Minding My Own Business

Late to the party

January 15, 2008

I am one of the few people in the United States who does not watch the television series 24. Or so it seems. Whether I am in the airport, at a business meeting, or even at a family get together, if the conversation turns to 24, I am the only one reaching for my Blackberry to check email or heading over to refresh my drink. Even my father, who watches almost no television shows with regularity, can carry on a discussion about 24. Now, I have nothing personally against 24 - How could I, when I have never seen a single episode? - but even if I wanted to join in on the fun, the serial nature of the series would necessitate my purchasing and viewing all previous seasons on DVD and then catching up at the beginning of the next season. This seems like an awfully big commitment of time and (dare I say it about watching television) effort. So I plow forward through life without adding Jack Bauer to my personal pantheon of fictional resources, resigned forever to feeling out of place when the topic inevitably turns to 24.

Upon reflection, this attitude of mine seems pretty absurd. After all, just because I haven't been there from the beginning doesn't mean I shouldn't jump in at some point and enjoy the rest of the ride. I have absolutely no problem with a midstream entrance in the business world, where it is impossible to spot every single trend, perspective, emerging writer, revolutionary philosophy, or exciting new tool before they have mainstreamed. In fact, as business people, we operate beneath an unyielding and overwhelming cascade of facts, figures, products, services, analyses, and advice. It is physically impossible for any individual to be out in front of everything all of the time.

So I have reached the conclusion that it is in fact acceptable to arrive late to the proverbial party. And during 2007, I discovered a great many parties of particular use and enjoyment to me, despite my happening upon them long after they launched. Several have become staples in my life, while I seek out others for just occasional perspective or creative diversions. But each and every one of them has helped me in its own way to understand business - and life - just a little bit better, which is why I'd like to use this first column of 2008 to share a few of them with you.

Every week, Ben Stein, the actor, comedian, game show host, economist, and writer, pens the most consistently informative, understandable, useful, and funny business column around. For me, it is the only must-read section of The New York Times Sunday Business section - in fact, the only must-read section of The New York Times all week.

LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is without a doubt the most useful business networking site I have found on the web. It is simple to understand and use, easy to join, and best of all, it is free at the basic level, which is more than sufficient for most users. LinkedIn has enabled me to locate experts in various fields, reconnect with old classmates and colleagues, and perhaps most important, provided me with a number of legitimate contacts and several significant business opportunities.

Speaking of web sites, most of us are familiar with Craigs List, but I've recently begun utilizing it as a business tool. Whether it is providing a low cost vehicle to advertise job openings to a very focused geography to assisting our firm in surveying and comparing the business climates in potential areas of our clients' expansion, the no-frills site has lived up to its reputation as a truly outstanding and easy-to-access resource.
JetBlue Airlines is famous for two things: The 37 channels of DirectTV at each seat and the system meltdown the company experienced during a storm last January that stranded tens of thousands of passengers for days. But if you've never flown JetBlue, you can't possibly understand how pleasant an overall experience it is compared with just about every airline. From the ease of online booking, check-in, security, and boarding to the industry leading legroom, friendliness of the flight attendants, and the bottomless barrel of cookies, crackers, pretzels, and of course, blue chips, JetBlue is the very best coach flight experience around.

Satellite radio has its loyal fans - and now I am one of them, despite the all-too-occasional spotty reception, for several compelling reasons. First, I don't enjoy commercials, and most music stations on Sirius and XM simply don't have them. Second, the sports packages are fantastic, giving you access to every game across the country, which is especially great for frequent travelers. Third, it's nice to be able to access the same stations wherever you are in the United States. Whether I am sitting in traffic on the West Side Highway in Manhattan or crawling on the 405 in Los Angeles, listening to E Street Radio on Sirius Channel 10 puts me right into a comfort zone.
For many of our clients, detailed market research is an essential element to the development and execution of business strategies. While there is no substitute for good old fashioned shoe leather and in-the-field research, industry and customer surveys are critical, and the one site that really caters to this need is SurveyMonkey.com. This inexpensive tool is flexible and customizable, and with the right amount of thought and creativity it can serve as an effective supplement to any organization's research activities.

While accompanying a client on a site visit to an exciting condo redevelopment in Brooklyn, I found myself seriously winded after hoisting myself up a dozen flights of stairs to the roof. Forced to admit to myself that my weekend softball, golf, and occasional basketball were only slightly more regular than the cobweb covered treadmill and bicycle haunting my dank basement, I finally broke down and joined a gym this past year - and began a regular workout routine. What a difference it has made, not only in my waistline, but in my energy levels (higher), stress levels (lower), and stamina (much, much higher). I still can't get over the irony that an increase in exercise results in feeling less tired throughout the day. And best of all, I just discovered that my health insurance provider will refund the entire membership cost to me!

Here is a revelation I experienced over the past 12 months: WiFi matters, especially if you travel for business. For years I tried to convince myself that it didn't, but I was wrong. I have a national network card from Verizon in my notebook, and the comfort in knowing that I can travel virtually anywhere and retain (relatively) high speed internet access without having to reconfigure anything on my computer is worth every penny of the 40 bucks per month.

That's enough for a single column, but I think you get the point. Ben Stein, LinkedIn, Craigs List, JetBlue, satellite radio, SurveyMonkey, gym membership (and regular attendance!) and WiFi - I can't even imagine conducting my business without them anymore.

As we make our way through 2008, let's keep in mind the famous observation of Carl Sagan, who noted that "somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." There are so many useful tools and resources available to each and every one of us that we would be foolish to limit ourselves to that with which we are already familiar. And the evolution is incessant. Newer and better technologies, web sites, services, columns, blogs, conferences, theories, perspectives, and life-changing methodologies appear every day, and what matters is not that you didn't embrace them right out of the box, but that you continue to actively look for those that enhance your business, job performance, or any other aspect of your life.

The Rev. Jim Ignatowski, from the classic television series Taxi, once declared, "Life is like an ice cream cone. You have to lick it fast or it will drip all over you." In this spirit, I'll reiterate: It's perfectly alright to arrive late to the party. As long as you get there while the bar is still open.

Elisha Tropper is president and CEO of T3 Associates, a New York based strategic consulting firm, and the former president of Prestige Label, a North Carolina converter. He can be reached by e-mail et@t3associates.net.
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