Stoogecraft

You probably have better things to do than to analyze the basic trait of the Three Stooges, so I will do it for you.

They have impulse control problems.

It’s not that they are evil or even particularly selfish. No, the challenge all three Stooges face is that they do whatever comes into their minds, immediately. If they want to lash out or poke or twist, they do. If they think it might be effective to make money running a plumbing company, they don’t consider, they merely do it.

Stoogecraft is what happens when people or organizations in power do what feels right in the short run without thinking at all about the alternatives or the implications. It’s the result of fear or boredom or a misplaced focus.

Every customer service horror story is an example of stoogecraft at work. Every business development deal gone awry because of personalities, greed or miscommunication is a result of the same thing. When we don’t say what needs to be said, postponing it for later, we’re playing the Stooge game.

Humans being human. People who can do what they want doing what they (think) they want.

Short-term thinking used to mean a rake to a face. Now it leads to dead ends, broken promises and success avoided.

       

Thinking about money

    Many marketers work overtime to confuse us about money. They take advantage of our misunderstanding of the time value of money, of our aversion to reading the fine print, of our childish need for instant gratification and most of all, our conflicted emotional connection to money.

    Confusing customers about money can be quite profitable if that’s the sort of work you’re willing to do.

    A few things to keep in mind:

    1. The amount of money you have has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a good person. Being good with money is a little like being good with cards. People who are good at playing cards aren’t better or worse than anyone else, they’re just better at playing crazy eights.
    2. Money spent on one thing is still the same as money spent on something else. A $500 needless fee on a million-dollar mortgage closing is just as much money as a $500 tip at McDonalds.
    3. If you borrow money to make money, you’ve done something magical. On the other hand, if you go into debt to pay your bills or buy something you want but don’t need, you’ve done something stupid. Stupid and short-sighted and ultimately life-changing for the worse.
    4. To go along with #3: getting out of debt as fast as you possibly can is the smartest thing you can do with your money. If you need proof to confirm this, ask anyone with money to show you the math. Hint: credit card companies make more profit than just about any other companies in the world.
    5. There’s no difference (in terms of the money you have) between spending money and not earning money, no difference between not-spending money and getting a raise (actually, because of taxes, you’re even better off not-spending). If you’ve got cable TV and a cell phone, you’re spending $4,000 a year. $6,000 before taxes.
    6. If money is an emotional issue for you, you’ve just put your finger on a big part of the problem. No one who is good at building houses has an emotional problem with hammers. Place your emotional problems where they belong, and focus on seeing money as a tool.
    7. Like many important, professional endeavors, money has its own vocabulary. It won’t take you long to learn what opportunity cost, investment, debt, leverage, basis points and sunk costs mean, but it’ll be worth your time.
    8. Never sign a contract or make an investment that you don’t understand at least as well as the person on the other side of the transaction.
    9. If you’ve got a job, a steady day job, now’s the time to figure out a way to earn extra income in your spare time. Freelancing, selling items on Etsy, building a side business–two hundred extra dollars every week for the next twenty years can create peace of mind for a lifetime.
    10. The chances that a small-time investor will get lucky by timing the stock market or with other opaque investments are slim, fat and none.
    11. The way you feel about giving money to good causes has a lot to do with the way you feel about money.
    12. Don’t get caught confusing money with security. There are lots of ways to build a life that’s more secure, starting with the stories you tell yourself, the people you surround yourself with and the cost of living you embrace. Money is one way to feel more secure, but money alone won’t deliver this.
    13. Rich guys busted for insider trading weren’t risking everything to make more money for the security that money can bring. In fact, the very opposite is starkly shown here. The insatiable need for more money is directly (and ironically) related to not being clear about what will ultimately bring security. Like many on this path, now they have neither money nor security.
    14. In our culture, making more money feels like winning, and winning feels like the point.
    15. Within very wide bands, more money doesn’t make people happier. Learning how to think about money, though, usually does.
    16. In the long run, doing work that’s important leads to more happiness than doing work that’s merely profitable.

     

    The free-rider benefit

    You’re probably familiar with the free-rider problem. That’s what economists call a situation in which someone benefits from the entire community paying for something without contributing themselves. It becomes a problem when others feel like suckers and then similarly drop out.

    Cheating on your taxes is a classic example. You get to ride on the roads and benefit from the civilization that others are paying for. One non-participant won’t crash the system, but if it spreads…

    Not vaccinating your kids is a similarly selfish act. In an affluent community, a few free-riders probably don’t cause much damage because if most kids are vaccinated, the disease won’t spread. But, as we’ve seen in the battle to eradicate polio, when more than a few people don’t contribute (in this case, by being vaccinated), we all lose.

    Media, though, feels different. In Grand Central there are tall metal cages at the exit from each rail car, designed to collect already read newspapers. It’s actually against the law to remove a paper (if you could, the sides are too high) and read it.

    I’m sure someone at a newspaper fought hard for this, figuring that everyone should buy their very own paper. The thing is, newspapers don’t make much profit on the sale of the paper, they make money selling eyeballs to advertisers. If more and more people read each copy of the paper, the audience would go up, ad rates could rise and they’d actually come out ahead in the long run.

    Or consider Wikipedia. Almost everyone who uses Wikipedia (hundreds of millions of people) fails to contribute cash to run it, and they also fail to edit or contribute to the content of the site. At first, this feels wrong. Here’s the thing: one more reader costs Wikipedia virtually nothing, and the people who are donating and the people who are editing are doing it precisely because a lot of people read it. If the only people who read it were the people who were contributing, people would stop contributing.

    This blog is read mostly by people who have not bought my books. That’s generally okay with me because I don’t write the blog to sell books, but it’s also okay because it turns out that the fact that lots of people read the blog makes my ideas and books more attractive to those that do buy them. Readers know that a better understanding of my ideas might just help them be part of a larger conversation, so the investment and time and money seems a lot less risky.

    Or consider the art museum that prohibits photography, ostensibly to keep unpaid guests from seeing what’s inside. The thing is, for many people it’s more fun to visit a museum filled with famous images, isn’t it?

    Take a second to reconsider the funnel mindset. A marketer who thinks about the funnel realizes that she needs 100 people in at the top to get ten in the middle to end up with just one paid customer at the bottom. A leaky funnel is a real problem, because it costs a lot of money to keep putting people in at the top. But what if instead of a funnel, we imagine a two-part market? One part is actively participating, supporting and partaking, all because the second part is busy free riding.

    There are edge cases everywhere that make the free-rider benefit seem a lot less beneficial. Wholesale piracy, deliberate theft of services–many organizations and business models can’t thrive in a world of anonymous taking. On the other hand, once you can get your head (and your heart) around the idea that ideas that spread, win, there are significant opportunities in a digital world where it’s easier than ever to help people go for a free ride.

    What’s it for?

    If, seventy years ago, you asked Henry Luce, “What is Time magazine for?” he’d probably talk about setting society’s agenda, capturing the attention of the educated and powerful and most of all, delivering the best weekly news package he could.

    Today, the answer is clear. The purpose of the magazine is to make as much money as possible. Everything else is in service of that goal.

    It used to be that the profit enabled the magazine to reach its goals. Today, the goal is to reach the profit.

    If you ask a typical food service manager at a typical high school what school lunch is for, the answer is probably not, “to educate kids about healthy food and help them to make nutritious choices for a lifetime.” No, the answer is probably, “to feed as many kids as fast and as cheaply as we can, given the limited resources we have.”

    And if you ask someone working at a kitchen gadget company what the latest item is for, the truthful answer probably has nothing at all to do with pitting an avocado efficiently, or making a good cup of coffee. The honest answer would revolve around ease of manufacturing, pleasing the rep and the store buyer and most of all, producing an item that sells in volume and turns a profit without too many people sending it back.

    In most b2b situations, the answer is always the same, “to please my boss.”

    Sure, we’re good at making up backstories to explain our actions, to craft the ‘why’ that’s ostensibly behind the reason we do things. But c’mon. The answer to, “what’s it for” is all about what drives the person who makes the non-obvious decisions. If you’re always having to recalibrate your actions to match someone else’s decisions, that’s the real ‘for’.

    Fedex used to believe that they were in the customer service business, and that speed and reliability were the driving factor behind everything they did. Now, it seems, they are in the profit business. That the purpose of all of those people and all of those trucks and planes is to maximize profit. The rest is merely a means to that end.

    I think maximizing near-term profit can be a productive goal, especially if that’s what those you work with and partner with expect. I’m pointing out that the spin of substituting something loftier can truly confuse people inside and outside of your organization. And of course, when the only rudder you have is ‘profit now,’ expect that your long term prospects are in doubt, threatened by those with a different goal, one more congruent with their customer’s needs.

    Economics often trumps good intent, particularly at scale and over time. Decision-making power accrues to those that spend and make money, one reason that industrialization and time suck the art out of so many things.

    Being clear about what we’re doing and why is the first step in doing it better. If you’re not happy about the honest answer to this question, make substantial changes until you are.

    Doing what you love (but maybe you can’t get paid for it)

    [I wrote this five years ago. As you plan the magical things you will do next year, I thought it was worth reconsidering:]

    The thing is, it’s far easier than ever before to surface your ideas. Far easier to have someone notice your art or your writing or your photography. Which means that people who might have hidden their talents are now finding them noticed…

    That blog you’ve built, the one with a lot of traffic… perhaps it can’t be monetized.

    That non-profit you work with, the one where you are able to change lives… perhaps turning it into a career will ruin it.

    That passion you have for graphic art… perhaps making your painting commercial enough to sell will squeeze the joy out of it.

    When what you do is what you love, you’re able to invest more effort and care and time. That means you’re more likely to win, to gain share, to profit. On the other hand, poets don’t get paid. Even worse, poets that try to get paid end up writing jingles and failing and hating it at the same time.

    Today, there are more ways than ever to share your talents and hobbies in public. And if you’re driven, talented and focused, you may discover that the market loves what you do. That people read your blog or click on your cartoons or listen to your mp3s. But, alas, that doesn’t mean you can monetize it, quit your day job and spend all day writing songs.

    The pitfalls:
    1. In order to monetize your work, you’ll probably corrupt it, taking out the magic in search of dollars
    and
    2. Attention doesn’t always equal significant cash flow.

    I think it makes sense to make your art your art, to give yourself over to it without regard for commerce.

    Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.

    A friend who loved music, who wanted to spend his life doing it, got a job doing PR for a record label. He hated doing PR, realized that just because he was in the record business didn’t mean he had anything at all to do with music. Instead of finding a job he could love, he ended up being in proximity to, but nowhere involved with, something he cared about. I wish he had become a committed school teacher instead, spending every minute of his spare time making music and sharing it online for free. Instead, he’s a frazzled publicity hound working twice as many hours for less money and doing no music at all.

    Maybe you can’t make money doing what you love (at least what you love right now). But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do to make money (if you choose wisely).

    Do your art. But don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy.

    (And the twist, because there is always a twist, is that as soon as you focus on your art and leave the money behind, you may just discover that this focus turns out to be the secret of actually breaking through and making money.)

    And from a recent interview:

    I wonder why anyone would hesitate to be generous with their writing.

    I mean, if you really want to make a living, go to Wall Street and trade oil futures … We’re writers. We’re doing something that is inherently a generous act. We’re exposing ourselves to the muse and to the things that frighten us. Why do that if you’re not willing to be generous? And paradoxically, almost ironically, it turns out that the more generous you are, the more money you make. But that’s secondary. For me, the privilege of being generous is why I get to do this.

    If you have a better way of doing anything, your idea may be worth a fortune.

    In any type of business, the most valuable ideas are those that make money, save money, save time, or improve the way things are done. Every improvement, however slight, is a step in the right direction. Being alert for opportunities to improve things is a function of a positive attitude. It is virtually impossible to think creatively about opportunities when your thoughts are concentrated on the downside risk instead of the upside potential. As you search for ways to improve your performance, or to find a better, faster, or more economical way to perform a task or build a product, by all means analyze and minimize the risks but focus on the possibilities.

    Do we have to pander?

    The road to the bottom is paved with good intentions, or at the very least, clever rationalizations.

    National Geographic goes into a cable TV partnership and ends up broadcasting shameless (shameful? same thing) reality shows, then justifies it as a way to make money to pay for the good stuff.

    Restaurants serve chicken fingers to their guests’ kids, because it’s the only thing they’ll eat.

    Some comedians give up their best work in exchange for jokes that everyone will get.

    Brands extend their products or dumb down their offerings or slap their brands on inferior substitutes all in the name of reaching the masses.

    And that’s the problem with the shortcut. You trade in your reputation (another word for brand) in exchange for a short-term boost of awareness or profit, but then you have neither. Yes, you can have a blog that follows every rule of blogging and seo, but no, it won’t be a blog we’ll miss if it’s gone.

    Should Harley Davidson make a scooter?

    Yes, you can pander, and if you’re a public company and have promised an infinite growth curve, you may very well have to. But if you want to build a reputation that lasts, if you want to be the voice that some (not all!) in the market seek out, this is nothing but a trap, a test to see if you can resist short-term greed long enough to build something that matters.

    Money; An Illusion, A Shadow Of Something Else…

    If you’ve been a seeker of wealth and your own ever illusive ‘Holy Grail’ for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve come across many “secret wealth information” books and programs that claim to deliver or attract wealth and financial and life freedom — freedom from bosses and DEBT, struggle and suffering, dependence on jobs, schooling … to every negative financial condition..

    You may already have discovered — to your dismay — that those books and programs seldom live up to their claims and promises. While some of these do offer honest but misguided information, some are deliberately deceptive. They often make misleading promises that might prove to be more financially dangerous in wealth and livelihood than beneficial to those who struggle financially due to the lies and constant mystification of money and wealth perpetuated by society.

    Read more