Three questions from Kerry Packer

26 05 2013

I attended an interesting conference the other day. While most of the conference alternated between content and hard-sell (which was quite tedious – and may be the subject of another posting later), there were a couple of speakers who were not there to sell anything. Of these, the best speaker by far was Mark Bouris.

Mark Bouris is the Donald Trump of Australian television’s “Celebrity Apprentice”. I don’t watch this program, but a surprisingly large number of my female friends do – apparently just to watch Mark. Fair to say he was easy on the eye – also personable, interesting and relevant. I had little knowledge of him and therefore no preconceptions or expectations, but of all the speakers, he was by far the best and most interesting.

And easy on the eye. But I digress!

Mark told one story which really stuck with me. I can’t of course recant it word for word, but have aimed for the emotional truth instead.

Mark’s first great business success was Wizard Home Loans. If you are in Australia, you will probably have heard of this company. One day his friend James Packer, son of Kerry Packer (Australia’s richest man at the time) approached him to buy 50%. Mark gave an entertaining exposition on what it was like making a deal with the Packer Empire, but eventually a deal was struck and he was summoned to the office of the great man, Kerry.

The office he described as massive, in dark manly colours and lined with expensive paintings of deer being disembowelled by hunting dogs and other aggressive hunting types of scenes. Mark approached the desk and was given a seat to sit in – which felt some inches lower than the chair that Packer – a very tall man to start with – sat in. Very 1980s power games!

Kerry, according to Mark, asked him three questions.

1. What business are you in? Mark said “mortgage industry”.

“NO” came back the answer! “You are in the hopes and dreams business. You are selling hopes and dreams in the form of homes.”

The aim of this question, according to Mark, was to get to the emotion truth of the business – and only then can you effectively connect with and sell to your audience. He went on to say that for instance a coffee-shop owner was in the business of nurturing – what could be more nurturing than giving someone warm drinks? Therefore if you are in the nurturing business, that is the atmosphere you need to create in the shop.

The second question:

2. Who are your customers? Mark said he got this one right – he knew the demographics etc.

The third question:

3. Have you ever failed in business?

According to Mark, Kerry later explained this question to him. A leader who can lead in good times is all very good – but it is easy to get people to follow you in good times. If you can get people to follow you, if you can be an effective leader in the bad times, when the business is going down the tube – then you really have good leadership skills.

Like him or loath him, Kerry Packer was a very successful businessman. I found this anecdote provided a fascinating insight into the way he thought about business and leadership.

So if you happen to have a chance to hear Mark Bouris speak – it is worthwhile. He was better than the headline speaker at the conference, Richard Branson, whose presentation was unfortunately over-controlled and free of new content.

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Is Ritalin the new “Mother’s little helper”?

5 05 2013

pills

IN the 1960s and 1970s, Valium (and associated benzodiazepines – benzos) were known as “Mother’s Little Helper”- a drug prescribed to stay at home mothers to help them deal with their lives – fundamentally, a way of sedating them so they would accept a life they were unhappy or bored with.

What a drag it is getting old
Kids are different today,
I hear ev’ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
Theres a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day

(Mother’s Little Helper, Rolling Stones)

By all accounts, it was an epidemic of medico-sanctioned drug abuse. A generation of women rendered passive, incapable of dealing with their dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Stepford wives.

Fast forward to the 1990s and 2000s. the drug de jour is Ritalin and other uppers to deal with ADD. ADHD, adult ADHD, etc.

Now I am not saying these syndromes do not exist. Nor that the drugs don’t work for some people. But then the Valium worked pretty well for women in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the explosion of diagnoses, and of prescriptions makes me suspicious. Are we waiting for someone to write a song about how we medicated our difficult children? What cost will they pay in their adult lives, when they haven’t learned to deal with their concentration, focus and behaviour without medication? What physiological effect will the drugs have one them?

And whose “illness” are we medicating?

For the full Rolling Stones Song, click here: Rolling Stones: Mother’s Little Helper





Memories……

1 04 2013

Memory is a funny thing. What one person remembers can be quite different from another person. Some of it is perspective, some of it might be personal views on the important aspects of an event. Apparently what language you speak and hence what words you have at your disposal also affects what you understand and remember about events. Presumably NLP works differently in different languages.

Most people seem to have their first memories around 4 or 5, although if you try to remember your earliest memory it is difficult to separate what you remember from what you have been told and photographs you have seen. My mother in particular seems to have taken advantage of this and denies events that I specifically remember in an attempt I allege is a rewriting of history. Her brother, meanwhile, used to allege that he could remember being born. Clearly we are a family for whom the truth has been a malleable concept.

But while our memories are already somewhat fallible tools, imagine if, like Star Trek, you had a holo-deck, and could create completely fictional events. You could people your events with real colleagues, friends and acquaintances. And while to you, they would seem to be real experiential memories, the other people would have absolutely no knowledge of the events you created.

PS Stumbleupon just showed me a Wikipedia page on parataxic distortion which expands on this concept.





Stephen

2 03 2013

They say that in a group of 23 people, there will be two people who share a birthday. I have only ever found one person who shared my birthday and birth year. That was Stephen. This is a very small excerpt of his story, the little bit that he was in my life.

Stephen.

Stephen was creative, a lateral thinker in a creative way that was not in any way applicable to work. He would leave funny little messages in the communication book at work (and apparently had graffitied a number of them in the library at Adelaide University, where he studied medicine). He was bright, very witty, but somehow a little out of step with the stereotypic doctor. And he loved to laugh.

Stephen drove the “fast brown car” which was an appalling poo-brown falcon in terrible condition. He had to put the front seat back in so I could sit in it – and it probably wasn’t very safe. It was fast brown car mark two – the first one had been trashed at a party when people jumped all over it (quite probably encouraged by Stephen).

As we were the same age, and attended uni at the same time in a relatively small city, it was inevitable that we knew people in common – and in fact had attended the same parties (most notably one in some share houses in North Adelaide featuring a band called “Buster Hymen and the Penetrators”. Classy. We were young, we thought it was funny. And it was certainly a memorable name. I can remember it almost three decades later.)

I met Stephen when we worked together at a medical service. We briefly dated but nothing came of it and we became friends instead, companions in the still dark nights inhabited by the chronically ill and the drug seeking. The living dead. We shared gallows humour and kept each other going. At least he kept me going. He was funny, zany, and bizarre, creative. He loved to entertain and confuse with his very off-beat humour. We would go out to breakfast at the Hilton and the Hyatt after night shift ended, with a group from a few other medical services and the local hospital A&Es. It was great to be relaxing and taking our time, then heading home while the rest of the world rushed off to work.

Stephen killed himself when we were 26.

He went home after night shift, put a tourniquet around his arm and shot up 15 ampoules of morphine. He was a doctor, so he had access and he knew what he was doing – almost. He was a big man – tall and solid (he called himself fat boy), and he passed out before he could release the tourniquet. The morphine didn’t kill him, but he wasn’t found for 12 hours, when he didn’t turn up to his next shift. He had been breathing about once a minute all day and had wiped out most of his brain from lack of oxygen. I had last spoken to him three hours prior to when he would have done it, when my shift finished before his. I could not tell anything was wrong. Even in retrospect, there were no signs. Nothing.

He spent the next two weeks in a coma in intensive care, in the hospital where he had trained. I have never prayed for someone to die, but for Stephen, I did. With the brain damage – only the brain stem was still functioning – he could never be more than a vegetable. This was an appalling outcome for a man who had been so lively, so witty, so clever. He had lived from his brain, his intelligence, and his charm. Just as arrangements were being made to transfer him to a permanent ward – a ward of the living dead where bodies that refuse to die are fed and washed – mercifully, he died. I doubt his family felt that way at the time, and maybe they still don’t, but for those with any medical knowledge, it was a blessing.

It was still terrible. I lost one stone of weight in a week. I retreated into compulsive behaviours – horse-riding and playing the same song over and over – Baby Animals ‘Lights out at Eleven’, (below). Even now I occasionally think about him, what he is missing, what his family is missing because he chose the way out that he did, what could have been. No condemnation, just deep sadness.

I heard his grandparents couldn’t believe he had suicided, and believed he had been murdered. His sisters were of course devastated. His parents kindly sent me a photograph and a letter. I can no longer picture his face except for the photograph, which is etched in my mind. I can’t imagine his voice any more. The letter spoke of their ongoing disbelief at what had happened. Pride at the man he was and how loved he was by so many friends, disbelief at what happened and a fathomless grief at the utterly unexpected and inexplicable turn of events that had taken him from them irrevocably. Their lives altered forever.

So why did he do it? I will never really know, but I heard much later that his girlfriend had got pregnant and she had had an abortion. He was brought up Catholic and couldn’t deal with it – in his mind, she had killed their baby. This post is not meant to be either anti-abortion, or anti-religion. There is no moral of the story, the meaning you overlay on the story says more about you than it does about Stephen or his girlfriend. The story is what it is, no more. And it may not be correct – it may be only the Chinese whispers that follow this sort of tragedy as people try to make sense of the insensible – and some try to lay blame.

There is no blame to be laid.

Thanks to the modern wonder of the internet, I can keep Stephen alive a little. I haven’t mentioned his surname, and I won’t post his photograph because he belongs to others – to his family. I can only share my memories, keep his humour, his bizarreness, his creativity alive in my mind. It was meaningful at the time. And we were young. This should never have happened, but it was his choice.

I am tempted to say, as they do, he will always be young, but he won’t. He is gone. He will never be anything now. He was my friend, but all I have is a photograph and a few scraps of paper.

****

If you are feeling distressed, please seek help. Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem, no matter how overwhelming it feels right now.





Why do you need permission?

1 03 2013

A former boss, whom I greatly admired (and still do), introduced me to the saying “better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission”.

I am not sure if it a generation thing, or just me, but when I was growing up, and starting my career, whenever I wanted to do something the answer was always – go and do some study, get a degree, get a job in the industry, get some experience, work your way up the ladder. All very safe and sound advice….but fundamentally stopped me from actually doing what I wanted to do. More fool me.

