Thursday, July 04, 2024

A tribute to some of Canada's journalism giants

Like many of you, I no longer subscribe to a paper newspaper. I subscribe to three paper magazines, and many online newspaper news sites - but I rarely peruse a daily newspaper any more.

And I know I am missing so much. Newspapers expose you to headlines and news you didn't know you were interested in, so they broaden your horizon - unlike the skeletal links on a news website. I no longer know what is happening that doesn't make the front page. And among many other things, as I have mentioned recently to friends, I no longer know who is alive or who is dead.

This morbid condition came to my attention today when I watched a few videos from the Canadian Journalism Foundation's annual awards dinner, held last month. One video I watched was the annual "In Memoriam" tribute to journalists who have passed away in the last year -- and I was shocked to see so many names and faces who were giants of journalism, many of whom I looked up to when I was just starting out.

In case you missed the news, here are some of the legendary journalists who passed away in 2023-24. You'll recognize quite a few of them. (I have attached a credit or two to each, but most of them enjoyed many other accomplishments as well.) 

Hail and farewell to:

John Howse: Southam News energy writer, Maclean's magazine

Keith Spicer: Reporter, editor, CRTC chair, and head of the vital Citizens Forum on National Unity (aka the Spicer Commission).

Robert MacNeil: TV newsman who spent most of his career in American media. He was on
the spot when JFK was shot in Dallas in 1963; also anchored the MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour (which later became PBS NewsHour).

Rex Murphy: CBC commentator. 

Helen Brimmel: Guelph journalist who was one of the first women to work in the Parliamentary Press Gallery,

Elizabeth Gray: CBC, former host of The Journal, As It Happens, and Cross-Country Checkup.

Peter C. Newman: Legend. Reporter, book author,  Toronto Star editor, and the editor who turned Maclean's magazine into a newsweekly. 

Joan Hollobon: Pioneering Globe and Mail medical reporter, 1959 to 1985.

Geoff Stevens: National columnist, managing editor, Globe and Mail; CBC political commentator. He once pointed out we had the same haircut.

Susan Kastner: Edgy Toronto Star writer and columnist.

Danny Stoffman: Business writer, movie critic, and co-author of the bestseller Boom, Bust and Echo.

William (Bill) Lawrence: Long-time CBC and CHCH Hamilton TV broadcaster/weatherman. Best known as the host (for 35 years!) of Tiny Talent Time.




Gordon Jaremko: Long time energy journalist, Southam News.

George Gamester: Irrepressible Toronto Star "people" columnist.

Stephen Douglas: Photographer, reporter, journalism teacher; Douglas passed away under murky circumstances in Sierra Leone last December, during a time of violent unrest. He was only 60. 
Here is Douglas's last tweet:  
Artillery fire, gunshots can be heard in my neighbourhood... several times my windows have shook. Gov't says everyone should stay indoors and things are under control.
https://x.com/redpageletters/status/1728672054138790349

Cheers to all these heroes!

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Ten questions to build sales now

Every business starts as a hypothesis: "We think this market needs this product/service/innovation/angle." 

Through research and experience, you develop a strategy. 

If your business has drifted away from its roots, or you're struggling with strategy, here are 10 questions to help you build your go-to-market plan. Each step will help you figure out how to build the capacity to survive in -- and eventually dominate -- your chosen market.

1.     Who is winning in our marketplace, and why?

2.     What are our customers’ most unmet wants and needs?

3.     What are we really, really good at?

4.     What is the intersection point of what we're good at, what’s working now, and what our customers need most?

5.     What additional insights, skills and resources can we call on from within the organization to press our advantage?

6.     What additional resources, capabilities and contacts can we draw on within our personal and business networks to seize  market leadership?

7.     Bearing in mind all these resources, how can we create maximum value for our clients and prospects in a new way that’s uniquely ours?

8.     How can we test these assumptions in the marketplace this month?

9.    Who will take charge of this initiative? What resources can they draw on?

10 What’s the best way to communicate our new positioning in one or two short, compelling sentences?

Key factors to help you win this battle: Know everything about your customers.

Collaborate. 

Add value. 

Unleash your imagination. 

Move fast. 

 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Let’s connect Orson Welles, Winston Churchill, Napoleon’s sister, D.W. Griffith, and Gilligan’s Island.

 As an entrepreneur, I value curiosity as a vital business trait. You never know where your curiosity will take you.

Case in point: this essay. Which has nothing to with business, but everything to do with being human.


Three degrees of separation:

The world is smaller than you think. Let’s connect Orson Welles, Winston Churchill, Napoleon’s sister, D.W. Griffith, and Gilligan’s Island.

In preparation for my upcoming month in Paris, yesterday I started reading John Julius Norwich’s book: France: A History: from Gaul to de Gaulle. I didn't get very far. 

I got stopped in the Preface, where the author, John Julius Norwich, talks about his various stints living in France – including while his father was Britain’s ambassador to France from 1944 to 1948. He describes life at the embassy (a palace formerly owned by Napoleon’s sister Pauline) as a glamorous salon frequented  by the cultured and powerful. “The queen of it was the poetess – and my father’s mistress – Louise de Vilmorin, who would stay in the embassy sometimes for weeks at a time.”

Wow.

No less startling was the next sentence. (Remember, I’m still on page 2.) “My mother, who had no conception of jealousy, loved her almost as much as my father did.”

Intriguing as French history may be, I immediately put down the book and picked up my phone to google these stunningly avant-garde artist/aristocrats. I swear, someday Netflix will make a movie about all this.

Let’s start with the poet. “Louise de Vilmorin was a novelist and poet and the most extraordinary of women. Married to a Hungarian count, her lovers included Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Orson Welles and Andre Malraux. But it was Duff Cooper, British Ambassador to France, during the 1940s, who was the love of her life.”

Born 4 April 1902 in the family château at Verrières-le-Buissonshe was heir to a great French seed company fortune. She was afflicted with a slight limp that became a personal trademark.”

“Louise had four brothers: Henry (1903–1961), Olivier (1904–1962), André (1907–1987), and Roger (1905–1980), who was fathered by King Alfonso XIII of Spain.”

So, five minutes in, and we've already met Saint-Exupery (author of the beloved classic, The Little Prince), Orson Welles (wunderkind director of Citizen Kane), and a king of Spain.

More on Louise’s love life: “As a young woman, in 1923, she had been engaged to novelist and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; however, the engagement was called off, even though Saint-Exupéry gave up flying for a while after her family protested such a risky occupation. Vilmorin's first husband was an American real-estate heir, Henry Leigh Hunt (1886–1972), the only son of Leigh S. J. Hunt, a businessman who once owned much of Las Vegas, Nevada. They married in 1925, moved to Las Vegas, and divorced in the 1930s.”

“Louise spent the last years of her life as the companion of the French Cultural Affairs Minister and author André Malraux, calling herself  ‘Marilyn Malraux’.” (Pretty good pun, even for a famous poet.)

But getting to know Louise meant I now needed to know more about her ambassador paramour. Who was Duff Cooper, I wondered, and why was his last name different from that of his son? So back to Google we went.

Alfred Duff Cooper was a rogue and a statesman, incredibly bright, a deft writer and historian, and a disappointment to all. Wikipedia: “He was the only son of society doctor Sir Alfred Cooper (1843–1908), a surgeon who specialised in the sexual problems of the upper classes (his carriage was humorously known as “Cooper's Clap Trap”) and Lady Agnes Duff, daughter of James Duff, 5th Earl Fife and descendant of King William IV.”

Whoa. Victorian shenanigans – and another king.

At Oxford, “Cooper cultivated a reputation for eloquence and fast living and, although he had established a reputation as a poet, he earned an even stronger reputation for gambling, womanising and drinking.”

Cooper joined the foreign office (on his third try, Wikipedia snarks). But with WWI chewing up the bodies of young Englishmen, he joined the Grenadier Guards as a junior officer in 1917. “Cooper spent six months on the Western Front, during which, biographer Philip Ziegler writes, he proved himself ‘exceptionally courageous, resourceful, and a natural leader of men.’ He suffered a minor wound in the advance to the Albert Canal in August 1918, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry, a rare decoration for a junior officer.

