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November 24, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Will Accidents To Happen

Ego!

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. 

YIKES!

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

Nothing

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

Why?

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

Bye! 

November 10, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Why Normal is a Necessity

Why_be_normal_postcards_package_of_8

Just got back from a thoroughly enjoyable long weekend in New York.  Took in two plays (The River, with Hugh Jackman, and the spectacular The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and a musical (Beautiful, the Carole King Musical).  Did some shopping and ate very, very well.  Stayed at the historic Algonquin Hotel.  Met up with some new friends and was invited to the opening of YouTube’s east coast Creator’s Space. Even fit in a couple of business meetings. 

The recipe for an ideal weekend, right?

Well, kind of. 

Because as much as I enjoyed my time away, something felt weird.

 

I was away from

my “normal 

 

My “normal” weekend is an almost ritualistic routine. 

On Saturdays, I wake up, walk the dogs and enjoy an extended breakfast with the weekend Gazette.  Then I conduct “my messages,” which usually consists of a visit to the pharmacy, the dry-cleaners and other somewhat mundane destinations.  I spend about 15-20 minutes on a Lumosity brain-training session, and a few hours reading a slew of magazines on my iPad.  I write this blog post.  To close out, I enjoy an evening out with friends and/or family.

Sunday, it’s dog-walking again, followed by a lengthy early-morn visit to the gym.  Family brunch usually comes next, and then whatever I didn’t get done Saturday is then completed by Sunday eve.  These days, the weekend usually closes with a cozy “movie night” at home, but come January, it’ll be filled with rehearsals for a play I’m directing. 

What makes this more obsessive is that the “normal” weekend is not merely a bunch of events experienced at random; the order of said events is equally as important.  For example, because of a friend’s mother’s funeral a few weeks ago, my morning gym visit was pushed to the afternoon, which screwed up my entire Sunday.

 

If people talk about

a “comfort zone,”

this one is mine. 

 

That’s why even when I’m loving what I’m doing elsewhere, I miss it.

One may think that given the whirlwind professional life I’ve led for 37 years (and continue to, by the way) that this type of adhesion to pedestrian routine is strange.

Yet when I discuss this phenomenon with colleagues and friends, I discover that I am not alone in my hold of the humdrum.  Examples are many, but perhaps my favorite is that of my long-time neo-brother and business partner Gilbert Rozon.  His life is so exponentially accelerated it makes mine look like that of a cement-encased monk, but he gets his dose of “normal” by rummaging through the many aisles of Canadian Tire

 

So where’s

the attraction? 

 

I’m no psychologist, but in a society where so much import is put on “authenticity,” taking an anonymous stroll through the everyday makes increases one’s  human feel, and shows that no matter how puffed up one’s day job is, once you’re in Shopper’s Drug Mart or Canadian Tire, you stand in line like everyone else. 

The beauty of a “normal” is that there is no “norm” to it; I have my staid weekend as my personal baseline, but yours may be gardening, or carpentry, or cooking, or ironing, or hiking…or a combo thereof.

Point here is to have some sort of “normal” to call your own, a lesson that should be instinctive, but often has to be forcefully re-learned.  

Trust me, I love the concept of taking risks and breaking out of one’s comfort zone (something I always push, or am pushed, to do). 

But to break out of one means establishing one first.

November 3, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Avoid Arming Assholes

Name-tag_asshole

Last week, I had the pleasure of mentoring two sharp young men.  By day, they have marketing jobs, but by night and over weekends, they are prepping an entrepreneurial endeavor, and asked me to offer up some advice on the concept.

Not that I am the world’s most astute investor or business brain, but the fact that I co-founded and sold a tech business a few years ago (Airborne Mobile), and that I’m currently helping to fund and launch a new one, led them to reach out for a casual evaluation. 

Now for reasons of confidentiality, I can’t divulge their names or the nature of their business, but for purposes of this post, they’re kinda irrelevant anyway.  This week’s learning was inspired by the opening statement of their presentation, where they said:

“Show of hands…how many of you actually click on Internet banner ads?”

I looked around the room.  All hands were on deck.  None were even twitching to be raised. 

Except for mine. 

“Look guys,” I said sincerely, “I can’t say I do it regularly, but frankly, from time-to-time, I actually do click on a banner ad or two.  And I promise you I am not alone”

I continued.

“Look, I know all the stats; how ineffective they are, how everyone hates them, etc.  But I also know if they didn’t work AT ALL, they wouldn’t be there. 

"Click-thru rates may be miniscule, and I don’t want to disparage well-intended marketing folk, but like spammers who send out multiple-millions of bait emails, sometimes all a banner ad needs is a teeny fraction of a percent reaction to make money.”

But that wasn’t the point. 

This was:

By starting a presentation with a question that COULD be contradicted, the young entrepreneurs were jeopardizing the credibility of every further point they wanted to make.  (It reminded me of an occasion years ago when I found an error my accountant made in the first few lines of my tax return; I doubted every other figure from that point on.) 

Worse yet, and pardon the mild profanity,

it provided something that I call

Asshole Ammunition.” 

It’s one thing to be honest and straightforward, which is what was expected from me.

It’s quite another to gleefully torpedo a presentation for sport, which is the dastardly domain of the Asshole.

Unfortunately, I’ve been privy to that situation a number of times; be they when I was standing in front of a boardroom of people as a presenter, or seated amongst them as a presentee. Everyone else may be rolling their eyes, but those of the Asshole are laser-focused on destruction.

For an Asshole, making the point isn’t enough; driving it home uncomfortably and seizing the moment to scuttle subsequent next steps in a presentation is.  And this sadistic behavior (often in the guise of “ah, this’ll toughen them up!”) isn’t limited to presentations; it rears its ugly, festering head in simple, everyday meetings on a frequent basis as well.

Now try as we may, there’s no proper way

to prevent the Asshole from

attending a presentation or meeting. 

But by knowing and understanding his or her modus operandi, we can at least be prepared for it…and minimize it, if we indeed have to deal with it at all. 

To start, know your facts

And to know enough to deflectingly say “I’ll get back to you on that” if for some reason you DON’T know them.  

Next point is to think like an Asshole

Find your weak points, the lob balls that will be jumped on with a truncheon, and eliminate them.   If you can’t get rid of them, pad them…then question whether you’re even on the right path.  If you’re gonna go down, better you control the descent than be kicked down a long mineshaft by someone else. 

The key point is to maintain control of every one of your presentations.

Giving up the reigns puts someone else in the driver’s seat, which is a guaranteed recipe for calamity.  Trust me, EVERY pitch you’ll make will be challenged…but the longer your maintain control, the more powerful a base (and shield) you build.  What’s more, you may inadvertently address, even eliminate, someone’s genuine concern as your presentation rolls on to its finish. 

But it will never even get close to finishing your pitch if you let an Asshole take over.  You’ll have enough problems if he or she arrives unarmed; by providing Asshole Ammunition, you might as well not even start.

The exercise would be as futile as, uh…clicking a banner ad.

October 27, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Budgeting For Stupidity

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 1.25.08 PM

I am writing this post mid-Saturday afternoon...and I am wasting a substantial sum of money while doing so.

To explain (without getting into too much detail to exacerbate the situation and inflate the already-ridiculous financial tally), I am currently embroiled in a nuisance legal matter dealing with an asset I owned many moons ago.  

While I suspect this whole thing will blow over soon and be sensibly settled, the nuisance has already sucked away precious hours I’ll never get back, as well as wasted many dollars that even if I tossed them into the wind off an office tower roof, they would be put to better use than they are dealing with this ridiculous situation right now.

The only “plus” in this unfortunate affair is that it has served as the obvious prompt for this week’s lesson...

...a financial one I will call

Budget for Stupidity.

I’m sure that you, like me, have been the author of many a budget, be it for professional, corporate, project or personal household use.  And you don’t need to be a brain surgeon or forensic accountant to plan for the unexpected with a budget line usually under the title “Miscellaneous.”

But what I’m talking about here is a little different.

To me, the “Miscellaneous” line item stands for the “well, that’s life” part of life. It’s how we deal with an unforeseen rise in prices or exchange rate, an unfortunate accident, a sudden opportunity (they’re not all bad!) or unusual Act of God.  Planning for the unpredictable is prudent, and an immutable part of the budgeting process.

But the Stupidity  line item

goes one step further.  

It prepares you for the antithesis of an Act of God, as it’s usually an act of a mere mortal that spawns it. If “Miscellaneous” sets you up to “deal with it,Stupidity allows you to at least “tolerate it,”...whatever that “it” may be.  

Examples of things that would fill the Stupidity line item include expensive auction items purchased after having too much to drink, dry cleaning or clothes replacement bills after somebody spills something on you and doesn’t offer to pick up the tab, parking tickets, and especially nuisance legal matters dealing with assets owned and sold a long time ago.

The best part of the Stupidity line item on budget is that it protects you two ways:

  1. If you regrettably have to spend it, at least the money is put aside, and you can simply shrug your shoulders and throw up your hands as a symbol of your frustration
  2. If you don’t have to spend it, you can either transfer the sum into the next budget period, or use it on a great meal or even a party (depending on the provisional amount) to celebrate that a certain elevated degree of stupidity did not enter your life this year

Perhaps my definitions of Stupidity are different than yours, but I KNOW you have your own (maybe you’ll even share them in the comments section of this blog). Define ‘em, collect them and group them under one boldly-bannered line item next time you budget.

You’ll face the world happier knowing that even if you can’t beat Stupidity, you can be smart in your defense against it.