Try This On for Size

iStock_000062439902_Large - Copy“Mirror, mirror on the wall. This lighting doesn’t work for me at all.”

My amusing poem is a fitting way to describe how shoppers are using “smart mirrors” to enhance their experiences.

Where have you been all of my life?

Let’s take a look at how the technology, which can be found in dressing rooms at places such as Ralph Lauren’s flagship store, works:

Equipped with radio-frequency identification technology that tracks items via their tags, the room identifies every item that enters and reflects it back on the mirror that doubles as a touchscreen. Shoppers can interact with the mirror, which functions like a giant tablet, to control the lighting, request alternate items or style advice from a sales associate.

“There’s this narrative that ecommerce collects better data – but online, it’s black and white. The physical world contains all these shades of grey that are truly interesting,” says Healey Cypher, who has built his career around twin concepts, namely that brick-and-mortar shopping isn’t going anywhere and the experience is in desperate need of a technological upgrade.

He’s working on it. Cypher is the CEO and co-founder of Oak Labs Interactive, the company behind the interactive mirrors, which just announced it has raised $4.1 million in a seed round led by Wing Venture Capital to bring refine the technology and bring it to more retailers. …

For retailers, the key draw is the wealth of collected data. By tracking each item that enters a dressing room, Ralph Lauren can determine how shoppers are interacting with its clothes. Is a jacket frequently being tried on, but isn’t selling? This likely indicates the look is popular, but the fit isn’t. Equally valuable: how customers interact with the touchscreen. Are they buying recommended items? How are they interacting with sales associates? Oak Labs analyzes the data and distills it into digestible and actionable insights.

This idea isn’t a new one – Nordstrom has experimented with interactive mirrors in its fitting rooms, and designer Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store in New York City has employed nearly identical technology for about a year, to huge results. Since its installation, the store reportedly tripled its clothing sales.

Read the full Entrepreneur story.

Why Is Pumpkin Spice Twice as Nice?

Autumn still life

It’s round. It’s orange. And it’s grown into a fall phenomenon that’s bringing in big bucks for a variety of businesses.

Behold the mighty pumpkin.

Pumpkin-inspired treats are everywhere. Even – gulp – in bacon. Perusing this list of 18 Must-Have Products for People Who Love Pumpkin Spice, I laughed. I cringed. And when I saw the pumpkin spice latte doughnut (courtesy of Krispy Kreme), I resisted temptation.

Why? Because too much of a good thing is … too much. With all due respect: Hold the pumpkin, people!

Pace Dairy of Indiana: Maximizing Its Chamber Membership Through Employee Training

Sarver_ShirleyShirley Sarver keeps a special reminder of her experience at the 2015 Indiana Safety and Health Conference & Expo with her every day.

“There was a saying that I absolutely loved,” comments Sarver, a production lead at Pace Dairy of Indiana in Crawfordsville (an Indiana Chamber member since 1998). “I don’t have Internet access at work, so I had my (IT) person send it to me (via) email so I could keep it with me.

“It says, ‘When people understand you, you get their attention. When people trust you, you earn their loyalty. When people know you really care, you catch their hearts.’ ”

One of the presenters shared the quote during a session on leadership.

“The class was very, very informative,” she asserts. “Since I’m a lead, I loved how he talked about being in the leadership role.”

Twenty years ago, a desire to help people attracted Sarver to Pace Dairy, a cheese plant operated by Kroger. It has two locations: Crawfordsville and Rochester, Minnesota. Each site has approximately 280 employees.

“I go out on calls. If they’re (workers) having problems on a line, I help troubleshoot,” she explains. “If I can fix it, I fix it. If I can’t, I get ahold of maintenance and help out where needed.”

Sarver, who has attended several of the Chamber’s annual safety conferences, values gaining knowledge that she can apply directly to her job.

“I think it’s very beneficial for the team because it gives us new ideas on what we can bring back here to the plant,” she reflects. “I would highly recommend the expo. You get to be one-on-one (learning about different products and services) instead of looking in a book.”

Maple Leaf Farms: Maximizing Chamber Investment Through Wellness

Christy_BobWhen Maple Leaf Farms’ facility took over the space occupied by an old elementary school in the small town of Leesburg, the building was nearly entirely gutted and changed, but one room remained the same: the gymnasium.

With the on-site gym and fitness center already in place and remodeled, Bob Christy, benefits manager, began to set forth a competitive wellness plan with a little help from the Indiana Chamber.

Chuck Gillespie, executive director of the Wellness Council of Indiana, provided a wellness consultation to Maple Lead Farms to help the company determine how to move forward with its wellness program and answered questions from employees.

“I would highly recommend the consultation,” Christy asserts. “I think it should be a requirement. You need to do it once a year and have somebody (from the Council) talk to your whole group.”

For the past year and a half, Christy says Maple Leaf Farms has done “everything from poker walks to health challenges to biometric screenings.” The business’ efforts have earned it a Three-Star AchieveWELL certification from the Wellness Council of Indiana.

