Thursday 30 September 2010

Are you on my team?

I love a good story, especially one with a moral. As a child, I treasured my beautifully illustrated book of Aesop's Fables. I would happily read the stories again and again. Well-known tales include 'The tortoise and the hare', 'The boy who cried wolf', 'The crow and the pitcher' and dozens of others.

Three months ago my mom was hired by a small company to sort out their bookkeeping and accounts after business partners - who had their hands (up to their friggin' shoulders) in the cookie jar - had created a financial nightmare.

In response to my story about an incident related to FEAT, my mom told me a tale. Three others follow.

The boss and the accountants

In this story, my mom's boss' accountants contact him to say that he must pay R100k in tax to SARS. Ja, just like that. My mom asks them for the assessment where she finds various late-submission penalties, which were incurred because the accountants had not submitted in time, and other errors. She tells the accountants to submit a query to SARS and that the penalties are not for her bosses account, but for theirs - afterall, he pays them to handle this stuff for him.

My mom then turns to her boss to explain the situation saying, "These people are not on your team". He employs these accountants to fulfill a much-needed task and he trusts them to look out for his best interests. None of us are experts, qualified or even interested in things we have to do - like tax returns and plumbing - and so we hire people to do these things for us. And, we expect them to take care of us and to do the best for us. Someone who is on your team looks out for you and they do their best for you too.

The woman and the little pieces of paper
Yesterday evening I went for a run, taking to the roads and hills of my suburb. The weather is perfect - not too hot, not too cool - and the trees are dressed in the freshest green. It is a wonderful time of year for evening runs.

A woman, who had been sitting on a grassy verge, stands up just before I reach her. She picks up her backpack and I notice a number of little pieces of paper lying on the lawn. I stop and begin picking them up.

"Are these yours?" I ask.

"Yes," she says.

"Well, they don't belong here. These belong in the rubbish bin, just like the rest of the litter lying around these streets."

I gesticulate, pointing at a coke bottle, discarded packaging and other lumps of litter.

"I live in this suburb, I run in these streets and this filth is disgusting. And do you know why it is here?" I ask. It's a bit of a rhetorical question because she'll get an answer whether she responds or not.

"It's here because people don't care. I do."

I turned around, continuing with my route up the hill.

The bakkie and the parked car

This morning I spent over an hour standing in a queue on the pavement outside SARS, attending to an IRP5 query on my assessment. A guy in a bakkie pulled up, parking in a spot near the front door. The spot was vacant because yellow lines (and a sign) have designated this a bus parking area. He pulled up right up the ah-sss... err... bumper of a parked car, so close that I would not have been able to squeeze my shapely leg between the two vehicles. The parked car didn't have much space in front of him either; more, but not much.

I left my spot in the queue to walk out on to the road and around to the bakkie driver's window where I pointed to the parked car and asked, "How is that guy meant to get his car out?".

"I'm just going to pay," he replied.

"I've been on this section of pavement for an hour," I told him. "And you have to stand in the queue too so this is not going to be a quick process."

I suggested that he reverse a little to give the guy in front some space. I walked back to my place in the queue, next to a friendly lady.

"I'd like to think that someone would do that for me," I explained to her.

The bakkie guy drove away, put off sticking around either by me or the prospective one-hour (or longer) wait.

He-who-would-have-been-parked-in returned to his car not three minutes later.

The printer and the brochures

After deliberating for a few weeks whether to spend R1500 to R2500 on printing 400 brochures for FEAT next week, I decided to go ahead because they will be really special to the speakers and sponsors. I put in a couple of late (very late) nights to work on the design, layout and content. Last week I dropped the artwork at the printers. A friendly call this morning announced that my brochures for my FEAT event were ready for collection.

If there is one thing I love, it is seeing something I've written or created in tangible full-page colour. It's one of the reasons I so love writing for magazines... that smell of fresh printing and the delight of colours on the paper... After 10 years I still rip open packaging to get at my articles, just to see what they look like in print. I'd been waiting for that call for a week.

The lady hands over the box and my heart drops. In that first glimpse I notice a patch of streaky printing. "Maybe it's only that one," I think. I pick up a few more. Same. I open up the brochure and notice a white border at the bottom despite the 5mm bleed that I'd included in the artwork; a trimming problem. I detect more streaky printing where the 'FEAT green' should be solid and there are streaks across Pierre's face on the back. Yes, the whole box of 400 brochures and the event takes place in exactly one week today.

The lady calls over the graphic designer, who submitted my job. I ask for the manager/owner too. They offer to trim the white line from the bottom, if I'd like to wait. I'm not crazy about this solution. I notice that the logos on the front fold are almost on the edge of the page, when they should be centred. It turns out that instead of printing on a large sheet and trimming to A4, they printed to A4 without resizing the artwork accordingly. I mention this. And that's to say nothing of the streaky ink. "That's the printer," says the lady.

Hugh, the manager (or owner) apologises for the trimming errors saying that my job should have been printed large sheet and then trimmed. "So, why wasn't it," I ask. He offers me a 20% discount on my next print job. I pay the balance and walk with my box to my car. I put the box in the boot and walk to my door.

I hesitate. I walk back to the boot to grab a brochure. I walk inside again, asking for Hugh.

"I have a story to tell you," I announce.

I tell him about the one about 'The boss and the accountants'.

I then explain what FEAT is about and why I created it; because I love adventures and expeditions and I have such admiration for adventurers, many of whom I know; because I believe that these brave and courageous people need an event like FEAT to bring them together to share their tales; because they are important to me; and because this event is something that I have created and that it is special to me.

"Every one of your staff here are on your team," I add. "They work hard at their jobs to make this business a good one. I come to you with something that is very important to me and I am spending what I consider a lot of money to print this brochure. When these pages started coming out of the printer why didn't anyone notice these things that I saw in seconds? Why are none of you on my team?"

I continue: "I walked back in here because even though people at my event may not notice the streaky printing, the off-centre folds and the white line at the bottom, I did. These brochures, the speakers, the event's sponsors and the audience are very special and important to me and I expect this to be important to you too."

Hugh is reprinting my brochures, on large sheets - trimmed to A4. I'll collect on Monday.

Hugh - thank you for listening. Thank you for caring. Thank you for being on my team.

Readers, care. Care enough to stand up for yourself, for things that are important to you, for people who are important to you and for things that you would like others to do for you. And the people or companies in your life who are not on your team? Replace them whith those who will support you and everything that is important and special to you - not because you are paying them to do something but because it is important and special to them too.


Anonymous said...

Hey there,
sorry to be posting a comment totally disconnected to the topic of your entry, but I can't find an email address for you on the site.
In a nutshell, I think you could answer a question for me if you have the time and patience. I'm moving to Jo'burg in a few months' time (from Swaziland - I see you've been here for the XTreme events...) and am looking forward to getting into a rowing scene. I'm pretty confident there is one, but I'm going to be living in Fourways and the nearest place I've found so far is over in Germiston. Not the easiest commute.
Since you seem to spend a fair portion of your life tracking bodies of water, I figured that maybe you'd know the rowing venues in and around Jo'burg and could give me some info? Anything at all would be very much appreciated; I've rowed on/off for the past ten years and have really missed it this past year I've spent in Swaziland.
My email address is - please can you respond to that, if you get a chance?
I'm also interested in looking into kayaking and perhaps you could give me some advice on that, too.
Thanks very much for any help!
Best wishes,

Unknown said...

thanks for the encouragement. It's so easy to get caught up in the everyday trivial irritations and to allow others to ruin what is important to you.