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By Tom Demerly.

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I survived the collapse of Detroit, the Middle East after 9/11 and watched East Germans through binoculars while dodging spies. I’ve never had a sense of looming change like California. The ground beneath your feet is unstable, and it’s not just geology.

California is ruled by silent fear. The culture is collectively grasping the dead image of the California dream.

It must be similar to sailing on the RMS Titanic in 1912 or being on Wall Street on 9/10. Everything seems fine, but there is a tectonic uneasiness. Consider that both the Titanic tragedy and the 9/11 attacks happened by the slightest of circumstances. California is vulnerable to a similar flutter of the butterfly’s wings. It is a culture perched on the fulcrum of the American dream, or nightmare. It can so easily go either way.

I lived in Mission Viejo, California for a year. The neighborhood was idyllic with soaring palms, manicured landscaping, and artificial lakes. Traffic jams of BMW’s delivered perfectly coiffed teenagers to the local high school in what looked like a cattle call for an Abercrombie catalog shoot. If nothing else, Californians are beautiful.

When I arrived in California I walked around a corner to discover two 40-ish females hefting their breasts in comparison. “Oh!” The woman remarked when she noticed me, “We’re sorry… we just got these.” Californians eat natural foods but have artificial breasts. They are afraid of the inevitability of aging and spend enormous amounts in a losing battle to avoid it. There is a cultural aversion to dressing your age in California.

California is crowded. So crowded that I lived inside a massive, sprawling strip mall. The expanse of strip malls is like a skin-eating disease on the terrain. The lesions have connected with each other across the tissue of the landscape to engulf the corporate housing boxes of consumers. We were caged there between purchases and labor shifts.  It resembled an above ground ant nest with nice landscaping. The ants drove Benzs instead of following scent trails.

My cell between the strip malls in California had 2 windows, 2 rooms and cost about $1600 a month. Now I live in a house with 17 windows, 9 rooms and it is $800 a month. I also have a massive yard. In California I slept with my head 9 feet from the front bumpers of cars parked outside. And their constantly bleating alarms. I did have a nice pool though.

Southern California is fragile. One morning on my five-mile commute to work a traffic light went out. One traffic light. The ripple effect throughout Orange County was bizarre. Nearly the entire distance of my five-mile route was delayed or stopped because of one traffic light failure. One. What would happen if there were power failures here like the East Coast power failure of 2003?

California works (now) because of a little known but real principle of space management called the “chicken coop” theory: When there are too many chickens in the coop to all sit on the floor at once you must continually bang on the side of the coop to keep some chickens in the air. The result is an unsustainable society of increasingly collective fatigue. If every Californian had to drive somewhere at once the roads could not handle the number of vehicles. If too many Californians flush their toilets at once…

You may ask, “What about the authentic surf culture? The liberal, progressive attitude and the tolerant society?” Those are the depictions of California we see in themed mall stores, music videos and media. The reality has shifted to an industry of depicting those things. Instead of being California, California is in the business of selling California to the rest of the world, or at least what they think California is. Or was.

What was most embarrassing is that many Californians were very up-tight about being laid-back. They were incapable of poking fun at themselves. When they made fun of me for calling a carbonated beverage “pop” I would reply, “Sorry dude, it’s totally soda man, that was so lame of me…” they would stare at me blankly, as if I had just taken the laid back Dude-God’s name in vein. The reality is that the California surfer dude is simply a hillbilly with a trust fund. Sorry to totally harsh on your scene dudes.

Mostly, Californians are lonely and afraid, and I was one of them. I asked a close friend who was moving if he needed help. He said, in all seriousness, “I don’t want you to help me because you might need me to help you.” That was California in a nutshell.

I went to the same pretty little check out girl at the grocery store every time for a year. The last week I lived there the girl asked, “Why do you always come through my line?”

“I think you are pretty.” I told her. She told me she was taking her break at six and asked if I wanted to have coffee with her next door at Starbucks.

“No,” I said. “I am moving back to Detroit tomorrow.”

By Tom Demerly.ap_twinkies_comeback_jt_130623_wgOwn it.

Before you can change it, you have to own it. Owning your failures is the first part in not repeating them. Understand that owning your failures may be different from fixing them. Some failures can’t be fixed, they can only be owned. The difference is taking a hard look in the mirror and understanding what you did to fail in the first place so you never repeat it. Making excuses and blaming others doesn’t work.

Dissect it.

Once you own your failure you can examine it in a forensic manner. What did you do wrong? Hindsight is 20/20. A detailed accounting of what got you into failure is the second step in climbing out of it and, most importantly, avoiding it again.

One warning: Avoid the paralysis of analysis. Once you dissect your failure and own it you must have control over it. It can’t own you through fear. The perspective of friends and associates can help with this. Understand what things are inside your “sphere of influence” (Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People) and what lies outside it. Control what you can control and let the rest go.

Get to Work.

There is only one way back from failure: Hard work. This means work without pay, work without sleep, work without adequate food, work without convenient transportation and work without the things that make work easy. It’s just ditch digging. You may need to work in an austere environment and not make excuses while doing it. Accept that. In fact, embrace it. This is the filter through which you must pass to achieve success again and the reason why few people do. They simply aren’t tough enough.

No excuses, no shortcuts. Hard work, measured risk and good decisions led to the only American to ever win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond's, spectacular victory in 1989.

No excuses, no shortcuts. Hard work, measured risk and good decisions led to the only American to ever win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond’s, spectacular victory in 1989.

Except in dire need (such as feeding children), avoid government social programs to assist you. They are time consuming to apply for and laden with bureaucracy. You are better served working a minimum wage job. This is part of the axiom in any survival situation that following the crowd will make you a refuge. Refuges don’t have control of their future. They are victims. The real danger of reliance on social programs is that once you get on them it could be hard to get off.

Don’t Compare Your Situation to Others.

When you own your situation you don’t look at other people and feel sorry for yourself. Instead, you celebrate the successes of others and take inspiration and hope from them. They are a source of strength. Be focused on your own life and goals. Don’t permit distractions. Maintain a “glass half full” mentality that author Stephen Covey called the “abundance mentality”.

Network.

While it’s tempting to crawl into a hole and hide when you fail, resist that temptation. Instead, show others how proactive and vigorous you are. Instead of just asking for help, ask to help them. You always have something to offer even if it is shoveling snow or listening to someone’s problems. Helping others boosts your self worth and keeps you positive. Remember that no job is beneath you. Even if you were the owner of a million dollar company and you land a job cleaning toilets treat those toilets as your business and a reflection of yourself. Make them the cleanest, best toilets you know how and find ways to improve on that. Always strive. Never settle.

By Tom Demerly.

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Thursday, 12 December, 2013. Addendum to this Story: 

On Thursday, December 12 Specialized Bicycles Founder Mike Sinyard traveled to Cafe Roubaix Bicycles to delivery a personal apology and retraction of legal threats against the retailer.  Read the complete story here.

 

 

Saturday, 7 December, 2013.

Bicycle mega-brand Specialized created controversy today when news of legal threats against a small, Canadian veteran-owned bicycle retailer surfaced in the Calgary Herald newspaper. The story reports that Specialized Bicycles has threatened legal action against Dan Richter, owner of Cafe Roubaix Bicycle Studio, for using the word “Roubaix” in the name of his business. “Roubaix” is a widely recognized word in cycling usage from the famous spring classic bicycle race, Paris-Roubaix. Specialized Bicycles also has a series of bicycles named Roubaix for which they own some naming rights.

The story has gained inertia on social media sites Facebook and Twitter, with thousands of views and an expanding number of “shares” and “retweets”. Comments on social media paint the picture of a bully corporation wielding legal might against a largely defenseless small retailer.

Social media users have created images critical of Specialized Bicycles' heavy threat of litigation against small retailer Dan Richter.

Social media users have created images critical of Specialized Bicycles’ threat of litigation against small retailer Dan Richter.

Public relations problems are common among large brands. Every major brand including Coca-Cola, Exxon, Wal-Mart, General Motors, Firestone Tire, Apple and others have had them. What determines the level of change in consumer perception following the initial incident is how the company responds to the situation.

Taking lessons from government and corporate management of public relations disasters Specialized has an opportunity to not only recover from this incident, but actually benefit from it. Here’s how:

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Dan Richter of Cafe Roubaix Bicycle Studio in Cochrane, Canada. PHOTO from Facebook posts: Taken by Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald

1. Specialized needs a 24/7 disaster response team. 

Social media is a 24-hour job. Someone always has to be on duty, standing the walls of media outlets and conducting surveillance of media for early warning of impending disasters. This is especially important on weekends and at night in relevant time zones when social media is moving quickly. The Specialized Bicycles story achieved a transmission velocity across social media of hundreds of shares per hour when it began.

2. Specialized needs to own it. 

Specialized Bicycles is a truly great brand with a history of supporting dealers. What happened in Calgary could be termed an “accident”. Specialized needs to take full and unqualified responsibility. They need to use words like “mistake” and “error” in their press releases. There should be no qualifiers, no adjectives, no “reducing language”. The public needs to see them fall heavily and completely on their sword.

3. Specialized should apologize. 

Corporate apologies need to be succinct and clear: “We apologize for our error and for the damage we inflicted upon Cafe’ Roubaix Bicycle Studio and for the difficulties we caused for their owner, Mr. Dan Richter.” Again, no qualifiers, no backpedaling. They need to offer a clear and unqualified, one sentence apology.

4. Specialized needs to show tangible reparations for the mistake.

The check book needs to come out. Specialized needs to re-win the hearts and minds of the cycling public with genuine (read: monetary) actions to “right the wrong”. This includes to the dealer affected and to the local cycling community. Given how quickly this story spread a few free bikes to the local junior cycling team, some cash to local event promoters and a very large “care package” of Specialized Bicycles and accessories to Dan Ricther and Cafe’ Roubaix Bicycle Studio is the start.

5. Specialized needs to work back channels and mainstream media to leverage the story of their damage control and ownership of the problem. 

This is when Specialized needs to call in media favors from all the publications and editors they have supported by issuing timely (under 24 hours) press releases to media about how they owned and fixed the problem. This needs to include the original “victim”, Dan Richter and Specialized. A photo of Richter and Specialized CEO Mike Sinyard or a top brass Specialized Sales Manager shaking hands in front of a row of free Specialized Roubaix’s going to the local cycling club needs to hit social media hard and fast before people forget.

6. Specialized needs to follow up.

This is an opportunity for Specialized to leverage their loyalty to dealers. When they step up and do the right thing the example can be used as branding and sales capital for all their dealers to increase floor space and market share. Sales reps can point to Specialized’s prompt and complete response, reminding their dealers that, “No other bike company acts as quickly or in more complete support of their dealers.” If Specialized manages this incident proactively and wisely it can be converted from a marketing problem to a marketing opportunity.

By Tom Demerly.

20100617_poverty_33  Is our lower class truly poor? Or, is there a cultural shift in expectations that create a conspicuously affluent, but fundamentally impoverished lower class?

The answer points to an important idea: We need to re-orient our society to value education, initiative and personal responsibility and de-emphasize conspicuous consumption and government support of basic necessities.

The United States is in an accelerating crisis that is creating more economic distance between an affluent upper class and a growing “lower class”.

Consider these oddly disparate statistics:

  • 88% of Americans own a cell phone, with 56% owning a smart phone.[i]
  • “Nearly 90% of Americans now own a computer, MP3 player, game console, e-book reader, cell phone, or tablet computer.”[ii]
  • “95% of Americans own a car…”[iii]
  • 15.4% of people in the U.S. were uninsured [in 2012].[iv]
  • “75% of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover their bills for six months.”[v]

Our lower class is often measured by income and employment statistics. But is our lower class truly poor? Or, is a part of the current crisis a cultural shift in expectations that create a conspicuously affluent but fundamentally impoverished lower class? Does a portion of our lower class spend money on the wrong things? And, if so, how could that change?

There is an argument that the U.S. has the richest- and most underemployed- lower class in the world. Our lower class has privately owned cars, cell phones and non-utilitarian clothing but lacks education, savings and healthcare. They have some of the icing but little of the cake. As a result our society must prop up the foundation of personal financial responsibility by subsidizing necessities like food, medical care, housing, education and retirement.

By contrast Forbes reports that China’s personal savings rate is the highest in the world.[vi] One reason, according to both Forbes and the BBC, is that China subsidizes few truly useful social programs. The Chinese must fund their own retirement. China does not yet have national social security legislation.[vii] And despite numerous other Chinese social programs the emerging Chinese middle class and larger, accelerating lower class still feel the need to save money for a rainy day according to one BBC report.

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On the back of a manufacturing economy bolstered by consumers in the west, Chinese are saving more money than any nation while Americans are saving less.

This is ominous as it puts the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage to China in the economic sector. This also increases U.S. social reliance on government administration of vital programs, a paradigm that has significant risk given the federal government’s weak balance sheet. In short, it weakens our country, not only exclusively, but more dramatically in comparison to our global economic competitors.

“The Affordable Care Act doesn’t provide health care for the poor; it provides financial care for the healthcare industry.”

An additional concern about our current social and governmental direction is that programs like the Affordable Care Act don’t provide health care for the poor; it provides financial care for the healthcare industry. Unlike the federal government’s bailout of the auto industry in 2008-10 there is little provision for a return on investment or any remuneration from the ACA. Its current configuration requires the costs of administration but little revenue stream for administrators. The government becomes a billing agent for private healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

We need to change the direction of America toward valuing the things we’ve discounted over these previous two decades; access to education, quality of education, valuing teachers as pivotal contributors to our nation’s future. We need to teach and reward personal responsibility and initiative. Wealth is not measured by possessions but by capability, output and income.

By Tom Demerly.

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Random Notes and Key Things I’ve learned so Far:

1. Life:

  • Friends and community are more important than we realize. Much more.
  • My Mom was right; travel really is the most opulent luxury.
  • I am not like other people. When I try to be, I am sad and look foolish.
  • Be gentle with people- both people who are kind and people who are mean to you.
  • You will have enemies. Don’t let it bother you. If you weren’t trying, you wouldn’t be making some people mad.
  • Most people who don’t like you envy your courage and are afraid themselves.
  • Be understanding of those people, their fears are real to them.
  • Difficulty can make you a better person if you decide to let it.
  • One of the smartest people I ever met, my friend Kim, told me “successful people are usually just the last to give up.” She is right.
  • It’s true. You will fail.
  • Failure sucks.
  • Not trying is worse than failure.
  • Try again.
  • Never stop learning, never lose the “beginner’s mind”.
  • If you know you are right about something and try to convince someone, but their own beliefs prevent them from listening, don’t force it. Let them be.
  • Make good choices but do make choices. Don’t be paralyzed by indecision.
  • You think you are the only person suffering when you suffer. You aren’t.
  • You can learn a lot about a person by how they treat animals and children.
  • Two key quotes:
    • “We each create our own reality” Arthur C. Clarke.
    • “Between stimulus and response is our greatest freedom; choice.” Steven Covey.

2. Love:

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  • You are lucky if you have one true love, you will also likely lose them, but you are always better for having had them.
  • Always treasure the people who have brought true love and beauty into your life. Be a respectful friend to them forever. Revel in their new relationships and happiness. Stay friends with them unless they are cruel to you, in which case, just let them be.
  • When you truly love someone the thing you want most is for her to be happy and safe. You want that more than your selfish desire for them.
  • Have the courage to walk away from a relationship that is bad and never look back. Never be afraid to be alone.
  • It is better to be in a good relationship with yourself than a rotten one with some one else.
  • Great sex is about way more than the physical act.
  • Take a good, close look at her; she is more beautiful than you (and she) realize.
  • Beauty has almost nothing to do with looks.
  • The greatest luxury in a relationship is staying in it simply because you want to be there, no other reason.

3. The Military and Conflict:

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  • Never underestimate the human capacity for cruelty. People are the most dangerous animals.
  • There are three important truisms in the military; 1. Your training will keep you alive. 2. In the military world, your comrades are your first priority. 3. When your enemy is subdued, treat them with dignity and humanity.
  • Train relentlessly and realistically. Your training will save your life and insure the success of your mission.
  • Do not dwell on the awful things you’ve been through. Hold them at arms’ length, let them go, forgive them and yourself.
  • If you live in a safe place, protect that. It is rare on this earth.
  • Learn the skills of war, hold them as precious, but do not flaunt them or revel in them. They are an ugly but necessary set of tools.
  • When an enemy dies, do not celebrate. Instead, pray for them and ask forgiveness.
  • The least painful way to learn is from history. History is a free lesson, a way to learn from the suffering and loss of previous men. Never stop learning, studying and analyzing history; its cost was high but it is free to keep.
  • Be kind and respectful of people who have a disdain for the military.
  • Being a soldier, a guardian of peace, is one of life’s highest honors.
  • Wars fought over money, resources, politics and territory can be resolved. Wars over religion never end until one side is completely annihilated and their history erased.

4. Business and Money:

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  • See: “War and Conflict” above.
  • The Arabic proverb, “Do business as strangers, socialize as brothers” is good.
  • Pride has no place in business.
  • Trust that if you do a good job and devote yourself, you will be successful.
  • Even when (not if) you fail, if you have done the above, you have a basis for a new beginning.
  • Don’t try to bend the rules; it will bite you in the ass.
  • Your ass is going to have some tooth marks.
  • Pay yourself last.
  • Treat your employees well. Pay them first. Protect and honor them.
  • Respecting your employees as important human beings is as important as paying them, sometimes more so.
  • A harsh reality is that money does buy happiness. You can use it to help other people, keep yourself safe and healthy, travel and help animals. In the human world money is security.
  • Don’t trust banks. They are a business, a necessary tool.
  • Don’t be mean to or distrust the government or the IRS. They are people trying to do a difficult and unpopular job with few resources and huge bureaucracy. Be empathetic toward them.
  • The smarter you are the more successful you will be.
  • Learn from your mistakes. You’ll pay for them, you may as well use them.
  • Every dollar has 100 cents in it.
  • Every business is a nickel and dime business. There are no “small” losses.
  • Treat every day as your first day in business, and remember it could also be your last.
  • Failure always arrives before you think it will and is always a surprise.
  • In retrospect, failure and success both seem obvious.
  • Always call your customers “Sir” and “Ma’am”. It sets and maintains the tone of the customer/business relationship. It says you are doing business.
  • Save more money than you think you will ever need. Money is a tool.