His career off to a strong start, in 1919 Cooper marries journalist/actress/socialite Lady Diana Manners. (He met her at Oxford, and once wrote, “I hope everyone you like better than me will die very soon.”) Diana had appeared in the 1918 film, Hearts of the World, by legendary director D.W. Griffith, who called her “the most beloved woman in England.”

Diana’s family initially opposed the match. (They had hoped Diana would marry the Prince of Wales.) Diana’s mother “thought Cooper a promiscuous drinker and gambler, without title, position or wealth.” Still, Diana couldn't be too off-put by liaisons dangereuses: while officially the daughter of the 8th Duke of Rutland, “she was widely believed—by herself included—to be the natural daughter of Harry Cust, a Belvoir Castle neighbour.”

Yes, the Victorians were pretty wild. (Cust is also reported to have slept with Margaret Thatcher’s grandmother.)

As the years went by, “Lady Diana tolerated Cooper's numerous affairs.” And there were many: Franco-American Singer sewing-machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, socialite Gloria Guinness, French novelist Louise Leveque de Vilmorin, and writer Susan Mary Alsop (then an American diplomat's wife, by whom he had an illegitimate son). The polo player 'Boy' Capel's wife Diana and fashion model Maxime de la Falaise were two more, although Lady Diana reportedly did not mind, explaining to her son: “They were the flowers, but I was the tree.”

With Diana’s money, Cooper entered politics, becoming friends and cabinet colleagues with the likes of Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill. In 1935, the scandalous scoundrel was named Secretary of State for War, and then First Lord of the Admiralty, where “he enjoyed high living on board the Admiralty yacht HMS Enchantress.”

Then Cooper went to Germany and witnessed a Nazi party rally. Realizing that Hitler was serious about conquering the civilized world, he resigned from the Cabinet to protest Chamberlain’s policies of appeasement (ie, “Let Germany re-arm, the English Channel will protect us”). Fellow Conservative MP Vyvyan Adams described Cooper's actions as “the first step in the road back to national sanity.”

Out of government, Cooper embarked on a lecture tour of the U.S., where he urged the democracies to stand firm against the dictatorships. German propaganda ranked Cooper with Churchill and Eden as Britain's most dangerous warmongers, and after war broke out Cooper sent his son – then John Julius Cooper – to study at Upper Canada College in Toronto.

(Cooper was widely criticized for the move, but let’s cut him some slack. Hitler’s enemies list was a real thing, and Cooper, who became Minister of Information in 1940, topped the charts.)

While in North America, young John Julius (named because he was born of a caesarian section, get it?) summered with the family of William S. Paley, the founder of CBS – an old-school robber baron (and another long-time womanizer) who redeems himself by championing a prime-time news show called 60 Minutes. (Paley’s also the guy who saved Gunsmoke from cancellation in 1967, resulting instead in the premature cancelling of Gilligan’s Island.)

In December 1943, with the Allies planning an invasion of France, Cooper became the British representative to the Free French – which meant he had to placate both Churchill and de Gaulle, two of the world’s most unmanageable people. A month after Paris was liberated in August 1944, he was named Britain’s ambassador to France. 

Wikipedia just can't help pointing out: “He was to prove a very popular ambassador, with Lady Diana helping to make his term of office a great social success. Some contemporary eyebrows were raised at his willingness to entertain people with dubious records during the recent war, or his lack of interest at entertaining trade unionists.”

After retiring as ambassador, Cooper remained in Paris and wrote books, including one novel, about the Allies’ deception campaign around the invasion of Sicily – which the U.K. Cabinet tried (and failed) to block.

In 1952 Cooper was named to the House of Lords as Viscount Norwich, a name his son later adopted. Cooper's long-suffering spouse refused to be called Lady Norwich, claiming it sounded too much like “porridge.” She took out an ad saying she would stick with “Lady Diana Cooper.”

