HOUSE OF CARDS

by Eric Samuels

The St. Louis Cardinals are heading to The World Series for the 19th time in franchise history (and the second time in 3 years), after defeating the LA Dodgers last night. What’s extraordinary, is that they did it with a roster payroll that’s half the size of the team they beat!

How did they do it? The Cardinals are essentially a small(er) market team (ranked 58th in the U.S. in population), so they know they can’t compete dollar-for-dollar with places like New York and LA. In fact, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers have the two highest ranked team payrolls in all of professional sport.

But, this isn’t “Moneyball.” Indeed, it’s a lot more like (an admittedly inferior movie) “Trouble With The Curve!”

The Cardinals organization understands that to be competitive, they can’t just buy talent. They have to develop it. It’s old-school in the truest sense: player development through scouting and a superb farm system.

Here’s a staggering comparison:

Of the 25 players on the St. Louis roster, 18 were drafted by the Cardinals and only two (Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran) never played an inning in the St Louis farm system. By comparison, only two Dodgers were drafted by Los Angeles.

St. Louis has embraced an increasingly rare philosophy in today’s short-sighted corporate thinking – it’s better to build than to buy, in the increasingly expensive free market.

As an example, back in 2009, a Cardinals scout travelled to Arkansas City, Kansas (that alone should conjure up images from a multitude of classic baseball movies), to watch the Cowley County Community College team take the field. Seriously, a community college team.

They had a 19-year old shortstop who had just switched positions to become a pitcher, but had only thrown a few innings. They saw something they liked and selected him in the 19th round of the 2009 player draft. The kid was put into their player development system where coaches worked with him on his fundamentals. Over the next few years, he made 66 appearances on the mound in the minor leagues, developing impressive control and a fastball of over 100-mph (the majority of pro pitchers throw, at best, in the mid-nineties).

Late last year, the Cardinals needed help in their bullpen and brought this young prospect up from the minors.  He met the challenge, throwing some pretty impressive short-relief work. Now it’s important to emphasize that some teams would have been tempted to use a player of this potential calibre in a higher profile position, but the Cards took their time with him.

At the beginning of this season, the Cardinals closer, Jason Motte, one of the most feared pitchers in the majors, suffered a season-ending injury to his elbow. Again, most teams would have taken this hot prospect, who had already proven he can pitch in the majors, and dropped him into that high pressure role. The Cardinals waited, using a multitude of pitchers to end games for most of the season, continuing to use the former shortstop in less pressure-filled middle-relief situations.

Until late September.

For reasons that only Cardinals coaches might reveal, it was decided in late-September, to promote Trevor Rosenthal to the coveted closer position on the Cardinals pitching roster. He has, in the short-term, met the challenge, anchoring the Cardinals pitching staff, up to the final ‘out’ in last night’s Pennant-winning game against the Dodgers.

Now to be clear, no one is saying that Rosenthal is the reason why the Cardinals are heading to their second World Series in three years. But the 22-year old is indicative of the philosophy that has made the Cardinals one of the most respected teams in professional sport.

Indeed, Rosenthal is one of 4 Cardinal rookie bullpen pitchers, who collectively,  only allowed the Dodgers a single run over 14 innings of relief pitching. Oh, and did I mention that Michael Wacha, the Cards 22-year old starting pitcher, who won last night’s 9-0 game (his second win of the 6-game series) and was named the series’ MVP,  is also a rookie who came up through the Cardinals organization?

But this is only part of the lesson to be learned in St. Louis. The other piece of the puzzle, which offers tremendous hope in the face of the increasing evidence that consumers are only interested in immediate gratification, is just how informed St Louis Cardinal fans are. They are tremendously knowledgeable and made to feel genuinely part of the process, understanding the commitment and risks of the Cardinal approach to player development.

When Albert Pujols left the Cardinal organization, after their 2011 World Series win, tears were shed throughout St Louis (including Pujols, who’s departure was quite emotional). But the fans understood that the payday the free-agent All-Star (and arguably one of the greatest players to ever play the game)  was about to receive, was simply not in the organization’s best interest.  Keep in mind that this was one of two major blows to the Cards, as manager, Tony La Russa, announced his retirement from the game, at around the same time!

But the fans moved on with the confidence that the Cardinals would find a way to fill the void, given the tremendous depth in the organization. Indeed they did. The Cardinals shocked just about everyone in Major League baseball the following season with an unexpected playoff run.

And to give you a visceral sense of just how committed St. Louis fans are to the players developed within their system: Last night when the Dodgers Skip Shumacher, stepped up to the plate to  pinch-hit, he received an ovation from the St. Louis crowd. Why would a home-town crowd applaud an opposing player? Shumacher came up through the Cardinals organization and was traded to the Dodgers after last season. Cardinal fans treated him as one of our own.

Cards fans ‘get it.’ And this isn’t because they’re that much smarter than other baseball fans. They’re  simply better informed. The Cardinal organization realizes that committing to its long-term strategy of player development requires just as much of a commitment to the development of an informed customer.

