The World Continues To Change

In the 1800s, as many as 90% of the people lived on farms. By 1900 it was about 40%.

What Changed?

There was more opportunity in the 20th century than in the 19th, and people moved to cities and towns to take advantage. The growth in the availability of farm machinery made the transition easier and did not imperil the food supply for a growing population.

The trend of shrinking rural living to more urban living has not diminished. Today only about 1% of people live on farms, and in the United States, about 2.8 million people have the career farmer or farm worker. Given the importance of food supply in the world, that seems a tiny number.

I suppose more and better equipment, seed, fertilizer and pest control products, and livestock make it possible.

Given the continuing change, there may come a time when you might not know a farmer. Decades ago, everyone knew a farmer. Rather like the old times when everyone had dozens of first cousins. Rare today. Most children today have fewer than ten.

The future will be different still.

There is a limit, though. Unless we can use robots or get the food to grow itself, there is a need for people who farm.

How much has the world changed so far? There are 2.8 million farmers and farm workers in the United States. The farmer count can give you a hint when compared to other professions. There are 3 million real estate salespeople. If I had projected that outcome to my grandfather 60 years ago, I doubt he would have believed me.

Farming today is a serious business. It is not for amateurs. It takes experience, knowledge, and skill to get along. As the numbers shrink, efficiency matters and small family farms cannot easily provide everything they need. As the number of suppliers shrinks, the ability to keep food prices low will shrink. Governments have not had the problem of uncontrollable food prices before, and I doubt they can overcome the shift to stronger market entrants.

Your life is no different.

Build your life plan, assuming change will happen, and you will be forced to adapt. Observation and anticipation are critical parts of planning. Learn the trick.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

A Tiny Insight Into Problem Solving

One of this blog’s most commonly viewed articles is on problem-solving. A well-defined problem is half solved.

So far, it has been visited about 7,500 times. I have not checked to see if it is the most visited, but I am sure it is in the top ten. Since it first appeared in November 2012, I have done about a dozen more on the same topic, but from different angles. This is another in that scheme.

People are good at problem-solving

That creates problems of its own. People jump to problem-solving too soon. Solving poorly defined problems is weak. People ignore fuzzy or unpleasant variables in their definitions and underestimate how long the solution will take and how much it will cost. Essentially they adjust the problem to fit the solution they prefer.

Problem-defining matters more

As you can appreciate, solving a poorly defined problem seldom generates the desired outcome. No matter how good the solution is if it doesn’t competently address the real problem, it fails. I recall a public relations committee meeting at The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario where we were to deal with a million-dollar-plus advertising proposal. My fellow committee member Lyman MacInnis listened carefully to the proposal and summed it up this way. “What you are proposing is an elegant solution to no known problem.”

That is a hard objection to overcome.

The key issue

Good problem solvers often fit the solution to the problem they wish to see. That is not usually the same problem the client has. The real problem may never be fully developed if the client relies on them. Possibly never known at all.

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.” G.K. Chesterton

That benefits no one. If you want to be able to deliver solutions that work and last, you must first help the client develop their view of the problem and the ramifications if it is not solved.

Once that is clear, solutions make sense and are easier to accept and implement.

From then on, it is just a question of keeping in touch and addressing changing contexts.

The other side

Exploiting opportunities is the same as solving problems. Don’t overvalue the projected future.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

Good Ideas Only Have Value When Implemented

If you go to the good ideas store, you will find them at the regular price of $1.39 a dozen. The spring sale can sometimes see them below $1.00.

Many people think good ideas are exceptionally valuable, and were it not for the price of a worldwide patent, they would patent them and reap vast rewards. The world does not work like that. Not even close.

“People who pride themselves on having ideas often fail to understand that only after ideas have been filtered through real-world experience do we know whether they are right or wrong. Most turn out to be wrong.”

Thomas Sowell

Thus, the price. Most are wrong. If good ideas come with guarantees, they would be immensely more expensive.

The Facebook case

You might remember the case brought by the Winklevoss twins claiming Mark Zuckerberg had purloined their terrific idea and turned it into Facebook. While there was little dispute that the idea was theirs, the judge awarded them a nearly insignificant amount because he decided the implementation was where the value lived.

That is the general situation. The doing is where the money is. The team building, the strategic direction, the invention of skills as well as product, the marketing, the financing.

In general

If you examine business start-ups, you’ll find most fail. There is a good side to that. Most fail quickly. The lingering deaths are far more costly.

People are delusional about how easy it is to run a business. Any business. Because you make killer hamburgers on your barbecue says nothing about your ability to operate a restaurant. Buying a used cargo van is not the key to being a plumbing contractor.

Even people with some skill make mistakes on this point. I had a senior executive with a multinational company, who I knew casually from the golf club, approach me about starting a business. His reason was simple. He had noticed that many of the top golfers at the club owned their own businesses.

That is not a good enough reason.

Businesses are like children. They are all different; they all have challenges; the solutions don’t always work, yet many problems can be overcome by working harder. If hard work and solving problems you have not seen before is not your thing, a business may not be a solution.

Think about your style in terms of guitars and pianos. Entrepreneurs are like guitars. They make the note before they play it. Employees tend to like the piano model better. The note is provided, and you play it. Either style will work for a person, but someone who wants the problem and the solution to be defined before they work at it will find businesses challenging.

No good idea persists. Even Amazon has changed immeasurably. I doubt book sales generate a large share of their profits. If change is troubling, businesses will be terrifying.

As with other things, know yourself.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

Peristence Is A Valuable Skill

It is a known fact that persistence is a requirement for every great success.

“Nothing in the World can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Calvin  Coolidge

The question of quitting is a problem. Not everything merits your persistence.

Quitting effectively

There are two aspects to every project.

  1. The strategic goal
  2. The tactics employed to achieve it.

If you have a sound strategic vision. How about a replacement for the iPhone or a better search app than Google. Then it should make a very substantial revelation to quit pursuing that goal.

Tactics, on the other hand, are more pliable. You should work incessantly at improving tactics and their implementation. If a funding presentation doesn’t work, quit using it and try another approach or go to others funding groups. There is no shame in quitting tactical methods.

Quitting works when

Quitting works for you if you choose what to quit and what you are learning when you do. If the project is drifting and you are sure the strategy is good, the tactics are wrong.

“A minute’s success pays the failure of years.”

Robert Browning

The minute’s success comes when you find the right tactic set to match your strategic vision.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

Problems And Opportunities Are Two-Sided

People often examine problems and opportunities badly. They look only at one side.

There is no situation that won’t benefit from a deeper approach. Nothing in life is one-sided. Seek a balance of positive and negative.

When obstacles appear

Barry Brownstein published an interesting essay recently. Obstacles to Freedom Can Be the Way to Freedom

The opening paragraph sets the idea in place. “In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius famously observed, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

The idea is that obstacles lead to improvement or even success.

One common technique is to magnify the obstacle so you can identify nuance and make a stronger effort to overcome it.

Many obstacles are psychological. Fear-inducing is a common problem. Henry Ford had a thought.

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. 

Examine obstacles for new information and wisdom.

The unexamined side of opportunity

People often fail to examine opportunities critically. There is no opportunity so spectacular that it does not also deliver problems and risks. It is easy to overlook defects in the opportunity because we tend to look into the projected future result. Looking past the sale leads to the motivation to own it and get started on achieving this bright future.

Keep a simple thought in your mind when assessing business opportunities. Look for defects first. If the short run doesn’t work, the long run doesn’t matter.

On the plus side, failure does allow you to start again with the wisdom derived from what you have learned.

Even a mistake may be the one thing necessary for a worthwhile achievement. Henry Ford

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

Seek Optimized Instead Of Perfect

Many people have the errant view that you can improve the whole by improving the pieces that make it up. In business and society, the total is not the sum of its parts. It is possible to improve one of the parts and make the whole worse.

I knew one of the sons of the Reese family of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fame. He told me of the beginning when the whole family worked on a rudimentary assembly line where children had stools of different heights to stand on while working. As their success grew, the line became machines instead of people and eventually, the parents retired and left management to the older sons.

Father returned to the factory one day and was intrigued by the machinery. He asked a worker how fast the machine was working compared to capacity. The worker told him about 30%. “How do you control it?” You change the setting here was the reply. At that point, father sped the machine up by double. Inefficient to have the machinery working at 30%, right?

As it turns out, it is not better at 60% unless everything else on the line changes too. You end up with peanut butter cups in a pile because the packaging is still running at 30%.

Assembly lines are optimized for the circumstances; they are not perfected.

Perfection is a weak goal

There are several reasons to avoid perfection.

  • Perfection requires a narrow set of circumstances and fails catastrophically if the conditions experienced don’t match those assumed.
  • Perfection is rigid and harder to maintain as circumstances change.
  • Perfection is needlessly expensive.
  • Every process has exceptions that cannot be easily programmed, even if they are known. Addressing anomalies outside an optimized but imperfect process requires judgment. When he left university, Steve Jobs applied for a job with Hewltt-Packard and was rejected because he had no degree. They would have rejected Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg for the same reason. Wise?
  • Perfection is rule-based and aims at efficiency and not at optimizing the task.

Work at efficiency in areas that are narrowly defined. Work at optimizing performance for everything else.

How do you optimize society?

In society, interest groups are anti-optimizing. Improving the result for one group harms others by reducing the available resources. Each leader of an interest group wants priority for their concerns and does not consider the effect it will have on the other parts of the whole. Optimizing society requires all plusses and minuses to be considered at once.

Ask yourself a simple question. Do interest groups exist to benefit the aggrieved, to benefit society as a whole, or to provide enrichment and aggrandizement for the leaders? What does history tell us?


Why Planning Is Never Finished

If you go to a financial planner and they tell you here is the plan, are you done? Hardly.

No plan is complete and settled. A “settled plan” is like “settled science.” It is a bare-faced lie or an expression of hope from a very naive person. Neither is ever true because there are never enough variables considered, and the future will play out differently than you anticipate today. New information can destroy old certainties.

All working plans evolve

Good plans are directionally accurate. They are not precise, but there are general principles that show through even when the steps employed have strayed from the original path.

Think about it the way you raise a child or start a business. You have a very general idea of the end result and a list of things necessary. As time passes, the steps you thought necessary sometimes turn out to be unneeded or even counter-productive. When you look back, the only thing that remains of your original plan is the idea of making it work, whatever it takes. For those with more than one child, you will notice that they are not all the same. What works for one is poison for another.

The late Peterborough artist David Bierk had eight children. The first four are Sebastian – lead singer for Skid Row; Zac – goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning and currently goalie coach for the Ottawa Senators; Dylan – an actress and model; and Alex – an artist who recently ran for a seat on Peterborough city council. David was a person who taught work hard and expand yourself.. That direction is clear, but I doubt he had any of those careers in mind when a child was born.

Life plans must be fluid

Times change, abilities change, and interests often develop in strange directions. The idea is to optimize your circumstances, given what is happening and hold true to the direction.

If you think of a plan as the result if you follow the path, you will find the path disappears long before completion. Instead of building a 25-year flow chart, focus on the direction and adapt to circumstances as they appear. The skill you need is to notice what’s going on and how they support the objective or how they must be overcome.

Vincent Van Gogh offers guidance.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together”

You have to bring them together in the future, not as a fait accompli in the beginning.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

An Addition To Your Estate Planning

I noticed an ad recently that promoted an “anti-aging” cream. I wonder if they had thought the idea through.

I am sure they intended the ad to convey the idea that skin would look more youthful if the product was used. I am sure almost everyone consciously interpreted it that way, but not every thought is held exclusively at the conscious level. The troubling thing is that in verbal communication, only 7% of the meaning is found in words. Careful choice matters. Whether in advertising or everyday conversation, it behooves you to use words that have just a single meaning.

Being a senior now, I am actually pro-aging. Anti-aging is a concept that does not please me.

This brings me to MAID.

MAID is Canada’s law, Medical Assitance In Dying, which was last revised in March 2021. It is suicide, although it doesn’t sound like that at first. It is in keeping with the concept of a dignified life. While I don’t have any strenuous objection to the law, I think it is something that is not possible to provide adequate legislation. I doubt there is any decision that is more nuanced than this one.

Perhaps it collected the existing conditions initially, and the numbers could be expected to fall. They did not, and the actual numbers are troubling.

From 1,000 or so in 2016 to more than 10,000 in 2021. You can find a discussion here. Canadian medically assisted deaths increased nearly tenfold in five years.

There are stories where people who sought help with troubling circumstances, primarily depression, were counselled to seek help through MAID. As with all legislation, there are unanticipated consequences, but these seem more fraught.

Perhaps guidelines will be developed so the decision does not seem encouraged.

Problems will arise when the person is incapable of making their own decisions.

I think the government means well

.At the same time, I think legislation is a clumsy tool. Perhaps it would be well enough addressed by permitting such choices in a healthcare directive or with informed consent. How in control of one’s mind does a person need to be to understand the meaning? Some people are impulsive. Others think the longer term. There is always a grey area.

Any legislative option will be flawed for those who can provide neither a directive nor informed permission. Do you want the government, or some impersonal committee, to decide whether you should live on in great pain or die? Should your family have a defining input?

The long run

Part of living is making arrangements for the end of life. Your will is one part, but as life becomes more complex, other factors come into play. An actuary once told me that insurance companies have had to come to grips with the question of knowing whether a person is dead or not. Is the person who consented to the removal of life support responsible for the death? Are they then ineligible to receive the life insurance payout? The law says you cannot benefit by causing the death of another.

It was not much of a problem a century ago, but it has been litigated, and insurers fear paying the death benefit more than once.

In the MAID situation, notice that every life insurance policy provides that no payment will be made for suicide within two years of issue. It would be a question of what you mean by suicide. Now you know why we have lawyers and judges. I doubt an insurer would quibble, but it is not impossible. Be aware.

The next step

You should consider what conditions would exist before invoking the Maid Act. Many of us will have religious conflicts, while others may be much more accepting. When you decide, share your decision, and as best you can, outline the circumstances that would govern your decision were you able to make it.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

A Simple Strategy To Make Your Life Better

Think like Archimedes and organize your life to change the world.

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”  Archimedes

The two factors 

The lever is what you can contribute to the world around you. The lever must be long and strong to move the world as Archimedes intended. For you who may want to move the world differently, it will also need to be new and creative. Moving the world in the sense of helping people see new possibilities and then acting on them is a bit different.

You should pay attention to a sound education. You will use what exists to leap far ahead. Don’t overlook subjects outside STEM. The humanities will help you understand people and conflict.

The fulcrum is the point on which you will rest the lever before applying the force that will move the world. That fulcrum is about you. Warren Buffett claims a good employee has three essential characteristics. They are intelligent, have high integrity, and are energetic. You must have those, and more importantly, your business or other organization must, too.

Think of it as the character of the business. People deal with such a business without difficulty, and once established as a customer, they are unlikely to leave. I had a client who told me his overarching business objective was to be the best supplier any of his customers had and to be the best customer any of his suppliers had. That’s ambitious, and it worked very well for him.

The fulcrum is the character of you and your enterprise.

Allocating your effort

When you allocate resources and time, the tendency is to work on the lever. Over a long time, the fulcrum matters as much or maybe more. Don’t overlook it. Especially don’t overlook Buffett’s character guidelines. He added that if they were low on integrity, you should hope they are dumb and lazy, too.

The force factor

When you have your lever and your fulcrum, applied force moves the world. A better-constructed lever and better-positioned fulcrum mean the force can be less. That is the payoff to spending time on building them. If you work incessantly to make a dent, you might rethink your lever and fulcrum.

Where to begin

It begins the day you are born. Building character takes decades. Building your ability is a forever project. Thinking like Archimedes can help you see the purpose of education and the reason to learn how people behave and want to be treated.

Guide yourself, your family, and your employees with a simple thought. Build for strength.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

The Noise Of The News Masks The Investment Signal

Sometimes you can get a sense of what is going on by understanding how the news makes its money.

The media is a business. In recent times one challenged by the internet. To have any position at all requires their presentations to be exciting, horrifying, or totally unexpected. The short-run matters. Its long-run implications are never considered. Eyeballs and clicks matter. Meaning is a distant second.

How your investment decisions are harmed

If you are an investor as opposed to a trader, the short run is nearly irrelevant. If Microsoft falls 3% in a day, is Microsoft still the same business, or is the market showing an emotional response to some transient event? That Microsft fell short of projected earnings in the last quarter will not be news fifteen years hence.

The older among us remember listening to distant AM radio stations back in the day. The signal was there, but static made it less than easy listening. Financial news is similar. The daily changes are the noise. No business changes much from day to day, and you should pay little attention to the exciting, horrifying, or totally unexpected. Political and economic news falls into the same category.

Paying attention to the news is to drive your decisions based on events.


Think in processes instead of a string of events. All businesses have fluctuating results. A weak quarter is not indicative of future results. Maybe a lawsuit settled, or they acquired or sold a subsidiary. If you are investing in superficialities, you already have problems. Think it through. Events don’t drive business success; their business process does.

Invest in businesses. You’ll need to know there are two values assigned to a business. The intrinsic value and the market value.

To be a successful investor, you should first know there are those two values. Spend some time on the idea that market value is emotional rather than rational. That’s what drives how the news is reported. Unless you are a trader who makes a living as Keynes suggested, “Successful investing is anticipating the anticipations of others,” that news is irrelevant to you.

Learn to think strategically. If you are investing for ten years, why would you care whether the current quarter was stellar or disappointing?

Think about the business, not the news.

I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

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