7/15/2016

On being … game

By Ingrid Sapona

No, today’s column isn’t something ripped from the headlines about Nintendo’s release of Pokémon Go. As it happens, last month I started a column about enjoying old-fashioned games – you know, board games, card games, and the like, that you play with people in person. But, I scrapped the idea then because I figured such games might be passé. But, with this week’s news about Pokémon – and some of the perils encountered by those playing it – I decided that old-fashioned games deserve equal time.

The topic of games was on my mind after friends and I finally got together for a “games night” a few weeks ago. We had been talking about doing so since last fall, but we never managed to find an evening. The topic came up again when we ran into each other in May, but we agreed the odds of us finding time for a game night in the near future was unlikely, as summer weekends inevitably fill up with concerts, barbeques, sailing, and other activities.

Then we had a brilliant idea: since we’re all sailors, why not sail our boats over to a nearby club for an overnight stay and some games. So, we agreed on the date, the destination, what games we’d bring, and who’d bring what for dinner and the next day’s breakfast. 

The weather cooperated and it was great! We did have to laugh, however, when we realized on Sunday morning that we had only played one game. Feeling a bit guilty, we played one more after breakfast, before heading out for our voyages home. On my sail back I couldn’t help smiling and thinking about how the games night was, in large part, an excuse for an afternoon and evening of delicious food, drinking (no one was driving home, after all), and great conversation.

A few days later I was telling this story to another friend (I’ll call her Anne) and we got to talking about the social aspects of playing board games and card games. Growing up we didn’t play that many as a family. But, for the past 20 years or so, games have become a central feature of our family’s holiday get-togethers.

Anne commented on the fact that when her daughter was little, she realized the important socialization skills we learn by playing such games with others. She explained that because the way she and her family interacted while playing games was very different from the way her husband’s family interacted, her daughter learned how to read people and adapt to different styles.

I could totally relate to what she was saying because I know that the way our family plays word games is very different from the way others do. We play them kind of communally. Each person comes up with their own words on their turn, but once they’ve made their play (or if they’re ready to give up in frustration), we all jump in and see if we can rearrange the letters to come up with more points. If we improve the score, the points go to the person whose turn it was. I know, it may seem odd, but this way we’re all sort of invested in each play. I think it helps that we’re all only mildly competitive – so we keep score, but given the way we all contribute on each hand, the winner’s bragging rights don’t amount to much.

Anyway, with the topic of games suddenly in the news, I decided to write about the virtues of getting together for some old fashioned games. Mind you, in singing the praises of such games, I’m not impugning digital games. Heaven knows I’ve passed many an enjoyable few minutes (OK, maybe the odd hour here or there) playing them. But every time I pick up the iPad or sit at the computer and play something, I’m very aware that it’s more time spent alone, rather than in the company of others.

I know, for many folks, the alone time is part of the appeal of digital games. I also realize that there are other benefits to digital games. Some are tools for learning. Some are useful for improving physical dexterity. (Any readers old enough to remember when computer mice were introduced will remember learning to use the mouse by playing solitaire on the computer.) And, Pokémon Go has already been credited with getting folks off the couch and out into their neighborhoods as they chase the Pokémon characters who – thanks to technology called “augmented reality” – magically appear superimposed on the real world on their smart phone screen.

I guess all I really want to say in closing is that if you’re thinking that maybe you’d like to augment your reality a bit this summer – there are alternatives to high tech games. Why not augment the reality of what would otherwise be an ordinary Saturday night by inviting some (real) friends to join you at your table for some old fashioned games? Who knows what laughter,  conversation, and bonding might ensue…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona



7/01/2016

On being … under delivered

By Ingrid Sapona

When I worked at a big consulting firm, one of the partners had a motto that I strive to live up to in all my work situations: under promise, over deliver. I like that saying because it embodies two separate and equally important aspects of customer service: managing the customer’s expectations to make sure they are reasonable and delivering service that goes beyond what the customer is expecting.

Some businesses manage customer expectations by offering service levels at different prices. Courier companies are the prime example. Courier services quote you a rate to get a package from point A to point B within a given period. But, they also offer to deliver packages faster, for a premium.

Indeed, if you’ve used a courier company like FedEx or DHL recently, you know that many such have honed performance pricing to practically an art form, with options like: standard, two-day, overnight, and even overnight and before a specific time the next day. So, the customer decides what the delivery speed is worth to them, and both parties are clear on the expectation based on the price the customer paid. Clever – almost enviable – business model, right?

Well, earlier this week my sister wanted to send me something. She knew I was going to be at my mother’s house in Buffalo from Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, so she decided to send it to me there, rather than send it to my home here in Toronto.  She paid a premium to have the package delivered between 4 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday. When it didn’t arrive, I phoned her.

She then phoned FedEx. It turns out that the FedEx plane was delayed at her end due to circumstances beyond their control – bad weather. The FedEx plane made it to Buffalo early on Wednesday and so they said the package would be delivered on Thursday. She let FedEx know I was leaving on Thursday early afternoon and they said they’d get it to me before 1.

Well, by 2 p.m. it was not there, so I phoned FedEx. While I was on my second call to them, I saw a FedEx truck pass our house and then turn around a few doors down. The truck then pulled up in front of our house and delivered a package to the neighbor across the street before driving away. Then, five minutes later, our neighbor came over with the package addressed to me. Not only was it nearly 24 hours late, the driver didn’t even seem to care what number he was delivering it to!

I could understand when the package wasn’t delivered on Wednesday because there was a delay due to bad weather. But when they set the expectations so high by charging a hefty premium for delivery within a certain period, they should go out of their way to make sure the package is delivered within their revised promised delivery time (in this case by 1 p.m. Thursday), not to mention that it is delivered to the right address.

I had a similar problem a couple months ago when a client in Buffalo sent me something via DHL. They decided to send it via courier because a few months before that they sent something via ordinary mail and it took a week to get here. Well, despite paying for “overnight delivery”, the DHL envelope took seven days to arrive. When it didn’t show up on day four, I asked the client for the tracking number. In tracking it, I found out that the envelope went from Buffalo to Cincinnati and then to a DHL office in Northern Alberta before being sent to Toronto. Though DHL never explained why it took seven days to get an overnight delivery from Buffalo, it seems odd that they were shipping things via Northern Alberta at that time because it was in the midst of the Fort McMurray wildfires.

As a kid, I used to get my hopes up about things. And, if something I was looking forward to didn’t happen, I was bummed out. I’m sure that happened to everyone. I’m also sure that as we get older, we learn to temper our expectations a bit to avoid disappointment.  But, just because we’re adults, we shouldn’t have to settle for service that’s not what we’ve been promised.

When companies build up our expectations and charge in proportion to their promised service, we shouldn’t have to temper our expectations. Is it too much to ask that businesses – including courier services – make sure their promises are realistic and that they can deliver on them? I don’t think it is…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona



6/15/2016

On being … silent

By Ingrid Sapona

On being … is meant to be musings on things that happen in everyday life that trigger reactions or behaviours that I think are common, if not universal. As such, other than in the year-end alphabetic review, I don’t write about politics or things going on in the wider world.

So, today’s column probably seems like a departure from what On being… is supposed to be about. While the recent massacre in Florida is weighing heavy on my mind and heart – as I’m sure it is with many readers – strictly speaking, that’s not what I am writing about today. Instead, what I am writing about is the question of why so many people in America don’t even engage in discussion about gun control.

I’ll never forget being at a weekend yoga retreat with friends of friends in New England just a short time after the Sandy Hook shooting. Nearly everyone that attended the retreat had school-age children and so I was quite sure the incident would be a major topic of conversation. And yet, it wasn’t. Indeed, other than my raising it – it didn’t come up at all. Ok, I thought, maybe this is their “weekend away” from it all, or maybe it was too unspeakable a tragedy for them to give voice to it so shortly after it happened. But still, I found it odd that no one talked about it.

Since then I’ve raised gun control as a topic a number of times with American friends, and there just seems to be a total disconnect. The people that want guns are not silent about their “rights”, but people who oppose guns are silent. How can that be, I wonder. Do they not know that silence is essentially assent? Or, do they think that ignoring the issue will make it go away? Or maybe they are scared…

After each of these shootings there’s always lots of talk about hatred – about how the shooters hated this group or that group. While I understand the desire to try to understand what may or may not be motivating shooters, I think the focus on the shooter’s motivation is because the discussion of gun control is taboo in the U.S. While addressing the root causes of hatred, or mental illness, or whatever is behind such incidents is important, these are not things that can be addressed through laws or policy changes. But, preventing people from being able to buy guns and assault weapons is something that can be addressed as a society. Or, to put it another way, we may not be able to do much to prevent hatred, but we can take steps to prevent those with hatred or mental illness from being armed.

I decided to write this column today – no, I feel compelled to write this column – because if you believe, as I do, that U.S. gun laws have to change – you have a duty to talk about the issue, rather than go silent. I have to believe the majority of Americans – like most of us in the rest of the western world – don’t think individuals should have guns and assault weapons. But, so long as the majority remains silent on this issue, each and every person who simply sits back – or who refrains from pressing for gun control – bares some responsibility for such tragedies. So, as I always do, I hope this column makes you consider where you stand on gun control and reminds you of the price of silence.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona



5/30/2016

On being … unhelpful

By Ingrid Sapona

This past week I switched my internet, TV, and home phone providers. I had pretty basic services but the monthly fee was crazy high and it seemed every other month one of them went up by $2 or $3 – small increments that sure added up over time! So, when a new company began service in my building, I decided to try it.

The internet change was a simple decision – a much faster service at 55% of the price. Based on price alone, going with the new provider for the TV seemed a simple decision too – again, about a 50% savings. But, the personal video recorders (PVRs) used by the new TV doesn’t have the same features as the old PVR. For example, the number of shows you could record at the same time – and the ability to pause live TV. (When it was introduced, I thought it was stupid. But believe me, it’s something I have come to love – it’s like a wireless remote for locking/unlocking the car. Once you have one, you can’t imagine living without it.)

Anyway – as it happened, when they set up my new system, they left the old one in place. It was my job to contact my old service provider to cancel and return their equipment. They were offering the first month of TV free, so I decided to wait a few days before I cancelled my old TV service. I wanted to make sure I was going to like the new PVR. As with all new tech gadgets, I knew there’d be a learning curve, and I was prepared – more-or-less.

The first surprise was how small the PVR is. My old PVR was about the size of a VCR. The new one is tiny – about the size of a 6 oz. steak. And the remote is unbelievably complicated. It clearly was designed by tech geeks – probably a TEAM of tech geeks – and each of them must have come up with a “cool feature” that they included on the remote. (If you think I’m exaggerating, I would only mention that the back of the remote has a full keyboard. Get the picture?)

The technician who installed the system did the initial TV setup for me and quickly showed me the basics. To record you have to insert a jump drive into the PVR. I had a spare one and so we tried it. We got an error message and he thought it was because I had some files on the jump drive. So, the next day I bought a new one and tried it. I got the same error message. I called tech support and explained the recurring problem. The tech support guy was sure he could fix it.

I did as the tech support guy directed, but I got the same message. He asked me to do it again – so I did – but same message. He asked me to do a few other things and I did. (I got the sense he was testing whether I could follow his directions, but I didn’t say anything – I simply did as I was directed. With those steps the PVR and remote behaved as he expected them to.) So then we did the first thing again but got the same error message.

He then asked me to do something with the jump drive at my computer, and I did. But, when we tried the first thing again and got the usual error message, he mumbled “that can’t be”. Clearly he thought I was doing something different from what he said to do, which is why it wasn’t working. We danced around like this a bit more and then he said: “this has never happened before. Never.” At this point, I lost it. I snarkily replied, “Well, congratulations – today is May 7th and you can no longer say the problem I’m running into has NEVER happened. It has NOW!”

No doubt sensing my irritation, he said he’d need to check something and he would call me back in about a half hour, if that was ok. I said it was and we ended our conversation. Four hours later, when I didn’t hear back from him, I phoned tech support again and I asked for him. When I got him, he apologized for not getting back to me and said the best thing to do would be to reset the device to the factory settings and start over. We did and that fixed the problem.

What that solution didn’t fix, however, was the attitude he had. Indeed, that whole “it can’t be working the way you say it is” seems common among guys I’ve dealt with in tech support roles. I get that it must be a frustrating job – dealing with all sorts of issues and all sorts of people with all different levels of computer and tech savvy. But that’s the nature of the job. And what kind of a response is: “that never happens” or “that can’t be”?

When I’m in a charitable mood, I ignore the innuendo that the problem is me or that I’m doing something wrong. Instead, I chalk it up to the fact that they’re young and inexperienced, which is why maybe they do believe that technology NEVER breaks or that tech gadgets don’t malfunction. If that’s the case, they’re in for a surprise.

Meanwhile, I wish companies would realize that to be helpful, a tech support person doesn’t just need technical/product knowledge – they need a bit of humility too.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … confirmation

By Ingrid Sapona

One of the things I appreciate most about getting older is that every now and then evidence emerges that confirms something I thought or felt, but that I had no way of proving when it first happened. Interestingly, when the definitive proof surfaces, it usually comes out of nowhere. Given that there’s often a long time between the incident and the confirmation, it’s not that the end result ever changes. But, the confirmation is valuable because it gives me ever more reason to trust my intuition and instinct.

The things it’s happened about often relate to gut instincts or readings I’ve made of others’ behaviours or their reactions in specific situations. They’re often situations where I was left wondering whether I’ve misread something or misunderstood another person’s intention.

The incidents I’m referring to have all ended up being minor, in the scheme of life. (Another great thing about aging, of course, is the perspective that allows one to realize this…) But, at the time they happened, they didn’t feel so minor. Indeed, it’s precisely because they were incidents that I ruminated over for some time that, when the proof appears, even though lots of time may have passed, I connect the dots and I’m finally able to put my mind at rest.

I realize this sounds a bit vague, so maybe an example would help. One situation related to not being hired by a firm I had interned with. It was a yearlong, paid internship – one of about two dozen that this firm had. Because there was nothing negative in the feedback I had been given all year, I was disappointed when I wasn’t hired on.

Though I tried to take it in stride, my mentor’s reaction when I asked if he’d be a reference contributed to my second-guessing. He seemed surprised by my request. Now, on top of feeling that I had misread the feedback I had gotten throughout the year, I wondered if I had completely misread my relationship with my mentor. Did he not feel comfortable as a reference? The prospect of my misinterpreting so many relationships was more troubling than not getting the job offer.

Then, when he asked me to take a seat and he shut the door and asked me why I didn’t want to stay at the firm, I was really confused. I explained that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay, it was that I hadn’t been offered a job. Embarrassed, he said he was so sure I would be hired, he never checked the list to see who had been offered positions. So, it seemed I wasn’t the only one who had been wrong about the likelihood the firm would have me back. Anyway, the fact he offered to help me in my job hunt and was more than happy to be a reference, at least helped me feel I hadn’t misread his reaction to me.

Months later, after I had moved on, I had lunch with my mentor and he shared with me some curious comments he found in my HR file. One comment was something like, “well, she wasn’t as self-possessed or know-it-all as we thought she’d be”. Clearly, there were negative preconceptions about me – hurdles I didn’t even know were in my way. My mentor found the source of the innuendo: an HR admin person who somehow felt threatened by me and, before the internship started, had told folks that because of my education and experience, I had a big ego. (He also told me that the admin person had since been let go.) As I said, by the time I got this information, there was nothing I could do with it, but it was satisfying to get proof that I hadn’t misinterpreted the feedback I got, I just didn’t know all that I was up against.

Anyway, that story is ancient history but it, and other situations where my instinct was proved right, came to mind this week because of the news story involving Dr. Heimlich – yes, the namesake of the Heimlich Manoeuvre. He’s 96 and is in an assisted living residence in Cincinnati. Last week a woman sitting at his table at dinner started choking. Dr. Heimlich sprang into action and administered several Heimlich Manoeuvre upward thrusts until the meat she was choking on popped out. While that may not seem particularly newsworthy or surprising – given that he invented the technique in 1974 – what is surprising is that this was the first time he ever did it in a real, life-or-death situation.

Given all the evidence over the past 40 years about the hundreds of people who have used his method and saved someone’s life, I’m sure Dr. Heimlich didn’t have any nagging doubts about the efficacy of the technique. But even so, I can’t help but think that last week’s incident was a cosmic gift to him: first hand confirmation of the value of his life’s work!  

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona

4/30/2016

On being … beyond my realm

By Ingrid Sapona

One night last fall, I took a corner in my parking garage a bit carelessly and I clipped the back edge of my car. Expecting to find a nasty dent, I was relieved when I saw the damage was limited to a smallish patch where the paint had scraped off.

I’m not particularly into cars, so being seen in one that’s got a scrape doesn’t bother me. But, since I plan on keeping the car for quite some time, I don’t want rust. Given the size and location of the damage, I figured it couldn’t cost that much to have it touched up. And, if doing so prevented it from rusting, it’d be worth it.

So, I took it to a few places for estimates. I was in shock when the first guy said it would cost $1400. (Did I mention it was a small scrape?) When I balked at the price, he explained they’d have to sand it and paint the panel, feathering the paint in to the other panel, blah, blah, blah.

The lowest estimate I got came from a shop I know and trust, but they too were expensive: $550. When I explained I really only wanted the area touched up because my concern is rust, not looks, the guy tried to put it in terms he thought I’d understand: “You’d never just colour half your head of hair, would you?” No, but I’d never pay $550 for a salon treatment either!

Unable to justify – or afford – that kind of expenditure, I decided to stop in at the service department at my dealer to see if they sell touch up paint. Sure enough, they do – and it cost about $20. That’s more like it, I thought.

Using the VIN number, the service manager found the colour. Since he didn’t have any in stock, he said he could order it. When I asked how much you get for $20, he pointed to a display that had some containers. They were kind of pen-shaped, which seemed odd to me. I told him I was looking for something that maybe had a small brush, kind of like nail polish. He assured me that one end of the container had that, so I ordered it.

When I finally got the paint, it was too cold to do the repair. So I waited. Finally, with rust beginning to appear, last week I decided it was time to do it. I dug the paint container out of the glove compartment. Examining it, I was surprised that it looked like a two-ended marker. I distinctly remember the assurance about one end having a nail polish-type brush. Instead, both ends had white, felt-tipped markers. I looked for instructions, but there were none. The only markings on the tube were indications that one end was green (the colour of my car) and the other was clear. But, when I uncapped each end, they were both white!

At a loss, I phoned the dealer. When I explained my confusion, he said, “Oh, they changed the packaging – you must have one of the newer ones.” Great, I thought. When I told him there were no instructions, he said to first apply the color and, after it’s dry, then use the other end. Makes sense, I said, but both tips are white! He explained that when I press down on the tip, the paint would come up.

I guess he must have heard the trepidation in my “Oh”, so he went on to explain: “It’s really easy and don’t worry, Ma’am, if you get too much on, just wipe a bit off. The more you do it, the better you get at it.” That last part made me laugh. I told him I’m hoping I won’t have cause to do this too often, but I thanked him for his help.

I was so skeptical about how a marker could possibly work, but it was all I had. So, I started. Sure enough, after a few strokes, the metallic green paint emerged. Not only that, the paint went on very smoothly – far smoother than most nail polish I’ve ever used. Hmm… maybe it would be ok, I thought.

Quickly, my doubt gave way to thoughts of, “Who came up with this? It’s brilliant!” Then I realized who had come up with this odd tool. Folks who ARE into cars. I forget that not everyone sees cars as just a means of transportation, as I do. There are folks who LOVE cars and who love working on them. And, just like cooks who discover clever shortcuts and create gadgets for the kitchen, I imagine car enthusiasts have invented all sorts of clever ways of doing things.

Afterward, I was thinking about my journey from skeptic to convert. In fact, I’ve been on that journey before with respect to my car. It was years ago when I decided to apply a treatment to my windshield to prevent a chip from becoming a crack. The directions seemed odd but it worked beautifully. I couldn’t help wonder whether others have found themselves on the same journey with respect to things that are foreign to them…

My paint adventure has reminded me that in areas that are outside my realm of experience, I should trust that others have “been there and done that”. And, if I’m lucky, they’ll have figured out a fool-proof method that turns skeptics into believers.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


4/15/2016

On being … a benchmark?

By Ingrid Sapona

This week I was back from vacation, all rested and relaxed and even happy to be home. But, despite all that positive energy, I soon realized I wasn’t quite ready to face the work-world.

The unwelcome jolt came in the form of a slap on the wrist from one of my favourite clients. In response to a specific question from a staff person at the company, I explained how I could help but it would be additional work that would need to be approved by the company. I made it clear that if he felt it appropriate, he could find out if the work might be approved.

Shortly after that I got a terse e-mail from the guy’s boss – someone I know well and have (or had, until this) good rapport with. In the e-mail, the guy’s boss said the additional work won’t be happening and he said I should avoid making such suggestions to staff. OUCH!

I immediately responded with an e-mailed apology and a promise that it would never happen again. As I typed my reply, the voice inside my head went into full self-recrimination mode, starting with: “You can bet it’ll never happen again because they’ll never use you again!” (Whether that’s true or not, only time will tell.)

I re-played the whole thing in my mind, questioning whether I had stepped over the line, or mishandled it. I also surveyed my motives. Had I just proposed work for the sake of earning more? No. Could I have approached it differently? I’m not sure. I wasn’t being sly at all. Nor do I think I painted an unrealistic picture about whether the organization would approve such additional work.

Eventually the internal chiding turned to the issue of whether I’m stupid for letting the e-mail get to me, not to mention the fact that my initial reaction was that of a schoolgirl whose wrists were being slapped. “Grow up,” screamed my inner voice.

That evening I relayed the story to a couple friends, and they tried to cheer me up. I did my best Scarlett O’Hara imitation about tomorrow being another day, but the turmoil swirled in my head all night. The next day, my mood was still quite glum. When another friend asked what was wrong, I said that something work-related was bothering me but that I didn’t want to talk about it because doing so would simply make me feel worse. When I also mentioned that On being… was on the horizon, my friend said I should write about the incident. I quickly dismissed the idea because I was too close to it and embarrassed by it.

After the call, I decided to employ one of my tried and true coping mechanisms: cooking, cleaning, and other tasks that make me feel productive. I tackled a lot of things that needed to be done around the house. But, when I wasn’t super focused on cleaning the floor, or washing the windows, I felt that sense of gloom and doom hovering over me. As the day wore on, the running commentary in my head was more about the fact that I was letting the incident get to me than about the incident itself.

After the housework I returned to my desk and decided to start on a small project that’s not due for a few weeks. After a while I noticed I was making some progress. Since it was pretty interesting, I decided to return to the project after dinner to reduce the chance of letting my thoughts turn back to the e-mail.

The next morning at the gym, I was thinking about the work I had to do the rest of the week and On being… came to mind. I sighed because I’d been so preoccupied for the previous 48 hours, there was no way a column idea could meander through my head. And with that thought, the idea for this column flashed into my brain – a sure sign that I had moved on!

Besides being relieved by the revelation that I was over the e-mail incident, I was also intrigued by the idea of putting a timeframe around how long it had taken me to move on. I had never thought to try to measure my bounce-back speed in concrete terms – I’ve just always gotten angry with myself for taking so long and I’ve wondered if others are much quicker than me.

The 48 hour figure got me thinking. What is it they say about the importance of setting measurable goals? Well, now I have one for bouncing back from work-related setbacks: whittling down that 48 hour benchmark.

Wish me luck!

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona

3/30/2016

On being … on an Easter huevo hunt

By Ingrid Sapona

This year I thought I’d try something different: Easter in Mexico. Good thing I didn’t have high hopes of finding many Easter eggs on the beach.

But, the sun and sand have made up for it!

I’ll get back to On being… April 15th.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona