Archive for the ‘entrepreneurs’ Category

Time For A 21st Century Bull Moose?

Debt ceilingThere’s a scene in the HBO John Adams miniseries where the Tea Partiers tar & feather a British cargo ship agent in protest over taxes being imposed by the King. It’s a brutal and deeply disturbing scene which makes vividly clear how painful, demeaning and barbaric tar & feathering really was. As the naked, suffering man is carried away after being tied to a pole, John Adams is shown to be dismayed and concerned about the mob’s actions.

I’m reminded of that scene today as I watch the chaos in Washington as we read about the rift in the Republican party between the majority of Republicans and the Tea Partiers. Even the business leaders who originally supported the Tea Partiers are starting to realize that the group is getting out of control.

As the news media have been analyzing what’s brought us to this latest tipping point in the nation’s history, we’ve heard about how Americans have been self-selecting and are choosing to live in areas where they and their neighbors tend to agree politically. We’ve also been educated about the gerrymandering which has created partisan voting districts, both extremely liberal and extremely conservative.  And, since most Americans don’t vote in the mid-term elections or in the primaries, those hardcore ideologues that do get to control the show.

In New York State, where I live,  I’m not allowed to participate in a primary because I refuse to declare a political party affiliation. I’m an independent (not a member of the Independence Party) who prefers to vote for the person and the ideas rather than along party lines. I understand that this rule was adopted as part of some political gamesmanship in order to give one party an advantage over the other. But, it seems to me that we’d be much better off if all registered voters were allowed to participate in the primaries so that the extremists could be tempered by more moderate voices.

If I correctly recall my American history, there’s a certain similarity between our current political situation and that which existed 100 years ago back in the pre-World War I early 20th century.  There was inequality in the distribution of wealth and the existing political parties represented ideas which were inconsistent with those of most Americans. So former president, Teddy Roosevelt ran as a third party candidate for the Bull Moose Party. His platform was geared toward diminishing the influence of the wealthy and powerful in order to provide more overall balance to the system during an era which, as the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has pointed out, seems quite reminiscent of our own.

Perhaps, we need a 21st century version of the Bull Moose Party to challenge the Democrats and the Republicans and to represent the majority of Americans whose values are fiscally conservative (sensible)  and  social liberal (open-minded).

We’ve had third party presidential candidates in the recent past but Ross Perot  was a libertarian who hurt the Republican candidate (George H. W. Bush) and Ralph Nader was an extremist liberal who hurt the Democrat’s candidate (Al Gore).  Instead, we would need to have a candidate with the charm, charisma, and political savvy of Bill Clinton combined with the integrity of Warren Buffett.

Prior to his most recent nanny-state rules, I would have leaned towards Michael Bloomberg. Now, I’m not sure who’d fit the bill.

Any suggestions?

February 1964

It was Sunday, February 9th, 1964. Just eleven weeks earlier, America had been shocked and stunned by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. JFK had been a beacon of hope and inspiration for Americans, especially BabyBoomers. But Lee Harvey Oswald’s gun had silenced those hopes and created a void which needed to be filled. That void was filled by The Beatles.

Music industry veteran, Steve Meyer has vivid memories of that moment and he’s graciously allowing me to share them with you:

“We were four guys…I met Paul, I said do you wanna’ join the band, ya’ know? Then George joined, then Ringo joined…we were just a band that made it very, very big, that’s all.” — John Lennon

Yes…very big indeed, once the “Lads from Liverpool” hit our shores and nothing was ever the same.
Beatles on Sullivan 1964
Their first appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ was watched by an estimated 74 million people that Sunday night in February 1964 making it one of the biggest events in broadcast history, and the crime rate in U.S. cities dropped dramatically during the show’s broadcast. It was indeed, as Ed Sullivan used to say, ” A really big show!”

The assault on American radio and charts was equally overwhelming. In the past few decades you’ve all read about the chart accomplishments of such mega-artists as Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Madonna, and others, but they all pale in comparison to this statistic:

For the week ending April 4, 1964 The Beatles had 11 singles on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 chart, including the first top five slots:

* #1* – Can’t Buy Me Love
* #2* – Twist and Shout
* #3* – She Loves You
* #4* – I Want To Hold Your Hand
* #5* – Please, Please Me
* #31* – I Saw Her Standing There
* #41* – From Me To You
* #46* – Do You Want To Know A Secret
* #58* – All My Loving
* #65* – You Can’t Do That
* #79* – Thank You Girl

Of course if you’re old enough to remember listening to your favorite Top-40 station back then, you remember hearing all these songs and more as the “British Invasion” started. It’s almost impossible to imagine any artist or band being able to monopolize the charts and radio in such fashion today, and I don’t think we will ever see it happen like that again. It was a different time.

Just how much The Beatles changed everything in pop culture has been the subject of many articles, books, TV specials, and now they teach courses on them in many colleges. Prior to The Beatles, Top-40 radio didn’t play album cuts from best-selling artists … not even Elvis at his height.

But when The Beatles released ‘Rubber Soul’ and made the decision there would be no single released from the album for radio or retail (much to Capitol’s dismay originally), radio programmers simply put “Michelle” on their stations along with “I’m Looking Through You,” and about four other tracks from the album. The Beatles ruled at retail and requests, so radio had to respond.

But the fact is, NOBODY had ever achieved that kind of airplay (album tracks) at Top-40 radio previously. The Beatles were the first. Of course ‘Rubber Soul’ wasn’t the only album they released without a single for radio/retail. ‘Sgt. Pepper’ (the first rock “concept” album) didn’t have a single and neither did their double-album, ‘The White Album.’ But it made no difference, they were all over Top-40 radio. Of course the release of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ (and subsequent concept albums by the Stones, Who, etc.) gave birth to the notion that the radio audience might want to hear more than just singles and great radio men in Boston, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, and elsewhere, put FM stations on the air that played albums and “progressive radio” (the forerunner of all album radio that followed) was born.

Before The Beatles, there was no such thing as “stadium rock.” Nobody had ever played arenas or stadiums before 1964. But The Beatles sold out Shea Stadium, Candlestick Park, and other stadiums around the country in mere hours after tickets went on sale, shocking those in the press and media who predicted the shows by the group (“a fad” as they were called back then) wouldn’t sell tickets in those quantities. I was lucky enough to see them at Carnegie Hall, Forest Hills, and at both Shea concerts. The word mania doesn’t begin to describe what occurred the minute The Beatles took the stage.

Long before MTV hit the air (thirteen years to be exact), The Beatles made a TV film called ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’ Though the critics in the UK panned it for the most part, in hindsight one can watch it and realize it was merely a long-form video with five separate concept videos to support their new songs. They were years ahead of the curve in realizing how music and video could be merged for greater audience.

Another amazing fact: ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was recorded in four-track. Yup, that’s right. Four track. Listen to it today and you realize what an engineering masterpiece it is, and how many tracks had to mixed down and on top of each other to make the final recording. Many albums made today use dozens more tracks and updated technology … but sonically, Pepper remains a masterpiece.

I could go on and on … I’ve been a Beatles fan for these past 49 years. I never imagined that night I watched them on the Ed Sullivan show that within five years I’d be lucky enough to get a job working for Capitol Records selling Beatles records, and then promoting them to the very radio stations I grew up listening to. When I worked for Capitol Records in 1970 and 1971 in New York City I was fortunate enough to meet John Lennon briefly. The first time I talked to him I got “mealy mouth,” was nervous, and he asked me what was wrong. I mumbled and then said,” I … I watched you on Ed Sullivan …” And he said, “Ah…well, that was The Beatles thing and all that … I’m just John now … so tell me what kind of music do you like?” We talked until the wee hours of the morning and I walked back to my apartment on a cold December morning with my mind racing.

The Beatles created the soundtrack for our lives back in the ’60’s and each song they sang made us feel like the wait wasn’t going to be too long, and that sooner rather than later, we’d all be on our way to better lives. Maybe that’s been only partly true, but it’s what we all wanted to believe because their music made us feel such things. So we sang their songs loud, proud to claim them as “our own.” But we should’ve known they belonged to the whole world and that the world we lived in was moving away from innocence.

John was right…they were a “band that made it very, very big.”

They were all that … and a whole lot more. A helluva lot more.
The closest I ever came to meeting a Beatle was when I was about five feet away from Paul McCartney as he left the premier of his movie, “Give My Regards To Broad Street”. We had eye contact for a few seconds. He didn’t look happy.

I also had the chance to hang out one night with John Lennon’s son, Julian. Unfortunately, I blew it. The realization that I was actually spending time with a Beatles’ son left me tongue-tied. While I should have been having a pleasant conversation focused on him, his opinions and aspirations, I was too busy second-guessing myself so that I wouldn’t come across like a dim-witted fan. Too bad. Turned out that Julian’s a pretty nice, down-to-earth guy.

Stephen Meyer is a music industry veteran who has served in executive positions for several music labels including as National Promotion Director for Capitol Records from 1976-1983. You can subscribe to his weekly music industry newsletter at

Staying Relevant

Paul Greenberg, author of the customer relationship management book, CRM At The Speed of Light, cites a recent blog post about an observation from the IBM Institute of Business Value’s 2012 CEO Study which states, “ The view that technology is a driver of efficiency is outdated; CEO’s now see technology as an enabler of collaboration and relationships-those essential connections that fuel innovation and creativity.” Greenberg notes, “This leads CEO’s to see that the three most important areas for creating sustained economic value are (in order) human capital, customer relationships and products/ services innovation. We are seeing the beginnings of more distributed organizations to handle these transformations.”

So, what does this mean for us Alpha Boomers? We keep hearing that the business community has been reconsidering its attitude towards that part of the work force which is seasoned in our favor although the evidence remains slim. We certainly bring a lot of expertise to the table when it comes to establishing and maintaining positive relationships with customers. And, although Alpha Boomers may not be in the top quintile of Early Adopters when it comes to technology, we are certainly more open to embracing innovative new technologies that have been previous generations.

But, as a story in the New York Times noted this past weekend, the latest economic recession hurt we Boomers more than it did Millennials or members of Gen Y. A woman quoted in the article observed that employers are afraid to hire Baby Boomers because they’re concerned that they might have a negative impact on the company’s health insurance premiums and that it might not be worth investing in training Boomers due to the possibility that they’d leave the company in five years. Personally, I find the concern about leaving the company to be a bit disingenuous since a three years is considered long-term commitment nowadays.

However, in a recent editorial, the journalist Thomas Friedman observed that “everyone who wants a job now must demonstrate how they can add value” better than the above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor and cheap genius that’s available to companies these days. It’s going to require individual initiative on each of our parts to develop 21st century skills which compliment new technology and, as Friedman notes, will require us to combine our PQ (passion quotient) and CQ (curiosity quotient) with our IQ (intelligence quotient) to find or invent jobs along with a commitment to consistent learning and re-learning.

So, it seems to me that a challenge to Alpha Boomers will be to make a psychological commitment to stay fit in body, mind and spirit and to do the math so that we’re able to create a cost/ benefit analysis for potential employers which honestly compares the cost of hiring us over a three year period to the cost of hiring a younger worker.

Your thoughts?

Collaboration: Boomers & GenY

I’m curious to learn your insights about a question which concerns me and many of my fellow “Alpha Boomers” (those of us born between 1946-1956). Although society and government have yet to catch up, many of us would rather pay in to social security than to collect it and have no interest in retiring at age 65. In fact, a recent report on CBS Sunday Morning indicated that, while there are currently 75,000 people in the US aged 100 or older, in 40 years there will be more than 6 million. Those will be today’s Alpha Boomers and it means that those people aren’t “senior citizens” but are “middle-aged”.

My point is that many of us Alpha Boomers are able and willing to continue working in economically productive and financially rewarding careers. However, there is an obvious preference by organizations to choose young & inexperienced over older & experienced applicants. Automation and globalization are certainly factors in the downsizing and restructuring which has been prevalent during the past 20 years. It’s my understanding that HR departments have not escaped this trend. So fewer people are left to cope with more applications. That’s led to a mindset whereby it seems that the primary function of HR systems is not as much to find the right applicant than to find a reason to say NO.

It seems to me that the US needs to focus on a way to create opportunities so that Baby Boomers who are able,willing, and (for economic reasons) need to work can collaborate with GenY’ers who need work in order to build financial security and pursue productive careers. Youth benefits from the wisdom and experience of seasoned professionals, older workforce is inspired and revitalized by the ideas and perspective of youth and the result it the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Is anybody in the HR industry and business in general considering this perspective? Is my attitude totally Pollyanna and unrealistic?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts

The Price of Politics

Listening to the conversation during the past year about the recent US Presidential elections, I had the distinct impression that many of my fellow citizens equate the belief that the person who holds the office of American president is “the most powerful (person) in the world” with a notion that s/he is omnipotent. It seems like magical thinking. That, somehow, an American president can just declare something   ( wave a magic wand, so to speak) and it will become so. Of course, the world is more complicated than that.

Last April, I attended Bob Woodward’s lecture at Union College and was surprised that Woodward seemed to have a negative attitude toward President Obama. I was recently reminded of that experience while listening to Jon Meacham discuss his new book about Thomas Jefferson and the similarities to our current political situations. According to Meachan, Jefferson explained to his constituents (I’m paraphrasing here) that they should expect to be disappointed in some of his decisions because he had more information about situations than they did. The idealists who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 have been actively critical of some of the President’s actions and decisions during the past four years. In this book, Woodward seems to delight in pointing out contradictions between what Mr. Obama said and what he did. Again, I’m paraphrasing: “The president said: ‘I don’t want to lecture you” and then proceeded to lecture them.”  The guy was a college professor. Is it a surprise that lecturing is his default mode of communication?

This book concerns the negotiations during 2011between the Obama administration and Congressional Republicans regarding the national budget. Woodward’s usual style is to interview as many participants and observers of conversations, both on and off the record, as possible in order to reconstruct those situations. The amount of distrust that Republican political leaders display during these interviews towards President Obama’s attempts to arrive at a bipartisan agreement is disconcerting.  I understand that during negotiations each party positions itself towards the extremes so that they can eventually create a compromise for which each side can save face and claim victory. We don’t get any sense from this book that such was the case during these negotiations. Even when Obama is making clear the administration’s willingness to sacrifice for the sake of negotiation, there’s a sense that the Republican leaders believe there must be some evil intent.

An impression I take away from Woodward’s book is that Obama senior advisors Valerie Jarrett and Rahm Emmanuel contributed to this perceptions, perhaps without the president’s knowledge.  Especially following the 2008 election, Woodward reports that both Jarrett and Emmanuel responded with arrogant “Tough luck. We won” attitudes to Republicans while President Obama was working to convey his willingness to create bipartisanship.  GOP leaders presumed that Jarrett and Emmanuel were speaking for the president but, given the problems that Obama was having with the left-wing idealists of this Liberal constituency during the first two years of his presidency, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

There’s one fact I recall from this book which I find to be quite ironic. The Republican leadership’s emphasis was on cutting costs.  Of course, their emphasis was on “entitlements” and they reacted very negatively toward any considerations about to cut the Pentagon’s budget. However, when the Department of Defense was asked how many people they employed, their response was “somewhere between one and nine million”.  When pressed, they couldn’t be more specific.  Republicans are the political party of business. I find it difficult to believe that any company CEO or president would react well if, when asked about the number of people their company employed, HR provided such a stunningly vague response.  If the number of people employed by the Pentagon is “somewhere between 1 and 9 million”, it seems like there much be some fat which could be cut from its budget.

As  I write this in late November 2012, President Obama has won re-election, Republicans are still resistant to returning to Clinton-era rates for those earning more than $250,000, and the “fiscal cliff” looms ahead of us. Let’s hope our leaders have all learned some valuable lessons from the experiences described in Woodward’s book.


Evaluating vs. Judging

Evaluation is a process. 







Judging is a decision which implies approval or disapproval.


As an analytical personality type, it’s been my experience that I’m frequently thought to be “judging” when, in fact, I’m “evaluating”.

When I attempt to explain that I’m simply in the process of information gathering to personality types who are from more of a “shoot-from-the-hip” orientation, they often become dismissive and agitated. They seem convinced that I’m judging them or a decision they’ve made in a negative way.

It can be quite frustrating.

What’s been your experience?



Economic Genius

Sylvia Nasar, the author of “A Beautiful  Mind”, provides insights into the thoughts and actions of historical figures who have shaped our economic history: Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayak, Paul Samuelson, and Milton Freedman are just some of the characters in this story.

Nassar’s book is stuffed with economic theory and detail which doesn’t make it the easiest read. If you’re like me, you’ll find your mind doing the equivalent of your eyes glazing over and you’ll be wondering what the information was that you’d just read.

Nevertheless, Nasar provides some interesting insights. For instance:

-Prior to 1870, Economics was mostly about what one couldn’t do. After      1870, it’s focus became what one could accomplish.

-Less than 150 years ago, most people in the world lived in a state of persistent starvation.

-In 1867, only 7% of English households had an annual income of at least 100 pounds (About $10,000 in 2012 dollars)

-There are disturbing similarities to the days pre-World War I and today.

-John Maynard Keynes as described as having a “gift for synthesis and a diagnostic mind”.

-Between 1921 and 1929, the US economy grew by 21%.

-RCA and AT&T were the Microsoft and Google of the 1920s.

-During the 1920s, most roads between New York and Boston were unpaved, rutted, and potholed.

-During the 1920s, the average lifespan in the US was 58. By 2000, it had increased to 82.

-The average person in China lives today as well if not better than the average Englishman did in 1950.

-The fraction of the world’s population which lives in abject poverty has dwindled by 5/6ths during the  last 200 years.

-Gains in productivity are the primary drivers of wages and living standards.

-Education and a safety net can reduce poverty without producing economic stagnation.

-The world’s population is 6 times greater than it was in the mid-1800s but is 10 times more affluent.

-The average lifespan of someone living today has increased 2 ½ times that of someone who lived in 1820 and our lifespans continue to increase.

-The recession of 2008-2009 HAS NOT reduced gains in productivity and income.

Here’s how her story is described on the book jacket:  “In Nasar’s dramatic narrative of these discoveries we witness men and women responding to personal crises, world wars, revolutions, economic upheavals, and each other’s ideas to turn back Malthus and transform the dismal science into a triumph over mankind’s hitherto age-old destiny of misery and early death.”

Sound like your kind of book?

Steve Jobs- My Reaction To Walter Isaacson’s Bio

I realize that Steve Jobs is revered by his disciples but he must have been a horrible boss.

I know that, despite how he treated them, most of his former employees say positive things about Steve. But that reminds me of a guy I once worked with who embraced a Marine bootcamp approach when training new employees. He first took every opportunity to publicly humiliate them. Then, once their self-esteem was at or below ground level, he would feed them the occasional compliments so that they came to rely on him for their sense of self worth. I’m not accusing Jobs of being that consciously manipulative but the results of his behavior seem similar.

Giving Steve is due, the guy was an astute visionary and an amazing salesman. He understood how to be a messiah to his geek constituency and he did set the bar high for the rest of us.

All of that said, I don’t want to give the impression that I have a negative attitude about the guy. As his wife observed, he was a flawed and complicated man; at times cruel and hard-hearted, at times teary and vulnerable.

Some of the quotes and insights which I jotted down while listening to the audiobook:

*Stand at the intersection of humanities and science.
*The various religions are different doors to the same house.
*Form follows emotion
*The journey is the reward.
*Today isn’t liberal vs. conservative. It’s constructive vs. destructive
*One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.
*Prune to keep the tree strong.
*If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying. (Bob Dylan)

Full disclosure: I’m a PC, not an Apple (Although, I do now use an iPhone). So, I until I read this book, I didn’t know much about Steve Jobs except for his legend. Like most, I was saddened when he died and I got emotional when I watched the YouTube clip of his 2005 Stanford commencement address.

But this was not a warm & fuzzy guy.

Steve Jobs was a guy who behaved like he believed he was a chosen one. And, because he had a genius for design, an ability to intimidate (he used that intense stare you see on the book cover to great effect), and a gift to persuade, we enabled him.

That’s a cause for mixed emotions about the man but Steve Jobs’ positive impact on society is undeniable.

RIP, The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb

I was saddened to learn of the untimely death of yet another member of the music community, The Bee Gee’s Robin Gibb. Robin and Barry had been the two survivors of the four Gibb brothers. The youngest brother, Andy, died tragically at the age of 30. Robin’s twin, Maurice, passed away in 2003. Now, of those four talented brothers, only Barry remains.

My only personal encounter with the Bee Gees was in an elevator at 30 Rock. I was then working at WNBC Radio. The Bee Gees were the musical guests that week on Saturday Night Live in the wake of their huge success with the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. One afternoon, I was heading back down to the radio station on the second floor from the seventh floor commissary and, when I stepped into the elevator, found myself alone with the three Gibb brothers.

Fortunately, I was feeling more glib than shy at that particular moment so, as they looked at me and I at them, I smiled and asked: “Are you boys all behaving yourselves?”. They seemed to enjoy the engagement and we all laughed and bantered a bit during the brief five floor elevator ride. I immediately liked them all. Despite the fact that they were, at that point in their careers, huge and wealthy stars (and not yet the objects of derision by the tragically hip), they were unselfconscious and very likable.

For some reason, I felt the strongest connection with Robin. It might have been his eye contact or something that he said. Whatever it was, although I was favorably impressed with both Barry and Maurice, my reaction following that five floor 30 Rock elevator ride was that I liked Robin Gibb best.

Although I still enjoy hearing “Stayin’ Alive”, my favorite Bee Gees hits tend to be the early ballads. I’d never given much thought to who sang lead on their songs so it was a little surprising to learn that Robin Gibb had sung lead on some of my favs, “Gotta Get A Message To You”, “Massachusetts”, and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”.

I was impressed with this report aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition” following the announcement of Robin’s death:

R.I.P, Robin Gibb. Thank you for your music and the memories.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

My wife, who is much smarter than I am, began reading this book based on a friend’s recommendation. But she decided that it wasn’t her kind of book. So, after reading the book jacket blurb, I decided to get the audio book from our library.

It might have just been the narrator’s read but I found myself feeling offended by the author’s arrogance. The tone of his observations seemed to me very condescending to anyone who wasn’t on his intellectual plane.

Don’t get me wrong. Kahneman shares some fascinating insights about how we think and about the “heuristics” or shortcuts we use when making decisions. It’s just that I found myself feeling annoyed while listening.

Then, I read Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair interview with Daniel Kahneman. It turns out that Kahneman, who is a Nobel Prize winning psychologist, is kind of a shy and humble guy.

So, here’s my recommendation. Before reading this book, Google Michael Lewis’ November, 2011 Vanity Fair article, “The King Of Human Error” and read that. Also, take the quiz which accompanies the article.

I suspect that then you’ll enjoy a much better experience with this book than, initially, I did.