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Archive for February, 2016

82nd_Academy_Awards,_Mariah_Carey_-_army_mil-66460-2010-03-09-180308If you ever feel a little bit stupid—and who doesn’t—you might want to refer back to this blog.  Some thoughts from a few of the rich and famous.  It will make you feel like a genius.  I promise.

(On September 17, 1994, Alabama’s Heather Whitestone was selected as Miss America 1995.)
Question: If you could live forever, would you and why?
Answer: “I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever,”
–Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA contest.
“Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can’t help but cry. I mean I’d love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff.”
–Mariah Carey

“Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life,”
— Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for federal anti-smoking campaign

“I’ve never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body,”
–Winston Bennett,  University  of  Kentucky  basketball forward.

6346639324_fdf78f0dd1_b“Outside of the killings,  Washington  has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,”
–Mayor Marion Barry,  Washington,  DC

“That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death by a jackass, and I’m just the one to do it,”
–A congressional candidate in Texas.

“Half this game is ninety percent mental.”
–Philadelphia Phillies manager, Danny Ozark

“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it..”
–Al Gore, Vice President

“I love  California  . I practically grew up in  Phoenix  .”
— Dan Quayle

“We’ve got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?”
–Lee Iacocca

“The word “genius” isn’t applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”
–Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback & sports analyst.

“We don’t necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude certain types of people.”
— Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instructor.

“Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.”
–Department of Social Services, Greenville , South Carolina

Lee_Iacocca_at_the_White_House_in_1993“Traditionally, most of Australia’s imports come from overseas.”
–Keppel Enderbery

“If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack in at night as they go to bed and it will monitor their heart throughout the night. And the next morning, when they wake up dead, there’ll be a record.”
— Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman

Feeling smarter yet?

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ptbarnumPhineas Taylor Barnum (P.T. Barnum) once said, “A salary was not sufficient for me.”

I love P.T. Barnum.  Yes, he was  bit of a scoundrel, a scalawag, and a con man.  But he also was prescient in his seminal and practical thinking about business.  Perhaps the first modern entrepreneur.

I was reminded of this watching Meet The Press back on January 10.  Host Chuck Todd, interviewing Donald Trump, recited a litany of unflattering comparisons sometimes used to describe The Donald, as he interrogated Trump.  The list included “Kim Kardashian, Biff (from Back to the Future), George Costanza, and P.T. Barnum.”  Said Todd, “Any of those you consider a compliment?”  Trump’s immediate response?  “P.T. Barnum.”

Trump has a point.

P.T. Barnum wrote the most wonderful essay back in 1880 entitled The Art of Money Getting, or Golden Rules for Making Money.  In 20 very short chapters Barnum limns a remarkably useful philosophy of business that anticipates the cutting-edge business insights of now.  It is simply and clearly written, almost like a contemporary self-help book, full of aphoristic wisdom, as well as sound, day-to-day business advice.  The book deals with fundamental human well-being, as much as the amassing of wealth.  The roster of short chapters in this essay neatly sum up Barnum’s thinking and advice.  They are:

  • Don’t mistake your vocation
  • Select the right location
  • Avoid debt
  • Persevere
  • Whatever you do, do it with all your might
  • Depend upon your own personal exertions
  • Use the best tools
  • Don’t get above your business
  • Learn something useful
  • Let hope predominate but be not too visionary
  • Do not scatter your powers
  • Be systematic
  • Read the newspapersurl
  • Beware of “outside operations”
  • Don’t endorse without security
  • Advertise your business
  • Be polite and kind to your customers
  • Be charitable
  • Don’t blab
  • Preserve your integrity

It is impossible to go through all of Barnum’s insights in a short essay like this, but here are a few that struck me as remarkably modern.

  1. Barnum anticipated the current warnings of neurological science, which have pretty much disproved the efficacy of “multi-tasking” in the age of social media.  Barnum says, “When a man’s undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvement of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once.”
  2. Barnum understood the dignity and the non-monetary value of autonomous creative enterprise, saying, “There are many rich poor men, while there are many others who have never possessed so much money as some rich persons squander in a week, but who are nevertheless really richer and happier than any man can ever be.”
  3. He understood the value of through-branded culture and a servant’s heart, a trope passionately espoused currently by exemplars like John Mackey, Danny Meyer, Bo Burlingham, Kip Tindell, Tony Hsieh, etc.  Barnum says, “Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business.  Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly.  The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed on him.”
  4. Barnum understood that creating something out of nothing is basically a commitment to the impossible.  He understood that achieving the impossible is what entrepreneurs do. “If I shoot at the sun I may hit a star.”
  5. He learned from failure.  He was undiscouraged by his several bankruptcies.

I don’t mean to wax hagiographic about Barnum.  He was a merry hoaxer.  A cheery fraudster.  A great and brilliant showman, not unlike Donald Trump.  Certainly a con man not unreminiscent of L. Frank Baum’s Great and Mighty Oz, the man behind the curtain.

But he was also a truly great and passionate businessman, an unapologetic capitalist, saying, “…money getters are the benefactors of our race.”  He was a courageous risk-taker—a Randian hero and an ur-entrepreneur. maxresdefaultThe Steve Jobs of the 19th century.

His little book The Art of Money Getting… is a wise compendium of practical moral philosophy and human life lessons, as well as a wonderful guide to creating a salubrious font of everyday business health.  He understood and celebrated business’ ability to create meaning, as well as money.

He commented, “Money is in some respects life’s fire:  it is an excellent servant, but a terrible master.”   Many thanks, P.T. Barnum.

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Texas essayist and publisher Markham Shaw Pyle recently said, “If the power to tax is the power to destroy, the power to regulate is no less so.”

mpxold2_400x400For the life of me, I cannot tell you why our bloated bureaucracies of city, state, and fed seem to have it in for entrepreneurs and small business.  But they apparently do.  Why?  Why?  Why?

If the U.S. and the world is ever to escape the torpidity lingering from the Great Recession, to say nothing of bailing out the indebted entitlement state, it must do so on the success and vitality of creative free enterprise.  Yet, everywhere I look I see businesses groaning under unnecessary government intrusion that is antithetical to business health.

Don’t get me wrong.  I actually believe in higher and fairer taxation as a partial palliative to the increasing inequity between the very rich and everyone else.  Maybe I’m still at heart the spiritual socialist I was in college.  But one thing the autodidactics of everyday business has taught me is regulation is increasingly irrational in its omnipresence and labyrinthine incomprehensibility.

I must admit this entrepreneurial cri de coeur comes bubbling up in me every year as we approach tax time.  But the conundrum of excessive bureaucratic interference with small business is bloody exasperating year round.  The rules are confusing—a babel of unclarity and sometimes of contradiction.  New government interventions—wage laws, labor rules, environmental regulations—while mostly well-intended, have unintended business-killig, job-killing consequences.

For example, though God knows I love the prairie sage grouse, the snail darter, the spotted owl, clean air, and untainted water, do we really have to close down agriculture in California?  Surely there is a place for simple, practical common sense compromises, rather than rigidly mandated bureaucratic micro-management and ideological and ecological perfection.

Yul_Brynner_Anna_and_the_King_television_1972Last fall I noticed an interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 13, 2015) by Bob Funk entitled, The Golden Goose Is On The Run.  Funk states, “For decades, most businesses operated, innovated and expanded despite what was happening in the nation’s capital, or perhaps even oblivious to it.   But now the goose that laid the golden egg is on the run.  Free enterprise, which made the economy grow and produced rising wages for middle income Americans is under assault.”

The animal spirits of Main Street are palpably moribund.  Anecdotally, observing my business friends and colleagues of late, I can tell you businesses are holding back, tentative—not sure if they want to commit more capital and passion in an atmosphere of geometrically growing governmental intrusion.  Small business optimism is at a nadir, despite the romantic fascination with entrepreneurship fostered by Donald Trump, Shark Tank, The Apprentice, et. al., as well as the jam-packed popularity of Inc. Magazine’s conventions.

Let me point out just one challenge that  my company Corporate Rain International, has to increasingly adjust to.  My small firm does business in a number states and locales.  Multi-state businesses are increasingly compelled to monitor new laws and regulation in many cities, towns, and counties, as well as the states themselves and an ever omnipresent potpourri of unaccountable federal agencies.  Some of these are outright contradictory.  For example, how does one reconcile a sick-leave ordinance in Detroit that conflicts with the law in Boston?

As the King says to Miss Anna in the current Broadway revival of The King and I—“Is a puzzlement!”

A 2011 survey by ADP showed that half of small-to-medium size businesses in the US lacked confidence that they would be able to keep up with constantly changing regulation.  More than half saw things becoming much more challenging.  They were right.  In 2014 American businesses paid over 400 million just to settle wage-and-hour lawsuits.

SpinozaThe indebted welfare state should be trying to make doing business easier and simpler.   It must.  It needs the revenue engendered by the success of the entrepreneur and the creative small businessman.  Regulations need to be reigned in with common sense.  A reasonable degree of freedom is the essential ingredient of “free” enterprise.  Overregulation is ultimately the death knell of freedom, ergo the death of the entrepreneur.

17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza speaks to the practical problem of overregulation.  He says, “He who seeks to regulate everything by law is more likely to arouse vices than to reform them.  It is best to grant what cannot be abolished, even though it be in itself harmful.  How many evils spring from envy, avarice, drunkenness and the like, yet these are tolerated because they cannot be prevented by legal enactments.”  Thank you, Baruch.

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