Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Netherlands: World innovator in the use of drugs

The Netherlands: world innovators on the use of drugs.

I was invited to address the Global Federation of Speakers Summit in Noorwijk, The Netherlands. This is a beautiful little town about 40 minutes from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.

To start, I will tell you that I paid the most expensive taxi ride in my life, $150.00 for a 40 minute ride. The obvious question is how much is it for a gallon of gas in the Netherlands?

Almost 8.00 a gallon the driver from Turkey told me.

Another observation that is common knowledge throughout the world is that in Amsterdam you may just enter a coffee shop and buy drugs, in fact, you are handed a menu with the drugs of the day, and believe it or not, with a special on the menu. Prices are cheap; you pay for four joints the equivalent of 20 cigarettes. Nobody will throw you in jail because it is legal. I might add that I have no taste for the stuff, I have never tried it and I never will, it is just not in me, not attractive at all. Maybe the fact that I have played and still play sports all my life has something to do with it or the fear that to do that might have a long range side effect on my brain. As it is, some people think I am crazy. (Just joking)

Aren’t the Dutch concerned about the real dangers of drug abuse I asked myself? Well, it seems that drug laws evolved as the law in other countries during the past 100 years but the solutions taken in the Netherlands differ from the rest of the world.

Dutch drug policy is unique in the whole world and it is driven by the idea that every human being may decide about the matters of its own health. The Dutch consider this rule as fundamental, accepting for example the possibility of the controlled suicide (euthanasia) for terminally ill patients.

Another mind set in that incredible country guiding their drug policy is a deep belief that hiding social negative phenomena does not make them disappear, on the contrary, makes them much worse, because when concealed, they become far more difficult to influence and control. What an interesting thought!

Applying these ideas to their drug laws the Dutch try as much as possible to decriminalize the use of drugs, making it a private matter of each individual, not a matter for the enforcement apparatus. To produce, trade or stock drugs remains a criminal offence, as in any other country.

Contrary to popular belief, many legal systems all over the world do not punish people for the use of drugs, but for their possession. So the citizens are sent to jail for having a marijuana cigarette, not for smoking it. The Dutch see this distinction as purely formal. Statistics show that almost half of Americans openly admit to having smoked marijuana (even if not always admitting to inhaling it as you may recall President Clinton’s example).

The so called war on drugs, started by President Richard Nixon in the 1970’s resulted in the country employing enormous, expensive efforts enforcing strict drug policy and incarcerating hundreds of thousands of its citizens, often for just minor offences.

The law of the unintended effect took hold here by making the drugs a forbidden fruit which increased their attraction. On the contrary, a theory that the consumption of cannabis may lead to the use of more dangerous drugs is still being debated with many clinicians taking both sides of the argument.

Simply put, the Dutch see the use of drugs as a health matter, similar to smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol and in fact not very distant from being overweight. They also remind Americans that oppose their laws that prohibition of alcohol in the US from 1919 to 1933 brought more negative effects of increased criminality than positive social changes and as we all know, the law was eliminated.

I should clarify, just in case some of our wealthier members of society get the wrong idea, that the Dutch have divided drugs into two groups, depending on their influence on human health, as soft and hard. Hard drugs such as cocaine, LSD, morphine and heroin are forbidden as in any other country in the world.

Soft drugs such as cannabis in all its forms (marijuana, hashish, hash oil) are legal under the condition of personal use with some conditions such as doing it in a coffee shop, small portions, 5 grams maximum transaction, sale only to adults, no minors on the premises, and no advertisement of drugs.

The Dutch do not see their tolerant policy towards limited soft drug use as some sort of miraculous, solve it all solution. They try to prevent the drug abuse through educational measures, closely monitoring the scene of the drug abuse, fighting with the consequences of the abuse by the health measures such as the free testing of ecstasy pills, the free syringe exchange program and the free methadone (a surrogate of heroine) supply program for the heroin users. Today in dozens of cities all over the country, these programs operate every single day, influencing somewhat life in the country. At the same time, Dutch authorities try to eliminate deadly illegal drugs by fighting drug trafficking. I repeat, through their tolerant policies towards soft drugs, they hope to be able to better control drug abuse.

An interesting statistic that our authorities here in Puerto Rico and for that matter in the US should compare with the Netherlands is the use of Marijuana by our youngsters. The statistical data provided by the Dutch certifies that among young people of medium age 28, only 16% have ever smoked marijuana. I suspect that our statistics are much worse.

Psychology tells us that soft drugs when widely accessible seem to lose much of their appeal.

Mexico’s President Calderon has been advising the US to change their drug laws since it has cost them thousands of death in a year. Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa just declared that drugs should be legalized.

My opinion? I am not ready to recommend this yet. I do believe that our society should look into the pros and cons of legalizing and not legalizing, politics and special interests taken out of the equation.

It is a tough choice, yet again, if we have a big problem with criminality here in PR and in the US, we must look for big solutions to eliminate or at least to improve our statistics on crimes.

Very few hispanics among the richest people in the US

Very few Hispanics among the richest people in the U. S.

I am aboard flight AA 56 on my way to London to then connect to BA flight 434 on to my final destination, Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I will be speaking at the Global Federation of Speakers Summit.

I am very fortunate that I am travelling business class and that will make this 8 hour trip a little bit nicer. Eight hours sitting in the tight seats in the back is quite an ordeal to say the least.

I watched the movie The Fighter, I recommend it to you my dear readers, and when I was ready to look for another movie, I remembered that I should be writing my weekly column for the Puerto Rico Daily Sun.

I take a look at the New York Times to see if I get an idea on what to write about and I draw a blank. Nothing really inspires me to write an article about.

I put the paper away and I take out my I-pad. I look at the screen and suddenly a button stares at me, Forbes list of the 400 richest people in the United States, 2010 edition.

First thing I wonder is how many Hispanics are on the list?

Only five to my surprise, with a Spanish last name. Actually four, because I will not count Jeff Bezos number 18 in the list with a fortune of 12 billion since he is not really Hispanic. He has a Hispanic name because he was adopted by his Cuban step father, Mike Bezos who I have gotten to know personally quite well, and Jeff wanted to be named like him.

An interesting point about this guy, he is always looking for ways to re invent his business. In today’s economy, it is a good thing to re invent your business so that you can take advantage of new opportunities.

Already the world’s largest online bookshop, Amazon is now also the world’s biggest online retailer with net sales of 24.5 billion in 2009. Also quite interesting, its kindle e reader has been its best selling item for the last two years and in fact, in May, June and July of this year, Amazon sold 143 e books for every 100 paper copies. Amazon also acquired online shoe retailer, Zappos which it bought in July 2009 for 1.2 billion in cash and stock. Bezos shares, account for 90% of his net worth, and he has sold $400 million worth of Amazon shares since the start of the year. I found it very interesting that his base salary was $81,840 in 2009 but he spent $1.7 million on his security. Forbes tried to find out why this much security and what it entails but the company spokesperson declined to give an explanation.

Jeff Bezos is an amazing individual. Although I did see him at TED in February, I didn’t have a chance to talk to him, but I did speak to Mike his dad, a very nice down to earth guy. Jeff is now funding aerospace company Blue Origin, which is developing spacecraft in West Texas and they are currently building a vertical takeoff, vertical landing rocket which if everything turns out ok, will take astronauts, researchers and the public into space. How exciting!!!

Getting back to the Hispanic richest men, number 205, and the first Hispanic is a guy named Jude Reyes. They are in the food and beer distribution business in Illinois. I haven’t been able to find out where is his family from but at least the name Reyes means that he is from Hispanic descent.

Number 2 and 290 in the list is John Arrillaga, from California but of Basque descent, began making money buying up tracts of California farmland and converted them into office parks in the 1960’s. With a partner, he now oversees 15 million square feet of land and office buildings in and around San Jose. He is a good guy, well, I can’t be sure of that, but I do know that he donated $100 million to Stanford University in 2006. He went a little bit overboard when he built a bathroom and shower for Stanford’s football coach for $50,000 and he caught some heat for it because at the time, the team’s budget was being reduced.

The third Hispanic is Brazilian Eduardo Saverin of Facebook fame who has a billion dollars because of his early involvement in the development of Facebook. He actually cofounded Facebook with Harvard classmate Mark Zuckerberg in 2004. For a very brief time, he had a 33% stake in Facebook and Zuckerberg had the rest. Then, everything fell apart and he was sued by Facebook for allegedly interfering with business and insisting on keeping a 30% stake in the company. Saverin counter sued and finally settled for a 5% stake and a cofounder bio on Facebook’s site. Ego always plays a part, he wanted to be listed as a cofounder and he got it. He is a very smart guy, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree in economics.

I have asked around to find out where he is living now and no one knows or no one wants to say where but maybe he is in Brazil.

And the last guy with a Hispanic surname in the Forbes list is Arturo Moreno, from Tucson, Arizona, which means odds are he is of Mexican descent, in the 385th position tied with a few guys. He is a Vietnam veteran and partnered with Outdoor Systems founder William Levine in 1984. That business was sold to Infinity for $8.7 billion in stock in 1999 and he then bought baseball’s Angels from Disney in 2003. That team has made the playoffs five times since and is now the seventh most valuable team in Major League baseball with a 2010 worth of $520 million.

I should mention that the richest man in the world is Carlos Slim from Mexico who owns a myriad of companies among them Claro, with a presence in Puerto Rico, bought from Verizon a few years ago.

His fortune is estimated to be over 74 billion dollars surpassing Bill Gates who has 54 billion. It is interesting to note that Carlos increased his net worth by 21 billion just last year and that is why he surpassed Bill Gates.

Bill Gates, though, can take comfort in the fact that he is, by a wide margin, the most generous person on the planet, having cut checks worth $28 billion.

In a speech given in Puerto Rico a few months ago, a reporter told Carlos Slim about the Bill Gates charity contributions and asked him whether he was also willing to donate part of his wealth to charity. Carlos’s answer surprised everyone when he answered “I don’t believe in charity”.

Warren Buffet, number 2 in the USA list is coaxing America’s richest to pledge half their fortune to charity. He has already done so and has also declared that when he dies, he will donate 99% of his $45billion to Bill Gates charity and the Buffet children charity and on the will he has a provision that everything he donates must be spent within 10 years.

“Too often a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse and longstanding friends”.

This friends is a very generous man and extremely wise.

Now, more than ever, you better be in touch with your business

Now more than ever, you better be in touch with your business

Things are changing very rapidly as you can see with developments in the Middle East.

Last month when CNN was reporting what was happening in Egypt, one of their correspondents stated that President Mubarak was totally out of touch with what was happening in his country, and out of touch with what the average Egyptian did on a daily basis, simply to make ends meet.

He went on to say that President Mubarak doesn’t even realize that the traffic congestion in Egypt is absolutely horrendous, making our traffic jams here in San Juan very normal in comparison. Why couldn’t he even know that traffic jams exist in Egypt? Well, whenever he went out into the city, the police escorts would clear the streets of cars and he always had an open highway. He didn’t relate to a traffic jam because he never experienced one.

What happened to me these past few weeks makes me realize that the same thing happens in businesses everywhere.

I was hired by a very large company to give four speeches in four cities around the United States. They wanted to invite prospects, business owners that they want to sell their products to, to this conference where I would do half an hour of business productivity ideas and they would do half an hour presenting their latest products.

I have a contract that besides requesting a deposit, it states that one month before the date of the event, it can’t be cancelled and the full amount is due. This company had paid the deposit and when the date for the events were getting closer, we were notified that their marketing people had screwed up and that they hadn’t been able to contact enough people to tell them about the event.

Even though they cancelled three out of four, they paid my whole fee and for the last event, they only had a handful of prospects present. So, in essence, I got paid for four events and I only spoke at one.

Do you think that the President of the company would have allowed that to happen? Of course not, but he simply wasn’t aware that it happened.

These people didn’t even have the mindset to since they were already paying for me, to donate my conferences to schools or chambers of commerce or even some of their top clients. No such creativity on their part which leads me to believe that they are in a comfort zone, a very dangerous place to be.

Do you know how much would it have been worth to that company for them to have called their top client and as a good will gesture offer them a free conference that they had paid thousands to contract?

So, even though I got paid my total fee, I do feel sorry for the client and I wish that they realize that they better get their act together or competitors will pass them by.

This same company was used as an example of a company that doesn’t communicate properly in the Logistics Summit I spoke in Mexico two weeks ago. The speaker told the audience how this company advertised a nationwide special on one of their products and they didn’t bother to contact the manufacturer to tell them that they should be ready for a bunch of orders because of the special they were running. The special was launched and they soon ran out of product and when they ordered more products, the manufacturer told them that they needed a few weeks to be able to deliver such quantities. Many customers got very upset because when they went to take advantage of the two for one special, they didn’t have it, and that my friends, leaves a very negative impression on the customers.

I have come to realize that many business leaders are similarly out of touch with what’s really going on in their business. They have no idea what it is like to be a client or an employee in their company. They have no idea what their main competitors are doing, how their suppliers are being treated, or what is worse, what is the content on the company website.

Dealing with another client in the communications business, and I have to be very careful not to give out too much information that would lead you to identify the client because of obvious reasons, they are surrounded by what we call “yes” people. They have such a culture of fear that everyone around them tells the president what he or she wants to hear. They think they have all the answers and no one is allowed to speak up. Well, yes, they are allowed, but sooner or later the guillotine will fall.

These type of presidents and executives insulate themselves from reality, many hide in their office and they never go out to the field to see what is going on, to speak to people in the front lines, to talk to clients.

The front line employees know stuff that no one else knows that really affects the business and they hate it when nobody asks them for their opinion. So, the really good employees leave the company and the mediocre ones stay adopting the “I couldn’t care less what happens here” attitude until they find a better opportunity elsewhere.

There is no doubt that the best way to find out what’s really going on is for them to get out, manage by walking around and demonstrate that you care about the business and the people that work on it.

In this particular company, as I do in many others, I held two lunch meetings a month with the president and ten employees. One meeting was held with selected employees on the basis of their contribution to their own individual departments and the other meeting with ten employees selected at random so that everyone in the company has a chance to have lunch with the president. That of course worked very well.

One of my favorite TV shows, Undercover Boss has demonstrated what an experience it is to really find out how things really work inside the companies. In every single company, in every single show, the president of the company that went undercover was surprised by what he saw while he was undercover.

So, as a business owner or manager of a company, how could you go undercover to see how things really work? Why don’t you call your company as if you were a client to see how the receptionist treats you? How about leaving a message in your sales department to see how long does it take for them to call you back?

In fact, if you just went around the different departments without wearing a mask or anything like that, and you talk to your employees, you will see how beneficial that will be to you and to them.

The Amazing Power of a Can do Attitude

The amazing power of a “can do” attitude

The news reports we hear every single day is full of murders, robberies, drug deals, abuses, and everything that is wrong in society.

You can’t blame the press because it is obvious that everyone wants to sell newspapers or magazines, radio or television ads and if the news focused on the positive, not many people would buy it.

For reasons beyond the scope of this article, human beings are attracted to tragedies, celebrities, disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear plants in danger of exploding and all kinds of incidents that happen every single day.

I do cover those types of events in my articles as many of you know but I only do it if there is a lesson involved, if there is something that might teach us anything that will add to what we already know about life, in business and or at home.

I am pleased to give you a few examples in today’s article that should motivate you to start a project or to get out of your comfort zone. When we see other people doing stuff that is good and that we think we could also be doing, it is definitely a source of inspiration.

I have mentioned before that when I was writing my book” How to Survive Among Piranhas”, I had the manuscript in my car and after a speech I gave in the facilities of the Rotary Club of Rio Piedras, outside the club, where I made the mistake of parking, the car window was smashed and my planner with the manuscript was stolen.

I pasted Rio Piedras with posters offering a reward for anyone that would return my planner and some announcements in a couple of radio stations but to no avail. The planner was never returned and I had no copies of the manuscript. I would write during long flights and didn’t think on making a copy of what I was writing. Bad mistake.

It is interesting that I had written a note in the first page of the planner saying that if anyone found it I would give a very good reward if it was returned. Another mistake: The note was written in English and obviously the thief didn’t speak English.

Well, I stopped writing until I met Hirotada Ototake a nice Japanese youngster who at 19 had already graduated from College and had published his first book. He inspired me to start writing again and finally “How to Survive among Piranhas” saw the light of day.

Well, lots of people want to write books and most don’t. It is simply a wish that will never become reality. Some of my readers, and you know who you are, have written me, called me and even met with me to ask me to give them some tips or ideas on how to publish their book and guess what? Most have not published anything yet.

So, when a dear friend calls me to tell me about a young girl that is working at a supermarket in Ponce as a cashier and right there on the cash register she has her book and sells it for $10.00, my heart rejoices.

This young lady, in her early twenties, Arleen I. Munoz Velez who works at the Comercio Cash and Carry in Ponce didn’t allow lack of time or resources or a hundred obstacles that she may have faced to stop her from her dream of writing a book. “Un Lápiz a mi Corazón” not yet translated into English, but who knows, one day it might, is being sold by her and also by a bookstore in Ponce named Librería Palique in the Centro del Sur Mall. In fact, on April 29th, she will do a book signing at the Palique bookstore, and get this, part of the profits she will donate to the Cancer Society. What an example this young lady is for our youth!

It is a book about poems about people that fall into routines, wasting their time with impossible relationships, unattainable goals, anger and frustration with everyday life, instead of concentrating on the positive. She is finishing her next book which is a novel which she describes as “very positive”.

When Arleen is asked “what inspired you to write this book”? She says that daily nature is a good teacher that proves to us that things take care of themselves and that everything works out for the best. She writes when she is alone and concentrates on herself, other people, her faith and what she feels at the moment.

On my last trip to Los Angeles to give a speech, I met a young boy who was selling his book. Not only did he sell his book, he also gave a short speech on why people should buy his book. His name is Tyler Duswalt and he wrote “The short book on How to Become a Blogging Expert. The sub title reads “A 10 year old top 25 easy tips to help you start an effective blog”.

Can you imagine a 10 year old kid who is already selling books that he wrote?

That has never happened before in history. We have tools now that allow all of us to publish a book and you know what, I think that everyone should write a book. Every person has all kinds of experiences that can be told in a book. Everyone has ideas, concepts, experiences, poems or novels that should be published and now you don’t need a major publisher to do so.

I can write about this today because my daughter’s birthday present for my son in law is a beautiful children’s book that he wrote when he was in high school years ago. My daughter, hearing me speak about this subject decided that she was going to take her husband’s manuscript and turn it into a book. It is ready, it will be presented to him in a couple of days, and it will knock his socks off. I certainly hope he doesn’t have a heart attack when he sees it.

When I told the story my agent in New York she got interested and she wants me to send it to her to see if there are children’s book publishers who might be interested in the book.

All kinds of possibilities open up to people who become leaders, who are innovators and they do what they need to do.

Writing a book and publishing it, is not an easy task, but never in history has there been more possibilities than now to do it. All you need is a “can do attitude”. Don’t waste time!!! Write your first paragraph tonight