Passion Doesn't Always Have To Be So Passionate

The word “passion” has many forms, and it is quite often used by self-help and personal development experts to describe that which you must find and follow to have true happiness in your life. Notice that I did not say “balance” in your life. Passion can definitely make you unbalanced, and it doesn’t have to manifest itself as fireworks and excitement at every moment. One of the earliest meanings of passion is ‘endure’. Endure can mean ‘harden’ or ‘firm’. How long do you suppose most humans can endure running at full speed? I have made the mistake of believing that passion is something that must be felt with intense urgency at all times. Fail. Passion without temperance equals burnout. If you want to endure, you must recognize the need for balance and do not allow the fire of passion to consume you whole. It won’t do your cause any good if you can’t see it through to completion.

What Happened to All of My Files?!

Quick! List the first fifteen business contacts you have stored on your computer. How about last quarter’s financial results? Or the proposal you are presenting this afternoon?  Stories about data security abound throughout the news media these days, and there is no doubt that the security of your business data is vital. Unfortunately, one aspect of data security that is often overlooked by most small business owners is disaster recovery. Disaster recovery planning can prepare your business to recover from a disastrous loss of data from your computer (e.g. –Your hard drive crashes and all of the information you saved on it is wiped out, or your computer catches a nasty virus, and is out of commission.)

Disaster recovery planning encompasses tactical functions, such as backup routines and redundancy, as well as potential hardware and software investments like USB drives, network-attached devices and commercially available backup software. There are several factors that will help you to determine the strategy that makes the most sense for your business and utilizes your resources most effectively, including:

  • The amount of information to be secured.
  • How long you can allow critical business systems be non-functional.
  • How often you make changes to critical data.
  • How much data you can afford to lose.

A comprehensive strategy and plan for disaster recovery should always include backups of data to be stored offline (not on the same computer or network on which the data resides) and off-site (in a location away from where the computers being protected are housed). The proliferation of USB mass storage devices has driven offsite, offline storage costs down dramatically, so that you can store the data of many computers onto a single device that can be put in your pocket. Oh, and that data can also be digitally encrypted on the device. This protects it from being accessed if you lose it.

Additionally, you can use automation provided in the commercially available backup software to implement your backup routine on a regular schedule very easily. Your backup routine may call for backing up all of your data once a week (Full), and then just the data that has been changed or added since then (Differential). The software can automate this for you as well.

Redundancy refers to the practice of keeping duplicates of existing computers with all applications and data (cloned images) that can be restored onto a computer, or simply another computer that is an exact copy of an existing computer that is introduced into the network when the existing computer fails. While redundancy may not always be required as part of a disaster recovery plan, a strategy for business continuity is a must.

Think about the daily operation of your business. Now think about what you absolutely must have available in order to keep those daily business processes running. This is the start of your business continuity plan. These types of plans are designed for the sole purpose of allowing your business to continue operating despite a system failure or loss of data. Some of the most basic business continuity solutions are Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) that provide battery backup in case of a power loss. These are designed to run your critical systems (phones, data network, computers) for a short period of time, as well as to prevent these systems from “glitching” during a short-term power loss or spike. If your business is located where long-term power losses are common, you may need a more potent solution. Generally, a formula can be used to calculate how much power you will need and for how long.

The investment in disaster recovery planning includes:

  • The time it takes to identify the data and systems that are most important for your business
  • The cost of the hardware and software associated with your strategic plan
  • The time to implement and test your plan.

Disaster recovery planning and implementation is an often overlooked component in small businesses, but it is definitely worth the effort. The potential cost of not creating and implementing a disaster recovery plan could be the loss of your business.

Here’s a link to a free trial download of the backup and recovery software I use personally:

Acronis True Image Home 2010 Trial Download

The Bizarre? No, the Bazaar.

One of the greatest aspects of my family is that no matter what has happened to us in our lives, we have been able to laugh.  This is a priceless gift  and I consider myself blessed to receive it.  We’ve never really been either rich or poor.  It has been (at least for as long as I can remember) a typical middle-class life, with its occasional ups and downs.  My brother and three sisters, however, have been around a lot longer than I have, so they are more likely to tell you the stories of hand-me-downs and sharing one bedroom.  For myself, I sometimes see my part in the family like a role in a television show.  We have quite a cast of characters, many of whom I will introduce to you as we move along, haphazardly, through the retelling of some of the more entertaining moments in our family history.

Growing up in Westchester County, New York in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s was an experience that I didn’t really appreciate until I got a little older and was thrown into a whole new world called Tucson, Arizona.  We left New York in 1983, but the memories of the days growing up on the East Coast have not faded.

While we still lived in NY, my mom would take us us to a place called “The Bazaar Mall”  in Mount Kisco to window shop and get us out of the house for a few hours.  We would hardly ever buy anything while we were there as my mom would explain in her strong,  New York accent,

“Ooo, I nevah buy nuthin’ in them mall staws,  dey raise awll dere prices to covah deyah ovah-head.”

So, mostly we would browse.  Besides, if we needed to get clothes or anything like that, my mother knew of about a hundred different places where we could get what we needed for a lot less:

“Heeah, try this on.  For three dollahs ya can’t go wrong.”

So, we were in the Bazaar one chilly afternoon in late October because they had one of these miniature circus exhibits going on.  It was one of those deals where there were all these little figures carved out of wood to about the size of an average pinkie finger and some of them were rigged up to move around a little. There was a guy in the lion’s cage with a chair and bull-whip, and there were a couple of elephants that would rear up on their hind legs.  It was basically your typical circus scene, carved out of wood, and very small.

Anyway, we went and looked at this thing for awhile and then we did some window shopping and were on our way out of the mall when we passed by a TV and electronics store.  As we walked past the display window, one of the television sets caught my mother’s attention:

“Ooo, look! Deyah showin’ some kind of movie deyah.”, she said as she stopped in front of the store’s window. “Look, dohse people ah goin’ through a dawah way deyah. But I can’t see wheyah deyah goin’”, as she squinted at the screen. “What an odd movie dis is.  Oh, look deyah’s a man in deyah!”, and as she said this she pointed and waved at the screen, at which time the man on the television pointed and waved back to her. “Ooo, he waved at me, didyas see dat? Who is dat strange man?  He must want us to come in deyah and buy sometin’.”

By this point my sister Annie and I could not control our laughter anymore, and we  both exclaimed in unison,

“Mom, that’s you!”

My mother had been watching herself and the action around us on a TV that was hooked up to a video-camera pointed directly out of the window we were standing in front of.  That “strange man” she saw waving and pointing at us was her!  After a few more minutes of hysterics, my mother, true to form, replied,

“Ooo, it must be this jacket. It makes me look like a man.  I’m throwin’ it out as soon as we get home!”

And she did.

Seeds of Opportunity

I am guilty of mistaking activity for productivity. Without an objective, activity will result in expended energy and resources and not much else. Focus is what turns activity into productivity. In most cases when I fail to make a distinction between activity and productivity, I categorize my actions as “planting seeds of opportunity”. Other terms to describe this would be: “a lot of irons in the fire”, “multitasking”, “jack-of-all-trades”, and “complete and utter lack of focus”.

The “seeds of opportunity” analogy is probably one of the easiest to dissect and uncover the flawed logic. If you plant too many seeds, and do not tend them properly, most (if not all) of the harvest will rot on the vine before you have a chance to get to it. And so it goes with business. If you are running around planting seeds, be sure you know where you planted them, and tend to those relationships properly, or you’ll end up with a lot of spent time and energy to build a compost heap.

The New Normal

There is obviously a very large and growing problem with unemployment in the United States right now and by most estimates it will be at least a year before we see the percentage of unemployed (which is nearing 10%) decrease. This is a signal of a major shift in not only the economy, but in the way we will define “work” and “jobs” for a long time to come.

What is happening in America is not new. It has happened before, but we rarely spot the trend when we are in it. Instead, we look back at a period of time, and label it once it is passed. I think missed a few labels along the way in the past era which has run for the last 30-40 years.

No one denies that we transitioned from Agrarian to Industrial, and from Industrial to Service-based economies, but a lot of people would not agree with me that we then moved from Service to Debt-based.

I have two arguments to make the point about moving away from a service-based economy. I define the Debt-based economy as the residual income earned by financial institutions and others that derived from interest payments, late fees, overdraft charges and any additional monetary costs associated with financial transactions that did not involve cash only. The current economic conditions stemmed from “complicated financial instruments developed by Wall Street” and a fire sale on money (low interest rates and lax vetting of borrower credentials). This signaled the reliance of the banking and financial institutions on “bad debt”, and we all know what happened. Its been all over the news for the last 4 or 5 years.

The second element that indicates a shift from Service-based economy is that most companies quite literally do not provide “service” at all. When I use the term “service”, what I am really meaning is “customer service”. There was a time when we only discussed service when it was delivered poorly. That soon became the exception as it continued to worsen. Those of us in technology relate specifically to technical support as a benchmark of customer support, but you could find examples in almost every customer-facing aspect of a business: ignorant sales people, lying marketers, misleading advertising, rude customer service employees. These are the “people skilled” jobs that were being filled by “non-people skilled individuals” or the individuals were hamstrung by “corporate policy”. In either case, service was not delivered effectively and it truly seemed to be of no concern to the organizations that provided the services.

So, what is the next transition? The Debt-based economy has clearly collapsed of its own weight, and has become a short-lived trend that will dissipate without disappearing completely. But at the forefront of the next trend is the increasing need for people to reacquaint themselves with the concept of helping others. We are not going back to farming, or industry, or the “old-time religion”. These are part of a different time and place. The new normal is a Niche economy; mass customization. We will still need transportation, housing, food, entertainment, medical attention, light, heat, and communications, but these are commodities in our new economy. The aggregate of the niches associated with these core industries will drive the economic growth of the 21st century. In short, innovation will once again be the hallmark of economic development in the United States and, consequently, the world.

The Sugar Shack – Part 4 – It's Friggin' Cold!

If you have ever been to the Northeast in the months of May and June, then you’ll know what I mean when I say that it is hardly a paradise, unless you are one of those people that get a thrill from cold, wet, windy days, and an absolute probability of seeing the sun four times in sixty-one days.
-Journal Entry, May 31, 1989

Traveling from Arizona to Rhode Island in the last weeks of May had a profound impact on me in a number of ways. I am thankful that I kept a journal back then, because it has really helped me in piecing some of the memories back together. For instance, I had nearly forgotten how friggin’ cold it is in the Northeast in Springtime! Sometimes there’s a chill in the air all the way through July, and sometimes you may not get a summer at all.

I’ve been freezin’ my ass off for about a week now. I just can’t get used to the friggin’ weather….I feel like a friggin’ old man…This cold and damp climate has turned my lats into knots of rope. I bend at my lower back like a damn ape with a walking stick.
Journal Entry – May 23, 1989

The weather and my living arrangements conspired to produce a lot of time for philosophical thought. Well, my 18 year old brain didn’t really have that much of a clue about philosophy. I was pretty much spending a majority of my time thinking about girls (Shocking, I know!), but I was reading books by Vonnegut and Salinger and they had a heavy influence on me. I wasn’t Holden Caufield or Kilgore Trout, but I related to them in some ways.

I used to think I was this important cog in some universal machine that worked by some cosmic fuel which was produced by planetary and terrestrial harmony. But then I felt conceited, so I humbled myself and then I thought that I was this speck of stellar dust that was really only taking space away from more important beings, like scientists, musicians, mathematicians, you know? People that were like contributing their knowledge and trying to make everything more beautiful without changing the balance of the tides of the galaxy. But then I felt too unimportant and that I wouldn’t be here without a good reason. Now I just don’t think anymore. I prefer to just vegetate and wait for enlightenment. So far I have no enlightenment that I can recall. Maybe its been sent directly to my subconscious and will return as deja vu.
Journal Entry – Later on May 23, 1989

A number of factors contributed to my feelings of isolation and loneliness in those months of May and June by the shore in Rhode Island. Besides the inclement weather, the school year runs into mid to late June in the Northeast, and so there weren’t many people (Read girls) my age around during the weekdays and nights.

When I say there are no girls here, I mean between the ages of 16 and 22 and never before the end of June. This is one of the loneliest places an 18 year-old guy can spend May and June, but if you don’t want distractions, this is a desert island in the middle of the Pacific.
Journal Entry – May 23, 1989

Of course it wasn’t all filled with angst. I do have some great friends today that I knew back then, and we spent a lot of nights having fun and doing “teenager stuff”. I’ll tell you all about those escapades once I get all the waivers signed. Let me just say for now that I have uncovered several journal entries that allude to kegs, half-barrels, double-kegs, cases, and fifths.

It was against this backdrop that I would go to work with my mom at the Shack. She liked to be there to open for business early in the morning, and she would often say in her thick accent,

“I like to get down theyah to make egg on a roll sandwiches and coffee for the fisha-men goin’ out in theyah boats.”

And that is just what she did. So as I was spending my days and nights moping and thinking about all the things I didn’t have in my life at that time, she was getting up and walking the half-mile down to the Shack at 5:30 every morning. If it was a crappy day, she would take the car, and I would walk down when I woke up, which was usually sometime around 11:30 in the morning to prep for the “lunch rush”.

When I say “lunch rush” it means we had more orders than normal, but during weekdays in June, that wasn’t a lot of work. Those days it was common for me to eat way more than we sold. Maybe that’s why I never got an actual paycheck? I became the master of the bacon double-cheese burger. Even now, knowing how bad it was for my body to eat so many of those darn things, I can’t help drooling just a little bit thinking about it. I can tell you, I have had many, many food dreams in my life. Sad to say, but I’ve had way more food dreams than sex dreams.

The slowness of the early summer season made it a nice way to ease into the system at the Shack, but it may have lulled me into a false sense of control. Being a veteran of Bosa Donuts, Wendy’s and Subway, I had a high level of confidence in regard to my fast-food skills. I was king of the grill and the fry-o-later, but I would later find out that I was no match at all for my mother and her absolute obsession with and attentiveness to portion control.

Up Next…Part 5 – It’s Getting Hot in Here!