Saturday, 28 February 2009

Nothing will happen to you


"Nothing will happen to you," my grandfather used to tell me when he took me for a walk every Sunday afternoon. I was, I must confess, an apprehensive kid, fearful of every shadow and suspicious of every possibility.

My grandfather's stories were meant to convince me that, one day, I would also be able to face life courageously. While we walked along the disaffected railway, my eyes remained focused on the ground, so afraid I was to slip and fall.

How long would it take, I wondered, until I grew capable to turn every defeat into victory? In the eyes of the worrisome boy I was, the arrival of that moment was a receding point in the horizon.

I still remember my grandfather's hesitant voice when he described how, in his early thirties, he had returned from the war almost an invalid and had been forced to rebuild his life from scratch.

From time to time, I broke my shyness and I dared to name to the old man a list of all of life's perils. From the dangers I mentioned, a few were real and all others I made up myself. My grandfather smiled, shook his head, praised my imagination, and predicted that, one day, I would become a writer.

I grew up together with my fears, to which I had become so attached. I went away and returned, only to leave again, unable to hold sway over ambitions and delays. When things went wrong, I blamed the world. When I erred, I pretended to forget my own mistakes.

Maybe it was my fate but the telegram reached me too late and my grandfather was already dead. As I stared at his grave, his warm words came back to my brain, how he had lost every possession,
rebuilt his life, and forgiven aggression.

A friend of mine lost his job this week and felt himself crushed, unable to speak. "Nothing will happen to you," I reassured him. "It's just an unlucky streak." Since he didn't believe me, I took him to the tree under which my grandfather's heart no longer beats.

"Ask him and he will tell you," I urged my friend. "Tell him about your dreams and he will show you where they lead." I left my friend by the grave and waited for him in the car. I knew he needed an hour alone to recharge.

"How did it go?" I inquired when he joined me, as I watched his eyes aglow. "Did my grandfather reply to you?
What did he tell you?" My friend smiled and pointed at the rye growing in the fields beyond the trees.

"He told me that all plants grow enough to cover hurts from their past." My friend was no longer wrecked, he had regained his self-respect. "He also made me see," he added, "that nothing will happen to me."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by !tranq72! under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Nothing will happen to you


"Nothing will happen to you," my grandfather used to tell me when he took me for a walk every Sunday afternoon. I was, I must confess, an apprehensive kid, fearful of every shadow and suspicious of every possibility.

My grandfather's stories were meant to convince me that, one day, I would also be able to face life courageously. While we walked along the disaffected railway, my eyes remained focused on the ground, so afraid I was to slip and fall.

How long would it take, I wondered, until I grew capable to turn every defeat into victory? In the eyes of the worrisome boy I was, the arrival of that moment was a receding point in the horizon.

I still remember my grandfather's hesitant voice when he described how, in his early thirties, he had returned from the war almost an invalid and had been forced to rebuild his life from scratch.

From time to time, I broke my shyness and I dared to name to the old man a list of all of life's perils. From the dangers I mentioned, a few were real and all others I made up myself. My grandfather smiled, shook his head, praised my imagination, and predicted that, one day, I would become a writer.

I grew up together with my fears, to which I had become so attached. I went away and returned, only to leave again, unable to hold sway over ambitions and delays. When things went wrong, I blamed the world. When I erred, I pretended to forget my own mistakes.

Maybe it was my fate but the telegram reached me too late and my grandfather was already dead. As I stared at his grave, his warm words came back to my brain, how he had lost every possession,
rebuilt his life, and forgiven aggression.

A friend of mine lost his job this week and felt himself crushed, unable to speak. "Nothing will happen to you," I reassured him. "It's just an unlucky streak." Since he didn't believe me, I took him to the tree under which my grandfather's heart no longer beats.

"Ask him and he will tell you," I urged my friend. "Tell him about your dreams and he will show you where they lead." I left my friend by the grave and waited for him in the car. I knew he needed an hour alone to recharge.

"How did it go?" I inquired when he joined me, as I watched his eyes aglow. "Did my grandfather reply to you?
What did he tell you?" My friend smiled and pointed at the rye growing in the fields beyond the trees.

"He told me that all plants grow enough to cover hurts from their past." My friend was no longer wrecked, he had regained his self-respect. "He also made me see," he added, "that nothing will happen to me."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by !tranq72! under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Friday, 27 February 2009

History is now


Imagine that you are a woman born in a country where war has been going on for 22 years. Your parents are poor, illiterate peasants. As you grow up, a dozen people you know starve every winter. On many days, you have to go hungry yourself.

You visit the only old man alive in your village and you ask him questions. "Was life always like this? Was there a time when things were better?" The old man tells you that, years ago, before invaders arrived, there was peace and freedom.

On your eighteenth birthday, your village is attacked. Your older sister is raped and killed before your eyes, but you manage to escape. That's the day when you decide that you want to change the world. If only you knew how.

That night, you have nightmares about your sister. You wake up in the dark with your body trembling with fever. Then you close your eyes again, praying that you die before dawn.

Suddenly, you see a light above you. Did you fall asleep again? Is this another nightmare? You hear a voice call your name. Who is that? The voice tells you that
you, Jeanne, will end the war.

"I am going to set our country free," you announce to your parents the next morning. They shake their heads and tell you to drink your milk. After doing your chores, you walk to the village church and explain to the priest that you, Jeanne, are going to end the war.

The village priest doesn't listen to you and tells you to go home, but you cannot be stopped. The next day, you walk to the nearby garrison and ask to see the commander. You tell him that you know how to liberate the country and put an end to the war.

At the beginning, the commander calls you foolish and laughs at you, but the fury in your eyes makes him stand still. "Take me to the King," you demand. "He will listen to me."

A week later, you arrive at the King's castle escorted by four knights. "Who is this girl?" the King asks dismissively, looking at your dirty ragged clothes. "Is she coming here to beg?"

"My name is Jeanne, Sire," you reply, "and I am the one who will end the war." You hear mocking comments behind your back, but your determination has made the King curious. "
I am the one who will set our country free," you continue. "I have come to ask you to give me an army."

"Send her away," the court advisers whisper to the King. "She is just a crazy girl." The King nods to a guard, instructing him to throw you out of the castle. That's when you raise your voice. "If you don't do as I tell you, Sire, the country will be lost and you will be dead before the end of the year."

Astonished by your boldness, the guard turns to the King and asks if you are to be punished for uttering a threat. You stand alone, u
ndaunted, in the middle of the room, waiting for the King's answer.

"What if she is telling the truth?" wonders the King.
He knows very well that his situation is desperate. Orleans, his remaining bastion, is about to fall to the invaders. After some hesitation, he gives you a hundred soldiers, his reserve troops, mostly middle-aged men.

You and your men march towards Orleans and scurry inside during the night. At dawn, you see rats in the streets. Nobody is bothering to bury corpses any more, since there are just too many. Those who are still alive have given up all hope.

"My name is Jeanne," you shout as you climb on a wagon in front of the church. "I have come to set Orleans free and end the war." Wounded, hungry men and women begin to congregate around the wagon. "Who is that girl?" they ask themselves. "What is she talking about?"

The next days, Orleans citizens mobilize their last energies. Stones are taken from every house in order to be used as projectiles for the catapult. Every piece of wood is turned into arrows. Boys pick up swords, women heat up oil. Whatever food is left is shared amongst all.

The decisive battle takes place on the tenth day after your arrival. Everybody able to stand on his feet takes up position behind the parapet that defends Orleans.
The bastion doors open and the invaders watch in awe how a girl is leading the defenders outside, ready to fight.

During the next seven hours, defenders turn into attackers. Arrows and stones on fire decimate the invader's army. What seemed unbelievable, happens. The citizens of Orleans crush their enemies. By the end of the day, invaders retreat from the area.

In 1428, Jeanne of Arc, an eighteen-year old girl,
turned around a desperate situation and changed the course of History. Was her vision a hallucination caused by high fever? We know little about Jeanne's vision, but everything about her determination.

Are you sceptical? Do you think that the story of Jeanne of Arc has no application to your life? "Crises of the past are long gone and our current problems are different," I hear you argue. "We can not live in old History." I fully agree. It's up to us to write our own.


[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by David Paul Ohmer under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

History is now


Imagine that you are a woman born in a country where war has been going on for 22 years. Your parents are poor, illiterate peasants. As you grow up, a dozen people you know starve every winter. On many days, you have to go hungry yourself.

You visit the only old man alive in your village and you ask him questions. "Was life always like this? Was there a time when things were better?" The old man tells you that, years ago, before invaders arrived, there was peace and freedom.

On your eighteenth birthday, your village is attacked. Your older sister is raped and killed before your eyes, but you manage to escape. That's the day when you decide that you want to change the world. If only you knew how.

That night, you have nightmares about your sister. You wake up in the dark with your body trembling with fever. Then you close your eyes again, praying that you die before dawn.

Suddenly, you see a light above you. Did you fall asleep again? Is this another nightmare? You hear a voice call your name. Who is that? The voice tells you that
you, Jeanne, will end the war.

"I am going to set our country free," you announce to your parents the next morning. They shake their heads and tell you to drink your milk. After doing your chores, you walk to the village church and explain to the priest that you, Jeanne, are going to end the war.

The village priest doesn't listen to you and tells you to go home, but you cannot be stopped. The next day, you walk to the nearby garrison and ask to see the commander. You tell him that you know how to liberate the country and put an end to the war.

At the beginning, the commander calls you foolish and laughs at you, but the fury in your eyes makes him stand still. "Take me to the King," you demand. "He will listen to me."

A week later, you arrive at the King's castle escorted by four knights. "Who is this girl?" the King asks dismissively, looking at your dirty ragged clothes. "Is she coming here to beg?"

"My name is Jeanne, Sire," you reply, "and I am the one who will end the war." You hear mocking comments behind your back, but your determination has made the King curious. "
I am the one who will set our country free," you continue. "I have come to ask you to give me an army."

"Send her away," the court advisers whisper to the King. "She is just a crazy girl." The King nods to a guard, instructing him to throw you out of the castle. That's when you raise your voice. "If you don't do as I tell you, Sire, the country will be lost and you will be dead before the end of the year."

Astonished by your boldness, the guard turns to the King and asks if you are to be punished for uttering a threat. You stand alone, u
ndaunted, in the middle of the room, waiting for the King's answer.

"What if she is telling the truth?" wonders the King.
He knows very well that his situation is desperate. Orleans, his remaining bastion, is about to fall to the invaders. After some hesitation, he gives you a hundred soldiers, his reserve troops, mostly middle-aged men.

You and your men march towards Orleans and scurry inside during the night. At dawn, you see rats in the streets. Nobody is bothering to bury corpses any more, since there are just too many. Those who are still alive have given up all hope.

"My name is Jeanne," you shout as you climb on a wagon in front of the church. "I have come to set Orleans free and end the war." Wounded, hungry men and women begin to congregate around the wagon. "Who is that girl?" they ask themselves. "What is she talking about?"

The next days, Orleans citizens mobilize their last energies. Stones are taken from every house in order to be used as projectiles for the catapult. Every piece of wood is turned into arrows. Boys pick up swords, women heat up oil. Whatever food is left is shared amongst all.

The decisive battle takes place on the tenth day after your arrival. Everybody able to stand on his feet takes up position behind the parapet that defends Orleans.
The bastion doors open and the invaders watch in awe how a girl is leading the defenders outside, ready to fight.

During the next seven hours, defenders turn into attackers. Arrows and stones on fire decimate the invader's army. What seemed unbelievable, happens. The citizens of Orleans crush their enemies. By the end of the day, invaders retreat from the area.

In 1428, Jeanne of Arc, an eighteen-year old girl,
turned around a desperate situation and changed the course of History. Was her vision a hallucination caused by high fever? We know little about Jeanne's vision, but everything about her determination.

Are you sceptical? Do you think that the story of Jeanne of Arc has no application to your life? "Crises of the past are long gone and our current problems are different," I hear you argue. "We can not live in old History." I fully agree. It's up to us to write our own.


[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by David Paul Ohmer under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Thursday, 26 February 2009

There is no future in repeating the past


Every morning, I remind myself that there is no future in repeating the past. After some years of doing this, the message is beginning to sink in. I am now becoming more adept to listening to truths extracted from past mistakes.

In my kitchen, I keep a battered red spiral notebook where I write down principles I should not forget. As I continue to fill its pages, I realize how often I record the same messages. Will I ever learn to...
  • Never expect someone else to solve my problems
  • Concentrate on work I love.
  • Ignore silly rules and preposterous expectations
  • Don't waste my resources
  • Mix fun and productivity in every task
  • View mistakes as learning experiences
  • Drop false ideas that keep me paralysed
  • Design my own future and colour my own dreams
  • Avoid nasty and deranged individuals
  • Delegate as much as I can
  • Devote more time to my close friends
  • Seek creative alternatives in every situation
  • Turn off the news (which are always pretty much the same as the day before)
  • Learn to see everything in perspective
  • Read my favourite books more frequently
  • Lose my car keys and take long walks
  • Spend more time thinking about what's important
  • Never expect magic
  • Mistrust first impressions
  • Pursue my goals relentlessly
  • Prevent problems so that they never happen
  • Cook and enjoy wonderful food
  • Escape noise, conflict, and nonsense
  • Remind myself that, in the end, time is all I have
[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by dalbera under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

There is no future in repeating the past


Every morning, I remind myself that there is no future in repeating the past. After some years of doing this, the message is beginning to sink in. I am now becoming more adept to listening to truths extracted from past mistakes.

In my kitchen, I keep a battered red spiral notebook where I write down principles I should not forget. As I continue to fill its pages, I realize how often I record the same messages. Will I ever learn to...
  • Never expect someone else to solve my problems
  • Concentrate on work I love.
  • Ignore silly rules and preposterous expectations
  • Don't waste my resources
  • Mix fun and productivity in every task
  • View mistakes as learning experiences
  • Drop false ideas that keep me paralysed
  • Design my own future and colour my own dreams
  • Avoid nasty and deranged individuals
  • Delegate as much as I can
  • Devote more time to my close friends
  • Seek creative alternatives in every situation
  • Turn off the news (which are always pretty much the same as the day before)
  • Learn to see everything in perspective
  • Read my favourite books more frequently
  • Lose my car keys and take long walks
  • Spend more time thinking about what's important
  • Never expect magic
  • Mistrust first impressions
  • Pursue my goals relentlessly
  • Prevent problems so that they never happen
  • Cook and enjoy wonderful food
  • Escape noise, conflict, and nonsense
  • Remind myself that, in the end, time is all I have
[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by dalbera under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

There is a garden beyond the desert


"When I was a kid, I also lived myself in the desert," I begin my story. "We had hardly enough to eat. Sometimes, a week went by without having eaten much beyond cheese and some dates."

The children, with wide-open eyes, are sitting on the ground, staring at me incredulously. For them, the whole world is a desert. They have never seen anything else. Their parents have never gone anywhere else. In their minds, life itself is a desert.

"I wanted to escape, to go somewhere else, to move to a better place," I continued my story. "Every morning, I walked around the tents looking at the horizon, hoping to find a path in the sand. Every evening, I prayed to see a far away light after the sun went down."

At that point, I always walk around the children, theatrically looking around in all directions, as though trying to find a city beyond the desert. They boys and girls turn their heads and follow me with their eyes. Nevertheless, they don't bother to look at the desert. They know that there is nothing to be found in the sand.

"Years passed and, one morning, when I was about to give up, a stranger arrived," I tell the children. "Nobody knew where he was coming from nor how he had found the way through the desert. I just woke up one day and the stranger was there."

The oldest kid in the group shakes his head. I doubt that he has heard my story before, but he is sceptical. I see him hesitate before asking me a question. "Who was that man? What did he come here for?"

"These are the same questions that I asked him myself," I reply, nodding to the kid. "The man was wearing garments in colours I had never seen and his eyes were unusually bright." The children, who are all
wearing white tunics made of rough cotton, examine my new red-green shirt, my blue jeans, and my brown sport shoes.

I take a piece of old-yellow paper out of my pocket and show it to the children. "When the stranger told me that he was coming from a garden beyond the desert, I asked him the way and wrote his directions on this piece of paper."

A little girl stands up in the middle of the group. She must be nine or ten years old. She points at the paper in my hand and calls me a liar. The other kids tell her to shut up. Even if my story is not true, they want to hear the end. The girl repeats that I am a liar and sits down again.

I lift up the piece of paper and pretend to decipher some old unreadable lines. Of course, I do it all for effect, since I know the text by heart. "The advice from the stranger was very simple," I go on. "He told me to leave behind all that is useless, to take any direction I wanted, and to walk straight ahead until I found the garden."

The children are now silent, trying to make sense of my words. The oldest kid is the first to react. He asks me the same question that every kid had asked me before. The same question that every kid will always ask me until the end of time.

"Did you follow the stranger's advice?" the kid wants to know. "Did you find the garden?" Before I give a positive answer, I stretch my arms in order to let them admire my shirt, my blue jeans, and my sport shoes. Those are the proof that the garden exists.

The little girl stands up again and looks at me straight in the eye. Is she going to call me a liar once more? No, instead, she opts for drawing the other children's attention to the obvious contradiction in my story.

"If you found the garden, what are you doing here?" she shouts at me angrily. "Why did you come back to the desert?"

I never reply immediately to that last question. A long silence is the best way to underline my point. "I came back to the desert," I answer, "in order to tell you this story."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by catsper under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

There is a garden beyond the desert


"When I was a kid, I also lived myself in the desert," I begin my story. "We had hardly enough to eat. Sometimes, a week went by without having eaten much beyond cheese and some dates."

The children, with wide-open eyes, are sitting on the ground, staring at me incredulously. For them, the whole world is a desert. They have never seen anything else. Their parents have never gone anywhere else. In their minds, life itself is a desert.

"I wanted to escape, to go somewhere else, to move to a better place," I continued my story. "Every morning, I walked around the tents looking at the horizon, hoping to find a path in the sand. Every evening, I prayed to see a far away light after the sun went down."

At that point, I always walk around the children, theatrically looking around in all directions, as though trying to find a city beyond the desert. They boys and girls turn their heads and follow me with their eyes. Nevertheless, they don't bother to look at the desert. They know that there is nothing to be found in the sand.

"Years passed and, one morning, when I was about to give up, a stranger arrived," I tell the children. "Nobody knew where he was coming from nor how he had found the way through the desert. I just woke up one day and the stranger was there."

The oldest kid in the group shakes his head. I doubt that he has heard my story before, but he is sceptical. I see him hesitate before asking me a question. "Who was that man? What did he come here for?"

"These are the same questions that I asked him myself," I reply, nodding to the kid. "The man was wearing garments in colours I had never seen and his eyes were unusually bright." The children, who are all
wearing white tunics made of rough cotton, examine my new red-green shirt, my blue jeans, and my brown sport shoes.

I take a piece of old-yellow paper out of my pocket and show it to the children. "When the stranger told me that he was coming from a garden beyond the desert, I asked him the way and wrote his directions on this piece of paper."

A little girl stands up in the middle of the group. She must be nine or ten years old. She points at the paper in my hand and calls me a liar. The other kids tell her to shut up. Even if my story is not true, they want to hear the end. The girl repeats that I am a liar and sits down again.

I lift up the piece of paper and pretend to decipher some old unreadable lines. Of course, I do it all for effect, since I know the text by heart. "The advice from the stranger was very simple," I go on. "He told me to leave behind all that is useless, to take any direction I wanted, and to walk straight ahead until I found the garden."

The children are now silent, trying to make sense of my words. The oldest kid is the first to react. He asks me the same question that every kid had asked me before. The same question that every kid will always ask me until the end of time.

"Did you follow the stranger's advice?" the kid wants to know. "Did you find the garden?" Before I give a positive answer, I stretch my arms in order to let them admire my shirt, my blue jeans, and my sport shoes. Those are the proof that the garden exists.

The little girl stands up again and looks at me straight in the eye. Is she going to call me a liar once more? No, instead, she opts for drawing the other children's attention to the obvious contradiction in my story.

"If you found the garden, what are you doing here?" she shouts at me angrily. "Why did you come back to the desert?"

I never reply immediately to that last question. A long silence is the best way to underline my point. "I came back to the desert," I answer, "in order to tell you this story."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by catsper under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Abdicate what you cannot demonstrate

"I am leaving behind everything that is artificial," announced Paul Gaugin to his friends when he was 43 years old. "I have decided to go back to nature and devote the rest of my life to painting."

Gauguin left Europe for Central America and later moved to an island in the South Pacific where he produced a series of paintings to which no one paid much attention.

Destitute and ignored by the public, Gaugin died in 1903, when he was only 55 years old. Long after his death, critics recognized him as a genius. Nowadays, each of his paintings is worth millions.

Paul Gaugin's biography is the quintessential story of the unrecognised artist living in miserable conditions. Disillusioned by his lack of success, he became an alcoholic, an aspect that must have contributed to shortening his life.

I do like Paul Gaugin's paintings, although they don't belong to my favourites. I will leave to art critics the job of praising Gaugin's work, since for me, this is not the lesson to be drawn from the story.

My point is that Paul Gaugin made a mistake.

His was the kind of huge error that is often portrayed as heroic sacrifice. The fact is that nobody needs to ruin his life in order to become a great painter, inventor, musician, or entrepreneur.

Do you think that Gaugin would have lived longer if he had stayed in Europe and worked further at his job? Certainly, since he was a stockbroker. Would he had produced such great paintings if he had devoted just his evenings and weekends to art? In my view, that's most likely.

"Paul, your idea of leaving everything behind is pure nonsense," I would have told Gaugin if I had been one of his friends. "There are better ways to do things." I guess that he might have been curious to hear my advice, so here it is.

  1. For succeeding in art, like in any other field, persistence plays a much bigger role than talent. A little every day amounts to a lot in the long term.
  2. Extraordinary skill and expertise are the result of learning from a long series of failures. Take your time to make mistakes.
  3. Giving up something in exchange of nothing is counter-productive. Advance slowly and make each step worthwhile.
  4. Innovation in art, business, or philosophy needs a long time to catch the public's attention. You need to be both relentless and realistic.
  5. Instead of wasting time complaining, devote your efforts to promoting your work. Flawless marketing comes no easier that perfect art.
Be patient. Build your pyramid stone by stone. One day, your monument will be so high that no one will be able to ignore it. Forget questionable ideas that lead to uncertain results.

Go for the gold. Persistence and patience work in most cases. Giving up everything and throwing yourself to the wolves is not a good approach. When you are faced with unproven ideas, follow my formula: abdicate what you cannot demonstrate.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by freeparking under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Monday, 23 February 2009

Vikings built cogs, writers have blogs


"Their ships are too small and too frail," maintained King Harold in 1065. "England is perfectly safe. There is absolutely no risk of a Viking invasion."

Since the king had himself extensive experience as sailor, the barons and dukes of England assumed that he knew what he was talking about. Was King Harold's conclusion based on facts?

Viking or Norman ships are called cogs due to their simple construction technique, whereby pieces of wood are cut so as to fit together without need of nails. Since cogs were equipped with just one mast and one sail, they were easy to handle.

Cogs were ideal to navigate rivers upstream in order to infiltrate foreign territories behind the lines of defence. In those cases, the sail was removed, the crew picked up long oars, and propelled the small ship by rowing.

Horses and other animals travelled on the open deck next to the crew, sharing the little space available. When it rained, there was no cover. On the other hand, the small size of cogs allowed the crew to pull them out easily when they got stranded.

In 1066, King Harald
was told that Vikings were about to attack England using a flotilla of cogs, but he dismissed it as a rumour. Those ships were too small to transport horses and weapons. Those ships were too frail to sail away from the coast.

As soon as the Vikings arrived in England, they disembarked their horses, regrouped near the beach, and began to march quickly towards York. Two weeks later, the invaders crushed the English army in Hastings.

King Harold was captured in battle, mutilated, and dismembered. His death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in England. The Vikings, or Normans, as they came to be called, had taken over the country by means of their small cogs.

Which lessons can we draw from the story? Does it contain wisdom that is still applicable in our electronic times? Yes, it does. Internet blogs are the digital equivalent of Viking cogs.

Like England in 1066, we tend to perceive our culture as a stable constellation of well-established media. TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines resemble King Harold's barons and dukes. Internet blogs, like Viking cogs, seem too small to carry any cultural weight.

If you are a writer with an internet blog, how could you best apply the Viking strategy in order to increase your audience? This is my advice.
  1. LIMITED SPACE: Vikings did not have a lot of space on their cogs. Internet readers do not have a lot of time to read. Keep your blog to what's important.
  2. EASY TO OPERATE: Cogs were easy to operate. Make your blog easy to update by using a simple format. Do not complicate your life.
  3. CONSISTENT HIGH QUALITY: Small ships sailing away from the coast do not allow for navigation mistakes. Make sure to publish only texts of the highest quality in your blog.
  4. NO DEAD WEIGHT: Invaders coming from the sea could not afford to carry any dead weight. Reduce your blog to the essential. Few people have time for the rest.
  5. ALL THAT IS NECESSARY: Vikings carried with them everything they needed. Horses, weapons, warm clothes, and water. Make sure that your blog possesses everything that is absolutely necessary, such as your biographical details.
  6. KEEP IT SIMPLE: Cogs could be built quickly due to their simple construction technique. How long does it take you to update your blog? Could you figure out a way to do it faster?
I am convinced that internet blogs are a growing cultural force. Will they ever replace traditional media? That's difficult to tell, but the fact is that the audience of TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines is progressively shrinking.

Let me state for the record that King Harold of England was probably right when he estimated that cogs were too small. His seafaring experience proved to him that cogs were too frail to invade a country and to take over a culture. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to tell the Vikings.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Martin Kingsley under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Vikings built cogs, writers have blogs


"Their ships are too small and too frail," maintained King Harold in 1065. "England is perfectly safe. There is absolutely no risk of a Viking invasion."

Since the king had himself extensive experience as sailor, the barons and dukes of England assumed that he knew what he was talking about. Was King Harold's conclusion based on facts?

Viking or Norman ships are called cogs due to their simple construction technique, whereby pieces of wood are cut so as to fit together without need of nails. Since cogs were equipped with just one mast and one sail, they were easy to handle.

Cogs were ideal to navigate rivers upstream in order to infiltrate foreign territories behind the lines of defence. In those cases, the sail was removed, the crew picked up long oars, and propelled the small ship by rowing.

Horses and other animals travelled on the open deck next to the crew, sharing the little space available. When it rained, there was no cover. On the other hand, the small size of cogs allowed the crew to pull them out easily when they got stranded.

In 1066, King Harald
was told that Vikings were about to attack England using a flotilla of cogs, but he dismissed it as a rumour. Those ships were too small to transport horses and weapons. Those ships were too frail to sail away from the coast.

As soon as the Vikings arrived in England, they disembarked their horses, regrouped near the beach, and began to march quickly towards York. Two weeks later, the invaders crushed the English army in Hastings.

King Harold was captured in battle, mutilated, and dismembered. His death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in England. The Vikings, or Normans, as they came to be called, had taken over the country by means of their small cogs.

Which lessons can we draw from the story? Does it contain wisdom that is still applicable in our electronic times? Yes, it does. Internet blogs are the digital equivalent of Viking cogs.

Like England in 1066, we tend to perceive our culture as a stable constellation of well-established media. TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines resemble King Harold's barons and dukes. Internet blogs, like Viking cogs, seem too small to carry any cultural weight.

If you are a writer with an internet blog, how could you best apply the Viking strategy in order to increase your audience? This is my advice.
  1. LIMITED SPACE: Vikings did not have a lot of space on their cogs. Internet readers do not have a lot of time to read. Keep your blog to what's important.
  2. EASY TO OPERATE: Cogs were easy to operate. Make your blog easy to update by using a simple format. Do not complicate your life.
  3. CONSISTENT HIGH QUALITY: Small ships sailing away from the coast do not allow for navigation mistakes. Make sure to publish only texts of the highest quality in your blog.
  4. NO DEAD WEIGHT: Invaders coming from the sea could not afford to carry any dead weight. Reduce your blog to the essential. Few people have time for the rest.
  5. ALL THAT IS NECESSARY: Vikings carried with them everything they needed. Horses, weapons, warm clothes, and water. Make sure that your blog possesses everything that is absolutely necessary, such as your biographical details.
  6. KEEP IT SIMPLE: Cogs could be built quickly due to their simple construction technique. How long does it take you to update your blog? Could you figure out a way to do it faster?
I am convinced that internet blogs are a growing cultural force. Will they ever replace traditional media? That's difficult to tell, but the fact is that the audience of TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines is progressively shrinking.

Let me state for the record that King Harold of England was probably right when he estimated that cogs were too small. His seafaring experience proved to him that cogs were too frail to invade a country and to take over a culture. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to tell the Vikings.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Martin Kingsley under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Becoming an entrepreneur in your everyday life


Entrepreneurship is a special talent, but it is not specific to the world of business. In fact, innovation drives the efforts of few corporations. Men and women of every age tend to be ardent defenders of current conditions with little interest in change.

Creative visualisation is the essential characteristic of the entrepreneur. Few possess the ability and willingness to perceive better options for the future, in particular when those alternatives are uncomfortable, difficult, or controversial.

What enables a person to figure out improvements that remain invisible to others?
Do you possess enough self-confidence to challenge realities that everybody else is taking as self-evident?

"Personal dissatisfaction often points out that something should be changed," used to say Robert Fulton, who built a fortune as a steamboat impresario. "D
iscontent fuels the engine of change."

Ambition goes hand in hand with technical, industrial, and marketing innovations. The desire to improve one's station in life plays a key role in overcoming the substantial hardships involved in the search for novelty.

"My scientific and technical training was non-existent," loved to declare Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph. "I just knew that I didn't want to remain a painter for the rest of my life. As soon as I saw an opportunity, I did not hesitate."

It was sufficient for Morse to hear a colleague mention in 1834 some recent discoveries in electromagnetism. At that time, the same information was available to thousands of people. What was the difference? Only Morse was willing to work night and day during the next five years to develop a commercial application.

Becoming an entrepreneur in your everyday life will enhance your ability to succeed in the business and investment world. The following list contains my ten practical suggestions about how to cultivate the seeds of change.
  1. REUSE: Before you throw any item away, ask yourself if you could find an alternative use. Could it be refurbished or repaired? Does it contain valuable components? Is it worth it to take it apart?
  2. EXPLORE IDEAS: Next time you go to a bookshop, take a look at sections where you usually never set foot. Is there anything that catches your attention? Go to the public library and take a random walk amongst the bookshelves. Do you see interesting subjects worth exploring?
  3. TRY OUT NEW A TASTE: Buy a couple of cookbooks about subjects unknown to you. Take a look at the pictures of exotic dishes and choose a couple of recipes. Experiment with new cooking techniques. If you are Italian, you might wish to taste Greek cooking. If you are American, try out French cuisine.
  4. QUESTION YOUR ROUTINES: Why not exercise an hour later? Could you skip TV news in the evening and, instead, take up learning a foreign language? Why do you always take the same road to drive to work? Could you find a better alternative?
  5. MOVE THINGS AROUND: Imagine that you are a stranger who comes to your house for the first time. Would you place your furniture on the same place that it now occupies? Could you save time every morning if you rearrange the clothes in your closet?
  6. DROP TASKS: Do you really need to do repetitive tasks that bring you little benefit? Could you hire someone to do chores at home? Do you need to clean so often rooms that you never use? Is it worth it to maintain household appliances that are too old?
  7. REPLACE PEOPLE: Do you spend your leisure hours with people whose company you really enjoy? Have you ever accepted to take part in activities that you find boring? Why are you not rather making efforts to meet new people?
  8. TAKE CONTROL: Would you be better off if you did yourself a few things that you have so far entrusted to other people? Could you learn to cut your own hair? Is it really so difficult to change a tab or to do some basic plumbing work?
  9. REDUCE YOUR COSTS: Are you spending money on things that add little value to your life? Is it worth it to keep an expensive car with high maintenance costs? Could you get cheaper insurance? What about your food purchases?
  10. OPEN NEW ACCOUNTS: Is your bank or stock broker giving you good service? Why not explore some alternatives? Go open an account with another financial services company. Try out new investment ideas that entail little risk.
Personal growth begins with questioning the way we live. The ten aspects that I have presented above only scratch the surface of what is possible.

The world is full of better alternatives for those willing to change their routines. Become an entrepreneur in your everyday life.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by jpctalbot under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Becoming an entrepreneur in your everyday life


Entrepreneurship is a special talent, but it is not specific to the world of business. In fact, innovation drives the efforts of few corporations. Men and women of every age tend to be ardent defenders of current conditions with little interest in change.

Creative visualisation is the essential characteristic of the entrepreneur. Few possess the ability and willingness to perceive better options for the future, in particular when those alternatives are uncomfortable, difficult, or controversial.

What enables a person to figure out improvements that remain invisible to others?
Do you possess enough self-confidence to challenge realities that everybody else is taking as self-evident?

"Personal dissatisfaction often points out that something should be changed," used to say Robert Fulton, who built a fortune as a steamboat impresario. "D
iscontent fuels the engine of change."

Ambition goes hand in hand with technical, industrial, and marketing innovations. The desire to improve one's station in life plays a key role in overcoming the substantial hardships involved in the search for novelty.

"My scientific and technical training was non-existent," loved to declare Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph. "I just knew that I didn't want to remain a painter for the rest of my life. As soon as I saw an opportunity, I did not hesitate."

It was sufficient for Morse to hear a colleague mention in 1834 some recent discoveries in electromagnetism. At that time, the same information was available to thousands of people. What was the difference? Only Morse was willing to work night and day during the next five years to develop a commercial application.

Becoming an entrepreneur in your everyday life will enhance your ability to succeed in the business and investment world. The following list contains my ten practical suggestions about how to cultivate the seeds of change.
  1. REUSE: Before you throw any item away, ask yourself if you could find an alternative use. Could it be refurbished or repaired? Does it contain valuable components? Is it worth it to take it apart?
  2. EXPLORE IDEAS: Next time you go to a bookshop, take a look at sections where you usually never set foot. Is there anything that catches your attention? Go to the public library and take a random walk amongst the bookshelves. Do you see interesting subjects worth exploring?
  3. TRY OUT NEW A TASTE: Buy a couple of cookbooks about subjects unknown to you. Take a look at the pictures of exotic dishes and choose a couple of recipes. Experiment with new cooking techniques. If you are Italian, you might wish to taste Greek cooking. If you are American, try out French cuisine.
  4. QUESTION YOUR ROUTINES: Why not exercise an hour later? Could you skip TV news in the evening and, instead, take up learning a foreign language? Why do you always take the same road to drive to work? Could you find a better alternative?
  5. MOVE THINGS AROUND: Imagine that you are a stranger who comes to your house for the first time. Would you place your furniture on the same place that it now occupies? Could you save time every morning if you rearrange the clothes in your closet?
  6. DROP TASKS: Do you really need to do repetitive tasks that bring you little benefit? Could you hire someone to do chores at home? Do you need to clean so often rooms that you never use? Is it worth it to maintain household appliances that are too old?
  7. REPLACE PEOPLE: Do you spend your leisure hours with people whose company you really enjoy? Have you ever accepted to take part in activities that you find boring? Why are you not rather making efforts to meet new people?
  8. TAKE CONTROL: Would you be better off if you did yourself a few things that you have so far entrusted to other people? Could you learn to cut your own hair? Is it really so difficult to change a tab or to do some basic plumbing work?
  9. REDUCE YOUR COSTS: Are you spending money on things that add little value to your life? Is it worth it to keep an expensive car with high maintenance costs? Could you get cheaper insurance? What about your food purchases?
  10. OPEN NEW ACCOUNTS: Is your bank or stock broker giving you good service? Why not explore some alternatives? Go open an account with another financial services company. Try out new investment ideas that entail little risk.
Personal growth begins with questioning the way we live. The ten aspects that I have presented above only scratch the surface of what is possible.

The world is full of better alternatives for those willing to change their routines. Become an entrepreneur in your everyday life.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by jpctalbot under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Saturday, 21 February 2009

In praise of relentless action


"You have to dig into your past in order to fix your present problems" is a widespread psychological bromide. Irrespective of whether that is true or not, millions of people spend substantial sums of money consulting therapists.

Does it pay to hire someone to analyse your dreams? Will it make any difference in your present or future life? I must express my scepticism about the psychological and practical returns on such investments.

When a problem of personal nature comes up, do you really believe that talking
endlessly about your past is going to change your future? Should you not rather establish a plan of action and push yourself into implementing it?

Talk is cheap as long as you don't have to pay someone to listen to you. Talk is harmless as long as you don't relinquish your independence by submitting yourself to someone else's moral authority. My point is that cheap and harmless approaches seldom fix problems.

What is the alternative? The solution to past problems begins with present action. Paralysis only aggravates problems. Relentless action is the best countermeasure. The way forward entails defining goals, making plans, and following them through.

Let me break down my advice in 12 sequential steps:
  1. Get a pencil and a piece of paper and draw two vertical lines in the middle, creating three columns.
  2. In the first column, write down where you are now, for instance "I live in Detroit and I don't like it."
  3. In the second column, write down where you want to be, for example "I want to live in Paris."
  4. For the moment, leave the third column blank.
  5. Cross from the list all items that are of secondary importance or that you don't wish to address right now.
  6. You should be left with no more than six present and future elements. Let those be your priorities, at least for the time being.
  7. Classify your six remaining problems and objectives into two groups. One should contain burning short-term issues that need urgent attention, like settling pending bills or avoiding the foreclosure of your home. The second group should encompass your most important long-term goals, like moving to Paris.
  8. The less short-term burning issues and the more long-term goals you have, the better.
  9. In the third column, write down specific steps that you can take in order to advance, for each issue, from your present status to your future goal. In the geographical example, the actions could consist of selling your house in Detroit, learning French, looking for a job in Paris, finding a house to rent there, and preparing the removal of your possessions from Detroit to Paris.
  10. Begin to implement your actions one by one, pushing yourself everyday into carrying them out.
  11. Many of your foreseen undertakings will fail or will reveal themselves impracticable. Never mind. Simply cross failed actions from your list and replace them by new alternatives. The fact that you are doing something is already helping you learn what doesn't work.
  12. Step by step, your implementation will become sharper and increase the effectiveness of your results.
The great advantage of relentless action does not lie in its ability to produce practical gains, but how it enhances your psychological well-being. The souls of those who live by action grow daily in wisdom.

Peace of mind does not come from immobility, but from the process of pushing forward. The human brain is not made for wallowing in past mistakes, whether personal or societal.

Rational goals and ambitions bring out the best in human beings. Relentless action elevates men and women beyond the weight of personal history.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by carulmare under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

In praise of relentless action


"You have to dig into your past in order to fix your present problems" is a widespread psychological bromide. Irrespective of whether that is true or not, millions of people spend substantial sums of money consulting therapists.

Does it pay to hire someone to analyse your dreams? Will it make any difference in your present or future life? I must express my scepticism about the psychological and practical returns on such investments.

When a problem of personal nature comes up, do you really believe that talking
endlessly about your past is going to change your future? Should you not rather establish a plan of action and push yourself into implementing it?

Talk is cheap as long as you don't have to pay someone to listen to you. Talk is harmless as long as you don't relinquish your independence by submitting yourself to someone else's moral authority. My point is that cheap and harmless approaches seldom fix problems.

What is the alternative? The solution to past problems begins with present action. Paralysis only aggravates problems. Relentless action is the best countermeasure. The way forward entails defining goals, making plans, and following them through.

Let me break down my advice in 12 sequential steps:
  1. Get a pencil and a piece of paper and draw two vertical lines in the middle, creating three columns.
  2. In the first column, write down where you are now, for instance "I live in Detroit and I don't like it."
  3. In the second column, write down where you want to be, for example "I want to live in Paris."
  4. For the moment, leave the third column blank.
  5. Cross from the list all items that are of secondary importance or that you don't wish to address right now.
  6. You should be left with no more than six present and future elements. Let those be your priorities, at least for the time being.
  7. Classify your six remaining problems and objectives into two groups. One should contain burning short-term issues that need urgent attention, like settling pending bills or avoiding the foreclosure of your home. The second group should encompass your most important long-term goals, like moving to Paris.
  8. The less short-term burning issues and the more long-term goals you have, the better.
  9. In the third column, write down specific steps that you can take in order to advance, for each issue, from your present status to your future goal. In the geographical example, the actions could consist of selling your house in Detroit, learning French, looking for a job in Paris, finding a house to rent there, and preparing the removal of your possessions from Detroit to Paris.
  10. Begin to implement your actions one by one, pushing yourself everyday into carrying them out.
  11. Many of your foreseen undertakings will fail or will reveal themselves impracticable. Never mind. Simply cross failed actions from your list and replace them by new alternatives. The fact that you are doing something is already helping you learn what doesn't work.
  12. Step by step, your implementation will become sharper and increase the effectiveness of your results.
The great advantage of relentless action does not lie in its ability to produce practical gains, but how it enhances your psychological well-being. The souls of those who live by action grow daily in wisdom.

Peace of mind does not come from immobility, but from the process of pushing forward. The human brain is not made for wallowing in past mistakes, whether personal or societal.

Rational goals and ambitions bring out the best in human beings. Relentless action elevates men and women beyond the weight of personal history.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by carulmare under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us]

Friday, 20 February 2009

Mismanaged but not wasted (part 2 of 2)


"The 2002 market crash changed my view of the world," remarks Fred Sykes pensively. "It forced me to abandon old myths that didn't work. It put me back on the right track. It made me choose between giving up altogether or acquiring the habits of a professional investor."

Today in 2009, I can see clearly which choice Fred made. He is going through the current financial crisis completely unscathed. While a storm is wiping out investors all over the world, Fred Sykes' annoyance from the market is comparable to a ripple in the water.

"If you had to condense all you've learned in ten rules, which ones would you choose?" I asked him, taking notebook and pencil out of my pocket. "Could other investors apply the lessons that were so hard for you to learn?"

These were Fred's responses:
  1. Develop long-term ambitions and work on their implementation by devoting daily a fixed amount of time to supervising your investments.
  2. The major difference between professional and amateur investors is that professionals are always willing to recognize their mistakes. If facts turn against your theories, drop the theories. Be ready to sell your shares when it becomes obvious that you have made a mistake.
  3. In stock market investments, like in real estate, the easiest profits are made by purchasing attractive assets at a low price.
  4. You don't need to spend hours on end doing research in order to achieve high investment returns. The cost of a few superb investment newsletters is negligible compared with the time you'll save.
  5. The cheapest way to avoid catastrophic losses in the stock market is to place stop-loss orders in every share in your portfolio. It's up to you to decide whether you are ready to take a loss of 10% or 20% before recognizing a mistake.
  6. Never invest more than 5% of your assets in one single share or venture. Even if you devote all the care in the world to select your investments, you will never be able to rule out all risks.
  7. There are dozens of stock markets in the world. If you live in the US or Europe, take a look at Brazil, China, Australia, or New Zealand. The costs of investing internationally are lower than you may think.
  8. Dividend-paying shares with a long history of increasing dividends every year are usually solid investments if you can buy them at a reasonable price.
  9. Never invest in something that you don't understand. Avoid obscure companies with unidentifiable sales and profits.
  10. Use the internet to the maximum. The amount of investment information available for free is mind-boggling. Nevertheless, remain sceptical, compare sources, and check everything several times.
Investment mistakes are no different from others. Marketing failures will allow you to improve your product targeting next time. Human resources blunders should help you hire better candidates in the future.

The validity of the lessons we learn is often commensurate with the pain caused by our mistakes. Mismanaged assets, like mismanaged advertising, may lead to a financial loss, but if the loss teaches you a great lesson for the future, nothing has been wasted.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by omniNate under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us
]

Mismanaged but not wasted (part 2 of 2)


"The 2002 market crash changed my view of the world," remarks Fred Sykes pensively. "It forced me to abandon old myths that didn't work. It put me back on the right track. It made me choose between giving up altogether or acquiring the habits of a professional investor."

Today in 2009, I can see clearly which choice Fred made. He is going through the current financial crisis completely unscathed. While a storm is wiping out investors all over the world, Fred Sykes' annoyance from the market is comparable to a ripple in the water.

"If you had to condense all you've learned in ten rules, which ones would you choose?" I asked him, taking notebook and pencil out of my pocket. "Could other investors apply the lessons that were so hard for you to learn?"

These were Fred's responses:
  1. Develop long-term ambitions and work on their implementation by devoting daily a fixed amount of time to supervising your investments.
  2. The major difference between professional and amateur investors is that professionals are always willing to recognize their mistakes. If facts turn against your theories, drop the theories. Be ready to sell your shares when it becomes obvious that you have made a mistake.
  3. In stock market investments, like in real estate, the easiest profits are made by purchasing attractive assets at a low price.
  4. You don't need to spend hours on end doing research in order to achieve high investment returns. The cost of a few superb investment newsletters is negligible compared with the time you'll save.
  5. The cheapest way to avoid catastrophic losses in the stock market is to place stop-loss orders in every share in your portfolio. It's up to you to decide whether you are ready to take a loss of 10% or 20% before recognizing a mistake.
  6. Never invest more than 5% of your assets in one single share or venture. Even if you devote all the care in the world to select your investments, you will never be able to rule out all risks.
  7. There are dozens of stock markets in the world. If you live in the US or Europe, take a look at Brazil, China, Australia, or New Zealand. The costs of investing internationally are lower than you may think.
  8. Dividend-paying shares with a long history of increasing dividends every year are usually solid investments if you can buy them at a reasonable price.
  9. Never invest in something that you don't understand. Avoid obscure companies with unidentifiable sales and profits.
  10. Use the internet to the maximum. The amount of investment information available for free is mind-boggling. Nevertheless, remain sceptical, compare sources, and check everything several times.
Investment mistakes are no different from others. Marketing failures will allow you to improve your product targeting next time. Human resources blunders should help you hire better candidates in the future.

The validity of the lessons we learn is often commensurate with the pain caused by our mistakes. Mismanaged assets, like mismanaged advertising, may lead to a financial loss, but if the loss teaches you a great lesson for the future, nothing has been wasted.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by omniNate under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses
/by/3.0/us
]

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Every morning I rise from the ashes


I've made mistakes
plenty of them
more than I can remember
more than I can tell

I have crossed lakes
some placidly
some smoothly
a few not so well

I've driven trucks
along dark valleys
around cold peaks
often without return

For every loss
on my notebook
on my soul
I painted a cross

For every lesson
I paid a price
never fair
and seldom nice

What I learned
I kept
and never mind
what I left behind

Despite setbacks and clashes
like a peregrine
every morning
I rise from the ashes

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by freeparking under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Every morning I rise from the ashes


I've made mistakes
plenty of them
more than I can remember
more than I can tell

I have crossed lakes
some placidly
some smoothly
a few not so well

I've driven trucks
along dark valleys
around cold peaks
often without return

For every loss
on my notebook
on my soul
I painted a cross

For every lesson
I paid a price
never fair
and seldom nice

What I learned
I kept
and never mind
what I left behind

Despite setbacks and clashes
like a peregrine
every morning
I rise from the ashes

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by freeparking under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Mismanaged but not wasted (part 1 of 2)

"You have to pay your dues," is what my friend Fred Sykes replies when someone asks him for stock market advice. I know Fred well enough to be able to testify that, when it comes to dues, he has indeed paid his.

Like many others, Fred lost a great part of his investments in the June 2002 market crash. That's when share prices of internet companies collapsed, sinking the rest of the market and keeping it down during the following twelve months.

"For me, the whole mess was a blessing," Fred smiles when he tells me the story for the hundredth time. He knows that I am going to listen attentively to his words, since I belong to those who never get tired of receiving uncomfortable, but invaluable advice.

Why do I love to hear Fred's story? Because he is one of the few persons I know who is going through the 2008-2009 financial crisis without a scratch.
What, I must add regretfully, is not my case.

"I was living in an illusion," recounts Fred. "The 2002 stock market crash woke me up. It made me ask myself hard questions about my investment style and objectives."

He tells me that, for him, the most difficult was to admit that many of his cherished ideas about investment were radically false. "I was a great believer in value theories and I was wrong," Fred summarizes.

Thanks to Fred, I have
come to realize myself that most of my ideas about investment are fairy tales, although pervasive ones. Who could blame me for believing official truths daily propagated by financial institutions and the media?

"I used to spend lots of time selecting stocks that I intended to keep for the long term," confesses Fred, shaking his head. "I was well aware that market corrections and crashes take place from time to time, but I had learned to see them as inevitable."

After losing 60% of his liquid assets in 2002, Fred threw away his previous theories. Pain had pushed him to change.

He was determined to reshape his investment practices and take control of his life. He promised himself that, whatever happened in the future, he would not be paralysed again, he would not be playing sitting duck any more.

"I learned to look at facts with an open mind," Fred explains. "The change of mentality was not easy, since I had been brainwashed to ignore the contradictions in my thinking."

Fred's explanations illustrate how hard was for him to change his mind. "It took me several weeks of thorough self-examination to reach the conclusion that my achieving long-term investment growth had nothing to do with how long I kept stocks in my portfolio."

To be continued.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by The Pug Father under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Mismanaged but not wasted (part 1 of 2)

"You have to pay your dues," is what my friend Fred Sykes replies when someone asks him for stock market advice. I know Fred well enough to be able to testify that, when it comes to dues, he has indeed paid his.

Like many others, Fred lost a great part of his investments in the June 2002 market crash. That's when share prices of internet companies collapsed, sinking the rest of the market and keeping it down during the following twelve months.

"For me, the whole mess was a blessing," Fred smiles when he tells me the story for the hundredth time. He knows that I am going to listen attentively to his words, since I belong to those who never get tired of receiving uncomfortable, but invaluable advice.

Why do I love to hear Fred's story? Because he is one of the few persons I know who is going through the 2008-2009 financial crisis without a scratch.
What, I must add regretfully, is not my case.

"I was living in an illusion," recounts Fred. "The 2002 stock market crash woke me up. It made me ask myself hard questions about my investment style and objectives."

He tells me that, for him, the most difficult was to admit that many of his cherished ideas about investment were radically false. "I was a great believer in value theories and I was wrong," Fred summarizes.

Thanks to Fred, I have
come to realize myself that most of my ideas about investment are fairy tales, although pervasive ones. Who could blame me for believing official truths daily propagated by financial institutions and the media?

"I used to spend lots of time selecting stocks that I intended to keep for the long term," confesses Fred, shaking his head. "I was well aware that market corrections and crashes take place from time to time, but I had learned to see them as inevitable."

After losing 60% of his liquid assets in 2002, Fred threw away his previous theories. Pain had pushed him to change.

He was determined to reshape his investment practices and take control of his life. He promised himself that, whatever happened in the future, he would not be paralysed again, he would not be playing sitting duck any more.

"I learned to look at facts with an open mind," Fred explains. "The change of mentality was not easy, since I had been brainwashed to ignore the contradictions in my thinking."

Fred's explanations illustrate how hard was for him to change his mind. "It took me several weeks of thorough self-examination to reach the conclusion that my achieving long-term investment growth had nothing to do with how long I kept stocks in my portfolio."

To be continued.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by The Pug Father under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

In the worst possible moment


"What you are proposing is impossible, Pietro," admonished Luigi Alvise, shaking his head. "Many have tried before and no one has succeeded. It's better if we wait until the market recovers."

Pietro Alvise looked at his father and took in a deep breath. It was imperative that he found the right words.
If he could not convince his own father, how would he be able to convince anyone else?

"That's the point, father," emphasized Pietro. "The market is not going to recover. Don't you see the rising interest rates? Aren't our friends going bankrupt one after the other?"

Undecided, the old Alvise stared at his son. Who could deny that the economic situation was catastrophic? For decades, a 20% interest rate had been the norm in Venice, but in 1314, it was almost impossible to find anyone to lend you money at any rate.

Since the King of France had forbidden Flemish merchants to take part in the Fairs of Champagne, imports of cloth into Venice had stopped altogether. Without Flemish cloth, Venetian dyers had been forced to fire hundreds of workers, pushing the whole economy into a deep recession.

"I know that it can be done, father," insisted Pietro. "We don't need the Fairs of Champagne. We can build a larger ship, a galley able to sail around Spain and France.
We will take leather, spices, and glassware to Bruges and then return with a full cargo of cloth."

During the next weeks, Luigi and Pietro Alvise called relentlessly on other merchants in Venice until they managed to line up 100 investors ready to fund the construction of a double-deck galley.

The new ship had two masts and weighed 500 tons, something unheard of. Until that moment, Venetian galleys had possessed only one deck and had rarely exceeded 200 tons.

Pietro Alvise's double-deck galley was funded, designed, and built in the middle of the worst economic recession that the Serenissima Republic had ever experienced. In June of 1314, the ship sailed away from the Venetian Lagoon, arriving two months later in Bruges.

The trade expedition was a resounding success and served as a basis for Venetian domination of world commerce during the following two hundred years.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Ipiepiora under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

In the worst possible moment


"What you are proposing is impossible, Pietro," admonished Luigi Alvise, shaking his head. "Many have tried before and no one has succeeded. It's better if we wait until the market recovers."

Pietro Alvise looked at his father and took in a deep breath. It was imperative that he found the right words.
If he could not convince his own father, how would he be able to convince anyone else?

"That's the point, father," emphasized Pietro. "The market is not going to recover. Don't you see the rising interest rates? Aren't our friends going bankrupt one after the other?"

Undecided, the old Alvise stared at his son. Who could deny that the economic situation was catastrophic? For decades, a 20% interest rate had been the norm in Venice, but in 1314, it was almost impossible to find anyone to lend you money at any rate.

Since the King of France had forbidden Flemish merchants to take part in the Fairs of Champagne, imports of cloth into Venice had stopped altogether. Without Flemish cloth, Venetian dyers had been forced to fire hundreds of workers, pushing the whole economy into a deep recession.

"I know that it can be done, father," insisted Pietro. "We don't need the Fairs of Champagne. We can build a larger ship, a galley able to sail around Spain and France.
We will take leather, spices, and glassware to Bruges and then return with a full cargo of cloth."

During the next weeks, Luigi and Pietro Alvise called relentlessly on other merchants in Venice until they managed to line up 100 investors ready to fund the construction of a double-deck galley.

The new ship had two masts and weighed 500 tons, something unheard of. Until that moment, Venetian galleys had possessed only one deck and had rarely exceeded 200 tons.

Pietro Alvise's double-deck galley was funded, designed, and built in the middle of the worst economic recession that the Serenissima Republic had ever experienced. In June of 1314, the ship sailed away from the Venetian Lagoon, arriving two months later in Bruges.

The trade expedition was a resounding success and served as a basis for Venetian domination of world commerce during the following two hundred years.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Ipiepiora under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Monday, 16 February 2009

Thanks to the economic recession


"I was unemployed for three months before I started my business," tells me Marcello Staglione, shaking his head. "I used to spend my mornings at the Job Centre across the street, just to have some place to go. What a waste of time."

Marcello's career in the city of London has been short. Less than a year, if you count the six months that he spent as an intern living from hand to mouth. Before moving to Great Britain, Marcello had obtained an MBA degree in Rome.

"With the economic recession, the newly-hired are the first to lose their job," Marcello explains further. "An investment bank had hired me to take care of their new Italian clients, but suddenly, there were no new clients. Neither from Italy nor from anywhere else."

He walks to the window and points at the Job Centre across the street. "Many of my ex-colleagues are still going there everyday, waiting for a finance job to materialize, but there aren't any these days." When I ask Marcello where he got the idea for his business, he turns his head to the framed family photograph on the wall.

"My parents live in Ostia, near Rome," he goes on. "When my brother got married last August, I went back to Italy for a week. My brother's friends organized a party for him on the wedding's eve. For the party, two of his friends appeared dressed as Ancient Romans. That's not so unusual in Italy. You can easily rent a costume for the day."

Marcello tells me that, when he returned to London in September, the loss of his job took him by surprise. "In July, the bank had announced that they intended to keep everybody." His voice reflects now his indignation. "From one minute to the other, I found myself in the street."

I ask Marcello how many hours he has spent sending his c.v. around and he shrugs his shoulders. "Innumerable," he replies. "One Sunday morning, I was putting order in my apartment and I realized that the costume that I had brought with me from Italy for the bank's Christmas party was still in my suitcase."

"When I opened the suitcase, the idea came to me in a flash," he recalls. "The following morning, I lined up a couple of Italian restaurants as suppliers, I put on my costume, and I started calling on offices in Euston Road."

I must say that the costume of Ancient Roman legionnaire that Marcello is wearing suits him well. He explains to me that t
he costume's breastplate is made of aluminium, not of brass like in Ancient Rome.

"
From my job at the investment bank, I knew that most office workers in London eat poorly for lunch, mostly a sandwich purchased at a nearby deli. As an Italian, I love good food and I believe that most people would eat well if given the opportunity."

Receptionists in London, like anywhere else, have instructions to send away salesmen that come without an appointment. I ask Marcello if it has been difficult to get past the receptionists and make his first sales.

"It was surprisingly easy," he smiles. "How often does a business get a visitor from Ancient Rome?" He tells me that, from the first day, lasagne and cannelloni have been his most popular orders. "We now deliver a warm Italian lunch every day to five hundred office workers in Greater London," he indicates proudly.

An e-mail comes into Marcello's laptop, which rings like a cash register. "That's another order from a customer," he notes. "I would have never dared to quit my job to start my own business, but I have been pushed by the economic recession. My sales are growing at 5% per week. I am already making more money now than I did at my job at the investment bank."

The only thing that doesn't seem to match Marcello's entrepreneurial drive is his Ancient Roman legionnaire's plead skirt. Apparently, the plead skirt is part of the costume.

When I ask Marcello why Ancient Roman soldiers wore a skirt, he looks again out of the window at the Job Centre across the street and shakes his head. "I guess that they didn't know any better," he says.


[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by 13bobby under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]