June 29, 2007

All I Really Need to Know I Learned at the Coffee Shop

The title is a bit of an exaggeration, but you'll get the point. Life today is much different from 7 years ago when I left a 2 year stint at a coffee shop. I’ve mentioned before that I worked at the Tanasbourne and King City/Tigard Coffee People stores. In some ways if feels like forever ago, and in some ways it seems like I just left. Either way you look at it, life has changed dramatically since then. I don’t know that I would have imagined myself being established in the business world or the telecom industry…let alone in Alaska. I still find myself thinking of lessons I learned while working the Espresso bar making lattes and Black Tiger Shakes.

Wake up before the rest of the world.

Being awake and open for business while the rest of the world is on their way to work is a strange idea to me these days. While I enjoy my morning wait in line with the rest of the commuters at Kaladi, I don’t envy that alarm clock going off at 4.

In the business world coming to conclusions before anyone else, taking a risk, inventing a product, developing a new way to do something will always put you at an advantage. When you’re in a hurry at quarter ‘til you need to be at work, remember, your barista has been up for hours to make money off of you. The great ideas and great products weren’t made by people who didn’t put in the time.

Details make the perfect product.

Even at the most busy times, when I was making drinks, I was measuring, stirring, and making sure the temperature was correct. The right amount of chocolate or vanilla or whip cream makes all the difference, especially when you have the same thing every day, the slightest variation will make the biggest difference in the perceived quality.

Many times in business something is rushed and there’s a tendency to cut corners or treat your work like a production line. Work overall gets messy, you forget by the next day what you did, and the quality suffers. Whether you’re in a production, service, or administrative function, paying attention to the details will keep the quality at it’s highest level.

It’s not the size of the line...

In the coffee business, it’s built around rushes. You have your 7-8am rush of commuters, your 10am rush of breakers, your lunch crowd, and an occasional afternoon pick me up rush. Despite the length of the line you still make espresso one pull at a time. You still steam milk one pitcher at a time, you still essentially make one drink at a time.

I used to have to tell CSRs this when I ran our call center. Don’t treat the customer you’re presently talking to any different based on the blinking light telling you someone else is waiting. When it’s that next person’s turn and they get great service, they’ll both forget about the relatively short wait and assume you were giving great service to the person right before them. Don’t let the length or the impatience of “the line” determine how you treat people.

Don’t fear change.

Our tip jars said “Do You Fear Change, Then Leave it Here” back in the day. A lot of people didn’t get it on the first read; puns can be that way, but often the chuckle connected enough to drop their change in the jar.

In my world, if you can’t handle change well, you might as well start stocking up on Rolaids for that ulcer. I know my industry isn’t alone in the constant changes. There are lots of job functions that aren’t affected as much by constant changes, but honestly their not as fun or challenging. Keep yourself on your toes, but don’t fear the changes.

Environment, environment, environment.

There’s a reason Coffee House is a genre of music and furniture design. My time in the coffee business predated WiFi, but we did have a number of folks that would bring their business to our stores, bring their computers.

Environment is two lessons in business. You can’t be afraid of expenses that indirectly make you money. Giving away WiFi and providing outlets for laptops will feel like losing money when looked at in a budget, but there’s a common theory that if people stick around, they spend money. They may not have a second cup of coffee in one stop, but they’ll come back.
Environment also can have a huge effect on employee morale and also the attractiveness of your workplace to potential employees. Perhaps it’s the nature of the industries, but I spend a couple hours a week in an advertising agency and every time I walk around their open floor plan, bright colored walls, and work spaces each employee creatively makes their own, I think to myself that it would be great to come to work in a place like this. It’s a two way street though, management needs to empower individualism, and employees must figure out what makes their mundane grey or brown cubicle an enjoyable place to spend 8 hours a day.

Let everyone read the paper.

Newspapers are cheap, but valuable in spreading information. We started the morning with a stack of papers that would sell for the usual 35 to 50 cents depending on the day. A lot of the papers would leave with the buyer, but anything left behind would be shared with whoever spent time in the shop.

Spreading information in your company is cheap and easy, but a lot of times we think that no one would find it interesting. In the news paper there are articles I read and articles I don’t. There are sections that are must reads and sections that I never even pick up. As long as there is some way for employees to filter, there is no such thing as too much information. Do your part in keeping your employees caught up with local news, industry news and especially information that affects their work.

Just because someone can do something themselves, doesn’t mean they won’t pay someone to do it for them.

Making coffee isn’t hard. With the modern coffee maker, it only takes a few seconds and you can even set a timer to start brewing when your alarm clock goes off. Yet our perceived busy lives put us standing in line to pay extremely marked up prices for either a fancy way to make coffee or the exact same product you can make for yourself.

In business this principle holds true. A little service goes a long way especially when what you provide is something a consumer can get for themselves or get from someone else. Either way you’re competing not only with your direct competition but with consumer values.

Always be doing something.

Although working in a coffee shop affords you the luxury of justifying shooting the breeze with customers, there is always something to be done. In the down times, there are things to be cleaned, things to be prepped, and always the next rush to prepare for.

People don’t generally make it very far up the proverbial ladder by being afraid of work. It’s not always hours to be put in, but quality and quantity of work accomplished will always be a factor in where your career is headed. If you’re not getting promoted, work more. If you’re not getting noticed, work more. It may or may not lead to being promoted, but to my knowledge, no CEO has ever said, “Gee, I wish my employees wasted more company time.” And remember, your boss or your boss’ boss wanting you to be doing your job when you’d rather be doing a crossword puzzle or reading celebrity gossip on the internet doesn’t make them mean, evil, or off base.

The grass is always greener.

Most days every job looks better than making coffee. I had a number of strange job offers from customers who worked in a variety of fields, and I don’t know what I was thinking to not explore them. Guys who work in an air-conditioned, fluorescent lit, collared shirt environment daydream about working outside in the sun, in the fresh air lifting heavy things and getting their hands callused. Guys who work outside in the burning sun, the driving rain, lifting heavy things and getting their callused hands dirty daydream of sitting in an air-conditioned office with clean clothes and soft hands. Just because another company, another job, or a colleague looks like they have it better than you doesn’t mean there are trade-offs; in fact, it’s guaranteed.

The customer can’t always be right if they don’t really know what they want.

Mocha lattes, non-fat mochas with whip, and mochas without the coffee…all common orders that a cashier or barista have to interpret. The adage that the customer is always right isn’t true as often as the person who coined it thought. In technology, in telecom, and in coffee there are certain things that the customer thinks that are wrong. It’s up to the organization to either educate the customer or teach the representative that works with the customer to interpret the message despite the words. Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that your customer calls their monitor their TV or that when they order a “Milky Way” mocha, that they just really want something so sweet, it no longer resembles coffee.

Don’t be too busy to have a conversation.

On my first day in the coffee world, my boss at the time explained that she would never get upset if she walked out onto the sales floor and saw one of her employees chatting with a customer. There are obviously times when work levels keep a conversation from being able to develop much, but you can likely learn more from one good conversation than from all the financial reports in the book.

In one way or another every business is built on, for, or because of people. Either your employees, customers, investors, or the general public as a whole; one way or another it’s important to pay attention to your interaction. In my current job I focus a lot on cold hard facts and figures, while there are branches of the organization that depend on anecdotal evidence and customers they’ve heard from. The conversation is very important and often overlooked in a service industry. If your interaction with a customer is a series of yes or no questions from a script, you’re not giving your customer the credit they deserve as being someone who interacts with your product.

Do your best to be the best.

I’m not trying to generalize about the barista population, but at least in my day, they tended to be slackers. In Portland in the 90’s, ambition was a faux pas. So, if you were the best and being the best led to promotions and favorable treatment, there was resentment among the ranks. Being the best might not make you the most popular kid in class, so to speak, but every organization is looking to build and expand around the best people.

If no one else is leading, you might as well.

At a few stretches of my illustrious coffee career, there was managerial turnover leaving the store in potential anarchy. I was asked several times to consider going through their management training program, but declined because I liked the coffee and people side of things and not so much the answering for sales levels and counting waste. During the times of turnover, I took up the slack by keeping inventory under control, employee schedules, and other little things. It definitely got me noticed, and although I shunned the advancement opportunities, I learned that leadership is a quality that people respond to. I think of LOST and a plane full of strangers suddenly depending on each other. Who became the leader? That's right, the guy who stepped up.

Sorry about the rather long post. If you're interested in the shorter more mundane things, check out the link to my Twitter profile. While you're at it, create one of your own or add me as a friend.

June 26, 2007

Congratulations Paste, Now Where's My Sampler?

Just got my latest issue of Paste Magazine as well as a 90 day reminder that my subscription is winding down. I renewed my subscription and in doing so, cemented my feeling that they are my favorite music magazine. In the last issue they had a great article on the best venues; listing the Fillmore (S.F., CA), Great American Music Hall (S.F., CA), and Stubbs BBQ (Austin) among others. I always enjoy hearing the wide range of music they include on their monthly samplers...but my latest issue (Issue 33) did not include the sampler CD. There isn't even any evidence that it was taken out between Georgia and Alaska. So, Paste, congrats on 5 years of great coverage of music and culture. I'm so glad you switched to a monthly format! Let's hope for both of our sakes that Rock can save the world, and Paste will be there to document it. But, where's my CD?

June 25, 2007

Six Things I Wish You All Had

There are a ton of services out there, but the following list are six things I wish all of my friends had. Why 6? I initially came up with 11, but 6 all fit a simple, helpful criteria.

1. Flickr - Photo sharing was made for social networking. How many years will we have to continue to send compressed digital photos via email? Not free, but affordable and an easily justifiable value.

2. Last.FM - A service that tracks the music you listen to and lets your friends follow that as well as makes suggestions of new music. You can even go online to remove your guilty pleasures if you don't want your friends to know about the 12 Air Supply songs you listened to at 9pm on a Saturday night. Free.

3. Twitter - Microblogging. My true wish is that all my friends would have blogs, but Twitter is easier to update regularly and easier to keep up. Lots of creativity lately in how it's being used. Why Twitter over Jaiku or Tumblog? Twitter is easy. Free.

4. Skype - How many times do I have to say voice IM before it sinks in how awesome Skype can be? Is the headset/microphone the obstacle to entry? (Yes, ReckenRoll, it's made for UK/US communications) It's free for Skype to Skype "calls," and you can upgrade to include Skype to phones for a very reasonable cost.

5. LinkedIn - I've already used it to hook a friend's workplace up with the opportunity to bid for some work. I like how it searches your contacts in Outlook and/or Gmail and lets you know who's on LinkedIn already, then gives you the option to add them (gmail saves anyone you've been in contact with as a contact, so people who I'm either not friends with or I don't want to give all my contact info to show up and can be omitted) rather than spamming everyone. Free.

6. Del.icio.us - It's a great tool for a workgroup who find themselves sending links via email. Using the Firefox plugin with some strategic tags makes sharing great links so much easier. If you're dependent on your favorites/bookmarks, you can also use Del.icio.us as a portable substitute. Free.

Of course, my endorsement of these 6 services means I'm a user of all 6. If you check them out and want to add me, let me know. If you have a service you wish I had, or wish your friends had, let me know and I'll give it a whirl. You know me not always an early adopter, but always either early or an adopter.

June 24, 2007

Internet Appetite

It's clear that the College World Series. Two things make it clear; traffic comes in big waves looking for various parts of Erin Andrews' anatomy and the Oregon State Beavers are still playing baseball. Sorry there's nothing new on Erin in the news, but thanks for stopping by, anyway. It's clear the internet's appetite for Erin Andrews is strong...just wait 'til Monday night baseball on ESPN and Thursday night college football. So, for the record, I don't have any answers to your Google searches for "Erin Andrews Bielema" or "Erin Andrews _____ (fill in the blank with a body part and you're pretty safe to assume it's been a hit here)." Although the cup of coffee is always on the table, Erin. Go Beavers!

Portrait Philosophy

I'm a big believer that a portrait photo should capture something significant about its subject. One of the rules that a photography teacher of mine had for portraits was that no matter what the subject's hands needed to be in the photo. I've never been a concrete rule type of guy when it comes to photography, but his words rattle through my head whenever I shoot a portrait.

While this portrait of The Mad Fishicist doesn't prominently show his face, it does portray his fishing face. Like an athlete has a game face, Bolokai has a fishing face.

This shot of Noveau Riche (sic) was, as a lot of my pics from yesterday were, from 30-40 yards away through a zoom (so smiles aren't staged, but merely side effects of a great morning of fishing). I'm not particularly happy with the composition on this photo because of the subject being centered. Cropping could fix that faux pas, but the reason I like this photo so much is because of the blur of the ferns as a backdrop. The colors in Alaska are vibrant this time of year. It's not very often that I get my picture taken with a fish. Generally I'm the one behind the lens. Yesterday Noveau Riche made an extra effort to grab my camera out of my pack, switch out the lens, and shoot a proud me and a proud Rainbow. Incidentally, it wasn't raining as you might deduct based on The Mad Fishicist and Riche wearing raincoats...the hoods work with the polarized glasses in tandem to help see the fish.

June 22, 2007


I woke up wondering why the sun hadn't woken me up earlier as it has for weeks now. It isn't typically dark at 6am. There is a strange look to the day. Lots of forest fires around South Central Alaska (I blogged about them on The Life Alaska yesterday) and there's enough smoke in the air to make it seem like fog. I'll be down on the Kenai tomorrow and will make sure to get some pictures. But I should really take some pictures of the yellow haze that makes it look like I'm wearing yellow polarized lenses. Unnatural.

Josh Ritter Announces...

Josh Ritter announced he will be releasing a new album on August 21. When I saw him in San Francisco earlier this year, he mentioned having recorded the album. The video below is a sneak peak. I'm excited about this one. That could be a busy week.

June 20, 2007

Wilco at the Edgefield

Wilco is playing the Edgefield in Troutdale, OR on Aug 22 (a Wednesday) and the Greek Theater in Berkeley on Aug 24 (a Friday)...a whirlwind trip might be in order. Anyone planning to go to either show? Two great venues for Wilco!

June 19, 2007

My New Hero

John Roderick is like synchronicity for me lately. First I saw him on the Merlin Mann Show, and now I'm enjoying his brilliant (sorry, TMF) blogging of the Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, TN. Particularly the craftiness of his Wilco review. The main creative force behind The Long Winters, Roderick is entertaining and has Alaskan cred, too.

June 18, 2007


Today I posted my first post to launch a new digital medium. It's called The Life Alaska. I've made reference to it vaguely over the last few months, but I decided today is the day to get it started. Stop by and get involved, it will only evolve from here. I'll add the RSS feed from The Life Alaska to the sidebar of this blog so you will know when something new is there to discover.

Sneak Peek...

The Life Alaska is a concept I’ve had rattling around in my head for years. It started with TheBLBinAK website (now defunct) and came back into light when the explosion of blogs captured me in 2004. If you read my old blog back in the summer of 2005, it was loaded with notes on fishing trips and Alaskan adventures. Blogging had a whole different feel and meaning to me back then. My 16 month hiatus in California gave me a fresh perspective on where I’d like to go not only with blogging but also with the whole digital media realm. Over the next couple of weeks, The Life Alaska will begin to grow, develop and evolve. Other people will become involved…some already know about it and some have yet to discover their participation. My goal is to document digitally what it means to live The Life Alaska by taking sights, sounds, feels, stories, places and people and sharing them with other Alaskans and people around the world.

Some of My Favorite People

I've got some great friends! Over the last couple of days I've gotten a chance to spend a little time with a few of my favorite people and it's given me a good boost to my morale.
I got to spend a few hours today with The Mad Fishicist. He was laid over in Anchorage on his way back from a mad fishing experiment in the desert of California and we had lunch and some great conversation. We even made an impromptu wake-up call for Riche.
I got to spend a few hours Saturday night...really Sunday morning living a bit of a ReckenRoll lifestyle. I got to learn a little more about her outside of the blogging world; a little more about her job; and I learned that Bernie's isn't the mellow late night venue it was a few years ago.
Good times.

June 16, 2007

Need Good Karma? Need Even Better Music?

The genius of John Lennon is obvious if you take just a moment to listen to him. It wasn't too long ago that I mentioned his genius to a friend and they asked who I think he would have been today. Would he be the cherished rock star past his prime like his bandmate Paul McCartney (by the way...huge fan of Paul...love his new album)? Would he be running around the world with Bono changing the world? Would the world need less changing? All good points. I think I'd accept any form of a 66 year old John Lennon just to hear some more of his musical genius. This week an album of John Lennon songs was released. Not like the album a few years ago that was recordings of rare studio time, but by modern artists. The proceeds go the Save Darfur project. U2, R.E.M., Jackson Browne, Ben Harper as well as Jakob Dylan and Dhani Harrison (both sons of legends) among many others play tribute to John Lennon for a cause he would certainly be behind. It's well worth the $20 and there's something for everyone in the artists included. Instant Karma is the name and U2 cover the title track, which is fitting from their reference in God Part II to instant karma. Here's some lyrics.

Instant Karma
John Lennon

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you're gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin' to do
It's up to you, yeah you

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin'
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin' at fools like me
Who on earth do you think you are
A super star
Well, right you are

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Everyone come on

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Everyone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When you're everywhere
Come and get your share

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Come on and on and on on on
Yeah yeah, alright

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

June 15, 2007

I'm a Sucker

I'm a sucker for lots of things, but here are a few that became obvious today.

I'm a sucker for:
-Videos of people getting hit with things.
-Tennis girls
-Polarized sunglasses
-Viral advertising

I submit exhibit A.

(via adrants)

June 13, 2007


Do yourself a favor and head over to ReckenRollLifestyle today to gain some perspective on your life. Some great insight from KRex and her driver in Africa. I walk away wanting to take a trip to Africa, give more attention to Africa the cause, and to listen to more Toto.

June 11, 2007


She's a longtime friend, off and on co-worker, and soon to be partner in the next MKinMotion venture...and she made the front page of the Anchorage Daily News Sunday edition. "Molly McMurder" is her roller derby handle and the ADN featured her and her league. Making the front page of any newspaper is a big deal, so congrats to Molly. Stay tuned for an announcement about said venture...it won't be long.

June 4, 2007

Shot in the Dark

I guess I missed the fact that Adrian Grenier's documentary "Shot in the Dark" was filmed in 1999. When I saw HBO promoting it, I figured it was a star from one of their shows (Entourage) using the resources of a big star to track down his biological father. By July of 1999, he was pretty far off of Hollywood's radar, but he made a pretty great documentary. With the success of Entourage and the mystique of his character on the show, I have no doubt we'll keep hearing from him.

June 1, 2007

If I Were An Executive Producer

Watched Studio 60 last night. Pretty powerful episode on a few levels. Jenna Fischer was the guest host, though only in a monitor during the goodbye did we see her. More meta TV as the show within the show was dealing with how to boost ratings. After it was over, I thought about what I would do if I were in charge of that show. The first thing I would have done was hire a separate staff of writers to write the sketches. The second thing I would have done was produce the sketches, film them and post them on YouTube. The content of the sketches is a pretty small backdrop in the show, but to hype the show within the show I think the audience needed to be convinced that Harriet Hayes, Tom Jeter and Simon Stiles were funny, not just moody behind the scenes. So instead of the Colbert model or the current SNL model, the segments released on YouTube (and NBC.com) would be extra from the show. Though I still believe that the timeslot and day of week the show started on hurt it more than anything, the audience wasn't convinced that Matt Albie was a genius or that Studio 60 was a mainstay in television.


I grew up living in a cul-de-sac. 18 years in that environment and I can't remember ever seeing someone park their car in the middle of the street. I currently live at the end of a cul-de-sac which is nice because it's quieter because the traffic that passes by is limited. However, there's apparently an invisible box in the middle of the rounder part of the street and people constantly park in the middle of this box in the middle of the street. I see it all over Anchorage, a town that is pretty terrible at parking, so it could be "cultural" but it's become a new pet peeve to me.