A Little Help From My Friends

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

“You need a hobby,” my wife exclaimed in exasperation. I don’t recall the circumstances, but it is safe to assume that I was doing something she deemed a nuisance. Regardless of the cause of her frustration, her impromptu advice gave me pause. Yes, a pastime, a relaxing diversion, would be good, but what should I do?

I briefly considered stamp and coin collecting, both of which I sporadically dabbled in during my youth. But I realized that my interest lay solely in the hope of stumbling onto a valuable find or realizing greatly appreciated value over time. These were not hobbies but investments, investments which demanded time, organization, and planning. They would be more like work – far removed from a relaxing hobby.

I asked myself what I was interested in. What about my proclivity for watching classic movies? But to be a true hobby, I reasoned, it must consist of more than watching timeless films.  It seemed that to reach hobby status, I would need to collect them, or catalog them, or perhaps read about them. This additional effort, however, would serve to diminish my infatuation with ageless cinema.

Next, I considered a passing, yet ongoing attraction to crossword puzzles. Even though I had only rarely picked up a crossword puzzle and was never able to complete one, it did seem like a worthy pursuit, a good complement to my interest in words and my longstanding effort to use them to help, educate, and inspire. Yes, I concluded, crossword puzzles would be my new hobby. I began looking for these word challenges, setting aside time to contemplate and complete them, reasoning that with a consistent effort I would improve. I was wrong. By my own initiative, I had not been able to develop my skills.

The turning point came by chance, on a plane. As I puzzled over the seemingly impossible offering in the airline magazine, I sensed that my seatmate was reading over my shoulder. Finally, no longer able to contain herself, she gently whispered, “You should know 12 down.” I looked at the clue anew and an answer formed in my mind. I shared my suspicion with her and with a pleased smile, she confirmed it to be correct. Immediately, she apologized for intruding, but I assured her that her help was appreciated.

Though she attempted to distract herself, a few minutes later she was again captivated by my perplexing puzzle, so I slid the magazine in her direction, allowing us both to see it. She quickly directed my attention to another clue, encouraged me think in a different direction, and then confirmed my uncertain solution. Again, she apologized and again I said it was okay. This pattern repeated itself throughout the flight and soon we had most of the puzzle complete. I learned that she was a retired schoolteacher and that one of her many interests was crossword puzzles. She shared with me tips for discerning a puzzle’s theme and how to tap in to it. She gave advice on deciphering seemingly arcane clues and cutting through the deceit of intentionally misleading references. In the span of an hour, she gave me the direction and education that I needed to improve my skills and increase my enjoyment in my nascent hobby.

Another interest of mine is horticulture, one instilled in me by my parents, but I only gave it passing attention for many years. My home’s landscape once consisted only of green grass and strategically placed trees. Inside the house were one miniature orange tree and a lone aloe plant.  (Aloe is a reoccurring word in many a crossword puzzle.)  To increase the greenery inside and add color outside, I endeavored to tap into this slumbering fascination with plants.

Again, guidance was in order and easily found in my parents. They have more insight and experience in this area than anyone else I know. Plus, any additional information can be quickly uncovered in their treasure trove of resource books, which would rival or surpass many a library. Now my yard has an abundance of carefully selected plants and shrubs, designed to add color and beauty throughout the growing season. My indoor collection has also greatly expanded, at times prompting complaints of overflowing its designated areas.

All of us, myself included, need guidance in many endeavors, not just hobbies. When I embarking on my consulting career, many people gave me sage advice. Three people in particular stand out. One was an industry friend who helped me sort through and clarify a transition strategy and first year game plan. Another was an industry consultant who shared years of experiences and warned of common pitfalls. The third was a consultant in a parallel industry who gave expert recommendations for a pricing strategy. Together, these folks shortened my learning curve and paved the way to success.

In similar fashion, when I bought this magazine, the sellers provided a wealth of advice, guidance, and recommendations. Even now, with his formal consulting commitment long past, Steve Michaels continues to generously share his ideas and observations. I also needed assistance from a publishing insider and contracted with an industry guru who quickly got me up to speed on standard practices and procedures for the magazine business. In a previous column, “Going Virtual,” I mentioned that I have outsourced key aspects of Connections Magazine. Though I could do these steps myself, it’s better left to experts who specialize in those tasks.

As with most businesses, I have an attorney to assist with legal matters and a CPA to navigate the maze of accounting and tax issues imposed by the IRS. Like many of you, I even have a computer and technology expert available to guide me through the latest developments with Microsoft, the Internet, and computer hardware.

The point is that I get help from many people. With some, it is a formal, contractual arrangement; with others, it is informal and freewheeling. In all cases, it helps me find a quicker and better path to an end goal or desired result.

All of this is outsourcing in one form or another. In a previous column, I advanced the premise that any aspect of a call center (save the ownership aspect) could be and has been outsourced. I added that for every call center, there was at least one key area that should be outsourced. Indeed, no one can master everything, and no company can excel in all areas. If someone else can do something you can’t, tap into his or her expertise; it is foolish to proceed under your own resolve. Likewise, if someone else can do something better than your company can, form a partnership or outsourcing arrangement. Today, when excellence is expected and demanded, are you better off to do an acceptable job in house or to do a superb job with the help of others? We can all use a little help from our friends.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

[From Connection MagazineJune 2003]