Brian Harris Berg is a New York-based attorney, author, business consultant, professor, and film producer. He was born and raised in New York, where he attended Hofstra University School of Law. He has more than 20 years of business expertise advising financial institutions on compliance and regulatory laws, and also is involved in the real estate investment community.
Brian’s passion for travel began when he was a teenager, and he has since traveled to over 75 countries, including Tanzania, Norway, Chile, and Albania.
Brian also owns and operates Cell Keys Wallet, a renowned blog that helps people determine their aims and objectives and then develops ways to attain them.
He is the President of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York (AAA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of astronomy. He also delivers a monthly essay to Eyepiece, the magazine of the Astronomy Association.
Brian also teaches Business Law at the Borough of Manhattan Community College ( BMCC ).
He also has always been a movie buff since he was a child. This quality, together with his significant legal knowledge, commercial experience, and project and personnel management abilities, has enabled him to develop into a successful film producer, which includes The Luring, a critically acclaimed psychological thriller, released in 2019. (TheLuring.com).
Brian is also a firm believer in leading a balanced lifestyle. He walks and runs at least 12,000 steps per day and participates in team sports on a weekly basis. He enjoys reading, going to museums, and volunteering for humanitarian organizations.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day begins around 7 a.m. I like to do some serious stretching that may or may not evolve into yoga. Followed by granola, a banana, and yogurt. And then I split the first few hours after, to creative and required business projects. When I leave work is determined according to how many assignments I have had to complete that day, since I create a list of what needs to be accomplished the night before, and stop when that list is complete. It might be two on some days. It is six or eight on others. Committing the necessary time to completing my ‘to-do’ list is what keeps me sane while giving me a high level of satisfaction that what needs to get done, is getting done.
While each and every day is different and has its own flavor, I enjoy performing little things such as making that to-do list and attempting to utilize them to organize the goals I want to achieve. Aside from that, starting my day with stretching and healthy food, enables me to stay relaxed throughout the day.
There’s nothing more that I enjoy than being busy doing things I enjoy, so my weekdays are rather busy, yet not hectic, hence why it’s critical that I use my time wisely. The goal is always to bring concepts to fruition and know that at the end of each day I am satisfied that it was not a wasted day. Life is too short for that!
How do you bring ideas to life?
As a writer and filmmaker, I feel that perhaps the secret to prosperity is to channel one’s enthusiasm into concepts and then concentrate on transforming those concepts into something concrete that can have an impact on the world in a certain manner. I also think that in order for concepts to be valuable, they must be original and relevant. Otherwise, they will be discarded at the first hurdle. As a result, I am constantly putting notes into an app on my phone that I use to sort my ideas and tasks.
I really enjoy brainstorming since it allows me to express my imagination by presenting various ideas that could contribute to another success.
Many articles on CellKeysWallet.com come from this. As do many of the class outlines that I prepare and use at BMCC.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Science, science, and more science. Whether it is the science of astronomy. Or the scientific method of reasoning that is important to law. Or the rational way of thinking that I try to present to my students at BMCC. Or scientific and logical methods that I use to resolve issues in different topics on my blog. Science, I believe, leads the way.
And to see entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk become a celebrity for significant scientific contributions to society greatly excites me. Not because of his celebrity per se, rather because it is refreshing to see the public recognize scientific advancements rather than just the usual sports or entertainment achievements.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I feel that creating a minimum 6-hour sleeping routine has a performance-enhancing impact and can enhance productivity. I wish I could sleep for 8 hours every night but I know that that is unlikely. But I also know that for myself, and most humans, sleeping less than 6 hours has significant diminishing returns. So I always shoot for at least 6 hours. And then maybe even try to squeeze in a 20 minute nap during the day.
Furthermore, I genuinely think that acknowledging and embracing one’s own physical and psychological limits can have a significant impact on one’s personal and working development; however, the far more crucial part is acknowledging that you are human and need at least 6 hours of sleep in order to perform as well as you can both physically and psychologically.
When I was younger I used to take great pride in getting by with as little sleep as possible. And I guess that’s certainly more viable the younger someone is. But the reality is that we all need sleep. There’s no use in fighting it. It doesn’t make you a better person by ignoring nature.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Every concept is worth examining, I’d tell my younger self. Adults, in my opinion, frequently tell children which thoughts are valuable and which are not. I can tell you from personal experience that even if one concept isn’t realistic in and of itself, it can lead to other possibilities. We can’t expect individuals to innovate if we tell them what they can and cannot do.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
When you’re dissatisfied with what you have accomplished in regard to a particular assignment, taking a break is almost always the best answer for your work. My father taught me that stepping back and viewing things from a different perspective can make a significant difference. Essentially, it will pique one’s “why,” allowing them to maximize their abilities and improve over time as a result of their developing enthusiasm.
I guess if I think about it, it’s not so much that people disagree with me on this, rather people tend not to do this. They often get so caught up with whatever it is they’re working on, that they feel if they step away for 10 minutes, that that is 10 minutes longer they will then need to work on whatever it is, on the back end. The reality though is that walking away for 10 minutes and thinking about something else, often results in breakthroughs when you return to the project, I often find.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Keeping a calm mind and being prepared for any situation! That way, one can face the unexpected while maintaining the continuity of the job at hand and resolving any complications that may arise.
I think everyone should pick up an autobiography by an astronaut. Any astronaut will do. I am constantly amazed when reading about and meeting these people how calm and in control they are. They are so well trained and so well in control of themselves, that when facing calamity of the highest order, death from an exploding rocket for example, their heart rates rarely rise above 100. Amazing! To be that in control has always been a goal of mine. Unfortunately, I don’t often succeed at it, but man, when you can do it, and can see through problems with clarity, what a difference it makes!
I would recommend that everyone approaches issues and problems in ways that allow them to stay clear headed. A lot of what is in CellKeysWallet.com is about exactly this – keep a level head and rationalize problems so that the solution presents itself. Because there is almost always a solution, I promise you that.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I know this may sound repetitive but everything I have answered so far is the main strategy. Meaning, I don’t believe there is any deep, dark secret to success. It is almost always a combination of some luck and some hard work.
Luck you have some control over – showing up on time, making yourself available, being prepared, etc. – and some you don’t. But the hard work part does not necessarily mean being in the office or on the computer for 14 hours a day. In fact, I’m a firm believer that other than in certain times of tight deadlines, life is too short to spend staring at a computer all day, or whatever the job entails. And anything you can do to have a great work-life balance is what you should shoot for. Of course, what you consider a great work-life balance is completely up to the individual. But all of those things I’ve already mentioned – being physically and mentally healthy, sleeping, knowing what your daily and long term goals are, being hard working, being honest with those around you both professionally and personally, etc. – those are the ‘secrets’ to success.
And not to keep hawking it, but this is a lot of what is in CellKeysWallet.com . It’s an independent spirit of asking, ‘What are my goals?’ And once they’re identified, ‘Why are they my goals?’
I think once someone establishes those things, they’re halfway there. As opposed to, ‘I just want a job, any job’.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Not all the ideas that I came up with turned out to be the brightest, that’s for sure. Still, I considered my failures as a kind of trigger to push myself further in order to come up with more creative and interesting alternatives.
Whether you succeed or fail, every event teaches you something. That is precisely the mentality that has allowed me to achieve my current levels of productivity, satisfaction, and happiness.
That last category, to me, is what it’s all about. If I am not reaching some level of happiness, which of course entails productivity and satisfaction, what’s the point? Humans have struggled for the 40 or 50 thousand years we have lived and evolved on Earth, and our ancestors would be in complete disbelief if they could see how most of us live today. Many aspects of our lives would seem like magic to them. So what greater way is there to honor our progenitors and the battles they fought that resulted in each of us existing here today, than to be happy and satisfied with what we do. We all need and should want to do something – that’s how you benefit both society and yourself. But what type of contribution you want to make is the big question.
As an aside, when I mention ‘satisfied’, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to achieve. Rather I look at satisfaction as knowing that I did everything I could at that time and truly tried my best.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would suggest reading about engineering. The science behind it is mind blowing. I wish I understood more about engineering than I currently do, but at the same time, it’s exciting to learn more about it, as I do almost every day.
I think most people today don’t appreciate that engineering has made today’s civilization possible. And past civilizations, too! Just look at the giant cisterns built in Turkey thousands of years ago, which gave unprecedented access to clean water.
The science, the scientists, and the work that is involved in making a viable modern civilization are at the heart of the definition of progress. And I believe that the more one becomes aware of such things, the more they can think in a problem-solving manner, and therefore overcome more obstacles, and think outside of that proverbial box.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
This is an easy one – the best $100 I ever spent was on a book that is a few hundred years old. I had always loved books but when I saw this particular book years ago, and I didn’t have much money, it just kept calling out to me. And I bought it. The satisfaction I felt from having purchased it, then read it, then being able to look upon it on a shelf, was enormous. That made me want to collect more books. Which of course required more money, so I needed to figure out ways to make that happen. And now I have a sizable book collection, which gives me endless hours of enjoyment to read through, and sometimes I enjoy just looking at them upon the shelves and thinking how much knowledge and creativity is stored in them.
Seeing a good book collection brings me an immense feeling of pride and enjoyment of what humanity is able to achieve.
As an aside, the next $100 should be spent to buy a telescope (maybe a good used one). Stare at stars, planets, and nebulae, and realize this enormous universe that we are but a tiny speck of. Combine those observations with what’s in the books on your shelves, and you’ll realize that Netflix can’t hold a candle to what is true enjoyment.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I am a huge fan of Google Drive. To have the ability to use collaborative software such as Google Sheets inside of Drive, where multiple people can make changes at the same time, and to see those changes happen in real time, is really a great benefit.
We used Sheets in Drive all of the time when making The Luring, and it is difficult to express how complicated making a movie is. It is the ultimate form of collaboration. And using Sheets in Drive really helped keep us sane. Or however sane one can be when working on a film.
Similarly, for real estate construction projects, where people are often in different locations yet working on the same thing, Sheets in Drive again really ups the game with real time changes that everyone can see.
And with AAA.org, running a massive New York based non-profit organization certainly takes a huge collaborative effort. We all share and maintain documents on Drive and I really don’t know how we would be able to get anything accomplished if we didn’t have the easy access to documents that Drive affords us.
As an aside, I am not trying to make a commercial for Google. Haha. But that is the system I have always used and it has served me quite well.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I am a bibliophile as I mentioned earlier, so I can speak to many books that have had a significant impact on me and helped to clarify or even change my views on topics. But if there was one book I would recommend for people to read, well, this one might sound a bit surprising, but I would say that everyone should read, ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go‘, by Dr. Seuss.
It describes life, and all of its complexities, as well and as simply as they can be stated. I think everyone should read it. Then re-read it. And keep doing that on their birthday every year. It’s a great way to remind yourself that you should always strive for your goals, and that sometimes you’ll knock it out of the park. And sometimes you won’t. Even when you thought you did your best.
I don’t think a book can get any more real than that. No sugarcoating needed.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote comes from my favorite TV show, MASH. Yes, I know I may be dating myself a bit here, but the combination of creators Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and Alan Alda cannot be beat.
With that said, there was a fantastic character played by the equally fantastic Alan Arbus, psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman. And there is a scene in the final episode of the show when Dr. Freedman is helping out in the operating room because the surgeons are short handed. Everyone is stressed from being in the war and operating on soldiers, and Dr. Freedman turns to all of the surgeons and nurses, and says… ‘Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice, pull down your pants and slide on the ice.’
I mean, does it get any better than that? To realize the ridiculous, tenuous, and downright outlandish aspects that life often presents to us, so as to relieve it with nonsensical advice, is brilliant!
Success is a process and not an easy outcome.
Patience guides one towards true growth.
Find your own happiness, and then work like hell to reach it and maintain it.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.