What is Happening to Civility?

Over the Labor Day weekend I received telephone calls from 4 of my clients. None of them subscribe to the after-hours service that my company offers, but they felt that it was OK to call me on a holiday to help them with a problem. Now I’m a big fan of good customer service and I preach the same to my organization all the time, but Labor Day weekend of all times!

None of these callers had an urgent deadline they were trying to meet. In fact, every one of them had a work-around for the problem they were encountering. Each one of them practically tore my head off when I pointed out to them that they could continue to work with minimal inconvenience until Tuesday morning when our offices reopened. I abandoned my holiday plans with friends and family to help out. My partner even joined me on one of these excursions, leaving his friends and family to celebrate without him.

We fixed all of the problems. Everyone was able to work during their holiday. Not a single one of them gave a word of thanks. In fact, one of them complained about having received a bill for the holiday work, even tho I charged it at normal rates – no overtime, no weekend, no holiday, no emergency multipliers. I didn’t even charge for my time since Rob was doing most of the work while we were there together.

I used to love working with all of my clients. They appreciated what we did for them, and we got huge pleasure from helping them to succeed. The technology that we help to put to good use has started to make us forget about being good human beings. None of my clients from Labor Day weekend are particularly bad people. They have just forgotten that they are good people, like so many of us have.

I write this as we approach Christmas because I just finished reading “You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier. It wasn’t one of the best books I’ve read this year, but the principal premise of his manifesto made me think of the many horrid interactions I’ve had recently, especially that Labor Day weekend. It’s time we all started thinking more about being people. We still have the brains that our ancestors from 10,000 years ago used to survive as hunter-gatherers. Technology has placed those brains in an environment that is unusually hostile without looking obviously so.

Tomorrow, be nice to someone for no good reason other than you can. Remember to be a human being.

Getting Good Press

Scott Jones is a local technology entrepreneur. He made his first big splash when he was still in his 20s by working night and day for three months to create a new (and much better) voicemail system for telephone companies. The system’s success allowed him to retire in his early 30s. Retirement didn’t fit so he’s been involved in a series of startup ventures since. You can read all about him easily because he’s the cover story of the most recent Fortune Small Business.

Now I’ve met Scott many times — probably enough that he recognizes my face but would have a hard time putting a name with it. He’s a nice guy, and, while he isn’t afraid to spend extravagently, being filthy rich hasn’t made him as insufferable as others with less wealth. By the same token, he’s hardly the genial, easygoing guy that FSB describes, which leads to my point. Controlling the message is far more important than controlling the facts. I’m not trying to say that Scott’s story isn’t true in every detail given. I’m just saying that a deeper investigation might find more blemishes than his eating with a three foot long fork. Scott didn’t become the cover story by accident. Someone responsible for getting good press for Scott Jones is getting the credit for this coup, I’ll bet.

This happens all the time. You get more fired up when people talk about a “Death Tax” than an inheritance tax. “War” on anything is better than crackdowns, which are better than reduction programs. Of course, 90 percent lean is far better than 10 percent fat. I’m sure you get the point, and probably are already thinking of your favorite examples.

Now you’re really thinking of examples, aren’t you? That’s because I just pre-conditioned you to think about them — a simple proof of the importance of controlling the message.