The Assumptions of Assumed Perfection

Saying that today’s world is far different from yesterdays is not only obvious, it’s an understatement. But what I see as strikingly obvious is how so many take the attitude that everything today, no matter what it is will work perfectly all the time, anywhere. I’m not just talking about technology, or if you have a dropped call. I mean everything.

It was not that long ago if you were taking a road trip by car you would do a full inspection checking tires, making sure the spare was usable, the oil, and everything else that would top any one of today’s service calls. You could never assume that help was just a phone call away because it wasn’t. Usually, there were no phones. Having an array of tools for either your house, or apartment was also just a given. If something broke (and it usually happened in the dead of night) you had to try to fix it with what you had on hand. There were hardware stores of course, but there wasn’t a 24 hour home improvement center, or Walmart® to run to.

I know people today that will get in their car and drive 100 miles in the winter, and have nothing more than a sweater with them. When questioned, the response usually goes something like… “The coat’s too heavy to wear on such a long drive, I want to be comfortable, besides the car has a heater you know.” Yes it does. As long as the car doesn’t stop running for any reason, or you get stuck somewhere. And what happens if you have to walk somewhere to find help? That “comfort” feeling will be long gone as soon as you start. Today, many will hop in a car to drive cross-country, and not even give a second thought to having any troubles on the road. People just assume everything, everywhere will work with no hiccups. You can also see this when you travel by air. Just look at how many people you’ll see either boarding, or disembarking from an air plane in tongs, or some form of flip-flops. You might say, “Oh well it’s so much easier going through security.” I’ll grant you that, but you are traveling on something that can have problems, very big problems. I’ll venture to say as you’re trying to make sure your fashion wear stays on your feet, the people who have on shoes will be vaulting over you as you’re looking for the one that fell off.

Everything we buy, touch, or use today has this implied assumed perfection built into it. Sometimes it all works as promised, but when it doesn’t it can be a little more unsettling than just an inconvenience. You can have very big problems.

You can’t carry a rescue bag with you everywhere you go. Nor can you have a perfect plan for every emergency. But what you can do is remember things break, and usually break at the most inopportune times. If you just get that thought back into your lexicon, I feel you’ll be prepared more than most. You’ll intuitively make sure you have something you may rely on for getting you out of trouble.

Even if that something, is yourself.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights reserved

A Lesson in PR… Not All Advice Is Good Advice

In today’s world people from pop stars to the boardroom executive try to control what others perceive of them. This not only goes for people, but also for places, brands, and so on. Would it be unreasonable for one to estimate that politicians would have some of the keenest instincts on public perception. Would it be crazy to imagine that they knowing how anything can be turned into a negative from a positive faster than a nano second ( I’m not sure if a sound bite is even that long) that they of all of us would understand this, and would display skills that one would envy?

Across the headlines for the last few weeks we had a disgraced Congressman. His downfall was not entirely his actual deeds, but more or less his handling of the matter. For anyone who followed this train wreck that was splashed across both national, and international media outlets, it seemed although his acts were tawdry, it was more on how he tried to handle his PR. (public relations) Not only was it horrific, it seemed he was trying to demonstrate “The Lesson” in what not to do. I would have to guess somewhere, someone was giving him advice, and by that I mean paid advice. Can anyone imagine a politician doing something without asking a paid adviser “How will this poll?” I can’t.  One might also think he was a person of limited resources, and probably couldn’t afford better advisers, and that would be a fair point. So to quote Emeril LaGasse “Let’s kick it up a notch!”

All this month reports on the economy have been dismal. A problem for any politician is the reports are a direct reflection on their handling of the matters at hand. Doesn’t matter if you agree to the fairness of the charges, public perception is the reality for the people at the top. Doesn’t matter if they hold the title CEO or Mr. President. So let me repeat again…perception is reality! So why one might ask would anyone with the resources to have the worlds best advisers allow themselves to not only be caught looking like they were out of touch, but actually promoting it!

Just imagine yourself seated in any boardroom as someone rolls off these bullet points.

  • Sales are off much more than anticipated. Not only are they down but they are showing further declines with no signs of rebounding.
  • Our competitors are gaining market share at such speed that they are negotiating better terms with our suppliers than we can.
  • Our bank has notified us that they are reducing our lines of credit, and they are looking to increase our debt service charge in 90 days.
  • We have just been notified the loans on our hard assets have been acquired by our largest competitor because the banks that previously held them has since been liquidated for being insolvent.
  • Operating expenses such as utilities, fuel, and inventory supplies are rising with seemingly no end in sight.
  • Workers at all our facilities are uneasy, and fear layoffs or worse. The over-riding theme when employees are asked is the response of, “I feel they are out of touch at the top.”

So with this broad overview someone in a perfectly tailored suit gets up, pulls out a laser pointer, asks for the lights to be dimmed, and states the following as the Powerpoint® presentation roars to life…

“What will quell the frustration, and fears throughout both the company, and our valued customers is…wait for it….a GOLF OUTING!” Yes ladies, and gentlemen there is nothing that says business to the common man as the top executives playing a round of golf. What we’ll do is have the CEO, the COO, along with the CFO, and the General Manager play a foursome on one of the best golf courses money can buy. Along with this we’ll not only allow the press, but we’ll encourage them to cover it as many times as they can along with up to the minute scores, jokes, and fairway banter. Ladies, and gentlemen, I contend nothing demonstrates leadership more through tough times than a round of golf!”

It’s as comical as it is tragic. Because it seems someone actually said, “Yes…That’ll work!”

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

The “Heads Down Display”

I speak to a lot of people on a range of topics. But what I’m realizing more, and more these days, is there may be a test you can self administer on whether you’re really heading in the right direction in both business, and your personal life. Let’s call it a “correlation.” or if you prefer we can use the term “causation.” Both terms have different meanings, however the outcome for the individual is the same in my opinion. So what’s the test?

Do you walk with your head up looking forward at people, places, and things? Or do you walk with your head down while texting, surfing, or anything else you can do on a phone these days? Here’s another variation on the same theme. Do you sit across from a person at a table, and engage in conversation? Or do you have your head down checking your phone every 30 seconds waiting to see the next twit, tweet, or update so you can immediately, twit, tweet, or update a response? Sad to say, but I think too many people can’t pass this test. I am also becoming convinced of late that it just might be the equivalent of showing a persons “caliber” as what one thinks quietly when seeing someone at a black tie event showing up in shorts, and flip-flops. Yes, I really think it’s that telling.

People argue the need to “be in touch” with the same furor one hears if talking politics or religion. The younger the person the more the eyes roll as in “you just don’t get it.” Problem is, I believe I do get it. This is not a new phenomena if looked through the eyes of time. It’s only a different tool, allowing for the same behavior. In other words, not paying attention, and willing to fill ones time with mindless tasks, while having no regard whether the behavior is unproductive, or impolite. I don’t care who you are, or how important you think you are. There is no reason why you should be on the phone talking while at the counter of any business making a transaction. There is also no reason except to display that you might have been abducted by aliens, and under mind control if you’re walking around with a blue light flashing in your ear while carrying on a conversation to what appears empty space. To those of you shopping, it looks like you’re talking to the mannequins. (Which makes you look oh so intelligent. Just saying.)

Technology has changed everything, and at a breakneck speed. It has also ushered in a time like never before that busy work can look like real productivity. And people who argue the most about how productive they are, in reality, are only being productive at looking busy. And they are professionals in that discipline.

If you are trying to get more out of the day, or more out of life I suggest you turn off your phone at times. I personally don’t turn mine on 1/2 the time, and if I need to be accessible for any reason, that’s what voice mail is for. If it’s important, I’ll get the message.

If you want to be really productive, or not look foolish while you’re surfing, texting, and chewing gum. There’s an App that let’s you see where you’re going while you’re looking down. This way you don’t bump into those of us that are watching where both we, and you are heading. Then again, just having the App might mean taking the test is not needed. You’d already have the results.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Adventures in Stupidity, Better Know as Advertising

As one of my favorite comedians Joan Rivers would say...”Can we talk?”

Lately I’ve noticed a commercial playing on the financial news channels, and every time I see it I shake my head and think...”Who decided this was a good use of resources?” Or better yet, what “committee?”  These commercials are in a heavier rotation on cable than a Lady Gaga song is on the radio. The only difference for the rotation is people want to hear Ms. Gaga. These commercials get so much air time because there is more free time available than paying advertisers, but that’s another column.

I don’t want to embarrass the company by naming them, nor am I making a statement on how I feel about one side or the other. This is about what I see as just foolish. Or spending dollars on advertising to customers that hate you. Think I’m kidding?

The commercial tries to be high brow. It shows the “Big Company” telling its story on how they are doing this or that, and why you should be impressed. In a split screen shot, it shows what you are to take as a customer making statements on how, and what the company needs to do with its resources, money, and development of products that would put the company out of business if it did. Oh yes. it sounds like someone might have a point, but they don’t. The reason…If the so-called customer portrayed in the commercial had their way, they would put the company out of business, and cheer about it. You don’t have to take my word for it, all you have to do is listen to the wonderful dialogue some writer drafted up. It goes something like this (warning the words have been changed to protect someones job, though I would fire them myself.) “I think the big stone companies should start making plastic pebbles because once you crush stone you can’t put them back together.” then the Big Company comes on and says..”Well we’ve created more rock than anyone else since the big bang, and we’re creating more everyday.” only to hear the other side state something on the idea of, “What do they do with the money they make from stone…We need that money.” only to hear some diatribe about how the big stone company reinvested in the community. All I know is please make this foolishness stop!

The customer that the company is trying to win over hates their company, what they stand for, and buys their product only because they have to. If they didn’t there would be no amount of money you could spend to convince them your nice, and friendly. It’s a pathetic waste of time, resources, and capital. If you’re going to spend money on advertising why not spend it on your true customers, like the customers that buy your product, or the customers that buy your competitor’s product. Ge’ez who’d a thunk it?

You will never change a customer’s mind that can’t stand you or your business. But you just might get the customers who enjoy the benefits of your products to help in changing their minds if it can be changed at all. But you first have to get rid of the committee that thinks it’s a good idea to neglect your paying customers, for customers that want you to pay them for not using your products.

Maybe the advertising committee needs to see a commercial about a more important renewable resource…Happy paying customers.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Lament at the Movie Theater

Hollywood is complaining more, and more about theater attendance dwindling. Research is showing year over year the trend is going lower. Movie viewership dropped from an average of 5 movies seen per year, to 4.2 movies now. That’s near a 20% drop.

But is it for the reasons they claim? Going to the movies used to be a family event. For some it was the requisite date night for both single, and married couples. But the last time I went, I just about wanted to either scream or walk out. The reason? Telephones, and NO manners.

I’ve talked about this with others, and the first response is usually “I know , the kids are just unruly these days.” But I take issue with that response.  It’s not just the kids. Granted, the teenagers (and an increasingly larger number of adults!) of today seem to have far fewer skills on how to act in public. But kids have always been to some extent distracting in the theater, that’s why you would go at different times when you could assume the chances of a packed movie house of teenagers was low. So what about now? Enter the wonderful world of “Dim the Lights…and Light Up those Phones!”

Since when did this uncontrollable urge to text, talk, tweet, and so forth every time the world goes silent for more than 4 seconds come from? And why do people not think that it’s just down right rude. It sure doesn’t enhance my movie experience when the people on both sides of me start glowing from the light coming off their phones. I feel like I’m experiencing what it must be like in the world of Tron. Or better yet, how about when the movie gets to an important scene where you’re on pins, and needles. Just then you hear the vibrating phone from the person next to you go off, and they start to chuckle as they read the mysterious glow emanating from their lap. Better yet is the person a few rows away that gets the call with a ring tone blaring “I Gotta Be Me!” that has the same decibel level of a Boeing 747. The real kicker is when this charming person can’t find where they put this shrieking loudspeaker, and now make more noise than the device stating “Where is it? I can’t find it! Oh this is embarrassing!”   Yeah..I bet.

With the advent of today’s home theater components you just don’t need the theater for the “experience” that it once gave. In most cases the biggest experience at the movies is no longer the attractions, but the distractions. What the theaters nor Hollywood are getting in my opinion, is they are not losing attendees because of the lack of interest in movies. They’re losing patrons who are interested, and actually want to go see a movie. Once this is truly realized maybe things will change, but I’m not holding my breath.

This is the same crowd that decided popcorn, and candy should cost a years salary after all.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

In case you wanted to know what I was thinking….

About a week ago everyone wanted to tell me how I just didn’t get Linked In. All were touting, “It’s different this time.” And I had no idea what I was talking about on such companies.

Fair enough…but I would like to submit “Exhibit A”…Just for the record.

They were right. It was different this time. It happened quicker than I first thought.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Don’t Worry I’m a Professional

I remember when “Don’t worry, I’m a professional” was everywhere. It was a catch phrase in movies, and was even cited by others like the plumber right before he was about to cut a 3 foot trough out of your kitchen floor. It was said to ease your concern. You know, that look of concern you give that says… “Are you serious?”  (for some there maybe a few colorful adjectives thrown in also.) But it was all in all meant to show there wasn’t a need for worry because of their expertise in such matters. However there is another professional but they want the exact opposite effect for you. They are the “It’ll never work” crowd.

You might think this group does it more as a hobby, or some might say a blood sport, but you would be incorrect in those assumptions. Oh yes, there might be a few, (family members fit into this category) but the vast majority are at every pay scale in business. More often than not they’ll be right along side you because many will either be people you work with, or just associate with. And as you climb up the ladder the faces may change, but their job description won’t. It seems they can work in any given occupation because when it comes to reinventing a program, changing protocols for efficiency, or looking at new ways to do just about anything, the first words out of their mouths are “It’ll never work.”  And as long as they are able to collect their pay check on Friday it can be chalked up to another job well done by this group. These people are paid professionals and they take their job very serious. Think I’m kidding? How well have you done in trying to change their viewpoints? How well did you do in defense of your idea so that one changed and stated  “Hey! That’s fantastic! Lets do it right now!” Not too often would be my first guess. But lest we forget, we are dealing with professionals here.

There is a key defense for the person who is surrounded by this seemingly endless onslaught of professionals. Don’t listen to them and start making plans today to bring your thoughts and visions to light. You may need to change jobs. You might need to move. You’ll have to consider if hanging out with the same crowd is helping or hurting regardless of the years in association. These are choices only you can decide to act on, but they are your choices none the less. If you want to make the world pay off on your terms, (and you can!) then it’s your job to not take their advice and do it any way.

You can trust this information is sound. After all, I’m a professional.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Didn’t I move here for the weather?

As some of you know I moved from New England a few years back, and relocated in Kentucky. Anyone who asks us why we picked KY is stunned at the answer I give, “Basically, we threw a dart at the map.” Sounds made up, but trust me it’s the truth.

Weather is usually the main reason some people move I believe. Especially if you lived your life with snow. Snow is a beautiful, wonderful experience. I have had the pleasure of having my wife’s family on a holiday who have never in their life seen snow. ( They’re from Costa Rica) It’s amazing how grown adults can become almost childlike when a thick white blanket of powdery snow falls for hours. It truly is a sight to behold. But when the festivities are over, and its time to break out the shovels, snow blower, ice pick, rock salt, hook up the plow, clear paths for the cars, mailman, garbage men, meter readers, and so-forth. It gets old fast because just after you’re done, it either snows again the next day or the city plows come every hour like clock work to block your driveway once again with snow you swear they imported from another street just to tick you off. Anyone who has dealt with it are reading this and nodding thinking “yep!” So you decide enough is enough, and off you go for greener pastures…literally!

When we originally moved here the weather was better than we ever expected. It was warm during the day in March, and we didn’t even need to turn our heat on until almost Thanksgiving. For us our previous normal was…Quick..it’s Memorial Day you can leave the parka at home for 10 weeks till Labor Day. And so went the cycle again of another 42 weeks of cold, snow, rinse, repeat. But a funny thing has happened since we’ve moved. The beautiful weather we enjoyed our first year has turned into what one can only describe as Geeeeeeeeeez! What’s up with this?

Over the last couple of years we have had record freezing temperatures. We have also had unprecedented ice storms, drought, record rainfall, tornadoes. and a slew of other weather phenom I believe I’ll need a meteorologist degree to explain. Just in the past 2 weeks our weather emergency radio has gone off more times than our alarm clock. Yesterday we had our 346th severe warning alert for this year. Need I remind anyone its only May! Last week my wife and I watched the forming of a tornado that was approximately no further away then a 1/4 mile. For all intents and purposes to us it looked like it was across the street. What amazed us both as we were readying ourselves to run for the basement was how still and quiet everything was. Luckily it never touched down, but if you’ve never seen it first hand, words can’t describe the sight nor the feeling we had standing there. Something I hope never to see again. All that said I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Weather patterns change, then they change again. At least for us most snow storms here are 3 inches, and time after time it put the locals into a panic. Being from New England, that doesn’t even qualify for gloves.

Shoveling, plowing, keeping paths clear now a days? No thanks, I’ll take rain, wind, ice and a maintenance crew on call any day thank you very much!

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Just to give you an idea of what I mean……

This picture was taken the day I left my hometown in April. Just 2 day later I was in 83 degree weather signing on my new residence.

This picture was taken the day I left my hometown in April. Just 2 days later I was in 82 degree weather signing on my new residence.Snow can beautiful, or a pain, need I say more?

Is the Future Rhyming with the Past once again?

Back in the 1990’s many will remember the glory days of the NASDAQ. Computers were basically new, and everywhere you turned someone was starting a company, and then selling out for a gazillion dollars. It was a great time for many, and there were great advances. But then came the companies that “seemed like” they were the next big thing. We saw a plethora of companies that were getting money thrown at them hand over fist just because they had a great domain name. (remember Pets.com?) A great sounding name was the key because if you had the catch phrase, easy to remember .com spelling, and a memorable mascot or icon, well success was then guaranteed right? Business model be damned. Don’t worry about that. This is a new era, and demands “New” thinking. All that other “business” stuff will work its way out over time. And shortly after that we all remember what happened, don’t we?

We once again might be looking at history repeating, or shall I say rhyming? I don’t know if I’m correct, but my observations of a few critical factors are telling me there is something very, very, very important to watch coming up.

LinkedIn will be offering its IPO to the general public Thursday. It will be greeted by all the press with great fanfare. However, there are a few keys that may demonstrate the fallacy in the valuations for not only LinkedIn, but the whole social media company genre. Valuations for these companies are based on linear extractions of the prices paid by the so-called “Smart Money” who invest first, and is not open to the general public. The IPO is not based on the business model, but more on what the smart money thinks you will pay. So far, they have raised the price up, and increased the offering because they believe people will be clamoring to get in. What if it doesn’t go as well as thought? What are the implications? Here’s where it could get a little tricky just like the 90’s. Why? All the “Big Boy’s” are right behind it like Facebook just to name the obvious. Currently Facebook is said to be worth gazillions of dollars. But again, those valuations are based on what someone “thinks” its worth. Not what people have actually purchased in shares. And just like in real business, it only matters what someone will pay, and that the check clears. All else is irrelevant.

Remember General Motors IPO? That went off with great fanfare. It was said to be worth so much more than they were going to let you the general public get in on. They set what was heralded as such a fantastic buying opportunity that if you didn’t get in now, you would never get a chance again because people were lining up to buy. Well they did buy…and then they sold, and they’re still selling. You can today buy GM shares as of this writing at a 10% discount than the price they said you might never see again. There just might be more truth in their statement than at first blush.

If LinkedIn goes well, they’ll be partying to be had like it’s 1999. If it goes badly, it will be tears around, just like 1999.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

What the “King’s Speech” should mean to You

Movies can be entertaining of course. But there are times although not by intention, they can shine a light on subject matter that bears reflection.

In the movie the King’s Speech, the dynamics between the main characters  (the King, and his speech therapist) reflects an underlying state of contention in the real world that one side (because of title) is an embodiment of superiority, while the other who has demonstrated talents is regarded as inferior because they lack some moniker of worthless alphabet soup following their name. Let me be clear before some of you with degrees starting yelling at your screens. There are times when actual legal attributes are necessary. If you’re a doctor than yes. However, if you’re the “Love Doctor” you can’t (nor is it legal) use the title of Dr. preceding your name unless you have the requisite degrees, and licenses. This of course goes for lawyers, and others that society has required must pass a degree of proven competence with testing, and certifications before interacting with the general public as to protect that same public. If you’re a doctor, lawyer, or architect just to name a few, and I can either go to jail, get crushed in a building, or die by your advice, you can bet I not only want, but will demand to see your credentials. However, most get caught up in “looking like” they are something they’re not, rather than demonstrating what they are, or what they can do to solve a clients problem. Joining some organization (or paying for most) for the sole intention of adding letters to your title so you may appear smart is just plain dumb in my book.

In the movie there is a dramatic scene. There is a confrontation between the King, his therapist, and the Bishop. This analogous scene plays out in more boardrooms than one can count. It’s also where most who have been in the position of the therapist fold like a cheap suit. Why? Because they invest more time in how their business card appears, or how important their title sounds rather than demonstrating what they can actually do to help a client. This is nothing more than an inferiority complex for most acronym seekers. It also cuts the other way for clients seeking results. Many think just because there is some alphabet soup after the person’s name they are competent. And if not, and are later called out for not hiring someone of “caliber” by their peers, they’ll  have what they believe to be some form of defense for their decision. Both situations come from the same convoluted weighting on the importance of monikers, or worthless attributes. In the real world today, yesterday, and tomorrow only one thing has merit, Results!

You must be ready to argue your value proposition to the client. And that proposition must be something that is deliverable, or transferable. Not some pie in the sky no matter what happens you can spin it as a job well done, and collect a check. You should be ready to defend your dignity, reputation, and repute to any mudslinging or any self anointed elite no matter where you are, and more importantly no matter who they are. It is irrelevant that someone holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and you may have never graduated high school. If the subject is about selling, and you’re a skilled and competent salesperson with a track record, the smartest person in that room will be You! And you had better get rid of the inferiority complex that allows you to be intimidated if the Ph.D. crowd at the board meeting start demeaning your lack of schooling. You need to argue your value, and demonstrate your skills, or decide that you’re wasting your breath, and politely end the meeting, and leave. If you don’t see yourself as a peer, and an expert in your own field, just as capable, just as competent to argue the good, the bad, and the ugly in your chosen vocation, then no amount of letters after your name will make a damn bit of difference.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr All Rights Reserved