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What a picture is worth

February 13, 2014

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Last week I heard about Getty’s new Lean in Collection on my local NPR station, WNYC.  I listened to the story about pictures with my communications person hat on, thinking how frustrating it is to try and find good stock images of anything but especially of real people – women, diverse ethnic groups, humans that don’t appear to be androids.  Today  I saw the story again, this time on Buzzfeed, and perhaps because I was seeing a sampling of the photos themselves, the story resonated with me on multiple levels.  Not just as a mom in her thirties with biracial children. And not just as someone who often tries to represent a brand and communicate a message through photography. But also as a person concerned about social issues like women’s rights and how brands and companies address them intentionally and also through their business activities. Here are a few of my takeaways of why this initiative is so great:

  1. The images are visually stunning and fill a void in the marketplace.
  2. The pictures reflect the world as it is, and don’t make a preachy fuss about social change.
  3. The pictures cut across generations, and depending on yours you either see your normal finally depicted or stereotypes you’ve long fought being broken down.
  4. It’s not positioned as an announcement about a partnership or grant funding, but the end product shared with the world as a useful thing.
  5. The publicity isn’t just about promised collaboration but instead informs both the niche of potential users but also manages to matter to everyday women.
  6. It is dead center of what Getty does as a business and addresses a globally relevant social issue.
  7. It is going to make people think AND it will undoubtedly sell more images for Getty.

Manage? Or let go, serve, and lead.

January 25, 2014

My boss used the term “servant leadership” the other day to describe the style he aimed for in leading our team. It’s a phrase I last heard from a pulpit in South Georgia more than a decade ago and never expected to encounter in corporate America, much less on Wall Street where I now work.

He said servant leadership, to him, meant that his whole job is to give us what we need to be the best at what we do. I see him do this, both intentionally and automatically, all the time: always saying “Come in” when I linger at his door, never giving me a solution but instead asking questions until I find one on my own. His style is refreshing, and it motivates me because I know he has my back when I need it, but he also gives me the space I need to do my job well.

A side effect of working for him for the last 8 months is that I’m starting to be more conscious of my own leadership style, and I’m gaining the confidence — in the teams I work with, and critically in myself — to begin to let go and lead.

One of the reasons is a piece of feedback he gave me a couple of months ago that might be the most important I’ve ever gotten. “Sometimes you approach things like you’ve got it all figured out, almost like you believe it would all work much better if there were 20 little Angies running around.” He said it gently, but it is a hard truth. I do.

Instead of leading, I’ve been managing – designing a plan, assigning roles, staying on top of deadlines, ensuring deliverables. The results are good, but they’re exhausting, and more than that, they don’t benefit from the diverse perspectives or full capacity of everyone I’m working with.

What happens when you manage, if you work really hard, is that you end up getting what you expected. But what I’ve been thinking about is what could happen if instead, I started to lead. If I were to know my colleagues’ strengths, build teams and trust, pose problems and ask questions until a solution emerges, then let people own the pieces they’re best at and come up with ideas and results I could never have dreamed.

Last week our team shared an exercise in discovering our styles of influence, taking and examining a diagnostic to evaluate how we orient our thinking and approach our work. I learned a lot about myself, including that I am by nature a delegator (a huge surprise), and even more about the people on our team. The facilitator talked about the energy that is wasted when we have to use “five fingers of effort.” I felt myself unclench my fist and wonder what it would be like to unleash the one finger of effort of all of us instead.

The understanding I gained about how our strengths might be combined to great effect led me to make a conscious shift from managing to leading a project the very next day. The results were dramatic.

When a logistical challenge arose, I asked some colleagues to help. I could have figured out the details of what to do and done it on my own, but it would have put me into overdrive, compromising other projects and creating tension in relationships with others on the team. Instead, I gave capable people a problem to solve that they had the skills and connections to make happen in much less time and more effectively than I ever could have.

A few days later, a small team needed to work together to create and share information and ideas quickly. A process that normally takes days was achieved in minutes because we trusted each other and shared a goal and vision for success. Each of us understood our role clearly, including me – and like my boss I realized that my most important job was to make sure they each had everything they needed to succeed.

This view of leadership seems obvious, and in some ways it is. But only if I stop focusing on myself and look around to see how I can help others. It works, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to slow down and really ask what everyone else needs. It isn’t easy to swap my own agenda and ideas for a shared goal and trust that everyone else is doing the same.

But the results are incredible when you do, and you can transform not just the what, but the how of achieving them.

Serving others before self is a lesson I heard often growing up, and one I’m well served to recall. With guidance from my boss, accountability from my peers, and feedback from my team, I am beginning to return to service. And, as I do, I hope to move from getting things done to building things together, and from trying to manage to learning to lead.

Should you bring your baby on a business trip?

December 11, 2013

* Written in May 2012.

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Many companies are making it easier than ever to integrate career and family by offering options to parents who want (or need) to bring young children along on business travel.  When I recently realized I was facing back-to-back trips for work, I decided to explore my options.

And, following a six-day business trip with my infant daughter, here are some tips for other moms who might be considering giving this a try:

1) Explore a variety of childcare options:   With a little exploring on our company intranet, I learned that the backup childcare program I’d used near my office when the kids’ schools were closed also granted access to a nationwide network of providers.  That meant that for most of my trip, I didn’t have to worry about finding a reliable place for her to stay, and her care was covered by an affordable copay.    There was one day I knew I would be working too late to get back and pick her up before the center closed, so I reached out to an old friend who lived in the city I was traveling to.  She offered to do a nanny share for the day, which worked out great for everyone: our kids got to play together, her nanny got an unexpected bonus, and I knew my daughter was in good hands.

2) Arrange for a car seat in advance: With my clothes, my work gear and the baby’s things, bringing along my own car seat was just too much of a hassle.   I simply let the corporate travel agent know I’d be traveling with an infant, and she not only made the call to the airline to add her to my flight, she arranged for a car seat in the rental car I’d be picking up and reminded me to make sure the car service I was using to get to and from the airport had a car seat as well.  The only downside is that the rental car company does charge a daily fee, and depending on the length of your trip, it can add up.

3) Catch up on work while the baby catches some zz’s: One of the advantages of bringing along a baby is that their early bedtime means you’re more likely to be back in the hotel early and have plenty of time to catch up on emails after they turn in.  I found my evening hours to be incredibly productive during this trip, and I was able to stay up to speed with projects back at the office and even get in extra time to prep for meetings, too.

4) Make room in the minibar: My usual routine includes preparing the kids’ lunches, including my daughter’s bottles, the evening before.  On this trip I stocked up on fruit at breakfast and baby food at the nearby pharmacy and stored those along with the next day’s bottles in the minibar fridge.  I just put all the nonperishable beverages on top of the dresser and returned them to their rightful place on the shelves before I checked out.

5) Don’t forget to request a crib: As nice as it may be to cuddle up with your kiddo, you need your beauty rest, especially when you’re on the road.  Most hotels will provide a crib and bedding at no additional cost.  Mine even threw in a cute little box of travel-sized baby supplies including shampoo, powder, lotion and diaper cream.

While I did get a few funny looks in the airport — wearing a suit and heels and pulling a roller board behind me with a baby strapped into a carrier on front — all in all, I’d say the experiment was a success.   If you’ve got work travel coming up and can’t bear the thought of leaving your little one behind, consider bringing the baby along. It won’t work for every trip, or everyone, but with a little planning it just might work for you.

Get Your Clicks: Lessons on great tweets from @washingtonpost coverage of the debates

October 4, 2012

I liken a good tweet promoting content to a headline on a supermarket aisle tabloid: it gives you just enough to make you want more. Here’s a great example from the Washington Post from last night’s debate coverage.

“Republicans were so pleased with Romney’s performance, that with 15 minutes to go, this happened: wapo.st/RemXcI”

I’m probably cannibalizing this very post by including that sample so if you’ve made it this far – or made your way back after falling prey to that tantalizing tweet – well, thank you. There are a few ways that in just 118 characters, this post can teach you how to get clicks on your content.

1) The unexpected — If you’re like me, you were on gaffe watch during the whole debate, secretly hoping Romney would slip up. Republicans were probably trembling in fear of the very same thing. So, if you were one of the five people on Twitter who didn’t actually watch the debate, the idea that the GOP was pleased with his performance might come as a surprise.

2) The expected — Republican pleasure aside, you’re probably still skeptical something didn’t go awry for Romney. So the “with 15 minutes to go” sets you up for what you just knew all along.

3) The colloquial –Other than Jerry Seinfeld’s recent “Really?!?” letter to the editor of The New York Times, there’s little more lingua familiara than “this happened.” You can hear someone say it. You’ve said it. It makes you feel like whoever wrote the tweet, and hopefully the story, is an actual person just like you.

4) The cliffhanger — The other thing “this happened” does is makes you need to know exactly what “this” is. Just like those pictures on the cover of the tabloids of the mysterious formerly svelte celebrities in unfortunate bikinis make you pick up that paper and turn to page 36, you read that tweet and you have to click.

5) The Characters — We hear “140 characters” referenced so often when it comes to Twitter that we believe the character counter when it tells us we have 22 characters left to say what we have to say. Not so, we learn from The Washington Post. By leaving those nearly two dozen letters, numbers or spaces on the table, this tweet ensures its retweets will stay intact, no unfortunate truncation required.

So, kudos to old media for schooling us on getting new media right. I say follow @washingtonpost, if only for the masterful manipulation of a story into a must-click message alone.

Don’t forget the dreams of the people around you

October 1, 2012

This morning I was one of 400 or so colleagues sitting in an auditorium on the 12th floor of a Park Avenue office building… shivering.  It wasn’t the temperature in the room or even the fall air outside that got us feeling a bit chilly. It was the description of temperatures of -85 degrees and photos of men dragging hundreds of pounds of supplies behind them across the ice on a 900-mile walk across Antarctica to the South Pole.  One of the most memorable things he had to say summed up how he believes he made it — not just to the bottom of the planet but on a later trek across a frozen sea to the North Pole, too. “Don’t forget your own dreams. Don’t forget the dreams of the people around you.”

Robert Swan spoke for more than an hour, but none of us had to be told to put away our Blackberries or stop texting on our iPhones.  We were rapt.  He had us not only buttoning up our sweaters but laughing and gasping and, well, thinking.  It was a training on Sustainable Leadership, but it felt like one of the best storytellers I’ve heard in a long time.  And I guess that’s what a great speaker can do – make you forget the deadlines and emails waiting for you at your desk and immerse yourself in a narrative that underpins something more essential: an idea.

I’ve had a few experiences like this in the past several months. The kinds of presentations that I won’t forget, that inspired water cooler conversation when I got back to the office and streams of tweets while I was sitting in the audience. Last weekend, I witnessed the magic of Professor Hans Rosling pointing at charts with a ten-foot pole and making data sexy in his charming Swedish Chef accent. In June, I heard from Corporal Aaron Mankin, a wounded warrior who delivered a line that still hasn’t left my mind: “Six men – some fathers, all sons – gave their lives. I only gave my face.”

So this morning, as I sat so mesmerized by the speaker in front of me that I forgot all about documenting his remarks on social media, a few ideas came to mind that I’ll take with me to my next speaking engagement (hint, hint, shameless plug – if you’re in New York I hope you’ll come!).

1) Ditch the PowerPoint and use power images.  Instead of words on the screen, use photos or brief video clips that bring your ideas to life.  The photo of the member of Robert Swan’s exhibition team as his heel basically fell off but he kept walking for 5 straight 40-hour days? Nothing has ever brought determination and dedication home like that did.

2) Forget the talking points and just talk. That doesn’t mean don’t prepare. What it means is think back to that public speaking class you took in high school and step out from behind the podium, stop looking at the screen or your notes and speak. Have something meaningful to say and say it like you mean it.   Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States of America did this at the same conference where I saw Professor Rosling, and I still haven’t gotten over my nerd crush — or my excitement for the “awesomeness” that recent Obama administration initiatives have unleashed.

3) They could be anywhere right now but they’re with you. You’re not just speaking to a room or at an event. You’re talking to real people. People who could be anywhere in the world at that moment but have decided to be with you. Give them something worth remembering. Check out this video of the most human speech I’ve ever seen, Corporal Mankin’s address to the 2012 VOWS conference, and see what I mean:

Giving birth to a website

March 1, 2011

I keep hearing the comparisons between launching a website and giving birth.  The idea surfaced yesterday during a two-hour XML training I participated in with my colleagues and our agency partner.  We were talking about parent notes and child nodes and the simplicity of copying and pasting and making a few edits in order to expand the family with just a few keystrokes.

It came up again this afternoon as we are hours away from an extended internal review and days away from going live globally.  Having sat for a long time on the agency side of this equation – and being a mother who delivered her son via c-section after 24 hours of labor – I’m not one to throw around this kind of comparison lightly. But I must say, sitting on the client side of a web launch for the first time in five years (an eternity in web time), I realized that my understanding of this metaphor, its aptitude and its application, to this point has been seriously flawed.

I always kind of saw the creative and technology process of the interactive and design teams as akin to in utero development.  I now realize that the essential people behind the magic, the ones I used to mostly be, are more like physicians, nurses, ultrasound technicians, and all of the attendant medical experts present up to and at a birth. They take this idea – this tiny little zygote – and make sure it develops to its full potential and is born healthy, screaming and sound. 

The mother – that’s the communications director.  The project manager is her best friend or sister, the one who makes sure she takes her vitamins, makes it to her doctor’s appointments and gets a manicure even when she can no longer see her toes.  The nervous father pacing in the hallway? He’s the CEO, or the head of the business unit, waiting expectantly to see if what emerges is, in fact, all he imagined. 

The last few days, hours, minutes before the site launches, everyone gets cranky and wishes they could go get a drink. Instead, they press on, stay awake, check vitals and crunch ice chips. And even when part this is all over, they may have to give up on sleep entirely for quite a stretch of time.

But here’s where the critical difference lies: no matter the skill of the surgeon who sweeps in to ensure a safe delivery, no matter the nurtuing of the nurse who schedules home visits and assures you she’ll be a phone call away day or night, the truth of the matter is those parents are the ones taking that baby home.  They will raise it, make it human, guide it as it makes its way out into the world. 

The medical team, meanwhile, will go on to provide prenatal care and deliver more babies, perhaps the very next hour or day.  Sure they’ll be there for advice.  They might even deliver the next baby a few years down the road, but ultimately, this is not their child.  The parents do their best to follow medical advice, but ultimately, the kid is their kid and part of their family, product of their gene poosl, living by their rules in their house, speaking their language, laughing at their jokes.

Which is beautiful. And kind of scary.

Let the countdown to launch begin.

Kindle vs. Nook: A Tale of Holiday Returns with a Surprise Happy Ending

January 15, 2011

Riding around New Haven with my husband the other day, this holiday story came on NPR. It was about a new feature on Amazon that is supposed to ensure that you only get gifts you actually want. It works like this – you sign up for it and set it up with parameters that reflect your gift receiving preferences.

Know your Aunt Sally has terrible taste in sweaters? Set it up so you’re notified if Aunt Sally buys you a sweater. Instead of the a polka-dotted wolly thing arriving on your doorstep, you will receive an instant credit for the value of the sweater. And get this, Amazon will automatically send Aunt Sally a thank you note – for the sweater.

According to the story, you can also set it up to notify and ask you first before sending you sweaters from anyone, or before sending anything from Aunt Sally, or before sending anything at all, I suppose.

Great for Amazon because you’re not sending back stuff you don’t want, making a dent in the 30-plus percent of Amazon.com purchases that are returned. Great for you because you’re getting the option to put Aunt Sally’s Christmas cash toward something she would never have picked out, and she is none the wiser.

The downside, of course, is that it all feels kind of sneaky and wrong. Maybe Amazon is taking a cue from Facebook’s stealthy unfriending, but it doesn’t seem quite in the spirit of giving. People shouldn’t be able to weasel out of wearing the itchy monstrosity the next time Aunt Sally visits by getting Amazon to do their lying for them via a bogus thank you card for a gift they blocked before it was ever even sent.  Anyway, while this might work for far-flung relatives, for close friends and family, this sort of deception won’t pass muster.

Which brings me to my husband, my birthday, the library, Radio Shack and why I’ll be lucky if I ever get another gift after what I did this year.

Everything started beautifully. For my birthday, my sweet husband bought me a Kindle. This was a thoughtful and generous gift, and one he knew was well suited for a commuting voracious reader like me. I’m sure he had visions of my Kindle and I with a travel mug of coffee on Metro North, sliding toward Grand Central as the sun came up.

These are just the sort of visions that came to be, for a while. I finished up several books I’d started reading on my last long plane ride and even made it through Deliverance in just a few mornings and afternoons. Then came the day I (temporarily) ascended to the mayorship of the Mitchell Branch of the New Haven Public Library. This is an office I earned through five months of library days: Wednesday evenings with Elisio when we play centers, check out books, and fend off an annoying boy named Charles who eats too many cookies and then chases the little kids around with a dinosaur puppet.

Every time I go, well every time I remember to do it, I check in on Foursquare. This time, a couple of weeks ago, I ousted Chris M. as mayor. This guy is also the mayor of the Milford Hooters, so he did not deserve to hold office at a library too. Immediately after claiming my badge, while standing at the checkout counter, I noticed a flyer for ebooks and audiobooks that could be borrowed from the library.

I was thrilled!  Now I’d be able to read new books and ones I haven’t had time to catch up on in years on my Kindle on the train, and for free!  Blogs, online newspapers and other free online content – and a mayorship at my local library – have created a not uncommon expectation of free content. It is difficult to justify paying even $9.99 when I know I can borrow them for free with my library card.

As a result, my new Kindle was loaded up with the few (free) classics I’d missed as an English major. I was several chapters into Moby Dick. Great reading, sure, but a little dense for the morning commute or the end of a work day. So I was super excited to learn about the new electronic books available at the library. Until I asked the librarian and found out the service was not compatible with the Kindle.

“Oh, crap!” I said, a little too loudly for the library and a lot too vehemently for my husband’s taste. I think he suspected even then that something was up. The librarian handed me a list of e-readers that were compatible, and as I scanned them, the first seed of my becoming part of that 30 percent who return gifts to Amazon was born.

It took a week, but I finally decided to do it. I did further research online and learned that, in yet another savvy business move, Amazon had created a proprietary format of ebooks that is only compatible with its own device. The more common ePub format, used by other readers as well as Overdrive, which my library subscribes to for electronic books, cannot be read on Kindles.

The salesman at the giant kiosk in the Barnes & Noble downstairs from my office assured me that their ereader, the nook – which was on that list from the librarian – was a much more flexible and user friendly device than my Kindle. I played around with one of the dozen or so demo models in the store. For an iPhone user, the touch screen felt much more familiar than the clunky Kindle scroll buttons. I didn’t need the nook color – or its heftier price tag – so I debated for another week or so and, once the refund from Amazon was confirmed via email, I decided to buy the nook.

I didn’t buy any accessories, though, not even a case. I felt bad enough that under the Christmas tree had been a clip-on reading lamp and cover for my old Kindle that I had never even opened. I had just logged into Eduardo’s Amazon account, printed out the return label, and shipped them right back.

Meanwhile, I had also learned that Overdrive is compatible with the iPhone, but only the iPhone 4. That meant that just as I had been doing for over a year with the free Kindle for iPhone app (whose interface is much better than the actual Kindle, by the way), with a new device I could be reading books on my phone and have one fewer device in my already heavy bag. The iPhone lets me do most everything I need to do with content – read, write, watch, shoot, share – so it feels superfluous to carry other devices around.

I was still hanging onto my old 3G phone, however, hesitant to take the plunge for the iPhone 4 because I didn’t want to spend the money, was half afraid I’d break it, and wasn’t particularly interested in renewing a long term commitment to AT&T. I’d even explored switching to T-Mobile, the carrier Eduardo is now on. I decided not to when the chat help guy in India advised me to jailbreak my iPhone rather than recommending a comparable device. 

After that, I’d gone so far as to drive to the AT&T store to try and sort things out with them. I’d hoped a friendly customer service person might be able to help. Uh, no. No such person was in existence in the AT&T store on Boston Post Road in Orange, Connecticut. I gave the AT&T store one last try when my mom, who was visiting from Atlanta for the holidays, forgot her charger. I was attended by the same grumpy woman who had provided me non-answers to my iPhone questions that all seemed to just add up to me spending a lot more money.

While she was kind enough to break open the packaging on a Samsung charger that ended up not being a fit, it did not make up for the look of disdain she couldn’t disguise when she said, “This is a really old device.”

“You should try Radio Shack,” she added. My mom was getting desperate to get some juice to her phone at this point, so I pulled out my own phone and mapped the nearest Radio Shack. It was a featured location on Google Maps, and just across the street.

For what felt like the first time since I’d needed nine-volt batteries for a remote control car I’d gotten for Christmas, I walked in the doors of a Radio Shack store. The guy who helped me, well, get this, he actually helped me. When he couldn’t find a wall charger, he thought a minute and picked up the iGo car charger, reminding me I had been in The Shack more recently.  Two years before, to be exact, somewhere lost in the grid of mainland Miami, I’d purchased the charger along with a spare seat of earbuds.  

“Let me run out to the car. I think I’ve got one of those.”  I hopped over six inches of unplowed, dirt-flecked snow, opened the door without a word to my mom, and yanked the charger out of the cigarette lighter.  I brought it in with the iPhone nub still attached.

“What happened to your iPhone?” he asked, sympathetic, not salesy. His eyes driftted between the charger and my mom’s scratched up free upgrade flip phone. In them there was a hint of real dismay.

“This is my mom’s,” I answered.

“You like your iPhone?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I love it.”  

“You have the 3G or the 4?” I knew this was the start of the sales pitch, but this guy seemed knowledgeable and helpful, so I let it continue.

“3G,” I said. “The first generation.  I haven’t gotten the courage to upgrade yet.  Any other phones you think I might like better?”

He finished ringing up the new nub for the car charger. It was $9.99 and a perfect fit for my mom’s phone.  I just had to drive around for an hour or so and charge it up. He walked out from behind the counter, and as he did, he let me know about Radio Shack’s trade-in program.  He told me I could get up to $75 credit for my old phone.

“Do an upgrade, and you’re ony looking at $100 or so for the iPhone 4,” he said. “But if you’re looking for something else that’s cheaper, you probably can get a phone, a case and still have money left over. One of my buddies who works here tried the iPhone 4 and brought it back to trade for this one,” he said, pointing at one of the models that was connected to the display with a strip of velcro and a retractable cord.   

He showed me the Samsung Galaxy and I was intrigued, but I remembered my poor mom sitting out there in the cold and said, “Thank you very much, really.  Another day, though.”

“Sure,” he said, and he sounded sure.  Like he’d seem my kind before: unwitting victims of Genius counter snobbery and AT&T store rudeness who wandered in Radio Shack and found an unexpected oasis of actual customer service.

He was right.  I did go back.  Two days later.  

But not before succumbing to gift-intention guilt and buying myself the Barnes and Noble nook to replace the Kindle I’d returned.  With its touch screen, lovely white casing, and supposed compatibility with the library’s Overdrive software, I thought it would work.  When I emailed Eduardo when I got back to my desk after lunch, he sounded happy I’d at least kept to the spirit of his present.  

On the train home, however, I unwrapped it, turned it on and got the unfortunate message, “Please charge fully before using.”  Not good.

So a half an hour after the train got into the station that night, I found myself at Radio Shack again spending the  cash my in-laws had tucked into a Christmas ornament on a shiny new iPhone 4.  Sure, the nook offered a bigger screen and vastly better battery life, but the iPhone let me have books inside my phone and came with a built-in illumination.

When I tried downloading some titles from Overdrive, the mayoral catalyst for all of this electronics experimentation,  I spent nearly an hour of annoyance and didn’t get even one book onto the nook.  Ten minutes after I downloaded Overdrive for iPhone, I had five titles in there waiting to be read, maxing out my library card in just a few moments.

“But you don’t want to read a book on your phone,” Eduardo had said in an early objection to me essentially using the money he’d spent on the Kindle to upgrade my phone.  What I accepted on my way back into the city the next day is that I actually do.  

I had this moment while reading Nora Ephron’s latest collection of essays when I panicked – as I often do – thinking, “Ah! Where is my phone?” It was in my hand. I was looking right at it. Despite the screen size and all of the other limitations of reading books on a telephone, I had gotten so lost in the story that I forgot how I was taking it in.

I marched right back down to Barnes & Noble with the now slightly less than new nook carefully tucked back in its original packaging with the plastic wrapping wadded up inside the box.  You should have seen the look of confusion on the saleslady’s face when I pulled it out of my purse and presented it for a refund.  

“Jordy!” she called across the floor from the register to the nook kiosk area that was taking up most of the sales floor on the lower level of the store. “I’ve got a return.”

Jordy came over with the same puzzled look on his face. “The reason for your return, ma’am?” he asked, and it seemed he genuinely wanted to know.

“It’s just not for me,” I said, not wanting to spend the rest of the afternoon explaining why.  They finished the transaction and handed me a receipt.

“Well,” he said, “we can’t make people keep them, I guess.”

No, I thought, you certainly can’t.

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