Bonds with bosses and initial thoughts on survey

I was checking out the December HBR over the Thanksgiving weekend while I was in Richmond visiting the dentist. He’s in dental school and has a ton of tests this week and next, so we spent a lot of time in Barnes and Noble and various coffee shops. I was struck by the opening paragraph of an interview they did with a psychologist who is a marital relationship expert intending to draw parallels between what makes for a good marital relationship and what makes for a good business relationship.

It has become common to extol the value of human relationships in the workplace. We all agree that managers need to connect deeply with followers to ensure outstanding performance , and we celebrate leaders who have the emotional intelligence to engage and inspire their people by creating bonds that are authentic and reliable.

Really? We all agree? Forgive me, past bosses, but most of us did not connect deeply. They weren’t bad managers or bad people. Planners who are great managers, to me at least, are rare. There are great planners who are better or worse at mentoring, sharing work, explaining why they made the decisions they did and letting their people have independence. But most keep away from “creating bonds that are authentic and reliable.”

I also started thinking about the next planner survey. Should it have a real name? What about Planning for Money (as opposed to Planning for Good)? I also started thinking about some new questions, specifically for those folks who have influence over our salaries. So on an agreement scale:

I expect offers I make to candidates to be countered and negotiated.

I believe I should try to get the best people for the least amount of money possible.

My company has fixed salary ranges for positions.

Our company has salary ranges that are flexible.

Staff at similar levels make similar amounts regardless of gender.

I have staff members at similar levels making different amounts.

And then for all of us, regarding our current position, choose one of the following:

I took the salary offered to me without negotiating.

I negotiated a higher salary.

I took the salary offered to me after trying to negotiate.

And another idea:

Do you have kids?

What are their ages? (give ranges)

Who cares for them? (stay at home parent, nanny, day care, other)


Kummerspeck and other tidbits on eating

Burger King is the client I work on, so I’ve been immersing myself in the history and culture of eating and food. I just finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I think I read an article he did for the NY Times that inspired me earlier this year to organize people in my office to buy food shares to be delivered from a CSA farm in Virginia. It didn’t work out unfortunately because the farmer was killed in a car accident. (How do I transition from that??)

I still have unrequited  desires to eat more local, organic food, and now after reading this book, grass finished beef and other meat. I never lived on a farm and had no idea that cows aren’t supposed to eat corn. I had positive feelings toward “Corn Fed Beef” before I read this book. Turns out corn is the root of all evil. I’m not exaggerating. My new plan to fix the health care system is to eliminate corn subsidies – maybe even all industrial agriculture subsidies – and reward small diversified farms. If it were cheaper to offer healthy food, you bet Burger King would find a way to make their food from fresh, local, less processed ingredients. Healthy food could be convenience food.

I  also read Scientific American Mind and learned a new word – kummerspeck – literally, “grief bacon” which refers to a food that helps cushion negative emotions. The term comes from widows who would eat after their husbands died in war. What we call emotional eating. There are so many reasons to eat – from hunger, habit, boredom, reward, emotional void and more. And it’s interesting to think about which brands and products can fit each occasion.


I’ve been absent for far too long. But at least several events have come to pass in that time that I can write about. I’m now two months into a new gig at CP+B. I moved to Miami. My divorce is 99.9% dunzo.

In August, I got a call from Crispin. Colin Drummond (who I used to work with in Boston) wanted to see if I’d consider a move. I went out to Boulder and met with several people in their Cognitive and Cultural Radar department and I had the craziest interview with Alex, Rob, Bill (the creative directors on the Burger King account) plus Colin. But I must have done alright because a couple of weeks later I had an offer and was going into my bosses offices at Martin for that uncomfortable “can we talk?” conversation.

So now I work on Burger King and I’ll share what I can about how different this place is from others. For one thing, we’re called cognitive anthropologists. I never really thought that titles mattered from brand planner to account planner or strategic planner. But bearing this title that I don’t feel completely degreed to have has energized me to seek new inspiration from the social sciences. I’ve always read broadly but this kind of inspiration is thoroughly usable here in a way it never has been at other shops. I’m starting to develop what I think is a new planner taxonomy that I’ll write more about another day.

Another difference: my boss lives in Boulder. Half of the agency is in Boulder. All of the creatives are there. All but 4 of the “cogs” are there. So I’m spending many days a month myself out there. But they’ve also got polycoms all around the office that video conference you. I have one in mine and Colin has one in his, the creatives and content managers (account team) I work with do too. It makes for a very “Out of this World” (do you remember that horrible show?) experience. This thing is amazing because you just dial up the person’s polycom you want to reach and it’s like you’re sticking your head into their office. It’s like the future. I haven’t caught any nose picking, but it’s bound to happen.

And a final difference for now: the place is run and inhabited by younger (and young spirited) people. Alex signs many of his all agency emails love, Alex. Everyone gets a crackberry – there’s no “you’re not important enough to know what’s going on” bullshit. The physical space is modern and it makes a difference. After spending the last 6 years in a turn of the century mansion in the woods north of Boston which was definitely beautiful and had James Bond features and then in Richmond where the design is firmly rooted in 1994 but had nice touches as well like a band room it’s just mysteriously comforting and energizing to be in what feels like a more current space. The ideas that fly around make more sense. Somewhat vague, but there it is.