Posts tagged ‘motivation’

June 23, 2016

#113) You can’t give it away: #3 (The heartless bastard who wouldn’t let Amazon make a charitable donation for him)

“Would you like to make a donation to your favorite charity (at no cost to you?)” Amazon wanted to know. It turned out that some of the products in my cart were eligible for “AmazonSmile”, the online retailer’s charitable contributions program. Win-win, right? I mean, what kind of heartless bastard wouldn’t want to donate at no cost to themselves?

This guy. (Did I mention? I am the titular heartless bastard.)

In this edition of “You Can’t Give It Away” we will look at my motivation (or lack thereof) in not making a mouse click in the name of philanthropy. If making someone’s donation for them doesn’t do the trick, how are nonprofits supposed to raise a buck?

Whether it’s buying a product, ordering a service or even making a donation, “free” isn’t always the goal. Donors may have any number of motivations, be it emotional satisfaction, belief in the cause or Jewish guilt. According to this article on Philanthropy News Digest, “[P]ersonal connections — not trending topics, gimmicks, or social media engagement itself — are the key driver of charitable giving.” A prompt for a mouse click does not a personal connection make. Indeed, blogger John Kenyon articulates a skepticism many feel about donating through a corporation: “Unfortunately, for years I have seen nonprofits waste time, energy and hope on similar online charity malls…My issues with them – and with AmazonSmile – are…that they only benefit nonprofits with a large supporter base and they usually have a negative overall ROI for organizations that participate.”

Ease of donation can also mean a less rewarding experience for the donor–and makes it less likely that the donor will contribute more in the future. As this article about Amazon Smile notes, “Without a cost there is no actual exchange with the charity. Yet the charitable reward exists. So the question is if you’ve already received a reward, at no cost to you, are you more or less likely to give to a charity when the time comes?”

Let’s face it: when every other social media post in your feed is a Kickstarter or a Go Fund Me and  Rite-Aid asks you if you want to round up your change for charity,  you don’t have to be a heartless bastard to feel saturated by solicitations. Yes, we want to give but sometimes we just want to buy crap online and be done with it. When I am in that mood, vaguely altruistic ideas and omnipotent click buttons just don’t do the job the way a well thought-out invitation and the creation of a personal connection to the story can.

Well, that wraps up this edition of You Can’t Give It Away. I realize this post begs the question, “How can I find time to work on my blog but I can’t be bothered to click a button for the benefit of mankind?”

Told you I was a heartless bastard.

November 29, 2015

#100) Quitting my day job

Artist-difficulty

For musicians and other creative types such as myself, the million dollar question is: when do you quit your day job?

In my case, it was ten years ago, a few months after I turned 30. (A while back I promised an over-wrought, existential rant to mark my 40th birthday. Guess what 30 plus 10 is? Besides, for post #100, go big or go home, right?)

By the end of 2005, my wife had just gotten a promotion. One of my bands scored a weekly gig and the others were working regularly too. My roster of private students was as big as it had ever been. We had saved some money. If there was ever a time to quit substitute teaching in the Long Beach public schools, it would be now. What did I have to lose?

Within two years, I had the answer: my marriage and my love of music. As both started to falter and then vanish, I would often find myself wondering if I should have just kept the day job.

Almost a decade later, now with a terrific marriage, a house, two great dogs, a good social life, a few bands that are doing pretty well and a newly discovered love of hiking and the outdoors that I’ve parlayed into a successful website and digital photo library, it’s easy for me to wave the “I regret nothing” banner. But what if things had not turned around in the way that they did? I believe that even if my life was worse now than it was ten years ago, quitting substitute teaching–my day job–was the right call.

While the stress of my music career certainly didn’t help my marriage, had I continued to substitute teach, or become a classroom K-12 teacher as I had once planned, we would have just swapped out one set of problems for a new one. A teacher for whom I once subbed had written herself a note on her desk: “Don’t take it personally; don’t take it home.” I likely would have done both. If I’d bypassed teaching altogether–perhaps if I’d actually done my homework and made an effort in school instead of messing around with music and had pursued a degree in law or medicine–I might have landed a better-paying job, but while financial stress played a role in my divorce, no amount of money in the world could have changed the fact that I simply picked the wrong person to marry. She was what I had spent my whole life not having and when I met her, all bets were off. It took several years to realize that while we might have had fun dating, we weren’t built for a lasting relationship, but try telling a male 25-year old to look at the long term picture. Just try, I dare you.

Would I have continued to enjoy music if I hadn’t spent hours teaching unmotivated students or grinding out the same grunge rock and country songs in bars? I’ll never know for sure, but while I didn’t have a choice in how my first marriage ended, I’m grateful that I have a choice with music and I’ve chosen to keep playing it.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the 10 years since my last day as a substitute teacher is that the results of a decision don’t necessarily dictate the soundness of the decision. We’ve all made mistakes that have been absent of consequences; we’ve all made honest, well-informed decisions that simply didn’t work out. When I gave up the lukewarmness of substitute teaching, I knew that I might get really hot or ice cold. Sometimes during the cold periods I would miss the lukewarm, but getting back there would have gotten boring pretty quickly.

I leave you with the words of GoPro founder Nick Woodman: “When I have a difficult decision to make, I imagine myself as a 90-year-old guy looking back on his life. I imagine what I’ll think about myself at that point in time, and it always makes it really easy to go for it. You’re only going to regret that you wimped out.”

 

 

February 13, 2014

#71) How do you know?

How do you know?

I mean, seriously, how the fuck do you know?

This simple, timeless question was recently brought home to me by a TV commercial.  Like any good commercial, it failed to actually instill the name of the product in my head, but its message resonated with me nevertheless.  An adult is shown some fancy new product he’s supposed to buy and hesitates.  During his hesitation we see him flash black to junior high, when he dumps a tubby blonde girl: “Sorry, Brooklyn, it’s just not working out.”  In another flashback, now at college age, he declines investing in his friend’s startup: “What can you do with just 140 characters?” Which brings us to the present; the implication being that he doesn’t want to pass on yet another thing that will end up being huge.

Apart from its amusing storyline, the commercial has hit home for me on a personal level.  Since starting my hiking blog, www.nobodyhikesinla.com, I have been fortunate to keep the company of dozens of blogging experts.  Counsel that has been given to me about how to successfully monetize the blog includes T-shirts and other swag; creating a mobile phone application; eBooks about the hikes, branching out to other cities (coming soon: http://www.nobodyhikesinwichita.com).

With demeanor ranging from polite to borderline hostile, depending on the intensity of my expert’s pitch to me, I have invariably rejected most of these ideas, not because I want to be difficult, stubborn or ungrateful, but just because in most cases, I don’t feel that the potential for revenue justifies the effort and expense of, say, hiring an app developer or handling (gulp!) physical inventory, that bane of the existence of anyone who has ever tried to develop an online revenue stream.  My hesitation to endorse these ideas is based on information I’ve gathered about my site traffic, link clicks, etc (I have been known to spend hours a few minutes here and there perusing statistics related to my blogs).  While the revenue the site has earned – mainly through advertising; also through affiliation sales, the Nobody Hikes in LA Guidebook and donations – is a little bit short of Fortune 500 status, by breaking the three-digit income threshold, NHLA stands apart from at least 81% of the blogs out there, according to Infographic.

That being said, a part of me has to ask: what if I am wrong?  Are eBooks based on hike writeups the wave of the future?  By passing on these opportunities, will I become the next Nolan Bushnell?  (In the mid ’70s, after founding Atari, Busnhell had an opportunity to invest in a startup created by one of his employees: a certain Steven Paul Jobs.)

History abounds, of course, with stories like this: numerous record producers rejecting the Beatles; board game makers  passing on Monopoly; the Portland Trailblazers drafting Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan.  Hell, there’s even one from my own family: in the mid 1960s in New York, my dad and uncle Joe were involved with the city’s thriving folk music scene.  One of the misfits hanging around the fringes was a scruffy kid from Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman, whose presence was a nuisance to everyone, be they veteran musicians who didn’t want him fucking up the songs or young women whom he was trying to bed.  One of the latter category was waiting for my uncle Joe to meet her at a cafe and when he showed up, she was laughing.  “This homeless looking kid tried to hit on me,” she said.  “When I brushed him off, he said, ‘But I’m Bob Dylan!’  I said, ‘Well, I’m here waiting for Joe Lockeretz.'”

To bring it back to my original question, strictly speaking, no, you DON’T know.  You can, however, make sound decisions based on odds and information.  I consider the fear of passing on a great opportunity to be the converse of fears such as being struck by lightning, being attacked by a shark or being in a plane crash.  Just as plane crashes make the news because of how rare they are, stories such as the Beatles’ early rejections make history because of their infrequency.  Yes, it’s inspirational to hear these kinds of tales and their positive messages shouldn’t just be dismissed.  It should just be noted, however, that these events are the exception and should have limited influence on your decisions, investment and otherwise.  And if you do end up on the wrong side of history?  At least you’ll have some good stories for the grandkids.

January 28, 2014

#70) You can’t give it away: #1 & #2

Good afternoon readers and welcome to another new sub-series of D-Theory posts.  In this series I will write about free things I’ve been offered but have turned down.  The world is changing and sometimes free ain’t good enough.  In this series of posts I will explore why.

The rule for these posts is that the declined free offer has to be made aware to me by permission marketing; the provider of the free products described here will in fact have reason to believe I might be interested in it.  In other words, you’re not going to find any free vacations for listening to a time-share sales presentation.  Offers described in this series will truly be no-strings-attached; yet I have still declined.

I don’t wish to make these posts a negative reading experience; rather my goal is to enlighten.  As a vendor, it’s easy to assume that “free” is some kind of magic word that will automatically get you the results you want; this is a mistake I’ve made many times when I’ve been on that side of the equation.  I hope that by sharing my own experiences I can help readers understand the consumer’s perspective.  If you, the reader, has either declined a free offer similar to one that I describe or perhaps have made a similar offer to your customer base but have had disappointing results, feel free to share your stories.  Without further ado:

#1) Mark Knopfler, “Privateering”

Last October my wife and I saw Mark Knopfler, former guitarist and lead singer of Dire Straits, in concert.  After purchasing the tickets I was given a link to download Knopfler’s latest solo record, “Privateering.”  I have not yet done so.

As a musician, I understand Knopfler’s desire to keep creating and growing as an artist.  I also can guess that, just as I get tried of playing the same songs over and over again, Knopfler probably isn’t in a hurry to bust out “Sultans of Swing”, “Walk of Life” and “Money for Nothing.”  Here’s the problem: I think I speak for the majority of his audience when I say that I’m not paying for “Privateering”; I’m paying for “Sultans of Swing”, “Walk of Life” and “Money for Nothing.”  I did not hear any of those songs.

The concert was still an enjoyable experience; the musicianship was top notch and the songs were good.  Some of them were on “Privateering”, but I can’t remember which.  My non-downloading of “Privateering” is not intended as a slight on Knopfler or as a revenge ploy for his set list.  It’s simply a reflection of the fact that, while Knopfler might have put just as much effort into “Privateering” as he did into his earlier music, it’s the latter which is in higher demand by myself–and I’m guessing, the majority of his fan base.  Making something free doesn’t automatically give it urgency.

#2) $10 Sam Ash gift card

Sam Ash, the nationwide music store chain, has been providing customers with a $10 gift card for an in-store purchase of $50 or more.  No-brainer, right? Here’s the problem: The gift cards are mailed to you, come with an expiration date and they can only be used in the store.  The motivation behind the gift card is obvious: Sam Ash wants you to come back to the store and buy more stuff.  All well and good but when I have to spend $5 in gas (not to mention an hour in transportation time) to redeem my $10 card, I’ll just order stuff online without the discount.  Removing the expiration date might help; if I am going to be near both a Sam Ash and a Guitar Center and need to pick up strings or another accessory, if I have the Sam Ash gift card and know that I can use it regardless of the date, my decision will be easy.  The lesson here is that “brick and mortar” businesses have to be able to counter the convenience and effectiveness of online shopping and that a $10 gift card probably won’t do much to tip the balance.

April 2, 2012

#39) Learning from idiots, part 4: AWC never says die

How long would you keep emailing a prospect who had expressed interest in your services?

In the case of AWC, it’s three years and counting.  When I was starting www.findmymusicteacher.com, I looked at a variety of possible web designers and programmers.  Although I went with a different bidder, AWC continued – and continues – to follow up with me by email, on an average twice per week.  As somebody who has a habit of giving up when I don’t seem to be making much progress, I can’t help but have a certain weird admiration for that kind of persistence.  No, they haven’t gotten my business; I haven’t even gotten around to writing back to them and telling them that their service is not required.  (Yes, I know that begs the question why do I have time to write a blog about it?)  I also realize that the emails I get from them are undoubtedly automated; not the work of an impassioned copywriter who will stop at nothing to win new clients.  But the lesson is the same: enough persistence will get you noticed, one way or another.

A friend of mine told me that his dad always said, if you hang around outside a night club long enough and ask every girl who comes out if they’ll sleep with you, eventually one will say yes.  You’ll probably get smacked in the face a couple of times, and perhaps have to deal with an irate boyfriend or two, but ultimately, stubbornness will carry the day for you.   Whether you’re trying to get paid or get laid, sometimes you just can’t take no for an answer.

So will I use AWC next time I need a site built?  Possibly.  How long will I continue to let myself receive their emails?  I don’t know.  How long will they keep sending them?  Can’t help you on that one either.  But even though they never provided the service about which I had originally contacted them, in their own unique way, AWC has inspired me.

January 16, 2012

#36) Putting the Pro in Procrastination

Everyone knows what the worst thing about procrastination is*, but could it be that this time-honored tradition actually has its benefits?  Lately I’ve been finding that it just might.

“Being busy is a form of mental laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” –Tim Ferriss

When I first heard this idea, I wasn’t ready for it.  But looking back on that time of my life I now see I was keeping busy with small details that really didn’t matter, while missing the big picture.   I was focusing on procedures, not results; not unlike the characters of the film “Office Space.”  Procrastination can actually be a way of helping oneself distinguish between what’s really important and what just feels important.  It’s not that one should try to avoid activities that seem like chores; it’s that realizing that you see something as a chore is a signal to take a closer look at just how important it is.  Busy and productive aren’t always the same.

“If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.”  –Attributed to Michael Taylor

Former baseball player Dick Allen once said that he liked to swing wildly at the first two pitches, just to see what he could do with one strike.  Some people are at their best when their backs are to the wall.  When people are asked what they would do if they only had one day left to live, they never say that they would spend it at the office dealing with paper work.  Procrastination might put you in a tight spot – but at the same time, it could bring out the best in you.  Urgency is tough to manufacture or force: are you really going to tell me that you have the same level of intensity and focus on the first day of the semester as you do during finals week?  Or that a team that has been eliminated from the playoffs has the same competitive drive as a team about to play the seventh game of the World Series?

“We plan ahead, that way we don’t do anything right now.”  –Val (Kevin Bacon), “Tremors”

Some people live by the rule, “never put off until tomorrow what can be done today”, but you could just as easily say, never force yourself to do today what can be done tomorrow.   Sometimes it’s better to wait; just ask those who practice the Tantra.  I remember forcing myself not to read too much of Bill Bryson’s “A Walk In The Woods” at a time because I wanted to enjoy it.  I used to have a rule that I could never listen to the same song more than twice in a day so I wouldn’t burn out on it.  People eating their food too quickly and not enjoying it has been cited as one of the reasons for the obesity epidemic.

So there you have it: procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Sure, there are times when it’s best to avoid it, but everything has two sides, and paradoxically, there are times when procrastination can actually make you more productive.

*I’ll tell you tomorrow.

October 29, 2011

#29) Top five lessons from “Moneyball”

This will be the last baseball post for a while, I promise.

It’s been said that one doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy “Moneyball.”  As a baseball fan, I wouldn’t be the one to ask, but I would guess that one would have to be a baseball fan to really enjoy the book.  There were some parts that were a little hard to follow, even as a baseball fan, and it’s my guess that the non-fan would be lost or bored by them.

That said, with “Moneyball”, the movie vs. book debate is apples and oranges: the film, thoroughly enjoyable, has wide appeal, whereas the book is already a classic among hardcore baseball geeks.

The book has several valuable lessons that transcend the sport, so for those who don’t feel like reading “Moneyball” but might be interested in some of its take-aways, I present my five favorites.

1) When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  This may be the oldest cliche out there, but the story of Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics general manager, puts a new twist on it.  Beane himself was a highly touted baseball prospect in the early 1980s, whose career was a disappointment.  However, he became his own cautionary tale.  The scouts who saw him and built him up were impressed by his appearance, and Beane used the lesson of his own story to judge players by their actual statistics and records, not just what is apparent.

2) Use what you have, not what you need.  Billy Beane’s 2002 Oakland A’s won the same number of games as the Yankees, a team with a payroll four times higher.  Beane knew early on that it wouldn’t pay to fixate on the gap between the two teams’ budgets; he had to find a different way of looking at the numbers.  He reinvented how to read baseball statistics and found value in players who were under-appreciated by the market; he also saw how to replace the higher-priced stars whom he couldn’t afford to keep.

3) Know what you want.  Once Beane realized the type of players he wanted, he would put their names up on a board and figure out exactly what he needed to do to get them, bluffing, cajoling and negotiating his way to his goal.

4) Know how to be “wrong.”  Baseball people, be they fans, writers or those inside the game, are notorious for being stuck in their ways.  Beane didn’t change his course when his strategies were lambasted by the media.

5) Know how to be right.  As word spread of Beane’s effectiveness in finding undervalued players, others in the baseball world refused to do business with him, knowing that by definition, they were probably getting the short end of the stick.  Like a pool hustler, Beane had to convince his marks that the deal was actually in their interest.

The story of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics is certainly entertaining, educational and inspirational.  Even non-baseball fans can learn a thing or two from his persistence, innovation and creativity.

September 2, 2011

#23) Kyle 18

Yesterday I was listening to Jim Rome’s radio show, and he announced that “Kyle 18” was going to be the next guest.  I figured this might be some stage handle for a wrestler, but as Rome explained, it actually refers to the fact that it was the 18th show in a row on which a guest was named Kyle.  That, in and of itself, is an example of Rome’s offbeat appeal: as he explained, the streak started out organically, by chance if you will, but before long, they realized they had something going and made a point of getting a guest named Kyle as many times in a row as they could.  (Kyle 19 will be New York Jets running back Kyle Wilson.)

But back to Kyle 18.  Kyle Spicka, a semi-pro paintballer, is quite an interesting story.  As he explained on Jim Rome’s show, his journey to paintball stardom was not an easy one.  He grew up as an only child with a single mother, and he worked extra jobs during high school to pay for his paintball expenses, which he estimated at five hundred dollars per month.  He was also unusually short in high school and was prescribed human growth hormones.  Even as a professional paintball athlete, he still has to supplement his income with a job at Nordstroms(!).

It’s interesting to consider his dedication and willingness to sacrifice.  In sports, as in other areas, athletes with the most natural talent, who grow up in an ideal environment, sometimes lose out to those with more pure dedication.   Kyle “18” Spicka certainly had reasons to quit, but he didn’t.   It’s a theme that I see a lot in my work as a music instructor, in hiking, in creating a Web business and more: if you don’t want to do something, you’ll find a way not to, but if you do, things that may seem like obstacles to the outside observer won’t stop you.