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Archive for April 2012

The $0 Singularity: volunteers in the context of money and effort

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Seth Godin wrote an interesting posting on money – you can read it below and on his site here.

Here’s a few thoughts from experience with compensation plans

Paying people more than they are worth. The idea is twofold. Get rid of the mediocre people keeping only the A and B players. Pay them more than the industry average in the particular location. Overpaying people motivates them to do more work than they would otherwise do. Or, they feel guilty and they increase their performance.  This is marker 5 on the graph above – earn a lot, do a lot.

Underpaid people. The folks who are underpaid generally know that they are underpaid. And the result is that they work less. These folks seem to have some sort of meter – “I will only do so much work, as I determine, that fits my compensation. No ups, no extras”,  Maker 4 on the graph above – earn less, do less.

Coin operated people. No company loyalty. “If someone else pays me more I will leave this company.”

Volunteers – The $0 Singularity

At the $0 singularity you can get minimum effort, maximum effort, or any place along the continuum.  At this singularity all the rules change.

Volunteers are a special class of people. Why would anyone work for no compensation?  At first thought, people think of compensation as money. But compensation can also take a psychological form. At one extreme, someone might volunteer and expend tremendous effort in doing what they consider a higher good. At another extreme, someone may volunteer and then expend little or no effort. The difference is the effort. But what might be the same is the level of psychological compensation these two extreme positions represent. But what are these psychological compensations and how are they different?

Effort (“results’) tells the ultimate motivation

You can use this as a sort of litmus test. How much effort (think “results:) does a volunteer deliver? If this is low then something interesting is happening. Some people volunteer for “status” ( a title or a role) or to “belong to a group” (membership)  that gives them status that they may otherwise not have in their career, home life, or peer group. That the true motivation  is status can be evidenced by, after the status has been achieved, little or no effort is demonstrated on the part of these individuals.  What was to be achieved – status or membership – has been accomplished and secured and there is little else to do.

The challenge of organizations that recruit volunteers is how do you get rid of volunteers when they don’t deliver. Some organizational leaders don’t have the heart to “fire them”. They think… heck, these volunteers are getting no (monetary) compensation so how can we really expect anything from them? But the volunteer is getting compensation – just not the monetary kind. And if you think in terms of alternate types of “compensation” the volunteer is getting paid – perhaps quite a bit in psychological rewards. The problem is that the outcome of this “payment” does not advance the organization. “Payment” is made to the volunteer but little effort or results is delivered to the organization.

So maybe we could add another dimension on the graph of money and effort. Call it “psychological reward”. At one end of that dimensional line mark it “commitment to further the organizational goals”. At the other end of that dimension put “self-interest”. Only then could one better understand the singularity at $0 where volunteer effort is either a maximum or a minimum or anyplace along the way.

Read a related article – What is this… Status Anxiety

From Seth Godin’s Blog

Everyone tells themself a different story about money, but there’s no doubt at all that the story we tell ourselves changes our behavior.

Consider this curve of how people react in situations that cost money.

A musician is standing on a street corner playing real good for free. Most people walk on by (3). That same musician playing at a bar with a $5 cover gets a bit more attention. Put him into a concert hall at $40 and suddenly it’s an event.

Pay someone minimum wage or a low intern stipend (4) and they treat the work like a job. Don’t expect that worker to put in extra effort or conquer her fear–the message is that her effort was bought and paid for and wasn’t worth very much to the boss… and so she reciprocates in kind. The same sort of thing can happen in a class that’s easy to get into and that doesn’t cost much–a Learning Annex sort of thing. Easy to start, cheap to try–not much effort as a result.

It’s interesting to me to see what happens to people who pay a lot or get paid well (2,5). The kids at Harvard Law School, for example, or a third-year associate at a law firm. Here, we see all nighters, heroic, career-risking efforts and all sorts of personal investment. And yet as we extend the curve to situations where the rules of rational money are suspended, something happens–people get fearful again. Don’t look to Oprah or JK Rowling or the Donald to bet it all–the huge amount of money they could earn (or could pay) to play at the next level (1 & 6) isn’t enough to get them out of their comfort zone. Money ceases to be a motivator for everyone at some point.

