Flo Has Let Me Down

While I find the Progressive TV commercials annoying, I can see why they are effective. They’ve turned Flo into an icon similar to Mr. Whipple, who was famous for squeezing the Charmin (toilet paper). The Flo character is an overzealous representative for the company who is effusive about bundling your home and auto insurance. Whether you like or dislike the character, she must be helping Progressive sell insurance — she’s done over 100 commercials for the brand since first appearing in 2008! While Flo is not necessarily my type, she has given me the impression that Progressive is committed to caring for its customers and providing personalized service.

Advertising Icons

Late last year I switched auto insurance from Geico to Progressive. I did it because I was miffed at the lizard for jacking up the prices. I had no problems with their service; however, they wanted to raise my premium by $200 per month. I’ve been with Flo for a few months, and I already have a not-so-happy story to share. What happened the other day is not a deal breaker; however, it has made me think twice about my relationship with Flo. I’ll share the story, realizing it may be an anomaly.

The Story

On December 29th, I was on the Dallas North Tollway (southbound) when I spotted an object in the middle of my lane. It was rush hour, and there were cars on either side of me. I had no room to swerve around the object. My only choice was to run over it. Little did I know I was doomed. I thought my SUV could clear the object. Unfortunately, it was bigger and less malleable than I thought. I winced as I drove over it then stunned by the horrific sound it made. The object was hard and heavy. I looked down at the dash. It was obvious the engine had shut down. Luckily I was close to an exit and was able to coast down the off ramp to a place that was relatively safe.

From Bad to Worse

I knew it was bad but I had no idea how bad. I got towed to a repair shop and was later informed that I’d need a new transmission. Fine. It took them two weeks to get a recycled transmission installed and the story gets better from here. I called to check on the car and they told me the transmission has been installed but they couldn’t get the engine to turn over. The next conversation with the mechanic blew my mind. He informed me that the engine locked up, it’s not fixable and will have to be replaced. He also let me know that he called Progressive and an adjuster will be out tomorrow.

I hung up the phone in a state of disbelief. My perfectly fine 2013 Hyundai Sante Fe now appeared to be DOA. I picked my jaw up off the desk, and immediately called Progressive to confirm an adjuster was scheduled. Tomorrow came and went – no adjuster. I went from hot to scalding. I immediately call the local guy in charge of dispatching adjusters. I want reassurance that someone will assess the car tomorrow. His response made me throw up in my mouth, “We are extremely busy sir so I can’t promise when I’ll have an adjuster out there. I was not a happy camper.

The Rigamarole*

The next day was Friday and I woke up in a less than stellar mood. I knew if I was unable to get an adjuster out to the shop by the early afternoon, I’d lose at least 2 days. I tried to call the claims agent and she was unavailable. Her voicemail instructed me to call her supervisor in her absence which I did and I got her voicemail. Her message said, “This blah blah blah. I’m unavailable until Monday. If you’d like to leave a message I will get back to you within 24 to 48 hours.” Seriously? All I wanted at this point was interaction with a human. In desperation I got on their “live” chat where Marcus informed me that I must speak with the claims agent. I try the claims agent again and she’s still unavailable. So I get back on the chat and he gives me another number to call. – This time it is to someone in a local office. I dial the number and a live human answers. She is friendly and accomodating and quickly informs me that an adjuster is scheduled to visit the shop at 1:00 PM. Because of her demeanor, I trusted her. Later in the day, my mechanic called to tell me the inspection was completed. The car was declared “TOTALED.”

Flo Gets a Second Chance, However…

It’s crazy to me that a successful insurance company like Progressive can’t get it right. This might’ve been a one-off situation, however, it seems like a systemic issue to me. They could have directed me to the local rep much sooner in the process. This would have saved me the time and frustration of making multiple calls.

The good news is this is not enough for me to break up with Flo. The bad news it has caused me to have a shred of doubt. Insurance companies can’t afford a hiccup while serving their customers because there’s always the lizard, the the good hands, the good neighbor the emu, Mayhem, the General, and so forth and so on.

A heartfelt thank you to those who read my stuff. As always, I look forward to your comments.

*Rigmarole means complicated, bothersome nonsense, so it might seem that, like gobbledygook, kerfuffle, to-do, and blabbityblab, the word’s origin is onomatopoeic or fanciful. But there is a story behind rigmarole that goes back to a 13th century list of names known as the Ragman Roll.

Posted in brand, brand loyalty, Business, Customer Service, insurance, media, perceptions, process | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Evolution of the Self-Help Industry

Have you ever noticed that short, simple sayings are often the most powerful and memorable? I remember my Grandmother used to say, “You can if you think you can.” I’m unsure if she realized how insightful this was when she said it. Her hero was Norman Vincent Peale*, best known for popularizing the concept of positive thinking.

A Little History

It was in the mid-70s when I was first introduced to the “self-help” concept. Back then, only a handful of so-called experts in this field existed. Three of them — Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, and Napoleon Hill were born before the turn of the 20th century; the other, by the name of Zig Ziglar, was born in 1928. I find this fascinating for more than one reason. By the 70s, their theories were practically ancient, and as far as I can tell, the only credential they had was street cred. *Ziglar dropped out of college and sold pots and pans; *Carnegie attended  State Teacher’s College in Warrensburg, Missouri, graduating in 1908. Subsequently, he was a salesman for the Armour Company selling bacon, soap, and lard. *Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking, was widely criticized for hundreds of unverifiable quotations and studies of questionable validity. *Napoleon Hill’s background was sketchy at best. He made several claims that were never substantiated. This included claims that he aided President Wilson in negotiating Germany’s surrender in World War I and helping FDR write his fireside chats.

An Educated Guess

Don’t get me wrong, these were not snake oil salesmen. However, I find it interesting that none of them had a background in psychology. Their experiences were similar in that they didn’t come from money, and they performed at a high level in sales. The only evidence they had that positive thinking made a difference came from their personal experience. They interviewed and observed successful salespeople to understand the attitudes and behaviors that contributed to their success. They were experts at influencing large audiences of people who were searching for ways to get ahead in life. Amazingly they built their businesses on a collection of educated guesses.

The Landscape Has Changed

It appears their educated guesses were valid. Fast forward to the 2000s, and the self-help category continues to grow and evolve. The landscape has changed dramatically, as evidenced by the photos of some of my modern-day faves above. **According to The NDP Group (a global information company), between 2013 and 2019, unit sales of self-help books grew an average of 11 percent annually, reaching 18.6 million in 2019. In today’s world, if you don’t have the data, people won’t listen. You can’t convince an audience that thinking positively works unless you have evidence that what you communicate is valid. Throughout the years, scientists and researchers have validated much of the theory espoused by motivational speakers of the past. No longer is it just opinion that positive psychology is foundational to career success and a happy, more fulfilling life.

Enter Dr. Joe Dispenza

If you haven’t heard of Dr. Joe, he’s world-renowned. Just Google him. He’s all over the internet. At the urging of a close friend, I picked up his book — BECOMING SUPERNATURAL – How Common People Are Doing The Uncommon. In the introduction, he states his reason for writing the book:

“I wrote this book to take what I’ve always thought was possible to the next level of understanding. I wanted to demonstrate to the world that we can create better lives for ourselves–and that we are not linear beings living linear lives but dimensional beings living dimensional lives. Hopefully, reading it will help you understand that you already have all the anatomy, chemistry, and physiology you need to become supernatural sitting latent within you, waiting to be awakened and activated.”

I’m convinced after reading several of his books that we can change our lives, in some cases dramatically, by changing the way we think. For example, he and his team have done hundreds of studies and used brain scan technology to prove that people can change their biology during meditation. This is just a tiny slice of what he’s done to validate his work.

People Can Change

Dr. Joe Dispenza

I wrote this article because there is still skepticism about the value of positive psychology (self-help). I believe in it because I’ve seen it work in others, and it has worked for me. It’s important to understand that change is complex, and it requires hard work to change thoughts that, over the years, have become embedded in our minds. How many people do you know who are stuck in their thoughts, unwilling to make the necessary changes to improve their lives?

Today’s leaders in the field of positive psychology aren’t slick salespeople who write books based on their own beliefs and opinions. Instead, they have studied and researched how the mind works and use proven methods that make a difference for anyone willing to do the work.

Final Thoughts

It is fascinating to examine how the field of positive psychology has evolved. I don’t discredit those in the past who preached and wrote books based on their personal observations and opinions. They had the guts to evangelize their theories and got many people to believe them. We have come full circle to realize they laid the groundwork for a billion-dollar industry. Psychologists and researchers have put these unsubstantiated theories “through the meat grinder” by performing thousands of quantitative studies on human behavior. They have leveraged modern technology to validate their work. It is now more difficult for the skeptics to build a case against positive psychology.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with self-help and making positive changes in your career and life. Are you a skeptic? Are you on the fence? Or do you believe there is a tremendous benefit to the whole idea of positive psychology?

