Month: August 2012

Getting Motivated = Getting ?

There was a time in my early career when I was just awestruck with the motivational speaking genre. (So much so I’m actually in that business today) I was young, impressionable, and willing to do just about anything that had the appearance of helping me to move from poor to riches. I’ll shed a little color on what I mean.

In the late 80’s early 90’s when the likes of Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, and others were hitting their strides I went to work for a radio station that offered a new programming genre where the day was filled with snippets of the most successful speakers of the time. The network was WNN. (Winners News Network) The idea was instead of 3 to 5 minute hit songs being played – 3 to 5 minute portions of speeches or audio programs from people like Ken Blanchard, Harvey McKay, Leo Buscaglia, etc. were mixed and played.

That station and programing is long gone. (Radio is notorious for here today-gone later today) Personally I thought it was a great concept, and still do. However I saw what many within the industry knew but dared not admit:

It’s easy to sell the dream.
Hard to convince them to work for it.
So don’t fight it, just sell the dream.

Hence lies the most compelling reason I can make on why the motivational speaking genre gets hammered as the virtual home of “Snake Oil Salespeople” more than an MLM (multilevel marketing) indoctrination conference.

Dreams are wonderful, but getting advice akin to sitting in front of a mirror all day reciting affirmations of “Dreams really do come true.” isn’t going to do anything more than turn your dreams into a nightmare when the landlord comes looking for the rent.

You can have dreams but if you want true motivation you need to hear from someone whom can give you pragmatic advice and actions to take. Real actions not some form of vapid advice.

The whirlwind tour of the phenom Get Motivated seminars has found itself in hot water as of late. We had a show here in Lexington last year, and they were to be in Louisville KY last month. Out of nowhere it was cancelled and ticket holders have been unable to find resolution on redemption’s and much more.

Seems there’s a bitter divorce battle going on between the founders which forced a sale of the seminar company earlier in the year. The new company is having all types of issues such as non-payment of speakers and bureaus. (On a side note. How many of these speakers including the former First Lady would not have any issue currently if they followed my advice, and model? Just saying…)

Although these seminars were huge events with 10 or 20 thousand in attendance at times. It was always far more spectacle than anything else in my opinion. Although I have been to a few. I really only went to see Zig Ziglar when he was healthy and touring. Zig was worth the price of admission, and was always on first. After that it was more about celebrity than anything else.

I would listen and watch the other speakers as they appealed to the audience on why success was attainable. However most talks were more along the lines of celebrities just recanting their glory days. Although this can be inspiring, it loses its effectiveness on the person listening once they leave the arena.

A case in point would be speakers such as Colin Powell. Yes an American Icon. Yes an American success story. However the people listening to Mr. Powell speak on leadership aren’t the leaders who can get the nuances from what he’s discussing. It’s very difficult for someone with no C-level management experience under their belt to truly understand what difficulty there is to get other Generals to move assets under their command and put it into harms way. Many of the executives at those levels aren’t in this audience. Most are solo entrepreneurs or other small business owners.

These are people whom are left wondering how one would apply such things to their mom and pop shop. How exactly does one implement or apply these principles of getting world leaders to decide they need to send aid to far off regions of the world? Awe inspiring yes, but exactly how does one go about applying that to their problems of employee turnover in a 5 person operation?

Here’s where you need actionable or transferable skills and advice to truly help. Other than that, it’s just glory day storytelling in my opinion. You can apply this to Laura Bush, Mayor Giuliani, and the others. Yes, all wonderful people, but other than celebrity, exactly how does one go about making useful application of what’s heard at this type event?

At the last seminar here in Lexington I walked out after listening to the Mayor talking about: “the new economy, and how it was going to change business as we know it on this thing called the internet.” (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much)

The references were glaringly out of date, and more importantly useless for today’s entrepreneur looking for solid advice on how to compete in today’s technological world. However, “America’s Mayor” puts butts in the seats. And when that’s what truly matters, than the Mayor is the one to have, and I have absolutely no problem with that. It’s smart business. I’m also a fan of the Mayor and I enjoy his talks. Yet that doesn’t change my stance of not going there for pragmatic, actionable advice. For that I found it’s lacking at best.

When someone questions my fees as if to infer they are high I respond with something that resembles the following: “Compared to whom?” If you want someone whom can help increase your effectiveness, bottom line, construct strategic plans, create killer gaps from the competition, or other things, my pricing expresses a great value and return on investment for you. However, if you just want to fill seats, I hear Snooki from the MTV reality show Jersey Shore is available. But she’s 50% more than I am. Just depends on what you want to accomplish. A multiple ROI? Or just ticket sales?

It’s anyone’s guess whether or not these events will resume anytime soon in the future. However as far as true motivational advice I still suggest an espresso over these types of events.

The lasting effects are about the same.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Do You Suffer from “The Imposter Syndrome?”

This affects more people across the business spectrum than many think, or care to admit.

So what is an “Imposter Syndrome?” Basically it’s a description coined to describe the feelings many get when they are going to meet with prospective clients, make a presentation to a group, or just about any other interactions where they feel someone is going to expose them or call them out as some fraud. It’s foolish. Yet this under current of emotional baggage paralyses more people from taking risks in their business careers than a lot of the other negative beliefs people deal with combined. (My diagnostic apologies to real psychotherapists everywhere!)

How many times have you decided to take on a project or call on a prospective client that was out of your comfort zone only to end up scrapping the idea because after days, weeks, months (or more) of research, you tired or got bored with the idea? Maybe the issue wasn’t the subject matter.

Quite possibly you tired on the subject because you researched, and researched, and researched to the point of exhaustion. Not in the spirit of preparedness, but for some nagging fear that someone will shout “Fraud!” if you didn’t know or were able to recite verbatim the minutia on every topic that could be brought up.

It’s far easier to justify your inertia when you decide not to move forward on something because after “careful research” you decided to move onto another project. It’s a very convenient, and easily defensible reason not to move ahead. Who could argue with that analysis? Which is exactly why it can be so debilitating to your business career.

I’m fully aware that not all projects demand implementation. Many projects start out in earnest then after due diligence seem to no longer have the value to move on or it needs to be jettisoned altogether. But that’s not this discussion. I’m describing when you feel you should move but don’t. Somethings holding you back but you just can’t put your finger on why. Maybe this can shed some light on those feelings of indecision that you never applied in any self-analysis.

Below are two examples to demonstrate my point:

You just won the lottery for millions of dollars. By coincidence you’re invited to attend a diner party hosted by successful self-made business leaders. You now have just as much money as anyone attending if not possibly more. Will you feel comfortable when asked to explain how you made your millions to this group?

Probably not. Trying to explain your business prowess to a group of self-made business elites on your winning at a game of chance will probably fall on deaf ears at best. Here you would be posing as something you’re clearly not. However lets look at this same scenario with a minor change.

You’re a solo entrepreneur (or one person show) and you’re invited (again by coincidence) to this same event. You’re quite aware possibly everyone at this party has a net worth that far exceed yours, or their companies are much larger.

When you’re asked to explain your company will you engage in real discussion? Or will you look for a place and time to exit?

In this scenario you didn’t win a game of chance. You may be there by happenstance however you are among peers, and you should treat it as such. Money and balance sheets maybe used for bragging rights but have little to do with self-worth. Don’t allow this to confuse you or give you feelings of inadequacy.

More times than not the true reason most won’t take the big steps, won’t dare to risk, or will give a myriad of other reasons is based more on convoluted inner beliefs.

If you take charge of your own life, actions, and hold yourself responsible for your outcomes you’re not an imposter. You’re an entrepreneur.

Be proud, and act like it.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

We All Need Reminding: Keep Things in Perspective

All of us from time to time think the troubles we’re facing are the worst. That some problem going on in our careers or lives is insurmountable. We’ll him and haw on how rough we’re having it. How no one understands. Or we’ll pout and brood by ourselves that things aren’t fair and so forth more often than any of us would like to admit. We’re really just throwing ourselves a pity party. Sure things might seem chaotic for a myriad of reasons. They might also have some type of financial impact or other circumstances attached. However as large as these troubles may loom at times, I’m here to say they are more inline with inconveniences in life more than what we all like to call “problems” or “troubles.”

I know I’m splitting hairs on the dictatorial definition of words here, but I just want to offer a bit of perspective.

Today my wife’s colleague delivered her baby premature – months premature. She was unable to hold through her pregnancy. She has been hospitalized and bed ridden for the last several weeks as to try to hold and not deliver early. She was told she would be bedridden, unable to even lift herself to wash her face for the remainder of her term. Imagine not being able to move from a bed for any reason, not even the ability to sit up for months. All for the possibility, not guarantee, but the hope that it might work out. That is a true decision of consequence.

Although everyone had their idea of what to do, the baby had his. He was delivered today weighing just 2 pounds, 7 ounces. As of now everything is as best it can be. But let’s not sugar coat anything here, we’re adults and we know what’s at stake regardless of how new or technologically advanced this hospital is. Somethings are just not in our hands, there in another’s. Period.

Years back I myself went through a similar crisis. My nephew Tyler was born under similar circumstances. We spent months visiting the hospital. Everyday was a gift that he was there to visit. After he was released every time he had the inkling of a cold or something else all that went through anyone’s mind was “Oh no!” In the end everything turned out right and he’s a great big boy nearing his 18th birthday. Not a hint of anything he went through in his birth.

On my wife’s side again a similar situation only with twins. Once again, everyone involved moved through into adulthood with no impressions of their early challenges ever carrying forward. Both are healthy and children of their own.

We can only hope that the same will result here. We do our best, put our faith in doctor’s and others hands, and pray for the best. Sometimes that is all one can do, literally. These are true problems. Problems that require real soul-searching, strength, and so much more that resides in all of us yet sometimes takes life changing events to pull the best of us out.

So next time we’re thinking about how we got shafted in not getting that promotion. Or we whine about how there just seems to be more month left than money. Remember, as long as your feet are still above the ground, all of it, and I mean ALL of it, is more in the line with an inconvenience. Because no matter how insurmountable your “problems” might seem at any given time. As long as you are breathing, you have the possibility of taking some form of corrective action. You might not like the action, you may not want to do the action, but it’s within your prerogative to act or do so.

Not having the ability to live. That is a true problem. The rest is only  inconveniences. And many of us need to remind ourselves of that more often than I dare to admit myself.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

I included some photos of the lobby where I was sitting. This is a brand new facility at the University of Kentucky Hospital. I have to say coming from Boston where some of the finest teaching hospitals in the world reside, and I still fly back and forth to visit my own Doctor for routine visits. (Both my Dr. and Dentist use me as an example all the time as in : “If my patient can be here from KY on time for his appointments, why can’t you?) Although success has allowed me that privilege, I’m rethinking that as of today. I was truly amazed at this facility.

Lobby looking down and left

Lobby looking to right. Yes in the right that is a person playing a grand piano. Talk about ambiance! Where’s the waiter?

from seat in lobby

Where the 2 above photos were taken is at that glassed rail across the aisle. Where I’m sitting I’ve crossed lanes of traffic smaller to get to that rail.

Here’s a photo of that aisle. Yet to give it better perspective see the photo below.

I was taking pictures from the chair furthest to to left. You can only see it partially because the shot was so wide I couldn’t fit it in!

This is again the aisle above only with a shuttle. That’s a 6 person shuttle you can board so you need not walk if you are having difficulties. It’s on par with what you see at an airport. Look how small relative to the size of the aisle. I was just dumbfounded.

Last one. As we we’re leaving to go cross the sky bridge to our cars this is the main concourse as you come from the ground lobby to our floor. I’ve seen airports with less room to walk freely than here. So wide I could not get wall to wall in the shot. Simply amazing.

View from the sky bridge looking at the main entrance. You can see off in the distance anther sky bridge joining the east side. The size and scope of this facility just left me awestruck. Coming from Boston I can be hard to impress. I was more than that when I saw this facility.

Proof: Foolish Thinking Will Produce Fools (part 2)

I decided to write on these subjects because I was hit with one after another as I was working while the television was on. There are times I feel the smarter we as humans become with all our technology, the down right stupider many of us have become.

It started with the news story of a 10-year-old girl flying alone. (you can read part 1 here) As dumbstruck as I was at the sheer stupidity on behalf of everyone involved in the matter. As the news went to commercial I was mortified on what came on next. Ladies and gentlemen let me introduce you to the next possible IPO wannabe coming to an exchange near you. Care (dot) com

What is Care (dot) com? Think Angie’s List™ but not for a plumber, contractor, or anything else of the sort. No this is for a babysitter. All you need to do is click, read the reviews, then when you feel like you’ve garnered enough information by clicking and reading the only thing left to do is invite this person over to your home and leave them there. Alone. In your house. With all your treasures. And also the lives, and well-being of your children. Hey, isn’t technology great! All you need to do is click, and read reviews then bammo! You’re a parent of the modern age practicing due diligence for the safety and well-being of your children, and more. A role model of society. How proud and smart you must now feel at this great awakening. You’ve now entered the modern age of parenting.

Once again I said: “You have GOT to be kidding me!”

I am fully aware of the restraints or caged feelings parents get when children are young. The seemingly sheer absence of anything serendipitous or resemblance to any spontaneity. As if vanished into the ether never to be seen again.

However, I only need to pose one hypothetical question in my mind to see if I might be off track. I see myself asking my mother: “Would you have left us with a babysitter that you found in the want ads?” As I was ducking the first attempt at her cracking me on the back of the head I would then try to defend the question with this follow-up: “But, they come recommended. Written reviews from people stating how great they are.” As she was reaching for the broom for a better angle she might start saying: “Are any of those “people” people you know? Like family or close friends? What in the world are you thinking? Is that how I raised you?” (Just for the record there was never any corporal punishment, it was more along the lines of the whack that says: What are you thinking!)

And there lies the truth that hits you harder than a broom, a smack, or anything else. Common sense. It’s far more of a bludgeoning hammer than anything else wielded by a parent. And like many of you, our parents seemed to be armed with the equivalent of a super carrier. Today I believe many parents have barely enough common sense to fill a dinghy.

It’s one thing to be looking for a Nanny, or some other form of caretaker for children. (Oh and yes they offer that and so much more!) But that’s not what I’m discussing here. This falls into: “Hey, there’s a great band playing at the local gin mill down the street. Everybody’s going out tonight to party. Everyone except us because we have a child, and no babysitter. Hey wait, we can go! I saw this ad on television for Care(dot)com. You enter your info, check the referrals on-line then bammo! We have a babysitter so we can go out a tear it up also. Where’s the laptop?”

Is there any wonder why we just can’t make any rhyme or reason out of some of the things we see happening today? I contend it’s because – there isn’t any. Most of the common sense that was common has been replaced with: “But It was on the internet so it must be true. Here look for yourself!”

No wonder we’re in trouble.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Things That Make You Go Hmmmmmmm

In business one needs to look around and survey the landscape. There are times you look across a great distance and you see the heat waves rising from the flats in which it distorts your view on things off in the distance. You just can’t get a clear view. Then there are those rare times you look and you say to yourself: “Am I seeing things or what?” If it doesn’t make sense, and your life (or business) depends on what you do next, you’re going to need and make a decision. But what to do or just as important what not to do is the critical question. Because if you’re wrong it could be the last decision you ever make. Relying on some form of adjunct business awareness is not something you can leave to chance. Keeping an eye on the horizon for any changes is a crucial discipline you always need to hone. Your livelihood depends on it.

The financial markets have once again seemingly levitated above the horizon to heights one just thought wouldn’t be seen for quite a while never mind today. Although most people know of the S&P 500 very few truly understand it. They hear it on the television, or radio, and they also read about it in the papers. However when it goes up or down I would say nearly all 401K investors don’t understand what truly is driving the markets. I could go on for pages to explain but for this discussion let’s just use the reference point of most just don’t know. They leave that up to what they’ll refer to as their “Financial Planner.”

So here’s my rub and why I think one should once again pay very, very, very, (did I say very?) close attention to the financial markets as of today.

There is a proxy for the NASDAQ® named the Q’s. It is an ETF and the symbol for it is QQQ. Many one way or another are usually invested in it through their retirement holdings. Now regardless if you know or you don’t have a real grip on how stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments correlate to each other doesn’t matter. If I were to tell you that Monday of this week that ETF which is the financial trading instrument for the technology sector. (Think Apple®, IBM®, and all the others) made a new high for not just the year. But higher than what this sector represented in the dot-com era, and higher than it was in 2007 before the markets melted down what would you think?

To go along with that same question let me add this. Not only did this market for the dot com’s hit new lifetime highs, but the S&P 500 also made new yearly highs. And to top it off as these markets are going higher, and higher. Redemption (Think people taking their money out of their 401K’s) is also going higher, and higher. In other words, the higher this market is going, the more people are getting out. Something is wrong with that picture.

I think a very troubling phenom is materializing that all the so-called “smart crowd” are missing. People whom were invested, and stayed invested when the great crash happened in 2008 are saying “Phew, I’ll take my money now please. Cash me out! I’m not going to risk that ever happening again.”

I could be totally wrong on this subject, but I think I have just as much tangible evidence to bolster my argument as the market mavens do. Something here is amiss. Oh and by the way, that ETF is also the very same instrument that contains the company that was going to bring everyone back to the markets. That company? Facebook®.

Do I have your attention now?

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

When You’re Not Entitled to Your Opinion

There is a growing obstacle in business conversations. It’s the use of the term or phrase: “Well that’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it.” Yes you have the right to have an opinion on any matter or subject. However that doesn’t give your argument any credibility on why you might be right. Actually it just might be the sole cause of all your problems in business or life if not looked at properly.

Effective communication requires anyone whom interacts with people whether to manage, negotiate contracts, or more to hone their skills to identify problems or obstacles when conversing in real-time. This skill is not only to know when and how to proceed, but more importantly the skill to decide, if you should proceed.

Here’s an example of something that allows no opinion: 2+2=4

You are not entitled to an opinion that 2+2=5. It doesn’t. It’s a yes or no statement. But what happens when a person argues that just because you say that it’s 4 doesn’t mean they have to agree with you? Followed with that magical term “Well that’s my opinion so lets move on to other matters.” While you know full well the next part of the discussion not only involves more math, but also some algebraic formulations. What are you going to do now?

Anyone whom understands the business debate, contract negotiations, or personnel matters knows you can not move forward. You must first tackle the 4 not 5 matter. If not, all you are doing is sowing the seeds of an inevitable confrontation or worse. But this is far easier said than done. Especially when the other party decides they are not going to budge regardless of what you say. And the more you try to explain, the harder they fight back with terms such as. “Well what makes you so right? Why can’t I be? I’m only stating my opinion. Seems you’re just hung up on me saying I’m wrong.” or “Listen I don’t care about that now, lets move on. Why won’t you just drop it? It’s only my opinion.”

You might be saying to yourself this a foolish example people know better. Yet I will state this analogy plays out far to often than most understand. Here are a few examples:

In a contract negotiation you hear: “I know you food producers use heavier packaging as to make up the difference for lower profits. I’ve felt the difference in thickness from different suppliers. You guys will make up the difference one way or another. But let’s move on to what you want to charge me for the distribution costs for the northeast region of my new stores.”
You might state emphatically that’s not true, and is regulated by federal law. The penalties are not worth the risks and easily verifiable. Also you encourage them if they ever were to find violations to report it because it’s illegal. But they just follow-up with one of the opinion phrases listed above. Just what do you do now?

In a personnel or management meeting you hear: “I know what it says in the policy manual but the idea that something like this is a violation because it suggests harassment (or some other violation) is just overboard today. I’ve seen that so-called violation happen daily throughout the company, everybody does it. It’s really no big deal. Can we get on to the matters of sick leave now?”
When you interject and state why it is a big deal for the possibility of litigation claims this person (which might also be your boss) states one of the opinion phrases listed above. What do you do now?

As you can see in both of these examples there is no room for an interpretation or opinion. They’re yes or no issues that must be agreed upon before anything else can move forward in earnest. If you were to just “move on” what you would be doing is enabling bad reasoning, which could result in disaster at any time. That is unacceptable regardless of the size or scale of the discussion at hand. If all parties can’t agree that 2+2=4, then you have never had a discussion of any real understanding or value.

People are entitled to their own opinions, but not to an interpretation of facts that require yes or no resolutions. It’s up to you to separate the two. Whether it cost you the business, the argument, or the date.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Audio Podcast from Mark’s “Prose Series”

Is it a Sign, Or Is It a Test?

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This podcast and more available in iTunes®

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr in association with StreetCry Media. All Rights Reserved

The quick hitting no holds barred series based on “Mr. Engineer, please hit the record button and let’s go!” Designed and delivered to be thought provoking and unique for its forget about edits and retakes format.

Proof: Foolish Thinking Will Produce Fools (part 1)

If you’re anything like me you’re quite aware that if you truly want to know someone forget about what they say, and watch how they conduct their lives. People might talk smart, but they can have a reasoning capacity on par with a pile of rocks.

I was struck or should I say dumbfounded this week by a few events that just made me wonder what are these people thinking. Then I caught myself and realized that was even more of a dumb question. Here’s what I just don’t get…

There was an incident reported that a 10-year-old girl was flying alone and missed her connecting flight from San Francisco to Boston. Where was her connection? Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. One of the busiest and hardest airports to navigate in the country from my perspective. If you’ve ever traveled for a living, there is no airport you would rather avoid than O’Hare. It’s a nightmare. However you don’t have to be a business traveler to understand this. If you’ve ever been on vacation and had to connect through O’Hare you instinctively realize this airport is HUGE! I believe Olympic marathon hopefuls could hone their endurance abilities here. Yet her parents decided that as long as they filled out the proper “Child traveling alone” information with the airline, then the safety and well-being of their child was now codified and in the hands of the airline. All I can say to that is, “You have GOT to be kidding me!”

I can understand in an emergency the possibility where you might need to send an adolescent on a plane. However, a caveat to this would include that the flight was a non-stop flight from one gate to another. Also I would not let the child even board that plane unless I had a real-time conversation that the person on the other end was currently at the airport, inside, and at the gate waiting. Regardless of how long it would take for the plane to arrive. The possibility of being stuck in traffic, or having a fender bender, or anything else happening would nullify releasing the child at the gate. Regardless of the cost of the flight or anything else. Period!

What was just as shocking about this story in my view were not only the parents comments about the incident, but also anyone whom commented or chimed in with their opinion. Almost everyone to a person blamed the airlines. Although the airlines were at fault and acted irresponsibly by reported accounts. All I could ask was; “What were these parents thinking? Airlines can’t even move luggage smoothly, but you’ll trust them with the life and well-being of your child?”

Sorry, and I don’t care what excuse someone wants to use. They were fools, and luckily the child finally arrived unscathed to her destination.

This type of thinking is not only foolish but can be downright dangerous. Personal responsibility demands clear thinking. People like this want to make you think they have a point when they’ll clearly point at someone else but themselves to blame.

If they want to point at the fools responsible for their problem. All they need to do is point into a mirror.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

And just to prove a point on how much an airline or airport cares about you. Here’s a photo I took in 2010 when my wife was stranded at an airport overnight and no one would give her any information on if or when she would be able to catch her connection. I took this photo in an airport lobby as I was waiting for her. Serendipity can be amazingly poignant at times.

A pictures worth a thousand words.

The Computers Cheshire Grin

Lately I’ve had this unsettling feeling that after every interaction with a check out machine, ATM or the numerous others, when I turn to leave there’s a big grin floating above the machine just like the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Wonderland.

The difference here is unlike the cat, these machines aren’t going to be so kind as to tell you how everything works on their side of the glass. You’re going to have to figure that out on your own. And the price for this knowledge might be higher than we expect. In more ways than one.

Yesterday I visited my local bank which like many today is part of a national entity.  They opened a new state of the art branch which is being heralded as one of only 12 in the nation outfitted with state of the art customer interfaces. Or put another way. Smiling faces have been replaced with shiny interfaces.

When I walked in the first thing that stuck was for the first time in my life, I had no idea where the teller windows were. Where do you make a deposit I thought? The branch no longer resembled anything I’ve come to know as a “bank.” It had more in common with a financial services or brokers office than a bank. Layout was open with strategically placed half glassed cubicles surrounding an employee, desk, and 2 chairs. It’s clear from my point of view the people inside these cubicles interact with you, not you with them. You’ll need to be called upon to enter those spaces. But if you wish you can take a seat and view the activities that go on within as if you’re viewing some form of human aquarium to pass the time as you wait.

This branch has clearly transformed from what we knew as a traditional branch bank to more along the lines of a financial products up-sell center. Nobody here wants to handle your deposits, withdrawals, or checking and saving account details unless that leads to your retirement fund assets, or business accounts. If you want just hum-drum banking as in make a deposit or withdrawal there’s another square piece of glass to look through for that. Welcome to your new teller. Not Cindy or Bill. But the new Techno-Dyno 4386-12 teller interface. (I made that up, but that’s what it felt like)

Traditionally teller windows were always prominent being front and center in any bank. Now? Not only are the teller windows gone, but these new interface devices are relegated to the far corner of the office. And the only smiling face I was privy to this day was the person whom hailed me from the center of the branch when I most obviously looked confused on where I might go first.

Who was this person hailing me? Well, she was none other than the corporate representative to demonstrate how someone like myself were to use the new interfaces. All the prior smiling faces are gone. Just her. (And you know she’s temporary before she’s on to the next one) There are no tellers any longer. Just a row of glorified large screened ATMs.

I’m a big fan of technology. I understand replacing mundane tasks with auto-matrons and such. I get it, and I know the difficulty when you find it necessary or prudent to replace human interaction with machine. However there is just something unsettling about actually going to a bank and not interacting with a person. Even more unnerving is the subliminal message being sent on the coming inevitability there will be even less in the coming future.

