antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

meetings

The author of a recent Medium post is so close to right, it’s scary. Gary says the best thing you can do is to cut your meeting length in half.

And that is a phenomenal step. One that needs to happen. But one that needs to happen in conjunction with an even more monumental shift.

Change the start time of meetings to something “weird”.

Don’t start on the hour or half hour. Don’t even start on the quarter hour.

Start at 10 past or 10 til, and go for 15, 30, or 45 minutes – with a hard cut off. Just like college classes. Oh – and just like class days when all you had was a test, as soon as your part of the meeting is over, leave. You may have to wait to leave until the end. But once your piece is done, just like when you finished your test, walk out and get on with your day.

7 things employees wish they could tell their boss about salaries

LinkedIn had an interesting article Friday whose title I snagged for this blog post.

The 7 items are:

  1. We don’t care about pay scales
  2. Forget policies. We talk.
  3. We think about our pay a lot.
  4. We will sometimes let you take advantage.
  5. When we have to negotiate … we both lose.
  6. No matter how much we earn, it’s not enough.
  7. Still, reasonable pay is ok.

Several of the points resonated with me – especially in light of things I have written previously.

“If the company can’t afford to pay an employee more, smart bosses say so. If they think a certain percentage raise is fair, they explain why. Smart bosses use pay scales to build their budgets, and use reason and logic – and empathy – to explain pay decisions to employees.”

Can’t agree more: if you don’t treat your employees like rational, smart human beings, but rather like mere resources – you create and/or perpetuate a culture of dehumanization.

“Many companies actively discourage staff from talking to each other about their salaries. I know a few companies that require employees to sign agreements stipulating they won’t disclose pay, benefits, etc to other employees.

Doesn’t matter. Employees talk. I did, both when I was “labor” and when I was “management.” Generally speaking, the only employees who don’t share details about their pay are the ones who are embarrassed by how much or how little they make.”

Yes, yes, a million times yes! In my blog post “publicizing compensation – why not?“, I point-out that forcing people to not talk about their compensation makes folks more likely to try to find out, and can lead to discontent.

“Employees think about pay all the time. Every time they deposit their paychecks they think about their pay. To a boss their pay is a line item; to employees, pay is the most important number in their family’s budget.”

Funny thing is: managers get paid, too – but rarely think about that when it comes to their employees.

“Occasionally the job market is a seller’s market, but many new employees are just really happy to land a new job. And since business owners are born cost cutters, it’s natural to hire every new employee for as low a wage as possible.”

This is related to the next point …

“Great employees are worth a lot more than their pay. You get what you pay for, so smart bosses pay whatever they can to get and keep the best employees they can.

When smart bosses find great employees they always make their best offer, knowing that if their best offer is too low, there is nothing they could have done.”

If you want to be the best possible employer ever, you need to start with your best offer to candidates. If you start with anything less than your best, you’re implying that you don’t really value their time, expertise, or potential contributions to your organization. It has been said that “everything is negotiable” – but if you don’t start with your best offer, you’re telling your current/future employee they have to make you want them more. It may turn out that your “best offer” is $120,000 per year with 3 weeks of vacation. And maybe that employee really wants 4 weeks of vacation – and is willing to accept a somewhat lower salary for that perk. Start with your best, and then massage it into what is best for both of you.

“We all want more. It’s natural. Unfortunately no boss can always give more. And that’s okay.”

Wanting more is not inherently wrong (though wanting more for merely the sake of more is probably unhealthy) – and that’s why the last point in this article is so smart:

“People are smart. They understand market conditions, financial constraints, revenue shortfalls, and increased competition. They understand when a company can’t pay top-of-market salaries. What they don’t understand is when they don’t feel fairly compensated compared to other employees in similar positions, both inside and outside the company.”

“Fair is a concept that only exists in economic theories not based on effort.”* When you look at services like Glassdoor, you can quickly see that salary is only a single facet of employee compensation (and important one, and [generally] a large one, but only one). And it’s easy to get caught-up in the mindset of keeping up with the Joneses. While it is nice to have “more”, it’s important that honesty and transparency flow from management to employees as well as the other way around.


* publicizing compensation – why not?

the seven stages of expertise

I recently found The Seven Stages of Expertise in Software Engineering.

  • Stage 1: Innocent
    • barely knowledgeable if at all
  • Stage 2: Exposed
    • seeking knowledge
  • Stage 3: Apprentice
    • has read case studies and tries to apply those techniques
  • Stage 4: Practitioner
    • can actually apply concepts learned in one context to a not-identical context
  • Stage 5: Journeyman
    • professional understanding and application of the field; can mentor
  • Stage 6: Master
    • moved from “whats” and “hows” to “whys”; can mentor very effectively
  • Stage 7: Researcher
    • the teacher, presenter, mentor, speaker, evangelist, writer, authority

Presented firstly in the humorous guise of The Seven Stages of Expertise in Bear Hunting, Meilir Page-Jones makes a highly-compelling case for progressive advancement in [nearly] any field.

Some of the ideas seem similar to what Malcolm Gladwell brings in Outliers (review) or Robert Greene does in Mastery (review). Which seems to only lend more credence to those other works, given that this article is © 1998.

evaluating “work from home” “opportunities”

It seems the number of advertised “work from home” “opportunities has gone ever higher since the advent of prolific social networking.

A not insignificant portion of these opportunities really are legitimate – 31, Avon, Mary Kay … – but a lot of them at the very least feel scammy.

The good ones tell you everything you need to know up-front:

  • “franchise” or licensing fees
  • buy-in cost
  • required sales to maintain active status
  • expected monthly commitment
  • growth paths
  • etc

The scammy ones do not – they have poorly-written, ambiguous, or unstated expectations, require lots of cold calling, expect you to pay-in an enormous amount with little-to-no understanding of how you will get paid later, they’re really “affiliate” marketing, etc. They’re the timeshare of the ‘independent consultant’ business. They’re the 2AM infomercial of the “work” world – you know the type, “for the low low cost of 3 easy payment of $39.95 I will teach you how to make money sending envelopes!” Btw, the way you make $1000s sending envelopes is by promising people to teach them how to make money by sending envelopes.

Many people I know have a tendency to get sucked into the more scammy of the varied wfh things – using the common catchphrases of “if you’re tired of being a Just Over Broke (aka “job”) worker, this is for you” or “in just 10-15 hours a week, earn $500-$2000 a month” or “I’m getting ready to launch a great new product, and I need you to be on the secret board of directors in the prelaunch stage” and more similar to them.

Let’s look at the the first one I mentioned: “10-15 hours per week to ‘earn’ $500-$2000 a month”. If you work (whatever this involves, it’s always left very nebulous), 40 hours a month and make $500, you’re making $12.50 an hour – about 50% above minimum wage, but you haven’t paid taxes yet – and you’re on the hook for all of your SSI (not the half you usually are by being a “real” employee). That means you pay 15.3% to SSI and Medicare (and remember, still no income taxes taken out yet). 15.3% of $500 is $76.50. Compare that to working for a “real” employer where you only pay 7.65% (because they pay more than half of it). 7.65% of $500 is $38.25. That’s a major difference.

What if you’re at the high end of the mentioned range? $2000 a month (which is only $24000 a year, btw – a third less than teachers start in the state of Kentucky), and we’ll say it took you 60 hours to earn it. That’s $33.33 an hour. If you could sustain $33.33 an hour (by, oh I don’t know, having a real job?), you’d be earning $69333 a year (2080 work hours in the year). The problem with these types of “opportunities” is that they’re not consistent. And the hours range always (in my observation) corresponds to the bare minimum of the “earnings” range. If it takes you 60 hours to make $500, you’re only making $8.33 an hour – a dollar more than minimum wage, and you’re on the hook for double the SSI/Medicare taxes – which, over the 60 hours, shows a difference of only 44 cents per hour more than minimum wage. 44 cents. Why not just get a job?

What if you’re truly successful with one of the “work from home” thingies? Well, then you start making the infomercial rounds, and you’re the guy they show with the 12 mansions, the 8 yachts, the cars, the women, etc. But you’re also not working “10-15 hours a month” – you’re engaged with the “opportunity” full-time+. You’re probably operating your “business” 70-90 hours a week.

If you’re going to work 70-90 hours a week, why not start your own company and own *everything* you do? You will, most likely, pay far less in taxes than as an independent contractor.

Are “work from home” “opportunities” all a scam? No. But do they consistently yield the earnings levels advertised for the hours put in? Not that I have witnessed.

For more information, this Money.SE question, “What warnings would you tell a friend about to enter a multi-level marketing (MLM) business venture?“, is a great resource:

  • MLM is not really a selling job
  • Be careful not to stockpile inventory, you’ll end up with $4000 dollars worth in your garage that you’ll never use
  • MLM is really a recruiting and training sales people job
  • Don’t think you are going to get rich at this part time
  • There are a lot of millionaires from MLM but they work a lot of hours recruiting and training
  • What does the business do
  • How do you make money
  • How do they make money
  • Why does this business need you
  • What do you bring to the table that the business doesn’t already have (skills, contacts, money)
  • How realistic are your time expectations – is this to be a part-time occasional endeavor, or your full-time occupation
  • Is there a product
  • Is the market saturated
  • http://www.consumerfraudreporting.org/MLM_pyramid.php
  • Put as little of your own money into it as possible
  • Take as much out of it as you can as soon as you can
  • Don’t count your money as earned until you actually get it in your hands as ‘cold hard cash’
  • Remember if it’s too good to be true, it usually is – no matter how many of people assure you it’s not
  • Don’t go in thinking you’ll beat the system by trying harder than everyone else: the only way you’ll make any money is by recruiting lots of people, and selling products that can be obtained for cheaper elsewhere at a normal store
  • Make sure you are paid on volume, not people

publicizing compensation – why not?

Many (if not all) companies have provisos when you become a salaried employee that you not discuss your salary/compensation package with other employees.

Most people have been raised in a mindset, largely because their parents have worked for companies like this (and maybe their grandparents, too – it is 2013, after all, and this is not a new phenomenon), that they shouldn’t ever discuss how much they make doing job R when their friend does job H – even at a different company.

Let me state, first, that I am not going to promulgate the idea that everyone should go around bragging about how much they make – especially if you are in front of either mixed company, or in front of someone you know is having a difficult time financially- after all, who wants to be the one guy in the room making $35000 when everyone else is in the 6 figures and gloating about it? I sure wouldn’t.

However, (and maybe I’m weird – though I don’t think so) I have never cared about how much you made in comparison to myself. If we are doing the same work with the same experience and we do not have the same compensation, it implies that one of us negotiated better (I have some thoughts about negotiating, too, both published and not). If you manage to get an extra $1 an hour ($2080 more per year), that’s awesome.

Given that the previous paragraph, outside of “basic” jobs like warehouse work, cleaning cars, etc, never happens – why should anyone be surprised that not everyone has the same compensation as the next guy? Somewhere along the line we got the idea that salary+benefits needed to be “fair”. “Fair” is a concept that only exists in economic theories not based on effort. (The first thing to know about compensation is encapsulated in the book Everything is Negotiable – and a related, but highly specifized1 form for salaries.)

There are services like Glassdoor that help to provide “competitive” salary information … but salary is only a small portion of compensation. Let’s say you and I both make $5000 a month ($60000 a year – make the math easy). But you have 2 weeks of vacation, and I have 4. But I took the lower-deductible insurance option, and you took the higher. Which one of us is bringing home more per month? Who cares! My individual desires and needs are, apparently, being met on my package, and yours are with yours. So why does it matter that we not discuss salary information with each other? Transparency is vital in the security world, it also is internally in a company. And between friends (though, of course, the amount of data we dump, and the methods we choose, will vary) it establishes trust.

Do I care if everyone in the world knows how much I earn per year? No. Tax returns are not public, but they’re not exactly private, either (they’re not that difficult to get if you want them). House sales prices are matters of public record. And from a house sale, along with known mortgage rates at the time of sale, you can determine how much someone is spending on their housing payment every month within a decent error margin (eg, $200000 home, 4% interest, 30 year mortgage, 10% down, you have in the ballpark of a $1000 base mortgage payment2 – within about 5-10% (to cover taxes, insurance, and PMI)). Presuming you’re not living on your credit cards, that means you’re making at a minimum $1500 a month ($18000 a year) just to afford to have a house payment. Add-in other normal essentials of 21st century America (car insurance and maintenance (or bike/bus money), groceries, phone, internet, tv, student loan, etc), and you’re at least at the household income level of $40000 (pretax). Likely quite a bit higher – especially if you have a car payment of any kind.

Why go through the miniature exercise above? Because no one seems to mind comparing they car insurance premiums. Or how often they eat out. Or what they like to cook at home. But SALARY! Heaven forbid you ever talk about THAT! That’s the one no-no in discussion of financial data between friends and coworkers. But it’s irrational when in just a few second you can ballpark the minimum someone earns.

We can compare generalities – vacation time, insurance plans, sick policies, maybe even bonuses (but only as percentages – don’t you dare use real dollars when discussing them) … but not the salary.

I read recently an Atlantic article discussing Millennials and the slow break-down of corporate boundaries to sharing compensation information. I think that’s wonderful.

Publicizing (at least internally) salaries (even if it’s in bands, a la FogCreek, HP, IBM, or the Federal Government (and Military)) is extremely positive. It doesn’t disclose stock options, bonuses, etc, but can give some kind of indication between colleagues of their relative value to their employer.

At one former employer, I found out shortly after I started that another recent hire (with more years of support experience) was being paid barely more than half what I was. And had had no options when he started (just weeks before me), when I had a modest issuance. Neither of us was upset about how much I was being paid, but I was disappointed to finally see “in the real world” such salary discrimination going on. The entire reason he was paid so much less than me? He didn’t negotiate well.

It was technically against company policy for him to tell me how much he made. And me him. Technically, it was a dismissable offense.

That’s the ridiculous part of not sharing compensation data – that by sharing it you can have your employment terminated. Employers who are worried about little things like whether a given employee knows another employee’s salary are [most likely] micromanaging – at least from the Personnel Department3.

Additionally, if the company is concerned that finding out how much someone else is earning is going to cause unhappiness amongst the team, they’ve done several other things wrong. They’ve [at least]:

  • hired people whose only motivation is money (or believe that’s the only motivator)
  • intentionally tried to undervalue their team
  • established an immediate sense of distrust
  • decided to treat their employees like children instead of adults who can rationally and intelligently discuss differences between themselves – and not just on their preferred lunch joint

I would love to see this aura of distrust disappear.

If you really do have people whose only motivation is money, you need a better team: they’ll jump ship as soon as something more lucrative comes along – instead of changing only when the work becomes more boring .. or more interesting elsewhere.


1 I know it’s not a word – I’m using it anyway
2 Divide the mortgage amount by 180, and you have the rough base payment on a 30 year mortgage (for the under 5% mortgages I see in mid-2013); your base payment is the home’s cost *2 / 360 (number of months in 30 years) – or just price/180
3 I positively despise the term “Human Resources” – employees are only “resources” to the MBA types: they’re people, and should be accorded good treatment (including referentially) as such

passive income is not a business plan

Shortcuts.

Shortcuts are great.

But only when you know the long way.

Without hard work, the short cut will seem hard.

Passive income seems to fall into this category.

Some people think panhandling is a form of passive income. It’s not. The panhandler works for his money – he talks to people, shakes a cup, whatever: he gets your attention, and tries to make you give him what he wants.

I have a Google AdSense account. I am also an affiliate with a few other places. I put Amazon links into some posts. From those links, if any purchase is made, I get a small percentage back.

But they are NOT a business.

They’re a shortcut. They’re fantastic – but in the last several years of having an AdSense account, I have yet to see a check from Google. In the past several years of having an Amazon affiliate account, I’ve paid for about three books.

You hear of high-volume sites that make all their money off advertising revenue – advertising may or may not be “passive”. But to maintain a high-volume site takes work. Hard work. Lots of it.

You [generally] don’t magically get traffic just because you are the smartest person in the world (I should know, I get on the order of only a few dozen hits per week! :))

You get – and keep – traffic because you have content or a service that people want to use. That they rely on. That they interact with in some meaningful way.

My friend Jay maintain[ed|s] AIMFix. For quite a while, it was THE best (and only) tool which would remove viruses which spread via malicious links across IM networks – dominantly AIM. I wrote a small library he used (at least for a while) in that program.

He put a metric butt load of effort into that tool, and made a little money from the “passive” advertising he had on his site.

Then traffic tailed-off, and so did his AdSense revenue.

So many businesses are started online with the premise that they’ll “make money from ads”… with nothing more of a business plan than that. They fail almost universally.

Businesses succeed when they follow the tried-and-true path of “work-deliver-earn”. And, “spend less than you earn” [ref].

If your only plan for earning money is to park a bunch of ads on a domain, you may make a little money for a little while. Especially if you’ve managed to register a reasonable typo domain (eg “antipuacity.com or “antipauctiy.com”).

But you need to have a reason for people to want to come back. To engage. To use what you offer.

Make something I want. Give me a service I need. Provide me with content I’ll return to.

Or maybe, just maybe, build something I can buy and hold.

finding your niche

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

You’ve probably been asked that questions hundreds of times in your life – parents, friends, teachers, yourself, movies. It’s a common theme.

