Sunday, November 30, 2008

8K race and Black Friday.

My outlook on the economy brightened some from the good sales on "Black Friday" in the US. Typically this is a huge day for retail. Sales were up 3% over last year. Much of the talk is that this is bad. It is not. Any growth is great.

I view the economy as a "condition". Something to be worked around. There are always opportunities regardless of external "conditions". Tough conditions can bring out the best in people and companies.

Speaking of conditions. I ran an 8 K (5 miles) trail race yesterday. The conditions were about the freezing mark. Most of the snow was tramped into slippery almost ice. There were sections of loose snow also. The route consisted of 4 loops. The better runners all had spikes. I am not going to get spikes for one trail race per year but I might try Yak Trax next year.

My plan was simple. 1/2 K slow to get a feel for it then speed up at every 500M mark. Of course that was foiled by the time I got to the first marker. There were too many people. And then I hit some hills. The downhills, I was worried about slipping and the uphills were hills (I knew I should have trained more). My time was 43:05 or about 5:23 per K. I can easily run 8 K in under 40 on a treadmill and on a good day in under 37:30. But the conditions...

Overall, it was a great day for a race. Despite what I consider to be a slow time, I am sore today.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Delayed Gratification and the Economy

I am trying to figure out how to deal with the current turbulent times. Today is a key day in US retail - Black Friday. Hopefully we will see strong sales.

Overall, I am a business optimist. We recover from all down cycles eventually. I actually find this an inspirational time to be in business. I wrote about this at the Create Business Growth Blog.

Books can have opposite views on what is going to happen with the economy. I think that sums up where everyone stands and that uncertainty adds to the crisis itself.

One book, "The Sub-prime Solution" by Robert J. Shiller talks about what got us into the problem.

It boils down to a failure by people to delay gratification which I have blogged about. We have great respect for people who delay their gratification. There has even been the famous marshmallow study. Children were given a marshmallow and told if they did not eat it when they were in the room alone that they would be given another marshmallow so they would have two. The study showed that those who did not eat the first marshmallow were more successful in life than those who ate the one in front of them rather than waiting for second one.

Unfortunately I see this in my business life where people who can't delay gratification tend not to be very successful. Instant gratification is the same challenge we sometimes have with people who get paid on Thursdays (they go out and get drunk) and miss work on Fridays.

The thesis of the book was the current meltdown in the financial market was equivalent to the repatriation crisis in Germany after the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI. The repayments that Germany was asked to provide were so onerous that ultimately WWII happened.

The author makes a parallel between that and the real-estate bubble particularly in the U.S. In the United States everyone was promised the right to own homes. Now that trust has been broken.

If you are feeling too cheerful, this is a great book to read.

The other book that had a more depressing name, "The Return of Depression Economics" by Paul Krugman examined what happened in the 1930s and made comparisons to today. The gist of it is that the crisis now will not be a depression because the current economy and countries are much stronger.

The investor panic that has hit is just that - it is panic and over reaction and in the medium term everything will return to "normal".

Read this one if the current economy has you depressed.

The titles of the books are opposite to their message.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Successful People Do Tough Things

My CEO Blog was nominated to the Canadian Blog Awards. Blatant plug - please vote for it here.

Successful People Do Tough Things

We respect people who do tough things and every job has some tough things that need to be done.

If we think about who we respect, it tends to be people who are great like athletes, or people who are highly educated like doctors, etc. Most of this involves a great deal of discipline and perseverance. We respect these people because they have been successful at doing tough things.

One of my mantras that I repeat often is, "Successful people do tough things." Simply saying this helps me to push myself to do the tough things that need to be done to succeed.

Saturday I ran an 8K trail run. This is quite different than the running I usually do so I am sore. It was snowy, icy, windy and cold. Good time to use "Successful People do Tough Things". There is the wintercross race next Saturday morning which I am entered in so I figure running the trail once might be a good idea.

I am entered in Canada's fittest CEO challenge to raise money for sick kids. No illusions of winning that one with only 2 months to go. But I am a bit competitive so will kick into gear.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Paradox of Success

I am deeply saddened to learn my older brother, Mark, has cancer. Mark was my protector when I was young and is the glue that holds the Estill brothers together. He is young, feisty and strong. He has the best sense of humour of anyone I know. All characteristics needed to win the fight.

This weighs heavy on my mind.

Changing topics:

Success Paradox

People are a lot like companies, once they think they are good they tend to stop listening. Success can lead to stopping growth and learning.

This can create a success paradox. The more successful a person is, the less willing people are to tell them the truth and at the same time, the less willing they tend to be to listen and learn.

For people and companies to thrive, they need to know that they are not that good; they need to continually thrive to be better.

Arrogance can be the downfall of successful people or successful companies. Perhaps arrogance is a self correcting mechanism.

Just an observation: One challenge this constantly "not good enough" can lead to is a lack of celebration of success.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Calculated Risk

I am noticing more focus on risk these days when I read/study governance and boards of directors' material as well as the documents I receive from accounting firms. Many seem to approach this as "risk is bad".

As an entrepreneur, I believe that part of my job is to take risks and I think we have to be cautious not to become a business culture where we tolerate no risks. Success in business will be had only by taking calculated risks.

I have often said, "Fail often, fail fast, fail cheap" because having small failures is the best way to experiment to determine what will be the best business successes.

Of course my analysis would be if there is risk to make sure that the fail cheap part is followed. What this means is that you are not necessarily risking the entire company and that any risk that is taken is recoverable.

It also involves entrepreneur pessimism which is not a very common characteristic. Most entrepreneurs are highly optimistic so tend to look only at the upside. By looking at the downside, you are able to structure things such that the downside is not as painful. This should be the only role that risk management has. Risk management should not take the role of preventing companies from taking risk.

I also do understand that part of the role in risk assessment is for disclosure. I am seeing risks from floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and the sky falling added to the risk list so the disclosure becomes almost meaningless because no one has time to sift through to figure out what the real business risks are.

I will also say that equity investors need to understand that they are investing in equity so there is risk.

I plan to invest my money with executives who plan on taking risks. Without risks, companies will not be able to thrive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Drunkard's Walk

On the weekend I read an awesome book (you might not like it as much as me; but I have always had a fascination with probability). The book was called "The Drunkard's Walk - How Randomness Rules Our Lives," by Leonard Mlodinow.

It refreshed my memory on the many aspects of probability and how people tend to be irrational and not consider the true probability of things happening.

A good understanding of probability can help with proper decision making. A poor understanding of probability can lead to fallacies.

The biggest example of this would be gambling addictions where people start to believe that they can have an influence on the outcome of random events. For example, continuing to play slot machines on the theory that if they haven't paid for a while, they will pay more even though the outcome of every slot machine pull is the same as the start of the pull as in any other pull.

I was also reminded that often small samples can be taken which that can be very statistically accurate on the views on a large population.

One example the probability of two people in a room having the same birthday is over 50% if there are only 23 people in the room. Of course to get 100% probability you would need to have 184 people in the room (that takes into account leap year).

It also talked about people's view of fate or destiny and how sometimes that can cloud people's view of randomness.

The book starts with a captivating prologue:

"A few years ago a man won the Spanish national lottery with a ticket that ended in the number 48. Proud of his "accomplishment," he revealed the theory that brought him the riches. I dreamed of the number 7 for seven straight nights, he said, "and 7 times 7 is 48." Those of us with a better command of our multiplication tables might chuckle at the man's error, but we all create our own view of the world and then employ it to filter and process our perceptions, extracting meaning from the ocean of data that washes over us in daily life. And we often make errors that, though less obvious, are just as significant as his."

And changing topics:

I was very impressed with a young singer/songwriter - Tara Jamieson who wrote a Remembrance Day song. I think she is about 13 or 14. Hoping by giving her this shameless plug on my blog that she will still speak to me when she is famous. (Although a part of me is concerned that she is letting her music get in the way of her future sales career with SYNNEX)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Erwin Schild - The Very Narrow Passage

I felt lazy yesterday. Accomplished almost nothing. Did a bit of email. Read a book. Did run 3 miles fast (by my standards). Sometimes it is good for me to have downtime.

Last night I attended a great bluegrass house party at Marnie Niemi's. Good live music. Old fashioned fun.

Today, I heard Erwin Schild speak. His story is captivating. He is an 88 year old Rabbi who survived a short stint at Dachau. He was an 18 year old in a Jewish Teachers' Seminary on November 9/1939 (Krisallnacht - Night of Broken Glass when most synagogues and many Jewish homes in Germany were ruined, burned and destroyed). The Nazis destroyed his school and took him prisoner.

He escaped from Dachau to Britain. Even that would be incredible but it did not end there. After a year and a half of freedom he was captured by the British and sent for internment in Canada as a "German" - which he was - a German Jew.

Rabbi Schild today preaches religious tolerance. He preaches the need for inter-religion relations as the way to protect everyone.

The Nazi's reigned by terror and surely any who objected to what was happening would be silenced. This was not a good excuse though for silence. I wonder if I would have had the courage to do the right thing in those circumstances. Hopefully I will never be tested.

It makes any challenge I have had in my life look like child's play.

Much of success in life is not about what happens to us, it is how we react to it. It is attitude. Schild has a great attitude that we all can learn from.

I bought a copy of his book "The Very Narrow Bridge - A Memoir of an Uncertain Passage". I look forward to reading it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

How to Sell More in a Down Market

I recently read an e-book by Randy Goruk called, "How to Sell More in a Down Market -- The Leadership Secrets of Dynamite Sales Results". One thing I like about it is he is applying leadership secrets to sales just like I do in my time leadership book, applying leadership secrets to Time Management.

I would largely call his book a re-mix. It uses truths that have previously been revealed. There is really nothing wrong with a good re-mix (largely in my time management book is a re-mix) taking the best of various materials sorting them, compiling them, and sharing them.

The book is rich with quotations and rich with links to other material.

I particularly likes its upbeat attitude and I agree completely with the thesis that just because the market is down that we can continue to sell more.

One of the quotes that he used was:

Complaining is not a strategy (Randy Pausch)

From the eBook:

Leaders should always remember;

- The value of time
- The success of perseverance
- the pleasure of working
- The dignity of simplicity
- The worth of character
- The power of kindness
- The influence of example
- The obligation of duty
- The wisdom of economy
- The virtue of patience
- The improvement of talent
- The joy of originating

His leadership approach is straightforward and practical. It has six elements.

1. Accept full accountability for your results
2. Adopt leadership attributes for success
3. Become inspired and motivated
4. Become a personal productivity champion
5. Learn to plan like a leader
6. Take responsibility in further developing your leadership and sales professional skills

Now I need to get out and sell.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Brain Rules

One lone tree on my walk to work on the weekend still has its leaves. This is part of my save time working out - walk to work program.

I recently read a book by John Medina called, "Brain Rules -- 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School".

The book started very interestingly with the first rule being exercise to boost brain power where he gave lots of examples of how exercise helps brain function. He also dumped all over our school and workplace set up which encourages no activity so low brain function. Since I am a health guy and believe in exercise, I really resonated with that idea.

The book included a DVD that was about 40 minutes long. Since I had been inspired about the exercise I watched the DVD while I was on my treadmill while trying to read the rest of the book. Of course, one of Medina's rules is that multitasking does not work so I stopped reading the book and just watched the DVD while I was walking on the treadmill (not running). I have blogged on the myth of multi-tasking before. I don't think walking counts as multi-tasking because the one task (walking) is an automatic task.

Since I want to know how to learn faster and better and more easily, I enjoyed the book. Two of the 12 rules related to memory. For short or long term memory we need to repeat things a few times to ourselves -- repetition helps.

Of course, no book on the brain would be complete without a rule on sleep. The obvious gist is to sleep well -- think well.

He also talked about the negative impact of stress which is largely an inappropriate reaction to things. When you can understand that it is just simply a inappropriate reaction, you can deal with it so that it does not become stressful.

He talked about remembering more by stimulating more senses and how we remember more when things are emotionally charged and vision has the strongest sense.

His finally rule was exploration -- we are powerful and natural explorers. Curiosity is good. I like that rule since I am naturally curious and naturally a learner (although perhaps too focused on self-development and business).

I recommend the book. Its a good read.

And business quote for the day:

"Tough times never last but tough people do" (Robert H. Schuller)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Conversational Capital - How to create stuff people love to talk about

I made it back from LA in time to get Halloween candy and go trick or treating. And yes, I do go trick or treating. I figure people are expecting guests so don't mind if one more stops by. And I lead such a busy life, I often do not spend time with my neighbours. So stopped by Doc and Charmian Christies and had a great chat about Search Engine Optimization.

I read recently Conversational Capital - How to create stuff people love to talk about by Bertrand Cesvet with Tony Babinski and Eric Alper.

I love marketing. And I am frugal. So Conversational Capital seemed like a natural. The gist of the message is create a product or service that is over the top so people tell their friends and come back. Word of mouth is much more powerful than most advertising. The challenge is how to get it.

Conversational Capital talks about 8 characteristics of companies that create great buzz (that's my word, not theirs - they believe they are talking about more than just buzz).

Rituals - EG. Singapore Airlines bow to each passenger as they enter

Initiation - EG. Assembling the Ikea furniture

Exclusive Product Offering - EG - iTunes allowing just one song to be bought

Myths and Stories - EG the story of EMJ starting from the trunk of my car

Relevant Sensory Oddity - EG the VW Beetle odd look

Icons - EG the Eiffel tower

Tribalism - EG - Everyone who drives a Prius waves at me (when I drive my Prius)

Endorsement - EG a celebrity using a product

(sorry you have to read the book if you want more explanation on each term). The message is you love to have all of these but even having some can create conversation.

Much of what the book had to say is just common sense (which is not that common). Over deliver and people will talk about your business.

Now our challenge is to apply this to SYNNEX. We have some - we need more.