I don’t think it’s a far stretch to ponder just how quickly these half glassed cubicles containing “associates” will also be replaced with full glass screen monitors. Then as you’re waiting to be called upon they’ll flash images of real aquarium scenes. Or maybe they’ll flash images or scenes showing what human interactions at a bank were once like. They’ll be just as rare to view as any tropical fish in a tank and similar because again it will all be done behind the glass.

With a great big smile floating in mid-air.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The Liquidity Trap aka Defending The Indefensible

This week the financial markets were a buzz with commentators railing back and forth about volume levels or what some refer to as participation levels. One of the highly touted reasons given was Europe is on vacation. I would argue most “participants” are not only on vacation, but quite possibly more are taking a “Permanent Vacation.” And the industry itself is not only to blame for the dwindling numbers, but is acting as the travel agent selling only one way tickets. People are leaving these markets and they aren’t coming back anytime soon. You no longer need to be a market maven to understand because anyone with a morsel of simplistic rationale now understands the game is rigged. And what was at first an assumption or oppressive nagging feeling was validated for all to see in the debacle of Knight Capital Group.

Everywhere one turned the argument was being made that this abomination known as HFT (High Frequency Trading) is giving liquidity to the markets. It allows for tighter spreads of the Bid and Ask, and on and on. Although there might be a legitimate case for that argument at some level, the levels that current HFT’s are playing does not. Nor is the game they’re playing meant to “help” liquefy the markets for smoother operations. It’s meant to drain as much liquidity (aka unsuspecting or naive participants money) and enrich its masters in a zero sum game. But this beast has shown it can and will turn on its creators. For those that want to argue it’s not a zero sum game. Then why did Knight implode to near insolvency overnight? Easy. Because instead of winning (or extracting) the money this program was designed to garner, it lost it. Period. Knight found itself  where you, me, and anyone else not capable of guarding against it were supposed to be. All I have to say in sympathy to that is “Welcome to our world. Hope you enjoy your visit!”

I’m not a professional trader or financial analyst like the so-called “experts” touted across the financial channels. However I am a businessman and I grew up knowing and understanding right from wrong. I’m also quite experienced within the arguments of legal and illegal. And I think too many have forgotten a very simple truth: “Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.”

Let me pose this hypothetical; How would you react if you were on some wonderful resort beach with your family. Waters were calm, weather was perfect, scenery was incredible to behold. Then out of nowhere you witnessed a swimmer get attacked and devoured by a great white shark on the periphery of the beach. The incident goes unnoticed by anyone else. Everyone is oblivious. But you know what you saw. When reporting you are struck by the lack of responsiveness. The authorities seemingly don’t care. When you push on the issue it’s explained liked this:

“Well this resort is right in the middle of where the sharks live. But there’s no other place like it. So as long as the sharks don’t feed in the middle of the lagoon, and only take a swimmer or two from the edges where no one notices business continues. It’s a win, win. People get to enjoy the resort, and the sharks are content. And besides people getting eaten by sharks is a part of nature. Not like we didn’t put up a warning sign 50 miles from the beach stating “Beware there might be big fish with teeth swimming in the ocean.” The term shark scares people, so we like our description better. It’s not like we tried to hide or mask the dangers. So please, go enjoy this wonderful property with your family and friends. Remember there’s an open bar between 7 and 9. Enjoy your time here… Next!”

If my hypothetical sound outrageous, or gets under the skin for those whom want to defend HFT in its current form I ask this question; If the incident that happened at Knight Capital Group resulted in the exact opposite. Meaning, instead of losing nearly $500 Million dollars but instead profited by that same amount. Would we have heard about it? Trick question, yes we would…

Champagne glasses would have been overflowing at the cheers and celebratory back slaps that would have taken place at the next quarterly earnings report. You would hear pundits, and so-called “expert” analysis on how this operation took in record profits. Oh how they would have celebrated their wisdom for creating some new black box trading algorithm that will revolutionize the trading world. Bonuses would be paid to the creators. Management would eye new digs for their trophies of market brilliance. Yet, all of it would come from where?

Unsuspecting naive swimmers who are told pay no attention to those fins they see near the beach. But even the naive understand instinctively somethings wrong. And they’re not going to come back until the sharks are gone regardless how many times they get a brochure stating, “Newly renovated! Come enjoy, the waters fine!”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr