Friday, October 25, 2013

A time to #twog. Twog - n. a short blog entry of roughly 140 words.

Why #twog?

Everyone is super busy. You stopped by, and thanks for that. But you need to go soon.

In thinking about my own time constraints, I wished people would make a clear concise point, and wrap it up. So give me a #twog.

If you have a more technical or robust topic, your #twog can migrate a reader from tweet to full blown blog.

The #twog provides the extra information needed for the reader to decide whether to proceed. It's their time. Respect it.

You have, on the honor system, 140 words to make your case. Use them wisely.

Gotta go. See ya!

PS – Try some #twogging and see if it works for you.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

   A great quote from Mark Twain. I love putting it on Twitter. It always gets positive feedback. But that is actually rather ironic. If so many people love that quote, then why are such gargantuan sums spend on schooling?

   In a similar sense, parent after parent brags about how their child does in school. As I parent, I too feel some of the glow from a "good grade". Some is a simple matter of wanting to let my kids know that I appreciate the effort they make. But I question how important the grade is, what meaning it actually holds. Moreover, I wonder how much more meaningless it becomes when put into a global schematic.

   As someone who is "successful" I look back at my own schooling and see how incredibly unprepared my schools and teachers were for me. I did well in school at times, but was pretty much always a discipline problem. Mostly because I refused to accept some lessons as true. I wasn't content to just digest and regurgitate the information they fed to me. I wanted some answers. They didn't like that, they didn't like that at all.

   A dramatic example occurred in the seventh grade. Having been asked to solve an algebra problem I went up to the chalkboard and began scrawling out my answer. "No, no, no" my teacher screamed. Bewildered I looked over to her. "You have to show ALL YOUR WORK." she continued. Right about this time my blood headed to an immediate boil. I stormed over to my desk and grabbed my things. I then walked back to the front of the class and threw my books onto her desk. "If your way is so perfect then do it yourself" I shouted. I then proceeded to walk out of the class, and out the front door of the school, and continued walking until I was home roughly four miles away.

   A rash decision? Maybe, but I don't regret it. She was wrong to publicly humiliate me for not following "her" method to precision. It was also pretty obvious from the way I wrote the equation that I had used logical thinking to arrive at the answer. Her goal wasn't that I simply know the math. Her goal included my submission to her methodology. As you may have noticed, submission isn't my strong suit.

   The problem, from my vantage point, is the teacher's desire to make me conform to her methodology. She valued compliance over competence. It doesn't matter why. Schooling should create thinkers, not fleshy calculators. The desire for compliance makes children into pliable robots who indirectly learn to keep their head down, and put out what is asked. No more, no less.

   "Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel." - Socrates

   Socrates knew something about educating people. If we spark a student's passion, we unleash a powerful force upon the world. Imagine a world of people taught to think rather than simply remember. We need people who push boundaries rather than retreat inside them. 

   How different might my education have been if I had actually been encouraged to think differently. What would my perspective be if it had been molded through an educational model of investigation rather than recitation and repetition.

   As parents, students, or both, we need to demand that school provide a true education. School must provide the spark, the catalyst, that will drive students to excellence. Not excellence as measured by a standardized test, but excellence that is demonstrated in ideas and actions. 

   As much as I love the Mark Twain quote, I'd be happy to make it irrelevant.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Outrunning the Monster...

  My parents were sticklers for punctuality. So as a kid, I concocted a motivational game to get myself home on time. I would imagine a huge, ugly monster chasing me through the streets of Akron, Ohio. I'll never forget that adrenalin-propelled rush of nearly flying over the pavement, feeling the monster's hot, rancid breath (I think it may actually have been the tire factories) while sprinting just ahead of his moldy grasp.

   Over the years, my monster has provided the motivation I've needed not only to succeed, but to thrive in the business world. He has served me well.

   His dogged pursuit is responsible for both my vocation and my avocation. The hairy beast chased me through college and graduate school, and finally into entrepreneurship. And I'm still running, but now for fitness; and not in Akron, but St. Petersburg, Florida.

   When I decided to start my own private-investigation firm in 1996, the monster breathed the specter of poverty. My new wife and I were living in a small apartment, whose rent, like everything else in our lives at the time, was paid by credit card. The monster helped me chase after business just to make sure we could eat and keep gas in the car and a roof over our heads.

   He also spewed the foul odor of self-doubt. I often lay awake at night wondering how a guy like me could possibly presume to run a business, especially against older, wiser (I thought!), and more experienced competition.

   But as I ran faster to escape the monster's clutches (he now sported a cheap, private-eye trench coat), I found myself learning a lot about how business operates. One particularly revealing lesson was that my "competition" was really only a little more gifted than my monster.

  For the most part, private investigators were what they always had been - retired police officers, special investigative unit (SIU) guys, or insurance adjustors. They often worked alone, used manual processes, and for sales collateral brandished their business cards.

   So while they clung to their Sam Spade model (and, for the most part, still do), I decided to innovate. While they snoozed between cases (feet up on the desk, of course), I learned about my marketplace - the claims and risk professionals who were purchasing investigative services. With the monster ever in the wings, I talked to people, read the trade journals, and found out what they really needed from an investigator.

   Then I decided that when fighting monsters, there is strength in numbers. So I took on partners, then employees. Every year, university criminal-justice programs were turning out legions of bright, energetic graduates, hungry for their first job and looking to learn the ways of surveillance. Why not hire them, pay them a decent salary, and teach them the ropes?

   And in order to keep my new employees working, why not find innovative ways of generating more business - by using what I had learned about our market, exhibiting at trade shows, producing sales literature that worked, by advertising, and by constantly generating new ideas for promoting the business? And why not self-publish a helpful booklet for clients about how surveillance works?

  We also made a commitment to using the hottest technology to run the business. (The monster was using none.) We outfitted our field investigators with the latest in video and wireless technology, trained them in its most efficient use, and sent them forth to generate revenue.

   But the real coup d'etat was the Internet. Our business is surveillance, which generally means video tapes accompanied by written reports. Our clients are claims and risk-management professionals, who spend entirely too much of their time on the telephone with claimants, physicians, attorneys and others.

   What better way to make surveillance information available to our harried and phone-weary clientele than to offer it on our secure Web site for them to peruse at their leisure - not only written reports but video snapshots and actual streaming video of the surveillance as well? Why rattle them with even more phone calls when e-mail and our Web site can provide them exactly what they need in a concise form, exactly when they need it? Why force them to store videotape cassettes when we can embed the video into the on-line record?

  Since we implemented the technology and juiced up the marketing, the monster has been quieter. He's not gone; in fact, I still hear his grunts when I look at our Web site and see how much remains to be done.

   And poverty is no longer the issue. The business, which now has grown to 85 employees, generated $4.1 million in revenues last year.

   But of course all those great investigators need to be paid, the office rent is due every month, and the technology doesn't come free.

   Where are my shoes? I can smell that ogre's breath right now.

(This was written by Robert DeRosa and myself in 2000.)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Don't Waste Your Effort...Really, Don't!

   Once upon a time I swam for the Miami-Dade Community College swim team. Perhaps a better way to phrase it, they didn't prevent me from practicing with them. That said, I was decent enough, and was fast enough to stay out of their way. It was a point of pride with me that I was there, and I trained HARD!

   You might think I would have developed a bit of insight after having to learn how to swim properly at the age of 23. Previously, I couldn't even get my face in the water. But a few sessions with a friend that had a swimming background put me on the path to swimming quasi-normally.

   One week we "hosted" the University of Miami swim team, as their pool was being renovated. This was a great opportunity as UM had some potential Olympians on their team. Swimming next to them was going to be a treat. A chance to measure oneself against greatness. Well, after a brief comparison I was ready to drop the idea of measuring anything.

   The first time I set off next to one of the team, I was dumbfounded. Was the guy being pulled by a jet ski? I redoubled my effort. This made me marginally faster, and massively exhausted. He, on the other hand, appeared to be having a nice leisurely dip. ARRGGGHH. My only hope was to be less embarrassed over a short distance. So much for training HARD.

   Had I been wasting my time? No, I had gotten much better than before, and the training had made a difference. But, if my goal was to diminish the gap between myself and the UM swimmers, I knew pretty much instantly that MORE TRAINING was NOT the answer.

   This leads me to my point. Effort is great. But effort without great technique can be wasteful, and potentially damaging. Too often the standard motivational cry is to TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT. Good luck with that. My experience is that while clearly motivation is important, as you approach higher levels of competition, how you try is likely more important than how hard you try.

   When you want approach the top of a sport or field of endeavor, pretty much everybody is motivated. In a swim competition you need only look around the pool to see that everyone is very fit. Past that point the biggest differences are down to technique.

   To improve myself I solicited a member of the UM team to train me. While I never got anything close to good enough to compete with them, I made amazing progress in improving my own times. To do this, I had to take a step back and evaluate my approach. By being objective, I knew I was in very good condition, had an excellent diet, and was putting forth an tremendous effort. Trying harder would have been pointless.

   Thus, when I say "Don't Waste Your Effort" I mean it literally. Put forth an effort, absolutely. But be sure you are putting forth the right effort. In a race, nobody cares about your horsepower, they care about your speed. By putting your effort to translating horsepower to output, you won't waste your effort. You'll get more out of doing less.

   That's the right way to apply effort.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Reflections on the "The Show Me State" by Seth Godin

   As always, an interesting post from Seth. Thanks!

   Thinking about the post, and relating it to my own experience I came away with an example which reinforces his message, and to some degree expands on part of it.

   The major point or critique is a reflection about people's desire to sample rather than savor things, so they can race off to the next thing. Or conversely, having gathered some information about it, flutter away without really trying it at all. There is a lot of misplaced risk aversion encased in this phenomena.

   With deference to people's need to maximize their "time", I think it is pretty good to have some experiences that suck. If you are really out there living every now and then you're going to have a bad experience. Awesome!

   What? Crap experiences. Delete, Esc, Ctrl-Alt-Del. Help!

   Yep, you need to have some sub par experiences, or if you are massively anal about your time, settle for something distinctly average. These are the palate cleansers that allow you to discern the flavor of your next course, of that next grand experience. And usually, bad experiences end up being great memories. 

   My wife and I were traveling with my three kids (11 year old triplets at the time) through Jordan. We flew into Amman, and then headed south through the desert toward the Dead Sea and a small city called Kerak. Being guilty myself of trying to endlessly hedge my bets with research, I had found recommended accommodation in the Lonely Planet Guide at the Cairwan Hotel. When we arrived, it didn't look too promising, but I thought, let's do it! My enthusiasm was short-lived.

   Wow! There was an apparent rat infestation, as evidenced by some amatuer scatology. The beds were probably comfortable when the three wise men stopped by a few years back. The decor was other worldly. In an effort to ensure we would get the full effect, there was a wedding going on in the hotel bar during the night of our stay. Mayhem ensued. In short, it was really really BAD. 

   My kids were nearly as aghast as I, having stayed in their share of comfortable surroundings. But this place ended up being the ice water to before our return to the sauna. Our next stop was a two-story, three bedroom suite at the Movenpick Hotel in Aqaba on the Red Sea. 

  The contrast was to be savored. Every detail was richly magnified. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it without the "bad experience", but the bad hotel served as a framing experience for the good one. 

  We have repeated this experience somewhat by having deliberately reduced our travels to allow for some breathing, for some normal life. Without that, the experiences fold together like food in a blender. I might know it's there, and I can taste it, but the flavors overwhelm each other. Thus, the experiences are diminished.

   There is no short cut to enhancing experience. When you have a bad experience, or a bland one to give it context, you come away with much more. Whether it is a lesson, a book, a course, a hotel stay or a meal.  

   So, don't try to live life as a series of straight lines always seeking the shortest route. Meander, let some things go wrong. Give yourself the benefit of context. It will sharpen your mind, and separate events into discrete, more pleasing occurrences. 

   In short, context gives you the ability to see just how incredible life is. Enjoy it.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Yellow Zebras! Hello, over here! Hello!

   As Cory Doctorow said, "You can't monetize obscurity." In other words - The unnoticed are uncompensated. Enter the Yellow Zebra.

  Much of our lives we are encouraged to blend in, to be compliant. From our school days, into the entry to the workforce we get bombarded with the message to obey, and comply. Whole industries ride upon this wave. Our allegiance to brands that identify us as belonging to a certain group, or of being of a certain status. But blending in is dangerous. If you are hidden, how will anyone find you?

  We need to stand out. How? Pretty simple. Just be yourself. Though I imagine this is not as easy as it sounds. We are so programmed to behave in a certain way, we may have lost ourselves in the flood of messages to blend in, and join the party of sameness.

  But the benefits are so great, that we must work to be ourselves. To take a stand on something we believe in, to dare to occasionally piss a few people off. It is actually an old rule of advertising, that an ad that offends no one, effects no one. You need to be identifiable. You need to be a Yellow Zebra.

   Yellow Zebra's get noticed, they stand out. They won't be ignored. People have opinions about them. Some people don't like them. But in the end, they are remembered and rewarded., 

   At Omega Insurance Services, my old company, we were the "in your face" company. If anything we errored to the side of excess. You would get mail from us, e-mail from us, we'd call you. We took had the mantra of Donkey in Shrek "pick me, pick me!"  before the movie ever appeared. Since we made the Inc. 500 twice I'd say it worked pretty well. But we did have people occasionally say that we that were annoying. If that's the cost of doubling revenue year after year, isn't it worth it? Doesn't that make being a Yellow Zebra attractive?

   Yes, that's right. If you are truly yourself, and willing to express some of your truly unique qualities, it will pay off. It can be so counter-intuitive that people have trouble with it.  Thinking that they won't get through  a job interview that way. So WHAT? If you have to be phony to get a job, perhaps it isn't the right job for you. Wouldn't it be better to work someplace where everyday you could be yourself? To get up everyday excited about working in an accepting uplifting environment. Can you actually imagine being a Yellow Zebra without smiling? 

   If you have a business and want to have a special culture, let it be a Yellow Zebra culture. By letting people be themselves the results are astounding. You essentially develop a competitive advantage cost free by embracing that which is unique in people. Go crazy, have fun. There is another reward - fun! 

  The rewards for being a Yellow Zebra include both financial and spiritual. To give value to others, you have to begin by valuing yourself. This is the essence of being a Yellow Zebra, to identify that which makes you unique. Your personal differentiators. 

   Don't wait, don't delay. Begin the journey out of the darkness and into the light. We'll be waiting, and you won't have any trouble spotting us. We'll be in yellow with black stripes making some noise. Come on, let's see your stripes, you Yellow Zebra. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

They're liars! Yeah, but you believed them. A political education.

  Marge, "I can't believe it Homer, you lied to me"
  Homer, "It's not just me Marge. It takes two to lie, one to lie and one to listen."

  The Simpsons sure are funny. But maybe Homer has a point. Duh! Yep, I think Homer is on to something. If we get lied to all the time, maybe we have a gullibility problem.

  If we have politicians who are full of excrement, how did they get elected? More importantly, how do they get re-elected?

   To illustrate a point, I love quotes. One of my favorite sources for quotes is Will Rogers. One of my favorite of Will Roger's quotes is:, "Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke." When you consider that Rogers died in 1935, and wasn't familiar with the "Daily Show" it becomes a bit apparent that our "new problem" isn't new at all.

  Politicians have been bending and shaping the truth for as long as there have been politicians. For an equally long period of time, people have been frustrated by this phenomena. But, as Plato, an even older source of information said, "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."

   So, if you have had enough of this truth void, getting involved can be a simple matter of paying attention at a critical level. Stop listening to quick pitches, or being lulled into complacency by your short-term good fortune. Spend time actually learning the facts. Build a BS detector in your brain. Stop being governed by your inferiors.

  It may not be in the ten commandments, but believing nonsense is almost as bad as concocting it. Listen to Homer. Lies are only effective when they are believed. You can't stop them being told, but you can develop the critical thinking to recognize them as they are being spoken.

   Good luck.