Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Easily Green in 2017

Perhaps it is most fitting to start looking towards 2017 in light of the Pantone Color of the Year: Greenery.  The (literal) master of color and fashion trends, Pantone describes the 2017 color of the year as being "symbolic of new beginnings."  I wouldn't be the first to point out that 2016 has been a rough and rocky year, and so it is fitting for just about everyone I know to hope for new beginnings and "reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose."  However, for me personally, it takes on even more meaning, because I will be picking up my life after being quite content in the Phoenix, Arizona area for over 14 years, and moving to the other side of the country.  The move alone is such a big deal, it means a complete life-style change for me and my
boyfriend, Jaiman, who will thankfully be making the move with me.  Greenery also is a great description of what awaits us in our move - we will be going from the beautiful desert landscape I've grown to love, to a place of green lawns, evergreen and maple trees, and all sorts of other greenery.  Money - perhaps the most sought-after proverbial green - will also be a key aspect of our transition; I will be getting paid more, he will need to find a new job, and we will need to watch that spending on our ambitious adventures and culinary conquests doesn't exceed our budget.  Hopefully, we will find "greener pastures" in Connecticut, but there's no telling if our food porn will make our friends and family green with envy, or if we'll go green with homesickness. 

Continuing down this analogy, Pantone suggests a number of palette combinations with names that are strangely fitting for the expected experiences of our year to come:
Transitions - both a job change for me and him, as well as a transition of lifestyle
Grand Canyon - we will be exploring our great home state a little bit more before we leave
Rev It Up - our personal and professional lives will hopefully find new energy in 2017
Fathomless - there seems to be no end to our dreams and aspirations for our new life in New England
Deep Rooted - while we're leaving our family and friends behind, we will stay connected
Calm It Down - there will inevitably be moments of stress, and I know I will need to take a moment to catch my breath and relax

Indeed, I am impressed by how much this opportunity feels like a blank canvas, and while green is not commonly referred to as a neutral color, Pantone describes it as nature's neutral, a perfect backdrop to re-invent ourselves and our life.  So without further ado, here are some things to look forward to and personal goals for 2017:

2017 Goals (Themes Inspired by Pantone's palettes)

Transitions - Get down to a size 12

While I often avoid making weight-loss goals because they are hard to adhere to and obtain, I think I've reached a point where I am ready to make some serious changes, and that means committing to an achievable goal again. 

Ethereal Material - Cook one new dish

Most of you know that I am not exactly a master in the kitchen, but I do experiment and come up with something amazing from time to time.  Encouraged by my hit chorizo tacos at the cabin for Christmas, I definitely am ready to expand my cooking vocabulary.  Suggestions welcome, just keep in mind that ease isn't actually a motivating factor for me, I want a dish that is AMAZING that I can't get elsewhere, that will motivate me to work on it.  

Grand Canyon - Do one new hike

I've conquered (and occasionally felt defeated) by some of the most amazing hikes in the world, right here in Arizona.  Before moving out of the southwest, I'd like to try one more awesome hike that I've not yet tackled.  I think we'll also need to do a hike or two in the northeast, but I don't expect that to be the on the same level.  Again, suggestions welcome! 

Forest Floor - Grow something

Cactus have been known to die at my hand.  But I've come to find that, coupled with my experimentations in the kitchen, the herbs and veggies I use often go bad before I use them all up.  I'm not sure how well it will go to grow my own, but I'd like to at least try to grow something like mint, peppers or lettuce so it can be used in my recipes. 

Rev It Up - Complete a college course (online or otherwise)

This category could have gone a few different ways for me - I was initially thinking about all the roller coasters we expect to do next year.  But I think, dating Jaiman, roller coasters are inevitable and also aren't actually all that important to me.  But as I was thinking about the future, I realized that it's been a while since I've done something for my professional development, so I thought, even if I don't pursue a certification of some sort, I should at least study something.  I've watched a lot of TED Talks over the last couple years, but even as thought-provoking as they are, I find them rarely to be actionable.  And there are so many options for actual college courses readily available and free online, I think it's a no-brainer to improve myself in this way. 

Fathomless - Make something unique & innovative

I'm leaving this intentionally very open-ended.  In years past, I've done some (I think) extraordinary things with my home, and for a while I had serious interior design ambitions.  But while I never did make it onto HGTV's Design Star, I think there is still room for me to do something really cool, and with a move to a whole new home, I can't think of a better way to break in the new space than by putting my own unique flare into it.

Calm It Down - Read 20 books

I had set out to read 20 books this year, and completed 25 (and started a couple more).  So I had thought about raising the bar for next year, but settled on 20 again because of all the changes and other things that are going to come next year.  Also, I found that while I was doing all this reading in 2016, I was consumed by consuming words, rather than producing them, and I believe my writing suffered as a result.  So not only do I not want to not stretch myself given all the other activity, but I think I will probably also limit myself to 20 books, and focus more on the experiences to be had and writing to be done. 

Analogous - Write a novel/book

I've had some little ideas circulating in my head for a while, and I love the idea of nanowrimo, even though I didn't participate this year.  So I think for 2017, I not only want to participate in nanowrimo again, but I want to work a bit more on my writing again.  I may even combine this with the class thing and take a writing course of some sort. 

Moody Blooms - Learn a new style of dance

I love dance, and I can always use more exercise.  In the distant and recent past, I've taken classes in modern jazz, ballet, east coast swing, hip hop, pole, tribal belly dance, lindy, and balboa.  Of these, I'd say I was most terrible at hip hop, so I may consider a return to that style still as being new.  Or, maybe I will have Jaiman teach me his favorite ballroom style, or maybe a Latin style dance - I do like shaking my booty!  Regardless of the style, the point is to move and enjoy it! 

Deep Rooted - Host a game night or get-together

An extreme extrovert, I just can't get enough of being around people whom I enjoy.  I think this is one of the aspects of moving that scares me most - I will once again be far away from my family and friends, and will only have a few people I know in the new world.  So whether it's before or after the move, I definitely want to push myself to host something that brings me closer to the people I enjoy at least once, if not 300 times over! 

Personal Events:

Feb 27 - Hiking "the Wave"
Mar 4 - A friend's wedding
Mar 18 - 19 - Going to my first NASCAR race
Spring(?) - Road trip up PCH to San Francisco (tentative)
Spring/summer - Househunting trip to Connecticut
August(?) - Move from Mesa, AZ to Stamford, CT area
Late summer/fall - Six Flags trips on the east coast!
Sept - Travel to Australia (tentative)

National Events:

Jan 1 - Brooklyn Nine-Nine one-hour winter finale (8:30 pm on Fox)
Jan 4 - People's Choice Awards (9pm on CBS)
Jan 6 - Hidden Figures (theaters)
Jan 8 - Golden Globe Awards
Jan 10 - This Is Us midseason premiere (9 pm on NBC)
Jan 13 - Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)
Jan 19 - Scandal (9pm on ABC)
Jan 22 - Critics Choice Movie Awards
Jan 25 - The Path (Hulu)
Jan 29 - Screen Actors Guild Awards

Feb 5 - Super Bowl LI (5pm on Fox)
Feb 3 - The Space Between Us (theaters)
Feb 26 - The Oscars

Mar 22 - Empire spring premiere (9pm on Fox)

Apr 14 - Fast & Furious 8: The Fate of the Furious (theaters)
Apr 21 - The Amazing Race (8pm on CBS)

May 5 - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
May 26 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (theaters)

June 11 - Tony Awards
June 25 - BET Awards

Sept 17 - Emmy Awards

Dec 22 - Pitch Perfect 3 (theaters)

Your Goals for 2017

I think goal setting is an important practice, even if you don't end up achieving your goals in the time allotted, or if your priorities change.  It helps us to think about what it is we need to accomplish, how we can do it, who we need, and what things we need to do to prepare.  It pushes us to be better people, to strive for the legacy we want to leave behind, and it gives us concrete things to measure ourselves against.  So often, I get this feeling of being stuck in purgatory, passing time until something exciting happens.  But the truth is, life is good, and every day can be awesome, and if I'm working towards something, then I know I am moving forward, and therefore I'm not stuck.  I strongly encourage you to use this template for your own goal setting for 2017, and I'd love to hear how you interpret these themes! 

Transitions - Change is inevitable.  What is one thing you want to change for the better?

Ethereal Material - Back to basics.  What can you do to ground yourself?

Grand Canyon - Adventure is waiting!  What is one thing you can do that will make it into your Christmas letter in 2017?

Forest Floor - Nature is the source of so much inspiration, not to mention food, shelter, water, etc.  What is one thing you can do to feel connected to Mother Earth?

Rev It Up - Accelerate your life!  What is something you want to accomplish that will push you out of your comfort zone?

Fathomless - The human mind is incredible!  Even if you don't consider yourself creative, push yourself to create something.  Take a class at TechShop, or a glass-blowing workshop, or one of those painting with wine classes.  Or, just pick up a couple supplies at your local craft store and go to town!

Calm It Down - So few adults continue reading after school is over.  Challenge yourself to read!  Ask for suggestions.  Look around at your library.  Go to goodreads and see what your friends are reading, or list the books you've liked in the past to see what comes up as suggestions.  Read the book before the movie comes out (I love doing this).  If you still don't know what to read, check out my list of suggestions here

Analogous - Just like reading, I think writing is such a critical part of our lives.  Consider starting a journal (or blog!), experiment with short stories, write about something you know really well, or make up a parody to your favorite song. 

Moody Blooms - Express yourself!  I'd challenge you to take a dance class, but if that's too out there for you, consider learning a new language (I recommend Pimsleur audio CDs, you can get them from the library and they only take 30 minutes a day - do it on your commute), trying a new skill (scuba diving? archery?) or going to see a show or event you normally wouldn't (opera? college theater? museum exhibit? botanical gardens?). 

Deep Rooted - At the end of the day, it all comes down to people.  How can you connect or re-connect with the people you most admire? 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Christmas Letter: Year in Review

I just re-read my Christmas letter from 2010 recapping all the things I did that year.  It's truly amazing how much one can pack in to a single year.  I definitely have a feeling of being a slacker, as if my old age has slowed me down.  My past self put my present self to shame.  But I did have a pretty exciting year, and I still think it's worth celebrating, even if it doesn't top every other year of my life.  Jaiman and I spend most of our free time together, so there's a lot of "we" where there used to be an "I" in my stories, which is also really awesome.  So, here it goes. 

Dear Friends & Family,

We started the year off with a new hike we'd been wanting to do called Peralta Trail in the Superstition Mountains.  It looks like it was exhausting from the pictures, but I don't remember it being too painful, so it couldn't have been that bad.  For Jaiman's birthday we hosted a party at Ah-So with members of both of our families as well as some of Jaiman's closest friends.  The chef sprayed sake into everyone's mouths relentlessly.  Even the kids got to partake, but it was water for them.  We had a bit of an after-party at our house.
For Valentine's Day, Jaiman and I had a romantic getaway in Sedona, complete with a short hike, some good beer, and a chocolate lover's train ride through the wilderness, during which we saw a bald eagle!  In March we went to the Sonoran Light exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens.  I'm not sure if this makes me feel fancy, or old, but I like excursions to the DBG.  In April, my colleagues, Jaiman and my sister Christy and I did the Bubble Run and got covered in glorious colored bubbles.  

Perhaps the highlight of our year came in May, when we took a long-awaited vacation to Japan.  The trip got off to a rocky start, but we made it to Tokyo where we experienced Disney like only the Japanese can do it, as well as a sumo wrestling match, checking off one of my life list goals.  We visited a legit owl cafe and got to hold all sizes and sorts of owls, and got to play video games a bajillion-story arcade in Akihabara. I parted with Jaiman for one night and checked myself into a capsule hotel, which was one of the more amazing things I think I've ever done, and another checkmark on my life list.  What would be a Jaiman trip without a roller coaster?  We went on a ride which was rather mediocre, but hey, Japan!  Checking off yet another item on our life lists, we took a bullet train from Tokyo to Hiroshima, and then jumped on a ferry to Miyajima where we stayed two nights in the most luxurious of Japanese resorts.  Our room had a private hot spring bath which I obsessed with day and night, but we also managed to eat incredible food, tour the Itsukishima Shrine, take a rope car to the top of the mountain and hike down it.  Before leaving the area, we tour the Hiroshima Peace Park Museum and saw children singing at the Children's Memorial.  We hopped back on a bullet train and arrived in Kyoto in no time, where we searched for and found both the old and new Nintendo headquarters.  Back in Tokyo, we went to a baseball game, which was an unbelievably hilarious good time.  Some craft beer and shopping ensued in our last day in Tokyo; I helped Jaiman with the Japanese alphabet, allowing him to locate a rare CD he's been on the hunt for, and Jaiman having mastered a few key Japanese phrases to interact with the retail workers.

Upon returning from Japan, Jaiman and I were both mysteriously awarded with "matching promotions," Jaiman promoted to Store Manager of his own store not two miles from our house (a much shorter commute than what he previously had), and I was promoted to Demand Manager for laundry, taking on our very challenging brand, Persil (challenging because it keeps GROWING!!).  Lesson learned, we need to take more trips out of the country for weeks at a time, apparently it makes our employers promote us.  

I performed multiple times this year with the Gypsy Jitterbugs, including at Swingdependance in July.  For my birthday, we did another little getaway, this time down in Bisbee.  We played Knockerball with some friends from swing dance, and went to multiple ASU football games.  Jaiman and I also went to California to activate our Six Flags passes and catch some Pokemon.  For a birthday present, Christy got us tickets to see Straight No Chaser down in Tucson, a group we saw in 2015 in Mesa, and we will be seeing again on New Year's Eve this year.  You could say we're fans.  

For Thanksgiving, we went to Las Vegas with the intent of gorging at a buffet.  Unfortunately, our first choice buffet had a 4 hour wait just to get in, so we opted for our second choice, which still had a 3 hour wait, but we paid the extra for the "express pass" to
get in with just a 45 minute wait.  Christy, Jaiman and I also did the Hot Chocolate 5k, and we cheered Matthew on as he completed his first (and last?) 15k there.  For an early Christmas present, Jaiman took me to an Arizona Cardinals game.  When I asked if he had a shirt I could wear (meaning borrow from him), he presented me with another gift - my very own Cardinals shirt - a shirt I'd been eyeing in his store.  Jordin Sparks sang the National Anthem and the halftime show.  We lost, but it was still a fun time to see Arizona play their last home game.  

In June, my company announced the exciting news that we would be acquiring Sun Products, doubling our presence and position in the US laundry market.  This was especially exciting since I had just joined the laundry team with my promotion.  However, the writing on the wall was a potential re-structuring and re-location.  Sure enough, in October, it was announced that we would be moving our North American headquarters to Stamford, CT.  I have recently accepted a position as part of this re-location, doing the same thing I am currently doing but back on the beauty side of the business where I came from.  So, sometime next year, Jaiman and I are expecting to move to Connecticut.  We expect to take lots of weekend trips to theme parks and cities of historical and cultural significance, eat lots of new foods, see lots of shows on Broadway, and experience all sorts of different things.  

For Christmas this year, my family decided to rent a cabin in Show Low, Arizona.  The weather forecast does not show snow, but we're still hoping for a little holiday miracle.  Matching pajamas, karaoke, board games and typical Winger craziness is sure to ensue.  Stay tuned for more on that, and for our big adventures in 2017!  

Happy holidays! 


Saturday, November 12, 2016

America: A Reinvention

It's taken me some time to process this week's election results, and I'm not sure I've fully processed everything, but I want to share what I hope to be a unique and helpful perspective.  Just to be clear, I fall on the republican side of many issues, but also believe strongly in the need for sustainability, and therefore am often turned off by republicans' love affair with oil; I did not vote for Trump or Hillary, and I am not here to debate the merits of voting for a third party.  My reasons to not vote for my party's candidate are many, but racism and brash, thoughtless commentary top the list.  I count myself among the many Americans who expected Hillary to win, if by default only, and went to bed Tuesday night very surprised and disappointed by what we were seeing on TV.  But, I think I was among a much smaller population who preferred a clear winner over a tie or even a narrow margin.  I don't think there is any question that, had Trump lost, especially if by a small margin, he would have fought it and the election news coverage would have continued dragging on and on.  If it was a tie, which was a real possibility by my calculations, I worried that the bottom would fall out of the stock market and we'd enter another awful recession, or perhaps an even more sudden, violent recession, leading to rioting and raiding and chaos and anarchy.  Call me dramatic, but I am a forecaster by profession now, so it is my job to anticipate the future. 
So here we are, a terribly divided country, who have elected a President with implications that scare so many.  Scare!  Not annoy, not piss off (although both of those apply as well), but SCARE!  I mean, there is legitimate fear because of who we elected.  And don't give me that "Not my President" crap; we were appalled when Trump wouldn't agree to peacefully accept the results of the election, so if you don't accept the results, you are just as bad as he is.  Indeed, this country, with the electoral college that we invented, put into place and have been using, we elected Trump.  I'm not saying the electoral college is perfect, far from it actually, but until we can design and agree upon a better way to handle fair and equal representation in the voting process, that's all we've got.  It doesn't matter if you didn't vote for Trump, he is the President-elect.  Hillary acknowledged it, Obama acknowledged it, and I assure you its not because they think he's a great guy.
It's because we as a country believe in a peaceful transition to the elected President.  And we all know the popular vote isn't what matters, so don't whine about that either.  You can move to Canada (if their immigration website comes back online), but that won't change the fact that Trump is the next President of the United States.  In fact, I wouldn't advise moving to Canada because if he has his way, business is going to get bad in Canada.  Anyways, while Wall Street rallied back up after the pro-business nominee was elected, there is still a lot of uncertainty, anger and fear around Trump's victory.  But here's the thing: it isn't actually that bad.  Let me tell you why. 

Shortly before election day, there was a number of articles posted about this professor who predicted that Trump would win based on what he calls "The Keys to the White House."  I read one such article (and am considering reading the book now, especially considering the results), intrigued from both the analytical perspective on forecasting and from the perspective of emotional disbelief.  Surely, I thought after the reading article, his prediction model probably works well for typical elections, but Trump would certainly be the exception to this "science."  Right?  I mean, nobody would have believed Trump would even be a candidate two years ago, and especially not if you told them the things he's said and done through this election.  This can't be a typical election, therefore, the rules outline in the professor's forecasting model don't apply, I thought.  Forecasting, afterall, is not a perfect science; as a rule, numerical forecasts are always wrong, the goal is simply to get as close as possible and correct the reasons for missing to improve the forecasting model going forward.  But the election really only had two highly probable outcomes, and the professor, against many readers' intuitions, effectively nailed it.  What this tells me is that Trump, with all his belligerent Tweet-rants, ignorant racist and sexist outbursts and overall childish demeanor were not enough to stop the course of history.  That is to say that the professor's model didn't predict Trump particularly, his model said that the Republican candidate would win, or more accurately, that the party of the current President would lose.  So it was always going to be a Republican win.  We may say that it's unfortunate then, that the Republican candidate is Trump, but technically the Republican voters put him there, so that's also a senseless debate.  If the keys to the White House had broken because of Trump, Republicans, or at least I myself, would have been outraged: "This was the year for Republicans to take back power, and we blew it!"  But somehow, despite everything, Trump didn't blow it. 

What this means is, change (in party) was inevitable, and this is simply history repeating itself.  That alone might be a more positive spin on the doomsday dystopian fears of some.  We've gone through party changes in contested, emotional, and controversial elections before, and there will be an America not too much different than the America we know today, after Trump's presidency.  More significant, though, is that not only was change inevitable, but roughly half of our country was basically asking for this kind of extreme change.  We were divided before the election, let's not forget that.  In fact, we were more than divided.  All the shootings that led to the Black Lives Matter movement happened while we had our first black President.  I remember being so proud that our country could overcome racism enough to elect a black President 8 years ago, but clearly, there is still a significant amount of racism in this country 8 years after that historical election.  This demonstrates, among some very sad realities, that there is no reason to believe the country as a whole will

reflect the beliefs and characteristics of the man in the Oval Office.  It sucks that we still have a racist country despite having elected a black President, and it sucks that our President-elect also appears to not only be racist, but sexist and xenophobic, too.  But it serves to show that no matter what Trump says, his words do not reflect the beliefs of America as a whole, anymore than Obama's election obliterated racism. 

Furthermore, as many reassuring articles can more eloquently and specifically describe, our country has a system of checks and balances, and Trump cannot do all the most insane things he promised to do on his campaign trail, and many of those things can only be done with an approval from Congress.  "But, Laura," I hear you say, "Congress is mostly Republican, too, so Trump can push anything through, right?"  No, I don't think so.  Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but what we saw in the weeks and months leading up to the election was that many Republicans had a hard time backing Trump, and some went so far as withdrawing support.  I believe that the other Republicans we put in office, at least as a whole, will do what they can to prevent Trump from instigating World War III.  Here I am not an expert, as I did not research all the Republicans on every state's ballot, only my own ballot, but I hope my logic holds true.  The fact that we have a Republican-dominated Congress also speaks to the fact that this country demanded change.  And it could be a very productive four years, in all actuality, because so many acts of Congress have been held up by basically an endless game of tug-of-war.  With Trump supposedly supporting Republican policies, Republicans could actually get
things done, like revisit Social Security, a hot-button issue in George W.'s election that never was addressed due greatly to the 9/11 attacks.  Guys, we could balance the budget!  We could do the things we're supposed to do as a country.  Our leaders might actually lead us forward, and not just collect salaries from our tax dollars. 

I've been thinking a lot about the idea that we can reinvent ourselves lately.  It first came up in a reflection of my life as I wrote a very personal narrative.  I realized that, at certain milestones in life, I've seized the opportunity to reinvent myself; moving to a new state with a new school and new friends to make, starting college, changing jobs, shedding bad relationships.  I've drastically reinvented myself at least a half a dozen times, and my boyfriend and I are now facing another huge opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our way of life as we look towards our move from Arizona to Connecticut.  If you grow up and live your whole life in a small town where everybody knows you and remembers when you popped out of your mother's womb, you can't really do those kinds of drastic makeovers to reinvent who you are, because people's perceptions of you are harder to change when they've been ingrained.  But when you face a whole new audience of people who don't know you, you can practically reinvent yourself in just the first impressions; then you just have to maintain some semblance of the person they think you are, and you effectively become that person.  In the same way, Trump could take this grand opportunity to reinvent himself as an American leader, a hero, an advocate for minorities, an economically-proficient superpower.  In just a couple days after the election, there are no indications he will do so, but one can hope.  With or without Trump, America can reinvent itself.  We already have, in a sense; we are now a country where really, truly, anyone can become President, whether you're a woman no prior political experience required.  The Govenator, I think, may have paved the way for celebrities to get into pretty substantial political offices, and I think most people are impressed with what he's done there.  The fact that Hillary got so close I think already has proven that a woman can become President, we just didn't elect a woman this time around. 
When I reinvent myself, I usually fall short of being perfect, but I strive to become a better version of myself; ridding the things I don't like and keeping or expanding upon the things I do like about myself.  In the same way, our country is far from perfect, but it's pretty damn good to be an American, and this election shows both that we have work to do but that this is a place where anything is possible.  For that reason and the one stated earlier, I am not moving to Canada.  Everyone can reinvent themselves and reinvent and reshape America.  We don't need to scrap the whole thing or bail altogether; we just need to do our part to make America a better version of itself.  Spread love and humor and education and good work, squash hate and anger and drama and judgment, and let's reinvent this great country of ours and make it a better America. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Your Questions Suck: Why You Don't Get the Answers You Need and How to Fix It

Multiple choice. If you had a question regarding your employee benefits, who would you ask?
a) Your colleague in the cubicle next to yours.
b) HR or the benefits hotline.
c) The Senior Vice President of Supply Chain.
d) Read the website. 

There are really right answers and kinda right answers to this question, but I think logically, nobody would choose c.  However, my workplace has been thrown into a little bit of a stressful situation with the announcement that we'd be relocating across the country.  The announcement has put us into a state of uncertainty, and there are a lot of questions.  Certainly, people are nervous and trying to figure out whether or not they will take the generous relocation package or settle for the severance and stay in the desert.  But I still couldn't believe some of the questions that were being asked of our Senior VP when he offered to have lunch with us and talk through some of the anxiety and concerns.  Some of them were good questions, just directed at the wrong audience; some were very individual questions that should have been addressed one-on-one.  Some questions were just dumb questions.  I'm sorry, but I am a strong believer in stupid questions, and I've heard a ton this past week.

Beyond the relocation, I've felt compelled to discuss the idea of asking the right questions based on questions that have been brought to me and also my own work requiring me to ask questions as I learn my new job and new franchise. 

Provide Context

Sometimes people ask a very general question and don't tell you what they intend to use the information for.  I'm not really sure why people to do this, to be honest, and if someone can enlighten me, please do.  I can only speculate that they either assume they are asking the right question, or that the answer shouldn't change depending on the context.  But when you're asking a question, it is because you probably don't have direct access to the information, and you are not the subject matter expert.  You should direct your question to the subject matter expert (SME), and by providing context, the SME can help clarify the question and get you a better quality answer. 

For example, someone asked me what our launch quantities were for a new product, and added the context that he was planning to add coupons.  If he had not provided the context, I would have given him the total launch quantities.  However, because he mentioned the coupons, a light bulb went off in my head signaling that he probably doesn't want the quantities for items that we don't put coupons on.  So while he probably thought he was asking the right question, I was able to clarify his question to only include those items that were relevant, and give him a more correct answer than I would have otherwise. 

I'd be remiss not to mention that context does not mean the history of the world or your life's story.  It should be concise, one line or one sentence should suffice in most cases.  "I am preparing for Friday's supply chain operations meeting," or "Marketing was concerned about whether inventory levels would be sufficient in Q4," are simple examples of providing context.  The bottom line is that the SME you are asking wants to get you the information you need, so providing context helps to see the underlying need behind the question. 

Ask the Right Audience

Asking the wrong person is a pet peeve of mine, and the pet peeve which has been irritated the most recently, hence partially prompting this blog post.  If person Ashley trained you on topic A, and Bill trained you on topic B, you wouldn't go ask Ashley about topic B, unless you either wanted to test her knowledge or the consistency of the organization's understanding, or get a different viewpoint.  But if Ashley knows that Bill trained you on topic B, she may react to the question negatively.  Either she makes assumptions about why you are asking her (i.e. you are testing her or your training was insufficient), you have forgotten or are incompetent, or she may feel you are bogging her down or annoying.  If you frame it up as a verification, i.e. "Bill said X but that seems to conflict with what you said about topic A..." then she should better understand why you are asking in order to help get you the information you need.  Context helps a ton in this case, but more importantly, if Bill is really the right person to ask, then why are you asking Ashley at all?  You may not get the most correct answer by asking someone other than the subject matter expert, so think about why you are asking a specific person before doing so.

Use Clarity and Specifics

If you find that your e-mailed questions don't get answered in a timely manner, it could be that your questions are vague.  Many people get stuck on questions that are unclear, and put off answering them until they can spend time forming a good response or until they can talk to you in person to get or provide clarification.  To get your answers promptly and avoid putting people in this uncomfortable struggle, add specifics in measurables and scope.  Quantitatively, make sure you specify which unit(s) you are interested in (i.e. gross profits in US dollars versus net sales in Euros, consumer units versus pallet quantities versus batches sizes in pounds).  Also make sure you include which timeframe you are focused on (i.e. inventory as of today, sales month-to-date, actual and projected shipments for the year, last three years of history, etc).  If you are asking for an excessive timeframe, which I'll define as more than 3 times what your business normally covers in weekly or monthly reviews, make sure to include the minimum timeframe you absolutely need, and your preferred timeframe of what you would like, if its available.  Sometimes, it is much easier to provide shorter timeframes, so by providing this flexibility in your question, you will likely get a faster answer on one or the other, and you could always follow up to ask for the longer timeframe, understanding that it may take longer to gather that data.  From a scope perspective, provide parameters that make it easy for the requestee to understand.  If there's a specific forum in which the topic is discussed, reference that forum (i.e. "What was the projected service level in this week's critical item review meeting?").  If you are asking about a specific product or part, make sure to provide a part number or reference number if you have it, or if not, be as descriptive as possible (i.e. "40 oz Original Formula" means a lot more than "small liquid"). 

