01 – Business Cards and Keg Coolers

Just like any decent story, I thought I would start at the beginning, and when I got to the end, I would stop.

First of all, what is 52 musings?

There can be nothing more intriguing than finding the common thread between very different things. It’s really amazing what comes up when you are aware, patient and present. Life is a series of unique connections and experiences that eventually become a body of work. This is a platform for my creative projects and experiments.

52 musings is an experiment.

A commitment to creation and thematic interconnectedness. Over the next 52 weeks, I will share stories, ideas, concepts and thoughts from different genres with the hopes of understanding the common thread between them all. Maybe it’s a personal story, an interesting article, a recent book, a new way to connect with my kids, interviews with people that inspire me, or things I’ve incorporated into my day.

In these first few posts, I’d like to share some background and some personal experiences to set the stage for the experiment. I can’t promise or even frame out what the conclusion of this 52 week experiment looks like. It would be like showing you the painting before pulling out the easel and the paint. Let’s enjoy the journey and not worry about the destination.

I recently read, A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young.

Technique

This book is a staple for anyone in the Advertising business, or really anyone interested in implementing a consistent process for creation. Creation can be many things, like writing a book, developing an advertising campaign, composing a song, or launching a start-up. Young breaks down the process for producing ideas into repeatable steps. The simplicity of these steps seemed to initially even catch the author a bit by surprise. I was fascinated by the concept that there was a methodical process to creativity.

Here is a breakdown of Young’s process:

Step #1 – Gather data

Sometimes this can be a specific research mission. Other times it’s just for the enjoyment of learning.

Step #2 – Mental digestion

At this point, try to identify any connections or potential relationships between the different pieces of information.

Step #3 – Incubation

Here, you STOP all direct effort. Go listen to music or go for a walk. Let your subconscious take over for a bit.

Step #4 – Birth of the idea

This is when the idea hits you.

Step #5 – Development of the idea

This is where the real work begins. Now it’s time to take it from idea to execution.

52 musings probably falls somewhere in between Step #1 and Step #2. I’m constantly gathering data. Sometimes specific for a particular purpose. Other times I am just learning for the pure enjoyment of it. As I digest this data, hopefully I will be able to find some unique connections and relationships between the different bits of information. And who knows … maybe an idea will find its way out of my subconscious.

Going through school, I didn’t feel like I had a single skill set that would translate to something I would do when I grew up. You go to school, study hard, get into a decent college, and you had a piece of paper that proved to companies that you could commit and get some work done. Sometimes I think I learned more from working in the restaurant business than I ever did in school. Maybe that’s just “sophomore in college Jeremy” talking, who was asked to leave UGA due to sub par performance.

But, maybe I actually did learn more working in restaurants …

For years, I worked as a cook and bartender for a few different restaurants. It was decent money and I enjoyed the challenge of managing (or trying to manage) a chaotic environment. Every shift was different. Some nights everything was clicking and it seemed that nothing could derail it. Other nights, it was impossible to accomplish even the simplest tasks. People from very different backgrounds, motivated by different things were all tasked with creating an experience for other people.

It’s 4:30PM.

It’s nearing the end of the quiet time between the lunch shift and the dinner shift. It’s actually a really strange time for a restaurant. Too quiet. You have servers enjoying the short break in the middle of their double shift, cooks methodically preparing for the onslaught of orders, managers sitting in their small office reconciling the revenue from lunch, and other servers making their way in for the night shift. There is a silent acknowledgement of the building energy. Servers brew iced tea. Bartenders stock beer and ice. The grill cook stocks steak, chicken, fish and shrimp. Channeling his inner Vince Lombardi, the manager works out the final kinks of his RA-RA speech. One part motivation, one part expectation, three parts corporate restaurant buzz word bingo.

Then you hear it. The sound of a printer.

Restaurant Printer

“Table #1 … four top. One filet mid-rare, one salmon, one chicken pasta, one burger medium well.”

It may as well be the equivalent of, Gentlemen, start your engines. One of the most amazing things (also the most volatile) in a restaurant is the chemistry of the line in a kitchen. Grill, expo, pasta/apps, salads and desserts. With thirty tickets in the window and all stations cranking it was an impressive site. But … one false move, one errant comment from a server, one missed prep item and the ship sinks fast.

Behind the bar, the story is the similar. Two bartenders. Four deep all the way around the bar. A beautifully orchestrated dance between two bartenders, the patrons and the libations. You were only two frozen Grasshoppers away from a one way ticket to the weeds.

Restaurants taught me a few things. I learned the importance of team work, preparation and hustle. I learned to operate in a chaotic environment. I honed my communications skills and ability to connect with people quickly. What I wouldn’t learn for years is patience, but that’s for another post.

In the late nineties, while tending bar at a newly opened restaurant in Alpharetta, a man came in seemingly early for a weekday. I greeted him, introduced myself and asked what he’d like to drink. While I can’t recall the specifics of the conversation, we connected on a number of fronts. He told me that he ran a structured cabling distributor. He may as well have said mnemonics manufacturing apparatus quality control technician. He became somewhat of a regular, and by this time his drink was on the bar before he sat down. One visit in particular, he passed me a card and asked me to call him when I was tired of the vampire hours. I laughed off his suggestion and put the card in my pocket. I was too smart to notice at the time that this interaction would be pivotal in the bigger picture.

Months later … It’s 1:30AM.

My starched white shirt is soaking wet. I am exhausted, mopping the keg cooler behind the bar. Keg cooler funk is a smell that loses it’s charm after awhile. As I am closing up, I think about the card given to me a month or so ago.

Structured cabling distributor. What the hell is that?

Apparently, something interesting enough to put me in a suit a few weeks later for an interview.

Before I knew it, I was walking to my cubicle, shown my phone and computer and given a stack of leads from a recent trade show. Congratulations, you are an inside sales representative for a structured cabling distributor. I even had business cards that validated my journey that began in elementary school. While I sat at my desk, excited to explore this new opportunity, I was also somewhat apprehensive. A memory of cold-calling families during dinner selling children’s books while I was in college found its way into my frontal lobe. Quickly sending that memory back to the archives, I picked up the phone and starting dialing.

The initial results were not pretty.

After many attempts, I did convince the owner of an electrical contractor to give me a few minutes on the phone.

“Ok, Jeremy. So whattaya got?”

My mind went blank. I spouted off some nonsense about being a structured cabling distributor. I didn’t even really know what that was yet. Needless to say, the hard work of getting to the dance was wasted. I asked him to hold on while I grabbed my trainer to bat clean-up. Before I knew it, she booked a meeting to discuss supplying their next project. After a wink and smile, she headed back to her desk. I sat down and jumped on the next lead in the stack.

Years later, watching Boiler Room, I saw Giovanni Ribisi re-enact my first true sales experience when he got the doctor on the phone only to get bailed out by the senior broker. While Giovanni’s initial pitch was way better than mine, he still needed the closer to come in.

Reco scene from Boiler Room

About an hour after my rescue, Terry, the kind old soul that worked in the warehouse, tapped me on the shoulder. His eyes were filled with terror. He needed help. Apparently, he made a cut on a large reel of cable for a customer, and he made the cut too short. We supplied contractors who were building large scale fiber optic networks, and these cables were in high demand and very expensive. Terry franticly asked me to help him find a cable stretcher.

Initially, I remember thinking, cable stretcher … is that a real thing?

Terry was in such a state that I pushed that thought aside and told him I would help. He had me start calling all of our other locations and ask to borrow their cable stretcher. I jumped in head first. I called the Houston branch and told the manager about our dire situation, hoping he could help Terry. He abruptly said no and hung up. I called our Baltimore branch, our Norfolk branch and our Charlotte branch all with similar results. Why were these jerks not helping poor, old Terry? Just as I was picking up the phone to make another plea for help, I had an uneasy feeling that I was being watched. I slowly turned around to find Terry (this time with a huge smile on his face) and the rest of my office standing behind my desk.

Yep … You guessed it. Cable stretcher = rookie hazing. I had to commend Terry on his convincing delivery.

In this case, piss and vinegar gets its ass beat by experience. But the only way to get experience is to take your lumps. Get out of your comfort zone. Step into the fire.

As an inside sales rep, I learned a lot about conveying a message quickly and with honest conviction. You don’t always have the window to tell the whole story. You just have to earn the right to get to the next sentence. Also, high energy and enthusiasm aren’t going to make a difference if you are not prepared. The flip side is that without energy and enthusiasm, preparation is just planning without execution.

Finally, the person you least suspect will get one past you … Just like Terry.

I’m glad you are joining me for this journey. Look forward to catching up next week.

JG

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