December 18, 2010


59 seconds cover 325x450Got a minute? Perfect. You'll have a second left.

Here's a gift idea for you last minute shoppers. It's Richard Wiseman's book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Amazon unaffiliate link).

Richard describes effective tips you can apply in less than a minute. This isn't a shallow "1,001 Ways To ..." book with gobs of filler and flaky ideas. In 59 Seconds, you get quality and quantity. The content is consistent with research I've seen elsewhere.

In the sphere of psychology and human behaviour, findings are never 100% conclusive but there are enough points to make you popular at parties.


59 Seconds doesn't focus on shattering urban myths, but dispatches several. Popularity isn't proof.

For instance, the self-help industry routinely quotes a 1950s study conducted by a prestigious university (usually Harvard or Yale). The 3% of graduates with written goals soon become more successful than the other 97%. I agree with setting goals but the study never took place.


You'll get tips on
  • why positive thinking fails
  • how to negotiate better (a pet frog helps)
  • the right way to praise children
You may have come across some of the techniques in other books. Here you'll get a concise synopsis. The results are combined with other research too.

The result? An original book that educates and entertains. That's not all. You get actions you can implement in seconds. That fits today's lifestyle. You might even find tips to help with your New Year's resolutions.

Listen Or Read?

I listened to the audiobook. The narrator (Jonathan Cowley) has a pleasant British accent. Listening is fine except you'll have trouble doing the quizzes — especially when driving.

You'll get more benefit from the written book, which is easy for reference.

Bonus: 20 Quirky Science-based Party Tricks

Do you want to add zing to your next party? Here are 20 ideas. They're from Richard but not from 59 Seconds.

10 Experiments

The Lighter Side of Richard Wiseman–Part 1

10 More

The Lighter Side of Richard Wiseman–Part 1

This is the final post of 2010. This time last year, we were in India.

The best to you and yours during the holidays.
May your 2011 be as nice as heaven!


Podcast 97 (3:27)

direct link | Internet Archive page

PS If you're looking for other gift ideas, how about the gift of networking or simply give your greatest gift? I hope you won't spend Christmas in the emergency ward as we did in 2008.

December 12, 2010


The Dementia Epidemic (The Actuary magazine, Dec 2010)
[Selected by Rob Carrick for his Personal Finance Reader in The Globe and Mail]

The Actuary magazine (yes there is one and it's pretty good) has a scary article about the dementia epidemic (PDF) by Karen Henderson of the Long Term Care Planning Network.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. It's tough enough to say ("Alltimers" or "ol' timers") and spell. Symptoms of this fatal brain disease affect include loss of memory, delusions, paranoia and aggressiveness. Patients may need help with everyday activities like bathing, eating, dressing and toileting.

Imagine the toll on families and caregivers.

I have no personal experience but know several people whose parents are affected. There's a Hollywood interpretation in The Notebook (IMDB link).

The Disease

Dementia affects all ages and cultures. Alzheimer's Disease primarily affects women and the incidence rates double every five years after age 65. However, you can get it if you're younger or a male. The disease is progressive and fatal. There is currently no cure.

The Prevalence

In Canada, 0.5 million have dementia. What about the US? The usual rule of thumb — Canada x 10 — projects 5 million. The latest estimate is 5.3 million. That's enough to fill cities. Worldwide, 35.6 million are afflicted. That's enough to fill countries.

The Cost

The cost of dementia is estimated at $604 billion ($US) — 1.3% of North America's GDP or about 1.5 times Wal-Mart's annual revenue. Big, big, big numbers. As an economy, dementia ranks as the world’s 18th largest. That’s about the size of Turkey and larger than the economies of Belgium and Sweden. In North America, we have the world’s highest costs at $48.6K per patient per year ($8.4K for medical care, $22.2K for nonmedical care and $18.0K for informal unpaid care). Here 71% of caregivers are females and 52% are spouses. In the urban US, 70-79% of patients live at home.

Even if the figures are overstated, dementia is a big problem and big business.

Giving Care

If you're caring for a family member (especially your spouse), can you concentrate at work? Can you even work? Do you neglect other family members? Tough questions.

About 40% of family caregivers show signs of depression, rage and trouble coping. The patient may no longer be able to live at home as the condition deteriorates or exceeds the abilities of the caregivers.

What you can do? You can hope for the best but prepare for the worst.


Critical illness insurance may provide coverage for Alzheimer’s and other dreadful diseases. Some designs return your premiums if you don't make a claim. Your car insurance and home insurance don't. Yet critical illness insurance remains unsuccessful.

Long Term Care insurance makes payments when activities of daily living can no longer be performed.
Before you buy, consider the three keys to getting your claim paid. Plans differ. You don't want to delude yourself into thinking you’re better protected than you are. If your advisor only sells products from one company, be especially cautious. If you already have coverage, how good is it compared with the latest plans? Is the amount of coverage  still adequate? It's a good idea to get a review to make sure you're properly protected.

As with other forms of life and health insurance, the longer you wait
Dementia is hardly the only disease that can knock us down. At least there are ways to offset the financial costs.


Podcast Episode 96 (5:28)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS The post is meant to inform, not alarm.

December 5, 2010


Do you look like this when asked to speak in public?
Albert Einstein said that communication puts your education at your disposal. If you can't express yourself, what use is your knowledge? Communication skills are essential for confidence and leadership.

If you're terrified to speak in front of a group, join Toastmasters. The End ... or rather, The Beginning. 

If you think you're already good, join to get better and help others.

About Toastmasters

Toastmasters is an international nonprofit organization that started in 1924 to help people speak better. You're not alone. There are 260,000+ members in 12,500+ clubs around the world. If you live in a city, you'll probably find several meetings nearby.

Famous Toastmasters include Tim Allen, Debbie Fields, Napoleon Hill, Leonard Nimoy and the terrified Squawkfox.  After 10 speeches, you'll become a Competent Communicator.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think Toastmasters was super valuable to their career. — Harvey Mackay
Here's the big surprise: as a guest, you attend free as long as you like. You can participate in portions of the meeting but are not forced. You're invited to join but not cajoled.

Why Me?

Since speaking skills are essential for success, I took an evening course at Humber College in 1994 after completing my actuarial exams. Within months, I addressed an audience of several hundred … and survived. I've since spoken coast-to-coast and internationally. I mainly deliver prepared presentations accompanied by PowerPoint. There's room to improve. For instance, I'm reluctant to ask questions when in the audience.

In October, my friend Flavian DeLima suggested Toastmasters to hone my skills. I knew of the organization but had never attended a meeting. Since there was no downside, I decided to explore.

The Right Location

Since each club has a different feeling, you'll probably want to try several before deciding.  I started with the most convenient location and time: Goodyear Toastmasters  on Thursdays at 6:45 PM. (The website looks dated but don't judge a volunteer-run club by its homepage.)

I instantly felt at home. That's not because this was the Halloween meeting and members wore costumes. I loved the warm, friendly atmosphere.  Members were diverse and their skills varied. I didn't bother checking out other clubs.

Three Big Advantages

While each club differs, you'll find the following elements in common
  1. nonjudgmental: you're welcome regardless of your level of skills and you aren't compared with others
  2. no pressure: you're not forced to speak until you're ready. Sometimes guests remain silent or speakers back out.
  3. many opportunities: members have roles which change each week. They range from running the meeting to sharing trivia to timing speakers to counting fillers like "um", "ah" and "er"
Besides communicating better, you also build leadership skills. What you get out depends on what you put in.

The Silly Part

There's a weekly Table Topic. You talk for 60 seconds about a randomly selected topic (e.g., "What mystery do you most want to solve and why?"). If that's not enough, everyone is required to use a specified word or phrase (e.g., "Thriller Night", an homage to Michael Jackson's Thriller). I thought this was silly. In real life, when do you talk off-the-cuff about something you know nothing about with no time to prepare? Unless you're a politician or celebrity.

I now see the value. Speaking coherently without preparation sharpens your skills. The Table Topic gives you practice.

There's no harm in trying Toastmasters.


Podcast Episode 95 (5:02)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS If you're in Etobicoke, feel free to visit Goodyear Toastmasters.

November 28, 2010


graduate 490x944
The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. — Albert Einstein

High school students at TEDxIBYork and Schulich MBA students at the Philanthropic Leadership Workshop got me thinking about formal education in today's fast changing world.

By the time you graduate, part of your education is already out of date. Yet what you've learned is far different from what your parents and potential employers know. You're behind and ahead at the same time.


Most teachers waste their time by asking questions which are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning has for its purpose to discover what the pupil knows or is capable of knowing. — Albert Einstein
We learn in different ways. Despite best efforts, that's where formal education may let you down.

Maybe you excel in a classroom setting with a fixed syllabus, homework and exams. Online video may be your thing. You might like reading books or listening to them. You may work better in isolation or in groups. Or a combination of the preceding.

Once you find out what works best for you, go to it! Do try other ways occasionally. The ways you learn may change. I did well in school but cringe at the thought of taking another formal course. I now prefer self-study "just in time" learning for what's important at the moment.


You adapt to your environment. You think like your peers and community. Even rebels conform to the norm for rebels. You may not notice that others think differently until you're exposed to other perspectives. As you decide if those views have merit, you have the opportunity to change your thinking and perhaps your life.

There's a drawback in becoming an MBA, engineer, doctor, accountant or fund raiser. We risk becoming more like our peers than the people we want to help. Our solutions tend to be similar to our peers'.

As in The Matrix, it's not evident that you have a distorted view of the world around you. I didn't realize this until nine years after university. I thought my actuarial training gave me a clear view of the world. Instead, I found that I thought like my peers actuaries and was puzzled when others couldn't see what was "obvious" to us. Since then, I've focused on getting exposed to different perspectives and understanding them. Synthesizing disparate sources gives you a unique lens on the world.


Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.
— Albert Einstein

You'll eventually find that what you learned in school doesn't matter. Knowing that may help you through boring material taught by dull teachers. Education teaches you to think on your own. Once you do, you're equipped to adapt and  thrive in the ever-changing world.


Podcast Episode 94 (3:50)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS Albert Einstein also said "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

November 21, 2010


bride and bangles at an Indian wedding
"Would they ever look so happy again the handsome groom and his bride as they stepped into that long black limousine for their mystery ride?"
— Bruce Springsteen,
Walk Like A Man

Watching might change an outcome because of the observer effect. That's bad news for scientists but helps with our futures. A wedding is an ideal time to look forward. What happens when you look back years later?

A recent Indian wedding was recorded by one videographer, three photographers and many amateurs. As you'd expect, the rolling video camera tripod had the best position — right at the front of the stage. The photographers moved about and the knack of picking the ideal point for a specific shot. One photographer stood watching when not taking photos. As a consequence, the audience's line of site was often obstructed.

What's more important
  1. memorializing an event for future viewing?
  2. maximizing the experience for the live audience?
Since a wedding has the most significance for the bride, groom and immediate family, their interests take precedence. That's fine. The sacrifice for the audience is minor. Besides, you see enough weddings in Bollywood movies.

Opposites Distract

A newborn quickly teaches parents the importance of now with their intense, immediate demands. They aren't patient. A child continues these lessons. Still impatient. Other priorities drop in importance because they aren't urgent. We tend to put off what we can. For example, preparing for contingencies such as the four financial risks. They seem unlikely or so far away. Until they're not. Objects may be closer than we think — even if obstructed or in a blind spot.

Opposites may attract but combine a spender with a saver and expect conflicts. Planning is tough even if you and your spouse agree on priorities.

Looking Back

We can replay events but we can't change the past. Professional events have multiple video cameras watching from a distance. This keeps the views unobstructed and provides additional perspectives.

You're better able to build a past you'll want to remember, if you consider the experience of others.  Dr. John Izzo compiled the shared wisdom of those age 60-105 in  The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die (don't let the title put you off).

Looking Forward

When you do what you ought to do, when you ought to do it, the day will come when you will be able to do what you want to do when you want to do it. 
Zig Ziglar
What aren't you doing that you know would help you? Make a list. You needn't prioritize, act or schedule right away. The process still helps free your mind. As a bonus, you'll save time when you're preparing your New Year's Resolutions.


Podcast Episode 93 (3:59)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS How often do couples re-watch their wedding videos?

November 14, 2010


Taxevity branding by Fritz Lyons
This time last year, I left the corporate world to became an entrepreneur. Scary? Not really. Exciting? Yes.  I wanted to make the switch earlier but was procrastinating. Since I got pushed out after 18 years, I got a nice severance package to cushion the landing.

The transition wasn't very risky because of advance planning. Here's why:
  • Viable business plan (understood the clients and the competitors)
  • Low start-up costs (less than $10,000)
  • Low fixed expenses (business and personal)
The biggest asset is a supportive family since you'll have more challenges than revenue in the beginning.

The Steps

I've devoted my life to life insurance: designing products, helping top advisors with their key clients and harnessing social media to explain the benefits. So switching to selling life insurance wasn't a huge step — though nontraditional for an actuary. I already knew how to do the deep technical work, create effective marketing material, make presentations and network.

If you're lacking essential skills, why not start building them now? Find others who are strong where you're weak. If you can't, perhaps your ideas aren't compelling or you aren't persuasive. The sooner you  find out, the sooner you can improve.


To start, I focused on building a brand that instils confidence. That's important when you're selling a service. For example, you're at a disadvantage if you use a generic email address (e.g., Gmail or Hotmail) and don't build a website. Here are the basics
  1. Company Name: my wife, Sharmila, created the short, intriguing name TaxevityTM
  2. Design: Fritz Lyons did wonders with the logo, business card and PowerPoint template (see the screenshot at the top of this blog post)
  3. Online presence: Laszlo Elo of developed the PS Network, a cohesive structure that incorporates my blogs, newsletter, websites and Twitter feeds
Once Fritz did the basic branding, I created mock-ups and started introducing Taxevity to others. By now, I'd created PowerPoint presentations to explain my vision. The content and online presence weren't finalized but why work sequentially? That's too slow and delays your revenue opportunities.

I needed a distributor since insurers don't deal directly with advisors (see three keys to getting your claim paid). To my pleasant surprise, PPI Advisory agreed. They are the leaders in the high net-worth market. Their support team includes accountants, lawyers and actuaries. That's ideal.


A successful business needs clients. Write that down. For safety, my approach uses multiple channels, each with different  characteristics.

Channel 1: Insurance-licensed Advisors

For immediate revenue, I agreed to split cases with selected advisors I'd supported in the past. They had clients and I had know-how. This no-fail model flopped. There's a huge gap between what these advisors would say and do.  Big hat, no cattle.  Maybe you've had the same experience I didn't have the foolproof measure of trust then. Without trust, working with potential competitors is very risky. Your reputation can also suffer since you're judged by the company you keep.

Channel 2: Collaborators

For near-term revenue, I focused on collaborators with complementary services:  accountants, lawyers, investment advisors and employee benefit specialists.  They already have clients for me. As thanks, collaborators get help with their marketing and may get added to the external team section of the Taxevity website. Building relationships takes time but has lead to opportunities I would not otherwise have found. This channel is a key for growth.

Channel 3: Direct

Going direct has been the most successful approach. Who knew? No intermediaries. No compromises. No delays. I can work to my own standards and timeframe. This channel also takes the most work. My most popular service is an Actuarial Insurance Review (currently free). I didn't know there was a demand but the say-do gap in Channel 1 gnaws at clients' peace of mind. As Yogi Berra said, you'll observe lots just by watching. When I saw the need, I offered a solution.

Going direct is also a way to find more clients for my collaborators.

Lessons For You

This has been a year of major learning. What I'm doing works but the results are taking longer than I'd like.  Impatience is part of being an entrepreneur too.


Podcast Episode 92 (6:06)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS There's plenty you can do to improve whether or not entrepreneurship is in your planning. Start now.

November 7, 2010


The formula for trust (hand-drawn with Adobe Ideas for iPad)We won't get fooled again ... we hope.

Who can we really trust? That question keeps resurfacing in this blog because it keeps resurfacing in life.

Back in 2007, I thought I found a formula: chemistry + credentials + continuing education. The three components are still sound but not reliable enough.

This time we'll look at a better measure.

What Is Trust?

There are many definitions. Here's the best I've found:  trust is expertise plus intent. This comes from Let's Get Real by Mahan Khalsa and (now)  Richard Illig.


We can easily measure expertise through degrees, designations, awards, experience and testimonials from others like us. LinkedIn makes this easier. If you're thinking of dealing with someone who there isn't there with a thorough profile, be cautious. What are they hiding? Why are they hiding?

You're on LinkedIn too, aren't you?


"... he took out a fountain pen and wrote out a cheque for a hundred dollars, conditional on the fund reaching fifty thousand." — Stephen Leacock, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
In grade six, I saw a poster showing a cute girl helping a cuddly chick. The caption said the smallest of actions is bigger than the grandest of intentions. Another poster showed a hippo's open mouth and a caption saying that when all is said and done, more is said than done.

Since talk and fancy brochures mean little, how do you measure intent? The easiest way is with ongoing visible proof.


Recently, we discussed how the ideal advisor has chemistry, credentials and generosity. Here's the connection with trust.

Chemistry: your intuition tells you if you like them. If you don't, you can stop here because you have many other choices.

Credentials: this is covered in the section on Expertise. You'll want to deal with people who can do the underlying technical work according to today's standards.

Generosity: this the best measure of intent. Look for proof that's consistent and persistent. And unconditional. The best place is online in text, audio or video.

Fooled Again?

Yes, we can still get fooled. Applying this new definition of trust is an excellent filter. Will it last? Let's check back in another three years.


Podcast Episode 91 (3:21)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS How do you decide who to trust?

October 30, 2010


Warning: this post may be scarier than Halloween and encourage you to buy life insurance now. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

Major price increases are coming to some permanent life insurance plans. Manulife is projecting increases of 10% on average on their level-for-life rates. That's hefty. Expect to pay more if you're younger or female or buying for family estate planning. The changes take effect on December 4, 2010. Expect other companies to follow.

Here are three reasons for the price increases
  1. low interest rates
  2. tougher international standards
  3. copycats

Low Interest Rates

Click to see how Pink Floyd's insights help youEach year, we're closer to death (see Pink Floyd's insights on mortality). Your insurance rates should increase annually to reflect this, but if they did, you'd have trouble paying the premiums in future years when a claim is most likely. You see this pattern and problem with Term 10 insurance.

For permanent insurance, a consumer-friendly solution is level premium rates guaranteed for life. This sound choice doesn't seem to be widely offered outside Canada.

Here the insurer charges "too much" now and "too little" later. In the early years, the money which isn't need to cover the year's insurance charges gets invested to cover the shortfall in later years.

In a sense, the insurer is "buying term and investing the difference". Investment returns are important and have been lower than assumed in the product prices. The consequence is higher rates.

Tougher International Standards

Because of the world's recent financial woes, new International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are on the way. The goal is to have companies set aside more capital in safer, lower-yielding investments. The intentions are good, but this increases costs which increases prices.

Canada didn't have problems with dumb money but is getting treated as guilty too. Higher prices for you.


Okay, prices need to increase. What's the right amount?

The answer varies for each company depending on factors like their size, costs, claims experience, target markets, and — the biggest factor — competition. If a market leader like Manulife is boosting rates by about 10%, other companies aren't likely to stop at 7% or go up to 12%.

For an analogy, let's go to the gas pumps. Gas companies are eager to charge more but no one wants to be the first to raise prices. But when one moves, the rest quickly follow. Insurers are the same way.

Unlike gas stations, insurers can't raise prices instantly. The process often takes months because changes are needed to the
  • projection tools used by advisors
  • administration systems
  • marketing material (since other changes will probably be made at the same)
  • reinsurance treaties (arrangements with the insurers that insure the insurers)
So the first company to raise rates gets criticized and loses business. Other companies get rewarded while they scramble to do copy. To minimize the pain, the first mover tends to preannounce rate hikes to give competitors time to prepare.

Versa Vice

It's funny to watch price decreases. Yes, they do happen sometimes.

Here companies are secretive. They don't want competitors to know. They don't want advisors to hold off on sales until the new version arrives. Here the first mover wins since advisors can instantly switch to its products while competitors take months to react.

Competitors are eager to increase prices but sometimes defer price cuts until they see they're losing enough sales to matter.

Term Insurance

If you have term insurance you aren't directly affected … unless you decide to convert to permanent coverage. You pay premiums for the same risk class. So if you were an elite nonsmoker, you'll stay in that class even if your health and habits make you a bigger risk. That's the good news.

You may not realize that the rates on the new plan are based on your age at the time of the change. Also, you can only get permanent insurance from the same company. So you're affected by the whims of the market until you lock in the new rates.

Your Next Step

If you might be affected by rate hikes and have a proactive advisor, you probably already know.

You lose by waiting to get life or health insurance because, you're getting older: your premiums will go up even if your health doesn't deteriorate. Why be like the two who waited? They're no longer insurable.


Podcast Episode 90 (6:03)

direct download | Internet Archive page
PS Happy Halloween

October 23, 2010


Joel falls during hockey (his third time on ice)
Did you read about the financial woes of former hockey players? No, I'm not asking you to bail out NHLers. Top athletes get paid well but usually have short careers. They may not prepare financially for unexpected costs during retirement. If you scan the comments, you won't find much sympathy for the players.

Let's look beyond hockey to the problem of longevity: the risk of outliving your savings. There are three ways we can protect ourselves.
  1. save more money now
  2. reduce the risk of unexpected expenses
  3. find ways to earn more money

Save More Money Now

There's not much to say about this boring but essential option. Saving more is one of the three practical ways to increase your net worth.

Why sacrifice today when nothing bad may happen? Optimism beats pessimism. Yet that's no guarantee that we'll be spared from a major financial setback in the future.

Reduce The Risk Of Unexpected Expenses

We can't tell what's going to happen to us. Our lives can change in an instant no matter what precautions we take. Think of an accident. We could be at the wrong place at the wrong time. We can't tell. That's why they're called accidents.

Archimedes on leverage (click for blog post)The cheapest way to prepare for some risks is with safe leverage: insurance. That's a great option for the costs of disability,  premature death or a critical illness. You could get a payout that's much larger than your investment. That's because your money is pooled and invested to pay the few claims that occur. You benefit from the combined magic of leveraging, compound interest and probabilities. If you think the insurers make too much in the transaction, buy their shares.

If you're among the majority who don't make a claim, it's easy to think that you "wasted" your money when you look back. In a sense you did, but you had peace of mind. Some forms of coverage refund your premiums if you don't make a claim. That gives you a form of retirement savings. You don't get that option with your car or home insurance.

It's sad to see people spending more to insure their cars than themselves. Priorities …

Find Ways To Earn More Money

Ah, the lure of get-rich-quick schemes. Why use the first two options when we might make a fortune by investing in the popular investments of the day? The choices of previous years didn't meet our expectations but this time is different, right? It's easy to forget that risk accompanies reward, and that past performance isn't a floor for future performance.

Finding ways to earn more income is a safer strategy. There are ways to bulletproof your career and insure against the risk of  losing your livelihood. It's tougher for athletes to stay employable when switching to a field for which they have no real training. Tim Horton was an exception.

We can fall on ice without warning. We're more resilient when we're younger and invest in protection.


Podcast Episode 89 (4:05)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS Don't forget about lottery tickets. Somebody's going to win and it could be you …

October 16, 2010


cookie with bite missing 2976x1748
Most people are close to average, when compared with their peers. That's true by definition, whether you're talking about advisors, coaches, executives, musicians or teachers. Members of a tribe tend to think alike, look alike, and talk alike. You'll spot patterns among nonconformists too.

Yet there are material differences that affect that results you get. How do you pick one over the rest?

Look at their intent. This takes mere minutes to assess but saves you agony in time and money.  Simply look at what they give away for free on their websites, blogs, podcasts or videos.

You're looking for generosity. Unconditional and valuable to you.

You can easily look at their content anonymously and assess the
  • quality: generally reasonable but if it's too professional, maybe they hired someone to create it?
  • quantity:  do they give you a bite or a meal?
  • frequency:  is there a real commitment of resources on their part?
  • consistency:  have they quit giving?
  • history: are they innovators or laggards?

The Experiment

As an experiment, I've been looking for experts who could help my clients become more successful. These candidates create positive first impressions and seem to be worth hiring. There are so many of them. How do you pick one?

Online they've done nothing special. So the results below aren't surprising.

I bought a book from a coach and subscribed to her newsletter but she won't reply to emails (bad intent: not following her own advice). Imagine someone who'll take your money but won't respond to you.

A public relations specialist had no tips on how to approach a well-known group (bad intent: doesn't have the connections claimed).

A professional organizer created a paid event with slow onsite registration in a room with obstructions and lousy refreshments (bad intent: incompetence or low standards).

This one's weird. A coach sent continual emails pleading for free help in selling tickets, rather than designing a must-attend event (bad intent: proving that the techniques he teaches don't work).

Finally, two marketing firms added me to their mailing lists without permission (bad intent: violating the do-not-spam rules). Hire them and what sort of work would you expect?


How you do anything is how you do everything. — T Harv Eker
I wasn't looking for bad examples, but they abound. Online clues to intent could be wrong but  they're surprisingly predictive. What's your experience?

Rather than listen to what they say, watch what they do. You're more than a wallet or credit card. Are they after more than a bite our of your cookie?


Podcast Episode 88 (3:48)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS If they're not online, that's a bad sign.

October 9, 2010


TED TEDx logos 415x380
I keep meeting people who aren't familiar with TED or TEDx. So highlights from TEDxToronto 2010 aren't meaningful to them. This post provides context.

TED is the best source I've found for consistent, diverse great ideas. Talks generally run 18 minutes or less. Some are less than six minutes long. That's enough to convey a powerful idea but short enough to cut out the fluff.

Bill Strickland

Have you seen Bill Strickland's talk about the revitalization of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? He's so low key but draws you in with a captivating story. He attracted unlikely allies like Herbie Hancock who accompanies him on piano. His talk from 2002 runs 35 minutes. Maybe the 18 minute rule was not in place then. You probably won't mind.

Some Speakers

TED speakers include Bill Gates, Peter Gabriel, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore, Seth Godin, and Jane Goodall. Those are just some of the last names starting with G.
Bill GatesPeter GabrielMalcolm Gladwell
Al GoreSeth GodinJane Goodall
(Click on a photo to go to their profiles and their talks)

In 2007, TED Talks were put online for free. That's when I learned of TED.

I wanted to attend the TED conference in Monterey, California but this wasn't practical. Admission was restricted to 1,000 and there was a waiting list. Also, tickets cost $6,000 US, which helps this nonprofit fund its activities. Add the cost of transportation, accommodation and time off work. These days TED conferences take place in several cities around the world. You're still looking at a major commitment — if you get admitted.


The purpose of TED is to spread ideas. So content is licensed under Creative Commons, If only events could occur in more places and at lower prices …

With TEDx, they can. These events are organized locally by volunteers. Tickets are generally free thanks to sponsors but some charge to cover the costs. Admission rules vary. For example, TEDxToronto is free thanks to sponsors but applications are approved.

That's the background. If you're interested in TEDx, there's probably an event near you at some time during the year.

Near Toronto, you'll find TEDxBurlington, TEDxGTA, TEDxHartHouse (University of Toronto), TEDxOakville, TEDxIB@York, TEDxRyersonU, TEDxYouth@Toronto. That gives plenty of choice.


Podcast Episode 87 (3:37)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS Other volunteer-run places to learn include BookCamp, PodCamp and FreelanceCamp. You may find one near you.

October 2, 2010


TEDx started in Toronto last year. Only 100 could attend and my application got rejected. I left work early and watched some of the live streaming. The speakers were thought-provoking and diverse.

This year, I applied again and got accepted! On September 30, TEDxToronto took place at the intimate Glenn Gould Studio, which seats 341.

Here's the video that started the day.
Thanks to generous sponsors (called "partners"), the entire event was free, including refreshments and lunch. This is a wonderful way for a brand to show it cares. Many sponsors were local, which was fitting.


So much happened during the day. Here's are snippets to give you a taste.

Poet Boonaa Mohammed kick-started the day with meaning, emotion and humour. 

Bruce Boon Tip said that in 2009, there were 0.9 billion tourists with 1.6 billion expected in 2020. What will happen to the environment? Developing countries receive about 5% of the money spent. How can they benefit more? When you're on vacation, you want to have a good time without thinking about the environment and local residents. Yet there are externalities, as there were from this year's Canadian Open at St. George's Golf Club.

Graham Hill made a compelling argument for a contentious position in four minutes. Regardless of your view, watch this video to see how he makes his points. You may spot ways to make your own arguments more convincing (regardless of topic)

Drew Dudley, my favourite presenter, told how his gift of a free lollipop changed two lives forever. He didn't know this until four years later. The message? Thank people who made a difference in your life. They rarely know. If you don't already do this, please start. I did years ago. Maybe you were helped by people you’ve never met. Why not tell them too? You can reach almost anyone these days. For example, Seth Godin's writing helped refocus my life but how would he know? So I wrote a blog post and he commented. Now we're even!

Broadway Sleep performed four songs. They also uttered the "how's everyone doing?" cliché but they're forgiven. They gave us a copy of their CD.

Dr. Catherine Zahn shared a lesson she learned in childhood. Some people reap a sad harvest. We who are more fortunate owe them and must pay them back. There's such little difference between us and them. It's easy to turn away but that doesn't help the afflicted.

Neil Hetherington advised us to support existing nonprofits rather than creating our own. In my own "angry young man" phase, I wanted to tear things down and rebuild them. That's the easy answer. Working within existing structures is tougher but leads to better, faster results. You acquire valuable skills. Children and pets teach us this too.
I think I can. I think I can.
— The Little Engine That Could
Kiran Bir Sethi explained how the "I can" bug became contagious in her school and spread beyond. Oh the magic when a child (or an adult) switches from asking "can I?" to saying "I CAN". The tale feels like Slumdog Millionaire but is real. 
Jennifer Luis informed us of a worldwide Design For Change contest in which a child picks one idea and has one week to change lives. There are 50,000 schools participating in 24 countries in 14 languages (including Braille). There's even a theme song by Raffi (listen or read the lyrics).

Sol Guy said that being apathetic is pathetic. These days abundance comes from giving, not gathering. Corporations can use their global reach to help. Imagine if Coca Cola used their logistics and infrastructure to deliver medicine along with their beverages.

Amanda Sussman explained the importance of understanding how the political system works and making change from within. The radicals outnumber the reformers. She pointed out that new doesn't mean better and the process is slow at getting results.

Tonya Surman ditched her prepared presentation two weeks ago to talk instead about a passion that enrages her: the lack of collaboration. That's the DNA of innovation but self-interest intrudes. Ideas also need capital, which can be raised locally through Community Bonds. This innovative approach gives investors social returns in addition to financial returns. Other nonprofits may want to create their own. Her presentation is now on her blog.

Emmanuel Jal was a war child without a future until he got rescued. He now tells his story with words and music.

trey anthony encouraged us to answer our personal calls to action. We each get a call but do we answer? Do we make the world better than we found it?

Dave Meslin explained how the world discourages our involvement through intentional exclusion. Reviews of movies and restaurants give addresses, prices, hours, phone numbers and websites. In contrast, political issues have much more impact over our lives but articles lack contact details. We're treated as spectators but can participate if we choose. 

Robert Bolton, Eric Chan and Andrew Zealley melded words, music and visuals to perform an updated version of Orpheus, covering the years 1986-2019. Experience can't be downloaded and the effect can't be easily described.

George Kourounis explores the extremes of nature. He seeks what others flee. We've only explored 3% of the oceans' depths, which means we know more about the moon. We don't know much about caves either. George said that if he's alive, that's a good day. Don't you feel the same?

Neil Pasricha explained the inspiration behind the 1000 Awesome Things blog and the pleasant consequences. We have so little time to enjoy the special moments. Why not start now?

So ended the talks. What do you think? If you're intrigued, you'll probably find a TEDx event near you or you can launch your own.

Call To Action

Ideas change us but ideas are wasted unless we act on them or share them. Discussions help and we had plenty of time for them at TEDxToronto. Our day started at 9 AM and ran until 4:30 PM. That's 7.5 hours but we got 3 hours of breaks: 45 minutes in the morning, 90 minutes for lunch and 45 minutes in the afternoon.

If you're there, you've got the opportunity to talk to fellow TEDsters. They're open-minded. They have their own perspectives. They're articulate. They're willing to share. And if they're not, just talk to someone else. I only excused myself twice: one person was self-absorbed and the other looked down on those without university degrees.

If you can't attend the live event, the second best choice is a satellite location because you'll be able to talk to other attendees. The last choice is watch from your own computer.

Video for 2010 will be posted on and the TEDxTO channel on YouTube.

I'm looking forward to 2011 and hope I'll get accepted.


Podcast Episode 86 (9:09)

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