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Stay Focused; There’s No Time for Media Hype or Spin

Be selective as to where you offer your time and attention.

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Decades back, my friend, Bill Halloran, liked to listen to Howard Stern in the morning. Year after year on his way to work, Bill was titillated by Howard Stern’s shock talk. Hundreds of thousands of working professionals must have felt the same way. Howard is now a multi-millionaire.

Stern offered no sense of breathing space to Bill. After hearing Stern, no one was empowered, energized, or better able to face the day. He was, in essence, an electronic fix, a drug, if you will, that briefly took you out of your own life and into some form of contemptuous humor that got you through the next ten minutes. Even among those who know this on some level, why did so many people listen? The answer is what I call “electronic addiction.”

The Anxiety of Electronic Addiction

As a society, our expo­sure to the media, including the internet, has increased several hundred percent within a few decades, and while worldwide media coverage provides many bene­fits, it also has quite a few side effects. As we spend more and more hours glued to electronic media, we are exposed to tens of thou­sands of messages and images. Just as too much food at one sit­ting, isn’t easily in­gested, neither is too much data in any form.

Concurrent with the deluge, we have become an anxious society that uses electronics to not feel alone, evade confronting why we can’t seem to get what we want, or to avoid better use of the hours we say we so earnestly want. We retain, embrace and offer rapt attention to all forms of media, and to the devices transmitting them to us. So it’s logical that we then make million dollar super­stars out of TV meteo­rologists and morning exercise show hosts.

The shrinking attention span – Our cultural, elec­tronic addiction to the mass media inverts our per­cep­tion of available time, and diminishes our attention spans. Hence the Howard Sterns of the airwaves capture the attention of otherwise distracted listeners. Tele­vision and radio news and features are growing ever shorter to match the fragmented, de­creasing attention spans of viewers.

Try this: For the next minute, stare at your watch, or if that’s too boring, think about something pleasur­able you’re going to do today­. Your per­cep­tion of the length of a minute will dif­fer vastly from using that minute to listen to the news or read a page from a magazine.

Warning: The exercise you were going to do for a full minute may have just failed. Our culture is so com­mit­ted to mo­tion and to in­form­ation intake that you might be unable to make your­self stare at your watch or simply contemplate for one minute, even when the thought is of something pleasurable!

The Rise of Sensationalism

Around the turn of the century, to build his newspaper chain faster and to sell more papers, William Randolph Hearst used sen­sationalism to heighten the most mundane of stories. For exam­ple, if one of his reporters turned in a story about a dog who got his foot stuck in a sewer grate, Hearst would have the head­line changed to read,

“CANINE TRAPPED IN TUNNEL OF DEATH.”

Hearst perceived that the public was interested in prominent names, and he loaded the paper with them. For several years he worked the “signed statement” racket for all it was worth. The method involved simply sending an inquiry to any person of promi­nence. When a courteous reply was received, it was immediately slapped into print.

In every city having a Hearst paper, an index was kept of people willing to be quoted along certain lines. For example, if Hearst favored the Navy’s buying big battleships, a list of retired admirals would be taken from the files, and each of the old gentlemen would be approached for his opinion. Those who agreed would be heavily quoted in articles, i.e., “Retired Admiral XYZ Says Navy Lacking In…”

I find it remarkable that the Pulitzer Prize, an award alleged to represent the highest aspirations and achievements in journalism, is named for Mr. Joseph Pulitzer. While Pulitzer did not originate sensationalism, he played a crucial role in the history of American journal­ism simply by living at a time when social and economic changes enabled sensationalism to flourish.

Pulitzer used frivolous pictures, poetry, short stories, and the like, to make the newspaper a medium to entertain as well as inform. Pulitzer borrowed ideas of sensationalism that were not his own and brought them up to date to fit a modern America of cities and factories.

When Pulitzer set up shop in New York, he wanted to achieve the greatest circulation in America’s history. He needed a large circulation to have a platform from which his liberal principles could be heard. To obtain it, he had to win the confidence, as well as excite the interest, of the masses of people. Many features that appealed to a working-class audience – pictures, lurid accounts of crime and violence, the air of irreverence – were bound to appeal to others as well.

Overstimulated and Distracted

To this day, to capture an overstimulated, distracted population, contemporary television and other news media rely more and more on sensation­alism. It’s in­grained in the nature of broadcasting, and it’s hazardous to our awareness.

With a planet of nearly eight billion people, the media are easily fur­nished with an endless supply of turmoil for mass transmis­sion. At any moment somebody is fomenting revolu­tion some­where. Such turmoil is pack­aged daily for the 24 hour news cycle.

We are lured with images of crashes, hostages, and natural dis­asters. We offer our time and rapt atten­tion to each new hos­tility, scandal or disaster. Far more people die annually from choking on food than in plane crashes or by guns, but crashes and shootings make for great footage, and play into people’s fears.

Your chance of dying from a commercial airplane mis­hap actual­ly is one in 2,600,000. So, you need only be con­cerned if you fly five flights per week, 52 weeks per year, for several thousand years.

Unless it directly affects you or your com­munity, give up offer­ing any attention, whatsoever, to news coverage of specta­cular crashes and train wrecks, etc. If you’re con­cerned about reducing the incidence of violent death, learn the Heimlich maneuver or CPR. But puuleeeease, stop being enthralled by spec­tacular media cover­age of non-imperative events and sensa­tionalized trivia.

Gaining Control

It is not immoral to not “keep up” with the news. However to “tune out” – turn your back on the world is not appropriate either. Being more selective in what you give your attention to, and to how long you give it, makes more sense.

There is little utility in in­tel­lectually reson­ating with the world’s challenges and problems. Pick one cause or one issue, and take some kind of action outside your home. For most of us on the Right, the burning issue today is reclaiming our country from Leftist zealots.

Action is customarily invigorating. Your ability to make a real, if minute, difference will immediat­ely lessen your concerns about attaining some breathing space.

Tomorrow morning, quietly envision how you would like your day to be. Include every­thing that’s import­ant to you – the commute if you make one, entering your building or your office, sitting down at your desk, handling tasks, and taking breaks.

Envision interacting with others, going to lunch, conducting or attending meetings, using the phone, finishing up projects, and walking out in the evening. With this exercise alone, you’ll begin to feel a greater sense of control in aspects of your job that you might have considered uncontrollable.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Business

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

Throughout their lives, great minds ask confounding questions with child-like intensity

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Author Michael J. Gelb wrote a wonderful book titled How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, which contains many insights.

“Leonardo da Vinci lived to age 67 and during his life pioneered the sciences of botany, anatomy, and geology. He drew up plans for a flying machine, parachute, and helicopter, and he invented the telescoping ladder that’s still used by firefighters today. He also painted The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.” Here is what Gelb said about da Vinci and the topic of creativity:

[ ] Ask Questions. Throughout their lives, great minds ask confounding questions with child-like intensity. For instance, “How do birds fly?” “What makes the sky blue?” The answers can lead to discovery.

[ ] Carry a notebook at all times so you won’t forget your brilliant ideas. By the way, da Vinci’s wrote many of his notes backward. Some people think it was because he was protecting his ideas from being stolen.

[ ] Challenge your long-standing opinions. You might have formed many of your views during or immediately after important childhood events. Ask yourself whether those conclusions still make sense.

[ ] Use your eyes and ears. Focus on the various parts of an object or scene, not just on the whole. This can help expand your perception. Instead of simply looking at a mountain, notice the rock formations and trees.

[ ] Try to write with your non-dominant hand. Taxing the opposite side of your brain can help you to think in a different way. And some people will think you went to medical school!

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Business

BBQs Cook Fish, Too – Beware the Weber, Traeger IPOs

BBQ company insiders are trying to put all you fish directly onto hot coals via their IPOs.

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BBQ Fail

As we all know, Covid-19 policies have created an interesting array of winners and losers. Restaurants, travel and mall-based retail? Wah, wah. Meanwhile, any company remotely tied to housing, remodeling or recreation has been on absolute fire.

So what if your traditionally slow-growth, low-margin business suddenly had its best year ever by a wide margin? You’d probably think very seriously about trying to sell it.

That is exactly what is happening with the spate of BBQ-related IPOs that are about to pour onto this market.

Are the upcoming initial public offerings of Traeger Pellet Grills and Weber good ideas for your investment portfolio? Be very careful.

First, it’s highly likely they’ve taken the route of public markets because they have nowhere else to go. Truly, who is Traeger’s logical acquirer? In a bygone era, Sears might have represented a possible exit but such buyers no longer exist. Maybe one of the few large competitors in this highly-fragmented industry like Weber? Whoops – they’re going public, too!

Focusing on Weber, what a story they seem to have on their hands, being able to claim 6-month revenue growth rates of over 60%! Wow!

Problem is, IBIS says annual growth of the bbq industry over the last 5 years averaged 4.7%, which means Weber caught lightning in a bottle thanks to this pandemic and they’re trying to cash in. Same with Traeger.

Unfair assessment, you say? Then why are roughly 2/3 of Traeger’s IPO shares being sold by insiders? That’s right, only 1/3 of this offering is to raise working capital for the company. The rest is insiders cashing out.

Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that Traeger grills are pretty cool. And these are familiar names so they may catch a bid based on that familiarity for a while, particularly if this housing market keeps steaming ahead. But by no means are these 10-year investments. If you just can’t help yourself and absolutely have to play with these shares, think more in terms of 10 weeks. Or 10 days.

Truly, how much longer can the explosive growth in our world of economic distortions last? Regardless, is there any way companies like this are going to keep posting 50%+ growth numbers? Pfffffffff.

Heck, as recently as 2019, Weber’s y-o-y revenues declined by 3%. That’s the nature of this industry – a little growth here, a little step back there… slow, stodgy, boring.

Even in Weber’s bounce back year of 2020, when revenues rebounded 15% compared to the prior full year? They made a paltry $88 million on $1.5 billion in revenues. Those are grocery store margins.

Yet despite this industry’s historically slow growth and non-existent margins, Weber’s market cap at IPO next week will be roughly $5 billion, meaning the shares will trade with a P/E of close to 60 like they’re some high-flying tech unicorn! Truly amazing stuff, but par for the course in today’s everything bubble.

As an aside, by the way, don’t even think about looking elsewhere in this sector, like to VELO and its recent announcement that the SPAC is taking BBQ Guys public. Does anyone recall what happened to BBQ retailers in the last economic downturn? If the phrase, “buh-bye,” doesn’t come to mind, you simply weren’t paying attention.

Make no mistake, all these BBQ industry IPOs are ‘greater fool’ investments at their finest. Sorry, but you’re the dumb money the insiders and their private equity backers are asking to buy their shares after one-time growth surges that probably surpassed even their wildest imaginations.

There’s an old saying in poker: if you look around the table and can’t figure out who the fish is, you’re the fish.

In this case, the BBQ company insiders are trying to put all you fish directly on their hot coals.

No, thanks. I’ll have a salad this time instead.

 

P.S. Yes, this is a new pen name but you probably know me. I’ve a new Twitter profile, too… please consider giving me a follow their and we’ll get this train rolling.

Photo by Martin Boose from FreeImages

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