Advice and Trends: What Fits and What Doesn’t – You Decide

Another “Rob,” this one being Rob LaZebnik, recently authored a brilliant piece in The Wall Street Journal titled A Latte, Please, With a Dollop of Quiet. Some trends are good, some trends are bad – that’s the nature of trends. Of course, I’m totally with The Other Rob on his viewpoint of cellphone calls in public places. One word: ANNOYING. Not only that, but nearly all conversations that I hear in public are non-urgent or just flat out unnecessary. This trend or societal shift begs the question, “What, if anything, does your firm say to employees about the time and place of these calls?” Annoying or not, people often say things that are confidential and should be discussed in private and in quiet surroundings. This worries me when business matters are being discussed within the earshot of others. Not every aspect of mobile technology is a benefit to society. Agree or not, you’ll probably still get a kick out of The Other Rob’s article (see the full article below the photo of some chairs that I took outside the Aria in Las Vegas at last week’s PSTech conference). Bottom line, with all changes and opportunities, people have to decide what fits for them, their business and their approach to work and life. If there’s one word that blankets the PSTech conference or any other conference, for that matter, it’s CHOICE. Freedom of choice, it’s what we want.

Now, as for that crown jewel of AICPA events, I soaked up plenty of updates and insight on marketing, technology and business trends; the state of today’s challenges and opportunities for public accounting firms; and more, at the PSTech grand festival of knowledge. Here are a few snippets:

Jordan Kleinsmith of Thomson Reuters in his sharp “Branding Your Practice as a Tech-Savvy Firm” session commented: “Position yourself and your firm that you’re current with technology … and everything else.”

What about lean thinking? It changes the focus of management, for sure. Flowtivity’s Dustin Hostetler offered sage advice and new ways of thinking in his dynamic “Using Lean Principles to Maximize the Role of Technology” brain buster. Take these tips to heart …

Moving fast is not the same as going somewhere
It’s one thing to grow; it’s another to profitably service that growth
Slow down to go fast – it’s what LEAN is all about
The key with Six Sigma is consistency

Sandra Wiley of Boomer Consulting voiced, “Go spend some of your marketing dollars on recruiting for people” in her top-notch “Leadership Trends for 2014: Culture, Talent and Moving Forward Strategies” review. Also be sure to check out her great book The Journey Ahead.

Finally, I leave you with a “growing the pie” sentiment from expert marketer Sally Glick of Sobel & Co., LLC. In her “Leveraging Relationships” slot, Sally issued, “Helping people … everybody wins.” So true.


Last year, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote an open letter requesting that customers not carry firearms into his stores. I feel it is time for Mr. Schultz to make the same request about a far more insidious threat to the peace: annoying people making cellphone calls. And by “annoying people,” I’m referring to anyone who makes a cellphone call in public. So yes, I’m talking about you.

I can hear you objecting already: You don’t really do it that much, and besides, when you do, you’re usually good about heading outside to talk. Actually, let’s stop right there for a moment and recognize that we’ve ceded our great nation’s entire outdoors to loud chatter.

Near where I live, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, there is a beautiful park. It is 20 blocks long but just one loud cellphone conversation wide, and each talker claims a circle of conversational space, creating adjacent bubbles of noise. There is no way to escape the bellowing wannabe actors and the moms complaining that there won’t be enough food for the school party. (Don’t worry, moms. There is always enough food.) Now, whenever I’m on a plane and look out at endless farmland below, my only thought is, “God, it must be quiet down there.”

So the battlefront has moved inside, to the doctor’s waiting room, the coffee shop, the line at the DMV—places where we justify our phone calls because we’re stuck there, and we think our calls are too important and interesting to miss. But are they? Come on.

I, for one, have been forced to pay way too much attention to irritating characters, like the woman who rolls sales calls from my Starbucks, pretending she’s in an office, while her clients can clearly hear in the background, “I’ve got a Cookie Crumble Frappuccino for Brian!” Or the 50-something guy who, sitting near me with his 20-something girlfriend one day, was calling pharmacies (I swear this happened), loudly asking if they had the morning-after pill.

If you’re not enjoying being swept up into someone else’s story line, trust me: No one is enjoying being swept up into yours. And research has shown that our brains automatically try to fill in the missing side of the conversation, so when people overhear each other on the phone, they can’t just tune it out.

My sister-in-law has tried picking up her own phone and performing the other end of a caller’s conversation to flush him out of her space, but it’s never worked. People talking on cellphones enter a sort of cone of narcissism, unaware of the world around them. They’re both incredibly irritating and oddly vulnerable—like Ewoks.

So it is important to know that when you’re chattering away on that call in Starbucks, you’re actively preventing people from leading their own lives. Like the woman next to me who’s concentrating on her medical school studies: One day, you may be her patient, and the information she’s missing because you’re blathering about your new BMW means that she will neglect an alarming symptom: “Doctor, my fingerprints have disappeared.” “That’s nothing to worry about.” And you will die.

The FCC recently raised the idea of allowing phone calls on planes. But who among us really wants our last quiet public places turned into inescapable scream zones? We must take up arms in this new fight. As Winston Churchill said before the Battle of Britain, “if we fail, then the whole world…will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age.”

That man could write! Probably because he wasn’t sitting next to a guy on the phone who’s fighting with the company that installed his pool pump. I’ll let you know how that turns out—I’m certain to know.

—Mr. LaZebnik is a writer for “The Simpsons.”

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