Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Aging Process Hits Us All

It’s hard to figure out what the best age is. 20? 30? 39? But, at some point in life you go from wishing you were older (think teens, and new entrants to the workforce) to wishing you were younger (almost everyone over 40).

If you or a client are worried about memory loss or diminished mental “processing speed,” just know you’re not alone. As Jane Brody noted in her new series about aging, memory issues become more apparent in the Medicare years, but gradual changes in cognitive function actually begin decades earlier.” What tends to happen, she explains, is that these changes are often masked by the brain’s excess of neurons and the ability to lay down new connections throughout life.

What to do?

You can laugh about misplacing your cell phone or forgetting where you parked the cars. That’s a normal part of the aging process. Or you can be a good Boomer and fight the aging process till you die.

As you might expect, Brody advocates getting enough sleep, being physically active, exercising regularly, drinking in moderation and keeping your brain sharp.

Here are some other tips that may surprise you

1. Be well educated. Even if you missed out on a good education early in life, experts say it’s never not too late to engage in intellectually stimulating activities. Take courses online or at a community college. Read books, participate in discussion groups, and attend lectures and other cultural activities.

2. Learn complex new tasks like woodworking, home brewing or digital photography, which can improve cognitive performance. Just make sure these activities are personally rewarding or meaningful, not frustrating or just busy work.

3. Stay active in leisure or volunteer activities as social interaction is a strong predictor of healthy aging.

Finally, leverage certain aspects of the brain that actually get better with age. Medical experts say the older brain retains “plasticity” and can actually have better depth of comprehension and widsom gleaned through experience than a younger brain.


Aside from getting your AARP card at age 50, no one is going to send you a memo telling you that you’re officially old. Just as you and your client has a magic retirement number, you should take steps to figure out your cognitive impairment number. Like Brody and others, we recommend “Staying Sharp: 9 Keys for a Youthful Brain Through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom,” by Henry Emmons and David Alter.

Best, HB
Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Writing Without the Letter "E"

I once had a great swim coach named Doug Stern. Doug was an aquatic innovator who liked to use the principles of “reduction” to help us get a feel for the water. While most coaches encourage their swimmers to use hand paddles, pull buoys, elastic bands and weight training, Doug had us swim with tennis balls in our hands. Then we tried to swim a few laps with our eyes closed. Then we swam a few laps with our hands in the karate chop position and finally with our hands balled into a fist. Finally with our eyes open, we’d start swimming with our normal motion and guess what? Our hands felt like enormous paddles. It seemed we had incredible sensation in each finger with three times the power of before.

“Notice what you notice!” Doug would always roar above the thrashing in the pool. It seemed like we were swimming downhill as we sliced confidently through the water using muscles and senses we never knew we had.

Make the writing process less painful

Sometimes you have to do without certain crutches or senses to understand what you’re truly capable of. Let’s take writing. Some of you love the process, many of you hate it. But, like paying taxes and getting “the pipe” exam once you turn 50, we all have to do it. Whether you’re communicating with clients, churning out a blog post, penning a short article or muscling through an e-book, we all know we tend to get lazy. We could be more precise when we put pen to paper, but it’s too easy to fall back on our tried and true sayings, or our small arsenal of adjectives and famous quotes.

My 6th grader was staying up way too late the other night on the verge of tears over a writing assignment. Turns out he had to write a 500-word story based on the picture below. The only catch? He couldn’t use the letter “E.” He was stuck at 411 and fading fast. How hard can that be, I thought to myself. I smith words all day long. I love baseball. I don’t get writer’s block.

Turns out pretty hard.
Sure there are 25 other letters to choose from, but without “e”—the most common letter in the English language--you can’t use “the.” That means can’t use often vague pronouns such as "he," "she," "they,” “me”, “her” and “them.” You also lose out on common functional words such as “when”, “where”, “these”, “those” and “every.” You not only have to flex your vocabulary muscles, but you must be painfully more precise.

Try going a day without using the letter “e” in any of your an e-mails or client communications. Can’t be done, you say? Well, you should read
Gadsby, the 1939 novel by American author Ernest Vincent Wright—50,000 words without “e.” Click here for more on e-less writing.

As my colleague, Mark Klimek points out, writing without your favorite words and letters "is a maddening exercise in many ways, but it’s also a good reminder of the importance of really thinking through what you want your communication strategy to convey.”


Notice what you notice about yourself and the reaction to your written communications when you take away your language crutches and force yourself to be more precise. Once you have your “e” privileges back, it will be like getting a double dose of creativity. Chances are you’ll glide through your next project in a more streamlined and confident fashion.

blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


TAGS: Writing without using “E”, Gadsby, Ernest Vincent Wright

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Out Top 5 Posts of 2015

Hard to believe, but the year 2015 is already one-third in the books. If nothing else, our big prediction for 2015—be ready for anything, and don’t stop getting ready—has turned out to be fairly prescient. Obviously, few could have predicted the earthquake in Nepal, the riots in Baltimore, the record snowfall in Boston or the New York Mets having the best record in Major League Baseball. But, by the same token, some things we expected to happen didn't. How many economists and Wall Street pundits really predicted that four months into the new year, the Fed still wouldn't have pulled the trigger on interest rates?

Our most popular posts of 2015

1.What We Can Learn from the Costa Ricans

2. The Power of Doing Your Own Research Studies
3. Do You Want Young Hires Well-Educated, Adaptable or Self-Sufficient?

4. I Do My Best Thinking in a Tube

5. Don’t Penalize Intelligence

More importantly, at a time when volatility and disruption is the “new normal,” learn to enjoy life no matter what it throws at you. “Pura Vida” as they say in Costa Rica, where my family and I visited over the Holidays. It’s one of the few places I’ve found that lives up to the hype. Incredibly diverse topography. Endless beaches. Active volcanoes. More species of plants and animals than any country in the world. Adrenalin-pumping zip-lines. Some of the happiest, healthiest and best educated populations in the world despite being far from the wealthiest. Makes you think twice about burning the candle at both ends chasing some elusive number of gross income or retirement “nut” that you and your clients think you need to be happy.

Burnout worries aside, you also showed that you’re highly inquisitive. As we discussed in our #2 ranked post, The Power of Doing Your Own Research Studies, having your own branded research report is one of most powerful weapons you can have in your credibility marketing arsenal. After word of mouth referrals, it’s hard to beat the power of “according to YOU!”

Speaking of inquisitive, now is the time of year that many recent grads are flocking to your door or checking you out online. Do You Want Young Hires Well-Educated, Adaptable or Self-Sufficient? Well, apparently you want adaptability as we discussed in our third most popular post of 2015. Again, we don’t necessarily need people who know everything. We need people who know what they don’t know—and how to fix that--in these highly unpredictable times.

As our No. 4 post (I Do My Best Thinking in a Tube) taught us, great ideas can come to you at any time, any place and anywhere. Just make you’re not hopelessly distracted so you can capture them. Find a way to carve out time every day to do nothing else but think for a few minutes. It’s not easy most days, but you’ll be amazed at what you come up with.

Finally No.5 Don’t Penalize Intelligence. When everyone in a highly competitive marketplace has access to the same information, it’s not about how much you know or how smart you think you are--it’s about how quickly you can adapt to a changing landscape. From baseball to investing, any new edge in intelligence or tools will be fairly quickly absorbed by the wisdom of the crowd. How quickly can you and your organization pivot?


Do your own research, carve out time to think, seek people who are adaptable and most of all enjoy life. That’s it in a nutshell. Have a great second third of 2015.

blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Don’t Penalize Intelligence

Slowly but surely spring is coming to the Northeast. There are no leaves on the trees. It’s raw and rainy most days. But, Major League Baseball is underway and soon high schoolers, Little Leaguers and softball teams will be doing their best to play ball in the cold, mud and slop.

About this time every year, you start to see articles, posts and tweets lamenting how the game has changed. Depending on whom you ask, today’s players are either faster, bigger, stronger and smarter than they used to be. Or, they’re lazier, softer, more coddled and less committed to the game than “back in my day.”

One thing’s for sure—the game’s a lot more measurable. You don’t need to be a sabermetrician (empirical analyst of baseball) to see that since testing for performance-enhancing drugs began in the mid 2000s, home runs and scoring are way down, batting averages are also plummeting and strikeouts are way up.

Getting the edge when everyone’s playing “Money Ball”
Hitters are certainly facing more fresh-armed specialist relief pitchers than they used to. And, thanks to the Big Data revolution of the past 15 years, when hitters do make contact, more of their hits are turning into outs. Just look at their “Babip” (batting average on balls in play). Are the fielders really that much better? Probably not. But players and their coaches have a lot more ways of anticipating where balls will be hit….and batters have fewer opportunities to “hit em where they ain’t.

According to Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), teams in 2011 used fewer than 2,500 “shifts” on balls in play…..Yes, there are folks who’ve made a business out of keeping track of things like that. Last year, BIS said Major League team used more than 13,000, and the company said its software actually “recommended” about 40,000 shifts. So expect to see more.

You’re certainly seeing it in the college game and it’s creeping into the high school game according to my older son who plays at that level. I’ve even seen it used against my 11 year-old’s team—he’s a lefty who likes to go “oppo” on outside pitches and don’t think the other teams don’t notice!. More youth coaches using iPads to keep score with a Game Changer app that can stream kids’ games pitch by pitch, to parents who are caught in traffic or stuck at the office.

As Steve Kettmann observed earlier this week in The New York Times, “as baseball managers get younger and better educated, much of the fresh energy in baseball today comes from putting analytical tools to work in rethinking old assumptions.”

Our take? Substitute the word “portfolio” for “baseball” and “market” for “game” and this argument should start to sound familiar to many of you. As Detroit Tigers president Dave Dombrowski quipped last week, “I don’t think you should penalize intelligence.” The burden is on hitters and their coaches to adjust, he added.


Over the long-term, batting averages like stock market returns, will always regress to the mean (.268 and 8%, respectively if your keeping score). Any new edge in intelligence or tools will be fairly quickly absorbed by the wisdom of the crowd.

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


TAGS: sabermetrics, Baseball Information Solutions, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tiger, Steve Kettmann, don’t penalize intelligence

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

March Method or Madness, Part 2

As we discussed in Part 1 of this post, the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a great way to build office camaraderie and glean new insight into your co-workers’ risk tolerance, competitiveness, decision-making strategies and data crunching skills. Sorry HR, softball team and Christmas party planning committee—you just can’t beat the March Madness office pool for bringing everyone together to have a great time and some friendly trash talking and competition.

I should know. I’m getting my share of it right now.

As NY Times columnist, Neil Irwin
observed, the other day, “The [NCAA] tournament is a fun way to test your predictions in a system that, like financial markets and most forms of sports betting, reward you for taking an against-the-grain pick that proves accurate."

Our take? The tournament seedings—like many financial data services—have a number of “mispricings” and other aberrations you can try to exploit. Big brand names tend to be over-valued and lesser-known growth teams tend to be undervalued. Thanks to March Madness, millions of people in the Northeast will stay up till the wee hours of the night sweating out the final score of the North Dakota State vs. Gonzaga University game.

Personally, I've learned you can also turn to the Las Vegas odds for each game, use the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), “points per possession,” or “turnover differential” or other advanced metrics. You can also go to the ratings services like
FiveThirtyEight, Jeff Sagarin and Ken Pomeroy – think Morningstar, Fitch and S&P for hoopsters. You can also throw darts at the bracket or go with the trusted brand names like my wife always does--UCLA, Indiana, Michigan State, Kansas and North Carolina. They’re the large cap stalwarts of bracket-dom. They’re perennial returnees to the tourney even if the 2015 squad is not likely to return back to campus with the trophy. My wife uses the “brand name” strategy every year and usually cleans up in our family pool and at her work. I don’t think she even knows which state Butler and Valparaiso are located (hint it’s the same one).

No analysis paralysis for my better half

According to Irwin, March Madness is a lot like investing. It is easy to invest in flashy companies that are widely known and whose products you use. But often the highest-return investments are “value stocks,” companies that are more obscure and less popular. In this metaphor, Butler, Harvard and U.C.L.A. are the Google, Facebook and Apple of the N.C.A.A. tournament. Wichita State and Oklahoma State are the obscure industrial companies that aren’t talked about on the financial pages very often but offer high potential returns.

Personally, I have a crude, but effective model that usually puts me in the top 10 or 15 percent of any pool I enter. I rarely win, but it keeps me in the game till the very end of the tourney. This year, I had a very hectic month leading up to the tourney. I didn’t stick to my discipline and went with my gut rather than my head. BIG MISTAKE.


I second guessed myself and selected Villanova to win it all. On the surface, not a bad pick. The Wildcats were one of the top four seeded teams. They boasted a 33-2 record coming into the tournament, had a 17-game winning stream and were champions of the highly competitive Big East Conference.  O.K. That’s the analytical part. But then I let my emotions get in the way of logic because I grew up near the Villanova campus. My folks and extended family still live there. Nova’s head coach, Jay Wright, was a classmate of mine at Bucknell University. All the stars were in alignment.

Unfortunately, Nova went down to a red-hot NC State team 71-68. Season is over. My brackets are “busted” and I’ll have to endure two more weeks or razzing at the office and several more days of getting dissed by my wife and kids at home.

This year, I’ll take my lumps like a man and go back to basics in 2016. No more watching games or getting emotionally attached to any of the teams. Just run the numbers, play the index, check the scores the next morning and pencil in the winners.

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.

TAGS: March Madness, office camaraderie, Neil Irwin, Villanova, Jay Wright, busted bracket 

March Madness or Method? Part 1

In many parts of the country, there’s still too much snow on the ground to hear lawn mowers humming or baseball bats cracking. But trust me, spring really is here. I know because the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament—a.k.a March Madness—is underway. Just don’t expect a highly productive month around the office.

Depending on your point of view, the three-week long hoop-fest is either the biggest office productivity killer of the year, or a fascinating window into human behavior, biases and predictive modeling. March Madness is also pretty good for building camaraderie, even if the HR wonks will complain that it’s an unsanctioned company event, that it’s male- and jock-biased and that it’s basically an illegal gambling operation conducted on company premises, using company time and computers. Again, review the previous sentence about “camaraderie.”

Level playing field

It’s also one of those rare times when Ted from sales, who’s 6-foot-6 and played power forward in college, can get schooled by 5-foot-2 Mary from accounting, who’s never set foot on the hardwood, much less played the game. How? Because she knows how to fill out her brackets.

The format is simple; 64 of the best college basketball teams are invited to play each other in a single-elimination, winner take all tournament. Win and you advance to the next round. Lose and you go home. No best of seven, no do-overs. No bonus points for giving it your best. You could be 34-0 during the regular season, like Kentucky, and have an off night against unheraled Hampton University and that’s it. Season over. See you in November.

In most office pools, you print out the entire tournament “bracket” before the games begin. You predict which team you think will win each matchup and throw a few bucks into the pot. Most folks can fill out their bracket in 10 minutes or less, whether using pencil, pen or an app. If you end up winning the pool, you can make anywhere from 20- to 1,000-times your money back. If you lose, the max downside is usually less than $20, so you don’t even need puts or stop loss orders. Either way, it’s a pretty good ROI for three weeks of fun.

So how hard can it be to win? Everyone has access to the same information--they even give you each team’s won-loss record as well as their seeding (i.e. ranking) in the tournament. Just pick the team with the better record or higher seeding and you’re good to go, You don’t even have to guess the score or the point spread. Just who will win.

So why does Warren Buffet offer a $1 billion cash prize (that’s with a “B”) to anyone who can
pick a perfect bracket and guess the outcome of all 63 games correctly?
Because, it’s almost impossible to predict all the upsets. It’s like trying to pick which early stage startup company with no revenue or earning is going to go public next year. In fact the odds of winning March Madness are worse than the lottery--about 4.3 billion to 1. The odds are beyond stacked against us, but tens of millions of us can’t help ourselves from filling out at least one bracket every March—even if we don’t follow college basketball or never played the game.


In our next post, we’ll tell you about some of the research services, rating agencies and indices you can use to help you along. Hint
: It’s pretty hard to beat the wisdom of the crowd? Any of this sounding familiar?

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


TAGS: March Madness, wisdom of the crowd, brackets, office camaraderie

Monday, March 09, 2015

I Do My Best Thinking in a Tube

I had an MRI the other day. Not sure how the results will turn out, but it was probably the best 30 minutes of thinking I got done last week. With multiple deadline shifts, rescheduled appointments galore and several late season snow/ice storms wreaking havoc here in the Northeast, the "tube" was a welcome respite from the daily grind.

Some people get freaked out in the claustrophobic confines of an MRI machine, but I find it relaxing. There’s something about the rhythmic humming and clanging in the background, with ear plugs and decent music in the headphones that helps me relax and block out all the “real noise” in life. You can’t move. You can’t talk. You can’t even cough, sneeze or scratch your nose. But most importantly, the MRI tube is a very tight space. You wouldn’t be able to reach for your smartphone or tablet if you got bored and somehow managed to smuggle it into the exam room under your gown.

So, you lie there and think…and think some more.

I’ve never had the patience for meditation, deep breathing or yoga (it's like a 90-minute warm-up for a game that never happens). But, the MRI tube literally forces you to block out the world and all the distractions of email, cell phones, meeting reminders, unexpected calls from your spouse or kids and impromptu “pop ins” from a work colleague who’s bored.

Here’s a passage from the
Focus Manifesto blog written by Leo Babauta, author of the book Focus: a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction--“Never have the distractions been so voluminous, so overwhelming, so intense, so persistent as they are now. Ringing phones are one thing, but email notifications, Twitter and Facebook messages, an array of browser tabs open, and mobile devices that are always on and always beeping are quite another. More and more, we are connected, we are up to our necks in the stream of information, we are in the crossfire of the battle for our attention.”

What to do? Kevin Daum had some good suggestions in a recent Inc. Magazine piece: How to Clear Your Head in 15 Minutes.


We’re not suggesting that you schedule unnecessary medical tests just to clear your head. But, think about all the ways in which you’re distracted during the day—and how much more you could get done (in less time) if you could really find a way to focus.

Try this exercise for a month. Once a week, find a time and a place where you can really think and focus uninterrupted for 20-30 minutes…..Do it at the same time or place every week.

I know several of you have had success with this technique in the swimming pool, the steam room or the sauna. After a month, review your progress and see how many mental blocks you’ve been able to bust through. You might be surprised. We’d love to hear from you about how you did.

Let’s have a great week.
Best, HB


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Friday, February 20, 2015

Do You Want Young Hires Well-Educated, Adaptable or Self-Sufficient?

Pick two out of three

Now is the time of year when many of you may have higher education on my mind. You might be starting to interview soon-to-be graduates of elite colleges or professional schools for your firm. You may have a young person in your life who’s anxiously waiting to hear from the college or grad school of their choice (and you, the financial aid office).

As Frank Bruni
opined last week, “students shouldn’t be blind to the employment landscape. But it’s impossible to put a dollar value on a nimble, adaptable intellect.” He also said this mindset “isn’t the fruit of any specific course of study and may be the best tool for an economy and a job market that change unpredictably.”
In fact, you want folks at all levels of your organization capable of changing on a dime and reinventing themselves as your organization “pivots” to adjust to new threats, opportunities and disruptions. That’s probably more important than where they got their diploma, what they majored in and what certifications or licenses they have. Adaptability isn’t something that can be taught, but it’s one of those special intangibles—like selling, leadership, customer support, empathy and insatiable curiosity—that can give you a 10x return on whatever compensation you pay them.
Chandra Chandrasekaran, CEO of Tata Consultancy Services, told Adam Bryant the other day in a NY Times interview, “Learning is the most important thing in your career and without it, you’ll go nowhere. Early in life, people tend to think that learning is the responsibility of their parents and teachers. But then you have to want to learn for yourself.”

Our take? Lifelong learning isn’t the employer’s or government’s responsibility, either. We’ve come across math, chemistry and engineering grads who are incredibly creative, non-linear thinkers. We’ve come across plenty of philosophy and English lit majors who are surprisingly good at the numbers, but also pretty set in their ways with a fairly narrow world view.


Don’t waste time and money on HR hiring best practices, personality tests, self-assessment tests or screening services. You’ll know adaptability when you see it. Instead of
asking candidates what they know….ask them how they figure out what they DON’T know.

You’ll be glad you did.

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.