Cutting Stuff Up

I don’t think I’m that unique in being rather bad at delegating. I was proud of myself for finally asking Jen (I couldn’t do it) to call a plumber (when I was in Santa Cruz) to fix the clog in the sink (and not tell me). I had tried for several weeks with different approaches. Finally borrowing a friend’s plumbers snake and ramming that thing 20 feet into the pipe without successfully unblocking it. Other than that I haven’t hired anyone for any part of the house remodel. (not me, stock photo. Toolbelts are for tools)


At our large “Wesselpalooza” campout I traditionally make dinner for everyone there. That’s ranged from 30 to 70 people. We go in on Saturday to Leavenworth to buy everything and then cook it up. One year I made individual portions of Phad Thai in a great big wok named (by the manufacturer, not me), the “King Kooker”. That was a lot of work.

Last year it was 64 people for steak and chicken kabobs and several side dishes. This was already a compromise from my original plan of Argentine Churrasco – steak on swords grilled over a fire (yes, coming next year!). I was frantically working and rather stressed out. People kept asking if they could help and I kept saying no. All I needed to do was work faster, better, and get it done. I was madly cutting up red peppers when Tracey Dayton came over and said “I see you’re cutting stuff up. Would you like me to cut stuff up?”. It was brilliant in so many ways and a lesson I still remember.

“How can I help?” is a hard question. Effectively “hey, why don’t you stop what you’re doing, sit back, take a deep breath, acknowledge that you aren’t going to succeed on your own, and instead of clearly moving forward, take the time to figure out how to clearly divide work and offer it to others”. That’s hard. With some insight and clarity, Tracey eliminated all that complication and posed a simple yes/no question. Answer: “Yes, please yes, cut this stuff up”. After that everything else unlocked and it was an easy and collaborative dinner and the usual evening of Fireball and dancing round the campfire.


I’m writing this at the end of a 12-hour day mostly because I need to apply it, right now.

And… It’s unlikely, but you might still wonder how the pipe was still blocked? It turns out shortly after entering the wall the pipe splits. One part goes up to vent to the roof. Another goes down to the drain. I’m pretty sure my snake was slithering all over the roof rather than down in the plumbing doing the real work.


There’s no real insight there that I can think of. And I have no idea how you convince your plumbers snake to head up or down at a given junction with only a coiled, smelly, slippery spring to work with. But the point I guess is to step back for a moment, stop trying to push that snake into the pipe and figure out how to align the world around you with what you want to achieve. Otherwise you have to deal with a giant hairball like this.


Apple Uncare

photo (14)

It’s interesting to watch great companies slip. As an Apple II and Mac developer I watched Apple implode the first time. It’s happening again.

MacBook power supplies are notoriously unreliable. I’ve had four go bad. Bad in general, worse when they’re $80. The saving grace was their customer service. Several years ago I walked in with two that were broken. One had frayed and literally started to burn. The first person I met when I walked in said “oh that’s terrible, took me to the back, and handed me two replacements to walk out with. In and out in two minutes. No transaction whatsoever.

I wrote up that transaction too. The beautiful thing was not just great service, but that a key corporate value had been embedded deeply all the way to this guy in the store. His #1 priority was to make my experience great. Everything else was secondary. And he was empowered to do anything within that general guideline.

Today is different. I’m here in the store now and have lots of time on my hands so I’m transcribing live…

Greeting person: Hi welcome to Apple!

Hi, my power supply is broken

Is it still under warranty?

I have no idea.

Ok, well come with me. Now wait here for the guy with red phone cover.

Wait as he talks to others. Frees up in a few minutes

Hi, I’m so and so, how can I help you?

Hi, I need a new power supply

Do you have an appointment?


Well, we are appointment driven, that’s our process.

I had the same problem two years ago and the process was that you walk over there and get me a new power supply.

Well, if I do that now I’d be in violation of our process. Come with me over to the genius bar.

… Wait a few minutes for genius to free up. I test a power cable there and it works, so I get on WiFi, check email, and start this. Originally it was just going to be a Facebook post but then it got way to long!

Hi, my name is Grace, how can I help you?

I just need a new power supply.

Do you have an appointment?


Ok then, please register here and select an appointment time. Hands me iPad

Fortunately one was available in 5 minutes…

5 minutes go by and she comes over.

Is it under warranty?

No idea.

Ok, I’ll check the serial number, figures it out…

Great, you have 54 days of warranty remaining! Lets get you fixed up. Usually it’s just this part (the power brick)

Yep, cord’s don’t fail much

Detaches the cord from the brick

I’ll check stock… wait… wait….

Tracy yells across the store – “anyone else having trouble with mobile genius?”

I laugh a bit.

Tracy is not amused.

Another genius helps her figure it out.

Looks like I’m out of stock on that but I can order you one.

That doesn’t work, I need this for work. You have power supplies right over there. Could I get one of those?

Well, we have “full power supplies, with the cord that you can buy.

You can’t just give me one?

Let me check on this

Wanders off and talks to another customer. 7 minutes pass. The conversation is rich with the words “not under warranty” and “have to charge you”. Also, she explains many times to the table how she’s sorry you all have to wait, but she has to multitask with all the people at the table.

The table fills with three more customers. More time passes. Many more discussions of warranties and people leaving very unhappy.

Normally by this time I would have become rather grumpy and asked Tracy what was up, but I was entertained writing this up. I also walked over to the wall and got a replacement power supply.

Finally, Nate appears from the back room. Nate has a different tone and is clearly sent in to address the problem customers. He double checks my serial number and warranty, and tells me he can order one.

I ask one more time if I can just have this one here?

He says it’s impossible because it’s in inventory. The look in his eyes clearly indicates that he’s frustrated and sorry. Nate’s a good guy. His hands are tied by policy and rules.

I decide to just pay.

We fill out forms on his iPad to get me a replacement cable ordered. They won’t ship it to me, I have to pick it up. I enter my email address and phone number for notification.

Then when I pay for my charger ($84) I fill out my email address again, on his phone this time in some other system.

Then, one more signature on the iPad on another form to acknowledge the $100 of labor that they gifted me for the privilege of being shuffled around the store, and I’m done.

50 minutes, $84, and I have to go back next week to pick up my replacement power supply. Times have changed.

What’s amazing is how quickly a different corporate value has been pushed through the organization. Bureaucracy and cost cutting. Truly stunning reversal.