What would your friends buy from you?

I did a 5 hour exam seminar today and one of the things that the students perked their ears up at was the idea of writing not for readers, but for a reader.

This was half way across the country (it’s snowing here). On the train home, in a bout of nostalgic tiredness, I flicked through the blogs of people who I followed 10 years ago and something occurred to me. A lot of bloggers ended up having some kind of successful business, often hingeing on a personal brand. I found an interesting correlation between their business and their friends. It’s painfully obvious, but for me it has been hidden in plain sight for a long time.

They sell the things their friends would buy from them.

And by friends, I don’t mean people who follow them, I mean friends. Real life friends.

So to rephrase the writing canon:

Don’t sell to followers, sell to a follower. 

The concept of selling to your friends seems a bit odd at first, but it’s the perfect litmus test of whether what you’re selling is worth buying. I think some people rely on the vastness of the internet to find their product and end up making spammy things that don’t sell, where in reality it’s probably not going to take off unless their friends would buy it from them.

The publisher has been the supplier of good books for her friends. The photographer who became popular has been taking her friends’ photographs for a long time. The lad who has a web development studio developed his friend’s sites. The girl with the jewellery store has been the to-go to person for nice jewellery before she had a bona fide store. My personal experience is congruent with this.

I think it’s a good way to think about small business. Think of a friend: what would you buy from them? What would you sell to them? I had a think of my friends and all they are good for is professional advice and good alcohol. Oh dear, rofl.

The social/economic mechanics of this are obvious and not worth chewing over, but it’s just a good way to think for some people who are thinking of monetising something.

What would your friends buy from you?

Young Irish women in business, where art thou?

There are few things I love more than blogging, but sometimes I leave the den to socialise…

It would be awesome to go to a place where you could mingle with women in business.

Why women? Places that aren’t woman-only, tend to be >80% men, something I learnt from experience. It’s not always conducive to making good connectons.*

So I went for a google for local female entrepreneurial stuff. It spat out a whole list of places. The websites scream empowerment through networking, in bright pink. One even offered good vibes. In bright pink. A bit like Ann Summers.

I also came to learn that women in business more often than not means C-suite employees of large corporations. Fair enough. Even here, with 1-2 exceptions, it is similar.

What I notice is that the average age is ~40. Also fair enough.

What I had been expecting to find was 30 year old entrepreneurs. I think that’s quite different.

But what does it mean?

That it’s virtually impossible to have built something by 30, in this part of the world?

That virtually no women in their 30s take business seriously?

*because it’s downright odd to come to a group of lads and say hello. They look so excited that it doesn’t feel like they have any interest in talking about anything serious.

P.S. Preachin’

Young Irish Entrepreneur women

Trying to be old

I loved how the sun lit up the windows of the ostentatiously classy restaurant come wine bar on St. Andrew’s Street in Dublin called Stanley’s. The bleached turquoise exterior with golden letters spelled understated chic.

A few doors down from the expensive Trocadero, the location seemed perfect for such a place.

It opened about 2 years ago. Today I found that it’s been replaced with a place called Kathmandu, a gerrish, bright orange Nepalese eatery. Full of people. 

Stanley’s was never full of people.

Why? Where did they go wrong? Where didn’t they go right, more like? The broadly positive Irish Times review and then another even more positive one? The perfect location? The classy interior in modern blues and grays? What more could people want?

Or is it maybe that classy is old-fashioned. Maybe these things don’t sell anymore.

I love old books, films, chandeliers, even houses. Often these things sell at a perplexing yet welcome discount.  Has it always been this way – that old things are cheap?

Writing up my list of the Christmas gifts I want to give, I realised that I strongly prefer older things. I think it’s from reading too many XIX century novels…

Which would you rather get for Christmas, a new iPhone or an antique chandelier? 

It turns out that the iPhone is about five times the price. This raises another point: did old things always go at a discount?

And finally, maybe that’s why Stanley’s closed down. Perhaps their bet was on people’s vanity, a desire for a classy place to shorten the protracted winters nights. But it never caught on.

Trying to be old without actually being old may be a hard sell. 

It’s good to be reminded that the life goes on without me trying to control it

I took the day off yesterday. For the first time in I don’t know how long.

Being a bit of a rebel, I chose the day that bookings start for a course I run.

Contrary to my expectation, my email wasn’t full of people wondering where I was. After all, how dare I not get back to them within 30 minutes?

I did have about 110 unread emails, but nothing unmanageable.

It’s good to be reminded that the life goes on without me trying to control it.

When you put it like that, I can see the appeal of nihilistic thinking. But even if I am a lowly non-flaggelated bacterium living on the eye of a blue-eyed giant, I want to be good at being such a bacterium.

According to my family, interactions with me felt qualitatively different today, now that I was rested. A remark I didn’t specifically seek out.

I also slept much longer than I normally do, suggesting that I was able to break out of fight or flight. (Alternative explanation: Merlot).

The morning was a haze: I dreamt of being with my friends, who travel to places man hasn’t really spent much time in, occasionally interrupted by some more frontal part of my brain reminding me of items from my list, concerning appointments and credit card details.

I also realised just how little time I actually spend producing anything. Instead, I expend a huge amount of energy on being in that anticipatory stressed state. Like Rocky waiting to be punched in the stomach.

I guess there isn’t really a way around that one.

Five in one

Here are four five pretty unrelated things that have been on my mind:

Entrepreneurs: sell vs befriend

I, like I am sure millions of other people, keep getting followed by all sorts of dealers who promise to “help small business” and lead to “explosive growth” on social media. Why do these people exist? How have they not been banned by everyone? Or will selling hope always be big business?

It would be nice to have a community of entrepreneurs. But what do entrepreneurs do? They sell and they compete. Trying to have a community of entrepreneurs is like trying to farm spiders. They will eat each other.

A community of this nature could only form based on prior friendship, where social bonds are stronger than the need to sell. But most of these communities offer to put you into a network for a small fee: this doesn’t exactly inspire warm and fuzzy feelings. The circular nature of their business is also worrying. Conferences, seminars, mindset trainings, honestly…

I have, on the other hand, made many friends online, who happen to be entrepreneurs, but never directly in connection with their entrepreneurship. (You know who you are. Perhaps, some of you would like to meet my recently acquired Buddhist friend.)

Nietzsche: is it all lies?

I am quite worried about how things are unfolding in the US.

Nietzsche keeps getting brought up. He has to be the most misunderstood philosopher. Did his relatives doctor his writings too much after he died? Or is he just forever contradicting himself?

Any Nietzsche scholars very welcome to comment on this article of Nietzsche and the alt-right.

Curate or censor?

In other news, Google recently stopped Gab, apparently a sort of Twitter for people who get banned from Twitter, from being able to be downloaded from their Playstore. Apple stopped them a little earlier this year. Also, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom wants to curate the Internet.

Taleb is in a new battle with the establishment.

Vaccinate or die

France is tightening vaccination requirements. I support vaccines, of course. As a society though, are we better off having people die from preventable diseases or limiting their freedoms?

Diabetes is a preventable disease, but I don’t see anyone being confined to a gym by law. Though the herd immunity argument makes vaccines different. In addition, the fact that it is children who are affected makes vaccines different, but then again we can’t stop some people overfeeding their children with junk. I’ve taken enough trips on routes that serve hospitals to know that you don’t have to be above one year of age to be served Coke in your bottle.

Control

There is a philosophy that suggests that taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is the best way to live (e.g. William James).

I think that the world is one giant furnace of entropy and within that we each have a small island we call the self, where we can affect things. I cannot force someone to ask me to come to their party, but there is a myriad of things I can do to try to gently weasel my way into it.

The single most damaging thing I do, my worst bad habit, is fretting about things I cannot control. In other words, I feel responsible for things that are beyond my reach. I sit there and feel like a failure if I am not invited to the metaphorical party.

