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December 15, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Heavy Power of Light



“Let there be light !”

It’s the third line in the Bible…so I guess it must be important.

And perhaps at no time is it more important than right now, particularly in my hometown Montreal, where holiday lighting brightens up not just the skies that darken in mid-afternoon, but the collective mood that seems to deflate an hour or so earlier. 

Every year, I find the effect amazing. 

The wires and bulbs that almost invisibly intertwine with bare tree branches and shrubbery, that sneakily snake up buildings, or that are hidden behind sconces and structures perform a transformational feat of epic proportions, both physically and emotionally, pleasing the eye and the soul simultaneously.  

Just last week, in the midst of a driving snowstorm, I was trudging from my office to a meeting (walking being the most efficient way of getting around), and despite the meteorological gloom, I couldn’t help but be elevated by “Prismatica,” a series of kaleidoscopic prisms spinning colors and ultimate glee in downtown’s otherwise barren Quartier des Spectacles (see above!). 

The “healing” power of light isn’t wacky new age dogma; it’s been proven in numerous scientific studies (on the flip side, lack of exposure to light, especially in winter months, is notorious for its links to depression, and is aptly acronym-ed SAD). 

And in a personal experience I will never forget...

I saw the legendary George Burns, 97 at the time, shed three decades of age in a matter of seconds as he was helped from his wheelchair in the wings of the St. Denis Theatre and guided into a magic, revitalizing bath of spotlights waiting for him a few feet away on stage.

Nice sentiment, but where am I going with all this as per this week’s lesson?

Well, one thing I can’t help but thinking is why we do this type of festival illumination primarily at Christmas time?  True, there are bright decorations for Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and most notably Halloween, but it’s not the same thing.  Far from it, actually.  With the technology and the artistry available...

It’s somewhat strange

that nobody has come up with

signature lighting looks

for other times of the year

...maybe even a new one every month. 

Indeed, the lights of summer would be more frivolous and have a different feel from those more necessary and therapeutic in winter, but still, given the uplifting spiritual effect of Christmas luminosity, it seems a major missed opportunity not to try and replicate it for other annual events at other times in the calendar. 

Shakespeare said that “All the world’s a stage.” (As an aside, can you believe a blog post quoting both God and Shakespeare?  But I digress…) If that is indeed the case, let’s hear it for the season’s lighting directors. 

And let’s give them a few more seasons to work with. 


December 8, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Victory Goes to the Unassuming


On Saturday, Dec. 6 at 3:00 p.m. sharp, I sat down at the Vic Park gym with trainer Haskel Garmaise to re-launch my intense workout regime with a brand new, multi-disciplinary program.

That is not the important part of this post.

To get you to what is though, consider that I reached out to Haskel on Facebook and asked him to work with me on November 16th at 8:50 p.m.  

After much back-and-forth Facebook messaging about scheduling, we locked down the Dec. 6th timeframe on November 19th at 8:07 p.m. 

On Sunday, November 30 at 5:34 p.m., Haskel sent me another Facebook message confirming the appointment now six days away. 

On Friday, Dec. 5 at 7:46 p.m., he sent me one last message, this one to my phone, “making sure we’re still good.” 

So, is Haskel a pain in the ass, or overly anal-rententive?

Neither.  Haskel is smart.  He’s obviously been burned before, which is why, I suspect, Haskel assumes nothing.  And which is why, Haskel is the poster child for this week’s major learning, namely: 

Assuming anything

is the first step

towards disappointment

Haskel is not alone.  I get the same type of quadruple-confirmation every time I visit Dr. Elliot Mechanic, my dentist.

One could simply chalk up this type of “un-assuming” behavior to people who work on an appointment basis; doctors, dentists, lawyers, restaurants, trainers and the like.  Their time is literally money, and any waste of the former is a throwaway of the latter.

But to me, eschewing assumptions has been a way of life.  For example, to this day, while driving, I never, ever cruise breezily through a green light.  Instead, I follow a lesson I have passed onto both of my sons: “Just because the other guy has the red light, don’t assume he’s stopping at it.” 

Paranoid?  Perhaps, but as well as saving my life more than a few times, this post’s overarching lesson has enabled me to control my temper in many off-putting situations, because rare is the occasion when I blindly assume:

  • the flight will leave on schedule
  • the cab will show up in five minutes
  • the show will start on time
  • Bell will send my iPhone6-plus in four-to-six weeks
  • the contract will be signed
  • the passport will arrive in the mail
  • the photo will be emailed
  • the piece will be repaired in two weeks
  • my restaurant table will be ready when I walk in

…I could go on forever. 

On one hand, I don’t assume; I accept.  Now I’m not making excuses for, or enabling, others; I’m just accepting a cold hard truth of the way the world increasingly seems to work.  It’s like the basic premise of M. Scott Peck’s book People Of The Lie, where he outlines that evil is the norm and good is the deviation from it.  In my case, I’m not bowled over when something screws up, but happily surprised when it doesn’t.

On the other hand, I don’t assume, I check.  And if I really need something to be done on time, like Haskel and Elliot Mechanic, I check, double-check, triple-check and maybe even exponentially-check. 

The much quoted Matthew 5:5 passages in the Bible say something to the effect that “The meek shall inherit the earth.”

Twisting and paraphrasing that a little bit, I think I’ve come up with a more contemporary Beatitude for  a more wary generation: 

“ Victory goes to the unassuming.”

December 1, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Difference Between Men and Women, Part 736


Please excuse the sucky title and its allusion to a million or so hack comedy routines on the same subject.  I trust this post will be somewhat less hackneyed and thank you in advance for jumping to the next line.

On Saturday, I oversaw a daylong focus group session for a sharp new start-up endeavor I am investing in. 

Over the years, at Just For Laughs and Airborne Mobile, I’ve never been a major fan of focus groups for multiple reasons; most notably because people gather to tell you exactly what they figure you want to hear, or are so disconnected from your project that their opinions are basically worthless.  I’ve been to focus groups where the main focus was the food served, once even by a gluttonous hired test leader. 

Nonetheless, the project’s other investors are of different mindset, so I went along with them somewhat begrudgingly, huddled inside a downtown office building on a gorgeous fall day. 

All this to say that

I didn’t expect to enjoy myself at all…

never mind enjoy myself as much as I did.

The focus group test was broken down into seven one-hour, one-on-one sessions. Ages ranged from 24-36, and the gender split was 4:3 male/female.

Because of the unique, yet very accessible nature, of the aforementioned project, as well is its current embryonic state (more details on it in this space as it concretizes and is further financed), participants’ perception of it could not be intrinsically or prematurely skewed. 

All seven subjects were asked to click through a PowerPoint replica of the project and speak out loud as they did so.  

And speak they did.  Often, and in great detail.

When it was all over, I learned a lot about the project.  The team discovered a handful of very crucial tweaks and adjustments, and happily, all participants seemed to understand the product easily, and like it a lot.

But on another level, I learned something truly staggering watching all seven testers go through the paces:

The men said things to try

to appear  smart.

The women said smart things

Granted, this isn’t the world’s biggest test group, and it is obviously not statistically significant.  But rules be damned; witnessing the difference was eye-opening, fun and fascinating. 

On one hand, the four guys

were precise and clinical.

One even questioned why one slide showed the time passage interval of five minutes instead of six, seven or 10.  They stared at each slide and replied as if they were playing a “crack the code” spy game, trying to say the secret word or string together the right sentences to “open the door” to the next level. 

They played the role of the smartest guy in the room as if it were a competition, even though they were each flying solo. 

On the other hand, the three girls

were at ease, open and emotive

They “oohed,” said things like “This is cool!” and “I love this!” and were at ease asking questions and requesting clarification. 

While they were from diverse backgrounds—an Education grad, an IT consultant and a marketing manager—they were uniform in their honesty and their insights.  One of them actually saw so deep, she exposed two core principles of the project that the founders had declared in early meetings, but had since hidden on the back burner until phase two due to their complexity.  I was in awe. 

In the end, all participants were extremely useful and helped provide a solid proof of concept. 

But it was the women, in their ease, their authenticity and their unpretentiousness, who made the day, made everyone smile, and made the founding team confident to take the next crucial step.     

So no offense to the four hardworking, obviously bright guys, but hopefully, the next moves will be as smart and natural as the three women who helped the team take them.

November 24, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Will Accidents To Happen


Oh I just don’t know where to begin…” sang Elvis Costello in his 1979 (somewhat) hit song Accidents Will Happen.

But I DO know where to begin, and that’s on the wall between the door and the massive window of my new office installation at Just For Laughs.

To put this into context, I recently moved into a bigger workspace meant to accommodate a young team developing a new project I am investing in.  In doing so, I had to shift more than 50 pieces of art from my old quarters to this one 

It’s upon the aforementioned strip of wall space I decided to hang a triptych of unique paintings based on the word Ego.  Working with the building manager, we painstakingly measured the wall, then the paintings, the amount of space we wanted within each one, and positioned them perfectly equidistant from each other; parallel, perfectly level and dead centre between floor to ceiling and doorframe to window frame.

Upon leaving my office that first night, I overestimated the weight of my new office door and kinda slammed it.  Since I heard no sounds of destruction from the other side, I went on my merry way. 


The next morning, I realized that the door slam wasn’t as harmless as I thought it was, as each of the paintings slid off its centre point, and ended up supporting one another as they tilted almost 45 degrees. 

But the end result, shown in the photo above, is WAY more interesting than the original positioning…but one I would’ve NEVER come up with on my own.  It now catches eyes and instigates commentary from whoever walks into my office.

Getting back to the Costello tune from his Armed Forces album, accidents will INDEED happen.  What’s more, accidents are the impetus for so much creativity, for so many discoveries, that they should not merely be welcomed…they should be sought out. 

So the learning of the week twists the title of this post’s soundtrack tune. 

Never mind

"Accidents Will Happen."  


To increase your breakthroughs,

Will Accidents TO Happen.

SO many of the world’s great innovations and inventions were the result of accidents.  From the discoveries of America (Columbus was off course, looking for a quick passage to India) and of penicillin, to the less earth-shattering but equally fascinating origins of Teflon, Silly Putty and Post-It Notes, accidents have played a crucial role in driving mankind’s progress.

It’s easy to wait for them to happen, but that’s not the lesson of this post.  

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, you have to generate your own accidents to build a more exciting, innovative and sustainable future. 

How to do it?  There’s no 1000% set answer, but these tactics work for me:

  • Change your route.  Whether you walk, drive or take public transport, change the direction to get to your destination.  If you can’t, then change the time you leave.
  • Talk to strangers.  I wrote a whole post about the benefits of this a while back.
  • Ask a beginner to help you do something you’ve done a thousand times.  Or attempt once to do something you’ve never done, whether it’s zip-lining or putting together IKEA furniture.  Be completely out of your league.
  • Read, watch or listen to something you never have. 
  • Eat at a new restaurant in an obscure neighborhood.
  • Wear something completely out of character.  Or don’t wear something you are renowned for.
  • Wear virgin contact lenses, i.e. see common things as if this is the first time you’ve laid eyes on them. 

I could go on, but it would defeat the purpose, namely giving you a plan to take advantage of the unplanned.

Suffice to say that the best way to find your way here is to get lost.

And if all else fails, you could always retreat to your office, put on Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces album…  

And slam the door!

November 17, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Next To Nothing


This is one of the shortest blog posts I’ve ever composed.


Because I don’t have much to say.

This happens on occasion with yours truly, and as I’ve come to notice these days, much more often with others. 

Yet over the past few weeks, I’ve been privy to press conferences, speeches, blog posts, articles, even books, where not much was said…but it was said with lots and lots of words. 

It’s as if people grabbed the ol’ speech dictum of:

  1. Tell ‘em what you’ll say
  2. Say it
  3. Tell ‘em what you said

…and perversely twisted it into:

  1. Tell ‘em what you kinda WANT to say
  2. Spend a disproportionate amount of time and/or words NOT saying it
  3. Tell ‘em what you kinda WANTED to say

What really makes me laugh is that on a few occasions, people had the nerve to invoke the phrase “to make a long story short…” This is perhaps one of the most useless expressions in the world, because when someone actually says it, it’s usually WAY too late. 

But I digress.

So, to avoid being hoisted by my own petard, this week’s lesson:

Say something.  

That is, IF you have something to say. 

If NOT, please follow this advice:

It’s better to say nothing

with a little

than say nothing

with a lot