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

*Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898 – December 24, 1993) was an American Protestant clergyman [1] and an author best known for popularizing the concept of positive thinking, especially through his best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) –Wikipedia

*Zig Ziglar dropped out of college in 1947 and moved to Lancaster, South Carolina, where he took up a job as a salesman with the WearEver Cookware company. Ziglar was promoted to field manager and eventually divisional supervisor in 1950.–Wikipedia

*Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898 – December 24, 1993) was an American Protestant clergyman,[1] and an author best known for popularizing the concept of positive thinking, especially through his best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952).–Wikipedia 

*Dale Carnegie (/ˈkɑːrnɪɡi/;[1] spelled Carnagey until c. 1922; November 24, 1888 – November 1, 1955) was an American writer and lecturer, and the developer of courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills. — Wikipedia

*Oliver Napoleon Hill (October 26, 1883 – November 8, 1970) was an American self-help author. He is best known for his book Think and Grow Rich (1937), which is among the best-selling self-help books of all time. — Wikipedia

**The NPD Group offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help you grow your business in a changing world. Website – https://www.npd.com/

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Customer Service Woes at Walmart

The purpose of this article is to help anyone in customer service avoid a common pitfall. My recent experience at Walmart gave me the perfect example of what not to do.

Background

I happen to be a fan of Walmart. They don’t mess around. They offer lower prices. Period. Their massive workforce is diverse and relatively competent. Like every other retailer in this world, they are far from perfect.

Looking for an update on Walmart, I checked their website this morning and read the first paragraph under the “About” tab:

From our humble beginnings as a small discount retailer in Rogers, Ark., Walmart has opened thousands of stores in the U.S. and expanded internationally. Through innovation, we’re creating a seamless experience to let customers shop anytime and anywhere online and in stores. We are creating opportunities and bringing value to customers and communities around the globe. Walmart operates approximately 10,500 stores and clubs under 46 banners in 24 countries and eCommerce websites. We employ 2.3 million associates around the world — nearly 1.6 million in the U.S. alone.

It’s a legendary success story that continues to evolve. They are truly the behemoth in the retail sector.

There’s a lot to be said for being the biggest. It allows them to offer “Everyday Low Prices” and to invest in technology that helps the company maximize efficiency. I want Walmart to continue to be successful, especially considering how many people they employ.

Our Recent Experience

Last week my wife, Susan, and I had an unusual experience with our local Walmart’s customer service department. I think it is worth sharing so your organization can avoid falling into a similar trap.

A couple weeks before Christmas, Susan ordered a carpet shampooer online. They didn’t have the one she ordered in stock. Apparently, if Walmart doesn’t have the exact item available, they will substitute and send something similar. Upon receipt of said “similar” item, they sent a significantly lesser model, which was unacceptable. Susan went back online to see if the model she had ordered originally was now in stock. It was, she ordered it, and to Walmart’s credit, it arrived on our doorstep the next day (with a broken part). It was obvious Murphy’s Law was in full effect.

She went back online to get instructions on how to return the two shampooers and received instructions to return one at Walmart curbside and the other at Federal Express. When she shared this information, I said, “We aren’t doing that!” Instead, we loaded the half-opened boxes into the car and headed to the customer service counter at our local Walmart.

Cluster at the Counter

I was thinking this should be a “no-muss, no-fuss” return. Remarkably, the line at the customer service counter was short, allowing us to speak with a representative within minutes. This was an encouraging start.

At the counter, Susan began the dialogue with a “less than happy to be there” customer service person. Her effort to assist us with the return was feeble. Ultimately, she directed Susan to call customer support. It’s a miracle I didn’t draw blood from biting my tongue. I wanted to butt in and say, “Wait a minute, it says CUSTOMER SERVICE in big letters just above your head. Why in the world would we have to call customer support when we are here in the flesh?” The rep provided us with a weak reason why this step was necessary. Susan obliged and dialed up customer support. Surprise, surprise, a computer placed her on hold. After a brief hold, she was forwarded to a bot requesting her ID#. WTH? We had no such thing, and there was no option to speak with a human.

At this point, I was ready to leap over the counter and strangle someone, but instead, we calmly asked to speak with the manager who was scrambling around helping others. He took a minute to put a new rep on the case and instructed her to call customer support. Seriously? She, too, was put on hold and forwarded to a bot asking for an ID#. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra would say, it was deja vu all over again. Now we are approaching the 1-hour mark without a solution. The new rep, visibly frustrated, turned to the manager and suggested they handle it like an in-store product return (instead of an online transaction). We followed her to a vacant checkout aisle, where she processed the transaction in less than 5 minutes. Yahtzee!

Final Thoughts

I have not embellished this story. Clearly, I’m not capable of making this sh*@% up. I share this story because some organizations are still committed to processes that compromise their ability to deliver outstanding customer service. Customers could care less about your process. All they want is a fast, fair resolution. The good news is the 2nd rep was proactive and willing to confront her supervisor. The bad news is what should’ve taken 15 minutes took an hour.

As a customer, have you ever experienced a situation similar to this – where the process gets in the way of customer service? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. As always, I appreciate you reading my stuff. Thank you! Until next time…

Posted in Business, culture, Customer Service, process, Uncategorized, workplace | Tagged , | 2 Comments

How The World Became a Ball of Confusion

People moving out, people moving in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I’ll set you free
Rap on, brother, rap on

Well, the only person talking about love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher

Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration
Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations (released 1970)

How did the world become so confusing? From my perspective, it’s a chaotic mess. Sure there’s a lot of bad stuff going on throughout the world, most of which is out of our control. This article is less about the events and more about how we learn about them; how the information is conveyed. Americans are inundated and overwhelmed with talking heads expressing their opinions and sharing far-flung ideas on how to make the world a better place. Often what they share is factless; pure conjecture.

Who remembers these fine upstanding young men?

Simple, Straight-Forward Information

Most Boomers recognize these guys. On the left is Chet Huntley and on the right is David Brinkley. They combined as anchors on the NBC Evening News back in the 60s. My parents watched these dudes like it was their job. They trusted them to provide the day’s news in a manner that was direct and to the point. As Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday would say when interrogating a crime witness, “The facts, ma’am, nothing but the facts.” Apparently, the Nielsen Ratings didn’t mean much then. Whether it was coming from the newsroom or Donna Reed’s bedroom, there was not a hint of sensationalism in what was shown or said on television in the 60s.

The Cultural Revolution of the 60s

The cultural revolution in the 60s changed everything. The events that took place during the decade are well documented — Vietnam, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, Kent State, the Civil Rights Movement, Woodstock, and much more. Bob Dylan wrote and produced a song called “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” This was one of many songs of the 60s that represented the thoughts and feelings of many young, restless Americans. They were disgusted with Vietnam, the violence in our cities streets, and tired of being misled by the government. They didn’t want to be a pawn in the game anymore and were compelled to have their voices heard. This was the beginning of the confusion.

Technology Boom

The technology boom took the chaos to a new level in the following decades up to the 2020s. The internet became a thing in 1983. In the 90s, it exploded, growing from 130 websites in 1993 to over 100,000 at the start of 1996. By that time, the world wide web had around 10 million global users. Ted Turner made his contribution to the madness when he launched CNN with its 24/7/365 news programming. Cable TV subscriptions peaked in 2000 with 68.5 million subscriptions. Instead of 3 national networks and a couple of local stations, we now have hundreds of channels from which to choose.

Ratings Rule

The stakes have become extremely high for network executives. Ratings are paramount to success. Through experience and research, the leaders in this industry have learned that the more controversial, sensational, outrageous, and opinionated, the better. This type of programming attracts viewers. The more viewers, the higher the ratings, the more attractive for advertisers, and the better revenue and profits for the network.

Social Media

Around the year 2000, social media started to gain traction. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and hundreds of other platforms, anyone can express their opinions on anything, anytime. It can eat you up if you choose to partake in social media. If you are not selective, it is simply too much. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that mini-computer we carry in our pockets and purses. The cellular revolution took hold in the 90s.  In 1990, the number of mobile users was around 11 million; by 2020, that number had risen to a whopping 2.5 billion. If we don’t have the appropriate filters set on our mobile devices, hardly a day goes by without messages that seem legit but are junk, spam, or a scam.

No Wonder

A little stroll through 6 decades refreshed my memory of how we got into this mess and what caused it to explode. While I believe these factors have a lot to do with it, we Americans have to take our share of the blame. It’s evident that many of us add fuel to the fire. We crave sensationalism and enjoy a good train wreck whether it’s a movie star’s divorce or a politician’s indiscretions, it’s like a feeding frenzy. Could you imagine if the news was still reported in the same manner as Huntley & Brinkley? Their show would be off the air within a week. The real tragedy is all this misinformation has left Americans scratching their heads, not knowing what to believe.

Final Thoughts

I am at a loss on how to clean up this misinformation mess. I have several questions for you before I wrap up. Is this a problem that needs fixing? Is it even fixable? Are you okay with the situation getting worse in the future? Back in the day, we used to say if something on TV violates your moral code, change the channel. The problem today is that you’ll find similar bullshit on every channel. It’s like the Temps said, “You can run, run, run, but you sure can’t hide.”

Off the top of my head, I can’t even begin to think of a viable solution. Is anyone out there (besides Trump) in favor of terminating parts of the constitution? We could get rid of the part about freedom of speech! If hunting, killing, and gutting your dinner every night is your thing, I suppose we could go off the grid. Or, I don’t know much about lie detector technology, but we could hook all the talking heads to a lie detector to let the audience know when it is a lie and the truth. That may clear things up a bit. When I haven’t a clue, I resort to sarcasm (part of my Jersey upbringing). I’d love to hear your ideas, serious or sarcastic – there’s no such thing as a bad idea! Until next time…

Posted in american values, change, culture, media, perceptions | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CULTURE RULES

Culture is more than a buzzword used in employee satisfaction surveys; it is a company’s multifaceted personality, soul, and character. A company’s culture includes concrete aspects of work life, such as compensation, benefits, and career development, as well as less tangible aspects like attitudes, values, and employee behavior.*

For example, in his book Onward, Howard Schultz described the spirit (soul) of Starbucks this way: “Our stores and partners [employees] are at their best when they collaborate to provide an oasis, an uplifting feeling of comfort, connection, as well as a deep respect for the coffee and communities we serve.”

Whether culture is expressed through mission, vision, values, or some other way, every organization appears to be focused on creating and sustaining a culture where workers can thrive, customer service is extraordinary, and products and services are of the highest quality. If you Google ten companies right now, ten would provide an enticing message about their culture. Most go through a painstaking process to ensure they use the right words to describe their culture and why it makes a difference

The truth is culture happens regardless. During my career, I worked for companies that have the best intentions when it comes to culture. Leaders communicated all the right things, but for some reason, the message didn’t translate for the frontline. I have also been in situations where leaders preach culture and then do and say things that undermine it. In an article titled The Soul of a Start-Up, Ranjay Gulati offers a structure for organizations to help them find and sustain three crucial dimensions of a start-up’s soul:  business intent, or a loftier reason for being; unusually close customer connections, and an employee experience characterized by autonomy and creativity—by “voice” and “choice.” All three provide meaning to stakeholders. **

“I don’t know how it started either. All I know is that it is part of our company culture.”

Once the leaders in business gain clarity around these 3-dimensions, they must be resourceful in making it stick. This is more difficult than it may seem. As we all know, change is the only constant in business and life. Employees no longer stick around to get the gold watch or, for that matter, a 10-year pin. The churn is constant at all levels. To make matters more challenging, marketplace dynamics are changing at an escalating pace. Therefore, it becomes a delicate balance between evolving the culture based on these changes and holding on to the fundamental elements that are still relevant.

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Grocery Store Dilemma

Apparently, grocery stores don’t have to provide good customer service. They just have to be conveniently located–either close to the house or on the way home from work. Typically, grocery shopping is a utilitarian experience featuring service that is between not good and barely good enough. I sense that employees are preoccupied with tasks and feel zero obligation to interact with the customer.

Case in point…I recently acquired an Apple credit card and wanted to see if it could be used to buy groceries. The card is different because it doesn’t have any specific information on the card itself (see below).

Little did I know I was going to get a lesson on the current state of customer service at grocery stores:

Grocery Store #1

I drove by the store in the closest proximity to our house and asked the dude at the customer service counter if they accepted the Apple credit card. His answer was NO. That’s it. Nothing else, just NO.

Grocery Store #2

I then called the next closest store to the house and was able to get through to their customer service department. When I asked if they accepted the Apple card, the young lady who answered the phone responded, “I have no idea.” She didn’t offer to place me on hold so she could go find out. She seemed satisfied with her response.

