Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

May 2008

Good Advice

 I can’t be positive about this, but it seems I have entered yet another stage of development as a business person. I am getting really picky about pens. Pens as in writing instruments.

Quite early in my career in Massachusetts, I worked for a guy who was not greatly loved, but giving the devil his due, he was quite effective. I used to put a lot of my thoughts into writing with a number 4 pencil, which needed constant sharpening — the pencil and my writing. Smith, a real autocrat, pulled me aside one day to tell me what I needed to know if I had any aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder. Since I was quite interested, I listened closely.

His advice: “Plan, train, and supervise. Get a really good fountain pen to sign your typed memos, and write bring-up dates on memos you get and give.”

I couldn’t believe it. According to him, you didn’t have to think, create, solve, read — heck, you didn’t even have to talk. You just used your fancy pen to write a bring-up date, file it (if you hadn’t already scaled enough rungs of the ladder to have someone else file your bring-ups) and start each day with a clean desk. You look at each day’s bring-ups and take action (usually writing another memo, making a quick call or assigning another bring-up date). Bing, bang, boom, you’re done.

I never got the hang of that, although I was doing well according to the parking lot org chart, as I was only a few slots away from the president’s space. Then I got a raise and promotion but lost my parking spot. Before I could plan, train, and supervise my way out of that career-killer, I landed a great job in Vermont, where I’ve almost lived happily ever after — definitely happy, but it’s too early to commit to “ever,” I think.

Oh, well, I still went through tons of number 4s and grabbed any old ballpoint to sign important things like checks. 

Over time, of course, I came to depend on a personal computer and various software programs to try to organize things. As far as that clean desk thing, publishing has worked better than a lot of other things I’ve been involved in — deal-making, for instance, cannot be accomplished with a clean desk at any point in the exercise. In publishing, once a month part of the desk, at least, can be cleared, filing this month’s stuff, filling its space with what was next month’s, and starting a new next month in that space. I’ve proven you can even shuffle papers logged on.

Last Christmas, my daughter gave me some really nice pens. Not fountain pens, but way better than ballpoints. When the last one dried up or was lost, I set out to find some more. Not easy, but I finally — after two trips — found one that’s really perfect.

I’m thinking of starting a bring-up file, but one thing that’s always stopped me, is that my old mentor, Smith, didn’t actually call his file a “bring-up,” he called it a “follow-up.” So you were always getting your memos to him returned with a big, blue-black “f/u...” scrawled on it with his initials, “WJS.”

Hey, Bill Smith, thinking of you 37 years later.