This is a House Of Cards that cannot tumble at the slightest injury, trade, or otherwise unpredictable incident or event. Because it’s built upon a foundation of principles that are bedrock solid. Look for talent (wherever it might be), develop your people’s skills (without expecting too much, too soon), take good care of them (and this isn’t only a financial issue), and manage your customer’s expectations.

Seems like a pretty good management strategy for just about any business, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRY TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND ABOUT THIS ARTICLE

by Eric Samuels

Chances are the headline you’ve just read has actually had the opposite effect; kicking your brain into a defensive mode in preparation for an attack of some sort. You don’t know what it might be, but the mere fact that you are being asked to keep an open-mind infers that a principle of yours is about to be challenged. This is how our brain works.

We face so much uncertainty in our day to day decision-making, that we tend to develop a curious intolerance for uncertainty, particularly on issues that are emotionally rooted in our psyche. As a result, our brain tends to take a defensive posture when there is even the slightest inkling of a challenge to any principle that we hold to be true.

Take politics, for instance. You would think that a discussion of political policies and process would be decidedly intellectual by nature. Not so. While the arguments might seem fact-based, at the root of any discussion between people with strong partisan affiliations are emotionally rooted ideologies as inflexible as concrete. Once a person has developed a strong political stance, the brain begins to process information differently.

Drew Weston, a psychologist at Emory University, conducted a study leading up to the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. He showed participants (each of whom had a stated party allegiance) a series of clearly contradictory statements from both candidates, George Bush and John Kerry. Participants were then asked to rate each contradiction on a scale. Not surprisingly, reactions were consistent with previously stated party allegiances. Democrats found the contradictions of George Bush to be far more disconcerting than those of John Kerry. The same phenomenon occurred with Republicans, who scored Kerry’s inconsistencies as far more troubling than those of Bush.

While this certainly isn’t shocking, what Weston discovered while examining the brains of the participants using an MRI, is fascinating. Participants weren’t using the reasoning faculties of the prefrontal cortex to analyze the information they were receiving. On the contrary, they were using reason to reinforce their partisan point of view. In other words, they would look for facts that allowed their brain to essentially say “see, I was right!” while actually blocking any evidence that their candidate was guilty of similar inconsistencies.

What’s even more extraordinary is that once they had successfully processed this oddly-wired analytical process, the pleasure-center of the brain was accessed, firing off a rush of endorphins, resulting in the person feeling really good!

This phenomenon has never been made more evident than in the relatively new phenomena of heavily partisan-editorialized television news networks. One has to wonder, watching blatantly biased content, how viewers could possibly consider what they are watching as being rational. But that’s just the thing; it’s always the other side that’s being irrational!

To prove the point, Psychologist Philip Tetlock conducted a study in which the opinions of political pundits (political commentators who invariably have specific political party affiliations) were put to the test. He asked nearly 300 pundits to make predictions about future political and economic events and trends. The result? Pundits predicted correctly, less than 33% of the time. Statistically speaking, a coin flip would have been far more accurate. What’s even more curious is that the more confident the pundit, the higher likelihood that they were wrong. Once again, the more tied to a point of view we are, the more likely we are to ignore all information that doesn’t conform to our belief. In other words, we don’t allow facts to interfere with our opinions!

This has implications far beyond politics. When making important decision with a preferred outcome, we tend to filter the process through a biased lens. This is one of the most common reasons for making poor decisions.

Does that mean that emotions should never play a part in the decision-making process? On the contrary, ignoring how we feel is equally dangerous. What makes us human, after all, is that we are capable of thinking and feeling, simultaneously. Striking the balance between the two is what makes us successful.

YOU’RE FIRED!

by Eric Samuels

YOU’RE FIRED!

The caller was belligerent and relentless; a potent combination. The focus of his anger was the radio station I was working for and by extension, the person who answered the phone; yours truly.

It was my very first radio gig. In fact, it was my first month on the job, so I didn’t want to screw anything up! I remembered what I had been taught: as the ambassador for the radio station, it was my responsibility to be professional and polite to everyone who called during my on-air shift. My training was clear; “the customer is always right.” This would be a real test of that commitment, as this guy was more than a handful.

His anger began by targeting the station playlist; “You know, The Eagles recorded more than the three f%#&@ songs you keep playing over and over!” It soon expanded into a diatribe on some of my co-workers, for whom he had detailed disdain. Finally, he railed against our station’s promotional community van, for taking up multiple parking spots at a grocery store he frequents (this may have been true, as the vehicle actually towed a large ‘Boom Box’ requiring at least two parking spots).

This was one unhappy customer. I know, he called at least a half-dozen times that evening to share his feelings. And he was actually listening, as evidenced by the detailed criticism he freely offered with all the bedside manner of Dr. House: “You just said on the radio that the album came out in ’74, it was actually December of ’73. I thought you people were supposed to know what you’re talking about….Man, you really suck at this…..”

Now, it is true that you can actually convert 80% of complainants using basic objection-handling techniques. In fact, in many instances you can build extraordinary loyalty by simply listening to your customer who, in a world of less-than-efficient automated customer service call centres, can’t help but feel disenfranchised.

But then there’s the other 20%. These are people who don’t want to let facts interfere with their opinion. My caller was most certainly in this category.

At one point in the evening, I was reminded of a story that a DJ at another station had told a group of us, while trading ‘radio stories’ at a pub, a few weeks prior. Apparently he had a listener continue to call with what he considered a series of inane complaints and no effort on his part to appease her, seemed to help. After several calls, he realized that he couldn’t win her over, so he asked:

Mam, is your radio the kind that has a dial?

Of course it does, it’s a top-of-the-line stereo!” she responded incredulously.

Then use it.” click.

But there was no way I was going to hang up on this guy, that would surely get me in trouble with the boss! So, I continued to absorb his abuse; and when things got personal, I tried to politely end the call, as trained. But he had pushed my buttons (you know the way some people just have that knack?) and was certainly getting to me. Listening to the tape of my show later on, I could hear the resulting lack of focus and shakiness in my voice. One caller had managed to compromise the service for all the other customers, and I let it happen!

In my radio career that spanned nearly 30 years, I came across this same character-type over and over again. Angry and feeling disenfranchised, they lash out with a vengeance that’s fuelled by….well I won’t even begin to analyze what their motivation might be. Point is this, it took me a while, but I finally realized that – Sometimes, you have to fire your own customers.

Many businesses have them – customers who require such energy and resources, that they’re nothing more than a drain on the organization and ultimately the bottom-line. Often times, they’re simply unhappy people who misunderstand and attempt to exploit the old adage that “The Customer is always right.”

But here’s the thing, that expression is among the most misunderstood in business as it was never intended to mean that an organization should relentlessly bend to the will of its customer.

Yes, there are organizations that choose to tip the scale with extraordinary customer service as part of their brand identity. Costco, for instance, which has a return policy that is virtually no questions asked, and truly unrivalled in retail. But talk to a Costco employee who works the returns desk and your head will shake with disbelief at stories of unscrupulous customers testing the boundaries of the policy!

In truth, the Customer is always right, was born as a marketing campaign at a very different time and with very different intent. There is some debate as to who should be credited for the phrase, as it may legitimately be a case of early 20th Century zeitgeist. Nearly simultaneously, it was introduced by U.K. retailer, Selfridges (London) and U.S. department store Marshall Field’s (Chicago); although its origin may more accurately be traced to French hotelier Cesar Ritz, who is credited with having said “le client n’a jamais tort” – “The customer is never wrong“.

Regardless of its original author, we know that the phrase was introduced in the early 1900s, to create a mindset for staff that customer service was paramount. More importantly, it was a marketing message to consumers that they were the top priority, something that had never been emphasized before. It was very effective at the time and, as a result, has been mistakenly carried forward as an iconic marketing principle with far too literal an interpretation.

Now don’t get me wrong. Customer service must always be a top priority. In fact, it may be one of your main competitive benefits in an era when your competitor may be a faceless digital entity, with an unmatchable price-point advantage. But that doesn’t mean you should ever bend until you break.

Firing your customer should be a rare and final course of action. But there are times when it is necessary. And when it happens, it’s essential to maintain your own integrity by taking the high-ground. Regardless of the urge (and it is perfectly natural to want to fight fire with fire) it’s essential to remain calm, polite and firm. Then move on to replace the lost customer with a new prospect whose needs you can better serve.

HOW MANY BAGS WOULD YOU LIKE?

by Eric Samuels

As I was about to complete payment at the self-checkout of my local supermarket, a screen appeared asking ‘how many bags would you like?’ – with a new piece of information, they would now cost 5c each! I tapped NONE, completed payment, grabbed my reusable grocery bags and was on my way.

As I loaded up my car, it dawned on me, just how recently my behaviour towards cloth grocery bags had changed.

Now I admit to not being a leading-edge environmental activist, nor am I at the other end of the scale, tossing discarded burger wrappers, lit cigarette butts and whatever else I’m done with, out the window of my moving vehicle. Like most people, I exist somewhere in-between; hopefully a lot closer to the environmentalist than the Vile Vehicular Vermin (Litterbug is too cute a moniker). So, I consider my behavioural transition to be pretty consistent with the masses.

At first, I was certainly conscious of the effort being put forth by supermarkets and environmental groups to change my behaviour. I picked up a free promotional bag or two, but on the rare occasions that I did use them, I invariably left them in my house, or when shopping, I often forgot them in the car and, well, it was raining, so I’d use them next time!

For a time, I began to rationalize my behaviour: plastic grocery bags were the perfect size to line the garbage bin in my kitchen. So the bags were being put to good use!

But a few things changed my behaviour, and it’s worth recognizing what they were, because we don’t always change as a result of logical or even rational reasons. Nor do we always do what’s in our own best interest.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that the first trigger was a pun; and while I normally despise puns, this was clever enough to not only catch my attention, but modify my behaviour. I’m sure you’ve seen it, a black cloth bag, with the message “This Bag Is Green.” Clever. I bought one. It was more about what this bag said about me, than saving carbon emissions, but the die was cast.

The next wave was a further lesson in branding. Once a month, or so, I cross the border into Washington State (it’s only a few minutes from my home, in British Columbia) and shop at an absolutely wonderful supermarket chain called Trader Joe’s. If you shop there, you know I need not say more, but if you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting a TJ’s, let me just say that Trader Joe’s is not only a remarkable retail story with exceptional quality and variety, but to many of its customers, it’s a lifestyle statement. Over a few visits, I picked up several reusable Trader Joe’s branded grocery bags. When I use them in my local supermarket, I’m amazed at how many comments I receive, regarding my vanity bags.

I am reminded of living in Toronto back in 2001. There were two diametrically opposed supermarkets on the same block. One was a No Frills grocery store, where everything was about low prices. At the other end of the block was Pusateri’s, a market so high-end, they offered valet parking….seriously!

Now, I will admit that Pusateri’s had an extraordinary prepared food section and some truly outstanding products, but the fact is, a lot of the clientele who arrived in Lexus’ and Mercedes, picked up their deli items at Pusateri’s, then snuck down the street, to get their tissue paper and canned goods at the No-Name store. Know how you could tell? At the risk of appearing cynical, they were easy to spot, as they often brought their own plastic bags to help in the recycling effort. Curiously, they were almost always Pusateri’s plastic bags seen leaving the No Frills supermarket.

Truth is, as progressive as we might like to believe we are, each of us has to reach our own tipping point to assimilate new behaviour. That point is often mitigated by subtle, yet powerful, social factors.

Marketing Guru/Psychologist Robert Cialdini touched on a similar scenario in a series of experiments involving hotel room towels. His research revealed that ‘helping the environment,’ was a moderately effective motivator in getting hotel guests to reuse towels. But when the message was more personalized to focus on the responsibility of the individual guest, as compared to other guests who had stayed in the same room, towel reuse increased substantially.

We don’t always do what’s right, for the right reasons. Take quitting smoking. I smoked for more years than I care to admit, but when I did quit, more than 20 years ago, my motivation was not the logical rationale of improved health. No, that was too non-specific and frankly, not enough to counter the powerful addiction. I needed a much more tangible and powerful motivator to trick myself past the effects of nicotine withdrawal. So, I calculated my annual expenditure on cigarettes and went shopping for something extravagant that I could buy with a year’s smoking budget. Whenever I got the urge, I thought about the reward. Oh, and for the really bad cravings, I followed a friend’s advise and imagined myself licking a dirty ashtray!

The longer we live, the more ingrained our behaviour becomes. It’s perfectly natural. So, when we decide to change something about ourselves, whether it’s improving eating habits, spending more time with family, or smiling more often at strangers, remember that what may seem like the most efficient path to success may not be the most effective.

Perhaps more importantly is timing. I didn’t actually quit smoking until the 5th or 6th attempt. We change when the motivation is right, whatever that may be. I am reminded of the Zen proverb “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

***While writing this article, I was quite aware of the ongoing argument as to the true environmental benefit of recycled grocery bags VS plastic, in terms of actual cost, carbon footprint, etc. I chose to avoid the topic, as it is contentious (to say the least), and I thought my outing Pusateri’s customers in Toronto, was enough potential controversy for one day.

Pay It Forward

by Eric Samuels

In some ways, writing a blog reminds me of my early days in radio, hosting a show. You take it as something of a leap of faith that anyone is actually paying attention. So, when I do receive feedback, I’m legitimately touched that what I’ve written or said, impacted another person enough that they are sufficiently motivated to respond.

Last month, I received two very different pieces of feedback that were too coincidentally connected, to ignore.

First, was a comment from a complete stranger about my “How I Became A Customer For Life” blog, where I told the story of growing up in Montreal and becoming a St. Louis Cardinals fan. The email ended with a question:

So, have you managed to follow your own advice when it comes to customer service?”

Well, not always, but I certainly aspire to exceed expectations.

Let me tell you about an example of extraordinary customer service, that I was recently reminded of:

It was a nasty Vancouver evening in the fall of 2004. Not the kind of light rain that’s marginally annoying (and I can assure you that no one who’s actually from the West Coast refers to it as liquid sunshine) , but a pounding, driving downpour that keeps even the die-hards indoors.

A group of four of us were having dinner at a restaurant, before attending a Sarah MacLachlan concert at GM Place. Dinner was running a little late, so I asked our server if he could call us a cab, as our cheque arrived, anticipating that taxis would be in high demand.

That was an understatement. After paying the bill, we waited 20 minutes for a cab. Our server made two more calls to check the status of our ride and was given a rather non-specific commitment.

I was a little anxious to get to the venue, as I had made a commitment to see the opening act. The Server, whom I ‘d never met before that evening, was aware of this, and after his final attempt to call and secure us a cab, he borrowed a car from the manager and insisted on driving us to the concert venue. We gratefully accepted his unprompted offer.

During the brief drive to the arena, we chatted about favourite concerts, and our server-turned driver, revealed that he was “the world’s biggest Tragically Hip fan,” and had seen the band perform, dozens of times. As he pulled up to our gate entrance, I handed him a sum of cash that I felt was commensurate with his extraordinary service. He smiled and refused. Wow!

Think about that for a second. It’s certainly no secret that those make a living as servers in the restaurant business, subsist on gratuities. In fact, this is the most fundamental model of customer service: Quality of service = % of Tip!

But he had refused my effort to compensate him for his time and effort. He seemed genuinely happy to have been able to help us out, and to get us to the venue in time to see the opening performer. Now that’s extraordinary customer service!

The next day, as I retold the story to more than a few people (that’s what you do when you experience superb customer service), I realized that I could do something special for this guy. So I called in a favour.

Several weeks later, it arrived. A Tragically Hip poster, autographed by every member of the band, with one added name hand-written below the signatures with the word “Thanks!” That added name belonged to the “World’s Biggest Tragically Hip Fan,” our server, who had driven us to the concert . I had this one-of-a-kind piece framed, found out when our server was working next, and delivered it to the restaurant. He was surprised and seemed genuinely ecstatic. I admit to feeling pretty good myself!

I’d actually forgotten about this event of nearly 8 years ago. But, as I mentioned off the top, I received two different pieces of connected feedback this week. Here’s the second.

I was Facebooked by an acquaintance from my days in the broadcast industry. She told me that during a recent dinner conversation with friends in Edmonton, the waiter overheard them talking about the radio business and asked if they knew ‘Eric Samuels.’ The waiter went on to tell his version of the story of that night in Vancouver, ending with the autographed Tragically Hip poster. Her Facebook note ended with the following (which I offer with her kind permission):

“I’m certainly we’re not the first to hear that story. You really made him feel special.”

Now I admit that I don’t do this kind of thing very often. Circumstances demanded that I do something, and opportunity allowed me to reciprocate in the manner in which I did. And here we are, 8 years later, and it’s still being talked about.

Extraordinary effort makes for great story-telling, and great stories are told and retold, over and over again. Plus, it’s not bad having the reputation of being an excellent tipper. Whenever I dine out, I seem to get excellent service!

Hakuna Matata II; The ‘Other’ Cycle Of Life

by Eric Samuels

In the spring of 2001, I moved into a wonderful, tree-lined neighbourhood in Toronto. Given its central location, it was a remarkably quiet street – at least until that July night when the serene silence was shattered by a series of startling noises emanating from the back of the house.

Awakened from a deep slumber, my brain in a state of foggy semi-consciousness, instinct kicked in; I experienced a deep sense of territorial imperative – I must protect the cave!

So, I armed myself with the nearest weapon at hand, a mid-wedge from my golf bag (club selection is key, both on and off the course), threw on a robe & slippers and gallantly (to be honest, it was closer to gingerly) made my way out the back patio doors.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught an immediate glimpse of the brazen masked perpetrators. Simultaneously, what appeared to have been the gang leader, stared right back at me with a fixed gaze that was both fearless and defiant. At that very moment, we were both confronted by that most primordial of decisions; fight or flight.

There were 3 of them for certain; although, I will admit to having retold the story so as to suggest there were at least 6 or 7. Regardless of actual numbers, the inertia was broken by their leader, who suddenly backed off and strolled down the driveway, without breaking eye contact. The others quickly and silently followed suit. They chose to live and fight another day!

I don’t know what it was that caused them to leave that night, but I’ve thought about it often. It might have been my sudden, unexpected appearance; draped in a red lumberjack patterned robe, rug-beaten slippers, recently re-gripped wedge at the ready. Whatever their motivation, I had successfully protected my turf without a single drop of bloodshed.

What was shed, were my garbage can’s contents, strewn over the driveway like a grand trash buffet. This despite my having firmly fastened the locking handles on the lid. But as you probably know, raccoons are smart that way. The next week, I added a complex series of bungee cords to the works. They were now impenetrable as Fort Knox! Remarkably, the masked marauders managed to overcome my extended security measures. I guess our garbage was just that good. Or perhaps it was the challenge alone, that enticed this relentless gang.

Then it happened. That same week, I noticed a series of posted signs on the wooden telephone poles on my street: “Racoon Problem? Call XXX-XXXX for humane removal”

That’s the thing about advertising. You don’t notice all of the refrigerator ads until your Whirpool breaks down and you find yourself in the market for a new fridge. Then, it seems like coincidentally perfect timing that so many stores seem to be having a sale on refrigerators, just when you need one!

But coming from a marketing background, I knew better, and must admit that another thought soon crept into my mind. Could the sudden and timely appearance of the solution to my problem be more than simply cognitive reframing?

Specifically, what if the racoons that suddenly appeared, wreaking havoc as if in a Disney episode, were actually domesticated by the same people who posted the signs offering to remove the pesky masked mammals (for a fee, of course); only to then gather up their trained critters and move on to the next neighbourhood mark! Seem a tad too conspiratorial? Well, you may want to sideline your scepticism for just a second, ‘cause here’s the thing…..

That same week I learned an interesting tidbit from a friend in law enforcement. In Ontario, as in several other Provinces and States, the use of radar detectors in vehicles, is illegal. Get caught with one and you’ll not only receive a hefty fine, but the device will be confiscated.

Which begs the question, how could police officers know you’re using a radar detector in the first place? I’ve heard lots of theories, including my favourite – if they see your brake lights go on when they engage their speed gun, they know you’re packing hardware.

As is usually the case, the actual method is much simpler. Police cruisers were equipped with radar detector-detectors. These devices were designed with the specific intent of identifying radar detectors in moving vehicles. Now we get to the interesting part of the story.

One of the largest radar detector manufacturers in the world is located in Ontario – a province in which the use of the devices is illegal. Ironic, huh? Well, there’s more. The same company also produced radar detector-detectors for the police, specifically designed to detect their own brand of detectors! Now if this is beginning to give you a headache, you might want to take a Tylenol, because there’s more.

The radar detector companies continued a cycle of releasing radar detectors billed as being immune to current radar detector-detecting technology. They would then develop the next generation of detector-detectors to sell to law enforcement, so as to bust the next generation of their own detector-detector proof detectors! Technically, we have now been down the road of counter-technology to the extent that the current generation is cited as a radar-detector-detector-detector-detector-detectors. And I’m not kidding!

So, we have an organization creating both a problem and the proprietary solution. How’s that for a business model? Part of me wants to stand up and applaud, although I must admit that another part of me would like to visit the lushly manicured lawns of their head office, with a family of raccoons.

Managing the Micro-Manager

by Eric Samuels

Micro-managing. We’ve all experienced it. The boss who pays painstaking attention to minutia, resulting in a stifling environment where employees feel their every action is being closely monitored. With few exceptions, a micro-manager’s need to control the workplace is a fear-based response to their own insecurity about allowing other people the latitude to make decisions.

We’re back to the smartest person in the room syndrome.

Problem is, micro-managed businesses are far more likely to stall, as there is no incentive for initiative; the cornerstone of growth within a healthy organization. On the contrary, micro-managers are risk-averse, reluctant to consider the possibility that anyone else might have a better idea on how to get things done.

It’s important to understand what motivates the micro-manager, many of whom are business owners or CEOs. They are motivated by their own fear of failure.

Being The Boss means making major decisions that have a direct impact on the bottom-line. Oftentimes, a manager becomes overwhelmed by the magnitude of top-level decisions, choosing to backburner his actions (a cute euphemism for procrastination). Instead, the boss feels the need to focus his attention on things that will make him feel like he’s functioning effectively as a manager. So, by streamlining the supply closet’s stapler inventory, the micro-manager feels like he’s accomplished something, which helps restore his confidence and the sense that he’s in charge.

It’s important to emphasize that his positive feeling of accomplishment is the same neurological response (the release of feel-good dopamine into the bloodstream) as his having achieved the more significant, top-level business task. However, the dopamine released is far less significant, resulting in a much shorter-term buzz. The solution? There’s more where that came from! As a result, micro-managing, like any feel-good drug-use, usually escalates, making an organization more and more suffocating for the employees.

So, how do you break the cycle of micro-management? It’s not easy, particularly if it’s part of the corporate culture. It’s like that old joke “how many Psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change!”

Unless the micro-manager is given substantial incentive to change, he’ll continue to do what feels right. So, what kind of incentives are effective?

· Firm feedback from his manager, who is aware of the problem.

· Indirect employee feedback (staff quit and provide critical feedback upon departure).

· Failing business (this requires a manager with both the insight and fortitude to look at his own performance in direct relation to the results)

· Direct employee feedback (staff who have both the nerve and tact to approach the boss).

The final point is rare, risky, but achievable. Approaching a micro-manager in a non-confrontational manner is an art in itself. Effective methods include:

  • Building the confidence of the manager by keeping him informed of the progress of projects (particularly those that he has shown an interest in).
  • Asking for feedback and direction (even if you have a good idea of what needs to be done), then provide measurable results in a timely fashion.
  • Demonstrating how delegating to you is in his best interest, by voluntarily taking on projects that you know are in your wheelhouse.

It’s all about managing upwards.

That said, managing the micro-manager is not easy. As a result, micro-managers lose good employees all the time. So if you find yourself in a position where a micro-manager has eroded your enthusiasm for the job, and you’ve exhausted all available efforts, it might be time to look elsewhere.

Suggested Reading: MESSAGES: THE COMMUNICATION SKILLS BOOK (Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, Patrick Fanning)

How I Became A Customer For Life

by Eric Samuels

Like a lot of kids, I developed a love for the game of baseball when I was 10 or 11 years old. In my case, this new interest was undoubtedly sparked by the arrival of the Montreal Expos, who made their major league debut at Jarry Park, in the North end of the city, not far from where I lived.

In retrospect, Jarry Park was not a great ballpark. In fact, it was not the city’s first nor second choice for a stadium (The city of Montreal’s incompetence regarding stadiums is an entirely different subject for another day!). That said, to an 11 year old kid, Jarry Park was heaven – I used to pay a buck for a seat in the bleachers. It was 2-weeks allowance, but worth every penny!

Now I didn’t get to go to a lot of games, but when I did, it was a pretty big deal, and it didn’t matter who The Expos were playing. I’d always get there early (really early), to watch warm-ups and batting practice. I never failed to wear my Expos cap, and always brought my baseball glove, dreaming that one day I would snag a foul ball and have the greatest souvenir in the world to show my buddies at school!

The one redeeming quality of Jarry Park, was its intimacy. The park had a capacity of just over 28,000, which is quite small by today’s standards (the average MLB park has over 44,000 seats) . But it was never designed for Major League Baseball, and very rarely full. So, I quickly learned that I could buy my $1 ticket and simply walk over to the premium box seats to stand behind the dugout and watch batting practice. Surprisingly often, I discovered that I could stay in an unoccupied box seat for the entire game!

I loved the pre-game warm-ups. As an aspiring ball player, watching the guys toss a ball back and forth, snag pop flies and then hit a few in the cage, was mesmerizing! Anytime one of the players came near the dugout, I tried to overcome my shyness and call them out by name, asking for an autograph on my glove or cap. Occasionally, I even found the nerve to ask for a baseball, if one of the players happened to be bringing a ball back to the dugout!

To me, the players were larger than life…..John Boccabella, Manny Mota, Bill Stoneman, and the guy who actually made it cool to have red hair (and I had a head full of it) – Rusty Staub!

That entire first season, I went to at least a dozen games. Always got there early to watch warm-ups from behind the Expos dugout and always stayed until the final out. Always had my Expos cap & glove, and always asked for autographs from the players during warm-up. But during all those games, not a single player ever stopped to sign my glove or hat. Not one. I figured it must have been me. I started to accept that I just didn’t matter to these guys, whom I had come to idolize. I asked less and less.

Then, on a perfect summer day in 1969, I had an experience that changed everything. The St. Louis Cardinals came to town. Although the 1969 Cardinals weren’t contenders, they had won the World Series twice in the past 5 years, and had several notable players on their roster – including pitcher Bob Gibson, who still holds the (modern day) major league record for earned run average; Lou Brock, one of the greatest base stealers of all time; and Joe Torre, a great player who would go onto become one of the greatest coaches in the game.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was that made me walk over to the opposition’s dugout that day in June, but there was definitely something about the Redbirds that intrigued me. More importantly, there seemed to be less and less reason to hang out by the Expos dugout. That afternoon, with little effort on my part, Lou Brock signed my cap, Joe Torre autographed my glove, and on his way back from the bullpen, Bob Gibson looked me straight in the eye and tossed a ball right into my mitt!

The Cards won 8-1 that day, but even before the first run was scored, I had become a fan for life. I bought a Cardinals cap as soon as I saved up enough allowance, and wore it faithfully, despite being harassed by kids at school, who couldn’t possibly understand why I didn’t root for the home town team!

I’ve been a St. Louis Cardinals fan for more than 40 years now. I’ve followed the team through some great times and many struggles. But it doesn’t matter, Bob Gibson looked me straight in the eye and tossed me a baseball. That’s how I became a customer for life!

I’m Feeling Pretty Good About This Blog

by Eric Samuels

There seems to be an epidemic of unusually high self-esteem.

Now don’t get me wrong. When it comes to the taking a stand on the half-full or half-empty analogy, I like to think of the glass as simply being larger than required. I believe that makes me an optimistic leaning pragmatist.
But you can’t help but notice that in an increasingly complex world with more than its share of challenges, we seem to feel pretty darn good about ourselves!
Efforts to help build our self-esteem are everywhere. While self-help books, endless classes and courses, framed posters with clever sayings and soul-stirring images, are nothing new, now, more than ever, they seem to propose the solution for whatever ails. Marriage in trouble? Must be your self-esteem. Can’t find a job? Got to be your self-image. Can’t sink the putt or put away the competition in game 7? Look no further than how you see yourself.
Feeling pretty good about who we are is important, particularly when we deserve it, by doing the right thing whenever possible. Similarly, feeling lousy about ourselves when we do something we know is wrong (and let’s face it, we all fail to live up to our own best standards, at times) , is also proper and correct. But the suggestion of many of the self-esteem snake-oil salesmen, is that a robust sense of self will help you to burst through all the uncertainties of life and allow you to carry yourself with nothing but confidence and certainty. Herein lies the problem.
Doubt and caution serve a specific purpose in the way we go about making decisions. And if the uncertain thoughts themselves weren’t enough to cause pause and reflection, the accompanying visceral response of our body to stress, is the equivalent of our car’s GPS announcing, in that warm but determined voice….”at the first available opportunity, turn around.”

We’re not supposed to always have the answer. We can’t possibly know it all. There’s actually no such thing as ‘the smartest guy in the room’ (and even if there was, the moment we think we are that guy – we’re not).
You can certainly understand why we’re drawn to this notion of infallibly feeling good about ourselves. The appeal is self-evident.
The problem, however, is that it’s behavioral Prozac and dulls the senses. But its par for the course. We’re suckers for a quick fix. Feeling lethargic at the mid-point of the afternoon? Have an energy drink. Not happy with lines and wrinkles on your face? Botox them away. Feeling a little uncertain about that presentation you have to give on Monday? You can certainly try a pharmaceutical solution like beta blockers, or, better yet, rehearse to the point where you know the material as well as you can. Know what? You’ll still get butterflies in your stomach before stepping out in front of the audience – you’re supposed to!
Back when I first performed as a stand-up comic, overcoming severe nervousness before stepping out on stage was a major concern. I’d never felt that level of discomfort before. Someone suggested having a drink before my set, just to take the ‘edge‘ off. I tried it. In fact, I made it a double. It certainly took the edge off. It also threw off my timing, focus and most importantly, my connection with the audience. The same material that had previous audiences laughing, was met with blank stares and polite applause as I left the stage. It was the first and last time I used alcohol to dull my anxiety. Years later, I still get a little nervous moments before beginning any presentation or performance. The day I stop feeling this way, I will really start to worry. That ‘edge‘ serves a purpose!
Like dynamics in music, our feelings are meant to vary and shift. Feeling constantly too high or too low are equally disconcerting. It’s all about the balance.

Fire-Prevention in a Fireworks Factory

by Eric Samuels

Curious as to why things are so quiet in his 7-year old son’s bedroom, a father walks in to discover that the boy is lighting matches and attempting to ignite one of his toys. Imagine yourself in this man’s shoes. You may have experienced something similar in your life, perhaps even from the perspective of the boy.

How would the father typically react? Chances are, unable to control his fear and rage, he yells at the boy to immediately stop what he is doing, adding a few verbal expletives, perhaps physically restraining (or worse) the child in some capacity. This reaction, which can safely be described as a common response, will certainly end the immediate threat, but not likely prevent repetition of the event in the future, and will certainly do little to determine the root cause of the behaviour.

Fear and anger are powerful primordial emotions, which can easily dominate our behaviour. However, they generally trigger short-term solutions, providing, at best, an end to the threat and a venting of our stress. Consideration as to the cause of the threat is generally received on a delayed basis, if at all.

This presents a tremendous conflict for anyone in a position of supervision – whether a parent, manager, or group leader. Because our initial response to wrong behaviour is often that of the parent who has walked in on the child playing with matches. But to truly elevate the awareness and performance of those to whom we are responsible, we must first find a way to break and rewire our own internal default script. Not an easy task after a few thousand years of ingrained behaviour!

The first rule is to fight the urge to solve everything in one fell swoop. In other words, first deal with the immediate threat, then deal with the cause (at an appropriate time). Easy enough to say, but tougher to do in today’s increasingly hectic world. This also requires controlling our own initial emotional reaction, which in my case, was once “what the *^% were you thinking?” A response which does little but demean the person to whom it was directed.

Effective behavioural guidance (managing or modifying poor behaviour) requires dealing with the root cause of problem at a time when our response is not fuelled by emotions, but rather a calm environment in which to clearly manage the issue. This process must include a clear articulation of the problem; an effort to understand why it occurred; and a clear communication what is expected, including an explanation of the consequences of future repetition.

Now there is an argument that aversive conditioning* can be a quick and effective method of dealing with negative behaviour. True, if someone receives an electric shock every time they try to take a coin from a jar, they will stop trying. But it doesn’t deal with their desire for the coin, nor will it end their attempts to get one elsewhere. There is the old adage that even firemen spend the majority of their time preventing fires, so as to avoid their starting.

However, in times of uncertainty, such as we find ourselves in today, fear inevitably drives the bus and brings in its wake a culture of short-term thinking. But if you can break away from the pack mentality, this is a wonderful opportunity to be extraordinary by thinking longer term and caring enough about the people around you to make the extra effort.

Next time, catching people in the act of doing things right.

*behavior conditioning in which noxious stimuli are associated with undesirable or unwanted behaviour that is to be modified or abolished.