A Bodey in Motion

Building momentum, one step at a time

Quick Hits of the Week

  • Have you ever had the joy of working for a micro-manager? I think that most of us have. If you’re stepping into leadership, learning to delegate authority and trust your team is vital.  Take a look at this list of micro-managing habits by Dan Rockwell, and evaluate yourself against it. See anything concerning? Time to make some changes.
  • Last week, our space shuttle program finally came to a close. There are good reasons to mourn the end of this era. We have so  many fond memories. It taught us so much. It’s a lot like attending the funeral of a grandparent whose time was long in coming. Times change, and dynasties end. Rising in it’s place is private innovation and adventurism. I welcome that. So does California, it seems. Maybe Virgin Galactic will get us back to the moon. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Is there something valuable or important or cool or funny or weird or awesome out there I missed this week? I can’t hit it all, but you should let me know about it by dropping me a line or sharing it in the comments below! I’d appreciate the heads up.

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September 27, 2012 Posted by | Quick Hits and Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Quick Hits of the Week

It Isn’t Really For Free

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We use the words for free a lot in our society. Probably more than we should.

Restaurants give out free refills. Online stores offer free shipping. Churches offer free counseling. Free samples. Free delivery. Interest free for 12 months! There’s a free toy in every box!

Phew.

And I could also mention the roads we drive on, the schools we send our kids to, and all the other services that our local, state and federal governments provide to us for free.

But then I’d be in for it.

Many of you would quickly and vigorously explain to me that people do pay for those things. Taxes and fees are collected that are spent on those so-called free services.

I would humbly agree with you, but then I’d gently explain that that’s true of everything we think of as being for free.

Nothing is provided without a cost. Somebody always pays.

I think we fool ourselves into believing it’s not us. When our government provides something for free, we tell ourselves that they’re taxing those who can afford it. When a business does it, we might convince ourselves that they’re absorbing those costs as an incentive to get us to buy more. When a church gives things away for free…I don’t know, maybe we think God’s paying for it?

Still, the uncomfortable truths are that, when it comes to free stuff:

  1. We’re paying for more of it than we’d like to believe.
  2. In the rare case that we are able to get something without any cost, we’ve forced somebody else to pay. (Some of us don’t find that thought as uncomfortable, but we should. More on that in a second.)

That first point is really self-evident when you stop to think about it. Consider your local furniture store for a second. Doesn’t it seem like they’re having some sort of sale every weekend? The truth is that, even on sale, furniture has one of the highest margins in retail. The delivery costs are easily covered by the margin, and so is the cost of “No Interest for 12 Months”

(And, of course, if you fail to make a payment, or pay off on time, all that interest gets applied retroactively – which is a big bonus for the store).

The furniture stores aren’t alone. Almost every area where a business offers a free product or service, you will discover a tremendous margin involved, and you’re always the one who’ll be paying that initial cost.

I could go on similarly regarding free government services. I won’t, because I think this thought should suffice: If our government taxes those people that can afford it so they can provide services, but all of us pay taxes, who’s getting those services for free?

Enough of that, let’s get to the second point.

I know the word force can make people defensive, so let me get a disclaimer out of the way.

I’m not talking about charity. I’m not saying that people can’t be generous with their resources, and I’m not saying that we should never accept a gift when it’s offered. I’m certainly not saying that people who give are always doing so out of duty or that people who receive should feel guilty. None of that would be my point.

The second point above is really addressing entitlement.

Have you ever been in a restaurant that doesn’t provide free drink refills? They’re rare these days, but there are a few still out there. Maybe they don’t mark their drinks up as high, or they’ve decided to pour each drink from a fresh can or bottle. Whatever the reason, if you’re used to free refills, not getting one can irritate the crap out of you.

I mean, this is America. We get free refills here, dammit.

And if you raise a big enough stink, you might just force them to give you one.

They’ll pay the cost of one soda to make a customer happy. So what? That’s their choice.

It is, but it’s not about them. It’s about us.

Back when restaurants first started offering free drink refills, it was a big deal. Right or wrong, we were grateful for their apparent generosity. Today, though, that tune has changed. How long did that take? Maybe five years, if that.

A thing offered “for free” for too long quickly loses it’s value. The real cost of what’s been given becomes invisible to us. As a result, we begin to abuse that thing or service, and we start to believe that it’s our right to do so. Suddenly, we’re entitled to it.

(No, I’m not just talking about drink refills anymore.)

(No, I’m not going to name names.)

It gets worse. We’ve begun to develop an almost Pavlovian response to the word free. So, we might not even bother to learn the cost of a service, however generously offered, before we involuntarily start devaluing it in our minds.

For example, churches and ministries seldom want cost to be a barrier for people who need counseling. Several churches I know, and one I work with, offer financial counseling for free. One pastor I know provides marriage counseling and performs ceremonies without establishing a cost. You can guess how each of those cases can turn out, and more often than they should.

So, free stuff often isn’t, and too much free stuff is a bad thing. What can you do? How do you respond to a it in a healthy way? You should:

  1. Identify the actual cost of what’s being offered for free.
  2. Ask yourself (and them) how they can give that away. Who’s paying for it?
  3. Figure out what the value of what’s being offered is to you. How much do you gain by accepting it?
  4. Check your gratitude.

Question: Do you think churches should stop offering counseling for free? Even if they eventually waive the costs, should they be up front about what is necessary to provide these benefits?

February 27, 2012 Posted by | Christ and Church, Politics and Other Insects, Work and Money | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Extend the Network of Your Connectedness to Many People

(This covers the second chapter from Rabbi Daniel Lapin‘s book Thou Shall Prosper. Each chapter is one part of a set of core principles that approach business and money as spiritual practices, referred to as the ‘Ten Commandments for Making Money.’ I’m reviewing the second ‘Commandment’ here. My plan is to go through all ten. You can find out more in this post discussing my thoughts on the book. All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, come from the book.)

Make lots of new friends, try to help them, and make sure that they all know how you could help them and that you are eager to do so.

As an introvert, and a man, I value peace, quiet, and solitude. Almost every task I engage in (reading, writing, programming, drawing, etc.) can be completed with more quality and efficiency when I do it without distractions. Other people coming to me with their day to day needs and wants and stuff doesn’t help me get my tasks done. Thus, other people are distractions. The less people interrupt my day, the better my work will be.

I think that a majority of men, and not a small number of women, would agree with the general sentiment of what I’ve just written. I cannot count the times that I’ve heard from coworkers and friends how much they enjoy “getting to work early,” or “staying late,” or “going in on an off day” because it’s the only time they get any real work done. (Mind you, no sexism is meant to be implied here. I’m a man, and from conversations with and observations of other men, they all appear to concur with this. My wife, on the other hand, can read a book, watch TV and make dinner all at the same time, and I still have no idea how.)

The problem is, it’s extremely difficult to succeed in business (and in life) if you’re living like a hermit. Tempting though that may be. People will not know how they can do business with you if you’ve never made an effort to interact with them. They will not continue to do business with you if they don’t appreciate you as a person. It follows, then, that the more people you interact with and friends you make, the more business opportunities you’ll be presented with.

That’s a good thing, but before you run off and start glad-handing every person you bump into on the street (or start using Twitter to digitally do the same) there are a couple of things you need to consider.

1. Interact with and make friends of people broadly and sincerely. You shouldn’t be extending your network with the primary motivation of benefiting your pocketbook. You should be doing it because making and maintaining new friendships improves you and them in many ways, not the least of which is the pleasure of doing so. As such, you should seek out connections in every venue (social clubs, your church, the gym, etc.), not just work and especially not ‘networking meetings.’

2. Find the joy in serving others and be predictable about it. You have to work at developing humility, because to properly provide service to other people, you have to believe that they are worth serving. Jesus is quoted in Mark 10:43-44 as saying, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. ” Now, I’m not advocating standing unquestioningly in the face of abuse. You should never have to force yourself to meet the unrealistic or unreasonable expectations of a client that you no longer want to do business with. However, initially approaching people with the honest intention of service, and consistently interacting with them with that same intention, will translate into success in business and life.

Here are a few quotes from the chapter that stood out to me:

For a start it suggests that you need to maximize your interaction with other people. Although it is certainly true that modern advances in telecommunication allow you to be in business despite geographic isolation, moving to a small and remote community might not be the best way to prepare for your new life of economic success.

As innovation continues to drive this communication revolution we’re living in, this statement might be rendered false, but I doubt it. If you look at this map of the population of wealthy households by state, you’ll notice that the centers of densest population in the US tend to be the centers of the most wealth. Some have attributed this to the ideological bent of the areas, but there are plenty of counter examples to that theory. So, it isn’t that wealthy people don’t mind the regulatory excesses of the local government. It’s that more neighbors means more opportunities to serve and, thus, grow more wealthy.

In addition, if you happen to prefer spending your leisure time isolated with a good book or glued to a television set, now might be a good time to start using most of your available time for building new relationships. Is doing so going to be comfortable for you? Initially, probably not, particularly if you are the introverted sort. However, you are going to have to change if you are serious about money.

That’s a personal shot, Rabbi, and I don’t appreciate it.

What if you have no passion for your work? Trying to earn money doing something you dislike is equivalent to boxing with one hand tied behind your back. You need to do everything in your power to cultivate an interest in what you do. If that is impossible, I would suggest finding a position you can be passionate about.

Traditional Jews understand the difference between being a wage slave and being in business, and so should you. You can be an employee without being a wage slave.

Are you working for your customer, or for $7.25 an hour?

Yet another poignant insight into the importance of service is offered by the Hebrew word for love. That word, Ahav, literally means “I give.”

At an earlier point in this chapter, Rabbi Lapin explains that the Ten Commandments passed down from God to Moses to the Jewish people are separated by first how one is to interact with God and then how one is to interact with his fellow human beings, and the two sets mirror one another. For example, the 1st Commandment (‘I am the Lord, your God” – God exists, and there’s nothing you can do about it) and the 6th Commandment (‘Thou shall not murder’ – Other people have a right to exist). It’s interesting that when Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment he breaks them down similarly, but with the addition of the word “love.”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

– Matthew 22:37-40

(NOTE: I’m not a biblical scholar. I’m sure one will be along any moment to tell me that the word for love in those verses is not Ahav. If so, too bad. I like the idea that Jesus is telling us that the two greatest commandments are to serve our God and our fellow man.)

The late Rabbi Simcha Wasserman used to gently tease his students on Thanksgiving if they liked turkey. One unwary student would innocently respond, “Oh, I love turkey.” Then Rabbi Wasserman with blue eyes twinkling would pounce. “No,” he’d say. “You don’t love turkey – if you did, you wouldn’t eat it. You actually love yourself.” He would add that, many times, when a young man tells a young lady to whom he is not married, that he loves her, he means it just like that student who thinks he loves turkey.

I have two daughters. You know I’m holding onto this line.

Find a little private time each day to bow your head in recognition of all those who knowingly or unwittingly contributed to what you are and to what you have today. By performing this little exercise regularly, not only are you facing the truth, but you are nudging yourself closer to possessing a more modest demeanor. With that process under way, you are ready to address the issue of service.

It’s a great habit to get into. Thank God for the day and all the people he’s put in our lives up to that point so that we can be ready for it. Amen.

That’s my take on Rabbi Lapin’s Second Commandment for Making Money. Keep looking here for my thoughts on the Third Commandment: Get to Know Yourself. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions about this chapter, whether you’ve read the book or not.

November 13, 2010 Posted by | Read and Reviewed, Work and Money | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments