Random Notes and Thoughts #4

Here are some of the things that have passed through my head and have been captured, recorded, and, now, let go of.

  • My daughter says "It doesn’t care" in place of "It doesn’t matter". I love it. I think this should become a "thing". I’m going to try it out for a while just to see if people catch it.

  • I’ve come up with something I’m calling "The Universal Sandwich Theory". Follow along with me here: A sandwich made with bad ingredients and poorly made bread will be a horrible sandwich. A sandwich made with good ingredients but poorly made bread will be a bad sandwich. A sandwich made with great ingredients but poorly made bread will be a mediocre sandwich. Conversely, a sandwich made with bad ingredients and great bread will be a mediocre sandwich. A sandwich made with good ingredients and great bread will be a great sandwich. A sandwich made with great ingredients and great bread will be a fantastic sandwich. Bread is the most important ingredient of any sandwich. When making a sandwich, focus on getting the best bread you can. It makes whatever is happening in the middle better. (This also applies to way more than sandwiches.)

  • It’s getting really hard for me to believe that any of this is an accident.

  • I’ve been thinking a lot about turning age 50 in about 2.5 years — which is strange for me. I’m not one who has ever concerned myself too much with age or with "milestone" birthdays. In fact, in so many ways I don’t think of getting older with the passage of time, I think of getting better. But, for some reason, this milestone has especially been on my mind. Not in any alarming way. More in a "what I want to make sure I accomplish by age 50" sort of way. I want to make sure I have a plan for where I want to be and what I want age 50 to look and feel like.

  • I really enjoyed the Lord of The Ring movies as I was a big fan of the trilogy as a young teen. But, I was an even bigger fan of The Hobbit, which I had read first. There was something about Bilbo that really connected with me. So, when it was announced that a movie version was to be made I was excited to see what Director Peter Jackson would do with it. But, it was quickly followed by disappointment when word came out what he actually planned to do with it. Namely, stretch it out, somehow, into a trilogy and not at all staying true to the plot line and central story of the book. Therefore, I have yet to see a single one of these films. I already know I will be saddened and angry. Therefore, it makes me so happy that someone has taken it upon themselves to try to right this great wrong. A re-edited four hour single movie version available via torrent. I’m still waiting for it to complete but I’m excited once again. My faith in Humans and Hobbits alike is restored.

  • A short poem titled, About more than a coffee shop:

We live in a world where we pay
Three dollars for happiness
We could easily have
For thirty cents at home
But here, happiness is made for us
Delivered with a smile that pretends to care
At home, we are responsible
At home, we have to make our own

  • The way one arranges a living space tells me a whole lot about what is important to the people that live in it.

  • The fact that I’ve been pretty quiet on many social internet fronts as of late is both situational and intentional. Situational because I’ve been especially busy with client work and trying to fit writing into the spaces in-between and that leaves me little time for tweeting and sharing. Intentional because I’ve been trying to be better about simply sitting back and listening. Sometimes it feels like I’m just adding noise, even when I feel what I’m saying has value. I’m unsure it has a value greater than the noise it creates. So, for now, I’m trying to simply listen.

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Asking Is The Hardest Job

This past weekend, we spent some time at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (which we refer to as "The MIA" around these parts). We were there for a private art tour for Beatrix’s book club (yes, my almost seven year old belongs to her own book club with several school friends). It was organized by an acquaintance of one of Beatrix’s friend’s parents who also works at the MIA. The tour was based loosely on the book they had just completed reading, Charlotte’s Web. It was a lot of fun for kids and parents alike. Every time we visit the MIA, which ends up being a few times a year, we are reminded just how much we love it and express a desire to make our visits there more frequent.

As our group was gathering, putting away coats, and making general small talk before the tour began, the tour leader mentioned that membership to the MIA was now free. Entry to the museum has always been free (or an optional donation). But the membership, which gave you a fair amount of added benefits, had been a fair price for as long as I remember. He also mentioned that one still gets the same benefits formerly offered at the old entry level membership fee.

I asked him how they were able to do this. As in, how were they able to give something away free that I felt had more than fair value before. He explained that, in part, they had been seeing membership decline steadily for years while at the same time attendance was increasing. That there were several sponsors and foundations that awarded money based on membership levels. Therefore, by increasing membership they would get more money from these large organizations that would hopefully make up the loss. It made sense on one level but on another it really bugged me.

You see, a few years ago we received a family membership to the MIA as a gift. It was a great gift. We would have gone far more often as members that year but, for whatever reason, we had a frustrating and almost comical time actually trying to get the gift membership activated. In fact, it took seven months and multiple calls to several people to finally get our family membership activated. And, when we finally did get it activated, they set the membership expiration date to one year from the date of the gift. In other words, they did not offer at all to grant us the time it took to actually get the membership activated. At that point, we knew it would take even more calls and hassles to get that made right, so we didn’t bother.

But, the thing is, we would make perfect MIA members. Not only do Bethany and I love the MIA, Beatrix loves art museums and loves the MIA especially. We really believe in taking advantage of the wealth of arts experiences the metro area has to offer. We support many other arts organizations with our time, talents, and money. We are active members of other museums in town. In other words, we are exactly the sort of people who would have been paying members and likely for life…

If they had only asked why we weren’t any longer.

I wonder what would have happened, if instead of reducing the price to free, they simply called people who were members at one time and no longer were a simple question — why?. Not some pushy sales call or some temp worker with no power to right any wrongs. Just a simple call from someone who cared to listen and was empowered to "make it right" wherever possible.

We would have told them how much we love the museum, how we really wished we were members still, but that we had such a bad experience with getting the gift membership straightened out and not getting the full year out of it that it left a bad taste in our mouth.

If, then, the MIA representative would have offered something fair — like the ability to purchase a year long membership with the seven months we lost added on for free — we would have jumped at the chance and our faith and generous support of the museum would have been restored.

I wonder how many others like us there are. How many are no longer members because of some bad experience in the past. Perhaps the problem in their declining membership numbers is not because times are tight and people are cutting back. Perhaps it is because the there was a serious problem in the membership process that was never discovered and resolved. Perhaps a phone call and some good will would have turned the tide.

Asking for money is hard work. Asking for money takes courage and a belief that there is real value in what you are selling and the price you put on it is a fair one. It takes believing that there are those to whom this will be obvious and that they are your ideal first customers and that there are many just like them out there just waiting for you to ask. That, people who were once your customers and no longer are likely so for a reason and they are just waiting for you to care enough to ask why. Asking means facing the fear of failure.

Many businesses frame their first dollar bill. It is, in part, pride. A visible symbol that the business is now officially open. That someone cared enough to believe in what they had to sell. But, that framed dollar represents something deeper: That one can frame that one because they believe so strongly in what they are selling. They wont have to break open that frame to get the only dollar they will ever make. They have the courage to believe that another dollar will come along.

Making the price free is easy. It avoids the hard work. You don’t have to face rejection or get past your fear. You don’t have to do the hard work of figuring out and communicating what your value proposition is. And, even still, it assumes that you can’t convince your customers of that value and that your best marketing asset and opportunity for growth is not the people paying for and enjoying your product. Or, in so many cases — even now in the case of the MIA — it proposes that the customers are actually the product you are selling.

Instead, we happily and immediately signed up for the free membership as soon as we got home. We will certainly use it. But we would have anyway and we would have let them know if they had bothered to ask.

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Tinkers by Paul Harding — A Brief (non) Review

This is not a review of Tinkers by Paul Harding. The reason this is not a review is because I did not finish the book.

Here’s the thing: I’m supposed to like this book. In fact, there’s nothing to not like about it. The prose is beautiful, rich, and dense. The story, about a man on his deathbed surrounded by family and drifting in and out of consciousness and time, is compelling. And, one needs to give some appreciation to the fact that this is his first novel as it is better than most writers tenth novels. It even won the Pulitzer Prize. In other words, people far smarter than me like this book. They love this book.

Here’s another thing: You will likely enjoy this book as millions of others have. Not to mention as much as those who gave it the one of the highest prizes in literature clearly did. You will likely read this post, read the book, and think I’ve lost all sense and good taste. For all I know, you might be right.

Yet, I could not get through it. I tried three times. The funny thing is that the reasons I should have liked this book are the very reasons I could not push through it. I found the prose to be too rich and the story too deep. I found that it suffers from an affliction of many first novels in that it is weighed down by too much description — beautifully described, but too much all the same. It was like a well made flour-less chocolate cake — delicious first slice but a few bites more than that and you quickly become too full and too ill to eat more.

This is one of those rare times I understand "book guilt". Most of the time, I have no problem putting a book I’m not enjoying down and moving on to another. Life is too short and there are too many great books to waste a single moment more on one you are not enjoying. But, I felt very conflicted about walking away from this one.

Because no one warns you about the ones that might be too good. Or, the ones you just might not be ready to read — those you may need more wisdom or more patience to truly enjoy. Or the ones that you know are technically great, that everyone else says are great, but for whatever reason are just not for you.

Even though it is much more difficult to admit and do, the same rules apply for these too. Books are meant to be read and enjoyed. If one is not doing it for you for any reason, put it down and move on to another guilt free. Even is it is "good".

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