May 30, 2009


Work is a popularity contest, and the harsh truth is that when jobs are being cut, the guy who keeps his job is the one the boss likes best. --- Stephen Viscusi

You'll find lots of job advice these days. Earlier, we looked at three recommendations from the Harvard Business Review. Today we're looking at Bulletproof Your Job, a new book by Stephen Viscusi. Catchy title. Nice cover. No government funding. And the dust jacket states the four simple rules in eight big, bold words:
  1. be visible
  2. be easy
  3. be useful
  4. be ready
You'll find many good ideas. The table of contents does not show the full list of 50, which is annoying. The book is blunt. Some actions help you get ahead at the expense of others. 

Bulletproof Your Job is current enough to mention LinkedIn and Facebook but not Twitter. The content helps you in any economy but has the most appeal during a downturn. You'll benefit most if you work in a corporate environment. You'll get value in other situations too, including sales.

Rather than repeating points from the book, I'll share thoughts on the four suggestions from my real world experience. 

Be Visible
Q: Why do men prefer beautiful women over brainy women?
A: Because men see better than they think.
--- Unknown
Familiarity is your powerful ally in building relationships. If you can't see your boss regularly due to travel or location, stay visible by phone and email. This is not the same as meeting in person but much better than fading from memory. When you do more than your clients and colleagues expect, they are more likely to mention you to your superiors.

You also want to be on the radar of people outside your company. Create, complete and update your profile on LinkedIn. Associate with people who have the potential to hire you or recommend you to people who can hire you. You want to do this now not when you're looking for a job.

Be Easy

Maybe in some other lifetime you won't fit.
And if you don't fit, you're fit for nothing at all.
--- Joe Jackson
Back in 1984, when I graduated from the University of Western Ontario, the job market stunk even for actuarial students. Of the 17 graduates, only four found jobs. Three of us had the top grades. The fourth had average grades but looked good, was very likable and the only one with a BMW. Over the years, he had difficulty passing the 10 actuarial exams and disappeared. Neither likability nor technical skills are sufficient on their own.

Some workers are a hassle to have around but not enough of a pain to dismiss. During a downsizing, they go first. The displaced are miffed to see others who seem less capable (to them) survive. Attitude and likability matter that much.

After a downsizing, fewer remain. So there's less tolerance for keeping annoying or negative employees. You don't want to travel with someone who keeps asking "are we there yet?" It's easier to get rid of the squeaky wheel than to keep applying oil.

Be Useful

How can I be useful, of what service can I be?
There is something inside me, what can it be?
--- Vincent van Gogh

See how far you get by being useless. Some employees have a strong sense of what their job entails. They rebel when you ask them to do something necessary but outside their job description. Say photocopying, testing software or answering the phone. Ask them to learn something new and they are reluctant.  Ask them to change how they do something and they're reluctant. These people find themselves on the short list when staff reductions are imminent. They don't understand when notified that their services are no longer required. How can they get booted out? After all, they were doing their job.

Be Ready

Most people have the will to win,
few have the will to prepare to win.
--- Bobby Knight
Remember Y2K when the whole world seemed ready to collapse? Did you stock up on cash, bottled water, food and batteries? That's being prepared.

In a work environment, you prepare yourself for emergencies by setting aside savings or having a secured line of credit. You can prepare for opportunities by improving your skills: strengthening your weaknesses and learning totally new things. You demonstrate what you know when you help others

An Easy Start
Here's an easy way to get started: social media. As an experiment, build a following on Twitter. Blogging is even better but takes more work. You can even be anonymous if you're insecure.

If you're willing to use your real name, add value on LinkedIn. Answer questions in your areas of expertise. Join relevant groups. As you practice, you'll have a higher profile, be easier to deal with, more useful to others and better prepared for whatever comes.


May 24, 2009

Does billionaire Seymour Schulich help you "Get Smarter"?

The sequel to Bruce Willis' Die Hard is Die Harder. So isn't Get Smarter the sequel to Get Smart, the 2008 movie that grossed $230 million US? Maybe you're old enough to remember the 1960s TV show about inane spy Maxwell Smart.

Get Smarter isn't a movie. Get Smarter isn't about improving your memory or intelligence. Get Smarter is a 2007 book with lessons for business and life from a wealthy Canadian. Seymour Schulich, then a 67 year old billionaire, targeted the 20-40 crowd. 
Canada now has 18 of the world's 793 billionaires according to Forbes (in $US): ranging from David Thomson & family with $13B to Michael Lee-Chin with $1.0B.
You probably got lots of free, unsolicited advice from "wise elders" like your parents. You can get more from self-help books. If you think that wealthier means wiser, you can read books by or about billionaires like Richard Branson, Donald Trump, T Boone Pickens, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Does the world need one more?

Schulich Who?
You can find out more about Seymour Schulich on Wikipedia. Although a billionaire, Schulich got support (money?) from the 
  • Canadian Council for the Arts
  • the Ontario Arts Council
  • the Ontario Book Initiative
  • the federal Book Publishing Industry Development Program
Was this taxpayer support really needed?

There are oddities you rarely find in a book. For instance, how long has Schulich been married? The Introduction says 38 years but the dust jacket says 37. If you forget an entire 365 days, would your spouse keep you until the next anniversary?

Here's another. The Introduction says that many books have "two or three main ideas" but Schulich wants readers to get "twenty to thirty ideas". Quantity over quality? The back cover quotes a reader who finds that most books have "two or three usable ideas" but this book has "twenty to twenty-five great insights". How convenient. This is similar to the odd self-promotion for Daniel Gross' Dumb Money.

You'll find incomplete statements that beg questions. Schulich says he drove the same car for 11 years but doesn't say what car. If it's a Honda Civic, kudos to him. If it's a Rolls Royce or Maybach, shouldn't it last? Does he have only one car? Is he usually driven by a chauffeur, which means he drives little? He also says he's lived in the same house for 30 years but maybe it's a magnificent mansion that's continually renovated. We don't know. Maybe he has multiple properties.

The government involvement and oddities made me cringe. Attention to detail and authenticity are keys to credibility. For your benefit, I read the entire book but skimmed Appendices II - IV. 

Lessons Learned
You'll find valuable lessons in Get Smarter. The cartoons are nice. The chapters are short and easy to read. 

Here are nine points that stood out
  1. know your edge: as Seth Godin says in The Dip, "Average people are in the majority, but they're not in demand."
  2. use reciprocity, the first of Robert Cialdini's six universal principles of influence
  3. you won't get truly wealthy if you're paid for your hours rather than your results: read Timothy Ferriss' thoughts on how much you really earn
  4. inflation erodes the buying power of your savings but helps you as a borrower: lock in your debt for years when rates are low
  5. there are no overnight successes: read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell to understand the importance of the "10,000 hour rule" 
  6. be the promoter (and contract-writer), not the promotee
  7. givers set limits because takers won't
  8. the United States has 5% of the world's population but 70% of the lawyers; these lawyers take 3% of the GNP while the profits of the S&P 500 companies total 6% of the GNP
  9. "Fusion power will power all cars electrically and power all homes."
If you're ages 20-40 and haven't read many books, you may find that Schulich shares many treasures. If you want to benefit from government support too, get smart: get Get Smarter from your library. If you want a laugh, watch Get Smart. The movie's funny and so is the TV show. 


May 17, 2009

Jim Flaherty on the Economy and Financial Literacy

If meetings could solve the economic crisis, it would be over by now. --- Jim Flaherty on the many international meetings he's been attending

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty addressed CALU for the third consecutive year, earlier this month. He spoke the day after his boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Flaherty spoke off script, which made him more interesting. His triplets are already 18 months old. Sometimes strangers call his boys "three twins". 

Flaherty reminded us that a year ago there was concern that oil would reach $200 a barrel. The world is now in the midst of its first synchronized global recession, which Canada joined in the fourth quarter of 2008. We hate getting left out!

Canadian Differences
Since Canada still has a strong financial sector, other countries are looking at emulating the "boring" Canadian model. What sets us apart? Flaherty said:
  1. effective implementation of regulations (regulations without monitoring mean little)
  2. reasonable risk-taking
  3. regulation of investment banks (which were acquired by commercial banks, which The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) regulates); in the United States, investment banks faced less scrutiny and contributed to Dumb Money
  4. no housing crisis (mortgages are not tax-deductible as they are in the United States); also mortgages are insured when borrowing 80% or more of the value of the property; the government purchased about $56 billion worth of mortgages to help banks stay liquid
Internationally, fixing the banks is crucial. In Canada, Flaherty sees access to credit as the main issue. The situation is improving and banks can still raise equity here. The government is spending to improve infrastructure as the Prime Minister described. The government has an increased appetite for risk. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC) are lending accordingly. 

We lack a national securities regulator. Flaherty called this an international embarassment. Why does a country of 35 million people have 13 regulators? 

Other Good News
Politicians like to remind us of the good they've done. Flaherty remains proud of the Tax-Free Savings Account, which he still considers the centerpoint of his previous budget. The TFSA has been well received and benefits from what Warren Buffett calls the miracle of compound interest. 

Financial Literacy
What if you don't understand compound interest or other basics? Flaherty wants  to increase basic financial literacy. For example, what happens if you only pay the monthly minimum balance on your credit card? He asked CALU for help. At an evening reception, I spoke to Flaherty about this initiative, gave him my business card and volunteered to participate.

I talked to fellow blogger Canadian Capitalist over dinner. We both felt that anyone who wants to learn already can. Financial bloggers already help freely and would be willing to do more. The new Canadian Money Forum is a great resource started by CC and Million Dollar Journey. You can ask your questions and get thoughtful answers at no charge from a friendly community that cares. 


May 9, 2009

Preston Manning on Financial Planning

Political parties are marketing machines for winning elections.
---Preston Manning

Knowing how to win an election doesn't mean knowing how to run the country. Or having well-considered ideas. Or being financially prepared to run for office. When Preston Manning made these points at CALU 2009, his slightly squeaky voice reminded me of early Jimmy Stewart.

Preston Who?
You may recall Preston as the leader of the western Canada-based Reform Party. He now runs The Manning Centre for Building Democracy, "a national not-for-profit organization supporting research, educational, and communications initiatives designed to achieve a more democratic society in Canada guided by conservative principles."

Just don't look meaningful French content on their website at this time. Here's what you'll see today:

What's New: Il n'y a pas d'evenements au Centre Manning.
The English site lists five events. You might find the spotty translation from a national organization established back in 2005 surprising, offensive or amusing.

When To Sweat
Preston pointed out that a new Starbucks employee must complete 20-30 hours of training before serving you a coffee. Politicians aren't required to have any training in their core activity, law making. How would you feel if pilot boarding an airplane said "I've never been in one of these before."? Politicians learn on the job, but there's little tolerance for mistakes. Elsewhere, magician David Ben said you can sweat in public or private. But you will sweat.

Preston wants to train future politicians so they know how to make laws in the public interest. 

Financial Planning
Besides preparing politically, those who may run for office should prepare financially too. They need help with financial planning. Besides the normal issues affecting us all, what about the financial impact of
  • maintaining two residences
  • placing assets in a blind trust (as is required for government ministers)
  • drops in personal income while in parliament
  • current investment strategies (e.g., renting space to the government may look suspicious later)
The financial planning should be done now to help prepare candidates who start running for office in 10, 15 or 20 years. Preston acknowledged that CALU members have the skills and knowledge to help future candidates now. 
Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
--- Dwight D Eisenhower
Financial planning isn't glamorous or perfect. It's necessary for the rest of us too. Time zooms past. Our lives are rarely as tumultuous as a politician's, where one slip can ruin a career. If we fail to plan ... you know the rest. 


May 4, 2009

Seven In A Row: Prime Minister Harper Live Again

"I have now spoken at your annual conference for seven years --- four times as Prime Minister and three times before that. This is highly unusual. I rarely speak to any organization two years in a row, let alone seven. I am a great admirer of the work you do both as an organization and as individuals. Your devotion to the principles of entrepreneurship and to the responsibilities of civic involvement are near and dear to my own philosophical heart." 
--- Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The annual Conference for Advanced Life Underwriting (CALU) sessions bring Canada's eminent advisors to Ottawa each year. Why is the conference room locked this morning? For a security check using dogs. Twittering live @riscario, I speculated about an important guest.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed us for over 20 minutes. Four years ago, he had been PM for mere weeks and looked tired (but happy). This time, he looked rested and confident. He still joked:

I don't suppose this recession has made your jobs any easier. If it's any consolation, it hasn't made mine any easier either.
As you'd guess, the PM spoke about the economy. He used slides for the first time. 

Canada was the last into this recession. Canada is the least affected of the major developed countries and when the recovery comes --- as it eventually and inevitably will --- this country, Canada, will come out of it in the strongest position.
Better Than The Rest
Every country in the G20 is running a deficit. Ours is relatively small and expected to stay that way. We ran a surplus until February. Canada has
  1. the best fiscal position in the G7
  2. the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7
  3. the soundest banking system in the world
    (by market capitalization: 3rd largest in the world, 4 of the 10 largest banks in North America)
  4. low, stable inflation
  5. highly educated, skilled, mobile labour force
  6. diversified economic base
I felt good with these reminders. Our financial sector remains private.
Alone or in concert with other levels of government, we are moving planned capital investments from years ahead into the next two years. This stimulus spending must end when the recession ends. --- Prime Minister Harper
Other political parties might want to continue spending after the recession ends. Canadians can't decide ... and keep electing minority governments.

The Prime Minister faces many priorities. I'm delighted that he once again chose to spend time with CALU members, partners in helping you tame your financial risks.

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