Archive for the 'Impressions' Category


Dangerous Expectations

Expectations are a dangerous thing. They offer hope of things to come, but set you up for disappointment, too. Last night (technically, very early this morning) I had my expectations smashed. Yesterday, I received a long-awaited book from Amazon. Work demands required that I be responsible and set the book aside until evening. So with much anticipation, I started reading around 7 p.m.

Like all good book junkies, I decided to keep reading until finished. Now, imagine my utter and complete dismay as I read the last page at 1 a.m. and said to myself, “Are you kidding me? I stayed up for that?” However, there’s a problem with my reaction, I knew within a couple of chapters that this book would not meet my expectations, but I kept reading. I knew because I had read earlier books by this same author, and once you’ve read an author a few times, you come to know what works and what doesn’t.

The problem with my reaction at 1 a.m. is that I ignored the earlier cues that told me I should probably go to bed. Unfortunately, like rubber-necking at a traffic accident, I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Even though I know better, the mantra, “It’s got to get better,” repeated over and over doesn’t work either. Ultimately, my dismay wasn’t only about the book, but also about the utter failure of the expectations I’d set for the book.

Our role in the crushing of personal expectations is a side we ignore. We latch on to the more obvious villains—other people, events beyond our control, etc.—and hang our failed expectations on their necks. In the meantime, we skip over our own behavior that contributed to the failure. For instance, the last book I read by this same author was not up to the standards of her previous three. However, in my pursuit of fulfilling my expectations, I ignored the signs and considered number four a fluke. Five would surely be better.

Expectations are also a cover for our unwillingness to try something new. Benjamin Franklin, later echoed by Albert Einstein, said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” (link) How many people do you know who continually do the same thing over and over, expecting a different result, and who are crushed every single time by their lack of success? Maybe it’s time to revisit the fundamentals.

Fundamental, as Noah Kagan highlights in his latest post, is great way of thinking about what you want to accomplish. As part of his explanation for why he’s so fond of “fundamental,” he poses a question that I believe is at the root of expectations: “What is the real point of something?” When you expect something to happen, why have you settled on that particular outcome? What’s the real reason driving your expectations? Think about that the next time your expectations are crushed. The answers might surprise you.

While I may have this trick down for other areas of my life, I’m afraid my books are immune. At some future point, probably sooner rather than later, I will again stay up late to finish a book. And I will again say, “I stayed up for that?” However, I’m willing to play the odds that I just might say instead, “I’m so glad I stayed up for that.” Maybe it then becomes a matter of framing one’s expectations instead of keeping them in a vacuum. Expectations may be dangerous, but I can’t imagine living life without them.



A Question of Favorites

Corrie has issued a challenge that I can’t ignore: list my five favorite web sites. Beyond the obvious (how do I narrow it to five?), Corrie’s post got me thinking about the concept of “favorite.” On a regular basis, we’re asked to list our favorites. Our favorite movies, our favorite books, our favorite teams, our favorite restaurants. Why do we ask? Do we hope or plan on someone else’s favorite becoming ours? Are we testing the quality of our favorite selections?

The question of favorites comes up often in the context of social media. It’s one of the ways we make connections and find new friends. Favorites give a point of reference to help narrow our scope, giving us an opportunity to opt in or out. Whether it’s a Facebook page or a message via Twitter, we look for these cues. Like tea leaves, we use a person’s favorites to predict the place they may have in our lives.

However, I think we’ve been trained over time to focus on these surface-level topics, to not ask additional questions. Part of that falls under our changing lifestyles and the increased demands on our time. We want to know right away if someone is worth our time, if someone is a good fit. In some ways, I think the other part is the direct opposite. As much as we don’t want to waste time, we also want connections, and we’re desperately seeking out those reference points. Here’s the problem with relying on “favorites:” favorites change on a regular basis while people change less often.

Now, before you point out that people change all the time, I suggest you think about the last time you changed in a significant way. Favorites are basically a snapshot of who we are at a given moment. For some individuals, a favorite may become a lifelong affair (Star Wars, anyone?). But I’m willing to venture that for most people, they neither decorate nor dress up regularly in homage to a favorite. The favorite isn’t necessarily a part of their identity, but rather a highlight.

For what it’s worth, I recommend asking the next question: why? That answer will tell you more than the favorite ever will. Yes, asking the question takes longer. My question for you—hasn’t life shown you that most of the time quality is preferable to quantity?

For the record, and in answer to Corrie’s challenge, here are my five (current) favorite web sites:—A regular favorite. I’m a Prime member junkie. Free two-day shipping. Music to my ears.

Uncommon Goods—In desperate need of a quirk boost? Uncommon Goods always makes me smile. Besides being a great place to shop for my friends, I like to dream about what I might treat myself to.

Grumpy Old Bookman—Hint: I love books. Even better, I love it when people talk about books in interesting ways. Michael Allen is always a pleasant interlude, especially when he’s feeling snarky.

Change This—Whenever my brain needs a break, I like seeing what’s posted on Change This. Visiting this site has definitely sparked some great things for me, fulfilling a promise to “change this.”

Angry Alien—Few things make me laugh like bunnies doing unnatural acts. And Angry Alien delivers in spades with 30-second parodies of many well-known movies.

Anyone else feel the itch to share their favorites, let me know. I can’t wait to ask you why.



Who’s Your First?

Do you remember your first kiss?

I can’t remember what I was listening to on the radio, but it sparked this question. I flipped through my memory Rolodex. That’s when the internal debate started. What counts as the first? Was it the boy I chased and tackled in kindergarten or was it the side-of-the-mouth kiss (clearly a miscalculation on the guy’s part) in junior high? Then, the Rolodex gets murky. What about the junior my freshman year who walked me to class? Eventually, he made me so claustrophobic I started packing all my books between classes to avoid going back to my locker. Or does the first kiss only count when it’s someone you’re in love, or my case, in lust with? If so, that jumbles things up even more.

That’s the tricky thing about the definition of “first.” “First” can apply in so many circumstances that it’s difficult to attribute it to any one event because the circumstances are rarely, if ever, the same. Your memories, whether it’s about your first kiss, your first car, or your first job, are wholly specific to you. They’re stories based on your definition.

It’s fascinating, then, that we are able to share group behavior and identify with different things even though our definitions vary. For instance, more than one person feels loyalty to the Apple brand, but every person has a different “first” Apple experience. It’s through these individual experiences that we find common ground. Even though the definitions vary, there’s still that endpoint where Apple fans come together regardless of where they started.

The “firsts” in your life are powerful moments that can define who you become. They’re your first exposure to something different, your first exposure to possibility. I suspect that’s why companies and individuals spend so much time worrying about first impressions. They know that outside things can influence that initial impression. However, I’m more interested in the “first” experience after the first impression. How well does it meet your expectations?

A year ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra, wrote an excellent post titled Why marketing should make the user manuals. Comparing pre-sale marketing materials with post-sale documentation, Kathy highlighted the following:

Why do so many companies treat potential users so much better than existing users? Think about it. The brochure is a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom. The brochure gets the big budget while the manual gets the big index. What if we stopped making the docs we give away for free SO much nicer than the ones the user paid for? What if instead of seducing potential users to buy, we seduced existing users to learn?

The firsts in your life our great, sometimes even amazing, but if the second time always pales in comparison, you’ll spend your whole life chasing after firsts. Think about when you find an author you really like. Wouldn’t it be horrible if every author only wrote one good book and the rest were crap?

As fond as I am of my first kisses, none were particularly memorable or astonishing. The ones I remember most came after the first. Whether it’s a person or a thing, the first time can stick out in your mind simply for the sake of being first. The things that matter and have staying power are the ones that deliver the second, third, and fourth time.



Perfection’s Tight Fit

How much time do you give to the pursuit of perfection? Salvador Dali had the right idea: “Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.” (link) So why are we prone to obsessing over something it’s likely none of us will ever attain? Whether its our physical appearance or the quality of work we produce, the concept of perfection is one we can’t shake. It’s the spark that keeps pushing people to innovate. It’s also the nonsense that makes us our own worst critics.

The last few days, I’ve been on a mini break. I didn’t have the most reliable Internet connection, so posting wasn’t really an option. Even though I enjoyed the break, part of me fretted over the lack of “perfection” in my posting. I normally manage to do a post a day, Monday through Friday. That didn’t happen this week. Logically, I know that not posting once this week, and twice last week, won’t send my blog into a tailspin. However, when you’ve set your mind to seeing things a certain way, it can be hard to ignore that itch to be “perfect.”

The pursuit of perfection can also make us impatient. We demand more out of the world around us, and if we aren’t satisfied the first time, we rarely return a second. While I applaud individuals standing up and asking for what they want, I do wonder what we miss out on when we ask for and expect perfect results every time.

Throughout history, several “mistakes” led to items we now take for granted. For example, 3M charged scientist Spencer Silver to create the strongest adhesive on the market. He ended up with an adhesive that stuck to objects but easily pulled away. A few years later, a second 3M scientist, Arthur Fry, remembered Silver’s earlier invention when he noticed his notes falling out of his hymnal. Fry added Silver’s adhesive to paper and found that it stuck but could be removed without harming the page. The result? You can stick Post-it® Notes wherever you want. (source)

If Silver had achieved his goal this first time, 3M could have had the strongest adhesive on the market. However, given time, Fry created something truly memorable that has lasted much longer. Maybe instead of pursuing perfection, which technically means finishing or bringing to an end (link), it might help to focus on the experience. Instead of obsessing over matching the ideal we’ve set for ourselves, would it hurt to ask if we’re actually enjoying the trip?



A Whole(some) Apology?

A follow-up to yesterday’s post…Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has issued an apology for his Rahodeb antics.

“I sincerely apologize to all Whole Foods Market stakeholders for my error in judgment in anonymously participating on online financial message boards. I am very sorry and I ask our stakeholders to please forgive me.”

His apology may not be enough to save his job, and I have my doubt about whether it saves his individual integrity.

Throughout history, we’ve seen repeated examples of individuals whose not so great behavior becomes public. Then, on the proverbial bended knee, these same individuals come begging for our “forgiveness.” Politicians are famous for such campaigns. However, what’s left after the campaign is complete?

Politicians may enjoy our “forgiveness” at the ballot box. Movie stars prone to public rants about whatever “ism” bothers them may still pack them in on opening night if they’ve undergone the requisite sensitivity training. And CEOs may keep their jobs—for now—with a public apology after taking anonymous jabs at competitors.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but with every peccadillo, every rant, every underhanded maneuver, I lose more respect for those individuals. Those events stick out a hundred times longer than the positives, especially if it seems so contrary to the original vision I held of an individual. In many instances, they never get my respect back. And realistically, they don’t really want my forgiveness or my respect. They want my vote, my money, or something else that contributes to their success.

Any potential good said individuals may accomplish will always exist under a shadow of previous behavior. For businessmen like John Mackey, sometimes the only thing you have that separates you from everyone else is your credibility. With this incident, his credibility is damaged, and a brief, two-sentence apology doesn’t really change things.

People may remember John Mackey as the dynamic co-founder of a company that changed how the retailing world viewed organic food. I suspect, as many, if not more will also remember his starring role as Rahodeb. Unfortunately for Mr. Mackey, he should have passed on the role and let someone else be the anonymous hack.



Pointless Space Saving

I’m kicking myself for not taking the picture. On July 4th, I ventured with my mother to our local town for the annual parade. Arriving an hour in advance, we were dismayed as we drove up and down the parade route—every spot, both in shade and out was reserved. The irritating part? A good 50% of the chairs were EMPTY. We gave up and went home.

Every year, we’ve had to arrive earlier and earlier to get a spot, but we drew the line at an hour. I suspect we won’t even try next year. Beyond my disappointment, I was reminded how much space savers drive me crazy. I draw a clear line between people waiting in line or holding a spot with their physical presence and those people (you know who you are) that use objects to save them a spot.

All those empty chairs represented people who believed the parade was worth their time, but waiting to watch the parade was not. My evil side wants to show up at 6 a.m. next year, set up hundreds of chairs, then spend the next four hours politely informing people, “I’m sorry. This seat’s taken.” Ridiculous, right? (but oh, so tempting)

The absent space-saving behavior reminds me of companies who “save” a spot in the market with crappy me-too products. If you want the benefits, pay the price. Regardless of the goal, if you don’t believe it’s worth investing your time before the payoff, why do it?

“Eighty percent of success is showing up,” said Woody Allen. (link) I think that’s why, for example, Apple continues to charge ahead, and companies like Dell and Microsoft are late to the party. Apple always shows up. You saw it two weeks ago with the build up to the iPhone. And already, rumors (mostly believed to be untrue) are flying around that a smaller, Nano-based version is in the works. That’s a benefit of showing up—people talk about you.

A mentor gave me a piece of advice: never assume your time is more valuable than someone else’s. That’s why I believe showing up is one of the most powerful things you’ll ever do. You’re showing your commitment, and you’re respecting the time of those who’s attention you seek. Isn’t it easier to believe in someone, in something, when you see the commitment instead of the empty chair?



Microsoft, Call James Fallows!

Microsoft is missing a huge opportunity. James Fallows, a national correspondent with the The Atlantic Monthly, has posted in recent days three posts(1, 2, 3) about his aggravation with his new laptop running Windows Vista. Why, why, why isn’t Microsoft contacting him (he’s currently based in Shanghai) and helping him figure out why Vista is hogging so much of his hard drive? We aren’t talking about some local newspaper reporter. Mr. Fallows is a respected journalist. He actually worked at Microsoft! (link) He’s a regular blogger. Is any of this sinking in? Sigh. So much of Microsoft’s image could be changed if they took the initiative in situations like this one.


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