’t let fuzzy areas and confusion last too long within your organization.

Recommendation #4: Communicate Intent
If you intend to encroach on someone else’s turf, inform the property owner. You wouldn’t go into someone else’s house without knocking. Don’t encroach on someone else’s area of responsibility without asking if they can accomplish what you need first in a timely manner. The business process owner also will need to be able to meet your requirement, unless it conflicts with a larger strategy.

Recommendation #5: Respect expertise
I’ve visited several large companies and one thing that always intrigues me is corporate cultures. I admittedly don’t know much about Cisco other than a few visits I’ve made but have to say they have really impressed me each time I’ve been there. Working at Cisco, and attending an “Executive briefing” are likely two separate experiences, but each time I am there I tell others the same thing: they respect one another. I’ve been in all day and half-day sessions where different groups from within their organization come in to present. Each department is highly respectful of one another’s area of expertise. It is refreshing and something most companies lack based on what I’ve seen.

Recommendation #6: Reward, hire, promote, and fire based (in part with) on how collaborative team members are
If you set boundaries but promote, reward, and hire employees who encroach onto other employee’s areas of responsibility in a hostle way, it encourages others to do the same within the team. I know of several instances where leaders within companies “steamroll” other departments in order to quickly accomplish what they are looking to do. Always try to avoid doing this, and more importantly, never encourage that type of behavior. Steamrolling others is a way to get something done quickly but when you need those who you “ran over” in the future, how willing do you think they will be to trust, and collaborate with you?

What are some areas of opportunity in your business for better collaboration?  What recommendations do you have?

The World Without The Internet

World without Internet
Via: OnlineEducation.net

I’ve been collaborating with the folks over at OnlineEducation.net for a little while now and their latest infographic is especially interesting so I wanted to write about it.  When was the last time you unplugged from the Internet?  A few weeks ago my ISP (Comcast) had an outage for about 12 hours and from the moment it went down to the moment it was brought back up, I missed my broadband connection.  I felt disconnected, unproductive, and uninformed.  I found myself resorting to my 3G smartphone for the necessities (yes, which is cheating) but I couldn’t do as much as I wanted, or at least as fast as I wanted.

At work, at home, and on the go I am connected.  I was in High School (’96) when I really started using the Internet.  My parents bought me a desktop as my graduation present and they found it interesting I rarely used things on the PC itself, instead I was consuming and publishing content on the Internet.  The computer to me, even then, seemed limited without being connected to the Internet. So now the question is with the billions of us creating content, how do we better manage it so it isn’t so overwhelming?  What revolution, good or bad, will be next?