Wednesday, February 25, 2015
One of the more peculiar stories currently covered in the financial news concerns the shakeups at MSNBC. Over the years this network, noted for its hard left attack journalism, has steadily lost viewer share until it has become a very serious financial problem. The more conservative news outlets seem to be enjoying a moment of guilty pleasure during their old enemy’s time of distress. The liberal media is mourning the death of their champion when they report that an MSNBC spokesperson wrote in an email, "We have a great brand," and "we will be staying true to our progressive voice while broadening out the issues we cover through that lens." Some analysis seems to indicate that MSNBC was a great brand because they consciously and consistently appealed to a niche market, hard left progressives, during the Bush years and the election of 2008 relentlessly attacking anything and anybody in power. Once the Democrats swept the House, Senate, and the Presidency, they could no longer do what they did best. As MSBC mellowed they lost audience share. They were now competing with the more mainstream left leaning networks like PBS, CNN, the three majors, and major metropolitan newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times. Charles Cooke notes that FOX Broadcasting is doing well because they have remained true to their customer base, “Contrary to its favored claim, Fox is not in fact “Fair and Balanced” but is a rightward-leaning station with an ideologically driven owner, a clear target audience, and an obvious and pronounced set of political biases. Or, as one wag has put it, Fox is designed to appeal to “a niche market called half the country.” This being so the problem is less that Fox is “extreme” or that it is “out of touch,” and more that it is geared rather unsubtly toward serving one of America’s two philosophical poles.” In Tribes, Seth Godin puts forth the argument that the proliferation of cable TV stations catering to particular market niches and especially the Internet have ended the power of mass marketing as we have known it. He believes that “tribes” of individuals interconnected by specific interests and ideas are out there waiting to find a leader. Whether that tribe rides Harley Davidson motorcycles or is patiently waiting for the second coming of the Occupy protests, Godin believes there are dragons to be slain and money to be made by the heretic brave enough to step in front of a tribe that is already on the move. I have written that I believe the two most valuable abilities for the new millennium are entrepreneurial and sales skills. The era of the “good job” seems to be over forever. The future self created opportunities seem to lie with tribes not with government bureaucracies or major corporations. Although a tribe can become the most valuable corporation in the world (Apple) they all seem to start small. I remember when Apple sold computers to weird people who lived in their parents’ garage, playing with toys like expensive cameras and computers that couldn’t do much of anything. Responsible people used the Digital VAX or the IBM 360 to perform real tasks in the real world. Digital is bankrupt. They abandoned their “tribe,” engineers and scientists in favor of the business market. As far as I know, IBM is no longer in the computer business. They are primarily a computer services enterprise like their illegitimate offspring EDS and SAP. Apple would do well to remember that what the tribe giveth the tribe can taketh away. I am just beginning to hear the first rumblings of discontent from long time, hard core, Apple customers. This does not bode well for the future of that great company if it becomes a trend. Niche marketing is not limited to high tech. My mother-in-law lived in a senior high rise for about seven years before she died. During this time my wife would fly down to Atlanta to help, sometimes staying for as long as six or seven weeks at a shot depending on her mother’s medical situation. She didn’t want to drive a rental car in Atlanta traffic so she obtained rides from family, her mother’s friends, or she hired a taxi. The old people in the senior high rise really needed taxi service since many of them couldn’t drive or at least they shouldn’t be driving a car, especially after dark. The high rise only provided limited scheduled shuttle service. These old people were afraid that cab drivers would rob and kill them (don’t ask me why). Over time, some of the old people discovered a husband/wife cab company. They grew to like and trust these people, recommending their cab service to one another. Finally the management of the senior high rise started endorsing this cab service. My wife used this company for most all of her trips that weren’t covered by family or friends. I would guess, most of the old people in this facility were upper middle class to modestly wealthy. A cab company found a nice market of people who needed their service and were willing and able to pay for it. They found their tribe. “Yes, I think it's okay to abandon the big, established, stuck tribe. It's okay to say to them, "You're not going where I need to go, and there's no way I'm going to persuade all of you to follow me. So rather than standing here watching the opportunities fade away, I'm heading off. I'm betting some of you, the best of you, will follow me.” Seth Godin
Friday, February 20, 2015
