Good Advice from Bill Cullen

February 25, 2010 in Business

Did you watch RTE’s Frontline the other night? It was a “youth special” focusing on how the current economic and political state of affairs are affecting the young people of Ireland.

Overall the show wasn’t great, but it did have some great bits, including a good point from Bill Cullen.

The reaction the his points have been somewhat mixed and if you watch the clip you can see it in the audience. Half the people applaud him when he says “Get out there and work,” “make your own success,” but the other half get very defensive when he calls their (i.e. my) generation ‘Molly-Coddled’.

The Bad

Personally, I loved the advice he was giving, but I’ll start with what I disliked. Besides the obvious condescending tone and the hilarious “in my bare feet” remarks, what he didn’t acknowledge was their right to complain. If they feel their elected representatives are doing a poor job or if they think the system of government should change then they have the right to voice their opinion and suggest alternatives.

The Good

But on everything else he was spot on. He made the point later in the show that economic cycles like this “happen in the same way every couple of decades, it repeats in cycles just like the weather.” He also made the point that voting won’t get you a job, especially when all our politicians are the same.

It may sound pessimistic and gloomy, but it’s great advice. If you want to change the system then by all means engage yourself in those matters, but if you want to change your own situation – i.e. get a job – then blaming other people will get you nowhere. Shouting at politicians and “taking to the streets” will only leave you with a false sense of accomplishment and zero steps closer to earning a living.

Creative Industries, Listen Up

The reason I’m posting this here is because I’ve seen the same debate many times before in business. It’s a crippling argument because both sides feel opposed to one another, but both are often right.

I’ve had many conversations with musicians, photographers and writers in which I’ve felt like Bill Cullen in that clip.

The conversation mostly starts when we talk about the internet, with the artist hurt that people are downloading their music illegally, or copying their photos or articles without permission. Much like the students on front line, their arguments are always moral and ethical ones:

There should be stricter regulation on file sharing. The Government are bailing out the banks but not me. Copyright law should be enforced better. The Government should do more to create jobs. People shouldn’t steal my music!

Those are all fair points, so I rarely say that they’re wrong. In fact I try to avoid getting into a discussion on what should or shouldn’t be the case, what is or isn’t morally correct or if file sharing is “technically” theft. I try to concentrate on what is the case, what concrete concrete actions they can take by themselves to make their own situation better.

I will always end up saying something along the lines of this:

Take the current situation as default. People will download your music for free. That’s the new ‘square one’, now how do we build a business model around this fact.

In just the same way, Bill’s core point was that you should assume that the Government are going to be useless, nobody is going to help you and that complaining will get you nowhere. Take this as square one and ask yourself “How do I move forward from here?”

That’s what I do in business, help musicians come up with creative ways to “Compete with Free” and that’s the advice Bill was giving to the young people in the audience – get creative, learn lessons from history and work hard.

With that attitude it doesn’t matter if the government lets you down, you’ll do just fine without them. If, by some miracle they manage to turn the country around, all the better.

Amp Communications

February 18, 2010 in Business

Amp Communications is my new business. I’ve been working with a handful of Irish musicians for the last year or so helping them navigate the world of online and get their music heard. It’s been going so well that I decided to make it my full time job.

The business models of the recording industry have been shattered by the internet, but I firmly believe that the opportunities it provides for the future far outweigh the negatives. Tools like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter will be at the heart of many new business models that hope to replace the old. It’s imperative that musicians and labels learn to make the most of all that “social media” has to offer.

With Amp I hope to be at the heart of this next step in the industry (in Ireland at least) and to help the many creative talents in this country earn the living they deserve.

The Tragedy Of Haiti and Crippling Debt

February 9, 2010 in Economics, Essays

To quote Dan Bordeaux in a letter to the Washington Times:

The ultimate tragedy in Haiti isn’t the earthquake; it’s that country’s lack of economic freedom.  The earthquake simply but catastrophically revealed the inhuman consequences of this fact.

Since the disaster many people have been urging world governments to “drop the debt” that Haiti owes. Indeed many governments already have.

The real tragedy is that if half the effort we’re devoting to the rescue and salvation operations were applied to preventative measures, many more lives could have been saved.

Haiti has, for a long time, been enslaved by debt. As was noted by many before the quake, “Debt costs lives,” and few places in the world was this more evident than Haiti.

At it’s peak Haiti owed $1.8 billion, almost all of which was borrowed and squandered by past dictators. In the first half of this decade they spent more money each year repaying the debt than they did on healthcare, education or agriculture.

Last May an article from The Times – “Haiti: the land where children eat mud” – has one particularly disturbing insight into the effects of crippling debt and poverty on a society:

“Parents in Carrefour Feuilles are happy when their son joins a gang,” one Haitian woman, who runs an anti-violence project, tells me. “They are also happy when their daughters become child prostitutes. It means the family can afford to eat.”

And yet some will argue that Haiti needed better government, stricter planning rules or more access to information so that it could have prevented the huge loss of life in January, but as anti-dismal points out:

You may argue that stricter building codes are a major reason why the 1989 Bay Area quake killed far fewer people than did this week’s Haiti quake. But stricter building codes increase the cost of building and if you are poor and cannot afford expensive buildings you build cheap, less safe, ones. So you can have all the building codes you like, but people have to be wealthy enough to be able to afford to obey them, for them to work. Also buildings will get safer, even without building codes, as people get wealthier. The more wealth you have the more you have to protect and thus the more you are willing and able to spend on protecting it.

That Haiti gave almost $1oom to rich countries last year instead of investing it in infrastructure is a tragedy, but worse again still is that many other developing countries around the world are being forced to pay off such odious debts. This will ultimately leave them in the same state as Haiti was when the earthquake hit – when each day is a battle to survive there is no room for the luxury of planning for tomorrow.

This rule doesn’t just apply to natural disasters like the Haitian earthquake. Increased GDP per capita (through free-er markets and more capitalism) can lift developing nations from all sorts of poverty-related problems, including famine, war, slavery and crime (albeit indirectly.)

In fact, emotions and humanity aside, there could be a very strong business case for dropping the international debt. The cost of dropping the debt to Haiti entirely was roughly equivalent to the amount that has been donated since January 12th, not to mention the amount that will be spent in years to come.

(There are some obvious flaws in the numbers here, dropping the debt doesn’t automatically lead to a developed nation with top quality infrastructure, but it’s certainly a start. The other obvious issue is that the people donating are not those who were owed the debt.)

But in the long run, even if world leaders take a cold-hearted approach to the issue, dropping the third world debt (paying it on their behalf) could be their most cost effective strategy.

When talking to global leaders Bono, Geldof and company could try appeal to the strings of their purses, rather than hearts.

I Could Die Tomorrow, so I Plan to live to 100

February 6, 2010 in Essays, Fuck The Recession

Yesterday was my last day as a product manager for Vodafone Ireland. After almost 5 years I’m moving on to start up my own company. Although my reasons are ultimately the same as others who make the switch, I’ve written this post to explain my personal thought process that led to the decision.

I Could Get Hit By A Bus Tomorrow

In many ways this first part needs very little explanation. One day I’ll die. Between now and that day I have a finite amount of living to do, so I had best fill it with the things I love doing. I don’t want to labour this point because plenty of people have said it much better than I can.

I will, however, share one video that made a stronger impact on me than all the rest – Steve Jobs’ speech on how to live before you die. If you haven’t already watched it it’s well worth the 15 mins (or you can read the transcript here.)

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

75 More Years Of Blogging

The second major philosophy that underpinned my thinking was also inspired by a great video. Dan Buettner’s Ted Talk “How to Live to be 100+” is another worthwhile investment of 15 minutes.

There are lots of great little tips in this video from cultures that live longer and healthier lives than our own – eat less meat, eat small meals, incorporate regular, low intensity, physical activity into your lifestyle etc.

More important than the specifics of how to live longer and healthier is the fact that you plan to. This is the lifestyle equivalent of Warren Buffett’s approach to investing (one of my favourite Buffet quotes is “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”)

This attitude isn’t easy to maintain because it’s a constant inner struggle. There is a part of your brain – often called the Lizard Brain (see diagram) – that controls what many people would call instinct. It controls some of your most powerful emotions and it’s only concerned with the present. It makes you crave the taste of a cigarette, but it can’t make you feel the devastation of hearing you have lung cancer. It feels the fear of leaving a stable job tomorrow but can’t imagine the elation of having lived a life doing what you love. Emotions feel much weaker in the future tense.

That’s what you and I are up against and that’s why I’ve made the big move. Just because I could die tomorrow doesn’t mean I need to achieve all my goals today, but it does mean each day should be a step in the right direction.

So I quit yesterday, I start working for myself today and I intend to still be here blogging come 2085!

IBM’s ‘Mad Science’ Series

February 1, 2010 in Videos

The IBM Social Media channel on YouTube has been posted several videos to promote, all with the common theme of using data, computing and analytics to make our world run smarter. It’s nerd-tastic!

Once you look past the unnecessary (and unfunny) humour that they include in these videos, this really is a nice little series. They’re well made and very educational videos.

Here are the videos they’ve uploaded so far, I’d definitely recommend checking them out: