Friday, August 31, 2012
Another reason is to remember. As I get older I can regurgitate a lot of old stuff, but everything is fading. There are lots of unpleasant things and other stuff that bores me, but there is also stuff that changed my life in the right direction or at least made it more enjoyable. My daughter Heather gave me a book that pointed out the best way to do better in your future is to remember the good and successful things in your past. This honestly is reason number two
So these two factors drive me: selfishness and fear. But there is more.
Sometimes I imagine that my words can actually make a difference. Change somebody's mind or at least open them up to other possibilities. Recently I used a George Bernard Shaw quote in my newsletter “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” that had been retweeted by Butch Bellah. Well I have changed my mind more than a few times and expect there will be more changes. The hardest change requires me to admit "I was wrong". I prefer "I discovered a different point of view and it makes sense." Including persuading you to spend money to my advantage, changing your mind is reason number three--still very important.
Maturing might be over-rated because admittedly I am still stuck in some old ways of doing things and thinking. Nostalgia plays a role in my life. But I am also a bit embarrassed about some things in my past, but you won't have to read about too many of them. There are lots of exciting and purposeful things to look forward to in the future.
One of the big questions from my viewpoint is "Why?" Why are we who we are? Why are you (and they) the way you (and they) are? We don't usually think about it, but everyone is the result of everything else that happened up to that point.
Another question is How can we get more out of life? Although you and I are the way we are because of things that happened in the past, can we make decisions that make us better and allow us to enjoy life more in the future?
Why now? I think of September as the beginning of a new year, a new opportunity to change direction, re-examine the past. You can do that anytime, but it is sometimes easier when you can rig an excuse or the natural order of things reminds you.
I would be derelict if I didn't give some credit to my enabler. My daughter Heather set up a blog for me one year and although curious I ignored it. She reminded me of it and with that extra boost I got my feet wet and discovered I really enjoy it. Thank you Heather.
After all is said and done I am disappointed if I haven't influenced your thinking in any positive manner (that is, closer to how I think), but I am vain enough to just like spouting off and fearful enough that I will forget that I plan to keep on blogging. Oh, if you see something that you disagree with or you think not worth your time--there is no extra charge.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
How do you measure acting skill? It is very subjective. If you as a viewer feel gripped by the realism of the story, the actors are helping you feel that way. The movie itself doesn't exist in isolation and you find yourself projecting what you know of the actor (often from other movies, maybe a tv interview or what you have read) and are most amazed when they project a different image in a movie. The best example I can think of is Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk, a role so at odds with what we know of him, but one that he made us believe in. From Bollywood the biggest adjustment pulled off very well was by Amitabh Bachchan when in his 60's he played a 13 year old with his actual son playing his father in "Paa". Another one was by Rani Mukerji known as a vibrant dancer and outgoing personality portraying a Helen Keller type of character in "Black."
These types of roles help an actor establish themselves as versatile and should be considered as the more challenging roles.
Vidya Balan started her movie career in "Parineeta" as the girl next door that everyone loves. There could be a good career there, but without challenges it would be limited. In this one she plays the relatively poor girl next door to Saif Ali Khan, son of the rich father who was literally conning her father. A millionaire, played by Sanjay Dutta enters the scene and confusion results. In the end Saif breaks with his father and declares his love for the girl next door. A very enjoyable movie to start with and you cannot help liking Vidya who is both victimized and misunderstood, but it does end happy for her.
In her next movie, "Lago Raho Munna Bhai" she plays an enthusiastic radio announcer. I read that she spent time with a well known radio announcer to get the right feel. She captures the attention of Sanjay Dutta (the loser in her first movie) who this time is playing a gangster. Don't worry this is a comedy with quite the twist. As a ploy to contact the radio announcer, the gangster enters a contest showing off his knowledge of Mahatma Gandhi. Only he really doesn't know anything, but enlists his goons to smooth the way. He is really out of his league, but somehow the ghost of Gandhi helps him. Of course there are twists and turns (and a lot of laughs) with a message. Vidya's character is very light and in one sense very much the girl next door except this time she is a caretaker in an old folks home.
In "Guru" she is paired with Madhaven and plays her role from a wheelchair. This is really perhaps the best movie by Abischek Bachchan who is paired with his real life wife Airshawaya Rai. It is an excellent movie, but Vidya has only a supporting role well done.
"Kismet Konnection" is a bit disappointing in some ways, but it has one redeeming feature. It is is filmed in Toronto. For me Toronto is one of the stars. I obviously like Vidya and I also like her co-star, Shahid Kapoor, but for various reasons this is not one of the better movies for either although they played well together. CN Tower, Roy Thomson Hall, Harbour Front, Lake Ontario, the CNE EX
are only a small selection of recognizable Toronto scenery.
An aside from "Kismet Konnection" was the minor role of Juhi Chawla. Juhi was a major leading lady years ago pairing with the likes of Shah Rukh Khan (who she is a business partner with) and Aamir Khan, both of whom romance much younger women today. That is the way of Bollywood. When I first became interested in Bollywood I watched mostly newer movies and as I got more interested started looking at older films, most of which seem dated, but Juhi was a very delightful surprise. I am pleased she is now making a better transition, partly because she was smart enough to get involved with producing. Vidya is on her way to a really nice transition where she plays roles more versatile than just being the object of romance.
"Isqiya"had her playing a gangster widow courted by two con men on the run. She outfoxes the two men. She seduces both of them. She played a gun toter and in sexphobic Bollywood indulged in some thumb sucking of one of her leading men.
In "Nobody Killed Jessica," working with Rani Mukerji (also playing a non glamorous role) she played a very quiet, plain looking women trying to obtain justice for her sister who had been murdered in plain view of many witnesses who were all too afraid to testify. She toned herself down and played a introverted role.
'"The Dirty Picture' was a real image crusher. Vidya played the part of a sex symbol from poor beginnings to her downfall and eventual suicide. Her role was very provocative and then very desperate. Not at all the girl next door. Outspoken. She proved she can be very sexy, but also demonstrated there is a lot more to her.
"Kahaani" is another progression. She plays an 8 month pregnant wife looking for her missing husband. She is the one who is able to overcome bureaucratic red tape and persuade uncooperative male authority figures to help her in her quest. There is quite the twist in this movie and it is well worth watching for the surprise. There really is no leading man, she carries the film.
She is currently filming "Ghanchakkar" opposite Emraan Hashmi. The director says she will look different than the public is used to. The movie will be using hidden cameras (as with "Kahanni") in the streets of Mumbai during the monsoon season. I will have to wait to 2013 to see the results, but am looking forward to it.
Vidya looks like she will escape being put into a niche and grow into suitable and desirable film roles. I look forward to her future roles.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
At one point a consultant was brought in, Doug Klein. He was tough and was hired to make tough decisions. We rubbed each the wrong way at first and I will admit that I was resentful. Eventually I came to respect his honesty, hard work and ability. Unfortunately he also rubbed other people the wrong way (basically said things as he saw them) and was forced out himself. I wrote about his farewell in another blog where I recalled this incident at my father's funeral. Fourth paragraph at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/06/remembering-my-father.html
Another period of anxiety occurred when a merger took place. It was typical of mergers where two companies realized they were duplicating too many services and beating down their ability to set advertising prices. My old newspaper the Oakville Journal Record was replaced by the Oakville Beaver. Choices were made in each market and staffs were re-aligned with many being laid off.
I actually won a canvassing contest that resulted in a trip to Florida for me and my wife and daughter. The effort to win involved a massive program. which I detailed in an earlier blog post. An achievement I felt especially good about as I was able to share it with my family. Read about it here: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/02/memorable-vacation.html
As a cost saving measure the district managers were given the task of delivering papers to stores and boxes. I took this as a challenge. I started out last in sales, but found that the earlier you deliver the more you sell. Soon I learned that the jobs wanted classifieds section was the same for three papers, but if I could get to a store before the competition those looking for a job would find my want ads first. This encouraged me to sign up a number of store dealers in Mississauga where the paper was printed. I went east of Etobicoke and signed up others. I also went to the hotel strip near the airport and signed up more. The combination of these efforts resulted in being number one in single copy sales.
Looking back, one of the most poignant memories I have is of a young boy, another manager's carrier I drove to the office and asked him what he wanted to do when he got older. He shocked me by saying that he wanted to go back to India. Unfortunately he was on the Air India plane that was bombed by terrorists. His parents had framed his photo for Carrier of the Week and displayed it in their living room.
One of my proud moments was designing a Carrier Wall of Fame program. I learned that Alan Eagleson, of Canada Cup fame had been a carrier for our paper. I wrote a letter and talked to him on the phone. I arranged for one of our carriers to interview him and dragged newspaper photographers to his downtown office for a shot with our carrier. I was very disappointed years later to learn of Alan's legal problems, but he was very good to attribute part of his success to having delivered newspapers and was very kind to our Carrier of the Week.
I was surprised to learn that the contest Dennis had started with the Toronto Blue Jays had been dropped. I was given permission to revive it on a chain wide basis, involving ten or so Metroland newspapers. The big incentive was to throw out a pitch just before the game. One boy picked for the Carrier of the Week was leading in the race to throw out the first pitch, but my write up was changed to state he was the chosen one. He wasn't, and that was explained to him, but he was so strongly motivated that in fact he went on to actually win. Different papers handled the opportunity different ways, but the results were a huge number of carriers attending the game feeling a comraderie not too often found.
Three bonuses came to me. I was given custody of the trophy itself which I took home the night before. Both my kids were fans and I took their photo with the trophy. I am not too sure who won it that year, but I think it was George Bell. I had met Danny Ainge and Cecil Fielder in other years.
Third while waiting I met Hazel McCallion, the dynamic mayor of Mississauga who was also throwing out a pitch.
After the merger, plans were to emphasize free delivery to all homes in the different markets. At one point I helped design routes based on postal walks as they had decided to compete against the post office for flyer delivery. Lots of problems getting carriers to deliver the free papers and still collect from those who had subscribed.
We were all being marked on how many down routes (those with no carrier to deliver) we had. I had lots, but was also involved in extra activities. The day that actually counted, one fellow who had no other responsibilities (no canvassing, no deliveries, etc) apparently had the least number of down routes. After these results were published--the very next day the situation was reversed. I did a more thorough job of starting carriers and the other fellow didn't. It didn't make any difference--the other guy got promoted and shortly after I got fired, but with a nice settlement.
On a Thursday night I received a call from a staff member of a different department that told me there was an effort to organize a union and asking me to join. Very naively I explained that I was aiming for a management position and declined. The very next day, Friday at about 4:00 after working in the field I had been told I was being let go immediately and asked to sign a paper which I refused at the time. A few days later I drove into sign the paper that would release a settlement and my pension savings.
Yes I am bitter, but years later I also look back on it and wish I had made the move earlier on my own. Aside from the fact that it seemed to be a dead end job the newspaper business is no longer what it was. I did get a chance for revenge which I will cover below.
I was very fortunate to pick up a spot at my brother in law's ad firm, OKD Marketing. While there I started as a buyer and one of my buys was from Metroland (a division headed by the fellow who authorized my firing) where I modified the deal to be to the advantage of our ad client. I then acted as an agent which included selling things like lip balms and pet supplies and ads.
From The Rider I got another perspective on Metroland as one of my bosses Aidan Finn, the founder of The Rider had actually started two newspapers in what became the Metroland group. He got to print business cards for some of the staff. He often commented on the turnover which steered a lot of work his way.
Ironically the print contact for The Rider has been Rick Ribble who had been the advertising manager for a Metroland paper, but had been forced out. He has proved to be a very good man making me feel in good company as an ex Metroland employee.
One of my concerns was that MetroSpan and Metroland put an increasing emphasis on free distribution at the expense of paid circulation. It makes sense when you are selling advertising reach, but definitely lowered circulation efficiency and I would also say editorial integrity. I lost that battle as too many advertisers became more concerned about penetration and now that battle is being fought with social media.
Although some people thought newspapers exploited youngsters I think newspapers provided an opportunity for young people to learn about business. Overly protected I suspect many of today's youngsters will get a shock when they are made to understand what the boss really expects and how annoying customers can be. I enjoyed working with young boys and girls and like to think some of them were better for the experience--I know I was.
One irony is that I have done business with one of my former carriers who now runs his own business.
You catch Part One at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/my-career-in-newspaper-circulation-part.html
Part Two at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/my-career-in-newspaper-circulation-part_12.html
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Adrian Slywotzky with Karl Weber analyzes some efforts that succeeded in creating spectacular demand and a number that failed to do so although they had a lot of elements working. He finds many different paths to success, but is unable to devise a formula.
One common theme is to study customers in depth and identify hassles that they may or may not be conscious of. Eliminate a hassle and you are part way to building demand. The author's very last words are apt, "Don't look up. Look in the mirror." I interpreted that to mean look at what hassles you have that impede you from optimizing your life. There are many you are not conscious of and others that you just accept.
There are six major factors the authors attribute to a successful launch. Magnetism, fixing the hassles, building a complete back story, finding a trigger, build a steep trajectory and develop variations.
The authors give interesting details of campaigns that mostly start with eliminating hassles. Often it is a hassle that had unconsciously been accepted. Often other companies have pointed in the right direction but, failed to find some small detail.
Dr Sheldon Zinberg the founder of Caremore has taken on a monumental task; providing health care for the elderly under financial constraints. It is a truism that prevention cuts the expenses of a cure, but that fact had been lost in practical human terms. This is where hassle reduction can make a tremendous difference. A common problem with elderly patients is that they miss many appointments for lack of transportation. Caremore provides a pick up service when needed. The staff picks up on small problems and takes action. Noticing that many elderly have serious problems from falls they realized a small thing like trimming their toe nails reduced falls.
Dr Zinberg assembled a team that works together by sharing information. At one point commercial insurance companies withdrew their support. Caremore developed its own financial support system. They were able to improve health results at much lower costs. They prove the money spent on health care can be well spent. Did I mention that demand for the services is ever increasing.
Another example is the Seattle Opera Company that undertook a study to determine why so few of their trial customers repeated attending an opera. It turned out the number one problem was parking and so more effectively making it more convenient encouraged more repeat business. They like other examples expanded demand by developing all sorts of variations to attract different niches.
Wegman's is a chain of grocery stores originating in Rochester, New York. Robert Wegman, a son of a co-founder when given position of president raised every one's salary. They don't just say people are their most important ingredient they really mean it. They attract the best people and empower them. Robert said, "to do something no one is doing and to be able to offer the customer a choice she doesn't have at the moment." They developed innovations in different departments empowering all employees. Just started another book that states Wegman's employee turnover of 3% gives them a very big edge over the supermarket average of 47%.
Another quote that reflects their thinking from Robert's son Danny when he became president, "During difficult times like these it's OK with us if we make a little less money." From other sources it seems to be true, that if you can maintain your share of the market in rough times you will grow when times get better.
Sony first came out with an electronic book and was actually fairly well advanced. But they could not get the co-operation of book publishers who felt threatened by this new media. Kindle worked very hard to get co-operation and when they launched they had 88,000 titles available.
Eurostar is studied through its initial failure. Expectations were that the Chunnel would take away business from airlines, but that was very slow to develop. A new manager Richard Brown was brought in. He spent a lot of effort in reducing hassles. Later on he helped develop variations. Breaking down to their natural niches he developed strategies that created interest from sub groups as business men, friends visiting each other, students and retirees (often with children). The slowest link was from London suburbs) to the Chunnel and this hassle was greatly simplified making the trip much quicker. Connections to those outside London improved and they found a way to hook into overseas travelers that initially eluded them.
Other examples include Tetrapak from Sweden, Zipcar, Netflix and Pixar.
Another bit of advice that I liked comes from Jerry Bruckheimer: " Don't just listen to customers. Watch them." They don't always act like they say.
For those who would like to keep up with the author's post publication thoughts you can go to a blog http://www.demandthebook.com/
Monday, August 20, 2012
His last line is a good place to start, "As the boundaries of a finite world continue to close in on us; our challenge is to learn that making do with less is better than always wanting more.''
His contention is that for the near future the high price of energy will force economic growth to slow and in fact that is what is happening now. We often don't think about how much relatively cheap energy drives our life style. One of his observations reminds me that near where I used to live in Burlington used to be much more of a fruit belt area, but because we can get cheaper fruit from the other side of the world many orchards have been paved over. Everyone notices that we can get cheap goods from China and elsewhere and that many jobs have shifted overseas.
Rubin maintains that the recession that started in 2008 was caused in major part by rising energy costs that have caught governments (and corporations) off guard. The higher gas prices exasperated over extended credit that had in large part been accumulated because of more costly energy. The one thing that allowed gas prices to be lowered was a massive unemployment crisis. Unfortunately as the economy is struggling to improve the price of energy continues to climb.
A great part of the book explains that affordable sources of energy are diminishing and some powers are taking steps to lock in their sources while others are bending the rules to extract what remains. Nations are pushed to new alliances to try to maintain access to energy. The new Egyptian government has cut off natural gas to Israel which in effect cuts off Jordan who will now have to deal with Iran to get its natural gas. Israel and Turkey will turn their attention to the same section of the Mediterranean for oil. China is taking over much of American share of oil from Venezuela and that will increase after a pipeline is built through Colombia. Here in Canada the notorious Tar Sands are drawing attention not only from United States, but also China and it seems pipeline routes are subject of much calculation.
Food costs will put a further squeeze on the economy. Hardest hit will be the poorer nations. Energy is important in transportation, planting, and processing of food. Americans are using farmland for ethanol and other fuels. Rich nations, especially oil exporters are taking steps to secure food supplies.
It is very true that technology is looking for greater efficiencies and sooner or later there will be some breakthroughs. Rubin feels that it will be a long time before breakthroughs will replace what we are rapidly using up--affordable fossil fuels.
The flip side of this is that as the real cost of fossil fuels goes up consumption will go down. He points out that many environmentalists extrapolate that fossil fuels will reach a point that they cannot actually reach because of costs and availability. Rubin feels higher costs will be much more effective than any government agreements at cutting down fossil fuel usage.
This will have a variety of effects. In his previous book he used an example of China bringing in coal from Brazil and then manufacturing it for steel and shipping back to North America and western Europe. When the transportation becomes uneconomical manufacturing will come closer to where it will be used. Agriculture will also become more local. This is happening on a small but accelerating scale right now.
In Germany he points out how they have maintained relatively high employment while especially retaining skilled workers. They have developed a job sharing strategy supported by the government and labour unions. This could be a path for more developed countries.
In a way his thesis is supportive of free market advocates, but with a difference. He acknowledges we live in a finite world with an increasing population. Money is not the ultimate goal, but only one tool towards happiness. The necessity of growth should be looked at more carefully.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
I read it a few times, underlining many passages. I was quite struck by many of her arguments and have retained some respect even today. Essentially she argues that if everyone pursues their selfish interests it is best for society. For instance, my example, if enough people with enough money want to drive a car then there will be jobs for people making cars. The system falls down when someone decides that we have too many cars and people should buy bicycles instead. This causes unhappiness: those making a living making cars lose their jobs and those who want to drive cars are frustrated. I am reminded of a quote of Zig Ziglar: " You can get whatever you want if you help enough people get what they want."
One point I still agree with whole heartedly is that to really follow your selfish interests it is best to take a long term view rather than a short term view. To me this is one of the biggest issues of society today, impatience to get what we want.
The decision boils down to individualism vs. collectivism as how I read it recently. Like many dichotomies there is merit to both sides, but there is also danger should either one dominate.
Balancing her contentions in some ways is Stephen R Covey. In essence his book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" is a guide to how an individual can be more effective, that is get more of what they want. But the thinking is more all encompassing. One of the habits is to understand deeply what the other person thinks and feels. Another habit is to look for a win-win solution, very strongly stating that if only one side wins it is not the best solution. Covey believes that society is inter-dependent and if you want to be effective (ie. succeed) you need to work within that framework.
Civilization did not get to where it is by constantly re-starting from scratch. Isaac Newton said he stood on the shoulders of giants who came before him. Over eons of time a lot of good ideas were gradually discovered by individuals and even more slowly accepted by others. All individuals are totally dependent on the good will of others when born, but as they matured were able to contribute to the good of others. As we mature our feeling of independence grows, but some of us never really realize we are always dependent on others.
Peer pressure is not always for the benefit of individuals or even of the group. Most people, most of the time like to keep things the way they are and resist any change (including who makes different decisions for different concerns). Change is how we progress. Just as we want and need freedom to express ourselves and to contribute so do others. We need to give them the room and the opportunity.
Implicit in these discussions are judgments on other people. Ayn Rand contends they deserve what they get because they made a lot of decisions that put them there. It is true that we are where we are not only because of decisions we made, but also because of decisions made by others. If we are honest most of us have made bad decisions. Sometimes we learned from them, sometimes we got locked in. Sometimes we realized other people had been confronted by the same problem and learning how they handled it could be helpful. Often someone else' decision created obstacles. It is true that some people are better than others at over coming obstacles, but it is also true that some people have more difficult obstacles to overcome.
Can we say all decisions are rational? I would say too many decisions are emotional and that includes intellectuals.
As a society we will all suffer the consequences of poor decisions. We all lose when the best person doesn't get the job, when talent gets wasted, when anyone suffers unjustly, when deserving people don't get a chance, when greed wins over justice. Every individual in many ways got their power with the help of many other individuals and of circumstances. How they exercise their power affects everyone.
Another set of thoughts that enter my thinking is from Bertrand Russell who wrote an essay, "In Praise of Idleness." There are many people it seems to me who are quick to criticize those who apparently are not doing anything "useful" or who are not pursuing a normal path. They are just enjoying something. We look down on such people, but we should respect what they want out of life as long as it doesn't hurt others. If you cannot enjoy life what is the point?
Human nature should be the basis of how we organize ourselves. We have many commendable traits, but unfortunately most look out for ourselves most of the time. Some of us are talented at getting more than our share in relation to what we contribute. A few are very adept at bending the rules for their own advantage. When we get a little power we almost immediately try to figure out how we can increase our power and it is usually at the expense of someone else. If this is just extrapolating my own nature I apologize, but believe there is some rational basis for my thoughts..
We need to find more effective ways to co-operate or we will all suffer, but at the same time we need to encourage individuals to fully use their talents and find their own solutions. Problems like avoiding war, especially nuclear war, climate change, energy and food shortages, contagious disease, terrorism., etc require wide spread co-operation. We cannot leave these decisions to powerful people with narrow interests. There is merit in people speaking up for individualism, but there needs to be those advocating intelligent co-operation to help unleash individual talent.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Kitchener had a fascination for me going back to my university days. In case you were wondering I still have not attended an Oktoberfest.
I met Eric for an official interview which went well. Shortly after this my wife and I decided to buy a house in Kitchener and spent a Saturday looking over available houses. We made a conditional offer almost right away. A few weeks before we were able to sell our house in Hamilton and move. At this time, Sharon was on maternity leave.
I commuted for a few weeks. Eric and his crew believed in long hours. I took part in some of the hiring decisions. Helped set route boundaries, trained and supervised new district managers.
A lot of canvassing was involved before the first paper was printed. In fact we set a record for the fastest growth of a newspaper in Ontario--10,000 new subscribers. Eric and his assistant Dick Killen wanted to make a strong impression and rented a bus and took the whole team with their spouses to the CN Tower for dining. One of Eric's favorite sayings was that "half a promotion budget was like flying half way across the Atlantic Ocean."
We worked long hours on average over 70 per week. I remember Dick Killen feigning forgetfulness when I phoned him on a task and then said, "Oh, the part timer." I felt I had a reason to work hard, but that they unnecessarily made the staff work too many hours. They felt it bonded them
The newspaper as a whole seemed very innovative and the staff very enthusiastic. They were definitely going to do a wonderful service for Waterloo county.
One impression Eric made on me and the other zone manager Bob Tanner was to take us both to a very nice restaurant, Charcoal Steak House. Both Bob and I were planning to unload a lot of complaints, but before we could get started we were each handed a $100 bill and thanked for our contribution to the success of the sales campaign.
From my point of view we were progressing in the right direction, but unknown to me trouble was brewing. The owners were in the construction business and felt they had been dealt unfairly by the Kitchener daily. Somehow they were persuaded to put up some big money to start a rival newspaper and start hiring staff.
They didn't really understand the newspaper business and at first just went along with the advice of some who claimed expertise. Unfortunately some took advantage and abused expenses. When the owners caught on they were furious and started to distrust everyone. They refused to pay bills and as a result we had to look for new truck rental company each week. I learned that part of our strategy was to get free trials of new equipment.
Morale was terrible, we had trouble getting trucks and bundling equipment. Before too long the owners had had enough, refusing to pay bills. When I got my notice of the newspaper termination. I had just taken off my first day after thirty straight days with no break and it was Valentine's Day. Actually I was asked to stay on to help collect from carrier bills.
At one point my pay was not given and I was advised to go to small claims court. Although still consciously working for Newsday I was shocked to get a legal notice that disavowed not only all of my claims, but that I even worked for them. Ironically I was asked to get as much of unpaid carrier invoices as possible. Morale was also very bad amongst newspaper carriers, but I was able to persuade them to pay their obligations. I was by this time looking for another job and taking off time for interviews and sending out resumes. Nevertheless I collected much more money than the boss's daughter who had no experience and probably got more flak for abandoning the newspaper carriers. I was able to use the collections as leverage to get my pay.
I found Dennis's name worked magic. I got a call from Winnipeg and it turned out it was the result of a letter to Owen Sound where the circulation manager was a national president and he passed my letter around. It turned out the Winnipeg manager knew Dennis and on his word approached me. I was advised not to accept a lower level job as it would be very hard to work my way back up.
In the end I needed work; my daughter was just 1 and my wife was able to do some part time work for her old boss back in Burlington. Dennis' word was strong enough that a new position was created for me at the Globe and Mail office in Hamilton. I became a trouble shooter and found myself commuting back to Hamilton and then triangulating to handle Brantford until I was able to hire a manager.
They could not justify a salary so in effect they created a new district where I would get double commissions on half the number of carriers and have to collect them. A lot of long days.
At about this time I was offered an interview with the Hamilton Spectator, literally just across a bridge from the local Globe office. I took the interview and then was told I had to go for a test in Toronto. I had taken the test before and had not gotten a job. This time I had to weigh that my time was stretched between Kitchener, Brantford and Hamilton and I was expected to help train managers. On top of all that I felt it would let Dennis down as I had only been on the job a short time. I learned later that the test was considered a formality and I would have had the job. My life would have been quite different, but not necessarily better.
Still a few more years of circulation "adventures" left, but this has been enough for one post. At this point I felt I was confident of my abilities and had undergone a lot of very educational experience. I found out that not everyone shared that viewpoint. Read it here: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/my-career-in-circulation-part-3-winding.html
Saturday, August 11, 2012
I discovered Gandhi as an elementary student always fascinated by odd things at the library. Gandhi was unique. He wasn't a warrior yet he had helped free India. I read all sorts of books about him as a child and a young man and along the way discovered the date connection. Gandhi led a life that is hard to imagine. He was educated and a successful lawyer, but decided on an austere path personally and as part of campaign to gain independence for India.
Many think of Gandhi as a saint, but he was far from perfect. He was consciously aware of many of his faults and perhaps because of that could understand others better. He was obsessed with diet, bodily functions and sex.
Below are some movies and books that have coloured my thinking.
"Gandhi" came out in 1982 with an all star cast and introduced Ben Kingsley to play Gandhi. A lot of dramatic action including his assassination at the movie's beginning, a horse charge on Indian protesters, Amritsar massacre, beatings and the violence of partition. This movie deals a lot with the political machinations. One remembered point is that Gandhi declared although he believed in non violence, he didn't believe in being passive. Civil disobedience is his real strategy.
