Wednesday, January 02, 2008

RIP, Paul!

Paul Alderson has died.

Who's that, you ask? Well, the short answer is that Paul was a guy I worked for from around 1993 to 2000. The longer story is, um, longer, and if you really want it let me know and I'll post it. In place of that, and in honor of Paul's memory, here are a few things I learned from him:
Enjoy what you do, and have fun when you work: When I started working with Paul every day was an adventure. We were both learning new stuff, figuring out new ways to do things, and building a cool tool. It was the closest I've come to working at a well-funded start-up, and I imagine the vibe was similar. We enjoyed what we were doing, we enjoyed eachother's company, and we were getting paid (relatively) well. In later years as the department grew Paul was forced in to more of a management role which he generally did well, but didn't enjoy nearly as much as the creative side of things. Perhaps not coincidentally he started having some major health issues and the fun pretty much went out of it for him.

Don't sweat the small stuff: It's trite, but it's true and Paul was (generally) good at letting the minor crap roll off his back. And I've tried to emulate that.

Confront staff problems early: This is one Paul and I learned together, but I haven't really learned it. Not that I have people reporting to me any more...anyhoo, we had a couple people on the team that needed to be fired for various reasons, and we let it slide far too long. And as a result the expected happened: team morale suffered, we looked like idiots, and the company spent money on salaries for people who didn't produce. The problem was that both Paul and I were softies at heart and hated firing people. Which isn't a bad thing, except for when it is.

Listen to your body: This is a lesson I learned by observing Paul do exactly the opposite. While he preached the whole "don't come to work sick" thing he couldn't follow it himself. He worked when he was sick. He worked when he was in pain. He worked when he was hopped up on goofballs and suffering from something called "Prednisone Psychosis". And as a result his health suffered, the team suffered, and our relationship suffered. Because let's face it, it's hard to respect a guy who won't take care of himself, especially when he's grilling you on the details of a conversation that never happened.

Listen to your doctor: This one's a corollary (or is it companion? One of those) of the last rule, but it's still important. You'd think it was obvious, but sometimes it's easy to assume the doctor is a quack or doesn't know you and how your body will react. But as Paul proved at least once, doctors aren't all idiots and sometimes when they tell you "you're going to need to take this drug for a while, then cut it off slowly" they're right. And if you suddenly stop taking the drug they warned you about because you've quit other things "cold turkey" you'll probably end up in the hospital.

It's not rocket science: This was Paul's favorite line, so it's not really a lesson...although it is applicable to just about everything I've done in the work world, either during my days with Paul or after. It went along with his other fave phrase of "don't reinvent the wheel". Trite, both of them, but they did sum up a lot of the management philosophy of our group: keep it simple, and reuse anything and everything.

I'm sure there's more, but nothing is coming to mind right now, and hasn't in the weeks that I've been thinking about this (Paul died in early December...I apparently didn't learn any lessons about procrastination from him). So I'll wrap up with a heartfelt thanks to the late Paul Alderson for his guidance, support and friendship early in my business career, and an equally heartfelt apology for not staying in touch (or forcing him to keep in touch) after the department was shut down and we each went our separate ways. Hopefully that will be the lesson I really learn from him!

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