Monday, November 26, 2012

The Laws of Subtraction

I am just off US Thanksgiving, Black Friday and now Cyber Monday.  Much of it is about consumerism.  So my answer - reading a book by Matthew E. May called The Laws of Subtraction - 6 Simple Ways for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything.

I like to think I like simple but I do not live simple in many ways.  The recent hurricane showed me my dependence on little things like power, internet and hot water.

The Laws of Subtraction is mostly about design - art and music.  I apply much of it to life though.

May starts with a simplified version of John Maeda's (The Laws of Simplicity) tenth law:

What isn't there can often trump what is. 
The simplest rules create the most effective experience
Limiting information engages the imagination
Creativity thrives under intelligent constraints
Break is the most important part of breakthrough
Doing something isn't always better than doing nothing.

These become the 6 laws and 6 chapters of the book.

At the end of each chapter is a series of one page articles written by "guest authors" giving their view of the topic.  I found these to be some of the best part of the book.  Each author has their own gems of wisdom.  By distilling them to one page, we get the best from each author.

Less is more in design.  It can be more in life too.

I think it might be better in blog entries too.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Driven to Succeed

I just finished Frank Hasenfratz's biography - Driven to Succeed.  It is gripping.

The story starts in Hungary and tells of  Frank (called Farec then) hiding while Russians overrun his village - stealing everything in sight and worse.  He is then forced to leave his family home with only what they can carry and being re-settled in a much tinier house in an area they did not know.

I am thankful for where I was born and raised that I had such a relatively easy life - especially by comparison.

Frank escaped from Hungary after WW II and made his way to Canada with no money.  He tool a job in a metal shop and eventually had a falling out with his boss over how to make parts efficiently.  So he made a deal.  He would buy a lathe and put it in his basement and make the parts and sell them to his former employer.

He then added an oven to heat treat.  He added more machines and built a shed to house some of the machines.  He hired a few people.  Then a few more.

And over 35 years grew to $2 Billion in sales and thousands of employees.  (His original vision was to "grow to perhaps 20-30 people).

In reading it, I am inspired to consider returning to selling real goods.  There is something rewarding about selling tangible "things".

There is certainly a large focus on family business (sort of like Now Foods - supplement manufacturer, distributor of stevia etc.).  There is a section how Linda worked her way into and up in the business and the hopeful note that one of her children might someday join the business.

I am sure I found it partly interesting because I know many of the players.  Frank was a neighbour.  I played bridge with him every other week for 15 years.  He sat on my (EMJ) board for the 10 years we were public.  I have been to his house many times and he has been to mine.

And I know many of the characters in the book like Jim Jarrel, Bob Young, Linda Hasenfratz etc.

I also have spoken one of the authors,  Rod McQueen when he was writing a book on Blackberry.  McQueen is well known for writing Canadian business books.  He is an excellent writer.  I like his general positivity and objectivity.

It is a great - must read book.

The house across the street set out some storm debris today.  I wish I still had a wood stove.

My brother Glen sent me an interesting article on global warming.  There has never been a month for 27 years that global temperatures have been above average.  337 months in a row.  The odds of that happening are ½ to the 337th power.   We don’t even have a verbal number for something that small – it is 3.571 e—102. 

 I fear we may have more and worse storms in our future.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Self Leadership

 If you cannot lead yourself, who can you lead?

I read Self Leadership - How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader from the Inside Out by Andrew Bryant and Ana Kazan.   

The title says it all - seems like what most leaders would want.  I particularly like the More Efficient but the More Effective is the most important.  This is the difference between leadership and management - leadership is about effectiveness, management is about efficiency.  See my post on leadership vs management.

"Self leadership emerges from self awareness which leads to greater self responsibility and behavioral flexibility, which in turn which in turn increases our ability to reach our goals."

I smiled at the title of one chapter - "Driver or passenger".  The gist of it is - we decide.

The book is a comprehensive compilation of much of what is known in the self development field.  I liked the suggestions on how to improve self discipline.

There is a great chapter on goal setting which of course I believe in.  For many people, that chapter alone would pay for the book.


Life is back more to normal in Long Island.  Still lots of storm evidence like the piles of stuff (like this piano) set out for garbage.

And of course the daily Josh is growing up photo.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Useful Workout

It was a beautiful perfect day to be outside.

I spent much of the afternoon sawing logs.  No - not napping (that was yesterday), really sawing logs, moving branches, clearing storm damage.  I used a manual bow saw so got lots of exercise.  I often think when I am working out in a gym that I could actually be doing something productive like this.

And then I harvested most of the remaining vegetables from the garden.  Some potatoes, lots of beets, carrots and almost a bushel of leeks.  I grew both yellow and red beets this year but the yellow ones were disappointing - low yield and small. 

To some extent, gardening could be classified as a useful workout.

The only problem with harvesting is it is a lot of work to clean, dry, freeze and deal with them now.

I left the parsnips in the ground.  They sweeten with freezing and can even wait to the spring for harvest.


I read Every Leader is an Artist - How the World's Greatest Artists Can Make You a More Creative Leader by Michael O'Malley and William Baker (Both PhD's).

I do not consider myself to be artistic.  I cannot draw worth anything.  I am also highly utilitarian oriented and tend to undervalue art.  But I am highly creative.  This creativity has served me well in business.

Leaders, like artists put their work on display every day in front of judgmental and discerning audiences.

O'Malley and Baker have distilled 12 successful characteristics of artists that can be applied to leadership.  They call them leadership criteria.  I like that they acknowledge there is not one success formula that fits all situations or leaders.

Some of the 12 criteria:

1 - Intent.  Make a commitment to achieve exceptional ends.  I found this inspirational. 

2 - Focus.  I have often had concern that my creativity has limited my focus.  I often jump from idea to idea.  Every successful person I know is high focus.

7 - Authenticity.  This is one trait that makes a leader.  Simple, easy and rare.

12 - Criticism.  Constant evaluation of results and using that analysis to modify as needed.

Most artists (and they include writers in this) dedicate their lifetime to their pursuit.   Leadership is a lifetime pursuit as well.

Part of the moral is we can all learn from any highly successful person.  Most successful people in any field have applied themselves passionately to their chosen field.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gas Math in Long Island

 I finally had to break down and get gas yesterday (I am odd, which most of you already know, so yesterday was my day).   I still had almost 1/4 tank but even I am being more conservative than usual.  Normally I consider it to be a waste of time to fill up when I am not almost empty.  It cost me $30 to fill the tank (I love my Prius).

My fault was choosing to wait in one of the many "hope" lines.  A hope line is one where the cars are lining up and even moving forward (as cars leave the queue) but the gas station in question is not pumping gas.  So that killed an hour.

When I finally found a gas station that was pumping (referred by a friend), I drove 10 miles out of my way (burning gas) and filled up after about a 25 minute wait.   The Hess website is good at showing which station has gas and there is a web site gasbuddy that also shows them.

Did I tell you I love my Prius.  I lasted 2 weeks and still had enough gas that I could have driven another few days.  I tell everyone I drive a sports car (because it is red).

I really rail against people who think odd/even gas is gas rationing.  It is not.  People can still buy as much gas as they want as long as they shop on the right day.  Rationing would be if people were limited in what they could buy (and as an environmentalist, I do not think that would be terrible although the logistics would be a nightmare).

I think there would be one more thing that could be done to cut the wait time in gas lines.  Do not allow people to refill unless their tank is on 1/4 full or less.  Many people are refilling when they are over half so this is doubling the number of stops at the gas station.

So why the gas shortage?  It has to be the damaged distribution system since the math simply does not support that we could not catch up easily.

The math and assumptions:

There are 1.2 million households in Long Island.  Assume there is an average of 2 cars per household.

Assume normal people use 10 gallons or gas weekly, the base demand is 24 million gallons/week.

Assume 10% of the gas stations are without power so there is a one time 10% reduction in reserves.

Assume normally the average car is half full and now the average is 3/4 full.  Assume the normal tank holds 16 gallons (which has to be way high), this would be 4 gallons times 2.4 million cars or 9.6 million gallons.

Assume of the 20% without power(it is a bit lower than that now but averaging the past 14 days), 20% of those people are running a gas generator for 4 hours per day.  A 5000 watt generator (which is on the large side of average) uses 1/2 gallon per hour so that is added demand of 2 gallons times 24,000 households that is 480,000 gallons per day.  This is an increase in demand of only 14%.

So the added gas for the increased gas people are keeping in their tanks is about 1/2 week plus 10% for the gas in the ground at gas stations without power.  And added demand of 14%.  If only 1 week more supply was added, we would be caught up.

Of course these numbers are way skewed because Long Island is not an economic island and what happens in NYC and surrounding areas has impact.  So likely all my calculations/assumptions are off (and misresearched)

And what I hear nothing of is people conserving.  Conservation would be one easy way to get us back on track more quickly (although the math on that still works out to 3.5 weeks if everyone cuts use by 25% (I will let you do the math))

I never know what posts will get me the most search traffic.  I notice I have good ranking for Good to Great is Gone  and Wisdom of Failure but virtually no rank for others like Propel and Compound Effect.

Wondering if Google thinks I am more of an expert in loser topics.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Tell To Win

I awoke this morning to a gorgeous snow cover.  I love fresh snow.  It is beautiful.  And since it is warm, it is perfect packing.  Wish my brothers were here so we could have a snowball fight.

The temperature will rise today so it will likely all be gone.

The downside - there was a tree down blocking the driveway.  And most of my not yet mature fruit trees are broken.

The pictures:
1 - the tree across the drive
2 - a 6 foot wood/twig pile I had piled on the road.  Previous storm results.
And being slightly storm bound (They do not know now to deal with snow here), I read a book.  Perfect start for a day (other than working out which I will get lots of moving the downed tree - and reading - that will help my brain)

I read Tell to Win - Connect, Persuade, and Triumph, with the Hidden Power of Story by Hollywood producer Peter Guber. 

Guber has lead a very interesting life - meeting with famous figures like Michael Jackson, the Dali Lama, Nelson Mandela,  Muhammad Ali and lots more.

The gist of the message is people listen, engage, remember and act more when the message is delivered as a great story.   "Move their hearts and their feet and wallets follow".

Of course the book is about story telling and part of what makes a good book is story telling so this is a fun story filled book to read.  And reading it helps to show how things that I did not think were stories can be made into stories.

I intend to try to use stories more as a result.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Well life is starting to return to normal but there are still huge issues in Long Island.  100,000 houses were destroyed (out of 1.2 million).  For those people, life is not back to normal.  171,000 people still have no electricity (14%) which is still a huge number.    I watch the outage numbers on the LIPA website like the stock market.

And lines to get gas are still a problem.   A short line is 40 minutes and some people have lined up for hours.  At times like this, I love my Prius even more.

And now we have another snow storm coming in. 

These pictures of Long Island help show some of what happened.

All this weather and damage are simply "conditions".  I worked with a guy who would point out business conditions (essentially those things that you can do little to change).  With conditions, the key is adaptation and how you cope with them.  In business they are often used as excuses but they should not be.  They are what they are - figure out how to deal with them.

I am way behind in my reading but I did read a book - Propel - Five Ways to Amp Up Your Marketing and Accelerate Your Business.  Of course I am intrigued by marketing so I liked the book.

I could tell you the 5 principles (Strategy, Story, Strength, Simplicity, Speed) but that would not tell you the story.

The first chapters are fairly basic marketing primers.  Good information that reinforces what most marketers know (like have goals and measure).

The chapter I liked was "Amplify Through Media and Opinion Influencers".   Once the message is determined, get it out.  If done properly, this can magnify results.

Social Media has changed who and what media is.  Opinion influencers are no longer just traditional media like TV, radio and newspapers but can be anyone like me - blogging.  Different people are influential on different things.  Different people have different reach. 

For example, if I tweet to my 3,000 followers about a business book and they think I am important in that, it may have as much impact as a celebrity tweeting the same thing even though the celebrities reach is much larger than mine.  Impact is a combination of reach and specific influence.

Social media itself often gets amplified.  If I read a tweet and retweet it or mention it in my blog (like the pictures earlier in this post), the message is amplified.

In marketing, the marketer has some influence and can help get this amplification.

And for the Josh followers:

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Post Sandra

Electricity is back!  And internet.  And hot water.  Life can start to return to normal.

Life without electricity helps with the "appreciation" factor.  I like the think of myself as a grateful person (I lead a charmed life and I know it) but this experience helps drive it home.  This experience has helped me with appreciating the simple things.

I am one of the lucky ones.  Long Island still has 450,000 households without power (out of about 1,200,000). 

My daughter was worried that I had no power but I explained to her I never lost power - just electricity.

I am thinking of putting in a small solar system (and she thought I did not have power - it takes a lot of power to even consider buying enough planets for a solar system).

I am likely to invest in a small generator to at least run the freezer.  

I am sure my list is not as good as many others but the following is my suggestion for those preparing for a hurricane:

1 - Take out a bit of cash.  ATMs do not work and some suppliers will not be able to accept visa.

2 - Have bottled water.  We were never without water but some people were.

3 - Have matches and a lighter is handy.  Matches became tough to light since they got a bit moist just from the moisture in the air since there was no heat.

4 - Have candles (and of course make sure they are used safely)

5 - Batteries.  They last longer than I thought they would.  6 days without electricity and did not even need to change flashlight batteries.  But still - it is good to have some extra.

6 - Food. Dried lentils, rice, beans, quinoa etc are inexpensive and easy.  This is the way I like to eat usually so this part is not a problem.

7 - Have some way to cook.  A propane BBQ works well.  We are lucky enough to have a gas stove.  We also have camp stoves but did not think to lay in any extra naptha.

8 - Fill the car with gas.  Right now, there are no stations with gas and any station with gas has a 3 hour line up.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Living Off Grid

I am living off grid now.  4 days so far.

Hurricane Sandy knocked out power at home and the office.    No Power, no phone, no internet, no hot water, gas is getting scarce - stations are out or have no power to pump.   We lost a few trees.  Neighbors fared much worse with car damage, trees on houses etc.

Living in the dark is fine (Many people think I live in the dark most of the time).  My worry is for the freezer full of fish.  Wild fish caught in Northern British Columbia.  A neighbor has kindly loaned us his generator daily to keep it frozen. 

Of course my brother Glen pointed out, I am not really off grid, I have water and occasional cell service.

It is getting better by the hour.  Cell service gets a bit better.  A few more places have power and a few more hotspots become accessible.  My Verizon Air card did not work at all yesterday but works now if I am in an area with power (so not at home).  

But I am fortunate.  Safe and healthy.  Just minor inconvenience.  I prefer to look at it as adventure.

First 2 and last  pics are on our property.

The tree blocking the street is commonplace although many have been moved or at least a car width cut through.