I would have any of his people over at my house for dinner!
- Lois Gries, ASID, Chicago
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Archive for Painting Contractor Musings

What I Learned About Training and Education from Cultivating Morning Glory Flowers

For over twenty five years, one of my Spring/Summer hobbies has been the cultivation of Morning Glory flowers. In the process of tending to their needs and those of other varieties of climbing plants, I learned that what allows these plants to grow into their full potential has amazing similarities to what, I believe, people and especially children need for their potential to fully blossom. In this article, I will share how this hobby came about and the principles it taught me about training.

Morning Glory Flower

My wife and I have been married for over twenty five years. We first lived in a condominium that had a large terrace over our two-car garage, which was an ideal spot for growing flowers in the warm months. One of the flower varieties she introduced me to was the Morning Glory. You start it from seed and it quickly shoots out of the ground, grows a couple of leaves and starts to shoot a creeping stem. Imbedded in the DNA of this vine is a compulsion for wrapping itself around anything that will allow it to run away, reach out for the light and blossom into countless flowers, every morning!

However, left up to its own devices, the vine will likely wrap itself around its own parts, choke itself in the process or greatly sub-achieve its true potential by grabbing to things that lead nowhere. Having intuitively understood the plant’s desire to run away and gain strength from the light and warmth of the sun, I started building an architecture of strings, starting at the base of the large wooden planters, shooting upward and then sideways to reach the metal railings around the terrace. Once they reached the railings, the vines had ample opportunity to keep on running. At their peak a total of two dozen vines were producing well over two hundred fifty flowers every morning, to our delight and the delight of neighbors!

Morning Glory and Mandevilla Climbing on Trellis

Then what? What are these principles that I learned? Besides the obvious like good soil, water/sun (a lot of it in the case of morning glories), here we go with the learning:

1- A structure is needed:
Someone has to think through a (teaching/training) structure that respects the constraints of the environment and creates optimum opportunities for growth.

2- Structure by itself is not sufficient:
Structure itself cannot be expected to deliver optimum results. There must be someone to train the young stems to use the structure laid before them. The younger the stem, the more likely it is not to recognize the structure and lose its way. Consistent energy must be invested by the teacher/trainer to help guide the stems along the path.

3- The trainer must stay vigilant as growth accelerates:
As the vine grows and develops its leaves, it gains energy and builds momentum in its growth. Vigilance and continued training by the coach are needed at this stage because of the faster growth.

4- The coach keeps a watchful eye over the maturing plant:
As the vine matures and starts to blossom, the trainer still keeps a watchful eye on the slowing growth process and still makes minor tweaks.

5- The coach must recognize what the plant comes already equipped with:
Like people, climbing plants come equipped with different climbing gear (so to speak). In the plant realm, they are called twining, suction cups, tendrils, curling strings, thorns. For people, they are talents and abilities. A good coach/teacher/trainer knows how to recognize and work with those assets.

I have learned much from tending to my climbing plants. Today our backyard is home to nine different species of climbing plants, including two varieties of Passion Flowers, three Trumpet Vines, Climbing Hydrangea, a rambling rose bush, three Clematis, a Bean Runner, Honeysuckle, Mandevilla and Morning Glory, indeed! I am thankful to my plants for helping me learn some finer points about training and realize that I find coaching and training most rewarding and enjoyable.

Holidays, Family and Pets

At Holiday time, my family’s pets play an important role in our festivities. We include them in any way possible. Our dog Abby likes to dress up and pose for the camera. We give her many opportunities to showcase her talents. Below are three pictures we just posted on one of our boards on Pinterest . We call it the “Abby Christmas Trilogy. We hope you enjoy the pictures as much as we do.

On our Pinterest board on Pets, you can also see a picture of her in her business attire. After all, she is Painting in Partnership’s Staff Writer for the company’s newsletter column on pet safety!

Happy Holidays and a great New Year to all of you.

Abby’s Christmas Trilogy

Writing is Like Painting with Words

I am a painting contractor in the Chicago area and one of the gifts I get to exercise in my life is writing. In the last several years, I have written about twenty articles in the field of management, craftsmanship and field operations. In the last two years, I have also written nearly one hundred, 300-word blog posts on topics largely related to house painting and paint restoration.

Opening the Door to Writing

I did not always write. Like many people, I wrote when I had to, but I did not feel particularly drawn to writing. However, about seven years ago, something shifted in me about writing. I came across this small notebook, with all white pages. On the cover was a panel door with an ornate fluted casing and a door handle. The door was made of carefully assembled wood pieces and glued onto a wood book cover. I remember being mesmerized by that notebook and felt compelled to buy it and mount it on the inspiration wall, in my office. I remember telling a friend, at the time, that this book was an inspiration for me to open the door to writing, in my life.

At the time, I could not see how I could make time for writing. However, it did not take more than a year before I began to write. Writing is now an ongoing part of what I do and I find it enormously satisfying. To me, writing is very much like painting a canvas. At first, there is just a blank space and an idea or vision that only lives in my mind at the moment. As words are added to the paper, a picture begins to emerge, that makes real what was only an idea a moment ago. Those words, when artfully put together, have the power to inspire, empower and create a permanent change in the reader’s perception of life and its possibilities. Writing is painting with words!

The Power of a Vision of Service

This week, I was reminded of the power of vision to inspire others to carry on, even when the leader is no longer there to stoke the flames. I wanted to share that insight into the power of a vision of service, by telling the story of The Christmas Schooner, a musical performed by TesserAct Theatre Ensemble at its Sponsors’ Gala evening on Monday, November 29th. As one of the sponsors, Painting in Partnership’s thirty guests helped usher in the Holiday Season in style. What a touching and inspiring performance!

Captain Peter on the Rouse Simmons

Captain Peter on the Rouse Simmons

Having never seen the musical, I did not quite know what to expect. I knew that the play was based on the true story of a schooner named the Rouse Simmons that made the trek from upper Michigan to Chicago, in late Novembers, over 100 years ago, in order to bring Christmas trees to the area population. It became known as the Christmas Schooner.

In the play, the captain of the Rouse Simmons, whose name is Peter, was inspired to ferry Christmas trees into Chicago by a letter that Martha had sent to his family complaining that folks in Chicago were deprived of the full enjoyment of Christmas by not having an adequate supply of evergreens. Being a good businessman, Peter knew that there was a profit opportunity in those trees. However, it was also clear that Peter was motivated by something beyond that: spreading the Christmas spirit to the folks in Chicago. After the first trip, he was hooked! He had seen firsthand the impact of his journey on the population and he enrolled his family in supporting the effort, in spite of the fact his wife was fearful of his sailing on lake Michigan at that time of year.
That support was to be put to test when, during the next year’s voyage, a violent storm sank the Rouse Simmons (in 1912) and Peter perished. Despite their grief and hurt, Peter’s wife and son decided that Peter’s legacy had to carry on, so they did and, for many more years (until 1920), a schooner would set anchor at the Clark street pier to deliver its precious cargo.

I have long been an advocate for the power of a vision of service. I believe that God sewed the seeds in each of us for a vision of how to make life better around us. When we choose to act on that vision, it causes others to join in and add momentum towards its ultimate fulfillment.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: the Crossover Opportunity!

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In the past two years, most contractors have experienced the dire pressures of the worst economic downturn seen in several generations. This week, when I saw this picture, it inspired me to write a brief article on the challenge and the opportunity of living through such times.

As Chicago area house painting contractors, my company has not been spared from the bite of the recession. Our sales have shrunk by thirty percent and profits have fallen even more. We have had to reduce staff, cut overhead and reduce benefits in order to manage the bottom line. Sounds familiar? Moreover, recovery has not begun yet.

When I go through circumstances like these, I look for the silver lining. I ask myself: what is the opportunity in this scenario? The opportunity I saw in this recession is time; time I did not have before to do major developmental work in my company.

For instance, I saw in the recession a golden opportunity to create an optimized presence on the web for my company through the development of targeted content, blog, newsletter and videos, as well as gaining a foothold in the social media arena, with the help of two trusted professionals. I have been asked: “How can you afford to do all this during times like these?” My answer is: “I cannot afford not to.” I am happy to report that Painting in Partnership is now findable on the web in a myriad of new ways and that the web has contributed eighteen percent of our sales this year!

My fighting spirit tells me: “If I am going to go through times like these, I will do whatever I can for my company to emerge stronger on the other side.” What opportunity have you embraced for your company during the course of this recession?