February 26, 2013


85th Academy Awards
Maybe the Oscars mattered years ago when movies were still magic and we on big screens in rooms filled with strangers. We now have more variety and other options too. Ticket sales have dropped to the lowest levels since the mid-1990s (MarketWatch).

Here are observations which may also apply to your business.

Annoying The Clients

We watched segments of the 85th Academy Awards online. Or tried. In Canada, the ABC feed was blocked. The CTV feed had the usual TV commercials plus extra Internet commercials that played with no regard for what was airing. The result was a very poor experience. Shame on American Express, Cadillac and Target for annoying viewers. A ticker tape at the bottom of the screen would have been more considerate. We stopped watching.

Are you annoying your clients, because you think you can? Are you holding back on what you offer (like Apple did by not putting a camera in the first iPad).

Lack of Preparation

The winners sometimes stumble when they give their speeches. Why is that? They know how to memorize lines. They know how to deal with pressure. They know how to act. They have huge advantages over us. Yet the acceptance speeches tend are often repetitive and dull. Can't they say something worth our attention?

The nominees don’t know in advance whether they won. However, the presenters know their roles in advance. Even they are less than amazing. The hosts keep changing. Despite the preparation, the results are unpredictable.

How prepared are you? How memorable is your message? Toastmasters is an excellent place to practice impromptu and prepared messages.

Other Judges

Do you really care who wins an Academy Award? Is that really a factor in deciding which movie to watch? Are the winning movies necessarily the best films?

These days, I will check IMDB for reviews from other members. The reviews by experts are not very interesting or compelling. They used to matter but now they are merely other voices without special weight. Instead, I’m more likely to listen to people I know, such as Peter McGarvey, author of the Molly Parsons mysteries. The amalgamation of votes on IMDB is also helpful.

If the title is on Netflix, there is no risk or cost to watching. You can experiment. If you don't like a film, simply stop watching. If you do like something, provide a rating and Netflix will find you more like that.

As the process for making buying decisions, what happens to your business? If buyers rely on web searches and other buyers (e.g., the equivalent of IMDB or reader reviews on Amazon), how do you rank? Are you visible? Is buying from you risky in comparison with other options?

Safe Is Risky

We are more discerning. Have you seen how many types of rice a grocery store stocks? Standing out becomes ever more difficult and valuable.

Does your success come as a specialist or generalist? Are you noticeably different?


PS Movies are difficult to compare, say Lincoln vs Beasts of the Southern Wild.

February 19, 2013


The company disappeared.

I was the product actuary and reported to the Senior Vice President. He was about to retire. This created wonderful opportunities — or would have ... but the company disappeared. The parent decided to “harmonize” operations. I lost my team of 10 and corner office. This was 2004.

I was spared but worried about next time. What would happen then?

crudeI decided to become known by strangers. That has made all the difference. I started blogging in 2007. I even decided to do the unspeakable ... start networking. That’s not easy if you’re introverted and don't know many people. In my usual way, I started to learn the techniques.

I found the advice obvious or self-serving. For instance, give before you ask (and be sure to ask). The stories were entertaining — like the ones in get-rich-quick schemes. I met this stranger and now I have a private jet.

Maybe the ideas worked yesteryear when networks were hidden in private Rolodexes. The Internet makes valuable what's visible — networks included. The transparency showed that too many networking experts lacked congruence. Too often, a quick Google search showed that their words on stage and did not match their actions in real life. That chasm destroys trust.

I discovered three keys to networking in today’s interconnected world.
  1. Act like a host
  2. Stay visible
  3. Nurture

refiningAct Like A Host

Pretend you’re hosting the event and want to make sure your guests enjoy and benefit — even the introverts. Introduce yourself. Introduce people the people you’re meeting to each other.

As a host, you have permission to talk to anyone there. What's more, you have the obligation to talk to some guests, even if you’d rather not.

General questions like these help start conversations:
  • How did you find out about this event?
  • Why did you decide to come?
  • What other events do you attend?
  • How do you like this event?
In To Sell Is Human (a book you need to read), Dan Pink suggests asking “Where are you from?” That simple question leads to a range of conversation starters such where they were born, where they work or where they live.

You can also ask questions specific to the event. At an alumni gathering, you might ask fellow attendees
  • When did you graduate?
  • What are you doing these days?
Maybe you volunteer to join the organizing team. You are then a real host and make connections with the organizers. That's valuable.

When you act like a host, you’re giving. People want to stay in touch because you helped them and the event. Let them.

refiningStay Visible

A great first impression that doesn’t mean much if you don’t stay in touch. Out of sight …

Follow-up matters. The process is simple but rarely done well or consistently. Since anyone can follow-up, the ones who don’t sink and disappear. After all, life is busy. There are often substitutes.

Even if you create a so-so first impression, maintaining contact increases your impact. Maybe your 20th impression matters more than the first or second.

Meeting in person is ideal but may not be possible often. What happens in between? You can phone or text, if the other person welcomes that form of contact.

These days, staying in touch is especially easy via social networks. If you don’t feel comfortable talking or get your best ideas afterwards, that’s okay. With social media, your communications are asynchronous. You have time to think and edit before you click Send. This gives introverts an advantage.

When you want to stay in touch with someone you’ve met, exchange business cards (you have business cards, right?). Ask if they’re on LinkedIn (usual answer: yes). Ask if they’d like to connect (usual answer: yes). Send them an invitation within the next few days. If they accept, thank them. See how you can help without them asking. I’ll often give a tip on how they can improve their LinkedIn profiles.

Some events have “celebrities” (say as speakers). You can probably chat and have photos taken with them but that doesn’t mean they want you in their networks. You have a better chance of staying in contact with “regular” attendees.


These days, your network is visible. You’re judged by the company you keep and how you help them. It’s tougher to maintain false impressions over time. Incongruence is easy to spot.

Networking is like gardening. Besides planting the unmarked seeds, you must nurture and be patient. You can’t tell what will grow or be in demand. Plant a diverse crop. Connect to “good” people outside your niche. You don’t know who knows who. You don’t know know who needs what when.

As a steward, you have the responsibility to protect, grow and strengthen your network. Help without expecting a direct or immediate payback. You will get rewarded. Your network notices your ongoing generosity if you share online. As your digital tapestry improves, you’ll make stronger impressions on each new connection.

People connect to you for various reasons. They aren’t necessarily ready to become a customer. If your  contact looks self-serving, you’re harming the relationship. My primary network is on LinkedIn, where I post regular updates of value and pay attention to my connections.

LinkedIn Skills and Expertise (2013-02-18)Rewards

You never know when you’ll need help. In 2009, the corporate world thought they could do without me.

What would I do next? This time, I had a solid, diverse network in place. I got an unexpected suggestion.

There’s a growing and unmet need for insurance literacy. The products are complex and advisors vary in skill. I've become an insurance literacy mentor with free services at Riscario (blog, wiki) and paid services at Taxevity. My growing network vouches for me and invites clients.

Transparency has changed networking. The benefits in both directions are unpredictable and immeasurable when you focus on consistent persistent generosity.

U of T Woodsworth event 610x685 2013-02-21Links

PS This post is based on a speech to graduates of Woodsworth College at the University of Toronto. The opportunity arose via networking. Feel free to forward to people who needed to attend but didn’t.

February 12, 2013


Swiss army knife brings compromisesNot everything you do requires you to be physically present at your desk.

You can work almost anywhere. That doesn't mean you should. Technology need not enslave us. Set rules for
  • what you do
  • where you do it
  • the device you use
Use each device has an optimal use. If you only have one screwdriver or a multi-tool, you end up using a suboptimal  tool, which gives suboptimal results. You might even take extra time to get lesser results.

rule 1: Do not answer email from your smartphone

Your smartphone does lots in a jack-of-all-trades way. Consider email. Checking for messages at selected times is productive but difficult when your smartphone is within easy reach. Besides, you may have received an important message that requires an immediate response. You probably didn’t but you never know …

Check your messages but refrain from answering them using the tiny keyboard (and having a disclaimer apologizing for typos). Delete the useless messages and mark the important ones for a response later when you’re at your computer or tablet.

rule 2: Talk Instead Of Type

Talking is faster and easier than typing. A modern smartphone has voice recognition that’s excellent and improves with use.

In the past, I drafted blogs post on paper or on my iPad. Santa brought a new smartphone, the remarkable Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (which ranks higher than the iPhone 5 in user satisfaction). The free Google Voice Recognition is amazing. As a result, I'm drafting this post on my phone using Trello (my review). I finish sooner and make fewer mistakes than when typing. The iPhone has similar capabilities.

In the past, I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking for speech recognition. It works quite well but requires a powerful computer and continual upgrades. You may find value if you’re tethered to your desk.

rule 3: explore continually

What didn't work then may work now. For instance, I find a task organizer without subtasks is ineffective. However, if you like an app you like, you may find that the feature you want gets added soon. Asking helps. If you don't see progress, pick an app that improves.

I liked Remember The Milk (my review). Subtasks were often requested but not added. I switched to Toodledo (my review) but the interface is horrible. Other apps use Toodledo as a backend but then you're paying for two services. Most recently, I've been using Trello and Asana for work items, and Astrid on my phone for personal tasks. That's after trying out other options.

Follow Your Rules

Use the best tool even if it's not at hand right now. For instance, you can create a mindmap on different devices. Maybe your tablet is the best choice because it's portable and doesn't require a mouse to move things around.

Since we have much to do, a slight delay may make us more productive.


PS How do you pick your tools?

February 5, 2013


sign to exitI’m leaving the Toronto Board of Trade after two years of membership. I feel obligated to tell you why because my posts about the experience have been read thousands of times:
  1. Why join the Toronto Board of Trade? (the most-read post today and this week)
  2. A nominee’s view of the Business Excellence Awards
  3. What matters more than winning an award?
  4. Fixing what's wrong with conferences and networking
  5. Reviewing the SMB Exchange (the most-read post this month)
First, no one incident lead to the decision. We’ve grown apart.

Get Involved

SMB Exchange websiteTo get the most out of an organization, you must participate. Here’s what I did
  • attended most events for small business
  • attended the excellent SMB Exchange event (here’s why) and joined the online community (my testimonial is on the home page)
  • joined the Community Advisory Committee which helped with the small business events
  • joined the Business Excellence Award Committee (focused on the Local Economic Impact category)
  • made and maintained connections with selected people
I’m not sure how I could have been more involved.

No Events

where are the small business events? (click to enlarge)Since the Business Excellence Awards gala in mid-November 2012, small business events have vanished without explanation.

No December holiday luncheon.
No networking in Etobicoke, North York or Scarborough.
Only one small business event in downtown Toronto.
This month there is absolutely nothing.
Yet there are many other events.
Maybe the focus has changed.

Why belong when there aren’t any appealing events? There’s isn’t much else to do besides attend.

What Else?

The Toronto Board of Trade has different levels of membership with different privileges. I had the basic $475 Connected plan which includes a $200 credit to use towards purchases, such as tickets. Opportunities to speak and write appear to be restricted to members who pay more. That’s unfortunate.

Compare with the Mississauga Board of Trade. Any member can write for MBOT Magazine and I did several times. Also, the committees have meaningful roles (e.g., selecting themes and speakers) while the staff handle the logistics.

Other Places

There are other ways to meet nice people without paying an membership fee or a surcharge as a nonmember:
  • the Star Business Club from the Toronto Star
  • the Small Business Summit from The Globe and Mail (now in Calgary and Vancouver too)
  • alumni events: e.g., Western University (where I also volunteer) charges $0 or $15 for events in nice spots like the CN Tower, 180 Panorama or the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
There’s no shortage of quality events. I get ideas by asking my LinkedIn connections and noticing where they go.

The Name Change

What is On Jan 28, 2013, the Toronto Board of Trade became the Toronto Region Board of Trade (announcement).

Huh? What’s the Toronto Region? Not even Google knows. A search gives results for Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Just because members and issues extend beyond the City of Toronto doesn’t require a longer name with more syllables. Can you imagine these name changes?
  • the Toronto Region Star
  • the Toronto Region Blue Jays
  • the Toronto Region Maple Leafs
  • the Toronto Region International Film Festival
News stories for the Toronto Region Board of TradeThere’s power in brevity.

Based on the lack of media coverage, the name change looks like a nonevent. Here’s Google News a week later.

The Future

The Toronto Region Board of Trade may be ideal for you. You might want to attend several events before deciding. You can join the mailing list to find out what’s happening.

Maybe amazing changes are underway. If so, I may return. For now, I’m taking a break and felt you deserved to know.


PS I’ll miss the committees the most