In what many who know me would call part and parcel of a classic mid-life crisis, I’ve spent the last week on vacation with my oldest daughter, surfing off of Long Beach on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and hanging out in the tree-huggin’, hippie friendly (mostly hippie friendly – I did see bumper sticker that pictured a large man firing up a chain saw with the saying “Think fast, hippie”), eco-centric little town of Tofino.
My daughter took lessons all week from a great all-girl surf school (They call it ‘Surf Sister’ – is that a cool name or what?), and I hung around on the periphery picking up tips, having a ball, and generally getting pounded in the surf.
Strangest of all, for those who know me, is that this wild West Coast experience involved camping. Sleeping on the ground. In a tent. Cooking stuff over a fire. No computer, out of cell phone range.
You’ve got to know that my historic relationship with camping is at best ambivalent, and at worst hostile. I seem to have dim memories of something like it as a child, but have increasingly come to view sleeping outside and building fires as something necessary to our distant ancestors, but largely irrelevant in this digital age. I have said (many times) that if God had meant man to camp, he wouldn’t have invented the Ritz Carlton.
Despite my initial reservations, we had a blast, my daughter surfed (or ‘ripped’, as the Surf Sisters would have it) like a demon, and I survived – smelling of smoke, a little malnourished, and bruised from regular and unfriendly contact with my board, hostile waves, and the sand – but I survived none the less.
This environment wherein I was isolated from the technology that I generally live and work with/on/through, I think, taught me something: I’m not as important to the smooth operation of our office as I often think I am (I think I knew this before) and more particularly, I don’t, believe it or not, have to be touch with the office all the time.
Because a phone was hard to get too (and because I was having too much fun to worry about it), I found myself checking on and responding to voice mail once a day, at the end of the day, usually when I was so saturated with salt water, sun and the occasional Corona that you couldn’t have rattled my cage if you had a crowbar.
Know what I discovered? Office ‘issues’ (in some cases ‘crises’) that arose early in the day managed to ‘self-resolve’ as the day wound on, and I didn’t have to do a damn thing.
Typical case: First stressed out message left at 8:20 AM MST: “Sorry to interrupt your vacation, but we have a problem here – call us as soon as you can…”
Second message on same issue recorded at 11:15 AM. Voice on the message a little less stressed this time than it was at 8:20, as the possibility of options for resolution make themselves clearer: “We need to talk to you – we’ve been doing some research and talking to the people in Toronto, but we need to know what we can do…”
Third message, at about 3:30 PM “Look, we think we’ve got a solution here, but we’re not really comfortable making this call unless we run it past you first. Please call as soon as you get this message. If we don’t hear from you by 4:30, we’re going to have to make this decision without you…”
By the time I call back at 5:30, I find that they’ve taken care of whatever crisis it was, and they handled it just the way I would have. Even if they’d done things differently, you’ve got to know that I work with a very talented group of people, and I’ve found that if I toss ’em in over their heads (or more correctly, what they perceive to be over their heads), they tend to shine – more about that in another column.
All that’s left for me to do by 5:30 is congratulate them on their good judgement.
So maybe I can’t be this casual with clients, but I have learned (I think I knew this before, the lesson just needed reinforcing) that some (many? most?) issues don’t need my involvement, despite how serious they seem at 8:30 in the morning, and that they’ll often correct themselves as time goes on.
Next time – lesson number two: In technology as in surfing, it’s all about balance and timing.
Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected]