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ChrisSplaining: Trump on Genius

Mr. Trump seems to revel in personifying the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Tell yourself that you are a genius. Right away you will probably wonder why and in what way you are a genius. And right away you will have opened your mind up to wonder - and to asking questions. That's a big first step to thinking like a genius, and it might unlock some of your hidden talents.

-- Donald Trump (Think Like a Champion)

 

Or not.

In my article "He Knows, You Know," I outline the Dunning-Kruger effect. In short, if you presume you're a genius based on very little information, you likely suffer from thinking you know more than you do. In this case, you will often make rookie mistakes because you think you're an expert when you're actually woefully underinformed.

Mr. Trump, in this and many other quotes from this book, likes to come at things from the aspect of presuming he knows everything and then has an open mind subject to change when presented with new information. Current events show that not only is this not correct, but that's it's also dangerous.

My advice is, instead, presume you know nothing and always question what you do think you know.

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The Ultimate Counter to the Exposure Pitch

The Ultimate Counter to the Exposure Pitch

There are a decent number of stories going around the Internet, many of them recent, about how artists should push back on being asked to work for free. Let me state up front that I agree with this position to the tune of about 80%.

There are times when working for free makes sense - if you're doing a favor for a friend, for example, or you're donating your time to a good cause. I've done some artistic work as a gift and I know some photographers who regularly shoot weddings as gifts (and that's an expensive gift!). I've shot bands that I love in exchange for being let into the venue for free and the necessary front-row stage-side access. I can be a fanboy like the next guy. This isn't about those times. This is about the times when someone who can and should pay for your artistic talent and time still asks that you do/perform their gig for free.

The latest, http://revolva.net/2014/11/13/an-open-letter-to-oprah/ describes how Oprah Winfrey asked an artist to attend and perform for no compensation (and, after pushing back on the issue, offered a little gas money before revoking the offer completely). The artist rightly points out that while "exposure" was dangled as the draw, her landlord won't accept rent payments in whatever quanta "exposure" uses for measurement. I'll stop using quotes around exposure now.

That outlined, I have found a sure-fire, ultimate counter whenever someone promises you exposure in exchange for your time, work and talent. The conversation goes something like this:

Promoter: Hey, Chris, I have this fantastic project I'm working on, and I need a photographer. I immediately thought of you because I love your work. You'd be perfect for this gig!

Photographer: Wow, thanks, I appreciate that! Let me read over these requirements... okay, yeah, that's a lot, but I can nail this for you. Let's talk fee and usage - what's your budget for this, and let me see if I can exceed your expectations.

Promoter: Well, there's the thing. The budget is zero for photography. We're spending a lot on everything else, and, well, we're just out of money. But look there are going to be hundreds of people there and they'll all see your work. You'll get tons of exposure out of this that should bring you lots of paid gigs.

Photographer: Oh, really? Well, hey, you know your stuff, right? You're pretty confident about this?

Promoter: Absolutely. 100% certain.

Photographer: Well, not to get stars in my eyes, but let me outline this. My normal fee for something like this would be on the order of $2000. If I do this for you for free, that's $2000 I'm not getting. But you say hundreds of people. Do you think I could get three paid gigs out of this?

Promoter: Easy. Do a good job and sure, I could see three people hiring you based on your work. Maybe even five!

Photographer: Let's say three, just to be fair. That means by giving up $2,000, I could make $6,000. That would be a profit of $4,000. That's not bad.

Promoter: Now you get it! I'm totally jazzed, man!

Photographer: Great! So here's my proposal - since you're so sure that I'm going to make this money, I want to cut you in. You pay me my normal fee of $2,000. In exchange, I'm going to split everything I book from this gig with you, 50/50 as a thank-you for giving me such an incredible opportunity. If I book three gigs, that means that you paid me $2,000, but I immediately turn around and give you $3,000 back. You actually make $1000 just for hiring me! And if I book five gigs like you said, that's $10,000 in bookings. You get $5,000, minus the $2,000 you already paid me, meaning you profit to the tune of $3,000 on this deal. The sky's the limit, my friend! Exposure!

Promoter: (crickets)

And that, my friends, is how you use math, science and common sense to take down the myth of exposure.

If you ever do this and it works, I'd really love to hear about it - share in the comments, any time. And feel free to share and repost this advice. It's free (as in beer) and I hope it helps someone spread the message.

PS: Any aspiring web comic who would like to take this conversation to a set of panels, get in touch. I'll trade the text for the art and we can both publish it. That's not exposure, that's barter, if both parties believe they're getting value. See how easy that part is?

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You're Only Getting Half of the Lesson

You're Only Getting Half of the Lesson

My friend Rick shared a story with me this morning, about a seminar and a lesson. I quote it here:

Once a group of 500 people were attending a seminar. Suddenly the speaker stopped and decided to do a group activity. He started giving each person a balloon. Each person was then asked to write their name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons were collected and put in another room.

The people were then let into that room and asked to find the balloon which had their name written on it within 5 minutes. Everyone was frantically searching for their name, colliding with each other, pushing around others and there was utter chaos.

 

At the end of 5 minutes no one could find their own balloon. Then, the speaker asked each person to randomly collect a balloon and give it to the person whose name was written on it. Within minutes everyone had their own balloon.

The speaker then began, "This is happening in our lives. Everyone is frantically looking for happiness all around, not knowing where it is.

Our happiness lies in the happiness of other people. Give them their happiness; you will get your own happiness. And this is the purpose of human life...the pursuit of happiness."

Ferris at the CBOENow, what does this tell us about happiness? Well, the concept is pretty well-known, if you help others, often that help will come back as help to yourself. A rising tide raises all boats, as they say. Selfishly, if you do nice things for other people, they're more inclined to do nice things for you.

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

So let's examine the actual events here, instead. Initially, everyone looked for their balloon, and had a 1-in-500 chance of finding it. Let's say ten people managed to do so and that they even helped a little by getting out of the room when they accomplished that goal. That still leaves 490 scrambling people. Clearly this demonstration, at this point, works. Chaos is bad. Random searching is the wrong protocol to solve this problem. The leader of the seminar deliberately picked the wrong algorithm to make his point.

A better algorithm is then described. Clearly, on its face, this makes more sense. But we can't leave it there. I asked Rick, "Okay, by what protocol did people call out the name of the person on the balloon they selected?" Rick answered, "The Starbuck's Protocol." Sure, everyone has their order. As they're ready, the barista calls out your name and you pick up your double cafe latte and go about your day. But in this story, there is no barista - there is no leader.

Trading PlacesIf this were played-out as described, the exercise would look like a rough day in the pit at the Chicago Board of Exchange (that wild place Ferris and friends visited on their tour of Chicago and the setting for the payoff of one of the greatest movies of all time, "Trading Places."). To make this work properly, you need a leader to coordinate the protocol. The leader could tell everyone to quickly and quietly pick a single balloon. Then the leader could say, "If you know the person, please immediately walk to them, swap balloons with them, and then if you have your balloon, please exit the room. Start this now, while we continue. Now, we'll move quickly: if the name on your balloon starts with an 'A,' please raise the balloon up high and, as I point to you, say the name. Then follow the previous protocol - if you hear your name, go get your balloon, swap, and leave. We'll move as quickly as we can through the alphabet. Someone bring me a double cafe latte."

That's just one possible protocol. As a software architect, I immediately can think of some pretty interesting optimizations that I'd love to try. But for a quick "teach you a lesson" exercise at a seminar, if someone stepped up and took the lead and made this work, I'd keep my eye on them and find out if they're looking for a new job.

 

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