An Unavoidable Hazard of Success

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Delray Beach, FL – If you’re smart, hardworking and persistent, you’ve got what it takes to be successful at any career you choose. But as you climb the ladder, you’re likely to face a problem they don’t talk about in business schools: too many attractive opportunities.

For 90+% of the population, this is a problem that will never arise. But you – you are in the top 10%. And the farther you travel down the road of success, the more opportunities will come your way.

I’ve heard this complaint from good people I’ve mentored for years. Just recently, GR, an up-and-coming copywriter, put it this way:

As one becomes successful, it seems more and more opportunities present themselves. It’s tempting to want to go after every single one of them.

    So how do you spot the opportunities that are right for you? 

Or, how do you decide which ones to say “no” to and which ones to place your bets on?

Here’s a quick answer, the answer I gave to him…

I don’t think there is a failsafe strategy for selecting and rejecting career opportunities.

If you are a thinking person, you will recognize in every opportunity a complex assortment of costs, risks, and benefits. The most obvious of these will be financial. But there are emotional, intellectual, political, and social costs, risks, and benefits too.

If you did a matrix that included all of these variables, it would quickly become very difficult to read. And that’s one reason smart people like GR have trouble deciding which opportunities to take and which to reject.

Here’s the thing. Opportunities are inherently complicated. You can’t un-complicate them.

. . . continue reading An Unavoidable Hazard of Success

Is Someone Abusing You? Here’s How to Claim Your Power Almost Instantly

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Delray Beach, FL. – He was the kind of person that leaned into you when he spoke. Poked you in the ribs to emphasize his enthusiasm and never laughed at your jokes. When he met K for the first time, he put his arm around her waist. I didn’t like him, but I was making good money from him. So I put up with it. For a while…

Tony Robbins once told a story that went something like this:

He was on a flight in the first-class cabin when he was identified by a well-dressed, middle-aged man who said, “You the power guy, right?”

When Tony acknowledged that he was, the man confronted him. “I’ve watched your infomercial, and I think it’s crap. The way I see it, everyone falls into one of two groups: the powerful and the powerless. Ninety-nine percent are powerless. And regardless of what you promise them, they’ll stay powerless.”

“You’re missing the point,” Tony said. “Everyone has an untapped power center, and I show people how to unleash it and use it to fulfill their dreams.”

“Bull!” the man replied. “You want to see real power? Watch this!”

. . . continue reading Is Someone Abusing You? Here’s How to Claim Your Power Almost Instantly

Swarm Intelligence and Free Enterprise

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Delray Beach, FL – Scientists use the term “swarm intelligence” to describe how relatively dumb animals can do amazingly smart things.

Termites, for example, have nearly nonexistent brains. Yet, as pointed out in a HarvardBusiness Review(HBR) article I came across (in a friend’s bathroom, of all places), “they build mounds that are engineering marvels, able to maintain ambient temperature and comfortable levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide even as the nest grows.”

Ants are able to find the shortest possible route from their base to a food source. They do this by working together. Individual ants wander out, walking here and there. As they do, each ant leaves a chemical substance – pheromone – that attracts other ants.

“In a simple case, two ants leave the nest at the same time and take different paths to a food source, marking their trails with pheromone. The ant that took the shorter path will return first, and this trail will now be marked with twice as much pheromone (from the nest to the food and back) as the path taken by the second ant, which has yet to return.”

Humans are generally believed to be more intelligent than social insects. But that doesn’t mean we don’t use swarm intelligence to guide our behavior.

In fact, many of our traditions and rituals may be derived from swarm intelligence, including those connected with marriage, divorce, and even war . Swarm intelligence may also be used to solve complicated problems.

An example from the HBR: a freight-transportation business that used swarm intelligence to figure out its routing parameters. In one instance involving a package bound from Chicago to Boston, it turned out to be more efficient to leave it on a plane heading for Atlanta and then Boston than to take it off and put it on the next flight to Boston.

There is something to this idea that relates to a longstanding “debate” on social issues. On one side are those who believe that problems can be fixed by the ideas of one or a few very smart people. On the other side are those who think that they are way too complex and fickle for any one system to work over time.

