How trips to the eye doctor change once you reach "this age"

Monday, April 30, 2012 | | 4 comments

Today, in the midst of a typical day at the office, I snuck out for my annual eye exam.

While there’s no sign telling me to announce my presence upon arrival, I know this is the accepted practice at every doctor’s office on the planet, so I provided my name to the woman behind the counter and told her that I was here for my appointment.

She seemed puzzled and mumbled to herself, “ are, are you?” as she glanced at the computer screen in front of her, robbing me immediately of the confidence I’d had when I walked in. An instant later she said, “Oh, yes you’ve been here many times,” which seemed to imply that those with a long history of bad eyesight would certainly have their appointments honoured.

The woman, “Helen,” asked me to follow her and another young woman to the examination room. There, the younger woman was introduced to me as “the intern” in much the same way one might refer to “the desk” or “the chair.”

While my forehead and chin were pressed unnaturally against the outside of a machine, Helen gave the intern a quick lesson on how the machine worked and how they were going to record whatever measurements it spit out. Then, she said, “Because of his age, we’ll also need to do this test here,” her hand pointing to something on the other side of the machine I obviously couldn’t see. I chose to ignore the comment about my age and instead braced myself for whatever the machine might soon do – shooting bursts of air into my unsuspecting eyes or merely blinding me with bright lights are the two options of which I am most fond.

I was pleased to learn that I was only asked to refrain from blinking for about seven minutes and focus on a series of green squares, while ignoring the red line that dissected the squares that was impossible not to notice. The tests done, I was told that the machine had taken pictures of my eyes and that I would be reviewing with my eye doctor. I could hardly wait.

Led out of the first waiting room, I was taken to another where my eye doctor was waiting. I was asked to read letters projected on the wall, while covering one eye with a paddle and strap myself into another machine, telling my eye doctor that one was clearer than two, three was clearer than one and five was obviously for an entirely different patient.

The final test was to hold a card at arm’s length and read a short paragraph. I was able to see it clearly and while I don’t remember the exact words, it went something like:

In today’s society there a great many instances of men having to chase their hats...

When I was finished with those words, without thinking, I said, “Well, isn’t that the truth?” My doctor burst out laughing and I was reminded that with each passing day, I’m becoming more like my father.

As we were finished with the tests, my doctor turned to her computer and clicked on the pictures of my eyes taken in the next room. “So this is the back of your eye,” she said, as she pointed to something that looked like the moon with a series of red rivers running through it. The rivers, she explained, were blood vessels and she asked me if it bothered me to look at these pictures. “No, I’m fine,” I lied, as I felt my hands grow cold.

“This is the optical nerve,” she continued, “And this is the macular area,” her tone indicating that the white and the black moon spots were exactly as she had hoped they would be.

My second moon looked just like my first and I was told that these pictures allowed for a profile view, where the layers of the eye’s moon rivers could be better seen. The screen changed to what appeared to be a mountain range and I learned that my mountain moon eyes dipped in exactly the right place.

At my age...I can’t tell you what a relief that was.

My memories of Levon Helm

Friday, April 20, 2012 | | 2 comments

Yesterday, the world lost a great musician as Levon Helm, the drummer and singer of The Band, lost his battle with cancer. He was 71.

As most of The Band’s biggest hits were released in the late 1960s, a few years before I was born, many from my generation are unaware of Helm and his music. For them, the news of his passing will barely register, but through a series of hometown connections, The Band has touched my life and for me, this is truly sad news.

The Band

My story begins when I was a boy of 12. My mother told me that there was a big concert in my hometown of Stratford starring The Band. Their name struck me as terribly odd and it took me some time to digest that anyone would ever have picked that as their name. She told me however that they had been a huge success and that it was a very big deal that they were playing a show in Stratford. Their keyboard player, Richard Manuel, who they all called “Beak,” was from Stratford and I believed that had to be the only reason this big deal had ever come to be.

The Revols

My mother was just as excited though by the opening act, a band called The Revols, who, as teenagers in Stratford, had been about as popular as The Beatles, playing every dance that she, my father and their friends thought worth going to, at a time when going to dances was the thing to do.

