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March 24, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Here Are The Crayons


Since January, I’ve been teaching a somewhat different type of course at McGill University.  While saddled with the unfortunate standard curriculum name “Marketing and Society,” the class is anything but. 

Given carte blanche, I put together more of a “marketing TO society” approach, and focused on the YouTube platform for students to learn about group dynamics, react to real-time changes, and integrate it in a corporate context.  There are no “papers” per se, no doorstopper textbook and no multiple-choice or essay tests.  The “final exam” is the actual launch of a seven-video-minimum YouTube channel, worth 40% of the overall grade.  You can read more about this experimental and experiential learning experience here and in this student perspective

Now, with the course entering its final two weeks, some of my students are coming to the realization that what once sounded like a utopian fantasy (“Wow!  No tests!  No papers!  No 200-page readings!”) has now morphed into a Faustian bargain of sorts (“Christ!  We have to write a script!  And shoot!  And edit! And optimize for YouTube’s search algorithm!  And incorporate social media! And…”)

My immediate answer to some of the heavier sighs was: “What did you think?  That this was a fluff course?  That there wasn’t going to be any work?” 

But I don’t actually believe that it’s the amount of work that has some of my students in a tizzy.


nature of the work

that's throwing them.

When I first put this course together, I had a discussion with two academics I respect immensely, Prof. Morty Yalofsky of McGill (who used to be MY stats prof in my undergrad years) and Prof. Pete McGraw of the University of Colorado at Boulder (and co-author of the upcoming book “The Humor Code”).  Both told me the same thing:  as much as students have evolved outside the classroom, inside they seem most comfortable with traditional means of teaching and learning within it.

This reminded me of something I experienced many moons ago at summer camp during arts and crafts period, the traditional land of sewn leather wallets, wood burning tools and gimp bracelet weaving.  

Our A&C teacher was this hippie-type named Earl (oh, how I wish I could remember his family name!).  A soft-spoken guy with long ringlets of hair and round John Lennonesque glasses, Earl tried to break away from the tried-and-true, tired ol’ art projects by introducing a group of somewhat spoiled 11-year olds to a long-term project I remember now only as “sand molding.” 

In essence, Earl wanted us to to carve out a design in a dense sand material, heat and color some plastic goo, pour the goo into the sand, and once everything dried, chip and brush away the sand to reveal our hardened plastic masterpieces.

Now the plastic smelled like death, handling it with the sand was tactilely repulsive, which made the whole process haphazard and messy.  Instead of embracing the madness, I whined and complained:  “Ughh!  It’s gross!  And it stinks!  And it’s getting all over me!  I think I’m going to puke!” (Please, please remember that I was only 11…)

Rather than lash out, and realizing he was dealing with some pint-sized rabble-rouser/shit-disturber, Earl gently pulled me aside, and sat me down at a table at the back of the A&C bunk. 

Handing me a Tupperware box filled with broken nubs of colored wax sticks, he calmly, deliberately said:

“Here are the crayons. 

And here’s a coloring book. 

Please stay within the lines. 

And be sure to have fun.”

I forget my actual reaction then, and that of those around me, but I still gulp and feel the sting of the lesson whenever I recall it.

Which is why I resurrected it as part of the response to some of my students’ apprehension. 

And which is why it is the week’s learning.

New anything is hard.  But “institutional new” is harder still.  Trying to change something that has remained the same for decades, maybe a century or two, is a magna-challenge.  

But you have two choices when faced with the new:

1) Go with it.

2) Or go get the crayons.

March 17, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Why Sending Loyal Customers Away Is Great For Business

When I was in my final year of high school, some of the more shall we say “sensitive” types accessorized their graduation bios with a floral quote that went:

“If you love something, set it free. 

If it comes back, it’s yours. 

If it doesn’t, it never was.”

(My friends and I, being slightly more cynical, paraphrased this into “If you REALLY love something, kill it.  If it comes back, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t, get a good lawyer”…but I digress.) 

Now that I am older, wiser and obviously way more mature, I think back to that sucky quote and am slightly pained to admit that perhaps the girls (because frankly, no guy in my high school would be strong enough to withstand the onslaught that would come with that quote atop their bio) were right.

Not just right, but when it comes to business in the competitive twenty-tens, strategically prescient.

Case in point is Nota Bene, a wonderful restaurant I frequent often when in Toronto.  Never had anything less than an exquisite experience there, not just because of the food, but also because of a waiter (whose face I know but name I forget) who always seems to serve me.

His recommendations of specials, wines and desserts are always spot on, so I was wide-eyed and all ears when he hit me with the following:

“You looking for a place to eat tomorrow night?”

As the case was, I happened to be staying over, so I said yes…but knew where he was going.  Upon entering that eve, I ran into Nota Bene’s owner Yannick Bigourdan, who told me he opening a sister resto called Carbon Bar“Here comes the big sales pitch,” I sighed to myself.

Well, it came…

but not for Carbon Bar.

To my surprise, the waiter picked up on an off-handed comment about Japanese food I had made to the colleague I was having dinner with, and suggested a tiny, out-of-the-way spot about 20 minutes away that serves “the best Japanese food in the city, perhaps in the country.

At that point, the high esteem I held for the restaurant shot up even higher.  You gotta have a lot of confidence in your offering if you can recommend a competitor to a loyal client.

It may appear counter-intuitive at first—just like setting free something you hold dear—but this type of “Customer-first/Business-second” behavior is refreshing and genuine.  It’s also gutsy, and more often than not pays off exponentially for those self-assured enough to use it.  

Short term, yes...

your dollar goes elsewhere. 

But long term, and more importantly, your loyalty stays.  A good deed, and the positive word of mouth that goes with it, is ultimately more valuable than any one sale. This is what happens when one puts the entire focus on the purchaser, and not the purchase itself. 

We all have stories of both sides of the coin, I suspect.  Stories of going into a store and being curtly told “Sorry, we don’t have what you’re looking for,” and on the flip side, stories of people in the same situation who will send you to places that do…perhaps even call for you, or tell you who to ask for, or suggest an alternative that costs less.

Epic tales of such “do whatever it takes to make the customer happy” have made the Nordstrom chain legendary in the insanely competitive retail space.  And by suggesting a new, special place that I would probably love instead of being a robotic shill for his employer, the Nota Bene waiter has solidified my relationship with his restaurant.  I can’t wait to go back. 

So this week’s lesson hearkens back to the days of high school, and those italicized pearls of wisdom below select grad photos:

The best way to

lock down customers...

is to give them the key

March 10, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Great Lessons Last Forever


There are few activities I love more than snowboarding, but due to a perfect storm of conflicts and unfavorable conditions--weather, vacation availability, work and social commitments--I haven't shredded a mountain in over a year; to be exact, the last time was on Sunday, January 13th, 2013. 

Yet when I finally strapped on my bindings Friday morning at the Alyeska Resort in Alaska, it was as if I never got off the hill. 

It hasn't always been like that.

I've been boarding for 18 years, and despite hundreds of hours on the slopes all over the continent, one could generously label me a "Stalled Advanced Intermediate." For the past decade or so, I have plateaued; in essence, I am getting worse by not getting better.

Well, at least I was until a fateful day last January, when I took a lesson in Vail from the legendary instructor Chris "Sando" Sandoski (read this great story here).  He shifted my stance, straightened my posture, changed my bindings, and taught me some radical downhill steering via hand placement, visualizing, as he put it:

"...a midget on the front of your board,

a dwarf on the back, and your hand

on each of their heads."

I hadn't thought about Sando's lesson when I strapped in and stood up in the Alaska snow on Friday.  I hadn't reviewed the copious notes I scribbled down last year.  Frankly, given the craziness of the year that had passed, I had basically forgotten that I had even taken the lesson at all.

That is, until I took my first turn couple of turns, when my bad habits were immediately overtaken by Sando's adjustments, teachings and advice...and everything good came rushing back to me in droves.

Snow conditions were far from ideal on that, and on subsequent, days, but nonetheless, this year I felt better on the hill than ever before.

Such is the value of a Great Lesson.

And such is the learning of the week:

A Great Lesson

lasts forever.

Even when you forget it for a while.

Frequent readers know that I am in the midst of teaching a marketing course at McGill University.  Early on in the semester, I asked students what they had actually "learned" after three intense years of study. 

The silence was deafening. 

Prodded, a couple of students unveiled a platitude or two (i.e. "You are better than you think"), but the lifelong, life-changing, DNA-engrained lessons were notably absent. 

And for good reason, I suppose.  Lessons like these don't come easy. 

When the question was reversed my way, I told my students that my own five years at McGill can be distilled into a nugget of wisdom that professor Graham Oliver taught me on my first week, but remains pertinent in just about everything I do today, namely:

"Nothing happens until

something gets sold."

Your factories, production processes, marketing plans, supply chains, financial models and human resource policies are of little import if nobody is buying what you are trying to sell.  Simple but immutable.

Two years earlier at Vanier College, the sage Don Tobin, a high-ranking exec who took his retirement by teaching marketing to recent high school grads, left me with this timeless jewel:

"People are never as smart

as you think they are...

or want them to be."

I can't tell you how often that has got me through disappointments, or saved me from overshooting my target.

Seven years of school, two Great Lessons.

This shows the rarity, and the extreme value, of a Great Lesson.

Unaffected by fads, by progress, by technology, by trends, by the march of time or the charge of the light brigade, Great Lessons are eternal.  And as the Sando experience shows, they don't just come from school; they can happen anywhere.

Don't mistake disposable tips or haphazardly tossed off bons mots as Great Lessons.  And don't squander the one, or the few, if you're lucky, that come your way. 

Like an inheritance, Great Lessons are treasures meant to be cherished, and ultimately, passed along.

Treat yours accordingly.

March 3, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The New Math of Vacations

Hayes at the glacier

I am writing this post from the Alyeska Hotel in Girdwood, Alaska, a place our shuttle bus driver described as a "hippie town," about 45 miles away from Anchorage.  I am in the midst of a snowboard vacation, and while I know that I should be relaxing and taking it easy, I'm learning so much that I would feel delinquent if I didn't blog about it before I got home.

The major lesson then, and there have been quite a few, is that...

When you're on vacation,

all reasonable units of measure

are thrown out the window

Caloric consumption increases exponentially. 

Time expands and contracts at rates that send Einstein's theory of relativity into a tailspin. 

But both of these mis-measurements pale to the epic devaluation of money, no matter what one's currency of preference may be.  You may be stone cold sober, but when on vacation, something inside your brain is tweaked so that money is spent like a slap-happy drunk on exorbitant things not available at home, on on things that are, but exorbitantly marked-up.  

For example, yesterday I took in a helicopter "flightseeing" tour from Alpine Air Alaska.  This 90-minute journey in a teeny four-seater didn't just fly me over, around and through glaciers, but landed on the shores of one, where we watched--at what I was assured was a safe distance--ice chunks weighing hundreds of tons cracking off mountainsides and tumbling into the water. 

It was breathtaking and unforgettable, but the cost for this sojourn for myself and my family was the weekly salary of a relatively wealthy person.  And despite the fact that I'm a guy who crosses town to save a penny or two on a litre of gasoline, I laid down the credit card to pay for it without the semblance of a qualm.  Until the bill comes in I suppose...but I digress.

Another revelation is that

When you're on vacation,

you do the type of things

that you would never, ever,

ever, ever, ever, EVER!

do in your city of residence. 

For example, on Saturday, I took in the traditional starting ceremony of the 1000-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race, where I stood in the cold four hours on 4th Avenue in Anchorage watching superstar mushers (yes, these men and women are international sport celebrities), their machine-like sled dogs, and special ceremonial passengers (many who paid thousands of dollars for the privilege of something akin to riding the Zamboni at a hockey game) wave to the crowd.

And it wasn't just me and the locals.  People came from miles away--I mean, MANY miles away, like New Zealand, Sweden, Australia, Norway, Florida and even Jamaica--to be part of this. Pardon the pun, but sled-dogging has a most rabid group of fans, some who even fly from checkpoint to checkpoint over the eight-day-or-so race.  It's like I tell my marketing class at McGill, these days, "Every niche is huge"...but that's the subject of a future blog post. 

Now I'm not making fun of, nor am I disparaging any of my newfound cultural activities/tourist attractions.  Au contraire, I am in awe of their power and economic necessity.  Money can't buy you love, but it sure can pay for experiences and memories.  And for views like the photo on top (a shot of the glacier landing I took with my iPhone), which are unique and personal and exclusive...unless you buy one of the numerous souvenir books, framed or mounted photos by one of the area's official photographers, or artistic interpretations on canvas or in brass from a gaggle of professional and amateur artists.

No wonder tourism is so crucially important for governments at the federal, provincial, state, county and/or municipal level. It's the ultimate economic surplus effect--outsiders come in and leave their hard-earned dollars behind. 

So as the rest of the week in this most majestic part of the world beckons, I leave you not just with my over-arching meta-learning, but a suggestion to politicians everywhere: 

Wanna boost the economy? 

Just boost the amount

of our vacation days.  


February 24, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--You Are What You Share


The phrase “You Are What You Eat” became a mainstay of individual definition in North American during the hippy-dippy 1960s…although it was first uttered by a French lawyer/politician in 1826.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the defining features of who we are turned from the inside of our bodies to the outside, and the phrase morphed into “You Are What You Wear.

These days, given the overwhelming tsunami of social media, the conventional wisdom of who we are has shifted away from us and onto others, to become “You Are What You Share”…whether you choose to share your feelings about food, clothing, French lawyers/politicians, or the act of sharing itself. 

The quaint, person-to-person chatter that old-schoolers like me used to call “Word of Mouth” has exponentially supersized to become a quantum currency more powerful (and less likely to wildly fluctuate) than Bitcoin.  People smarter than yours truly have dubbed this phenomenon “The Sharing Economy,” where people believe—and more importantly, act on—things they hear from people they know and trust than from anywhere else. 

This is why every business, every YouTuber, every social cause, every Tweet and every Facebook page implores you not merely to listen to them, but to tell others as well.  By following suite, our personal lives have transformed into a massive, multi-level marketing scheme.  I just may have to change my name to Amway Nulman.

In his 2013 book “Contagious,” Wharton School marketing prof Jonah Berger outlines six factors how things get shared, and perhaps his prime reason for one to do so is the creation of “Social Currency,” i.e. how one comes across to their friends and network if they pass along a piece of information.    

What’s fascinating about this

phenomenon is not what you're

telling others about others

when you share something;

it’s what you are telling them

about you.   

McLuhan was right; the medium is indeed the message. 

Look at your Facebook newsfeed to see what I mean.  There are “friends” you ritually ignore, and ponder why you still haven’t bothered to de-friend.  Yet there are others whose shared posts you jump on right away; for instance, I know Matthew Cope will be sending along something political or quirky, while Robert Tercek will provide me with the absolute latest in the world of start-ups and tech.  Although I rarely see or speak to either, I know exactly what they’re all about.

Taking this one step further is the story of the Facebook group I put together for a class I’m teaching this semester at McGill University.  I have 50 students, and despite the fact that I see them live twice a week, I know more about their likes, dislikes, political leanings, backgrounds, passions and pastimes by following what they choose to post on the class feed than I do by anything they’ve said in—or after—class.

It’s a living, ongoing psychological revelation, a modern-day Rorschach test. The students’ personal and personality revelations allow me to focus on, and better react to them, in ways I’d never be able to do if I had to exclusively rely on our face-to-face encounters. 

Scary?  Perhaps.  But quite helpful.  And powerfully accurate.

So what did I learn this week?  Well, as I said above, “You Are What You Share.” 

But perhaps more importantly...

What we share isn’t exactly

who we are,” but 

who we want to be, and 

how we want to be seen

So despite that we seem to be prone to raw, indiscriminate revelations, we are actually, subconsciously controlling our own personal message with what we choose to share. 

And if YOU choose to share this, you’ll be showing everyone you know just how damn smart you are…or how shameless I am ;)


P.S.  The image on top?  One share, of course!

What I Learned This Week--You Are What You Share


Although the phrase was first uttered by a French lawyer/politician in 1826, “You Are What You Eat” became a mainstay of individual definition in North American during the hippy-dippy 1960s.  

Two decades or so later, the defining features of who we are turned from the inside of our bodies to the outside, and the phrase morphed into “You Are What You Wear.”

These days, given the overwhelming tsunami of social media, the conventional wisdom of who we are has shifted away from us and onto others, to become “You Are What You Share”…whether you choose to share your feelings about food, clothing, French lawyers/politicians, or the act of sharing itself.

The quaint, person-to-person chatter that old-schoolers like me used to call “Word of Mouth” has exponentially supersized to become a quantum currency more powerful (and less likely to wildly fluctuate) than Bitcoin.  People smarter than yours truly have dubbed this phenomenon “The Sharing Economy,” where people believe—and more importantly, act on—things they hear from people they know and trust. 

This is why every business, every YouTuber, every social cause, every Tweet and every Facebook page implores you not merely to listen to them, but to tell others.  Our personal lives have transformed into a massive, multi-level marketing scheme.  I may just change my name to Amway Nulman.

In his 2013 book “Contagious,” Wharton School marketing prof Jonah Berger outlines six factors how things get shared, and perhaps his prime reason for one to do so is the generation of “Social Currency,” i.e. how one comes across to their friends and network if they pass along a piece of information.    

What’s fascinating about this phenomenon is not what you are telling others about others when you share something; it’s what you are telling them about you.   McLuhan was right; the medium is indeed the message. 

Look at your Facebook newsfeed to see what I mean.  There are “friends” you ritually ignore, and ponder why you still haven’t bothered to de-friend.  Yet there are others whose shared posts you jump on right away; for instance, I know Matthew Cope will be sending along something political or quirky, while Robert Tercek will provide me with the absolute latest in the world of start-ups and tech.  Although I rarely see or speak to either, I know exactly what they’re all about.

Taking this one step further is the story of the Facebook group I put together for a class I’m teaching this semester at McGill University.  I have 50 students, and despite the fact that I see them live twice a week, I know more about their likes, dislikes, political leanings, backgrounds, passions and pastimes by following what they choose to post on the class feed than I do by anything they’ve said in—or after—class.  These personal and personality revelations allow me to focus on them, and better react to them, in ways I’d never be able to do if I had to exclusively rely on our face-to-face encounters.

Scary?  Perhaps.  But quite helpful.  And  powerfully accurate.

So what did I learn this week?  Well, as I said above, “You Are What You Share.” 

But perhaps more importantly, what we share isn’t exactly “who we are,” but who we want to be, and how we want to be seen.

So despite that we seem to be prone to raw, indiscriminate revelations, we are actually, subconsciously controlling our own personal message with what we choose to share.

And if YOU choose to share this…you’ll be showing how damn smart you are ;)

February 17, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Devastating Power of the Cold Hard Truth

It’s rare when to hear anyone say anything negative about someone who has just died, but when the deceased is a Hollywood luminary, the tributes take on a most reverential and syrupy outpouring tone.  

Case in point are the eulogies surrounding the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I must admit was probably one of my most favorite actors of all time…which makes using him as the focus and example of this blog post somewhat difficult. 

That said, Hoffman’s status as an “actor’s actor” elicited the usual torrent of (well-deserved) high praise, mixed with profound sadness and remorse (equally as well-deserved).  In Entertainment Weekly, stars the magnitude of George Clooney, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore expressed condolences using familiar terms such as “devastating loss,” “fortunate enough to have known and worked with (him),” “no words” and “grief and regret.”  What saddened me most is that it all sounded so interchangeable, and so much the same old same old. 

Then I read Aaron Sorkin’s devastating tribute in Time Magazine, one whose cold, hard truth shattered the decorum of the usual Hollywood status quo into atom-sized shards. 

Like the others, Sorkin heaped high praise on Hoffman as a man, a colleague and especially as an artist.  But as a recovering drug addict himself, he had the guts, or foolhardiness, to walk down a dark place others would not…or perhaps could not.  After bestowing a most magnanimous compliment on the actor, Sorkin grimly stated that Hoffman 

“…did not die from

an overdose of heroin—

he died from heroin.” 


And before the reader had a chance to process the previous sentence, he trumped it by bludgeoning: 

“We should stop implying

that if he had just taken

the proper amount,

everything would be fine.” 


There’s more—including the strange death wish designed to “maybe scare someone clean”—and I urge you to read it all here, but this is not about poor Philip Seymour Hoffman or Aaron Sorkin. 

It’s about how what a shock it is to one’s system when they encounter the truth. 

When I read Sorkin’s Time Magazine missive, it stopped me in my tracks.  So much so, that I had to re-read it; not once but twice, because my first reaction was “How did the editors ever let this slip through?”  Never did he disparage or denigrate the man in it; he just shocked with frankness. 

There’s so much pandering pap, Machiavellian crap and factory-processed opinion swirling around the worlds of business, showbiz, politics, sports, medicine (stopping now, as I can go on for days) these days that when one encounters a fragment of truth, it is shocking and disarming, and stands out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Put another way...

We encounter

way too much spin…

and not enough drilling.

Even if one would be truthful why they can’t tell the truth, it’s a step in the right direction.  Last year, I met a Quebec political leader who said—point blank, in front of dozens of witnesses there to hear him expound on his party’s platform—that he makes decisions based not on his own political or personal convictions, but on what voters on the outlying areas of the province want to hear.  Sad…but true. 

Sorkin’s piece sparked all I needed to learn this week, namely:



It’s a powerful weapon, not only in politics and magazine eulogies, but in business.  Trust me, you want people to buzz about your product, service, or cause?  Then turn the bullshit meters down to zero and tell it like it is.  

Just tell the truth.  And then hold on for an unprecedented reaction. 

Maybe there’s a reason the truth is so rare.  Maybe Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, Jack Nicholson’s character in the film A Few Good Men (ironically, written by Aaron Sorkin) was right.  Maybe we can’t handle the truth.  

But you know what?  Given the alternative, I’ll take the risk.  

What I Learned This Week--The Devastating Power of the Cold Hard Truth

It’s rare when to hear anyone say anything negative about someone who has just died, but when the deceased is a Hollywood luminary, the tributes take on a most reverential and syrupy outpouring tone.  

Case in point are the eulogies surrounding the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I must admit was probably one of my most favorite actors of all time…which makes using him as the focus and example of this blog post somewhat difficult. 

That said, Hoffman’s status as an “actor’s actor” elicited the usual torrent of (well-deserved) high praise, mixed with profound sadness and remorse (equally as well-deserved).  In Entertainment Weekly, stars the magnitude of George Clooney, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore expressed condolences using familiar terms such as “devastating loss,” “fortunate enough to have known and worked with (him),” “no words” and “grief and regret.”  What saddened me most is that it all sounded so interchangeable, and so much the same old same old. 

Then I read Aaron Sorkin’s devastating tribute in Time Magazine, one whose cold, hard truth shattered the decorum of the usual Hollywood status quo into atom-sized shards. 

Like the others, Sorkin heaped high praise on Hoffman as a man, a colleague and especially as an artist.  But as a recovering drug addict himself, he had the guts, or foolhardiness, to walk down a dark place others would not…or perhaps could not.  After bestowing a most magnanimous compliment on the actor, Sorkin grimly stated that Hoffman 

“…did not die from

an overdose of heroin—

he died from heroin.” 


And before the reader had a chance to process the previous sentence, he trumped it by bludgeoning: 

“We should stop implying

that if he had just taken

the proper amount,

everything would be fine.” 


There’s more—including the strange death wish designed to “maybe scare someone clean”—and I urge you to read it all here, but this is not about poor Philip Seymour Hoffman or Aaron Sorkin. 

It’s about how what a shock it is to one’s system when they encounter the truth. 

When I read Sorkin’s Time Magazine missive, I had to stop and re-read it.  Not once but twice, because my first reaction was “How did the editors ever let this slip through?”  Never did he disparage or denigrate the man; he just shocked with frankness. 

There’s so much pandering pap, Machiavellian crap and factory-processed opinion swirling around the worlds of business, showbiz, politics, sports, medicine (stopping now, as I can go on for days) these days that when one encounters a fragment of truth, it is shocking and heart stopping, and stands out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Put another way...

We encounter

way too much spin…

and not enough drilling.

Even if one would be truthful why they can’t tell the truth, it’s a step in the right direction.  Last year, I met a Quebec political leader who said—point blank, in front of dozens of witnesses there to hear him expound on his party’s platform—that he makes decisions based not on his own political or personal convictions, but on what voters on the outlying areas of the province want to hear.  Sad…but true. 

Sorkin’s piece sparked all I needed to learn this week, namely:



It’s a powerful weapon, not only in politics and magazine eulogies, but in business.  Trust me, you want people to buzz about your product, service, or cause?  Then turn the bullshit meters down to zero and tell it like it is.  

Just tell the truth.  And then hold on for an unprecedented reaction. 

Maybe there’s a reason the truth is so rare.  Maybe Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, Jack Nicholson’s character in the film A Few Good Men (ironically, written by Aaron Sorkin) was right.  Maybe we can’t handle the truth.  

But you know what?  Given the alternative, I’ll take the risk.  

February 10, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Love Thy Hater


In a recent interview, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow admitted to succumbing to something she rarely does, namely read the online comments of her work.  Bad move.  One particularly nasty quip, which likened a song on her latest album to the sound of “being raped in an open field,” truly threw her for a loop.

"It was so heinous," she said. "I sobbed. I never read that stuff, but I happened to catch that one thing. And I sobbed…and it wasn't even what he said. It was the hatred."


While there is no excuse for comments that rancid, Sheryl can be consoled by the fact that any one of us who exposes him or herself online are targets—be we powerful, established artists or merely innocent kids posting pictures to Facebook—and thus must endure the wrath of a swath of (in)humanity called "The Hater."

They're everywhere.  Inescapable.  Usually anonymous, as rabid blowhard cowards usually are.  Powerful, too.  In the burgeoning YouTube creative community, veterans strongly advise newbies "Don't read the comments!" lest they want their souls destroyed by basement-dwelling knuckle-scrapers wielding keyboards like rusty scythes.

I suppose it's redundant

to say that haters are evil


But frankly, in this digital,

Internet-speed age, I think

they are a necessary evil.

And rather than attempting the impossible task of trying to shut them down, I think a better tactic is doing the exact opposite—embracing them and their handiwork.  For what I've seen lately is that haters are not ultimately spawning hate…but love.  And they are spawning it from a group of others who would've otherwise never been drawn into the debate.

Look at the counter-attack to the LGBT situation in Sochi.  What was supposed to be a silent Russian crackdown has exploded into a worldwide outpouring of support.  Brilliant ads, like this one from the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion, have been created.  Formerly brilliant ads have been "hacked" and used as protest vehicles.  And Rob Ford's garish stupidity aside, rainbow flags are being flown from city halls all over the world. 

Or how about the upcoming celebration of Pink Shirt Day on February 26? Now a nation-wide anti-bullying initiative, it started off as a protest against a bullying incident at Central Kings Rural High School in Nova Scotia. 

Put another way,

the haters have

brought out the lovers.

So this week's learning is what I call Newtonian Physics for Emotions, where every action is met with an equal—or better still, greater—opposite reaction.  This is why rallies against something are usually more passionate than rallies for something; boiling blood brings out the best in us.

While I'm no scientist, I'll continue with the physics analogy.  It's common knowledge that it's easier to change direction of something that's moving than something that’s standing still.  If nothing else then, haters get things, and eventually people, moving. Their negativity, nastiness and brutality act as a catalyst for love, and give people who may have been apathetic a reason to jump off the couch and on the bandwagon.

So with that in mind, let's hear it for the haters.  Enemies like them actually generate friends, and a slew of new ones to boot. Having them around is a true win-win; their vitriol will continue to result in positive counter-spin...until one day they'll realize the ultimate futility of their actions, and just shrivel up and blow away. 

And you gotta love that!

February 3, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Good Deeds Plant Seeds


I don’t wanna sound all tree-huggy, but this week’s lesson is a simple one of business that has more to do with green thumbs than it does with red ink or blue-chip stocks.

In a nutshell: 

Good Deeds Plan Seeds

And now here’s the story behind it. 

A couple of weeks ago, I hustled eight people from assorted Just For Laughs sectors over to Toronto for an intense meeting with a major agency about their even more major client.  Our eight were met by their eight, filling just about every seat at the agency’s massive boardroom table. 

On the table—figuratively, not literally—was a prolific, multi-year, multi-project transaction…a wide-reaching one that could easily top seven figures.  This deal was a big one; not just for us, but also for them.  Because of this, our pitch was a strange combination of ballsy bravura and delicately walking on eggshells.

After about an hour of discussing and describing the various properties available, we touched upon JFL42, our Toronto-based, tech-savvy event that appeals to a much younger and hipper demographic target than our Montreal behemoth.  At that point, a woman, who had been silent since her initial, round-the-table intro, spoke up.  She was one of the agency’s key media strategist.

“I want to talk about the social media of that event,” she said.

Gulp!  Social media, while important everywhere these days, is paramount at JFL42, because at its core is a community that we build via a web and mobile app.  A complaint about it now, here, could scuttle the entire process.

“Sure,” I said, hoping for the best.  “How was it?” 

Only a couple of seconds passed…but it seemed like an eternity until she said: 

“It was incredible. I went to shows just about every night, to the point of complaining on Twitter that you guys were making me so tired that I was going to get into trouble by coming in late work!” 

Phew!  But as I said, I was hoping for the best…and it was yet to come.  She continued:

“What was really impressive is what you did.” 

“What do you mean?” I asked, totally surprised.  I had no idea where she was going with this. 

“You guys actually wrote me a note, like in school, giving me permission to come in late!  I showed it around to EVERYONE!”

Said note, a physical piece of letterhead “signed” by the event itself, came from Nam Nguyen, who oversaw our web strategy for the event, and more notably, from Sasha Minoli, who was responsible for our day-to-day social media and who actually wrote it. (That’s a picture of it at the bottom.) 

So here’s the point—Sasha could’ve simply replied via a Tweet. She could’ve amped it up with a Facebook post as well.  For most companies, that would’ve been way more than enough. 

But instead, she chose to go the extra mile, and have some fun with someone who was obviously a very loyal and committed customer. 

The letter took her all of 90 seconds to write.  A little seed planted.

But four months later, in the context of solidifying reputation during magna-deal discussions, it had grown into a Sequoia tree. 

As it stands, we have since moved ahead nicely with the agency and the client.  And while I won’t know where the deal will ultimately end up for a few weeks, I have a feeling that Sasha’s good deed will have played an important role in getting us to a solid “Yes.”  I shudder to think what could’ve happened had it been handled in a less impressive manner.

What this all goes to show you is that “Ya never know.”  Ya never know who you’re dealing with, and Ya never know what it all can mean to you in the future. (Which is why, whenever I come across someone who says, “I met you before,” I immediately ask “Was I polite?”)

Think about Sasha’s letter next time you’re faced with the option of doing nothing, doing something…or doing something great.

Ya never know…your good deed can plant the seed of life.

Or death!


January 27, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Aim For The Front-lash!

Every once in a while, I get happily blindsided by a superb business adage.  An instant classic.  One for the ages. 

Better still, one that needs to be emblazoned on a t-shirt, or at least on one of those motivational posters that still line many offices across this great land of ours. 

Best of all, one that encapsulates my weekly lesson in a handful of words and one full swoop!

220px-Backlash_PosterThis one happened in Colorado last week, at a client meeting I was attending with partners from a tech powerhouse.  (Yes, this is another one of those posts where I can't reveal names due to a number of issues real and imagined, but trust me, they are of little relevance to the ultimate outcome of the story.) 

At said meeting, which included people from different sectors of the client company, its marketing and media agencies alongside yours truly and the aforementioned partners, we discussed a groundbreaking, brand-shaking marketing initiative.  This was to be a game-changer that would take everyone in the room down a new path, and well outside their respective comfort zones. 

Needless to say, there was a touch of discomfort in the discussion that followed the revelations in the campaign presentation.  One participant in particular expressed--well, continually expressed, to be frank--his concern over possible backlash to the bold, forward-thinking moves his company was about to make.

The company's head of marketing--responsible for setting the stage and pushing the envelope--listened patiently and addressed the concerns quietly and relatively passively...the first few times.

And then, the levy broke.

In a tone that truly defined the term "with all due respect," the marketing head thundered these words of wisdom: 

"Stop worrying

about backlash. 

If we HAVE a backlash,

that means we

HAD a Front-lash!"

End of debate. 

And the birth of a shining new adage!

Look, I understand the employee's reticence.  It's scary to take risks.  But to NOT take one on the fear and unlikely chance that it may blow up in your face is scarier still. To expect a backlash is to flatter one's self.

Let's face it, these days, most marketing moves are overwhelmingly ignored.  Lots of money and time spent, lots of good intentions, lots of expectations...and ultimately, crickets.

The ONLY way to cut through the clutter is do something magnificent and exciting.  And to do so is to walk a tightrope over the valley of disaster.  

Now I'm not advocating doing things blindly or recklessly; rather, I'm suggesting it's ultimately better to calculate your risk and err on the side of overconfidence.

Great marketing is a taunt.  It's a challenge.  You want people to notice you and take action.  And sometimes, you may miscalculate and the action taken ain't exactly the one you were hoping for.  But at least is was an "action," and not an "inertia."

Any half-decent business can find its way out of an "unfortunate episode."  Like a GPS, businesses can "recalculate" and choose another direction when faced with problems.

But as the marketing head said, having to react means that someone actually acted in the first place.

Or, put another, WAY better way, someone actually Front-lashed!

January 20, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The (Positive) Power of Prejudicial Pricing


As the words jumped from my mouth, I knew I sounded like a crusty cliché from an old black and white movie. 

“Turn the cab around!” I cried.  “There’s something I gotta see!”

The “something” was a sign outside The Bay’s massive flagship store in downtown Toronto.  I was on my way to an important meeting, slightly late by the time I spied the sign, but needed to stop for a closer look nonetheless.

The sign was for a chi-chi valet parking service, one which cost a whopping $35.

Despite the outrageous amount, that wasn’t the reason for my interest.  What was, were two other distinctive amounts under it.  All together, the sign read:

  • Valet Parking $35
  • Hybrids: $10
  • Electric Cars: $0 

Brilliant.  With those three lines, The Bay made an extreme statement, taking an environmental stance while taxing its more well-to-do clients cruising around in their Benzes or BMWs or Lexuses (trust me, if they were in Chevys or Chryslers, it’s doubtful they’re shelling out $35 to shop).  One single service, three different prices. (P.S. I tried to take a picture, but in my rushed state, it turned out too blurry to publish. Sorry!)

I call this phenomenon "Social Statement Segmentation" or "Prejudicial Positioning Pricing."  Yes, it’s quite a mouthful…but things that say a lot usually are.

The Bay is not alone.  One of my marketing students at McGill University sent me—serendipitously at just about the same time I was in that cab—this story of La Petit Syrah café in Nice, France from The Eater blog.  Perhaps it’s inspired by the anglicized name of the city, but the café also rocks three different price points for the same product, but depending on ‘tude.  A simple coffee is a jaw-dropping seven Euros.  Saying “please” will drop the price to 4.25.  Saying “hello” as well plunges the price even further, down to 1.40.  The difference between being very friendly and standoffish is about five-fold. 

As per the post from Hilary Dixler, the café owner said:

“...the tiered pricing structure started as a joke, a response to ‘very stressed’ and ‘sometimes rude’ lunch customers. ‘I know people say that French service can be rude,’ he adds ‘but it's also true that customers can be rude when they're busy.’ Apparently there has been an improvement in customer attitude.”

So it’s a win-win-win; customers are happier, which makes for a better work environment, and to top it off, for not one extra penny in expenditure, this little café is getting worldwide recognition.

Tiered pricing is not anything new; anyone who flies knows that there are price distinctions amongst seats on a plane, and mega differences between the same seat depending on how close to flight time you actually book it.  The same goes for hotel rooms and Broadway show tickets.

The difference here is how much marketing, positioning and statement noise you can make in one fell swoop with such a tiny bit of work. 

In terms of bang for the buck,

it’s a bunkerbuster blast

for a handful pocket change.

What I really love about this clever trick is that, unless you’re in a price-regulated industry like wheat or milk, you have free reign to come up with your own Social Statement Segmentation price policy.  You can mark-up more—or less—depending on whether your customers wear glasses, surrender their smartphones, sing a song, support a cause, or if you just happen to like their face or not. The only caveat: make sure your tiers are distinct and clear-cut.  This is no place for grey zones.

In my first business class was back at Vanier College, I learned about the Four Ps of marketing: Product, Promotion, Place (i.e. distribution) and bringing up the rear in terms of interest, Price.  Go figure that the most innocuous of them would turn out to have so much juice and power this many years later.

So the lesson of the week?  In a world of marketing sameness, ho-hum promises, and outright un-trusted lies, where so much is controlled by others...

What you choose to charge

can generate a most

shocking electric charge 

So...plug yourself in. And get ready for some attention.  


January 13, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Hungry…But For What's On MY Menu


One of my first orders of business in 2014 was rewarding a most substantial contract to a new supplier of ours at Just For Laughs.  While I would love to name names as both were incredibly worthy and inspiring companies, I won’t…for reasons that will become obvious as you read on.

Both companies were established in their space, albeit one slightly more than the other.  In pitching, the more established one focused on its size and credibility; the one that was slightly less so made up for it with a scrappy, aggressive, street-fighter attitude.  That company pulled out all stops—sent me countless targeted propositions, offered to fly here to meet at a moment’s notice or fly me there to do the same, sent gifts and promises of performance and what have you. 

This played well into one of my immutable business adages, namely “Give me the heart and the head will follow” (particularly useful in making ultimate recruiting decisions), and more importantly in this case, its close relative “Given the choice between two candidates, I’ll take the hungrier one,” i.e. the one who shows they want it most.

So in the end, a cut-and-dry-decision, no?

Well, no.

In the end, I went with the “established” company over the “hungry” one. 


Because I had a (pardon the pun) gut feeling that they were hungry for something other than what I was serving; sort of like walking into a Chinese restaurant with a craving for deep-dish Chicago-style pizza.

Simplistic?  Perhaps.  But what I realized is that for a business relationship to truly bear fruit (ooops…okay, that’s the last of the cheap culinary analogies), it’s not enough to merely be “hungry,” the ravenous eater and the feeder have to be in sync.

UnknownThe feeling reminded me of an experience I had with a Just For Laughs deal we signed many moons ago with the late Brandon Tartikoff.  Brandon (that's him at left) was an undeniable TV legend kicking off an independent production company called New World Entertainment following stints running NBC Television and Paramount Studios. Our Hollywood-based agency at the time was shopping us around as an ideal entity for a “first-look deal,” in layman’s terms, we would offer a production company a preview glance at all the talent coming to the festival, which allowed them to sign up said talent for sitcoms and other projects prior to them being rolled out en masse in front of the gathered competition at our event.

Throughout the negotiation process, Brandon was charming, an exquisite salesman, and deftly exploited his reputation, his radiant aura and profound comedy experience, which included launching NBC’s “Must See TV” Thursday nights, a line-up that included the first run of a little sitcom called “Seinfeld.”  In the end, he showed himself to be way hungrier than most other mega-companies we met (Warner Brothers TV, Fox Studios, etc.), and that was the main criteria that saw us sign with him. 

Not that anything went horribly wrong in our two years together, but nothing went incredibly right either.  We made a few bucks with his up-front payment, signed a few acts to deals that went nowhere…and ultimately learned that what Tartikoff and New World were truly hungry for was the “launch press release,” in other words, a major deal that established them as a player from the get-go.

So back to my most recent experience playing the “Hunger Games.” Although I loved the scrappy entity and its never-say-die representatives, I harbored this sneaky suspicion that the deal they were seeking was ultimately more about them than about us as a company or us as an ongoing relationship.  It was sort of like marrying for money instead of love; you know it will probably pay off, but in a way that benefits one party way more than the other.

How this deal plays out remains to be seen; we haven’t even taken our baby steps yet.  But no matter what, this deal has resulted in this week’s learning, namely:

Hunger alone is not enough. 

A real relationship requires

you to be ravenous

for what I am serving.

If not, in the end, we may both be eating crow

January 6, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Learning Is A Gift, Not a Given

1194984950810759386thought_cloud_jon_philli_01.svg.hiI’ve drawn a blank.

A big, honking, vacuous one.

Over the past week, for the first time in years, I didn’t learn anything new.

This is no big deal to most, but when one writes a long-standing weekly blog on the subject, and is usually drowning in a backlog of lessons learned, the lack of a new one in a bone-dry reservoir is an event nothing less than traumatic.

Perhaps it’s a consequence of the year-end downtime foisted upon me, but trust me, the drawn blank is certainly not for want of trying.  For the past seven days I searched, I read, I contemplated, I observed, I kept my eyes, ears and mind wide open.

Didn’t do any good.  Came up empty handed, and empty headed.

At first, this dry spell stressed me out.  Didn’t know how to handle it, and how I would ultimately deal with it. 

Then I remembered, and heeded, some of my own advice, namely that solutions to problems tend to surface when you stop explicitly searching for them.  So I surrendered myself to fate, stopped looking…and started waiting.

And continued waiting. 

And still nothing. 

Nothing...except that void.

Scientists will tell you that nature abhors a vacuum.  Must admit that I never fully appreciated that concept until this week.

And here’s what I realized when I did: 

Lessons are a gift. 

And learning is not a “given.”

True learning doesn’t come easy.  And it shouldn’t be taken for granted…which perhaps I’ve been doing for the past few years, as I’ve enjoyed a seemingly endless flow of lessons.

Learning can’t be forced, like the obligatory sense of “fun” one is required to feel at a New Year’s Eve party.

Mere actions taken may not be the proper catalysts. 

  • Reading is not enough; words can pass through your head like water through a sieve. 
  • Listening is not enough; you may just hear noise, or nothing at all. 
  • Looking is not enough; you can gaze everywhere but still not see anything. 

You may seek it, but true learning chooses to find you. 

And when it does, you’d better be ready to recognize and embrace it.  

Aw jeez…I think I may have actually just learned something. 


December 30, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Year--The Three Best Lessons of 2013

One of the reasons I love this time of year is that I overindulge in one of my guilty pleasures, namely the consumption of umpteen year-end compendiums and best-of/worst-of lists.  While spiced with a soupcon of hokum and Barnumism, these late-stage look-backs somehow manage to make sense of the previous 12 months by giving them a reflective perspective; one that is jaw-droppingly unimaginable by even the most proficient soothsayer at the head of the year.

It is with this spirit that I reviewed the 52 lessons I learned, and chronicled, in 2013 in order to formulate my own year-ender. And while I must admit that personally, 2013 wasn’t my favorite 365 days on earth (more tribulations, albeit minor, than triumphs), the three killer learnings throughout it managed to combine into a doctrine that forms an inspirational bellwether for 2014.

So, without any further ado, my Top Three Lessons Learned were:

  1. Life Doesn’t Listen to The Odds (Feb. 25)
  2. Discipline is the Obvious to Success (Aug. 5)
  3. Curiosity is More Important Than Imagination (Dec. 2)

Those of you who want a more thorough delving into each of the three can do so by clicking on the link and visiting the original post. But what struck me in going through, and evaluating, a year’s worth of learning and writing is how this trio forms the proverbial whole that is ultimately more than the proverbial sum of its parts.

The+Three+Amigos+three_amigosLet’s work backwards.  Lesson #3 was inspired by a quote from IAC’s Barry Diller, who said that these days, curiosity is more important than smarts. Knowing is one thing, but wanting to know is a whole other, and more valuable, trait. 

And living in a time when the world’s collected knowledge is only a millisecond Google search away on your smartphone, the act of wanting to discover something to add to that reservoir of knowledge is of much greater importance…and impact.

BiancheTwo-FaceCropped80pcBut curiosity alone is not enough.  It’s acting on it that completes and solidifies the concept, hence Lesson #2, which establishes the trait of discipline as an “obvious” (as opposed to a “secret,” get it?) to success.  I hear this all the time: “Man, I thought of that years ago!”  Trust me, so did hundreds of others who didn’t have the time, the courage, the capital, the drive, the capacity, the strength, the tenacity, the work ethic (I could go on) to convert the intangible thought into concrete reality. 

Ideas are truly a dime a dozen; it’s grinding it out and putting them into action that makes one more than yet another gilt-edged dream floating in the ether.  (Case in point is the re-imagination and de-stigmatization of the hearing aid, being driven by 77-year-old Rodney Perkins and his company Soundhawk.  This is something I wrote about and took a couple of steps with seven years ago. The difference is that he persisted; I moved onto other things. 

ImagesSo this takes us to Lesson #1, which was about the cold, hard reality of success…and failure.  Say you’ve managed to concretize your curiosity into something real.  Congrats, but hold the celebration; there’s no guarantee that it stays real. 

What I find intriguing in business is how people establish a system of “odds,” i.e. if “I take this route, or team up with this person, or get this much media hype, it will improve my odds of success.”  Uh, not really, because in the end, no matter what your project is, the odds of success are the same—50:50.  Either you make it, or you don’t. 

I’ve seen some of the greatest, strongest, best-funded companies and ideas fail.  And other seemingly half-assed, fly-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants concepts soar. Ultimately, it’s all a coin toss; heads you win, tails you lose.  Or vice versa. 

You never know.  But you’ll never find out until you try.  That’s the ONLY way to improve the odds…from zero to 50:50. 

So with 2014 hours away, the three top lessons of 2013 make up a roadmap for success in the New Year:

  1. Open your eyes and look beyond
  2. Grind it out
  3. Hope for the best/deal with the worst

Here’s to a year of learning, and better still, of teaching others.

December 23, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--"Your Time"...And What To Do With It


When I was six, I appeared on a legendary local TV show in Montreal called “The Magic Tom Show.”  Every day, the suave and beloved Tom Auburn (that's him above) performed for a group of kids, some of whom were lucky enough to be asked to sing a song in front of the live audience in studio and at home.  Most kids picked sang “Old MacDonald” or “Frère Jacques” or something else of the standard kindergarten repertoire; I sang the #1 hit of the week, “I’m Henry The Eighth I Am” by Herman’s Hermits, one of the major British Invasion bands of the '60s.  My performance was unprecedented and memorable to say the least, because to his dying day, Tom (who became a mentor and a friend) always told me that no other kid ever chose to sing a rock song. 

A few years later, earlier this month to be more precise, I realized a companion, dream-come-true, bookending moment to the story by once again singing this song in public.  This time, I did it onstage alongside Peter Noone—Herman himself! The lead singer of the Hermits!—at a fundraising concert.

Cut to last Thursday, when I tell this story to a friend of mine.  He smiled when I finished, but looked at me somewhat bewildered.  “I’m sorry and I don’t want to disappoint you,” he said, “but Magic Tom, Peter Noone and Herman’s Hermits are all well before my time.

No reason to be sorry, and no disappointment on my part, I told him.  (Not his fault he was born too late…)

Nonetheless, his words did rattle around my head for a few days.  And the more I thought about it, I realized

There is no shame

in not knowing what went on

“before one’s time.”

(The philosopher George Santayana once famously said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given the storage power of the Internet, perhaps it is more apropos to say “Those who cannot remember the past simply have to Google it.”)

But, and this is a big BUT, what I do find a little shameful, somewhat sad to be frank, is not knowing what’s going on “during one’s time,” i.e. now.  

Worse yet is not being curious about what will be going to go on “after one’s time,” namely the future, immediate or distant. 

Polls_hermans_20den2277522_3437_548393_answer_3_xlargeI don’t want to call it an “epidemic of ignorance,” nor am I the world’s most enlightened human being, but these days, I do find that people’s level of awareness of “what’s going on” to be in desperate need of elevation.   

There’s no excuse, as people have so much access to so much information so incredibly rapidly and conveniently that the crippling disease of “unawareness,” like Polio, should be nearly eradicated. 

Perhaps this is more a symptom of there being so much—dare I suggest too much?—information out there that many get overwhelmed by it.  In fact, if you examine the individuals who make up my social circle, on the average, they are relatively well informed. 

Problem is, said average is skewed and brought up by a lot of people I know who are obsessively hyper-informed.  Being amongst them is akin to taking a course in the relevant.

So how does this translate into this week’s learning?

Well, this week’s learning is about learning.  About learning about today, and tomorrow. About being more informed, and ultimately more interesting. And not just to be better guests at Christmas and/or New Year’s parties; to be better, period.

Check your watch.  It’s your time right now (at least it's after Noone...).  

Be part of it.

December 16, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Print Is Dead! Long Live Print!


This is the story of 14 magazines and two books.

And the death of the print medium. 

And the resurrection of the print medium.

Epic story, it seems!

Let’s begin it with me.  I am a voracious reader.  Spend a disproportionate amount of my free time buried in books and magazines.  Yet this week, I made the decision to cancel my subscription to the 14 magazines I read regularly, namely: 

  • Time
  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek
  • Maclean’s
  • Wired
  • Fast Company
  • Fortune
  • Entertainment Weekly
  • Conde Nast Traveler
  • Canadian Business
  • The New Yorker
  • Inc.
  • Vanity Fair
  • Esquire
  • Consumer Reports

No longer will these publications be sent to my home (and given Canada Post’s newly-announced draconian measure, my timing seems to be very right)…but that doesn’t mean I will stop reading them.

Instead, they will be sent to my iPad and iPhone as part of a $14.99 monthly subscription to NextIssue, an all-you-can-eat pure digital play described as “the Netflix of magazines.”  I chose to replace what I currently read, but I could’ve chosen 100 more if I really wanted to. 

Now I don’t want to sound like a shill for the service, nor do I want to sound the death knell for the magazine industry, but it appears this is the logical next step to save it.

Sure, each of the magazines I had subscribed to (each one way more expensive than my new $14.99 aggregate, I may add) came with the perfunctory “digital version,” but who needed the concrete print edition folded in the mailbox when its zeroes-and-ones version actually arrived days earlier?  

As I type these words, directly to the right of my computer screen, are two piles of magazines...each about a foot-and-a-half high.  Despite my ravenous appetite for consuming them, they accumulate.  Even if I eventually do get around to all of them, they are ultimately tossed into the recycling.  What a waste of time, paper, money and energy. 

So is the

magazine industry dead

No, it’s simply moving on

to a new location.

Granted, I will miss the satisfying “rip” of an article I tear out to save, and the fact that I can roll a magazine up to swat a fly, but other than that, there is really no logical reason to prolong their paper presence for much longer.  Better still, as magazines adapt to the digital space and further integrate motion, movies and other media (forward-thinking Wired, for example, is WAY better digitally than it is print), they will become more exciting and a better product, period. 

Now for books.  Despite the fact that I compose this piece flanked by shelves of volumes in my home office/library, just about every “book” I buy these days is downloaded as well. 

I put the word “book” in quotations for a reason.  Unlike the migration of magazines, I feel that the book business has split in two, and in the process, is redefining what a book is. 

On one hand, like magazines, books have met the digital disintermediator.   Why waste natural resources for a simple tactile thrill?  Novels, non-fiction, scholastic texts, self-help all work just as well, or even better, on a digital platform.

But that doesn’t mean printed books are dead.  They’re just morphing into entities that CAN’T be replicated digitally. 

Cases in point are two volumes I bought one year apart from each other.   One is “S,” the brilliant recent collaboration of TV/film producer J.J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst; the other, “Places I Remember,” the boxed Beatles photography collection by Henry Grossman

The former is ingenious.  It’s a story played out within the pages of a faux library book, a 1949 novel by the mysterious “V.M. Straka.”  In it, two characters communicate through notes scribbled in the book’s margins as well as through newspaper clippings, postcards, maps and other ephemera they stick within the book’s pages (that's it on top). With “S,” Abrams and Dorst have created a brand new medium—a performance in print!—and take us on a journey that traditional books would be hard-pressed to match.  I can’t think of a better $25 (discounted!) I ever spent on a reading experience.  

Places 1

The latter volume is a massive boxed missive that was released last year.  Grossman was one of the Fab Four’s favorite photogs, and had almost unlimited access to the band between 1964 and 1968.  Over 1,000 of his rare, never-before-seen images of that era were elegantly packaged by Curvebender Publishing, a company that sells ultra-high-end, limited edition volumes exclusively from its website.  Long story short, “Places I Remember” is more a conversation piece and collector’s item than mere book, and one year after I laid out a whopping $800 for the signed version (the entire edition sold out), it is now selling for upwards of $5,000 on eBay. 

Curvebender is not alone in this game.  Genesis Publications of England do something similar. Chronicle Books assemble “Illustrated Lives” of icons, filled with memorabilia replicas, while just about anything Taschen does is memorable.   Then there are “books” like Chris Ware’s “Building Stories,” a hard to describe boxed collection of hardcovers, paperbacks, pamphlets, comics, maps and other printed material that combine to form a most puzzling and innovative graphic novel, one that blows the traditional book biz paradigm to smithereens.  Guess you just have to be there. 

And that’s just the point.  Let’s call it “Event Publishing,” where the “event” isn’t the macro hype when some famous author releases a new book, but the micro experience when one takes home one of these newfangled literary works and gets to play with it.

So what did I learn this week other that I saved a bunch of money on magazines and made a few bucks on a Beatles book?

I learned that print isn’t dead. 

It’s just being redirected…or redefined.

P.S.  Isn’t it somewhat ironic reading about this here?

December 9, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Great Ideas: If They Get It, Forget It!


What constitutes a great idea these days?

I’ll get to the answer in a second, but as a related aside, Fortune Magazine named Elon Musk its Business Person of the Year.  Musk is the CEO/founder of TWO boundary-busting companies; Tesla, which produces sleek electric cars, and SpaceX, which helps send people into orbit. 

Musk runs these companies in a corporate environment populated by enterprises that manage digital-only currency, print 3D structures in metal and/or plastic, develop drone armies to deliver books, cook up insect-based snack foods and give eyesight to the blind

I could go on with other examples for hours.  In a nutshell, we live in a world of science fiction, where the unthinkable is mere reality.

But things don't always start out that idyllically.

So back to the question of great ideas…

I’ll frame the answer in a business context, but frankly, it applies to everything from piece-making to peace-making.

A couple of weeks ago, I was giving a speech to a group of young entrepreneurs (see picture above).  In the Q&A session, I was asked: “What was your toughest challenge?”  My answer was spontaneous and simple: 

“The toughest challenge I ever faced was trying to convince people that I wasn’t insane.” 

Here’s why.  My professional career can be summed up in two big swings of the bat—helping launch the world’s first and biggest comedy festival, and pioneering the world of mobile media and entertainment. 

In 1986, when Gilbert Rozon and I criss-crossed New York and L.A. offices trying to convince managers and agents to allow their acts to perform in a never-before-tried event called a “comedy festival,” in Montréal of all places, people thought we were crazy.

In 2000, when Garner Bornstein and I, holding large mobile phones with monochrome green screens, tried to convince investors and media companies that “One day people will be watching video on these things!”, people thought we had lost our minds.

Yet today, Just For Laughs reigns in a sea of competitors over the globe, and get a reality check if you need to be convinced about the global, society-changing power of mobile media and apps.

So this week’s learning, as it pertains to the next great idea? 

If they get it…


Every great idea is seen through a pair of glasses with two lenses of different strengths—the stronger one that bewilders, the weaker one that plants the seed of “Yeah…but what if?

I tell my kids, both entrepreneurs, this all the time.  And it’s counsel I offer to whoever comes to me for investment or advice on some innovation: 

If you have an idea, explain it to a handful of people.

If they say “Wow!  That’s the best thing I ever heard!  It can’t miss!”…then drop it like a chunk of pulsating nuclear waste. 

But if they look at you in a combination of sympathy and contempt, as if you are speaking in some sort of alien tongue, then smile succinctly to yourself.  You’re onto something.  Maybe something big.

That’s the reaction that allowed Elon Musk to conquer roads and skies.  That’s the reaction that allowed Jack Dorsey to change the way we communicate (Twitter) and use smartphones as a payment device (Square).  And that’s the reaction that allowed the late Nelson Mandela to change the course of a country, and the world.

Great ideas rarely start out as great.

But with time, with hard work, and with a little luck…they eventually get there.

December 2, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Imagination Ain't Enough Anymore

Way back in 1931, Albert Einstein famously mused that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

In saying this, as in so many other ways, Einstein was ahead of his time, since the value of the entity called “the fact” has eroded almost down to nothing in the 82 years since his utterance. 

Knowing stuff” used to be esteemed; smart people were revered and admired for being “learned.”  Now, those who use their brains as a repository for facts are merely a quaint curiosity to be exploited on Jeopardy or around a Trivial Pursuit board.

Really, what does anybody truly need “to know” now? Anything that was, that happened or that is can be referenced in a millisecond or two via Google on your smartphone.

True value these days isn’t in just “knowing.” And with all due respect to Albert Einstein, even wild-eyed imagination ain’t the shining star it used to be.

These days, the holy grail of intelligence is a double-barreled entity called Curiosity.

Barry Diller, the sage Chairman of IAC and Expedia, may not be today’s answer to Einstein, but in last week’s Bloomberg Businessweek, the mega-successful thinker, builder and operator waxed wise in his response to the question: “Are there areas that you wish you knew more about?” 

Said Diller:

“We’re in a world now where it’s not enough to be smart.  You have to be curious

Curiosity is rare. The further up in a business you are, the less intelligent you need to be. 

At the entry stage, the sieve grows tighter and education can only do so much.”

The beauty of curiosity as the prime factor of success is that it marries both the mental and physical elements of progress.  To wit, “Knowledge” implies the tasks of filling, memorizing and regurgitating.  “Imagination” implies the art of thinking and dreaming.  Curiosity, however, requires not only the cerebral wonderment of “what if?” but also the actual corporeal action of “let’s see!” for absolute fulfillment.  It’s the yin/yang between conceptualization and follow-through; one without the other voids the process.

This changes everything, as (if you can believe the old cliché) curiosity may have killed the cat, but if you can believe Diller—or me—it’s going to be the lifeblood of the next generation of top dogs. 

This is something I’m going to get to see, and put into action, for myself soon.

Over the past few weekends, I’ve been spending a good deal of time prepping a marketing class I’m going to be teaching at McGill University next year.  My greatest challenge is assembling a modern-day course that bridges the sectors of academia and the “real world,” and exploits curiosity to a group of students who have come of age in the “know it all” Internet era. 

In other words, what’s not important is teaching a bunch of stuff that’s “going to be on the test,” but imparting a bunch of stuff that will “put them to the test.”  Planning ain’t been easy, but it’s been fun.  Let’s see if it stays fun once put into play…

So if I have to summarize this week’s learning, it’s that learning isn’t enough. 

It’s what we actually and eventually DO with that learning that counts.

Or, put another way…


is more important

than imagination.

P.S.  Wanna see a prime example of curiosity's "what if?/let's see!" in action?  Read this fascinating Fast Company piece.

November 25, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week—The Amazing Benefit of Honoring Other People's Kids


Even the most non-religious amongst us recognizes “Honor Thy Mother and Father” as one of the Ten Commandments.  This ain’t just any commandment though, many pious Jews argue that it’s the most important of them all.  More than a mere commandment, they see it as a “mitzvah,” a good deed, something recognized as a precious, golden moment between children and their parents.

While I’m no Talmudic scholar, I have often pondered whether the opposite is true; in other words, whether parents’ honoring their sons and daughters is equally as highly regarded and important. 

That is a debate I will leave to others better educated and more righteous then yours truly. 

However, one that I will open is the culmination of this week’s learning, namely:

One of the finest

“good deeds” you can do is

honor the children of others.

This is something I learned first-hand at Just For Laughs in 1995. Given the 24/7 nature of running the Festival back then, I spent the last two weeks of July sequestered at the event’s host hotel, where my wife would often bring my two young children to visit in an effort to prove that yes, they still had a daddy.

That year, there was a successful animated cartoon producer who came to the event.  He was somewhat slimy, but not off the charts as per Hollywood standards.  He often noticed me traipsing about the hotel with my sons, and one day, stopped us.  He asked my boys their names, asked if they knew his show (which they did), and then brought out a huge bag stuffed with videocassettes, t-shirts and other merchandise from said show for them.  My kids went crazy, and we all thanked the man profusely.

Cut to a few years later. 

The producer’s show was long off the air, and he hadn’t had anything even resembling a hit since.  That, combined with his somewhat prickly personality, rendered him essentially worthless and invisible at the event when he made a reappearance.  Those who didn’t give him the time of day simply ignored him completely.

Except for me. 

I treated him with respect and warmth.  Not because I liked him much; because I remembered what he had done for my kids.  That was more important than anything. Yes, perhaps there was a little “brown-nosing” in his initial outreach, but no matter what, back then he had done something while most did nothing.

That’s the true secret of getting into someone’s good books—do right by their offspring.  There are few things more appreciated, or rewarding. 

You may forget

who’s done right by you,

but you’ll never forget

who’s done right by your kids.

Just this past week, I was asked to speak at Dawson College in the middle of an incredibly busy period.  There was no “win” in it for me, but since the subject was entrepreneurship, I said I would do it only if I could do so alongside my 23-year-old son Hayes, who had recently opened up his own custom furniture design business.  Much to my delight, they said yes, and even more delightful was the way the organizers—and the crowd—treated my son.  (That's us up above.)  They now have a license to ask me for just about anything.

Later that day, I went to an art exhibition, where I told Corinne Asseraf, the gallery owner the Dawson story.  She asked about Hayes’ work, and I showed her.  She was so impressed that she offered to display some of it in her galleries (she has three!) and introduce him to some of her more avant-garde clients. 

Which is why, needless to say, I left that exhibition glowing.  

And which is why, the next day when one of my hockey coaches from the summer asked if I could get his son an internship position with us at Just For Laughs, I just had to return the “pay it forward” karmic favor. 

And which is why I donate to a charity set up by one of my old high school friend’s son, and why I just sponsored a colleague’s daughter in a Christmas fundraiser.

Let’s face it, sometimes these offspring offers have an ulterior motive, but in the end, who really cares?  By honoring our kids, their mothers and fathers are being honored in the process.

Perhaps that should be the 11th Commandment.

November 18, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Ignorance Is Agony


Let’s hear it for 18th century British poet Thomas Gray, for it was he, in his poem “Ode On a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” who coined the phrase “Ignorance is bliss.”

Actually, it’s only a portion of a longer phrase—“No more; where ignorance is bliss / 'Tis folly to be wise—the final two lines that close the aforementioned poem.

And as phrase portions go, it is perhaps one of the most misunderstood in the history of English literature. Despite close to 275 years of endurance, with it, Gray was not endorsing ignorance; rather he was reminiscing nostalgically on a his youth, a period when he was “allowed” to be ignorant.

How do I know this? 

Well, I looked it up. 

I researched it. 

I consulted a handful of sources, cross-referenced facts, and drew a conclusion.


Because ignorance is NOT bliss.

Well, perhaps it is for the ignorant.

But for the rest of us...


Goddamn awful. 

That’s this week’s painful learning.

Yes, I am venting.  Over the past week or so, I’ve had to endure meetings with, brainstorming sessions among (is there anything worse-named than a “brainstorm”?) and—will wonders never cease!—political proclamations by people so ill-informed that both my lips are scarred from outburst-preventing bites.

For sake of slander and libel lawsuits, I can’t go into much personal detail over the meeting and brainstorming attendees, but trust me when I say I was trapped in debates with people so thick that they would render even the most powerful bunkerbuster bomb impotent. 

What’s worse is that instead of sitting quietly, taking things in and learning something, these people felt their attendance necessitated an animated and vocal participation far beyond the norm.  I have no concrete proof, but observationally I can put forth the theory that there exists a powerful, inverse relationship between knowledge and volume. 

There is one person I can name in my rant on the ignorant, namely Tania Longpré, who is running for the PQ in the upcoming provincial by-election in the riding of Viau. Amongst her early proclamations was demanding the word “Jewish” be removed from Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, as well as calling for a total ban on circumcision. 

Yikes!  Although she has since “taken back” her remarks (I love how people no longer need to apologize for ignorance, but can just “take back” what they said), I can just about guarantee her actions have caused two words to be permanently removed from the Jewish General Hospital:

1) Tania and 2) Longpré. 

Put another way, one can draw a parallel between Tania Longpré's political career and post circumcision foreskin...but I digress.

Here’s what’s scary.  Guess what Tania does when she’s not undertaking what will inevitably be a futile bid for public office?  

She’s an educator, teaching French to new immigrants in Quebec.  Lord save us from what must be going on in those classes.

That’s the problem with ignorance: bad information is worse than no information.  It empowers the fool with faulty ammunition that is used recklessly. Worse still, there are a lot more sources of bad information than there are for silence.

So is all lost? 

Frankly, yes…if we give in to the ignorant.  Loud and belligerent do not necessarily establish “correct”; they are actions designed to pre-empt an attack of reason and contrary opinion. 

Sadly, ignorance isn’t going away any time soon.  Despite all the tools we have at our disposal, people aren’t simply one day decide to “smarten up,” to gather information from multiple sources, to critically analyze and come up with a well thought-out conclusion…then share it calmly. 

Which means that the rest of us have to fight for our right to be bright.

Ignorance is indeed agony, but we need not be preordained to suffer.  We need to point out inconsistencies and inaccuracies.  Arm ourselves with facts and figures and informed commentary.  Counterbalance the heavyweights.  Use our heads instead of banging them against a wall in frustration.

In other words...

Don’t take “Duh” for an answer!

November 11, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Worst Combination of Things

A few weeks ago, Time Magazine did a cover story profile on outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Outlining his somewhat amazing litany of accomplishments as well as his equally audacious future plans, the article ended with a quote from His Honor that I just can’t seem to get out of my head:

"The worst combination

of things is to NOT

try to do the right thing…

and to lose."

Think about it for a second…and then think of what’s going on across my homeland Canada.

We have a Federal Government embroiled in a Senatorial expense scandal that started somewhat innocuously, but now seems to get dirtier and more convoluted each week, leaving most with the feeling that there’s a lot more bad yet to come.

Next, Canada’s largest city is embroiled in a truly distressing fiasco thanks to its obviously ill and way-out-of-his-league mayor.  The humiliation and disgrace surrounding Toronto’s Rob Ford—let’s just generously describe him as “The anti-Bloomberg”—gets more unfathomable with every hour.   Imagine this a film script; even the most desperate Hollywood producer would reject it for being too surreal.

And then there’s Quebec, where the minority government is trying to ram an onerous, us vs. them, confederate-styled "Charter of Rights and Values" through the national assembly, one that mixes the worst of Orwell and Machiavelli in dividing the populace and limiting religious freedoms in the name of one-ness.  (Perhaps the best perspective on it comes from comic Rick Blue, of Bowser and Blue fame, who said: “Let's look on the bright side—the Parti Quebecois have done something here in Montreal that no one else in the world has ever been able to do. They have united the Arabs and the Jews!”)

A trifecta of “worst combinations.” 

Worst combinations that are only going to get worse before they get better.  And even once they do get better, there will be a lot of collateral damage left behind to clean up.

One could get depressed.

But then again, one could look at the calendar and realize that it’s Remembrance Day, the annual mark of respect to people who indeed DID do the right thing.  And although I believe there is never really no “win” in war, one shudders to think what we’d be facing today had we had to deal with a “loss.”

In reflecting on the dichotomy of such a national day of pride and deference to fortitude when so much of what stands for personal character seems to be degenerating into rot, we can be warmed to know that one person can still make a difference and that for every bit of evil, there seems to be a greater amount of good.

Small, small personal example is a conversation I had with friends Shea Emry and Devon Brooks, who came over for dinner on Friday.  He is a defensive star for the Montreal Alouettes and she is an entrepreneur/motivational speaker…but both of them are the antithesis of what stands for “official leadership.”  Last week, Shea and Dev hosted a unique yoga event to raise funds for Movember.  The week before, Shea was the official spokesperson for a mental health fundraiser that he attended only hours before playing in a game at Molson Stadium.  And the future plans the two have are astonishing; I’m sworn to secrecy now, but trust me, you’ll be hearing from and about them.  This is him doing good:


So this week’s lesson is an inspiring one.  Indeed, the worst combination is NOT trying to do the right thing…and to lose. 

But at the other extreme, there are so, so many who did the right thing, and/or are still trying to do the right thing 

And just by doing that, no matter how small...they have already won. 

November 4, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Rainy Days and Mondays Always Pump Me Up

I woke up on Saturday to a cold, cloudy, rainy, extremely windy day.  One of those days when the dampness crawls inside you and chills the bones, no matter what you’re wearing.  In other words, typical dank, miserable Northeastern November weather.

And I couldn’t have been happier.

Mark Twain famously said: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Mark Twain never met me.

Because bad weather days open up a whole world of possibilities for yours truly. 

As has been my habit for the past seven years, I compose these blogged pearls of wisdom over the weekend, usually on Saturdays.  And trust me, no matter what the subject of ‘em, they’re always easier to write when my office’s bay windows are filled with views of dense grey clouds than with a panorama of clear blue skies.

On the surface, crummy days make me feel that I’m missing out on less.  In other words, being confined to a computer and desk on a gloomy morning means that I’m not wasting a precious day of sun and the outdoor possibilities they bring. I’m not distracted by "what could be"s, and thus deal realistically with "what are"s.

Because of that, I accomplish more when the weather is rotten. 

It’s strange, but thanks to the meteorological dreariness, all the little things that would be understandably ignored and overlooked if it were sunny outside take on a new life, and radiate brightly themselves.  The sweet clouds and rain are actually a boon to my productivity. 

  • The books, magazines and websites I have to read...
  • the piles of paper I have to sort through...
  • the documentaries I want to watch...
  • the plans I need to make...
  • the bills I need to pay...
  • the closets I need to straighten up...
  • the things I just have to sit back and spend time thinking about...
...they are all now—pardon the pun—seen in a new light. 

Years ago, Paul Williams wrote perhaps the ultimate paean to miserable weather with “Rainy Days and Mondays.”  A musical invitation to slash one’s wrists, it actually was a #2 chart hit for The Carpenters in 1971 (and if you really want to experience instant depression, hide the sharp objects and take a listen to Cracker’s 1994 remake), and contained the chorus “Hanging around/Nothing to do but frown/Rainy days and Mondays/Always get me down.”

But rainy days and Mondays don’t get me down; they actually pump me up.

Although I’ve known it for a while, this week’s learning reaffirmed it:

Bad weather leads

to great output

That said, let me close with a semblance of an apology.  Please excuse the uncharacteristic brevity of this week’s post, but I’m looking at the clouds, and looking at the time…and I’ve got so much else to do!

October 28, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Be Always on Your Guard


As mentioned in this very space this time a week ago, I spent last Sunday evening giving a speech at the Consumer Goods Forum International Conference. Subject of said speech was actually culled and expanded from an original blog post here a little while back, in essence trying to explain to a gaggle of global foodstuff execs that “The process and stories behind their products are every bit as important as the products themselves.”

Since I was the final speaker on a very long day spent inside a windowless hotel ballroom (or as I put it in  my opening words: “The barrier now standing between you and freedom”), I knew I would have to pump up the volume and the energy a notch or two to get my point through.  Despite the hurdle, I thought I did quite well, and hoped that at least some of the fatigued gathering retained and benefitted from the message.  That's me making it above.

Cut to the next night, a little more than 28 hours later, when I’m walking my dogs near the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  A few people wearing nametags were huddled outside the museum before boarding a bus waiting to take them back to their hotel.  As I walked by, one of them called out to me:

“Hey Mr. Nulman!  What are you doing here?” 

I looked up and recognized the tags, and some of the faces, from the conference the day before.  After exchanging niceties, I explained that I lived two blocks away, and that this route was a nightly ritual for me and my dogs.  A few more people, exiting from the conference event being held inside the museum, joined the conversation.  One of them had perhaps a little too much to drink and recalling my words, smirkingly asked:

“So…is there a story behind the jacket you’re wearing?”

Well, at least the message got through to this guy. 

And luckily, there was indeed a story behind the puffy black jacket on my back. I had bought it in New York at the Japanese retailer Uniqlo specifically for a trip to Kenya, needing something warm for the cold safari nights but small enough to fit into limited baggage space.  Given that this down-filled beauty rolled up into a bag the size of a small bread made it ideal for my trip…and for this impromptu street-side story-telling challenge. 

“And what about your dogs?” the guy continued.  “Is there a story behind them?” 

Thanks for the lob ball my friend.  Indeed, both Shaydee (my beagle/spaniel mix, born from an indiscrete kennel affair between a friend’s dog and some horny pup they all thought was neutered, and the first dog I ever held in my ams) and Rawqui (the wheaton/poodle mix we saved from certain euthanasia, coming to us as a last-ditch attempt to find a home, malnourished and sickly but adorable, on a late Sunday night a few years ago) had pedigrees of compelling tales for me to tell.

Given my three strikes, the guy was out of the conversation and onto the bus.  His conference colleagues apologized somewhat on his behalf, but there was no need…for the encounter had actually left me buoyant and energized.  What’s more, his test was the root of this week’s lesson, namely: 

You can say

whatever the hell you want,

but you’d better be ready

to defend it.

These days, with so many avenues of “talk” (including this blog), we are going through an unparalleled era of free expression.

But with this exponential explosion of expression comes the almost immediate counter-attack of disbelief.  Most people don’t merely accept and believe what they’re told anymore.  What’s more, since communication lines now go (at least!) two ways, people feel empowered—perhaps even expected!—to challenge what they’re told. 

Even if it’s as innocuous as a platitude at a business conference. 

And even if it’s in a setting as unlikely as a late-night urban dog walk.

So the learning of the week goes to the root of this blog:

Being able to say something

is exciting and liberating,

but being able to

successfully defend it

is even better.

So…any takers?

October 21, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Yes Your Honor

Yes Your Honor

By all measures, last week was a memorable one.  I gave a speech to hundreds of international delegates at the Future Leadership Group of the Consumer Goods Forum, finalized a major deal for Just For Laughs Gags and a mega worldwide brand…and I was the honoree for a major fundraiser by the Canadian Hadassah-WIZO organization.

We’ll get to the first two later; I’d like to concentrate on the third.  But perhaps not for the reasons you’d think.

On the surface, being honored is a lot of fun and games. 

  • People spread your Photoshopped likeness all over the place; on printed invitations, glossy posters, email mega-blasts and websites. 
  • They preface your name with a lot of effervescent adjectives every time it’s spoken, treat you and your family like deities, and seek your royal approval for even the smallest of details (“Do you prefer penne or rotini as a pasta?”). 
  • Even though, at most times, you don’t know what exactly you’ve done to deserve the honor being bestowed, you nonetheless get a lot of hearty and heartfelt congratulations from friends and strangers alike.  It’s a heady time of lofty, floaty, fuzzy feelings.

Scratch the surface though, and things rapidly come back down to earth.  Being honored can also be a heck of lot of work. 

  • You have to provide the honoring organization with a detailed mailing list of close to everybody you’ve ever been in contact with. 
  • To that list, you have to compose a persuasive letter that solicits varying levels of support, from mere ticket purchases to major sponsor procurement.
  • And then you have to follow up on it. 
  • And follow up on it again. 
  • And because there’s no such thing as a free ride, you also have to be prepared to make some sort of commitment—financial and/or time—to the cause that’s honoring you. 

Finally, you get to the whirlwind of “the night of.” 

  • On one hand, there’s the euphoric scrub-washing of being told non-stop that “tonight’s all about you” by gaggles of people who have assembled there “just for you.” 
  • On the other hand, there’s the stress of making sure you attend to everyone in this gaggle properly; eyes darting about them like a surveillance camera to ensure that they are all eating and drinking and having a good time.  
  • And while all this is going on, even though you are merely this year’s figurehead, there’s the pressing guilt wondering whether your reputation and efforts actually helped the organization reach its fundraising goal. 
  • As well as whether or not they’re happy with you. 
  • And if they really mean what they are saying in the speeches they’re making about you.

In the end, as I suspect is the denouement of every wedding, bar mitzvah, birthday, anniversary party or other celebrative occasion, it’s over before you know it…leaving you pondering over a late-night drink about what the hell just happened.

Not that I’m ungrateful, far from it, but in my reflective time, I sat wondering about the real meaning of the word “honor.”  The plaques, kind words and other souvenirs of one’s “night” are fond keepsakes…but don’t truly reflect what a true honor is.

At least, not to me. Because the way I see it, the true honor of a person cannot be measured by a certificate, by a trophy or by the glowing words said on a microphone to one’s face in an assembly.

To me...

The only true honor is

what people say about you

when you’re not around. 

No matter how good the party planner is, one can’t manufacture an honor.  As a human being, you can only act honorably, and let the chips fall where they may.

So in that spirit, and on the topic of honor, I wondered what others involved in the evening were saying about me and “the night” in their reflective moments.

Or what the Consumer Goods Forum delegates were saying about the speech I gave.  

Or what that superstar brand was saying about the experience of dealing with me.

A true honor is the opposite of the tree falling in forest, where one needs to be there to hear if it makes a sound.

A true honor occurs when you’re NOT there to hear, or feel, it.

Eventually, somehow, it makes its way back to you.

So the point here, the learning of the week, is that I’m far from unique. Most of us have countless nights where we are honored.

It’s just that we’re not invited to them.

October 14, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Left To Do Right

I’ve been doing a lot of flying in and out of Toronto recently, and using the city’s convenient two-pronged Billy Bishop downtown island airport almost exclusively to do so. 

For those who have never been there, the efficient airport’s pint-sized landing strip and operational centre is separated from its entrance/exit point on the city’s lakeshore by a small strip of water.  To traverse from one to the other requires a relatively pleasant two-minute trip on a ferry (the city is now building an underground walkway as a ferry alternative, but that doesn’t change the point of this blog post).  And to control the foot traffic on the island structure, upon disembarking the ferry, people are greeted by the sign below:

Go Left
Now, at peak hours, the sign is totally irrelevant as the lineup of people hugging the windows waiting to board the ferry stretches seemingly forever, thus blocking any attempt of anybody even trying to veer right. 

But at off-peak hours, where the hallway is basically bare, the sign serves as the impetus for a fascinating social experiment.

Here’s what I mean.  The past four times I exited the ferry to catch a flight out of Billy Bishop, I witnessed the exact same behavior of my fellow passengers:

The flow of people

blatantly ignored the sign,

kept right instead of left,

and made their way to

the ticket counter/security area.

So what does one make of this?

On one hand, when given the choice, people seemed to want to “break the rules” and thumb their nose at authority by going right instead of left…even when there is no advantage whatsoever in doing so.  No shortcut, no better scenery, no nothing.

However, in going right, they acted as sheep, following each other almost mindlessly after someone’s initial digression.  The end result is that in making a statement of individuality by ignoring the sign and “going against the grain,” they were making an equal statement of conformity by doing the exact same thing as everyone else.

What I really wanted to see, and what I suppose pure mathematical statisticians might suggest should happen, was a left/right cointoss mix of badasses, law-abiders, conformists and nonconformists, with approximately 50% of people going one way and 50% going the other. 

But the resulting “all-in” traveler flow is a microcosm, I guess, of a society that rapidly tires of the norm, waits for someone to deviate from it, then follows said deviation virally to rapidly create a new norm. 

Repeat ad nauseam and voila:

you have a cycle of

obedient disobedience. 

Ultimately, this paradox may not be a bad thing, as it spawns new business opportunities, creates new trends and cultural icons, and makes people feel rebellious while really playing it safe.

But for someone like me, it creates nothing but disturbing internal conflict and a painful dilemma.  Waiting what seemed like forever at the fork-in-the-road juncture marked by the aforementioned sign, I pondered my next move.

  • Do I follow the crowd right and become just another “one of them”?
  • Do I break rank and strike a blow for individualism by going left? 
  • But if I did that, would I not just be some spineless milquetoast, some trained dog, unquestioningly just doing what I’m told?

In the end, I ended up quiet and alone.  Everyone in the flow had moved on.

So…I looked around, made sure no one was watching, knocked over the sign with a clank, and with a maniacal laugh, took off and ran like hell!

October 7, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Last Word(s) On Saying Goodbye


I recently saw an old friend for what we both knew would probably be the last time.

An elderly gentleman who lives on the west coast, he is ill and frail, and despite his best efforts at being chipper and sartorially elegant, the combined effects of his age and his ailments made the joyous event we were both at kind of bittersweet to everyone in attendance who knew him.

When the event came to an end, just as he was heading back to his hotel, we crossed paths, stopped and stared at each other.  I was a little shell-shocked, and given the awkwardness of the situation, didn’t really know what to say.

I didn’t think I should be flippant, resorting to something day-to-day innocuous like “See ya soon!” or “Take care!”  or “All the best!”

On the other hand, I wasn’t going to resort to end-of-the-world histrionics like “Oh my God!  This is the last time we’ll see each other!  I’ll never forget those great times, and how you…”

Well, you get the picture.

After a few seconds that seemed like hours, the words I did end up saying came out quite naturally, were simple, and if we took a poll, are perhaps the words most people would want to hear as their last.

I looked at him, said his name and then followed up with: “I love you.”

Saying goodbye to anyone close is tough no matter how long you’ll be away from each other.  But when it’s apparent that this goodbye is the final one, the toughness factor ratchets up exponentially. 

Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with this.

As fate would have it, this blog post is being published on the 15th anniversary of my mother’s passing.  And although it was one of the most grueling things I’ve ever had to do, I cherish the memory of being able to take the time and say goodbye face-to-face on the day she died. 

I had the same difficult but cherished encounter with my father four years ago, and with my Uncle Jack not long after. While the sentiments and outpourings were a little more substantial with my beloved relatives than with my friend, all four farewells ended the exact same way—with me telling them that I loved them.

So as learnings go, this week’s is a biggie, because

The more I think of it,

the less I can come up

with a better way of

bidding someone adieu

than saying “I love you.

Those three words at that demanding time are a godsend.  Three words that capture a lifetime of memories and a tidal wave of sentiment.

As a giver, they express profound appreciation, encompass all the things you’ve done and times you’ve shared, and act as a warm, full-body hug that can be felt through and through like a tactile x-ray.  And as a receiver, tell me…what else would you rather hear? 

There are very few “all purpose,” do-it-all entities in this world, but the words “I love you” are perhaps the most proficient and efficient in the English language.  There are few "goodbye" occasions where they don’t work.

And one where they work just perfectly.


P.S.  One never really knows which goodbye is actually the last goodbye.  So...govern yourselves accordingly.

September 30, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Leaving a (Real) Legacy

I had dinner with an old friend in Toronto last week, and as old friends do, we discussed heady matters like concerts, sports, food...and legacy.

Said friend is quite the influential one, and has been approached many a time to run for major political office.  He admitted that for a while, he had considered it seriously--VERY seriously--and did so for two specific reasons: to make a difference, and to leave a lasting legacy.

In the end, he bowed out gracefully, saying that he didn't need politics to make a difference...which left us with the legacy portion of the discussion.

My take on the subject was a little rough, and somewhat cynical, going as far as to say that "Legacy ain't what it used to be."  (Don't blame me, blame the wine...)

And with that, the rant was off and running. 

What exactly is leaving a "legacy"?  Having a bridge named after you?  An airport?  A dam?  A crumbling block of engraved cement splattered with gum on a Walk of Fame?  These days, with so much information being spewed and consumed and ultimately displaced by other information (and at a frighteningly rapid rate), who remembers the who or the why anymore? Does anybody know who Toronto's Pearson Airport or Nevada's Hoover Dam was named after? Does anybody realize New York's Lincoln Centre was named after cultural giant Lincoln Kirstein and NOT after Abraham Lincoln

And even if so..does anybody even care? 

Aside from history buffs, the answer is a depressing "No...not really.

The speed of the present

and the onrush of the future

is making the past

increasingly irrelevant. 

No matter how great your achievement, in the end, it's just another line on one of a billion Wikipedia pages or a few seconds on a tour guide's cliched script.

But again, does impactful behavior really have to be widespread to leave a proper legacy? We now live in a time of extreme narrow-casting; for example, in the TV world, general broadcast networks begat specialty sports networks which begat golf channels which I promise will soon beget putting channels (left-handed or right-handed; your choice!).  The sheer volume of population and its many diverse interests spawn slender niches which are sliced thinner still, yet still manage to comprise a remarkably sizable market to influence.

And as legacy goes,

perhaps the most important

niche market to influence

is that of your family

Small niche. But huge as per this week's learning. 

Let's face it, most of us ain't going to become a Martin Luther King or Albert Einstein or Marie Curie or (insert your favorite inspirational person here).   But that doesn't mean you can't contribute to the betterment of the world, and build a legacy in the process, by close-up focusing on those close to you.

Perfect example is a project my influential friend has been working on while flying around the world this past year.  He's committed to write a book specifically for his children; a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all outpouring of emotion and advice and guidance and love. His audience for said book can be counted on one hand, with the thumb hidden. 

He said it was inspired by his own father dying when he was barely out of his teens, and recently realizing that he had forgotten the sound of his father's voice.  He vowed never to let that happen to his own kids...hence the book.  They don't know it yet, but it'll be a special Xmas present this year. 

So no airports or bridges or dams or centres or engraved cement blocks for my influential friend.

But one hell of a legacy he'll leave behind.

A truly unforgettable one that really matters.

To those that really matter.

So, although I hate to end blog posts like this...what will you do to solidify your legacy?

Some very special people are waiting to find out.

September 23, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Pampering The Best Doesn't Mean Dump on the Rest


As there has been every day (except Mondays) for about three months, there was a massive line-up yesterday snaking around the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to gain entry to the blockbuster Dale Chihuly "Utterly Breathtaking" glass exhibition.  Despite the grandeur of the huddled masses, many taking shelter under umbrellas because of the rain, I paid them no heed as I strode right by and made a beeline direct to the entranceway turnstiles safely indoors.

Such is the benefit of holding the Museum’s VIP membership card.  Frankly, there are multiple benefits, including a free subscription to a magazine, discounts on concerts and merchandise, but the “ignore the line” benefit is the one, true ne plus ultra.

Such prestige treatment doesn’t come free; a two-year family pass sets me back $166.   But my rapid fly-by yesterday, and the looks on the faces of those who knew not of such privilege, made it all worth it.

What the Museum is doing is not new, nor unique.  Just about every business still breathing—from airlines to coffee shops to media properties to financial institutions to hotel chains to comedy festivals to pizza parlors—have some sort of “frequent user” or “subscriber” program that separates the loyal “US" from the random “THEM.” 

But here’s what I learned this week as I flew by the long museum line (and to be frank, something that has been bugging and weighing on me somewhat heavily over the past few months):

Taking care of one’s

“best” customers

doesn’t give you the license

to treat the rest like crap. 

I’m sure no company consciously thinks “let’s dump on the majority of our clients,” but such is the result in so many cases nonetheless.  For example, read this piece by The Montreal Gazette’s Brendan Kelly, who unleashed a tirade against Arcade Fire for the way they chose to launch their new album a couple of weeks ago.  And as much as I was a bit of a pretentious, conspicuous asshole at the museum yesterday (come on, you WERE thinking that a few paragraphs ago, weren’t you?), I am found way more often amongst the “them” rather than the “us,” so I indeed get where Brendan is coming from…and where most of you stand.

This “priority reward system” is important, and not going away any time soon.  It’s business.  It’s actually good business.  It doesn’t come easy, or free.  You either pay your way in with cash (a la the aforementioned VIP card, or by buying business class airline seats), with frequency, or with influence.  And it does serve to efficiently separate the wheat from the chaff.

But the inherent flaw in this reward system is that most of the chaff actually have the potential to eventually become wheat.  And pissing them off while in chaff mode may not merely prevent them from ever wanting to become wheat, but the long reach, long knives and long memory of social media may cause enough scorched-earth damage to ever prevent more wheat from growing.

So here’s what I suggest (because it’s one thing to learn and another altogether to solve): 

Take enough care of the “them” to inspire them to want to become part of the “us.” 

Delight them.  Surprise them. 

Give them a dose, a taste, a soupcon of the priority treatment. 

Obviously, it can’t be a limitless free-for-all; the distinction line needs to be drawn.  But why not invite some behind it to cross it every now and then?  For example, pull a few people waiting in the “coach” line into the “first class” line at the airport (better still, fill some empty business class seats with randomly-chosen people from the back of the plane).  Allow everyone with a lucky “5” at the end of their license number to jump the museum line.  Give everyone who couldn’t get into the Arcade Fire show a free t-shirt and/or download of the new album.

The specifics of the give aren’t that important; you’ll figure them out.  What is more crucial is the generality of actually doing something of note, because every customer—even the one-off random customer—is a good one. 

Recurring customers, though, are the great ones.  And the better you treat the good ones, the more chance they’ll become the great ones.

September 16, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Paradox of Failure When It’s Not an Option


Not long ago, I agreed to speak at a conference for a friend of mine, she being the VP marketing of a large Canadian food corporation.  Prior to my discourse, she made an impassioned plea to her minions—marketing and sales execs gathered from all across the country—in which she outlined the importance of her company’s upcoming missive.  As a rallying cry to close it off, she took a deep breath and slowly said: “Failure is NOT an option.

This put me in an awkward place, as my speech was about doing things differently and taking risks.  I opened it with one, by saying:

“I hate to start this off by contradicting my friend and your boss, but to tell you the truth, failure is ALWAYS an option.  No matter what anyone says. 

"Knowing it exists, and pretending it doesn’t a sign of psychosis, not bravery.”

That got me a lot of titters and a few laughs, but it’s reality.   What makes a great, heroic line in a movie (Ed Harris grits it out playing NASA’s Gene Kranz in the film Apollo 13) may not be the best advice to give people going into battle, be it business or otherwise.

Here’s why.

If you put the fear, or try to eliminate the possibility, of failure in people embarking on a challenge, they will simply play it safe and do their damndest NOT to fail.  They will walk on eggshells, minimize risks and go for the tried-and-true all in an effort to ensure their success. 

But by playing NOT to lose instead of passionately playing to win, they actually BOOST their chance of failure.  They will miss the ostentatious by going for the obvious.  They will go for the bunt single instead of swinging for the fences.  They will ignore the off-the-beaten paths by concentrating on the paved highway.

So here’s the paradox, and this week’s lesson:


the possibility of failure,

you actually

INCREASE its chances.

Or, put another way... 

If you play NOT to lose,

then you will

NEVER ever really win. 

There are a zillion relevant quotes about this paradoxical dilemma, but I’ve chosen the most recent one I could find, from Peter Budaj, the astute and personable back-up goalie of the Montreal Canadiens.  In discussing the NHL’s dreaded boredom-inducing “trap” defensive system, and it’s arcane rule of awarding the losing team a point in an overtime loss, he said:

"Sometimes I wish they’d make some teams play for a win and not play not to lose (italics mine)

"That’s a big difference; you’re sitting back and waiting for the opponent to make a mistake, not trying to create anything yourself.”

See the difference?  You’re not creating chances, you’re depending on someone else’s loss to be your gain.  Again, put another way, if you’re sitting back on your heels, it’s actually easier to fall on your ass.

Some of the great stories in the history of sports, business, war, politics and showbiz are results of sure bets, easy wins and “can’t lose” opportunities stunningly swinging the other way.  You may all be too young to remember “Dewey Defeats Truman,” but a quick click here and you will understand the epitome of what we used to call “Counting Your Chickens Before They’re Hatched.

And on the other hand, even BETTER stories have been written on shocking victories, succeeding against all odds, and unexpected results.  

The type that comes knowing that you COULD fail, but you just don’t care.

After all, it’s ONLY an option…

September 9, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--When The Worst Becomes The Best

One of the many great things about being Jewish—aside from the food, the reputation of an inbred sense of humour, and being able to control the world’s media AND its financial infrastructure at the same time —is that we get to reflect on a year past and plan for the one ahead not once, but twice every 365 days.   

As I compose this, and if you’re reading it relatively timely, we are smack-dab in the middle of Rosh Hashana (literally, the “head” of the year) and Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement.  It’s a special time of personal assessment for those who even remotely practice, and one of the most thought-provoking inspirations is the High Holidays’ most profound prayer.  I won’t quote all of it, but somewhat edited, it goes:

“On New Year’s Day the decree is inscribed, and on the Day of Atonement it is sealed, how many shall pass away and how many will be born; who shall live and who shall die; who shall attain the measure of man’s days and who shall not attain it; who shall perish by fire and who by water; who will be at ease and who will be afflicted; who shall become poor and who shall wax rich; who shall be brought low and who shall be exalted.”

Yikes.  That’s a lot to think about.  This sure ain’t no holiday for tinsel or toys.  Good thing we got that “inbred sense of humour” thing going.

In a nutshell, that prayer, the philosophical centerpiece of the High Holidays, says that there’s some good stuff and some bad stuff about to go down...we just can’t tell you how much of each. Get ready.

This got me to thinking about the good and the bad…and led to this week’s learning, namely:


the worst of times

may be the best of times 

in disguise 

I repeat the caveat: Sometimes.

Here’s what I mean.  Consider the case of four Canadian mayors over the past year, all of whom endured what could be considered “the worst of times.”  One of them, Michael Applebaum, took over from a scandalized Gérald Tremblay in Montreal.  He came in soaring on an anti-corruption platform…and was removed unceremoniously seven months later after being arrested on the very charges he championed against.  Another, Toronto’s seemingly indestructible Rob Ford, is amazingly still in office after deflecting more shocking scandals, allegations and accusations than the Nixon regime, the Stalin regime and Charlie Sheen combined.

But, on the VERY other hand, consider the cases of Naheed Nenshi, the mayor of Calgary, and Colette Roy-Laroche, mayor of Lac-Mégantic.  Both these elected officials suffered epic, almost biblical disasters; he the Noah’s Ark-ian flooding of his city’s most populated areas and she the horrific runaway MM&A train and its town-leveling explosion.  In terms of direct damage, lives lost and traumatic aftermath, you’d have to be a sadist or terrorist to think of things getting any worse.

Yet for both these politicians, their worst of times have also proven to be their most defining moments.  The skill, grace, poise, humility and strength they both showed in dealing with their respective crises have made them heroes, showering them with respect, love and praise.  The cries of “Roy-Laroche for Premier!” are equaled only by those of “Nenshi for Prime Minister!” (See why here.)  A tale of two cities, indeed.

Now, nobody blatantly hopes for a tragedy or catastrophe.  Neither Ms. Roy-Laroche nor Mr. Nemshi secretly wished for a game-changing calamity or thought “How do I exploit this for my personal gain?” when they were faced with one.  But the way both handled their worst of times turned their proverbial lemons not merely into lemonade, but into solid gold…not to mention faith, trust and ultimately, optimism for a brighter tomorrow.

And there is no time better than that, is there?

So, no matter when you celebrate New Year’s, some day soon you will have to face what appears to be your worst of times

Wheher it actually turns out to be, well...that all depends on how you choose to deal with it.


P.S.  What does the image atop the post have to do with the rest of it?  Well, the opening line of the Dickens classic is: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

September 3, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--How The Process Adds (Mega) Value to The Product


Despite the fact that I convinced myself and countless others that I was “all art-ed out” (translation: had no more room left for art in my home or office), my defences broke down a couple of weeks ago and I bought The Boastful Ghost, the image atop this blog post.

It was hard for me to resist.  The 18x18 wood panel is flooded with delightly-bright acrylic, ink and gouache, and the subject matter—Casper the Friendly Ghost getting a badass tattoo from a smokin’ hot Wendy the Good Little Witch—not only acts as an eye magnet, but makes everyone who sees it break into a smile.  Killer credentials for any work of art, I’d say.

I purchased the piece from Jono Doiron, a young artist from Halifax now living in Montreal.  When he first brought The Boastful Ghost for me to see, he also toted a portfolio of original sketches, drawings and notes that were used in the making of the piece.  I was fascinated, and asked if he would include them as a package deal.

T_26P_20booklet_cover_ext_largeUnfortunately, he wouldn’t.  But he did the next best thing, because when we ultimately consummated the transaction and I paid for the painting, he handed me a booklet called "Thoughts and Progress." (That's it at left.)   

Spawned by our conversation and my request for the “making of” portfolio, the booklet describes the start-to-finish process of The Boastful Ghost, from original inspirational thought to final artist signature.

One of my favorite stories is how Jono chose the many characters tattooed on Wendy’s arm.  As he says: “I was going about it in the wrong way.  I was adding characters I assumed little girls would have been influenced by.  Boys and girls respond to different things and I wanted Wendy’s tattoos to be authentic"

I put out a call on my Facebook art page asking women to submit their favorite cartoon characters when they were a little girl, but without telling them what it was for.  I took the most popular recurring suggestions and put them in.” (See sketches in the book in the pic below.)

The “Thoughts and Progress” concept has become a bit of a sidebar cottage industry for Jono; he now sells the booklet for $20 in his webstore.  But more important than the incremental revenue he’ll generate from it, the booklet increases the value of his work by giving each piece its own profound, personal “story.”  No longer is The Boastful Ghost simply a piece of pop art hanging on my wall; it’s a living entity, a culmination of hours and hours of work, random revelations, eureka moments, research, tests, trials and error.  The booklet gives the painting added depth, added context, and provides me with a series of stories to share with anyone who sees it. 


It’s also the embodiment of this week’s learning, namely:

The story and process

behind a product

is every bit as important

as the product itself 

The intangibility of what went into what you’re buying gives it life, identity and value.  Something purchased from Amazon isn’t just “less expensive,” but carries the entrepreneurial history of Jeff Bezos, the marvel of the company’s state-of-the-art robotic selection and distribution system, and so on.  Same goes for everything you buy from Apple, from that designer cupcake place down the street, and from hard working pop artists who contact you from out of the blue.

This is why I tell my son Hayes, who just started his new high-end, custom furniture business, to document everything he does; take pictures, take notes, take video, and take an interest.  In the end, that’s not just an expensive coffee table he’s making, but the culmination of a story that began when a 100-year-old maple tree fell down on someone’s lawn.

Problem is that most of us can’t see what’s interesting about what we do as we do it; our process is old hat, a grind, a means to an end.

But for those who DON’T do what we do, the process is fascinating.  It doesn’t just construct the product, but its story as well.

And in this hyper-speed, bleeding edge Internet age, it’s also the secret to standing out and adding worth.

P.S. Wanna know what went into writing this post?  Uh…another time ;)

August 27, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--I'm Just A Jealous Guy

On Saturday, I learned to take a proper hockey slapshot.

It was part of an intense adult hockey school called "Weekend Warriors."  While I played goalie for two decades, three years ago I felt the need for change, so I left the crease and became a forward for the first time since I was 12 years old.  Although I still score WAY more than my share of goals due to positioning, scrappy play and sheer fortune, I decided I would have to "up my game," hence the Weekend Warriors program.

After years of futility and no lessons, when I finally wound up and really banged one off the glass, one of the coaches said the beam from my face transcended the full-face cage I was wearing and could've, in his words "Lit up all four ice surfaces at this arena."

I wasn't alone.  There were similar breakthroughs throughout the weekend from almost everyone there. And WE weren't alone.  There was a yoga retreat at Mont Tremblant where I'm sure more than a handful of people finally were able to master an intricate pose, or reach a new state of zen.  And who knows how many others among us were able to "crack the code" on something previously unattainable.

There are few thrills greater than "finally getting it."  It's a Eureka Moment shared by chefs, scientists, infants, high-priced lawyers and blue-collar workers...frankly, by anyone who crosses the chasm from not knowing to knowing. It's what drives me, and what this blog is all about.

Which brings us to the lesson of the week--which is about the thrill of learning--and to what you are about to read.  

This morning, right about now for all of you who read this when it's posted, I'll be in the middle of giving a welcome speech to about 5,000 incoming McGill students at Percival Molson Stadium. More than just "starting school," if they play their cards right, they'll be embarking on a journey of advanced and continued learning.  

And after what I experienced this weekend, I'm jealous.

Here's what I'm going to say:


I must start by noting the ironic timing of this speech, as tomorrow marks the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington, and Martin Luther King’s legendary speech there.  Two weeks ago, I was on vacation in Washington, and like most tourists, I stood on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial. While I am nowhere near the man Dr. King was, looking out over the sea of you, I can at least channel a bit of what he must’ve felt at the time.  

Dr. King’s speech was one for the ages. His final, soul-stirring words were: "Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last."   I want to assure the administration at McGill that he was NOT talking about tuition fees.  

As inspiring an ending as that was, the words that resonated most that day 50 years ago was when Dr. King reached down into his heart and said: “I have a dream.” 

Well, today, I too, have a dream.


And my dream is that right now, I wouldn’t be up here, but I would be amongst you.

You see, I never experienced any of this, any of the social elements of school, the out-of-classroom stuff.  I worked while went to school; actually, I went to school part time and worked full time.  My routine was from office to class and back.

In fact, my first time ever in this stadium was at an Als game two years ago, when I almost tackled the CFL commissioner at midfield…but I digress.

Back to my dream. To be brutally honest, I don’t just want to be amongst you today…I actually want to BE you.

Because, truth be told, I envy you.  Yup, I really envy you.

I envy you because you’re at one of the world’s great international schools, a melting pot of intelligence and drive and potential from around the globe.

I envy you because of the long-lasting, life-changing relationships you are about to build, personally and professionally.  Perhaps both at the same time.

I envy you because you have, at your fingertips, the technology that allows you to reach out to, and collaborate with, peers all over the world. Technology that will enable you to create tomorrow, and redefine the possible. 

I envy you because you also have the power to shift, modify and customize your educational experience.  You are at a crossroads of what a University is, and what it can be. You decide.

I envy you because you are what the world needs now. What the world needs now, is you, sweet you (I'm paraphrasing a Jackie DeShannon song; ask your parents.  Or grandparents).  In the law of supply and demand, you are optimally positioned. The world needs your skill, your ideas, your guts, and your audacity.

I envy you, because instead of “going with the flow,” as my generation was urged to do, you have the freedom AND the responsibility to upset the apple cart, to reinvent the wheel, to rock the boat, to burn the bridges…and to have fun while doing it.

I envy you because all this is happening to you in a truly unique city…albeit one that is a little off its game and needs a kick in its butt to re-establish its greatness.

I envy you because some of you out there will actually stick around to do the butt-kicking and re-establishing.

I envy you because, put all together, you have the ability, the contacts, the tools and the smarts not just to change your lives, but to truly change the world.

But most of all, I envy you because you have no idea how incredible the next four years here are going to be.

Don't just enjoy them. Make me envy you even more!

August 26, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Wait Until Tomorrow...

...because that's when this week's blog post arrives, one day after its usual Monday appearance.


You'll understand tomorrow.

Until then!


August 19, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Giving Credit Where Credit ISN'T Due

Yesterday, returning from 10 days of vacation, I tried to get myself back into civilian rhythm with a workout at Victoria Park, my gym of choice.  Even though I am perhaps the least social person at this somewhat tony fitness centre—intensely concentrated and conspicuously plugged into a wall of sound—I am often pleasantly interrupted by a flow of old and new friends who belong to the same place.

And as is the case every August, the small talk during these interruptions usually focuses on the previous month’s Just For Laughs Festival.  Often, I field soft-peddled complaints, but given the success of this year’s event, yesterday’s chat was effervescently positive…yet still somewhat personally awkward.

I just wanted to come over here and thank you!” said a friend in the financial business.

For what?” I asked, pulling out my right ear bud.

For booking Dave Chappelle,” he said. “I saw his last show and it was one of the great entertainment moments of my life.

I appreciate,” I replied, “but I had nothing to do with booking Chappelle.  That was the doing of (Festival VP Programming) Robbie Praw and (COO) Bruce Hills.”

Still,” he said, “but you DO manage them, so you had SOMETHING to do with it!"

I’ll get to the point and the lesson next paragraph, but to cut the conversation short, I just said “I guess I do,” and thanked my friend profusely before continuing pulling on TRX straps overhead.

The point, and the lesson, is about credit.  Truth be told, the only way I could’ve had anything less to do with the success of the Dave Chappelle show at Just For Laughs was if I were laid out in a coma.  Robbie booked it, and on the strength of one tweet and Chappelle’s talent and mystique, we sold out 10 shows. But try to tell that to people who think otherwise.

They don’t want to hear it. 

People want to believe in what, and in whom, they want to believe.  Like guilt, there’s an effect called “Success By Association,” and people are willing to give you credit for things you were so far away and foreign to, you’d need a passport to make your way back in.  Whether you’re being modest or on a quest for justice, explaining that it WASN’T you somehow seems to bother THEM.

Okay, so then there’s the other extreme:  there are so many things I actually DID do this year—things that NOBODY knows about—that were crucial to the event’s success. These range from as wide as insisting that our website address take up one-third of all ad time and print space, to as narrow as having a closed-door pep talk with a teary, distraught rookie; from as large as extricating us from an onerous contract with a multi-national to as small as noticing a last-minute inconsistency in a Gala host’s TV script. 

But these things, things I am incredibly proud of, go unnoticed, except by perhaps those directly touched by them. 

So what am I going to do?  Next time someone mentions Chappelle, or something else I had little involvement with, pull out a checked-off “To Do List” and explain each accomplishment instead?  Sure, if I want to ensure a prime spot next to Donald Trump on “The World’s Most Insufferable” list.

Which brings us back to this week’s lesson.  When all is said and done...

Credit is like sunshine;

enjoy it even if you had

little or nothing to do with it. 

When offered it, say thanks and let it make up for all the things you deserve credit for, but will never get. And hope that someone else gets the credit for something you did.  Even if they don’t remotely deserve it.

It evens out and balances the karmic wheel.  It’ll make your life easier.  It will make others happier. 

And it will ensure that all your future interruptions—workout, meal, walk down the street, wherever—will be positive ones.

August 12, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week: There's No Such Thing As Five Minutes

I am currently on a road trip with sporadic access to the Internet, but to keep the promise of last week's blog post, I am re-posting one of my all-time faves. Enjoy. Should take you about five minutes to read ;)
  • I thought I would sell my house in 48 hours, maybe two weeks. 
  • I was told the renovations on my new apartment would take three months.
  • Dinner will be right out.
  • The scratched David Drebin photo?  We'll have a new one for you next week.
  • The next bus will be by in 10 Minutes Max (The new campaign of Montreal's STM).
  • It'll take me 15 minutes to write this blog post.

I could go on forever, but even then, I'd go longer.5 minutes

Everything takes more time than we think...than we hoped...than we're promised.

Now I don't think the world is being overrun by liars.  Au contraire, I just think we suck at time estimation. 

Put another way,

"Longer Than Expected is the New Black."

If time is indeed the most precious of commodities, we are doing our damndest to try and squeeze 65 minutes out of every hour.

Perhaps it's Eintstein's Theory of Relativity running amuck, or maybe it's just the extreme time pressures being applied by today's digitally-driven, 25/8 world-wide operating system, but it's becoming an epidemic. 

And I'm just as guilty as anybody else. After three months on the job returning to Just For Laughs, I was supposed to have locked down a digital ad agency.  And have my org chart ready.  And have all my teams in place.  And have sold the Rock ''n' Droll TV/live show concept. 

I can keep going, but why make myself miserable?

So what did I learn this week?  I learned that there's no such thing as "five minutes" as in "I'm running five minutes late."  The only things that take five minutes are things promised in two minutes.

How perverse has this made me? Last week, instead of my usual state of frustrated rage when faced with a long airport line upon returning from a trip to Atlanta, I saw it as an opportunity to catch up on all the time that was sucked from my schedule by over promisers throughout the past month.  I accepted the inevitabilty and helplessness of my situation, whipped out my Kindle, and caught up on some reading.

Sadly, that half-hour delay passed it was five minutes.

(P.S.  This post?  23 minutes from sitting down and typing out the first word until pressing "Schedule."  Arrgghh!)

August 5, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--No "Secret" to Success; An "Obvious" to Success


Last week, I wrote and published my 1,000th blog post.

I sat down to compose my first one the afternoon of October 14, 2006.  That’s just about seven years of blogging.  Seen from another metric, considering that a random sample of 100 of my posts shows a 522-word average, it’s also over a half million words.

Given its somewhat milestone status, a handful of (God bless ‘em) friends and faithful readers asked what I was going to do to “celebrate” my 1,000th post.

Hold onto the noisemakers, the fireworks and the dancers, and don’t feel left out if you didn’t get the invitation. 

No parties.  No ceremonial observances. No commemorative souvenirs.

I think the best way to observe blog post number 1,000 is to write blog post number 1,001…the one you’re now reading. 

And if there’s one thing I’d like to celebrate with writing it...

It’s the value of discipline. 

The world has changed a lot in seven years.  So have I, and the subject of this blog.  The Internet and the tech sphere have changed exponentially and dramatically. 

But what hasn't changed is that through vacations, festivals, career changes, deaths in the family...I never stopped pumping out at least one post a week. Granted, a few were pre-scheduled "best of"s or reposts of faves when travel made new posts difficult (which may be the case next week), but I never missed a week.

To some, that’s “so what.”  To me, it’s a big deal.  Because in business, in sports, in relationships, in life in general, I feel the attribute of discipline is seriously undervalued. 

Woody Allen is purported to having said: “80% of success is just showing up.”  Could be, but in the case of demonstrating discipline, “showing up” isn’t a singular, one-time event; it’s a continuum.  It’s all about showing up again and again and again. 

And it ain’t easy.  Life often gets in the way of living.  And vice versa.  That’s why I am particularly enamored of those who slag it out, day after day, no matter what the conditions.

There are many so-called “secrets to success.”  Thousands of books have been written about them, thousands more speeches delivered, and millions more YouTube videos uploaded.

But having the discipline

to continue to show up

is not a “secret” to success. 

Actually, it’s the opposite;

it’s an “obvious” to success. 

That’s this week’s big lesson. 

But discipline and persistence are not as sexy as the big win from seemingly nowhere, as the overnight success, as the new shiny object.  At least not in the beginning. 

But I’ve seen it happen so many times in showbiz—the career arc where someone rapidly rockets to fame, falls from grace not long after, is ridiculed as a has-been for years, yet after having the courage, tenacity and will to stick it out, is ultimately revered as a legend.

So to celebrate “1,001—A Space Odyssey,” I raise a toast to all those who have the discipline to grind it out, to keep showing up, to pound through pain, boredom and criticism, and especially to still be standing while so many others have fallen by the wayside.

So there we go. 

One more done.

And one more to come.

July 29, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--"Nice" Sucks


At the end of one of our many Just For Laughs performances last week, I asked a familiar face--a guest of mine, actually--how he enjoyed the show.

He turned to his wife, who smiled awkwardly at him, and then he answered:

"It was nice."

I smiled back, but mine was as forced as a kiss to a elderly aunt. 

Inside, I was aghast.

Because "nice" is the kiss of death to a comedy show.

Same thing for a rock show, classical concert, opera, film or practically any type of entertainment.

Or for a business experience, meal, football game, or first date.

"Nice" is an insult to just about anything except a kitten. Or a proctologist's touch.

For what was once a compliment has now become the most polite of put downs.

Because nice sucks.

The late Leo Durocher, the hard-ass baseball manager whose career spanned the '40s until the '70s, was famous for once saying "Nice guys finish last."

Not only was Leo well ahead of his time, he was genteel.

Because nice guys don't last anymore.

Nice guys are finished. Period.

The sobriquet "nice" is now a euphemism for non-commitment, for all things beige, for all things soon to be forgotten.

Nice is worse than bad. 

At least describing something as "bad" may pique people's curiosity to discover just how bad it really is and take action.

"Nice" simply lulls people to sleep.

Take Carly Rae Jepsen's now infamous ceremonial first pitch at a Tampa Bay vs. Houston ballgame of a couple weeks ago (if you haven't yet seen it, click here to understand the reference).  Described by some as "possibly the worst first pitch of all time," it's become an Internet sensation.  Had she thrown a 95-MPH screamer or a fluttering knuckleball, perhaps the attention generated would be equally as fervent. 

But had she--like most people who deliver ceremonial first pitches--tossed a "nice" arching lob ball that somehow reached the catcher's mitt directly or on the first bounce, it would've been quietly ignored.  And deservedly so.

And such is the fate of any show, of any product, any service or even any blog post cursed with the damning praise of the word "nice."

Nice and Easy may do it when it comes to a Sinatra song, a hair coloring (see above) or to handling all things fragile. 

But when it comes to trying to make an impact, just about anywhere, Nice and Easy means something is broken.

Or something is about to be smashed.

July 22, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Secret Power of The Night


I didn’t really know what it meant when I said it, but it sounded so good at the time, I figured I should go deeper and try to find out.

To explain, I was in a harried and hurried conversation waiting for the elevator with Serge Postigo another one of my mega-stressed colleagues.  After a day of Just For Laughs Festival hell, putting out fires, dealing with crises that sprout like pimples before the big high-school dance, we were heading out to take in an evening’s worth of shows, followed by the inevitable wine-sipping reflection that concludes them.

I looked at him and for some reason blurted out:

“The days are for

what is.’ 

But the nights…

the nights are for

what can be.”

His worried brow unfolded, and he beamed.  He hadn’t smiled in a while.

And I knew I was onto something.

It’s a strange dichotomy I live these days, the two week eye-of-the-storm frenzy of the Just For Laughs Festival.  And although the experience is indeed unique, I suspect it is a wide-reaching metaphor for those not as (plant tongue firmly in cheek now) “fortunate” to make their living in the business of show.

The days…filled with the cruel actuality of complaints, budgets, daily reports, meltdowns, statistics, meetings, threats, demands, to-do lists and, as Joni Mitchell so aptly put it, “dreamers and telephone screamers.”

But as bad as the days can be—and sometimes they are soul-crushing—the nights come along to, well, save the day. 

Not that the nights are Utopian; there are still problems.  People who complain about their seats.  Acts that bomb.  Shows that are delayed. 

But compared to the harsh glare of diurnal reality, the silky nocturnal shadow seems to lay down a blanket of surreal calm on even the gravest of situations.

I don’t fully understand why, but the night brings hope.  Maybe it’s the association to sleepy dreamtime, but sitting in a show, walking from venue to venue between them, or gathered at a table reflecting on them after, I feel somewhat invincible.  Like I have all the answers and know exactly where to go…even when the cold shower of tomorrow hits.

Now isn’t that ironic:

nightmares during the day;

daydreams at night. 

But it’s the pattern and the truth. 

And it’s a strange cycle—can’t wait to take on the day at night and anxiously waiting for night to fall during the day.  It’s a cycle I’ve lived for seven days, and it’s one I’ll live for seven more.

Seven more days?  Frankly, it’s one I’ve lived for years.

But it took a chance encounter at an elevator with a work friend for me to truly "get it."

Or at least to say it.

So this week’s lesson is more of a realization. 

The night is not just the countdown to tomorrow, it’s the gateway to tomorrow.

It’s the lookout point, the spawning ground, the launchpad of “what can be.



July 15, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Every Great Project Needs Two Leaders


Twice last week I was asked for my “Professional Opinion” on an existing show; one was a Just For Laughs property, the other not. 

Now in this case, “Professional Opinion” is a cross between a show reviewer and a “show doctor,” and as a guy who has seen, built, written and directed dozens of shows over three-plus decades in “the business,” I must say unabashedly that I am well-positioned, and a credible “ask,” for the task.

But as much as I enjoyed the challenge, and as much as I was stoked coming up with tweaks, fixes, adaptations and edits…I felt a little guilty offering them up the next day.

Why? Because I know what it’s like to have your creation scrutinized, and changed, by someone who had absolutely nothing to do with creating it.

There’s an old showbiz adage that goes, and usually said with a sigh, “Everyone’s a critic.”  But in this case, I’m not talking about the layman, the doctor, the lawyer, the banker or the dentist who suddenly becomes an “expert” by the grace of the sheer volume of their argument; I’m actually talking about the qualified pro.

Two of them, actually.

To explain, I remember back when Just For Laughs launched its Museum of Humour (sadly ill-fated, but an idea before its time).  There was a hard-working team whose job it was to get the project from fantasy to reality.  It was up to them to convert ideas and flights of fancy into plans and schedules, and to solidify plans and schedules into tangible reality. 

Thanks to them, the Museum launched with a huge bang on April 1, 1993.  It was a triumph.

The problem was April 2.  And April 3.  And May 11.  And August 27.  And so on. 

The Museum didn’t last more than a year.

The lesson I learned back then was the dichotomy between the team responsible for getting the project up, and the team responsible for keeping it going.  Or, put another way...

There’s a

big difference between

getting the doors open...

and keeping them open. 

These are two VERY distinct skill sets, and unfortunately, in our case at the time, mandated to one sole team.

Which brings me back to last week.  I gotta admit that it’s exponentially harder to start something from scratch than it is to improve it; I’ve been on both sides.And it’s a pain when someone who knows not of the background reasons of decisions taken (budget, time, compromises, technology, etc.) nit-picks and belittles them.

But sometimes, in the conception of a project, the creator loses his or her bearings, not seeing the forest for the trees, so to speak.  They can’t feel it’s 10 minutes too long, or a few decibels too loud, or somewhat confusing to navigate, or hard to reach, or one of 10,000 other glitches and oversights that are smack-in-the-face obvious to seemingly everyone in the world but them.

This is why I believe that

Any great project needs

TWO leaders and/or teams...

one to bring it to term, the other to keep it running.

And to keep it running smoothly, the original project often has to change. Sometimes drastically. 

This “law” doesn’t just apply to showbiz; it applies to any biz. 

Problem is that many times, there’s a lack of respect between the two teams.  The “clean up crew” disparages the creator, and the creator dismisses the clean-up crew as mere wanna-bes.

Truth is that these are two unique aptitudes and abilities.

So what was the lesson of the week?

Well, it’s easy to criticize a project, but hard to improve it.  Even harder still to conceive it.

But for any project to succeed in a world that merges rapidly-changing technology with instantaneous, mass opinion-generating social media, you need two very separate entities.

And one helluva strong, mutual understanding between them.

July 8, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Secret to a Vision is a Blindfold

It’s a term so incessantly trotted out and overused, it has stumbled into the rabbit hole of cliché and ineffectiveness. 

It’s a quality so important that people are measured by it, their careers defined by it, their businesses based, built and broken on it.

"It" is "Vision."

And despite its optical roots, a crystal-clear, wide-reaching vision is something increasingly hard to see.

As an example, in my hometown of Montreal, there’s a mayoralty race about to start.  Even though the vote is not until November, all three candidates have already been grilled about their respective visions…then criticized about the fuzziness of them, or the lack thereof. 

What is your vision? is the first question asked not just of our political leaders (or those who aspire to be), but to young entrepreneurs as well. And the advice I gave to a group of them recently, combined with the timeliness of the aforementioned election, was the impetus for this post.

Like the oft-futile act of brainstorming, the search for a vision is usually done the wrong way in the wrong place. We sit in sterile boardrooms or offices, we sit in front of glowing computer screens or open paper journals and try to gaze into the future and—even greater challenge—come up with a way to describe it to others in a fashion that will not just make them believe it, but get off their butts to follow it.

And there lies

the inherent problem:

we try to “see” the vision.

This may sound trite, but the problem with establishing a vision is that we do it with our eyes wide open.

Go with me on this, but to truly establish a vision, you’ve got to slam your eyes wide shut.

That is why, in that speech to a group of eager future trailblazers...

I urged them to seek vision

while blindfolded.

Literally, not figuratively. 

Eyes not just closed but wrapped up in heavy, opaque cloth.

Think about it—the “mind’s eye” is where all of tomorrow begins.  Tomorrow is essentially a dream.  And if you are going to establish, and follow, a dream would you rather it be the somewhat lazy doe-eyed daydream, or a vivid, “anything goes” neo-hallucination created by deep, REM shut-eye? 

So if you truly want to develop a vision, it needs to flourish in its natural habitat…a state enhanced by a blindfold.

A little kinky perhaps, and you may feel a bit goofy sitting with a black band covering your eyes while taking notes, but the results will bring you the last laugh.  As they say, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

And may I admit, I’ve tried it more than once…which is why I felt more than comfortable advising that gathering of entrepreneurs to do the same.

So this week’s lesson is simple: to enhance your vision, close your eyes and see.

See you soon!

July 1, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Why Canada's National Symbols Must Change

A little something different this week...based on a challenge from Radio-Canada and The Huffington Post, this week's lesson is more about what I'd change than what I've learned.  Hope you enjoy this slight variation from format:



One of the most dangerous books ever released about my beloved homeland of Canada was a paperback ditty released in 1977 with the very politically incorrect title of The Retarded Giant.  Written by American ex-pat Bill Mann and illustrated by the now legendary political cartoonist Aislin, it mercilessly poked fun at this lumbering landmass of a country and its many particularities, foibles and shortcomings. 

Disguised as a mere joke book, this piece of subversive literature made me laugh, but also made me wince with jibes like “Canada’s leading export to the USA is Canadians” and “The weather will keep Canada out of the big time.

Well that was then and this is now.  And given what went on last week in Calgary, ironically, weather is now PUTTING us in the big time, exporting our heroics.  The reaction of the populace, particularly the city’s ballsy mayor Naheed Nenshi, to the floodwaters that ravaged the city painted us as tough-as-nails action figures fighting World War H20.

Despite this, the majority of non-Canadians still see us more as that somewhat dopey, big obliviously-smilin’ guy portrayed in Mann’s book than they do us as the fearless, hip, smart folk we know we are. 

Which is why,

if I could change anything

about my country…

it would be the symbols

that define it to others.

When it comes to our symbols, everything about us screams “nice” (and “nice” is something that is at its worst when screamed).  Our nation’s flag is a trifling leaf.  Our national animal is either a beaver or a moose, creatures feared only by trees or small cars on Newfoundland highways.  Even when we invade Las Vegas and take over Sin City, we do it with the least amount of sin possible with Grandparent-friendly stars like Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil.  Even Wayne Newton has more edge.

Thankfully, our symbols are changing, albeit slowly, led by the country’s mayoralty. 

As a counterbalance to Calgary’s white knight Nenshi, in Toronto’s Rob Ford we’ve got an anti-hero combination of Tony Soprano and Walter White of Breaking Bad.  It’s even worse/better in Montreal and Laval, where for the past year, mayors have either been shamed out of office because of corruption, arrested while in office, or abruptly resigned from office after being caught in an escort service scandal.  Compared to this type of rampant bad-ass, so-called toughies like Chicago’s Rahm Emmanuel or New York’s Michael Bloomberg look like kindergarten ballerinas.

A tougher Canadian image requires a stronger national motto as well. 

We’ve hidden behind the Latin of A Mari Usque Ad Mare for so long we’ve almost forgotten that is translates into the banal “From Sea to Sea.”  Even the most geographically challenged amongst us can look at a map and be stunned by its obviousness and irrelevance; one can be equally as effective by saying “On Top of the USA” or “Under The Arctic Circle” in Latin.  No, we requite a motto that sells our feisty spirit and reflects the disparate interests of the provinces, territories and people that fill the space between two seas…one like “One Nation, Millions of Different Opinions” or better yet, “From Disagreeing to Disagreeable.”

Then there’s our currency...

Its Monopoly-money color and Canadian Tire-money design has been a source of international snickering and ridicule for years.  Now that’s it has changed from paper to polymer, the day-glo sheen of our cash takes it from mere sore thumb to a full, five-fingered “Yoo-hoo!” wave. 

But laugh all you want at our “funny money”; while the rest of the world teetered on financial ruin a few years ago, our legal tender stood legal tough.  Which is why I think—like Jones Soda does with their labels or Canada Post has done with its stamps—the Bank of Canada should allow us to customize our cash with the toughest mofos around, namely us!  The technology is already here—upload a photo and replace some old monarch or long-haired remnant of a history book with your own likeness, or that of your snarling pet or Bar Mitzvah-celebrating child.

The surcharge and collector’s item element of this program would fill bank coffers and make us the only country in the world guaranteed to make money with its money.

Best of all, this windfall could be put to good use, like hiring a whip-smart ad agency to come up with way better ideas than the ones I’ve proposed here…

…or for buying up, and shredding, all remaining copies of The Retarded Giant.

June 24, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Some People Don't Want The Answer


I’ve spent way too much time trying to think of the best analogy, so let me just say that social media had done to traditional business what a Honyaki knife does to a halibut—slit it right down the middle and expose the unsightly underbelly of its inner workings.

By now, this is old news, and just what you need is yet another blog post telling you about the power of the consumer, how one small tweet can topple a giant organization, and how the world of commerce is now a multi-voiced conversation.

That is not the intent of this week’s learning. 

What is, is the result of a conversation I had—make that TRIED to have—with one of my customers at Just For Laughs.

To start, last week I received a panicked forwarded email from someone in our TV department (why it got to them, I don’t know).  Said lengthy and, to be frank, almost rude email was from a customer stating that one couldn’t search artists on our new website, nor was there a calendar on it where one can search by date. 

(A quick slightly cynical aside—there is probably nothing more controversial, polarizing or stressful one can do in a corporate environment than change a company’s website.  As much as everyone seemed to hate and complain about the old one, it will be looked upon with fond nostalgic memories once you launch the new one, which will only find its raving fans once it is replaced.  But I digress…) 

About six minutes after receiving the aforementioned email, someone from our TV department stood outside my office door, looking as if she had met the Grim Reaper on the elevator up.  

Almost trembling, she asked: “What…what are you going to do?” 

“Curl up and die,” I laughed, before explaining I would simply answer the email, tell the person what she is saying is mistaken, and offer to show her how to search by artist (“Search For A Show or Performer” box atop page) and by calendar (icon and “Search Shows by Date” wording next to it).

And so I did, even going a step further by providing my personal phone number and offering to walk the customer personally through this—and through any other part of the site she wanted—to improve her experience and prevent any further misconceptions. 

The response?

Nothing.  No return email.  No tweets, Facebook posts or smoke signals.  Not a peep. 

So I reached out again, with an even politer follow-up email, and did so for two reasons:

  1. Perhaps by some haphazard, my first email didn’t get through
  2. Sliced open by the Honyaki knife, I wanted to bring some closure to the incident

Still no response. 

I wanted to believe that perhaps my initial answer was enough, and albeit the radio silence, case closed.  But somehow, I don’t think that’s the case.

Here’s what I believe is:

Some people

(albeit a small minority)

just want to complain.

They don’t want the answer, they don’t want things fixed, they don’t want an end result.  The catharsis and power of complaint is end result enough for them.

Buy righting their wrong, by solving their problem, you will actually defeat their purpose, not illuminate them.

Perhaps this viewpoint is harsh, but with close to four decades of workplace experience—everything from being a paperboy, a journalist and a TV producer, to running a comedy festival and a tech company—I’ve encountered my unfair share of these people, the “Anti-social Media” types, let’s call them.

You can’t win with them.  And the more you try, the worse they will make you feel.

So this week’s lesson?

It is imperative to embrace social media and “join the conversation.”

But it’s equally as imperative to:

Recognize when

the conversation

is actually a monologue…

and tune it out.

Trust me, your business, your team members, and your REAL customers will thank you for it.


June 17, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Stop Working, Start Fighting


Last week, amongst a dozen meetings I had over a two-and-a-half day touchdown in Los Angeles, was one with a sage mentor of mine.

Said mentor is intensely private which is why he unfortunately won't be mentioned by name in this post (despite his many years of history being a major power player in Hollywood, a Google search of him brings up practically nothing).

To put him into perspective though, he started off as an agent at the industry's all-time most King Kong-ian talent brokerage; he then ran one of Hollywood's most legendary TV production companies, one responsible for over two decades of epic and beloved television series; then he dabbled in talent management, theater ownership and tech company buying-and-selling.

Now into his '80s (I suspect, we never ever talked age, but I did some basic detective math), he still works, and does so from a gated palace high in the Hollywood Hills...where he hosted me for a late afternoon conversation over iced tea in a room filled with magnificent art and handcrafted furniture. We don't talk as often as I would like, but when we do, the outcome is always the same--time well, well spent.

Notwithstanding the fact that there's so much I want to ask him, my mentor always starts every conversation the same way: "So tell me...what's new in the life of Andy Nulman?"

So last week, I told him lots.  I told him...

  • About the accomplishments of my two children.  
  • About some new artist I discovered.  
  • About the last great book I read and how I wish I had time to read more.  
  • About a new book idea I had germinating.  
  • About the C2-MTL conference and other "shows" I had done.  
  • And, of course, about the trials and tribulations of my professional life; about dealing with a rapidly-changing showbiz landscape, about inter-office hassles and internal struggles.

We chatted chum-like and happily for the first few subject matters, chuckling over anecdotes and similar situations.  But when I touched on my personal/professional side, my mentor's demeanor downshifted into serious, with fewer conversation breaks and extended periods of contemplative listening.

After some uneasy moments of silence, he looked at me an uttered the words that formed this week's learning.

"Not that you have a major problem, but you know what your problem is?" he asked.

I didn't have to answer, because he continued.

"You're at the point in life 

when you gotta start

working less..."

Pregnant pause.

"....and start fighting more."

He then went onto explain:

"Work is a task.  You go into the office, you do what you have to do.  You get things done, or you don't.  Then you go home, or go off to do things you really want to do, and start all over the next day.  It's a not the greatest routine for anybody...but especially not for someone like you.

"The fight is something else.  It's a motivator, energizer and driver all in one.  It's tougher than work, but it's way more rewarding.  It's exhausting and exhilarating but when you're in the thick of it, you forget that you're working altogether.  

"The concept of fame, being in the papers or on TV never appealed to me.  But that next battle is what kept me going.  And is what keeps me going to this day.

"Once you lose the fight, it's just another job and you're just another working stiff."

After 90 minutes, I didn't want to overstay my welcome, so I said goodbye, expressed profound appreciation and asked how the imposing gates would open to let me out (weight sensors on the path to them was the answer).

On the drive back to the hotel, I had the time to contemplate my mentor's words and realized how easy the transition from "work" to "fight" can be, no matter who you are or where you're situated on the corporate structure.

You can fight an enemy (competition, rumors, etc.).
You can fight for what you believe in
You can fight for a cause
You can fight for what's right

But you gotta fight.

Forget the cliche "Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life."

Thanks to my mentor, I think the new adage is:Save

"Find the right fight,

and you'll never work again."

So...who's my next challenger?

June 10, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--How to Get Old: Godfather or Grandfather

Nulman Headstone

If you are reading this, we have at least one thing in common: we are both a day older than yesterday.

And, provided we are not met with some catastrophic circumstance in the next 24 hours, tomorrow, we will both be one day older than today.

Despite a plethora of industries, products and promises that try to impede the march of time, it plods along nonetheless, coolly, efficiently and mercilessly.

Yes, this post is about getting old.  Old-er, at least.  And it comes at a strange coincidental crossroads of recent events, namely yours truly making the final payment on my “final resting place”; the brutal reality of a close high school friend undergoing triple-bypass surgery; and the upcoming arrival of Father’s Day this Sunday. 

It’s a strange feeling both, when you learn about a friend undergoing a major medical procedure, at about the same time you get a “paid-in-full” notice after 18 months of paying off your gravesite, a plot of land perhaps the most expensive real estate in the world.  Your mortality, so certain a little while ago, is questioned. In doing so, your mind gets scrambled in a Blend-tec spin cycle of “what if?”, conjuring up multiple scenarios, almost all of them bad.  

And then, a splash of reality calms you down.  A bit.  For a while. 

Let’s get real, then. In the case of my friend, he’s on the mend, doing fine (surreally in this new world, we check up on him constantly via a web app called CaringBridge), and—happily, luckily—he, too is a day older today than yesterday. 

As for my cemetery plot, when I eventually get to use it, at least it’s city-central, close to those of my parents and grandparents, making it a convenient visiting spot for my kids…provided that my younger son doesn’t move away like my older one has already done.  Paranoia aside, I don’t think I’ll be needing it for a while.  Well, I hope I wont…

So this week’s lesson COULD be:

“Getting old sucks…

unless you consider

the alternative.”

But it’s not.

Because the advent of Father’s Day made me re-think about the way one gets old. 

Actually, it was a side comment in a meeting about how to garner respect from a younger, new breed of entertainer that led me to the Father’s Day thoughts; the comment was “You want to be seen as a Godfather figure.

And THAT was the catalyst, the launching point to this week’s lesson. 

The way I see it, there are two “Fatherly” ways to get old.

You can get old

as a Godfather...

or as a Grandfather.

Here’s the difference:

  • Getting old as a Godfather commands reverence. 
  • Your accomplishments are known and admired. 
  • You are looked upon with esteem. 
  • You are perceived as a mentor, filled with advice and wisdom that will help others learn and grow. 
  • You may be older than “the others,” but you’re never treated as such; you’re “one of them in spirit” and all (most) of the physical features that distinguish you from the others are ignored. 
  • And perhaps best of all, mixed in with all this high regard, is a soupcon of fear. 
  • Need a visual?  Think Francis Ford Coppola.

Getting old as a Grandfather is a different story.

  • Just think of the meaning of “The Grandfather Clause”—it’s there now only because it always was.
  • Sure, your accomplishments may also be known, even appreciated, but today they are yesterday’s news and somewhat irrelevant. 
  • You are looked upon with love, but as a relic of the past. 
  • Your advice will most probably fall upon deaf ears, or met with an eye-roll if actually heard.  They may be quaint stories of yesteryear, but they hold no current significance. 
  • You look way older than the rest of them, and are treated as such, being given the comfy chair in the back or the arm to stabilize your walk. 
  • And perhaps worst of all, mixed in with all this legitimate affection and warmth is a spoonful of pity.
  • I’d say “Paint your own visual,” but I know by now, you already have.  Many times.

There’s a fine line between the two.  You can’t be young again, but to be a “Godfather,” you have to stay in today’s game without looking like you’re trying too hard to do so (like the Capitol Records execs of the early ‘60s who sported Beatle wigs and snapped their fingers in an effort to be cool). At times, you have to play hard to get. Your accomplishments should speak for themselves; more likely, you should let others speak of them for you. The territory is filled with mines.  One false step and you’re blown into Grandfatherland.

So unless one of those future-tapping companies invents a wonder drug or time machine, we are all getting older.  Fighting it is futile; the only choice is one of two “Fatherly” paths at the fork in the road.

So take your pick—going Grand is good…but doesn't come close to playing God.


(Political correctness check: I could easily substitute the word “Mother” for every “Father.”  Go ahead if you really need to.  It’s just that “Father” is more timely this week, and the image of a Godfather is somewhat more searing than that of a Godmother. )

June 3, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Practicality is the Enemy of Impact

Jack Card

I spent the weekend speaking at a conference gathering of Quebec’s Young Chamber of Commerce Groups.  The event was an inspiring one, assembling youthful entrepreneurs, business and financial people, as well as policy and governance enthusiasts (and there are many more of these than I could ever imagine).

As is usually the case at these events, there was a whole whack of sponsors.  They ranged from the provincial government and some of its agencies, to some major groups in national accounting and consulting services, all the way down to an independent company named Jack Marketing.

While teeny in stature, the company made the most of its sponsor stature by standing out and standing tall in any way it possibly could.  Female representatives wore neon-colored Jack-branded earrings, while their male cohorts sported similarly personalized neckties and hats.  Every table had a little crossword puzzle promo and branded pen, which brought winners gift bags filled with booty like Jack Daniels whisky (quite the treat while composing late night blog posts, lemme tell you).  

And of course, the company spread its business cards across table surfaces like so much confetti.

Said business card (that's it above) was emblazoned by simple white lettering on black background…although there wasn’t a lot of background to write on, since approximately 65% of the card was missing due to a die-cut of the company name smack-dab in the middle of it.

At my table, there was much talk about Jack’s business card…but most of it focused on how utterly impractical it was.  Random comments included: 

  • “It’s very fragile.”
  • “Look, I try to put it in my wallet and it bent already.”
  • “It must’ve cost a fortune.”
  • “It doesn’t really give you a lot of information.”

In the end, in my mind, it was a massive success. 

Despite all the things “wrong” with it, people actually talked about—of all things—a business card!  While there were other cards on the table, they were basically ignored.  The utter impracticality of the Jack card made it a conversation piece, and cut through the clutter.

Which brings me to a related story, and then to this week’s lesson.

When I first started at Just For Laughs, we had a business card that resembled an old school European “calling card” way more than a North American business card.  It was printed on both sides (albeit the back was simply the front but in reverse) and was the size of a small index card.  I remember people howling at its impracticality.  “I have to fold it in half to fit into my business card holder!” was perhaps the most oft-heard complaint.

But I also remember people remembering it. 

Oh you’re the guy with the weird business card,” was one of the ways I was greeted in the late ‘80s.

Granted, we’re using business cards—a method of identification soon to be rendered extinct by the digital revolution—as our paradigm.  But this week’s lesson can be applied to just about any product or service, namely: 


IS (often) THE ENEMY


I used the qualifier “often” as there are many great designers—Philippe Starck, Sir Jonathan Ive, Ray and Charles Eames—who have found ways combine both.  But until you get to their level, you will probably be left with the trade-off. 

Like this one: A couple of weeks ago, I attended a dinner party at the C2-MTL event.  It was held at a spectacular place called L’Auberge St. Gabriel.  To get to the restaurant, we had to walk in a small door, go up three dark flights of stairs dotted with costumed characters and works of art, walk a smoky maze of hallways with more characters and art, and descend three dark flights of stairs filled with you-know-what, before arriving at the restaurant. 

Sure, we could’ve entered via a back alleyway that let out about 15 feet from the tables. But the impact, the mood created by that inconvenient walk-through was the set-up for what was about to come.  In the end, while impractical, it was every bit as important as the food we ate, the wine we drank and the company we kept.

Same thing goes for the Jack business card. By replacing convenience and standardization with a dab of flair and a touch of nuisance, the—dare I call them this?—“kids” at Jack Marketing managed to create an impressive impact, punching well above their weight.

So the question to you is the following:

Are you willing to sacrifice

a bit of practicality

for a LOT of impact? 

Hope so, because you can always bring people back down to earth after you send them into space, but if you bore them from the start--no matter how "practical" you are--chances are you’ll never even get them near your launch-pad. 

May 27, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Follow The Leader, or Swing on a Star?


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about a better-than-anticipated company strategic meeting

One of the main accomplishments emanating from said meeting was the forming of a mission statement that didn’t suck.

This is a monumental achievement, as most company mission statements are about as relevant as an Organ Grinder or a telegram (ask your great-grandparents), and usually because of the one simple word that has become the scourge of the corporate lexicon:


Used as an adjective to describe a company’s stature, the word “Leader” has degenerated into an ineffective cliché, one that is not only a weak, second-rate aspiration, but a hard-to-measure milestone that shines as bright as a plastic neon glowstick…and lasts about as long as one, too. 

When I was in the tech business, every company—EVERY one!—had the word “leader” (or a derivative of) in its mission statement.

  • “We want to be a leader in the field of branded mobile content.”
  • “We want to be the leading provider of enterprise solutions.” 
  • “We are a leader in systematic symbioses…” 
  • “We are a leader at using the word ‘leader’ in our descriptions…”

I could go on for hours.  The image I used to conjure up, with so, so, so many leaders, was one of a race where 10,000 people cross the finish line at the same time, followed by the one poor sap whose second-place finish made leaders out of everybody else.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being a “leader,” particularly in the worlds of politics or social good. But what exactly is one, in the context of a company?  Are you a leader because you sell more stuff than anyone else?  Because your stock price is higher?  Because you’re most profitable?  Or are you a leader because you’re better know than anyone else?  Because you have more “likes” on Facebook? Because you’ve won more industry awards?  Because you’ve been around longest?

The evaluating factors are many and close together (note: the opposite of “few and far between”), so as long as you choose the proper—and most likely narrowing—niche, you too can be a leader within it.  And live up to your mission statement.  Hooray!  Let the bonuses flow! 

While we are still finalizing our mission statement at Just For Laughs, I’m at least peacock-proud that we’ve chosen to do away with the fossilized term of “leader” and have focused on something that can be equally as ephemeral, but is universally understood, and more importantly, emotionally internalized.

For at the root of our mission, we want to be recognized as a:

Worldwide Star

Hokey? Trite?  I think not.  Everyone knows what a “star” is.  We aspire to be one.  We make special previsions for them. We bask in their glow.  A star’s power is often disproportionate to its reality. A star can get away with things leaders can’t even dream of.  And a star can dream of things leaders can’t even fathom. 

Nothing against “leaders.”  People indeed respect them.  But the feeling is rational.  In the head.  In contrast, people are drawn to stars like iron filings to electro-magnets.  People bow to stars.  They open doors, and roll out red carpets for them.  The relationship overflows with emotion.

Is Google a leader?  Is Apple? Is Virgin?  How about Tesla, Amazon or Netflix?  I’m sure there are categories where they blow the competition out of the water…but other metrics/analytics where they may be miles behind the category “leader.”  But in the end, they “own” their spaces…and not only because of the bottom line.  Granted, stardom can be fleeting; nobody stays hot forever.  But being a leader is equally as transitory, no matter how you choose to ultimately measure it. 

So in business, if you ask me which one I’d truly desire to be, well…uh, look up. 

One anecdote to drive this home.  Last Thursday, I performed at the C2-MTL creative/commerce conference.  The three-day lineup was jammed with luminaries the likes of business legends Sir Richard Branson and Barry Diller, designers Philippe Starck and Diane Von Furstenberg, and entrepreneurs Bobbi Brown and Blake (Toms Shoes) Mycoskie…amongst so many others.   If this were a boxing or UFC match, I’d be on the undercard, scheduled when people are still getting beers.  If this were a music festival, I’d be on the poster’s bottom line of type, along with other bands whose names can only be read with the aid of a nuclear microscope.

Given that positioning, if you asked me my mission prior to appearing on stage, I could’ve said:

“Well, I hope, once the audience evaluations comes out, to be a leader in the categories of spectator satisfaction and appreciation.”

But I didn’t.  Because that would’ve been lame.  And selling my aspirations short.

What I did say—and did so like a cocky little bastard on Vine to ensure that the challenge was recorded—was:

“I wanna make sure

that people never forget me.”

Did I deliver?  Well, that’s for others to say.  But I wouldn’t be sending you to the #ctmtl Twitter hashtag if I’d bombed.

People may revere and admire their leaders

But they remember, and talk about, their stars.

May 20, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--When Your Title is You

Last Tuesday, I was introduced to a young man who will be working for me this summer as our advertising and promotional coordinator at Just For Laughs.  He was introduced as “The New Theo.”  That introduction was a massive compliment, to him, but especially to Theo.

For the record, “Theo” is Theo Lepage-Richer, a stylish (very) young man who worked for us over the three summers since I’ve been back.  Theo’s job was to harmonize the daily flow of advertising and promo material, put out in two languages, from the start of our promotional rush (early May) until the end of the event (last week of July). 

Said job is a relatively thankless job one requires a lot of patience, mind-reading (“I think I know what he meant by that grunt”), organization, scheduling, cajoling and deal-making.   And it’s actually worse than it sounds, because it requires working with stressed-out creative people, producers and executives; with print, radio, TV, web, outdoor and other assorted media forms; getting various levels of approvals and sign-offs; all while adhering to (and extending) deadlines and commitments.  And doing so on a daily basis amongst dozens of changes, indecision, disregard for timelines and procedure.

Sadly for us, gladly for him, Theo has taken on a full-time position at the Sid Lee agency, but his reputation and spirit still lingers.

And is the inspiration for the lesson of the week, which is:

When your job

becomes your name,

you’ve done something right.

No offence to the gentleman who’s taken Theo’s place (I don’t even recall his name, but will find out by the end of this blog post), but he’s stepping into big shoes.  At Just For Laughs, we all know what a “Theo” is, but I’d venture to bet that nobody ever knew his official title or job description.

In fact, getting to this pinnacle of respect almost negates the need for either one of those two traditional forms of classification.  When your job becomes your name, you go way beyond the realm of your task list and even further beyond your designation on any org chart.

An old health adage you may remember is “You are what you eat”; in the office, you know you’ve made it when “You are what you do.”  I’ve talked before about the value of making yourself indispensible, but there’s no greater compliment, no better mark of organizational value, no stronger personal and professional endorsement than when your name is synonymous with not just what you have to do, but what you actually do.

So, a shout out to “The New Theo”: it ain’t gonna be easy this summer, but keep up the fight and help get us through.

Who knows?  Play your cards right and maybe next year, the job will be called “Dominic.”

May 13, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--If Your Past Is Your Future, You're History


As a rule, I usually dread corporate strategy meetings for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • They are clichéd
  • To the loudest go the spoils
  • There are few concrete results
  • If perchance something concrete is resolved, it is forgotten within a week

So imagine my surprise at the recent productive two-day session we had at Just For Laughs.  The jury’s still out over the long-term effectiveness, as we need further meetings to build on the foundation…but at least we came out with some sort of a foundation, one that was built on respectful (!), reflective (!) and intelligent (!) debate.

One such debate focused on the exploitation of the vast Just For Laughs catalog.  A content company with over three decades of TV history, we’ve been mining our vaults for gold for years now. One of our projects—the Just For Laughs Gags channel on YouTube—is perhaps the company’s most successful and profitable, culling hundreds of hours of content and more than four million unique visits per day into one of YouTube’s top 100 worldwide destinations.

On the surface, this is good, if not great, news.  But a little scratch reveals a chink in the armor sparked one of the meeting’s best debates, namely the one that arose when I said:

“If your future

is based on your past,

you’re screwed.”

(To be honest, I used a term a little stronger than “screwed,” but why be profane?)

The euphoria of continually going back to the well and finding it full is, in my mind, short-lived and dangerous.  And this isn’t just relevant to those producing “content.”   No matter what your business, if your dreamy current sales projections are based predominantly—or entirely—on what you’ve produced before, you are in for a rude awakening.

One can argue (and some at the meeting did) that if you are actually in the business of selling the past, my premise is invalidated.

No it’s not.

Even if you’re dealing in antiques (be it the guy down the street or the Gold family on TruTv’s Hardcore Pawn), history (like my friends at Alexander Autographs), family trees (like or or non-comedic forms of previously broadcast filmed entertainment (everything from ESPN Classic to Turner Classic Movies), your future doesn’t necessarily have to be mired by your past. 

Different methods of packaging, of distribution, of presentation, or of editing can breathe new life into the past, and do so in a manner that’s so effective and fresh...’s as if the past

is making its debut. 

Case in point—the new iPad app chronicling the history and career of The Doors, a passion project of former Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman that just about reinvents the music biography.  Or the one by my buddy, Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis, that doesn’t merely aggregate a bunch of his previously-published newspaper strips, but through animation, audio and video commentary and original corresponding content, gives them a new relevance…not to mention a new hope for the survival of the comic strip genre as a whole.

Selling the past can be easy, but you’re ascending a slippery slope that you’ll eventually slide down…and fast.  Re-making the past is more difficult; it’s a different story that requires a different skill set.  Yet it’s the only way if you don’t want to get caught up in the past/future conundrum shouted out in bold red above.

Perhaps the best way to summarize this week’s lesson is not just to re-use the words of philosopher  George Santayana, who said “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” but to paraphrase and re-make them into:

“Those who (merely)

repeat the past are

condemned to be forgotten.”

May 6, 2013, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--Chewing On Perspectively Modified Organisms


When is a food not a food?

To legions of concerned and vocal do-gooders, its when "Big Agri" steps in and toys with Mother Nature to produce Genetically Modified Organisms, aka GMOs.

But to people in the marketing biz, it's when “Big Brother” steps in and toys with definitions and behavior change to produce Perspectively Modified Organisms, aka (well, as of this sentence) PMOs.

Now this may sound somewhat ominous, but in the end, depending on the behavior being adjusted, PMOs can please both the boardroom and do-gooders alike. 

The modern PMO trend started in 2004, when Kraft (more specifically, its Nabisco division) responded to the vilification of its less-than-healthy products by shifting attention away from the foodstuff itself and onto the repackaging of it with the introduction of "100-Calorie Packs."  Instead of gorging on handfuls Chips Ahoy! cookies or Ritz Crackers with Peanut Butter, consumers could now daintily pick through wallet-sized, predetermined portions of the same.  

That was one small step for a man (or woman), but a giant leap for snack-food marketers, as they changed consumer perspective from chomping "snacks" to expending a small portion of their daily caloric intake instead; a win-win that simultaneously reduced public guilt and increased corporate bottom lines (the idea was a huge win, and because of the massive margins it delivered, was quickly adapted by other companies). 

The latest such

Perspective Modification

has not yet been put

into everyday practice...

but should be.  

And, I suspect, will be.

Right now, in an effort at consumer education for best health practices, many restaurants are providing calorie counts info on their menus. Despite some mind-numbing figures (I remember a colleague almost falling off his chair upon learning that the "healthy" Cobb Salad he would regularly wolf down at Ted's Montana Grill in New York was a 1,232-calorie fat-bomb), the end result is that people still aren't ordering fewer fact, some order an extra glass of wine to help them forget just how many they are consuming. 

However, a study released two weeks ago by researchers at Texas Christian University suggests that what would be way more powerful and persuasive than mere calorie data would be listing the exercise needed in order to burn off the food eaten.

In a nutshell, the study took 300 young adults, aged 18 to 30, and separated them into three groups.  While their food selection was the same (a standard American fare of burgers, fries, chicken sandwiches, salads, etc.), their menus were different:

  • One group’s had calorie labels and food listings
  • One group’s was food listings only
  • And one group’s had labels of minutes of brisk walking required to burn off the calories in the food items (i.e. two hours of brisk walking to burn off a cheeseburger)

Suddenly, to one group, food wasn't food anymore.  And the results were...well, what you'd expect:  those given the "exercise" menus consumed way fewer calories than the people with or without the calorie count.

This shouldn't come as a major shock, because no matter how many calories you add up, people just don't understand the notion of them.  To most, a calorie is ephemeral intangible; what people DO understand is hard, sweat-inducing exercise...which, to many, is a fate worse than death. 

I'm an exercise fanatic and just this morning, I did a lung-busting 30 minute power-ride on an networked stationary bike.  For all my huffing, puffing and thigh-burning, I disposed of 360 calories, which is about a slice of an all-dressed pan pizza from Domino’s, or a five-ounce petite filet from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. That’s not an equation tipped in my favor.  When food becomes work, I’ll think twice about what goes in my mouth.


Perception Modified.

It’s not just about food, either.  Last week, I had a meeting with two friends of mine who run a foundation that provides art to hospitals and other institutions of healing or convalescence.  They asked me how they could raise more money for their operation.

It’s a hard sell three ways:

  • Medical people face bigger problems and are severely time and budgetarily challenged
  • Art people may be off-put by the venue
  • The general public doesn’t understand or necessarily care about art


My advice was to PMO their raison d’etre.  Like changing snacks into calorie counts, I suggested they change art into medicine by referring to what they deliver as “Visual Meds” or “Visual Tranquilizers.”

No guarantee of a win, but at least it’s a way towards a new start of a new way to think.

So what was this week’s big lesson?  In essence...

How things are seen

is way more important

than how things actually are. 


And the best way

to change people

is to change their perspectives

on how they see things.

Anyway, after all this writing, I’m starved.  I think I’ll go eat a TRX workout and wash it down with two-thirds of my hockey game tonight.