Job Two - Civil Rights at the Junction Swimming Pool


After quitting my first job at age 11, I quickly found a second one requiring a similar skill set...picking up trash. This time at a public swimming pool just a hundred yards or so south of the frozen custard stand. It didn’t pay as well, but I got to swim for free which was my main angle anyway.

An older husband and wife managed the pool. He was by training a chemist, a skill that was well used managing water quality in a pool with several hundred visitors on warm Western Pennsylvania summer days.

During my second summer there, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Johnson. I had never seen any black people at the swimming pool, which was not something I noticed much, until that summer. The bill was signed on July 2, at the peak of the relatively short Pennsylvania swimming season.

Before that my older brother (my associate trash gatherer) and I had noticed a little army green index card box in the corner of the cage where people lined up to buy admission tickets to the pool. Being curious fellows, we tried to find out what was in the little box, especially after our first inquiries were rebuffed with a,”You don’t need to know.”

July 3 we got our question answered. A long line of people queued up to enjoy the pool for the holiday weekend. As we retrieved and emptied trash, preparing to open for the day, we noticed some abnormally tense activity from the boss and his wife running back and forth between the office (in a nearby house trailer) and the admissions cage. As we investigated further, we peered up the line of customers to see that there were five or six black people standing in line. The boss’s wife told my brother and I to go home because there might be some trouble. Equipped with that piece of intel, we of course decided to linger.

It turned out that the mysterious index card box contained the file of “members” who “belonged” to this private pool. Some of the whites in line, and all of the blacks, were turned away because they did not have a membership card in the green box. This was the first time we had ever seen this “membership” procedure invoked, and it was obvious to our junior high brains that this was somehow not right. This pool, which had been public to this day, was now suddenly a private club?

There was never any violence or threat of it. Most of the angst came from the white folks who were turned away in an attempt to legitimize the membership farce. Later that day, about five African-American men returned with a police escort. It might have been the sheriff and deputies, I can't remember. There was a meeting with the officers and the owners behind closed doors. We lurked at some distance to see what the outcome would be.

I'm not sure if they were presented with a court order, or simply had the new law explained to them, but in about 20 minutes they emerged from the trailer and, obviously agitated, instructed the people in the ticket cage to admit all paying customers. My brother and I scurried to secure a strategic reconaissance position outside the fence, near the deep end of the pool where we could observe the next phase of this developing drama. Some white customers left. A few demanded a refund. A few stood outside the chain link fence and offered their mindless insults. Most stayed.

But that July 3, the Junction Swimming Pool reluctantly joined the 20th century. One of the five black men who made local history that day was Elliott Wood. He was several years older than me, and we knew him and his mother from the church we attended. I don't know what has become of Elliott, but I remember his courage on that day. He did not simply slip softly into the crystal waters at the Junction, but instead marched out onto the low diving board. There he endured jeers from the fenceline idiots, before executing a passable dive that pierced the water with intention and finality.

The struggle was far from over, but another barrier had been broken. That Independence Day weekend was a marker of sorts for me. I began to question my own prejudices and the ideas from some family and friends I had formerly accepted. I learned a lot more than the backstroke at that job.

Thanks Elliott, wherever you are.

Job One

HanksI’ve had some good bosses along the way. I’ve had some who were not so talented. But, I have to admit, I never had a really bad boss.

Two of the things I’ve tried to learn from the dozens of managers and leaders I’ve worked for or with over the years have been, (1) Behaviors that seemed to work well and produce good results, and (2) Behaviors that did not work so well...those that I would put on my “avoid” list.

I had my first boss when I was about 11 years old. He owned a frozen custard stand near our home, and I got a job cleaning up the parking lot twice each day for the handsome salary of $1 per day. He was a very intense, type A-squared sort of a guy, perhaps the reason he unfortunately died at a relatively young age.

After several months of getting up early before school to clean up from the previous night’s crowd and rushing home after school to do the afternoon clean up, I got tired of the grind. I decided to resign and when I went to my boss I said I was quitting because I couldn’t do the job any more.

Hank quickly corrected me saying, “You CAN do the job, you just don’t WANT to do the job, isn’t that right?” I sheepishly admitted he was right, and I probably had a flush of embarrassment. But to this day I can say that yes, he was indeed right.

He gave me a good lesson. Maybe a bit abrupt, but that was his way, and actually a trait I’ve come to appreciate more with time. He was forcing me to accept responsibility for my decision instead of pretending some outside forces were the culprit.

Taking responsibility. Still good advice for leader and follower.


Email or Phone?

“Did you communicate with the vendor about this problem?”



“I sent them an email.”

“Did you get a response?”


“Then the answer to my first question is no.”


Email has it’s place in our world, but we should never assume that sending an email, in itself, is communicating.  To have communication, the loop must be closed.

Email is also not good for handling difficult situations that require confrontation or dealing with a sticky problem.  For generic problems that have no emotions attached, email usually works fine.

But sometimes, you just need to pick up the phone or log in to Skype and have a vocal rather than text conversation.

Knowing when to say no to email and yes to talking is a key critical thinking skill these days.

Remembering the Miracle at Lake Placid

Today, February 22, marks the anniversary of one of the great stories in sports 023 history.  Lake Placid, New York.  The 1980 Winter Olympics.  The Soviet National Hockey team. Team USA.  And Coach Herb Brooks.

The US team consisted of 20 college players.  It was a time when only amateurs could compete on US teams.  The Russians, well, they were older, bigger, more talented and all around the best hockey team in the world.  Yes, in the world.  They had beaten the NHL All Stars 6-0 in the Challenge Cup one year earlier and had demolished Team USA 10-3 in an exhibition game just prior to the Olympics in Madison Square Garden.

For most baby boomers, singular memories include the assassination of JFK, the first man walking on the moon, and the USA/Soviet hockey game in the semifinals of the medal round in the 1980 Olympics.  As a nation, the USA entered the new decade still mired in the malaise of Vietnam, Watergate, stagflation, and the Iran hostage crisis.  There had been little to celebrate in the 70’s unless you were a Steelers fan.

Team USA had won Olympic gold only one other time, at Squaw Valley in 1960.  Then a player, Herb Brooks found himself 21st on a roster of 20…the last man cut.  A fierce competitor and a relentless coach, Herb drove his team physically and psychologically to this moment.  Team USA skated brilliantly.  Jim Craig was marvelous in goal. 

Trailing 2-1 with seconds to go in the first period, Davey Christian took a desperate slap shot from 50 feet which the invincible Soviet goalie Tretiak kicked away. But much like Franco Harris and his Immaculate Reception, Mark Johnson had hustled through two defenders and planted the rebounding puck into the net with one second remaining.  Suddenly those of us watching, indeed millions around the world, began to wonder if perhaps a miracle might be in the offing.

The Soviets led 3-2 after the second period, but Team USA was not retreating.  With 8:39 remaining in the final period the Americans tied the game.  And two minutes later, in the midst of a relentless attack against those they formerly regarded as hockey gods, Mike Eruzione guided the puck past a screen and into the Soviet goal for a 4-3 lead.

The next six minutes were beyond tense as everyone knew the Soviets still had time to tie, and yes even win this game.  But it was not to be.  As Brooks had told his team in the locker room before the game, “This is your time!”  

022As the final seconds ticked off, young sports commentator Al Michaels offered the question we would have shunned pre-game, “Do you believe in Miracles???”  And as the clock struck zero, he, and we, shouted a resounding, “YES!!!”

How a young hockey team can turn the mood of an entire nation is hard to grasp, even harder if you weren’t there.  But Americans began to believe in America again.  Later that year they would elect a President who talked of a new “morning in America.” 

In my view, that morning dawned February 22, 1980.

Here is the text from Herb Brooks locker room speech.  Is now “your time?”

020"Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that's what you have here tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight.

One game; if we played them ten times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can. Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.

You were born to be hockey players - every one of you, and you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw 'em.

This is your time!

Now go out there and take it!"

Wired for Struggle

WiringSome time back I watched a TED video by Brene Brown.  She was talking about raising children and how most parents are obsessed with trying to make their child’s life as easy and free from difficulty as possible. 

It’s almost like we think a life that goes smoothly is the optimal life.  Yet, Dr. Brown points out, children are born into this world “wired for struggle.”  And while being alive and staying alive may not be the same struggle it was thousands of years ago, every human is faced with almost continuous struggles throughout life. 

And this is normal.

So whatever your struggles are today, know this…you were born wired for struggle.  You may not know how to sing, dance, paint, solve quadratic equations, program a mobile app, or pilot a missile-laden drone, but this you know inately…you know how to struggle.  And you’ve been doing it since birth.

It seems that the nature of struggles often change over our lives.  But if we realize that we were all born gifted for struggle, maybe it will add some hope and enjoyment to our journies. 

Sometimes just a small tweak in perspective can produce a tidy dividend. 

The eBook Revolution - More Than a Digital Photocopy

E-bookExtinction - We’ve studied about it from our early years in elementary school and we’ve observed it almost continuously throughout our lives.

Growing up in the shadows of the smokestacks of the mammoth Pittsburgh steel industry, it seemed like there could be no end to the dominance of Jones & Laughlin, US Steel, Babcock and Wilcox, and their ilk.  But they, and their stacks, and their smoke are seen no more along the rivers of Western Pennsylvania.

78 rpm vinyl records gave way to 45’s. Then LP’s. Then 8-tracks. Then cassettes. Then CD’s. Then mp3’s and other digital downloads.  Now, music no longer requires a hard media at all.  What became of those who produced the high tech of their day?  They adapted, withered, or vanished.

And what of Eastman Kodak, Fotomat, and even MySpace?  In 2006, MySpace was bought out for $580 million dollars.  Then came Facebook.  In 2011, MySpace sold for an estimated $35 million.

In recent years, having ravaged dozens of stalwart companies and destroyed entire industries, the gods of change began to focus on the publishing industry with one of their favorite weapons, technology.

The response from the industry was much like the other dinosaur industries of music and photography…”this too shall pass.”  But it didn’t.  It isn’t.  And it won’t.

And so, publishers began to reluctantly adapt to digital technologies, but in essence, their best efforts have been to produce digital photocopies of the paper and ink variety of books.  And charging a handsome fee to boot.  Most are still missing the landscape of the new technology.  And that is...interactivity.

With its iPad, Apple redefined the publishing business.  The Kindle at that point was a good reader for the digital photocopies of print books that publishers were producing.  But Apple laid out a new challenge to publishers to produce eBooks that were beautiful and aesthetic throughout. eBooks where there could be a mix of text, slides, maps, video, audio,  - a panorama of media.  And the biggest game changer of all, a book experience that is interactive. 

While 64% of publishers are creating digital books, only 21% are actively creating these “enhanced” eBooks.  And maybe the greatest change of perspective needed to avoid extinction will be for the book industry to realize they are no longer in the publishing business, but in the “experience” business.

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article on this phenomenon.

The change that is upon us is far more than the digitizing of text to be read on a screen that mimics the page of a hardback book.  The entire experience of “reading” is changing.  Reading is becoming much more than merely decoding text.  

Your children and grandchildren will be profoundly affected by these changes in the way they consume knowledge.  In the way they learn and think. And we will be as well.  

What happens to education when the professor can be embedded in the textbook along with discussions among students unlimited by geography, links to other knowledge resources, notes from other readers…?

Pretty exciting, eh?  It’s big. Perhaps the biggest thing since Gutenberg?

This video gives a glimpse of the impact of interactive eBooks on the curriculum of the future.


Nielsen Multi-Screen Media Usage Survey

According to Nielsen’s global survey of multi-screen media usage, watching video content on computers has become just as common as watching video content on television among online consumers.




"While the in-home TV and computer are still the most popular devices to watch video content, usage and growth in online and mobile technologies is making a sustained impact. Three-quarters (74%) of global respondents report watching video via the Internet (on any device), up four points since 2010, and over half of global online consumers (56%) say they watch video on a mobile phone at least once a month and 28 percent at least once a day."


Nielsen Social Media Report

003-2011 Nielsen recently released their latest report on the state of social media.  Here are a few of the highlights:

    •    Social networks and blogs continue to dominate Americans’ time online, now accounting for nearly a quarter of total time spent on the Internet
    •    At over 53 billion total minutes during May 2011, Americans spend more time on Facebook than they do on any other website
    •    Tumblr is an emerging player in social media, nearly tripling its audience from a year ago
    •    Nearly 40 percent of social media users access social media content from their mobile phone
    •    Internet users over the age of 55 are driving the growth of social networking through the Mobile Internet
    •    70 percent of active online adult social networkers shop online, 12 percent more likely than the average adult Internet user
    •    Across a sample of 10 global markets, social networks and blogs are the top online destination in each country, accounting for the majority of time spent online and reaching at least 60 percent of active Internet users

To view the entire report click here.

Content Is Job One

Grill The failure rate on new infomercials is estimated at 90%.  Ergo, only one in ten infomercials are commercial successes. 

Is this low success rate because of bad media?  Poor time slots, overpriced airtime, and the like?  Rarely. 

Almost always it’s the show.  The content.  And that can be anything from a product nobody wants, to a value proposition that fails to motivate, to poor scripting, lousy demonstrations, non-genuine testimonials… 

Somebody has a new mindle.  They love it.  They buy the company that makes the mindle.  Every home in America, no… in the world needs this fantastic product.  The marketing commences.  Wal-Mart won’t return calls.  Dozens of other retail channels yawn.  These idiots just can’t see the vision, the massive appeal this mindle would have with the right exposure.

Traditional channels have failed, so the owner and lover of the mindle decides to bypass all the distribution channels and go straight to the consumer.  After all, look how successful George Foreman was.

So 100 mindle lovers descend on television, and 90 limp away with lighter bank accounts.  It looked so easy when George Foreman did it.

There are several parallels in religious television.  Most people think it is simply about getting the right time slot.  But almost universally it’s primary to get the right content.  Make a program that people want to watch.  Speak to the issues that matter to the listener. 

Don’t assume that the same message that glows in the Sunday morning tribal gathering will wow a broader and largely disinterested television audience. 

Play small ball until you get the content right.  Test. Test. Test.  When you find the resonant combination, then go for more media exposure.

Content first. 

You Need to Stop Dressing Like a College Student

081 These were the words I heard from my first boss about two months west of graduation.  "That is, if you want to be taken seriously," he added. I felt my ears turning red as sweat began to literally drip inside my shirt.

I was a bit embarrassed, but I also knew what he was saying was true and that he cared enough about my career to say what he did.  After nervously clearing my throat, I told him I thought he was right, and that he would quickly see a change.

He knew his remark had cut me a bit, but he also left me with a molecule of his philosophy that I never forgot – “The sting will pass…but the stuff will stick!”

Ron was not only my boss, but also we became friends and I often asked his advice on a wide range of issues, knowing he wouldn’t spare my feelings for the truth.  He died much too young, and I’ve missed him for nearly 20 years now.

But, I haven’t forgotten him or that the real lesson for me that day was about more than clothing.

The Boys of Summer

Last weekend I attended my grandsons' first T-ball game.Tball2

Tball1Pure fun.

About the only rule any kid remembered was to hit the ball and run (sometimes had to be reminded to run).  Mass confusion on defense every time the ball was hit into play.  Coaches and parents all trying to give helpful direction. 

It's a wonderful thing to watch children simply enjoy the fun of the moment.  Didn't matter who won. Nobody even keeping score.  Swing.  Run to first. Scamper to second. Plant a totally unnecessary slide at home, just to get dirty. 

As adults we remembered.  And yearned.

Beware boys of summer, for there lies a road of domestication ahead of you.  Well meaning adults will channel you down a familiar and well-worn way.  A path of rules, conditional acceptance, limited options, and a paucity of fun.  You will be ill equipped to resist unless you somehow cling to that kernel of life your heart discovered somewhere between second and third.

Remember how this feels.  Remember the delight.. the abandonment… the carefreeness of it all.  You may have to play along with the adults for a time, but hold on to your heart.  Don't surrender your winsome spirit, your positive outlook, your childhood dreams.

Don't give up on fun.

Online at 30,000 Feet

Trusty iPad in hand, I decided to try out the on board wifi. As we pass over Arkansas, I'm also looking for aliens or whatever killed all those birds. So far, I give the wifi two thumbs. However, I hope they never allow cell phone use on board (unless they replace oxygen masks with mini cones of silence). These people who talk on their cell phones at the urinals and in the stalls at airports also get to me. Honestly, is anything really THAT important? Gotta go. Need to focus on surveillance for alien craft.

How can I have a more productive year? ~ Hitting the January-May Window

002-2011 Have you noticed the increased drag coefficient on getting things done that hits every holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day?  There’s a similar slo-mo period from June through August.

Today is exciting, because it launches the longest annual time frame of productive potential, the January-May window.  If you are hoping to increase sales, grow attendance, expand your markets, initiate an innovative idea or two, effect some change… this is your time.  The race starts today.

A lot of what you accomplish this year will depend on how well you sprint these first few furlongs out of the gate.

Fall presents a similar but shorter window running from the day after Labor Day through the Friday before Thanksgiving.  The Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving used to be more productive, but now that entire week through New Years marks a time where progress becomes more difficult as more energy turns toward leisure pursuits and the anticipation of same.

But now, people are mostly back from the holidays.  The kids have returned to school.  There is a faint scent of optimism wafting about. 

A great season for achievers, and near-Nirvana for over-achievers.

It’s a dash to Memorial Day.  Don’t get caught watching the paint dry.

How will this year be different?

001-2011 In many ways, each year is different.  But what we imply when we ask this question is  - Will my circumstances be different (better) at the end of 2011 than at the end of 2010?

Several factors weigh on the answer to that question.  Some out of our control.  Some not.

Most people will wind up in pretty much the same circumstances at the end of this year.   The main reason?  Changing circumstances usually involves changing our behavior and that change has to be preceded by a change in thinking or even a change in believing.

But change is not comfortable.  And most of us will opt for comfort over change.  We are comfortable talking about change…wishing and hoping for change.  When it comes to doing change, we usually opt out or peter out.

We feel the excitement of a “new” start at the beginning of a new year, but in truth, that feeling fades rather quickly as we return to the same ruts of thinking where we have remain comfortably ensconced for years.

Often, what we really want is to “have changed.”  And until we confront this truth about ourselves, we won’t embrace the discomfort that comes from change…even helpful change. 

So, do you want to change?  Or do you want to “have changed”?

My hope and wish for you this new year is not “Good luck,” but rather for “Good choosing.”

50 Hours In Haiti

LightQuest Media and Love A Child A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days in Haiti with our LightQuest Media clients, Bobby and Sherry Burnette, founders and executive directors of Love A ChildWalter Warren, our EVP at LQMI was with me.

It was my first time in Haiti, not just since the earthquake, but ever.  I still remember our relief on January 12 a few hours after the quake when we reached Bobby via Skype and were able to confirm that Bobby and Sherry were alive and their orphanage, medical clinic, and ministry center were all intact.  In the days and weeks that followed, the Love A Child compound was converted into a field hospital with the help of Field Hospital the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative as the injured streamed and were hauled into the little town of Fond Parisien.

Bobby and Sherry moved to Haiti in 1991, to become full time missionaries.  Little did they know that all of their efforts, sacrifices, and heartaches were preparing them for the day when the entire country would be transformed in less than one minute’s time.

During my 50 hours in Haiti, I witnessed and heard the overwhelming mass of the problem.  Over 220,000

Continue reading "50 Hours In Haiti" »

Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus - Ted Talks

Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age in a recent Ted Talk.

Link to video for RSS readers.

On this blog I've often discussed generational cycles starting back in 2004 with this post. If you've read other posts sprinkled through the years, you know that as a culture and society we swing between two major perspectives which influence thought and behavior at an individual and societal level.  These two cycles, often illustrated by a pendulum, are the idealistic generation and the civic generation.  The last idealistic cycle ran from 1963 to 2003 at which time we tipped into a civic generational mindset.

In Clay Shirky's short TED Talk, he makes a lot of good points but perhaps even unwittingly reveals more evidence that the culture has indeed changed and we are well into the 40-year civic cycle of the generational pendulum.

Latest Nielsen Three Screen Media Research Report

Media Research 001
Nielsen Research recently released their Three Screen (TV, PC, Mobile) Media Research Report for 1Q2010.

Some surprises and some yawners.

"In the past year, Americans have significantly increased the amount of timeshifted TV they watch and decreased their PC-based internet usage, according to Nielsen’s Q1 2010 Three Screens Report."

You can read a summary and download the full report here.  Some additional highlights -

  —292 million people in the US own at least one TV.
  —More than half of US TV households now have HDTV, up 189% from Q1 2008.
  —High-speed broadband internet access is in 63.5% of homes.
  —Nearly 25% of homes have smartphones.
  —Fifty-five percent of mobile video viewers are adults 25-49.
  —The average monthly time spent simultaneously watching TV and using the internet increased 9.8% year-over-year in Q1 2010 to three hours and 41 minutes.

In related research, the Pew Research Center reports that in the past year 52% of U.S. adults, and 69% of U.S. adult internet users, have used the Internet to watch or download video.  More on that research here.