Managing That Workplace “Vibe”

The New York Post reports that some companies and hotels are looking to hire people for a new kind of job with an evocative title:  “Vibe Manager.”

That would look pretty good on an office door sign, wouldn’t it?

img_6247-2“Vibe Managers” apparently are generally responsible for making employees feel good about the “vibe” at their workplace.  They’re supposed to plan parties and activities like scavenger hunts and other events for the workers, make playlists for office soundtracks, assist in recruiting “talent,” make sure everybody’s birthday is properly recognized, and consider whether the company should offer benefits like lunch-hour yoga and chair massages.  The position also might involve more mundane activities, like making sure that the office kitchen and coffee stations are stocked with healthy snacks.

Why, after decades of muddling through without them, do companies suddenly need a “Vibe Manager”?  Because surveys apparently show that 70 percent of American workers are not focused on their work and aren’t feeling “engaged.”  It’s interesting, too, that the solution to the lack of “focus” and “engagement” is to create a new job designed to make sure that the employer offers non-work activities that some naysayers might consider to be nothing more than frivolous window dressing.  Seriously, is a scavenger hunt really going to materially change a disgruntled employee’s perspective on his or her workplace?  If so, what does that say about the worker in the first place?

A workplace “vibe” seems to be a lot different from a workplace “culture.”  Many of the most successful companies in the history of capitalism have thrived because they established a culture that incorporated core concepts like excellence, teamwork, loyalty, pride, innovation, and quality — all concepts that, unlike a “vibe,” were directly related to, and directly supported, the company’s business activities.  Employees embraced and bought into the strong cultures of these successful companies and, so long as they were fairly compensated and evaluated, were satisfied and happy in their work because they felt that they were part of something larger that was doing something worthwhile.  It wasn’t office birthday parties that made the difference.

Any company that is worried about something superficial, like its “vibe,” probably isn’t sufficiently attentive to more fundamental issues like culture.  And that’s probably going to undercut the efforts to have a cool “vibe” down the road.  Anybody who’s ever experienced the “vibe” of a company that is going down the tubes knows what I mean.

Lane Change

If you fly Delta, boarding lanes apparently are a big deal.  First class, Sky Priority, and Zone 1 go through one lane that is equipped with a carpet.  After those high-class people have boarded, the gate agent opens the lane next door  — mere inches away — with a flourish, and the peons in zones 2 and 3 (that’s me) board through that uncarpeted entrance.

I’ve never flown first-class, Sky Priority, or zone 1 on Delta, so my feet have never touched that exalted carpet.  How does it feel, I wonder — as I skulk in with the steerage class zone 3 brigade.

Paper Passes

I recognize that I am an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy in many ways.  I don’t have the latest gizmos.  I don’t keep up on new apps.  And when I travel, I like to have a paper boarding pass.

I recognize that continued use of paper passes is a Stone Age approach to travel.  The airlines are trying to get everyone to use apps.  Delta even puts a plug for “flying paperless” on its paper boarding passes.  And, obviously, avoiding unnecessary paper use is more environmentally friendly.

Still, I prefer the paper pass.  I like its tangible quality.  I’m admittedly the Uptight Traveler, so a paper pass provides the immediate reassurance I crave when I’m on the road.  I can reach into my suit coat pocket, fish out the paper, and see that I’ve got a seat assignment, check my boarding group, and use the flight number so I can find my connecting gate on the overhead monitor without muss or fuss.  I don’t have to worry about thumbing around on my phone or having the boarding pass app time out and the phone screen go dark just as I’m approaching the gate agent.

Increasingly, travelers are using boarding pass apps.  There are still a few dinosaurs out there with paper passes, though.  We’re not quite extinct yet.

Eclipse-Watching In Atlanta

It’s a festive, communal atmosphere in the Atlanta airport right.  Rather than the normal mass of hurrying, grim-faced travelers, friendly people are crowding the windows, passing eclipse sunglasses back and forth, and craning their necks to see an eclipse that is supposed to be 97 percent of totality.  Outside it’s like twilight.

It’s easily the most amiable, neighborly feeling I’ve ever experienced in an American airport.  Too bad it only occurs during eclipses!

Immersion, Or Calculated Exposure

The other day someone asked why I wasn’t writing more about the latest episode in the ongoing Trump Administration Train Wreck in Washington, D.C.  I’m not sure exactly which deplorable event triggered the question — and I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it?

There are so many appalling, clumsy, bumbling, disgraceful, weird, inept, and dispiriting things happening in Washington, D.C. and the country these days that you could write about the misadventures of the President and his ever-changing team all day, every day.  And some people pretty much do exactly that.  They’ve become immersed in the failures and struggles and cheap insults and ill-advised statements and revel in addressing them and talking about them.

Then there are those of us, like me, who just don’t have limitless capacity for outrage and who like to think there is more to their lives than President Twitter.  I care about what’s happening, of course, but with everything else I’ve got going right now I just can’t deal with it 24 hours a day.  I don’t want the fact that Donald Trump is the President of the United States to permanently change my personality, or my outlook on life, or my relations with family, friends, and colleagues.  So I’m going with the calculated exposure approach.  I’ll try to keep track of the latest firestorm, but when it comes to really engaging with things I’m going to pick my spots.

We had some friends over on Saturday night, and as the evening ended I found myself thinking how great it was that HBO is airing the new season of Game of Thrones right now.  Why?  Because it gives us safe, neutral ground for talking about something other than Trump and politics.  Because it seems like pretty much everybody is watching the show, you can have an enjoyable conversation about most hated characters or best battle scenes or regrettable deaths, and nobody is going to get really angry because you identify Ser Davos Seaworth rather than Arya Stark as your favorite character.  It was great to be able to freely talk about something without worrying that someone was going to touch some third rail in the conversation that would leave people feeling upset.

For me, at least, there’s a lot more to the world than Donald Trump.

S’mores Aftermath

We had some friends over last night and decided it would be fun to make S’mores — that delectable campfire combination of toasted marshmallow, Hershey’s chocolate and graham crackers.  They were a great success — who doesn’t like S’mores? — and no one got skewered by a toasting stick, either.

You learn a lot about people when you see them make S’mores.  Some carefully find a spot in the fire where they can safely toast their marshmallow to brown, bubbling, yet unblackened perfection.  Some who are more impatient go for the more direct, stick the marshmallow into open flame and quickly produce a crispy, charred cube approach.  Some people have no intention of actually eating the marshmallow and just like to watch it burn and drop into the flames.  And some people forget about the marshmallow and go directly to feasting on the Hershey’s chocolate.

But today we’re in the S’mores aftermath zone — and as good as they are as part of S’mores, the component parts are pretty tempting in isolation, too.  I find graham crackers and a glass of cold milk to be pretty irresistible.

Kasey’s Spot

Kasey has lots of accustomed spots in our house, but this location in the front room, where the morning sun shining through some stained glass leaves the room dappled with light, is a particular favorite.

Call me crazy, but in these weird and disturbing times there’s something reassuring about seeing a dog napping peacefully on a couch.

Saturday To-Do

I’ve let some household chores accumulate for a while, and this weekend seems like a good time to tackle some of them.  One of the jobs was washing down and cleaning off our lawn chairs, and I decided to do that first, before the predicted rains come.  A little deft hose work, using the thumb-blocking-the-water-flow-power-wash method, a few well-calculated swipes with a rag from the rag bin, and the chairs look sparkling and bright.

It’s only 8 a.m., and already I’ve put my first check mark on the to-do list!  Why, the sense of deep personal accomplishment is almost overwhelming.

Shower Power

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We’ve got a big bridal shower coming up this weekend.  After weeks of careful planning and preparation, guests are starting to arrive in town, table assignments have been finalized, games and supplies have been determined, gaily wrapped gifts — with pink being a popular color — are starting to accumulate, and the big day is almost here.

As a guy who has never attended a bridal shower, and who frankly hopes to keep a clean record on that front, I can’t help but be impressed by the amount of effort that goes into bridal showers.  When I compare the care and attention devoted to making this shower a lovely occasion to the advance arrangements for the male variation — bachelor parties — the contrast is pretty stark.  The only things I remember about my bachelor party is that somebody brought Three Stooges movies that we watched on a home movie projector, as well as a bottle of Yukon Jack and a dusty shot glass that quickly did me in.  I don’t think there was much planning involved — and no pink, either.

Tools Of The Kitchen

We inherited a lot of interesting stuff from Kish’s Mom, but my favorites are some wooden kitchen implements we keep in an old wooden bowl on our countertop.  They are worn smooth, with a warm patina burnished by hands of the past, and they have that evocative, somewhat mysterious element you often sense with older things.

I’m not sure exactly how old they are, but I’m guessing they date from the 1800s.  With all-wooden construction and touches like leather straps, there certainly isn’t a whiff of mass production about them.  And their precise use isn’t entirely clear, either.  Sure, there’s a cracked cookie press, and a dough roller that would leave leaf designs on pie crust, but the uses for the three items in the middle are less obvious.  They’re built to pound . . . but pound what?  Bread dough?  Meat?  Or something unsuspected that we now buy, pre-made and pre-packaged, at the neighborhood supermarket?

The three “pounders” conjure up a long-ago kitchen of hard work, sweat equity, and muscle.

Eternal Questions

Some questions seem to be eternal ones.  Typically, they involve choices between competing views that are so obviously debatable, with good points to be made either way and strong, often passionate proponents ready to vigorously argue either side, that they’re just never going to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Think Beatles versus Stones.  Apple versus Microsoft.  da Vinci versus Michelangelo.  Star Wars versus Star Trek.  Einstein versus Newton.  The Gettysburg Address versus President Trump’s Twitter feed.

You get the idea?  So, is cone versus basket filter one of them?

This is a question I’m ill-suited to resolve, because the niceties of coffee brewer technology are lost on me.  Obviously, there is a difference between the basket and cone approaches.  One directs the water flow through coffee grounds that are configured to end in a fine point, and the other doesn’t.  The difference in approach and design apparently is so significant that, when you go to buy coffee from one of those high-end coffee snob shops, the barista will ask you whether you have a basket or cone filter coffee brewer.  In short, the cone versus basket debate even affects how they grind the coffee for you.  Why?  Beats me!  But I sure as heck want to get the coffee ground in a way that is most suitable for the battered, aging coffee machine we’ve got at home — one of the basket-filtered variety.

I raise the potentially volatile basket versus cone question because we’re thinking of replacing our coffee pot with a new one.  In the past we’ve had both cone and basket design machines, and to be honest I really haven’t noticed a marked difference in the quality of the coffee they produce, because my coffee taste buds just aren’t that nuanced.  But now we’re being asked to definitively choose, again — like being exiled to a desert island and being told that you can only listen to the Beatles or the Stones while you’re there — and I want us to make a good, reasonably educated choice.  And presumably one design isn’t definitively better than the other, because manufacturers keep churning out machines with both designs, leaving people like me in a quandary on this question that evidently involves significant judgment and taste.

Can somebody out there who is knowledgeable about the topic and pays attention to their coffee let me know the competing views on the seminal cone versus basket filter issue?  Simply put: why should I care?

Pear Pressure

There a spot along my walk to and from work where a property owner has planted a pear tree in front of his building.  Pear trees often are favorites of landscapers because they tend to grow quickly, and for much of the year it’s a perfectly nice tree.

But here’s the thing — pear trees produce pears.  That’s OK, as long as you pick the pears and consume them, or donate them to the local food bank, or compost them if they aren’t especially tasty.  But you can’t just let the pears fall to the ground unattended.  Pears rot, and rotten fruit smells, and attracts bees and flies, and gets stepped on and smeared all over until the whole sidewalk is a disgusting, reeking, bee-ridden mess that the intrepid walker must approach with grim caution and careful footsteps.  In short, it’s not a pretty sight.  Which raises a question:  why would any business owner want anyone coming to their front door to pass through such an area? 

Pear tree owners need to pick up after themselves.

Guitar Lessons

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In 1969, when I was about 12, my parents decided that it made sense for the Webner kids to take music lessons.  UJ and Sister Cath took piano lessons on the upright in our living room.  I didn’t have any interest in playing piano, which seemed kind of prim and stodgy, and it was the era of the early rock guitar gods, so I decided to take guitar lessons instead.  Mom and Dad bought me a basic acoustic guitar, and we were off to the races.

Of course, the experience was a disaster.  Sure, I wanted to play guitar, but couldn’t I somehow just acquire the ability by osmosis and by really, really wanting to play guitar like Eric Clapton? My teacher was a nice hippie-type guy with longish red hair and a straggly red beard — God knows how my uber-conventional parents found him in Akron, Ohio — but he was never able to motivate me to get past the dull, initial learning-the-basics stage to the actually playing a song you heard on the radio stage, and I was far from having the discipline to get there myself.  We started with some basic instruction book, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t really keen about practicing the exercises or the boring and stupid songs in the book and I didn’t have some kind of intuitive knack for playing music.  So I didn’t practice, and when I went in for lessons the teacher obviously recognized that I wasn’t practicing, and we both seemed to be okay with that.  Within a short period of time I quit the guitar lessons, the guitar went into the closet, and the dreams of rock guitar wizardry were permanently shelved.

It’s a familiar scenario for many parents.  Your child decides they want to take music lessons, or you decide they should take music lessons, you buy an instrument for them, and the experience is a dud.  They complain about practicing, you hector them to at least try, and ultimately the two sides reach an uneasy armistice in which music lessons are flushed down the memory hole, never to mentioned again. I blame myself for my guitar failure; I admittedly was a really crappy student.  But I also wonder if there was something creative that red-haired teacher of mine could have done to get me to the next step, where the enjoyment of playing compensated for the drudgery of practicing.

I thought about all of this when I saw an installment of The Daily Callus, an instructional program on YouTube.  My nephew, Miles Greene, is a highly regarded schoolteacher in the Oakland, California public school system.  He’s also an accomplished guitar player who, among other gigs, played the processional when my niece Annie walked down the aisle.  So it’s logical that Miles would combine those two aspects of his life and start teaching guitar — via the internet.  Miles’ focus is in teaching the tools of blues and rock guitar work, and The Daily Callus is the result.  That’s Miles pictured above, and you can watch him displaying his teaching skills — and I hope, subscribe to his teaching series — on YouTube.

I think it’s pretty clear that Miles is a very good teacher, and it makes me wonder if I should revive those old guitar god dreams, work through The Daily Callus installments, and see where it takes me.  Hey, where is that old acoustic guitar, anyway?

J.T.’s Last Stand

The Ohio State University football team is in its summer camp, the first game is less than three weeks away, and Buckeye Nation is abuzz about who will play where for the Scarlet and Gray.  Battles for starting jobs are raging at every position except one:  quarterback.  That’s because J.T. Barrett is back for his senior season.

Opposing teams have got to wonder if J.T. Barrett is ever going to graduate.  It seems like he has been with the Buckeyes forever, setting new Ohio State all-time offensive records whenever he touches the ball and posting more Ws on the Buckeyes’ overall record.  Sure, J.T. has got some losses to his name, and last season definitely ended with a clinker, but for the most part the J.T. Barrett era has been one of great success — and now J.T. is back, again, to lead the team during his final season.

jt-barrett-ohio-state-buckeyes-football-nfl-draft-2000“Lead” is a good word to use in conjunction with J.T. Barrett, because by all accounts he is a leader first, second, and always.  Any true Buckeye fan has seen J.T. in the locker room or on the sidelines, pumping his fist and giving impassioned talks to his teammates, but what really seems remarkable about him is not the rah-rah stuff, but the quiet things that generate respect and a willingness to leave everything on the field for the guy.  When J.T. first burst onto the scene, he played behind an inexperienced line and got pulverized in an early loss to Virginia Tech — but he showed great toughness, kept his mouth shut, accepted the punishment as part of the game, and led the team to a dramatic turnaround that saw the Buckeyes become an offensive juggernaut.  And then, on the cusp of triumph against Michigan, he suffered an injury that knocked him out of that game, the Big Ten championship, and the run to the National Championship.  Lesser people would have whined about their misfortune, but not J.T. Barrett.  He reacted with grace and dignity, supported his team, and celebrated when they hoisted the trophy, even though it must of been devastating to not be able to run out onto the field.

J.T.’s whole career has been like that — a series of victories and disappointments, hard hits and perseverance, but always with him looking for a way to win and a way to lead.  It’s pretty rare these days for the great players to stay for their senior season, but then J.T. Barrett seems like a rare individual in many ways.  Whether he goes on to play football at a professional level or not, he certainly seems like the kind of person who has the qualities that will make him a success in life.

I’ve been watching Ohio State football for almost 50 years and have seen lots of great players don the Scarlet and Gray, but J.T. Barrett ranks up there with my all-time favorites.  Here’s hoping he has a senior season that suits a player who has meant so much to the University, its fans, and his teammates.

A Man And His Collection (Or At Least, Parts Of Two Of His Collections)

Neil Rector is an old friend who followed a different path from most of us.  Years ago, he made the decision to focus on collecting art.  It’s fair to say that he is an avid collector, and an extremely capable one as well.  Since he first dipped his toe into the world of collecting, he’s assembled six discrete collections of different types of art from different periods and places — and his collections have curators clamoring for pieces as they assemble new shows.

Two of Neil’s collections are of Soviet-era photography and Russian unofficial art, and parts of those collections — but only parts — have been assembled in a stupendous show at the Columbus Museum of Art called Red Horizon.  It’s clearly one of the best exhibitions at the CMA in years, and today Kish and I were part of a group that got to walk through the exhibition with Neil to hear his personal reflections on the pieces, which was very interesting.  The show itself is fascinating, giving the visitor a peek behind the Iron Curtain at art, and thoughts and perspectives, that were forbidden during the Soviet regime but nevertheless were realized — because the artistic impulse simply can’t be totally quashed, no matter how repressive a government might be.

I can’t begin to capture what Neil described this morning, so I can only urge you to visit this powerhouse exhibition and enjoy it. And you can also reflect on what being a savvy collector might mean.  In Neil’s case it means having that terrific hammer-and-sickle riff on a Soviet style Venus de Milo, below, hanging in your dining room, and also having yourself memorialized in that collection of portraits of Soviet and ancient Roman tyrants, above.  That’s Neil in the lower right, in his best Soviet-style guise.  He was added to the piece, he explained, because artists view collectors and patrons as tyrants, too.

Go see Red Horizon.  It’s at the CMA through September 24.