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By the time you graduate, part of your education is already out of date.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?