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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

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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

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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

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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.

October 20, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--A Checklist To Guarantee Passion Projects

S-DinnerChecklist

As mentioned in a post a couple months back, I carry a journal with me just about all the time, which I fill with copious thoughts, notes, ideas and random observations. 

Most of these scribblings make no sense to anyone but me, but every once in a while, I jot down something that ultimately takes on a life of its own, either as a project, a speech, a reminder or, in the case of this blog post, an action plan. 

What's special about the aforementioned action plan is how strongly it resonated with when I casually mentioned it to others. 

It started out on September 7th as a mere scribble on the corner of a journal page; a quick list of criteria to help guide decisions I need to make in my role as "Chief Attention Getter" for the city of Montreal's upcoming 375th Anniversary.   It was indeed a simple "note to self."

But every time I shared it, the reaction was always the same, namely:

"Wait...can I copy that down?" 

Whether it was a meeting with government officials or with the head of a major international conference, eyebrows and fingers were raised...the latter to either write or type the list for future reference.

So this week's lesson is a shorty-but-goodie.  I say that not just because of the way those with whom I've already shared this have responded, but because I really believe in the outcome following the listed steps can bring.

So without any further ado, here is my list of guiding principles, a "Check and Un-balance list" designed to separate the boring and standard from the exciting and inspiring.  No matter what project or process you may be considering, it works.  So, before committing to anything, ask yourself the following:

  • Does it draw attention?
  • Is it photo-worthy?
  • Is it talk-worthy?
  • Will people take the next step and actually share it?
  • Is it The Most/The Best/The Biggest/The Fastest/The First/The Something?
  • If not...why the hell would we do it?

Now let's face it; the criteria cannot apply to EVERY project or decision; sometimes we need to do something as a favor, or as payback or because of personal or corporate politics.  But if that is indeed the case, at least the final question allows you to admit it and move on.

But by following said criteria, you will at least be ensured to do two things:

  1. eliminate tedious projects that are most likely doomed to failure
  2. increase the amount of passion projects you'll be excited to work on...and deliver.