Thursday, 30 April 2009

How to regain serenity and motivation after making a serious mistake


Publishers love biographies since they usually sell well for many years. The best biographies are short on dates and rich on story, meagre on doubts and abundant on motion.

Reading about mistakes made by illustrious individuals is why people enjoy biographies. In this respect, little, insubstantial errors don't count. A solid biography must contain at least one horrendous, shattering mistake.
  • A great actor who accepts a role in a trash movie and ruins his career.
  • A successful fund manager who makes a bad investment and experiences enormous losses.
  • A self-made millionaire who marries a worthless woman and goes through devastating divorce.
Thick biographies provide extensive details about how eminent persons turn into fools. Vanity and greed play a role sometimes, although less frequently than venal authors like to portray.

The truth is that, in the great majority of cases, mistakes are made in good faith, out of insufficient knowledge, insight, or perspective. Dangers that appear self-evident in hindsight often pass undetected under real-life strains and tensions.

Demanding readers expect stories to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. We want books to provide teachings that go beyond the trite and commonplace. There is no point in reading about past mistakes if we cannot draw lessons for the future.

How can you overcome feelings of impotence, sadness, and guilt after you have committed a gigantic error? Here is what I have learned form reading History.

As soon as we realize the full extent of a major error, psychological misery arises from comparing ourselves to others or to a parallel reality that would have existed if we had known better.

Such negative emotional reactions rest on a logical fallacy that only determined reasoning can erase. Mistakes are subjective and the knowledge present in a person's mind is the only relevant factor when it comes to taking decisions.

This means that, after making a dreadful mistake, you should avoid comparing your situation with someone else's. It makes little sense to lament how well you could be doing if you had made wiser choices.

Each of us is born in different circumstances and each life is unique. Individuals have to grow at their own pace and learn their own lessons. Competition is a fallacy because life is not a race.

Experience can be painful but it is irreplaceable. Don't linger on illogical comparisons that bring nothing but misery. Stand up and look ahead. Your next achievement will bring you farther. Mistakes can make you a better human being and show you the way to happiness. Let them.

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

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

How to regain serenity and motivation after making a serious mistake


Publishers love biographies since they usually sell well for many years. The best biographies are short on dates and rich on story, meagre on doubts and abundant on motion.

Reading about mistakes made by illustrious individuals is why people enjoy biographies. In this respect, little, insubstantial errors don't count. A solid biography must contain at least one horrendous, shattering mistake.
  • A great actor who accepts a role in a trash movie and ruins his career.
  • A successful fund manager who makes a bad investment and experiences enormous losses.
  • A self-made millionaire who marries a worthless woman and goes through devastating divorce.
Thick biographies provide extensive details about how eminent persons turn into fools. Vanity and greed play a role sometimes, although less frequently than venal authors like to portray.

The truth is that, in the great majority of cases, mistakes are made in good faith, out of insufficient knowledge, insight, or perspective. Dangers that appear self-evident in hindsight often pass undetected under real-life strains and tensions.

Demanding readers expect stories to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. We want books to provide teachings that go beyond the trite and commonplace. There is no point in reading about past mistakes if we cannot draw lessons for the future.

How can you overcome feelings of impotence, sadness, and guilt after you have committed a gigantic error? Here is what I have learned form reading History.

As soon as we realize the full extent of a major error, psychological misery arises from comparing ourselves to others or to a parallel reality that would have existed if we had known better.

Such negative emotional reactions rest on a logical fallacy that only determined reasoning can erase. Mistakes are subjective and the knowledge present in a person's mind is the only relevant factor when it comes to taking decisions.

This means that, after making a dreadful mistake, you should avoid comparing your situation with someone else's. It makes little sense to lament how well you could be doing if you had made wiser choices.

Each of us is born in different circumstances and each life is unique. Individuals have to grow at their own pace and learn their own lessons. Competition is a fallacy because life is not a race.

Experience can be painful but it is irreplaceable. Don't linger on illogical comparisons that bring nothing but misery. Stand up and look ahead. Your next achievement will bring you farther. Mistakes can make you a better human being and show you the way to happiness. Let them.

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

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

The mirage of a perfect world and why you should avoid it


One day, human beings will inhabit a perfect world. There will be no violence and no poverty. Productivity will be high and consumption will take place without waste. Everybody will be free and healthy. The environment will always remain clean and nature, most of the time, green.

Discussions are ongoing about how long it is going to take us to get there. Some say a hundred years, others speak about seven times seven generations. Giving a precise estimation is a difficult question, since reaching the goal depends on so many factors.

The positive side of having ambitious plans for the world is that they keep people busy reading newspapers, watching debates on TV, listening to talk radio, campaigning for this or that cause, making speeches or pretending to listen to them. The bad news is that those activities, whether taken all together or one-by-one, will have little effect on your own life.

The more passionate you are about improving society, the harder it will be for you to accept the world's fundamental inertia. Even if you devote all your resources to a single goal, give up sleep, and work at your cause year after year, chances are that your achievements will remain modest.

There are powerful reasons for this:
  1. Fundamental changes in society take place only at low speed.
  2. From the perspective of human lifespan, even major world improvements can remain imperceptible.
  3. The dominant change paradigm is false. The truth is that rapid technical innovation does not necessarily bring profound changes to society.
  4. New technologies often do little but reinforce traditional views.
  5. Making the same old mistakes faster does not improve anything.
You will find irrefutable proof of my thesis by opening any History book at random and reading a few paragraphs. In hindsight, we can tell that the Roman Empire was doomed already by the beginning of the 3rd century. The effort of millions of people during the following thousand years did not manage to save it, only to prolong its agony.

Is the fact that we will never get to live ourselves in a flawless society a reason for despair? Should we let the mirage of perfection paralyse our actions? Absolutely not. Psychologically, cynicism is as lethal as perfectionism. The answer to the riddle is rationality.

By all means, do work at improving society, but make sure that your actions generate also short-term victories that you can enjoy in your own lifetime. Do be idealistic and seek to eradicate world problems, but do it in an affordable way.

Nothing is gained by your going bankrupt for a good cause. Nobody is helped by endless discussions about what society will look like in a hundred years from now.

One day, human beings will inhabit a perfect world. That's a great place to dream of. That's a wonderful target to aim at, provided that we keep our present actions focused on the small gains that make our daily happiness.

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

[Image by (~ +) Luis Barreto under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The mirage of a perfect world and why you should avoid it


One day, human beings will inhabit a perfect world. There will be no violence and no poverty. Productivity will be high and consumption will take place without waste. Everybody will be free and healthy. The environment will always remain clean and nature, most of the time, green.

Discussions are ongoing about how long it is going to take us to get there. Some say a hundred years, others speak about seven times seven generations. Giving a precise estimation is a difficult question, since reaching the goal depends on so many factors.

The positive side of having ambitious plans for the world is that they keep people busy reading newspapers, watching debates on TV, listening to talk radio, campaigning for this or that cause, making speeches or pretending to listen to them. The bad news is that those activities, whether taken all together or one-by-one, will have little effect on your own life.

The more passionate you are about improving society, the harder it will be for you to accept the world's fundamental inertia. Even if you devote all your resources to a single goal, give up sleep, and work at your cause year after year, chances are that your achievements will remain modest.

There are powerful reasons for this:
  1. Fundamental changes in society take place only at low speed.
  2. From the perspective of human lifespan, even major world improvements can remain imperceptible.
  3. The dominant change paradigm is false. The truth is that rapid technical innovation does not necessarily bring profound changes to society.
  4. New technologies often do little but reinforce traditional views.
  5. Making the same old mistakes faster does not improve anything.
You will find irrefutable proof of my thesis by opening any History book at random and reading a few paragraphs. In hindsight, we can tell that the Roman Empire was doomed already by the beginning of the 3rd century. The effort of millions of people during the following thousand years did not manage to save it, only to prolong its agony.

Is the fact that we will never get to live ourselves in a flawless society a reason for despair? Should we let the mirage of perfection paralyse our actions? Absolutely not. Psychologically, cynicism is as lethal as perfectionism. The answer to the riddle is rationality.

By all means, do work at improving society, but make sure that your actions generate also short-term victories that you can enjoy in your own lifetime. Do be idealistic and seek to eradicate world problems, but do it in an affordable way.

Nothing is gained by your going bankrupt for a good cause. Nobody is helped by endless discussions about what society will look like in a hundred years from now.

One day, human beings will inhabit a perfect world. That's a great place to dream of. That's a wonderful target to aim at, provided that we keep our present actions focused on the small gains that make our daily happiness.

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

[Image by (~ +) Luis Barreto under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Five steps to find a job in difficult times


Thanks to unemployment, newspapers and television are managing to recapture part of their lost audience. Pictures of forlorn job seekers alternate with interviews of puzzled white-collar workers who, until today, had never given a thought to the possibility of finding themselves on the street.

In some countries, the number of job seekers is reaching unheard-of proportions. Ireland and Spain, two of the worse cases, are on their way to a 20% unemployment rate. If disasters paralyse, absolute disasters can wipe out all capacity for action.

Should you be searching for a job, here is some advice to help you move faster on the road back to employment:

1.- FORGET ABOUT DEPRESSING UNEMPLOYMENT STATISTICS. No matter how bad the business downturn is, there are jobs out there. All you need to do is to find yourself one. If you are flexible, organized, and relentless in your approach, you won't remain unemployed for long.

2.- UNDERSTAND THE REASONS. Mass unemployment is a phenomenon that results from major shifts in the economy. You, as an individual, are in no way to blame for circumstances that affect a great segment of the population. Do not take it personally and, above all, do not waste a minute complaining.

You cannot change factors that are causing the loss of thousands of jobs in certain locations or sectors of the economy, but you can move away from those and, instead, seek a job in areas where you stand much better chances.

3.- GO WHERE THE MONEY IS. If companies in the field where you have been working for the last ten years are going bankrupt one after the other, you'd certainly want to move to greener pastures. The same principle applies if you reside in an area whose economy is in shambles.

Even in a downturn, there are bad places and horrible places to look for a job. Don't waste your time trying to land a job in companies that are falling apart. You have better things to do than seeking to get aboard The Titanic, now and for the rest of your life.

4.- BE RELENTLESS IN YOUR SEARCH. Don't post your curriculum vitae on just two web sites, but on twenty. If that doesn't work, then try another twenty. Call up ten companies per day, ask to talk to their human resources manager, and pitch your skills. If that doesn't work, call another ten.

Looking for a job is a tedious chore, but if you have to do it, you might as well give it all you have. The faster you get it done, the sooner you can go back to normal life.

5.- MAKE OFFERS THAT ONLY A FOOL WOULD REFUSE. As a result of your active search, you will be invited for interviews. If you really want the job for which you are being interviewed, chances are that you will get it if you manage to convince the other party that you are reasonably competent and extraordinarily motivated.

A big company might be too bureaucratic to appreciate your willingness to go the extra mile, but a small-business owner will be delighted to hear your plan to lower his risk of hiring you. Here are some examples:
  • If the laws of your country allow it, offer to work for a token salary during a certain period, so that he can see how great you are.
  • If you are looking for a job in a 24/7 operation, propose to work on the shift that nobody wants.
  • If there is a location where nobody wants to go, volunteer to work there temporarily.
In some cases, this approach will bring no results, but sooner or later, an employer won't resist the temptation of accepting your offer. Use your flexibility to get your foot on the door. As soon as you have regained employment, you can go up from there.

If you have the drive and curiosity to be reading this, I have little doubt that you will do what you need to do. Focused thoughts and relentless action constitute the rational approach for finding a job, or in general, for achieving anything of value. May your job search be short and your success spectacular.

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

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


Five steps to find a job in difficult times


Thanks to unemployment, newspapers and television are managing to recapture part of their lost audience. Pictures of forlorn job seekers alternate with interviews of puzzled white-collar workers who, until today, had never given a thought to the possibility of finding themselves on the street.

In some countries, the number of job seekers is reaching unheard-of proportions. Ireland and Spain, two of the worse cases, are on their way to a 20% unemployment rate. If disasters paralyse, absolute disasters can wipe out all capacity for action.

Should you be searching for a job, here is some advice to help you move faster on the road back to employment:

1.- FORGET ABOUT DEPRESSING UNEMPLOYMENT STATISTICS. No matter how bad the business downturn is, there are jobs out there. All you need to do is to find yourself one. If you are flexible, organized, and relentless in your approach, you won't remain unemployed for long.

2.- UNDERSTAND THE REASONS. Mass unemployment is a phenomenon that results from major shifts in the economy. You, as an individual, are in no way to blame for circumstances that affect a great segment of the population. Do not take it personally and, above all, do not waste a minute complaining.

You cannot change factors that are causing the loss of thousands of jobs in certain locations or sectors of the economy, but you can move away from those and, instead, seek a job in areas where you stand much better chances.

3.- GO WHERE THE MONEY IS. If companies in the field where you have been working for the last ten years are going bankrupt one after the other, you'd certainly want to move to greener pastures. The same principle applies if you reside in an area whose economy is in shambles.

Even in a downturn, there are bad places and horrible places to look for a job. Don't waste your time trying to land a job in companies that are falling apart. You have better things to do than seeking to get aboard The Titanic, now and for the rest of your life.

4.- BE RELENTLESS IN YOUR SEARCH. Don't post your curriculum vitae on just two web sites, but on twenty. If that doesn't work, then try another twenty. Call up ten companies per day, ask to talk to their human resources manager, and pitch your skills. If that doesn't work, call another ten.

Looking for a job is a tedious chore, but if you have to do it, you might as well give it all you have. The faster you get it done, the sooner you can go back to normal life.

5.- MAKE OFFERS THAT ONLY A FOOL WOULD REFUSE. As a result of your active search, you will be invited for interviews. If you really want the job for which you are being interviewed, chances are that you will get it if you manage to convince the other party that you are reasonably competent and extraordinarily motivated.

A big company might be too bureaucratic to appreciate your willingness to go the extra mile, but a small-business owner will be delighted to hear your plan to lower his risk of hiring you. Here are some examples:
  • If the laws of your country allow it, offer to work for a token salary during a certain period, so that he can see how great you are.
  • If you are looking for a job in a 24/7 operation, propose to work on the shift that nobody wants.
  • If there is a location where nobody wants to go, volunteer to work there temporarily.
In some cases, this approach will bring no results, but sooner or later, an employer won't resist the temptation of accepting your offer. Use your flexibility to get your foot on the door. As soon as you have regained employment, you can go up from there.

If you have the drive and curiosity to be reading this, I have little doubt that you will do what you need to do. Focused thoughts and relentless action constitute the rational approach for finding a job, or in general, for achieving anything of value. May your job search be short and your success spectacular.

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

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


Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The keys to entrepreneurial success: annoyance, dissatisfaction and misery

Have you ever wondered why, in most cases, indifference is the overwhelming reaction to innovation? Is it not amazing that potential customers, who would be so well served by your new service, are not even willing to listen to your pitch?

The world is a barren desert for dreamers and an endless source of opportunities for problem-solvers. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” preaches conventional wisdom. Yes, there might be always a way, but who wants to walk a path leading to waste and disappointment?

If you are about to start a new enterprise, please remind yourself daily of the cold-hearted basic fact of business: 81% of new ventures do not survive beyond their fifth year.

Dreary as this number is, let's not forget that some retail markets show even higher new-product mortality rates, as it is the case of packaged foods, soda drinks, and restaurant formulas.

What do statistics tell us? Is there a way to predict if a new service is destined to be buried in the grave of consumer indifference? How can we make sure that we only launch products that have a good chance of a warm reception by the market? What strategy maximizes our probabilities of success?

My answer is that you should avoid testing ideas at random. Never put all your resources just into making new stuff and throwing it into the market. In that case, hoping for the best is bound to reveal itself as nothing more than an expensive delusion.

Commercial history has repeatedly proven that new undertakings enjoy the best prospects of success when they are aligned with key negative factors such as annoyance, dissatisfaction, and misery.

In this sense, this is the ideal situation that you should strive for:
  1. Potential customers who are deeply annoyed by a problem.
  2. An entrepreneur who is dissatisfied with existing solutions and can propose something better.
  3. A distribution system or retail outlet that is miserably under-utilized.
Although hitting all three trouble spots won't guarantee commercial success to new products or services, it is as close as you can get.

1.- ANNOYANCE: The angrier the potential customers, the more receptive they will be to new solutions. Do you recall the massive irritation at check-in lines in airports before the times of electronic ticketing?

2.- DISSATISFACTION: The more inefficient the current solution, the higher the value that entrepreneurs can add. Do you remember that not so long ago it was impossible to deliver packages overnight?

3.- MISERY: The less profitable the current distribution system or retail outlet, the more avidly it will embrace new products of great potential. How many thousands of retail locations have seen their value doubled thanks to fast-food franchises?

Come up with a revolutionary invention and your product will be looked at with suspicion by potential customers or, even worse, completely ignored.

On the other hand, solve a burning problem and wild success might impose an insane growth rate on your business. Those who prove able to alleviate long-standing pain tend to become leaders of enthusiastic tribes of loyal customers.

Is this principle hard to implement? Yes, accepting reality can be a difficult undertaking. For that reason, nature, in its wisdom, has endowed us with two eyes and two ears to perceive the world and only one mouth to contradict ourselves.

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

[Image by foxypar4 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

The keys to entrepreneurial success: annoyance, dissatisfaction and misery

Have you ever wondered why, in most cases, indifference is the overwhelming reaction to innovation? Is it not amazing that potential customers, who would be so well served by your new service, are not even willing to listen to your pitch?

The world is a barren desert for dreamers and an endless source of opportunities for problem-solvers. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” preaches conventional wisdom. Yes, there might be always a way, but who wants to walk a path leading to waste and disappointment?

If you are about to start a new enterprise, please remind yourself daily of the cold-hearted basic fact of business: 81% of new ventures do not survive beyond their fifth year.

Dreary as this number is, let's not forget that some retail markets show even higher new-product mortality rates, as it is the case of packaged foods, soda drinks, and restaurant formulas.

What do statistics tell us? Is there a way to predict if a new service is destined to be buried in the grave of consumer indifference? How can we make sure that we only launch products that have a good chance of a warm reception by the market? What strategy maximizes our probabilities of success?

My answer is that you should avoid testing ideas at random. Never put all your resources just into making new stuff and throwing it into the market. In that case, hoping for the best is bound to reveal itself as nothing more than an expensive delusion.

Commercial history has repeatedly proven that new undertakings enjoy the best prospects of success when they are aligned with key negative factors such as annoyance, dissatisfaction, and misery.

In this sense, this is the ideal situation that you should strive for:
  1. Potential customers who are deeply annoyed by a problem.
  2. An entrepreneur who is dissatisfied with existing solutions and can propose something better.
  3. A distribution system or retail outlet that is miserably under-utilized.
Although hitting all three trouble spots won't guarantee commercial success to new products or services, it is as close as you can get.

1.- ANNOYANCE: The angrier the potential customers, the more receptive they will be to new solutions. Do you recall the massive irritation at check-in lines in airports before the times of electronic ticketing?

2.- DISSATISFACTION: The more inefficient the current solution, the higher the value that entrepreneurs can add. Do you remember that not so long ago it was impossible to deliver packages overnight?

3.- MISERY: The less profitable the current distribution system or retail outlet, the more avidly it will embrace new products of great potential. How many thousands of retail locations have seen their value doubled thanks to fast-food franchises?

Come up with a revolutionary invention and your product will be looked at with suspicion by potential customers or, even worse, completely ignored.

On the other hand, solve a burning problem and wild success might impose an insane growth rate on your business. Those who prove able to alleviate long-standing pain tend to become leaders of enthusiastic tribes of loyal customers.

Is this principle hard to implement? Yes, accepting reality can be a difficult undertaking. For that reason, nature, in its wisdom, has endowed us with two eyes and two ears to perceive the world and only one mouth to contradict ourselves.

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

[Image by foxypar4 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The princess who had no birthday

Amongst all young women in the kingdom, princess Ameline possessed the blondest hair, the bluest eyes, and the saddest heart.

Her parents, the late King and Queen, had entrusted her to a convent for her education years ago, so long ago that nobody could remember.

Ameline was not a good student and, instead of repeating litanies with the other novices, she had taken up the habit of scurrying out of the convent to play in the nearby woods.

One Tuesday afternoon, barbarians attacked the convent, killed all nuns and novices, stole all cookies, and went away. When Ameline returned to the convent, she found herself to be the only survivor of the massacre.

She left the convent, walked to the city, and went directly to the Royal Palace, which she found empty, except for an old man who made his living guiding tourists. "Where are the barons and the servants?" inquired Ameline.

The old man examined attentively her face and smiled. "You are princess Ameline," he said. "I have not seen you for a long time." He explained to Ameline that, after the King's and Queen's death many years ago, the kingdom administration had decayed into oblivion and finally vanished altogether. "Nevertheless, the palace is yours," he went on, "as well as the gold in the caves."

Ameline started a new life and began to live like real princess. Even though she was overall respected, she lacked one essential thing and that deprivation made her deeply unhappy: Ameline had no birthday.

Hardly a week went by without Ameline being invited to this or that birthday party. Everybody in the kingdom had his own birthday, that is, everybody except Ameline. At night, she dreamed of having her own birthday party and cake, but that was not to be.

Ameline's parents were dead, as well as the nuns in the convent. How could she possibly find out on which precise day she had been born? What is even worse, Ameline had no clue about how old she was. As time passed, she grew more and more depressed about her deficiency.

How could she ever be sure if she was old enough to marry? What if she ever wanted to sell her palace? How would she prove to the notary that she was of age? The old man, whom Ameline had allowed to continue his job as tourist guide in the palace, saw the princess whither away and decided to have a talk with her.

"My situation is hopeless and no one can help me," Ameline explained to him. "It would have been better if I had died in the convent." The old man listened attentively to Ameline's troubles and shook his head. "You are mistaken to think that you are the only one who has no birthday," he replied.

The princess was surprised to hear that. Was the old man lying in order to comfort her? "That's not true," she countered irritated. "I have seen everybody having birthday parties."

The old man nodded. "When the kingdom administration disappeared, the birthday registry turned to dust, and nobody was any longer certain about his own birthday. That created some disorientation, but after a while, people shrugged their shoulders and began to throw birthday parties whenever they saw fit. Sometimes twice per year, often twice per week."

The princess stared at the old man for a long moment, until she seized the full meaning of his words. Then she went to the palace kitchen and gave orders to prepare her a dozen birthday parties. She had a lot to catch up with.

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

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

The princess who had no birthday

Amongst all young women in the kingdom, princess Ameline possessed the blondest hair, the bluest eyes, and the saddest heart.

Her parents, the late King and Queen, had entrusted her to a convent for her education years ago, so long ago that nobody could remember.

Ameline was not a good student and, instead of repeating litanies with the other novices, she had taken up the habit of scurrying out of the convent to play in the nearby woods.

One Tuesday afternoon, barbarians attacked the convent, killed all nuns and novices, stole all cookies, and went away. When Ameline returned to the convent, she found herself to be the only survivor of the massacre.

She left the convent, walked to the city, and went directly to the Royal Palace, which she found empty, except for an old man who made his living guiding tourists. "Where are the barons and the servants?" inquired Ameline.

The old man examined attentively her face and smiled. "You are princess Ameline," he said. "I have not seen you for a long time." He explained to Ameline that, after the King's and Queen's death many years ago, the kingdom administration had decayed into oblivion and finally vanished altogether. "Nevertheless, the palace is yours," he went on, "as well as the gold in the caves."

Ameline started a new life and began to live like real princess. Even though she was overall respected, she lacked one essential thing and that deprivation made her deeply unhappy: Ameline had no birthday.

Hardly a week went by without Ameline being invited to this or that birthday party. Everybody in the kingdom had his own birthday, that is, everybody except Ameline. At night, she dreamed of having her own birthday party and cake, but that was not to be.

Ameline's parents were dead, as well as the nuns in the convent. How could she possibly find out on which precise day she had been born? What is even worse, Ameline had no clue about how old she was. As time passed, she grew more and more depressed about her deficiency.

How could she ever be sure if she was old enough to marry? What if she ever wanted to sell her palace? How would she prove to the notary that she was of age? The old man, whom Ameline had allowed to continue his job as tourist guide in the palace, saw the princess whither away and decided to have a talk with her.

"My situation is hopeless and no one can help me," Ameline explained to him. "It would have been better if I had died in the convent." The old man listened attentively to Ameline's troubles and shook his head. "You are mistaken to think that you are the only one who has no birthday," he replied.

The princess was surprised to hear that. Was the old man lying in order to comfort her? "That's not true," she countered irritated. "I have seen everybody having birthday parties."

The old man nodded. "When the kingdom administration disappeared, the birthday registry turned to dust, and nobody was any longer certain about his own birthday. That created some disorientation, but after a while, people shrugged their shoulders and began to throw birthday parties whenever they saw fit. Sometimes twice per year, often twice per week."

The princess stared at the old man for a long moment, until she seized the full meaning of his words. Then she went to the palace kitchen and gave orders to prepare her a dozen birthday parties. She had a lot to catch up with.

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

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

If your old tribe grows stale, it's time to start a new one


“The human mind is designed for exercising memory and imagination,” wrote Baruch Spinoza in his Ethics in 1662. The book would be published only fifteen years later, but Spinoza didn't care, since he was recording his thoughts mainly for himself.

In the history of ideas, or for that matter, of entrepreneurship, few men have shown such extraordinary courage as Spinoza. His daring dismissal of safe common memories in favour of an uncertain future estranged him from his family and made a pariah out of him, socially and financially.

Born into a wealthy family of Jewish merchants and destined to a life of economic comfort, Spinoza's free spirit began to outgrow the narrow traditions of his community already when he was a school kid in Amsterdam.

In July 1656, the rabbi of the synagogue, after having consulted the elders, gave Spinoza an ultimatum. He was to stop asking questions during lectures. He was to stop talking to other youth about tolerance and individual freedom. In a word, he was to stop being different and, instead, he was to become like everybody else in the community.

Although the rabbi uttered his threat in a soft voice, he painted clearly what consequences non-compliance would bring. Expulsion from the synagogue would be tantamount to lifelong ostracism. If Spinoza refused to conform to social conventions, all doors would be closed to him.

“We expect your answer on the last Sabbath this month,” concluded the rabbi, already anticipating his victory. At that time, Spinoza was 23 years old and the rabbi felt sure that no one would be foolish enough to throw away a bright professional future in an established community for the sake of some intellectual nonsense about truth.

On July 27th, Spinoza returned to the synagogue. The rabbi and the elders were awaiting him. “What have you decided?” he was asked. “Are you with us or are you on your own?”

“A man must be guided by reason, if he is to remain fully a man,” answered Spinoza. “Without the urge to understand and the freedom to search for answers, neither truth nor happiness are possible.”

After leaving Amsterdam, Spinoza moved thirty kilometres south and created a new community from scratch: a group of free-thinking intellectuals who would spread
around the world his ideas about tolerance and change the course of History.

What would have happened if Spinoza had remained in his traditional community instead of starting a new tribe? As he wrote himself in his Ethics: “The essence of human thinking is to identify true ideas.”

May you always have the courage and determination to follow them through.


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

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

If your old tribe grows stale, it's time to start a new one


“The human mind is designed for exercising memory and imagination,” wrote Baruch Spinoza in his Ethics in 1662. The book would be published only fifteen years later, but Spinoza didn't care, since he was recording his thoughts mainly for himself.

In the history of ideas, or for that matter, of entrepreneurship, few men have shown such extraordinary courage as Spinoza. His daring dismissal of safe common memories in favour of an uncertain future estranged him from his family and made a pariah out of him, socially and financially.

Born into a wealthy family of Jewish merchants and destined to a life of economic comfort, Spinoza's free spirit began to outgrow the narrow traditions of his community already when he was a school kid in Amsterdam.

In July 1656, the rabbi of the synagogue, after having consulted the elders, gave Spinoza an ultimatum. He was to stop asking questions during lectures. He was to stop talking to other youth about tolerance and individual freedom. In a word, he was to stop being different and, instead, he was to become like everybody else in the community.

Although the rabbi uttered his threat in a soft voice, he painted clearly what consequences non-compliance would bring. Expulsion from the synagogue would be tantamount to lifelong ostracism. If Spinoza refused to conform to social conventions, all doors would be closed to him.

“We expect your answer on the last Sabbath this month,” concluded the rabbi, already anticipating his victory. At that time, Spinoza was 23 years old and the rabbi felt sure that no one would be foolish enough to throw away a bright professional future in an established community for the sake of some intellectual nonsense about truth.

On July 27th, Spinoza returned to the synagogue. The rabbi and the elders were awaiting him. “What have you decided?” he was asked. “Are you with us or are you on your own?”

“A man must be guided by reason, if he is to remain fully a man,” answered Spinoza. “Without the urge to understand and the freedom to search for answers, neither truth nor happiness are possible.”

After leaving Amsterdam, Spinoza moved thirty kilometres south and created a new community from scratch: a group of free-thinking intellectuals who would spread
around the world his ideas about tolerance and change the course of History.

What would have happened if Spinoza had remained in his traditional community instead of starting a new tribe? As he wrote himself in his Ethics: “The essence of human thinking is to identify true ideas.”

May you always have the courage and determination to follow them through.


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

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

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The phantasy of hierarchies and the truth of contracts: adopting a rational view of the world

Three thousand years ago, life in Ancient Egypt was strictly hierarchical. Each person's origin determined which trade or profession he was to take up, his choice of spouse, food, and ideas.

No dissidence was possible. There was no opposition and no escape. Progress and innovation were forbidden. Society was closed and, for hundreds of years, it remained immobile.

When Alexander the Great arrived in Egypt in the year 332 B.C., it didn't take him long to crush the Egyptian army. The fast, entrepreneurial Greeks destroyed the bureaucratic Egyptian forces in less than two weeks. The Pharaoh was deposed and Ptolemy undertook to transform Egypt into a trading emporium and a marketplace for new ideas.

Only five generations later, the world had changed beyond recognition. During the years of the Roman Republic, the idea of hierarchy disappeared from the mind of free individuals. Despite major differences in wealth and ability, Roman citizens did not feel inferior to anyone when it came to purchase one another's products or services.

Under Roman law, if merchant Croesus hired architect Vitruvius to build him a house, both men were free to agree the price, terms, and conditions of their contract. Although Vitruvius worked for Croesus, he did not consider the merchant to be “his superior.” A Roman citizen would have found hierarchy a laughable idea in the context of a commercial relation.

Regrettably, the modern digital capacity to draw organizational charts at great speed, is bringing our mentality back to Egyptian times. How often do we hear about people who are seriously depressed because their name has been displaced, in an organizational chart, from one box to another placed a centimetre below?

While it is indisputable that commercial organizations need a structure to be able to function effectively, one should never forget that what keeps individuals working together is voluntary cooperation in the form of contracts. Commercial hierarchies as such do not exist in reality, although modern corporate doctrines go a long way towards obscuring this fact.

If you hire someone to clean your apartment, you are exchanging your cash for a service. If you look at yourself in the mirror and feel “superior” to the person who is cleaning your living-room, you are at odds with reality. If you work as an employee in a company, you are in no way “inferior” to whoever is paying you money in exchange for your professional services.

Civilized society is composed of a myriad of formal and informal contracts amongst free citizens. It is unfortunate that, in the business world, mythical theories about “leadership” and “stewardship” are doing much harm by creating the illusion that human hierarchies exist in the marketplace. Such false theories bring only anxiety, fear, and envy to those unlucky enough to believe them.

Work and happiness are individual endeavours. Which profession you practice, which employment you take, what tasks you perform, and how much money you make, are the result of contracts that you have entered into some time ago and in which you have decided to stay, for the time being.

If you ever catch yourself thinking in terms of corporate hierarchies, stop whatever you are doing and take a minute to sharpen your vision. Forget about “superior” and “inferior” positions and learn to view human beings simply as buyers and sellers in the marketplace.

Adopting a rational perspective of the world will bring you the peace of mind of the philosopher and the determination of the entrepreneur whose freedom to trade has just been rekindled.

[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]

The phantasy of hierarchies and the truth of contracts: adopting a rational view of the world

Three thousand years ago, life in Ancient Egypt was strictly hierarchical. Each person's origin determined which trade or profession he was to take up, his choice of spouse, food, and ideas.

No dissidence was possible. There was no opposition and no escape. Progress and innovation were forbidden. Society was closed and, for hundreds of years, it remained immobile.

When Alexander the Great arrived in Egypt in the year 332 B.C., it didn't take him long to crush the Egyptian army. The fast, entrepreneurial Greeks destroyed the bureaucratic Egyptian forces in less than two weeks. The Pharaoh was deposed and Ptolemy undertook to transform Egypt into a trading emporium and a marketplace for new ideas.

Only five generations later, the world had changed beyond recognition. During the years of the Roman Republic, the idea of hierarchy disappeared from the mind of free individuals. Despite major differences in wealth and ability, Roman citizens did not feel inferior to anyone when it came to purchase one another's products or services.

Under Roman law, if merchant Croesus hired architect Vitruvius to build him a house, both men were free to agree the price, terms, and conditions of their contract. Although Vitruvius worked for Croesus, he did not consider the merchant to be “his superior.” A Roman citizen would have found hierarchy a laughable idea in the context of a commercial relation.

Regrettably, the modern digital capacity to draw organizational charts at great speed, is bringing our mentality back to Egyptian times. How often do we hear about people who are seriously depressed because their name has been displaced, in an organizational chart, from one box to another placed a centimetre below?

While it is indisputable that commercial organizations need a structure to be able to function effectively, one should never forget that what keeps individuals working together is voluntary cooperation in the form of contracts. Commercial hierarchies as such do not exist in reality, although modern corporate doctrines go a long way towards obscuring this fact.

If you hire someone to clean your apartment, you are exchanging your cash for a service. If you look at yourself in the mirror and feel “superior” to the person who is cleaning your living-room, you are at odds with reality. If you work as an employee in a company, you are in no way “inferior” to whoever is paying you money in exchange for your professional services.

Civilized society is composed of a myriad of formal and informal contracts amongst free citizens. It is unfortunate that, in the business world, mythical theories about “leadership” and “stewardship” are doing much harm by creating the illusion that human hierarchies exist in the marketplace. Such false theories bring only anxiety, fear, and envy to those unlucky enough to believe them.

Work and happiness are individual endeavours. Which profession you practice, which employment you take, what tasks you perform, and how much money you make, are the result of contracts that you have entered into some time ago and in which you have decided to stay, for the time being.

If you ever catch yourself thinking in terms of corporate hierarchies, stop whatever you are doing and take a minute to sharpen your vision. Forget about “superior” and “inferior” positions and learn to view human beings simply as buyers and sellers in the marketplace.

Adopting a rational perspective of the world will bring you the peace of mind of the philosopher and the determination of the entrepreneur whose freedom to trade has just been rekindled.

[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]

Friday, 24 April 2009

Please don't be positive and choose real happiness instead


Personality tests used by career counsellors aim at identifying the main drivers in the character of an individual, such us introversion or sensitivity, in order to recommend studies or occupations that match particular traits.

The idea behind the tests is that those possessing an analytical mind might enjoy turning into devoted scientists, fast talkers into indefatigable lawyers, and rabid individualists into entrepreneurs. Counsellors administer those tests on the assumption that civilized society has a place for everyone, whether shy, confident, turbulent or quiet.

Strange enough, it seems that, when it comes to hiring new employees, decadent businesses have colluded into a single preference for positive people. What is this contemporary personality trait that overrides the wisdom of the ages? Are we taking for granted the alleged value of “being positive” without a close examination of its dark side-effects?

As it is understood today, being positive does not define the state of mind of those with good-mannered, optimistic, and benevolent personalities. On the contrary, the p-word has come to encompass a series of self-defeating traits that can bring down even the most solid companies or individuals:
  • empty cheerfulness
  • blind obedience
  • anxious conformity
  • relentless denial of reality
If you know someone who, after losing his life's savings in the stock market, still walks around with a beatific smile on his face, telling people how positive he feels, then you know someone who is very deranged. There are also people who, after losing a beloved job or spouse, move around in a daze, mumbling to themselves that everything is just fine.

Who are those people? Why are they doing such horrible things to themselves? Why on earth are they trying to pretend that they are in total control of lost causes or that serious problems don't exist? Answers to these questions might fill libraries. The simple fact is that, in our days, we are facing an epidemic of self-appointed positive people who titter on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

Rationality is the key to happiness, private and professional. Serenity in thinking and logic in action are prime characteristics of satisfied individuals. How come that these essential traits are absent from the ramblings of the positive flock?

Empty smiles won't cure the deep loneliness of the crazed. If they serve any purpose at all, it is to mark those who are absolutely, positively beyond redemption. Stay away from those people. They need more help than you or anyone else can provide.

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

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

Please don't be positive and choose real happiness instead


Personality tests used by career counsellors aim at identifying the main drivers in the character of an individual, such us introversion or sensitivity, in order to recommend studies or occupations that match particular traits.

The idea behind the tests is that those possessing an analytical mind might enjoy turning into devoted scientists, fast talkers into indefatigable lawyers, and rabid individualists into entrepreneurs. Counsellors administer those tests on the assumption that civilized society has a place for everyone, whether shy, confident, turbulent or quiet.

Strange enough, it seems that, when it comes to hiring new employees, decadent businesses have colluded into a single preference for positive people. What is this contemporary personality trait that overrides the wisdom of the ages? Are we taking for granted the alleged value of “being positive” without a close examination of its dark side-effects?

As it is understood today, being positive does not define the state of mind of those with good-mannered, optimistic, and benevolent personalities. On the contrary, the p-word has come to encompass a series of self-defeating traits that can bring down even the most solid companies or individuals:
  • empty cheerfulness
  • blind obedience
  • anxious conformity
  • relentless denial of reality
If you know someone who, after losing his life's savings in the stock market, still walks around with a beatific smile on his face, telling people how positive he feels, then you know someone who is very deranged. There are also people who, after losing a beloved job or spouse, move around in a daze, mumbling to themselves that everything is just fine.

Who are those people? Why are they doing such horrible things to themselves? Why on earth are they trying to pretend that they are in total control of lost causes or that serious problems don't exist? Answers to these questions might fill libraries. The simple fact is that, in our days, we are facing an epidemic of self-appointed positive people who titter on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

Rationality is the key to happiness, private and professional. Serenity in thinking and logic in action are prime characteristics of satisfied individuals. How come that these essential traits are absent from the ramblings of the positive flock?

Empty smiles won't cure the deep loneliness of the crazed. If they serve any purpose at all, it is to mark those who are absolutely, positively beyond redemption. Stay away from those people. They need more help than you or anyone else can provide.

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

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

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Dating and marketing: why you should choose the rational approach

“Love goes towards love, as schoolboys from their books,” wrote Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Since the 17th century, times have changed to remain essentially the same. Is it not a force akin to love that moves customers in the direction of their favourite product? Or spectators to watch every game of their preferred team?

Luckily for us, modern men and women, hundred of years of accumulated science have identified the keys to success in romantic and business undertakings. Is it not high time to proclaim that marketing wisdom has rendered Shakespeare's plays obsolete for didactic purposes?

Theatre might continue to exist as harmless entertainment for summer nights, but when it comes to learning dating and salesmanship, you are much better served by the teachings of hard science. Won't you agree with me that only fools would refuse to adopt a proven formula that knows no contrary views? Here is my condensed version of modern marketing truth:

1.- ESTABLISH MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS FOR CUSTOMERS. An entrepreneur promoting a new product or service would be ill advised to walk around blindly trying to convince everybody he meets to make a purchase. Most likely, in that way, he would just waste his resources and make no sales at all.

Like in dating, efficient salesmen establish minimum requirements for their prospects. If you identify your prerequisites in advance, you will be able to discard quickly anybody who doesn't hit the mark. Draw a sharp picture of your target and focus your marketing energy like a laser.

2.- KEEP YOUR STEPS SLOW AND SEE YOUR RESULTS GROW. Investors know that the best kind of assets are those who produce long-term compound growth with little risk. What you want to avoid is a situation where you must continuously shift your money from place to place. Even if you manage to make a decent return on your investment, the need to reinvent the wheel every day will leave you too exhausted to enjoy life.

Effective start-up marketing is about acquiring a few enthusiastic customers who tell their friends about the unique experience that you can provide. In the case of dating, it is even more important that uniqueness in the being goes along with consistency in the telling. From this perspective, dating is a one-number game and marketing is the same.

Anyway, should the scientific formula fail, you can always go back to classical theatre for inspiration. Marketing is, in a way, distilled philosophy, an almost exact discipline as you know, or as Shakespeare wrote in his most famous play: “Hang up philosophy, unless philosophy can make a Juliet!”

[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]

Dating and marketing: why you should choose the rational approach

“Love goes towards love, as schoolboys from their books,” wrote Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Since the 17th century, times have changed to remain essentially the same. Is it not a force akin to love that moves customers in the direction of their favourite product? Or spectators to watch every game of their preferred team?

Luckily for us, modern men and women, hundred of years of accumulated science have identified the keys to success in romantic and business undertakings. Is it not high time to proclaim that marketing wisdom has rendered Shakespeare's plays obsolete for didactic purposes?

Theatre might continue to exist as harmless entertainment for summer nights, but when it comes to learning dating and salesmanship, you are much better served by the teachings of hard science. Won't you agree with me that only fools would refuse to adopt a proven formula that knows no contrary views? Here is my condensed version of modern marketing truth:

1.- ESTABLISH MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS FOR CUSTOMERS. An entrepreneur promoting a new product or service would be ill advised to walk around blindly trying to convince everybody he meets to make a purchase. Most likely, in that way, he would just waste his resources and make no sales at all.

Like in dating, efficient salesmen establish minimum requirements for their prospects. If you identify your prerequisites in advance, you will be able to discard quickly anybody who doesn't hit the mark. Draw a sharp picture of your target and focus your marketing energy like a laser.

2.- KEEP YOUR STEPS SLOW AND SEE YOUR RESULTS GROW. Investors know that the best kind of assets are those who produce long-term compound growth with little risk. What you want to avoid is a situation where you must continuously shift your money from place to place. Even if you manage to make a decent return on your investment, the need to reinvent the wheel every day will leave you too exhausted to enjoy life.

Effective start-up marketing is about acquiring a few enthusiastic customers who tell their friends about the unique experience that you can provide. In the case of dating, it is even more important that uniqueness in the being goes along with consistency in the telling. From this perspective, dating is a one-number game and marketing is the same.

Anyway, should the scientific formula fail, you can always go back to classical theatre for inspiration. Marketing is, in a way, distilled philosophy, an almost exact discipline as you know, or as Shakespeare wrote in his most famous play: “Hang up philosophy, unless philosophy can make a Juliet!”

[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]

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Greece is proving that you can prosper in a recession: here is how


If you open a newspaper these days, chances are that you will find a world map coloured in red. Next to the map, you will see a table with two columns. The first will contain names of countries and the second a list of negative figures. Those dismal numbers are the economic projections for the current year.

However, if you examine the map in detail, you will realize that not all countries are coloured in red. With surprise and incredulity, you will then discover that in Europe there is a country coloured in green: Greece. Is that a mistake? How is it possible that, despite a worldwide economic recession, the Greek economy keeps growing?

Yes, the map is telling the truth. The Greek economy is moving forward also this year. We are not facing a statistical error. It is not a mirage, it is a reality. After contrasting economic data from different sources, the conclusion is inescapable: there is something about Greek businesses that makes them literally recession-proof.

What is the secret behind positive Greek economic figures? Which lessons can we draw from Greek businesses and society? Can we apply those teachings to our life in other countries? These are two principles that I have extracted from this phenomenon:

1.- FOCUS EXCLUSIVELY ON LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS. Most Greek companies are small and middle-sized and, from those, none spends much on advertising. While average American or European enterprises make strenuous efforts to acquire new customers, entrepreneurs in Athens or Thessaloniki usually prefer the slow approach.

Greek companies don't grow like weeds, but like oak trees. They take roots through slow organic growth and develop solid reputations, which in turn, make them extraordinarily resilient in a recession.

Suppliers are chosen on the basis of long-term considerations and newcomers have first to prove themselves in the market before anyone takes them seriously. Greek businessmen grant credit to customers whose family they had known for years and dismiss the rest as too risky. For this reason, losses due to credit defaults are amongst the lowest in the world.

2.- CHOOSE EMPLOYEES AMONGST FRIENDS AND FAMILY. The small and medium Greek enterprise constitutes an ecosystem of brothers, uncles, and cousins. In all areas, including high technology, when it comes to hiring, a friend with average professional qualifications will always be preferred to an unknown genius.

Entry-level salaries are low, but in exchange, employees are almost never let go during business downturns. A sense of common purpose permeates the whole company and favours continuous exchange of information at all levels. Close family and personal relations often link managers and employees to customers and suppliers, creating enormous stability in economic flows.

Do these two characteristics correspond to a business culture that has fallen behind the times? I very much doubt it. In a world of flicker and sizzle, Greeks have chosen to build solid structures that can withstand even the worse storms.

The ability of Greek businesses to move forward in difficult times might be showing us the true key to sustained economic growth. Something as simple as knowing whom to trust, telling the truth, and following up consistently.

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

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

Greece is proving that you can prosper in a recession: here is how


If you open a newspaper these days, chances are that you will find a world map coloured in red. Next to the map, you will see a table with two columns. The first will contain names of countries and the second a list of negative figures. Those dismal numbers are the economic projections for the current year.

However, if you examine the map in detail, you will realize that not all countries are coloured in red. With surprise and incredulity, you will then discover that in Europe there is a country coloured in green: Greece. Is that a mistake? How is it possible that, despite a worldwide economic recession, the Greek economy keeps growing?

Yes, the map is telling the truth. The Greek economy is moving forward also this year. We are not facing a statistical error. It is not a mirage, it is a reality. After contrasting economic data from different sources, the conclusion is inescapable: there is something about Greek businesses that makes them literally recession-proof.

What is the secret behind positive Greek economic figures? Which lessons can we draw from Greek businesses and society? Can we apply those teachings to our life in other countries? These are two principles that I have extracted from this phenomenon:

1.- FOCUS EXCLUSIVELY ON LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS. Most Greek companies are small and middle-sized and, from those, none spends much on advertising. While average American or European enterprises make strenuous efforts to acquire new customers, entrepreneurs in Athens or Thessaloniki usually prefer the slow approach.

Greek companies don't grow like weeds, but like oak trees. They take roots through slow organic growth and develop solid reputations, which in turn, make them extraordinarily resilient in a recession.

Suppliers are chosen on the basis of long-term considerations and newcomers have first to prove themselves in the market before anyone takes them seriously. Greek businessmen grant credit to customers whose family they had known for years and dismiss the rest as too risky. For this reason, losses due to credit defaults are amongst the lowest in the world.

2.- CHOOSE EMPLOYEES AMONGST FRIENDS AND FAMILY. The small and medium Greek enterprise constitutes an ecosystem of brothers, uncles, and cousins. In all areas, including high technology, when it comes to hiring, a friend with average professional qualifications will always be preferred to an unknown genius.

Entry-level salaries are low, but in exchange, employees are almost never let go during business downturns. A sense of common purpose permeates the whole company and favours continuous exchange of information at all levels. Close family and personal relations often link managers and employees to customers and suppliers, creating enormous stability in economic flows.

Do these two characteristics correspond to a business culture that has fallen behind the times? I very much doubt it. In a world of flicker and sizzle, Greeks have chosen to build solid structures that can withstand even the worse storms.

The ability of Greek businesses to move forward in difficult times might be showing us the true key to sustained economic growth. Something as simple as knowing whom to trust, telling the truth, and following up consistently.

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

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

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The three principles of rational living and how they can help you

Wouldn't life be wonderful if we never made mistakes? Imagine how much money you could save through the years if you never purchased any of those products that look so good before you take them home and later turn out to be useless. How much effort would you spare if you could perform any undertaking without mistakes?

The function of principles is to condense lessons from the past that we can apply to our present. Rational guidelines cannot guarantee success in your endeavours, but will reduce the risk of failure and minimize any ensuing damages.

What are the principles of rational living and how can we use them in our daily life? From the work of Aristotle, Epictetus, and Spinoza, I have extracted the following three guidelines, which I consider the backbone of a rational life:

1.- RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR FUTURE WILL BE THE CONSEQUENCE OF YOUR PRESENT ACTIONS. Understanding that reality works according to cause-and-effect constitutes the difference between civilized men and savages. Despite influence of family and society, each individual is the principal agent of his own fate. Accepting responsibility for your actions means taking charge of all aspects of your life that are under your control.

2.- ESTABLISH LONG-TERM GOALS IN THE MAIN AREAS OF YOUR LIFE. Barring major accidents, humans can expect to become at least 70 years old in many areas of the world. Research has repeatedly proven that setting long-term goals plays a decisive role when it comes to achievement.

Drifting from day to day, from one occupation to another, does not require clear objectives and avoids the friction generated by those who pursue ambitious goals. On the other hand, drifting is often associated with anxiety and psychological insecurity, since it fails to provide long-term perspective. Only well-defined goals allow man to concentrate his resources wisely and make the best of his life.

3.- TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR HEALTH. Each individual has control of the food he consumes and determines how much he exercises. Few ignore the crucial role that nutrition and physical fitness play in maintaining good health, but how many men and women actually take action on the basis of such knowledge?

Rationality demands us to strike an adequate balance between our habits of the present and our expectations of the future. If you care little about being healthy and are willing to spend your life's savings on hospital fees, there is no reason why you should adopt healthy habits in your daily living. If that is not the case, then you know what to do.

The three principles above can be complemented with other recommendations, such as:
  • accepting catastrophes philosophically and taking swift action towards recovery
  • learning from mistakes in order to improve your effectiveness
  • befriend honest people and ditch the rest or, at least, minimize your contacts with aggressive or nasty individuals
  • actively protect your privacy and possessions
  • stand up for your rights and do not give up too easily when you meet opposition
Accepting cause-and-effect as the overriding philosophical truth will turn you into a much more effective and happier human being. Applying rational principles to your life will bring you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your thoughts and actions are aligned with the essence of reality.

[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]

Sunday, 19 April 2009

How to invest rationally: now more than ever


With inflation looming in the horizon, it is a good time to recall solid investment wisdom from a distant past: a bird in the hand might be worth two devalued birds in the future. Once of the problems associated with inflation is that nobody is able to predict exactly when it is coming. Is it a matter of a few weeks? Are we talking about months? Years maybe?

In any case, shares of good companies listed in the stock market constitute attractive investments at this moment. You can actually have the best of both worlds if you invest in enterprises that offer, at the same time, a high current dividend and reasonable perspectives of profit growth in the future. Sooner or later, better financial results or inflation are bound to drive share prices upwards.

The following are some of my favourite shares during this economic recession. Today, April 19th 2009, I am currently looking at these four companies as possible additions to my personal investment portfolio:

1.- GENERAL ELECTRIC (NYSE:GE). Due to the spread of businesses amongst different sectors and countries, GE's overall corporate profits should not suffer badly in a high inflation scenario. In particular, stable international demand should keep GE's power generation and water processing divisions going forward at a good speed. GE's shares can be currently purchased at a price/earnings multiple of 7.5, which makes them reasonably attractive.

2.- MARATHON OIL (NYSE: MRO). This company is a major player in the gas and oil market. It possesses operations in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States of America. The shares are paying now a dividend around 3%, which is nice to have, and the price/earnings ratio remains at 6.5. A reasonable expectation is that, if inflation drives the oil price upwards, Marathon Oil shares should benefit as well.

3.- CHINA MOBILE (NYSE:CHL). The current yield of these shares is higher than 3%. This Chinese cell phone operator has more than 400 million subscribers to its various services. Even a modest increase in China Mobile's profits in the year 2009 should help maintain the share price at good levels. If the Chinese currency gains value during the next months, that might generate extra profits for international investors.

4.- NOVARTIS (NYSE:NVS). The shares of this Swiss pharmaceutical company are now yielding 4.5% Novartis business is stable, with a good risk spread amongst divisions: vaccines, diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals. Inflation should not have a too negative impact on this company, which possesses subsidiaries and distributors all around the world. Even in periods of economic recession, pharmaceutical companies rarely suffer from major fluctuations in demand.

No investment can offer absolute security and the stock market offers much less than that. Never follow any investment advice blindly and always make your own research before committing your hard-earned money to the stock market. Nevertheless, when the risk of inflation increases with the hour, paralysis might entail the biggest risk of all.

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

[Image by jasonb42882 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

How to invest rationally: now more than ever


With inflation looming in the horizon, it is a good time to recall solid investment wisdom from a distant past: a bird in the hand might be worth two devalued birds in the future. Once of the problems associated with inflation is that nobody is able to predict exactly when it is coming. Is it a matter of a few weeks? Are we talking about months? Years maybe?

In any case, shares of good companies listed in the stock market constitute attractive investments at this moment. You can actually have the best of both worlds if you invest in enterprises that offer, at the same time, a high current dividend and reasonable perspectives of profit growth in the future. Sooner or later, better financial results or inflation are bound to drive share prices upwards.

The following are some of my favourite shares during this economic recession. Today, April 19th 2009, I am currently looking at these four companies as possible additions to my personal investment portfolio:

1.- GENERAL ELECTRIC (NYSE:GE). Due to the spread of businesses amongst different sectors and countries, GE's overall corporate profits should not suffer badly in a high inflation scenario. In particular, stable international demand should keep GE's power generation and water processing divisions going forward at a good speed. GE's shares can be currently purchased at a price/earnings multiple of 7.5, which makes them reasonably attractive.

2.- MARATHON OIL (NYSE: MRO). This company is a major player in the gas and oil market. It possesses operations in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States of America. The shares are paying now a dividend around 3%, which is nice to have, and the price/earnings ratio remains at 6.5. A reasonable expectation is that, if inflation drives the oil price upwards, Marathon Oil shares should benefit as well.

3.- CHINA MOBILE (NYSE:CHL). The current yield of these shares is higher than 3%. This Chinese cell phone operator has more than 400 million subscribers to its various services. Even a modest increase in China Mobile's profits in the year 2009 should help maintain the share price at good levels. If the Chinese currency gains value during the next months, that might generate extra profits for international investors.

4.- NOVARTIS (NYSE:NVS). The shares of this Swiss pharmaceutical company are now yielding 4.5% Novartis business is stable, with a good risk spread amongst divisions: vaccines, diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals. Inflation should not have a too negative impact on this company, which possesses subsidiaries and distributors all around the world. Even in periods of economic recession, pharmaceutical companies rarely suffer from major fluctuations in demand.

No investment can offer absolute security and the stock market offers much less than that. Never follow any investment advice blindly and always make your own research before committing your hard-earned money to the stock market. Nevertheless, when the risk of inflation increases with the hour, paralysis might entail the biggest risk of all.

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

[Image by jasonb42882 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Saturday, 18 April 2009

The rise of a literary power: the creativity and persistence of Henry Miller

No writer was ever such a failure in life as Henry Miller before his mid-forties, nor has any successful contemporary author ever received such limited financial compensation for his books during his lifetime. Nevertheless, his rise as a literary power in the second half of the 20th century was as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

The first contact with Miller's novels leads most readers to an overwhelming silence, the nervous quietness that takes over the savannah after the last cry of an antelope that has just been put down by a hungry lion. Why is Miller's work so different from anything that had been published until that time? How come that it generates such deep feelings of admiration?

The answer does not lie in the story-lines of Miller's books, since, to the extent that they have a plot, it is usually a messy one. His novels remain far away from the classical three-act structure of beginning, middle, and end, since the purpose of Miller's work is not to establish a direction, but to explore every bifurcation of the road.

The ascent of Miller's work in popular appreciation reflects the awakening of contemporary culture to the concerns of the individual, namely, self-fulfilment and philosophical integrity. His texts don't describe each character's motivation, but paint all necessary details to allow readers to come up with their own fresh perspective.

Miller composed his books using a portable, mechanical typing machine. The manuscripts, which are now deposited at public libraries in the United States of America, show corrections made by hand here and there, but not that many.

Whether you are attracted to Miller's books or not, there are important lessons to be drawn from his work methods. Those teachings might be of interest, not only to writers, but to anyone pursuing demanding long-term ambitions. The following three principles present essential lessons from Miller's life:

1.- BECOME INDIFFERENT TO CRITICISM. Like an old-time travelling salesman, Miller never hesitated to propose his work to any potential buyer that he could find, in his case, book and magazine publishers. More often than not, rejection was quick to come, frequently accompanied by unfavourable comments. Day after day, decade after decade, Miller shrugged his shoulders at negative reactions and moved on in his search for publishers who would appreciate his work.

2.- MAINTAIN A CONSTANT LIFETIME PURPOSE DESPITE DIFFICULTIES. Have you ever had your possessions stolen or your house burnt down to the ground? Have you gone through bankruptcy? Have you had your assets sold at a public auction to pay your creditors? Tragic as these events may be, experience shows us that victims react differently:
  • A few suffer a nervous breakdown from which they never recover.
  • Many are psychologically paralysed for months.
  • Others immediately get back on their feet and start to rebuild their lost fortune.
In the case of Miller, problems did not take the shape of bankruptcy or material loss, but he did have his novels rejected many times before publication. In addition, distribution of his best-selling novel "Tropic of Cancer" was forbidden in some countries for years for reasons of public morality.

Without the ability to maintain a lifetime perspective, Henry Miller would have given up his literary ambitions one thousand times along the way.

3.- RELENTLESS DAILY WORK. How much your dreams mean to you is a question that no one can answer without examining every aspect of your motivation. In any case, if there is one thing that you can learn from Miller, is that it pays to choose a passion that allows you to exert your talents everyday, during good and bad times.

This principle was so ingrained in Miller's mind that, when he was not working on a new book, he would spend his time painting. His watercolour canvasses did not earn him millions, but he sold many of them, creating in this way a secondary source of income for himself.
  • How persistent are you in pursuing your crucial interests?
  • What do you do in order to improve your skills constantly?
Recent medical studies seem to indicate that passion and dedication contribute positively towards helping human beings reach old age in good health. I am not sure if this is true, but the fact is that Henry Miller lived to become 89 years old.

Whether medical advances will one day extend human lifespan to 120 years is a matter of speculation. In the meantime, chances are that you will live to become 80 years old. May each of your birthdays serve to commemorate the achievement of a higher step in your rise towards your ambitions.

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

[Image by pedrosimoes7 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]