administrative assistants


Box Foot, don’t let it happen to you.

San Francisco is a major city and many national and international corporations are based here, including a number of clothing labels (Gap, Brooks Brothers, Levi Strauss, Banana Republic). Given this (and given how we are such an international draw for tourists), why is it that our downtown financial district denizens dress like it’s casual Friday in Grand Rapids? Here are five moving violations of the sartorial kind that I see every day in our neighborhood:

1. Box Foot: Square toe shoes should have never happened, but like a lot of other things that should have never happened (like Furbies), they did — and refuse to leave over a decade later. You might as well forego the shoes and wear the cardboard boxes they came in if you like the shape so much, at least then you can pretend you’re homeless and this is the only footwear you can afford.  If you want to know how you look in these sorts of shoes, simply Google “Frankenstein cartoon” and look at the images that pop up.

2. Pleats are the Devil’s Tailoring: No one knows why men wear pleated pants, many men don’t either. Yes, pleats give you a little bit more room, however, they also make you look like you have solid child-bearing hips. Pleats don’t flatter anyone and most women consider them a most effective form of birth control because a man in pleated pants reminds them of what their dad used to wear on Sundays because he was clueless about leisure wear and wore a suit and tie all the other days.

3. T-shirts with ironic slogans/images: Irony is a tricky thing to master but the key is in being unique. Let me give you an example: it’s ironic when everyone is wearing hip, tight black t-shirts for you to be sporting a Pabst Blue Ribbon vintage t-shirt that you bought at Goodwill for $3. What is NOT ironic is when you and every other hipster-schmo is wearing the same ironic t-shirt that you all bought from Urban Outfitters for $58. That’s just overdone and pathetic.

4. LieStrong: Those fluorescent yellow rubber bangles with Lance Armstrong’s “LiveStrong” foundation name are annoying enough when you see them everywhere (including on some 400-lb guy — where’re you living strong, buddy? At the local Quizno’s?) Yeah, Lance Armstrong beat cancer and raised money and built a foundation and all that. He also CHEATED and had more juice running through him than a Florida orange grove, so now, please, throw those ugly things away, okay?

5. Velour and Spandex: From Juicy Couture to stuff you’re actually supposed to sweat in, people are inexplicably wearing work out clothes to work (even more alarming — they are usually worn by people who obviously don’t work out). Clearly they’re not preparing to complete a mid-day road race or five-set match, so if you’re not exercising, why the athletic gear? Are you a member of Run-DMC? No? Then leave the track suit at home, please.

Remember, I’m not the only one judging you. Everyone is. I’m just callous enough to tell you this to your face.


Screen shot 2012-12-06 at 8.43.19 AM

At Berrett-Koehler we work together and play together by means of our monthly social events. Karaoke and happy hours are all fine and well, but we need to do better.

Here are five social outings I want to see BK go on:

1. The Pub Trivia Circuit: What good is all that publishing geek-knowledge if it can’t be put to practical use? This is where pub trivia nights could be really useful for BK staff. Creaming the competition would be fun AND bring us closer together! But let us not forget the true reason behind such a directive: beer!

2. The Folsom Street Fair: Okay, so you know how cities have those quaint little street fairs with live music and all? Well, we have those here but the Folsom Street Fair is definitely not quaint or for the faint of heart, but it is highly entertaining, plus, great deals on leather goods!

3. SantaCon: A flash mob of hundreds of people dressed as Santa randomly cruising around the city creating mayhem with the holiday spirit. And they’ll be singing “alternative” versions of popular Christmas carols. What’s not to like?

4. Glamor Shots: This next social event I think could potentially really jazz up our company catalog’s “About the Staff” page. Let’s make like teenages in the 80’s and hit up the mall for some awesome glamor shots! We can go the whole nine yards with props that show off our vibrant personalities like these guys here.

5. Be Tourists in Our Own City: Every now and then I’ll see tour groups being led around and told amazing stories about the buildings in the financial district. I think that we should all buy those cheap “Escape from Alcatraz” sweatshirts (because if there’s one thing tourists know how to do, it’s to match) and be our own tour group and randomly barge into offices everywhere while a nominated “tour leader” fabricates all sorts of stories (“And in this loans office was where Jesse James actually died”) about the buildings we enter.

Oh, please, it beats bowling!

Welcome to the top of the ladder, kid.

B-K HQ is by all means a normal office. Okay, I guess normal is relative and maybe I’ve been here long enough that I’ve become blinded to the things that make us…different. Here are five things that surprise our visitors:

1. You’re the what?: So I recently got a promotion that came with a much more apt new title. I am now the Chief of First Impressions. No joke; that is really my title. Unfortunately, everyone seems to think I’m joking when I introduce myself now. I’ve started carrying business cards on my person for proof.

2. I thought you’d be…bigger: People always assume that a publishing house takes up an entire city block and has hundreds of people running about and so they are surprised when they visit us and see that we have only about 25 staff members in a modestly-sized office. If anyone says anything condescending about the size, I’ll tell them that this is just the back office they were sent to and that important or relevant people usually go straight up to the 15th floor where the executive offices and employee spa and gym are located.

3. The CEO’s “corner office”: Steve Piersanti is our founder and President, so it makes sense that he would get the corner office, except that the corner is literally just that – a corner in the main hallway with a small desk and no windows (see photo above). People think we’re joking (especially since all other employees get private offices with doors that close), but we’re not. That’s really where he sits. What? He seems to like it just fine.

4. No Longer Corporate 80s Nightmare: Mercifully, we recently upgraded the office, plush green carpet and all. Guests familiar with the old decor have almost universally identical reactions to the upgrade: their surprise is not at how nice the office looks now, but that we finally did away with the old look. Their reaction is similar to what you would say when a friend finally dumps that ugly boyfriend or girlfriend (“Oh, thank God! I can say this now, but he/she was U-GLY!”).

5. Family Friendly (and Not): My first day here I was told by the girl training me, “You’re part of the family now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” I didn’t quite understand what she was trying to tell me at first, but I do now. We are ALL up in each other’s lives, and like real families, sometimes it’s frustrating, but most of the time it’s awesome. We’re just one big, happy, dysfunctional, slightly disturbed family.

I just realized that this is a very positively – toned posting. I apologize and will return to regular programming in two weeks.

Business cat cares about looking professional.

Face it, work is really where we spend the majority of our time. So if we have to spend so much of our lives here, why not make ourselves comfortable? Here are five things we really need in the office, stat:

1. Creature Comforts: Do you know what all those deranged killers who showed up at work armed and went on a killing spree had in common? None of them had pets. Dogs and cats are therapy and keep you sane and having them the workplace makes it a better and more fun experience. We should have pets prancing around the office. Actually, that factor about killers not having pets is something I fabricated, but it sounds right.

2. An Aspartame Intervention: A soda intervention, the situation is becoming dire. We go through almost an entire case of Diet Coke everyday, EVERY DAY. Do you know how much soda that is? There’s enough artificial sweetener coursing through the veins of our employees to kill all the lab rats in the country.

3. Company Siestas: It works so well for kids and what are adults but kids who know how to behave in public? A nap at the height of the non-productive hours (usually between 2 pm – 3 pm) will settle the stomach and the mind and replenish energy.

4. Company-Sanctioned Violence: Office disputes can get ugly. Someone makes a remark, you let it fester, the situation boils over, HR gets involved, and things just escalate. I say let’s do away with all that and handle it “Victorian Style.” Nerf guns at high noon; enough said.

5. A Sushi Chef: Nutritious, tasty, fresh, and not filling – what’s the problem? You know what would be even better? A sushi chef who also knows how to twirl knives and throw and catchsharp objects like at Benihana’s.

I think I’ll go draw up the puppy proposal now…

Like most everywhere else, Berrett-Koehler has a monthly staff meeting. You’ll know what day the meeting falls on by how the price of coffee beans takes a sharp hike on the NASDAQ following frenzied market demand by BK staff. These are marathon days for my position, too. Amongst the staff, these meetings are as informative and useful as they are dreaded.

Because I favor the dreaded side of things, here are five really annoying things that happen in BK staff meetings:

1. Every Minute Becomes Five (or Twenty): Our staff meetings are scheduled, on average, to be three hours long. I know that this doesn’t seem that laborious, but unfortunately it doesn’t account for the fact that despite years of experience, almost everyone underestimates the amount of time needed to discuss a topic to death. I cringe and hope, but inevitably someone will say “Oh, well, I’d like a bit more time to discuss this issue – perhaps the whole dang afternoon will do?” (Okay, they don’t ask for the whole afternoon — usually only ten or twenty minutes — but that’s how it feels to me.)

2. Yada Yada Yada: At these meetings, I am the scribe (which is a fancy word for “minutes-monkey”) and I am required to record everything everyone says as part of the minutes. This means not only the important decisions, but also the pontificating, lecturing, meandering, really unfunny joking, and out-loud self-obsessed ruminations that are part of this whole circus. You know what the one thing worse than a bad joke is? Having to transcribe that bad joke word for word, thereby reliving the horror yet again in my mind.

3. Space Cadets: I am always exhausted after a staff meeting, not because of the amount of time we’re locked in there, but because I have to be constantly alert and activity listening because of (#2) above. So you can imagine the burning injustice I feel when I look up and see people staring at the wall, employing the hand-to-forehead-in-deep-thought tactic to take a nap, or tweeting about how boring the meeting is. Oh, and by the way, holding your iPhone under the table to play Angry Birds isn’t exactly covert. I’m watching you, and I hate you all.

4. Democracy Is the Biggest Pain-in-the-Butt: We are BK, so when it comes to decision making everyone’s opinion counts and we vote. On EVERYTHING. You see, I’m fine with the fact that we vote on things like pay raises and company health plans, but do we really need to vote about which restaurants to use to order lunch? Note to management: At about 75% of voting scenarios, someone inevitably asks if there’s an “I really don’t care” option. This is a hint.

5. Feeding Time: About half way through the meeting, it begins. I hear the first crinkle of a chip bag, the first protest of plastic wrap being stripped off a sandwich, and I realize it’s lunchtime. And like some twisted Pavlovian  response, I begin to feel rage. Because I have to continue taking the minutes, I can’t eat (and if you refer to point #2 above, you’ll know that there’s no rest from taking minutes because someone is always talking). And our staff are not the most graceful eaters either, which just amplifies the hunger-in-the-face-of-gluttony factor. I secretly wish someone would start choking on his or her food. Then the staff could  vote on whether the person is actually choking or not.

As the song says, suicide is painless. Unfortunately, meetings aren’t. Until next time

What is takes to buy my consulting services: raw fish.

Berrett-Koehler has an impressive repertoire of books, written by an equally impressive legion of authors. Their accomplishments are astounding and irrefutable, but sometimes I wonder if there aren’t other books we could be publishing within our current affairs/business/personal growth arenas. Here are five new books I’d like to see BK publish:

1. A High School Queen Bee’s Guide to Dominance: Who better knows how to claw her way to the top than a high school mean girl? Why pretend to like people and try to get along with everyone when you can ruthlessly mock them and take their dignity and become the most feared person in the company? Why not have minions carrying out your dastardly duties? It’s good to be the Queen!

2. Lessons on Rewarding Others I Learned in Grade Three : There are so many books on rewarding employees and providing reinforcement, and they’re fine but how about some more basic approaches? Invite me into your office to tell me what a great job I’m doing? Fine, but how about a fat gold star next to my name in the mailbox area? How about candy or extra nap-time? Basics, y’all, basics – that’s the stuff that really makes me happy. Wanna praise me? Send me an email, but really recognize me? Take me to the wharf and buy me cotton candy!

3. A Self-Help Book That Actually Helps: Granted, I’m a bit jaded and don’t go in for a lot of the self-help titles, but that’s because a lot of them hype things that are…spiritual. I mean, it’s all great to say that you need to align your chakras or talk to your inner child and all, but what about practical advice without the fluff? I would love to see a book that says “Forget meditation and mindfulness and all that stuff, eat French fries three times a week and everything will fall into place!” Fine, that’s an extreme (a wonderful extreme), but you get what I’m saying. I’m jaded and bitter, I want easy solutions not deeper explorations of my jaded and bitter self.

4. Current Affairs Books for My Current Situation: Yes, global economies are falling and DC is a mess, but what does this mean for me, really? I know I should be concerned, but honestly? My concerns are paying rent and getting food on the table. Yes, I know trickle-down economics and corporate behavior impacts my life, but don’t tell me that and say “rage against the corporations!” If they’re being sneaky, teach me how to be sneaky, darn it. I don’t want to be a noble protestor out there on the street getting arrested (I need to be at work). Instead, teach me how to rip them off and not get caught the way they rip me off and not get caught!

5. What Leaders Should Know About Leading: So many leadership books are written by big shots who tell other big shots about how to manage their little people. Here’s a news flash – neither of them has been one of the little people in decades. What about learning how to be a good leader from the people you’re leading and then writing a book based on that?  Don’t hire a hotshot consultant, buy pizza for your admin staff and ask them to talk to you – it’s cheaper and way more effective. We’re the ones who don’t care that you’ve read “Good to Great” three times but that you keep your business running.

I eagerly await the flood of manuscripts, I feel like the new editorial intern is about to get a lot of interesting reading.

We get all sorts of mail here – most of it pretty normal, but now and again, some real gems do show up. Here are the five weirdest pieces of mail I’ve had to open:

1. The Bribe: First impression of this book proposal package? Standard. One manuscript; check. One lengthy plea to “whom it may concern,” complete with sentiments of manic gratitude, earnestness, desperation; check. A self-addressed envelope with postage; check. And… seven $1 bills? I’m not above bribery, but I don’t come that cheap!

2. Sexy Time: I received a package I had sent out the week prior with a “return to sender” notice. I opened it, expecting to find the book I sent somewhere for review, and dozens of little pamphlets covered in brightly colored circles fell out. Upon closer inspection, those brightly colored circles turned out to be fluorescent condoms, and the pamphlets touted their different variations and benefits. Cheapskate switcheroo marketing! Well done, sir! Consider yourself blacklisted.

3. Sexy Time II: A lot of authors send author photos with their manuscript. Sometimes I think they’re capitalizing on their good looks, other times, well, it would have been better to retain an air of mystery. But one proposal from a business professional about communicating contained several photos in full color. However, all of the photos were of the author in a skimpy bikini doing Yoga in all sorts of odd poses that showed off her flexibility. I’m sure she was communicating something but wouldn’t want to guess what.

4.The Picture Book: When unsolicited manuscripts come in, I’ll often flip through them to see what kind of “fun” editorial is in for. On one that I was perusing, the pictures immediately arrested me. On about every other page this woman had illuminated her depressing life story with crudely drawn stick figures with captions like, “My classmates throwing rocks at me while I cry on the ground,” and “I get fired again,” and “Everyone hates me.” I wonder if there’s a new one taped to her fridge, “Berrett-Koehler rejects my book.”

5. c/o Berrett-Koehler: We do not give our author’s contact information out with good reason (see points 1-4)! In order to provide some sort of buffer from anyone who might have seen Misery one too many times, we offer ourselves as the contact people. I received a thick envelope from a prisoner on death row. He wanted one of our authors to come visit the prison and write a book about how he had committed the perfect crime.  Somehow it had escaped his realization that a perfect crime would entail not being caught and on death row.

Post Office gods preserve me. Oh wait, I forgot, they’re bankrupt.