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.

Today’s Word: torpor (noun) – Torpor (TAWR-per) is sluggish inactivity; lethargic indifference. As used by Sarah Bernhardt in her memoir My Double Life: “I did not want to move again, and the torpor seemed thoroughly delicious.”

 Did You Know?: A hardboiled egg will spin, an uncooked egg will wobble.

 Worth Quoting: “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” – Dorothy Parker

 Watch This

 Very funny! I didn’t see it coming.



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

Today’s Word: maladroit (adjective) –Someone who is maladroit (mal-uh-DROIT) is unskillful, awkward, bungling, and/or tactless. As used by Alexis de Tocqueville, describing a French cabinet minister: “His mind was narrow, maladroit, provoking, disparaging and ingenious rather than just.”

Did You Know?: The human head weighs, on average, 8 pounds and contains 5 trillion atoms.

Worth Quoting: “The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse.” – Confucius

 Recommended Reading

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

By Amy Cuddy

2015, 352 pages

 When she was a college sophomore, Amy Cuddy suffered a brain injury in a car crash that reduced her IQ by 30 points. She was told she probably would not be able to finish her bachelor’s degree.

She did, of course. Then she went on to graduate school and eventually got a PhD in Social Psychology from Princeton. That was how she introduced herself when she gave her now-famous TED Talk in 2012.

I am always skeptical of overcoming-all-odds stories – especially when the details are hard to verify. So I read Presence skeptically. And that skepticism swelled every time the author referred to herself as a scientist.

Impressive bio and academic credentials aside, Presence is essentially a self-help book. In some circles, that is a bad thing. But when self-help books are based on the writer’s actual experience and those experiences are replicated by others, I want to listen.

Turns out Cuddy has some good advice on how to feel more confident and exhibit more personal power by practicing certain physical behaviors. The habit of smiling frequently, for example, improves one’s disposition – even if the smiling is artificial.  Habitual frowning has the opposite effect. Walking tall – if you make a habit of it – will make you feel more confident and that confidence will be noticed and respected by others.

Odds Stacked Against You? Stop Bitching and Get to Work!

November 24, 2018


Nicaragua.- NP believes that when parents hit their seventies they should start giving away their assets to their children as fast as they can.

“Making them wait till you die is manipulative,” he says.

I say “I don’t think parents should feel obliged to leave their kids anything. They should expect their kids to be able to take care of themselves.”

NP also believes that older parents should live in assisted living facilities so that they “aren’t a burden to their adult children.”

I believe adult children should feel honored to take care of their parents as they become less capable of caring for themselves. “Caring for a family member is a privilege,” I say. “And it’s morally correct. These are the people that gave you life and took care of you for umpteen years when you couldn’t care for yourself.”

We were talking about the same topic, but our views are 180 degrees apart. And yet when we talk about other things that matter – work and economics and politics – our views tend to be aligned.

Why is that?

I think I know why because I have known NP since he was a small child. His dad and I were partners for many years.

NP’s parents held family in high regard. And within the family, children came first. When it came to education, public schools were not even considered. And when it came to selecting private schools, they would sacrifice anything to make sure their kids went to the best.

They had the same idea about “things” like cars and clothes and computers and everything else.

My parents came from a culture for which family was important but the role of children within the family was very different. Children were not the focus. They were expected to help out and to respect their elders. And anything they got – which was very little – they got not because they deserved it, but because their parents were being generous.

Today, I have friends that brought up their kids as NP’s parents did. And I have friends that brought them up the way my parents did. (Which was the way K and I brought up our kids.)

I also have a few friends that had an entirely different attitude. They seemed to believe their responsibilities as parents ended at the child’s birth. They abandoned their children when they were very young and never looked back.

What’s going on here?

Read MoreOdds Stacked Against You? Stop Bitching and Get to Work!

Today’s Word: panoply (noun) – A panoply (PAN-uh-plee) is a complete or impressive collection of things. As used by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins: “Humans are just a very, very small part of the panoply of life, and it is arguable that in a certain sense, humans have emancipated themselves from Darwinian selection.”

Did You Know?: In most lotteries, the chance that you will die on the way to buy your ticket is greater than the chance that you will win the big prize.

Worth Quoting: “I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” – Umberto Eco

Watch This

The Elephants That Came to Dinner



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.

Today’s Word: inalienable (adjective) – Something that is inalienable (in-AIL-yuh-nuh-buhl) cannot be taken away from you, surrendered, or transferred to someone else. As I used it today: “Consciousness: the greatest natural gift — your innate and inalienable ability to experience the world around you, to notice and to appreciate a million possible things.”

Did You Know?: During his presidency, Thomas Jefferson refused to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. According to most historians, because it was considered to be a day of prayer, he believed it violated the First Amendment. (The part that prevents the government from recognizing or favoring any religion – which has come to be known as “separation of church and state.”)

Worth Quoting: “It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.” – George Horace Lorimer

 Watch This

An old friend and Vietnam vet sent this to me:





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.