Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What If?

I was listening to a TED Talk yesterday. Well, it was really a TED discussion. Chris Anderson was interviewing Elon Musk—you know, the genius behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, Hyperloop, etc.—and the discussion was fascinating!

I always enjoy hearing Elon speak about the projects he's working on. He doesn't seem constrained by the limits most people put on what could be possible. If there's a problem, no matter how unsolvable it may seem, he comes up with a grand solution and presents it in a matter-of-fact "yeah, we can totally do this" fashion.

He spent a good part of the discussion answering questions about The Boring Company, one of his latest brainchildren, and how he's looking to solve Los Angeles congestion by digging down instead of building up—totally rethinking the way we dig tunnels to create a massive underground network potentially allowing a vehicle to get from Westwood to LAX in six minutes. It's nuts. I love it!

But what really caught my attention was when the conversation turned to SpaceX and Elon's ideas for a Mars colony. He and Chris were talking about a future where we, as humans, are a space-faring multi-planet species. And I think most of us, myself certainly included, just assumed this is what the future holds. But Elon made it very clear that this destiny is not by any means imminent.

Elon explained, "Then there's becoming a multi-planet species and space-faring civilization. This is not inevitable. It's very important to appreciate this is not inevitable."
He then mentioned the space program, "If you look at the progress in space, in 1969 you were able to send somebody to the moon. 1969. Then we had the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle could only take people to low Earth orbit. Then the Space Shuttle retired, and the United States could take no one to orbit. So that's the trend. The trend is like down to nothing."

I never thought about that. I guess I, probably like most people, just thought that we're naturally getting better and better; that progress just happens as a fixed course. But Elon rebutted that mindset and said, "People are mistaken when they think that technology just automatically improves. It does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better, and actually it will, I think, by itself degrade, actually."
He then mentioned how the Ancient Egyptians developed the technology to build the great pyramids, but then forgot how to do it. And the Romans built the magnificent aqueducts, and then forgot how to do it.  

How many times in our own experience have we tried to do something we once were great at and mess it up royally? We get out of practice … and we forget. And if we don't put effort into improving, growing, tweaking, and sometimes completely reinventing, we'll get stale and eventually go backward.

Our businesses need constant attention. We can't get too comfortable. We can't just go forward for years in the status quo. Because the market is constantly changing, our customers' needs are constantly changing, and the way in which we process, deliver, source, and serve should always be adaptable to meet those needs.

And sometimes we have to look at our situations completely objectively. We must let go of all the constraints that we put our minds in and think, "What if!?" What if we dig tunnels instead of going up? What if we retire our old low-orbiting space shuttle and build a new kind of rocket that will take us much, much further? What if we break out of the path that we're stuck in and think about going to new worlds instead?

You can do anything. Your business isn't limited by where it is right now or the way it's always done stuff. Go ahead and break the mold.

What if?

#TEDTalks #ElonMusk #WhatIf


Also published on the AMBC blog on May 16, 2017.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


I want to share a letter with you, but feel I must give a little background first…

I'm on the board of directors for the Association of Mail & Business Centers (AMBC), a non-profit group that provides advocacy, certification, and training for independent shipping stores across the country. Established in 1982, it's the oldest trade association in a very unique industry, and our bi-monthly magazine, MBC Today, is the most established and well respected trade publication in the space; it's read by thousands of shipping store owners and industry partners across the country, including top executives at the major shipping companies (FedEx, DHL, UPS, USPS, etc.), suppliers, vendors, and other shipping nerds like myself worldwide.

I've written articles for MBC Today for years, long before I joined the AMBC board of directors in 2014. It has been a true privilege! And, in just the past year or two, we launched the AMBC blog and I've had the honor of writing for that regularly as well.

A few years ago, I started a new industry-related advice column in MBC Today titled ... you guessed it ... Ask Uncle Marty™. It's somewhat tongue-in-cheek, traditional advice column style, where shipping store owners write in asking about everything from how to pack certain items and how to market their stores to what products to carry and how to ensure they're complying with safety regulations. I have fun changing names to keep it anonymous, and am very pleased that the column has been very well received and a favorite feature of the magazine.

There's a lot that I write for MBC Today and the AMBC blog that I don't publish here, mainly because those articles are so industry specific that they wouldn't interest the general public. But this past month, I decided to do something different in the Ask Uncle Marty™ column … and I thought it would be appropriate to share with you now.

So here it is: the Ask Uncle Marty™ that was just published in MBC Today Volume 19, Issue 3 (May/June 2017):

Dear Readers,

I want to take an opportunity to thank you for your continued support of Ask Uncle Marty™. It means a lot to me to have such interest, and your questions are all so interesting. Keep them coming!

I’m going to flush the format this month, not publish any letters, and instead address something that I see as a common theme in many messages that I receive: overwhelm.

A lot of you write in about different situations you face. Many times, you’re wondering what to do about a certain customer that’s driving you crazy, or how to handle a scenario you’ve never encountered before. And sometimes you write just to vent because you’re completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn or what to do.

I totally get this. Overwhelm is a battle I also fight every day. I mean, c’mon, we’re small business owners; overwhelm is a way of life for us! And when I’m really overwhelmed, I get flustered; when I get flustered, I get frustrated; when I get frustrated, I get a smelly rotten attitude. It’s not pretty.

There are countless examples I could share about how I’ve overreacted and behaved entirely foolishly in overwhelming situations. I could tell you about all the hissy fits, tantrums, and tape measures I’ve thrown. I could recant the sordid, melodramatic story of how, last November, I had a complete breakdown in front of a street full of passersby and construction workers after I fell off a wobbly stool trying to hang Christmas lights in my display window—screaming, swearing, crying, bleeding, kicking boxes, and generally behaving like a belligerent orangutan because I landed on top of said wobbly stool, smashed it into splinters, and tore my favorite pair of jeans. Or I could regale you with the tale of how yesterday I destroyed my lovely metal yardstick when I stomped on it and bent it completely out of shape in an outrageous fit of senseless rage because the beautiful custom-made 48x15x11 box for a fencing bag (as in a bag full of fencing equipment—foils, helmets, etc.) that I just meticulously made actually needed to be 48x17x11 because I forgot to measure the bag’s wheel width. But I’ll save you the drama...

What I want you to understand is that overwhelm is normal. It doesn’t mean that you’re weird, out of control, or not going to make it. It just means that you need to find a coping mechanism. For me, I’ve discovered yoga. And I know that, no matter how much I’m freaking out, a little Dolly Parton in my ears can fix any mood.

But usually when we get an attack of overwhelm, we’re at our stores—busy bees, dancing that intricate, multi-tasking, awkwardly graceful shipping store ballet that we all perform so well when we’re under pressure and making sure each customer is treated like a queen. In these situations, we can’t take the time to go into the back and downward dog for five minutes; we can’t put on our earbuds and jam out to Jolene because, dang it, there’s a line of people waiting for us at the counter!

So what do we do?

Sarah often tells about her secret weapon: a tube of lipstick she keeps ready at all times. When she feels like she's about to snap, she puckers up, paints her lips, takes a deep breath, and literally puts her best face forward. She's no stranger to working through hard, rough days while presenting her customers with nothing but sunshine and rainbows. I admire her.

The AMBC board and staff are tight. We’ve all become very good friends, so often when we’re feeling too much pressure we turn to each other. Sarah’s reaction to my sputtering and spinning out of control is usually to tell me to, “Breathe!” And I’ll admit that sometimes that’s exactly what I don’t want to hear. But it’s what I need to hear, and she knows that. Kim, on the other hand, when I start sputtering and spinning will just roll her eyes and say, “Seriously!?” And I love that too, because Kim knows what a drama queen I can be at times and has no problem smacking me back into reality. Indeed, I adore my colleagues!

Having someone around you that can help you cope—whether that’s advising you to take a beat, a few breaths, and recollect yourself, or telling you to snap out of it because it’s really not as bad as what you’re making it out to be—is important. Maybe that’s a co-worker, partner, spouse, child, parent, or friend. Or maybe it’s simply another AMBC member with whom you’ve made a “calm me down when I need it” pact. #MembersHelpingMembers

So why do I tell you all of this? Why should you care who I turn to for support? Why should you care about my public displays of emotional ugliness? You shouldn't. And I don't want you to think that just because I've lost my temper from time to time and broken down in a puddle of tears in my display window that it's OK for you to do so. Please don't follow my example, though know I fully understand when and if it happens to you; it happens to the best of us. But I tell you this because I want you to stop and think about how you vent, and consider very carefully the media, forum, and audience that you show your unpleasant side to … because, as small business owners, we're always in the public eye. Every social media post, every customer interaction, every nod at the grocery store, and every public example of grace—or breakdown of the same—reflects on our business's image.
And because we’re small business owners, we often don't have the luxury of taking personal days. We work through tragedy, through sickness, through snow days, through soccer games and recitals, and through times when we'd rather be anywhere other than waiting on customers. Doom and gloom inside, we must shine on the outside. It takes skill, and sometimes it takes some serious acting chops. But we do it … because that's our job. 

I’ve told you about Yogi Linda before on the AMBC blog. She leads my favorite Monday night yin class. If you remember my blog post Don’t Feed the Wolves from a few months ago, Linda was the one who inspiringly kept saying, "Don't feed the wolves. Water the flowers instead." Well, she had some more great wisdom recently and said, "We all have pain, but it's our choice whether or not we create drama around it. Suffering is optional."

I challenge you to choose to not suffer. Rather, take control and do your dang best. Because look how far you’ve come already! You own a business. You’re the boss. You’re in charge and the captain of your own ship. And if I may be extremely cliché, the world is your oyster, and there’s a pearl waiting inside just for you.

So find your lipstick, put your best face forward, then pucker up and give the public a big ol’ smack of awesomeness … because that’s your job.


#AskUncleMarty #AMBC4ME #MBCToday #Overwhelm #SufferingIsOptional