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.