Friday, December 30, 2011

23 things they don't tell you about capitalism

The author Ha-Joon Chang is not anti-capitalist as the title might imply, but feels that we have been misled by free market capitalism.  I was given this book and took it as a bit of a challenge as my son had brought it home after reading on his flight over from London, England. The challenge part was that I had to finish it before his flight back.

Ha-Joon makes many many points and in a short blog I cannot do justice to them (I probably couldn't do much better in a long post).

Although you have to twist your thinking in a number of ways it is not difficult to understand. I have always felt that the rules are made by those in power and that the masses (including myself) are easily or at least sufficiently won over to accepting their viewpoint of free market capitalists. Ha-Joon points out with many examples of how the thinking has been distorted. Born relatively rich (in the West) we tend to be very self-righteous that we deserve to be in power.

The free market people in power say the market is supreme and corrects itself. In the most extreme beliefs, regulations are always harmful, government should be minimized, poor people are poor because of their own inadequacies. Their views on collective organizing is that it is really a dirty word--"socialism". "Government", to quote Ronald Reagan "is not the solution, it is the problem". History is re-written to prove their viewpoint.

There is no such thing as a free market, or maybe I should say we don't actually have one. Originally a free market was conceived as one where a company was totally liable for their debts, meaning the owners had to pay all the bills even if that meant they would pay out more than they had invested. The invention of the limited liability (as you see with many companies adding Ltd. to their official company name)  unleashed capitalists from the fear of unlimited debt. Quite rightly investors were interested to minimize their risk and society as a whole benefited. The free market believers usually overlook this fact and resent that workers want to minimize their risks.

The truth is all countries reached their current level of success with practices that would not be approved by the free marketers, including their own countries. The United States, amongst many other nations strongly practiced protectionism to give their own industries a fighting chance to establish themselves.

It is assumed that poor nations need to learn the new free market rules if they are to succeed. Ha-Joon points that in fact poor nations are actually much more innovative than richer nations. They have to be to cope. He gives the example of some people selling space in a long line. One experience that I recall was on a trip to Cuba taking a tour bus to visit Havana we were confronted with a deaf mute whose mastery of English I am not sure of. Actually met him on two different trips and at first found him very annoying, but eventually understood he was filling a need that a lot of us had. We couldn't figure out where our bus was parked. He had recorded all the bus numbers and knew where they were parked. He depended on us appreciating his service which not everyone did.

One of the basic tenets of free market thinkers is that the market is rational, but actually that is not true. The more complex our society the more difficult it is to be rational. In truth most people at some stage trust what they are told. The system breaks down when trust breaks down.  No single person understands all the options.

Efficiency is easily abused. For instance money can be transferred in seconds from one project to another across continents. This has encouraged investors to seek short term payoffs and avoid those long term projects requiring patience. It has been assumed by most of us that shareholders have the strongest stake in a company, but actually they are not as committed as workers and suppliers who cannot switch their efforts so easily.

Financing is a dominant force in the world.   It can speed growth, but also create crisis. It tends to short term planning as opposed to long term planning. The author concludes (amongst other things) that we need to end our love affair with free market capitalism and to recognize that human rationality is severely limited in a very complex world.

Like to get a fuller view of Ha-Joon's thinking? Visit his website,

Friday, December 23, 2011


Now that we humans in charge of the planet don't actually need horses for transporting and fighting it is all too easy to forget about them. Fortunately humans get bored easily and don't have to spend as much time on survival activities as we once did. Although there are so many alternatives to being entertained, horses still can fit into a niche.

For instance some of us like to watch movies (or television shows) of historical times. You don't have to go back past World War I to realize horses played a critical role in the military. The recent movie War Horse, just nominated for an Oscar provided an occupation for a few horses and horse handlers. When I was much younger popular television programs were dominated by westerns. I grew up loving Trigger and Silver and others I can't remember and bugging my parent to buy particular cereals.

A big area where horses are entertaining is racing. A car is impressive, but really you know it is not a live being. You also know it requires a key, a gas pedal and brakes. A horse on the other hand is a little more unpredictable and even frightening. As a young boy a friend's father took us to a thoroughbred race and I watched one leaning on the rail. I was overwhelmed with the speed and size of the horses. I really haven't been to the race track too many times, but have watched standard bred races as well and when you get closer they too provide a sense of living, breathing power. The Rider only deals with Quarter Racing which I have yet to see. Quarter horses are the fastest breed over a quarter mile so acceleration plays a big role.

The big attraction with racing is betting. For a brief time in my life I indulged in some under age betting and was quite thrilled to win a few small bets. In university a friend of mine, Martin Weber (who went on to become a blueberry farmer and an usher at my wedding) had a system. There are lots of systems, but I would say his was pretty sophisticated. His system was based on the minimum payout being $2.20 on a $2 bet. That 20¢ legally required payoff could sometimes be disproportionately high compared to the actual risk. He put tough criteria on what an overwhelming favorite was and that boiled down to at most one or two bets a day and they had to be big and they had to be at the very last minute. He believed that someone who had inside information (read illegal) would leave their bet to the last minute to take advantage of long shot odds so he had to be careful not to get caught that way. In the end he took his system to the track, declared that it worked, but that it was too hard on his nerves.

Working for The Rider the focus is often on English style show jumping, dressage, barrel racing and reining. When you appreciate the finer points a little better these are all very interesting. Show Jumping reminds me of golf (which I often get stuck watching with relatives that are active golfers) in a nice way. The tension builds up as riders take turns trying to get around a challenging course quicker and with fewer errors than their competitors. When it comes to jump off time the tension is very great at each jump. Barrel racing again is similar when you see a succession of riders (usually the faster ones seeded to go at the end) trying to trim a few tenths of seconds or even hundreths). Reining always has spins and slides that are exciting. I left dressage to the end because it has the most boring reputation. When you can appreciate that it can be very difficult to control a beast that weighs half a ton or so and get them to do very intricate maneuvers is amazing. When they add music to the mix it becomes an aesthetic experience. My favorite really is quadrilles when four horses are ridden in intricate patterns. Many of us can recall the RCMP musical ride which is just another pleasing variation.

I left out another experience and that is eventing. I have seen it a bit on television and have noticed that amongst some riders it is a passion. Because the action in the country runs are so far away it is difficult to televise. A helmet cam really lets you appreciate the demands. Click I was fortunate to watch Mark Todd (an Olympic two time gold medalist from New Zealand) give a short clinic at the Royal Winter Fair.

Vaulting is basically what you can see at the circus, but with a difference. In the circus they like to make easy things looks dangerous, but in vaulting the idea is to make difficult things look easy.

Entertainment is one of the most desired goals of humans, but horses are more useful than just relieving our boredom or exciting our desensitized nerves. In future blogs I plan to write about how they are useful in police actions, logging, psycho-therapy and just for your human soul amongst other activities.

How I Became a Horse Lover without Riding

Some of my readers may realize I make part of my living by selling ads for a horse newspaper, The Rider.  Some assume I must have some sort of background with horses, but that is embarrassingly not true.

My involvement with The Rider (Ontario's horse trade newspaper) came through a back door. I had spent almost 20 years working for mostly community newspapers in the circulation department.  Later through a complicated chain of events I ended up representing an environmentally friendly cleaning company called TKO, later evolving to Orange aPEEL. That is how I met the Finns, Aidan, Barry and Katherine who ran The Rider and had bought a TKO territory. I loved working for newspapers and offered my services on a commission only basis even though I had no experience with the horse trade.

Most horse people I tried to persuade to buy an ad weren't too concerned about anything other than how much it cost and how many people would read it or if we could help design the ad. Every now and then they would throw a few horsey words or phrases at me and I realized I didn't understand what they were referring to. Overcoming my embarrassment I asked a few questions, confessing my ignorance of horses and gradually learned a few things. That allowed me to feign some knowledge to a few other horse owners.

You can't really sell what you don't understand so I got myself involved in reading books and even wrote reviews of horse oriented books for awhile.   I attended events from time to time--Quarterama and the Royal Winter Fair and a few local events.

Somehow I stumbled on Gord Westover who also didn't own any horses, but was experienced with them. A project I came up with was to write up about draft horses as I thought that would help break new territory. Gord expressed the most interest in this project with his focus on Shires. Shires are the largest horses and it turns out amongst the most gentle. I remarked once to Gord that most of the people I worked with didn't come anywhere near horses and I guess I was kind of lucky. He remarked that anyone who could get to nuzzle a horse was very lucky.
Gord bought a classified ad from me.  He offered to take care of farms so the farmer could take a vacation.  But he didn't want to milk cows so he discouraged such requests by naming his business, "HorseSit" and it seemed to work.

I am still pretty much a spectator, but a very interested one. I do consider it a perk that to watch a lot of horses doing a lot of different things. I have learned a lot of interesting facts (and opinions) about horses and met a lot of fascinating people as well. I had been brought up to think of dogs as man's best friend and as an adult have become attached to my cats, but I can see that horses are more unique. They could easily have run away, but chose not to do so. That trust relationship has been very beneficial for mankind, but maybe not always so beneficial for horses.

My father was a truck driver and once he remarked that he was the third generation of Teamsters. At the time I didn't realize he was including a great grandfather who managed a team of horses. I learned on my wife's side that one of her Ukrainian great grandfathers was also a teamster. Really it is easy to forget that we all had some important connections with horses in our ancestry.

As horses have become a big part of my life I will be blogging about them and hope you will find it worth while reading about these most remarkable creatures we humans have been blessed to know. When you get to know them you won't find them boring.

About the Photo: Gord Westover persuaded me to attend a show of Shires held at the CNE grounds back in August of 2000.   He was aware of a particularly magnificent example brought in from New York state. Another detail I remember is that the owner, an older gray bearded fellow had a sign that said "The future of draft horses is Youth" and he kept the theme alive by employing a number of younger people. Anyway my camera flash refused to co-operate when I was given a chance to photograph the horse--Metherington Upton.  So Gord, smart enough to know this would be a good boost for the breed asked the owner if the horse could be taken outside. They agreed. I don't feel my photograph does justice to this horse, but it is my favorite. One on looker drove through a stop sign while looking at the horse.

Friday, December 2, 2011

BOOMERANG by Michael Lewis

"Boomerang" is my second Michael Lewis book. The first was "The Big Short." The Big Short told about a few individuals who correctly analyzed the madness that was gripping American Financial circles. What makes sense today, did not make sense in the frenzy leading up to the 2008 crisis.

In both books Michael is very good at digging out the short term thinking engaged in by most people and exploited by intelligent opportunists.  Greed tends to be a short term drive where we want something now and don't worry about the long term consequences. Others exploit this modern human tendency often for short term benefits as well.

Michael Lewis has a talent for getting people to trust him. He finds information at all levels.

In "Boomerrang" the author travels to Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany and California. He has a tendency to stereotype nationalities as one way of explaining the different aspect of the financial crisis.

Iceland is a country that is very literate and educated but for which most of the income used to come from fish. From my job I am well aware of another commodity, Icelandic horses, but that is another story. A few years back some educated Icelanders discovered international investments and felt they were smart enough to corner their share of the market. They borrowed massive amounts of money and bought a wide range of products all around the world. They got carried away and raised their standard of living very dramatically. They soon were involved in some investments that turned bad and eventually they owed more money than they could generate. An interesting side light is that the men who used to run the country have been replaced by women which the author thinks is perhaps an improvement.

In Greece the problem seemed to revolve around the average Greek expecting all the modern benefits, and as is normal not to want to pay for it. Of the examples given they are the most adept at actually not paying taxes. They lowered pension requirements while also failing to increase money to pay the ongoing demands. One group of monks very cleverly became real estate kings. At the moment there are a lot of disappointed people.

Not too long ago Ireland was touted as an example of free enterprise. Then they also over-borrowed, but in their case with more of an emphasis on buying Irish things. They soon found themselves in dire straits. At the heart of it would be American educated bankers.

Germans are portrayed as very honest hard working people. They are very hurt that their hard work and honesty is expected to make up for the lazy and somewhat dishonest Greeks. But they too gave in to greed. They loaned for subprime mortgages in the States, to the Greeks and other Europeans without due diligence. Their problem was that it was much easier to seek opportunities among foreigners as Germans were not very likely to get involved with many of the financial instruments available commonly in the United States. Their leaders had promised that Germans would not have to bail out less virtuous members of the European Common Market.  Now many feel to protect themselves they will have to do just that.

California brought together a lot of thoughts in some graphic examples. Many cities have found themselves locked into unrealistic pension payouts, increasing employee wages and unable to raise taxes. A phenomena common around North America is how the police and fire departments are able to leverage each other for ever increasing wages and benefits. It has reached the stage where many municipalities are laying off police and fire personnel to dangerous new lows. In the town of Vallejo the fire and police departments are bare bones.

At this point the author points out that now that there are few resources to work with, the Vallejo fire department is finding ways to be more efficient.

One interviewee suggests that we North Americans (and too many others) have gotten so used to instant gratification that we have lost sight of the consequences. Examples of consequences include obesity, gambling and drug addictions. Using inflated real estate values houses are re-financed to give more cash. Credit cards are taken to their limits and restrictions are bent wherever possible. We cannot self regulate and of course there are political forces trying to de-regulate. Eventually the environment will force adjustments.

In summary the only solution seems to be somehow to encourage long term thinking. In the meantime we all have to learn to live with the short term thinkers. Consumerism taken to the limits falls back on itself.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Education and our future

I regularly read Juan Cole for his expertise on the Middle East as he understands that situation much better than policy makers. Not too long ago he quoted Thomas Jefferson to make a point about education that I believe merits repeating.

"Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance: establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils of tyranny and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."

Juan was reacting to the pepper spraying incident in California. He also quoted Arnold Schwartzenegger who pointed out how financial priorities had shifted in California from education to prisons. It is now more difficult to finance university education and easier to be imprisoned.

There is debate in both Canada and the United States about what the government's priority should be. Here in Canada many think health should be the priority.  In the United States I hear many think security should be protected at all costs. In these rough times many are saying nothing is more important than improving the economy and providing more jobs. These are all very important, but when you get down to the core priority I believe it is education.

I do not blame politicians or government officials as to keep their power they respond to what they think are the priorities of those who put them in power.  Voters really do have power and although they certainly can be manipulated they express their concerns in a variety of ways. The most powerful dictator can face revolution when the people realize the priorities of the leader (often very personal) are just too offensive to maintain the status quo.

When I say the core priority is education I don't mean just for its own sake, but because it relates so fundamentally to everything else.  Educated people live longer partly because they have more money, but also because they eat better, they are more apt to avoid bad health habits, they are more apt to seek medical advice when needed.  Educated medical personnel (including doctors, specialist doctors, technicians of all sorts and even secretarial staff) are more effective.   Prevention helps avoid more serious health problems. A healthy population better deals with the problems of employment, defense, etc.

How does education affect defense? Defense against foreigners is really only a last resort required because we do not understand their concerns and react appropriately.  As a deterrent an educated population can provide more effective security. Lots of details (language, cultural appreciation, technical, negotiating), where education is critical

The economy is a fuel that keeps us all going. The reality is changing every day with technical changes. We live in a consumer driven economy, that in many ways is a self-defeating spiral. Technically we can produce more goods than we need with fewer workers than ever.   Credit has extended our ability to consume, but drives society closer to financial disaster. Too many people handle credit improperly and too many people exploit that to the point that bills cannot be paid and consumption dries up with frightening results for jobs. There is definitely a trend away from muscle work.

Who can understand all of this? I claim questions with very few answers. We should be able to educate ourselves so that muscles are used mostly for health and enjoyment while machines under human guidance provide a lot of what we really need in balance with our planet's resources. Democracy is supposed to provide us the leverage to make sure everyone gets treated fairly, but in fact a small number of people are able to manipulate circumstances to give themselves a bigger piece of the pie.  Uneducated, over or under worked people are very vulnerable. Uneducated masses suits some people just fine.

Education by itself means jobs even though it is understood that robots and computer software are taking over bigger and bigger parts of education. For the foreseeable future humans still are essential to help other humans understand things better. In order to teach one needs knowledge so there can be a virtuous spiral of ever increasing knowledge. Teaching helps increase self awareness and the virtuous circle can ever expand.

Educated people make better decisions. I am not saying that a little education creates the perfect decision, but only that as we increase education our decisions can be better. It is probably true that a little education can be a dangerous thing which is why critical thinking needs to be much more widespread.

I had an interesting discussion with Ken Griffith, owner of Val Pak in Burlington awhile back regarding jobs.  We both understand technology is making more jobs redundant and that we can produce more goods than we can pay for.  Education is not just improving our reading and math skills, but literally to prepare us for the work that needs to be done in the future. It can also be to enjoy and make better sense of life in general which means different things to different people.

When I was unemployed. I recognized I didn't have many technical skills and there was a lot of competition for jobs. I was lucky enough to qualify for a government course in basic computer skills of which I had very few.  I was smart enough to take another short but more specialized course with my own money.  It matters little what you do these days, computer skills are critical not only for work but for personal reasons (such as helping to manage your money and communication). More recently I took another course (very cheap and not too time consuming) on social media which again has helped liberate what I can do.

The photo at the top is by son, Michael Davidson on a trip to the Czech Republic. I not only envy him his opportunities, but that he is smart enough to take advantage of them. If more people were driven to understand how the rest of the world lives we would have less problems.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


As a student of Bollywood movies for a few years it has taken me awhile to identify the people who exemplify what I like best. Farhan Akhtar snuck up on me. The earliest movie I have seen of his was 'Don" which he produced. A bit later I saw "Karthik Calling Karthik" where he was the principle actor and I just could not associate him as a blockbuster producer. Later I watched "Rock On." Still later I watched what most would consider a masterpiece, "Dil Chahta Hai".

By this time I took a closer look. Nothing happens on its own. In fact Farhan is the son of Javed Akhtar a prominent screen writer and Honey Irani a writer and actress, both still active. At the age of 17 Farhan got involved in camera work and as assistant director.

At one stage he goofed off for about two years. He watched a lot of movies, but didn't do much of anything productive. One of his movie characters is at least partially modeled on this part of his life.  A movie that really established him was was "Dil Chata Hai" in 2003.  The movie had several established actors: Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Preity Zinta and Askaye Khanna.  He used the musical talents of Shankar Ehsaan Loy who are are another favourite of mine.  It seemed to attract top technicians.  He established a few habits such as shooting scenes in Goa.  He used the coming of age theme.  This is one of my favourite Bollywood movies and won awards for best film, best screenplay and music.  More on "Dil Chata Hai":

In 2004 he directed "Lakshya" with Hithrik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Amitabh Bachchan and Bomran Irani. To this point I had not liked Hithrik in the few films I had seen and he seemed just a pretty face with some dance moves. However I saw another side to him in this film and have since appreciated his talent more. Incidentally Hritrik played the role that Farhan identified with in his two years of goofing off. Hrithrik's character matures and we can assume that Farhan did as well.

In 2006 he produced, wrote and directed "Don". It was actually a remake of a very popular movie of Amitabh Bachchan (I have to confess I haven't seen it) and there was some concern that it wouldn't measure up. The consensus is that it did measure up with Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Om Puri and Boman Irani.

In 2005 his acting debut was in a tv mini series with which I am unfamiliar.

In 2008 he took a big acting step in "Rock On". Unlike most Bollywood actors he was allowed to actually sing. Not only did his voice suit the role, but it provided greater voice consistency. He won an award for best newcomer.

As an actor he next appeared in 'Luck by Chance' and then 'Karthik Calling Karthik' with Deepika Padukone. It was a simple suspense story very well done. For 2011 he appeared as an actor( and as a producer) in "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" and wrote some of the dialogue. In my opinion this was one of the best movies of 2011. This seems a good point to mention his twin sister Zoya who wrote this last movie as well as directed it (she is nominated for an award as well). She has been involved as writer, producer and director, but so far not acting.

When a sequel was decided for "Don", Farhan was the natural choice to produce, direct and write the story. At this early date, "Don 2" seems destined to rise up to record earnings, especially in foreign markets, including the U.S and Canada.

A few projects are on the go and I for one will be looking for any that are tied to the name Farhan Akhtar. One is a sequel to "Rock On" and another is "Talaash", written by Zoya and starring Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Rani Mukerji. Both Farhan and Zoya are carrying on a Bollywood tradition--one of excellence and entertainment.


How do you sift through a maze of ever increasing details to determine an effective strategy? Indecision wastes time and is a sales killer. What you decide not to do, or to defer is as important as what you do decide to do. A well thought out data base can make selling more effective.

A key concept for me is a trigger which essentially is a detail that helps you identify a timely prospect.  A trigger could be a very wide range of things and recorded in different fields.   It allows you to bury contacts that are not timely by dating them far into the future and to focus on those that are timely. In order not to clog up your planning many prospects might be treated somewhat like some prospects treat you--"we'll call you if we are interested."  But you need to be able to trigger them quickly when circumstances inevitably present an opportunity or an obligation. You will call your prospects when it is most appropriate which is basically when you have something new and relevant to explain or a logical question or realize their circumstances have changed.

A trigger can be any detail. It is up to you to assign appropriate triggers to every contact. A trigger can be used in many different fields. Determining triggers can be the most important detail after deciding when to make the next effort.  If a commitment has been made it is easy to determine a suitable date. If the effort was inconclusive (for example no commitments and no new expectations) you might decide to wait for a better opportunity and rely on a trigger. Some examples of triggers follow.

Perhaps the most important trigger might be placed in the action field. A good example for me has been the f/u trigger. That stands for follow up and can be followed by anything, although some standardization is helpful.

I have given out hundreds of samples and found a frustrating pattern. Just because I had given someone a sample didn't mean they felt obligated to try it. Often I found samples were forgotten or the right circumstances hadn't yet happened.  One f/u would serve as a reminder. A second one often just established that I would be persistent about it. Sometimes third and fourth followups would help determine if there was a basic problem or some encouragement is required. There is a danger of annoying people who have other priorities, but balance that with the fact that a trial can often turn a prospect from an unbeliever to a champion. Each case is unique, but in your data base you should not lose sight of any of your strategies even if they seem to work only some of the time. Having sequenced out my f/u's I found it an effective strategy once in a while to use them as a trigger and spend time catching up on them.  Eventually some get written off, but others, often the unexpected ones can have a big payoff. You could be following up a new fact given to contact, a question you asked them or a comment they made.

One little trigger I found useful has been the competition field, my competition for the contact. Somewhere in your initial conversations just ask who your contact is dealing with (you can go into as much depth as the contact will allow).  Your competition likely will sooner or later have a problem and as you become aware of it you may find it worth your while to target those who relied on them. Although your competition is important so too can be your contact's competition. You may well be dealing with their competition and should respect everyone's privacy. On the other hand if there are no conflicts any information you can gain might be of great interest to your contact.

Every contact fits into a variety of categories. I had one field labeled type where I would write in the different categories my contact fell into. Specialities, association memberships, hobbies, psychological profile, floor type were some categories used. The more details the more triggers you have to call up contacts that fit a new strategy (or an old neglected one). At some stage based on some new developments or the lack of success in other strategies I will develop new projects. One tool for this is the trigger words I have accumulated.

The source of your contact can be useful over the long haul. Prospecting is ongoing, but to understand what works best for you, you need to remember where your contacts originated. For example is a trade show worth attending? is a networking group effective? do you get your share of referrals?

A trigger is a relative thing. With some clients it might be the only factor that might induce you to make another effort, in other words you might not ever contact them again unless something triggers a justification.  With some prospects there is no reason to call them in the very near future, but there is an expectation that something will change, even if you can't detect it. One idea might be to put the word "downtime" into the action field meaning that when you have run out of other productive things to do you will check these prospects to see if there is anything that can justify further efforts either immediately or in the foreseeable future. Of course there are those who are promising and responsive and you schedule them on a short schedule.

It is important to record what happened for each effort.  Some are one way conversations (an email, letter, drop off, voice mail) and others are two way (telephone or visit). How much detail is required? It depends, but the most important criteria is how much is unique and how much can be shortened to routine.

Try to develop a political understanding--who influences who, who makes the final decision, who can explain it to you. The decision process will change over time.

Phone numbers. Sometimes I know a prospect's phone number, but not location. Checking phone numbers including even marginal prospects may help pin down a city which can help you develop an understanding and perhaps some sales points (such as nearby satisfied customers, or distribution points, etc).

Old names show up in new places which help to reveal a history.  You may notice that personnel listed on one record show up in another. Did they move? Get promoted, quit or fired? Maybe just a name coincidence you can joke about.

One thing you can be certain of is change.  Many details that change within your prospects are buried deep while others require only a minimal effort to uncover.  They change personnel, personnel changes their functions, product and service focus, their competition and your competition, location, distribution channels. Any one of these details could justify triggering another effort

One way to deal with a lot of boring repetitive detail is to start another data base just for storing these apparently unneeded details. I call mine History and I try to add to it regularly by transferring info from my current data base. It is conceivable that some trivial detail (or a long history) may be critical in the future, but it can be counterproductive to clog up your current data base.

In case you missed part one:

The photo is by my son Michael Davidson visiting the Czech Republic where he wanted to see a hockey game; something Canadians and Czechs share.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Team of Rivals" has lessons for today

One of my goals in reading biographies is to seek out models of people who have dealt with life's problems in a more effective way than I have. Doris Kearns Goodwin has turned her historical analysis on Abraham Lincoln in a comprehensive manner that lets her readers understand the context of his life.  Barack Obama has referred to the mechanics of the Lincoln administration.

Doris gets inside the minds of the people Lincoln had to deal with. She goes into diaries, newspaper accounts and personal correspondence to get a a fuller view of what people thought of Lincoln and how he dealt with it. He was a man of principle, deserving of the moniker "Honest Abe," but more importantly a practical man. He listened very carefully to understand what others thought and was forgiving of their mistakes. He had a sense of humour that allowed him to deal with the stresses of life. On top of all that he was clever. He dealt with (as we all do) people who had contrary interests, only he did it better.

The author starts off by giving a lot of background of two of Lincoln's presidential rivals, William Seward and Salmon Chase, both of whom expected to be president and felt entitled to the honour. Other key players included Edward Bates and Edwin Stanton. Lincoln picked these men because of what they were capable of doing for their country in its hour of greatest need. There was rivalry amongst them, but Lincoln was able to harness their efforts to re unify America.

Important events covered in detail include Lincoln's early political efforts, his presidential nomination and campaign, selecting his cabinet and changes over the years and of course the American Civil War and Emancipation. Always there was a reason why something shouldn't be done and usually Abraham was able to understand the people involved better than others, wait for the proper moment and eventually prevail.

Doris Kearns Goodwin dealt with some modern thoughts on Abraham Lincoln.  One was that his wife was very unreasonable, even insane. When you understand some of the history you can appreciate she was part of his success. In her own right she was knowledgeable about politics and very literate. She was from a wealthier, connected family, but chose Abraham over richer suitors. She did have stress including the death of a son while in the White House.  She was the butt of much resentment and sometimes over-reacted.

Another twist one hears is that Lincoln was gay or at least bisexual. Doris Kearns Goodwin points out that we make judgments based on our cultural base.  Abraham Lincoln shared his bed with men both in his youth and even at the White House. He was open about it and we have to understand it was not an unusual event and certainly not necessarily an indication of homosexuality.

Another key point for me was that slavery was inherent in the American Constitution. There are those who maintain that Americans should makes laws in accordance with the founders' wishes.  It is impossible to avoid internalizing a culture into the law and it is also true that compromise is necessary in a political context.  Nothing humanly framed should bind future generations that inevitably live in a different culture.  True justice is an elusive goal, but each generation deserves an opportunity to work closer to it.  It is true that we do not want popularity to determine the rights of those with less power so sober reflection is necessary to change anything that is critical to modifying the framework we must all live in.

We all know the end. Lincoln's assassination is one of the better known historical events. The tragedy plays out today. Lincoln would have been more forgiving and understanding of the defeated southern people. Because he wasn't there to offset the vengeful efforts of those who picked up the slack, resentment built up that affects American politics today.

Abraham Lincoln is an excellent model to aim for and I am thankful the author identified him for his unique way of dealing with conflicts. I have watched Doris Kearns Goodwin on tv a few times and always found her insightful for today's politics. Obviously it flows from a strong historical understanding. My intention is to look for more of her insights.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bollywood Movies and Cricket

When I was in elementary school I loved baseball. Other than playing pickup baseball at a neighbourhood level it took the form of collecting baseball cards and poring over seemingly endless statistics. Of course I watched baseball on tv (which had only recently entered my household--that is really a hint of how old I am, not how poor we were).

Over the years my interest in baseball has waned (too many strikes, but also too many other interests). One of those interests has been Bollywood movies.

On the whole I tend to avoid sports movies, but the first Bollywood movie I saw, recommended by my sister Rebecca was "Lagaan." I didn't know what to make of it--subtitles, songs and dances in the middle of plot development, a leading actor, Aamir Khan who I later came to appreciate, but disliked in this portrayal. Despite all that I enjoyed the movie and part of it was the sports angle.

Most popular sports movies are about the under dog beating the champion. Champions tend to be arrogant and nonchalant and lets be honest, most of us are not champions. I like the tension that can be found in many activities, but is most obvious in sports. Cricket was something the oppressive British military colonizers amused themselves with and along with the rest of their culture felt it meant they were superior.

The poor natives in "Lagaan" don't have a clue about cricket, although they do claim a child's game was very similar. As circumstances develop the Indians naively challenge the soldiers in order to lessen a suffocating tax burden. A visiting British lady taking pity on them (and providing a romantic angle) attempts to teach them the rudiments of cricket. As you might expect at the end the natives do overcome the Brits at really the last possible second after many twists in the game.

They do it by uniting. The native side seems to represent a wide range of Indian religions including an untouchable and somehow they reconcile their differences in the face of the hated foreigners.  As I recall the movie cricket was played in an older style. The game stretched over a long period of time and as I gradually caught on there was tension a true sports fan can get addicted to. Not the type of tension you get in baseball with alternating at bats after every three outs, but easy enough to identify with.

A few other Bollywood movies I saw later had cricket scenes or references, but did not focus on the sport. I learned one of my emerging heroes, Shah Rukh Khan owned a cricket team and a few other Bollywood celebrities were also involved
"Dil Bole Hadippa" did not get great reviews, but had one of my favorite leading ladies, Rani Mukerji. She played a spunky girl who liked to challenge men on her batting ability, but who could not be accepted for a team. She eventually had to disguise herself as a man. That led to the inevitable misunderstandings and comic double entendres. The leading man, Shahid Kapoor was a superior cricketer who was prominent in England and returned to visit his father who desperately wanted to overcome a long losing streak. Naturally the climax involves a long drawn out game with a great deal of tension. This victory required an effort overcoming pain in case you thought cricket was sissy.

"Iqbal" was another cricket movie that actually received favorable reviews. Iqbal is an adolescent who is also a deaf mute. This movie provided the best example of bowling of all the movies discussed here and I admit I was impressed with the motions and effort involved. It also had some coaching strategy not noted in other movies. Iqbal's mother was so intently interested in cricket that she started labour during a cricket celebration. Iqbal's younger sister, very critical to his later success was just as fond of cricket. But, and a big but, his father was not a cricket fan and proved to be another obstacle. This movie also illustrated some of the corruption in cricket.  Loved the background music.

"Patialia House" offered still another disadvantaged cricket player. This time Akshay Kummar has been forbidden to play cricket by his father who was very upset with the English, although he brought his family up in London. At age 34 Akshay going behind his father's back and against a lot of initial resistance by the cricket authorities actually made the English team and fairly quickly establishes himself as a key player. A lot of family dynamics and in the end cricket turns out to be the key unifying force.

What do we look for in sports? For men it might be said sports are an outlet for aggressiveness. For some men and a few women they immensely enjoy the skill involved. For both men and women the uncertainty creates a dramatic tension we love.  Movies try to capture the uncertainty of a sports event, but of course there is never quite as much doubt as there can between really well matched teams in real life.

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the world. It enjoys a strong professional system. For most baseball fans, especially those who have never seen it, cricket is boring, elitist and foreign. If you have never watched it up close with the best players it is very easy to dismiss. I think it is fair to say that it takes great athletic skill to either bowl or bat at the international level. Fielding doesn't seem as prominent, but then the ball is harder, the players have no gloves, and they have more ground to cover. A good fielder can negate spectacular batting and change the course of any game.

Strategy is something I have only a superficial understanding of. Unlike baseball the cricket batsman can get many more opportunities during the course of a game. Unlike baseball when a bowler is taken out of the routine he can be reinserted. This allows coaches to rotate their best bowlers to optimize their performance. Of course fielder placement can be critical. Although every single play can be the game decider, cricket is a game of strategy, decided by bringing many details together.

In the course of writing this post a prominent cricketer, Mansoor Ali Khan died and generated a lot of mourning across India. He was literally royalty, the Nawab of Patudi, but helped breakup some of the royal traditions. At Oxford he was the first Indian captain of their cricket team. As a player he was a high scoring batsman, but made his mark as captain of the Indian national team. The national team was a collection of players with regional loyalties. Perhaps because he was a Muslim (and conscious that many top players had shifted to Pakistan) he encouraged national loyalties. By marrying Sharmila Tagore, a glamorous Bollywood star he glamorized cricket. Two of his children, Saif Ali Khan and Soha Ali Khan are significant Bollywood stars.

The four movies I have talked about are a good introduction to Bollywood for a sports fan. You will meet some of the top stars (Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher), interesting directors (Ashutush Gowariker, Nagesh Kukunoor, Nikhil Advani) some great music (A R Rahman, Salim-Suleiman, Pritam Chakraborty, and my favorites Shankar Ehsaan Loy) and some stirring sports action.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What we can learn from the Arab Spring

As far away observers some of us seem to feel that the Arabs are finally getting some things right. Others forget our side had a lot to do with their suppression. It suited us that their rulers would co-operate with us to give the world a reasonable level of cheap energy and help develop a Western oriented balance of power.

An important lesson we can learn has to do with democracy. We think we set the standards, but we might be a little near sighted. Most new electoral systems incorporate some form of proportional voting. We actually encourage it in foreign countries. Our concerns with Arab nations is not so benevolent, but reflects our fears that the fundamentalist extremists will gain control as under our first past the post system they could very easily do so. We fear that if they get control they will irreversibly institute things that we find offensive such as Sharia law, the banning of alcohol and ally themselves with our enemies. So we want to ensure that the minorities that are more Westernized have a strong influence and have figured out that proportional voting can help make that happen.

In Algeria the fundamentalists a few decades ago did get control and upset the international balance of power. In Iran fundamentalists threw out the Shah that had been propped up by western powers. Lately the situation is different. In Tunisia, although the fundamentalists have a very strong voice they are forced to acknowledge those who have different and even opposite concerns.

German election laws gave the Nazis legitimate power that they were able to leverage into total power that eventaully the whole world suffered from. We in North America should not be so self righteious. In the United States with the help of their Constitution, and the Supreme Court a president was elected with less than the plurality of votes and went on to set policies in such areas as war, environment, financial regulations and taxes that seriously impacted the majority that had voted otherwise.

In Canada in one province a leader with less than 30% of eligible voters and well less than majority of actual votes was able to declare a new holiday amongst other things. In national elections one party with less than 50% of the votes was finally able to do away with distribution of funds to all politcal parties in proportion to the number of votes they were able to attract. This means that in the future fund raising will be even more critical to a party's success. This hardly noticed change in law is very pernicious as the party making this hard to reverse decision saw it as helpful to its own future prospects.

To my mind the most critical change required for true democracy is campaign finance. In theory democracy is a battle of ideas, but in reality those with money have a bigger platform to make their points. Those with the money have greater influence. This is currently a bigger concern in the United States where the appointed Supreme Court has ruled corporations have in some circumstances have the same standing as human citizens, but is a concern in all democracies.

By now you may guessed that I very much favour proportional voting systems. Some critics might think it is a problem to have more than two parties as it leads to minority governments that paralyze decision making. That can be bad, however when there are no restraints the party in power can actually (and in fact often do) effectively ignore the will of the majority of people.

I think with even ten parties it is unlikely that very few people will agree 100% with every policy detail of any one party. But each voter has the right to have their own priorities and to minimize compromise in their decision. Compromises will be made amongst those elected. Those compromises will help determine future votes.

As always those in power do what they can to maintain and increase their power. They look for rules that increase their leverage.

Many new democracies realize the need to represent all viewpoints. Minorities are important. Sometimes they act as a conscience, sometimes they offer viable alternatives, often they are able to constructively criticize what those in dominant positions propose and always they are part of the team that needs to work together for the benefit of all.

Our democracy evolved to what it is today and still needs to evolve to be a truer democracy. We allow more people to vote, but actually the percentages seem to be on a downward trajectory. One reason might be because many people realize their vote will not count or have any significant influence. Our Arab brethren actually have more influence in many circumstances on what will happen than we do. Politicians have to take into account what the people want. When people realize they have influence they are more inclined to weigh it carefully and above all to exercise it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Willpower and two of my all time favorite quotes

Science moves forward in strange ways. A lot of things are discovered after the original expectations fail. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by John Lawrence Reynolds, a writer from Burlington--"Experience is what you get when you were expecting something else." "Willpower" is no exception as the path to their conclusions is laden with failed expectations of many different experiments. When things don't work out according to plan a credible scientist will consider alternatives. Eventually they eliminate possibilities and declare a new conclusion.

What is willpower? Most would agree that it is that inner force  that allows you to do something or not to do something. Humans do a lot of things without thinking, but to do or not to do important life changing things requires some self-control not to give in to distractions and not to give up. Most of us would agree that self-control and willpower are essential for success.

Near the beginning of the book the authors Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney reach what for me is a new but logical conclusion. Making decisions and sticking to them takes energy. Each decision contributes to "ego depletion." Where do humans get energy? From what we eat. They narrow it down to glucose. They are quick to point out that although sugary foods can produce a "high" they also lead to a "crash" so it is better to eat something that is slow burning, specifically low glycemic foods. A few suggestions are made to improve this aspect of will power or self-control.

Examples are given. The one that stands out for me is a list of four potential parolees in the Israeli justice system. They are a mix of Jewish and Arab, some with a violent history with the others more non violent. They pointed out the actual parole decisions could not have been predicted based on ethnicity or tendency to violence. It turns out the critical factor was when the judges ate their lunch. After eating lunch they were more lenient than when they hadn't eaten for awhile.

The authors do not rely on glucose to totally explain willpower. You can consciously re-arrange aspects of your life to develop more willpower. They claim short-changing on sleep lessens self control. They refer to David Allen, a time management expert to make a lot of points. Slow and steady work is better than bursts of energy.  Monitoring your plans by yourself or better by others keeps you on a steady path. Setting goals is helpful. Developing good habits makes self-control easier.  Read more on David Alllen:

The more you can delay giving into a temptation, the more often you will actually avoid it. Some temptations can be used as a reward for more productive behavior.

Self-esteem was in style a generation ago, but the authors claim too much is counter-productive. They recount studies with children raised by single parents under different circumstances..

Another favorite quote from Bobby Knight, Indiana basketball coach, "The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win." So many of us think that if we just find the willpower at the critical moment we will be successful. The truth is that if we make the effort over a period of time we will be more likely to be ready for that critical moment. The authors find from their research that procrastination is founded on faulty assumptions.

The two quotes are alternated on my office wall and I was struck how each was appropriate for my take on "Willpower." Worth reading.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


As a clue to how old I am, for several years I had used light cardboard index cards (the kind used for recipes) as a way of collecting information on customers and prospects, and prioritizing them in a metal file box. After awhile you get to appreciate the limitations of such a system. You can certainly collect a lot of information preparing for and making sales calls. How do you sort it? Alphabetically or by your next contact date? How quickly can you find some critical information? In concrete terms information can be too concrete.  Eventually one metal box is not enough.

The great thing about computers is the great amount of information. The not so great thing about computers is the great amount of information. You can find yourself endlessly pursuing minute details and let the computer take over your life. Or cleverly manipulate information to free up your energy to do all sorts of productive things more effectively.  I have lived the dangers of a data base and appreciate how liberating it can be.

If you are like most salespeople you will encounter a lot of contacts over the years--some will become loyal customers for at least part of what you sell, others might adopt you as their secondary supplier, some seem promising, but elusive and some of them might not seem very promising under the present circumstances. Others are just a name you haven't gotten around to yet. I have sold things through wholesalers with the support of retailers and consumers. They are all important and all inter-related.

There are an awful lot of details and an awful lot of "suspects" out there that can clog up your efforts, but it is hard to predict just what little tidbits will help you connect to your prospect, understand their situation, earn their trust and make a sale.

I designed my own system, but there are plenty of systems already set to go that have been well thought out. Before you decide on the design of a data base system carefully consider what you want to do with it. You can and probably will modify it as time goes by, but it is far better to do it right the first time. I am only one source for ideas and you would be wise to study your objectives and resources in depth before actually setting up your data base--not too long though as prospects are making decisions every hour that could impact your success.

A key field of your data base should be action. Everything else is just background to what you need to do in order to convert this information into your bank account.  It needs to be very prominent on your computer screen as it is the compelling reason you should make a contact.  Bold the words as you want them to grab your attention. It could be some routine you have established (so many days after a previous contact) or ideally something unique for the contact. When you are able to offer a solution to their particular problem or answer a question. The action might include something negative such as avoid something or wait for something. Obviously it is better to have some positive action with regard to this client even if it is just to fill in blanks of your information. It is your excuse, your motivation to move forward with this contact.

Getting back to the more mundane, you of course need to identify the prospect which can involve lots of details. These days there are an increasing number of ways to contact your prospect and any one of them could be critical at some point.  Experience will help you identify key facts that can lead to sales. They need to be easy to find.

Each prospect has some sort of time restriction as they pretty well all like to sleep and most of them have some private time and others have their own tasks requiring focus. One factor I found useful is time zones which enables you to hit prospects in a different part of the daily routine.  Some companies may present many persons you contact. They could all be important, if not now, sometime in the future.

Prioritizing is the key task in managing a data base. It can be a very complicated thing so you need to simplify it or at least standardize it. The first step is to use a date sequence that tells you who your next contact should be.  You have made commitments to some and others you have made a strategic decision when your next contact should be. That is not enough in some cases. I found myself sorting 100 people to contact in one day without the ability to even handle half of that. Here I will deal with how you can determine the relative importance of each contact. In part two I will deal with another approach.

Two criteria I combine to determine a contact's priority are potential and responsiveness. There are obvious (but sometimes misleading) indicators of potential such as number of employees or estimated income. Responsiveness is more subjective and really comes down to your experience or judgments of someone you can trust. Use those two criteria to assign a value for each prospect.  Be prepared to re-evaluate after each contact.  These criteria can boil down to one letter and one number so that they can be used for sorting on your data base.

After each contact you may want to re-assign that value. Ideally you are looking for someone with the potential to buy a lot of whatever you are selling and who is open minded to your approach. Practically you may have to accept your best initial contact might be someone who apparently has the resources and the need to buy your product and hasn't yet thrown you out the door. You cannot contact everyone everyday but you want to be sure you have made an effort for the more critical ones in a timely fashion.

The practical way of prioritizing is to sort.  First sort is by date. The second sort is by your value assignment. Each day you should have your contacts arranged by those with the most potential that are the most likely to respond. You will have to make allowances for availability and if actually traveling routing efficiencies should be worked in.

Do not be dismayed that those who you felt should respond right away decide they are not interested and prefer to pursue other priorities. If you have something of value there will be a market that you can discover and develop. Each contact should yield some information that helps you evaluate future efforts.

Once you get started you will find yourself repeating some patterns unconsciously and before you know you are locked in. You may have to make a lot of time consuming changes. Simple things like how you separate bits of information or how you sequence them. You can have a lot of fields which can be good or bad when you are trying to pin down one detail. You can use different punctuations and abbreviations to separate details or find them all muddled up.

This is by no means everything you need to know about designing a data base or even all that I can help you with. But it is too much already for one blog posting.

check part 2

The photo is by my son, Michael Davidson on a recent trip to the Czech Republic.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Mum Show makes the drive to Hamilton worth while!

For 91 years Hamilton has put on a mum show in
the fall. Most flowers are long faded by this
time, but the chrysanthemum is at its best. My message is mainly aimed at those who appreciate flowering beauty. But those who think of Hamilton as a dirty industrial city should realize there is much more to like about Hamilton than they have been aware of.

I have visited the mum show probably 15 or so times over the years, at first just to amuse my two young children. Over the years I come to look forward to it as it is something uniquely beautiful. This year the theme is fire.

Everywhere you turn there is something wonderful to look at. The fire theme is expressed with images of fire, fire trucks from years past, including fire dogs.

Do not leave without going through the tropical green house.

This was one of my favorites which was a little off the beaten path.

These few photos don't really do justice to the beauty
on display. For a video perspective try this video from
the 2010 show.

The show is still on until this upcoming weekend. Get more
details at

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chetan Bhagat a new discovery for me

Some of my readers must cringe a bit when I write about Bollywood. It reminds me that my parents used to eat at a Chinese restaurant for several years without ever trying Chinese food . Then one time they were persuaded to try Chinese food.   It was like a religious conversion and the whole family looked forward to our Chinese meals.

When I first heard of Chetan Bhagat I easily forgot his name. He was somehow involved with one of my favorite Bollywood movies, "Three Idiots". It sounded like some old writer was complaining that he was not being given credit for his contributions to the movie.   In the end he was not credited with the final script. Since then all the biographies you might read of him credit his "Five Point Someone" with inspiring the movie.

I stumbled on an online video interview with Chetan and first was surprised he was more of what might be called a young writer. He seemed stoical about his problems with Bollywood and understands how it works. He is in talks with Bollywood producers about a number of his books being made into movies.

I thought he was worth exploring a bit more. He graduated from mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (which undoubtedly provided background for "Five. Something" subsequently adapted for "Three Idiots"). He then went to the Indian Institute of Management and afterwards moved to Hong Kong for 11 years as an invesment banker. His romance with his wife Anusha, a Tamil is the basis for" 2 States". They have twin boys. In 2009 they left Hong Kong for Mumbai and he became devoted to writing full time. Since then has written a number of best selling books in India. The local library had only one title so I grabbed it. "one night @ a call center" is easy to read and it is hard not to laugh. He starts out differently than most books I have read. He actually gets started by asking the reader to write down the answer to three questions. what do you fear, what makes you angry and what don't you like about yourself. The characters in the book all exhibit different answers to these questions, but at the end the good guys and girls all move forward.

Before you get to the story he frames it in an interesting way and then at the end closes the frame in a clever manner after you thought the story was over. The book is not only funny, but will make you think. It is written with a Indian perspective (which means there is an anti-American bias).

