The Playlist(s)

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Even though I am capable of creating a real mixtape, I have decided to create some playlists that keep my moving through my days via Spotify. Most of this stuff reflects a life long collection that has archived in plastic sleeves with no organizational method. Please enjoy! Spotify - Smarty Design Co

The Importance of Constraints

Like anyone else, I do not like to submit to things that are out of my control. The fact is, we really do not have much control over anything. A hard swallow perhaps, but true. This piece was another exceptional lesson in constraints.

In a previous post, I spoke of motivating employees and working the human condition into over-time. Both of those stories taught me how to deal with the notion that not having any control was something that I could either thwart, creatively, or recognize that the struggle is real and learn how to work with in it.

In a comparison with those two essays and reflecting on other events, control was never a factor, but learning to live with constraints. Constraints are a wonderful thing. They set boundaries, limitations and allow for some critical thinking. Strategizing at its best; working around and through obstacles.

 Constraints

Constraints

Last spring I ran a workshop for students on graphic design. When I gave a brief idea of how design functions (color, imagery, balance, visual language stuff) I cut them lose to design anything they wanted. Most of the students just stared at the screen. The others played with the software, but with little results. After 15 minutes, I told them that they had to design a social media post that was promoting a chili cook-off. The only requirements were to know where, when, and what to expect when I saw this post as well as being able to visualize myself attending this event. One student was done with-in minutes. Completely nailed it. The others were not too far behind.

Complete and total freedom sounds wonderful, but when there is no direction, there can be a struggle. By the looks on their faces they might have begun to accept the lack of direction was crippling. They had no control over why they couldn’t create. Once they were given guidelines, again out of their control, they were comfortable moving forward.

By no means am I an expert in social science and will not pretend to be. I am simply, taking mental notes and journaling the importance of understanding how I can improve my own processes.

Work Hard to Play Hard

 Behind the start at the Milan Dragway

Behind the start at the Milan Dragway

Over the weekend my daughter and I went to the Milan Dragway, a quarter mile dragstrip located outside my hometown. The smell of the fuel, rubber, exhaust, and whatever was burning on the neighboring property gripped the moment. High in the 60’s, partly cloudy; it was a perfect day to be outside and to have the peacefulness disrupted by precisely tuned mechanical muscle converting rumbles to screams.

It was inspiring. The car culture, drag racing on this day, proved to me that some things still exist. As much as the area (and world) has changed something special was going on at this older but still busy raceway. Beyond the layers of rubber that have been melted onto the track, the idea that we still work hard to play hard is still, and forever will be, a relevant saying.

Standing there behind the start line, cars were lined up by classes and dozens thick as they sit idle in a harmonious growl. Hard work was setting there awaiting to unleash, much like the end of the working week. As I explained to my daughter that this hobby amongst these drivers went beyond them. It is about a gathering after hours, taking in some laughs, taking out some frustrations, and smoothing out hard earned thoughts at the end of a day. In other words, we all need a release.

In numerous ways I saw the human condition working overtime. Some blew their start by redlining and causing their run to suck gas. Others performed well and perhaps had personal bests. Then there are the drivers running the same time over and over due to technique or not being in tune. How about that? Regardless, it’s back to work on Monday and hopefully that next time will ring in victory.

A burnout is not a figure of speech, it’s real. It is purposely meant to keep you still but your wheels (mind) spinning. In racing, the burnout is the precursor for the release. If you sat still burning through your tires, at some point those tires are going to fail. It was a great time and by the end of the weekend the comparisons and analogies were to realistic to ignore. Here we go, back at it on a Monday and as Elvis Costello sang, “Welcome to the Working Week.”

Workplace Design

 2003/2004, Summit County, CO

2003/2004, Summit County, CO

Years ago, in a previous life so to speak, we were ski/snowboard bums in Breckenridge, CO. I had been working in the ski and snowboard industry for six years prior to this job but this was unlike anything I had encountered before.

Snow, blue skies, and barreling down a mountain side making our own turns is what we thrived on. Exploration and sitting on a mountain side where the silence and stillness is deafening is not an experience I would trade. It was cold, windy, and sometimes scary; this is what we wanted.

I was assistant manager of a small snowboard shop at the Breckenridge Ski Area. We were a flow blown rental shop and measured 900 sq. ft. or so. My manager had run this store previously and learned a few lessons in employing and maximizing space.

We were a full-blown snowboard rental shop. We had a strong fleet of equipment, we had a full tuning set up with phenomenal tuning equipment and an accessory area where we would sell goggles, gloves, hats, lip balm, sunglasses, sunscreen, and other things that might be necessary for your day(s) on the mountain. Here was challenge number one; we had to staff it with snowboard bums like us.

The snowboard bum, like the ski bum, likes to have a good time. They have little responsibility and moved for the mountain life for one reason, the mountain life. What is the mountain life? It could be a lot of things. Riding (snowboarding), partying, early mornings, late nights, hamburger helper, 3 for $1 microwavable burritos, more riding, and surviving.

How were we going to find the right hires and then motivate them?

The Ground Rules

Imagine having a month to find a job, get trained, and ready to be swamped for the next five months. The window of opportunity is slim and if one doesn’t find a job, they may start packing. We had to fill 12 positions and had at least 50 applicants.

The hiring process can be hell. Hell. We are looking at our applicants and anyone that had retail experience earned an interview. That’s right, all of them. We were also hiring one full time and one part time tech to service equipment. This heavy equipment is dangerous and being qualified to operate it is necessary.

We developed a simple rule. You will never be late. If you are late once, you are fired. Sounds a bit harsh, right? Try to imagine living where the weather might not have any predictability and you could wake up to a foot of snow, your car froze, maybe lost power, or were arrested the night before. Too bad. Plan ahead.

It is imperative to maintain the best service and behavior in a resort town. Staff must engage with the customer in conversation beyond the greeting. In those conversations with customers we would recommend restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and so on to insure these people enjoyed coming to Breck. One bad experience and it spreads like wildfire. The only reason we could exist there for was tourism.

Incentives

Incentives are one of my favorite things about being in management. Not only does it give your crew something to work for, but it also gives them a chance to feel success. In order to achieve both, we kept a positive atmosphere. We played our favorite music, let staff cut out for breaks (unpaid) to hit the mountain, but we also would hang out after hours and kept the door open for significant others and roommates.

Our focus was add-on sales. This was the incentive that helped pad the pockets of our crew. We did not adopt the ‘Do you want fries with that?’ approach, per se, but we qualified the customer by asking if they had certain items that were vital to their safety or well-being. We encouraged people to consider safety by renting helmet, wrist guards, a lock (anti-theft), all while engaging with the customer and sharing stories of the mountain. Each add on worked like commission which added to the staff members paycheck.

Our accessories person was selling goggles, hats, and gloves for the most part. Here is where the add-ons added up in a huge way. In the Rockies you will sunburn easily on the mountain, you need sunscreen. Scary stuff. You also need lip balm for the same reason but also because it is DRY up there. We up-sold all day long.

Everyone is worth it

No matter the applicant’s background, everyone is worth looking at. We had a few applicants with either reputations or even a poor track record but we planned on giving all the applicants a chance.

My boss was hesitant on one hire in particular, he had hired him before but in a different shop. He was wild. He liked to drink. That’s all I will say, use your imagination. We ended up hiring him because we needed the body. It wasn’t long until he came in wreaking of a hangover and telling stories of the night before.  We believed in him and that he could do a good job. One morning he showed up with minutes to spare and he said, “Jason, I spent the night in jail after trying to walk home when the bar closed. Cops picked me up, I told them I had to be here on time or you’d fire me. I made it.”

Would we have fired him? Yes. His roommate wasn’t so lucky. He overslept once, then was fired. Our crew knew the rules were strict, but they liked working with us. Work hard, get paid, ride your board. We had a good time.

In five full months of being open, we managed to bring in over $440,000 in a 900 sq. ft. space. Each sq. ft. was worth at least $489. Not bad.