September 28, 2011

Kids Make Great Teachers

My daughter's first spoken word was "shit". I'm not even remotely joking. She was doing something cute and my wife sent me running upstairs to get the camera. At the top of the stairs I hear from below, "Never mind, she stopped doing it." I let the expletive slip out and within seconds of the word leaving my mouth from downstairs I hear this cute little baby voice say, "shit". That pretty much spoiled my chances at the 2002 Parent of the Year award. Her next word a day or two later was "da da", but it was too late, "shit" would have to go in the books as my first born child's first word.

She was, of course, just mimicking what she heard me say, but as a parent something like this does make you suddenly very aware that those little ears hear and those little eyes see EVERYTHING. Offspring from all sorts of life learn from their parents. It's how the world works for many things. You are born (or hatched) and your mom or dad (or both) teach you what you need to know to survive. You pick up a bunch of other stuff too, just by interacting with your environment in general, but you'll get a ton from your parents whether you like it or not. Sometimes though, the kids will show the old folks a thing or two.

After the big earthquake and tsunami in Japan my daughter and her friends really wanted to help out. The outpouring of compassion they showed was on its own something to be really proud of, but they took it one step further. They started making beaded bracelets and selling them to their friends' parents for a buck a piece. Some people started donating more than a dollar, and one even sold for $20 on its own. Before they knew it there were school lunch hours set aside for more kids to make more bracelets. They raised over $1000 that they sent to the Red Cross. Did I mention these kids were only 8 years old?

Lesson #1 that kids can teach adults:
You can make a difference. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you just get off your ass and do something about it. 

I was in the kitchen the other day and my second child (a 5 year old boy) was sitting at the breakfast bar waiting for me to get him going on his juice and cereal. I noticed that when I was preparing everything that his eyes were fixed on my every move. I had to open the new juice, pour it, open the vitamins and take one out, open a new box of cereal, open the inside bag, pour the cereal, close the box, and then put it all away. Not until everything was back in its place did he stop watching me and start eating breakfast. It dawned on me right at that moment that the little bugger was learning. Simply by paying attention he had just learned how to do something. My bet is he picked up a better way to open the box of cereal so he doesn't rip the tab off every time or tear a giant hole in the inside bag spilling Corn Flakes everywhere.

Lesson #2 that kids can teach adults:
If you shut up and pay attention you just might learn something.

Unfortunately many adults are a lot harder to teach than most kids. Adults come with their own biases and agendas (hidden or otherwise) and tend to take a different approach as a result. Which is really too bad, because we are usually the ones who have the most to learn.


September 07, 2011

An Evening Without Kevin Smith

Any company’s success lies in how obstacles are navigated and if you can maintain focus along the way. I have seen dot com triumphs and massive corporate failures. When growth occurs too quickly, things get complicated. Great ideas devolve into nonsense. Priorities are juggled. People get lost in the shuffle. Balls get dropped. And everyone is watching. A great example of this is a recent disappointment I had with the filmmaker Kevin Smith’s organization.

Don’t get me wrong, I'm a huge fan and I'm not going to let one problem sully the image I have of Kevin and his work. Kevin makes even the loftiest goals appear within reach. Maybe it's his self-deprecating style, or the fact that he's clearly overachieved in the wife department, but something about this guy makes you think whatever your hope, achievement is possible. So when he announced that he would trade tickets to a Q&A and his new movie Red State in exchange for an original tune he could use in a SModcast intro, I was immediately on board.

I spent a couple weeks putting something together (no small feat considering I am not a musician and can't even read music) and put it up on Twitter. He liked it enough to have me get in touch with Jordan Monsanto and work something out (Jordan handles this stuff for him.) A Twitter exchange and then an email exchange with Jordan resulted in nothing. There were no Canadian dates and even my suggestion that Kev just sign some stuff and send it to me went unnoticed.

Days passed, then weeks. I sent a polite last-ditch reminder email. Nothing came back. I had officially given up.

Then Kevin announced Canadian dates. I immediately sent an email asking if the Toronto gig could satisfy Kev's end of the art swap. Days passed again with no response. I decided that rather than wait it out and see what happened, I would buy tickets anyway so at least I'd get to see the show. I whined about the lack of response to Rob, a Twitter friend, who sent Kevin a nag on my behalf. Within seconds Ming (Kev's guy in Jersey) emailed and said Kev offered up tickets or swag. Problem was, tickets for Toronto were sold out. I looked at the swag but none of it was of interest. I'm not a collector of a lot of things except the odd book. I suggested that he could send me a couple of his SModcast books if we couldn't work something out for tickets. No response.

Meanwhile, Jordan and Kev's assistant Meghan emailed me, also telling me that the Toronto show was sold out but Kev would be back and maybe I could get tickets to a later show. In this email exchange I suggested that since I had tickets to the Toronto show, and I wasn't really a swag guy, maybe I could just meet Kev before or after the show in Toronto. A few minutes of talk time with Kevin Smith would certainly make me a happy camper. No response.

I got to the show with Rob and I'm desperately trying to see if I can spot Meghan. She was my in. Rob points out that Kev usually watches the movie from the back and wouldn't you know it? Four seats were reserved at the back and a couple right in front of those were wide open. We sat and waited. Sure enough, right before the movie started, Kevin and Meghan sat right behind me.

Just as I turned around to introduce myself to them and hopefully lay the groundwork for a possible meet afterwards, some crazy lady comes up to Kevin and starts gushing over how much she's a fan and if she could just have a second...yip yip yip, yap yap yap. The movie started and she's STILL talking. At this point I turned around and gave Kevin Smith the “shut the hell up, I'm trying to watch the movie” look – during his own movie! Classic.

Now this is not your run of the mill Kevin Smith movie. This is an excellent edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller. However, the theatre’s air conditioner was broken and I was still suffering post-concussion symptoms. The headache was worsening and I was hot as hell. As soon as it ended I stood up and thankfully they opened a door beside me and let in some fresh air. Meanwhile, people were lining up at the microphones for the Q&A. I tried to walk down but was still feeling less than stellar so I hung out in the fresh air to recuperate. After a few minutes I sat down in the aisle to see if I'd get a turn at the mic. I didn't. Rob drove me home and I went to bed.

So what happened? I got lost in the shuffle. My art swap deal was (understandably) very low on the priority list and many people that weren't Kevin Smith were running around trying to do the important stuff first. My item just bounced around until it fell to the ground. It's not a big deal, but it highlights some of the challenges companies face when trying to bring out the best in their businesses.

It would have been nice to see a little more of Kevin Smith the person instead of Kevin Smith the corporation, but hey, even a good juggler will eventually drop a ball. That's a given. What differentiates the good ones from the great ones, however, is what they do after they drop it.  

Special thanks to Rob Chute for his shameless nagging of Kevin Smith, his driving skills, his fine choice of Chinese food, and his remarkable ability to wordsmith. I now fully appreciate why writers have editors.