Stalin and the Chicken
Lessons in Brutal Capitalism from a Communist
In the late summer of 1934 Russia was in the midst of a period of extreme
upheaval and change known as the purges. Under the guise of progress and
modernization the self promoted leader of the communist party, Joseph Stalin,
was systematically killing millions of his own people. Those whom he did not kill
he left broken and scared, striped of their lands, possessions, food, and freedom.
Few outside of Russia seemed aware or concerned about what he was doing.
State news reports at the time touted the dramatic evolution of such a large and
backward country into a modern industrial society. The massive government
work projects moved mountains and changed the course of rivers, industrial
factories began to produce a limitless supply of modern goods, and endless
oceans of wheat grew upon the arid farm land of the western step under the
direction of authoritative state owned collectives. Stalin himself was lifted up as
the model of a strong leader. Every where he went there where large crowds
cheering him as he struck impressive and stoic poses for the media. Numerous
events were staged to demonstrate the triumph of communism over poverty,
ignorance, and corruption and to portray Stalin as the firm benevolent father.
At one such event a small group of state and visiting western media were
gathered to document Stalin as a man of the people. He was to tour a local farm,
interact with the workers, and answer questions from the press. All had gone as
planned. The farm was perfectly staged for pictures. The workers were hand
picked and prepared for their performance. Stalin’s presence was undeniable as
he answered every one of the prescribed questions given to the media.
Stalin walked casually through the barnyard answering questions and
spreading grain to a group of chickens.
“Yes, domestic agricultural output has increased by four hundred percent
since we nationalized agricultural production.” answered Stalin.
“Through the implementation of modern farming methods and state control
there is more grain, more cabbage, and more carrots.” He continued, “Even
these chickens have increased egg production” He half joked.
The media and his aides nodded and smiled in agreement. Everything
was wonderful in Russia. Everyone agreed and that’s all there was to know.
That is until one typically skeptical American journalist dared to ask an
unprepared question; an honest and informed question.
“Mister Premier,” the journalist said “How long do you think you can keep
up this charade?”
To which there was no reply. Stalin just continued spreading grain.
The journalist asked again, “What makes you think you can starve and
torture and kill your people and they won’t rise up against you?”
The local media stood dumbstruck with fear and his aides in a panic
attempted to shuffle off the question and the journalist. Stalin motioned for them
to stop and for the cameras to be put away. He then reached down and picked
up one of the chickens and held it tight under his arm so it could not move.
Stalin then continued in reply to the journalist’s question as calm and as
confident as before. He said, “We have more grain because we have
nationalized farming and so we can sell the grain for capital in order to build
factories to produce the things the people need.” As he spoke he began to rip
the feathers off the chickens back in great handfuls.
He continued, “The people have need of many things that we are now
giving them.” The poor bird squawked and screeched in agony. Stalin’s grasp
tightened. His iron grip held the bird firm as he calmly turned to the journalist and
spoke. “It is a testament to the ability of man in this modern age that through the
state we have overcome the individual weaknesses of greed and selfishness that
have kept us from solving our problems.”
The journalist could hardly speak. He stared in horror as Stalin savaged
the chicken. The bird nearly limp, convulsed slightly as Stalin placed it back on
the ground. It staggered clumsily away, unlikely to have been able to process
what was just done to it. A feeling of disgust covered over by fear was palpable
upon the barnyard. Stalin reached into his pocket for a handful of grain and
continued on as before to feed the chickens who flocked around him.
The journalist stammer, “What… Why…?”
Stalin continued in response, “We are solving these problems.”
Seemingly oblivious to the journalist’s questions. He was remarkably unaffected
by his own actions or the journalist’s response to it. He said, “In Russia, as it
should be in all the world, from each according to his abilities and too each
according to his need.”
Stalin, identifying the wounded chicken he had just damaged creeping
back toward the edge of the flock to peck at the bits of grain remaining on the
ground, reached again into his jacket pocket and pulled out a fresh handful of
grain. He knelt down a bit and held out his hand toward the injured animal. The
bird looked for a moment, cocked its head to the slide a bit, and then timidly step
toward Stalin. In a moment, it was eating the food right out of the hand that
minutes before had torn the feathers right off it’s back. Stalin dropped the
remaining grain on the ground stood and turned toward the journalist. Did that
answer your question, he said.
The journalist hesitated, locked in a momentary state of emotional and
mental chaos. He responded, “Yes sir, thank you.” as the full impact of the
situation became clear in his mind.
The point is there is no point. People do things because they can. Both
good and bad. This is a difficult concept to understand and even more difficult
thing to accept without generally destroying most people’s basic understanding of
Our interaction with the world is based on perception and perception is the
act of drawing internal conclusions based upon external stimuli. We take what is
on the outside bounce it off of what is on the inside and try to figure out how they
relate. This is why people can have widely varied opinions. What is on the
inside is never exactly the same. The problem is that most people tend to think
that everyone else thinks the same as they do. If you have ever heard the
expression, “think out of the box”, this is what that is talking about. The bigger
problem is that in general, we do all think the same or at least in a similar enough
manner to get by. As much as we are different we are the same grouped along
varied trains of thoughts. There are liberals and conservatives, aggressives and
passives, intellectuals and physicals all gravitated together in sub categories
within the general human experience. So when an abnormality presents itself,
such as a serial killer, we don’t know how deal with it. They are outside of our
general understanding. When confronted with things outside of our individual
and general experience we waste precious time trying to explain it in a way that
reconciles with our understanding or perception.
The result is that when you are confronted with this. The best thing to do
is to simply identify the situation and then determine what response is in your
best interest. Do not waste time trying to figure out why, you can do that at a
later time. Trying to understand often leads to anger, confusion, frustration, and
delay. All of which can impair your ability to act or act wisely.
The Lesson to Learn:
Jee’s just re-read the story. The lessons to learn from this story about
human nature, business, and social interaction are near endless. OK, here is an
example of a lesson about human nature. This story illustrates both of the far
sides of the human experience. Man is corrupt anyone who tells you differently
is likely attempting to delude themselves in order to deal with the world in a
manner that they can handle. By pretending that the world and people are good
and just need a chance to do what is right they feel safer. But man and the world
are neither good nor safe and by recognizing this you can take better actions to
protect yourself, those you are responsible for, and your stuff. It is easy to see
how Stalin was corrupt always dominating, control, and ruling by fear. The image
of him as an aggressor brutalizing the poor weak bird is a caricature of the strong
over the weak. This is an obvious example but given the choice, I would choose
the obvious evil over the hidden. I can fight it or at least avoid it. You can’t avoid
what you can’t see. Besides the very principle of strong over the weak is the
basis of survival and for the non religious reader who denies the Biblical account
of the fall and the corrupt (sin) nature of man it is also the basis of the Darwinian
model of evolution. Strong over the weak for the purpose of survival via
propagation of dominant traits. So don’t get upset when a bum beats the crap
out of you in an alley because you think it is wrong to carry a gun.
The less obvious corruption is that on the opposite side of the pool from
Stalin, the chicken is just as corrupt. It shows no moral courage, no strength of
character taking hand outs and charity. It demonstrates no advanced thought or
ingenuity in the pursuit of its subsistence. It puts forth no real defense to the
aggression forced upon it and having been abused it does not rise to a higher
status of purpose with the knowledge and understanding gained by its
experience. It simply comes back for more… it is meat. It is fodder for the
energies of those who take action. It is the potential corruption of ---- that lies at
the shallow end of the pool. It is the evil that exists and we don’t see it as evil for
pity’s sake. But in being a victim it exists as a temptation to the strong like a
glass of whiskey is a temptation to a recovering alcoholic. And what about
everything in between these two extremes? Think of the state media and Stalin’s
handlers, or the farm workers, or even the journalist; all were complacent in the
situation and the system. Each singly looked out for themselves in order to get
by. Is Stalin any worse then anyone else in this story, well yes, but he is a shark
and a shark is a shark and a chicken is a chicken and if a chicken falls into the
shark tank can anyone blame the shark for eating it. Stay away from the tank, if
you are a chicken. If you’re not a chicken then take your chances as you see fit
but don’t expect us to cry for you if you jump into the tank and end up bloody.
The Short Lesson:
People are bad and will hurt you to get what they want. People are weak
and stupid and will keep coming back to harmful situations if they don’t learn.
The Brutal Truth:
There are bad people out there and I mean really bad; evil. There are a
lot more of them then you think and they look just like you and me. They can and
will hurt you. They will hurt you financially, mentally, emotionally, and physically.
It does not matter why but most will do it as a simple unconscious exercise of a
choice between them or you. Then there are others who will hurt you on purpose
because they don’t like you or they feel threatened by you. And finally some will
hurt you just because they can.
You’re a Duck
Have you ever heard of the saying, “If it looks like a duck and it quacks
like a duck then it’s a duck.” It is one of the most simple, obvious and common
sense observations that can be made and executives love it. I will explain why
later but for now just know that you are a duck.
My sister has spent many a year in the lower administrative realms of the
business community and has always been amused when she has had the
opportunity to share one of my observations with another under appreciated
worker twittering between a state of frustration and anger. On one occasion she
was working a temporary contract position in support of a training department at
a large telecommunications company. The company had brought her and
another girl in to process paperwork and do data entry for a series of training
classes that they were going to host. The assignment was originally presented
as a three month full time position. It worked out for the first six weeks and when
the classes finished the company decided that they did not need 40 hours a
week from two people. They didn’t want to loose the two resources so they
decided to drop both temps down to 16 hours or so a week. (Note: They did not
value them, they just didn’t want to have to go trough the process of finding new
people again later. The company was lazy.) The other girl was indignant.
“ How dare they insult me like this.” She said, “Don’t they know what I do
around here. Don’t they know how much work I have to do. I can’t possibly do it
all with less hours.”
The other girl was so upset and in need of money that she quit but before
she did my sister had a chance to speak with her.
My sister pulled her aside and said, “I am going to help you out and tell
you something that you’re not going to appreciate right now and you will probably
never like but at some point it might give you some piece of mind.”
She looked at the other girl seriously, put her hand on the other girls
shoulder, and said, “You’re a duck.”
Of course the other girl looked back at my sister as if she was crazy and
waited for the punch line.
To which my sister plainly explained, “You see a duck on the water. It
appears to slowly, effortlessly glide across the water without a care in the world
and with little apparent value. This is how the company sees you.”
“All the while,” she continued “That ducks little web feet are churning away
under the water like a little outboard motor in order to move it across the pond.
That duck is working its little tail feathers off to accomplish what at the time
seems very important to the duck but in reality is a relatively insignificant task.”
In the end, who really cares if the duck gets to the other side of the pond? Just
The Point being:
No, they probably don’t really know what you do or how hard you work
and if the truth be known they really wouldn’t care if they did know because what
you’re doing is not that important. Yes, we all want to believe that what we do is
significant because our sense of self worth is often based on a need for purpose.
And far too many of us define who we are by what we do for a living.
The Lesson to Learn:
Don’t take what you do all that seriously. Don’t let your pride get in the
way of making the best decision. Don’t value your job more then the people who
employee you. In this scenario it would have been best for the other girl to suck
up her pride, keep working as some money is better then no money, and do
everything she could to find a another job before the one she had was completely
The Brutal Truth:
No one values your job more then you. You can be replaced and the job
can go away.
Promotion through Failure
I was working a job with a large government contractor recently and came
across a funny expression that I thought was just perfect. My boss was ten years
younger then me, he had been recruited into the company right out of college,
and had been there for six years. In short it was the only thing he had ever
known. He was completely indoctrinated into this particular corporate culture.
One day I was talking with him about how the people who don’t know what
they are doing get put in charge. He said, “Yeah, we call that promotion through
failure.” I laughed a bit but it was not funny it was just sad. It was sad because it
The day before he had me join in on a conference call with all the decision
makers and a couple of lead level techies to figure out what would be the best
way, if it could be done at all, to link the eight layers of organizational structure
codes with employee level data and then interpret it into plain English for
reporting. I was to just listen in on mute, so I got a head start on reporting and
really understand what was going on. After wasting an hour and forty-five
minutes of my time I really did understand what was going on. This project was
being managed by idiots who had no idea what they were doing. Don’t get me
wrong the call wasn’t over at that point. That was just the moment when after
working through all the issues, hearing from everyone, and apparently making
progress from a starting point to a generally agreed upon conclusion; One of the
big wigs sighed and said, “…and that brings us back to the problem we started
with.” At which point everyone agreed and they decided to do some more
investigation and meet again later. The call continued for another hour and a half
as the discussion circled around twice more, this time at speed. It felt like I was
watching NASCAR on TV. The cars just keep going around in circles and no one
pays attention until there is an accident or the race ends. All I could think was,
“No, it doesn’t bring us back to the start. This is done. You all agreed on what
needed to be done and how to do it. So, just do it. Are you all really this stupid?”
The next day when I ran into my boss I commented on how much more I
appreciated his situation as a supervisor. He had to interact with the upper
management who just made circles all day and the techies, such as me, who
complained that we couldn’t get any clear direction and when we did it always
seemed to be the worst of all the possible obvious choices. (See consensus)
He laughed a little in agreement probably thinking he should not have
asked me to join the call. It is a tuff line for the lower middle management to walk
between relating enough with the people at the bottom to get the work done and
holding the curtain closed for the wizard.
Then he commented and said, “Yea, it can be an experience.” In typical
none answer format.
I continued to comment in an attempt to break him open and said, “In all
the various contracts I’ve worked and projects I’ve been on it’s always the same.
The people that are actually doing the work know what they’re doing because
they are doing it. The people at the very top have no clue what is being done at
the bottom; that’s why they hire people to do it. And the people in the middle are
Realizing that I was a contractor and would not be around forever he
broke and said, “Your right. I used to work with this one supervisor. We were
working on a big project and he never seemed to know what was going on but
before anyone else could figure out that he was lost he was transferred to
another project.” The first project never did get completed nor did the next
project he was on but he had been transferred before that one died also. I heard
he was promoted to management and I couldn’t understand it.”
I explained that from the perspective of the senior management this guy
had all the experience. He had been in key positions on at least three major
projects. He had been around longer then most people in the department (likely
because most of them were contractors). It made sense that he should be put in
charge. It never occurred to the guys at the top to ask if the projects he had
been involved in had been successful or what role he had played in their
outcome. By continually moving from project to project he was able to gain street
cred without ever getting the dirt of failure on him. This is the talent of successful
middle management. He said, “My buddy (another supervisor) calls that
promotion through failure.”
There are a lot of people and most of middle management who really don’t
care if the tasks get done as long as they survive. The goal of all middle
management is to become senior management. The easiest way to do that is to
simply avoid connection with failure. Note that I said avoid connection to failure
not to avoid failure itself. When the workers on a project have the mindset that
they are just there temporarily while they are trying to get to something better the
project suffers and usually fails to some degree. This is where the arts of
avoidance, insinuation, and blame become keys in the development of a
manager on the rise. Also note that blame is the last option of the three. The
successful manager moves best by avoidance not by blaming others. Blame
seems ugly and often causes resentment and creates enemies. It’s better to be
Teflon or have a force shield.
The Lesson to Learn:
The people in charge don’t always know what’s going on and the higher in
the structure you are the less in contact you tend to be. Owners deal with senior
managers, they in turn deal with middle managers, who in turn deal with
supervisors, who deal with workers. In an ideal world this structure would
facilitate communication and allow those at the top to control a larger work force
then they could do directly. The problem is that we don’t live in an ideal world.
The various levels work in two ways to restrict growth and reduce productivity.
One: communication is retard at each level by the uneven abilities of the various
people in the chain. No two people are the same so two of them are not going to
understand, convey, or respond to a message the same way. This will lead to
delay at best and confusion at worst. Two: corruption is encouraged. I don’t
mean direct obvious theft or graft which does happen. I mean that people are
motivated be self interest. Like it or not, given the opportunity to do something in
a way that benefits them over someone else they will do what works best for
them. So if an owner issues a set of plain clear instructions it is likely they will be
misunderstood and if they are understood they will be twisted to benefit the
various level down the chain. It should also be noted that this pattern of
contortion works both ways and the people at the top are aware of it and use it to
their benefit. Owners and senior management tend to use the structure to issue
instructions that they would be uncomfortable to deliver in person and they relay
on the structure to shield them from complaints raising from the bottom.
Most people just want to get by while they are looking for something
Ok. Come in close and listen well, for I am about to share an ancient truth
that has fallen out of memory and into disrespect:
“Happiness is the feeling that occurs when you get what you want.”
I know I know, you think, I am associating happiness with selfishness or
that I am forgetting the immortal and undisputable truths that have been drilled
into our society since the sixties.
Imaginary concepts like:
True happiness is an internal concept.
This is why we all exist as disembodied masses of energy.
You can’t find happiness in others.
This is why we all live alone in caves.
You can’t find happiness in things.
This is why the poor are better off.
Service and sacrifice makes you happy.
This is why slavery was abolished because servitude and going
without provided an unfair advantage in the happiness department
to slaves and their owners were jealous.
It’s better to give then receive.
Ok, this one is true but only in prison and it would be better to just
keep to yourself, if possible.
Getting what you want will not make you truly happy.
Really! Do you really believe that? Let’s test this one out. Take a
moment and think back to a time in your childhood maybe a birthday or
Christmas or perhaps a memory from school when the teacher was
choosing kids for something special. Remember how much you wanted
whatever it was. Now remember how you felt when you got it. Wait! Did
you think of the time you got it or did you immediately go to a memory
where you didn’t get it?
I understand that there is a lot more to our behavior then can be
determined by a first hand shake. I am also aware that it takes all kinds and to
this I say, “Hey, Whatever floats your boat.” but don’t believe that the apparent
differences that exist in the ways we are motivated and pleased are anything
more then training. We are the sum of our genetic make up and life experiences.
Let us even the playing field so to speak and go all the way back to
babyhood. I have a handful of children and have been involved with the care of
many more. The picture of a newborn sleeping peacefully wrapped in a blanket
melts the heart of almost any mammal. A child untouched by ideology, belief, or
understanding is a sweet image of man. The baby lying there stares, turns on its
side, and then stretches. It yawns and snuggles the edge of the blanket
seemingly in search of something. For a moment it struggles to locate the target
of its desire and then in an almost instant lack of patience in proportion to its age
and size. It cries out. Its cries echo through the room and down the hall and to
the ears of an exhausted and beleaguered mother. She half wakes from an
insufficient sleep and stumbles toward the now bellowing cries. She checks the
diaper and then cradles the baby into her arms. It snuggles and cries some more
and then mom feeds the child. At this age there are only a few things that it
could have been. This time it was food. As soon as the nipple hit the lips the
crying stopped and the baby is… Happy.
Getting what you want will not make you truly happy? Come on…It is
counter intuitive and against basic human nature and understanding. Babies are
not taught to think of themselves. They just do. That is how we all start off.
Everything else is taught.
Be honest with yourself and admit that it feels better to get what you want;
to get it your way; to be right. You can be an adult about it and realize that you
are not going to get it your way often but you need to remember that getting it
your way makes you happy. That way you can continue to try to get it your way
and you will end up in a better position in most things. If later you choose to
share, for whatever reason, then at least it will be your choice and even in that
you will be getting it your way which will make you happy. It might even make
someone else happy. Now that is the way to spread happiness; you get your
way and the other guy gets a break. And we can all use a break.
If you loose your connection to reality and your understanding of how
things work, in this case happiness, then you will be severely hampered in your
pursuit of success. Success is based on happiness; happiness is based on
getting what you want; what you want is completely subjective and based upon
you alone. If you don’t understand what happiness is, then even if you come up
with a list of goals or wants or whatever it will always be an exercise in hit or miss
as you fail to pursue what you want because it seemed selfish or greedy or just
not nice. It’s better to define what you want and pursue it and accept that you’re
not going to get it all. In the end some is better then none and if you don’t try to
get some you’ll end up with nothing and no man needs nothing.
The Lesson to Learn:
We are all being socialized (trained to think in a certain way) to believe in
things that just are not true. We are being conditioned (trained to act a certain
way) to respond with appropriate behavior that is just not natural. This is being
done so that we can be controlled. Controlled by our employers, controlled by
our government, control by the groups we are involved with. Sometimes it’s
obvious, sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s malicious, and sometimes it’s
portrayed as simply the functioning of an orderly society. But make no mistake
about it, it is still control and when control is being wielded someone is wielding it.
You can believe that the person in control has your best interest in mind or you
can wake up and take responsibility for yourself and make up your own mind.
The Brutal Truth:
You are not always going to be happy but you need to understand what
happiness is and how to get it. That way you will know how to keep it if you get it
and how to give it when and if you ever choose to.
Compromise Means - You’re Not Happy
Look, we all want it our way, like Burger King, ‘Your way, Right away’ and
we want that all the time but it is just not going to happen. More often then not
you are forced into a position where you have to make choices. Paper or plastic;
do you want fries with that; and other questions. Whenever you have to make a
choice you are loosing out on something. I know your thinking not always…
What if my significant other stood before me gently smiling after a long hard day
and said, ‘Honey, would you like me to rub your back or your feet?’ Sounds
great but you still have to pick and thus you are loosing out on something. Even
if they said, ‘Which one do you want me to rub first?’ You’re still missing out on
something now and you’ll have to give up something at some point to get
something else later. This is the point; it is a trade off. Everything is a trade.
This or that and if you pay attention as you go along you’ll find that it is more
accurately this for that. What you would truly like to respond is, ‘Yes. I would like
both my back and my feet rubbed and I would like them both done now, so
maybe you should call some help and have them bring me a drink while you
start.’ Of course by saying this you are trading the possibility of physical
pleasure for the free expression of your true inner feelings. In this particular
situation loosing the rub down probably will not pay for the total cost of your
expression so you will likely get a debit to the back of the head.
To get what you want you have to give up something.
The Lesson to Learn:
You are not going to get everything you want the way you want it every
time you want it. But that is ok because unless you are a complete looser getting
your way right away every now and again will suffice. As long as you feel that
you are making good trades then you’ll come out ahead.
Everything is a trade off.
Consensus Means - No One Is Happy
Everyone wants to be in control. Please don’t deny it. If you can’t be
honest with yourself just put the book down and walk away. I say again
everyone wants to be in control. Some are more dominate then others but overt
dominance can often lead to failure and servitude. A number of years ago, I
started an accelerated MBA program; one of those 18 month things for working
adults. I entered the program for all of the right educational reasons, I wanted to
make more money and I thought the degree would make that possible. I also
thought that classes designed for and filled with working adults were going to be
so much better, so much more practical then the abstract and theoretical fluff that
is injected into the open minded college youth. When you have to deal with a
group of mature adults who have already had to shoulder the responsibilities of
the working world, even the most out of touch academic would have to adjust,
OK, if it is not clear by now, I had always or at least always tried to think
the best of any situation and any person from the start. I rarely do this now, I still
hope for the best, but in preparing for the worst I have to think the worst in order
to be ready to deal with whatever comes. It is better to be pleasantly surprised
then to have a rude awakening.
In this program, I was going to learn all about business; a very wide and
deep area of study for certain. Business can, more then most other fields of
study, cover the entirety of human existence. To exist people need things. The
processes of getting, giving, making, taking, moving, and disposing of things are
all in the scope of business not to mention the interactions of the people who do
those things. This is why it has always seemed absurd to me to hear, “I’m a
businessman.” In response to the question of what do you do for a living. That’s
like saying I exist. In any case, I had already completed my first intro to business
class and was well into a business relations class when I encountered the
concept of consensus. It was all the rage and very popular back then. I know
the word and the concept existed before this time but it seemed very fashionable
with the corporate world at the time.
A dictionary understanding of the word consensus might read like:
“A general agreement, unanimity, or the judgment arrived at by most of those
I believe the class was entitle Business Management. It was going along
well, I thought until we reached that chapter on building consensus. With each
chapter came a series of pretend real life group exercises that were supposed to
prepare you to deal with the unplanned realities of the work place. The class
was split in half to form two groups of about ten each. Our assignment was to
read the scenarios in the book, go into conference, and come up with a group
decision based entirely on consensus. I thought no big deal this should take ten
minutes and then we could have a long lunch.
Our group went into a conference room nearby and sat down to get it
done. Most of us looked a bit hungry and tired but were ready to tackle the
assignment and were determined to get out a bit early. Note that I said most not
all; this is the biggest problem with consensus. (Note also that the inverse of this
can be a difficulty with the concept of democracy but that is an idea for another
time.) There were a few members of our group that had brought their lunch and
a few others that always seemed to run contrary to the general direction of the
group. Remember that in any situation, no one enters at the exact same place.
Everyone has baggage and varying circumstances. We did all have two
important commonalities: one, we had all chosen to take this course and two, we
had to do the assignment in order to complete the course.
Someone read the scenarios which I believe to have been about whether
we (company X) should and how we should build a petroleum plant in the middle
of a rain forest in South America. Half said no right off. The other half said yes
to verifying degrees depending on how it was to be done. The point of the
scenario was to determine what would be the best business decision for
company x. At first, the opinions were across the board of thought but as
questions were asked and answered and some clarity developed, two distinct
sides formed. I had been quite until this time as it seemed pointless to me. I just
wanted to go to lunch and I thought that adding to the useless talk early on would
just delay us. Also it was not real, so although, I might have cared more for the
obvious economic benefit to the families of the workers hired to fill the 5K new
jobs that the project would have created over the possible detriment to the
speckled caribou’s biome, I was open to whatever choice would complete the
assignment in the shortest amount of time. When it was clear that there were
just two sides remaining in the discussion I stepped in to work it out. I began by
verifying the specific points that each side’s position was based on, then moved
into asking this for that questions of each of the more dominate members of both
sides. It went something like this; Ok, you want, feel, think this? Would you be
willing to do, change, allow that? In minutes, an agreement had formed and it
appeared I would soon be on my way to Del Taco. I was about to close the
discussion off and pronounce us done when someone said, “Let’s go around
everyone and make sure we are all in consensus.” I didn’t want to but thought
OK let’s just do it and be done. We went one by one around the room and
everyone made comment something like yep, good, ok… that is until we reach
this one skinny old guy who had not said anything the whole time. His first words
were, No, I don’t like it. I asked him, OK, why. What about it do you disagree
with? Thinking we could just fix those parts. He said, “All of it.” “I don’t like any
of it.” I started to say something and was beaten to the punch by about three
other people from both sides of the issue. They all tried to resolve his issues,
placate his demands, or intimidate him into agreement. Nothing worked. His
hard stance shattered the group consensus at first driving us back into
discussions but the discussions were short as we had already worked through
every possible detail and everyone else agreed that we had not only come to a
reasonable decision but that we had effectively dealt with every point he brought
up. He on the other hand still did not agree. When pressed and implored out
side of the bounds of the scenario to think about the group and the class he
stated “It didn’t matter what anyone else said he just didn’t like it and he was not
going to agree, period.” The collective motivation and happiness left the room.
There seemed to be a complete lack of understanding from the group as to why
he would act this way and what should be done.
I on the other hand understood completely. It was all about him not the
scenario or even the class. He was a single retired man in his early sixties. He
had no job ladder to climb or career goal to meet. He was taking this class
mostly for something to do and to build up his personal ego by having an
advanced degree. He did not have much in the way of family; having never been
married or having children. In the world and in his life out side of the class he
had no sense of respect or authority; no sense of control. He was getting older
and wanted the type of validation that those things bring.
This program offered him that and this activity gave him a perfect
opportunity to take those things. It had inspired him to do it meanly as he felt he
had been ignored throughout the whole process by young people who should
look up to him and seek his advise and wisdom. No, I am not speculating as to
his train of thought and motivation because the week following this session I
spent a long lunch talking with him trying to understand why he had acted the
way he did. In the end, we gave up on the thought that we would be able to work
it out and accepted the fact that we had failed to reach consensus. The teacher
passed us on the exercise stating that not reaching consensus was always one
possible out come but in his academic genius provided no recourse or
suggestion on how to respond and dealt with the situation. I guess in the
academic version of the real world if you come to an impasse business is just
supposed to stop. I can tell you that in my experience in the real world that
person would have either been ignored or ignored and then fired. The brutal
truth is that true consensus is rare and the larger the group the more so this is
true. Consensus develops out of a common sense, feeling, or understanding
about something. People are all different so it is tuff to keep all the kittens
together and going the same direction. If you got a bunch of stuffy old white guy
who all went to the same schools and had a similar life they could reach
consensus; or is you got a bunch of gang banger from the ghetto they could all
reach consensus; You might even get a group of soccer moms to reach
consensus but the more diverse the group the less likely you are to reach
agreement let alone consensus. This is why diversity is not necessarily a good
thing. The more diverse the group the more the members have to compromise
and the less happy they will be. Agreement may be reached but the support for
the decision of the group will be weak and the decision will likely be a poor one.
It’s like the old story of making soup. One person starts off with the idea
of making some soup, we’ll say chicken noodle. Some else comes along an
wants to join but likes potatoes and puts some in, some else comes along and
puts in some fish, someone else puts in oranges, then Tabasco sauce, then
gummy worms, and so on and so forth until everyone has added their piece and
you are left with a revolting concoction that no one wants to eat. Slight diversity
can highlight or accent the base. All inclusive diversity and simply for the sake of
diversity is destructive to the whole. (OK, back to political theory- this is why
America has always worked in the past. We came from everywhere but we had
a base and accented it with diversity. We developed a common understanding
and then tolerated decent. We did not make decent the commonality. It’s
counter intuitive and counter productive to make decent the only commonality-
OK I ‘m done just read animal farm and you’ll understand)
One more point to make here that some of you might have already
understood consensus can allow one person or a small group to ruin things for
everyone else in the group. One person can wield enough power to subvert the
will of the people and in effect become a dictator. It appears I am on a political
bent as I write this so I will move on but keep in mind that although each of these
stories and lessons exist as a self contained item they are all interrelated. The
understanding of one should highlight each other in turn.
Dealing with people is complicated and the more of them involved the
more difficult it is to get them to agree.
The Lesson to Learn:
Consensus is the process of getting everyone to compromise a little at a
time until they come to a common acceptance. It is making decisions based on
what the members of the group will accept and not the merits of the issue. It
tends to result in poor decisions that the group can live with but are not really
happy with or proud of.
The Most Brutal Truth:
Consensus is bad. Agreement by a majority is better and agreement by a
plurality is best.
Capitalism: An economic system characterized by private or corporate
ownership of capital (valued) goods, by investments that are determined by
private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are
determined mainly by competition in a free market.
Capitalism is also the economic system most closely related to the natural
state of man; corrupt. Capitalism is all about things. People need things to exist
(food, water, shelter, etc) Few people have all the things they need at any given
moment or in the correct amount that they need them. You may have flour,
butter, and sugar but no eggs. So you trade some of what you have for what you
need. And you make a cake. You trade what you have or what you can do for
what you need or what you can’t do. That is capitalism at its simplest state. The
bargaining process that occurs between two parties in order to come to an
agreement and exchange is voluntary. The value of the items in the system is
based on the need for them. The more there is, the easier it is to get, the less
valuable they are. With the opposite being true also… The less there is or the
harder to get or do the more valuable it is. It is also important to remember that
even if it is scare and hard to get it has no value if it is not wanted. Eagle poop
for instance might be scare and hard to get but who wants eagle poop? These
are the concepts of supply and demand and together with the process of trading;
they make up the market. In modern times we have created a common
denominator in currency. So you don’t trade beans for boots. You trade
everything for money and then trade money for everything.
This system exists in every culture and everywhere around the world and
at every period of time in some form or another. Communism, socialism, and
other economic system are just capitalism with more artificial and or authoritarian
controls applied to the various aspects of the system. In the same way I
understand that the natural state of man is free I also understand that the natural
state of economy is free. In the same way I recognize that the natural state of
man is corrupt I understand that the natural state of economy is corrupt. This is
why I am rarely surprised when I hear about people like Bernie Madoff, or about
companies like Enron, or situations like the mortgage industry clasps. I am only
puzzled by how many people are surprised by these things.
People are involved so any system is going to be screwed up because
people are screwed up. And people are screwed up for any number of the
reasons I hope to be highlighting in this book and for numerous other reasons
that I could not fit into this volume. The brutal truth is this: Capitalism is brutal,
and unfair… it is also the best system out there. It does not provide equality of
out come but it can at best provide equality of opportunity and at least it provides
some sort of chance to get by and possibly get ahead. In capitalism it is all on
Capitalism is the natural state of man.
The Lesson to Learn:
Capitalism live it, learn it, love it… It is the means by which you can get
the ends you desire.
The Brutal Truth:
Capitalism is hard but it’s the best thing going.
A Corporation Defined
“Corporation: A body formed and authorized by law to act as a single person
although made up of one or more people and legally endowed with various rights
In other words a corporation is an artificial entity. It is created by a piece
of paper and only exists on a piece of paper. It is not a person. It does not have
feelings and emotions. It does not have a soul. It can not have guilt. It can not
have a sense of right and wrong just legal and illegal. It is created for the single
purpose of generating revenue. Even none profits. They just have to use up the
revenue in the process of their activities. It is atheistic. I note this for the
religious readers. For even if you work for a non-profit religious ministry. The
corporation does not believe in God. It can’t it can’t think it can’t believe. (Note:
the fact that companies can not think explains a lot of their decisions)
This being said let’s dig a bit deeper into how the concept expresses itself.
If it is an amoral actor and its sole purpose is to generate revenue then its actions
should be based upon a simple cost benefit analysis. Its behavior then should be
somewhat predictable. The only kink in this theory is that corporations are made
up of people and no two people are the same so they add an element of
randomness into the corporate decision making process. If you consider a
corporation to be equivalent to a person then the people working for a
corporation are like individual life experiences of that person. The more
thoughtful and compassionate people a corporation has working for it the more
thoughtful and compassionate it will appear. (Remember this is only an
appearance and not reality) And the same can be applied for all the human
character traits. In this way a corporation can and does take on a personality
based on its employees. It works for a company to have people, customers, and
employees identify with it. (It’s good for business) But it is also a dangerous
thing for those groups because having personalized this amoral actor they make
decisions and develop expectation based on false assumptions of human
understanding in a none human entity.
During the quite morning hours of Sunday October 4th 1982 an
unremarkable tanker ship move through the water near Puget Sound as it ferried
its cargo to its destination. It was unremarkable as it had made the same trip
hundreds of times as did hundreds of other ships just like this one. Then in a
moment of uniqueness for reasons that are irrelevant to this story the ship ran
aground ripping a gapping hole in its side freeing ten million gallons of crude oil
to spill out into the pristine water of north west Washington. The ship, the Valdez
owned and operated for and by the Exxon mobile oil company.
In late 1983 a disgruntle and disturbed Mike Smith decided he hated
people and loved chaos. The dog told him to do it. Mike an employee of the
Johnson and Johnson Company at a pharmaceutical plat in Indiana began to add
a small amount of arsenic to the production line of Tylenol, America’s most
trusted over the counter pain reliever. Day’s later three children and several
adults had died as a result of his heinous action. Almost over night the country’s
confidence in the product and the company dissolved and was gone. Millions of
boxes of Tylenol were recalled and pulled from the shelf. Investigations were
launched, congress created new laws (tamper proof), and years went by before
any sense of confidence was restored.
In June of 1991 a two year old died in Washington State and his death
due to salmonella poisoning was traced back to tainted hamburger at a
Washington Jack in the Box. Four more cases occurred in the following day
before the source could be completely identified and removed but the damage
had already been done and Jack in the Box was as tainted as the meat they had
server. In the end they closed several restaurants and spent millions to
compensate and restore consumer confidence.
It’s true that these are but a few examples and there are countless others.
It is also true that these examples are mild in regards to the company’s fault and
responsibility as there was nothing purposeful about them for the companies.
There are many more examples of potentially and predictably dangerous action
and products that companies have known about and continued with in pursuit of
revenue. The Tobacco industry comes to mind but there are others and for my
part I don’t hold it against the tobacco industry. I mean, if you can light a fire
inches from you mouth and suck the smoke into your lungs and think that its not
harmful then you might do society a favor by not reproducing. I am harsh I know
but I believe in personal responsibility. If you cut you finger off with a knife I don’t
think you should have a right to sue the knife maker because they didn’t put a
sticker on the knives stating that the knife was sharp and could cut you. Where I
do draw the line is between what is obvious; Coffee is hot and can burn you and
what is not; the paint on your walls contains lead and will kill your children or the
asbestos isolation in your walls and ceiling is toxic and will cause your lungs to
close up and you to die. It is a process, I know companies are continually
looking for the new, next, and better thing in order to make a profit and often
potential and harmful side effects can only be see in hindsight and over time.
(Improvements are often a side effect of the scramble to make a profit – profit
motive is not good or bad in it’s self) I don’t hold corporations as evil for this
(even though some of their employees are) nor do I feel for them when they have
to pay billions in compensation. They take the risks to make money and as my
sister is often heard to say sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear
A final note is that companies and industry as a hole change over time as we
moved from a barter system to a monetary system there were lots of disparities,
as society entered into the industrial age there were endless and now legendary
excesses and exploitations. The environment was tarnished, resources
devoured, and whole populaces redesigned. Women and children in Western
Europe and America were devoured in the meat grinder of the emerging
industrial complex. It took years even decades for government regulation and
market forces to resolve the difficulties of the time. (Note: government can’t keep
up and is reactionary) It’s this way with everything new. Capitalism is constantly
searching for the next big thing in order to survive and along its way it creates a
mess which in turn creates new opportunity for new business and in this way we
A corporation is not a person. We project our images of a person on it.
We are setting ourselves up for disappointment and failure.
The sole purpose of a corporation is to generate revenue. Everything else
is a secondary effect of this pursuit.
The Brutal Truth:
Corporations are neither good or bad they just are. As such they can be
viewed as either obstacles to avoid or tools to use.
This is a game
I spent my junior year in college attending a private Christian university in
California. While there, I enrolled in a speaking class and joined the debate
team. The coach was an honorable man and desired for the team to represent
and uphold the values upon which the university stood. The debate team
participated in tournaments at and with both Christian and secular schools. Over
the course of the year our team had developed a rivalry, if not a disrespect for a
public school team, primarily due to their apparent need to make personal
comments and take arguments off topic. We were instructed to hold the moral
high ground and be conscious of the example we presented. They were not
corrected for their behavior and in fact it was encourage by their coach.
It was not so much that they were immoral which several of them were or
that their coach was immoral which he most likely was or even that we and or
coach were at least trying to be moral. The difference was simply how they
looked at the whole exercise. Their coach viewed it all as a game, where as our
coach viewed it at least as an educational opportunity and more likely as a
serious discussion on the various topics. As a result we were encouraged to and
did developed a style of argument that sought first to understand the topic, then
find the correct position, and then explain that position. Viewing it as a game,
they were encouraged to win. Not having the need of or concern for what kind of
example they would project. Winning, became win at any cost; any way you can.
(Note: least common denominator) As a result they developed an argumentative
style that could provoke, distract, confuse, blur, and overwhelm not only the topic
but the other team and the judges.
During the last tournament of the season, I was pitted against this same
team which had frustrated me in earlier contests. I got up; presented my logical,
well thought out, and supportive arguments based on the topic of discussion we
had been given. Their first speaker got up and faced with what was a very strong
explanation of the best position on the topic, he decided to spam (the act of
presenting as many short only slightly related counter agreements in an attempt
to overwhelm the speaker’s position) knowing that I would have half the time he
did to respond and if I did not counter all of his points I would loose the debate.
He quickly throw up a simple response to my three or four points and then as if in
a speed round, began to spout out and site proofs for arguments as far fetched
as the fact that Buddhist don’t believe that the world is real so nothing I said was
real or had meaning. I listened is amazement until I noticed that judge was
dutifully writing down each of his points. Then I grew inflamed. I realized that the
judge also believed in the game theory and that it was all a matter of tactics,
manner, and strategy.
When my turn came, I laid into it with speed and passion. I ran down
every point I had noted until my time ran out. At which time I sat down and
waited. After the match was over the judge explained his decision. He praised
the strength and clarity of our position saying it was the best argument he had
heard on the topic all season and that was why it was a shame that we had lost.
It turned out that in his reply he had not only answered my points but also
countered with 23 points of his own and in my rebuttal I had only been able to
reply to 20 of the 23 before I ran out of time.
I have gone over that season and that debate in particular numerous
times. It doesn’t bother me much anymore partially because I accepted the
situation and moved on but mostly because I understand the situation and have
learned from it. I still believe in debate as a serious vetting of a topic and as an
educational exercise but I also see the point of the game theory. I see it not so
much as an expression of collegiate competitions being unimportant or an
acceptance of trickery and questionable ethics over sound moral action. I see it
now as a basic desire to succeed. Thinking of it as a game does not eliminate
the rules it forces you to explore the activity to the fullest extent possible in order
to accomplish the task. It opens the field up; creating possibilities. It forces you
to get out of the box and explore uncharted territory. It does this for the sole
purpose of winning. I know you might be thinking, ‘that’s not right.’ And your
response as was mine is a product of wrong thinking and effective socialization.
What’s wrong with winning? I mean that is the point of any competition…to win.
And winning is better then loosing (refer to happiness). We have fallen into a
hole as a culture that winning is somehow bad or wrong. People do win and we
go crazy about it and praise them. We all secretly strive and hope for a victory
but it has become unfashionable to win personally. And loosing has lost it stigma
as we have all been driven into mediocrity. It may seem a far reach but in our
attempt to include everyone, exclude no one (except those who don’t conform),
and be sensitive to everyone’s feeling we have perverted the basic drive of man,
to succeed. In time past winning was part of our genetic make up as Americans.
We were the poor, the tired, the huddled masses that boldly stepped out into the
unknown in an attempt to make it better, to succeed, to win. We valued winners
and we looked down on losers. This is what helped make us great as a people.
The line I always think of is from the opening of the movie Patton with George C
Scott. He stands alone on a stage in font of an enormous American flag as he
addresses the unseen audience of troops about to go to war in Europe and at
one point says, ‘I wouldn’t give a damn for someone who lost and laughed.’ You
see we have been trained to accept winning when it does not matter and to reject
winning when it does matter. It is ok to do what it takes to win a game but not
when it is real life. The idiocy of this should be clear to you. It is backwards. It
should only be important to win in a game because games are training for real
life. It should be ultimately important to win in real life. (How we define winning
makes all the difference but that is the subject of another story) That is were it
makes a real difference. The difference between having a job or not; being able
to support your family or not; being free or not and in the very end between living
and dying. That is why we have to look at this, all of this, everything as one big
game. Not because it is unimportant but because it is the most important. We
have to be willing and able to compete and do whatever it takes to win. This is
all a game or at least you have to view it that way. It is a game that has some
intense penalties and punishments. It is a game that must be played to win. It is
also a game that everyone must play wither they like it or not.
We seem to have lost our will and desire to win. We have been taught to
let it go and be nice. We have somehow associated doing well, being the best,
and pursuing success as character flaws. We have been taught that pursing
victory is a greedy selfish behavior; that it is bad and makes you evil.
The Lesson to Learn:
Someone has to and will win and everyone else will loose. If you don’t do
what it takes to win then you are not going to win. If you don’t try to win then
someone else will win and they will probably not be as nice about it as you. So
do what it takes to win and then don’t rub it in.
The Brutal Truth:
It is better to win then to loose.
Lack of Planning
Many years ago, when I was in the service, I had signed up for a volunteer
military police (MP) program. I thought it was kind of neat. I would get away
from my regular job for a week as long as I was able to get the work done in the
evenings. I got to enjoy some police training and it was good training, take down
procedures, pepper spray, traffic control, etc. One day I was in a bit of a rush
and needed to talk to the Provost Marshall Office (PMO) Chief about something
before I had to get back to my regular job. I stepped up to the door of his office.
He was on the phone. It sounded like he was half discussing something work
related and half “BS”ing with his buddy. I caught his eye and he gestured me in.
I waited respectfully standing and looking around at the items in his office. It was
impressive. His office was just a plain room in an old worn down building but the
pictures and mementoes from his years in the service told a long story. The
combat action ribbon, Purple Heart, and Vietnam campaign medals in the
shadow box on the wall. The plaques from the various units he had been in and
a wooden sign sitting in the middle front of his desk. A sign that when you sat
down in the low chair right in front of his desk was almost exactly at eye level.
A sign which read:
“Lack of Planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on my part.”
It struck me as interesting and a bit philosophical at that moment. Then it
seemed just and true in a professional way and as the time lingered on, while I
waited for him to get off the phone, trapped in a chair so low that I felt as if I was
sitting in a hole and it was slowly sucking me in; I grew to resent and even hate
that sign and the arrogant expression etched upon it. Somewhere after a half an
hour waiting around I realized I could not wait any more and had to go. I made a
hesitant jester to leave and he motioned for me to say. Not wanting to offend
someone who was so much my senior and also my boss in at lest part of my
duties I stayed. Another twenty minutes went by before he finally got off the
phone. I asked him my ten second question and he basically said, “I don’t know.
I can’t help you. Have a nice day.” I thanked him for his time and then dashed
out the door not fully able to express my frustration and growing anger till I had
got to my truck and was now breaking multiple speed limits on the base to get to
my assigned duty station on time. I made it. Just barely, but I made it and was
happy, that I, a volunteer MP, didn’t get pulled over for speeding on base. I was
also pissed that I had wasted my time with him.
It’s not their problem. It’s your problem. Whatever it is. If you are in need
then are not in charge and have to wait.
Although tension and stress can be used to force and or excuse actions
and behavior it is never the preferred choice of situation. Emotions are wild
things and the impact of them on others and the response of others to them is
unpredictable. It is better to not let yourself get into a situation where you have to
use an emotional press in order to resolve a situation. Plan way in advance and
consider ever possibility and you will be better off. You will end up in control and
The Brutal Truth:
People don’t care. If you rely on others compassion for and or
understanding of your situation then you will be disappointed at best and a victim
is between you, God, and the IRS
“Integrity is doing what is right because it is right even when no one else is
I used to be a type of a scout leader for young boys. We had ceremonies,
did the classes for badges, and played games. We always tried to arrange time
in the schedule for outside activities. We would almost always play a game
called American Eagle as it took no planning or equipment and everyone got to
be involved. It was simple. Everyone would line up on one side of a field. One
person would stand in the middle of the field and call, “American Eagle.” At that
point everyone else would have five seconds to start to run to the other side of
the field trying to avoid the boy in the middle. The boy in the middle would try to
tag with two hands as many people as he could. Once tagged you stayed in the
middle and tried to tag the others on the next pass through. It would go on like
this, the boys in the middle calling American Eagle and the others moving from
one side to the other side of the field until there was only one boy left. He was
pronounced the American Eagle (Interesting to note that the boy standing alone
was the winner and called the American Eagle) and then would take his place in
the middle as everyone would line up on the side and the game would start over.
The boys ranged from about six to the mid teens. There were obvious
disparities in their abilities but we encourage the older boys to take it easy on the
younger. In order to make it fun for all. Inevitably, in the heat of the challenge
someone would accuse someone else of cheating.
“I got you!” the call would come out.
“No, you didn’t!” was the response.
“Yes, He did.” someone would validate the accusation.
The response would be, “You only got me with one hand.” and the
response would be validated by someone else.
Left alone the situation would develop into an argument with mean words
and possibly a fight. My role was to make sure this did not happen. Yet, I could
not be everywhere and see everything at the same time. My purpose was not
simply to control the boys but to teach them and instill a sense of value, of
honestly, and honor. After a few games, I began to start the games by going
over the rules, the boundaries, and the definition of integrity which I would have
them all repeat - Integrity is doing what is right because it is right even when no
one else is watching. I would then pronounce that we were running the game
based on Integrity.
Of course we would always have the attempt to tag and the accusation to
which I would respond, ‘Integrity.’ Most of the time either the accusation would
silence or the denial would dissolve as the tagged boy would turn to help tag
others. In some cases, the two boys involved would persist. I would call them
over inquire as to the situation and slowly walk through it. Most of the time this
would illuminate what had happened and again the situation would be resolved.
In the rare occasion that the two just could not let go… I would go over integrity
again. Stress the value of personal honor and respect over the possibility of
wining a single round of a simple game. If this did not work, which it did most of
the time, I would just send them back to play the next game, for by this time the
game would have ended and the two would have missed out.
On one such occasion I had a boy who just could not let go of his belief
that the other boy had cheated. I ended up pulling him aside to talk with him and
explain that he was not helping anyone with his behavior and that in fact he was
simply hurting himself. As the other boy was again playing the game while he
was standing there talking to me. The boy obstinately told me that he had
tagged the other boy and that the other guy was out. He said that it was not fair
and that the other boy had no integrity. To which I had to step up to a higher
sense of discussion and reality. I explained that the world was not fair. And it
was possible that he had tagged the other boy, I also said that it was possible
that he had missed him with at least one hand and that neither I nor anyone else
could say in all fairness which was true. In that case, the decision had to rely on
the conscious of the two boys. If neither could come to an agreement then they
would have to let go of the situation in order to continue playing in order for the
system to work.
He said, “I don’t like the system.”
I asked, “You would you like it better when the leaders stood around
regulating the game?”
He said, “No.”
I asked, “Why not?”
He said, “Because they often got it wrong and when there was a
disagreement they would end up canceling the game and go back inside.” (Note:
If you can’t control yourself someone else will.)
I said, “The point of integrity is that it can not be forced upon you, it by
definition, had to come from inside and that if you give it time the conscious will
usually work on the other kid. The next time the other kid will likely respond
He asked, “But what if he doesn’t?”
I said, “Then you just don’t play with him.”
I also said that I would pay more attention to the situation and to the other
kid next time (to see if there was a pattern of behavior, there wasn’t). This all
seemed to resolve the issue and satisfy the boy. It also took up all the time
remaining to play and he had missed out on the rest of the games that evening. I
followed up over the next couple of weeks. Individual incidents occurred every
time but none of the boys had a pattern of cheating. (Holding on to what
someone else does or taking how someone else is personally, if you can just
walk away, only hurts you)
You only hurt yourself if you dwell on problems with other people. It is
always good to stand up for yourself, your rights, and for what is right. It is also
good to know what battles are worth fighting and to pick the ones worth fighting.
A real calculation needs to be done with specific, complex, and important
situations but in general and for most situations the question to ask yourself is
simple, “How is this going to help me.” If the boys in the story who could not let
go forced the issue all the way until the other boy admitted his guilt and said,
“Yes, you did tag me and I am out.” How could he have known if the admission
was sincere? How would it have made either boy’s situation any better?
The Lesson to Learn:
You are not responsible for other people’s morality. You can not force
other people to obey your will, follow your rules, admit their sins, or believe the
way you do. Trying to do this will only waste your time and cause you hurt. You
have to let people come to their own understanding and if they don’t you either
accept it or have nothing to do with them.
The Brutal Truth:
There is a right and wrong in every situation. But our relationship to it is
an internal concept and can not be forced upon anyone. If someone can not see
the truth of a situation even after objective explanation then there is no point in
continuing to push the issue or let it affect you badly.
Life is Pain, Highness
I like the movie Princess Bride with Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. I saw it
in the theatre when it was first released and have enjoyed it on video ever since.
It’s full of clever witticisms and funny insights. Not to mention the fantasy of
kings and knights and pirates in a time of chivalry as well as a romantic side.
In the movie, a simple love story between a peasant girl and a farm boy,
through effort, tragedy, and circumstance the peasant girl becomes a princess,
the unwillingly betrothed bride to be of the evil prince and the farm boy becomes
the dread pirate Roberts whose legend for ruthlessness always preceded him.
By way of many eventful twists and turns in the plot the two find
themselves face to face on top of a hillside arguing. The princess unaware that
the pirate is actually the farm boy who she loves and believes that the pirate has
killed. She accuses him of all the pain he has caused to which he fiercely
replies, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling
It is a brutal, sudden wake up call to everyone living in a fictional world of
happiness. The truth almost always is such. It is true. Life is painful. You cry
when you enter it and hopefully, others cry when you leave it. Or more
accurately life is full of pain. Hopefully there are moments of pleasure mixed in
there from time to time but the bases of life is pain not pleasure. It might seem
wrong or sad or depressing but it is true.
Pain can be unbearable, in which case you crumble and go away. Pain
can also be a go thing. I know, you think I’m crazy. Pain is never good. Except
of course when you accidentally reach out and grab the handle to a hot pan. If
you felt no pain you could do some serious damage to your hand before you
noticed the smell of your burning flesh and let go of the handle.
My wife has always delayed taking pain medications until she could
identify to her satisfaction what was causing the pain. At first I chided her for this
but her explanation made sense and has been proven true. Pain is there for a
reason, it helps identify a problem. (Problems in the world) If you hide the
problem before you find its cause the problem will go uncorrected and could lead
to serious injury. For example, you have a pain in your side it hurts but you feel
fine otherwise. You take medication the pain goes away or more precisely it is
hidden. It comes back later as the medication wares off. You take more
medication it goes away again you repeat this cycle increasing the medication
dosage. Then one night you are awakened from sleep by the pain but the
medication does not help. The pain is so great you rush to the emergency room
where you discover that you appendix is abscessed and about to rupture. Pain
was the warning sign of a potential problem which of course you where trying to
ignore. (ignoring problems bad).
Years ago I had a saying drilled into my head. Pain is weakness leaving
the body. This is based upon that fact that it takes effort to improve and that the
expression of effort necessitates the burning of energy and the application of
friction both of which cause pain. The saying is most directly used when
speaking about a physical situation such as running or lifting weights. It hurts
when you first start running. Your lungs burn as you gasp for air, your muscle
ache the morning after your first work out but as time goes on and you continue
with these actives your body builds muscle mass and endurance which
compensates for the pain. The pain that you initially experienced seems to have
left you as your strength increases.
Similarly this can be applied to mental or emotional situations. When the
first astronauts went to the moon I have heard that they where awe struck by the
aloneness of the situation. It was almost paralyzing. In anticipation of this and
countless other possibilities, they went through months of intense training on top
of the years of experience they already had. The more prepared you are for a
situation the less painful it will be.
I grew up in a home where yelling was part of our family culture. My wife
grew up in a home where they did not yell. When we had our first yelling
argument it left her wiped out. When it was over I was back to normal as if
nothing had happened. I had been conditioned and prepared for it and she had
not. In any situation you can develop what is known in physical conditioning as
muscle memory. You can train yourself emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and
physically to react and respond in a certain, predictable way. In doing this you
can lessen the likelihood of weak dangerous behavior or delay in action due to
an unfamiliar situation. Training and experience can give you the edge to survive
All of this is true and applicable in life and particularly to work in a
capitalistic society but remember not to over reach with these concepts. I had a
professor who gave me the gem of knowledge that all analogies are false. He
went on to explain that a story can be helpful to illustrate a particular point or
aspect of something, but that no situation or person is exactly the same therefore
if you try to apply it as a blanket over everything it just won’t fit. This of course
brings me to the much over used saying, “That which does not kill us only make
us stronger.” No it doesn’t. It just weakens you so that the next thing that comes
along does kill you. This explains the concept of snapping or going postal.
To explain there is a clear difference between something that is tuff,
difficult, and or painful and something that truly has the potential to kill you. The
first group which we will call work, can truly but not necessarily lead to you
becoming stronger the second group I’ll call tragedy or trauma which you are
able for any reason to survive leaves you weakened and venerable. You can
work through your problems or you can suffer and fail.
It is tuff out there and you will have to work to get through. Work results in
pain. Pain comes in several forms some of which are beneficial some of which
are detrimental. Anyone who denies the necessary existence of pain is trying to
convince you of something that is not true. They are trying to sell you something;
an ideology, a belief, a program, a car, or a set of never dull steak knives. (Note I
always wanted to buy a set of Ginsu knives but we got two regular knife sets for
our wedding over a decade ago and they are still sharp and work fine)
The Lesson to Learn:
There are people out in the world who are trying to get you to believe, do,
and think the way they do. These people will do and say just about anything to
get you to follow along. You can avoid these people and the problems they will
bring to your life by being a bit skeptical and weighting everything against the
obvious truth. If the group down in Guyana had paused and thought, “Hey, why
do we all have to drink the cool aide again?” They would have been better off.
The Brutal Truth:
Life is filled with pain. You have to deal with it. So don’t go believing
some craziness to try to avoid it
A job worth doing is worth doing well
No it’s not. The point of a job is to get paid. That’s it. Everything else is
window dressing. Anything else is simply a means of making the job bearable in
order to continue to get paid. As long as you are getting paid then it doesn’t
matter if the job even gets done, let alone done well. In fact there are endless
jobs where attempting to do it well will end up making the position so unbearable
that you end up leaving in anger and frustration.
I spent most of my youth and early working life, working hard and trying to
be and do my best. I wanted to succeed and prove my worth without kissing up
to anyone. I believed that my uncompromising standards and attention to detail
would shine through in my works and I would be recognized and rewarded for my
efforts. No matter how long it would take, and in the end at least, I would be able
to be proud of the job I had done.
I admit this did serve me well for a period of time and I would consistently
rise to the upper bottom of any organization I joined. At first I felt pride and a
sense of accomplishment at having been promoted to lead this, head that, or
supervisor of whatever. Eventually, I realized that working hard gave me a step
up but that was it, a step. Hard work was not an elevator, an escalator, or even a
whole flight of stairs. Hard work was a step stool that could help you get your
nose above the water.
In time and with some resistance, I came to except the phrase work
smarter not harder. At first I took this to mean that you should figure a better way
to implement your efforts which lead me to the understanding that you need to
get an education. So I pushed myself through Jr. College to get an A.A. and then
transferred and got a B.A in eight years after four years in the Marines and 2
years of marriage. I thought that somehow school would magically make life
better. Finally, I followed this logic to its negative maximum; Try to figure a way
to get as much as possible with as little direct effort as possible. This can also be
known as the scheme or scam philosophy. In this mindset work and especially
hard work is a bad thing that only stupid people believe in. The logic of this is
obvious, when is the last time you saw bill gates or Donald trump picking up
garbage or wiping down a table. They manage things; they don’t really even
manage people they are so far removed from actual work that it is hard to say
that they do work. They just exist and the money comes into being. (Note: Being
out of touch does not equal better ideas.)
My ever evolving work ethic has made many transitions over the years
and the course of my work experience. Even as a child I had a good work ethic.
I wanted to do everything myself and earn whatever I got. As I grew and entered
the work force at a young age I developed the philosophy that hard work was
good for a man’s soul and that to get ahead you just had to work harder. I still
believe in this concept but as an internal motivation and not as a practical
application. In application, the philosophy of hard work results in hard work,
followed by more hard work, which leads to a lifetime of hard work. In effect hard
work is its own reward. Think about it for a minute. Does that mean, as most
would likely assume, that by working hard you develop a sense of pride of
accomplishment in your efforts or does it really mean that if you just work hard
you just get more hard work. That is until you get too old to work or become
disable in someway, then you are just cast off because you can no longer get the
job done. Kind of turns the saying on its side a bit doesn’t it.
What I have found is that most jobs are not worth doing in themselves. If
you were a fireman and rescued a baby from a burning building it would be worth
it but having to wash the truck or hang out a thousand feet of fire hose to dry, not
so much… and most of us are not firemen. Most of us perform tasks and
functions that are simply a piece of a larger activity who’s main goal is to produce
revenue and sadly enough to produce that revenue for someone else. The end
result of most of our labors is continued subsistence. Although most people do
not consciously know this, most people understand that it is true, that is why you
always hear in exasperation, “If I could just get ahead…” We spent a good
portion of our thought process trying to manufacture reasons and justify that we
are doing is important. We waste time decorating our activity with meaning in
order to defend our self esteem from the truth that what we do is not important,
that the sole purpose for it is provision, and that doing it alone will not enable us
to reach our goals.
“So what,” you say, “What do we do to solve this problem and make it
better?” “How do we get out of this delusional existence?”
1. Have no illusions. Recognizing there is a problem; realizing the truth of
something is the first step.
2. You have to be more dynamic in both your actions and especially in the
way you think of things.
3. Analyze your self, skills and abilities, and develop a concept of yourself
as a tradable commodity in the market place.
4. Break free of and resist the fear of being on your own. In doing these
things you will develop the possibility of failure. You will likely fail time and time
again but you also gain the possibility of having some real success. The type of
success that can enable you to reach some of those goals.
Image yourself standing still on a cement surface and jumping as high and
hard as you can to reach the edge of a 17 foot high basket ball hoop, (the ones in
the NBA are 10 foot) it would be an amazing feat for even the tallest NBA
players. This would be the scenario of you in your present job with your present
mindset. Now consider my suggestions as putting a large trampoline between
you and the cement. There not like a ladder that you can simply climb up and
reach your goals. You are going to have to jump and build up some momentum
and you are going to miss more often then not but every once in awhile you will
touch the rim.
If you delude your self with the misguided concept that what you do is
important then you will never be able to reach the goals that you dream about.
You have to risk in order to gain. If you want to succeed you have to try
and trying allows for the possibility of failure. It also provides for the opportunity
to succeed. So break loose and give it a try.
The Brutal Truth:
In order to succeed you have to get and stay focused on your goals you
have to define how and what you’re doing affects your goal. If what you’re doing
is simply a means to an end then view it that way and act accordingly. Be
objective about what your doing and why.
The Value of Your Opinion
I sat alone in my shared office, quietly listening to music on the computer
and contemplating the mysteries of life while I browsed the internet when the
door opened swiftly and slammed loudly behind my assistant as he stormed in.
Before I could even ask, he started into a tirade about the idiocy of the people we
worked for. He was upset because he had just left a meeting with the senior
managers of operations and IT as well as the company ownership in which he’s
opinions had been completely dismissed. He explained that they were going to
rearrange the server structure and purchase two new servers. He had taken
offence because he was the one who had designed the current structure and
spent hours if not days putting everything together. It worked and it worked the
way it should. The only problem was that the IT manager (his former boss) didn’t
like it. Truth be known, the IT manager didn’t completely understand it but it
didn’t matter. Senior management had made their decision and their decision
was to follow the IT manager’s opinion and not the opinion of the software intern.
He was pissed, partially because of the decision but mostly because of the way
they off handily dismissed his opinion. He said that he felt like a twelve year old
who was being sent to the kid table for Thanksgiving dinner. He said he almost
expected them to tell him to be quit because children should be seen and not
I couldn’t help myself, I laughed, it was funny. In a moment or two he had
to admit it was a funny picture but he was bitter about it. It was a perfect moment
for some sage-like wisdom and I just happened to have the precise jewel on
knowledge to offer.
I said, “The value of your opinion is based upon the amount you are paid
not the amount of knowledge or experience you have.”
This is why decisions are most often made by managers and executives
rather then technicians or functionaries. The corporate logic is simple. The
company pays Bill more money then John therefore Bill’s opinion is worth more
then John’s. He was pretty quick on the up take and got this one right away. He
was not happy to have heard it but he was better informed.
I said, “Of course there is a political component.” The IT manager was still hurt
from having been abandoned by his intern (my assistant) who was more
interested in software then networking. “And then there is perception to
consider,” I continued. You came into the company as an intern, their still paying
you like and intern, they still think of you as an intern (an underling). I added that
he was also twenty plus years younger then most of them and that didn’t help the
situation. I finished with the fact that they were paying him to develop software
now and not maintain a computer network. The business mindset is to
compartmentalize tasks into jobs. So if they are paying you to perform certain
tasks they expect that you should be the one to consult about those tasks. If not,
then the question arises, “Why are we paying this person to do this task?” At the
heart of the matter the issue remained the same, basic corporate understanding
is that the opinions of people who are paid more are better then the opinions of
people who are paid less. Yes, I know you are thinking No! there not. One
person’s opinion is not better then another. That sounds great in a utopian
socialist dream world but it’s just not true. In the real world some opinions are
just stupid. Opinions are only as good as the information and experience that
form them. The funny thing is that the accumulate mind of business rarely digs
that deep in thought on the subject. Owners and management generally believe
that if they pay someone more money then that person must have better
opinions. That’s why they are paying them more right? If not, then they are over
paying them. If they are overpaying then that means they made a mistake or are
getting taken advantage of. And of course that can’t be because they are the
owners and therefore must be smarter then everyone who works for them, right?
You can’t take it personal and let yourself get offended by how others in
an organization perceive you. You have to remember that outside of the smushy
interpersonal gobbledeegoop business is a cold calculated process. You and
your opinions are some sort of commodity or service. You are paid for the use of
that commodity or service. The value of the commodity or service (your
opinions) are relative to what they pay you. Keep in mind that if you are not
being paid for the use of your opinions then they have no value at all.
The Lesson to Learn:
The work place is a complex and comical environment. Ridiculous
decisions are made for obvious and abstract reasons that are often beyond
understanding but there is a reason behind each and everyone. In order to
successfully navigate the turbulent currents of business you have to remain
dispassionate and identify the underlying calculations that drive the decisions
The Brutal Truth:
The value of your opinion is based on the amount you are being paid.
It does not matter
When I was a kid I used to watch the Carol Burnett show with Tim Conway
and Harvey Kormen. It was funny and slapstick and as I got older I realized it
was full of wisdom. One of my favorite skits was with Tim Conway as a drunken
preacher. A 1970’s televangelist complete with a powder blue polyester suit. He
gets up to the podium and starts his preaching and says, “My friends it just don’t
matter.” In fact the more he drank and the longer he preached the less it did
matter. And I have to say the funnier the scene got.
What you are doing does not matter. You don’t have to do it. It does not
have to get done. You are not the only one who can get it done. In the long and
circuitous path that my work experience has followed I have worked numerous
low end administrative jobs and have also held several upscale technical
positions. One common denominator has existed between them all; someone
else could do the same job. There is always someone else out there willing and
able to do your job and often for less. Now, don’t go and get scared that is what
management wants you to do. A healthy fear of job loss is a great way to
maintain employees and increase productivity. People who are afraid of losing
their job don’t ask for raises or time off and they don’t complain about extra work
being piled on them.
An interesting, although less recognized, component to this situation is
that when there are more people in your job field it is because there are more
jobs out there that your skills could be used to fill. Although there is a delay for
training workers tend to adjust their skill sets to fill demands in the market place
in order to make money. This is a situation that management does not like to
highlight but if you can get over your fear and let go of your sense of gratitude for
the job. You might begin to realize that you are a marketable commodity and not
beholden to any particular company or any particular position. You have to look
objectively at your skills and abilities and organize them into a sellable product. If
you can do that you don’t even have to do your job. You can do any combination
of tasks that your skills can accomplish. Therefore you can do any job that
contains those tasks. Even if you have not done that job before or you don’t
have experience with everything contained within a position. If you can do
maybe 60 percent of the job description then you have a good chance to
succeed. You can look at the other forty percent as room to grow. Remember
that in a capitalistic economy success is most often proportional to risk. In the
end, for most tasks in most positions their completion is meaningless and
unnecessary. This is true even in the actual functioning of a companies business
but primarily true in a grander scheme and in relation to you personally. If the
trash does not get taken out this week or the towels in the restroom are no
replaced the world will not end. If the paperwork on your desk is not filed or the
report you normally pull on Thursdays does not get pulled till Monday the
company will survive. And the development project that you’ve been working on
for three months and has already been pushed back twice can be pushed back
again without causing time to stop and the earth to shift its orbit. The point is that
the pressure you feel about most tasks in the work environment and the work
environment itself is artificial and adjustable. To make matters worse the
function of most companies what they do and or what they provide is usually not
important either. If your company went out of business and the world no longer
had a supply of rubber doggy dodo so what. If there is a great demand for it
another company will start up and produce rubber doggy dodo. (Because the
purpose of a company is to make money they do this by providing the good or
service. There is not a lofty purpose to most companies) but for you it will not
matter because you have skills and are marketable and will find a new job with a
new company. This is why it just doesn’t matter because they can come and go
and so can you.
Most companies do not server a higher purpose and so you do not have a
higher purpose. The tasks that you perform are no more important then making
your bed in the morning. It makes the room look nice but you’re going to mess it
up again at night and have to make it again the next morning. And if you don’t
someone else will or it just won’t matter.
The Lesson to Learn:
You are not valuable because of what you do in a company. You are
valuable because of your skill set. Your skill set is portable you can take it to any
other company and be just as effective so don’t let yourself get locked into a
single job, company, or career.
The Brutal Truth:
Is that the functioning of most companies and as follows the activities of all
of its employees has no purpose other then to make money.
It’s a Small World
The other day I got an email from a former co-worker asking for me to
provide a work reference to a recruiter. I of course was delighted to; feeling the
way I do about references. Although it was not the most accurate portrayal of the
situation, I could have been considered his supervisor for at least a portion of his
duties. Besides neither of us still worked for the company. Our former boss did
not work for that company. In fact, no one who still worked there would have had
any clue who either of us were. It was not that it was so long ago. It was just
that the turn over was so fast that it was like having the lifespan of a fly which
was actually good seeing how working there was like buzzing around a pile of
crap all day. In any case, I liked the guy and so I made every effort to get back in
touch with the recruiter once she had left a message with me.
When we did make contact, it was a very pleasant conversation. I had
nothing but good things to say about my friend and she was happy to hear
nothing but good things about him. You see, she was a staffing recruiter. Her
income was based on getting other people to work. She had identified him as
someone who could fill the job that she had available which meant she could
make more money. After talking with him she was simply following the rules to
check his references. She was covering her backside just in case it turned out
he was incompetent or insane. She most likely would not have cared if he was
as long as it did not come back to hurt her or cost her money.
In just a few sentences, I confirmed that he was both normal and capable.
At that point she didn’t really care to go deeper into his back ground or abilities.
She had perceived that I had some understanding of the company we had
worked for and she had been dealing with several former employees from there
as well as trying to place new people there. So she asked me how it was there;
what was the turn over, which she already knew; why was the turnover so high;
tell me about the management; do you know this person or that. At that final
question, I stopped and smiled… you see she was now asking me about other
people to verify if what she had heard or suspected was true and the best way to
confirm that type of information was to get it in a round about way from an
In other words if you really want the truth don’t start out by asking
someone involved in a situation straight out. Go to people who where related to
the situation but not involved. Find as many people as possible who were
informed but not involved. The ones who don’t have an interest in presenting the
situation a certain way. Then you will have the truth. So now, having almost
forgotten about the guy she called about, we had a long detailed conversation
about the company, the management and oddly enough my former boss.
It seemed that he had been let go and she had been working with him to
find a new position. She shared where he was working and that he was doing
OK. She also shared that it appeared he had a history of being fired and
wondered why that might be. This was the real meat of our conversation and
was what she likely had been wanting but until we had connected she had no
where to gather the information. It’s why she was likely successful in her job as a
recruiter and why towards the end of our conversation her offer to help me find
something, if I was ever looking was more genuine and sincere. It sounded more
like an offer of payback then marketing future business. It was like thanks for
helping me out if you ever need anything, I’ll take care of you. (I left in a way that
I would never have put that boss down as a reference. I didn’t trust him. He had
proven to be mean and self serving.) That’s how I ended up being a reference
for my former boss.
So what is the point?
It is a small world after all… and I mean a very small world. This story is,
as are the rest of them in this book, real and a close paraphrase of the
conversation. From the time I worked for that company to the time of my
conversation with the recruiter was under a year. I was not only with another
company but I was in another state. You understand that my reference for my
friend was simple networking. We had kept in touch and helped each other out.
It was expected. That is not what makes the world small. What makes the world
small is the conversation about my former boss. A simple unexpected
connection and a conversation. I said good things about my former boss and
tried to explain away some of the recruiters apparent concerns even if I agreed
with them. However, if I were someone else, I could have used that moment to
extract revenge upon him for any grief’s I still held. A few well placed negative
comments during that informal, unexpected conversation and his job search with
that recruiter and her company would have been done and he would have never
The Lesson to Learn:
Be careful with your interactions with people, mindful of their lingering
effects, and conscious of potential connections. Unless you live in a cave near
the center of the earth, it is impossible to avoid potential links in your life and in
truth you don’t want to. The process of building interconnected and supporting
networks to pull from is a valuable effort. However, networking is not always
positive or planned. It only takes a single bad contact to permanently ruin
months of positive effort.
The Brutal Truth:
You don’t live in a bubble and you can’t run away from your past. So
when you least expect it, expect it.
It’s Just Business
Several years ago my brother decided to take his carpentry skills and go
into business for himself. He spent many hours, days, weeks working on plans
and trying out patterns to make Adirondack furniture and later custom cabinets.
He had spent years as an employee in various jobs and had never had much
interest in running his own business. He had simply enjoyed a paycheck and no
responsibility for the functioning of a business.
When he started, his focus was on the product; what it should be, what it
should be made of, and how it should be made. After weeks of trail and error
with the design, and experimenting with different types of wood and hardware, he
developed a quality product he was proud. He called upon our sister to help
market the pieces to specialty shops. It was received well. From the beginning
however he was bothered by requests to alter or customize his products. He
would do it begrudgingly when necessary but preferred not to. One popular
customization was distressing. He would have to take his newly created furniture
and scratch and scrape and mark it up with bolts and nails and etc. It was
difficult because he was proud of his work and had put much of his self into it.
He was constantly working to improve the process in order to cut costs
and increase sales. In time he was able to lower his costs and pass the saving
on to his customers in the hope that the lower costs would increase the volume
of sales. He felt he could keep up a higher production on a lower margin and
make a greater profit. The problem was that his resellers had no interest in
passing the savings on to their customers. He had started selling the chairs
between 175 and 200 a set. They were being retailed at 300 to 400 a set. After
much work he was able to sell them for 150 and in some cases 125 a set. A
couple of weeks into it sales had not picked up and he could not understand why.
He went to investigate and realized that his retailers did not pass the saving on to
the end customers.
In frustration he confronted one of his retailers and explained the purpose
of the discount and his mindset to increase sales. The retailer said that they
were selling fine and that she saw no reason to lower her prices. He said, but if
you don’t lower your prices and increase sales then I am just loosing money to
you for nothing. It was not fair. To which she replied, “It’s not personal, it’s just
My brother was pissed to say the least. He said he would raise his price
back to where it had been. The retailer then said she would just not buy any
more and even alluded to someone else who might supply her. In a feat of great
calm my brother went home with his business relationship still intact and an order
for several more sets. He was calm at the store but railed up and down all the
way home and for several days there after… I’m being screwed he would angrily
repeat to himself.
My brother had also gotten into the habit of repairing broken or damaged
products for free. He had never really offered this and defiantly never agreed to
it as part of his business dealings. He was just a nice guy who stood behind his
product and wanted everything to stay happy. Some of his retailers began to
take advantage of this and would press upon him to repair items that had been
jumped on and broken, merely scratched, or the end customer decide they didn’t
like the color. At some point he was losing more money on the repairs then he
was making on the sale. One retailer was particularly troublesome with her
repair demands, the one that had so frustrated him previously had called to have
him come pick up a chair to be repair. When he arrived he was presented with a
stack of splintered wood and a few metal pieces. He was astounded. The chairs
were completely destroyed. It was not a repair it was simply make me a new set
for free. He would likely have done it but he had to ask what had happened. His
product could not have failed in such a manner. The retailer related the story
from the end customer that the chairs had been in the front driveway and they
had been ran over by the owner’s truck. My brother was struck. He said I can’t
repair them. He could replace them and he might do it for 100. The retailer said
she didn’t want them replaced just repaired because she didn’t want to pay. He
said she was crazy. There was no way to repair them. She said that she had
told her customer that she would have them repaired. To which my brother
offered her a bottle of Elmer’s wood glue. She was pissed. She railed at my
brother right there in the store trying to embarrass him. He was stunned by her
craziness. She accused him of being mean and unfeeling and trying to screw
her over. She said it was going to cost her personally. How could he do this to
her after all she had done for him. My brother was calm and in a moment of
perfect clarity and peace he simply replied, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just
People will do, see and believe what they like in order to get heir nut
around it, to get their way, and still think of themselves in a positive light. They
can and will ignore reality and common sense. They will make up what ever they
have to excuse and or justify their actions. The biggest lie that inhabits the
marketplace is, “It’s just business.” As if those words can magically clean bad,
selfish, or harmful behavior. It is a saying that focuses completely on the aim
and singular results and completely ignores the effects of the actions take. It
denies any sense of accountability and responsibility. It is in effect a statement
of saying, I am doing bad things I don’t care what there effect is on anyone else
and I don’t want to feel bad about it. The humorous aspect to it is that it works
both ways. The sun does not shine on the same dogs tail forever and eventually
you will be on the receiving end of the just business statement. How you
respond and deal with it will demonstrate who you truly are.
The Lesson to Learn:
All business is personal. Business is nothing more then the interactions of
individuals in order to conduct trades of goods and service. It is how we deal
with the “this for that” concept. It is by definition, by design, and by nature
personal. So when you do something cold hearted in order to gain something,
you have made a personal assault. In doing so you need to weigh whether it is
worth it in a complete sense. It might make you a few extra pennies now but cost
you a customer. The net effect might not be worth the gain.
The Brutal Truth:
Everyone is looking out for themselves it is part of life, it is part of
business. It’s called survival. However no action no matter how small goes
without effect. In order to develop longevity you must consider both the broader
and more subtle effects of each action you take.
Beware of employers bearing gifts
In 1184 BC a combined force of a hundred thousand Greeks beseeched
the Ionian city of Troy under the auspices of saving Helen, the captured wife of
king Menelaus, and for the actual purpose of conquering their competition. After
months of effort and loss, the disconnected armies of the Greek coalition began
to squabble amongst themselves and pull apart. Their leaders realized that they
were not making progress and their workers were beginning to seek self interest
so they devised a new plan. Since they could not defeat their advisory through
outright force of arms (Troy was a massive fortress) they would do it through
trickery. They would also provide this new plan around which their disaffected
workers could rally.
They spent days building a large wooden horse, with a hidden
compartment inside big enough to fit several men. They offered this prize up as
a tribute to the Gods and a token to the Trojans. The Greeks then got in their
ships and sailed out to sea and out of sight. Seeing what was an obvious sign of
victory and without any Greeks visible. The Trojans opened the gates of their
impregnable city and brought in the horse. That night they celebrated their
victory with wine and song. Then as they sleep the Greeks inside the horse
slipped out killed the guards and opened the gates for the rest of the waiting
Greeks who had simply sail off over the horizon out of sight and back. Troy was
This story if often told and for good reason. The lessons contained within
are timeless. Don’t take things at face value. Be skeptical. A currently more
popular and politically correct version of this might be, “Trust but verify.”
I am a student of history and I had to tell this story because in my
experience it applies to the work environment as much if not more intently then it
does obviously to a battle field. It’s been said, “In the modern era wars are
fought in the market place and in the economy and that physical conflict is just
the visible sign of the invisible war.”
As a consultant, over the years, I’ve been in a lot of different offices and
you can almost always find food. In fact, I used to joke about not having to eat
outside of work in order to survive. From bagels to doughnuts, birthday sheet
cake from Costco (also known as cardboard) to pies from Marie Calendars; there
is always food. Food is brought in for long meetings and company events, late
nights and early mornings. At the very least there is a jar of candy on someone’s
desk somewhere. And food is just the start, it is simple and obvious. How about
a free stress ball, or logo pen, or coffee cup, maybe tickets to a game that the
company had bought for the big guys up stairs but since their not using them you
can have them. Or maybe something less direct, like letting you go a little early
without taking it off your time card or even giving you some slack when you don’t
want to go to a meeting because you’re not prepared.
There is a give and take that develops when you engage in these things
that is subtle at first but it grows and becomes binding like the sticky web of a
spider to a fly. OK, in most cases the offering of what might be compared to
medieval indulgences does not have a sinister motive but that is not the point you
see when you take or even just receive such things no matter how small you
become indebted for them not matter how little. Little things build up. A pattern
of, I helped you now you own me develops. Even if you don’t recognize it or
think it, the other person; the company does. You will often develop a sense,
sometimes unconscious, of obligation. You think they have been nice to me and
or done this or that for me I owe them and I should do this or that for them even
though I’m not getting paid for it: it would not be in my best interest, I’ll go out of
my way and make the extra effort. Here is the end of the trap. At this point you
are the fly stuck in the web and the spider is coming to feed on you. A work
relationship is a contract based on a stated trade off of time and effort for
compensation. When they start offering you things outside of that contract they
want something from you but it is not stated. It is the gray, smushy area of
employer relations that blurs the lines and evokes emotional connections that,
when as undoubtedly they will be severed, causes pain and resentment and in
the worse case scenarios, a crazy man walking through an office with an assault
weapon evening scores and venting aggression.
Nothing comes for free not even good feelings. When you are offered
something be skeptical and think what is this going to cost me. I am not saying
don’t have a doughnut but be aware that just because you are not handing cash
across a counter does not mean you are not paying for it.
When you don’t pay attention you end up in situations that you did not
The Brutal Truth:
Employers don’t do anything without a reason. They give, do, or allow
whatever in order to get what they want and or need. It is the bases for the
There is no such thing as permanent employment
It was a soft day in Huntington Beach as it was most days. Sunny and 73
with a gentle breeze blowing the sweat smell of the ocean across the parking lot.
My cohort and I had taken a moment to get outside and plan our next steps in
world conquest. We lingered under the sprawling eucalyptus trees and drank
coffee. Enjoying some of the ease that comes with white collar technology jobs.
That is until we noticed a group of people coming out of the back of the building
behind ours. A look of mourning was upon them as they trudged from the back
of one building across a short parking lot and into the next building. No one was
smiling, laughing, or joking as is normal during a fire drill or company function. In
fact my friend pointed out hardly anyone was even speaking. The sky seemed to
have suddenly darkened with clouds. An overwhelming sense of gloom and
dread filled the air as they formed a line between the two buildings. The line
seemed to go on for quit awhile before the last had made the journey inside.
Quit lingered for a moment and then the sun returned and was followed by the
sound of birds in the trees nearby.
What do you think that was all about my friend asked? I looked at him and
said their being fired. He looked puzzled and said no. How do you know that? I
said just look at them. That was the death march of unemployment. You could
almost smell the fear. In moments there would be tears, and anger, and stories
of how well they were doing, how they didn’t need this job, how they were about
to quit anyway and of their bigger plans. All of which was crap to try to cover the
fact that they had been caught off guard and where going to be very desperate
My friend who was younger and less experienced then I had never really
been through a lay off and had never been let go. He was young. He was naive.
In return to his doubts of my observations, I recounted the several experiences at
a few companies where lay offs had occurred 500 here 1300 there. Even more
poignant were the small companies of a couple a hundred that let go 15 or
twenty. In a big company, I said you could get lost. No one really new your
situation. You could feel a part of something bigger. It was not personal (“it was
just business”). A lot of people where being laid off. You could think it was a
bureaucratic mistake and blame it on corporate policy and greed. In a small
company everyone new you where being let go. It was personal. Someone you
knew decided you were gone and your family was without provision. He shook
his head partially to acknowledge the sadness of it and partially as if he didn’t
really understand or didn’t believe me. The next day while I was driving into work
and listening to the radio news. I heard the story that a major internet service
provider had filed for bankruptcy and had just laid off the 500 employee at their
site in Huntington Beach. It was a bit sad but that is how it works. That company
was not doing well and was doing whatever it could to stay afloat. What was
even more sad was that a few months later the company closed its doors and
went out of business.
You might think that the employees being fired were more sad, they had
families. I do admit it is tuff but the difference is that when they were fired they
were put into a desperate situation that they would have to adjust to and find
other means of support… most would. The company on the other would not and
when it closed its doors it also closed the doors on the possibility that it would
continue to employee other families. There was no longer a chance for more
jobs. The job market in Huntington Beach and in Orange County had just shrunk
by at least 500 and was not going to grow back soon. It was a precursor to the
dot com bubble burst. Here is an analogy: Image the job market as an orange
tree, the branches are employers and the fruit are employees. If the tree is
healthy it produces many strong branches on which fruit can grow. Flowers
bloom on the branches. Fruit will develop and ripen. The fruit will either get
picked and used elsewhere or it will fall off the branch. Off the branch anything
can happen. The fruit could be eaten by animals as part of a larger system, it
can decay and feed the tree, or its seeds can produce new trees. As long as the
branch is strong it will continue to produce fruit. The branch gets sick or is cut off
not only will the fruit on the branch die but it will no longer produce fruit. If there
will be less fruit available from the tree as a whole. If the tree is healthy it will
produce new branches but if too many branches are cut off the tree will go into
shock and die.
The effects of being fired are tough on an individual but they are limited
and in a healthy market there will always be another opportunity. The effects of a
company closing are more wide spread and can weaken the market as a whole.
Right now we are seeing this first hand as we struggle through a recession. The
question is not if people will be fired but will they have a new place to go. Will
there be another opportunity for them. In the grand scope the question is
magnified to ask will the market, the economy, the system be able to recover.
How many branches can you cut off the tree before it dies?
In terms of this analogy you have to see yourself as and realize that you
are the fruit or more accurately the seed in the fruit. You are one of many similar
to you. You will come and go from branch, to box, to store or floor. The purpose
of a seed is not to stay on a single tree for ever. In order to survive the seed
must grow and in order to grow it has to move on.
Nothing is forever in the working world. People change and so does the
market and your job. You are just one of many and as vital as you may be you
can be replaced.
The Lesson to Learn:
The market is ever changing and your place in it is based on how well you
can adapt to that change. By necessity you will transition from one job to
another. The sooner and more you embrace it the better off you will be.
The Brutal Truth:
There is no such thing as permanent employment. You will change jobs.
The secret is to make it work for you. Instead of holding on to what will
eventually go away start looking for and adapting to change. Beware that your
job is temporary, make the most of it and be prepared to move on.
You are not your job
I remember sitting in a small office in a battered old building built in the
1940’s shortly after the Marines first arrived at Camp Pendleton. It was as well
preserved as could be for having been in continual use for over sixty years. The
evidence of the ever changing occupation was clear. Multiple layers of quickly
applied paint. Bumps and cracks in the walls, floors, and ceilings from the
removal and relocation of interior walls. The offices were always well maintained
and clean but over time the buildings themselves took on an aged personality.
There was a settledness about them. Under the scent of fresh brewed, all be it
low cost, coffee, lingered a soft musty smell from the wood that had seen too
many rainy winters. There was the sound of keyboards being tapped, orders
being issued, and rap or country music playing low in the background. It was
always busy in this building, Marines preparing to go or returning from
somewhere far away, but in the warm late afternoons, the work seemed to find
and settle in to its pace and a lazy comfort in the familiar exercise of the day
enveloped everything and everyone. These where the times when you could
image yourself staying here forever. Becoming a lifer. Making it to retirement
when either age or apathy force you to leave.
Sitting there in a broken down office chair that was remarkably
comfortable. Talking about, but mostly listening to, everyone’s plans for the days
and the weeks ahead with a small group of fellow Marines. Our XO came in and
joined the conversation. He was a Major and we where all enlisted; mostly
Sergeants and corporals with a lance here and there. We all worked on a
Generals staff so Majors and Colonels were like leaves on a tree, you noticed
them but focused on the tree. The Major was older by Marine standards, early
forties. He had joined right out of college and was now on the edge of
retirement. Within six months he would be referred to as Jim or Bob or Bill
instead of sir. He had one job his whole life to this point. It was admittedly an all
consuming job. One that was design to conform you, to format you like a
computer hard drive, to perform the functions for which you had been purchased.
On top of that it was a job that was esteemed by most and embodied a sense of
fraternity like no other. He was a Marine.
With all this it was no wonder the even as he spoke of how great it was
going to be, to be out, how he was set with a good retirement; how he had his
dream place already picked out and the big plans he had in store, that behind it
all was a palatable sense of fear. A fear that was almost unknown to most in that
room. Many of whom were to young to have had enough experience to notice it
and the rest having spent most of there time in the service though less then the
major so they wouldn’t understand it if they did notice it.
I was a reservist at the time, having rejoined the Corps after five years in
the civilian world. I had already gone through three career fields and numerous
jobs. I had settled into contracting and project work and was used to being
somewhere different every other month. The money had been good but it had
taken a few years to really get used to a life style that was ever changing. It was
like going to a different school every couple of weeks. The uncertainness when
you arrive. The disconnected feelings. Having to get to know and fit into a new
system. After awhile I had developed confidence in myself and ability to adapt to
new situations. I realized that what I did to earn money and provide for my
family; that was just what I did, not who I was and it made little difference where I
did it. For the companies I worked at where like flavors of ice cream, each had a
different accident and color but they were all cold and sweet.
I saw the look of concern on the major’s face that day. I could here a
tremble in his words and the trepidation in his speech. He was not afraid of the
civilian world. Bullets still bounced off of him. He was afraid of losing himself,
though I doubt he realized it concisely. In a few months, he would have to turn in
his super suite and then who would he be?
If you have never been in the service and especially the Marine Corps this
may seem strange to you. It might seem something distant that you could see
for the military but that is not a world you are a part of and don’t see yourself
joining. But don’t count it out so quickly. I have worked in a lot of different
companies in many different industries; public, private, corporate, federal
contractors, government and the fact remains consistent, that people define
themselves by what they do and where they do it. It is human nature to try to
identify ourselves. To define and thus added purpose to our existence. It is only
natural that you would start with the places and things that consume the largest
parts of your days and efforts. You are likely to spend at least eight hours at
work nine with lunch then the drive to and from is another hour plus getting ready
for and unwinding from work. And there is no one I have ever met who can and
has truly separated themselves from work mentally or emotionally when they
walk out he door. That’s about half of your normal day. Taking out weekends,
vacations, and periods of school, or unemployment. Your job is likely a good third
of your life.
The overwhelming pull is to take that into account and make that the base
of how you define yourself; of who you are. But it is a trap. It will draw you in
and can spit you out. You go to school and train and think I’m going be a lawyer,
doctor, police officer, contractor, engineer, teacher or you start a job and think I’m
a clerk, attendant, waiter, and employee. It doesn’t matter what job you do, who
you do it for, or where you do it. It is just a job. You will likely quit, be fired, get
laid off and have to search for a new job, move to a different location, go back to
school, or change careers. And in doing so there will be many and varied effects
on you, your family, your friends and your psyche. The trick is to define yourself
with things that are less portable and transitional. Things like your family, or
friends you have had and keep out side of work or things you do and enjoy Faith,
Reading, sports. You want to define yourself with things you choose and that
can not be taken away by someone else.
You are not your job. You are not your career. You are not anything you
do. At least I hope you are not for when you stop doing it and at some point you
will stop doing it. Then you are nothing.
Work is a part of your life and will be a part of your self identification but it
should be a minimal part as it is not permanent and it is not within your control. If
you allow yourself to be defined by what you do then you are setting yourself up
for failure. The more connected you are to your job the more resistant to change
you will be. The more valuable the job is to you the more you will put up with to
keep it. In the end if you define yourself by your job then keeping the job at all
cost becomes the goal and you defeat the purpose of the job to simply make
money and provide while you work toward your goals.
The Lesson to Learn:
Defining yourself by what you do for a living makes it difficult to adjust and
adapt to an ever changing market place. It lessens your ability to negotiate and
improve your situation. You loose control and are at the mercy of your employer.
And remember companies don’t have feelings.
The Brutal Truth:
If you define yourself by your job then at some point in your life you will be
In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, The king of Scotland, Hamlet’s father
is killed by his brother and his wife in order to take over the kingdom. After which
the two marry and encourage Hamlet to get over his melancholy feelings for the
loss of his father. However Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father and is told
of the evil actions of his uncle and mother. Hamlet seeks revenge for the murder
of his father and to expose his family’s treasonous betrayal. Hamlet arranges a
play to be performed at court for the entertainment of his mother and uncle. In
the play, an old king is murdered by his brother and wife mimicking the real life
events. The acting is overt and shallow. The wife in the staged play cries and
calls in an audacious mourning over the loss of her slain husband. While
watching and in response to this display, Hamlet’s mother chides the actress for
her display and states, “Lady thou doest protest too much methinks.” Not
realizing that the play is a trap setting her and her new husband up to be
accused and proven to have done exactly what the characters in the play have
done. Queen Gertrude unwittingly indicts herself with her indict of the charters in
the play. It was simply bad acting on all accounts.
I had started a new six month contract with a government department and
after just a few days I had already wanted to quit. It was a small team of only
about 10 so the work environment was going to be close and interpersonal. I
had been brought in as a senior SQL developer with the purpose of taking some
of the load off and adding a more logical structure to the database of a custom
web application. From the beginning, I ran contrary to the lead GUI developer.
Outside of stinking, and having an unpleasant physical presence, she was overly
dominant in her personality to the point of being obnoxious. Combining that with
her relative lack of experience in the work place as a programmer she presented
an unnecessary challenge to the contract. I had all but made up my mind to quit
the contract at the end of the first week. It was a struggle to come in the
following Monday as I debated the pro’s and con’s of quitting without another
contract lined up. The money might be a concern, I thought, but no amount of
money would be worth the torture of having to deal with her on a daily basis for
six months. Arriving late that morning, I ran into the project manager, ostensibly
my boss, coming out of the front doors of the building as I was walking up. He
looked at his watch and made a comment about it being nice to have banker’s
hours. I responded with an issue of traffic and he said, “It was ok, he didn’t care
anyway as he was not on the project any more.”
It caught me off guard and saddened me a bit. I was thinking this would
be a perfect time to express my issues about the lead developer and the project
as a whole and to present my thoughts about leaving. I had noticed a nervous
frustration in his manner as he had come out of the building and I realized he
was out but not in a happy way or by his own design. I took the opportunity to ply
him for information. The reason on the surface was that the project funding was
tight and they could no longer afford him. He filled in the story of how he had
been bumping head with the lead GUI developer and how she and the
operational manager had buddied up to press him out. I took the moment to vent
my frustration of her as he would be a sympathetic ear. He agreement with all of
my grievances and sarcastically wished me well with the project.
I left him outside to deal with his grief and I went inside. I dropped off my
stuff in my cube and went for coffee. Along the way I passed the lead GUI
developer who was anxiously looking for the development manager the overall
boss as I filled my cup I heard her talking to him about the decision to drop the
project manager. It was obvious she was not only aware of the situation but
instrumental in its coming about. Later that morning the team gathered for the
regularly scheduled meeting but this time the development manager was there.
After the normal wait for everyone to arrive and get settled. The development
manager timidly announced that the project manager was no longer on the
project. The reaction from the team was the most telling. The operations
manager had no real reaction it was, yep… he is out. We made the choice.
Most of the team was caught off guard and responded with that unpleasant
silence that follows bad news that you would like to acknowledge as such but by
doing so you might jeopardize your own position with management. However,
the lead developer’s response was the most amazing to watch as the
development manager began to talk she dropped her normal blusterous pose
and looked intently interested with every word he would say. It was almost like
the look a dog gets when you are talking to it and it cocks its head a bit to the
side. Intently connected but with absolutely no understanding or real interest.
Then just prior to the words coming out of the development manager’s mouth.
She flew back in her seat, raising her hands in the air with a motion of gestures
that overtly conveyed a sense of both what?, what’s going on? and oh dear God
why? Then fallings forward again leaning on the table she immediately
developed a look of baffled confusion and contemplation that would express to
everyone that she had no idea what was happening or why. It was a truly well
thought out performance which did its job and cleared her of any suspicion of
involvement or wrong doing. That is of course, if I had not already known that
she knew and was at the heart of the decision. It lead me to ponder why she
would go through such an elaborate ruse. Most of the team was too busy trying
to avoid eye contact with the project manager or management to really notice her
and if they did notice her they were too busy wondering about their own security
to care how she would respond. No, the real reason was all too simple… it was
guilt. It was fear of reproach from the other members of the team. She wanted
to be able to get her way, get ride of him, and still be thought of as a good
If the actions of a person, reactions to a situation, or behavior of those
involved does not fit the normal bounds of a situation then there must be
something a miss or at least going unsaid. If it smells fishy or seems out of the
ordinary it usually is. To coin a phrase, “If it don’t fit you can’t acquit.”
The Lesson to Learn:
With intense study and concentration you can discern with some certainty
the specific motivation of most people but it would be a waste of time. For the
more likely answer is usually correct and will suffice for the vast majority of
situations. When it comes to peoples interactions and there expressions know
that we are all actors on a stage whether we recognize it as a show or not.
Some people are more conscious of it and some people go out of there way to
portrait themselves in a certain light. In all cases there is a motivation behind the
behavior. And behavior is the window to a person’s intention.
The Brutal Truth:
You can’t trust that how someone is acting is how they truly feel. It is
acting after all.
The Best Time
I was working as a customer service rep for a large electronics parts
manufacturer. I spent my days in a half cubical across from my supervisor in the
middle of a large open room with no windows. It was my first real long term
position in corporate America. I was making more money then I ever had and for
the first time in my life I could actually feel my youth being drained from me. I
spent eight hours a day on the phone with sales reps on the east cost and in
front of a computer arranging the minute financial and logistic details of business
to business sales transactions. I spent eight hours a day surrounded by five
bitter, self deceived, man hating, middle aged women as the only male in the
I had stumbled upon the job as a temporary position through a staffing
company. General customer service and administrative skills, knowledge of
logistics, and some advanced computing skills were the details of the job request
that I answered. All of which and more I had but what I didn’t have was any
understanding of the existence that the position would require. The politics, the
interpersonal interactions, the unpleasant details of others lives and their
responses to them. The job which I had lobbied to get and make permanent
required an involvement and commitment of my very essence that I could not
begin to contemplate at that stage in my life and work experience. It was, as I
would later understand, the quintessential example of and basis for the jokes
about corporate America; for movies like “Office Space” and the sad stories of
people devoting their lives to getting ahead and providing for their family while
they waited to enjoy life and make it big only to find themselves at retirement age
no better off then when they had started. Just older with a mortgage payment
and teen age children they didn’t know and didn’t really care for. They became
self pitying, self centered, unhappy people wondering where there life had gone
all the while pretending to be both young and happy.
After a few months there and many hard learned lessons, I knew I could
not let myself slip into this comfortable misery. A situation that would put me into
a mental stasis as my life moved forward at warp speed till I landed somewhere
past middle age and woke up in a confused delirium. I had to get out and I had
to do it now, before the sleeping gas took effect. I decide, unbeknownst to my
employer and co-workers, to find a new job. I began a determined, systematic
campaign to take advantage of any and every work opportunity that I could find.
Every evening I would good through two news paper and list any job I might
possibly be able to fill no matter how far a stretch. I would mail resumes (yes
mail before it was snail mail it was just called mail – oh but even that is old
terminology we have shortened it to smail. Which together, I just notice could be
pronounce smell. It makes sense as the service now coast more then cents and
stinks but I digress) to various employers. I would fax my perfectly crafted
resume. Each line having been painstakingly shaped to convey that exact
meaning needed to get the interview. I had become an expert in resumes that
worked. Even though they weren’t working. I began by sending out one or two a
day and after three weeks I was faxing 25 to 50 a day covering every advertised
job within a hundred miles of my home. I would apply to any position. Sure I
could be a marine biologist or paralegal or diesel mechanic. My uncle always
said I could do anything. I spent hours just trying to get an interview. They
eventually came in and I realized how difficult and time consuming the interview
process was. I would have to dress up in a suit which I had in the car because I
could not be seen over dressed at work. Make the dash to and from an interview
at lunch or early or late depending how I could adjust my work schedule that day.
I would combine an interview or second interview with a doctors appoint. I would
step out side for the phone interview and pretend I was one of the smokers so I
could get a free pass to waste 15 minutes outside during company time. It took
weeks of effort and wasted unpaid time to find the next job; the salvation that
would pull me from the clutches of a slow painful death at the hands of corporate
In the end, having victoriously won a few reasonable offers I made the
choice to go back to school and change career directions. One of the better
decisions I have made in the working world. The experience also seared into my
mind that the next job may not always be there and the act of finding a job could
easily be a job in itself. A job that requires as much effort and causes as much
frustration as any but does not pay. It is a job you can’t quit. At least not unless
your parents still have an open basement and don’t mind you eating out of their
fridge in the middle of the night. That is why I came to the clear understanding
that the best time to look for a job was when you already had one
Depending on your skill set, depending on the state of the economy, and
the fluctuations of the market place it might take a lot of effort and time to find a
job. You don’t get paid looking for a job so unless you are independently wealthy
and don’t need the money, you can really fall into a situation where you find
yourself looking for a job when your unemployed. Not to mention that you will be
desperate and in a weak bargaining positions when and if a job is offered. You
will have to take it because you have to survive.
The Lesson to Learn:
It is time consuming and expensive to find a job, any job and the better the
job you’re looking for the more this is true. If you’re hanging out in the parking lot
of the home depot it might take you an hour to find work for the day and cost you
a cup of coffee to fight off the early morning cold. If you’re looking for something
at Wal-Mart or as a secretary in a small office may two weeks. Anything more
then that and there is no telling how long it might take. I’ve been hired almost on
the spot before but I have also been hired into a position that I first interviewed
for almost a year prior. I don’t know about you but I could not afford to wait that
long to get a paycheck.
The Brutal Truth:
There is no guarantee of employment or a paycheck. The bills will keep
coming but the money only shows up while you’re employed. So you had better
be looking for the next job while you have this one.
I don’t negotiate. I am not good at it or at least that is what I tell people.
Especially, recruiters when they ask me how much I am looking for in the area of
compensation. I simply give them a range of what I have made. A ranged as
wide as humanly possible and then tell them, ‘but it seriously depends of the
details of the job and the environment.” This will lead to them giving me some
idea no matter how generic of what they want to pay. I have learned that
although you want as much as possible, you don’t want it if you get it
begrudgingly from the employer because it will lead to unrealistic expectations,
unreasonable demands, and unhappiness for everyone. Eventually it will lead to
the end of the position with bitter feelings.
I got a call from a recruiter who was in a rush to fill a “Big contract”, a
handful of positions with a large company. I was on a contract and doing fine so
I didn’t need a job but being the proactive entrepreneur that I have become. I
took his call and walked through the customaries with him until we hit the punch
He said, “So how much do you need?”
The way he stated this question struck me as funny and I of course said, “I
don’t know, it depends.”
He was obviously in a rush and got right to the point in a round about way
and asked, “Well how much are you making now?”
I replied in a similar way saying, “More then my previous position.” I then
turned it on him and asked, “What’s the range?”
He said, “We don’t have one.” He was now being disingenuous. He had
to have some idea even if it was just his idea and the company had not given him
We went back and forth like this for a minute of two trying to coax the
other into revealing his card then he asked, “So how much do you need?”
I said, “OK, how about a hundred an hour?”
To which he scoffed or maybe it was a scowl and I followed up with, so
then you do have some idea what the range might be?”
He said, “Well it’s not that much.”
To which I replaced, “I’m making X an hour.”
The amount was five dollars an hour more then I was actually making.
When speaking about money to a recruiter I almost also pad my rate by five
dollars. It is enough to be a substantial raise and most hourly positions are plus
or miss five or ten dollars as a range. You need to know what the average going
rate is for what you do and where you are doing it in order to talk money
effectively. We agreed upon what I had said I was making plus five which was
ten more then I was actually making. I ended up getting the contract and was the
highest paid amongst the team of seven report developers. I was at the top of
their range. I did not negotiate and I was rewarded for my lack of negation with a
better rate. I learned sometime ago that if you attempt to negotiate you can often
make things worse.
Negotiation is a subtle art form that requires skills, knowledge, and a
receptive counter part. In most cases people are not prepared and are not
capable of negotiating. Most of the time, the environment does not allow for it. If
you need a job you can’t negotiate; unless you can bluff well and are willing to
take the risk of a losing the opportunity. If they don’t need you; they have a
thousand other candidates, then you can’t negotiate. If the position is too meek
or low level then you can’t negotiate. Many people, especially employer’s, see
negotiation as sneaky or slick or even insulting as they have the positions and
you should be grateful for even being offered a job.
This all being said here are my rules for negation:
Never go into negotiation in need. It is like going grocery shopping
when you are hungry.
1. Knowledge is key…
a. Know what you are worth
b. Know what the average / going rate range for your market is
c. Get to know as much about the person you are negotiating with.
2. Be objective…
a. Be objective about your negotiation skills
b. Be objective about your situation
3. Have a job don’t need a job before you attempt to negotiate…
a. The primary rule of negation is that you never go into it in need.
Desperation equals failure. Have a job before you go looking
for a new job.
4. Do a few things…
a. Be prepared, be ready and willing to let it go and loose whatever
b. Determine what you want.
c. Have multiple fall back positions
d. Prioritize the things you want
e. Walk through every possible comment, question, and response
by you and by your counter part, before you begin the
f. If you get what you want don’t let your excitement show. Be
pleasant and positive but not happy. Bitter feelings may
g. Remember the negotiation does not end with the agreement; it
is on going through fulfillment which means as long as you have
h. In negotiation look for the best you can get; a winning position
that is not insulting to the other person.
i. Speak the truth as much and as often as possible.
j. Remember you are not required to expose your hand you owe
I successfully negotiated with an employer that led to my first project
manager position and then I had to live with my victory. I was an entry level
programmer answering an ad for an intermediate programmer position. I thought
it was a bit above my experience but I could wing it. I was also quit desperate for
a job as I had spent the previous six months doing odd jobs. I had worked retail,
construction, and whatever else I could. All the while my wife was nearing the
end of a pregnancy. We were getting by but there was a great pressure on me to
find something substantial and find it soon. It was a terrible situation for me to go
into a negation with but my saving grace was that I had enjoyed the unscheduled
lifestyle and the physical jobs. I did not want to let my self get stuck in a boring
dead end office job. So my desperation was not visible. The image I presented
was confident and discerning. It was before the dot com bubble burst and
programmers were in demand. I seemed like the guy who knew everything and
didn’t need the job. They felt that they needed me more then I needed them and
if they didn’t scoop me up soon then they would miss out. I couldn’t understand
why they kept taking me out to eat every time we met. Why a simple three page
programming test was all it took to convince them that I know what I was doing
(which at the time I truly didn’t). I meet with the CFO mostly and as he was in
charge of IT but he had no computer knowledge. He was also in a desperate
place for he was responsible for sinking a few hundred thousand dollars in to a
software project with no results. I played it cool and kept pushing them off. In
the end it came down to a short conversation in the CFOs car on the way back
from another lunch meeting. The CFO asked if I had any questions, I paused for
a moment, I thought that this was my moment to kill this thing.
I said, “So you don’t have the code to your project.”
He said, “No.”
I said, “The outside company has told you that they are not going to give
the code to you.”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “You know I am a programmer.”
He said, “Yes.”
I asked, “Why do you need me?”
He was quit for a minute and then said, “So your question is, why do we
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Let me answer you this way. We have a position do you want
I was a bit surprised and then with a short delay of my own I said, “OK.”
He said, “Good.” And I was hired.
We hadn’t spoken about money or title or hours or anything. At this point I
realized they, or more specifically he, must really have been in need and I could
pretty much dictate terms. It was almost two weeks after my start date before I
had an offer letter spelling out the details. I was making more then I ever had
and ten grand more then my previous position. It was a pattern I have pretty
much followed ever since.
Don’t try to be slick. Everything is a trade off but in order to make an
effective trade you have to be objective about the situation and have as much
information as possible. Attempting to coat a simple honest trade with greedy
slimy negotiation is an unnecessary waste of time and effort.
The Lesson to Learn:
Real negations are difficult and can only be attempted when you have
something of real value to offer that others want and can not get elsewhere. In
order to be successful in them you have to have as much information as
possible, remain objective, and be willing to walk away.
The Brutal Truth:
Few people really enjoy negotiations in themselves. People generally
engage in them out of a sense necessity and or greed. Negotiations rarely end
with truly positive sentiments. It is better to avoid negotiation all together and just
focus on making a simple honest trade. Your skills for their money.
Benefits are not worth it
My last position in the service was as the Human Resource Chief for
Group. I pretty much just pushed paperwork up the chain and then back down
again all the while keeping track of the amount of paper being pushed and
reporting it to the general’s staff. It had little if anything to do with civilian Human
Resources (HR) but the title was there and so when I first hit the corporate
market place and recruiters saw Human Resources on my resume I had
experience and I was employed.
One of my first jobs was a three month contract as a benefits coordinator
in the HR department of a collision repair company. They were a middle sized
company. They worked the margins between insurance companies and
customers to repair mostly body damage to vehicles and they made money
primarily on the backs of semi skilled blue color workers. When I say they
worked the margins, I mean they paid as little as possible to their employees,
charged as much as possible to their customers, and billed the insurance
companies whatever they could get away with even if they hadn’t done the work
in order to squeeze every possible penny out of an industry that exists based on
accidents and the resulting unhappiness.
I was hired to process health benefit paperwork, but it wasn’t too long
before my role was expanded to include all general HR paperwork, payroll, and
even some of the product numbers via accounting. And of course the increased
responsibilities did not come with any form of increased compensation, just an
imagined sense of security that developed in response to the thought that they
couldn’t get rid of me because I was too valuable. I also looked like a duck but
didn’t know it at the time.
One of my collateral duties was to handle any paper processing errors or
unpleasant issues that came up. Like the time I got a call from one of our auto
body techs from the hospital. His nine year old son had a bad fever and they had
rushed him into the emergency room. As his boy was being treated the billing
person informed him that his insurance was no good. He tried contacting the
insurance company but they gave him the brick wall of runaround and ineligibility.
Then he called me. After some confusion, a bit of effort, and a few calls, I had it
worked out and the boy was covered. It had turned out that per our company
policy, he had missed eligibility by two days and so his insurance would not kick
in for another month. I called the insurance company and spoke with our rep
there. I asked what the deal was with the rules and she said we made the rules
and not them they just enforced the rules. She told me, They could back date his
enrollment and he would be covered. I asked why they just didn’t do that. She
said because then they would have to bill us for the previous month’s premium
and a processing fee. Since it was outside of our policy agreement they could
not do it without authorization. I said what do you need from me to make it
happen, suspecting there was a form and I would need a signature from the VP
of HR. To my surprise the rep said, “I just need you to tell me it was ok.” I said,
“OK.” It was done. His boy was covered. What would have been an extreme
financial burden on him and his family turned out to be about a six hundred
dollars addition to our normal forty thousand dollar a month premium.
It was a very enlightening experience for me to have had. I was with that
company for about nine months until they offered me a permanent position at
$14.25 an hour which was the rate I was getting from the staffing company.
(Funny, it did not occurred to me at the time that the staffing company must have
told the company I was working for what I was making. Of course that would
have been unethical and unfair as the company I was working for would never
had told me how much they were paying the staffing company for my services.) I
told the HR manager that I would have to have double what I was making in
order to deal with the crap of this position as a regular employee. The two days
later, I began training my replacement.
The way they did things was dishonest and stupid. By telling the company
I was working for how much they were paying me the staffing company
guaranteed I would quit and they ended up loosing both their hourly commission
on my billing rate and the finders fee they would have charged if I had accepted
the offer. The Company I was working for lost nine months of training and got a
week and a half of disinformation and bitter feels as I went out of my way to put
my replacement on the wrong path.
I picked up a lot of useful knowledge while working there as well:
The company can change the policy but they won’t.
Benefits are not free. You will have to pay for them.
Not all benefits are the same and some just are not worth the cost.
The company usually but not always pays some cost usually for you alone.
The cost the company pays will never be worth the difference in better pay.
If you chose to not have benefits it will just save them money.
If the benefits are decent and you select self plus family then the company
usually pays about as much as you do for benefits.
And the big one: that anyone can be replaced.
No one is so valuable as to be irreplaceable.
Your job is just not that important.
As a side note: It should be noticed that the VP of HR, a female, made
much less then the other VP’s all men. A little bit of gender bias but mostly a
reflection of their worth to the company. HR is support and not intellectual based
support such as IT. It is a distractive support and is viewed in the same category
as the guy who takes out the trash. In HR you just have to wear nicer clothes
and attend more meetings.
In general, I have found that employer provided health benefits are not
really worth what you might have to give up in order to get them and definitely not
worth what the employer claims they are worth. This is the case with almost all
of the none money benefits that an employer offers. Think about it for a moment.
It takes a lot of effort to find and arrange a big and varied package of benefits.
Putting together a package of everything from health insurance and 401k to
discount cards and movie tickets costs a company in time, resources, effort and
actual expense. They don’t do it without cause. In the end, all of these benefits
and perks are no more then shinny bobbles to distract you from the cold purpose
of getting a job; money. If they can entice you with things that seem to be worth
more then they are and pay you less money as a result then they can work the
margin and save on each employee thereby increasing their bottom line. The
early European explorers made a killing in the new world because the indigenous
people didn’t know any better. The same thing goes for employees. But do you
really want to believe that a couple of strings of beads are worth the island of
The Lesson to Learn:
Get what you can when you accept an offer of employment but go into it
with you eyes open and with your needs and goals clearly focused in your mind.
Don’t let yourself get lolled into a lower salary by the concept of a total
compensation package. You can’t pay your rent with a teeth cleaning or two free
passes to an amusement park.
The Brutal Truth:
It’s better to get something then nothing. The more you can get the better.
Remember, if you turned down the benefits they offer they are not going to give
you their supposed value in cash.
Now, I need it. Now!
Timing and urgency can be funny things in the corporate world. I had a
boss that was a generally good guy and the work I did was reasonably easy. All
and all it was a good situating for me. But my boss was the owner of the
company and he was used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it. I had
been with that company for about a year and had settled into a nice comfortable
existence behind the secured IT room door. I had developed a very proactive
tendency to provide the owner with the reports he might want before he would
ask for them.
One afternoon as I was getting ready to leave for the day, the owner
emailed me and said he needed to talk to me for a minute about a new report.
He had an urgent need but he had to speak with the IT manager first. I replied
ok and waited. About an hour later the Owner came in following the IT manager
back to his desk which was across from me. They seemed to be having a good
time telling jokes and laughing it up. After a bit their conversation lagged and the
owner turned to me. He was all business now and indeed had a report he
wanted done. We went over the details and the significance of the report.
When we were done he looked at me and asked, “So when can I get it?”
I felt very pressed and said, “I don’t know. When do you need it by?”
He responded with, “As soon as possible.”
I said, “I could get it done in a few hours.”
He said, “Great sent me an email when it is ready.”
I was instantly stressed as my wife and children expected me home and I
was already delayed having waited for him to give me the details of the report.
He left the room and went back to his office from whence I got one more email
and a another call from him to add something to the spec and clarify another
point. I ended up calling my wife and letting her know I was not going to make it
for dinner and in fact I might be very late and may not make it in time to put the
kids down to bed.
I got a new cup of coffee, a snack from the vending machine, rolled up my
selves, and sat back down to work. All the while feeling the tremendous stress
and pressure to accomplish. This was critical. It was of urgent importance. This
needed to get done as soon as possible, so that the company could continue to
function, is how it was portrayed. At the very least it would make the difference
between the gain or loss of thousands of dollars. My head did not come up from
the computer screen for the next four hours. Not even to go to the bathroom.
When I got it done. I published it on the network and then emailed the owner
expecting him to call me into his office to review it and make changes. After a
few moments I had not gotten a response so I felt it was safe to go the bathroom
now and refill my coffee. As I come back to my desk I was sure that there would
be an email from him but there was none. It had been close to ten minutes and
no response. He must be tied up in a call, I thought, I should go over and let him
know it was done. When I got to his office the lights were off and he was no
where to be seen.
I looked at his secretary (she liked to be referred to as executive
administrative assistant which was her official title.) and said, “Do you know
where he is?”
She said, “He’s out.”
“Out where?” I asked.
She said, “Out for the day.”
I said, “Are you kidding?”
She said, “No, he left about 4:30.” It was pretty much right after he talked
I said, “Do you know when he’ll be back?”
She said, “Wednesday.” I was stunned.
She added, “I think he was going to Vegas this weekend.”
I explained the situation and she said, “I don’t know; you could email him.”
I wondered back to my desk and wanted someone to complain to but it
was after nine at night and everyone but a few straggling sales men were gone.
No one was left in the IT department and my kids were already in bed. I sat back
down and sent an email. Simply stating that it was done and to let me know what
changes he wanted. I packed up and went home for the night. It was Thursday.
The next day I came in a bit later then normal as I was in a poor mood having
taken it personally, I thought to myself, “I was here late… I can take my time this
morning.” When I got settled I found an email reply for the owner stating that he
had gotten the message and he would look at it when he got back into the office.
The IT manager sat across from me so I let him know what had happened. He
said he knew the owner was going away to Vegas that is what they were talking
about yesterday. He laughed at the situating. I was bothered but let it go pretty
I mentioned the over time from the night before and the IT manager said,
“If the owner told you to get it done and he wants to pay for it then that’s up to
We both kind of smiled at each other and said, “Well, that’s it.” I sat back
down and said, “I get it. I am his beck and call boy.”
He nodded and said, “Yep.” I reported to the IT manager but all the work I
did was for the owner so as long as the owner was happy everything was good.
It was a profound realization in a lot of ways. Not the least of which was that his
“now” and my “now” where not the same thing.
On Wednesday six days later the owner called me into his office to go
over the edits to the report. Which he wanted as soon as possible. I said, “I’d let
him know when they were ready.” They should have taken me about an hour or
two to get done. I emailed him they were done at the end of the day right before
I went home.
Having a sense of urgency and jumping through hoops are two entirely
different things. It is good to be responsive and accomplish the tasks that you
are being paid for on time but without a clear understanding of the need you can
find yourself sacrificing all kinds of things in order to meet an artificial deadline
with no effect. In so doing you loose control of your side of the work relationship
thus turning yourself in to a pawn, a peasant, a slave.
The Lesson to Learn:
Just because someone says they need it now it does not mean they really
do. People say a lot of things for a lot of different reasons that might have a
variety of meanings. Someone might say they need it now because they want to
give themselves extra time to go over it next week or they might say it because
they don’t trust you can or will get it to them on time if they gave you the real
deadline. In which case you’re being manipulated. Before your go and put your
unpaid life on hold to accomplish a task in an emergency make sure it’s a real
emergency for everyone not just for you. In other words before you jump out of
the window of a building filled with smoke with people yelling fire make sure that
the building really is on fire and that it’s not just a BBQ.
The Brutal Truth:
Sometimes you will have to jump through hoops for no other reason then
because they said so… but that needs to be your choice and not theirs. Most of
the time it does not have to be done now and if you can develop the nerve not to
flinch you can continue to enjoy your life outside of work.
I worked for a government contractor some time ago and not a day went
by without hearing the phrase ‘Best Practices’ uttered. It was such that I began
to wonder if their use of the term was less a comment on what we should be
doing as much as it was an unconscious cry for help. What does “best practices”
mean? What are they? How do we find them? We where supposed to spend
time determining what the best practices would be for each situation. It was
somewhat comical for two reasons: one that was a tremendous waste of time as
we were all technical experts having been brought in because of our skills and
experience. It should go without saying that we would be perusing the best,
correct, or at least the applicable way of accomplishing the tasks. And two
because by structure it was the most backwards and wrong headed development
project I had ever been on. Everyone involved acknowledge that it was messed
up and we openly discussed it to no effect.
I was on a conference call one afternoon with our team. We had gone
through the role call of what we were working on all which was fluff since we
were a team of seven report developers working on a project with less then sixty
reports and no real data source. One developer could have finished all the
reports in a month if we had a data source and a thousand report developers
couldn’t get one report done without a data source. Most of what we were doing
was reading documents about what the reports might look like or should look like.
It was a tremendous waste of time and quite mind numbing. But we were
encouraged to find something to do so on the command, “go” we all scattered
and set out to find some piece of knowledge that would prove that we were busy
working on something of great value to the project. We gathered on the phone
three times a week and went over what we had found. No real work got done but
in the end we all agreed on what was the best way to do the work when and or if
we ever actually did any.
It’s a good idea to know what your doing before you start doing it but if you
have been doing it for along time and you haven’t figured it out by now then you
never will and going over it again will just be a waste of time.
In every job, in every industry, at every level there is busy work. If you’re
working at McDonalds then your wiping down the counter, if you’re administrative
then you’re making new labels for the files, if you’re technical or a manager
you’re searching for “best practices.” It’s all the same and a waste of time but its
part of the game.
The Brutal Truth:
There are lots of useless and stupid activities that you will be called to
engage in as part of a job. You might as well not bother trying to argue against
them. Just think; I am getting paid X to do this. If they want to waste their money
that’s fine. They’re paying for my time, that’s all.
I was working as a project manager is a small retail marketing company
when an opportunity to climb the corporate ladder seemed to present itself.
Being the young go getter I was at the time, I had to take the leap and jump for
the high bar. Through the complicated and messy process that lead me to be
working there, the CFO had been tied to a failing customer service application
and development project. The company had sunk close to a half million dollars
into a software application with nothing to show for it. They had a disk that was
supposed to contain a beta version of the software but the IT manager could not
get it loaded and running on any of their computers. I had been brought in to
help resolve this problem and along the way my efforts inadvertently lead to the
CFO being let go. In hindsight, I realized that using me to justify getting rid of the
CFO was part of the owner’s original intentions. In any case, the CFO was out
and an opportunity was in front of me. I had just implemented a new software
system for the accounting department and although I was not an accountant I
thought I was up to the position. I spoke with the accounting supervisor and first
asked if he was going to throw his hat into the ring for consideration. He was the
most likely candidate. A good guy with all the knowledge and skills for the job.
