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.