The question is: does this fretting push me to look for solutions that I wouldn’t have found if I just rested within my boundaries? Or are parts of William James and his followers’ philosophy just soothingly empowering wishful thinking? Or am I even doing damage by fretting and preventing myself from seeing ways to get into the party? Please share your thoughts on this last thing.

P.S. I couldn’t find a picture of a weasel, so here is a nice chilled out otter. I must take some of my own pictures soon.

Millennial corporate office workers and their transgender bathrooms

I wanna be the very best

Like no one ever was

– Pokemon opening titles

As part of my Christmas escape from routine, I’ve been trying to read more. After the off-putting Ego is the Enemy and the chilling American Tragedy , I stumbled upon an interview with Simon Sinek. He talks about how millennials are difficult to deal with in the workplace and attempts to explain how this is a product of our upbringing in a cautious non-accusatory manner. It’s kind of fun to watch because the set up is clearly intended for dialogue, whereas Sinek goes off into a suspiciously well-structured 15 minute TED talk while the poor host nods along.

millennials in the workplace

Sinek says millennials are accused of being entitled, narcissistic, unfocused and lazy.

He remarks on the fact that corporate purpose and bean bags aren’t cutting it. He talks about the reasons. According to him, there are four.

1. Parenting

According to Sinek, millenials have been subject to “failed parenting strategies”.

Sinek postulates that millennials were repeatedly told that we could have anything we wanted and that we are special.

I guess our parents belong to the generation when toxic compulsive positive thinking really took off, so that would make sense. “Just wish for it – and it’s yours”.

Sinek argues that we got into honours classes not because we accomplished enough, but because our parents complained. 

I am not so sure about this mammy getting us things. If anything, if I had been born 20 years before, my mammy would have had an easier time calling in favours and getting me into a position I didn’t deserve. This is just an impression too, but to me, the world seems more equalised and transparent – at least in education, in Europe.

The underlying premise of Sinek’s argument is that millennials are different due to these 4 causes, but he doesn’t really provide any evidence to say that, beyond the obvious, these reasons are unique to our generation – and thus their explanatory power is questionable.

He argues that participation medals (8th best…) corrupted us. When millennials meet with reality, where coming in 8th doesn’t bring all that validation it did before and mammy can’t get us a promotion, we immediately question our specialness, feel we’re inferior and blame ourselves.

I do recall moving from Moscow to Dublin (for the n-time by in my teens), after not having really lived there for 2 or 3 years, which on that scale is forever, finding that

1. Maths is a dark art to most people

2. Everyone has a medal in something.

At that point, I had barely ever won anything. I recall talking to my dad and wondering how these mildly impressive people were top this and top that. I even talked to my classmate about the dissonance. My dad explained the reality of the differing attitudes in education:

in the West, medals are used for encouragement, and they don’t mean the same thing or serve the same function as the medals of my former Russian prodigy classmates.

My friend took a different approach – together with our other friends, she gave me a little trophy that said “Official Trophy Girl” and my name. That was my first trophy. Sinek clearly knows what he’s talking about.

millennials in the workplace simon sinek

2.Technology

Sinek’s argument is that our Instagram-filtered highlight reel lives raise the standard to the point that unless you are exactly perfect, know exactly what you are talking about, you shouldn’t talk. So when we do talk, we come to out uber-experienced boss and lecture him or her on how it’s done (while having no clue and even less insight). The 2 factors above work against out self-esteem according to Sinek.

Instagram and other social media are very naturally selecting.

I would argue that whatever harm is done through participation medals, it is probably shaken out of us by the cold reality that our ramens need to be quite good before people start liking and replaying them.

He explains how technology is addictive and introduces dopamine. He makes the grotesque comparison of alcohol and social media. Sinek states that the relationships we form are superficial and we’ve no coping mechanisms other than a dopamine hit from the likes on Facebook. He makes a very sweeping assumption that almost everyone is addicted to social media.

Yes, possibly.

However, weren’t there other ways to get hooked on dopamine before? It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Has he heard of Dungeons & Dragons? Maybe, Counterstrike? Back to back episodes of Sabrina on Nickelodeon?

Here, his argument is quite weak . There’s nothing to say that we are more addicted with poor coping skills – compared to any other generation.

millennials lack purpose simon sinek

3. Impatience

We live in a world of instant gratification: Amazon next day delivery, Netflix binges, Tinder dates: “swipe right – I’m a stud”. He argues that the meaningful things (confidence, impact, etc) are slow and meandering.

Again, all of this is true. But was it ever any different? Obviously, it wasn’t Amazon-related, but there were other ways to get instant gratification. For example, fast food is all about instant gratification – and millennials don’t really binge on that at least. Perhaps, impatience is just part of being young. This quote attributed to Socrates reveals so much about the timelessness of the nature of youth:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

why millennials suck

4. Environment

Sinek says that the corporate environment takes more interest in the numbers rather than the personal development of their employees.

First, that’s normal.

Corporations owe it to their shareholders, not their employees – that’s the premise of capitalism.

Yes, there is CSR, etc, but they are very much at the margins of corporate life. In fact, there’s nothing necessarily evil about the financial purpose, as at least in theory financial gain is a reflection of the usefulness of something to society – albeit through the prism of a supply and demand intersection.

However, it’s not the act, it’s the cover up. The fact that corporations so often come out with unfalsifiable statements that seem to want to please everyone and stand for nothing as their “values” and “purpose” is really off-putting. Working there makes one feel like a low-ranking accomplice of a gargantuan fraud – without even the freedom to admit it.

The thing that is actually going on here is that the entitled whiney millennials “ruin everything” are specifically the corporate office workers. In generations that came before, fewer people worked in offices of big corporations. Now that there are sufficient numbers of young corporate workers, the generalisation has been spread to millennials as a whole.

In these large corporate institutions, millennials don’t know their boss. Their actual boss is a hedge fund who owns the shares. The person they call their boss is just a slightly more senior employee, who has 10% more of an idea why they’re doing what they’re doing than the poor millennial. There’s no actual real work to do. Going around with balloons for people’s birthdays and making presentations – even pulling all nighters while at it – makes people feel unfulfilled and trapped. There’s no genuine purpose beyond the obvious financial one. That’s the clincher. Justin Bieber knew what to sell to his audience [his recent tour was called Purpose].

I suspect that millennials who are out there chopping wood aren’t as morally dissatisfied as the corporate office worker millennials. Now that wood is chopped, but that presentation you made is probably never going to make any difference – to anyone, anywhere, ever. And you worked so hard to make it into that position – good grades, college, years of delaying gratification – only to end up making dead presentations. You were promised that you would be making an impact. Yeah.

Second, Sinek also assumes that it is the responsibility of a corporation to develop and help the personal growth of employees – which is a bit too invasively brave new world for me. Certainly, my experience of corporate life was that acting like everyone else and generally participating in group think was part of the job. There wasn’t the group of nerds to rescue me this time.

millennials in the workplace video

There’s no real mobility and or even a promise of real success in corporate life. So no wonder we’re out there – overeducated and whinging about issues other people feel are outlandish. Bob Geldof’s recent soundbite about transgender bathrooms is an example. My points isn’t about LGBT.

My point is that you can laugh all you want, but transgender bathrooms give people something they can fight for that is meaningful to them – as it makes people feel significant, makes them feel they made a difference and belong to a group. This is what’s actually missing for millennials.

This phenomenon occurs where religion plays a minor role in one’s upbringing, as was the case with millennials.

Young people who lack a purpose and a sense of belonging can very easily be swayed by politicians into things like violent nationalism.

We’re seeing something in that vein in the recent political developments.

Another threat comes fro the fact that millennials seem to glorify working in corporations – especially if they are tech-related like Google or Facebook, because for years we were taught that that’s the best work there is.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but for some of us the veneer of corporate glamour is stopping us from making honest assessments. Remember, “if it’s repeated – it’s true“; that’s just the human brain.

I wonder if it was different for other generations. Yes, corporate office work wasn’t as big a phenomenon, but how did people get through it without complaining as much as the millennials? Maybe, it was quite a prestigious thing in and of itself – providing the feeling of being special. Now it’s pretty standard. A long time ago GS Elevator came out with a tweet that there aren’t many jobs out there for which you actually need a degree. Cynical as this tweet is, the first year of a corporate graduate programme is likely to confirm that assertion. Getting the most educated, most competitive people and putting them into that environment is a shock to them. Perhaps this didn’t apply for the generations above us who enjoyed their careers more than the millennials as there were fewer people with degrees.

It is also quite possible that it was all the same for previous generations – and their parents also told them that they were lazy, entitled and all the things millennials are hearing. It’s simply their turn to complain.

On the bright side, it has become cool in our generation to be an entrepreneur. While the seasoned entrepreneurs go on about how this romanticised view of building businesses is toxic, I feel it is good to encourage non-bet-the-farm entrepreneurship at least. Or even freelance. It is creative, it has as much purpose as one wants and it is both self- and socially-serving.

Most of all, millennials, myself included, should remember that there’s no use in waiting for someone to come along and give us this magical real purpose we so crave. It is up to us to make our own purpose.

*If none of this makes sense – and you happen to like video games, try Stanley’s Parable. Whoever made the game must be the great-grandchild of Descates and Huxley’s first cousin. They understand corporate life better than those who created it.

millennials in the workplace video simon sinek

You may also like:

Confessions of a career-switching millennial

Millennial ENTP studies

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a very sobering piece on the nature of employment

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Relentless transparency

Small business entrepreneurship is a tough game, especially if you are being yourself and trying to create something that is genuinely of value to other people, not reselling iPhone covers or slimming pills.

One of the reasons it’s tough for me is that I don’t come from an environment where there are lot of entrepreneurs. In fact, it is kind of daunting that I am veering from the expected path. The internet is great in that it helps to find a lot of people, but it requires a lot of work to find the really great people.

One day quite a long time ago I came across a lovely lady who is super genuine. She has become somewhat of a role model. Her credo is relentless transparency. Sounds a bit like Ray Dalio’s radical transparency – and it’s as good through in an entirely different context. Her name is Jessi Kneeland.

She was then a fabulous fitness coach who showed the exact right techniques for the plank etc – I found her during my own HIIT love affair. She really stood out as she talked about fitness in the context of women’s lives. It seems that fitness is just one method for someone to work on their context – which seems to be what really interests Jessi. It seems like she’d been contemplating this risky yet perfectly brave and – in my opinion – right transition: she is going into being a coach who advises women digging way beyond the surface in issues like body image, anxiety, etc. She, in keeping with her transparency framework, is super honest about her own life. She shares her own lessons and stories rather than giving people a 7-step plan to unadulterated happiness for $99. Reading to her emails is a bit like reading a novel, only it’s real. It also lacks the sickening “think positively” aspect that many people in that space shovel. The fact that it is so uniquely female scared me at first, I steer clear of the man-hating vibe, but there’s none of that with Jessi. To anyone reading, male or female, have a look at Jessi’s Instagram or better yet join her email list to understand some of the problems women deal with but don’t usually talk about.

In a broader context, I think Jessi’s success can largely be put down to the way she uniquely combined hardcore fitness with a vulnerable but brilliantly feisty honest female vibe. I imagine it was super scary for her to open up that way to people on the internet. She’s the only person I’ve ever come across online who talks about the ugly stuff without being anonymous or distancing herself from it. Even her photos. I wonder if she’d ever thought: “What if my old English teacher finds this picture of me doing the warrior pose in a unflattering light that accentuates my cellulite?” These kind of thoughts bother me a lot – not that I am in this space, but the logic remains. The landing page of MailChimp currently says: “Being yourself makes all the difference.” It’s certainly the case with Jessi. She’s a real asset to the online world. I admire her bravery a lot and can’t recommend her enough.

There are of course ways of being an entrepreneur without making it so personal. However, the fact that being yourself is so valuable gives the rest of the community the confidence we sometimes really need.

being-yourself-personal-in-small-business-entrepreneurship