My Thoughts on the Brexit

this is the text of the video I made about this

My name is Phil Smy. I am a Canadian who lives in Japan. But because my parents are British I have a UK passport.

Because of my UK passport I have lived in Holland, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. I spent a lot of time in the UK as a child, my mother is a die hard royalist, and my father was a West Ham supporter.
I can’t vote in Thursday’s referendum, but, I wanted to voice some opinions about it – and what better place than the Internet to do that?
I want to talk about 3 things:
First, there is this very slickly made pro-leave video – Brexit – The Movie – that is horribly inaccurate and designed to provoke fear and anger. I want to address some of those points.
Second, as a successful businessman myself, I want to tell you what I think the business impact will be.
Thirdly, I want to share my personal feelings.

But first, I want to start with a parable. Once upon a time there was a kingdom in the land that thought it wasn’t getting a fair shake. Granted, at the council of kings people agreed that the language that was only spoken in that kingdom should be an official language of the council. They also agreed that the kingdom could raise and keep it’s own taxes. And make trade agreements with other kingdoms. Basically, do whatever they wanted, but, also be part of the council of kings.
The kingdom hated this. The king was ok with it, but many princes tried to whip the people into a frenzy. Some formed violent factions. Some protested peacefully. Many wanted out.
Now, you’re all saying that was a pretty crap parable, obviously about the Brexit. But it wasn’t. It was about another such situation that I saw up close – the Quebec sovereignty movement. Almost since joining Canada, parts of Quebec wanted to leave. They thought they had good reason. They had the second biggest economy inside Canada, and were full of natural resources. And they fought hard for many years, but decided, in the end, to stay in Canada… because it made good financial and political sense. And, truth be told, by the time they really got the chance to decide on it, it was way too late. The horse had escaped, so why burn down the barn?
And this is my feeling about Brexit. Maybe if Britain had never joined Europe, or had decided to leave at an earlier date there would be more legitimate arguments. But right now there is literally only one valid argument – Britain wants to be 100% responsible for its own success or failure. i.e sovereignty. And, as far as I can tell from history, sovereignty alone never bought anybody a hot meal. Also, in the case of the Brexit, the word is being misused. Britain ALREADY has sovereignty. All European states do.

So let’s get on to Brexit the Movie. I’m not going to go through minute by minute. Firstly, I don’t have the rights to show it, but mostly because it’s a long video! So let’s hit the highlights.
Right off the bat, they take aim at the supposed ‘big bureaucracy’ of Europe. Including my favourite scene where, because the presenter can’t get into a taxi and get taken to ‘the place where Europe is governed from’ there is something inherently wrong. Have you tried to do the same in the UK? The whole government machine doesn’t sit inside the Houses of Parliament.
But let’s look at this ‘big bureaucracy’ issue.
The EU has a population of around 508 million people. And the Brexit video is right – the number of employees, as quoted by the European Commission themselves, is around 10,000. That’s a lot of people, for sure.
In contrast, the UK has a population of around 64 million people. And, again, from the papers directly issued by the government, the UK parliament staff – not including all the consultants attached to all the ministries – is a little over 2000. But, that means that for every 100,000 people in the UK, there are 3.18 – painful to be the .18! – people in parliamentary employment. In contrast, in the EU commission, for every 100,000 people there are 1.96 – oh, let’s just say 2! That’s only 2/3rds, by population.
There are some incredible sections of this video where they say what a waste of money it is that the EU gives so much to charities, universities and the arts. There are 2 things about this that really rile me. First is this whole ‘the EU is run by bloody French elitists’ thing. That the UK is good working class people and we don’t need any of your poxy arteests thank you very much. The second is the blindness to the fact that a big chunk of the money the EU gives to the arts goes to the UK! Your libraries, your galleries, your artists, your scholars – THEY are getting money from the EU. Do you think the UK government will step into the gap that a Brexit will create for those people? Because this is the thing that the video tries to avoid – that people and organizations in the UK are the recipients of lots of EU money. And there is nothing wrong with that. That is your RIGHT as a member of the EU. And it’s not just the arts. 50% of British farming subsidies come from the EU. More than €1.2 billion comes into the UK to support low income housing projects in places like Scotland and northern England.
And this is why the British government has to say that if a Brexit happens there will have to be austerity measures in the budget to cover the loss. And we know how well that worked in Greece, where old men are setting themselves on fire in protest to how they can’t afford to eat.
Brexit The Movie also takes a long poke at EU regulations. Yes, there’s lots of EU regulations. Yes, they seem to cover silly things. But, newsflash, these regulations make products safer, cleaner, more fuel efficient and standardised. Already the rest of Europe can plug things into the electric when they travel…unless they go to the UK. So don’t try to claim that all EU regulations are followed. Also, true, you can no longer sleep on a pillow made of discarded razor blades. But I think that’s a good thing. Personally, I’m happy to know that some standards are being applied to the things I buy in the EU. Which, of course, is another point. These standards are for things SOLD in the EU. Because of this, when dogs and cats in North America and Asia were dying from Chinese-made pet food that contained harmful levels of toxins, it didn’t happen in the EU. 40% of the UKs trade is with the EU, so, all those things are STILL going to have to comply to EU standards. And if the UK doesn’t adopt similar standards for imports, well, its goodbye Fido.
There is also the ridiculous implication that England could become like Switzerland, despite the fact that the expert quoted in the video – economist Dr. Ruth Lea – says that ‘to think Britain would be like Switzerland is totally bizarre’. Switzerland has 8 million people – less than London – and its major industries are mechanical and precision engineering, pharmaceuticals, banking and watchmaking. How that maps to the British skill set I’m not sure. And politically Switzerland’s structure is completely different. Britain would need to re-write it’s constitution and many of its laws for it to even start to be like Switzerland. So much for going back to the old days.
The video is so contradictory, it’s maddening. At one point they claim how limiting, with regards to trade agreements, being the EU is. The EU only has agreements with 2 of the top 10 regions that the UK trades with. But, hold on. So you’re trading with regions without a EU trade agreement? So, it’s NOT so limiting after all I guess.
But enough about that video.

Of the top 10 economies in the world, 4 are in the EU. France, Germany, Italy and the UK. What a Brexit is saying that France, Germany and Italy – Italy! – can make it work in the EU, but Britain can’t. Britain would be better off alone. A great footballer does not decide to quit his team and play by himself. David Beckham – and he was #1, not #5 – didn’t say, look guys, I’m scoring all the goals here, so I’m going it alone.

The UK joined the EEC in the 1970s. Before that, things were, lets be honest, pretty grim in the UK. I remember going to my grandmothers house in 1970s Southend On Sea and honestly, I don’t think they had a refrigerator. My parents left the UK in the 1950s because opportunities were so much greater elsewhere. So, when people talk about ‘taking back Britain’ remember that it was the British government alone that kept things like rationing going, that attacked the coal industry, that balked on things like child labor. I don’t know what people are thinking, but, before joining the EU it was not the common man that had all the money and the power – it was the elite, the captains of industry, and little was in place to protect the worker. What the Brexit campaign seems to tell you that times are horrible and it’s time to pull up the drawbridge. This is, in fact, not the case. Today the UK has the lowest unemployment rate it has had in a very long time. Under 5%. That includes all the immigrant workers that the UK wants to turn it’s back on. The pro-leave campaign thinks that it’s young people will be better served by NOT having the opportunity to live and work in Europe. That the aging population in the UK will be better served by NOT having inexpensive, yet experienced, home care staff coming in from the continent.

A Brexit will not save British industry. Because most of British industry is already in the hands of foreign companies. Tata will not change its mind about British steel because of a Brexit. If I was a business owner based on the continent that also had facilities in the UK, I would probably close those facilities and move things inside the EU. It only makes common sense to do that. The British fishing industry already has the biggest quotas on any fishing industry in the EU. And, remember all that EU money?, well that is what will fund the deepening of ports in Scotland to allow larger, newer, trollers to come in. Do you think the UK will fund these projects that will not only help local fisherman but also create construction and infrastructure jobs? It is also the EU that would pay for any retraining, or moving to new technology or even new industries, for these fisherman and their families.
The Brexit campaign talks about how, when God closes a door he opens a window. And that window is China. A Chinese, non standard, lead glass, window. Right now China accounts for less than 5% of the UKs exports – and the UK is in a massive deficit with China, importing far more than it exports. You know who is the UK’s biggest exporter to China? Jaguar Land Rover. And who owns Jaguar Land Rover? Tata Motors. The UK’s top 5 exports to China in 2014 were: road vehicles, medicinal and pharmaceutical products, power generating machinery / equipment, metalliferous ores and scrap metal, general industrial machinery, equipment and parts. And in those areas, those imports only account for 1% of China’s imports in those industries. i.e. bucket. drop. By the way, the Chinese just pumped in a few billion to build new nuclear reactors. I live about 80km from Fukushima. My top tip: don’t build nuclear.
Tata stock is already going down due to Brexit fears. What happens when stock prices go down? Companies cut costs. What’s a big cost? Employees.

So, enough of all that. Enough of the business and statistics and all that crap. Here’s my personal feeling. We live in a world where we are all getting more and more closely connected. It’s a scary thing. You feel like you lose control, when your neighbour can find you on Facebook and know that you were out at a party and didn’t invite them. But that’s the world we live in now. As a UK citizen you have an incredible opportunity to take part in that world. You have access to all those countries, all those people. All that food! The UK is not the only place in the world that values sovereignty. The UK is not the only place in the world that values it’s history and culture. By being part of a group you don’t LOSE anything. But, to be part of a group you need to participate.
If you don’t know who your MEP is, that is not all their fault. You could make the effort. Your MEP should also get involved. It is insanity to think that the UK does not have a voice in EU policy. Nick Farage – someone who’s making it his mission to get the UK out of the EU, despite the fact that he is an MEP – was on the EU fisheries council. He had a voice and could have made changes to help the UK fisherman. But he never went. Out of 42 meetings he attended 1. You can’t say a group doesn’t work if you don’t show up. Other countries in Europe – funnily enough, the ones that have the best performing economies – are the most active inside the EU commission. The EU commission is run in English! Despite that incredible fact, UK MEPs are rarely in attendance.
As citizens you do have a right to be outraged at how the UK is involved with the EU. But the solution is not to leave, it is to participate and make the whole Union stronger.
You probably didn’t watch this whole video. You probably don’t think that I have any right to weigh in on this issue. But I can tell you, as a British Citizen, a businessman, and a lover of the great collection of unique cultures that Europe is, I would be sad to see the UK bow out because it was just too hard to make it work.

My Olympic Sport

Olympic Rings

With surprising frequency, the International Olympic Committee adds new sports to the Olympics. For instance in 1936, at the Berlin Games, Basketball was added. In 1964 – at the Tokyo Olympics – Volleyball joined the list. More recently, tennis and mountain biking were added. And finally, at this summer’s Olympics it will be golf.
So, I can still hold my breath that in my lifetime my favourite sport will be added, and with the advances available in medical technology maybe I will even be able to compete.
For my favourite sport, my favourite pastime, is, in fact, complaining. From traffic to tourism, advertising to Zoolander 2, I can complain about it.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that complaining is a sport normally reserved for the elderly. True, in times gone by the aged had the advantage in the sport of complaining because a popular style of complaining is the ‘things are not as good as they used to be’ school of complaining. And the older you get, the easier this becomes.
The beauty of this style of complaining is that the comparison can age along with the complainer.
For example, today an older person – like myself – might say that movies are not as good as they used to be – now they are all franchise films and explosions.
But 30 years ago, an older person – like myself – might have said that movies are not as good as they used to be, they’re all science fiction and sex.
Even 80 years ago an older person – like myself – my have said movies are not as good as they used to be – they have sound.
The truth is that the ‘good old days’ are always in the past, and the past can be rewritten.

But I’m here to tell you that complaining is NOT just a sport for the aged. It can also be a younger persons game. I know, I know – the ‘not as good as they used to be’ part of you is saying that young people today aren’t smart enough to complain like you used to complain when YOU were younger.
But the youth have an advantage that most of us when we were young didn’t have – the internet. And with the internet comes one of the most powerful tools in the game of complaining: a little bit of information. Not a LOT of information, because you don’t need a lot of information to complain about something. In fact, it’s better to have just a little bit of information. And even better still if that information is wrong.
Because if you have a lot of information about a subject a couple of things happen: first of all, you can cross dangerously from complaining into criticizing. Because a critic is someone who can complain about a subject, but back it up with lots of references and historically accurate information. And of course in today’s fast paced world, being historically accurate and being able to back things up with valid references also means one more thing: you are boring.
Because the thing about complaining is that you are voicing the opinion of the common man, not some over educated elitist. And of course the common man, as any good complainer can tel you, is an idiot.

If complaining made it into the Olympics, like figure skating or gymnastics it could have a long program and a short program. For the long program I recommend equipment of a sofa or a bar stool, or perhaps as a long distance phone call with your mother. The short program could be held in the aisles of a grocery store.
Certain categories would have to be covered – the stupidity of television presenters, for example.
That could be followed by how money doesn’t buy you what it used to. Of course the triple salchow of complaining would be to let your ignorance of art not stop you from complaining about how ridiculous modern art is.
Of course modern art has always been ridilculous, even when modern art was the impressionists.

I have a new appreciation for complaining since I turned 50 last month. I woke up on the morning of turning 50 with a back ache and a craving for a Cherry Blossom…not the Sakura of Japan, but the sickly sweet chocolate covered cherry candy made in Canada in the 1970s. Because the candy of today just isn’t as good.

0109-lowney-cherry-blossom-01

I also see that now I have a chance.
I am gathering signatures online for adding complaining to the Olympics, even as a demonstration sport.
As a quick aside there are many humorously named sports that have been demonstration sports at the olympics: Bandy, Skijoring, Kaatsen – which is not Cat juggling, as I had thought – and my personal favourite, Korfball.
In the past such sports as pigeon racing, kite flying and even fire fighting were demonstration sports and never made the real olympics so why not complaining?

But I doubt they’ll accept it. The Olympics aren’t as good as they used to be in the old days.

I originally gave this as a speech in Sendai, at the Sendai Toastmasters Club

May Vlog Challenge

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Of all the forces in nature – gravity, magnetic attraction, nuclear fusion – surely one of the strongest is peer pressure. It’s responsible for untold amounts of change – for better and worse. When we talk about peer pressure it is almost always in a negative context: Little Johnny tried LSD because his friends were doing it.

I can think of several times in my life where it’s been true – I did something stupid (not that taking LSD is necessarily stupid) because my friends were doing it. I drove around a driver’s training track at high speed, at night, in the Canadian winter, drunk and slid my car through a snow fence. Heck, one time I even went to church!

But there is a positive side to peer pressure as well, as indicated by what I’m up to for the month of May!

Quite a few of my friends have taken up doing a daily vlog. There’s as many different reasons for doing this as there are people. Some do it to get out of their shell. Some do it to belabour their point of view. Some do it simply because they are exhibitionists. Some do it because they think their story will help others. Some do it because, well, what the hell! Why not?!

For me it started out trivially. But quickly I realised that it’s not simple, and like a lot of ‘not simple’ things it had some benefit.

I’m 10 days in and I can tell you that making a video – even a 2 minute video – every day is not easy. And that’s exactly the point.

I see this now as being similar to James Altucher’s ’10 ideas a day’ thing (which I also try to do). Sure, anybody can write down 5 ideas for something like ‘What should I write a blog post about?’ or ‘What am I grateful for about yesterday?’. But 10 ideas is tough. About idea 6 you start to sweat, and by 10, if you’re being honest with yourself, you’re really stretching.

In the case of the daily video challenge, I struggle to come up with vloggable topics. At first you think it’s going to be easy. You can vlog about creativity, or business or film… but then you turn on the camera and you realise that those are just too big. You’ve got a couple minutes (yes, I could make longer videos by my sub-challenge was to do short videos as my other ones all hit at least 10 minutes). You’re not going to talk about ‘creativity’ in 2 minutes. And people aren’t watching to see you read the dictionary. They want YOUR take on an ASPECT of creativity.

So I am learning to whittle the topics down. Which is great, because the epiphany comes that digging into ‘creativity’ can give me 3 or 4 videos. I can talk about how creativity relates to my business or about different outlets for my creativity or books I’ve read that help my creative process or even play a song on video!

A big mistake that I see some other vloggers making is not being personal. I think when you start out you think you can be sort of a third person voice about things. But, like I said, people are looking for your personality. People connect with people, then through people to ideas. I know that there is a need for privacy, and there are certain things – and people – in my life that I won’t talk about on camera, but the feelings can still come through. I have been sculpted by my life experiences. And the people who are watching me, presumably, are watching because they want to see things filtered through those experiences (whether they are aware of that or not). So I put myself out there, on camera.

I’m an introvert. Talking to people is painful. But vlogging is also helping in that regard. It’s a way for me to open up without having to – yet – look someone in the face. And I’m finding that the more I vlog, and the more subscribers I get, the more interaction I have with people. And the less I get worried about it. So there’s that 😉

Anyway, I hope you’ll watch my videos. I think that some of them offer valuable tips into how I get through life and others are hopefully entertaining, if nothing else.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried a daily vlog challenge (note: choose a short month! I’m an idiot and chose May). Or leave a comment if you’ve watch the videos, etc etc. Or comment on YouTube. In short – get in touch!

Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Recently I reviewed the book ‘Zero to One’ by PayPal founder Peter Thiel. You can watch it below.

Here’s my notes for the making of the review.

this week it’s the great book about creationism. not the book of genesis. It’s Peter Thiel’s zero to one.
This video was delayed because I actually read this book twice in two weeks.
My mind was, in fact, blown. A term I don’t use lightly, or often.
First off – who is Peter Thiel? Perhaps he is most famous as a founder of Paypal, and an investor and advisor in Facebook.
In other words, he’s bloody rich, and powerful. And a law school grad, so don’t mess with him.
So, what is Zero to One? The term itself is talking about innovation.
To do more of the same is to go from 1 to n. To create something new is to go from 0 (nothing) to 1 (something).
The best example is that globalization is to go from 1 to n. Technology is to go from 0 to 1.
Thiel, like myself, is an unabashed technologist. He puts forward a compelling argument that technological change is what will guide the future – and what fueled the dramatic change in human existence between 1770 (the steam engine) and 1970 (the computer). We need technological breakthroughs otherwise we are screwed, environmentally speaking. If China and India simply copies the American consumption model, and the american fuel model, the world is doomed.
Since 1970, apart from computers and communication, pretty much nothing has really changed (I would argue that medicine has evolved, but perhaps not gone from 0 to 1).
The book is meant not as a playbook for creating a company, but, as inspiration and an identifier of the patterns of successful, world changing, companies.
Perhaps because of his legal training (or perhaps he was drawn to legal training because of this) Peter Thiel is a contrarian. He questions the beliefs of the majority – both socially, as in the question ‘What important truth do very few people agree with you on?’ – and the conventional lessons brought about by the belief that technology companies were defined by the dotcom bubble of the late 90s.
He brings up the 4 points that most modern business guru’s talk about:
  1. make incremental advances
  2. Stay lean and flexible
  3. Improve on the competition
  4. Focus on the product, not the sales
He counters with what he believes makes a powerful, lasting company
  1. it is better to risk boldness than triviality
  2. a bad plan is better than no plan
  3. Competitive markets destroy profits
  4. Sales matter just as much as the product
These four points are at the core of the book.
Because Thiel so strongly believes that massive technological change is needed to save the planet, being meek and incremental is just not going to cut it. A different way to sell  shoes online is not really an advancement.
In my mind he takes a straight shot at the likes of Eric Ries and the Lean Startup with comments like this:
“Leanness is a methodology, not a goal”
“Iteration without a bold plan won’t take you from 0 to 1″
But it is his ideas on competition and monopoly I find most interesting. Thiel believes that monopolies have a distinct advantage for not just the company, but society. And by monopolies he means Google, Apple or the days of IBM, AT&T etc. Because when a company has a monopoly they are free from the kingdom wars between rivals. They are free to invent. Competition, as defined by economists, reduces companies to faceless equals, providers of homogenous, replaceable solutions. If you are providing a homogenous solution then by definition you are not changing the world.
There is one piece of solid advice here:
The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: if you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.
I love the quote about the finance industry:
Finance is the only way to create money if you don’t know how to create wealth.
Thiel also argues against Globalization (as I said already about the adopting of western consumerism). Globalization means substitution – you take this job here and move it over there. It is a reshuffling of the deck, a moving of the chess pieces. Through technology though we can get complimentary advancement, not substitution.
The book is filled with valuable information. I believe that it is a business book that – true to the vision of the man behind it – is unique. Thiel is not someone who is on all these podcast shows that seem to swap guests – the very height on undifferentiated. I think Thiel is off creating a better future. This book has made me question everything about how I look at creating new businesses, and the scale at which I should be thinking. It has made me optimistic about the future, and that maybe, for some – too late for old people like me – the utopian vision of the future we had in the 1960s might happen.
This is not an operational book – I still believe that Drucker pointed the way there. But as Thiel says,
arguing over process has become a way to endlessly defer making concrete plans for a better future.
There is so much good stuff in here that I could quote it for days.
If you want to be inspired, and you want to take the high road to builder a better future, then you owe it to yourself to read this book. Many times.
And ask yourself this contrarian question:
What valuable company is nobody building?

Why I am leaving London Real Academy

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As some of you might know, I have long been a supporter and believer in something called the London Real Academy. LRA is the membership side of the LondonReal.tv website/youtube channel founded by Brian Rose where he interviews successful and interesting people. LRA was founded as a place for like minded individuals to focus on self-improvement across a wide swathe of disciplines – from physical fitness, to finances, to creativity. I have met Brian in person, and attended a ‘focus group’ evening at the London Real studios.

I have not always agreed with some of the views of the guests, but that’s fine. It’s all education.

One guest, and Rose’s mentor, Dan Pena has never been aligned with the intellectual, spiritual, humanistic side of LRA. LRA is not about making money at any expense, it is about making a better person. A better person does not, as Pena does at every event, suggest that participates who are not up to scratch commit suicide. Even saying such a thing for effect (what effect?) is betraying the values that the LRA community supposedly stands for. Pena is an aggressive, violent bully who in the past has participated in attempts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments for money.

The thing that has tipped the scales for me is to have Pena on, uncontested, supporting Donald Trump. This is a very political and moral statement that I will not pay money to support. (Click image for video)

I do not question that America needs an overhaul of its political and social systems. I just do not believe that a racist, misogynist, pathological liar who condones (and incites) violence on his behalf against those who disagree with him – or he just doesn’t like – is the most positive way forward. I do not believe that it is an approach that is aligned with all the things I hear in the London Real Academy community.

I do not think it is an understatement to say that Trump’s views – and his access to power – make him as potentially dangerous as any great dictator in recent history. To allow his supporters a platform is by extension to support Trump. I do not think that history will view those who allowed his hatred to propagate kindly. It is akin to having Royal Dutch/Shell oil chairman Henri Deterding on the show to discuss his admiration and support of Hitler. And that is not a statement I make lightly.

I turned a blind eye to LR’s click bait, follower grabbing attempts with Pena – which I should not have – but not with Pena as a Trump supporter.

Of course, Brian Rose and the London Real team are free to do with their channel and other outlets as they wish. I am not for a second saying they should not. I am simply saying that I won’t sponsor it.

 

Morning Routines

Rule #1 – Start the day right

My life has drastically changed in the last few years, but, one of the most positive influences has been my change to a morning routine. In this post I’d thought I’d write about what I do, why I do it, and how it has affected me.

About 3 years ago I started to read – or, more accurately, listen to – books by Jack Kornfield. Kornfield is an interesting guy – an aging hippie but also one of America’s preeminent writers on Buddhism, mostly based on his own personal (and amazing!) life experience of training as a monk in Thailand and Burma in the late 60s and early 70s.

Kornfield writes about a lot of stuff, but one of the things that struck me was his writings about meditation. Now, I’ve been around new age people a long, long time (like, 30 years!) so I’m no stranger to hearing people wax on about meditation. But, either because of my changing life circumstances or my old age, this time I listened.

No amount of meditation, yoga, diet, and reflection will make all of our problems go away, but we can transform our difficulties into our practice until little by little they guide us on our way.

— Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life

I think one of my barriers to meditation had always been that I just had no idea what to do. And no one seemed to give the straight poop on it. It was always some elusive thing, that was different for everyone so no one wanted to tell you what to do. Or, in the case of Transcendental Meditation, they wanted a LOT OF MONEY to tell you.

Kornfield talked about the simplicity of it. I came to realise, like much in my life, I was over-thinking it.

And then, about a year ago I saw a video interview with this guy Peter Sage. Sage is a businessman, but, also a progressive looking into self-improvement. And he talked of doing meditation every morning.

Then I saw an interview with photographer, youtuber and founder of CreativeLive, Chase Jarvis. And HE talked about doing meditation. I finally realised it was not just a new age thing.

So I bit the bullet and decided to give it a try. Peter Sage talked about just sitting for 20 minutes, doing a mantra (WTF!?!) and also letting his mind wander into areas of gratitude (WTF?!?!?) and positivity.

Mantra

Ok. I cheated. I found a site that listed the mantras handed out by Transcendental Meditation. Seems they have a formula based on your age and other stuff. Basically, I just picked one. It’s a two syllable thing – one on the breath in, one on the breath out. I know some people say their mantra out loud, but I do this silently. Most mornings I do my mediation sitting in a chair. Which is kind of ironic because here in Japan chairs are in short supply and the ‘normal’ thing would be do to it sitting on the floor! I always have to be a contrarian.

Gratitude

Gratitude, like ‘Mindfulness’, is one of those words that sets off my bullshit alarm faster than my radiation detector on a trip to Fukushima. So, here’s what I do: during my 20 minutes, if (er, when) my mind wanders from my mantra I try to push it into thinking about the positive aspects of whatever it’s gone off to. If that’s not possible, or I’ve exhausted the positive possibilities, I then go back to the mantra.

At first it was very hard not to spiral off into thinking about what I was going to work on that day, or how I needed to check customer support emails or something. It got easier over time.

Building PERMA

I read ‘Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being‘ by Martin Seligman recently. He’s like the father (or grandfather) of Positive Psychology. In his book he talks about the model of happiness and the 5 factors that go into it. As we can do nothing in this life without creating an acronym, he came up with PERMA

  • Postive Emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

I found I was pretty lacking in P + M (and, because I am a bit of a shut in, R). Doing these ‘gratitude’ (shudder!) exercises has given me a boost in the P department.

Technology

I’m a nerd! I use this cool app called ‘Untime’ on my ancient (1st Gen) iPad as a timer. It doesn’t show you the countdown and it makes a funky bleeping sound cascade when it’s done.

Exercise

After my 20 minutes I try to get in 30 minutes of walking. I love to walk and I’ll do 30 minutes at least twice a day. Luckily, I live at the edge of town and I can get in some pretty Japanese scenery as I do this.

P1010868

Coffee

To paraphrase Jack Kornfield, after the meditation and the exercise comes the coffee.

Results

One year later I can tell you that all of this has dramatically changed my moods. I used to be very manic-depressive and quick to anger. I think the meditation has calmed that somewhat. I enjoy life more. The people around me also notice that I am not as crazy as I used to be (?!) and I credit doing the meditation with my changing attitude towards my work as well – I no longer feel the need for utter control, and I am working on the ‘one man band’ syndrome that has crippled me for years.

As humans, we seem to have a need for routine, but there is no law that says that routine has to be one of going to the office. Find what works for you.

 

hey (accountability) buddy, can you spare a dime

accountable

High on my list of words that are trendy right now that I detest is the word ‘tribe’. Call me a snob (snob!), but I don’t like the primal, wild, chasing bison with spears, image that it brings to mind. It takes me back to my elementary school years when we still called Native Americans ‘Indians’ and they spoke broken English and lived in tribes (not that there’s anything wrong with that…it’s the inelegance ‘tribe’ implies I don’t like).

That’s what comes to mind, for me.

But now the hipsters like to use the word ‘tribe’ to describe a group of people that you feel most at home with. For some reason the word ‘friends’ – or ‘community’ – is not right, and ‘tribe’ is used to denote a wider group – so maybe not friends but closer than community… something like that.

Why am I rambling on about this? Because, with the above as context, I hate to admit that a big positive influence in my life has come through something I learned in a tribe, and that is the concept of an ‘Accountability Buddy’.

What’s An Accountability Buddy?

Back in the 90s, in the dot.com bubble, the term ‘accountability partner’ first came up in a business context. Before that the term was used mostly by American Christians as someone who would stop you from doing things you weren’t supposed to, like watching porn, drinking or coveting.

We all realize that we are accountable to God, but how often has that thought entered your mind while surfing porn sites?

— Accountability Partner for Porn addicts

But in the business sense, this phrase took on a different meaning.

Here’s what we mean when we say Accountability Partner (or Buddy) in the business sense

An accountability partner is a business peer who helps you grow your company by offering guidance and by holding you to your commitments. While it’s similar to a mentor relationship, both partners work on bettering their businesses with the feedback and support of each other.

Entrepreneur Magazine

Sadly, rarely is porn involved.

An accountability partner does not have to be in your same industry (actually, I find it much better if they are not). I personally also prefer to have a female accountability buddy (men are such assholes) because there is usually much more honesty and a lot less chit chat. It has to be someone you are comfortable with, because they are going to be hearing your insecurities about your business.

How To Work With An Accountability Buddy

For me, the best schedule seems to be to meet up – usually on Skype or some such thing – every couple of weeks. I find I can’t get anything done in a shorter time than that because I have too many fingers in too many pies.

So, you hook up every couple of weeks and chat for about 30 – 45 minutes. This is how it usually goes:

1. Cover the action items from the last call

At the end of every call you should both set out some actionable items for the next couple of weeks. Stuff like writing a blog post (done!), speccing out a software feature, contacting x number of people about your business, etc etc.

If it’s your first call (look at you, all accountabilitising!) then the first part of the call should be a brief business state of the union, outlining what you’re working on, and what you’re hoping to achieve. Honesty is the name of the Accountability Buddy game. So, if you are a bullshit artist be prepared for pain!

2. Explore possibilities

After you get to know each other a little, a good accountability buddy will pick up on things in the conversation. Things like ‘oh, you don’t like to cold call/email people? why is that? how could doing that help your business?’. Or maybe they will notice that you talk a lot about product, but not about distribution. And call your attention to it.

Again, honesty and questions are the key here. There are no stupid questions! Having to answer a question that your buddy asks will make you think about the answer.

This is the time to also bring up problems or barriers that you are hitting or deadlines that are coming up that are important.

One person could be overpowered, but two people can stand up for themselves. A rope made of three cords is hard to break.

— Ecclesiastes 4:12

(why ‘three cords’ and not two?)

3. Set up actionables

In the last part of your call it’s vital (VITAL, I SAY!) to set up some clear goals for the next couple of weeks. Don’t be stupid and overreach. Because a good accountability buddy is going to whip your ass in the next meeting when you don’t do it.

Why it works

For me, it’s The Motivation Of Embarrassment. Two or three days before I know I’m going to have to talk to my accountability buddy I go into ‘oh shit’ mode and realise I have to get my stuff done or I am going to look like an idiot. Maybe it’s different for other people, but, for me, that’s a huge factor.

There’s other things two, like the fact that it’s usually easier to criticize, I mean, see, other people’s problems. So, your buddy will do that for you, and you’ll do that for them. Being outside of the team that is responsible for making your business go really gives the detachment needed.

What having an accountability buddy has done for me

One word: Progress.

I’ve accomplished a LOT in the last 6 months, and I think a big chunk o’ thanks belongs to my Accountability Buddy. I’m a bit of a shy person. I prefer to sit in my room, grooving with a pict. I can set goals for myself, but, if I didn’t get them done… oh well. Maybe next week. It’s very very hard to keep self-motivation going in such an abstract situation. And self-reward or punishment only goes so far I find.

The Accountability Buddy street runs both ways, and being able to help someone else with their business is also very fulfilling. And it hones your listening skills (do your buddy a favour and listen!) and your analytical skills too.

An accountability partner can help you identify weaknesses in your business, make plans to overcome them and hold you accountable for action. It has changed my life, even beyond my business. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

But most of all

Your accountability partner should look you in the eye and ask: “Have you looked at pornography since our last meeting?”

— Accountability Partner for Porn addicts

Oops. Wrong article.

The Lean Startup – Book Review

Recently I went back and re-read ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries. It’s a hugely influential book that rightly had a big impact on technology startups. (I can be, but rarely is, applied outside of tech startups).
I made a video review, but below that are my notes.
Ries wrote ‘The Lean Startup’ to pop the ballon of this myth
The after the fact rationalisation makes us think that startups just need ‘the right stuff’.
He does so with his 5 lean principles
  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere
  2. Entrepreneurship is everywhere
  3. Managed through a unit of progress called Validated Learning
    1. You think your idea is great. But you need to learn if the customer agrees.
    2. “the learning about how to build a sustainable business is the outcome of those experiments”
  4. You test each unit by going through the build measure learn feedback loop
    1. Each cycle gives you insight into what the customer wants
  5. You measure by using Innovation accounting
    1. You have to measure the right things
Lean Startup is really an extension and improvement on Drucker.
  1. Build a product
    1. Know who your customer is BEFORE
    2. Make an MVP
  2. Take a leap of faith and get started
    1. but know what you don’t know (like if people will pay for music in the case of the iPod)
  3. Test
    1. Attempt to attract the early adopters. They are used to bugs.
    2. Points to measure
      1. Registration
      2. Activation
      3. Retention
    3. When making improvements, the only way to know if it was successful is metrics. So test against baseline.
  4. Measure
    1. actionable
      1. has to have cause/effect so you can make improvements
      2. This is why ‘website visits’ is not a good measurement. You don’t know why (and you have a hard time even counting the hits).
    2. accessible
      1. everyone has to understand what the measurements really mean
      2. “What is a website hit? Nobody is really sure, but everyone knows what a person visiting the website is: one can practically picture those people sitting at their computers”
    3. auditable
      1. “We need to be able to test the data by hand, in the messy real world, by talking to customers. This is the only way to be able to check if the reports contain true facts. Managers need the ability to spot check the data with real customers. ”
  5. Pivot/Persevere
    1. Remember, you’re trying to build a business, not sell a specific product
    2. pivot
      1. Zoom in
        1. based on a single feature
      2. Zoom out
        1. make a broader product
      3. Customer Segment
        1. you’re solving for a different group of people
      4. Customer need
        1. you aren’t answering a need, but you found a new one
    3. A pivot needs to be tested
  6. Growth
    1. Check retention

Internet Shopping Fraud in Japan

A friend of mine recently got duped by an online shopping site here in Japan. I thought I’d elaborate a little on what happened, who was involved and what could be done.

What Happened

My friend was looking for a piece of furniture. They found it on one of Japan’s largest online shopping sites, Rakuten. But then they did a search around the net and found it for cheaper on another site: RJAKey.com. The site is quite comprehensive, and they offered a 5% discount for buying by bank transfer instead of credit card. So, my friend made the transfer… and waited.

After a couple days there had been no reply from RJAKey.com, so another email was sent. Another couple days and nothing. Getting concerned my friend asked me to get involved and I sourced the info that is in this blog post.

Who Did It

When the order was placed ban transfer information was given:

銀行名:みずほ銀行  (Bank Name: Mizuho Bank)
口座番号:4593492 (Account ID)
店番号:723 (Branch ID)
支店名:仙台支店 (Branch Name: Sendai)
口座名義:リン ヘイスイ (Account holder name: Rin Hei Sui)

I believe it is coincidence that the branch happens to be in Sendai and we are in Sendai.

The website, RJAKEY.com has the following registration information:

Name: WU JUNHUI
Mailing Address: FENGTING TOWN SHANTOU VILLAGE SHANBIAN NO.17, XIANYOU FUJIAN 300312 CN
Phone: +86.18734440910
Email: JUBIMUS@163.COM

This person registered the following domains:
[table]
Domain,Brand,IP,Host
rjakey.com,Interior Office One,23.252.162.224,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
tmmbba.com,Interior Office One,23.252.162.224,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
qseqan.com,Interior Office One,23.252.162.224,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
oqfcti.com,Interior Office One,23.252.162.224,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
srvohp.com,Interior Office One,23.252.162.224,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
rrrxhh.com,Wine Cellar,23.252.163.50,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
clrlvg.com,Wine Cellar,23.252.163.50,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
cfmvnk.com,Wine Cellar,23.252.163.50,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
lsfzew.com,Wine Cellar,23.252.163.50,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
lsfzew.com,Wine Cellar,23.252.163.50,NexteCloud L.L.C./Hostspace
zgxe.net,Cloud Computing VIP,72.13.85.132,EGIHosting
[/table]

But there’s more. I looked up these IPs and found dozens of other domains and other scam sites hosted on them. A lot of them had been shut down, but, here’s a list of them

Hosted on NexteCloud’s 23.252.162.224

[table]
Domain,Brand
atgrdb.com,”Craft Mart: スタイルマーケット ちょっといいものを集めたセレクトショップ”
eoynzy.com,”Craft Mart: スタイルマーケット ちょっといいものを集めたセレクトショップ”
tbvwjn.com,”Craft Mart: スタイルマーケット ちょっといいものを集めたセレクトショップ”
zgjwjj.com,”Craft Mart: スタイルマーケット ちょっといいものを集めたセレクトショップ”
dntecy.com,”Solar Modules: 常州亚玛顿股份有限公司”
hllepa.com,”Solar Modules: 常州亚玛顿股份有限公司”
snidob.com,”Solar Modules: 常州亚玛顿股份有限公司”
ukmioc.com,”Solar Modules: 常州亚玛顿股份有限公司”
vkpngp.com,”Solar Modules: 常州亚玛顿股份有限公司”
vokoty.com,”Solar Modules: 常州亚玛顿股份有限公司”
oqfcti.com,”Interior Office One: 楽天市場】寝具(インテリア・寝具・収納)の通販”
qseqan.com,”Interior Office One: 楽天市場】寝具(インテリア・寝具・収納)の通販”
tmmbba.com,”Interior Office One: 楽天市場】寝具(インテリア・寝具・収納)の通販”
ulinko.com,”Interior Office One: 楽天市場】寝具(インテリア・寝具・収納)の通販”
[/table]

Hosted on 23.252.163.50

[table]
Domain,Brand
auvbhu.com,”浙江金齿集团”
ybszxc.com,”浙江金齿集团”
clrlvg.com,”Wine Cellar「家電と暮らし」のインターネットショップです”
lsfzew.com,”Wine Cellar「家電と暮らし」のインターネットショップです”
ydrtqa.com,”Wine Cellar「家電と暮らし」のインターネットショップです”
uoftyq.com,”Petmart: ペットシーツ・猫砂を送料無料で格安販売!業務用にもオススメ!”
[/table]

There were lots of dead domain names as well (probably shut down after either police involved or they reached some financial target)

[table]
Dead Domain
dgvlyb.com
dzdaza.com
jclfr.com
jejocg.com
jkzrs.com
jndjhh.com
jpwbp.com
jvoanw.com
kblwyd.com
nlbuf.com
nlqtl.com
nltrb.com
nnxzrt.com
npfwlz.com
npgetj.com
nsayj.com
nsxrl.com
rjakey.com
tdoytk.com
vyauh.com
wijfj.com
yubnq.com
yxlznc.com
yzrsde.com
zejivx.com
zetkh.com
jtbyk.com
jtmni.com
[/table]

So how does this work?

The domains are bulk registered. They have a premade database of content.

A key fact is that this content has been obtained by scraping legitimate sites and stealing the data. That way, when you search for something their website will come up in the search.

Here’s an example.

One of the scam sites is The Petmart. I picked an item off the homepage and got this ‘product id’: BHK07601

If you google that you will get dozens and dozens of sites selling it. I would imagine almost all of them are sites designed to steal money, but, perhaps there is a legitimate site in there. In this case almost all the sites actually forwarded on to this page.

 

Another example, where you are looking for a specific product. You go to Rakuten and find something you want. Say, this. You get the description -’65デザイン性溢れるインテリア’ – and google it. Almost all the results are to scam sites, with one legitimate Rakuten link in the mix.

You unknowingly place an order on the scam site (their prices are better and they offer discounts to further entice you). They ask you to transfer money. They withdraw the money then shut down the site after a time.

What can be done to stop this?

1) Follow the incoming money

How do they manage to open a bank account in Japan? I had a hell of a time opening an account. I mean real nightmare! As a foreigner it took me a lot of paperwork to get that account. So, how do these people do it? They must have some legitimate papers and, perhaps crucially, I think they must have help from a Japanese person who acts as a guarantor on the account.

This same scam was reported on this page here. In that case it was again Mizuho Bank, but this time in Nagoya. I think there is a reason that it is Mizuho. Either someone is helping or Mizuho has a process that lets people get the account.

2) Follow the outgoing money

Someone is paying for those domains to be registered. Someone is paying for the servers.

3) Follow the people

These people are all coming from mainland China. But, if the names and contact information are even legitimate, there will be a common bond. I found that many of the people registering these domains came from the same area of China.

4) Connect the dots

In a couple of days I’ve identified hundreds of these sites, with dozens still in operation. Would it be so difficult to place orders on these sites, get the destination banking information and find the people who opened those bank accounts? Someone has to be in Japan to collect that money, unless they can withdraw it from an ATM overseas, but the withdrawal limits would make that very risky.

Conclusion

This kind of scam is unstoppable on a grand scale. But not on an individual scale. The issue of course is that so many jurisdictions are involved that it makes it very tricky. And the criminals know this.

These scams are specifically set up to take money from Japanese people. As – in theory – the only people who speak Japanese are Japanese, there is a level of trust in the online world (because of the inherent belief here in Japan that they are all honest). That a foreigner could set up a believable Japanese website really is outside of the common understanding.

We’ve involved the police. I don’t think they are capable of doing the kind of investigation that I’ve done, but, it is a start. If you have been a victim of this I recommend also contacting the local police.

I would hate for people to get a general fear of shopping online. But, for now at least, the best recommendation is to buy from a retailer you know. There is some added protection in shopping with a credit card, but really something like PayPal, that puts distance between the criminals and any sensitive information, is an even better bet.

 

 

Bold by Peter Diamandis – Book Review

Rarely have I been as conflicted about a book as I am with Bold by Peter Diamandis. On one hand, there is some great advice in here and the requisite inspirational stories that modern business books seem to thrive on (though I am very, very tired of people using such exceptions as Uber, Twitter and Facebook).

But, large sections of the book seem to be written in some sort of white america futuristic bubble fantasy. Diamandis seems to extrapolate out that because some guys applied to the SpaceX prize that the world is turning into this level playing field.

You can watch my full book review here