Friendly Philadelphians

http://media.philly.com/images/600*450/I-120519522.jpgMy first week in Philly as a college freshman, I remember stopping at the corner Wawa for a hoagie.  The person who took my order could not have been more disinterested in my food purchase.  Somehow, the order made its way to the back counter, the sandwich got made and wrapped, and then it sat there just feet from me.  I tried in vain to get my order-taker to transport my food from the back counter to me, and when I finally flagged them down they expressed so much disgust at being interrupted that I actually got embarrassed at their public harrumphing instead of being enraged at their lack of care.

Customer service was so scarce in the Philadelphia of my college days that I still recall picking up a movie from Blockbuster in California when I was visiting my parents over the holidays, and when I got home I noticed it was the wrong movie in the box, so I drove back to the store in a huff, ready to do battle with the whole staff if I needed to.  Only I got three words into my tirade and the person apologized profusely, leapt into action, recruited a fellow staff person to assist in getting me the right movie, and then apologized some more.  And here I was all wound up for a real fight.

Fast forward to the present, and the times they have a-changed.  Earlier this month my family stayed at a hotel downtown, and every single staff person there was absurdly friendly.  They were funny, cheerful, eager to serve, and genuinely engaged in making our experience top-notch.  I even got a great vibe from the cabbie who drove us home.

A lot has changed between the Philadelphia of my college days and today's Philadelphia.  For your own proof, hail a cab or stay in a hotel.  Or go back to that corner Wawa I went to way back when; I'll bet you they take food orders in a much more pleasant manner now.


Digital Killed the Analog Star

http://rlv.zcache.co.uk/digital_killed_the_analog_star_tshirt-rb8e62deb48cc448b9cb22e2ec9279df7_f0cke_324.jpgSince we formed Econsult Solutions in January 2013, we have been much more aggressive about our self-promotion.  One manifestation of this is our email newsletter and related blasts.  I like to joke that if I make it down the street without tripping, that's cause for sending out a mass email.  All kidding aside, though, we do want people to be aware of what we are up to, and impressed enough that we are doing lots of good stuff that they will want to hire us.

Obviously, so many emails can get on some people's nerves, and we have had our share of unsubscribes.  But the majority of the feedback, at least to my face, has been overwhelmingly positive.  People like receiving these news blasts, they admire that we are doing lots of good things, and they commend us for being active and consistent in our marketing.

It tells me that I can be less concerned about the possibility of "too much email."  Years ago, there were more people who did not like and in fact got quite enraged when their inboxes were stuffed with promotional messages.  Nowadays, people have gotten more comfortable with higher volumes of information.  We can choose to read, save, or trash any given email without feeling like it took a whole lot out of our lives.

From the sender's side, this is great news.  We want people to read our blasts, of course.  But even if they don't, the fact that they received it and registered in their head that we did something newsworthy is a plus for us.  And if they delete it immediately, at least they did not do so in a rage.  In other words: lots of upside, very little downside.

Perhaps we are finally moving into a fully digital world.  I've made this point before, but digital is different than analog.  It used to be that how much space an entry got in an encyclopedia set was correlated with that entry's importance, which made sense when you were physically producing the things and there were real costs associated with having to print more pages.  When Wikipedia first came out, and Britney Spears' entry was longer than St. Augustine's, people thinking the old way got upset, because that meant Britney Spears was considered more important than St. Augustine.  But in a digital world, a longer entry means nothing. 

Of course, if we send so many emails that any one email gets devalued to the point of nothingness, that's not good, either; that's the modern-day equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.  But I like that we regularly blast our honors and actions to our subscribers, because that's what I want in return from people and organizations I want to keep abreast of.  There are some things about this brave new digital world that aren't half bad.


Like or Unlike

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6e/Dallas_skyline_and_suburbs.jpgMy attendance at a regional planning meeting triggered a question that I'd like to pose to all of you.  Here's the question.

On the one hand, we are becoming a more tolerant society.  We are more comfortable with diversity of all kinds.  Younger generations harbor a fluidity in social norms, relationships, and beliefs that stands in stark contrasts to the stereotyping, mistrust, and self-segregation of old.  All of this argues for households making location choices that favor mixed settings, where you are neighbors with others who are different from you.  Sameness, after all, is boring and passe; diversity is hot. 

On the other hand, there is a growing gap between the have's and the have-not's, and the fork in the road is education.  So families with means are increasingly insistent on making sure their kids are in the best schools, which means sorting oneself with others like you.  Furthermore, we are becoming more politically polarized, so we are less and less likely to live in a politically heterogeneous neighborhood and rather more likely to dwell among others of your party persuasion. 

So which is the stronger force: the desire to be with others not like you or the desire to be with others just like you?  Obviously, for individuals and households, this is a deeply personal question, and furthermore one's answer may change over time as you go through various stages in life.  But, all in all, is one pull going to be stronger than the other?  Whichever it is, it will have profound implications for local government, land use patterns, school district budgets, and transportation infrastructure, to say nothing of the social influences we subject ourselves to.

So, what do you think?  Like or unlike?


Too Long For a Tweet, Too Short for a Blog Post XI

http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2011/04/08/plastic.freinkel1_custom-9ef5ba3ed81966639e150a5a39a2d34e1893e76b.jpgHere's an excerpt from a book I recently read: "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story," by Susan Freinkel.

I’ve looked at photos of dozens of dead Laysan albatrosses — pictures that capture in the starkest way the threat plastics pose to the natural world.  Every carcass seems a mockery of the natural order: a crumbling bird-shaped basket of bleached bones and features filled with a mound of gaily colored lighters and straws and bottle caps. The birds are dissolving back into the ground; the plastics promise to endure for centuries.


Reading for Success

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_B5nNZ6dCV3s/THSFyvl8BqI/AAAAAAAAR88/07j3h4jYD14/s1600/1)+Mouse+can+often+be+found+with+her+nose+in+a+book.JPGRunning a business means two more things more than just doing the work of the business.  First, it means actually running the business: HR, payroll, office stuff, etc.  I dig this kind of stuff because I think of it in terms of systems and enjoy having a role in making those systems and making them better.

Second, it means sales.  Ruh roh.  Not that I don't like networking and making the case and closing the deal.  In fact, I quite enjoy these tasks.  It's just that, as an introvert, I find them incredibly tiring.  So I do them, but I need to make sure I recharge afterwards. 

Usually, that recharging is through reading books.  There's something about the silence and solitude of reading that is comforting, energizing, and fulfilling for the introvert.

What a pleasant surprise, then, to read in The Economist earlier this month that business leaders ought to do more solitary reading.  The article takes a dim view of what often counts as personal development for the business leader: inane retreats, gab fests, and pep talks by the industry's latest gurus.  It argues instead for time with Plato, Confucious, and Dostoyevsky.  It elevates Gates and Welch for carving out time to read and think without interruption.  And it touches on this contemporary notion of "mindfulness," which is usually some combination of meditation, centeredness, and deep breathing.

At last, some business advice I can get behind.  So, I'll still go out and press the flesh some evenings.  But, other evenings, when I crawl into bed and put my nose between the pages, I can consider that time well spent too.


Love and Marriage...and Parenthood...and Depression and Dysfunction and Disaster?

http://annagodfrey.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/539187_10202243932398210_1569656851_n.jpgFor introverted, inquisitive voyeurs like me, Facebook is a godsend.  Here is sanctioned stalking of friends and family, with a big assist from those very same friends and family who so helpfully post constant updates and pics.

I hope that didn't sound too creepy; I'm half-joking.  In all seriousness, though, Facebook is a wonderful way to keep in touch in your relationships.  It is delightful to be able to follow the people that matter the most to you as they go through the seasons in their lives: falling in love, getting married, having babies, raising kids, kindergarten, soccer games, prom, and so on and so forth.  It may sound corny, but it makes the world seem smaller and cozier, that I can see how my friends and family are doing and I can keep them posted on what I'm up to.  And all the cute baby pictures and to-die-for vacation pictures and yes even the annoying fancy dinner plate pictures, all of that makes me smile because I am able to share in other people's happiness.

Of course, sometimes we use Facebook to vent or rage or wallow or lament.  But usually if something is really going wrong, we find it hard to share in a setting like social media.  Not that that's a bad thing: there is such a thing as sharing different things to different people in different ways.  It's just important to remember that when we scroll through our news feeds, that everything we see is real but it is not quite all of reality.

In life, in marriage, in parenthood, we have our great days, our so-so days, and our awful days.  Sometimes, we have a season of awful.  And sometimes, we have unending phases of truly awful.  It can seem dissonant when all we see when we check in on our friends and family is the great days.  It can atrophy our ability to share when all we share is the great days.

This all seems so obvious.  Plus most of us have real relationships outside of social media so there are ample opportunities to be real, to share about cruddy times and to hear about cruddy times.  But I find myself having to remind myself that life isn't just the stuff you post on your Facebook page.  There are seasons of sorrow, and we can make it through them.  And there are people struggling and scuffling all around us and all around the world, and we can be people who are available to be confided in and cried on. Through love and marriage and parenthood, and depression and dysfunction and disaster, I hope to have good friends and be a good friend, smiling at the happy shares but also mindful of the fact that life also consists of unhappy seasons too.


The Hardest Thing About Being a Christian

http://ionecontramundum.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/long_road-ahead.jpegIn church and amongst believers, being a Christian is fun and easy.  We can encourage one another with words we all understand the meaning of.  We can sing uplifting songs.  We can recollect together great things our God has done in the past and hope together for great things our God will do in the future.

Out in the world, being a Christian is often not fun and not easy.  We are mocked for not accepting evolution.  We are chastised for being intolerant or hypocritical.  We seem to have no satisfactory answer for why there is so much suffering in a world made by a loving God.

Out in the world, it can be hard to be a Christian.  In response, we can choose to stop being Christians.  I know many people who have chosen this route.  We can also choose to stop being out in the world.  I know many people who have chosen this route.

As for me, I choose to continue to be a Christian.  I also choose to continue to be out in the world.  I also believe that the hardest thing about being a Christian has nothing to do with evolution or homosexuality or hypocrisy or suffering.  I believe the hardest thing about being a Christian is that I want to be my own god.  I want to make my own sense of the world, I want to make my own world, I want to figure out the rules and behaviors and ends and means that work best for me.  And I want these things as deeply as I could possibly want anything.

There is a lot of language in the Bible about self-denial.  Many people far nobler than I have responded to this language with extreme forms of self-denial.  They have forsaken physical comforts, disciplined their eyes, mastered their stray thoughts.

The hardest thing about being a Christian is that being a Christian is even harder than all of those things.  Because being a Christian means truly dying to self.  It is the hardest possible thing to do.  It is the opposite of what I want.  It is the last thing my body and mind are predisposed to do.

And it is the gateway to truly living, truly becoming who we were made to be, truly shining like you can't even imagine.  People think of God making them the way they are and that they are therefore free to be and act however they choose.  I believe in something even more freeing and even more exalting.  But following the path to that is the hardest thing you will ever do.  And it is the easiest choice you will ever make.