Archive for the ‘Human Resources and Training’ Category

Immature Social Behavior is Determined by Group Norms

Friday, October 28th, 2016

#Secondmarriage #Marriagecounseling #WilsonLearning #Sociallyappropriate

This is the a third autobiographical article in a series. To start at the beginning of the series, click here.

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Donna, my second ex, insisted she was right about one thing. – I hadn’t grown up. From her perspective, I’m sure that it must have seemed that way. I’d certainly been through enough harrowing life experiences to make me a steady hand in wrestling with the perplexities of adult life. I wasn’t always realistic. I wasn’t always appropriate. Her diagnosis was that I was a victim of “Peter Pan Syndrome.”

Not being grown up is a tough one. To start with, what does it mean? Immature? If that’s the case, how does a guy find a remedy? Throw himself in to a variety of really troublesome situations. Rob a bank. Go to jail. Find the wrong person to fall deeply in love with. Piss off an employer. File for bankruptcy. Whatever it takes to make himself miserable because growing up often means that you have overcome difficult circumstances and prevail despite the setbacks. The hotter the fire, the finer the steel. Still, this seems like the wrong way to address the problem. It’s very hard to grow up at some point in your life when the time period during which the task should have been achieved has already passed.

What was not be taken into account way my history. Wilson Learning was a very casual, fun place to work. When we partied, we tried to outdo one another with stories and jokes. Several of us took a stab at standup. On campus, things were relaxed and casual. Lunch time often turned into a pickup game of touch football. Spontaneity was applauded  I never remember being accused of inappropriate or immature behavior with any other group at any other time in my life as I was with Donna and her associates. My behavior in the decades since has never been characterized in the same negative light. I was an outsider. That’s all there was to it and I was treated in a manner that was completely consistent with the initial judgment many made about me. What once brought laughter now reaped disdain. What once was ingenuous was now childish. What once was assertive now was arrogant. Appropriate, it turns out, is a relative term.

Perhaps what others looked for was a measure of cynicism. Of worldliness. For the ability to act as if a marriage is still working when a mother knows her current husband, as a stepfather, seduced her teenage daughter. (Actual case.) To agree that marriage vows are suspended whenever either partner was more than 50 miles from home. (Another actual case.) Being adult meant maintaining a certain unflappable demeanor. Lots of outlandish things can be going on but they didn’t distress the mature person. Politics mattered, sanely discussed. Issues of all sorts mattered in the abstract. But the carnal and the venial dimensions of events, the human side, were taken in stride. C’est la vie.

Time to Grow up . . .

“Time for both of you grow up,” one therapist said to me as I was trying to cope with the pain of betrayal and uncertainty about my family after my wife revealed she was having an affair – the implication being that I was only hurting because my wife and I were not adult enough to accept that grownups have affairs, and we were making ourselves miserable by clinging to some fantasy the fidelity mattered.

Once I moved to North Carolina, I didn’t feel that I fit in. The group of people with whom we socialized had known one another for years. I was a newcomer, an unknown. So many things set me apart. My speech was Midwestern. I didn’t hold a graduate degree. I was not an academic. I had no professional credentials. The repartee was not easy for me, I, an extrovert, wasn’t at ease among buttoned down hyper-rational would-be intellectuals. I never felt on equal footing with most in the room.

“And what is that you do?” the conversation would begin. I’d try to explain. “Hmm . . . I see,” was the predictable response once I concluded my summary. But the comment was usually dismissive, as if whatever it was I did for a living wasn’t very important. Many academics believe it is important to understand, but what’s really missing in their interaction with outsiders is genuine curiosity. Curiosity indicates a desire to know more but it also signals a failure to comprehend. Academics don’t like appearing as if they are missing the point.  A con man came through the community a year or so before I came to town and in a matter of days fleeced a whole batch of Donna’s friends all of their life savings because none of them was willing to admit they didn’t understand what he was proposing.

Donna was a psychologist who practiced in partnership with Kathy, the wife of the Chairman of the Psychology Department at a local university. The two had become passionate about John Bandler and Richard Grinder’s Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). My work experience included sales and marketing for Wilson Learning Corporation, an acknowledged leader in the development of sales and management training programs based on popular psychological models of the day including Transactional Analysis, Maslow’s Hierarchy, David Merrill’s Social Styles and others. I served a term as Director of Product Development for Wilson which put me in charge of the program designers, writers, and television studio. I was frequently invited to speak on the principles of program design.

Donna and Kathy wanted to market their services on a broader scale. Both were certified NLP trainers. They wanted to package the program and present seminars. Donna undertook the task of writing a proposal on how the two would approach designing, marketing and selling their program. She and I agreed that I was qualified to serve program designer and head of marketing.

An Unaccountable Lapse . . .

Kathy and her husband John did not like the proposal. The tension between the two women was palpable. To avert what was building up to a full-blown conflict, we decided that the four of us would discuss the proposal at dinner in a prestigious local restaurant. The first contested point was the position to which I had been assigned. Kathy wanted her husband as program designer and head of sales and marketing. John held a Ph.D. in psychology but had no experience in the art and science of program design. He had never sold so much as a magazine subscription to anyone at any time in his life. Donna immediately acknowledged that putting my name forward to any position in the company was a mistake, an unaccountable lapse on her part. Oh my, the relief. Smiles all around the table. John was appointed in my place. I was not to be part of the project.

As it turned out, the two women never put a program together.  John did not know how to begin and so never took the first step. I was relieved, but I also go the clear message that my credentials or experience carried no weight. I was just a another businessman to be tolerated in the intricate and immensely more important world of academia.

My boss from Wilson, a guy named Gary Quinlan, came to town and invited Donna and me out to dinner.

“That went well,” Donna exclaimed on the way home. “I like Gary. I think I made a good impression on him as well.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Well, I was thinking about it earlier today and I decided the best strategy for me was to find some way to be a resource to him. He seemed really pleased when I told him that I thought I could help him control you.”

Control  me?  Donna did not discuss this with me before proposing it to my boss. Her proposed collusion reinforced any perception that Quinlan might have had about my reliability. I had never had problems with doing my job. I led the company in sales one year. Some of Wilson’s very successful programs were developed or updated under my management. The implication was clear. Donna was still treating me as an immature person, one incapable of self-regulation. She enhanced her own standing in Quinlan’s eyes. Rather than be my advocate, she became my critic. She would have been outraged if roles were reversed, if I suggested to her partner that I could help control her. I found it belittling.

After a while, I wanted to avoid most of Donna’s friends, Kathy in particular and her husband John who seemed to think his role in our friendship was to approve or disapprove of nearly everything, from the music I liked to the restaurants we frequented. Kathy was the woman who, after hearing me say that I had just returned from my father’s funeral, blurted out, “That’s nothing. My mother has cancer.” How’s that for impulse control? One year, Donna committed to having Thanksgiving dinner with Kathy and her husband. I was flabbergasted. She had not consulted me. I knew my children expected a more quiet, family style holiday but neither they nor I had any say.

An Unrelenting Message . . .

I woke up to it every morning. The message was that I was not important. Our marriage counselor was seeing us each independently as we worked on our issues. I’d come back from my session, and while it was agreed the sessions were confidential, we nevertheless gave one another a general idea of how things went. “I worked on our relationship,” I’d report. “I’m trying to understand what is going on between us.”

“How about you?” I’d ask when my turn came.

“Oh, I had to work on some issues that involved Kathy,” she’d explain in a tone of voice that signaled I was expected to understand. Right up until our last session, when I went with Donna to the therapist to announce I was leaving her, she continued to come home with the same report. She never worked on the trouble in our marriage. It never took precedent.

I had made a dreadful miscalculation, one that led to some of the most unhappy years of my life. I had not taken the time to find out what I was getting into during our brief courtship. I had crawled out from the wreckage of my first marriage and I took on a second before my healing was complete. More follows in the next post.

Thank you for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to look the some of the previous posts. Please feel free to enter your comments in the space provided below.

Sales Training: The Worst Laid Plans

Friday, July 11th, 2014
John J. Hohn, Author and Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Author and Reviewer

#wilsonlearning #counselorselling #saelstraining #newyorklife #larrywilson

Successful marketing of sales training programs demands versatility of an organization. When I joined Wilson Learning, the company was taking a vertical marketing approach. Wilson had three marketing teams. One, of which I was a member, sold to the insurance industry. A second was dedicated to the banking industry. Everything else was covered by a third group, the general business group.

Our company offered three products; namely, Counselor Selling  (renamed since as The Counselor Salesperson), Counselor Relations, and Managing Interpersonal Relationships (MIR). More information on each will follow in later posts. For now, Counselor Selling was the leading product for the insurance industry.

Larry Wilson was the catalyst and visionary for the organization. He was an accomplished public speaker, a motivator and humorist; a man of unbridled creativity and imagination. I traveled with him frequently. I was in meetings when he discussed new learning theories and marketing ideas with experts from all over the country. When we traveled, we dined together, jogged together, and at least once, we went to a movie. I was too naive to presume my being selected to travel with the boss meant anything special. Years later, after I left the company, I realized what a privilege it was to be with him and an honor that he valued my input. I was in a career-making position in the industry and wasn’t astute enough  to recognize it.

Larry was unpredictable. Listening to him address several business leaders in one session, he turned to me and without warning demanded, “John, why do you compliment the act and not the person?”

“Because it risks challenging the person’s self-image and throw him into conflict,” I responded, making up my reply as I went along.

“Precisely,” Larry said without missing a beat. I could have given an any answer. I could have stammered and come up with nothing at all, and it would not have mattered. Larry would have taken whatever I said, slid it neatly into his address and kept on going.

Larry  Wilson, Founder of Wilson Learning Corporation (Taken years later.)

Larry Wilson, Founder of Wilson Learning Corporation (Taken years later.)

Toward the end of the seventies, Larry was itching to back away from heading up the company. He hired W. Mathew Juechter to take over as president while Larry stayed on as chairman. Juechter was rumored to have been president of Xerox Learning Systems, a major competitor. Juechter, a Harvard Business School graduate, knew the market and had management experience. Larry was eager to get his new president indoctrinated, in the saddle and assume command of the organization.

Larry Was the Gold Standard . . .

During the early years at Wilson Learning, a salesperson was expected be good in front of a group. Larry was the gold standard, of course. Others didn’t even come close, but no matter how weak the comparison, it was important to be among the better speaker/moderators.

Cornell “Nelly” Taylor was a showman who approximated Wilson at his best. Nelly, a Mormon from Salt Lake City, was irrepressible, enthusiastic, and irresistible. Nelly could make an audience believe that every idea he presented was an original that came to him in the moment as he spoke. He smiled like a boy at his own jokes. Shook his head, almost awe struck, making his points as if the validity and truth of his every utterance was undeniable. Nelly studied the concepts of Counselor Selling like an elderly Rabbi would the Torah. Front wheel; back wheel. Two tunnels. L.S.C.P.A. Mini-max. Nelly could wax on and on about the key concepts with revelations that would amaze even the most experienced moderator.

Steve Buchholz Today.

Steve Buchholz Today.

Steve Buchholz, Joe Haubenhofer, Bill Payne and in all modesty, yours truly, filled out the A team, at least those are the guys a remember. Frank Ward, Ron Strand, and Jim Eaton were also experienced and polished in the classroom. Why Larry thought Juechter needed to be in front of the class is something to ponder. Perhaps Juechter insisted on it. But rather than staying in the corner office and running things, Mat took to the road, usually with disastrous results.

Courting the Prospect Organization . . .

Courting a major firm as a prospect often took years before the prospect organization was ready to sign a six figure contract for an intangible product like a training system. All of us had our target companies. One of mine was New York Life, (NYLIC) clearly one of America’s leading companies with a well-trained, professional sales force, and superior products. Courting meant making frequent calls upon home office executives, visiting regional offices, speaking at company conferences, attending industry conventions, inviting company personnel to attend pilot seminars, conducting trial seminars on site and all the while cultivating support through the usual wining and dining of people of influence.

Mat Juechter, Past President Wilson Learning

Mat Juechter, Past President Wilson Learning

My work with New York Life was coming to fruition when a pilot seminar was scheduled. Leading managers with NYLIC from all over the country were invited to attend to evaluate the program. Mat Juechter was appointed moderator. Never mind that Mat had only conducted one other seminar at Wilson. Never mind that an accomplished cadre of professional trainers stood ready in the bull pen.

One indispensable quality that good moderators possess, at least to some degree, is charisma. They have presence. They exude enthusiasm and energetic charm. They do not hog the show. They share the stage with participants and support their listeners, encouraging them to contribute as well.

Juechter possessed many intellectual gifts. But charismatic, he was not. Slight and athletic, he always appeared poised but utterly incapable of enthusiasm. Pale, freckled, sandy haired, blue eyes brimming with uncertainty, Juechter had about as much presence as cold leftover toast on the breakfast table. (more…)

Sales Training a la Counselor Selling — Larry Wilson Filled a Void.

Sunday, April 27th, 2014
John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

Sales training has always been important to the life insurance industry. Rookie agents struggle, Most fail. In the 1970s, when I was working with Wilson Learning, only one new agent in five made it through to the fifth year in the business. That statistic may not have improved much over the years.

Selling life insurance is not easy. It is an intangible sale with no immediate benefit to the buyer. People don’t like thinking about death and dying, no matter what the context.  Woody Allen probably pegged it when he said, “There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?” In the movie Groundhog Day, the town insurance agent is depicted as a buffoon and a nuisance. Stephen Tobolowsky’s portrayal of Ned Ryerson as the town insurance agent rang true because he presented the perfect depiction of the stereotype.  Rookies entering profession quickly realize that they are up against this prevailing view. They need to climb the learning curve quickly to counter it and differentiate themselves from the stereotype. Schools and colleges did not, and perhaps still do not, teach sales courses. Salespeople learn on the job. They learn, or they fail.

Everything including the kitchen sink . . .

Larry Wilson, a very successful insurance salesman in his own right, realized this. He started Wilson Learning on the strength of his own success and designed his initial flagship program, Counselor Selling for the industry. Counselor Selling was academically eclectic. Wilson possessed an amazing talent for popularizing the latest thinking in the field of psychology. The course mixed Transactional Analysis, Maslow’s hierarchy human needs, and the works of other human behavior scientists together. It all worked. In addition, Wilson also realized early on that the program could not be delivered as a leader dependent course. The course needed to be easy to present, or as Larry enjoyed saying, “The moderator’s guide for the program was designed for the person who couldn’t lead a group in a minute of silent prayer.” To assure the moderator would succeed, the program was liberally supported with state-of-the-art visual aids, including either film strips or video, so that the key concepts were not only explained for the audience but also demonstrated with scripted vignettes.

Larry  Wilson, Founder of Wilson Learning Corporation (Taken years later.)

Larry Wilson, Founder of Wilson Learning Corporation (Taken years later.)

I was a member of a cadre who moderated Counselor Selling train-the-trainer seminars. The sessions were usually held at Wilson’s Eden Prairie, Minnesota home office. Designed for a maximum of 20 participants, the course took five full days to complete, every person attending was assigned a two hour segment to conduct the class and have their performance critiqued. Most experienced moderators from the Wilson staff learned quickly that it was important to avoid being too polished in front of the class. If the experienced moderator turned on the charm, got everyone laughing, and expounded on subjects that were not in the moderators guide, an intimidating standard was set for most of those who had to take the podium when their turn came. To make participants feel comfortable, the Wilson moderator needed to come off as casual and perhaps a tad unsure. This could be accomplished in several ways; by giving up the podium and sitting down with the participants when a topic is being discussed, by returning frequently to the moderators guide and pausing as if  to determine what came next, by allowing participants to stand if they grew tired of sitting, encouraging participants to share their experiences – in short, any approach the broke with the traditional “I-am-the-teacher-and-you-are-the-students” approach.

(more…)

Sales Training — Counselor Selling was Wilson Learning’s Flagship Program

Friday, September 27th, 2013

John J. Hohn, Writer, Reviewer, and Former Salesman, Motivational Speaker and Seminar Moderator.

Sales Training and interpersonal skills training is still offered by Wilson Learning Corporation. The following article is the second in a series that I have planned covering my professional experience at Wilson Learning Corporation in the 1970’s.

Nobody was allowed much time to settle in at Wilson Learning. I had to hit the ground running. I was experienced in sales and eager to get going. I knew  the insurance industry because I had worked for six years for The Travelers and for BlueCross/BlueShield of Minnesota. Wilson had been marketing their programs to the life insurance industry for several years. Larry Wilson was a record setting life insurance agent himself early in his career . His achievements gave him credibility in the industry. Wilson Learning, as a result, got its first real foothold with insurance companies. The banking industry was soon to follow.

At the time, Wilson Learning marketing was organized into a vertical structure of three divisions; namely, banking, insurance and general industry. I joined the insurance division, headed up by Bob Utne, as the fourth member to the sales staff. David Cornelius covered the mid-Atlantic states working out of Philadelphia (I hope I recall correctly), Joe Ryan covered the Northeast working out of Boston, and Jim Eaton had an office in the Eden Prairie headquarters as did I. Eden Prairie was, as Larry Wilson often quipped, “just twenty minutes outside of Minneapolis – by telephone.”

Sales territories were loosely organized. I was to cover the southeastern and south central states, but as things broke down on a week to week basis, all four of us crisscrossed the country in pursuit of prospects and servicing existing clients.

The insurance division had two programs to offer in the early 1970’s; Counselor Selling and Managing Interpersonal Relations (MIR). Counselor Selling was a sales training program that was based largely upon Transactional Analysis (TA), a popular layman’s approach to understanding human psychology. Larry Wilson recognized that TA brought psychology down to a level that the average person could understand. Wilson took a down to earth approach. “You want proof,” Larry would reply when asked if the program was effective, “just have your people sit through a seminar. They will find that it is self-authenticating.” He was right. Participants loved it. They adopted the language of the course and started using it to critique their own sales interactions and plan their strategies for the calls they intended to make.

Joe Haubenhofer, Ph. D. Expert Negotiations Consultant – Recent Photo

A explanation of transactional analysis is beyond the scope of this article. It has fallen from favor over the years, and I understand from my friend Joe Haubenhofer, who is still affiliated with Wilson Learning, that it has been dropped from the program. The name of the program has also changed to Counselor Salesperson. (Insurance sales ranks at the time consisted almost entirely of men.) The goal of the program was to enable participants to become consciously competent in four major processes basic to the salesperson’s interaction with a prospect. The program identified the four processes as Relating, Discovering, Advocating and Supporting.  Although the program used many learning models to illustrate important concepts, it referenced TA throughout. The entire program was media based. Counselor Selling was by far the most comprehensive sales training program every produced and probably remains so today.

Early versions of the program used filmstrip projectors in the classroom. (CD’s, DVD’s. mobile phones, laptops and i-pads were decades away.) Use of filmstrip faded with the introduction video tape. Wilson was the first to establish a broadcast quality video studio, script and dramatize vignettes using professional actors. The whole effort in audio-visual support was to make the course easy to teach. Wilson wanted it as he often said,  “. . . the guy who can’t lead a group in silent prayer will breeze though it with ease.” The key was a Leader’s Guide that spelled out a step-by-step method for conducting the class, including numerous exercises and illustrations that used flip-charts and printed placards.

A Lot to Lug Around . . .

Haubenhofer and I laughed at how much a salesperson lugged around in order to present an overview of the program to a prospective company. A Leader’s Kit was about the size of a good two-suited suitcase. It contained ten canisters of filmstrip, the Leader’s Guide (a three ring binder with a couple hundred pages) and a stack of 18 X 24 inch ready made charts. A salesperson could not depend on a filmstrip projector being available on site, so a trusty DuKane projector about the size of the fisherman’s tackle box – only taller and heavier – was also checked as baggage. Most of us modified the Leader’s Kit by removing some of the standard contents to make room for the individual participant’s Study Guide. The Study Guide consisted of ten booklets and a flip case with ten audio cassettes all snuggled into a slip case. Finally, the sales guy had his own clothes packed in a suitcase, enough to provide a change for at least four days. We didn’t leave for either coast without having several appointments set up over three or four days to justify the expense of travel. (more…)

Anticipating Mitigates Against Being in the Moment

Sunday, April 1st, 2012
Photo of Greg Hohn, Guest Contributor

Greg Hohn, Tranasactors Director and Guest Contributor

I haven’t exactly ignored what my son, Greg Hohn, has been doing in his theatrical and academic work over the past several years. I have been to several performances of Transactors, and I accepted an invitation to sit in on two of his classes, but I never expected that the work he was doing would have so many parallels in other fields, or life itself for that matter, until I began reading his articles. Well, it is Sunday, and he is back with another wonderful piece  about being in the moment in human relations and communication. Don’t anticipate that because it appears to be about improvisational theater that it doesn’t have much broader implications.  (as I did for a long time.)

Don’t Anticipate… REACT!

Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today. -Seneca

Our society seems to regard anticipation as a very valuable and necessary skill. Everyone seems to want to anticipate what’s going to happen or they’re ready to excoriate someone else for not anticipating something. I’m a fan of planning but not so fond of anticipation. Allow me to explain the slight but important difference between the two.

Planning is preparing for some future event. It is achieving a state of readiness for whatever may come. Part of planning is anticipating the range of possibilities that may arise. This foreseeing may be based on facts, experience, intuition, or blind luck and it’s an important facet of getting ready. Once an event—whether it’s a performance, meeting, conversation, or what-have-you—begins, anticipation loses its value and can indeed become a hazard.

There are a couple of improv exercises that illustrate well the drawbacks of anticipation. One is a mirroring game in which two people try to move together as one, alternating and sharing the roles of leader and follower. Another is an echoing exercise in which a speaker’s words are repeated as s/he says them by the listener(s). In each case, I can tell when followers and listeners are anticipating because they make really big mistakes.

Taking People Out of What is Happening

What anticipation is doing in these instances is taking people out of what is actually happening and into what they think is going to happen. They’re responding to their thoughts and not to the moment. This is not where you want to go, regardless of whether you’re an improv performer, a business leader, or a trial attorney.

A ‘real life’ example of the dangers of anticipation is one all too familiar to almost all of us. You’re having a conversation (or what passes for one) and doing the no-fun job of listening to the other person. It’s no fun because it’s much more fun to say your thing. So this other person is three words into her sentence and suddenly you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next. Been there?

Suddenly, at best, you’re only listening to a fraction of what a person is saying, which is kind of lonely and not very nice. At worst, you’re totally misunderstanding them. They may have sounded like they were going one way with their point when in fact they’re going another direction entirely. That’s no good and it gets worse as the stakes of the encounter rise. (more…)

When a Million Is Not Enough–Conclusion. Expensive Games Get Played

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
Author John J. Hohn, Retired Financial Adviser

Financial Adviser John J. Hohn, Retired

  #marginloans  #financialplanning  #investing

I was a professional trainer for several years in the 1970’s with Wilson Learning Corporation who developed Counselor Selling—a sales training program based on Transactional Analysis (TA). The program capitalized on public interest in TA as popularized by Thomas A. Harris’ best selling I’m OK, You’re OK. Eric Berne is cited as the person who developed the theoretical groundwork for TA as published in his Games People Play. The language of TA demystified psychology for the average person.

The popularity of TA has faded over the years but the validity of its approach to understanding human behavior has never been rejected. One of Berne’s especially durable models in Games People Play illustrates how a person can assume one of three roles in a psychological game, sometimes because of a predisposition for the role or coercion due to circumstances. Berne labeled the roles as victim, rescuer, and persecutor. Readers are urged to follow the links in this text for a comprehensive explanation.

The Customer is Always Right

It is easy as a financial advisor to get caught in a game. The inducement, of course, is the desire to acquire or retain a client. The customer is always right means that the advisor needs to pull a lot of punches. Confrontations are out. Diplomacy is the rule with no small amount of circumlocution thrown in.

I was wary when the two older men and younger woman wanted to discuss my client, Jennifer, (not her real name) who had received the million dollar lump sum divorce settlement and then allowed herself to be bilked out of most of it by her boyfriend, Big Dan. Within in three years, her fortune dwindled to less than one third of its initial value. She shoveled cash to Big Dan for three years and then opened her home to her family of freeloaders. That’s a rescuer racing headlong for victim status. The trio now hoping to save her from herself may have wanted to strike while the pickings were still good. There was still a little meat left on the bone.

They, of course, could be as they presented themselves, rescuers of pure intent doing good for it’s own sake. They wore their Christianity on their sleeves but it meant nothing to me. A million dollars doesn’t usually attract the altruistic.

Better Planning Time Belongs to Better Clients

My client called to say that she wanted to meet with all three friends to discuss her situation. I agreed but it was the extra mile for me. My time was valuable. No advisor enjoys putting a long-range plan together for a client who will not commit to it. Better planning time belongs to better clients. But I went back to the computer and worked things through again. Several things were immediately obvious.

My client had too much house. The additions made it worth approximately $650,000, although in a better location it would have commanded more. She was paying approximately $3,200 a month in interest on her margin loan. That was a little more than 5.00% of her total portfolio, which meant that I would need to be aggressive to earn her enough to meet day-to-day expenses, and I didn’t want to take the risk involved in doing so.

She needed to get out from under the margin debt. The rules for margin accounts dictate how much can be loaned against the collateral. Up to 90% can be loaned against an insured municipal bond, for example. But only 50% can be loaned against the common stocks that are subject to fluctuations in value. The large loan against her holdings demanded that the portfolio be infused with as many bonds as possible to give it greater stability and provide the margin to cover the loans efficiently. The downside was that bonds would not help the holdings grow very much. Every dollar in interest was sopped up by the margin loan, and my client kept going deeper and deeper into debt to cover her living expenses, money flying out of her account like bats flushed from a cave. She had spent roughly $270,000 right off the top, which reduced her holdings to $730,000. $460,000 of margin debt netted her account at $270,000, her only source of income as she had yet to begin looking for a job.

A Way Out

I laid out a simple program. She needed to sell her house and buy a more modest one to replace it. If she reinvested $175,000 in a replacement home, she would free up $475,000 to pay of the margin loan with a little to spare. Her portfolio would be restored to a value of roughly $745,000, which could be managed to generate about $3,725 a month income with no mortgage to pay—enough to live on and expect that her portfolio would grow over time.

“I can’t sell the house. It’s what I spent the money on.”

“I know that you have a lot invested in the house, your feelings and your money, but you need to consider it,” I said.

“What will my folks do? They live there now.”

“I know that you want to  consider them. What did the do before the moved in with you?” I asked.

“They worked for an airline company, but they were laid off.”

“Have they looked for other work?” I asked.

“That’s their business. You don’t think that I’m going to tell them to get out and look for a job, do you?”

“It may come to that,”  I replied pleased that the trio in the room nodded in agreement.

Jennifer’s woman friend leaned forward and said, “They are not your responsibility, sweetie. They are taking advantage of you.”

“I just want to help them until the get a new start.”

“But they are not trying to get a new start. You know that. You can see that. They are just living off you,” the friend said.

“They are Grampa and Nana to my boys. I could never explain to them why I threw them out.” (more…)

Creativity: The Product of Commitment, Practice, and Quantity.

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

John J. Hohn

Apologies to my regular readers. I have been tardy with my posts this week. But at least I have closed the gap. Instead of being days late, I have reduced it to just a few hours. By Tuesday, I expect to be back on schedule. Coming to my rescue today with his usual Sunday post is Greg Hohn, my son, who is on the faculty at the UNC Graduate School of Business and a director for Transactors, a Chapel Hill based improvisational theater group. Greg’s topic today is creativity.

Creativity: What Is It and Who Has It?

The experience gathered from books, though often invaluable, is but the nature of learning; whereas the experience gained from actual life is the nature of wisdom… -Samuel Smiles

Creativity and innovation were the big buzzwords at the Graduate Management Admission Council’s recent MBA Leadership Conference in Newport Beach, Calif. Businesses want creativity and innovation to win and maintain competitive advantages. Business schools want to turn out graduates versed in these skills.

So in typical business and academic fashion they set out to quantify and measure these things. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’ll be waiting in line to steal their statistics once they come up with them. I just don’t know how you measure creativity and innovation. I’m not even sure I know how you define them.

I will say, however, that it was a fascinating experience for me, a person who considers himself an artist first, to serve on an expert panel discussing creativity and innovation in business and business schools.

“I don’t know what you people do in your jobs,” I said in my role as expert, “but it seems funny that we’re trying to quantify the value of creativity. Isn’t the value of creativity inherent? Isn’t its value self-evident?” Or something to that effect.

Then I started frothing at the mouth.

What I do know of creativity is that it is a process and not so much a quality. It is highly inefficient and requires commitment, patience, and a sense of play to use. And this is true whether you’re a musician, a businessperson, an improviser, or an architect. More than anything else, creativity requires doing.

Quantity is Quality

Jeff DeGraff, a professor at the University of Michigan, presented at the GMAC conference and made reference to a fascinating study. A group of ceramics artists were instructed to create (1) an “ideal” or “perfect” piece and (2) 100 pieces in which the goal was simply to produce the number of pieces without focus on quality. The work of each artist was judged and in each case the piece selected as “best” by the judges came from the lot of 100. DeGraff’s sensible conclusion is that where creativity is concerned, “Quantity is quality.”

Gregory M. Hohn

Greg Hohn, Guest Contributor

Twice in the past half-year I’ve talked to piano players who don’t consider themselves creative. They’re adept at playing, they both said, but when it came to improvising they were terrible. My response to each was, “Who told you that you were terrible?” Both admitted that was their own opinion, which in my mind, isn’t that valuable. It’s a part of that phenomenon that makes us hate the sound of our own voices when they’re recorded.

Then I asked, “How much time did you spend practicing your piano improvisation?” Each responded that they spent very little time. How could they have mastered improvisation without devoting time to it?! One was heartbroken she didn’t sound like Bill Evans but he certainly worked for years developing his craft and if she had done the same she might have developed a style that equaled his. Or maybe not.

When people tell me I’m a fine improviser, I tend to reply, “After doing this for so long it would be a shame if I weren’t.” Yes, I feel I have some native talent but it is the experience and the work that has made me excel. By comparison, I don’t consider myself a good visual artist but then I’ve spent almost no time at that since the 1970s.

Practice makes perfect? I don’t think so. But practice can make awfully good whereas aiming for perfect—as DeGraff’s illustration and my experience as a performer, director, and teacher suggest—doesn’t really help.

Sticking Around for the Bad Stuff

Commitment means that you’re sticking around for the bad stuff. It makes sense to say you’ll be around for the good, whether it’s a relationship, a job, or striving to be more creative, but commitment means you’ll stay with it through the fights, the small bonuses, and the poems you really hate. (more…)

Avoiding Mistakes Usually Means Avoidance of Passionate Effort.

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Regular readers have come to expect another Sunday installment by my son, Greg Hohn. Not wishing to disappoint anyone, Greg’s post today has a message for all of us. He does a damn good job, too. That’s my unbiased opinion. (Don’t anyone write and say it was “not bad.)

Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.
-Lord Chesterfield

Being Better than Not-bad

Photo of Greg Hohn, Guest Contributor

Greg Hohn, Tranasactors Director and Guest Contributor

One of the assignments for students in my FIZ courses is making a one-minute spontaneous speech about something that is important to them as individuals. I refer to this as the “passionate presentation” and I know I’m far from the only teacher who assigns this sort of task.

Watching and listening to these speeches can be inspiring or it can be boring. Usually it’s somewhere in the middle although I’m always hoping for inspiring and think that’s within the realm of possibility for everyone. But it takes effort.

And with a passionate presentation, it also takes some passion. It’s pretty depressing to me when I hear students say they can’t think about anything they’re passionate about. I’m sorry to say that I hear that a lot, frequently from people who are of an age (20s and early 30s) that I think of as having an abundance of passion. Shouldn’t we all have many things for which we have passion, from the lofty to the profane, the rare to the common?

Feeling Passionate is Somehow Wrong?

A big part of the problem is that these students are worried about feeling passionate about something somehow “wrong.” I say this because when I tell them they have to make a speech about something that’s important to them, I often hear, “Like what?”

I am tempted to respond that I have no idea what might be important to them and that’s the point of my asking. Then I remember that I’m the teacher, the one we are brought up to look to for approval. The students are just trying to avoid doing the assignment incorrectly and so I try to suggest the speech can be about just about anything: justice, tennis, cookies, love, shoes, family, soup…

Even so, that’s often not enough to reassure the speakers that I really want to hear what’s on their minds, that I have no secret list of good and bad topics. Some of the students don’t get past trying to win my approval and avoid getting it “wrong,” despite my encouragements that the best way to win my approval is not to try and the way of getting it right is to worry less about getting it wrong.

Then there’s peer pressure. No one wants to get up and talk about something that might make her look like a dork in front of colleagues.

Society’s to blame, I suppose.

So the first potentially big obstacle in making the passionate presentation is in its conception. “Do I have a passion and, if so, is it acceptable and appropriate?” (more…)

Greg Hohn, Transactors, Personal Growth Requires Expanding Personal Comfort Zone

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Greg Hohn, High School Years, Guest Contributor

My subscribers and regular readers know that Sunday on my blog belongs to my son, Greg Hohn, who contributes articles about improv theater and how the disciplines of the of the art help us gain insight into ourselves and life itself. A biographical note follows at the end of the this post. Greg grew up in a home where he was the youngest of four boys and senior only to his sister who, needless to say, got her own way often being the only girl and the baby in the family. Believe it  not, Greg was very retiring as a boy. It was one of his early life strategies for coping with the competition from his siblings in the auction for attention from his parents and other elders in the family. The household would be buzzing with holiday festivities, but if you looked for Greg, he was no where to be found. He would retreat to his bedroom until his absence was noticed and would need to be cajoled into joining with the rest of us. I have fewer pictures of Greg as a boy than any of my other children which I take to be a measure of how successful he was in retreating from sight. When Greg writes about expanding your comfort zone, he is writing from his own life experience and growth as a person. Those who know him today as an actor, director, singer, speaker and professor can attest to his personal versatility that is truly a product of expanding his own  comfort zone over the years and in many life situations.

