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Archive for July, 2010

Wall Street Journal Opinion Page July 20, 2010

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Wall Street Journal Opinion Page July 20, 2010 “Real Wages Don’t Tell the Whole Compensation Story”

by: Geoff Ficke
Greg Tarpanian’s response to the article by Lee E. Ohanian (The Right Way to Raise Wages) is incorrect on a number of counts.

GDP growth in the 1960’s as compared to the last 2 decades was indeed higher than in the last two decades but in percentage terms only, owing to the much smaller size of the economy five decades ago.

Mr. Tarpanian’s lament that if real wages had risen at the rate of growth of GDP over the last 40 years the current annual real wage for non-supervisory workers would be around $60,000 per year, instead of the $30,000 it is today. His key descriptive, non-supervisory” is telling. The U.S. economy has evolved to a knowledge based economy that values and produces technology and is fueled by education and skills. We don’t, and won’t, make low or no-value added products here when they can be produced so much more inexpensively in second and third world countries. The non-supervisory, blue collar rote factory jobs so prevalent in the 1960’s have been devalued and replaced by the realities of our constantly evolving scientific, knowledge based economy.

Finally, Mr. Tarpanian, like so many union acolytes, ignores reality. Unions kill industries. Autos, glaziers, steelworkers, stevedores, airlines, ship building, shoes, garment and so many more once thriving trades and industries (look what the SEIU and AFSCME have done to hamstring government) have either left for greener pastures, been bankrupted or been replaced by mechanization that indeed increases productivity.

Unskilled, undereducated workers in highly industrialized countries will never be able to appreciably increase their wages as long as the world continues to desire and reward producers for providing technology advances that improve lives at reasonable costs. Unless, and until unions recognize this reality they remain obviated and there will remain a permanent divide in real wages.

How Not to Choose a Professional Consultant

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

by: Geoff Ficke

Several years ago I wrote an article entitled “How Do You Choose the Best Marketing Consultant”. The article was posted on my website – – and on numerous print and internet links. The content was written to advise layman of the many options and obstacles that should be addressed in their search for experienced and competent consulting help. Common sense, some inside-baseball tips and guidance on avoiding shyster’s constituted the bulk of the articles copy points.

Since being printed, the article has elicited much positive response. I appreciate the nice comments and reviews. I also, fully recognize the wild, wild, west nature of the internet and the reality that anyone’s work may be misrepresented and even plagiarized by some unsavory elements that play in the “mucky” side of the medium. So I write the following as a real life cautionary advisory.

Recently while policing my web-site and personal web links I discovered a link to my article “How Do You Choose the Best Marketing Consultant” that had been posted by the marketing consulting firm True North Services. I know nothing of this firm, its associates, experience or abilities. I was, however, shocked that my article was re-printed in the link and on their web-site in its exact entirety, and only in the finest small print at the bottom of the article re-print am I credited. The professional, honorable way to credit authorship is with a bi-line and source mentioned at the top of an article, beneath the title.

When you visit the True North Services web-site there is a tab on the Home Page noting their “Articles”. My article is included as if authored by this firm.

This may seem a small point, a slight indiscretion in a world full of violence, duplicity and corruption. Maybe! Nevertheless, if a service provider in any field feels compelled to use a competitor’s work product to enhance their curriculum vitae what does this say about their ability, originality of thought, creativity (or lack thereof) and honor as a potential working partner.

In a laissez-faire medium such as the internet, and in a world where unscrupulous firms will sell shoddy products and services through gross misrepresentation, it is crucial that buyers and clients exercise due diligence before making decisions. The purpose of my article “How Do You Choose the Best Marketing Consultant” is to assist in that process. The fact that good perspective, guidance and intentions have been abused by misrepresenting this writing should make seekers of professional services even more careful and wary.

“It Might Have Been” The Saddest Words of Tongue or Pen

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

by: Geoff Ficke

The American poet John Greenleaf Whittier once famously reflected; “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been”. These words are of particular relevance today as modern life is buffeted by fear, insecurity and constant social and commercial change. The capacity for humans in developed countries to look to others for sustenance is a contemporary phenomenon fertilized in the 20th century and wildly expanded in the early 21st.

For most of human history individuals and small family groups were solely responsible for hunting, gathering and protecting their persons from the elements. No one retired. There were no work rules except you had better work and produce yours, and your family’s sustenance. Vacations were unknown. Laziness would result in being cast out of the family unit and likely starvation.

Indeed, in most of the world to this day, people still eke out their living as subsistence herders, farmers or fisherman. They begin work as soon as they can walk and labor on until they die. Anthropologists have studied these populations and noted that on the whole, they seem to be more fulfilled, happier and content with the simplest pleasures of life than citizens of more wealthy, developed regions.

What makes modern man, resident of industrialized countries so melancholy? The relative abundance of necessities, and the opportunity to have these elements subsidized, or provided gratis have created entitlement societies. This entitlement mindset has meant that many of us, not all for certain but many, have lost the edge to live life to the fullest, face risk bravely, occasionally fall down, but always rise to fight on another day. It is easier for these folk to blame others and as they sight abundance all around them, feel and stake a claim on this bounty even though they have not contributed to its creation.

I find this waste of talent, energy and personal fulfillment to be abhorrent. As Mr. Whittier so aptly stated; ”It might have been”. That it MIGHT have been means that it wasn’t. Opportunity has been lost for these souls. Life passes by and regrets; remorse and bitterness at the unfairness and vagaries of life is almost always blamed on others.

Recently I attended the funeral of a very old friend. Life had not gone well for this lifelong acquaintance. As usually happens at the burial and the wake, friends and family discussed my departed friend and told stories about his life, loves and experiences. Sadly, as I made my way from many of his oldest friends to his family he was remembered with love, but also with a deep sadness. The melancholy was evident as many spoke of the departed’s disappointment that his blue collar job and unfulfilled dreams that had turned him into a sad, semi-bitter old man.

This man had raised a family, worked, lived in a small tidy home, attended church, drove his own car, and possessed all of the modern conveniences of life: air conditioning, telephone, color television, washer, dryer, etc. In short, he was one of the richest people in the history of the world. But he had, and regularly expressed deep regrets at the path his life had taken. He was an unsatisfied inventor. At the time of his death his home workshop was full of models, prototypes and renderings of products he had conceived and wanted to bring to market. “It might have been”, if only my old friend had been able to take the plunge and commit himself to fulfilling his dreams.

In my marketing and product development consulting business we meet all kinds of people seeking to commercialize their ideas and inventions. Many of the ideas are poorly conceived or have other problems. However, many offer real commercial appeal and opportunity. But very few, only a handful will ever be given a chance to see the consumer product marketplace. The dreamers who choose to find reasons not to fully commit themselves to seek success are cheating themselves.

I could not imagine facing the end of life and having regrets that I had let life pass me by, not played the game of life as fully as possible. W. C. Fields tombstone famously read, “I’d rather be here than in Philadelphia”. Too many people should have gravestones that state: “It might have been”.

A Simple Lesson from Aristotle On the Value of Finishing What You Start

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

by: Geoff Ficke

The greatest Greek philosopher, Aristotle, is widely studied and discussed to this very day for his keen observations on the human condition. For almost 2400-years Aristotle’s numerous writings, philosophical tracts and pithy comments on men and their relations toward each other and their environment have been dissected for the many layers of meaning that can be conjured from attempting to decipher his reasoning and logic. He enchants us still.

I find that many of Aristotle’s most used, famous quotes are amazingly relevant in our current time. One of my favorite quotes from Aristotle that enjoys particular resonance to the 21st century is the following: “A whole is that which has a beginning, middle, and an end”. Simple, no! Clearly understandable! And yet, not put into practice or followed to a successful conclusion nearly often enough.

For entrepreneurs the process of starting a new enterprise can be daunting. There is an initial idea or concept. Research and due diligence are undertaken to verify the viability of the product or service. A Business Plan is written. Assembly of raw materials, sources of supply and manufacture are defined. Costs, sales models, marketing strategies and branding are created to support the product launch. Finally the project is presented to decision makers, the target customer. Sales commence. This is a brief outline of the beginning, middle and end of a product development cycle, much as described in Aristotle’s generalized quote.

Unfortunately the “end” portion of completing the circle of the whole is too often never realized. People, most of us, tend to procrastinate. We rationalize inactivity. We can justify our tardiness in not completing projects with a parcel of excuses. In my marketing and consumer product development consulting business we see and hear an unending stream of these “enterprise killers” every single day.

A task is not worth undertaking unless there is laser-like focus on seeing the task through to the “end”. We might not succeed in the marketplace with the finished work product the job pursues, but unless we finish the effort we will never learn what the outcome might really be. For many people there is a visceral preference for not receiving a firm verdict on their work. Some are afraid to succeed. Many are just afraid. The excuse not to finalize a project and put that work to the test of the marketplace is always vexing to me.

Successful entrepreneurs find ways to overcome all obstacles and finish and launch their projects. They possess an innate courage. They always complete the whole, conjuring the beginning, working to assemble the middle and planning, sighting and accomplishing the “end”. These high achievers are separated from the dreamers who never quite get all the way into the game by an inner-drive to finish every job they start.

“Without Risk There Is No Adventure” In Any Aspect of Life

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

by: Geoff Ficke

In 2007 a film documentary on extreme skiing was introduced to the public at the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie, “Steep….Without Risk There is No Adventure” is a stunning homage to daredevil, pioneering athletes who test themselves in ways that defy logic as exercised by more timid, placid souls. Risking one’s life in pursuit of bigger, meaner, steeper, ever more remote mountain challenges and attacking these seemingly insurmountable obstacles on a pair of boards strapped to the feet is an amazing display of courage, recklessness and fortitude that is rarely seen in today’s play it safe society.

The movie tracks the birth and growth of extreme skiing as the world’s most challenging sport. In 1971, Bill Briggs successfully skied down Wyoming’s Grand Teton Mountain, from peak to the foot of the famous, jagged rock. This is credited as the birth of extreme skiing. At the time it was considered a near impossibility to conquer Grand Teton on ski’s, owing to the sheer drops, thin snow cover and rock crevices that had not only never been skied, but were not well charted.

Brigg’s is interviewed in Steep and famously stated, “If there is no risk, there is no adventure”. His accomplishment, and his aversion to country club, resort skiing, opened the eyes of a whole generation of swashbuckling ski entrepreneurs who began to seek out the most daring and dangerous mountains and glaciers to conquer. Many of these devotees of Bill Briggs, the pioneers of extreme skiing are interviewed and filmed in death defying runs down some of the planets most difficult mountain terrain. The photography is breathtaking, the sight of a tiny speck of humanity taking on the ever changing face of these dangerous mountains is humbling and the athleticism, strength and courage that these exceedingly brave men, and women, display is awe inspiring.

I recently saw Steep again. My first viewing left me sapped by what I had witnessed as an amazing athletic feat performed against overwhelming odds. There was no great financial incentive involved. These extreme skiers were challenging themselves in the greatest, most perfect possible way, by placing their most precious commodity, their lives at risk.

My second viewing reinforced all that I took away from my 2007 theatre introduction to the film, but I left with something else this time. These brave athletes were actually exponentially increasing their adventure by equally enhancing their risk, by facing potential death or serious physical harm in full pursuit of the greatest possible reward they could achieve. The possibility of failure is a large part of what motivates this type of risk taking and makes the achievement of success even more satisfying.

This is the basis of all human achievement. People that play it safe are numerous, productive and ordinary. We need them, and plenty of them. However, they are not visionary, entrepreneurs, creators or engines of invention for business or society. Only risk takers propel advances that improve our lives and the world in which we live, and all risk takers are willing to face the possibility of failure.

We live in a time of economic uncertainty. A job for life, a common piece of the employment compact in past generations, is no longer tenable. And yet, we see politicians, unions and social activists continually chanting for artificial inducements to create jobs. This never works, but they keep on crying for something more to be tried; another “jobs bill’, or shovel ready project. The avoidance of risk is exactly what dooms this type of social engineering.

Innovation creates economic opportunity. In order for there to be innovation, we need to get the government out of the way and allow for the reality that if you try to succeed, you might fail. This is life. Artificially propping up everyone with a safety net will only sap creativity and hamstring risk taking.

The extreme skiers portrayed so gloriously in the movie Steep are actually more than great, courageous athletes. They are role models for living life to the fullest, getting into the game, entrepreneurial greatness and pushing personal limits. Fewer and fewer of us are willing to participate fully in the great game of life. Risk is a tonic for the lethargy and torpor that so many people’s lives have become. As Bill Briggs so aptly stated, “If there is no risk, there is no adventure”.