There are a few aspects to human behavior that matter a lot in getting things done in life. Curiosity, imagination, flexibility and just plain grit are, of course, way up on any list of the most important of these traits.

One other characteristic is also very important, though it can be a two-edged sword. That is persistence. If one is too persistent, they can become a pest (and their own worst enemy).  But if one never pushes the normal limits, the chances of getting what one wants also begin to wane.

Many years ago, I watched with wonder as a colleague in the investment banking firm where I worked announced to us that he was going to get the banking business of a big Canadian tycoon who was famously aloof, unapproachable and tougher than nails. The only serious problem our colleague had was that he did not know this man or anyone else who knew him.

Accordingly he dreamt up a strategy of “hanging out” in this man’s office waiting room. He presented himself one day and said he needed badly to meet the man with some important and valuable information. He was told that he needed an appointment. He said fine; give me one. The answer was that the travel schedule was too up in the air, but if he would be patient they would see what they could do.

He waited; went away and came back over and over for days, then weeks. He saw the big man—who also saw him — many times.  One day when my colleague was hanging out in the waiting room– through which the man had to pass to get to his appointment schedule—the man paused and roared “Who the hell are you? You are not paying me rent for using my waiting room. What do you want?”

My friend, quaking in his boots having finally gotten the guy’s attention, said “You want me as your banker because I will make you even richer. Give me 10 minutes and throw me out, if you like. But, when you hear what I have to say, you will hire me!”

The guy said “Ok, it’s worth 10 minutes of my time to get you out of my office! Come in.”

They came out together 10 minutes later, and my friend ended up at the tycoon’s side for the next 10 years. The guy’s fortune grew ever larger while my friend did very well too! And, they remained friends forever.

So, what can one draw from this story? The chances of pulling that result off have to be about equal to winning a national lottery by oneself even if you buy a bunch of tickets.

The difference is that the lottery is pure, statistical chance. To break down a prospective client’s door to make a pitch takes guts, skill, charm, wit and, most of all, persistence.

I do not recommend this particular technique to anyone, even though it may inspire a few hardy types to be bold, never timid and go to the edge, if you feel well prepared and can afford to take the risk of failure.


Tell It to Grandma

A long bunch of years ago a young, cocky, and recently rich entrepreneur had been flying so high he had begun to believe he was out of reach of ground fire. When he suddenly hit an air pocket of reality he quickly became very worried and confused and sought advice on how to navigate the turbulence.

He came in to the investment firm in which I was a partner to explain his predicament and get ideas about how to get out of his hole. His immediate problem was an upcoming annual meeting and report to his shareholders, who were not yet aware of his problems.

He began with a long, convoluted and detailed explanation about how he got blindsided by a tricky lender. Various partners who attended a lunch with him asked questions and offered some ideas.

One was to make a tender and buy in his public shares.

Another was to seek a safe haven with a merger with a big rich company that needed some new dynamism.

Still another was to let the news get out and grin, bear it and plow ahead.

The last thought was pretty original. Open the kimono, show a more normal side of him and tell the story in a way not seeking sympathy but only understanding enough to buy him time to right the ship in a less stormy sea.

That idea sparked a lot of conversation about how to do that.

Hire a super PR genius to figure it out.

Appoint a committee of his board to write a report which he could use to buy time.

Put out a press release on Friday night before the long Memorial Day weekend.

And then the oldest, wisest man in the room, who was famous for being a three dimensional genius, said, “Do not listen to any of this drivel. Go home and write a letter to your grandmother explaining what happened in terms that you are certain she will understand. Confide that you made some mistakes, ones that you are now painfully learning from. Tell her that the basic business you started is still valid and will get back on a solid basis soon, if you can get folks to sit still and give you a chance. Do not show the letter to either your lawyers or PR geniuses; they would surely mess it up. And get to work and keep your head down.”

It worked. He got his chance and things got back on track.

Sadly, just a few years later he got into another, bigger jam. Ultimately he sold out, retired and died much too young.

Moral: Do not ever get drunk on your own whiskey, but if you do your grandmother might bail you out.

Healthy, Wealthy, Wise

As we begin seriously considering what the next decade holds for the U.S. health care system based on the elements of Obamacare, we must bear in mind that it is not simply how many people are covered and how many are not.

Crucial to the success or failure of the whole complex system is whether the many elements of the plan, that are largely invisible to the public, are able to make the whole health delivery system more efficient and more effective.

If that happens, which it will if all parties to the process collaborate, then the cost curve can be bent and total costs, as well individual costs, can be brought down to make the system relatively more affordable, and more credible to a public that has been swiftly losing confidence.

Many of these hidden parts have been in development since the law was enacted four years ago.

According to a number of reports, many are already showing real promise, including steps to make duplication far less necessary, methods to get medical records suitably protected in the cloud to be readily accessed from anywhere, efforts to make use of very expensive equipment much more effectively and further steps to make confinement in hospitals shorter and more efficient.

Far too many people are rooting for Obamacare to fail for ideological reasons. That is both a shame and shameful.

Congress has produced a prodigiously important step forward in national health care, the Supreme Court has upheld that law and the responsibility of all now is not merely to give it a chance but to actively participate in helping it succeed, because if it fails we all will suffer badly and those who wish for failure will inevitably be among those hurt. That simply makes no sense.

Whatever one’s views of individual mandates, keeping your own doctor or contraceptive coverage, the underpinnings of Obamacare offer the promise of stopping the skyrocketing costs that are threatening the quality and availability of coverage to the 55 percent of Americans who receive health insurance through their jobs.

So, the national goal ahead of us should be to work together to give Obamacare a real opportunity to succeed, which brings to mind a line I heard a few years back, well before Obamacare was a glint in many eyes.

I was with an old friend — actually at the time he was 94 — I asked him how he kept busy, and he said he had some kind of doctor’s appointment every day to deal with the inevitable things that come with age. He then added that he had come to the conclusion that, “A doctor a day keeps the apple away!”

Perhaps he was signaling that old-fashioned remedies — like eating apples — were not sufficient to prolonging life, but that modern doctors, given a proper chance to do their jobs right and a system that supports them in that pursuit, just might succeed.



At the outset of our lives, we depend on our wails to get our Mom’s attention. It’s our earliest sales pitch: we cry to get a mother’s breast, which quiets the stomach for a spell before we have to sell Mom again to get access to what we need and want. Selling to get what one needs must therefore be one of nature’s primal instincts. .

As we grow, we hone our pitch – slowly adding smiles and laughter to our sales arsenal.

Most kids, of course, are master salespeople by the time they’re 8 years old. We “sell” our parents on a bike, a pet, or some deeply-desired toy, using each success or failure to hone our skills and refine our pitch. In due course, the objectives grow larger: we learn how to wheedle car keys for a first date. And then we sell the date — finding ways to get them to snuggle not quite the way we snuggled as babies.

Soon enough, we begin to have to learn how to sell in the real world. Some folks are naturals at it; some have to learn the hard way.

The following true story set me on a path of learning about selling that persists through today.

I was in boarding school and was working for a school magazine. One of the important tasks was to sell ads. I was told to go to the stores on Main Street and solicit ads.

I went into the first store and blurted “You wouldn’t like to buy an ad would you?” The very nice owner said “Whoa there young man! I really do not need or want your ad, but I am going to teach you something important and to drive the message home, I am going to take your ad. You made a rookie mistake by starting out making it much easier for me to say no than yes. Always be affirmative and confidant and say: “I have a good cheap ad available which can increase your business with students.”

I have never forgotten that great advice. I tried it on the very next call and it worked. It has continued to work in everything I sell—myself, ideas, services, and investments – for 83 years.

Who would have thought that the very first thing we learn in in life is selling?