Month: March 2013

The Blueprint To Nowhere

Go to any seminar and more than likely you’ll hear some so-called “guru” profess from the stage that what you need in order to be successful, rich, or whatever is this: “You need a blueprint!”

I’m here to publicly state: “That’s probably the last thing you need.” I’ll also add: “It can be not only frustrating but rather an adventure in futility in even trying to come up with one.”

Constructing a building? Of course. Planning your life and career? Absolutely not.

The “blueprint” concept of planning out ones life presupposes you know every detail as to dot all I’s, cross every T, and join or align every piece that is to go together. Which also means you know every detail of every piece. You can’t. However, that wont stop most speakers from continuously referencing it.

You know why? It sounds good – gets people to nod their head in agreement – clap – then helps move them towards the back tables where they can buy the book on how to: “Draw your Blueprint for Life for 3 Easy payments of…..” You get the picture.

Life or success is not about knowing all the unknowns in some “blueprint.” It’s about managing and navigating the unknowns while possibly immersed in those very same unknowns. A blueprint doesn’t fit that scenario. Yet again, that won’t keep most “speakers” from still using the flawed analogy or premise.

Business plans fall into this same category. (sorry to all you MBA’s now gnashing your teeth) However, this isn’t to be misconstrued as to imply: “Just wing it man.” Far from it.

What you need is the correct concept or premise – first. Then the proper vehicle or tool can be used. And for life and business – it’s a map and compass. Not a set of blueprints and engineers.

Life, businesses, careers and more can’t be shackled from the standpoint of a blueprint and be successful. Blueprints by design are: This exact piece, exactly this long, made precisely of this material, placed perfectly here, connected via this joint, made only from this material, and on, and on. I believe you can see my point. To plan your life, business, or career you don’t (nor can’t) know all the different variables you’re going to encounter. Blueprints not only need to know them – they demand it.

Using this example can you see why so many at first feel all “jazzed up” after leaving some seminar, or listening to, or reading another “guru” book? For many it’s because they now believe they know why they’re stuck in the mud. Then only to find once they start formulating a “blueprint” that the experience becomes even more frustrating.

They not only have a hard time putting this so-called “blueprint” on paper. (most people at all levels never put a plan of any type together which is why this at firsts sounds so simplistic) But worse, once they begin trying to live by one, they give up out of frustration soon after feeling dis-enlightened and refuse to try anything ever again. i.e., Everyone said this is what you do – I did it – and nothing, it’s all crap!
Maybe it even happened to you. Trust me, you wouldn’t be the first – nor last. (I’ve been there myself)

The first step in trying to plan where you are and where you’re going is to begin plotting a map. A map that is some what reminiscent of something Louis and Clark would have started out with. i.e., “You are here…get here…fill in what’s between as you go. Good Luck!”

That might sound coy at first blush however, it’s more relevant and useful for someone who actually wants to get moving and go somewhere rather than waiting for all the drawings (blueprints), materials, and more to arrive before they’re even able to “think” about beginning.

Take a blank sheet of paper. Start from the end first as to put an X in one corner. Then, in the farthest corner away, put an other X with the words; “You Are here.” All that emptiness in the middle? That represents exactly what you’ll encounter. “The great unknown.”

It’s quite possible your path will be a direct straight line with no issues. It’s also quite possible your unknown’s could be filled with references like days of olde: “There be monsters here.” Never the less you won’t know till you start. No blueprint will help you here. It’s a compass that’s the tool for this adventure.

As you start your journey have faith in yourself (yes, faith now – not later) that what ever obstacles you’ll encounter you’ll handle them. And if need be, you’ll get help or training in how to surmount them as to push you further along your route. While always being flexible in your attitude to the possibility as to alter or change your final destination as you see fit. Not just lock yourself into a destination just because you made an X. Life changes, attitudes change, people change, and more.

Allow for flexibility by your own choices to be where your map ends. You just never know where you might end up. You may at some point find yourself thinking: “Hey I like it here, why go further?” Or, get there only to find thoughts of; “What was I thinking I don’t like it here.” Which happens far more often than most ever let on. Let the map evolve. Remember – it’s your map!

Here’s just a couple of examples of people I actually met then watched as they seemingly changed their headings. (Not people I read about like so many others use as examples)

Robert Ellis Orrall. I met him once backstage at a show he was performing at when the sound engineer of my band filled in for his back in the 80’s.

We were all touring the same bars and clubs and Robert at the time was an up and coming star. (We were all edgy or indie rock back then) Robert like all of us did so-so. Yet, he later changed from rock to country. He went from lead singer in a rock band, to one of the more acclaimed songwriters in country music, as well as now being one of the great players in country music today.

Another would be Jon Butcher. I played with Jon when he signed his first major record deal. My band opened for him at what was once the greatest of large venues in our area; The Frolics Lounge at Salisbury Beach where everyone from Sinatra to punk rock played. A huge club that was sold out wall to wall the night of his album release. (Every band in Boston wanted this gig…and there I was!) Jon’s band, The Jon Butcher Axis was about the hottest band out of Boston and was poised for stardom. The band had mild success but Jon is now more famously known as a Grammy nominated writer of music for television and film with such credits in HBO’s Deadwood series, ABC’s Star Trek – Next Generation, CBS’s Ugly Betty, and more.

Then there’s yours truly. I’m not going to bore you with; “Enough about them – let’s talk about me!” I’ll just say as I’m writing this article I was just informed one of my latest articles was found carried on the main site (a Thomson Rueters™ business publication) for lawyers and the law profession with over 2 million active reads or (hits) per month. My original X was music also. But now, here I type while barely able to spell kat without engaging spell checker.

So I’ll ask: Do you think some “blueprint” or “business plan” helped any of us along the way? Or a compass with the willingness to chart a course into the unknown?

I’ll let you be the judge.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr

There Is No Curtain

Just like in that famous scene in the land of Oz when everyone becomes fully aware that it’s only one person pulling the strings, we just witnessed that moment in real life this week. Unlike the movie, there was no attempt to yell: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Rather, it was more akin to, “Let’s remove all doubt and shine a spotlight while we give him great round of applause!”

Of course I’m talking about Ben Bernanke’s appearance before both the House as well as the Senate. However, the truly telling change was what transpired during his House appearance.

Maxine Waters (D) California notorious for holding bankers of any stripe not only in contemptuous disdain. But also once caught mixing her words when excoriating bankers as to “socialize” their banks. It seems she’s possibly received even more than she might have once wished. Complete control of both banks and markets by way of the Federal Reserve.

If you watched the hearing Ms. Waters went out of her way as to not only praise, but rather to lavishly thank him for what he is doing that allows everything to run just ducky. Personally I was a little taken back on her fawning over the number one banker of bankers given her previous mistrust of anyone Wall Street or “bank” related.

Then it hit me. Of course she would. Why wouldn’t one of the most self-proclaimed big government advocates be enamored with what is transpiring? Actually could a bureaucrat ask for anything more? I believe not.

Now this isn’t about Ms. Waters. I only use her as a first reference in what transpired as the week progressed. The question on everyone’s mind from traders, corporate managers, to solo practitioners is this: “Are we a free market economy or not?” The answer to that question of late has been muddied. It’s also quite possible the mud has been removed by using the very curtain they once used so you couldn’t or wouldn’t see behind.

It would seem there’s no need for that curtain any longer so might as well use it for a rag to wipe away the mud. “Nothing to see here” has now become, “We’ve got nothing to hide.” The consequences good or ill are unknown at this moment in time. However if history is any guide. It’ never ends well.

Problem is what ever the consequences no one will be spared impact. Everyone will be affected in one way or another. Business may never be the same. If it’s not already.

Many have argued (and still do) that Bernanke’s involvement in the financial markets was and still is “a good thing.” I would argue that when the Fed first intervened a good argument for it could be made. Even the most vocal critics of anything interventionist could be reasoned with as to why the first actions might have eased some undue pain or pressure as to stabilize an uncontrolled panic.

It’s in the “staying too long at the bar” that has most up in arms. The question of: “Where would we be if he hadn’t intervened?” is the equivalent today as to pondering ones navel. The question of: “Where would we be if he didn’t over stay?” is the only question that is relevant. For everything anyone ever learned or knew about markets or business is jeopardized by the answer to that question. Yes I believe it’s that important.

So many this week were focused on the impending doom known as the Sequester. The markets like so many times before seemed to also notice that once again Europe was in trouble. (Italy being this years catalyst) As the markets abruptly hit reverse pulling away from record highs mayhem could have been right around the corner with the U.S. markets opening taking in the ramifications of a Europe based sell off, topped off with the sequester becoming finalized. And what transpired?

The Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) Ohio came to the podium right as the markets were opening and said: (I’m paraphrasing) “We will introduce legislation to keep the government open past March.” Then abruptly turned around and walked away.

Think he did that because you needed assurance? Or was it now how government “knows” how to influence the markets more efficiently? (Remember how Monti continuously saved the Euro last year?) I’m not saying I’m right, or wrong. I’m just expressing one of those; “Things that make you go hmmm” moments. That’s all.

What happened next as witnessed so many times of late was nearly text-book for these markets that appear no longer “free” but appear blatantly manipulated.

In what seemed like an algo induced HFT (high frequency trading) headline reading, hunt run and kill, stop program that pushed the markets off their lows to not only regain their lost territory, but for some back to lifetime highs. Was that “free market trading?” Or was it more along the lines of “Trading government manipulated markets?”

Either answer is a guess. Which is precisely a problem that has never been experienced in the U.S. of this magnitude. If you’re in business or an entrepreneur of any stripe you should not only be concerned, you should be alarmed. If not – you’re not paying attention. Period. (Here’s an article I wrote in 2009 about exactly this point. It may add some more context for a big picture view.)

How exactly does a farmer hedge crops? Or an airline hedge oil? Or a cereal maker hedge grain costs or more if markets are zig zagging to and fro based on nothing but headline reading government speak based trading by machines fueled with billions of government interventionist monies via transfers from the Fed to dealers? Guess what…You can’t.

All day long the markets seemingly given green lights with the “all clear” statement pushed higher, and higher, and higher as the president came out and painted pictures of fire and brimstone that would now be forced upon the citizenry.

Normally the markets would have reacted to such apocalyptic statements from the President of the U.S. negatively – but not today. Why? I don’t know – but do you? Does anyone?

It’s all speculation or conspiracy and the problem with most conspiracies are the theories. But that’s all one has today. Nothing can be nailed down. It’s all like grasping at smoke. And that’s no way to run a business – let alone a country. (Please save the emails. I don’t care whom is in power, this about business and what it means to that only.)

As people will focus on this politician or that party being messianic or the devil incarnate one of the greatest watchdogs that kept many in line was the voice and power of the markets. Free markets allowed for the voting with one’s pocket-book to not only be heard loud and clear, but kept onerous measures of taxation and more at bay. It can now be argued the “fox” has now laid claim to that house also.

If the markets appearing more and more just extensions of government intervention where winners and losers will be chosen by “who do you know” rather than “how good is your company” what does that mean to business today? How about your business? Can you answer that with clear understanding of the implications that may or may not be felt at this moment? I believe an honest answer to that is – hardly. And once again, that is a different dynamic to business not seen here. Ever.

Taxation of what, where, and how much if at all can be argued for or against. But free markets can not. Without free markets where the marketplace of ideas has a chance to both come to life as well as die is unquestionable. Without free markets you have nothing. But arguing that point to anyone that has never known the world without them is an exercise in futility. They can’t get past some chicken or egg quandary argument as if there is one. There isn’t.

So once again why is this whole argument about markets, taxation, manipulation, and everything else so poignant to entrepreneurs as to what is transpiring today? Easy…

Not that long ago being the C.E.O. of General Motors was once believed more prestigious (as well as important) than being President of the U.S. Not only has the president now become de facto head of GM but, the once great city known as Detroit has also been taken over this week by the state because it has fallen and it can’t get up.

All this while politicians go on multimillion dollar tax payer funded vacations and junkets. Spends billions upon billions of dollars in give a way’s to foreign countries. While its chief executive takes to the podium proclaiming we need more “revenue” or you’ll all be hurt with no meat inspection and more. And the markets rise! I’m sorry but something is terribly wrong because we are definitely “Not in Kansas any longer!”

Not for nothing, but another part of this whole surreal interpretation of impending doom from behind or in front  of curtains just gnawed on me.

Having actually both owned as well as run a meat company that required meat inspectors, taken the test to actually be a meat inspector, was a corporate liaison to the U.S.D.A. I couldn’t help wonder why meat inspectors could be laid off since meat companies pay and fund that program separately via a “fee for service.”

Maybe it’s in the same lock box as the “fees” already paid via gas and road use taxes that are acquired to maintain and fix roads and bridges. Maybe if they just said we need more money to pay for a lock smith to open those boxes an argument for more could be made.

But hey the markets probably went higher on the news that California just let entrepreneurs know that in order to fill those deficits they’re now retroactively taxing them going back 4 years! Sure hope no one thought that money was theirs to keep. That would be a mistake. (Gives “you didn’t build that” a whole new meaning and ring doesn’t it?)

But hey, the markets went up right? So everyone should just forget about anything that makes you go hmmm, and just start humming…

“Don’t worry…Be happy… Don’t worry be happy now..doooooo do do…..

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr

How To Increase Sales That Influence The Bottom Line™

Stop talking price and start speaking in terms of value.

Most customers whether potential or existing focus on one thing: Price.

It’s your job as a professional to move them from price onto the subject of value they’ll receive. Price is meaningless in so many areas. Especially in the a la carte world we’re surrounded by. i.e., “The phone is free!” (However, the contract is for 277.6 years, and if you go over your allotment of time – we come for your head as well as arms and legs.)

As a professional it’s your job to find the value proposition in what ever it is you sell or service. Price is an easy way to not engage in a discussion. Only in a discussion proving your value to their bottom line will you perk their interest in listening to more of what you have to say.

When asked “What’s you price?” don’t be afraid to say: “I don’t know, it depends. Can I ask you a few questions?”
Only then will you have a chance to explain your value as to why they should do business with you. If not; you never had a chance at a real customer – just a price monger.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr