Living the Question

Often, there are unanswered questions which drive us crazy. We assume that for every question, there must exist an answer. If the answer doesn’t present itself, it must be a case of looking harder for the answer. If we can’t find the answer, we think we should consult with experts for the answer. In fact, we like to consult with many experts, hence the second opinion.

How often have we gone to the doctor looking for an answer to some mysterious ailment, only to have the doctor say that he or she didn’t know why our body did what it did. Usually, we react in frustration or we lose confidence in our doctor, our expert. If he or she doesn’t have the answer, then they must be lacking in knowledge, skill or expertise. So, we decide to get a second opinion. Sometimes, that doctor will say the same thing. Or perhaps he or she will give us an answer that sounds good. We like that answer because it is an answer; and any answer is better than no answer. But what if the doctor’s answer is just a fancy way of saying there is no explanation? We don’t care because that doctor ‘sounded’ like she knew what she was talking about. That perceived certainty is reassuring and satisfying. But it’s an illusion and satisfies our need for certainty.

In the leadership arena, the same situation occurs. A leader often comes upon a tough and complex situation, more often than not involving people. It’s not presented as a people problem. It’s usually presented as one of these:

The project is off-track and we aren’t sure how to get it back on track

We are going through a transition and I need my people to shift their focus to another way of operating

We aren’t being efficient in how we use our time and everything is taking too long

We are losing market to our competitors who seem to be doing a better job of reaching out to the same customers

The VP is a great guy but he doesn’t have the presence to lead the team to meet their objectives

So what is the question? It will often be framed as one of organizational process, talent management, employee engagement, effectiveness, communication or other issues. Thus will begin the search for the answer and the expert to provide it. If the expert doesn’t provide us with the solution we have already concluded we need, then we blame the expert and search for a better expert. Yet, we never question the question. Or our need for an answer.

I recently worked with a team which had a new leader. This kind of change always creates great uncertainty, for the leader and for the team. In this case, the leader very quickly wanted to establish strategic priorities and move forward. I was brought in to run a skills development session on trust and influence, at the end of which the team would create action plans. We didn’t get there. In the course of the session, there was what I call ‘unspokenness” in the room; also known as the elephant in the room. When the elephant appears, everything else that happens is illusory because we are dancing around the issues. The elephant is the container for those issues and for the questions.

Sometimes, the question is hanging over our heads, like the Sword of Damocles. We know that dealing with the question will bring complexity and messiness to what we want to be an orderly process. But what games we play with ourselves. This leader and the team blithely move forward, working on strategic plans with lots of neat deadlines and goals. We all know that the elephant will reappear and the unspokenness will continue and the real work won’t get done. We don’t see the immediate impact of this, but over time, targets and goals are missed.

When we rush to solutions or action, we whiz right by the questions.

Sometimes, just staying with the question is the most powerful action a leader can take. It forces everyone to think about the question, to live the question so that other possibilities have a chance to emerge. There is wisdom in silence because it slows everything down and makes space for our imagination, our creative mind and gives us a chance to make connections.

Just living the question might be the most trustworthy thing a leader could do.

Mediocre Groups Refer To Candor As Incivility

Many groups can’t bring themselves to discuss the most basic realities which define them. Members who behave rudely. Members who produce poor quality work. Members who are not completely honest about issues. Sacred cows that have existed in the group for years. It’s shocking how often people will come to work and simple step over the dead body in the room as if it’s not there. This is a learned behavioral routine. It is also a sign of poor leadership. This is unfortunate since getting past these barriers is required for real performance improvement.

Enter our friend candor. Candor: honest sincere expression. That is to say, it is not heavily nuanced, there is no beating around the bush. The main goal is not to save someone’s feelings (though that matters), but to get the point across accurately so that everyone gets it immediately. Yes, this must be done positively, you must admit any shared blame you have for this thing you are mentioning, you must offer solutions not merely indictments, etc. To have candor is not to lack civility. It is to set performance as the highest priority. To name the “invisible elephant in the room,” to tell the Emperor he has no clothes, these are difficult tasks. Be honest and look in the mirror Mr. Leader. If your group can’t manage a little candor, you are choosing mediocrity.

You know that your group is choosing mediocrity, choosing civility over candor when members consistently denounce ugly interpersonal behaviors, yet consistently fail to discuss ugly individual or group performance. A person who uses an errant expletive or a member who is late to team meeting or someone who raises their voice a little too much – a mediocre group is likely to severely punish these members. A truly mediocre group will punish these members and willfully fail to address the performance issue which was being addressed. Loads of civility absent real performance discussions solves nothing. Civility then becomes an empty value. Brave leaders must simultaneously care about civility while holding performance in even higher esteem.

The Elephant In The Road

Question: How can you succeed applying creative leadership principles when creativity and innovation have little support in the executive suite? (The answer may surprise you.)

Answer: You can’t!

That’s right, you can’t. If you’re disappointed, stand in line. I have met many, many managers – both staff managers and project managers – who try to practice the principles of creative leadership but are frustrated by their organizational cultures. And I feel deeply sad when I hear that kind of story, because it means one more flame of inspiration will be coughing and sputtering just to stay alive. If you wonder where cynicism in the workplace comes from, you need look no further.

I used to recommend a guerrilla tactic to these folks. I advised them to establish creative work practices in their area of responsibility and focus on helping creative practices succeed there. I said they could use that as a beachhead. The idea was that the small success would spread organically, despite organizational resistance, because everybody loves success.

But I found that this guerrilla tactic only works occasionally, and then only because a powerful ally emerges in the leadership team. Having seen the profound discouragement all those other times, when no knight in shining armor materialized, I can no longer recommend it.

You see, the executive team is in many ways like an elephant, and if it wants to block the road, you’re sunk. Very frequently, the elephant is the CEO him or herself. So I’ve changed my approach and now I start right at the top. In doing so I’ve found many executives who simply don’t believe that creativity has an important role to play in the fabric of their organization.

I’m happy to work with someone who values creativity as an organizational strategy, even if they have doubts about its applicability or effectiveness in their situation. We can work together, and I can help them overcome the real and perceived obstacles.

But I absolutely will not work with people who don’t see the business value of creativity to begin with. I’ve concluded that their minds will only be changed by the success of their more creative competitors. So I explore the issue right up front, and I winnow out the doubters as soon as possible. That way I get to spend much more time with those creative competitors.

There’s a lesson here for those of you interested in change, creative or otherwise: when you’re traveling through a jungle, you’ll enjoy the trip much more if your elephant blazes the trail and gives you a ride.

Decorate With a Theme in Mind

You need to have a “theme” in mind whenever you decorate a room. The theme is what sets the “tone’ or “mood” of the room. If you decorate a room with all kinds of different décor items you will end up with a ‘hodge-podge’ effect, with no cohesiveness. You want to be able to look around the room and sense what the homeowner is trying to portray with the room.

For example:

1. Family room or ‘wreck room’ – You had a wonderful vacation at the shore and you want to recapture it in the theme of this room. You will want to look for nautical items that remind you of that time. These can be lighthouses, canoes or ships, shells, dolphin or whale figures, fish and pieces of coral. If you are a scuba diver, you may want to add any ‘treasures’ you brought up from the deep, such as anchors or masts off a wreck you found underwater (provided you were allowed to remove them).

2. Kitchen- Now suppose you want a kitchen with an ‘Apple’ theme. You don’t want everything in your kitchen to have apples on it. This would be too overpowering when someone comes into the room. So you look for 4-5 pieces ( at the most) with ‘Apples’ on them to decorate the room. Of course it depends also on how big the room is. The bigger it is the more pieces you can add. You may choose from clocks, canister sets, serving pieces, a rack of decorative plates, a towel, placemat or curtain set. If you have a lot of pieces vary them from time to time to give you a change but also continuity. Don’t use them all at once!

It is good to pick up the red shade of the apple and have hints of it around the room, say in the backsplash or tiles or and item like mugs or a pitcher.

3. Living Room- If you want a room to offer peace and tranquility, think of mute colors, scented candles or candelabra, a fountain, waterfall or autumn pictures. A fireplace adds warmth and interest. You should have seating for at least 2 couples so you can enjoy this with friends.

So now you have an idea of what to look for when decorating a room. Try your hand at it with these pointers in mind and you will have a lovely room to be proud of.

When Kissing Cousins Aren’t So Cute

In an article first published by the London Sunday Times this week, Britain’s Environment Minister Phil Woolas again cited the dangers of inbreeding in the Pakistani immigrant community in Britain. Appropriately calling it “the elephant in the room”, Woolas was careful to point out it was the “Pakistani community” – who just happen to be largely Muslim. Despite choosing his words carefully, Woolas, who served previously as Race Relations minister, has sparked a controversy amongst British Muslims.

Woolas, who represents the ethnically mixed region of Oldham East and Saddleworth, said, “If you talk to any primary care worker they will tell you that levels of disability among the… Pakistani population are higher than the general population. And everybody knows it’s caused by first-cousin marriage. That’s a cultural thing rather than a religious thing. It is not illegal in this country.”

“The problem is that many of the parents themselves and many of the public spokespeople are themselves products of first-cousin marriages. It’s very difficult for people to say ‘you can’t do that’ because it’s a very sensitive, human thing,” Times Online reported.

The online blogosphere and other newspapers quickly followed the story, often irresponsibly. Spero published a similar story titled, “UK minister warns of ‘Muslim inbreeding”, even though Woolas said no such thing. That does not seem to matter any longer though as the “elephant in the room” has been uncaged.

Bloggers and readers commenting on the story quickly took sides and argued about “anti-Muslim politicians” or how all Muslim men want to marry their sister and then give her a beating for good measure. Sadly, these vicious, knee -jerk and oft ill-informed debates shift attention from the real problem.

Interfamily marriages and the resulting inbreeding are found in many societies and cultures all over the world. Several states in the US have passed laws banning inter-family relations or marriage as time and science began to show the resulting genetic problems that it causes. It is not a matter of religion, but a matter of culture and being uninformed of the hazards.

British Pakistanis’ inter-family marriages are a concern of public health, due to disproportional representations of birth defects in their population. For British society it puts an added strain on the National Health Service, but short of introducing a law to forbid these marriages, there seems little can be done. The continued attempts to educate people about this seem to have been fruitless thus far.

Woolas is supported by Labour member of Parliament Ann Cryer, who first spoke out on the issue two years ago after research showed British Pakistanis were 13 times more likely to have children with birth defects than the general population. Cryer told the Sunday Times, “This is to do with a Medieval culture where you keep wealth within the family.”

“I have encountered cases of blindness and deafness. There was one poor girl who had to have an oxygen tank on her back and breathe from a hole in the front of her neck,” she added. “The parents were warned they should not have any more children. But when the husband returned from Pakistan, within months they had another child with exactly the same condition.”

A possible answer might lie in going to the source of the cultural problem, to Pakistan. A study more than a decade ago found, “The prevalence of inter-family marriages was studied in 940 families belonging to four different socio -economic groups in and around Lahore, Pakistan. The overall prevalence of interfamily marriages was 46%. The first-cousin marriages were most common at 67%, followed by marriages between second cousins, 19%.”

Marriages between families are often meant to strengthen the bond of kinsmanship. Indeed, women are often more warmly welcomed into the households, less likely to face abuse and retain some status because they are well, family.

The Koran does not have any passages that forbid marrying within the family and inter-family marriages are documented back to the times of the Prophet Mohammad. Herein lays a possibly more effective solution that actually makes Islam a positive force in this debate.

If Islamic scholars and influential mullahs could be presented with the evidence of why this practice is bad for their culture, then maybe sharia law could be amended. Or at the very least have some of Islam’s most influential mullahs in Pakistan offer guidance to Muslims.

Meanwhile, media and bloggers that make this a divisive topic based solely on religion ignore the real victims that this problem creates. But perhaps misinformation and religious banter simply make it easier for people to avoid having to take a good hard look at themselves and their culture.

Elephant Plains Game Lodge – Game Viewing

Elephant Plains Game Lodge is located in Sabi Sand Game Reserve, a part of the Greater Kruger National Park, with 2.2 million hectares of unfenced open forest. Accompanied by the Manyeleti Honeymoon suites, Rondavels with in-built bars, open-sky buffet, African cuisine and spa, Safaris, Ranging and tracking, star gazing and the amazing Big 5, Elephant Plains naturally becomes a part of anyone’s African-tour wish list. With accommodation capacities for a maximum of 24 people, the luxury, adventure and the raw nature is served to enjoy with complete privacy. Gaming, Photo-shoot, Marriage, Honeymoon or a family trip – Elephant Plains could make it unforgettable.

What makes Elephant Plains Game reserve Lodge special?

The Sabi sand game reserve was named after the two rivers running across the place, Sabi and the Sand Rivers. In the middle of the 20th century, the farmers of the reserve dropped fences to make the roaming area of the animals residing there into a bigger place. In 1993, the Kruger national Park also dropped fences, making the traverse area of the animals there, over a whopping 2.2 million hectares.

The rooms of Elephant Plains were some of the first to be built in this reserve and have been opened to the public only before a decade ago. Being surrounded by a dry riverbed, the place is habituated by the famous BIG 5, and added to them, by leopards, hyenas and over 300 colorful and rare species of birds. As one can expect from any game lodge in South Africa, the guests of Elephant Plains can enjoy game drives and bush walks. But being there from the beginning, more than any others do, makes their game rangers and Shangaan trackers the most efficient among everyone you can have there. They were well-educated and well-aware of the regulations imposed by the ecologist of the Kruger national Park and the Sabi Sand game reserve; hence they know where they can take you on track and also, off-track.

The animals around this place have got used to the ranging vehicles, which in turn makes your trip inside the deep forests, a peaceful one without disturbing their everyday life. As Elephant Plains is situated right by the side of the two rivers that runs across the reserve, having a sight of animals quenching their thirst and taking a nap in the afternoons amidst the bushes is so common here. A complete South Africa game lodge should have all the wonders that the country has to offer its visitors, and this is a place where pure South African spirit can be seen, felt and experienced. The Sundowner drink offered during the Safaris, the drumbeat announcement of dinner, a delicate South African breakfast, the homemade coffee and rusks, and obviously, the stunning views of the wildlife, guarantees you more than what you can expect from the woods of Africa.

Not a mere game reserve lodge

Being special will need more than common features and specialties. Elephant Plains stands special with not only the perfect trips and foods, but also with its rooms and luxury suites. The main lodge itself stands magnificent with ambient dining area, an elegant bar, a perfect lounge and wine cellar, a spa, a swimming pool, a games room, a gym, a conference room, a library and a curio shop. Added to it, there are six luxury suites for double or triple stays, five Rondavels for double, triple or family stays and an exquisite Manyeleti honeymoon suite.

Everything a person can expect from a luxury game lodge is here – the air conditioned double bedrooms, en-suite bathroom, glass fronted open-plan, fireplaces, electronic safes, tea and coffee making machines and added to these, an elegant bar and an excellent private viewing deck. Luxury is common, but the sightings of wild animals roaming so close to you, is unbeatable.

When the luxury rooms are overlooking the riverbed, the Rondavels are overlooking the landscaped garden, with amenities like the same as in the luxury suites. There are Rondavels for two, three and four, that gives you the unmatched experience of staying here at an affordable price.

The diamond in this crown called Elephant Plains is the Manyeleti honeymoon suite. With in-built swimming pool, a private viewing deck, a day-bed and a stunning view of the reserve, this suite can be one of the best places any honeymooning couple can go for.

Big 5 – The best part of a safari game lodge

The African Elephant, the mighty Rhinoceros, the lightning fast leopard, the all muscular Buffalo and the king of the jungle, the lion are called the Big 5, by the locals as well as the usual visitors of this reserve. The major part of people visiting this place come here just to have a look at the Big 5, while on a safari trip. But with Elephant Plains, sit and watch the riverbed from your private viewing deck, you can easily spot the Big 5, all around the this wonderful safari game lodge. Located in the middle of a vast riverbed and bushy landscape, not only the Big 5, even the nocturnal habitats of this reserve and a lot of birds and animals, which are rare to be seen, can be easily spotted roaming around the lodge.

Elephant Plains – The four starred private game lodge

No wonder that the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa has awarded Elephant Plains with four stars and an AA accreditation, certifying superior accommodation and amenities. Not only the food, not only weddings, not only the suites and not only the Big 5 are what making this place a must-go; there are separate safari trips for photographic sessions, wedding, evening time star gazing and also a program called mini-tuskers for the children based on the number of the children present at the time.

As one can see, it is located in the remotest parts of the Sabi Sand reserve and can be reached only if you take the Gowrie gate, which is adjacent to the northern part of the Kruger National Park. Due to river crossing, accessing the place through other gates is impossible and also, over the last 20 Kms is a dirt road, which may take around 45 minutes of travelling after you take off from the tar road.

Though finding the place is little tricky and hard for new visitors, it is worth the time and money spent on it. If you are going to South Africa, don’t forget to include Elephant Plains in your checklist.

The Elephant Wearing a Silver Necklace

It’s no secret that demand for the U.S. Mint silver eagles coin has been unprecedented. It is a walk back through memory lane following the 1986 confirmation of the growing (exponential) popularity of the legal tender coin program.

Many are left these days scratching their heads about who is buying all these coins. Retail demand seems soft at best, with stable coin premiums relative to times of relative shortage.

Speculation has ranged from steady domestic demand to JPM Morgan or some other large entity quietly or surreptitiously stockpiling silver eagles.

However, the real  elephant   in   the   room  for silver demand may be the oldest form of silver – the demand for silver jewelry.

Various reports confirm that silver jewelry demand has experienced its fifth year of growth. Indeed, one survey published earlier this year published that 73% of silver jewelry wholesaler report increase sales.

At just over 40 million ounces in 2013 (and a record pace this year) the silver eagle program as a percentage of overall physical silver demand is actually quite small.

Compared to the approximately 40 million ounces sold by the silver eagle program, the 200 million ounces used for fabrication demand is a massive footprint that should not be overlooked.

Is (increasing) jewelry demand more important than coin demand? Perhaps.

 In  the aftermath of two conflicting silver market reports, both sponsored directly by those  in  the best position to profit from the paper market (thus, by definition, making them politically influenced to the point of uselessness), we can look back to the Jewelry Association’s report earlier this year.

 In  an interview with me earlier this year, silver analyst, David Morgan, pointed out the potential impact of silver jewelry demand versus the well publicized demand for the U.S. silver eagles product.

That interview can be accessed here.

 In  essence, jewelry demand is the proverbial  elephant   in   the   room .

It’s easy to blame higher silver jewelry sales as a reflection of the underlying economy.

What should immediately stand out for observers is that physical demand across all categories rose considerably in the past year, despite considerable lower prices. Maybe artificially induced deflation in the silver market will save the world economy?

The silver users have pulled one over on us again. Cheaper silver costs go straight to the bottom line, much like cheaper energy prices.

Why the shift to silver jewelry?

Mainstream industry spokespersons are quick to point out improving economic conditions as the primary reason for this. That would be fine – if it were true. But a cursory review of any all real economic indicators shows that the world organic economy is barely alive under the refuge of massive finance.

Partially, the switch could be an effect of a declining economy and, therefore, a cheaper alternative to gold. Fashion is nearly a necessity in perhaps a similar way as that of food and energy.

The resurgence of the victory garden is a welcome breath of fresh air in a culture that takes so much for granted, but especially where food comes from. When economically strapped, combined with a desire to change dietary standards, a return to the earth is fueled, regardless of the difficulty for many. This is especially true for those who live in urban centers to produce enough of a percentage to make major differences.

The small car (and to a certain degree) the hybrid/electric car movement has been motivated by saving on energy costs. In turn, and for better or worse, these vehicles become a social statement for the drivers, regardless of the actual savings or contribution.

Regardless of the truth behind these movements or whether they spring from natural phenomenon, they create a social wake – or an awakening of sorts.

No one denies the beauty of the white metal, so it should come as no surprise that it would be re-adopted so quickly.

What is interesting is how it becomes incorporated into the wholesale to retail marketing matrix. If silver wasn’t so far below normal price based on real supply and demand, it would almost seem natural.

As Ted Butler has pointed out over the last few years, inventory movements in and out of COMEX warehouses have been furious.

This is most likely the off-take from just in time inventory practices stretched to the point of snapping.

These unsuspecting recipients of silver charm bracelets will some day surely find that the gift grows in value as well as sentiment.

And for the long term bullion investor, jewelry has always been another way to diversify the monetary emergency kit. Old gold or silver jewelry could be used for smaller, incremental barter, so long as sentimental value is neutral.

But it’s bigger than that. Fashion follows necessity, where form follows function. The switch to silver jewelry may actually reflect an unconscious aspect of physical demand. Jewelry consumers could become the original stackers.

Transforming Conversations

How much time and money does your organization lose because people are not able to have the tough conversations?

The important conversations that can have the most impact are the ones that people avoid. They may know the conversation needs to happen but hope that somebody else will initiate it or feel it’s not my job, or want to wait until the time is right. They make an attempt to have the conversation but sidestep the important issues. The question is; how much talking is happening   in  your organization? The talking that creates synergy builds relationships and inspires results. These conversations that never happen become the  elephant   in   the   room  that everyone is trying to avoid. That  elephant  gets more powerful with every communication that doesn’t happen or with every failed conversation. With every open and honest conversation the  elephant  gets smaller, putting the power not  in  the middle of  the   room  but in the people. Personal power is built one conversation at a time.

What blocks the real conversations from occurring?

What people often are not aware of is that all conversations occur within themselves first. Another words, you may think you are seeing people as they are but in truth you are seeing people as you are. It means that powerful conversations cannot occur until we challenge the perceptions we hold about ourselves and other people. Perceptions are the lens or filters that we see the world through and every person has a different set of lens that they operate out of. Real powerful conversations cannot occur until a person has some degree of awareness of who they are, their strengths, weaknesses, values and beliefs because that is what shapes their perceptions. We often assume that people think the same way we do or see things the same way but that is never the case, every person is different and until we challenge our assumptions important conversations cannot fully occur.

When people are afraid to tell the truth because of a potential negative reaction or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings they are stopping the important conversation from occurring. When we don’t tell the truth people often know it. They feel the incompleteness and they see the same  elephant   in   the   room  but don’t know how to confront it. Important conversations require preparation, they should not be done on the fly or without self-reflection, only then can we look the  elephant  square  in  the eye and know how to approach it. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for your next important conversation:

· Why does the conversation need to happen?

· What would happen if we didn’t have the conversation?

· What’s the cost of not having the conversation?

· What do I want for the other person?

· What do I want for me?

· What are my feelings, opinions, and concerns about this particular issue?

· What are my feelings about this conversation?

Answering these questions gives us perspective and allows us to view the issue and the  elephant  from a different vantage point and have a conversation from the heart.

What Creates Powerful Conversations?

A powerful conversation involves a give and take not a one-way dialogue or lecture. The word conveys flow and equal exchange. Powerful conversations can only occur when people are exchanging equally. Real listening is what can create a powerful conversation, listening not just for the words that are being used but what’s not being said, awareness of body language and expressions. When we are able to fully listen we are able to understand and see things through a different set of lenses. Listening to understand builds bridges and values the other person.

Powerful conversations can occur in all situations. A supervisor giving a subordinate feedback on their behavior is a wonderful opportunity for a powerful conversation. Providing an opportunity to share their perception with no blame or faultfinding. Powerful conversations involve speaking the truth from the heart; they are direct and caring. When we are indirect  in  our communication we are not having a powerful conversation we are finding ways to skirt the issues and giving the  elephant   in   the   room  more power. The only way around an issue is to face it directly with compassion and understanding.

The Elements of a Powerful Conversation

· Speak the truth with understanding.

· Challenge your perceptions and the perceptions of those around you.

· Demonstrate personal responsibility and create openness for mutual responsibility.

· Speak with feeling, be vulnerable, and maintain your personal power and center.

. Know what you want from the conversation and from the relationship.

· Ask questions

· Change buts to ands

What’s Important?

Real conversations are a process they are not an event, Issues are not left hanging they are completed. That completion will often mean several conversations with mutual commitment from each person. Real communication cannot fully occur with only one dialogue, Powerful conversations require commitment, commitment to the relationship as well as oneself. Building the skills necessary for a powerful conversation don’t happen over-night and must continually be nurtured.

It can be easy to ignore the important issues or find reasons to procrastinate on having the important conversations but the big issues will never go away by themselves. When we decide to give power to the  elephant   in   the   room  things don’t get better, it is only when we claim our own power and have the conversations that change happens. Change sometimes isn’t easy and human nature will pull us back to the easy and safe way. The safe way involves staying where we are and avoiding the real important issues. We must be guardians of that and take charge, reclaim our power from the  elephant   in   the   room  and have those important conversations. Whether they be with a boss, subordinate, co-worker, spouse or child let us all step up to the plate and make a difference.

The Golden Elephant

There is a “golden elephant in the room,” according to Robert Zoellick, the American who heads the World Bank.

As world leaders headed to Seoul for the G-20 summit last week, gold hit a record-high price of $1,400 an ounce, and Zoellick made a surprising proposal. In an opinion piece in the Financial Times, he wrote that “The system should…consider employing gold as an international reference point of market expectations about inflation, deflation and future currency values.”

The media were quick to interpret Zoellick’s statement as a call for the return of the gold standard, a system in which the value of paper currency is directly pegged to the supply of gold. However, in an interview with CNBC, Zoellick explained that he did not mean to propose tying currency values directly to any hard asset.

Zoellick said he had simply intended to suggest that governments pay more attention to what gold says about the financial community’s confidence in national currencies. Right now, that confidence looks very shaky.

In his Financial Times column, Zoellick noted that markets are already “using gold as an alternative monetary asset.” The peak in gold prices before the G-20 summit demonstrated investors’ worries over fluctuating currency values and their desire for more stable assets. What “the price of gold has been telling people is that there is a lack of confidence in some of the fundamental growth policies,” Zoellick said.(1) He called for a new package of international reforms aimed at spurring growth.

But while Zoellick may never have intended to raise the possibility of a gold standard, the fact that people instantly interpreted his comments that way demonstrates the persistent support in some quarters for that idea – a very misguided one – and the mounting concern that the world’s major trading currencies are all being manipulated or debased.

I doubt any central banker today would support the idea of tying the money supply directly to gold. The reason is that there is essentially a fixed supply of gold in the world. Annual mining output does not have much impact, since the gold that can be mined in any one year represents a small fraction of all the gold which has been mined previously. Unlike, say, oil, gold that is produced is almost never consumed. It just ends up in someone’s jewelry box or coin collection or, most likely, in a bullion vault, where it sits until it is sold to someone who will put it in a similar place.

Thus, if the supply of money is set as some fraction of the supply of gold, the money supply becomes fixed. The need for money, however, is not fixed; it expands as commerce expands. The need for money also increases when the money’s “velocity,” the rate at which people spend it, slows down. If the money supply is not increased in response to decreases in velocity, the economy contracts sharply.

Back in the days of the gold standard, recessions were sharp and frequent, and bouts of deflation were common. There were literally shortages of money. The greatest money shortage of all became known as the Great Depression. In 1933, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first acts in office was to break the tight link between gold and the U.S. money supply.

But those who wanted Zoellick to advocate a gold standard are not entirely misguided in their thinking. The public is becoming increasingly aware that the supply of money needs to be related to something. The Federal Reserve’s “liquidity injections” have left many worried that paper currency, or at least green paper currency with the word “dollar” on it, will soon become meaningless.(2)

A country’s money supply needs to be related to something, but that something is not gold; it is the county’s output of goods and services. Ideally that output should also be closely related to the country’s consumption. In the United States we have a chronic problem balancing the two. We consume more than we produce, and we borrow the money, or accept foreign investment, to make up the difference. By effectively printing up as much money as we need to finance the stuff we want to buy, the Federal Reserve is matching the money supply to consumption (or the consumption it wants to promote), rather than to output.

This policy is only supposed to last long enough to stimulate the economy over the next eight months, but if the economy remains sluggish, it’s possible that the Fed will dump in even more money. And, as the value of the dollar declines, foreigners may be reluctant to buy the newly issued Treasury debt, demanding interest rates higher than the Treasury can afford to pay. In that case, the Fed will have to choose between allowing the Treasury to default and printing up more money. Given the choice, the Fed will immediately kick the printing presses back into high gear, further eroding the value of the dollar.

Imposing a gold standard would be similar to erecting a brick wall to stop a runaway train. It might halt the collapse of the dollar, but it would do a lot of damage in the process. Rather than throwing up a wall, we need to get the train back under control. That will require us to restore balance between what we produce and what we spend.


(1) CNBC: Zoellick Sees ‘Elephant,’ Not Endorsing Gold Standard

(2) Merco Press: Germany Blasts Latest US Fed Reserve Plan To Pump More Money

Performance Anxiety: Overcoming the Bedroom Blues

How does one overcome sexual anxiety?

Sexual anxiety can be the 1,000-pound pink elephant in the room. It is something most men don’t want to talk about, nearly all men will deny ever having experienced, and yet will affect virtually everyone at some point in their lifetime. Anybody who claims they have never been nervous about having sex is either lying or lives with a healthy dose of narcissism. While sexual anxiety can range from having a few butterflies in the stomach to a crippling emotional condition warranting assistance by a professional sex therapist, there are ways to ease the anxiety and make sex more enjoyable. Taking charge of one’s sexual life in terms of emotional health, penis health and physical health can help lead to a more satisfying love life all around.

What is sexual anxiety?

Also known as performance anxiety, the crux of the problem begins with overanalyzing and putting too much pressure on one performance, which can ultimately lead to a poor performance come show time. Many men seem to equate bringing about female orgasm with masculinity and worry that if they do not measure up to a woman’s standards, they will be seen as less of a man. Society’s ideals of male sexuality are constantly bombarding the typical man, often creating unrealistic expectations of what a man should look like and how he should perform in bed. Magazines are splashed with 6-pack abs and mind-blowing sex tips every man should know. Often, turning on the TV will find a steamy between-the-sheets session between two impossibly good-looking people — who seem to have endless stamina and passion for one another — as their sweaty bodies cascade in orgasm after orgasm. And that is happening in the PG world, never mind the way that the adult film industry portrays male sexuality.

For some men, all this media input skews their perception of their own bodies, leading them to believe that they cannot live up to their partner’s expectations. Thus, when it comes time to knock boots, some men become self-conscious and hyper-focused on what they are doing rather than what they are feeling, which is a recipe for an unsatisfying experience. In some cases, this performance anxiety can even lead to prolonged dysfunction.

How to overcome sexual anxiety

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Part of solving the problem is getting to the root of the problem, so often self-exploration is needed to determine the underlying cause. Men can ask themselves, “What am I afraid of?” or “What is making me feel nervous?” to help determine what may be the cause of the anxiety leading up to a sexual encounter. Below are a few quick tips to help curb sexual anxiety; however, men suffering from long-term, severe cases should consider professional help.

  • Relax: It is pretty hard to enjoy oneself during sex when simultaneously analyzing one’s body fat content and trying to recall the last 20 moves in the Kama Sutra. Remember, nobody’s perfect, so try to put insecurities aside and have fun.
  • De-stress: Anxiety begets anxiety. Work, family and money stressors can be carried over into the bedroom without even trying. Make a conscious effort to leave anxiety at the door and mentally “check-out” during intimate moments.
  • Exercise: It may sound simplistic, but exercise releases feel-good endorphins into the brain, which help to combat anxiety. Additionally, working out may provide a jolt of self-confidence in the bedroom, making it easier to be naked and vulnerable with a partner.
  • Breathe: Obviously people are always breathing, but purposeful deep breaths slows down the nervous system and fights anxiety. Breathing in for the count of 4, holding it for the count of 4, and breathing out for the count of 4 can actually help boost relaxation. Really, try it.
  • Talk about it: Sexual anxieties may be the last thing a man wants to talk to his partner about, but chances are she has already noticed something is going on. It is best to get it out in the open, as she may just have a response to help solve the whole problem. It is also important to communicate, because ones’ partner may misread anxiety cues — such as avoidance of intercourse — as a sign of infidelity or rejection of her body, leading to additional issues down the road.
  • Penis care: Keeping a healthy penis can increase body confidence and may even help with stimulation and sensitivity, making sex more enjoyable. Using a daily penis vitamin formula (most professionals recommend Man 1 Man Oil) can keep the penis skin smooth and attractive while fighting odor and increasing circulation to the area. A healthy penis can go a long way towards feeling good about one’s prowess, and that may just translate into decreased anxiety in the bedroom.