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Thursday, March 12, 2020

A Nation of Children

After a few decades in the brand strategy business, I don't take clients as often I once did.  In fact, I don't even reach out to prospective clients any more. I decided to semi-retire (I still do a fair amount of expert witness work) for a couple of reasons:

1.  I no longer have to consult for a living, which is a good thing, financially speaking.
2.  During the tenure of my career, there was a sharp, pervasive decline in the quality of CEOs, who simply were too ignorant and unconcerned and unaccountable to their businesses.  They literally weren't capable of basic business principles, like say, restoring profitability.

If you follow my blog, you can read back some ten years or more, in which I expressed real concerns about dangers of the country -- and most of the civilized world -- becoming a Nation of Children.  An entire generation, completely devoid of any kind of critical thinking or accountability.  Reactionary rather than assertive; quicker to blame that to solve problems.  When this generation takes action, if it ever does, it's usually in the form of whining while running and hiding.

In twenty years, my typical CEO client devolved from a forward-looking captain of his ship to a whimpering, uneducated young ninny who shrinks from any kind of accountability. Having termed out, the old guard has been replaced by twits lacking of any type of business knowledge, strategy or accountability.

At the time of this writing, the Nation of Children has seriously selected candidates to lead them based on promises of free goods and services, without demanding any kind of rational explanations as to how to pay for them. It's deja vu as I recall my fifth grade elections, where candidates for class presidents expected to prevail with promises of an end to homework and ice cream for lunch.

Sadly, it seems as if nobody questions anything any more.  Nobody demands rationale, proof or clear, proven results. Everyone, it turns out, is either too lazy, too ignorant or too intimidated to sit back, think, and push back for answers from a pervasive media that delights in promoting fictions as freely as truth.

Okay, so that's nothing you haven't heard before.  But here's something you may not have thought about:

The primary danger with a Nation of Children is in its lack of accountability.  I don't care if you're conservative or liberal, but adults don't simply believe everything they're told.  Adults realize there are consequences to their actions and beliefs.  Simpletons, on the other hand, just wait and endure and panic with no sense of direction.

You want to believe that a Corona virus is everything the doom prophets would have you believe?  Fine.  Ignore the real data. Question nothing. Trust in the manipulated "research" and skewed "studies" that are offered up as proof of badly-structured research when it's mixed with media ratings. I've lived through a lot, including Corona virus and worse. None of it is true -- or as bad -- as the media and your lazy, lemming friends would have you believe.

Of course, this is merely my viewpoint, based on my experience. You can choose not to buy into any of it.  But like I said, I'm semi-retired.  I'm out.

It's your problem now.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

The Bitch Seat

A wise old man -- or possibly anyone who thinks he's a wise old man -- once said, "Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one."  And while that is most certainly true, it does raise the issue of when and if taking others' advice is a smart thing to do.

Being the contrarian I am, I have a tendency to reject almost any advice people offer, especially that of the unsolicited variety. Believe me, if I want someone's opinion, I'll be sure to ask him for it. Until then, I seem to be doing just fine on my own and find myself unwilling to endure some random lecture that's almost guaranteed to be off-topic and ill-conceived.

This is not entirely a personality defect of mine, although that probably plays into it. Not as much, however, as decades of experience which has scientifically confirmed my thesis that the best advice is no advice at all.  At this point, you may be wondering what constitutes my science -- and well you should, considering that what I'm writing here could conceivably resemble the very type of advice I so heartily eschew. So here goes:

Back in the day when I as in advertising, marketing and strategic brand consulting, clients who were too fearful about making decisions would convene expensive, time-consuming research groups in order to move forward with decisions that afforded executives just enough plausible denial. The thinking was that if the research affirmed a decision but resulted in total failure, the executives could always blame the research while keeping their own jobs.

Most of those focus groups and discussion panels were ridiculously predictable, to the point where we could predict everything about the respondents before they even walked in the room, down to what they would say and where they would sit. It was especially easy to tell when the conference table was oblong, because there were only two end chairs: one for the moderator and one we called the Bitch Seat, which was always occupied by the loudest, bossiest respondent who would drone on disproportionately to the others around the table.

Not only was the person in the Bitch Seat the loudest and most domineering, he was also the most typical of the worst at providing responses, mainly because he was less concerned about offering constructive observations than he was about proving his own value.  And that's the problem I have with people offering advice: Too often they care less about helping you out than they do about proving themselves better, smarter or more knowledgeable than you. So they offer you horrible, misguided advice.

Think about it. When was the last time someone advised you about how good your decision was? I guarantee you it doesn't even begin to compare to the number of times you've gotten reasons "why it won't work," or "what you've overlooked," or even "I tried that and the odds are against you."  For some reason (usually ignorance and insecurity), people have a really tough time admitting they don't know enough to advise you, fearing that to be a sign of their own weakness.  Even worse, they try to pump themselves up by finding fault in your proposals, taking great pride in having "saved you from a real disaster."

I can't tell you the number of times I watched incredibly powerful ideas and proposals get blown apart from the Bitch Seat, where just one misfired remark initiated an avalanche of endorsements from the Sheep Seats (those sitting alongside the table, basically wanting to go along with the rest of the group).  All it took was one insecure loudmouth to start the ball rolling and within minutes, the room turned into a creative Jonestown.

Hey, you want to move ahead in this world? Do your own research. Find your own facts. Make your own decisions. You want to be guided by good data, not people's insecurities. 

Of course, you can take my advice.  Or not.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Myth of Fitness

In case you haven't noticed, there's an insidious epidemic sweeping the country that's affecting every person's mental and physical health, including yours. It may be the worst assault on your wellbeing you ever encounter, and yet you and a hundreds of million other unsuspecting victims may never realize it, as it feeds on your very physical, emotional and financial existence.

It stared out as the fitness craze, which now has become an ever better fitting moniker, mainly because so many people are frenzied in their attempts to achieve an imaginary level of "fitness" for absolutely no real purpose, other than perpetuating their own self-loathing for not living up to someone else's ideals.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of obesity or the sedentary lifestyle. I'm the first one to jump up from my desk for a brisk walk around the block or a few sets of resistance work. I'm right there with you when it comes to doing a little cardio to work off last night's pasta overload. But you won't see me in the gym, sweating it out for hours, several times a week, in pursuit of a goal that's never really been defined.

Everywhere I look, I'm forced to gaze upon sweaty bodies on expensive machines glorifying the notion of "physical fitness" when in fact those images present nothing more of value than what you might see in a Calvin Klein ad. I mean, how fit does someone really have to be?  It reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Kenny tells Jerry, "You should work out," and Jerry replies, "Why?"

People keep falling for a never-ending torrent of expensive supplements and foods whose recommendations and benefits are disproven on a weekly basis, as more and more faux science promises results that nobody can really define.  Yes, you're aging. No, this supplement won't make you young again. Wise up. Even Elon Musk can't bluff investors into developing a time machine, and he's as good as hackery gets.

As if fitness mania's corporal assault weren't damaging enough, your wallet is taking a pretty healthy beating of its own. Home exercise machines have become a 21st century status symbol, promising body contouring while delivering nothing more than an increase in isolation from what little social contact is left. For thousands of dollars, you can now steam up your attic while avoiding other humans completely.

How can that be healthy?

The fact is that if you really want to understand your optimal physical fitness, you need look no further than your family tree, because like it or not, your physicality is far more dependent on your genes than your credit card.  The fact is that nobody has the time, money or actual reason to dive into the expensive, vague notion of ultimate fitness. Nobody needs the machines, the wardrobe, the supplements or special menus.

What they do need is a healthy dose of self-reliance and a realization that like everything else, when you take care of yourself -- physically, financially and emotionally -- you're as fit as you're ever going to want to be.

Now, who's up for a pizza?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Yacht Rock Saves Humanity

Ever since ancient Greece, it seems as if every generation has bemoaned the inadequacies of its successors. The youth are ignorant, disrespectful, wildly oversexed and just about everything else that older people miss about being young.  I can handle that. What I have more trouble with is the stovepiping and social isolation of kids who have grown up with the internet, because that's something that really is different from anything before.

There are two really strange and frightening effects that have somewhat crippled the point-and-click generation. One is an unrealistic lack of patience for anyone and anything. That's understandable: when you've grown up clicking a screen one day and having merchnadise delivered the next, it's bound to prod an impressionable, naive mind to ask, why can't everything and everyone cater to me like that?

The other problem is (and this is no newsflash), their absolute ignorance regarding socialization. Tucked neatly into their silos, the point-and-click generation has been lured by self-interest into the dungeons of Silicon Valley, where everyone is made to appear as if everything really is about them. Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Apple and every other digital player has based an entire industry on its customer not having to put up with anyone else for any reason, making life a succession of self-involved, self-important stories that exclude the rest of the known universe.

As such, an entire generation has grown up having no idea how to make friends, hit on chicks, appreciate labor or plan for their futures.  After all, why plan a future when anything that needs to happen is just a click away? Why not just click on a pretty girl's face to see if she's interested in having pointless sex with me? Isn't that how life's supposed to work?

Ah, the pleasures of instant gratification. Whoever imagined it would turn an entire generation into an army of emotional cripples?

Well, it has.  Sort of.

It's no coincidence that as the ranks of the emotionally retarded has swelled, so has the incidence of gender confusion and faux "tolerance" of attention-starved freaks demanding new laws and media time. Now more than ever, the media trumpets the "rights" of the sexually deranged (whose numbers aren't nearly what that media would represent), and dares to question the existence of basic human instincts.

The fact is that lots of point-and-clickers are perfectly normal -- they just don't know what to do with themselves, for fear of being castigated as "intolerant" or "racist" by their peers, all of whom are just as confused as they are.

Having been emotionally isolated and suppressed, one would think there'd be no hope for this lost generation.  But I submit to you that while the flame of humanity may be flickering, it is not completely extinguished.  In fact, I submit to you here and now that the embers are being fanned by a most unlikely savior:

Yacht Rock.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Yacht Rock is the relatively recent appellation attached to music of the 1970s and 1980s with which most boomers had a love-hate relationship. Songs about moping, love-denied males which were sung mostly by moping, love-denied males were huge hits at that time -- and are making a comeback now.  Who could ever forget Rupert Holmes' cringeworthy Him or Me or his Escape (Piña Colada Song)? Or Player's equally pathetic Baby Come Back? Or Robbie Duprée's pre-Michael McDonald arrangement of Steal AwayWell, while boomers may try to banish these bombs from their minds, it seems that Yacht Rock has captured the imagination of the point-and-click generation for a very good reason.

At first, it may seem that Yacht Rock is just one more culturally-appropriated curiosity to be written off like any other national tradition. But on closer inspection, a more telling scenario emerges: these kids are identifying with traditional feelings they've been too intimidated to express.

How weird is that? After being told their entire lives that their emotional needs and drives are merely "social constructs," an entire generation is beginning to discover its just as emotionally needy as their progenitors ever were and that maybe, things aren't so different after all.  Turns out that Yacht Rock is letting them know that maybe there really is something to that good old-fashioned boy-meets-girl thing and that the whole #MeToo thing is just as relevant as that stuff piling up behind the elephant at the zoo.

Perhaps, as obnoxious as it was to boomers, Yacht Rock will replace the preposterous transgender and feminist confusion before too many of these kids waste their lives conforming to some twisted agenda of artificial social constructs.  Maybe, if they play enough tunes, they'll rediscover what it's like to be swept off their feet, grabbed in someone's arms and, in the immortal words of Rhett Butler, "kissed and kissed well."

I get squishy just thinking about it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Killing The Interview

If you've been following my blog, you know I spend a fair amount of time drawing on the past and speculating on the future. Being on the wrong side of my career, I can look back on some of the successful -- and not so successful -- experiences of that career, drawing on what I can to help anyone who will listen.

If you're on the early, uphill side of your career, this one just might be a keeper. So settle in and think about the following items that worked for me and might work for you, regardless of the career path you're seeking:

Okay, not everything, but about 95% is pure junk, based on gaining the approval of those in your life whose authority is not only arbitrary, but meaningless.  Parents, teachers, employers and peers all benefit from your seeking their approval, but you actually get nothing from it, other than a fair amount of frustration and a massive sense of failure.  If you're over the age of 22, you should be feeling the pain any minute now, as you begin to realize that it doesn't matter if people like you, all that matters is that people will pay you for what you offer.  Nobody needs more friends; everybody wants to make money, and if they see you as a means to do that, you're in. Finally, accept that your first twenty years has been structured to keep you in line and crush your own self-image. The more you work for others' approval, the less confidence you cultivate for yourself -- and that makes you easy to manipulate.  Fuck that. The truth is that most of your teachers and professors and the system as a whole are/were dead wrong about everything other than keeping you in line. If you want to break out of that prison, the first thing you need to see is that there are no locks on your cage.  You can walk out any time you please -- you just have to want to.

Also, understand that after your first twenty years, advancement is no longer a question of checking boxes and fulfilling requirements.  That worked just fine for getting through kindergarden and grad school, but out here among the savages, it's random. There is no standardized system.  Out here, if you don't kill, you don't eat, which means if you work the job you have instead of working for the career you want, you'll stay right where you are until you wake up and realize you're being used until you make a move.  You want it? Go get it. Nobody is going to promote you for simply showing up.

