Makin’ Stuff Up, Real-ly

Chris Brogan asked me to write this story. Really. Chris Brogan.

If you don’t know who he is (and that’s okay, it’s not like he’s Guy Kawasaki, or anything) you can Google him.

Okay, Brogan posted on his blog a book review with accompanying request for stories about story-telling. And since I’ve spent most of my professional life writing stories, I am responding to his request.

Now I don’t write stories in the same way that Theodor Geisel (Dr. Suess) or John Irving wrote stories. Mine are and have been real stories (and not like Sarah Palin’s “Real American Stories” either). No, mine – hence the grammar in the headline – are Real stories about factual things, like safety in the workplace, or motorcycles and ATVs, or the business of hosting an MMA fight at your gym.

Yes, stories. Real-ly. I do my best to take the mundane and make it a story with a beginning, middle and end. Plus interesting, funny, and educational stuff mixed throughout. And I love doing it. In fact, it’s now my business. Like, my own.

I seldom call myself a writer, even though I write often and for money. Nor do I often refer to myself as a story-teller, even though, again …

But tell and write I do. Months ago, I began this blog, and I’ve used it to tell some very personal stories. Factual and personal and opinionated. And it often feels very good to do that, not only to write the story and record it, but to broadcast it, as widely as this little blog can carry a story. Because that’s when a story is best, when it’s healthiest and most productive. Yes, stories are living things, and they need to get out, to socialize and be seen and heard. Good stories and bad stories need this.

Thanks, Chris Brogan, for encouraging the telling and sharing. Pass it on.

April 11, 2010 at 10:14 pm Leave a comment

California Approves “The Lie”! Better Communication Options Exist.

I heard her say it. On Public Radio. “Just tell a lie,” she said. “Lie.” If this is the best communication tool the government can offer, the outlook for California is worse than I thought.

She's all for Life, Liberty and the right to Lie

It was California’s esteemed Secretary of State Debra Bowen talking about Ballot Signature season. She advised citizens confronted with signature gatherers to “just tell them a little white lie, like ‘I don’t live in this county’, or ‘I already signed that.'”

My local NPR affiliate – Southern California’s KPCC – was discussing the process of garnering signatures for ballot initiatives. California residents are confronted with these signature requests as they walk into a Target store or Albertson’s grocery store. Some of these people can be relentless in their pursuit of your coveted John Hancock.

It’s certainly appropriate for KPCC to discuss this issue with the Secretary of State’s office. What’s not appropriate is the response given by the leader of that state’s election process – Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Perhaps she had a very negative experience or two with ballot signature takers.

So if that’s the best advice she can give, I wonder what she tells her employees during the day. What’s the culture in Sacramento that would have Bowen say this to a reporter? What are her bosses advising Bowen? Arnie, what’s going on?

How about telling citizens they have the right to simply deny their signature to anyone asking. How about telling citizens they have the right to disagree peacefully with anyone inciting heated political discourse. How about telling the truth.

March 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm Leave a comment

Customer Service is Dead. Communicate Well to Revive It.

Full Disclosure: If you don’t like blogs as complaint delivery vehicles, you won’t like the beginning of this one. But I’m hoping we can start a conversation because of it. Miracles have happened in just such a way. Here goes.

I don’t “shop” much. When I’m in a store, it is a purposeful event (bicycle stores, ski shops and Hollywood’s Amoeba Records excluded). I go to purchase a product or service. Yes, I am often a victim of the “upsell” process, but I generally buy what I need, when I need it. And, most importantly, I will frequent stores that serve me well and at a fair price.

Make a personal connection and communicate to create a Customer Service miracle.

After a few recent spending trips (they’re not shopping trips for me, remember), I will now be shopping – for a new place to get my oil changed, for one thing. Customer service is dead, I didn’t watch it die, but I have seen the rotting corpse. And it amazes me that it would die now, when business owners should be doing everything possible to retain existing customers and attract new ones.

And I think I know how Customer Service died. It was left unfed or without personal attention. It would be like if I left my dog alone for days or weeks. First, it would likely turn angry, then it would simply perish. That’s what happened to Customer Service. Through personnel cuts or budget re-allocations or re-aligned management priorities, the one service that is often most valuable is no longer stocked at many stores.

Other products are there. Jewelry is in cases. Food is on store shelves. Mechanical services are provided. But personal communication and care, attention to customers’ needs, and personal service is gone. Left to Facebook and Twitter? Maybe. But like a recent story in The Miami Herald reports, social media often acts only as a “Band-Aid” to much more serious problems.

Hold on, there is a sign of life. It may be possible to revive Customer Service, and to save humanity in the process. After one of my recent encounters with the deceased (or near-deceased) I completed an online survey and voiced my remorse for the death. That same day, I received a phone call from a human being. It was a living, breathing human being who worked for this company, and he seemed to care for my needs. That means, of course, he cared for my money. And I’m okay with that. I was so glad he cared.

Through a simple act of personal communication, Customer Service may live to see another day. I’m not going back to that store right away. I bet it still has the stink of death on it. But I am elated in the hope that communication – personal conversations, not just tweets and status updates – can deliver other miracles of life.

March 9, 2010 at 3:22 pm 1 comment

Paper or Plastic? – News, I Mean

I love the paper – news, that is. It began in college when I discovered newspapers from all over the world. I would sit in the library and sift through Tribunes, Posts, and Times from lands near and far. It was my Reader in paper form, long before today’s plastic-bound Google Reader. I learned the value of outstanding journalism, varied news sources, and crossword puzzles. My ink-stained fingertips were a proud mark of my curiosity.

Today, my fingers are mostly clean, though I think I’m acquiring carpal tunnel (today’s curiosity mark, a surgery scar?). I mostly opt plastic over paper – until I find a piece like one I read today on paper. Yes, there is a quality in quantity through countless online news sources delivered to my computer. But I am thankfully reminded of the quality of “local” journalism delivered to my home on paper – even if I didn’t ask for it by subject.

Ari Bloomekatz, LA Times columnist and journalist, thanks for delivering a great report – on paper. His story on Jacquelyn Carr and her bus riding blog is the perfect example of the value of paper. I could add the link to the Times story so you could easily find it and read online. But I’d rather you spend the dollar on the finger-staining paper version.

I will, however, give you the link to the story’s topic, Carr’s Snob on a Bus blog. Too bad there is no paper version of that.

February 27, 2010 at 12:31 pm Leave a comment

Blogs as Networking Tool

I am recycling now, and that’s okay.

I first presented this topic back in October, and I update it today following a presentation I made to a small group at Executive Career Services in Irvine, Calif. Through my own “career search” process, ECS (and Jim Dodgen, in particular) helped me immensely to focus on my strength and my passion. And I’ve been fortunate enough to turn that into a new career in communications.

And they helped me learn the value of networking, and to explore new networking options. Through my own trial and error, I have concluded that – for most people today, not all – the resume is unnecessary. In fact, it’s a time killer, a stress inducer, and a relic of industries past.

Time to move on, and thanks to social networking, blogging and microblogging, more efficient and effective tools exist to help you tell your story. You still need to tell your story and to make as many connections as possible. You just don’t need a resume to do that. You can do it by reading blogs.

Read this updated post from October, 2009.

January 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm Leave a comment

“It doesn’t matter what I think”

Quote of the day, I think. Wait, I should be more like Jeremy Scahill, best-selling author and investigative journalist. It doesn’t matter what I think.

Scahill said that yesterday to Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air.” Gross was talking with Scahill about the war in Afghanistan and his best-selling book titled Blackwater, The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. And while I was a bit distracted during this radio program (I’ll pay more attention when I listen to the podcast), I did hear one thing Scahill said loud and clear.

Gross asked the author and journalist what he thought about the relationship between Dick Cheney and General McChrystal. Without hesitation, Scahill replied with my title to this post. And with a line that every journalist should be made to repeat before delivering a story – be it print, broadcast, web or school newspaper.

It doesn’t matter what I think.

The “news” today is filled with “I think”-ers. Watch CNN, and they line up in front of Anderson Cooper with their laptops open, most likely tweeting as they think out loud and on camera. Watch Fox or MSNBC and you’ll get interviewers who answer their own questions before the guest can chime in. Granted, not all of these TV personalities claim to be “journalists.” But perception is the reality, and the weight of their words is heavier than that of many true newspeople.

Of course, it matters that journalists and reporters CAN think, and that they use that ability to research, investigate, report and deliver their information. After that, those in the news business move on to the next story.

Scahill’s words echo through my head right now, and they will for some time as I consume the news over the next weeks and months.

I want a reporter who reports. I can do my own thinking.

Now if we could just get politicians to listen to their constituents and also echo Scahill’s words …

December 17, 2009 at 12:18 am 2 comments

I can’t wait until Tuesday night

Blessed are the peacemakers.

No matter what President Obama says about his long-range plans for Afghanistan, he’s likely going to escalate our military presence there.

He will not be blessed. He is not a peacemaker. He joins a long list of leaders who have escalated wars. And by doing so, he will continue for dozens of years, perhaps hundreds, the future of war.

I’ve been discussing this with friends lately, and I believe war can be stopped. Yes, it will likely take hundreds of years. But we’ll never begin the process until we begin the process.

Would the President encourage the Israelis to escalate fighting with Palestinians in a move to bring peace? When you escalate a war in order to stop a war, the effect is temporary – at best.

God bless us all.

December 1, 2009 at 12:58 am Leave a comment

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