Sunday, November 28, 2021

I saw what you did there

If you are reading on a smartphone, use landscape / hold phone sideways. 

Q:  When is a business not a business?  

A: When it is a Christmas Tree Farm

A few hours earlier today, we were with the kids in Madison, Connecticut. We were heading home from Thanksgiving Weekend. Last minute, we decided to tag along with Tommy and Danielle to get their Christmas Tree. First Christmas in their new home! 

I was in charge of Konta our dog, so I was also in charge of photography. And I guess videography, if we want to get technical. Here is what struck me - but not until our ride home to New Jersey.

  • Trees are all $60 regardless of size, shape, or condition.
  • You are Paul Bunyan. They hand you a saw, and wish you good luck.
  • You pick the tree, you cut the tree, you haul the tree to your car.
It truly did not hit me until our 2+ hour drive home. Is this a business, or is this something else? And what other business - seasonal or otherwise - operates under such a model? 
  • The more you sell - the worse the quality of the product. (The good ones go fast).
  • The customer is always right - and - the customer is also always wrong.
  • There is a short window of opportunity - Christmas Trees are hard to sell on December 26th.
Hey Google: How long does it take to grow a Christmas Tree big enough to harvest? 

Hey Tom: Most tree varieties are ready to harvest at the popular height of 5 to 7 feet in around eight years. 

Damn, sounds like a terrible business. Except of course, when it is NOT a terrible business. 

Turns out that Christmas Trees are a very profitable cash crop for a small acreage farm. They are low maintenance, ideal for a spare time project, and can produce a good income for years to come. According to the American Christmas Tree Association (this is a thing) the average price of a Christmas Tree at a U-Cut lot was $74 in 2020. With 200 ready to harvest trees per acre, that is $14,800 of pretty close to net profit. 

And the market for live Christmas Trees is growing, as the buying public is turning it's back on plastic artificial trees in favor of the "real thing."  And, in addition to making a good income, Christmas Tree Farmers provide erosion control, wildlife habitat and improve the environment.  

So, I stand corrected. Ninety-Four Million U.S. Households will celebrate the holidays with AT LEAST ONE REAL Christmas Tree this year. And at the bargain price of $60 that would be $5.6B+ in sales - all very high in net profit. And all in around 30 days of active selling. Yeah, selling - I mean 30 days of  standing there, handing out a saw, and collecting the cash. And saying "See you next year!" 

Ho-Ho-Ho, now I want Garden Hoe for Christmas. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Hell Yeah!

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The Great Resignation has been in full swing for some time now. It is an informal name for the widespread trend of a significant number of workers leaving their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is sometimes called the Big Quit. Personally, I think the better name would be the Big Reset or the Big Rethink.

Reports of the Big Quit may have been exaggerated.

Over the past several months, a rapidly growing number of Americans left their jobs - more than 4.4 million in September. During that time, most of the narrative has been focused on burned-out employees stomping out of their jobs in which many workers are demanding higher wages, better working conditions and more mobility. 

It's complicated. 

Long before COVID, my buddy Derek Sivers wrote the book "Hell Yeah or No." As he tells it, at one point he sold his company, and because he signed a non-compete agreement, he was prevented from doing the one thing that he loved doing for most of his adult life. So, now what?  His book Hell Yeah or No is all about his thoughts about what's worth doing, fixing faulty thinking, and making things happen. Here is the link from 2018 where he says if you're not feeling "Hell Yeah!" then say no. 

Derek has another book "Anything You Want" and it was written for exactly the times we are now living. Get his books. Read his books. Even better, listen to them. It is like he is in the room with you - it is like a Master Class for life.

Which of course, brings me to Occam's RazorWhy, of course, right?

Occam's razor, also known as the principle of parsimony or the law of parsimony is the problem-solving principle that "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity", sometimes inaccurately paraphrased as "the simplest explanation is usually the best one." You know, the "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck - and not an eagle" logic. 

And, of course, we all know that Hickam's Dictum is the opposite of Occam's Razor. In a complex system, problems usually have more than one cause. For example, in medicine, it is possible that people have more than one disease or medical problem at the same time. It would really suck to get an X-Ray for a broken bone from let's say a car accident, and then ALSO find out that you have cancer

Or - did that car accident just save your life?  Did that X-Ray for the broken bone just allow you to catch the cancer early enough, so that it is treatable with a strong probability of a full recovery? 

OK, land the plane, Tom.......

COVID made the world rethink - everything. Our jobs, our careers, our lives. Quality of life. COVID made us think about what is really important. Issues of family, priorities, personal self-worth and fulfillment. I think that the cause of The Great Resignation is more Hickam's Dictum than Occam's Razor. It's complicated. 

COVID made ALL OF US to see that life is so very short - and time is the coin of the realm. Did COVID, even though tragic and terrible, give us something good - something positive? Like the unscheduled broken bone X-Ray that caught the cancer in time? And why does it take something as terrible as a global pandemic to make us stop, pause, and reflect on what we are doing with our life, what we are doing with our time, and our careers?

Happiness is what you feel along that long and tedious path towards your goals. Fulfillment is the feeling of hard work and dedication, leading you up to your destination. Happiness is enjoying those moments during the journey that help you create the best memories possible. 

Should you listen to Derek's books?  

Hell Yeah. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

My Inflated Ego

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What do you call someone who has an inflated ego? Don't you dare say Tom Capone...

Someone who is egotistical is full of themselves, completely self-absorbed. The prefix ego refers to a person's sense of self, or self-importance. To be egotistical is to have an inflated view of self-importance - basically to think you are better than everyone else. 

None of this sounds good. None of this is attractive, or compelling, or a very good strategy for winning friends and influencing people. Unless, of course, you are running for President in 2016. But I digress. 

Inflation. Runaway inflation. Or, the big one - Hyperinflation - rapid, excessive, and out of control general price increases in an economy. While inflation is a measure of the pace of rising prices for goods and services, hyperinflation is rapidly rising inflation, typically measuring more than 50% per month. This also - does not sound good. Or, can inflation be a good thing, sometimes? 

I am NOT an economist. Not even close. But I have been in business since 1983. And, I got my drivers license in the 70's during the gas crisis. I am like that Insurance TV commercial: "I know a thing or two because I've seen a thing or two...."

Today, prices for everything from gasoline to groceries are surging as the economy roars back from the pandemic recession. And that is raising concerns about whether the USA is headed back to the awful economic days of the 1970's, when the country was gripped by double-digit inflation that required painful action by the Federal Reserve. 

I came of age in the 1970's and I remember what that terrible period was like. Today, I feel that the current run-up in prices is a temporary phenomenon, sparked by supply shocks tied to the pandemic, and pent-up demand from consumers - not the beginning of a persistent, upward spiral like the one that spawned "stagflation" in the 70's. 

We lived it. It was not that long ago. The BEST thing that anyone can do, is to do a little personal research on exactly what inflation is - and what it is not. By 1983, inflation had retreated back to just over 3%. 

But it was a painful correction, taking many years. Nearly 4 million people lost jobs in back-to-back recessions in the early 1980's. But for the last four decades, inflation has not been a serious problem in the U.S. 

The generation that were adults in that high-inflation period will always remember it. But there are a lot of Americans that never lived with inflation at all. So naturally, they don't expect it - and they certainly don't understand it. 

If you want to fill your brain with some easy to understand inflation stuff, click here

In 1970 the cost of a cup of coffee was $0.25. 1980, $0.45. 1990, $0.75. 2000, $1.00. $2010, $1.25.  $2020, $1.75. Now hot water is hot water, so - did coffee beans really change that much over time? Now - what is the cost of a cup of coffee when YOU make it in YOUR OWN KITCHEN, and fill a thermos to take the coffee WITH YOU to work? Or - do you work at home - so no need to buy coffee at all? See, you have more control than you think you do. 

Inflation is powered by choices - the choices that we (all) make. You, me, all of us - we have way more control over inflation that we think we do

How we buy, what we buy, and when we buy it - is what makes inflation - or even deflation! It's a dance, folks. Inflation occurs when the process of goods and services rise, while deflation occurs when those prices decrease. Moderate inflation is good because it increases national output, employment and income. Whereas deflation reduces national income and brings the economy backward to a state of depression. 

Inflation, like most things in life, has two sides to the same coin. Everything in moderation, right? Just like ego. A healthy ego, vs. a narcissistic ego. Since you got to have an ego, you might as well have a healthy one. 

"Everything in moderation, including moderation." ~ Oscar Wilde. 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Every Dollar is a Vote

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 "Voters don't decide issues, they decide who will decide the issues." ~ George Will

Every dollar is a vote - in some principles of economics, "Dollar Voting" was the term used to describe the process by which consumer's choices influence production decisions. Products that consumers buy will tend to be produced in the future. Products that do not do as well as expected will receive fewer productive resources in the future. Effectively, according to this analogy, consumers are voting for "winners" and "losers" with their purchases. This argument was used to explain and justify market allocations of goods and services under the catchphrase "consumer sovereignty". 

Do consumer boycotts ever work? The goals of selective boycotts, or dollar voting, have been diverse, and have included a desire to see decreased corporate revenues, removal of key executives, or reputational damage. 

Colin Rand Kaepernick is an American civil rights activist and former football quarterback of the NFL.

Aaron Charles Rodgers is an American football quarterback for the Green Bay Packers of the NFL.

One of these guys got into trouble for protesting against racial injustice, police brutality, and systematic oppression in the country. The other, committed multiple violations of NFL COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated players, including attending parties with teammates while not using PPE and appearing unmasked at multiple postgame conferences. One of them lied to the world about their position. Let's see how it all unfolds. 

AT&T is now "in the barrel" for supporting far-right media companies like OANN. 

Facebook (now Meta Platforms, Inc.) is "in the barrel" for, well... there is a list. 

I learned of the website - a tool that suggests whether a consumer should buy or avoid products and/or services based on how well it aligns with the consumer's values and principles. The consumer joins to various Buycott campaigns to indicate their support or their opposition to various issues and topics. Via using the app, the average supermarket shopper now (can instantly) know that buying Brawny paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper or Dixie cups equals contributing cash to Koch Industries through its subsidiary Georgia-Pacific. The Koch Family is an American family engaged in business, best known for their political activities and their control of Koch Industries, the largest privately owned business in the United States. 

Where are you going with this Tom?

Billionaires with "more money than God" should have the freedom to listen to their conscious. Are you "for or against" clean drinking water, feeding hungry children, saving the planet - basically protecting truth, justice and the American way? Billionaires with more money than they can ever spend in their lifetime, should be able to make fast, easy decisions on (many) very simple questions, yes? 

When you buy something - anything - you are voting. Dollars are Votes. Corporations Power Politics. No one can get elected for any office in the USA without significant financial backing. 

Remember back in 2010 when boycotts of BP filling stations were in overdrive? This was due to BP's failed efforts to stop a massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. In hindsight, it turns out that roughly 10,000 BP filling stations/convenience stores in the USA are independently operated. Ultimately small, local entrepreneurs and their families were the ones that got hurt by the boycotts, not BP. 

If Facebook offered me a ton of money to sponsor should I take the money? What about AT&T? Or Koch Industries? 

This past week, there was a BIG vote on Infrastructure here in the USA. There were some who voted AGAINST clean and safe drinking water. Let me say that again: there were some elected officials from Michigan - who voted AGAINST clean and safe drinking water. Ahem. Google Flint, Michigan. 

Let me end it here. Consciousness and Awareness, both words seem to carry the same meaning, but they do not. Conscious simply means alert and awake. Awareness is having knowledge of something. And guilt is responsibility for wrongdoing, while conscience is the moral sense of right and wrong. 

Land the plane, Tom.........

How you spend your money - IS your vote. Politicians cannot survive without BIG money from BIG companies. Politicians cannot do ANYTHING if they cannot get elected, and NO POLITICIAN can get elected without money. Lots and lots of money. 

 "Voters don't decide issues, they decide who will decide the issues." ~ George Will

Yes, very true. And money is the oxygen of politics. And you (you) control the flow of that oxygen. How you spend YOUR MONEY will determine voting rights in the USA. How YOU spend YOUR MONEY determines, well it determines everything

2010: I get it - but you hurt the wrong people.