The True Comfort Zone

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. -C.S. Lewis

Photo of Greg Hohn, Guest Contributor

Greg Hohn, Tranasactors Director and Guest Contributor

Many of the students who take the FIZ and improv courses and programs I lead say that they’re there to expand their comfort zones. That’s a noble and useful goal, I think, and improvisation is a wonderful way to pursue it because improv is a fun and safe way to act silly and not take oneself too seriously.

Unfortunately, some of those students who say they want to expand their comfort zones don’t do much to make it happen. I believe that when some people say they want to expand their comfort zones, they mean they want to become more perfect when what they really need is to achieve a sense of peace about their imperfection.

The only way I know to expand your comfort zone is to get out of it. You have to court what you want to avoid–making yourself look like an idiot. It’s like how athletes work themselves to exhaustion and weakness in order to build stamina and strength.

By venturing outside of your comfort zone, you are likely to encounter befuddlement, incompetence, a sense of being lost, and embarrassment, among other things. And you will find that none of these things in itself is fatal or even very harmful—at least not immediately.

The long-term effects of these feelings can be harmful and perhaps even fatal because they are stressful emotions and the deleterious effects of stress have been well documented by science. So it behooves you to address the causes of stress and learn how to handle stressful emotions. You learn how to handle them, just like anything else, with exposure and practice.

Students report over and over again that the activities they do at the start of an improv course cause anxiety. Perhaps they’re doing something as simple as improvising an abstract gesture and yet they experience an elevated pulse rate, sweating, and shortness of breath. However, by the end of the course, these responses have almost always diminished and have usually disappeared.

What happened? Through repeated forays outside their old comfort zones, the students have annexed new territory. They are not more perfect but they realize they don’t need to be and that perfectionism is often a barrier to excellence.

The Mystery of FIZ Revealed — The Limitless of Yes

My UNC MBA students came up with a term for this new territory outside one’s comfort zone, the F***-It Zone or FIZ (the mystery is revealed). You enter the FIZ, get comfortable there and it becomes your new comfort zone, leaving another frontier of FIZ outside to be conquered.

One of those MBA students wrote that the FIZ really isn’t even a zone because it’s infinity. FIZ represents opportunity, the limitlessness of yes. The comfort zone is definitely limited; there is a fence that offers a false promise of safety from the unknown and the frightening, which is what opportunity and adventure look like from inside that fence.

That fence around the comfort zone not only keeps things out but it also keeps you inside. (more…)

Greg Hohn: Satisfaction with Effort Eliminates Regret

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

John J. Hohn

Earlier this month, I posted on my facebook page something that had occurred to me as I was wading through some of my own regrets about things that I had done or failed to do during my lifetime. My post read, “We deepen regret by imagining what we missed or failed to do turned out perfectly—not a very likely outcome.” I was not aware of my son Greg’s fine article at the time, but it is clear that we were thinking along the same lines. My posting came about in an effort to relieve myself of the pain attendant with my regrets. Greg’s wonderful article speaks to the things we can all do to avoid regret in the first place. I am pleased to present the following as Greg Hohn’s fourth contribution in this series.

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable. -Sydney Smith

Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves–regret for the past and fear of the future. -Fulton Oursler

Gregory M. Hohn

Greg Hohn, Guest Contributor

The drive from Wilmington, N.C., to Chapel Hill is about 2-1/2 hours. I made the drive pretty regularly when I was auditioning for film and TV projects. The drive back from Wilmington seemed especially long when I would think about the things I should have done in the audition I’d just completed.

I could always think of better choices in retrospect, a gnawing feeling most actors know too well. Indeed most of us know it from the broader spheres of work interviews, social interactions, dating, and the like. Of course I realized I couldn’t change what had already happened in those auditions. But was there a way I could adapt to future situations so that I could avoid regret later?

Avoid Regret By Making Stronger Choices

I resolved to avoid regret after auditions by making stronger choices during them. No longer would I feel I hadn’t given the casting people a good sense of what I could do. Perhaps I would make the wrong choice, perhaps they wouldn’t like what they saw, but at least I’d know they had actually seen me.

Honestly, I’m not certain that this change in approach made me better in auditions. I think it did. I felt more confident in making stronger choices. I am certain, however, that I felt happier after making my no-regret resolution. I could drive home from the audition knowing I had left it all on the table and left nothing in reserve. I had done my best and that was all I could ask of myself and all I could do to get the gig.

The most frustrating thing to hear as an improv director is that a player held back because s/he was unsure of where things were going. Why? In improv you’re not supposed to know where you’re going. The strong choices you make in the moment dictate the direction of the scene and the entire performance.

By making strong choices despite uncertainty, an improviser moves toward greater certainty. It might not work out great but at least it’ll be energetic, at worst an interesting bang rather than a boring whimper. Moreover, the improviser avoids having that horrible feeling after a show of knowing s/he could have done better. (more…)