Monthly Archives: September 2013

Don’t Hate on Multi-Level Marketing

… so long as it’s being done right.

I don’t know the reason, but it seems like I talk about multi-level marketing once a week. When I say “talk about” I mean on a higher, structural level. This is not including the countless Facebook posts and tweets promoting the many product lines that employ the strategy.

From what I gather from my conversations, not many people like multi-level marketing. They don’t like being pitched by friends and don’t think that the products are too good. In fact, there seems to be a wide level of scepticism of everything that is distributed this way. I don’t think that this distrust is completely founded.

From what I can understand, there are many quality products that are sold through these channels. I have friends and family who have bought them and I have yet to hear a specific, product-related complaint. I actually know many who have turned into repeat customers, so there has to be a product quality at least similar to what is available through more traditional channels.

It’s my opinion that when people are sceptical about product quality, the real reason they are being hesitant is that the distribution of the product is coming from someone they know. Not only that, but it is likely that they have at least been aware of (if not pitched) how to join the company as a sales rep. It may be their own narrow definition of how companies should be run that is holding them back. To me, 90% of what is done in a multi-level marketing system is happening in most other companies out there, you just don’t know as much about these companies because they are less front-and-centre.

When you boil it down, what I think the real problem people have with it is that it is selling based on personal relationships, which is an issue you have with a person, not the company. If you know someone who has signed on to be a rep and that’s all they can talk about, I will agree that it gets tiring. Conversely, you probably have friends doing something like this that you would never guess was involved. It is all about the choices of the individual.

People working at “reputable” companies can behave the same way. I really comes down to the discretion of the person doing the selling. I encourage any of my friends who want to try their hand at this particular form of business, but just remember: no means no.

The “Love What You Do” Fallacy

If you haven’t caught on by now I’m often not too sure what to think about my generation. It seems to me there are a lot of bold statements and the blind leading the blind. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there is plenty of blame on other generations for some of the most popular thoughts that we walk around with.

One of the biggest things that irks me is the, “Do what you love and everything else will work out,” promise. I think it’s a classic case of the older generations who tell us this having some hindsight bias and us taking the suggestion at face value. I’ll explain:

It’s all well and good for a successful person in the twilight of their career to say something like this. They probably do enjoy what they do, but it likely took them a long and hard-working career to get there. Sure, reflecting on 30-40+ years in the workforce it may seem like they were enjoying themselves all along, but I’m willing to bet there were some tough times in there, too. We just tend to gloss over them.

Fact of the matter is I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to love our jobs every single day. I think it’s a good thing to try and find something we enjoy doing on the whole, but if you can truly say you love 100% of your job 100% of the time you are:

  • Mary Poppins
  • Not challenging yourself enough and I have a sneak suspicion that you’ll eventually get bored.
  • So much smarter than me it’s not even funny and you should immediately take over this blog.

For the rest of us, let’s try and temper what so many people have said and know that we need to look for something we love doing on the whole. Not every second of every hour of ever day, but at the end of each week we’re happy we’re doing what we’re doing.

The other thing to remember is that hard work is needed if we want to get to the job we truly do love. No one is going to hand you the keys to the place, you need to earn them. So keep your eye on the prize and realize that where you are may be a means to an end.

My Life On Welfare

First thing’s first, don’t worry mom, I’m not applying for welfare.

I was recently reading an article about a company that is doing a “SNAP Challenge“. As far as I can tell, these people were going to live on the equivalent of food stamps for a week to see what it’s like. This got me thinking about the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign that happens annually across Canada (and right here in Winnipeg).

When I saw the comments at the bottom of the article I started thinking even more about the similarities. Things like, “This isn’t how real people on food stamps live,” and, “This is insulting,” and, “This is a publicity stunt.” It was like a blast from the past, because I’ve heard all of them said about 5 Days, as well.

To set the record straight, all these participants know that this isn’t real-life, but an exercise. I can’t speak for the SNAP Challenge people, but 5 Days only wants to raise money (over $25,000 this past year) and awareness. Excuse me for being blunt, but only a complete moron would think that these participants are claiming to know what it’s like to live the lifestyle which inspired the charitable endeavours.

All of that being said, I started wondering to myself if I could live anything close to my current life on welfare. Then I started doing some digging.

Disclaimer: I didn’t take too long finding this info and I’m sure there are some intricacies. This was just done as a mental exercise for myself (and now you) and I don’t claim to know what it’s like to be on welfare.

