Friday, December 23, 2011

Element of Success...

The NFL football season is quickly coming to an end. The season started with 32 teams each vying for one of the coveted 10 playoff berths over the course of the 17-week season. Each team had a plan. Each team consisted of professional coaches and players who have achieved remarkable success in the past. Each team carefully prepared each week for their opponent. Each team played hard during their game.

At the end of the season there will be 10 playoff teams and 22 failures that will soon begin their preparation for the next season.
In business, there are countless examples of Fortune 500 (and start-ups) who spent tens of millions of dollars on research and development and tens of millions more on market research, packaging, advertising, building of production lines and creating inventory only to watch their new project fail miserably when it came to market.

There were some incredibly smart people who worked on these projects. There was ample funding. There was a perceived market need. It failed nonetheless.

Yet there were winners among the losers. Why?

Why did Facebook succeed and My Space fail? Why did Wikipedia succeed and Encarta fail? What caused people to embrace the inferior VHS tape format rather than the Betamax tape format?

Big budget movies with big name stars and big name directors fail every year. Some artists make it big while other wallow in obscurity.

Sometimes the product is truly great but the decision makers who control the distribution channels will turn it down...

John Grisham, Steven King, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) together received hundreds of rejection slips before publishing a single book.

The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley were all rejected by record company executives, booking agents, and club owners and yet went on to become the greatest music icons over a span of 50 years.

There is no magic formula for success however there are a few common traits that all successful products, companies and people share.

To begin with, they are incredibly persistent. The success from failure stories are about people who believe in themselves, the idea, the company, and/or the product. Initial failure just motivates them to try harder. They refuse to take no for an answer.

An Episcopalian clergyman by the name of Richard Nelson Bolles wrote a book but was rejected by publishers so many times that he ended up self-publishing the book himself. He spent three years driving from town to town throughout America selling a few books out of the trunk of his old Chevy Nova. He did book signings at book stores and malls, talk-show interviews, and late night radio. One night he was booked on a late-night radio show and wasn’t scheduled until 3am. He considered canceling the interview because he still had a long drive to his next book signing in a town several miles away. He decided to do the interview. That night, Steve Katz, an associate producer for the The Tonight Show heard the interview as he drove home from a late night party. He was so impressed with the subject that he immediately called the radio station and convinced Rev. Bolles to cancel his speaking engagement and come to the studio the next morning.

Soon after, Richard Bolles was booked on the Johnny Carson show to promote his "new" book "What Color is Your Parachute?". The book is now in its 22nd edition, has been translated into 7 languages and has sold over 10 million copies while spending 288 consecutive weeks on the New York Times best seller list.

Richard Bolles was an overnight success...after grinding it out on the road for 3 years...
The second trait of successful people who had early failures is that they have an incredible work ethic. They understand that failure is not an option and that success is a byproduct of hard work and continued efforts.

I have known a lot of entrepreneurs who had some initial success only to lose it all because they got lazy thinking that their success would continue indefinitely. People, products and ideas must continuously evolve to continue on the path to success. What worked yesterday and today will not necessarily work tomorrow. There are a lot of people and companies who have created a "one-trick pony" but eventually their idea gets old and they need to create something new and fresh.

They may have been extremely good at what they did, but the world, markets and people change. The truly successful adapt to the changes and are always looking to create new ideas and products. Big companies are constantly trying new things and introducing new products even though they know that most of them will not succeed.

The final element of success is sheer luck. It was incredibly lucky for Richard Bolles to get an opportunity to be on the Johnny Carson show. The same holds true for so many actors, writers, and artists. A very few people win the lottery...while millions of others do not. However, the odds of success can be increased with hard work, perseverance, creativity, discipline.

If your business plan is to write a book and you hope to get invited to the Oprah show, then the odds are extremely long for the plan to work. However, if your plan is to study really hard, go to college and then to medical school and then to dental school to become an orthodontist, then your odds for success might be a little better.

A final note about success...real success shouldn’t be measured in sales, making the playoffs, crushing your opponents and/or building wealth share but rather how did your ideas, actions, and/or product/service help others (despite what Calvin thinks).

Something to reflect on as we enjoy our holidays and get ready for the upcoming year. Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where our goal is to help make you more successful.

Friday, December 16, 2011

One of Seven Billion...

On October 31, 2011, the population of the earth reached 7 billion human beings.

7 billion is a big number. To put it in perspective, if you had such a special talent that was shared by just one person out of a million....there would only be 7,000 people just like you in this world.

Yet with so many people, each one of us is an individual with our own thoughts, dreams and fears. We each have a history and a destiny. We are each unique in our own special way.

I was at the mall last Tuesday afternoon doing a bit of Christmas shopping when I happened to go into a store devoted to selling Lego blocks. Inside the store, there was a large play area with thousands of loose Lego blocks for customers, young and old, to experiment and play with.

Children and their parents were busy manufacturing different items using an assortment of building blocks. I stood by watching them through the store window as they carefully erected their various designs. There were no instructions or models. The patrons simply used their own imagination and creativity to create something from nothing.

As I stepped into the store, I asked several of the children what it was that they were making. Their responses were varied but precise. 

"I’m building a dinosaur", said one boy.

"I’m making a monster truck", another chimed in.

"It’s a special underwater car", explained a young girl.

Sometimes the creation looked like the artist’s description...and other times it didn’t...but who am I to judge someone else’s creativity?

If we were to be given a box of Legos, what is it that we would build? Would we build something practical like a house or a jet plane? Would we make something that is part fantasy and part reality, like a dragon or a special underwater car? Perhaps we’ll invent something that doesn’t exist but that we alone can only imagine.

When I was a young boy, we created geometric works of art using wheels and geared disks called a Spirograph. There were specific instructions that directed the "artist" to insert the pen into particular holes in the disk and then rotate the disk around a larger geared disk to create shapes. 

"Paint by numbers" was also popular, where the artist could recreate a painting by carefully applying a certain colored paint to a numbered spot on the outline drawing.

These games, as well as other crafts such as assembling model cars or planes, were designed to help release the creativity from inside all of us in a simple 1-2-3 method. Do step one, then complete step two before proceeding to step three...

What I have found is that most people generally like this step-by-step approach. They crave the predicted results from completing a known process. This for that. Quid pro quo.

Unfortunately, real-life isn’t predictable or a known process (at least for most people). There isn’t a "life-by-numbers" or a set of simple instruction telling us what to do next. We can create goals and measure the results but we first need to decide where we want to be at the end of the journey before we set our course of action to get there. And therein lies the rub...

Many of us are looking for leaders to tell us where we should go, what we should think or believe, or what we should value. We want answers. We want direction. On one hand, we want to know what lies beyond the horizon but we also fear the unknown or the unpredictable.

We want to look at the puzzle box to get an idea of what the puzzle will look like before we put all of the pieces together. We want to know what the end is before we begin.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to meet a gentleman named Randy Fields. Now you probably have never heard of Randy Fields but you may have heard of his former wife, Debbie Fields...Mrs. Fields of cookie fame and fortune.

He explained to me that Mrs. Fields Cookies relied on individuals who were excessively extroverted and who displayed a very outgoing personality. Although they could give an applicant a battery of personality tests to determine if they had what it would take to be a success at Mrs. Fields Cookies, Randy developed a much more reliable test. 

At the end of the first interview, without warning, the interviewer would simply ask the applicant to sing "Happy Birthday". If the applicant was too embarrassed, or sang too quietly or simply too mechanically, they were no longer considered as a potential employee at Mrs. Fields. 

I should (but don’t) have a simple test for anyone applying to work at OptiFuse. Give each applicant a blank piece of white paper and a fresh box of 64 crayons (the box with the build-in crayon sharpener in the back) and ask them to create something... anything... no instructions other than that. If the person just sat there waiting for me to tell them what to draw or how to draw it, then it would probably be a good indication of what to expect in the future from that person...someone who waited for instructions before acting.

I truly believe that if I had incorporated that exercise into my interview process many years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of grief and headaches. 

One of our core company philosophies that I like to explain to new hires is that OptiFuse has never fired an employee for making a wrong decision...however we have indeed parted ways with several employees who refused to make decisions at all. Everyone here is empowered to make decisions and contribute using their own special creativity.

As the earth continues to flatten, many process driven job functions are being outsourced to places where wages are lower than that of developed nations. The positions that will remain in those countries are those where critical thinking and creativity are the rule not the exception. 

Despite the best efforts of some, globalization is an e-mail that has been already sent...there is no way to stop or recall it. It’s a foregone conclusion. This is the new reality.

Our only hope to maintain our employment base is to develop thinkers and creators rather than doers.

I was indeed awe inspired by the children I saw playing with Legos at the mall. These are the same kids who will one day grow up to be inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, engineers, problem solvers and great thinkers. 

This Christmas perhaps we need to consider giving gifts (especially to children and young adults) that teach us to think and/or create rather than those that cause us to process or react. 

Maybe each person needs their very own box of crayons and blank sketch pad to create whatever inspires them.

Only in this way, will we allow ourselves to possibly stand above the other 7 billion inhabitants of this planet and be counted as a difference maker.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where as we try to develop big ideas for a big world.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Why Do We Buy?

Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really selling himself to it.
~ Benjamin Franklin

They set up a table in the student center and offered free coffee to students who helped them to conduct a taste test. The first sample was a simple Columbian dark blend priced at $4.29 per pound. The second sample was a Sumatran dark roast price at $14.40 per pound, roughly three times the cost of the cheaper grind.

Forty participating students were asked to rate the two coffees on a scale of 1 to 10 and add any comments about the coffee.

At the end of the taste-test, the participating students was given a choice of a free full cup of coffee from either of the two test samples.

The results were tabulated and Dr. Santos and her students found that the participants rated the higher priced Sumatran coffee, on average, almost 3 points higher than the lesser cost Columbian coffee (8.6 versus 5.9). In addition, of the 40 test-tasters, 37 requested a cup of the higher priced Sumatran coffee as their reward for participating in the study.

So what makes this study so interesting?

Both of the coffee samples were the exactly same!

In this experiment, the participating students perceived that the more expensive coffee was better than that of lesser costing coffee although the two were identical in every way. The research subjects justified their higher ratings by believing that the coffee that cost more simply must be better.

I am currently searching for a new vehicle. The one I presently drive is starting to cost more and more to maintain as it gets older so it is time to make a change (it's now 9 years old with approximately 120K miles on it).

I suggested to several friends, family and associates that I am torn between two models both costing about the same price. One has significantly more features, a better warranty, more horsepower, more leg and head room and gets about the same gas mileage than the other and is less costly to maintain according to data supplied by Kelly Blue Book. 

My friends tell me that I am crazy to purchase the "better car" and I should instead purchase the "lesser car". Their reason: The "better" car is a Hyundai and the "lesser" car is a BMW.

The popular rationale for their opinion...while yes the features, performance, and warranty of the Hyundai might be's still a Hyundai and the other car is...well...a BMW so it must be better. 

I mention to my friends that, in reality, a Lexus is really a Toyota, an Infinity is really a Nissan, an Acura is really a Honda, and an Audi or Porsche is really a VW...but this argument doesn't hold sway with them. A BMW is better than a Hyundai...any day...period!

Why is it that we believe that if something is more expensive, it is simply better or more valuable than the less costly item?

In some cases, the additional cost may be true, due to taste, fashion or rarity. A "prime" steak is perhaps more flavorful to some than a regular "select" steak, a Dior Couture evening gown may exhibit more fashion to some than an off-the-rack prom dress sold at JC Penny and the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is worth a considerable sum to a coin collector (due to the fact that only 5 specimens are in existence today)...but it is still only worth a nickel if you try to spend it in vending machine.

However, I question those paying large premiums for items that have very little added functional benefit for the significantly higher cost. These items might include Craftsman tools, Henkel knives, or Titleist golf clubs. 

Unless you're perhaps a professional, these tools will not make you a better mechanic, chef or golfer. (I actually have a friend who has spent more money on his golf equipment than he spent for his current car...and he still doesn't regularly break 100 on the course!...I have often told him that he should think about spending some of his money on golf lessons rather than on golf act of futility on my part I suspect).

So why do we place so much value on a name brand?

Some people will argue that we simply get what we pay for...a higher price means it must be a higher quality product. Other will tell you that name brands have weathered the test of time and proven themselves over the years. Still others are brand loyal because their parents bought a particular brand and that's all they know (my mom used Tide detergent and it worked for her).

We may also be motivated to purchase higher cost items by political factors such as wanting to purchase domestically made products or those made by union labor. My father, for instance, refuses to shop at non-unionized grocery stores even though he may pay more for the exact same items.

For many of us, displaying a brand is a status symbol. We dress our babies in designer wear. We order margaritas made with premium tequila even though all we can taste is the lime juice. We send our children to expensive big name private universities, even though the education they receive there is perhaps no better than that of a lesser known school.

Status symbols show the rest of the world that we have wealth. It demonstrates to others that we're important. It helps us to feel good about ourselves.

This same notion leads us to purchase expensive coffee and imagine that it tastes better than less costly brand even though it's exactly the same.

Maybe it's time to rethink how we spend our hard-earned money. Perhaps if we did...we might have more of it at the end of the day.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we try to provide our customers with big value...not a big price.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Turn for the Best...

The other day I was having lunch with my friend Bob. During the course of our conversation, I asked him how his daughter Jenna was doing. Jenna was away at college studying to become an elementary school teacher. Now in her fifth year, she was planning on graduating this next May.

Bob told me that Jenna had returned home for the Thanksgiving holiday. She was visibly upset but she didn’t want to talk about it until after Thanksgiving day. So on Friday, she sat down with Bob and his wife Kathy.

"Mom and dad, I have something that I need really to talk with you about."

Bob told me that his stomach was in knots as he feared the worse...but he let her go on.

"I know that I’ve been in school now for over four years at a great expense to the both of you but..."

At this point she burst into tears and blurted out in one rambling sentence, "I just don’t want to be a teacher anymore...I know this is what I wanted to do four years ago...but I didn’t know back then what I know today...I should have figured it out after the first couple of years...but I thought teaching would eventually grow on me...but it didn’t...and now I don’t want to spend the next 30 years doing something I hate!..."

Bob and Kathy were, in one sense, relieved that Jenna’s news wasn’t something a lot more serious...but it was still a disappointment to the both of them. Although Jenna was attending a State university, the cost of tuition, room and board over the past four years was still nearing the $100,000 mark. To top it off, their son, Jack, was now a senior in high school and looking forward to attending college next year.

Bob and Kathy took turns interrogating Jenna in order to learn why she was now so disenchanted with teaching...perhaps in a final attempt to get her to reconsider her decision to quit the program...but Jenna just kept repeating that teaching was not what she wanted to do in her life and that she was just too impatient to work with small children.

After about an hour, the discussion turned away from trying to get Jenna to reconsider teaching, to what Jenna’s new career plans were and how much of her previous schooling could be salvaged and applied to her new field of study.

Jenna told her parents that she was still interested in helping people, but now she wanted to do it as a physical therapist. Her general education requirements had all been met over the last four years...however, she would need to take several prerequisite courses in life sciences, math, and chemistry as well as 28 course hours in her new major. This would mean that she would most likely be at school for at least another two years.

As Bob told me his story, I felt bad for Bob and Kathy’s new financial burdens. I tried to console him by reminding him that his daughter’s long-term happiness was indeed the most important thing here. 

"Bob", I replied, "Jenna would have been miserable for the next 40 years and I’m sure you and Kathy would have ended up paying a great toll for it in the end. It’s probably better to discover the truth now than to wait."

He looked at me and told me that he was actually proud of Jenna for having the intestinal fortitude to do something that she knew would be difficult. Instead of trying to please everyone else, she took a hard look at her situation, determined that she had made a wrong turn and decided that the best course of action was to just start over. 

"How many people would have the courage and heart to do that?", he asked me rhetorically. "It’ll be tough...but we can manage...besides...she has to do the hard work to get through this new curriculum."

The topic soon then turned to other things, but I couldn’t help but think about what Bob had said about people making hard decisions that change and impact their lives...despite the hardships it would surely bring in the short-term.

Many times we know that we’re traveling down the wrong path (or more aptly...a path that we know that isn’t right for us)...perhaps we’re in a bad marriage, or at job that we hate, or maybe we’re questioning our faith in God or chosen religious affiliation. We continue down this wrong path because changing course is hard and most likely it will negatively affect other people along the way...people that we love and care about.

So do we continue down this wrong path because of duty and/or guilt or do we try to change our situation to hopefully bring us happiness? 

Often we choose to continue on living in our unhappy situation due to fear and/or a sense of duty or obligation.

We stay in the bad marriage because we fear spending the rest of our life alone. We worry about what our friends and relative would think. We think that our kids would rather have parents who remain together and fight rather than parents who are civil and are separated. We believe that our spouse will one-day change and happiness will suddenly arrive.

We remain in a dead-end job putting up with belligerent bullying bosses and low pay because of loyalty. We have low self-esteem thinking that no other company would ever hire us. We read in the newspaper about the high unemployment and rationalize that we need the money more than a rewarding place to ply our trade. We have financial obligations so we cannot take a risk. 

We perhaps grew up with a particular religious affiliation so we stay with it although our beliefs have long since changed. We rationalize our behavior by telling ourselves that our faith is just waning as we go through the empty motions while at service. We can’t leave the congregation...what will other people think? We fear of being ostracized and outcast in the community.

So we continue down our paths....helplessly lost...unwilling to admit that we’ve made a mistake or in constant fear that the new path may be worse than the path we’re currently on.

Maybe we will muster the courage to say "enough is enough"...go back to the beginning and start all over again (although like in Jenna’s situation...we rarely need to start over from square one but rather we might only need to take few steps back)...

Sure...the road we’re currently on may lead us to the place we want to go...but may not...don’t be afraid to change course if need be...

Happiness is about being on the right path with the right people...choose your path well...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we hope that our paths will someday meet.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Taking Control...

"God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...the courage and strength to change the things I can...and the wisdom to know the difference" ~ Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr

On my desk there is currently a "to-do" list two pages long. There are several requests for proposals and/or quotes, budgets for next year, people to follow-up with, marketing projects, website fixes and up-grades, as well as a multitude of other assorted tasks that any small business owner may be responsible for doing.

If I so desired, I could work 16 hours a day, 7-days a week but in the end...I’d still have a two-page "to-do" list on my desk...

One might believe that because I have so much to life is full of stress. In reality, I’m really no busier than other people and in fact, most of time I am typically less stressed than many of my friends and colleagues.

Am I less stressed because I don’t care or because I do a lot of stress-reduction exercises like yoga and meditation?... No, not particularly (although I do attend a yoga class periodically just to get in some good stretching). 

The keys to stress reduction are found by examining the two main factors of stress creation.

The first primary cause of stress is the loss of control. We all want a certain amount of autonomy in our lives. We all want to control our own destiny and not rely on other people’s decisions or actions. When we feel that we have no control over a situation, it causes a certain amount of stress and fear within us. 

We worry about losing our jobs, our house, or our retirement accounts. We get stressed when our flight gets cancelled or when we’re stuck in rush-hour traffic. We get disappointed when we don’t make a sale to a customer who clearly needs our product or service. While it is true that poor planning may have contributed to our current circumstances, the solution is beyond our own control.

Unmet expectations are another form of control loss. We expect people to behave the way we want them to behave and when they don’t, we get angry. We worry about when our children make poor decisions and do things that they shouldn’t do. We get upset when our sports teams lose. We get mad at politicians, bankers, insurance companies, organized labor, and the legal system because we believe that they have betrayed the trust we have placed in them. We feel alone when our relationships end or our significant others don’t measure up to what we want or expect.

We have no control over other people...their thoughts, their behavior, their attitude, and their emotions are all individual unique to them. We can only control how we act and how we respond to others.

The second primary cause of stress is time (or lack thereof). It’s not the amount of work that causes’s adding the element of time and creating deadlines that creates stress in people.

I often found myself highly stressed in college because students were expected to learn and understand a subject within a specific allotted time frame. There would be a test given on a particular day and time. If you didn’t know the material by then, you would fail. It didn’t matter if you learned the subject matter an hour, a day or a week later...the test was over. The deadline had elapsed. Move on.

As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed that less and less things have true hard deadlines. Even when paying your taxes with a hard April 15 deadline, there are time extensions. And if you don’t meet the extension time frame...then you pay a penalty and some goes on.

If you remove the time and control components, then the stress simples melts away.

Which brings us to the holiday season...
The holidays can be extremely stressful to many individuals because...
  1. We simply cannot control all of the possible outcomes and we cannot control the thoughts or actions of other people.
  2. There are deadlines.
There is the turkey that is still frozen the morning of Thanksgiving. The late November snowstorm that cancelled or delayed flights throughout the Northeast. Guests arrive several hours late due to gridlock traffic and are in a foul mood. The plate of stuffing that was accidentally knocked over by children playing the kitchen. The belligerent relative who consumed too many adult beverages. A screaming baby who is colicky.

There is the lights to be hung, trees to be trimmed, gifts to be purchased and dinners to be planned all before the December 25th deadline arrives. There are packed shopping malls, where even finding a parking space is a challenge to most. There are toys to assemble, cookies to bake and school Christmas pageants to attend.

There are the last-minute travel arrangements that need to be made. 

There are 2012 budgets and the new product launch that need to be completed before the new-year. There are smaller than expected year-end bonuses due to smaller profits but seemingly more work. There are office parties and get-togethers at close friends both on the same night. There are babysitters to arrange.

Too much to do...not enough time...UGH!!

Stop!...take a deep’ll be okay...I promise.

Time to remove the stress elements...

Maybe this year you decide to spend your Thanksgiving and/or Christmas serving meals down at the local homeless shelter or spending it with an elderly shut-in...instead of hosting a dinner for 30 people at your home...your family will understand...and if’s their issue not yours...

Maybe this year you decide not to buy gifts to exchange but rather give a donation to "Toys for Tots"...maybe you family can "adopt" a local family who don’t have resources to exchange gifts this year...your kids might even learn a valuable life lesson in the process...and be a bit thankful for what they have.

No need this year to buy a tree or hang outdoor Christmas lights...but instead you plant a tree (or two or three) at your local park...for all to enjoy for years to come (you might even want to jazz it up with some bio-degradable tinsel).

Perhaps this year you accept that smaller bonus with a big smile knowing that you’re still employed while so many are without a job this holiday...and think how quiet it’ll be around the office with everyone gone and the phones not ringing...plenty of time now to finish those end-of-the-year projects.

Suppose this year, you stayed at home playing a classic board game completing a jigsaw puzzle rather than go out with friends, watching endless sports on TV, or traveling out of town to see relatives.

The holidays don’t have to be’s a season for giving thanks and spreading joy...not killing ourselves trying to make things perfect. 

We have the power to make our lives what we want...if we don’t like our situation...then we can change may be a challenge to many of us...but it’s our life...we demand better!

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we try to create peace rather than stress in people’s lives.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life Interrupted...

"So much time and so little to do...wait...strike that...reverse it...thank you" ~ Willy Wonka

My girlfriend's daughter Mia is an alto in her school's choir.  This last weekend I listened as she intently practiced her part for an upcoming recital.  Over and over again she warbled out the chorus to the song "Seasons of Love" from the hit stage production "Rent"... 

Five-hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes...

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred moments so dear...

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes...

How do you measure...measure a year?...

Perhaps since I'm a relatively young healthy person, five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes sounds like a lot of time to me.  It probably seems that way to a lot of people.   

It is so much time, in fact...that we waste many of those minutes each year doing absolutely nothing productive.  Of course, there needs to be rest and relaxation, not everyone can be "on" all the time but how many hours are spent sitting in front of the television, playing video games, read trashy novels, or surfing the web looking for funny videos?

If you were only given a year to live...then five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes wouldn't seem like so much time at all...

Time is a non-renewable resource...yet we wake up each day thinking that we each have another day to live...

This past September, I had the opportunity to go on a 630-mile bicycle ride along the California coast with five friends who despite their middle-age, would be considered to be in top physical shape.  For 9 days, we each awoke at dawn, rode 50-100 miles over the time-span of 5-10 hours (counting lunch breaks and numerous photo opportunities). 

Each evening the six of us met for dinner to celebrate our accomplishments of the day and plan our course of action for the following day.  We shared our photos, thoughts and experiences of that day's ride with the group.  We laughed about the pains in our joints and muscles, our sun-burnt faces, and our wind-chapped lips.  We rejoiced that we had safely completed the day's ride without major incidence.

After nine days, on October 2nd, we crossed the finish line in San Diego, celebrated with friends and family and went home to our families.  We had embarked on the journey as relative strangers but returned as compatriots filled with a lifetime of memories.

For about a week after returning to our "normal lives", the five of us would continue to talk, email or text, sharing photos and memories of the ride after the fact.  In only nine days, we had become best friends and comrades.

Then in the late afternoon of Wednesday October 19th, my mobile phone rang.  The caller ID told me it was Therese, one of our riders, so when I answered the call I was surprised to hear her husband's voice on the other end of the line. 

I tried to exchange some pleasantries with him but he quickly interrupted me by saying, "Jimmy...I have some terrible news for you"...

"Lori (another of our 5 riders) was at the gym this morning working out with her trainer when she felt a bit dizzy.  She sat down for a spell and then passed out.  The paramedics were called to the scene and she was taken to a local hospital.  After being examined by the doctors in the emergency room she was flown to the a major hospital in Salt Lake City where she was pronounced brain-dead due to a massive intra-cerebral hemorrhage."

I immediately thought he was couldn't be.  Only two weeks ago she was riding her bicycle down the coast of California.  She was in phenomenal physical shape.  Now she was lying in a hospital bed waiting for her organs to be harvested.

After discussing some more of the details surrounding Lori's death, I hung up the phone.

I slumped in the chair behind my desk and was emotionally numb.  I reflected for a moment about her smile and incredibly positive attitude along the ride.  She often talked about a cookbook that she was trying to publish before the holidays with 500 or more recipes.  I remembered our conversations about her flying lessons and about her children.  Each day along the ride she would amaze me with her extensive knowledge about the cattle (she and her husband were ranchers in Wyoming), business philosophies, geo-politics, and the media.  She was a talented musician and we chatted about jazz (Dave Brubeck's decision to compose his famous tune "Take 5" in a seemingly complex 5/7 time) and popular music of today.  Lori was an active outdoors woman who ran marathons, skied, bicycled, rode horses and hunted.  

She was extremely active in her church and devoted much of her time promoting philanthropic causes but was respectful of other's beliefs, refraining from attempting to convert people to her particular views.

Lori Barney was a true renaissance woman who lived each day to its fullest but it was her infectious smile and humility that made her stand apart from the crowd.  She listened intently to people and found ways to make everyone around her feel special.

She was an extraordinary person who I had only known for a few short weeks but who made such a positive impact on my life as well as the lives of others. 

When she awoke that Wednesday morning she had no idea that fateful day would be her last but I suspect that if she did, she would have been comforted by knowing that she gave life all she could give.

I suspect Lori would have forsaken all that she had or had accomplished for another five-hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes on this earth...or maybe simply another twenty-five...just so that she could tell those whom she loved the most...I love you and good-bye.

Thanks to all of you for your wonderful support of OptiFuse these last ten years.  We truly appreciate your support as we try to make a difference in an otherwise mundane world of circuit protection.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Death of a Salesman...

Our greatest glory comes not from never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was growing up, music was a big part of my family’s life. I suppose this was the reason why, at the age of 10, I asked my parents to allow me to take guitar lessons.

Although we didn’t have many financial resources, my parents bought me an old second-hand (or perhaps it was even third-hand) acoustic guitar and enrolled me in a guitar class taught by our local YMCA. The group consisted of one teacher and about 35 beginning students.

The teacher did her best to teach us some basic notes and chords, but in the end, I didn’t learn too much other than the fact that I didn’t have any real natural talent for music.

I explained to my parents that it must have been the large class size that limited my progress (not the fact that I rarely practiced anything that was taught in class).

My parents, not wanting me to give up so easy, enrolled me in private lessons at our local music store. I attended a 30-minute private lesson for nearly two years and by the end of this time, I could just about play Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star by heart. The lack of practice and dedication proved my downfall.

The primary problem of mastering an instrument is that learning is very slow in the beginning. Certain basic techniques need be understood and mastered before any real music can be played. Holding the pick, positioning the hands and fingers, and even learning how to tune the strings are fundamental skills that need to be learned before the first note is even played on a guitar. There aren’t really any shortcuts in learning these skills, it just takes time and consistent practice.

I still had the guitar and from time to time over the next 5 years, I picked it up and tried playing a few chords and notes that I learned in the first group class. Although I really wanted to know how to play the guitar, I still wasn’t prepared to devote the time and effort that was needed so I never did.

Some years later, I left home to go to college in San Diego. One of my two roommates, David, was an accomplished guitar player who agreed to give me some lessons for free in return for two promises: 
  1. That I will practice at least one hour each day
  2. That I would someday give free lessons to someone else if asked
I agreed to his two demands and he spent an hour each week teaching me to play.

At first there was little music coming from the instrument, but this time I was truly committed to learning how to play. Each night I practiced the lesson of the week as well as continuing to practice the lessons of the previous weeks. Every day I got incrementally better than the day before.

After a few months a funny thing happened, there was actually some music coming from the instrument. I started playing with other friends...learning some new skills and techniques. My skills continued to grow after a few years and eventually I found myself playing with friends in a band playing for beer money at local clubs. The band experience was short-lived as it became more work and less play.

After 30 years, I still continue to play my guitar several times each week learning new songs and playing old favorites, mostly just to entertain myself. People who hear me play often tell me that they too wished that they could play.

Learning and mastering new skills take three things:
  1. Commitment
  2. Practice
  3. Perseverance
Learning a new skill is hard because in the beginning, there is so much failure. Trying really hard and still failing is a recipe for people to give up and stop trying altogether. Those people will say that they gave it their "best shot" after attempting something only once or twice. They are quickly discouraged and quit shortly after starting.

This tends to be the main problem with new sales people. They see the potential earnings of the top sales people and decide that they want to share in those riches. They start out full of enthusiasm as they attempt to make a few appointments but find that cold-calling prospects is hard work. They have trouble navigating voice mail and email systems designed to keep out sales amateurs. Even if they eventually do get an appointment and are able to make the sales call, they try to shortcut the process by trying to immediately sell a product and/or service rather than trying to uncover and solve customer problems. They end up with no sales and lots of rejection despite some initial efforts.

After a few weeks of this type of rejection, they just stop making sales calls altogether and soon announce that a sales career isn’t for them as they leave the company.

Professional sales people earn a lot of money because they have continually worked hard toward honing and mastering their sales skills over a long period of time. There is no such thing as a natural born professional sales person. Professionals just make it look easy... but it is really a culmination of years of commitment, hard work and perseverance that brings them success.

In the coming year I hope to begin a new journey to learning yet a fresh skill. After many years of wanting to speak Spanish, I am finally ready to make the commitment to doing so. Like first learning to play the guitar, I expect it’ll be very difficult at first, but I am dedicated to making it happen. Finding time in my busy schedule to go to class and practice what I’ve learned will not be easy but that’s what it’ll take to become proficient and so I’ll find a way to make it happen. Most importantly, I won’t give up. I’m fairly sure that I’ll never really master a second language but I hope to continue to improve a little each day, each month and each year. After a while, I hope to be proficient enough to be able to hold a conversation with native speakers.

Recently a young friend of mine asked me if I could teach her to play the guitar. Remembering the second promise I had given to my former roommate, I’ll probably agree to give her free lessons...provided she of course that she agrees to my two conditions...

Thank you very much for your continued and unwavering support of OptiFuse where we vow to never to give up trying to serve our customers better.

Can You Hear Me Now?...

This week I found myself once again in my least favorite city in America, Las Vegas, for the SEMA and AAPEX exhibitions. My visit to the show this year was only a one-night / two-day excursion, so my time was compressed as I met with an assorted group of customers and vendors.

Car week is one of the last big shows that engulfs Las Vegas and stretches the resources of the normally abundant supply of taxis, restaurants and hotels. Traffic near the convention center is gridlocked as thousands of attendees make their way to and from the exhibition halls each morning and night.

As I was being ferried back to the airport in the shuttle van, I felt a sense of relief that I was able to get into town, finish my business and leave without much incidence.

After a brief encounter with the friendly TSA agents guarding the gates, I found myself in the waiting area a good ninety minutes before my flight. With the extra time and free Internet access, I decided that it was a good time to return several days of e-mail and perhaps begin writing this week’s blog.

Lady luck was smiling upon me as I found a seat near a vacant electrical outlet so I could charge both my phone and computer.

I sat down to begin writing when I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker that my flight back to San Diego was over-booked and that the airline was offering $200 in future flight credits to volunteers wishing to take a later flight.

I stopped my writing to ponder the idea of taking a later flight and collecting the reward. Remembering that the next flight was only one hour past my original departure time, I went to the podium to volunteer my seat to the gate agent. After a short wait, I heard over the intercom that no more volunteers were needed at this time so I returned to my seat to continue writing.

After a brief time, I glanced over at the wall and a wave of terror quickly overcame me.

My phone was gone!!

I immediately looked around try to find a culprit quickly fleeing the scene of the crime but observed that airports were indeed full of people quickly scurrying about. I frantically asked people around me if they had seen anyone take the phone and they all replied "no". Anger swelled in my cheeks as I surveyed the crime scene looking for a potential suspect.

My anger quickly turned into fear and panic as I thought of the information that was stored in my lists... stock positions... appointments... shortcuts to Facebook and LinkedIn accounts... and of course passwords for bank, brokerage, and credit accounts. All of this information was now in the hands of a criminal.

I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least my phone was protected by a password...but it was only a 4-digit pin which could be broken within a short time.

Thoughts were pouring through my head like a waterfall when It suddenly dawned upon me that I had installed an application called "Find my Phone" which allowed me to use my laptop computer to locate and disable my phone. If I could locate my phone, I could permanently erase its contents.

Using the airport’s Wi-Fi system, I logged onto the website allowing me to locate my phone. I attempted to locate and disable the phone but a message came back telling me that the phone was now turned off so those services were not available at this time.

Not only was my phone taken by a thief...the thief was a smart thief with knowledge of how IPhone tracking systems work.

After a quick assessment of potential losses, I decided it would be best to begin the task of changing passwords for my bank and brokerage accounts (this would be the most immediate source of funds for the would-be cyber-criminal). It was now a race against time...the thief trying to break the code and me trying to change important passwords.

Soon boarding announcements were being made and I needed to suspend my efforts.

During the relatively short plane ride back to San Diego, I couldn’t help but think that I allowed Las Vegas to rob me yet again. I was a victim of my own doing, trusting people to do the right thing but becoming disappointed when I discovered that this was just not the case.

Upon arriving at my destination, I continued the task of converting passwords for my frequently used websites. The remainder of the changes would need to wait until the next day when I would have access to my back-up database at the office.

When I got home, I reported the phone stolen to my service provider so the thief will never be able to ever activate it (or so I am told). Perhaps he/she will soon realize this fact and dispose of the device in a dumpster or perhaps he/she will continue to try to unlock it by trying all 10,000 possibilities (the experience has actually given me a good idea for a new smart phone get only 3 times to unlock the phone...after which time the phone is permanently locked until certain security questions are answered).

This experience has also given me fresh perspective as to how much I’ve come to rely on my tele-computing device.

As I drove to work the following morning, I realize that I don’t even own a watch thanks in part to the reliance and typical close proximity of my phone.

Even when I traveled to Europe this past spring, where my CDMA phone was unable to connect to the European GSM system, I was still relied on my phone to perform a variety of tasks using the applications on my phone. I had an alarm clock, an electronic notepad to write myself reminders, games to play during the long plane rides, a place to store and recall phone numbers, addresses, frequent flyer numbers, hotel reservations and appointments. I also had a high quality camera, a compass, and Internet access when a Wi-Fi connection was available.

A phone today is so much more than a phone. It is an umbilical cord that connects us to the world and our data. No longer are we burdened down with multiple’s now all available to us in one small unit.

In the end, I ended up losing some time and a little money (the phone was insured but carried a $200 deductible). I am fortunate that my losses were thus far measured and relatively minor but still feel victimized by my own negligence.

Yet another tuition payment to the school of hard knocks...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse as we all continue to live and learn...

Friday, October 28, 2011

It is the People Along the Way

Q: What could possibly compel a person to awaken at 2:30am, 3:00am, 3:30am, and finally 4:00am on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning?

A: The fear of missing one’s 6:30am flight of course...(you know...the one obviously booked by an insane person).

They say that the biggest fear in a person’s life is either speaking in public or the fear of death (depending on who you are talking to...they may be one in the same). For me, that biggest fear is oversleeping for an early morning flight...followed closely by the fear of leaving my government issued ID at home on the dresser.

After a long hiatus, I finally decided it was time to get back on the road to visit the many OptiFuse distributors and customers. This trip is the first in a long series of trips still ahead where I hope to visit 12 different sections of the US over the next 12 months. It may seem like an ambitious goal to some or simply lollygagging to some true professional "road warriors".

I decided that visiting Chicago, Wisconsin, and the Twin Cities was far better thing to do in late October than in early February so I made the northern Midwest my first stop.

Today I’d like to share a few thoughts, comments and observations about traveling to the Midwest...

Air Transportation

The airline I chose to fly had a stopover in Denver where the weather was unseasonably pleasant. The first segment from San Diego was without incidence (or maybe I was still sleeping), but after boarding the plane for the second installment to Chicago, the pilot announced to the cabin that his instruments indicated there was a slight oil leak in one of the engines and that we’d would be delayed about 30-45 minutes while maintenance fixes the problem. 

Personally, I didn’t mind this delay at all as the airline provided its passengers with individual seat-back satellite TV so I could comfortably sit back and watch the early morning NFL football games. My seat mate however seemed to be a bit more upset at the airlines than me. He continually cursed the name of the airline vowing NEVER to fly with them again as though he was doing them a giant favor flying them in the first place.

Now I’m no historian, but it wasn’t all that long ago that people actually had to ride in a covered wagon from Chicago to California...a trek that took some 4-6 months to complete and where approximately 20% of the people perished before arriving at their chosen destination from famine, disease, and arrows from casino-owning-Americans.

This guy was bemoaning the fact that we had to sit in a comfortable satellite TV...and still arrive at our destination within a few hours of sucks for some people.

Myself...I sort of liked the idea that we were on the ground fixing an oil leak rather than trying to get to Chicago on one engine...

Rental Cars

Problem...cities, counties and states are near bankruptcy...

People who rent cars are typically people who don’t live in that particular city or state. Therefore rental car customers are not voters in the local lawmakers’ jurisdiction.

Additionally people who DO actually live in the city, county and/or state do vote and they tend to look unfavorably on lawmakers who raise taxes. the people who can’t vote them out of office. 

I thought I was renting a car in Chicago for $24.50 a day...but in reality, I was renting a car for $24.50 plus $48.78 a day in state and local taxes and governmental fees, bringing my total rental costs to $73.28 per day. 

It’s a sad day when the taxes on a product or service are nearly 2x’s more than that of actual product or service iteself. 

(While I’m on the and items purchased at Chicago Midway is taxed at 12.25% whereas the sales tax in Chigago away from the airport is only 9.25%... hmmm interesting).


Jim’s inverse hotel rule...the more prestigious the hotel name...the more likely additional fees will be added to your bill...

I stayed at a high-end chain in Chicago (due to a great Priceline purchase price) and ended up paying $22/day for parking and $12.99/day for Internet service (I decided to pass on the $4.50 bottled water in my room). I’m just happy that a $10 per day "resort fee" wasn’t added to my bill as well.

Later on the trip, I stayed at a great local hotel (non-chain variety) in Wisconsin and not only had free parking, and high-speed internet service, they provided their guests with a "welcome beer" in their lounge (it is Wisconsin after all) as well as a free buffet breakfast! I’ll definitely be staying there again someday.

By the way...if you travel a lot and you don’t use Priceline to purchase your hotel rooms...then you’re costing yourself a lot of extra money...just one frequent traveler’s opinion.


I’ve been all over the world several times over and I have never encountered nicer or friendlier people than those in the Midwest. I’m sure that there must be some rude and obnoxious people somewhere there...but I sure haven’t met them as of yet...

Midwesterners might tell a salesman to go to hell...but they’ve come to see you off with a sandwich and a pop just in case you get hungry along the way...

I think that we could all learn a thing or two by wearing a big smile on our faces and greeting everyone we see each day with a warm "’s it going?"...

It’s certainly tough to be away from home, but the wonderful people you meet along the way makes it worth the trip...

It’s not the places that make the trip’s the people.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we understand that our customers are people not companies...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Something for Nothing...

Several times each day, OptiFuse receives requests for quotes from people and/or companies who have never done business with us in the past.  Many times the request comes to us by email with very limited information other than "please quote us a price and delivery for....". 

In order to provide the best service to these potential customers, we will ask them a variety of questions to learn more about their particular needs and perform a certain assessment before offering them a price and delivery quote. 
We will ask them about the application.  We will ask them a little more about their company.  We will ask them their current supply chain.  We will ask them about their expected usage, delivery demand, and their expected pricing.

Once we have some basic information, we are then in a position to verify that the part that they requested is actually a good fit for their application.  (At least 1 out of 5 requests end up being for the wrong part!). 
This information is also essential in allowing us to refer the potential customer to the proper sales channel; be it distributor, rep, or direct sales (direct sales at OptiFuse are limited to international customers only).

In general, we always try to help these potential customers, making sure that they have the proper product for the proper application using the best sales channel. 
This procedure also works well to ferret out the scammers, schemers, and fraudsters who attempt each day to defraud businesses and individuals out of money and products. 

Several years ago, I received a phone call on a late Friday afternoon.  It was from a woman who told me she was frantically trying to help her husband find some electrical wiring for a contracting job he was doing that weekend.  I explained to her that wire was not our primary business but she persisted in asking me if there was any way I could help her.
I knew that we had several spools of wire (which we use to produce our inline fuse holders) currently in our warehouse.  Maybe it was the "damsel in distress" syndrome or the "pay it forward" philosophy that I try live my life by, but it made me want to help this woman with her "desperate" situation.  I asked her about the size, type and amount of wire she needed and explained to her that I didn't have all of what she needed but I could help her out with most of her requirement.

Of course, her company didn't have an account with us, but she told me that she would pay us with her company's credit card when she came to pick up the material within the next 30 minutes.  The couple arrived a few minutes later, I ran the card, and help them to load the material on their truck.
It was a few weeks later when the bank called to tell me that the credit card was stolen and was used fraudulently and that I, as the merchant, was responsible for the charges.  I mistakenly had thought that if I received an "OK" authorization from the credit card processor, I was good to go...I was wrong. 

In hindsight, I should have been more careful, but I was thinking about helping someone in need and not thinking about being a victim of a scam.  What it turned out to be was a $2,500 tuition payment to the "university of hard knocks".
Now fast forward to Monday of this past week.  We received an e-mail from one Mr. Roger Ashbury explaining that he was an American businessman who was running a manufacturing business in Australia.  He wanted to purchase a decent quantity of fuses and fuse holders from us for his production.

After asking several preliminary questions, we gave him a price and delivery for the parts he wanted and told him that as a new customer, we would need for him to wire a 50% deposit to our bank before we would start production.  He responded by telling us that bank wires are expensive and would he use a credit card instead.
Our "scam radar" was in full-tilt mode due to several factors:

·         Mr. Ashbury used a Gmail e-mail account instead of a company e-mail account

·         We couldn't find his supposed company listed in Google

·         He didn't try to negotiate any pricing and accepted the first price we gave him

·         He didn't give us a hard copy purchase order but rather told us to use the date and his initials.

·         He didn't give us shipping address but rather he told us that he would arrange for pick-up.
We figured that since we told him that the parts would take 6-8 weeks to build, any fraud would be detected long before the parts would actually ship.

On Wednesday, he gave us his payment information with the instructions that we should charge the card for the 50% prepayment as well as his shipping charges of $3600 (for a package that should cost no more than $400 to send airfreight).  He instructed us to charge the credit card and pay his shipping company the additional $3600 with a money order because his shipping company did not take credit cards or company checks.
Now there was no question that this was a scam.

The card number was indeed good and matched the name and address he gave us.  A quick Google search allowed me to find the real Roger Ashbury who was based in Atlanta, GA. 
 I called the real Mr. Ashbury (as it turns out it was Dr. Ashbury) to tell him that his credit card had been compromised and that he should contact the proper authorities immediately. 

This was a much better way to "pay it forward" and I'm sure that Dr. Ashbury appreciated the effort to find him and let him know that his credit card had been breached.
We have been debating whether or not to have the "shipping company representative" come to our offices to pick up his $3600 money order.  Instead we contacted the authorities.

I'm happy that the tuition payment I made several years ago allowed me to graduate with honors this week...
...and I hope our story helps to educate others.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse but beware of the people looking to get something for nothing...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Striking a Balance

This week, I was scheduled to have lunch with a good friend. We both arrived to the restaurant on time but I could see by her mannerisms, that she was preoccupied with happenings at her office. She was there physically but her mind was still back at her office.

I asked her if she wanted to reschedule our lunch for another day but she said we might as well eat now that we were there. During lunch, she took several phone calls and made several notes to herself on her iPad.

In between her phone calls and note taking we were able to order lunch and briefly talk. 

She explained to me that her company had recently gone through a "re-alignment" and that she was spending her nights and weekends working on several new projects. I asked her if she was making any progress on her projects, but she told me that as soon as she completed a project there were two more waiting for her.

"So how long do you think you can keep this up", I asked.

I don’t know exactly but hopefully it’ll get caught up by the end of the year."

I thought to’s only October...burning the candle at both ends for several months on end is no way to live life... 

She had two young children at home. Her husband had been laid off from his job so he’s now home with the kids, but they still need to spend time with their mom.

Additionally, all of this work has taken a toll on her health. I noticed that had gained several pounds and her skin looked extremely pale from spending too much of her time in the office. I inquired if she was still running (one of her passions) but she exclaimed, "I just don’t have the time anymore."

She quickly ate her lunch and then her phone rang again. When she finally hung up, she apologized but she had to get back to the office because of some new crisis. 

She threw some money on the table and we exchanged a quick hug and she was off and out the door.
As I sat there alone finishing my lunch, I couldn’t help but feel some sort of pity toward my friend. It was obvious to me that she had lost all of the balance in her life but she was so close to the forest that she couldn’t see the tree standing directly before her.

In my own opinion, the one of the three keys to a fulfilled life is creating balance (the other two keys being personal achievement and helping others). The difficult part of living a balanced life is that outside forces conspire to tip the balance on a seemingly daily basis. It is the challenge in front of us to resist those forces and strive to seek balance.

There all several important areas of our lives that we need to balance. The important areas include:
  • Work / School
  • Family
  • Health and personal development
  • Friendships
  • Community service
  • Spirituality
All of the above seven areas are extremely important in one’s life and consume a great deal of time. 
On top of the "important seven", there are other time consumers that aren’t necessarily important but still need to be done. These might include items such as household chores, shopping, commuting, ferrying kids to various activities, getting gas, bill paying and banking. While these types of activities are not extremely important, overall they are indeed essential to our daily lives.

In order to "create" more time (in reality, no one can actually create time), it might be a good idea to try to combine some of the activities. This is the idea behind "multi-tasking". And while the concept is sound, putting the theory of multi-tasking into practice can be more difficult than it sounds.

It is perfectly fine to try and learn a new language listening to instructional CDs while on your daily commute or taking a long brisk walk enjoying the company of a close friend. In this way you can accomplish two things at once. 

However, dragging your kids around town with you as you try and complete errands does not work well as "family time" neither does planning the family vacation while you should be making sales calls at work. This is not really multi-tasking but rather replacing important things with unimportant tasks.

One of the best ways to help strike a balance is to first be cognizant of how you actually spend your time. A good exercise is to carefully track where you spend your time over the course of one week. You may be surprised to learn how much time is actually spent on non-essential things such as watching TV, going to sporting events, driving around town, surfing the Internet, playing computer games, following your fantasy football team, completing the daily Sudoku puzzle, shopping, and/or cleaning your house.

All of these things do have a certain importance, but if these activities dominate our time, then perhaps we need to re-think our priorities. These activities should not take precedence over the truly important areas of our lives.

Additionally, there should be an attempt to balance those important areas of our lives as well. A person who spends all of her time working while neglecting her family, friends and health is not truly living a fulfilled life even though their time is being spent in an area of importnance.

A funny thing usually happens when certain important parts of one’s life are neglected...they end up making up for the lost time in other ways. 

For example...if we continue to neglect our health or family in lieu of day we may develop heart disease or diabetes, our relationship with our family sours and our friends no longer want anything to do with us... all of a sudden work isn’t so important.

Yes...striking a balance can be difficult but the rewards far outweigh the effort. Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we challange you to be the best person you can be...

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Ride of Your Life...

Faster and faster...until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death... - Hunter S. Thompson

Maybe I'm just getting older, but to me the world seems to be moving at breakneck speed and I'm having a real hard time just keeping up.  I get this uneasy feeling that life is becoming like a fast-moving amusement park ride where people hold on for dear life as they get tossed and turned in multiple directions, bracing themselves for the next jolt or sudden movement.  
The real scary part of it all (for me at least) is that there doesn't appear to be any planned course or direction as to which this ride is heading.  We are continuing down a random dark track as the next sudden turn awaits us.

As we anticipate a move in one direction, the track hurls us into another.  Predictions as to where we are going are near impossible as the ride is moving so quickly. 
Many of the beliefs and conventions that we have come to know are now turning out to be false assumptions in this new economy...

Real estate will always be a safe investment
While this was true for much of the 20th century, the 21st century has not been so kind to real estate.  Real estate speculation, fueled by easy credit, high leverage, and low interest rates, created a great economic bubble over a 30-year span.  The bubble finally burst in 2008 and with it, people lost their homes and much of their life's savings. 

The outlook for a strong recovery in the real estate sector, at least in the near future, looks to be highly restrained due to the large excess inventory of homes in the market combined with very restrictive lending rules (although interest rates are at historic lows).
A college education will always pay for itself

At one time, college diplomas were relatively rare.  University graduates were seemingly always able to find higher paying employment in the marketplace regardless of the degree program they chose to follow.   
Because of this belief, more and more high school graduates chose to attend a university rather than enter the workforce after high school.  Colleges and universities became impacted with new students and needed to raise tuition rates to cover the rising costs.

Due to the increased demand, college tuition has continued to rise at a rate more than double that of inflation over the past 25 years.  An incoming freshman at a public university in 2011 will be expected to pay over $100,000 (and over $200,000 for a private institution) for their four-year degree, including room, board and books, and will be indebted to the tune of $40,000 upon graduation.  For those children being born today, the cost of a college degree is expected to be over $350,000, 18 years from today.
The high paying jobs, that were once plentiful for new college graduates, have become rare, perhaps with the lone exceptions of those in highly specialized technical fields. 

Significantly higher costs combined with no viable method to repay the debt has forced new graduates to move back home with their parents while working at menial jobs to earn enough money to repay their college loans or suffer the wrath of collection agencies in perpetuity (college loans are not dismissible via bankruptcy).  
Technical advances will make our lives easier

At one time, our economy was based on agriculture.  Life was simple but hard.
Then technology helps us to transform our agrarian society into an industrial society.  Mechanized farm equipment and new irrigation methods helped to increase efficiency of farms allowing for greater agricultural yields using far less labor.    

As the farms disposed of workers, these people moved into the cities where new technologies helped to automate factories and produce goods at lower costs and higher quality.
People were needed to run these manufacturing plants and provide essential support services.  Goods and services, once reserved only for the wealthy, were now being produced for the masses. 

Technology also helped to transform and improve transportation and communication bringing us trains, cars, airplanes, radios, televisions and phones; all at affordable costs.  Household white goods such as vacuum cleaners, washers and dryers, microwave ovens, refrigerators and freezers helped us to save time and money and allowed society to create more leisure time. 
A large middle-class was created through technological advances by lowering costs and raising availability.

As we moved into the computer and information age, steno and typing pools were replaced with word processors and laser printers.  Entire accounting departments were replaced with a single desktop computer and spreadsheet program.  Switchboard operators were replaced with digital switches.  Gas stations, banks, and grocery stores now have self-service options.  People moved from industrial manufacturing to service sector jobs.
Today, the Internet, portable computing (smart phones), and low-cost international delivery services have now decimated the barriers of geographical and national boundaries.  Market efficiencies of capitalism are now exploited by multi-national corporations finding places around the world to produce goods and services at the lowest delivered costs.

These market efficiencies have decimated the manufacturing base of the United States and Europe and moved manufacturing jobs to countries with far less labor costs and regulation. 
New technology transformed the western world from a strict agrarian society to an industrial society to an information based society.  The information age allowed for much higher efficiencies but at a cost of manufacturing and service sector jobs and ultimately the loss of a middle-class.

The solution is a change in our system of beliefs
In order to survive (and thrive) in this new world, we need to find a way to adapt to it rather than resist it.  We can never go back to the past but instead we need to look into the future.

Real estate should not be an investment, it should be a place where people come to gather, a place to shelter us from the cold, and place to rest and nourish our tired and hungry bodies.  We should think smaller rather than bigger.  We should build, maintain and beautify our houses as though we will live our lives in it forever rather than trying to "flip" it in a few months.  We should think of a house as a home, not as real estate or other investment instrument.
An education is a combination of knowledge and experience.  It is not a piece of paper from a highly sought-after university.  Perhaps a better way to spend the $100K is to start a small business in which to gather knowledge and experience (even better is to band together with other "students" to partner and share in the development of a business).  In the end, a successful student will have their education along with perhaps a thriving business to generate income in the years to come. 

Perhaps the time (and money) might be better spent in an "apprentice" program with another successful business.  The "student" might not be paid but instead will be taught valuable business knowledge and given priceless experience by the company.  A four-year apprenticeship would turn companies into places of learning rather than strictly that of production.  
As it turns out some of the richest people in the world never completed college (the college drop-out list includes billionaires Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, Ralph Lauren, and Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace), just to name a few)...these people didn't need a piece of paper to become financially successful.  They had great ideas, tireless work ethics, and passion to drive them to success.  They achieved their great success by inovating and doing rather than trying to read about success in a book.

We are never returning to the places of the past (regardless of how many people long for this to happen).  Proposed protectionist government policies will surely fail as geographical, transportation, and communication boundaries continue to crumble around the world.     
The world is flat and getting flatter with each passing day.  The road to success will be built by those embracing these changes rather than resisting them.  While some are spending their time protesting and complaining (or simply giving up), the success stories of tomorrow are being written today.  The visionaries are searching for new ways to seize the multitude of opportunities before them today rather than bemoaning the current state of affairs.

Yes...the world is scary...but for some, it's the ride of a lifetime.
Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we hope to join you on your ride to success...