"Water" barely mentions Gandhi, but I wanted to review it again as it has a Canadian writer/director, Deepa Mehta. The main focus is on the treatment of widows. They have three choices: go to a fiery death with their husband, live an essentially chaste and dehumanizing life or if family permits marry a younger brother of her husband. The law was changed, but customs are much harder to change. Gandhi was against child marriages. John Abraham, who later became a bigger star had a major role playing a disciple of Gandhi. Near the end of the movie we see Gandhi at a train station he is passing through after being released from jail. Paraphrasing he says "For a long time I thought God was truth, but now I know Truth is God."
"Hey Ram" was my introduction to Kamal Hassan who wrote, directed, produced and starred. He brought in some big Bollywood stars in Shah Rukh Khan (playing a secular Muslim) and Rani Mukerji. It brings to light the religious hatred between Muslim and Hindu just waiting for something to ignite. Gandhi angered many Hindus who felt he was trying too hard to placate Muslims. Gandhi is played by Nasseruddin Shah, another actor I have come to respect. Hema Malini was one of the few star Bollywood actresses who made movies after having children. She also became a politician.
"Lage Raho Munna Bhai" might actually offend some people as it takes a humorous slant on Gandhi. Not to be disrespectful, but humour can often make a point that escapes serious discussion. In this romance, Sanjay Dutt plays a gangster who takes a fancy to Vidya Balan, a radio announcer. He lies and manipulates to impress her that he is a Gandhi expert. Magically the ghost of Gandhi appears and is willing to help him win the girl, but has one request; that Sanjay "live truthfully." As Sanjay courts Vidya he has a type of conversion and you see a number of situations where he helps people in awkward, even tragic situations overcome their difficulties applying Gandhian principles. I would say persistence and innovation in civil disobedience can be very helpful. A memorable quote from Boman Irani--"his ways don't work today" and later he succumbs to a Gandhian strategy.
"The Road to Sangam" depicts a story long after the death of Gandhi. Part of his ashes that had been divided to be spread to different regions of India had been forgotten. In an effort to duplicate the original intentions a Muslim mechanic has been asked to restore the engine that was in the original car to drive the ashes to Sangam. At this time the mechanic is under stress due to Muslim-Hindu conflicts. Muslim organizers want to have a strike to demonstrate their determination. The mechanic feels trapped as he had already promised to fix this engine. He realized that Gandhi was a friend of Muslims and the reason for the independence of India. I had seen Paresh Rawal in numerous roles, usually supporting, but very diversified. I can better appreciate him as he was given the major role in this film and put in a very subtle performance. The lessons of Gandhi are brought out by the mechanic who realizes that Gandhi was above religion. The mechanic is attacked physically, but eventually wins over many of his fellow Muslims.
Watching "Gandhi, My Father" I was surprised at the involvement of Anil Kapoor as producer and Askaye Khanna as lead actor in such a serious and controversial film. Controversial as many Indians felt it disrespectful to depict Gandhi as anything but saintly. Despite being well educated himself, Gandhi actively discouraged his four children (and other relatives) from formal education. His eldest son, Harilal wanted to be a barrister like his father, but Gandhi thought he would serve the cause better without university. Harlilal became an alcoholic. One quote from Jan Smuts, Gandhi "is a politician trying to be a saint."
Reading "Gandhi, The True Man Behind Modern India" by Jad Adams Gandhi was seeking spiritual perfection and often overlooked the needs of those dependent on him. At one time he believed meat gives strength, but was a vegetarian and involved with vegetarian issues. Like many powerful men he had a strong sex drive, but felt that was in the way of spiritual perfection. His four sons and his wife were not given any favoritism and were expected to live to high standards. Obsessed with bowel movements and enemas and sexual abstinence.
One last book I stumbled on while working on this post, "Gandhi and the Unspeakable" by James Douglas. One emphasis was that Gandhi was aware of many Indians who preferred violence to throw out the British. Assassinations occurred close to him. In 1909 he talked and argued with Savarker in London, even as Savarker was planning an assassination in India. He seemed to have some respect for those willing to die, but thought they were misguided. Savarkar was a revered leader to Nathuram Godse, who also had confronted Gandhi several times. The underlying problem was a prejudice against Muslims who Gandhi was trying to reconcile with the Hindus. The British controlled India by a divide and rule campaign and that thinking permeated the partition process. Savarker the mastermind escaped a conviction, but apparently wrote a nine hour speech for Godse.
Satyagraha is a word coined by Gandhi shaming some one by setting a moral example. Protesting was done assuming they would be beaten. In some of the movies it was very scary and I can appreciate it takes more courage than attacking someone even as you realize they might attack back. Gandhi was not a pacifist, he was very proactive.
In conclusion I realize my boyhood admiration overlooked details inaccessible to me at the time. Gandhi had a very strong will and a desire to reach spiritual purity. He accomplished some important things and and in some ways set a good example--there are other ways to prevail besides violence. I still admire Gandhi and am grateful that I have also discovered more of a most fascinating country, India.
Monday, August 6, 2012
We live in a time of rapid change which really means a lot of new things. Although the pace has accelerated the seeking of new things has always played a critical role in our evolution.
Humans are now dominant on earth, but this was not always the case. We had to be alert to danger--often indicated by some very slight change that if we failed to react we could be dinner. On the other hand noticing small changes alerted us to new opportunities such as in agriculture or weaponry.
As history moved forward our abilities to look for advantage helped us become dominant. It boils down to looking for new things. Curiosity helps nourish knowledge.
The author classifies humans into three groups. One group, labeled neophobes fear new things and are very resistant to change. Another group, labeled neophiliacs actually seek novelty. The third group labeled neophiles, are quick to adopt change and are fascinated by new things. Most of us fall into this last category and are considered more cautious. As we age our fascination with new things fades.
Conceding that adapting to new opportunities and alert to dangers has served mankind well, there is danger in the constant stream of new things that seems to energize our contemporary society. There are so many new things that neophiliacs in particular are distracted. There is so much information that is easily accessible that we are all over loaded. Neophiliacs in particular are prone to multi tasking, thinking they are keeping on top of everything important. The author brought to my attention a term new to me, "thrashing". It means we actually go back and forth between each of our multi-tasks with an ever increasing chance of error and fail to comprehend everything we might have if we had concentrated. Can you identify with that?
There is still value in being attracted to new information, but as there is more information than anyone can handle it is wisest to be selective. It is also a good idea to allow yourself time to study important things in depth. Novelty seekers are in danger of becoming addicted, too often seeking a new high. Addictions can be drugs, infidelity and information seeking itself. The author uses the counter example of Mennonites who do things the old way, not because they aren't able to adapt, but because their priority is people, particularly their own people.
I could write a little bit more, but then this wouldn't be a short review. This is still a new idea for many of us.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
My mother volunteered my services as a paper boy because she was unhappy with our family's delivery service from the old Toronto Telegram. Luckily she went with me on my first day of deliveries as I had to listen to a lot of angry customers.
Very conscientious about getting my deliveries done on time, but hated collecting so much that bad habits quickly formed. Collecting sufficient money to pay my bill and go to the Saturday matinee was enough for me. Customers complained when they had a big bill, so I often discounted what they owed. I feared phoning in cancellations so I ended up dumping papers. In the end the main thing I had to show for four years of service was the bond they forced you to pay with your bills. My negative experiences did help identify common problems of some carriers.
A few positive things were picked up as well. I hated canvassing (selling by knocking on doors), but found it hard to say no when the boss asked. Two calls really stand out in my mind. One was when a man came to the door with a butcher knife in his hand and blood on his apron. Stunned I went ahead with my standard sales pitch and he signed up. Another time I stumbled on a prospect who signed up for a small life insurance policy. You can never tell where you might make a sale or what form it might take.
Sales meetings were intimidating. One remembered meeting had a presentation from a head office manager. I enjoyed reading the paper and was familiar with some of the writers and columnists, but I failed to answer a question asked about the paper. The manager was just dramatizing how important it was to understand all about whatever it was you were selling. Good advice for any sales.
One sales contest prize was a trip to Toronto which is only a half hour drive from my Oshawa home. My first experience being away from family, staying overnight in a hotel and sight seeing with other carriers from all over Ontario. Newspaper carriers can be made fun of by their school friends, so it is good for them to appreciate they have kindred spirits.
I finally gave up my route after a year of high school and then a year or so later we moved to a rural area (Haliburton) where there was no newspaper delivery. I went to university and after graduation got a job as a social worker for a Children's Aid Society. I didn't leave there voluntarily, but with a good reference. Another six months later I got a job as an insurance inspector. I learned a few things, but didn't really feel comfortable.
A man I met on a previous job told me about circulation jobs in newspapers. The more I thought about it the more interesting it seemed. Working with young children and right inside a newspaper was very appealing. Nearly 100 newspapers were sent a resume.
I really lucked out when I met Dennis Concordia, circulation manager at the Oakville Journal Record. First I learned his philosophy which I adopted that the best time to interview someone is when you don't need them. He knew sooner or later an opening would come up and he wanted to be prepared. Second, an opening did occur a few weeks later and my education advanced. At the beginning I didn't really appreciate what a unique situation I was in. When I was in university and then going through two jobs Dennis who was a year or so younger was working for the Globe and Mail which I learned was a great learning opportunity.
I worked for the Journal about eight years and through a lot of changes. The paper started out as an afternoon daily, then it switched to a morning paper and finally back to an afternoon paper mixing paid and free distribution.
At one time needing more money I accepted the opportunity to start the Sunday Sun (precursor to the Toronto Sun)for home delivery in Burlington which pretty much assured I was working seven days a week. I was reprimanded when it was found about my conflict.
All this time I mixed up two functions that are difficult to mix. Selling and collecting. Mostly I didn't do either as that was what the paper boys and girls were supposed to do. In a sense the managing function was what I learned. My strength I developed with the help of Dennis was collecting. There were a lot of problems at the beginning, but talking to Dennis I learned better ways of handling them. I gradually became the manager with the highest collections, with the least credits and paid the quickest. All that was accomplished with the least turnover. I was asked to take on a neglected district which was a little tougher, but proved I could handle that as well.
Dennis developed a contest involving the Toronto Blue Jays. He found out that they didn't have a trophy for the first Blue Jay to hit a home run so he offered one. This gave us a chance to let one lucky news carrier to throw out a pitch. We secured a lot of new customers as the carriers vied for the honor and many others got to attend a game.
Another thing I liked at the Oakville Journal Record was the freedom I was given to develop promotional ideas. I was not very good at actually canvassing, but I helped design contests and I came to appreciate that Dennis was a great teacher in that regard. I also came to appreciate that learning at a small paper gave me a broader experience.
Dennis picked up the idea for an auction. Perhaps because I had a loud voice he asked me to be the auctioneer. In the middle of the auction I discovered a problem--we were trying to auction off multiples of some prizes such as hockey sticks. I could understand that they would go for different prices and we could be stuck with a lot of auction bucks. My solution was to bring them altogether and count backwards from a high number and assure the crowd that everyone would get the lowest price with the last one--the catch was only those who stood up were guaranteed to get one and it became interesting at the end with some carriers trying to guess where the lowest price might end up. We got rid of all the sticks and at a good price. I learned a few other tricks that not only were good for the company, but also for the carriers.
There is more to circulation than dealing with newspaper carriers. Newspapers have traditionally been sold through retail stores and coin operated boxes. My first experience came when after a series of late papers and upset drivers I took on a driver run. This meant getting up at 3 am and sometimes working right through to 8 pm. I ended up hiring a driver and thus started to manage adults.
Hub Foley became publisher . In an earlier blog I commented on his view of marketing and sales, but will repeat here. Selling is taking products on hand and persuading other people to buy them. Marketing starts before any product is made and involves determining what product would generate the most profit. Many years later I learned from his former secretary while working for a horse newspaper at a horse event that he had died from an insect bite.
The Oakville Journal Record is where I started with newsletters. My first newsletters were with a Gestetner machine which might be found in a museum if you look hard. I found with a hundred or so carriers it was hard to communicate with them all and wanted to encourage them to be better. My favorite idea was to fill my newsletter with lots of tips topped off with a contest. The contest was a crossword puzzle that required the reader to search the whole newsletter (and sometimes our paper) to get all the clues and win a prize. It was intended to make them think of delivering, collecting and selling (and product knowledge). Somewhere on this project I came across a circulation manager in Watertown, New York where my wife had relatives that we visited. He also did a newsletter and we traded ideas.
I had gone as far as I could. A friend of Dennis, Eric Prosser had been given an opportunity to help start a new newspaper in Kitchener. Eric was somebody I already admired from a few contacts through Dennis. Kitchener had been my original target when I wrote letters for a circulation job.
Before moving onto what happened in Kitchener in another post I would like to explain some of the philosophy and practices I learned.
I always felt that being a newspaper carrier was good training for future business people (or anyone with responsibility). The first key questions in interviewing a new carrier with his family was "How do you think you make money?" The answer I led them to was you make money by satisfying some need or want that someone else is willing to pay for. A newspaper met many wants such as information, entertainment and a time filler. The time filler could turn out to be critical such as the time between a husband getting home from work and supper time
Naively complaints from carriers and readers about lack of stories in the paper led to a discussion with the editor, John Strimas He pointed out he is only allotted space based on how many ads were sold. The only thing we could do is to increase the number of readers so more ads could be sold. Advertising was what kept newspapers going and editorial provided content that readers might be willing to pay for. We in circulation had the job of making sure delivery could be timely and reliable.
The key to collecting money is not to let it get out of hand. Problems start when customers owe more than a week or two. At some point the newspaper seems to be more expensive than they previously thought and they might think they don't get value out of it. They might move. A regular routine assures the least problems.
My circulation career had many twists and turns ahead, but the Oakville Journal Record provided a good foundation. You can read the next step at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/my-career-in-newspaper-circulation-part_12.html
Saturday, August 4, 2012
How I met my wife is probably not all that remarkable, but as I reflect on it millions of different things had to happen in a very particular sequence even before I was born.
I was born in Oshawa and for my last two years of high school studied in Haliburton where my father had a trucking license. While there a recruiter from the University of Guelph spoke at an assembly. His speech so impressed me that even though accepted at another university chosen by my closest friends I opted for Guelph. Obviously a lot of ups and downs, but that decision set me up for what happened later on.
After university I took six months to get my first job and it lasted roughly six months. Then another six months of unemployment. While out of work I stayed mostly at my parents home in Haliburton, but left on frequent trips to search for a job and keep up with my friends. On my second job, after a long process I assumed I would be working in Toronto where I really had no friends or connections. But it turned out the company had a last minute vacancy in Hamilton and thought since I had no attachments I would be interested.
I actually had a long history of not wanting to go to Hamilton, but perhaps if it was good for the company it might be good for me. Pat, one of my sisters lived in nearby Burlington and offered to help me out. Eventually she and her husband offered to board me in their apartment. That worked out fairly well, The job entailed working most Saturdays, but on this one particular Saturday I decided to work only half a day.
It was special as it was my birthday. A small way of celebrating was to watch a basketball game with my alma mater, the University of Guelph playing at 2 pm. I got home about 1 pm and checked out the usually reliable tv. However for some reason it wasn't working. This was the highlight of my birthday so I was furious. I decided since Guelph was only about 40 minutes away that I would just go and watch it live. I am not usually this impulsive.
I got there a little after 2, but was surprised to see that the basketball gym was relatively empty. The game had been played the night before and had been taped to fit the television schedule. I decided to look up some of my friends. The first friend contacted was busy with school work, so then went to another friend and got into a conversation with him and his new girl friend.
The new girl friend asked where I lived and when I said Burlington she started laughing. She was from Burlington and had an awkward problem. She had invited over a friend for the night and had promised her a blind date. She had lined up a fellow, but on the Friday night he had met someone new and didn't want to honor his part of the deal. My arrival must have seemed fortuitous.
Not sure what I was getting into, but agreed to the substitution. I remember almost exactly where I met Sharon Olynyk as the drop off point was near where I used to get my hair cut. (Highway 6 and College). The date was bowling and I lost. Nevertheless we hit it off pretty good and I agreed to drive her back to Burlington the next day. This meeting turned out to be my best birthday present ever.
The next day I met her parents, Boris and Florence (born DeMille) Olynyk, my future in-laws. I didn't stay for supper, but had been asked. Another week and I was put to the test. My future father in law put out some hot peppers that I think were even hot for him and asked me to try one. I passed the test and I came to like the hot peppers and a whole range of Italian and Ukrainian foods.
One of our first dates was to watch the McMaster basketball team and I was able to drag her to a few other games over the years, but she has become a Toronto Blue Jay fan.
It is important for all young people to realize that you are not just marrying a person you are marrying a family and a network of friends. It seemed like a weird set of circumstances led to a very fortunate outcome. Maybe it was fate or maybe it just illustrates you should keep moving forward no matter how many twists and turns you encounter in life.