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Almost thirty years ago shortly after I first moved to the Washington D.C. area I read a newspaper article about the family life of recent Asian immigrants in the area. Education was described as a family affair. After dinner the entire family would sit around the table in order to become educated Americans. The children were expected to teach their parents what they were learning in school. The older siblings were expected to tutor their younger brothers and sisters. Everyone helped everyone with homework problems. Since I had learned in Engineering School that the best way to really understand a subject was to tutor others, I knew that in a few years these children and even their parents were going to have an unfair advantage in many important aspects of life. If you have children it is your job to make certain you have given your progeny an unfair advantage in life. Start with your faith: Deuteronomy 11 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. The actions of parents are far more important than their words. If parents model a love of education, their children will likely grow up understanding the importance of an education. If parents demonstrate a strong work ethic combined with the ability to defer gratification, their children will likely grow up understanding that consistent hard work and thrift practiced over long periods of time will result in financial freedom. If parents demonstrate the importance of family and community when facing a sometimes unfriendly world, their children will likely develop strong ties with their siblings, cousins, and other members of their cultural groups that will serve them well in time of need. Let your children participant in your investment activities as you discuss the purchase and sale of stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles. Make it a family event. I once read a very good basic investment book by a very successful stock broker. Every Sunday afternoon his extended family would get together for a meal. His father, uncles, mother, and aunts would argue the relative merits of different investment strategies. As he grew older he was surprised to learn this was not normal for all families. He believes his skill with investments was born in these family arguments. It is no accident that the median household income of American-Asian families is $68,000 about 33% more than the median for all households. The Department of Labor reports that about 47% of Asian Americans work in management or professional jobs that require considerable education, as compared to 35% for the entire U.S. workforce. Studies indicate that unemployment rates for Asian Americans is lower than that of the general population because when they loose a job, they are quick to take lower paying jobs, sometimes jobs in family owned businesses. The Chinese have a history of family enterprise that predates this nation by thousands of years. Such corporations are based on Confucian concepts of duty, loyalty, and mutual obligations. They are operated for the good of the clan, the entire clan. During most of Chinese history the government was often so corrupt that the only trust was between family members. Give your children this kind of unfair advantage. It doesn’t end with your children. Proverbs 13:22 states, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” For a long time I wondered why the verse specified grandchildren rather than children. Why didn’t it read, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children?” The answer? The Law of Moses gives very specific instructions to a father. He is legally obligated to leave an inheritance to his children. The eldest son receives a double portion because he will inherit the responsibility for the other siblings as clan chieftain. The other sons each receive a portion of their father’s estate. If there are no sons, the father’s inheritance is passed on to his daughters. Solomon indicates that a good man goes beyond the letter of the law. He is planning to bless not only his children but he is denying his own desires to bless his children’s children. Perhaps in ancient times, the father would be buying his grandchildren farms and livestock or perhaps paying a master craftsman to apprentice a talented grandchild. Today grandparents might help with tuition to send their children's children to a private school or establish a 529 college savings plan in a child’s name. I have read that in Biblical times if parents did not provide their child with a way to make a living that child was under no obligation to care for their parents when they were old and infirm. If you aren’t actively seeking to give your children an unfair advantage when they are young, what will they be able to do for you when you are old? If you don’t have any children, it doesn’t let you off the hook. The Lord will see to it that children pass through your life. Every time you are given the opportunity, be a blessing! See to it that you share something of value with another person’s child. Give them an edge, an unfair advantage. “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” The Buddha
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.” I was unable to locate the original source of this quote. It has been variously attributed to sources as diverse as Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi. However, I certainly agree with the author. You give strength to your thoughts by dwelling upon them over time. You give strength to your thoughts by feeding them with words of encouragement; both those you hear and those you choose to speak. Eventually these thoughts will result in behavior. Your behavior over time hardens into habits. Habits become your life. The trees you have planted and nourished over the course of a lifetime will bear fruit. Is your mental garden likely to produce love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, and faith or a different kind of harvest? Are you listening to or speaking words that pit us (the good guys) against them (the bad guys)? These words are likely to generate pride, hatred, acts of vengeance, and ultimately murder. Instead, can we find a way to reach out to others, offering them something that we believe to be of true value, with no preconditions; without strings attached; without attacking them or their beliefs? All of us have suffered misfortune in this life. Some of us have suffered grievously unfair misfortunes as the result of the conscious actions of wicked people. Will reliving these calamities ultimately benefit us, or will they paralyze our life into an endless loop, reliving our worst experiences, over and over again? I believe it is natural to talk out these experiences until they begin to bore us. When they finally begin to bore us, they will loose their power over us. If after a reasonable period of time, these people and their actions are still exercising a power over your thoughts, your words, and your life it is time to take the drastic action. Forgive your enemy. Give your pain to God. This will not benefit your enemy. It will be of enormous benefit to you. If you hear the words, “If only,” you are likely to be headed off into a never-never land of unfulfilled dreams and desires. This is particularly true if the words, “If only,” precede something that is already a weakness or problem in your life. If you have a problem with debt, your problem will not be solved by more debt. If you have a problem with overeating, your problem will not be solved by another jelly doughnut. Are the people in your life telling you that you are weak and helpless or are they encouraging and empowering both in word and action? If we are honest, it is pretty easy to determine if our friends and family are lifting us up and pushing us forward or holding us back and pushing us down. Unfortunately, it is much harder to break off unhealthy relationships with close family members or old friends than it is to identify a toxic relationship. When dealing with religious and political leaders making this determination can become a harder problem. Hitler certainly made the German people feel powerful, but at what cost? Watch out for anyone in authority who is making themselves a powerful or an indispensible part of your life at the cost of your freedom or your money, or somebody else’s freedom or money. Just for today make an effort to be more conscious of your words; what you think; what you speak; what you choose to hear. Are these thoughts, these words leading to freedom and strength or are they likely lead to dependence on something or someone else based on your weakness or inadequacies? Are these words likely to lead you into taking some kind of positive action that will better your life and the life of your neighbor or are they likely to lead you into a swamp of inaction and self pity? It might even help to write down some of your worst and some of your best thoughts. Such a list might give you an interesting insight into what is actually growing in the garden of your mind. Philippians 4:8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable; if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise; dwell on these things.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Jim RohnThere are some subjects that seem to keep coming up in my studies of personal finance. One of them is friendship. Who you choose as partners, friends, or associates as you walk your path is critically important to the outcome of your life. We didn’t get to pick our family members, but we do choose where and with whom we spend our time. It seems sociologists spend a lot of time researching the obvious. Recent studies of human networking have proven that, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Go figure. Yes, humans are an intensely tribal species. We like to be around others who talk like us, dress as we dress, and share the same values and interests. These studies further indicate that your mother was right. She told you not to hang around with those no count neighborhood hoodlums because you would get in trouble. Yep, we mimic behavior commonly found in our peer groups. This even extends to weight gain. If you hang around fat people you will gain weight. The researchers don’t know if that is because you will eat more with your fat friends or because obesity is more accepted and people just quit trying, but this is an experimentally demonstrated fact. The number one most important financial decision for most of us is the selection of a mate. It is a lot easier and cheaper to find a new job or earn another degree than it is to get a new wife and new children. But it doesn’t stop there. Where and with whom you spend your time will contribute to not only your success, but more importantly to your happiness. Ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” Who do you admire? What about their character, values, or gifts do you esteem? Which of these attributes could you emulate in your own life? Seek out people who know more than you in areas you consider important. If you wish to become more “spiritual,” whatever that might mean to you, hang out with people who are more “spiritual.” If you want to learn more about managing your finances, find people who are doing a good job managing their finances. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. A note to myself: If you want to lose weight, hang out with people are into fitness. If nothing else they will hold you accountable for your bad behavior. Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Those closest to us, the five friends mentioned at the start of this post or the four friends who were so determined to bring their sick buddy to Jesus that they tore a hole in a roof, are of critical importance to the outcome of our mission, even our very life. Be careful. You need to find people that share your values and dreams, but there is more. You need to find people who will lift you up when you fall down or kick you in the backside when you need to keep moving forward, people who believe in you and your mission. If you look at the life and ministry of Jesus, he had a “beloved disciple,” John. Jesus entrusted John with the care of his mother at the crucifixion. There were three of the twelve disciples that were part of the inner circle. John, his brother James, and Peter were present at the transfiguration. Of course Jesus founded his church on the twelve less Judas plus Matthias and Paul. Even our Lord was betrayed by one of friends. It happens. Beyond the twelve, Jesus had 72 (or 70) disciples whom he trusted with his message. This group included some heavy hitters including our Lord’s own brother, James who became the first bishop of Jerusalem. If Jesus was careful about his selection of friends, shouldn’t we be concerned about who we let into our lives? John 15:15-16 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.