I've just returned from two weeks touring and cruising Italy, plus other countries that are on the coastlines of the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. It was a great immersion in ancient cultures and centuries-old cathedrals and basilicas, combined with the joy of spontaneous, contemporary exploration and choice-making. But this post isn't about my trip.
The first thing I did when I landed in New York was pick up the Sunday New York Times and read it from cover to cover. As a news and contemporary culture junkie, I didn't receive enough "news" via iPhone data roaming or at-sea WiFi on my vacation to prevent me from feeling fully out of the know.
So this post encapsulates what I learned that was beyond the traditional world news headlines. There are lessons for law firms and marketers, too.
1. One of the more interesting headlines was "The Coffin-Maker Benchmark," a story about the drop in Africa's AIDS deaths and how the U.S. is largely responsible for it because of our foreign aid funding. The author chatted with "mortality experts" in Africa - the coffin-makers in the street markets. He quotes one as saying, "Before a lot of people were dying of AIDS ... Now there is medication, so fewer people are dying. I'm not very happy because this is my future."
According to the article, six or so years ago, this coffin-maker sold 20 or more coffins per month. Now it is down to five or six. It's an interesting and unique data point to measure the success of this American funding.
Lesson for law firms: When you are seeking proof of your marketing return on investment (ROI), seek data from multiple sources. Your most compelling arguments for or against success may be supported by data sources that surprise you.
2. In an article called, "Don't Indulge, Be Happy," the authors report about Gallup data collected by Princeton researchers who found that Americans are NOT happier when they make more money. They found that $75,000 was the average number that met the "comfortable standard" test, and that more money didn't increase Americans' happiness.
Many of us might argue with this seemingly low salary ceiling, and this isn't the most interesting part of the article. The researchers found that Americans were by far the happiest when they shared with others, when they had enough money to give away. "It's pretty simple. Even children feel better when they share what they have."
Having more money and indulging more -- buying more for ourseslves -- "are ineffective at turning money into happiness. A decade of research has demonstrated that if you insist on spending money on yourself, you should shift from buying stuff (TVs and cars) to experiences (trips and special evenings out). Our own recent research shows that in addition to buying more experiences, you're better served in many cases by buying less - and buying for others."
One of the cleverest lines I've read in a long while follows: "Indulgence is often closely trailed by its chubby sidekick, overindulgence."
Lesson for law firms: There is a two-fold lesson here --a) Instead of buying clients gifts this holiday season, design experiences for them - things you can do together or that they can do with their families. b) Increase your charitable contributions budget, pro bono commitments and civic responsibilities for 2013. Budget season is soon upon us - be more generous and reap the bountiful emotional (and other) benefits.
3. Are you secretly shy? In the Cultural Studies part of the Times, an article titled "The Spotlight Dims and Shyness Sets in" reveals that comedian Chris Rock is "painfully shy." His wife says, "At a dinner party, you want to sit next to me."
In addition to Chris Rock, the article points to former Britsh Prime Minister Gordon Brown and business leaders like former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who could stand up and give speeches and lead groups of people, who could be exuberant and verbose - but who self-identified as shy.
A call-out in the article says, "Some shy people are able to find their voice after a glass of wine or with a lengthy blog post." Have you ever wondered if the proliferation of bloggers on topics ranging from animal welfare to travel to make-up and fashion - not to mention the thousands of business and law blogs - results from secret shyness in these writers? Truly un-shy people would rather be surrounded by people than sitting quietly at their computers. In fact, when I speak to lawyers who are naturally gregarious who want to start a blog, I caution them about the solitary nature of this ubiquitous commitment.
The article states, "Social media (with the 'social' part more remote, almost oxymoronic) can be the shy person's best friend, such common respite that it has been dubbed ' electronic extroversion.'"
Lesson for law firms: Social media isn't for all lawyers, but it can be a remarkable fit - an effective voice - for the secretly (or unsecretly) shy. And it is likely not a great fit for your biggest extroverts. They'll have a hard time following through.
4. "Estate Planning for Savvy Zombies" -- isn't that a great title? Well, it was inspired by an Iowa Law Review article called "Death and Taxes and Zombies" written by Adam Chodorow of the Arizona State University Law School. The essay says, "This timely academic work explores the important question of whether zombies should be considered dead for purposes of the estate tax."
"If we relax the assumption that death is, in fact, permanent" . . . (don't you love that?! Relaxing the assumption that death is permanent - ha!) . . ."it turns out that there are a lot of traps for the unwary and planning opportunities for the well-advised. Under a rule of 'merely undead not really most sincerely dead,' a wealthy person could delay paying the estate tax upon his passing into the zombie realm; those taxes would have to be paid only after a more decisive event, like having his head blown off with a shotgun."
The article continues, "'Those with assets of more than $5 million, [the author] said, should consider becoming a zombie.'" And, it continues, peppering in advice about vampires and werewolves.
Lesson for law firms: Scholarly articles don't have to read like ancient treatises unearthed from a Roman crypt. If you are a lover of contemporary culture, pepper your intellectual offerings with references that keep you and your audience fully engaged. I am still hunting for a copy of this article and will post a link when I find it.
5. There were two articles that referenced James Bond as a role model and teacher. The first one was called, "Why CEOs Need a Dose of James Bond," and was an interview with Joel Babbit, CEO of Mother Nature Network.
I especially liked this next quote - and agree with it. It's about meetings - and the length of meetings. ". . . I believe that the majority of meetings could easily be cut to a third of what they are and accomplish much more. People just lose track after some point, and it doesn't matter what's being said. If you go into a meeting where somebody's talking more than 15 minutes, 90 percent of the people are looking at their BlackBerrys and not paying attention." (I'm sure RIM would appreciate that call-out given its plunging market share.)
Babbit continues, "I've also found that the higher up you go in a corporation when you have a meeting, the shorter the meetings are. So, if you meet with somebody who's an assistant vice president, the meeting will be two hours. You meet with a vice president, that's an hour. You meet with the Chief Financial Officer, it's a half-hour. You meet with the CEO, it's 10 minutes. That's how it works. By the way, you often see the same thing with returning phone calls: assistant vice president takes four days; vice president takes two days; the CFO in one day; and the CEO calls back in 10 minutes."
So, where does the James Bond role model come in? Babbit said that he watched "Goldfinger" 100 times, and when James Bond was working on "serious stuff, like saving the world, he always enjoyed himself. He would have a drink every night and go out on a date and would make witty remarks in the midst of crisis. I think that's a very good business lesson."
Lesson for law firms: If you are or want to be viewed as a senior executive, shorten your meetings by half (or more), and return your phone calls half-again faster (or more) than you normally do.
6. Finally, in an article called, "Got Milk? You Don't Need it" by super-chef/author Mark Bittman, he writes about his chronic issues with acid reflux (or GERD) and chronic heartburn. "Although treating heartburn is a business worth more than $10 billion a year, the solution may be as simple as laying off dairy," which, he notes is free. He also notes that it is easier to digest cheese and yogurt than it is milk in its liquid form.
Lesson for law firms: If you suffer from chronic heartburn and you are on prescription meds, it may not be the pizza with anchovies or the Steak Oscar or the screaming senior partner. As much as I love the "Got Milk?" advertising campaign using celebrities, you might try giving milk or dairy up altogether.
It's great to be home and back to my blog.