Why do we have a higher standard for things than we do for ideas?

I’m involved with a group of Young Professionals in my town, and once a month we all watch a Ted talk and then meet for lunch to discuss it.

This month’s was The Way We Think About Work is Broken by Barry Schwartz.

Points I found most intriguing:

“Bad technology disappears. [But] with ideas, false ideas about human beings will not go away if people believe that they’re true.” This implies that we have a higher standard for things than we do for ideas. We care about having the best and optimally-functioning cell phone, yet we don’t really care if there’s any science behind that detox tea we keep drinking.

We have much less attachment to things than we do to ideas. There is a quick turnover with things, but a slow turnover with ideas. We’re quick to exchange our laptop for the newer model. But we maintain ideas for generations and are often hesitant to stray from them and our identity with them.

“It is not true that you “just can’t get good help anymore”. It is true that you can’t get good help anymore when you give people work to do that is demeaning and soulless.”

“Human nature will be changed by the theories we have that are designed to explain and help us understand human beings … We design human nature by designing the institutions within which people live and work.” So, what kind of human nature do you want to help design? Note that this can apply outside the workplace as well.


Lead, follow, or get out of the way

Lead, follow, or get out of the way

My workplace had a staff development workshop this week. It was led by Jim Bagnola.  He had a lot of great things to say, but here are just a few quick takeaways:

If you think you’re a leader but no one is following, you’re just taking a walk!

Lead, follow, or get out of the way

If you don’t have a good/better idea, follow

“Here’s what you can improve” can be reworded as “here are your opportunities”

How I almost became a boutique owner

How I almost became a boutique owner

There’s a reason I haven’t posted in the last three weeks.  The first two weeks were spent being insanely busy becoming a boutique owner.  This last week was spent being depressed that it didn’t work out.  But now I’m ready to talk about it, and even look on the bright side of things.

Here’s what’s been going on:

My mom and I decided to open a boutique.  A boutique selling handcrafted items.  I think I’ve mentioned before that my mom is quite crafty and makes a lot of things.  I do, too, but not nearly as much as her.  We’ve thought of setting her up with an Etsy account to sell her stuff online, but we’ve also sort of joked like, “you know, we should just open up a store in town!”

So, a few weeks ago, we drove around just for fun, to see if there were any places for rent on the square downtown (we live in a small town).  We ended up finding the perfect space in the perfect location, called the landlady, looked at it, loved it, and decided right then and there that we were actually going to do this crazy idea and open up a store!

For the next week and a half, we planned like crazy, and even ordered some things for the store.  It was the hardest I’ve worked on something in a long time.  Maybe ever.

We had given the landlady the deposit, but not yet met to sign the lease.  When we first met her and saw the space, she was super accommodating and awesome.  When we went back to see the space again and sign the lease, half the things she said she would do weren’t done.  (“Well I never said I would fix that!”)  And, the lease was absolutely ridiculous.  English is not her first language and there were tons of spelling errors for one.  For two, the lease contained crazy things like that if the furnace broke (the building is 100 years old) then we would have to pay for it!  Crazy.

So, anyway, between the crazy lease, going back on her word about a few things, and her changed attitude, we felt like we could no longer trust her.

And now, we are no longer going to open a store at all.  You might think that that is a rash decision, but honestly I am so disgusted at the rental market in my town (I had an almost identical situation two years ago with a different landlord regarding an apartment I was going to rent) that I am just so discouraged and want nothing to do with any of it.

We still could look around for another space, but half the appeal and reason we even decided to go ahead and open a store was because we found a space in a great location.  So without that, we worry we wouldn’t be as successful.

The bright side of all this is that it was a crazy learning experience and a great life lesson.  Here are a few things I learned:

  • Don’t give a deposit until you see and sign the lease.  And until you write down all the things that the landlord agrees to fix, and he/she signs that.  I’ve learned this lesson twice now and I think this time it’s stuck.
  • There are so many different kinds of gift boxes, bags, ribbons, and mailing envelopes.  And, you have to buy them in huge bulk quantities.  (Papermart.com was the cheapest I found, and the one we ended up going with.  I don’t even want to tell you how caught up I got in that site and how many hours I spent on it.  Which brings me to my next lesson:)
  • Don’t get caught up in frilly things.  Like colored gift boxes.  And coordinating ribbons.  And whether or not you want to offer free gift wrapping, and therefore which colors you want to offer.  All this is great to think about a few months down the road, once you see that you are successful and can afford this service.  But I thought of this right away and then spent way too much time planning it (and being overwhelmed with choices) when there were more pressing matters at hand.
  • Starting a business isn’t nearly as difficult as it’s made out to be.  It was a ton of work, yes.  And it would have been even more work had we kept going with it.  But we also learned that a lot of steps could be skipped, such as getting a business license and an accountant.  (In some states and for some business types, a business license is required.)  We just met with a consultant (for free!) from the local community college whose job is to help small businesses get started, and he explained everything to us and we were quite pleasantly surprised at the lack of paperwork, etc.
  • Getting over the mental hurdle of “can I actually do this?!” is one of the hardest things and the biggest obstacle to get over.  We literally joked about starting a business on Friday, drove around looking at spaces on Saturday, and met with the landlady, saw the space, and gave our deposit on Sunday.  And we told ourselves we’d open in 4 weeks.  It all happened so fast (in large part because someone else was interested in the space so we had to give a deposit lest potentially lose it.)  And all the while we were simultaneously excited and wondering if we were crazy.  Normally, we might have been considered crazy.  But.  I think that the fact that we went so fast was such a blessing.  Because the fact that we gave ourselves little time to think and to doubt, is what propelled us forward.  We could have easily decided we would open a store, then “research” for 6 months, then start looking for spaces, and really look at a lot to gauge the commercial rental market and find the “perfect” space, and then take another two months to choose paint colors and the store name, etc.  But what would that have accomplished except push us back another year?  We did ALL of that in two week’s time.  And while we feared that we didn’t know what we were doing, and felt that we should “research” more, I kept reminding us that there wasn’t really anything to research.  And that that was just an excuse and a delay.  And I think that so often, with myself and with countless others, we fool ourselves into thinking that we need to “prepare” because “starting a business is a big deal”, while really we are just giving ourselves permission to stall and stall and then possibly never actually take action and reach our goal.  So the fact that we just went for it is something that I am still really proud of.
  • Monthly costs add up.  This one should have maybe been a bit more obvious than it was at the time.  We had rent, which we were cool with.  But then utilities on top of that, phone and internet, and insurance – not to mention the costs of materials/stock and shopping bags, etc.  Which each new cost we remembered, that meant we’d have to sell that much more inventory each month, which got to be pretty daunting and intimidating.  But again, maybe if we had realized all this in the beginning, we would have let it delay us or even give up.  So maybe the gradual realization helped ease the scariness of the whole thing.
  • You don’t need nearly the startup capital that you might think.  Luckily we didn’t buy too much before the whole lease fiasco, but even the things we did buy were ridiculously cheap.  We bought some furniture pieces, to display our inventory, from Goodwill and other second hand places around town, and some paint.  We primed and painted the furniture to all match and look way more expensive than it was.  We also planned to bring in some furniture from our house that we were thinking to get rid of anyway.  With a bigger store, this would have been more expensive, but for our small space, we were able to get like half the tables we’d need for like $10 total!  And again, this was in only two weeks!

So, after this whole experience, I feel a few different things.  Pride.  Happiness.  Anger.  Disappointment.  Confusion.  Disgust.  Shame.  Curiosity.  Relief.

Relief because I don’t have all that work to look forward to!  But in the end, I am glad that at the very least I can take away multiple lessons from this – ones that I do think will serve me well in the future.  And the fact that I now have experience starting a business – and the awareness of what it takes and what it doesn’t take – will be a great head start for my next business.  Whatever that may be.

Those darned epiphanies…

I read a really interesting blog post this week, by Peter Shallard, “The Shrink of Entrepreneurs”.  This guy has some really neat stuff on starting a business and the psychology of those who try.  This week’s post was about why epiphanies will destroy your business.  (Not starting a business?  Don’t worry, this article will apply to you, too.)


Peter Shallard opens by presenting the familiar picture of one who is waiting for the next big realization:

“You’re just one big aha moment away from figuring it out. Right?

Isn’t everyone.

They spend their lives having one epiphany after another, always telling themselves that they’ve finally figured out what’s holding them back. An epiphany strikes and they think they’re finally going to be productive and creative.

At last, they’re going to turn their life and business around!

Except they don’t.”

Why?  Because epiphanies don’t work, according to Shallard.  Firstly, they tend to happen quickly – not a good sign.  Most entrepreneurs, he says, have reached success through a slower process.

