Friday, September 30, 2011

What Is Trust?

Over the weekend, I read a book that, in part, deals with the question: What is trust? And as I read the book, I was reminded of an article I read months ago about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

Chelsea had her wedding at the historic Astor Courts in Rhinebeck, NY. The article I read revealed that Chelsea used the house across the street from Astor Courts as a staging area. The newsperson that penned the article wrote, “There’s an awful lot of trust amongst the Clintons that the neighbors won’t talk about the wedding.”

That struck me. The Clinton’s went to a stranger for a favor and TRUSTED that they would be discreet. What kind of people would ever trust a complete stranger? The Clintons, that’s who.

The book I’m reading (The Rational Optimist:How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley) talks about the fact that for human beings to excel and surpass other animals, we had to learn to trust.

I don’t want to get into a debate about evolution here, so let’s ignore apes entirely and say that we evolved from cavemen to the superior species we are today. We had to learn how to trust. The group of us who became what we are today actually started to trade, which is something that other animals do not do. Maybe these evolved cavemen would trade a banana for a stool. To make this trade, they had to trust their fellow caveman.

This concept of trust sets us apart.  

Now, or course, when you trade, you don’t always get something of equal value. But what it does require is an exchange where both parties are receiving something that is of more value than what they are giving. Let’s say, for instance, that you have blisters on your feet that hurt so bad you’d give anything for a stool. Let’s also say that I haven’t had a meal in days and am a skeleton of a man, so I’d give anything for a banana. I have a stool; you have a banana. It’s a win-win because we both want what the other has more than what we have.

So what is trust?

Trust is the belief that another person’s word is good. It’s the belief that I will, indeed, give you my stool when you hand over your banana. It’s the believe that when you give me your banana, I won’t turn around and say, “Hah! Sucker. Now I have your banana. Whatcha gonna do about it?”

Remember the movie Wall Street? Michael Douglas plays a famous character in cinematic history named Gordon Gecko. Gecko is right up there with Travis Bickle, Batman, and, of course, Ms. Piggy. Gecko is famous for giving some advice to college students: “Greed is good.”

But Gecko misses an important point. He assumes that there are winners and there are losers. He goes by the theory of zero-sum game. You are winning of others lose. You are losing if others win.

But that’s not what happens in real life. There are some zero-sum games, sure, but the reality of human society is that greed is good, but it’s never a zero sum game. We are giving something and we are getting something.

This relates to all of us. When we provide a service for a client, we are giving value. It may not even be material value. It might even be a feeling that we give people. (I usually give people the feeling of happiness … or the willies).

Maybe we fix their car or file their tax returns and, in exchange, we get paid and—if we do a good job—perhaps a kind word.

If you treat your clients like they are in a zero-sum game with you, you will eventually go out of business. But if you both trust each other, and if you work hard to make sure you earn trust by providing something your client truly values, your clients will always turn to you to provide value.

Today’s challenge: Consider the answer to the question: What is trust? Be impeccable with your word in your dealings with everyone today.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Heart Jury Duty (and NY, Which Is Irrelevant)

I'm the guy in the front row, 3rd from the left.
You know what I look forward to (other than going to work each day as a tax consultant)? I bet you guessed jury duty, didn’t you?

I’m a pretty exciting guy, huh? Jury-duty-loving tax consultant.

Jury duty is great. You get a lunch break. You get paid. $15! A day!

Also, it’s probably the one and only time where openly judging someone is completely socially acceptable.

Okay, so you are probably thinking I’m being a smart aleck. To be fair, in most cases, you would be right. It’s virtually impossible for me to refrain from making witty remarks. (In the interest of full disclosure, my wife would use the word “irritating” instead of “witty.” It’s just semantics though.)

But in all actuality, I love jury duty, and not just because it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being Matlock.

And herein lies my problem: Attorneys never pick tax consultants as jurors. Accountants listen to well. (Also something my wife would dispute.*)

Though I have been called to jury duty many, many times, I have only served on a jury twice. And both times, I have learned a ton.

The first jury trial I had the pleasure of participating in was a civil trial between General Motors and MTA. I felt like a badass. I was referee watching two titans duke it out. This was Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield. Rumble in the courtroom jungle.

The jury had no sympathy for either company. There were two expert witnesses—one representing each side of the case.

The first expert—the fellow representing the MTA—wore a bright, plaid sport coat and a not-so-terrific tie. It was way too wide. (If you only take away one thing from today’s blog, let it be this advice: Always remember to wear thin ties and never wear plaid when testifying!) The expert was also a little argumentative and defensive, particularly when cross-examined.

He might or might not have known his stuff. I couldn’t tell because I was too busy being annoyed by his abrasive attitude. (And the stains on his tie – did he have soup for lunch?)

Then General Motors sent its expert to the stand. GM’s expert was wearing a smart, respectable, solid suit, not to mention a thin tie. He looked at the jury when he answered questions. He may or may not have known his stuff, but I was convinced that he did. He was in control. He was calm, and he didn’t try to fight with the attorney who was cross-examining him.

From this I learned how to be the better expert witness in everyday life. How you approach testimony in court is how you need to approach everyday life. Be more like the GM expert witness and less like Mr. Wide Tie.

(This blog is not affiliated with the MTA or General Motors.)

(I like both products.)

(Kudos to cars and buses.)

Being a good listener starts with small things – like listening to the waiter explain why your egg sandwich is taking so long. And the same holds true in dealing with clients, employers, and employees in business. When talking to an upset client, employer, or employee, remind yourself not to feel attacked. If you listen for the attack, you won’t hear the question, and you will respond defensively.

If you listen to the question, and then you think about what information the other person needs to better understand your position, and then calmly deliver that information, then you will respond more directly, and you will sound more competent.

Your client, your boss, your employee will think you are smart, even if you aren’t. Here’s something I know to be true: People will believe you are smarter if you want to help them and demonstrate that you can help them, even if you are not. By the way I am definitely not smart. You might think I’m smart because I’m a tax consultant, but think again. (I like jury duty for God’s sake.) But people keep turning to me for help, trusting my wisdom. It’s because I’m a good listener. It’s because I want to help them.

Today’s challenge: If you start feeling defensive, take a deep breath and remember to listen for the question. Respond calmly, with the intention of helping the other person understand your position. Answer to the best of your ability, and ask questions when you aren’t clear.

*Teasing my wife in my blog is one of the ways I flirt with her. I know that makes my romantic skills slightly questionable, but for the record, my wife is pretty darn amazing and she never nags. Well, hardly ever. At least not today. It’s 6 a.m., and she’s still sleeping.   

Related Posts:
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What is Trust?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Is an Entrepreneur?

I have a question for you: What is an entrepreneur? 

And don’t worry … this isn’t a pop quiz. One of these days, I’ll spring a pop quiz on you, but today’s not the day. Always be prepared, though.

Let’s get back to my question …

What is an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneur: man, I love that word. (Cue the chorus of hallelujahs.) It’s so majestic. It just rolls of the tongue: entrepreneur. Please take a second to say that word out loud. Awesome, right?

Anyway, the classic definition of an entrepreneur is someone who starts his own business. And last weekend, I learned that a French economist named Jean-Baptiste Say first coined the phrase “entrepreneur.” Jean-Baptiste (we’re on a first names basis) lived from 1767 to 1832 and lived thru the French Revolution.

So what is an entrepreneur according to Jean-Baptiste? He says it’s someone who takes resources from a lower level to a higher level of productivity.

That’s different from someone who starts a business, isn’t it? I haven’t lived thru the French Revolution, and I don’t have a hyphenated first name, but I’m quite positive that Jean-Baptiste’s original definition is not the same as the classic definition. It’s not the same thing.

Your mind is probably spinning at this point. Questions must be going off like wildfire in your head. Is this true? Has the definition of entrepreneur really changed over time? If this is true, what else is true? Is the world really flat? Does Santa Clause exist?

Calm down. We can get through this together.

Now I’ve always thought of myself as an entrepreneur in the classic sense, but now that I know about Jean-Baptiste, it occurs to me that everyone out there could be an entrepreneur. You don’t have to start your own business. Everyone out there has resources, and everyone out there has the license to bring those resources to a higher level of productivity.

I think that deserves a full on “HALLELUJAH!”

Now, this might scare some people because if you are an entrepreneur, you have a degree of responsibility for using the resources at your disposal wisely. And truth be told, elevating resources to a higher level is a great responsibility. Some people would rather keep their head down and just punch in and out without trying for anything more.

But today, I challenge you to imagine what the world would be like if we were all entrepreneurs working at the highest level of productivity. I just got chills. I’m writing this outside in the snow so that could be the reason for the chills, but still … it would be an amazing thing and we would reach new levels that this world hasn’t seen.

So think about what goes on during your day. And when something is bugging you, ask “What is an entrepreneur, and what would he or she do?” And then start talking about the problem or solution. Talk with your supervisor, tell your friend, tell your significant other. Shine a light on it and start looking for solutions. That’s the only way to make it better, to be more productive. The very thought process of you looking for these opportunities will make you perform better. Got it, people? I mean … entrepreneurs.

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The Price is Right