Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The importance of small things

As I walked onto the beach today, I noticed how far out the ocean happened to be. It was also apparent that the slope of the beach had changed slightly since I last visited a couple weeks ago.

Just as I was about to descend to the beach, I looked behind the beach grass line and saw three or four fairly new sprouts of grass advancing into some sand on the backside of the dune.

It dawned on me how important those new sprouts might be some day. If the waves are driven over the dunes, and there is no grass there, it will be easy to lose that sand. If grass is anchoring it, then it will be much more likely to stay.

On a beach it is pretty easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture of sky and water and forget about the small things.

Often in dealing with a group of people it is far too easy to forget the individuals. We used to have some "friends' who we would run into back in the day when we were members of the local country club. We had joined so our kids and I could have a place to swim. These friends would often strike up a conversation with you, but if someone walked by whom they viewed as more important, you would be dropped like a hot potato. It was not exactly a great way to build a friendship. I have had managers who would be talking to you, and completely stop in mid sentence if an executive wandered nearby. I had to wonder where their heads were.

We had our real estate sales group holiday brunch this morning. Real estate as most people know is a tough business right now, so our last two parties have been potluck events which is fine with me since the group has some great cooks.

I have worked with a number of different companies, a very big one, Apple, and some at the other end of the spectrum. Apple was a place where there was very little effort expended making people feel welcome. The general idea was that you were lucky to be working at Apple so don't count on any warm and fuzzies. While I had some great friends and wonderful moments with the team that worked for me at Apple, beyond my immediate manager that I had for several years, there were few who made you feel really welcome.

Apple is stark contrast to the group of people I work with today. There are some very talented individuals in today's group, and some people that I value as friends. As I walked into the room for our party this morning, I saw an area associate that I had briefly worked with in another office. We talked for a moment, and then each of us wandered off talking to some others. Our group is heavily weighted toward the ladies. I think there were six of us guys there today and about eighteen ladies.

I have been with some of the people in the group for three years, and I can say without a doubt that I feel welcome and a part of the group. A lot of faces have changed over the years, and no one is having it particularly easy. The president of the company sat down beside me for a few minutes before he had to leave. There was no bitterness in his assessment of the state of the market or the company. He could have blamed his real estate agents for not bringing in enough business, but he has the business intelligence to know that we are not the ones at fault.

In fact I got the feeling that he was proud of those of us who were making personal sacrifices to hang on through a tough market. None of us have made very much money, and in fact most of us have never worked harder for so little money.

There are some little things in this whole scenario that are worth mentioning. First of all at Apple, area associates, were never considered part of the sales team. In spite of much lobbying from their managers, the corporation thought they had little value in the sales process.

In our world of real estate, it is completely different. The administrative people are considered the first people to touch the customer and as such are valued greatly for their ability to engage the customer and quickly direct the customer to the right person. It might seem like a small thing, but its importance is huge. We do not hide behind impersonal telephone trees.

Another small thing is some balance when evaluating performance. At Apple and some places I have worked. Market conditions did not matter. Whatever performance goal was thrown at you was expected to be met even if it was impossible. In fact you could be doing exceptionally well in growing your business far over the industry or company average and still lose your job.

At Apple, you could miss your number because the company could not deliver product in time, and it was still your fault.

Both Apple and one of the other companies where I worked really cared more that you did not rock the boat than they did about how good you were at doing your job. If you could stand back and look at both companies, you would wonder why management and sales were at odds with each other. I actually had one high level executive tell me that the only way to get anything out of sales people was to threaten to take something from them.

While the idea that management and sales are in the same boat might seem like a small thing, it also turns out to be a hugely important thing if you want to build companies where people enjoy working and give it their best over time. I remember when times got tough at Apple, they had to start throwing bonuses at people to keep them from leaving. Given the current management style at Apple, I wonder how many people would hang around if things were no so rosy in Cupertino. Loyalty might be an outdated concept in most of the business world, but I have to wonder what we have lost in jettisoning it?

I like to think living here on the Crystal Coast gives us a chance to be a little different since we live in place where the scenery often soothes your soul. Perhaps it is harder for people in pressure cooker metro areas to see these small things, but they certainly can make a huge difference in people's lives.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Picking your battles wisely

All it takes is one teenager living under your roof to convince a person that you need to let some of the small stuff slide and save your energy for the big battles. If you have three teenagers like we did, that becomes a necessity.

Life at Apple reinforced the view that you just need to accept some things and be willing to fight for some others. I cannot imagine telling Steve Jobs that he needs to start sharing secrets with employees.

This afternoon I got confronted over on the Point at Emerald Isle by a somewhat crazy lady. But before we get to that story, you need to understand that living and driving on the North Carolina coast where we live demands attention to the speed limit.

In the off season, when there are not enough tourists to watch, the police have little to do except catch speeders. The consequence of this is that you learn to drive very close to the speed limit, or you end up with a ticket.

