How to Offer to Help Someone

If you’ve ever been moved to help someone, whether by sympathy for their hardship or excitement for their success, you probably did what most of us do.  Made a well-meaning general offer.

“Hey, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through.  Let me know what I can do to help.”

Or,

“I love what you’re doing!  I’m here to help in any way.”

These are not bad offers.  They successfully signal comradery and provide a little bump in mood to the recipient.  But they don’t deliver the kind of help that sticks.  If you really want to do more than signal your sympathy (you are not obligated to do more, so only do if you really want to) you’ve got to get specific.

My nephew passed away two years ago.  Our entire family was in shock and mourning.  Sympathy cards and thoughts flowed in to my sister and her husband.  It was overwhelming to see the support, and it did them good.  Many offered to help and meant it, but it’s just too hard while grieving to think of something a friend or neighbor or stranger can do for you, and it feels weird to ask.  The greatest help came from those who didn’t ask what they could do.  They just noticed something and did it.  They bought dinner.  They took the kids out to get new shoes.  They cleaned the house.

It’s the same for support with exciting projects.  I get a lot of emails from people saying they’re excited about Praxis and want to help.  I love these emails.  It’s great to know people share my excitement for our vision and progress.  There are a rare few who do more than signal.  They don’t ask, they offer or do something specific.  I’ll never forget just after launch when Zak Slayback contacted me and said, “I want to help.  Let me manage your social media pages.”  He had a good reputation and I needed help so I let him.  Then he started doing other things like setting up email newsletters, improving the website, writing blog posts, going to events, and creating marketing material.  Pretty soon we couldn’t live without him and he was hired.  Others help without asking how by making an email introduction to a business partner or potential participant.

It’s perfectly fine and in many cases preferable to let people know you care.  But for those times when you’re really moved to provide support or help a project move forward challenge yourself to not give any open-ended offers.  Before saying, “I’m with you and here to help”, think long and hard about what needs to be done and what you are able to do.  The more specific the better, even if it’s a rather mundane task.  You might have to get creative, but if you learn to offer help in practical solutions instead of generic words you will change people’s lives forever.  They won’t forget.

A lot of what we do in life is signaling.  That’s OK so far as it goes, but it often muddies our ability to identify cause and effect.  Pretty soon we start to believe bumper stickers and ribbons equal change or progress.  It’s the same on the individual level and society at large.  If you push yourself to figure out what will really help, instead of what will signal your desire to help, you’ll begin to see the world anew.

 

Episode 32: Isaac on the Tom Woods Show, Discussing Praxis and Creating Alternative Experiences

Tom Woods brings me on his show to talk about Praxis and the road from theory to practice through creating alternative experiences for people here and now. We talk about what makes a successful Praxis applicant and how to figure out which path is right for you. Tom is a historian, author, Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute and a popular podcaster.

Check out tomwoods.com to learn more.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

You Don’t Have to Respond to Every Idea

I was thinking of writing a post today called “bad arguments of the week” as a kind of catharsis.  I came across an unusually high number of terrible arguments this week in my regular perusing of social media.  Instead I’ll make a broader observation in hopes of offering freedom, rather than simply critique.

You don’t have to respond to every idea.

I reflected on the diverse list of bad arguments I collected and realized they all shared a few things in common.  They were each reactions to an article or piece of news the arguer disagreed with.  They were all written very much in the moment.  None of them actually put forward arguments against the core idea they were reacting to.

All these bad arguments attacked persons and motives.  They took forms like, “If you say X, you’re probably too dumb to realize Y”, or, “Why is this person even writing on X topic when Y other person has more credentials”, or, “Person A said something dumb, so activity B they engage in must also be dumb.”

It’s fun to engage in a little sarcasm sometimes, or playfully mock an idea.  But the arguments I saw didn’t seem all that playful, as evidenced in part by the continued back and forth comments by those making them.

I won’t pretend to know anyone’s motives, but it appeared that in each case the bad argument was made as a sort of addictive behavior.  The arguer saw an idea they strongly disagreed with.  They did not want to take the time or energy to meaningfully engage the idea and offer a logical counter.  Nothing wrong with that.  But then the response addiction kicked in and they had to say something.  In the middle of the moment of frustration, they posted an insult disguised as an argument.  When others responded, the addiction wouldn’t let them leave.  They kept going.

The odd part is, more time and energy is spent going back and forth shoring up weak insults and arguments than it would’ve taken to relax, engage the original idea, and put forth an argument not full of logical fallacies and emotion.

The solution is probably not to make better arguments, but to make fewer.

None of us realistically have the time or mental space to put forth well-constructed arguments for all of our beliefs or against all those we find odious.  That’s OK.  If you know you won’t engage an idea, you don’t have to respond at all.

How valuable is it to you or anyone else to post under an article something like, “This is wrong.”?  You’re signalling two things: first, that you do not wish to engage the idea at the moment; second, that you can’t resist letting people know that you disagree (with an air of condescension).  But if you really aren’t up for discussing, why register your disagreement at all?  Once you do it might be hard to move away from the comments that follow.

Give yourself permission to walk away from bad arguments.  If you don’t intend to put forth good ones of your own, try not responding at all.  Not because you owe it to anyone or you should follow some rules of social media decorum, but because you might end up feeling a bit more free and relaxed yourself.

If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

Income Is Not Automatic

Ernst & Young no longer requires degrees for entry level jobs.  A lot of people shared articles about the change on Facebook.  On one thread I noticed the following comment:

“[T]his is great but it could also be an excuse to pay people less.”

The word “excuse” stuck out to me.  Why would EY need an excuse?  If they want to offer less pay they can do so at any time.  Of course any potential hire can just as easily refuse the offer and only agree to work for more.

Employers want the best workers for the lowest possible price and workers want the best jobs for the highest possible pay.  “Best” and “highest” of course include the entire bundle of compensation, benefits, work environment, etc.  Both parties have an incentive to bargain.  Both parties have an incentive to only agree if they don’t think they can get a better deal elsewhere.  It’s a bet on the value they’ll receive from the other party.

The comment reveals a bizarre but common belief about work.  There’s an idea that jobs and income are an automatic and deserved reward for moving on the conveyor belt and jumping through all the right hoops.  It implies that pay is based on a rigid credential scale and companies can only adjust pay if they adjust the hoops to jump through.  It implies that, with ironclad causality, a degree will automatically entitle the holder to higher pay and the only way to pay less is to hire those without one.

A degree has never made someone more valuable.  What you can do determines the value you can create and demand.  The degree is only a signal that, with more or less accuracy, tells employers that you are likely to be better on average than someone without the degree.  That signal is no longer working for EY because the reality isn’t backing up the assumed correlation.

EY does potential employees a favor to announce and implement this policy.  The degree is not signalling enough value to distinguish those with it from those without.  Degrees are very expensive.  Everyone who buys one assuming it will bring them a good EY job is buying under false pretenses.  They need to create value to get hired.

EY is saving potential employees money and time by telling them what’s always been true: it’s about the value you can create, not the paper you have.  The paper was used because it often correlated and it was a quick and dirty way to eliminate some weak applicants.  Now the applicants with degrees are not sufficiently better than those without.

This represents not an excuse for companies to pay less, but an opportunity for young workers to pay less.  You are not required to spend four years and six figures poured in cinder block walls with fluorescent lights to take tests on things you mostly have no interest in.  You are free to learn to create value any way you can.

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Want a better way to get the skills, network, knowledge, confidence, and experience you need?  Want to be more than a worker?  Want to be an entrepreneur?  How about an education that comes with an awesome job.  It’s college plus your first job plus a lot more wrapped into one.  In one year.  For a net cost of zero.  Check out Praxis.

Guest Post: Here’s How I Work, Levi Morehouse Edition

So my brother Levi was asked to do this and he emailed me saying, “I’d like to, but how would I even share it?  I’m like a grandpa when it comes to online platforms.”  I told him I’d share it on my blog because it’s interesting and entertaining to me and, I suspect, my readers, half of which are our mother.

Levi is the hardest working person I’ve ever met, and also (paradoxically) one of the most laid back in some weird way.  I’ll let him take it from here.

———————————————–

(This is Levi)

My former employee James “J-Train” Walpole recently answered the Life Hacker “How I Work” challenge. Now I’ve been called to give an account of how I get things done. Here goes:

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Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Current Gig(s): Founder of Ceterus
Current Mobile Device: iPhone 6
Current Computer: Surface Pro
One Word That Best Describes Your Work: Passion (I love what I do)

WHAT APPS/SOFTWARE CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

For work: Google Apps, Asana, Zoho CRM.
For clients: QuickBooks Online, Bill.com, ZenPayroll (now Gusto).
For me: Fanduel, Yahoo Fantasy Football, Voxer

WHAT’S YOUR WORKSPACE LIKE?

We have an open office environment, where I often work while walking around outside taking phone calls (I have been told I am too loud to stay inside). The environment is 100% flexible, in that staff can work from the office, their home, or anywhere they can be valuable. For me, this is almost always the office itself.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST TIME-SAVING TRICK?

Inbox management. There is no one way (although mine is pretty awesome and simple), but owning your inbox leads to major time saved.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TO-DO LIST MANAGER?

Gmail inbox/labels.

BESIDES YOUR PHONE AND COMPUTER, WHAT GADGET CAN’T YOU DO WITHOUT?

My iPhone wallet case. I hate “things”, and until the phone itself replaces my Amex and drivers license, having these affixed to my phone is ideal.

WHAT EVERYDAY THING ARE YOU BETTER AT THAN ANYONE ELSE? 

No one empowers entrepreneurs with innovative financial reporting and on-time bookkeeping better than I do with my team at Ceterus. Note to the reader: asking an accountant this questions will lead to a very lame and boring answer, see mine above. Sorry.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m currently reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, and I am always re-reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO WHILE YOU WORK? 

One of the first tasks for my newer employees is to setup a station for me on Pandora. This ranges from hip-hop, to folk and as long as it is loud it works for me.

ARE YOU MORE OF AN INTROVERT OR AN EXTROVERT? 

I enjoy people, but am an introvert at the core.

WHAT’S YOUR SLEEP ROUTINE LIKE? 

I get up at 4:48 on weekdays. I try to sleep 5-8 hours per night, but do not have a set bed time. I wake with an iPhone alarm in the adjacent room. I am currently working to never use snooze (results are mixed to-date).

FILL IN THE BLANK: I’D LOVE TO SEE _____ ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS

Isaac Morehouse, as he is so kind to post this for me (a social media neophyte).

[It just so happens, I beat him to it and answered yesterday.]

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

My longtime youth basketball coach, friend and father figure once told me “I only remember the shots that go in”. As a confidence-lacking young athlete who was more focused on not messing up than on being great, this advise was instrumental in my hoops game at the time and in all life decisions since. Play to make the shot, don’t play to not miss.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?

No.

Here’s How I Work

My colleagues at Praxis and I found this exercise to be fun and useful, so now it’s my turn to answer.

——————————————————-

Location: Mount Pleasant, SC
Current gig: CEO of Praxis
Current mobile device: iPhone 6
Current computer: ASUS Zenbook. It’s gorgeous and wonderful.
One word that best describes how you work: Fast.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Voxer, WordPress, the Scrabble app, fantasy football apps, and Momentum.

What’s your workspace like?

Tiny.  I purposely have a ridiculously small, clear desk.  I don’t want space for anything on it.  It contains my beautiful sleek laptop, and usually a giant stein of water, and sometimes a few books I’m reading.  I move around and work from different places in the house sometimes too.  My office is actually just a small section of the bedroom, since I got kicked out of my designated office room.  I work from home and as my kids grow they take up more space.  Since I travel a lot and don’t really care where I work, I moved.  I could work in a broom closet as long as it wasn’t cluttered and I got to take walks outside.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

Delete, shred, destroy.  I get rid of absolutely everything nonessential.  Immediately.  I am ruthless with throwing away paper mail, physical notes, business cards, receipts, and other odds and ends.  I am also a strict zero inbox guy, keeping on top of my emails frees my time, but more importantly my mind, to create.

Also saying no.  Often.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I’ve tried Asana, Google Tasks, Slack, and several others.  None of them end up being that valuable.  I use Google Calendar and the native Sticky Notes app on Windows, or if I’m not at my computer the native Notes app on the iPhone.  I leave myself Voxer messages in the My Notes thread sometimes too.  Everything else gets too complicated.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

Since I just bought a Kindle Paperwhite so I don’t overflow my room with more books, I’m hoping it will become indispensable.  I’m still a lover of physical books, so we’ll see.  Otherwise no particular gadgets really matter much.  I did just get a waterproof mp3 player from a friend that lets me listen to podcasts while swimming, so that might become a necessity too.  Until the weather gets too cold to swim.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

Mornings.  I’m awesome when I wake up.  I’m happy, eager, productive, and full of energy and optimism…even before coffee.

I’m also pretty solid at writing good, concise emails.

What are you currently reading?

Siddartha by Herman Hesse, Mimesis by Erich Auerbach, The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, Outwitting the Devil by Napolean Hill (rereading), and Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse (rereading).

What do you listen to while you work?

While writing I either listen to a playlist on Spotify of Moby songs, or a station on Pandora called “Yoga music”.  While doing less creative stuff I might listen to some Led Zeppelin, or ’90’s era hip hop, or 80’s New Wave, or anything sappy with vocals I can belt out.  If I’m not writing, I mix it up quite a bit.  When I’m writing, it’s only ethereal mood music.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I’m definitely an extrovert based on any personality test or technical definition.  However, in the last 5 years my ratio of time I need to be with people and time I need to be alone has reversed.  Now for every one hour I spend “on” and around people I need four hours alone.  It used to be the opposite.  I can go mix it up or give a talk or be at an event and enjoy it, but I really, desperately need to get out and be alone for long periods of time afterwards, and I am (no longer) ever the last one at the party, but more likely one of the first to leave.  I’d rather be alone writing or reading or watching a Sci-Fi with my wife than anything else.

What’s your sleep routine like?

It’s not always like this, especially with travel, but my ideal routine is: go to sleep when my mind wants to, wake up when my body wants to.

My mind is typically very active in the late evening until around midnight or 1 AM.  I often feel physically ill if I get up earlier than 7:30 or so, and I much prefer getting up at around 8 or 8:30.  I used to feel guilty for that and make myself get up earlier no matter what, but I found my mornings far less productive because I felt too out of whack physically.  I now try not to schedule anything before 9 or 10 so I can wake up, lay in bed gathering my thoughts for a bit, get some food and coffee, and write a blog post before the hustle and bustle begins.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.

My good friend and colleague TK Coleman.  I’ve known him for over 15 years, and I still find his work and life habits a total mystery.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“If it doesn’t affect bowel movements or erections, don’t worry about it.”  True story.  A wise man actually gave me this advice once.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re not having fun (even if sometimes intense or stressful fun) you’re doing it wrong.

Profit is a Better Goal Than ‘Social Good’

Yesterday I got an email from Kickstarter that at first I laughed off as silly PR and signalling.  Then it made me sad.  Then it made me upset.

I like Kickstarter.  I use it.  It’s a supercool platform and has opened up a whole new world of crowdfunding, the effects and possibilities of which we are only beginning to see.  So what did they send me that rubbed me so wrong?

Kickstarter is no longer a traditional corporation but a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC).  I have not looked into the legal structure of PBC’s nor am I any kind of legal expert.  The way a company chooses to structure itself doesn’t really matter to me.  The thing that got me was the description in the email:

Until recently, the idea of a for-profit company pursuing social good at the expense of shareholder value had no clear protection under U.S. corporate law, and certainly no mandate. Companies that believe there are more important goals than maximizing shareholder value have been at odds with the expectation that for-profit companies must exist ultimately for profit above all.

Benefit Corporations are different. Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that are obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders. Radically, positive impact on society becomes part of a Benefit Corporation’s legally defined goals.

What could it mean to have legal “protection” and, far more ominous, “mandate” to pursue social good?

The most obvious questions are what is social good and who gets to define it?  Even if specific goals or outcomes are written in to a legal charter, who gets to interpret them?  If an investor puts millions in to a business with expectation of financial return and the money gets squandered on a giant made-from-recycled-shoes art project at the office, could it be argued that this was the legally correct move because it’s good for the community or some other undefinable value?

Firms are not profit driven because they are evil.  They’re not even profit driven because they care more about profit than anything else.  No one got together and decided to make firms profit driven as an evil conspiracy.  They simply ended up that way because it’s the best possible method of accountability to value creation.

They’re profit driven because profit is the only uniform, objective measure of all the diverse goals and desires of everyone involved in the enterprise.  Designers might want to make the world more beautiful, customer service people may want to help others solve little problems (except maybe at Comcast), investors may want to be a part of something new and exciting, founders may want to change the world, and customers may want a specific feeling the product provides.  To keep creating value in these myriad ways the firm needs resources.  They can’t be consuming more value than they produce.  They need to create something that is valued by the customers more than the raw inputs were valued on the market.  The only way to measure all these subjective preferences is with profit and loss.

When people decry profit they seem to treat it as a one-sided bilking affair.  Profit is really, really hard.  Loss is far more common.  And loss is just as important.  Loss is the greatest force for resource conservation the world has ever known.  It lets us know that a company is, quite literally, destroying value.  It puts the brakes on fun but destructive behavior.  They are consuming resources valued at X and are only able to sell them at X-1.  They have transformed resources into something less valued by society.

Profit and loss are the best signals humanity has ever had to make decisions about resource allocation.  Relying on warm fuzzies or good intentions is far less effective and can even be downright deadly.  If you allocate resources based on perceived need or good feels you’ll end up with big shortages and surpluses, like every planned economy ever, and the poorest will suffer from lack of access to food, health care, etc.  This is how mass starvation happens.  High minded ideals replace organically emerging prices as the means by which resources are allocated, and well-intentioned elites from on high replace self-interested individual decisions makers on the ground.

I’m not trying to get dramatic here.  For all I know PBC’s could be an improvement over current state offered options for incorporation like 501c3’s or C-Corps or what have you.  I’m also not such a fool to think technical legal jargon so powerful that it can override informal institutions or cause investors to make horrible decisions with their money.  Chances are, if you’re knowingly investing in a PBC, you trust the assumed definition of “social good” or whatever other goals enough to take the risk.

The troubling thing is the rhetoric and the built-in assumption that profit and loss provide worse information about how to improve the world than vague things like a “commitment to the arts”.  Being committed to a high ideal without really knowing enough to bring it about in the everyday lives or real people (hint: none of us do) is a great way to waste a lot of resources and do a lot of damage while feeling good about yourself.  Being committed to accounting profit and loss is a great way to create value for the world, whether you intended to or not.

*BONUS

I was discussing this with a friend on Voxer, and added this very important point about what prices really are.  They’re not only about incentivising people to do things.  Even in a world where people were able to rise above self-interest, prices would still be crucial for the information they convey.  It’s an incentive wrapped in information.  Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Episode 31: Is It OK to Sell Your Kidney? Your Child? Your Vote? James Stacey Taylor Says Yes

Are there things that shouldn’t be paired with money?

James Stacey Taylor and I discuss controversial philosophical questions concerning adoption, organs, votes and even personal identity. We look at best and worst case scenarios and how allowing markets would compare to the world we have today.

James is a philosopher, author and Associate Professor at the College of New Jersey. You can find out more about him here.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

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