Friday, July 04, 2014
Monday, June 09, 2014
R.I.P. Renaissance Man
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
How to Save the Middle Class
Monday, December 02, 2013
The Best Job Interview Ever
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Why Hillary Won't Be President
Way back in 2006, I wrote about the political brand strategies of Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards and Barack Obama. It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty accurate. To me, political candidates are no different than boxes of laundry detergent. If you can't perceive any difference among them, you'll never really know why you're choosing one over the other. It's only what you know that makes the difference.
To a certain extent, branding is about differentiation. Beyond that, it's about the credibility of that differentiation and how it's presented to the public. And that, in my view, is why Hillary Clinton has no chance of ever becoming president of the United States. In fact, there's a better than even shot she won't even clinch the Democratic nomination -- but how John Kerry could.
Now before you get all sexist on me, let me say that Hillary Clinton may be capable. She may be qualified. She might be a really nice person. Personally, I'm about as egalitarian as it gets, to the point that I'd love to see women in combat and maybe picking up a dinner check. Nothing wrong with any of that in my book. But Hillary's deficiencies are far more serious than her gender.
Here's a brief list:
Most lacking in Hillary's political arsenal is her (or her ill-advising staff's) inability to showcase her positive accomplishments. Say what you will about her politics, the odd fact hounding Hillary Clinton is that hardly anyone, anywhere, can recall even one of her major positive accomplishments as either a Senator from New York or as Obama's first Secretary of State. Can you? Sure, her public relations team cites the many thousands of miles she traveled as Secretary, but nobody can cite the fruits of those travels.
In fact, ask the average American what they know about Hillary Clinton, and they'll most likely recite her failures as their answers, most notably the disaster in the U.S. embassy at Benghazi and her National Health Card program from 1993. Think about it. In her years of public service, she may have done some wonderful, admirable things, but nobody knows about them. And if the public doesn't know about it, they assume it doesn't exist.
Contrast Clinton's four years as Secretary of State with John Kerry's, who doesn't fart unless there's a team of photographers nearby. At the time of this writing, Kerry's been Secretary of State for less than twelve months and he's already taken a very public lead on nuclear negotiations with Iran, as well as his clumsy-yet-somewhat-successful program to destroy Syria's chemical warfare capabilities.
Both Clinton and Kerry have run national campaigns for the office of President. Clinton never clinched the nomination, but Kerry -- in one of the worst campaigns ever -- actually did. Kerry survived "swift-boating" and John Edwards, neither of which was an easy trick. And while the American public may not be able to list all of his accomplishments as a United States Senator, at least the American voter doesn't list Kerry's major national and international failures at the top of his mind.
There are more reasons why Hillary Clinton isn't looking like a healthy presidential candidate, not the least of which is that she is, in all respects, pretty much and old boy Democrat in a dress. Yes, she's a woman. Yes, that's a difference. But when you distill her policies, connections and interests down to the core, she's an old school Democrat with old school philosophies dating back to the administration of Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society program from 1964. It's one of the major reasons she lost to Obama in 2008: In tactics and theory, he was new and current, she was old and rehash.
That was then, this is now: We're still in a recessionary economy under a Democratic administration which has been painted as ineffective on everything from foreign policy to national health care. Historically, that condition hasn't been terribly kind to political candidates: In 1976, Gerald Ford was toppled by one of the worst Presidents in history, Jimmy Carter, simply because Ford was tattooed with the legacy of his predecessor, Richard Nixon. Even before Obama, being a solid, old school Democrat was not what people wanted and they sure don't want it now. They want their quality of life back first. They'll consider all the wealth-sharing after that part gets fixed -- and that's not exactly the kind of agenda Hillary's known for.
If you know your history, you may also appreciate the fact that in 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama was elected less for being Barack Obama than for not being George W. Bush or John McCain or Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney. In 2008, Obama was thrust into office because the American public figured that old white men weren't fixing things, so it was time to try something, someone completely different. Now that they've had two terms of something different -- and they haven't seen any real improvement in their lives -- I suspect the American public is beginning to think that maybe we should go back to the original game plan, which would mean a woman would have a much tougher time getting elected today than in 2008.
So from where I sit, Americans wants change, but they don't want too much change. They're tired of a polarized, paralyzed Congress and want someone who can reach across the aisle. They want their great white father figure back. They want a voice of reason. Someone they can admire, whose track record indicates a positive, affable manner of getting real things done. Which likely means the next President won't be female. Or a Democrat. Or have a 32 inch waist, for that matter.
Does the name Chris Christie ring a bell?
Friday, November 08, 2013
Buying Facebook, Not Twitter
I don't care how talented or pretty you are, what really counts in life is timing and luck. You can be as smart as Einstein, but if you're not in the right place at the right time, you're not going anywhere. If you can't recognize opportunity, grab it and strike while the iron's hot, you're doomed to a life of hourly-wage misery.
Hey, I don't make these rules. I just follow them. Which is why, when it comes to technology investments, I throw all that financial mumbo jumbo out the window and go where the real money is:
Bear in mind I'm no financial genius. I don't pretend to be. I'm a branding guy, which means I'm really, really good at understanding what drives people to do the things they do. As a consequence, I'm hired out by companies to get those same people to do the things those companies want them to do, namely buy products and services at a premium.
But I digress. I'm really writing this to explain why I have invested in Facebook (again) and I won't touch Twitter's public offering with a long stick. Neither decision has anything to do with the usual Wall Street or media hype. Both are totally, completely driven by human irrationality, but that doesn't mean you or I can't leverage that insanity to our profit.
Here's how and why I've bought (and sold) Facebook, but why I would never put a dime into Twitter:
The minute rumors of Facebook's IPO began swirling, it was apparent that it was going to be the most over-hyped event in Wall Street history. Everyone and his mother was lining up to buy Facebook stock, not realizing they were buying into hype, not financials. It reminded me of the story about Joseph Kennedy selling all his Wall Street holdings just days before the 1929 crash. The story -- if you haven't heard this legend -- is that while Kennedy was getting his shoes shined, the shoe shine guy started talking about which stocks were a good buy. Kennedy figured that if a shoe shine guy was talking about the stock market, it meant the market was certainly over-bought, and promptly liquidated his holdings.
Human nature hasn't change much since then. That's why I sat out the Facebook IPO, watching in amusement as millions of frenzied, uneducated Americans clawed their way to the front of the line to purchase Facebook stock at $45 per share. By now, you know that Facebook stock made an abrupt turn at $45 and promptly swan dived into the high teens, which I thought was a fair price for an unproven stock driven by hype. So I loaded up. I didn't care about Facebook's public relations or Zuckerberg's sociopathic ineptitude. I banked on the main engine driving Facebook stock: human irrationality, including the fact that venture capitalists and hedge funds has no intention of letting the stock drop below $19 if they could help it. I held the stock until it hit $33. Then I dumped it, waiting for the next right moment.
Here's where I think the story gets interesting:
While everyone's looking at Twitter as "the next Facebook," I think they've got it all wrong. Sure, the greed factor will play into the stock's price, but not for long. In fact, over the long haul, I suspect Twitter won't last, while Facebook will. The reason for that isn't greed, irrationality or even media hype. In the end, what's likely to doom Twitter (as much as I enjoy tweeting and meeting people there) is the fact that Facebook offers permanence, while Twitter is ephemeral. By that, I mean in order to benefit from a tweet, you have to be online, all the time -- or at least when a significant tweet is tweeted. If you're not always on, you miss that tweet. It's gone. Forever. And nobody uses Twitter in the past. Facebook, on the other hand, allows you to check in any time you like, to see what you've missed or what's going on at that moment. Facebook is all about building and tracking histories, while Twitter only values the moment.
That one characteristic alone, to me, is why Twitter seems unsustainable, both as a medium and as an investment. From my perspective, Facebook -- whether you like it or not -- is a large, planetary distribution system. While more idiots invest more time, events and photos of their cats and lunches into their Facebook pages, Twitter offers nothing in the way of personal investment or building of value to its users. Facebook is about building a monument to yourself; Twitter's value flashes by in an instant.
Over the long haul, Facebook can build out and upgrade its delivery system. If Twitter can do that, they might have a chance. If they can't -- and there's no indication of anything like that yet -- they'll end up just one more tech tragedy. So while Facebook continues to lose it young, this-isn't-so-cool-anymore audience (and it is), Facebook's pipes and delivery structure will remain in use for a very long time. That's why the hype phase for Facebook is just about over and might well be a long term buy, while Twitter may be a flash in the digital pan.
That's why I'm long on Facebook, but Twitter? Not for long.
Saturday, October 05, 2013
So I'm reading my morning newspaper (yes, I'm one of those whose idea of luxury is an unhurried cup of coffee with a real, tree-killing newspaper) and the lead item is a story about how the city of Los Angeles is having all kinds of problems with its distribution of iPads to its school students. Not only are iPads disappearing from the schools, but it seems that a fair number are being reprogrammed by students in a way that allows them to elude security monitoring while gaining access to "forbidden content" such as porn and Facebook -- which one could argue are one and the same.
When this program was first launched, it was heralded with all kinds of fanfare. "An iPad for every student" had the same euphemistic ring as "No Child Left Behind," which to me, clearly signalled its potential for massive failure from the start. For some reason, school systems -- not unlike the lemmings who line up at the Apple Store to enslave themselves to the latest version of its useless technology -- seem to think that equipment and technology provide the "education of the future." They kid themselves into wrongly correlating other nations' high academic achievements with faster WiFi connections and widespread technology.
Well, you heard it here first: All of that is complete crap. It's actually doing far more long term damage than you might think. And here's why:
The biggest mistake Americans make in their everyday lives is thinking they can buy their way out of their problems. It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, remodel your home or find a job. Simply call the toll-free 800 number or click the link and someone, somewhere will charge you a tidy sum to make your problem go away. And if you call now, the shipping is free.
The same syndrome applies to our education system, where your tax dollars support programs that ship mountains of computers, smart boards and useless technology that someone, somewhere has sold as an educational panacea, based on two fallacious arguments:
1. You can't win a war without the right weapons, which translates to, "give teachers the tools they need to teach."
2. Anything with a price tag represents a tangible, accountable solution allowing administrators to concoct convoluted formulas that speciously demonstrate some kind of "return on investment." Bureaucrats love numbers.
In effect, what your educators are telling you is the same thing as those late night infomercials: "We can fix it for you in three easy payments." Unfortunately, it's having the exact opposite effect.
If anyone were really interested in educating kids, the first thing they'd do is confiscate every single piece of technology from every kid until high school. That's right, no phones, no pads, no laptops. Nothing. In fact, the less you give kids, the more they'd develop the real skills they need for the rest of their lives:
Critical thinking and personal interaction skills -- both of which are hugely lacking and contributing to an unprecedented atomization of our society.
See, if you teach kids critical thinking, they actually use their brains to solve problems instead of looking everything up on Google. If they can't solve their own problems, they learn how to approach others who can help them. And if they can solve them, they learn how to help those who can't. Pretty slick, eh? Well, none of that happens when you load their pockets with iPhones and iPads, expecting them to "work at their own individual pace" -- another huge, counter-productive myth. What the geniuses who run your school system don't understand is that "working at your own individual pace" not only undermines a kid's tolerance for others' differences, it also hampers his ability to spot opportunity: after all, the first rule of business is to find a need and fill it. If your ears are plugged with ear buds and your eyes are locked on a screen, you never develop observational skills that clue you into the world surrounding you.
It gets worse.
Believe me, I'm a realist who knows all too well that those who pine for the good old days usually choose to forget about how bad they were. But another disturbing aspect of Digital Retardation gets even more personal. Up until this generation, the dance of courtship followed a fairly predictable path, where two people met, got acquainted, enjoyed each other's company and -- if they struck a major chord -- ended up in an orgasmic explosion of shared intimacy, passion and fun. The anticipation and romance helped define the relationship to the point where one could feel the tension that led into the joy of mutual discovery.
Digital Retardation has pretty much destroyed all that. Because kids aren't trained to think and are steered into isolation, most of them under 30 (yes, they're still kids) have reversed the course of events, mindlessly hooking up first and then, if the sex was good, considering finding out more about the person with whom they slept. It's easy. You just text them. Order a drink. Have sex. Then text your pals where you'll meet them for dinner. Not that I meet armies of kids, but the ones I do meet all register their confusion about why their "relationships" (and I use that term incredibly loosely) just don't seem to work out.
I simply tell them: It's because you can't Google "How to have a meaningful conversation."
Still think you can pay your way out of your problems? That technology is the wonderful panacea Apple and Google and Microsoft keep telling you it is? Really?
Maybe it's time you did some critical thinking of your own.