Hello! Welcome to MarkFord.net
This is the open-for-inspection half-way home for my writing!
What you’ll find here are essays, stories, book chapters, poetry, and journal entries, as well as words and images from others that I want to share.
The bulk of the essays will be about business, wealth building, and personal productivity. But there will also be things I’m equally or more interested in, such as art, education, economics, physics, philosophy, psychology, neurobiology, fitness, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Since much of what you’ll be reading here will be early drafts of work meant for publication I welcome any comments or suggestions you might have that will help me strengthen them.

I am sometimes asked – and I don’t know why – what course of study I recommend for college students wishing to become successful in business. My answer usually provokes skepticism if not scorn. I recommend liberal arts.

In the age of the Internet and the new economy, specialized technical knowledge is revered. Most of those who ask my opinion figure I’m going to say something like “computer programming” or “communications engineering.” In fact, I think that type of education is the least likely to put you at the top of your field – either as an entrepreneur or as a corporate climber.

There are several reasons.

First, technical knowledge is temporary. The trendier the technology, the faster it changes. What you learn now will become less true as time goes on. Eventually, it will be obsolete.

Plus, technical majors take a lot of time. The typical engineering student – if he aims to get into a good graduate school – must use up most if not all of his credits on subjects that only a fellow techie would even begin to understand. All that specialization leaves little time for “softer” skills like reading, writing, and thinking. And virtually no time for hanging around and having fun.

But the main reason I advise against a technical major is that technical workers have secondary roles in business. In How to Become CEO, Jeffrey Fox distinguishes between “staff jobs” (which make a business work) and “line jobs” (which make a business profitable). He says that in most companies “most of the people are either in administration or field sales. Administrative people are not bad, or untalented, but they are not on the cutting edge. The company doesn’t depend on them.”

I made this point to FS just the other day. He had the idea that he would “do better” in business if he majored in computer sciences or some such “high-tech” major – even though he didn’t especially like that course of study.

From what I’ve seen in business, I told him, staff people (and I’d include all technical people in this category) are unfairly but often viewed as:

  1. Temporary: You need them only as long as you need technical know-how.
  2. Expensive: Because they fall onto the “expense” side of the P&L, keeping their compensation low seems to make good fiscal sense.
  3. Expendable: When sales slow down, all expenses are trimmed – including salaries for staff employees.

Good line employees, on the other hand, are seen as:

  1. Necessary: They create the sales, and sales are always needed.
  2. Worthwhile: Since most line positions are compensated at least partly on the basis of performance, the usual attitude is “The more we pay you, the more valuable you are.”
  3. Irreplaceable: People who create sales have a secret power that the company does not want to lose to its competition. Again, the more money you make, the more irreplaceable you become.

Now let’s look at the other side. What’s so good about liberal arts?

A liberal arts education teaches you three skills: to think well, to write well, and to speak well. And in the corporate world – and in the entrepreneurial world as well – wealth is created by analyzing problems, figuring out solutions, and selling those solutions. In other words, a liberal arts education is tailor-made to give you the skills you need to succeed in business. And not just to do well. I’m talking about going all the way to the top.

Businesses have one fundamental problem that presents itself endlessly in different disguises: how to sell products/services profitably. There are many, many solutions to this problem. Even in a specific situation on a specific day, there is always more than one. And the person who can regularly come up with solutions – and convince others that his solutions should be implemented – is the person who is going to get the rewards. The money. The power. The prestige.

Yes, you can improve your thinking, writing, and speaking skills while enrolled in a technical curriculum. But it will happen indirectly and additionally. It won’t be what you are mainly concerned with. With a liberal arts education, you ensure that you will spend most of your time learning and practicing the very skills you will use later to get your ideas and solutions sold.

I’m not criticizing technical people. They are very valuable. I’m simply saying that if your goal is to get to the top of any organization, public or private, you need to be a very good thinker, writer, and speaker. And a liberal arts education is designed to help you with that.

I’ve known very successful business leaders that did not have a liberal arts education. The CEO of Agora, a billion-dollar company I consult with, is one. He was educated in accounting and worked his way up to CFO. But he was smart enough to see that he had reached the end of that line. So he gradually moved his way into discussions about marketing and sales and product development. Eventually, he became a very good thinker and speaker on these issues. And when it came time to appoint a new CEO, he was the logical choice.

Word for the Wise

Hauteur (haw-TYURE) – This is a word that you should almost never use because it almost always sounds pompous. It means “disdainful arrogance” or, less often, “overbearing pride.” You will come across it a lot in magazines like Vanity Fairand in art books.

So don’t use it… but be sure you recognize it when you see it.

 

If you want a model of productivity, James Patterson is a great candidate… 

He writes novels as frequently as I try to retire – like twice a year. His secret? He doesn’t work alone. He teams up with other less famous and less successful but very capable writers. He gives them the outline. He edits for pace and tension. The emended manuscript goes to his publisher. And then he moves on. He’s not Cormac McCarthy, but he does good work and his books are almost always bestsellers. Plus his co-writers – really apprentices – get to learn some of his secrets while they get their names out there. It’s a win-win proposition. Actually, win-win-win, if you count his readers. There are other creative people who do/have done this. Andy Warhol and Michelangelo come to mind. The challenge is to keep the quality consistent.

 

 Principles of Wealth: #13 of 61

We buy financial products and services because we believe they will make us richer. But we should never forget that the purchase itself is almost always a cost that makes us, for the moment at least, poorer.

You buy the new $45,000 Audi you’ve been dreaming of. It makes you feel like rich. But the moment you drive it out of the dealership its value – and your net worth –go down by about $6,000.

“One day this watercolor will fetch a hundred grand at Sotheby’s,” the art dealer tells you. You want to believe him. But his profit on the $80,0000 artwork is $20,000, which means you are now, for the moment, at least $20,000 poorer.

It’s no different with stocks. You have read about the company in your favorite financial newsletter. Your broker agrees it’s going to double or triple if this or that happens, as it surely will. So you buy it and can almost see all those dollars in profit appearing on your account statement. But at that moment, at the moment when you buy it, you are poorer by the fees and commissions your broker is taking.

This is not to say that fees and commissions are bad. They are simply part of the cost of buying.  All financial products and services, however advertised, have a cost of buying.

When you buy a “no load” index fund you pay a very small cost of buying – usually about one half of one percent. But when you buy a penny stock or whole life policy your cost of buying could be 30% to 50%.

The prudent wealth builder knows the true cost of his buying and understands that in nine cases out of ten that cost will make him, for the moment at least, that much poorer.

Words of Wisdom From Dave Barry

* Never lick a steak knife.

* You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she is pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

* A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person.

* No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.

 (Source: DaveBarry Turns 50, by Dave Barry)

Look at This…

https://biggeekdad.com/2018/03/the-biggest-cat-in-new-york-city/

 

 

 

 

“I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?” – Ronnie Shakes

If you want to become company president or make your own business grow, you have to be strong and positive.

Smart people are often tempted to criticize the companies they work for. Some smart business owners ridicule their own customers. You can get away with a little of this for a while, but eventually it will catch up with you. And you won’t like what happens. That’s because cynicism feels good only to the cynic. For everyone else, it feels mean.

I am an experienced cynic so I can tell you from personal experience: It is as beneficial as sugar. You get a quick, momentary rush. But the long-term effect is unpleasant.

To a cynic, a cynical comment is a clean swipe at truth. Thus, to crotchety Ambrose Bierce, a cynic is simply someone who “sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.” It certainly feels that way for a moment or two. But that’s only on the outside. Inside, even the hardest cynic feels the pulse of insincerity. Clara Middleton, the wonderful character in George Meredith’s tragicomic novel The Egoist, put it this way: “Cynicism is intellectual dandyism without the coxcomb’s feathers.”

Cynicism and Leadership – Why They Don’t Get Along

Leadership comes from understanding that it is much better to lead people not by their noses but by their imaginations. You can break apart a unified group with cynicism. But to bring it together and get it to move forward, you need sincerity and conviction.

Cynicism is fundamentally a destructive process. And the odd thing is that it usually happens to the best employees.

Cynics are generally smart people who feel disenfranchised. Angry that things cannot be the way they think they should be, cynics vents their energy into negative observations and denigrating humor.

Even if everything around you seems wrong and everyone above you seems stupid, you must resist the lure of cynicism. In the long run, it will diminish your career and damage your psyche.

Here’s how to be positive even under the worst circumstances:

Click to continue… Cynicism Is Good Only With Beer and Peanuts

What’s Your Tax Burden?

April 11, 2018 in Blog


The Easiest Way to Save on Taxes

Having spent 45 years in the investment publishing business, I’ve known more than a few successful businesspeople who hated paying taxes. A handful of them went to great lengths to reducing their individual burdens, getting involved in all sorts of risky and costly schemes. None of them were successful.

Having had the benefit of watching them fail, I concluded it was a dangerous waste of time. The only thing that works is the simplest thing: Live and work in a state whose tax burden is comparatively low.

Below is a chart a friend forwarded to me that breaks down tax burden by state, from highest to lowest.

I was happy to see that my state, Florida, ranked 45. The only states that scored better were New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, and Delaware. I feel good about my choice. How about you?

Overall Tax Burden by State

Overall Rank State Total Tax Burden
(%) Property Tax Burden
(%) Individual Income Tax Burden
(%) Total Sales & Excise Tax Burden
(%)
1 New York 12.94% 4.55% 4.76% 3.63%
2 Hawaii 11.27% 2.11% 2.64% 6.52%
3 Vermont 10.75% 4.96% 2.29% 3.50%
4 Maine 10.73% 4.65% 2.58% 3.50%
5 Minnesota 10.24% 2.87% 3.59% 3.78%
6 Connecticut 10.23% 4.16% 3.24% 2.83%
7 New Jersey 10.14% 5.31% 2.32% 2.51%
8 Rhode Island 10.09% 4.80% 2.15% 3.14%
9 Illinois 10.00% 4.14% 2.66% 3.20%
10 California 9.52% 2.72% 3.44% 3.36%
11 Wisconsin 9.44% 3.73% 2.66% 3.05%
12 Maryland 9.38% 2.76% 3.88% 2.74%
13 Ohio 9.15% 2.85% 2.66% 3.64%
14 West Virginia 9.13% 2.38% 2.68% 4.07%
15 Arkansas 9.12% 1.79% 2.33% 5.00%
16 Nebraska 9.07% 3.64% 2.33% 3.10%
17 Mississippi 9.02% 2.68% 1.63% 4.71%
18 Massachusetts 9.01% 3.66% 3.29% 2.06%
19 Iowa 8.96% 3.43% 2.40% 3.13%
20 Kansas 8.72% 3.09% 1.87% 3.76%
20 New Mexico 8.72% 2.00% 1.70% 5.02%
22 Kentucky 8.71% 1.99% 3.05% 3.67%
23 Indiana 8.63% 2.40% 2.26% 3.97%
24 Pennsylvania 8.52% 2.93% 2.54% 3.05%
25 Utah 8.51% 2.57% 2.61% 3.33%
26 Michigan 8.48% 3.26% 2.05% 3.17%
27 Oregon 8.40% 3.24% 4.02% 1.14%
28 North Carolina 8.33% 2.42% 2.66% 3.25%
29 Louisiana 8.29% 2.01% 1.42% 4.86%
30 Nevada 8.25% 2.35% 0.00% 5.90%
31 Arizona 8.22% 2.59% 1.35% 4.28%
32 Georgia 8.20% 2.80% 2.29% 3.11%
33 Washington 8.18% 2.71% 0.00% 5.47%
34 Texas 7.99% 3.57% 0.00% 4.42%
35 Colorado 7.97% 2.74% 2.12% 3.11%
36 North Dakota 7.93% 1.94% 1.16% 4.83%
37 South Carolina 7.82% 2.93% 1.92% 2.97%
38 Missouri 7.77% 2.34% 2.28% 3.15%
39 Idaho 7.75% 2.50% 2.20% 3.05%
40 Virginia 7.60% 2.91% 2.61% 2.08%
41 Montana 7.51% 3.61% 2.56% 1.34%
42 Wyoming 7.29% 3.77% 0.00% 3.52%
43 Alabama 7.19% 1.41% 1.85% 3.93%
44 South Dakota 7.12% 2.83% 0.00% 4.29%
45 Florida 6.79% 2.76% 0.00% 4.03%
46 New Hampshire 6.70% 5.33% 0.13% 1.24%
47 Oklahoma 6.61% 1.38% 1.69% 3.54%
48 Tennessee 6.45% 2.06% 0.09% 4.30%
49 Alaska 6.27% 4.84% 0.00% 1.43%
50 Delaware 5.59% 1.83% 2.59% 1.17%

 

 21 Days to a Big Idea!

By Bryan Mattimore

2015, 156 pages

In 2015, Bryan Mattimore was hired by the librarians of the Chicago Public Library to help them work on their creativity. He challenged them to come up with a brand-new idea in just 30 seconds. They couldn’t do it. Then he led them in a little exercise.

He gave each of them two sets of cards. One set was nouns: man, boy, dog, house, socks, etc. The other was adjectives: fast, slow, tall, short, simple, fancy, dull, glowing, etc. He told them to mix and match the nouns and adjectives until they saw something that felt like a new idea.

In the next few minutes, dozens of interesting ideas were offered up. Some were crazy bad. Some were promising.

This is one of six or seven brainstorming strategies you will find in Bryan  Mattimore’s 21 Days to a Big Idea!

To use this brainstorming technique as a marketing or product-development tool, you need to work with nouns that pertain to your industry. If you sell vitamin supplements, for example, nouns like crowbar and space probably won’t be helpful. But you can and should be able to come up with dozens if not hundreds of nouns that will.

After you have your list of nouns, select one and run it against your list of adjectives until you find a good idea. If you don’t come up with anything, select another noun and do the same thing.

I’ve actually used this brainstorming technique many times and I can attest to its effectiveness. It may not give you instant gold, but it will get the mining going.

Another brainstorming technique Mattimore recommends involves asking yourself 6 simple questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. If you are a financial planner, for example, you could ask:

  1. Besides my current customer profile, who else might be able to use my service?
  2. Of the many investment vehicles I recommend, what is the most needed?
  3. When is the best time of day to contact prospective customers?
  4. Besides the media I’m currently using, where else might I find them?
  5. If a customer asks why I’m in this business, how should I respond?
  6. How can I take action on the answers to the above 5 questions?

A third technique is one that Mattimore calls “billboarding.” He says it is great for identifying a product’s unique advantages and consequently coming up with strong sales copy.

  • First, be clear about what your idea is and what problem it solves for customers in their everyday lives.
  • Second, list your product’s benefits. What are all the things it can do for your customers?
  • Third, pick out the strongest benefit your product has to offer.
  • Focusing on that benefit, create a catchy name for your product as well as a memorable phrase that captures exactly what it is about your product that makes it so special.

Example: A cardboard stroller for children.

The Benefits: It’s lighter and easier to move and transport than a regular stroller, but is still secure enough for you to trust that your baby is safe inside. It’s also less likely to cause injury if it falls over. And it’s cheaper. On top of these pragmatic benefits, you and your kids can draw on the cardboard, keeping them entertained and engaged during trips to the grocery store.

Thus, the headline of your ad could be: The Playhouse Stroller: Go Shopping and Your Kids Will Have Fun Too!

This is not a great book. It’s a good book. A quick read that will likely give you one or several useful tools to use to brainstorm better.

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