Sunday, December 13, 2015

Know Your Marketing: Chapter 1. Know Your Customer

I have been doing marketing for some time, and have decided to write a book about it. This is partly because I want to share my knowledge, and partly because when I offer my marketing experience, some think that it is just a salesman trick to get my foot in the door rather than a sincere offer to help with their marketing.

I would like input as I write so I can stay on the right track, so please comment or email me with your comments and suggestions.

I am tentatively calling the book Know Your Marketing, but I'm open to suggestions.

Chapter 1. Know Your Customer

Customer Versus Consumer
Let us first define one key set of terms: “customer” and “consumer”. The distinction I about to make is slightly different from the definitions you will find in the dictionary, but the dictionary, while excellent for definitions and spellings has never been a strong resource for business advice.
The word customer uses the British root “custom”, as in “If your service is unsatisfactory, I shall take my custom elsewhere.” The customer is the one who gives you money for your goods and services.
The consumer, on the other hand is the one who actually consumes your goods or services.

What’s the difference? For many businesses, there is no difference. The customer and consumer are the same. However, for many businesses they are quite different. If you make scarves and sell them to stores, the store is your customer. However, the store owner and his staff do not wear the 1200 scarves you sell to them. They turn around and sell the scarves to their customers. It is the store’s customers who are your consumers. They “consume” or use your product.

In this indirect business model, the people who actually wear your scarves will never give you money directly, yet they are a critical part of your business. It doesn’t matter if the store owners think your scarves are the best that they have ever seen. If the consumers do not buy them from the stores, the stores will not buy them from you.

It can be even more complex if you are selling to a distributor who sells to stores who sell to customers. To an extreme example, let us say that you make a unique product that is used in crafting gift items. You sell your product to a distributor who sells it to stores who sell it to crafters who put it into gift items which they sell to stores who sell it to consumers.

Why is this important? In the craft example above, you are dealing with 5 separate markets. There must be consumers who want to buy the finished items. There must be stores who believe there is a market for the finished items. There must be crafters who want to make the finished items and believe there are stores to buy them. There must be craft stores who believe there are crafters to buy your product. There must be distributors who believe their stores will buy your product. Each of these constituencies has different needs and motivations, and you must understand all of them and have a compelling story for all of them.

Maybe you are a crafter yourself and you created your product because you know it solves a problem that you have. That gives you a very compelling story for a crafter, but the store does not care about this problem except in so much as it will drive crafter consumers to buy the product.

Influencers Effect on Your Consumer
Whatever you make or do, there is ultimately someone who will make use of it. That individual exists within a system of people and influences. Let us a take a simple example. Imagine a stereotypical 60s TV family: Mom, Dad, and the kids Billy and Suzy. Dad works at the office and Mom takes care of the family affairs.

Most people reading this in the 2010s are probably appalled at my choice of example. A 60’s style nuclear family? I use the example for the same reason that a modern reader might find it peculiar. It is oversimplified. As I move through this example, you will see that even in this oversimplified family, there is great complexity. From there, imagine how much more complex things are with modern and realistic dynamics.

It is important to understand, that we understand the world through simplified models, in which we discard the details which we hope are not crucial. The more details we include, the more accurate the model of a thing is, but the more cumbersome it is to understand. The perfect model would not discard a single aspect of the thing, but such a model would be the thing itself, and thus of no use as a model.

So, back to Mom, Dad, Billy, and Suzy. Mom does all the grocery shopping. She goes to the store, picks the items, and pays for them. Mom appears to have the decision making authority so she would be the target market for any item sold in the grocery store. In the Customer/Consumer model discussed above, she is the consumer. As a maker of a grocery item, you would target your advertising to her, then you would focus your sales efforts on the grocery store that your product is in.

In the real world, we know it’s not that simple. Around a consumer, there is a constellation of “influencers”: people who influence the buying decision even though they are not directly involved in it. Mom must take into account the family’s desires. Mom may be at the store making the choices, but if Dad sees marketing that convinces him that real men eat Westco’s corn-fed beef, then he might push for that purchase. Billy might see cereal commercials that make him want to collect all the toys in SugaryOs. Suzy might have heard in school about the plight of migrant workers and want Mom to buy local produce.

There is a long chain of decision makers that extends from your business down to where your product or service is purchased and beyond that determines the market for your product. To  market successfully, you must understand every link in the chain and how you can influence it. In each transaction that your product passes through, understand who is involved in the decision. Who are the influencers? Is there a business partner or advisor involved? Is there a spouse or family member? Will the buyer be considering the opinions of friends, coworkers, or the community of their purchase?

Tastes Great, Less Filling
Story sources and
In the 1960s, there was a recognized gap in the American beer market. Men were beginning to become more aware of the importance of eating right and staying healthy. Beer is a fairly high calorie beverage, and a lower calorie version would appeal to many men. There was  problem. “Diet” products were generally thought to be for women. Men did not want to be seen as less manly by drinking a “diet” beer, although they might be interested in the health benefits of a healthier drink. With men being the primary consumers of beer, bars, the customers of the beer distributors, stocked very little if any of the diet beer.

Miller Brewing Company had a product that could exploit this market but knew that its consumers were concerned about image, so they launched a marketing campaign to not only appeal to their consumers, but also to change the opinions of those who influenced their direct consumers. They hired retired athletes, coaches and celebrities, including Bubba Smith, Dick Butkus, Bob Uecker, John Madden, Red Auerbach, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Joe Frazier and Rodney Dangerfield. Manly men! Men so manly that if the ad campaign had shown them carrying purses, it would have made people consider purses manly.

These manliest of men were shown to drink light beer and argue in their manly voices as to whether Miller Lite were better describe as tasting great or being less filling. The one thing no one
was arguing about anymore was whether it was okay for a man to drink light beer in public.

This great shift in the market occurred Miller understood that they needed to first understand and then market to their consumers’ influencers, not just the consumers themselves. Chances are, if you are reading this book, you don’t have the resources to launch a national campaign to change the public’s view of a product, but you can at least seek to understand how the people who influence your consumers feel about your product.

And That Means...
There is a saying in the world of sales: sell the sizzle, not the steak. When someone considers a purchase, their interest is not in what the product is but what it can do for them. In my work selling printing and mailing services, if I am suggesting that someone get a brochure made, I do not tell them about the quality of the paper stock and about how the brochure will contain text and images laid out in a pleasing format. They are not interested in the details of what a brochure is. What they want to know is that a brochure is a low-cost, easy to distribute vehicle to get information about their business to their customer. The brochure is a tool that will bring them more business, because ultimately, that is what a business owner wants: more business!

Think about most marketing that you see. A billboard for Six Flags shows people in a roller coasters with excited expressions. That advertisement is selling fun and excitement. It says, come to Six Flags and be this smiling person. What would be more effective, that kind of advertisement, or a billboard telling you how many rides they have and how late they are open in the season and what admission costs and other factual details? Obviously, the ad that sells the fun, and that is why they use that.

When I sold cars, I had a sales manager who taught us the expression ATM: “And That Means”. Of course, it also means “Automated Teller Machine,” which he said was appropriate because both forms of ATM get you money. It is a great expression because it reminded us to put things in terms that the customer would care about.

“This car has Electronic Stability Control,” says the salesman.

Woop-di-doo, who cares? thinks the customer.

“And that means that when you are driving your family in the car and hit a patch of slick pavement, the vehicle will automatically adjust steering, braking, and engine power to keep you on the road and safe, keeping you safe from an accident that would have otherwise happened.”

That’s something I care about, thinks the customer.

The best examples that we see of this strategy is with products that people don’t like to talk about: products like adult diapers, tampons, and hemorrhoid cream. Think of the commercials that you see for these products. In many of them, the product is never actually shown. Instead, the commercials show people being happy, free, and liberated.

Consider the Charmin “Enjoy the Go” campaign. This is the text on Charmin’s “About Us” page
Life is full of little pleasures.
Watching the sunset. A hug from your kids. Walking barefoot in the sand.
And going to the bathroom.
Trouble is, you might not always take the time to enjoy these little moments as much as you should.
Especially when it comes to going to the bathroom.
At Charmin, we want you to enjoy going to the bathroom as much as we do.
The relief. The calm. The clean. The joy. The pride.
And we believe you can’t do that if you finish it all off with the wrong tissue.
Which is why we make a tissue that’s just right for everybody.
That's why Charmin users actually look forward to going to the bathroom; why they enjoy being in there; and why they aren't afraid to show it.
Fact is…
We all go to the bathroom.
Those who go with Charmin really Enjoy the Go.

For those of you not familiar who may have thought that this was some sort of Tantric enlightenment ritual, Charmin is toilet paper. It’s paper that you use to clean your bumm after you do what you do. It is indeed soft, durable, high quality toilet paper, but it’s still toilet paper. It’s not infused with special herbs and perfumes to bring balance to your spirit.

They compare the experience that Charmin gives you to watching a sunset, getting a hug from your kids and walking barefoot in the sand. Let me tell you that, while I’m not a fan of walking barefoot in the sand, if there were any product sold in the grocery store that compared to getting a hug from my daughter, they could keep enough in stock to satisfy my demand.

Enjoy the Go is a very slick, expensive, marketing campaign, but there is a lot to be learned from it. Join me in this brief exercise.

Think about your own product or service. Take out a piece of paper. At the top of it write what it is. For example: “Brochure Printing”.

Under that, write the problem that is solves. e.g. “Solves the problem of being able to explain our business in depth and being able to share that with other customers”.

Next, we will consider what your product should do for the customer. “Distinguishes their company over the competition and increases sales.”

Here’s where it gets fun. Let us imagine that your product is incredibly successful at what it is supposed to do. Best case scenario. How would it change your customer’s life. “More revenue, more profit, more income personally. Less time spent marketing. Less time spent working. More time with the family.”

Keep following that line of thinking until you have a way to express the value proposition of your product that is incredibly compelling. Then call me and we’ll see about designing a brochure with that value proposition which will grow your business and give you more money and time with your family.

Of course I’m kidding about that last part, but you can see how making more money, having a more stable business, and more time with the family is a much more compelling selling point that a good looking folded piece of paper.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Gaining by Giving: 5 Ways I Make My Living Giving Things Away

One of the most interesting paradoxes in business is that the best way to be successful is to give freely (but wisely). I make my living working for a printing company that offers excellent value and exceptional quality, and my job is to bring clients to this company. I do this in two different ways. One way I do it is good, old fashioned pounding of the pavement. I visit businesses and I seek to discover needs that they might have which I might fulfill. This is a time tested and effective method to develop business. I earn small orders which lead to larger orders, and, in time, we become the go to vendor for printing for those clients. I also earn a lot of "no"s and a lot of running around. That's just the nature of the profession.

However, there is a second strategy that I employ. I have over 15 years of experience in running events and small to medium scale marketing including social media. I give advice in these areas absolutely free. I will sit down with anyone in my area for half an hour to an hour and gain an understanding of their business so that I may offer suggestions and direction based on my experience. I also volunteer to help run local events: parades, festivals, fund raisers, etc. With this variety of connections, I also often make introductions between two people who would otherwise not meet if there can be a mutual benefit.

The three parts of this "giveaway" strategy bring in no dollars. No matter how much I help with an event, how valuable a connection is that I make, or how much time I spend providing marketing advice, I do not charge a cent. In fact, I do not even establish an expectation that someone I help will purchase any printing that they might need through me. A cynic might suggest that I am being naive and giving away my time and skills. A cynic would be less successful in the field of sales than I am.

Here are five R's that return value for my efforts: Relationships, References, Resulting Opportunities, Reciprocity, and Really Fun.

You never know what kind of
interesting people you might
get to know.
When I cold call a prospect, they don't know me from Adam. They don't know if I am a good person or a bad person. They don't know much about my company, our quality, our reputation, our reliability. I need to start absolutely from scratch. If they knew everything about me and our company, it would be a foregone conclusion for many prospects that they would work with us, because I am a good and honest person who takes care of his customers, and Minuteman does excellent work and provides great value. My job is to slowly build trust and understanding over repeated interactions, a task made more difficult by the fact that all they know when they first meet me is that I want their money.

However, if a relationship begins with helping someone with their project, freely providing the benefit of my skills and experience, the work of building trust is half done.

If I arrange for someone to get a great set of business cards and letterhead, they will be pleased and they might share my name with someone they know who needs my services. However, if I provide help to a project or event or business in a way that helps to make it more successful, then they are far more likely to pass my name along to someone whom I could assist, either in the field of printing, or with my other talents.

Resulting Opportunities
My life as a car salesman: waiting for customers rather than
creating a benefit for the community.
Some of the connections I make create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Introducing two people could create a new event, a new project, or even a new business. It is quite likely that this new creation will have new needs that I can fulfill. When I sold cars, I found that there was a lack of satisfaction because I did not make anything. If I were not there, the customer would buy a car from someone else and their life would be largely the same. However, through the connections I can facilitate, I can do more than simply fulfill needs that already exist which would have been filled whether I came along or not: I can create something new, and that is a powerful good feeling for me.

I do not set an expectation that purchases will come to me when I lend my time and talents for two reasons: people do not like to feel that they are being forced to do something and most people are good and honorable. If I provide something of value, most people will want to find a way to return the favor to me. It is true that there are some people who will take advantage, benefiting from what I give but taking their business elsewhere. When I encounter such a person, I don't worry about it or get upset. I might think twice before volunteering to work with them again, but I won't otherwise bear them any ill will. The value of the positive relationships I can form with people by being open and generous is worth far more than the small disappointments that occasionally result.

The average salesman never gets the chance to run a
department at a convention with a radio in hand while
sitting on a throne of boxes.
Really Fun
I enjoy sharing marketing ideas. I love working on events. I get a charge out of making an introduction and seeing something blossom from it. Sales can be a fun business, but it can also be draining. Calling on strangers day in and day out can wear on you. The stress of making sure everything goes right so that the customer is happy every time is also taxing. But developing good relationships with people, helping to make good things happen, and being a part of the business community makes it all so much easier.

What is interesting is how few other salespeople I encounter in my endeavors. Maybe they don't see the immediate payoff. Maybe they are too focused on making an immediate sale to see the value of relationships. Who knows?

When I encounter someone who is giving something without an obvious return, I get suspicious. What are they after? That is part of why I wrote this article. I am quite upfront with why I volunteer my time and talents. I expect that in the ways described above, it will come back to me professionally, not necessarily directly from the individual or organization I assisted, but from the community at large. I get to do something good and helpful in way that helps to build my business. A win for everyone.

If you run a business on the eastern shoreline of Connecticut or are running an event that could use my help, don't hesitate to get in touch. I'd love to help out, for both your benefit and mine. You can call me at 203-707-1245 or email me.

Note: To those of you involved with BNI who read my title and had the thought "Gaining by Giving? that sounds like Givers Gain! Have you considered joining BNI?" Yes, I have. I am a part of the Gold Star BNI Chapter in Groton, CT.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Why Democratic Socialism Is Good For Everyone

A lot of people have the idea that Bernie Sanders wants to steal from the rich and give to the poor. They say things like "No one is entitled to anything. If you want something, you have to earn it!" There is one crucial flaw in that statement. Plus a few other small flaws.

I am, in fact, a Bernie Sanders supporter. My family is middle class. We are well above minimum wage. We get our health insurance through our jobs. Bernie's reforms would not directly benefit my family, but they would benefit the country, the economy, and society as a whole.

First, let us be clear that our current industrialized form of an economy only goes back about 200 years to the industrial revolution. Before that, the economy was unrecognizably different. The advent of the industrial revolution allowed the concept of unskilled labor to be a main concept of our economy.
First let's talk about how a free market works. Here's a summary of microeconomics in a few sentences. To the right is a basic supply and demand curve. You have a supply curve and a demand curve. The supply curve shows the cost of making a good. The more you make, the more it costs because after a certain point you have to build more factories or use more expensive techniques. Demand drops as you increase quantity because there are some people who really really want the item and would pay anything for it, but other who would pay less.

That point labeled equilibrium is the quantity and price where the market settles. Obviously there's a lot more to it, but this is enough to understand the labor market.

The market achieves equilibrium by the producers adjusting their production. Further, the market creates equilibrium by removing producers from the market. In other words, firms go out of business, stop producing, and move the market along the supply curve. It's a beautiful and elegant system.

Now let's consider the labor market. In the labor market, the supply side is workers. Some workers will work for any job they can get. Others need a much higher wage to get them into the market. However, there are far more people on the desperate end of the curve than the picky end.

Demand is created by employers. Of course, workers want to get as much as they can and employers want to pay as little as they can. The problem is that there are a lot of unskilled workers and a far more limited supply of employers. This means that the equilibrium can (and will) fall below the wage rate at which a worker needs to survive.

Fortunately, the free market has a mechanism which will shift equilibrium to support the producers. Unfortunately, the mechanism is to remove producers from the market. That requires workers to find income outside the market, leave the country, or die.
The free market solution to raising wages. Technically effective.
Morally repugnant.

Oh, maybe the free market is not the perfect solution to setting wages. So, this is why strict free market creates a problem.

The end game of severe income and wealth inequality.
Our economy is a consumer based economy. In other words, wealth is created by people buying stuff. People without money don't buy stuff. (Four years to get an econ degree to explain this concept.) As wealth becomes more and more misdistributed, more and more people are in a position where they don't have money to spend. This happened before the 1927 start of the Depression. When the rich get more money, they save it, invest it, spend it overseas. When the poor get more money, they spend it. They buy TVs, they eat at restaurants, they buy toys and video games and clothes and all kinds of other things. This spending moves money, creates jobs, and gets the economy going.

The cities that have experimented with increasing minimum wage have found that jobs have not been lost and economic activity has increased for the reasons described above.

Now, let's go back to the believe that some people have that nothing is owed to anyone and that you must earn anything you get. Their point is that you should work hard and find a better job to support your family. That is awesome if you have the education, support, energy, health, and confidence to do that. However, for most people who are in that position, they lack one or more of those traits. They do not know where to find that "better job". They cannot get more education. Many have children and families to support and can only survive from day to day.

Imagine, if you will, that you have children to support. You work as hard as you can and still cannot support your family. You are desperate, and the system is structured in such a way that know that you cannot ever get ahead. Now imagine that your whole community is in this position. How do you "earn" a better life when the system is stacked against you?

The easy way to change the system.
The only solution is to change the system. Break the system. When the establishment tells you that you cannot feed your children or support your family, your own choice is to take down the establishment.

The system can be changed in two ways: the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is the ballot box and through the legislative process. The hard way involves taking to the streets and tearing it down.

Our society certainly has issues, but it is still a great and free country of opportunity. And, writ large, I think the system we have is better than the one that would be created by violent overthrow. So I am personally against violent overthrow of our system. This is one of the main reasons I support the very sensible reforms that Bernie supports.

Making sure that corporations pay their fair share of taxes (as opposed to 1/4 of them using offshore tax shelters to pay nothing) and increasing the marginal tax rate on people making half a million a year is a much more modest redistribution than could occur if a massive, desperate, hopeless underclass develops in this country and a spark ignites their will the do something about it the wrong way. 

The hard way to change the system.
Raising the minimum wage, providing education and health care for all, and other such reforms is not about taking what the rich have and redistributing it. It's not even just about fairness (although it would be more fair). It's not just about preserving the dream that America is a land of opportunity for all (that's part of it too). Most importantly, it's about stabilizing a system which is increasingly becoming a powder keg and making sure that a more catastrophic redistribution can be prevented.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

9.5 Mental Changes to Become Wealthier

I recently read an article on Business Insider called 9 things rich people choose to do that poor people don't. I found the article quite interesting, but the feedback among people who followed the link I shared to it was quite negative. They saw it as victim blaming and more of the rich blaming the poor for being poor. However, I believe that the article was written to be a list of suggestions for improving one's mindset to achieve greater wealth, rather than just saying "these people are good, these people are bad."

I believe that there are very important lessons in this article which have been overlooked because of the tone, so here are the 9 lessons of the article reframed in terms of how you can think and act like a wealthy person to become a wealthier person.

The economy on the whole is more and more stacked against those trying to climb the social/economic ladder, and on the whole there are major structural changes that are needed to maintain the stability of our society such as an increased minimum wage, debt free education, universal health care, and the like. However, this is not about everyone. This is about me and you and what an individual can do right now to improve their position.

1. Earn What You Are Worth and Work For Yourself
There has been much debate on the minimum wage and what it should be. Some people argue that if you are working full time, you should be able to support your family in any job. Others counter that minimum wage jobs are meant to be starter level jobs that one should rise up from.

Many people who work low wage do so because they do not believe they can do any better. If you believe that you cannot do better than minimum wage, then you are correct... until you change that attitude. You probably have a skill which will earn you more than minimum. Car salesmen, house painters, and nannies make more than minimum wage. If you are good at academic subjects, you can get $18-$50/hour tutoring privately. A good auto detailer can make good wage. A waiter in a decent restaurant can make $15+.

This is where you might argue that you or someone you know worked at a restaurant and made less than $9/hour because of bad scheduling or poor tips or shady managers or whatever. To which I reply that I did not promise that all restaurants will get you good money, just that it is possible at some restaurants, so if you end up at the crappy one where you make bad money, fire your boss and move on.

When I say work for yourself, I do not mean that you should start your own business, although you could. What I mean is that you are ultimately accountable to yourself and your family. You make a business arrangement with an employer that you will provide a certain level of service and they will provide a certain level of compensation. Should this arrangement stop working for you, you must stop working for them and find a better opportunity.

2. Focus on Opportunities, not Obstacles
Difficult things will happen in your life. Changes and challenges will occur. For example, having kids is usually not considered a good economic investment. However, my economic situation is better now that I have a child than it was before. Partly it is because knowing I needed to take care of her forced me to focus on my opportunities. Partly it is that being a parent has opened doors that were closed to a non-parent.

It is easy to make excuses for why things are not going your way. I know because I have made many of these excuses. I had every excuse in the book for why Phoenix Games did not make money, but ultimately, it came down to me not being willing to do what I needed to do to make it profitable.

In the example above, I suggested that working in sales or waiting tables could make good money. Someone with a success mindset will try a job that doesn't work out, and conclude that the particular job was the wrong one and go to the next opportunity. Someone with a failure mindset will conclude that this whole "getting ahead" thing is not for them and there is no point in trying.

Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better. Keep trying. Succeed.

3. Associate With the Right People
Do your friends whine about how hard their lives are, never take responsibility for their circumstances, and wait for luck to fix things for them? If so, these people may be a bad influence. What influence do your friends have? Let's imagine you are trying to find a job, but you are having no luck. You commiserate with your friends, and they confirm that you are doing nothing wrong, it's the economy that sucks. Why not take the night off and have some fun and relax. This reinforces the desire to blame outside factors for your failure. It sure beats self analysis and harder work.

However, what if your friends, instead of telling you that you did nothing wrong, worked with you to figure out what you could do better, or, even better looked through their own contacts to see whom they might introduce you to? Instead of finding excuses, you are finding solutions.

The first set of friends makes you feel better about failing. The second set helps you succeed.

4. Promote Yourself
If you don't tell people how great you are, who will? There is a belief among most people that it is tacky to self-promote, and in some contexts it is. However, there are times when it is necessary. If you are trying to make a sale or get a job, you must promote yourself. Even more than that, if you are going to move forward, people need to know what you do and what you are looking for.

Most people who I know know that I sell cars, and thus am looking for people to buy cars. More than that, they know that I specialize in challenged credit and low cost cars. They also know that I am involved in conventions.  By having that information out there, when they encounter people looking for what I have, they will make the introduction. However, if I were quiet and modest, I would miss out. This is not a matter of taking advantage. When someone introduces a friend who needs a car to me, it solves a problem that their friend has, it makes me a sale, and it earns my friend a favor. Everyone wins.

If there is something you want, something you can do, something you deserve, make sure people know about it. People like to help people, but they have to know what you want and need to connect you with it.

5. Don't Shrink Before Challenges, Grow Bigger
When you encounter a challenge, if your first reaction to think of reasons why it is insurmountable or to find ways to overcome it? Be honest. Most people are the former. If a challenge cannot be overcome, then you can stop worrying about it. Nothing could be done. Not your fault.

That's great because it makes you feel better, but it does not help you more forward. If you are happy where you are in life and don't feel any improvement is needed, then challenges can be let alone. However, if you want to improve your circumstances, you must look at every challenge and obstacle as something that can be overcome. Your first reaction must be to know that there is a solution, you just need to find it.

6. When Offered A or B, Choose Both
Life is full of choices, but often there is a secret third option of both, but it requires creativity. You need to make money but you want an education. There is not time for both. Get creative. Is there a way to work for the school to earn money as part of your education. Is that piece of paper from the college important or is it that you want greater career opportunities that come with education? If it is the latter, work to get an internship with an entrepreneur or something who can teach you, The lessons will help you advance, and the relationship developed will be invaluable.

I reiterate that people should not be forced to choose between survival and education, and our society must provide education. However, until they do, we must work in the world that is, rather than the world that should be.

7. Focus on Wealth, not Income
The wealth mindset is one of accumulating resources over time to increase prospects. The income mindset is one of trying to get as much in the paycheck so that it can be spent today. Wealth is not just money, it can be relationships, experience, skills, and other resources. By having a wealth mindset, you approach every choice by asking, which option will provide me the most resources for the next stage of my life, rather than asking which will let you buy the most stuff now.

Little by little, that wealth accumulates creating additional opportunities. Connections that I made a decade ago have come to fruition, creating opportunities for both me and the people I am connected to.

8. Constantly Learn and Grow
School is never out. If you seek to move forward, you must always be learning. If you have made it this far into this blog, chances are that you do read and work to improve yourself. That is good. Even the best are always seeking to improve. Champion athletes at the top of their game still spend hours in the gym learning and practicing to get even better. Whatever you want to do, constant improvement is vital to get there.

9. Take the Hard Road
The way to wealth is rarely the easy road. Staying at your current job is easy, but it may not provide you an opportunity. Changing jobs or starting a business or adding a second project on the side may be much harder, much more challenging, but only by taking that hard road will you get where you want to go.

9.5. You Will Fail Before You Succeed
Thomas Edison failed to invent the light bulb over 10,000 times before he got it right. Each filliment that didn't work got him one step closer to the one that would. Your first business may fail, so may your second. Your first job in sales may be a terrible experience. This is how it is. The choice that will determine if you achieve your goals or fail to do so is what you do with that failure. If you learn from them and get back on the horse and try again, you will eventually succeed, but if you take that as a sign that you never should have started a business or tried that new career, then you will eventually stop striving, and failure and mediocrity is absolutely guaranteed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Management and Leadership

If you read management literature, you will see discussion of the difference between "management" and "leadership". Generally the implication is that management is not enough and that organizations need leadership, but there's more to it than that as I am seeing with an organization I work with.

Management is the ability to get all the troops marching in the same direction: assigning tasks, tracking data, making sure that things get done. Operational tactics, in other words.

Leadership is more strategic, creating a vision that everyone can share. Inspiring everyone that what they are doing is meaningful and that their part of the project is important.

Management is organizing the troops into squads, telling each one where to start up the hill, tracking results and making adjustments. Leadership is convincing the troops that taking this hill is critical to victory and that their efforts and courage today will bring an end to the war.

Both are necessary. With only management, you have a force which gets halfway up the hill then hits problems and says "why are we here," a force that can't keep going when the going gets tough. With only leadership, the people are inspired, motivated, unstoppable, but disorganized and running in different directions.

Every leader has a combination of these two traits in differing amounts. The best managers, are rarely great inspiring leaders. The most charismatic of leaders rarely can provide the organization needed. That is why leadership teams are important. Many companies have a Chief Executive Officer who provides the big picture vision and a Chief Operations Officer who manages the nitty gritty. The CEO can create a grand plan which the COO can put nuts and bolts on. Thus, the people in the company both know what their day to day job is and feel that they are part of something big and important.

As often happens, people often think that their own traits are the most important. Highly organized people might think the organization's problem is a lack of organization. Visionaries might see a lack of vision. The key is to realize that the combination of all these factors create success, then to seek out the diverse skills and abilities to achieve it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Seeing Is Believing... But Not Knowing

The controversial dress. Science says
it's blue, by the way.
You have probably seen the white (or blue) dress with gold (or black) trim. I shall start by saying that
dresses are not, of themselves, interesting. The phenomenon of two people looking at the exact same things, seeing different facts, then vehemently insisting that they are correct and that those who disagree are wrong, is absolutely fascinating.

First, let's briefly talk about the science. Wired explains it very well in this article. Photo analysis reveals that the dress is actually Blue, but there is a mechanism in the visual cortex of the brain which filters out illumination color to allow us to see the color of an object even if the lighting is biased. The lighting of this image combined with the background, as well as the two colors on the dress cause the brain to filter the colors wrong in one direction or the other.

Now, for the more interesting aspect. A highly rational person will look at this situation and deduce that there must be a true color of the dress and that some form of analysis would reveal it. The Internet at large is mostly not populated by highly rational people. Rather, many people form an initial opinion and hold to it fiercely. When people saw the dress and saw white, they believed their eyes and assumed that those who saw blue were lying or colorblind or perhaps insane. The people who saw blue felt likewise about those who saw white.

We're talking about something that has an objective correct answer that people are arguing about. What about things that don't have such an objective answer like the Middle East, Obamacare, or abortion? If we jump to having tightly held views on something which is easily proven or disproven, what happens when we jump to tightly held views on more serious but nebulous issues?