Grocery Store #3

My final call was to the 3rd closest grocery store, where I received a warm greeting from a cheerful customer service person, and her response was, “Yes, come see us!”

I drove to store number 3, got my groceries, and went to check out. It just so happened that the customer service associate I spoke with on the phone (Shelly) had jumped into my aisle to bag groceries. I mentioned the Apple Card, and she immediately acknowledged that we spoke over the phone. She wasn’t 100% sure how to conduct the transaction but was confident I could pay for the groceries with the card. We tried to complete the transaction as you usually would and couldn’t get it through. Then Shelly invited me to follow her to the customer service counter, where she said we’d figure it out together. That’s when I had a “duh moment. It dawned on me to go to the app on my phone, which had all the information, including the cc#, expiration date, and CRV code. Shelly put the card reader in manual mode, punched in the required information, and presto– the card went through.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong. Couldn’t the other two stores have done the same thing? Assuming this is the case, the response from customer service at both stores caused me not to shop there that day. Even worse, on the days when I have time, I will invest the extra 10 minutes driving to store #3.

I understand it’s a struggle to hire and retain employees in retail brick-and-mortar stores. Regardless, the team members with customer service in their title must be the ultimate brand ambassadors. Their role is to set the standard by doing whatever it takes to please customers.

Of the 3 stores, guess which one is thriving?

Posted in culture, Customer Service, perceptions, workplace | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Sometimes Good Guys Do Finish First

From time to time, I fall off the wagon and have to write about sports. I can’t help myself. Sport is embedded in my DNA.

As you might imagine, growing up in northern New Jersey, I became a Yankees fan before I learned to walk.

As my fellow Yankees fans know, this season has been a roller coaster ride. Before the All-Star break, they had the best record in baseball. After the break, they went into a tailspin. Guys got hurt, and everyone who was healthy and in the lineup seemed to be mired in a slump. The only player that continued to perform at a high level was number ninety-nine, Aaron Judge.

Aaron Judge is hard to miss. At 6’7″ and 280 lbs. he’s a physical freak of nature – an Adonis in pinstripes. As I write, he is on the doorstep of baseball nirvana. Even the casual fans know he is one swing away from tying the American League record for homers in a season. The record is held by Yankee great – Roger Maris, who hit 61 in 1961. As if that wasn’t enough, Judge is also chasing the Triple Crown, another rarity in Major League Baseball. It is awarded at the end of the season to a player who leads the league in 3 categories – batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Currently, Aaron is hitting .313 with 61 homers* and 130 RBI.

*Update – On Wednesday night, 9/28/22, in Toronto, with the score tied 3-3, Aaron Judge ripped a line drive home run to left, tying Roger Maris’s American League record of 61 homers in a season. He’ll look to break the record tonight in the Bronx.

Since the beginning of the major leagues in 1876, only 14 players have won baseball’s Triple Crown. But wait, there’s more. He’s also the odds-on favorite to win the AL’s Most Valuable Player Award. Many have said he has put together the most outstanding season in baseball history. However, what is even more impressive is who he is.

Aaron Judge making another kid’s day

Aaron Judge is an exceptional human. On and off the field, he’s cool, calm, and collected. Recently by a reporter asked about his demeanor. Aaron explained that both of his parents are teachers, and from an early age, they taught him to be polite and respectful to others. He’s on what is arguably the biggest stage in the sport, under the bright lights of New York and the scrutiny of the most demanding fans. The way he deals with the media is “Jeter-like.” No drama! His words are carefully chosen, brief, and to the point. He will tell you, in no uncertain terms he’s focused on two things: being a great teammate and winning a championship. Sure, this is scripted, however, his actions speak louder than his words.

It didn’t take long to realize he was different. When was the last time you witnessed an outfielder in an MLB game playing catch with a kid in the stands between innings? This is just one small example of the mutual love affair between Aaron and the fans. When he’s asked about this relationship, he’ll tell you he was once that kid in the stands, and he understands that even a small gesture from a pro athlete can create a memory that lasts a lifetime.

The long and the short of MLB

Over the last couple of years, Aaron has become the face of the Yankees and MLB. He stands for everything that is right in sports and in the world. Regardless of your fan loyalty, it’s hard not to root for this guy.