After Cooper’s death Philip Ziegler wrote that Cooper was “not totally successful in worldly terms, but never dull,” although he could be “arrogant, self-indulgent and selfish, and devoted far too much time and energy to wine, women and gambling.” Quite the epitaph!

But credit him this. In 2021, Cooper was posthumously awarded the Order of the White Lion, the Czech Republic’s highest decoration, for his opposition to the Munich Agreement in which Hitler carved up Czechoslovakia like a prize lamb.

John Julius never matched his father, in either infamy or high office. He called himself someone "whom his mother adored, and his father barely tolerated." But like his dad, he too attended Oxford and then joined the Foreign Service. He served in Yugoslavia and Lebanon and as a member of the British delegation to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. When his father died at sea (of course!) in 1954, JJ inherited the “Viscount Norwich” title, and took his father’s seat in the House of Lords (until the rules were changed in 1999 to reduce the role of arbitrary aristocrats in running England’s, um, affairs).

JJ wrote books on history and the arts, and served as chair of the Venice in Peril Fund, which helped save the Italian city from the rising waters of the Adriatic Sea. He also made documentaries for BBC Television, and hosted a quiz show for BBC Radio. One of his favourite sayings was, “When in doubt, say yes.” 

JJ married twice and fathered two children, Artemis and Jason. 

Oops. Make that three children. Turns out Norwich was also the father of Allegra Huston, born in 1964 of his five-year affair with American ballet dancer Enrica Soma. At the time, she was estranged from her husband: actor/director John Huston. (Winner of two Academy Awards, he directed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, The Misfits, The Man Who Would Be King, Prizzi’s Honor, and Annie, a musical about orphans.)

By coincidence, Huston began his career playing the title character in a 1930 film called Abraham Lincoln – the second-last movie directed by D.W. Griffith. 

Forty years later, Huston starred in The Other Side of the Wind, as an aging film director trying to stay relevant. The film was written and directed by Orson Welles. 

Production began in 1970, and was finally finished (by Netflix!) in 2018.

Allegra is a writer (naturally) and has written a book on how she learned, at 12, the truth about her father. She described the day she met John Julius: “His manners were elegant and easy, as if he met his secret children every day of his life.” But over the longer term, as a reporter noted, “John Huston was sufficiently egocentric for the reappearance of his daughter’s biological father to make no difference.”

“He completely ignored it,” said Allegra, “which was fine by me."

She explains the situation in her book, Love Child, by saying, “John Julius could be accurately referred to as my father, but I had only one dad.”

But Allegra's book compelled one Huffpost reviewer to begin her article with the sentence, "Thank God I'm not a Huston." The reviewer recounts how Allegra often spent weekends with her half-sister Anjelica Huston at Jack Nicholson's house, where Roman Polanski had sex with an underage girl, an event that led to his exile. At 13, she lived with Anjelica and Ryan O'Neal, who comes off as a terrorizing brute. "Even the 13-year-old had the sense to tell her sister, 'You don't have to stay with someone who treats you like that.'"

Does generational dysfunction ever end? “The sources of bad luck reside in the unconscious,” opined John Huston. “We inflict it upon ourselves as kind of a self-punishment.”

Allegra seems to summarize a century of recklessness and high achievement when she writes: “Love Child is the story of a childhood fractured by tragedy, of a motherless girl who never quite feels she belongs. It is my search through the unreliable certainties of memory for the widely adored mother I never knew, and my quest to create a single family out of these odd-shaped pieces, a family which finally comes together at the christening of my son in the Rio Grande.”

John Julius Norwich passed away in 2018, just after finishing his last book, France: A History: from Gaul to de Gaulle.

He dedicated it to his mother.

And I am still only on page 2.

  

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Robot writes blogpost, does a pretty good job

So today I asked ChatGPT: "How will generative AI help entrepreneurs manage their businesses? Please go into detail with examples, and provide sources for your examples."

Its answers look pretty useful. How could some of these ideas impact your business?

ChatGPT reported back:

Generative AI can provide entrepreneurs with valuable tools and capabilities to enhance various aspects of business management. Here are several ways in which generative AI can be beneficial for entrepreneurs, along with examples:

Data Analysis and Decision Support:

Example: Generative AI algorithms can analyze large datasets to identify patterns and trends, providing entrepreneurs with insights to make data-driven decisions. For instance, machine learning algorithms can analyze customer behavior data to predict future trends, helping entrepreneurs tailor their strategies.

Personalized Marketing Campaigns:

Example: AI-powered tools can generate personalized content and recommendations for marketing campaigns. For instance, ChatGPT, a generative AI model, can be used to create personalized email content, social media posts, or product recommendations based on customer preferences.

Chatbots for Customer Support:

Example: Generative AI-driven chatbots, like those built on models such as GPT-3, can handle customer inquiries, provide information, and even assist in the sales process. These chatbots can improve customer service efficiency by handling routine queries, leaving entrepreneurs and their teams with more time for complex tasks.

Automated Business Processes:

Example: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) powered by generative AI can automate repetitive tasks such as data entry, invoicing, and inventory management. This automation streamlines operations, reduces errors, and increases overall efficiency.

Market Research and Competitive Analysis:

Example: Generative AI tools can analyze market trends, customer reviews, and competitor data to provide entrepreneurs with comprehensive market research. This information can inform product development, marketing strategies, and positioning in the market.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) for Communication:

Example: NLP capabilities in AI can improve communication with customers and employees. For instance, AI-driven virtual assistants can handle inquiries, schedule appointments, and provide information, freeing up entrepreneurs' time for strategic tasks.

Predictive Analytics for Financial Management:

Example: Generative AI models can predict future financial trends based on historical data, helping entrepreneurs make informed decisions about budgeting, cash flow management, and investment strategies.

Supply Chain Optimization:

Example: AI can optimize supply chain management by predicting demand, identifying potential disruptions, and recommending inventory levels. This helps entrepreneurs streamline their supply chain processes and reduce costs.

Human Resources and Talent Acquisition:

Example: AI-powered tools can assist in the recruitment process by analyzing resumes, conducting initial screenings, and even predicting candidate success based on historical hiring data. This accelerates the hiring process and improves the quality of talent acquisition.

Content Generation for Marketing:

Example: AI models like GPT-3 can be utilized to generate creative and engaging marketing content, including blog posts, social media updates, and advertising copy. This can save entrepreneurs time and resources in content creation.

It's important to note that while generative AI offers these benefits, ethical considerations, data privacy, and responsible use are crucial aspects that entrepreneurs should prioritize. Additionally, staying informed about the latest developments in AI and understanding how to integrate these technologies effectively into business operations is essential.

Sources:

Brown, T. B., Mann, B., Ryder, N., Subbiah, M., Kaplan, J., Dhariwal, P., ... & Agarwal, S. (2020). Language models are few-shot learners. arXiv preprint arXiv:2005.14165.

GPT-3: https://www.openai.com/gpt-3/

RPA in Business: https://www.uipath.com/rpa/robotic-process-automation

AI in Marketing: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/ai-in-marketing-the-time-to-act-is-now

Sunday, January 28, 2024

How startups drive job growth and productivity

Interesting new story on the importance of entrepreneurs and startups in the Harvard Business Review

Authors Kenan Fikri and Daniel Newman, researchers at the Economic Innovation Group, start by noting the strength and resilience of entrepreneurs: “While some data sources on entrepreneurship operate on a lag, so far it appears that the entrepreneurship surge is real and likely to lead to greater job creation and productivity in the U.S. over the long run.” 

Startup entrepreneurs don't get much love nowadays, but as the authors note, startups are important because they drive both employment gains and productivity growth. The news is good: in October 2023, three and a half years after the pandemic began, Americans were filing 59% more applications to start new businesses than they were before the pandemic. And that, as the authors note, occurred despite “recession fears, labor and supply-chain constraints, the highest inflation rates in a generation, and rapid interest rate hikes.” 

