Tuesday, January 14, 2014


In the active duty military, transition is a constant theme.  In fact, it's the backdrop to a lot of what's done -- at every level, in every type of unit, and every day of the year.

Really, really squared away NCOs and Officers often begin working on their "turnover book" or their "turnover binder" as early as the day they start a new position.  

Because they realize that no matter how excellently (or terribly) they perform, they'll be through the revolving door in either 24 or 36 months, they think ahead about how to prepare their successor to be, well, successful.  

The bad ones don't. They take an "apres moi, le deluge" approach, and sometimes go on leave, or flat out refuse to share information.  

Regardless, most people claim to have "had a bad turnover" and vow that they'll give a better turnover to whoever follows them.  Yet, most don't follow through...if they did, the cycle would break. 

Anyway, last night at Gallagher & Cavanaugh (Michael Gallagher, thank you for organizing and moderating this!), I got to see how a transition is done right.  Kathleen Marcin skippered the Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association (LDNA) for ten years, but is no longer able to keep carrying the torch.  Instead of just sort of slinking away into the proverbial night, she called for a special LDNA meeting to basically say, "I've been doing this, and I need to hand it off.  Let's all get together and talk about how to do this smoothly -- who's going to take on what roles, how should things look going forward, what other organizational issues should we consider, etc.?"  

We did.

As with anything, there was some pain involved.  There were a couple people who, sans irony, referred to things that LDNA should have done, or should do -- as if LDNA were some outside, separate entity over which they bore no influence or control.  

Things may have gone over the top when a woman made mention of the need for better gender balance (at the time, the board was headed by a woman, with three males playing very minor support roles).  Big props to erstwhile Lowell blogger Kad Barma, who piped up to say (paraphrased): "I'm going to push you on that a bit...what's stopping you or any other woman from stepping up and playing a role?" 

Seeing my opening, I jumped in to cite Gandhi.  "Be the change you wish to be," I said, before adding that it was "hard to listen" to people who were so vocal about what LDNA should or shouldn't do, yet were apparently so unwilling to take a turn in the batter's box.  

The meeting went a bit long, but things ended on a pretty good note.  We now have two interim co-chairs (Jack Moynihan and Sue Purdy), a new Treasurer in Carolyn Mooney (as minimal as my role was, I'm also quite glad to have made a clean, honorable break), and we've retained our excellent Vice Chair/Secretary duo (Stephen Greene and Corey Sciuto, respectively).  

A huge, much-deserved "thank you" goes to Kathleen Marcin for running the organization throughout a ten-year period that saw tremendous changes to the downtown.  And a second thank you goes to Kathleen for orchestrating a totally graceful and classy exit -- unfortunately, that type of thing is way too rare.

UPDATE:  In the original version of the post, I forgot to mention that Caroline Gallagher selflessly volunteered to take a communications/media role for LDNA.  She has an extensive media background that includes experience with national outlets...having her on board is a huge coup for the organization -- thank you, Caroline!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Business Lesson: Institutions are Clean, People are Messy

So here's a quick lesson that confirms something I thought when I went into business:  Generally speaking, Institutions are clean, but people are messy.

Here's what I mean -- my experience to date selling things to institutions (in which the person actually handing me the check isn't reaching into his or her own pocket, but is instead using a discretionary budget line) is very "clean."

In other words, there's an expectation.  I meet it.  A check is handed over.  I deposit the check.  All parties are happy (or at least seem happy).

Individual clients are not so simple.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but on the whole, I've found that they are much tougher to please, and much less likely to recognize when they've been given a bargain, or when a break has been cut.

That doesn't mean I won't work with individuals, ever.  But it might mean I'll heed some advice I've received before, about "firing your worst clients."  This is something that everyone from the babysitter next door to the sophisticated white-shoe legal firm downtown has figured out:  some clients aren't worth the trouble, and all you can do is break off the business relationship.

And in case anyone formulating a business plan is reading this, I'll end on this lesson:  If you have any choice in the matter, put institutions -- not individuals -- in your marketing crosshairs.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Yes, Everything IS Amazing...Yes

This is one of the greatest bits ever.  And to really *get* it, you have to watch or listen to it...you can't just hear about the gist of it from a friend.  Louis CK just truly, absolutely, 100% nails so many things about modern society here.

But there's a "but" coming, and here it is:  All this connectivity really does become a problem when things go wrong.

I'm shanghai'd, or waylaid, or stranded, or whatever it is for a few days.  As fates go, that's not so bad...especially considering I'm in Florida in January.  Considering there are people in the world with actual problems -- and considering that even the emperors of Rome and Greece didn't have flush toilets, or warm showers, or BCS bowls to watch -- I should keep that in perspective.

But the suck factor is the expectation on the other end.

Friday?  Really?!?!  REALLY?!?!  Can't you just fly standby?  I mean, today is Monday!

Yes, it is. 

What about Orlando?  Fort Lauderdale?  Miami?  Nothing into Bradley or Green?  What about Manchester?

Got it, got it, got it, and got it.  And no.  Honestly, no.  And JetBlue is terminating the inbound calls to them, not the other way around.  

One of the funniest/strangest things I saw last night was the number of "instant logisticians" at the airport. Suddenly, everyone around me knew a lot more about flight operations than JetBlue did, and they also knew more about the jobs of the people at the flight counters than those people did.  They were also expert meteorologists.

I knew better than to get upset.  I believe that 'upset' has a purpose (just look at how pissed Andrew Luck was in the second half on Saturday) but I also believe that 'upset' is worthless when it's not going to change your on-the-ground reality (pun possibly intended).

But as much as I love Louis CK, being stuck in a beautiful climate with modern amenities and ample chow can actually suck sometimes.

Because there are several employers involved here.  There are appointments.  There are meetings with clients. There is day care, there are medical appointments, and there are reserve unit duties.  There are lots of messy explanations coming, and lots of same-answers-to-the-same-questions-type-stuff coming.

The wonderful modern world provides (which I love), and it also demands.  I'm generally okay with the tradeoff, and I wouldn't trade places with even a relatively well-off Roman from 2500 years ago.

But I sure wish I could've made it into Logan last night.