Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Bridge Too Far

How does one go about building a bridge? I mean, think about the most famous bridges in the world: The Golden Gate Bridge in California, The George Washington Bridge in New York, The London Bridge in – well - in London. The London Bridge is a bridge over the River Thames, connecting the City of London and Southwark, in central London. A “London Bridge” has existed at or near the present site since the Roman occupation nearly 2000 years ago. The first bridge across the Thames in the London area was probably a military pontoon bridge, built of wood by the Romans on the present site around AD 50.

Now ponder this; how does this all of this “bridge building” actually happen anyway? Does someone wake up one day and say “Man, it sure would be cool if we could get way over there, from way over here, really, really fast”!

Bridges don’t get built if only one person has the idea; the idea has to spread, and it has to spread big. There has to be a “tipping point” where enough people in a society say “you know what we need? We need a bridge!” to get things to actually happen. Money has to be raised (or in the case of the Romans, slaves had to be captured) local governments, (or kings, rulers or dictators had to give the command). The “pain” of not having a bridge must become so great, the discomfort so unbearable, the concept of life “without a bridge” must become so unpleasant that not building the damn bridge is just no longer an option. The idea of not having a way to get from “over here - to over there – really fast” is no longer acceptable by society. We must do whatever it takes, bear any burden, endure any pain, but a bridge we shall build!

When the Golden Gate Bridge was built, eleven men lost their lives. Until February 17, 1937, there had been only one fatality, setting a new all-time record in a field where one man killed for every million dollars spent had been the norm. Ten more men lost their lives when a section of scaffold carrying twelve men fell through the safety net. With the George Washington Bridge, twelve men died. Building The Brooklyn Bridge cost fifty four men their lives.

This blog could be about building tunnels, or dams or even skyscrapers, but let’s stay with the bridge theme, since they have been building bridges for thousands of years. Bridges are hard to build, expensive, incredibly dangerous to construct (and maintain) and they take years to complete. If you were around in 1937, working on the Golden Gate Bridge was a glamorous job; it was like being a NASA Engineer in the 1960’s.

In my lifetime, I must have crossed the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York at least a thousand times. New York City (an island) would have never become the largest city in the world, if it were not for the impressive bridge and tunnel system. It would have just been too much of a pain to take a ferry, every time you wanted to cross the Hudson. To become the largest city in the world, New York needed bridges – and lots of them. I still get a little excited when crossing the Hudson River; you can’t help but think back to what it must have been like to be a worker on this thing, so many years ago. Makes asking “How was your day?” a little more interesting conversation at the dinner table.

Some of the largest accomplishments by modern man were born first in the minds of just a few, and then the ideas were brought to fruition during the worst of times. The idea of landing a man on the moon was made real, during the years of the Vietnam War. Bridges, tunnels and hydroelectric power plants (Hoover Dam) were dreamed up during the depression, and yet these projects became very real indeed. By the way, there were a total of 114 deaths associated with the building of the Hoover Dam.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, (commonly known as the Interstate Highway System, Interstate Freeway System or the Interstate), is a network of limited-access roads including freeways, highways, and expressways forming part of the National Highway System of the United States of America. The system, which is named for President Dwight D. Eisenhower who championed its formation, serves nearly all major U.S. cities. Construction was authorized by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, construction took 35 years. The network has since been extended and as of 2006 it had a total length of 46,876 miles. About one-third of all miles driven in the country use the Interstate system, and of course it has many, many bridges. The cost of construction has been estimated at $425 billion (back in 2006).

Do you think solving the problems of the world’s economy is tough? Or fighting the war on terror? Try building a massive bridge fifty, one hundred, or even two thousand years ago. Every big, hairy audacious thing that mankind ever accomplished, started out as an idea by just a few, and then that good idea spread. Each individual concept of “not having a bridge” right here where we need one slowly grew and grew, until the reality of not having a “bridge” was just too painful to live with.

How do any bridges (real or virtual) ever get built? Just look at the past two thousand years for your answer. A tipping point occurs, when enough people say, “can you imagine what life would be like, if we could go from over here, to way over there, really, really fast?” Life without that bridge is just not acceptable! We just have to build the damn thing; we just have to do it!

OK, Tommy, now bring it all home. Tie it all together for ‘em with a nice bow:

“You know what? Would it not be really cool if we had a balanced budget? Would it not be really cool if we made “balancing our budget” the next big hairy audacious thing, like we did when landing a man on the moon, or building the Hoover Dam, or Golden Gate Bridge?”

Let’s start with the US economy, and then when we have it all under control, we can go after world hunger, fresh water for all, global warming and anything else that comes up in conversation.

Building bridges of any size or type is very hard, there is no question. I wonder how many bridges there are in the entire world? And yet, every single bridge that ever existed on the planet - the big ones and the small ones - all started with a good idea from a small group of passionate people, and that good idea reached a tipping point.

Feel free to share this blog.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I need some advice: who should I marry?

A Facebook post this week really got me going. A friend that I respect and admire (smart, successful businesswoman) asked her Facebook world: “What should I buy – an iPhone® or a BlackBerry®? In less than five minutes, there were hundreds of posts of why she simply MUST get an iPhone – and - just as many posts saying that she would be crazy not to get the new BlackBerry.

In the Real Estate profession, a cell phone is probably the one tool that you simply cannot live without. Ah, but which one?

But the real question is not about phones – the real question is how does one even ASK SUCH A QUESTION to the outside world?

I have a Lab. The gentle, intelligent and family-friendly Labrador Retriever from Canada continues to be the most popular breed in the United States. I love my dog, Bella. But this same Facebook friend has a picture of an English Bulldog “Rocco” on her FB page. If I asked this person “what kind of dog should I get?” what do you think she would say? How would she know?

If I asked a Real Estate professional “what kind of home should I buy?” how could they possibly answer with my best interest at heart? What if I asked “should I buy a Tudor style, or a Ranch or maybe even a condo in the city (what floor – how high up)?” Are these questions the Facebook world should (or could) possibly be answering for me? Are these not questions that should only be answered by me (and only me) - the person who knows me the best?

“I’m a PC!” “I’m a MAC!” We have all seen these commercials. Apple is trying to say that if you are a nerd, and if you wear a suit, you should buy a PC. But if you are “cool” and if you wear jeans and T-shirts, then a MAC is the right choice for you!

Then came the Madison Avenue counterpunching "I'm a PC" commercials showing everyone from cab drivers to Nobel Prize winners using a PC and NOT using a MAC. Their point: the entire world uses a PC - and only a small percentage of the world uses MAC, so there! I say that these ads are a sad Microsoft acknowledgment about how smaller rival Apple simply out-marketed the software giant. I say that the "I'm a PC" concept will just embolden Apple to make even more aggressive swipes at Microsoft via their creative ads. Does Apple make a better phone, or a better computer, or a better tablet PC? Or – does Apple simply have a better advertising agency?

The world is competing for our business in every area of our lives, every single day. Where should I go to college? What kind of car should I buy? Where should I go on vacation? Who should I vote for? The list of questions, waiting for expert advice - is endless. Do we really want to be told what to do, and be told what to think and why?

I have been selling cellular phones since 1983, when the NYNEX Mobile® system first went live in New York. I have deep opinions about iPhones®, iPads®, BlackBerry® and everything else wireless. I was going to tell my friend EXACTLY what she needed to buy - to best service her specific mobility needs as a Real Estate Professional. But my advice was going to get lost in a sea of conflicting expert advice from everyone in North America (she has a big Facebook following).

The most important and best decision of my entire life was to marry my wife, Dianne. I did not ask anyone for their opinion, advice, nor did I ask anyone what qualities would make up a perfect wife. And, with the divorce rate at around 50% how would my advisors possibly know anything of any value anyway?

The limbic system is a complex set of structures that lies on both sides of the thalamus, just under the cerebrum. It includes the hypothalamus, the hippocampus, the amygdala, and several other nearby areas. It appears to be primarily responsible for our emotional life, and has a lot to do with the formation of memories.

Need advice? Go with your gut. Trust your limbic system.

You know what they say about opinions and a$$holes and how everyone has one. Are you really looking for advice? Or - are you just looking for someone to tell you that you made the right decision?

My wife reminds me (daily) that I made the right decision. I wonder if she feels the same way? (…I am afraid to ask…).

Now, who’s up for a lively discussion on religion and politics? I am sure that we can all agree on that, right?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lemonade Stand MBA

The great philosopher and business mentor Yogi Berra once said “You can observe a lot by just watching”.

This summer we had more kid owned and operated “Lemonade Stands” in our neighborhood than I can remember. I always make it a point to stop and make a purchase from such aspiring young entrepreneurs. I am waiting for the day (and I am sure this day is coming) when I pay $0.50 for the cup of ice cold lemonade – soon followed by an “offer I can’t refuse” - to purchase the “lemonade antidote” from a proud member of New Jersey Lemonade Stand Union Local 1245.

All kidding aside, here are some of my keen observations from the 2011 Lemonade Stand Season:

Some lemonade stands look like they were built from a kit purchased at IKEA®. Others are made out of “ready for the dumpster” card tables. Some lemonade stands are constructed out of discarded cardboard boxes from a neighbor’s major home appliance delivery.

Some lemonade stands have a linen tablecloths and real glassware; others have paper cups, while some young entrepreneurs have completely forgotten about supplying the cups – or management has assumed that you would simply “bring your own” paper cups.

Some lemonade stands have beautifully detailed hand-painted signs on poster board stock that could win a high school art contest. Other stands have scribbled hard to read letters on brown paper bags. Oh, but the lemonade is really, really good! Ah, right.

Some lemonade stands are manned by teams of “high energy” kids, all shouting and yelling and successfully getting drivers to stop and make a purchase. Some lemonade stands are operated by very low-key "sole proprietor" entrepreneurs with no yelling, no shouting, no signs – and no lemonade sales.

Some stands sell just lemonade; other lemonade stands have expanded well beyond just lemonade - selling cookies, brownies and assorted home-made goodies. My favorite lemonade stand this summer sold $0.25 bottles of Sam’s bottled water (from Wal-Mart) for $2 per bottle - but they were “really, really, really super cold!” (personally guaranteed by the eight year old sales manager).

Some lemonade stands have a metal cash box, with the money all counted and organized with the bills facing the same way. Other lemonade stands have no cash box whatsoever, so the ill prepared staff have no ability to give change or to break a $20.

Some lemonade stands have igloo® coolers chock full of supplies and plenty of ice; others have run out of ice or never had any ice in the first place. By the way, how did the ice cubes get into my cup? I see no ice tongs, but I do see lots of chubby little hands attached to adorable little kids with runny noses (and no food handler gloves) going in and out of the cooler. Is there any wonder why some lemonade stands have repeat customers, while others do not? I like the ones that give you the lemonade in a paper cup with a paper napkin. And they have a trash can, too. It’s such a nice touch – some kids think of everything!

Dr. Freud theorized that the core of personality of an individual is formed before age 6. Others believe that the core of each person's style of life is formed by age 5. Psychologists say that most people do not change, and if they do change, they don’t change very much.

Over my many years of being in business, I have had the pleasure of working with many successful entrepreneurs, as well as key executives of Fortune 1000 companies. Some of these folks earned MBA degrees from prestigious business schools. Others received their degrees from the “School of Hard Knocks”. As I think about the most successful and passionate of the business leaders that I have known, I think about the “lemonade stands” they must have owned and operated when they were kids.

Do the successful businessmen and women of the world ever allow their lemonade stands to run out of ice? Or not have the ability to break a $20, or be able to make change (or accept credit cards?)

Do the successful businessmen and women of the world sit by the side of the road, hoping that someone stops and make a purchase? Or do they make the signs, do the marketing, and “seek out” new clients (Twitter, Facebook, Social Medial, etc.) thereby making their own luck?

Do the successful “lemonade stand” owners of the world do the necessary research (more lemonade sells on hot sunny days vs. chilly rainy days)? Or do they just “wing it” and hope for the best?

So my freinds, what did your lemonade stand look like when you were growing up? Never had one you say? Well, as my business mentor Yogi Berra says, “It ain't over till it's over.”

Get your very own lemonade stand right here: