How To Be Successful: The Explosive Truth

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(continued from “Why The Harvard MBA Should Be FIREd”)

Remember those paint-by-numbers kits we got as kids for too many birthdays? They had the allure of any typical get-rich-quick scheme. Each package featured the finished painting on its cover. It looked like a masterpiece. You just knew the Louvre had a space just for it, probably right next to the Mona Lisa. And – here’s the kicker – in just a few short hours you will have created an exact copy, suitable for hanging on your mother’s refrigerator!

Oh, joy, rapture! I got artistic talent!

And it was so easy, wasn’t it? Each kit came with clearly numbered paints, each number corresponding to a numbered shape on the heavy cardboard canvas supplied. It was as simple as 1, 2, 3… Picasso!

Picasso?!

You dreamed Monet and you got Picasso. And that was being generous. As you painted, you saw nothing but a series of random splotches of color. You might see an image, but Continue Reading “How To Be Successful: The Explosive Truth”

Why You Should Tell Bad Jokes

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Let me clue you in on this from the very beginning: this is another business metaphor. I’m telling you up front this time so you can begin to think about the connections from the moment you start reading it.

I was strolling through the National Comedy Center in Jamestown the other day, taking in with delight the many funny people who have entertained so many for so many years, when a thought struck me. Why do good comedians tell bad jokes?

When a comic sits down to write gags, it becomes an exercise of no-holds-barred brainstorming. This is by necessity. You don’t know what’s really funny while you’re creating it, so you don’t want to restrict yourself in any way.

James Mendrinos, in his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Comedy Writing, writes: “You have to force yourself to stain the pages, even if you think the jokes aren’t your best work. I’m not saying that bad jokes are better than no jokes. I am saying that if Continue Reading “Why You Should Tell Bad Jokes”

He Who Controls The Gate Controls The City

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Back then, this mattered. I saw it with my own eyes.

I never knew what the city of my grandfather looked like. We only had a picture of his house. It was a small two-story country villa built beneath a horizon of hills. It stood alone, triumphant, defiant.

My first thought was, given those traits, how would anyone not expect my father’s father to look at those hills – actually a ridge of small mountains – and wonder, “What’s beyond them? What’s on the other side?”

Truth be told, if he ever did venture deep into the valley below his house and up those mid-sized mountain ridges, here’s what he would have discovered upon reaching the top: Continue Reading “He Who Controls The Gate Controls The City”

When You Want To Control Risk, Sometimes An ‘Ace Up Your Sleeve’ Is Better Than A ‘Plan B’

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Here’s something they don’t tell you. Sometimes a “Plan B” does more harm than good.

I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do have a few. For example, I should have listened to my brother and never sold that 1965 Topps Joe Namath rookie (in mint condition). We paid less than a dime for it and sold it for $125 a short time later. Sure, it was a pretty good return. Today, however, that card is worth $200,000 or more.

Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

But that’s not the regret that gnaws at me. This is the one that occurred in 7th grade. And, ultimately, a different type of card.

I began playing the violin in 3rd grade. It wasn’t my first choice. I kinda liked the idea of the Continue Reading “When You Want To Control Risk, Sometimes An ‘Ace Up Your Sleeve’ Is Better Than A ‘Plan B’”

CNN+ Joins Such Iconic Failures As The Edsel, New Coke, And Alf Landon

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At least Google+ lasted nine years. CNN+ barely made it past nine days. The colossal flop doesn’t even merit a “crash and burn” label because that would imply it made it past the launch. The embarrassing fact is CNN+ never got off the ground. Maybe “stillborn” would be a better epitaph.

Every generation needs its version of the Edsel, Ford’s classic foray into product infamy and marketing case studies. The Edsel belongs to the Boomers. Gen X-ers get New Coke. The Millennials now have CNN+. Heck, if you want to go back far enough, you can hang Alf Landon on the Silent Generation (parents of the Boomers).

Each of these failures feature a common trait: hubris. Those in charge simply believed they Continue Reading “CNN+ Joins Such Iconic Failures As The Edsel, New Coke, And Alf Landon”

Why The Harvard MBA Should Be FIREd

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Have you ever played the game of Life? Very early on, you reach a fork in the road. You have to decide whether you’re going to go to college or whether you’re going to go straight into a career.

Does this sound familiar? If it sounds a lot like “What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?” then congratulate yourself. You’re definitely paying attention.

Recall the story of the Sicilian fisherman. When the Harvard MBA tried to convince him to expand his business, the fisherman would have none of it. Why? Because he understood Continue Reading “Why The Harvard MBA Should Be FIREd”

Pyrrhus and Cineas – The True Story Behind The Origin Of The ‘Fisherman’s Parable’

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Ferdinand Bol, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ferdinand Bol, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you search “Fisherman’s Parable,” you’ll find dozens of sites repeating what is commonly labeled in terms of the parable of the “Mexican” fisherman. In truth, most of these sites merely repeat a variation on a theme akin to the “Sicilian” variation told to me by my grandfather.

These sites tend to declare the original author of this story is “anonymous.” A few of the more honest ones cite a specific source, namely Heinrich Theodor Böll, a German writer who received the 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Böll wrote a short story in 1963 titled “Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral” (“Anecdote Concerning the Lowering of Productivity”). Rather than a Harvard MBA, the interlocutor is a “smartly-dressed enterprising” tourist. Instead of being Sicilian (or Mexican, for that matter), the “shabbily dressed local” fisherman was found resting at an unnamed harbor on the west coast of Europe. The rest of the story, including its ironic conclusion, remains very similar.

Still, we can’t credit Böll with an original philosophical insight. In fact, the original source Continue Reading “Pyrrhus and Cineas – The True Story Behind The Origin Of The ‘Fisherman’s Parable’”

‘What Success Means to Me…’

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The Parable of the Sicilian Fisherman and the Harvard MBA
(based on a grandfather’s story to his grandson)*

*My grandfather, an immigrant from Sicily, always laughed when he (repeatedly) told this story to me. If it sounds familiar it’s because this Parable has been told in many different ways by many different ethnic groups. Next week I’ll reveal the story behind the original story and why you may have seen this particular version, albeit with a different international flavor.

One morning, a Fortune 100 CEO, vacationing in a lush Sicilian villa overlooking the warm Mediterranean sands, came upon a local peasant sleeping comfortably against a fig tree. The peasant’s children danced around him, only occasionally tugging at the straw hat that protected his relaxed face from the tropical sun.

The energetic CEO studied the placid scene. Curiosity getting the better of him, the CEO woke the native and asked him what he did for a living.

“I’m a fisherman,” yawned the perplexed peasant.

The CEO then asked the man why he wasn’t fishing.

“I’ve caught enough fish for today,” replied the tranquil fisherman. He didn’t seem to mind the CEO interrupting his quiet family life. “I am the best fisherman on all the seas,” he continued matter-of-factly. “Each morning I take 30 minutes out of my day and haul in a boat-load of fish. This is enough to feed my very large family and still have some left over to share with my less fortunate neighbors. I can then spend the rest of the day watching my children grow or whatever else I want to do.”Continue Reading “‘What Success Means to Me…’”

Capacity Constraints: How Knowing Your Limitations Can Save Your Life (And Your Business)

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There’s a scene towards the end of the classic movie The Outlaw Josey Wales when a bounty hunter saunters in looking for Clint Eastwood’s titular character. When Wales asks him if he’s a bounty hunter, the man says, “A man’s got to do something for a living these days.” To which Wales responds, “Dying ain’t much of a livin’, boy.”

The bounty hunter considers this “advice” and saunters off only to return moments later to, well, let’s just say he wasn’t very good at making a living.

This would have been the perfect moment for Clint to growl “A man’s got to know his Continue Reading “Capacity Constraints: How Knowing Your Limitations Can Save Your Life (And Your Business)”

Busting The ‘If We Ain’t Growing, We’re Dying’ Myth

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Jacob Peter Gowy, Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsDaedalus carefully showed his son how to apply the wax to affix the feathers to his shoulders and arms. “These wings will work,” he said. “We will finally be free of this prison.”

Ironically, it was Daedalus himself who had created the Labyrinth, a vexing array of “intricate passageways and blind alleys” (at least according to Merriam-Webster). Anyone – or anything – imprisoned in this complicated maze found it nearly impossible to escape. Indeed, mythology claimed only Theseus was able to find his way out of Daedalus’ Labyrinth (primarily because Daedalus gave him a big hint).

Why did Daedalus build the Labyrinth? To imprison the Minotaur, a half-man/half-bull monster (whose origin story is not fit to print in a family newspaper). BTW, Theseus went into the Labyrinth to kill the Minotaur (something to do with the ancient Greek version of Continue Reading “Busting The ‘If We Ain’t Growing, We’re Dying’ Myth”

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