Monday, May 30, 2005

The Wisdom Exchange

Today marks the starts of the 11th annual Wisdom Exchange, one of the Ontario government’s better ideas.

The Wisdom Exchange is a special business networking/idea-sharing conference limited to CEOs of Ontario’s fastest-growing companies. It stemmed from Ontario’s belated realization a dozen years ago that not all small businesses are alike. And that if you identify the companies with the best prospects for growth, and give them extra care and service, you may just do more to create jobs and promote economic development than by simply throwing money at “small business” in general.

The theme for this year is “Return on Creativity - Leveraging the Power of Ideas.” Wisely, the organizers are taking a holistic approach to creativity. It’s not just about product innovation, but also applying creative approaches to financing, partnerships and alliances, HR strategies, marketing – even succession planning.

I’ll be moderating a roundtable on Creative Collaboration tomorrow. If we exchange any useful wisdom, I'll let you know.

Meantime, if you want to read the wisdom and “true confessions” of entrepreneurs such as Michael MacMillan (Alliance Atlantis) or John Stanton (The Running Room), take a look at the report from last year’s Wisdom Exchange. It’s also full of good ideas about marketing, personal development, and exporting to China.

This is your chance to share the wisdom of some of the province’s best business minds, so take a look – or even save it to your hard drive.

Check it out at

It’s your tax dollar at work.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Negotiating Tips

Yesterday I spent a terrific day at a course called “Negotiate with Confidence & Power,” run by Kelley Robertson, a former retail-sales trainer turned consultant and workshop leader. (His Stop, Ask & Listen is one of the best books on selling written by a Canadian.)

Lots of highlights, including three role-playing exercises that really expanded your mind as to the opportunities you have as a negotiator. We have all heard that negotiators should strive for a win-win outcome, but we don’t tend to behave like that in practice. Our instinct is to put our own needs on the table and then fight for them – usually repeating our demands (needs, requests, whatever) over and over rather than genuinely trying to find common ground.

Our first exercise was a real eye-opener. In the role-play, Person A is trying to obtain all existing supplies of a rare fruit extract in order to create a vaccine to stop a devastating new disease; Player B needs the same product to create a plant growth supplement that could prevent millions of deaths due to drought in Africa. The twist: neither person was given any information about each other’s needs or motivations.

You had to discover them yourself. Which is a wonderful lesson in itself. Because we all tend to assume too much, ask too few questions, and talk more than listen.

It was almost painful watching us argue with each other and try to ram our needs down each others’ throat, rather than focus on the other person’s interests and how we might work together. Had we been smart enough to do that, we might have discovered that each of us wanted different things: the vaccine people needed the skin of the fruit, the supplement makers needed the pulp inside. We could have both got what we wanted had we asked more questions and worked on establishing trust.

Powerful stuff.

Three of many negotiating tips from Kelley Robertson:

-- Keep your ego out of the negotiating process.
-- Information is key. The person with the most information generally does better.
-- When you make a concession, always ask for something in return .

You can read more about Kelley’s work, sign up for his 59-Second Tip newsletter, or check out his e-books at

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Future of Media

I've always been fascinated by the changing world of communications media. How will we get our information and entertainment 10 years from now? And what will happen to the media we use today?

I see segmentation playing a bigger and bigger role. Just as specialty channels (weather, golf, cartoons) are grabbing a bigger and bigger share from conventional network broadcasters, so too will other media splinter into narrower niches.

In a way, it’s all about consumer choice. But losing the mass audience isn’t just a problem for the big networks and publishers. Our survival as a nation, as a people who share a unique culture and historic political ties, depends on us sharing information and identity. And yet that could soon be submerged as we increasingly identify ourselves first as Knicks fans, video-game fanatics, gardeners or iPod people.

So what will happen to old media? The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece on that on Monday (its free story of the day). It chronicles the decline of newspapers, TV and movies, and then interviews various pundits about what the media could do to become more relevant.

Their prescription for television news: Allow the viewer behind the screen. The network news could post full, unedited video of interviews online. Networks could present behind-the-scenes clips showing the creation of a news program, and let viewers relay feedback to help further report the story. (“Zzzzz,” say I.)

The experts say newspapers should get more creative about their content. “Think more about news, less about paper.” Instead of using the Web to post their print stories, they should encourage more reporters to publish blogs, and let readers add their comments in an online community. They should also allow readers to create their own specialized newspapers (eg, focusing on sports, or local news), and deliver news updates via cellphones.

As mass media shrink, the pundits say advertisers must make their ads more relevant to narrower audiences. They could also “Turn ads into programming,” by creating longer-form entertainment programming around brand names (déjà vu: Procter & Gamble owned its own soap operas 50 years ago).

Finally, the movies have to get more creative, fast. The coolest proposal: sell new releases to high-end consumers for immediate home consumption. The pundits suggest a one-time home showing during a film’s first week could cost $40 – which isn’t so expensive, when you think of the costs of going out to the movies with family or friends.

How much would you have paid this past weekend to avoid the lineups and watch the latest Star Wars episode in your living room?

You’ll find lots more ideas like these at:,,SB111643067458336994,00.html?mod=todays_free_feature

Thursday, May 19, 2005

How the Pros do It

My friend Kelley Robertson is a veteran retail consultant who has written one of the best Canadian books on selling: Stop, Ask, and Listen.

Next week he’s presenting a comprehensive fabulous one-day seminar in Toronto called Negotiating with Power & Confidence. It’s pretty pricey, but if you make your living selling, it’s worth it five times over. And you get your money back if you’re not satisfied!

But here’s why I mention it. I want you to follow the link below and read Kelley’s promo piece for the event. It is the most powerful piece of Internet marketing I have ever read.

I think Kelley has been reading up on the power copywriting principles of Internet gurus such as Corey Rudl. Everything is there: the multi-bullet-point benefits, the guarantee, the limited registration, the $497 in bonus gifts, the personalized action plan. This is powerful stuff.

Some might call it corny. And yes, there's a hucksterish feel to it. But you know what? That’s what it takes to get and hold people’s attention. You have to give them bold, confident copy and jolt after jolt of personal benefit – or they’ll be gone in a click.

This is how the pros do it, people!!! I feel a patriotic thrill knowing a Canadian entrepreneur did this.

Check it out at

(BTW: At this point many people ask, “I thought marketing copy was supposed to be short.” Actually, research shows that people will read long copy, if it's well written and compellingly targeted. That’s hard to do. My advice: keep your copy short – unless you take the time to properly and strategically craft a longer letter, as Kelley has done. Writing long is no substitute for writing well.)

Not bad for a Print Guy

One thing most entrepreneurs should do much more often is to ask their customers and colleagues for referrals and testimonials.

When prospects are assessing you and your product, a story from a neutral third party that says you’re great is much more powerful than anything you say yourself.

Of course, you never know what a person is going to say. But it doesn’t matter, because you only promote the positive reviews. (Besides, smart marketers write out some suggested text for their clients, just to make sure they don’t stray too far off-message.)

Here’s what I’m leading up to: I’m bursting to show you the testimonial I just received from an event producer I worked with when I was MCing the Ontario Global Traders Awards (both last month and in 2002.) Alex Trebek couldn’t have asked for a better writeup.

“I recently had the pleasure to work once again with Rick Spence where he hosted the Regional Awards Ceremonies for the Ontario Global Traders Awards.

“I have produced many corporate events over the years with various Emcees at the helm. I can honestly say that Rick Spence is the best MC of a business awards show I have ever seen. He is always smooth, engaging and well prepared. He keeps things moving with his upbeat style, while his humorous ad libs keep audiences grinning… Not bad for a print guy.”

It’s astounding, what kind of testimonials might be out there – if only we remember to ask for them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

His So-Called Blog

I have mixed feelings about promoting the following blog.

On the one hand, it’s got a lot of good information about venture capital, which is a constant source of interest for many entrepreneurs.

On the other hand, it’s a Bad Blog. It takes prepackaged information and hands it out in daily doses, replicating the structure of a blog, but not its purpose or heart. There seems nothing personal in this site, or spontaneous. It’s one of those blogs that exists just to market the guy’s service.

Given that caveat, however, people interested in the process of acquiring venture capital – how to find VCs, how to woo ’em, what legal processes to expect – wil find much to like in the “blog” of Toronto VC Evan Carmichael.

He posts about issues such as:
How Venture Capitalists Structure Their Investments
Who To Approach For Funding
What Happens After the Due Diligence Process
Getting Startup Financing
What the Venture Capitalist Due Diligence Process Looks Like
Getting In To See a Venture Capitalist

In my experience, most entrepreneurs need to be much better informed and prepared when they go see a VC. So here’s the place to go first.

Just don't tell 'em I sent you.

Friday, May 13, 2005

What you can learn from Starbucks

As the guy who wrote “Everything I know about Business I learned from Star Trek” (not to mention similar stories that dredge business lessons out of golf, Wayne Gretzky and the Winter Olympics), I am a sucker for articles that mine pop-culture artifacts for business insights.

Inc Magazine online has a great story on “What You Can Learn from Starbucks.”

Writer Adam Hanft admits that Starbucks’s success has been covered to death, but maintains there are lots of things still to learn from the purveyor of the expensive hot water and cheap meeting rooms. As he points out, nothing is random at Starbucks; everything is calculated to enhance brand image or add value to the customer experience. As he writes:

“My local Starbucks in New York City even has a little tray at the register with the business cards of the manager and the assistant manager. Very clever. Makes them feel good, and it lets customers know that someone is in charge and accountable no less -- an increasingly rare commodity in today's retail environment.”

Hanft sums up with this humbling insight… humbling because it is something we could all be doing if we were clever enough:
“In today's hyper price-sensitive world, where all of us are faced with driving down costs every day, it's easy to forget that markets -- if developed properly -- have more upward elasticity than many give them credit for. Of course, commanding this higher price demands relentless attention to the brand delivery system I've been talking about.”

Read on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

This Just In! Computer Crooks in 5-Star Hotel

I just received some disturbing feedback on a post from March 26 regarding Internet security while travelling.

Regular readers (both of you) may remember the post, “Just when you thought it was safe to go on vacation” (you can find it in the archive by clicking the “March” heading on the right side of this blog page). It was about New York Times tech writer David Pogue, who encountered a worying security problem when he was travelling.

Logging onto the Net from various Internet cafes in Peru, he discovered that about 25% of the computers he used contained programs that tracked every word he typed – every login ID, every password. Worse yet, “The proprietors always alleged to know nothing about this.”

Now we have this fascinating follow-up from a reader called Anonymous:

“You don't have to travel to a third-world country to find nasty key logging installed on a computer. I'm a night porter at an English 5-Star Hotel and when a guest asked if I could find a Microsoft Excel file he had lost somewhere on his room’s computer, not only did I find his missing file but a key logging file that had details of every site visited plus Username and Passwords not only for that room but all 39 rooms on that network going back to Sept. 04.

“I reported this to our general manager last month and have not heard a word back since but I do know this programme was installed on our behalf.Is this legal?”

Not in this country, old chap. What a scary story.

Anonymous, if you’re reading this, e-mail me at, and I would be delighted to help you get this story out in the UK (anonymously, of course).

People Must Be Warned.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

We interrupt this blog ...

We interrupt this blog to recommend your summer vacation.

Working hard this morning, my thoughts turned to a fabulous family vacation my family took two summers ago to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, far east of Quebec City, where few anglos tend to venture. It's a great getaway.

We loved the coastal highway and low rough mountains, combing the tidal beaches (hundreds of miles from the sea), whale watching (we even spotted one from our hotel room), wading through waterfalls, and buying fresh bleuets at the side of the road (and wait’ll you taste the monks’ chocolate-covered blueberries, bien sur!).

There’s art and culture, a boat-building museum, a real fjord, covered bridges and beautiful waterside villages to which time has been very kind.

For many English-speaking Canadians, Quebec is a political concept, an issue more than a real place. When you drive its back roads and follow its oldest highway, the St. Lawrence, you realize it's part of our shared experience on this continent - - part of us, as we are part of it. And we are all richer for this shared heritage.

If you’re looking for a summer adventure, head to the Saguenay.
Majestic, wild and quiet. Just one long day’s drive from Etobicoke.

Voici des photos touristiques:

Monday, May 09, 2005

Marketing communications isn’t brain surgery

Marketing communications isn’t brain surgery. Know your audience, address your audience, and serve their wants and needs, not yours.

So why do so many people mess this up?

At a meeting recently I was asked to comment on a colleague’s website. Another attendee thought it was fabulous. Me, the more I looked at it, the more I found wrong with it. Overlong, bulky, unclear, poorly designed and badly punctuated – and that was just the main headline on the home page!

