Banana-Land in the USA

When the Greek Debt Crisis was unfolding, I would excitedly wake up each day thinking, what stupid statement or tact have the leaders of Greece or their counterparts in negotiations, the European Central Bank made today?  Greece had a recently elected leader who was flip-flopping on his stated goals and plans for the country’s economic future on a weekly basis.   There was little forward progress being made, and the process marked the beginning of the strained European Union we now see.

“I can not believe the Greek people, with as bad an economy as they have had, would elect such a novice to handle such important issues and lead their country”, I thought to myself on many occasions.

Now I go to the front page of the New York Times and think the same thing.


Rural vs Urban

I am not the most cosmopolitan among us, but I am fortunate that I get to travel to a few of the major, global metropolitan areas each year.  London, New York, Shanghai, Dubai, Santiago, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur have all seen the soles of my Cole Haan’s in recent years.  While languages could be a bit of a barrier in a few of those places, the truth is, I could move my family and live in anyone of those places.  My skillsets support jobs that are focused on technology that is used globally, and I am comfortable in new places and spaces.  I like change partially because I believe deep down n my soul that change is both good and inevitable; that life is an adventure.  I am “urban”.

I know that there are some people who are not “urban”.  They are “rural”.  To loosely define “rural” I would think they are less educated, dependent on a higher level of manual skills, have strong religious beliefs, and not comfortable with change.  For a more than one hundred years, since the industrial revolution, the need for rural people in the world had been diminishing.  Their importance to the global economy continues to decline.  That is not to say they are bad people, just that they have less impact on the future.  And those people feel left behind.

Recent votes (Brexit, Trump) have allowed rural voters to show their numbers.  But as much as this NYT opinion piece states the rural voters in the USA believe in self-reliance, the actions of rural people do not show self-reliance.   What their actions show is an inability to accept growth and change.  An unwillingness to promote education as a priority in their communities.

But change and a continued move towards “urban” lifestyles and power in society is seemingly invincible.  The change that started with the industrial revolution has survived world wars, economic depressions, financial crises, and changing demographics.  A short term tariff war, which seems to be the basis of Trump’s plan to bring manufacturing back to the USA, will cause merely a blip on the path towards urbanization of the planet.


4:01 AM.  That is what time my eyes popped open today.  From dead asleep to wide awake.  After a week of half-assing it at work between Christmas and New Year’s, there is much to do.  Today and every day.

I like taking time off from work, but I truly enjoy the harried need to accomplish important objectives.  Visual Trading, Inc. has important deadlines approaching, its budget season for the Sherborn Advisory Committee, and I need to continue to improve myself as a father, husband, manager, and athlete.

My former executive coach, Mitch Harris (who needs an updated website to better showcase the awesome experience of working with him), never understood why people wait to start and do important things.  “Why wait until a specific point on the calendar?”, he would ask?  “If you have decided it is important, start now.”  According to Mitch the failure/dropout rate of people who wait to implement a fitness program “in the New Year” was 3 times greater that those who start any other time.  So though today is Jan 2 on the calendar, it is really just another opportunity to be better than I was yesterday.


Assertiveness vs Aggressiveness

My friend e-mailed me this article.  I liked it enough to go find the author and publisher.  It is from 2000, but a good 5 minute read.



This Is How To Be More Assertive: 3 Powerful Secrets From Research
You don’t want to fight. You don’t want to be hassled. You don’t want to disappoint them. It’s easier to just nod and give them what they want.

But later you feel frustrated, trapped and depressed because you’re not getting what you need and you spend all your time serving others. Ever felt this way? We all have.

For some of us it’s compartmentalized: you’re a warrior at work but a worrier at home. Or it’s the reverse: you rule the house with an iron fist… but just can’t bring yourself to ask your boss for a raise. What’s going on?

There are 4 styles of dealing with people and they all hinge on the idea of control:

  • Passive peoplefeel they have no control over others. And because they give in to avoid conflict, they also feel they have no control over themselves.
  • Aggressive peopleare the opposite. They know they have control over themselves and they also believe they should be able to control others. They typically do this through intimidation. In the short term, it often works. In the long term, people do their best to avoid aggressives.
  • Passive-aggressive peoplehave control over themselves. They want to control others… but they don’t want to pay the price of being direct. They don’t want to be seen as aggressive and they don’t want to be indebted to others after asking for things. So they play games. They think there are no downsides to deniable aggression. They’re wrong. Eventually they’re seen as inconsiderate or manipulative.

And then there’s the Holy Grail: assertiveness.

Research shows being assertive is that perfect Goldilocks balance of “just right.” It helps you get the things you need while preserving relationships over the long term. But there’s one problem…

Nobody ever tells you what the hell “assertive” really means. How do you do it? How do you get what you need without being a jerk or a manipulator?

Don’t worry. Research has answers.

Let’s get to it…


“Assertiveness is about controlling your behavior, not someone else’s.”

That’s Randy J. Peterson’s definition. He’s a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. The key thing to keep in mind is: “You are in charge of your behavior; others are in charge of their behavior.

I know: sounds obvious. But when we get caught in passive thinking, this simple fact is what we’re forgetting.

From The Assertiveness Workbook:

When we behave assertively, we are able to acknowledge our own thoughts and wishes honestly, without the expectation that others will automatically give in to us. We express respect for the feelings and opinions of others without necessarily adopting their opinions or doing what they expect or demand. This does not mean that we become inconsiderate to the wishes of others. We listen to their wishes and expectations, then we decide whether or not to go along with them. We might choose to do so even if we would prefer to do something else. But it is our choice. Whenever we go along with others it is our decision to do so anyway. But we can often feel helpless because we forget that we are under our own control.

The key word there is “choice.” When you’re being passive, you forget that you have a choice. But you always do. When you comply, you’re making a decision.

Passive people think, “I have to do what they want.” No, actually. No, you don’t. Other people say no all the time. The problem is often that passive people assume the consequences of saying no will be catastrophic.

The issue isn’t the request and it usually isn’t the potential consequences of declining — it’s the unreasonable assumption in your head that saying no is the equivalent of hitting the self-destruct button on a relationship.

From The Assertiveness Workbook:

Many of the barriers that prevent us from being more assertive are in our own heads. We willingly obey imaginary rules that dictate what we are and are not allowed to do. It feels tremendously liberating to realize that the arbitrary standards we set for ourselves are not carved in stone. They do not appear in the criminal code.

Yes, standing up for yourself can have consequences. But if you respect other people’s autonomy, the results are rarely as bad as you think they’ll be.

Aggressives and passive-aggressives try to control others and that’s why in the long term they often pay dearly. But just because you can’t control people doesn’t mean you’re helpless. You can still talk with others, make requests, and negotiate.

Now I know what passive people are thinking: You make it sound so easy. I’m just not an assertive person.

But assertiveness is not a trait like height. It’s a set of skills. Skills you can develop. And you don’t have to run around being pushy all the time.

Assertiveness is like a weedwhacker. You take it out of the garage when you need it; you don’t have to walk around with it running all day long.

(To learn the morning ritual that will keep you happy all day, click here.)

So how do you build these skills? Let’s look at the three big problems passive people dread and what the research says is the best way to handle them…


How To Say No

You’re wishing they didn’t ask you to do that. Why did they have to ask? You wouldn’t have asked them to do this. But they’re asking. And you can’t make them un-ask. Crap.

Remember: you can’t control other people’s behavior. So when you start down the path of wishing they didn’t ask, you’re violating the cardinal rule of assertiveness: all you can control is your behavior.

From The Assertiveness Workbook:

…they will ask. Of course they will. Who wouldn’t? Imagine having a genie who will carry out any request you make. It would be wonderful. If you can’t say no, you are such a genie for the rest of the world. Once the rest of the world discovers it, they will be unable to resist.

You always have a choice. When you hold the belief that you must say yes, that’s why you feel like a slave. So what do you do?

First, stay calm. Don’t just react. Don’t say “okay” out of habit. You want to strike while the iron is cool. Delay if you need to: “Let me get back to you about that.

Next, examine your beliefs. What do you believe will be the result of saying no? “If I don’t agree, they’ll round up the townsfolk and surround my house wielding pitchforks and torches. I’ll be put in the stocks and my children will be forced to wear a scarlet ‘N’ as the child of the monster who said no.

Is your belief reasonable? Is that the most likely result? Has it ever happened before? What would your very assertive friend Larry think is reasonable? “If you say no, the person will probably nod, shrug, walk away and not hate you forever.

Decide based on reasonable beliefs. Are you willing to accept the likely consequences? If you are, then go ahead and say no. If you’re not, make the choice to say yes. But you’re not a slave. You made the decision.

But there’s one problem you might face the first few times you try this…

If you’ve been passive for a long time, people are going to be surprised. And if you’re dealing with an aggressive, they’ll think they can control you.

If you mumble a no and they keep asking, you might cave. And now all you’ve done is teach them to push harder.

So, early on in your attempts to be assertive, try the “broken record technique.” Say no. And just keep repeating yourself every time they push.

From The Assertiveness Workbook:

You don’t have to find the magic words that will satisfy the other person. Using a response once doesn’t wear it out. If you keep repeating the same message, eventually they’ll hear it. “No, I’m not willing to do that.” “No, I’m not willing to do that.” “No, I’m not willing to do that.” Worried that this will sound odd? Doesn’t matter. It won’t sound as odd as you think. At any rate, the fear of sounding odd is a trap that can keep you in the control of others.

(To learn how to increase your self-esteem, click here.)

Okay, you know how to say no. But how do you ask others for something without feeling awful?


How To Ask For What You Want

Other people aren’t psychic. The reason you’re frustrated is because you believe they should be. It’s just another form of trying to control people, and that’s why it makes you angry.

You want something? You’re going to have to ask. Aggressives have no problem with it. And so, for a just a second, channel your inner aggressive.

If you were a bullying jerk, what would you demand? “Take out the trash right now!

Got the answer? Good, you know what you want. Okay, put The Hulk back in his cage. Now think about Larry, your very assertive friend…

What would he say is the reasonable version of your demand? “Can you take out the trash, please? I’d appreciate it.

Don’t apologize or put yourself down when you ask. You ran a check in your head; this is a reasonable ask. You don’t need to feel like you’re burdening anyone.

Make sure to word it as a request — not a demand. You’re respecting the person’s autonomy.

Review, rehearse and consider the timing of the ask. You want to be relaxed and you want them to be receptive.

And guess what? They still might say no. And that’s okay. You can’t control their behavior, only yours.

And you didn’t fail, you merely asked. They’re not going to hate you forever — you were reasonable. And you can negotiate further if you’re feeling up to it.

(To learn the FBI’s lead hostage negotiator’s tips on how to negotiate, click here.)

Alright, let’s take it to the next level. Someone has been driving you crazy. You can’t take it anymore. You need to confront them.

You can’t be passive anymore… but you don’t want to explode like an aggressive or start twisting your mustache like a manipulating passive-aggressive. How do you have a tough conversation?


How To Confront An Issue

The key concept to remember here is “Symbolic Value.” What’s that mean?

They didn’t take the trash out. Again. But honestly, taking out the trash is not a big deal, is it? Nobody gets the chair for forgetting to move garbage.

But you don’t understand! When they don’t take the trash out I feel disrespected. If they loved me they would take the trash out on time without me having to remind them!

Ah-ha! Now we’re on to something. Taking out the trash has “symbolic value.” It means respect and love. Or, more specifically, taking out the trash has symbolic value to you.

Did you ever tell them what taking out the trash means to you? I’m guessing no. So to them, taking out the trash may mean, well… “taking out the trash.” They’re not aware of the symbolic value you’ve attached to it.

But you’re assuming they are aware, and that their defiance is intentional, and therefore they are evil incarnate and they must be destroyed. (This chain of thinking can be, uh, problematic to say the least.)

You’ve got three options here:

  1. Realize the problem is with your symbolic value and revise it.
  2. Have a direct conversation about the symbolic value issue.
  3. Focus on changing their behavior.

If your partner regularly does 900 other things to demonstrate their love and respect, then #1 might be the smart choice.

If your partner regularly does 900 other things that make it clear you are neither loved or respected, #2 might be in order. (But tread lightly — making accusations and demanding immediate, massive personality change is a tall order.)

Nine times out of ten, the best thing to do is to focus on changing behavior. But respect their autonomy.

From The Assertiveness Workbook:

We often have a secret goal. We secretly want others to admit that they are villains, that they intended to hurt us or frustrate us, and that we ourselves are completely innocent of wrongdoing… Here the task is to recognize that we have this perfectly normal thirst for victory — and then to let it go. Face facts. You probably won’t get this admission of total guilt… In general, it’s best to focus on behavior rather than convincing people they are wrong.

Define your goal: “I would like them to take out the trash.” Then relax, rehearse, and don’t try to get them to admit they are evil. But most of all: listen. Why?

If you do, it’s quite likely you’ll get the answer to your “symbolic value” question:

I’m sorry. I had no idea how important this was to you. I’ll take care of it right now.

And you may just find out there’s some silly, stupid, insignificant thing you’ve been ignoring — that has enormous symbolic value to them.

(To learn an FBI behavior expert’s tips on how to get people to like you, click here.)

Okay, you’re on your way from passive to assertive. Let’s round it all up and find out how being assertive doesn’t just get you what you need, it might actually improve the relationships that mean the most to you…


Sum Up

Here’s how to be more assertive:

  • Assertiveness is about controlling your own behavior, not theirs.You always have a choice. And the consequences for resisting control by others are rarely as bad as you think.
  • You can’t stop people from asking, but you can say no.Figure out the reasonable consequences of doing so. And then decide. Use the “broken record technique” with aggressives.
  • People aren’t psychic. If you want something, ask.Figure out what you want. Make it reasonable and fair. Word it as a request. If they say no, that doesn’t mean they hate you.
  • Symbolic Value is often what makes confrontation hard.It’s usually best to try to get people to change their behavior, not their personality.

It takes some time and practice to become more assertive. People will push back initially. They’re used to the old you. That’s okay. Again, you can’t change their behavior, only yours.

But once you start being more comfortable speaking up, it doesn’t just mean more conflict. It can actually mean wonderful things, too.

Professor Randy Peterson points out something interesting: passive people don’t just avoid conflict. They often avoid saying a lot of good stuff too.

From The Assertiveness Workbook:

You might think that a person who overuses the passive style would have no great difficulty giving positive feedback. They might be giving it constantly, using a “Here’s a compliment, don’t attack me” strategy. In fact, the reverse seems to be true. Most passive individuals not only avoid conflict, they also avoid the expression of positive feeling. They seldom give compliments, express affection, or provide positive feedback.

As you become more assertive, you’ll be a more encouraging, supportive, friend, partner, employee or co-worker. And that’s something that makes life better for everyone.

Those around you will come to appreciate the more assertive you.

From The Assertiveness Workbook:

Through assertiveness we develop contact with ourselves and with others. We become real human beings with real ideas, real differences… and real flaws. And we admit all these things. We don’t try to become someone else’s mirror. We don’t try to suppress someone else’s uniqueness. We don’t try to pretend that we’re perfect. We become ourselves.

In my next weekly email I’ll be sending out a PDF of the tool Professor Peterson recommends to help people become more assertive. To make sure you get it, sign up here.

By being more assertive, you finally let those around you see who you really are.

Political Process

I have become more involved in the political process of my town recently.  As a newly minted member of the Advisory Committee I am a part of the nine-person team that makes recommendations to the townspeople on issues that are voted on at Town Meetings, and we make budget recommendations to the Town Selectmen.

A part of the process has been spending time learning about the specific rules and processes around the legislative process.  It has been somewhat tedious, but I recognized it is a necessary part of the appointment I accepted.  Then yesterday, a chance meeting put me in a spot to use my newly acquired knowledge to use.

A parent-teacher organization had been asked by a representative of a lobbying organization to set up a table and promote their lobbying point and agenda at an event being hosted by the parent-teacher organization, and being held on school grounds.  The parent-teacher organization did not want to allow the lobbying to happen, but was not sure if they had the grounds to deny the representative the opportunity to set up a table.

With a quick review of some of the material that I had recently read through I found the specific state rules against the use of school property for these such requests by lobbying organizations.  I have forwarded the relevant information to the parent-teacher organization and will follow up by ensuring the school’s administration is aware of the request to the parent-teacher organization and the rules against the request.


“Nope. It wasn’t us.” = FAIL

I just called a local exterminator after the wife found a dead mouse in the basement.  the call went like this:

Me: “Hi. I need to get a service plan on my home.  I believe [name of company] serviced the home when the previous owners were here, so I thought you guys would already have a cost estimate for me.  The address is, [gave her my address].”

Representative: Clicks on computer for a moment.  “Nope.  I am sorry but we never serviced that address.”

Me: (giving the representative an easy opening to pitch me): “Are you sure? I thought I saw [company name] in my records.”

Representative: “Nope.  It wasn’t us.”

Me: “OK.  I will find someone else.”

This failed sale is completely on company management.  They did not train, or are not following up with the representatives.  If you answer the phone (or e-mail, or social media) for an organization, you are representing the organization and should be finding ways to represent the organization well and accomplish the goals that with those who interact with your organization.

And management should know that.

Bottlenecks at Work

Bottleneck: Bottleneck literally refers to the top narrow part of a bottle. In engineering, it refers to a phenomenon where the performance or capacity of an entire system is limited by a single or small number of components or resources.

But what if the bottleneck you are facing is a human being?

If the “entire system” (aka: company) is limited by a “single…component…” then something is severely wrong.  Especially if that person is high up on the chain of command.  In fact a managers job is to do the opposite of bottleneck; their job is to disperse the workload and then:

  1. follow up to ensure the work gets done
  2. oversee the process and the people to determine who holds potential to manage other people and processes in the future
  3. build automation into the process

Failure to execute in the above manner is failure as a manager.  But being a bottleneck is like treason to a company; grounds for dismissal.

From a comment I posted on Today

The below was written as a Comment and Reply to a previous commentor regarding social trading in th eMargin Trading Products industry.

Rather than “illusion”, a better term for copy-trading and social trading is (was?) “marketable add-on service”. Of course there were few legitimate, successful trade leaders. There was no need for regulation, and anyone with a long-term successful trading strategy does not have enough financial motivation in a copy/social trading environment.

But what a great marketing strategy copy/social trading has been for the brokerage firms and the companies that create the copy/social software.  Copy/social trading was an easy sell to the masses initially; you did not have to be a “trader” to get the results of a “trader”. By appealing to non-traders, it increased the size of the target market for the Margin Trading Products (“MTP”) industry as a whole. e-Toro seems to have created a community and become the standard for copy/social trading. They have the winning formula for growing a business; proprietary software, a growing community of users, and an increasing eco-system of companies that are surrounding e-Toro’s platform (which further cement’s e-Toro’s position at the center of copy/social trading). MetaQuotes has those three characteristics as well which is why they have been successful for so long despite competition with superior products.

So like most industries and products, one or two copy/social companies will emerge from the pack and go on to dominate the space for copy/social trading. It seems at this time e-Toro has the lead there. This agreement with SwipeStox & FXCM is part of the natural growth efforts of mature company such as FXCM. It may move the needle a bit for FXCM. If so, it is a big win for SwipeStox. Despite the setbacks from SNB and subsequent financing events, FXCM is still a dominating player in the MTP space and they need to always be searching for growth avenues.

The reason I bothered replying is that I agree that copy/social trading will soon fade (except at dedicated firms like e-Toro). So the questions is…..what is the next marketable product/service that the industry can grab onto? What will drive the next round of new users and traders to the industry?

“News (?)” Broadcasts

I put on Fox News this morning at 6am.  I normally do not watch Fox News.  In the first 6 minutes I was absolutely disgusted with the way the three anchors fawned over the Republican National Convention, defended Melania Trump’s seemingly plagiarized speech, and praised Chris Christie’s public prosecution of Hilary Clinton.

I thought to myself….this is not news.  It is so clearly biased towards a particular political party and base of constituents.  I could not expect to get any unbiased facts out of this purported “news” broadcast.

So I decided to see what the competition was up to.  I changed the channel to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.  This show does not have the word “news” in the title, but their own description of the show is “…features interviews with top newsmakers and politicians, and in-depth analysis of the day’s biggest stories.”

And once again I was disgusted with the unbelievable bias that the show’s hosts had against Republicans, Trump, the RNC and everything associated with the right.  If not for the two guests from Bloomberg, who remained dignified and factual when they answered questions, the show would have seemed comical with it’s bias.

Large scale media in this country has an undue amount of influence on our population.  That is both a product of citizen’s passive nature, and the media’s insatiable appetite for filling 24 hour news cycles by pandering to our lowest common denominators.  It is easy to watch “news” that does not challenge your assumptions but merely feeds you what you already know and want to hear.  But as citizens and voters in a country of free press, we need to be better ourselves and demand more facts, less analysis and less bias in the information we take in.  A citizenry that does not think for itself is not a citizenry that will remain free forever.