My First Ever Sensory Deprivation Float – I’m Sold


Warning – Longish Blog, but if you want to know what the first time floating experience is like, you will find it interesting IMHO.

As promised in my previous blog, I am going to post a series of blogs about some of my experiences in float tanks.

September 1987

I was badly in need of relaxation and decided that the time was right. I had heard about floating previously and found a brochure at the Tourist Information Centre in Auckland’s Aotea Square.

I was very tense, there were some suspect things going on at my work (it looked like the company was being embezzled) and I was suffering from heartburn and chronic indigestion and had been constipated for three days. I feared I was becoming a candidate for an ulcer.

For some reason I felt very positive about the concept and that it could be good for me. My confidence was boosted by the fact that major sporting organizations including the Dallas Cowboys and AFL Teams owned their own tanks, for rehab of their elite athletes,  recognizing the benefits of sensory deprivation. The Cowboys apparently had TV screens in some of their tanks where players could relax on watch strategic videos.

On entering the Belleview Clinic in Eden Terrace, I was welcomed by a quietly spoken man who took one look at me and said “You haven’t floated before have you?” My disposition was obvious.

FC5He gave me a leaflet containing initial instructions. These were essentially:

  • Empty your bladder and bowels
  • Take a hot shower paying particular attention to your face so that you have no itches while you are in the tank. You don’t want to get salt water in your eyes, while scratching your face.
  • Put Vaseline (provided) on your private or sensitive parts to protect against the salt
  • Fit the supplied earplugs
  • Open the hatch in the tank, get in and close the rolling door.

Five minutes before the float ends, the underwater stereo system will pipe in quiet relaxing music. When the music ends, sit up whilst leaning your head back to avoid getting salt in your eyes, then exit and shower again to rinse of the residue Epsom Salts.

FC9Next I got a guided tour. The tank itself (a bit less modern than this one at Float Culture today) is an 8 foot by 6 foot by 4 foot fibreglass enclosure resembling a ship’s liferaft container before it is dropped in the water and opened up. It featured a rolling door through which you enter the inner spaceship which had 10-12 inches of water almost saturated with a solution of Epsom Salts.

So I had my shower, inserted the earplugs, applied the vaseline and climbed in.

The water felt warm, thick and sort of silky, almost sensuous. I closed the hatch and was suddenly in almost total darkness. I slid the hatch open again so that I wouldn’t forget where the knob was if I needed it…..

I tried to partially close the hatch but that didn’t work, so I closed it again and lay down. Then I sat up again, opened the hatch a little and closed it again just to reassure and orient myself.

Finally I lay down and tried to relax. I had been warned that my shoulder and neck muscles might start to hurt a little as they start to unknot and release their tension. The man told me to either breathe with the pain or rest my hands behind my head, flexing the muscles a little.

I tried both, but decided that a hands down version of the yoga nidra corpse position offered the most relaxing attitude for my body.

FC6So I relaxed. As my eyes adjusted there was a little light in the tank through the little indent patterns in the fibreglass.

My mind found it hard to cope with the fact that I was totally safe from external influences which might disturb the water or distract me. I kept slipping to one side as though I was balancing on a beam and for 3-4 minutes I found it hard to maintain my balance.

Eventually I achieved a level of equilibrium. I tried to keep my eyes open but found that I was easily distracted by light, sound and even nonexistent stimuli. I closed my eyes again achieving better results, however for the next 5-10 minutes I opened and closed my eyes a number of times, just to reassure myself.

Then I started to relax physically, but my mind was racing, very much the same as when I would go to sleep at night. When you are not experienced in relaxing, you can try too hard.

I felt a spinning sensation. I was hardly moving more than a cm per second and only for a tiny distance and then I’d stop by gently touching the wall with a foot or hand, but it felt like I had turned 90 degrees. This continued on and off for about 20 minutes. My sense of time was distorted.

Yes indeed, my shoulders were getting heavy and tired. Good, it seemed I was doing something right.

Now I moved into a conscious REM State. It was exactly like the first stages of sleep in which dreams that actually take  microseconds appear to take much longer. Yet I was conscious and could feel my eyeballs darting all over the place under my eyelids. It was an interesting feeling but the more I tried to analyse it, the more my consciousness started to return.

I knew that I was reaping rewards physically but mentally, because I was constantly analysing the experience, I wondered if I was wasting the opportunity.

Next thing I knew, time had passed and I was being gently roused by music from the underwater speakers which reminded me of the whale sounds on Pink Floyd’s Meddle album. It was soft and repetitious but relaxing. It only seemed to last about 20 seconds but it was actually 5 minutes.

I leaned my head back, protecting my eyes from the salt and opened the sliding door, then eased my way out and onto a wooden platform.

My shoulders and neck felt heavy and I was a little light headed but otherwise I felt normal enough.

I busied myself in the shower, washed and shampooed my hair (yes I still had hair then), making sure that all the Epsom Salts were rinsed off. Having dried myself off, I dressed and went into the pastel colored lounge, which had comfy chairs, a booktable and a selection of drinks including many herbal teas.

Floating Book

The current edition available from Amazon

Although I only felt slightly light headed, things seemed to take an awfully long time. My time sense was distorted. I sat down, which felt better and picked up a book entitled “The Book of Floating” by Michael Hutchison.

I then decided that I should have a drink to replace lost fluid and selected a Peruvian Lemon Tea which sounded refreshing.

I tried to fill the jug, which was not only full, it had a ‘cup number indicator’ on the side which said it was full. I emptied a bit out again and looked down at the floor. The opiate-like action of my natural endorphins induced an unusual effect. I was getting two independant impressions.

The left hemisphere was telling me that it was about five feet from my eyes to the ground. The right hemisphere said “I know it is only about 5 feet to the ground, but my perception tells me it is nearer to 10 feet.” Talk about a well balanced split personality!

I enjoyed a mild dose of euphoria, enhanced by the monochrome pastel room. I finished my tea and had a chat with the owner who said he could see by my eyes that the float had been beneficial.

I went to pay and found that they did not accept credit cards. I got the impression that this was a bit of a tacit protest against new technology. I found it hard to accept that they took me on trust for the cost of the float and the book which I had decided to buy.

Driving away I felt very relaxed and couldn’t stop my face from smiling. I felt a time distortion at traffic lights, it seemed they had stayed on red for too long.

That night I felt I had to waste some of the beneficial effects as I had to attend a business dinner. This was Wednesday night.

Yet, when I wrote these notes on a plane from Wellington to Auckland 2 nights later, I still felt better than I should after a very tiring day. I looked forward to greater effects from passive floating more often in the short term, and experimenting with Super Learning (now used by Navy SEALS) which I read about in the book, and other possibilities in the future.

In short, I was sold!

The floating experience is different for each person, but this should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect first time. Please remember I wrote this 31 years ago and the technology has improved dramatically although the principal’s are the same.

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Of Asimov, Robots, Artificial Intelligence and What is a Human Anyway


You might say I have too much time on my hands. I would answer that I never have enough time, but my back injury continues and I have had time to think in a few directions.

Whether it is HAL 9000, remember “I’m sorry but I can’t do that Dave” as an answer to “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” from 2001 A Space Odyssey?

If you haven’t tried it, ask Alexa, Siri, Cortana or whatever your speech interface is to the internet, those famous words. “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” If only Arthur C Clarke was around to experience that.

Damn, I just remembered that they had a 4K restoration of the movie at Imax last month for the 50th anniversary of the movie. I was hoping to find someone to go with and then totally forgot about it. That would have been amazing.

AsimovI collect books and in recent years have given away many books that I was never going to read again, but decided to extend my collections of specific writers and starting at the beginning of the alphabet, I looked at what was missing from my Isaac Asimov collection and amongst others bought a copy of The Bicentennial Man.

Asimov is of course famous for the 3 Laws of Robotics. Ironically a lot of people debunked his laws and said they were flawed and used that to criticise him as being unrealistic or perhaps idealistic, which is a trait of many SciFi authors of the 70’s. However, he knew that himself. In many of his stories, robots disobeyed the laws.

There is a great story in this book called That Thou Art Mindful of Him, in which is a play on Psalm 8:4-6, he also infers in some of the stories that he was Jewish through some of the characters and had a keen sense of humor.

In this story (and I’m sorry for the spoiler) a series of robots are produced and given the capability to become self aware, in effect sentient. They redefine what it is to be human and declare themselves as such.

I played with the thought of Singularity and imagined if autonomous cars could pass the Turing Test 

I also looked at what might happen if they didn’t and what hackers might be able to do.

What I keep coming back to and writers like Philip K Dick, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and many others foresaw 50 and more years ago and similar to where the TV series Humans is heading, is that humans are dangerous to the planet.

Now I like being human and I hope that my descendants will have safe and healthy planet for thousands of years from now and many of my little stories are in jest.

BUT, if climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, brinkmanship politics, drought, famine, and war are the result of how great and committed we humans fancy ourselves to be, would it not be realistic if an Artificial Intelligence was developed to the point of Singularity and able to continue to learn with or without programmed biases, would their logic determine that the human race should either be limited or allowed to exterminate ourselves?

Kurzweil looked at it a different way and said that Singularity would occur around 2045 and potentially be a synthesis between human and machine, in effect human 2.0. He would be about 98 at that point in time, so it will be interesting to see if he is still around and if he is right.

Maybe Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and many futuristic projects should have the last word. He’s pretty successful and walks the talk. DARPA, Rex Bionics and hundreds of companies, universities and other innovators are developing systems that will be able to think for themselves. Yes, for specific purposes, but they are being created.

It’s interesting that in this clip, they say that Science Fiction is usually about 50 years ahead of its time. So back to Asimov, reading him today, especially a book like The Bicentennial Man, where like Stephen King and others, he talks about his stories, was he in fact prophetic?

Yes, maybe I’ve had too much time to think, but do you think we should be thinking about this. Just imagined if a machine, say a Robocop decided that using facial recognition or perhaps racial recognition, that you were, could be, or could become a criminal and then think about biases that go into programming, often of necessity.

What conclusions could an AI start taking when given some information and some bias and then left to learn on the basis of that starting point? Oh and I didn’t even mention George Orwell. He wrote Animal Farm in 1945. Remember “All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others”? Shutting up now……..

 

On Homelessness, Being Trustworthy and the SuperBowl


CorvetteYesterday I had a day off between two holidays. I was going to go for a Fly Your Own Scenic Flight in a Cessna 162 at Ardmore, but the weather looked a bit dodgy and my car got trailered to an auto electrician in Pt Chevalier at lunchtime on Friday who said he was going to check the diagnostics and let me know why the engine lights kept coming up. Ardmore is an hour from here so a long drive with a high risk of rain.

I rang them 3 times after that and they said he was really busy and would call me back. I’ve been ringing ever since and I think he’s taken the long weekend off. It’s now Tuesday. We’ll come back to trustworthiness again later. This guy has been trustworthy before and was recommended by the man I bought my car off as an expert in Corvette’s. He didn’t let me down the other time I went to him. I suspect he is the sort of person that takes on more than he can handle and that frustrates his manager who in the end wouldn’t let me speak to him. So I’m not sure how I’m getting to work tomorrow or when I will see my car next. I think the thing about trustworthiness is it must be pervasive and consistent. It wasn’t.

Anyway, the weather improved a bit and I borrowed a car off my daughter and went into town to visit my friend and your Giapo for a chat.

I parked at Sky City, because it was free courtesy of a couple of poker matches and walked down Queen Street, where in almost every doorway sat someone with a hat out, not making eye contact, mostly no note and a vacant drug stare in their eyes, not the “I can feel it coming in the night” rush I saw on Louis Theroux’s Dark State – Heroin Town on TV recently, this was more like everyone was isolated in the same bad trip.

I had about $18 in coins in my pocket, planning to give some to buskers if they were making an effort, given that I had done some busking in my teens and I respect people who are prepared to make some sort of a trade for value.

Then I walked past this white guy, (his term) in a tidy shirt, clear drugless blue eyes and a hat in front of him with a lonely silver coin looking up at me from it. I turned around and walked back. I asked him if we could chat and if I could ask him a few questions. He looked me straight in the eye, blue eyes to blue eyes and said “Sure, I’m not going anywhere. What do you want to ask me?”

I said “I don’t want to offend you, but how did it come to this?”

He told me that a couple of years earlier he had been working as a labourer, had an accident which left him unconscious in hospital with severe injuries, to the point that he could no longer work when he got out after a couple of months. He couldn’t earn money (still can’t because of tremors and the scars looked pretty real where his hand appeared to have been pulverised). He and his wife lost their State House and then he lost his wife and kids.

With nowhere to go he now lives in a street doorway in downtown Auckland, except when he can find the $10 to get into an Internet Cafe where they don’t mind if you sleep in the night.

I asked what he could do and he said he didn’t know. His body didn’t give him much of a chance to get work and therefore a room and the only work he had been offered was with the gangs and he said “You know where that would end up. Back in jail and I aint ever going back there.” I didn’t ask what he had been inside for but he said it was about 24 years ago. He told me how he had survived by studying on behalf of inmates who were trying to get qualifications and explained how they would arrange it so that at exam time, the guards would let him go in and sit the tests on behalf of inmates that would have failed. He was very bright. He helped them and got to use his mind and they left him alone and safe.

It was clear that he couldn’t do physical labour, but he is 51 by his reckoning and the only way off the street is to work. Without a street address, he couldn’t get a benefit or his first hand on the rung to get out. He told me a lot of stories and he did have a good head on him so I asked if he had done any public speaking. He said he had been a member of Toastmasters while he was in jail. He found public speaking pretty easy and I thought of people I know who tread the circuit and thought he could probably hold an audience with his experiences. I said to him that the chances I could help him were pretty close to zero and not to get his hopes up, but I would ask some questions and I shall.

I dropped the change I was planning on giving to buskers into his hat and with a big grin he said “I’ll be staying in the Internet Cafe tonight.” He went on to say that he had to stash the money because if street kids saw any money in the hat they would run past and snatch it. He said he had been through 7 hats already that they had stolen.

I shook his hand and went on to visit my friend Giapo in his awesome new gelato shop.

Giapo2018This was my first visit to the new store (I know it has been there a while) and there was one thing that never changes. There is always a queue of people waiting for their Giapo gelato experience.

If you haven’t been to his new store in Gore Street, Auckland City, you owe yourself a treat.

This is no ordinary store where they wet an aluminium  scoop in a container of water and drag some ice cream into a cone from the cardboard tub of your preference.

You are purchasing a culinary experience the equal of what you would get from the kitchen of a master chef. You will be taken on a journey of testing and trying flavours, even while you are standing in the queue Eventually a unique visual and sensual experience will be delighting you and your friends, while you are looking at and consuming it, followed by the sensation that you are sated and satisfied and looking forward to recommending it, the experience, to your friends. This is no drive to Pokeno for an ice cream, this is theatre for the eyes and taste buds.

Giapo and I have wonderful conversations and it was also great to finally meet his amazing and beautiful wife in person. I loved that she gave me a firm handshake and looked me in the eye, I don’t like limp handshakes from anyone. I know these last years have been a big journey for her also. Behind every consummate dreamer is their best friend and partner and without her the stumbling blocks are that much higher. We deep thinkers need a leveler and someone to sometimes ask how and why and finally, “how can I help?”

Giapo is an economist, a mad scientist, a gastronome, a master chef, a 3D printer, a social media maven from way back, a purveyor of experience, an artist and a man who speaks with absolute passion and Italian gestures, from a big heart, who wants to leave a legacy of experiences bound by trustworthiness for himself and his business; and a secure income for staff who want to use his business as a stepping stone for his own career.

We have many experiences in common, including both being deep thinkers and the visit left me with lots of thoughts and questions about what a trustworthy business looks like. The simple answer is that he was going to take many years to build it and would find out as it developed. But I can say that trustworthiness for Giapo includes:

  • Consistently delivering a quality experience that is like going to theatre for the eyes and taste buds. I have never seen anyone leave disappointed;
  • Passion for delivering something of quality including his relationships with staff and the products.
  • Passion for his staff and helping them make what they will from the work experience and wishing he could do more with and for them.
  • Helping his staff develop ideas, for example he runs Chef’s Table gelato degustation evenings and VIP evenings (they were set up for one when I was there) which includes matching music to the course, something one of his students is studying.
  • Having a genuine passion and compassion for his customers (and friends) that never wavers, Giapo is who and what he is, not someone living a persona.
  • Making sure that he looks after himself, his health and fitness so that he can be well in order to run his business to deliver the trustworthiness he aspires to.
  • Recognising the importance of family, that includes those of his customers (friends like me and my family) and of course his own, those here and those back home in Italy.

There is something I deeply admire in people like Giapo. There is a sincerity and depth of purpose that he strives for every day, rain or shine, winter (not the best time for gelato) or summer, year on year.

It is a desire to be the best and continue to push the boundaries of what that means, each and every day and he has now done that for years past the use by date at which 80% of businesses go broke. He has proven that it is sustainable.

I’m not saying it has been easy. It’s tough when you are creating a unique business with a unique set of values and direction. Where ultimately you want your business to conform to a set of ideals. Where, if you consistently over-deliver on your promise of a wonderful experience and people trust you that if they tell their friends how great it was, they will confidently wish that same experience for their friends.

Like fractals, (something Giapo used to tell me about years ago, that branch out like pretty ice crystal flowers) customers all over the world would say “If you go to Auckland, New Zealand, you really have to go to Giapo in Gore Street. It will be a highlight of your trip.”

Anyway, enough of that, it’s a beautiful day, go and visit Giapo and let him know I sent you.

Superbowl2018On the way back to Sky City to pick up the car I borrowed, I walked past a noisy bar with an American flag outside. It sounded like there was a show on, so I walked a bit closer to see what was happening. Yep, you got it, Super Bowl 2018. I’m not sure whether the audience was that worried about whether the Eagles one. Heck, I’ve only ever changed planes at the airport there on my way to or from Ithaca NY, but we love our sport in Auckland and despite the showers, it was a great day for sitting in a bar watching sport on TV.

Off I went home to do my thing, working on recording my second track for The Cancer Diaries, my charity music EP and Music Videos for cancer patients and their supporters, a bit of writing on the two books I am working on and pondering with my wife on the nature of trustworthiness as a pillar foundation for a business.

I have 2 questions for you:

What does trustworthiness mean to you in business? ; and

Have you been to Giapo yet. Looks like a great day for it today.

 

Why Would You Want an Amazon Echo and Who Else is Listening


Amazon EchoHow do you feel about a device that is listening to everything that is being said in your home or office and is connected to the Internet? Especially in this age of cyber terrorism,  when we know that criminals already use tools like Facebook to target people with easy to steal and easy to sell assets.

How do you feel when Gmail bombards you with advertisements for products you have just bought or vacation location deals when you have just returned home from that place? Besides being a waste of time because you already have those things, it shows how Google (in return for giving you free email software and storage) has access to everything you write using their freeware.

So when Amazon had their massive sale on Prime Day, I thought about the Amazon Echo and wondered what I would do with it if I had one and why.

I very occasionally use Siri to save a reminder, a note, perhaps in the car to reduce the risk of having pen and paper in my hand when the lights change, or illegally using my phone because of the inherent risks, even at a traffic light. No joke, my wife has had 2 cars she was driving totalled, both while she was legally stationary at a red light. I’m not saying she could have avoided them, she couldn’t, but the people who hit our cars were certainly not paying attention.

So when I take Siri, and I have to admit it has improved in it’s ability to understand my Kiwi accent, the number of times I have said one thing and Siri has randomly rung a phone number for someone I had no desire to speak with and the fact that Siri has even randomly responded to a sound it heard, when I hadn’t even touched my phone is interesting.

I would love to have an automated home. When I got home last night from dinner in the freezing cold city it was around 6 degrees inside our house and I said to my wife how nice it would be if I could have turned on the heat pump via my phone. It has a timer, but we didn’t know when we would be home and I’m sure we could get an electrician to wire a remote switch into that circuit without having to buy a new heat pump, but I digress.

When everything I write makes a permanent footprint on the Internet and the supplier of that service has access to it all in order to ‘assist me’, I struggle with why I would want another device listening to everything I say.

Imagine living in a country like North Korea where you can be put in jail or worse for just saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, and then having a device that YOU PURCHASED providing access to every word that you said in the ‘privacy of your own home’.

Now I know that Amazon is not a spy agency, they can’t afford for this product to risk your privacy because if it did, they could go broke, but they do want to know what you are interested in and devices like these are supposed to be your personal digital assistant. I used to have an executive assistant in one of my jobs and she knew what I wanted or needed often before I did. It was awesome because I knew and trusted her. this device has to listen, even for the Alexa command to work, so technically it is listening to every word, even if in theory it is identifying most as not relevant.

The biggest issue for me with devices like this, which was also why I digressed a little with the heatpump, is that hacking or cyber crime is easy if you know how,or are prepared to pay someone to do it for you. Whether it is hacking someone’s wireless internal garage door or front door, checking Facebook to see who has a boat in the their back yard AND is on holiday overseas is really simple, because most people don’t know how to or don’t want privacy, because they don’t realise the risk.

I read a CBS story this morning about how some cheap Chinese mobiles are apparently surreptitiously sending information from the mobiles back to China using firmware that was in the phones from the factory.

You could say that Alexa can only be woken by people using the word Alexa, then it starts listening for instructions. So what is the first thing that is going to happen when you buy one of these devices? You’re going to tell your friends about it and show it off, so you are going to be using the word frequently and waking it up frequently and it will start listening.

For now I think I’d at least like to be able to use the fingerprint recognition on my phone and tap a button to turn on an appliance if I can’t be bothered standing up to do something like turn on a light. I am happy that I can have a wireless remote system with security algorithms to do that. I’m not sure I want Amazon or a hacker to be able to listen to everything said in my home and then using data mining tools to look for keywords or information that could be used by criminals, or by advertisers to send me more info I don’t want.

How about you?

 

Retailer Shuts Shop – Why Retailers Fail


I was sad to read a story in my local newspaper, North Shore Times about a Glenfield hardware store McPherson’s Hammer Hardware, which is going to close in a couple of months. Firstly I as going to share a link with you, but the aforementioned newspaper has a system that requires you sign up to their digital version if you want to share a story, and likewise, probably if you want to read from a link. I do not provide links for my readers to sites like that.

I used to live in Glenfield and visit this story and I remember asking them how they stay in business. The owner, John MacPherson told me it was about community, having those little things that the big stores make you buy in bulk, advice on how to do things, friendly service, remembering people’s names, the little things that come with community retail.

The newspaper story goes on to quote that he has probably hasn’t been making a profit for 6-7 years, but hung in there. He points out that the DIY super-stores and Internet have changed the game and that even the major stores/chains suffer from sluggish consumer spending.

He’s not wrong, but the key word is change. I love the world of retail, I used to have the privilege go to the NRF in New York and FMI Connect in Chicago and bring back ideas to write about in retail magazines, share with my resellers and speak about at conferences around the world. This was important because many of our retailers couldn’t afford to go to those conferences, but learning new ideas, particularly from people who have proven experience, is how business evolves.

It doesn’t really matter what business you are in, you have to evolve to meet the demands and opportunities presented as society evolves. As John said in the North Shore Times article, “In Glenfield we had a haberdashery (incorrectly spelled in the newspaper, I had to look it up to find out what it was), greengrocer, butcher, it was a great mix”. It went on to say they were boom times.

So here’s the thing, it is still boom times for those businesses that want to keep up with the times. The problem that retailers used to tell me was that they didn’t have time to keep up with the times. They were too busy starting early in the morning cleaning the shop, doing stock takes, placing and chasing orders, talking to merchandising reps, ringing customers to say their widget had arrived, preparing the float and a myriad of other things. In hindsight, those retailers, from John McPherson’s Hammer Hardware in Glenfield, through to Borders and other retailers should have found the time to look at how some businesses were thriving, while others weren’t.

When they went on their holidays, they could have combined them with visits to businesses and conferences that showed how some retailers were managing in the new world of mobile and tablet, of connected customers. They could have seen new products that aren’t available in NZ, they could have combined bricks and mortar with online themselves. I appreciate how hard it is to run a business, I have run several businesses over the years and worked in companies from small to multinational and the common thread is that those who looked ahead continue to do well, those who looked to their original training and just repeated what they had learned, which may have been best practice in the 70’s or whenever, will have done well for a while, but aren’t there any more.

People still want to have experiential retail, they still want to see and touch, ask questions, they even want to see people like John McPherson stick around and stay in business, but they can’t advise him on what to do to stay in business and get back into the black.It’s tough, but the time to get ahead in business is when you are ahead and you have the resources to go and do some training, bring in a consultant, go attend a conference. I used to speak regularly at retail conferences in New Zealand and what was really frustrating was that the people attending were those that needed it the least, because they were looking ahead and staying up with the times. The ones that needed it the most didn’t go, probably didn’t read the specialist trade magazines, ask their suppliers for knowledge or go to the trade shows. They were too busy. Now they are either out of business or heading out. Is it too late, not necessarily, but it will be much harder, even to change the mindset. When things get tough, many go even farther back into doing what they used to do, even doing it harder. That’s not the answer.

Back when business was booming for people like John McPherson, Bob Dylan was singing The Times They are a Changing. He was so right. “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.” Listen to the lyrics, they are prophetic. But this is no different to 200 year ago. The times are always changing.

We are still buying all the things we used to buy and more. Some business models have been and gone, but others are growing in a big way. We are still a DIY country, that’s why we have the mega stores, but there is still room for specialists, room to be a community and have community involvement in business, there are so many opportunities. Whether it is classes at the back of the store teaching people how to do things, or a new section selling 3D printers and teaching kids how to make things, using location based mobile services to find people who are looking for what you have, supplementing your business by selling items you can’t afford to stock, online.

I’ll finish with a question. Why is it that I can buy a set of my favorite guitar strings online from a retailer in the USA, 75% cheaper than the same product in New Zealand? The local retailer will say that’s because the guy in the USA doesn’t have a shop to run. But the fact is they do, Elderly Instruments has a bricks and mortar store in Lansing, Michigan, they have bands playing in it, they have workshops for musicians, they just supplement that with online sales. I recently contacted them because I couldn’t get help from local retailers to fix a broken part on my Dobro. I had personal emails, just the same service that John provides in his hardware store and I’ve managed to repair it myself with the parts they sold me. Doing business with them was so easy. If I lived in Michigan, I would go and by from their store and I’d even be prepared to pay a little more, heck I’d buy more anyway just because I like doing business with them and they like what they do and know what they are talking about.

So I’ll finish on a saying that is one that has killed many a good retail business. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Have a look around you right now and ask yourself how many of the things you take for granted would be there if everyone had said that back in 1970, let alone 1870?

Martin Fenwick Should be Gruntled Right Now


Last week I had the privilege of attending a training program run by Martin Fenwick, author of The Change Factor: Insights For Leaders of Change. As a subscriber of my blogs including SoLoMo Consulting and The Future Diaries, you will know that change has been a major motivating factor in my life as a futurist, right back to the promise made to me and my contemporaries, that my problem in the future would be what to do with my spare time, as automation took care  of the majority of our human workloads.

BORDER-CLOSEDChangeI am passionate about change and the need for traditional businesses to embrace and create change, less it be foisted on them by a competing business model. Some examples of my thoughts on the book industry that you may have previously read are here.

Anyway, I am also passionate about languages and particularly the English language, whether it is new TXT language which can have me ROFLMAO, grokking people or in this case we were wondering if there was a word gruntled, being the opposite of dis-gruntled. One of my colleagues checked on her iPhone and sure enough, there is such a word and it is in all the dictionaries.

I was interested to read on Merriam-Webster that it was first known to be used in 1926. I thought it would have gone back way farther. Never mind. The conversation went on to influence and we thought it would be interesting if we could get other people using it. I, typically suggested that I would see if I could spread it’s use with a #hashtag, which I have duly started doing. So if you look for #gruntled it is likely to stem back to a tweet or a Facebook post from me, which was motivated by the training session with Martin Fenwick.

Why bother? Why do people do flash-mobs or climb mountains? Because it can be fun and interesting. One of the things that really interests me and that I frequently research is fads and trends. How do they start? How are people influenced? What makes some things work and others not? How can you get people to do things that are good for the community (such as pay attention to recommendations about real time traffic and helping avoid congestion).

So here’s your task. Leave a comment or post a tweet with the hashtag #gruntled. RT or share this post and lets see if we can’t get people using the word. It could be a great conversation starter for you. I’m feeling gruntled today, how about you? If you think it’s a cool idea, tell him so on Twitter. Let him know you’re pretty gruntled about it.

Does Your Business Have CIPA? (Read Time 82 Seconds)


I’m just finishing the book Socialized by Mark Fidelman. It is one of the better books I have read of late about harnessing social media. Many of these books date very quickly, but the information in this 2012 book is still very relevant and I recommend you read a copy.

Socialized-book-coverTowards the end Mark relates the story of a girl who suffers from Congenital Insensitivity to Pain, aka CIPA. It was an analogy to businesses who are heading down the gurgler at a rate of knots and don’t even realize it. Those of you who read my blogs will know about how frustrated I was to see Borders self implode, when they didn’t need to. As I mentioned earlier this week, many businesses are being hurt but not realizing it, or not knowing what to do about it. It’s that frog in the pot of simmering water. We all know the story, but many of us are sitting in that pot, enjoying the warmth and then getting severely cooked.

In my experience, it is people who aren’t institutionalized in your business who you need to talk to. If it’s not consultants like myself, at least talk to your customers, the ones you have left. Ask them why they come to your business. What is it that drew them in and how can you give them what they want and stay profitable?. I had loads of answers for the book industry, but they ‘knew what they were doing”. They focused on best sellers, general merchandise goodies and even fluffy toys. The questions you need to ask have to be qualitative, don’t give them choices you think they should answer, have conversations with them. Or get out quick and sell your business to someone while it still has some value. I still maintain if I had been on the management team or board of Borders in NZ, they wouldn’t have floundered, they would have risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of the past and their stores would be full of people, in many cases still buying paper. BORDER-CLOSED

Do does your business have CIPA? Are your margins declining, is your stock-turn going down? Are people buying similar products online instead of from you? Are your customers slowly churning to other sources or evolutions of the goods and services you offer? What have you done to future proof your business? As I said in my other blog earlier this week, people are reading more, listening to more music and taking more photos daily than ever before.

Got any questions? Feel free to leave them as comments and maybe we can have a discussion about this.