Your Future: Friend or Foe?

Photo by Benjamin Davies via Unsplash

“A coward dies a thousand times before his death…”

– William Shakespeare

We humans area future-oriented species. Upcoming events come to mind, not just in sound and light, but in sentiments.  We assume what we feel now about the future to be a mere sample of what we’ll feel when it arrives.  Often we fail to notice ourselves using phrases like, “I’ll be so happy when…”, or “I would die if..” to describe how we will feel about something. Even though we can’t plan our emotions like calendar entries, we still try.  It’s a phenomenon known as Impact Bias.  

It’s Not Our Fault

Thanks to evolution, humans can, at will, think of the future and feel it’s anticipated emotions. Perhaps, when our ancestors began imagining the pain of a fall from a great height, they stopped jumping off cliffs.  Sadly, this evolutionary safeguard isn’t the gift it once was. In today’s domesticated world, impact bias hurts rather than helps us.  Although most of us no longer fear being attacked by a lion on the Serengeti, we still find the future too agonizing (or exhilarating) to pass up.

For example, our fear of poor job performance may be driven by the imagined sting of a manager’s reprimand. Interestingly, to our bodies, the emotions experienced in the imagined event are as real as any felt here and now.  It’s as if we’ve fool ourselves into thinking the event has just taken place, every time we think of it.  And, impact bias is not restricted to negative events.  In a similar fashion, the mere purchase of a lottery ticket can elicit for us the joy of winning instantaneous wealth.  

Herein lies the problem:  our brains are not very good at predicting our true feelings in the future.  The scorn of a boss.  The joy of a win.  When these events actually occur, our emotions tend to be less intense or long-lasting than we imagined.  How can this be?  Our emotions about the future are the culmination of oft-replayed scenarios in our mind.  Most of us will never experience winning the lottery once – let alone, over and over, until we hear the results.

Even When it’s Good it’s Still Bad

Quickly, we let the highs and lows of current events wear off, replaced by new imaginings of the future.  This pattern, albeit natural, is not helpful.  Stress, fear, and other negative emotions carry well-documented negative side effects on our bodies.  Why should we choose to feel them over and over?

With positive impact bias, we set ourselves up for disappointment.  Even wedding days, when they arrive, are fraught with feelings of nervousness and relief, in addition to the joy we expect.  It’s simply not possible for our most anticipated events to live up to our internal hype.  We waste hours immersed in the ecstasy of winning better jobs, owning dream houses, or finding ideal mates.

Make Friends with Now

So, our challenge is to plan for the future without emoting for it.  None of us are immune to impact bias.  Our best course is to recognize it and rationally dial back our emotions.  We don’t control what we’ll feel in the future.  Let’s choose not to bury the feelings we could have about the present under worries or daydreams.  

Otherwise, we risk missing the most important emotions – the real ones. 


Didn’t get the job? Fix These Mistakes to Feel Better

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul vs Unsplash

Ever have your spleen with cut out with kindergarten scissors? 

Anyone who’s lost a bid for a dream job may consider the above statement a minimization of how they feel.  Exaggerating aside, we’ve all been there and never want to experience it again.  And, an endless stream of recruiter listicles (ie. The Seven Must-Do’s Before Your Next Interview) do little to prevent the pain. To retain our sanity, let’s disregard them for now.  Instead of gaming the decisions of fickle hiring managers let’s focus on what we can control – our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.  

The following are common mistakes we make during and between interviews, and after the process ends.  Avoiding them will not guarantee us the job. Then again, that may not be what we want anyways.  Read on to learn why.

Mistakes DURING the Interview Process:

Missing Negative Signs

For a hiring manager, the purpose of an interview is to measure our worthiness for the job. It’s a problem when we, the candidate, rely on the interview for the same thing.  When we only seek validation, we often fail to catch negative signals because too afraid to see them.  Did the interviewer give us positive verbal and nonverbal cues?  Did he proceed with a head-down, list-following approach or did he show real interest?  Managers hire people they trust. Often this equates to someone they know.  They tend to bypass formality for candidates they really like and follow procedure for interviewees who are placeholders (additional candidates used to make the interview process appear legitimate when a target candidate has already been selected).  Sadly, any of us can fulfill the placeholder role at any time in the interview process. 

Mistaking Friendliness for Approval

Surprise! We may not be the only person in the room looking to be liked.  That’s right, hiring managers want validation as well. And, there’s no easier way to win someone’s favor than praise. Some interviewers are looking simply to get through the process unscathed.  Making everyone feel like a viable candidate may be their way to accomplish this.  Isn’t the ego are marvelous thing?  Outwardly, it may be difficult to distinguish between an interviewer’s false approval and real interest in our candidacy. Enthusiastic praise in an interview should trigger our focus to sharpen. At this point, we should ask the interviewer for specifics on how our the skills they just complimented apply to the job itself. Any vagueness or hedging in the interviewer’s answer should hint that their praise is hollow. 

Mistakes Made In-Between Interviews:

The Neverending De-brief

Did they like my answers? Did make sense to tell that joke?  Was it a positive sign when the interviewer said _________?   MAKE IT STOP!  In-between interviews, we often analyze our situation into oblivion.    In truth, we know we had one or more interviews in the past and little more. What they really thought of us and our answers is likely to remain a mystery – even if we get the job. Instead, we need focus on what we learned about the job and our prospective manager and how both stand to change our life moving forward.

Choosing Fairy Tales over Nightmares

Wouldn’t it be great to be the chosen candidate and live happily ever after?  Too often, we lose ourselves in this fairy tale and, in doing so, fail to consider the prospective job’s potential to suck. It’s the job search equivalent of love at first sight.  Don’t know the benefits?  No worry, they’re probably good!  And, surely the manager will always be as friendly as she was in the interview! How easily we chose to create the architecture of our careers in crayon.  In an alternate reality, aka the REAL one, we can chose to look at the downside of a potential job MORE than the upside. Until we have a formal offer, the default answer to our candidacy is always NO.  Accepting this reality frees us to make an objective comparison between the shiny and new possible job and our horrible, boring, current one.  Making friends with the nightmare of not getting the offer is always the better path.

Mistakes Made Post “Dream Job” Loss:

Never Deciding Whether or Not We Truly Wanted the Job

This is the post-mortem result of fairy tale fantasizing.  If we never decide whether or not we want a job, we risk forever mourning it’s possibilities.  In reality, the position may have made us miserable.  Denying this is futile. We know, without question, winning the lottery brings life-changing riches, yet we don’t beat ourselves up over losing.  Why should we persecute ourselves over jobs we never have wanted?  There’s no universal law that dictates that we must win every job offer, good and bad.  Having the courage to formulate an opinion ahead of getting an offer releases us from the grip of hubris.

Neglecting to Find Closure

Recruiter wisdom often lacks the sensitivity we require after not winning the perfect job. Typically they recommend thanking every one under the sun and casually annoying them over time to “stay on their radar”.  If we’ve already decided we don’t want the job, why bother?  Isn’t our time better spent on the lost jobs we really do want?  In the rare cases when the job fit and opportunity are superb, staying in contact with the employer and fighting to work for them is the right course.  Suffice to say, if we don’t want the job now that we’ve lost it, and had some time to reflect, it probably wasn’t right for us in the first place.

One last thing, believe it or not, it can be extremely helpful to find out who actually won the job.  Often the answer is only a quick LinkedIn search or grape-vine conversation away.  Doing so can open a window into the hiring manager’s decision process.  Sometimes the “other candidate” is truly more qualified.  Other times, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  You just avoided working for a manager not competent enough to recognize how wonderful you are!


For More Advice on how to prepare for job interviews, check out my earlier post “5 Reasons to Colossally Fail at Your Next Interview

Here are a some other post-Interview/post-mortum questions to ask yourself.  Can you think of more?  Feel free to comment:

  • Would I have gotten along with the boss? 
  • Was the interviewer in a hurry? Did she really seem to care about answering my questions?
  • What did I find out about the previous person in the role?
  •  Did I fact-check the story I was told?
  • Was the salary and benefits truly better than what I make now?

Stress and Work: Healthy Now vs. Happy Later

Photo by The Creative Exchange via Unsplash

Isn’t it easy to regret our expanding waistlines, expensive bar tabs, and ever-growing credit card statements?  Easier still is to blame these problems on work-related stress.  After all, overeating, excessive drinking, and uncontrolled spending do help us cope in the short term.  

Fortunately, more and more of us are growing up and learning to deal with anxiety in ever-productive ways. Nowadays, to release the pressure, we may stop at the gym or yoga studio after work.  Some of us may boldly sacrifice carbs in the name of clarity.  Others relish a long talk with a friend. And, if we’re lucky, our employers may even support these positive changes with wellness programs.

The result?  We’re happier and healthier. For now. 

If the act of coping solved problems this story would be over.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t.  We can improve ourselves in many ways and treat what immediately ails us.  But, at what price?  Are we truly fixing our problems or just delaying them? Let’s review both the benefits and drawbacks of some our most popular stress-busters.

The Benefits:

Exercise and Diet

Look no further for reasons why so many of seek better physical health. The improvements in mood, mental health, intellect, energy level, and life expectancy gained are well-documented. Additionally, both activities allows us to meet and connect with friends in new ways. 

Meditation, Yoga, and Mindfulness

These practices provide a serene, comforting environment in which to reflect or escape. Either way, one can emerge from a session with a greater clarity and perspective on life’s struggles. Some participants even claim to experience major life changes, others are just happy for the break from the maelstrom of life.

Support from family, friends, and co-workers

Most of us have at least one family member or friend who truly wants us to be happy.  Sometimes, they can relate to the angst that grinds us.  Other times, they can listen and smile.  For the some, this connection can literally make the difference between life and death.  It’s hard to argue against the benefits of both having and being a close friend.  Ideally, these people accept us unconditionally – not something we can ever expect from an employer.

The Drawbacks:

Meditation, Yoga,  and Mindfulness

While potentially effective, fans of these practices must make sacrifices.  Classes take time and effort to attend and they are not cheap.  One can spend $100, $500, or more per month.  Those of us with the resources may consider this money well spent.  For others, partaking in these activities means diverting resources from other parts of life – including family.

Exercise and Diet

It’s difficult to debate positive feedback loop of feeling better.  A wise man once said, “One thing that you can say about life is that it beats the alternative!”  Consider, however, are we treating the causes of stress or only the symptoms?  Running, one of the least expensive workouts, still requires requires the right clothing and time investment.  Hate running?  The cost of gym memberships can be as high as we’d like to spend.  Diets?  Programs like Weight Watchers also come at a price.  Even dieter’s going solo still face cost barriers. Compare the price of a trip to Whole Foods to the Arby’s carry out.  Unless one lives on a farm, cheap translates to unhealthy when it comes to food.

Support from family, friends, and co-workers

Despite the closeness of our bonds, the best of intentions don’t always create the best advice. Our friends may tell us what we want to hear in order to preserve the relationship.  No matter whether they employ a traditional or tough-loving approach, family members may do us more harm than good when they can’t understand or empathize with our suffering.  And, even further disabling, the overuse of this support channel can render us unable to solve our own problems.

The Two Part Stress Solution: Employers

In short, companies need to prioritize employees over investors. Management’s insatiable desire to impress forges dangerous expectations.  Costs must always go down and top-line sales must always go up. Like pennies dropped from a skyscraper, small, easy decisions made at the top, rain onto ground level workers like boulders.  In this way, the need for coping mechanisms, positive and negative, are created.  Companies might not need wellness programs if their employees were “well” in the first place.

The overly aggressive marking up of sales forecasts causes sandbagging (overly conservative downgrading of forecasts by salespeople) and vice versa.  Leaders can end this cycle by telling investors the truth and not what they want to hear. Why risk the health and livelihood of one’s own employees in order to maximize someone else’s return on investment?

The Two Part Stress Solution: Employees

If one needs to become a marathon runner or yoga expert simply to re-charge for one’s career, a change may be in order.  As employees, we need to be aware of the choices we make.  Our job. Our lifestyle.  Our career. We may not like them, but we still choose them.  

And stress? However violently we force it from our minds, we still tend to leave a door open.   No can force us to expect perfection.  Instead, we are to blame. We chase it like an addict chases their first high, alluring but never attainable.  Our best option is to make peace with our mediocre selves and enjoy the process of getting better.


Fear of Failure: A Little Embarrassment Can Go a Long Way!

Fear Illustration

Driving a car. Speaking in public. Selling to customers. What do they all have in common?  Other than things we typically fear,  they’re all milestones I hit before ever learning how to swim.

When did I finally learn? In college. Yes, I just admitted that and no, I don’t blame my parents. At every opportunity, I fought the chance to learn.  As a kid, I would scream and wail until whoever was trying to teach me eventually gave up. 

It made sense. I already needed to take an elective course.  Why not Swimming?  So, there I stood before class, one piece of clothing away from being naked, shivering at the side of the pool.  My classmates?  Mostly football players and cheerleaders.  Clearly, so I thought, I was the only person there to learn something!  Was I scared?  Yes, but the risk of looking like a fool made me forget about 12-foot deep water.

That’s when I said “F-You fear!”, jumped in, and became a graceful swan gliding down the lanes!   Just kidding.  Over the next several weeks, I would flail and convulse my way from one end to the other.  Did I feel fear?  Yes, but I kept on going. And yes, it got easier over time.

Ultimately, I learned more than how not to drown.  Here are my three valuable lessons about fear:

  1. Fear is always looking for a good chase.  I was amazed that, when I stopped fighting my body’s natural tendency to sink, the impossible happened – I floated!  If fear was a person, it would be a bully beckoning us for a fight.  What does a bully hate the most?  Being ignored.  
  2. Fear is familiar and easy.  It’s easier to not jump into the deep end, go on the job interview, or ask for the sale.  We feel the apprehension and naturally avoid the risk.  It’s easy to forget that we don’t always need to do what our bullies tells us.  Sometimes, the greatest risk is never taking one.
  3. We don’t want fear to completely go away.  Bravery, is inviting it into our lives for a cup of coffee on a regular basis.  Without fear, we’d walk off a cliff or get hit by a train.  Fear caused me to take the swimming course instead of jumping off the high dive straight away.  For that, I am thankful!

How do we put this into action?  Challenge fear by first, allowing yourself to feel and understand it. Then defy it with every fiber of your being.  Rinse and repeat. 
Finally, don’t forget to re-visit the situations that scare you.  

Fear not only keeps us alive, it helps us feel alive.


Ps:  Check out the following blog post from Srinivas Rao.  It served as the inspiration for this post and, I suspect, others to come:

Motivation Found: 5 Books That Prove You’re Right

“You must change!”  It’s the general message we get repeatedly from books designed to give us motivation.  And, no, they’re not always wrong.  We usually can improve.  Sometimes, however, isn’t it nice to be reminded that we’re not half-bad to begin with?  That we’re not broken?  In no particular order, here are five books that will help you swim against the current of yes-people in your life and the disabling bosses they follow. Click the Amazon banner beneath each title to view each book on Amazon.

How To Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Upset About Anything

Albert Ellis

Dr. Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT),  will have you looking at yourself and your problems in a completely different way.  This is no overstatement.  Following his model can drastically reduce the sadness, anxiety, and anger we feel.  Why?  A good deal of what makes us upset is due to the irrational beliefs we hold.  Take away the beliefs and the negative emotions begin to melt away.  This book doesn’t make the reader right and the world wrong.  Instead, it removes our irrational need to be right at all costs.

Leaders Eat Last:  Why Some Teams Fail and Others Don’t

Simon Sinek

It’s nice when people have the courage to voice their opinion – especially when it’s in sharp contrast to traditional thinking.  Most of us have been taught our whole lives to respect authority.  In doing so, however, we sometimes needlessly take on fear and self-doubt.  Mr. Sinek is here to tell you that strong leaders work for their employees and happy employees work for each other.  Using compelling examples from the US Military, he tells stories, not of tyrannical toughness, but of bravery and self-sacrifice.  Anyone who endures a work environment of fear and survival of the fittest, should read this book.

Minimalism:  Live a Meaningful Life

Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus

The authors of this down-to-earth book are two former, successful, Telcom execs who abandoned their corporate careers.  In doing so, they left lives of stress, poor health, and unhappiness to pursue careers in the motivation of others.  This book inspires the reader to emulate the authors’ healthy outlook on life without selling the traditional “get rich like me” happy ending we often see in career-change stories.  Anyone who is tired of comparing themselves (or being compared) to others in terms of monetary success and lifestyle can benefit from reading this book. This book has a corresponding Netflix documentary by the name of Minimalism.

The Obstacle is the Way:  The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

Ryan Holiday

Sometimes, the person we have to prove wrong is ourselves. This is not your typical mindless pep-talk book.  Mr. Holiday uses example from history of people who persevered through seemingly impossible situations.  This book will introduces the reader to the ancient philosophy of Stoicism which helps us determine what’s in our power to control and disregard that which isn’t.  Approaching an old challenge with renewed energy or abandoning unproductive goals for new ones are just a few of the motivation that this  book delivers.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman

This Sociology book is very readable and has some very important real-world implications.  Most impactful is how Dr. Kahneman explains the large variety of cognitive biases that cause us to make erroneous or sometimes irrational conclusions.  Unlike the books discussed above, that mostly empower the reader internally, this is one provides motivation to prove someone wrong.  It teaches us to respect the complexity and randomness of the real world and understand the patterns we see are often merely convenient illusions.   As a result, one begins to see how the judgements and expectations placed on us in the past may never have been realistic in the first place.



Ps.  Please click on the images below the books titles to find these books on Amazon. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of them.  Also, if this article is valuable to you, be valuable to someone else and pass it on to a friend!

Jealous Salespeople: Don’t be a Duck

Jealousy in Sales

“We hate it when our friends become successful.” – Morrissey

DUCK is a handy acronym meaning Designated Underachieving Coworker. It’s a work friend we keep around up until the point they start performing at a higher level than ourselves.  Are we jealous of our Duck?  Not as long as they know their place!

Does anyone set out to find a Duck? Of course not, we make friends with people who we perceive to be similar to us. And therein lies the problem. When our friends “make it big”, they can become, in our minds, dissimilar.

Our first jealous reaction:

They must be lucky. Interestingly, our need to prove this fact, especially when it’s true, make us less, not more happy. Imagine having to prove you didn’t commit a crime. The relief at proving your innocence would likely be tainted by the thought of someone accusing you of such a thing. In the same way, coming up with convincing reasons that our co-workers success was as a result of luck only serves to give us a tenous satisfaction.

Our second jealous reaction:

Find out what they’re secret is. Are they playing by the rules? In sales, many people don’t. Do they have some new insight that we don’t have? If so, what is it? Do they know? If so, will they tell us?

Life was easier when our Duck knew it’s place on the pond. Now that our friend has taken flight we have no choice but to shoot them down.

To make matters worse, management often relishes a good fight. There’s nothing subtle about published ranking lists that force one person’s success to be another person’s failure. After all, competition within a team always brings out the best possible performance. While this may be true, at times, what is the long term cost?

If this was a simple fable about the pitfalls of jealousy, we’d have this problem solved. Don’t be jealous. Life is, of course, more complex than this. Sometimes, in sales, people are lucky. Sometimes they bend the rules or cheat the system. And yes, sometimes salespeople develop skills or find legitmate customer insights that give them a competitive edge.

At this point, it’s important to ask, what ultimately makes us happier? Instead of debating the luck vs. ethics vs. skill of our colleagues, why not accept a completely different truth. Our coworker’s success or failure has nothing to do with us. We weren’t better than them when they were our Duck and they’re not better than us now that the roles have reversed. Therefore, we have no need to feel jealous. There is one exception. In the process of being a supportive friend, we sometimes aid in a colleague’s success. In these cases, we should consider feeling proud of their success.

In reality, our jealous feelings aren’t really about our coworkers. They’re about us. If we stop judging ourselves, we won’t feel the need to use others as yardsticks. Heck, we might even become a better friend in the process.



Can I Sell You a Lifeboat? The True Cost of Dream Careers

Perhaps the line between empowering guru and charlatan isn’t as clear as we think? We needn’t look any further than the hucksters of dream jobs that typically involve being your own boss and working from home. They float on the fringes of our ship-wrecked careers selling what else? Life boats.

Their sales pitch is success. After-all, look at what they accomplished! Here’s the problem. Sellers of quit-you-day-job, become famous, be your own boss type courses are smart enough not to make promises that legally make them liable. They make NO gaurantees that following in their footsteps take you to the same destination. They rely on our frustration with current circumstances and need for relief to drive our decision to purchase.

Then, after we’ve bought, we instantly become to them a liability. For most unethical gurus, teaching us is merely an item on a to-do list that needs to get done. Unless we can be sold something more, every minute spent on us is seen as a necessary expense.

Good Intentions – Poor Vision

One can’t broadly implicate all marketers of ineffective advice as wolves-in-yuppies-clothing. In many cases, they may truly believe in the knowledge they impart. After all, look what they accomplished!

Unfortunately, they may have one or more blind spots that cloud their decision-making. One blind spot may be the fact that lucky circumstances played a role in their success. Another could be that the marketplace that made them successful has changed to being less favorable to people following in their footsteps. A more concerning blind spot would be a success guru’s lack of awareness that their own achievements are tenous and based on short-game thinking. This refers to a hyper focus on short-term success over long-term goodwill, Seth Godin (an example of an ethical purveyor of advice), summed it up well in his blog.

A guru can have one or more blind spots and still have the best of intentions. Although they truly want to help us, they are, at times, misguided in their execution of that help.

Our Responsiblity as Advice Seekers

This is where we, as advice seekers, can benefit from caveat emptor or buyer beware approach. Wouldn’t most people be gainfully working for themselves if a single book or online course was all it took? This problem isn’t limited to infomercials or the online marketers either. Universities accross the country, from the local strip mall to the Ivy League offer courses in fields where success is statistically unlikely.

Perhaps, in some cases, the way training courses are marketed is all that needs to change. A more honest approach may be to promote some careers as side gigs or even hobbies. Do we want a world where the value of knowledge is measured only by return on investment? Shrinivas Rao recently conducted an interesting interview with William Deresiewicz on the Unmistakable Creative podcast on this very topic. A class on septic tank clean-up may impart skills that are quite marketable. Why can’t it exist side-by-side in a college course catalog with Selfie Photography 101?

Let’s not fail to ask ourselves, why we’re looking for advice in the first place.
Beyond the solving the problems of our current situation, what are we really looking for? An escape from stress? A feeling of legitimacy? To feel happy again? If so, click here to take my miracle course! (Just kidding! I had to do it.)

Seriously, what we really are seeking may be found in another source. That could be advice from a therapist or coach. By all means, we can quit the day job if we want. It may help first just to see if that’s the real source of our problems.

For me, no quick decision to quit my sales job was needed. What I found a couple years ago was that my perspective needed adjusting. As a result, I was able to grow from needing a quick career escape to patiently planning a career migration. No, things haven’t all gone perfectly for me since then. However, I can confidently say I feel much happier about myself and my work than had I not made the change.

As for anyone selling advice, yes there will the charlatans selling us inflated and false hopes. Reading uplifting stories sometimes focuses us too much on results. See my last post on measurement for more thoughts on this. We buy their courses because want the same happy ending they had. I’d like to see the tellers of miracle, David-and-Goliath-like, success stories give more consideration to how realistic and repeatable their success actually is.

Therefore, we can all benefit from tempering our expectations of the people we pay to teach us and question any story sounds too Cinderella-like to be true. We can choose instead, to keep our day jobs, for now, and measure success in joy not dollars.


Feel Like You Never Measure Up? Blame Claude Monet

“The next four weeks will feel like taking a sip from a fire hose!” I remember the trainer telling us on the first day of sales training. It was 21 years ago. I had just landed my first real job, in sales for a large software company. He was warning us about the onslaught of information he was about to deliver. All I remember is wondering how I would take it all in and make sense of it.

Today, we have more data at our disposal than ever and less time to interpret it. Reason being, we have more tools than ever to observe, measure, and record information. Facebook was started as a quest for one crucial piece of data: which young women on the Harvard campus were single.

Using the same tool, we as users, measure the popularity of every picture and hilarious or profound message we post. Companies also analyze and record what we post, like, and view. Again, the net result is that they have more data on us as ever. And, need we speculate on how much of our personal information the government has?

At work and at home, we tell ourselves that more information gives us more insight. We make better decisions, and have better connections with others because of it. We reason that simply having more data on the actions of employees and consumers must , in itself, prove it’s value.
It’s this need to make sense of all the data that can cause us to betray ourselves and others.

Measurement to Metrics – from the essential to the absurd

Measuring as a way of collecting data has been the key to humanity’s survival. How else would early man know how many buffalo to bring back for the tribe?

Today, you car’s speedometer keeps you from sailing over a cliff. Your alarm clock lowers your likelihood of needing unemployment benefits. We put our lives in the hands of measurements every time we step on plane. I rest assured knowing somebody knows what all those gauges mean!

Sports, it can argued, are essentially a form of measurement. Which team is better than which? Take a peak at a replay of an old football or baseball game and what will be missing from the screen? Many of the stats we see today (eg Yards per catch, on base percentage, etc). Heck, you may even be hard-pressed to find the score! Given our propensity to bet on sports, a whole industry providing “valuable stats” is sprung into being. You now can know how your favorite football team is likely to perform coming off Thursday night loss, on the road, in the snow.

Measurement and the collection of data has even seeped into our art. We no longer have talent shows. We have talent competitions in which the TV viewers rate performances. Why? Because we can! When watching a TV performance, I’ve never wondered what the rest of America is thinking. Call me a Luddite! Perhaps the fact that we have access to new information implies it must be important?

Thanks to technology, we have the ability to measure more than ever at work as well. Some of us may not be aware that spreadsheets were actually created on paper at one time. Today, there’s no edge of the page to prevent us from creating more columns for more things. And, since we have computers to do all the calculating, we can make new measurements combining two or more current ones. This beckons us to increase the complexity of our measurements.

Over time, we’ve replaced “measurements” with the more sophisticated sounding “metrics”. In the course of performing our jobs, we’ve begun to measure many more things. Salespeople arent’t just measured by their sales. They’re measured with things like sales call to close ratios and calls per day. Physicians aren’t measured by how many patients they cure or see. Their performance is measured in RVU’s or relative value units (a way of determining how valuable the work they do is to the hospital).

So, we live in a cycle of ever-increasing metrics, which create more data, which in-turn creates the opportunity for more metrics. Clearly, we’re beyond the point of measuring for survival, but who cares? More data legitimates the need for more managers to analyze it. It gives viewers a reason to tune in. It tells how much we are “liked”.

Monet-tizing Data

American businesses have learned how to take the data gleaned from metrics and turn it into revenue, an act referred to as “monetizing”. YouTube is no longer just a sharing service for videos of amateur stunts or people’s cats. It’s a sophisticated tool for advertising to select groups of people. Your video watching habits tell advertisers exactly what ads to send you. Sometimes this works and you see a video for something you’d actually consider buying. Many times it doesn’t.

Statistical science gives us ways to compare information and make legitimate sense of it. The problem is that most of us are not scientists. In the absence of verifiable statistical methods, we still try to make sense of all the data we have. Smiling at our own genius, we often draw conclusions from information like someone who is walking backward in order to take in an Impressionist painting. I call this act “Monet-tizing”.

The nice thing about metrics and the knowledge they provide that they make you feel smarter. You now see correlations between things you never noticed before. Things make more sense, or so we tell ourselves. Stories abound about companies finding one crucial metric that helped them create a turn-around. They found the Monet painting in the data, aka. the meaning of it all.

Paradoxically, the more we want our data to tell us, the less it actually delivers. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, is so insightful, that I don’t mind being the hundredth or so writer to reference it. In the book, Dr. Kahneman cites several ways that we commonly misinterpret data. He refers to them as cognitive biases. They illuminate why, after we collect our data, we often draw faulty conclusions. We may see patterns in the data that paint, for us, the picture we’re looking for.

In reality, our brains have evolved to find what we we’re looking for and disregard the rest, giving us a skewed view of reality. Sometimes, we draw conclusions when we don’t have enough data. In short, there are many ways we can misunderstand the information we have and it’s implication to our work.

Why We Need to Find Pretty Pictures

Despite technology, our basic needs of food, shelter and companionship haven’t changed. These needs aren’t the result of rational choices. They’re our needs as human animals, not human beings.

How well am I doing at my job? How much money will I make this year? How much closer am I to winning that promotion? These are the typical metrics we put above all else at work. I call these our core metrics. They feed our basic needs.

To achieve some desired level in our core metrics, we happily place more metrics on the outside world than on ourselves. This includes managers critiquing a growing list of metrics on their employees. The popular business mantra ,“I can’t control what I can’t measure” gets inverted to mean that everything measurable is controllable.

We rely on a multitude of external metrics to insure we deliver on our core metrics. Beneath all the data, however, we’re all still anxious sports fans, holding our hands in prayer, hoping we win the metrics game. We’re hoping that the next article we write explodes in popularity or our next business venture is an overnight success.

Measurement Madness

On a personal and deeper level. We often fail to realize that we look for, in measurements, self-validation. We want our efforts in our work to tell us that we have value. We want our work to prove we are worthy of praise, respect, love, etc. We crave what Cognitive Psychology expert Albert Ellis called, Conditional Self-Acceptance or CSA.

If CSA, were a mental illness, most of the World’s population would need to check into a health facility. We all have it, to some degree. Just as measurement can keep our lives on track, their overuse can derail us. Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness, believes that we always have only one true reason for doing everything we do. Everything else is fluff, or useless information we use to justify our decisions.

Simply saying to yourself, “I am a good at my job” without any supporting reasons probably seems irrational. Shouldn’t you have proof of your skill? Some backing evidence, perhaps?

Ironically, it’s the meaning that we assign to the “proof” we seek that is irrational. Saying to myself something like, “I must be popular to truly be a good writer!”, would actually be irrational. There are plenty of popular authors that I don’t care for. Instead, I can decide that I accept my writing as “good” without needing the approval of others. Even better, I could chose not to make my proficiency as a writer as a condition for liking myself.

Defining Your Own Metrics

Dr. Ellis called the willingness to accept oneself regardless of any faults or misgivings USA, or unconditional self-acceptance. It involves much more than being one’s own personal cheerleader. Instead, one discovers the beliefs that cause irational thoughts and disputes them. Perhaps the Monet you’ve created of yourself is based on erroneous or irrelevant information. USA allows you to throw it in the trash like a garage sale replica.

I’m not sure where the rush of data is taking corporations or consumers. We may be continue to be measured in ever-increasing ways at work. Our future social lives may be evaluated in more ways, not less, and there may be databases we simply can never remove ourselves from. What I do know is that we as individuals don’t have to let it define us. We can chose not to measure ourselves.



Ps. I’d also like to credit Srinivas Rao and his book: An Audience of One: Reclaiming Cretivity for Its Own Sake for providing the inspiration for this writing.

4 Reasons to Love Selling (And Why They’re Making You Less Effective)

Do you like your sales job for the wrong reasons?

“Pride cometh before a fall” – Biblical Proverb

Many of the stereotypes of salespeople are unfair. Not all of us are the money-hungry, hyper-competitive, egotists portrayed in movies like Boiler Room. Still, some grains of truth can be found in the way we act when times are good. Consider the following reasons why, as a salesperson, you might love your job:

You love the money and all it brings
The fit of a new suit. The sparkle of a new stone. The smell of a new car. Who doesn’t savor these things?

You enjoy the respect you receive from mangement and co-workers.
You just finshed a great sales year. Your name mentioned multiple times at the sales meeting. Co-workers are asking for your secrets. Life is good!

Your customers love you!
Obviously they do. They buy from you, don’t they? Being liked is much better than the alternative. No doubt, a salesperson can make the difference when choosing between two similar products.

You play to win. And, more often than not, you do.
You’ve never shied away from a fight. You take pride in how focused you are on achieving your goals. Other salespeople aren’t as effective because they’re less confident or they get distracted with customer concerns.

“Yes? So what’s the problem?”, might be the response of a typical salesman at this point. Read on, if you dare, and see how your love for sales may betray you.

Big Money, Bigger Problems
The joy of spending money is in all things new. Alas, like the sales contest you won last month, all things new become old. After a long day of enticing customers with new things, we often, ourselves fall victim to them. Sometimes we make them the very purpose of our work.

Do we expect physicians to work soley for the money? Of course not. They take an oath to put a patient’s welfare before themselves. Teachers consistently say they teach for the joy of teaching. Yes, there are others, perhaps a vast majority of people, for whom work is strictly a means to a paycheck. Sales is different. Salespeople are enticed with wealth.

“Glittering prizes and endless compromises, Shatter the illusion of integrity.”Neil Peart

In the place of taking serious oaths, salespeople jump and cheer at sales meetings for the new goodies that define next year’s success. Houses have house payments. Expensive jewelry needs to be insured. Luxury cars have luxury repair bills. As years tick by, a salesperson’s “success” accumulates until she wakes up to working for a company she hates, just to pay the bills.

The price of fame
One month after finishing on top of the salesforce you receive the new year’s sales goal. You now have to sell 30% more than you did last year! Within a span of weeks, the intense effort you put in last year becomes “not enough”. Following traditional (and de-motivating) sales management logic, you can never be allowed to feel too confident. Why? Because confident salespeople are lazy! Salespeople respond by working harder to regain that original feeling of confidence. There is another group of people who live in constant pursuit of an original good feeling. They’re called drug addicts.

When you work for the respect of your co-workers you give up something much more important. Respect for yourself.

Your customer is cheating on you
The result of basking in too much customer praise is, however, blindness. We get so wrapped up in being charming that we fail to realize our customers have jobs to do and lives of their own. Salespeople who believe they are loved are often not listening to their customers. Take away the product they sell and away goes the romance. Relationships are important. Still more important is the problem you solve for your customer. That’s why you’re getting their time and attention. If you’ve done your job correctly, your customer is in love with your product, not you.

Playing to an empty stadium
However effective in short-term scenarios, theres a problem with focusing on competition in sales. Customers don’t care. When buying a car, do you want to work with the Salesman of the Year to wait on you or someone who needs your business? Customers like what you and your company do to help them solve problems. The more difficult their problems, the more creativity is required. When we’re in competition mode, our brains can only focus on a few things. To customers, this makes you appear single-minded. This isn’t helpful when an innovative solution is required.

Should salespeople fear success instead?
No. Don’t fear success. Fear the all-consuming need for success. It’s easy to love something when it gives you immediate rewards. A new car never looks (or smells) better than the day you drive it off the lot. Romantic relationships feel great when we haven’t been with the other person long enough to have a disagreement. Being a salesperson feels great when you’re on top. What matters is this, do you have a reason to go to work when times aren’t good? Don’t let what feels good now set you up for disappointment in the future.