I’d be remiss on this day if I didn’t give props to the legendary Albert Pujols (pronounced POO-hols) of the St. Louis Cardinals, who just smacked his 700th career home run last night Friday, September 23rd, in Los Angeles in the top of the 4th against the Dodgers. Only three others in the game’s history have hit 700 homers – Do the names Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, and Barry Bonds* ring a bell? After 22 years with the Cardinals and the Angels, at the age of 42, this is Albert’s final season. Many talking heads didn’t think he’d be able to make it to the magic number. He qualifies as a superhero, too. Who he is as a person far outweighs his prowess as a baseball player.

Posted in american values, Baseball, MLB, New York Yankees | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Strange Visitor From Another Planet

Or maybe it’s a ghost. It is ridiculously unpredictable and attacks its prey in a variety of ways. British golf announcers like to refer to a challenging golf hole as diabolical (meaning characteristic of the Devil or so evil as to be suggestive of the Devil). This is that!

It’s so powerful it has permanently changed the way people conduct their lives. It strikes fear into the hearts of those who get it and their loved ones. It has killed over a million Americans and 6.5 million people globally. I’m talking Covid. Why? I recently recovered from a 3-week bout with the wicked witch. Talk about a rude awakening…

Before I share my story, I want to acknowledge that I am blessed with good fortune. I can’t even fathom what others have gone through and how awful it must’ve been. So many unsuspecting people ended up in a hospital hallway fighting for their lives while their loved ones couldn’t even visit. Not to mention the nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers fighting the battle on the front lines. If that’s not heroism, I don’t know what is.

We take care of my 98-year-old father-in-law, so we’ve been hyper-vigilant about Covid, especially during the days of the shutdowns and shelter in place. While his vitals are better than mine, he’s at high risk at his advanced age.

I came home with a nasty sore throat one day in August. My wife, Susan, keeps a stock of home Covid tests on hand. She immediately put on a mask and gloves, stuck a long Q-Tip-looking thing up my nose, and instructed me to wait for 15-minutes for the results. The entire time I say to myself, there is no way I have Covid. Even if I test positive, it will be a mild case similar to the common cold. It will only last 2-3 days, and I’ll be over it. Son of a gun if she didn’t walk in 15-minutes later and announce the test was positive. Even though I felt like crap, I was in a state of utter disbelief. I wanted a “do-over,” which we did the next day, and the result was the same.

I called my doctor’s office, and their response was interesting. First, the doctor’s assistant told me they aren’t doing anything for Covid patients. Instead, she said to rest, drink plenty of liquids, and stay away from people until you feel better. Duh, that was helpful.

For 3-weeks, I was locked down in one room. My throat was so sore, that I could hardly swallow. The worst was the body aches and just feeling drained. I also experienced brain fog, where I was unable to think clearly. It was different than what I had imagined.

I was vaccinated (and not boosted based on the advice of my GP). So, before it hit, I was feeling fabulous and fortunate to have avoided the dreaded virus.

I wasn’t hyper-vigilant during the height of the pandemic. I got vaccinated, wore a mask, washed my hands, and did my best to avoid crowds and other events where I felt the risk factor might be high.

As word got out to family and friends, many of them asked how I got it. My stock response was, “Your guess is as good as mine!” In the interest of my father-in-law’s health, we’ve continued to stay away from large crowds and anything that might resemble a super spreader event.

I hesitated to write this article because we are all tired of hearing about Covid. However, I figured we all need a reminder now and then. It’s human nature to move on and I would never recommend obsessing over it. Call Covid what you want, but it is still out there, and you can take it from me; people are still being affected by it.

Posted in awareness, heroes | Tagged | 5 Comments

There’s More to a Smile Than We Think

Okay, the subject matter I have chosen for this week’s blog may seem a bit fluffy! I mean why should we care about smiling? I spent the majority of my career in the hospitality business where I was on high alert for smiles every time I walked into one of our establishments. We used to say, “When you see someone without a smile, give them yours.” Corny, I know. Our challenge then was getting twenty-somethings to understand the value of a smile.

I believe facial expression is a key component when you are in customer-facing roles. Even in cold-call selling, trainers encourage their trainees to “smile while they dial” because it affects their tone of voice and helps the caller maintain a positive frame of mind. This all made sense intuitively, however, there was little scientific evidence that smiling could make a significant difference for the one providing the smile and/or for the one receiving the smile. Now, the research has been done. The experts have concluded that there are significant benefits to smiling:

11 Science-Backed Benefits of Smiling

  • Releases endorphins
  • Alleviates stress
  • Reduces blood pressure 
  • Strengthens immune system 
  • Increases endurance
  • Reduces pain 
  • Boosts mood
  • Reduces risk of heart disease 
  • Strengthens relationships 
  • Relieves anxiety/Correlates to a longer life

* from a blog written by Corey Doane – Mindful Meditation Institute https://mindfulnessmeditationinstitute.org/2021/02/18/11-science-backed-benefits-of-smiling/

Many see smiling simply as an involuntary response to things that bring you joy or inspire laughter. While this is certainly true, it overlooks an important point: Smiling can be a conscious, intentional choice. It appears that whether your smile is genuine or not, it can act on your body and mind in a variety of positive ways, offering benefits for your health, your mood, and even the moods of people around you.

I find this information compelling for a number of reasons. First, there are so many things in life that we can’t control. This is something so simple and it is completely within our control. Also, in today’s crazy, topsy-turvy world there are so many reasons not to smile. Just spend a few minutes people-watching and pay special attention to their facial expressions. I’ve noticed that smiles are few and far between.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with consciously smiling during my day-to-day activities. For example, the drycleaner. I’ve been in there hundreds of times and the woman behind the counter never smiles. I’ve been consciously smiling on my last couple of visits and she actually smiled back at me. If you are skeptical about the smiling thing try this. Next time you are in a tiff with your significant other change your frown to a subtle smile. Don’t be surprised if it has a positive impact on the outcome.

But wait there’s more! This is my favorite… A psychological effect of smiling is that it makes you look and feel younger. Wait! Stop the presses! Say what? Forget the facelift or the tummy tuck. Stop your search for the fountain of youth. Save your money for a trip to Bora Bora. And keep a smile on your beautiful face!

Posted in american values, change, culture, Customer Service, perceptions, psychology | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Is it Too Late to Change?

Throughout the years, many of us have been conditioned to believe that once we reach a particular stage in life, we can’t change. The outcome of today’s blog is to blow a big fat hole in that myth. How many times have we heard or said,” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or” “A tiger doesn’t change its stripes.” Unfortunately, phrases like these are a staple within the English lexicon. So much so, the thought that we can’t change has become an ingrained belief that few have challenged.

If you feel like many people are” “set in their ways”” and will never change, you are probably right. However, you are incorrect if you believe that once a person becomes set in her ways, she can’t change. If you think I’m full of manure, try googling Neuroplasticity (or just keep reading).

While surfing the net, I came across THE HAPPINESS BLOG written by Dr. Sandip Roy board-certified medical doctor from the National Medical Commission.* From Dr. Roy’s blog, I gained the following insight:

A Brief History of Neuroplasticity

According to Fuchs and Flugge, 2014, it was Santiago Ramón y CajalFather of Neuroscience, who first mentioned” “neuronal plasticity” in the early 1900s. However, the term “neuroplasticity” was first used in scientific literature by Jerzy Konorski from Poland, in 1948. He used it to explain the changes in the nerve structure of our brain cells.

For decades, the brain was considered a “non-renewable organ.” That is, the brain cells are of a finite number, and when they die eventually as we age, it’s the end of the line for them. But research proved otherwise.

In the 1960s, scientists found the brain could “reorganize” itself after a trauma. Further research discovered that the brain could re-allot large portions of its structure to take up new functions.

The Science of Neuroplasticity**

In a simple sentence, Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to restructure itself by creating new nerve connections and taking over new functions. Research has firmly established that the brain is a dynamic organ and can change its design throughout life, responding to experience by reorganizing connections—via so-called “wiring” and “rewiring.” Scientists sometimes refer to the process of Neuroplasticity as structural remodeling of the brain.

Neuroplasticity enables the brain cells to grow new roots and take up new roles, thereby making up for any functional impairment after damage to the brain. (This is excellent news for those of us who destroyed all those brain cells during our college years.)

A short blog may not be enough to convince you that humans can change at any stage of their life. If you are interested and need more evidence, subscribe to Psychology Today or just surf the net. It’s one thing to believe it can happen and an entirely different thing to make it happen. Change is difficult. It requires commitment, desire, and discipline, just like any worthwhile endeavor in life.

*Author Bio: Written by Sandip Roy – medical doctor, pyschology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project and chief edior of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.

**Neuroplasticity as described in Psychology today


Posted in change, education, perceptions, psychology | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments