Negative Consequences – The Source of Our Survival

Did you ever wonder why sticking you hand in a raging fire hurts like hell? Because if it didn’t, we (the human race) would not be here. If humans had ever learned to blunt the pain caused by fire, we would have perished long ago, consumed by fire we did not fear. In that respect, the negative consequence of putting our hand in fire, extreme pain, is actually the source of our survival. The short-term pain actually produces a long-term benefit. Viewed in this way, a certain degree of pain is a good thing. It makes us smarter, stronger and assures our survival. But what does that have to do with our lives today? Everything.

As things turn out, human beings hate pain. We will do almost anything to avoid it—it makes sense. We hate experiencing pain so much, we may even go out of our way to make sure other people avoid it. The problem of course is that when you enable someone to avoid pain you are unwittingly stealing from them the opportunity to get smarter and stronger. When our government enables you to collect 99 weeks of unemployment, their intention is to help you avoid the pain (of being unemployed). What they are unintentionally (or unknowingly) doing is stealing from you the chance to become self reliant.

When you make a mistake, it should hurt. When you are let go from your job because you have not kept your skills up to date, it should hurt. These short-term pains lead to many, invaluable long-term gains. They make you smarter, stronger and assure your survival. When we shy away from the pain, or some other party enables us to shy away from it, we actually endanger ourselves, like blunting the pain from the fire. Yes, you will not feel the pain of the fire if I numb your hand, but because of that, you will ultimately be consumed by it.

It is not just individuals that can blunt the pain—businesses do it too. When a business makes a bad decision that jeopardizes the business, it should hurt. When AIG made those terrible business decisions and it was deemed “too big to fail” by our government, they were blunting the pain of the fire. We avoided short-term pain, but at what price? We did not become stronger or smarter, and because of that we shall almost certainly go thought it again.

Every action has consequences. Do something good and something good usually happens as a result. Eat healthy and exercise, eventually your weight and cholesterol go down. Attend college and get a marketable degree, and you are more likely to find yourself employed. Conversely, do something stupid and sooner or later, some negative consequences are bound to occur. The problem is not the negative consequences themselves, for they can serve to strengthen us. The problem occurs when we, by our own  doing or through some external source, attempt to blunt the pain to avoid the short-term consequences.

The moral of the story is that as unpleasant as short term pain maybe in your life, it is necessary if you ever expect to become self-reliant. Do not shun from it. Embrace it and let it drive you.


Nothing Happens Until This Happens

For the longest time I never fully appreciated the role of sales in business. When I was a young engineer, I showed up, did my engineering thing and come Friday, money showed up in my checking account. I never spent much time thinking about the fact that for me to be able to have that job, somebody had to sell something. Money had to exchange hands.

It was not until I actually got a job in sales that I had a chance to see up close the cause and effect that sales has on everything in a business. You want better benefits?  Make sales. You want a raise? Make sales. You want to develop the next generation of cool products? Make sales. You want job security? Make sales.

Whether you are in the sales chain or not, you need to have a strong appreciation for the miracle of sales. Yes, it is a miracle. Jobs get created, taxes get paid, products get manufactured, companies go public, fortunes get made and redistributed. And none of that happens without a sale. Engineers—can’t afford them. Accountants—don’t need them. CEO—huh?

People are constantly worrying about job security. Do you want to have job security for eternity? Be an effective salesperson. You will never be without work and you will always make a good income. From an accounting perspective, sales people are the only employees who are not an expense. (Technically they are “Cost of Sales.”)

Are you an entrepreneur? Until you make a sale you are a hobbyist. If you want to start a business (or keep one going) you need to become obsessed with sales. And if you are employed at a company, even if you are not a sales person, you ought to become “sales aware.” You should be able to explain your company’s value proposition to a stranger and you should know what a customers looks like. That way, if you ever sit next to one on an airplane or run into one at a social event, you can tell them about your company and maybe even facilitate a meeting with your sales department. I am always surprised by people who live in fear of losing their jobs, but do not know what their company sells or what a customer looks like. Today, everyone needs to be in sales.

I guess that is what I find so frustrating with a bloated government: too many government agencies filled with too many government employees. Most are good people trying to do a good job, but deep down they do not understand the preciousness of sales. They do not have to convince a customer to part with their money and they do not have to better their competition in the marketplace. Their paycheck shows up without anyone ever having to make a sale. Their pay magically shows up every Friday just as mine did many years ago before I learned the truth about sales in the private sector: nothing happens until that happens.

I Wish the Resume Would Die

I have probably had about thirteen different jobs in my adult life, and they have run the gamut. I was self employed, formed a two-man partnership, worked at a three-person startup, a few mid-size companies and one or two of the Fortune 500. In thinking back, it occurred to me that I never got a single job as a result of submitting a resume and waiting for someone to call me back and schedule an interview. Some jobs I got did not require a resume, but the ones I did get that required one, the resume was always presented at the time of the interview, like at a job fair. I had a chance to downplay (overcome?) my resume with a good interview.

I am an above-average communicator and I would like to think a pretty good interviewer, but I absolutely suck at writing my own resume. I am genetically deficient in whatever chromosome is required to catalog and quantify my own accomplishments. One of the reasons I struggle is that almost everything significant that I have ever accomplished working for someone else I accomplished as a member of a team.

Resume experts will point out that you have to frame your accomplishments in terms of the bottom line: how much did you make the company or how much did you save the company. Hey, I am an engineer. I don’t save money or make money, I spend it. I work with a team of engineers, we test stuff and hopefully it works. Not much to put on a resume.

The system we have in place today, submit your resume in response to a detailed list of job requirements, does not work. And the main reason it doesn’t work is that most employers do not know how to specify a job’s requirements. I remember one time seeing a job opening for a program manager. The job required a minimum of 18 years of program management experience. Do you know what they call a program manager with 18 years of experience? Retired. Eighteen years? Are you kidding me? If I needed brain surgery and the brain surgeon told me she had only been performing brain surgery successfully for five years I would let her operate. Who came up with eighteen years? Did they do a study and discover that program managers with seventeen years of experience generally didn’t cut it? If you have been doing your job for 18 years you are more likely in need of a career change than a job change.

The only thing the requirements-resume duopoly of insanity has done is to foster a cadre of people who have learned how to job the system by seeding their resumes with key words. Keywords meant to mimic the requirements that target the obvious, but not the valuable. I cannot help but think the day Bill Gates started Microsoft he probably could not have gotten a job at IBM—didn’t meet the requirements (probably 18 years of programming).

Sometimes the prefect employee comes with an imperfect resume. How many of us would get an interview for our current job if we had to submit our resume? It seems to me there are much better ways to find employees.

Why does any employer hire anyone? To solve a problem. You are not an employee, you are a problem solver. If an employer wants to find their next great employee they should not post the job’s requirements, they should post a problem. Or a test. Or solicit some creative work. See who responds.

It takes nothing to fire off a resume, but it takes some initiative to do a homework assignment. Requiring a challenging submittal would eliminate all but the most enthusiastic candidates. And it would do something else.

I do not know how many job openings there are on right now. Let’s say there are two million. Do you know how many of those job openings list as requirements “good communication skills?” Two million! Everyone wants an employee who can communicate. Can you learn that from a resume? Probably not. But you can learn it by requiring it as part of the submittal.

And if the employer finds a candidate who responds to their posted problem with enthusiasm, good communication skills and a creative solution, does it matter any longer what is on their resume? Of course not.

I think it is time to put the resume out of our collective misery and start using the new technology available to us to find better and more efficient ways to match employers and employees. What do you think?