I got to spend the afternoon cooking with one of my daughters. We were making quinoa latkes, a recipe I highly recommend (even if you’re neither a vegetarian nor making piles of latkes for Hanukkah.) They’re delicious and, except for the bit where you cook them in oil, extremely healthy—they’re made with sweet potatoes, kale, quinoa, ginger, panko and eggs.

My daughter is a great baker and a good cook, so she’s comfortable in the kitchen. That said, even though she wanted to be in charge of making the quinoa latkes, she needed help, from time to time, in the form of accompaniment.

Accompaniment, when done successfully, allows someone to succeed at a new, stretch assignment while feeling supported along the way.

In this case, my daughter understood and could follow and execute the recipe. But there were a few steps that stumped her: How much should the boiling water bubble before turning down the flame on the quinoa? Do you use a peeler and grater on fresh ginger? How soft, exactly, do the sweet potatoes need to be?

Each of these questions was a quick, easy answer, small enough that they required very little from me, but important enough that without them she could have gotten stuck.

While she was cooking, I busied myself with other kitchen tasks: peeling and chopping up a big butternut squash and cutting up a pile of Brussel Sprouts for later. This was a good choice, because it kept me nearby—not pulled into another task—while also reminding me to resist my natural tendency to help a little too much (also known as “taking over”).

The latkes were great, and the lesson on accompaniment is one I’ll take forward into 2020.

When we accompany successfully we inhabit the essential space between giving too much freedom (“here’s what you need to get done, here’s how I’d like to you to do it, let me know if you need anything”) and too much direction (micromanagement). This allows the person you’re supporting to stay in the driver’s seat, even in the face of challenges, and to feel supported in overcoming these challenges without giving up control and agency. At its best, successful accompaniment begets pride in accomplishment, an increase in trust, and more confidence for the next task.

Of course, pulling this off when standing next to a family member, together in the kitchen on a relaxed holiday afternoon, isn’t too hard. Finding this balance—of staying present, available, and quick to help—in the midst of the push and pull of our busy days and jobs is harder.

The two must-haves are staying aware and being highly available and communicative.

  1. Staying aware: find a way to continually track, in a light-touch way, the progress of the person you’re supporting, so you always know whether things are on or off track and can be ready to help.
  2. Being highly available and communicative: it’s your job to demonstrate that the door is wide open and that, even though you’re not involved every step of the way, you are present and available. Being there to jump in quickly to solve a problem, and then pulling back again to give back the reins, is a great way to ensure that someone feels supported and still in control.

One final note: I want to thank all of you for accompanying me throughout 2019. I hope you’ve found this year’s posts useful, and that they’ve supported you in the important work that you do. I wish you all a happy, healthy 2020.

Blank Spaces

There’s no way I can fully know and see everything you know and see (and vice versa). So how do I react when I discover you did something that seems wrong?

I start by reminding myself that what I know right now about the facts you had and the decision you made is full of blank spaces. In the absence of knowing what you know, I can choose to have a bias in favor of believing that you likely did the right thing. (did you really?)

I can decide that the difference between the choice I’d have made and the choice you did make is the different, better information that you had.  (or you just acted without really thinking things through)

And I can remember that it is always better to enter conversations about what happened and why with genuine curiosity, not judgment. (even though, let’s be honest, we’ve seen you do this sort of thing before)

I can also remind myself that there’s a short game and a long game at play, and be careful about sacrificing your long-term agency for my desire to get each and every step right between here and there. (at the same time, this was a screw-up)

This doesn’t mean that the decision might not have been wrong, or that there aren’t things to learn—because it might have been, and there probably are. But the strongest message we send in each interaction is whether we really believe in and trust each other, and how much we are committed to investing in each others’ agency. (and let’s remember that trust needs to be earned every day)

Finally, and most importantly, I can hold firmly to the notion, each and every time, that your intentions, like mine, were overflowing with goodness, with care, and with as much desire as I have to get the best outcome.

(And to be honest with myself about my own inner narrative.)

(Everything in parentheses is the corrosive inner dialogue, the one that says “I really do know better,” the one that communicates just going through the motions rather than honestly and fully embracing the other persons’ decisions and actions.)

(Even if that voice is speaking truth in this particular situation, you’re kidding yourself if you think that you’re the only one who hears that narrative of doubt.)

(So does the other person, in his own head, and he’s just waiting for you to amplify it.)

(The point is to actually, truly, let that go.)

The Do It Yourself Tax

Each time you decide that you can and will do something better, there’s a tax.

A tax on the initiative of the person you took the job from.

A tax on their sense of agency.

A tax on confidence.

A tax on learning.

Taxes are important. They are part of how things work. They allow other good things to happen. They are necessary.

But they’re still taxes. They have a cost.

So use them wisely.


“It’s almost there. Today’s Thursday,” I hear a fellow passenger say to her friend as we all walk off the train. Yet another person counting the seconds until the weekend.

(At that moment, she had 115,200 seconds to go.)

On and on we tromp down the endless treadmill, until, perhaps, we step up and step off.

It is especially rare to wake up one day and muster the courage to jump off alone. The treadmill’s moving too fast, and we might hurt ourselves when we jump.

What gets us there is the slow, consistent work of finding like-minded people to dream with, to experiment with, to discover what a different world might look like. We draw our courage from them, as they do from us.

When the moment finally does come to leap, we are surrounded by a community trust, that catches us, shows us the way, and cushions the fall.

Happy Monday to you.

What if he’s conning me?

“What if this story this guy is telling me isn’t true? What if he, 70 years old, scraggly hair, sitting in a wheelchair, knee brace on his left leg, with a couple of bags and a book on his lap, didn’t really lose his place in Hurricane Sandy? What if that’s not what pushed him over the edge and shoved him back into a life of homeless shelters and benefits checks that don’t go far enough?”

Sure, that goes through my head.

But as I stand there listening I cannot help but stand face-to-face with my own good fortune, all the challenges I don’t face every day, all the barriers that aren’t in my way.

So, instead, I endeavor to think, “maybe this is a chance to help. Maybe a little bit will make a difference. Maybe experiencing the indignity of asking for money on the subway is something that this articulate guy shouldn’t have to go through.”

Maybe the chance to help even a little is a chance worth taking.

Meet Marlon

Marlon was driving his truck down West 19th street on Monday morning, when he saw something in the middle of street that made him slam on the brakes. To the protests of the other driver in the cab, he stopped his truck and got out to pick up the wallet that was just sitting there.

My wallet. The wallet I’d dropped out of my bag on the way to work, ruining my day and causing me all sorts of headache.Marlon

Marlon called me a bunch of times over the course of the day, to no avail. He kept at it until finally, at 7:30pm, we finally connected on the phone and spoke for a while. He told me what had happened, how he’d been trying to get a hold of me, how his friend thought he was crazy for stopping, and how I had a “really big wallet!!” (I carry around too many cards). We laughed about that. And then he asked me when we could meet so he could give me my wallet back – with (of course) every last dollar and card intact. His only disappointment was that he hadn’t gotten to me soon enough to avoid my cancelling all my credit cards.

What strikes me is how easy it is to do the right thing and how clear it is what the right thing is. I think that what happens is that, at the initial moment when we have a decision to make, we obfuscate and justify and tell ourselves and others all sorts of stories that get in the way of what we know: the simple, clear, right thing to do.

Marlon, you’re a model to me and a model to us all. You make me wonder why something that was so simple and easy for you is not simple and easy for everyone. And you give me hope.

Thank you.

Better than nothing?

After not being let into Yankee Stadium with a bike helmet three weeks ago, and having to abandon my bike helmet outside of the stadium (it was stolen), I wrote to Mayor Bloomberg’s office extolling the virtues of Citibike and suggesting that, as bikes get more popular in New York City, the Mayor’s Office should consider looking at rules to allow bike helmets in major city establishments (museums, stadiums, libraries, etc.).

I just got a reply:

From: Customer_Service-KG, <>
Date: Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 1:23 PM
Subject: 13-9288 re: General Information/bike helmet

Dear Mr. Dichter:

Your email message to Mayor Bloomberg of September 4, 2013 concerning the Yankees’ refusal to allow you to bring your bike helmet into Yankee Stadium was referred to the Department of Transportation.

DOT encourages all cyclists to wear helmets. Commuter cycling increased 262% in New York City from 2000 to 2010. With more bikes on the road, smart cycling is even more crucial to making New York City’s streets safer for everyone using them.

However, we have no control over policies established by Yankee Stadium in prohibiting certain items that the Yankees consider security risks. If you wish to contact the Yankees to discuss this issue you can use the contact form on the Yankees web site at

Thank you for your concern in this matter.

Customer Service Division

New York City Department of Transportation

So I get that it’s a big bureaucracy and someone has written a rule that says that replying to all the letters that come in is a good thing. Let’s quickly agree, in hindsight, that this letter is worse than nothing, and let’s use this as an opportunity to remember that every time anyone in our organization speaks they speak for the whole organization, whether we like it or not. This means that our most important people are the ones who talk to our customers, and it’s high time we train and empower them to use their brains.

What baffles me with this particular letter is, if they’re going to write this sort of response, why didn’t they just take it all the way? Something like:

From: Customer_Service-KG, <>
Date: Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 1:23 PM
Subject: 13-9288 re: General Information/bike helmet

Dear Mr. Dichter,

Thank you for riding bikes. You wrote to Mayor Bloomberg about your bike-riding and helmet-using, and we at the New York City Department of Transportation are responsible for transportation. Bike-riding therefore falls under our jurisdiction.

We, like you, love bikes, and we are glad that you are riding a bike. You’re not the only one. More people are riding bikes than ever before – lots more! As you can imagine, the more bikers there are, the more chance there is that a bike runs into a bike, or into a car, or even into a person. Sometimes, even, people on bikes just crash for no good reason. It’s terrible when that happens, so it’s good to wear a bike helmet. We are glad that you are wearing a bike helmet and we hope you will continue to do so.

As you can imagine, no matter how much we love biking, and regardless of the fact that biking falls under our jurisdiction at the Department of Transportation, it’s not baseball and it never will be. We’re actually surprised that you don’t know this. Baseball is played in stadiums, and the Yankees in particular play in Yankee Stadium. That stadium is owned by the Yankees, and they make the rules for Yankee Stadium. These rules include the kinds of items, including bike helmets, that can and cannot be brought into Yankee Stadium. They are also responsible for anything that has to do with security, or baseball, in Yankee Stadium. In fact, every single thing that goes at Yankee Stadium is their responsibility, not ours, and they make the rules. So it’s best to talk to them about this issue or about any other issue that concerns doing things in Yankee Stadium, bringing things into Yankee Stadium, or the Yankees. We hope that’s clear to you now.

The good news is that the Yankees have a website, and we even looked it up for you by using Google. The website address is

(If that website address is wrong, however, please do not contact us, or the Yankees. In that case you should contact Google. Unfortunately we don’t know how to get in touch with them.)

We wish you the best of luck in contacting the Yankees, and we encourage you to purchase a new bike helmet since bike use is up and bike safety is important to us at the Department of Transportation! However, just to be clear, what you do at Yankee Stadium is your own damn business.

If you have any additional questions involving bikes or anything else involving transportation of any kind in New York City, feel free to contact us.

Thank you for your concern in this matter.

Customer Service Division

New York City Department of Transportation

Joking aside, getting this sort of correspondence right isn’t difficult.

For example, on Friday I had trouble getting a bike out of a dock at Citibike and was worried that my key was blocked for some reason. Here’s the reply I got from NYC Bike Share (which runs Citibike):

Thank you for contacting NYC Bike Share we have reviewed your account and od onto show any open trips or your key being deactivated. Please try your key again at a different station and on multiple bikes, any bike with a steady red light before inserting your key is out of service. If it still does not work for you such as not getting any lights, or never getting the green light please contact us and we will replace your key.

For additional comments or inquiries, please respond to this email. Please sign up for our e-mail list and visit our website regularly for updates.



Customer Service

I received this email three hours after I emailed them (three hours!), and I was so happy with the response that I wrote back:

thanks I really appreciate this note – I’ll try again on Monday when I’m back in the city.


Get this, they’re not stopping there – they replied to that note too!

Dear Sasha,

Thank you for conatcting NYC Bike Share.

We will be awating your call to let us know weather or not your key is working so that we can have a new key sent out to you if need be.


Chris E.

So here’s the big question for the folks at the DoT: do I care that April has a typo in her email and Chris E. didn’t spell “contacting” “awaiting” or “whether” right? Of course not. What I care about is a timely and substantive response that sounds like it was written by a human being, and if anything the fact that there are errors means each note isn’t going through four reviews before being sent out. The extra note saying “we’re awaiting your call”…can you imagine such a sentence feeling real in the DoT note? Not only did they not write that, they couldn’t have because I would have never believed that they want to hear from me ever again, nor would I ever want to write to them again.

Keep it human, every time, or don’t bother writing back.

(end of rant)

The demise of social currency

In the late 90s, when moving back from Madrid to the U.S., my wife and I took time in the weeks prior to our departure to say goodbye to our friends at the pastry shop, the butcher, the cheese vendor and the fruit shop – our friends at the miniscule, fabulous fruit shop, Tomad Mucha Fruta, gave us one of the aprons they use at the shop as a parting gift.

We’d spent hours with each of these people, whether in line talking to the butcher and to a gaggle of old ladies debating the best cut for making a stew; at the cheese shop where we’d never have to remember the name of that wonderful piece of cheese he’d sold us last week; and at the fruit shop when spring came around and, for three short weeks, strawberries were everywhere.

In places where these stories are common, social currency is at play.  You are known and trusted and each individual transaction is small compared to the whole.

Increasingly, this is no longer necessary or common – all in the name of progress.  Need proof?  Once, every vendor commonly extended a little bit of credit to customers; everyone handed out an extra orange or a sliver of manchego to a customer who was also a friend.

Today it’s “Cash or credit sir?”

The old way wasn’t better, but something has also been lost in translation.  When commerce is everywhere, down to the smallest detail and interaction, relationships of trust – where the trust actually means something in terms of how people act – are harder to come by.

Are we better off?  We’re definitely more efficient.  We’re also probably reinforcing an unhealthy, unnatural level of isolation as we walk through the world.

Mentors and allies

Mentor should always be spelled with a capital “M.”

At most of my big corporate jobs, I, along with all my peers, was inevitably set up with a mentor (lower-case ‘m’), meaning someone more senior in the firm who was supposed to talk to me a couple of times a year.  Sometimes these relationships were worthwhile, sometimes they weren’t, but they were always arranged marriages.

The long-term damage was the notion that mentorship could be a check-the-box exercise, as in, “make sure every junior employee has a more senior mentor.”

Mentorship in the true sense of the word is a very rare thing.  A Mentor is someone who, over a number of years, is a guiding light in your life, a person who transcends a given role or job and provides perspective on the distant horizons – and helps you figure out if you want to get there, and, if yes, how to do it.

It’s pretty hard to look for mentors, though we all should – with the knowledge that they’re few and far between….maybe you’ll have a handful of them over the course of your life.

The step between here and there are allies (thought partners, co-conspirators, smart friends…call them what you will).  These are active, two-way relationships where everyone is creating value for each other.  They can run hot and cold given what you’re both up to, and they can and should be nourishing to everyone involved.  They are dynamic, and often informal.

What ends up happening is that, carrying around a perverse notion of mentorship, we think the people who can give us the best “advice” (loosely defined) are supposed to be older and more senior and powerful and accomplished than we are, so we look in all the wrong places, and underinvest in finding the real allies we need, today.

Things that work

Here’s post #3 in a connected series of events.

First, I wrote a post about trust which, from what I saw and heard (traffic, comments, feedback) was well-received.  Then, connected to that post, I received a totally unexpected gift from a friend, which itself generated another post about delight, and I spent most of Friday on a real high thanks to this delightful gift and the real generosity it showed.

At the end of the day Friday, just as the skies opened up with yet another downpour, a little something brought me down a notch:  I discovered that I (boneheadedly) left my coat on the train that morning, and it was lost.

So here’s post #3 in the series, because I just got my coat back.

Yes, it’s true.  I was sure I had left my coat on the train on Friday morning, so I called up the MTA on Saturday to register the lost coat.  I figured it was long gone.  A medium black Banana Republic coat on the commuter train on a Friday morning…seemed like it would quickly find another home, and my faith in the MTA lost and found system wasn’t too great either.

Imagine my surprise when I got a phone call today from the MTA Lost and Found department.  “I believe we have your coat, sir.  We just need you to come in before 6pm to verify and pick it up.” Boy was I wrong about the MTA and their lost and found.

I rushed to Grand Central at the end of the day, and, lo and behold, Jason who mans the MTA lost and found went in the back and returned with my coat.   I filled out a short form, gave a copy of my driver’s license, and I was on my way.  I feel like I won the karmic lottery.

My only choice, then, is to put something positive back out into the world, but I need your help to create it: we need a blog or a community that holds up wonderful, daily, surprising, delightful, surprising examples of things that works.  We need more things that works and need to celebrate these small and big daily victories, and for Jason at the MTA Lost and Found Department, we need a space to celebrate the people on the front lines who create delightful customer experiences (but who, ironically, often find themselves buried somewhere deep in the org chart).  Unfortunately, the thingsthatwork URLs seem to be taken, but I’m sure there’s a blog waiting for someone to make this happen.  For example:

  • That cellphone rep who helped you sort out international calling plans.   Things that work.
  • Amazon giving a guarantee on price drops on items bought from their store, and getting $300 back a month after buying a TV.   Things that work.
  • The airline check-in agent who talked the gate agent into keeping the flight open for another 10 minutes so you wouldn’t miss a wedding abroad.  Things that work.

(oh, those are all real examples).

Please, start here in the comments section with your ideas.  But wouldn’t it be fun to create a crowdsourced conversation celebrating things that are so positive, unexpected, and important?  Go ahead, kick it off.

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