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April Fools Day Is No Day To Market Truth

The month that follows March kicks off with some tomfoolery; we call this April Fool’s Day. 

As a publisher, each year I receive some April Fool’s Day press releases. While the best ones quickly become self-obvious, there were a couple that I wasn’t sure about. I scowl and press delete.  This is a great reason to never, ever make a serious announcement on April first. You don’t want your important missive to be dismissed as a joke.

I remember years ago, the head-scratcher goes to a book announcement for:

“A Paradise for Some is Paradise for None. Based on actual stories, it tells you about Ron Edelweiss. A former Swiss banker Ron Edelweiss spent eight years in the Caribbean tax, a legal and regulatory haven of the Crocodile Islands, and the challenges he and his family face there, and then in Switzerland as a consequence of his determination to resist the corrupt system.

Although based on “stories,” the book jacket said it was “an entirely and completely and decidedly and deceptively fictional novel.” A Google search of the title gave no matches, but the author is presumably real—and has a website and blog about his ordeal. The book was listed by Lulu, a publishing company that offers books-on-demand and e-books.

The whole thing smacks of subterfuge, but if it is, it is an elaborate ruse. In any event, had I received the announcement on April 2, I would have accepted it as real. As it is, I’m not sure what to think.  Perhaps that joke was on me.

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What if the Internet Were Unplugged

What if the Internet Were Unplugged

Several years ago, there was a time when I lost my Internet connection. Although I had a lot of work to do, I couldn’t think of anything I could accomplish without Internet access. It was about quarter to twelve, so I took an early lunch.

An hour later it still wasn’t working, so I made the dreaded call to my provider. I greatly disliked doing so because they had an attitude that the problem was my fault. It’s the technological world’s version of “guilty until proven innocence.”After enduring numerous automated prompts and punching in an inordinate number of digits, they preformed an automatic test of my line. They pronounced it good and—coincidently or not—my Internet connection started working shortly thereafter.

That prompted a renewed reminder of just how much I depend on the Internet to work. It was a time to give serious thought to how I would conduct business if I were to lose Internet access for a prolonged period of time.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher of Article Weekly. In addition to being a publisher and editor, he is an author and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

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It’s Your Move: Life Lessons From the Game of Chess

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

My cousins taught me how to play chess when I was in third grade. My parents, doubting I could grasp the complexities of the game, urged caution and tried to lower my expectations. Yet I forged ahead.

My oldest cousin patiently taught me the names of the pieces and how they moved. He gently quizzed me to gauge my understanding. Soon we played a real game. Despite novice errors, it was great fun. We played until he grew weary. Then I begged his siblings for a few games. But they had less tolerance for my sloppy play; by midafternoon we moved on to other things.

The next morning I challenged my instructor to play again. Before the day was done, I won my first game. He rallied, winning the next two, but I sensed I was beginning to challenge him. Seeking to avoid another loss, he feigned boredom and retreated to a safer activity. I then asked his brother to play. Discerning I’d advanced enough for it to not be too demeaning, he condescended to pick up where his brother left off. By the time their visit was over, I was hooked.

Practice Makes Perfect

Although my desire to play chess was strong, opportunities were limited. I asked family members, but each had a reason not to learn the game. My neighbor wasn’t much help either, having only passing interest. So I played against myself. Sometimes I would play the white pieces (which moves first and takes the offensive); other times I would take the black side (which responds and defends). Sometimes, I’d switch sides midway through the game, giving up a superior position to assume a lesser one.

These exercises may not have been the best way to improve, but I did get better. When it came time for a real game, my practicing paid off.

Study

Although enjoyable, playing against myself became wearisome. So I turned to books. First, I learned some esoteric rules, like en passant, which is seldom used in a real game. Then I studied opening moves and their recommended defenses. I also learned techniques, like the pin, the knight fork (a personal favorite), discovered check (a great way to confound your opponent), and gambits, as well as endgame tactics.

Having consumed several books, I zeroed in on one titled, “How to Beat Bobby Fischer.” The premise was that it was statistically more probable to beat Fischer than to force a draw—of course, he was nine times more likely to win than lose. I actually read, studied, and reenacted many of the sixty-one games he lost in Grandmaster tournaments. I reasoned that to improve, I needed to study the master.

Don’t Give Up

The unspoken credo among my chess-playing buddies was that you never conceded. No matter how dire the situation, we would never quit, playing to the end. Resigning a chess game was for those of lesser character. This perspective taught me two things.

First, I learned how to be a good winner, to be gracious to the other player as a person, all the while dismantling his army and backing his king into the corner for an acrimonious checkmate. I wanted to win but desired to not belittle my opponent in the process—after all, I would want to play him again.

Playing to the end also taught me to remain dignified in defeat. That’s much harder—especially when the vanquishing conqueror is relishing his impending victory too much. Yet, these moments perfect character.

Play it Again

Losing is never fun, especially when you deem yourself the superior player, but it does happen. I learned to accept defeat as part of the game and to grow in the process. It’s true that you can learn more in defeat than in victory.

It’s also important to not wallow in self-pity when setbacks occur but to shake off the disappointment and forge into the future. Regardless of how close I came to winning or how big the loss, my first response was invariably, “Wanna play again?”

Change the Rules

I sometimes played during study hall, where I could count on a worthy opponent being present. Once we organized a chess competition, complete with round-robin play and capped off by a single-elimination tournament.

My track buddy, Spencer, was in study hall, too, but he didn’t play chess. Still he was attracted to it like a magnet. The variations of pieces and moves intrigued him. I tried in vain to teach him, but his attention span was too short. Tired of watching, he one day blurted out, “Let’s play checkers—all-kings-jump-your-own-man.” I’m not sure if he made this up or not, but I was willing to try. Lacking checkers, we used my chess set, arranging the chessmen like checkers. Since every piece was automatically a king, they could move forward and backward. Also, you could jump your own piece (though you left it on the board) to catapult yourself into enemy territory to capture your opponent’s pieces. It was a wild game and Spence played it with great abandon.

Playing all-kings-jump-your-own-man checkers with a chess set would elicit snide comments from casual observers, but we didn’t care. Spence changed the rules so he could participate and I was happy to oblige.

React Quickly

Aside from Spenser, the rest of us would sometimes play “rapid chess,” where you had to move within five seconds. With no timer, it was self-policing. It taught us to think astutely and react quickly. I had a knack for it, able to assess a situation and make a snap decision, sometimes on intuition or pure reaction. Games only lasted about five minutes and were so intense that it only took a couple to give me a headache.

I sometimes adopted a “rapid chess” strategy in a regular game. Although my hurried moves were not always ideal, their unending swiftness would unnerve my opponent, causing him to get flustered and make blunders. From his perspective, it was always his turn and he was always intently concentrating. I, on the other hand, was relaxed and having fun. I learned it was often better to make a quick decision that was good than to take time to make an ideal move.

Application

To imply that life is like a game of chess is a shallow metaphor. However, just as a good game of chess requires a thoughtful approach and sound strategy, so does running a successful business or living a worthy life.

It’s your move; what’s it going to be?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher of Article Weekly. In addition to being a publisher and editor, he is an author and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

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Let’s Watch a Movie

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When someone says, “Let’s watch a movie,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Do you immediately think of a group outing to go watch the latest flick? Perhaps your preferred viewing venue is the more cozy environment of your living room couch. Could it be that watching a movie is a solitary experience for you, one you enjoy parked in front of your laptop computer?

Whatever it may be, there are a multitude of options for watching a movie—and a diverse list of business enterprises that support those variations.

Consider the following options for watching a movie:

  • Drive-in Movie Theaters: This is not likely where you would start your list, but, yes, drive-in movie theaters still exist—and there is resurgence of interest. According to drive-ins.com, there are 520 drive-ins operating in the United States today.
  • Single-Screen Theaters: The traditional theater with a solitary screen is also waning in popularity and in numbers, but it is not a thing of the past either. Close to where I live is a one-screen theater that has been making a go of it—and attendance is increasing.
  • Multiplex Theaters: The multiscreen theater is the premier venue for the off-site (that is, away from home) movie-viewing experience. These theaters offer multiple titles and varied viewing times. For major openings, they can show films simultaneously on multiple screens and with staggered starting times.
  • Network TV: This is the least costly option for those willing to wait to watch a particular movie. With an antenna, viewing is essentially free, sans the electricity to operate the TV. If you have cable or satellite, the effective cost goes up, but still there is no incremental per movie charge.
  • Movie Channels: Some movie channels are included as part of a cable/satellite subscriber package, whereas others require a monthly subscription. These are great ways to watch current and classic movies—and everything in between—providing you are willing to scrutinize the programming schedule for desired titles.
  • Pay-per-View: This is generally available on cable/satellite systems, allowing for the viewing of movies (limited to what is offered and when it is showing); there is a charge for each viewing. Essentially this model combines the scheduling and admission elements of a theater with the comfort of home viewing.
  • Video-on-Demand: On-demand is pay-per-view without the schedule. Start a movie at any time, on any day.
  • Local Video Rental Store: Video rental stores function like a library for movies—except that there is a cost for each rental. Most stores are fairly limited in their titles and may stock few copies.
  • Mail Rental: Netflix (90,000 titles) led the way with this option, with Blockbuster (80,000 titles) and others following. This service allows customers to order a movie online and have it mailed to their home, often by the next day. Watch the movie and mail it back—with free mailing. Although advance planning is required, it is less hassle than driving to a video rental—twice—and there are many more titles and copies available.
  • Download Rental and Streaming Video: This is much like the video-on-demand option, but it utilizes the Internet for distribution (think YouTube, with high quality, for movies). Currently Netflix and Movielink (acquired by Blockbuster).

What does all this mean? Plenty—and it can apply to any industry or business.

The movie distribution business is highly fragmented with many competing variations. Each of the options listed has a threatened existence. Some of them are arguably obsolete, requiring innovation and determination to remain viable. Many are feeling competitive pressures that endanger their existence. For those on the leading edge, technological advances could render them obsolete in an incredibly short time.

Let’s revisit the list again, with these issues in mind:

  • Drive-in Movie Theaters: This is an obsolete option. Those that have survived have adjusted their business model and reinvented themselves to make it work. Over 500 have done just that.
  • Single-Screen Theater: This option is one step removed from the drive-in. Those that have stayed open have figured out how to market themselves and fit into a desirable, sustainable niche.
  • Multiplex Theater: The leader among off-site movie viewing, and the conventional business model, the multiplex is facing increased and intense pressure from the remaining options on the list (except for network TV).
  • Network TV: This is the last distribution node to obtain a movie after its release; therefore, it is typically the last option we consider. How would you like to be least preferred option and garnering decreased interest? Enough said.
  • Movie Channels: An option for many, but increasingly viewed as limited in comparison to the next five options.
  • Pay-per-View: You get to see movies closer to their release date then the preceding options, but the titles are quite limited in selection and somewhat restricted by schedule.
  • Video-on-Demand: This solves the scheduling restriction of pay-per-view, but still suffers from limited titles.
  • Local Video Rental Store: Who wants the hassle of going to a video store to rent a movie, especially without knowing if your title will be available? Succinctly put, this model is rapidly approaching obsolesce. This is precisely why Blockbuster ventured into rental via mail.
  • Mail Rental: Netflix changed how we rent movies, but this model will quickly fade. Downloading movies will soon make this option passé.
  • Download Rental and Streaming Video: This remaining option seemingly has no immediate threats, but it is a technology-based solution and technology changes rapidly. As such, a pervasive threat to this business model could erupt at any moment and with little or no warning.

Fragmented Industries

Many industries are likewise fragmented. Some businesses are stuck in the past. These companies, mired in obsolescence, are still in business because they have done what the drive-ins and single-screen theaters have done: somehow they reinvented themselves, found a niche, and marketed effectively.

Then there are organizations that are trapped in their business plan, traveling down a narrowing road. Perhaps their distinctive advantage is their staff, but they can’t hire enough qualified employees. Maybe they have staked their future on an uncertain and questionable strategy. Others are loaded with technology, but the next competitive technological innovation could render all that they have as something that no one wants.

This analysis is not unique to movie distribution. It exists in every business, in every industry, and in every economy. Some will survive and some won’t.

The key is taking what you have and using it to your advantage, perhaps in a way that no one else has thought of. It could be your location, your staff, your technology, your niche, your management team, your leadership, or something else. If you have none of these options, then perhaps it’s time to morph into another line of business, be it within or apart from the industry in which you are currently a part of.

Regardless of your situation, with determination and innovation, there’s always the opportunity to reinvent your business. The one solution that won’t work is to do nothing at all.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher of Article Weekly. In addition to being a publisher and editor, he is an author and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

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Going from Good to Better

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I remember years ago as I gazed about my office, I am amused at its absurdity. It contained an eclectic array of form and function. Although my computer technology was first-rate, the room’s remaining accouterments were a varied collection emanating from different decades, with the diverging appearance and disparate degrees of utility.

In short, nothing matches. Of the six filing cabinets, three were metal and the rest, wood. With different finishes, colors, and styles, there were only two that match. The four shelving units were likewise dissimilar: early American dark oak, maple-adorned particleboard, light oak veneer, and modular plastic. It was not much to look at, but it all worked—effectively and efficiently—to my complete satisfaction and utter joy.

My office, however, was not just about function, as it also contained a collection of sentimental artifacts: gifts from family and friends, trinkets from significant events, and a near gallery of wall hangings— the most elegant of which was a tastefully matted and smartly framed cover of my first issue of Connections Magazine. Next to it was an evocative gift from my eleventh birthday, a reprint, bordered with a simple homemade frame. Then there was a framed 3-D art rendering—the kind that you need to go slightly crossed-eyed before the hidden image emerges. On the far wall was an avant-garde depiction of a Monopoly game in progress. The remaining item was a black-and-white photo, housed in an inexpensive but seemingly ornate and likely antique frame. It was an aerial photo of my grandfather’s chicken farm, DeHaan Poultry, circa 1960.

The preceding description was written in 2007, but it remained fully accurate until a few months ago. For over a decade, my office configuration and contents had served me well. During that time, it had undergone a minimal change; even at the end, it lacked little in terms of functionality and efficiency, despite its visually diverse array of appurtenances.

So why did I want to ruin a good thing? Quite simply, I wanted to make things better.

Now when I had a colleague (see “Candy DeHaan Joins Peter DeHaan Publishing), it was impractical to have our respective offices on different floors, so I moved my office to be next to my wife’s.

Although the upheaval of my comfortable office was borderline traumatic, the ending result has been worth it. An efficiency expert would deem my new configuration to be even better, and a time-motion maven granted me high marks as well.

Moving also afforded the opportunity to simplify. Several things were discarded, while others items were elevated in status; files were scrutinized, workflow was streamlined, and computer configurations were reworked. A new desk was acquired and a more practical printer connected.

Moving my office required an investment of time and money. It also took a while before I felt comfortable and effective in my new environment, but I’m better off having made the change. What I had before was good; what I have now is better.

What change have you been putting off in your office? Act now and enjoy the results.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher of Article Weekly. In addition to being a publisher and editor, he is an author and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.