A few weeks ago, I was purchasing pink baby Carhartt overalls at Tractor Supply when the cashier asked if they were for my grandchild.

My first instinct was to be insulted. This lasted about 7 milliseconds while I reminded myself that while I still looked forward to the day I felt like an adult, I was chronologically middle-aged. Having no children of my own has allowed me a pleasant sense of denial about that whole old-enough-to-be-a-grandmother thing.

Over the last few years I’ve come to the realization that I am the owner of a tech business. Remarkable for someone who had to have her nieces show her how to download an app to her iPhone. Who is now on almost a first-name basis with the online customer service folks for her new bank. Whose heart still flutters a tiny bit when a client sends a PO requiring Docusign.

Technically, I own two businesses. One is a 20+ year old safety training and consulting business, but the other is a web-based safety training business, PCS Custom Training Solutions LLC, based very specifically on this simple two-part philosophy when I founded it in 2016.

1.) Ohmigosh, the web-based safety training out there is HORRIBLE, and

2.) Surely, I can do better than that.

When I read Linda Rottenberg’s book Crazy Is A Compliment a few years ago (thanks, Lisanne!) I headed to her website, inspired. I watched a video of Linda speaking about entrepreneurs, particularly tech business owners and saying that the stereotype of app owners being twenty-somethings in hoodies in Silicon Valley was a myth. Entrepreneurs were statistically far more like me. Middle-aged women.

I wept.

I will always be an old-school girl, I think. I have my paper calendar (and God help everyone if I lose it.) I am profoundly attached to paper flip charts, the ones made by Post-Its, so I can stick them on my office wall and use a Sharpie to jot down important projects for the week.

I cannot quite embrace Venmo, but I do have the app on my phone should the need arise, and I’ve used my Uber app at least four times, successfully, but I still don’t QUITE believe the driver will actually show up. Just this month I started paying all of my contractors electronically if they provided the means. (It was like magic, I tell you.)

My PCS Team has pulled me into the 21st century, so I now work with Trello boards and Slack and kids, I have GoogleDrive folders full of treasures to share.

I have a foot firmly placed in two centuries.

When it comes to safety, I fiercely believe that is all about PeoplePeoplePeople. (Thank you, Brene Brown, for that.) And that the most powerful strategy in improving safety or providing safety training that inspires safer work habits is — as it is with most things — connecting with people.

Here’s the tricky part.

Translating that strategy to e-learning where you can’t see the light dimming in your audience’s collective eyes and change course, or that I-don’t-get-it-look on someone’s face and the opportunity to check in to confirm their understanding in real-time, well, that has had its challenges.

But that has all been pretty figureoutable with the right approach and talented e-learning designers who share the same philosophy.

What intimidates me terribly is the tech.

Astonishingly, there’s been a solution to that and once again it is all about PeoplePeoplePeople. (Isn’t everything?)

The magical solution has been to create a team of e-learning pros, who sometimes on PCS Zoom calls speak a language that leaves me like Charlie Brown’s classmates while the teacher drones on wahwahwahwahwah.

There was a period of time that I worried that I needed to understand the nuances, to participate in the decision-making at their level.

But that’s not my role, I determined over time.

Mine is to be the “voice of my client” —

  • The 56 year old electrician who hates technology and is forced to take our online course to get on to a capital project site where he’s working. [I talk about this mythical guy so frequently in meetings as we simplify our tech or our instructions that I really ought to give him a name. So let’s give him a name. Let’s call him George.]
    • George does not know a URL from a browser, nor does he care to.
    • He can, however, build an electrical set-up that is safe and efficient and to code, so George is critical to our success.
    • And George, bless him (sigh!), George is not a patient man. He’s on the phone with our PCS Help Desk lickety-split the moment there’s a glitch, and no, he does not read the FAQs we post on our website to walk him over that speed bump.
    • In live training, the Georges of the world are my favorites in class. They have so much skill and wisdom to share; you just need to find a way to get in there and inspire that act of sharing. (That’s where the magic is.)
  • The long-time safety professional who, like me, has had a really tough time embracing e-learning for safety.
    • The one who believes, deep in their soul, that the way of connecting with PeoplePeoplePeople is to stand in the same space with them, boots on the ground, and walk through a problem with the people who face the risk every day.
    • Who wants to do every safety training session in person, but due to Covid, and the failure of cloning technology to have them in six places at one time (plus a family that has some expectation for their presence at home) is reluctantly considering e-learning.
    • The safety trainer who is persnickety about talking about case studies and real life risk-based scenarios and making sure that safety training teaches employees to make good choices out on the project and not just a bunch of regulatory mumbo-jumbo.
    • These are my peeps. I have at least one very large client who forgets, because of the business I own, that I am ‘one of them’ — until we get deeply into the weeds on a technical question about a lockout-tagout scenario; then they remember. For me, it’s like re-finding an old yoga pose to have those rumbles; a little creaky at first and then it all comes back — it’s like a deep exhale into knowing that’s buried deep.

And this is not to say that all of our users and all of the safety professionals in our client pool are non-techy or anti e-learning. Not by a long shot. But those folks, those folks who embrace e-learning — they are an easy sell. Their reaction is much closer to “this is what I’ve been waiting for — lemme at it!”

It is George, who rolls his eyes the moment we mention a web-based course, and the safety professionals like me with a paper calendar and a flip chart in a training room, and old-school boots-on-the-ground values who take a little more convincing.

That, that is my role.

The bridge between George and our course, and that safety professional and my PCS Team of tech savvy e-learning designers and developers and my LMS (learning management system) puzzle solvers.

I still apologize, sometimes, for my lack of tech understanding when we meet to rumble over some question, some problem to solve.

“Can you explain this one to me like I’m a fourth grader?” (They do, patiently, some more patiently than others.)

“Here, let me give you the scenario and then let’s talk about the options, because I haven’t the foggiest clue how to solve this one.”

One of my personal favorites was from a call with Stephanie. We do weekly reviews of all of our Help Desk calls, figuring out how we can solve problems, make sure we don’t have any tech glitches at our end to resolve. Stephanie and I were talking, again, about making sure that the Georges of the world, as well as the more tech savvy souls, got the correct link to login to their required training.

Stephanie: “Oh, I’ll just make a QR code for the sign we post.”

Patti with the Paper Calendar (having only recently discovered QR codes due to Covid restaurant menu restrictions) with incredulous tone in her voice:

“You’ll do what?

Stephanie (laughing): “Sure, it will take me less than an hour and we’ll put it on the sign we ask the clients to post.”

Patti (giddy with power and in awe of technology): “Yes, yes, let’s do that!”

And Stephanie did it. It was like magic.

Not gonna lie. I immediately went on Facebook to brag.

Not gonna lie. Some of my Facebook friends had to ask what a QR code was.

I explained it very very slowly, being more than a bit of a George myself.

Yes, that’s me, your average 54-year-old super hip tech business owner, reporting for duty!

We’ve found the magic in the in-between.