Archive for the ‘Details’ Category

Service of Deadlines

Thursday, April 28th, 2011


Joseph S. Nye Jr. was on Book TV on C-Span 2 the other weekend discussing “The Future of Power,” at a February 15 presentation taped at the Center for a New American Security. When I tuned in he was discussing the difference in cultures between academic and government work.

His example was a hypothetical research paper due at the White House at 3 pm. As the deadline approached, the writer, from academia, thought the project could be better, that currently it was a B + and with a bit more work could be an A. So he polished and tweaked it until it was perfect. It arrived at the White House at 5 pm.f-grade1

Government Grade: F. Why? It got there too late to be used.

We’ve discussed writing blog posts, press releases, proposals, late breaking news or anything deadline-related. There comes a moment you must give up the work because in most cases, nobody can pay for Pulitzer Prize-winning copy.

more-time1It’s not only in academia that you can plead for an extension, though in Nye’s example, the person didn’t ask for one. I’ve never worked in government. In business, you can usually ask for one, though it isn’t a smart idea especially if you’re responding to an emergency or a scandal or announcing a product launch you’ve known about for eons, press kit material for trade show introductions or the guts of a press kit to distribute at a press event.

I don’t believe in missing other people’s deadlines nor do I ask for extensions.  Why? The Golden Rule. It’s awful when you are left in the lurch by someone else who misses their deadline whether a vendor, free lancer, partner or staff. Contractors and repair people have a reputation of not showing up when expected and giving no warning. You may have the hard deadline of a January wedding reception at your house but be prepared to cut the cake in an unpainted dining room on an unfinished floor.

In Nye’s illustration had the writer contacted the White House to ask for more time, he/she might have heard: “Don’t worry that it’s not perfect. We need the information in it to help us make a decision.” It seems to me that the imaginary person was thinking more about him/herself than the recipient of the research.

Are deadlines a part of your life? What do you do if you see you can’t meet one?


Service of Paper that Calls to You

Monday, April 25th, 2011


A friend, writer/editor Jim Roper and I share a passion for fine quality stationery-all sorts of paper goods.  His notes and gift bags of handmade paper feel as exquisite as they look. He gave me a box of Florentine cards a few years ago. I have sent most to special people but still have a few as I have a hard time parting with them.

Jim suggested I read Lesley M. Blume’s Wall Street Journal article, “Leaving the Right Impression.” It was about the trend for people to design and use calling cards-that’s what Blume says they are, well, called these days. My husband has always referred to business cards this way but these personal cards are different in that along with a name, they provide only one bit of contact information such as a phone number.

distinguish-yourselfBlume noted that the reasons for these cards on thick, wonderful paper ranged from distinguishing oneself in a job search to “the ongoing ‘heritage’ movement-a nostalgia-tinged societal turn toward objects that last, smolder with individuality and are well-made-which has made its zeitgeisty way into the world of stationery.” She continued, “And a personalized card acts as a quiet rebuttal to the white noise jabber-jawing of Twitter and Facebook.”

I get her first reason. Distinguishing yourself in positive ways is always smart. But I wonder why people [apart from mothers and loved ones] are going to keep these beautiful cards and if they do, where. I input contact information to my smartphone as soon as I can and have no room or place to store such things whether beautiful or merely practical.

More important: toomuchworkWill the cards require the recipient to work to find you? What if a prospective employer doesn’t want to speak with you and all that’s on the calling card is your phone number? In frustration, he/she may toss the card and move to the person whose email address is easier to find.

We increasingly need to know and share everything NOW. We Google, we link, we dash off a line at midnight on a handheld phone’s keyboard. I don’t think calling cards will buck this trend. The recipient may carry the card around for ages as a bookmark [if he/she hasn’t moved to a Kindle]. My bet is that in the end, they will have no clue who gave it to them.

I’m all for encouraging face-to-face contact in favor of hiding behind a keyboard. I can’t get over being asked to jot condolence messages on websites, for example. But calling cards aren’t the answer to social networking and texting run amok.

How do you distinguish yourself? Do you think calling cards are an effective way?


Service of Technology

Monday, December 6th, 2010


Writers and writing have been the focus in Service of: the Typo Squad; Ghost Writers; Headlines and Children’s books, to name a few posts and I’ve addressed technology some 15 times.

In a segment of Book TV featuring historian Joseph J. Ellis, Ellis mentioned something in the Q & A portion about “First Family Abigail and John Adams.” It’s worth mulling over especially if you write for work or pleasure.

Ellis said he wrote his books in longhand and that he felt that the best writing is done this way.

Am I missing something because I disagree? Maybe Ellis has something here: Handmade furniture, hand finished fashion, hand knitted sweaters, homemade food–aren’t they all better than their mass-produced cousins?  

I think moving from paper to computer keyboard requires training the brain to punch out thoughts. It doesn’t happen naturally unless you’re a child who has played with keyboards since infancy. The transition takes a little time especially if you spent years filling out bluebooks and responding to quizzes that didn’t involve multiple choice X’s, or in the case of Ellis, if that’s how you’ve written all your books.

badhandwritingEven though my handwriting has always been appalling, in the typewriter years I wrote out every press release, photo caption, speech, slide show, white paper or brochure before I typed it. I can’t go back to that. I think I write better today because it’s so easy and fast to edit and rewrite on a computer. [Making corrections on a typewriter–electric or otherwise–was a nightmare and deciphering my scribbles, even on lined yellow pads, worse.]

Apart from thank you notes and condolence letters, do you write anything longhand anymore? Do you think your style benefits because it takes longer to write longhand than to zip out copy on a computer keyboard?


Service of Follow-Ups II

Friday, October 29th, 2010


I like to follow up on the topics covered. I did so last on January 14.

Being a twitch, details are important to me-and to service. I covered the topic directly in Service of Details and Service of Being Detail Oriented.

Here’s the update, where someone wasn’t:

riverhouseThe Wall Street Journal ran a headline, “Condo is Sold, After A Decade,” in the “Greater New York” section on October 9/10. The article went on to describe the sale of an important apartment in one of the most high profile cooperatives in the city, River House. Most New Yorkers know the difference between a co-op and a condo even if they rent. What happened to the headline writer at the Journal? [Most simply, in a condo, you get a deed to your apartment; in a co-op, you own shares in a corporation and must be approved by a board. In both you pay monthly maintenance.]

abovebelowService of Ka-ching was about the cockamamie new and unimproved New York State voting system. The election is on Tuesday. Last week, The New York Post reported that the instructions tell voters to fill in the oval above the name of your choice of candidate when it should be the oval below. More “details” than “Ka-ching? Wherever it fits, it’s a disgrace.

After I wrote about the Service of Age and, among other things, discussed the riots in France where workers wanted to stop at 60, not 62, I thought “what in the Sam Hill are these people going to do for 40 years?” A fellow office tenant told me today about a marketing class she is taking at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She didn’t know about this blog or previous post when she described her wonderful professor who founded FIT’s communications and advertising department. He’s 86.

We’ve covered deception quite a few times, most recently in Service of Who are We Fooling? I thought of it when I read Katy Tomasulo’s study, “95% of Green-Marketed Products Utilize Misleading Claims,” published on ebuild. The title says it all-except the subhead and second paragraph gave me pause. The subhead: “While only 5% of the 5,300 products examined by TerraChoice were free of some form of greenwashing, the results, including in the construction sector, showed improvement over last year.” Similarly the second paragraph: “On a positive note, that 95% is an improvement over last year, in which only 2% of studied products were free of greenwashing (and only 1% in 2007).” I need to write about green products soon. I’ve been putting it off.

Any thoughts on these updates or other follow-ups to share?


Service of Being Detail-Oriented

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

detailorientedhostasBetween poor soil and rich wildlife, we have little luck growing things in our garden with the exception of a couple of hostas in two places. Last week, my heart sank when I noticed that instead of the gargantuan, graceful green leaves that had come back this spring on one of the plants, there were uneven, ratty, six-inch stalks.

I asked my husband if he’d noticed the devastation–from deer, given the teeth etchings on the leaves–and even though he’d walked past that area, he hadn’t.

We are not detail-oriented in the same ways and don’t observe everything equally. So what? I wondered if we’d pass the tests that I read about in The New York Times article in last Sunday’s Metropolitan section, “Do You Take This Immigrant?

greencardImmigrants who are married to US citizens and want green cards must confirm that they are really married–that there’s no fraud involved. There is so much flimflamming these days in many quarters which is why couples must go through this exercise, even though the Times reporter, Nina Bernstein, notes that only 505 of over 240,000 petitions in the country last year were denied due to fraud.

Bernstein quotes the United States Citizen and Immigration Services district director, Andrea Quarantillo, about the system. “Is it perfect? No. It’s judgmental.” And the repercussions for failing can be dire: Some are deported.

weddingringBernstein notes questions ranging from “where do you keep the hamper? The shoes? What color is your wife’s toothbrush?” to “What’s your wife’s favorite piece of jewelry?” I bet we’d get that one wrong because I have a few favorites. Another test is whether you have a joint bank account or joint assets. Some people don’t believe in mingling assets.

The paper offers a marriage test  you can take to see how well you know your spouse with questions typical of those asked these couples. We would definitely fail “Where did you and your spouse first meet? When was it?” We don’t agree.

One pair argued like a married couple and even though they got some answers wrong, they passed for that reason. So maybe we’d pass.

I got the feeling that in spite of the fact that those being tested had to be detail-oriented, the system has a remarkably helter-skelter aspect to it. If you don’t pass the first time, you can bring a lawyer with you for the second interview. Did your lawyer prep you with the right questions? Was one interviewer more wily and suspicious than another or did he/she ask trickier questions?  

Although my taxes haven’t yet been audited by the IRS–and I just ran around the office to knock on three types of wood–from what I hear, the outcome, too, can vary according to the agent you speak with and how he/she interprets your answers and backup.

Is the implementation of this kind of government service more arbitrary than just; should the government system be as detail-oriented and consistent as the test-takers must be?


Service of Do-it-Yourself

Friday, June 4th, 2010


We have a mortgage. The company that arranged our mortgage went bankrupt.

We then got bills from, and sent our mortgage payments to, a “payment service company.” After a year or so it changed its name but not its address.

Then about two weeks ago, we got a letter stating that, starting June 1st, we should make our payments to a new “payment service company” which would be sending us our bills. For the first time, we received neither a bill, nor an envelope in which to mail it back.

June 1 came and went, and my husband, to protect our credit, called the service company we had always paid before and asked what was going on. He was told that our loan had been sold to “XYZ” bank, and that we would be hearing from the new service company.

suspiciousHe was suspicious of the answer, which was offhanded and disinterested, looked up the new service company on the Internet and called it. The lady he spoke to, who seemed to make sense, asked him if we had received a “welcome letter” from her company. He said, “No, just the letter from the previous service company.” She confirmed that while most of the information in that letter was correct, our account number was wrong! (She also said that “ABC” bank, not “XYZ” bank, had bought our loan.)

She told him to delete the first digit of our loan number and replace it with 00, make a copy of the corrected letter, put the accurate number on our check and mail it all in our envelope to their address. I can hear a good friend of ours reacting to this tale with “Amateur night at the Dixie Theatre.”

It’s a perfect example of what once was standard service has increasingly become a do-it-yourself project.

I can’t imagine many other mortgage-holders taking the time to go to all this trouble. Goodness knows where their checks will end up and what kind of fines they will incur if they do nothing while waiting for a return envelope and bill. I also wonder if our money will get where it is supposed to be and whether it will be properly credited to us.

onehorsetownMeanwhile, the one-horse upstate New York bank we use, which is a real old fashioned, solvent actual bank that has never needed to be bailed out by taxpayers, telephoned New York City from the boondocks on Monday because my husband had forgotten to sign a check that was presented to them for payment. The bookkeeper who called was pretty sure that it was one we’d want to pay, but had to be sure before clearing it.

Where a stranger might anticipate receiving rustic service from such a bank, we get treatment the likes of which no bank in New York City is capable!

Have you noticed other examples of laxness or efficiency where you least expect it?


Service of Details

Monday, April 26th, 2010


Every business involves hundreds of details. I often think that one of the clues to Martha Stewart’s success is that she is said to be a micromanager and detail-obsessed. Time permitting, so am I, revising and editing copy until the moment I send it to a client or post it here.

Many businesses succeed regardless. A mystery.

Details be Damned

After a tasty lunch as a guest at a white tablecloth level restaurant near our office, a PR colleague and blogger, David Reich, My 2 Cents, mentioned something that I also notice when I walk by it several times a day: The street outside this place, that makes an effort with its food and décor, always looks fiercely skuzzy. Nobody polices the sidewalk and curb during the day to pick up what people toss, nor does it look like they ever scrub the real estate around them. It always looks dingy and dirty. It’s not the case with any of the other [food] businesses around us-including the Chinese [largely] takeout spot with the $1.85 wonton soup I mentioned in “Service of How Do they Do It?,” an earlier post. The takeout place is just 300 paces up the street and around the corner.

Irony: The restaurant has plenty of customers and doesn’t seem to suffer from what for us is a turn-off.

drwaitingroomI went only once to a particular blood test mill. Why? There was no soap in the bathroom and when I inquired, the woman who took my blood shrugged. The waiting room was standing-room-only.

sundaynytimesIt drives me nuts when I get home and realize that my Sunday newspaper is missing a section–usually a favorite. I blame myself for not carefully vetting the stack before heading for the cashier. At $5 to $6 [upstate surcharge], I expect the assemblers to take care. The paper is usually a sell-out at the grocery and convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies that carry it.

Detail Delights

Twenty blocks north of the restaurant-with-the-dirty-sidewalk there’s an indoor parking garage–on East 63rd Street off of Lexington Avenue. I’ve joked for years that I should have a picnic on its shiny, freshly painted gray floor. I’ve never seen such a remarkably clean garage entrance–or business–open to the public, anywhere. I’ve also never seen anyone drive in nor have I parked there-my car isn’t clean enough.

hairsalonWhen I get my hair done, Stacy gives the woman who washes it some of the shampoo and cream rinse she buys because she doesn’t like what the salon owner supplies. I’m not there often enough to tell whether she has more clients than the others. She’s always busy when I come.

I admire well-made clothes, and price doesn’t always enter in. I’ve been appalled at the lousiest construction and sleaziest fabrics of clothes hanging in some of New York’s trendiest boutiques while finds in favorite discount haunts feature the finest cotton, silk or linen with well-finished seams and detailing. Go figure.

My dentist, Kenneth Hochman, “Service of Assistants,” makes me laugh [and not just to show off his handiwork].

Sam, the coffee-cart man on East 44th Street, “Coffee Service with More Than a Smile,”  knows my name, how I take my coffee and waves at me as I walk by.

What details do you appreciate most and which missing ones annoy you? Do you think the omitted ones affect business success?


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