“You’ve got to think about big things…


“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
― Alvin Toffler


I’m addicted… And you should be too.


interior72I have to confess, I’m addicted. And I’ve done everything I could to fight this habit. I went to libraries, I left my wallet home, I abstained for days and sometimes weeks.

On my lunch break I went on my long walks down 18th Street, NW. The route to the left would take me to Dupont Circle – risky!  The path to the right would lead me to the World Bank building – also dangerous!

After a long mental battle with myself, I finally gave in, my lunch clock ticking down.

Potbelly? Caribou? Starbucks?

Nope (these would actually save me).

You guessed it by now?

These high-risk destinations are “Books-A-Million,” Kramer’s Bookstore, and the World Bank’s nice Infoshop bookstore.

Yes, I am addicted to the bookstores, and to business books in particular. Of course, you know that after you read fifty or more books on any business topic, including strategy, marketing, sales and creativity, most of it becomes repetitive, and you can only learn about 5 percent new from each new book you’re reading.

Yet, as I entered each new store, I’d go straight to the business book section, grab five or six, get my small Americano, and immerse myself in reading. At the end of my lunch hour, I’d want to buy a few and eventually convince myself that one was enough.

Ka-ching! The cashier thanks me for the purchase, and I can’t wait to get home. In a couple of hours the book lands on the pile on the bookshelf.

…And I’m “hungry” again.

So when I was cleaning my office and re-arranging my collection yesterday, I actually counted them. It turned out that I own over 100 business books. With an average price of $25, it looks like that I made an investment of $2,500 in my knowledge.

Did this investment help me professionally? Absolutely, but with one important caveat: only when I practiced it immediately. For example, using the principles of Dan Roam’s “The Back of the Napkin,” job interviews got so much easier. Joe Vitale’s “Hypnotic Writing” and Tom Ahern’s “How to Write Fundraising Materials” helped shape my communication messages. Jon Poelstra’s “Marketing Outrageously” and Eric Ryan’s “The Method. Method” gave me a boost with “old” new marketing ideas.

How do I do it? I use very simple steps:

  1. Read the book with a pencil in my hand.

  2. Write down specific ideas I found particularly interesting on the index cards.

  3. Reflect on these ideas, trying to use it for my particular ongoing or future project.

  4. Reflect on my findings.  Modify these ideas and create my own formula.

  5. Use these ideas at my next opportunity (work/volunteering/personal)

So following my principle of sharing the best with my contacts and followers, I’m going to share the summaries of my favorite business books in the following posts.

What are your favorite business books? Which one helped you the most in your career, or a single project? How do you use ideas you found in these business books?

“The biggest risk is…


“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” ~ Mark Zuckerberg

Attention Students: Learn 5 Key Skills to Get Your Career Started in International Business


International was the word I grew up with.

Back in the late ‘70s in the midst of the Cold War, I always dreamt of seeing the other side of the globe, of visiting fascinating countries, of being different. Even when we learned how to hide under our school desks in case a nuclear explosion hit the city, I continued to dream of understanding other people through learning their cultures.

Skill #1: Learn English and/or another foreign language; it will be one of the best investments you make in your life.

I instinctively knew that the only key to success was learning a foreign language. English was my choice. And English alone helped me to get into the university of my choice, find my first job, travel around the world and pave my way to another language, Mandarin Chinese.

When I came to China as an exchange student in 1990, one of my new English friends told me: “practice, practice, practice.” Even if you sound ridiculous and feel totally embarrassed, go on and talk, he advised. And talked I did.

So if you are thinking of an international career, and if your native language is English, don’t let it stop you from learning another language. In fact, it is not a choice anymore; it is a must to building a successful international career. Look what Tim Ferris, author of bestselling The Four Hour Work Week is saying about effective language learning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hd_qmlWxxg

Skill #2: Study the history and cultures of countries you would like to work with.

The next element of success in your international career is your openness to other cultures and genuine interest in someone else’s life. Human beings are inherently social creatures.  So, you must learn about the world, immerse yourself in the history of other countries and study their cultural heritage.

This knowledge will serve you throughout your entire career.  You can use it to begin meaningful conversations. You can spark up stalled negotiations with a carefully thought-out story in another language. You can make peace by knowing cultural sensitivities.

See, for example, what Sheikha Al Mayassa, a supporter of cultural diversity in Qatar, says about how art and culture create a country’s identity at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nItwVO9stX8.

Skill #3: Master your public speaking skills.

With your foreign language mastered and embellished by knowing foreign cultures, you can do a lot.  Yet, to become successful, you will need advance the next skill – your ability to present yourself in public.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen so many young and promising graduates or young professionals who lost their perfect chance for a job or promotion just because they could not handle public speaking. Yes, for some people it is scarier than death itself. Yes, some people tremble and can’t open their mouths in front of a crowd of five high school students. Yet, I am absolutely convinced that everyone can master this skill.

If this is your stumbling block, find some help. Even kings need help. Do you remember the movie The King’s Speech? Come on, wouldn’t you say that poor King George had it worse than you?

The best advice I have for you is to join Toastmasters International. This group is known for its unique approach, working in small supportive groups providing constructive feedback to both neophytes and professional speakers.

And for inspiration, check this amazing speech by Ryan Avery, the winner of the Toastmasters International 2012 contest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReE7-X70iPU

And yes, you can do it too when you give it your all.

Skill #4: Improve Your Business English Writing Skills.

The fourth most important skill you need to enhance is writing. And if you object to this, perhaps the German philosopher Nietzsche will convince you.  He once said, the best author will be the one who is ashamed to become a writer.”

Now I am not saying that you must become an all-out writer. Absolutely not. What I am referring to is learning Business English. By learning how to write using active verbs and short sentences, you will be able to master  copy writing (which you must!), understand how to write grant proposals (if you are interested in fundraising) and make your pitch to capricious angel investors.

There are many good books on Business English writing skills. For example, check out these books:

Writing That Works; How to Communicate Effectively In Business, by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (Jan 10, 2008)

And the final skill is…

The final skill that you must embrace is not that obvious. In fact, some among you might exclaim – oh, no, I don’t even want to hear about it. Me doing what?

You guessed it right.

Skill #5: Learn Sales and Marketing Skills.

This makes a lot of people cringe. You might think about car salesmen. Oh, how people dislike them, even though they are just doing their job!

Look what Jeff Gordon, NASCAR driver did with one of these people: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q02BXGDSDkE

I don’t want you to become the victim of a prank of this magnitude. However, with all my respect to all my non-profit friends, if you don’t know how to sell, you are not going to reach your goals. Often, you’ll get nowhere (except to Starbucks).

Learn the best from the masters and I guarantee you that you will actually enjoy these lessons. You may venture into Zig Zigler’s talks, or see what sales means for writers like Daniel Pink: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5b60eA8VNI.

Realize that selling skills can help you advance not only your career, but also make you a more persuasive and effective communicator in all aspects of your life.

So, whether it is international business, international development or education, you will always be on the right track with your perfect English and a second foreign language, cultural knowledge and diversity, excellent public speaking, sales and writing skills.

What was your skill that help you to advance your career in international business?

Networking With Purpose: 5 Keys to Success


Meeting with President Elbegdorj at Presidential Palace in Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar was not as cold as I had imagined. In fact, it was a buzzing city whose boundless energy seemed to overpower even the sea of Soviet-built housing complexes.

The next day we were set to meet President Elbegdorj, the head of one of the most dynamic economies of Northern Asia, the country of Mongolia.
When we entered the Presidential Palace, it was an amazing feeling. Of course, meeting with a president is something very unique, but I also was happy that I had helped to advance the goals of the organization I was working for at the time.

How do you meet presidents, CEOs of top companies, or celebrities? What is the secret of finding your way into their worlds?

Do you need to know the grocery store where George Clooney gets his asparagus? Or do you patrol airports to nonchalantly run into the president of a foreign country? Or is it just pure luck?

For me, it has always been networking — networking with purpose. There is no one simple trick that would allow you to be successful in this important business skill, other than be genuine and give, give, give.

Most of us are guilty of stalking people just to burst out with a long-long story about our achievements and successes. It is always about us. It is always – give me! Our messages and elevators speeches are filled with egos the size of the universe. Why?

Let’s remember that single best advantage of meeting another human being is to learn about him or her. We should constantly remind ourselves that everyone appreciates sharing his or her own story.

Whenever you meet someone new, ask yourself – how can I help this person right now? Can my business or personal connections, or a particular skill I have, help this person succeed?

If you think this way, I guarantee you will find success in no time.

In my mind, I have always tried to file away information and categorize my contacts and projects, to be able to match them with the next person who might need my help.

My secrets to great networking are:

1) Always think of the other person first

2) Find out how your skills and connections can help this person right now

3) Create and practice your elevator speech to perfection

4) Follow up

5) Make an effort to become a sustainable connection

What are your secrets to networking success?

Duckies 1, Hunters 0 — or Does Direct Mail Actually Work?


I put on my sneakers, open the door and walk out into the drizzle. It usually takes me 34 steps to get to my mailbox. I lean against a huge oak tree, and a bunch of cold acorns land right on my head. Ouch!

I pull out a little metal key from my pocket, and reach into the mailbox.  No news there – I’m walking back with a whole bunch of junk mail, knowing what exactly is going to the recycling bin straight away.

As I head back into the house, I recall that the Direct Mail Association (DMA) Factbook published the results of its recent research, stating that this year 65% of consumers of all ages purchased a product advertised by direct mail. Furthermore, according to Direct Mail News, in 2012 the average response rate for direct mail reached 4.4% for B2B and B2C mailings, easily surpassing e-mail’s response rate of just 0.12%.

Well, maybe.

My junk mail pile is now on the kitchen table. Temporarily. I can almost feel how each envelope is trying to impress me.

But I am not. In fact, I am on automatic pilot.

There are two piles, one is very small, another one is a mountain-high.

Let’s see, Macy’s new catalog – zip, gone. New distance education courses? Hmm, not this time. Another credit card offer? You must be kidding me, Cardinal Bank. And so most of it goes into the mountainous pile on my table.

Aha, finally, here is some personal mail I want to keep. This is real mail.

But wait a minute, two envelopes grab my attention. On the first one I see a little child suffering from famine.  Her eyes are desperate. She needs help. And the message is clear.  $19 will give a rabbit to this girl in African village. $35 will provide five little ducks. $75 will bring a nice goat. Everything’s clear.  I am interested.

Another one also piqued my curiosity. It is a very unique brown colored envelope with a picture of a moose and forest on the background. I tear it open and see a long letter on a fancy letter. The letter suggests that I need to look into hunting. If I become a member, I get a couple of razor-sharp knives for free and discounts on rifles. Seriously?

Do these people even know that I’m not even remotely interested in hunting? They probably purchased the list from the Western Horseman magazine I got for free with my miles, or something like that.

All these nicely printed letters and offers of cheap rifles fly like rockets into the garbage. So does direct mail actually work?

Yes, it does, if you follow these guidelines:

1. You have to know your customers. Don’t waste your money trying to buy generic lists. Your letters will end up in the trash almost immediately. Talk to experienced consultants specializing in direct mail response. Find out which database will be best for your industry. If you can, start with your own list.

2. Your letter should grab attention, so that your client opens it. The next step, of course, is to make sure that you have a clear message and unique supporting graphics.

3. You need to test various options. Test, test, test. Mark your mail with QR codes or simple numbers to make sure to re-use your winning copy for other campaigns.

Joe Gareht, an experienced fundraising professional and owner of The Fundraising Authority site, suggests to design letters targeted to the three types of recipients, “the 10 second club, the skimmers, and the readers.” Joe notes that while the first group will throw your mail to the trash in 10 seconds, the second group will hold it for about half a minute, while the readers will hold it for an eternity — 1-2 minutes! The key is to attract your reader by using the best focus areas like the first line, and the P.S.  To capitalize on this, make sure that you bold and italicize and use captions.

The final part is easy, ask a concrete amount for a measurable service. Yes, the ducks work great!

What is your trick for direct mail?

Bathtub Lessons



Bill, a good friend of a friend of mine, spends weeks and weeks on business travel. He recently went to Beijing to meet with an important client on a multi-million deal. The negotiations took forever, as it often happens in China. Eventually, sometime close to midnight he sneaked out from the exquisite ballroom where his team was held for hours by overly patient Chinese counterparts.

Enough is enough, said Bill, I need a drink. And he went straight to the bar. After the first Martini, Bill felt much better. Relaxing music and dim light slowly melted his mood. In just six hours I will be on the plane going back to LA, thought Bill. Forget this negotiations, forget this deal, I’m just…

At this very moment a tall attractive woman approached him and with a nice smile said. “I can help you with this deal. Do you have a moment?”

Excuse me?

My name is Wang, and first of all I’d like to buy you a drink, may I?


Before he knew it, Wang was back with two more drinks.

Ms. Wang, I…

No, the tradition of this place is to drink first, and then talk, smiled Wang.

Bill took a sip, and that what the last thing he remembered.

He woke up feeling completely frozen. When he looked around he realized — yes, you guessed it — he was lying in a bathtub filled with ice. He started panicking, but then he saw a big sign on the wall.

Do Not Move! Call Operator 12-21.

He frantically pushed the small button of the white hotel telephone sitting on a small table beside the bathtub.

After a couple of rings when the operator picked up the phone, Bill started screaming that he needed immediate help. To his surprise the operator calmly noted: “Sir, please don’t move and follow my instructions. Please reach behind you, but do it very slowly. Do you feel that there is a tube protruding from your lower back?”

The operator again calmly but reassuringly said: “No need to panic, Sir. Your kidney has been harvested. There is a gang of organ thieves in the city. Emergency service is on the way. Please don’t move. They will be there in three minutes.”

Now let me ask you a question – do you remember the number of the operator Bill needed to call? Do you recall who gave a drink to the man? And why was Bill in Beijing after all?

No matter how many times you’ve heard this urban legend, somehow you vividly recall all the details of this story with no effort. The idea simply stuck in your head.

Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of the bestselling book “Made to Stick,” decided to answer to this very important question of how to make your ideas and your communication effective and viable. In other words, how to make it stick in someone else’s head.

The six principles from the Heath brothers’ book include:

1.      Simplicity

2.      Unexpectedness

3.      Concreteness

4.      Credibility

5.      Emotions

6.      Stories

If you work in business development, marketing or fundraising, these “sticky” principles should be your guide to get your point across or land a donor. As the Heaths explain, the first principle should bring the idea to its core. “We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.”

Using surprise as an opening can help create a spark of interest from your audience. Yet the surprise alone will go only so far without clarity. We need to add concrete data to justify our point, and make our point credible.

Finally, don’t forget that people love emotional context in a story format. That’s why we go to movies. Try to create an amazing experience with your story, so they’ll never forget your point.

Now when you are preparing for that annual campaign or major rebranding at your company, don’t forget to use these six principles.

But wait, what was the name of the woman who offered a drink to Bill?