One Thing & Another

Notes From My Journal: The Soothing Power of Making Music

About 55 years ago, I won second place in a solo contest for the French horn. I played a tune called Mighty Major. I got back into it about five years ago and then dropped it. I’m back into it again… and I’m wondering why I stopped. It is thoroughly enjoyable. It may be the only thing that gets me completely away from my head. I’ve been trying to achieve a bit more equilibrium in my life through meditation. But it’s hard for me. Playing this difficult brass instrument is faster and, at least for the time being, more satisfying. I am fully absorbed while doing it, and calm and happy with myself when I’m done.

It’s interesting…


Today’s Word: lagniappe (noun)

Lagniappe (LAN-yap or lan-YAP) is a small gift given by a merchant to a customer who makes a purchase. It may also refer to a bonus or unexpected benefit. As used by the freelance travel writer Jill Schensul in an article in The Record: “Lagniappe – the unexpected surprises, the extras – are one of the reasons I love New Orleans…. I live, and travel, for the unexpected surprise. I may get lost, but there’s usually an unexpected treat in that unplanned detour.”


Interesting Fact

55.1% of all US prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses.


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket: An Unavoidable Hazard of Success

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.

But you can un-complicate the decision-making process by identifying your priorities. Here is one way to do that:


Size matters

The first and perhaps most important consideration is the size of the opportunity. By that I mean how much the opportunity can advance your career.

If the financial benefit is modest (e.g., a chance to make a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars) in your free time, it’s usually best to decline. Why? Because you’d be better off using that time to find bigger opportunities, opportunities to add tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to your net worth.

If the financial benefit is big but short-term (e.g., a one-time chance to make an extra 10 or 20 thousand dollars), it’s also best to decline. Your free time is valuable. You want to invest it in situations that have a long life so that the benefit can compound, just like money in an investment account.


As does duration

That eliminates all but one sort of opportunity: the chance to make a lot of money indefinitely or at least over many years. These are almost always relationship opportunities – opportunities to build mutually advantageous relationships that could continue to grow for the rest of your career.

So ask yourself: Is this a transactional deal or a relationship deal? Transactional deals can be very attractive because they can result in nice, big payouts in a short span of time. But you have to keep in mind that transactional activities do not compound, and compounding – as Einstein is reported to have said – is the E=MC2 of building wealth.


The downside

Just because the opportunity is big and long-term doesn’t mean you should take it. You must also analyze the costs and risks before you make a decision.

By costs I mean any financial investment you might be asked to make and the cost in terms of your time. The financial investment is relatively easy to assess. Just ask yourself if you would be comfortable losing any part of your investment. If you would be unhappy with such a result, say no.

If you’re okay with any financial investment, you have to determine whether your time is worth the potential benefit. And there is a little trick some people use to figure out exactly how valuable their time is.

Figure out how much you make right now on a per-hour basis. (Your annual compensation, including bonuses, fees, royalties, and dividends) Then divide that by the number of hours that you work. Let’s say that number is $100. Take the number of hours you’ve determined the opportunity will cost you and divide it into the financial benefit you expect to get from it (again on a yearly basis). If it is less than $200 (effectively doubling your current hourly value), say no.

Making decisions about whether to take or reject opportunities is not as simple as tossing a coin. But it doesn’t have to be crazy difficult. You don’t have to calculate every single variable. The main considerations are very few:


  • How large is the benefit?
  • How long will it last?
  • What are the costs – both financial but also in terms of time?
  • What are the risks – and am I comfortable taking them?


Only you can make the final decision about whether or not to pursue any opportunity that comes your way. But by evaluating each opportunity in this way, you’ll make more decisions more quickly and with greater confidence.


Recommended Reading

 What makes a business valuable? Roy Furr, a young man whose career I’ve been following for some time, identifies the key ingredients in this essay…

Read MoreOne Thing & Another

America Speaking – a Work in Progress*

 The Car Washer The car washer loves me Rag in hand, ready to move When each wet car emerges Dripping and happy To dry the gleaming bodies The shining reminders of What he does not have and Does not deserve These pampered pet things Toys from another class He will not think about it But he moves like a cat And like a cat there is No room in his heart Nor time in his day For resentment Neither for the owners Or for his pot-bellied, cigar-chomping boss He has no time for that And these hulking creatures Wet and happy as they are Deserve to be kindly handled And anyway one day he could Have one of his own …

Read MoreAmerica Speaking – a Work in Progress*

A Very Rich Entrepreneur You’ve Probably Never Heard About

There are many ways to get rich as an entrepreneur. One way is to create just the right product at just the right time. A second way is to identify, and then cater to, a neglected niche market. A third way is to introduce a new and attractive marketing strategy.

Roy Reiman made his fortune by doing all three at the same time.

Reiman got his start by working as a freelance writer and dabbling in magazine publishing. In 1970, he noticed that two farming magazines had eliminated their soft “women’s features” and he sensed an opportunity.

He devised a prototype for a magazine called Farm Wife News. To test the idea, he rented a mailing list of 400,000 farmers from an agricultural company. He sent a copy of the prototype to a tenth of the names, offering six issues for $5. The response was so great that he abandoned the next test and sent the sales package to the entire list.

A few years later, he was publishing 11 magazines aimed at the rural market and enjoying revenues of more than $300 million. His titles, with a circulation of roughly 16 million, included Country Woman, Ranch Living, and Taste of Home.

The magazine market in the USA has always been very large. But it has also been very competitive, with dozens of publications on every popular topic. So how did Reiman do it?

The most desired demographic has traditionally been young and urban. But rather than going after them, Reiman marketed to older, rural readers.

And rather than selling advertising, he decided to make his profits solely through subscription sales and renewals.

Read MoreA Very Rich Entrepreneur You’ve Probably Never Heard About

Best and the Worst of the Week – Saturday, October 7

Quotation I’m trying to believe: “You only live once but if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West Quip I intend to insert into the next lull in conversation: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton Arguing with K is like reading a software licensing agreement. In the end I ignore everything and click: I agree. Best repartee (in response to a friend complaining to his wife about a headache: “Poor baby. It’s a good thing women experience labor. The pain is so great that we can almost imagine what a man feels like when he has a cold.” News item that inspired me: Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity …

Read MoreBest and the Worst of the Week – Saturday, October 7

Stay Safe Buds

Lots of inquiries about what I’m going to do about the hurricane…how I’m going to handle it, etc. Well, I’m feeling like Lt. Dan…remember this?

Literary Criticism

For every good book, play, or poem, there are probably a half dozen works of criticism written about it. Literary critics tend to fall into groups, characterized by what they think their jobs are. The best criticism is that which seeks to understand and explain a work by analyzing it in its cultural context. But many critics are not happy doing that. So they do other things, such as evaluating literature based on how well it lives up to some moral or political standard. These efforts usually aren’t helpful at all – unless you are a zealot – but they are common. Other critics,wishing to show how smart they are, take a “formalist” approach, analyzing works according to their “linguistic …

Read MoreLiterary Criticism