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Thursday, May 21, 2015
Part two of an ongoing series.
This second part of a multi-part series explores when an employee realizes he (or sometimes she) needs to explore starting a business of his own.
The highest and most difficult hurdle is to understand that life as an employee is not the road to security that popular culture leads you -- manipulates you -- into believing. It is the road to dependency where your entire life is subject to control by the "owners of the means of production" who are dispassionate about and indifferent to your concerns. (That's how it should be. The flip side to that indifference is that you maintain your privacy and some semblance of control over your reputation and outside-the-workplace life.)
This core reality requires you to accept the fact that life as an employee, and just surviving as an employee (keeping your job) comes with some unpleasant realities. The most unpleasant and terrifying for most people is the idea that there is no job security whatsoever.
The idea of a secure job is a fantasy. Our information economy is rapidly commoditizing knowledge and eroding barriers to entry for newcomers. While we have more knowledge, it's never been cheaper to acquire it. Unless you have a unique skill derived from how to USE that information -- what I will colloquially call "judgment" -- your information, your degree, even your years of experience, are easily replaceable. And that's for highly skilled and highly intelligent workers. It's even worse for the white collar support staff. The supply of relatively cheap labor and a flat demand explain why today's cities are full of armies of white collar employees with falling real wages and vanishing "job security."
Still think being an employee is a good life?
The reality is that survival as an employee requires you to have enough value to be irreplaceable. You must win the value game. And there are precious few ways to do that.
The easiest way is to have a book of business. Revenue generators sell themselves, and there are very few of them. Without your own business, you are at the mercy of those who have it.
In short, without business, you're dead.
The vast majority of people never generate any business. Rest assured, if you have been in any profession for more than a few years and cannot generate any business, you are either hopelessly mediocre or in the wrong market. Many people have no business, and that's because they have no business being in that industry to begin with. What is their future, your future?
Here's what it is. It is making a living off the revenue generated by someone else. That means that the generator is sharing his revenue with you. Are you worth it today? And what about tomorrow?
If you're afraid about asking those questions, maybe because you have no business or just a little business and are scared about how hard it is (which is okay, that's actually a good sign you're realistic and pragmatic), then you have to think about this choice:
You can go out on your own, and worry about getting business, or
You can stay as an employee, and worry about your boss -- that miserable prick of a boss -- thinking whether you are worth whatever it is he's paying you?
Think carefully, now, and look around at your co-workers. How many of them would you trust to generate business for you? How many would you trust to do a good job for you if it were your business?
The answer should be: very, very few.
But this is how YOU are being viewed. By your employer right now. And unless you bring in revenue, you have little to no value above an anonymous replacement.
And if you glance over the cubicle walls, you'll see lots of middle-aged professionals, who despite their credentials, their pedigrees, their family connections, really don't do a hell of a lot. Subtract the big-company name-value from their business card or LinkedIn profile and you have an empty suit most of the time.
This reminds me of a statistic, or metric, now in vogue in some professional team sports to assess an individual player's performance. It's called "wins above replacement," or "WAR." It means a player's value is measured against the expected performance of anyone on average who is called up from the minors, from the college ranks, or even from juniors (the underage ranks for hockey players before turning pro). The lower your WAR, the more your roster spot -- hell, your career -- is in jeopardy.
In today's white collar information economy, if you don't have business, and otherwise don't have an office godfather who is protecting your job, your WAR is basically zero. That's because there is always someone younger, hungrier, more eager to please, more naive, more easily deceived and more willing to work longer and harder and for less.
No business, no future. No doubt about it.
So being an employee means always looking over your shoulder. And for....what?
Now, there are some qualified exceptions. There are exceptional employees who are indispensable because they are hard to replace. But these people are also likely to be working at one hell of a discount to their true value. Think about that: you are the irreplaceable employee because you are getting paid less than you're worth! So your job security is really nothing beyond being a function of your being undervalued, exploited, taken advantage of.
In the legal profession, even the most brilliant lawyers, who don't have their own book of business and must work for someone else, cannot command much more than $100 to $125 an hour for their time. This is how exceptional lawyers who have argued before the United States Supreme Court have been "de-equitized" by their firms, which means they are being cashed out of their ownership stake and allowed to stay on as employees with a title of partner. Banks are even quicker to optimize the desk space. Out you go, and your "book" may already be on someone else's desktop, by the way.
Some people do have job security of a sort because the cost to the employer of firing them, facing uncertain liabilities, and risking having to get rid of an unknown replacement are pretty high. But where is the growth? Where is the potential for wealth creation? No, you're just marking time hoping the company's stock goes up so your stock options actually are worth something.
And should you be wrong, and be anywhere over the age of, oh, thirty-five, you might be looking at a decline in real income of two-thirds or more, if you don't have your own business.
Now you should see that you can never avoid having to confront your fears of developing your own business, your own brand.
To be sure, this advice is not for everyone.
It is actually only for very few. The leaders, the influencers, the achievers, or at the very least, the ones who dream and desire more, and who are willing to work and give it a shot.
Rest assured, the losers, fakers and frauds aren't reading this, so you're already ahead of some of your "competition."
Next in this series, we'll look at some pragmatic steps for getting started.
Monday, May 18, 2015
One key to effective advocacy is an openness to new avenues to the truth. Some great legal victories have come from simply having winning facts.
In that light, it helps to be willing to challenge the existing economic and cultural paradigms that push, compel and coerce people into corporate conformity while deterring, discouraging and even punishing innovation, risk-taking and individuality.
In the first of an ongoing series, we will explore the clues that will help you realize you must go off on your own if you ever want to be in true control of your life, your career and your reputation, realize your potential and have a sense of fulfillment that does not require that you chase the affirmation, approval or permission of others.
People are going to call you selfish, self-centered and greedy. You will learn to call yourself...a success.
The easiest barrier you'll have to overcome is presented in the form of the question: When MUST you go off on your own?
The simplest and shortest answer is that working for someone else is not the road to success, to financial security, to happiness or even to preserving your own reputation. It is the road to surrendering control over your future to a greater force, one more powerful and one entirely unconcerned with your welfare. It is essentially a "road to serfdom" on which you will perpetually be at the mercy of someone else who stands to gain through your pain.
Now, wait a minute, you're thinking, isn't employee life, working for a big and stable company, that's all I've ever heard, that's what my classmates and neighbors are doing, they seem to be doing well.
My counter: Yes, they seem to be doing well. But look deeper.
Popular culture glorifies life as an employee. That's because the lifestyle helps provide and placate an easily controllable work force and source of "consumers." It also reduces ambition, so the successful have less competition. (That, my friends, is just part of making it to the top: Take the path of least resistance.) But most employees are terribly mediocre. Even worse, most are bored in life, and wake up on Monday in a can't-wait-for-Friday mode, in an even wider circle-of-hell known as can't-wait-for-retirement mode.
Imagine that, spending 80% of your life hoping it goes by quicker!
So the best way to explain why you always must plan to become an entrepreneur, a sole proprietor, a small business owner, is to understand that being an employee provides you with very little upside, but all the downsides that one can have in this economy.
What's the upside? There is job security, provided you define it properly. Yes, odds are you'll have your job tomorrow, and the next week, and so on. The odds are also true that a certain meteorite will miss Earth next year. We think. You get the point.
But that job security is an illusion. There is no guaranteed future employment. (Not in the
in certain European countries where labor laws make it tough to fire anyone,
but the flip side is that companies are scared to hire anyone they can't fire,
so the youth unemployment rate is often 25%!) Worse, it is an illusion based
entirely on your trust in the benevolence of the employer, and hope that the
employer won't break the law, or go out of business, or relocate your job to an
emerging Third World market.
As an employee you are feeding only off the plate set out for you by an employer. You're just a puppy in Corporate World. And guess what? There are many puppies. Some are bigger than others. Very few are special. Most will sell their own mothers to a new owner to get an inside track at the next plate. What do you think they'd do to you? These other puppies are your competition, and there are more puppies every day.
Oh, but I'm doing well, I'm liked, I'm getting promoted, you say. True, and good for you. For now. For you are always at risk of having someone undermine you, kneecap you, rifle through your files, steal your ideas and badmouth you.
There is a huge cost to living and working in this environment. While working at your primary, "stated" job may be exhausting, having to work at your "real" job of keeping your stated job is no less exhausting, plus it is just as essential. The office is not the frat house, it is not your home away from home. It is where you go to make money, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing past the length of your nose.
Information and relationships are critical to your survival. You must keep them as yours.
While you work for someone else, your developed creations are "works made for hire" and are the legal property of someone else. Ditto with your rolodex. Keep your thoughts, ideas and dreams -- and your private life -- at home and in your head. Your "book of business" can be -- and trust me, it is -- seized without even a moment's notice. You are always at risk of being fired. In fact, the more you have produced, the more someone might want to steal it. After all, the quickest way to build that book of business is not to develop it organically, but to take it from a former colleague. Unless you have strong relationships outside your employer, your career and lifestyle are in permanent, imminent danger of catastrophic change from a voracious office competitor.
Even if you manage to survive and keep your job for the time being, in a hostile work environment you are subject to all sorts of harassment. Some is obvious. The worst kinds are the ones you cannot see, hear or feel. This clandestine harassment originates not with an "animus" against a particular "protected class," but rather out of a desire by someone to eliminate their competition. It increases as you become more successful, because your success (personally as well as professionally) breeds envy and makes you an ever-growing target. Watch. Your. Back.
Oh, but there are labor laws, anti-discrimination laws, and human resources. They'll protect me, you think. Oh, sure they will. Human resources? Ever wonder why those departments are called that? It's because you are a resource...like fossil fuel. You are exhaustible, fungible...and non-renewable. And HR is always keeping tabs on you in order to have a better case for firing you "for cause." You didn't think those magnetic pass cards tracking your movements, those passwords on your office computers and Blackberry, all were for your protection, did you?
But being an employee means I have benefits, you think. Yes, you have benefits. But those benefits are only as good as the intent of the insurer or custodian to abide by their contracts. Wait until you hear the words, "coverage denied." Or worse, when your custodian dips into your retirement account, and funds deducted from your paycheck take six months to appear in a supposedly-sacrosanct retirement account.
Being a puppy employee means you're in a stinking kennel, immersed in filth, and surrounded by co-workers barking, annoying co-workers, many infected with tapeworm or other psychological disorders. And unless you become an owner...That. Is. Your. Future.
The very worst thing about this reality of being an employee, as long as you are a Human Resource, a Means of Production, is not that I have described your worst-case scenario.
No, the worst thing is that if you remain employed and have present income, I have described your best case scenario.
Now do you get the picture?
In the next installment of this series, I will describe the eternal hell of so-called high-achieving employees and what they must constantly do just to keep their jobs.
Friday, May 15, 2015
A lot of people make a good living asking for money for their nonprofits to use supposedly fighting for a better and more ethical culture in our nation's and state capitals.
Blah blah blah.
Everyone seems to blame our elected officials, our political class, for the dysfunction. People "don't work together," everything is "partisan," and so on.
Blah blah blah.
Everyone is a crook, say some.
Blah blah blah.
But over the years, as the voices decrying these conditions seem to get louder (in some quarters), guess what? Popular participation in politics -- that is, through actually voting -- is on the decline.
This brings me to the issue of the level of voting. This is a favorite target of the so-called, self-styled good-government groups, which exist -- make no mistake about this -- to provide a good living for their founders.
What if the problem in "politics" is the same as in "popular culture," where success is defined by sheer numbers and the ability to "sell" or "pander" to the greatest number of people sharing the lowest-common-denominator?
Unlike every other economic, academic or athletic endeavor where merit is the preeminent if not the sole criterion for success, and where achievement is recognized, the political world rewards the precise opposite.
In the political world where everyone has one vote and one voice, regardless -- or in some cases, in spite of -- their achievement, actual achievement is punished because achievers, by their nature, are a numerical minority and politics rewards the popularity contest which must cater to the lowest common denominator.
(Quick note: Read The Federalist Papers. Early American elections restricted the right to vote. Just consider whether there has been a correlation between greater enfranchisement and a debasement of the political and campaign culture.)
The "race to the bottom" in the political world is not a problem of the "political culture" or even of "ethics." It may simply be structural, a function of the fact that the electoral system rewards the basest, lowest qualifications for participation, namely, the ability to fog up a mirror, and levels the playing field to reduce those with the most "skin in the game" to numerical irrelevance.
So why would you be surprised when political campaigns and elected officials pander to this lowest-common-denominator (LCD), when the electoral structure -- and their very survival in politics -- require giving greater attention to this LCD?
Saturday, May 9, 2015
Saturday, May 2, 2015
Politics and indictments seem to go hand in hand. Why?
The headline gives it away -- but the answer will surprise you
It's not because politicians are naturally more corrupt. There are two reasons.
First, elected and appointed officials -- and prominent business leaders and entertainers -- are "name" targets whose prosecution can make legal careers for the often-young-and-green prosecutors worried about ever getting a private-sector job which pays well. A prosecution of a faceless "nobody" does little or nothing for an ambitious prosecutor going on interviews. But a "name" scalp, a takedown of a big shot, can have a slingshot effect on a young lawyer's career and make him that much more appealing to employers and to their clients who will also be impressed. ("Hey, I just hired as my defense lawyer the guy who brought down Bernie Madoff!")
Second, elected and appointed officials are often subject to various freedom of information or "sunshine" laws which allow inquiring citizens access to all sorts of documents. The same type of access from private citizens is much tougher to get because you need a warrant or subpoena.
Without the "open government" and sunshine/transparency laws, many questionable public-sector practices would go unnoticed.