I try really hard to stay below the speed limit because if you do not and end up with a ticket, your insurance rates go up. I have managed three years down here without a ticket, and I drive a lot. I am also knocking on wood as I write this.

Today we spent a few minutes talking to the Mayor of Emerald Isle. The town's new administrative office had used a number of my prints for decoration, and we had stopped by to see them. I asked him about the recent flooded streets, and after talking, we decided to go have a look ourselves.

So we drove down Coast Guard Road, and we found more water than we expected. Driving through water as deep as we found requires driving slowly unless you want to stall your car, so we were driving especially slowly since my wife does not like axle deep water.

We finally got to where Coast Guard Road runs into Inlet Drive. I stopped and made the turn to head to the corner where you can access the Point. Less than halfway there we passed a "lady" walking a dog which tried to take a bite out of my car. Instead of walking on the shoulder of the road facing traffic as the law requires, she was actually walking with her back to traffic in the middle of the lane where I was supposed to be driving. I moved over to the other lane, and as I did not think it was any big deal, I went on down to corner, turned around, parked, and walked up the ramp to shoot a few pictures.

It only took a few minutes, I got back in my car and headed out except the "lady" was blocking my way. I rolled down my window, and she said she wanted to remind me the speed limit was 25 mph because I was flying through the neighborhood and two children lived there.

About that time her dog jumped on the door of my car, I pointed at her dog, and told her to drop it. I rolled up my window, and we left. As we were pulling away, I asked my wife what speed she though I had been doing. She ventured that I might have been doing 25 mph, but that she doubted I could have been going any faster since we passed the lady so close to the stop sign.

Tonight I used Google tools to measure the distance between the stop sign and where I pulled over to take pictures. It is around 1685 feet. Assuming I had traveled less than half the distance when we passed the "lady," I had gone less than 800 feet. If you have ever ridden with my wife, you would know she is not a big fan of fast starts. That being the case, I do not do them.

So why was my accuser so upset? Perhaps her dog being upset when we drove by carried over to her. I suspect that when walking down the middle of street, anything driving by you appears to be flying. While it is the beach, it is also a road which my car has as much right on as our walker and her dog. Actually I believe she is supposed to walk on the shoulder of the road and not take up my driving lane, but like I said, it is the beach so we yield to people walking in the road.

However, to get back to the point of my post. You do need to pick your battles wisely. I have probably been down that same road 200 times in the last few years. I have passed literally hundreds of walkers, many with dogs, and more than I can count with small children. No one has ever blocked my exit and accused me of flying through the neighborhood. That is because I do not do it.

So here we are on an Island with strictly enforced speed limits, and we have someone blocking the road to complain about someone who was likely doing the speed limit or very close to it. I could have chosen to argue with the walker, but long years have taught me that she was the type where you can never win a logical argument. Her perception, right or wrong, is all that she would ever believe. She was definitely one of those, don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up people. Picking a battle would have been a waste of my time. She had already wasted hers.

I started thinking the walker could have used her energy more wisely by complaining about some much more serious problems to people who might actually listen to her.

Before we had stopped by the Mayor's office, we had visited with the folks at Reel Outdoors. The talk there was of the damage that gill nets are doing to the fish and turtle populations.

It is a serious problem, and one that bothers many of us. Then there is the problem of beach access. Our walker apparently lives along the road to the Point. There are a couple of very nice beach accesses there, but the only parking which is a good distance off on Coast Guard Road is often full in the summertime.

Many of us who would like to take advantage of all the state funded CAMA accesses would love to see some parking on Inlet Drive so that people who want to fish the Point do not have haul their gear so far. I suspect our walker would oppose that, but I know that some additional parking would be very popular with a lot of the population that does not happen to have a home on Inlet Drive.

I hate to point it out, but the beach below the tide line belongs to the people of North Carolina and eventually the majority might rule in the case of beach access.

Beach access and banning gill nets are both battles worth taking up, but I think speeding on Emerald Isle is pretty well under control

Monday, November 09, 2009

Unconditional Love

I consider myself one of the privileged few whose life has been touched by a number of wonderful animal friends. Today, Percy, one of my favorite friends of all time passed away.

Percy was a rescue cat with the smallest feet that I have ever seen on an adult cat. She also had the biggest heart of any cat that I have ever met. She never saw a lap that she did not try out. I think she was convinced that all humans loved her as much as my daughter, Erin, did.

After being an outside barn cat living somewhere near Harrisonburg, Virginia, Percy was rescued by our Roanoke area vet. When I first met Percy, I knew a cat who enjoyed being cuddled that much would be perfect for my daughter whose other two rescue cats remained a little aloof.

The name, Percy, seemed to stick to the little cat whose sometimes grumpy look had nothing to do with the love she radiated to her human friends. She was also pretty good at soaking up love just like a sponge.

That first trip years ago when I took Percy to my daughter's house in Northern Virginia was just one of many that Percy made. She was a traveling cat. She loved to go wherever my daughter went. Though she would have preferred to sit on someone's lap the whole trip, she did agree to being comfortable in a seat as long as her litter box was not too far away.

Percy had no trouble winning over our Lab, Chester. She even was the only cat that ever managed to withstand the intense scrutiny of my other daughter's two big dogs, Dozer and Byerly. Still she preferred the company of humans to that of dogs or other cats.

Percy did not ask for much in life except a regular dinner and a soft spot for her naps. She got that in spades from my daughter who made sure Percy always had a lap and a warm bed. Percy's daytime bed in my daughter's room was an electrically heated one. Because the two other cats often picked on her, Percy often got a personal escort to the litter box. At night all the warmth she needed came from cuddling with my daughter.

We are going to really miss Percy. Her unique personality touched many people including some known dog lovers. Some of my best memories of Percy are from when I was working at Apple in Reston, Virginia. I would often be the first at home, and I was not above taking a nap before dinner. Percy was always glad to see me. I can still remember how she would drape herself around my neck. My daughter kept the thermostat in the sixties, so a warm bundle of cat fur felt pretty good as I dozed through the national news.

Percy enjoyed her meals. While some cats are picky eaters, I think Percy knew how lucky she was to have Fancy Feast every night on her own plate. She also had a great talent for finding a ray of sunshine and soaking it up. We never knew Percy as a kitten, but once in a while she would play like one. It was far better entertainment than television.

Percy regularly made the trip of seven hours to our beach house. She loved the wide windowsills there. She always acted like it was her home. She would walk right in and expect to have dinner, and then she would go off exploring to make sure we had not moved anything.

When she visited us in Roanoke, she had a special hiding place in our basement. Still the best surprise that she ever gave us was one Christmas morning. We had looked all over the house trying to find her. Eventually we found that she had made her way inside the large dollhouse in Erin's room. You will find her in the second picture in this post.

While Percy is resting in peace, my memories of her will stay fresh especially on a cold winter evening when I could use a little cat fur around the neck to keep me warm.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Social Networking the Marshes

I have been a fisherman since I was old enough to hold a pole. That has been a very long time, and I have learned much about fishing and life over the course of my life long love affair with the sport.

I have fished for native brook trout in Canada and for Grayling in Alaska, but mostly I have fished the state of North Carolina from the mountains to Cape Hatteras.

There is one golden rule that I have learned with fishing. You will never catch any fish unless you put a line in the water. You cannot catch fish by standing on the edge of the water and just looking at the water.

It occurred to me this afternoon that fishing is a lot like social networking. In social networking you have these rivers of information like Twitter or great pools of fish like Facebook. It is unlikely that someone can stand up in front of you and really get across the essence of social networking.

The opportunity that social network offers has to be balanced against the challenges that it places on information gathering and decision making.

Social networking is a logical expression of the changes that have happened to our society. Fifty years ago when I was growing up in the small town of Lewisville, North Carolina, there was no need for social networking. We were a small town world. While there was some mobility in our towns, but it was nothing like what we have seen since the turn of the century. People were born in a community and often died there.

You met people at church, at school, at work, or someone introduced you to them. Ancestors from our family had lived within twenty or thirty miles of where I grew up since not long after the revolutionary war. We lived on a street named after our family not far from another road named for the ferry my great grandfather used to run.

There are not many people who have the luxury of growing up in an environment like that these days. Jobs take people all over the country if not the world. Children are lucky if they start school in the same town as where they were born.

In the days before the Internet, if you wanted information you mostly wrote letters, and you had to judge the person on the other end by the quality of the letter you received in return. Telephone calls could be very expensive even if you were able to figure out the right person to call.

In 1971, I ended up buying an old farm in Canada. While the project started with letters to a real estate agent, it eventually required a couple of trips to personally evaluate the agent and the land. What I found out about the area came from books and visiting the area. There was no Internet for research. In the end the decision was mine based on what I had learned the hard way. There was no supporting cast of people in the area to tell me that the North Mountain of Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley was a good place. I had to take a gamble.

Actually I am not certain that the purchase that I made in 1971 would be as easy today. Nowadays there is always a risk that your decision making can end up overwhelmed by too many opinions and too much information. In 1971 too much information was not a problem.

As the geographic ties that held many families together have dissolved, more and more people have faced a world where they do not know their neighbors or their neighbors change so often they do not have enough time to know them.

Distant corporations email, online forums, and instant messaging loosened some of the bonds that made the person next to you less important than the person 3,000 miles away with whom you exchanged messages.

Then there is the whole generational issue where many younger workers communicate more with their friends than their colleagues. It is pretty easy for this to become a distraction at work so it comes as no surprise that social networking starts with something of black eye in most corporate circles.

In that we find the most interesting paradox, those companies which could benefit most from social networking often show great resistance.

If you look at the marsh and the waters in the picture accompanying this post, most people would understand that there is very complex web of life at the boundary between the marshes and open water. The afternoon we fished there, we caught a wide variety of fish in that one spot.

Had we not taken the time to anchor and fish there, any speculation as to what might be there would have just been speculation. We fished there, now we know what to expect the next time.

Social networking done right can provide a tremendous amount of information about market trends and customer preferences. Becoming part of a social network interested in your products or services is like being part of the largest customer focus group possible.

On top of customer information, social networking can also be an amazing learning opportunity. You can see first hand how people respond to certain messages. It is the ultimate testbed for marketing campaigns.

Even just watching the information flow on Twitter is like sticking your hand in a river and understanding the currents.

Certainly every business hoping to grow should have an active social networking strategy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Peace in the pictures

When you are working as hard as you can to build a business using online marketing techniques, you often feel like you are on an endless treadmill that keeps speeding up.

The challenges are immense in my world of real estate.

You have to work your job, but you also must provide exceptional content to attract new clients. In my case content ends up being articles and photos about the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. Of course they are posted all over the web from my own sites to Twitter and any place that I can find an audience.

The one good thing about providing good content is that you have to live the life you are describing or you have no chance of being authentic.

So if I am talking about surf fishing, I have just come from surf fishing. If I write about being the last person to close down the beach, there should be no doubt that I closed down the beach. With that in mind, I really enjoy it when I write about kayaking or fishing from our skiff.

Right now "living the life" is one of the few benefits of the job. I describe what I experience to the fullest. That works well except for the fact that instead of relaxing with a book or watching some TV evening, I am always up in my office writing. Sometimes I end up with keyboard prints on my face.

With a lifestyle that is buring the candle at both ends, I have to find peace and relaxation wherever I can find it. Often I find it in the viewfinder of my favorite camera which right now is a Panasonic ZS-1.

In a certain sense I live through the lens of my cameras. Composing a relaxing scene like the Atlantic Beach one in this post relaxes me.

Even when I see the picture downloaded onto to my computer, I find a certain sense of peace.

In a world of digital deadlines and increasing demands, I will take my peace wherever I can find it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Peace on the water

One of the things that I look forward to each morning as I roll out of bed, is walking across the road to check out the water in Raymond's Gut. While I often first look at it from the dock behind my home, I enjoy another view which lets me see all the way out to the White Oak River.

I am alway especially pleased when the waters are so calm that they form mirrors for the scenery. It is a pretty neat way to start the day.

It certainly beats a freeway and bumper to bumper traffic. I was just finishing a post about how hard it is to find good jobs in the places where it is a pleasure to live.

If you have lots of jobs, you might have too many people in paradise so I am not going to wish for over development. We have lots of places in North America that can lay claim to being over developed. The Crystal Coast is not one of them.

With crystal clear waters that give us our name and water within in sight almost everywhere, it is no surprise that many people move here because of the opportunity to be close to the water.

Having the chance to start your day looking at water and end your day watching a sunset over water is a great privilege. It also helps to keep your soul energized.

When the world around you is so beautiful, it is hard not to have good thoughts. I am probably a whole lot easier to deal with just after my morning walk to see the water than I am after sitting in an office with only a print for my water view.

Of course the water can be powerful and dangerous. It is suicidal to ignore its power.

I guess you could say that with great beauty comes great power.

I am pleased to be under the spell of the water. It certainly makes the outlook for tomorrow a little more pleasant.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Searching for intelligent development

Our primary home is in a small subdivision called Bluewater Cove. We live just across the cul de sac from the swimming pool pictured in the post. The pool and water access for boating are the main reasons that we live on the Carolina coast near Cape Carteret and Emerald Isle.

We have had the privilege of living in a wide variety of places from the isolated shores of Nova Scotia to the suburbs of Washington, DC. We have lived on a farm in a small community in New Brunswick, Canada. For twenty we were on the slopes of a mountain overlooking Roanoke, VA. My wife and I both grew up in Mount Airy, NC otherwise known as Mayberry. We even owned our family home there for a while.

We have had the experience of driving twenty miles to the nearest grocery store. We have also seen our kids be able to come home for lunch from school. Given that wide variety of experiences we have chosen Bluewater Cove in western Carteret County as our latest place to live.

I just penned an article, When the small stores leave. It is about my concerns on the hollowing out of commercial services in the area where our home is in Roanoke, Va. It seems that all the commercial enterprises want to be in the same concentrated areas. The result is that neighborhood services are disappearing. Perhaps this is inevitable.

I still remember walking to the local hardware, drug store, and movies when I lived in Mt. Airy. When I lived in Lewisville, NC, I could walk to school, church, hardware, and grocery store. There was even a small restaurant within walking distance. Much of that has disappeared.

We saw the planned development model when we lived in Columbia, MD and the years that I worked in Reston, VA. While having controlled development might help rationalize some decisions, I am not sure it works very well either. I know in Columbia all car services were pushed to the outskirts of town. In Reston neighborhood grocery stores have disappeared.

On the North Carolina coast we have a long commercial strip probably five miles in length. Most of the homes are on roads that branch off of the commercial strip. Homes still on the strip are gradually being converted to commercial businesses.

Some of the commercial development is starting to centralize and of course there are a number of subdivisions where residential development is also concentrating. It is almost a hub and spoke model of development. The hub is the centralized shopping area and the spokes lead to the residential areas which are often subdivisions.

In spite of the small population in the coastal area, we have better access to many services than we do in a larger town like Roanoke. Today in Roanoke I drove several miles to get a bag of pea gravel. It probably took me nearly an hour before I found what I needed. I could have accomplished the same task in under ten minutes on the Carolina coast.

It is almost counter intuitive that I could get something done more quickly where in theory there are less services. However it turns out there are actually better located services in the smaller area. Roanoke has two Lowe's Home Improvement stores and two Home Depots, all are about 20 minutes from our home. There is no hardware closer to our Roanoke home than ten minutes.

In Cape Carteret on the Carolina coast, we have only one Lowes nearby, but it is only seven minutes from our house. There are two hardware stores under ten minutes and another two at about fifteen minutes. There are other Lowes and a Home Depot within twenty to thirty mintues.

Things are similar when it comes to grocery stores, but if you start looking at medical care, Roanoke has far more resources which are close by.

Our closest hospital in Cape Carteret is about 25 minutes away. In Roanoke we have one under ten minutes away and a second one twenty minutes away.

What is surprising is that aside from medical care, life in a rural area like Cape Carteret stacks up pretty well.

The good news is that Carteret General Hospital has decided to build an imaging center close to us. Hopefully that is the first step in addressing additional medical services for the area.

With a Walmart probably coming to town in 2010, we will have just about all the modern conveniences that we need. My wife would only add that we need a Target.

Maybe intelligent development happens if you plant yourself in the right spot. I hope western Carteret County is it.

It certainly is not hollowing itself out like Roanoke is at the present time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Apathy is not a solution

I was talking to another Realtor the other day about a potential new way to advertise for clients. She indicated that she had little or no enthusiasm for any new tactics.

It occurred to me that apathy is rarely a successful solution. Allowing yourself to become someone who watches while things happen instead of being someone who tries to control the future by being proactive is just not an option for me.

I have found that either working to be a success or planning to get out of what you are doing are really the only options ever available. You cannot just sit and let things happen to you and expect those things to be good.

I have been in tough positions a number of times in my working career. Hiding under the desk has never worked.

Understanding the things that you can change in a tough environment is one of the most important first steps to building a plan to get out of your challenging spot.

You should focus on what you can do to be ready to be successful. If you position yourself to take advantage of the next opportunity for success, you will be in a lots better position than if you spend your time complaining and doing nothing.

Right now real estate is in a terrible tailspin. While we have more buyers looking than we have had in a while, most of those buyers are very finicky and often looking for deals that just do not exist.

I have decided that now is the time to build my brand and to own the content about the areas where I sell real estate.

When serious buyers take the places of the ones we are seeing now, I should be successful. It means that I work harder than some colleagues.

That's is okay with me. I would rather be ready for success than sitting and hoping that things might change.

In the meantime, I will enjoy life here on the Crystal Coast spending as much time on the water as possible thinking about what I can to do to position myself for success.

Waiting for failure is not any more of an option than trying the same things which are not working over and over.

As far as I am concerned a Perfect Beach Day can spur the imagination and lead to success.

Friday, June 19, 2009

My love affair with mornings along the southern coast

It is a real privilege to go to bed at night and be excited about waking up the next morning. What I do in the morning is not very exciting, but I enjoy doing it were much.

While I do enjoy my first cup of coffee, the coffee has nothing to do with the pleasure I take from my morning rounds of our home place at Bluewater Cove. First I usually check our tomato plants to see if anything is ripe enough t0 pick or if the plants need water. I also check our palms and our one perrenial hibiscus.

Then I will usually walk down to the dock to check the tides and see what sea creaturing are lurking around the dock. After that I make my way out to the mailbox. Along the way, I get to enjoy the warm morning breeze, our roses, and the pine trees growing in the lot next door. I will also scan the yard to see if any ant hills have popped up.

Sometimes I will wander over to boat ramp to see what is swimming around there. These hot mornings I often hear the carpenters up the road. They come to work early during the heat of the summer.

It is a special time in the morning. There are even some mornings when you can forget all your cares. It is a relaxing time of the day, and I have even been known t0 take an early morning dip in the pool.

I sometimes get a lot done before 9:00 AM. As early morning is my favorite time of day, I do not mind working hard. It is better to get chores out of the way early in my book.

Evening comes in a distant second as a time I enjoy, but it does have moments also like this walk down Emerald Isle's main street.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Front porch storm watching

Maybe it is a southern thing, but I have always enjoyed watching thunderstorms from the porches of our homes.

We have had a few homes without porches, but those have been in the minority. Perhaps my favorite storm watching porch before we moved to the coast was the one in Mt. Airy, NC where I spent my teenage years.

Our side porch there was protected but had a great view of the building storms that skirted the Blue Ridge Mountains. That former home is now a bed breakfast, Sobotta Manor, so you can book a stay and hope for a nice southern thunderstorm for some entertainment.

Thunderstorms sometimes break the heat in the south or at least provide some temporary relief. Sometimes they are damaging, but often they just bring welcome precipitation and some noise like they did today here on the Carolina coast.

Watching the power of thunderstorm is a humbling experience. I actually like North Carolina and Virginia thunderstorms much better than the ones we had in Canada. The Canadian ones were ill defined. They seemed to be all over the place. You could never really tell their direction.

Make no mistake, you can tell if a southern thunderstorm is headed for you. Most of them leave no doubt. Tonight's edition went south of us. We got to watch the fireworks without getting in the line of fire.

Still the strong breezes and lightning brought back many childhood memories of listening to the rumble of thunder in Mount Airy or Lewisville, NC. Storms in Roanoke, VA were a little different. Once they got in the mountain valley that is Roanoke, they could go in circles. Many times we saw the same storm more than once.

In the summer, thunderstorms are a regular occurrence here near the water. When we are fishing we try to have our boats back at the dock by three PM which is when the storms often fire up. With the flat territory, you can see them for miles.

I know the storms are to be respected. I had a cousin killed by lightning, but I like to think that if I am careful, the front porch makes a pretty good spot to watch a storm unless we are in the middle of it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Not a normal dinner spot for us

We are actually more comfortable out on the beach than we are going out to dinner these days.

Still when someone gives you a gift certificate to a good restaurant, you do not want to waste it. With that in mind we headed off to Red Lobster in Roanoke, Va. recently.

We managed to get there during their lobster festival. With my love of lobster, I ended up ordering a dish with a couple of kinds of shrimp, a lobster tail, and a few crab legs.

After a Caesar salad and some of their yummy rolls, I was feeling pretty good. Dinner arrived quickly since the restaurant was not as packed as has often been the case before the economic recession.

It was hard not to compare our dinner since we had just fixed some shrimp and grits at home down on the NC Coast. That is something we do fairly often so we are pretty familiar with seafood. To say I was a little surprised at the tiny size of the shrimp on my plate is an understatement.

Shrimp of the size that I was served in garlic butter would never even make it to bait shrimp on the Crystal Coast. In fact a couple of our Crystal Coast shrimp would equal the amount of meat in the lobster tail on our plates.

Now I had plenty to eat, but I am not certain how much money Red Lobster is saving in the long run by purchasing juvenile shrimp and lobsters. The crab legs were also tiny. Serve fewer but bigger shrimp. I would rather have three shrimp that I can cut into bites than six which are so tiny that you hardly know you have eaten them. I have to believe that normal size shrimp is a better use of marine resources. Of course here I am thinking that these shrimp were caught in the sea. They were probably farm shrimp.

However, the lobsters had to be wild caught, and my guess is that they came from Canada where I have heard the size limit is smaller than Maine. I know there is a certain size lobster which the lobster men in Maine claim should be harvested. Anything smaller or bigger hurts the lobster stocks which I want to make sure survive. You can read about their efforts at lobster sustainability.

We had some great lobsters this fall at our area church suppers, and I know they came from Maine because I saw the truck. The lobsters were on the order of 1.5 lbs each. I cannot believe that the lobster tails that we ate at Red Lobster recently came off of a lobster anywhere close to even one pound in weight.

I think that perhaps I will go back to making my own seafood dinners. Now I just need someone to donate some right-sized lobsters.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Riding the right wave to success

Watching ocean waves is a favorite activity of mine. Getting a picture of just the right color wave is a challenge that I love.

Getting the right picture to post is far more important to me than staying on top of the latest trends or gossip in the entertainment industry.

Our society is moving so fast that it is hard to keep up on even things that interest me. I finally got to the point that I realized that there are lots of things which I can live without understanding. I am not embarrassed that I could care less what Brittany Spears is doing today or that Madonna is not in the news.

I want to focus on what I know and where I can be successful while enjoying what I do. That removes a lot of fluff from my life.

I know that there are lots of television shows which can be downloaded, but I will remain a bystander since I have a hard time finding ones worth watching much less downloading.

There are the extreme sports fans who like jumping off a mountainside and buzzing roadways in the Alps. That is fine with me, just do not expect me to chip in on the medical bills. I really do not care how hard it is drive a truck in Alaska or work in a kitchen with a maniac.

I am also not interested in endless complaining about how poorly the new administration in the United States is doing. They inherited the mess, it will take a while to fix. No one is smart enough to be able to tell if this stuff is going to work yet. That is the end of the brain discussion for me except that rooting for a President to fail is about as low as it gets.

One of the best lessons that I ever learned was to spend more time listening and learning than telling others how to do their jobs. If the job is never going to be yours, you might as well see how well your advice works in your own life.

I can still remember the time when during one of Apple's many reorganizations, I ended up being moved from years of managing a team calling on higher education institutions and selling directly to calling on businesses and selling through resellers.

It was not a move I wanted. I had two choices, become a whiner or figure out how to do the job to the best of my ability.

I knew how to manage people, and I knew how to be a good reseller since I had been one twelve years earlier before I came to Apple.

After the move, I spent a lot of time out in the field with the existing reps, listening to them and their resellers. Mostly I found an incredible amount of arrogance among the reps. Some of the system engineers were even worse. One even gave a new sales rep bad directions to an account so he would look incompetent when taking me there.

Being successful was an option that most of them felt required too much hard work. Complaining about everything was easier. In a year's time the only person out of nearly twenty that I had inherited was my area associate. I had found new people who were willing to work, to listen, to learn, and to be successful.

We put together a series of mini-MacWorld seminar events and delivered them in nineteen cities across the Southeast. We partnered with resellers instead of complaining about them. The resellers loved what we did. The customers were beyond enthusiastic.

We brought value to the equation, and in spite of what the former experts said, we ended up being successful.

We were one of the top regions in the country the next year. Sometimes success just takes fresh faces with new ideas and the willingness to work hard. It did not happen over night, and a lot armchair experts told us we would fail.

We believed in what we were doing and kept going even when the hours were long, and there were lots of people pulling for us to fail.

I think I will keep doing what I know works even now when the times are tough.

You can ride the right wave to success

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reinventing yourself

As I look back to the summer of 2004 when I left Apple Computer, I have no doubt that I have learned more in the four years since Apple than I did in the nearly twenty years there.

While I learned a tremendous amount as I worked at Apple, the nature of the company perhaps limits your growth in ways that are hard to see until you leave.

Perhaps the biggest challenge at Apple is the overwhelming pressure for the company to present an image which has no blemishes.

I have learned more from my mistakes since I left Apple than I did from my successes at Apple.

You certainly did not want many mistakes at Apple because that was the quickest way out of the company.

Measured in awards and sales results, my last years at Apple were my most successful.

Other teams flocked to learn what we had done in order to be held up as an example. When you are asked to present to other groups on how to be successful, it might be a warning that you have become a little too successful for your own good.

Success at Apple has to have a sponsor. You can be very successful at Apple and labor in anonymity. However, if your success helps move an agenda forward, you can easily be held up for others to admire. If your success looks like it might overshadow your sponsor, you might see it evaporate.

Success can be turned into a failure with just the right negative words whispered into the appropriate vice president's ear.

In my last four years at Apple, I led a sales team that more than tripled Apple's federal business.

Yet when it was decided that an inside sales team needed to look better than my team, our success got repositioned as failure.

All corporations have similar messes when one executive wants to leap ahead of another. Maybe at Apple it is a little worse, but that is pretty hard to measure. The point is that what you learn from those situations does not help you grow a lot in your skills.

If success at Apple comes not from what and how you have accomplished something, but from what others want to showcase in order to advance their agendas, then it is hard to pull many valuable lessons from the experience.

Since leaving Apple and being on my own for the last couple of years, I have found that the only way to learn whether something works is to try it. If it fails, you try to evaluate why and try something else. You can make a lot of progress that way.

You quickly realize that perfect does not exist in the real world. You can get close, but you soon come to realize that being a lot better than the competition is much more achievable when being realistic and flexible than when agonizing over the perfect words to include in a mailing.

I once watched Apple spend over a year trying to decide what they wanted to say in a security document describing an operating system which had already been released. In effect Apple's programmers managed to get an operating system out the door before Apple's marketing could figure out the perfect words to describe it.

The interesting thing about security and OS X is that Apple missed a huge opportunity to market to many customers who were very troubled about computer security. Apple did not miss the opportunity because they did not have a good product, they missed it because they were afraid to talk about it.

While there is financial security in a place like Apple if you are in favor with the right folks or if you have found away to hide, you will never learn the skills to actually make intelligent decisions.

Significant decision making ability at Apple is restricted to the very few.

If you want to be nimble and ready for this new economy, Apple is not the place to prepare. Try creating your own business, you will learn a lot more.

Having to reinvent myself every six months is an amazing experience, but it gives you a lot of confidence in your own abilities. It is much better than figuring how to cover your rear or whom you have to sacrifice in order to save your own skin.

I would rather have the successes and failures that have taught me much since leaving Apple than the always suspect favor of an Apple vp.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day- A new road?

NBC News is reporting that 75% of the American public think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

That puts anyone looking for change in the majority. I know government is not the answer to everything.

However, government needs to be part of the solution, just as much as corporate American needs to revamp itself.

It will take leadership in government and a change in corporate leadership techniques to restore success to America. I know more about corporations than government so here I will focus on corporate behavior.

Last spring Wired had an article, "Breaking the Rules: Apple Succeeds By Defying 5 Core Valley Principles." One of the points in the article was the following.
Valley Rule
Since the best ideas bubble up from within the ranks, encourage autonomy by allowing workers free time to focus on their personal projects. Also, shower them with perks like free food and massages to make them feel special.

Apple Rule
Motivate through fear. Don't be afraid to scream. Threaten to fire them. Withhold praise until it's truly deserved. Go ahead and bring them to tears. As long as you can inspire them with your sense of mission, they'll consider this the best job they've ever had.
At the time, it appeared that Apple and Steve Jobs could do no wrong. Ten months and Steve's health problem have changed the equation.

Steve has built a company that has with his help turned out some fantastic products. My guess is that Steve has not created a management style which will benefit other companies or America or aid Apple in building a long term proposition.

Nearly twenty years at Apple taught me that fear of retaliation is not the best way to get the most out of your employees. Fear of failure certainly is not the best way to build a strong leadership culture in a corporation.

I continue to believe that the best management technique is to build strong interdependent teams where individuals are committed to supporting each other and to mutual success. Apple being enthralled by slash and burn management techniques where employees are often afraid to convey anything but good new has a weak leadership culture as a result.

I saw Apple corporate employees rush to cancel events where results would be anything less than perfect. I saw a brochure about security in a new operating system take longer to write than the operating system because people were so afraid of making mistake. I saw a simple customer request ignored by a handful of vice presidents because everyone was afraid of making the wrong decision.

What we need today is a culture in both government and private corporations which emphasizes accountability but also recognizes that you rarely get something right without making some mistakes along the way.

If you are honestly focused on trying to do the right thing for the right reasons, mistakes should be written off as long as progress is made towards a solution.

No business and certainly few government officials are immune to the politics of personality. New leaders try to make their marks, and when the personality becomes more important than the solution, more problems are created than solved.

Now that Steve Jobs is gone, Apple will continue with the products it has in the pipeline. Some will undoubtedly be successful. However with an attitude that typically ignores customer input and focuses on delivering margin to the company at the expense of value to the customer, I think the long term outlook for Apple is negative.

Articles such as the recent WSJ one, "I Once Was Chic, but Now I'm Cheap," indicate that others are questioning the value proposition of Apple. I have long suggested that Apple's market share will peak at 10%. The culture of Apple is to create the easy hit and move on to the next one, often with little effort beyond exacting the highest price from the most people in the shortest time.

I cannot hold Microsoft's Vista up as an example of success, but I can credit Microsoft for a strong effort to fix the product and deliver a new one that is better. Vista is a far better product today that what it was sixteen months ago when I first purchased it.

In the meantime, hardware manufacturers have delivered vastly less expensive products which help the Vista operating system look better.

Certainly Apple's Leopard came out of the gate as a far better product than Vista and has shown some improvement. However when I look at Apple hardware line, I am disappointed.

The MacBook went up in price, the MacMini is still spec starved, and we are still waiting for a new iMac and a product between the iMac and Apple's expensive towers,

In the end, I want better, lower cost products not just hit products from Apple's culture of fear.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Winter beach days

Most people associate the beach with hot summer days and vacations. However, beaches do not disappear when children go back to school.

They actually stay in business all year here along the Crystal Coast. I can think of a handful of really cold days over the last few years when I stopped by the beach to find it completely deserted.

However, those days are definitely the exception rather than the rule. Almost every visit to the beach I find someone walking along the water. In January there are likely wearing jeans and tennis shoes instead a bathing suit, but people are still on the beach regularly in the winter.

I love sunny skies so I typically do not go to the beach when it is very cloudy like it was today, but I know from experience that a day in January when the temperature topped out at sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit is likely to have drawn a few beach visitors.

It will not be long before the North Carolina sun starts to really provide some heat which will make walking the beach a true winter pleasure. I am counting down the days before I will be able to get in the water once again.

Last year my first dip was June 3. This year I am hoping that I can get wet in May, but I have no desire to jump into cold water so I will wait until the water has reached a civilized temperature.

I recently posted a few late December and early January beach photos.

Some people need some salt water scenes to get through a snowy winter. I am happy to help.