Suicide is Painless

A story in the Wall St Journal this morning suggests that suicides are on the rise.

Historically, suicide rates have risen with unemployment. A 1% increase in a state’s unemployment rate causing a 1.3% increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths.

It’s estimated that this year, 630,000 Americans will kill themselves. And 1.1 million adult Americans will try.

And the historical data suggests, there is more to come. The highest rate of suicide following the Great Depression came in 1932, three years after the economic collapse.

All of us have been affected profoundly by the economic reorganization of these last two years. Living through an epoch comes with a high price. Part of which is the emotional impact of no longer feeling in control.

Despair develops over time. And usually as the result of a series of actions and events that individually seem of minimal importance. And worse, tolerable.

But once the hole has been dug, it’s difficult to escape. And for some impossible.

I have seen this in my personal life with a family member. And in my professional life, with too many businesses.

In every case, I have come to learn that the best cure is prevention. Raising our consciousness of what we can and cannot live with.

Which is easier to write than to live through.

But learning there is a choice is the first step.

'Cause suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
...and you can do the same thing if you please.

6 Steps To Using The Commercial Real Estate Bubble To Your Advantage

I’ve been working on a novel for longer than I care to admit. Having finished it some time ago, I have finally started the re-write.

Every writer has a process that is natural to them. Mine, I have leaned, requires I first place the location of each chapter before my characters start to do anything. I read somewhere that character + location = plot. That is certainly true in my case. And a vivid location gives context and purpose to the people that come alive in my book.

The same applies in the real world. Finding an office space that supports and enhances the purpose of your business has a lot to do with the quality and originality of the work the company produces.

Commercial real estate is forecast to be the next great bubble to burst in the economy. Unlike residential loans, commercial real estate typically operates under five to seven year terms. The downward pressure on landlords through defaulting tenants and shrinking demand for office space reduces income to real estate owners, just as many mortgages are coming due for renegotiation.

The consequence puts renters in good standing in powerful positions to negotiate more favorable terms. Lengthening the term of a commitment in exchange for lower rent and space improvements for instance creates both an economic and emotional win at a time when either are hard to come by.

If you rent from a landlord who owns multiple properties, and almost all of them do, exploring their other buildings, even if you still have two or more years to run under your current lease may create a win-win.

If you have less than two years left on your current lease, have your broker analyze every building in your target area.

In either case, here is a six step plan for improving your real estate situation:

  1. Define the five best and five worst aspects of your current space situation. This should include things like expansion rights, sound, light and temperature quality, and convenience to transportation and restaurants. Issues that affect your staff’s daily experience and your company’s future growth.

  2. Ask a real estate broker to give you a list of the other buildings your current landlord owns together with current occupancy rates and most recent deals

  3. Ask your broker to analyze each building against your list of best and worst features - color code each improved feature as green, each equivalent feature as orange, each lesser feature as red

  4. Any building that you evaluate as all or predominantly green with no red features is worthy of a serious negotiation with your landlord. This negotiation should include: base rent; term; escalation rates; loss factors ( an enormous issue in New York City where loss factors can often exceed 20-25%) landlord build-out allowance and number of months of free rent.

  5. Compare the new deal to the cost and disruption of moving: moving costs; changes to printed collateral, websites, and information systems; technology infrastructure; and potential loss of business during any physical move.

  6. Decide. If the comparison is close, go back and ask for one major concession that would make the deal a no brainer.

This economy has wrought a lot of destruction to small businesses. But it can also provide the foundation for sustained, long term growth.

Whether you choose to use it that way is just that.  A choice.

Philosophical Friday: Living for Today. Planning For Tomorrow

As part of a weekly feature, we're going to start dedicating Friday's posts to a philosophical thought. A reflective end to the week.

Here's the first. Let us know what you think.


The announcement that 79 metro areas in North America have come out of recession is good news and bad.

The good news is that a strengthening economy carries everyone along for the ride.

The bad news is that good news makes people go back to bad patterns.

Most of which involve looking intently at the present.

Focus on today as a path towards personal tranquility.

But look first at tomorrow if you want to build a better business.

After all, one year from today is still today.

No matter how hard you stare at it.

Who's Working For Who?

This morning, every one of the people who work for you made a decision to do so again today.

The vast majority probably didn’t think about it like that.

But you should.

Otherwise they will.

The fact is, we all have a choice about what we do for a living. Even with unemployment approaching ten percent, nine out of ten people who want to work are doing so.

If you’re building a better business, you’re hiring insightfully, training pro-actively, mentoring sensitively, promoting effectively and compensating fairly.

Which is a start.

Being sure that you’re also building a company that creates long term possibilities for your best people is the other part of the equation.

We meet so many business owners these days who missed their time. Who thought they alone were responsible for their company’s success. Who thought it would never end.

Until now.

For them, it’s too late.

But for you, it’s not.

Build a business that gives your employees a reason to keep coming back. Personal growth. Long term economic benefit that goes beyond a salary. A voice.

The company will expand beyond your DNA. And will begin to incorporate theirs.

When you’re ready to leave, they will no longer need you.

But they will need your equity.

A win-win.

And the key to this model?

Two words at the end of every day. Spoken to every employee. With real understanding of the choice they will make tomorrow.

Thank. You.

We’ve Always Done It This Way

Thirty three percent of men do not wash their hands in public washrooms. Nor do twelve percent of women.

With H1N1 apparently on its way back, how many of you expect those numbers to change significantly?

Count me in the nays.

In the last year, despite the worst economic melt-down in most of our lifetimes, America’s alcohol consumption habits have remained at sixty year norms. As a nation, we are not apparently drowning our sorrows in drink.

On the other side of the coin, one in three has reduced their personal debt ‘significantly’, and thirty one percent of those asked said they are now in the habit of spending less.

As a species, we do not change our habits in response to threats.

We change them in response to events. Typically ones that frightens us.

By which time the damage has been done.

In every company it’s essential to separate culture from habit.

The first is part of a company’s DNA. The second is a repetitive action, conducted without thought.

An important distinction in building a better business.

And a better life.

Are You A Builder. Or A Window Washer?

Back to work today.

In a year notable for its employment and economic anguish, a sentiment that comes with particular resonance.

Much has been made of the turmoil and disruption that has taken place within most industries. Few have been exempt. However, take a moment to look around and you will see that in most cases the players are still the same.

And despite a lot of talk about change, little has happened except revenue and profit margins have been badly damaged. For the most part, despite all the advice to the contrary, most business owners are hanging on.

I have written before that the problems with windows of opportunity is that we tend to see them after the fact.

When they are closed.

The remainder of 2009 represents the best window of opportunity any of us will see in our professional lives.

The possibilities for what we could do with our businesses, and with whom will never be richer. Nor has there ever been more awareness of the need to change the purpose of our companies so they offer value over the near and long-term future. To our customers and to ourselves.

We can use these next three and a half months to build the foundations of companies that can make dreams come true.

Or we can wait until the window of opportunity becomes clearer.

If you choose the latter, bring Windex.

Or you won’t be able to see the people who made it through, for the finger marks of those who didn’t.

In Their Own Words

Having a guiding philosophy by which to run your business every day is a powerful homing device in a forest full of distractions.

For Chris and I, it has long been the Terence Conran quote, "Stay Humble and Nervous."

In the choking economic climate we are living in today, an excess of either can be disastrous.

Humility is a valuable attribute in times of excess. But when the world is inwardly focused, it takes much more effort to attract someone's attention.

And at a time when everyone is hesitant, waiting for something to happen will ensure that at best you're part of the crowd.

Neither is a platform for creating the future you want.

In our case, we have long since accepted that we are skilled in what we do. But inept in communicating that fact. We would much rather talk about someone else's potential.

We have also come to realize that until we face the problem, we are the biggest obstacle we face.

Cometh the need, cometh the Mother of Invention.

In this case, Justin Spooner and Simon Hopkins of Double Shot Consulting. (Even doctors need doctors.) As I've mentioned before, no one understands the possibilities of digital strategies like they do.

In this case, they turned the problem simply and elegantly on its head. If you don't talk effectively about your work, they said. Ask the people that do. Your clients.

So we did. And they have. The first pieces are on our website. Or on Youtube. In the process we put ourselves on camera and found a part of ourselves we didn't know existed.

As a lesson in looking at a problem from a different perspective it's powerful.

As a reminder that we're fortunate to work with amazing clients, it's unbeatable.