Archive for September, 2013

Federal Bureau of Common Sense

September 28, 2013

Editor’s Note:  It was suggested on Facebook that there ought to be created a Federal Department of Common Sense.   This made me wonder what a Federal Bureau of Common Sense would look like and sound?  That is, what would pass the bar to be judged ‘common sense’ at the Federal level, that is to a fully tenured bureaucrat? Here’s a stab at the start:

It’s just common sense…


Where we know better, but are willing to help.

Where we know better, but are willing to help.


Part One:  Getting an audience.

“Wait in line.  Wait in line.  Wait in line!

“I can’t help you until you’ve waited in line.”

“You can make a request by filling out one of the forms over there.”

“Go back in line, please.”

“This window is not open.  I can’t help you.”

“There’s the line.”

“Your problem is that you have filled our the wrong form.”

“If you leave the line, you lose your place.”

“Don’t raise your voice.  It won’t help.”

“I’m telling you what the law means.”

“Without proper identification, I can’t help you.”

“We don’t take personal checks.”

“We don’t take credit cards.”

“You must have exact change.”

“Take a number and then wait in line.”

Photo from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

September 19, 2013

Japanese Gardener1

Want a Better Character? / Find a Good Japanese Gardener


            I’m not a big fan of “If it bleeds, it leads,” psychology.

Perhaps it’s lazy thinking.  Or perhaps it’s a lack of information.  Or perhaps it’s a lack of imagination.  But it seems to me, people often rush to grasp at the largest, most traumatic historical event for explanations of the creating force behind, for an example, something like character.

To my thinking, people grow much too slowly to be influenced largely by extreme events.  We are more like trees.  A storm might break us, or topple us, or shear off a few branches – but short of that, it hasn’t changed the trees nature much.  What changes and creates our natures are slow, consistent events over a long period of time.  Perhaps this is because I’ve never witnessed a person’s character changed radically by one event – though I’ve heard stories of such.  We’ve all heard every sort of story!  But I have witnessed a bonsai, and studied somewhat their creation by the patient Japanese gardener.  And I’ve observed people.

Japanese Gardener5

What I have witnessed – as far as people are concerned – is the power of Operant Conditioning, (as I remember them calling it in my day.)   (Perhaps they still do.)  Behavioral Modification was quite the rage when I was in school.  And while it may not be in the forefront of thought today – just because something isn’t in the news, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  Little by little and bit by bit, it seems to me, is how our character is formed and grown.

Japanese Gardener3

One of my favorite stories of my student days was of the students in a psychology lecture who would look down every time the psychology professor turned from the blackboard to address them – eventually causing the professor to avoid looking towards his audience altogether.  Of course the lecture subject was Operant Conditioning.

Which brings to mind a most fascinating fact regarding Behavioral Modification:  It doesn’t matter whether the subject knows that their behavior is being ‘modified’.

            A favorite story when I was on the medical wards was of the doctors doing their rounds for the Pain Clinic.  Studies had shown that when the patient spoke about his discomfort, it actually increased the level of the patient’s perceived pain.  So these doctors and interns, when visiting their patients on rounds, after asking the patient how they were doing that day – would turn to look away whenever the patient spoke about their pain.  This went on a couple days with one patient, until he finally broke off in mid-complaint to shout, “I know what you sonofabitches are doing.  Whenever I talk about how much I hurt, you all turn to look out the goddamned window!”


Being a dad is a fascinating business.  One of the oddest things I’ve witnessed, after a couple years of being in the job – is that your child will begin to act and do as you do.  (Sometimes bringing you up a little short, for example, as when they lick their fingers at the table.)  And even teenagers, I’ve noticed, will modify their own behavior – even if it’s in a way they wouldn’t particularly choose.  I’ve come to think that most parenting books could be greatly truncated, if they only advised the parents to ‘become’ whatever they want their child to ‘be’.  Apparently a powerful figure, (like a parent), thrives within a powerful aura of behavioral mandates, to which those around are minute by minute bent into submission.


Which brings me to the takeaway of this essay.  There are a lot of books out there explaining how to become something we currently are not; how to change ourselves.  But, it would seem that one of the best ways of ‘improving ourselves’ would be to place ourselves in a situation which bends us to be as we would like to become – especially if our own ‘will’ and ‘discipline’ is not the strongest, or if we are just lazy.  Find a good Japanese gardener.

Japanese Gardener4


I can’t think of a simpler way of creating who we would wish to be, than clustering around people who we admire.

Isn’t this just what kids do?

Photos pulled from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

September 15, 2013


Circles of Intimacy / Where the Jobs Are


            Hiring takes place within differing circles of intimacy, which the forces of supply and demand determine, depending upon what the market for labor is.  (What a sentence.)

But the less companies desire labor, the shorter distance they will go to find it.  This struck me as I was chatting with a friend who is a technical writer.  He began his career in the tech boom times.  If you had a credible resume, then they wanted you.  And if you were competent, a full-time job was fairly certain.

Things have changed nowadays.  Whether it’s the economic downturn or outsourcing, having the resume doesn’t open the lock anymore.  You don’t come in through the personnel department.  There’s ‘a freeze’.  A large majority of companies aren’t looking for technical writers.

There are many parallels here with what has happened in the copier industry.

In the salad days of Xerox, salespeople were forking in the commissions.  Companies ran to Xerox for their equipment.  But nowadays our dealership has a large presence in Seattle, but it is extremely rare for anyone to call out of the blue looking for equipment.  Established customers might call up their sales reps to discuss an acquisition, but that’s as good as it gets.  Most often it’s the other way around; the sales rep calls the established customer to alert them to a special offer, or that a lease is coming up, or that they are paying too much for overages (and need a bigger machine).  The point is, the salesperson has to get in beside the prospect to convince them that they need new equipment.  The days of a customer needing something and then going out to buy it are long gone.  In other words, professional sales, as it is understood by the normal educated person, is not as it has been explained to be.  People do not need something, and then approach a salesperson to buy it.

Perhaps this misunderstanding for how sales works is because for most of us, this is how sales does work.  We need milk; we go to the store.  We need a house; we go to a realtor.  We need a meal; we go to a restaurant.  We need clothes; we go to Nordstroms.  This is not, however, how it works for copiers, and in many others areas of business.  As one newer, very bright, copier salesman said, flinging up his hands in exasperation, “I don’t know how anyone makes any money in this business!”

They do make money – but not where this salesperson had the point of sale located.  He was fishing way downstream.  He was calling people – and they were telling him they didn’t need a copier.  His ‘pool’ was all fished out.

Nowadays most of the prospects I call will say they don’t need any equipment.  To make money nowadays, a salesperson has to build a sale.  Over the phone the salesperson must qualify the prospect, that is, determine whether there is a possible sale there.  And then the salesperson must get an appointment with the prospect in order to assemble a need.  Few customers know they are paying $200/month too much for old equipment – except for those the salesperson who has gotten inside to discover this has alerted.  Suddenly, this salesperson has created a new need; they have created a possible sale where none existed before.

As I was chatting with my technical writer friend, it struck me that the same forces were at play.  Many tech companies no longer believe they need technical writers.  These are the day of Google and Wikipedia and crowd sourcing and forum threads….   A good resume cannot open this closed door.  Moreover, once hired, doing your job well will not necessarily keep you hired.  You must also have a presence within the company as someone who knows about technical writing issues and are worth speaking to.  By being taken seriously by those who decide to hire technical writers, the technical writer can use his insights to create himself a job.  But the job is created within a much more select circle of intimacy.  And to find that job, a lot of what you do is to create it.

Long ago my Engineer brother, who had a job in New Mexico, wanted to move to the Seattle area.   So he applied for a job with Boeing.  He applied through regular channels.  After he had sent in his application, he got to talking with another engineer who worked at Boeing and who was currently working on a project my brother was uniquely qualified to do.  The guy could really use my brother’s help.  So the fellow crafted a labor request for a position my brother was uniquely qualified to fill.  Soon, my brother was hired.  Six months later he got a letter, forwarded to him from New Mexico, from the Boeing Personnel Department.  They were sorry to inform him, the form letter stated, but there was no need for Engineers with his qualifications at this time.

This is what I am talking about.

Photo by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch…

September 8, 2013

How to Succeed: Part Two

When to Quit?

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man


Too many artistic life choices and too many ahh-ha! moments have left their mark on this poor asthete.


            Self promotion will only take us so far.  Sooner or later the Universe has to step in and promote us, if we are to succeed.  For example, I’m writing a serialized fiction story which I uploaded onto Authonomy, a serialized fiction webpage.  I created my best cover.  I wrote my best blurb.  For a month it just sat there.  It wasn’t until another author noted, and recommended it, that I began acquiring readers.

I remember Merle Haggard announcing at one point that he was hoping to win the Entertainer of the Year Award at the Country Music Awards Festival for the coming year.  Now I love Merle, but a notable entertainer he is not.  His style is bluegrass stoicism.  He’s as flashy as a wooden Indian.  I remember him saying, when he announced his ambition, that if he didn’t toot his horn, nobody was going to toot it for him.  That’s pretty much how it turned out.

But Merle learned.  And we can learn. 

Most advice on how to become successful discusses what we should do.  The problem is most of us are what we are, and so, we necessarily do what we do.  Character is destiny.  Human beings are not as plastic as those sitting across from us think we ought to be, or should be, or could be.  I know, your mother always told you that you could be anything you want to be.  Well, if you still believe that, stop reading – or, more to the point, why are you reading this?  Head back to Facebook and enjoy all those pictures of kittens.  There is usually a fairly narrow range of activities which the normal person is good at performing, and an even narrower range of activities at which they are very good at performing – if, in fact, there are any.  (A certain number of us aren’t very good at much of anything.  …Here’s a tissue.)

More useful advice would tell us what to quit.  Because anyone with a little resolve can do that.

Know Yourself

            Let me expand.  Before you become successful, you have to have been unsuccessful – or ‘not yet successful’…   And to stop being that, you first have to quit.  An old Jewish household furnishings estimator in one of Arthur Miller’s plays remarked, “The first step on the road to wisdom is to stop.  Whatever you are doing, stop it.”  I can’t think of better advice.  When you remove something from your life, it creates a vacuum.  And because ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ – this in turn employs the tremendous pressure of the Universe in a sort of jujitsu maneuver to re-fill this vacant space.   The effort required is all on the front end, in emptying yourself of what is burdensome, in creating that vacuum.  After that, the Universe acts as a big buffet, pushing stuff upon you, until you select.  Here again wisdom is required not to re-fill yourself with a past mistake.   It’s the same maxim as is choosing a mate:  Off with the old before on with the new.

So, how do we trim out the deadwood?  A  problem to becoming successful is deciding what to quit?  Should you quit this, or should you quit that?  Or, is it just a bit of this and that which you should quit?  Understanding this, will also help you to prevent acquiring another mistake – it could even prevent you from wasting your life!  Something which hangs over all artists like the Sword of Damocles.

So, how do we trim out the deadwood?

One way is to ask ourselves what we enjoy doing?  We are usually fairly good at something we enjoy doing.  So this first step is pretty easy and quite enjoyable.  Stop doing things you don’t want to do!  

The second way to prune your self is to look into a social mirror.  That is, try to see ourselves as others do.  Though asking them how they see us is called ‘prompting the witness’, and gives skewed results.  It’s best to just listen and observe.  If someone says you have a great ability to tell a story, then keep telling stories, and perhaps try to contextualize other ways you have of communicating in a storytelling manner.

Once a person discovers what they are good at, they simply need to do that with energy, and success is at its likeliest to follow.

So here you go.  Here’s my advice.  Just quit doing that!  Find where the deadwood is in your personality and trim it out!  Let the light in.  Let your green parts flourish!

Photo by Carl Nelson

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