I have mentioned before that I worked at the family business, a hardware store and lumber yard, during the middle of my teenage years. It wasn’t an expectation but something I chose to do. At lunch time we’d gather in the office for lunch; my grandparents, my father and uncle and me and a smattering of cousins. Lunchtime conversations were usually pretty tame; we’d talk about various customer projects or what was happening in the area. Occasionally there’d be a discussion about local politics or the two men that owned a women’s dress shop down the street from our store. Every once in a while a hot topic would come up for debate, the one that sticks out in my mind was the nuclear plant that we lived downwind from. The “atomic plant” was always a hot topic at lunch. My father and uncle would end up yelling at each other. Tuna fish would fly out of mouths. Coffee would be spilled. There would be threats of a two-by-four being flung against someone’s head. This was a rare occurrence but it did rattle everyone in attendance when it occurred. If my grandfather was in attendance, it’d be like an earthquake in Los Angeles to add some shake to the hollaring. My cousin Mike and I would finish up lunch and go out in the shop to get back to work. One of us would mutter, “the fucking atomic plant fight”. Then we’d go back to hauling bags of concrete mix or whatever. Everyone was fine an hour later and we went on being a dysfunctionally delightful family that owned a business together.

I learned a lot from those lunches. I learned to be passionate about what I believed in. I learned to listen to other points of view. I learned to stand my ground. I learned to be far away from two-by-fours.

There are a few topics I get passionate about. One of them is technology. Contrary to popular belief I don’t always believe in the latest and greatest technology. While I like to tinker, I don’t think that upgrading just for the sake of upgrading is always the answer. I do believe that technology, when used properly, say in the workplace, can make us more productive and make the company we work thrive. I firmly believe that many offices can go “paperless” but that the concept frightens people. They’re too used to having paper to shuffle around. They like trails. I believe some just don’t understand “electronic trails”.

Earl and I had a lively discussion about the paperless office today on the way home from Albany (where we had delivered boxes to the Capital District plant that he manages). As General Manager, Earl has grown his company to unprecedented levels in the 13 years that he’s been there. He’s pushed a lot of paper in the process of doing it. On the other hand, I’ve observed a list of ways that the company I work for could go in a more paperless direction. I was pointing out the advantages of a paperless office where I work by using Earl’s offices as an example.

At milemarker 185 we were having a calm discussion.

At milemarker 195 I was thinking of a certain atomic plant.

At milemarker 200 I was gripping the steering wheel and his hand was out in a “debate stance”. I couldn’t see if anyone’s veins were sticking out in our heads.

At milemarker 215 I was not thinking of two-by-fours or reasonable facsimiles, paperless or otherwise.

At milemarker 233 I had gone into silent mode and he was staring straight ahead.

At home all was well and we continued on with our evening.

I won’t bore you with the details of my grand scheme of tree hugging and saving trees here (at least not yet), but let’s just say that I learned a few things about Earl’s business tonight and he learned a few things about the company I work for, as well as my vision of a paperless office for everyone on the planet.

And no two-by-fours were harmed in the process.