Adopting Ikea’s wordless way

lovecomplicatedAfter another successful trip to our nearby Ikea store, it’s occurred to me foolishness like the federal government shutdown and other such obstacles could easily be avoided by following adopting the Swedish furniture chain’s model. The main feature being, its instructions for assembling Ikea furniture use no words, and one must concede, words are what stand in the way of progress.

Imagine, by following simple wordless instructions, proper use of the (included) hex wrench and fasteners and a little patience, all sorts of legislation could be cobbled together with time left over to enjoy a plate of tasty Swedish meatballs.

borderwallbetterEliminating words, and by extension, conversation and testy debate, cuts right to the chase. The only goal is completing the project with a minimum of wasted time and effort, and, yes, words… whether it be legislation, treaties, or screwing the taxpayers.

The Ikea model is entirely transferrable to the business place by instructing both management and labor on the otherwise indecipherable intricacies of navigating corporate culture.  kissass

The beauty of Ikea’s simply drawn instruction sheets is they leave no room for interpretation or improvisation. Step 2 just ain’t gonna work without completing Step 1 exactly. The requirement to adhere to such a cut and dry process would surely relieve members of Congress of the need to espouse their moronic prejudices on the way to preventing sensible action. 

You may notice Ikea does toss a lifeline to those who find following illustrations just too challenging…by including one last drawing advising the terminally perplexed to actually call someone for help.  helpI would imagine the person on the other end of the line would be a Swede with a Scandinavian’s penchant for never uttering more than 1.3 words at a time.

Perplexed customer: “Ikea, I can’t figure out how to put together my bookcase. Help!”

Ikea Swede:  “Surrre you can. Goodbye.”

That’s just the kind of assistance members of Congress could use..a Government Swede who refuses to allow them to kick their responsibilities down the road.

Perplexed Member of Congress: “Government Swede..I’m having trouble with Step 4 in the Preventing a Government Shutdown instructions.”

Government Swede: “Just stop talking. Goodbye.”

As one who always practices what I preach, I’ve installed the Ikea Way here at home. Indeed, when I first suggested it, my family approached it with enthusiasm..quickly drawing an Ikea-like instruction sheet, guiding me through the three steps… of pulling my head out of my butt…and not a word was spoken! Try it!

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Auto Show Absentia Dementia

cobonogo2I’m a little out of sorts today. My family thinks I’ve actually descended into a deep cognitive hole. Here’s what’s going on. Early this morning I got out of bed, put on business clothes and really ugly, but comfortable shoes. In the dark I rummaged for a lanyard with some sort of badge attached that might have my name on it. I found one from 1998. Sure, why not. My name hasn’t changed although I’ve changed jobs four times since then. Who cares?

I slipped the lanyard over my head, got in my car and looked for a gathering of similarly dressed humans. I found them at a nearby Tim Hortons, although I didn’t know that’s where I was. Thinking otherwise, I held out the canvas shopping bag I toted and gamely asked the person behind the counter if they were giving out free lattes and danish, and maybe a press kit. Some sort of swag might be fun too. A tchochke I could later sell on eBay. moparswagAlso…did she know where the free lunch was. I then started averting my eyes to the barista’s midsection. No, I wasn’t looking at that. I was searching for her badge because her name escaped me. Fact is, I never knew it.  The bewildered young lady didn’t call the cops but the muscular manager gently led me to the door, quietly suggesting I was either lost…or deranged. Oh no…I protested. I’m at work. Right? Uh, no. The manager, being proactive, directed me to the Urgent Care Clinic across the street.

  The on-duty shrink, Dr. Fucocktah, sat me down, asked pointed questions, some of which revealed I’m a long-time auto writer.  I then went on to tell my story thusly.

My recent knee surgery is preventing me from covering the show for the first time since 1990 in the waning years of the last century. I begrudgingly gave up my credentials, thus breaking my 37 year string. My employer assigned them to someone else, which is like someone simply handing over your soul..or MoviePass. Some kid..by that I mean someone under 60, would use my badge to snag all the free cappuccinos, tote bags, finger sandwiches, pastries and dust-collecting swag I was totally entitled to. autoshowswagCars? LOL! The stories have long been written before the show courtesy embargoed info provided by the automakers weeks in advance.  The media preview days exist for grabbing an auto company bigwig for an interview in hopes of breaking a story, networking for your next job, catching up with old friends..in hopes they can help you get your next job and always, always, always, free stuff. 

Without being there I would be confined to home, following coverage online and pining over the Maserati-shaped lasagna I’d be missing, along with the swell BMW backpacks stuffed with releases I’d never read. Doesn’t matter. It’s free. You just want it. But now I am bereft without my annual ordeal of attempting to find a parking space within seven miles of Cobo, breathing in the luscious propane fumes spewing from the forklifts whizzing down the aisles, playing chicken with photographers trying to get their shots.

I will miss the mind-numbing roundtables and endless scrums where, as a short guy, get a spectacular view of my competition’s asses.scrum2

But it’s what I do, and have done for so many years. Second, third week of January each year, it’s where I am. Doesn’t matter where I’ve worked, CNN, AP, Detroit News, FCA, Automotive News..I have my badge, my comfy shoes and 90 pound bag with my laptop and other reporting stuff. I’m ready to do battle…and win. It’s show time but not this time for this lame-kneed scribe.

He quickly diagnosed my malady.

“You, my pathetic patient, are suffering from a common condition we call COBO-NO-GO,” he pronounced. “It’s occurs when veteran auto writers, for one reason or another, aren’t able to cover the Detroit Auto Show but blindly go through the motions anyway. There’s no known cure.”

I know. I thanked him…and asked if he could set me up with a free espresso. He couldn’t…but handed me an attractive tote bag. It’s a first step.

Until next year.

New Year’s Eh..

Happy-New-Year-Funny-MemeOh Jeez…another New Year’s Eve. I’ve written previously about my quickie foray to Times Square as 1969 turned to 1970. This time around I’m looking at nursing my recently repaired left knee and reveling in the fact that Kathy Griffin won’t be on my TV screen. My son will be asleep. My wife’s away on family business.  So my New Year’s Eve kiss will be the oversized Hershey variety I received for Christmas/Hanukkah/old guy sympathy.hersheykiss

It sounds lonely but it’s not. We long ago gave up getting blitzed at some bar or party to usher in the next solar circumvention. Besides, I personally also celebrate the new year on Rosh Hashanna in the fall. As Mindy Kaling once aptly put it, “Jews, pick a new year. You don’t get two!” I wasn’t alone for the start of the year 57 bajillion, so I’m good.

The more I think about, the more I’d prefer to celebrate the Vernal Equinox as winter transitions to spring. That’s when things really start to warm up, the bulbs start to sprout, baseball season begins, the snow is melted and reveals the small kid stuck in a drift since February but didn’t cry because it’s fun to drink snow and pee in it,  and the gardening departments at the home improvement stores really start smelling like soil, fertilizer and lawn equipment. It also seems to be the time workers at one large home improvement chain finally launder their orange vests and dig the dried up glue out of their pockets…and fingernails.

Sure, people won’t gather in drunken mobs to watch a bag of Scott’s Turf Builder drop to mark the change of seasons, and no one would stay up late to watch Dick Clark’s Vernal Equinox Dripping Eaves, but I’d definitely get in line at the stroke of midnight to take advantage of the coupon I receive every year for a free mower blade sharpening.

new-years-eveNow I understand our culture sees the turn of the year as a way to celebrate the new hope of the 365 or 6 days to come, but then at the end of them it seems all we do is look back at all the famous people who died some time during those days. Nice to remember them but it gets a bit depressing. I admit, when I see those lists, there are some who died earlier in the year I forgot about, but then I’m bummed all over again once I’m reminded. I’m sure when they died they received adequate media coverage. Isn’t that enough? In the spirit of hope for the new year, maybe find an actuary who can estimate how many new lives will begin, and better yet, how many newborns won’t grow up to be reality show personalities or cable TV talking heads.

dont-look-back-satch-quote

No, looking back isn’t for me at all. I lived it. I dealt with it. I’m done with it. As the great pitcher Satchel Paige astutely advised, “don’t look back. something might be gaining on you.” With my newly repaired knee, I’m moving as fast as I can…and I’m not looking back. Happy New Year to you all..spring’s just around the corner.

An indispensable truth OR proving your ass is worth saving

032113-slacker-4_3One thing, among many, an employee hates to hear is the boss saying, “go ahead, take as much time as you need to recover. We’ll get along just fine.” At face value it seems like the boss is being really considerate, and probably is. But honestly, who wants to be told the company won’t come to a screeching halt without them.

I’ve spent most of my life as a journalist and newsrooms are perpetually short-staffed, which means calling in sick does not win the “take your time, get better,” reaction from the boss. It generally sparks “if you’re not dead, you’re well enough to cover your assignment.” That’s not technically wrong. In fact, three days after undergoing removal of a malignancy in my right shoulder, with a drainage bag and tube sticking out of my flesh, I never mentioned it to the CNN national desk and I covered my story. All I had to do was hide my apparatus, and a few blood spots, under my blazer when recording my standup on a bobbing speed boat and no one was the wiser. At CNN, as at many other companies, the whole idiotic hero thing is part of the culture. 

When I made the switch to PR at a large multinational car company, things were markedly different. I was now one of a global workforce of roughly 45,000, showing up each day to the corporate Xanadu, along with 12,000 other contributors to the cause.

As I trundled from the parking deck to the employee entrance of the massive complex, I blended in with the mob swiping their badges in order to make the revolving doors turn, giving them entree’ to their workspaces. 

Each day for my 10 years and 29 days at the company I would have the same two thoughts:  Would anyone care/notice if I didn’t show up? What the hell do all these other people do and would anyone care/notice if any of them were absent? Sure, it takes a lot of people to run and operate a giant company, but honestly, does it take that many? I wasn’t being arrogant. I was simply wondering how many of us would be considered superfluous and not, sorry, “core.” 

It hit home to me early in my run when I noticed a of employees who grabbed coffees from the fancy java stand in the complex and just stood around in the common area, sipped and bullshitted for what seemed like an excessive amount of time. Like two hours. Obviously, they’re not being missed, so why are they being granted paychecks? In newsrooms, you never have time to waste and if you attempt to waste any, a thorough ass-chewing from an editor can be expected. Early in my TV career, my no-nonsense assignment editor would bark at lollygagging reporters, “hey! you gonna turn a story or just sit there and yank your tuna?” I assure you, tuna yanking was at a minimum in that newsroom.

willyindispensableWhen the bad times came in 2008-2009 and GM and Chrysler went bankrupt, suddenly thousands of workers were given cardboard boxes and told to get lost. You never knew when your time was up until you got a box and brusque brush off. Over and over again I told my team, “Make yourself indispensable. Make the company understand what it would be losing if you were gone.”  We constantly marketed our accomplishments and abilities to the higher ups so they fully comprehended our value and the strategy worked. We presented hard documentation and third-party endorsements. I did have to lay off one of my nine team members, but a couple of years later, when things settled down I was able to hire him back. Other teams were not as lucky. In fact, some were simply eliminated.

I’ve always found that abiding by my job description is a pretty fast track to obsolescence. Finding ways to take the basic premise of your position then using a recipe combining one-part skills and large dollops of guile, salesmanship and imagination not only makes the work day more fun and rewarding, but generally surprises and delights your employer and results in as much job security as can be hoped for.

No, I don’t want to be that person I see walking through the revolving door, wondering if their absence would make any difference at all in my company’s success. Sure, no one’s irreplaceable, but there are kickass employees who are, indispensable. And if you’re not indispensable, you’ll likely be dispensed with. 

Reason’s greetings

holidaysGo ahead and wish me a “Merry Christmas.” I don’t mind. I’m not Christian but I’m OK if you want me to have a merry day on your holiday and share your joy. Of course I’ll then ask you not to mind if I wish you a “Happy Hanukkah” during the 8 days we celebrate our holiday. After all, why wouldn’t I hope everyone, of every faith, feel good about one of the best come-from-behind victories of all time as well as a miracle I doubt even David Copperfield could pull off, and transfer those good feelings to their own lives and experiences.

Of course, if you don’t want to play that game, when we’re not certain which holiday someone celebrates, or if we’re sure the other person doesn’t celebrate our holiday, why not spare each other the discomfort or embarrassment and use the greeting that best enunciates what we’re all hoping for each other, “Peace..and health.”  Peace and health to you all. That should about cover everyone.

My bare-assed, bee-stung, arthroscopic day

knee-surgery-recovery-killin-itWe arrived 20 minutes early and the smiling greeter handed my wife a pager with blue flashing lights and the promise that pager would go even more bonkers by flashing more urgently and vibrating once our turn came up.

We found comfortable seats in the waiting area and the aromas wafted over from the kitchen….of the cafeteria below…at what I’ll call the Behemoth Big Box Medical Fortress, where we would spend the next 7 hours, for a 30-minute repair job on my left knee..wrecked by years of playing ice hockey at an age when most men experience the game from Lazy Boys in front of a big screen TV, lubricated by potent legal elixirs.

The day started with an urgent call asking if I could arrive two hours earlier than planned due to a late cancellation. Sure. Let’s get it over with. The deal is you must arrive two hours before the surgery is scheduled so they can verify your insurance is inadequate to cover the costs of the procedure, strip you down, have you wrap yourself in a paper-thin gown, stab you with an IV, ask you the same questions a half-dozen times then let you rot in a prep room until they’re ready to do the deed.

Let’s start the clock. Arrival: 11:10am. Surgery scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Pager goes crazy and I’m taken into prep room at 11:30am. Told to strip naked, stuff everything in a too-small plastic satchel and put on the little gown that opens in the back. Two friendly nurses come in and inform me their husbands play hockey too and have wrecked their knees. I feel better already. The nurse on my right is the designated IV inserter and lets me know over and over that I will feel a “bee sting” when she pokes the needle into my vein. I’ve never been stung by a bee but I now know it would piss me off. But one bee sting wasn’t good. She didn’t like how things were flowing so she popped out the needle and gave me another bee sting in another vein. I now hope for the extinction of all bees.

waiting2My wife was then brought in to wait with me and was informed she would have full custody of the satchel with my stuff. Said satchel was not only bulky since it was jammed with my winter coat, clothes and sneakers, but it weighed slightly more than her. Bottom line: the bulky bag would go wherever she went. If she got tired of schlepping it, chances are I’d leave the hospital with my bare ass sticking out of the gown..my feet shod in only the mint green socks they provided, helpfully emblazoned with the hospital’s logo.

gownIn the intervening hours various scrub-clad people popped into my room asking me what I ate, drank, snorted, sniffed or injected into my body, along with repeatedly quizzing me on what procedure I was there for. By the seventh time I was tempted to say I was there for treatment of two really bad bee stings.

My doctor finally deigned to drop in and used a Sharpie to put his initials on the knee that would be fixed. I had already done the same. This way they would be reasonably sure they didn’t fix the knee that didn’t need to be fixed.

All this time saline solution is being sent through my veins via the IV, causing the urge to   pee like a pack mule. This meant me gathering my IV lines, grabbing the pole that contained the bag of saline and wheeling it and myself to the can. My free hand was dedicated to grabbing the back of my gown to try to hold it closed so all the nice hospital employees weren’t subjected to my 65-year old ass. It didn’t work. But it’s a hospital and I was pretty sure they’d all seen worse. They could have better disguised their smirks.

'So how long shall we put down he was waiting...3 hours 58?'

‘So how long shall we put down he was waiting…3 hours 58?’

At one point the anesthesiologist came into my room during hour 3 and casually tossed off “there are still a couple ahead of you,” giving no indication as to how much longer it would be until my bed would be cleared for takeoff.  Turned out it was another hour. We could hear some of the staff talking about me saying, “that guy in 26 is still here!” Heh..corpses probably spend less time in a room.

By the time my turn came up it was only 20 minutes before my original time, which means we got to the hospital almost 4 hours early. The “team” surrounded me, squirted some potent juice in my IV and my descent to dreamland came within a minute. When I awoke about 90 minutes later my poor wife could finally ditch the sack with my crap and I could get dressed and leave. But wait…one more indignity. My wife was instructed to get the car and pick me up. The key here is the word, “where.” “Where” would she pick me up. This hospital has more points of access than a hooker. But my wife is smart, has a Masters and doesn’t put up with a lot of shit. She figured it out despite zero instructions and poor signage, and as I sat in a wheelchair in the cold outside the pickup point, she swooped in and rescued me. Time: 6:30 pm, more than 7 hours after we arrived for the 30 minute procedure. 

My knee is healing, my “bee stings” are gone and most of all, I’ve covered my ass.