Most interesting of all is the long black line at zero (3). The curve goes wild here, like dividing by zero. At zero, at the place where no money changes hands, we see volunteer labor and free exchange. In these situations, sometimes we see extraordinary effort, the stuff that wins Nobel prizes. Just about every great, brave or beautiful thing in our culture was created by someone who didn’t do it for money. We see the local volunteer putting in insane hours even though no one is watching. We hear the magical song or read the amazing poem that no one got paid to write. And sometimes, though, we see very little, just a trolling comment or a half-hearted bit of commentary. Remove money from the story and we’re in a whole new category. The most vivid way to think about this is the difference between a mutually-agreed upon romantic date and one in which money changes hands.

All worth thinking about when you consider how much to charge for a gig, what tuition ought to be, what motivates job creators or whether or not a form of art disappears when the business model for that art goes away


  1. The graph above shows effort. Really, no matter if people are compensated ($$) or a volunteer, the focus should not be on effort. The focus should be on measurable results. Competency is the linkage between effort and results. Effort does not matter – outcomes do. Establish mission-aligned measurable outcomes that are to be achieved in a specific time frame and agree on the metrics to measure them and the measurement intervals. If you do this then it will be easy to distinguish effort from outcomes and build a case for determination of competency.
  2. Not setting specific, measurable, time-bound  performance goals linked to mission-aligned strategic initiatives for divisions and departments and holding people accountable is a failure of leadership and management.  It should make no difference if you are the a Fortune 500 company or the Girls Scouts of America – the same should apply.  Even if paid employees or volunteers are delivering results, if the results are not aligned with overall organizational goals then this is less effective than it could be.  This is the typical problem of “organizational silos” and fiefdoms.
  3. One of my favorite quotes from Judge Zagel in the Blagojevich trial: “Zagel: “You did good work. But I’m more concerned when you wanted to do good only when it benefited yourself.”.  Underneath all the good is just self-interest and self-promotion… What’s in it for me?

Written by frrl

April 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The incentive of “free”: Does “free” transcend value?

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A few days ago, someone offered three individuals free tickets to an upcoming flea market (hamfest).  The tickets, with a face value of six or eight dollars, plus the offer of a $300 prize, was turned down by two of the three people.  To the person making the offer, the turn down of the offer of “free” was incredulous.  Why would any rational person turn down “free’?

I meet a lot of unique and interesting individuals.   A few years ago I got a good and unexpected lecture on “free”.  In preparation for the analog to digital conversion of television the government was giving away vouchers to help pay the cost of an analog to digital converter box for those who had analog televisions.  If I remember correctly, the vouchers were worth $40 towards the cost of the converter box which was priced at about $50-$70.  So, with the voucher, the final cost of the analog to digital converter box was about $10-$30.  When my voucher arrived in the mail I used it to purchase a converter box for a family member.  I already had a digital television.

Why take something for free when you can afford to pay?

When I told a particular individual that I used the voucher I got a big lecture.  He told me I could afford to pay the full price for a converter box.  And he asked me why I would use the voucher.   To him, it was like I was taking something that did not belong to me.  It was like using another persons money to subsidize the cost of the converter which I could afford to purchase without the subsidy.  I should also note that this person does not collect social security even though he is eligible.  He says he does not need it and won’ take it.

So you wonder… who takes things for “free” even when they don’t need it?  It seems to me that more and more people are taking things for “free” no matter what it is and no matter who has to pay for it and whether you need it or not.  When does your conscience kick in to think things through and decide that there is no such thing as “free” – that there is always a cost (to someone) or a lost opportunity to someone or some group.  It’s hard to embarrass people these days for taking something for “free” even when they don’t need it.  “Free” mesmerizes some people.

Sometimes “free” backfires and creates exactly the opposite of the intention.  What some marketing people have discovered is that “free” sometimes devalues things (the “freebie devaluation effect”).  If it’s “free” it may not be worth much.  Price signals value to consumers whether as truth or as a misdirection.

So, the incredulous person above still has two of the three tickets still available – for free, and perhaps more tickets.

Two other incredulous people are wondering why “free” is an incentive if you don’t want it in the first place or why “free” is a viable option when you can afford to pay and contribute to the fund-raising of an event.  Is “free” some magical attribute that infuses value into a thing that you would not pay for in the first place?  What’s the value of the thing when you have few takers even when you try to give it away at zero cost?

Read related articles –

The New American Dream
Why is it so hard to embarrass people

Written by frrl

April 26, 2012 at 5:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Caine’s Arcade

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If you have kids or just want to see innovation and entrepreneurship in action you might want to take a look at this short film (10 minutes) about nine year old Caine who lives in east Los Angeles.

These are the things that came to my mind when I first saw this short film

  1. Caine, 9 years old, has tenacity.  How many entrepreneurs give up if they are not immediately successful?  How many people don’t even try a new endeavor or venture?  How many people are out there “waiting” for someone to give them a job?
  2. Caine built the arcade himself.  Imagination, innovation and committment required – for every new venture.
  3. Entrepreneurs help other entrepreneurs.  Why was it only Nirvan that spotted Caine’s talent?  How many people walked past Caine’s arcade without seeing what Nirvan saw?  Some people can spot talent – other’s can’t.  Part of leadership & entrepreneurship is spotting and developing talent no matter where you see it.
  4. Social media.  The amplifying effect of social media.  Nirvan used Facebook to spread the word and generate a flashmob for Caine’s arcade.

The net effect

Raised $176,000 (to date) to help kids like Caine go to college.  98,000 likes on Facebook.  The Goldhirsh Foundation will match dollar for dollar contributions up to $250,000.

Goldhirsh Foundation – “The Goldhirsh Foundation funds that are providing the seed funds to create/incubate the Caine’s Arcade Foundation, which will help find, foster, and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in other innovative kids.

Visit Caine’s arcade on facebook –

Caine’s Arcade website –
Interconnected –

Caine’s Arcade is a story worth telling…  and passing along.  Your turn.

Written by frrl

April 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Stupid Survives Until Smart Succeeds

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Stupid Survives Until Smart Succeeds”

What an interesting concept.  It goes along with this story

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders

Bookselling had never really been about bricks and mortar. It had always been about sharing authors’ ideas in ways that customers were willing to pay to enjoy. Barnes & Noble understood. They were slower than Jeff Bezos at recognizing how the web would shape consumer behaviour, but they still took public within two years of That’s impressive catch-up adaptation.

As a result of still playing the game of adaptability against, they still kept learning from experience and their competition. It’s one of those positions where each rival benefits from moves designed to get ahead of a rival. Together, and with others in the industry, including Sony and Apple, they are growing the market. Together with the other players they are moving further ahead of non-players.

So while were first to develop an e-book reader – the Kindle – were still able to bring out a viable alternative – the Nook – within a couple of years. Borders took another year to even start selling e-books. The service was provided by a third party. And they never did develop an e-book reader of their own. The difference is significant, more than enough to slow or stop any effective adaptation.

Every situation provides information. If you know what the situation is demanding then you can try to adapt but the connection between situation and response can be damaged. The connection can get slower. It can stop working. Or it can send distorted signals. A disconnect between what the situation needs and what is done can become permanent. You can have a chronic mismatch between situation, intention and action.

[ In 2011 Borders, the nation’s second-largest book chain, filed for bankruptcy protection. ]

Many people get the quote from Darwin wrong. It’s not “the survival of the fittest”. The correct quote … “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

The situation changes every day.  As the tagline for the History Channel says, “History. Made every day”.  And they say there is a recession.  How many traditional companies and organizations – merely surviving – will fall victim to Smart seizing the disconnect between situation and response?  The opportunity exists every day; the possibilities are unlimited.  Change is unstoppable.  What are you waiting for?

Written by frrl

April 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Are you (how to be) a good listener

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Having a conversation with another person, or with multiple people in a group setting always has its challenges. 

Those people who are talking, what are they really trying to do?  Do they hijack the conversation changing it to thrier own topic?  Is it a mad tea party with the topic changes every few minutes making people dizzy?  Are people talking just to hear himself/herself talk as self-indulgence?  Do people who are talking advance the conversation?  What about those people who have nothing to say – can a person be devoid of ideas and thoughts?  ( read more – Conversational Challenges)

What about the other side?  What about listening?  A conversation, where topics are advanced in dialog, may be more about listening than about talking.

