I was driving in central Dublin late on a Friday and a Saturday a few weeks ago, marvelling at the traffic. There’s not much traffic about, but it’s almost all taxis. Whole armies of them, pulsing through the arteries of the city. I don’t know how you can make money as a taxi driver that time of night. Supply seems to far outstrip demand.

Perhaps people can’t afford to pay Dublin parking rates, or perhaps they fear for their car’s safety at night time. Perhaps the one-way systems drive them mad or maybe they simply prefer public transport or taxis when they’re out at night. Either way, it got me thinking.

There seems to be a considerable drop in the amount of private cars in the city at night time. There’s been much written about the Uber platform over the last few years and what it’s done to the traditional taxi industry. But has the Uber phenomenon also contributed to a drop in car ownership in each metropolis?

We’re supposed to be moving to an eventual situation where we don’t need to own a car anymore. We’ll simply dial up a request for a car which will be deposited at our departure point. We’ll drive it to our destination there, where someone else will drive it somewhere else.

I was talking to a friend the other day who came back from a sabbatical in England in the summer. He’s not bothered to move back up to a 2-car family – they sold their second car before heading to London – and on the odd occasion he needs a second car he simply hires one for the day or weekend.

It feels like we’re gradually making the move towards treating a car as a service rather than an asset, if the connection of uber and car ownership is truly causal. It’s about time too. There’s no other major asset we purchase which starts depreciating the moment we get it.

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When my Dad died, about 12 years ago, there were a number of pieces of paperwork we had to complete. I say paperwork because the forms we had to fill in were just that, paper.

Dad was truly pre-digital. He didn’t have a mobile phone, an email address or an online bank account. He didn’t have anything digital. Heck, the guy didn’t even own a pair of jeans. When he died, we wrapped up his affairs in a 100% offline way. And that was it. He generated no more paper. He didn’t write any more letters.

Nowadays a good portion of us are digital. I’m sure you are, reading this blog post. When you die, what will your digital death be like? Will someone set up your email out of office for you? ‘I’m sorry, but Paul is not in a position to reply to your email, ever. You see, he’s dead.’ Will someone close your Facebook account, your other accounts, your online subscriptions? Will they even know where your passwords are, if you’ve committed them to offline or online sttorage somewhere? There’s guy I’m connected to on LinkedIn who hasn’t just retired. He died along time ago, and I get his work anniversary notifications, which is a bit surreal.

Your digital death extends way beyond your physical death, perhaps forever. When you die, you’re not just in our hearts and minds, you’re still around in the ones and zeros.

‘It’s better to give than to receive,’ or so the old saying goes.

Many organisations and institutions rely on donations to fulfil their role in society, even for their survival. A regular donor is worth their weight in gold. Their donor lifetime value is often a very sizeable sum.

And then there are the high net worth individuals who give vast sums. They are of course the holy grail. In very many cases their donation results in something being named after them. The Smith Room/Building/Wing/Stadium/Institute/College; the list of possibilities is long. For the donor this is rewarding and gives them the public acknowledgement and legacy that they probably feel is a fair reflection of their generosity. And why not?

Then there is the other type of donor. The folk that don’t need for there to be a connection between them and the thing that their donation is funding. Anonymous donors are the truly special breed. For them the satisfaction of giving and the knowledge of the benefit it will provide is enough for them. They’re happy to play second fiddle to the receiving organisation. For them the shadows and the light under the bushel.

Anonymus donors have a special kind of nobility.

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Online advertising is getting more and more targeted, as you’d expect. Companies and websites are getting better at collecting and mining customer information so that they can deliver more targeted ads which have a higher chance of converting, since in theory they resonate and are more relevant.

That doesn’t stop the odd bit of blanket advertising. Here’s one I got earlier in the year from M&S, promoting their Big & Tall range. I’m far from big and I’m far from tall. Surely if this is just a bulk buy from hotmail then it’s not appropriate for a section of the population in the high 90’s per cent?

I get lots of such ads to my hotmail account. I can tell you that they’re not remotely targeted. The only ones that are targeted are when I’ve abandoned a purchase on an ecommerce-savvy website like Amazon, and then it presents back to me the exact product I was either researching or declined to purchase.

To understand why companies still persist with untargeted ads and their microscopically small click-through rates, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Perhaps they don’t get the data from the owner of the space. Perhaps the click-through rates are still worth it. Perhaps the front-of-mind awareness, which has always been so hard to measure in the traditional offline world, is good enough for them.

Either way, it’s hard to believe that this form of untargeted online advertising has much of a shelf life.

 

Are you a ‘State of the Art’ person or ‘State of the Ark’?

State of the Art people love trying and owning the latest hot tools and playthings. They’re always on the lookout for the fresh and the new. They don’t mind paying a premium for being at the front of the queue and in some cases they’ll tolerate the kinks and bugs before they get ironed out.

State of the Ark people are quite happy with their outdated device, since redundancy or obsolescence don’t faze them too much. It works well for them, and if it isn’t broken then they don’t want to fix it. For them the gains in pleasure or productivity don’t offset the pain and effort of scaling the learning and adoption curve. Let the guinea pigs deal with the problems; we’ll take it when it’s 100% ready to go.

Much of this depends on where we are on the adoption life cycle for new things, toys and technology. It’s a kind of bell curve with innovators and early adopters at one end, and laggards at the other. In the main part of the bell curve are the early majority and the late majority who make up the vast bulk of us all.

It’s not just gadgets and gizmos though. The adoption lifecycle works for anything new and our place on it says a lot about the kinds of people we are and our attitude to change.

Some folks use short-hand to convey that something was too long for them to read it. They simply write TL;DR, as in too long, didn’t read. It’s often levelled at overly long blog posts and the like, something you could never say about this blog.

I was recommended to subscribe to Tim Ferriss’ emails by a friend some months ago. He’s very well-known as the creative force behind the 4-Hour Work Week, Tools of Titans and so on. His emails on interesting stuff he’s coming across and recommendations for life improvement are really good. I’d been saving a few of his emails to read in one go, because they featured podcasts of TV interviews he’d done with people I admired.

The other day I got the chance to listen to the podcasts. Except that I didn’t. They were so long! Each podcast was at least an hour, comprising very long pre-ambles and sponsor messages before you get into a conversation that seemed to last forever. I tried clicking into later parts of the podcasts, but it didn’t work and I ended up deleting them all.

I’m sure the content was excellent, but I didn’t have the time to wade through them. Perhaps I wasn’t the target audience, since I’ve not got my working week down to the stage where I’m only doing 4 hours and have oodles of time to spare. I suppose I could have had the interviews playing in the background while I was working, but then I wouldn’t really have been paying attention.

For me it was a case of TL;DL – too long, didn’t listen. A missed opportunity, for me and the originator.

The traditional approach to work for the vast majority of us, at least since national governments have been putting proper welfare structures in place for their people, is that we work for 40 years and then we retire, with a pot of money to sustain us, theoretically, for the rest of our lives. It’s the occupational pension, as opposed to the state pension which kicks in beyond a certain age.

Another school of thought has emerged relatively recently, namely that we should take regular longĀ breaks from work and work until we’re older, enjoying these mini-retirements when we’re younger and healthier. Proponents of this version of the work/life balance call the traditional approach ‘the deferred life’, because you’re working hard and putting your life on hold until you retire. All your free time is pushed back to your most aged and infirm years. We’re living longer, which is a bonus but we’re also working longer to support the longer retirement too.

I must confess that I’ve had a few of these mini-retirements, in some cases before they were even thought of as such, but that was probably more down to indolence than good planning.

Of course, the $64,000 question that everybody asks is this: ‘how do I amass the $64,000 I need to live well without earning for a year or so?’ Clearly there are two barriers to being able to do this: money and flexibility. You need to have the moolah to bunk off every few years and tick something off your bucket list. You also need to have a work situation that allows you to do that, in the form of either an understanding and forward-thinking employer or your own business.

As many of us are faced with the prospect of working into our 70s to recoup the cataclysmic pension losses of 2008, the idea of mini-retirements and mini-returns-to-work seems more attractive with every passing month.

When I compare my generation in the developed world with the generation above us, by which I mean our parents – and I realise I’m generalising the generations here, I see some opposite dynamics in terms of when you’re on the swings or the roundabouts of life, on the peaks or in the troughs.

A friend of mine has a saying. Our parents, he says, were hard in, easy out. We are on the other hand, are easy in, hard out.

What does he mean by this? Well, it’s a factor of economic prosperity, economic swings and demographics. Our parents – I’m middle aged so assume I’m talking about the generation who are currently 70 and over – had a fairly tough start to working lives once they left school or college. These were depressed economic times and they had to graft for a long time to get on the ladder and work there way up it. Now, having worked their allotted time, and with their occupational pensions intact, they can enjoy their retirement and spend their grey pounds/dollars/euros. Hard in, easy out.

Our generation on the other hand, well we had it easy to start with, certainly compared to them. Some of us stayed with steady jobs, some of us dabbled in the dot com stuff and perhaps started our own businesses. Then there was the huge economic reversal of a decade ago, from which some countries are still recovering. For a lot of us there have been underpayments or non-payments to our pension pots, which have compounded the issue by performing badly or in some cases disappearing altogether. Add to that the huge hammer blow of an increasingly large and ageing non-working society, with an increasingly smaller group of younger adults to prop it up, and you’re talking retirement ages which seem to go up a year every year. The net of this is that we’ll have less of our lives left to enjoy our retirement, even with the increased lifespans. Easy in, hard out.

And what about the generation we’ve given birth to and raised, the millennials? They’re almost certainly easy in too. Hopefully, if we can continue to improve our global lot without blowing ourselves to smithereens, they’ll be easy out. I’m not particularly confident of that though.

These days when you ask an English person how they are, you still hear something along the lines of ‘Not too bad, can’t complain.’ I don’t think you hear it from the younger generations.

When I use the phrase I often add the comment, ‘much as I’d like to’, with what I imagine is a dry, worldly smile. I probably look like I’m in pain, which I guess would give me something to complain about.

For a lot of us English folk though, being ready to complain seems to be our default position. I guess that’s why we attract the ‘whingeing poms’ sobriquet. The phrase- can’t complain, not wingeing poms – is a pretty old one, so perhaps it originated from a time when, for most people, actually there was quite a lot to complain about. It also reminds me of the joke about the elderly Jewish gentleman in hospital. ‘Are you comfortable?’ the nurse asks. ‘I make a living’, he replies. He might as well have said ‘can’t complain’.

It is, I suppose, an example of using a negative phrase to reinforce a positive sentiment. I used to date a lady from the US who when she saw a handsome man would whisper to me ‘not too shabby…’

To give another example, my wife hates it when I describe a meal as ‘not bad’, ‘not too bad’ or even ‘not bad at all’. She doesn’t accept my protestations that they are all complimentary, as dictated by the tone I use to say them. To us English folk, not bad is good, not too bad is very good and not bad at all is very good indeed.

 

There’s a phrase that’s been around for a long time. It’s ‘ready and willing’. You’re prepared to do something and you want to do it too. It’s pretty important for our own initiative and if we’re to get other people to work with us too.

We can’t be ready and willing all the time though.

It seems to me that ready and willing is not enough after a while. You can’t just be ready and willing, you’ve got to be ready and winning as well. You’ve got to be making progress.

Is easy to be willing if you’re winning. If you’re not ready and winning, even if it’s baby steps, small wins and other examples of forward motion, it’s very difficult to stay ready and willing.

As an aside, and in the interest of full disclosure, this post came about because I overheard a conversation between my daughter and a friend whose first language wasn’t English. She said ‘ready and willing’ and the friend asked what ‘ready and winning’ meant. Close, but not quite…