There is part of my mind – an arrogant part, I admit – that would like to be in charge of the world’s ills so I could set them straight. There’s another part – the part that has tried and failed – that is inclined to think that social problems are best sorted out over time through swarm intelligence.


Net Investible Wealth

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Delray Beach, FL – Principles of Wealth: #14 of 61

Income is an important factor in the acquisition of wealth, but it is not a measure of it. Nor are expensive possessions. The only measure of financial wealth is net investible worth.

It had a pool in the back and automatic doors on the garage in front. It was the nicest house I had ever lived in and our first home. Three bedrooms. Two baths. Friendly neighborhood. $170,000.

“Do you think I’m being foolish?” I asked. “Spending so much on a home?”

Eddie looked at me as if I was crazy. “Your income last year was more than double the cost of the house,” he said. “And your income this year is higher still.”


“I close hundreds of houses a year in this area,” he said. About a third of them are for homes that cost more than a half a million. And they are bought by doctors and lawyers that make no more than you do.


“They drive Mercedes. You drive Hondas. They drink Dom Perignon. You drink Proseco. They all look rich, but most of them are in debt. They spend their money faster than they make it.”


“How much did you have in savings last year?”

“About $175,000.”

“And this year?”
“About $250,000.”

“That’s what I thought. You are worried about buying a home that cost you about six or seven months of salary. That alone tells me you are an extremely conservative spender.

“More importantly, you’ve made this promise to yourself to increase not only your income but your savings every year. And you’ve been doing that for years.

The doctors and lawyers I know are spending two to five times their yearly salaries on their houses. These guys have great incomes but they also have great debt. Debt that is often greater than their assets. They are buying prestige and keeping their fingers crossed that their financial situation will always be strong. They have zero savings and no net worth.”

“That net worth thing. It’s always troubled me. How can I count my house or my cars? I’m always going to need them. I don’t want to be forced to sell them.”

“Okay, then don’t count them. Count only the net worth you have after subtracting them. Call it something…”

Years later, when I wrote about it, I called it net investible wealth.

The True Cost of Buying

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Principles of Wealth: #13 of 61

Delray Beach, FL – 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

One Thing & Another

Word for the Wise

Leonine (LEE-uh-nine) = of or relating to a lion. Example as used by Sax Rohmer in the 1915 crime novel The Yellow Claw: “In the leonine eyes looking into hers gleamed the light of admiration and approval.”

 Quotable Quote

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary can speak.” – Hans Hoffman


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Principles of Wealth: #12 of 61

The term “value” is widely understood in theory but rarely in practice. Value denotes that which you can appreciate and benefit from, both now and also in the future.

Anything that is valuable to you can be said to be a value. Friendship, for instance. Or fidelity. Or art. Or dance. Or music.

Politicians value power and loyalty. They seek to acquire as much of it as they can as they rise through the political ranks so they can wield it when they are on top.

Performance artists value approval and use their energy and creativity to create the largest possible base of fans.

Professionals – doctors, architects, and plumbers – value their reputations and work hard to not only gain but also preserve and improve them by providing high quality service and personal care.

Most healthy minded people understand that wealth (and even net investible wealth) has no intrinsic value. Its value is dependent on its ability (or perceived ability) to be exchanged for those other values: friendship, loyalty, power, and admiration, to name a few.

Mini Philosophy Lesson: Aesthetics*

Most people think of aesthetics as the study of beauty. But it is a bit broader than that. The word derives from the Greek term to denote perception, feeling, or even sensation.

Plato had an idealistic view of aesthetics. He believed that there was a perfect form of the beautiful – generally and specifically. A bed, for example, was an imitation of an ideal thing, a “Form” or paradigm, almost like an abstract blueprint of what a carpenter might build. The bed that the carpenter actually built was beautiful or not to the degree that it replicated some ideally beautiful bed that exists in some other dimension. In his ideal word, only representational art would exist, and its purpose would be didactic: to teach viewers what truth and beauty look like.

