Oct 19, 2010

Are dynasties bad for sports?

During a discussion with my colleague Richard Martin, we discussed the issue of salary caps and their effect on sports. Salary caps, to me, have a negative effect on sports. With a salary cap, all teams are equal and any given year, any team can win. That's fine for sportsmanship, but is it good for sports?

I used to watch basketball and I stopped when Michael Jordan left. Why? Because I couldn't rally for any given team. The Jordan-era Bulls had Pippen, Jordan, Rodman, and Phiil Jackson. I just loved watching the team play, I wasn't watching to see a particular player. Today, I don't watch basketball because... well, after the Bulls dynasty ended, there was little interest on my part. The league started to focus more on individuals than teams. 

Same goes for hockey and football. It isn't so much about the teams as it is about the individual players. Dynasties have disappeared. Teams can't win back-to-back championships, and I contend that it's not that good for sports. Dynasties creates legions of fans, equality doesn't.

If we look at soccer, you have dynasties which stand the test of time: Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Brazil, Germany, etc. Those are the teams that create the quasi-religious fever surrounding the sport. Those are the teams that make the World Cup the second biggest sports even in the world.

Dynasties are like black holes: they attract people to them. Many people will be attracted by a dynasty because of the caliber of the players, the fluid play, the nonstop wins. Many others will be attracted because they want to see the dynasty brought to its knees, they want to see the minnow knock down the giant, they want to hate the team that wins all the time. That's good, it makes the weaker teams work that much harder.

However, when all teams are equal, when it's a coin toss from one year to the next, the sport loses some of its luster and some of its magic. It becomes ho-hum.

And so it is in business: businesses work because there are superstar companies and there are jobber companies. There are superstar salespeople and there are run-of-the-mill salespeople. If you try to rein in stellar companies, to try to bring them down to the level of lesser-performing ones, you destroy initiative, innovation, and ultimately, leadership. Just look at what happened to Microsoft. They were ahead of the game on many fronts, not always because of their clean business tactics. They were brought down by the DOJ and today... well, they still make decent products but where is the buzz? Where is the innovation? Where are the rabid fans?

In a company where you reduce compensation for the best performers in order to level the playing field and salaries, the best performers will either stop putting in the efforts or they will leave to go to another company which better appreciates their value. They'll take their dynasty to a better playground.

Dynasties set the standard, they pave the way. As the ad used to say: "We're #2 so we work harder." That's what dynasties do.

Until they are toppled and replaced by another.

Aug 6, 2010

How big a change does Haiti truly need?

Unless you've been living under a rock, or have no interest in international politics, you are probably aware that Haiti is preparing to have an election this year. There hasn't been such an international buzz around Haitian elections since the first democratic election that brought Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1990. This year, the buzz is all around Wyclef Jean, the hip hop star-cum-president hopeful.

Judging by the media hype, you would think that Wyclef is the only artist looking to be elected in November. Actually,  another charismatic singer has thron his hat in the race: Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, also know as Prezidan (president, in Haitian creole).

Clef is getting all the press, but honestly, if both of them were to be on the ballot, I wouldn't be so quick to say that he is a shoe-in. In fact, if there were only two candidates, Clef and Sweet Micky, it would probably be a very close race. And you know that whoever wins, it's going to be some party. With the headache to go along with it...

I can't comment on either man's political acumen, nor can I say that either of them is better equipped to become president. The problem in Haiti is that anyone who touches the presidency becomes corrupt. Everyone. It happened to Aristide, many people say it happened to Préval, the current president. Let's not mention the litany of army generals in the '90s. The Duvaliers before that, Magloire, and so on. The position is poisoned. In order to fix this, I think something very different has to happen, and that may be where Clef has an advantage.

He's been around the world, has been educated in the US, and is an accomplished businessman. That should help him bring new eyes and a new vision of what Haiti can and should be as a country, the first Black-led independent country. La perle des Antilles, the Carribean Pearl.

Clef has charisma, he can make things move. He loves his country and can probably propose a vision that is much more optimistic than a politician could. Because, let's face it: in order for Haiti to get out of this mess, the people need a dream. They need hope, they need something to look up to, something drive for. Maybe it's education for all. Maybe it's rebuilding a new city, where everyone will have safe housing. Maybe it's a job for everyone who is willing and able to work. Maybe it's food on the table three times a day, every day. Maybe it's knowing that all your babies will reach adulthood, that they won't die of malnutrition or water poisoning or some other ailment brought on by poverty and famine. There has to be something more than waking up and barely being able to survive.

What Clef doesn't have, yet, is a team. If he were to be elected, I could see him as the leader. I could see him as the one pointing the way. I don't see him as the president, though. I don't see him as the one to make the difficult decisions about monetary policy, foreign affairs, and so on. He will need a solid team to whom he can say "This is what I want our country to look like. Tell me how we're going to do it." He has to be surrounded by people who will say "Let me find a way" not "We can't do that." Can he create that team? If so, does he have enough humility to stand back and say "OK, you know this better than I do. Explain to me how it works, do your thing, and I'll talk to the people."

Which could be another issue: Clef's French and Creole are not quite there yet. I won't say his Creole is "mawon" but will the people look past the accent if, indeed, he is able to lead the country efficiently? I don't know.

Can Clef draw enough money and machinery to clean up the rubble that is Port-au-Prince in order to let it rise from its ashes?

Can he do it in five years, which is all he is allowed to have under the current constitution?

Can he clean up his image quickly enough and make people forget about all the allegations surrounding his Yele Haiti foundation?

Is he ready? Is he able? We all know he's willing and that may be half the battle. He'll have to go through a lot of muckraking and mudslinging just to reach the vote. And it won't stop there, he'll probably still be attacked after the vote, if he wins. Will he be able to withstand it?

For most of these questions, I don't know.

How about the other singer, Sweet Micky? Can he make a decent president?  I don't know. I know he's charismatic, I know he can work a crowd, I've seen him do it. Unfortunately, the only images I have of Martelly is of a man so drunk on stage that he can barely stand straight, uttering a constant stream of profanity-laced ramblings. From what I hear, he has always been rather cozy with the richer and shadier individuals in power. To me, that doesn't bode well for his presidency.

As I mentioned in an interview after the earthquake, Haiti isn't lacking a president. What it's lacking is a leader. Préval was an awful leader during the earthquake. He was largely unseen, and unheard. He should have been on the radio, on TV, every day, to let the people know what was happening, what he was doing to clear this mess, and how he was planning on pulling the country out of yet another catastrophe.

There needs to be a severe change of direction in the country. But not so abrupt that it causes it to go past the tipping point and fall.

Jul 13, 2010

Learning From Amazon's Success

After seeing him open the Montreal Jazz Festival, I wanted to get a book of guitar tabs from Brian Setzer (of the Stray Cats) for a little fun... and masochism. I checked out my usual music store to see if they had the book or not. They were out of stock and it would take two weeks to get it. I could have waited but...

I've been meaning to get "On Writing" by Stephen King, for a couple of reasons. First, I have been told that it's a great book on writing, if a bit unconventional (it is written by King, after all). Second, I need a bit of inspiration because my writing has severely declined in the past few months, as much in quantity as in quality. So I needed a little boost.

Need more than a book? That's a job for Amazon. I hit the site, selected "On Writing" and read the foreword. I liked what I read, so I added the book to my cart. Then I searched for the Brian Setzer book. There were a couple but I knew which one I wanted so I added it to my cart. 

Then, Amazon told me that I would probably like a book call "Guitar Aerobics." Really? I'm not sure. "Well then," replied the site, "Look Inside." So I did. And I read the critics, and I bought the book. Which raised my total over $39, so I got free shipping and handling.

When I wanted to check out, they told me that the Stephen King book would take 9-12 days before it was ready. Did I want two shipments or just one? I chose one shipment and was told that I would get the books around July 26. I'm writing this on July 13 and I've been enjoying my three books for the past four days.

Why does Amazon succeed, and what does it take to succeed in any business? Here are three reasons:

  • Options: I can choose whatever I want from Amazon, and I am given options at all times. Different shipping methods, multiple accounts in various countries, I can ship to any address, I can use multiple credit cards, and so on. Choice is good, although you need to limit the number of options you offer, as not to overwhelm the client. The fewer options you offer, the less flexibility you have, the tougher it is to succeed.
  • Underpromise/Overdeliver: they said it would take almost three weeks to get my goods, yet they delivered in fewer than five days. Could this be a ploy? Possibly, if you like conspiracy theories. I don't. And I've had other experiences with Amazon where they had told me it would take 10 days to receive my order, and a few days later I received another message saying "We can't hold our promise, do you wish to cancel your order?" So I think they are honest and just managed to get the order to me sooner.
  • Master the upsell: this is where many fail, yes, including me. Upselling is the art of offering clients what they need instead of only what they want. I wanted the Stephen King book and the Brian Setzer book. Turns out I needed the Aerobics book also. Who knew? Yet many people are afraid to offer more to the client, because they feel it is greedy. It isn't and one of the things I have learned about selling is that if you have something that is beneficial to a client an you don't offer it to them, it is a disservice on your part. It is your duty to offer it to the client, and it is their choice to accept it or not.
In this particular case, Amazon's upsell ended up costing little more than my original purchase, with shipping and handling. Except that now I don't feel like I've spent money, but rather that I've invested in my guitar playing. Not bad for $5.

Now that I've been able to enjoy my books for a few days, what do I think? It's going to take a long time to go through the aerobics book (if I ever complete it), I'll never be as good a guitarist as Setzer, nor as good a writer as King.

But Amazon will get my business again.

Jul 11, 2010

The problem with social media

I have three identities on Twitter: @lduperval, @duperval and @laurentduperval. Only the first one is valid. The other two are there just to protect my name, sort of like buying a lot of domain names, without doing anything with them but preventing people from squatting.

On the two identities I don't use, there is a  message that says: "I don't use this address, use @lduperval instead." Well, despite this warning, I still have 14 followers on @duperval. Nobody is following on @laurentduperval. Yet, the message is much more explicit on @duperval than on @laurentduperval.

This tells me that the people who follow you, aren't necessarily discriminating, They just pick names out of a hat and add that to their list. Nevertheless, all those social media experts are telling you: "You have to invest more in social media. Follow everyone who follows you." I dunno. It seems to me that it's better to have fewer followers who actually read and are interested in what you say, rather than thousands of followers who don't really give a hoot.

Apr 14, 2010

Employee Disengagement: Why It Matters

A Case Study in Driving Employee Engagement looks at the impact of employee disengagement in the workplace. It looks at the costs, what to do with a disengaged employee, and how to keep engaged employees from losing their enthusiasm.

Apr 5, 2010

A Day in The City

Just came back from an Easter weekend stay at my friends' in Connecticut. While we were there, we decided to take in a Broadway show. I let my wife decide on the show, since I had no real preference. She picked "In The Heights" because, she said, it had great reviews. Yeah, right! I think it was because of Corbin Bleu... At first she called him Cordon Bleu; I wonder if it wasn't a comment on his "tastiness." But I digress.

We rode the train from CT to Grand Central Station. No much to say except that I've been in planes that had more leg room that the place where we were sitting. Since we arrived at two hours before the show, we had plenty of time to walk around and take in some of the sights and the sunshine. Indeed, it was a lovely day in The City. So we grabbed a couple of slices of pie and headed to Times Square.

It had been a long time since I'd been in Manhattan and it was quite different from what I remember. Maybe it was because we went in early spring, but the streets weren't as crowded as I remember them. People were polite, they didn't seem rushed, and I found it was a generally relaxed atmosphere. Heck, if it wasn't for all the tall buildings, you coulda been in Montreal!

By the time we passed through Times Square, it was time for the show to begin so we settled down. It was a great choice. In a word, it's the intertwined stories of people living in the barrio, in Washington Heights. It chronicles the struggles and the dreams of people who have been working hard to make something of their lives, after having started from practically nothing. THe music was a great mix of salsa, reggaeton, bachata, hip hop, and so on. Not your typical Broadway musical, to say the least. There was a lot of energy emanating from the stage. The orchestra was top notch and the lighting and effects were fantastic. Highly recommended if you get a chance.

After the show, we headed to Central Park where we took the time to visit some of the locations we had seen so often in movies: the skating rink, the little bridges, and so on. We found this guy trying to make a living:

and this guy trying to look cool:

and this lovely woman making the apple tree look good:

We went to eat at a Brazilian restaurant on 46th street. Great food and their Capinhero (I think that's what it's called) was excellent. Unfortunately, the restaurant made an errot while serving our food. Though I notified the waiter about it, he did nothing to make amends... so I had to take it out on his tip. Too bad because otherwise, it was a fine dinner.

We stepped out again and headed to Times Square to see the nigh lights and to get some souvenirs for the kids. I was surprised to find that there was more action and more people in the streets than there had been in the afternoon. This, despite the fact the the temperature had dropped considerably.

We got the souvenirs and headed back to Grand Central. That's when we realized that I left the souvenir bag on the counter at the shop. We didn't feel like doing the 40-minute walk to and from the shop so we hailed a cab, instead. Then we experienced Manhattan traffic jams at 9:30PM. I think it would have been faster if we had gone on foot.

To return to Grand Central, we hailed another cab but on 44th street, instead of 42nd like we did the first time. We we got on the cab (at the corner of 44th and 8th avenue) we told the driver we wanted to go to Grand Central station. His reply? "Can you tell me how to get there?" Here we are, tourists from Montreal and we have to tell the driver how to get to Grand Central Station, one of the great landmarks of the city.

Only in New Yohk!

Apr 1, 2010

Hollywood, here I come!

Ever since I won the lottery two weeks ago, things have really taken a drastic turn. The ad is true: it doesn't really change things, except that...

It was a harder secret to keep than what I expected. I had to keep things the same at work, at home, with friends, and family. I didn't want to let the cat out of the bag until I knew exactly what I was going to do. Now that it's settled, I can finally let it out!

A couple of friends of mine, Nick and Eddy, moved to California a few years ago to make it big in show business. They haven't hit the big time yet, but they're making a decent living and they really like it there. What's more important, though, is that in the seven years they've been there, they managed to create a pretty nice network, and they have the ear of a couple of people close to some producers.

One of those producers is Jon Favreau. Nick says that Favreau may have an interest in my retelling of Peter Pan as a darker character, tortured by the fact that he was abandoned by his parents in the grime of New York. He liked the (partial) synopsis and would like to hear more, but he's too busy right now with the Iron Man II tsunami coming up. So I'm going to work on it some more and head down to LaLa land to pitch my idea and my vision.

I'm not quite sure how it's going to turn out, but I have a few interesting ideas for casting: Charlize Theron as Tinkerbell, the exotic dancer; I'm torn between Scarlet Johansen and Lauren Ambrose as Wendy the waitress. I originally thought of Gary Oldman as Kap'n Hook, the Kingpin but after seeing Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, I'm thinking he might make a better villain. I'm thinking of giving myself a part as one of Hook's cronies, but I dunno if that'll work. Anyway, we're still a long way from that.

So my plan is to wait until after the launch of Iron Man and then make my pitch. Exciting times!

My wife and the children don't know about this yet, I'm planning on springing it on them as an Easter surprise. I'm planning on taking them on a trip this summer, all I have to do now is figure out the destination. I'll see where they want to go. I'd like to check out Australia, but by then it'll be winter time. Maybe I'll wait until next winter and go to Hawaii instead.

For now, though, I put a sizable deposit on a brand new 2010 Mercedes S600 for the family and I'm thinking of getting a little something for me too. I had to borrow some money for the deposit, though, since I still have to cash in the money. But it's all planned: I'll surprise my wife and the kids by taking them out to Loto-Quebec and having the car waiting outside when we come out.

Well, it was supposed to be a surprise but my nosey daughter read over my shoulder and saw the title of this post. So now she's asking all sorts of questions, that I don't want to answer just yet. She'll probably be telling everybody at school now... *Sigh* Oh well, such is life with kids, I guess.

In the meantime, every night before I go to sleep I just admire that ticket. Dang! Look at it, it's so beautiful. It's almost like it has a glow around it!

Hmmmm.... that's weird....

Lemme check something....

HOLY !!*"?/(!(?!*"(?Y/"!&?"/(?*?(?)!"@!##!&+!@))(#!!)!!!)(><!!!

WHAT THE !()!#@$)#$)*!_&*@!!^$!(!@(^#@!*$@^!!!!!



I am in DEEEEEP trouble.

P.S. April Fool's!

Jan 28, 2010

Starting the day with a smile

Some people have no sense of humour. This morning I was heading to town in the train, and a man entered with his toddler. After a few minutes, the child became a bit agitated. He began chirping and making noise, like a toddler would. I noticed that  people around him were smiling or laughing at his antics. All except one woman, who got up and stomped out in a huff. As I looked at her face, I could almost hear her thoughts: "How dare he bring that */*"%?& kid in my wagon?"

I wonder if she had a nice day?

Jan 13, 2010

When Social Media Shines

I heard the news as I was driving home last night: a major earthquake in Haiti had brought the country to its knees. I still have family there, and from the news reports I knew that the earthquake had hit close to where they lived.

So I went for the immediate, old-timer's reflex: I called my aunt on the phone. She confirmed what the news stations said: it is almost impossible t get a line and she hasn't heard from anybody.

When I finally reached home, I went straight for my Twitter and Facebook accounts and there, I managed to get information that would have been impossible to get any other way.

I began with Twitter in order to figure out what was happening, and to see if anyone in my network had any information on the situation. It was all very chaotic; a good place to get a global overview of things but nothing like what I really wanted to know: is my family all right?

Facebook is a whole different story, though. On Twitter, I'm willing to connect with pretty much anybody. But on Facebook, I triage. If I don't know you personally or if I don't recognize your picture, you don't get on my list. So the people in my Facebook are a much more tightly knit group of individuals than in any other network (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.).

Through my Facebook friends, real information started trickling in: one aunt and uncle were OK but had lost their home; two other aunts and my grandmother were fine, just rattled a bit; another uncle and aunt, who live in an area that was severely affected by the quake were also OK but their hous had suffered. By 1 AM, I had heard all of the important news I needed to know: my family was all right, and I could go to sleep (somewhat) peacefully. Everything else could wait until the next day.

I'll admit that I'm not normally a big user of any of the social media platforms. The only one I strive to use regularly is Twitter (more on that later). However, after going through yesterday's ordeal, I have new respect for these tools: there was no other way I could have gotten as much information from as many different sources. Trying to do this by the phone, or even by email, would have been impossible. With the social media tools, one status update from a friend gave more information than I could get by making 20 different phone calls.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social media sites can become a huge time-sucking black hole if ou aren't careful. As a solo entrepreneur, I have to watch out for that, which is the reason I tend to limit my time on these platforms. I use them a few minutes per day, late in the evening, which ensures I don't spend five hours.

In a time of crisis, though, there isn't any better tool.

What about Twitter? Well, I use an automated system (SocialOomph.com) to schedule tweets on various topics during the week. I do so in a semi-disciplined manner. Every Sunday night, I sit down and write enough "Laurent's Gems" to fill the week, and then I schedule them. I have found that by doing so, once again, I save a lot of time and it forces me to write something coherent at least once a week.

In all of the earthquake turmoil, I forgot to turn it off temporarily, so after a string of "Where's My Family" updates, here comes another one that tells you to consider working in a smaller company if you are dissatisfied with your job.

Yeah, I know, awkward.