Saturday, November 21, 2015

How to Not Get Rich

It's almost needless to say that business pitches like "Get Rich Now!" or "Grow Your Business Revenue by 10x!" or "Earn $90,000 Working From Home!" should be avoided. It's not that these businesses don't want you to succeed, rather it's that their priority is to get you to buy their system or program, at any cost.


Twenty years ago, I was browsing magazines at my local Borders bookstore. A forty-something-year-old man approached me and said, "I can tell, by the magazines you're looking at, that you're an interesting person." Flattery will get you everywhere. After a couple minutes of chit-chat he told me that he trusted me enough to give me a cassette tape with some business opportunities. It only cost me my phone number. I listened to his tape. It was a recording of a 15 minute group presentation about getting rich, living your dreams, having enough money, etc. As I listened, I kept wanting to know more. Specifically, how do I do it? How do I get rich? Then I realized what it was. When he inevitably called me, I asked, "How is this different than Amway?"

"We are Amway," he exclaimed.

Thanks, but no thanks. One of many problems with Amway is that they treat every person as if they can be turned into a hard-sell sales person. That's like assuming we can make every person a software engineer. To each their own. Engineers and sales people are wired differently.


This past week, I attended a free presentation with headlines similar to those I mentioned above. I knew exactly what to expect, and reality was inline with my expectations. These pitches follow the tried and true "amway-ish" techniques. "Would you like to earn an extra $2,000/month?" Of course you would. Who wouldn't?

Here are the simple tell-tale signs:
1. Pump the benefits.
2. Hide the features.
3. Offer a single solution: Buy my money making system.

You'll see the same routine over and over again. These companies will push their benefits hard, with details, without explaining a single, actionable feature other than buying their system. The tripwire is something like, "I charge $500/hour, but I'll give you a free hour to see if you can be accepted into my sales program." Adding scarcity is another key selling point.

Generally, the benefits of their system will be explained, in detail. "I used to do this, but now I do this." This is an excellent story telling technique I learned from Joyce Maynard. "I used to work hard for six months to earn $2,400. Now, I only need to work for six days to earn $24,000. And my program can show you how to do it." While the benefits are plentiful, the features are scarce. The "How is it done?" details are no where to be found during the initial pitch. And, when you hear it, it's almost always a let down.

My guard was down when I was in Borders, flipping through magazines. And cheap sales talk is designed to catch the attention of the unguarded. And, as I mentioned, you'll hear little to no details on the features of the system. In other words, "What do I need to do to achieve success?" or "How does it work?" is missing. That requires signing up for the program.

So, why do people continue to fall for it? PT Barnum is credited with answering that question.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Imagining the Invisible

In the 1990s, I read Information Anxiety. It's written by Richard Saul Wurman, the creator of the TED talks and the Access travel guides. Wurman wrote about how to manage information. The anxiety he speaks of stems from the explosion of information; the fact that an issue of the New York Times contains more information than the average person in seventeenth-century England would have encountered in a lifetime.

Wurman suggested ways of coping with the overload of information by visualizing the invisible, such as size or distance and compare them to tangible things. For example, an inch is the diameter of an American quarter coin, six inches is the length of a U.S. dollar bill, an acre is roughly the size of a football field, without the end zones.

Road Trip

A common analogy I frequently make and forget (which is my purpose of this blog post) is explaining how far San Diego is from San Francisco. In raw distance terms, it's about 500 miles. That's the same as driving from Washington, D.C. to Kittery, Maine, which is at the southwest tip of that state. That's a long distance, but it pales in comparison to the 830 mile trek from the southeast tip of Texas (Brownsville), due north, to that state's most northeastern point in Follett.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Telling a Great Story

My Silas Wood 6th grade teacher, Ms. Cooke, speaking about South Huntington Schools Hall of Fame inductee and Bank of America executive, Kieth Cockrell. 

What's the secret to telling a great story? It depends on a lot of things. Mostly, though, it's important to know your audience. The topic of your story doesn't even have to be interesting, rather, how you tell a story is key. A little levity and drama is helpful, when appropriate. Great storytellers have a way to pull in their audience without shutting them out; and the latter part is key – think about great mysteries with surprise endings.

A few years ago, I began writing fiction. I simply sat down at my computer and wrote a few short stories. And I made some classic mistakes, such as beginning a story with weather and writing the cliche story about a divorced woman and a sick dog.

I had no idea if my storytelling was good, so I went to a professional, Joyce Maynard. Joyce's biography always begins with the fact that she wrote her first book while living with the author of The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger. What adds to the allure of this tale is that, at the time, Joyce was 19 years old and Salinger was 53. But it was truly the high quality of her writing that got the attention of Salinger when, at 18, her article, "An 18-Year-Old Looks Back On Life" was the cover story of The New York Times Magazine in 1972. A key thing I learned from Joyce is that the story behind the story can be more interesting than the story, itself, since it's more exciting to show people what's going on behind the curtain.

The Cooke's In

Even more important is the storytelling technique of summarization that I learned from my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Cooke.

Last weekend, I had a chance to spend a couple days with Ms. Cooke – something I hadn't done for five years – and it was highly enthralling.

I, along with several other 6th grade classmates, still connect with Ms. Cooke because she had (and still has) a strong presence in our lives. She cared about us as students and she was a great storyteller. She's a smart, independent person who neither tolerates fools nor stupidity. As a teacher, she wanted to teach her students not only book smarts, but also key lessons in life. The quintessential "teach a person to fish" by showing us critical thinking skills.

After more than 30 years in the classroom she retired and opened The Cooke's In restaurant for more than a dozen years. Shortly after retiring from her restaurant, in 2009, I spent a couple days at her house scanning school photos covering three decades, followed by a mini 6th grade reunion where we got to hear more of her stories.

Ms. Cooke preparing her spectacular jerk chicken.
Fast forward to two weeks ago, the night before my 30th high school reunion, when about half a dozen of us from my 6th grade class descended on a classmate's house in Amagansett, NY, in the Hamptons, for a couple days of reminiscing. Of course, Ms. Cooke joined us and prepared her spectacular jerk chicken.

While listening to her speak, I learned another key storytelling secret: keep your story short and to the point. As we hung out in the kitchen and spoke about how good her food was Ms. Cooke said, "You know that the secret is to running a restaurant? Expediting."

Do you see what she did there? She summarized her entire story – a story she had yet to tell – in a single word that drew us all in.

"What do you mean?" we asked.

She told us that running a restaurant is about coming up with a recipe and being able to make it the exact same way, every time, and to do that quickly. She told us the obvious, but it carries more weight when spoken by the voice of experience. She told us just enough to pull in our attention and then she answered our question without waste of time or words. We speak about "active writing," but active talking is equally important since it's a key essence of storytelling, regardless if it's fact, fiction or marketing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Guy Kawasaki: Lessons of Steve Jobs

Lessons of Steve Jobs keynote

Posted by Guy Kawasaki on Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Apple Way of Design and Marketing

1 Infinite Loop: The Mothership
I figured, "Why not toot my own horn?" and brag about my Apple speaking engagements. I'm surprised how well it's been received, probably because it touches on a some key design, marketing, and branding topics.

I've given The Apple Way of Design and Marketing presentation a number of times, mainly to Chinese delegations of business people touring America's tech companies. Having worked at Apple, I forget the allure of how the company looks from beyond Infinite Loop and what makes Apple unique. Like a beautiful photo, things look amazing from the outside, where you wish you could touch the magic, on the inside.

My presentation touches on a variety of topics such as: why the Apple logo used to be upside down, to Apple's sophisticated unifying branding techniques, to simplifying UX and technology processes, along with Apple's brilliant decisions and mistakes.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Twitter Unique

Twitter is the haiku of the new millennium.

But, there is serious discussion to remove the 140 character limit in tweets.

Removing a tweet's 140 character limit is the equivalent of showing up at a haiku conference and telling everyone to stop using 5-7-5 and, instead, to use 7-5-7 since that would generate more content.

If Twitter removes the limit, what will differentiate it from other platforms, such as Tumblr, Medium, Blogger, etc? Twitter has recently removed this limit in their direct messages and I've already felt the negative effect of this decision.

In Corporate America, we detest e-mail because of its unlimited length. But Twitter's loved because it's short and to the point. The beauty of 140 characters is I always finish reading what I've started. ​It keeps everything short and to the point with the option to link to detailed content.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the benefits of the 140 character limit in direct messages (DMs). Recently, I had a customer service issue I addressed through DMing. My DM was not read, in detail since it was more than 140 characters. The CSR asked me for information I had previously included in my original DM. At 500 characters, my DM, written like a short e-mail, was too long. It's a fast and noisy world out there – clear and concise communications is appreciated more than we realize. 


Twitter is unique. It's both a micro-blogging platform and a two-way communications medium. One key feature that makes Twitter unique is the mention. What other blogging platform enables this type of communication? Remove the 140 character limit and you have what we already have with Medium, or most any other blog.

We the People of the Internet used to enjoy Posterous.  It was a longer form than Twitter, but simpler than Tumblr. You could even blog on Posterous without setting up an account. Then Twitter acquired Posterous and shut it down (so as to not compete with Twitter). Twitter gave me my Posterous content, but it looked nothing like it did when Posterous was alive and kicking.

My favorite part of Twitter is the absence of an over-lawyered, one-sided, postscript disclaimer: This E-mail and any attachments are private, intended solely for the use of the addressee. If you are not the intended recipient... When has that disclaimer been of any use in an e-mail? Increasing the Twitter character limit beyond 140 characters will definitely add more noise. And I also fear that it would lose its simple two-way dialog via mentions.

Active Writing

For me, the personal beauty of Twitter is it has improved my writing, in a Hemingway sense. I enjoy writing fact, fiction, non-fiction, and narrative. A key to writing well is using the active voice which is direct and to the point, much like Twitter. Many times, I've drafted a "long-winded" tweet, that wouldn't fit into 140 characters, and had to pare it down to a more active voice:

never heard before vs. never heard
tell anyone else vs. tell anyone
a friend of mine vs. a friend
taking care of vs. fixing

But, in the end, Twitter, the corporation, needs to grow, so it must generate more content.

How much better would Twitter be if it expands beyond 140 characters? Fundamental changes like this are bold risks. Perhaps it will payoff. Then again, what is haiku without 5-7-5?

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
–Da Vinci.

PS – Tweetstorms, on the other hand, are a great way to link tweets together to say more.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

1 Infinite Loop Apple Store

Last weekend, the new Apple Store at 1 Infinite Loop reopened, after being closed for remodeling for a few months, and I had a chance to visit it during its opening week.

If memory serves, at the end of the last century, this store was called the Apple Store. After 2001, it was renamed The Company Store since it was unique in the truest sense of the word. Now, it's been rechristened, once again, as the Apple Store, manned by Apple retail employees who comprise 50% of Apple's 110,000+ workforce.

What makes the store at 1 Infinite Loop (called IL1 by Apple employees) unique is it's the only store that sells Apple logoware such as t-shirts, coffee cups, water bottles, pens, etc. I suspect that it's the only Apple Store without a Genius Bar, too.

See the video of the inside of the new Apple Store at IL1, below or, even better, checkout the raw super-high resolution HD video.

1 Infinite Loop Apple Store.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Biennial Flight Review

BFR ground review with pilot Debbie.
As a private pilot, I require a formal review (previously known as a BFR), every other year, by a certified flight instructor (CFI). The purpose of the flight review is to ensure a pilot is safe and competent to fly. The key tell is that the pilot stays ahead of the aircraft meaning they're prepared for what comes next. For example, when approaching an airport to land, the pilot should have already set up the ground frequencies so, after they taxi off the runway all they need to do is push a button, instead of looking up the ground control frequency, dialing it in, and switching over to it. Since private pilots, like myself, are not required to fly a minimum number of hours it means a private pilot could go almost two years without flying and still legally fly an airplane. After becoming a pilot, I was surprised how much flying I had to "force" myself to do so I felt comfortable at the controls. Commercial pilots, on the other hand, have more frequent checks mandated by the airline, so they're skills are fresh and spot-on.

Yesterday, I had a college classmate, who's also a CFI and commercial airline pilot, take a flight with me for my BFR. We spent time on the ground, going over the fundamentals of aviation and planning, before taking to the skies. She also shared with me the detailed, structured, environment of her daily life as a commercial pilot for United Airlines. Suffice to say, the processes and procedures of the airlines are thorough and detailed.

Passing by Scripps Pier on our way to Carlsbad.
When I first bought my plane, I was surprised how many fighter pilots and commercial pilots wanted to go flying with me. Cruising speed in my Cessna-182 is slower than a jet can typically fly without falling out of the sky. It turns out that these jet jockeys love the freedom (and low flying altitude) of a small, single engine plane. A commercial airline pilot has to file an instrument flight plan and stay exactly on course, or as an air traffic controller directs. While I do the same thing on my cross country flights, I usually find myself flying much shorter distances, in clear Southern California weather, using a less formal procedure known as visual flight rules (VFR). The difference between flying under instrument flight rules (IFR) and visual flight rules is the difference between standing in line at the DMV and walking, willy-nilly, through the mall. Just like in the mall, VFR literally uses the same procedure to prevent collisions: "See and avoid."

I'm happy to report I passed my BFR without any problems and even received a complement, "I like how methodical you fly and do your checklists!"

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"Apple Crosses The Line With New iPhone Feature"

Apple Crosses The Line With New iPhone Feature

That's the headline of a piece a friend just sent to me asking if there was genuine cause for concern. When I began reading it, I thought it was a Facebook alarmist post or article from a yellow journalism website:

If you’re setting yourself up to get the new iPhone or get the new iPhone for your kids then you need to make sure you’re aware of the new features. This is something that needs to be shared with friends to let Apple know sneaky behavior will NOT be tolerated. According to Gawker, the new iPhone will be recording video and sound AT ALL TIMES when your camera app is open by default whether you’re taking picture or not. If you’re planning on getting the iPhone 6s BE SURE TO TURN THIS FEATURE OFF.

Obviously, I'm not Tim, today.
No, this quote, complete with bolded capitalization, is not from Fox News or some tin-foil hat blog. Rather, it's from CBS.

So, are these claims true? Well, on a very technical level, yes they are, but there's no cause for concern. Apple calls these features Hey Siri and Live Photos.

This might sound like splitting hairs, but there's a bit of a difference between "listening" and "recording." The key difference between listening and recording is the same as caching and saving. Saving something means it persists until a user deletes it. Caching something means it's temporarily saved, for perhaps a second or two, until it's determined if it's needed. If the content is not needed, it's discarded much like a buffer; or, more likely, erased as new content is recorded over it.

Hey Siri, which is available on currently shipping iPhone models, only works when the phone is charging to save power. With the new iPhone 6s, the Hey Siri feature can be enabled at all times and, much like other listening devices, such as Amazon's Echo, it's constantly listening to sounds to determine if a key phrase is spoken. Let's say that's no more than two seconds of sound. After two seconds, any new sounds are recorded over the previous sounds. The same is true for Live Photos where Apple records video in a cache which is saved when you press the shutter button. With Live Photos, about one second of video is recorded just before and after you press the shutter. If you don't snap a photo, the video is discarded.

This isn't much different than any digital camera, whether it's on a smart phone or point-and-shoot model. Without pressing the shutter button, images are still cached on the LCD display on the back of the point-and-shoot camera for a fraction of a second. You could point a point-and-shoot camera at something I can't see and even if you never press the shutter, I could still record a video of the LCD display on the back of the point-and-shoot camera and capture everything. The key difference with Hey Siri and Live Photos is that no one has access to the cached content while the one or two second loop is recording.

Yellow-journalism is creeping more and more into mainstream media. Anything to get eye balls. Phft. Or, perhaps the joke's on me.

Update: Just to beat a dead horse, Apple chimed in to confirm that none of the Hey Siri or Live Photo content is leaving the iPhone 6S.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Corporate Taxes, Private Taxes

I asked a question on Twitter which lead to a fruitful discussion:
What's the difference between corporations doing business overseas to reduce taxes and New Yorkers who drive to NJ to avoid paying taxes on clothing?

The conclusion we reached was that it's about the corporations not doing business where they say they're doing business. It's the equivalent to an American citizen claiming income tax-free Las Vegas as their state of residency while living (domiciled full time) in California.

Of course, it's hard to blame a company or person for paying as little taxes as legally possible, but...