“The best work is done with the heart breaking or overflowing.” – Mignon McLaughlin

I’m sitting on the edge of a dirty planter box at the back of the five-star London hotel in West Hollywood.

I have to sit here because I want to smoke a cigar and read. I’d prefer to smoke on my balcony, but the “welcome” brochure of this $500+ a night hotel made it very clear that smoking anywhere but in its two cramped, dingy designated smoking areas is prohibited. Violators are fined $500.

Until the last five or six years, all of the five-star hotels I’ve stayed at provided pleasant places for smokers to sit, relax, work, whatever. These were retreats with the same level of comfort, elegance, and ambiance as you had in the hotel. The only difference was that they were away from the common areas where, understandably, non-smokers should be able to congregate smoke-free.

The smoker retreats were separate but equal. They made you feel like an honored guest with a right to smoke in your own corner of luxury. And that felt good.

But here at The London in West Hollywood, both of the smoking areas appear to have been designed with a very different message in mind: “You may be our guest, but you are nonetheless a deplorable.”

Designated smoking areas like these have been popping up in airports, hotels, and other private-public places all over the world, but they are nearly ubiquitous in Los Angeles. LA, in its evolved wokeness, provides sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and humiliation zones for legal smokers.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. I wanted to talk about a comment I came across while sitting here, smoking and reading, on this dirty planter box…

Good to Great in Art: Noticing What Has Changed You 

The comment was by Anne Lamott. The subject was art – literary art, in particular. But what she said applies to film and theater and perhaps other art forms, too. She said:To be great, art has to point somewhere.”

I think that is a very useful idea.

Steven Spielberg, for example, has produced many good films and several very good films. But he has also produced one great film – and that was Schindler’s List.

 Spielberg’s ET: The Extra-Terrestrial was a cinematic blockbuster and a work that was brilliant in many ways.  It was entertaining. It was moving. And it was undergirded by an admirable though Hollywood-common moral perspective (that what matters most is not our superficial differences but the goodness of our hearts).

I saw it many years ago, and still remember it as being good. But definitely not great.

Schindler’s List, too, had great commercial and critical success. It was more serious than ET, but that is not what made it a better movie for me. The difference between ET and Schindler’s List is that the former entertained me but the latter changed me.

Schindler’s List not only entertained me, it allowed me to recognize what a purposeful life could be. I remember slipping into a protracted bout of self-criticism after seeing it that eventually led to making some important life-altering decisions.

There are other movies that have had a similarly powerful effect on me. A short list would include The 400 Blows, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.

You can apply the same standard to novels. I’ve read lots of good and very good novels, but only about a dozen or two that have changed me. Heart of Darkness, The Sun Also Rises, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to name a few. Crime and Punishment is a particularly good example. It was a riveting story that forced me to reexamine some convenient truths I had come to accept about social systems and human nature.

To be great,” Anne Lamott said, “art has to point somewhere.” I take that to mean it has to point me at something – at some truth about a part of the world I did not understand or some deeper part of the world I thought I did.

I have a half-baked theory of what it takes to go from good to great in film and fiction: It must affect me strongly on two planes, which I think of as vertical and horizontal.

The horizontal plane is the social/historical perspective. What a time or place was like – e.g., Italy in WWII or the South under Jim Crow. I need to feel that I’ve learned something that is both important and true.

The vertical plane is about the individual – about what it is like to be a human being. To be great, a film or novel has to get me to examine not just what I believe is true of people but what is true about myself.

Okay, that’s half-baked. And my butt is killing me from sitting on this narrow cement wall for almost an hour. I’ll go into the horizontal/vertical stuff some other time. Meanwhile, what do you think of this idea about good and great art? Does it make sense to you when you consider the movies you’ve seen and the books you’ve read?

Continue Reading

wokeness (noun) 

Wokeness (WOHK-ness) is the quality or state of being woke – of being aware of social injustice. As I used it today: “LA, in its evolved wokeness, provides sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and humiliation zones for legal smokers.”

Continue Reading

“Why Sanders Will Probably Win the Nomination” by David Brooks in the NYT

In this opinion piece, Brooks explains how Sanders and his fellow progressives have induced large parts of the Democratic Party to “see reality through the Bernie lens.” LINK

Continue Reading

A good, quick review of a book that’s as good as the original. It is also, perversely, a good primer for marketers.


Continue Reading

A sneak peek at a chapter from the upcoming new and revised edition of Ready, Fire, Aim… 

Understanding the Optimum Selling Strategy

Why It Is Critical for Your Start-Up Business 

In launching a business, the entrepreneur’s first and most important job – among all the many tasks associated with starting a business – is to make the first sale.

You can do everything else. You can rent space, rent furniture, print business cards, and get every sort of certification you will ever need. But until that first sale is made, you have only been spending money and time. You haven’t started a business at all.

And that means that of all the dozens of jobs you must attend to, the job of selling is supreme.

You may not be a natural salesperson. You may not even be interested in selling. Your expertise may be in product development or management or customer service or accounting. But unless you figure out how to bring in that first customer, your business will never get off the ground.

Selling, in other words, is not optional for the Stage One entrepreneur. It’s essential.

And if selling is essential, learning to sell (i.e., developing the knowledge and skills to sell your company’s main product) is an obligation, not a choice.

Introducing: The Optimum Selling Strategy 

I believe that for every business at any given time there is one best way to acquire new customers. And by “best way,” I mean the way that meets the company’s greatest current needs. For a Stage One business, generating positive cash flow is usually – or should be – the greatest need. Therefore, Stage One entrepreneur should be focused on that: how to acquire customers in a way that creates positive cash flow.

By positive cash flow, I mean getting more cash from each sale than you put into getting it. This is not easy. It is easy to acquire customers if you are willing to lose money by acquiring them. But unless your plan is to build a big customer base by losing millions of dollars (a popular idea today, but a very bad one for the average entrepreneur), you have to create a marketing and sales program that brings in more money each month than it spends.

This doesn’t mean that the initial sale itself needs to be profitable. In many businesses, customer acquisition turns profitable only after the second or third sale. But that just means that part of your job is not only to create that first sale but to create a second and third sale to the same customer in as short a time span as possible.

Most entrepreneurs never stop to think about cash flow or long-term profits when they are starting out. They are so excited about their product that they imagine it selling itself. And even experienced intrapreneurs – divisional marketing executives or CEOs – often pay scant attention to selling strategies when they launch new products. They mistakenly assume that one way of selling is just about as good as another.

Nothing could be further from the truth. How you sell your product – the specific decisions you make about presenting and pricing and talking about it – has a huge impact on whether you will be successful.

The product is important but almost never sells itself. To launch the product successfully and take your new business (or product line) from zero to a million dollars (and beyond), you have to discover what I call your optimum selling strategy (OSS). This chapter and the next are devoted to teaching you how to do that.

Discovering the OSS for your product will put your business on the right track. It will make everything that happens afterward easier. Problems will be easier to solve. Obstacles will be easier to overcome. Objectives will be easier to reach. And your business will grow quickly,

You will have a fundamental understanding of the most important secret of your business: how to bring in a steady stream of new customers at an affordable cost. This will allow you to lead your employees with confidence as the business grows, and to help them fix problems if and when they arise.

Change, of course, is a daily fact in business, and markets and marketing are constantly evolving. So the OSS you use to launch your business may not be the one you’ll need later. But in figuring out the OSS for the first time, you will have learned something that won’t likely change over time: the core buying patterns of your core customers.

Before long, you will intuitively understand your core buyer. You will understand where she is, what she wants, what she’s willing to pay for it, and how to speak to her so she will hear you.

The OSS will turn you into a Stage One sales and marketing expert, becoming your secret litmus test to measure new ideas and make wise decisions. This will help you avoid unnecessary sales and marketing mistakes. And that will allow you to focus on the programs and strategies that are likely to work, leveraging otherwise wasted time and money into building your business exponentially faster.

Continue Reading

litmus test

Chemically, the litmus (LIT-mus) test is used to determine whether a substance is acidic or alkaline. The test is performed by placing a small sample onto red or blue litmus paper. Red paper turns blue when the substance is alkaline; blue paper turns red when it is acidic. Because the results of the test are so definite and indisputable, the term is also applied to a single factor in any context that is considered to be crucial. As I used it today: “The OSS will turn you into a Stage One sales and marketing expert, becoming your secret litmus test to measure new ideas and make wise decisions.” 

Continue Reading

The largest employers in the world are:

* The US Department of Defense: 2.87 million

* China’s People’s Liberation Army: 2.35 million

* Wal-Mart: 2.3 million

Continue Reading