What is "The Economy"?

More than a decade ago I sat in a data center staring at a screen containing backup logs for a major agency of a state government. The logs made it clear that backups had been failing for months. My job was to find out what happened. I'm just built to get to the bottom of things, and part of my skill is to take apart the complex, interconnected pieces and find the simple parts. It makes it easier to figure out what happened.

Recently, I've done this with "The Economy."

People, especially experts and those who want to sound knowledgeable, talk about "The Economy" like it's an entity unto itself. Like it has a mind of its own, and it will head in various directions based on select, complex ideas like GDP, trade, and unemployment rates.

But, it's not. "The Economy" is nothing but a set of metrics (values of measurements) that communicate various historical truths (since most measures are 3-12 months ago). Economists, politicians, and pundits all use the numbers to beat up their opponents and to bolster their own theories, with all sides claiming proof for their viewpoints. And it's all mostly a great big show.

"The Economy" is nothing more or less than the collected decisions of human beings, including those responsible for making decision for corporations and governments. People decide to buy, save, or invest. As a result, funds become available as revenue, for loans, or in exchange for equity. The cumulative impact of these decisions results in the measures that become the economic metrics.

Underneath it all, however, are these decisions. They are made in an effort to keep a job, to profit, to look good, or to benefit one's own financial position. Sometimes, the decisions are speculative in the hopes of creating a large, fast gain. Other times, they are extremely conservative in an effort to avoid any risk or any possible loss.

But all of these are the decisions made by individuals and (sometimes) multiple individuals as part of a collective.

That's all "The Economy" is, though. It's the consequences of financial decisions of collections of people: cities, counties, states, countries, and the world.

When people stop spending and/or investing, we have a recession or depression. When business managers stop hiring, joblessness goes up. And so on.

We are a society that attempts to avoid the consequences of our actions. We want to believe that our intentions drive the consequences. They don't. The only thing that drives consequences is the natural laws that apply and the decisions that others make.

You can't escape consequences forever.

Apple Just Changed Publishing

It is very rare indeed when I disagree with Seth Godin. He is a brilliant man, a best-selling author, and an insightful coach for the emerging economy, but he's missed it on the latest announcement from Apple. I don't blame him. It's easy to do with all the changes that are bouncing around like a Heisenberg Uncertainty experiment. Today, in a useful post on his Domino Project blog, he says that Apple did not just make publishing easier with their announcement of the iBooks Author application. He rightfully notes that the iBooks Author application is about authoring books, not publishing them, and there's a difference between printing and publishing. All true.

However, the iBookstore itself is a new way to publish. In much the same way that iTunes changed publishing first for music and then for movies and TV. And the iOS App Store and then the Mac App Store changed the economics and dynamics of software publishing, so will the iBookstore change the dynamics of book publishing. The iBook Author app is the disintermediation of book creation and the iBookstore is the creation of a publishing platform designed for social discovery and long-tail economics.

Unfortunately, I think that Seth falls into a bit of myopia here due to his experience with and success in both using publishers and creating a brilliant new publisher in his Domino Project. He sounds like some of the doomsayers in the early days of iOS apps.

Publishing will never be the same. Neither will making and selling music or making and selling other creative works. Seth knows this. Perhaps the world changed publishing and Apple is simply building tools for the ride. Regardless, anyone can now create and publish a book. Selling it requires building a tribe, just like it always did, but now you get to do it on your own.

So Many Miss the Point

With the passing of Steve Jobs this week juxtaposed against the announcement and release of the new iPhone 4S, the technology media have been atwitter with their views of Apple's success or failure to continue their recent successes. In reading a wide range of such writing, it strikes me that most miss the point entirely. The reason is ironically the same reason that Apple is so successful: it's really difficult to understand people and what they want. Over the past few years I have spent substantial time studying direct response marketing (such as the marketing done by companies who take out those one-page ads for subglasses or the Internet marketing that offers you a free report for handing over your email address). One of the primary tenants of direct response marketing is this: it doesn't matter what you want or what you think about those who make up your market. All the matters is what they actually want. Figure that out and you'll be successful. In fact, your success will be in direct proportion to the accuracy of your understanding. Most technology writers and those who live their lives consumed with technology miss entirely the preferences of the vast majority of people. That's why Apple is successful. It's also why I have migrated exclusively to Apple products.

The bottom line: most people just want stuff that works. They don't want to customize it more than putting their own wallpaper on the screen. They don't want to hack into it or understand how it works. They want to use it, get their activities done, and keep living their lives.

Apple products do this really well. In fact, Siri---the new Apple iPhone 4S's mechanism for voice interaction---is the opposite of what most geeks say is needed: it will create less interaction with the screen rather than more.

Today, John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote an article specifically about the iPhone 4S and everything the pundits are saying Apple got wrong. I agree 100% with what he says. I expect the iPhone 4S to be the most popular iPhone ever much to the shock of those who think the screen needs to be bigger or that it needs to have a replaceable battery or LTE networking.

It doesn't. It's a great upgrade. I'll have mine in a week and will be sure to let you know what I think after I've had some time with it.

What do you think?

Where are the Jobs?

Last week there was another jobs report. The economists wait around their computers to learn whether or not their estimates were right, and the investors and money people make decisions based on those numbers. There's a real problem with all this that appears to be invisible to virtually everyone: jobs are a myth, those that did exist are disappearing, and there is nothing anyone can do about it! A couple of weeks ago I wrote in Revelation and Transformation that I had been reading Seth Godin's books Linchpin and Poke the Box. In Linchpin, Seth makes a compelling case for the cooperation between industry and government to create a large base of reusable employees for factories by building the educational infrastructure to train people to do what they are told, fit in, follow rules, and be efficient. This was the world of our fathers and grandfathers.

The problem is that their world is no more!

Just as quickly as it arrived, it is fading.

If you're looking for a job, stop. Their time is passing quickly. Instead, find a way to add value to others.

How can you do that?

Do You Feel Valued?

Three weeks ago, I took a drive to the mountains. I love the mountains and always enjoy any opportunity to get up to the thinner and cleaner air. This time, though, I exited I-70 earlier than usual and pulled into downtown Idaho Springs. Idaho Springs is an old gold mining town nestled in a valley along I-70. You can see the old gold mine from the highway, and stopping for a tour is a common summer activity. The town also sits at the foot of Mount Evans, one of Colorado's glorious 14ers (mountains with summits over 14,000' in elevation), and is a starting point for hiking and mountain biking.

This day, though, I was there to visit with a new client; a small business with a broad reach worldwide. I love their offices! You turn into one of the storefront doors along Miner Street (effectively Main Street) and a broad, beautiful stairway opens before you. Upstairs, their offices have high ceilings and the feel of 100 years ago. The energy is productive and there is a lot of work getting done. The office dogs and owners greeted me as I ascended. We smiled at one another and caught up. Then, we got to work.

Whenever I work with them, speak with them, give them my best counsel for their business, or simply exchange a few emails, I feel valued. I know that they care about me and appreciate the expertise and value I am bringing to them and their business. And you know what? As a result, their business is going to improve. We're going to find ways to grow their customer base, to improve their office efficiency, and to increase their profits.

I'm sure that you can tell me similar stories about businesses you have visited as a customer, placed you have worked, and other companies you have contacted.

I'd be willing to bet that you also have stories about companies where you didn't feel valued. Companies who, although you are paying for their products or services, seemed intent upon making it clear that they couldn't be bothered helping you and, in fact, you were simply interrupting their day by being there.

Do you feel valued?

It's a good question, and one that's worth more than a conversation. It's worth finding out which organizations value people--and which organizations don't.

This idea came to friends at Newmeasures, an organization dedicated to improving organizational culture. A couple of weeks ago, they launched ifeelvalued.com to find out which companies value people. It's a great idea. Let's find out which organizations do a great job of valuing people... and which don't. Go visit ifeelvalued.com and put in your thoughts on companies you appreciate... and those you think need to be known as places to avoid.

And let me know what you think in the comments...

How to Succeed, Part 2

In the first installment in this series, I mentioned the first law of success in Zig Ziglar's terms: "You can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want." As you dissect that concept, you will begin to see how powerful it is. The value you generate to others will determine what you receive in life. There is a value that you generate for one person which is multiplied by the number of people you find who want it. As you grow the per-person value, your reward grows. As you expand the number of people, it also grows. While outlining this law in his famous record "The Strangest Secret," Earl Nightingale articulated it in this way:

Your success will always be measured by the quality and quantity of service you render. Most people will tell you that they want to make money, without understanding this law. The only people who make money work in a mint. The rest of us must earn money. This is what causes those who keep looking for something for nothing, or a free ride, to fail in life. Success is not the result of making money; earning money is the result of success — and success is in direct proportion to our service.

Most people have this law backwards. It's like the man who stands in front of the stove and says to it: "Give me heat and then I'll add the wood." How many men and women do you know, or do you suppose there are today, who take the same attitude toward life? There are millions.

We've got to put the fuel in before we can expect heat. Likewise, we've got to be of service first before we can expect money. Don't concern yourself with the money. Be of service ... build ... work ... dream ... create! Do this and you'll find there is no limit to the prosperity and abundance that will come to you.

Apply this rule today and you will begin to see a change for the better.

Rule 2 will become present in your life very quickly, then. In fact, it has been often on my mind this week and has come up in multiple conversations. Here's the story of one of them:

I met with a good friend for lunch this Wednesday. He's an Elder in our church, and I have served with him on the board of directors for a local non-profit. He is a wise and successful man. We met to talk business, challenges for some of the people we know, and the influence of spiritual truths on our lives. During our conversation, we shared our thoughts on helping two of the men we know. These men have been challenged in the job market that has emerged during this time of economic uncertainty, but they have given up. Their wives are working, but they are not. The stress on their marriages have them both on the rocks. Unless something changes, it's likely that we will see both of their marriages rendered asunder, kids damaged, and souls devastated.

All because they have been broken against the rocks of the second law.

Ironically, during the conversations with my wise friend, we talked about his response to the economic conditions. His story was much like my other wise friends, and went something like this: "When the economy changed, on of my primary sources of income stopped. Suddenly. Overnight, services that had been providing 30-50% of our income dried up. I had to find ways to replace it. I went back to school. Renewed my license to broker loans, and added that to my services."

Do you see the difference?

During the second world war, Viktor Frankl was taken prisoner first to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and later to Auschwitz. During his time in the camps, he came to a profound understanding of the strength of human consciousness in the face of difficulty and suffering. It was he who said, "Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."

And it was he who first pointed out, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

"...our power to choose our response." This concept is pregnant with potency. So many avoid this truth and hide from their responsibility by pretending that their lives are not their own; that somehow the faceless "others" dictate the direction of their lives. They seem themselves as powerless to make their own choices. Yet these thoughts are all lies... and they lead only to pain, suffering, and failure.

It is you who chooses. They are your choices. No one controls you, although many will work to influence you using a broad range of tools from their words to their threats and from there to the exercise of authority. Ultimately, though, as Frankl so thoroughly proves in his seminal work, "Man's Search for Meaning," it is up to you what you do and no one else is responsible, accountable, or capable of living your life or making your choices.

Recently, my friend and mentor Matt Furey has expressed this truth in this way: "You are not to blame for everything in your life—but you are responsible for how you think and feel about everything in your life."

This is the second law of success.

How to Succeed, Part 1

I read it again today. While sitting in my kitchen reading my daily dose of news, I once again read about how evil the wealthy are, how they don't deserve what they have, and how they "aren't paying their fair share." All untrue.

We certainly do need leaders, but since our current crop of political parasites do not have the fortitude to lead, it will fall to us to lead ourselves.

First, it's absolutely critical to understand the truth about money and wealth. It's the starting point. Without that understanding and mindset, nothing else will matter.

To explain, let me take you back a few weeks to a hotel conference room in Clearwater Beach, Florida. It was a Sunday afternoon. We were nearing the conclusion of a solid three days of coaching and instruction when my friend Everte Farnell stepped to the front of the room. He held us spellbound with his wealth secrets from the ancient wisdom he has been studying (more on that in the future on these pages), with one package of insights so clean and important that I will share some of it with you now.

First, it's useful to know that during these sessions I had experienced some intense one-on-one coaching in front of the room. So, during his talk, Everte looked directly at me and challenged my thinking. Then, he said something very important to the entire room: "We live in a cultural lie. Our culture is egalitarian. The lie is that everyone is the same, so if someone is more successful than someone else, it must be because they have lied, cheated, and stolen. It's not true! Everyone is not the same. Some are smarter, more skilled, and more valuable as a result. Believing otherwise will keep you in bondage for the rest of your life."

Can you see how easy it is to buy into the lie that everyone is the same? Of course, we are all human beings and we have inherent value as people, but that does not mean that what we have to offer others is the same as anyone else.

For example, is Steve Jobs more valuable to Apple than Gil Amelio? Of course! Amelio nearly killed Apple, while Jobs has brought it back and into a dominant role in the marketplace. Amelio is a very talented individual, but wasn't the answer for Apple. Jobs is much more valuable in that role.

The same is true of you. You offer unique and valuable skills and abilities. What are they? How can you tell?

This is the first secret. It's difficult for some people to accept. Regardless, it's true. Here it is:

Your financial value is exactly what another is willing to pay you for what you offer times the number of people you can find to pay.

There is no other measure of financial value.

The first secret of success is this (as put by Zig Ziglar so many times): "You can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want."

What can you help other people get that they want? The more valuable it is to them and the more people you find who want it, the more you will earn.

You really can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want.

Will you?

The Void of Leadership

I've been saying and writing about it for a while, and the rising din of those frantic to avoid the loss of power that seems to be building is making it clear there is an anger simmering. Why?

There are no leaders. There are controllers and authoritarians, kings and rulers, but no leaders.

In her exellent article "The Liberals are Losing It," Liz Peek describes the current state of panic within political circles because there is no leader. I disagree with her in one area: I don't think it's a "liberal" issue. It's an issue for all of the "career politicians." (A phrase which should be an oxymoron!) Those who seek to earn their livelihood from making laws, discussing policy, and "governing" are all waking up to the fact that they are not only distrusted, but disliked, denounced, and denigrated. We don't need politicians to tell us what to think and do. We need leaders to rally us around a common vision for the benefit of all.

It remains amazing to me that so many are being so easily misled. Many apparently believe that wealth is not earned. Apparently, they think, the way that one becomes wealthy is to steal from others.

At the same time, those people want to themselves gain wealth. They play the lottery, try get-rich-quick schemes, and maybe even try to "bend the rules" a bit to get more.

I guess because they don't succeed they think that those who do are cheating, lying, and stealing. Hollywood doesn't help, of course, and ironically, given the earnings of so many who work there!

Politicians today are fanning these flames. Jealousy and enmity serve the unproductive governing class. They keep those who could succeed from realizing their personal power and the path to success. By doing so, they keep the politicians and policy-makers in the money while appearing to "care" for those "who are less fortunate."

If they really cared, they show them the path out.

Starting with my next post on this topic, I'm going to do just that.

How Do You Judge Your Worth?

First, by the gift the Creator gave me in breath this morning. I am worthy of His care and His love. That is enough. But there is more...

Second, by the knowledge that I am unique in all history. There never has been nor will there ever be another just like me. As a result of the rule of rarity, that makes me priceless. Finding the path to the exercise of that value is a lifelong journey, but that does not diminish the truth that I am of exceptional worth.

Third, by those who have chosen to love me, starting with my amazing bride who has put up with my vagaries for more than 26 years. My kids, who love me even in their teen years. And the friends and mentors who have been so generous with me.

Lastly, by the value I am able to bring to others through who I am and what I know and do. Being valuable and generous in the eyes of others is a reminder of my worth. When I am not there, there are things that won't (or can't!) happen.

What about you?