Before he had been with The Band, Manuel had been an original member of The Revols, along with John Till, Ken Kalmusky, Doug Rhodes and Jim Winkler. Till would later leave the group and be replaced by Garth Picot. Their success in Stratford and surrounding area led to opening for Ronnie Hawkins, the Arkansas native credited with bringing rock and roll to Canada. While still teenagers, they would travel to Arkansas to play at Hawkins’ club in Fayetteville.

The group would disperse, some going on to play with other high profile bands – Till played with Janis Joplin (including her show at Woodstock in 69) and Kalmusky with Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s group, Great Speckled Bird.

Manuel would join Hawkins’ own band, The Hawks, which ultimately included Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko. The Hawks left Hawkins in 1964 to play with Bob Dylan (at a time that Dylan was moving his music from acoustic folk to electric rock), finally forming their own group, The Band.

Teen years in Stratford and the girl from Toronto

Throughout my teen years, our local radio station in Stratford, which advertised a format of “oldies and more” (with the oldies being prominent and the more being highly suspect) would occasionally play The Band’s biggest hits, The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. There was something so different about these songs, something that got me immediately and I was ever more a fan.

Years later, when I was nearly through university, I would meet a girl from Toronto. She told me her dad had grown up in Goderich, Ontario, but moved to Stratford as a teenager. He was a guitar player who lived with Richard Manuel and played in his band, The Revols. That girl is now my wife and the mother of our two amazing children. My father-in-law is Garth Picot, easily the best guitar player I’ve ever known.

A birthday gift for me

On my birthday the following year, my girlfriend, her family and John Till and family went to see The Band play a show in Toronto. They had just released their album Jericho and thrilled the crowd with classic hits and selections from the new album that I loved instantly.

The concert was absolutely brilliant, but my night was about to get much better. Till went down to the stage after the show and told the group’s people who he was and that he, Garth and their families wanted to come backstage and talk to the guys. A quick check with the band members and we were led backstage into their dressing room.

I remember meeting Danko and being surprised that he wasn't nearly as tall as he seemed on stage. He was really friendly and joked that since we were both Ricks that he’d have an easy time remembering my name – an awful joke, but delivered in a way that made you feel glad he had said it. Hudson seemed to be mostly a giant beard and possibly shy so our introduction was predictably short.

Helm had been the star onstage and backstage too he was larger than life. He was pleased to meet me, but thrilled to see the two men he had known and with whom he had shared the stage many years earlier - Till and my father-in-law. I had known my father-in-law had been an accomplished musician, with uncommon skill, but to see him treated as an equal by these men was a memory I’ll never forget.

Helm said he remembered Garth’s daughter (my girlfriend) from her attendance at Manuel’s funeral in Stratford in 1986. As unlikely as that was to be true, Levon had a southern charm that made it impossible not to believe him. If nothing else, perhaps he just knew enough to say he remembered her, smile and make sure everyone that made the effort to see him play was having a good night. That stuck with me too.

The music goes on

The Band hasn’t been together since the death of Danko, but the remaining members of The Revols , including my father-in-law, reunited in Stratford on a perfect summer day in Stratford in 2008 to open a show for Ronnie Hawkins. Yes, that Ronnie Hawkins. Some estimated the crowd to be as many as 20,000 people.

The crowd was in awe that these men, now in their 60s, could still play as well as ever; maybe even better than when they were younger. There wasn’t a song in the set that didn’t hit its mark, but I think the ones that people remember most were Up on Cripple Creek, The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

By The Band.

RIP Levon Helm

Weeding out lawn care companies: How we evaluate small businesses

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | | 5 comments

Recently, I received a letter in the mail addressed to “R. HASTINGS
or RESIDENT” and as I can claim to be both, I opened it. The letter came from a lawn care company that wants to provide me (or resident) with special packages on their services for 2012. I wasn’t looking for a lawn care company to take care of my property, although my epic failure over the past few years to take care of this myself caused me to look a little bit more closely at their offer.

Years ago, I would have asked family, friends, neighbours or coworkers if they knew anything about the company that mailed me a letter.Today, the way we do our homework is very different and small businesses need to understand how customers make buying decisions.

Here are my thoughts on how we evaluate small businesses with some suggestions for this lawn care company (and others like them).

1. Company websites: With lawn care companies, potential customers are looking at websites for price, availability and some background on the company. Testimonials are very important to provide the credibility that was once earned through word-of-mouth referrals. The answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are helpful to potential customers and to the business for creating credibility and possibly offloading some phone calls to customer service reps. However, what businesses in this day and age must understand is that a solid website is merely table stakes, our starting point.
2. Social Media: Potential customers will look for the company on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and notice if they’re not there. Companies who choose not to participate in social media miss many opportunities:

· The ability to provide an easy way for customers and potential customers to connect with the business
· The ability to carry on a conversation with their customers
· The ability to build a closer bond

Customers are hanging out on social media sites, talking about lawn care – how can any business afford not to be here too?
3. Blog: FAQs are helpful on the website, but in no way establish credibility like an effective blog. A blog can paint you as a leader in your industry, it shows your thoughts on your products/services, customers and trends that impact the business. A blog lets customers know they’re dealing with a human being. That matters. There’s a very small chance that customers want to know more about grubs or the difference between crabgrass and quackgrass, and that information can be provided through the website and FAQs, but what customers really want to know is that you understand their true needs – how do I get a beautiful lawn that I can enjoy and be proud of when I host my family and friends, without having to spend 10,000 hours or dollars?
4. Content of social media: When your service is grass, you can and should give us interesting information about grass – where it comes from, how best to care for it, interesting ways to cut it, how to prevent insects from destroying it. But what people REALLY care about is the enjoyment of their property. Show them how they can play with their kids in a lawn that won’t harm them or the environment. Publish a list of 10 fun activities on a perfect looking lawn. Show them interesting deck designs that look great against green grass. Talk about the latest in outdoor barbecues, gardens, sprinkler systems. It’s about the emotion that comes with owning a property that looks and feels just right that moves people to hire lawn care companies. Smart companies know this and provide what people want. Join forces with companies that provide products that add to the enjoyment of a beautiful property. Talk about how to host an outdoor party. Become the trusted source for creating, maintaining and, most of all, enjoying a perfect lawn.
5. Beautiful pictures: Encourage customers to send pictures of their lawns and interesting properties they’ve seen as they travel in the summer. Put pictures of families lying on their backs in the grass, all holding hands...actually, scratch that – you have that picture in your brochure and it’s downright creepy.

What do you look for when you’re evaluating a small
business? What else can they do to make a great first impression?

What really matters about Brett Lawrie’s attempted steal of home?

Sunday, April 15, 2012 | | 0 comments

I’m a huge baseball fan, but I don’t often find my blog topics from watching my favourite team, the Toronto Blue Jays. This weekend however, there was a very interesting play and an even more interesting reaction from the team’s manager that deserves some conversation.

Did you see that play?

If you watched the Jays play the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday afternoon, one play above all others would have stood out. In the second inning, with the bases loaded, two outs and the Jays’ best hitter, Jose Bautista, at the plate, Brett Lawrie was thrown out by an eyelash as he attempted to steal home. The potential for a big inning was gone and the Jays eventually lost the game.


To the casual baseball fan (and the Jays have collected many this season through a tremendous public relations plan) this play may seem like a slight miscalculation by Lawrie, easily one of the team’s most exciting players. He plays the game to win and who can blame him for attempting such a high risk manoeuvre, they will say. Even though he was unsuccessful, the mere attempt to steal home was enough to bring the fans out of their seats and what could be wrong with that?

Those who know the game however, will call this play a serious blunder. With the Orioles pitcher on the ropes, as surely he was with the bases loaded and facing the Jays’ most dangerous hitter, you never “run into an out” to end an inning. Worse yet, you never take the bat out of the hands of the team’s leader, the man who has led the team in every offensive category each of the last two seasons. In every sense, Lawrie’s attempted steal was a complete mistake.

The aftermath

After the play, cameras captured the Jays’ manager, John Farrell, talking to Lawrie in the dugout. The message from the manager to the young star was simple – under those circumstances, we never want you to try that again.

A reporter asked Farrell after the game if he would have reacted differently if Lawrie had been called safe on the play and scored a very important run. Farrell replied that his reaction would have been identical, that Lawrie hadn’t made the right decision and that even if he was safe, he needs to be more aware of the game situation than he was on that play.

The art of leadership

In sports, at work, at home, in life, we are rarely in complete control of our outcomes. We are however, in control of ourselves, our behaviours, our actions and our focus should always be here and not on outcomes we cannot control.

And so it is the job of leaders to focus on what we did right, what we did wrong, and communicate how we wish to behave in similar situations that come up down the road. We may do the right things and still fail and we may win despite ourselves – this is life. But to focus primarily on outcomes may seriously miss the point and set us up for long term failure.

A parent will be grateful that his child didn’t break their arm falling out of a tree, but would be remiss if he didn’t use the opportunity to talk about the dangers of tree climbing to all of his children. A manager will be pleased that her customer didn’t jump to a competitor over a poor customer service situation, but must use this “near miss” as a coaching opportunity to change the behaviours that nearly caused this loss of business.

Farrell knows that he has a gem in Lawrie and must be leery of saying anything to his young third baseman that might alter his style of play. He knows too well though that the young man who plays like his hair is on fire still has a lot to learn about the game and that nothing must come between the manager and his delivery of these important baseball lessons.

Lawrie, and all Blue Jays, will be better players if they focus on executing over the course of 162 ball games and not on the wins and losses that are sometimes beyond their control. Farrell seems like the kind of leader that will make sure his team gets that message.

Were you watching the game? What did you think?

You’re not hearing me, Petro-Canada

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | | 0 comments

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a problem I was having at Petro-Canada where my debit card wouldn’t swipe at their pump and I wasn’t finding any easy way to resolve the problem.

I shared the blog post with Petro-Canada on Twitter and to their credit someone replied to me within an hour, writing “We hear you!” They asked me to send them the location where this problem was occurring, so I did. They thanked me and said they would let the station manager know about the problem.

I waited for something more, but nothing ever came. Were they going to let me know when the station manager had been contacted? Was any resolution coming? Did anyone plan to contact me to let me know things had changed? What was I to do if the problem continued?


They were going to let the station manager know and I suppose from their perspective that settled it? I thought my blog post made it clear that if the station was taking customer problems seriously, they would already know about the problem because I had told their employee twice that I was having it!

Earlier this week, I returned to the station for the first time since complaining and once again, my debit card would not swipe at the pump, but had no problem swiping inside. I told the employee (for the third time) that I was having this problem, she seemed surprised, but offered little more than a shrugging of her shoulders before wishing me a good day.

I decided to write back to Petro-Canada through the original Twitter conversation because it seemed they really hadn’t heard me. They wrote back and asked if they could have someone phone me about the problem and a couple of hours later, I was on the phone with the regional manager for this particular station.

“Let me give you some background on what we’ve been doing,” he started. “We’ve upgraded the software at the pumps to the latest version...we actually had a guy here for nine hours...the company we use is (missed it)...we’ve had them here a few times making sure the software is up to date...we can’t ask our suppliers to keep coming, I really don’t know what more we can do.”

What more you can do? What exactly have you done for me so far? I’ve had to put in a lot of effort just to get you to talk to me! Notice I didn’t say listen to me, because I’m not sure anyone has actually done that yet!

Very politely, I told him that it was very nice that they’ve upgraded to the latest software, but that I was still having the problem.

“Well, if you wouldn’t mind, you could go to your bank and get a new debit card.”

“Actually, I do mind, since my debit card works absolutely everywhere other than your pumps and it even works inside your location!”

“Yeah, well I don’t know what to tell have to see it from our side, we get thousands of cards that go through without a problem, so we don’t know what we can do for you if you don’t want to get a new card.”

I have to see it from your side? I’m not unreasonable, but as a customer, do I really?

“We’ve upgraded the software...” he repeated for about the fourth time.

“Look, if the only solution here is for me to go to my bank and get a new card, so it might work at the only place where my current card does not, it would be easier for me to drive the extra 30 seconds to a different gas station,” I told him.

“Well, if you’re going to take that attitude, then I guess there’s nothing we can do to help you.”

Take that attitude? Did you really just say that?

Dumbfounded, I listened to him go on.

“We don’t want to lose your business obviously...”

This is obvious?

“And we’re sorry for the inconvenience...”

Funny that this is the first time I’m hearing these words!

“If you’re able to get a new card and if that doesn’t work we could tell our supplier that this is a new card…”

Yes, this game does sound like fun.

Knowing that this conversation was going nowhere, I made sure I had this person’s name and ended the conversation.

I’ve honestly not wanted to take my business to another gas station, but this problem has become so frustrating, especially what I see as a total lack of interest in listening to me or to come up with a solution that actually changes anything!

Am I asking too much? Do you really hear me?

Dealing with crisis while surrounded by alligators

Monday, April 9, 2012 | | 0 comments

Family vacations are the last place I expect to encounter a crisis, but that’s what happened to us a few days ago at Mayakka River State Park in Florida. Everything turned out fine, but I think there are lessons contained in the story about dealing with a crisis at home, on vacation or at work.

The story

We arrived at the park, expecting to rent kayaks to explore the lake and wildlife for a few hours. The lake is filled with large birds, turtles and flying fish, but the undeniable stars of the show are the hundreds of alligators that live in the lake, some as long as 15 feet.

The park was out of kayaks, so we settled instead on renting two full sized canoes. We pushed our boats into the water, a short entry channel to the main lake, but noticed immediately that the wind was going to make paddling a huge challenge for a crew of one adult and one small child. We paddled like crazy (at least the adults did), but the wind pushed both of our boats against the shore. Finally making it out of the channel and into the mouth of the lake, the wind completely took over and blew us whichever direction it pleased. Even turning around seemed impossible and it wasn’t long before we had the canoes stuck in shallow water, getting our paddles caught in thick grass that covered the lake bed, parents getting short with the kids.

We hadn’t seen any alligators, but another family, also in canoes that were blowing sideways, had somehow managed to spot one not far from us. Frustration and worry now completely took over and we knew we had to come up with another plan to get ourselves moving in the right direction – any direction - and fast!

We decided that returning to home base was absolutely necessary and that our best chance of getting there was to tie the canoes together and get everyone in one boat, all paddling together. If that didn’t work, we had the option of waiting to be rescued, but we didn’t notice anyone coming around to see if the hapless boaters were okay. Another option was walking the shore line, dragging our canoes behind us, but the possibility that alligators could be hidden in the weeds on or near shore made this option significantly less attractive.

Using our paddles as poles, we pushed away from the shallowest water and got ourselves pointed in the right direction. The kids needed a lot of coaching to know on which side to paddle (read constant yelling), but very slowly, we were moving. I noticed about seven or eight giant vultures circling high overhead and couldn’t help but think that they had noticed our predicament.

After nearly an hour of struggling against the wind, we had made it back to our starting point. We barely had enough energy to pull our canoes onto shore, but we were safe and greatly relieved.

The lessons

1. Communication: When you realize you’re in trouble, communication to everyone involved needs to be clear and firm. The parenting handbook regarding calm, polite conversation goes out the window when kids need to know exactly what is expected of them, especially when failure to follow instructions puts their safety at risk.
2. Decision making: Speed and certainty are critical. Democracy might be best thrown out the window - it was in this case.
3. Contingency plans: Always be thinking about what you’ll do if Plan A doesn’t work and don’t be afraid to admit your current plan is a failure. Having options eases tension and frees your mind up to...
4. Take action: It’s easy to become paralyzed by fear, but you’ve got to get moving before the alligators find you.
5. Identify the vultures: In a crisis, vultures are only distractions and should be ignored - no good can come from allowing them to affect your decisions or your actions. Remember, they aren’t hoping for you to succeed.
6. Never rent canoes and enter an alligator lake on a windy day: Trust me.

Have you had to deal with a crisis? What advice would you add to the list?

Five ways the Toronto Blue Jays have built buzz this off season

Thursday, April 5, 2012 | | 0 comments

The Toronto Blue Jays open their 2012 season today in Cleveland and I can’t remember a season in the past 20 years that has held so much excitement. There’s an equal chance that these Jays will challenge for a playoff spot or will be exposed over 162 games as a team still a season or a key player away from contending, maybe two.

But what can’t be argued is that the Jays have done more right than wrong this off season to create a buzz about their team for the foreseeable future. There’s hope they might be good enough this year, there are players to be excited about and there’s reason to believe this is a team with a future.

How have they done it?

1. Communicating the plan: The Jays have made it very clear that their plan was to acquire players with “high ceilings” at every level of their minor league system and allow them time to grow into a championship team. They’ve made sure we hear not only about Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia and Henderson Alvarez, young stars who have made it to the big club, but Anthony Gose, Travis D’Arnaud and Drew Hutchison, future stars still a season or more away from making the big club. It doesn’t matter that we’ve never seen some of these players play, we believe that the plan is solid and that these players are going to be something special. Communicating the plan allows us to be patient and optimistic.
2. Communication from the top: Throughout last year and this off season we heard from President, Paul Beeston, General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos and Manager, John Farrell. All are open, friendly and clear when they talk about the direction of the team. The fans feel informed and trusting toward these three and are more apt to buy in to the promise of better baseball ahead.
3. Effective messaging: Team President, Paul Beeston was asked about the Jays and their chances of making the playoffs and said he expected them to be in the playoffs twice over the next five years. Beeston has said on many occasions that they’re building to be a team that can contend every year. Fans don’t want to hear, “We hope to be good,” or “We’re trying.” They want to hear, “We plan to win and more than once.” These messages go far with a fan base that wants to believe.
4. Using Social Media to connect with the fans: Jays’ players such as Jose Bautista, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Lawrie have embraced Twitter and communicate often with their fans. They’re seen as likable, hard working players who care to be part of a Toronto championship run. Today’s fan expects better access to their favourite players and the Jays deliver. The players see themselves as ambassadors for the club and genuinely enjoy their role in promoting their team. There’s a lot of good that comes from that.
5. Putting their money where their mouth is: Prior to last season, the Jays rewarded their best player, Jose Bautista with a massive contract after only one outstanding season. The risk of Bautista being a flash in the pan was very real and the financial peril of making a mistake on such a contract must have been troubling to Anthopoulos. However, when he announced the contract he said that he believed in Bautista the person as much as Bautista the player. Again this off season, they spoke those words when announcing a contract extension to Dustin McGowan, a pitcher who has missed three full seasons due to injury. Players around baseball want to play for an organization that acquires and rewards good human beings. Fans want to cheer for such a team. As they say, doing good is good for business.

How do you feel about the Jays and the way they communicate with their fans? Please leave me a comment!

The one thing that family vacations can teach us

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 | | 0 comments

I’ve had a difficult time coming up with something to write about today. The problem is that I’m on vacation and except for a few times each day, I’m totally disconnected. I don’t have my usual inspiration from stories in the media, Twitter or issues at work that turn into blog posts.

My days have been filled with travel, hotels, Harry Potter, rented houses, pools, and today, the beach. All of us are having a wonderful time and my inability to come up with ideas for blog posts is in no way affecting my enjoyment of this time with my family. The mental break from thinking about communications as often as I do might even be good for me!

Today, while I sat in the sun, watching my kids play in the sand and swimming in the ocean, I realized not for the first time that nothing in my life is better than this. We’ve spent a lot of money to fly down here and spend a day at Universal Studios (more perhaps than this humble blogger should be spending), and every bit of it has been special and memorable. But playing together, as a family, on this beach is better than anything else that we’ll do on this trip.

My family is easily the most important part of my life. Spending special time with them like this, whether at home or on a faraway beach, is the quickest way for me to realize that my life is great. I’m fortunate that I have them and also that I can slow down enough to realize that they are what really matter – nothing else compares.

When we focus on what really matters we do the work that has the greatest impact. We reach our audience more directly. We cut through the distractions and do what produces results. We find happiness.

To put this to use, ask yourself questions like these:

• What is the one point I want to make here? Have I made it? Is it clear?
• What is the one thing my business does exceptionally well? Are we focused on doing that or something else?
• What is the one thing I could do today that makes me happiest?
• What’s the one thing my customers are asking for that I’m not currently providing? Can we change that?
• What’s the most important relationship in my life? Am I treating it like it’s the most important?

Keep it simple – focus on what matters most and make sure your life is centred on these things, first and foremost.

Was this helpful? What other ideas do you have? Please leave me a comment or send me a message.

You’ve got to see this video!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | | 0 comments

When we see this message attached to the same video, posted and emailed many times over, we know it’s in the process of going viral.

The latest (at least within my group of contacts) is of a teenage opera singer named Jonathan Antoine (one half of the duet Charlotte and Jonathan) singing The Prayer on Britain’s Got Talent.

In the video, we learn that Antoine has had to deal with damaging comments about his size and, not surprisingly, he completely lacks confidence. We see the judges and the show’s audience barely able to contain their laughter when he walks onstage. It’s an awful moment, but when Antoine sings, the audience is shocked to hear his incredible voice. Few, if any, who watch the video, would not be moved.

Why does a video like this go viral? It’s not because we’ve never seen a performance that exceeds our expectations so outrageously - that may have been Susan Boyle on the same show in 2009. But what we react to, what we feel so compelled to share with everyone we know, is the story of someone we discount at first glance that has the ability to amaze us. That’s what we find remarkable.

Most of us don’t know the pain of a lifetime of having people laugh at you, but we know insecurity and doubt. We know the feeling of being judged (both figuratively and literally in this example) and we know how tough it is to even make the grade, let alone amaze an audience, when no one believes we can.

We cheer for Jonathan Antoine because he’s done what we didn’t believe he could. And he does it despite longer odds than most of us face. He’s an underdog and he came through.

The video goes viral because it’s so human.

And more than going viral, it encourages all of us to take chances. It reminds us that no matter what our circumstances, we should never allow self doubt to stop us from getting on our stage and showing the world what we can do.

Do you have a story to tell? It may seem like no one wants to hear it, but if you tell it well, there’s a chance the world will stop what they’re doing and want to share it with everyone they know.

Go for it.

What did you think of Jonathan Antoine? Did the video inspire you? Leave me a comment or send me a message, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What happens when we build fences?

Monday, April 2, 2012 | | 0 comments

On my way to work on Friday, I noticed a large white sign at the side of the road. In big red letters it said, “Heavy traffic at RIM Park from March 30 to April 1. Expect delays.” The sign hadn’t been there the day before and I wondered what big event or circumstance was behind the heavy traffic.

Driving by RIM Park I looked over the parking lot and the outside of the sports complex to see what clues I might find in the mystery of the heavy traffic.
Aside from additional signs directing people where to park, it seemed like a day like any other. I was stumped. But still, I wanted to know - what was going on at RIM Park?

Chances are good that whatever was planned for RIM Park would be of little to no interest to me, but the desire to know had taken over!

I was reminded of a car dealership with which I used to do business. They were having a sale, but rather than advertise in the usual ways, they told no one and erected a giant fence around their property days before the sale was to begin. They hired a security company to have guards stand in front of the fence 24 hours a day to prevent people from trying to look through the fence. They were instructed to tell anyone who asked what was going on, “We’re not able to provide that information.”

People went crazy!

When we’re told we can’t know something, even when we have no idea what we’re missing, our curiosity takes over. Advertisers and marketers can create frenzies by teasing us and withholding information. Perhaps we’ll be more likely to want the product or service when it’s finally revealed.

On the other hand, when we have important information that we need to communicate to employees, customers, or the general public, we need to take a completely different approach. The sign needs to tell us exactly why we should expect higher than normal volumes of traffic. There can’t be any fences or people who stand guard, deliberately keeping us in the dark.

Of course only those organizations intent on sabotaging their image or reputation would ever do these things deliberately, but how often are those same circumstances created accidentally?

• Employees are told there’s a major restructuring planned, but they have to wait until next quarter to hear the details.
• Customers are told that pricing is going to change, but not when or by how much.
• The media reports a scandal, but the subject of the story says, “No comment at this time.”

Information may not always be available to be shared and perhaps the whole story isn’t yet known. But when partial communication is shared, deliberately or otherwise, curiosity will run wild.

Sometimes fences will be built when we don’t want them and there won’t be anything we can do about it. But just as often, our actions, or failure to take actions, build these fences when we can least afford to deal with the results – curiosity out of control, runaway stories.

Have you had similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them. And if anyone knows what was going on at RIM Park, can you let me know?