Revenge of the Independent Hardware Stores

SOURCE CAROL M. HIGHSMITH/GETTYWe all know the requiem for retail in the 21st century. The big-box megastores killed off the mom-and-pops. Amazon and e-commerce crushed brick-and-mortar. By the time the Great Recession hit, traditional retail was already toast — and the drop in consumer spending that came with the crisis burned it to a crisp.

Amid the general doom and gloom, though, there’s a particular industry segment that stands apart. Independent home-improvement retailers — a broad class that includes more than 35,000 hardware stores, lumberyards, garden supply centers and paint shops that make up 50 percent of the market — didn’t just survive the category-killing, market-disrupting, store-shuttering trio of challenges. By customizing product offerings to local needs and personalizing customer service, these plucky retailers are solidifying their status as a crucial component of a healthy Main Street economy.

Every year, Deloitte releases what it calls the Retail Volatility Index, which measures how much market share businesses gain and lose in key retail segments, including hardware. In its 2016 report, Deloitte noted the emergence of a conventional-wisdom-busting trend. After a century of consolidation and concentration in retail, “smaller, more nimble players are stealing share from larger, more traditional, at-scale retailers.”

As a strategy principal at Deloitte, Jacob Bruun-Jensen was one of the authors of the company’s 2016 index. He says the hardware retail market is emblematic of the new retail volatility. “These smaller players have found a niche and have been very successful in competing against the big national chains. It’s tied to this phenomenon of consumers seeking out local products or services and being willing to pay for that advice and that experience.”

SOURCE CAROL M. HIGHSMITH/GETTYWhen it comes to convenience and customer service, it’s not hard to see why consumers continue to patronize smaller independent retailers. While megastores certainly have pushed many weaker stores out of business, they also have forced the remaining operators to improve. “They had to rethink their presentation and do a better job drawing the distinction between them and the big boxes,” Tratensek tells OZY. “Because [the market is] so fragmented, they’re all finding their own way to survive.”

The same goes for the plants Hosking stocks. “The big stores will beat us pretty good on the price of a plant,” he says, “but we give you more expert knowledge versus somebody who just moved from the paint section to the grill section and is now in charge of the plants.”

That’s another key distinguisher for the independent home-improvement retailers: knowledgeable staff who provide a customer-service experience the megastores can’t match. “It’s like you’re a therapist for those customers for those 10 minutes,” says Gentry Hipp, the owner of Hipp Modern Builders Supply in Mountain View, Arkansas. “You’re back there helping them fix a water leak. So you’ve got their plumbing parts on the floor, strewn across the aisle so no one else can even get through, and you’re hearing about how bad their day was … and that’s the joy of it for me — being able to help my customer’s day be better.”

Hipp also vigilantly tracks trends and looks for opportunities. When a nearby grocer shuttered, he bought his entire lawn and garden inventory and hired his L&G manager to help him add a new section to his business. Before that, he turned an unused section of his store into Mountain View’s premier tool and equipment rental center. Simply put, Hipp says he’s always asking, “What’s the next thing that we can include or add to make our business survive and flourish?”

If there’s one thing that might slow the mom-and-pop momentum, it’s succession. According to Tratensek, the average store owner in the industry is approaching 60. The business isn’t easy, though, and it’s hardly glamorous. That makes it difficult for older store owners to find someone to replace them. “It’s a tragedy when you see a well-run operation that’s forced to close its doors because there’s no one to take over the business,” says Tratensek.

To address the issue, the North American Retail Hardware Association has launched several initiatives. These include connecting mentor-owners with would-be shopkeepers and partnering with Ball State University, in Indiana, to create a six-month, college-level certification course that features in-store training and lessons on strategic business planning and retail financing. Tratensek adds: “All of this targets the question: How do we make sure the next generation can take over and run these businesses?”

  • Joe P. Hasler, OZY Author

Tennessee Teacher Cracks Adobe’s Semaphore Code

The secret code transmitted by the San Jose Semaphore has had mathematicians and puzzle fans stumped for over four-and-a-half years, but Jimmy Waters, a high school math teacher from Knoxville, Tennessee, just solved the mystery. The SJ Semaphore’s hidden message was one of the most famous broadcasts of all time — Neil Armstrong’s first words as he walked on the moon.The SJ Semaphore is a public art project, and an open challenge to science, math and art lovers everywhere—it’s a visual code comprised of four illuminated discs atop Adobe’s Headquarters. Each disc has four possible positions, and every 7.2 seconds they align in a new configuration, communicating an encrypted message. The code is also broadcast online, along with audio clues.Cracking the CodeJimmy first heard about the SJ Semaphore while reading Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49.” The full text of that book happened to be the very first encrypted message transmitted by the SJ Semaphore. In a lucky twist of fate, Jimmy stumbled upon the Semaphore and its new, unsolved code during an online search about Pynchon,. As a confessed logic-puzzle addict with the summer off from teaching, his mission was clear: “I wanted to understand how it was encrypted, and I wanted to take on a puzzle that’s been projected across a city and over the Internet for years without being solved.” It took him about a month to crack it.
First Jimmy pulled up the SJ Semaphore’s online transmission and began copying the positions of the discs by hand, just to get the feel for it. Then he figured out how to gather and parse the data from the website, and hacked together some scripts to pull data every couple of minutes. He assigned number values to the discs and graphed his findings. At first he was looking for written words, but the graphs started to look a little like audio.That was the biggest leap: “It didn’t feel like a breakthrough at the time. It was more of a ‘Well, nothing else is working, so why not?’” Then, using a program to examine .wav files, he began to hear the transmission.

“I knew what the recording was as soon as I heard the first clip of the decrypted audio. I’m sure I’ve heard the recording before, but I couldn’t have told you anything Neil Armstrong said other than the ‘One small step…’ part. That wasn’t the part I’d decrypted, but something about the voice or the quality of the recording was instantly recognizable to me,” Jimmy muses.

As a math teacher, Jimmy didn’t just embrace the Semaphore’s challenge, he related to the joy of the puzzle maker: “The most fun I have as a teacher is when I throw really tough problems at students and just watch what happens. I love to watch that creative struggle and the euphoria when they discover the solution. I’m suspicious that Ben Rubin [the project’s designer] experiences something similar seeing people trying to crack his Semaphore codes.”

The Not-So-Secret Story Behind the SJ Semaphore

The SJ Semaphore debuted in 2006. We had just opened our new Almaden Tower building, and the art-project-meets-puzzle was one way to integrate public art into the design. We chose renowned media artist Ben Rubin to create the piece, knowing he would draw on Adobe’s roots in tech and art to produce a unique experience for viewers around the world.

“The Semaphore came from a desire to make the mechanisms of digital communication visible to the naked eye,” says Ben. “As a piece of public art, I wanted the Semaphore to look graceful and well composed, but also mysteriously purposeful, evoking curiosity or fascination. Even if you have no idea what it is or what it’s doing, I hope the Semaphore suggests, just from the way it looks, that it is trying to communicate.”

While the mysterious Semaphore projects a futuristic, high-tech image, Ben was also drawing on some of the oldest of artistic traditions to create it. As he explains, “Historically, art and technology have never really been separated; from Pythagoras through da Vinci, from Robert Rauschenberg to Olafur Eliasson, there is an unbroken chain of artists deeply engaged with the latest science and technology of their respective times. In fact, it’s really only in the last couple of centuries that we’ve started to think of art and technology as separate.” In the Semaphore, these pieces come back together.

A Prize, and Another Mystery on the Horizon

The prize for solving the SJ Semaphore includes some pretty amazing bragging rights and a one-year subscription to Creative Cloud. Jimmy wanted his students to share his prize, so he requested to donate his subscription to Powell High School where he teaches. We decided to sweeten the deal with 40 one-year Creative Cloud subscriptions and a 3D printer to help the students push the boundaries of creativity even further.

Never heard of the SJ Semaphore until now? No worries – a new code will be up later this summer: “The Semaphore is intriguing to people — they’re captivated by those mysterious spinning dials,” says Siri Lackovic, Adobe senior brand strategist. “And we can’t wait for Ben to begin broadcasting a new challenge. The only thing I can reveal is that, with the next code, there will be new twists and surprises. Will it be another four-and-a-half years before someone solves it? That’s something no one knows.”

If we’ve piqued your code-cracking curiosity, read more about the history and vision behind the SJ Semaphore, find out how a dynamic duo decrypted the first code in 2006, and check out this list of longstanding unsolved codes.


Getting Better Does Not Take Genius or Shiny Things ron palinkas global service manager“Arriving at meaningful solutions is an inevitably slow and difficult process. Nonetheless, what I saw was: better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”

– Atul Gawande, Better, p. 246

Health care in rural India would shock most of us in the United States. As Dr. Atul Gawande describes in Better—his fascinating book about improving performance in health care—many hospitals in rural India are overcrowded and under-resourced. The demands upon their services continuously outstrip their resources.

They continuously must do more with not just less, but in some cases with nothing at all. They must improvise. They must make use of what is available and do their best.

Despite their circumstances, these doctors and other healthcare providers innovate. They quickly move from case to case, sometimes sending patients themselves to purchase commonplace medical supplies. And they develop much broader areas of knowledge and skill than most doctors in the United States. For example, Gawande describes his astonishment at the ability of the surgeons in these crowded hospitals and clinics to perform chemotherapy, a task typically reserved solely for oncologists.

Certainly, the overall quality of health care is better in the United States than in the places that Gawande describes. He readily acknowledges as much in the book, and he provides numerous examples from within the United States of what it takes to get better in the practice of medicine. His chapter on improving outcomes for cystic fibrosis patients is particularly gripping.

As someone typically on the outside of the healthcare industry looking in, I see three specific lessons from Gawande’s observations that apply to organizations and teams of all types, in all sectors, in all industries.

First, getting better requires perspiration and an obsession about, not surprisingly, getting better. Getting better is sometimes less about big ideas than it is about doggedly executing the little ones.

Getting better requires a relentless desire—the discipline, diligence, persistence—to perform basic tasks perfectly. It also requires a relentless desire to push the bar higher, to refuse to accept the status quo as good enough. This style of leadership might be what some characterize as “micromanaging” and “intrusive.” Yet it’s often the hard-working, hands-on leader who pushes performance to new levels. It’s the leader who knows that perspiration is often just as (if not sometimes more) important than inspiration.

Second, getting better requires a focus on the basics. I often find that executives can become distracted by “shiny things”—be they technologies, fads or other attractive diversions. And yet, many times all they need to succeed are the basics. They don’t necessarily need the fancy new enterprise software they heard about at a trade show; they don’t necessarily need to pivot toward a new strategy. Instead, they may simply need to understand the basic resources their people need to do the job well or to execute their current strategy with gusto.

As Gawande describes when talking about his experiences in India:

“More than one doctor told me that it was easier to get a new MRI machine than to maintain basic supplies and hygiene … Having a machine is not the cure; understanding the ordinary, mundane details that must go right for each particular problem is.” (p. 242)

I had a similar experience while serving as an adviser to the Afghan National Police in 2013. A human resources information system was being built for them—at a huge expense. Yet most of them couldn’t read. And those who could read would have likely preferred some really great filing cabinets, folders and paper office supplies over a complicated computer system.

Third, getting better requires courage. People aren’t going to like it when you question their standards or performance. People aren’t going to be happy when you push them out of their comfort zone. People aren’t going to like it when you perform at a level that makes them look bad.

So you’ve got to decide: Is it worth it? And if it is, go for it, with a renewed appreciation for diligence and perspiration, a focus on the basics and listening to your people, and the courage to forge ahead even when you think people might get upset or when you’re just plain scared.

Find this thought provoking? Leave a comment, like and share!

About Ben Baran

Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit:

Basketball and Eagle Scouts

No, we’re not talking about how Josh and his team became national champions when they won the tournament during Josh’s junior year in 2016. We’re also not talking about how he and his team just became Big East Conference regular season champions for the fourth straight year.

Those are definitely commendable achievements, but what many people don’t know is that, in addition to being a bonafide college basketball star, Josh Hart is an Eagle Scout.

His journey to earn Eagle, all while spending a great deal of time participating in high school basketball, wasn’t an easy one.

The young man’s achievement even prompted ESPN to produce a video news segment dedicated to how Josh earned his Eagle Scout.

The 3-minute video features interviews with Josh, his father, and his former Scoutmaster talking about the promise Josh made to his father as a boy and what he had to do to balance Scouting and basketball.

ron palinkas eagle scout“You don’t quit. You finish what you start,” said Moses Hart, Josh’s father.

Because of Josh’s commitment to basketball and Scouting, that meant the young man had to rely on some key Scouting skills of leadership and planning to finish all of the requirements for Eagle prior to his 18th birthday.

In a blog post on the Bryan on Scouting blog last year, Josh commented on how he made it work.

“It’s all about leading, leading and hard work,” he said. “You don’t get Eagle Scout by just showing up. You gotta put a lot of work in. Gotta sacrifice a lot of time. Put in a lot of weekends. Doing that taught me how to get serious, put my head down, and go to work.”

Be sure to watch the great news story from ESPN below (and for those familiar with the Build an Adventure campaign, be on the lookout for a few familiar video clips).

If you know a college basketball fan, and especially if you know a Scout looking to balance Scouting with sports, be sure to share Josh’s inspiring story with them.


Nathan Johnson

As a member of the Communications team at Boy Scouts of America, Nathan Johnson enjoys finding and sharing the stories that inform, inspire, and delight the Scouting family.

A Former FBI Agent shares 8 Qualities the Most Resilient People Share

FBI agents need to be resilient so they can solve cases that have no easy or obvious solution. They go to where they are needed, not to where they feel comfortable.

As an FBI agent, I was assigned investigations where I had no idea how to solve them, but this was my thinking: Drop me in the middle of any squad or any situation, anywhere, anytime.

I will not be scared, nor will I give up. If I’m knocked down, I’ll drag myself back up and keep at it until I solve the case.

This is the mindset of a survivor — a person who is resilient enough to bounce back from the trauma of everyday life.

As business leaders and entrepreneurs, you know that success requires the resilience to keep moving ahead even when confronted with obstacles and roadblocks. You have a willingness to swim upstream and not give up simply because the tide is against you.

Resilient people are successful because they possess these eight qualities:

1. They take responsibility for their actions

I quickly learned that the FBI would not tolerate whining and complaining when my circumstances were less than ideal. Instead, they drilled into me the need to take personal control and responsibility for the direction life was taking me.

Resilient leaders do not seek out happiness by relying on others, nor do they blame others for their situation.

How to make it work for you: Stop whining, blaming others and pointing fingers if you don’t get what you want.

2. They develop good daily habits

Research by Karl E. Weick, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan, shows that when people are under stress, they regress to deeply embedded habits.

The way we train ourselves to think, feel and behave during our regular daily life is exactly the way we will respond when hit with hard times.

How to make it work for you: Take the time to develop good daily habits that become so ingrained into your thinking that you respond in ways that set you up for success when you’re confronted with the unknown.

3. They focus on possibilities

Resilient people are always asking this question: What can I do to change my situation? When they focus on the possibilities that lie before them, they make their own luck. They do what they can with the hand they’ve been dealt, and in doing so, they take control of their life.

In his book “The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity,” Michael Marmot explains how clerks and secretaries are more likely to die of heart attacks than senior executives.

Even taking into consideration other variables such as smoking and poor nutrition, his research team concluded that those in lower-category jobs had less control over their life, and they were more likely to suffer from heart disease.

How to make it work for you: Believe you can control the important events in your life. Often this will mean you will need to be flexible in the way that you approach your goals and agile in the way in which you overcome obstacles.

4. They are positive thinkers

There is a big difference between being an optimist and being a positive thinker. Positive thinkers are not necessarily happy or optimistic.

Instead, positive thinkers are blunt realists who look misery right in the eye and confront the most brutal facts of their day without expecting things to change. They adapt to their circumstances without ever losing hope.

As FBI agents, we planned arrests by giving priority to what could go wrong. We were not optimists who hoped everything would go according to plan. We weighed the possibility of a negative outcome with equal heft as the possibility of a positive outcome.

How to make it work for you: Hunt the good stuff and find five positive thoughts to counter each negative thought. When confronted with something that feels overwhelming, you will need to find five positive thoughts to counter each one negative thought that comes to mind.

5. They prioritize what is important

Squad briefings were a great way to help agents get over a hurdle in one of their investigations. When an agent briefed the squad on a case, white boards were created with priorities listed from most important to least.

Prioritizing information is a useful resilience tool because forces your brain to interact with information rather than simply react to it. Lists are an excellent way of forcing different parts of the brain to interact with each other. This also prevents different parts of our brain from fighting against each another for attention and energy.

How to make it work for you:Writing down your priority list helps you to visualize, so keep paper and pen handy. Typing your list out on a computer does not satisfy the brain’s need for visualization.

6. They manage emotions

You are a wimp if you run away from a negative emotion or deny unpleasant thoughts and feelings. You don’t think you’re strong enough to handle the hard stuff.

Too often, people pretend negative emotions and feelings don’t exist. Ignoring negative feelings is not healthy; nor is wallowing in them. Resilient people hurt when life hands them a rough time, but they never forget that they still have control over their attitude.

How to make it work for you: Identify your emotions, and then call them, or label them, for what they really are. If the emotion is pride, envy, or anger, own up to it. Although most people expect labeling emotions to increase their occurrence, when you label your fear or anxiety you actually lessen your discomfort. It’s important, however, to keep the label to one or two words because, if you open up dialogue about it, you will only increase the emotion.

7. Reframe negative events

Setbacks are a natural part of life. Resilience requires mental toughness because it is the ability to recover quickly from adversity, no matter your situation.

Nip negative emotions and reactions in the bud when they first appear. This is when they are the weakest.

Cold cases are those in which the leads have grown cold, but nothing motivates an FBI case agent as much as looking into the face of an innocent victim who trusts and expects them to find the answer. Quit is not a word used in FBI investigations.

How to make it work for you: Reframing is a fancy word for changing the way you look at adversity or a negative situation. Reframing can provide you with different ways of interpreting your less than perfect situation so you can expand the possibilities and overcome the adversity.

8. Find their tribe

Friendships are important: they can lift you up, provide security, and prevent slip-ups in both business and life.

As Sebastian Junger wrote in his book “Tribe,” “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding — ‘tribes.’ This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.”

A strong psychological thread developed during our training as special agents is the concept of the “FBI family.” FBI employees will close ranks around one of their own if the individual is targeted or harmed in some way.

How to make it work for you: Find your tribe. Whether it’s your biological family or your adoptive one from work, school or church, find people who give you the sense of security and connectivity.

LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.


The Case for Customer Service Workers


ron palinkas national service manager

In the emerging experience economy, the proper management and handling of customer conversations is suddenly one of the most important functions a company has. And just as suddenly, that makes customer service agents among your most important employees. Here are five ways to make these agents your company’s competitive advantage.

1. Let go of the past.

For the last quarter of a century, customer service departments have been cost optimized to the point of diminishing return. Customer service agents have been stripped of their personalities and problem-solving skills in order to adhere to arbitrary service protocols that are out of step with the experience economy. Common practices include: Getting customers off of the phone quickly; re-verifying customers who have already been through multiple layers of identification; using call scripts and workflows in conflict with customer preferences; sitting through quality-control sessions with supervisors that scrutinize every utterance of their interactions; and finally being judged on a satisfaction, effort, or a promoter score that was assigned by a customer which they had little ability to directly influence. Step one is take a giant step back from this. And let most of it go.

2. Balance technology with humanity.

In the experience economy, the retooling of customer service becomes the first place to start in order to create a sustainable competitive advantage, attract the best customer service talent, and figure out how to actually deliver customer experience at a scale unlike ever before. And technology is the first place to look to enact such a change. There is no shortage of new and innovative technologies that will be central to those experiences, especially in a world where devices and customers are connected in powerful new ways. However, there is something more fundamental than the technology: It’s how the agent and the technology come together that creates the “secret sauce” that customers are looking for — and willing to pay a premium to get. Find the right mix.

ron palinkas national service manager3. Build connected experiences.

Finding the right mixture of technology and humanity is critical, but the other half of this equation is to build seamless, connected experiences for your customers. Connected experiences empower service agents to be at their very best when a customer needs their expertise. They “set the table” for agents in ways that allow them to impute expertise at the right moment in a given customer’s journey. A connected experience is transparent, knows customer preferences, supplies agents with complete 360-degree customer data, and anticipates escalation paths. Giving customers a connected experience is a crucial element in keeping them from feeling alienated and dehumanized. Give them a smooth ride instead.

4. Let your agents solve problems.

This sounds simple but it is not. A conscious decision must be made to enable your service employees to apply unique insights and problem-solving skills with the best information available to them, every time. Rather than merely following scripts and protocols, customer interaction in the experience economy demands the precise application of human interaction at the appropriate moment — not simply when something has gone wrong and a customer needs someone to gripe to. Unleashing service employees to provide the kind of help they want to provide — when they might be limited by service protocols or company standards — is critical to enhancing their ability to effectively solve problems in a time-sensitive manner. Let them do their job.

national service manager ron palinkas5. Let your agents be human.

The best service agents, like anyone doing something they love, have a genuine caring nature and passion for helping people. They will tell you that’s why they come to work every day. And that’s why they feel fulfilled at the end of every day too. When a company taps into that potential, it unleashes the most powerful, authentic form of service possible. This is what customers crave in the experience economy. Moreover, it brings a sense of pride, ownership, and empowerment to the service workers who deliver customer experiences every day.

In March, an Accenture study cited that companies lost $1.6 trillion last year alone due to customers switching providers because of poor customer service. Moreover, the study went on to reveal that customers prefer to deal with human beings instead of digital channels. This underscores the need to optimize the role of the customer service agent. Retooling for the new experience economy might start with technology, but more than ever it also embraces human input. And this starts with the customer service agent. Releasing them from antiquated protocols, balancing technology with humanity, connecting them like never before, and then empowering them to solve problems as only empathic human beings can will deliver a competitive advantage unlike any other.


Original Post

How To End An E-mail if You Want A Response ron Palinkas Director of ServiceI’ve always thought of obsessing over your email openings and closings as a bit like obsessing over your outfit – not worth it.As long as you don’t do something outrageous – say, sign an email to your CEO with “xoxo” or show up to a job interview wearing a clown costume – you’ll be fine with whatever you choose.

I was wrong.

According to a new analysis from Boomerang, an email productivity app, different email sign-offs yield different response rates. And woe to the unappreciative emailers among us: The analysis found that the best way to end an email is with gratitude.Specifically, results showed that the most effective email sign-off is “thanks in advance”.

For the study, Boomerang looked at closings in over 350,000 email threads from mailing list archives in which, they wrote in a blog post, many emails involved “people asking for help or advice, hoping for a reply”.

Then they picked out the eight email sign-offs that appeared over 1000 times each and figured out the response rate linked to each sign-off. Here’s what they found:

  1. “Thanks in advance” had a response rate of 65.7 per cent
  2. “Thanks” had a response rate of 63 per cent
  3. “Thank you” had a response rate of 57.9 per cent
  4. “Cheers” had a response rate of 54.4 per cent
  5. “Kind regards” had a response rate of 53.9 per cent
  6. “Regards” had a response rate of 53.5 per cent
  7. “Best regards” had a response rate of 52.9 per cent
  8. “Best” had a response rate of 51.2 per cent

The average response rate for all the emails in their sample was 47.5 per cent.

The Boomerang blog post also cites 2010 research from Adam Grant and Francesca Gino, which found that participants who received an email from a student asking for feedback on a cover letter were twice as likely to help when the email included the phrase, “Thanks so much! I am really grateful.”

Interestingly, three separate etiquette experts previously told Business Insider that “best” is the most appropriate way to end an email. And one such expert said that “thanks” is “obnoxious if it’s a command disguised as premature gratitude”.

The Boomerang analysis didn’t measure how recipients felt about the sender – just whether they responded. It also didn’t measure the power dynamics at play. Maybe your boss signs their emails “best” and they always get an answer.

Bottom line: If you want a response to your email, it can’t hurt to end it with an expression of gratitude. Thanks for reading!

by Shana Lebowitz

Read more:

“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt ron palinkasCompleted in 1642, Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Night Watch is not only a highlight of a career that spanned over 600 paintings, but also acclaimed as arguably the greatest portrait of the Dutch Baroque era.


There are several, including: Officers and Other Civic Guardsmen of District II of Amsterdam, under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van RuytenburchMilitia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq; and The Shooting Company of Frans Banninck Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch.While the details vary, the key thing was that Cocq (wearing a red sash) and Ruytenburch (in yellow beside Cocq) get their recognition. Still, it’s little wonder the nickname The Night Watch caught on.


Over the next hundred years, the nickname Night Watch became more popular than the painting’s cumbersome monikers. However, Rembrandt’s painting was set in daytime. The dark background mistaken for night’s sky was actually a varnish turned dark with age and dirt. During a restoration in the 1940s, the varnish was removed, but the name stuck.


Italian for “light-dark,” the term refers to works that play dramatically with shadow to create volume and a sense of three dimensions.

ron palinkas global technical services manager4. REMBRANDT MAY HAVE A CAMEO IN THE NIGHT WATCH.

You’d likely miss him amidst this bustling company of distinguished men, but in the middle of the painting, behind a man in green and a guard with a metal helm, you can spot a barely-there man. Only his eye and a beret are visible, but this elusive figure is believed to be how Rembrandt wedged himself into his most famous work. 


This seemingly misplaced moppet carries a chicken with pronounced claws and a pistol called a klover. Both were symbols for the Kloveniers, Amsterdam’s civic guard, a guild that commissioned the painting for their meeting hall.


Rembrandt was one of six artists the Kloveniers hired for group portraits of their members. He, Pickenoy, Bakker, Van der Helst, Van Sandrart and Flinck were each charged with creating a piece within specific parameters so they could be displayed side by side as an “unbroken frieze of large paintings, each matching the other and fixed in the wooden paneling of the room to form a meticulously designed total interior concept.” But Rembrandt strayed from what was expected in both composition and color.


Countless captains, colonels, and cadets had been painted in portraits of a static nature. Rembrandt broke from convention by showing his military men in apparent motion.


After The Night Watch was finished, Rembrandt entered into a decade-long period where he stopped producing portraits and scaled back painting production dramatically. It’s long been assumed that the guild members who were supposed to pay for these portraits didn’t feel they were given enough spotlight, and refused to ante up their fair share, with this discontent ruining Rembrandt’s reputation. But more modern scholarship indicates that the Kloveniers were happy with the unconventional painting and displayed it in the hall. As for Rembrandt’s post-Night Watch funk? It may just have been that he felt he had overstretched the bounds of his art and needed to reset.

ron palinkas ron palinkas global technical services manager9. IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU’D THINK …

In addition to being Rembrandt’s most famous painting, at nearly 12 feet by 14 feet, The Night Watch was also his largest one.


Seventy-three years after its creation, the massive painting was moved to Amsterdam’s town hall. However, it was too big to fit the wall where it was meant to hang. As was common at the time, the painting’s canvas was cut to better accommodate its new home. In this edit, the top of the arch, the balustrade, and the edge of the step were lost, along with two figures on the left side.

Thankfully, a small copy of the painting made by Gerrit Lundens gives a clear idea of the original’s composition.


Rembrandt was long dead when The Night Watch was transferred to the town hall and trimmed for the occasion. But this wasn’t the only unapproved revision made to his piece. An unknown hand added a shield to the archway—the script on the shield contains the 18 names of the featured Kloveniers.


Museum fires have caused the loss of great works of art, so Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has gone to great lengths to protect Rembrandt’s masterpiece. To preserve The Night Watch in emergencies, the Rijksmuseum installed a trap door complete with escape slide in 1934.


On January 13, 1911, a down-and-out navy cook slashed The Night Watch with a knife, reportedly as a protest against his unemployment. A second knife attack occurred on September 14, 1975, this time courtesy of a Dutch schoolmaster who believed destroying it was his divine mission. After that, the painting was put under permanent guard. Nevertheless, an unemployed Dutchman sprayed concentrated sulfuric acid on the piece on April 6, 1990. Each time, restorations were able to repair the damage, with barely a battle scar remaining.


In 1885, the construction of the Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum was centered on exhibiting Rembrandt’s massive masterwork. Nearly 120 years later, the museum underwent a decade-long renovation. As the museum’s director Wim Pijbes prepared for its reopening in 2013, he proudly declared, “Everything has changed, the only thing that hasn’t is The Night Watch. It is the altarpiece of the Rijksmuseum, the whole place is arranged around this beautiful masterpiece.”


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Escape Rooms and Team Building few years a new theory is launched on the best way to build cohesiveness among small teams.  It can be things like a ROPES course, role-playing, or even and outing to a sporting event.  One of the latest “experience destinations” is the “escape room.”  A fairly straight-forward event, small groups assemble and are placed in a small rule filled with clues and puzzles.  Their goal is to escape within the prescribed time limit, usually one hours.

More difficult that it sounds, it is easier if you have people who are able to work together.,  Scouring the room for clues to unlock secret cupboards and chests.  The challenge is to find solutions and brainstorm for ideas all while working under a time constraint.  In our recent experience, this limit was one hour, trying to discover the clues to help us unlock 4 digit combination locks.  Our group had to analyze clues, decide on ways to best use our time for trying combinations, and brainstorm to make sense of the few clues we were given.

As important as the team aspects of this event were, the real value is building a history or memories of common experiences.  Teams work together when they have a common thread of events.  This is especially important with remote groups.  The escape room is one great way, but the other could be a service visit that did not go as planned,  a dinner that was not what was expected, or a trip to an art museum together.  All these events build familiarity and commonality that can move a team forward with great speed.

Try the Escape Room in Amsterdam or similar rooms throughout the world.


Lincoln on Leadership Abraham Lincoln appointed the best and brightest to his Cabinet, individuals who were also some of his greatest political rivals. He demonstrated his leadership by pulling this group together into a unique team that represented the greatest minds of his time, according to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Lincoln demonstrated an ability to withstand adversity and to move forward in the face of frustration, said Kearns Goodwin, a keynote speaker at SHRM’s 2008 Annual Conference in Chicago. She identified 10 qualities that made Lincoln a great leader. Ten qualities Kearns Goodwin believes we should look for in our present day leaders.


Capacity to Listen to Different Points of View

While researching her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Kearns Goodwin learned that Lincoln had the capacity to listen to different points of view. He created a climate where Cabinet members were free to disagree without fear of retaliation. At the same time, he knew when to stop the discussion and after listening to the various opinions, make a final decision.

Ability to Learn on the Job

Lincoln was able to acknowledge errors, learn from them, and then move. In this way, he established a culture of learning in his administration, said Kearns Goodwin.

Ready Willingness to Share Credit for Success

In response to concerns expressed by friends about the actions of some of his Cabinet members, Lincoln stated that the “path to success and ambition is broad enough for two” said Kearns Goodwin. When there was success, Lincoln shared the credit with all of those involved.

Ready Willingness to Share Blame for Failure

When mistakes were made by members of his Cabinet, Lincoln stood up for them said Kearns Goodwin. When contracts related to the war effort raised serious questions about a member of his administration, Lincoln spoke up and indicated that he and his entire Cabinet were to blame.

Awareness of Own Weaknesses

Kearns Goodwin noted that one of the weaknesses acknowledged by Lincoln was his tendency to give people too many chances and because he was aware, he was able to compensate for that weakness. As an example, she stated that George McClellan, Commander in Chief of the Union Army, refused to follow directives about the war effort. Lincoln eventually set a deadline and eventually removed McClellan from the position.

Ability to Control Emotions

According to Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln treated those he worked with well. However, he did get angry and frustrated, so he found a way to channel those emotions. He was known to sit down and write what he referred to as a “hot letter” to the individual he was angry with and then he would set the letter aside and not send it. If he did lose his temper, Lincoln would follow up with a kind gesture or letter to let the individual know he was not holding a grudge, said Kearns Goodwin. She noted that one of the letters was released as part of Lincoln’s Presidential papers with a notation that it was never signed nor sent.

Know How to Relax and Replenish

Lincoln understood the importance of relaxation and humor to shake of the stress of the day and to replenish himself for the challenges of the next day. According to Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to tell funny stories. He encouraged a healthy atmosphere of laughter and fun in his administration. He also enjoyed going to the theater and spending time with friends.

Go Out into the Field and Manage Directly

During the Civil War, many soldiers died and there were many ups and downs. Lincoln established lasting connections with the troops by visiting the battlefield and hospitals, which also helped bolster morale.

Lincoln also spent time talking with members of the public, taking ‘public opinion baths’ according to Kearns Goodwin. He held public receptions and made a point of shaking everyone’s hand and speaking to each individual.

Strength to Adhere to Fundamental Goals

In the summer of 1864, said Kearns Goodwin, the war was not going well for the North. Members of his political party came to Lincoln and said that there was no way to win the war and he might need to compromise on slavery. Lincoln held firm on the issue of slavery and turned away from this advice.

Ability to Communicate Goals and Vision

Kearns Goodwin stated that Lincoln had a “remarkable ability to communicate his goals to his countrymen.” He made concepts simple and communicated with an understanding of the concerns of the citizens.

When the war ended and he won reelection, Lincoln did not focus on his achievements said Kearns Goodwin. Rather, in his second inaugural speech, Lincoln focused on bringing the country together as expressed in the following excerpt. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Kearns Goodwin ended her keynote address with the following words from Leo Tolstoy about Abraham Lincoln. His greatness consisted of the “integrity of his character and moral fiber of his being.”


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