For most of us, the decision gets made sometime in our late teens or during college: doctor, mom, lawyer, electrician, plumber, teacher, policeman, musician, actor, soldier, nurse, preacher, engineer, contractor, etc.

But I’d venture to guess that *most* people don’t truly know what they want to do until they’ve been doing something else for a while: I still don’t entirely know what I want to do for a career for the long term – if you’d asked me 5 years ago (as I was in interviews at the end of 2007 – beginning of 2008), I would have said that I wanted to be running a support organization, working towards a professional services operations role. 3 years prior to that, I would have said platform/application architect for flexible large systems. My best guess for what I want to be doing in 2 years now is being an IT/Enterprise data, virtualization, and automation architect for large environments (which happens to line-out with my current title and ‘career path’ with my current employer) – or a US Representative / Senator for my Congressional District / State.

However, the most successful and fulfilled people I’ve met (not necessarily by total ‘wealth’ or accumulated money) have all followed a Blue Ocean Strategy – they’ve invented their own job, or even their own business. That business might not be unique (eg MMM‘s contracting work), but it’s something they’ve decided to do for themselves.

If you’ve not heard of The Personal MBA, you need to learn more about it – start with their list of top business books, and read what you find interesting (and a couple you don’t think would be).

Expand your horizons – browse a good bookstore’s magazine racks, and buy one or two per month that are on topics you know nothing about, don’t like, don’t think you’re interested in, etc.

Visit your local library or bookstore and grab the first book in the history section that starts with an “A” in the title – then go for “B”, “C”, etc. Then do it from some other section of the shelves – maybe relationships, scifi, teen, romance, home improvement, etc, etc.

I am convinced college is not the best path for everyone: there are trade schools, military training, family businesses, farming, etc. I am convinced that going to college straight out of highschool is almost always a Bad Idea™ – at the very least, get a summer job: maybe get a “real” job for a couple years while you figure out what even interests you. Take the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). Take the ACT (it’s a better predictor of collegiate and work success than the SAT in my opinion). If you’re in college, take the GRE either just after your freshman year, or just before your junior year – the content will be most fresh then (if you’re taking enough general education classes and are not over-focused on your major).

As you start to find out what you’re good at, and what you enjoy to do, do everything you can to improve your communication skills. If you do nothing else at a college, take writing classes – take every class you can that will make you write. Communication is the single most important skill you can have: someone who can write and speak well will go far further than one who can’t. Take public speaking classes. Take classes you need to make presentations for, and follow the 10-20-30 rule. Brevity is highly key, and concision will get you much further than verbosity.

Blog. Blog about what you’re doing, what you’re interested in, what you’d like to do, where you’ve been, etc etc. The more you write, especially if you intend for what you write to be read, the better you will get at it. Aim to write frequently if you’re going to write at all – maybe it’s every first of the month, maybe it’s every Monday, maybe it’s every day, or maybe it’s every 4th of July: but give yourself a schedule and stick to it. Write for personal reasons, write for fun, and write for work.

Teach. When you learn something new, teach it to someone else. Whether you teach by writing, speaking, or showing – teach what you have learned. After communication, the ability to teach someone else to do what you are doing the most important thing you can learn how to do. You never want to become irreplaceable. To be irreplaceable is to be unpromotable. Teach at least one person how to do one aspect of your job as often as possible – spread your responsible skills across your team, and two things happen: first, you can take a vacation; second, you can move up (or out) more easily. The more you teach, like intentionally writing, the better you should get at it – especially if you intend for those you have taught to be able to teach others.

Learn. Strive to learn something new frequently. If you can do it every day, that’s awesome – but just once a month will help keep your mind sharp, and help you become even more valuable to wherever you choose to work (whether it is for someone else, or on your own). Any time your employer wants to pay for training for you, take it – you never know when it may come in handy. I am a proponent of the “Lifelong Learner” – and work to make sure I am learning something new all the time.

Review. Don’t ‘merely’ learn – review what you have learned before. You can do this via blogging and teaching, but take time to reread texts and materials you’re intimately familiar with: this is what David was doing when he wrote, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.”

No one can ever tell you what your niche is – not really. Maybe you want to be a lawyer – or not. Spend some time to figure out what you’re good at, and what you’d really like to do: shadow people in various careers; interview friends, family, coworkers, classmates, etc.

Life is too short to not try to spend it doing what you want.