Don Draper and potted plants

When I worked at a major retailer many, many, many years ago we would get regular deliveries of potted plants in the spring. They would come in on trailers from some place south and everyone would gather at the dock and help unload them. They were always huge and green — large palms, ficus trees, dieffenbachias — planted in gallon pots and sold for $19.99 or some other low price. Having spent the previous five months buried in the snows of Minnesota, customers were eager for anything green.

The plants sold quickly. They also died quickly.

Apparently, the grower would force the leafy part of the plant to grow quickly and not care about the roots. He made money on quick turn of the product, not on the health of the plant. He knew the big, lush greenery would sell. He didn’t care how long they lasted.

“All of this for such a cheap price? Wow, that would look great in my apartment!”

As I watched “The Other Woman” episode of Mad Men this past Sunday, that lesson leapt into my head.

Taking short-cuts work for short-term results. Anyone who has ever worked in the online space has probably had constant battles with the “SEO v Quality Content” arguments, knowing full-well that a dedicated SEO effort with back links and “black hat” stuff will produce quick results. We know that we will have to defend the “quality content” argument against the seemingly successful SEO push as the client’s site hits page one of Google at a meteoric rise. But we know equally well that the page will drop like a stone once the effort is stopped.

We are rarely given the chance to defend the quality position as the client gets busy popping the champagne cork in celebration.

We know the plant will die because it does not have the root structure to sustain the leafy green top. That might be ok if the client were a white-label brand selling quick greenery to a cabin-fever-infected audience looking to buy cheap plants. But if the client was in the long-term relationship, quality results business such as selling very expensive cars to an exclusive demographic — where their brand is also on the line — that might prove to be a bit problematic.

This is what Don Draper knows. While many reviews out there focus on the morality of “whoring out Joan” or the role of women in the workplace, the real significance of the “deal” was not lost on Don. He now has to decide how to handle a situation where he is contractually tied to a group of people who are willing to game the system to produce leafy green plants with no root structure to sell to an audience who will buy from the nameless vendor willing to sell the leafiest greenery at the cheapest price. His future is tied to these people and he no longer gets a vote. He is feeling too old, powerless and out-of-touch to just leave.

This is what he is processing in the instant Joan and he exchange looks in Roger’s office. He is not judging Joan; he is assessing everyone else in the office. Joan has won 5% of a leafy green company and Don knows it. That is what is in Don’s eyes.

I’m not quite sure what is in Joan’s.

Visiting London on a Sunday morning

Gerry and London from The UnseenBean Coffee

Gerry and London from The UnseenBean Coffee

“Do you drink coffee?” he asked me eagerly as soon as we shook hands. With a broad smile and cheerful flourish, he was already digging into his bag, giving me a pound of coffee from The UnseenBean.

Gerry (Gerard) Leary was born in 1952 and named after the patron saint of expectant mothers, St. Gerard. He weighed three pounds when he was born and the oxygen used in the incubator during the first few weeks of his life took his sight. Despite his lack of sight, his parents were determined to raise Gerry to be self-sufficient and independent.

“The last ten years of my father’s life, we were like two peas in a pod,” Gerry boasts with a slight chuckle. “But when I was growing up, man….” as his voices drifts off and his face lights up with a broad smile that tells a colorful story full of fond memories of youthful hooliganism.

At 59, he is fearless. He interacts easily with everyone around him and marches forward with as much confidence and conviction as any sighted person.

Gerry grew up and became a mechanic, but about nine years ago, his interests started to wander. As he was having dinner at a San Francisco café, he heard what sounded like a rock tumbler. It was, in fact, a coffee bean roaster. Immediately intrigued, he asked the roastmaster if he could learn to roast beans by sound and smell. Without missing a beat, the roastmaster explained what the roast looked like as the beans turned color. Gerry pieced together the subtle changes in sound and smell to map out a roasting cycle.

Armed with his indomitable confidence he enrolled in the San Francisco Coffee Training Institute to learn the craft of roasting coffee beans, despite the skepticism of the roasting instructors. He couldn’t see the color of the beans as they roasted, but he could smell and hear the change. He outfitted a sample roaster with a talking thermostat made from parts found on the Internet and The Unseen Bean was born. Later as the business grew, he bought a full-sized roaster.

But this was Hamvention weekend and Gerry (WBGIVF) was in town for that. We were curious about his entrée into HAM radio. London, a four-year-old yellow lab and Gerry’s guide dog, was also patiently waiting for us to get to his story. We’ll get there, I promise.

When Gerry was nine years old, he came down with an ear infection which kept him home from school for several weeks. He was driving his dad crazy with boredom, so his dad’s Army buddy gave Gerry an old radio to listen to. It wasn’t long before Gerry’s natural curiosity took hold and he and his dad were taking HAM radio operator classes. By the time he was eleven, Gerry had his license and he could not only listen, but talk on the radio.

“Keep active in the HAM Radio operators’ community,” his dad advised. “You’ll always be in the company of educated, caring and compassionate people.” Each year, Gerry comes to Dayton, Ohio to meet up with his community in person. Each year, they greet him as they would an old friend.

“London is my third dog,” Gerry shared. “I had a setter at first — which didn’t work out — and a black lab named Midnight for nine years after that.” Midnight was diagnosed with cancer and Gerry was faced with the awful decision to put him down. The training facility had another dog — London — but he was three days away from being cycled out of the program. Gerry would have to move fast to get this dog.

Within hours, he had completed the application and London and a trainer were on their way to Gerry’s house. It usually takes three to six months to acclimate the guide dog to a new owner; it only took about thirty seconds for London to jump into Gerry’s lap and then settle at his feet, London’s side snuggled up against his leg.

I takes six months to a year to train a guide dog. Only 40 percent of all dogs who enter a program graduate and are placed. Despite his casual demeanor, London is a dog with exceptional skills.

For more on Gerry Leary, visit his website at http://www.theunseenbean.com, on twitter at @TheUnseenBean or come on down for the next Hamvention and meet him and London in person. You will be inspired by his effervescent personality and quirky sense of humor.

If you have a HAM radio, reach out to WBGIVF. Tell London his Dayton Pack is anxious to meet up with him next year. And the year after… and the year after…

Awesome business videos

My BFF Chris Celek started up this really cool service for small businesses to get started using video for their web sites, social media presence, etc. So he calls me up and asks if I wanted to be a guinea pig to test out the cameras, instructions and his final edits.

What?!? A chance to play with toys? I’m all in!

Anyway, we shot some stuff, talked into a mic and sent the whole mess back to Chris, sort of like stuffing a big pile of dog poop into a bag and handing it off to someone else.

And out of that bag of sh….. well, he made this for us. He even gave my editor a cameo.

Awesome!

Incidentally, Awesome Business Videos is where Chris lives. Give him a call. Or a tweet.

You really want the US Postal Service to go away?

USPS

I received this letter in the mail yesterday. I noticed the return address had two things; a PO Box and the ZIP Code.* That’s it.

A few days ago, I read some tweets in my stream where a few people were cheering on the demise of the US Postal Service. My gut reaction was “not so fast, everyone. The USPS — with all its faults — is still a pretty vital spine in our democracy.”

The letter I received underscored how sophisticated the USPS really is. With no more information than a PO Box and a ZIP Code, it can get a letter to the right person from anywhere in the world.

That is something that just didn’t happen by accident.

*Altered for some privacy

Crowdsourcing bridges

In the past week, I’ve stumbled onto two major brands that launched crowdsourcing design projects they probably should not have. The first is the Barack Obama Reelection Campaign (MY poster submission is posted to the right) and the other is Moleskine. For obvious conflicting reasons, Obama should be giving young designers paying gigs instead of trying to steal ideas from the most vulnerably unemployable during this recession, but more unforgivable is Moleskine for poking their core audience in the eye with a disrespectful rusty finger. (You figure out the euphemism.. you’re all smart people)

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You ain’t no Steve Jobs

One of the things I keep hearing from media and some of my friends is how Steve Jobs thought different, did things differently and failed a lot.

College dropout

Got fired

Unsuccessful businessman

LSD user

“Look, dad! Steve Jobs was a failure and look what he did. I’m dropping out of college and going to change the world.”

*deep sigh*

I’m going to be a contrarian here. It is a bit scary that we have created an entire generation that has been rewarded for every mistake, every failure, every effort as an accomplishment. We gave trophies for just showing up. And the only thing we have produced is a bunch of folks who feel lost without getting an affirmation that their pooping is good.

I am getting very tired of having to acknowledge effort with the same weight as accomplishment. I don’t want to clap at your guitar tuning; I want to save that for your performance. Of course every success is lined with failure, but quit redefining the failures as successes. Yes, I know that makes me an intolerant geezer, but it really is for your own good.

Suck it up, become an adult and move on. Adults know when a failure is a failure or the next step to becoming a success. That is what makes us adults. And adults do not need constant affirmations that they done good by going poop.

Steve Jobs knew the rules of his craft and knew what he needed to break. He took an insane amount of crap for his vision. He probably suffered a lot in silence whereas you blog every angst. He did not camp out in his parents’ basement. He got off his butt and persevered. And nobody — except maybe Woz — ever, ever told him he was on the right track.

You remind me of students who aspire to be writers, justifying their lack of discipline to the craft by saying “e.e. cummings didn’t capitalize things.”

Like I tell these students, “You ain’t no e.e. cummings.”

And you ain’t no Steve Jobs, but you can prove me wrong.

When you do, come by, kick me in the ribs and say “I told you so.”

99% does not mean 99 things #OccupyWallStreet

#occupywallstreet

I read the #OccupyWallStreet story in the New York Times this morning and kinda just shook my head slowly. They reported this as if it were a 2011 version of Woodstock, complete with hippy-chicks and guitar-slinging beatniks.

Yay. Or should I say “bully* for them.”

It’s not that the New York Times didn’t get it. I think they do. It may be because the protest is making itself hard to get.

Here is my advice to the #OccupyWallStreet folks. Do with it what you will.

Get simple. Fast.
Know what you want. Demand something short and easy for the media to understand in under nine seconds and something that even Chuck Todd won’t misunderstand and mangle (though I’m not entirely sure how you can do that.) It is really hard to get what you want when you can’t define it in 140 characters or less. Human dignity? Universal health care? Free universal education? Free checking? A specific banking bill that a Congressman wrote? (e.g. SB-5 in Ohio got over a million signatures because we were able to point to a specific bill.) If you can’t answer the question: “What do you want?” quickly, you are just creating a mob, not a group of lawfully-assembing citizens who demand that their grievances be met. (Example powdered wigs worked for the Tea Party!)

Unite
The worst thing you need media to call you is hodge-podge, rag-tag, unorganized and that sort of thing. The easiest way to organize is to get a slogan and have everyone wear the same t-shirt. Green would be delicious irony. Print a big 99% on the front and silk-screen a large block of white on the back where each person can write his/her own story.

Kickstarter
Get a Kickstarter going and start raising money. You are gonna need a lot of it. A Kickstarter helps those of us in Dayton, Ohio who can’t be in NYC to participate. That would also force you to think specifically about how you will spend the funds which will lead you to define your goals.

Website, Social Media
You have a good start at occupywallst.org/, but there is way too much on your site. Photos of people, just like this. And quit with the fist-pumping anger. Us older people still remember the Black Panthers and you are scaring us.

This is not an event
Quit scheduling things. There is no “agenda.” Do-nothing corporations have an agenda for meetings that nobody likes but go to anyway because there is almost always free muffins. The 99% are not corporate offices. And keep celebrities out of your group. Susan Sarandon and Cornell West are not helping your image. They are even less of the 1% those in your group will never be. When they show up, the media focuses their cameras on them and away from the crowd. Who does that serve? The celebrity. Only.

Produce your own media
Have your own reporters and writers. Use studio media techniques to deliver your own stories. Issue media credentials to people at NBC, CBS, Times, etc. Make them come to you. (They won’t and the credentials will mean nothing, but it will send a message to corporate-owned media… who are part of Wall Street… which you knew, right?)

Shut up
Do not chant. Do not talk to the media. Say nothing. Ask everyone there to say nothing to media, the police, hecklers, etc. The medium of silence will be your message. You are the 99% who are not being heard.

Ultimately, I think this movement will die off simply because a mob of hobos and stray dogs is not a group you can negotiate anything with. Sure, there is general unrest and all the ingredients for an uprising and class riots exists in all parts of America, but unless there is something specific (like ending the Vietnam War) to rally around, it is just a mob. If you want this to take hold, you have to simplify.

Quickly. Winter is coming.

*Sorry for the pun. I know this is a serious topic and I knew better, but I couldn’t resist. Part of what I’m protesting is a general lack of humour, in good times and bad.

A monkey with a loaded typewriter

Right margin on the manual typewriter

I read this short post by Nathan Bransford about tinkering with e-books after they have been “published.” At first, I was deeply conflicted. On the one hand, being able to correct typos easily and make updates seems like you would be giving your readers a service they could not get in print books. On the other, my English degree (my old, tattered one) says that once a writer releases the work, it is no longer his; it belongs to his readers, warts and all.

But then my old newspaper background reared its ugly head and reminded me square on that in print, there are no do-overs. If you miss a typos or make some other mistake during the editing process, it will get replicated 200,000+ times and be forever archived AS IS in the Library of Congress, the Newseum and as clippings in scrapbooks for generations. If that kind of pressure does not force you to become very, very good at the craftsmanship of writing, you should perhaps look for another profession.

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