Questions for Google

Dear Google,

Why?Screen shot of guy from Hyundai "Glasses" commercial

Why do you spend money and countless hours working on frivolous projects like driverless cars and glasses to talk to (a.k.a. things no one on our planet, or any other, has need for, or will ever use), and torturing marketers by playing games with your algorithm, when you could spend a fraction of that money and effort and develop something truly useful?

Something like, oh, I don’t know . . . maybe a universal online job application? 

I understand you guys may not be familiar with the whole job-search process (being geniuses and all), so I’ll give you the quick version:

  1. Lose your job (it sucks — you’ll just have to take my word for it)
  2. Scour the Internet daily, looking for job postings (also not a picnic, because — no thanks to search algorithms — it’s not easy to find listings for which you’re a match, so you end up having to read postings that sound really great for about three paragraphs, until you get to the end and see that, oops — you can’t apply for this one after all, because you don’t have the requisite 10 years’ experience raising chinchillas, which is apparently now a requirement for <insert your job title here>)
  3. Eventually, find a match (WOO-HOO — it’s the little victories, at this point)
  4. Upload your resume

Let’s stop here, because this is where the process shoots off the rails.

The resume upload step is usually prompted by some very innocent-sounding instructional copy along the lines of, “Upload your resume to have our system fill out the application for you.” Hey, that sounds nice. I just click, and I’m done!

(I filled out one application recently with messaging that read, “Now just upload your resume and fill out our five-minute job application.” Ninety+ minutes and one system glitch later, I shut down my computer and gave up.)

Anyone who’s ever filled out an online job application knows what happens next. There’s no way in hell your information is getting close to populating the right fields in the online application. Not even if you create a special version of your resume with the exact same field names in the exact same order as the online form. I know. I got desperate enough to try it.

Instead, the software drops job titles into company-name fields, and cleverly pulls phrases from your job descriptions to create positions that don’t exist, with companies that don’t exist.

Next is the cleanup phase, where, in addition to fixing all the errors I just described, you are also required to key in additional information no adult ever includes on a resume. Details like the phone number and street address of each employer (usually with the street address, city, state, and ZIP Code in separate fields, just to make it extra inconvenient), as well as the title, phone number, and email address of every supervisor you’ve ever had.

The last thing any job hunter needs is to waste 90 minutes or more typing irrelevant information into a hideous online form that hasn’t been redesigned since 1998, only to have it all wiped out at 11:53 p.m. by a system error.

Want to know something else no one needs? DRIVERLESS CARS.

Photo of a car accident caused by a parking-assist feature.

Actual accident caused by a car’s parking-assist feature.

Humans can’t reliably manufacture a car guaranteed not to explode, shoot off a tire, or self-accelerate with a driver at the wheel. So I think it’s safe to say that we aren’t capable of manufacturing a driverless vehicle that will work any better.

And even if we could, we don’t need it. It’s not a life necessity. Anyone who cannot drive themselves somewhere figured out a way around that problem a long time ago, and it didn’t involve inventing a new vehicle.

If I get the urge to sit in the back seat of my car and play with my phone instead of driving, I can call a taxi. (Not Uber. My parents taught me not to hitchhike, so no thanks, psycho killer. You may be closer to me than the nearest taxi, but I’ll wait.)

But back to the application. Let’s be glass-half-full people for a moment, and pretend the completed application goes through perfectly. What happens when the HR person attempts to call those supervisors, many of whom no longer work for those companies? And what about the companies that don’t exist anymore?

Time wasted by the applicant and HR. That’s some real product development genius at work.

Photo of a life-sized remote-controlled vehicleSo, Google, while you bogart all the brain power in Silicon Valley to play with giant killer toys, we lowly, non-Google workers are stuck out here on our own to deal with an antiquated, frustrating system of applying for jobs. This is a real problem — a real pain, requiring a real solution. A solution your people probably have the ability to provide.

But it’s not a sexy enough project for you, is it? Streamlining the job-search process for millions of people just lacks any kind of RoboCop flash.

You’ve probably got your own version of Pokemon Go to worry about anyway.


I’ve picked on Google enough. The software is bad, and they have the power to improve it. So do the makers of all that crapware.

I’m sure some control is in the hands of employers, though. Such crapware is usually designed to offer the user the ability to select which fields to require, and which to leave as optional. Knowing this, I have to ask employers, why must you have the phone number of the shoe store I worked at right out of college (which closed some time during the late ’90s)? What crucial insight into my work ethic or knowledge of marketing or communications is that bit of information going to give you?

I, and probably most other potential employees, have taken the time to craft a thoughtfully designed resume. But why? Employers don’t seem to be interested in what that care, effort, and attention to detail could equate to within their organizations. They’d rather I upload a sloppy, one-size-fits-all, text-only file to their 15-year-old Taleo app, then spend anywhere from one to two hours typing that entire file into the online application by hand, character by character, because Taleo’s crapware can’t distinguish between an employer name and a job description.

A company’s desire to put its applicants through this pointless exercise speaks volumes about how it regards its employees, and how little respect its management has for anyone’s time other than their own. Requiring an experienced professional to fill out the equivalent of a part-time-fast-food job application is an insult.

Even worse is when you go to the effort of including instructions like “Do not write ‘See resume’ in your answers” at the top of each position entry. That says you know you’re frustrating people. They’ve tried to tell you, and you don’t care.

“Show ’em who’s boss” seems to be your philosophy. Wow — great mission statement. If you hire me, will that be printed on the back of my business card?

I spend a lot of time carefully re-crafting and redesigning my resume each time I add a new position to it. That document is my presentation of me. When you force me to ditch that resume, you’re telling me you don’t care about what makes me different from other applicants. You just want me to fit inside your boxes. If what I have to say doesn’t fit into the box, you’re not interested. And if I can’t jump through your hoops, no matter how lame or pointless, I’m not worthy of your consideration. You might as well just insert a photo of your entire company giving us the number-one sign.

Your company might be very successful. But if I’ve described your online application process, that unpleasant experience is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of work to be done within your organization. If you were to take it on, you could be even more successful, and make even more money.

But good enough is good enough, isn’t it? That seems to be the American work ethic now. And, hey — as long as you have your own giant remote-control toy to ride around in when you get home, what else matters?

Image of a luxury yacht made to look like a tropical paradise

Too many customers? Thin the herd with your loyalty program!

I’m not a hugely brand-loyal consumer, unless I really, really love something. I can get pretty passionate about brands I love.
Image of Sprayway Glass Cleaner
If the topic of glass cleaner comes up in conversation, I’ll start rambling about Sprayway, and how I affectionately refer to theirs as “the glass cleaner of the gods.” (I love the stuff so much that I happily paid $5 a can for it when Restoration Hardware was the only place I could get it. It’s now one of the few things I’ll set foot in WalMart for, as they sell it for $1.97. I always pick up several cans to make it worth the agony.)

I am equally passionate about brands I hate. If you mention you’re planning a trip to Mexico, I’ll steer you far away from the El Dorado Royale in Playa Paraiso.

Are people still boycotting Chick-Fil-A these days? It doesn’t matter. I am. Me, fly Spirit Airlines? I’d rather die in a crash on another airline. 

Turning customers into brand advocates is supposed to be the raison d’être for marketers. So I find it perplexing when a company seems hell-bent on making people despise them. It’s happened to me, and I always take the message to heart. Once I’ve been wronged by a brand, I neither forgive nor forget.


Brand Meets Girl

It was 1990 when my mom introduced me to a store called Ulta3. The name was off-putting (what exactly is an “ulta,” and why must it be cubed?), but I loved the store. Born long before Sephora, Ulta3 was, at the time, the only store wholly devoted to beauty products. It was positioned as a discounter to compete with stores like Drug Emporium (it carried drug-store brands only, not department-store brands).

Photo of a retail store interior.

The original Ulta3 store interior looked a lot like the store in this photo. Apropos of a discount retailer.


Brand Gets Girl

Ulta3 introduced a rewards program. It didn’t cost anything to join, and I liked shopping there, so I figured, why not? I could buy my makeup, facial cleanser, and hair and nail products at one store, and at a great price; have fun looking at all the pretty colors; plus earn rewards. Total win-win proposition. The program was novel for its time too (this was the first retail-store loyalty program I’d come across).

Brand Tries to Lose Girl

The rewards program was crap.

It was structured poorly, for one thing. Instead of earning points, you earned “certificates,” and your spending only accumulated toward certificates for three months at a time. So, every quarter, your account was wiped clean, and you started over at zero.

If you made one big makeup splurge during a quarter, you could reach the one-certificate level. Beyond that, you had to have serious disposable income and a makeup addiction to match. I only made it to the next level once in roughly 15 years (I think the next reward level was three certificates; if you earned two, you had to choose two one-certificate rewards).

The rewards themselves were reminiscent of the weight-guessing scene from “The Jerk.” You got to select from glorious prizes like a bottle of clear nail polish, generic mascara, and an emery board. There were about six rewards available at the first level. If you went nuts and spent something like $150, you could hit three certificates, and get a generic lipstick. Woo-hoo!

Image of Steve Martin in the 1979 movie

“Take a chance and win some crap.”

When you went to the store to redeem your certificate, the only way to find out what rewards were available was to ask a cashier (no Internet yet). He/she would hand you an oversized collateral piece roughly the dimensions of one of those Scholastic Book Club foldout mini-posters. The size made it inconvenient to store anywhere. I’d always end up folding it into quarters to fit it in my purse or bag. It would clutter up my kitchen countertop until I got tired of moving it around, at which point I’d throw it out.

Needless to say, the program didn’t motivate me. But I liked the store and felt like the prices were good, so I continued to shop there in spite of it.

Key Takeaway:
When customers shop at your store in spite of your
loyalty program, your loyalty program isn’t working.

After I’d spent about a decade working in marketing — on loyalty programs, no less — I went from being unmotivated by Ulta’s program to wholly disgusted with it (by that time, they had dropped the mysterious “3” from their name). It needed simplifying, and it needed rewards that were both desirable and attainable. A points system that would reward you with coupons for dollars off purchases would have been easy to understand and far more compelling.

So I wrote to Ulta. I told them I’d been a loyal customer and member of their program since it started, and that I was dissatisfied with the program. I explained that it was nearly impossible to spend enough in their store during a three-month period to earn a reward worth having, which meant the program didn’t do what a loyalty program is supposed to do: Encourage repeat business.

At that point, I was simply a mildly frustrated loyal customer, hoping to get a response along the lines of, “We understand, and we’re working on it.” I wanted confirmation that the company was aware of the program’s shortcomings, and that improvements were in the works.

The poorly worded response I received from Ulta turned my mild frustration into anger. This was the gist of it:

“I’m sorry you’re unhappy with our program. Most of our customers love it.
Thank you for participating in Ulta Rewards.”

Huh?

There is absolutely no way most of their customers loved that program. The only customers benefitting from it were those who spent at least a couple hundred dollars a month at Ulta, and that couldn’t have been a significant portion of their customer base. (Remember, at the time, Ulta was positioned as a discounter, competing with drugstore chains. People dropping hundreds on cosmetics and hair products on a regular basis weren’t buying CoverGirl and Revlon, and they weren’t doing it at Ulta.)

And what the $#%& kind of response was that anyway?

A proper response to a customer email like mine would have:

  1. Stated that my feedback was appreciated, and would be taken into consideration in their ongoing evaluations of the program’s effectiveness;
  2. Recapped the benefits of the program as it stood; and
  3. Offered a helpful tip about how to maximize program benefits.

Despite my anger, I continued to patronize Ulta, though I shopped there less frequently. Unfortunately for me, they had become the only store that still carried my favorite facial cleanser, so I felt backed into a corner.

That is, I did, until around 2007 or so, when Ulta stepped in it again.

Brand Tells Girl What She Can Do With Her Business

Image of an Ulta store interior by Chipman Design Architecture.

With apologies to Chipman Design Architecture: Lovely interior, but no one asked me if I wanted it before telling me I had to foot the bill for it. (http://www.chipmandesignarch.com/retail-planning-design-ulta.php)

The next blunder was innocent compared to the email exchange, but it was the final straw for me. This time, what got to me was a store remodel — the second since around 2000 — combined with a gradual onboarding of luxury brands.

The first remodel was nice, and I thought, “It’s about time.” With the remodel, of course, prices went up on everything. No more discount prices, but they hadn’t gone crazy.

The second remodel, however, was purely a waste of money from my perspective. It was too soon after the first, so it was cosmetically unnecessary. Prices went up again so Ulta could move their checkout area and put in more upscale fixtures.

It was obvious that the aim of this remodel was to go highbrow to compete with Sephora. It was bad marketing, which is stupid, and I don’t tolerate stupid.*

So again, I wrote to Ulta. I restated my longstanding loyalty and dissatisfaction with their program, recounted my past unsatisfactory interaction with their customer service team, and explained my concern with the remodel and resulting hike in prices. This time, NO response. Crickets.

Girl Takes the Hint

I quit shopping at Ulta. I’d rather go to Sephora or a department store and pay more than set foot in that store. And I can now get my facial cleanser for less at Amazon.

Ulta finally revamped their rewards program a couple of years ago. I don’t know anything about how it works now, and I don’t care.

Too little, too late.

Deconstructing the Crime

Why does this kind of thing happen? Ineptitude. Or laziness.

When you roll out a loyalty program, there’s a chance it will take off, and a chance it will fail. What most likely happened with Ulta was that people joined for the same reason I did: the “Why not?” factor. So membership numbers probably looked good.

Then, by having the cashiers ask customers if they were members at checkout, Ulta was able to spur participation and continued enrollment.

Where the company made its first mistake was in equating these numbers with success; in concluding that participation meant “our customers love it.” In all the time I was an active member (roughly 20 years), I never received a survey of any kind about the program, nor did I receive any type of member communication beyond the Ulta sales circular that came with my glorious reward certificate attached. So they had no clue what I or any other customer thought of the program.

And the lack of communication was mistake #2, and it’s a huge one. Because right behind the goal of encouraging repeat business is the goal of gathering customer contact information.

“Respond to customer emails” isn’t a communications plan. Communications of this sort — reactive communications — should compose but a fraction of your library. The reason you create a mechanism for capturing customer contact information is so that you can market to your customers. (“Aha! It’s a profit deal!”)

Mistake #3 was the very poorly written response to my email. Having written communications of this type myself, I know that they aren’t written on the fly. A company has an approval process for all communications. So this very rude communication to a very loyal customer was approved by multiple stakeholders. Either it was intended to be rude, or everyone in the approval chain was inept.

Mistake #4, therefore, is not having taken the customer communications discipline seriously enough to hire competent people to handle the job.

Mistake #5 was not responding at all to my second communication.

Finally, what the company doesn’t understand is that while I may have been one of a tiny handful of people to ever complain about the program — or perhaps even the only person to have complained — I wasn’t exactly typical of their membership. As I explained to them, I worked in marketing, on loyalty programs. I had, and have, a level of knowledge about how they work that the typical consumer does not have. Ulta would have been wise to have considered the source of the feedback, rather than dismissing it as an anomaly.

But let’s pretend I worked in some other field, unrelated to marketing or loyalty programs or customer communications. Does that make my feedback any less important? Any less worth listening to, and responding to in a polite manner?

It should be frighteningly obvious, but if you’re in a customer-service profession, you’ve got to be nice to people. If you’re not, they will go away. And they’ll talk about your rudeness to anyone who will listen.

Forever. And ever.


*In my opinion, it was a mistake for Ulta to try to compete with Sephora because 1) Ulta was not a luxury retailer, and 2) they owned the discount cosmetics/beauty market. Sephora wasn’t their competition. McDonald’s didn’t close all their drive-through windows and redesign their restaurants to compete with The Cheesecake Factory. Without the cosmetic upgrades (pun not intended), I believe Ulta could have remained a big fish in a very lucrative pond, and positioned themselves nicely for eventual online competition with sites like Amazon, Drugstore.com/Beauty.com, and Jet.
Sure, Ulta as a company is probably doing fine. (I don’t know, because I won’t buy stock in the company either.) But when did “fine” become an acceptable business goal?

 

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

If this question isn’t the worst in the history of job interviews, it’s at least the most useless. The only thing of value it will tell you about a job candidate is whether or not they can control an eye-roll.

There is no good answer to this question.
I’ve tried giving vague answers; hopeful answers; philosophical answers; bold answers; humble answers. I don’t think any approach I’ve tried has been the right one.

The most truthful and logical answer I can think of — which is also one that would probably remove me from consideration for the position in question — is:

“I have no idea. But if you show me your org chart, and tell me which one of the people above me is planning to leave within the next five years, I’ll make a reasonable guess.”

Five years from now is unknowable and irrelevant.
In an interview, I’d rather not start theorizing about one or two of the 856,000 possible scenarios that might play out over a five-year time span. It’s an unfair question, because I don’t have all the information I need in order to answer it — details like who I’m going to meet during the next five years who could change the direction of my career, or whether or not you’re going to lay me off in that timeframe. I’d rather stick to topics like what I have to offer you right now, and what I can do to help your company meet its goals. Topics I can address with confidence, and which pertain to the job, and my ability to perform it.

Photo of Madame Leota from Disneyland's

Looking for answers about the future? Maybe Madame Leota can help. I can’t.

If you’re really using the five-year question to get a peak into my psyche, be direct. Ask questions that will give you an idea of how I see things. Give me a fictitious scenario and ask me how I would handle it. (Or, read my posts.)

What makes me think five years from now is irrelevant?
I’m comfortable making this assertion because I’ve been alive for more than five years. At no point in my life, had I laid out a five-year plan, would I have come close to being on target. I realize an interviewer isn’t going to check in with me in five years and punish me if my life doesn’t match up with my answer, but why waste time with pointless guessing games? I may have a goal today that I will drop like a maggot-infested chicken drumstick in a year.

I have a degree in English. But when I was in school, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to do with an English degree. I wasn’t thinking about a job at all, because I was busy looking for a husband. So if you had asked me at age 20 what my five-year plan was, I’d have probably said, “To get married and have a baby.”

Here’s what those five years actually looked like:

  • I got engaged.
  • I spent way too much time planning a wedding.
  • I got married.
  • I graduated from college.
  • I worked as a tutor.
  • I didn’t have kids.
  • I got a crappy retail job.
  • I got divorced.
  • I started an advertising career.

