April 30, 2011


If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. — Rudyard Kipling

Stories get results in everyday life but how do you compose and tell one? Entertainment executive Peter Guber comes to our rescue with Tell To Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story (Amazon unaffiliated link).

This book is packed with examples of situations where stories got results. Peter makes you more alert to the stories all around you. That's the biggest benefit.

The Hook

Watch Peter in this Harvard Business Ideacast. These few minutes were enough to convince me to get the book.

Peter Guber, chairman and CEO of the Mandalay Entertainment Group,

Stories work best when they're told to us. To my surprise, Peter doesn't read us his own book. The narrator who was selected is on the dull side.

Too Many Notes

Tell To Win is reasonably entertaining but I felt that Peter was paid by the word. A good chunk could go. The audio version is almost 11 hours long but feels more like 17.

There's plenty of self-promotion and some reinterpretation of history. For instance, Peter thinks The Deep is a great movie. He also claims that Sony was building an entertainment complex on top of Hitler's bunker in Berlin — a recipe for failure. Wikipedia says the Sony Center is nearby at Potsdamer Platz and a big success. There are some 70,000 visitors to the area daily. The book leaves these facts out.

You'll find lots of name-dropping too. If you're a celebrity-worshipper, you may like that. How did director Tim Burton get Jack Nicholson to be the Joker in Batman (1989)? What story kept audiences away from Seven Years In Tibet? What did Mohammad Ali do for 30 minutes to get his film greenlighted?

Plan A

If you're looking to change others, there's a better starting point: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (Amazon unaffiliated link). Switch is shorter and much more engaging. You learn practical useful tools. Is your problem with the elephant (emotion) or rider (logic)? Guess which is more powerful?

Highlights from Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

Your Stories

Will you tell much better stories after finishing Tell To Win? That's tough to say. Your stories certainly won't get worse. As a minimum, count on becoming aware of the many stories around you and their power to influence.

In the financial world, there are tales of treasure hunts, insider secrets, turning lead into gold and the fall from grace.

Stories are simplistic. They imply causality that can't be proven. Yet stories are plausible and we like them. Today's complex world may make us crave for stories more than ever ... even when we've heard them before.


Podcast 115 (3:52)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes (new)

PS Do you recommend any books about telling stories?

April 23, 2011


circles of influence and concern
You only have power over people so long as you don't take everything away from them. But when you've robbed a man of everything, he's no longer in your power -- he's free again.
— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I read that life-changing quote in high school. There's always something you can do. You may face consequences, but you're not powerless.

Not everyone agrees.

Nothing Ventured

You want it. You take it. You pay the price. — Bruce Springsteen
This week, several attendees at a seminar on leadership bemoaned shortcomings in their companies, nonprofit organizations or government departments. They felt that once their colleagues and senior people changed, life would be grand. Yet these attendees felt no responsibility to take initiative and do something themselves. If it's to be, it's up to me others.

The problems may be outside you but the seeds of change are within you.

The Right Circle

In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says we have a Circle Of Concern that contains a smaller Circle Of Influence. We may be concerned about fuel prices or tsunamis but we can't do anything about them. However, we can reduce the risks by buying fuel efficient vehicles and moving inland to higher ground. Why not focus within your Circle Of Influence and expand it? You can.

Feigning helplessness leads to a downward spiral. When you talk about something bad that happened to you, count on someone else telling about something worse that happened to them. Soon you have what Zig Ziglar calls a pity party.

Peer Pressure

Brian Tracy says that instead of clucking with the turkeys, soar with the eagles. The turkeys will gripe about you leaving their company. Let them.

You don't need to take in bad news. You can lead a low noise life, as I have since January 2008. You'll be less aware of the ruckus around you but you'll have more time. You'll be able to focus on what matters.

The first habit of highly effective people is Be Proactive.


To stand up for truth is nothing. For truth, you must sit in jail. 
— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
If you believe in telling the truth as you see it, expect consequences. There are ways to get results without making enemies. Tact takes more skill and more time but works better. You may need to learn new techniques. You may even fail.

Seth Godin's latest book, Poke The Box, may inspire and empower you to take initiative. It follows 2010's Linchpin, which helps you see why and how to stand out.

Yes, you may fail. You may discover you're in the wrong place and leave. At least you will decide.
If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the woe-is-me crowd. For a tree to be green, each leaf must be green. That's what George Harrison's Maharishi told him in the 1960s. What colour is your leaf?


Podcast 114 (4:21)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes (new)

PS If you need a boost, watch TED videos and read Switch by Chip & Dan Heath. Mindset by Carol Dweck may help you too.

April 16, 2011


skyscraper 500x720In the ideal world, your advisor and insurer would have the same goal as you: keeping your coverage in place.

That isn't always true with life and health insurance. As we saw last time, most of the compensation is paid at the time you buy. This discourages after-sales service and encourages new sales. When your advisor phones or visits, are you more likely to get genuine service or a new sales pitch?

This time we'll look at the insurer's perspective.

How The Insurer Wins

Issuing an insurance policy costs money (the insurer pays). There's underwriting whether or not you buy (checking your health and finances). There's administration (processing paperwork). There's reinsurance (the insurer buys insurance as protection against large claims). The biggest cost is the compensation paid to your advisor.

After a number of years, the insurer has covered the costs and is happy. They're happiest when you pay them money and don't pay any back to you. There's one way to guarantee they'll never pay you a claim: when you cancel your coverage.

Think of it. The insurer kept your premiums and paid you nothing. In exchange, you had peace of mind, which is very valuable. That's a fair trade and exactly what happens with insurance on your home and car. If you keep your life & health insurance, your probability of making a claim increases by the day, week and year. That isn't the situation with your home or car.

If only you would cancel, lapse or "surrender" your coverage.

Go Away

Insurers encourage you to cancel your permanent coverage by paying you money, often called a "cash surrender value" — you're the one who is surrendering. Your critical illness insurance may offer to return your premium if you cancel at age 65+.

With temporary Term 10 insurance, rates shoot upwards at each renewal. Those spikes spur lapses. (If you're in poor health, you would want to continue coverage since you're closer to a payout. The insurer would rather have the healthy lives persist. In practice, the healthy buy new coverage.)

New Coverage

If you replace your current coverage with new, you may get worse guarantees. Also, the suicide clause and contestability periods start again. If your health has deteriorated, your coverage will cost even more — if available to you.
Note: be sure that you have new protection in place before you cancel what you already have.


You get more peace of mind when the insurer can't charge you more or remove protection. With home and auto insurance, the insurer can increase your premiums or reduce your benefits. Rates for Long Term Care insurance might be adjustable. Life insurance contracts generally have the most guarantees (except for whole life). .


Airlines and hotels know some customers won't show up. Why not overbook to make more money? Insurers use a similar strategy since they know some clients won't keep their protection long enough to make a claim.

In the 1980s and 1990s, some products like Term To 100, Level Cost Universal Life and Long-Term Care were lapse-supported. The more cancellations, the higher the profits. Clients were smarter than the insurers expected and didn't lapse. Fewer cancellations than means lower profits.

If you wanted to get rid of clients, what would you do? You could provide incentives to the salespeople to encourage clients to cancel coverage and buy new products instead. You could provide poor service. If premium notices aren't sent, your clients might forget to pay and lose their coverage unintentionally. Let's hope those types of actions aren't taken.


Podcast 113 (4:52)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes (new)

PS You often win by keeping your permanent coverage since the value increases every day.

April 9, 2011


tug of war between a puppy and a shoe laceWhat matters gets rewarded.
What's rewarded gets done.

Incentives influence behaviour. They better. They also create side effects.
  • the US rewarded farmers for growing corn for ethanol, which boosted water consumption and food prices: "controversial because of the amount of land required to grow the crops, and because of its effect on food prices and water resources." (see Columbia University, Jan 2011)
  • the US No Child Left Behind focused teachers test scores instead of general learning: "NCLB encourages cheating and gaming the system" (Fortune, Dec 2010)
  • bonuses motivate employees to ... earn bonuses, rather than take actions of longer benefit for their companies (see accounting scandals in Wikipedia)
In the world of sales, compensation commands. The structure affects what gets sold and who gets targeted. The amount increases with the perceived difficulty of selling.

If customers line-up outside your door, you'll likely get paid a salary. You might get incentives to sell profitable upgrades like extended warrantees but that's about it.

An Exception

Globe & Mail: Commissions on the rise (click to read article)The insurance world is unusual. For car and home insurance, insurers want to encourage ongoing service. Level compensation helps. Besides, you know you need coverage and may even be legally required to buy minimum amounts. The demand reduces the effort required to make the initial sale. The result is lower compensation.

Life insurance is different. As the Globe & Mail reported, hidden incentives to advisors create conflicts and you lose (see what your insurance broker doesn't want you to know). The products are considered to be sold, not bought. Selling is also considered difficult. Insurers feel it's easier to motivate the salespeople than the buyers. That's why insurers pay most of the compensation at the time of sale. This leaves very little for future years.

The Side Effect

What suffers? After-sales service.

The insurers argue that the heaped compensation includes payments for ongoing service. The advisors feel they earned all the compensation by making the sale. Whoever wins this tug of war, you lose.

Where's the incentive to provide after-sales service?

If you cancel your coverage during the first 2-3 years, your advisor gets blamed for a poor quality sale and part of the compensation gets clawed back/reclaimed. Recoveries help the insurer offset the costs of issuing the coverage (underwriting, administration, compensation). In future years, your advisor earns more by selling you new coverage or replacing your current coverage. Maybe you've experienced this yourself? The phone rings and your wallet quivers.

Also, advisors quit. Your policy becomes an "orphan". Your new advisor has an even stronger incentive to sell new coverage since he or she received nothing from the original sale. You're called a lead. If your advisor retires, the purchaser looks at the potential for new sales too since you're a "warm lead".

Your Recourse

What can you do? Before you buy, ask your advisor about ongoing service. Don't accept talk and vagueness. Look for proof. What are the processes and systems? How often do post-purchase reviews take place? See what you get. Are you satisfied?


Podcast 112 (4:07)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes (new)

PS Pre-sales service is a poor predictor of future service.

April 2, 2011


This photo by the Toronto Star's Lucas Oleniuk shows how my office looks (click to enlarge). You see my ThinkPad tablet. That's the microphone I use for podcasting and Skype. That's all natural light. Toronto Star - top articles

I've been interviewed by the media since the 1990s but rarely photographed and never this creatively.

From the angle, you can't see how messy my flat surfaces are. Neither did Lucas because I cleaned up before he arrived. We both "augmented" reality.

Everything happened fast (see the backstory). Within hours of getting interviewed by Cynthia Vukets, an article appeared on thestar.com. That’s probably because Chris O'Neill, the head of Google Canada, spoke at the Toronto Board of Trade that morning. In the past, I've seen lead times of days (newspapers) or months (magazines). At Western, I once got into a hardcover Economics textbook but that took two years.


Toronto Star - page 24 (B4)The resulting story appears in three places in different lengths on different dates
  1. Small businesses follow customers online (thestar.com, Mon Mar 28)
  2. Social media mean business (metronews.ca, Fri Apr 1)
  3. Making a pitch for online marketing (Toronto Star, Fri Apr 1, page B4, print only)
The photo is cropped most in print, especially in Metro. The longest and most interesting version is in the printed Toronto Star but not available online except through this paid link at pressdisplay.com. Cynthia notes that while I don't have the 200,000+ Twitter followers of a faux escaped snake (@BronxZoosCobra),  I'm on LinkedIn, and Facebook and have readers like you.

There's a gap between what's said, what's heard and what's intended.

When others paraphrase, there's more potential for misunderstanding. For instance, Metro says I "began using Twitter and other social media about four years ago". While I started this blog in 2007, I didn't tweet until 2009. The distortion won't matter to readers but does show what can happen in a simple situation.

The Surprise

There's no mention of me being an actuary. I'm simply an entrepreneur. That's a flashback. In the corporate world, I downplayed my credentials because I already earned positions of power. In the world of small business, the "president" might also be the receptionist and cleaning staff. Now I call myself an actuary to distinguish myself. This extra information was deemed irrelevant for the articles.

The Risk To You

Advisors rarely see the source material they interpret for you. This can lead to major distortions — especially when the outcome affects their income. If your advisor doesn't fully understand, the marketing sizzle from the products they sell can easily mislead them … and you.

An online check will help you gauge an advisor's expertise and intent, the two elements of trust.


Someday, social media will get as much press attention as the fax machine does today. For now, there's still demand for examples of success. Next interview, please!


Podcast Episode 111 (5:09)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes (new)

PS If you've been interviewed by the media, what was your experience?