Once in a purple moon, we had a new hire. Like the time I had to (extremely) vet my own replacement, Paul Campo, in 1986.
Do I just train someone who was going to be taking my place and throw him to the wolves? Many of my readers would be quick to answer, “Yes!”
However, that is a sure way to run low on wolf chow. I always thought that hurling virgins into volcanos was a much better path to karma.
But I digress.
For the love of Pete, I owed it to Paul to explain or at least give him a brief warning about Dad’s “quirks,” to put it mildly. Even though I had not yet worked in many different work environments, I knew intuitively that bosses don’t typically act like my Dad did normally.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of bad bosses out there. The ones that do things behind your back, and then have the nerve to call you “sneaky.” Or the screamers. Or maybe a good boss one day turns bad the next. A good boss will always be happy to discuss anything with you — after all, information is their currency in trade. But what if they deny a meeting request to consider some changes because they “had already discussed it with you.” Really? Not so good.
Generally, the best advice is that you shouldn’t take it personally. It probably has nothing to do with you. Most bosses are human and are capable of having bad days too. Remember Fred Flintstone? He wished he could be boss for the day. One day, his wish was granted. It was all good, until Fred met his boss’ boss, the Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Who was my Dad’s boss, at least psychically? Ah! That is one of the critical questions to be considered by this blog. And I believe that I have the answer. This will be revealed at a later date.
All the same, being at the business end of a bad boss, day after day, is depressing. Even in a bad situation, a good boss can coach you in a positive way.
Anyway, the message I needed to explain to Paul was simple: Just avoid arguments, even when you know you are justified. My Dad ran, I made clear to him, something akin to a kangaroo court. If Paul were to plead a case in front of that court, such as attempting to persuade my Dad of something sensible to most people (like, “You asked me to do it”), Dad would definitely find him wrong or guilty, and quite probably both for more egregious cases. (“You should have known better! Don’t you have any sense?!”).
Above all, I implored, Paul had to resist the temptation of going with any argument that depended on “obviousness” or was “inherently winnable” because surely he would simply be doused in rhetorical gasoline and summarily dispatched.
I generally eat my own dog food (which is one of my euphemisms for ‘I heed my own advice’ — don’t you hate people who say ‘do as I say, not as I do?’) but, as I explained in “JOB WELL DONE, NOW STOP!,” my conclusion that e-mail was entirely suitable for business was one of those instances where the lure of obviousness got the better of me.
If you serve it to others, you should be willing to take the first bite.
After I got my own e-mail account on the GEnie network — this was way before the heyday of AOHELL — and done some testing, I was fully persuaded. This was gonna be big. Real big.
I was gonna try to either find or create an online community in my industry. Harness the power of the internet to the marketing goals of Olcott International. It was heady, intoxicating stuff. It was like when my Mom and my Grandmother discovered the (idea for a) secret aerosol formula that would render dog shit into dust in minutes. Absolutely killer!
The difference was, my use of e-mail was not just some whimsy of my imagination. (These run overtime in my family, as you can tell.) This was tried, tested, and true.
Boldly, because I knew this was going to be more than good, I unilaterally had my Olcott International business cards reprinted with my new e-mail address.
In my last post, I described a situation where I was handed a new assignment, found a small correction to make, and was then unexpectedly asked to stop. This time, I figured my initiative would be so compelling, there would be no need for brakes or courts with Australian marsupials. Instead I would be asked, even exhorted, to press on, full speed ahead!
It was late morning on August 4th, 1994 when the UPS delivery came. I pried open the box and inspected my new business cards. Perfect! As my Dad had leveraged information technology three decades earlier, I knew that I had taken a giant leap in the same direction. He was sure to recognize my parallel intuition. It was in the bag!
The lure of a father’s approval is an irresistible force.
I went looking for and found Dad on the stairs coming up from the ground floor, where I used to work and where Paul now sat.
“Hey Dad,” I said pridefully. “Take a look at my new business card!”
“Yes?” he said expectantly as he looked down through his glasses. He flipped it over for a second and then looked back. I could tell he didn’t notice.
“What is this?” I asked, pointing to the e-mail address gleefully. I was so completely guileless.
“Huh? What’s that?” Dad grunted in surprise. He did not know what an “e-mail” was. Well, how could he? I told him how it worked and that it was going to revolutionize business. And we would be there first.
Dad was unpersuaded by such things, like reason. I should have realized this after he failed to “get” Mr. Spock.
“James,” he said with his voice rapidly raising to a full shout, “E-MAIL WILL NEVER BE USED FOR BUSINESS!” His fists were in the air and his voice full of furious indignation. “JAMES!! GODAMNIT!!! AGAIN, YOU SHOW THAT YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS SENSE!!!! TAKE THAT OFF THE BUSINESS CARDS!!!!! NOW!!!!!!”
FISH. BARREL. AIM. FOOT!¹
Needless to say I was crestfallen, in more ways than one. When I complained about it to him later, he merely shrugged his shoulders and answered peremptorily, “if you don’t like it here, go get another job.”
I realized that I was on the receiving end of a harsh ultimatum: Either acquiesce to his craziness (and all its implications for long-term viability) or be left possibly for dead. My resilience, resourcefulness, or even my ability to relish the absurd, did nothing to diminish the brutal nature of this awful choice.
One thing for sure, I discovered that I didn’t care much for ultimatums. And so I filed this exchange for posterity…
Want some Alpo?
¹ – As a weird form of Prior Art, I must cite Tony Rzepela’s artful use of this expression from the Undercover mailing list discussion of the Rolling Stones. His original expression was “Fish. Barrel. Aim. Shoot.” I have changed the last word to “Foot” in my story because Dad widely missed the barrel (obviously) and shot himself in the foot. Would you have bet against e-mail in 1994?
You are a better man than I, James Olcott; I am not sure I could have handled all that you faced without blowing my stack early on. Living through the intellectual decline of your father and his gradually slipping into darkness must have engendered grief, even while you were getting it.
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