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Feedback

A theme in all my orientation classes is the primacy of feedback in communication: how you give it, how you receive it.

When you gratefully welcome feedback into your life from colleagues, you grow as a professional, because you learn. When you usefully provide feedback to your colleagues, they get better as professionals, because they learn.

That’s why defensiveness and unfriendliness are killers when it comes to the work of communication.

A short while ago a friend forwarded me a short memoir written by Phil Mott, a mutual friend from our university years four decades ago. It covers this theme:

My girlfriend encouraged me to write and set me up with the Prodigal Sun editor [Bob Basil], the entertainment section of the paper. He assigned me a rather harmless assignment of reviewing the movie American Gigolo.  I wrote the review and sat down with one of the editors to review the article. Bob was a kind-eyed soul with a talent for writing and an affection for the spirit of Jack Kerouac. His stories took him on wild trips riding rails and visiting the less fortunate of the world. He sat next to me with a red pen and wrote more in red than I had double-spaced typed. I was crestfallen. He wrecked me in ten minutes and crushed any dream that I ever had of writing anything but a to-do list ever again. He then looked up at me with a smile and told me “looks pretty good. I like it. You made some nice observations”.  His support was greatly appreciated and kept me from jumping out of a window. He passed the review on to the copy department, red marks and all, and, just like that, I was a writer.

In giving me permission to reprint this passage, Phil wrote, “I would love it if my addled brain remembrance is of some use. Take it as a grand compliment that your advice stuck with me all of these years. It helped me give feedback to my own college students.”

This was a good place to visit before meeting friends for lunch

In all the excitement concluding my last visit to picturesque New West, I forgot to mention something I found out with some chagrin, that Pacific Pawn – located by the SkyTrain station – is no more. Unlike many pawn shops, it had almost no musical instruments, but even I had to marvel at its *huge* selection of tools.

The address also housed Statcom Bailiff Services Inc.; the synergy tickled me. I don’t know whether this enterprise is still a going concern elsewhere.

My prodigal URL

When I moved to Vancouver in 1996, I became a communications specialist for public and private companies mostly headquartered in this city. I wrote management discussions for annual and quarterly reports, literally hundreds of news releases, and lots of material for online audiences in chatrooms on Usenet and elsewhere. With a couple of partners, I also created two or three dozen websites for clients; these were among the first in their industries.

Part of the fun of these latter projects was registering not just appropriate domain names for these companies, but other URLs that *might* be appropriate for them one day. On top of that, we made sure to register domain names that could possibly be confused for those our clients used, so that their competitors couldn’t get ahold of them for the purpose of confounding investors and regulators.

I thus spent a fair amount of capital collecting URLs, mostly for clients and potential clients but also for many for my own endeavours. This week I learned that I almost lost one – PigeonPark.net (used for various literary projects) – that I have had for 15 or so years. (Its expiration notice landed in my spam folder – yikes!) With the help of my friends at Uniserve Communications (which hosts most of my websites), I saved it in the nick of time – whew!

Here’s a blast from the past, from when I first announced the site on basil.CA:

16 August 03:  In You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown! the late Charles M. Schultz writes, “There must be different kinds of loneliness, or at least different degrees of loneliness. …  The most terrifying loneliness is not experienced by everyone and can be understood only by a few.  I compare the panic in this kind of loneliness to the dog we see running frantically down the road pursuing the family car.  He is not really being left behind, for the family knows it is to return, but for that moment in his limited understanding, he is being left alone forever, and he has to run and run to survive.  It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”

Comix artist Seth illustrates these words in a remarkable series of panels called “Good Grief!” published in Drawn and Quarterly (Volume 2, Number 4).  I came across these panels many years ago and have been looking for them ever since, locating them in my disorganized files only this morning.  I now realize that my Pigeon Park Sentences were variations on Schultz’s theme, that I could not have even started without its echo in my imagination. 

“It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”

Merry morning reading …

… from two favourite bloggers.

Atrios:

I do think one element of conservatism is imagining that they’d win the post-apocalyptic feudal games. …

Let’s suppose you’re minding your business in a lovely suburb of Honolulu. Honolulu gets ALL BLOWED UP. But, hey, you don’t die in the initial fireball. OK let’s say you don’t die of radiation poisoning within the next week or two. You’ve survived! That cancer will be along in a few years, but, hey, no worries for now.

Best case scenario, you live in current day Puerto Rico for a bit. No electricity, no water, but, hey, you’re alive. Also, nobody is going to get near your radiation zone. No rescues, no supplies, no nothing. Enjoy your last couple of weeks on Earth, I guess. I suppose you can forage for fruit, for a bit, and as a good conservative you own guns so you can shoot all the “looters” who are trying to take “your” fruit, but…

No, I do not want to survive the initial blast.

Clarissa:

A cultural apparatus always arises to serve the needs of capital. It’s not a conspiracy of any sort, of course. People intuit what would make them more competitive and promote these qualities in themselves, declaring them socially desirable.

What does capital currently need? A rootless labor force that won’t he held back by networks of human relationships from picking up and going whenever capital needs it at this point.

In order to create such a labor force, human relationships need to be devalued and come to be seen as fraught, dangerous, and really not worth the hassle. Remember all these checklists of “How to Support a Bereaved Colleague?” or “How NOT to Talk to a Special Needs Child’s Parent” variety? Obviously, nobody is going to memorize all those laundry lists of prohibitions and exhortations for every occasion. It’s easier to pretend that the bereaved colleague or SNC parent don’t exist.

Another strategy is to displace liquid capital’s qualities, such as unpredictability and endless mutability, onto human relationships. It’s not capital that’s making you feel confused and like you can’t keep up. Oh no, not at all. It’s the changing nature of dating norms and workplace flirtation.

Workplace as a space where people work together for protracted periods of time is positioned as extremely dangerous. Capital prefers self-employed, alienated workers who simply don’t have colleagues they know in person and could, say, form a union with. The next best thing (for capital but clearly not for workers) is a revolving-door office where nobody stays long enough to create any meaningful links.

Enjoy your day, everyone!

[Addendum: My daily feed.]

“If you are pro Black, pro Hispanic, or pro Asian, why don’t you say so … ?”

After we got back in touch with each other in 2009, Lorraine sent me the correspondence below – between me and a ‘literary agent’ – which she had kept after leaving Prometheus Books decades before.

Lorraine wrote me: “In one of my periodic cleaning binges, lo — my Prometheus ‘DO YOU BELIEVE THIS’ file re-emerged this week, after a disappearance of nigh onto twenty years! The attached provided me with a cascading set of giggles.  I hope you will still find the exchange as amusing as I did.” I did, and do. Thank you, Lorraine.

(I’ve obscured my antagonist’s information.)

Note #1 to my students: The approach I chose here is generally not recommended for your own workplace correspondence. Please stay courteous! Your goal, almost always, is to foster and maintain relationships.

Note #2 to my students: You also might want to avoid misspelling *your own job title* in workplace correspondence. I was the senior “Acquisitions” editor for a year before I remembered that “acquisitions” has a “c” in it. (That was around the same time I was shocked to see that “smooth” wasn’t spelled “smoothe.”)

PS – The “LMP” is The Literary Marketplace guide.

aquisitions

johnagenty