Had he said yes I’d of supported him completely. However like many in the
accounting field he was not overly daring nor was he going to move quickly.
Time was of necessity as the owners would soon reach outside the company for
a new hand picked person.
I went to work. I began talking to the various managers in an attempt to
check the climate and encourage support. Although the owners would make the
decision themselves a good word at the right moment, I thought could make the
difference. In the end, my political jockeying actually worked against me in a
game that I had already lost as it was never open to be played. But in the mist of
my attempt, I was included in a meeting with the owner overseeing this issue, the
senior manager of the company, and the accounting supervisor. Though, I was
included, my presence, I realized was not desired by the Owner who had already
made up his mind as to what he wanted to do and who he wanted to fill the
It should be noted that people in that sort of position don’t like to have to
think of alternatives or change their mind. Most Owners falsely believe that they
know best. That’s why they are the owner. So I sat there for a little while as the
Accountings supervisor walked through the business and status of the situation
in accounting and with the company finances. I followed the lead of the general
manger and waited for the right moment(s) to make a good point and show my
worth. Oddly enough nothing I said seemed to go over well.
I have always been good in meetings even ones where I had no clue
about the topic of the meeting. This one however was different. Every comment
I made no matter how small even if I was just repeating or agreeing with some
else went over like a lead balloon. Each one was a conversation killer to the
point where I realized that my very speaking was a problem. I grew quit and
settled back into the strategy of simply asking question. My thought was that by
asking questions I could both glean knowledge and direct the conversation until I
could find my moment to make the wining comment and rejoin the discussion in
Time went on and the term GAP come up. To be frank about it, the term
was not fresh on my mind. It sounded familiar but I could not lock it down. The
owner seemed pleased with my obvious lack of confidence every time it was
mentioned. I played along with it until I could divine the meaning from the
context of the conversation but to no avail. As the meeting went on I pretty much
just shut up and said in the back of the small office. Again realizing the situation,
I looked for the opportunity and at the first chance lull in the conversation, I
excused myself to attend to some urgent need.
I was not one to give up and in any case I don’t just slide away with my tail
between my legs like a whimpering pup. When I have won, I have won well with
humility and in a similar fashion when I have lost which I have done often and
big; I stand up and take my hits like a man. This was no different. Some days
later after the company leadership had moved on and knew they had, I forced my
hand and pressed about the position. I got called into a closed door meeting with
the Owner I had met with before and he explained that I was not going to get the
position as they had already chosen another candidate. I accepted it well and
agreed that it was for the best. With the difficult part over for him and feeling
confident that I was not going to quit over the situation. They still critically
needed me in the position I was in. He was feeling as if he had put me back into
He said, “Besides you can just tell when some knows what their talking
about or if they don’t. You can see it in their eyes that they don’t know what’s
It was a direct reference to the meeting and my glossing over the term
“GAP” which I had immediately looked up when I left the office. Generally
Accepted Practices… a business term more then an accounting term and
apparently designed with all pretensions to make those who use it feel superior
to those who speak in plan language. I will admit when I am wrong or don’t know
something, I have plenty of confidence in my own knowledge but I will not be
backed in to a corner.
So instead of putting my head down as if I admitted I was stupid I sounded
up and confidently inquired, “Are you referring to the GAP principle? Are you
kidding? Are you trying to say that because you heard about an acronym on
some self help business video that you are smarter then me?”
I said, “You do realize that I write code for a living and that you pay me a
pretty decent salary to do, not what you don’t want to do, but to do what you can’t
He was pretty much slapped back into reality at that point and there was
little he could do. He was just one of six owners and I had already made a lot of
progress turning there half million dollar loss in to a success. I felt safe in the
knowledge that the other owners would not get rid of me because I had dared to
speak back to him. At least they wouldn’t do it right away not until they felt they
had gotten the software problem fixed and gotten their money out of it. Of
course, I also knew that I was not long for that job and I had just made a sever
Knowledge is a dual edged blade that is most often used to stab and
cause injury to someone. We seek education in order to gain a higher wage from
employers. We seek education to garner respect from co workers and society in
general. We use knowledge to build ourselves up and tear others down. In all
cases we use knowledge to create circles. Circles we can then use to include or
exclude others at our own choosing. This is especially true for industry. Every
industry has created an entire language unique to what they do. In some
instances, it’s for clarification but I’ve found that in most casers it’s a way of
excluding those who have not yet learned the language. Instead of calling a
spade a spade you call a spade a spanner and that way the new guy has no clue
what your talking about. When he has been around enough and picked up the
language then he can be included. It also allows those in the know to make
stupid or at least less then the best decisions and no one else would know
because their not in the loop. Most of the time this industry Jargon is a hindrance
and not an asset. But as they say, your either in the know or not.
The Lesson to Learn:
That the Jargon, acronyms, and various terms used in any given industry
are generally used as a test of your fitness to be included. These pseudo
languages will be used to test you on a daily basis. Learn the Jargon but don’t
think too highly of yourself for it. It does not make you or mean that you are
The Brutal Truth:
Knowledge is power and power is most often used in a detrimental way
and not with beneficial intentions. In the corporate world knowledge or at least
the appearance of knowledge is used to increase pay, gain status, and secure a
positions. It is done sometimes through hard work and proper application but
most often through influence, perception, and duplicity. It is the negative use of
knowledge that cuts the deepest.
Government vs. Private
OK, this one is short and simple it is all about purpose and motivation.
The basic purpose of government has become to limit. Where as the basic
purpose of the private sector is to enable. Government functions to keep bad
things from happening by providing the least common denominator as a blanket.
By design it is a one size fits all entity and in so being it becomes clumsy and
slow. The private sector is individualistic and specific. Each individual piece can
only do what it is designed for but since it is customized it can do that piece
better then any other.
Now as for motivation the government being slow and overarching has to
look to the long run and in the long run or the grand scheme time losses it
relevance as does success. Time and success get replace with longevity and
endurance. In order to secure these things there is a shift from risk analysis to
risk avoidance. Instead of weighting the odds of rewards vs. risk the mindset
becomes what percentage of risk is there and the cost goes out the window. In
short they focus on percentage of risk as a measure rather then a comparison of
cost and benefit. In this mindset there is no motivator to take a risk; any risk
would jeopardize the goal of longevity. As for the private sector, everything is
about risk. Longevity is useless for the private sector because the point of the
enterprise is to change the current state from have not to have while the point of
government is to keep things as they are. In the private sector continued status
quo equals loss. In order to win the private sector has to change. Change
always equals risk so to survive the private sector is constantly looking to
change. Success in the private sector is based on the ability to see the change
coming and weight the various choices based on their potential risk verses
benefit. The bigger the possible benefit the bigger the risk. This is the dilemma
for the private sector.
Faced with eventual failure, or the possibility of success, a success that
can be extreme, there is an increased motivation to try. If you are in a situation
where, if you do nothing you will certainly fail, but if you try you have a chance of
success. The draw is to try. A chance of success no matter how slight is better
then no chance at all.
As a example let’s take a look at the Katrina situation and the
government’s response. Even with days advance notice the government was
slow to recognize the possible dangers and upon occurrence the government
was slow to act at best, and incapable to act at all in most situations. For the
government it was all cost. Even before the storm hit and the levees broke there
was finger pointing; a “whose fault is it” mindset, which paralyzed the government
from action. If you force everyone out and nothing happens you will be punished,
if something bad happened you will not be rewarded for good initiative and
judgment but punished for how you could have done it better or that it was not
necessary. You don’t go down and take charge personally, finding out what the
situation requires and take action. In doing so you would have bucked the
system and been grandstanding for political purposes. Instead you wait. You
look busy and wait for it to unfold. You do what you can as long as it does not
break a law, a policy, or a precedent. You by nature of design can not effectively
respond to the situation.
Now as for the private sector it is not a matter of responding to the
situation. It is a matter of taking advantage of the opportunity. In a cold mindset.
If there are fifty thousand hungry, thirsty, dirty, tired people in a single location
like the Superdome then that is an incredible opportunity. You get a truck and fill
it up with water, food, blankets, and whatever else you think might be needed
and you drive it down to the stadium and sell it at twice the price you paid for it.
In the end, it might be said that you took advantage of the situation but you made
a great profit and now with your profit you can afford to give away a few bottles of
water and a bag of chips to the elderly and the kids on your next trip down.
Which of course you are going to keep doing until it is no longer cost effective.
By the time you decide to stop making the trip the government might have been
able to send someone down to the stadium to see if there was a problem. I
would admit that I would feel for the people in an unfortunate and tragic situation
but you have to ask yourself how the people are best served. On the one hand,
they get nothing and it coast them nothing possibly as they are starving, dying of
thrust and sickness; lingering in their misery until the government is able to act.
On the other hand, they get some if not all of there basic needs meet at an
increased price; saving many, if not all, from possible death but they are left
feeling upset that they have been taken advantage of. I think alive and pissed off
is better then passive unto death. For a government a pissed off populous is a
bad thing; for the private sector it is again on opportunity.
Greed is the greatest motivator known to man. Outside of a few ignoble
and extreme situations. Self interest is what drives all life. In humans it
eventually works itself out to the profit motive. How can I get more, get as much
as I can. It’s not a bad mindset in itself only in its potential application. Individual
drive and thought to get ahead provides for the fullest and most efficient
exploration of any solution to any problem. The one who get there or figures it
out first is the one who makes the money.
Government is by its very structure incapable to act and or react as
quickly and decisively as individuals. It all has to do with the purpose of
government to look to the common good (see consensus) and consider the
bigger long term situation. Most governments are by design limited for fear of the
tremendous power they could potentially and most likely abuse. Because of
these two factors and the resulting bureaucratic culture of government they are
slow and unwieldy and can not respond to situations as well as private
organizations and individuals within a free market.
The Lesson to Learn:
You can look to governments for stability and control in many situations
and in a general sense but governments are made up of people and usually
people who couldn’t make it in the free market or people who did make it but
having gotten the money; they wanted power. Outside of providing a general
framework for a society to function governments are a poor substitute for a free
market and private business. The more singly controlled a government becomes
the more nimble it will be but the less freedom it will enable and in the end the
less successful it’s economy and people will be.
The Brutal Truth:
A healthy fear of government is a good thing and the motivation to pursue
free market solutions to problems is even better.
I don’t even let my managers do that…
For sometime now I have had the mindset that “I do not negotiate.” Now
in reality I do negotiate as everything is a negation but I have let go of the direct
confrontational style of negotiation. I go into each situation accepting of all
possible out coming. As the old saying goes expect the worst, hope for the best,
and take what comes? I try to figure out the most likely outcomes and plan my
responses to each ahead out time in order to make peace with them if you will
and limit my emotional reaction. (Emotional reaction in most cases results in poor
decisions and unwanted outcomes). I then set what are my limits and
preplanned responses. As an example... You are coming up for a review you
plan on pushing for an increase in pay. You want five dollars more an hour.
Your review goes well and you begin the discussion about money. In order to be
effective you need to have already decided what you will accept. You might set 3
dollars an hour as you minimum. But you also have to decide ahead of time
what your response will be if they only offer two. Do you take it? Do you say
something? Does that affect your future work or direction? Are you going to feel
hurt or angry? You have to go through all of these things ahead of time in order
to deal with the situation effectively and to your best benefit.
It works like this:
Easy - OK if they give me the five dollars, life is good, I am happy I got
what I wanted and next time I can ask for more (take into consideration
that you might feel a bit let down for not asking for more if they gave you
the five that easily they may have been willing to give you ten)
Tougher - They offer you three dollars, you have set it as you minimum
you take it but feel let down, somewhat under appreciated, and angry but
ok that you at least got something. How do I get more? Do I need to start
looking for a new job.
Tougher Still - They offer you a quarter of an hour raise as a token,
almost an insult. They tell you that you’re not working hard enough and
someone junior to you might need to help retrain you. Do you quit? Are
you pissed off? Do you want to put the quarter back up were the rest of
their pennies are being tightly pinched? And storm out…. Now
Toughest - They Offer you nothing in fact they have decide that you are
over paid and are going to lower your pay by two dollars because you
seem incapable of accomplishing the job. You are going to be changing
jobs to a less desirable position. They suspect that you have lied about
your abilities but do to there divine nature and concern for you they are not
going to fire you today but if you don’t, “change your attitude and improve”
then they will have no other option but to let you go. Your employment is
now on a day to day bases and you will need to check with them at then
end of each day; if you should come back in the morning.
Do you just get up and walk out? Do you yell and scream or throw something
heavy at them. Do you just hit them over the head with a chair and then take
there wallet, watch, and car keys as you make a break for the door and then the
If more people would walk through these type of sceneries ahead of time
then we would not have terms like “Going Postal” in our common understanding.
Anyone who has ever worked and experienced even a slight amount of
frustration and or disappointment understands what it means and can
empathized even in a small way with the situation. The more you have had to
deal with these types of situations the more you empathize or even fantasize that
you could get away with that type of extreme response. You end up rooting for
the guy who has lost it, shouting, “Hit him again, the dirty bastard, he deserves
it.” As you pass by on your way to get a cup of coffee and another one of those
stale day old donuts or some of that left over paste salad for the executive
I had one of these moments at a small company. By my reckoning, I was
up for my one year review and as such a pay raise. I had done well. I meet or
exceeded everything that was expected of me. I had sacrificed time with my
family and performed every task requested in a chipper manner going above and
beyond whenever possible. If it had been school, I would have been that guy,
the A+ student asking for and doing extra credit so I could make everyone else
look bad and further screw up the grade curve; at lest that’s how I saw it. In
reality, I knew I had it good. A cushy position with little asked of me, plenty of
time to do it, most of the time as much freedom in my schedule as I needed, and
making more money then I had made before. In addition to having had an easy
going manager and friendly boss who where not the same. So as I came up to
my review I straight out told the manger I wanted something crazy like twenty
thousand dollars more a year and I needed to be out early twice a week because
I was coaching a sports team.
The manager took it well and asked what I would do if I didn’t get it. I told
him, I would do nothing. I knew the situation but there was no harm in asking. I
almost put my demands on the table as a joke. If they gave it to me awesome; if
not, oh well. I just figured they’d tell me I was crazy give me something. The
manager took it to my boss the owner, he said he needed a few days to go over
it and likely figure out their response. I was kind of stunned because they had
taken it seriously. They had taken it so seriously that the owner researched the
position I was in with the help of the HR department. He checked the prevailing
wage statistics and the local market for compensation and demand for my
position and the related jobs. After two days I was called in the owner’s office
with the manager. We joked and chatted for a few minute and then the door was
closed. I sat across from the owner with the manager on a chair off to the side.
The joking faded and they both got solemn, though I must say the manager had
a more curious look upon him as if he just wondered what my response was
going to be.
The owner then look at me and said “Nothing….”
No not silence but the word “nothing.” He said, “We’re not going to give
My reaction was plain. Almost no response. I had prepared for this.
That is why when he then continued, “In fact, I am over paying you now for
what you are doing.”
I said, “I could make more right now, elsewhere.”
He said, “I researched the trend and if I made more it would be consulting
but the market was thin for consultants right now. And that would not include
I smiled at this benefits had been a bit of a joke to me for sometime. It
was a ploy employers used to make it sound like they were giving you more then
they really were.
I said, “OK.” in a calm manner.
He went on, I think, to try to get me to responded; to get my goat so to
He said, “You needed to be more available. You have been out too early
to many times.”
Keeping in mind that I was hourly, I only got paid for what I worked, and I
was getting everything done they had asked and on time; it was obvious this was
to push me. So then he brought up my request, as he put it, to be out early twice
a week for family related activities; I was coaching my kids in their various sports.
I said, “It was fine about the money but it would be nice to have the time. “
His responses was incredulous. He said in a very condescending
manner, “I can’t give you that; I don’t ever let me managers do that.”
OK, this one got to me. I was pissed off but held me tong.
I said, “Really. You don’t let your manager have time off with their
families.” I said it in a very insinuating manner.
He stepped back from his manner on this point and said, “Well, not without
requesting the time off on a case by case bases.”
Then he explained that I could request it off each time but it was
completely at the company’s discretion to approve it or not and by company,
since he was my boss, it meant I could ask him and if he felt like it he would grant
me the privilege. I did bit my tongue and we ended the meeting in pleasant
spirits the manager and I walk back to our office together as he tried to read me
and my reaction. I realized what he was doing and I stopped us in an open
space before we got back to the office. He asked what I thought
I said, “The money was fine.”
He knew that. I had told him that in my review.
I told him, “The owner was out of his mind if he thinks I give a rat’s ass
about what he does with his managers.”
I said, “I work per hour and my time outside of work; off the clock is mine
I told him, “I could put in a request for time off but they were not requests.
I was simply informing them when I was going to be gone. The first time my
request was denied it was the last day I worked there. Other than that everything
was still good.”
I am sure the manger did not take everything back to the owner but the
next day he did come back with my review to sign and he had gone out of his
way to get me something. It was a dollar raise. It was the effort that made a
difference. I had of course already put may resume back online and was
deciding when I would go. In response to the situation, I understood their
position. Although they praised my work, they doubted my commitment to the
company. It was an emotional need for them or in fact him, the owner, to feel as
if I was available to him, at his beck and call. Money did not matter, within some
reason. I was already working 40 a week. I could work over time and they didn’t
care as long as they felt I was there for them. So of course, I began working 60
to 70 hours a week the next day. Mostly in the early morning when it would not
interfere with my family and it would still allow me to leave at 330 or 4 in order to
Each and every situation you encounter will be filled with myriad causes
and effects as the people involved bring much of their baggage (life experience,
wants, needs, and desires) with them. In each and every situation you will need
to focus on your own interests and how each result will impact your direction and
situation. It is not a matter of selfishness it is a matter objective analysis. If you
choice to be altruistic then make that a conscious well informed choice.
The Lesson to Learn:
Outside of knowing that people are going to do what they see as in their
best interest, People are unpredictable without a full understanding of their past
experiences and their present situation as well as some insight into their hopes
and desires. Be aware of this and be prepared to respond or hold back a
response until you are able to determine how the situation can work for you.
The Brutal Truth:
You have to look out for you (and yours if you are a family man) and there
is nothing wrong with that. No one knows you; you’re wants, needs, and desires
better then you. And no one is going to look out for you more or better then you.
You do not owe a company or a boss or even a friend anything simply because
they have a relationship with you. Your commitment to anyone outside of your
family (and even within the family under certain situations) is based upon a
mutual back and forth. A trading of this for that an equitable agreement.
The only constant in life is change…image life as a voyage on the ocean
and everything that happens in your life as the waves. You are going to ride
them out whether you like it or not. The question is simply; “Are you going to get
used to it and be able to function or are you going to give up and just be sick all
of your life?”
I worked with this nice Indian girl once. She had two young children and
had recently become a naturalized citizen. She was always pleasant. Even
when she was upset she seemed pleasant. She was the only database
administrator in a company with multiple, varied, and complicated data networks.
She was always busy. It was not that she looked, seemed, or acted busy like
most people. She actually was busy. She was being over worked all the time
and the company was fine with that. Why pay for another person if you could just
work the ones you have harder. (Note: Increased worker productivity sounds
good when you hear it on the news; it just means more work for the same pay for
the workers. Wow that almost sounds communistic.).
Things had been getting tuff at the company. They were adjusting to the
ever changing real estate market and decided to close one of the three or four
companies they held. In the process they decided to trim the fat so to speak.
They would let go whole groups of people, hire a few new ones, and then drop
one or two more. No notice, no reason, apparently no pattern to who or when
they got fired people. It was so convoluted that most of the staff worked in the
ever present fear that today could be their last. An email or call from HR would
send chills through everyone.
Everyone that is except me and the foolish few who believed that they
were safe for whatever reason. I had long ago realized that there was no such
thing as a permanent employee and in fact most companies now refer to their
employees as regular rather then permanent. The only permanent employees
are the owners and they don’t like to think of themselves as employees. Unless
you have an employment contract which is not the same as new hire paperwork.
You can be let go at anytime for almost any reason. Keep that in mind when you
head out to get a new car or purchase a house. In light of this, I am consistently
searching for my next job. I am always looking for something better. That is not
to say that I am actively interviewing but it does mean I keep my resume up to
date. I review the internet and occasionally the help wanted section of the paper
even though that has all but gone the way of the dinosaur. I keep in touch with a
network of recruiters and contacts. I respond to inquiries with some interest and
weigh the offers with my current situation. And most importantly, I try not to let
myself get too comfortable at any one place. Comfort equals complacency which
leads to some unpleasant surprises as you return from lunch to find a box sitting
on your desk.
One day after a particularly difficult week for the emotional well being of
the company, I had just got a new cup of coffee and was returning to my cube
hidden in the back corner of the IT section when I came across the Indian girl
and a couple of others quietly discussing or complaining, as it seemed, about the
current days drama. More people had been let go and there duties were being
shifted on to some of the members of this group. I asked what was up and I got
the whole story told with details and speculation and all wrapped in a blanket of
concern. All of this at the hurried and hushed pace of a whisper. It was
interesting to hear the details most of which I was already aware of, the others I
could have guessed, and all of which made little difference to me. In truth, what
did I care if Bill; or Bob; or Suzy got fired? Yes, I played the cool customer. So
much so that the Indian girl chided me.
She said, “Aren’t you worried?”
To which I replied, “No.”
She retorted with, “Oh, Joel. You think you so cool.”
I broke from my image for a minute and simply explained that I didn’t
worry because worrying wouldn’t help… it wouldn’t make anything better. I
accepted that this was a very unstable work environment and took steps to
secure my self if and when they decide to fire me.
She was somewhat shocked and asked in a whisper, “Are you looking for
another job?” As if it was a dangerous thing to say. As if the company police
might hear and fire me on the spot.
I looked back at her and said in a matter of fact way, “Of course, I’m
always looking for the next job.”
She didn’t seem to understand that.
She said, “Don’t you like your job?”
I said, “The job is fine but it was just a job.”
We were on completely different planets as far as our concepts of workers
and employment. Her understanding based on the few positions she had worked
up till then was that a job was a privilege. You had to earn it and be grateful to
have it. You kept your head down and worked hard. You did not complain at
least not out loud. You stayed there until they let you go because there might not
be another job out there. I came from the mindset that a job is just a job you get
hired to do a task for an amount of money. If things work out then great. If not or
if the job does not meet your needs you leave. It might seem like a lack of loyalty
but that’s because it is.
Loyalty is earned not bought. Loyalty is what happens when two
individuals go out of there way to do, care for, or help each other without
personal benefit. Work for a company is a mutually beneficial relationship of
convenience. The employer has a need. This task needs to be done. They are
willing to pay x for it. The worker has a need. Money for bills, food, housing,
etc… They are willing to do x for it. That is the beginning and end of the
employer employee relationship. Cold and hard but true.
Employment is a transaction. Like going to the store and buying a loaf of
bread. You get the bread and take it to the cashier. She rings it up and says that
will be three dollars. You give her the three dollars and leave. Do you have to
feel grateful to the store or the cashier for the bread, no? You paid for it. In a
similar way, do you have to be grateful for your paycheck? No, you paid for it
with your time and effort. Do you have to feel a sense of gratitude or loyalty for
your job? No, you earn it everyday by your work. It also works the other way,
but most companies don’t have a problem recognizing that. They don’t feel
gratitude or loyalty to you for doing the job they hired you to do. That’s why they
pay you to do it. In the end, gratitude does not pay the rent and you can not eat
I could see that my philosophical wonderings were not necessarily
helping. She didn’t get it or she just disagreed with it at that time. So I asked her
I said, “Do you know when you should start looking for your next job?”
This of course got her attention as it was at the heart of all of her anxiety.
Should I start looking for a new job?
I said, “You start looking for your next job the first day of your current job.”
She was set back and waved me off as if I was joking.
I said, “I am not joking. You never stop looking.” (Looking is a job)
You have to get passed the thought that a job is the end result it is the
finish line. The job is the process. It’s the race not the prize.
No job is forever and that is OK. It creates a need to be dynamic, to do
and be better then the next guy in order to stay employed. It increases
competition and competition is at the heart of improvement and the capitalistic
The Lesson to Learn:
A job is a job and not a family. It is a transactional relationship so don’t
take it personal. Keep looking and keep looking out for yourself. If you can do
this you will save yourself a lot of unpleasant surprises and a lot of unnecessary
The Brutal Truth:
There is no such thing as a permanent position so take such actions as
necessary to secure yourself.
I don’t want to be your mentor.
During a particularly cynical time in my employment career I worked as a
project manager for a mid sized retail marketing company. It was as I would later
define it a pit of vipers. In metaphor, it was a large whole filled with stupid mice
and a bunch of snakes. The ownership were the snakes who would feed
themselves on the mice at will. They were fat and lazy snakes. The mice would
frantically run to the side of the pit away from a hungry snake looking for safety
that is until the snakes on the other side of the hole got hungry. Then of course
they’d run back to the said they had just come from never realizing that there was
no safe place in the hole and they were just too stupid to try to get out.
It was my first real position as a project manager. I had responded to an
inquiry for an intermediate programmer. I had been wined and dinned so to
speak and talked into the position. Which was funny as I was going to jump at it
the first time they actually offered. I needed the money but they didn’t know that.
After a week on the job I had a follow up meeting with the general manager and
he asked what I thought. I have never had a problem giving my opinion so I said,
“You don’t need a programmer. You don’t have rights to the code. You need a
project manager.” I was thinking that added the term manager to my title and
would get me a higher wage. It didn’t really get me any more money but it made
my life a bit more comfy with a coffee maker in a private office, with a company
credit card, and quit a bit of freedom. So it worked for me. It also gave me an
underling. They assigned an intern from the IT hardware side to me as an
assistant. In truth he was a computer science major at the local university and
was just aching to get into programming instead of networking and helpdesk. In
fact, he had more programming knowledge then I. What he didn’t have was
some age, some real experience, and self marketing ability. In most cases I’ve
found that once you get to an acceptable level of knowledge or skill in something,
once you’re qualified, it doesn’t matter who has the most anymore. It becomes a
matter of who can market themselves best and interact with the people at the top
in a way to inspired confidence. I wouldn’t say flimflam, even though for some
that would not be to far off. Lets just say that the one that can sell themselves
best is more then likely to be the one that gets the job even if they can’t really get
the job done. This should also explain the endless amount of project failures. It
seems as though every company has been burnt and everyone has worked on
more bad projects then good.
The intern and I hit it off from the start. We were close in age. I was more
like a big brother then a father or uncle. We had similar interests. And we both
liked code. I admit it was a fun time for me as I was really into the programming
back then and would stay up late at night writing code and exploring new
technology. It was as close to geeky as I had ever been. It wasn’t long before I
was spouting on philosophically about work and the work environment and
people and the relationship between employers and employees. Oddly enough
the intern ate it up. Which was a bit strange for me as most of the people I had
worked with would just look at me weird and think I was crazy. Maybe the
difference was that I was officially his boss and not a coworker. He had it in his
mind, since I was apparently what he wanted to become in the short run at least,
that I knew better. If he just listened he could learn and get there himself. Or
maybe he was just buttering me up in order to get ahead, or maybe he was as
crazy as I was. In any case we got along well and the work got done.
One day, the intern and I were making our customary rounds through the
building drinking coffee and gabbing with everyone along our way. Picking up
bits of juicy news and absorbing the company politics for that day when we ran
into the IT manager. He was kind of excited. He said he had arranged for
another intern to help out. The new guy could do some of the networking stuff
but had an interest in programming as well. I thought why did you get a new
programming intern. I don’t need him and besides you know nothing about
programming. If we were going to hire one, would I not be the guy to do it? If
fact I was a manager in title alone. All it meant was that I would be left to do
what I wanted and the intern would work with me. I didn’t hold it against the IT
manager though, we did not get off to a good start together and he was doing
what he could to make it better and help out.
A few days later the new intern appeared. I don’t remember his name, he
was Asian of some sort. Not that it would have mattered it was just the only
remarkable trait about him. I mean that completely. He didn’t seem particularly
smart or clever or skilled. Not in his personality or his programming. What was
worse he tended to hang around like some sort of lost puppy looking for food. It
made me feel uncomfortable and the paranoid thought did come into my mind
that he was some sort of sad attempt by the IT manager to spy on me and his
former intern. Like a hired plant. This of course was silly but the mind does
occasionally play tricks on you. After a couple of days of trying to avoid him in a
nice way, I ran into him alone in the hallway. I said, “Hey.” as I passed him and
he struck up a conversation. We talked for a bit and he asked me a question or
two about a programming assignment for his class I tried to make it a short
answer but that’s not easy when you are talking about programming sometimes.
Often one thing is built upon another and or leads to another so to really answer
a question you can get trapped into a conversation which will often develop into a
For the better part of an hour I took on the roll of teacher. I ended up uses
a white board and we went over the assignment in his book (which oddly enough
I used maybe nine months early in a class I was taking, that book was
worthless). At the end of the lesson he was both enlightened and amazed. He
said, “Wow, you really know this stuff.” All the while I was thinking, yeah for
about a year and a half. But it didn’t matter, I had the knowledge and he didn’t.
What made it worse was that I had the ability, unlike most in the field, to explain it
in a way so normal people could understand. I would have become a teacher if
they made any real money. But I digress. I thought I had done my good deed for
the day and was on the way out the door when he started commenting on how
his class was of no use and the teacher was weak and how he just needed some
one to show him how to do it. I could almost feel the hair rise on the back of my
neck foretelling what I new he was going to say and hoped he would not. He
went on, I just need a guide a mentor. “Oh, No!” I thought, “You didn’t.” Finally
he asked, “Would you be my mentor?” “No, no, no!” I screamed in my head. I
screamed partly out of irritation, the kind of irritation you feel when you see a
nerd about to do something nerdy and you know they are going to get picked on
for it, and partly out of fear that I had finally feed the stray dog and I’d never get
rid of him.
I pleasantly tried to change the topic, not to answer, encouraged him that
he didn’t need one, and showed him out the door as I went the other way. By
this time, unbeknownst to me my intern had arrived and caught the last part of
my lesson. He was impressed and had also heard the whole, “will you be my
mentor” situation. We both made fun of it as I went on trying to explain why I
didn’t want to be a mentor. How I was a bad example to follow and I didn’t want
an anchor of responsibility around my neck. We both had a bit of a laugh and
moved on. I later expressed my disapproval or rather my lack of need for him to
the IT manager. The IT manager was also a little less then impressed with his
work efforts. It was not surprising to me as he wanted to be a programmer and
only took the help desk position as a step to programming. Two days later he
was no longer with the company. The IT manager let him go and that was his
last attempt to bridge the gap between networking and programming.
The funniest part is that months later after doubling his salary while
working under me and following my lead so to speak. My assistant referenced
back to that day and the other intern.
He said, “Remember that guy and when he ask for you to mentor him?”
I said, "Yeah.”
“And how I said I didn’t want to be mentored by any one. That it was sad.”
“Yeah.” I said, knowing what was about to come.
“Well, you kind of turned out to be my mentor.” He said.
I laughed. “Really.”
I said, “Well how is that working out for you?”
At the time he said, “Great, I am programming, my time is my own and I
am making more money then ever.”
I thought, no kidding, having known all the while that he had been my
mintee in lu of a better word. I had delivered lesson after lesson not in
programming but in self marketing and in mindset to him from the start. It was
just my way of being, the lessons were not much more then normal conversation
to me. The kind that I would have with anyone. The difference was he listened
and took it to heart. What I said made sense to him and he took from it what he
You are on your own and you need to make your way all by yourself.
Anyone who has made it or can make it does not like to have people clinging on
to them. It is tough enough to make it yourself and caring someone else on your
back is ridiculous. If you are lost then look around and find a clue. It’s ok to ask
questions but an education is not free and if you suck someone’s time you are
stealing from them. Be careful with people who are more then willing to impart
their great wisdom to you for free or to invite you on to their band wagon. If what
they had to say had any real value then they would be selling it. Pearls of
wisdom are not free. But you can still get a hand full of rocks for nothing. And if
you fill your pockets with rock it will only make it that much harder to get ahead.
The Lesson to Learn:
No one likes a follower except a tyrant or a fool and you don’t want to put
yourself under the control or advice of either. People are attracted to strength
and confidence so try to hold your own whenever possible. Figure it out the best
you can alone and that way you will have something of your own that you can
bring to the table. In so doing, it is more likely that those who know more then
you will impart some wisdom in the form of correction and advice.
The Brutal Truth:
If you are pathetic people will avoid you.
ABC – Always be closing
I was listening to the radio the other day and the host closed off his show
with the phrase, “remember folks, A…B…C… Always Be Closing.” It struck me, I
am always thinking about ways to get ahead or more accurately a way to get
free. In a capitalist society that means to get more money. In any case, Always
Be Closing just stood out in my head. I had heard the phrase many times before
though I couldn’t remember where I first heard it. I tracked down the phrase
online and remembered I had seen Glen Gary Glen Ross and that vivid
presentation that Alec Baldwin had made. He played Blake an alpha dog
motivational salesman that was brought in to motivate a group of failing
salesmen. His speech was truly brutal. It was also the kind of thing that people
need to hear from time to time but don’t want. We all like to lull ourselves into as
comfortable a delusion of our current situation as possible. It helps us get by and
cope with the unpleasantries of life. Unpleasantries that those salesmen where
having to face directly at that point. Watch the movie or at least that scene and
you’ll walk away thinking your life is not half bad. (Note: Seeing that someone
else has it worse then we do makes us appreciate our life more. The grass is
always greener until you see the other guy getting his ass handed to him then
your lawn looks pretty green)
Always be closing, I thought and I remembered a job I worked back in
college. I was a warehousemen for a big retail electronics company that had just
moved into the area. They were making a run against Circuit City and a few
others so they came in strong and were pushing their guys very hard. By guys, I
mean sales guy and yes there where females but the majority of them where
guys so I will just say salesmen from here out. The group was split pretty evenly
between the older middle age salesmen who had been doing this type of thing for
most of there lives and young college aged guys who were fresh from the
company training and full of fire so to speak.
I want to take a minute here to express my admiration for and my loathing
of salesmen. Real salesmen not just those guys who are trying it out or doing
anything to make money while they are looking for another job. No, I men the
real salesmen. The ones who by their very nature are salesmen. Normally “A”
type personality with a bad attitude and a great smile. The type of person that
can tell you something in complete certainty having no idea what they are talking
about. The ones who can make your feel good about anything and push you into
something you don’t know. The type of person that will lord over others their
victories as they bask in the praises of the top performer award one month and
suffer though the ridicule of being the bottom performer the next. Salesmen exist
in an insensitive and uncaring world were praise and ridicule are accepted and
terms like winner, the best, better then you, and loser, failure are real and
commonly used. It does not matter what they are selling it is the same. It is the
same on the car lot, retails electronics, business to business it is all the same.
There is success and failure and in our ever softening culture of equality and
mediocrity. I must say, I am glad that we still have sales men whose whole
existence is based on making a buck. I am also equally glad not to be one.
There were about forty of these guys when the store opened and that number
would rise and fall as some of them gave up and quit but more likely just couldn’t
produce and were fired. Fired is what they used to call being let go before we
cared about how people felt. Every couple of month’s management would bring
in a new crop of fresh meat to be put through the grinder. They’d get two weeks
of training and then be thrown to the wolves (the customers). After that they’d
have maybe two months to make it; to produce some revenue or they’d be out
the door. That was the key, produce revenue, make the sale, and bring money
into the company. This is an important thing to know and understand in a
company. It is all about making money. Nicely said, producing revenue. Money
is what we come here for… money makes it possible to do what we do… money
pays for the building… the advertising… the products… the company picnic…
the bottled water… and your salary. The salesmen make money and the do it by
closing… always closing. They produce the revenue and everyone and
everything else is support. So when you want to produce more revenue you hire
more of the guys who make the money and when you want to watch your budget
you cut your expenses which means you fire everyone else as much as you can
until it starts to impact the salesmen. By the way the sales men make the money
that’s why more often then not they make the money (Make more then you). But
remember it all depends on their ability to produce. Never begrudge a salesman
the money they make out on the edge of unhappiness. Because for every dollar
they make it pays you three cents in your comfortable delusion.
One Salesman in particular stood out to me. He was just about perfect for
the retail electronics world in which he existed. He was at the top of his game
and as it turned out the high water mark in his career. He was young but older
then most of the new guys late twenties early thirties. He had been doing sales
for maybe eight years by that time and was good at it. He picked up quick on the
new product info. He was just over six foot and trim but not skinny. He had great
hair and an appealing smile. His voice was strong but not over bearing the kind
of voice that inspired confidence in this case trust from a customer. He was
appealing and pleasant. Now at this pint you might be wondering why is he
going on about all the physical traits of this guy. The reason is simple people are
attracted to active people. People trust attractive people. Therefore active
salesmen have more opportunity to close the sale and make money. Like it or
not that is the fact of the matter. The brutal truth is that looks matter, any one
who tells you different is either selling something or ugly.
Anyway, this salesman at the top of his game was always busy. He would
see them come in the front door and from the moment he set eyes on them he
was closing. He would make eye contact with almost everyone that came in the
door. The look was I’ll be right there. I can help you. We have it and I’ll go get it
for you now. The handshake, the mannerism, every move, position, comment, or
laugh real or otherwise said lets do this. The moment the sale was complete he
was on to the next one. At the time he was well into the six figures and had won
almost every sales award the company had over and over again. I would wheel
out a TV or Washing Machine watching in amazement as he worked the crowd
and each person individually all to make the sale. The thing about it was that he
just did it. He didn’t think about it. He didn’t try. It was how he was which made
him that much more real and as a result, effective.
The sad commentary was that after about a year as the top salesmen
management thought that they could best use him as a sales manager instead of
on the floor as a salesrep. His money would be based on a consistent base and
a small percentage of what the sales reps under him would produce. He was still
making good money but not as much as before. And worst of all it was based in
part on what others did. Logic contrary to his nature and competition. In addition
he had to take on paperwork and employee management tasks that where more
fit for an administrator then a player. In time he grew bored and somewhat
disgruntled and with the extra time on his hands and losing his edge he ended up
getting into a car accident coming back from Vegas one weekend. He was never
quit the same after that. But you know even after the large amount of revenue he
had produced as both a salerep and a sales manager, he was only given a day
or so to pull himself back together and get back into work. When he did come
back his face was cut up; He was recovering from injuries and popping pain pills
which made him groggy. All the management could say was that he was not on
his game. They ended up letting him go a month or so later because he was not
Yes life is tough for salesmen but as it has been said before if you can’t
take the heat get out of the kitchen. Or as Robert Blake used to say when he
played Baretta and before he killed his wife. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do
the time. Man, I love that saying.
There was one older and defiantly more grouchy salesmen that worked at
the same store. He had been in it long enough to realize he was not going to get
rich doing it and to not care (young salesmen think they are going to get rich).
On one occasion I witnessed the ultimate in always be closing… it was right
before Christmas… the store was and had been a wash with endless customers
buying everything. I spent all of my time stocking shelves with everything. The
warehouse was all but empty. It was so busy we didn’t bother to stage items in
the warehouse anymore we would just take them out of the back of the truck as it
arrive and go straight to the floor. Half the time the salesmen where taking things
of the dolly as we wheeled they out to the floor. This older salesman having well
surpassed his sales goals already and feeling a bit worn out had taken a few
minute to step aside lean against a counter and share a few words with another
salesman doing the same. No sooner had they stopped moving then the sales
manager on duty walked by. He had just passed a crowd of customers all
looking eager for help.
He walked up to the two salesmen and said, “Well who’s going to make
some money and who’s going to go home?”
The threat was real and so was the irritated contempt that it was met with.
The sales manager said go over close the deal with those people. The older
salesmen said something profane in complaint and walked over to the crowd
standing in front of a wall of VCRs.
He stood behind the group and in a load clear voice said, “Who’s ready to
Four couples raised there hands or signaled they were. He said which
one do you want, wrote down the stock numbers, and minutes later he had a line
at the register and a hand full of boxes. All I could think of at that moment was
ABC Always Be Closing.
Life is hard and only the strong will survive. It’s kind of a Darwinian
concept but it is the way things are and for good reason. Weakness breeds
weakness while strength can breed either weakness or strength. When things
get hard only the strong will be able to make it. In this way the system continues.
My mom used to say tough tities make hard babies and hard babies get the job
done. I am not advocating for rule by the strong over the weak that would be
tyranny, nor am I advocating rule of the weak over the strong that would be social
fascism. What I am saying, is to you specifically, not the world in general. Life is
hard and you have to accept that fact without reason or excuse. It just is. If you
look for help or sympathy or a break then you are setting yourself up for a fall.
When it comes right down to it you have to be looking out for you. You have to
keep trying. You have to always be closing.
The Lesson to Learn:
It is the one who is not afraid to try that gets what he wants. If you want to
succeed in life, in business, in anything you have to try. Let go of your fear, your
shyness, and your concern for what others will think and do what it takes to make
The Brutal Truth:
It’s all on you win or loose it’s all on you. No one cares about your
problem. So stop whining and make it happen.
I have dealt with the facts of and the effects from references a lot over the
years. My first real experience with the pseudo world of references came when I
was a young idealistic worker of 18. I was working for a movie theater as an
usher and I was attempting to purchase a brand new motorcycle, a Suzuki
gs500e. What a great bike. It was my first real big purchase. The first time I had
applied for financing. Part of the application was work verification. I put down
my employer’s name, title, address, and phone number. I really had nothing to
worry about everything I had put down on the application was correct. Though I
had extrapolated my wage from the hourly amount to the yearly amount based
on a 40 hour week and at the time I was only working an average of about 35.
The difference could be the determining factor in qualifying. One afternoon a few
days after I had submitted my application, I was working and just happened to be
in the manager’s office talking to my boss when the call came in to verify my
information. I got up and was about to leave feeling as if it might be somehow
wrong for me to even be in the room when the manager was answering the
questions. As if my information and the conversation was somehow confidential
to the point where I could not even know.
I was about to leave when the manager said, “Hold on.” and put his hand
over the mouth piece of the phone and looked at me.
He said, “It’s a finance company asking me to verify your work information
and pay. What do you want me to tell them?”
I stood a bit stunned and confused as if it was a test of my morality by
“The truth,” I said, “I make X per hour” which was incredibly low but was at
the top of the pay scale for that job back then.
I had quickly thought and answered with my per hour wage so the illusion
of the 35 to 40 an hour difference would be maintained. He turned back to the
phone answered and was done. My heart was beating quick as He turned back
to me to continue our conversation. I was terrified he would indict me about the
amount, or the call or something… Later, I realized what made me nervous was
the unknown. (Note: Never give an unproven or unknown reference. Know the
answer before you ask the question.) I had never applied for anything like this
before. I did not know what was legal to ask or even how the manager would
respond. I did not know if there were rules, I didn't know.
He was a good manager and I thought of him as a friend or at least
friendly. We got along well and he asked, “What are you buying?” I told him
about the bike and we discussed it for a minute. I said, I had been concerned
about the financing and he laughed a bit. “I could have told them you made more,
if you wanted.” I said, “No, It was ok. It should be fine.” I left the office and went
about my job. I replayed the situation in my mind, I was feeling good that I had
gotten thorough this part; that I was going to get the bike. I realized something. I
could have applied for a Corvette or a house or anything and it wouldn’t have
made differenced. My Manager would have told them whatever I had wanted
him to (within reason of course). It was not that he was immoral, just the
opposite. He was quit correct in his behavior and expectations. So what was it?
He had no real stack in it. If he did, it was for me his employee. He felt no
obligation to the verifying company. Being a good manager he wanted to see
one of his employees doing well. He wanted his employees to have reliable
transportation. On top of it all we were friends. So there were lots of reasons to
say what ever was needed to get the job done. On the other hand he didn’t know
the finance company, it was a company not a person, and no matter what he said
there were no possible repercussions to him. So it was clear…references were
and are simply a matter of subjectivity. They are one person’s opinion.
This example does not cover all aspects of every kind of reference. There
are many kinds of references. There are work and personal references, in-
person, over the telephone, by email, or letter, there are verifications and
investigations each posses unique features that should be considered
thoroughly. All references contain the potential for positive support or a negative
assault upon you. This one was a simple work and pay verification (which in
California at the time might have been illegal to ask about). The point of this
example is to identify where the referring persons obligation lies, what is the
objective of the situation, and the need to have absolute certainty of the outcome
before you give a reference. These tenants apply to all references.
References can make or break you. A simple word or subtle impression
from a reference can result in dramatic changes in the outcome of a decision.
With numbers, dates, and verifications it’s pretty straight forward and most of the
time its just documentation which can be verified. When it comes to jobs, people,
and organizations it is entirely different. There are few if any real rules on the
person giving the reference. They can say what they want or nothing at all and it
is not likely you will ever know (without investigating) and even if you find out you
no real recourse. Once your screwed, you’re screwed period, the end. Go home
and try again somewhere else next time.
The Lesson to Learn:
Don’t sweat the reference because you are blind and helpless. Instead,
contact your reference verify the numbers and the information before you give
them out to anyone else. If you are not confident and convinced that they are
going to give the response you want then don’t put them down as a reference.
Don’t go into it blind. (Note: By contacting references ahead of time they feel
prepared and are more willing to speak positively about you. You never want the
first response from a reference to be…Who? I don’t know ‘place your name
here’… wait oh, ya... I know them.)
The Brutal Truth:
References can make or break you. If you give someone as a reference
and it goes bad you can’t do anything about it. Just don’t use them again.
“Nothing” is the New “No”
People want to avoid conflict and if you are not of use and can not harm
them. They will ignore you. I get emails and calls all the time from staffing
companies and recruiters looking to fill some position or the other. I take and
respond to these based on my need for employment or my level of interest in the
position they describe. I am always in the market because the best time to look
for a job is when you already have one. I do my best to keep up with emails and
follow up with calls. It only makes sense as part of an over all understanding of
business and especially marketing to make and keep positive contact with as
many potential customers as possible. If you view yourself or more specifically
your skill set as a product then potential employers are more accurately potential
customers. And the process of job seeking becomes the art of marketing. In this
you should realize perspective changes every.
A few months ago, I had a contract come to an end before I thought it
would and I was left in the undesirable position of being unemployed. This is
differentiated from being between contracts by the fact that I did not have another
job already lined up. Where as I usually enjoy being between contracts, kind of
like a mini vacation, I never want to be out of work. I put my resume back on line
and began my marketing campaign and within a day I was arranging customers
sorting between those that were just looky lous and those that were closeable. I
had received two or three calls from an in house recruiter for a medical billing
software development company in regards to a report developer analyst position.
By the tone of her messages and her persistence I was sure she would be in the
closeable pile. I finally made contact with her while shopping with my wife and
kids at Target (Business never stops). An initial phone call turned into a full
blown interview that took more then an hour. Which my kids did not mind as they
played through the toy isles and my wife did not mind as she wondered through
home furnishings and the book section.
The call and interview went well and she was going to set up another
phone interview this time with the hiring manager who was located out of state. A
day or two later I got a call from her again to schedule the second interview and a
week after that I was on the phone for the second interview. I detail this in order
to point out that marketing is a process that often takes time. I have ended up
getting contracts months after the initial contact. The longest gap between initial
contact and actual work I have ever had was about three years. I had a recruiter
from an out of state staffing agency make contact with me for one position which
did not materialize over the next three years we had the occasional call or email
without result and then like pulling the handle on a slot machine at the right time
we hit and I was on a plane the next week.
The second interview with the medical billing company went well the hiring
manager was semi technical and we seemed to hit it off on a personal level. She
said that she would be in contact with the recruiter to arrange a third and
technical interview that would be the deciding factor. A few days went by and I
had no word from the recruiter so I followed up with a call and nothing. A week
or so had pasted so I tried again this time with both a call and an email. No
response. A few days after that I was sure that they had moved on for some
reason which did not matter but the fact that I had not gotten even a curtsey
response to my email stating their lack of interest bothered me. I made one more
follow up call expressing my disappointment that there had been no response
and then let it go. I never did hear back.
The point of the matter is that for whatever reason they had moved on and
did not feel the need to let me know. It seemed rude in an abstract kind of way. I
did not know them and they did not know me and we had not made any
commitments or promises to each other. Still according to the rules of business
etiquette and with all propriety they should have feigned some sort of response.
But you see the rules of business are not really rules at all. They are more like
guidelines and you have to be of value to the other party in order for them to be
Look, I know we are all busy but no one is so busy that they can’t normally
get back to you. And I know that in this day in age with a modern life style and
business at the speed of light, in a world economy with the amazing high cost of
everything, time being money and all, it is just not possible or cost effective to
follow up with everyone on everything. Which is a bunch of crap, life was just as
busy in the past as it is now. Sure we have a global economy and the cost of
living is through the roof. Yes, there are more people on the planet then there
have ever been, all competing for limited resources. But we also have
technology. People don’t live in caves and ride horses. If you had said you
didn’t have time to give me a call back in 1975 because you had to go across
town. I would understand but now you have a cell phone and if you didn’t get
back till late you could easily drop me an email at midnight and I’d get it in the
morning. So don’t give me a load of garbage; that life is just too busy. You are
either afraid on my response (you’re a coward) or you don’t care (you’re an ass).
Follow up can be a necessity or a courtesy. If you are in need of
something it is a necessity but if you are not then it is a curtsey. Some people
are just not courteous and that is up to them. In the long run and or in a small
market it might hurt them. Just don’t let it get to you and don’t make a big deal of
it. If you try to get in touch and they never get back it is because you’re not the
one, they are not going to or can not do whatever it is you want, they have
moved on. Face it and move on.
The Lesson to Learn:
If you don’t hear back after several repeat attempts then you have gotten
you answer… and the answer is No. Get over it and move on.
The Brutal Truth:
If they don’t need you they don’t care. The world or market we live in is
not so large as to make it unnecessary not burn bridges but it is very competitive
out there and many have taken to the philosophy of take no prisoner, survival of
the fittest, win at any cost. The old rules of business are only applicable if you do
business the same old way that you have always done it. Most of the time things
have to develop and adapt quickly in order to stay above water and keep in the
Perception is the greater part of reality
This one still drives me crazy but it is one of the truest and most honest
statements I have ever heard though at the time I first heard it I thought the guy
who was telling it was an idiot or that he was just trying to sound profound. It
turned out both of which were true. I guess my first experience with real politics
was in the service which was very odd. For my service was in the Marines and
politics just seemed counter to the culture and I must say that for the most part
and for the better part of my first enlistment I never experienced anything close
to politics. I had started off in a division unit and there did not seem to be a place
for it at least not to my notice. That is why when I was transferred to a support
unit a bit more then halfway through my contract I was completely unprepared for
the experiences I would face. In retrospect, I can appreciate the lessons I
learned and now see it as a turning point in my working mindset. One might say
my eyes were opened and I never looked at any situation the same after that.
Over two years in and I was still in Love with the Corps. I had mostly
recovered from an accident that had lead to my transfer from a combat unit to
support. I was on my way to maintenance battalion by way of the group personal
office when I got pulled aside. The head of the department, a Chief Warrant
Officer 4 (CWO4), a female Marine, had noticed that I had some college and
computer experience and she was looking for someone to fill an out of MOS billet
at the group level on the General’s Special Staff. She called me into her office
and spoke to me in such a casual manner that I was a bit unsettled. I had not
worked directly with senior officers warrant or otherwise to this point and there
was a sense of awe that went with the rank in the Corps. I also had not worked
anywhere with a female in over two years and now they seemed to be
everywhere. (Note: Half of them seemed to be pregnant. It was weird to see a
female in a pregnancy version of the uniform. I didn’t really approve).
We spoke for a few minutes about my experience and I relaxed a bit. She
told me about the position and asked if I would do it. She asked me. I can’t tell
you how otherworldly that seemed to me. She said, I could try it out for a month
or so and if I did not like it or it was not working out I could come back and she
would transfer me on to Maintenance Battalion. A month later, I did come back
to her, reminded her of what she said, and asked to be transferred to
maintenance battalion. She said, “No.” and that pretty much sealed my fate for
my first enlistment. But for the monument I was still under the, properly trained
for division, but miss guided believe for group that when a senior asks you to do
something it was a command. You don’t have a choice and you can't refuse a
command. If fact you jump at the chance to prove yourself so I responded in
good fashion Yes, ma'am. ..and went to it. I was going to the Human Resource
Office (HRO) a small section within the general’s special staff under the
supervision of the G1 (the administrative section) at the group level. I was going
to push paper and not turn a wrench for the rest of my enlistment. I admit at the
time the prospect never seemed that appealing but I believed that a good Marine
did the job assigned to him to the best of his abilities without complaint and that
his efforts would be recognize and rewarded. Yeah, I know, Naive. But I am
telling you I had not experienced anything else in the Corps. Until I landed at
When I arrived the section was lead by a CWO2 who was proficient and
looking to get out of the job to go to school and get a commission, His enlisted
counter part was a female GySgt who’s primary MOS was dispersing but had
managed to do les then six years in that job out of a sixteen year career. She
wanted to get out of the HRO but would go anywhere as long as it wasn’t back to
dispersing. There was a Cpl who I was going to replace he was getting out all
together. I had also heard of a Sgt who had just left the section after being
denied reenlistment over some bitter feeling between him and the Gunny which I
would only understand months later. I was introduced to the G1 a major who
was filling a billet designed for a LTCol but it didn’t matter much as he was soon
transferred to another unit leaving an odd somewhat ill prepared and
overwhelmed Captain in charge. By the time the Capt. took over both the gunny
and the CWO2 had moved on and a new gunny had been assigned to be in the
HRO but had just came from Headquarters Marine Corps as an Equal
Opportunity Advisor. He didn’t want to get involved with the functioning of the
section or have responsibility for any troops. I was a troop. He reluctantly filled
the spot for appearance sack and or to his own advantage but I was on my own
and the Gunny made that perfectly clear. I had picked up Sgt when the Captain
officially took over and He pulled me aside to speak with me.
Break: If this does not already sound overly complicated and somewhat
confusing by now then you have been watching too many soap operas on TV.
It was a strange meeting but I had begun to get used to the fact that group
and especially the general’s level of group was not like the rest of the Marine
Corps in fact I was beginning to doubt it was in the Marine Corp at all. At any
rate it was at this time that I was given a jewel of wisdom from the Captain.
We spoke about the job and his expectations of me. That he was, as
everyone else, overwhelmed and filling a billet above his grade. He said he
would not have much time to direct my way and needed to know if he could rely
I responded confidently, “Yes. You can depend on me, Sir.”
He said he understood that I was filling a senior staff NCO billet or
possibly a WO billet but that it was a good credit to his belief in my abilities that I
was there. It was understood that this was an opportunity. I would be rewarded
for my efforts. This was to placate me into doing what no one else wanted to do.
Everyone before me had either realized this job was poison to their career and
got out or had already been killed metaphysically by the poison of the situation.
As our conversation ended I was feeling both overwhelmed and confident.
At this point he said, “There is one more thing…”
He leaned forward and in a very serious manner said, “Remember, we are
at group…. The general is just up the hallway… and perception is the greater
part of reality.”
I nodded my head in agreement not really understanding what he meant.
I understood completely what he had said. Be careful to not to screw up. But as
for its truer deeper and most complete meaning I was clueless. I contemplated it
as I walked away and back across the street to my office. I had already started
to develop a bit of sarcasm about my experience at group and thought He was
just another young officer only a few years out of college and only a couple of
years older then me who wanted to appear as if he had all the answers and
some wisdom. I looked back and wondered where he had heard that saying as I
know he did not think that one up alone.
Most of the world functions on what they see or what they think they see.
We rarely delve deeper then the first few layers of any given subject to confirm
the absolute truth of it. And why should we for most things in life the simplest
answer is the correct one and things are as they appear. The difficult part is
when things are not as they appear or when it takes a lot of digging to find the
real and complete truth. As a result it often does not matter what the truth is
because people will act and respond to a situation based upon how it appears or
more correctly their perception of the situation. Once people have determined in
their own head what happened it takes a lot to change their mind or convince
them otherwise. By that point it is likely too late and the damage it already done.
The Lesson to Learn:
The truth is what people think the truth is… there is a black and white…
there is a right and wrong but it does not matter what really happens if people are
acting based upon what they think happened. You have to deal with the situation
as it is and people as they are. You can save the correction and analysis for
your memoirs. This is why there are whole industries and vast numbers of
people dedicated to creation and altering of perception in people and society as a
The Brutal Truth:
Things are not always as they seem but people respond to what they see
and you have to deal with people as they are. So the reality in which we live is
most often a product of perception.
The Full Lifecycle Development
My first real interview as a programmer was a memorable experience and
a great lesson. It freed me from the last bit of a sense of propriety or respect in
relation to the work experience in general and the interview process in particular.
I had completed a condensed programming class through the extension course
department of my college alma mater in an attempt to transition to a more
lucrative career. I was I thought leaving the unappreciated underpaid and over
worked administrative and customer service world behind. I was heading to the
highly compensated and valued world of technology.
Armed with my wits, confidence, and a handful of computer training
classes I flooded the market with my resume and jumped at the first response. It
sounded perfect. An entry level programmer for a small local software
development company making twenty-five dollars an hour. It was more then I
could have hoped for. I remember taking an extra long time to get ready.
Making sure everything was perfect. Each hair on my head was in just the right
place. All three copies of my meticulously crafted resume were stored along with
an extensive list of references in the professional looking portfolio which I had
bought just for this interview. I arrived thirty minutes ahead of time and sat in my
car out of sight of the building while I practice my answers to what should have
been the common questions in order to make then appear natural. I had
researched the company web site and had a few end of interview question to ask
as a follow up to show that I was informed and proactive. I was ready.
I stepped confidently up to the door and then inside. It was a dumpy little
office that had a damp musty scent. It was dimly light with cheep fluorescents
several of which where out and needed to be replaced. I walked up to what was
acting as the front desk but looked more like the pick up window of a mom and
pop sandwich shop. The main room was empty but it appeared that the hallway
going back and the back rooms were busy with a handful of young twenty
something’s; all guys. It looked more like a high school chess club meeting then
a software company. As I stood there one of the guys came to the front and said
yeah. I said I was there for an interview with Phil or Bill or whoever it was. He
was supposedly the owner. The guy walked away for a moment and come back.
He said the owner was in a meeting but wanted me to fill out an application. I
was prepared for that and went straight to it. I made sure every mark was perfect
and accurate. When I was done I gave it back to the same guy who seemed to
be the lead guy or at least the administrative one. I offered him a fresh copy of
my resume and he said he didn’t need it. He then lead me to a room with two
rows of pc’s and said the owners was still in a meeting and wanted me to take an
online test ( by online I mean a computer test as the internet was still moving at
1440 back then and web pages were static.) I had not been aware of the test but
I was ready. I was confident I knew what I was trained to do. I was one of the
better students in the classes I had taken and always finish my assignments
before the others. The test was ridicules. It was confusing and filled with
ambiguous questions. It was a software program that had been developed in
house from a list of question thought up by the staff. I was sweating by the time I
finished an hour or so later. I was sweating but not from the questions. I was
hot. The sun must have been high in the sky near noon in the warm climate of
Southern California and there did not seem to be any air condition in the old
building. I thought hey how about opening a window or something but there
didn’t; appear to be one to open. I was also getting soar from having sat
uncomfortably on a cheap and somewhat broken office chair for the past hour
leaning forward most of the time to avoid having the cushion screws poke me in
the back. I did not ask for another chair as I did not want to give the wrong
When I was done I waited around for a bit not seeing the guy who had
lead me from task to task so far. Eventually, feeling as if I might have taken too
long on the test and thinking maybe they had abandoned me, I ask someone
else and he went to get the lead guy again. This time when I told him I was done
he just said, “You can wait in here.” leading to a tiny conference type room near
the front again. It had table that looked second hand and was way too big for the
room. There were several chairs in the room that looked better then the one I
had been sitting on so I thought my situation was improving. He said I could wait
here and went away. About twenty minute later he came back in and said the
owner was still in a meeting and it would be a bit. I said ok. I had started to
develop a head ach and I was getting thirsty. It was likely after lunch by now and
there didn’t appear to be any water or even a restroom in site. About ten minutes
later the same guy came back he said that the owner was not available and that
he was going to interview me. I thought, “Damn, Are you kidding?” OK at least
we could get it done. He was a pleasant fellow and it seemed we got along well.
We seemed to have the same understanding of programming. His
technical questions where not hard and I answered them correctly. His
personality questions where easy and in fact it became quickly obvious that in life
I had a lot more experience and in regarded to work in general it was the same.
In no time I was guiding him through the interview and we where chatting about
other things and interests. I did get the impression that he was stalling for time
by the end of the interview. I think he liked me and I got the feeling that I might
get the job. As we ended he said, “OK that’s all I’ve got. Let me check and see if
the owner is free.” He got up and worked his way around the extra chairs and to
the door. It came flying open nearly knocking him over. It was the owner. Out of
his meeting or whatever had occupied him for the past two plus hours. And it
appeared he was not in a good mood at all. I by now was definitely hungry and
thirsty and my head had moved from a minor ach to a thunderous pounding. I
was ready to be done and He was ready to begin. Damn, I thought again. And
this time I thought maybe I don’t want this job. If this is how this guy does
business it is not going to be worth it. It was however a bit difficult to leave. I
was on the backside of the table opposite from the only door. I was across from
the owner who had come in and sat in the chair directly in front of me and
blocking the door.
I contained my self and with all pleasant decorum stood up and reach out
my hand to introduce myself. He had walked in and said abruptly, “What’s your
name?” He waved off my hand and plopped down. I offered him a copy of my
resume as did the lead guy who had a copy from the fax I had originally sent.
The owner said no He would not need it. He seemed to deal with every one of
his employees with as much contempt and disregard as he had with me. I
thought how rude. What arrogance. He was a fat middle aged man shabbily
dressed. He seemed to be permanently unhappy except when he was treating
someone poorly. He also seem to take a particular delight when he could make
someone feel stupid or small by proving he know more then they did about
I would come to know later that he was what would be a prototypical
mainframe or green screen programmer. One of those guys who had learned
programming back when the development world was about multi-million dollar
government projects that took years to create and required constant repair and
maintenance of machines that where maxed out at a single gigabit of hard drive
space. He was one of the few that had jumped from the dinosaur ways and
marched in to the pc world of the future. He had probably been fired by IBM or
some airspace company for being a jerk. But to this group of minions he was a
near god. This was the first job for most of them and they were easily
And although I had rarely been paid during my short lived computer career
at that point I had already had a long and varied work history to include four
years in the Service. And I could see a fake and a bully from far off. I had
decided to just make it though as quickly as possible and go get lunch before I
headed home. I wasn’t going to get this job. He asked me a few short questions
which I flipped off answers to with a bit of contempt of my own. It was hard to
contain the thoughts in my head, as he talked, that I was not only smarter then
this guy but better then him.
I had not mastered the art of keeping my thoughts and feelings from being
seen in my manner and speech. It would be years later that I had been able to
control this. It’s a great trick and very helpful but for the moment the more he
questioned and I answered the more irritated he got with me.
Finally he just let it out and asked, “What makes you think your smarter
then me?” I didn’t hesitate or try to deny it.
I said, “You took twenty years to learn what you have and you seem stuck
with it. I picked this stuff up in a few months and am confident that given the
project some reference books and a bit of time I could do anything you are
He was astounded. See he had called me out in an attempt to intimidate
me. He thought I would deny my thoughts and a fall a way like the rest of his
little lackeys. When I didn’t it pissed him off.
He said, “That’s pretty arrogant. Do you know what these guys are doing?
They are writing GIS programming.” This was of course before every cheap cell
phone had a GIS interface. And in fact before there really were cheap cell
phones but I thought ok so what.
I said, “Give me the book and two days and I’d be doing it to.” At this point
the other guy in the room looked as if he were trying to hide while the owner and
I got into an actual argument with raised voices and stern hand gestures. I was
done by now.
Having stood up at some point in the conversation I now sat down and
said, “Is that it?” In a manner that really conveyed, “That is it.”
I said, “I don’t have any more questions. Do you?”
He said, “No.”
I looked at the other guy who seemed relieved and a bit dismayed as if he
just realized that the Wizard of OZ was just on old guy behind a curtain. As I got
up and headed for the door the other guy seemed a bit pleased. Like he had had
enough of the bully and it was nice to see the owner take it on the chin for once.
I said good bye formally and walked out. As the door shut I thought of all my
training and how I could have just killed him. By the time I got to the car… I had
a smile on my face and realized how much I had enjoyed the conflict. I missed
the fight and thought about getting back into the Corps not for the last time.
You never know how an interview will turn out especially if you are trying
to stretch yourself into a new position or making a career change. Interviews are
a world of their own and you have to take them as such. They’re like an audition
for a play. You put on a costume and memorize a bunch of prepared lines and
responses. The key is to get to know and understand your audience as soon as
possible and adapt to them the way a good comedian can read a room.
The Lesson to Learn:
In most cases the interviewers hold the cards and you have to try an
impress them. They have something you want and as long as they hold the wipe
you have to make the trip and put on a show. The only time this is not the case
is when you don’t care if you get the job or not. Not needing a job means that
unbeknownst to the interviewer you are holding the cards. It’s not quite a
complete reversal because even though you don’t need what they have and they
need something; they may not need it from you.
The Brutal Truth:
Interviews suck… they don’t present an accurate picture of the candidate
or the work place. You will have to go to and get through many interviews in life
and the best you can do is learn how to play the part and try to make it so that
they need and want you more then you need or want them.
It’s time to leave
I was pretty much raised by my uncle, my father’s older brother by twelve
years. He was closer in age to a grand father to me then a father. He was a big
man over six foot and 250lbs. He was born way back in ’21 on a farm in
Tennessee and had done, what seemed to me, everything that could be done in
life and work before I was even born. He was a kid during the great depression
and a radio operator on a B-17 during WW II. He was not only part of the
greatest generation to me he was the embodiment of the greatest generation.
He was strong, and manly. He could hold his liquor with the best of them but
rarely drank by the time I knew him. He drove a truck for Mayflower across the
country before they were diesels. He raised hell and beat more then one man
down in a fight in his youth but I rarely saw him raise his voice. He read the Bible
daily and even though it was tuff to get up and down in his older years, he often
would pray on his knees. He was and is to me still today, the example of
manhood. A vision personified in John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Humpry Bogart,
Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart. It was from him that I have derived my sense
of right and wrong and a cold faced understanding of life.
In short he was the type of man who… did what he said he was going to
do. Who had no pretense or illusions as to his own failings. He took action
knowing the risks. He enjoyed his success with humility and took his hits without
complaint. He always had hope and pride until the end of his days.
A book could be written just on the wisdoms he delivered off handedly on
a daily basis as if they were M&Ms in a candy bowl on the coffee table. For this
book however, one seems more fitting then the others. I remember sitting at a
wooden picnic table outside with him in the back yard listening to his little blue
am transistor radio. That radio and the line of identical predecessors that had
been picked up at Kmart or radio shack for a couple of bucks. Broadcasted a
continual stream of news, an occasional sermon and of course every Dodger
game during the season even if we were watching them on the TV or sitting in
the cheap seats at the ball park. On this particular occasion he had been talking
back to the radio as if the announcers could hear him and he was part of the
conversation. It is a tendency that can be seen today with some people at
movies and many more while watching TV but for his generation I believe that
the people on the radio were more real and interactive to them. I don’t even
recall the subject of the conversation but I remember his response.
He said, “That’s how you know when it’s over… when it’s time to leave. I
He said, “When the bullshit outweighs the benefits.” I was a bit struck with
his words but they were as clean and clear as any words ever spoken in their
honestly and truth.
I could of course with my college education and years of professional
experience, explain in some complicated details the undeniable facts of cost
benefit analysis, of break even and tipping pints, but in all the intellectual jargon I
would do nothing to improve on the plain common sense truth of a man who had
taken classes at Columbia, but never graduated past the seventh grade in
school, a man whose best teacher was life.
There’s crap in every situation, every job, every relationship, and every
experience in life. It’s really simple. You have to decide. Is what you’re getting
out of it worth what you have to deal with to get it? Is it worth it? If it is then shut
your mouth and stop complaining. If it’s not, then just leave.
The Lesson to Learn:
You always have options they may not be the best or even good options
but in every situation there are options. The more you pay attention and the
closer you look the more likely you are to see the various options in any give
situation. It is up to you to decide which one to take.
Here was the Brutal Truth:
Life is a choice and that choice is full of chooses so get used to making
Taking Advantage of the Situation
My wife has always been a wonderful barometer of my connection to
reality. She makes me face things that I don’t recognize I have been avoiding.
In particular the habit I have to try to get myself fired from a position that I don’t
want to be at any more but I don’t feel I can just leave. When she first delivered
this gem of wisdom, I was caught off guard as to its truth about myself and the
fact that she had been so insightful. But as soon as the statement had left her
lips I knew it was true.
She said, “Your trying to get fired.”
I said, “No I’m not.”
She said, “You hate the job, you want to leave, but you have to provide for
us (her and the two kids we had at the time) and your guilty about wanting to
quite so instead of just walking out your going out of your way to do things to get
them to let you go.”
It was horrible for me to admit but she was right. Although the job was
cushy and the money was pretty good I had mastered the situation and was
bored I was also disgusted with the company ownership and felt that what I was
doing had no greater purpose other then making money for them. I was
providing for my family along the way but not all that well and not well enough to
put up with all the politics and crap that existed on a daily basis. At the time, all I
could think was I'm dyeing here, I wish I was back in the service. Which was not
the last time I would think or say those exact words.
When she had finished calling me out so to speak, I had to admit it, and
apologize to her for the argument we had just had and for my attitude about the
job in general. In her loving grace she set me free and said that I didn’t have to
stay there. My spirited began to soar as I thought how I would tell them I quit
tomorrow. In person, so I could enjoy it more, then my feet were set properly
back on the ground.
She continued, “You can quiet as soon as you have a new job. So stop
playing around and start looking for a new job.”
It smacked of a bit of family wisdom she had offered me when I had first
met her. I always felt that her family interactions had been a bit cold. On one
occasion while I was spending the evening at her house watching TV with her
and her parents; her sister had come into the room complaining about a head
Her mother had asked, “What was wrong?” Her sister started to go on
Her father asked, “What she had taken for it?”
She said nothing. The whole family mother, father, and big sister cut off
from her sympathetically.
Almost in unison they said, “Well then, go take some Advil or Tylenol or
I thought wow kind of cold and I think the words came out of my mouth
before I realized I was talking. The reason for the family’s response was a bit
joking but true.
“In this house you don’t get to complain until you’ve taken something for
it.” Her father said. More clearly stated; unless you have tried to solve the
problem you don’t get to ask for help or sympathy.
I had spent several months at the job I wanted to leave and had done a lot
of good work. I had made a lot of progress and provide value for my efforts. I
had also learned a lot about politics and the political make up of the company.
The closer I got, the more I knew of the details of the inner working of the
company, the less I liked it and the worse it got for me personally. In a few
months I had made their software work and it was go enough. I could go. Had it
been a year earlier or two years later I would have just left but the dot.com
bubble had just burst, the millennium hoax was rampant, and the economy was
waffling. Their was just not a market for independent gui programmers any
more. I was in a safe little hole. Metaphorically it was a cold wet hole filled with
snakes. I didn’t want to be there anymore but I couldn’t leave. With the
information I had about the owners and management, I developed a bitter moral
relativism and although I knew it was wrong I justified my actions as a sense of
just desserts. The big guys were liars and cheats and were taking advantage of
all the pee-ons that worked for them. So it was ok if I took advantage of the big
guys and if they let me go it would not be my fault.
It was kind of like being in the service. You see, within some sense of
reason, if you are given a command and you follow that command and
something bad happens it’s not your fault; you’re just following orders. As a
young loving husband and new father, I could not just volunteer to go off to a
distant land because I thought it would be cool. I could not just leave my wife
and young children alone. I would in essence be abandoning them for my own
selfish desires. I’d be a jerk. (I would be neglecting my primary duty, my family) If
on the other hand, I was ordered to go away and it was beyond my control. If I
was simply following orders. I would be fulfilling my duty. I would be noble. The
same thing happens in a job. If I were to just quit because I didn’t like it or it was
too hard. I am a jerk. If on the other hand I was fired and it was beyond my
control. I’d still be a good guy and even be a sympathetic figure doing me best
and having been let go.
Before I was made to face myself and to see and admit to my actions
objectively, I had been on a figurative joy ride. I spent (wasted) hours on-line
downloading music (Napster was still free) and perusing my own interesting. I
drank coffee and took walks outside. I had been given a company credit card to
entertain and get supplies, so I would began a systematic review of all the local
restaurants. I brought along a coworker and justified it as a business lunch or
dinner. We talked about work sometime during the meal. I enjoyed the local
book store and bought an endless library of computer programming and business
books many of which had nothing to do with my current tasks and were really just
for my own person enrichment. This patter of abuse of company resources went
on for weeks to no effect. I didn’t get so much as a comment for anyone. I had
already become brazen in my behavior but to no effect. I had even gone out
with the general manger of the company and when he went to pay for the lunch
with his card I said no let me He of course being the senior person put his down
probably thinking the meal was too expensive for me to pay for; someone might
ask about it. He did know that I had bought meals at double that price already
and no one had notice.
In my unconscious mind I knew I needed to do something bigger. Then I
found the answer. The big one. The company had four locations and one was
located in Redmond just outside of Seattle. I loved Seattle. I had taken the
family on a driving vacation there a year of two early on the way to visiting friends
in Spokane and when we had stopped in Seattle, I was ready to stay. The wife
pushed me on to the next stop on or trip but I still longed to return. When I
discovered the office up there, I had to develop a plan, a reason to go. I began
a political campaign to lobby the ownership for a need to visit the office up there
and discuss the software. My efforts where initially rejected but with some time
and a bit of support from one of the owners I was on my way. I would take my
newly stamped mintee and we would befriend the owner and the staff in
Washington to make sure we had all sides taken care of with the new software.
The travel and everything was arranged through the company secretary.
The IT manager would go up there from time to time to work network issues and
they had a standard package set. A single room with two double beds at the Red
Roof Inn in Redmond and if they couldn't arrange for someone to pick them up a
small compact car. Meals at the local Mickey D’s if possible a local sit-down
restaurant as a splurge on the last day. I of course had another thought. From
the start it was purposeful and free. Upgrade to first class at the gate to the
plane, upgrade to convertible Mustang 5.0 for the rental car. Moved the room to
a big hotel in downtown Seattle. And of course meals wherever we liked. On
one day out with a local manger, as we were looking for a place to eat and we
noted a restaurant.
She said, “Oh, no. That’s too expensive. The owner (who had approved
the trip) ate there when he came up.”
I said, “Then that sound good, let’s eat there.”
Thinking that we were joking she passed it off and I think we ended up at
Coco’s for stall fries and a cardboard burger. From that point on the theme of the
visit now was, “Where would the owner eat or what would he do?” and that’s
what we did. I say we because I brought my mintee with me but in truth I was the
driving force to it all I was going to take advantage of it as much as possible.
Upon my return I was sure I was going to be free. We did the market place, we
did the aquarium, and as an event toper we did the world fair park ending with
dinner at the restaurant top on the Space Needle to the tune of about three
hundred dollars for two people. Of course there was the first class upgrade for
the return flight and then… the wait. The bill did not come in for a another two
weeks during which I had managed to max out the card and show up to work for
about twenty hours in each week which was great since I was salary and got paid
the same whether I work twenty hours or fifty hours.
On the day the bill came in I got a call from accounting. I was called to
speak with the accounting supervisor and directed to the accounts payable girl.
A nice prudent upper middle aged lady who had been ingrained with a sense of
purpose and propriety that shielded her from any sense of reality and made it
possible for her to reconcile the amazing expenses that the owners would make
while scrutinizing the two dollars spent by a stocking lead for an extra coke. She
called me to ask about my credit card statement and to verify the charges. She
knew that they had to be wrong. I looked at the bill with a sense of wonder wow
had I really spent that much but it was a good trip I thought.
I carelessly gave the bill back to her and said, “No, it looks right.”
She was shocked and questioned, “Are you serious?”
I said, “Yeah.”
She said, “You spend so much on dinner how many people where there?”
I said, “Just me and the other guy.”
I thought she had stopped breathing until she said, “Well, that’s just
I have to admit that this word pissed me off and I asked in contempt,
“Why? That’s were the owner eats.”
She said, “Yeah but he's the owner.”
I did not get into the whole peasant aristocracy debate and just said,
“That’s the bill.” She said that she would have to show it to the owner for
approval as if she was going to tell my mommy.
I said, “Well then take it to him for approval.”
Then I walked away. Two days later I got called in to the owner’s office.
He had the bill and a look like he was my mommy on he's face. He stared into it
and was ready for me to deny the situation or make and excuse. I didn’t. He
was somewhat dumb founded. He asked about the dinner and I said I was told
that it is were he ate so I did the same.
“In fact,” I said, “I just did what I thought he would do.”
He seemed caught.
He said, “Well yeah but when it goes over I just pay the difference on the
bill when it comes in.”
I said, “OK, let me know how much I went over and I’ll pay the difference.”
I smiled because he could not do anything by his own standard I was
following the rules. He said he didn’t know the exact amount but accounting
could get it. He signed off on the bill. I walked out stating that I needed to get
back to work. I went out for coffee and a doughnut. A week later I still hadn’t
heard anything finally the general manger visited me in my office and with a smile
and a laugh in the understanding that I had pushed it hard passed the edge.
He asked, “Are you going to going to pay the bill?”
I said, “Sure, how much was over the prescribed limit?”
He said, “There’s not a prescribed limit.”
I wrote a check for a hundred and forty bucks and called it even. After that
I made it a habit to max out the card each month and drop check for a hundred or
so in with the bill.
Now you might think that would have done it but not at all. I was there for
several months after this. In fact, I would have been there longer if I had not
stumbled over myself politically. The money meant nothing to them. It was more
a matter of attitude and perception.
In the Disney movie, A Bug’s Life, a group of good for nothing
grasshoppers oppress a group of hard working ants. One day a single ant
stands up to them and causes trouble.
Later, the stupid brother to the aggressive leader of the grasshoppers
asks, “Why do we have to go back anyway? It’s just one ant.”
The leader replied, “One ant… its not just the one ant.”
He took a seed and said, “This is the one ant.” And threw it at his brother.
It bounced off. “No big deal right?”
Then he opened the jar and hundreds of seed covered the brother and the
others at the bar.
Then he says, “If you let one stand up then they will all stand up and there
are more of them then us.”
You can’t let them see or feel as if they are equals if you want to stay on
top and oppress them. OK, I am paraphrasing but you get the idea.
Life is a struggle. A struggle to survive. A struggle to get to the top. A
struggle to stay there. It only ends when you die. You have to ask yourself do
you want to spend your life struggle on the bottom, in the middle, or at the top.
Each has its benefits and perils but there is a reason why they call the top the
The Lesson to Learn:
You can make the best out of any situation and you can turn that situation
to your benefit. It takes effort and planning but it can be done. The results may
not be what you want but you can defiantly have an impact.
The Brutal Truth:
You are not a gofer. You have to raise your head up and take a look
around in order to know where you’re going. You have to get out of your
perspective and test the bounds of your cage in order to find a way out.
The Owner Knows Best
Here is another global truth; people are different. No, they really are… I
know you are thinking with all the sarcasm you can muster,…really!… are people
different? What’s funny is that we know it consciously but we deny it in every
other sense. You see, if people are truly different then it follows that certain
If people are different… then… we are not all the same.
If we are not all the same… then… we have different strengths and weaknesses.
If we have different strengths and weakens… then… it does not make sense that
as a sum total of our strengths and weaknesses that we all equal.
At least not in our abilities and not as people either. Which is not to say that
everyone does not have there day. Remember a broken clock is right at least
twice a day. It is also not to say that everyone will get their day, some just don’t.
Some sit and watch as their one and only opportunity to have a day goes right on
I believe that everyone has gifts, and everyone has a part to play. Some
are heroes and some are villains and some are court gestures while others are
just scenery. The brutal truth is that we are not all equal and depending on the
situation some of us are not even valuable. There are people that are more
capable then others, smarter, more worthy. Now in the real world they don’t
always get paid more or get to lead but the idea that everyone is equal, with
equal worth or value, and everyone deserves to have there opinion heard is
Encapsulating your thoughts within the shelter of the phrase “my opinion”
does not and should not raise stupidity on par with intelligent thought. For some
reason we have gotten to the point where someone can say they believe the
moon is made of soft green cheese and we have to accept it because it is their
belief. Now we don’t really accept that the moon is made of soft green cheese
just because they said they believe it is but what we do accept is that they get to
say it and that they are OK for believing it as a matter of opinion. This should
sound a little bit silly but…No; the moon is not made of soft green cheese. There
are verifiable facts at play and I know outside of CSI we don’t accept the concept
of facts any more. I was raised with an understanding of the laws of science but
we don’t even have those anymore. The term law was too restricting. Don’t get
me wrong, I am not saying that everything must be based on facts or that facts
can’t be misleading. What I am saying is that comparing facts with belief and
opinion is like comparing apples with hair conditioner. In order for discourse to
be intelligent we can not allow belief and opinion to be put on par with facts
where verifiable information exists. If you do then someone can say, “In my
opinion, we ought to grant total health care to everyone in the world for free.” and
their statement becomes irrefutable because it is their opinion.
An opinion is a feeling and we don’t want to hurt others feelings. The truth
is that opinions are like butts everyone has one and they all stink. When are we
going to get past this whole nice stuff and face reality some people’s opinions are
better then others. Some people are better then others. There are some who
can rule and others deserve, hell they desire, to be ruled. I believe in democracy
but why do we keep trying to force people who want and are more capable of
being controlled into a position where they have to decide things that they don’t
have the ability to understand. (Note-Because evil power hungry people who
can’t get control and have no moral compass use the stupid people in a
In a company there are those who make decisions and those who do the
work. This is not to say that the ones who make they decision really know what
they are doing or that the ones who do the work might not make a better
decision. I don’t know where I am going with this ramble. I just keep thinking
about a guy I ran into once…. during a particular unpleasant state of mind. I
was both unhappy with my job and appalled by the stupidity of the people in
charge of the company we both worked for. I was a project manager. A white
collar executive type working in my own air condition office. The whole company
depended on my software to do their job and make money. He was a lead BBQ
assembler. We where coming to the end of the BBQ assembly season and we
would soon be laying off a couple hundred employees many of which had no
idea of the impending cuts. By we, I meant the company, for those who know
they are safe and have information and get to make decisions tend to refer to the
place where they work as us or we.
He had come into the headquarters to turn in some paper work about his
team to the HR department. He had been attempting to get some information
about they pending lay offs (couldn’t face the term firings) from the HR manager
who of course knew but was not going to say. Her loyalties and sense of
propriety would not let her slip out a bit of information. Though it wouldn’t make a
bit of difference to her or the company but could mean everything to the guys
about to get the axe. At the bottom rung a few days notice could mean the
difference between paying the bills on time next week or having the lights turned
I had walked up to see the HR manager and over heard their
conversation. I could tell the subject by the leads nervous manner and the HR
managers look of piousness. I joined the conversation and immediately
confirmed that we were going to lay people of and it was likely to happen in about
three weeks. The HR manger looked pissed. I couldn’t be sure though if it was
because I had released the information or that I had known about it and at that
time she still didn’t. With that secret out of hiding, the conversation moved into
who was doing well and had money or not. The lead said he wished he could
run his own company.
I said, “Why don’t you start your own? How hard is it to do, what you do?”
He said, “I don’t know how to run a business.”
I said, “What business? What you do is the business. You’re the one who
has the relationship with the retailers. You’re the one who knows the assemblers
and you’re the one who manages the teams.”
With this I thought the HR manager was going to explode.
She said, “There is more to it then that.”
I said, “No there’s not.”
She said, “There is more to it then that. You just don’t know about it.”
Trying to be smug and show that she had information that I didn’t. (To her, there
had to be more to it. Her whole existence was based on dealing with the
complexities of running a business and dealing with employees. If it was that
simple then there would be no need for her.)
I said, “No, there’s not any more to it. I wrote the software that runs this
company. I have access to the every piece of data in the company, including
HR.” I said with a verbal jab.
I said to the lead, “All you have to do is go talk to the vendor and say next
time you guys want to do this call me and I’ll bring my guys in and do it for ten
percent less. Then you go and talk to the guys on your tem and tell them you’ll
pay then fifty cents more per BBQ and you will be in business. It just that
He responded, “It could not be that easy. There was accounting and laws
and rules and stuff and the sales and marketing and it must cost a lot of money.”
It was sad hearing him make excuses for being mediocre.
He said, “The owners know more and better then I do.”
I said, “What? Why do you think that?”
He said, “Because they’re the owners. If they didn’t then they wouldn’t be
the owners. They wouldn’t have all this and they wouldn’t be the ones who make
I was stunned by the stupidity of these words but not surprised. The truth
is that the owners didn’t have any special hold on decision making. Most owners
especially of smaller to mid sized companies got there for no reasons that have
anything to do with their efforts, knowledge, or abilities. Most of the time it has
been time and place and or circumstance. Now if you ask them be assured that
you will hear it otherwise. How smart they are, how they are self made, and how
they had a great idea and tremendous effort. Know that ninety-five percent of the
time it is self aggrandizing crap and the remaining five percent it was because
they screwed someone else over to get it.
People are not equal but it has yet to be determined if you are better or
worse then anyone. Only you can prove that and only time will tell. So in
everything you do start off with the idea that you are as good, as smart and as
capable as anyone and let the results prove the truth of it one way or another.
The Lesson to Learn:
If you let yourself believe that others are somehow better then you or that
you are not as capable then you are not going to be. Except reality and be both
knowledgeable and objective about your strengths and weaknesses but don’t
give up before you even start. The only way to really loose is to give up. And
remember you can also learn, train, and improve.
The Brutal Truth:
You determine by your own thoughts and actions whether you are better
then the next guy or not.
Get your nut around it
OK, I have to include this one… I have some distant relatives by marriage
that I have had to deal with in a business situation or two and it always turns bad.
Mostly because few people have a true honest objective grasp on reality. I have
made a deliberate effort since I was young to see things for how they are and not
how I want them to be. I have made an even harder effort to see myself as how I
am instead of how I would like to see myself. In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses the
phrase, “To thy own self be true.” I guess you could read it as you should always
do what you think is right or what you want to do but I have always understand it
as to have no illusions about yourself. Be honest with yourself as to your own
abilities and weakness. For if you can’t look at yourself in reality then you will
never be able to see anything in reality.
I had come to the conclusion that my relatives where insane; unable to
experience the real world. They existed in a world of their own creation. One in
which the disjoined and contrary thoughts they held could be related to each
other and spun into a cohesive vision of the world, that no matter how contrived,
allowed them to exist, do, and function as they did. All the while enabling them to
think of themselves as the good and or just person in every situation. They had
to create a world in which the opposing personas that they inhabited would all fit
under the same umbrella. They had to make up a world so they could get heir
nut around it all.
My wife and I enjoy both science fiction and fantasy in books and film.
Those genres enable you to leave, if only for a short period of time, your normal
day and go to places where anything can and usually does happen. Places
where travel through wormholes and three headed monsters that speak English
are both perfectly acceptable. I tend to just go with the stories but my wife often
gets caught up on inconsistencies. She is more then willing to go along with the
seemingly impossible in a story as long as it fits within the boundaries that were
set out in the beginning. Star Wars and Star Trek can have ships travel at
speeds faster than light and have gravity in space because they can explain it in
accordance to the rest of the story. There are whole books devoted to the
technical explanations of the ships and the theoretical phenomenon that exist in
these stories. I have heard Trekkies arguing over the minute details of a design
feature in order to verify its appropriate and logical place in the story.
It’s kind of like when you read comic books and a main character is killed
in vol. 347 but is back alive in vol. 582 and no explanation is give. That would
cause a disconnect and should invalidate the hole series even though it would be
perfectly acceptable for the main characters to be able to shape shift into and
animal or fly. When you are faced with apparently contradictive and incompatible
situations the human mind has to work it out. This is were the imagination works
its magic and develops a story line no matter how fanciful to resolve the
contradiction and allow a seamless understanding of events to flow. Almost like
when some sticks or a bunch of leaves get put in front of a stream of water
flowing down the curb in the street. The water at first is stopped and then rises
and then it finds a new path either enveloping the object, possibly carrying it
along, or moving around the object to continue upon it course.
What we have are three basic visions of things. One: the way we see
ourselves (our own self image), Two: the way others see us (which leads to how
they respond to us), and Three: the truth of how we are. The closer these three
views are to each other the more grounded in reality you will be and the more
likely you are to be able to deal with the world. If on the other hand these items
are far apart you will have to make up a story; to create a world in which they all
can coexist in order to function This has little to do with differences in preference
or opinion. It is not like saying apples are better then oranges. It’s like saying
and apple is an orange. The brutal truth is that there are plenty of people out
there that you will have to deal with that exist in a world made in part or entirely
of there own creation. A world that has little or no connection to reality. With
these people the best you can do is to recognize that the situation exists and
account for it as just another factor in your decision making. Example: John just
does not accept that X occurs so you don’t bring that subject up with John and
you don’t put john on the X team. You put him on the Y team even though you
could use his skill set on the X team.
A real problem occurs when the person has such a complete disconnect
between themselves and reality that they can’t figure out a way to make it all
match. Their peas are so far apart that they can’t get their nut to cover all three.
As a result they have to go off the deep end. This accounts for some of the
horrible tragedies that you hear on the news every so often. Where the attacker
says the victim wanted them to do it, or that the monkey or pillow made them do
it. You have to be way out there for that to be the case.
I keep thinking about some of the shows that I have seen where this type
of thing happened. When the writers have written themselves into a story line so
far out there that even by the absurd boundaries of their story they can’t make
sense of it. One case in point would be the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical
episode (Season six episode seven). When a story about a teenage girl
cheerleader who hunts down and kills vampire and other demonic creatures
while maintaining an apparently normal life and has an on again off again love
relationship with a vampire is not big enough to handle a story line you know you
have gone off the deep end and the only way to resolve it is to completely
through away reality, or in this situation, the accepted boundaries of the story.
You can almost hear the writers say, I don’t know man, I can't figure out how we
can make this make sense and not sound stupid. And then someone says, what
if we have everyone sing there dialog and dance through the scenes. Then the
whole thing will seem so crazy that the story line will seem normal. In effect we
will just get the audience to throw everything out and start over. I’ve gone on
about this one a bit more then I should have so I won’t do more but it is not the
only show that has been in this situation. One of my favorite episodes of Xenia
warrior princess was the one about the Land of Illusia (Season three episode
twelve). And again song came to the rescue of an untenable storyline. I do
admit that when reality is replaced with the surreal it can be entertaining. Kind of
like watching a stumbling drunk do something like walk up a set of stairs. But
remember its all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
You never know with people, at least not at first glace, whether they have
a firm grip on reality or not. It’s one of the first things you have to figure out about
people. It makes a big difference in how you can and should relate to them.
There are lots of people out there that seem ok but are way off the deep end.
The Lesson to Learn:
People are screwed up and you have to deal with them so figure out
where they are coming from, their perspective, and do the math to equate that to
reality and then do the math to equate reality to how you view things. I hope
you’re good at comparing fractions.
The Brutal Truth:
People are complex and almost no one has it all together all the time.
This too is ok. The trick is to be aware of the situation and adjust you responses
accordingly. You have to start by getting and keeping yourself as close to reality
as possible. It will make the math easier.
Secular and Atheistic
To the morally concerned, spiritually minded, and religious.
I knew this guy once. A nice guy morally upright and respectable. A bit
slight and meek in appearance but strong in his conviction and firm in beliefs. He
was remarkable in his sense of propriety. I liked him and in some ways even
admired him if not for his strength then for his strength of convection, his genuine
belief, and consistent follow through of behavior. Where we parted was our
understanding of companies and the corporate world. He worked for a bank or
financial institute as a lower level decisions maker or processor. He was in an
environment that prided itself on its conservation sense of right and wrong, good
and bad, and worthy and not. (Side note: If you believe that business’s,
especially financial ones, don’t equate payment, your ability to pay, and or wealth
with right and wrong and good or bad then you are leaving in a dream world -
wake up) Daily as an institution they would review factors of there own choosing
against measures of their own contrivance and determine the worthiness of
It was within this environment that he quietly conducted his daily
responsibilities and performed his work. I don’t believe he had ever taken the
time to look around and see the bigger picture or take a look at his situation or
the company from a different perspective. He was as you might have guessed a
spiritual man religious in some ways but more genuinely devoted to the precepts
of the Bible then the practice of a set of rules. He lived the idea of doing what
was right and it mattered not what others did. He was to be judged by his
behavior regardless of others.
In his company there were all type of rules which he complied with to the
letter in order to maintain a good witness, avoid trouble and or correction, and
maintain his position no matter how difficult in order to fulfill his duty and provide
for his family. He had a terrible and long commute and a large family. They lived
mildly in a small house and had few if any extravaganzas. He would not use the
company computer for personal use nor would he even use the company phone
for personal calls; not even to call home for less then thirty second and say,
“Hey, honey, I’m leaving now.”
I remember one time I had driven out to his work to meet him. I had
gotten there a few minutes before five and so I had gone inside to say hi and see
where he worked. He took a moment came down and walked me back to his
cubical on the second floor. We talked for a bit and he didn’t want to make me
wait but said he could not leave just yet. As we walked back to his desk I noticed
and remarked about how empty the place was. He had said that most people
leave early to try to avoid the traffic. I said, uagh, that’s why you stay later.
Commenting on how smart he was to avoid the traffic. I mean everyone leaves
early then they just get to sit in traffic earlier. If you waited a bit you might avoid it
as others get done before you even get out. He said yeah but that wasn’t the
reason even through it sounded good. He said he could not leave because he
hadn’t hit his eight hours. I said what? He said he had been a few minutes late
from lunch because he had to deal with a family issue on his cell phone and so
he had to wait the few minute before he could leave… I thought, are you crazy
there is no one here. But I asked, oh, do you have to clock out. He said no.
They did not have a time clock. This time I asked, why don’t you just go
everyone is gone. He said because he hadn’t done his full time and he could not
afford not to get paid for it. I said so then just put done eight hours on your time
card to which he seemed trouble about my integrity but said they don’t fill out a
time card. He explained that if he left early he would have to fill an out a time off
request for the 10 minute that he was late and that was somewhat silly I agreed
but for a different reason. I just let my head wrap around the mind set. He was a
good guy. But a little too tight about it if you know what I mean. I am sure from
his perspective I seemed a bit loose in my morality on such issues. (Note: I
thought it’s great that you’re so detailed and upstanding about the time you own
them but would they pay you if you had to stay a few minutes late would they
give you the comp time off? To which I am sure he would answer with two
wrongs don’t make a right or something like that)
By the time we finished our conversation the time had past and we could
go. I was taking him home and as we left the thought came into my mind to
chide him about how our conversation, while we waited for the exact time to be
met, was a waste of company time so he still owed them the time and he should
fill out a time off request but I thought it would be mean and he might actually do
it feeling convicted.
On the way back to his house we talked about family and church and a
few other things. He was somewhat unhappy with the job and how it pulled him
away from home and family. I was really thinking about the situation we had just
gone through and what it meant or what lesson there was to learn. I wanted to
understand his perspective and scrutinize mine. In the end, I came to a single
understanding but I didn’t relay it to him till later. He had already gotten home
and should be allowed to enjoy the time with his family.
Two weeks or so later we were together at some gathering and I was
talking to someone else. He came over and we were talking about starting our
own businesses. Finding or creating a different lifestyle one that was more
conducive to family. The thought came back to my mind as we spoke and I
decided to offer it to him. I said the problem with a corporation is that it is
atheistic. I used the word on purpose not to provoke a reaction from him so
much as I did it to convey a clear precise thought in a way he would both
understand and relate. I did get a reaction from him and in mid sentence he took
pause. He had never really contemplated the thought that the entity for which he
now worked (He had worked for several non profit ministries in the past) did not
believe in God. As we got into the conversation it was clear that the company did
not believe in anything, it did not believe, it did not think. The logic was obvious
but we had never taken time to think about it. My experience lead me to relate to
companies in a somewhat adversarial way and his had lead him to relate in a
somewhat submissive way. You see he was bringing his understanding of how
to relate to people and applying it to the company. I viewed companies as the
opposite of people, if such a thing exists. It took him a bit to adjust his thinking
on the subject but once he made the switch he was quickly moving down the
tracks. A company didn’t, couldn’t believe in God it was secular in its existence.
I guess you could include something in its charter acknowledging the existence
or even expressing a belief in God but that would be like putting a tattoo of a
cross on a baby’s bottom, it would not result in the baby believing in God. From
here it was not long before he began down a path that would lead him out of his
present company and in fact any company to start a family owned and operated
business. One in which his values and beliefs could and would be expressed. It
was not a company, mind you; it was just him and his family doing business.
They are doing well and I hear from them now and again.
Companies are not people and our relationship with them is not and
should not and can not be like that of us with another person. We might act
towards a company the way we would another person and we might even project
our image of a person on the company but a company can not and will not
respond in that way. If we try, we end up in an unreciprocated relationship, one
sided… you give and do for and get nothing back. It would be like loving
someone who does not love you. It will only lead to pain and trouble for you. A
waste of time and effort. This is not to say that we can’t relate to people within
an organization but that is not business that is personal.
Be on guard with how you perceive things and be conscious of your
beliefs whatever they may be. People tend to humanize things. My kids create
entire personalities for dolls and stuffed animals. I searched for months for just
the right name for my truck based on its characteristics that would express its
personality. It’s crazy what we will do when we aren’t thinking.
The Brutal Truth:
Your company does not believe the way you do. It does not believe. It
does not think. It does not feel. It does not care, not about you not about
anything. Some of the people may care but they just work there
There is a certain sense of momentary disconnection that occurs in most
people when you think you have something figured out or you know how
something is going to occur and it turns out differently. It is the “What?” moment.
You can identify this moment in yourself or more easily in other by the odd,
confused, and questioning look on their face. The short choppy questions often
interrupted by pauses… What? How?… Why?.... Kind of like when you’re
watching a movie on DVD that has a smug on it and it freezes and then jumps
ahead until it clears the spot. In the old days it would be comparable to a record
with a scratch on it that keeps jumping back to the same spot over and over
again. I believe it is more then just a simple mechanical coding program or
unexpected error within the brain. It has more to do with expectation and an
understanding of the situation. When you have an expectation of an outcome
and it does not result the way you expect, it causes you to race back over the
indicators that directed your conclusion but along the way comes all kinds of
emotional impediments and misdirection. Like when your singing a song along
with a crowd and you sing the wrong next line or the song ends everyone else
stops and you keep singing what you thought would be the next line. There is
often a sense of embarrassment and or confusion and then you have to express
by sound or facial feature confusion or misunderstanding. Humans are both
complex and crazy.
I remember one such time while working a technical project for a large
government contractor. I had been working in the IT field for a decade or more
and believed I had a relatively firm grasp on good and or normal development
practices and the full life cycle of development but as a consultant you have to
approach each new contract carefully. No project is exactly the same as no two
developers are the same and you need to quickly identify the style of
development that is being used as well as get a good understanding of the
details and directions of the project. You are expected to be an expert or at least
a qualified professional and if you give a bad first impression it does not matter
how much you actually know… your opinion will be discredited and you might
loose the job. First impressions are everything in this environment.
The project I was working on had at least seven report developers on my
team alone and several other teams working on various parts of the whole. Half
of my team was spread across the country including my direct boss who was on
the East coast. Most of the work was being done online, via emails, conference
calls, and net meetings. It was collaboration in the modern age. Still a face to
face meeting is tuff to replace and my boss schedule a trip out West to meet his
employees. There were about four of us in the same general area so he planned
for a week visit and some quality time with each of us.
One morning I was in early and reviewing a technical spec when he came
into the smallish office I shared with another guy on the team and wanted to talk.
He said good morning and I said good morning paused and then I continued
what’s up. Nothing I just thought I’d touch base with you and see how it’s going.
The simple type of none conversation that is often needed to get you into
something of substance. I think he just wanted to talk to or more likely listen to
me to get an idea of what or more importantly how I thought. He noticed some
scribbling on the white board next to my desk where the day before my partner in
reporting and I had walked through a typical develop cycle and had contrasted it
with what was being done on this project. You see generally the report writer
comes in toward the middle or end of the cycle. After the db is created and the
relationships have been understood and developed. We had been brought in
before there even was a database so it seemed as if we had nothing to do and
spent a lot of time reading over boring and otherwise useless specs which would
change fifteen or twenty times before we would need to look at them. (I ended
up spending a lot of time on you tube build a library of amusing videos)
It didn’t take long before my boss and I were in a somewhat detailed and
even slightly technical discussion about project development and the life cycle as
well as a whole separate conversation about generally accepted and best
practices. It was I thought a pretty good and possibly even productive
conversation. After an hour or so it appeared we had come to a common
understanding and agreement. I had lobbied based on our discussion for a
couple of ideas to occur and a direction for us to proceed. Being completely
clear about it he agreed to each and to all in total as a direction to proceed. It
was, he said, the correct and best path to take. Which was why I was so
confused two days later when during an all inclusive email line He stated that we
were not going down the road we had discussed. In fact, not just the general
direct had changed but each specific item was opposite from our agreed upon
Now be aware that I had no personal attachment to each or any of the
items in question. My philosophy with consulting is, that if you are paying me you
get it how you want it. Kind of like Burger King… Your way right away. On my
part is was simply a caught of guard moment that I was glad had occurred on
email as I am sure I had a look on my face like a dog when you are talking to it
and it cocks its head to the side as if looking at you side ways would make it
easier to understand. (Why do they do that? Maybe we can fund a multi-million
dollar government study to figure out) It was enough of a misdirection for me that
I had to bring it up on the team conference call that afternoon. Which I was also
glad was not visible expect to the other guy in my office. After the customary
entry and business of our call… I brought up the email.
He said, “Yeah”
In a slowish fashion and then proceeded to explain how it would work.
I said, “Yeah, yeah that’s all good. It doesn’t matter to me which way we
we’re going I just wanted to get an understanding of how or why we where going
He said stupidly, “What do you mean?”
I reminded him of our conversation and followed up with a few pointed
“Do you remember our conversation?”
“We discussed and agreed on best practice?”
“We specifically decided and agreed what would be the right choice?”
“…and we agreed what would be the best general direction?”
Then I asked, “Are any of the decisions in the email the ones we agreed to
He said, “No.”
I said, “In fact our general direction is opposite what we discus?”
At this point my brain froze for a moment and skipped to a recap.
“OK, just let me understand this.” I said in a straight out plan manner.
“We agree what is the best or at least right way to do this and we are
going to do the opposite.”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “OK.” and we moved on.
Remember: You are not in charge… we are not a team…
When things don’t seem to make sense it is usually because there is
something you don’t know. There are plenty of bad decisions out there but even
in the worse decisions there is or was some thought process logical or not that
made sense to someone. Remember that even seemingly normal people can be
messed up and out of touch with reality. So combine that with lack of information
and you can explain any decision.
The Lesson to Learn:
There is no accounting for other people’s decisions. Unless, it effects you
badly and you need to change the outcome of a decision you need not bother to
try to understand why. Doing so would probably just be a waste of time.
The Brutal Truth:
Only in your perfect world will things make sense and work out exactly as
you want so get used to stupid decisions being make and having to deal with
Just Let Go
I have been watching Iron Chief America lately. After getting sixty minutes
of frantic cooking by a main chief and his team of assistances, the ever present
clock ticks down with a final countdown of three, two, one. The buzzer goes off
and the call goes out… that’s it, put it down and walk away. The same thing is
being used in another show on the food network call Chopped hosted by the
same guy that is on Iron Chief America. At the end of the prescribed period the
bell goes off and he says, put it down and walk away…just walk away. I like that
finality and the complete disconnection that is required and hopefully occurs in
that situation. There is something interesting about the ability to be completely
involved in and focused on something one moment and then disconnected from it
the next. It is hard to let go.
To me it is like being in school and taking a test. Test taking is one of the
most important pieces of your educational experience. The results of which
could make or break your final grade and determine the out come of the rest of
your life. After what seems like hours of grueling effort and mind numbing
questions you come to the end of the section and you notice time is running out
the auditor calls out a warning and now the pressure is on. You begin to sweat,
you stress, your eyes constantly race to the round clock at the back of the room
distracting you even further and slowing you down. Four questions left, three
questions left, you think I’m not going to make it two questions and a quick look
to the clock again one question left and as you finish reading it and take a quick
look at the answers the auditor says times up pencils down. You scratch b on
the answer sheet. She repeats pencil down. You dropped your pencil as she
repeats the call two or three more times because everyone is trying to get in that
one last answer. It could make the difference between pass or fail. Success or
summer school. You lean back in your chair exhausted looking around thinking I
did it. You’re so distracted you almost miss the call to pass your papers to the
side and then the pencil and the test booklets. You’re a bit jittery. Depending
how well you prepared or how well you think you did your mind begins to run
over the potential results and the questions you had a hard time with rethinking
your answers and double thinking the questions. You can’t just let it go and
It doesn’t change as you get older and move into the working world. If
anything it gets harder. A job, a project, a task… are the basis of your life. They
equate to success and failure. They will result in a nice new car and a happy
wife and children, or a broken van down by the river that you call home. You
spend more time at work dealing with the details and the intricacies of your job
then you do playing golf or watching TV or getting to know your family. For most,
the job becomes their primary identifier. I am a lawyer, I am an engineer, I am a
mechanic, and I am a teacher. Not, I teach. This is why it is so hard to
disconnect at the end of the day. The job follows you home. This is why it is
worse when the job ends, even if you are transitioning to a new company or just
a new position with the same company. There is a tendency to want to get that
one last question in; to score that final answer on the paper. It has to do with our
hopes and plans. We want to see all of our hopes and plans fulfilled and no
matter how good it was or how much better it might be were we are going. We
are left with a sense of incompleteness. It does not matter if you answered 97
questions on the test you pine over those last three. I could have completed it…
I could have been perfect. It is ridiculous but true. Here is the truth… it does not
matter. If you failed then you failed let it go and move on. If you succeeded
great. It’s done. Move on. You need to get to the point that you can be intense
and involved and then turn it off like water from a facet. Put your pencils down
and just walk away.
It is difficult to let go of anything that you feel you have a stake in… notice
I said you feel you have a stake in not that you actually have a stack in it. There
are more things that people feel a part of then they actually have any control or
The Lesson to Learn:
In order to save yourself grief and to prevent yourself from making poor
decisions you need to learn and train yourself to let go of the things in your life
that are not important. There is nothing wrong with having preferences or
attachments to things but if those connections hinder you from making clear and
timely decisions you are better off without them.
The Brutal Truth:
You can’t take it with you so don’t hold on to it. Just let go.
The Self Made Man
There is a myth that many small business owners like to propagate and
believe. They know the truth or at least they did once but somewhere along the
line they were able to convince themselves that they really are self made men. I
knew of a man once. He was the owner of a small but productive roofing
company. He had a crew of laborers some skilled some not so much. He had
leased half a small building and an adjacent yard to store his supplies, trucks and
equipment. He had a dirty little office above the warehouse and a secretary in a
room down below. She was one of those one woman offices. The only female
amongst a group of blue collar men. She had a thick skin and a just get it done
manner about her that allowed her to put up with the rough environment and
even joke with the workers. In time the hardest part of her job was dealing with
the attitude and arrogance of the owner and his son in law who had married the
owner’s daughter a decade earlier when he had a job of his own before he had
fallen on hard times. His wife went to her father and now the son in law was the
number two guy being groomed by the dad to take over. He was pretty much
bidding his time till the old man slipped on something so he could push him off to
a home. The son in law was ready to be free to take over. The relationship
between the two was actually pretty good as they where very much alike and it
was only when the younger got that hungry look in his eyes or he was less then
humble and submitting to the big dog that there was a problem. You see the
son in law was given to the occasional period of self honesty that he had not
made it in the world. He had failed and now he lived by the leave of his father-in-
law. A man who had employed him, put him in charge in his absence and even
bought (no not cosigned, or put a down on but bought) him a house. The title of
which of course was in his wife’s (the daughter’s) name. And all he had to do is
keep his tail between his legs for a few more years and play lap dog to the big
It was an interesting environment and on occasion when I was in the area
I would drop by and bring lunch for the office girl. She was funny and told a good
story for sure. Our conversations were mostly harsh and would swing from old
movies to politics and the weather but some of my favorite stories were just the
common happens and political intrigue within the fifteen or so people that made
up the roofing company. A laborer not showing up for work at 4:30 in the
morning because they had been out all night drinking. The fights between the
lead roofer and the owner that would end with both of them pissed off and
occasionally the lead roofer getting fired only to be hired back a day later
because he don’t know better to find a new job and the owner depended on him
to keep the rest of the workers most of which were his cousins or brothers or
friend’s in line. It was an interesting little soap opera and a fun way to divert an
hour at lunch as I continued to gain perspective on the various work places and
the interactions between people. Now and then I would see their company sign
in a local yard advertising the work they just did or were about to do. It was odd
to me that I never saw them doing the work. The signs where there before or
after but in over four years I never saw a sign and a house with workers on the
roof. I did see the owner proudly driving through the various neighborhoods in
his big white roofing truck with black metal racks over the bed, a load of some
sort of shingle or tile in the back, and big custom lettered signs on the doors of
the truck advertising his name and the company. It was always the same he had
a look of arrogant pride and busied irritation on his face as he was heading off in
a hurry to the nearest fast food joint or to a park for a nap before he would
unexpectedly pull up to a job site to yell at his workers and tell them how they
were screwing up.
It was amazing to hear the office girl go on about the company as if they
were all loonies or characters in an old black and white cartoon. She would
always have a tuff word about the owner.
I said, “Well at least he provides a job for you.”
She said, “Yeah a job. More like a punishment.”
I said, “At least you’re getting by.”
And she said, “Just … getting by. That’s how he does it. He gives you just
enough to get by…. No enough to get ahead… not enough to squeak a small
saving to build on… just enough to live from paycheck to paycheck. It’s called
job security. He is secure that you won’t leave because you can’t afford to.”
I said, “That’s pretty harsh.” “Not harsh enough.”
She said, “The damn little Nazis keeps you under his boot because it
makes him feel taller.”
Wow, I thought and then I thought well maybe she’s right. Not in the
mean way but its common in world history and he would not be the first to gain a
bit of power and enjoy using it. The quickest way to feel big is to make others
feel small. I mean, if your only three feet tall. It would be easier to make others
craw on there knees then to grow two feet. Of course you cold just stand on a
box but who needs a box when you have employees near by to stand on. My
mind does tend to ramble and when in a poor mood it has as a dark sense of
humor. Oh, come on… don’t act smug… everyone thinks it’s funny when
someone else is hurt or repressed just look at how well Americans funniest home
videos did. Remember, it’s only funny if it’s not you. But I digress…..
So I said, “OK, but should he not have a sense of pride a feeling of having
done better then most? Maybe even of being better then most or at least some.
He has gotten here from the bottom and being a self man is something, at least
he’s a jerk who had to work his way up and might just be a product of that effort.
He might have a reason.”
To which she laughed, “Self made man? He’s not a self made man …
that is unless you call a rebellious son you failed in everything he tried and then
come home to daddy with his tail between his legs a self made man.”
“Wow.” again I said, “Ok. What was the story?”
She told me how one day when he was in a particularly bad mood and
angry at his good for nothing son in law he relayed how he got into the roofing
business. It seems that his father had been stationed out in California during
WWII and when he got out of the service he stayed. It was much smaller back
then… of course LA was bustling but most of Orange County was open and
considered remote… the same with most of the valley on the other side of LA.
His dad had gotten a job working for a roofer and learned the trade. In time with
a decent wage and a little help from his GI benefits he bought a truck and some
equipment. He started out free lance and in a few years had a decent little
business servicing the fringe areas of the valley and Orange County. His father
bought himself a house in Orange County got married and had a couple, of kids.
The owner grew up in a stable environment in the rapidly developing OC and
pretty much got whatever he wanted.
His old school dad encouraged him and tried to coax him into the
business. Forcing him to work summers with him. The owner reluctantly did it
but hated it and looked down on the crews and probably didn’t think much of his
dad. His dad of course sent him to college in an attempt to develop the next
generation. Maybe give him the advantage needed to take over the business
and grow it into something bigger. But after going to college and getting a taste
of a cleaner life the last thing the owner wanted was to go back and work on a
hot roof with a smelly kettle of tar and a group of lower class laborers. So to his
father’s disappointment the owner left to pursuer his own interests. A string of fly
by night ventures and harebrained schemes followed and his father was always
there with the funds from the dirty business of roofing to keep his son from failing
and to set him back on his feet time and again. A number of years later the
owner was married and with a kid on the way and had failed again. This time the
father getting on in years pushed his son into the business one more time; this
time with the excuse that he was getting ill and just needed his son to help out
until he was better. Reluctantly the owner did it. A couple of years later the
father didn’t get better he pasted away. The son was now the owner.
Fast forward two decades and the story turns into a stirring tell of how he
begged his father to give him a chance, how he would eagerly work the summer
trying to learn all he could. How he had developed several strong profitable
businesses after college that would have made him a lot more money but when
his dad got sick he gave them all up to help out and take over the family business
which of course he made into what it was today. This is where reality gets lost
over time and in self delusion as a way to wrap your nut around it and allow you
to reconcile the disjoined aspects of your life and behavior in order to allow you
to live with yourself (to get your nut around it). You don’t have to face your
actions and behavior truthfully. You don’t have to deal with it. You just make up
a new reality.
The image of a self made man that most business owners have is more
self delusion or revisionist history then reality. It is possible still and hopefully
always will be in America to start with little or nothing and make it to the top but it
is rare to do this without at least some and most likely lots of help from others.
Take the stories of heroic effort and determined self reliance against
impossible odds to victory and success with extreme skepticism. Those type of
stories can generally demotivate and make you feel inadequate. If you feel as if
you are not as good, strong, or capable as the owner, your boss, or even the
next guy then you will be more likely to give up and that is the only way to loose
The Brutal Truth:
It is all a big act. The big guys are as insecure as you are and are looking
for admiration and approval just like you. Remember no one does it alone so if
you need help take it.
Hero to Zero
I worked for a sub-prime mortgage broker at the height of the sub-prime
and real estate booms. I was an HRIS specialist which is another way of saying
a report writer for the Human Resources department. It has always amused me
how every department, specialty, or industry has to develop jargon in order to
make their thing appear to be the most complicated thing in the world.
Something that unless you’ve worked in it before then you couldn’t start now and
unless you had twenty plus years you couldn’t possibly understand it. I’ve
jumped from industry to industry and department to department and at the core
they are all the same. You just have to interpret the jargon. It’s kind of like
learning a new language. It’s a little tuff at first but once you know it, its simple.
Also you find out that speaking a different language doesn’t make you any
smarter. There are stupid people in every language. (This concept explains the
arrogance of academia)
HR is in reality a very simple administrative function but do to the
involvement of money (via payroll and accounting) and the tendency of
companies to keep employees in the dark about compensation amongst fellow
employees it has taken on an air of specialty. With the introduction of political
correctness, Sarbanes–Oxley, and extensive labor laws HR has evolved into a
unique specialty akin to the Secret Service or CIA. They have all your
confidential (that is the most over and missed used word in the corporate world)
information. They are in charge of hiring, so they feel as if you should be
thankful to them and they are in charge of firing (letting people go) so you should
be afraid of them and with Payroll which usually reports to the head of HR they
are in charge of your pay which means you should be grateful to them. All of
which is crap because the people in HR don’t make the decision they just carry
them out. In general they are no different then the secretary at the front door or
the guy who cleans up the bathrooms. They just carry out the task they are
assigned. The only real difference is that they have in varying degrees access to
“Confidential,” private, or sensitive information that the company does not want
you to know or share. Like the fact that the guy next to you is making two dollars
more an hour to do the same job even thought you where hired in before him and
if you knew then you would want the same or more and they would make less
Now they might even mention identity theft and ssn’s but the funny thing is
that most of the time it would appear that the only ones who have access to that
information are the ones who end up miss using it. That’s kind of like giving the
keys to the vaults to the robbers… ok maybe that’s a bit much. I might be a little
resentful about my experiences in the world of HR. I don’t enjoy pretense and
HR drips with it like southern BBQ drips with sauce. If HR didn’t do everything
possible to create an image of specialty then they would be equated to the basic
administrative staff, their pay would be lowered, and their self esteem would
suffer…and that would be sad. So as I existed in this alter world I conducted
myself with the same irreverent and unmindful manner that is common amongst
most IT departments who feel save to have free conversations among the rest of
the like minded geeks usually behind a secured door in a darkened room that
reminds then of their moms basement.
One day I was sitting in on a meeting between the two feuding factions of
Payroll and HR for in this company the all knowing and wise ownership agreed to
place payroll under the authority of the vacant comptroller instead of the
fastidious president of HR. This occurred mostly because the payroll manager
was an angry bitter little woman who would complain in a shrill voice until you
would agree to what ever it was so she would just go away. The purpose of this
meeting was to work out the details of the all inclusive company bonus program
and try to get it to work right for the first time since they had started the program
ten years ago.
Everyone in the company from CEO down to mail room intern got a bonus
in some proportion. The measure was base on an intractably complicated sliding
scale of variable measures and a system the inevitably lead to mistakes and
unhappiness. Which was funny to me as it was a bonus. It was money you were
getting that you did not earn and you should be grateful for it or at lead not
expect it. It should be like finding a dollar on the street and you say oh look a
dollar, picked it up and happily go along your way. You don’t pick up a dollar bill
on the street and then stop the next person passing by to complain that it was not
a five. As I sat there listening to them go back and forth and the payroll manager
whined and complained, I couldn’t help myself.
I said, “If it is so hard for you why don’t you just let us do it?”
At which the whole room went quit and I woke up and realized that I was
the focus of everyone attention.
My boss the AVP of Compensation (Yes, I don't know why he was my
boss), a timid little man with great aspirations, immediately baulked and said,
“Now we don’t want to just take on this before we know what it will entail.”
He had been charged with creating a new system to calculate the
company wide bonuses (which by the way is somewhat of a stupid idea as
everyone should not get a bonus – its unreliable money- if you really want to
reward people just give the people at the bottom a raise of a quarter or fifty cents
That way they can rely on that extra 20 buck every paycheck)
I realized I might have put my foot into it… but I didn’t back off I pushed
forward with the somewhat insulting, to the payroll manager, comment, “It can’t
be that hard you have the formulas. You have the data. You have everyone’s
name. You just push the data through the formulas to the names and write a
check.” Yea, I was aware that they were over five thousand employees and that
there was some room for adjustments by managers of the bonuses. But what’s
the big deal, I thought you just process the numbers. “Fine, it’s yours.” said the
payroll manager as she left the room already beginning to plot how to turn this to
her advantage and undermine any possibility of success we might have. My
boss and I walked back to HR without a world and he called me to his office were
he shut the door sat down and was almost visibly nervous but kind of excited
about the thought that if I could make it happen he or we or the whole
department, on the third try, would have a major victory and look really good. We
might even gain enough esteem in the eyes of the owners to absorb payroll
under the umbrella of HR and get rid of the payroll manger. Wow, my head was
spinning, he obviously had been thinking hard during the thirty second trip from
the meeting room to his office.
I said, “OK.”
He said, “If you can do this,” and I realized by the second time he said
“you” that this was all on me and although I might get some of the credit if it work
out well I would defiantly get all the blame if it didn’t.
He said, “If you can do this… You will be a Hero.”
And then he paused with the “but” almost falling off his lips, “But if you
mess it up you will be a Zero and you know what that will mean.”
I said, “Yeah, I will be less then one and more then a negative number.”
He laughed a bit caught off guard by my lack of seriousness or concern.
He said it again, “If you make it work you’ll be a hero else you end up a
He said it once or twice more before he realized why it was so clear in his
head. He had two little kids and had just watch Disney’s Hercules.
I said, “Like the movie?”
He said, “Yeah.”
At that point the race was on and the die cast. I of course was destined
for failure because I didn’t care and didn’t take it serious. It was a game I didn’t
care if I won so I was sure to loose. I thought big deal we process the data and
push it out if there’s a problem will just correct it. Not realizing that I was on the
front lines in a political war between to rival factions that was more like a family
feud then a conflict of ideologies. As I took on this task I did not realize that I had
just stepped out alone into no mans land in the middle of the day wearing a bright
orange jump suit and doing the chicken dance. (Singing I’m a little tea pot.)
It is a difficult world out there and sometimes you have to walk a fine line
over the chasm of failure in order to reach the towers of success. Stray but a
little and you will fail.
The difference between success and failure is often slight. No matter how
many successes you have had or how many accomplishments you’ve achieved
or even how much work you have performed all it takes is one screw up and you
will fail. It’s just that easy to travel from the company Hero to the company Zero.
The Brutal Truth:
Everything is a test a struggle and a competition. If you want to succeed
you have to compete and there is little margin for error in success.