Make sure you do not skip over the acknowledgements--it is as funny as anything in the book.

The one Bollywood movie acknowledged with Chetan was "Hello", an adaptation of "one night@ a call center." A few changes were made, but it seemed faithful to the dynamics of the book. Ironically one of the main characters, Sharman Joshi was one of "The Three Idiots"

I look forward to reading more Chetan Bhagat novels and the movies adapted from them. The word is out that "The 3 Mistakes of My Life", "2 States" and "Revolution 2020" are at various negotiation stages with Bollywood producers.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Conversion can sneak up on you too.

As a young boy I loved science fiction, but as I got older I lost my fascination for fantasies. I took learning about the "real" world seriously. I had an interest in sports, history, self improvement, psychology, philosophy, biographies of successful people.  I enjoyed fiction, but avoided anything that seemed too unrealistic..

I have known Barry Finn, mostly as my employer at The Rider and Orange aPEEL for over fifteen years. He always struck me as an intelligent and very reasonable person, but had one fault. He was obsessed with science fiction and fantasy.  Everyone is entitled to a fault.  However as I developed interests in different directions I knew where I could turn if there was a science fiction angle and from time to time it would enter our conversations.  I came to think of it as science speculation and a whimsical extension of philosophy.

Through Barry I stumbled on Robert J Sawyer, a Canadian science fiction writer. One of the first books I read was "Calculating God" which interested me having heard about it on the radio and taking an interest in the philosophical perspective.  It had Canadian locations that I was familiar with and so my identification was reinforced.

Later following radio references to Neanderthals I picked up on a Robert J Sawyer trilogy, the Neandertahl Parallax. This time I found the narrative very compelling and again an identification of some of the scenes. The author gave me a different perspective on humanity. We humans are very vain and can't help thinking we are the centre of the universe, and of all meaning. Sawyer pictured an alternative universe with many features that seemed very logical. It seems obvious Sawyer is using science fiction as a vehicle to make philosophical points and different models for living.  As someone once said a fish is not conscious it is living in water, just as we are not conscious that we live in the air and have a worldview that seems natural to us.

More recently I took up an interest in Robert Sawyer's www trilogy. The first two books were the first two books I read on Kobo and the third I decided I couldn't wait for the electronic version.  In this series I was more conscious of Sawyer's use of a science fiction platform to make political, social and more importantly philosophical views.   Because I tended to agree with his philosophy I ate them up, but they opened up more thinking.

One of his contentions was that science fiction is still literature and good science fiction should be taken as seriously as any good literature and it has relevance to our "real" life. He makes some reference to Margaret Atwood (someone I have read sporadically, but admire). Margaret was on a recent radio program, On Point where she suggested the category of science fiction could be expanded and include her.   I look forward to reading her latest, "In Other Worlds: SF and the human imagination."

The bottom line of any book is the story. Does it entertain you? Does it stretch your thinking?  For me I admit if it seems so far fetched it has nothing I can link to in my own life I lose interest.  It is not that I have to believe the science is imminent, but the human reactions have to be believable.

Robert J. Sawyer has done a great deal of research, meaning his speculation has a solid base.  I recognize science is critical for our future, yet I have only a superficial understanding. Science fiction can help a reader to better understand science, but of course you have to be able to separate what is workable today and what might be workable in the future. The fiction part is what allows the author a vehicle to offer alternative models and sometimes to make profound observations.

The www triology is a compelling story to possible scientific progress. Geo political possibilities (cf to earlier reviews of The Great Disruption and 2030). The main heroine is a girl relocated to Waterloo Ontario. She starts the story as a blind person who is offered a chance to get sight by a doctor in Japan. He accomplishes this with some unexpected side effects. The young girl has an autistic father who is very gifted scientifically and a mother who is a liberal with a feminist perspective. Along the way you encounter a variety of people in power and in the margins, that are eventually linked up as in reality we all are.

"2030" (2011) by Albert Brooks is one of the best books on the future of a generation conflict: 

"The Great Disruption" (2011) by Paul Gilding is not science fiction but tries to project what will happen to our environment in the future.

I don't want to give away any of the stories, but feel confident if you are reasonably intelligent and reasonably open minded you will find Robert J. Sawyer hard to put down.

Barry never tried to persuade me to re-visit science fiction, just made me aware that it was one of his passions. When I expressed an interest he offered to lend me a book. I guess you could call it quiet persuasion and and I have bought into it. When you are open to different possibilities your life becomes richer.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


A salesperson might be considered the last link to the customer. By the time a product or service reaches the sales person, marketing is just about done. Or is it? This post is meant to concentrate on how a sales person can apply marketing strategy to actually selling.

The sales person is the critical link with the person who actually buys or the person who is considering buying (or theoretically should be considering buying). A lot of information can be gained in these contacts, some that can be captured easily with numbers and some that are more difficult. The marketing department should certainly be interested in this knowledge, but it is most critical to the sales person.

Marketing begins by asking questions and searching for answers. The focus is on looking for solutions to problems that benefit both sides to a sale. The buyer has to be see value in the solution, but the selling company has to make a profit.

A salesperson has been given a solution so perhaps the first question should be how well do you as a salesperson understand the solution? Do not be afraid to ask questions. The people higher up in the chain have been working on this solution for awhile and to some degree assume it is obvious, but that is not always the way it is initially perceived by prospects. Do you understand the problem the solution is supposed to somehow mitigate?

One step is to use the product your self. You are apt to encounter some confusion, some awkwardness the first time you do anything. You will probably learn some limitations which will allow you to avoid over promising. Your prospects will likely go through this process, although not all exactly the same.

You can't wait until you have mastered every aspect of the solution. Every prospect becomes an opportunity to learn more. They will encounter problems you might not have anticipated. They may also find better ways of applying your product than you had been aware of.  Discovering new applications should not always be a surprise.

You have been given an idea of what the problem is that your product solves, but who has this problem? Who might recognize this problem? How serious is it to them? How does it fit into their overall priorities? How can you demonstrate or present your solution effectively. The process of understanding the problem is similar to that of understanding the solution.

The purpose of this research is to refine your targeting and your presentation. Some people will find your solution more understandable than others. Some will have a greater need for your solution. Some will have the authority to take advantage of your solution. You will come to understand what the obstacles to acceptance of your solution are and better ways of dealing with them.

There is a difference between marketing and actually selling, but an understanding of both will benefit each. A salesperson has to manage their time to balance the opportunity including preparing, doing (actually communicating with prospects) and understanding. They need to understand human nature to overcome fear and indecisiveness. They have to have some understanding of the political environment for the decision process. They have to persist in the face of rejection, but also develop the judgment of where persistence makes sense and when to shift efforts. Above all all salespeople must earn trust so their solutions will be accepted.

Developing a data base (another blog post) will help you in future targeting and prioritizing.
Some of my thoughts on developing a data base:

For an explanation of the difference between marketing and selling see: