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Success in the Spotlight: It’s More Rock Than Roll

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Delray Beach, FL.- I was late arriving at Steve and Lori’s annual holiday party last weekend. I’d been working on the outline of a new book, and I wanted to finish it while I still had a sense of it in my mind.

Steve’s parties are always inspiring. Inspiring is an odd way of describing a “party,” but in this case, it’s warranted. There is something about the elegance of the architecture of their house, how serenely it sits on a wide stretch of the Intercoastal Waterway, and also and mostly the diversity and quality of the guests. It breathes some sort of ambition into me. Makes me feel a little like Nick Carraway visiting his neighbor Jay’s West Egg mansion.

Steve accepted my apology with a smile: “The price of success is hard work,” he said.

“Vince Lombardi,” I replied, happy to recognize the quote.

The occasion was Delray Beach’s annual boat parade, our South Florida attempt to create a semblance of the good cheer generated by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Elaborately lit and decorated boats float up the Intercoastal for 3 hours.

Steve introduced me to Max Weinberg – Max Weinberg of the E Street Band and a  decade-long stint as Conan O’Brien’s bandleader. If you didn’t know who he was, you might think – from his physical appearance and the way he conducts himself – that he was a college teacher or a lawyer (the profession he was pursuing before hooking up with Springsteen).

In fact, if Steve hadn’t clued me in before he introduced us, I never would have guessed that he was a rich and famous guy. (And what better praise can you give a successful person?)

Steve had told me that Max is an avid reader and a huge consumer of books about politics. So we talked about that for a while. Then, somehow, the subject of family came up and we talked about how proud we are of our kids. It was a completely normal, unremarkable, but unusually gratifying conversation.

I was interested in his professional life, and felt comfortable asking about it. I was not (to his pleasure, I think) the least bit interested in him as a “rock star.” I wanted to understand the labor and stress of what he did. The day-to-day grind of it. The kind and amount of work that was involved in achieving the success he had.

I was interested because, for a long time, I’ve been thinking (and writing) about what, to my mind, are the virtues of success. My theory is that there is a nearly direct relationship between how much you get paid and how much effort you put into your job. That financial success – if not all success – is 99% hard work.

In describing his career, past and present, Max said nothing to derail that theory. For him, an 8-hour day is a short day, and a 5-day workweek a rare treat.

He told me that he views his skill as a drummer as being secondary to his success. Much more important: He was always on call for new opportunities, always willing to say yes more often than no, and always did whatever it took to not only keep his promises but exceed expectations.

I felt like I was talking not to a rock star but to a senior executive of a Fortune 500 company.

The subject of Springsteen’s one-man show on Broadway came up. I told Max that I’d seen it and was impressed. “Five shows a week – it must have been incredibly hard on him,” I said.

“It’s a commitment, for sure,” Max said. “And a lot of work, too. The physical work is nothing compared to touring with the band. But the responsibility of leaving the house each afternoon, after a day of working on other things, and doing the show… If you could see the look in his eyes before he sets off for the city. He has to drum up the energy to rise to the challenge one more time.”

“He’s the hardest working person I’ve ever known,” Max said.

“Like Vince Lombardi used to say…” I replied.

“Right,” Max said. “It’s the price you must be willing to pay.”

Today’s Word: lodestar (noun) –  The lodestar (LOHD-star) is Polaris, a.k.a. the North Star, which sailors used to navigate by. We use the word to refer to anything that serves as a guide. Example from A.A. Milne in HappyDays: “Since I have known you, you have been the lodestar of my existence, the fountain of my inspiration.”

Did You Know?: It has never rained in Calama, a town in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Worth Quoting: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King

What I’m Reading Now: I saw it in the airport and read it on the flight from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale. Fox 8, by George Saunders, is an illustrated (line drawings by Chelsea Cardinal) story whose protagonist is a talking fox. Saunders is a huge favorite of mine. His stories are both emotionally compelling and also wokely-smart. Fox 8is less serious. Its ambition seems to be more about giving a bit of joy during the holidays than depicting the gestalt of our times. A good holiday gift for friends that read literary fiction.

Check It Out:

The NYT on “How to Be More Empathetic”… Huh?

The New York Times was once a newspaper I was proud to read. I can’t say that anymore. For perfectly understandable commercial reasons, it has given up any pretense at publishing thoughtful writing. It just shovels out the absolute thinnest pablum on whatever idiotic group-think topic is on top of the charts. And it publishes writers that couldn’t get a B- in an undergraduate class in writing when I went to college.

Here’s an example…

https://www.nytimes.com/guides/year-of-living-better/how-to-be-more-empathetic?

 

How Good Are Your Products? Why It Matters Even If Your Customers Can’t Tell

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Delray Beach, FL.- My family has a small interest in a Craft Beer Brewery owned by friends of ours. Because our interest is small and because they are friends, I do my best to limit my input to answering questions they ask, which are few and far between.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have questions of my own.

Since the beginning, for example, I’ve wondered how much taste matters when it comes to selling beer. Is there a relationship between how good a beer tastes and how well it sells? Is there even such a thing as “good” and “not good” when it comes to taste?

I’m intrigued by this issue because I’ve had to grapple with something similar in almost every business I’ve worked with – questions about the relationship between product quality and sales.

In this particular case, my friends have spent a small fortune working on the quality of their brands. To them, there is a real difference between the quality of one pilsner and another.

They also believe – and this I don’t dispute – that consistency in taste is a very important factor in building a best-selling brand.

But is the taste of one beer really better than another? Or is it just a matter of personal preference?

And if so, why bother trying to make your beer taste “better” according to some expert standard of excellence? Wouldn’t it be smarter to simply find out which ones have the widest consumer appeal?

The fact is, I’ve been thinking about the question of quality in relationship to everything from cigars and wine to art and literature for most of my adult life.

And here’s what I believe: There is an absolute difference. Some Cabernets are better than others. As are some cigars. As are some books. As are some works of art.

But the number of people that can identify or even notice gradations of quality are small. Depending on the item in question, my guess is that less than 10% can tell the difference.

When it comes to cigars and tequila, I consider myself among the minority that can distinguish between, good, bad, and mediocre. I feel the same way about literature and art.

Beer? I haven’t a clue. And I’m willing to bet that 90% of the beer drinking market can’t tell the difference either. Actually, I’d say 98% of the mainstream beer drinking market and perhaps 80% of the craft beer market.

Read MoreHow Good Are Your Products? Why It Matters Even If Your Customers Can’t Tell

Today’s Word: moonstruck (adjective) – Moonstruck (MOON-struk) can mean dreamily romantic or deranged. As used by Henry A. Hering in The Burglars’ Club: “He’s smilin’ in the picture, but she’s made him lockjawed an’ moonstruck.”

Did You Know?: BrainNet, developed by researchers at the University of Washington, is the first brain-to-brain communication network that allows multiple parties to interact using only their thoughts.

Worth Quoting: “Only a generation of readers will spawn a generation of writers.” – Stephen Spielberg

What I’m Reading Now: I loved Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. No, I loved the first few chapters. After that, he sprinted ahead of me with his equations. I had the same experience with The Grand Design. But his last book (in both senses) was different. Brief Questions to the Big Questions, written when death was in sight, is a collection of 10 beautifully written short essays on questions such as: Is there a God? How did it all begin? Is there intelligent life out there? And, just for fun, what is inside a black hole? This is a book that I will read more than once.

Watch This: “How Ordinary Men Can Build Extraordinary Wealth With These Simple Strategies”

 look what I found on Spotify. An interview… with me!

https://open.spotify.com/episode/5dMnG6uGnxcgDGhT1yMjZ5?si=Jq-4AquCRU2rwPSLzb_aKQ

Got a Tag Line? When It Makes Sense to Have a Personal Brand

Tuesday, December  11, 2018

Delray Beach, FL.- A colleague refers to himself in his publicity as “the world’s most ___-ed man.”

Good idea or bad idea?

Epithets have power when they are short and apt and memorable. Like Honest Abe. Or Tricky Dick.

In my colleague’s case, the tag came honestly – borrowed from a book jacket endorsement. And he’s been repeating it lately in what looks like a strategic effort to carve out a “niche” in his market.

It’s an old but still interesting approach: Find an unoccupied knoll in the landscape of your industry, claim it as your own, and then do everything you can to remain king of it. If you can gain the reputation of being the smartest or most honest or most reliable person in your neck of the marketplace, you’ve achieved something very valuable.

Likewise, gaining a reputation for being a master of a particular business skill is immensely valuable. You will always have more work than you can handle. And you’ll be able to charge more for your time than your competitors will be getting. In fact, if you are smart in choosing customers/clients, you could make twice or three times the amount others in your field typically make.

And once you have the reputation, using an epithet is a super-efficient tool for establishing a personal brand.

Building True Expertise

If the field you work in is crowded, it’s difficult to rise to the top. This is when it makes sense to narrow your brand to a small or neglected niche.

For example, 20 years ago, when I first started writing about business (in Early to Rise), there were all sorts of people out there claiming to be experts in internet marketing.

But within five years, the field had expanded so rapidly that it was no longer credible to position oneself as an Internet Marketing Master. So what happened then was a proliferation of people promoting themselves as gurus of particular aspects of internet marketing – like free-to-paid or VSLs or webinars or product launches. Dozens of individuals developed multimillion-dollar businesses by claiming the high ground in these niche areas.

To be successful as an internet marketer today, you have to get even more specific. You might, for example, develop expertise in product launch formulas for natural health products using YouTube as the medium. So if I were starting out now and wanted to enjoy the benefits of a personal brand, I’d certainly consider using the efficiency of an epithet. But I’d make sure that it would be a very, very narrow handle that I could justly claim for myself. Because if you claim to be what you are not, you will do the opposite of what you want to do.

Read MoreGot a Tag Line? When It Makes Sense to Have a Personal Brand

Today’s Word: fugacious (adjective) –Something that is fugacious (fyoo-GAY-shus) is fleeting or transitory. As used by Degas scholar Line Clausen Pedersen in a New York Times article about the artist: “He is like the soap in the bathtub, fugacious. You can never really capture him.”

Did You Know?: The Spanish word esposa means wife. Esposas means wives… but also handcuffs.

Worth Quoting: “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praised than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale

What I’m Reading Now: An interview with Kevin Rogers in Barefoot Writer, a monthly magazine for professional writers produced by AWAI. Also in this month’s issue:

* a “hidden league” of writers who get paid to make dreams come true

* 4 simple moves you can make to sweep adversity’s game pieces off the board

* quick and easy ways to fill your coffers with a treasury of content ideas

* advice on sending your clients holiday gifts, and

* a proven way to outsmart distractions with binaural beats.

Check it out here: https://www.awai.com/downloads/tbw-12-2018/

 Watch This: What a life this 97-year-old tailor has had! With all he’s been through, you wouldn’t blame him if he were cynical. But he seems to live in a happy state of mildly astonished amusement. (Which is perhaps his secret.)

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-life-of-a-97-year-old-tailor-whos-still-at-work-at-his-craft/

 

 

 

My No Brainer “System” for Knowing When to Buy a Stock

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Delray Beach, Florida.- Most of the stocks in my core investment portfolio – my Legacy Portfolio – are dividend-paying stocks. And since I don’t rely on cash from those dividends for current income, my practice is to reinvest it.

The common way this is done is automatically through a dividend reinvestment program (DRIP). That is an order you give to your broker to use the dividends of a stock to buy more of that same stock.

When I designed the Legacy Portfolio (with the help of Tom Dyson and Greg Wilson), I wanted very much to reinvest the dividends, but I was doubtful about DRIPs. My question to them was a simple one:

“In every other investment I’ve ever made, the price I pay for the asset matters. I assume this applies to stocks. If that’s true, why would I use DRIPs, which are designed to buy more of the same stock regardless of the price?

“What if, instead of automatically investing each dividend in the selfsame stock, we accumulated the dividends as they arrived, kept them in cash for a while, and then invested them in just one or maybe two stocks that were currently underpriced?”

Tom and Greg did a fairly extensive analysis of my proposition and came back with the encouraging conclusion that such a practice would increase overall yield. (I don’t remember the differential, but it was significant.)

I mentioned this in a recent videotaped interview that Legacy Publishing group did with Bill Bonner, Doug Casey, and me. And it prompted a viewer to write this to me:

“I’ve read your strategy for buying income-producing real estate. You determine whether the asking price is fair or not with a simple formula: 8 times gross rent. What I want to know is if you have such a simple formula for determining the value of a particular stock, both for making the initial purchase and for re-investing the dividends.”

This is what I told him…

Determining a “fair” price for a dividend stock is a bit more complicated than it is when you are valuing income-producing real estate.

For one thing, stocks are shares in businesses, and businesses are more dynamic than houses and apartment buildings.

They are dynamic and they are organic. How they change is not up to you. Rental properties, on the other hand, are fixed and tangible. Except for an event like a hurricane or fire (which can be insured against), they change only when you do something to them (add a bathroom, paint the walls, etc.).

Which is to say it’s easier to get a reliable estimate of the market value of a rental property. You compare it to similar properties in that location at that time.

That said, there are numerous ways to determine whether a particular stock, a stock sector, or the market is  “well” or “fairly” priced.

As Bill Bonner pointed out in his December 7 Diary, Warren Buffett’s favorite yardstick was to measure the relationship of total market capitalization (the value of all stocks added together) to GDP. Logic dictates that a good ratio would be below 100%, because a stock cannot be worth much more than the GDP of the country that supports it.

Another, more indirect, way to look at it, Bill said, is to compare U.S. household net worth(which includes real estate, bonds, and stocks) to national output.

And yet another calculation looks at the number of hours the typical person would have to work to buy the S&P 500 Index.

What are all these measurements telling us about the U.S. stock market today?

Read MoreMy No Brainer “System” for Knowing When to Buy a Stock

Today’s Word: timorous (adjective) – Timorous (TIM-er-uhs) means fearful. As used by Robert Burns in his famous poem “To a Mouse”: “Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie, / O, What a panic’s in thy breastie!”

Did You Know?: You weigh slightly less when the moon is overhead.

Worth Quoting: “The only certainty is that nothing is certain.” – Pliny the Elder

Watch This: This “ketchup bucket” hack is great… and the presentation is even better.

 

Solo Fliers vs. Quotidian Pilots

Friday, December 7, 2018

Delray Beach, Florida.- In every business, the golden current of wealth and power flows to the rainmakers. This is not a factor of ideology. It is a biological fact of the organism that is .- business itself. And, whether you like it or don’t, you cannot change it without killing the organism.

But there are two kinds of rainmakers.

There are those that take irresponsibly high solo flights that often end in wreckage. And there are those that check their gauges and follow proven flight plans.

The solo fliers, if unrestrained, will more likely kill your business than grow it. The quotidian pilots will never kill it if they can help it. They will put their genius to making the ETAs.

As a founder or CEO or whatever you are, you have to recognize that, on a daily basis, you cannot give control of your business to the solo fliers. You must employ the quotidian pilots to safely keep things moving.

But if you want growth from your business — and that means growth at any stage (whether you are looking to break the million-dollar barrier, the 10-million-dollar barrier, the 100-million-dollar barrier, or the billion-dollar barrier), you must allow your solo pilots permission to make their flights.

The masterful CEO/founder is the person who can figure out how to do that.