Sorry, no matter how special your mother thinks you are, nobody else does. Nor does anyone care about what you've done or to whom you've done it.  If you're there, it's because there might be something you have that they want. That's it. And the cruel truth is that if they think you want to run and get them coffee, that's all they're going to hire you for. If they think you can save their company, that's all they're going to hire you for. So before you get all caught up in getting what you want, get into the other guy's head and figure out what he's trying to get.  The two may not be anywhere nearly as similar as you might have thought.

If you really want to launch upward, you need to know how to crush the interview.  Fortunately, I've always had good success with my own three step system:

  • Start by asking how much time the interviewer has.
    You'd be amazed at how many candidates show up completely unaware that the interviewer has no interest in being bored by self-indulgent fantasies. When the first question you ask is, "How much time do you have for this? I want to respect your time," the interviewer instantly realizes you're not the typical applicant, but a more business-like person who respects both his and your professionalism.  That's a great way to start, and very few competitive applicants do that.  Every interviewer will tell you how much time he has, which serves as a benchmark for you: As you approach that time limit, ask if he needs to end the call/meeting.  If he extends the meeting, you know you're doing well.  If he decides to talk more with you over lunch, you're home free.
  • Get straight to the point.
    Remember that you're not there to make friends, you're there to do business. One of the best tactics I've ever used is a simple, professional discussion along the following lines, in which you admit you're good at some things, but not everything and that you've heard that your interviewer is "the go-to guy" for all those things you lack. By structuring the quid pro quo as a money-making arrangement for both of you, your interviewer realizes you're perfect fit for each other. When he sees you're offering a business proposition, not pledging for a fraternity, he'll sit up a little straighter and pay more attention, because he'll see you're about business, not friendship.
  • End by asking for "next steps."
    A big mistake most applicants make is by leaving the meeting empty-handed instead of pushing for the next step. If you don't end the meeting asking, "what are our next steps," you're telegraphing the other guy that there are no next steps -- we're done.  That's a fatal flaw. But if you do ask, your interview signals his intentions right then and there.  If you get the "we'll keep you in our files and reach out" line, you're out.  But if there's a personalized "I'm out next week but why don't we circle back on the 24th," at least you have a reason to follow up, knowing you're not out of the running.

That's right, lose all that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram crap. All they're going to do is suck more time out of your life while allowing other posers to make you feel inadequate. As long as you're at it, forget everything digital in your quest for success, because the promise of digital media is just another lie.  Understand that virtually all apps and services are not portals to the business world, they're data aggregators for services to sell your information to third parties for marketing purposes. Your data is what they're after, which is why their services are free.  Submitting a resumé online does nothing more than feed your data to those aggregators.  If you really want a career, get out there, meet and connect with real people in real time.  Don't fall for the digital lie: human nature hasn't changed in tens of thousands of years. Pointing and clicking may get your protein powder delivered to your door overnight, but it won't get you a job -- or a date. People want to shake your hand and look you in the eye.

The classic mistake most younger people make is working for free as an intern, thinking that if they just prove themselves, management will recognize their potential and promote them into a real, full-time paying job.  By now you should understand that all they're going to recognize is that you're a fool who is so unprofessional, you'll get their coffee and not even ask to be paid for it.  The fact is that professionals are people who offer their services for remuneration. If you're not going to make money, you might as well go play in the park with your dog.

At least he'll appreciate you for being a wonderful guy.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

The End of Globalists

Years ago, I marveled at my grandfather's lifetime, in which he witnessed all kinds incredible events. He was alive to see the first powered human flight, automobiles, the invention of radio and television, two world wars, medical breakthroughs, the fall of monarchies, the rise of republics, the first moon landing -- too many to list here.  It was a span of time I reckoned could never be duplicated in terms of its historic dynamics.

Clearly, that was a major underestimation, because the turn of this century is every bit as dynamic as was the turn of the last, if not more so.

It doesn't matter what your political viewpoint, the important thing to keep in mind is that things are happening and they're not little, insignificant events. The events of 9/11 in New York City were, metaphorically and literally, the starting gun of a massive shift in global activity. And if you don't know your history, you may not know what's about to happen, so here's how it likely will play out:

Just as the American national elections was a replay of the dynamics of 1984, you can pretty much watch the election of 2020 replay the election of 1980. The latter was a strong repudiation of the Jimmy Carter's agenda; the former was a landslide confirmation of 1980, with Ronald Reagan flattening Walter Mondale's struggling advocacy of Carter's agenda. By the late 1980s -- after the weakening of its stature on the world stage -- the USA had returned to a more conservative, prosperous economy and its traditional role as a world power.  It was hardly any coincidence that having held them for 444 days during the Carter administration, Iran released American hostages on the day Reagan was inaugurated.  The Iranians knew there was a new sheriff in town.

Anything there strike you as remotely familiar or similar to what we're seeing in 2019?  It should. Swap out Carter for Obama and Trump for Reagan and -- regardless of your politics -- it's playing out in a similar way:

The American economy never lost its global dominance, but it had diminished. That's no more.   American defense capabilities had diminished, but that's no more, either. Where foreign powers once bluffed and intimidated Carter and Obama, they now sit up and pay deference to Reagan and Trump.

Lest you think history doesn't repeat itself, consider that at the turn of the last century, European monarchies crumbled for the last time as republics rose up from revolutions. At the turn of this century, we're witnessing the fall of the European Union and the comeback of self-determined, independent nations. Brexit is just the first domino to fall; the rest are lined up to follow.

And it's the United States that -- once again -- is leading the way.

America has re-established itself as the marketplace where everyone wants to play.  The American dollar is the currency everyone wants to bank. And the American alliance is the partnership everyone wants to cement.  China, North Korea and Russia place far behind the enormous economic and political power that, despite its squandering, remains vast in its reserves.  The United States is once again at the top of its game almost as if Eisenhower never left.

Yes, there's a New World Order. It just isn't the one you've been told to expect. It doesn't leave much room for socialists, communists or green-eyed globalists with "one world" visions. What it does portend is even more incredible opportunities for American growth, investment and self-reliance for Americans and non-Americans -- assuming they're ready to get on board.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Niche Where Once Was Mass

A common chestnut among entrepreneurs is the advisory issued in the late nineteenth century, in which the Commissioner of the United States Patent Office, Charles Holland Duell, remarked that the office might as well be closed because "everything that can be invented has been invented."  That was then. This is now.  In my own lifetime, I've watched the number of patents issued explode. My own patent was tagged in the low two millions. Today, that number is multiple times that and climbing.

Times change. People change. Markets change. But very often, people miss the bigger picture, ignoring the fact that just as often, market dynamics change. Beyond products and services being invented or growing obsolete is a nuanced observation about the forces and behaviors that goes almost unnoticed.

Most people, for example, are somewhat familiar with the evolution of the mass market economy. Prior to the industrial revolution, most products were built by hand. The advent of machinery allowed more goods and services to be made more plentiful at lower costs, which spurred their consumption and created even more markets for goods and services.

That's pretty much the story from the mid-nineteenth century to the near mid-twentieth century, at which time a larger population, along with industrial and informational advances, took economic prosperity to the next level: mass production. After the second world war, everything from breakfast cereals to television sets to three bedroom tract homes were mass produced in huge quantities. Everything was more affordable for more people. And for the next half century, that's how it stayed.

With the new millennium, however, there was a subtle shift in the dynamics of the mass market economy. The rapid acceleration of information technology, coupled with the unprecedented reach of the internet, radically reshaped market dynamics with all but a very few people noticing.  That shift could well be called the birth of the Super Mass Market -- and it's not at all what you might think.

The Super Mass Market is one in which only a very few players can live. In essence, the entity grows so large and so quickly that it rapidly dominates and eliminates its competition. You know their names: Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft -- the usual suspects. Brands in the Super Mass Market like to preen themselves over their abundance of granular data about anything and anyone, allowing them to manage and manipulate just about any market they choose.  They seem insurmountable, but I'm here to tell you that they are not.

Just as the Super Mass Market ascended to its heights, another dynamic evolved right behind it, in which niche players leveraged their lack of size and reach to their own advantage.  Don't get me wrong, these are not your grandfather's niche players.  These are Super Niche entities who dwarf the old notion of niche marketers.  Yes, they're smaller than Super Mass Marketers, but they're far larger than the Mom and Pops of old.  Where they are alike is in their understanding they've no need to conquer the world -- just their own little corner of it.

While the Super Mass Marketers are all headed over the cliff (overgrowth, mismanagement, anti-trust and new legislation/regulation is not too far off), the less-heralded Super Niches are quietly avoiding the media's scrutiny, rejoicing in the Super Mass Marketers' stealing the spotlight and drawing the media's fire. The Super Niches run cleaner and leaner, too, making them more profitable investments as they avoid the risks of their larger brothers' bloat. They're not difficult to spot if you know where to look.

Back in the 1950s, the word to the wise was to "think big."  That's still valid.  Big is beautiful. Just don't overdo it.