Fundamentals vs It’s Different This Time

As we wake on this Monday morning there seems to be a growing fervor from finger pointers everywhere. If you watch the financial channels, or other news outlets all you’ll see are the so-called “smart crowd” explaining why this matters, that doesn’t, and vice versa. It’s truly pathetic in my opinion.

As many of you know from listening to either my talks, or reading my articles I have been what has seemed to be a lone voice on why listening to these “wizards of smart” will be detrimental to not only your wallet, but too your sanity as well.

Over the last 18 months I have written many times why people needed to be cautious. Why people needed to understand that correlation, and causation are not synonymous. Almost to a person would a conversation (which usually turned combative on their part) about either financial markets, or business be defended by the other party with some statement of finality to shut me down, and to end the conversation e.g.: “Well, it’s different this time.” followed by.. “Just look at the market today. It’s higher right? So obviously you’re wrong.” I’m wondering how confident they feel about their argument today.

As of this writing every single person whom expressed just how much smarter they were than everyone else because they understood the great wizardry expressed by the so-called  “smart crowd”, and their merry band in the “wizards of smart club” are now proven absolutely wrong. Any, and all gains just in the financial markets since the now infamous “Flash Crash” have been wiped out. All the gains from the coveted arguments of why QE2 was a reason I knew nothing, and didn’t “get it” are wiped out. All the reasons, and rationals they put into why things are different this time over the last 18 months have been wiped away clean with fundamentals in just 10 days. Funny how that works isn’t it?

All my reasons, and arguments on why I believed this was a more than likely outcome are documented in my articles. I don’t need nor have to try to say “Hey..I said that!” It’s all here, documented, and with dates so at least for me I needn’t have to use the statement that’s almost as dreaded as the “It’s different” argument.

What statement is that you ask?

“I told you this could happen!”

Mark

© Mark St.Cyr   All Rights Reserved

You Never Know Just Whom You May Be Talking To

I’ve been both humbled, and infuriated at times when speaking with some people. Most times I’ll bet you get just as angry when someone starts talking at you with some superiority complex displayed by every word that seems to dribble from their lips. Usually this gets under ones skin because the person babbling has made no effort in finding out what you might know on any given subject they’re currently filibustering . They display with their attitude, and vernacular that they could care less, because after all, they know everything, or they’re consumed in self-importance.

The complete opposite happens when you’re more interested in what the other party might have to say or know. That is when something interesting or surprising can take place. Not only may you learn something new, you may also learn that the person you thought was just some hired help turns out to have been hired by Presidents, Kings, Queens, and a few other dignitaries that you’ve only seen on television. But that can only happen if you keep your own ego in check.

The other day I was out sight-seeing in my area. There was a building I have seen from the road that is just magnificent. It’s a public building however there are no signs or markers indicating the company or occupants within. As I drove around the lot looking for clues I spotted a man tending to the beautiful gardens at the front of the building. I went over and asked if he could tell me who occupied the building or its purpose. He graciously informed me of the occupants, then he casually pointed out the architecture styling, the reason why it was built to its proportions, and so on. It was a wonderfully explained cliff note of the building. I then commented on how wonderful the gardens looked, and asked if he services other gardens like this, or does this one take up all his time. That’s when I was just about floored. Turns out not only does he maintain this garden, but is responsible for a few others of the most renowned places in this area. Also when royalty, dignitaries, or Presidents come to the area, it is he whom gets the call when anything floral is needed. And at the personal request of some. He was soft-spoken non-braggadocios, just conversationally answering my queries as the exchange went on. On one point when I asked about if dogs can make his work tough because of what they can do to a landscape at times, he laughed and said “Oh no..I love dogs. Besides I also breed a few. Do you know President ________?” I said yes. “Well have you seen his dog _______? That’s one of my dogs.” I was flabbergasted. How interesting this conversation has been I was thinking to myself. (I don’t believe I have the right to state which President, nor the dog in case you’re wondering why the blanks.)

So next time when you think you should pan being polite or cordial to the gardener, maid, or anyone else you profile as being not worth your attention be fore warned.

They might be on a first name basis with the most powerful people on the planet.
Just saying.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights reserved

 

Lessons I Learned From Running

As some of you know I’m an avid runner. I’ve been running on a consistent basis for decades now. (I just had to put that decades thing in) I was thinking the other day on how dealing with the act of running relates to life in general. Here are few things I was pondering:

  • The hardest part I’ve found about running was putting on my shoes. After that, the rest just followed.
  • Not being able to have that extra slice of pizza was harder than running.
  • Run outdoors whenever possible. Given a choice hamsters would not choose the treadmill. Keep yourself away from a cage when ever possible.
  • Run in all-weather conditions. If you wait for only perfect days, you’ll rarely ever run. Don’t wait for perfection.
  • If caught in the rain don’t get mad, you’re giving everyone else something to laugh at. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • If you notice you’re the only one running, is it because you’re that disciplined, or maybe you haven’t seen the crowd that runs while you’re in the shower. Don’t just assume it’s only you doing something.
  • Sometimes running too slow will give you more aches, and pains than running faster. Discomfort might be happening because your holding back.
  • Running uphill can be easier on the joints than running downhill because you are more in control going up. Beware allowing gravity to do your work for you. It can be a double-edged sword.
  • Get hydrated before you start a run as well as after. If you try while you’re running it’ll be too late. Preparation helps avoid pain.
  • If your going to be a dedicated runner, forget trying to buy shoes on the cheap. There are times when you have to bite bullets, and buy the best regardless of how much it goes against your wallet.
  • Ask questions of people who run, and are dedicated just like you. Chances are you’ll both learn something you didn’t know before because both of you want to become even better.
  • Always carry protection. You may know every dog in the neighborhood, but you might not know his new friend. You never know who’ll meet.
  • Not all aches, and pains need to be treated the same. Don’t use them as an excuse as to not do something you know you can.
  • One pass time can give way to another, and at the same time. I never liked reading fiction, but I now have listened to more fiction audiobooks than I have read Non-Fiction in the past year. You can always mix things up, and open new doors.
  • The people who beep at you are not saying hi, they’re trying to see if they can startle you and make you trip. Stupid is, as stupid does.

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights Reserved

Sorry Mr. Immelt, But You are No, and You Don’t Know Jack

Sometimes I read things that make me shake my head. Sometimes I want to scream, and other times I just stand dumbfounded at the sheer stupidity displayed by some CEO’s.

I remember in 2008 when Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis was giving interviews, and speeches during the financial crisis. He displayed over, and over again sheer arrogance on his summations of why BofA under his leadership was the smartest bank ever known to mankind. Within 12 months he was shown the door with a boot mark clearly visible on the back of his pants. The mess left is still so toxic it might rival the cleanup efforts needed at the crippled nuclear plant in Japan.

General Electric has been a fixture of American business as long as anyone can remember. For much of that time it has been a shining star of American capitalism, and innovation. For many the CEO job at GE was the equivalent if not even more coveted a goal than becoming President of the USA. That is saying something. Period.

One of the reasons why GE enjoys some of the success it has today was because of the leadership, and tutelage of Jack Welch. Mr. Welch was all about business. He had an uncanny ability to move a multi-national conglomerate powerhouse of a company with ideas, and business plans that many were written on the back of a napkin, or a discussed over coffee, and a handshake. He understood how to “cut the crap” out of all the “BS” in most business plans, make people accountable, get it implemented, and if it didn’t work jettison the project, and move on. Mr. Immelt seems more akin to the Ken Lewis model than the Welch model, and here’s why….

Mr. Immelt appears more, and more to want to explain or talk, rather than do, and implement. It was noticed early on however it’s now becoming glaringly apparent that he knew the “politics” on how to get the job. Not the politics of “doing” the job. He’s looking, and talking like a politician more, and more, and more. It must be wonderful to be seen on television laughing with the President, and others on some committee that you are chairing while the ideas you’re coming up with have been dismal failures. Another laugh a minute must be the meetings you’re having in the boardroom on how the shares of GE have just been pummeled since you’ve taken over the helm. Is it not out of a SNL skit that you are just silent when everyone within your seemingly new coveted political protegé’s mouths are calling for what will surely decimate one of GE’s most innovative divisions? (remember GE makes Jet engines) How about defending GE’s reputation against the implied “Tax Scandal?” (insert crickets here) Better yet when you do want to speak you’ll go out and do speeches at venues like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and tell everyone that they should basically stop complaining about government, and get out and do more business. Hey Mr. Immelt, want to try to start a new GE from the ground up in today’s economic, and regulatory environment? Think you could do it? I’ll put dollars to doughnuts you couldn’t. So please, enough already.

Jack Welch was a true business leader, and has become an icon with his “Straight from the Gut” approach to doing true business. Every time I see or hear anything that comes from Jeffrey Immelt it seems more, and more like ” A Kick to the N_ts” for business. With CEO’s like Mr. Immelt, who needs politicians.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights Reserved

Your Business Future on Facebook and Others. Just Look to your Local Mall

People have asked me about my viewpoints for doing business on social media platforms in general. The question starts out something like this…“Where do you think it will be in the next 10 years?”  “Who will be #1 in five or ten years?”  or “Should I integrate my business on one?” I believe the only honest answer is “Who knows?” People are looking for answers to something that is almost unquantifiable. We act as if these juggernauts have been around forever. I have to remind people at times to remember they didn’t even exist just 5 years ago. Based on that alone it’s hard to extrapolate where they will be just 6 months from now. But the more I look at the way they are behaving, and setting up their business practices, the more it’s beginning to look like something many of us have seen before…. “The Mall.”

If you think about it coming from this viewpoint, it’s not as far-fetched as it may seem. What a mall did was create a social environment within a shopping experience. It displaced the stand alone retailer or downtown shopper by creating a destination experience. It also created a closed loop system where the mall operator controlled everything all the way down to even extracting a percentage of your sales in the register. If you wanted to be in the mall you paid dearly for that opportunity. Your customers were no longer truly “your” customers any longer, they were in essence “The Malls.” You were just a business paying for the opportunity to have access to “The Malls” shoppers. Want to change the layout or look of your business? You’ll need approval first. Want access to the data or customers that come into the mall so you can mine it? Forgetaboutit! Are you starting to see the similarities?

So what about some of the others? If one looks like a mall what might others resemble in the future? What if we looked at Google’s® attempt into social media the way we view Walmart®. A giant dominant player with vast resources where you can find anything you need 24/7.  A stand alone building (think network) that doesn’t need to be in some pricey borough so it can offer everything to everybody, and do it cheaply. The trick for you will be to get some form of shelf space, But! (and it’s a big but) Will you just be piled in with millions of others that did the same thing because it was “cheap and easy?” How will you be able to differentiate from the others? Or better yet, can you? If you’re a business looking on how you want to incorporate social media to build your business I believe viewing it from this perspective can give you some clarity. If you want to be a mall based company you wouldn’t waste your time trying to look like or sell to Walmart® would you? If you enjoy or you prefer the independence to be your own stand alone business where your customers are “your” customers rather than being at the mall or in some superstore you would also plan differently wouldn’t you?

Just like the malls certain media outlets will be overrun with teenagers, and alike. And would that help or hinder your business?  Or will they be the very customers you need to attract, or the very customer you need to avoid? How about the superstore? Do you want to be just another vendor on a superstore shelf selling whatever to whoever for whatever? Do you want to be in a strip mall, plaza, or your own building? There are different outlets of social media that resemble these also. I believe if you look at social media through this lens you just might get a little more clarity on where, and how you should be developing your business while at the same time clearing out the clutter that can be overwhelming or unquantifiable.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Thinking Aloud… Episode 5 “It’s Different This Time?”

Thinking Aloud features spontaneous insights (or rants) hosted by Mark on current events. They’re posted here when the inspiration hits, but for those who’ve asked, “I wonder what Mark thinks?” Well..here’s the place to find out. These are short, poignant off the cuff podcasts, or vidcasts that are delivered in typical Mark fashion. No holds barred, no retakes, just …

“Mr. Engineer….Please Hit Record!”

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

When Talent Can Hinder Your Performance

Sounds crazy, but sometimes it can, but not for the reasons you may think at first blush.

Talented people in any pursuit have one thing in common. If they ‘know’ they are good they will more often than not under prepare. If they don’t ‘know’, some will over prepare stifling the talent portion for pure adherence to mechanics. In other words, they don’t allow the flow (aka talent) to be realized in their endeavors.  A lot of very talented people also do something far too often. They rely too much on their talent, and procrastinate or just never work on any self improvement believing they can pull rabbits out of the air when needed. They do this because they’ve done it so many times before. More often than not, this continually reinforces itself because most stay within their comfort zone. But once they find themselves in a situation out of the so-called comfort level, the talent shows itself to be not enough, and they falter, or choke.

The hardest point to get across to the talented individual is the concept of basic fundamental improvements. That’s because the talented person believes they have the basics mastered. They reason, if they didn’t, how could they be so talented? And there lies the quagmire.

Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics years back was arguably one of the best shooters in basketball. However, not only was he good, he was good when he needed to be. When everything was on the line. Why? Was it because of talent? Sure it was but was that all of it? Larry I believe knew that he was talented. But unlike most of his day, Larry was always to be found out on the court hours before any game shooting baskets when only the cleaning crew was around. No coaches, no other team mates, just himself most of the time. He didn’t rely on just his talent to get him through his games, he lived, and breathed the fundamentals. He became so proficient in shooting that when he was asked to do a commercial for a soft drink, and the skit was for him to miss a shot he couldn’t! He was so wired from practicing that there were stories about the camera crew laughing because it took him more than a few throws to miss.

When you rely on your talent alone, and the time comes to make the big shot or what ever needs to be accomplished, you want your fundamentals to be as much a part of you as your talent. You always want to have a “success game plan” running even when you’re not trying or thinking about it. This is when it becomes “you”, just as much as your talent, and the two together can produce incredible results. But if you rely on talent, and talent alone, you’re more than likely to choke in the big game of life.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr   All Rights Reserved

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