All posts in "Daily Reflections"

Enhanced Ebola Screening Efforts Are Ineffective for Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD)

With Chicago O’Hare’s new enhanced screening efforts targeting the Ebola Virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff are relegated to a side room, unable to provide effective presence on the front lines for detection of more frequent travelers coming from other airports that may also receive travelers from West Africa without effective screening. Executives from 300 Below, inbound from Russia today, witnessed ineffective screening procedures, lack of equipment for DHS CBP agents, and fear faced by CBP agents who fight an invisible enemy.

CHICAGO, IL — Contrary to prior official statements, Customs and Border Patrol agents are NOT the first to meet passengers potentially carrying Ebola when they arrive in the United States. It is clear upon entry that the United States Government (USG) is allowing private security contractors at the front of these lines to direct traffic, effectively prescreening and separating International Visa Holders from United States Citizens, further separating American travelers who retain Global Entry trusted traveler status. Upon re-entering the United States, no representatives from the CDC stationed prior to the front entry lines to screen passengers from other flights with the intent of recognizing signs or symptoms of passengers carrying the Ebola virus.

Additionally, front line Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents are, because of ineffective construction at screening facilities, as well as hindered access to (and likely a lack of proper instruction for) personal protective equipment (PPE), being placed at greater risk. Following our in-person interviews with DHS CBP staff today at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), these agents are operating with elevated levels of fear for their safety as well as the safety of the families they return to. Some CBP agents warned passengers of reporters standing outside the customs clearance facility; one expressed concern about the safety of their own family due to their regular interaction with passengers who are coughing upon approaching screening booths.

One loophole for introducing the Ebola virus into the United States is through Trusted Traveler lanes, which greet U.S. citizens who travel frequently with less screening. These lanes could provide more thorough screening if the kiosks were updated to include sensors inside biometric equipment that check traveler temperature and other vitals.  Using technology from Theranos, developers could even incorporate a small pin prick to sample blood at electronic checkpoints, since Theranos has rapid testing results and is already deploying testing capability into Walgreens stores.

After landing today at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, if you review the security footage, I was met with an empty lane whose CBP staff were not even in the booths for the Global Entry lane. There were three CPB agents standing around who casually allowed me to proceed without any additional screening. Global Entry travelers like me are at an even greater risk, statistically speaking, because they travel more frequently than other passengers who are not enrolled in Global Entry, potentially moving between other destinations undeclared on their original itinerary through foreign airlines that do not share traveler information with the United States. We are giving them direct access into the United States without any updated security questions on kiosks that discuss travel to West Africa or potential encounters with passengers who have been in these regions. At Global Entry, the government system recognized that I was coming from Düsseldorf, Germany but not ultimately Russia, which was my point of origin for this trip.

Further inspection of construction at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) clearance facility inside Chicago O’Hare Airport reveals the lack of effective Personal Protective Equipment and Personal Protective Barriers for its personnel. Unlike countries like Germany, Russia and Malaysia that utilize full window barriers between travelers and customs screeners, the United States has failed at Chicago O’Hare and other international points of entry to create full window barriers between CBP agents and newly returned travelers.

According to a recent news article, CDC admits the virus may be airborne, spread by airborne droplets originating from coughing or mucous, with updated criteria for ebola transmission being within 3 feet. Coughing and sneezing travelers are easily within range of spreading mucous and other airborne droplets of fluid containing the virus to CBP agents acting as screening personnel.

Our border patrol agents on the front lines are inadequately prepared or equipped to handle screening, and their elevated level of fear actually has the opposite effect intended: CBP agents are not being given clearly defined directives as to when they may don PPE, nor did they have access to it today when I was screened in O’Hare. Without access to PPE, CBP agents are now psychologically incentivized to let travelers move more quickly through screening lines when they come face-to-face with a traveler who is coughing or sneezing. According to them, coughing or sneezing alone isn’t enough to get CDC involved. We have some brave men and women on the front lines who are fighting a war with an enemy they cannot see, and right now their only clear choice to protect themselves (and their families at home) is to decrease their own risk by exercising their power to move travelers expeditiously through screening lines. Faster screening might seem like a logical option for agents to protect themselves, but ultimately it results in sloppy work and ineffective screening.

The same problem may cause challenges with interagency collaboration between CDC and DHS. CDC is likely making suggestions which DHS executives are taking time to review through multiple meetings, ultimately forced to struggle with limited resources, fear in their ranks, lack of prior frequent training with PPE for its personnel, lack of clearly communicated donning protocols related to biological agents like Ebola, and limitations for the interaction their own agents must commit to based on current mission demands. CBP agents and other DHS assets were never intended to make decisions requiring qualified medical personnel, yet that is the logic our government leaders are ready to apply.

It is very likely that middle management is avoiding making tough decisions, because no individual wants to get blamed for a specific action that isn’t effective enough, ultimately leading to termination or further public scrutiny. For many government middle managers, these leaders are mostly concerned with their own job security rather than bold action. Unfortunately DHS is not like the Marine Corps: Middle managers in agencies often follow only the guidelines they are issued, failing to interpret and apply ‘Commander’s Intent’ if you will, without additional implementation until they are issued further specific information. One possible result is taking no timely action following senior directives, whether due to inaction or requests for clarification, which ultimately still fails to prevent a mass outbreak of the Ebola virus

Do you think President Obama or Director Frieden will know how best to protect Chicago’s Airport or any other specific facility? Typically a contractor is hired to create the isolation and protection plan for each screening location, identifying specific flaws and recommended corrective actions, but we don’t have time for a government contracting process to tell us what flaws exist and what we need to do to prevent them. CDC must quickly deploy its existing resources and get them to the front lines, ahead of DHS CBP and any of its security contractors. America has failed its first responders in prevention efforts, deployment of PPE, and training, which has yet to be standardized.

OSHA guidelines are clear about providing personal protective equipment to employees serving in a law enforcement capacity. I’ve seen agencies where inept or dysfunctional leaders are reassigned to manage warehouses, resulting in ineffective accountability and delayed movement of critical resources, which prevents front line workers from getting the PPE they need to do their job. We saw this happen today when none of the agents we met had been issued any PPE. They’re told they don’t have an option to show up or not, even facing Ebola, yet OSHA actually mandates that we provide effective PPE for front line workers in a law enforcement capacity. Our government is failing to uphold its own laws, and it’s time DHS, CBP and CDC to get on the same page in equipping agents until our contractors can catch up and give the government another boost of private-sector support and expertise.

The innovation needed to combat challenges with Ebola cannot come fast enough. Our company, 300 Below, is willing to contribute knowledge and technology assets toward collaboration with innovators in biological protection, such as Battelle Memorial Institute, which leads the nation in developing and managing sophisticated comprehensive training programs for the deployment and employment of Personal Protective Equipment. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to issue a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for awards of up to $1 million dollars to advance PPE modification in airport and security screening settings. Americans need more companies to embrace this challenge, especially in the State of Illinois, in order to combat our nation’s urgent need. More companies like 300 Below should contribute resources to ensure an effective national response to the Ebola epidemic and future outbreaks, resulting in strengthened public-private partnerships to solve this epidemic.

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Prescott Paulin is a prior U.S. Marine Corps officer who previously served the Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA) and Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) as an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, specifically authoring recommendations to improve training protocol while concurrently training Pentagon Police Officers to properly utilize personal protective equipment (PPE) to serve and protect Americans while confronting the invisible enemies of chemical or biological agents. Paulin was badged to train law enforcement officers at the DHS Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Cheltenham, MD. He currently serves 300 Below, Inc. as its International Research Consultant.

300 Below, Inc. provides metallurgical engineering services as the world’s largest and oldest commercial cryogenic processing company, in business since 1966. Through its liquid nitrogen based services, molecular structures of steel components are rearranged to last 200-300% longer for around 20 percent cost of the component. For 2014, 300 Below has introduced a new line of non-toxic cleaning and lubrication technologies as well as a patented scrub pad. 300 Below’s cryogenic tempering process acts an extension of the heat treatment process used in manufacturing defense and aerospace components, high-performance motorsports applications, 262,000+ gun barrels, sporting goods, and musical instruments. 300 Below has started 156 operations in 36 countries around the world with its technology. Customers include NASA, as well as all branches of the U.S. Military and their contractors.


Marriage Changes Everything

Published September 20, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Put a ring on it?  That scares me.  Even more scary to me is understanding the hundreds of people who would take time out of their lives to celebrate the union of two perfectly good strangers who managed to find each other among millions of people and dedicate the rest of their lives to one another.

Yet somehow I was able to set aside those fears and attend my friend Wes’ wedding today, talking my folks into joining in the exploration of Kansas City, MO.  Clearly my parents managed to make it through this process, and my grandparents did, too.  What seems to be the issue?  Perhaps it’s that I feel like my life just got started again, and I’m in no hurry to give it away, no less to one person seeking to enjoin it exclusively to theirs.

Perhaps this scotoma is causing me to not recall witnessing a marriage in a Catholic church.  Or maybe I really never have.  I don’t know.  But it’s a lot different than the stereotypical wedding, since there is no make out session in front of the Priest, no opportunity for objections to be heard like in the movies, no rice or doves launched into the air, and shockingly no bouquet of flowers being thrown behind the bride.  This is what I think of when I hear the word “wedding” but I was even more pleased to see the look on my friend’s face when he saw his bride-to-be coming down the aisle with her father.

The gaze on his face was an unfamiliar sight to me in conjunction with the smile that was in restraint as it slowly got bigger with every step forward his new Mrs. took… My friends have eyed a lot of cute girls in the past, but this stare was different — and intensely focused on her for the entire day and night that I saw him.  Clearly this gaze is a byproduct of two people willing to love each other forever.

Perhaps the challenge is that many lovers come and go, and I fear that our generation is more predisposed to that type of behavior now more than ever before.  Travel is so much more prevalent, as is the concept that polyamory in between many cities of the world should be an acceptable fate for future romance.  But permanence is important in loving relationships, at least from this perspective in being raised by two wonderful parents who are still together.

If not for love, than what about for future generations?  “Do it for the kids,” they say.  America’s middle class is deteriorating, and marriage is one of the few items left that seems to be holding our social fabric together these days.  There is much debate on both sides of the aisle regarding single parent households contributing to increasing crime rates, but much of the interpretation is narrow-sighted given the overwhelming amount of variables in available data.  I’m a firm believer in statistics, yet math is often skewed by interpretation.

As with anything controversial, it is best to experience both arguments and draw a conclusion for yourself based on the best available data.  Charles Murray is the author both of this WSJ article, and of the book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, which explores the splitting of America’s middle class.  His argument is rebutted by Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, who is the author of this article in The Atlantic and of the book The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change.

Mr. Murray suggests four fundamental characteristics reinforce a happy life, with two character traits: honesty and perseverance, and two societal connections: deep relationships with humanity, and a satisfying marriage.  It would appear that I am lacking the fourth, and should take kindly to this renewed reminder of people my age getting married and having kids.  Am I afraid to grow up?  Do I need to dedicate more time to searching for a life partner?  I am already happy with this stage of my life, though that may be a positive precursor to a future relationship since you have to have your own problems resolved before you can attempt to help someone else through theirs.

If anything sums up the right feeling though, marriage is not a matter of pure logic, it is a matter of the heart and a confident outlook on life summed up by the way that people like Wes gaze longingly into the eyes of their life partner.  Marriage is the pact that transforms commitment from inwardly concern into a deep outlook for building a new family.  As for me, my committed relationship is owed only to humanity, and should a satisfying marriage ever present itself, there most certainly will be a day to reckon further.

Pitch, Hit, Catch

Published September 19, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

I’m a firm believer that every American experiences several baseball games in their lifetime; starting in the outfield as a kid offers deep appreciation as you age in the bleachers while watching the pros.

Though I never grew up entrenched in or enamored with sports, and watched constantly as my brother played with dirt in the outfield rather than catching the ball, witnessing the great effort put forth by parents to ensure their children have an opportunity to participate has not been something I have truly appreciated until now.

There were countless times my mom would spend thirty minutes dressing me up for hockey as a youngster, making sure my laces were tight on ice skates, only to exhale deeply when my return ten minutes later was buried in excuses of tired aching feet.  Snow skiing in Colorado wasn’t much better, with complaints of numbness in hands and feet, until they handed us off to instructors and let them deal with the coaching.  Then soccer became the latest attempt at team inclusion, frustrated merely by overconfident parents who thought that 4th grade soccer would make or break young budding lives.

Finally, when junior high came around, they didn’t even attempt to make us try out for football.  Dad must have been disappointed in advance, knowing that between the lack of interest and inability to face pain in front of other kids, confidence in his cherished pastime was unlikely to occur.