The problem: the 2010s was a good decade for a few tech giants, but not for startups. “Every year in the decade running up to the pandemic, the U.S. economy was missing around 100,000 new firms and the approximately half million new jobs that would have been associated with them each year — a partial but significant explanation for the grindingly slow pace of recovery from the Great Recession.” 

The authors discuss lots of economic reasons for the current startup surge (including higher household incomes during COVID, lockdown-related innovation, and the willingness of many working Americans to make a job change during such a trying period). But I think they missed an important reason. 

The more society changes, the more entrepreneurs come to the fore, meeting new needs and serving new markets. Advancing technologies in multiple fields certainly create new opportunities, from AI-fuelled production houses to singer-songwriters on TikTok. But as lifestyles evolve and change – with a big push from Covid’s impact – entrepreneurs at the forefront of personal, cultural, financial and lifestyle changes are emboldened to start new businesses and serve these new markets. And new technology is continually simplifying and empowering that process. 

In other words, a confident, pluralistic society advancing on all fronts is a startup-generating machine. 

The authors offer a few prescriptions on how governments can promote new business growth. Don't mess with success, they say: “Don’t make it harder to start a business than it already is.” They also support proposals for helping people save more for retirement (“de-risking entrepreneurship in the process”), and curtailing the use of non-compete contracts that block aspiring entrepreneurs from starting businesses that compete with their current employers. 

For non-Americans, the problem is that the surge the authors identified can't be found in most other countries (see chart). They assess Canada’s post-covid startup gains at 10% -- less than a third of the U.S.’s 34%. And way behind Belgium (up 25%), France (23%) and even the U.K. (16%). 

The federal government hasn’t done much for Canadian entrepreneurs in decades. Perhaps it’s time for them to revisit the best job-creating machine we have. Reforming HST (which turned micro-businesses into involuntary tax collectors) would be a good place to start.

Friday, December 08, 2023

'Tis the season to be present

 A blast from the past. "Presence" is about putting your best self forward at every opportunity. The ebook of Amy Cuddy's book "Presence" is currently on sale for just $1.99 at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.

My 2015 interview with Amy Cuddy, from the Financial Post:

How adopting Wonder Woman's power pose might change the outcome of a meeting, or even your destiny

Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s message is simple: 'Our bodies change our minds. Our minds change our behaviour. And our behaviour changes our outcomes'

Thursday, September 14, 2023

When Friends Fall Out

 I talked to an entrepreneur the other day who was very excited about but his business, but disappointed in his friends.

It seems that the more successful this entrepreneur became in his business, the more some friends shrank back. They didn't share the excitement of his success... In fact, some seemed to resent it.

This type of behavior concerns me, on multiple levels. Entrepreneurs run on adrenaline and confidence. They need positive energy, from within and without, to keep going. When friends don't align their energies with yours, you slow down. It's like running on broken ground.

There's no one cause for this lack of support. Some friends may begrudge the time and attention you're lavishing on your business. They may feel left behind. Others may feel jealous of your success. Some might even feel they could have had the same success, maybe more, if they had only stepped up to the plate as you did. Human emotions are complicated.

As entrepreneurs, we have to stay focused and reduce the negative energies around us. But that doesn't mean cutting off friends who are less than supportive. Here are two things you might try:

* Reach out to any friends who seem to have become more distant lately. Find time to spend with them. Don't talk about business. Make sure you're talking about their lives, their successes, their challenges. Really listen. Show that nothing has changed, you're still you, and this personal relationship really matters to you.

* If someone is being overtly negative, call them out. Let them know you value their friendship, and how important it is for an entrepreneur to feel supported by their social group. Doubts, resentment, negative energy are all lethal to entrepreneurial gusto, so let these friends know you really appreciate their positive support. 

Lots of so-called experts will advise you to cut negative people out of your life. I'm not an expert, so I won't tell you that. But do talk to them. Let them know you care. Let them know how important it is for you to have the support and confidence of your friends.

Business will eat up as much of your time as you let it. Make sure to consistently make time for yourself and your friends. The break will do you good, and the positive vibes will strengthen you.

Entrepreneur or not, be the best friend you can be.