Why You Should Read Poetry… Even If You Don’t Like To

Sunday January 6, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.- There’s something about the power of poetry… what it can do that other forms of literature cannot. If you don’t know what I mean, read Robert Lowell’s collection Near the Ocean.

Harriet Zinnes, a poet, introduced me to Robert Lowell when I was in my junior year at Queens College, CUNY, in 1969. I bought a copy of Near the Ocean, a small volume then in its 4thedition.

I remember liking his poetry very much. Particularly this collection. But I hadn’t seen it in years. It had mysteriously disappeared. Then – just as mysteriously – it reappeared in my library at our home in Nicaragua. And so, when the family was at the tennis courts and Helen, my mother-in-law, was napping, I sat under the palapas-topped pavilion by the pool and read it.

Among its many virtues, is this example of concentration – loosely translating the Cleopatra story (from Book 1 of Horace’s Odes) to something modern and powerful and deep:


Now’s the time to drink,

to beat the earth in rhythm,

toss the flowers on the couches of the gods,


Before this, it was infamous

to taste the fruit of the vine,

while Cleopatra with her depraved gangs,

germs of the Empire, plotted

to enthrone her ruin in the Capitol,

and put an end to Rome…


yet drunk on fortune’s favors…

but Caesar tamed your soul

you saw with a now sober eye

the scowling truth of his terror,

Of Cleopatra, scarcely escaping,

and with a single ship, and scarcely

escaping from your limping feet, on fire,

Cleopatra, with Caesar running on the wind,

three rising stands of oars, with Caesar

falling on you like a sparrow hawk

fallen on some soft dove or sprinting rabbit

in the winter field. And yet you sought

a more magnanimous way to die.

Not womanish, you scorned our swords,

you did not search for secret harbors.

Regal, resigned and anguished,

Queen, you even saw your house in ruin.

Poisonous snakes give up their secrets,

you held them with practiced hands,

you showed your breasts. Then bolder, more ferocious,

death slipping through your fingers,

how could you go aboard Octavian’s galleys,

how could you march on foot, unhumbled,

to crown triumphant Caesar’s triumph –

no queen now, but a private woman?

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.”

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.

Wilderness Man Survives Again

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Delray Beach, Florida.- After a frenetic week with the extended family in Nicaragua, I was in need of rest. The last thing I wanted to do when we arrived at Miami Airport last Saturday was to jump on another plane and fly down to Brazil. But I’d made a promise to a friend and partner. I’d committed to spend some days in Sao Paulo speaking at a conference on wealth building and meeting with the marketing and copywriting teams of our three publishing businesses down there.

I mused about calling in sick. I had a runny nose, so it wouldn’t have been a total lie. And also, let’s be honest… did they really need me? My Brazilian fan base (if you want to call it a fan base) had shrunk considerably since they stopped carrying my essays. The audience I’d be speaking to was less than 300 people. More to the truth of it, I hate giving speeches. And as for those meetings with all those young talents, what could I possibly tell them that they didn’t already know? They’d read my books. They’d seen my lectures. I’d be just another old guy telling them old stories about old ideas.

I walked K out of the airport to the car service lot where Lou was waiting for her. She was talking about what she’d be doing when she got home. I was thinking (for the zillionth time): “Why don’t I just quit? Why am I still working?”

As I put her luggage into the trunk, I imagined myself climbing in there with it. What if I disappeared? Just disappeared. I could hightail it to my writing studio above the garage and hang out there for a few months until I could come up with a story to account for my absence.

Walking back into the airport, I did what I always do at this stage of my before-the-business-trip blues. I imagined myself a pioneer in the wilderness. An 18th century family man in Appalachia or the Rockies, setting out from my little log cabin in a blizzard, rifle in hand, to hunt for the meat and pelts that would keep my family alive.

“It’s too dangerous now,” imaginary K warns me. “Wait for a calm in the storm.”

“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” I reply. Then I kiss her on the forehead, pull down my coonskin cap, and march out the door.

The “hunt” in Sao Paulo was, as always, less brutal and less perilous than I had feared. The first night was easier than marching through the howling snow. It was more like watching a good documentary while sipping Chenin Blanc in the business class cabin of American Airlines flight 993. And giving my speech was less like tracking elk than excitedly explaining to lots of friendly faces my latest ideas about building wealth safely in today’s markets.

And the half-dozen meetings to which I’d have nothing to bring? They turned out rather well, actually. All those young, smart folks — they paid attention. There were nods and even smiles. And there were questions. Lots of questions that I could answer with confidence.

Then, in between, there were several really good meals with several really interesting people, two great lessons and three rolls with world-famous Jiu Jitsu champions, visits to two of Sao Paulo’s great art museums, and a VIP tour of the municipal theater. (One of the most beautiful opera houses I’ve ever seen.)

Lou dropped me off at home this morning at 5:30. It’s 6:30 now, and I’m sitting in the kitchen, writing this. Looking up through the east window, I see a thousand little clouds, dark violet in the darkness, spread out along the horizon above the ocean. It is dawning, and it’s a quick dawn. And as the minutes pass, little dark shapes are lit up from beneath in a luminous orange as the sky lightens from gray to streaks of purple and pink and blue.

My next trek into the wilderness is more than a month away.

Steve Jobs on “Why Companies Fail”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sao Paulo.- I’m in Brazil, catching up on email before I get to work – and I came across a video by Steve Jobs that Sean MacIntyre sent me. (See the link to the video, below.) It’s very good. And Jobs was fundamentally right.

I’ve never thought of it in quite this way, but I’ve always had a gut feeling that product development should lead the business.

When you are just starting out, you have to focus on sales and marketing. That’s because until you’ve been in business for years, you don’t actually know enough about the kind of products your market really wants.

Jobs understood this. In launching his business, he was all about discovering what the market really wanted in terms of customer experience. He said so on many occasions. But as the business grows beyond the point where it is selling hundreds of millions of dollars of product each year, there is a natural tendency for the marketers to take over.

And that can be dangerous – even destructive.

Everything ultimately depends on customer experience. And customer experience is 50% the experience of buying the product and 50% the experience of using it.

The way I have dealt with this has been to preach what I call “incremental augmentation.” It is essentially a refutation of the old adage: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

For me, a healthy business is one whose products are forever improving. And a smart founder/CEO is one that is never satisfied with yesterday’s product.

Jobs’ video provides a deeper insight into why that is smart.

One of the reasons I decided to rewrite Ready, Fire, Aim– my most popular business book – is because, since it was published,  I’ve had many new ideas about why some entrepreneurial businesses are incredibly successful, and some fail miserably.

I’ve posted the introduction and part of the first chapter of my rewrite here on this blog, and I’ll be posting the rest as I get each section finished. One subject that I’m quite sure I will include is the challenge of reining in a big and fast-growing company when its leaders are all very adept at creating profitable growth.

Take a look at what Jobs has to say about this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuZ6ypueK8M

Thanksgiving Morning in Nicaragua

Thursday, November 22, 2018

This year’s to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured a musical vignette from Prom, a new Broadway play that opened to great reviews. My niece, Izzy McCalla has a leading role in it. They were scheduled to be on TV at 8:15. At 8:00 we turned on the TV in the den of our house here, but we couldn’t locate it. So we rushed down to the clubhouse, begged the workers to turn on the bar TV and then Number Three Son Michael frantically searched through their larger selection of channels looking for the international channel that would be carrying it.
At 8:14 he was still searching. Everyone — including from Helen my mother in law to Francis my grandson — was yelling at him. “Hurry!”
Then, at 8:15 exactly, the image of Izzy and her costar appeared on screen. We had found it at the very moment it began….!
So we saw the whole thing, thanking our lucky stars and bragging to the restaurant workers ….Esa es nuestra prima! Esa es nuestra sobrina!


It’s Thanksgiving – a Good Time to Count Your Many Blessings


Your wealth:

You haven’t hit the Forbes list of wealthiest humans, but you have enough money to put clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and food in your stomach. “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts,” H.U. Westermayer reminds us. “No Americans have been more impoverished than these, who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”

However meager your financial assets are now, they greatly exceed those of the great majority of the world’s population. So be thankful for that.

Your health:

You have aches. You have pains. You may have illness and infirmity. But if there are times during the day when you can enjoy yourself by yourself or with other people… you have something to be thankful for.

Your wisdom:

There are so many mysteries, so many unanswered questions. You know only a fraction of what you’d like to know, but you understand the most important things. You realize that of the gifts of life, three are most important.

* Consciousness: the greatest natural gift — your innate and inalienable (see Today’s Word, below) ability to experience the world around you, to notice and to appreciate a million possible things.

* Connections: the limitless possibilities you have to have good and loving moments with your family, your friends, and with virtually everyone you have the chance to speak to every day.

* Creativity: the potential of your imagination — the capacity to do what you want with your mind, which is, after all, where your life is located.

Be thankful for that.

Your work:

For many, work is a chore. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you. You have the ability to find work you love, or love the work you do. It’s about freedom — the freedom to desist from seeing yourself as a victim and to take responsibility for your future, regardless of whatever disadvantages you have now or obstacles that lie before you.

Be thankful for that, too.


Each breath is another gift.

Be thankful.

I’m back at Rancho Santana for Thanksgiving week…

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Nicaragua – It’s a beautiful time to be here. The ocean is steel blue and the hills are myriads of green. Because of the recent political troubles, I was initially reluctant to bring the extended family. But day-by-day, homeowners are returning, feeling more assured that it is safe.

It took nearly 20 years after the Sandinista revolution of 1978-79 before gringos were willing to venture down here and buy property. It had been peaceful for more than 10 years at that time. But word traveled slowly back then.

Today, thanks to Facebook and Instagram, news – good and bad – travels at the speed of light. And that is why the resort is nearly half-filled already. If things continue to stay quiet, it’s possible that the resort will be back to full bookings by the middle of next year.

This morning, we stopped by FunLimon, our family’s community center, to watch Rancho Santana’s baseball team compete in the regional playoffs. As you can see from the photos below, the parking lot and the bleachers were overflowing. Despite the tension that still exists from the government’s lethal crackdown on protesters, people are trying to get back to the luxury of living in this beautiful place.


The One and Only Secret to a Successful Marriage?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Delray Beach, FL.- Andy and I were in our late 20s and beginning our careers in journalism. Elka was in her late 30s, working part-time as an accountant for our small publishing company.

She was beautiful and elegant and spoke with an East European accent that was hard enough to mean business but musical enough to make everything she said sound like it was being channeled from above.

We knew that she and her husband were struggling financially. Yet, though she occasionally mentioned their problems, it was always with a smile. She had nothing but good things to say about her personal life. We never heard her complain.

We were crazily infatuated with her.

One day, and I can’t remember how the conversation took this direction, Andy and I were telling her how much we admired her. We were especially impressed, we said, that despite their many challenges, she and her husband seemed to have such a happy marriage.

“Please share your secrets,” we begged.

“There is only one,” she said.

We leaned in.

“The man must love the woman more than the woman loves the man.”

Because it was Elka, I wanted to believe it. But my rational brain knew it was fundamentally romantic nonsense. Good and long-lasting marriages are based on more practical things like compromise, communication, and reasonable expectations.

Still, in the 40 years that have gone by since Elka told us her “secret,” I have not been able to forget it.

Since then, I have read dozens of books on marriage and observed a hundred marital relationships – friends and colleagues and family members. And although I’ve seen plenty of evidence to support the rational view, I’ve also noticed that in many of the best long-term marriages, Elka’s simple maxim proved true.

More on Micro-Cultures, Financial Success, and the “Nature vs. Nurture” Question

Friday, November 9, 2018

Delray Beach, Florida.- On October 18, I posted an essay www.markford.net/success-in-life-its-all-about-micro-culture about the relationship between success in life and something I call “micro-culture.”

The main points I made in that essay:

* What matters most in human development is not one’s macro-culture but one’s micro-culture. Let’s call that the 40 or 50 people that surround you from birth to age, say, 16.

* Let’s make it 49 people, bringing in the social biological concept of the 7-person limit of influence. (7 x 7 = 49)

* Micro-cultures that value hard work, intelligence/education, and financial success produce financially successful adults. Micro-cultures that lack these values produce adults that struggle or fail financially.

Since then, I’ve had some further thoughts:

* Culture is not just about values but also about expectation. It’s not just that certain micro-cultures value hard work, intelligence/education, and financial success, it’s that their members are expected to live those values.

* Another factor in determining success is an individual one. I call it self-sorting (for lack of a better word). The idea is that within any environment – academic, social, or business – people tend to sort themselves along a line from the back end to the front end. This is their pecking-order comfort zone. They do this regardless of how active or competitive the environment is.

* I am not sure whether one’s pecking-order comfort zone is solely determined by individual circumstance or whether it may be one of the values of the micro-culture. I’ve got to do a bit of research on that. But it’s possible that it is a cultural value. And if it is, that’s interesting, right?

I’m still working on this. But the more I think about it, the more I think it is the seed of an idea that I should develop into a monograph. Maybe even a book.

Hmmm. Stay tuned…