Category Archives: writing

The Ringo Principle: A measuring stick for business and life

John, Paul, George and Ringo hit America

Been listening to a lot of Beatles lately (as happens) and this morning while enjoying “Octopus’ Garden,” yet another brilliant facet of the Fab Four hit me — and how it provides a lesson for business and life. Let’s call it the Ringo Principle.

The drummer born Richard Starkey was a full-on member of The Beatles, but it wouldn’t be controversial to say he was its fourth-best singer and composer. This is no slight on Ringo; the fourth-best hitter in the 1927 New York Yankees’ famed Murderers’ Row is in the Hall of Fame. Ringo is in any and all applicable halls of fame and regarded as a legend in the business, and rightfully so.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney are two of rock’s most iconic voices who penned much of the soundtrack for a generation. George Harrison may have been the Quiet Beatle, but “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” were hit songs judged by many critics to be among the group’s top masterpieces.

But despite the profusion of talent among the three-headed monsters of pop rock fronting the band, Ringo was no slouch. His affable self-effacing humor and the giants in front of him have obscured that he was a very talented and innovative drummer; listen to some of today’s top percussionists or just appreciate his amazing rhythm lines on “Come Together” or “Ticket to Ride” (just for starters) if you need education.

The Beatles could have just stuck to their recipe of writing many of the biggest hits of the 1960s, but they didn’t mind giving Ringo the spotlight, vocally and otherwise. He wrote and sang the beloved “Octopus’ Garden” as well as the dark circus-y romp “Don’t Pass Me By,” but The Beatles willingly let him sing at least a song on many an album to let his distinctive voice provide a rounder soundscape. His vocal contributions include the timeless anthem “A Little Help from My Friends,” and “Yellow Submarine,” the title track to their terrifically trippy animated movie. While composing the latter, McCartney explained, “I was thinking of it as a song for Ringo.” One of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century actively thought about crafting tunes to fit his drummer’s voice.

The real lesson here is one of inclusion and opportunity — ideals that improve business and our lives. At work, do you let members of your team stretch their creative and problem-solving muscles or do you put them in projects that give them just enough room to function? Do you provide opportunities to shine through presentations or as the public face of a project, or do you keep them shunted behind their computer? Do you actively give them praise, whether to their face, in front of others or even when they’re not around?

Or, if you work in higher education, do you recruit students to be stars or merely to be helpers? Do you let them write blogs? Do you give them social media takeovers that infuse their personality into your accounts? Do you allow them to be talent — not just script-readers but creative contributors — in your videos?

Many people learn they are good at one particular thing and get pigeonholed. They become the drummer, the dependable hand buried at the back of the stage. It’s our jobs as leaders and as humans to make sure they all get some spotlight, some shine, some stardom. Teams only excel when we are more than willing to show that success is only possible with a little help from our friends.

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How new urbanism infuses Oswego’s $10 million downtown funding

When I saw the details of the $10 million in grant funding to the city of Oswego’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, I immediately thought that somewhere Jane Jacobs must be smiling.

In the middle of the 20th century, as America begun sprawling into suburbs and throwing up highway systems, and as planners pondered the disastrous and destructive concept deceptively called “urban renewal,” Jacobs penned a counterpoint that inspired a new look at how to revive cities with the influential The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Contrary to the desire to (over)stretch city and suburban geography at the time, Jacobs instead pointed to urban density — putting people as well as living, eating and shopping spaces closer together as fomenting vibrancy, citing the likes of Boston’s North End and NYC’s Greenwich Village as examples. She saw “the need in cities for a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially.” Lively downtowns are self-supporting, she adds: “A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street,” giving “people — both residents and strangers — concrete reasons for using the sidewalks on where these enterprises face.”

Her theories were a large inspiration for what is known as “new urbanism,” which rejected the idea of paving paradise to put in a parking lot.

According to the New Urbanist website, its movement:

promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.

While one can kvetch over details of the DRI funding (it’s 2017, that will happen, particularly in the comments sections of media websites), the announced details aim toward making downtown Oswego much more livable, workable, walkable and shoppable.

Building blocks

1924204_38182887343_3361_nMy brother lived in the first converted downtown loft spaces in Oswego, in the Browne-Davis building, and they far exceeded expectations because it easily found a crop of professionals who desired urban living with great convenience. But it becomes a chicken-and-egg proposition: People who live downtown will shop and eat there, but how do you build shopping and eating centers if you don’t know what traffic you’ll get? The DRI looks at these as intertwined.

Ben Kail of The Palladium-Times has started the process of unspooling the funding (subscription required but recommended) and also posted the original news release. While at least one local media outlet looked straight at the shiny (new indoor waterpark!), focusing on novelty is not seeing the forest for the trees.

Among the commendable features that dovetail with new urbanism:

  • Mixed-use developments on West First Street at Bridge Street, Harbor View Square (First and Lake streets), and a redeveloped Midtown Plaza (providing more downtown residences mixed with places to eat and shop)
  • A multi-building development to fill a vacant lot and upgrade structures on West First Street with an eye toward 24/7 vibrancy (also encouraging more foot traffic by better connecting anchor attractions)
  • Renovating the Cahill building to include housing and dining (historic preservation as economic development)
  • River Walk improvements (cultivating natural beauty as another downtown draw)
  • Funds to support additional renovation of the Children’s Museum of Oswego (already an anchor for family activities that positively impacts surrounding businesses)
  • Create a “pocket park” on Market Street (a compact recreational space as an attraction uniting parts of a business district)

While many more details are forthcoming, it’s an exciting box of building blocks.

Back around 2000, when I was features editor at The Palladium-Times, I wrote a series of articles on historic preservation and how urbanism tied into a community’s sense of history and togetherness. But even as I covered very vibrant places, the missing piece of the puzzle was a resolve and a philosophy to dedicate to a city core instead of sprawling strip-mall exurbs. Today’s announcement shows, at long last, a dedication — financial and philosophical — to make new urbanism work in Oswego.

Will the last piece — people to live and revive all the corners of downtown — fall into place? That’s the final question here, but a confirmed commitment to downtown, to say nothing of millions of dollars, gives us hope.

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The Declaration of Independence and Constitution were our original content management systems.

Looking across social media, I see a lot of people a bit adrift on what to do on Independence Day, as they see erosions in the country they love, lawmakers not living up to the promises of their offices, government decrees with which they disagree. But remember that we are the people the writers of Declaration of Independence and the Constitution envisioned — even if they probably couldn’t fathom Twitter or society’s vain obsession with selfies — you could even say these documents are our original content management systems.

If you’re never worked in a content management system, let me define it simply: A CMS is a type of software that allows editors to make changes to webpages. A CMS exists so that almost anybody can update a page without needing to be a computing genius. People get hung up about features in a CMS sometimes, but what’s most important is the content, or the words and pictures and videos and stories that benefit visitors to the website.

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was the original governance document — they found their current system (government, CMS) wasn’t working, and needed something new (thankfully, they didn’t put it out for bid). The Constitution, in 1787, really established the content management system; it showed how editors (representatives) could write and revise content (pass laws).

It also created a governance structure to go with this CMS — creating the system of representation guiding how the document could be revised in larger (amendments, or software updates) and smaller (regular legislation) ways. It created different permissions levels (branches of government with task lists and authority but also checks and balances). (It did err in one part of not trusting its users, which was the institution of an Electoral College, but that’s a whole different discussion.)

Like a content management system, these initial documents were not as focused upon the content that would need to be created (laws, statutes, amendments) as they were the mechanisms that make these changes happen. Or, as I’ve said many times before, a content management system creates neither content, nor management, nor a system; that’s up to the humans coordinating and maintaining the system.

On this July 4, I can look around and not like a lot of what I see, but this I know: The country’s content management isn’t broke. This is all user error. And it’s on we, the people, to fix it.

So if you don’t like what’s happening, sitting on Twitter and clapping back and people who aren’t listening isn’t the solution. Arguing with people who’ll never agree with you is a waste of time. The representatives (the editors) of this great content management system are not using it for the benefit of all users. If you don’t like the decisions they’re making, let them know. If you don’t think they’re going to carry out the promises of the nation, support people who can.

The Declaration of Independence and Constitution are living, breathing documents, but only if we’re willing to breathe life into it. The pair of documents have been working together for 230 years (or 220+ years longer than the average college CMS) for a reason. That reason is us.

The documents and our founding fathers and our nation might not be perfect. But we are the ones empowered to form a more perfect union. To show that all (hu)mans are created equal. And to uphold the enduring promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, by making it user-friendly for all.

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Several years

Cemetery

I stopped to visit you today
Several years too late
Several years after you killed yourself
Several years I’ve been trying to forget
These several years you’ve been here
In this country cemetery

For several years we were friends
We were together almost every weekend
Talking, laughing, having adventures, drinking
One of those was a problem
But I didn’t realize
It was covering for something else

Several years ago, you made a decision
You thought the world was better without you
That wasn’t true
It’s never true

We had a falling out
Not a bang but a whimper
I guess it was more like a fading out
Your behavior grew strange
But I made myself a stranger
When I should have stayed your friend

We stopped hanging out
Things happened with you
We didn’t talk any more
Not that we didn’t want to
We just didn’t
But I figured we would

The last time you called me you didn’t seem well
But you didn’t seem sick
Or desperate
Or despairing
Or despondent
Or depressed

But you were just trying to do your best
I was listening
But didn’t hear
I don’t remember the conversation
Other than that it was a bit awkward
And that I didn’t tell you I missed you
And that I didn’t thank you for being my friend
And that I didn’t realize
The things I’d realize
Until too late
Several years later

I heard about the trouble
I didn’t realize your struggle
Then I heard that you were gone
And I realized I wasn’t there for you
That a lot of your friends weren’t there for you
Would it change things if you knew
That we still cared?

For several years
I’ve driven past this cemetery
Not realizing this is where you are
Not trying to realize
Trying to forget instead
But the other day I found out
So I drove out and stopped the car
And with little thought
Your stone was in the first section I walked
The dirt in front of it seemed fresh
As fresh as memories
From several years ago

The road where we split up is paved with the things I didn’t say
We had wonderful times, but terrible timing
But it’s not too late to say I’m sorry to a friend
I’m sorry to a friend …
Like a stone in a stream
Life smoothes all our edges
‘Til we barely make a ripple any more
But those times in my life will live with me forever [1]

Today I had a nice talk with you
Several years too late
I thanked you for your friendship
I told you I was sorry
Several years too late
And I don’t know if you can hear me
But know that I understand
As much as we can
That you were a tortured soul
And while we weren’t there
Several years ago
You will be with us
Always

I took the back way home
And a lady in an SUV flashed her lights
Sure enough, at the bottom of the hill
A police car was waiting and watching
And I realize how many times
Strangers help each other
Yet friends who are like brothers
Take each other for granted
And neglect the seeds they’ve planted
For several years

Today is the time to make amends
Don’t carry tomorrow your silence with friends
Lest it not reach their ears
For several years

[1] Lyrics from “Sorry to a Friend,” Edwin McCain, © 1995 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Teamwork does make the dream work

Teamwork.

teamworkIt’s important in business. It’s important in life (even if just sharing popcorn). And it’s important in hockey and other sports.

Hockey is very demanding in its teamwork, as you only have six players (or less, if you anybody’s in the penalty box) working together in a very fast-moving sport to either score or prevent goals, where one goal can be make or break. Maybe that’s why hockey teams are so close and the bonds of friendship so precious.

Oswego lost to Hamilton 3-1 in a hard-hitting fast-moving game full of lots of great teamwork on both sides over the weekend. This wraps the 2016-17 campaign for the Lakers and our winter sports. But the final score is only part of the story.

And the end of the game, I saw rugged men who played through injuries that would have me curled in a fetal position giving each other meaningful hugs, goodbyes to their hockey days together, sharing of emotion. Much like the women’s hockey team after their loss to Utica — they come together, they embrace, they show they’re a team.

In 5, 10 or 20 years, who knows how many plays they’ll even remember from this game, from any game. But they won’t forget the people they played with. The good times, the bad times, the silly times, and the faces they shared those times with.

Because after that final buzzer, after the score gets recorded and perhaps even forgotten, that’s what hockey — and life — eventually means to those friendships.

Teamwork.

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Rediscovering the pause button

(Image courtesy of 1982 Atari 5200 ad)

(Image courtesy of 1982 Atari 5200 ad)

We now live in a world where social media is a 24/7 construct; for good or ill, many of us feel like we must be connected, must be on, all the time. It’s like we can’t turn ourselves off. It’s like our pause button is broken.

But for the sake of our mental health, our ability to prioritize, our sense of perspective, we need to remember to pause more than ever.

The pause button, like much of technology, is a recent construct. Those of a certain age probably first encountered the pause button as something to press on a tape recorder or boombox to stop the tape or the music, or to record a favorite song off the radio (waiting for the DJ to pause talking).

A 1982 ad for the Atari 5200 gaming console gave us our first look at the pause button for a real-time progressing activity, also using it as a unique selling proposition. A young man is in the middle of playing Pac-Man (which many of us spent a lot of time doing back then) when his mother (presumably) calls into the room: “Telephone! It’s Judy!” A sly smile creases his face and he hits the pause button which was mind blowing to us the first time we saw it! Of course, the idea of our teen dream actually calling us was far-fetched, but this feature was awesome.

The pause button persisted through VCRs and DVD players and you can now even pause live TV. What we can’t do as easily is to pause ourselves. To stop checking social media. To stop worrying if we’re missing anything. To stop and see a bigger picture.

I’m as bad at this too, but I’ve been trying. I took vacation over the holidays, and even (this sounds pathetic but it’s progress) watched movies on Netflix without worrying about emails or social media and didn’t check my phone compulsively when trying to get to sleep. And you know what? The world didn’t end; 2017 arrived. I realize it’s what I should do. And need to continue doing. The pause is good for all of us. If my adorable son asks me to pause what I’m doing to play with him, he perhaps knows our priorities better than I do.

Having a nose to the grindstone keeps us from seeing sunsets, seeing sunrises and seeing the stars. Micromanaging moments keeps us from spending time in better ways. It is, to paraphrase an old Coca-Cola ad, our pauses that refresh us. Musical scores are made of beats and rests (or pauses, if you prefer) … each makes the other more effective.

So please join me — and remind me — in pausing more in 2017. Let’s stop and eat lunch with other humans instead of wolfing it down at our desks. Let’s take a walk when the weather is nice. Let’s read real books and write our stories and laugh a lot during these pauses. Let’s bring back the importance of the pause button.

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How losing a job 25 years ago made me a better person today

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I got laid off from my first professional job 25 years ago (give or take a few days). It seemed crushing back then, but ultimately it was a needed wake-up and “grow-up” experience.

The recent trend of posting #sevenfirstjobs (or #7firstjobs?) has been a great reminder of the number of grunt and entry-level jobs many of us worked before finding our paths. But it also reminded me of how what seemed like a dream job got away at the time.

In spring 1991, I was hired to be the office manager of the Sterling Renaissance Festival. The fest was not just a business or attraction, but where I grew up — I spent summers there since I was 9 years old because my mother was a craftsperson there. (Maybe one day she’ll let us build a website for her woodworking business, The Wooden Unicorn.) I did a little bit of everything there over my summers, from fetching thrown objects and knocked-down bowling pins at games to running the Ladder of Truth for four years (helped pay for college!).

So when the owners, who I’d known since I was but a wee nipperkin, interviewed me and offered the job, I was ecstatic. I could use my communication skills in a variety of promotional and administrative ways to help a business I grew up loving.

But it’s not always simple when you’re new out of college and at a place that was long your playground. I was immature, I didn’t have the best attitude and my work wasn’t as good as it should have been. My boss, one of the owners, expressed disapproval but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have and did not level up accordingly.

One morning toward the end of the season, my boss asked me to sit down for coffee and let me know I would not be renewed for the off-season and next season. At the time, I was rather heartbroken. I worked out the rest of the season and my last day was my birthday. (Happy? Not so much.)

It’s not you, it’s me

At first, I did what many an angry young man would and blamed them for what had to be a mistake. But as weeks of unemployment stretched into months, the truth set in: I should have done a better job. I should have had a better attitude. I should have taken it all more seriously.

Rest assured, that when another special-events job that I really wanted came along — publicity coordinator for Oswego’s Harborfest — I was ready. I went all-out in applying. I didn’t have a news release sample (since my background was more journalism that PR), so I took a risk: Instead of a cover letter, I wrote a news release (“Tim Nekritz applies for Harborfest job”) with the credentials I’d put in a cover letter. I figured it would either get me an interview or tossed aside as too weird.

I got an interview. It went pretty well.

They offered the job to somebody else. She quit after one day.

Then they offered the job to me. I said “yes!” (I had to stop myself from screaming “yes!”)

Work is serious, but fun

I read up on public relations as much as I could and learned a lot about PR on the job, as fortunately the organization had board members and volunteers who were willing mentors because they saw I (now) had a work ethic and a desire to learn. I did not want to let this job slip away, and promised myself I’d be more professional, responsible and responsive to criticism. The learning curve and workload were challenges, but I made it through the first season (as a part-timer) and they offered me a full-time job.

A key lesson is that work is, well, work and requires a serious attitude. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun — it was a very fun job! — but that you have to produce, be part of a team and (if you’re lucky) do what you can to make the people around you better.

I learned and grew as much as I could and seven years later, now with expanded responsibilities as Harborfest’s public relations and marketing director, chose to return to my beloved field of journalism to become arts and entertainment editor of the Palladium-Times. I felt like a different person leaving the job than taking it, having matured and learned and realized every day was an opportunity to grow.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I mustered the maturity to get retained at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone down the path to where I am today. I certainly wouldn’t have learned many of the things I have. Two roads diverged about 25 years ago, and what seemed awful at the time actually paved the way toward many awesome opportunities.

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