Tonight, as I sat in the bleachers during a playoff game for the Cardinals, I was just pleased to be around people I enjoyed.  Whether next to me or behind me, there was great happiness in trading laughter, cheering for a common cause, and together experiencing the memorable plays of tonight’s game as our eyes shifted from each man’s individual actions onto witness the larger strategic picture unfold for our favorite team.

Short of catching a foul ball or getting autographs, there were so many firsts at the stadium, which I got to share with my friend next to me.  We shared a messy hot dog, won a t-shirt from the girls with slingshots, got a picture with Fredbird, and sat in the first row behind the dugout across from 3rd base.  But the best first of the whole evening was enjoying the first time (since reclaiming life) that appreciation came full circle from the days in the dirt learning the basics of pitching, hitting and catching.

It seems my dad must have been celebrating by finding such great seats, though I was the one now celebrating those special nights he spent teaching me these basics.  His hope was greater than my ability to catch hard throws without flinching, anticipating hands to sting so long as they grasped the ball.  Though I was not the dream player he likely hoped for in his early son, I do believe his dream of survival came true through my recent recovery.

This was one of those special games, next to the action, yet more energized by the crowd and the people who chose to be closest to you.  The game drew to a close, and fireworks were launched in celebration at the end of the night.  The psychology behind the win is most fascinating, with subconscious acceptance or rejection of one’s support in a team.  When a team wins, fans say, “WE won!” whereas when their team loses, fans say, “THEY lost!”  In every competitive sport there is a winner and a loser, a victor and their foe.  While we may build up childish expectations of patting people on the back when they gave it a good try, the real world is a lot more of a wakeup call than that.

Regardless of one season’s outcome, the lesson from a single event often boils down to its foundational elements.  In baseball: pitch, hit, catch.  The full circle of my appreciation for sports was obtained in much the same way.  The time and energy of my folks was pitched to me as a kid, hit several times through immense failure with negligible outcome, and finally caught in my mind as they sat behind me smiling, 28 years later, thinking that I might have finally caught on.  Pretty neat?

We won.

Zen Found

Published September 18, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

“Isn’t it wonderful?” she said, with her eyes closed and a sharp inhale of the fresh air around us.

My eyes were focused on her smile after finishing a German chocolate cupcake, but teeth weren’t showing and bare feet were firmly grounded.  Her tableside seat in the park chair next to me was unable to influence her perfect posture, which suggested that no measure of chocolate or sugar was influencing this comment.

Asking the question was addressed to no one in particular, though I was the only person within a hundred feet, and perhaps it was even more of a self-directed reflection.  I should have noticed these signs before I stupidly asked, “What?”

She explained her zen moment, eyes opening slowly again with patience as though to convey some measure of sorrow that I was not in empathy with her perspective.  The only time I had witnessed someone meditate deeply was in the heart of Laos, lost in their soul and unaffected by my presence, pants as orange as a monk’s wardrobe, but with no shirt to cover their chest as it heaved in and out from deep breaths.  Water was flowing nearby then as it was now.

“No kids.  They aren’t here to fall in the fountain.  No stress that I need to worry about another meeting,” she whispered.  Her outfit was bright red, in the downtown park of Decatur, and she could have continued but instead closed her eyes.

It was my turn.  My mind, instead of clearing its thoughts, sought happiness for her and attempted to imagine her perspective.  It seemed selfish to focus on me, my needs, or even clearing my own mind.  My eyes needed to close to connect, and the thought of nothing between my ears made me think of death more than peace.  But… meditation is supposed to be good… right?

Eyes closed after hers, and focus shifted to breathing.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  Slow, methodical.  Judgment about self-focus left and appreciation for perfect temperature, bird sounds, and bubbling water from fountain streams entered.  Thirty seconds seemed too short for a zen moment, but the moment wasn’t selfish or requiring reflection… it rather was about existing “as-is” and appreciation through being present; open passively to the input from around but not allowing any stimulus inside.

This felt familiar… a philosophy that meets an attack and harmlessly redirects it.

Then I remembered why.

Reflecting distracting energy that enters only to return it back to the universe felt eerily similar to the martial arts style I experienced nearly a year ago in Texas from my high school friend, Sam Knowlton, who taught me about 氣, the ki (spirit / energy) in aikido.  The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, had said a practitioner must be able to “receive 99% of an opponent’s attack and stare death in the face” in order to execute techniques without hesitation.  Having studied at 心身統一合気道会, known as the Ki Society, Sam showed me the power of 心身統一道, Ki-Aikido, a splinter style from its original roots.

Now, having stared death in the face just one month ago, the style appeals even more strongly to me.  受身, receiving a technique, just happened in that thirty seconds, which in retrospect wasn’t too short… it was too long after renewed perspective.  I felt ready, though untrained, to handle more interruptions and safely dismantled them, returning their energy to its originator.

With appreciation, we both rose amidst new vitality and certainly had our own epiphanies as to what a few moments of silence in the park could do for our daily sanity.  We’ll have to try this again soon.

Piercing The Veil

Published September 17, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

“What do you do?” is often the second question asked when meeting someone new.

My answer is rarely the same, depending on the environment where I am at the time.

In metallurgy class our professor made a mention of our business, which prompted inquiring minds to ask about cryogenics. My typical answer of, “We freeze things at ultra low temperatures to make them better,” was not sufficient for the audience.

It was a subtle reminder that most of the people we meet in passing are only ever as deep as your first intro sentence; rarely do they pierce the veil to find out the impact of your current life’s work.

Further questions… “How does that work?” and “What type of things?”

Eyes open wider as we talk about technicalities that would bore most people.  They appear to comprehend discussing precipitation of micro-eta carbides, decreasing the oxidative erosion on metals, and strengthing the wear resistance properties of the metal surfaces that we affect.  Visuals of a hand spread wide, with the other hand coming in to fill the voids… now the cereal bowl example with pouring sugar in to fill the cracks, adding strength and stability after our process.

We’re deeper now.

Piercing the veil takes time to dive deeper, and the person in question has to be willing to share their knowledge.  But when someone is passionate about their topic, they’ll often take the time to teach.

I found this to be true when meeting the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, only a couple months ago at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City, MO.  Unsurprisingly, in line with the birthplace of the Marine Corps, I saw him in front of the hotel bar.  Stopping to ask the simple question of, “Sir, in your opinion, how does one move rapidly from strategy to task?” yielded a simple answer about the Marine Corps publication on Strategy and the courses taught at the Marine Corps University.  But when I pierced the veil, and dove deeper, my further questions led to us sitting down and talking for a full hour as he outlined his thoughts.

Eventually the answer revealed itself: culture.

Through an hour long discussion about moving from strategy to task, the final assessment was that it all boiled down to the people who carried out the directives.  Upon his departure to speak with other guests, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps came over and said that he concurred with Gen. Amos’ assessment, but that, on a deeper level, culture boiled down to one component: trust.  You see, the culture of the Marine Corps contains a shifting dialogue about the Strategic Corporal, with an embedded story about trusting a junior NCO.

Embracing trust means providing the leeway to learn.  Stakes are higher when lives lie in the balance between trust and real world lessons.  In his article, first published in Marines Magazine (Jan 1999) and titled Operation Absolute Agility, General Charles C. Krulak reminds us, “The remaining vestiges of the ‘zero defects mentality’ must be exchanged for an environment in which all Marines are afforded the ‘freedom to fail’ and with it, the opportunity to succeed. Micro-management must become a thing of the past and supervision — that double-edged sword — must be complemented by proactive mentoring.”

Proactive mentorship is instrumental in knowing the right topical questions required to pierce the veil on any topic or introduction.  Seeking out new learning opportunities where mentorship is available, like the metallurgy class I’m taking now, gives deeper context in conversations where I’ll need to know my audience.  In this case, it’s for our family business, but in your case it can be anywhere you’d like to invest your time and energy.

Travel is equally surrounded by opportunity to learn through proactive mentorship and new experiences.  Just as I grew years wiser by embracing the mentorship of Marines I’ve met through travel, I also recall one of the most engaging dialogues from visiting the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico at Autumn Equinox to see the serpent shadow moving on the Temple of Kukulkan.  Most tourists just travel to see the sights, but I always prefer hiring a local to provide a historical context while sightseeing.  Learning through listening while seeing, taking notes, and touching the architecture makes for a far more vivid experience, stimulating the mind and allowing new synapses to fire.  The more you travel this way, engaged in locals and their history, the more you start to see humanity unfold in front of you.

I have now heard of The Story of Civilization, written by Will and Ariel Durant, a husband and wife duo who won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction.  They created 11 volumes over 50 years, totaling four million words across nearly 10,000 pages.  That, my friend, would be a life’s accomplishment from traveling through history, though in a different sense.

From my fascination, I would argue their study unearthed a worthy assessment of one common thread: culture.

Though we can read about culture in a book or on a blog, nothing else can tempt the spirit quite like standing in front of the real thing, and imagining history coming to life as the words paint a clearer picture over ruins from times long ago.  From those cultures in the past, our minds must shift and imagine what we can all create for our own cultures far into the future.

Old Friends, New Chapters

Published September 16, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Purpose is important.  For your own goals.  For others who want to help you see your goals through.
Purpose is impactful.  When brief in memory.  Memory inspires action by others to aid your purpose.

I enjoy reconnecting with old friends, hearing where their careers take them, and love learning about the people they meet.  Though there are many conversations that barely scratch the surface, several friendships remain deep and are openly explored.  My friendships from the Marine Corps are often the most loyal; one of my few and proud maintained is a close friend who prides himself on logistics.

Now that we’re expanding our efforts internationally on a more consistent basis, having a trusted friend in the trenches overseas is invaluable.  But none of this collaboration would have started without each of us maintaining our purpose, which leads to a shared vision.  He seeks to remain an entrepreneur who will move anything, anytime, to any place in the world, even at a moment’s notice.  This outlook is not only rare, it’s exceptionally difficult to accomplish without a deep network of contacts in multiple countries around the world.

In sending credible business through him, his trust among his network deepens, and he is seen as a trusted source for legitimate international transactions.  This ultimately helps us as we expand into other areas, because we now have a trusted network protecting our interests, and this trust continues to build after every transaction.  Our close communication, as brothers-in-arms, is infallible and we are always upfront about mistakes made so we can each learn from the experience and continue to grow professionally.

Without each of us understanding our purpose, none of this collaboration would have happened.  My specialty remains in recognizing patterns among seemingly disconnected pieces of information and developing coherent plans of action as a result.  When I see complications abroad, even in the midst of political meandering, I challenge this friend to recognize opportunities for himself to interject and add value to the situation.

My personal purpose is to empower others to appreciate life through freedom, recognition, and love.  (Freedom in my definition = safety / security / peace of mind)
My business purpose is to help our clients discover and utilize our technology to help them innovate and improve their own operations.

What is your purpose?  How can I help you with your goals?

Murphy’s Law

Published September 15, 2014 in Daily Reflections , Military Education - 0 Comments

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

One little detail awry is often the source of a downward spiral.  For our team, we focus on process control.  Not unlike many businesses, clients tell us what process they desire, and we control the variables to make sure it happens according to plan.  The biggest challenge is asking the right questions up front to get the best info needed to make professional decisions in the absence of client input.

According to my friend, Joey Coleman, customer service is what you do when things go wrong, customer experience is what you do the rest of the time. Regardless of what business you’re in, every transaction is accompanied by expectations, and a relationship is built through consistency in meeting these expectations every single time.  Emotions and feelings encircle the time before and between transactions throughout a business relationship.  One of the biggest challenges with our business is running custom projects for clients who have multi-million dollar “mission critical” projects.

Learning to deal with uncertainty is a hallmark of the training we received in the Marine Corps.  They taught us to rapidly embrace LtCol Boyd’s OODA loop… OBSERVE what happens, ORIENT yourself and your resources, make a DECISION, and take ACTION.  The process repeats in perpetuity, and in business or in war, you win when you’re able to go through this loop faster than your competition.

In theory, this is much simpler when you’re in charge, and capable of making Decisions to take Action.  Add client input though, and the cycle comes to a screeching halt, delayed by further external evaluation and decision making.

In our case, we have clients who are contractors beholden to a government agency with specific timelines.  Our focus shifts to empowering our clients to act within government guidelines, because they are ultimately responsible for the project’s OODA loop, puling the trigger on the decision, and empowering us to take action on their behalf.  Our team must remain responsible for relaying our observation and orientation following any action that we take, and the cycle repeats.  We are incentivized to provide closer communication, which allows faster analysis, resulting in effective decision making.

Today reminded me how many little details we constantly have to focus on to ensure a successful outcome.  We even feel responsible when our client’s equipment (their way to confirm the process we are executing) falls short of accurately validating the additional information requested.  We decided that in order to provide good customer service, we should have a similar one on hand, but that comes with further complications of a 16 week wait time to get the same piece of equipment.  In today’s rapidly-changing business environment, an additional 4 months of anticipation built into future projects is fraught with its own complexities.  Many new hires don’t even last that long!

Every time a mistake is made, or the unexpected happens, we must move beyond Murphy’s Law to create an additional checklist item or in-depth procedure to attempt to prevent future fall out.  Little details from the legality of who has access to our facility, to how the parts are handled, to what we wear (or don’t wear) while handling customer items is not all that different from any other business.  Yet I find a deeper appreciation for all of the upfront preparation we must continue to think through before the next transaction as we strive to build deeper relationships with each and every customer that chooses to trust us with their resources.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

Published September 14, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is one of my favorite weekend trips in the Midwest.  This $145.2M enclave houses engaging historical content that reveals the life of America’s most famous President, but it shockingly took longer for our own Illinois politicians to build than it did for Lincoln to win the civil war.  Yet the enlightenment comes from realizing that he wasn’t the universally loved President that we all seem to learn in grade school.  It’s fascinating to me that through so much doubt and divisiveness, President Lincoln stuck with his vision and was able to lead our country through to victory, ultimately shaping the future of the Union and keeping our early United States of America together through its darkest hours.

As I walk through the museum, I am constantly reminded of the importance of persistence, as elements of criticism permeate exhibits about not only Abraham Lincoln but also his wife, Mary Todd, and his cabinet members.  The smiles of children and foreigners who visit the museum are reminders that we may all find a measure of encouragement through Abe’s life’s work.

Abe’s volunteers here are especially helpful, and I’m always curious as to what inspires these older retired men and women to serve as mentors and informants to first time visitors.  But the neatest exhibit is one sponsored by AT&T, called Ghosts of the Library.  I’ll not spoil the surprise, but seeing the wide eyes on any first-time visitor I bring with me is enough to keep me appreciating all of the hard work that surrounds this performance.

We bring all of our business clients, contractors and new hires here when they arrive in town, and it is always a great catalyst for reflection and introspection.  Most of all, I know not of a single person who has left without appreciating the immense sacrifices put forth by the men and women who served during the Civil War.

Neighbors Need Nurturing

Published September 13, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

To know a bad neighbor is to know a better one elsewhere.

Among the most embarrassing circumstances of dog walking would be watching as your dog takes a dump on a neighbor’s lawn.  Some fellow homeowners meticulously groom their grass all summer long, leaving it perfectly green and clipped, so seeing a dog desecrate their pride and joy can easily induce rage.  Further frustration ensues when witnessing such desecration as the dog’s owner casually walks away from your lawn.

I was that bad dog walker, going on my first 5K, not carrying the required trash bags to clean up after my dog, Sage.

I made it a point to ring the doorbell of the first house where this happened, introduce myself, and promise to return to clean up the mess.  To say this person was surprised was likely an understatement, but she gratefully accepted my offer to clean up the mistake, and I returned with a handwritten apology and a jar of homemade peach preserves.  Do I make peach preserves?  No.  This was regifting at its finest, so I hope it tasted good.  In fact, the jar just said peach, so I’m not sure if I gave her peach jam, peach chutney, or peach barbecue sauce… because all looked like plausible options.  It was the nicest looking little small gift I could find, perfectly tied with a bow on top.

The second drop zone was farther out, so I returned to the guy’s house where it occurred.  He was outside when I arrived, and looked at me funny when I parked my car in his driveway.  His face was contorted as I extended my arm, bent over, and picked up a wet clump of dog poop.  This wasn’t meant to be exciting, but it certainly was my responsibility.  He remarked that most people wouldn’t return to take care of such a small infraction.  This is how I was raised though, at least following that time I TP’d a kid’s house and soaped his car in high school… then got caught sneaking back in at night and had a sit down with that kid’s parents to apologize about what we did.  And once you’ve had soap in your mouth, you don’t easily forget the taste of doing the wrong thing.

I supposed this is just a common sense approach to doing the right thing, and it takes some good (sometimes harsh) parenting to kick a bit of sense into you.  But when I thought about it further, I realize good parenting is just as important as being a good neighbor.  Building strong community relationships require setting a good example for others to follow and imitate, and furthermore, being willing to do the right thing at the right time is required to foster a positive perception of the people living around you.  If just one person does that on their block, it helps the others believe in that sense of community, and more good acts of kindness should ensue.  In this case though, this isn’t just the “kind” thing to do… it’s the right thing to do, because everyone needs to take responsibility for their own actions and the actions of the people and pets they influence.

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