Tuesday, December 28, 2010

And We're Back!

The NeverTown has long sat silent and empty, cold winter winds whistling through the barren streets that never were. My apologies. I've been finishing up my first semester as a doctoral student and research assistant at Tech... and in case you hadn't heard, I have twins. We just finished a trip back home to Louisiana with the boys in tow. It was nice to see everybody there, but the trip really had only one primary purpose: to introduce Benjamin and Kristopher to my one last living direct-line relative who cares about them. Grandma Mabel was pretty excited to say the least. Gotta say, though, I was very disappointed that she didn't have a chance to make her famous gumbo. Damn, I miss that gumbo. Despite that, she remains my favorite person in Louisiana (although my good friend Kristy has got to at least be in the Top 5).

Also got to hang out with some old friends (where I learned I was Eternal, Chunky, and Pure), and revisit my briefest of workplaces, Best Buy #1157. Nice to see the old crew again, but nicer to know that odd men named Bubba can no longer yell at me for failing to instruct my team to sell services to people who don't honestly need them. I like to think I subscribe to a more ethical version of salesmanship, which served me well back at Schwan's and Trustfile, but maybe I just don't want it enough. Who knows?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Babies and My Poor Neglected Blog

Believe it or not, it's tremendously difficult for me to type one-handed. And as one or more of my hands seems to constantly be doing something with a baby, that's left few fingers free to add to this blog. I'm also getting over a particularly nasty cold. Insert appropriate apologies to my rabid fan-base here.

We're currently just two hours away from the twins' six-week-birthday, and I understand that this is the point where I'm supposed to gush about the inner warmth and joys of parenthood, my boundless love for the children, and my joy at the opportunity and privilege to serve them. I've been told that at this point I'm meant to discuss how I've come to think of myself as a father first and everything else second, how my life has changed, and how I can never look at the world the same way.

Well, my life has changed. I'll give you that one, at least. Other than that... nope. Maybe it's the lack of sleep, or maybe it's the workload of helping my amazing wife with these two combined with the myriad responsibilities of the doctoral program. In any event, I'm more numb and tired than anything. There have been moments, of course - some good and several not so much. I imagine that's natural for those unlucky few who get to try feeding, changing, burping, and soothing two at the same time.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Let Me Tell You About Baby-Poopies

Yes, I've counted eight distinct types now, although the variety has pretty much limited itself at this point to three assortments: the Mustard type, the Gravel type, and what I like to call the "Grastard" type, which conveniently combines the smell and colors of the Mustard type with the consistency and stick-to-skin quality of the Gravel type.

Honestly, the things I blog about....

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Another Twin Update, and a Fallacy of Self-Monitoring

Have I bragged about how awesome my new home office here in Atlanta is? Seriously, when I learned I'd be moving here to pursue my doctorate, I imagined a grimy, dirty, tiny, urban apartment. I definitely did not imagine a spacious sunroom office with a balcony surrounded by trees and a creek. Seriously, it's a joy to work in here (and I'm getting a surprising amount of work done today, despite the fact that I was left alone with the twins - they've been pretty quiet and well-behaved, and yes, I'm knocking on wood as I type this. Honestly. Simultaneously. It's a sight to see.).

But that's probably not the kind of thing you're looking for if you read this blog. You're either looking for organizational psychology, baby updates, or a cheap laugh (or if you're Kerry, you're hoping I'll mention you). Well, you, dear reader, are in luck, because you're going to get all three in this post (but I'm not going to mention Kerry).

It's been a while since I've talked about self-monitoring in these (virtual) pages, and as I know for a fact that some of you aren't interested in the slightest in this, I should warn you in advance that I'm going to spend the next four paragraphs talking about it. Feel free to skip down if you'd like.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!" or "Three Days with Twins"

So many lessons learned from the first three days of having both Benjamin Justin Lemoine and Kristopher James Lemoine at home... sounds like it's time for another bullet-point blog post!

  • Both babies are healthy. That's the important thing. They seem pretty happy, too. Speaking of which....
  • I'm reminded of an old Edwin Edwards (former governor of Louisiana) quote: "Louisiana is not first in everything that is bad, and last in everything that is good." That said, Benjamin is not first in all the negative records, and he is not second in all of the positive records. Sure, Kristopher took top honors for being the first baby to roll over on his own (already!) and Benjamin took top honors for being the first baby to have diarrhea. Sure, Kristopher took top honors for being the first baby to finish off his whole bottle, and Benjamin took top honors for being the first baby to experience explosive projectile defecation (seriously, it was amazing! I'm going to hang a mini-poster of Kenny Chesney next to the diaper-changing table, so he has a target next time!). On the other hand, Benjamin is completely wiping the floor with Kristopher on smile-count (about 27 to 0, at last count), and Benjamin took top honors for being the first twin to do a push-up.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It Comes Before a Fall

The beginning of a recent Facebook chat:

"Hey. Did you and Debby have twins?"

"Hold on, let me check."
"Yeah, I think we did."

***

And so, here we are. I'm surrounded by three computers in my apartment sunroom/office, uploading pictures to Facebook, chatting with well-wishers demanding updates, and fielding multiple requests for a new post to the NeverTown. Meanwhile, Kristopher James Lemoine (the middle name is for my father, not me!) is nestled in a baby swing to my immediate left, undoubtedly confused by the blinking screens, furious typing, and cacophonic gothic rock emanating from my speakers. He's stirring a bit right now... stretching his arms and hands out as best he can from his nest within that Classic Winnie the Pooh blanket.

Wait, he's asleep again. Back to typing.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lo, They Shall Inherit Many Transformers, and a Pinball Table

And so, as those of you who actually know me and are hooked up with me on Facebook already know, it has finally happened. At the stroke of midnight early Friday morning, my wife was taken from me so that a huge needle could be stuck in her spine and her lower belly could be cut open. I hid, along with her head, behind a curtain as she held my hand tightly and I did an impromptu comedy routine to help alleviate our fear. The doctors and nurses laughed quite a bit more than Debby did. And there was this huge lamp in the room that looked just like the planet-destroying laser on the Death Star!

At 12:35am or so, we heard crying. I stayed with my wife until the crying erupted a second time. Then, with her permission, I disengaged from her and moved ten feet to the right to take pictures and see my sons for the first time.

To be honest, it wasn't quite like I expected. The babies weren't awe-inspiringly beautiful, glowing, or even paradigm changing. I did not look upon them and see a different world or a different future. I didn't see them and think that suddenly my personality would be completely different. I didn't even look at them and think they were beautiful; my first thought about appearance was probably something along the lines of, "Wow, they're covered in slime."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sitcoms Taught Me This Would Be Different

Hi, honey, I'm home.

Quiet, I'm on the phone!

Oh, okay. Everything okay?

I think my water broke.

Really? Ummm... shouldn't we be running to the hospital or something?

No... just got off the phone with my doctor. He said we might want to go to the hospital in a bit.

In a bit? Uh, okay then... what do we do now?

I'm hungry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seriously, I Begged

About six weeks ago, I received my syllabuses... syllabus's... syllabi?... for my doctoral courses. I noticed that my first two major exams were spaced within four days of each other, in a short stretch from Thursday, September 30, to Monday, October 4. Seeing this, and knowing that our babies were due around the same time, I got down on my knees and begged Debby to hold out... after all, there are 365 days in the year (366 on a leap year!), and surely she could give birth on some other day. Then, remaining on my knees, I made the same entreaty very loudly to her belly.

And now... now... the damn kids haven't even been born yet and already they're defying me.

Pictures coming soon.

(obligatory Kenny Chesney reference here)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I Forgot What I Was Blogging About

So let me tell you about Dr. Roberts. He is the professor of my quantitative statistics class at Georgia Tech (translated, that breaks down to 'really hard math stuff'), and he is one heck of a pleasure to learn from. He shares with me both his first name (James) and an unfortunate habit of digression at the slightest provocation... conversational-shiny-object syndrome, as it were. In a lecture about, say, multinomials and they hypergeometric distribution (which he specifically said to mention to our friends and family, because "it'll make you sound really smart"), it's not uncommon for Dr. Roberts to branch off into stories about deer hunting, drunken job interviews, Agent Scully, and his grandmother. Odder yet, in the end, he always seems able to tie it all back into whatever statistics we were discussing. He even taught us a dance that illustrates the concept of the sampling distribution (and which, coincidentally, is very fun to do to the tune of the Beach Boys. Not so much fun with Kenny Chesney).

However, the mere fact that he's personally a fun character doesn't make the subject matter all that much easier (which can be intimidating, given this is just the first statistics class of about four to eleven total). On Thursday, during the fifth week of my doctoral education, I finally had my first lecture that I didn't understand at all. He stood there and talked, and it was undoubtedly brilliant stuff, and it definitely went in my ears because I did hear him... but then it all just slipped right back out again, so that the floor was piled high with brilliant concepts that had leaked out of my poor empty head. I think I almost slipped on a few on my way out the door. I suppose intelligent concepts are slick, kind of like oil.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Blogs I'll Never Write

  • I will probably never blog about Chick-Fil-A again. Honestly, you only got half of the story about Chick-Fil-A a few months back. There's more to the story... a lot more... both in terms of fascinating culture and trade secrets that they were remarkably free with. But due to corporate professionalism and friendly confidentiality, the rest of the story must sadly remain a secret.
  • I will never finish that personal entry I started a few weeks ago. I have part of a blog written about some odd changes in my personality that have taken place over the last year or so... confusing changes wherein I no longer see the glass as half-full or half-empty, but instead I wonder what the glass is made of, or what exactly the liquid is, or I just get distracted and wander off to watch the people go by. I find I have absolutely no expectation, for good or ill, regarding major events in my future. I had no idea if my move to Atlanta would be good or bad, and I didn't wonder about it at all. Same for grad school. I don't even have strong expectations of any kind regarding my impending fatherhood. The future is just... open. I've never been like this. Isn't that curious?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Twelve Proven Things About Psychology I Didn't Know

  • The more extraverted you are, the longer a life you will have.
  • The less you get bothered by things, the higher self-esteem you will have.
  • The more agreeable you are and the more open you are to new ideas, the healthier you will be.
  • The more neurotic you are, the more problems you'll have with social status... if you're a guy. If you're a girl, it really doesn't matter.
  • Being happy motivates people who don't really care that much to do more for you. Being angry motivates people who care a lot to do more for you.
  • The more neurotic you are, and the more complicated and difficult your job is (like a doctor or a lawyer), the better you'll do.
  • The more extraverted you are, the happier you will be.
  • The more you focus on doing the right and good thing by others, the longer you will live.
  • The more you look on the bright side of things, the less money matters to you.
  • If you have a really bad mood, you will miss a lot of work. If you have a really good mood... you will miss a lot of work.
  • Extraverted geeks and nerds are the happiest, healthiest people alive.
  • If you choose to listen to Kenny Chesney, you will later resent wasting your time when you could have been listening to the Fratellis.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Life Is Good

  • Sandy Springs (where I live) and Atlanta (where I work) are beautiful in the month of September. Every day is a good 10 degrees cooler than it is back in Louisiana, and clouds are a rarity rather than an omnipresent expectation. For the first month and a half here, at least, it seems like a beautiful place to live.
  • The Saints defeated the Vikings in regulation, owning 3 quarters of play and limiting Brett Favre to mediocre statistics. And then the Colts lost....
  • At last, my Pandora station is customized sufficiently so that it no longer plays Nickelback.
  • I have finally found the opportunity to award my first nickname to a deserving party at Georgia Tech. There is a young lady in one of my classes who, although I've never met in person, is undoubtedly deserving of her new nickname. This is because she has demonstrated in class a remarkable capacity for asking questions related to a complete and utter misinterpretation of simple concepts. For instance, after a teacher says, "Two plus two equals four," she might be expected to reply, "Why do you say that two plus two equals fish?" Thus, her nickname is Fish. I'd be more patient with Fish, I promise, if she wasn't always ignoring the professor and talking to one of her friends.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Saints vs. Vikings preview:

Courtesy of the Onion, let's take a break from deep doctoral thoughts and explorations of organizational psychology... and look at the true matchups heading into Thursday's NFL kickoff game between the Saints and the Vikings:

Also, I'm thinking of ending the Kenny Chesney references.  Too many country music fans are linking here, apparently... and a couple of them are complaining. What do you think?

More soon.  I'm working on a post sharing some amazing information about psychology....

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some Things I've Learned So Far in the Doctoral Program

  • It's shocking how little I know about science, how much I thought I knew about science, and how much bad science is out there. Almost all of my classes have been about how to do good science, and it's been eye-opening. And obvious, in hindsight, but aren't most things?
  • Kerry is really smart.
  • I remember how in elementary school my teachers would warn me about how much more attention I'd need to pay in junior high school, and how the classes would be a lot harder. Then I got to junior high, and classes weren't really any harder... but I was warned that high school would be insanely difficult. Then high school wasn't a big deal at all... but I was warned that college would be ridiculously difficult. Then college wasn't really all that bad at all... but they all said how rough grad school would be. So far...? The pattern seems to be continuing.
  • I'm sure that in a month or two I'll look back at that last bullet point, cackle insanely, and ask for more cheese on my shirt, please. This will get tougher, no doubt.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Five Years from our Date with Katrina

As today is the five-year anniversary of the walloping of Louisiana by Katrina, today seems an appropriate day to repost one of the more important things I've ever written (not that it has a lot of competition). This was an e-mail I sent out to most of my friends a couple of weeks after Katrina hit us: September 12, 2005, the first day following the storm during which I had both power and internet access. I lived in Louisiana during Katrina and worked disaster relief, and it changed me. Here's what I had to say then, a lot of which is still hopefully worthy of some thought today. I certainly still stand behind it, despite the fact that I didn't even know who Kenny Chesney was back then.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Organizations and Organizing (and the Muppets, of course)

People ask me, "How's grad school going?" and I wonder how to reply.  As I'm only two days in as of this writing, that's somewhat like asking someone how a cake tastes when they've only begun to cook it (assuming the cake itself is not a lie to begin with).  I'm not really sure what to say.  I'm tired, but it's a good tired.  I'm learning, and it's a good learning.  I'm spending far too much money on vastly overpriced textbooks, and wishing I could get away with selling BD for $90, since it's about as many pages as some of these hundred dollar books.  Mostly I'm just listening. Asking questions, and listening.  So in a big way, it's not that different from normal life for me.

I find myself curious as to how much effort I'll put into having good grades, as opposed to the effort I put into research, concept-building, and general learning (because yes, there can be a difference between good grades and real learning, especially at this level).  I've been told repeatedly that grades don't really matter in the slightest as far as getting a post-doctoral job: what matters is your published research and, to a lesser extent, teaching bonafides. I had very respectable grades in high school and college, but that was a long, long time ago.  And back then, to be honest, I was mostly just concerned with getting good grades and getting out. Here I'm more concerned about learning.  Will different priorities result in a different GPA?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Doctoral Orientation is Go!

Just jumped out of the pool, which was a surreal experience.  I'm not used to having a swimming pool, unless you count some of the larger puddles that develop on a disturbingly regular basis in the back yard of every faithful Louisiana resident (in fact, some of us save time and just call them "ponds").  It's also surreal going swimming with an amazingly pregnant woman (unborn babies do not, in fact, float), and having the old guy with the stinky cigar reading Kenny Chesney news on the pool chair next to you.

However, the joys of submersion are not the topic for today's exciting installment: the beginning of the doctoral experience is.  This week is Orientation Week for the twenty or so of us who were picked from thousands to join the PhD program in Georgia Tech's business college.  It has been an excellent opportunity to learn more about the school, walk around in the sweltering heat, enjoy several free lunches, hear high-ranking government employees define "STOO-PID" to graduate students in great detail, meet interesting people from other countries (did you know that 'Jim' is a very popular name in Turkey, only it's spelled 'Cem' there?), and watch the health center lose your immunization records two or three times.  It has been... insightful.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Curious Cajun's Guide to Atlanta

  • When first entering Atlanta, the Curious Cajun may notice a plethora of lanes to choose from on his interstate of choice, far more than the one half, one, or two lanes the Quaint Louisianian may be accustomed to due to our state's smaller cities and profligate road construction.  Do not be alarmed, dear reader, as roads of three to six lanes are entirely normal in this new and strange land.  Although this may seem similar to arcade games of yore such as Pole Position, Outrun, or Turbo, be advised that the local constabulary looks with disfavor upon joyfully weaving left and right with careless abandon from the near lane to the far lane and back.
  • The Curious Cajun undoubtedly has One Love when it comes to chicken fingers, cole slaw, and fries in an easily transportable box... however, do not expect to find Raising Cane's in your new home of Atlanta.  Instead, you'll enjoy Chick-Fil-A... and Chick-Fil-A... and more Chick-Fil-A!
  • The Good Lord Above has truly blessed ye olde Atlanta, for there is Mr. Pibb here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On the Last Week in Louisiana - Part Three

I'm sitting now in what tomorrow will not be my home, surrounded by an insane number of small brown boxes... mostly because I own an insane number of books.  It's a depressing feeling as I look around.  Usually I'm the first to remind people that we have to give up the lives we have, to have the lives we want... but this house has been more important to me than I'd realized. I don't think I've ever lived in any one place longer than I lived here.  I've moved about an average of every three years for my entire life, so there are few specific buildings that I actually feel any home-like connection with (although McVoy Hall at LSU, and the Loranger High Auditorium and Ag Shop are three).

This is the largest and nicest place I've ever lived, and this is where I've been both happiest and saddest, I think.  I lived here when an evil man destroyed my life as I knew it and threatened all I had.  I lived here while I recovered, readjusted my priorities, and learned to be happy with who, what, and where I am.  I lived here when I reconnected with countless friends, and finally made the effort to actually do as much community service as people seemed to assume I did.  I lived here when I finally got the Milton Berle episode of the Muppet Show on DVD, when I played Rock Band for the first time, and when I stayed up half the night with Debby and my three godsons sharing our imaginary friends' names, biographies, and current activities.  I used my imaginary friend from third grade, Bullwinkle the Very Hungry Bison. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Moving in the Last Week in Louisiana - Part Two

Boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and rock music (not Kenny Chesney) and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and

Sunday, August 1, 2010

On the Last Week in Louisiana - Part One

It's odd to look around the house you've lived in for the longest in your life that you've ever really lived in just one place, and know that in a week it will be empty.  The furniture will be gone, my favorite comfy green sofa will be on a truck somewhere, and all of the books in my library will be boxed up.  That last bit almost makes me feel naked.  (ladies, control yourselves)

But we have to give up the life we've earned, to earn the life we want, so it's a price I have to be willing to pay.  As I head out to Atlanta, there are only three things I'll miss about Louisiana, and they all start with the letter F:  family, friends, and food (not necessarily in that order).  Wait, I take it back... I'll miss the football, too.  I guess that's okay, since it starts with an F as well.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Does Anybody Know What Leadership Is? Strikes Back

A couple of months ago in these very pages I shared my frustration with our inability to determine what leadership actually is, with the "our" in that sentence being the academic and business body public.  Apparently the question stumped my massive readership, since there were no comments to the post.  I'm still about four weeks away from starting my organizational behavior studies at Georgia Tech, but as I've trained leadership at a few events recently, I've continued to ponder the topic.  And I've been approached with a possible answer to the question of why we don't know what leadership is:  because there is no answer.


I do a workshop in which I ask my audience to tell me which of the five members of the Scooby-Doo gang were the leader of the group: Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, or Scooby himself.  Sometimes a participant raises his or her hand and tells me shyly that there was no one leader; they were all leaders.  Since this doesn't play into the structure of the seminar and the path I want to lead my audience down, I usually raise an eyebrow and give the cocky answer, "You know, we have a word for answers like that back home in Louisiana.  We call them 'cop-outs'." (for more on the Scooby topic, click here)  I believe this statement, that perhaps there is no definition of leadership, is a cop-out.  Let me try to prove it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An Enormously Complicated Topic: Part One

For some reason, I've been thinking an awful lot lately about science and physics.  This is odd for me, as usually the things I think a lot about are related to music, talking puppets, or my wife's expanding belly.  And further, if it's something serious and not one of those things, it's something like leadership and marketing, as you may have noticed in this blog.  But recently my mind has been going off on weird and headache-inducing tangents into the realms of theoretical physics and infinity paradoxes.  Along the way, I've thought my way through something that seems to imply that the universe and everything around us is not really what we think it is.  More likely than not, my conclusions are a direct result of me not sufficiently understanding that which I'm thinking about.  But indulge me.  Maybe it'll be educational for both of us.

I suppose I should predicate this discussion with an admission that I am a Christian.  Some people would likely say that my religious nature makes it impossible for me to rationally discuss science; however, I humbly submit that I am a Christian because of science, not in spite of science. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Best Baby Gift Yet


Seriously, these are just about the coolest onesies ever.  Now which baby gets to be the smart one, and which baby gets to make out with all the hot alien chicks?

Thanks, Gene!

(sorry, it's a short post, no way to work in the obligatory Kenny Chesney reference)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kant's Logic & Government Infrastructure

I type this from the Louisiana Department of Education Recreational Campground in beautiful metropolitan Bunkie, Louisiana, the site of each year's Louisiana FFA Leadership Camp. It's my first time here in years, and this time I'm here not as a professional speaker, but rather as a let's-sell-some-stuff-for-a-great-cause volunteer. It feels good to sit back and relax and let someone else do the talking.

The unyielding physical stability and consistency of government infrastructure never ceases to amaze me. This is my first time at the campground in about 15 years, and yet nothing has changed. The building, walls, and floors are exactly the same. The color scheme is identical. The Coke machines are in the same places... and they're still broken. The chairs and tables not only look exactly the same, but they seem to be in the precise same places. I'd bet you I could find one with my initials scratched into it alongside the number 1992 in the northeastern corner of the building. Why does it never change here? Like I said... this is government infrastructure.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Today is Not my Unbirthday...

... which is odd, given the fact that I have three hundred and sixty three more Unbirthdays than I do Birthdays, which in turn makes me much more used to Unbirthdays than I am to Birthdays.  I love celebrating my Unbirthday, and I try to do it as much as possible.  In fact, that celebration often spills out, as I'm constantly learning of other people who share one Unbirthday or another with me.  Perhaps that's why I like Unbirthdays so much as opposed to Birthdays; it's a lot easier to share your Unbirthday.

(And lest you're thinking that my preference for the Unbirthday is driven by some kind of insecurity in my advancing age... well, think that if you want, I don't care, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I can't even remember how old I am half the time, which means (a) it really doesn't matter to me, (b) I'm really old, or (c) both.  I'll leave it to you to pick the correct multiple choice.)

Birthdays really have little true significance besides an anniversary in an arbitrary human calendar system - it's not like some lever gets switched in our bodies that makes us instantly older, wiser, or more wrinkled.  You are as old as you believe you are, I think.  I know several sixty-year-olds who are younger than most thirty-year-olds I've met (here's looking at you, Doc!).  I was wished a happy twenty-sixth birthday at lunch today, after which the well-wisher hoped that she hadn't pegged me as older than I actually was.  Life remains good.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Everything I Learned in Debby's Pregnancy Classes

Recently Debby dragged me along with her to several of her pregnancy classes at Women's Hospital.  These classes were intended to teach prospective new parents how to successfully bear and raise twins in a modern world.  How to bring them home, care for them, teach them, change them, and bring them up so they won't become Kenny Chesney fans.

That said, I thought I'd take a few minutes to share in this blog all of the new information that I learned in these fascinating classes.  I won't include the obvious things they went over, like "you'll gain weight when you're pregnant" or "you should relax if you feel stressed" or even "you don't have to pay anyone to breastfeed your baby."  Instead, I'll only list the real, non-obvious, and relevant things they taught me.  I'll list all of them, and then end this post.

Let's see... the non-obvious things I learned were:

The Princess is in Another Castle

As I type this, I'm watching a close friend die repeatedly in a video game.  Said close friend is playing the part of a rather portly mustachio-ed and overall-ed plumber who remarkably has the ability to jump to obscene heights and float through the air, spit fireballs after eating flowers, and grow to enormous sizes with the ingestion of mushrooms.  There's a beautiful fairy princess in a pretty pink dress who is inexplicably interested in the hairy, rotund plumber, and that's who the plumber is chasing.  Seriously, I had friends in college who had acid trips like this.  So did the Beatles.  When did this become mainstream video-gaming?

Mario serves the purpose of teaching kids about persistence, I guess... if you die again and again and again, the secret to success is just to keep trying. That's good; I like that. Unfortunately, he also teaches kids to be players, and not in a good sense.  Last time I checked, he had two princesses and a seriously hot chick named Pauline in his little black book, simultaneously.

I'm not sure what all these gorgeous ladies see in him, other than his never-ending patience with constantly rescuing them.  And if they didn't have any interest in the portly plumber, maybe that would stop the endless string of abductions from the likes of Donkey Kong, Bowser, Wart, Lord Blek, Cackletta, Fawful, et. al. (and yes, I had to look up most of the names on one of the many, many wikis out there. Scary.)  For some reason all of these villains think that the best way to annoy Mario is to kidnap one of his many girlfriends.  Me, I'd just do it what I call The Ismael Way: find a big pointy stick and whack him with it.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by how they react to a crisis situation.  You'll either see the best or the worst of people in the scariest possible moments.  If the building's on fire, will you help the little old lady out, or push her aside to get to the door (here's looking at you, George Costanza!)?  If your grandmother wants to take a plane trip to Florida and you're a multi-bazillionaire, do you take her yourself or put it off for a decade or so until Oprah agrees to pay for it (here's looking at you, Kenny Chesney!)?  If your friends are in trouble, do you help them out, or do you abandon them?  How do you deal with problems?

Well, in Mario's case, you deal with your problems by either jumping on their heads, or bashing them with a hammer.  Repeatedly.  Which, I admit, is kind of cool in a way, but it's not exactly the best long-term problem solving method (and eventually your hammer or your shoes will break).  And it doesn't help if all of Mario's friends think he's really great because he jumps on things and hits them with hammers: they're just enablers.  

Lots of kids love Mario, but you know, I'm just not sure he's all that great of a role model.  I think I've already discussed his cruelty to animals and his tendency to antagonize innocent apes (checking... yup, I have, right here: http://blog.nevertown.com/2010/04/trapped-in-convention-center-and-bored.html), and I just mentioned his womanizing ways.  There's also the fact that he cheats at every single sport he's ever played.  Want to play baseball with Mario?  He's going to use controlled illegal substances (like mushrooms) to boost his performance.  Want to play tennis with Mario?  Watch out that he doesn't set the ball on fire first.  Want to race him in a go-kart?  Prepare to have him chuck turtle shells at you while you're driving.  Seriously. Turtle shells.

I seem to be that very rare breed of video gamer who enjoys video gaming, but doesn't really care for the big fat Italian fungus addict. Just don't tell my godsons.  They'd probably disown me.  I wonder how my own boys will feel about them?

Which reminds me:  Debby has also vetoed Mario, Luigi, and Donkey Kong as possible kid names.  Maybe I should try Pac-Man?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

CTSO's, Children, and Canned Unicorn Meat

Happy Sunday, faithful readers!

This is the longest I've gone without blogging since I started the blog, for which you have my apologies. The life of a freelance-consultant/father-to-be/guy-who's-packing-up-the-house proves busier than expected.  No deep leadership insights at this time for you... I've made little to no progress on my research over the last week.  Instead, I've been spending my time reading up on organizational behavior research techniques, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how much of it I'm already at least familiar with.

Instead, I've got new kid pictures, which is quite an accomplishment considering that the light of day has yet to ever touch my babies-to-be.  But before we get to that... a few words on the National Pork Board.

One of my favorite websites is ThinkGeek.com... because, yes, I'm a geek.  Recently they were served a cease-and-desist letter (my favorite kind!) by the good people at the National Pork Board.  Now, normally I'm behind the Pork people no matter what... after all, they're the group that promotes bacon.  But this time... not so much.  Here's a pic of the ThinkGeek product the Pork People were prepared to sue over:

That's right... unicorn meat.

See, every April Fool's Day, ThinkGeek rolls out a bunch of fake advertisements for joke products that don't actually exist, like an E-Z Bake Oven with USB connectivity, or Spazztroids Caffeinated Breakfast Cereal.  This year they went with unicorn meat, calling it "The New White Meat."  The National Pork Board, seeing their trademark of The Other White Meat in jeopardy, immediately moved for legal action to prevent Thinkgeek from selling... canned unicorn meat.

It's a bit of an embarrassing situation for the plaintiffs (you can read all about it here: http://www.thinkgeek.com/blog/2010/06/officially-our-bestever-cease.html), but the moral of the story is this: we should all just lighten up.


Speaking of lightening up, that's exactly the opposite of what Debby is doing right now.  Instead, she continues to grow her baby-filled girth to mammoth new proportions... which, when you're pregnant with twins, is a Very Good Thing. Recently we got new ultrasound pics of both of them, including one 3-D model of Baby A!  Unfortunately, Baby A wasn't too happy with his picture session, as Baby B kept kicking him in the face. Cutest darn thing you ever virtually saw.


Baby A

Baby B

Sadly, there are not yet names beyond the alphabet for the two boys:  Debby steadfastly refuses my suggestion of "Nathaniel" and "SuperFly" despite near unanimous agreement from our friends and family. Heavy sigh.  We're still taking suggestions (and in case you were going there, she's also vetoed Bill and Ted, Bugs and Daffy, and Voltron and Optimus Prime).

Last week I had the honor of training the Louisiana CTSO state officers in Baton Rouge, and I learned quite a few things from them. I'll close with some life lessons from the conference:
  • Leadership is best demonstrated not by certain behaviors, not by certain traits, and not by certain appearances... but rather by the ability to actually get amazing things done.
  • I heard one of them listening to a Kenny Chesney tune on their iPods... I resisted the urge to throw the offender out of the training!
  • Never underestimate FCCLA.  Those girls (and one guy) are tough competitors.
  • The Technology Students of America should add acting to their list of exciting new innovations.  I've never seen so many buy so much, when absolutely nothing was for sale!
  • Louisiana DECA continues to amaze me with their propensity for an almost frightening degree of intelligence.  If you haven't heard about these guys yet, you will.  A simply amazing team.
  • I'm very disappointed that FBLA, of which I am a former national president, was only able to send less than half of their officer team. Where's the love? But despite that... that was a heck of a balloon tower, wasn't it?
  • And, okay, sure, FFA didn't win the CTSO Cup.  But FFA is and always will be My People: in the words of my old National Vice-President, they'll rock your momma's booty somethin' awful.
And speaking of mommas, I saw mine last week for the first time in years. She looked very awkward at the chance meeting and made an excuse to leave as quickly as she could, before I had a chance to strike up any kind of conversation.  She didn't seem to want to talk to me, but despite that, I learned that I apparently have a little half-brother now. Who knew?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What's a Sales Manager's Job, Anyway?

For some reason, I think spurred by my recent research on self-monitoring or maybe because I've been chatting a lot with one of my old friends from those days, I find myself thinking a lot about my time with a certain company I used to work for lately.

At the high point of my career with this company, I was in charge of a $30 million business unit and loving every minute of it.  Sales were booming, profits were increasing, our workforce was growing, good people were getting promoted, and we were getting rid of the people who didn't want to contribute.  During a time when the company at a whole was shrinking at a frightening pace, my territory led the nation in customer growth.  I won a whole bunch of interesting awards, from that huge bronze swan on my coffee table, to the leather bag I used yesterday for the trip to visit the mother-in-law, to the beautiful Swarovski crystal swan that somebody stole at that last banquet. Believe it or not, I think I remember being offered tickets to a Kenny Chesney concert at one point.

The reason we were doing so well was not so much because I was great at what I did, but because I developed a talent for surrounding myself with amazing people... and then finding ways of keeping them.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Joy of New Orleans Winning

"I'm going to Albertson's to improve my business casual wardrobe."

I gave voice to that sentence today, the first time in my life that particular statement has passed my lips.  Now that I think about it, it's probably the first time that sentence has ever been spoken anywhere, by anybody.

One of the best things about the undeniable and eternal fact that the New Orleans Saints (the greatest football team ever in the history of the mankind) are Super Bowl Champions, is that this lifelong Saints fan can finally find Saints stuff for sale.  When I was a kid, I wanted a Saints t-shirt, but I had trouble finding one. If I wanted a cap, I might have to special-order it. Posters were impossible to find in my neck of the woods. Today, on the other hand... if I want something as obscure as a limited-edition-collectible-Saints-Super-Bowl-Express trainset, I can get it quickly and easily for only three easy payments of $23.32, plus shipping and handling.

Hence, my desire to go to Albertson's, one of the many grocery stores in town with a large assortment of Saints merchandise in the front of the check-out area.  They have nice polos there, and I feel a strong force compelling me to beef up my Saints attire in advance of my move to Atlanta, home of the Atlanta Falcons, who, as everyone knows are Not Half The Team The Saints Are.

It's hard to explain to anybody who didn't grow up in Louisiana what it was like the night the Saints won... after forty years of utter, utter failure (as the Great Gonzo would say, "If at first you don't succeed, fail, fail again!") we in the New Orleans area finally had something to celebrate. Traffic was stopped on the interstate because we were dancing on top of our cars.  You couldn't walk down the street without a stranger hugging you and asking you about your momma. For one magical night there was no crime in the city... everyone was celebrating together.  Sandwiched between two Gulf Coast disasters as it was (though we still liked BP at the time), it's one of the truly great sports stories for the ages.

Of course, Barack Obama had picked the Colts to win.  There's something there for the examining, I think. I'll bet Kenny Chesney picked the Colts, too.

But somehow, despite all the cool Saints merchandise I'm finally inundated with... despite the shirts, shorts, hats, glasses, steins, posters, signs, wastebaskets, luggage tags, drink-warmers, flags, windsocks, bobbleheads, train sets, footballs, baseball bats, special-edition Monopoly games, and even sexual novelties, I can't help thinking that something was left out.  Something that would be a fantastic addition to our office desks and our children's toychests:

Action Figures.

Here's the starting line-up as I see it, keeping in mind that every toy set needs some good guys and some bad guys:
  • Drew Brees:  With quick-firing arm action, the Drew figure comes with a football accessory which, when placed into the patented Arm Launcher, can be propelled over 30 feet forward with enough forward momentum to break a six-inch board of balsa wood.
  • Marques Colston:  Right out of the packaging, this figure's hands are covered with super glue. Like Gorilla Glue. The first thing he touches, that figure's going to be stuck to for the rest of your natural life.
  • Tom Benson:  No action features... doesn't really do much of anything anymore... thank God his daughter took over. Comes with a clipboard that references trading Reggie Bush and Drew Brees to Cleveland for a Big Mac and fries, and a miniature tassled parasol.
  • Peyton Manning:  With new Peyton-Pout technology, this figure's face can go from determined football hero to sulky grumpy five-year-old at the touch of a button!  This figure comes with a Reebok shoe, a Mastercard, a pack of Oreos, a bottle of Gatorade, and a box of Wheaties.
  • Brett Favre: No real action features on this one, but on impact the leg joints will bend any way imaginable on a three hundred sixty degree axis.  Accessories: a waffle.  Unlike the other figures, the Favre figure is specifically made to lay flat rather than stand, as in the following classic portrait:

Okay, that was a cheap shot, I admit.

Seriously, though, I hope Favre's back for the rematch that opens the season. I think the Vikings have a really good shot with him at the helm, but I'll still put my money on the black and gold.  It's a great time to be a Saints fan... how many times in our lives have we had the opportunity to say that?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Can't Believe I'm Blogging About the Golden Girls

Hey, two followers! I've doubled my following!! Woo-hoo!!!

I've noted that most of my recent posts have been of a rather serious nature, so instead I thought I'd ramble a bit.

A very unfortunate side effect of my wife's pregnancy has been her fascination (one is tempted to use the word 'fetish') with pregnancy shows on the various offshoots of the Discovery Channel.  For those lucky souls who've never been forced to watch them, these 30-minute shows follow a reality-show documentary-format in introducing us to a pregnant young lass and her loving husband/boyfriend/one-night-stand-partner. After attempting to humanize the subject (she loves exercising!), we get to hear how excited she is to be pregnant. And then we find out that there's a terrible problem that endangers the life of the mother/baby/both. And then after some dramatic music plays, we see a tremendously disgusting birth scene, and then the money shot: happy, makeup-running, sweaty mother and usually-ugly, slimy child are united.

Then the show ends and the next one starts. And the exact same thing happens again.  And 30 minutes later, again.  And 30 minutes later, again.  And 30 minutes later, again.  Ad infinitum, on and on, the exact same plot, the exact same facial expressions, the exact same body parts getting cut open, the exact same music.

I counted thirty-two installments of these shows on my DVR last week, nestled amongst the chick flicks and the reruns of Shaun the Sheep (of which I heartily approve). I'm sure hormones are at work here, but I just can't understand the appeal. You know, maybe it was nice the first time... but after twenty or so identical happy-to-be-pregnant/health-problem/emergency-medical-activity/healthy-but-disgusting-birth cycles, it really starts to get old to me.

Every time I ask my wife if she's sick of it yet, or when I ask her if she's noticed the utter predictability of it, or when I point out that that baby on the screen is absolutely the opposite of cute, or when I start predicting what the doctors will say before they say it... she just tells me to go away.  She offered to change the channel once, and she turned it to... a Kenny Chesney concert. How well my wife knows me.

When she's not watching the nonstop birthing parade on Discovery Health, she invariably finds a Golden Girls marathon on some other channel (which I can only assume is the Lifetime network).  No red-blooded man could be expected to retain his masculinity while having to decide between the Golden Girls and pregnancy surgeries, but whenever offered any kind of choice, the intelligent human must vote with whichever side includes Betty White. I never understood the universal appeal of Bea Arthur (in fact, I must admit that there have been nightmares), but Betty, Rue, and Estelle were comedic masterminds.

I hope that I didn't lose any manhood points for that comment.

I always likened the Golden Girls to the Muppets (but then, I've likened most everything I've encountered to the Muppets).  The character of Blanche, the sexually liberated Southern Belle, was just like Miss Piggy - a tough, independent woman who was very secure in her femininity, but probably ate a bit too much cheesecake.  The character of Dorothy, the more mature and sensible grounded woman, had a lot in common with my childhood idol Kermit the Frog (and I hope Kermit will forgive me for the comparison) - they both seemed to be the only sane characters on their respective shows, and didn't have much luck with significant others.  The character of Rose, the sweet but not altogether intelligent girl from St. Olaf, was just like Gonzo - a devil-may-care optimist whose ideas would be limited by neither taste, likelihood, nor good sense.

And of course, the crotchety old Sophia was just like Statler and Waldorf, always ready to put a negative spin on any success with a carefully placed one-liner, or delight with childish glee in any failure.  Just as the two old men in the balcony enjoyed tormenting Fozzie and the rest of the Muppets with their nonstop heckling, Sophia could always be trusted to make everyone around her look even more foolish. And if there's one thing the modern television viewer enjoys watching, it's someone being made to look foolish.

This is, after all, why reality TV shows are so popular.

Yes, it had sappy plots that made me change the channel, and yes, I hated the theme song, and yes, Bea Arthur still scares me a bit... but I've got to admit, there were five to ten minutes of comedy gold in any given Golden Girls episode. And how many TV shows out there in the last sixty years have dared to star an ensemble of four grandmothers?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It's Twin Boys!!!

And well-endowed ones, too!  (Don't worry, you can't see that in the ultrasounds....)

That's their two heads right there, I'm told.  I don't get it... I just figured they were practicing their basic math skills in the womb by sketching an 8 in Debby's side.


Everybody says that now we really can call our kids Nathaniel and Superfly, which Debby doesn't seem too keen on. She suggested Kenny and Ches to me, which I wasn't too keen on either (besides, Kenny would die every 30 minutes).  Now taking suggestions.

Next step: buy one of those in-utero maternity MP3 players, lock it on Debby's belly, and have it blast Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Muppet Show reruns 24/7!

Monday, May 24, 2010

This is Why

I recently discovered a great blog called PhD 2015 (you can find it in my Links section on the right side of the page), which I've found, among other things, to be a thoughtful initial approach to Organizational Behavior study.  I envy the author's ability to stay on one professional track, as opposed to my own tendency to branch out from a serious topic to things like Muppets, video games, and Kenny Chesney (after all, just a couple of weeks ago you were reading one of my posts explaining social metaphysics, llamas, and Mr. Peanut).  The author of this blog has written a few posts lately that seem to establish her own motivation for studying Organizational Behavior which I found myself very... what's the word I'm looking for... moved by? ... identifying with?  I'm not sure how to put it into words.

It's very similar to my own reasoning for embarking upon this course of study, and it motivates me to talk a little bit about it here, as I don't think I ever have.  And as a side note, those original thoughts on PhD 2015 are well worth your read if you've ever worked in a business team, or if you ever plan to.

I am pursuing a doctorate in Organizational Behavior, intending to specialize in business leadership. I am leaving behind a lucrative career or two, a comfortable lifestyle, and a large house to do this.  I am, in many ways, sacrificing the life I've built for myself over the past ten years in order to start something new and wholly different. Most people would call me a fool (and several have) for going back to school at this point in my life, especially for my audacity of seeking a doctorate when I don't even have a masters or an MBA. They would ask me (and, indeed, have asked me) why I'm throwing away so much to do something so different.

And my answer would be, naturally, because it's what I believe in.

Organizational Behavior is the study of how organizations and teams work, and how they don't.  It's the study of why people are effective and why they aren't.  It's the study of what leadership really is, and what it isn't. It's the study of why people are happy with work, why they enjoy what they do... and why so many don't.

If you think about it, you spend more time in the average day at work, than you do with your family and friends. And for 90% of the world, they hate that time. They find it hostile, they find it unpleasant, they find it undignified. Most of them feel they are led poorly and taken for granted. Many do not use their skills to the fullest because they're not motivated to, or because they don't even know what skills they're supposed to use. They receive feedback that is meaningless, and are told they should be part of an ambiguous team without understanding how or why.

I believe very strongly in a concept that Aristotle called eudaimonia.  It's an old word without a true and precise English translation, but in short it means "the joy of excellence." Aristotle called it the very highest level of human experience, and the greatest form of happiness attainable by mankind. It's the pure joy you feel when you've completed something you enjoyed doing, and that you did very well because you enjoyed doing it. It's the feeling a car hobbyist gets when he finishes restoring that '57 Chevy, or the happiness a dedicated teacher experiences when she sees a once-failing student graduate. It's the very happiest you can possibly be, and better yet, you only experience it when you've contributed something wonderful to the world.  It's a feeling that most people never experience in the modern age.

I want them to. And I believe that improving organizational behavior is the way to make that happen.

In every management position I've held since college, I have attempted to my utmost to bring that feeling of eudaimonia, or at least the possibility of it, to my employees and teams. Although I usually failed, every now and then I'd nail it. The result was happy employees, effective and efficient completion of organization mission, and a real sense that we were all part of a real team... no, more of a family... working together for a goal we all believed in. If you've never felt that way, I feel sorry for you, because it's pretty damned awesome.

I've only scratched the surface, only begun to imagine what organizational psychology can accomplish. I want to be better, and I want to help make the world a better, happier, more effective place through organizational behavior. I want those 8 to 12 hours a day of work we all have to go to, to make more sense, to be something we're proud of, where we hold our head high and feel motivated to accomplish something great. I don't have the power or knowledge to do any of this now... but maybe someday, especially if I can surround myself with people smarter and better than I am.  Hence the doctorate.

I have a world of respect for an Ohio State professor, Dr. Anthony Rucci, who defined this area of study as the enhancement of the dignity and performance of human beings and the organizations they work for.  And it can be. And I want it to be.  Because that's what I'm passionate about, and that's what will bring me that eudaimonia I was just talking about.

In a nutshell, I just want to change the way workplaces operate. I want workplaces to be better, more dignified, more respectful, less conforming, more creative, better led, more motivated, more inspired, more effective, and more efficient. And I think better leadership and management of organizational behavior is the way to do it. I believe we can all be better... myself more than just about anyone. If I can help the world move down that path, even in a very small way, then I'll have a lot I can be proud of.

I've gotta admit, I'm impressed that I made it all the way through this brain-dump without mentioning the Muppets as an ideal organizational team unit, or waxing poetic about Evanescence, or wondering aloud if Roy Clark is the greatest banjo player of all time, or discussing my recent increasing love of cheese. Maybe I can stay focused after all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eat Mor Chikn

I'm told I need to blog more by a couple of people who I didn't know were reading the blog. Maybe if you guys followed the blog, or commented on it, I'd know people were actually reading it!  As it is, I enjoy writing for all of my imaginary friends, including my favorite readers, Johnny AlwaysAgrees and Wendy AlwaysScantilyClad, and of course Kenny Chesney's legions of loyal fans.

Yesterday after a fun little visit to the Best Buy I used to work at, where I was pleased to see an awful lot of people I used to work with who are apparently doing very well for themselves, I stopped by Chick-Fil-A for lunch. And I marveled, as I always do, about Chick-Fil-A.

As soon as I walked through the door, I was bowled over (as I always am) by an onslaught of smiling and cheerful "Hello and welcome to Chick-Fil-A!"s, only one or two of which really sounded fake. The happy people behind the counter nearly begged to take my order, repeating it clearly to make sure they were getting it right, giving me full attention, smiles, and eye contact. The store was spotless as always, despite the fact that nearly every chair was filled. My order was ready nearly immediately, and it was piping hot. When I asked for extra sauce, nobody pouted.

As I sat and ate, I watched the drive-thru line move rapidly, even though it was about six cars long. As it got even longer, and as it began to slow down, I saw one of the cashiers notice, put on a headset, and run out to start taking orders from cars further back in the line. The line then sped back up.

Friendly employees stopped by my table occasionally to ask if they could take my garbage or get me a refill.

Chick-Fil-A is fast food, like a McDonald's or Taco Bell.  Well... actually very unlike a McDonald's or Taco Bell, but it's still fast food.  We don't tend to expect this kind of service from fast food.  Heck, I don't get service that good at most sit-down restaurants.  Despite this, Chick-Fil-A provides it.

Maybe that's why it really seems to me to be the busiest fast food establishment in Baton Rouge. And I've been to Chick-Fil-A's all over the country, and that huge customer service experience is pretty standard.

There are a lot of funny things to think about when it comes to Chick-Fil-A. For starters, I know they don't pay their people all that much money. They don't get paid as much as, say, those Best Buy employees I was talking about at the start of this post. They don't get paid as much as most of the Wal-Mart associates I know. And yet, they're a heck of a lot nicer to customers as a general rule, and they offer much better customer service.  They get paid less, and they do more.  Why is that?

Obviously there's something in Chick-Fil-A's corporate culture that they buy into, either voluntarily or somehow involuntarily (I suspect the former).  For some reason, they seem genuinely motivated to provide a level of service unlike what any of their competitors provide, a level of service unseen in quick-service restaurants for at least forty years. They seem happy with that and proud of it. They enjoy their excellence, which is very cool.  Aristotle called that 'eudaimonia' way back when... 'the joy of excellence.' It's something we don't see enough of in modern America.

Honestly, as food quality and taste goes, I'm not sure CFA is really heads-and-shoulders above their competition. In my own eyes, as far as taste goes, they're better than Kentucky Fried, but nowhere near the level of a Popeye's. So why are they so much busier than Popeye's, then, even in South Louisiana where Popeye's is practically the food we grew up on, the stuff our momma's and grandmomma's used to make? Seriously, I'd swear that those cajun spices at Popeye's were in my baby bottle way back when....

In my marketing seminars, I've long been a proponent of the competitive differentiator, and I've often made the point that the business without a clear and understood differentiator cannot thrive. Fox News and MSNBC's differentiators are their political slants, each on opposite ends of the spectrum. Wal-Mart's differentiator is its sheer variety. Best Buy's is its (usually) knowledgeable employees. The Xbox's is Halo. HBO's is its original series. Waffle House has its unique waffle recipe, Hobby Lobby has a lot of really unique crap you could never find anywhere else, and Chevron has Techron (which isn't truly unique in the slightest, but most people are fooled into thinking it is through Chevron's clever marketing).

I believe someone up at Chick-Fil-A made the decision a few years back that truly amazing, throwback customer service was going to be their differentiator, the thing that got people talking about CFA. It makes you wonder what the corporate culture is like in CFA... if it's truly a different kind of atmosphere, or if all that is just show for the customers. It also makes you wonder just how they've been so effective at gaining employee buy-in, even at the entry level.

Luckily, one of my fellow incoming Georgia Tech doctoral students is a CFA insider, so I should get to find out!

On a side note, there's nothing cooler than randomly running into one of your dearest friends you haven't seen in a long time, in a place as nice as Chick-Fil-A!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seriously, Does Anybody Know What Leadership Is???

Okay, I'm honestly amazed at this point.

For years, one of the main points of many of my seminars has been that most people in the business world don't understand leadership, to the point where we don't even know what it is. We don't know what leadership is. We can't define it.  You ask one executive, you'll get a completely different and often contradictory answer than you'd get from another executive.  My point has been that if we don't have agreement on what leadership is, we can't lead effectively.  I was so passionate about this that I even wrote a book about it (which can be found at several finer online retailers now!).

In the book, I took my own stab at the definition of leadership, borrowing heavily from leadership consultant Dick Knox:  Leadership is the art of motivating and inspiring a team to accomplish the goals of the organization. (and if you'd like a more detailed discussion on this, click here for the chapter from my book).  I like this definition and I think it covers it as adequately as a one-sentence definition can... or maybe I don't. I've always had a nagging feeling that I was missing something... and I looked forward to one day finding out what it was.

When I made the decision to pursue my doctorate, teach, and research Organizational Behavior at Georgia Tech (one helluva school), I thought this would be my opportunity to finally discover that missing piece of the leadership puzzle.  I thought that by having the chance to read and research from some of the world's most preeminent management minds, I'd finally find this elusive consensus on what leadership is and what it isn't.  I eagerly dug into my first research project... and discovered that these top professors aren't really sure what leadership is.

Can you imagine my disappointment?

I've learned that even the academic community is a bit mystified by the art of leadership.  A 2001 study on the core of team leadership, in a publication called Leadership Quarterly, admitted "we know surprisingly
little about how leaders create and manage effective teams."  A major 2004 book on leadership practices from the academic world laments that "Such questions as how or why leaders affect outcomes remain largely uncharted and poorly understood." In my own research, as I've reported earlier in this space, I'm examining the relationship between self-monitoring activity and leadership effectiveness.  Even in this limited area, I'm finding a clear difference on how different professors view the root of leadership. In this particular argument, one expert believes that leadership is all about building and maintaining relationships with team members, while a different but no less learned expert maintains that leadership is all about creating results.

And I wonder... how can I answer the question of whether high or low self-monitors are better leaders, if there's little agreement on what leadership actually constitutes?  Is it leader emergence (getting promoted?) or leader effectiveness (getting things done?)?  Is it relationships or results? Is it communication or detail?  Is it all of these, or none of these?

I'm also reminded of a surprisingly popular management seminar I do called "The Leadership Secrets of Scooby-Doo."  In this seminar, I have the participants (often high school or university students) come up with a list of things that make someone a leader, and I emphasize to them that I seek quantity rather than quality.  The results are amazing... I have people tell me with perfectly straight faces that leaders must be "attractive", "smart", "good drivers", "popular", "tall", "fashionable", and other things that have little or nothing to do with leadership.  The funny thing about the seminar is that the people who announce that these things have nothing to do with leadership, are the same people who first suggested them as leadership traits. The moral of the story: we have a better idea, deep down, of what leadership really is than we often exhibit. We know that we're fooled by 'false leadership indicators', and we allow ourselves to go along with it... presumably because that's what society, television, and movies have taught us to do.

In other words, if we see four people and a dog walking along, part of us will automatically assume that the one walking in front must be the leader, especially if that individual is tall and attractive.  Another, usually sublimated part of us, will know that this assumption is entirely bunk.

In examining some of the recent leadership on research from academia, I'm running into a similar problem. In efforts to show what leadership is, learned individuals point to popularity, likability, creativity, career success and promotability, technical skill, and other traits that are not directly linked to leadership.  Just because you're better with computers obviously doesn't make you a better leader.  Just because you're more creative, does that mean it's easier for you to motivate and inspire a group?  Do the most popular people really make the best leaders?

And I think back to an argument I had last year with a leadership consultant about Tyra Banks.  He said she was a leader; I called the statement ridiculous and asked him to back it up.  He said she was popular, that a lot of people liked her, that she was famous, that she had influenced many people to buy certain products or watch certain television programs.  I asked him what exactly any of that had to do with organizational leadership... who had she led?  Had she actually accomplished anything by leading a team, or had a Hollywood image and impression management team following a precision-crafted marketing plan brought about those results?  Does that make every Hollywood and music star, from Steve Urkel to Spongebob Squarepants to Kenny Chesney to Cameron Diaz, a leader?  Does that make any sense?  He wasn't able to answer that question.

This was a gentleman I respect a great deal, a smart guy whose full-time job is coaching and consulting leadership. What does this say to me?

Seriously, does anybody know what leadership is?

I think it's about time somebody figured this out. I don't know if I'm worthy of the challenge, but I intend to give it a try.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Babies, Saints, Asylums, Banquets, and Social Metaphysics

It seems like it's been far too long since I've added anything to my blog, especially considering how many people, to my surprise, seem to be reading it.  It's odd when somebody comes up to me and randomly mentions self-monitoring, Donkey Kong, or Kenny Chesney. So I must assume that you, dear reader, are real, and not the figment of my unfocused imagination that I formerly assumed you to be. I hope you're as pretty as I imagined you to be, and I hope you really are wearing that skimpy lingerie.

So let's cover a few different topics, from the leadership psychology stuff to the random stuff, to make sure everyone's happy.

Debby came home with new ultrasounds of our twins yesterday.  She oohed over Baby A's spinal cord and his or her habit of teaching him or herself how to breathe.  She ahed over Baby B's detailed little skull and his or her propensity to rub his or her cute little head. Meanwhile, I just thought that Baby A and Baby B were lousy names for fetuses... fetus's... fetusi? feeti? Feet?  As I keep telling her, I prefer Nathaniel and SuperFly.  And I also still think they look just like Mr. Peanut. Seriously, I've got to find a tiny top hat and cane for sale somewhere.

I recently came across a fascinating phrase in my leadership research: the Social Metaphysician.  When I hear something like that, I tend to think of a new-age mystic, sitting crosslegged about three feet above the ground as he repeats, "Llama llama llama llama llama..." (which shows that I've watched far too much Animaniacs in my day), but it actually refers to the person whose whole frame of reference is based on what other people think of him.  Nirvana, to the social metaphysician, is having everybody like them.  They have no personal standard of what is true or what is good, they just act on the cues of those around them, doing what they expect the people around them would like to see them do.  They just want to be popular, and they're willing to sacrifice anything and everything toward that goal, in an almost sociopathic way.

Thinking about pop culture in general, and a few people I know specifically, I wonder how widespread that is. It's the ultimate high self-monitor (which, as a reminder, means somebody who spends more time than a low self-monitor reacting to cues and events in their environment to craft a positive impression of themselves in the minds of others), and while high self-monitoring can have benefits in fields like sales, marketing, politics, or even leadership (still researching that last one), this seems unhealthy.  In fact, it turns out research has shown that social metaphysicians have self-esteem issues, and major psychological problems later in life.

Makes sense to me.  So if you find yourself awfully concerned about how other people view you... don't be. Because you could end up in Arkham Asylum or something.

I just attended a high school FFA banquet, one which mercifully and oddly I did not have to give a speech at. It was a great affair with some highly intelligent and skilled kids earning lots of great awards.  As I drove away, I saw one of those highly intelligent and skilled kids on the side of the road, leaning on a police car and signing a speeding ticket.  Oops.

Meanwhile, as I continue to prepare for the inevitable move to Atlanta, and continue to bet myself just how many Atlanta Falcons fans I can piss off with my unabashed Saints love, I find myself wondering if I've been betrayed by one of my long-term close friends. I'm a country boy - I'm not good at coping with things like that. I wonder.....

And speaking of the Saints, thank you Coach Payton, you're right, we are so not interested in Jamarcus Russell!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mr. Lemoine Goes to Baton Rouge

... or Observations from a State Capitol.

Today I had the fairly unique opportunity to meet with and speak to several state legislators as one of the volunteers assisting with the Louisiana FFA Association's Capitol Day program.  For those not in the know, FFA is an association ('club' would be the un-dignified and not quite appropriate title) of high-school students with interest in agriculture, agribusiness, civic improvement, and leadership.  As the president of the state's alumni chapter (a position I was elected to unanimously, excepting only my own vote against myself), I was honored to be part of the program, work with the students, and address several members of the Louisiana Legislature regarding the importance of vocational education and sustainable agriculture.

And I learned quite a bit from it.

For instance, although I haven't been inside the State Capitol since 1995, I'm pretty sure I would have remembered all of those naked people painted on the walls of the building's foyer.  Definitely classy in a French Renaissance kind of way, but still an awful lot of nakedness.  I wonder if the murals are new, or if I was just too busy in 1995 to notice?  When I accidentally wondered this aloud, the friendly receptionists just giggled. As they were old enough to be my grandmothers, I found that odd somehow.

My little group of high school students was escorted downstairs to a set of caucus offices, which sounds a lot more impressive than it is in real life, where we were met by the chairman of the house agricultural committee, Andy Anders.  Mr. Anders came across as a genial fellow, an old-school Southern Democrat who said he was much more comfortable at home on his farm than in the chambers of the Legislature. Although I distrust all politicians by general rule, I found myself warming to him, especially in the way he took my little group of high school students so seriously.  I've seen government leaders deal with high school students before, and they generally treat them even worse than they treat the general public: patronizing, self-important, and imperious.

On the contrary, Mr. Anders impressed me a great deal by talking to this group of high school students not just as respected constituents, but as equals.  He blew me away. He discussed an animal euthanization bill coming up for discussion in the legislature, and asked my group of high school students where they would stand on it and what talking points they'd use.  One of the students, a very bright lady with some veterinary experience, had some clear thoughts on the matter, a stand and solid rationalization.  And Mr. Anders took that stand, and listened to her points, and used them on the floor of the legislature, because he thought they made sense.

I know nothing of this man except what I've reported thus far... but I like him a lot.  I couldn't help thinking that this is the kind of leader we need more of.  I hear a lot of noise in the business press that leaders (1) should always have a definite plan, (2) should pretend to be confident even when they're not, and about how  (3) a bad decision is better than no decision at all. I've never bought into this line of thought, and I plan to do a detailed study on it after I receive my doctorate. In my mind, to contradict the three ideas I just mentioned, (1) leaders should have a definite plan at all times except when they're busy creating the best plan, (2) leaders should be confident in their decisions because they've researched them, asked questions, and reviewed the appropriate data, and (3) no decision is always better than a bad decision, so long as the period without a decision is caused by the research necessary to make the best decision.

Did that make sense?  Anyway, I digress... I liked this guy.

Later we ended up in the Education subcommittee room, where a debate raged on whether or not to require a 2.0 GPA of all students before they could join extracurricular and athletic activities.  This is already a requirement for athletics due to the state athletic association, but the bill would make it state law and add clubs like Band, Cheerleading, FBLA, and FFA to the list.  As I rolled it over in my mind, I originally thought it was a good idea; I mean, heck, what's wrong with putting academics first?  But as I continued to think about it, I thought back to all of my friends who'd had bad grades in high school, joined FFA, and became motivated to improve their GPA.  I thought back to all the people I'd met who were on the verge of quitting school altogether when they joined these clubs and associations, and how their membership (and their great teachers) motivated them to stay in school. And I thought of the research my wife had recently shown me, indicating clearly that career and technical education and associations improved graduation rates.

The committee seemed to be split on the bill, so I urged the group of FFA students to send a representative up to talk to the committee about it.  Unfortunately, the students were understandably nervous... so I gave it a shot myself. I don't even remember what I said, as I was going in completely unprepared and speaking in front of a very intimidating set of microphones, bald men, and cameras.  But since the final vote was 11 to 4 to kill the bill, I guess I must have done okay.

Of course, I might have been helped by the bill's sponsor, who spoke just before and after me and gave a speech about breastfeeding.

Let me repeat that: this state legislator, in an attempt to pass a bill regarding extracurricular activities, gave a speech about the merits of breastfeeding.

I love my elected officials.

I had another opportunity later to present remarks to several legislators, policy-makers, and the ag commissioner, which was pretty cool.  It was a humbling opportunity to talk about just how important vocational education is, how much the students in organizations like FBLA, FCCLA, DECA, and FFA really contribute to communities and states, and how important funding and support really is to the fabric of Louisiana society.  And I got to tell jokes about Taylor Swift and Wal-Mart, too... it was a good time (I meant to throw in a Kenny Chesney riff too, but I was on a roll and completely forgot).  Most of the lawmakers came up to me afterward and asked me when I was running for office, implying that they'd rather I didn't run against them.  I think that was a compliment.
All in all, the day was a big success... the FFA kids were every bit as amazing as I expected them to be, and then some.  It's amazing the difference an organization like FFA can have on a young person's life... how polished and confident it makes them, what great speakers they become. I'd like to think I'm a living example of it, but I know I'm not all that impressive... but I can at least say that a lot of who I am, I do truly owe to the FFA.  If I had half the polish and professionalism these FFA officers do, back when I was in high school... wow.

I'm going to really miss being involved with these guys after I move to Atlanta to start my doctorate.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Insecurity

Somebody asked me today what would be the best way to get over insecurity (I'm not sure why he asked me... maybe I look insecure?).  I told him that the best way I knew of was to constantly force yourself into positions where you were doing the things you were insecure about.  You'd either succeed or fail: if you failed, you'd learn from the experience and become better at whatever you were doing, and if you succeeded, the experience would make you more confident.  It's a simplistic solution, but it seems to work for me. Of course, the key is self-discipline and not caring if you get embarrassed.  Luckily, I did so many tremendously humiliating things in high school and college, there's very little left that can embarrass me.

For instance, if you're insecure about asking ladies out, the only way you'll get better is to actually give it a try (although I suppose you could read a book or watch a master in action, but I don't know how much better that would make you at your own, convince-a-cute-chick-you're-not-half-as-dorky-as-you-really-are style).  There's no better teacher than failure, and no better confidence-booster than success. Insecure people tend to think things are "not even worth trying"... which is one of the worst and dumbest expressions in the history of human thought.  Is it really better to not do anything and have a 0% success ratio, than it is to give it a try and have even a 10% success ratio?  Which method succeeds more?

The daredevil Muppet Gonzo the Great would absolutely agree with me on this. Sure, he usually crashed and burned... but who cares?  He entertained, his fans loved him, and he learned from every experience (although what he learned was mostly how to set broken bones and how to straighten his nose back to its normal shape). And come on, let's be honest... it's not easy to defuse a highly explosive bomb while reciting the full works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, or to dance "Top Hat" in a vat of oatmeal.

I was further asked, "What if I'm insecure because I deserve to be insecure, because I'm really just not capable of this?" My reply was that the very fact that you thought you were insecure told me that you do have the skills, and somewhere deep in your head you know that.  If you really didn't believe you had the skills to do what you want to do, you wouldn't have called yourself insecure; you would have called yourself realistic. If you think you're insecure, then on some level at least, you believe you have the skills you need!

I'm very disappointed I couldn't figure out a way to work Kenny Chesney into that.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

United Airlines' 10 Rules on How to Make Customers Hate You

Last time I was on a flight with United Airlines, I had a decidedly unpleasant experience. Curious about how this whole experience came about, I snagged a small pamphlet from the flight attendants' break-room.  And wouldn't you know it, I read....

UNITED AIRLINES
WE'RE NOT THE BEST
WE'RE NOT THE CHEAPEST
BUT THEY FLY ON US ANYWAY
GENERAL POLICIES FOR FLIGHT
  1. Every major airline has had to massively delay flights lately, keeping customers trapped on planes while they attend to security issues. Our differentiater here at United will be our absolute and utter refusal to speak to our passengers and customers while they are trapped on our plane. This serves the quadruple purpose of (a) making us look busy, (b) making us look important, (c) keeping customers in their place, and (d) saving time.
  2. In fact, to enhance the effectiveness of Rule #1, United recommends that all employees avoid making eye contact with customers and passengers while the plane is stuck on the ground. Needless eye contact only invites what we at United are trying to avoid here: communication.
  3. While other airlines may trap their customers on planes for legitimate security purposes, we at United will differentiate by trapping them there due to our inability to correctly measure passenger weights. This will allow us to delay flights in order to give us time to decide who to kick off the flight, so that the plane is light enough to actually fly. This also helps to keep our customers in line, as they will constantly be frightened that they will be next to go (this also eliminates the communication and eye contact issues mentioned in Rules 1 and 2).
  4. After the plane finally takes off (after kicking off several of the larger passengers), make sure to comment on how you're certain to get everyone to their destination on time, regardless of the fact that you're now departing close to an hour late, and the flight was scheduled for just over an hour in the first place. Remember that most of your customers are terrible at time management and basic math, so the patronization will go right over their heads. By the time they get to their destination and realize how late they are, they'll be too far away from you to complain.
  5. Just prior to touchdown, mix up the gate assignments when you announce your passengers' connecting flights. This will give their frantic runs through the terminal a decided sense of adventure and enigma, as they will be unable to guess precisely where they will end up.
  6. As your customer finally makes his way to his connecting flight with just a few minutes to spare, be sure to berate him for being so late for the flight. Tell him how lucky he is that you waited for him, and how the plane's just about to take off. Then, just before he actually boards the plane, stop him and make him wait ten minutes or so while you tell him how his carry-on bag will no longer fit in the overhead compartments (even if there quite obviously is a significant amount of space in the carry-on compartments). We must educate our customers on our policies!
  7. After take-off, even if the flight wasn't delayed due to our inability to determine how much our planes weigh, stick with Rule #4 and brag about how you'll get everyone to their destination on time, even if the plane actually shows an arrival time of 45 minutes later than originally scheduled. This will give customers a deep sense of contentment as the flight attendants start the in-flight entertainment: advertisements for various failing sitcoms and washed-up comics, and a Kenny Chesney retrospective.
  8. Rather than the sandwiches and full meals other airlines serve, differentiate on United flights by offering 'snack boxes' - basically glorified Lunchables with crackers, cheese, and meat - at high prices to increase our revenues. Offer free salmonella and other food-poisoning substances, introduced directly into the food, as a free bonus for our passengers, and make sure the toxins are powerful enough to incapacitate our valued customers for at least 48 hours with fever dreams and dehydration. Our passengers will have to buy our food regardless; after all, their last flight didn't make it in time for them to buy any real food in the airport!
  9. Lose your passenger's luggage (see rule 5 - enhance the sense of adventure and enigma). This adds mystery to our customer's lives as they wonder when and if they will see their bags again, as it increases their dependence on our services! Make sure not to make eye contact with the customer or apologize as you inform him that his bag is gone.
  10. If you find the bag and deliver it to the customer, open the bag, pour water on the contents, and close the bag. Again, adventure and enigma is the United Way!