Month: September 2011

Lifting a Finger to Big Brother

If you’re like me, you’ve probably shrugged off a lot of the Orwellian types who have repeated ad nauseam the perils or pitfalls from all this data that’s being collected on us. I’ve always figured it’s not unreasonable for a credit card company or others to have the data of your purchases and correlate it to better suit your spending habits or credit limits along with others. However, I’m starting to get a little concerned or to put it a bit more strongly…ticked off at just how far this all seems to be going.

What’s troubling today is the new-found revelation that opting out doesn’t actually mean you’re out. The collection and correlation can still go on. I don’t think any company has the right to follow me after I have clearly stated No by either discontinuing their service, or I have logged off their webs site. The idea that I haven’t said no by entering 3 different request forms or some other hurdle is not only ridiculous, it’s unethical, and damn near criminal also. Would it be assumed OK to stick a tracking device in my pocket when I’m leaving a store? Would it be assumed OK instead to stick it under my car if I said no to putting it on me? Under the rational being used by companies such as Facebook® or OnStar® you said no only to you, not the car, and we have yet to receive all the paperwork stating we can’t put it on you so be thankful it’s just the car.

Years back there was a court case against companies that would send out products to people who never ordered. The companies thought they were oh so clever in sending these items out while stating “If you don’t like it, just send it back, and they’ll be no charge” However most didn’t send it back. Either they threw it away, kept it, gave it away, no matter the reason they never ordered it. All of the sudden people would begin receiving notices from collection agencies looking for the money for the products. It was all a scam to legally obligate people to pay for products they never ordered. The courts agreed. It’s also why you can now throw away junk mail in confidence, no one can obligate you without your consent. Just imagine if it wasn’t!

When I discontinue a service or I sign out from some web site, am I not doing the equivalent of stating “No more, we’re done as of now?”  Since when does anyone or any company feel they have a right legally or ethically to continue gathering information by watching me either electronically or physically after I have stated No! I don’t know about you, but this whole Orwellian overhang is starting to irritate me. So from now on when ever I get the chance, I will not lift a hand to help these companies in gathering more information about me.

I’ll just raise a finger!

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights Reserved

 

 

You’ve Reached Your Goal…Now What?

Setting and reaching a goal you’ve set is a wonderful experience. Regardless of the size, just setting it and actually reaching it deserves applause. But this is where the applause now stops. From here on in, it’s an inside game. It is here so many either get frustrated or get what I like to call “Goal Fatigue” because they will now continually seek or wait for some external force to validate their new goal or progress.

After you’ve reached your first goal the rules for setting your next goal in the chain changes. If I’m wrong then why do so many people make the same New Years resolutions over, and over again? Many start the gym membership but quit within weeks. Some start the diet but never stay on it. And others sign up for the school but never get the degree. I could go on but you get my point. And that brings us to, Ok…Now What?

More than likely you set your goal then gave yourself a reward for finishing which is as it should be, that’s step one. Step two is the exact opposite. You are going to get the reward first. Yes I said that, first! The second part of goal setting is an inside game, it’s between your own two ears, any kind of validation from the outside world is extra. This is a point the so-called “Guru’s” and others get absolutely wrong. Let’s use quitting smoking as an example. You did step #1 which you should be praised and commended for. But now you have to continue. Step #2 is not to  repeat step #1 over, and over, and over again. You won’t do it, nobody would. So step #2 should look something like this. I spent on average $ _____’s a day. That totals $______ per week, or $_______ per year. As a reward, and reminder why I am doing this I am using the money I would have spent smoking and purchasing _________ today!

If you notice I said today, not tomorrow, not next week, not I’m saving up, but today! You need to remind yourself why, not others, but you. Others may also benefit but from here on out it’s all up to you. No cheering crowd a month or one year from now is going to help in keeping you in pursuit of your goal as the tickets for a vacation, jewelry, watch, or other item you have in your hands now will do. If you wait you won’t do it, and the same will happen to the goal. It too will go unfulfilled. The excuse that I don’t have the money right now doesn’t fly either. You would have found somewhere somehow to smoke right? Then get a jar and put the actual money in it daily. See how this is getting to sound serious? That’s because it is, and the reason why so many stop after step one.

You can do this with anything you want, just fill in the blank. Diets?.. Sure… start with step #1, at step #2 go into your closet and weed out every article of clothes that is one size too big. Regardless if new! On your way home from Goodwill® stop at the mall and buy one article 1 size smaller than you are now. You can repeat step #2 as long as you like. See the difference?

You can do this with anything you want in life from habits, to jobs, or anything else. Just once you truly understand that the true applause you’re working for is coming from you, and not everyone else, goals become fun ,entertaining, and a lifetime of fulfillment for you.

Now go set a goal, and have fun!

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr All Rights Reserved

Customer Service better known as Adventures in Stupidity

Today’s adventure comes from a wonderful experience I had with a company I have been dealing with for years. The name is irrelevant, what’s poignant is this company was a bastion of commitment to the customer. From the top down this company demonstrated over, and over again to me that they “got it.” They went from tiny start-up to being one of the premier companies in their field in record time. They earned awards, recognition, and a lot of respect. What they also earned as they grew was the watchful eye of a much larger entity wanting to buy and merge them into their own organization. Maybe there’s symmetry in operations for the merger, but not so much for the customer experience.

Not that long ago I had an issue that needed to be resolved. I had called the original company and the phone was answered by none other than the owner and CEO himself. At this time they were very successful, had many employees, doing millions of dollars in business. He could have effortlessly switched me to the department that would have handled my issue, but he didn’t. He personally handled it as a matter of fact. It wasn’t for someone else to do, it wasn’t now beneath him as head honcho, the phone was ringing, he picked it up, and he could resolve it so he did. And that’s pretty much the way the whole company functioned.  Front line employee empowerment to fix a customers issue regardless of title was the culture, and it showed. It also forged a bond of loyalty with me. For a customer, dealing with a company like this is just about as good as it gets. Then, it gets sold. Cue the music…“Bring on the clowns.”

When full integration happened you could see the difference instantly. There were issues like there always are, but the customer service aspect went from the gold standard, to that lead balloon feeling. I mean it was noticeable to everyone. I watched customers I had been talking to over the years leave in lockstep because the so-called “new entity” had a customer service department that gave the impression that the now merged companies customers were some how second class. For someone like me it was like watching a film of what not to do. It has been breathtaking to watch in real-time. In less than a month they did everything a company could do either by design or sheer stupidity as to make one feel the original company they were loyal to, was not the company they were now dealing with. They even changed the color of the logo…twice!

Personally I had a small issue which I needed resolved yesterday. My problem was since the integration I needed access to prior information that was done last year before the completion of the merger. However the portal to my information was no longer available on the company’s website. (yes the website is still an active, and promoted portal for the original company.) So I decided to use the “Live Chat” window since I was logged into my account, here’s how I was greeted…

Please wait for a site operator to respond.
You are now chatting with ‘******’
Them: hello how may I help you
Me: Hello *******, I can’t find the portal for access to my statement for last year..Can you help me?
Them: sure please go to www.*****************.com
Them: and login there
Them: go to accounts<history/statements
Me: Even though I was with ***** all of last year?
Them: pardon?
Them: we are now **************** sir
Me: I understand..all my past data is now on the ***** site?
Them: yes
Them: not all
Me: records for 2010?
Them: go to ********
Them: under accounts
Them: this is all the info you will need

I don’t know about you, but I could feel the indignant tone right through the screen. The other point is, if not “all” then where is the rest? It was clear she wasn’t going to tell me, or cared. I’m glad she knew that what might be available was all I’m going to need. Maybe premonition is now part of the new improved customer service. What a shame is all I can say. As for me, what did I do at the end of the conversation?

Closed my account.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights Reserved

School of Hard Knocks currently #2 Greatest Alma Maters, Soon to be #1

Last year about this time Bloomberg Business Week® listed the country’s top 10 under graduate alma maters for the top CEO’s in the country. It showed that in the race for some of the highest paid, most coveted positions available, it was the drop-outs that were heading the list. It’s stunning to note that Steve Jobs whose alma mater is #2 turned his company into the #1 worlds largest market cap company. And need I say Mr. Bill Gates is also in that group of drop-outs?

The reason why I feel so strongly on this subject is due to the turmoil facing companies, and entrepreneurs everywhere. The world is changing under everyone’s feet. However, most feel this shift and have no understanding on what or why it’s so important an issue. The rule of go to school, get a college education, then go get a good job is dead. Yes I said it. It’s dead, gone, buried, however you want to put it, stick a fork in it because it’s done.  (did I say that it’s dead?)

Let’s get one thing clear before the emails come rolling in, I did not say college is dead. What I am saying is unless you need that degree as a prerequisite to obtain a license in your career of choice or the kids, you had better think long and hard before you shell out 100K or more for that school little Bobby or Julie is thinking about going to.

After all, it sure seems like all the wicked smart people who are always quoted on TV or in the newspapers are exactly the ones who said they can fix things but left as quick as they came only to return to school, and do what? Yep,you guessed it, teach!

I find the irony just spectacular in the old adage..“Those who can’t do,.. teach!”  And yes by the way, it’s one of the only Alma maters I myself am a member of. And what is one of the most coveted benefits of being part of this elite fraternal group?

Never having to attend a 25 year reunion!

Mark

© Mark St.Cyr   All Rights reserved

From My Perspective: 9/11 Life and Death

In remembrance of  Peter Hashem, Flight 11, Seat 20A
Struck the North Tower at 8:46:40 am EST.

This column is different for me. This one is a little more personal. Unlike my usual columns, this is to not only give some perspective to myself, in a way it might share some with you also.

The only thing I can say to start is: Life is precious. And, when it ends for what ever the reason, at any time, chances are you will not have any control of the timing or the circumstances. So live to your fullest everyday. Regardless of where you are in life for the unexpected, and the horrific, can happen to you, not just someone else.

When the tragedy on 9/11 happened, it changed many of us, if not all. Like most, I remember exactly where I was. I also remember standing in line at my local bank moments after it happened, watching the televisions while waiting in line in utter disbelief along with everyone else in the bank. For all of us – time had stopped.

The days and months that followed with the stories of heroism and the outpouring of help and support are well documented. For myself, living in New England at the time, one had either gone to Ground Zero personally as to try to offer any help or, someone you knew had.

I owned a local deli at the time. The owner of a company which supplied me with breads went back and forth to Ground Zero (GZ)  nightly to pass out muffins and pastries to the rescue teams at working through the night only to drive back to New Hampshire and then start his own deliveries.

No one complained. No one ever mentioned how hard it was. No one was looking for any credit. It was just done. Period! That’s just the way it was and how everyone viewed it.

On that day many of us changed. We viewed life a little differently from that point. Life suddenly hit you with laser focus. You could no longer trivialize the sage of: life is precious. For you now clearly understood the meaning of: death can come at any moment, from anywhere.

No longer was this an esoteric exercise. This was life at its core, and it was playing out in front of our eyes leaving no gray area to ponder. You either got it – or you didn’t. There was no middle ground.

To honor that tragic event, I myself set new rules, new guidelines in how I was going to go forward in life. I decided I would live life – my way, by my rules. And, if I were to die today – so be it.

I could say this because I truly was going ensure I was living.  Not just some bystander in life trying to merely exist or, just get by like so many other do. Those are not the reasons why we’re given life. It’s given to us – to live, to be alive. It’s not to play in some endless game of defense only as to: go along to get along. Rather, it’s to use what ever talents we have or, develop them and push ourselves to not just survive this game but rather to play on offense and thrive! That, is the epitome of living in my world.

September 11, 2001 changed my life forever, Yet, to honor the lives of the people who perished on that tragic day, I decided to use it as a reminder that while on this Earth, I should make sure I was engaged in living.

Live everyday. Take nothing, nor anyone for granted. Live today as to chase the dreams of tomorrow. For if we do that one simple step, whether we reach those dreams or not…

Regardless of when our ticket gets called, it will be known that we had lived.

For you see, Peter was not just someone who tragically died on that day. He was the younger brother of my close friends growing up.
Life doesn’t just happen to someone else. It happens to us all.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr

From Vacations to Turmoil…Now What?

Labor Day goes out with a bang, and the work week starts out with a boom that rivals most July 4th celebrations. Some are returning from sand filled beaches, and rolling waves only to feel they’ve stepped in quicksand surrounded by rising seas tormented by Neptune himself. “Hey it’s great to be back!” you’ll hear, followed by some murmuring sound that resembles someone driving on a flat tire. My advice? Don’t fight it, embrace it.

Yes I understand how much it stinks coming back from vacation to a stack of papers or reports. Yes I know the feeling of thinking “Was it worth it? I’m so far behind now!” Or even the dreaded “You’ve got to be kidding me, they did what while I was gone?” (That was always my favorite.) But now there’s really only one thing to do. Fix it.

Embrace the fact that you’re needed. That’s probably the reason there’s turmoil. Use the opportunity to analyze where you need to delegate more. Maybe you’re allowing people to rely too much on you. Maybe you need to empower more of your staff. Maybe you can use this time to clear out customers that are no longer profitable, but are just high maintenance. You get the idea. If you’re returning to an overload of problems instead of just a getting back up to speed,  you need to take a hard look at the what, why, and how of these things.

Use the opportunity to jettison these toxic variables, and send them on a permanent vacation themselves so you can get back to work, and enjoy yourself again. Work might not be easy at times, but it shouldn’t feel like after vacation you’re returning to the dungeon either. After all, you have the keys.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights Reserved

 

Are Your Views Biased By Your Computer?

Self validation is a wonderful thing. However it can also be a double-edged sword.

If you’re like me, you probably noticed in speaking (if you can get a word in edgewise) with others a real hardline on any given subject with statements and facts to help forge their arguments. But if you ask them where they are getting the information for their viewpoints. a funny little trait is starting to emerge if you listen. A response might take this form, ” I read it everywhere. It’s all over the news, the papers. I read articles all the time and they all say the same thing.” Interesting I’ll say. But then I follow-up with, ” I’ve seen that also, but I also read in (fill in the blank) the exact opposite findings in their research. Where do they go wrong?” The usual response? ” Oh I don’t read that.”  To where my mind goes hmmmmmmm.

It’s not that people are wrong necessarily, but there seems to be a phenom manifesting that’s going under the radar. With today’s computer generated algorithms in anticipating content that you may like, based on content you have already viewed, is it not fair to say it can deliver biased news or opinions with an alarming overload?

Social networking is just that. It’s social. It wants to fit you, and everyone else into a collective sphere of thoughts, and likes. It wants to help push the comfort of the clique, the inside group, the group of similar likes or dislikes with the algorithmic efficiency of keeping out what it thinks you might not like. Sound far-fetched? Try this experiment yourself. Just go do a Google® search on anything you are interested in, but use more than 5 words or so in the query box and watch the results change as you’re typing. Try doing this but don’t just speed type it in and hit enter. Do it methodically. What you’re trying to do is watch the results as the algorithms try to anticipate your needs. For some the results can be glaring. For others the results can be alarming. You might not have noticed just how much you computer knows about you. Social networks, search queries, items you’ve bought, your friends, what they’ve looked for, what they’ve bought, all this quantifiable information is trying to express itself every time you’re at the computer. Why? Because it believes your biases are exactly the best thing to deliver, regardless of anything else. And why shouldn’t it, if you reward its bringing you only your biased information with looking for more of the same.

Gives a modern-day feel to the old adage, ” Show me who you hang around with, and I can tell who you are.”

But I might be biased in that opinion.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights Reserved