I See It Now and I Agree -- We REALLY Need to Bring Back Phone Booths

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Reagan National Airport, Washington DC 9:35am; US Airways Lounge:
“Let’s go to the next slide. We have to get to the contracting officer.”
“Mike, you’re in Arizona?... What the hell?”
“Ha, ha, ha …Vicky calls me on this!”
“I know it’s meaningless. It’s a meaningless term, but the statute says…”
“Actually, it’s a working model. Who has a copy? No one can find it.”
“Five to ten times. Keep at it. Thanks, George.”

Welcome to what passes for peace in an airport lounge, the place you go to escape the bustle and press of the terminal. The quotes above are taken from a 7-minute window of time in the US Airways lounge. I was seated in an area that was 100 square feet. I had no problem hearing these conversations.

I retired as an Army Officer in 2009 and have been on the road since then. Speaking, executive coaching, teaching, consulting, and serving on boards take up my time. I enjoy the work and the people I meet. And I get the chance to interact and observe a lot.

One of my observations is that we are either getting pretty thoughtless about our conversation volume, or we think everyone wants to hear our conversations.

I’m weighing in on the thoughtless side of the scale. When I walked up to a gentleman (I’m loose with the term) who was having the contracting discussion above, I asked if he would please quiet down. He smirked, turned his back, and said into the phone, “Next slide.” The volume, if anything, went up.

He wasn’t alone.

I would leave two points to ponder:
  1. Last year USA TODAY ran an article stating that we need to bring back phone booths in public places. No need to have phones in them, just a place where you can go and I don’t have to hear about contracting officers, Mike in Arizona, Vicky, “meaningless statutes,” or whatever else is so critical that you think I want to hear it. That’s an airport fee I’d pay for.
  2. I have audiences ask, “How do I connect with this younger, tech-driven generation? All they do is sit and text.” If their rude behavior concerns you, ask yourself whom they learned it from. Last week I was in an upscale hotel gym/spa. Signs on the wall in front of me stated, “Please refrain from cell phone use.” On either side of my elliptical trainer, two talkers engaged in extended conversations (over 10 minutes). When I finally couldn’t hear the elliptical trainer TV through my earphones, I asked them to quiet down. Again, the stink-face response. Maybe these youngsters are all about themselves because they see you are all about yourself.
The best boss I ever had in 33 years in the Army told me the thing that bothered him the most about people was when they were “thoughtless.”

I’m seeing (and hearing) a lot of thoughtlessness in our behavior in this airport “phone lounge.” Lighten the frowns, lessen the volume, and let’s not get to the stage where we need airport phone booths.

Springsteen Was Right: “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)”

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Man came by to hook up my cable TV
We settled in for the night, my baby and me
We switched round and round till half-past dawn
There was 57 Channels and Nothin’ on

From the Album “Human Touch” 1992

These words used to buzz in my head like any Boss song, just another rhythmic beat to fill up the space on the road, in the gym, walking in a mall, anywhere a mindless tune was needed to fill in my mental blanks….and then, yesterday happened. Started out as a typical Sunday and then the morning “news” shows came on. Every guest came with a position and when countered by another argument, they would smile and stick to their talking points, oblivious to the other party.

Then came the March Madness bracket shows. Between CBS, ESPN and TBS, I counted over 12 “experts” gracing us with their “predictions.” “Should have picked XXXX” ... “Why was YYY only a 12th seed?” … “I see ZZZZ going all the way,” and so on.

Finally I turned to C-Span with Brian Lamb. He was interviewing Fred Barnes, a conservative columnist and the executive editor of the Weekly Standard. Barnes laid out his history and his big move to national prominence -- being one of three questioners at the 1984 Presidential debates. That stint launched him as a panelist on the “McLaughlin Report,” a show characterized by the loudness rather than the veracity and lucidity of the discussion (by both liberal and conservative participants). As I refer to these sessions, which are all too frequent now, they generate more heat than light on a subject.

I wanted to ask this whole crew, from morning to night, from talk show to sports to partisanship just one question:

“What if you’re wrong?”
There’s no cost, no impact -- just have an opinion and manifest a zealotry about sticking to it, regardless of the facts.
It struck me that this is what is wrong with our discourse. We don’t discuss. We yell and when we are confronted, we just yell louder.
I think this is because there is no cost to being loud or wrong. These talking heads have no investment in the outcome. They just have to have an opinion THEY can articulate. Forget about a reasonable discussion or swaying someone. You can go to the channel that reflects your views and reinforces your beliefs. Just tune in on a network and watch the smug faces and pressed suits of the talking class and remember while you are spending that time, they aren’t there for you.

“57 Channels (and nothing on)”

It's Tough

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It’s Tough ... But It’s Not Complicated ... IF You Know What’s Right (maybe the “Sun” was in their eyes)

“Sun of righteousness, shine upon the West also.” Rutgers University Motto

Been a lot in the news about college basketball and the actions of Coach Mike Rice at Rutgers University this past week.

Basketball coaching (in fact any coaching) of young people is demanding. I recall many years ago reading an article (I think it was in Sports Illustrated) where a basketball coach outlined the reasons for the stress in his chosen profession of coaching players at the college level:

“It’s an adult taking his paycheck and putting it in the hands of a 19-year-old and living with what happens” -- or words to that effect.

So I’ll accept that coaching young athletes is not easy. However, I will not accept that because it’s a challenge, coaches are allowed and, in fact, enabled and encouraged by many of their institutions, the media, and the public, to take any course of action to get the winning streak started and maintained.

For evidence of this extreme behavior, one need only look at the videos that Coach Mike Rice filmed of his own practices. Physical abuse, throwing basketballs at players’ heads, screaming homophobic rants, and profanity were just the highlights.

This past week, I listened to pundits and commentators on sports and other networks blather on about how “I got my face mask yanked” or “I’ve been called some pretty bad things” as some sort of explanation for this coaching performance.

I have also seen this abusive behavior reconciled with the belief that “If the powers that be, the administration, the institutions’ senior leadership (fill in your preferred authority) know of this behavior, they’ll deal with it.”

They may deal with the behavior, folks -- just don’t make the mistake of thinking that means they’ll punish it.

On December 14, 2012, after viewing the videos of the abusive behavior by Coach Rice and members of his staff, the Rutgers Athletic Director and the “sports committee” of the board of trustees were advised by their legal counsel that the behavior wasn’t a “fireable offense.”

The next two words from some adult in the room should have been, “No Counsel.”

But, as often happens when attorneys get involved with civilians, the civilians throw up their hands and say, “What can I say? The lawyers told me...” This position surrenders to the legal sufficiency view at the expense of what is right and moral.

In my time as a Commanding Officer in the Army, I had a legal adviser, whose job was to advise me on the legal ramifications of any situation, so I could make a decision regarding the action to take.

It was always my decision. Often I would agree with the advice, however, on occasion I’d inform my counsel that I was going in another direction. Counsel then had the duty to figure out how to execute my intent or call their boss or my boss and try to have me rethink my decision.

If only on December 14th, the words “No Counsel” were followed by something like this; “Rutgers’ motto is ‘Sun of righteousness, shine upon the West also.’ So we have to do the right thing (the righteous thing), and that right thing for Rutgers as an institution is that Coach Rice cannot stay. Now tell me, Counsel, how will you proceed with this case to defend us when we terminate him?”

The cost of this course of action couldn’t be any worse than what Rutgers has gone through by initially retaining him. Would Rice really have thought those videos wouldn’t have swayed a jury, and even if he had won, would his professional reputation have survived?

The Mike Rice debacle cost Rutgers a lot. But don’t feel too sorry for the administration: Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti, for his resignation received $1.43 million. Rutgers President, Dr. Robert Barchi, has a $650K base salary. BasketBall Coach Mike Rice was paid $750K/year for his 3 years at Rutgers.

Saddest enough is that Rice’s behavior, enabled and allowed by the university, didn’t help the school’s basketball team. His 3-year record was 44 wins against 51 losses.

So he cost Rutgers $51,136 per victory over his 3-year tenure, and a whole lot more.

Yes, coaching is tough, so that means only the best should be allowed the privilege of doing it.

If you were watching the 2013 NCAA Men’s Division I basketball championship you saw a great game; lead changes, former unknowns stepping up and so much more. As you reflect on the pageantry, the crowds, the spectacle of all that “March Madness” has become, consider this:

47% of Division I basketball players who started school in 2005 graduated by 2011 (compared with 63% of other students).

A survey of 50 college football and basketball coaches’ contracts revealed the following:

An average of $600,000 in incentives for attaining athletic goals.

An average of $52,000 for incentives regarding the academic performance of players.

You may not like Coach Rice’s abusive coaching method -- just don’t wonder why he practiced it. Better to wonder why so many were so blind to it.

Who Was YOUR "3rd Grade Teacher"?

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I was listening to NPR late last week, and Robert Redford was being interviewed on “All Things Considered” about his new movie, The Company You Keep, that he both starred in and directed.

The interview turned to his upbringing, specifically his childhood. The interviewer asked the reason Redford often referred to himself as “Black Irish.” Redford replied that it sprang from his Irish father’s fear of poverty and failure, which led to always being afraid not of what you could gain from your actions and experiences, but rather what you might lose from them.

I could relate.

My father immigrated to America from Ireland through NY City in the late 40s. After acclimating himself, he began a string of rough jobs: laboring on a beer truck delivering kegs, cans, and bottles throughout the city; elevator operator in the Chrysler building (seriously, everyone should go to a skyscraper at morning or evening rush hour and watch the masses enter or empty a building--my dad’s job was to prevent his piece of it from being a traffic jam); and bartending in any one of a number of places around town. By the way, these jobs were all on the same day!

Finally, he married my mom and saved enough to embark on a plan I have come to call “flip this bar.” Like the TV show Flip This House, my dad would find a bar down on its luck, see the potential, buy it, clean it up till the floors, mirrors, and bathrooms shone, get the customers in and the registers ringing, and a few years later sell it and move on to another opportunity. He did well enough to raise four sons who all went to college, have done well, and got homes in the suburbs.

Yet, as Redford said, my dad likewise never escaped the constant pressure, the fear of staying ahead.

The interviewer followed up on this line and asked, “So how did your dad take your choice of the arts as a career?” Redford replied, “Not well. He thought I was taking too great a risk with my future.” The interviewer then asked, “So how did you stay on this career path?”

“My third-grade teacher,” he replied. Redford related how he had not been a good student in school, unfocused and inattentive in class. One day he was drawing while the class was engaged in something else, and his teacher caught him. She brought him up to the front of the room and directed him to, in effect, “Show us what’s more important than what we are doing.” He cringed, knowing that he’d be shamed, but he still pressed on. He detailed the chase between the cowboys and Indians he’d drawn, guns blazing, and showed the cliff they were headed for. Then, in a burst of imagination, he drew a formation of aircraft to bomb the unsuspecting forces below.

Redford related how the class stayed interested in his story and that the teacher, far from interrupting or shaming him, brought him up at the end of class and told him every Wednesday he would get an easel and 15 minutes to draw a story that he could tell to the class.

That started the career path that brought us All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Downhill Racer, and so many other artistic achievements, such as the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance TV network.

My third-grade teacher was Miss West. She heard me read the story of the First Thanksgiving in 1963, and I pronounced the name of the Indian “Squanto” correctly. She didn’t stop me, but when I spoke that name she looked up, nodded her head, smiled approvingly, and mouthed the words “Very good.”

That recognition energized my love of reading, sparked a willingness to learn how to pronounce and spell words correctly, and cultivated my desire to speak in public.

Who was your “3rd Grade Teacher”?

Do they know the difference they made?

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