Thursday, October 30, 2014

Education and Employment

Did you ever go to make easy dinner for two, only to find that, three hours later, you’ve dirtied every single pot, pan and utensil in the kitchen, there’s a splotch of sauce on the ceiling, and supper isn’t ready yet?

This blog post came out that way.

Revisiting a letter I received from my friend JQ recently, a friend commented that she had gone back to school.  She was nearing graduation, and was receiving her bachelor’s degree.  She didn’t try to make an explicit connection between education and employment, but some implication was made…that compared with her pre-graduation status, she should be more eligible for quality employment after she graduates.

I meant to write a simple but thought-provoking rumination on the link, if there exists one, between education and employment.  And all of a sudden, things got hella murky like the ingredient list on a pack of store brand hot dogs.  What was formerly one tidy question: “is there a relationship between education and quality employment” promptly spawned no fewer than 5 questions:

  1. Is there a difference between a vocational degree and a liberal arts degree?
  2. Is there any connection between an arts degree and employment?
  3. SHOULD there be any connection between an arts degree and employment?
  4. If the answer to Q3 is NO, what is the point of an arts degree?
  5. How does ANY of this relate to small business?

Well, I’m glad we straightened that all out.

Or not.

Questions 1 and 2 go tomorrow.  More after that.  Yep.  Just like always.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What You're Looking For

I received a card in the mail this past week from a friend who used to run her own small coffee business.  She got out years ago to pursue other interests.  But this week, she writes:

I am in the middle of a career struggle

[I am] wondering why I ever left the business.  I attempted to apply for other coffee jobs with [insert two large coffee company names here].  They all wanted bachelors degrees and more years of direct distribution.  My passion and life skills were not enough for them

We all work for a variety of reasons.  As Sigmund Freud so aptly put it, "love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness".  I think our approach to work, like so many other human endeavors, is an onion: there are layers upon layers of need.
In America, the most obvious and socially sanctioned reason to work is for financial gain.  We work for money.  But beyond financial need, I have found that entrepreneurs are often searching for validation.  In the entrepreneurial mindset, success in business acts as a salve for unrelated afflictions of self-doubt.  The failures of small business are personal, but the triumphs are equally personal. 

For instance, I am the only member of my family without a graduate degree.  I am entirely unqualified for ANY job that ANY of my brothers or parents might have held.  And thus Kaladi Coffee: I engineered (and lucked) my way into a job that is meaningful to me.  Like everyone else, I have waded through perilous trenches, but I have managed to get what I need without having to jump certain hoops that I thought were demeaning, extraneous, and arbitrary.  I feel validated becauseI have managed to get by without having to comply with forces I don't respect.

Where I got very lucky was with regard to profitability.  Small business is often not terribly profitable.  Some small businesses go broke soon after opening.  But many, many more straggle on for years with the principals earning what amounts to six dollars an hour for for all their worry and effort.

Thus some people migrate from entrepreneurship to work with a larger employer.  We forego the fulfillment of many personal satisfactions in order to satisfy overwhelming financial need.

The problem is that, for many of us,  the validation serum administered by employment at a big company is less potent than the the stuff we get when we work for ourselves. It's like being fed peanuts instead of pork chops: peanuts will nourish you, but they won't make you feel like a satiated carnivore.

So I guess my first question for this friend is "what needs are you trying to fill"?  And, since we live in an imperfect world, we should ask that question's corollary: "must all of your needs be filled in one place"?

Are you searching for a job, or are you searching for something more?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Beware the Slippery Slope: The Cost of Control

In some things, I am a great fan of excess: if a little is good, more is better, and too much is just right.  All parties are mediocre until someone requires stitches, or the nice guys in blue show up to shut the event down.  And ask you to put on a towel.

With that said, I think there are a lot of dangerous Slippery Slopes…issues that we can pursue further and further with no productive end.  Most are Good Things, at least in the beginning.  Cleanliness is a great example.  There can be no argument that it is better to have clean floors than dirty floors.  But how clean is an “ideally clean floor”?  Are “sanitary” floors better than floors that are just “clean”?  And if they are, are sterile floors better than those that are simply “sanitary”?  And if there is a logarithmically rising expense associated with achieving loftier degrees of cleanliness, how does that cost figure into determining what degree of cleanliness is "best"?

If you’re running a company that makes integrated circuits, dramatic extremes of dust-freedom and sterility may very well be the way to go.  But for the rest of us, an unhealthy inclination toward cleanliness in the extreme will be a burden to business.  Or, as anyone familiar with Obsessive Compulsive Disorders can testify, an unhealthy inclination toward cleanliness in the extreme can become a burden to life itself.

Another slippery slope is control. 

No control: not good.  Some control?  Most often an improvement.  But where does the quest for control cease to be a blessing and begin to be a problem?  Alternatively, how much chaos is actually helpful?

When I was a kid, we watched public television and listened FM radio (I can still smell the Bakelite and vacuum tubes…).  Beyond station selection, though, we had no control over content in either medium.  If I listened to ten songs on the radio, I probably thought six were OK, three were terrible, and one was great.  So by allowing a large volume of music though my aural baleen over time, I discovered new and sometimes radically different things that I came to love.

The process of discovering radically new things might be called “growing up”.

Today’s media selections offer a greater degree of control.  We can have our DVR snatch shows from around the globe to build video libraries of our own choice.  We find Futurama because Netflix knows we liked The Simpsons.  We are introduced to Madeline Peyroux because Pandora thinks she sounds like (young, white, sanitized) Billie Holliday.

But how are we to discover anything fundamentally different?  When is the Metallica fan going to hear her first Coltrane ballad and discover she loves jazz?  How will the documentary fanatic discover Archer and discover that he’s not a hopeless nerd?

How do your control habits affect the well-being of your business?   And how might your control habits hold your company back?