Our Collective Covid Keyword: Maybe

Look at that picture. Preston Street. Restaurants and cafés galore. Preston Street. Reduced to a ghost town. The contrast with pre-covid Preston Street is striking. No one around. Nobody on the street. No cars, no traffic, no action. Yeah; ghost town. 

It’s quiet. 

At this time of day, Preston Street would ordinarily be bustling. But now, I walk its length, taking in the sight of closed-up, forlorn eateries, row upon row. Each one with a makeshift sign offering an interpretation of our collective new normal. Some signs simply say, “Closed.” Others announce a willingness to make a go of it, advising that they’re open for “Take-out Only.” Reading those signs, I wonder: What’s to become of all these restaurants? How many will open again? How many will change their business model, with a pivot to something else? Maybe a switch to catering, or full meal-prep for delivery only. Some may not survive at all. Empty chairs stacked upon tables in darkened dining rooms, remaining that way, until another brave and aspiring entrepreneur turns the lights back on. The restaurant business is a tough slog at the best of times. In a covid-19 world, I just can’t imagine the stress that restauranteurs deal with, day in and day out.   

I keep walking. It’s not only Preston Street. It’s quiet everywhere. 

Surrounding roads are deserted too, devoid of loud cars and louder-still motorcycles; hardly a truck and only the occasional bus. Sidewalks are nearly abandoned, most of us not wanting to chance the potentially hazardous outdoors. Whether it’s afternoon or early morning, I marvel at the changed sounds of the city. Birds are chirping, you can hear them plainly enough. There’s the sound of the wind blowing through winter-worn trees—their branches not budding yet—standing there, so barren and so lonely. Construction is still open in this city, and from far away, I can hear the sounds of workers. There’s what appears to be hammers striking upon girders, way up high, forty floors above street level, in a near-completed condo tower. And there’s a muffled mechanical sound, from deep below ground, as more workers prepare the subterranean framing  for yet another condominium. Those sounds, all of them, carry further now, not drowned out as they would have been, pre-covid, by the noise of never-ending traffic.

Walking empty streets, my mind conjures up visions of a post-covid world. How will it change? How will we change? What customs and habits will we choose to avoid? How will we interact going forward? I imagine possible scenarios. Some plausible; others far-fetched. Simple things. Things like payment. Before covid, experts viewed the handling of cash as onerous and inefficient. Today, add the word tainted to its list of questionable bona fides. Not knowing what torturous, virus-ladened path it took before landing in our opened palm, we now refuse to touch a bill or a coin. Is this a preview of future commerce? The end of cash?

And what about a simple greeting, how will we greet one another? Are handshakes a thing of the past? What about those stylish double-pecks on the cheeks? Gone forever? Yes, perhaps. Maybe, going forward, we will bump fists or tap elbows; maybe we’ll click heals or, my preference, maybe we will adopt the Japanese method of a respectful bow. Or maybe there’ll be no need for any of that. Maybe we won’t bother meeting anyone anymore.

A survey, just this week, cited that more than fifty percent of sports fans feel uncomfortable about attending a future sporting event. Will that sentiment hold? If so, what replaces it? I try to picture the lack of social gatherings, of how that could impact the leisure and entertainment industries. There’s already talk of holding soccer matches and Formula One races in front of, well, no one. Closed doors, a TV audience only. There already exist established electronic-gaming competitions, and so maybe, post-covid, an even bigger and more profitable gaming industry will rush in to fill the void left by the absence of live sport. And what of the concert halls, theatres, arenas, and nightclubs? All of those, a thing of the past? I don’t know, but maybe Netflix, Spotify and all those other streaming services will be massive winners here. Maybe we’ll sit on our couches and remotely attend live concerts and theatrical productions, discussing them in real-time, as we’re apt to do, on our favourite social media stream.

And then there’s travel. Will the world which grew, over the last few decades, invitingly smaller and smaller, rendering us closer and closer together, now turn its back on foreigners? Will open borders suddenly shut? Imagine the business effect of such an outcome. Think of travel agents; hoteliers; AirBnB hosts; event planners; tour guides and Uber drivers. Think of airlines and, though I hate to kick someone when they’re down, think of all those empty cruise ships. Who would  even consider a cruise today? No, no. Done and dusted. And, unless our attitudes revert back to pre-covid thinking, whole industries could disappear or, if not, at least find themselves reduced to a fraction of their former size.

We’ve all adopted—jumping in with both feet—an online world. Will we now pay virtual visits to international museums and historical landmarks? And does this mean that after so many years and so much talk, Virtual Reality will now come to the forefront? Gene Roddenberry and his holodeck, just one more Star Trek prediction come true?

Maybe we will avoid conferences and other gatherings too. Weddings for example, maybe we will attend such ceremonies using Zoom and Jitsi or BlueJeans. And if that happens, maybe there’ll be a massive demand for upgraded devices—faster processors, better AV equipment, bigger screens—to facilitate our online meetings. Maybe, to accommodate those virtual weddings and parties, we’ll also coordinate catered meals to be delivered to our doorsteps. Maybe we will all want to experience, not only the same sights and sounds, but also the same flavours, allowing us to post clever or (more likely) snide remarks on Twitter about our remotely-shared roast duck.  

And hey, maybe we’ll see a further convergence of virtual and real-time services. Maybe  Purolator, Microsoft and Saint-Hubert BBQ will join forces and thus organize your childrens’ virtual birthday parties. Or maybe Amazon, which is already a major player in web services and which already owns Whole Foods, will beat them to it, becoming the first integrated virtual events coordinator, going on to host all the ne plus ultra events of the year. Maybe that, right there, is the future of our shared experiences, making us feel like we’re close together, even though we’re far apart. And maybe, recognizing a trend when they see one, Uber drivers will dump their cars and buy parcel-delivery vehicles. And maybe storefronts will become depots for parcel pickup only. Also, maybe because of increased residential demand, landlords will decide to convert near-empty office buildings into condominiums. And maybe, because we’re all using VR or AR devices from the comfort of our homes—meaning that we’re all working, resting and socializing inside our individual four walls—maybe someone will develop  modular convertible furniture to  accommodate our different demands. I can see the ads now: Office by Day! Gaming by Evening and Sleep by Nighttime! Choose ACME’s new Smart Transformer Furniture, all Controlled with your Mobile Device!  Who knows? Maybe that’ll happen. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

We’re all driving less too. Reflecting that fact, I read that insurance companies are considering rebating a portion of our premiums. Hey they’ve got the stats, insurance claims have got to be way down. I imagine that, short term, this is a financial win for those big insurers. And maybe, after years of big payouts from weather-related events, they were in need of a win. But long term, if people simply decide that driving isn’t important anymore, well I don’t know. Who needs insurance? Who needs mechanics? What of the car manufacturers?  And what about the vertical parts suppliers? Adapt or die, I suppose. Build something else, I suppose. We’ll still need trucks and we’ll still need airplanes and trains. More so for the transport of goods than of people, maybe, but we’ll still need them. And what about roads and highways? Will we suddenly find ourselves with bigger sidewalks and wider bicycle lanes? Maybe we’ll see public patios with socially-distanced chairs and tables—which of course will accommodate no more than two people—where we can sit to enjoy, a respectful distance from anyone else, a coffee and croissant that we ordered on our mobile app from the neighbourhood café that only does takeout.

As a result of all this, maybe the nature of trade and political partnerships will change too.  We’ve all read about the hoarding of PPE, not only by individuals but—worse—by sovereign nations. Maybe this (and other) examples of the decline in international cooperation will lead governments to encourage manufacturing—especially of essential supplies—back home.  And will the workers who were, only yesterday, assembling vehicles, tomorrow be assembling ventilators and other medical kit? Will we, as nations, become more self-sufficient, and therefore less efficient? Will businesses build more and smaller plants at home rather than massive factories in a low-cost foreign country? Will prices go up because of this? Or will multinational profits go down?

Finally, I reflect upon the environmental impact of covid-19. In many countries, the skies are clearer—cleaner too. Who can complain about that? Some say this drop in pollution will propel the sales of electric vehicles. All because we’re witnessing the impact of less pollution from greenhouse gases and internal combustion engines. And there’s more; wildlife is flourishing, becoming so bold as to visit the main streets of some towns and cities. Myself, I can’t help but wonder whether covid-19 is climate change on fast-forward. We’ve all read the stories about world leaders, at first, downplaying the scientists’ dire warnings, choosing to disbelieve their horrific forecasts. And we are all witness to this virus’ blitz-like and debilitating impact, and the subsequent change of tune from politicians caught not only flatfooted, but hopefully humbled and embarrassed too. How likely is it, then, that world leaders will begin to eke out the parallels between this quickly-moving covid experience and the relatively slow-motion effect of climate change? Maybe some of them will begin to give more weight to the opinions of their science and health experts. Maybe some of them will begin to think in terms above and beyond GDP and productivity. Yeah, who knows, maybe that’ll happen. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. 

Make it Rain

Marriam Webster defines it as such:

Rainmaker

1: a person who produces or attempts to produce rain by artificial means;

2 : a person (such as a partner in a law firm) who brings in new business; also a person whose influence can initiate progress or ensure success

I was talking to someone. An accountant; he was starting his own firm. We talked about the thrill of startups, we discussed the myriad of tasks involved in running a business. When you’re an entrepreneur, or a solopreneur, you get to—you’ve got to—wear a lot of hats. You start a business and you need to do so much. You have to market it, you need to brand it. Web presence, logos, social media. You have to manage the workflow. Get the clients in. Get the work out. On time, on budget, and at a profit. You have to design that workflow too. What tools will you use? What processes?

And then, other tasks. What about staffing? What about business development. What about, well, everything man?

So I’m talking to this entrepreneur and he says, “You know what I want to do? You know what role I relish?” When I asked for the answer, he says, “I want to be the rainmaker.”

Ah yes, of course, the rainmaker. The one who brings in the biz. The catalyst, the spark-plug. Every business needs a rainmaker. It’s such an important task. A crucial one at that. And yet, so many of us, especially those of us of a number-crunching persuasion, well we don’t really know how to be rainmakers. We don’t know where to begin. The funny thing is it’s not about where to begin. No no, it’s not about the beginning at all. It’s about the ending. And the points in between.

Which reminds me of this tale, this allegory…

Somewhere, some remote area somewhere, there were these rainmakers, a group so well-versed, and therefore so well-known, in the art of the rain-dance. If there was a dry spell, if things were looking bleak, people from far and wide hired this group for the sole purpose of making it rain. Such was the success of these rainmakers that others began to travel great distances, just to study with this group of uncannily successful rainmakers. People would sit and ponder these rainmakers. They’d observe the most minute of details. No small thing was left unnoticed. No minor movement undocumented. Copious notes were kept. Observations discussed and debated. Did they dance clockwise or counterclockwise? What chants were they singing? How did they hold their arms, their legs, their tongues? What sequence of steps? How many to the left and how many to the right? 

Then, after studying every aspect of the rain-dance, the observant students left their enviable masters, and they returned to their homes where they would begin their rain-dance, making sure to mirror every movement of that successful group. But no matter what they did, no matter how thoroughly they copied the rain-dance, they couldn’t make it rain. They’d get tired, call it quits, “Let’s call it a day,” They’d say, “We’ll pick it up again tomorrow.” But tomorrow was no better. Nor was the day after. And eventually, dejected and despondent, the hopeful rainmakers gave up. They quit. And they asked themselves, “What sort of voodoo was at play? What magic potion did those rain-dancers possess and not reveal to us?” Eventually they refused to even try, convinced that those rainmakers were touched by the gods, or worse, cursed by demons.

But there was no magic, no dark science. There was none of that at all. There was, though, this one little thing. What no-one observed, what no-one understood, is that when that successful group started their rain-dance, they danced, and they kept on dancing–consistently and persistently–never stopping, not once ever stopping, until it began to rain.

Tires and Strategic Planning

Every entrepreneur, every small-business owner needs to plan. Planning means making a decision. And making a decision always means uncertainty and doubt—pretty much a whole bunch of second guessing. If you find yourself in such a position–stuck on a decision–maybe this metaphor invoking another metaphor will help.

We needed a new kitchen table. Not at the office. But at home. We had done the research. We had weighed the options. It’s crunch time. It’s time to choose the winning candidate. We discuss the pros and cons of this one, and of that one. We’re at a crossroads. We really like one particular table, realizing though, that once we move–at some undetermined date–into a smaller home, the table might prove too big. Might.

My oh my. What to do?

And then I remember something. 

I’m a big Formula 1 (F1) fan. I love F1. In F1, all teams must, at some point during a race, bring their drivers into the pits (that’s what the garage area is called) to change out their cars’ rapidly deteriorating tires.  Sometimes, these races are held on iffy days. Days that see storm clouds approaching; heavy rain threatening. And so imagine this. You’re a team manager. Your car’s tires are finished, your driver is losing time driving around a racetrack on worn-out tires. You message your driver, “Come in for new tires.” You gaze skyward, rain’s approaching, perhaps very soon. And you need to decide. What type of tire do you put on the car? Tires purposely designed for the approaching rain? Or tires that only work on dry asphalt? A wrong decision might mean disaster for your team’s standing. A bad decision could cost you a win. You swallow hard. you call your driver in, your crew removes the old tires and installs a fresh set. And your driver steers the car back out onto the track.

Now picture this.

This F1 race is broadcast worldwide (as every race is), the TV announcer saw what you had decided. The TV announcer saw you opt for dry-weather tires (actually called “slicks”). The announcer screams into the microphone, “I can’t believe this” He shouts, “Rain’s about to fall, any minute now! Why did that team manager put slicks on that car?”

Every sporting broadcast features  a cool, level-headed and experienced colour-commentator. In F1 broadcasts, the colour commentator, oftentimes a retired Formula 1 driver, is usually there as a foil to the excitable TV announcer. The colour commentator is  also there to offer insight and analysis—to make sense of the events unfolding on the racetrack. 

And it’s at this point, then, that this particular colour commentator cuts off the hyperventilating TV announcer and, in a calm, soothing voice, says, “You always install tires for the current conditions. Always.” 

Get it? Dry tires work well on dry asphalt. Even though it looks like rain is coming, no one knows when it’s actually coming. No one knows for sure that it will rain. And if it does, it might be in two minutes. It might be in thirty. What everyone does know is that the track is currently dry, so given those conditions, the best decision is to go with dry tires (slicks). And, if  conditions change–in two minutes or in thirty– you deal it, which might might mean bringing your car in to change tires again. But for now, it’s dry. So you install tires for those conditions. Makes sense, right?

And so, back to our kitchen table. Using the F1 tire metaphor, we decided to get a table for the current environment, the home we’re presently living in. If and when we move into a new (smaller) home, we’ll make the call on whether a new table is necessary. Makes sense, right?

Now think about this. How many times, as a small business owner, are you faced with a similar decision? How many times are you faced with a similar “this versus that” dilemma. Do I choose A or do I choose B?

And so, the next time you’re faced with an either-or decision, perhaps you might want to think about our Formula 1 metaphor. And determine whether this decision boils down to one of those “Current Environment” situations. Makes sense right?

Yin and Yang

Travel is but one of the massive benefits of QBO training. In my travels there occur, at times, thought-provoking, touching or just downright amusing events. I thought I’d document some such events in a series I’ll call “One for the Road.

Sometimes things just work out

I’m at the MacDonald Cartier airport, sitting at Gate 14 waiting for AC475 to Pearson. I hear, oh-so-faintly, the voice of an Air Canada employee announce that boarding is about to begin. He asks all Zone 1 passengers to present themselves. No one gets up. He then barrels through more boarding zones–2, 3, 4–and I begin to chuckle because still no one gets in line.

My first thought is imponderable, “Why can we barely hear these announcements? Someone forget to pay the electrics bill?” My second, even more so, “Is it possible there are no passengers in any of the announced zones? Is everyone on this flight a cheapo Zone 5 traveller like me?” I dismiss both possibilities. And then I think a happier thought, “Am I, perhaps, about to board–oh joy of joys–a near-empty plane?” A less than capacity flight, as we all know, is the holy grail of flying. A whole row of seats. All of them vacant. Empty space in the overhead bins. No one crowding the aisles because there are no bathroom line-ups. The benefits are endless.

I sit and wait a bit longer and I then make out, over the anemic PA system, what sounds like AC475 (Hey! That’s my flight!) and I also hear something about Gate 15. Gate 15? Did they just say Gate 15? Here I am with forty or so passengers sitting at Gate 14, which, as illustrated by departure monitors scattered throughout the airport, is the supposedly correct gate. And yet no one’s moving. Are we at the wrong gate? I look around. Everyone seems content to wait it out.

Ever the sleuth, I decide to investigate. Strolling over to Gate 14, I glance up at the departures monitor again and see that the Gate 15 flight is departing for Frankfurt. I also see that the plane at Gate 15 is on the large size. And big planes are unheard of on these YOW-YYZ legs. Hmm. Curious.

So I walk up to Gate 15 and I’m about to ask a ticket agent whether this is indeed the Pearson flight. But I’m beaten to it by a young lady, behind me, who shouts out that very question. I turn around, laugh, and say, “I was about to ask the very same thing!” She then goes on to describe how she’s all about inclusion and fairness, and she proceeds to explain to the unwitting ticket agent that there are a bunch of even-more unwitting passengers sitting at Gate 14. The ticket agent shrugs and then picks up a phone.

I shrug too, and think, “OK lady, looks like you’ve got a handle on things, you stay inclusive and I’ll go ahead and board.”

And I find myself on a nice, and nearly empty, Boeing 767. Fist bump baby! What a pleasure this plane is, such a difference from the little tin cans that AC usually flies on these routes. I find my spot–19F–an aisle seat not far from the forward cabin, and I make myself comfortable. Mere moments later a flight attendant approaches to say there are premium seat available further up and I’m welcome to one. Fist bump times two! So I say, “Sure I’ll grab one of those seats!” The attendant then asks my seatmate whether she’d like to move up as well. I get up, fetch my suitcase from the overhead bin, scurry to the front and when I arrive, I find that my now ex-seatmate is much quicker on the draw. She got there ahead of me, plucking the choice seat–tons of legroom and a window too–that, except for my dawdling, might have been mine. So, instead I settle into what turns out to be a near-identical seat to the one I just vacated, aisle middle row, with maybe six inches of additional leg room. I sit down. I glance over at my ex-seatmate settled so comfortably in that cushy window seat with all that leg room, and I let out a long sigh. She’s oblivious though. She’s hit pay dirt and, she’s quite rightly, enjoying her new digs. To be honest, I can’t say I blame her. Then I settle back and think, it’s the yin and the yang. Sure, it’s easy to get into a kerfuffle over seat allocations or boarding gate mixups. Get stressed out and accusatory. Dress down some poor ticket agents or flight attendants for screwups not of their doing. But life’s too short for perceived slights. And hey, things balance out, right? I’m on a nice plane, quiet and comfortable, it’s almost empty and I got a seat upgrade. Yeah, sometimes the yin is soon followed by the yang.

And things just work out. Quite nicely too, don’t they?

A Sad Day

It’s incredible that these things can have such an effect. I mean I never knew the man, never met him. Just saw him on TV mostly, and read about him in Road & Track magazine. I did once manage to get within a shout of him. In the late seventies it was. At the Canadian Grand Prix, I somehow managed to sneak into the pits. And there he was. There was the great Niki Lauda sitting in his car. A Brabham-Alfa Romeo this time. And not his mythical Ferrari. So yeah, that was my moment. My claim to fame. “I took a picture of the great Niki Lauda.” Pretty nice shot too.

So yeah, I never knew the man. But yet, late last night, when I saw on Twitter that Niki Lauda had passed away, there were tears in my eyes.

I remember Lauda from his halcyon days. Or maybe they were my halcyon days. Don’t really know, but I do know that I vividly remember Lauda racing his Ferrari with wilful precision. Always precision. To me he was a cold and calculating F1 pilot. An almost emotionless man who, in a sense, became part of the machine that he drove so well. Just another component in a racing system designed to go flat-out. Go bloody fast. And scare the wits out of mere mortals.

His life is legendary. The stuff of fiction. His arrival in F1. Seemingly out of nowhere, and straight into a Ferrari. His Nurburgring crash in 1976. The heroic and near-miraculous return to his Ferrari’s cockpit only forty days after receiving the last rites. I mean, come on, everyone thought he was dying. Everyone but Niki anyway. And to think that he returned to contest that 1976 World Championship, contest it against his friend (and nemesis too), James Hunt. And to lose said championship by one point. Lose it because he decided to park his car in that last race. That Japanese Grand Prix, the one held on a day of monsoon-like conditions. Conditions that were near-impossible. Conditions that, today, no race steward would allow any F1 event to so much as begin.

I remember all of that. And I still wonder what went through Niki’s mind when he stopped his car. Did he say, “Hell with it. Life’s too short?” Did he say, “Screw this, I’ve been through enough?” I have no idea, but I do know that no one begrudged him of his decision. 

He went on to win two more championships, you know. The next year–1977–again for Ferrari, and then 1984, this time in a McLaren. From there the man went on to fly airplanes, and start his own airline, and then, years later, help build the mighty Mercedes F1 team. It was Niki, apparently, who convinced Lewis Hamilton to leave McLaren for Mercedes. Quite a gamble, for both of them. And quite an accomplishment too.

He accomplished so much. So much. And now. And now the man is gone. 

There were, to me, three men—three larger-than-life men—who drove for Ferrari. The first, of course, is my boyhood hero. The giant of them all, Gilles Villeneuve. The second was Niki Lauda. And Michael Schumacher was the third. When I think of any of those three, I immediately picture a red car. A Ferrari. To me you cannot separate the men from those machines. They’re synonymous. They’re inexorably linked and intertwined. By fact, by history and by giant near-mythical moments.

Men like Lauda. They’ve accomplished so much. And I often ask myself, “How did they achieve all of that?” Was it fate? Was it a God-given right? Was it sheer purpose and determination? I don’t know. Because we–the rest of us–the mere mortals, we lead our lives, and we accomplish whatever it is that we accomplish. And we feel more significant. We somehow feel more significant just because of our distant affiliation, our appreciation, for the giants of men like Niki Lauda.

#GodspeedNiki

An Unappreciated Service

Last week, between the hours of 4PM on Tuesday and–let’s say–8AM on Wednesday, some forty centimetres of snow came down on Montreal.

I was teaching in Granby on that Tuesday. Teaching QuickBooks Online with my colleague Ricky Duquette. And by the way, if you’re stuck, if you’re looking for help with QuickBooks or any other business software, give Ricky a call. Especially if you’re in Québec, call Ricky, he’ll get you sorted.

So yeah, that whole Tuesday the talk—on the radio, on my social media feeds, everywhere—was about the advancing snowfall and the ravage it would leave in its wake. Wrapping up the training session around four, chatting to a few attendees until 4:30 or 4:45, when I finally left the hotel shortly before 5PM, the snow hadn’t started yet. So I got on a dry Highway 10 and decided to hightail it back to Montreal. On the highway, I was following one of those big pickups—a Ram F150000 or whatever they’re called—I was following that truck and I was wondering to myself, why do people drive those big behemoths anyway? I can understand needing one if you’re in the trades, but this truck looked pampered and fancy. Not a work vehicle at all. And me, of course, being a number-cruncher and therefore unable to help myself, I also pondered the heavy financial burden of just such a vehicle. Depreciation, ineligible leasing costs, fuel consumption. On and on, my mind went. On and on.

Anyway, whoever was driving that truck must have had a similar goal: get as far west as fast as possible. Checking my speedometer, I saw that I was travelling at a a decent rate of knots (somewhere, oh, around the speed limit) and I also saw that I wasn’t making any headway on that Ram pickup as it left a rooster tail of exhaust and vapour some fifty metres ahead of me. For forty or fifty kilometres, we maintained the status quo. We (me and that Ram) were heading west on a bare and dry Highway 10 with the radio (mine anyway) on a local news station, the whole while listening to the radio announcers as they did their best to gleefully sensationalize what they were describing as the end of our civilized world. Based on the ominous warnings coming over the radio, I knew I’d eventually hit the leading wall of that incoming storm. But so far, nothing. Still though, you could almost hear those announcers rubbing their hands together greedily and smirking evilly as they warned of all manner of doom and gloom. I actually chuckled at one point, listening to some traffic guy, some guy out of Montreal named Jonathan or Jackson or Jeremy. You know those  people who try to be witty and funny? And no matter how hard they try to be witty and funny, they fail? Well that radio announcer was such a person, and those types of people often annoy me. Maybe it’s because I’m one of them too. Funny, unfortunately, just isn’t my thing. You know how it is right? We damn number-crunchers, we just can’t do funny. A sad fact, but a true one.

Anyway, this guy was talking about the terrible traffic and the ever-worsening road conditions, and at one point he explained with great relish, how the south shore, especially Highway 10 outside of Montreal was suffering near white-out conditions. Travelling on Highway 10, the radio guy assured us, was hopeless. Hopeless and dangerous. Really? Really? I was on that very stretch of road, and yes there was snow beginning to swirl about, but nothing, and I mean nothing near as bad as what this ridiculous reporter was making it out to be.

Sure enough, somewhere near Highway 30, the snow truly began flying. The winds were high though, and that wind was preventing the snow from actually accumulating on the autoroute. Visibility was good too, so we could still move at a decent clip, somewhere around 90 or 100 clicks. Once at the Champlain Bridge however, things were different. The snow was starting to come down more heavily, the roads were getting slicker and the traffic heavier. I pulled out to pass a slow moving vehicle just as the Champlain merges with Highway 15. There was a slight curve in the road and even though I wasn’t moving that fast, maybe 70 clicks, I could feel my car moving around underneath me, the front tires no longer obeying the direction they were asked to assume. So yeah, I slowed way down.

I got into Montreal easily enough though, and I was surprised to see that my commute was no more than fifteen or twenty minutes longer than when conditions are ideal.  So yeah, in spite of it all, a relatively easy drive. For which I must also give an appreciative nod to my ever-present travelling companion, Waze.

It was later though, in the wee hours of the night, that Mother Nature unleashed her fury. Which meant, by Wednesday morning, forty centimetres had fallen. I had some work to do, a few phone calls, a short webinar, and by 2:30 PM I was beginning to get cabin fever. And with that came the eventual decision to drive to Ottawa. I consulted the traffic-cams, both in and around Montreal, and then the same for Ottawa. To my surprise, the roads looked good. These were passable roads, Nearly bare roads.

And so off I set. Sure enough, except for a brief squall around Vankleek Hill, the roads were mostly wet. Not icy, not snow-covered, not slippery. Just wet.

How could this be? How could it be that, not even twenty four hours after a major dumping of snow, the road crews had not only made the highways passable, but had even rendered them perfectly safe? As though nothing more than a little bit of rain had fallen? These people, these people coordinating things, these people driving the plows and the graders and the salt-dispensing thingies, they’re magicians I tell you. Absolute magicians. And they’re not thanked anywhere near often enough.

All too often we come across a service we take for granted, a service that we consider not one iota. And today, after a safe and easy journey in conditions that were challenging at best, I thought I’d take a moment to say thanks for what is truly an under-appreciated service. So listen all you snow-clearing people, thank you! Thank you very much. Thank you for helping guys like me (and that person in her Ram pickup) get home with nary a scratch and barely a concern. Safe and sound, yeah, safe and sound.

So yeah, thanks guys, you really did a solid job.

What if?

I wrote this a few years back. I like to refer to it once in a while. I like to refer to it because, like any entrepreneur, I sometimes need something to motivate me. To cast away the self-doubt. The self-doubt that comes–part and parcel–with the world of self-employment. Anyway, I thought I’d put it up here; share here with anyone who’s considering taking that leap, that leap into self-employment, that leap onto a new and maybe scary project. That leap into the unknown.


What if?  You said, “I will” rather than, “I’ll try.”

What if?  There’s one person standing between you and your dream

What if? That one person is you

What if?  You have superpowers

What if?  You only need to realize you do

What if?  You said, “I’ll do it” rather than, “Someone should.”

What if?  You created opportunity rather than waited for it

What if?  It is rocket science, and you’re the only one with a Ph.D

What if?  Money does grow on trees

What if?  Your resourcefulness & imagination are the roots

What if?  You won’t enjoy doing nothing

What if?  It’s not about greed

What if?  Greed was illegal

What if?  Negativity is bad

What if?  Nothing is real

What if?  Everything is

What if?  Jagger had stayed at the London School of Economics

What if?  After being laughed off-stage, Charlie Parker had simply quit

What if?  Beethoven had said, “I’m deaf, I can’t write music.”

What if?  Robert Johnson hadn’t gone to the crossroads

What if?  Warhol only got 15 minutes too

What if?  Dreamers stopped dreaming

What if?  We’re all cheering you on

What if?  You’re not listening to us

What if?  Nothing is mutually exclusive

What if?  Everything is possible

What if?  Procrastination didn’t exist

What if?  Idleness was outlawed

What if?  Cartoons are real life

What if?  Real life is a cartoon

What if?  You listen to your heart

What if?  You ignore the negative chatter of naysayers

What if?  There’s no such thing as failure

What if?  The idea you’re hesitant to share is the one that will bowl us over

What if?  There’s a masterpiece inside you, just waiting to come out

What if?  The world is waiting for you

What if?  It’s you we’re all counting on

What if?  It’s all a dream

What if?  Dreams do come true


You’ve Got to Go

It’s mere days away. But it’s not too late to register. QuickBooks Connect. Downtown Toronto. Dec three-to-five.

You’ve got to go.

Why? If you’re a number-cruncher. A tax preparer. An IT type. If you have clients that rely on you. Then you need to be at QuickBooks Connect.

Our profession is changing. It’s transforming. Listen, I’ve been at this game more than twenty-five years. And never, never, have I seen our profession evolve. Never like it has in these last two, maybe three, years.  You’re a seasoned pro? You remember the dawn of the PC age? Think that was big? That’s nothing compared to today.

The dust has settled. Cloud is in. Cloud won.

The way we deal with data. The way we interact with clients. The tools we use. Our internal practice-management tools. Our client tools. Communication. On-boarding. Payment, Billing. It’s all changed.

You still keeping timesheets? You still using cheques? You still have legacy desktop software? Backups and software-versions? Well, that’s why you need to be at QuickBooks Connect.

Times have changed. Time are changing. You need–we all need–to keep up. Or get left behind.

QuickBooks Connect. You’ve got to go.

Is it Better Cold?

I love this place. I love le Vieux Québec.

I’m here for two days. Two nights and two days. Teaching QuickBooks Online. Got here early evening Tuesday, leaving Thursday night. After checking in yesterday, I walked around. Walked down La rue St-Louis, down to where you’ll find Le Chateau Frontenac. I took the funicular down to basse-ville. Walked past places I’d been before, Le Lapin Sauté, l’église Notre Dame des Victoires. It was all so evocative of earlier visits. Pleasant visits.

This morning I woke up promptly, walked in the early morning, pre-dawn light, down to la Rue St-Jean, got to Boulangerie Paillard at 7:00 AM. It had just opened.

There’s something about this city. It just feels right. It always feels right. But this time, if felt even better. It felt more whimsical, more expressive, more romantic.

After teaching QuickBooks all day, it was dusk. The sun was going down, the landmarks–those romantic gates cut in old stone walls–were lit up. Buildings too, they were all lit up. Light, playful light, shone on churches. Light shone on old homes converted into hotels (like the Manoir d’Auteil where I was staying), light shone on statues, carvings, walkways.

And the air too. It was crisp, it was cold. Not uncomfortably so, nothing distressing.

And that’s when it hit me. As much as I love Québec, can it even be better when it’s cold? Is it better when the sun sets in the early evening, and rises later in the day? Is Québec more memorable in the late fall when everything is lit up and there’s a nip in the air? Is it better at this time of year because (let’s face it) there are less people walking its beautiful, historic streets?

You know what? I think it is. I think Québec is better when it’s cold.

You walk quickly–you want to warm up. But you can’t help but pause and admire this old house, that beautiful church. Everything lit up.

There’s some kind of va et viens. There’s an anomaly, a contradiction in terms. It’s cold, you want to hurry and get indoors. But it’s too beautiful and you linger a little bit, talking in the sights. And when you finally do get inside, a cosy little restaurant, and you sip that single malt–pour me réchauffer–you tell the waiter, well even that first sip is made more vivid.

Hmm, maybe it’s true, maybe it really is so. Yeah, I do think it’s true. Québec is better when it’s cold.

That Gateway Thing

We were in Granby.

Granby, just east of Montreal, is a gateway kind of place. It’s where the rolling hills of the Eastern Townshops begin to make their presence felt. If you haven’t been there, the Eastern Townships are a picturesque part of the world. Luscious hills, sparkling lakes.

But I wasn’t there for that. I wasn’t there for the lakes or the hills. I was there for work. I was there to discuss QuickBooks Online (QBO). Me and about forty other number-crunchers.

Later on, driving back toward Montreal, cool jazz playing on the car stereo–Miles Davis, that kind of stuff–I reflected on the day’s discussion. The word “gateway” came up; there was a lot of talk of gateways. About the way that QBO facilitates the transferring and sharing of data.

That’s what I like, you know, about QuickBooks Online. It’s a gateway app. A gateway to third-party applications that lets you do, well, just about anything. Need point of sale? Need time tracking? Need cash flow management? Need scheduling and CRM and project management? Yeah, we got that. And then some.

You use an app to take pictures of a receipt. You bridge that app to QBO and you’re now using your phone’s camera to input expenses. Use another app, also via QBO’s gateway, and you can pay anyone electronically. No more cheques, no more stamps and no envelopes. I mean come on, cheques and stamps? That’s so 1990, isn’t it?

Soon enough, the talk turned to something else, another sort of gateway. The gateway between the practitioner and client. Lines of communications have narrowed. Roles strengthened. Support more immediate, and information more current and more relevant. All of a sudden, the practitioner/client relationship is closer, more in sync. There’s less talk of what happened six months ago, or last year. There’s less talk of how someone did something. And more talk about how to do something. And why to do it.

The mood changes. There’s less (as one of my dear clients once termed it) “rear-view-mirror” discussions and more “where are things going?” planning. More depth; more meaning. All because of that gateway thing.

Oh sure. There are some, still today, who won’t get onboard. And that’s OK. Some people don’t want to hear of gateways, and even less of cloud.

Cloud! Cloud! Cloud! Cloud! What’s all this fuss about cloud?

Some don’t see the point. Some don’t get the benefits. My old software does this, my desktop software does that. And sure, that’s all good and true.

But it’s not about software. It’s about the philosophy of software. It’s about the way we think about it all. How are we going to use that software to strengthen relationships? To modernize the game? The playing field is larger, but the players are closer together. Things are more immediate, information more crucial and relays ever shorter. Today, we need to build communication, and support, and trust. And we need a gateway to do that. A really dynamic, really reliable gateway.

And that’s what stayed with me as I drove out of Granby, that gateway to the Eastern Townships. Gateways, everybody needs gateways.