We earn the reputation we deserve

07.24.20 In the opening minutes of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid we see Sundance (Robert Redford) get wrongly accused of cheating in a high stakes poker game. Back in the old West, being called out for cheating meant a guaranteed gun fight.  Sure enough, Sundance and his accuser soon square off.   Just then, Butch (Paul Newman) wanders into the card room, sizes up the situation  – and (thankfully) calls Sundance by name. This is new information for the accuser.  And it changes everything. “I didn’t know you were the Sundance Kid when I said you were cheating.    If I draw on you, you’ll kill […]

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What if we just listened?

06.26.20 A lot has gone on south of our border in the past few weeks. During this time, Black Lives Matter has shone a light on protests against systemic racism and police brutality in America’s black and under-served communities.  These protests have spread to other parts of the world too, including Canada.  They’ve been uplifting and inspiring, potent and powerful, at times messy and uncomfortable. All of these things at once. It’s left me wondering.  How do I sum up my own feelings on this?  What words do I use, should I use?  And are they in any way appropriate or meaningful? I’ve thought about it.  And I’ve concluded […]

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What Netflix has taught me during the pandemic

06.05.20 My friend, Paul, called me out a few weeks back. “You know,” he said.  “It occurs to me that many people have used their time during this pandemic to do new things… to learn to paint… or play piano… to do house renovations… or even read the classics.   All you did was watch 49 episodes of Billions.” Damn.  Guilty.   I was late to the party with Billions, but quickly got sucked in, maybe because it’s loosely based on real events.  And now that I’m caught up, I’ve become hooked again, this time on Ozark.  Neither of these series has imparted any real life (or […]

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Why waste a good crisis?

05.14.20 Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve reached one of the sacred rites in our year. Over these next three days – the first holiday weekend of what constitutes the unofficial beginning of our summer – great numbers of Canadians would normally engage in one or more of (1) buying flowers (2) planting their summer gardens (3) playing golf (4) opening cottages for the season. Except these times are far from normal. So, this year, our May long weekend traditions will change, like everything else. Garden centres will be open, but with long lines to enter, and without the freedom […]

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A communications trifecta for the COVID era

04.24.20 The text came in from my daughter, Ally (all the way from across the room…) a few minutes before midnight. It was the night before Good Friday, and she was sharing a communication she’d just received from her 11th grade biology teacher.  It culminated the first week of “distance learning” that most school boards are now deploying amidst COVID-19. The communication was in the form of a long letter – and it was so good, I read it twice.  When I was finally done, I said, “You’re lucky to have her as a teacher.”  Ally:  Yep, I wish they were all like her. […]

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Why marketing still matters right now

04.03.20 According to my schedule, I should have written this post two weeks ago. But, as we know, a lot has happened in the past month (or not, depending on how you view things). Since then, I’ve been debating whether or not to carry on blogging.   Does anyone really want to read about ‘branding’ when everything fundamental in our world is turned upside down – from how we work and learn and socialize to the ways we shop, meet, play, live?  It’s a lot to take in. Then up popped this quote from Hemingway:  “Writing de-clutters the mind.”   That settled me, and I couldn’t agree more.  Writing […]

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Being comfortable and why it matters

I was hustling through Toronto’s Union Station a few weeks ago when there it was again, right in front of me. TO CITY.   (With an arrow even pointing me in the right direction.) I’ve done 500 (or so) trips through Union over the years, and I see the same sign, high up on the marble wall, every time.  I know the way.  I don’t need the sign to remind me where to go.  But it struck me differently this time – a bit like an old friend, a morning ‘welcome’ after stepping off the train and heading to Front Street. In a word, it […]

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A reality check from the godfather of management

It was a couple of years ago. My siblings and I were doing what the children of many aging parents do – de-cluttering the family home we grew up in… the aftermath of moving my Mom and Dad into a retirement residence two months earlier.  We were sorting through a predictable mix of photo albums, board games, assorted knick knacks.  And lots of books. One title, in particular, caught my eye – a massive text, nearly 900 pages, from 1973.  It was Peter Drucker’s essential business guide for the modern manager. Its simple title?  Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. Turns out this heavyweight text […]

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These boots were made for brilliance

01.17.20 I knew life would change with a new baby in the house – especially in my 50s. But not this much, not this way. (And no… it’s not what you think!) It’s a dog. Back in September, we welcomed Joe (an eight-week-old Labrador retriever) into our family.  It had been many years since we‘d last had a puppy and I’d forgotten everything that goes with it – the late nights, early mornings, sleep disruption, the chewing. And the pure energy too.  Which means lots of walks. Without them, Joe goes bananas, we go bananas, the contents of our house pay a heavy […]

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Celebrating the artist inside each one of us

It’s end-of-year list time. Most of these are fun.  The best movies and music, the weirdest happenings, the memorable one-liners.  But there’s a sobering side to the lists too – remembering the artists, icons and influencers who’ve left us in the past year.  One list I saw a few days ago tacked on an interesting question that I’d never considered. Of all the famous people who’ve died over the years, who do you still have trouble believing is really gone? I first thought of the death that rocked me the most – the night I learned about John Lennon from none other than […]

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How do you act when nobody is watching?

I’ve long been a believer that culture is the most meaningful differentiator for any brand. But. Culture can seem vague. It’s not easy to wrap our heads around. What is it exactly? So here’s a recent story that, for me, demonstrates how culture plays out in a tangible way. It was a few Saturday nights ago. Eight of us were out for Mexican food before a concert downtown. We’d heard great things about Los Lobos, and were warned to get there early, as it didn’t take reservations. Sure enough, the place was packed, a line out the door. We soon tucked into […]

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We can handle the truth, so tell us

11.01.19 After a two-year search, we finally found the home we were looking for. It was mid-August. We’d closed on the purchase, and were in the final stretch of renovations before moving in.  We knew our contractor and trusted him.  It was a tall order to get everything done in 18 days, but the expectation was we’d get there. Suddenly, we were 24 hours out from the move. The painters had finished, new hardwood was in, and a fine film of dust covered the entire house.  It needed to be cleaned… right away.  Except it wasn’t clear who was responsible.  The painters? […]

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The secret marketing weapon hiding in plain sight

10.11.19 I’m a news junkie from way back… from when I was a kid, really. I chalk this up to my Mom.  She was a voracious reader, and she rubbed off on me. It’s no surprise, then, that my nose was buried in a TIME magazine during grade eight geography class in 1974.  The Watergate noose was tightening around Nixon’s presidency, and (nerd alert) I was keeping up with the latest.  Except I was soon busted – my TIME was confiscated and I was told to pay attention to the glaciology. Most of my paper route money back then went to paying for subscriptions to TIME and Sports Illustrated.  Later, Rolling […]

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What we can learn from America’s top shock jock

09.20.19 True story. Back before kids, in the mid-90s, we were driving along the New York State Thruway, heading home to Ontario from a Fall vacation in New England. It was early morning, and Caroline was asleep in the passenger seat beside me.  Alone with the steering wheel and my thoughts,  I became engrossed in the Howard Stern radio show.  By this time (1997) Stern had become famous for his obnoxious ‘shock jock’ humour.  He was pushing the edges of acceptable content on public radio (long before satellite) and scoring huge ratings.  It was must-listen radio. We were somewhere between Albany and […]

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Being still in the dog days of summer

07.26.19 It’s closing fast on August and, here in the Northern Hemisphere, that means the so called dog days of summer. It also means the laziness quotient has skyrocketed – with boats and beaches, forests and cottages, golf and hiking and biking… and lots of other stuff grabbing our attention.  We wait so long for summer in Canada – and then it passes quickly – so we’re entitled to enjoy it, aren’t we? Laziness has crept into my writing this blog, too.  It’ll probably be like this until after Labour Day, and then I’ll be back on track. (For now, our fam is […]

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Why fitting in might mean missing out

05.24.19 A few years ago, when I was first learning to play guitar, I had a go-to song that made me feel I was half-decent… even though I really wasn’t. It was Horse With No Name by America – and I liked it because it was a breeze to play. I found a beginner’s arrangement with two simple chords that required moving one finger in the whole song, with a basic strumming pattern.  A chimp could play Horse With No Name, it’s that easy. I also tried to sing like America.  It made me feel like I fit in, like I was a player.  l was delusional, of […]

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Playoff hockey and its lessons on culture

04.26.19 It was a few months ago… in a windowless meeting room in Las Vegas. A small group, maybe 25 of us, were gathered to hear the speaker.  He was well known, highly regarded.  Anticipation was high. But there were technical difficulties.  The video didn’t work, and the slides were messed up.   The speaker admitted he wasn’t used to this.  He was off his game, a bit uncomfortable.  After a few attempts, he gave up on the video, deep-sixed the slides, turned to us – and decided to just talk. The room got quiet. And then for the next hour-plus, he spoke of the one thing […]

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Don’t we all just want to belong?

04.05.19 The arriving passengers couldn’t miss the sign as they exited Helsinki’s airport. It was late November, a couple of years ago. Many were there for SLUSH, a tech start-up conference in Finland’s capital… just as the days turned shorter and darker (3:27 p.m. sunset!?), and the temperatures were dropping. A large banner greeted them.  (See above.) Images of the sign soon went viral.  Some experts called it one of the best travel promotions ever.  Praise poured in for the ingenuity and honesty of the message. Except you, you badass.   Welcome. What made SLUSH’s message especially powerful was how it appealed directly to the […]

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When good people make bad decisions

03.08.19 I bought a new car a few weeks ago. This was big for me – the last time I’d done it was 2008.  Apple had just introduced the iPhone to the world.  A Bush was still in the White House.  If you wanted an Uber, dream on.  It was three years away from launch. You may have guessed – I’m not a car guy. This recent car purchase was memorable for another reason, too.  It underlined, in striking detail, the so called customer experience. The dealership where it all happened has some neat things going on: Slick new service bays, where you could pretty […]

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Who’s in your symphony?

02.15.19 Are you one of those people who hangs around to see the credits, every last one of them, at the end of a movie? I am. Back in a former (corporate) life, one of my responsibilities was producing TV commercials at a financial company, a national brand.  It gave me a glimpse of the sheer number of players involved in bringing a simple 30-second TV spot into our living rooms. I soon learned that these productions involved the same ingredients as making a full-fledged movie.  The scale may be different, but the same roles are required – whether it’s a sweeping epic […]

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What’s your roadmap for 2019?

01.25.19 Nerd alert. I was a map geek as a kid. Any time I was in the car – whether a long family vacation or a short day trip to Toronto – it was in the back seat with a map and a green highlighter to plot our route.  It helped me pass the time (I hated car travel), but mostly I was interested in maps.  Mom and Dad tolerated me.  My siblings rolled their eyes. Fast forward 45 years… I’m still the same.  I’ll open Google Maps multiple times a day to find a location I’m reading about or one I […]

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When good things happen at bad times

12.08.17 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou We said goodbye to our best friend three weeks ago. Like most Labrador retrievers, Charlie was happy 24/7, so it didn’t look like it was his time. But the old guy (he was eleven) had slowed down. The perpetual smile and wagging tail were still there, but the energy was gone. Arthritis had set in, and his legs were failing. In his final weeks, I was carrying 100 pounds of Charlie up the […]

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