Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Question of Ethics...

When I was 12 or so, I went out with my brother to get a newspaper from one of those newspaper machines on the street. I needed it for a school homework assignment and my mother couldn't afford to have the paper delivered. At the time I believe the paper was 25 cents. So my brother drives me to a nearby 7-Eleven or Dairymart or something like that and I buy a paper from the machine. Well, for some reason I thought, "hmmm, there's nothing to stop me from taking 2 papers," so I took 2. You see the newspaper machines were designed on the honor system, put a quarter in and take 1 paper out, even though you could, technically, take all of the papers out. I didn't need 2 papers, but they were there and so I took 2. My mother asked why I had 2 papers and I told her, "because I could. Did you know when you put your quarter in, all the papers are just there for you to take?" She was aghast. She could not believe her own child would do such a thing. "Our society runs in a civilized way because of the premise that we will all behave honorably; following the rules, paying for goods and services, etc." She drove me back to the machine and made me put another quarter in. I'm not sure why I could not return the paper but I do remember paying the second quarter.

Here's my ethics question for today: A large company, very profitable, makes an error in your favor. An item you have purchased but exchanged (because the first one didn't work properly) is credited as a return not as an exchange. Do you tell the company?

For me the answer was, of course, yes. But as I was telling this company they'd made an error (about which they were very confused, by the way), I could not help feeling that this company owed me something for being honest. I was, after all, saving them this loss of a sale (the item was not an inexpensive one). I wanted compensation for my doing the right thing because a little bit of me felt foolish for even bringing it to the company's attention. There is a good chance this would have gone unnoticed on their end, I would have, could have, gotten the item for free. In the end the company gave me what amounted to about $50 off the item. I was glad for this, felt better having gotten something, but still felt there should have been more. After all I did the right thing AND I spent 40 minutes of my life straightening out the situation for THEM. I found myself saying that I felt the company should "do the right thing" by compensating me for the time I had now spent straightening out their mess. I feel certain I'd have gotten nothing if I had not said that, they'd have just fixed their error that I brought to their attention. But did I even deserve compensation? Maybe, since I did have to spend the time to help them fix their error, but shouldn't I have just done it because it was the right thing to do?

This is where I think the strongest argument for Corporations not being people comes. I don't think Corporations do anything they are not forced to do by the law. I was reading an agreement I had to sign with my Credit Card Company and there are many lines that say that they can change anything at their discretion as long as the law allows it, which to me reads, "We can take advantage of you as long as the law does not prevent us from doing so."

In today's world I felt like a little bit of a schmuck for not just letting the company make their mistake and reap the benefits on my end. But I could hear my mother and her words of "Civilized Society." And she's right. I feel better when I am driving on the roads with people following the Traffic Laws, and I feel better out in the world in general when it feels like people will do the right thing. I don't feel like that's the norm, though, and that perhaps or civility is crumbling a bit. Videos of people beating other people to get the item on the sale rack... But I can feel better knowing that I did the right thing and I set the right example for my kids. It's not a dog-eat-dog world out there... or at least it doesn't have to be.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When did we stop...

caring about how we present? I attended a talk today which was accompanied by the requisite PowerPoint presentation. The speaker herself was clear, well organized, confident and had some thoughtful things to say and share. The presentation, however, was, in my mind... worthless during the talk. The PowerPoint slides contained far too much text, there were titles that wrapped down to the next line which had some of the text up into the top border graphic and on one slide she specifically said "Here are the 4 points..." yet, once again, they were hidden in a block of too much text. I realize people are against bullet points as a design tool because they are boring, but if you have four points to share, don't hide them in italics amongst a paragraph of text when you are presenting a PowerPoint.

A PowerPoint presentation should be an enhancement to your talk. It should not be there just to be there, nor should it distract from what you are saying. The text on the page should highlight what you are saying not BE what you are saying. And if people would just take a moment to design, just a little bit, the whole thing would be more professional and well received. As it was, I was so distracted by the lack of any design or care to make the content project well, I missed a lot of the talk itself. I'm going to guess that people there that don't have knowledge of design just ignored the PowerPoint and listened to her speak. There were some requests for copies of the presentation afterward, but this is because the slides themselves contained her talk. So why have it accept to hand out later as a reference?

When I was working with Microsoft at different venues across the country at conferences, there was a lot of work and care that went into the PowerPoint presentation looking good and doing it's job (enhancing the speaker's talk). Now, for obvious reasons, Microsoft cared a great deal about the PowerPoints looking good, it is their software, it wasn't just the speaker that would look good, but their software would look good, too. But for those of us that benefit from visual aid when listening to a talk, I was grateful when a presentation was done well. We don't all learn from listening... I'm sure you've heard of this by now, there are different types of learners... auditory, kin-esthetic, etc.

I have now been to two presentations in the last 2 months where the presentation aspect of the talk was neglected and therefore distracting. The presentation was there because it would seem it is now required if you want to speak in front of a group. PowerPoint can get a bad wrap, but the truth is that Presentations can and when done well DO enhance a talk. But they have to be done well. It is worth the care. This downward trend toward not caring about the presentation and it just being enough to have one... is worse than not having one at all.