“When I started, (it took about the first year) to get most of the health programs set up,” Christy says. “Before that, the wellness program was kind of nonexistent. I spoke at the first annual meeting on portions … and that’s when I really got started.”

A wellness program that once was “nonexistent” now even has its own jackets – emblazoned with the words “Wellness Protection Program” and a picture of a duck, a very important symbol for the company.

Maple Leaf Farms is a family-owned business that raises and processes ducks; today it boasts 17 locations. The wellness plan now extends to all employees, regardless of their whereabouts, and each year, Christy spends two weeks on the road encouraging employees to complete biometric screenings and the Anthem health assessment.

Because Maple Leaf Farms leads the nation in the duck market, it often works with a lot of celebrity chefs and cooking initiatives. With its large kitchen and focus on healthy eating, Christy saw an opportunity to promote healthy eating through lunch-and-learns or quick dinners, meal prep demonstrations, vending machines with nutritious options and the upcoming fresh fruits on Fridays.

“We’re trying to do ‘Fruitful Friday,’” Christy explains. “We eat so much food here because there are always things going on in the kitchen.”

The wellness program continues to grow, with presentations from nutritionists and dieticians, new partnerships with the Warsaw YMCA and the potential of on-site chair massages. Maple Leaf Farm’s partnership with the Chamber and its attendance at Chamber conferences has improved its offerings for employees.

“The biggest thing with this (Chamber) membership is the resources that they have,” Christy says. “It’s some of the best you can get. It’s in Indiana, and it’s about Indiana. These people all work here just like us, and we deal with the same laws, the same tax codes, the same everything. It is about Indiana.

Taking the Digital Age Into New – and Very Green – Territory

36886821What does the world’s greenest office building look like? You’re about to find out.
The Edge (enticing moniker) towers over onlookers in Amsterdam and is home to 2,500 Deloitte employees … who don’t have desks.

Let me back up. There are desks, but employees aren’t assigned one of their very own. The space they occupy each day is based upon their schedule. They may get cracking on projects in the concentration room, along the sun-infused balcony, in the atrium – it’s called “hot desking.”

Living on The Edge (or at least working there) is all about innovation. Connectivity and going green are king. A smartphone app allows employees to control lighting and climate preferences at their workstations. Rainwater is collected for flushing toilets and irrigating gardens. A security robot stands guard. And that’s just the beginning.

Check out this short video and share your input: Brilliant work environment or too much of a good thing?

Sorry, But It’s Time to Abandon Apologies

One of my favorite college teachers once shared a piece of valuable advice from her mother: Never enter a room apologizing.

Sure, “sorry” has its place. The problem is that the phrase is widely overused, which minimizes its sincerity and impact.

International business speaker and author Michael Kerr has this to say in a Business Insider story titled “12 Times You Shouldn’t Say ‘I’m sorry’ at Work”: “Some people just use ‘I’m sorry’ as a filler phrase, like ‘so’ or ‘um,’ or they may use it because they think it makes them seem more polite,” explains Kerr. “Others say ‘I’m sorry’ to convey a sense of deference to their superiors – and many use a well-placed ‘I’m sorry’ as a preemptive strike to avoid taking responsibility for their actions (‘I’m really sorry, but there’s just no way I can get this report done by Monday’).

Forego apologies in these scenarios (view full list):

When you really aren’t sorry.
We’ve all witnessed the classic “non-apology apology” where someone thinks they’ve said they’re sorry, but they really haven’t.

“Dogs can tell when we’re not being sincere, so if your ‘I’m sorry’ drips with sarcasm or oozes insincerity and you’re merely saying it because you think it will make the problem go away or get you out of the doghouse, then don’t say it,” Kerr advises. “Leave it for when you genuinely are sorry and want to convey ownership over an issue.”

When you are genuinely upset over someone’s bad behavior.
“I’m sorry, but you just can’t make sexist comments like that in here.”

“The person who should be saying they’re sorry is the person making the sexist comment, not you for holding them to task,” Kerr explains. “Saying ‘I’m sorry’ minimizes your own feelings and plants the seed that perhaps, just maybe, you’re the one who should be sorry.”

Before you ask a favor of someone.
“I’m sorry, but would you mind helping me?” or “I hate to have to ask, but could you help me with …?” are horrible ways to preface a request.

If you’re really that sorry or feel that badly about it, you wouldn’t be asking.

Just jump right into the request, or start with a compliment, like, “I know you’re great with Excel. Would you mind helping me with this spreadsheet?”

Allied Tube and Conduit: Maximizing Its Chamber Membership Through Participation

alliedAt Allied Tube and Conduit, safety must come first.

Randy Pratt, a member of security and traffic control staff, checks drivers in and out, makes employees aware of safety rules and keeps an eye on operations such as tubing fabrication and laser machine usage. In a manufacturing environment, Pratt understands the importance of keeping his team safe.

Pratt is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business. Attending the Chamber’s 2015 Safety and Health Conference & Expo provided further training while exposing him to the opportunity to learn more about business.

“The safety conference was very engaging.” Pratt says. “I was grateful for the many leaders who taught and for the many ideas and learning experiences that I had.”

Pratt has been a part of his company for seven and a half years, with two years in his current position. Since attending the conference with the Chamber, Pratt has tried to implement a “safety culture” in his workplace where employees will be held accountable for being safe.

“After having the understanding of ‘watching everybody’s back’ when it comes to safety, I have tried to encourage my newly-learned word of safety ‘culture’ and encourage it to others,” Pratt described shortly after the spring event. “I recently brought it up in the safety committee asking for any ideas about how to make it more concrete among all.”

One tool he has used from the conference is “gamifying” safety, which makes the concept more inviting by presenting safety rules like a game. Pratt also enjoyed the legal briefings he received.

“This (conference) has been very informative and it actually gets you thinking on things that are not only pertinent to safety, but the legal ramifications,” he explains. “I was totally unaware of the necessity of legal issues for OSHA.”

Allied Tube and Conduit in Kokomo is part of Atkore International, which allows its employees to pursue continuing education. After his experience attending the safety conference, Pratt says, “I kind of hope they pick me again.”

Defying – Not Glorifying – Stereotypes

Every once in a while, something really fires me up. Today’s trigger is about misconceptions regarding women engineers.

First, there’s the words of wisdom (insert heavy sarcasm) of Nobel Peace Prize winner Tim Hunt. This summer, he declared – at the World Conference of Science Journalists – that labs should be segregated by sex. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” he reportedly mused. “You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry!”

Shameful, indeed. It reminded me of another recent high-profile controversy, this time involving Isis Wenger. The brilliant OneLogin platform engineer unwittingly found herself at the center of a firestorm when she posed for a recruiting photo.

To both the company and Wenger’s surprise, what got people talking about the campaign wasn’t the image of its security engineer wearing a black hat and hackers shirt … Instead, it was the photo of Wenger. TechCrunch reported a taste of what people had to say about it:

“This is some weird haphazard branding. I think they want to appeal to women, but are probably just appealing to dudes. Perhaps that’s the intention all along. But I’m curious people with brains find this quote (appearing on Wenger’s shirt) remotely plausible if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like. Idk. Weird.”

And here’s what another guy said:

“If their intention is to attract more women, then it would have been a better to choose a picture with a warm, friendly smile rather than a sexy smirk. …”

To change the way people think about engineers, Wenger started the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer.

“#ILookLikeAnEngineer is intentionally not gender specific,” Wenger says. “External appearances and the number of X chromosomes a person has is hardly a measure of engineering ability. My goal is to help redefine “what an engineer should look like” because I think that is a step towards eliminating sub-conscious bias towards diversity in tech.”

Wenger’s hashtag has inspired women to post their own photos illustrating that they also “look like an engineer.”

You go, ladies!

Blinding Music Fans with Science


While I’m passionate about music, it’s rare that I don headphones and pop in a CD to inspire me during the workday. Perhaps I should change my tune.

Turns out there’s a melodious connection between music and productivity. Check out this Business Insider story to see – and hear – for yourself.

The story offers several approaches to boosting productivity. One involves choosing songs that feature sounds of nature:

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently discovered that adding a natural element could boost moods and focus.

Sounds of nature can mask intelligible speech just as well as white noise while also enhancing cognitive functioning, optimizing the ability to concentrate and increasing overall worker satisfaction, the researchers found. The mountain stream sound researchers used in their study also possessed enough randomness that it didn’t distract test subjects.

Other examples include listening to songs you enjoy, songs you don’t really care about (the horror!), songs without lyrics, songs with a specific tempo and songs played at medium volume.

Let’s rock!

What’s in a Word? You’d Be Surprised

Metaphors are music to my ears. And puns? Forget about it! I love to playfully slip them into conversations. Reactions usually elicit delighted high-fives or bewilderment.

The good times really get rolling when history enters the picture. That’s why I’m so excited to share gems from a blog featuring 14 Expressions with Crazy Origins that You Would Never Have Guessed.

These idioms are especially fascinating:
Bite the bullet
Meaning: To accept something difficult or unpleasant
Origin: In the olden days, when doctors were short on anesthesia or time during a battle, they would ask the patient to bite down on a bullet to distract from the pain. The first recorded use of the phrase was in 1891 in The Light that Failed.
Mad as a hatter
Meaning: To be completely crazy
Origin: No, you didn’t already know this one, because it didn’t originate from Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Its origins date from the 17th and 18th centuries – well before Lewis Caroll’s book was published. In 17th century France, poisoning occurred among hat makers who used mercury for the hat felt. The “Mad Hatter Disease” was marked by shyness, irritability and tremors that would make the person appear “mad.”
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
Meaning: Don’t get rid of valuable things along with the unnecessary ones.
Origin: You won’t believe this one! In the early 1500s, people only bathed once a year. Not only that, but they also bathed in the same water without changing it! The adult males would bathe first, then the females, leaving the children and babies to go last. By the time the babies got in, the water was clouded with filth. The poor mothers had to take extra care that their babies were not thrown out with the bathwater.