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January 5, 2015, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--How and When To Say Goodbye

ByeShip

I’ve never been good at long goodbyes, so let’s try to make this brief, shall we?

After eight years and three months of blogging, a lengthy period of discipline, dedication, research and introspection that spawned 1,077 posts, you are now reading my last one. 

And with it, one final weekly learning, namely:

“Know when to move on…

and be the one

to make the first move.”

There are a number of reasons for my decision, the main culprit being a much-increased personal workload. I am a lucky man who is now committed to five important lines of work…all of which are inspiring and demanding:

           I.     While not overtly concentrating on the “day-to-day,” I still have important, “big picture/tomorrow” responsibilities at Just For Laughs.

         II.     My civic duties as “Chief Attention Getter” for Montreal’s upcoming 375th Anniversary are ramping up, as the celebration is only two years away. 

        III.     I am financially and emotionally invested in a new tech start-up driven by a passionate, young and experienced All-Star team.

      IV.     I am once again teaching the somewhat ground-breaking “Marketing and Society” class at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management (which is about the video revolution and the integration of YouTube as a corporate marketing tool). 

        V.     And, in my spare time, I am directing a play; the annual musical fundraiser at the Segal Centre.

Given the seven-day-a-week duty of the above, it’s increasingly hard to fit in a few hours of thought and execution that this blog requires (although I’m sure the lessons will be plentiful in each of the aforementioned projects). 

But even though the course ends in April and the show is over in mid-June, the time is right to close the door on the past and move on to new things.  When I clicked “Publish” on my first post back on October 14, 2006, the concept of blogging was exciting and relatively new. 

Today, with barriers to entry a thing of the past, everyone is empowered to speak their minds, and seems inclined to do just that.  Maybe I’m just battle weary, but it seems that so many people are saying the same thing—yeah, even me—that perhaps the “art form” is cluttered…and requires an expurgation of sorts.

So, as we start a new year,

consider me expurgated ;)

Sure, doors are still open, and I could come back when I want to (obviously, there is no “Big Blog Boss” who makes the rules), but in the eight long years since Post #1, communication technology and strategy has changed so much, that if I do return, it will probably be in the form of video, or some other soon-to-be-developed field of interactive visual communication.  There’s a reason why computers are getting smaller and phones bigger; why read when you can watch, listen and answer back?

That said, I leave this field as I came to it:

With passion for the new,

and a leap of faith

into the future.

This blog has been an extreme challenge, a whole lot of fun, and very, very good to me.  It has spawned a best-selling marketing book, a short story, a novella, about a half-dozen different speeches, and voyages to places I never thought I’d visit.  It introduced me to new concepts and new people, some who have become close friends.

Most importantly, it connected me to you.  Thanks for reading, responding and especially for sharing from time-to-time. 

To close, I guess I should re-visit my earlier words and say this isn’t really a “goodbye.”

Consider this a ship leaving port.  On one shore, there are people waving, saying “There she goes!

But on another, there are people gathered, waiting for the chance to say: “Here she comes!

So...here I come!

December 29, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Year--Top Five Lessons of 2014 (Plus One)

Five Fingers

Well, it’s that time of the year again, when the media—new, old and everything in between, including this blog—fixates on compiling its Year-End List.  

While the act of “Listification” seems to have suffered a bad rap due to overuse by content farms and click-bait websites, list legitimacy and relevance are re-validated as the annual calendar gets ready to turn its page. 

More than just a cheap, easy way to generate content though, a bona fide Year-Ender forces its lister to look back and reflect over a period that passes by too quickly, and re-discover some of the thoughts, feelings, events, trips, speeches and other memories that are forgotten as time marches on.

With that in mind, I spent much of the weekend scouring the 52 posts of 2014…well, let’s make that 53, as I also snuck a peek at 2013’s Year-End List.  In the end, that was perhaps the most relevant post of all, as I could only muster a Top 3 List that year; I obviously learned (and enjoyed myself) a whole lot more in 2014, where my “Best Of” expanded to five.

So, kill the preamble— in no particular order, and with a little comment on each, here are my Top Five Lessons of 2014: 

1)    You Are What You Share (Feb. 24)

A reflection on a key metric in the new economy

2)    Family Doesn’t Always Come First (Sept. 15)

Yikes!  This one was controversial!

3)    The Two-Step Secret to Going Viral (June 9)

From a very spirited summertime speech I gave

4)    Forget Backlash, You Need Front-lash (Jan. 27)

The remnants of an explosion at a client meeting

5)    Create Demand: Real Artists Sell (May 12)

Crossing the line between Church and State 

But, as they say in those infomercials: "Wait, there’s more!"

Despite the above, my major learning of 2014 was the immense value of learning itself.  It’s one thing to experience things and write them down for others to (ostensibly) consume and share; it’s another when they come to life and work for you.

So, to close this year off with a spark of validation, here’s a little something extra; what bands used to call the “bonus track” on their albums (when people still bought albums…but I digress), my ultimate learning of 2014:

5+) Great Lessons Last Forever (March 10)

All that said and listed, here’s to a 2015 where you won’t merely learn something new...

...but act on it.

December 22, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Longing for When the Trivial Becomes the Important

The-Mortal-Instruments-City-Of-Bones-Mundane-TShirt

I have a friend who is currently going through the type of health-related family anguish you should never know from…but given the way life (and death) works, you probably will at one time or another.  

While I won’t reveal his identity for obvious privacy reasons, my friend is strong, brave, and dealing with his troubling time in a most open and frank manner. 

Over the past year or so, he’s been outlining the status of his situation via a series of poignant and elegant emails…and the last one, which detailed the sad prognosis none of us wanted to hear, left this recipient choked up and at a loss for words to reply.

However, given the guts, courage and presence mustered up by my friend to explain his predicament to us all, how in the world could I not find a mere fraction of the same fortitude within me to reciprocate? 

That was the easy part.  The hard part was saying something with meaning.  It’s one thing about not knowing what to say in a difficult time, quite another to ensure what you eventually blurt out doesn’t sink into clichés or is mired in maudlin.

But I think I found something—and in the process, found this week’s learning—in the most un-profound of places.  

Because the best thing

I could wish for my friend

was a speedy return

to the mundane.

While I thankfully have never faced the same gut-wrenching situation as he is currently, I remembered similar experiences watching both my parents pass away relatively young (quite young in my mom’s case, at 59) to slow, degenerative diseases.  I remember the emotional house visits, the countless medical appointments, the incessant calls to and from numerous doctors, and the recurring hospital trips.

And when the end came in both cases, I recall the strange feeling of being on display at large funerals and having to almost put on a nightly performance over a week for the influx of well-meaning visitors to the shiva (click here if you are unfamiliar with the traditional Jewish mourning ceremony).

But the thing I remember most is that during this time—and others—when my life was in unbalancing disarray, all I wanted was to pay a phone bill, or go to the cleaners or do something equally as everyday and nondescript. 

Put simply, I longed for a return to the mundane.

I told my friend that the time will come—the sooner the better—when he’ll be preoccupied with the fact that his new iPhone still hasn’t arrived, when he’ll swear a blue streak because he spilled a bit of coffee on his tie, when he’ll be wondering why he is wasting time standing in line at an airport or at a bank machine.  

In other words, the time will come

when the trivial will be important. 

And that’ll be a good sign. 

Because it’ll mean that the grip of gloom will have eased. 

And that, without compromising his love for his family, it’ll mean that he has moved on to a brighter place.

December 15, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

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

Bandeau_lumino5

 

“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. 

Click!

December 8, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

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

Victory

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.”