Hello! Welcome to MarkFord.net
This is the open-for-inspection half-way home for my writing!
What you’ll find here are essays, stories, book chapters, poetry, and journal entries, as well as words and images from others that I want to share.
The bulk of the essays will be about business, wealth building, and personal productivity. But there will also be things I’m equally or more interested in, such as art, education, economics, physics, philosophy, psychology, neurobiology, fitness, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Since much of what you’ll be reading here will be early drafts of work meant for publication I welcome any comments or suggestions you might have that will help me strengthen them.


July 5, 2012 in Essays

I had the feeling that Steve didn’t believe me. But I had no idea he would go behind my back to try to prove me wrong.

It was the spring of 1999. Steve had recently been hired by my client to write an investment newsletter. He had the qualifications: an MBA and Ph.D. from good schools, experience both in the front and back rooms of brokerages. But he didn’t want to sell stocks. He wanted to write about them.

When I saw his first effort I was impressed. The analysis was sound. The research was deep. There was only one problem. His writing was terrible.

It wasn’t sloppy or illogical or even ungrammatical. But it was incomprehensible. It read like a treatise. It was the kind of writing that you might get away with in academia but could never pull off in the real world.

I called him into my office and told him about my secret antidote for writing like his: the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. The FK is a computerized tool that looks at the length of your sentences, how many syllables there are in each word, and other data. It then rates the entire piece in terms of reading ease. A rating of 5.0 or below is very easy to read. A rating of 10.0 or above is very difficult to read. A score between 5.0 and 10.0 is what you’ll find in most newspapers and magazines.

I explained to Steve that my goal is to keep my writing – no matter how complicated the ideas I’m trying to express – at 7.5 or below.

Then we analyzed Steve’s writing. It had an FK of 12.0. Almost off the chart.

“You won’t get a big audience with such a high FK score,” I said. “You have to work on simplifying your writing. Get your FK down to 7.5. You’ll be a better writer, have more readers, and make more money.”

He thanked me for the advice. But, as I said, I could tell he didn’t believe me. What I didn’t find out until years later was that he spent almost two months trying to disprove what I’d told him.

Click to continue… K.I.S.S.

No place is better than home. “East or west, home is best” — upon completing a round-the-world trip, Andrew Carnegie illustrated the universality of that sentiment with two stories:

• After hearing that he came from a country where rivers froze, tapioca workers in the woods near Singapore felt pity on him and invited him to come live with them.

• A Laplander, having made a fortune and traveled to all the great cities of the world, came back to his native town, Tromso, and built a two-story house — which by local standards was a mansion.

Government Waste

July 2, 2012 in Good Reads

Great article on government waste by Dustin Siggins for Hotair.com.

First off is simple abuse that is acceptable for the well-connected politician but disgraceful and/or illegal for anyone else – small change, but ultimately emblematic of the systemic corruption in the federal government. Case in point is how former Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) gets a pension and other benefits for the rest of his life, despite resigning in disgrace. President Obama, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, is almost certainly using taxpayer dollars for campaign trips – illegal, but obviously acceptable under both parties. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) was busted for solicitation, but never spent time in jail. He will get a pension and other monetary benefits, same as Weiner.

Antithetical to many conservatives is looking hard at unproductive defense spending. However, the Defense Department is rife with abuse. For example, last October a report by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) outlined how major defense contractors who paid civil fines or settled for amounts of $1 million or greater still received over $500 billion in contracts in the last 10 years. Another report, this one from The Commission Wartime Contracting,estimated that between $31 billion and $60 billion had been lost to poor oversight and/or fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan during our time in those nations.

Read the rest of the article (from April 24th) here.

I once “fired” a client – let’s call him Jerry – who had paid me more than a million dollars and wanted to keep on paying me more than 20 grand a month. In every aspect but one our relationship was terrific. He was fun to work with. He was a natural-born salesman. And he was a quick study.

The only trouble: He didn’t believe in “customer service.”

Jerry’s business grew because of his management and marketing skills. He kept the overhead low and created compelling advertising campaigns that sold his products at deeply discounted prices.

But he had no interest in getting to know his customers or in helping them in any meaningful way. To him they were an objective means to a profitable end. In fact, he had a sort of disdain for them – as if he felt they were fools for responding to his offers.

Another thing that bothered me was that his products were inexpensively produced (they had to be because of his discounted pricing) and, thus, relatively inferior in quality.

I tried to convince him that this may have been a valid approach when he was breaking into the market – but he had to gradually improve his products if he wanted to be successful over time.

“Consumers are very aware of price,” I told him. “But most customers are looking for long-term relationships with the people they buy from. They may give your product a try because of its low price, but they won’t stay with you unless they are happy with its quality.”

He didn’t get that.

So I said, “Think about all the purchases you’ve made in your life. I’m sure you shopped price when, for example, you went looking for a new car. But I’ll bet a year or two later, though you may have remembered what you paid for the car… what really mattered to you was how well it held up. And how well the dealer treated you.”

He laughed at that. “Maybe. But I’m still always concerned about price.”

Then I reminded him of Joey, the kid he’d hired to work on his phone system. He hired Joey because he was willing to work for $20 an hour, while more experienced techies were charging three times that much. “You were happy with Joey when he started. But when it looked like it would take forever for him to get the job done, you fired him and hired someone more expensive.”

He gave me that. But I couldn’t get him to budge on the customer service issue. Meanwhile, the market he was in was getting more competitive. Product and service quality overall was improving. But not his.

I could see the writing on the wall. And that’s when I “fired” him.

Click to continue… The Economics of Customer Service

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Bill Bonner earlier this week for the Daily Reckoning:
War is a racket. Always has been. Major Gen. Smedley D. Butler explains:

“[War] is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.

When George Bush was making gleeful threats to get us into a war with Iraq I told my Jiu Jitsu buddies that it would end badly. My prediction did not please them. The martial arts tends to attract people interested in martial activities. They seem to have an inbuilt propensity for war.
America’s two war-general presidents warned us against war. George Washington cautioned against getting into “foreign entanglements” and President Eisenhower predicted that the “military-industrial complex” would see to it that we were never not in a war. They were both right but that doesn’t dim the enthusiasm average American citizens have for it, despite its terrible cost in dollars and lives.
Read the rest of Bill’s article here.
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