Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Archive for March 2013

Keep ’em Flying

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This isn’t about interviewing.

There are many things about the airline industry I could criticize.  But one concept upon which they’re entire business model seems to be based is the idea that they get the most of our their machines by keeping them working as much as possible.

I think the same concept applies to people.  I knew a man with Cerebral Palsey who regularly rode the same bus I did.  He wore leg braces and a back brace.  He wore very thick glasses.  He was stooped and spoke with much difficulty.  But he got on that bus every morning like clockwork.  And he never got on it without saying “Good Morning” to everybody.  He was one of the most gentle and polite men I’d ever seen.  And I realized at that moment that if that man could go about his life, few of us have any excuse to not go about our own.

You hear all the time about people who say they are a threat, or a double threat or a triple threat.  I’m speaking, of course, about people who have had the opportunity to develop the skills they have into viable careers and lifestyles.  A singer who can also arrange music, or a mechanic who is also a certified plumber.  Of course, they’ve come to know what they know with help; they didn’t do it alone.  But they can do multiple things and they do them, as best as they can and to the extent that they can because they decided to.

None of us is without the will to live, to love or to succeed.  Although we exist on the good graces of others, we still choose who we let in and who we see as too dangerous to let in.  Over time, one may become the other.  That helps us edit who we truly owe for our success versus those who want us to owe them.  And when we fix ourselves on a goal, a star, it is our obligation to do all that we can to reach it.

So, for all the people who think they can’t do it, you can try.  That whole “Trying is Dying” bullshit is just that.  The one in the arena fighting the lion is the only opinion that matters.  And you don’t know if you’ll succeed at anything because life isn’t like that.  But if you don’t make the attempt, ie, to try, you let other people define you and you become a known quantity.  The motto of the Ohio Lottery used to be (and maybe still is), “You can’t win if you don’t play.”  If you don’t play, you become someone with no surprises.  You become predictable and to some extent, disrespected.

So, play hard.  Be a surprise and a threat.  You and your dreams? – Keep ’em Flying.

Written by Interviewer

March 18, 2013 at 03:42

Working it

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Oooooh, lots of stuff about social networks and apps.

OK, first, these little services have a tendency to add up.  So, it’s always a question of convenience (i.e., how much time do you have to make up the gap between what the free stuff gives you vs. what the paid stuff gives you), versus cost (i.e. how much money do you have to pay for the deluxe package that does everything vs using the free technology and wondering if you could be making more an hour doing anything else).

I mean, the companies that develop this stuff, they know they are leaving the barn door partially open to people who will exploit their free versions as far as they can.  They’re betting that the more successful you get with the free stuff, the less time you’ll have to do the increasing amount of work you need to do to stay successful, and instead pay for their algorithms to do the rest. Or they’re betting that you’re holding onto whatever your  dream is with both hands and all ten toes and you won’t let it go until you’re broke.  Either way, it’s good bet, if you’re at a point where your time is worth more paid than free.

But if you’re not there yet, a person with lots of ideas and lots of time is a dangerous thing to those startups, because they’re trying to make money too, and other enterprising startups might figure out how to operate on their free code w/o spending a dime, and that can make the latter a boat anchor around the neck of the investors of the former.  But what are they gonna do?  They’ve got to show their hand a little bit, and that means, according to the Bazaar and the Cathedral model, they have to have free stuff, and they have to figure out how to offer their free stuff without being punked.  Daunting.

But the free stuff can have bugs.  You might end up entering your data or your lists or whatever a couple times, which ends up being a huge waste of time.  Not that the paid versions are that much better.  Honestly, everybody is whistling in the dark here.  Have you see all of the companies with all of the 22nd Century names and logos trying to do something different with php or whatever the hottest new programming language is?  It’s really getting ridiculous considering how often it jams up, or what they outrageously charge every month or year to use this pixie dust, which BTW, is the 21st Century term for snake oil.

So you come up with shortcuts that help lessen the blow when you realize you have to input the same Follow Friday Twitter handles, or Soundcloud followers or Facebook friends for the third frickin’ time.  You figure out work arounds to try to save you from the madness of blowing hours on software that’s supposed to animate everything down to seconds.  I swear … those Progresso Soup commercials where the people are talking through tin cans and string; I’ll bet THEY never had a dropped call.  Seriously, you’ve heard how some CEO’s are looking for the brick phones of the late 90s because they have none of the capability to be tracked or monitored, so conversations can be secure in a weirdly, Back to the Future kind of way.

Pitiful.  Foward to the Past.  Just pitiful.

Written by Interviewer

March 15, 2013 at 13:50

Posted in Scratchpad

Service versus Promotion

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There is a thin line between them.  If you’re offering anything to anybody, you have to know that if you don’t care, then you don’t do a good job.  And if you don’t do a good job, people will know you’re faking.  They’ll know your heart isn’t in it, not because you’re not capable, but because you’ve lost your love for it or you’ve lost your love for them.  But if you ever could do it, and you can’t or won’t do it now, it’s because the love is gone.

So if you do love it, you want to do it well and that passion is what makes people want you to do whatever you’re doing for them too.  But you don’t want to be a starving artist either.  I think of Basquait, who was a genius, died young and whose work in the hands of new owners made them rich beyond the dreams of averice.  The operative word there, though, is died.

So, you decide you can’t exist just on the plane of the pristine.  You realize you have to sell yourself while you’re alive even if that feels a bit like personal betrayal.  You promote.  You hawk.  You don’t want to.  You’d rather create.  That’s why artistic people are NOTORIOUSLY terrible at managing their business.  They’d much rather do what they love.

So when they get the clue that they have to promote too, they don’t always like it, and they’re not always good at it.  They should ask somebody.  And they should keep asking and screening until they find somebody.  In the meantime, they can’t be shy about promoting their work, which is really broadcasting their passions in such a way that also allows them to feed themselves.

Don’t be shy, actors, authors, dancers, singers, musicians, scupltors, painters, writers, poets. designers, illustrators, et al.  If somebody can make a boatload of money off a thing that does nothing but spin a sucker, then your passion can give you a livelihood.

Written by Interviewer

March 14, 2013 at 23:53

It’s Not for Sissies

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I’ll be interviewing Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen Hunt.  They’re a marriage and family counseling couple that has been around forever.  They wrote “How to Get the Love you Want,” which was a groundbreaker in the 90s.  They almost lost their marriage to divorce.  So, you know one of the questions I’m going to ask is, “How does THAT happen?”  I expect it to be a good interview and you can expect it to be up before the weekend at my website, www.convers.us

Written by Interviewer

March 12, 2013 at 11:18

Good Gear

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I’m just tired enough that I can’t guarantee that this post won’t sound a little loopy.  But I wanted to give a shout out to Behringer.  I have a teeny, weeny Xenyx 502 mixer by them.  It’s a five input, two bus box that I’ve been using with the rest of the stuff I use for my phone interviews.  I like it, in part because it’s got all of these cool little knobs.  In the nomenclature of audio mixers, it’s referred to as ”British” style, whatever that means.  But it’s also real metal, and not that pot gut stuff that tools from Japan used to be made of in the 70′s.  It’s gun-grey steel with rounded corners and welds.  The kind of thing that is small enough to snatch off a desk with one hand but tough enough to knock somebody unconscious with it if you had to.

I am surprised at the quality of construction as well as the quality of performance.  It has +47 volts of phantom power, so my mics all work w/o a hitch.  Its got two EQ controls on the mic channel and a trim pot, which is nice.  Its also got balance and level controls for all of the other channels as well as headphones inputs, a main mix downstream and a cool bank of LEDs.  All that for under $50 bucks.

And the sound is nice and crisp.  It plays well with the rest of my gear and unless I’m pumping something through it, I always know it’s on because of this one, no nonsense blue light.  I like the blue light.  I’m tired of these interpretive uses for lights – green means good or go or on, red means bad or stop or going off.  Or, red could mean danger, you’re about to get electrocuted.  Or green could mean, friendly … I’m friendly and prepare to be assimilated.  Blue is non traditional, and to me, blue means business.  Damn, I just interpreted the light, didn’t I?

It’s a nice, simple, portable, durable, functional, affordable, attractive little package.  Good job, Behringer.

Written by Interviewer

March 9, 2013 at 13:45

Posted in Scratchpad

What is a “True Believer?”

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I met Zack at an Albertsons. The post explains the rest.

This isn’t about interviewing, although it could’ve been. The subject is probably near and dear to at least 150 million Americans. Maybe next time I’ll talk interviews.

True believers come in many forms. There are religious true believers. Sports true believers. Political true believers. There are true believers in family. True believers in our system of Capitalism. And, there are true believers in the United States of America.

What about employees who are true believers? I’m not talking about employees who are coerced into being true believers at the threat of losing their job if they’re not. And I’m not talking about employees who are the movers who shake everyone below them in an organization either. They can afford to be true believers and cheerleaders if they’re making the big bucks or have been given the power to push other people around.

I’m talking about true believers like Zack. Zack works for Coke, and I took his picture because I noticed something special about him. Look closely. See anything, unique? Zack isn’t a big wig. He didn’t ask me to take his picture. And it was Sunday, so it’s not like he had the luxury I did of being off work. .

What I noticed was that he was wearing shoes that exactly matched the colors in his shirt, the colors of his truck, the colors of every box of Coke product from the Pacific Ocean east to the Sea of Japan. I’ve seen lots of Coke delivery guys. They all wear the shirt but the shoes are always different. I guess Coke lets them pick they’re own shoes for comfort since they’re on all kinds of surfaces, all day long – jumping down, climbing up, huffing and hauling. Issuing shoes is probably an expense the company doesn’t want to have to bear.  Then again, for all I know, they do issue shoes. But this employee chose to pick these shoes for an extra reason.

They’re just shoes, right? Nope. They’re a small, spontaneous expression of loyalty by an employee that is trying to say how much he likes his job. He’s not sucking up to anybody. He’s not trying to get noticed. He’s just telling himself, “I’m in.”

This is the kind of thing every company, every federal agency, every non profit organization is dying to have; employees that care from the bottom up, from the inside out. This is the kind of thing they pay consultants millions of dollars to conduct months long studies to find.

But for many organizations, it’s elusive, like hunting for snipe. For many organizations, it doesn’t seem to exist at all and for some of them, it’s absent for a reason although they just can’t figure out why.  But maybe they should try opening an issue of Forbes, or Inc. or Harvard Business Review or Psychology Today, or practically any business tome between now and the 19th century and they might get a clue.

If bureaucracies beat workers down with policy letters and punitive actions, if they passive aggressively punish passion and initiative, if they use HR like a cudgel to compensate for their managerial cowardice and inadequacy, then they won’t see stuff like this. What they’ll see instead is employees that are “retiring in place.” They’ll see employees who would rather run through the door when their time is up than suffer fake supervisory appreciation that is less felt and more farce.  What they’ll get, year after year, are employee satisfaction surveys that put them squarely below average … surveys that say, they as bosses, suck. And they’ll deserve it.

Because, the thing is, lots of organizations have employees who are true believers.  And they kill them.

Zack is a Coke man down to his kicks. Coke, this is your public face. It got my attention. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.  I might drink your cola, but I’ll definitely notice your workers.

Written by Interviewer

March 9, 2013 at 11:55

Choppin’ and Shavin’

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Razor

Both of these are about cutting, but how they do it is the difference between using a meat axe and a scalpel.  When editing an interview, at the beginning, the meat axe is OK.  I mean, some things just have to go because they don’t fit with what the overall context is.  That can happen when somebody goes off the subject of the moment without context.  Then, that thing is sort of sitting out there by itself and not really applicable to anything else around it.  It’s got to go.

Another example is when something has to be moved, like when somebody says something that is really a reference to something they said a lot earlier and you realize it would go better there than where it trickled in later.

Or when somebody loses their train of thought.  When they jump the track, everybody listening flies off with them, and that’s where you can lose them, so that’s got to go too.  All of those are examples of gleefully chopping up interviews with abandon.  It’s too easy.  You don’t have to be very delicate.  Swinging a chain saw, like knocking down walls in a home renovation project, can be kinda fun.

But shaving is very different.  Shaving starts to happen when the meat axe blade is just to wide to be beneficial.  Now, you’re talking about breaths and syllables and words and thoughts that need to be nudged closer together or further apart for logic or pacing or time.  And all this while not changing context.  This is where editing is the most miserable and the most fun.  Like using a straight razor to remove cat hair from a balloon, that’s what this kind of editing is like.  I don’t like cat hair, or big, squeaky balloons or very sharp pieces of metal.  But altogether, they’re like ice cold root beer over vanilla bean ice cream on a hot summer day.  Gimme.

Written by Interviewer

March 2, 2013 at 04:55

Posted in Scratchpad

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“He Held My Hand.”

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I’m in the process of editing two great interviews.  One is with soul, R&B and bluesman Curtis Selgado.  The other is with the fifth grandson of Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi, Arun.  In a funny way, both of these men are talking about the same kind of thing … love.  Curtis is a Portand, Oregon treasure if the community support he got for successive cancer surgeries is any indication.  We talk for a good long while about fame and strangers and a gesture from BB King that just blew him away.

Arun Gandhi told 1100 children recently that the best way to overcome the problems in the world is to try really hard to not think of yourselves too much.  The adult translation; crush your ego.  We talked about the work he has been doing in the spirit of his uber-notable grandfather from the time he was a boy in South Africa.  He continues that work today and I am honored to have had the time I had with him.

Both of these interviews will be up shortly.  Thanks for listening.

Written by Interviewer

March 2, 2013 at 02:38