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Posts Tagged ‘Business and Economy’

Talent Is Not Enough!

In blogging, books, business, work on January 27, 2012 at 12:11 am
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I have a book that someone gave me, by feminist icon Gloria Steinem, with the fateful and inaccurate (if deeply optimistic) inscription: “All it takes is talent.”

I wish!

A recent op-ed by New York Times writer Tom Friedman makes the point even more strongly:

In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius. Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment. Average is over.

Scared yet?

Unless you have amazing skills or a white-hot degree (engineering or computer science, to name two), you might be.

I work in a field — journalism/publishing/online media — changing at warp speed. In one year, 2008, 24,000 journalists lost their jobs. That’s a lot of people shoved hard out of work they had done well and enjoyed for decades into….who the hell knows.

I took a retail job in 2007, seeing how crummy things were getting, and it brought in gas-and-grocery money, for which I was damn grateful, for 27 months. I’d never had a low-wage job and it was often hard and exhausting, physically and emotionally.

Fortunately, it led to a book that’s been well-reviewed, television rights option (additional income) and paid speaking engagements — none of which were a guarantee and all of which might never have happened. It’s a life, like that of a polar bear in the melting ice cap, of leaping from one moving slab of income to another.

Talent, i.e. being really good at what you do, is the least of it!

You need:

A way with words. Can you write a compelling and persuasive pitch letter or email? Can you describe what you do best in two or three sentences, tops?

Charm. No kidding. You can call it “people skills” but if you’re witty, fun, funny and simply an interesting person to engage with, your odds quickly improve of finding paid work. People hire those they find companionable and sympathetic, not just grunts with a resume. I got my retail job with zero experience because I was able, easily, to engage the two men doing the hiring in lively conversation focused on their needs. That’s what salespeople do.

Stamina. I’ve been an athlete since childhood, and competed in sailing, swimming and even fencing at the national level. If you’re going to work for yourself, or compete for a good job, you need stamina — physically and emotionally. There is a tremendous amount of rejection in many endeavors and those able to best withstand pain will move past those who easily crumple, then whine in the corner.

Learn something new all the time. If your technical skills are weak, you’re falling behind. If you can pick up a new skill every few months, or yearly at least, you’ve got something added to offer beyond the basics. I speak fluent French, decent Spanish and can take excellent photos that have been nationally published. On a few occasions, that combination has been more than my nearest competitor…

Hustle! I grew up in Toronto and was out on my own at 19. I learned to hustle hard, often and relentlessly to earn a living freelance. I wasn’t scared, even then, to offer my skills and services to top editors and my confidence grew with my portfolio. One of my photos was published in Time when I was an undergrad. I never ever take a contact, job or assignment for granted. Too many people are chasing the same dreams.

Know your industry and what matters within it right now. Read trade magazines and websites and blogs and know who’s who and what they need. Go to conferences and attend meetings and read the smart thought leaders in your field so you know what they’re saying. Join as many professional groups as you can and be as generous with your time, talent and skills as possible. People refer people they know, like and trust to their colleagues — not some random needy person on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Go to the places you can meet some of the players face to face. Not a job fair! Think like a reporter and find out where you might run into a few of the decision-makers you need to meet: conferences, public events, a political rally, a school sports match.

Travel. Even if it’s an hour or two outside your usual routines. Fresh ideas and insights are harder to acquire if you keep treading familiar ground.

Meta matters. If you’re blogging or maintaining a social media presence, make sure every post, tweet, message, photo and idea you leave permanently out there conveys the underlying meta message you intend.

Apple products are cool not just because they’re Apple, per se…they’re very deliberately hyper-designed to feel good, sound good, look good. And we like to show them off as metaphors for how cool and put-together we are.

What meta messages are your clients and audience picking up about you? Are they consistent, memorable and compelling? Every single aspect of your presentation, from your handshake to your tone of voice to the shoes you choose to the colors on your website is sending (unspoken, immediate and indelible) messages about you!

Consume a wide array of media and information. If you’re politically liberal, read what the right-wingers have to say, and vice versa. Read media in your language from far beyond your region — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland and Scotland (and South Africa) will offer ideas and points of view that your local, regional or national press may well be ignoring. Trends bubble up worldwide in a global economy.

Underpromise and overdeliver. Once you find some clients who value you, treasure them and give them your very best. I frequently turn in material ahead of my deadlines. In 30 years I think I’ve missed two.

Read smart business publications/websites/blogs consistently. If you really want to understand where jobs are going (or coming from) and why you’ve got to understand the movement of capital, investment trends and global markets. It’s not terribly complicated and might help you see what’s happening before it hits you personally. ( If you’re got a secure government or academic job, lucky you!)

What advice would you offer?

C-C-C-C-Confidence!

In behavior, books, business, journalism, life, Media, Money, women, work on May 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm
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Can we get anything done without it?

Yet, and yet and yet, I have entire days I think I just can’t: make that call, send that email, ask that favor, knock on that door or send that resume.

People have told me for decades how confident I appear, and the operative word might be appear, for there are too many days I feel like some medieval warrior girding her loins before even picking up the phone or sending out an email.

As someone with no steady income, salary or pension down the line, I’m in lioness mode: I eat only what I catch and kill. That means having to hustle for clients every day, whether reaching out to former or current ones or finding and cultivating new ones.

Either way, it means a lot of people contact and no guarantee of the outcome.

Which, if I fail, means — I’m broke!

No pressure.

I can blame my reticence on a few things:

– I’ve been canned from a few jobs, which has permanently dented my sense of likability, no matter how businesslike a layoff can be

– I was badly bullied in high school for three years by a small gang of boys

– I spent ages 5 to 30 in Canada, a country that has no tolerance for self-promotion or boasting then moved to the U.S., a place with a population 10 times larger, competing with some mighty sharp elbows. Time to man up!

– I faced a tough crowd in my own family, people who often found much to criticize and little to praise

But without a cheery demeanor and the conviction you have something worthwhile to offer, it’s tough to get out there and ask for what you want, whether a job referral, grant recommendation or help with a new project.

I had recently reached out to two people, one an old friend who didn’t call back for weeks and one a new contact whose initial voicemail sounded fairly frosty. So it was with a heavy heart I called both of them back.

Both were delighted to hear from me. Both had lost my phone number and wanted to hear my ideas.

If I hadn’t had the confidence to reach out again, I would have lost out on some cool opportunities.

Do you ever feel lily-livered?

How do you get past it?

The Ex-Pat’s Dilemma: Where’s Home?

In behavior, blogging, children, cities, culture, domestic life, education, family, food, immigration, life, parenting, the military, travel, urban life, women, work, world on March 8, 2011 at 4:21 pm
A New And Accvrat Map Of The World.

Where in the world are you? Where is home? For now or for good? Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve ever left your home country behind to live abroad — as many of us do for work, study, a partner’s job or your parents’ profession — you’ve felt the visceral punch of cultural dislocation.

You’ve become an ex-patriate.

(Not, as some think, an ex-patriot!)

The money/food/temperature/humidity/foliage/animals/language/flag/national anthem/what they eat for breakfast is all different, new, disorienting, unfamiliar.

What do you mean X is considered normal behavior? Are you kidding?

You might not be able to read road signs or communicate clearly with your physician, grocer, hairdresser, dentist or your kids’ friends.

If you stay long enough, and remain open to the culture of your new country (and there may be several along the way), you change, likely forever. Then, when you go “home” to the country you initially left behind, it now feels weird and alien.

I’ve worked as a cross-cultural counselor for Berlitz and loved it. I counseled senior American executives moving to (my native) Canada and Canadians moving to (my adopted land of 22 years) the United States. I love being the middleman, explaining the minutiae of daily life and social cues and faux pas.

Language skills are barely half the battle if you fail to understand the most fundamental attitudes underlying local choices, whether what to bring to a dinner when you’re an invited guest to knowing which local colleges are truly worth the time and money for you or your loved ones.

The learning curve is vertical.

I’ve just spent three weeks back in Canada, a mix of caring for my mother and vacation time, and it’s the longest I’ve been back since 1998, when I also spent three weeks here. But the culture shock this time, for a variety of reasons, has proven by far the hardest ever, partly because — surprise! — I have now truly adopted many of the behaviors and attitudes and expectations of my home just outside New York City.

In Canada, let alone Western Canada, many of these are deemed downright rude. Like:

Directness. In New York, where people rush about at warp speed all the time, few people waste time. It’s too valuable. So we often say exactly what we think, for better or worse, and get on with things. But being direct can lead to openly expressed differences of opinion which, in some cultures is a toxic choice…

Confrontation. In Canadian culture, about as popular as belching. Just. Not. Done. Those who do it or seek it are seen as boors and best ignored, no matter how urgent or pressing the underlying issue.

Expecting answers to my questions, promptly — if at all. Hah! I am appalled and frustrated beyond measure at the number of unreturned phone calls and emails, from banks, physicians, health care workers, academia. Everyone. I have an assistant, a woman my age who is very polite, tactful, calm, hired to help me promote my new book, a necessity for every author.

She is burned out, fed up and deeply shocked at the profound indifference she encounters from everyone she contacts. I had forgotten — and it’s one powerful reason I chose to leave Canada in the first place — that Canadians hate fame, fortune, celebrating success and those who achieve it. They sneer at it and deride it and make fun of it. Americans live, eat and breathe it. Talk about a cultural divide!

Expecting excellent customer service from the medical system. As if. In the U.S., where MRIs are as common and easily gettable (if you have insurance) as M & Ms (a popular candy, for the non-Americans among you), doctors are usually pretty responsive and respectful. Because Americans, who expect great service everywhere, can and will sue at the drop of a scalpel. Canadian physicians play a totally different role and they retain tremendous power as a result. There are so few of them and they are so busy. They expect deference. They don’t seem to use email. They may take a while to return a phone call. They are essentially paid government employees, and seem to have less accountability to patients or their families. A friend, with a chronic health problem, told me; “Doctors don’t return phone calls.”

But, after that plane takes off from YVR today, I will miss:

Civility. Essential to the Canadian character. It’s assumed and expected. I have retained the habit, which I heard a lot here, of saying “Take care” at the end of even the briefest conversations with bus drivers or bank clerks.

Compassion. In a nation where everyone has access to cradle-to-grave healthcare and $10,000 university educations (or less, per year), caring for strangers is how Canadian public policy enacts larger cultural values. In the mememememememe culture of America, where there is almost no social safety net and growing income ineqality, I miss this a great deal.

I’m aware that it’s perhaps a lot easier and simpler in a nation of 30 million (Canada) than in one with 300 million people, and one with a history of racial brutality.

Shared cultural references. I really enjoy being able to talk about almost anything with people who know exactly what I’m referring to, whether its Air Canada, Big Turks (a fab candy bar) or the NDP (the leftist political party.) Fewer Americans seem to know or care much about life beyond their borders.

Here’s a terrific post by a former expat wife and mother, who lists 10 ways to be (come) an ugly expat.

And for those seeking practical advice and face-to-face help, there’s a conference March 17-19 in Washington, DC, held by Families in Global Transition.

Have you been an ex-pat? How did you like it?

And how was it when you re-patriated?

Go Canada! Next Week's 'New Yorker' Filled With All-Canadian Advertising

In business, Media, travel on June 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm
Due to its soaring value against the American ...

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We’re not just hockey players and beer!

Check out the June 28 issue of the New Yorker — where every ad sold is from a Canadian institution, school or bank. The magazine has only done this once before, and the advertiser was Target.

This time, the elite readers of the New Yorker will be introduced to the country’s private schools, places to visit, banks. As a proud Canadian, I’m always delighted when my country gets a shred of recognition or acknowledgement — I bet most Americans don’t know that the two nations have the largest trading relationship in the world, doing billions of dollars worth of business with each other annually.

It’s a good time for Canadian advertisers to make the move because the loonie (that’s the Canadian $1 gold colored coin) is near par with the U.S. — it was 65 cents for many years. That makes Canada more expensive for American visitors and college students (who pay non-resident fees, often four times higher), but still well worth a look.

Many New Yorkers are sending their kids to McGill, and I’m always touting my alma mater, the University of Toronto — tuition for non-Canadians is still much less than for comparable American colleges.

Plus you get to live in a foreign country where the drinking age is 18.

House Lust, The Subject of Meghan Daum's New Book

In Uncategorized, urban life on May 5, 2010 at 11:07 pm
ELIZABETH, NJ - JUNE 20:  Members of the publi...

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She’s been writing funny and revealing stuff about her life for a long time — once famously confessing in The New Yorker that she couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan; that piece became the title of her book of essays,“My Misspent Youth.”

Her new book “Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House” has a title that sums it up.

It’s the American Dream. (That’s one of those phrases Americans — and their realtors — take for granted. There is no corresponding Korean or French or Canadian “dream” of owning your own home, preferably a little colonial with a lawn and a backyard. Other countries don’t allow mortgage interest as a tax deduction.)

Writes Virginia Postrel:

The fantasy of a life transformed is what makes the ads and features in interiors magazines so enticing—no fashion or celebrity magazine glamorizes its subjects as thoroughly as Architectural Digest or Elle Decor—and what gives HGTV’s low-budget shows their addictive appeal. The longing for the perfect life in the perfect environment can make real-estate listings and “For Sale” signs as evocative as novels. This domestic ideal gives today’s neighborhoods of foreclosed or abandoned houses their particular emotional punch. A stock-market bubble may create financial hardship, but a housing bust breaks hearts.

Although Ms. Daum did buy a house in 2004 and watched its value rise and then fall, her self-deprecatingly funny memoir isn’t a tale of real-estate speculation. Rather she uses her lifelong obsession with finding the ideal living space to probe domestic desire, a deeper restlessness than the search for quick profits.

Whether because of alienation or ambition, Ms. Daum’s family, when she was growing up (first in Austin, Texas, and then in New Jersey), shared “a chronic, lulling sensation of being aboard a train that was perpetually two stops away from the destination we had in mind for ourselves.” That feeling manifested itself in a “perpetual curiosity about what possibilities for happiness might lie at the destination of a moving van.” The result was a childhood filled with weekend trips to visit open houses, dinner-time conversations about relocation and, in Ms. Daum’s teenage years, her mother’s sudden move to her own home: “four walls whose color scheme required approval from no one. It wasn’t another man she wanted but another life.” (Ms. Daum’s parents did not divorce.)

I’ve been living in the same one bedroom apartment since 1989. Will I ever own a house? Not anywhere near I live now — a nasty little shoebox with .25 of an acre on a busy street would run me $500,000 with $12,000 a year in taxes. I’m hoping to buy one, or at least rent one, in France in retirement, and living in 1,000 square feet (about the size of an affordable house in my town) allows me the extra cash to fly to France in the meantime.

My Dad has been scouting houses in coastal Maine, trying to figure out what to do with his. I know a house is a major dream for millions of people and you need a space with room(s) for kids and their toys and pets and activities. We lived in a house when I was little, and when I was in high school, but, other than my rental on the top two floors of a Toronto house, and our rented apartment in an old house in rural New Hampshire, it’s been apartment living since then for me.

There are some amazing houses in my town, one, a huge shingled Queen Anne painted the pale pink of strawberry ice cream with green shutters and several with wisteria trees snaking up across their verandahs and eaves. There are one or two I would love to live in, but could never afford them.

I really love our apartment. I’ve re-painted it a bunch of times, especially since attending interior design school. We have astonishing views northwest up the Hudson and I have hawks and geese and crows swooshing so low over my top-floor balcony I can hear the wind through their wings. I love the light and quiet and feel blessed to own my own home. Its small-ish size and manageable mortgage makes me feel safe, even while working in an industry shuddering through insane and terrifying changes.

I basically see a house as a money pit, something that endlessly needs upgrades and repairs, mugging you financially when you can least afford it — new boiler! new roof! new driveway!

How about you? Do you love your house?

Curves, Power, Speed And Stamina — Ooooh, Car Lust!

In business, women on April 7, 2010 at 11:55 am
BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MI - JUNE 5:  A SMART car de...

Not for me, but cute...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

What do women want in a car?

From The Globe and Mail:

Studies show that American women spend $200 billion a year at car dealerships and account for 54 per cent of purchases. A 2009 survey by CarMax showed that Canadian women hold sway over 85 per cent of car buys and make 51 per cent of purchases. If a car manufacturer can get women to buy its products then fortune awaits. So, it seemed logical to talk to a few women.

“I want it to get me from point A to point B,” the first said. “And it has to be reliable.”

“The colour,” the next added. “And it has to be roomy.”

Performance and endurance,” the last of three said and then a glimmer caught her eye.

“Women choose their cars for the same reasons they choose their men.”

From the female car-owners’ website askpatty.com:

Women spend $300 billion annually on used car sales, maintenance, repairs and service. 51 % of women over 18 are single and are shopping for a car with out a man in tow.

Long gone are the days when the only decision women were expected to make about a new car was which color to choose. Women are now the fastest growing segment of new car buyers and, thanks to the Internet, are more confident, more educated and better prepared to make a buying decision than ever before.

Car dealers have already noticed the effect that the Internet has had on their interaction with female car shoppers. They’ve done their research and usually have information printed out from the Internet so they are more confident in negotiating a good deal. With all the information fully disclosed, women feel they can make their own car buying decision, without bringing a man along. The Internet has certainly been an equal opportunities provider in the world of car sales.

So take a tip from women car buyers who use the Internet to be informed, educated, confident and empowered to negotiate when you hit the dealership. If you take advantage of all the tools available to you, you should walk away with the car of your dreams at a price you can afford.

I’m dying to own another two-seater convertible with a stick. I desperately miss my red Honda del Sol, stolen from our suburban parking lot in August 2002 and pillaged for parts. It’s since been discontinued and I spent the insurance money supporting myself to finish my first book, the loss of one beloved red pleasure subsidizing the next, the red cover of my new “baby.”

As spring begins and the sun is warm, I so long to roar down the highway again. I’d kill for a Boxster, stare longingly at Audis and Z4s and try not to caress anything I see parked. My poor sweetie had to pretend he didn’t know me when I practically hugged the showroom’s Honda S2000 (also discontinued) when we were car-shopping a few years back. Money’s no better right now, so there’s no shiny new/used car in my immediate future.

Owning one gas-sipping nine-year-old vehicle is as green as we can be for now, living in the ‘burbs where a Vespa just won’t cut it for all our needs. Our old Subaru Forester serves us well, but sexy? No.

When you go looking for a car, ladies, what does it for you?

This Week's Plagiarist?

In Media on February 15, 2010 at 9:42 am
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 14:  The New York Times he...

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Another possible plagiarist?

Today’s New York Times has a mea culpa in its corrections box about business reporter Zachery Kouwe. He came to the Times in 2008 from the New York Post.

Let’s focus on one set of numbers: 24,000 print reporters lost their jobs between 2008 and 2009. The streets are filled with smart, reliable, experienced reporters who don’t use others’ copy without attribution. They know a great job is an increasingly rare prize. If you’re lucky enough to have one, why exactly would you screw it up?

Who’s next?

Here's A Really Powerful Pad — Made Of Bananas — For African Girls

In women, world on February 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm
Harvard Business School

Harvard B-school insignia. Image via Wikipedia

For some African girls, a monthly period means missing work or school because she has no access to affordable sanitary pads.

A new initiative, led by 32-year-old Harvard MBA Elizabeth Scharpf, is fighting this loss of labor and educational freedom, using pads made from banana trees in Rwanda.

From Marie-Claire:

It’s not every Harvard Business School grad who puts her degree to use making sanitary pads out of banana trees. But that’s exactly what Elizabeth Scharpf is doing, as part of a new push to produce affordable sanitary supplies for women around the world.

“I was on a trip to Mozambique a few years ago when I heard that women were staying home from work because they couldn’t afford sanitary pads,” says Scharpf. “I was shocked. Then I was kind of outraged.” She later learned that the problem spans the globe. Let’s face it: Not every town in the world has an entire Walmart aisle devoted to tampons.

So Scharpf started looking for solutions. In 2007, she founded a nonprofit called SHE (Sustainable Health Enterprises), then began doing her homework. Recently the group launched its first project: helping women in Rwanda set up their own businesses manufacturing sanitary pads from banana-tree fibers. Why Rwanda? “There’s a real need there, and the country has the largest percentage of women in government in the world, so we knew we’d have support,” says Scharpf. Why banana trees? “Imported raw materials were driving up the price of pads, so we started looking into cheaper local options,” she says.

Turning The Tables — A Restaurant Critic Works As A (Weary, Frazzled) Waitress

In business on January 25, 2010 at 5:08 pm
City of Vancouver

Vancouver. Image via Wikipedia

Here’s what it’s like when a sniffy — oops, discerning — restaurant critic worked as a waitress for a week in one of Vancouver’s best restaurants:

My legs ache. I’m severely dehydrated. And I still have to help break down the tables in the wine room, lug the extra chairs out to the hallway and do my cash-out before I can drag myself home, crawl into bed and then come back tomorrow to start all over again.

Why did I ever think that being a waitress for a week would be fun?

Not surprisingly, perhaps, she came away humbled by how hard the job is but even fussier than before.

I get it; after working more than two years as a retail sales associate, I know what it takes, and how rarely anyone, anywhere gives even a smidgen of decent service. Much as I loathe the customers from hell, switching roles can head you down that path as you start to see what service professionalism is and how to achieve it.

At least she got tips.

Nannies Get A Holiday Gift They Really Want — A Tough New Law To Protect Their Rights

In parenting, women, work on December 19, 2009 at 8:40 am
A child and her nanny

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a gift for nannies — one that will fit them to a tee. A tough new law has just been passed to ensure their legal rights are protected.

Anyone who charges a placement or recruitment fee to a caregiver to work in Ontario now faces fines of up to $50,000 and a year in jail.

The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, which passed into law late Wednesday, also makes it an offence to confiscate passports or personal documents from caregivers, and empowers provincial Labour Ministry investigators to retrieve them.

“Respect for the dignity and worth of others is one of the core things of this bill,” Labour Minister Peter Fonseca said, adding the new law “seeks to protect those who protect and nurture others every day of their working lives.

“They care for our loved ones who cannot care for themselves.”

American law calls them B-1s, domestic servants but Google the terms “nanny protection” and you’ll find a dozen ways to protect your kids from a caregiver, not how that caregiver — who is most likely to be female, an immigrant and poorly paid  — can and must protect her own rights.

In some measure, it’s a feminist issue pitting women of privilege against poorer, usually minority women who leave their own kids, often in another country, to care for others. Nannies are a key player in many affluent homes, allowing ambitious women to climb the corporate ladder and better their own economic lives — or enjoy a life of even greater leisure; some families have two or even three nannies, working 24/7.

But the law turns a blind eye — at least in New York state — to nannies’ needs, where a similar law has never  been passed, despite several attempts. Why can’t New York lawmakers do the right thing?

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