Gen Y doesn’t seem to have this problem, nor the Millenials, and whatever nickname has been allocated to more recent generations.

Case study number one – my friend’s son, who at age 18 with a friend wrote, cast and filmed a movie (The Powder Clock, below). Sounds like an amateurish exercise? It really isn’t, the production values are very good. As I said to his mother, she had clearly forgotten to tell him that 18 year olds can’t make movies.

Many years ago, I did a course called Money and You, which at that stage was associated with Robert Kiyosaki. One of the things that I distinctly remember him saying was that if you see a job that needs doing, it’s yours. What he meant was – this was your opportunity, and opportunities aren’t thrown your way for you to get someone else to do them, they are thrown your way for you to do them. If you can see it, then you have identified your niche.

Case study number two – When twelve year old Craig Kielburger heard about a Pakistani boy his own age who was murdered for speaking about about child labour, he started a charity called Free the Children with some classmates. It now works with the United Nations and has been a recipient on Oprah’s Angel Network. (For more examples of children who have started charities, try this website.)

So what if your passion is to start your own business? Think you need to get a business degree or an MBA? Attract seed capital? Again – if you don’t think you need permission, there’s nothing stopping you.

Case study number three – Its actually quite difficult to choose, there are so many child entrepreneurs. Some are marketing to kids, others (such as Archer from Leanna’s Hair Leanna ) market to adults and have international delivery options. Google child entrepreneur and prepare to be confronted with why you haven’t got your act together yet! (Of course it has to be recognised that these kids have very supportive parents who have facilitated their businesses happening, since they are underage and therefore unable to sign a contract….but still.)





Inspiring Commencement Addresses

13 01 2013

We don’t really have the same culture of commencement addresses in Australia that the US seems to have. And while I am sure many commencement addresses are forgettable, every so often one pops up on Youtube (or elsewhere) that is amazing. Here are a few of my favourites….

Steve Jobs, Stanford University 2005
Jobs talks about getting fired from Apple and how he came back from that devastating setback.

***

Professor Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon, 2008
Prof Pausch was dying of cancer when he made a surprise return to Carnegie Mellon University.

“We don’t beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living´╗┐ well… The question is, what do we do between the time we’re born and the time he shows up?”

***

Oprah Winfrey, Stanford University, 2008
After first embarrassing her god-daughter and giving us a view of the human side of Oprah, she talks about finding her way and the challenges she faced overcoming set ideas of what a television personality looked like early in her career.

***

JK Rowling, Harvard 2008
The Harry Potter author talks about her imagination and creativity at a young age and how her parents, wanting the best for her, encouraged “straight” education over the classics and artistic pursuits that interested her.





The commencement address Kurt Vonnegut didn’t do

13 01 2013

MIT

Have you heard of Mary Schmich? Of the Chicago Tribune?

No, neither have I. And that is where urban legends begin.

On 1 June 1997, Mary Schmich, a journalist with the Chicago Tribune, wrote a fantasy commencement speech entitled Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young. It was a thoughtful take on “what I wish someone had told me when I was young”. She wrote it, according to her, high on caffeine, one Friday afternoon. She had no idea how it would change her life!

But of course, the idea that an unknown journalist had written it wasn’t good enough, and hence a “better” name had to be attached to it to get the viral coverage that this commencement speech has had.

Enter Kurt Vonnegut. (Yes, apparently Vonnegut is a better name that Schmich. Slightly easier to pronounce, but a whole lot better known.) Of course it wasn’t really Kurt himself, but someone unknown attached Kurt Vonnegut’s name to the commencement speech, the date 1997 and the place MIT, and it took off. (Actually Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan gave the MIT commencement speech in 1997.)

Vonnegut himself told the New York Times, “What she wrote was funny, wise and charming, so I would have been proud had the words been mine.” Meanwhile, Mary Schmich was inundated by people accusing her of plagiarism. If you read it on the internet, it must be true…..

Still, despite the confusion , Schmich did come out of it smiling. In 1998 she published the essay as a short book (Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life). She went on to win the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

So, giving credit where credit is due, Mary Schmich, here is the commencement speech….”

Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term effects of sunscreen have been proven by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more than my experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But, trust me, in twenty years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall, in a way you can’t grasp now, how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagined.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but remember, that worrying does about as much good as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing gum. The real troubles in your life are likely to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4:00 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Do one thing everyday that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people that are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time with jealousy.

Sometimes you’re ahead; sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the complements you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep old love letters. Throw away old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life. Some of the most interesting people I knew at 20 didn’t know what they were going to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40 yr. olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, and maybe you’ll do the FUNKY CHICKEN on your 75th wedding anniversary.

Whatever you do don’t congratulate yourself, or berate yourself too much. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body and use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if the only place to do it is in your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they will be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They are your link to the past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go and with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get the more you need the people that knew you when you were young.

Live in New York once, but leave it before it makes you hard.

Live in California once, but leave it before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain unalienable truths; prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old. And when you do, you will fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund and maybe you have a wealthy wife, but you never know when either one will run out on you.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 your hair will look 85.

Be careful whose advise you buy, but be patient with the people that provide the advice. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.