Friday, November 28, 2008

GM\'s Chevrolet Volt

GM's Chevrolet Volt

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Another Example of Social Marketing: "Do It Now"

Consumer confidence at an all time low. The financial markets floundering. House prices headed the wrong way.

Fear is in the air and it does not smell good.

The paralysis of the individual is the belief that one small effort will have no major impact. I beg to differ.

And I did something small today. Via facebook. Check it out:

Over the next few weeks I will provide updates on how this 'experiment' is progressing.

Social Marketing: Daily Challenge

Marketing is about connecting. What you do after you have established the relationship forms the basis of your success. Here is an organization that has started with a simple idea: a daily challenge to do something good. I have met them. They represent a sincere effort in applying their talents to growing this site. Check them out to see how simple it is to start with a good idea and grow from there:

How it started

I actually hated running. Probably down deep, still do. Obsessed now after over 25 years. But in my mid-20’s weighing in at 225 lbs with a 42” waist and with health issues beginning to develop, I had to do something.

So I pulled out a pair of beat up sneakers. Found an old pair of sweat pants…wasn’t hard, that was my usual at-home look. Paired that with a hooded sweater over multiple t-shirts. Wasn’t cold, but with the hood up I didn’t want to be recognized as I plodded through the neighbourhood. At night.

With all the na├»ve optimism I could muster, I kissed the kids goodnight and headed out for my very first ‘long’ run.

Started well enough down the driveway. And thankfully the route I chose for that first run was downhill. This was not going to be so bad after all.

Until I ran out of breath. About 100 yards into my ‘long run’. Had to stop. Bent over. Gasping for breath. Dam!

Walked for a while. Breathing back to normal. Started running again. Shuffling actually. I was not going to be beaten.

Didn’t make it another 100 yards. Lungs about to explode out of my chest. Stopped again. Desperately wanted to sit down this time.

“This is a DUMB idea”.

Only kept going because if I quit then and returned home, it was going to be tough to explain this 5 minute ‘long run’.

With a combination of shuffling and walking I actually made it around my planned circle route back to the house. Sprinted…OK, shuffled faster…up the hill back to the house. Yes the one that I had so confidently headed down on the start of my first run.

Went straight to the basement to change out of the completely soaked sweats. In pain. Second day pain much worse. Didn’t go out again for a week.

Stuck with it though. Stop and start, days on, weeks off. Finally stuck when I went clothes shopping and realized I had dropped to a 38” waist. It was working!

After that it was 5 days on, 2 off.

And then the need to compete hit…

Running to stay alive

Not actually the same as Forest Gump running around the continent. I run in smaller circles.

Began running in my late 20’s. Started after I saw the scales hit 225 lbs.

Dam, I was fat!

42” waist on a 5’ 10” frame. Yuck. Did not like the self-image one bit. Knew I had to do something to ‘fix’ this. Decided on running.

That’s the quick background. I plan to share my running stories on this blog. Runs in cities, towns and country trails across the US and Canada and around the world. 10k’s: personal best achieved at age 32. My marathon: never actually finished it. Ultimately Triathlons: the best experience.

Lost the weight. Kept it off. Significantly slowed the onset of health issues.

Perhaps most importantly, learned more about myself, and how to cope with the challenges in life. Got me through the tough times.

I hope you enjoy them and share back.

The Gremlin

Can’t remember what year it was. Or the colour. Looking back, it doesn’t matter. It belonged to a good friend and it gave us freedom.

It was not stock!

First the exterior. Beginning at the rear. A lifter kit plus heavy-duty shocks raised the rear about 6 inches. Large oversize tires on aluminum rims were installed to give it that ‘jacked up’ look that was the rage at that time. At the front, smaller tires on similar rims replaced the stock tire/wheel combination.

The hood. Gigantic hole cut through the hood to allow for a ‘shaker scoop’. Big scoop. Blocked some forward visibility.

Side pipes. I know, I know. We disconnected the standard exhaust system from the manifold back. Installed headers and a ‘Y’ splitter to divert the exhaust to humongous side pipes below each door. Careful exiting. We never could get them sealed properly so the noise was tremendous.

The interior. Fur on the dash! It was the rage at that time. Seat covers in a similar shaggy material over the split bench seat. New shifter for the 3-speed manual transmission. No fuzzy dice…that would have been overkill.

Sound system. New aftermarket AM/FM cassette player jimmied into the dash in the hole where the factory system had been. Big speakers mounted in the rear.

The driving experience. Once inside and buckled in…and after you got over the serious downward slant of the seating position combined with the reduced forward visibility…driving the thing was actually relatively pleasant.

In a straight line.

With virtually no weight over the rear combined with the big tires, lighting them up from a stop was easy. Once hooked up, second gear came up quickly. No tach so engine sound the only guide to shifting. But you only had to do it twice.

It was not good in the twisties.

Tail happy. Never a problem to get it to step out around city streets at legal speeds. Basically you just needed to head into a corner, brake early, shift down and trounce on the gas pedal half way through the corner. The combination of tire and engine noise through a relatively easy-to-control slide was worth the price of admission.

We were young and foolish once…

'All New' Mangled Sayings

With thanks to the person who sent these to me, below are some excellent sayings that you can add to your vocabulary immediately. Have fun!

Sitting round in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.

A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything, and then leaves.

The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die.

An office filled with cubicles.

When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.

Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids or start a "home business".

Single income, no boyfriend and desperate.

The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get itto work again.

The rarefied organisational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the "adminisphere" are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve. This is often affiliated with the dreaded "administrivia" - needless paperwork and processes.

Someone who's clueless. From the World Wide Web error message "404 Not Found" meaning that the requested document could not be located.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The real reason a Big Three bailout is a bad idea

The real reason a Big Three bailout is a bad idea

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69 Valiant

I had made it through three years of post secondary in Kitchener without a car. But now with the opportunity to grab a great job in Guelph, I needed a car. But with two years of school to go, buying it and affording the ongoing expenses was going to be a challenge.

First, I established my budget: $500. Cash.

Second, find a car that at that price that wouldn’t embarrass me. Although I was prepared to sacrifice that based on my low budget.

Third, find a reliable car. Failing that, one that I could keep on the road as cheaply as possible.

The search began in earnest. Visited used car lots. Looked at cars that dripped fluids. Drove ones that pulled to the left. And to the right. Looked under hoods. Inside trunks and doorframes. Under carpets.

Saw a lot of clunkers.

After an exhaustive search…actually about 3 weeks…finally found it. A 1969 Valiant. Cream. Slant 6. Bench seats. AM Radio. Clean. No visible rust. Nothing dripping. Owner claimed it had been serviced regularly and only driven by his wife to the grocery store. Believed him although the mileage was suspect.

Drove it around the block once and deemed it to be in ‘perfect condition’. Asked $750 certified. Got it for $500 without the safety. Cash. No receipt. Drove it home that night. Oh, yes, I completed this transaction under cover of night!

But I was thrilled. My first car. I had stayed within budget and had found a car that was not too embarrassing to be seen in. Reliability was promised but yet to-be-determined.

The driving experience: once up to highway speed, the ride was actually relatively smooth and it generally went in the direction it was pointed. Rear leaf springs and non-power, non rack-and-pinion steering will do that.

Reliability: after a couple of weeks, found out that a couple of cans of 10W30 once a month kept the engine alive. It didn’t leak; it burned oil.

That car lasted over two years driving back and forth to Toronto, Guelph of course, and all parts of Southern Ontario. Survived a full three sixty at midnight in January on Highway 7 on my way to Guelph.

When its time was finally up, after a seized cylinder killed the engine, I managed to sell it for $125 cash.

Loved that car.

Chapter 20: “Expand the bullseye”

The antithesis of focusing on hitting the target is summed up in this. Whiff of desperation in the air. “We sell to a broad market” is another way to couch this conversation. Run for the exit when you hear this uttered. It is not possible to be all things to all people. Both your staff and customers must know what you stand for.

Chapter 19: “If you are drowning in four feet of water and come up two feet, you are still drowning”

If it is possible to actually enjoy the humour that is often inadvertently present in a business meeting, then this line probably sums it up. In fact, my wife often reminds me to think about the stock market gyrations when the market has been down for some time and the media reports, “stock market gained 100 points today”. Lost in that story is that the gain remains significantly below the overall market loss. And what everyone really wants to know is when is my portfolio going to start gaining in value once again?; when am I going to get to retire? So unless you have the ability to breath under water, the best solution is to hold your breath.

Chapter 18: “The Puzzle Palace”

This is the place you go to have all your questions answered. It is a house of worship. It is a mindset. It is simply it.

As you may have guessed, this is the response to being overwhelmed by facts and figures; by charts and graphs. Meeting after meeting the latest interpretation of the endless reams or research and data is trotted out to explain the … continued sales decline and market share loss. Selling less, but with more information, market segmentation, integrated tactics and overall analysis. Whew! “Now explain for me again how any of this will actually reverse the sales decline?”

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chapter 17: “Now we are getting into theory”

The real silver bullet has been found! Now, if only I had found out the information that I really needed before the sales curve had fallen off the chart. And I really liked that job: lots of meetings to fill the day. No actual work: “Sorry I missed your call…I am in meetings all day today…but leave a message and I will get back to you before the end of the day”. What day??? Thankfully there is Voice mail. Old school I know, but you can say you ‘spoke to the person” and not have lied too much.

The theory of the theory is that you never have to actually state what the theory actually is. The theory is the theory. It is not real. It is an opinion. It cannot be proven. It is often wrong. No right-minded person would actually believe that “that” theory actually made any sense. In fact, the person who uttered the theory must have lived in “the ivory tower” for much too long. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

Chapter 15: “Process check”

If I see one more presentation with a flowchart that attempts to tell me that all I have to do to succeed in this world is check on the process of my work, I am going to throw up. In my world the best check that the process that you are using is actually working is results: if it works, keep doing it. Now THAT is a process check!

Chapter 16 “I need the information to figure out what I need”

Ah, the silver bullet. Let’s see how this works. I need something. So lets get some information. Then, once I have the information, I won’t actually have the answer. What I will have are more questions that will of course need more information. Which will need us to do more research. That will require more analysis. And of course, more charts and graphs. Then we will have to have more meetings to discuss the results of the findings and the implications of the information. Which will lead us to making decisions that we will make as a team because as we all know, we need to reach a consensus…ahhh…where was I?

65 Mini

Mom called it her Mini Minor. Red with a black roof. Right hand drive (brought from England). Stick shift of course in the classic ‘H’ pattern. Sliding front windows. 13” wheels. Can’t remember if it had a radio, but I do remember the large round dial in the center of the dash. Didn’t have headrests and don’t ask about seatbelts. Air conditioning? Slide the windows open.

This was Mom’s car. She liked small cars and loved tossing it around the curves. Felt like a go cart even though power was ‘well under’ 90 hp.

My job on the weekend was to wash and clean the Mini. Something that I eagerly looked forward to each Saturday morning.

At the time we had a single car driveway on a steep incline with a wrought iron gate at the bottom of the driveway. The Mini lived under the car port beside the house. Dad parked his car immediately behind when he arrived home.

This particular Saturday morning Dad had to go out for the morning so he backed the Mini down the driveway for me to do my chores. As usual, he left it in gear (reverse) and engaged the parking brake. And of course his final instructions to get Mom to drive it back up the driveway once I had finished. The unspoken was that I was NOT to drive it.

Bright sunny morning. Dad away. Mom busy. Chores complete. Time for my first drive. Not so good at listening to advice at that age. After all, I had ridden shotgun long enough to know that you had to engage the clutch to shift gears.

Did I mention that it was a steep driveway? With a closed iron gate at the bottom?

I slipped behind the wheel. Confidently grasped the wheel with my right hand. Engaged the clutch. Released the handbrake. Surprise, surprise…the Mini started rolling down the driveway. And with me being all of 10 years old at the time, not having a clue about how to stop it.

The resulting damage to the car and the iron gate was relatively minor. The damage to my ego much larger. The punishment was grounding for the balance of the weekend, but I swear I saw a small smile on Dad’s face.

Never did get the ignition started for my first drive. And Dad never repaired the damage to either the car or the gate.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I have died and gone to Heaven

It never ceases to amaze me how deeply I am immersed into car culture. The excitement car business can be rekindled with just one simple experience. Mine happened on February 14, 2008 when I attended the VIP night at the Toronto auto show.

After wandering rather aimlessly for about an hour, sampling the hors d’oeuvres tables washed down with a couple (OK, more than 3) cocktails (Vodka tonics, lemon) chatting up a number of old friends, I found myself in front of the Ferarri stand. With low expectations. Although the entry was open, it was clear that unless you were a VVIP (sports star, media celebrity, very rich guy), the closest you could get was a safe 10 feet from the 430 Scuderia.

Some background. From my first words at age three (“Opel Kadet”…my dad was driving a very cool 2 door coupe from Germany) I moved very quickly to master the word, “Ferrari”. I collect models, I have built models, and I follow the ups and downs of the Ferrari team in Formula One. I enjoyed the driving of Gilles Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher and even Felipe Massa. I have enjoyed the watching various 430 models race at Mosport. However, I have never been closer to an actual car than 10 feet. Tonight however was to be different. (maybe it was the suit…good advice from my wife).
Man behind the rail says to me, “Want to get closer?” Didn’t have to ask twice. I had just met Saint Peter and he said I had been a good boy.

Peter (not his real name of course) turned out to be the Dealer principal from a dealership in Alberta. He was a Ferrari fanatic. We talked about the copious amount of carbon fiber in the car and the serious de-contenting that helped make it faster. We talked about the speed of the shift…seriously fast! We talked about how Ferrari was more concerned about the security of this car than the Schumacher F1 that was at his dealership in Alberta. We talked and talked and it was clear under the watchful eye of the other Ferrari officials that I could not actually touch the car.

And then the magic. In a low conspiratorial voice he very casually mentioned that if I was very, very careful, I could sit in it.

Let that sink in a minute. Only 5 destined for Canada. More expensive than my house. 2 feet away. And I was going to get to sit in it. I was going to be the guy who got behind the velvet rope.

The actual experience is nearly impossible to describe. And no less vivid some months later. This must be what it feels like to be in a fighter jet. Purely functional. Not an ounce of frivolity or waste anywhere. Everything exactly where you would expect it to be. For a car with no extras, the seat fit perfectly, the steering wheel fell to hand, the instrument panel directly in the line of sight. Beyond comfortable. I mean PERFECT!

And carbon fiber absolutely everywhere: door panels, seat, gear paddles, console, and engine bay.

I sat there for what must only have been a couple of minutes but what felt like a lifetime. Maybe the cockpit of the F1 car would have been more perfect but I’ll have to read about it.

Getting out was actually easier than I expected. Found the door latch first time exactly where you would expect it to be and made a relatively graceful exit. With a grin that will last a lifetime.
Saint Peter never told me his name. He didn’t have to. He new that he had just let me into heaven.

How it begins

Cars. Sports cars. Fast cars. New cars. I have a deep fascination with cars and the automotive industry. Always have. From early days crawling through the service bays at my Dad’s service station repairing tires and getting thoroughly covered in grease to more recent experiences in owning, driving and talking endlessly about cars.

My particular preference is toward small, efficient yet powerful cars that handle really well both at high speed and through the twisty stuff. I prefer the form follows function philosophy. And from the stories to follow, you will note that I am not afraid to try some oddball stuff.

I have started this blog to share my stories. Cars that I have driven. My impressions in cars that I have driven and been a passenger in. Cars I wished I had driven. Road stories. There will be some trucks, but mostly it will be about cars.

I hope you will comment with your own stories and forward on to like-minded individuals. Should make for interesting reading. Hopefully it stirs up discussion.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chapter 14: “Selling less hasn’t worked…lets try selling more

One of the greatest mysteries of the current business age is the theory that you can cut, cut, cut (expenses and people) to grow your business. Now, I do understand the concept of pruning, but it seems to me that most organizations cut the roots, not the branches. I have actually heard of organizations that cut the human resource department; out-source it because it is non-core. Guess the “people” are not that important.

What if they actually tried selling stuff. Maybe even tried the unthinkable: actually built a better product. Something that was better than the competition but priced lower. Oh wait, that would be the pioneer… :)

Chapter 13: “Thinking through some thoughts”

Ever sat through a meeting when you wished there was a universal volume control that you could use to turn down the volume on the person dominating the room? You would love to suggest that she keep her thoughts to herrself but then that would show that you were not a team player. And you just buy that fancy new car didn’t you. By putting the downpayment on your credit card. With a car allowance that doesn’t cover the payments. And with quite the spike in the insurance payments. Just wait for the first service appointment with the service advisor in the suit who directs your car to the technicians dressed in their spotless white coats. But then, the 30 seconds of fame at the traffic light is worth it isn’t it. Guess you will just have to put up with evesdropping on the thinking. Better turn that volume up again.

Chapter 12 “Put that one on the list of things we do to screw things up”

The unfortunate thing of course is that despite all the writing to the contrary, all the PR flack that is uttered, no organization is perfect. Horrors! In fact if there is one thing I did learn in my years in advertising is that most organizations institutionalize imperfection. How many of you have observed ‘screw up clients’ who ‘couldn’t market their way out of a paper bag if you gave them instructions’. How do they make money? How do they survive? The truth is that it all runs on the concept of borrowing. Borrowing money, time, advice, interest, faith and on and on. Mortgaging the future. Faith if you prefer. It would in fact be easier to look for the things that actually do work. But then that would assume that we didn’t screw that task up as well.