How to Make Friends in High Places

“Shallow men believe in luck… Strong men believe in cause and effect.”                      Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life

Today, I am going to open a little door into your future.

First, answer this question: Who in your industry would you like to know? Whose trust or confidence would you like to gain? Who could help you succeed? (I’m talking about someone you know of, not someone you know personally.)

Next, think about something this person has done that you admire. It may be a product he has recently developed. It may be the standard of service he sets. It may be an award he has won. Anything you genuinely admire.

Now – on some very nice, dignified stationery – write him a note expressing your admiration.

Don’t fawn. Be direct and complimentary.

End by saying something like, “I know you are a very busy man, but if you ever have a spare half-hour, I’d love to get the chance to get some advice from you on my own career.”

Insert your business card and post it.

Repeat once a week until you run out of names.

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How to Think “Outside the Box”

Much has been made of the importance of thinking “outside the box.” To solve difficult problems, it is said, you need the ability to do this. I agree. Completely. Because I’ve seen supposedly insurmountable problems solved by this kind of thinking many times.

The origin of the phrase originated with an intelligence test called the Nine-Dot Box. You’ve probably seen it. Imagine three rows of three dots, each equally spaced, on a piece of paper. The challenge is to connect all the dots by drawing a minimum number of lines. The rules: You must draw a line through every dot once and only once. The lines must be straight (no curves). And your pen/pencil cannot leave the paper.

If you’ve seen this done as a “bar trick,” you know that most people cannot do it with fewer than five lines.

The trick to thinking outside the box is to ask yourself if you are making any unfounded assumptions. Specifically, ask yourself if you are limiting the possible solutions of the problem by some imagined restrictions that don’t exist. If you are, all you have to do is think “beyond” them.

In the case of the Nine-Dot Box, the assumption is that there is an imaginary boundary surrounding the perimeter dots. But there is no rule that says your lines cannot extend beyond that perimeter. By thinking “outside the box,” you can easily connect all the dots with four lines. There are several ways of doing it. (Search “9 Dots Puzzle” on YouTube.)

In fact, you can connect them all with three lines – even a single line if you roll the paper into a cylinder. Torque it so that the dots are at an angle to one other, and then they can be connected with one continuous straight line around the cylinder.

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Thank God for Your Health

The first wealth is health.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I woke up this morning with an urgent sense that I should tell you something that, in a fully awakened state, I realize you already know. But obvious things are often worth stating simply because they are so true.

Nothing is more important than your health.

If, before you were born, you were given the following choice, which would you choose?

  1. To be born a millionaire but crippled
  2. To be healthy but penniless

Would you trade in your consciousness for half a million dollars? Your ability to move for $250,000? Would you give up your sight for $350,000? Your sense of smell for $100,000?

Of the important things in life, wealth is probably not in the top three. But since the other things — the more important things — cannot be bought or sold, we tend to focus on that which can be.

So today, just for the record, let’s remind ourselves of what we know: Health is more important than wealth. Loving relationships are more important than wealth. And so is the sense that you are spending your time wisely.

If you don’t have health, you cannot enjoy or sometimes even experience the other gifts life gives us. If you have wealth but have no friends to share it with, you have nothing. And even if you have health and wealth and friendship but lack purpose, you are going to spend the rest of your life feeling the lack of it.

I’m not religious, but I believe in saying grace. Each evening before dinner, I ask my family to formally acknowledge our gratitude for our health, our wealth, our family, and our friends.

In the morning and before I go to bed, I spend a few minutes — not always but often — thinking about purpose. Am I doing something that has value? Did/will I do something good that day?

Say a prayer today — especially if you are not religious. And remember to say grace.

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Why Vegetarians Crave Sweets

If you are a vegetarian, you may have noticed that you crave sweets. Not just sugar in your coffee, but sugary confections like pastries and candy. In The Vegetarian Myth, Lierre Keith, a former vegan, explains why that is so:


  1. With the typical vegetarian diet, you are eating mostly carbohydrates and avoiding proteins (meat, fish, eggs, etc.). This almost certainly makes you hypoglycemic. You have frequent drops in your blood sugar levels. And that triggers a biologically based craving to get them back up.
  2. The lack of protein also means your brain is starved of endorphins, which feed on protein. So your brain wants a health-damaging substitute: sugar. Sugar temporarily boosts endorphins by giving you an adrenaline rush.
  3. Your brain also needs protein to produce tryptophan. Tryptophan produces serotonin. And without enough serotonin, you will feel depressed. Eating sugar temporarily boosts tryptophan.
  4. A meat-poor diet robs you of energy. Once again, carbohydrates and sugar temporarily boost energy, only to deplete it later.
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So You Want to Be a Leader? Secrets From Attila the Hun

We sat down at a corner table with Number Three Son, ML (his fiancée), and two friends of theirs who looked to be attractive, smart, and good natured. Just the sort of people one would want to liven up a dinner.

ML introduced me to their friends. Then one of them, a green-eyed, blonde with freckles said, smiling: “You don’t remember me, do you? I worked for you. You made me cry once.”

 This produced – no surprise – a moment of awkward silence.

The following day, this morning, I climbed the spiral staircase in our Rancho Santana hideaway (in Nicaragua) and scanned the books on the shelves. I was looking for a short read. Something I could enjoy in the free hour I had.

Of the hundreds of books on those shelves, there were fewer than a dozen I hadn’t read. None of them were appealing. So I selected five I had read before, set them down beside me on the daybed, and languidly thumbed through them.

One reminded me of last night’s awkward moment. It was a bestseller nearly 30 years ago. Title: Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, by Wess Roberts, “Ph.D.”

It was a type of business book I don’t ordinarily enjoy: using an extended metaphor (Attila the Hun as a leader) to illustrate fairly ordinary business wisdom. Among the several hundred bits of advice, I found some that made good Attila-the-Hun-like sense.

But as I wrote them down, I realized that most of them didn’t ring exactly true. So I changed them to match my experience and current thoughts. Here they are (significantly revised from the book):

On what it takes to be a successful leader


  • You must have the courage, creativity, and stamina to focus on accomplishing your principal responsibility. And that responsibility is to produce profits – a continued growth in profits – by providing your customers with a continued increase in the value of your products.
  • You must recognize and accept that your success as a leader cannot come from books about leadership, and certainly not from the retroactively upgraded stories told by successful leaders. It must come from anchoring your actions to the core strengths of your personality.
  • You must remember that success will depend not only upon your sustained willingness to work hard but also upon your willingness to push people beyond their “comfort zones.”
  • You must never forget that your primary relationship with your employees is a business relationship whose purpose is to serve your customers. You are not and should not try to be their friends.
  • You should endeavor always to be fair and helpful with employees. But never at the expense of making them more useful to and productive for the business.


Those qualities alone would eliminate most potential leaders. But there are more…


  • You must be willing – no, determined – to pursue ideas you know are right. Even in the face of opposition and challenge.
  • You must not be threatened by contemporaries or subordinates whose skills and personalities are stronger than yours. On the contrary, you should seek them out and promote them.
  • You must be willing to make unrecognized and thankless personal sacrifices.
  • You must put the success of the business (and, therefore, the satisfaction of its customers) above your own desires.
  • You must be willing to learn and to grow and to change. But never to doubt your integrity.

The moment you accept a leadership role, you must also embrace certain responsibilities.

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This is weird. Is this a sign of early onset dementia?

Nobody talked about dementia when I was a kid. I didn’t even know what it was until I was in my 40s. And back then it was described as a kind of “brain fog” that affected octogenarians. It wasn’t something I thought about.

It began to get a good deal of attention about 20 years ago, perhaps because older baby boomers – the bulging demographic that has been dominating cultural concerns – were experiencing it.

Even then I wasn’t scared. I was healthy. And anyway, I imagined dementia as simply life without memory. You were basically living “in the here and now.” Wasn’t that supposed to be good?

As time passed, we learned more about it. And it became clear that it was – or could be – crippling, humiliating, and psychologically painful. It was, indeed, scary. Every bit as scary as cancer, and in one way (with the loss of self-awareness) perhaps worse.

So now, like most people my age, I dread dementia. And I have good reason to worry. Because it is becoming increasingly common with people in their 60s and 70s. It’s even popping up in 40-year-olds.

Perhaps because I’m prone to hypochondria, the fear of dementia flashes through my mind almost every day. If I lose my wallet or keys or especially forget why I’ve come into a room, I think, “This is it.”

Recently I heard that stumbling could be an early sign. And sure enough, I’ve been noticing that I do stumble now and then.

“This is weird,” I say to K as we walk through the city.

“Just pick up your feet!” she replies.

“It’s dementia,” I say. “Early onset.”

She laughs. “Not so early,” is her reply.

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I’ve done better with real estate than with any other category of investing…

And I’ve done it with everything from limited partnerships to buying and flipping properties to rental real estate and land banking.

By far the safest and most lucrative has been buying buildings into which I put businesses that I (and often my partners) own. There are many advantages to this. The primary one is having control over how much rent your tenant pays you.

Generally speaking, my investments have been in office buildings. Some as small as 3000 sq ft and some 30 times larger. Recently, I’ve invested in a few parking lots/garages. That has turned out to be even better from an ROI perspective. Plus, when rented to my businesses and/or their employees, there’s virtually no risk.

Here’s a photo of the latest one in Baltimore:

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Beauty and the Brain

Numerous studies demonstrate that good looking people have a measurable advantage in life. How do we determine what is “good looking”? According to neurologist Anjan Chatterjee, it’s because of the way our brains evolved. We are, he says, wired to see as beautiful “the average of all the physical factors that determine reproductive success.”

In men, for example, muscles and high cheekbones are attractive because they indicate strength. In women, an hourglass body shape is attractive because it indicates the ability to bear children.

Conversely, wrinkled skin is unattractive because it indicates old age. And physical deformities are unattractive because they vary from “average.”

Interestingly, what we think of as beautiful is actually the average look of a healthy body. This was discovered by using a computer to blend together thousands of photos of healthy men and women. The result was images that are almost identical to what most people consider to be “good looking.”

Of course, we all know that physical beauty indicates neither goodness nor intelligence. But the “prejudice” to view people that way is deep in our brains. So deep that we need to consciously discriminate against it “if we wish to treat people fairly.”

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How Often Should You “Hit” Your Customers With Advertising?


It took us nearly 17 years to recognize a fact about marketing that we already knew. I’m talking about frequency: how often you should “hit” your prospects with ads.

Instinct tells us it should be not too often. (You don’t want to burn them out.) And that instinct is what was behind the early formulas for sending ads to Internet prospects and buyers. The first rule was the most conservative: Only one email out of five could be a sales piece. Some of our bolder marketers did more. And before long, the rule was to send out seven emails a week, one a day. Four of them editorial; three of them advertising.

That became the dominant formula for at least a dozen years. And it was working fine. The problem, I knew at the time, was that it had never been tested. And then it was tested. And every time a test was done that “hit” prospects and customers more frequently, sales rose.

This is exactly what happened in the direct marketing industry 40 years ago. We went from mailing our customers twice a month to mailing them daily on a non-stop basis until the mailings failed.

A few months ago, I persuaded one of my clients to move from three emailings a week to every day. After two weeks, her sales were up 37%. I checked in with her yesterday to see if those results had diminished. “Far from it,” she said. “They’re up 47%!”

I understand the instinct to limit your advertising. Even after all these years of reality contradicting it, it’s still stuck in my brain.

So what I tell my clients is this: If your advertising is pushy and obnoxious, you will wear away your customer file with frequent emails. But if it is smart and informative and useful, you should increase the frequency until the sales report, not your instinct, tells you to stop.

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