EQ Journal Archive 34

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

May 15


         Student Start-up        

   Posted on
       Sunday 7 December 2008  

Icogna.com, founded by Kris Woodbeck (a graduate of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Engineering and a winner of the 2007 Telfer School of Management’s Business Model Competition)
is a new, image search engine that: a) appears to be the best of its
type and b) has a great (i.e., simple and effective) GUI.

It can also find images that are similar  to the ones it
initially found. So, let’s say you are looking for images of ‘surfing’;
you type in the word ‘surfing’ in the search box like you would in any
search tool. The resulting images, based on word descriptions or titles
of images given to them by folks who originally put those images on the
Internet (i.e., their text-based meta-data), are then found and
displayed for you. Some of those images are bound to be spurious. Many
people try to fool search engines by giving their websites, images, what
have you, deceiving names (a favorite of porn sites and virus laden
sites designed to hijack your computer, steal your data or both).

But here is the interesting part. By clicking on the image that you
feel is closet to the one you are looking for (say, you have found an
image of someone surfing a monster wave and maybe what you really wanted
were images of monster waves), Kris’ search tool (which is based on his
patent-pending proprietary algorithm developed while he was studying at
U of O) will efficiently find images on the web that are similar, not
by searching by the names given to each image but through his image
recognition software.

Computers are very inefficient when it comes to image
recognition—which is why major search companies don’t do this. Using
shape recognition to find other images to match the image of a surfer on
a monster wave would normally require computing resources on the order
of that available only through quantum computing. Kris solves this in
two ways—first, by using parallel processing and second, by building a
huge visual index of the Internet’s images that is searchable based on shapes.

BTW, it is believed that Google’s spiders have made three complete
copies of the Internet including a complete history of the web. The
whole thing has been indexed (using text based meta-tags), which is one
of the reasons why Google’s search engine is so fast and usually so
accurate.) Kris has done this for images.

That is a technological leap forward. I hope Kris makes a ton of dough…

But Kris needs to remember (and I am sure he will) that having a
great technology is not enough—excellent execution counts for a lot too.

Dr. Bruce

Postscript: Here is a nice comment from Kris (frankly, a plug for the Telfer School of Management’s Entrepreneurs’ Club and our Business Model Competition that I shamelessly quote here):


“I wanted to let you know that the Elevator Pitch in 2007 and your Business Model Competition
were a big part of what inspired me to actually go out and start
Incogna.com.  Otherwise, I’d probably have just “gotten a JOB” when I
graduated.  But this is way more fun!”

Kris Woodbeck, Founder, Incogna.com
December 2008

     Prof Bruce @ 8:50 am

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         Two Wrongs        

   Posted on
       Saturday 6 December 2008  

I realize it is a bit corny but do you really understand ‘why two wrongs don’t make a right?’

It is an important concept for business people to really understand.
The number of times you will feel ‘wronged’ in business is countless—a
supplier doesn’t deliver on time, you are over charged for a product or
service, the quality of the product or service is sub-standard, a client
doesn’t pay or refuses to pay you, a political decision doesn’t go your
way, a client double crosses you, the media slam you and your
interests, whatever.

Now when things don’t go well for you, I have said to my students
that the first thing you should do is to look in the mirror—is there
anything you can do or could have done to avoid this situation in the
first place? The greatest threat to your success, in almost every case,
is yourself and your own actions.

But what do you do when you feel that have been wronged?

We are all subject to the same basic impulses—you get mad, you want to get even and you want revenge.

But does this really serve your interest?

In most cases, the answer is no.

When I was a developer and a tenant did a midnight move, we almost
never went after them. They probably moved out because they couldn’t
afford to pay the rent and pursuing them in litigation might result in a
judgment against them (perhaps two years and $30,000 in legal fees
later) but so what? You have to enforce the judgment yourself and what
are you likely to end up with—more frustration and less money than when
you started out. Plus litigation involves a huge amount of negative
energy. Both your time and energy are probably better spent doing
productive things and, in my view, you will end up with more money not
less by letting the tenant skate away…

Still, you might think about revenge but it should never go beyond
the thinking stage. You can not and should not be criticized for
thinking BAD thoughts. We all do. The difference between a good person
and a bad person is not that a good person doesn’t think bad thoughts;
it is that they don’t act on those impulses.

I have to laugh when the media hold politicians to account because
some bad thoughts may have crossed their minds. Of course, that happens.
Jimmy Carter nearly lost the Presidency because he admitted to Playboy
Magazine (no less) that he had ‘lusted after a woman who was not his
wife.’ Duh. Every man does that. But if you know anything about
President Carter, you know that he never acted on those thoughts, never
would have and was a faithful husband to his attractive, vivacious,
bright and talented spouse, Rosalind, who he clearly adored and still

But I also want you to understand the legal underpinnings of this.
When my son, Matthew was 15, he broke another boy’s favorite fishing
rod. The boys had a huge quarrel over it with their friends piling in on
both sides. Matt and Ryan started to get into a real war over it. Then
one of Ryan’s friends broke into our home and stole Matt’s cell phone.

Their plan was to use the cell phone as a hostage—‘Buy me a new fishing rod or you’ll never see your phone again.’

It was at this point that the whole thing started to get out of
control and I was forced to get involved. Now I believe in letting kids
sort things out for themselves*. When parents pile in, they usually make
a mess of things. The kids usually work it out anyway and they are soon
best friends again. Not so the parents. Once they are involved,
neighbours who may have gotten along well for years suddenly start
hating each other and then, voila, you have a war on your block.

(* I went to an all boys school and one of the things we hated were
‘rats’. We never ratted each other out. In those days, our school was a
place of rough justice—you defended yourself or you got picked on. I won
some fights and lost others. One time, a school bully broke my nose and
knocked me out. He was three years older than me. I hated his guts and
still do. When I got home, I looked a mess and my mom asked me what
happened. Kids in those days would never, ever rat out another kid even
an a__hole like that guy. I just told her, I got beat up on the football
field and she was satisfied with my explanation. I hate the fact that
news organizations pay for information on celebrities, politicians,
business people etc. I hate the fact that if you get mad at a neighbour,
you can call an anonymous 1-800-rat-line and rat them out for breaking
some minor by-law (like what happened to me when I put up a clothesline
for my wife in our backyard when our five kids were little and she
needed it for drying diapers.) I hate the fact that the IRS and CRA have
rat lines and more than that I hate the people who rat out others. If I
have a problem with a neighbour, I go over there and talk to them about
it. Politely. Deferentially. Because I know if you get into a fight
with your neighbour, one of you HAS to move. Your home is your
sanctuary. If you can’t look your neighbour in the eye, you have lost
that. BTW, that bully called me up 30 years later. Here’s how the
conversation went: “Bruce, that building you are constructing next door.
There is garbage blowing from your site onto my parking lot. I want you
to come over and pick up the garbage right now.” “Sure, Bill (not his
real name), I’ll be right over.” Yeah, right over after the next arrival
of Halley’s Comet. I suppose once a bully always a bully. (I got a
glimpse of Halley’s Comet the last time it came close to Earth’s orbit
in 1986 from the rooftop of a Caribbean Hotel; we waited from 3 am to
around 5 am for the sky to clear. Everyone gave up except me. My wife
thought I was crazy! Finally, just before dawn, a small portion of the
sky cleared of mist and of all the mighty heavens that could have
cleared that small patch was in the perfect place—I saw the comet with
its tail leading the comet out of the solar system. The tail follows the
comet into the solar system and leads it out because solar winds,
moving at close to the speed of light, emanate from Sol, our Sun. In any
event, I will clean up Bill’s parking lot in either 2061 or 2062…))

But there is no way I am going to tolerate break and enter, theft and trespassing.

So I went to the neighbors and talked to Ryan’s friend (the one who
kidnapped the phone). I told him he was going to give me that phone
right away, IMMEDIATELY, no questions, no buts, just hand over the
phone. He said: ‘No way’. I explained: ‘Look, either I get the phone
right now or we are going to call the police and let them decide this
matter. You have broken into our home and stolen a phone—both are
criminal acts. The fact that Matt accidentally or intentionally broke
Ryan’s fishing rod is a separate issue and we are going to deal with
that as soon as you hand me that phone. Clearly, if he did that, Matt
owes Ryan a new rod but that in no way allows you to break into my

The kid had the good sense to return the phone and Matt later had to
buy Ryan a new rod and they are ALL pals now. (It is four years later
and I’ll bet they have forgotten the incident but not the lesson. I can
be quite scary when pressed.)

Now when I was a developer, I ran into a lot of NIMBY behaviour. I
had people who opposed projects for all kinds of reasons and sometimes
for no reason at all:

1. I practice my golf swing on your property and I don’t want to see it developed.
2. I walk my dog on your property and I don’t want to see it developed.
3. Your building will create an unacceptable sun shadow (this from a lady who lived more than two kilometres away).
4. The Carp River (really a creek with a draft not even deep enough in
places for a canoe let alone a Canadian Coast Guard vessel) is a
navigable waterway and you can’t put a bridge across it.
5. I don’t want you to develop your property because I don’t want you to
(this ‘A ROSE IS A ROSE’ argument was from a neighbour who showed up
drunk at a planning hearing in front of the OMB, Ontario Municipal

There are more than nine million NIMBY stories out there; these are
just some of them. But it used to infuriate me. So sometimes I dreamed
about the Wild West—let’s just round up some cowboys, get on our horses
and go over there and hang these people from the tallest tree.

But just because you think it, doesn’t mean you would ever do such a
crazy thing. And if you were ever stupid enough to do something like
this, you would be breaking the law, imperiling your immortal soul and
you would be punished, rightly so.

No, the best strategy is to deal with a wrong on its own merits—win
the OMB Hearing or sue in small claims court for a new fishing rod. When
you come to a court (I am not just talking about courts of law but also
the court of human justice which, in my view transcends our courts of
law), you will come there with ‘clean hands’ (this is a legal term but
has great meaning in another jurisdiction).

Clean hands means that you did not commit a crime in trying to
resolve another one. You showed patience and restraint, two virtues that
are essential in terms of running a successful enterprise. You will win
far more often if you deal with your enemies this way.

Dr. Bruce

Post Script: OJ Simpson is headed to jail for a very long time in
Nevada for apparently not knowing this basic principle upon which our
western civilization is based. He broke into a hotel room with a friend,
both of them armed, to steal back items that had been stolen from him,
or so he claimed at his Los Vegas trial. Simpson probably felt he could
do anything after his acquittal 14 years ago in the slaying of his
estranged wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman. But he does serve as
a model for what NOT to do when you are, or you believe you are,

Post Script: I recently had a chance to chat with a friend of mine
who is owed a ton of money by his financial planner (FP). This guy, Bill
(not his real name) got Pierre (also not his real name) to invest in
his hardware business. Now this is a clear conflict of interest. His FP
is supposed to give him impartial and professional advice on where to
put his retirement funds. Instead, Bill got Pierre to invest $75,000 in
Bill’s tech company. Bill promised to repay the funds but so far, only
about half has been returned. Frustrated, Pierre asked me for advice. In
most cases, litigation is not the answer and probably isn’t here
either. Try to work it out with Bill is what I told him to do. However,
another thing I did tell Pierre is that he can NOT threaten Bill; he can
not say: “If you don’t give me my money back, I will call the OSC
(Ontario Securities Commission) or IDA (Independent Dealers Association)
and file a complaint. I will ruin you!”

Certainly, Pierre is well within his rights to launch a complaint but
you can not hold this or, say, a possible Police complaint over
someone’s head. If you do that, you are now in the wrong too.

     Prof Bruce @ 12:40 pm

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         Michael Ignatieff        

   Posted on
       Saturday 6 December 2008  

Let me start this essay by again saying I do not belong to any political party.

But like many Canadians, I am concerned about the current situation
in Ottawa whereby a coalition is threatening to unseat the elected
Government of Canada (GOC).

We happen to live in a constitutional monarchy. That means our Head
of State is the Queen of England and she is represented in Canada by her
Governor General (GG), at this time, Ms. Michele Jean.

It is our great history and tradition that we put peace, order and
good government at the top of our list of priorities. It makes Canada
unusual in the history of the world as a place where, by and large, we
have all three. We have an incredibly diverse population yet all our
different communities tend to get along. When two Canadians have an
argument, in nearly every case, it is polite or, at worst, harsh words
are spoken. In many, many nations, arguments end up in violence, family
rifts, family feuds, inter-ethnic warfare, civil war.

But since 1867, we almost always replace our national government
through an election process whereby Canadians choose who shall govern
them and not by Governor General fiat or dictat. We should not change

My Dad, the late Professor O. J. Firestone, used to speak of the
“good sense of the Canadian people.” He loved this country, having
immigrated here from Austria in the 1930s. He couldn’t believe there was
a nation that allowed its people to walk around freely, unafraid of
violence being done to their person or their family. He was an avid
collector of Canadian art, a member of the Royal Commission on Medicare
(one of the proudest achievements of his career was bringing universal
medical care to the people of Canada), he participated in the post-War
reconstruction effort in Canada under C. D. Howe, he helped start
numerous businesses including CJOH TV, an Ottawa institution, he wrote
many books in the fields of economics and art history, he was a
Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa, he donated his art
collection to the people of Ottawa and he never wanted to be known as a
hyphenated Canadian—he was just a Canadian. He was one of my heroes.

If the polls are any indication, the good sense of the Canadian
people is being demonstrated—a majority of the citizenry don’t want the
GG choosing the next Prime Minister except as a result of a national

For Stéphane Dion, Leader of the Liberal Party, to try to become
Prime Minister after leading that historic Party to its second lowest
percentage of the popular vote EVER is a disgrace. The Party is in such a
shabby state that they can not even raise enough money on their own to
fund basic party operations. Indeed, if it were not for the $1.95 per
vote annual subsidy from the GOC and the people of Canada, they would
have to practically fold their tent.

I lived through a coup d’état in 1975 when I was attending the
Australian National University in Canberra where I was obtaining my PhD
in Urban Economics. The then GG (John Kerr) threatened to sack Labour
PM, Gough Whitlam, because the PM was unable to get his money bill
passed by the upper house, the Australian Senate. Mr. Whitlam had been
elected with a majority in the House of Commons both in 1972 and again
in 1974 and, clearly had the right to govern. However, he came to power
after more than 20 years of rule by the Liberal and Country Parties, who
retained a majority in the Senate. Thus, the opposition could thwart
the elected Government by holding up legislation in the Senate.

(I came to Australia in 1972 for four reasons—a) the adventure of it,
b) so I could legally practice as an engineer (Australia had just
changed their age of majority from 21 to 18 under the Whitlam Government
and, since I went to McGill at age 15 and graduated before I reached
the age of majority, which was then 21 in Canada, there was no
impediment to practicing in Oz), c) so I wouldn’t get drafted to fight
in Vietnam, a war I opposed (one of Whitlam’s first actions upon his
election in 1972 was to withdraw Australia’s armed forces from the
US-led war in Vietnam—some Canadians may not know that Australia has
been a steadfast ally of the US, following that nation not only into
Vietnam but also another ill-fated adventure in Iraq under President
George W. Bush) and d) I ran away with my girlfriend (later my wife)
because her parents didn’t approve of me (until I married her that is,
and we had our first kid, a great guy by the name of Andrew! He’ll ‘take
the icing and leave the cake’ was my wife’s mother’s advice to her
daughter. Hey, this was the 1970s.))

With the country running out of funding to operate the national
government, Governor General Kerr sacked Whitlam and appointed Malcolm
Fraser, the leader of the largest opposition party, as PM.
Interestingly, Fraser later went to the polls and won a majority seeming
to provide political cover for the action of the Australian GG. Perhaps
so. But ever since that infamous date of Nov. 11th 1975, the republican
movement in Oz has grown stronger and I believe it is just a matter of
time before Australia becomes a constitutional republic.

The good sense of the Canadian people may provide for a different
outcome here. I can not believe that GG Michele Jean (appointed by a
Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin) will, next month, replace the
leader of the GOC who has 143 seats in the House of Commons with someone
who has 77. If she does, I think it will be our own Royal coup d’état
and the beginning of the end of our constitutional monarchy. She should
be very, very careful—we should not change our laws, our constitution or
our conventions cavalierly—it is all that separates Canada and
Canadians from becoming beasts.

(* Funding of political parties by the taxpayer is relatively
new—having been introduced by former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Is it
a good thing? Probably not, since it tends to favour incumbents over
new parties and new ideas and it could also make national parties a bit
lazy about keeping in touch with their clients. After all, their donors
are their clients and they all vote. Whether it is union members
supporting the NDP or teachers supporting the Liberals or small business
supporting the Conservatives, in my experience, organizations that rely
on their clients for their livelihood (which is everyone from SMEEs to
charities to NGOs to Not-For-Profits to Crown Corps) are much more
likely to be responsive to the cares and concerns of their supporters
than those who live off the public purse. Canada’s subsidy of political
parties, on the whole, strikes me as a bad idea but not one worth
risking our constitution conventions over…)

I think that Michael Ignatieff, the likely next leader of the Liberal
Party, a person of great learning and a renowned professor of history,
must realize his path to power does NOT lie in a direction that installs
Stéphane Dion, the current disgraced leader of the Party, as Prime
Minister. The Liberals have scheduled a leadership convention in May of
2009. The current Prime Minister must be allowed to serve until at least
that date and perhaps beyond while the new leader of the Liberal Party
puts together a credible platform, a solid team of candidates, a fund
raising effort worthy of the name and a new election is called where he
can win an election the right way by appealing to the good sense of the
Canadian people, if that is what they choose.

Mr. Ignatieff has the support of almost all the Liberal caucus;
surely, he can and will do the right thing otherwise, unlike Mr. Fraser,
the Liberals could be in the wilderness for years longer.

Dr. Bruce

Post script:

I later had tea and bickies with deposed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam
at the ANU where he came for sanctuary after the actions of Kerr. This
is one of the great notions of the world—that a university is a
sacrosanct place—a place where people can go where they will be
protected, nurtured, be free from persecution and express their views in
an unfettered environment*.

(* This saved my Uncle Freddie’s life. In the 1930s, the brown shirts
were waiting outside the gates of the University of Vienna (where he
was studying to become a medical doctor), shouting at my Uncle to come
down so they could kill him—they were going to beat him to death. He had
to hole up inside the University for days waiting for the bullies to
get tired of waiting for him. The brown shirts were not allowed on the
campus, thank God. Campus security was still strong enough, at that
point, to prevent a campus incursion. This did not last much longer.
Eventually, they left and Uncle Freddie escaped. The whole family soon
left Vienna and ended up in London where they were given a choice of
destination—Canada or the US. My father chose Canada and Fred chose New
York. He served with distinction in the US armed forces as a Doctor in
the European theatre of war under Eisenhower. He idolized Eisenhower to
the end of his days.)

One of the traditions at the ANU (modeled after Cambridge, no doubt)
was that everyone would down tools at 10:15 am and again at 3:15 pm to
mix in the common room for 15 to 20 minutes. There young folks (like me
at the time) could listen to great scholars in the Socratic tradition or
learn from former politicians in the tradition of the great Athenian
orator, Demosthenes. Mr. Whitlam was remarkably sanguine and generous,
even to his political enemies. If it had been me, I would not have been
able to forgive as easily as he did. Gough wrote his memoirs while at
the ANU.

I like N. A. culture a lot—I watch hockey and football on the boob
tube—but there doesn’t seem to be much room here for vigorous
intellectual enquiry and exchange. I often find it more interesting when
I go to parties to hang out with the teenagers and the 20 somethings
because they are not moaning that their 401(k)s or RRSPs are underwater
or their BMWs are more than two years old. Many of the younger folks
still have a burning desire to learn more, push the boundaries a bit and
explore new ideas. Long may they retain their curiosity.

Do you want to know what the real Fountain of Youth is? Always be
open to learning, Always be open to change. Always be adapting. Never
retire. Lying on a beach is great—for a week. Then get back to work. You
may change what you do as you age but keep going. Uncle Freddie, after
he left his private medical practice on Long Island for Tampa, worked
into his 80s with the VA (US Department of Veterans Affairs) treating
vets from US armed forces. My Dad told me two things before he died:
“Stick together” and “Never retire”. He was a wise person.

     Prof Bruce @ 9:29 am

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         Negative Cost Labour        

   Posted on
       Wednesday 3 December 2008  

(And Low Cost Finance)

Sometimes, you can turn a cost into a negative cost. A former
architecture student of mine, Dominique Tonetti and her husband, Frank
Dutton, are managing to do that on their new project, Solisterra in

Dominique and Frank are building wonderful straw bale structures on a
150 acre property they own in West Québec (in Kazabazua) close to
Ottawa. The lands are beautiful—abundant wildlife, several lakes plus a
huge variety of trees.

They are going to build off-grid cottages on their lands that will be
rented by the week to people who want to de-stress and live a simpler
life. (Where do I sign up?) Some of the things they are working on
include: straw bale construction, solar electricity, solar heating (for
hot water (which I really like)), solar ovens and green roofs.

They are determined to retain ownership of their property, not go
into a mountain of debt (and thus run the not insignificant risk that
the bank or finance company will one day own the cottages and the lands)
and yet produce seven or eight cottages and a rec hall and a retreat to
compete with the best in Eastern Ontario or West Québec. How will they
do that?

First, they turned down ruinous interest rates from some predatory
financiers who were going to advance construction funds. Not only were
their interest rates punishing, they also required large fees—fees when
they originate the loans, fees when they provide a draw, even fees when
you pay the thing off with a permanent mortgage. And on top of that, Dom
and Frank would have to pay legal fees and appraisal fees. Every time
they want a draw, they would have to beg the appraiser to come out, then
beg him or her for a decent appraisal, then beg the loan company and
lawyer for a draw that was enough to pay all the darned fees plus their
costs of construction less the 10% holdback.

A friend of mine (another former student, Matt Nesrallah, who runs
his own financial advisor shop at Primerica) told me that the most
powerful force in economics is compound interest. This is not a new idea
but it needs to be said again here. If your repayments to a Bank or a
credit card company or the IRS or CRA compounds at a high rate of
interest, you’re doomed.

So Dominique and Frank decided to:

a) build the homes themselves thus reducing the cost of construction;
b) build only one unit at a time thus reducing their cash requirements further;
c) take a low interest rate mortgage on their existing home to fund what out of pocket costs they do have;
d) lastly, Dominique has offered to train and teach people straw bale construction.

In effect, she is running a school and can charge people for coming
out and working on her project. They learn design from Dom, they learn
construction techniques, they work with their hands which can be
therapeutic, they work in a lovely setting with great people, they have
fun, they feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves
and they gladly pay for the privilege.


Now how about that?

Dr. Bruce

Postscript: You can find some more info about the project here: https://www.solisterra.ca/.

Comment from Dominique:


It is a good story, it makes us sound more business savvy than we
feel, but it is indeed how we operate. A small correction however,
Solisterra is 350 acres, 150 of which is the two lakes. The workshops go
beyond straw bale construction. Since we needed extra arms and many
people wanted to learn how to build their own dream homes, we discovered
that we could “sell” knowledge of: a) timber framing (which is very
easy to build when you know how), b) masonry ovens, as well as c)
installation of solar electric systems.

For next year’s unit, we are putting together a 10 workshop package
(some people really want to know every step from the foundation up) in a
one price deal. The great thing for us is that people become much
handier by participating in our workshops…

I almost feel guilty charging them when they become very useful…but
not quite! I have to remind myself that knowledge has a price. I learned
all these construction techniques the hard way. I had to perform many
tests before I could write specs (with a good conscience) to accompany
my plans on previous projects.

Thank you for thinking of us for this story.


     Prof Bruce @ 6:56 am

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         Are People Getting Dumber?        

   Posted on
       Sunday 30 November 2008  

I especially like one of the lines in Aliens that Ellen
Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) says at her hearing on why she destroyed the
ship Nostromo in the first film (Alien). After she describes what
happened to her crew to a disbelieving bunch of bureaucrats and has her
license to fly taken away, she asks (and I paraphrase here): “Did IQs
suddenly drop around here while I was away?”

Bureaucrats (and you find them everywhere—in Government, obviously,
but also in Corporations, NGOs, the UN, in fact, whenever you have more
than two people in a group, politics and bureaucracy tends to arise)
believe in reports and paper as if they were the TEN COMMANDMENTS.

Ripley also says: “If one of those (the monster in Alien) gets loose
here (on Earth) then you can kiss all this, this bulls__t (shaking the
report in her fist) goodbye.”

Sometimes you just have to do stuff without asking anyone’s
permission. Like blow a human devouring life form out the pod bay door
without first clearing it with head office. Entrepreneurs and
intrapreneurs just sort of know this intuitively.

US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is taking a lot of heat because
the application form to get a piece of the recent $700 billion bailout
package for the financial industry in the US is just two pages long.
Shorter than what you would have to fill in for most home loans.

But so what?

Look, I get it that the financial industry is full of bandits who
mucked up big time. They created financial products of such complexity
(fancy derivatives and such like) that NO ONE really understood what
they were selling. Complexity is the enemy of success. No doubt about

But in a crisis, you have to ACT. If the financial industry in the US
fails, you can’t get a student loan, a credit card, a home loan, a LOC
for your small business, sell your receivables for cash, an auto loan,
nothing, nada.

Do you think that is good for the world’s economy? It ain’t.

Now I am not sure that Paulson is the right guy to be doling out $700
billion but it has to be someone, some ONE. It can’t be a bunch of

I sat on an Entrepreneurship Committee (now there’s an oxymoron) at
one University for two and a half years. At the first meeting, I sat
there for 45 minutes listening to a few academics talk about their
research. I timidly raised my hand and asked: “I am sorry, Madam Chair, I
think I am at the wrong meeting. I thought this was the
Entrepreneurship Committee?”

“It is,” she said.

“Oh, when are we going to talk about the curricula for the proposed Entrepreneurship Concentration then?”

In two and a half years that Committee never made one decision. I left that University shortly afterward.

When Dean Kelly (Dean of the Telfer School of Management at the
University of Ottawa) asked me to become the Entrepreneur in Residence
there, I asked the Dean: “Exactly what does an Entrepreneur in Residence

“I don’t know, Bruce, you are the first.”

“Well, Dean, that’s the job for me!”

But I am worried: are people getting dumber?

Last year, a group of students decided to start a management
consulting firm. I thought, hmm, not a bad idea for these guys. They
aren’t the most aggressive types and not likely to start another Google
so this should be within their capabilities.

They built a great looking website. They got a start up grant from
the University. They got some free office space. Things were looking up.

I told them to model themselves after the Students Design Clinic
(SDC) at the School of Architecture at Carleton University (CU)—a very
successful, student-run co-operative that has been going for years.

The SDC does some smart marketing (one of the things I teach is that
if your business/NGO/charity, whatever can’t acquire new clients cost
effectively, you are finished). They print up nice colour postcards in
January and distribute them to homes in the suburbs of Ottawa in
February, March and April telling folks that they can get really smart,
imaginative student design services for gazebos, fences, decks,
additions (under 6,500 sq. ft.) and so forth inexpensively. Then they
run back to their CU office in May and the work just rolls in all

They have more than $80,000 cash in a reserve fund and they provide
really good jobs for about 15 students every year with wages
considerably above the minimum wage type work they would otherwise
probably be doing (junior designers get around $16 per hour, senior
designers around $18 to $20 and the Executive Director (usually a 4th
year or Masters student) even more.)

Now I thought the students at U of O should focus on some basic
services like doing Market Research, Surveys and Business Plans or
preparing Sales Presentations for companies. They asked me: what is the
best way to market their new venture?

Now trying to sell your services to the more than 30,000 private
sector firms in Ottawa-Gatineau is what in marketing is known as the
one-to-many problem. How do you cost effectively reach that audience and
make sure you capture some sales too when you are a start up?

The answer is: you don’t. At least, not for a start up.

My recommendation was to reduce the problem to a one-to-a-few
marketing problem. How do you do that? By marketing instead to existing
consulting firms that already have those relationships established. In
my experience, many, many consulting firms prefer to hire
sub-contractors to work on their projects. That way, they don’t have to
carry extra staff in lean times and they get skills they don’t
necessarily have on board and they can mark up their subs by a huge
margin. In other words, their ROI on subs is nearly infinite—very little
cost and big returns and almost no risk.

Here is where my question comes into play. Let me repeat it again:

Are people getting dumber?

Let me reset things for you: 1. I helped them with figure out what
products/services they should be offering; 2. they got a grant and free
office space; 3. they also knew what their marketing channel should be,
at least initially.

But they couldn’t figure out how to find a list of consulting firms in Ottawa.

When they came to me stumped, I wasn’t really happy about it—where
was their initiative? Where was their creativity? What happened to their
brains? Maybe the Alien was loose on Earth after all and instead of
eating the whole person, it was just eating their cerebral cortexes.

This is what I said in a somewhat exasperated voice: “Have you ever
heard of the … YELLOW PAGES? Why don’t you look under … ‘C’ for
consultants and … ‘M’ for Management Consultants? There will be a ton of
them in Ottawa.”

Now I am a big fan of Google but, you know, the Yellow Pages can still be pretty useful.

Even though they now had a list of local firms, they still couldn’t
figure out how to get in touch with them in an effective manner.

More from me: “Have you ever heard of the … TELEPHONE? Call every one
of them. They will be literally waiting for your call. They will be
HAPPY to add your names and CVs to their sub-contractor list.”

Have IQs dropped around here since the advent of the PC? I don’t know.

How about this one?

A REALTOR calls me up a couple of weeks ago: “You’re not far away.
Can you drive over and get the municipal address* on a property for
sale? I want to see what they paid for their site. I need it as a
comparable for another client.”

(* REALTORS have online access to the Land Registry office and can
search title by municipal address or PIN (Property Identification
Number) for things like legal description, area of the property, price
paid on the last transfer of the property, party transferred from and
to, etc.)

I asked her: “Did you visit their website?”

She cleverly said: “Yes. I thought of that. But they didn’t have their municipal address on it.”

“Did they have a … telephone number on the website?”


“Then why don’t you call them instead of asking me to waste my time
and petrol? They probably know the address on their own front door,
don’t you think?”

Dr. Bruce

     Prof Bruce @ 8:55 am

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         Practice, Practice, Practice        

   Posted on
       Saturday 29 November 2008  

(Canadian Management Needs to Improve)

Ever wonder how Actors get Shakespeare right? How do they memorize
all their lines and deliver them so eloquently and profoundly?

They practice. A lot.

I worked for a really tough guy in the 1980s—he was a PhD in
Engineering Economic Systems from Stanford and that is one tough degree
to get at one of the world’s top universities.

He didn’t brook shoddy performances and, frankly, was no different
than the toughest Director—he wanted the best from his employees
(actors) and demanded that from everyone, including himself.

Everyone I knew who worked there kind of feared him. One day, we were
expected to make a presentation to a senior member of the GOC
(Government of Canada) and he asked me: “Did you practice your
presentation?” I told him not to worry, I am a natural, a good presenter
and it was in the bag.

Naturally, I flopped badly. I was embarrassed and promised him it would not happen again and it never has.

Ever since that day, I prepare for every meeting, presentation, lecture or speech I give. Always. No exceptions.

(* In his new book: Outliers: The Story of Success, Maclom Gladwell
(Little, Brown) posits a 10,000 hour rule: if you want to be a top
performer in anything, you need to put in at least
10,000 hours of practice. That is about five years worth of normal 40
hour work weeks. I suspect that Gladwell is bang on. My PhD Thesis
supervisor, Professor Max Neutze (now deceased) was a rather demanding
person. He told me one day: “Don’t worry Bruce, the first million words
are the toughest.”)

It takes me at least two hours to prepare for a three hour lecture
and this is for a lecture in which most of the material is original to
me. I still need time to prepare, to organize and to ensure that I will
give my students full value for their time in my classroom. It is a
performance and the students are my paying clients. I respect them,
their time and the commitment they have made to come to the University,
both financially and in terms of giving up years of their lives to be

When I first started teaching at Carleton’s School of Architecture in
1994, I noticed how committed the profs were—if they had a lecture
coming up in a couple of hours, they always excused themselves and
prepared. They would stop, sometimes mid-sentence, remember what time it
is and, poof, they were gone to prepare. They earned my respect, for

That is why I am so concerned about some of the business executives I
meet and some of the students I teach who don’t know what it means to
be prepared.

Even if it is only gathering my thoughts for five minutes, I know if I
scribble down a few questions for an upcoming meeting, that meeting is
likely to be far more productive.

Last week, I briefed the VP of a local property management firm on a
potential client for his firm. I told him a bit about the client, the
five buildings he owned, how many units there are in each building, what
the vacancy rate was like, etc. I gave him a thorough briefing and
organized a conference call for him to speak with the client who lives
out of town.

About an hour before the con call, one of my staff told me that the
President of the firm wanted to take the call—he felt that an important
new client should have the benefit of speaking with the Pres of the
company. So, fine, no problem. Or so I thought.

An hour later, we connect on a 3-way call and the first thing out of the President’s mouth is: “OK, so what’s the deal here?”

He knew NOTHING about the client, the properties and the job at hand.
I was embarrassed for him but also for me. I recommended his firm after
all and I was looking pretty stupid in the client’s eyes.

Now in my experience, if this was an American firm, he would have
known everything he could about the guy on the other end of the line; he
would have found out if they had any friends in common, whether they
like the same sports, he would have been all over the guy’s website, he
would have visited the guy’s five properties and he would have had a
specific plan on how to improve the properties, their look, their
management, their lease up, their rental rates, their landscaping, their
maintenance, etc.

He would have found out ways to improve the guy’s bottom line. He
would have convinced the potential client that hiring his firm and
paying his management fees would represent a NEGATIVE COST. That is, the
cost of hiring his property management firm would be more than offset
by: a) reductions in vacancy rates, b) reduction in maintenance costs,
c) increases in rents for each apartment, d) finding new revenue
streams—like paid parking, paid laundry, maybe telecommunications towers
or billboards added to the properties…

He would have had a spreadsheet prepared and ready to send the
client. He would know the market and how to market the empty apartments
in a cost effective way. He would have projections!

The company did not get the contract; I apologized to the client. I
need to spend more of my time finding an alternative and I will never,
ever refer anyone to that company again.

This is, I am afraid to say, very typical of Canadian Managers and one of the reasons why we have so few world class firms.

I have a kind of informal score that I keep in my head. On a scale
from 1 to 10, firms that I have some familiarity with like, say, the
Disney Company operate at around a 9.8 out of 10. That is about as well
as you can possibly do. Anyone who has ever been to a Disney run Theme
Park can see what they can do. It isn’t as easy as it looks. Trust me.
They call their clients ‘guests’ and treat them that way—just like you
do when folks come to visit with you in your home—and they call their
employees (even their street sweepers and cleaners) ‘performers’, who
must go to Central Casting every day to get into ‘costume’ (not
‘uniforms!) If you ask anyone at a Disney Park, even the most menial
worker a question, they will know the answer or they will immediately
stop what they are doing and help you until your problem is solved.

You know what many Canadian companies think about customer service?
It’s a cost centre! That is why they are usually so bad at it. (It is
obviously a profit centre, if you know what you are doing.)

In my home town of Ottawa, the organization that probably comes
closest to working at a world class level is the Ottawa Senators. Now I
founded the Sens so I am biased but the heavy lifting has all been done
by others. In a small market like Ottawa, the Sens are in the top five
or six in just about every revenue category. (They compete with 29 other
National League Teams.)

I give the Sens around a 7.5 out of 10 which is about as high as you
can achieve in a place like Ottawa. No local company has the depth to
compete with a Disney but 7.5 is darn good anyway.

Now I am a Broker in the real estate industry and I can tell you that
most firms in this industry in Ottawa probably operate around .5 to 1.5
based on my informal and completely unscientific scale. In other words,
we are terrible.

Sometimes, REALTORS may put commissions ahead of clients’ interests;
they may do a lousy job on their information packages and websites; they
may hoard information; they may compete with each other in
inappropriate ways; they may be lazy and unprepared; they may do little
in the way of marketing unless pushed by our clients; they may get a
listing and then practically never talk to a client again; they may pick
the low hanging fruit; they may try to get the list price down for a
fast sale; they may promise to do open houses and then don’t; they make
the same mistake over and over again…

Part of my job is to get the folks to do what they should be doing—if
you put clients’ interests first, I believe you will come out far
ahead. One satisfied client will lead to two more. But trying to get
REALTORS to change is proving harder than I thought.

Dr. Bruce

Postscript: One of my pals runs Wilderness Tours (he is an expatriate
American from Philadelphia) in Beachburg, Ontario. I think WT runs at
around a 7.5 level too. It provides a fantastic experience for its
guests. Joe told me that he works on “TPO”, Touch Paper Once. He tries
to do everything just once—get it right the first time and never, ever
have to go back and re-do it. I hope my current organization will get to
that level some day. Right now, we do stuff over and over again until
we get it right. But it would be a lot better if we could learn to do it
right the FIRST time. Since paper is less a factor in today’s world,
maybe Joe’s slogan should be “TAO”—Touch Anything Once. I also like the
Tao analogy—it will certainly lower my blood pressure if my staff can
learn the Tao.

(Taoism has to do with the ancient Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang
(plus a lot more)—that is, every action begets a reaction. It is
actually quite relevant to this essay because, if you think about it for
a few seconds, if you do a bad job as a REALTOR, for example, that is
likely to bring quite a negative reaction from your clients and the
marketplace and the reverse is also probably true. So doing things right
in the first place is synonymous with doing things once; if you
practice TAO (as we have defined it here) you will become more
proficient and efficient and effective, you will bring about positive
reactions to your work, you will create positive energy around you,
reduce your frustration and the frustration levels of those around you
and be more in harmony with life in general. You will also probably make
more money too and that can’t be a bad thing for you and your family.

I read Carlos Castaneda’s books on the Yaqui Way of Knowledge when I
was a teenager hanging around UCSC. (A beautiful girl was involved
naturally—it was the late 1960s after all.) In his books, Castaneda
talked about the Impeccable Warrior and it had a profound influence on
me. Now many people believe that Castaneda’s books are a fable rather
than what he claimed them to be—first hand research of ancient
Mesoamerican Shaman practices in the deserts of Mexico.

But be that as it may, I have told my students that to be successful
at ANYTHING, they need to assert control over themselves and they need
to develop patience. If you drink too much, stop drinking*. Not getting
enough exercise, change your personal routine. Smoking and toking
interfering with your health, memory and productivity, stop smoking and
doping yourself. I like what Jack Dawson (Leo DiCaprio) said in the film
Titanic: “Make each day count!” Life is so much richer if you are not
hung over or under the influence of other substances…

(* There is an apocryphal story about a well known, New York-based
developer who has a tendency to put his name on his projects. He
inherited a number of residential apartments in the New York area from
his Dad and then proceeded to build a fantastic real estate-based empire
with signature buildings, casino interests and, later on, a hit
television show. But there were some hiccups along the way. The story
goes something like this: he was a teetotaler, a workaholic and a family
man with a lovely wife and kids. For some reason, he got involved with
another woman, installed her in a condo around the corner from his
office and started taking long lunches and coming back to the office in
mid-afternoon smelling of booze. Now how long do you think it took to
ruin his family, his business and his reputation? Incredibly, he
accomplished all of this in less than a year. Tenants were calling,
bankers were calling, suppliers were calling and he was nowhere to be
found. Once confidence and trust in you goes, the rest follows in a
hurry. A few years later, he stopped drinking again, he dumped the other
woman and got his personal and professional life back on track and is
enjoying immense success again. NEVER DRINK AND THINK.)

I am certainly no impeccable warrior. I am a flawed person, for sure.
In fact, I always wanted to be Gregory Peck’s character in To Kill a
Mocking Bird, Atticus Finch. Finch was described by author Harper Lee as
the same type of person at home as he was in public. This is one of the
highest accolades that you can ascribe to any person. In other words,
he wasn’t a phony.

But I can point to a few things I have done that helped me get closer
to the standards set by my heroes (both real, my Dad and my
mother-in-law and fictitious, Atticus Finch and possibly fictitious,
Sorcerer Don Juan): a) got my PhD, b) had five kids, c) brought back the
Ottawa Senators, d) wrote more than two million words of hopefully
decent research material, articles and essays, e) taught some great
students who have gone on to create some really neat things, f) went
back to school in my 50s to get my real estate broker’s license, g) took
up Yoga in my 50s after all the sports injuries I suffered took away
the things I like to do like play hockey, tennis, go skiing and
windsurf, etc, h) stopped biting my fingernails because one day I just
decided to stop doing that (it’s really bad for your health (imagine the
number of bacteria you transmit from under your fingernails into your
digestive system by way of your mouth) and looks like heck) and never
did it again.

I have developed a kind of patience too—I can now understand what Don
Juan was trying to teach Castaneda by making him push a piece of dung
around Juan’s modest desert home with a stick for a day and a night and a
day without ever knowing when Juan would tell him to stop. I can pick
up a spilled can of peas with chop sticks if I have to. I am not
kidding. I could do it.

When Ottawa had that terrific storm last year that dumped a huge
amount of snow on us, I went outside with my kids and my wife and we
started shoveling. We were out there because the contractor we had hired
for the season had quit on us—there was too much snow. He had used up
all the money his clients had paid him and so he couldn’t pay for the
gas or operator time he needed to continue. So he kind of held us
up—“Pay me more money or I won’t show up” is basically what he said. He
probably had that right in his contract to do that—most contracts
drafted up by lawyers have weasel words in them that protect their

Well, he was protected alright. But to us, it sure didn’t feel right
so we said: “To heck with him” and just got the whole famdamily out
there, some with really tiny shovels, and we shoveled for the next seven

(I notice this year, that no one on our block has rehired that guy.
So his lawyer sure protected him alright—so much so that he is now OOB,
out of business.)

Now one of our kids had a friend over. He was probably the strongest
of all of us and, at just 18 years of age, he should have been able to
shovel FOREVER. But he is a bit lazy (well, actually really lazy) and he
had an idea—he could call up one of his contractor friends who had a
truck with a plow and get the thing done for us with no work at all!
Great idea, right?

Wrong. Don’t you think that during the greatest snow storm in a
generation, his friend would be out there making some money with his
truck and unlikely to get around to us for DAYS. No way was I going to
be stuck, at someone’s mercy for days. If anything happened, an
emergency or whatever and we needed to be mobile, I was getting our
vehicles on the road. To heck with waiting.

The night of the big storm, I and my two boys were out at 3 and 4 and
5 am digging one of our vehicles out of a snow drift on the main road.
One of our kids had stranded it there. It couldn’t be left there—the
Mayor had declared an emergency and if a vehicle is blocking a major
road, well, the plows will just shove it out of the way. Bye, bye family

Now I have all the equipment to get just about anything out of snow
bank so we just went out there and did it—and at the same time got a few
of our neighbours’ cars unstuck too.

But I can tell you, it was scary out there. I can see how glaciers
can form in a hurry after that night. It’s one thing to see a film about
it (like, The Day After Tomorrow), it’s another to see it in one night
in your hometown. I can tell you if it ever snows year round, Canada
would be uninhabitable in no time.

But the point of all this is: develop some patience. I like to rely
on myself, I don’t like free stuff and I have patience and determination
to do things, to get things done, to finish and complete things.

When I was a kid and attending McGill University in Montreal, I had
my own apartment but I couldn’t afford a vacuum cleaner. I also couldn’t
afford any furniture. (I solved this by raiding the Engineering
Department for milk crates and Styrofoam (my dining room table and work
table) and the Sally Ann for cushions, foam mattress and dishes.)

I also liked to entertain (a girlfriend or two) and it wasn’t lost on
me that they tended to like things neat and clean. I also happen to
believe that being reasonably well organized and living in a clean
environment is a good thing. So I re-learned what my mother’s people
knew—they came from Russia and if they had to clean their carpets, they
swept them with a broom. Not too many Russian peasants had vacuum
cleaners, circa 1909. Ha. Ha. None of them did, of course. And if the
broom couldn’t get all the dirt, I would get done on my knees and pick
up lint piece by piece, no problemo. Don Juan would have been proud of

     Prof Bruce @ 11:49 am

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         Deal-Killing Lawyers        

   Posted on
       Saturday 22 November 2008  

(Please also refer to: Lawyers Lose their Minds, https://www.eqjournalblog.com/?p=184.)

Sometimes, you have to laugh. A client called me up the other day
and, in essence, she said that her lawyer wanted to kill her deal
because his legal fees were too high. Got that?

Basically, he told her that because the transaction had taken so long
to complete, his fees (about $5,500) were much higher than expected (he
thought that they should be around $1,500 for a transaction of the size
and complexity of this land purchase) and she should ask the Seller to
reimburse her for the extra four grand.

As a real estate Broker, it is my job to serve my clients. I
understand that but I also feel it is my job to tell my clients that
before I follow their instructions, these are the likely outcomes of
those instructions…

So let’s take this one step at a time:

1. Did she still want to purchase this piece of land? Yes.
2. Did she remember why she entered into the transaction in the first
place? Yes. She wanted the land so she could build her own building to
house her thriving medical practice. She was tired of paying rent across
the street.
3. Did she feel the original deal was a good one? Yes.
4. Has it taken longer to complete the transaction than she and everyone else involved had anticipated? Yes.
5. Did she know why it had taken so long? Not really. (The City of
Ottawa had taken the Seller through a process that would defy
interpretation by Franz Kafka.)
6. Did she know how much extra the Seller had spent to rezone the lands
specifically for her use? No. (It was an extra $30,000 and if it goes to
an OMB Hearing (a distinct possibility in 2009) it could double.)
7. What did she think the Seller might do if I asked him on her behalf
to decrease her Purchase Price by $4k? Well, her lawyer had said that he
would probably be OK with paying for her extra legal fees. (I told her:
“Are you kidding? The Seller has spent an extra $30k getting your lot
severed and rezoned for you over and above what he thought he would
spend. Has he asked you for a price increase? No, he has not.”)
8. If her Amendment is not accepted by the Seller, did she know that he
has the right to terminate her deal and re-sell the lot to somebody
else, probably for a higher price? No, no one had told her that.

So if you think this through logically for a moment, her lawyer was
basically opening up the deal in order to pay for his additional legal
fees. If the Seller refuses, then the deal dies because the lawyer
wanted to change the terms of the original deal. Do you think it is more
likely that the lawyer’s fees will get paid if the deal dies or goes
ahead? In my experience, clients are usually more inclined to pay their
legal bills (and other bills) if a deal proceeds to completion. Duh.

So now the doctor loses her deal, the lawyer may lose some of his
legal fees, the Seller loses a sale and our Brokerage loses a
commission. Right? Not quite. The Seller still owns the land. I think it
is quite likely that he can re-sell it for more than the original deal
and he knows it. The Brokerage will be fine because if we don’t sell it
to the doctor, we are quite likely to sell it to someone else and, if it
sells at a higher price, the Brokerage could end up with more dough not

So, in all probability, the only ones to lose are the doctor and the lawyer.

Lawyers, bankers and accountants are all limited by their training to
think like lawyers, bankers and accountants. Which is fine if they
stick to lawyering, banking and accounting. But when they think they
know something about deal-making and entrepreneurship, I’m afraid of the

One more thing, the above logic ‘diagram’ isn’t actually the final
determining factor in all of this.  You know what is? It’s emotion. I
told her after discussing all of the above: “Look if you want, I will
call the Seller and ask him for the $4k. But I know this guy really well
and I can tell you what he is going to say: ‘ F**k! No way! I have
spent an extra zillion dollars on this damned deal. It’s over.’” Just
one more thing, his answer won’t be this polite.

Right after that, she asked me: “What’s your fax number again? I am
sending over the Extension Agreement right now (with no changes; i.e.,
no deduction for extra legal fees, ed.).”

Look, logic is useful but, at the end of the day, people still make
many decisions using the older, more primitive part of their brains (the
basal ganglia) not the cerebral cortex. This older part of the human
brain (residing underneath the cerebral cortex) is much more tied to
emotional response, gut feeling, fight or flight reflexes, etc. So if
you want to be a deal maker instead of a deal-killer***, you need to
appeal to both.

Dr. Bruce

* In actual fact, the Brokerage could end up with even more dough
than suggested above. If the Brokerage can keep both the would-be Buyer
and would-be Seller on board, the Brokerage may sell the original piece
of land, probably at a higher price even in this distressed market, to
someone else and help the Buyer find another piece of land to purchase
for her medical practice (again probably at a higher price—she got a
good deal for the first piece of land). So we could turn one deal into
two. Now we would never advise any of our clients to terminate a deal
for the benefit of the Brokerage but a scenario like this can easily
happen. If you advise your clients properly, they are likely to remain
loyal—they know that you are putting their interests first and, if they
act against their own best interests despite your best advice, they tend
to remember this. On occasion when a client says to me: “Oh, you want
this deal to proceed because you’re just interested in a commission.”, I
point out the above scenario and tell them: “Please don’t worry about
the Brokerage, we’ll be fine. Focus on what is truly best for you.”

** When my students and others who are starting companies or managing
high growth enterprises come to me looking for help, I ask them if they
have a mentor. Many of them do but, in my opinion, they often have the
wrong ones. Firms that have mentors tend to have a higher survival rate
and growth rate but you have to have the right mentor. I often hear how
they have assembled a great group of mentors—including the usual
suspects: accountants, lawyers and bankers. Guess what, none of these
folks really know much about entrepreneurship. Instead, I have a team of
what I call ‘unconventional mentors’—people who run plumbing,
electrical, contracting, moving, packing supplies, tech and other
companies, people who know the value of a customer or client, know what
it means to meet a payroll, know how to collect receivables, know how to
sell, know how to operate and innovate in the face of complexity,
uncertainty and imperfect data, have some street smarts, know that it is
better to ask for forgiveness than beg for permission, know how to
stretch a buck, know how to market their companies and acquire new
clients cost-effectively, know how to bootstrap their financing without
much help from banks, partners or VCs, know how to buy their competitors
by taking away their clients one customer at a time, know how to learn
from their competition and put in place best practices from their
industry even if they didn’t invent it or think of it themselves, know
how to create a business model that is sustainable and when to change it
if it’s not and, generally, know how to survive in the marketplace

*** Compare the response of our client, the doctor with another
client, an electrician. He had to deal with a much more difficult
situation. He is selling a family property to a large company for a LOT
of money. When the markets began to melt down a couple of months ago,
this deal was in jeopardy of falling apart. The Buyer wanted an
extension of five months to get the deal into 2009 and, hopefully, a
better market after the inauguration of a new President in the US and
after the markets had stabilized. Now the Seller had the option to
terminate the deal, extend it or ask for changes (like, for instance,
asking for either a higher price or a non-refundable deposit in return
for the extension.) One of his family members at that meeting said: “Why
don’t we ask our lawyer to tell us what to do?” He looked at him and
responded this way: “What is a lawyer going to tell us that we don’t
already know or can’t figure out for ourselves? Give me that piece of
paper, Bruce, I am going to sign it.” (He got an extra $40k and a
happier Xmas.)

**** In 2010, we dealt with another deal-killing lawyer. This time,
the lawyer wanted to crater the perfection of a land severance over an
upaid fee of, get this, $540. In Ontario, you get one year from the date
of approval of a land severance to perfect it (to register it on
title). There were three landowners affected by this decision and a
year’s worth of work had gone into it. Unfortunately, one of the clients
was overseas at the time but the lawyer would not release the documents
without the balance of his fee being paid first, a measly $540. The law
firm for the client who was overseas even offered to guarantee the $540
pending his return but this too was rejected. Finally, the third
client, now in full crisis mode, paid it in cash and he will have to
collect it back from the other guy upon his return. But I have to say
that rejecting a guarantee from a top Ottawa law firm is petty indeed.
The severance registered on the last day possible.

“A man may as well open an oyster without a knife, as a lawyer’s mouth without a fee,” Barten Holyday.

***** In another case, my son, Matthew, a REALTOR, called a lawyer to
ask her: a) is there anything you need to complete a transaction for
the client and b) can he pick up his commission cheque when it was
ready. Matthew’s firm was owed $28,000. We have found that law firms
lose everything: the original Agreement of Purchase and Sale, Waivers
and Amendments, invoices, the name(s) of the lawyer(s) for the other
party(ies), you name it, they lose it.

The lawyer took offence that a REALTOR would have the temerity to ask
for his commission; she gave him heck and then called the client to
complain about it and, oh by the way, that Matt’s commission was too
high as well. Matthew being a young and sensitive guy, felt badly but I
told him (especially in light of the above story) that if the role was
reversed and the lawyer was owed $28,000 in legal fees instead, he could
have expected not just a phone call or two from her but serious demands
for additional security to ensure payment. I also asked him when was
the last time that he or any other REALTOR he knew had called a client
to complain about a lawyer’s fees being too high?

I went to an all boys school and we had a name for people who ratted
out their brothers which I won’t repeat here. It was considered one of
the most contemptible things to do. I lost all respect that day for this

Lastly, I told Matthew that he can never be a professional unless he
can justify his fees not only to his clients but to himself. The grunt
work he does on every deal, the knwoledge, training and value he brings
to it and the risks he takes (he only gets paid if the deal completes)
justifies every cent he receives and then some. By the way, the lawyer
gets paid even if the deals fails.

NOTE: Certain details in the above posts have been changed to protect the identity of the persons involved.

     Prof Bruce @ 12:31 pm

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Why Businesses Fail


         CBS, ABC, NBC Should Give Up!        

   Posted on
       Monday 17 November 2008  

A couple of years ago I ran into a former sportscaster on
Global TV who, along with his partner, pioneered the modern look and
feel of a half hour, late night wrap up show in Canada. It was a mix of
fast paced highlights, humour and general good fun. The production
quality was excellent.

I asked him why Global had given up on the once hugely popular show.
He shrugged his shoulders and good naturedly said: “Well, you know,
there is TSN and Sportsnet and that’s all they do. We just couldn’t

Of course, he was right and it is the nature of things. When humans
focus on ONE thing they tend to get very good at that ONE thing. I tell
my students if you want to run a successful business, you must focus on
your core competencies—everything else must be out-sourced.

Great athletes or great scholars are often not the easiest people to
talk to—they have terrific focus but perhaps not the best social skills.

I was watching the recent election of President-elect Obama (mostly
on CNN) and I realized that maybe the time has come for ABC, CBS and NBS
to give up their nightly news programs! The sets, the colours, the
props, the on-site reporters, the in-studio commentators, the SMART
boards were so much better on CNN, I couldn’t believe it. When I flipped
the channel to watch some coverage on other networks, it was like
stepping back in time about 15 years—they were dull and ordinary in
every way in comparison with what CNN was doing.

Then CNN demonstrated the use of stereo space by beaming in one of
their on-site reporters and, later that evening, they holographed
Will.I.Am (he created the video in support of Barack Obama: YES WE CAN)
into the studio. You can see it on You Tube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deoOTqT-SMI.

(You can also see CNN’s first use of the technology when they beamed in Jessica Yellin. It’s posted at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2un9AxQCQU&feature=related).

Stereo space is an extremely important extension for the Internet—if
you read Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH (written by the way in 1989 and
1990), you will understand the import of this technology. One day, you
will meet a colleague in Tokyo when you are in Toronto in the metaverse
using a form of this technology.

But apart from the fact that this is pretty cool tech, what it really says is that NBC et al have no  shot long term to keep up with the focus on news coming from CNN and other specialty channels.

If I was giving any advice to these networks and assuming that they
absolutely had to have a nightly newscast, I might want to make a deal
now to repackage CNN for a half hour show on my network rather than try
to compete with them. Or they can just focus on what they do best
anyway—entertainment and drop their newscasts!

When we re-established the Ottawa Senators in 1990, we wanted to
focus on our core competencies—everything to do with player development
and everything to do with season ticket holders and sponsors. Everything
else—media broadcasts, food and beverage, security, cleaning, arena
management, etc. was outsourced. As I have said elsewhere on this blog,
it is probably even more relevant today than it was in 1990.

Dr. Bruce

     Prof Bruce @ 4:15 pm

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         Win By Losing—At the OMB        

   Posted on
       Sunday 16 November 2008  

I learned this sales technique from a friend of mine who
sold promotional products. Sometimes, he would respond to a RFP (Request
for Proposal) for a huge quantity of product that he was pretty certain
he couldn’t win. But by participating in the process, he would get to
know all the players in a government department say, or a large private
sector firm. When he lost, he would wait a couple of days and then
(politely) ask the people involved for some feedback on what he could do
better next time. He was such a gracious loser that they often would
give him an order for something and, the next thing you know, he had a
new client*.

But there are other ways to ‘win by losing’, as long as you keep your mind open to opportunity.

We went to the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) on a matter involving a
piece of vacant land in the heart of a small village in the western
suburbs of Ottawa. Since amalgamation of the 11 municipalities and
townships plus the Regional Government a number of years ago, the City,
in my view, has taken a decided tilt towards urban issues. Rural
villages around Ottawa are not a priority for the City. In fact, I get
the feeling that the City’s planners would prefer it if everyone lived
in a walk up flat above a retail mall on Elgin Street. Now that might be
fun if I was 19 again but for a family person with a wife and five kids
and my mother-in-law, it does not have much appeal—either economically
or from a lifestyle POV. I get up at 5 am to get ready for work, about
two hours after Elgin Street quietens down from a night of partying.
This is not an attractive proposition**.

The piece of land we are talking about in the Village is ten acres
and is right at the intersection of the two main roads that form the
spine of the Village. (Villages tend to form at the intersection of
major arteries—like two rivers, a railroad and a road, two roads, a
railroad and a port, what have you…) To the south is some industrial
land. Across the street is a restaurant, a vet, a couple of Churches. To
the north there is a High School, a plaza, about 185 homes, a
recreation centre and more stuff. The City has just bought up the local
store at the intersection which has been around since the 1830s to knock
it down (actually, it has already been demolished) and put in a fully
signalized intersection and turning lanes. I am guessing that this
(along with some environmental remediation) will set our City back more
than one million dollars.

Now I have no idea what the Village is really worth but we can make a
stab at it. I am sure to the people who live there (as I once did), it
is, like they say in the TV commercial, ‘priceless’. I agree with that
assessment. My Dad told me that you should not look at your home as an
investment like maybe you look at your mutual funds or your stock
portfolio. He told me: “You live there. If you sell it, you just need
another place to go. So enjoy it because you only have one life.”

If you add a basement recreation room like we did in our home in
Kanata, you should know that REALTORS will tell you (and they’re right)
that you will probably only get around 50% of your ‘investment’ back on
its sale. The same probably holds true for a swimming pool, a third
garage*** and similar changes to your home. But so what? If you have
five kids and they can go to the basement rec room, it’s helps the
parents stay sane and its’ good for the kids to have some independence
from their parents too. If you die in your own home, the fact that you
are not going to get back the $65,000 you spent on your basement isn’t
going to mean anything compared to the peace of mind and enjoyment that
the money generated while you were alive.

Back to valuing the Village. Here is a wild stab at it:

Nov. 16, 2008 Notional Value of Dunrobin Village

New Signalization and Env. Remediation $1,000,000
Roads                                                $6,000,000 12000 m. $500 per m.
High School                                                $12,000,000 60000 sq. ft. $200 per sq. ft.
Elementary Schools                                $8,000,000 $4,000,000 2 schools
Rec. Centre $1,500,000
Public Investment                                $28,500,000

Housing and services                                $46,250,000 185 $250,000 3.5 648
Shopping                                                $1,250,000 DOR POP
Industrial                                                $1,010,000
Services                                                $4,500,000
Golf Course                                                $10,000,000 $5,000,000 2
Private Investment                                $63,010,000

Total                                                $91,510,000

So according to the above, we have a total public sector and private
sector investment in the Village of around $91.5 million. Of that, about
1/3 is by the public sector. The population of the Village (based on a
guessed at 3.5 DOR, dwelling occupancy rate) is around 650 persons and I
have drawn the Village boundaries to include the Village of Dunrobin,
West Carleton High School, two elementary schools, Dunrobin Lake and
Dunrobin Springs. This is pretty arbitrary. I could have included the
community along the Ottawa River but I felt this would have distorted
the numbers even though locals might consider it part of the Village.
When you start adding in those homes (some of which are very expensive)
and all the roads and utilities to service them, the numbers would get a
LOT bigger.

You will note that services like natural gas, cable, telephone, well,
septic, electrical etc. are included in the Private Sector total. This
is because, unlike the prevailing public and political perception, these
services, many of which used to be provided by the Public Sector, are,
in fact, now not only provided for privately but paid for privately by
the original developer who puts in and pays for some of these services,
by DCs (Development Charges) paid to the municipality by home builders
and builders of commercial property and by the utilities themselves.

In any event, the City has a significant stake in the Village measured in some tens of millions of dollars.

The City’s own OP (Official Plan) calls for adding on to existing
infrastructure and for densifying existing areas. Not only does the City
and the Private Sector have a significant investment in the Village,
the Village has a lot of needed services including Churches, schools,
rec centre, post office, shopping plaza, golf courses, restaurants,
marina, boat launch, vet, storage business, mechanic and auto repair,

With the current zoning, the land in question (10 acres) can have
only one home on it. In the urban areas of the City, 10 acres could
support approximately 80 single family homes or 150 towns. In the
Village, lots need to be larger because they need room for wells and
septic fields. In the past, 0.5 acres per lot was considered
satisfactory by the MOEE (Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy).
What was proposed was to go to a higher standard—which meets the City’s
own policy—of one acre per lot. So the 10 acres would support 8 to 10
homes or businesses instead of one. It seemed a reasonable compromise.

To make matters worse, the City had promised (at least in our view)
to do a CDP (Community Design Plan) for the Village, which would have
looked at not only these lands but lands around the Village and come up
with a long term plan for this community. At an AARAC (Agricultural and
Rural Affairs Committee) meeting, the City quietly asked for our support
for a delay in doing a CDP (because of budget constraints) in return
for their support for allowing the 10 acres to go forward to provide
some additional inventory (of lots) in the interim.

Subsequently, with our support, AARAC deferred the CDP. When the
matter of the 10 acres came up immediately thereafter, imagine our
surprise when the same City planner came out against the idea of
developing the lands since it was premature—because there was no CDP!

In my experience, it is not the first time that the City has not
lived up to its word but it is rare. That made the whole thing that much
harder to swallow.

The matter went to the OMB and the Board concurred with the City’s
position—it was premature without the CDP, which unfortunately is not on
the drawing boards for any time soon.

The City had argued the matter on three counts at the Board—1. that
it was premature, 2. that there were sufficient lots to meet demand and
3. the well water in the area was bad.

On the latter two points, we argued:

• there were only three vacant lots left in the Village, not enough
inventory to keep the market in balance (which is another one of the
Provincial Planning Guidelines—if the planners don’t keep enough
inventory, home prices will spiral upward);
• they had used a 20 year old ‘study’ of well water in Kanata that
actually didn’t sample any wells and relied on hearsay evidence.

The consultant the City used ended their report the way many gold-digging consultants do: “This warrants further study.”

The Hearing was atrocious. The result unconscionable****. The
development land that the City Planner (the same one who appeared at
AARAC) said was available for construction of new homes in the Village
and, hence, was one of his main arguments against the development of the
10 acre parcel was, in fact, a major (Provincially Significant Class
One) wetland.

We don’t build on wetlands in Ontario. Wetlands are an incredibly
important part of the earth’s eco system—they are the lungs of our
planet. What it demonstrated to me was the incredible hubris of the
City’s position and the urban focus of the City’s representatives. They
had never even left their downtown offices to survey the site; otherwise
they would have known that the ‘inventory’ they were pointing to was a
wetland. If you tried to walk it, you would be wet in a hurry. During
each Spring, the wetlands are so high that part of the road (Thomas A.
Dolan Parkway) is underwater.

When that was entered into evidence, the City changed its
position—they said that there were undeveloped lots in the area—but they
had to extend the boundary by a factor of ten to find them. Any
economist could tell you that keeping a land market in balance means
that you look at the closest substitute. The closest substitute for a
home in the Village of Dunrobin is NOT a home in the more distant
Villages of Carp or Fitzroy but in Kanata.

So now do you wonder why rural residents feel shortchanged?

(You should also know that you can buy a lot in the Township of West
Carleton for about half the cost in Kanata. The DCs are about one
quarter so, overall, housing costs are a lot lower. Again, there is
blatant discrimination, at least in my view, not only against rural
residents but also against forms of lower cost housing.)

In the last few minutes of the Hearing (Trial, if you will), the
City’s lead lawyer let drop (he later told me by accident) something
that none of the proponents had ever heard before. He said that in the
rural areas, there are no minimum lot sizes for commercial uses!

As a result, some of the lands were sold to a local developer (one
acre for a self car wash and one acre for a new vet building). This
leaves eight more acres available for some other type of
commercial/professional services development.

So sometimes, you can win by losing.

Dr. Bruce

Post Script: The City is taking the local developer back to the OMB
on his self car wash and the new vet building to argue the matter on the
same points dealt with at the first hearing. This is a colossal waste
of the City’s legal resources and the developer’s time and money. He
needs to spend more dough on planners, lawyers, water quality experts,
hydro geological studies, well drilling, chemical analysis and more. In
my view, as a former supporter of amalgamation, the results have been
poor—for the rural areas, as well as for urban residents. We were
promised, for example, that by combining 12 local governments into one,
we would go from 12,000 FTEs (Full Time Equivalents, i.e., jobs) to
8,000 at a savings of around $400,000,000 per year in wages, benefits,
office and equipment costs. Instead, today seven years after
amalgamation, the City has a bloated staff count of more than 13,000
FTEs. Compare that to Calgary that somehow gets by with 9,000 FTEs to
run a much faster growing city and a larger one to boot.

*It reminds me a bit of a guy I knew who owned a Quick Print
business. His name was Bill (not his real name BTW). Now that is one
tough, competitive business. The poor guy had a terrible limp and was
one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He would deliver some of
the jobs himself—he would walk from his downtown store and drop off
printed materials even if it was a very small order. I asked him one
day: “Gee Bill, it’s snowing and the sidewalks are slippery, you didn’t
have to bring over our order. We could have sent someone to pick it up.”
Bill responded: “Dr. Firestone (he was a very polite person, ed.), I do
it so I can meet my customers and, frankly, when I personally deliver
five orders, I bring back six (new ones, ed.)!”

We also planned, if we had lost the bid to Bring Back the Senators in
1990, to immediately have our own press conference in Palm Beach. I
told our presentation team (Randy Sexton, now AGM of the Florida
Panthers, Cyril Leeder, COO of the Ottawa Senators, Gary Burns, former
partner of Peat Marwick Thorne and now a financier in Ottawa, former
Mayor Jim Durrell, now owner of Capital Dodge Chrysler and the late
former United States Attorney General, Elliot Richardson) that we would:
a) thank the NHL for allowing us to participate in the Sixth Planned
Expansion of the National Hockey League and b) announce that we would be
back! It was a smart strategy for us if we had lost—it would keep the
zoning process moving forward for our lands in Kanata (where Scotiabank
Place is now), keep our supporters ‘on the bus’ with us and, as it
turned out, the NHL would go on to accept two more teams the following
year—Florida and Anaheim. I was on the Expansion Committee that admitted
those two cities and, if circumstances had been different, it might
have been Ottawa in the following year.

** For more on this, read: In Defence of Suburbia, Part II.

*** A second garage might add more than its cost but a third might
add less than its cost. This is the law of increasing and decreasing

**** A major US-based developer has been noted to say about Ottawa:
“If that City was the last place in North America to practice real
estate, I would get out of the business.” Certainly the City has an
international reputation as being a difficult place to do work in.
Whatever you think of the merits of the previous north-south light rail
contract that the City signed with PCL and Siemens, it is not good for
our reputation to unilaterally set aside a binding agreement. When (and
if) the City ever gets around to putting out a RFP for a new light rail
system, major providers will think twice about bidding here. After all,
they have limited BD (Business Development) budgets and they have to
spend it where they think there is a good likelihood of actually doing
something other than getting involved in protracted litigation.

     Prof Bruce @ 11:42 am

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         The Environment—A Solution?        

   Posted on
       Saturday 8 November 2008  


If you were going into business 30+ years ago, you might have done
well to heed the advice my late father, Professor O. J. Firestone, who
told me back in the 1970s: “If I were a young man today, I would move
west to Calgary and go into the oil business.”

My Dad could see the future and despite all the ups and downs in the
oil sector since then, it would have been pretty good advice if making
money was the prime motivator for you.

Recently, I was asked to provide advice about which industries might
be ones where ‘all boats are rising’. I am nowhere near the prescient
person that OJ was but here is my best guess as to what industries will
grow fastest over the next half century:

• education-based firms that specialize in continuing education and training,
• bio-tech and health,
• info-tech and the Internet,
• infotainment, art and artistry,
• tourism and entertainment,
• organic foods,
• transportation,
• financial services,
• energy, clean-tech and new related services.

While this essay intends to deal with the place of environmentalism
in the panoply of future endeavours, let me first give you my reasons
why I chose the above:

1. Life long learning and training will be the one of the major ways
that North Americans will be able to increase their productivity and
successfully compete with nations like China, India and other emerging
states. I went back to school at age 53 to get my real estate license. I
have a PhD in Urban Economics and have taught real estate development
but I still had to go back and do eight OREA College courses and exams
to get by Brokers license at 56! The courses were pretty good too, I
must say. Certainly, REALTORS today are much better trained than a
couple of generations ago—if your cheque cleared, you got your license.
(I am exaggerating for effect here. It was more like getting your
Learner’s Permit for an Ontario Driver’s License.)
2. Health technologies and services will simply boom as populations age.
3. The Internet is in its infancy. It will eat radio, TV, newspapers,
telecommunications networks, libraries, software, video games, film,
telephones, cell phones and much, much more. It is probably about as far
along in its development as electrification was when that technology
was 15 years old. Lots of room for growth and innovation.
4. Whether we like it or not, the news business is dead. It has been
replaced with infotainment. It used to be that newspapers wanted two
independent sources before publishing anything. Now many of them run on
the slogan: ‘Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable.’ If you
are an amateur videographer, there is lots of scope today to find places
for your work and get paid for it too. Celebrity worship is the new
religion. Having said this, most art forms and careers based on artistry
will flourish. Human creativity is not replaced by computers or
outsourced easily. If you spend some time on You Tube and other similar
services, you can see some fabulous work: much of it way more
interesting than what’s on network TV. If the copyright lawyers don’t
kill  it, the future looks terrific for creative persons. (My new
favorite on You Tube is a speed drawing of Canadian Actress, Evangeline
Lilly as Kate Austen from the show Lost. And for the ladies, check out the speed painting of ‘Sawyer
from the same show.) I find it ironic that so much of the work that
made Walt Disney famous and wealthy came from the creative commons. What
would Walt have been if he did not have Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s story
about Snow White to draw from? I’ll tell you what: Walt would have gone
bankrupt in all likelihood. Today, as young artists take music and
stories and art and make great new stuff, the last thing that music
companies and film studios should be doing is suing them or threatening
them with cease and desist letters. Put them up on You Tube, put up some
search results or other forms of non-intrusive advertising and share
the wealth between original creators, studios, publishing rights
holders, Google/You Tube and the new wave artist…
5. Even if Mr. Bush is asking Americans to look under their beds each
night to see if Mr. Bin Laden is hiding there, tourism will eventually
recover. Humans need to explore new worlds and boldly go where few have
gone before. (See the film, The Beach with Leo DiCaprio, for example, to
see how far people will go to go somewhere ‘different’ and to be
different.) Entertainment is a big part of the human condition—hey,
humans are not the only creatures who like to be entertained. African
elephants know that if they eat certain types of fruit under certain
temperature conditions (basically, rotting fruit found at the foot of
Marula trees) and let the results ferment in their digestive track, they
can get drunk. Apparently, watching tipsy elephants dance is both
moving and wondrous to behold. Entertainment may one day involve
stereoscopic space so you can meet your pals from all over the world
without leaving your home. (CNN did a great job demonstrating a
precursor technology on the eve of President-elect Obama’s victory. They
beamed in Obama-supporter and creator of the YES WE CAN Music Video
Will.I.Am as a hologram to speak with  CNN anchor Anderson Cooper: you
can see the video on YouTube: CLICK HERE.
Unbelievable future in this industry. BTW, I still think that Neal
Stephenson did the best job ever describing the uses of stereo space (he
called it the megaverse) in his book Snow Crash. He wrote the book in
1989 and 1990 (well before the Internet entered the mainstream in 1993)
and he anticipated so many of the impacts of the Internet, some still to
come, that it is practically Shakespearean in its import. No one knows
exactly, but Will added between 1,500 and 1,700 words to the English
language. It is almost impossible to imagine the genius of the man.)
6. The demand for organic foods or near to organic foods is surging. I
am not sure if we can convert to fully organic farming practices but
with cancer rates increasing, people are certainly concerned about what
they put in their mouths. Industrial farming (farming indoors) and other
methodologies must be found to improve on the existing system, It is
using huge amounts of pesticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers as
well as large amounts of energy not only in production but also in
transportation to distant markets while producing prodigious amounts of
pollution. The local farm, I am sorry to say, is a large source of
thousands of chemicals added to the soil, water table, streams and
rivers and to the atmosphere as well.
7. The transportation industry uses a fantastic amount of energy, much
of it inefficiently. We will not only have to retool the car and
trucking industry but also shipping and rail and aviation. The current
infrastructure is not sustainable—either economically or
environmentally. Lots of opportunity here for innovation and growth.
People are not going to give up individual transportation for point to
point travel even if they have to go back to the horse and buggy.
8. Despite the doom and gloom at the time of writing, the need for
financial services has never been greater. Not only do aging populations
need good quality financial services and advice, emerging states with
their new found wealth have to do something with it. With so many
financial services firms faltering, there will be plenty of opportunity
for honest, trusted financial advisors who are not selling hugely risky,
impossible to understand financial products like hedge funds,
derivatives, etc. under the guise that they are sound as the Rock of
9. Certainly, one of the greatest challenges is how to produce enough
energy without killing the planet we live on. No one has yet come up
with the answer to this and maybe there is no one answer…

Protecting the Environment

I have thought long and hard about this for a period of years. I
don’t think there really is such a thing as living in harmony with
nature. We are part of nature and have always had an impact on the
environment, just as all living species of plants and animals have had.

So creating a sustainable economy is probably not possible if it
means having no impacts on the environment. Perhaps we ought to be
looking at a future where the impacts we do have on the planet are not
so large as to:

a) depopulate and cause other species to go extinct;
b) cause permanent damage to oceans, rivers, streams and lakes as well
as soils, the atmosphere and the water table—damage that can  not be
easily absorbed by the environment through dilution;
c) deplete the earth’s resources to the point where future generations
end up on ‘The Road’ (if you want to be depressed read: The Road by
Cormac McCarthy (2006) about a bleak future after some huge catastrophe
has overtaken the planet—ash is blowing everywhere, the world is a
freezing place and a man and a boy are struggling to survive in place of
total lawlessness and rampant cannibalism).

If you think about North America, say 500 years ago, there were
perhaps two million people living on this continent. When things got
polluted and people started getting sick from their local environment in
those times, they could just move on. The environment could absorb
their wastes fairly quickly and, a few years later, they could safely

It is harder to do that today with more than 165 times as many people
here and some of our wastes likely to be around for and be dangerous
for at least 100,000 years (such as our nuclear power plants which are
storing their wastes nearby, an incredibly foolish thing to do. If you
want to understand how dangerous this can be, read a great book: The
World Without Us by Alan Weisman, 2007.)

I think that keeping in mind the above three principles, here are some things we might consider doing:

1. Cities can save us. The Khmer Rouge rousted over 3 million
Cambodians out of Phnom Penh in a matter of a few days. The Khmers were
enamored with the idea that the proletariat and the peasant were the
ideal state of being for a human culture. The forced evacuation of the
capital of Cambodia killed millions of their citizens not to mention
that the resulting deforestation as desperate people tried to live, cook
and survive in a forest environment.
2. Preserve the wilderness. Many of my former architecture students used
to think that an urban park is an environmental issue or that chopping
down a diseased tree is also an environmental issue. An urban park is no
oasis for wildlife. It is a place where many cities use 2, 4-D to get
rid of weeds, where our kids play in a soup of potentially harmful
chemicals, where lawn tractors spew huge amounts of CO (2) and other
chemicals into the atmosphere to create playing surfaces, where the only
living creatures other than kids are rodents and other pests (aka,
squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, bats, mice, rats, raccoons, etc.) Do you
know where wilderness truly exists—it exists in the DMZ between the
Koreas and in the no go area around Chernobyl. You know why it exists
there? Because humans are not allowed to enter. We should be reserving
80% of the planet (I would guess) for connected wilderness areas where
people NEVER, EVER go. (To learn more about the DMZ and the area around
Chernobyl, again I refer you to Alan Weisman’s book.)
3. Reform agricultural practices.
4. Look for new forms of producing energy that pollute less.
5. Someone ran a series of TV commercials with Comedian Rick Mercer in
Canada called: “Take the One Tonne Challenge.” The challenge was to save
one tonne of CO (2) in a year. Trouble was Rick didn’t tell you how to
do this. I suppose if you turn your thermostat down in winter and up in
the summer that would help. One home builder in Ottawa has an “All Off”
button located near to your daily exit from your home. So instead of
running around the home every day turning off your kids’ PCs or their
lights, you can hit one button before you get in your car and kill
everything except essential things like your furnace and fridge.
6. Simple things, like move closer to where you work. I did a quick
calculation that you could save more than 1.5 tonnes of CO (2) per year
if you move closer to work (the assumptions and spreadsheet are online
at: https://www.ottawarealestatenews.ca/GoGreenLiveCloserToWhereYouWorkb.xls.
7. Get rid of one way streets and no left turns. It only makes trips longer.
8. Get rid of traffic calming—speed bumps and the like use a lot of
energy in braking and accelerating, vehicles make a lot more noise too.
9. Use traffic circles like they do in Canberra rather than signal lights.
10. Do a lot more with design to reduce heat loads in summer and reduce
loss of heat in the winter. There are thousands of things we can do to
improve the built form of the city.
11. Produce more goods and services locally.
12. Allow work from home and businesses to locate in or closer to residential areas.
13. Get rid of newspapers. Can you imagine a dumber industry? Did you
know that every country that has ever deforested itself in recorded
history has ended up poor? Look at what has happened to Haiti compared
to the Dominican Republic. One side of the island is prosperous, safe
and delightful; the other is a very scary, very poor place. One side
preserved their national forests. The other side, every time it rains,
100s perish from floods. The denuded hillsides can’t absorb the moisture
and killer mudslides result. In Canada, you want to tackle a REAL
environmental problem? Then don’t worry about a developer who has taken
down 40 trees to build a dozen homes. Go see what the industry is doing
to our boreal forests—we’re talking million upon millions of trees. They
destroy wildlife habitat, use huge amounts of energy to take the logs
out of the area to pulp and paper plants who use huge additional amounts
of energy to turn the raw logs into newsprint that is then transported
to printers who print the daily newspaper which is then trucked or flown
to distribution points where it is transferred to other vehicles so it
can be dropped at your door so you can read it for 20 minutes or less
then either thrown away or re-transported back to re-processing plants
and the cycle starts again. If you want to read your newspaper, find one
online that you like (I read Digg.com, for example).
14. Use stormwater for irrigation and in toilets.
15. Use snow collected from winter streets to cool office buildings in the summer like they do in Stockholm.
16. Use geo exchange (not the same as geo thermal BTW) for heating and
cooling and use heat recovery units to improve efficiency.
17. Allow reverse metering and energy production at the client end of the power grid.
18. Give developers a bonus for additional density and a mixing together of uses: residential, office and retail.
19. Permit in-home apartments and granny flats to be built in established neighborhoods.
20. Re-establish the grid street pattern.
21. Plant more trees: they clean the air and shelter pedestrians from the wind and homes from the summer sun.
22. Put in place by-laws that stipulate minimum densities instead of maximums.
23. Use waterless urinals.
24. Improve public transit especially light rail.
25. Use LED lights (they consume about 1/10th the power of incandescents).

(To read more about Livable Cities, CLICK HERE.)

I am sure there are 100s of thousands of additional things that we
can and should be doing. But one thing I am certain of is: we have to be
careful. I have already said that for a thing to be environmentally
sustainable it also has to economically sustainable. Did it make sense
to take cropland out of food production to make more ethanol? Perhaps,
but I am not convinced. I suspect the cost of producing ethanol this way
might not only cost more to produce than it is worth in the
marketplace, it is a disaster for the poorest humans on the planet
because basic foodstuffs have become more expensive plus the CO (2)
balance might actually be worse anyway not better.

I like things like the idea of adding solar hot water, roof-top
systems even in a northern shelf city like Ottawa. Believe it or not, we
get quite a bit of sun here and there seems to be a decent return on
investment for these systems. What worries me is that people hawking
solar cells that generate electricity for, say, 75 cents per kw-hr are
not necessarily selling you something that makes environmental sense; it
certainly makes no economic sense.

The economic value of a thing reflects its inputs: capital, labour,
energy, management. In principal, the higher the cost of a thing, the
more capital, labour, energy and management went into producing that
thing. So power production from a natural gas fired turbine at around 8
cents per kw-hr is probably more environmentally friendly than power at
75 cents from solar panels.

Energy balance and eco balance calculations are fiendishly
complicated, especially if you are doing whole lifecycle calculations
that includes decommissioning a product at the end of its economic life.
What I am trying to get at here is that we can not make assumptions
based on hearsay evidence or because we happen to like the sound of
solar cells better than the sound of natural gas.

I completely understand the argument that economic calculations may
not take into account all environmental impacts; but that doesn’t mean
we throw out 10,000 years of marketplace behaviour. It does mean that we
have to price-in the costs of decommissioning and the costs of using
the natural environment, in my view.

Maybe you use solar cells because, for you, price is no object. But
remember, the manufacture of solar wafers entails the use of a lot of
highly toxic chemicals. The number of mother boards and computer wastes
littering dumps all over the world is scary.

A Solution

So what can we really do if we want to improve the situation? Is
their a real solution that we can be sure will reduce human impacts on
the planet to a manageable level?

I think there is one way and maybe only one.

What is the one way we can be pretty sure that we can follow the
three principles I discussed above—a) that we would not crowd out other
species, b) cause permanent damage to the planet (damage that can not be
healed by the biosphere in a relatively short period of time through
dispersion and natural processes), or c) deplete the resources of the


I am guessing that if the species were to act to reduce its head
count to about 1.2 billion (around where it was in the year 1850), we
would be able to: a) still have a post modern economy with all the bells
and whistles (good health care, good economic prospects for ourselves
and our children, cool tech, decent education, etc.), b) reserve 80% or
more of the planet for connected wilderness zones where people never go,
c) achieve a sustainable economic equilibrium, d) maintain and improve
our political and cultural institutions, e) make demands on the planet’s
resources that are responsible.

I think that humans may be suffering from a too-may-rats-in-a-cage
psychosis. There isn’t a square foot on this planet that is not claimed
by one government or another (and often by many as in the case of
Antarctica). What if we suddenly decided to somehow depopulate the
planet from a total of nearly seven billion to one (not quite like in
the book, The World Without Us, where the hypothesis is that ALL of the
people mysteriously disappear one night—possibly they get whisked away
by aliens or go off to visit Jesus)?

I am afraid that power abhors a vacuum and that we would be more
likely to end up like the survivors in Stephen King’s The Stand, at war
in no time at all.

So I decided to see what might happen if every nation adopted the one
child policy of China (actually in my model I used 1.1 and 1.2 children
per adult human female), how long would it take to go from a population
of 6,600,000,000 to 1,200,000,000?

Voyage To Earth Population of 1.2 Billion Souls

The calculation is surprisingly difficult and I must apologize in
advance to demographers* for: a) the many assumptions I made and b) any
errors in the calculations which are wholly my own.

(* To realize how weird demography can be, there were still people
walking around recently (and there may still be a few) who could say
that their fathers fought in the US Civil War. How can that be,
you might ask, given that the War was over in 1865? Well, if your Dad
had fought in the last year of that war at age 16 and he married late as
many men did (say, at age 66) to a female of child bearing years (I am
not recommending that, I am just reporting that it did happen and still
does) and he had fathered you ten years later, your birth date would be
1915 and you would be a plausible 93 today. Don’t be too cynical: a
famous friend of mine in his mid 70s now has a couple of kids under ten.
Again, I am not recommending that. This type of thing can wreak havoc
with forecasts. The point here is that demographics is a complex subject
where small changes in behaviour can make huge differences in outcomes.
So you are welcome to question my assumptions and substitute your own.
Nevertheless, I believe the broad sweep of my conclusions will stand

Here are some of the assumptions I made:

• World Population is now around 6.68 billion.
• Under certain assumptions, it will grow to 9.4 billion by 2050.
• Average life spans will continue to increase, eventually reaching 93.
• The mortality rate will thus be around 1.08%.
• Females make up 50.5% of the population.
• Females will have on average 1.1 children during their lifetimes.

You can see my spreadsheet in .xls format. You can download it yourself and play around with my assumptions. It is posted at: https://www.dramatispersonae.org/WorldPopulationApril2008.xls.

Unbelievably, it will take more than 440 years to reduce the
population from today’s level to get to a point not seen since 1850 even
with a ‘one child’ policy!

We won’t see a world population of 1.2 billion until the year 2450.
The reason is that when a society goes to a one child policy, their
population tends to continue to increase simply because of the sheer
number of females that can reproduce. Eventually (in my model by 2050),
populations begin to fall. But even then, it falls slowly.

Think about it this way (here is a super simple model):

• You have an isolated tribe of 100 people lost on a deserted desert island because of a recent plane crash.
• Miraculously, none of them suffer a scratch from the crash.
• Another miracle, they are a bunch of nice looking people who happen to
be the perfect breeding material needed to start a human colony.
• They are never rescued.
• They are on their own for all time.
• They decide to be environmentally conscientious and only have one child per adult female.
• How long will it take until their population is down to say 50?

Let’s assume out of the 100, 10 are kids and 10 are elders and there
are 40 breeding couples. In the next 25 episodes (excuse me, 25 years),
they each have one kid. The ten elders all die, either of natural or
supernatural causes, we’re not entirely sure.

But in any event, 25 years later, their population = 100 + 40 – 10 or
130. So even with a one kid per adult female, 25 years later, the
population is more not less. But wait a minute, the kids during that
time (10 of them) have grown up and have formed 5 more breeding pairs.
(Again, another miracle—an equal number of males and females). Maybe all
of those young couples have had kids of their own as soon as they
reached puberty or shortly thereafter. (After all, it’s a hot sweaty
place with cute guys and girls running around without much in the way of
clothes.) So maybe by 2033, the island has a population of 135 not 130.
It’s even higher than we thought!

Now there are a total of 45 kids who have been born on the island.
Let’s assume that 23 of them are women and 22 are men—that is pretty
typical, women outnumber men anyway in the ‘real world’. So over the
next 25 years, each woman has one child, so there are 23 children in the
next generation. And let’s assume that 25% of the first generation (G1)
breeding pairs die in the next 25 years after G2. So now we have a
simple table:

Year: 2008
Pop.: 100

Year: 2033
Pop.: 135

Year: 2058
Pop.: 135 + 23 – 20 = 138

So even 50 years later, gosh, the population is still growing!

Now in the next 25 years, the rest of the first breeding couples pass
away. Now there are only 23 kids from G3 (again more females—12 of
them), so there are 12 kids born in G4. So we have:

Year: 2083
Pop.: 138 + 12 – 60 = 90

Finally, the population is starting to fall. But it took 75 years
before the Island’s population started to show a meaningful decrease!

I will leave it up to the keen reader to figure out how long until
the population falls to half the original complement of Oceanic Flight
815 but you can see, it takes a long time.**

Productivity and Living Standards

To me a world future with 1.2 billion souls on the planet is not very
interesting if we have to go back to having short, brutish lives with
economic and governmental systems based on, say, medieval practices.

(In a book by Bill Bryson, Shakespeare: The World as Stage, 2007, he
describes the conditions in England at the time of Will’s birth (1564)
this way: “But plague was only the beginning of England’s deathly woes.
The embattled populace (…which had fallen nationally by 6% in the decade
before Shakespeare’s birth…) also faced constant danger from
tuberculosis, measles, rickets, scurvy, two types of smallpox…,
scrofula, dysentery, and a vast, amorphous array of fluxes and fevers…”
Folks today have NO IDEA what conditions were like even in the last
century. The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918/19 killed around 50
million people world-wide and as many as 40 percent of the world’s
population became infected. Anyone hankering after the ‘good old days’
and a return to nature have no clue as to what they are really wishing

So part of my calculations entailed asking a second question: What
would the growth rate in personal productivity have to be so that by the
year 2450, we not only had a population of 1.2 billion but that
population was capable of producing the same volume of goods and
services as we do today?

Again, I refer you to my spreadsheet to examine how I estimated this.
I used PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) to calculate the true state of
welfare in the world today. (It is not fair to compare, say, the welfare
of someone living in a pricey state like Switzerland with someone
living in a low cost/low wage country like Namibia where one Namibian
Dollar presumably buys more goods and services in Namibia than it would
if converted to Swiss francs and used there.)

Now understand, I am not saying that the world would produce the same
goods and services in 2450 as it does today. I am saying the total
value would be the same—but the mix of goods and services would be
vastly different. Presumably, there would be a much lower energy and
labour content and a much higher content of capital and management and
it would be infinitely more environmentally friendly.

But it turns out that productivity over the next 400+ years would
only have to increase by 0.4526% per year to maintain current volumes.
Non farm productivity growth in the US from 1947 to 1973 grew at 2.88%
per year. It slipped to 1.30% from 1973 to 1995 but accelerated to 2.8%
from 1996 to 2001. So for the world to produce the same volume of goods
and services even with the population falling, we would only need to see
less than a 0.5% increase in world productivity over the next 440
years. Easily achievable for super smart creatures like Homo Sapiens.

And that would mean an incredible increase in the welfare for humans
living on this planet in 2450—1.2 billion people would enjoy a lifestyle
with more than 5.5 times the PPP of a person living in 2008.

Now I think that we are likely to see this happen even without
government dictat. Reproduction rates are falling practically everywhere
approaching the one child per adult female. So maybe the future isn’t
quite so bleak for our planet.

And it sure is worth saving. To understand better what a truly
miraculous thing life is, I would refer you to another Bill Bryson text,
an excellent general science book: A Short History of Nearly
Everything, 2005. For example, the probability of spontaneously forming
the basic proteins of life is such an incredible long shot as to
completely boggle the mind. If you think about the systems we humans
build, their complexity and reliability are nothing compared to the self
correcting systems of the Earth (not only do we rely on the biosphere
for sustenance and succor, the planet would be unihabitable, for
example, without the Earth’s magnetic field which deflects deadly cosmic
rays). These biological and other systems have had to work continuously
for 4 billion years, otherwise life would have perished long ago. What
would you rather rely on to pump blood through your veins and
arteries—your human heart or a human-made sump pump that you bought from
the local hardware store?

Dr. Bruce

ps. Full disclosure—my wife and I have five kids in an under populated part of the planet—the great northern expanse of Canada.

pps. ** I couldn’t resist it. Here is the solution to the deserted Island situation.

By Generation 5, you have:

Year 2108
-10 (deaths)/Age 100
45 (living)/Age 75
23 (living)/Age 50
12 (living)/Age 25
6 (newborns)/Age 0
86 (people on the Island)

Year 2133
-45 (deaths)/Age 100
23 (living)/Age 75
12 (living)/Age 50
6 (living)/Age 25
3 (newborns)/Age 0
44 (people on the Island)

It has taken 125 years for the population on the Island to fall by somewhat more than half!

Year 2158
-23 (deaths)/Age 100
12 (living)/Age 75
6 (living)/Age 50
3 (living)/Age 25
2 (newborns)/Age 0
23 (people on the Island)

Year 2183
-12 (deaths)/Age 100
6 (living)/Age 75
3 (living)/Age 50
2 (living)/Age 25
1 (newborns)/Age 0
12 (people on the Island)

Year 2208
-6 (deaths)/Age 100
3 (living)/Age 75
2 (living)/Age 50
1 (living)/Age 25
0 (newborns)/Age 0
6 (people on the Island)

Year 2233
-3 (deaths)/Age 100
2 (living)/Age 75
1 (living)/Age 50
0 (living)/Age 25
0 (newborns)/Age 0
3 (people on the Island)

Year 2258
-2 (deaths)/Age 100
1 (living)/Age 75
0 (living)/Age 50
0 (living)/Age 25
0 (newborns)/Age 0
1 (people on the Island)

Year 2283
-1 (deaths)/Age 100
0 (living)/Age 75
0 (living)/Age 50
0 (living)/Age 25
0 (newborns)/Age 0
0 (people on the Island)

This calculus of death is not very comforting to read about but what
it tells you is that it takes a long time to reduce a human population
to zero—in this case, 200 years pass before the Island loses its last
(lonely) citizen.

This is why there are still a few people running around on Pitcairn
Island today (one of the least populated places on the face of the
Earth) who are descended from the the Bounty mutineers and their
Tahitian companions, who settled there in 1790, almost 220 years ago, a
similar time period to what we see above for our imaginary Island. Sound
like coincidence? Demographers wouldn’t think so. Of course, in the
Pitcairn case, they wouldn’t have had a ‘one child’ policy but disease,
decadence, accident and other factors would have affected such an
isolated population such that the effect might be similar to the Island.

The solution I provide for the Island is amenable to tracking
individual age cohorts because we are looking at an isolated, simple
world. It serves the purpose though of giving you some idea of how
complex and tricky these calculations can be. Imagine if fertility rates
change (as they almost certainly would) as the Island heads towards
zero population. Or what if accident or disease rates varied and
impacted differently on different generations changing lifespans?

It also tells you why financial projections for things like National
Old Age Security Plans are so hard to do—they greatly depend on
demographic trends, which can be hugely altered by small changes in
either mortality rates or fertility rates or, indeed, immigration. For
example, the number of working age people can quickly change by making
small changes in either of the latter two factors.

For the world population model, I use mortality rates and fertility
rates instead to project population changes. Refer to the spreadsheet
link provided above.

     Prof Bruce @ 1:26 pm

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         Why You Need a Professional Commercial REALTOR        

   Posted on
       Sunday 2 November 2008  

Hi Bruce,

I wanted to tell you about a recent experience I had.

We helped a business client negotiate with her existing Landlord for
an extension to her lease and when we were unable to arrive at terms
acceptable to both parties, we pursued a new lease with a different

We reached terms that we understood were acceptable to the client,
only to have the client walk away.  The client then went back to her
existing Landlord and endeavored to complete those negotiations without
us.  However, the new lease was emailed to our offices by the Brokerage
representing the Landlord for our client to initial and sign.  

After several attempts to contact our former client, we finally
located her on holiday in the South Pacific. We offered to forward the
new lease to her for execution by her. We continued to help her even
though we no longer represented her and would not get paid for our

The new Offer to Lease (OTL) was sent to her via email: she simply
had to sign and return it before the irrevocable time and date and we
would get it to the Landlord’s Agent.

Several days passed and the Agent for the Landlord contacted us
looking for the documents.  Again, we contacted our former client and
requested that she sign and return the documents.  Finally with the
irrevocable date looming, we sent more emails and made additional phone

A couple of days after the irrevocable time and date, she finally
sent the documents to us—not only was the OTL late, a handful of pages
were missing. Nevertheless, we forwarded the partial OTL to the
Landlord’s Agent.  

The Landlord’s Agent contacted us to inform us that he needed a
complete OTL and that this transaction was in jeopardy.  This message
was conveyed to our former client with renewed urgency.  She told us
that she would sort this out with her Landlord directly.

Within 24 hours, we received a cc of an email from the Landlord to
our former client that he had leased out the subject space to another
party and that the OTL was now null and void because the irrevocable
time and date had passed.

She now has 30 days to find new space. In commercial leasing, unlike
residential tenancies in Ontario, there is no protection—you can be
served notice to vacate at the end of your lease and that’s it, you’re

The reason we became REALTORs, is to serve clients. We do dozens of
deals a year and we take a lot of courses to get and keep our licenses
in Ontario. Who is likely to do a better job—someone who negotiates
maybe a couple of leases every ten years or an experienced REALTOR? Draw
your own conclusions. A day in the life of a REALTOR.


Steve Murray, REALTOR, Partners Advantage GMAC Real Estate,
Brokerage, 1445 Stittsville Main Street, Ottawa ON K2S 1S9. Cell:  
613-720-3674 Office:  613-836-3378 Email:

1. Names and other details have been changed to protect the identity of persons involved.
2. I have always believed that you should focus on your core
competencies. When we brought back the Ottawa Senators to play in the
NHL in 1992, we identified our core competencies this way: drafting and
all player personnel decisions, relations with season ticket holders and
all corporate sponsorships. Pretty much everything else was contracted
out—arena management, security, hot dog vending (food and beverage
concessions), parking lot operations, radio and television broadcasting,
etc. We figured that professional service providers knew a lot more
about selling hot dogs and beer than we did and that we would end up
making MORE money by letting others do what they do well and pay us a
percentage of sales. I think this idea has even greater relevance today
than it did 16 years ago.
Dr. Bruce

(Value proposition of commercial realtor)

     Prof Bruce @ 12:34 pm

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         More About Innovation        

   Posted on
       Saturday 1 November 2008  

Does innovation always have to be about BIG ideas or never-before-tried ones? No, of course not.

Not all of us are blessed with the insight to create equations like:
e = Mc**2 .

But here are three relatively minor insights that added enormous value to their respective enterprises:

a) Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonalds, taught his employees to famously ask: “Do you want fries with that?” Who knows if Ray invented the concept of upselling but he sure made good use of it to create a globe-spanning business.
b) Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon.com, saved his business by adding one question to the website: “Would you like to see what other people who bought this book (CD, DVD, etc.) also bought?”*
This use of Amazon’s gigantic relational data base meant that instead
of perhaps selling one book to a customer, they had a shot at selling
two or three. If you are having a minimum wage slave going into a large
warehouse to pick a single item, imagine how Amazon’s bottom line is
changed when he or she picks and then ships two, three or more items at a
c) Ralph Shaw, Founder of Partners Advantage GMAC Real Estate, is
creating a Brokerage that is one of the few that does both commercial
and residential real estate. He is teaching his agents to ask: “Is there anything else we can help you with?”
after completing a transaction or a listing presentation. You might be
surprised at how many residential clients need help with a commercial
lease for example or how many commercial clients need help selling or
buying a home.

Innovation is where you find it. Often, great innovations flow from
contact with the marketplace—contact with clients and customers. That is
one of the reasons why I always want the folks I mentor to find
pre-launch clients, you can learn so much from them. Innovation is
everywhere—you just have to be open to new ideas wherever they come
from. The Japanese believe in constant improvement. Small things do make
a difference.

Now once you have stumbled upon your next great idea on how to
improve and innovate within your industry, remember that innovation and
good ideas without excellent execution are practically useless.

Dr. Bruce

* Amazon’s relational data base has another cool application—for
researchers, you can put in a book you are reading and see what other
people who ordered this book are also reading. A lot of smart people use
Amazon and it is a simple way to add to your bibliography whether you
are a researcher or student writing an essay. For example, I recently
read Nassim Nichoas Taleb’s book, The Black Swan. Taleb makes a
convincing case that unlikely events (such as the recent economic
meltdown) in areas such as economics, weather forecasting, science and
tech, are actually far more common than typical statistical models
(based on bell curves) would suggest. I tend to believe this from my
experience as an entrepreneur. Bell curves might work well for
distributions such as height or weight in human populations but don’t
fit the data well in many other areas. Surprises, good and bad ones, are
surprisingly frequent in many other fields of endeavour. Here is what
Amazon suggests others who bought Taleb’s book also bought: The Age of
Turbulence: Adventures in a New World by Alan Greenspan, Fooled by
Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, A Demon
of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds… by Richard Bookstaber, The Halo
Effect by Phil Rosenzweig, Way of the Turtle by Curtis Faith, When
Genius Failed  by Roger Lowenstein, Super Crunchers: Why
Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres. These are
just some of the Amazon results. There are 17 pages of results! Enough
to round out any bibliography! This is a free ‘service’ by the way. Just
put in the name of a book and you get the suggestions from Amazon.

     Prof Bruce @ 4:44 pm

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.