Where did it all go?

Most of us have heard of the resources curse. The notion is that countries blessed with natural resources don’t end up doing as well as those that start out with nothing. Think Venezuela with all its oil, versus Japan, possessing few natural advantages.

The concept can apply equally as well to people.

Those endowed with gifts sometimes cruise along, not as diligent as others, and often accomplishing less with their lives.

GIFTS GONE

Having never worked for their blessings, these people may not be cognizant of where these have come from. Consequently, they don’t know how to protect them or reclaim the gifts when gone. 

Possible types of bestowed advantages include sporting talent, family money, social connections, educational opportunities, good looks and intelligence.

Big achievers often come from behind, spurred on by an acute awareness of what’s lacking in their lives. They get enormous satisfaction from filling this deficit.

The “lucky ones”, meanwhile, sit back and wonder where on earth it all went. 

It’s not how you start out that matters, it’s what you become.

Tried and tested devices

Black Lives Matter. Indeed they do, and the snappiness of the slogan is an important factor in burning the saying into people’s minds.

It has a nice rhyme, plus the alliteration provided by the repeated Ls.

How about these?

  • Twenty-First Century Fox
  • Apple Mac
  • Starbucks
  • Boris Johnson
  • YouTube, TikTok, Google, Samsung
  • Gone With The Wind (oldie but a goodie)
  • Tyranny of distance
  • Battle with cancer

If you want your name, slogan or saying to be remembered, don’t be bashful about using these devices. Tried and Tested.

At some stage, you have to clean engines

Do what you love, we’re told, and it won’t even feel like work. Sounds good, yet the truth is that you’re not going to embrace everything about a job.

A friend recently announced that she was giving up writing fiction, because she didn’t enjoy the process enough. Other people, she said, loved creating novels. She realized that she didn’t.

Hold on, what didn’t she like?

LEARNED COMPETENCE

Fiction writing has a number of components, including plotting, crafting sentences, writing dialogue, and editing the raw drafts. A bunch of skills are required.

Some people are natural story tellers. They get carried along by the power of their tale and can hammer out a first draft in weeks, though the prose may be unexceptional in quality.

Other folk love crafting sentences and paragraphs, while having trouble shaping the whole thing into a coherent narrative.

The tasks you don’t like doing can be a grind, but they’re part of the skill-set. You learn to be competent at those aspects that don’t come naturally or easily.

This is why any profession or trade is a love-hate affair. You can delegate or contract out stuff you really don’t want to do, but some of it can’t be avoided. It’s difficult to be a mechanic who refuses to clean engines, or a general practitioner who won’t talk to patients.

Too bad about my writer friend. You can’t love it all.

The glitter behind the lockdown cloud

Every cloud is trimmed with gold braid – even lockdown.

  1. It reduces our range of activities. This hurts, but also allows us to focus. We can concentrate on two or three important areas, rather than six or seven.
  2. Normal activities often involve conflicts. For example, R&D and sales can be in opposition. If we can deliver on one of these we’ll achieve something.
  3. Stressed systems, such as hearing, nerves, or our livers are given a compulsory rest.
  4. Lockdown forces us to do old things in new ways, as many of the historic routines can’t be sustained. Often the new ways will be found to be better.
  5. Fewer resources means we have to do things more cheaply or simply. Some of these economies will survive the ending of the crisis.
  6. Inevitably, lockdown will put firms out of business and reduce competition. This is a grim fact. If you can survive, you’ll find a clearer field afterwards. The enterprises that were struggling in normal times will have folded.
  7. On that topic, Bill Gates has said that every business should aim to have a year’s reserves – in other words, be able to last 12 months without sales. Who the hell can do that? Still, you can see his point.

Too greasy to be true

Online products and services depend on favorable reviews. It’s easy to gain an unfair advantage by asking staff, friends or associates to add their flattering comments.

This is despite the efforts of sites like Amazon to stamp out the practice by deleting the goods for sale or banning the vendor.

There are ways of identifying user feedback that isn’t genuine.

  1. It’s often one of the first reviews to appear, posted with the intention of seeding more responses. The prose is casual, but grammatically correct.
  2. It uses exaggeration such as brilliant, amazing, a dream! Exclamation marks are common.
  3. The review criticizes the product a little in order to look like the real deal, but only on matters that aren’t important.
  4. It covers all the marketing bases of price, functionality, delivery and appearance. No genuine reviews are that ordered or comprehensive.
  5. It often starts with “I was initially wary of this kind of product, but decided to give it a try”. And ends with “I’m so glad I did.”
  6. Other brands or competing products are heavily panned.
  7. The review is signed off with a common first name. Genuine reviewers are unafraid of suppling their real, full details.

Any site moderator soon learns to identify the phony reviews. They’re like a red flag. With a little practice, you can too.

Successful by choice

There’s usually more than one way to accomplish something. Ideally, you’ll want to have at least three methods open to you.

If fitness is your goal, for example, try not to rely on jogging alone. Also have a choice among swimming, weights, exercise machine and sport.

WHICH TODAY?

Varying your activities will “keep your body guessing” and make you fitter faster. It’s also great to be able to get up in the morning and ask “what one will I do today?”

If yoga is your thing, train regularly with more than one group. Self-employed? You’ll want at least three clients.

Not only does variety stop you getting bored, it also creates a buyer’s market. The providers of activities will have to compete against each other for your attention, which means you get the best possible deals. 

A range of alternatives isn’t usually possible at the start. Let it evolve. Begin with a single activity, than add to that as opportunities arise.

Achievement – it’s a matter of choice.

For now, hang loose

It’s great to be in control, but sometimes this can throttle your efforts.

Early-stage enterprises are ambiguous, uncertain animals that are never a perfect fit with the market. They need a lot of tweaking and changing.

Being imprecise over goals and methods can be an advantage.

During the Vietnam War, the insurgents and North Vietnamese used the Russian AK-47 semi-automatic rifle, which was very effective in battle because it was engineered slack. U.S. forces, by contrast, were saddled with the fine-tolerance M16 weapon that in its early form needed frequent cleaning and often jammed, resulting in unnecessary loss of life.

LOOSE AND EASY

Anyone who plays tennis knows the virtue of a floppy serve and a relaxed grip. This allows a whippy racquet motion, using the pivot points of the fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder and back. The grip is tightened up before the racquet contacts the ball.

Ever listened to Bob Dylan’s early songs or read the prose poems on his album covers? Their meanings are often vague and impressionistic. They say almost whatever you want them to, which gives them wide applicability.

So too with business. Hang loose until the moment when you have to tighten up. Let market forces and other uncontrollable variables tell you what you need to know.

Be free, people.

No deadline, nothing done

If you want to get things done, place yourself under pressure or accept external pressure. You’ll work more effectively.

Build it into your schedule – without going so far as to cause panic. One person’s pressure is another’s ease, so choose the amount of push that enhances your efficiency.

Russian concert pianist Konstantin Shamray says: “Once you are busy, really busy, you get more organised and get more done. It is as if some hidden reserves open up within you.”

YOUR LEGACY

Without some urgency Parkinson’s Law applies. Restrict your working time, by say booking an afternoon round of golf before going into the office.

Another hack is to make a list that’s too long, knowing that all the items don’t have to be knocked off in 24 hours – although you will try.

The scope of projects that benefit from self-imposed deadlines will vary greatly, from “This is what I intend getting done before bedtime” to “Here’s what I want to make my legacy.”

Lifetime’s work or a well-filled hour. A firm schedule can benefit both.

Invent – or just get better?

Who isn’t hoping for the breakthrough that will transform their enterprise – the innovation that will set the world on its heels?

Hard to find, and more progress can be made by the less exciting method of continuous improvement.

Well, it’s not exactly continuous. More ‘fits and starts’. Still, if you’re always on the look-out for these minor opportunities for moving ahead, you will find them. And they do add up.

DIFFERENT SCALE

In a sense, innovation and continuous improvement are the same thing. It’s just a matter of scale. Breakthroughs look like a continuum when they’re viewed from a sufficient distance.

You’re more likely to advance with accumulating baby steps than if always looking for the transformative ‘smash hit’. Occasionally you’ll enjoy one of these, but it’s difficult to plan for.

Bust the charts or succeed by stealth? The answer is at your feet.

Can’t face another day

Write every day, we are told. It’s intended as good advice, whether we’re creating fiction, a blog, or other forms of non-fiction.

The idea is that a regular habit will maintain the flow of thought and get the job completed faster and better than a spasmodic effort.

Yet if we undertake other focused disciplines on a daily basis, we run the risk of overtraining. Anybody who has worked out hard knows the bad feeling of not being able to face another session at the gym because neither the body nor the mind is ready for it.

What’s so different about writing?

In defiance of commonsense, people are expected to be able to push beyond a funk, favor perspiration over inspiration, force themselves through the wall.

This makes little sense. The mind can become exhausted, no less than the body.

DAILY CHURN

By all means look at your writing every morning, assess it, think about where it’s come from and where it’s going. But don’t feel you must churn out another 500 or thousand words, just because today is another day.

Nothing is as good as coming back fresh from a period of rest.

Boris sets a rumpled example

What’s Boris Johnson’s main appeal? Anti-slickness.

The new British prime minister is notorious for his undignified stunts and sloppy personal appearance. But in an age of presentation coaches and instant feedback, this isn’t necessarily a liability.

Marketing guru Don Peppers in Life’s A Pitch calls it de-slicking your production. The idea is that a sharp and faultless presentation can intimidate people and work against you. Don recommends injecting a note of humanity, for example by giving some of your pitchtime to an unpolished junior who will likely make a few harmless slip-ups.

SCRATCHING IT

A handsome and imposing manager I met early in my career recommended rubbing your backside on the way out of the room to show you’re just a person.

Boris Johnson metaphorically scratches his ass in public. It’s both funny and deplorable. But slick it ain’t, and that should work in his favor.

The lure that hides a hook

It’s a common marketing technique that also happens to be illegal. Bait-and-switch means that customers are drawn in with an alluring offer, then flicked over to an item that’s more profitable.

This is often done by denigrating the special deal once the customer is in the store. “It’s a nice vacuum cleaner, but we can’t include a guarantee.” Or “Frankly, you’re too classy for that suit.”

PAINFUL WITHDRAWAL

A sophisticated version works like this. You want cosmetic work done on your nose. The first consultation, including a diagnostic examination and X-rays, is very reasonably priced. You’re happy to go ahead.

Then you get the quote for the operation, which frankly looks outrageous. But by then, you know the doctor (who is a nice person) and paid for the preliminary work. You’re in the system.

Bait-and-switch is hard to prove, which is why vendors get away with it. In all cases, you have no obligation to complete the purchase. It’s painful to start again somewhere else – but can hurt more not to.

When your writing won’t work

Stuck with your content writing? If an article won’t flow, chances are that you’re suffering from a common problem, which is that you don’t have a clear picture in your head of whom you’re writing for.

The result is that you can’t think what to say or how to say it.

Stop and consider. Work out who your audience is and try to envisage a typical member of that audience. Start writing again.

This trick is usually effective. Vague sentences are replaced by precise, targeted phrases and everything seems to flow.

You can’t write for everybody. Try instead to write for somebody. The likely outcome is that it will be read with pleasure by many.

After the perm, it’s still a dog

The corner restaurant near this office has been through five tenants in recent years. Each spends money on a new name and new fitout, but these don’t stop the venture from failing.

We’ve had a Mexican, Turkish, contemporary, Asian, and one I can’t remember.

In each of the formats, there’s been nothing wrong with the food or service. But the floor size of the premises is enormous and would need a lot of diners in order to be profitable. Many of the tables are empty during the week. The two-highway exposure must also push up the rent.

BLIND FAITH

And this is on a high street that’s already overserviced with casual restaurants.

What startles me is the faith that each new operator has in a fresh concept, as if this will be the one to break through into profitability. A revamp is seen as the answer.

You can dress up these premises any way you like and the business fundamentals aren’t going to change much. A dog remains a dog, regardless of the color of its coat.

Use it to persuade a stranger

The phone is a great but forgotten business tool. It lets you chat informally with people and communicate warmth, while picking up the nuances of their speech.

The more I replace phone talk with email or text, the less cooperation I find. Despite the use of emojis, written words are coolly transactional and don’t convey the human touch.

You can’t sell as successfully by email as in person or by phone. Even when using the phone for that purpose, it’s best not to leave a voicemail asking for a return call. What works is to say, “sorry I missed you, will try again”.

Anything that shifts the onus onto the other person is likely to reduce your chance of success.

Text and email are wonderful for associates, friends and family. But when trying to persuade or convince a stranger, nothing beats the human face or voice.

A never ending story

West Side Story is playing again in my town. It’s a great musical with brilliant music, astonishing dancing, and a tragedy as old as Shakespeare.

The theme of ethnic conflict in the big city is just a relevant today as when the show was first staged in 1957.

The fight back then was partly about race and I suppose partly about religion, but at its core was the struggle for living space between recent immigrant arrivals and more established residents.

Behind the gang “rumble” – a fight over turf – was pressure on housing and jobs and community acceptance. So not much has changed.

MAGNIFIED CONFLICT

A knife fight under the highway might seem smalltime compared to today’s marketplace bombings and mosque massacres.

The old Upper West Side tenements of New York have gone too, replaced by the Lincoln Center and other artifacts of gentrification.

But on a world scale, the conflicts haven’t disappeared, and in fact have been magnified. The musical might aptly be reworked as Terror in the West or Meet You at the Mosque.

It’s a heartbreak that never seems to end.

The 21st century Howard Hughes

I looked at a couple of movies recently about the mid-20th-century entrepreneur Howard Hughes. These were The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and The Amazing Howard Hughes, with Tommy Lee Jones.

Both movies told interesting stories, the first focusing on Hughes’s early years, the later protraying his decline into eccentric old age.

What startled me was the similarity between him and our current rich visionary, Elon Musk.

Hughes made his pile selling drill parts during the Texas oil boom, then parlayed the cash into blockbuster movies, operating an airline (TWA) and making extravagant forays into aircraft design.

His six-engined Spruce Goose was at the time the largest aircraft ever built. It barely got off the ground and has been hangared ever since as an awkward reminder of Hughes’s overreach.

FATED TRAJECTORY? 

In a similar vein, Elon Musk got rich from the internet revolution, bought into the car company Tesla and has ambitions to be a space transport pioneer.

Both men had or are having trouble reining in their cashed-up dreams to keep pace with the reality of what they’re trying to achieve.

The Musk story is still unfolding, but how fascinating to see if the second half of the man’s life will mirror the fated trajectory of his forerunner.

Go where your competitors won’t

We’ve all got business rivals, and it’s easy to believe that nothing is as tough as our own industry. That’s because we’re all fishing for customers in the same pond.

There are people out there who would love to hear from you and know more about your products. You simply haven’t thought of them yet.

CRUISING FANTASY

Let’s say you’re working in the food industry, but dream of sailing the oceans as a luxury yacht captain. Indulge your hopeless fantasy by reading their blogs. Comment on providoring topics, where you might be able to add a fresh angle to the conversation.

Become the only person of your professional type whom they’ve ever encountered online.

You’ll one day be able to laugh behind your sails when colleagues and competitors complain how hard their life is.

Comfort is underrated

We’re tired of hearing it, aren’t we? Move out of your comfort zone. The advice is supposed to be a key to personal success.

I prefer to remain in mine – especially if it’s uncomfortable for everyone else.

Stretching yourself to the point where it hurts is based on the notion that unless new horizons are sought, we’ll remain forever stuck on the couch. I’m all for pain avoidance and have got nothing against wallowing, provided it’s productive.

ALBERT’S ZONE

The Swiss mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein spent his days working on complex theorems because he found them to be enjoyable and stimulating. “Get out of the house, Albert! Go put on your skates or climb a mountain.”

Einstein was entirely comfortable with staying inside and solving the mysteries of time and space.

Isn’t simply a matter of grit

The new year is a time for resolutions, in which we decide to begin projects or fix problems that require our attention.

We’ll need persistence to see these thing through, since outcomes can take time to achieve and may face hurdles along the way. Persistence is the key to success.

Or is it?

There are two types of people in the world: those who give up easily, and those who don’t cave in soon enough. Huh? We hear a lot about the first sort, and are encouraged to beat up on ourselves for showing this tendency.

Yet the second type is also common. These folk are inflexible and keep going after they should abandon their effort or change tack.

Here’s a resolution for 2019: If something isn’t working, don’t continue. Stop what you’re doing and think about what’s causing the blockage. Look around for an answer, ask people, read up, and sometimes just wait.

Resolve, in other words, not to let persistence get in the way of success.