At age 20, my goal was to become Betty Draper. Five years later, I was Peggy Olson. I couldn’t possibly have gotten any farther off the mark (unless maybe I had become Don Draper).

photos of January Jones and Elizabeth Moss from AMC’s “Mad Men.

The question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” will only yield a relevant answer if you’re asking someone with very limited vision.

I didn’t plan it. It just happened. Life happened.

We like to think we have control over much of what happens in life, but we don’t. Yes, when you come to a fork in the road, you make the choice as to which path to take. But you don’t create the fork, and you rarely know when one is going to appear.

Talking about what job you think you’re going to want in five years is just daydreaming. If it’s not — if you know what you want and have the roadmap — you’d better be 100% positive, because you’re effectively putting on blinders, consciously choosing to ignore other opportunities that present themselves along the way.

If it ain’t broke . . . 
When I was a teenager, I almost always had crushes on more than one guy at a time. That way, I could still have one to daydream about when the other made it clear he wasn’t interested. The approach gave me a new goal to focus on immediately, and ensured I could remain hopeful, instead of getting mired in disappointment.

I’ve found this strategy also works really well for career goals. When one option doesn’t pan out, I have others to focus on. If I only have one goal, I’m painting myself into a pretty dark corner if it doesn’t come to fruition.

I also happen to think surprises are life’s best treats. Having everything planned takes all the fun out of it.

So, where will I be five years from now?

What is the answer that will land me the job?

The Psychopath Test, bosses, and Hillary Clinton

About 20 minutes after I heard author Jon Ronson interviewed on NPR about his book The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, I was on Amazon ordering a copy.

Photo of the cover of Jon Ronson's book, <em>The Psychopath Test.</em>

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

What grabbed my attention was a statistic Ronson quoted about the percentage of those among the general public who are clinical psychopaths versus the percentage of CEOs who are psychopaths. I don’t remember the ratios, but Ronson’s claim was that the percentage of CEO-psychopaths is significantly higher than the percentage among the general public.

This finding was exciting to me, not because it held any surprise, but because it meant I was right. I’d believed as much based on my own experience, and now there was published evidence to support it.

I’ve worked for some people who, to put it kindly, had no business being managers. In a couple of cases, they had no business being allowed to roam free in public. Each case has puzzled me more than the one before. People so incapable of leading that they actually drag a company down — how is it that they continue to be employed? Promoted? It’s a mystery that makes black holes seem simplistic by comparison.

When these managers are brought in, or when I’ve been hired to work for them, or transferred to their teams, I know within a few days that I’m in trouble. It’s happened enough that I’ve become adept at spotting them. But I haven’t yet figured out a way to successfully work for them so that I am productive and proud of my work, and don’t find myself weighing the benefits of killing myself versus going in to the office most mornings.

Part of the problem lies in something I consider to be fact, but which some people mistakenly take for opinion: Being a hard worker is not the same thing as being a workaholic.

I work hard, and care about the quality of the work I produce, because I see my work as a reflection of me and of my work ethic. I’m good at what I do, and I’m a team player. That said, I’m also a work-to-live person, not the other way around. Ergo, I believe in working efficiently during the workday so that I can finish on time and participate in life. The best teams I’ve worked with, where we’ve enjoyed the most professional success and had the most fun, have been those staffed with people who view and approach work in this way.

Photo of Adam Sandler in the movie "Billy Madison."

Adam Sandler settles the shampoo-versus-conditioner debate in Billy Madison.

Workaholics, on the other hand, fall in the live-to-work camp, and have a hard time understanding people like me. I’m not talking about the fortunate people who get paid to do something they truly love, like marine biologists or Adam Sandler. I’m talking about workaholics. 

These people don’t believe you can work to live and be a competent, dedicated employee. They have others (and themselves) convinced that they are passionate about what they’re doing, and their long hours are proof of that passion.

But what’s really going on is that they are addicted to success, and driven to keep pursuing it. (Some of them have the added desire to avoid going home.)

This type of person sees his or her employees and coworkers in black-and-white terms. If you aren’t just like them, you must be a slacker. It’s a fallacy, but it’s their view, and it’s a royal pain in the rear to contend with.

Working for this kind of manager is mentally and physically draining. They can sap you of your enthusiasm, which is dangerous, because that’s when you become disheartened, which turns into disengagement, which becomes bitterness. Ultimately, whether by free will or force, you leave.

I’ve been a victim of it, and have seen coworkers go through it. I’ve lost bosses to it. Early in my career, a rather, uh, eccentric exec wore out and ran off my mentor — a brilliant writer and fantastic manager without whom I wouldn’t have a career.

At another company, the founders hired one of these walking nightmares as a C-level exec. He had a seriously nasty reputation, but they hired him anyway, and then watched him chase off half the creative department.

I have so many questions. Maybe this guy has the answers.

I have so many questions. Maybe this guy has the answers.

What I am incapable of comprehending is how people like this rise through the ranks, and continue to find employment. In a million years, I would never hire someone like that. They are easy to spot because they don’t try to hide what they are. They wear their psychosis like a badge of honor.

An executive team or BOD that knowingly hires one is throwing its own company under the bus. But why?

“The world,” someone wise once said, “may never know.”


A side note: I’m not a very political person. I have my beliefs and opinions, but I don’t follow politics closely. I don’t know a lot about Hillary Clinton, other than that she’s controversial, and that my mom doesn’t like her. But there was something in Ronson’s book I found interesting, due in part to the fact that I was reading it during the summer of 2011.

A few months earlier, a team of Navy SEALs caught and killed Osama bin Laden. A photograph circulated by the media showed the reaction of President Obama, Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton and other White House staff as they watched video of the mission. Clinton was harshly criticized for having displayed obvious horror at what was happening in the video. It was said that someone in her position should be capable of masking her emotions; that showing them was a display of weakness and proof she was not fit for political office.

Photo showing President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the national security team receiving an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House May 1, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

Who in this photo would pass the psychopath test?

In Ronson’s book, he talks about attending a seminar given by Dr. Robert Hare that is part of a training protocol for psychologists on the fine points of psychopath-spotting. During one session, the class is shown a disturbing and graphic image of some type; I don’t recall if it was of a body, or a person who had been seriously injured, but suffice it to say the image was gross.

As soon as the image appeared, everyone in the class recoiled. Most looked away; I think Ronson said it made him physically ill. Hare explained that, when a psychopath sees a similar image, he or she does not react the same way. The psychopath will feel nothing upon seeing the graphic image, and display no physical reaction. It has something to do with a physiological difference between the amygdala of a normal person and that of a psychopath, which affects how each person’s brain processes the information.

Now take another look at the photo of the White House staff watching bin Laden die. I’m not making any judgment, positive or negative, about anyone in the photo. With this new information and perspective, though, it’s like looking at a whole different photo.

The universal truth of Beebe Gallini

I grew up watching a lot of television. Many of the shows I watched religiously were Image of a Panasonic/National Flying Saucer television, produced in the late '60s
already in reruns when I was a kid, so they were on every day. (The gang at BeautiControl can attest to my skill at identifying any 1970s or 80s tv show theme song in three seconds or less.)

As an adult, I can look back at a lot of these shows and see things that werent apparent to me at the time. Shows like I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and I Dream of Jeannie helped to shape my impression of a womans role in the world and in the home, and my aspirations as a child.

It didnt matter that I grew up in the era of Womens Lib. Gloria Steinem wasnt in my house. Barbara Eden was.

Photo of Maureen McCormick as Marcia BradyMy absolute favorite show, though, was The Brady Bunch. Yes, it was dorky and cliché, but it was also fun. Come on — what little girl didnt want to be Marcia? She had gorgeous long hair, cute clothes, and boys fighting over her. And yeah, I did have a crush on Peter at one point (pre-perm, of course).

Little did I know that, one day, Id realize there was a glimmer of depth hidden in that formulaic sitcom. That I would identify with one of its characters. And that it wouldnt be Marcia.


I was lucky that, when it came time for me to spin my job into a career, I was working for one of the top three direct marketing agencies in the world (and even luckier that my boss, Nora Reed, saw abilities in me that I couldnt yet see myself, and cared enough to make me look at them). So,when I was first promoted to copywriter, I worked on a pretty sizable account — a gigantic telecommunications company that spent money without batting an eye. I was brand-spanking-new to corporate America, but even I was puzzled by that companys spending habits.

(Years later, after this company burned through its entire employee pension fund, it was acquired by another telecom. Not long after that, both of them vanished in a cloud of IOUs.)

When we had new concepts for a direct-mail package ready to present to their marketing team, four or five of them would fly in from D.C. to review them in person. That alone made me question how financially savvy the company was. I mean, fly in for a tv shoot, maybe. But a statement and insert in a #10 envelope? Who was approving these expense reports?

And every trip, the whole gang stayed at the Four Seasons. I wanted to yell, “Yo, Robin Leach — theres a Courtyard by Marriott right behind our office. You could cut your hotel bill by 2/3 and forego the rental car.” (If Id been their CEO, the company would still exist.)

With most of the details a blur, I have just two distinct memories of what it was like to work on this account. The first is that these people were so disorganized, so schizophrenic about what they wanted, and so shockingly rude, that even after I’d moved on to another job, when their telemarketers called me one evening to “get me to switch” and refused to take “No, thank you” for an answer, all the old frustration returned, and I erupted like Peter’s volcano. I told them I had worked with their company, found them to be rude and irresponsible, and that I refused to ever do business with them.

They hung up. And they never called again, so, mission accomplished.

(Key takeaway: Never forget that everyone
is a potential customer. Even the person
who writes your marketing collateral.)

The other memory is one I’ll never forget, because it was a life lesson I’ve carried with me ever since, and it was pretty hilarious, to boot.

One day, not long after I began to understand the depth of their craziness, it struck me that I was Mike Brady, and this client was . . . Beebe Gallini!

Still from "The Brady Bunch," Season 1, Episode 16.

The Brady episode titled “Mike’s Horror-Scope” was about architect Mike Brady’s (Robert Reed) struggle to please an un-pleasable client. Beebe Gallini (Abbe Lane), a very Zha-Zha-esque cosmetics mogul, hires Mike’s firm to design her new factory. He shows her sketch after sketch, and she dislikes every one.

Mike tries to be practical and employ good design principles, keeping in mind the function of the building. But Beebe, who has no knowledge of factory design, architecture, or application of rationale, simply wants something fun and dazzling.

At one point, she tells Mike she wants her factory to have a flip-top roof that opens like a compact. Or maybe fluffy, she muses, like a powder puff. Then she decides that no, maybe it should be tall, “like a lipstick.”

Photo of Abbe Lane and Robert Reed from "The Brady Bunch," ca. 1970.She runs Mike ragged with her conflicting direction and makes him feel like a failure. If memory serves, I think the episode ends with her crying and storming out, yelling at a very relieved Mike that she will find a different architect.

That episode of The Brady Bunch mirrored reality in a way that no other episode ever did. In 22 minutes, the show painted a perfect portrait of a service-provider/client relationship in which the client thinks he/she knows everything, but is missing crucial information, and the service provider is being driven to the brink of suicide by the client’s nonsensical requests and insults. It foretold the future of hundreds of thousands of Mike Bradys who would one day face their own Beebe Gallinis.

(I suspect the story was inspired by someone’s gut-wrenching encounter with their own Beebe. I would love to know the back story.)

Most lessons taught by The Brady Bunch were pretty standard and obvious: Always tell the truth; wear your glasses when riding a bike; custom engraving is priced by the character; etc. Things you’d be an idiot not to know. But this one stands out as remarkable in both its wisdom and timeless practicality. What it tells us it that, sometimes, it’s best to let the insane rabbit go down the hole alone, and for us to remain above ground with our own sanity intact. 

When I realized all this, it made me feel better about the crazy situation I was in, because I understood that it wasn’t an anomaly. Rather, it was part of the order of the universe (and had been since at least the late ’60s, or whenever the real Beebe tormented someone so badly they would carry the experience in their soul like a demon, until they could exorcise it by incorporating her horrid behavior into the worlds most saccharin family sitcom).


Since that experience, it’s become easier for me to work with the perpetually difficult. I’ve become adept at recognizing Beebe, which has proved to be a solid coping strategy when I’m nearing the point of frustration.

On the rare occasion that it doesn’t help, I put my head in my hands and quietly recite the calming words of the great Oliver Wendell Douglas: “Oh, for the love of. . . . ”

Image of Eddie Albert as Oliver Douglas from the 1960s sitcom, "Green Acres."

A note to marketers

Dear Marketers,

It’s “calls-to-action,” not “call-to-actions.”

Have a great summer!

TTFN


Here’s a particularly bad site. I wouldn’t trust this company to do anything for me:

http://savvypanda.com/Services/call-to-actions.html

Not only are they saying “call to actions” all over the place, they aren’t hyphenating any compound adjectives, and they insist on using an apostrophe with “CTAs.” And then there are the awful, key-command faux ellipses at the bottom of the page.

They might as well be wearing white after Labor Day.

Talk about socking the gift horse

A response to a LinkedIn post about surviving as a college intern caught my eye this morning:

“1 Tip For Hiring an Intern: Pay them. Pay them SOMETHING. Even minimum wage.”

Not a unique response. You see a lot of them following articles about interning. And the number of hits you get from a Google® search for “intern lawsuits” is astounding.

Comic by Lonnie Millsap

A preface before I climb onto my soapbox: I believe there are many college students who are appreciative of the opportunity to take part in an internship, paid or unpaid. I also believe many of them have legitimate gripes about the work they end up doing. Any company advertising for a college intern and then putting one to work as a flunky is guilty of bait-and-switch, and stupidity.

Internships are about mentorship. When you take on an intern, it’s a little like signing up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister. You are responsible for helping a student get their hands dirty in their chosen field so they can determine if they’re heading down the right path or not. And if they are, the skills they learn should be ones that will help them land and succeed at their first “real” post-college job.

Most of the time, the intern is also earning college credit for the experience. That means that the employer essentially takes on the role of instructor. So again, if you hire an intern, you are taking on a responsibility. If you’re not willing to do the job right, don’t have an internship program. You’re not only cheating the student — you’re cheating the university.

Photo of Dana Carvey doing his "Grmpy Old Man" character from Saturday Night Live.

Here I go: “Back in my day . . . “

I didn’t have the opportunity to apply for an internship when I was in college. I don’t know if anyone at my college got an internship anywhere. I don’t remember hearing anyone talk about internships at all. (I went to Texas Tech. About all I remember of the experience is dust storms, tumbleweed alerts and the smell of cow poop. Oh, and a lack of decent parties.)

At one point in my life — long past college, and well into my marketing career — I wanted to explore a pretty drastic career change. Suffice it to say that during that expensive, demoralizing experience, I would have killed for an unpaid internship.

I was attempting a radical change, so the only thing I could do to gain experience was to start my own business. I sold a product and service; my materials, travel, and advertising expenses far outweighed my income, so I ran at a loss the entire time. An unpaid internship would have actually saved me a lot of money.

After doing that for two years, I was finally able to land a paid job in my chosen field — at the grand sum of $9/hour. When I finally declared the whole experiment a failure and walked away, I had made it all the way up to $38k/year. That was about half of what I would have been worth at the time had I stayed in marketing, the field to which I ultimately returned.

It was a learning experience. A long, depressing, expensive learning experience. As I mentioned earlier, I know I would have saved money if I’d gotten an internship to begin with, and probably a lot of time and heartache as well. Unfortunately, those opportunities aren’t open to people who aren’t in college anymore.

That’s why it frustrates me so much when I hear students whining about having to take an internship for no pay. Be grateful! This is an opportunity you will only have for four years, and then it will be gone forever (unless you keep going to school, in which case you’ll have far greater financial problems than whether or not your internship comes with a paycheck).

Image of James Van Der Beek as Dawson in "Dawson's Creek."

“Waaaaaaa! I want a paid internship! I don’t care that I’m gaining experience, earning college credit, and getting to put something on what would otherwise be a completely blank resume! I want my mommy!”

Here’s a thought:

In the same way the Make-A-Wish Foundation — an organization dedicated to granting the wishes of critically ill children — paved the way for organizations that now exist to grant wishes for adults with terminal illness or disability, why can’t traditional internship programs branch out, and spawn a similar program for adults? There are so many ways to construct a program like this, and it could be a real win-win for all involved.

Imagine you run a Fortune 500 company, and have the ability to take on 25 interns in a given year. Now imagine that you institute a policy wherein first-interview preference for five of those internship slots is given to people who are not in college, but rather adults who are collecting unemployment. For positions that don’t require a college degree or certification, maybe that preference includes people on welfare.

That’s 25 people you could help move off unemployment and/or welfare, into full-time employment, and on the road to financial stability.

This kind of program might work best if it includes government sponsorship that allows the program to last for a specified amount of time — say three months — during which the “intern” continues to receive their benefits (you’d have to do this, or you would wind up with people deliberately sabotaging their interviews or doing bad work just to keep collecting checks. Then again, maybe that’s how you identify people who need to be relieved of welfare?).

I’m sure some wet blankets would also cry, “Discrimination!” at this suggestion, but I would counter-argue that hiring only college students for internships is the same type of “discrimination,” and if that’s legal. . . .

I’m not a politician, and I hated history and social studies when I was in school. I struggled just to remember that crap long enough to do well on a test (and don’t forget the amazing inspiration I had as my first social studies teacher). So I admit there could be financial or political ramifications to these scenarios that I’m not addressing. But there are people who actually liked those classes, who are politicians, who could find solutions to those problems. I don’t need to do that here.

Drawing typically found in a history textbook. It's really dull. You're fortunate you can't see it.

Boring drawing of some boring historical event. Probably came from some boring history textbook.

Another cool option:

An employment placement agency that matches people with internship opportunities. This model would help people interested in making a big career change. An unpaid internship is a lot more practical than paying for a second college degree or a master’s (or taking my route), especially if, at the end of the whole mess, you discover you were wrong about that career change. And the employer would have the benefit of a free employee who is internally motivated to contribute, absorb information, and be of value to the company.

Think anyone in a position to make these things happen will step up? Me neither. The potential benefits are too great, and too long-term. Business leaders are only interested in small, short-term gains.