Then there were the grainy pictures that had nothing to do with the adjacent copy, the lacklustre menus with the vague names, the lack of focus, the three blurbs that seem to define what he does but had no discernible link (logical, HTML or otherwise ) to any other part of the page…

The discussion went on for half an hour, as we discussed various copy, content, branding and design flaws, and why they matter so much.

As the entrepreneur explained what he had done, it became clear that he had made most of his content decisions based on his own druthers – things he wanted to see on his website, whether or not they made sense to his audience (or enhanced his image). The result, predictably, was a mish-mash of messages, poor quality photos, and vague benefits, if any, to his customers and prospects. It was clear that he was putting his own needs first, not those of his target market.

And as another commenter mentioned, the site failed to communicate TOT: The One Thing that makes this entrepreneur unique, and distinguishes his products and services from everyone else in this cookie-cutter world. It was good advice, and should be heeded by all: What is your TOT, and how do you communicate it?

I’m not sure if we achieved a consensus at the end. But I did get a light-hearted death threat from the entrepreneur, who seemed to feel I was targeting him, rather than his choice of words and pictures. A few days later, though, we got an e-mail saying he had taken our comments to heart, and would be working on fixes.

I’ll let you know how he does.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Is Wal-Mart my brother's keeper?

Yes, another Long Post. But worth it!

The New York Times yesterday looked whether Wal-Mart has an obligation to pay its employees higher wages, as social critics contend.

I think this is an important issue – it goes to the heart of our compassionate society, and where we draw the line between economics and caring for our fellow people.

In the end, I have to side with Wal-Mart on this one (darn). Being successful does not force you to become more compassionate. And paying more than the marketplace says you must, out of the goodness of your heart, is a sure formula for becoming much less successful.

The theme of the Times piece is interesting. It looks at the contention that Wal-Mart has an obligation to uplift the American worker, just as General Motors did after the Second World War.

I can’t imagine a leakier argument. Yes, the U.S. auto industry has been an employer of choice. But if you don’t think that’s the key contributor to the Big Three’s sliding market share, you’re still driving an Edsel.

Autoworkers in the 1970s and '80s helped themselves to fabulous wages and benefits – at the cost of jobs for their children and children’s children. Those paycheques were unsustainable! The automakers are now restructuring their factories and processes to remove all possible wage costs. They are cutting and contracting out jobs as fast as they can – while there is still a domestic auto industry to save.

Anyway, take a look at the Times story (free registration may be required). If you’re human, you’ll be moved by the dilemma facing workers who earn so little they can’t shop at their own store. In the end, is it enough to say, “That’s their problem. They should have become lawyers and brain surgeons”?

But don’t stop there. Be sure to take a look at “Wal-Mart Bows to Unions, Copies GM Success Formula,” by right-wing blogger Scott Ott at

It’s a hilarious response to the NYT story. It includes these gems:

“In the short-term, analysts said that investors can expect to see their $48/share Wal-Mart stock "level out" around $3 and then begin its upward climb as the store reestablishes its brand identity as the place where Americans shop to provide higher-wage jobs for less fortunate Americans.”

"The unions have helped us to understand that we've been looking at the retailing business backward for 50 years," Wal-Mart’s CEO said.

The rest of the fun is at

(If you’re really trying to avoid getting any work done, do check out the comments that people are appending to this story. It’s a fabulous debate. There were 95 comments as of 3:30 pm, and they just started this morning!)

Speaking of TiVo…

For the most part, Canada is a card-carrying member of the 21st century – except when it comes to TiVo. Digital video services are being offered by the cable companies, but we don’t have an active consumer marketplace for effortlessly timeshifting our favorite TV shows (though why more people can’t program a VCR, I don’t know).

What most people don’t know is that TiVo started out like any other underfunded startup, just six years ago. How did it get so popular, so fast that their very name is now a verb among diehard US TV viewers?

Well, they worked hard to make TiVo easy enough for anyone to use. When TiVo CFO David Courtney saw his three-year-old programming the family set, he knew this product was ready for market – even in all those homes where the VCR still flashes 12:00. Of course, raising US$750 million in capital also helped, even though they haven’t yet made a dime in profit.

This is a success story few Canadians understand. You can get the full story on how TiVo changed U.S. television from the savvy folks at the Wharton School of Business.

(If you like this article, consider signing up for their free e-newsletter, which has lots of insightful stuff every few weeks. And no, they don’t pay me to say these things.)

I was intrigued with how TiVo is turning TV advertising on its head.

Known by many consumers as a way to skip commercials, TiVo ironically has begun making money by selling advertising. Instead of traditional commercials, TiVo sells spots that appear when movies or TV are paused. Each time the "pause" button is pressed, a new advertisement appears on the bottom third of the screen, usually announcing contests or special deals. … Courtney noted that audiences are responding very well to these innovative ads. "We're not limited to the typical 30-second or 60-second spot," he said. "Advertisers are free to be creative."

One gripe: while the article notes that TiVo faces increasing competition, I think it understates TiVo’s problems. Aside from other hardware makers and cable companies, TiVo is being outflanked by Internet services such as BitTorrent, which allow people to download almost any recent program they like. Not quite legal, but a technology that isn’t going away.

The everything-on-demand world is coming faster than anyone thought. The day of the whole family sitting around watching TV together is as dead as Sunday dinner.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Space – the final business frontier

That’s the title of my little story on the business ramifications of space travel, which was just published at

It was originally supposed to run with a story on Top 10 Business Trends, as explained below, but there just wasn’t room for all seven. Space travel was cut (and just now posted online separately) because the immediate ramifications and opportunities weren’t apparent enough. Long term, though, I think space will be incredibly influential.

With the private sector (think Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, Richard Branson, even Jeff Bezos from muscling into space flight, launches into suborbital space will become everyday affairs. Soon the well-heeled will be travelling from New York to Tokyo in an hour or two. (On some days, the baggage lineup will be the longest part of the trip.) And the cost of doing science in zero gravity will fall through the floor (so to speak), which could result in huge breakthroughs in biotech, materials sciences, etc.

Plus, I have no doubt it will change our whole concept of what it means to be human.

Check out the story at

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Death on the Net

This story is way too funny not to share. It may even be true.

Seems there was this maladjusted hacker who was annoying people in an IRC chat room. When the moderator threatened to bounce him, the hacker asked for the moderator’s IP address – so he could send a virus to his machine.

After receiving repeated insults, the moderator finally gave him an IP address – the hacker’s own ID. The hacker gleefully started attacking the computer at that address. He kept chatting the whole time, giving a blow-by-blow account as he slowly disabled its various drives, including – finally – his own hard drive. And that’s the last anyone ever heard of “bitchchecker.”

It’s sort of like the Wicked Witch of the West’s slow, painful “I’m mellltttinnggg,” but without the self-awareness.

Clive Thompson has a good summary of the story, and an edited version of the strangely morbid chat transcript. (Look for his post on April 29).

You can read a longer, albeit more confusing, version here.

I’ll see your 7 trends and raise you 3

The story that consumed my attention in March is now in print (and online). I researched the top 10 trends that will most affect business over the next five years for PROFIT Magazine.

My article came out longer than expected, because I just couldn’t do justice to the new demographics, nanotechnology, or even China, in the space I was assigned. So my 10 Trends turned into 7 for publication. (The remaining three will be doled out over the next few weeks in PROFIT’s online newsletter, PROFIT Xtra.)

For the record, here are my Top 7:
The sensor society (RFIDs are just the beginning)
Telling customers what they want to hear (the new economics of one-to-one marketing)
Aging boomers fight it every step of the way (the graying workforce means big changes in business, and an unexpected succession crisis)
The China syndrome (The Middle Kingdom’s rise into the first rank of industrial nations is creating huge opportunities and risks)
Innovation in process, not product (just think of Dell: with manufacturing now a commodity, how you do business will be more important than what you make)
The end of cheap oil (coming faster than we think)
Treating customers like human beings (in the Age of the Individual)

Alas, my other three trends are:

1. Wireless waves: Canada’s current wireless market is like a supermarket with just two shelves of food
2. Matter on demand: Nanotech is a whole new way of looking at manufacturing, materials and innovation
3. Space Travel: Between the Mars probes, SpaceShip One’s capturing of the X Prize last year, and Virgin Galactic’s upcoming fleet of space ships, space flight is capturing the public imagination again and becoming a growth industry. We will never look at our planet the same way again.

You can check out the 7-point story at

I will try to keep you updated on the other three trends as they are published online.

Meanwhile, do check out Virgin Galactic’s website at

Welcome (finally!) to the 21st Century.