ennui

I drive to work; the train is no longer an option. Later, I drive home.  The round trip is at least 3 hours, often closer to 4.  It gives me time to listen to sports talk and generally the presidential debates. Satellite radio is a wondrous thing.  But my mood has shifted.  I am reverting back to listening to music.  My mind collapses around the sadness that is the 49ers.  The Warriors are a bright spot and the Giants exude yearly hope.

But then there is the election, still 8 months out.  Am I the only one that see’s Trump inciting violence?  I was appalled when he suggested that if he didn’t get the nomination with plurality votes, which he will surely have, the people might riot.  Might?  Isn’t he telling them to?  I took it as a signal.  A blatant call to arms.  And we wonder why he is compared to Fascists.  There are no good choices.  My politics lean liberal and as bad as Trump would be – and he would be—Cruz is worse.  The manipulation of the media for air time, the cultish feel of some candidates.  Wondering if Cruz would really like to start the end of days as his father suggests.  And then I’m reminded the next SCOTUS depends on how the NRA feels.  It all makes me weary.

And Brussels, following Paris.  Some days it is indeed too much.

So I move to music.  And the lift I’m looking for is nowhere to be found.  Sad songs.  Reminders that Bowie and Kantner passed on.  That Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin died too young.  That Duane Allman cut a swath through the south but left it searing and incomplete.  John had me imagining, but even that leads down dark hallways in this year’s context.

Today, there is no joy in Mudville.   I’m sorry I’ve neglected you, my 3 or 4 dedicated readers, but most things haven’t gotten past my filters.

Here’s a little spot of joy. Maybe it will help, at least for a moment.  Who doesn’t like power pop about teachers spiking the punch of wee ones?

 

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Looking Beyond The Box Score: A Baseball Metaphor

Baseball is really an individual sport.  We think of it as a team sport, but when you analyze it, 90% of it is made up of individual contributions.  Yes the pitcher and the catcher coordinate on calling the pitches and creating the flow of the game, but 90% of that activity is dependent on the pitcher executing his pitch; the speed, location and ball movement have very little to do with what pitch the catcher called for.  While there is coaching, only the batter can hit the ball.  Fielding batted balls, throwing and catching are individual activities, chained together to make a play.  It really is an individual spot.

Of course, that type of thinking will get you in trouble.  Just look at the LA Dodgers <cue boos!>.  They were 2 games behind the SF Giants <cue cheers!> when they added 6 key players to their team – 3 of them stars with huge potential.  What happened?  Of course they imploded.  There is an intangible side to baseball which is what makes it a team sport.  When the team gels, mountains can be climbed.  When they splinter, they circle the drain (ok, the 72-73 Oakland A’s are the exception that proves the rule.)  It doesn’t matter how much of an individual contributor you are, if your teammates don’t back you, things fall apart, disaster ensues.

On a cohesive team, when one person fails to execute, the others don’t feel the pressure to “pick him up.”  They want to pick him up.  They want to help everyone move forward.  Internal values will have been created that tells people it is time to do something for the team; excellence is often created.  In times of pressure you can see great teams work to cover “failures”, fix issues and exceed.  And you can see splintered groups place blame and try to justify why it isn’t their fault.  Often this comes from the fact that some players are more worried about their statistics and their next contract than the success of the team.  When the team is placed second, everyone suffers.

Other times, it is more about chemistry and how the team bonds and works together to build that feeling of wanting to succeed together.  I cannot say that there are selfish or “me first” players on the Dodgers – I really don’t know.  We all know one or two players added late in the season can be the catalyst to spark a team forward to over achieve.  In my mind, adding so many players to the Dodgers over such a short span may have fractured the camaraderie of those left and making it impossible to find that mixture of talent, desire and teamwork needed to succeed. It is clear the Dodgers did much worse after their roster revision than they did before.

We have all heard the phrase “there is no “I” in team.”  I have always understood it, but never really been in a position to see one or two seriously selfish people destroy a team.  Often, when you are an individual contributor you don’t think about how to interact with others.  You know your stuff and you make it right.  The problem is that there really are very few roles left for individual contributors in today’s business environment.  Most everything in today’s wired world requires a high degree of coordination, communication and cooperation.

I’ve shared some of the rough patches I have gone through recently in some past entries.  As rough as those were, they were nowhere near the roughest. The last 2 weeks were devastating in many ways.  I saw firsthand multiple contributors working on their portions of a project and refusing to effectively communicate with others and with me.  In some cases, there was significant lack of cooperation – ok let’s be honest, there was zero cooperation between most of the participants.  This lead to disaster after disaster; lack of communication leading to tasks that could not be done.  It was chaos, individuals telling other individuals they were smarter and better prepared than the others and more fighting than you can imagine.  There was zero teamwork and definitely less camaraderie.

The project was supposed to be completed Saturday at 5pm.  Here it is Tuesday – 10 days later – and there is still much to do.  We were able to cobble some things together and have some critical services available by 9am Monday and most of the services people see done by mid day on Wednesday.  And then the blame game came into full effect.  You can tell your team players, at least the ones that want to be on a team, as they own their mistakes and don’t look for reasons to blame others.  They are busier looking for solutions and trying to help others than in trying to look good.  The team already looks bad; there is no potential to shine. The divisive ones look to find ways to rationalize mistakes and blame others, trying to find a spotlight.  In a time of crisis or clean-up as we were, trying to blame others is counterproductive.  We needed solutions and teamwork, not to look for kudos.

I sat through meetings and side bars this past week (people talk to me and I try to be the glue on the team, but I didn’t do so well this time) blaming others and trying to rationalize why they were not at fault.  Everyone placed another comparatively at fault – 90%-10%.  In truth, it was 55%-45% in every case; basically everyone was at fault, but no one seems to be able to see it.  In retrospect this has been going on for 3 months, and I was completely unable to change things.

This was a huge lesson in teamwork, or lack thereof.  Sure, you can add a bulldog to a team to drive vendors and outside entities.  But you still need to think about how that force interacts with your team.  Even if you think you might have an underperforming team that can use some improvement, you need to consider how personalities mesh – and what is the cost of achievement.  I’m not sure the cost outweighed the damage in this case.  Certain things got done better than they would have been, there is no denying that.  Others were made worse as information became embargoed and fences erected to keep people away from fiefdoms.

As someone who tries to build teams and cohesion, I was both stymied and broken.  Yes, broken.  You can’t talk to people who aren’t ready to listen and even the strongest of us break under constant abuse and pressure.   I take a lot of ownership of this team’s failures.  It really wasn’t a team; it was 3 different factions, each trying to make the others look incompetent.  All that did was make it nearly impossible to complete the project.  I’m not placing blame, but there what little chemistry existed was corrosive.  I didn’t have the right chemicals to neutralize it.

Have you seen the Internet meme which proves, without a shadow of a doubt that there is an “I” in team?  After the last 3 months, it seems very appropriate.

What Panda Hat? Have Another Burger.

It’s always fun going to see the Giants play.  Especially when my son is taking me for my birthday.  On our way to the game, we planned to finally go to HRD Coffee Shop and check out the modern Korean fusion food (as seen on Triple D, of course.)  I had been lead to believe the place would be packed.  I was thrilled to find out it wasn’t (which I was told was unusual).  The owner, whom I recognized from television) figured out we were new and pointed us to the Mongolian Cheese Steak Sandwich for our first trip.  I must say, the Mongolian Cheese Steaks were delicious.  Restaurants get extra points for setting up patrons for an exceptional experience in my book.

As we ate a long communal bar-cum-table, I noticed the women to my left.  One had a BBQ pork scramble that I must try at some point; the other a kimchi burrito.    A few different guys in line asked what we were eating and the monkey and I both heartily endorsed our meal.  After about 2o minutes, I realized Miss Burrito had never stopped talking.  Somewhere in her monologue, she had , however, paused a few microseconds to take two sparrow like bites and announced, “this doesn’t taste like kimchi.”  I’m sure everyone in the place was thrilled for her pronouncement.  Me, I bonded with the other patrons as we relished in the simple joy of great food.  Oh yes, we are going back.

After our food (I’ve noticed that the monkey rarely finishes his fries — what’s up with that?), we continued our stroll down to AT&T park.  My eldest son had requested a new Giants hat, so we stopped a stand to get him one.  As I evaluated the many non-traditional hats available to consumers, the monkey decided we needed panda hats.  Two issues here.  First, its warm and the hats are furry.  Second, we are both over 10.  I looked at him with a stank eye he missed  and shrugged.  He works now. If this is how he wants to spend his paycheck he will.  To my dismay, he did.  He already had a hat on and it was Giants’ Fedora day, the best $0.99 hats China could send us.  Suddenly, and abundance of hats was in sight.

A while later, and by a while I mean  a beer, batting practice and stroll around the entire park, we were seated and waiting for the game to begin.  As the crowd filled in around us,  I took note of the people around us.  Who was I going to high-five when the Giants scored?  Who would I casually chat with besides the monkey (who inevitably be texting his girlfriend)?   We had empty seats on both our left and right.  As the game started I realized we had two morons sitting behind us.

We weren’t in the season ticket section, so I always expect casual fans. Like the six twenty-somethings directly behind us.  The three girls were dressed to be seen and discussed make up techniques for an hour.  I never heard the men in the group.  But directly to the left were two huge baseball fans who went on for the entire game.  For you baseball fans, I’d like to share some of their wisdom  I never knew I so little about baseball.

At one point, there was an easy bouncer to Crawford at shortstop for an easy pick up and throw to first for the out.  Baseball Scientist #1 announced loudly, “that was a can of corn!”  Let’s just go to Wikipedia shall we?

Can of Corn:  A high, easy-to-catch, fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth-century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf. Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron. One theory for use of corn as the canned good in the phrase is that a can of corn was considered the easiest “catch” as corn was the best selling vegetable in the store and so was heavily stocked on the lowest shelves. Another theory is that the corn refers to the practice in the very early days of baseball of calling the outfield the “corn field,” especially in early amateur baseball where the outfield may have been a farm field. Frequently used by Chicago White Sox broadcaster Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson.

I have worked hard to educate Lambchop on exactly what a can of corn is.  She knows explicitly you don’t run to catch the can and it does not involve grounders!  Morons.  But the best was yet to come.  I don’t know who they were talking about, but he was “the perfect #2 hitter.”  Or, as Baseball Scientist #2 noted, “the perfect #5 hitter — he is both.”  I was floored. Clearly, these guys know something I didn’t. I couldn’t wait to learn how this could be.  To my thinking, the prototypical number 2 hitter, is a contact hitter, patient so the lead off hitter can steal, able to move runners by hitting the right side and fast so that he can score ahead of the big boys at #3 or #4.  The #5 hitter is a big bopper. His job is to drive in runs – doubles, homers and flies when men are on third.  Often slower than the guys in front of him.  Yeah these guys are just the same.  I was disappointed that these baseball scholars didn’t elaborate.  I wanted to revoke their SABR memberships.  To quote Bobby from Supernatural, “Idjits!”

In the second inning and older couple  came to sit on our left.  There were 2 open seats, but I was had misread my ticket and was sitting in her seat.  The monkey and I moved one seat right – there were still 4 empty seats there.  I guess as she sat next to me, I guess she decided I was in the way — she had a to the right like an old tree living too long in a windy pass — and was refused to sit still.  So she climbed over her husband to sit 3 seats over.  He must not have wanted to sit next to her either, so he moved next to me. Luckily he sat up straight and was nice enough, but his orange pants should be burned, Giants game or no.

A little later Miss Lean remarked in surprise, “don’t they usually do him second?”  I had failed to recognize this was a porno.  Where else do you do people? Maybe this was a salon, but it was really large and disorganized waiting area.  Do him second?  I’m surprised  didn’t call the catcher a goal keeper.  More people should say less, don’t you think? Whatever. I had this really cool fedora.  Simple pleasures and all that.

Fast forward a few hours.  Despite the  mouth-breathers we sat near, it was great day and I’m exhausted, glad to relax on BART trip home.  As walked to my car, the monkey announced he wanted to drive and I could relax.  Ok.  As we got near home, he produced the panda hats and told me we should wear them.  It would make Lambchop laugh.  Tired, I acquiesced.  It’s always good to see her smile and I’m sure she’d laugh.  As we approached, there was  crowd near the church.  Maybe the Jesus singers had a performance tonight.  It didn’t look like the snake handlers across the street.  Wait.  That’s past the church. That’s my house.   There were 40 of my closest friends on my lawn and banner that said something about turning 50.  OMG.  Seriously?  And the 510 Burger Truck in my driveway?  Good thing he was driving, I’d have been to shocked to park.  I might have been shaking.  I’m choking up again just writing this.  I cry at Hallmark movies too. That’s why I don’t watch the Hallmark Channel.  And the programming sucks. But it still makes me tear up.

What panda hat? oh yeah, I had this silly orange panda hat on.  It didn’t matter.   I was somewhere else.  My feet didn’t touch the ground when I stepped out of the car. Too many faces. An overload of emotion.  I can’t believe what Lambchop and the monkey did. I still can’t.  There were laughs. Toasts.  A drunk, fully clothed JenJen in the pool.  Cacti and a solution to the basil shortage of 2012. Burgers, with and without Eggs and Bacon. And much love.  And for once, I’m speechless.

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