I first knew Lewis Shiner’s writing from the comic THE HACKER FILES.  It was one of the first comics to print newsgroup postings in the letters page (my only published LOC was there!).

I’ve been reading the free PDF version of Mr. Shiner’s new book, BLACK AND WHITE. It is a thousand miles removed from his cyberpunk days.  It tells a story centered around the construction of the Interstate System, and Research Triangle Park.  The highest praise I can offer is that it involves the sixties and America’s racial awakenings, and I still can’t stop reading.  I thought the Baby Boomers had bored me to tears with this stuff, but this is a different angle, a much more personal story, and I’m captivated.

You can download the free PDF here, or order a real copy here.

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I was just looking over this list of 100 things you can make yourself. While the discussions of how to make tofu and bacon are interesting, like watching How It’s Made, I doubt I’ll be duplicating them.

But in the Root Beer link, they say “The primary element in the root beer flavor we know today is wintergreen”.

Really?  I need to go buy some root beer and try to identify that flavor. No wonder my wife hates root beer.

And sassafras is outlawed?  So now only the outlaws have sassafras…

This week, I started a quest to do 100 pushups.  There’s a site devoted to this goal called, appropriately, one hundred push ups.  The goal is to work your way up to doing 100 pushups in six weeks.

Rather than explain it to detail, I’ll refer you to J.D. Roth’s blog, Get Fit Slowly.  J.D. is not only participating, but is kind enough to be putting reminders up to keep everyone on track.

And be sure to check out J.D.’s excellent financial blog, Get Rich Slowly (as seen on TV!).

I was filling out an on-line marketing survey the other day, and suddenly realized I’d gotten involved in one of the most boring possible topics – permanent markers. I spent about twenty minutes ranking brands of markers on color, reliability, value, and lifespan.

I was surprised to learn that I have very strong opinions about three brands of markers, two of them positive. I consistently voted for Crayola and Sharpie. In my mind, I expect them to be consistent, long-lasting, and less messy than other brands. If Amanda sends me to the store to buy art supplies for the kids, I will reach for Crayola without thinking. And if I need a marker, I’d grab a Sharpie first. In fact, I often say, “I need a Sharpie.” Now, that’s brand recognition!

So what kind of brand recognition do YOU have? And I mean you personally.

When career counseling my employees, I often find myself focusing on the value of brand names, and try to draw parallels to their careers. It’s the same thing as reputation, I suppose, but somehow people seem to have an easier time thinking about it in marketing terms. After all, you are selling yourself as a valuable asset, right? In my mind, you ARE your brand name: in your life and your career. People have a perception of you, and make decisions about you based on that image.

  1. Brand names bring instant recognition. Nabisco has a new chocolate cake called a Cakester. It’s two chocolate cakes with a white creamy filling between them. If they just called it Cakester, they might have trouble getting shelf space and consumer awareness. So they call it the Oreo Cakester. It’s not really much like an Oreo, besides the basic cream-filled chocolate, but the word “Oreo” gets Nabisco instant recognition, and immediate sales to Oreo fans. Career-wise, what does your brand name say about you? When people hear your name, do they think about successful projects, organization, and quality output? Or do they think about complaining, tardiness, or sloppiness?

  2. Brand names stand the test of time. This is both a plus and minus. Companies that have been around are seen as reliable and steady. They aren’t as likely to be seen as innovative or cool. It’s very hard (but not impossible) to balance the two. If you’ve been at the same place in your career for awhile, your co-workers may see you as reliable, but may not expect you to be going anywhere. Your boss may take you for granted, and not be enthusiastic about a promotion that will shake up his organization. The key is to have a record of consistent quality. If you have a good Brand Name, other people will want to be associated with it! Like cross-marketing two brands, bosses and co-workers want to reap the benefits of your good Brand Name. And if you want to switch jobs, it will be easy to get that new department to be interested in you.

  3. Brand names are hard to change. This is a hard one for people to deal with sometimes. Some people will always associate a product with any bad news – a scandal, recalled product, or even a bad ad campaign. Almost everyone has some bad experience at work that is attached to them. It may have been saying the wrong thing to the boss. Maybe a project didn’t come out right. It could even be a funny story that’s about you, but not your fault. It has still become part of your brand name. You may be in a position today where that holds you back. But with patience, you can rebuild the Brand Name.

So what does this mean to you? Well, I think you always need to keep an eye on Brand Name You. What does your Brand Name mean in the company? How is your work today going to help or hurt your Brand Name? Are you getting proper credit for the work you do?

Hey, if you’re in Kentucky on June 27th, you can watch my grandparents go bowling with Mister Rogers!

I was talking to my friend Helen recently about our jobs, specifically about how to be 100% honest at work. Helen described her situation to me. She worked in an environment where she felt like she was the only Christian. There was a lot of swearing and off-color humor. Worse, there was a culture of dishonesty towards the customers. Things were promised on the phone with no intention of ever delivering. Helen felt like she had a responsibility, as a Christian, to be the barrier protecting the customers from the dishonesty. As she said, “If I don’t stand up for them, who will? I think God put me here to be their advocate.”

I saw it differently. I could see that Helen resented her co-workers and didn’t respect her company. She felt trapped in a job she didn’t like. And she was justifying it (to herself, more than anyone) by taking a moral stand. So what lessons can we learn from Helen’s situation?

  1. If you don’t respect your company, you won’t like your job. I’d even go as far as saying that you lose respect for yourself. I worked for 18 months for a company I couldn’t stand. I liked my co-workers, and I was trying to go into a different field. And that’s how I justified it to myself. I probably spent more than year trying to get to a different job in the same industry. My work obviously suffered by my lack of belief in my company. The day I was laid off was one of the happiest days of my life. I can’t describe how relieved I was when I was packing up my desk!

  2. It’s no good trying to save people from the consequences of their actions. At some point, Helen’s company needed to suffer for their dishonestly. Not wishing ill on them, but bad business practices will eventually lead to bad consequences. Bad consequences eventually lead to companies either going out of business, or fixing the underlying problem. All Helen was doing was delaying the consequences, not fixing the problem.

  3. Don’t hesitate to talk to your friends for advice. I was able to help Helen see something she wasn’t seeing – her own frustration. And my friends have helped me see things that I couldn’t see. We grow accustomed to our situation. It helps to have an outsider’s perspective. Not a boss or co-worker, but someone who has no stake in the issue. Helen wasn’t talking about the situation to get career advice, but that’s what ended up happening, because she was willing to discuss it.

  4. Tell people what they need to hear. You don’t do people a favor by shielding them from the truth. As a manager, this is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned. For years, I worked for people who didn’t give me enough hard feedback. But then I worked with a manager who didn’t hesitate to tell people when they weren’t performing well, or that they smelled bad, or that they needed to get a haircut. It wasn’t fun to get that kind of feedback, but I learned things I needed to fix to get promoted. No fun then, but I can’t thank her enough now. Listening to Helen describe her job, I couldn’t stop myself from providing feedback that I thought she needed.

So what happened next? There was a job opening in another department at Helen’s job – away from the people in her old department. Helen decided to put her name in, and got the job! She’d been thinking about it, and my outsider’s perspective was just the input she needed to make her decision. I hope she can respect her company more from this perspective. Even more, I hope that the company notices the difference, and fixes the dishonesty problem!

I don’t think Jay Leno is incredibly funny. But I like him a lot for his work ethic, and I think he’s a pretty smart guy.  Here’s an article he wrote about American cars. I think he has a great handle on the customer’s side of thing.  No surprise; he owns 113 cars!

Oh, and thanks to Mark Evanier for the link!