I found that the assistance provided in Manitoba is $587 for a single person, so the short answer is right away “no”. Mortgage payments, home-owners insurance and personal insurance eat that up and more. Case closed.

Not wanting to stop right away, I decided to see what it was like if I cut out all of the above and assumed I was an uninsured renter.

I also assumed I could find a place to rent for $350/month and could access a housing allowance for 50% of that cost. My remaining fixed expenses were car insurance, cell phone bill and cable/internet. After the above four things I was left with about $177 per month for everything else. Maybe possible, but not ideal.

Then, again a step further, I decided to cut out the data on my phone plan, cut cable and internet, “sell” my car and get a bus pass instead. Assuming I was still was paying $175/month on subsidized rent my leftover spending money would be $327/month. Let’s work with that number for now.

A rough budget for living on $327 discretionary income per month for me would look like this:

  • $200 food ($127 remain)
  • $70 utilities (giant leap here, but thought I should put something) ($57 remains)
  • $57 everything else

I fought my natural urge to put something in savings, because I just don’t think that’s realistic.

The $200 for food may have some room to be trimmed down, but as it is that’s $6.67/day for meals. If you want to get any sort of protein, ever, it’s going to have to stay where it is. I know there’s people who have blogged about living on a dollar a day for food, but even they have admitted it was very unhealthy.

It may seem silly, but this was actually fairly eye-opening for me. Before taking the time to break it down I didn’t really understand what it meant to be on social assistance. Looking at it this way, you wouldn’t really have choice with your money. After the most basic human needs are met you’re pretty much out of cash for the month and I’m guessing that would really wear on a person.

Introvert vs Extrovert?

I’ve gone through virtually all my life being told (and assuming) I’m an extrovert. From what I can gather, I’ve been told this because I am able to speak in front of groups and like meeting new people. I guess that sounds pretty textbook. Case closed?

Wait a second, though. I also like reading, writing and downtime away from other people. Doesn’t that mean I’m an introvert?

Now it’s the classic introvert vs extrovert debate, since no one can be both. However, the narrow definitions seem a little flat to me. Just because there are behaviours that involve other people or not, I don’t think that can tell the whole picture. Especially in the black and white terms that we usually see introverts and extroverts.

First, like more or less every other personality trait, there are shades of grey. In fact, my exhibiting characteristics of both makes me an ambivert, which it turns out is the most common personality type of all. Basically, like most generalities used to describe humans, the vast majority of us lie somewhere on a spectrum, not in the narrowly defined extremes that we are told about.

Intuitively, I’m sure that you know this is true. For most of us there are times when all you want to do is go see a friend or be in a group. There are other times when you want nothing more than to stay at home alone. Does this mean you’re schizophrenic? No. It means you’re a human as complex as everyone else.

Why do we continue to put so much weight on these definitions, then? Why are there personality tests to categorize us and profiles created for positions that include “must be __troverted”? It’s my belief that it comes down to tradition and convenience.

Tradition is easy: We’ve been hearing about introverts and extroverts all our lives, so it is easy to accept it as truth and default to that thinking when asked to describe someone. Just like so many other archaic ideas, this one has been around for so long that it will be difficult to get rid of.

I think that my “convenience” answer is going to ruffle a few feathers.

When it comes down to it, our brains take every short-cut they have when interpreting the world around us. Either consciously or unconsciously, we want to understand things in their simplest terms and this applies to humans.

I’m not saying that we don’t care about one another, because we do. I’m more expressing that everyone is too complicated to ever be fully understood by another person or even themselves for that matter. We have to rely on the actions we observe in order to make judgement and it’s plain easier if the person fits into a pre-existing box.

Observing actions isn’t even reliable, because we are all able to mimic behaviours that we are uncomfortable with, so long as we have the desire and are able to practice. Someone could be the “most” introverted person in the world, but able to be a great public speaker. Someone else could be “very” extroverted, but has practised not being as vocal in certain situations. So someone meeting them for the first time while they are “faking” it will have a very incorrect assumption about that person.

So let’s stop assuming that everyone is one or the other. All of us are more complicated than that and deserve to have a chance to show we are more talented than past evidence have demonstrated.

Grow By Looking Outward

If you haven’t gathered from some of my recent posts, I’m a big fan of efficiency. Improving business processes, LEAN, Six Sigma, et al are very interesting to the problem solver in me. There’s something about being able to bury myself in a large, complex system problem that can just make my day.

These are also the types of things we learn in school. Making your business more efficient increases profitability and all that good stuff. While this is well and good, the reality is that small businesses probably shouldn’t bother with things like these if it’s not absolutely necessary.

Something that I read some time ago, but unfortunately can’t find the article any more, is a study of successful companies. They were from different industries, were different sizes, were B2C and B2B, but there were a few things that all of them had done. One of them was focus on external growth, rather than internal improvement.

When I read this, it made intuitive sense. Is it better to strive to increase your profit margin by 1% or grow your sales by 50%? If both took the same amount of effort, is there even a question? What’s more is even if at the time becoming more efficient is the right thing to do, it is not sustainable. Eventually the well will become dry and you need to start looking for bigger bodies of water.

There must be some sort of analysis that can be done to determine when investing in improving processes makes financial sense, but that would be when the company is large enough to do so without forfeiting any focus on new sales. If it’s about trading one for the other, I would take sales every time.

While writing this I realized that this could be a good personal motto as well.

While this is likely a little looser, as I was writing the post I started thinking about personal growth and how only so much can be done on our own, at least in my case.

As much as I have topics I love to read and learn about, without being exposed to different thinking by other people, my views would be severely limited. I think about all the topics, books, articles, authors, ideas, etc. that have been recommended to me by other people and I shutter to think how long it would have taken for me to come around to them on my own.

For this same reason, I really appreciate my diverse set of very opinionated friends. I am fully aware that I can be confrontational at times, but that just means that I’m engaged and happy. I’m learning to mute this a bit more, but it’s hard to contain excitement.

So whether you want to grow your business or yourself, start by looking outward. Don’t constrain either by the present!

Blog Post 100!

Well, this is post 100 in the blog and considering I just talked about six months a month ago and typically save my “what I’m learning” posts for the end of the month, I’ll try to deviate from those styles as much as possible.

Rather than looking back, I’m going to try and look ahead (with a bit of back).

Honestly when I started this my goal was 100 posts, consistently, three times a week. Other than a few fluffy ones for the Mondays of long weekends, I don’t think that I’ve truly missed a day.

I guess the real question for me is “What now?” I’ve hit my goal of 100, considerably improved my writing abilities (I can help but be long-winded) and successfully withstood the harassment of friends. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Going to two posts per week. I don’t know if it’s a Friday thing or a volume thing, but those posts just don’t get as much love. Some posts that I thought were pretty good didn’t have much action at all. So I’ve decided to modify my posting to Monday and Thursday (as started today). May sound lazy, but suck it, I’m at 100 posts.
  • Keep my topic pool large. This goes against most blogging advice (and marketing advice for that matter), but I’m not doing this to make money, so doesn’t really matter to me. I want to see if some different topics will attract some more readers.
  • Find guest posters. I half tried this a long time ago, but it didn’t work out. Though it’s my name in the URL, I think it would be cool if some other people put things up on here.

That’s pretty much all I have. If you think there’s a goal I should pursue, please let me know! If not, hope you keep reading.

Decision Fatigue

A while ago I wrote about how choice sucks and I definitely still stand by that. Through further reading on the subject (mostly in order to reaffirm my beliefs) I started learning about decision fatigue.

While I probably should have learned this in one of the multiple psych classes I took in university and it mostly seems like common sense, I still found it interesting to read about. After that, it seems, every successful leader profile or interview I look at, the subject has some concious or unconscious sense of decision fatigue and takes steps to avoid it.

Since I don’t want to bore the pants off of everyone more than I already do, might was well go straight to the top and give the example of Barack Obama. There is a great article that summarizes the lessons that can be taken from interviews with / profiles of the President. Side note: One of the profiles mentioned is Michael Lewis’ from Vanity Fair, which is an amazing read on it’s own.

Number two in the summary talks about decision fatigue and how the President tries to avoid it as much as possible. Considering his job is essentially making decisions on issues thrown at him out of the blue, I’m going to say he is as much of as practical authority on this topic as anyone. And there are two interesting things that he does:

  1. Not make small decisions.
  2. Plan the night before.

I think that one leads into the other nicely, but I’m going to start with not making small decisions.

While most of us probably aren’t lucky enough to have someone decide what we should wear or make us breakfast every morning (unless you still with your mom, that is), there is something to be said about avoiding small decisions. While this is impossible to avoid entirely, I think that there are some changes that I can make to my life in order to avoid letting small decisions deplete my decision making ability.

In my day, the greatest cluster of small decisions seem to be in the morning. What do I eat? What should I pack for lunch? Should I shave? What to wear? etc. By the time I’ve left the door I’ve made 10+ decisions that really don’t mean anything, but likely take a toll on my abilities the rest of the day. It’s for this reason I say that the two points flow nicely into one another.

If I take the President’s second piece of advice and take some time before I got to bed to plan my next day, I can virtually eliminate my morning decisions. While packing lunch the night before and laying out clothes may seem kind of dumb, it allows the mind to be occupied with more important thoughts and better yet, keeps us alert for the real decision making.

I have no clue if this will work for me, but I might as well give it a shot! If I notice any dramatic change I’ll be sure to report back.

LinkedIn Pigeon-holing?

I don’t know when, but at some point LinkedIn started allowing members to endorse other’s skills and expertise. I guess the act of writing recommendations was too cumbersome, along with the minor fact that you have to actually know something about the person in order to write something meaningful, meant that there wasn’t the activity level LinkedIn wanted. So they invented the simple version.

Clicking a single button to give an endorsement seems like a little too low of a barrier to take them too seriously. Every so often in a while I get an email saying I’ve been endorsed, which I guess is a good thing, but often it is from someone I have never worked with. Once in a while it’s from someone I don’t even know. To me, that means there isn’t much credibility in the concept.

Not only all of this, but it seems like the skills that are recommended to be endorsed are activities that LinkedIn has determined are related to the industry you’re in / your job title. Further perpetuating the meaninglessness of what is on there.

I worry, however, that there are some out there who will judged based on skills listed. I don’t think that mine are an accurate reflection of me and I sure don’t want to be discounted for something based on it.

So screw-off LinkedIn. Stop suggested that near strangers endorse me for skills that are loosely tied to my industry.

What Photography Has Taught Me

It says so right on this site, but if you don’t know photography is one of my hobbies. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been doing nearly enough of it recently, even electing not to take my camera away with me camping and to lakes some weekends this summer, but a trip to Gimli last weekend where I had it out got the juices flowing again.

The first thing that I have learned from photography is that since most people own a camera and take pictures, if they like a shot you’ve taken they tend to compliment your equipment. I’m nowhere near being a professional and likely never will be, but statements like, “Your camera takes good pictures,” is still like a punch in the kidney for me. I can only imagine what pros want to do when they hear it.

I think that’s it a bit of human nature to assume that external factors (i.e. equipment) are responsible for one person’s work being better than ours. Complimenting the camera of a photographer is in lines of complimenting Roger Federer’s tennis racquet or Tiger Woods’ clubs. Not that I think that I’m the Roger or Tiger of photography, but you get the point. No one is winning as much as they have just because of superior equipment.

In fact, one of my favourite photos wasn’t taken by me, on a point and shoot set to auto. It’s of my brother on top of Machu Picchu and it’s stunning. The location is great, the conditions ideal, the subject willing and focus well balanced. Nothing to do with the equipment. Either the person who took it had some skill, the stars aligned or I don’t know what I’m talking about, but the pic is awesome.

If I have any skill with a camera I would think it is thanks to preparation. I read photography books, look at others’ work and read blogs. I take the time to think about what I like and learn how to best utilize the tools I have available (not just set my camera to auto and hope for the best).

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a great “quick tips” handbook about shooting in different conditions. If I have the time, I like to pull it out and read about what to look out for and get a baseline suggestion for settings, then tweak from there. Like I said, it’s a hobby, so I’m not worried about looking super cool in front of others by knowing everything there is to know about the medium. I also want to learn as much as I can with the limited practice I get, so I would much rather start off on the right track then fumble down the wrong road.

The number one lesson photography has taught me is to always look at things from a different angle. I think a story from when I had my camera out this past weekend is a perfect example:

We took a walk down the pier in Gimli and I was taking my time, snapping my pictures. Once we reached the end my mind was starting to wander a bit and I wasn’t looking forward to the boring walk back, as I had already seen and captured images from this location. What I realized, though, is I couldn’t be more wrong, because from the new perspective of walking back there were a great number of things that I missed and was excited to focus on.

There’s some sort of deeper philosophical conclusion to that story about how that’s how we should live our everyday lives, but I’ll let you come up with it on your own. My soapbox hasn’t grown to such heights that I’m going to bore you with that.

So the long and short of it is I’m glad I pulled out my camera again after a bit of a hiatus. Every time I use it, it’s a fun challenge and I learn a lot about both photography and life. Cheesy ending, DONE!