The unexpected debt I owe to a 14 year old from California.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to visit Maui earlier this year. We took a kayak/snorkel adventure with my son and his wife that turned into one of the great experiences of our lives.

As we prepped our kayaks, our guide noticed some humpback whales within half a kilometre of the shore. He hustled us out on the water before the other tour groups. We spent a few minutes alone with a humpback, her two week old calf, and a male whale before any other kayaks arrived.

We stayed at a respectful distance. Suddenly, the whales veered toward us, and our guide instructed us to pull our paddles out of the water. At one point the humpbacks came within fifteen feet of our tiny craft. 

If you ever need a reminder of how small you are in this world, this will do the trick. The power of the Pacific Ocean, coupled with being within a few metres of some of its largest inhabitants, was humbling. 

Humpback whales grow to 50+ feet and can weigh 40 tons. Our guide, Andres, was full of reverence for the ocean and the humpbacks. “I think they’re a lot smarter than we are,” he said of the whales. 

A few years ago, on a whale-watching boat, another guide told us the story of how a humpback protected a diver from a tiger shark.

When we got home from Maui, I remembered a bumper sticker that was popular in the 1970s: Save the Whales.

The slogan and the organization it evolved into were created in 1975 by 14-year-old Maris Sidenstecker in California. In 1977, with her mother’s help and guidance, Save the Whales became a non-profit and began spreading the word about marine conservation.

The non-profit achieved one of its greatest victories when it stopped the US Navy from conducting explosive testing in an environmentally sensitive area off California. Intended to test the resilience of ship hulls, the 270 planned explosions over five years would have had a catastrophic effect on the sea life.

Humpback whales can live more than 50 years. Some estimates go as high as 80 to 90 years. It’s a long shot, but the humpback whale we saw from our kayak might have been born the year Maris Sidenstecker started Save the Whales.

Maris and her mother still run Save the Whales. Maris’s full bio is fascinating. It contains sage advice that is relevant for young people today:

“One advisor told me I should switch my major because I was not strong in math. I switched my advisor instead. This advisor had no idea who I was or how much becoming a marine biologist meant to me. Follow your convictions.”

On behalf of my family, thank you Maris. Forty-six years after you started Save the Whales, we had a profound experience with one of the beneficiaries. Please accept our humble donation.



The DP World Tour’s Ryan Fox demonstrates pinpoint control with his driver. And finishes with a single digit salute.

The DP World Tour’s Singapore Classic demonstrates what happens when you don’t have enough ropes or security.


The New Mitchell Mysteries Series

In celebration of shorter attention spans everywhere (my own and readers’) I’ve started a new series of short mysteries chronicling Mitchell’s cases as a private investigator. 

Available as e-books only, these stories are perfect for a lazy afternoon, plane ride, or a boring Zoom meeting where you don’t need the video turned on.

They can be read in order, or not. The plan is to put one out every quarter, although as the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs.”

At less than the price of a latte, they definitely punch above their weight for entertainment value. 


IKEA, I’m impressed.

My initial impression of IKEA was formed years ago, while furnishing my first apartment. Their products were simple. Functional. Inexpensive. During university, an IKEA desk cost less than one improvised from six empty beer cases and a piece of plywood. It smelled better too.

Simplicity was key. You got a flat-packed piece of furniture and used an Allen key to put it together. Assembly instructions came on a piece of paper you didn’t even have to look at.

Not any more.

In the past four months I’ve assembled five large IKEA pieces. File cabinet. Heavy-duty storage shelf (10 year guarantee!). A desk. TV stand. And a bookshelf/cabinet. The most complex (file cabinet) came with a 56 page assembly manual.

All together, more than a quarter of a ton of Swedish ingenuity.

They are performing admirably. But the real genius is in the supply chain management and packaging. The five large pieces I assembled were comprised of thousands of parts: wood, fibreboard, steel, plastic, specialty pieces of hardware, tools, and fasteners.

Not one part was missing. 

Not a single washer, cam lock, dowel, barrel nut, shelf pin, or cabinet hinge.

Yes, I did get a cardboard cut while unpacking. No, I’m not suing the company.

How easy would it be for one hung-over Thorvald or Freja to make a mistake and forget to pack something? 

The company has 1800 suppliers in 50 countries, and 9500 products in each store. It’s the third-largest consumer of wood in the world. It owns its own forests!

Since the pandemic, supply chain disruption has been the go-to excuse of every retailer. (Just this morning, our weekly meal service substituted a red bell pepper for a can of corn, citing supply chain disruption.) 

But based on my experiences over the past few months, IKEA, you’re crushing it. 

So beröm to you. (The internet tells me that’s Swedish for “kudos.” Apologies if it actually means hemorrhoids.) 

One minor complaint: Phillips head screws? Seriously? 

Why not Robertsons? Invented by Canadian Pete Robertson, they offer far greater torque and are less likely to be stripped. And the company is still in business today. 

Keep up the good work.


Dear Big Bank: how did we get here?

It all started a few months ago with a letter from a bank I use: “You will be receiving your new (bank name) Mastercard shortly.”


I check the expiry date on my current Mastercard. It’s over two years away.

The next letter came with a new security-protected PIN, along with some excellent advice, such as “DO NOT write your PIN on your card.”

Then at long last, I got the card itself, with five enclosed brochures telling me all about it. My fave is the one that says “Your business isn’t small. It’s small-gantic.”

Now, earlier in this blog I confessed to a 25-year career in the ad business. I can report with some satisfaction that I never perpetrated a clunker like “small-gantic” on a target audience. I did commit some puns that haven’t aged well. For example, this ad for a sale on leather furniture in 1989:

But small-gantic wouldn’t have made the cut in any creative department I worked in. Boldly, the bank doubled down, repeating it inside: “Thank you for choosing the (bank name) Mastercard. The card made for small (gantic) businesses like yours. You’ve worked hard to build a successful business…”

Truth be told, I haven’t worked that hard. Accordingly, it’s not that successful. So I feel guilty about accepting the praise, since my business is merely small, not small-gantic. Full disclosure, it’s kind of a side hustle. 

But my curiousity was piqued. Why send a new card when the old one doesn’t expire for over two years? 

I got on the phone. The estimated wait time was 30 to 40 minutes, but that’s nothing for someone who isn’t in the process of making their small business successful. 42 minutes later, I was on the line with an actual person. David. (Not his real name. I realize that I probably didn’t have to give him a pseudonym, since the bank’s call-centre likely doesn’t insist on their people providing customers with their real names. But I’m erring on the side of caution, because this guy’s name was unique.) 

Sidebar, I’ve always wondered what would happen if, having been on hold for 40 minutes, I said to the bank rep, “Hi, I have a load of laundry in… I’m going to put you on hold. The estimated wait time while I fold and fluff is seventeen minutes.” 

If you put a decent playlist on for them to listen to, would they hang in there? Would a bank indulge a customer as much as customers indulge the bank? Probably not. I decided not to risk it. No doubt David had other calls to answer, so I got right to it. 

“David, my card doesn’t expire for more than two years. Why’d you send me a new one?”

“Security enhancements.”

“Ahhhh. Like what?”

“Uh…     um…     Well, you can add it to the wallet on your phone.”

“So the best thing about the new card is I don’t have to carry it?”


“In the second of the three letters you guys sent, you say existing customers can use their current PIN. I’ve been a customer for 11 years. Why did you guys send me a new PIN?”

“I don’t know why they did that.”

“And why did they change the card number? Now I have to contact all the merchants and subscriptions etc. that keep my card on file and update them. The fourth brochure says I need to go into a bank branch to change my PIN from the one you assigned. I also need to visit the branch to have the card added to my internet banking.”

“Oh, I can do that for you now if you like.”

“The final thing it says is that I need to activate the new card ‘by the date provided to avoid service interruptions’. But there’s no date referenced in any of the letters or brochures you guys sent me. What’s the date?”

“Uh… it was October 5th.”

“So it has been frozen for three weeks?”


“David, nice talking with you. Is this call being recorded for quality-assurance purposes?”

“I believe so.”

“Please cancel the old card and the new card.”

“Okay. Well, we’re sorry to see you go.”

The old card.
The new card. It’s hard to tell them apart.

Random career advice

… from someone who has had three careers, at nine companies.

– Your bosses won’t always be right. But do them the courtesy of trying things their way before you attempt to convince them you know better. 

– Everyone says they have great written and verbal communication skills. Show people, don’t tell them. 

– Computer slide presentations aren’t the enemy. Boring content is.

– If you have to give a presentation, practice it out loud to the point where you know it cold.  People who “wing it” end up like Icarus.

– Create an Awesome File on your phone or laptop. Any time you do something noteworthy, put it in your Awesome File. By the time your performance review comes around, you will be confident instead of anxiety-ridden. 

– Lots of companies talk about work-life balance. Few deliver on it. It’s something you take, not something they give.

I had to rehearse this speech fifty times so I wouldn’t lose it when talking about my wife.

– Before you cancel someone, consider whether you’ve ever done something stupid.

– Don’t be afraid to leave a job for a more interesting one that pays less.

– The more credit you give, the more will stick to you.

– Find out what your organization’s brand is all about. Then do your best to exemplify it.

– The day you get promoted to vice-president, your jokes will get funnier. Be wary of the people who are laughing the loudest.

– Life is too short to work for an asshole. You might feel like the money, prestige or the benefits of the job are worth putting up with abuse. They’re not.

Today, these will seem like statements of the obvious. Check back in a year. You’ll be shocked at the number of your peers who could benefit from some of them.


The spy plane and the jam jar

Product design is subjective. Only politics and boxing judging yield more divergent and inflamed opinions.

There are products that look plain but work perfectly; mediocre products that look great; and products that ace both form and function.

The SR-71 spy plane was one of the latter. Put into service in 1966, it still looks like something from the future. It also still holds the speed record for an “air-breathing manned aircraft.” There were incredible challenges in the design and manufacture. Ironically, the titanium ore that made the plane possible was imported from the Soviet Union. 

Once so secret that taking its photo might get you killed, the SR-71 is now on display in New York City.

Which brings us to Bonne Maman. 

What does a $6 jar of jam have in common with a billion dollar spy plane? Design perfection.

The jar has a bigger mouth than a cable TV news pundit, so you can get all the jam out. Broad shoulders are desirable in a middle linebacker. They are counterproductive in a jam jar. 

The red gingham lid and handwritten label evoke home-made preserves. The handwriting looks genuine. Typography nerds will notice there are five different types of E in the script, vs. run-of-the-mill fonts where all the letters are the same. You hope that someone got their grandma to write it with a fountain pen. (“Bonne Maman” means “granny.”) 

And yeah, the jam is really tasty too. From the website: “Made with 5 simple ingredients that could be found in your kitchen. No high fructose corn syrup, no additives or preservatives, gluten-free, kosher, and Non-GMO Project Verified.”

Strong work, granny.


The greatest invention, ever.

When you search “soap” using Google, you get a result for a computer messaging protocol, followed by a Wikipedia page for the groundbreaking 1977 TV sitcom, followed by the website for the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology.

Such is the unsung nature of the greatest invention in human history. 

Estimates of the number of lives saved by soap run into the hundreds of millions. Even today, the World Health Organization ballparks that more handwashing could save a million lives annually. 

According to scientists, your skin can host 622 different types of bacteria. A few of these (bacteria, not scientists) are tiny assassins, just trying to break into a place they shouldn’t be. And soap is the main reason they fail.

Soap created by Keli Pollock early in the coronavirus pandemic.

The Center for Disease Control says that better hand-washing in health care would save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. This revelation has an inauspicious origin. In Hungary in the mid-1800s, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis noted that when physicians washed their hands prior to delivering babies, fewer women died after giving birth. His colleagues were aghast at this finding, however, and angry at the insinuation that they were harming their patients. Dr. Semmelweis was ostracized, eventually institutionalized, and died after being beaten by guards.

The good doctor lost the battle, but won the war. Today, handwashing is unequivocally embraced by doctors. And Dr. Semmelweis has more hospitals named after him than any of his detractors.

Whenever “the greatest ever” is thrown around, there is bound to be debate. Some people say the invention of the wheel is more important. But the wheel has also resulted in millions of deaths. Granted, the inventor of the wheel could never have foreseen humans riding on four wheels taking one hand off the steering wheel to text message. 

Soap never does anything bad to you, unless you get it in your eye while showering, or grew up in the 1950s and your mother washed your mouth out with soap for swearing.

Some say the computer is the world’s greatest invention. Or the internet. But between them, they’ve given rise to more viruses than nature. Soap kills viruses! Including the one that has been hogging all the headlines for the past two years.  

And it doesn’t kill them by just washing them away. When you finally do arrive at the Wikipedia page for actual soap, you find that “… soap kills microorganisms by disorganizing their membrane lipid bilayer and denaturing their proteins.”

All this time, you thought you were just washing up before dinner. In reality, you’ve been wreaking havoc with germs’ lipid layers and laying a beatdown on their proteins.


If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

I love it when people bring a little extra creativity and pride to their work, particularly when it’s in an unexpected context. 

One day in the grocery store I saw some people taking photos in the vegetable section. Had they found a likeness of Jesus or Elvis among the rutabagas?

Nope. Someone had created this amazing piece of broccoli art.

Humble florets, elevated to a thing of beauty. First and last time I’ve ever taken a photo in a grocery store.

Years ago we stayed at Carmel Valley Ranch in California, an amazing 500-acre resort with innumerable photo ops. The resort’s logo is a tree with a rope-and-board swing hanging from it. They even used it in the golf course’s tee markers. It wouldn’t have been cheap. But it’s memorable and they will last forever.

From resort ranch to working ranch… I noticed this sign one day while driving across Saskatchewan. If you look closely you can see that each of the metal silhouettes is different. It would have been easier to cut corners and make some of them the same. But someone took the time and care to make each one unique. That kind of attention to detail is a rapidly fading art.

And finally, I used to work at a not-for-profit that helped people with disabilities overcome obstacles and get jobs – an incredible organization doing fantastic work. We replaced the traditional reserved parking graphics with something more powerful, to exemplify the organization’s “break barriers” philosophy.

Kudos to anyone who puts that little extra bit of effort into their work, especially when it’s not expected.


Sometimes you have to go for it.

When I started writing my novel series, I knew I was going to intertwine crime, the ad business, and golf. 

To be authentic about the ad business, I think you have to strike a balance between stereotypes and reality. Yes, there are martini-swilling, ego-centric reprobates. But they are more than offset by creative, curious, problem-solving professionals. 

For the creative professionals, it’s a never-ending battle to convince clients to take risks. If I had a buck for every time a client said “We want a campaign just like X,” I would’ve retired twenty years ago.

The paradox is that clients are paying for originality, but asking for sameness. It’s understandable: humans are hard-wired for comfort.

One of my favorite instances of getting a client to take a risk was in a campaign for the Canadian Museum of Civilization. They had the world’s first IMAX/OMNIMAX theatre and wanted to promote the Rolling Stones’ concert film, “At the Max”, filmed during the Stones’ Steel Wheels tour. 

For me, the Rolling Stones coupled with the giant IMAX screen made the ad headline obvious:  

Keith Richards has never been this high.

At the museum, it set client nerves jangling.

“It’s promoting drug use.”

No, it’s not.

“The Rolling Stones will sue us.”

For what? Accuracy?

In an admirable leap of faith, the museum’s director decided to run the ad. She braced herself for a barrage of phone calls. 

She got one. It was from the Director of the National Gallery of Canada. “God, I wish we had the guts to run something like that.”

In this age of social media mobs and spontaneous boycotts, clients have to be even more courageous. Which is why memorable ads are as rare as conch pearls.