Aristotle, perhaps the greatest of all philosophers, was not an idealist. He did not believe that there was some perfect bed in some ideal world that real beds and paintings of beds should imitate. It was enough for him that the painting of a bed should look as much like its earthly subject as possible. His approach to aesthetics was to identify the best expressions of art and compare them. From that, he made observations that could be used by critics (for evaluation), viewers (for appreciation), and artists (for creation).

Most of the ideas we have about aesthetics today can be said to have originated in the writings of either Plato or Aristotle. But there was a twist added at the beginning of the nineteenth century with the advent of “art for art’s sake.” This view held that art should exist solely to be beautiful. It need not have the pragmatic/didactic purposes that Plato and Aristotle suggested.

I don’t know of a philosopher who has made this claim, but I believe that much of aesthetics is actually the basis of ethics. At the bottom of many ethical preferences – once you cut through the skimpy rationales – is some deeply held feeling about what is ugly and what is beautiful in human behavior.

*From my book How to Speak Intelligently About Everything That Matters”.

 Look at This…


One Thing & Another

Word for the Wise

Preternatural (prih-tur-NATCH-uh-rul) – existing outside of nature; extraordinary. Example from George Will: “Beyond his preternatural affability, there is some acid and some steel.”

 Champagne Trick

A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continually from the bottom of the glass to the top.


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Principles of Wealth: #11 of 61

To acquire wealth, it is helpful to be able to define it. Fewer than one in ten people can. The answer is “stored value.”

That kid driving the red Ferrari? The doctor with the huge white house on the ocean? The attractive older woman wearing the Oscar de la Renta gown?

They look wealthy, but you can’t tell by their possessions. They might be poor. They might be worse then poor. They might be in debt.

What about your friend that is “pulling down two hundred G’s” a year selling hedge funds? Or that obnoxious kid you met in law school that charges $700 an hour for his services?

They may be rich. They may not be. Income can be an important factor in creating wealth but it is not a measure of it.

There is only one way to measure wealth – and that is the amount of value an individual has set aside for future use.

In financial terms (there are many forms of wealth), we generally refer to this as net worth: the difference between one’s assets and one’s liabilities. I prefer a more stringent definition: one’s net investible wealth. Net investible wealth is net worth minus any assets you plan to keep (and not sell) for the rest of your life.

Making big money and spending big money create the impression of wealth. But true wealth is only what you have put aside for future use.

Quick Marketing Idea: The Emotional Power of Repetition

Why is it that we never tire of hearing our favorite songs?

According Derek Thompson, writing in Hit Makers, it’s because our brains our wired for it. We respond to repetition when it follows certain patterns.

He cites a study on mice:

Exposed to the sound of a B note played repeatedly, the mouse will pay brief attention and then lose interest. But if a minor variation is added – say, the B note followed by a C note – the mouse’s attention will reengage. Not just that, but it will stay engaged for a good length of time even when the “tune” goes back to just a B note.

“A single variation is sufficient to break the mouse’s complacency and return its interest to the music,” the author posits.

Further tests suggested that the most effective pattern for keeping a rodent’s attention was: BBBBC-BBBC-BBC-BC-D. This, Thompson says, “is uncannily similar to the structure of successful pop songs that follow a pattern of verse-verse, chorus, verse-chorus, bridge.”

(It’s also similar to the rhyme structure of some poetry, like some sonnets.)

Advertisers (and propagandists) have long known about the emotional power of repetition. It makes the advertisement more memorable. And it makes it more believable as well. (See D. Trump.)

Suggestion: Lay this pattern over your next medium- to long-term promotional piece before you post it.

Look at This…



One Thing & Another

Word for the Wise

Claque (KLAK) – a group hired to applaud; a group of sycophants. Example as used by Charles P. Pierce in an Esquire article titled “Nobody Knows How to Play This Game Anymore”: “The bill passed the House because the Freedom Caucus, that claque of unreconstructed extremists who hold the balance of power there, gave in a little.”

 Did You Know…?

Cats spend 66% of their lives sleeping.


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Principles of Wealth: #10 of 61

Wealth is neither absolute nor objective. This is so because those things that we value are by nature relative and subjective.

Your Richard Mille watch cost you $35,000 when you bought it 10 years ago, when the company first came into the public view. It worked no better than a $35 Casio. In fact, it worked considerably worse. You had to have it repaired twice and were charged several thousand dollars to do so. If the value you attached to your watch was pragmatic – keeping time and cost of use over 10 years – you’d feel the money you spent was a hugely foolish mistake.

But the company poured millions into advertising and became a status symbol, particularly among wealthy athletes and rap stars. It also raised its prices considerably. The current range is $250,000 and upwards.

Now you are told you can sell your “vintage, first edition” Richard Mille on the secondary market and walk away with $85,000 in cold cash.

Will you do it? That depends on how much you value its objective qualities of reliability and cost of use versus the subjective qualities of beauty, complexity, and prestige.


 He Did What?

Although I haven’t written much advertising these past 20 years, I did more than a bit of it for a 10-year stretch during the 1980s. After that, I coached and mentored copywriters, and between 2000 and 2010 wrote a few books on the subject.

Writing persuasive copy was probably the single strongest money-making skill I had back then. And it accounted for the lion’s share of my earnings. But I was always a little embarrassed to admit that it was my primary job. Today, copywriters are looked upon much like actors were during Elizabethan times: otherwise reproachable lowlifes in possession of commercially valuable talents and abilities.

I do remember when, besieged by such opinion, I look refuge in remembering that one of my favorite writers, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) spent many early years writing copy to make ends meet. And he wasn’t the only one.

Here are some other respectable (and in some cases venerated) folks that worked as copywriters before achieving fame in a non-advertising career:

* Sherwood Anderson, author

* Helen Gurley Brown, former publisher and editor (Cosmopolitan)

* Gary Comer, founder of Lands’ End

* Don DeLillo, author

* F. Scott Fitzgerald, author

* Terry Gilliam, director and animator

* Alec Guinness, actor

* Dashiell Hammett, author

* Hugh Hefner, publisher (Playboy)

* Joseph Heller, author

* Tim Kazurinsky, comedian

* Rick Moranis, actor

* Ogden Nash, poet

* Bob Newhart, comedian and actor

* Salmon Rushdie, author

* Dorothy L. Sayers, author

* Fay Weldon, author

Look at This…


One Thing & Another

Word for the Wise

Pinguid (PING-wid) – fat and oily. Here’s a lovely sentence from The Bunsby Papers by John Brougham that includes it alliteratively: “Peter was pinguid, plump, and plethoric – she was thin to attenuation.”

Did You Know… ?

If you add up all the numbers from 1 to 100 consecutively, the total is 5050. Keep that in mind. You never know when it will come up in conversation.


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Principles of Wealth: #5 of 61

Wealth and income inequality are realities that exist in every economy – even those committed in principle to the distribution of wealth.

Many people today, believing that equality is an intrinsic and achievable good, seek to flatten financial inequalities through government programs and social action. A smaller group, sympathetic to the notion of equality but less trusting of governmental solutions, seek to create substantial personal wealth and then distribute some of that to others. Still others are dubious that financial inequality is intrinsically good and practically achievable. And a final group is sure that equality is intrinsically bad and can only be partially achieved and that only by severe repression.

My view is that human nature is innately opposed to equality. You can, by force, make a community financially equal for a moment in time. But an hour later, individuals within that community will get to work recreating inequality. Some will seek to have more. Some will be satisfied with what they have. And some will seek to have less.

This is the fundamental reason why history has shown us that the goal of achieving financial equality has never been achieved or even attempted.

From my book How to Speak Intelligently About Everything That Matters

Shakespeare is said to have contributed (by far) more words to the English language than any other person in history. He has also contributed some of the best loved and most often repeated quotations. Consider the following:

“All that glisters is not gold.” (The Merchant of Venice)

“Something wicked this way comes.” (Macbeth)

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” (Hamlet)

“It was Greek to me.” (Julius Caesar)

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” (Henry VI, Part II)

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” (Twelfth Night)

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” (Henry VI, Part II)

“I smell a rat…” (Hamlet)

Look at This…

Racing Through Edinburgh