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.