When I was a kid, my friend “T’s” Mom drove a Citroen. Actually, she never called it that – she subbed in an “sh” for the “c”, which delighted us a lot (probably why I named my youngest daughter after her – another long story). If you know anything about cars, this is a fine example of something that was over-engineered, incredibly complex, and bound to break constantly. It was also a damn fine ride when it worked but that was infrequent enough so as not to care.
In the late 1960’s, this was not a car one could take just anywhere to be repaired. In fact, you couldn’t take it anywhere – no one knew how to fix the damn things. So every time it would break, T’s dad would call Nicholas. How he found Nicholas is long gone. What Nicholas did for a living is also a mystery, as was English to Nicholas. But he knew the only phrase that mattered: “I fix!” And so he did, in his MacGyver-like way.
Which makes me think of two things.
First, how easy it would be today to find Nicholas – in fact, the problem is more about the fact that we can’t sort through all the repair options we’d surface in a simple search and making information more accessible is really the single biggest challenge for content companies and marketers. Sort of why the semantic web is going to be important.
Second, no matter how good you may be at most things, you’re probably not great at everything. T’s Dad built a beautiful brick wall in his back yard and added on to the house but couldn’t fix this car. That’s why people like me are here: to fix your ride so you can get back to doing what you do best. The trick is not to wait until it breaks down!
I’m not sure how many of you know who spoke before Lincoln at Gettysburg (Edward Everett) nor that he spoke for two hours (yawn). Lincoln then got up and, in 272 words, delivered one of the most moving pieces of oratory in the English language.
Believe it or not, I had time to think about that today at the arts awards ceremony today at my daughter’s school. Most of the department heads – art, band, choir, etc. – got up and explained for what the awards were being given as well as, in 15 seconds, a bit about each recipient and why they were being given the award. A lot to get through, a lot of kids, but it was sailing along smoothly.
Until one department head, whom I won’t embarrass here, got up. Then, the assembled multitudes were treated to 3 minutes explaining her program which, frankly, is exactly what you’d expect it to be from its name. After the introduction, which, thankfully, she had written out, she called each of the 10 kids up who were award recipients and spoke for at least 90 seconds, without notes, about each one, including the kids who weren’t there to get their awards. She rambled. She “ummmed”. It was, in a word, paniful. Oh yeah – she then concluded with 3 more minutes about the program (again, written out). Her 8 awards took as much time as the entire music department, which presented awards in 5 areas to 25 kids.
I’ve given a lot of speeches in my time and this was a textbook example of what NOT to do:
- Don’t talk to an audience at length about a subject in which they have no interest. An audience coming to hear about digital media doesn’t want to know about my golf round last week; no one wants to hear about a kid other than their own at great length.
- Don’t speak extemporaneously unless you’re Robin Williams. Use notes – scripts may not be better since they can cause you to lose audience contact. But don’t ramble. Organize your thinking!
- Pay attention to the audience – she seemed oblivious that there was a constant stream to the doors after her first 6 minutes – and I feel badly for the two areas that had to follow her because those kids should be recognized in front of everyone, not just those who hung around.
- Know when to stop talking! Just like I know to stop writing (which is now).
It’s all too easy when you’re dead tired and facing an impossible situation at work to get angry and give up. Someone else can handle it. I quit (at least mentally and emotionally). What if quitting isn’t an option? Ever?
Let me give you all the same clue I found: we don’t know jack.
So today’s post is going to be a link, mostly, to a piece written by a former colleague and current friend who explains how he has turned maybe the most difficult situation into something totally beautiful. I hope it affects you the way it did me and reminds you of the things that really matter (and in general, work deadlines aren’t on the list). Thank you, Russell, for bringing me back to reality.