Write a Good Subject Line

So often, huge email chains are started by forwarding a generic email, and nobody changes the subject.  Five or ten emails in, a recipient needs to scroll all the way down to the first or second email to see what the heck the email is about.  When forwarding an email to ask a specific question, consider changing the subject line or amending it with clarifying details, so that recipients understand context right away.  If you're starting from a blank email, including in the subject line the general topic will again help set the context.  I do not recommend including the actual question in the subject line; this may be another bit of a silly pet peeve, but then every response (without changing the subject) looks like it's asking the question again.  Instead, save the questions for the body, and put a topic that is clear and specific in the subject. 

Determine What Questions to Ask

All of the above assumes that you have a question to ask.  Often, however, good business people are distinguished not because they ask questions well, but because they ask the right questions.  So the crux of the issue is knowing what the right question is, and this cannot be specified by a simple formula.  But I'd like to try to at least describe the thought process that goes into forming the right questions. 

When receiving good or bad news:

  1. Is there a process to handle this situation?  Is the process working?  Process improvement is a great way to set yourself apart from your peers, so understanding first what the process is and then helping to improve it not only helps the immediate situation, but it could help your colleagues and yourself in future similar situations. 
  2. How does this impact my metrics (i.e. timeline, inventory, projected sales, customer fill rate, etc.)?  It all comes down to the bottom line, and often people on the ground are reacting and trying to solve the problem, and not necessarily focusing their attention on quantifying the issue.  Quantifying the impact can help you and your superiors prioritize and have the conversations at the right level in the business. 
  3. What options do we have to resolve the issue?  Think of both the "normal" means of resolving such an issue, and use the specific circumstances to see if there are creative solutions that could be utilized. 
  4. Are the right people involved?  Part of being a good leader is knowing that you don't know everything, and instead, knowing when to delegate and pull the right people in.  Evaluate what you know about the situation, and bounce that off of similar situations or ask a colleague if there are certain people that need to be involved.
  5. What can we learn from this?  Can we apply this learning elsewhere? 

When identifying a trend:

  1. Did we expect this trend?  Even positive changes can be troublesome if you're not prepared for it, i.e. not having sufficient supply chain capacity or customer service representatives or server capacity. 
  2. What is driving it?  Do we have evidence or a control group that indicates the effectiveness of the driving factor?  Look as much as possible at the data, but also consider the qualitative intuitions of the people closest to the trend.  How can we reverse this trend (if negative) or amplify it (if positive)? 
  3. Can we duplicate this trend (if positive) or prevent this trend (if negative) in other areas of the business?

When faced with a disagreement:

  1. What are the core issues of the person you disagree with?  Has he/she been "burned" before?  Look for a way to drive down to a common goal, and then build up from there to a place where you do agree.
  2. What are the metric implications of both sides?  Try to take the personal aspects out of the issue, and present the data. 
  3. Can we proceed with a trial instead of a cart-blanche implementation?  What can be included in the trial that is low-risk or can be monitored more easily?  What are the metrics for success in the trial?
  4. Is there a policy, contractual agreement or precedent you can refer to?  Seek to understand how those things apply and how they differ from the issue at hand, and what that means for risk to metrics.

As with so many things in life, practice makes perfect (or at least better).  Practicing clarity, with context, scope, and units of measure, along with thinking through the impact and paths to follow, will help you ask better questions, get answers that you need faster, and ultimately should improve your leadership ability and career projectory.  A lot of these things seem simple, mundane or obvious, and yet so many people neglect or fail to consider them in their day-to-day work, but it makes a big difference. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

You Nailed It

This has been pressing on my mind lately, and tomorrow is National Do Something Nice Day, so I thought it was a good time to bring it up.  I have recently (read: in the last 6 months) been personally reminded in the most impressive ways of the power of compliments.  

My first example is from when a swing dancer I respect a TON went out of his way to tell me how much he enjoys watching my facials when I perform. I don't recall his exact words, but it was something along the lines of, "Whenever I see you guys perform, I always watch your facials because you nail them every time."  This was really special to me because (1) I realize I'm not the best dancer on the floor, not nearly, so I felt like I was contributing to the performance, (2) I work hard at performing with my face and not just moving through the steps, so it was validation and encouragement to keep it up, and (3) he sought me out and pointed out something specific that he liked, which meant he put thought into it and made it that much more meaningful to me.  So often after I perform, people say, "Great job," and I am grateful for general compliments like that, but I think specific compliments show genuine appreciation and are more constructive for the future.  
We're working on a version of "Thriller" right now (performing at Hepkats on the 31st, I would love for all of you to come watch it), and as we work on it, I can't help but feel a deep need to perfect the facials (scary, spooky zombie faces instead of my normal cheery, smiley, sometimes sassy faces), primarily because this one well-respected dancer told me that he loves watching my facials.  He likely will not even be at the Thriller performance, but I feel obligated to nail them anyways, to not let myself down, which drives me to work harder at them (I've been watching the video and studying the facials and practicing them no matter how silly I feel).  All because of one compliment.  I don't want to call him out, but if he's reading this (and I hope he is, so he knows how grateful I am), he knows who he is.

My second example is from just last week.  As many of you know, I had gone shopping and found a great green dress (green - when have I ever looked good in green?) and posted a picture of it.  I spent the rest of my evening reading and disconnected from facebook, until suddenly I checked it and saw that I had a bajillion compliments!  Guys, THANK YOU SO MUCH!  It was an amazing response and really boosted my confidence.  I assure you, it really was the dress!  I wore that dress to work on Thursday, and virtually every conversation started with, "Hold on, let me see this dress."  It was really amazing for my confidence, especially because I've only recently started wearing dresses (and the occasional jumpsuit - another highly complimented piece) to work, and I hate my legs and I am self-conscious about my weight and all that other stuff.  So the compliments from that dress alone made me want to wear more dresses and focus on my appearance more than I have in the past (previously, it was: throw a shirt on with a pair of pants and find a decent necklace and get out the door). Guess what?  I got four new dresses!  My closet is becoming packed with dresses for work, despite not wearing dresses to work for the previous 10 years of my career!

I will be the first to admit that I have to work at this complimenting thing; it is not easy for me (I think I'm probably pretty selfish naturally), so I have to remind myself to look for things I like about people.  "That shirt is really flattering on you," or "That necklace goes perfect with that outfit," or "That color looks great on you," are easy enough.  I also try to let people know when I think they're doing or have done a good job handling a difficult situation.  I don't force myself to compliment all the time, because I don't want it to seem forced or contrived, but I do try to verbalize it when someone makes an impression on me.  I think all too often we keep these things bottled up or we forget to say them, and all those people are missing out on hearing from us and the amazing feedback that can lift someone's spirits or improve their attitude towards something.  The best thing about compliments is that they are free to give, take very little time or effort, and can have such a big payout.  

So for tomorrow, my challenge for everyone, including myself, is to give someone a sincere and specific compliment, preferably in person, but online if circumstances are prohibitive to in-person chatting.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Why AVs Will NOT Usher in the Age of EVs, and other myths of the autonomous vehicle era

A complete misnomer that I keep reading about ties the fate of electric vehicle technology with that of the expected market takeover of autonomous vehicles.  Along with this assertion comes other assumptions that parking lots will be eliminated, private car ownership will dwindle and vehicles will be utilized 3 or 4 times as much as they are today.  Hey, you don't have to sell me on the benefits of autonomous vehicles, or electric for that matter.  I was an early adopter on the Chevy Volt, proudly plugging in my car at home, at work and elsewhere for more than 5 years now, and I've preached tirelessly about the carnage we face every day - in one month, we have as many deaths on the road due to human error as we had on 9/11.  We've essentially had a 9/11 death-toll every month since 9/11 happened; yet we stand together against that one tragedy and are completely indifferent towards the ongoing tragedies.  Still, I have a lot of problems with this assertion that driverless vehicle technology will finally give the electric vehicle the demand its been looking for all these years.  Clearly, there are writers prophesying about the future of transportation whom are not well acquainted with the life of an electric vehicle driver, as I am.  

First of all, electric vehicles do not recharge as fast as filling up a gas tank.  This I know first hand; I plan my day around my charging schedule if and when possible, or relent to the need to use gas for a portion of my daily requirements.  My commute may be more than the average commute, but its not terribly unusual.  I drive 25 miles uphill to work on a freeway, which means my Volt battery is close to depleted (between 2 - 7 miles left depending on driving aggression that day, and environment control).  It takes about 7 - 8 hours to completely recharge my car, which is just a little bit less time than I spend at work most days, so my car is topped off when I am done.  It is downhill home, so I end up with about 15 miles to run errands with, although I still try to take efficient routes so as not to exceed my battery's limits.  I hate using gas.  But once I'm home, I pretty much need to start charging right away, or within a few hours, to make sure my car is ready to go the next morning.  So to say it could be better utilized is hard to swallow.  Sure there would be some efficiencies gained with an autonomous vehicle: it will accelerate more slowly and brake less dramatically, it would take the most efficient or speediest route, as dictated I suppose, and with the addition of an AV lane, it could platoon behind other AVs to reduce wind resistance.  But I don't foresee a gain of more than 4 - 8 miles each way, and that means a driverless car servicing my commute could maybe make one more short trip per day, but not much else. 

Maybe I'm an atypical case, and I would be the exception for whom car ownership makes sense, or I would be forced by reasonable economics simply to move closer to work.  But I tend to disagree that I'm all that unusual.  On the contrary, I think a lot of Americans, given AVs as a viable option for their rush hour commutes, will choose to live further from work, knowing they can be productive during their drive, and because they won't have to deal with the frustrations of insane traffic, because the car is dealing with it.  When you aren't paying attention to your driving, a half hour or even an hour of downtime before and after work actually sounds pretty appealing.   

Admittedly, Teslas and even Nissans have faster charging capabilities than my gas-enabled Volt, but my understanding is that this express charging is actually not very good for the battery.  It may be okay for the occasional road trip for private owners, but building a business model around fast-charging autonomous EVs potentially several times a day to keep them whirring about city streets requires a lot more consideration for the battery life than accounted for in most of the poorly devised proposals I've seen.  Along those lines, then, the prospect for this mobility versus car ownership model to deteriorate car sales seems to be overstated; the companies who own the electric AVs would need to replace them much more frequently, or at least replace the expensive batteries used in them. 


Another point that I'd call into question is this idea that we could eliminate parking lots and turn them into green spaces.  It sounds lovely, but if we eliminate parking lots, where exactly do you suppose those cars will be?  Especially if private car ownership recedes to hobbyist levels, cars will no longer be parked in our homes' garages, so they need to be somewhere when not in use during low-demand hours like at 3 am on a Tuesday morning.  We need a ton capacity of vehicles to get us around, unless we drastically change our lifestyles away from the need to drive tens or hundreds of miles a day altogether, and that is just a completely different rabbit hole.  These autonomous cars utilized solely for mobility, if electric, will need to charge somewhere for extended periods of time.  Thousands of them.  And while we may be able to place such charging parking lots further away from central hubs (because humans no longer need to walk to and from such parking lots), the further out you put them, the more energy they will expend just getting to and from the parking lots.  No, I don't think the vast majority of parking lots will disappear in the next 50 years, I think they will be transformed into lots with more services to maintain the vehicles while the humans are going about their workday.   

And where will this energy come from for such large amounts of transportation?  Electricity may seem like it appears out of nowhere because we can pull it out of our walls, but it has to be produced somewhere.  Sure, we can string solar arrays along all the rooftops in the city, but to support the entire transportation network with all electric, we're going to need a hell of a lot more power per kilometer than a reasonable amount of solar panels in that same kilometer could support.  As much as I love the idea of solar, the technology just isn't efficient enough yet, and wind is even less promising.  No, I think a good amount of our transportation energy will still come, in one form or another, from some form of fuel, be it biodiesel, natural gas, or fossil fuel.  It can be made cleaner, but it will certainly be prevalent for decades to come, era of autonomous vehicle or not. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Perseverance and Joy

Last night I had a vivid dream of meeting a young man whose legs had been amputated due to deformities from birth.  We were in my fictitious dream-land basement, myself, Jaiman, this young man and his brother.  They lived across the street.  The young man was essentially wrapped in a blanket, completely covering his body including his head and face.  He was situated on my sofa like a lump.  

When I sat down next to him, he started kicking my back incessantly.  His brother assured me he was trying to hurt me, he was trying to sit up straight.  I couldn't fathom why his head and face were covered - he had deformities in his legs, so maybe his face is so grotesquely deformed that he keeps it covered up.  But his brother didn't mention anything about his face, just the legs.  It was a puzzle, and I wanted to see his face, but he kept kicking me.  Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and I stood up and faced the sofa.  

Jaiman offered to help the young man, and his brother suggested we put on his "stilts" as he called them, the artificial limbs designed to help the young man walk.  I encouraged Jaiman to sit next to the young man, and we freed one leg in order to attach the artificial limb, and then the other.  All the while, he was kicking, wiggling, moving his legs in a desperate effort to sit up, get up, or run away completely.  It made me sad, but more so, it struck me as almost inhuman, and primitive, the way he kept at it even when there was nobody there to push off against, even when it seemed hopeless.  

The dream skipped what happened next, or I forgot it, but I never did see him walk or see his face.  But later that day, I was peering out my window, and I saw the young man and his mother, playing in their basement, a view only visible to my unique perspective.  The young man's face was no longer covered.  I've heard that the brain is incapable of inventing new human faces in our dreams, so this is why we usually don't see distinct faces, or the brain uses faces we've encountered recently or in the distant past, when we dream.  While I have seen many faces troubled with all sorts of deformities, the young man in my dream took on the face of an autistic child I had known growing up - a child who had been severely picked on in school, but was so incredibly brilliant, he went on to do amazing things in his life.  Dreams are funny things - because they are inventions of your mind so you have a sense of knowing things even when they aren't apparent, and I think sometimes you can even steer them.  In my dream, when I saw his face, the face of the child I once knew (and still keep in touch with), it was as I expected.  Not ugly or terribly deformed, not beautiful either, but troubled, a little wild with thoughts and aspirations, and kind.  

What excited me more, though, in my dream, is not that his face was fine, but what he was doing with his mom.  He was dancing!  It was awkward, and untrained, as you would expect, but he and his mom danced with such fervor, it filled me with happiness and peace just sitting there watching them, a view reserved only for me.  He wasn't dancing like nobody was watching, as the saying goes.  He was dancing like people who loved him were watching.  He had the confidence, knowing that if he started to fall, he would be caught.  He trusted that it didn't matter how silly he looked, he was loved.  And he was exuding joy.  

As dreams often do, it got weird.  I looked to his mom, a heavy-set woman in bright colors and typical mom clothes.  I looked back at him, and he had morphed into a middle-aged woman, like a girlfriend of his mom's, as if they were out at a bar dancing, reliving their 20's.  Then I saw Jaiman was there, and he was dancing too, dancing ridiculously, and he also morphed into a middle-aged woman.  And the three girlfriends danced like it was the last night they could.  They morphed in and out of these forms as I watched, not quite sure what to make of it.  But no matter what form they were in, they exuded joy.  

I thought back to the boy, huddled under covers on my sofa, kicking, and wiggling and trying to get up, and realized that he wasn't trying to sit up, or even to walk.  He wanted to dance.  His perseverance had seemed incomprehensible to me; I had thought of it as primitive.  

My dreams come in all shapes and forms.  I often dream about mundane tasks at work, especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed about how much there is to do.  I wake up from those nights feeling like I've already worked for 8 hours, because in my head, I have.  I have recurring mild nightmares reliving my high school days, being late to band practice, forgetting my shoes, not knowing where my trumpet is, missing the bus that is heading for a competition; those are just strange to me because I was a responsible band member, a section leader 3 of the 4 years, so I really don't know where they come from. Some dreams are just strange concoctions of things I'm involved with (Pokemon being the lasted leisurely activity looped into my dreams) and some dreams I'm a criminal, evading the law.  Some dreams I can only chalk up to being premonitions, their keen, spot-on analysis somehow predicting my immediate future.  

This dream was different from all of those, and not like what I usually dream about.  When I awoke, I drew immediate inspiration from it, believing that this boy came to me in my dreams to show me how lazy I've been, how I need to do better, how I need to keep kicking and fighting.  Life is not just about standing or walking.  It's about joy and love, and finding joy in doing what you love.  It's about dancing, whatever that means to each of us.  I needed to kick up my perseverance to an inhuman level to fight for what I want.  I cannot be dissuaded by the illusion of hopelessness.  Only then can I experience abundant joy like what I saw in the boy's dancing.