There was a recent article from McKinsey that attempts to set out the various archetypes of bad listeners.  Along with the article was another article on how executives could be better listeners.

Whether you’re a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company or just someone having a conversation in the backyard with neighbors, knowing these archetypes of bad listeners may give you insight as to why the conversation goes as it does. 

And, more importantly, in a business context, people with poor listening skills are sometime also those people who are  difficult to get along with.  Their conversations are not at all transparent, they are not interested in considering other opinions, and the conversation is not in the service of advancing an understanding of the topic under consideration.

So, digest the profiles below.  Next time you are in a conversation with a difficult person perhaps they are one of the archetypes identified below – or perhaps you have discovered another to be added to the list.  Review your past conversations with people to see if any of them fit the archetypes.

Afer you’ve digested the profile of these “conversation busters” scroll down and read the article on some recommendations on how to cultivate the skill of being a better listener.

From McKinsey

The Opinionator
The Opinionator listens to others primarily to determine whether or not their ideas conform to what he or she already believes to be true. Opinionators may appear to be listening closely, but they aren’t listening with an open mind and instead often use their silences as opportunities to “reload.” While Opinionators may have good intentions, the effect of this listening style is to make conversation partners uncomfortable or even to intimidate them. Opinionators routinely squelch their colleagues’ ideas.

The Grouch
Grouches are poor listeners who are blocked by a feeling of certainty that your idea is wrong. One typical grouch, a top executive I worked with at an industrial company, made no secret of his contempt for other people’s ideas. He approached conversations as a necessary evil and sent the implicit message: “You’re full of it. You’re a fool. Why did you think I’d be interested in this?” Through perseverance, people could get through to him in conversations, painful though that was. However, many of his colleagues simply didn’t have the energy to break down his barriers every time they needed to express an idea to him.

The Preambler
The Preambler’s windy lead-ins and questions are really stealth speeches, often intended to box conversation partners into a corner. Preamblers use questioning to steer the discussion, send warnings, or generate a desired answer. I remember a meeting with one Preambler, the chairman and CEO of a medical complex, who (by my watch) spent 15 minutes posing slanted questions and making rhetorical assertions that all supported a recommendation he wanted to make to his board. Such behavior epitomizes one-way communication

The Perseverator
Perseverators talk a lot without saying anything. If you pay close attention to one of these poor listeners, you’ll find that their comments and questions don’t advance the conversation. As often as not, Perseverators are editing on the fly and fine-tuning their thoughts through reiteration. Perseverators use the thoughts of their conversation partners to support their own prejudices, biases, or ideas. When talking to one, you may feel that the two of you are having completely different

The Answer Man
Everyone wants to solve problems, but Answer Man spouts solutions before there is even a consensus about the challenge—a clear signal that input from conversation partners isn’t needed. Answer Man may appear at first to be an Opinionator. But the latter is motivated by strong feelings of being right, while the former is desperately eager to please and impress. You know you are speaking to Answer Man if your conversation partner can’t stop providing solutions and has ready answers for any flaws you point out, as well as quick rejoinders to all the points you raise

The Pretender
Pretenders feign engagement and even agreement but either aren’t interested in what you’re saying or have already made up their minds. The worst Pretender I ever met was the CEO of a health care company who had all the right moves: he seemed to hang on every word uttered, for example, and frequently won people over with a knowing, empathetic smile. That gave his conversation partners every indication that he was processing their words and agreeing with them. Yet eventually his colleagues would realize that he had not acted on anything they’d said or, worse, didn’t have access to that information when it came time to make decisions or take action.

Find out how to be a better listener

Written by frrl

April 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Proof of Innocence: Physics 101 pays off

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Wow.  Who would know that a little college freshman physics (kinematics) could get you out of paying a $400 ticket?  Caught this one on yahoo news and took a look at the paper the professor submitted to the court.  It was as if I was back in college with my mid-term exam in Physics.  I should get out my Halliday and Resnik and see if I can follow along.  Heck, I checked, and this textbook is still around in its 9’th edition and still used today – nothing like the “gold standard” of textbooks.  Physics, nor is physics education, exactly up to Internet speed.

Check out the story and the paper and enjoy a remembrance of  college physics 101

A physicist at the University of California San Diego used his knowledge of measuring bodies in motion to show in court why he couldn’t be guilty of a ticket for failing to halt at a stop sign. The argument, now a four-page paper delving into the differences between angular and linear motion, supposedly got the physicist out of a $400 ticket. If you want to use this excuse, you’ll have to learn a little math — and some powers of persuasion.

Read the paper –

More fun with Physics on this site

Physics Envy and the Taxonomy of Uncertainty
The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos
The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow – A few comments part 1
Hawking: Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark
Are the Laws of Physics the same everywhere and everywhen?
Clifford Stoll on Everything

Written by frrl

April 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

How Social Media Ruined My High School Reunion

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Some dialog from the movie The Jane Austen Book Club

Okay. Chloe Baher is not my friend, Dean.
Chloe Baher came to my mother’s funeral to gloat. “Ha-ha! Your mother’s dead.”
And you hit on her!
– I do… I do… – You hit on her!

I was not hitting on her.
You know, when I was in the 10th grade,
I wrote an entire paper on Julius Caesar in iambic pentameter.
And Chloe Baher removed it from my locker and she read it aloud to the whole class.

And everyone laughed at me.
Baby, high school’s over.
High school’s never over.

High School

Every three to five years for the past eon I’ve been attending my High School reunion.  Attending a religious private school my graduating class of about 400 has pretty much stayed together.  The High School Alumni Association was instrumental in keeping us in touch with each other and with every graduating class since the school first opened in the first quarter of the 20’th century. 

My particular high school has a long history.  And of course, if you attended a religious high school there is a similar grammar school and college in the unbroken chain of education.  Some who graduate from the teachers college in the system go back to teach in the same high school they attended.  It’s a virtuous circle.

The Alumni Association & Social Media Disruption

But now, anyone who is anybody in my High School graduating class  is using social media.  Social media in general and Facebook in particular.

Always on, always connected, geography irrelevant, and time-shifting social media has made some of the aspects of the Alumni Association obsolete.

Does the Alumni Association need to publish a quarterly paper newsletter and send it out?  No, not really.  We get our updates via Facebook in real-time – all the time.

How about an Alumni Directory?  No,  I can get in touch with anyone, anytime, via Twitter, Skype, Facetime, or even e-mail for the older traditional folks.

What about events where we can meet?  We now do that ourselves on Facebook.

Sans Reunion.  Social Media Disruption

What about the tradition of our every 3-5 year reunion?  We would all look forward to this.  See each other.  Catch up.  What are you doing now?  How about the Prom queen – what does she look like now?  The cheerleaders?  And how about that special someone who you wish you dated?  What about the smart kid – where are they now after about 5 years have passed?  What about the geek?  The loser?  What happened to those kids in the Chess Club?  Was Band Camp in my HS like I saw in that movie way back when?

With Social Media the anticipation of the High School reunion has vanished.

Today, we are all on Facebook reading each others timelines, updates, and looking at photo’s and movies uploaded by our High School peers.  We share music and send each other tracks and recommendations on Spotify.  Some folks follow each other on Twitter.  Nothing like renewing friendships with “the one that got away” with an innocent game of Words with Friends.  The possibilities enabled by the state of social media in 2012 are almost endless.  The traditional  High School Reunion now seems obsolete.

“Baby, High School’s Over”

High School is as much about the socialization process as it is about education.  In high school individuals learn how to form relationship, compete for grades – as well as for social standing, become popular – or not.  At this early age, for many people, a great deal of character is built during these years – including fears and regrets  Those in your peer group in high school most likely left a lasting mark on your character, ambitions, and values you hold today as an adult.

High school’s never over.”

With all the varieties of social media, High School’s never over.  To some, this will become a joy and to others it will become a pain. The former will engage social media in all its ability to connect with people with whom they shared their high school experience perhaps decades ago. 

To the outcasts, the memory of  high school years may remain a painful memory.  To the prom queens and jocks something different.  What about those techie geeks from high school – those who would embrace the newest technology but yet always lacked, or never developed  social skills to be popular?  For them, social media may be something of a conundrum.  The love of technology that brings with it the fear of a  highly social context.  Baby, with social media, high school’s never over.  (read).

Written by frrl

April 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm

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