Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do you hear what they hear?

I'm far from the first to report on this phenomenon, but as the old NBC sitcom summer re-run promos pointed out, "If it's new to you, it's new."

Last night, my kids were goofing around with my wife's iPhone. My 13-year-old son would press a button, and ask us, "Can you hear that?", and then he and my 11-year-old daughter would laugh hysterically when we responded "No." The process repeated several times, until finally we heard a piercing high-pitch sound. More laughter.

As any middle school kid can tell you, they were playing the "mosquito ring tone" or "teen buzz." I won't belabor the science, which you can Google or read about in this New York Times article, but the basics are that it's a high-frequency tone that can't be heard by most adults over the age of 20 or so--thus, the perfect ringtone for surreptitious texting in a classroom that's banned cellphone use. My wife and I couldn't hear any of the mosquito tones that a teenager could hear, only the one for fortysomethings. (Perfect for sneaky texting in an assisted living facility, I guess.)

Ironically enough, the tone was originally developed by a British scientist seeking to disperse loitering mallrats. I couldn't find any citation about the enterprising yoot who turned the annoying tone into a grownup-proof communication tool.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tip talk

On my way through Payson last week, I stopped in at Safeway. They've got one of those Starbucks kiosks and I had a gift card in my wallet, so I figured I'd grab a cup of black coffee for the road.

The older lady in front of me paid for her drink, and then tried to tip the barrista a dollar.

"No, thank you," he said to her. "We're not allowed to take tips."
"Oh, come on, it's just a dollar," she said, shoving it toward him.
"Thank you, I really appreciate it, but I could lose my job, and it's just not worth it," he said, with a very polite smile, at which point she relented.

The exchange pointed out a couple of things to me. First, that it's odd that a Starbucks standalone allows tips, but the rules are obviously different in the supermarket. Which is why, second, that it was a bit odd that the lady insisted on trying to give the young man a tip, even after he had said, quite clearly, why he was declining.

And third, leaving aside for a moment that "it's the principle of the thing," I think it's just flat-out rotten that someone could conceivably lose a job over a $1 tip.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Do Millennials have the right entrepreneurial stuff?

As a dad and rowing coach who spends a lot of time with GenY/Net Generation/Millennials, I thought this Forbes article offered some interesting insights about the impact of social factors on the up-and-coming generation's business style. It's worth reading the whole thing, but the author's basic thesis is that Millies may be a bit too interested in consensus (thanks, Barney) to have the negotiating knack and bullheaded streak an entrepreneur requires.

The skeptic in me has always been a bit wary about broad-brushing an entire generation--I'm more inclined to think there's a bell curve to it. Sure, I'm a guilty-as-charged GenXer, but I know plenty of people in my cohort who don't fit the type. It often smacks of simplistic marketing.

On the other hand, the phrase "The Everybody Gets A Trophy generation" made me laugh out loud. Scary true, and my kids' bookshelves prove it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cleaning Up

My wife's company has two Christmas parties this week, i.e., time to dust off my one business suit and find a couple of presentable dress shirts to bring to the drycleaner up the street. As I pulled them out, I remembered that one of the shirts had an unraveling collar button the last time I wore it. So, at the cleaners, I asked the guy at the desk if they could please sew it back on when they laundered the shirt, and he said, "Sure, no charge."

Now, a couple of things about this transaction: First, I find it somewhat amazing that they're willing to do that on a $2 service. (I would have been willing to pay $5 for the button alone, since I don't sew.) Second, since my office uniform is generally composed of shirts that don't require drycleaning, there's no way this is a special perk for "regulars." I simply don't go to this place very often.

But based on this small-but-impactful customer service gesture, I will go back. What's the lesson in it for creative freelancers? Make a small gesture to your clients, the creative equivalent of sewing on a button, and you just might find yourself cleaning up.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Persistence in customer service

On the day before Thanksgiving, I was expecting a FedEx delivery. Late in the day, the ominous words appeared on the internet tracking page: UNDELIVERABLE WRONG ADDRESS. I was pretty confident that the problem was a courier who didn't understand the odd numbering scheme of our street. A quick call to customer service confirmed my suspicion--and indicated that deliveries were done for the day. The agent handled it well, apologizing profusely, but letting me know I'd be out of luck till Tuesday after the holiday. Bummer.

Lo and behold, a pleasant surprise: After we'd hung up, the agent called me back about 5 minutes later and said that he'd reached the delivery person (who was new on the route) and she'd be on her way before 6 p.m. Sure enough, she showed up and dropped it off.

The lesson was a contrast in persistence: The driver wasn't terribly resourceful in trying to find my house...she apparently gave up after a quick drive-by. The customer service agent, on the other hand, could detect my obvious displeasure, and made the call to make things right. On balance, he created a win for FedEx.

Side note: I've always thought that FedEx trucks should have a delivery slot on the side--that way, if you're sitting next to one at a stoplight or see one parked, you can just drop in your package. Obviously it would be a liability nightmare, but how convenient!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catching a tailwind

Writer's block happens to even the most prolific wordsmiths. For me, the "block" usually isn't not so much that I can't fill the paper, but that I can't fill it with something I like or that a client would approve, let alone love. Equally frustrating, maybe more.

There is a yin to the yang, though: Those blissful days when you can jam out a couple thousand words with seemingly no effort, and all of it (at least on first blush) pretty decent stuff. You can never predict when they'll come, but suffice it to say: When you catch a tailwind, keeping tapping as fast as you can for as long as you can.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Other "F" Word

Every once in a while, I stumble across a commenter who's trying to eliminate the words "freelance" or "freelancing" from the lexicon. The point is well taken--freelancing can be an ugly word, conjuring up fly-by-nighters who couldn't hold a square job--but you have to admit that it's a quick and easy descriptor.

Commercial copywriter, professional writer, creative pro, solo artist, independent contractor...these all have their place, but sometimes they elicit a "Huh?" (e.g., lifestyle entrepreneur?!?) or require further explanation. It also makes a difference whether you're talking to someone in the creative biz or outside it. I'll often say, "I'm a freelance writer who specializes in corporate copywriting." Two birds, one stone.

Ah, maybe I'm channeling my inner Don Quixote. My ultimate preference would be that those of us in the freelance world could rehabilitate the word, through good work well performed, to its former nobility. It is, after all, derived from the days of knights in shining armor.

NOTE: I've written an update to this post over at my Dr. Freelance blog: When freelancer is the other "F" word.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Creativity is where you find it

I twisted my ankle pretty severely last weekend, and other than the effect of setting back my training for PF Chang's half marathon (can I still go sub 2:00?), it's had a negative impact on my creativity. Why? Because going out for a run or a bike ride always seems to be the best way for me to come up with good ideas. I always think of clever headlines and story leads out in the great wide open. Even a good, long walk would be nice. Being stuck at a desk reminds me of the bad old corporate days.

I wonder if that's a primary reason that creatives chafe at being in a "regular" office environment--you can't free the mind without freeing the body. Even with Nerf basketball hoops and chair races down the hallways, that always struck me as a bit artificial. (On the other hand, I do remember fondly the golf tournaments we used to have at Golf Illustrated.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trying something new--Twitter

As a freelance writer, one of the most rewarding experiences is the chance to talk on a daily basis to people with ideas outside your usual MO. I'm no Luddite, so I'm aware of all of the various social networking tools out there, but I've always figured, who needs another time-waster, right?

Well, I had the great good fortune to interview Denver-based professional speaker Gina Schreck the other day. Check out her "Gettin' Geeky" video blog, and you'll see that she's acting as an ambassador to a wide range of online stuff for people who haven't made the leap yet. The article will be coming out in the next issue of Speaker magazine.

So, as a result of talking to Gina, now I've added Twitter to my existing Facebook as well as this blog. Whodathunkit?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Let's try again

After a long drought, back at it. At some point, this will likely become the freelance creative blog to accommodate my book. In the meantime, let me ask anyone who happens to happen upon this site: If you're a freelancer, what's your favorite aspect of it? And what keeps you up at night?

For me, the answer to the former is two-fold: freedom and variety. For the latter, I'd have to say invoicing. Ick.