And here’s an idea I especially like:  Shallard points out that what happens during an epiphany is that we tell ourselves a myth; we trick ourselves into believing something.  “A big epiphany gives you cause to believe you’ve broken through and that things are about to change. You pat yourself on the back and promptly do nothing.”

I can personally attest this.  I’ll have some big realization that life should be lived a certain way, or that money doesn’t matter, or one of those other bright ideas that most people will stumble upon at some point in their life, before ultimately rejecting it.  Or, to relate it to business and entrepreneurship: I have had a few ideas in recent years for genius business plans and super lucrative start-ups that I might buy a domain name for, and then proceed to leave untouched until the domain expires.

So I guess Shallard is right – when you have some big epiphany or the universe magically sends you an ingenious idea – its good to be aware that it might not work out.  Similarly, my business ideas and life philosophies that have actually developed a bit more were the ones that came not by epiphany but by a more careful thought process.

Shallard continues his post to relate epiphany-tripped entrepreneurs to schizophrenics: its when they appear most out of it that they actually experience the greatest sensation of clarity.  And that’s pretty much how my epiphanies go:  I may think that hipsterbible.com is a great idea, but I am in actuality going through a moment of insanity mistaken.

Shallard concludes his argument by foreseeing the negative outcome of having (and taking seriously) an epiphany, which is that we’ll stop growing.  I’ve got it all figured out now, so why waste time thinking?  I know how the world works, so I’ll stop listening to others.  I have a new and better business idea, so I should scrap my other projects for this one.

Check out his post to learn which positive qualities to look for in the opposite of an epiphany.  And tell me what you think of his post!

How has your luck been with epiphanies? 

Don’t Settle for the Guru Effect / Motivation Tips from Peter Shallard

Came across a new blog today.  Peter Shallard writes some very interesting posts.

Take for example this article on what Peter calls The Guru Effect.

I love the line “The tiny percentage of ultra achievers – the Oprahs, Bransons, Hsieh and Jobs of the world don’t publish how-to guides. They publish autobiographies.”

I myself am no overachiever and have no credibility.  Yet.  But I do plan to achieve both personal and business success.  And then I plan to write about it; make videos about it; make money from it because I’ve already made money from it.

But this post made me question why that’s my plan.  It seems like easy money.  And it could get my name out, which in turn would drive even more business to my hypothetically-already-successful company.  Its a win-win.  But then what?  Then I can relax knowing that I’ve built a little empire for myself that at this point will just bring in more and more cash passively?  At this point I can just stop working?  Stop creating?  Stop thinking?

No.  I thought that my business plans (vague as they may be) were ambitious and would bring me great things.  I still think they can bring me a bunch of money, sure.  But after reading this article, I don’t know if I consider cash to be “great things”.  As Peter says in the post, “When you take the easy, comfortable road and rest on your laurels, everyone loses.”  You lose because you’re no longer challenging yourself.  The world loses because it misses out on all the greatness you could have offered it.


I should probably try this.  (How to force yourself to succeed without using willpower)

I most definitely ask myself all the ways I can fail or all the ways the task at hand will be no fun.  And it totally prevents me from doing the task.  Ridiculous.  I need to take control of my thoughts and stop sabotaging myself!  It’s actually really good timing that I read this today, as I’m starting a new workout regimen today that I plan to maintain for 30 days.  I’ll try reshaping my thoughts and see if it helps motivate me. 🙂

What I learned from my restaurant job

I recently quit my job of almost a year.

I worked at a coffee house, slash restaurant, slash bookstore, slash gift store.

I mostly took customers’ orders at the cash register but I also made lattes and the like.

Here are some general and specific things I learned:

  • Most of the customers were regulars.  They came in literally every day at the same time and ordered pretty much the same thing.  Its primarily these people who kept us in business, I’d assume.
  • Some customers, even if they come in regularly and always get the same thing, will complain about their food, every time.  And its not that it was made wrong – they just don’t care for it.
  • There are a lot of different kinds of milk (organic whole, organic  2%, regular 2%, skim, soy, almond, coconut).
  • Most people probably wont taste the difference (with the exception of the last three).
  • There are only subtle differences between all the major espresso drinks.  For example, a latte is espresso and milk.  Add chocolate and its now a mocha. Take out the espresso and its now a hot chocolate.  Add flavored syrup instead of chocolate and its now a milk steamer.  Ever wonder how a barista can so easily remember something as complicated as a “skinny half caf double iced mocha, with half the chocolate and sugar free caramel”?  Because its really just a slight variation on what the drink normally would be.  And yes it was rare that someone would order something that specific.  But once you know a few key terms, even the complicated things aren’t that complicated anymore.
  • There are a few different roasts of coffee: french (the darkest), vienna (in the middle), and city (the lightest).  In terms of caffeine level, its the opposite: city (most caffeine), vienna (in the middle), french (least caffeine).  At first this is always counter-intuitive.  You’d think that the darkest coffee would also be the strongest.  That’s probably because you’d assume it meant it was brewed more strongly or something.  But no, they’re all brewed the same way.  Some coffees are weaker on purpose.  The reason is, the caffeine in a coffee bean is on the outside.  So when the beans are roasted, the caffeine gets burnt off.  The longer it roasts (making it a darker roast) the more of the outside (the caffeine) gets roasted off.  Thus, dark beans have less caffeine left, whereas lighter roasts have more caffeine preserved.
  • People working for minimum wage bond by complaining and gossiping.  Bad, I know.  But oh-so fun.
  • Its pretty much the same, every day.  People would always ask me how my day was, or if we had been busy at lunch time.  “Good, how are you?”  “Yeah, it was kinda busy.”  I felt a little awkward always saying the same things to people.  But I guess I shouldn’t feel too awkward because they always asked the same questions.
  • If you steam too much foam, it becomes too dry, and it does not blend well into the drink.  The key is to steam less foam, thus keeping it wetter, and then you can more easily swoosh it around with the milk. It was only towards the end of my time at that job that I really started to get the hang of latte art.  Kind of unfortunate I left before mastering it.
  • If a drink has a [thin] layer of foam on top, you can practically sprint it out to the  person’s table without spilling it (exaggerating).
  • People like their drinks full, even if it means you spill it a little.  If I didn’t put enough foam on top and the drink started to spill over as I carried it out to them, I’d just say, “It’s a little full” in a somewhat apologetic voice as I handed it to them.  To which they responded with a smile and wide eyes.
  • One of the funnest parts of my job was referring to customers by their order (when talking about them with coworkers, that is).  “You know ‘Large salad, add carrots, sprouts, and tuna, Large decaf latte in a to-go cup’ guy?”  “Oh, yeah.”  Or, “You know, she always comes in and buys a bottle of water and like half an avocado?”  “Oh yeah.  Sharon.”  It was a fun game to see how well we knew everyone :).
  • As hard as it may be to trust employees, micromanaging is not efficient.  Honestly if I owned a company and had employees, I would be tempted to oversee everything and make sure it was perfect.  Must be hard not to do that.
  • When you order a drink and I ask “Small or Large?”, please don’t say “Medium.”  If we had medium, I would have offered it to you.
  • Things aren’t as clean as you’d like to think.  I learned that one in my previous restaurant job.  That one was even less clean than my second place.  But yeah.  Going to a restaurant after having worked in one requires a certain level of denial.
  • Free food is a very nice perk.  At my first restaurant job (I’ve had a total of 2) we didn’t get food.  We didn’t even get a break.  (Labor laws, anyone?)  So at my next job, getting a 15 min break AND free lunch was like the most generous and chill thing I had ever heard of.
  • I can eat lunch at the same place 5 days a week for a year and not get sick of the food.  I guess that’s how we had so many regular customers.
  • Being on my feet all day wasn’t that hard.  But the right shoes were everything.
  • In a big restaurant (5 rooms spanning 3 levels) with a boss who everyone knows and has questions/business inquiries for, it would be great to have a walkie-talkie system.
  • Some of our soups (and probably other things) were made with peanut oil.  And it wasn’t mentioned anywhere.  I’m kind of surprised no one died.
  • Working in a food-related job in a town where people are health-conscious and have a million different diet restrictions is frustrating and time consuming.  And repetitive.
  • You see a person’s true colors when you serve them lunch.
  • If they haven’t hired anyone new for awhile and half of the current employees are “sick” all the time, and you decide to quit, be prepared to be hated.
  • This was a fun job but its not my career nor my life.  At times it seemed like it was both, but really, now that I’m gone, I realize that everything that went with it – my daily routine, my stress, the people I would see every day – is all gone.  And in a year from now, none of it will matter.  Except I’ll still have all the things I learned from working there.