The dress that launching a thousand memes.
Then, there is the fact that people believe what they see. Eyewitness testimony is considered highly convincing, yet people often misremember what they see. Our senses bring us the world which is then filtered through a series of processes in our brains. Biases play a part. Simple brain structure and chemistry play a part. Seeing is a start, but it is not the end.

The lesson here may be like the line from Hamlet "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The world is a complex place, and even something as seemingly simple as the color of an image may be more nuanced than at first it seems.

When you see one thing and you friend sees another, rather than argue, perhaps it is more productive to dig deeper and find out what is really going on. You never know what you might find down that rabbit hole.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Class Privilege and Non-Profit Conventions

There are certain phrases that set my teeth on edge when I hear them. "Check your privilege" is one of them. It is too often a phrase used to make me think I should feel bad for having the audacity to be born cis male, white, straight, able, etc. However, today I had to opportunity feel the need to use the phrase.

The discussion was about non-profit versus for-profit scifi/geek conventions. First, let me provide a little background for those of you who do not work on half a dozen cons a year. Many scifi cons, especially the older ones such as Arisia, Boskone, Philcon, Lunacon, and Albacon, are non-profit organizations. No one on the staff is paid in any way other than free admission and possibly free hotel rooms. The cons are generally run by a board or membership and the chair is elected each year.

For-profit cons, in spite of the name, do not tend to be major money makers. While there might be some cons out there that do make big money, they are very much the exception. All the for-profit cons I have encountered pay the very senior staff a modest sum to compensate them for their time. Many newer cons started in the last 10 years follow that structure.

I would estimate that chairing a small convention like Pi-Con probably takes about 300-600 hours to plan for a single con, and this is a smaller convention. A larger convention likely requires much more time.

I sometimes hear the attitude from people who work non-profit cons that they would never work for a "for-profit" con because they would not want to volunteer so someone else could get paid. I'm not going to address the fact that people volunteer for all kinds of money making organizations from hospitals to day cares to political organizations (but think about that for a moment). I have another point to raise.

Working poor people don't have 300-600 hours to donate to a cause. A certain level of affluence is required to have that kind of leisure time to donate. I work a middle class job, which allows me the flexibility to chair a convention on an entirely volunteer basis. However, many people do not have that option. Furthermore, there is a limit to the size and complexity of an event that one can run as an unpaid hobby. Some might use some of the larger, successful nonprofit cons as an example that staff can be found to volunteer, and that may be fine for an established con. (Although many of those old cons are shrinking and fading over time for lack of new blood to run them.)

However, what if one wants to start a new convention? It's going to take an initial investment. Either people on staff with money to put up, which requires a certain affluence, or some sort of loan, which would likely require a personal guarantee by someone running the con. To suggest that someone who wants to run a con should both take on personal risk then volunteer their time to run it seems like a very entitled attitude, given that those who tend to hold this attitude are rarely the same people willing to take the risks to start the convention.

The fact is that there are many people who want to start conventions but cannot afford to give up the kind of time it takes to start and run a con without being paid for it. In the time that they are running the event, they could be engaging in an activity which makes money, like working a job, and for most people, that's what they need to do with their time. Let us also consider that the people who do run conventions and get paid for it (1) are not getting rich in the process, and (2) are usually taking disproportionate financial risk.

So, saying that for-profit cons are somehow less than non-profit cons implies either that only people wealthy enough to have leisure time to volunteer should lead conventions or that those who are willing to lead events should be willing to sacrifice their own standard of living so that everyone else can enjoy an event. Both of these are entitled attitudes, and the first implication drips with class privilege.

If you are the sort who looks down on for-profit cons, ask yourself this: if a competent, enthusiastic, but poor person wanted to take on the task of starting a con, what do you propose they do? Should they sacrifice so you can enjoy their con? Should they take on financial risk with no opportunity of financial reward? Or might it be fair that they could collect a modest income for their hundreds of hours of work. And, given that they are willing to dedicate their energies to creating this con rather than other work which would likely be more profitable, do you think it perhaps reasonable that you could find a few hours to contribute to support their efforts?

If you volunteer in major roles at cons for no pay, consider your life circumstances that allow you to be able to do that. You may not be rich, but you at least live a comfortable enough life to have leisure time to donate to con-running.

Much as I hate to say it, before judging those conventions that pay their leadership (if they are successful, that is), take a moment to check your privilege.